Friday 20 December 2013

Christmas crochet experiment

It all started with a Christmas jumper competition at work. I had no ambitions to win, but felt the need to take part so I bought a fairly innocuous snowman jumper:
Jumper from Next

Then I spotted this superb snowflakes pattern on the lovely Attic 24 website. I quickly got to experimenting with various scraps of wool...

I laid them out and roughly stitched them in place (in the hope that they will be easily removed afterwards!).

Pretty jumper in the course of less than two hours. Am ready to rock it at work!

PS - on the subject of snowflakes, here is the group picture from my ballet adventures the other week. I didn't get it in time to put in the original post:

Monday 9 December 2013

Small goodbyes

This weekend I had to return my "something borrowed" from our wedding day - the hair clips I wore. (It was pointed out to me that if I didn't give them back then they would become "something stolen", which really wasn't the idea!)

I was a teeny bit sad about this, so took a last photograph of some of my wedding jewellery to make me feel better:

In other slightly sad news, one of my favourite magazines is being discontinued. Zest is a really positive healthy life magazine which is fun and realistic. It's a great mix of helpful advice, inspiring articles, fashion and recipes. I'm very sad to hear that it is closing. I hope that they continue their twitter feed for a while at least...
The last edition :(

Luckily at this time of year there are lots of little things to make me smile too, such as cuddles with my baby nephew on Sunday and these adorable and simple Christmas lights I spotted this evening. Much nicer than those huge displays you get in fancier parts of town :)

Sunday 1 December 2013

Glorious baking for breakfast

I can't tell you how nice it is to have an empty weekend! I loved firework season but it's very tiring. This weekend I have precisely zero plans (and a to-do-list that has grown exponentially over the last month!).

Friday night was dinner out with university friends. We went Greek (which is one of my favourites at the moment). Both of my friends are vegetarians so this was a perfect choice for them:

I'm sure they thought I was crazy when I grabbed my phone how could I resist taking a picture of these wonderful meze starters?!

Saturday morning started slowly and lazily. I eventually decided that, although I had eaten way too much the night before, breakfast was desperately needed. I grabbed Mary Berry (well, her cookbook!) and disappeared into the kitchen to see what ingredients we had.

20mins later - drop scones with natural yoghurt and pears stewed in honey. Yummy yummy :)

A great start to a relaxed but nicely productive Saturday...

Thursday 28 November 2013

Snowflakes with jazz hands

Have you ever seen The Nutcracker? For our latest UK Ballet Meet Up, the plan was to learn some of the snowflake corps de ballet routine:

Pretty nerve-wracking if, like me, you casually attend on ballet class a week (two on a good week!) and don't like to perform!

Luckily I had no need to worry - the lovely Karis from EverybodyBallet was in charge and led a lovely class with adapted sections from the ballet. We started with a 30min barre to warm up (I love barre work! It's so simple and difficult and disciplined all at once!), before spending 2 hours on the snowflake choreography.

One thing we all learnt very quickly - snowflakes aren't delicate and floaty, they're spiky. A lot of the movements were surprisingly quick and we had to get used to using straight arms (as opposed to usually maintaining a delicate curve).

And then there were the hands. At select moments during the piece we had to "shimmer" our fingers in a snowflaky manner (I'm not sure how many snowflakes you've met, but I'm assured that they all shimmer their fingers!). This looked beautifully delicate when demonstrated by Karis, however I'm convinced my version was a cross between jazz-hands and spirit-fingers (oh gosh - that's a dodgy reference to cheerleading film Bring It On (and its sequels!)). Suffice to say, less snowflake and more west end musical. It wasn't until after the class that I discovered many of my classmates had made the same link and we had all been trying desperately not to go too "jazz" with our snowflakes!

What was amazing about the class was how many people were there! At our very first meet-up there were just 5 of us taking the clad (plus a couple of spectators/photographers). At this incarnation (number four) there was 15 of us! Crazy. It was so nice to meet more ballet people and chat with them after class. Some had travelled from as far away as Lincoln just for our ballet workshop! That's dedication, and a testament to the amazing organisation as of Becca :) 

I've saved the best for last: somehow I ended up in a tutu! Still not completely sure how that happened, but it actually worked! It made dancing in my little group of snowflakes more fun and I felt a bit more floaty (erm... I mean spiky of course!). Not really my thing though - I expect it'll be a while before I find myself donning one again!

Apologies for the slightly dodgy iphone pics - I didn't have a decent camera with me! Much too busy dancing to take proper photos anyway!

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Mexican take two

Last week I finally got around to trying another Kitchen Nomad recipe. This time I picked something that looked fairly simple: blackbean soup.

It was mostly straightforward - for a start all of the ingredients were mentioned in the actual recipe :) There was one teeny missing step, but beyond that it was plain sailing. Hurrah! 

The end result was a rather tasty spicy soup. It was initially a tad watery, so I added some roasted butternut squash that had been "hanging around" in the fridge and re-blended it. Perfect - more body and a slight touch of sweetness. I have been eating it for lunch all week, either with grated cheese or a few blobs if soured cream. Yummy yummy.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Little happy things

Look at this:

It's a glittery pear Christmas tree decoration! Isn't it fab?!

Today went from an empty, plan-free firework recovery day to lazy dim sum lunch with friends and a wander around the Harrods gift shop. Wonderful, relaxed and happy; and also with a new Christmas bauble.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Fireworks and rushing around.

So far, fireworks season has gone really well. I had planned to write a proper post about everything I've been up to, but between fireworks and the day job I'm simply too busy right now. Instead, for now I'll have to content myself with a few pictures that I snapped over the weekend...

Three vans loaded up and ready for the drive to Portsmouth.

Rigging the shell tubes on the barges at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth.
A snapshot of the show on Friday night (two barges in the middle of the harbour).

A few of the shell racks - my vague attempt to document some of the kit we travel with.

Rigging at Kenilworth Castle.
A slightly blurry side view of the show at Kenilworth Castle.
I wasn't firing on Bonfire Night itself (Tuesday) because I was needed at work, but I'll be back out on Saturday on another fabulous fireworks show.

When did you last see fireworks?

To all firers out there - stay safe this season. 

Monday 28 October 2013

Prepping and packing

It's that firework-y time of year again and I've been rummaging through all my gear (and roaming the aisles of Decathlon) in preparation.

November is generally cold and wet and the forecast for this year is no better, so layers and waterproofing are the key to survival. It's similar to dressing for winter sailing or hiking. To ensure that I don't leave any gaps for the wind to whistle through, there's an overlapping process that I employ...

I start with socks - normally knee high ski socks or similar. Over these go my thermal bottoms or regular leggings (leggings do the job well enough unless the weather is really awful). On the top goes my thermal top (invaluable!) and then over that (sporting a very attractive tucked-in look) go my trousers. These are usually jeans, but I have finally found a pair of Craighoppers that were made for ladies with long legs so I'm also experimenting with these.

At this point I throw in a non-essential layer: some sort of cheap t-shirt or old top. It has precisely one purpose - to make me look less stupid if I get super-warm and strip off the outer layers! (Genuinely nobody cares on a fireworks site, but I'm a girl underneath and it bothers me!)

The thermal layers

The next layer is a fleece, followed by a jumper (usually my branded fireworks company hoodie). If the ground is very wet or it is raining then I also add waterproof trousers (with the fleece tucked in!!!). Next my body warmer, which does a superb job of keeping my core toasty warm, and then my big, yellow waterproof jacket.

Up until now, my footwear of choice has always been my very sturdy hiking boots, but this season I'm experimenting with insulating snow boots - warmer, lighter-weight and more flexible. And a total bargin in Decathlon!

Gloves are another essential. I tend towards sailing gloves, preferring to just have the index finger and glove exposed. Wiring in can be fiddly work so full gloves simply won't do. However, I do carry ski gloves in my firing box for when I'm waiting around and getting cold.

I have a cosy fleecy buff to protect my neck and an assortment of warm hats. I often wear two hats.

Also there's knee pads which are surprisingly useful because as we as providing padding for kneeling, they insulate the knees very well!

Bits and pieces, including my new purple thermal cup (should be hard to lose in the grass and mud!) and the fantastic snow boots that I can't wait to wear :)

Everything's organised. Just need to pack it all and hope for nice weather!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Marathon cooking

Two months ago I signed up to a fantastic sounding new company: Kitchen Nomad. The concept is very cool - every month they send you a box packed full of ingredients and recipes all based on the cuisine of a particular country.

This month's box was based on Mexico, which was particularly great because I love Mexican food (it's definitely in my top ten of world foods). I often make Mexican-inspired food (e.g. fajitas or chilli) and frequently choose Mexican streetfood or restaurants when dining out. Fab.

So the box arrived, I got excited and headed straight out to buy the added ingredients that I needed for the taco recipe:
Doesn't it look exciting?!

I was ready to roll!

First to make the dough for the tortilla:
This wasn't too tricky, just a bit time consuming to get the dough to come together and then kneed it.

The difficult bit was still to come...

The recipe said:
"Dust the board and your rolling pin with a little flour. Press a ball of dough firmly on the board with two fingers to flatten it into a fat pancake, then roll out to about 2mm thick."

Oh. My. Life. I nearly cried. The dough stuck to the rolling pin. I tried adding more masa harina flour. The dough fell apart when I tried to pick it up, even when I rolled it thicker than the 2mm suggested. Nothing was working. I gave up on the rolling pin and just pushed the dough out with my fingers - better but still couldn't lift it off the work surface.

In the end, I found a recipe on the masa harina packet which said:
"Use a taco press or flatten betwee two pieces of plastic."

Hurrah! Something that worked. Two pieces of clingfilm, a mixture of fingers and rolling pin and finally I was creating flattish, roundish tortillas that I could actually pick up!

I took lots of photos of my attempts to get the dough rolled out, but it's quite a depressing sequence so I will spare you!

I cooked the tortillas and got started on the filling, which consisted mostly of onions, ancho chillies (which are an amazing ingredient - love these!), crème fraîche and chicken. The chicken was optional, but there wouldn't have been much to the filling if I hadn't used it. As it was I only had enough filling for less than half of the tacos that I slaved over!

The final product:
(with added cherry tomatoes for some fresh zing)

I have one particular niggle with Kitchen Nomad: I'm not convinced that they test out the recipes before sending them out. I have tried at least four now and all had an ingredient that wasn't mentioned on the actual steps (on this one it was the garlic for the filling. I guessed and added it five mins after the onions). On top of that, there were the portioning problems (not enough filling for the tortillas), and the fact that rolling out the dough the way the recipe says to is basically impossible.

In total, this recipe (which was rated 2/3 for difficulty) took me almost two and a half hours. I know I'm not exactly a chef, but I do cook regularly and felt quite deflated by this experience.

However, there are lots of pros to the Kitchen Nomad system:
  • It is very exciting to get a new box every month in the post and wonder about what might be in the next one.
  • It gives you the chance to try a range of recipes that you may never have eaten, or that you've only ever eaten in restaurants.
  • You find ingredients that you love and want to use in other cooking (ancho chillies - my new favourite!).
  • It definitely shakes up your usual cooking regime - I have particular meals that I churn out on a weekly or monthly basis. I find that having a box of recipes and ingredients encourages me to experiment more and try new things.

Overall, I'm not ready to cancel my subscription yet, but I do hope the recipes come a bit more "tried and tested" in future so that the experience is more fun and less frustrating!

Am looking forward to trying the chilli honey crumble (doesn't it sound amazing?) and the baked feta (well, it is cheese after all!).

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Special people

It's all well and good blogging about fun things I've been up to, but I've been thinking a lot recently about how much more important people are than activities.

I feel so lucky to have some truly wonderful friends - people who I know would go to the ends of the earth for me, as I would for them.

It's these people who make surfing, paddle boarding, random day trips to France and meals out special. Great people who love a giggle and an adventure too.

They even make firework gigs worthwhile - why else would I choose to stand in a field on a cold, wet autumn day for hours on end?!

And it's also these people who we turn to in times of need: who share the sad and difficult times, reminding us that we are not alone.Wanting to help and choosing to listen.

People are great :)

Sunday 6 October 2013

Therapy in the kitchen

It's no secret that I'm not great at relaxing, especially when life leaves me feeling stressed. I try all sorts to keep me calm and happy in times of stressy-ness. Examples include:
- relaxing baths before bed
- reading a book instead of playing on my ipad
- exercising regularly
- getting out for fresh air
- taking time out to see friends
- going for a massage

Recently, I've been surprising myself by choosing to cook on stressful days. I like cooking, and I positively love baking (although I'm one of those messy bakers who spends more than half the time trying and failing to clear up!). Still, normally these would be the "grab something out of the freezer"/"heat up some leftovers"/"order a takeaway" type evenings.

This week, chicken and mushroom pie:

Last week, toad in the hole:

And I genuinely feel more relaxed afterwards, which bodes well for getting a good night's sleep and generally feeling less hassled by life! Hurrah for relaxing!

Thursday 3 October 2013

Sunshine and happy days

The lovely Elle at Eat Run Sail has nominated me for the Sunshine Award:

This award is circulated to those bloggers to let them know that their posts brighten your day.

The Rules:
1.  Include award logo in a post or on your blog
2.  Link to the person who nominated you
3.  Answer 10 questions about yourself.
4.  Nominate 10 bloggers to receive the award. Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs letting them know they’ve been nominated. 

So, here we go:

Best childhood memory?
Carrying my massive teddy bear (named Henry) to my parent's bedroom to show them that I was as tall as Henry. I must have been about three years old. I'm pretty sure that it was very early in the morning and I'm not convinced my parents were too chuffed about being woken up!

Nicest time of year?
I change my mind on this all the time, but right now I wish it was late spring/early summer. I feel like I missed summer this year. Am already starting to make plans for next summer.

Favorite flower?
I don't know much about flowers although it's lovely to receive a bunch every now and again. I totally loved my wedding bouquet - I spent ages gazing at it over the days following the big event.

Scary food you would never ever even taste?
Insects! I also tried to eat a snail once but couldn't pysch myself up enough (I am a wimp!). One day I'll try snails properly.

Zodiac sign? 
I'm not really interested in astrology.

What spice would describe you?
Erm... I'm not sure how to answer that one! I guess I'd go with cinammon because it smells lovely and is fabulous in baking, which I love to do.

Snooze button or jump out of bed?
Snooze! I am still loving my sleep app, which aims to wake me in my lightest sleep, but that doesn't mean I bounce out of bed with enthusiasm!

Morning drink?
Slice of lemon in hot water followed by a cup of tea.

Song that means something special to you?
I love music that I have heard live. One example would be the classic Chesney Hawks singing the one song he's famous for. We did fireworks for a wedding that he sang at and it all went swimmingly.

Secret crush?
I don't have one! How boring is that? I quite like Brad Pitt, but that's not exactly secret.

Well, I think with that series of questions I have firmly convinced you that I'm very dull! Oh well, onwards and upwards :)

Your turn: 
What is your favourite book? 
Where on the whole Earth are you happiest?

Monday 30 September 2013

Official beautiful photographs

We had such a wonderful day and it's been difficult to sift through the photos to choose our favourites. Rather than sharing the posed formals or pictures of us talking to people you've never met, I've picked out some more details of our day.

Enjoy :)

Heirloom bracelet - my something old.

Saturday 28 September 2013

I was featured!

Can't believe that I forgot to blog about this - I was interviewed by Kristen at the Adult Ballerina Project.

You can find the interview here :)

Thank you Kristen, I am very proud to be part of your amazing website!

Thursday 26 September 2013

Summer round-up

Back at the beginning of the summer, before the sun even bothered to come out, I wrote this year's Summer Ambitions list:

It turns out that organising a wedding, moving to a different city and starting a new job for the first time in seven years takes quite a bit of time and effort! However, all things considered, I don't think I did too badly:

try stand up paddle boarding - I did this one! If you have't already guessed, this fun day out was my hen do (the British equivalent of a Bachelorette party). It was fantastic fun and I definitely plan on going again.

four ballet classes in a week - this one really has fallen by the wayside. Last summer I had plenty of times on my hands and achieved this aim quite easily. This year I think my "record" is a paltry two. But never fear my ballet-loving friends - I will be back and I will be dancing more.

get a facial and massage - half achieved. I had a wonderful, relaxing massage a couple of days before the wedding, which was perfect in every way. I'm sure I'll get round to treating myself to a facial at some point, and in the meantime I continue to enjoy my indulgent face mask every now and again.

clear out more clutter - this is turning into an annual event! I got rid of a whole load of stuff before the move, but I still feel like I have a lot of stuff. I am now the proud "owner" of a shed-sized storage locker which is quite well packed.

drink a fancy cocktail - managed this one a couple of times which is good. I mostly find myself gravitating towards the traditional mojito though - not very fancy but reliable and tasty.

get my skates on  - I know I did this at some point, but I'm failing to remember exactly when. Sometime this summer I was on my skates.

go running - nope. I have finally realised that running is really not my thing. I was listening to MarathonTalk (still one of my favourite podcasts) and they were talking about how they love running. One of the presenters made the point that, even though you don't always enjoy runs, you should still have a positive attitude towards it if it's something you do regularly. It hit a nerve with me: I don't enjoy running and I almost never have. So, running is off the agenda, to be replaced with all sorts of other exercise activities.

sit in the sun with a good book - this one has happened a few times :) Somehow I've actually read quite a few books. I might even manage a blog post about them at some point. To be honest, I haven't enjoyed them all and I'm currently hunting for great books.

make cookies - not quite, but I did make scones one morning.

get my nails done nicely - I got a pretty manicure before the wedding (nothing wild), and I've been painting my nails quite regularly over the summer. Colours have included: electric blue, pinky-beige, pale pink, purple, bluey-turquoise and purpley-grey (the current colour). It's surprising how much painting my nails lifts my mood.

wear a dress "just because" - this is something I'm definitely getting better at. I admit that jeans are still my first point of call, but there have been several weekends or evenings when I've thrown on a dress without an occassion to go to.

go swimming - I don't know how I haven't managed this one. Unless swimming in a lake after falling off a paddle board counts?!

How was your summer? What did you get up to?
Any good reads that you can recommend?

Thursday 19 September 2013

The green addition to my shopping basket

Would you believe that I've never bought an avocado before? Crazy.

Mashed avocado, juice of half a lime, half a finely chopped chilli and a small amount of finely chopped red onion. Guacamole the healthier and yummier way :)

Yes, there really were nachos somewhere under the salsa, grated cheese, soured cream and guacamole!

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Whistle-stop adventure

(Alternative title: France for 26 hours)

What a weekend! It's been ages since I've had a real adventure (apart from the wedding of course), and this was a good one.

Some friends were getting married in the South of France, very close to the Biarritz/Henday coast which is one of my most favourite places in the world. Our original plan was a slightly more leisurely two night stay, but timings of flights put paid to that. Up at 5:30am on Saturday. Train. Coach. Aeroplane. 

By the way, have I told you about my love of flying? I get so excited when we're waiting at the gate, again when we're taking off and again when we land. I'm like the little kid staring out of the window. There was a very cute little French girl sat in front of me on the flight who did exactly that. When we had landed and everyone was preparing to disembark, she started saying "au revoir avion" which was incredibly cute!

By 11:30am I stepped onto the Tarmac, into lovely sunshine. I was one happy bunny.

We managed a stroll by the beach and a spot of delightfully French lunch before changing into wedding gear and driving up into the hills.

Goats cheese salad and prawns cooked in something amazing - can't remember what it was but it was yummy!

It was a bilingual, bi-denominational ceremony with comedic French minister who went rather off-script - fabulously crazy and totally lovely service.

Champagne, bands, tons of amazing hor d'oeuvres and surrounded by French people (my circulating and new-friend making was rather hampered by my extremely poor French speaking!).

Dinner was multiple courses of beautiful food and we sat with one of the bands which was very entertaining!

Next morning we managed to meet up with our Hendaye-based friends for a breakfast of pastries on the cliff top before jumping back on a plane and making it home in time for dinner. I was thrilled to return to the British wind and rain...   :(

Two sets of friends (including a wedding) - pretty good going I think.