Monday, 31 August 2015

bookclub #4

Welcome back to my second book feature; an online bookclub I'm sharing with Lorna, Leanne and Charli. You may notice I'm missing #3... totally my fault, I forgot to buy the book and then couldn't borrow from Lorna in time. Doh! 

#4: Us by David Nicholls

Everyone has read One Day, right? If you've not read it, or seen the film, then you must. I read it way back in 2012 and still remember how much I loved the book and I think the film even more so. I don't really remember the details of what happened, but I do remember crying like a baby - always a sign of a good story!

So I had high hopes for Us and had heard mixed reviews. My Mum wasn't fussed by it, whereas others sang its praises. I suppose I come somewhere in the middle, but more towards the 'yes' side than 'no'.

Us is a story about Douglas and Connie, and their relationship. Interestingly however this is written from Douglas' perspective rather than Connie's - something we don't get to see too often in this type of novel. Connie and Douglas' relationship seems to be over after Connie tells Douglas she wants to leave him, which comes as a complete shock and surprise to him. Rather than accepting this fate, Douglas is determined to win Connie over, and in turn their son Albie who has become rather estranged from his father. They set upon the holiday of a lifetime; a tour of Europe encompassing Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Venice, Florence, Madrid and Barcelona.

As you can imagine, the grand tour doesn't go completely as planned and this book follows their journey. If you have visited any of these cities or are interested in art and history then this book will be right up your street; there is a whole wealth of information woven into the narrative. I have to admit I found some descriptions fairly lengthy and arduous and skim read some chapters. The chapters themselves are worthy of note - they vary in length but many are very short which I appreciate. I hate struggling through trying to finish a chapter, and equally hate putting a book down mid way through a chapter! The short chapters mean you can dip in and out easily, but also gives the book some momentum.

Like other novels written by Nicholls, it can feel like not much is happening. I remember reading both One Day and The Understudy and struggling in places with the lack of a 'story', but that is made up for with strong, relatable characters. I really felt Douglas' plight, but became increasingly frustrated with his actions and thought processes, as the different chapters (another past/present alternating chapter set up, snooze) showed how he had got to be the way he is with Connie and Albie. I really grew to dislike Connie - in the earlier chapters I liked her free-spirited nature but later in the book found her a bit pretentious and hard work.

Overall I enjoyed Us, but did find myself skim reading the last quarter. A little wordy in places, but on the whole another offering from David Nicholls which really allows you to imagine, picture and empathise with the characters. That said, it's no One Day...


Friday, 28 August 2015

coconut oat pancakes

Slimming World syn free coconut pancakes

Yes, you read it right! These pancakes are completely free on Slimming World, provided you use the porridge oats as your Healthy B. I found this recipe on VIPXO's blog and have adapted it slightly to make these super simple pancakes gorgeously coconutty. And I can honestly say they taste amazing - you wouldn't know they are made from oats. Of course, you could use a vanilla yogurt instead of coconut if you fancy. As you can see from my pictures, this recipe makes a fairly decent stack of pancakes - around six or seven depending on size. You do have to leave the oats to soak up the yoghurt overnight; something to remember!

You will need 
35g porridge oats
Half a coconut Muller Light 
2 eggs
2 tbsp sweetener 

Start by mixing the porridge oats and Muller Light (just half a tub) into a small mixing bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day, give the oats and yogurt mixture a stir through and then beat in the eggs and sweetener with a whisk. Spray FryLight into a non-stick pan, and then fry as you would regular American-style pancakes; a couple of minutes on each side on a medium heat. 

I've served mine with the remaining coconut Muller Light, natural fat-free yogurt and sliced banana - all free on SW. A teaspoon-sized drizzle of Sweet Freedom Coconut Choc Shot is 0.5 syns - you can buy this from Holland and Barrett. 

I posted another grain-free pancake recipe here - equally as delicious and guilt-free!


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

UK break-ing

Some weeks back I shared with you that we were heading off to North Devon for a few days of peace and quiet by the seaside. I can confirm that both peace and quiet were had, along with numerous cream teas, walks, seaside ciders, peaceful evenings and day time wanderings. 

We stayed in Combe Martin, a gorgeous seaside town just outside of Exmoor with just the right number of pubs, ice cream shops and seaside atmosphere. As budget was tight we went down the AirBnB route and found this perfect little room - a complete bargain that meant we could enjoy more of the few days we had there. Jen was the perfect host and went above and beyond to accommodate us during our stay - we would definitely recommend. 

Combe Martin beach was gorgeous and when the tide is out you can walk down the paths carved into the rock and explore the coves and caves. We did this in the late afternoon sun which gave us some gorgeous scenes and memories. On the last day of our trip we had a little morning of adventure and started by walking (I should really say climbing...) The Hangman Hills up to Great Hangman. It took us just over an hour to get to the top, a huge 318 meter sea cliff, and left us with the most incredible views. It really took our breath away! When we made our way back down to the bottom we decided to do a spot of sea kayaking - I think we paid £15 for an hour with the use of a double kayak. We were able to paddle out to the coves and explore beaches further afield. I am a little scared of small boats and the open sea so was rather cautious, but have to admit it was an amazing experience and a great way to explore. 

On our first full day we decided to go on a road trip to explore North Devon, and we managed to see a lot! We started with Ilfracombe, then followed the coast round to Lee and Woolacombe and Croyde. We stopped for a mooch round each and really fell in love with the relaxed seaside vibe in Croyde. 

That's the thing about going to Devon / Cornwall - you need a car. Whenever we go to the West Country we rack up the mileage as it really is the best way to explore the countryside and towns. The journeys themselves however are totally idyllic in the main part! There were so many times I would be asking Rich to pull over so I could get out and see the views - there were so many coastline views which were completely stunning. The pictures don't do it justice! Expect narrow, winding roads. When we were leaving Lee the road was so narrow and steep I was genuinely concerned we would fall off into the sea if we came across another car!

The final part of our road trip took us to Clovelly - a historic fishing village with a super steep cobbled street which takes you down to the quay and harbour. It wasn't cheap - it costs around £7 per adult to get into the village (to pay for the upkeep...) and if I'm honest I wouldn't pay that again. Yes, it was nice to visit but I don't think it was worth the £7. We had a nice time looking round and enjoyed a cider in the quay alongside the lobster pots, followed by a cream tea - naturally. 

You can sort of see in the images quite how steep the street is! A word of warning - proper footwear is a must. Coming back up in my Birkenstocks was a little bit of a challenge! For those who don't fancy the walk back up, there are Land Rovers which can take you back. Or donkeys...

We had such a lovely time in Devon, just looking at these pictures is making me want to return! Combe Martin itself was great - the perfect location to explore the surrounding area further without being in the bigger towns like Ilfracombe which were more populated. That's not to say Combe Martin was quiet - it's definitely got the touristy buzz and the beach was full of families on each day we were there. We were so lucky with the weather, as you can tell from the pictures. We had bright sunshine and blue skies each day... we managed to get impressive t-shirt and short tan lines after just an hour kayaking! I say tan lines, we were definitely more than a little pink...

Until next time, Devon.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

DIY cream tea

There's nothing better than a cream tea. Deliciously indulgent; cream, jam, doughy deliciousness. 

With most cream teas costing around £4-£5, it's not going to break the bank but with only £27 left in my bank account (saving whilst being on summer holiday is killer) I am finding ways to do the things I love without the cost. 

I blogged earlier in the holidays about how we've been walking around the local area this summer; free, active, outdoors. At the end of our first walk we found a tea rooms for a cream tea, which got me thinking about making my own. Last weekend I made the first batch of my own scones, which we enjoyed after a walk with cream and jam... at minimal cost! If you are a keen baker its likely you will have SR flour, butter, baking powder, eggs and sugar in your cupboards, which is essentially what you need to make scones. 

I used this classic Mary Berry recipe to make my first batch of scones. 

I like my scones big; find a bigger cutter for a more generous size. Look for a 9-10cm cutter for these. 

Don't fiddle with the mixture too much; minimal handling means they will be lighter!

Don't roll the dough too thinly. For nice thick scones you'll want to keep the dough around 0.5-1inch thick. When you've cut the first lot out you will need to re-roll the dough - remember, try to avoid over-kneading. 

Try something different! Cheese scones with butter and chutney are a delicious alternative to a sweet scone. 

And now the weather is more than a little miserable (what's going on?!) what better than to set up your own sofa picnic with a good film, a cuppa and home made scones. 


Friday, 21 August 2015

bookworm #38

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This novel is brought to us by the same author who wrote The Husband's Secret - see my review here - which I absolutely loved. Like her previous novel, Big Little Lies is set in Australia and is based around a mystery that ties together a group of friends.

Pirriwee is a small Australian town, where the Mums all look a certain way and know the ins and outs of each other's lives. When the death of a parent occurs at the local primary school's trivia night, the town is throw into tailspin. The book follows the story of Jane and Ziggy; a mother and son who move to Pirriwee, and have a secret. She is shy, reserved and plain - and as a result stands out like a sore thumb from all the other mums. Ziggy is a kind, quiet boy who gets caught up in playground nastiness - but we don't know who to trust. I really warmed to both of their characters and wanted to know more about them.

The mystery is a good one - who dies? Who did it? Was it murder? What actually happened? We don't actually find much out until right near the end of the book where threads get woven together and the picture becomes clear. I don't think I found it as enthralling as The Husband's Secret - a little drawn out, but I did enjoy it. A light hearted read with a little mystery, characters which you can empathise with and some themes that leave you thinking. Like in The Husband's Secret there are loads of characters which at the start is a little intimidating. As you read further the 'core' characters become clearer, but is definitely one of those books you need to read in big chunks to keep tabs on who is who!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

salted caramel frosting

Salted caramel frosting.

Who doesn't love salted caramel? It seems to be everywhere at the moment; in puddings, in sauces, on cakes, in coffee... the list goes on. Last week I took it upon myself to find the perfect caramel frosting recipe to fill and top a special chocolate birthday cake for a good friend. 

I use a very basic sponge cake recipe (you'll need two of these)
6 oz butter
6 oz caster sugar 
- beat with a hand blender until pale - 
3 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla essence
- add one egg at a time, using hand blender to combine with butter and sugar -
5 oz self raising flour
1 oz cocoa powder
- sift these into the mixture, folding in with a wooden spoon - 
- pour into a lined tin and bake for approx 25 minutes at 170c -

For the frosting
I hunted high and low for a good salted caramel frosting recipe and after a failed attempt at one, I sort of amalgamated a whole load of recipes to get this. It was perfect. The quantities are rather precise because I was converting several American recipes which use cups rather than grams. 

113g salted butter
220g dark brown sugar
80ml double cream
1/4 tsp salt
250g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk

Melt the butter, sugar and double cream on a medium heat in a pan, stirring throughout. When the mixture is all melted and combined and starts to bubble, leave to bubble for a further three minutes ensuring it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. This is making the basic caramel all gooey and rich and lovely. Stir in the salt, remove from the heat and pour into a mixing bowl. You'll need to leave this to cool completely; this took about 30-40 minutes for me. 

Sift in the icing sugar bit by bit, beating in with a hand blender. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of milk to make the mixture a little easier to work with when icing the cake. 

And there you have it! Sprinkle over some coarse sea salt for prettiness and extra salted effect; delish!


Monday, 17 August 2015

Greek chicken

Aah, Greek food. 

When I booked to go to Lindos in Greece last summer (see my posts here and here) someone said something along the lines of "you don't go to Greece for the food...". Don't you?! I do! I absolutely love Greek food; souvlaki, tzatziki, gyros, feta, moussaka, kleftik, saganaki. God I'm drooling at the thought!

So when we get a warm evening in the UK two things come to mind. Barbecue, or Greek food. Ideally, both, but when I want a quick, fresh and tasty meal this lemon chicken rice is up there with the best. I adapted the recipe from this original, converting some of American measurements to UK and making some adjustments. This serves 2-4 people depending on appetite and how many chicken thighs used. 

You will need 
Chicken thighs (skin on, approx 3 per person)
1 lemon (zest and juice)
3 garlic cloves
1 onion
200g wild rice
450ml chicken stock
2 tbsp oregano
Salt and pepper

Start by marinating the chicken. In a bowl cover the chicken thighs with the juice and zest of one lemon, crushed garlic cloves, 1 tbsp oregano and salt and pepper. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or so (the longer the better) so the chicken can absorb the flavours. 

Heat a non-stick pan and either throw in some olive oil or Fry Light, before placing in the chicken skin-side down. Put the leftover marinade to one side. Cook until golden brown before turning to do the same on the other side. Set aside. 

You may now want to rinse out the pan or use a different pan as there will be lots of fat from cooking the chicken. Use a hob-proof oven casserole dish if you have one. Fry the onion until golden before adding the rice, leftover marinade, chicken stock, oregano and seasoning. Bring to the boil, before transferring to an oven-proof casserole dish, placing the chicken on top and covering with a lid. Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes on 180c. Then remove the lid and cook for a final 5-10 minutes or until the rice is tender. Leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving. 

Serve with tzatziki (I use this recipe) and a Greek salad. Enjoy in the sunshine! 

Slimming World - syn values
Chicken thighs with skin are quite high in syns; about 6 syns per thigh. 
Make this lighter by using skinless filleted chicken thighs (like these) which are free. 


Thursday, 13 August 2015

the art of gifting

The older you get, the harder birthday's can become. Both your own, and buying for others!

Age has also changed the sort of gifts I find myself buying my friends. Today I'm moving away from nail polishes, jewellery and make up to more mature gifts of home wares, books and... well, more home wares! Now so many of my pals are buying houses those decorative accessories, kitchenware, baking gifts, recipe books and the like are becoming my point-of-call for any birthday gift. 

That said, like any gift-buying, it can become tedious. Recently I've found myself trying to be a little more inventive with the things I buy for my friends. I'm also desperately trying to save money for a big adventure next year so gone are the days of extravagant or indulgent purchases. Sigh!

This idea came to me as I was browsing a local antiques centre. I love all the old, vintage maps but at £100+ for a framed offering, it was firmly crossed off my 'must buy' list. I also love the idea of a personalised gift (places like Not On The Highstreet are a gold-mine for these) and thought about making one myself. When I was in Oxfam Books last week I found a box of old maps and after searching through I found a some great local maps - some more large scale and some street maps - and grabbed a few for a meagre £1 each. 

One of my bestest gal-pals has recently moved into a new home in Winchester, so when I found a street map from the 1800s I knew it would be perfect! I then went and bought a frame, and the rest really was as easy as pie.

Start by figuring out which part of the map you want to show off in the frame. If the frame has a mount, then spend some time moving it around and finding the perfect picture. I knew with my one that I wanted my friend's road in there and the 'Winchester' lettering. Things like that make it super personal and special!

Then simply turn the frame over, pop the mount over the glass and having either cut the map to shape or folded like I did (it wasn't too much bigger so seemed a shame to cut it) position the map, face down, to where you'd like it. Secure in place by taping the map to the mount. Replace the backing of the frame, and you're done! It really is so simple. 

Can you spot Tilly?

I like that this map was a crisp white, it sort of made what is a very old map look quite modern. I also like that you can see the creases of the map folds - it keeps the old feel of the map, but you could easily iron these out. 

This map is obviously black and white, but many newer ones are coloured. Have a look before you buy to see what the colours are and shop around; in Oxfam I found three maps of the same place, all slightly different. eBay is also a good source for buying old maps, often very cheaply. 

I'd like to take this time to thank my two glamorous assistants; Mumma K and Tilly the Pooch. I couldn't have done it without them...


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

bookworm #37

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

I was recommended this on twitter several months ago and popped it on my ever-expanding 'to read' list. Since then I've seen several people mention it, and for good reason. This book is excellent!

Into The Darkest Corner is the first novel written by Haynes, a police intelligence analyst. It tells the story of Catherine and like so many books now is written in alternate chapters; one present, one past. Although I am starting to tire of this format (it seems to be the case for nearly everything I read at the moment!) it was a way of telling us about why Catherine behaves in the way she does. She has OCD and her many compulsions include checking the safety of her flat meticulously. Checking the front door, the lock and handle, windows, curtains - leaving everything just so, so she'd be able to tell if he'd be in her home. 'He' is Lee, her ex-partner who we learn from the blurb on the back was erratic and controlling. As you read you learn more and more about Catherine's compulsions, and in turn why she has them. 

I took this book to Devon with me last week and sped through it in just a few days. I found it completely gripping - more than a little creepy in places and scarily 'real'. I read somewhere the scary thing about this book is you can just see it happening, it really could happen. And that's so true. It does happen, I'm sure to many women (and men). Some parts of the book turned my stomach and many left me completely dumb-struck. 

Into The Darkest Corner has confirmed to me that I love a mystery/crime/thriller novel. This was a total page-turner and I found myself going to bed early just so I could read, or tucked up on the arm chair reading instead of watching telly. Bravo!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Foolin' around

That post-dinner sweet craving. I can't be the only one who gets this every evening, without fail? For me, sticking to plan (on Slimming World) is fairly easy when it comes to savoury food. When you can have limitless pasta, potatoes, rice, vegetables, eggs, pulses, lean meat and fish it doesn't exactly make life hard! Which is why, for me at least, I find cooking SW-friendly meals pretty easy - a few alterations to recipes here and there and most nights I can make a main meal that is either 'free' or very low in syns. 

Where I struggle is my sweet tooth. 

Whether you're following Slimming World or not, this is sure to sate your sweet tooth, hit that sweet spot... with minimal guilt. This makes two perfect little puds. 

You will need
1 stick rhubarb
1 heaped tsp sweetener
1 tub vanilla Muller Light yogurt
2 meringue nests
Handful frozen raspberries

Start by chopping the rhubarb into half inch-thick pieces, placing in a baking dish and sprinkling over the sweetener. I just use a heaped teaspoon of sweetener as like my rhubarb quite sharp - this pud is pretty sweet so the rhubarb helps cut through the sweetness. Use more if you'd like. Loosely cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes or until the pieces are soft but keeping their shape. Remove from the oven and leave to cool - you'll want them at room temperature. 

In a bowl break the meringues into smaller pieces and combine with the yogurt. Spoon a couple of tablespoons into a glass, followed by the rhubarb, then another few spoonfuls of the meringue mixture and finally top with raspberries. 

Tip: make a load of the baked rhubarb and store in the fridge an air-tight container to use throughout the week. 

Slimming World - syn values
Meringue nests 2.5 syns each (on average)


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Snatching moments

So today we're off on a last-minute UK break! 

We're not going abroad this year, but needed a little break to get away from home and stretch our legs. We didn't, however, want to stretch our wallet too much so have booked a modest couple of nights in North Devon... Combe Martin to be exact. We didn't really have much of an idea where we wanted to go but had heard the area around Croyde and Ilfracombe is beautiful - on the outskirts of Exmoor with gorgeous beaches, it sounds perfect. So after browsing AirBnB's finest (cough, cheapest) offerings we settled on a few days in Combe Martin, and we're on our way!

Cream teas

It doesn't get much better than that! I'm hoping the sun comes out, but made a last-minute raincoat purchase just to be safe. It's a pretty snazzy Trespass number and I anticipated pulling off cagoule-chic, but I just don't think it's to be. If you've been to the area and can recommend anywhere to eat, things to do or places to visit we'd be super grateful for any tips! You can leave a comment below, or drop me a tweet.  

Here's to a relaxing few days - see you on the other side!

Monday, 3 August 2015

curry club

This time, a veggie delight - gorgeous eaten on its own with rice or as an accompaniment to another curry. Super easy to make, inexpensive ingredients and low in fat. Perfect. 

You will need 
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 large sweet potato
1 cup water
Large bag spinach

Start by frying the cumin seeds in a few sprays of FryLight, on a low heat until fragrant - a minute, tops. Add the diced onion, garlic cloves crushed in press and ginger paste, and cook until onion is softened and lightly brown. 

Add the paprika, cinnamon, garam masala and stir. Peel and cube the sweet potato and throw into the pan, coating it in the spice mix. Add the water and be sure to scrape any dried bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat, pop a lid on and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sweet potato is tender. 

Add the spinach handful by handful until wilted, and stir into the mixture. Some of the sweet potato pieces will break up, adding to the thickness of the sauce. Add a little more water if needed. 

Season with plenty of salt and pepper, and serve with rice or as a side dish to another curry. 

I absolutely love the colours of this dish, and the colours that go with Indian cookery more generally. The reds in fresh chillies, the green of coriander and the yellow of turmeric - it's a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth! Check out India in Colour here

Slimming World - syn values
Completely free!

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