Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #20

Eurrrghhhh, anyone else struggling with the heat in London right now?! I’m not a huge lover of hot weather at all and having to spend Saturday flat-hunting (our landlord has decided to sell up) meant it was pretty much unbearable. It’s been too hot to even consider properly cooking – I am missing a Sunday roast but this gal definitely isn’t having an oven on for close to two hours! Enough of the moaning, here’s my recent favourites…

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  1. Meeting with our potential wedding florist. I LOVE her work so fingers crossed the quote works out and we can get booked!
  2. A gorgeous dinner at Rocksalt in Market Harborough. My spiced haddock Scotch egg was absolute perfection.
  3. Mocha over ice…an ice-cold Pimms. Anything ice-cold basically.
  4. Excellent feedback on my first business report and presentation at work. It was a tough project but was made all worthwhile.
  5. Exploring areas of Putney we didn’t know existed. It’s shameful how little we’ve seen of the area!
  6. Waitrose Chocolate Ice-Cream with Blood Orange Sorbet. It’s like a frozen jaffa cake and sooooo good.
  7. A much-needed haircut. It swishes so much better now!
  8. Short denim dungarees. I only bought them last weekend and I’ve worn them most evenings/weekend days since. My favourite new bit of clothing in what feels like forever!
  9. Ticking off another Michelin Star off my list. We went on a work meal to La Chapelle in Spitalfields. My crab lasagna starter was so insanely yummy.
  10. Mars Bar ice-creams bars. Nuff said.

Fingers crossed next Happy Post will mention a shiny new flat! What’s made you smile recently?

Recipes: A Mexican Feast ft. Pork Pibil, Refried Beans, Pickled Pink Onions & Homemade Tortilla Wraps

I LOVEEEEE Mexican flavours. From my first taste of fajitas as a child (admittedly more Tex-Mex, I’m pickier about my Mexican flavours now) I was hooked. I love the spice, the textures, the zinginess the contrast of temperatures when cool sour cream meets piping hot fillings.

 photo Mexican Feast_zps6yfoqj8k.jpgIt’s not quite so enjoyable now my tomato allergy has made an appearance – one of the things I miss most is a fresh, zingy salsa and crunchy chips. However I still make sure to satisfy my craving as much as possible. Frijoles (refried beans) are something I can eat by the bucketful. Spicy slow-cooked meat, piled up high with pickled onions, is pure comfort food. Combine them all in a homemade tortilla wrap and you’ve got a winner!
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Pork Pibil (Spicy Mexican Pulled Pork, based on Wahaca’s recipe)

Warning, this one stains white things like nothing else I’ve encountered before. It took a lot of cleaning to get it off my dining room table. I had to have my nails painted constantly as they took on an orange hue…These quantities make a LOT. At least enough to feed 8-10, but it freezes so, so well. It’s also a long process taking 3 days, so you might as well make lots.

Whizz up the marinade. Dry fry 1 teaspoon of allspice berries, 3 teaspoons of cumin seeds, 1/4 teaspoon of cloves, and 1 teaspoon of peppercorns before whizzing to a powder in a food processor. Add 75g of achiote chilli paste (we found ours in Wholefoods), 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, 1 onion, 5 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and pulse. Add in some herbs (I used the roots of a bunch of coriander and a dried bay leaf) and the juice of 4 oranges and combined to make a paste. Season with plenty of salt, before using to coat 2.5kg of pork. You want the pork in 3-4 large pieces, basically broken up so it fits in your casserole dish.

The next day, add 25g of butter to the casserole dish with the pork, and scatter over 2 red chillis. Cover tightly with a lid and roast for 4-5 hours at 120C. Allow to cool before shredding and popping back in the fridge. The next day skim any excess fat from the sauce. Reheat the pork in an oven (around 180C for 15 minutes will get you some delicious chewy bits on the edges) and serve with all your favourite Mexican bits and pieces.
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Pink Pickled Onions

Again, this makes more than 1 meals worth. It keeps well in the fridge for up to 1 month, and it’s excellent served with cheese on toast…

Cover two thinly sliced red onions with boiling water, leave for 10 seconds and then drain (this takes away the harsh raw onion taste). Squeeze over the juice of 1 lime, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1 chopped red chilli. Stir well, then add to a glass jar. Leave for at least 30 minutes, or preferably overnight. Perfect with Pork Pibil!

Frijoles (Re-fried Beans, originally taken from Wahaca’s recipe but adapted to my taste)

These are my perfect comfort food. Rich and creamy, satisfying, full of flavour and served with crunchy tortilla chips. So, so good, and here they make a perfect base for the Pibil. I won’t lie though, I generally eat these on their own, by the spoonful…

The day before you want to eat, soak 250g dried black beans in plenty of water. Start a couple of hours before bedtime, changing the water before you kip down for the night. The next day, drain and add to a large pan with plenty of fresh water with 1/2 head of garlic (peeled), 5 bay leaves, and 1 large onion (roughly chopped). Simmer until the bean are soft, around 2 hours, before adding plenty of salt and simmering for another 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, remove a ladelful of beans, and blitz the remaining mix with a hand-blender.

Finely chop another onion and fry in 75g of lard with 1/2 teaspoon of cumin until soft. Tip in the puree and the reserved beans and fry gently. I like to add a single square of very dark chocolate too. Serve with soured cream and some crumbled feta – and plenty of tortilla chips!
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Homemade Tortilla Wraps (adapted from James Morton’s recipe)

Regular readers will know by now that James is basically my bread God, and his book my bread bible. Not one of his recipes has failed me, and this one is no exception. I’ve adapted it slightly as I found it a little sticky (I have textured worktops and so have to be careful with sticky dough). The quantities here will make 8 small taco-sized wraps, or 4 large ones (perfect for fajitas). These are so easy, and taste SO much better than shop-bought…

Mix together 175g of plain flour with 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and a good pinch of salt. Cube 10g of lard and rub into the flour until you have a mix resembling breadcrumbs. Then add 80g of boiling water, mix together quickly and bash about on a work surface (roughly kneading) for 2-3 minutes. Tear into equal pieces, rolling out each piece to a rough circle (you’ll want extra flour on your rolling pin and surface). Cook each wrap in a dry pan over a high heat for around 2 minutes each side – you want them to be firm and speckled golden. Fill with frijoles, pibil and pickled onions and you’ve got yourself an awesome taco!
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Are you a fan of Mexican food? Do you have any good recipes?

Personal: Grief

2017 has, so far, been probably the worst of my life.

 photo 2016-12-27 16.50.48_zpskuzjv2cw.jpgI started the year with all four grandparents. By the time the New Year fireworks had ended, I’d lost my beloved maternal Granddad. It wasn’t unexpected, in some ways it was a blessing, and I’d managed to say goodbye a few days earlier. On what would have been his 76th Birthday, my other granddad was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure. He passed away at the beginning of May.

Loosing both my Gands and my Granddad in such a short space of time, having not really experience grief before, has completely and utterly shocked me to the core. Both were well-admired in their respective communities, both popular men. They’d been the limelight of family gatherings.

My Gands had had Alzheimer’s for many years, and unfortunately he’d had no recognition of anyone for over four years. The disease had altered him completely, his kind personality often destroyed. It was because of this that his death was, to me, almost a blessing. I’d give anything for a few more minutes with him, before his mind was taken, but I know he’s now sat in his scruffy clothes we all moaned about enjoying a pint.

 photo 2016-12-27 16.56.24_zpsqmlfp8ck.jpg photo 2016-12-27 17.01.57_zpssee0leme.jpgMy Granddad’s death was more sudden, his decline a lot quicker and that was something I struggled with. Throughout the other’s illness he’d always been a constant figure and I hadn’t quite caught on to the fact that he wouldn’t be around forever. Again, the whole family got together and managed to have one last celebratory meal but it was tough. What do you say to a man you know you might not see again, but who is full-on refusing to accept that?

In the last few weeks I’ve had a lot of conflicting feelings. I’ve felt guilty. I know I avoided my paternal grandparents over Christmas as knowing my Gands was in the latter stages of life was too raw. I felt guilty that I cried more for one than the other. I’ve felt guilty at not travelling up to be with my parents, at carrying on with work and life. I’ve obviously felt sad, but I’ve also managed to laugh about them. I’ve felt happy that I had so many years with all of my grandparents. I’ve felt resentful that some of my cousins had better relationships. I’ve felt guilty that I had a better relationship with my Gands than my cousins. But it’s taught me a lot about grief.

 photo 2016-12-27 16.21.14_zpslp8ekdep.jpgGrief is a form of love, and it shows itself in many different ways. Silence, tears, laughter. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Letting myself cry and going easy on myself helped – I got to work one morning and before I’d even logged on I was in the toilets in tears. I picked apart my to-do list down to the bare minimum and took the pressure off. I’ve hidden away from the world, and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily call that a totally good thing, it’s helped me. I’m a very private person, so cards and messages are not something I can deal with, so they go unopened, ignored, until I’m ready to share my feelings.

I’ve learnt it’s okay for grief to disrupt my life. It’s okay to feel sad. But it’s also okay to feel happy. I know that both of them would want me to keep them in their hearts and make them proud – and that’s what I’ll do. 

Review: Putney Pies

I’m not going to lie, finding out this place existed pretty much sealed the deal for me on where I wanted to live in London. I’m only half joking – we’d narrowed it down to somewhere on the West-end of the District line and then this place came to my attention. Putney it was!

(The cheaper council tax also helped…)

 photo Putney Pies_zps7v1qaahi.jpgWeirdly, I’ve only been twice – and those two visits were shamefully within six days of each other. W is yet to visit (much to his disgust). It’s a shame it’s coming up to summer time now, as pies aren’t exactly going to help me get my summer bod this year!

 photo Putney Pies2_zpskh9mtqa8.jpg photo Putney Pies4_zpspiunzqn8.jpg photo Putney Pies1_zps8qjnhnsa.jpgThe first time I visited I had the Chicken & Ham Hock Pot Pie, whilst my date (the lovely Libby) enjoyed her Steak & Ale Pie. My pie was in a deep, fully-filled bowl topped with buttery short-crust pastry and served with creamy mash. The sauce was light, almost-stock like, but full of flavour. There was plenty of chunky chicken and ham, along with carrots and leeks. The mash was smooth and completely lump-free. All in all delicious!

 photo Putney Pies9_zpsstuyab0o.jpg photo Putney Pies13_zps25ik1b7w.jpgOn my next visit I enjoyed the Pork and Apple Pie. Fully encased in the same perfect pastry, it was packed full of juicy pork, bacon, apple pieces and a delicious cider sauce. The only criticism I have here is that it was a little dry – however as I was unable to have the gravy (damn you, sneaky tomatoes!) this is probably why. My mum enjoyed the Beef Bourguignon Pie with triple cooked chips. I have to say the chips were perfect!

 photo Putney Pies8_zpsxlz1clif.jpg photo Putney Pies14_zpsntobdjyr.jpgBoth times we had a side of Season Veg – normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning something like this, but it was lovely. Everything was perfectly cooked and lightly dressed in butter. Little touches but it made all the difference. On the second visit we also splurged and shared the Brownie with ice-cream – and it was a damn good brownie. Warm and gooey, rich and indulgent tempered with creamy ice-cream and a salted caramel sauce.

Coupled with some of the yummiest prosecco I’ve tried, this was a meal of pie perfection. I’m almost impatient for Autumn when it’s back to pie weather!

Are you a fan of pies? What’s your favourite filling?

Review: Choccywoccydoodah Bar du Chocolat, Brighton

I mentioned in a recent foodie round-up that I’d finally managed to try Choccywoccydoodah in Brighton – and I alluded to the fact that it didn’t disappoint. In fact it far exceeded my expectations.

 photo Choccywoccydoodah_zpsqd1ojbgu.jpgAdmittedly my expectations were low to begin with. I’d always thought of it as a tourist trap. A bit tacky. Too much sugar-craft and poor ingredients. Expensive and tasteless. I’m happy to admit I was wrong on all accounts. Well, maybe it is a bit tacky, but in a good way.

The shop, in particular downstairs, really showcases the cake-decorating talent of the team. From someone who can’t ice to save her life, I was so, so impressed. There is also a range of wedding cakes to browse,perfect for a budding bride – although I’m sure they cost far more than our cake budget! Still, a girl can dream…

We weren’t there to wedding plan though. Nope, for us it was all about the chocolate! We headed up to their little cafe upstairs and surprisingly got seated straight away. There was a queue pretty much throughout our stay though, so go prepared to wait! Service was quick and friendly until we were nearly finished. We got presented with our receipt (without asking – but it felt a bit like a hint), but we waited for a good 10 minutes with our purses out before having to head up to the counter to pay. Still, at least I got to gawp at the massive 6+ layer chocolate cakes!

 photo Choccywoccydoodah Brighton 9_zpsygc7zyk0.jpg photo Choccywoccydoodah Brighton 7_zps9hptap4t.jpg photo Choccywoccydoodah Brighton 4_zpso9yubtie.jpgAll 3 of us ordered a chocolate dipping pot each (a mistake – 2 between 3 would have been plenty!). We all went for milk, though I wish I’d been brave enough to go for dark. Served with marshmallows, honeycomb, rocky road, coconut madeleines, strawberries, shortbread and some kind of fudge cake it was huge. The milk chocolate was delicious, though I think dark would have cut through the sweetness a little better. The only poor point on the plate was the honeycomb, being a little too chewy and lacking crunch.

The chocolate was (surprisingly to me) oh-so-good. Creamy, rich, just the right amount of sweetness and with a lovely deep cocoa taste. By far one of the best milk chocolates I’ve tried in a while!

 photo Choccywoccydoodah Brighton 3_zps7wb2viev.jpgBeing the greedy piglet I am, I also ordered a praline milkshake. I ask for it without chocolate; a good shout as it was light and refreshing. By far and away the best milkshake I’ve had. Next time though? I’m definitely trying the cake!

Have you ever been to Choccywoccydoodah? What did you think?

Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #19

Another fortnight, and another one where I’ve found it really difficult to write this post. Last week we buried my Granddad and it was a very difficult day. I then came down with a virus-type illness (sore throat, cough, earache, bunged nose – the lot), and to top if off felt nauseous and anxious for a good week. All the more reason to concentrate on the little happy things I guess!

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  1. A 7 hour round-trip drive in a pretty car. I had to go on a site visit for work, and the brand new Jaguar F-type made the 6.30am start a bit more bearable!
  2. Costa’s Peach Iced Tea. One of my guilty pleasures.
  3. My dad’s Caramel Swirl Brownies. He’s a great baker (check out his Malteser Blondies here) and these were great.
  4. Pink Prosecco on a Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. Bliss.
  5. Dying my hair a new colour. At first I thought it was a tad dark but I’m loving it.
  6. May’s Cronut – Blush Peach and Elderflower. The best of 2017 so far, just a shame that the outside area of Dominique Ansel clearly had a drain issue when we visited. The smell that followed each toilet-flush was NOT good….
  7. Pulling out light and floaty summer dresses for work. Generally I wear shift dresses (see here for my normal work wardrobe, minus my new favourite bits) but it’s just been too damn hot!
  8. Picnic in the park. Instead of cooking dinner I made a quinoa salad (recipe up soon!), whipped up some hummus and threw everything in a coolbag. It was bliss to sit outside and not have to worry about overheating our flat by using the oven.
  9. Flicking through recipe books. I’m trying to mix up our weekly meal-plan – let me know your go-to quick dinners please?!
  10. Doggy snuggles AND puppy cuddles. I went to my parents for the Bank Holiday weekend and caught up with my pooch – and snuck round to the neighbours to meet their 3-month old Westie. Nothing like squeezing a dog to make your troubles go away!
  11. The Good Widow. One of the best books I’ve read in a while!
  12. A long walk about the Thames Path. On Saturday we wandered towards London, only planning just a short walk as I am (still!) feeling rubbish. Nearly 4 miles later we caught a bus home! It was such lovely weather, I watched helicopters taking off/landing (I’m a bit of an aircraft nerd!), we ate a picnic in Battersea Park and pointed out our dream apartments and houseboats.
  13. Baking Cinnamon Rolls. In need of some cheering up yesterday (who didn’t?!) we spent the day lazy about, tissues in hand (I’ve kindly shared said illness) and baking some yummy things. Cinnamon Rolls are my ultimate comfort bake and these didn’t disappoint. I’ll have the recipe up in a couple of weeks.
  14. Homemade Chicken Satay. We both fancied my Asian Radish Salad (see here) for a light dinner, but felt like something different too. I whipped up an amazing satay sauce which we used to marinade chicken turkey (actually, as that’s all we had) before grilling. Yum yum!

What’s made you happy recently?

Food: When I Was A Vegetarian For A Week

I always swear I could never be a vegetarian. Whilst I don’t eat a huge amount of meat, I do enjoy it. I love a good steak, belly pork is one of my favourites, and bacon is something I’m not quite sure I could live without. I rarely eat meat throughout the day, unless I’m taking leftovers for lunch. Usually at least one dinner a week is veggie, more if W is working late (as then it’s mushroom night). We’ve recently cut down our weekly fortnightly fry-ups to a maximum of once a month.

 photo Veggie Week_zpstswcjvsb.jpgBut I’ve always been curious about how I could get on without meat. I’m a huge animal lover, and I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the meat industry. I try as much as possible to eat free-range meat and if we had a more convenient butcher I’d definitely make more use of them. I will try and use every last scrap of meat I can, including making stock when I get the time. I never buy anything but free-range eggs, and I’d dearly love to give up milk (unfortunately more dairy-free milks don’t agree with me, and I have to buy lactofree so am pretty limited). I also love veggies.

A fresh crunchy salad? Vibrant colourful stir-fry? A comforting and nourishing bowl of lentil stew? These are all some of my favourite meals. With that in mind, and spurred on my an inspiring Instagram feed for National Vegetarian Week, I cut out meat from our diet and fridge for a week. I’ll admit, W cheated. He’s part of a lunch group and some of the guys contributed meat dishes that week. He also went to the pub for a massive Gammon & Eggs. However I stuck to it and, bar one slip-up, didn’t consume a single meat product for a week.

 photo IMG_20170412_133323_278_zpscnepqvam.jpg photo IMG_20170308_213720_196_zpshbwlvzbl.jpg photo IMG_20170223_083803_732_zpswvhkigyi.jpg photo Veggie Squash Stew 6_zpssdhmljya.jpgBreakfasts were as normal. A mix of granola and yoghurt, ricecakes and p-butter, and overnight oats. Snacks were homemade energy balls, though I did find I had a stronger 4pm slump than I normally would. Lunches were again pretty standard. Generally I either take leftovers into work, or make some kind of chunky substantial salad. I also have a lunch allowance in our work canteen, so then to supplement my lunch there with fruit, more salad or a jacket potato. That week I mainly ate a salad of couscous, harissa-roasted butternut squash, feta and spicy crunchy chickpeas.

Dinners were where we had to get inventive. With both of us being pretty busy, recipes need to involve minimal fuss, not too much chopping and as little washing up as possible. We had an absolutely delicious chickea pea curry, served with roasted cauliflower in a tandoori spice blend. I enjoyed a butternut squash risotto. W cooked us a ‘treat’ meal on the Friday of mac-n-cheese, filled with roasted cauliflower and broccoli (pretty much this recipe, sans bacon, with nutmeg in the sauce and blanched broc).

 photo IMG_20170521_094513_zpstngq4oaf.pngMy favourite meal, though, was an Asian-inspired salad. Radishes, onions, Chinese lettuce and carrots all tossed together in a limey-soy-peanut dressing. So light and tasty, though we did end up eating the whole bowl (supposedly serving 4) as we neither of us found it hugely filling. This is where I slipped up, accidentally adding a drop of fish sauce. Oops! Recipe to come…

 photo IMG_20170306_134659_495_zpslmqbuz5a.jpg photo IMG_20170322_121827_316_zpsv1h8qinf.jpgI actually picked quite an easy week to eat veggie. I didn’t eat out, I didn’t have to cope with the canteen’s main meals. I’m not so sure I could sensibly eat out combined both my allergies and being a vegetarian (off the top of my head I’m thinking of only 3 options, two of which are pizza based…). But I did enjoy it. Whilst I won’t be turned a full-time veggie any time soon, we’ve both agreed to start eating more veggie meals throughout the week.

My Favourite Vegetarian Recipes

3-Bean Chilli, Beetroot Risotto, Blue Cheese & Pear Salad, Mushroom Risotto,Oven-Baked Falafel, Spring Vegetable Carbonara (sans bacon/ham). I’m also working on a cauliflower salad recipe, and I’m itching to share my pomegranate quinoa soon.

The next step though? Find a good value seasonal veg box…

What’s your favourite meat-free recipe?

Lifestyle: A Few Days In York

This little break feels so long ago now. A few days away at the beginning of April, designed to make sure I was relaxed and well-rested ahead of my exam period. We wanted somewhere were we could eat lots and explore – and with cobbled lanes, plenty of museums, interesting little shops, cafes and cosy pubs York fitted the bill perfectly.

 photo A Few Days in York 26_zpszho4rki2.jpg photo A Few Days in York 5_zps4z8i7h5s.jpg photo A Few Days in York 6_zpsikgjsikj.jpgThe train up from London takes around 2 hours, and booking far enough in advance meant it was cheap. Rooms in a Travelodge were also a bargain (top tip: saying you’re travelling for business generally gets you a room on a ‘quiet’ floor which is great for a good nights sleep). This meant we were free to splurge on good food and wine for our trip – after all we were on holiday!

 photo A Few Days in York 1_zpso0fn5at9.jpg photo A Few Days in York 2_zpszqgxnip1.jpg photo A Few Days in York 3_zpsnyh8pzkq.jpg photo A Few Days in York 4_zpsb9mxwx4f.jpgWe kicked off with a meal at York’s up and coming best restaurant, Skosh. They’ve received rave critic reviews despite only opening in 2016 and I can see why. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious, the service fantastic – and we ate at the chef’s table so we could see all the cooking going on. We only managed to get a lunchtime slot as it’s pretty difficult to get a table, but if you can squeeze in it’s well worth it.

The evening we whiled away in Pairings; I would love something like this near me in London. Each order a flight of drink (red wine for me, port for him) and customised our own meat and cheeseboard. Several hours of chatting and giggling later, we both concluded it was the perfect way to spend the first night of our break.

 photo A Few Days in York 18_zpsahcpyiec.jpg photo A Few Days in York 16_zps1iw5r5rq.jpg photo A Few Days in York 15_zpswzu3qhxt.jpg photo A Few Days in York 14_zpsdtxjxfpp.jpg photo A Few Days in York 13_zpsryiettmn.jpg photo A Few Days in York 12_zpstqafbsau.jpg photo A Few Days in York 11_zpsc58rkmam.jpg photo A Few Days in York 10_zpsseskg0zp.jpg photo A Few Days in York 9_zpsojjnfly7.jpg photo 2017-04-03 13.05.05_zpsjkkv0uhg.jpg photo 2017-04-03 11.51.57_zpszcsxhckj.jpg photo A Few Days in York 7_zps6zatirui.jpgAfter a quick brunch in Pig & Pastry, we spent our first morning in the Railway Museum. Far more exciting than it sounds, we could have probably spent longer than the morning in there. However seeing as the sun came out and treated us to a very warm afternoon, lazing about in the Park felt like an amazing use of our time. I also picked up a gorgeous bath-bomb from The Yorkshire Soap Company – I had to make advantage of having access to a bath, even in a Travelodge!

 photo A Few Days in York 28_zpsc62bdu8l.jpg photo A Few Days in York 27_zpsig40e78g.jpg photo A Few Days in York 25_zpsknyl3fxx.jpg photo A Few Days in York 24_zps5cvviu3h.jpg photo A Few Days in York 23_zpsfztpnfai.jpg photo A Few Days in York 21_zps96tnngjt.jpg photo A Few Days in York 20_zps0tuww6ba.jpg photo A Few Days in York 19_zpsf8cga7e4.jpg photo A Few Days in York 31_zpsnxuxylsc.jpg photo A Few Days in York 30_zpsl2sw4odl.jpg photo A Few Days in York 29_zpsiwlfdrue.jpg photo A Few Days in York 33_zpscl5eeann.jpg photo A Few Days in York 35_zpszxxrek8m.jpg photo A Few Days in York 34_zps4asfi3jh.jpgOur final day started in Brew & Brownie, before a walk around the City Walls and a mid-morning nap (the breakfasts were huge). The rest of the day was spent wandering the shops, exploring the Shambles and generally enjoying ourselves. Obviously we hadn’t quite eaten enough food, because we grabbed lunch at Betty’s. We avoided the cliche of afternoon tea but enjoyed their Swiss food. I loved my carb heavy Alpine Macaroni, filled with bacon, potatoes and pasta, whilst W’s Rösti was pretty much perfect.

There was a lot we didn’t manage to do in York. We just missed the reopening of the Viking Centre by a matter of days, and we didn’t manage to go and visit the Minster. We did manage (inadvertently I might add!) to have a little kiss under Heart of Yorkshire stained-glass window – legend says if you do you’ll stay together forever, though he’s stuck with me regardless. I’d have also liked to see a couple of museums, and we both want to explore the Yorkshire Moors – guess we’ll just have to head back up there soon!

Have you ever been to York?

Blogging: Turning Rubbish Photos into Insta-Worthy Snaps (Editing Tips & Tools)

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for months. I’ve become known for having a knack of taking terrible, terrible photos and turning them into Instagram-worthy shots.

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A flower stall snapped from the top desk of a moving bus? A bit of cropping and editing and it fits into my feed quite nicely! A picture of a house at a really dodgy angle? A few taps on VSCO and we have #housegoals. Unappetizing food? Upping the contrast and playing around with the saturation generally gets as close to food porn as my evening meals are gonna get. I can quickly take a snap and be pretty confident I’ll have something to post. I also wanted to buck the trend and write a post about Instagram that doesn’t involve moaning about their ridiculous algorithm… so here’s how I take and edit my snaps and plan out my grid…

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Getting the Angles Right (VSCO)

If you follow me over on Instagram, you’ll know I love pictures of pretty houses and architecture in general (along with food!) – but the key thing with these photos is to get the angles right. I hated most of the photos I took until Katy posted about this little trick (her post gives a step-by-step guide so check it out!). It was a serious game-changer!

The Vertical Tilt feature alters the perspective of the shot. Photos of houses can often have (frankly) dodgy angles because you’re generally not tall enough to take a centered photo – this tool fixes that issue. In a nutshell, you can tilt the top of the building towards you. It pleases my love of straight lines and can fix even the wonkiest of photos. With the exception of the York Shambles. That street was a straight-line-lovers nightmare…

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Cropping & Editing (Instagram)

I generally do all my editing in the Instagram app itself. The main reason is that I’m lazy. The other is I actually find it works quite well with my style of photos and it’s easy to keep things consistent. Too many steps means I’d probably forget something and it just wouldn’t look quite right.

The first thing I do is get it all nicely cropped. The one thing that annoys me about my phone is that I can’t force it to take square photos – and so I quite often end up having photos that simply don’t work in Instagram. Sure, I know you *can* use non-square photos but I’m not a huge fan.

Cropping can also be a lifesaver when you’ve got an ugly element on the photo. The snap above, for instance, was a shopfront near Portobello Market. As I took the photo, a pretty ugly transit van drove by – so instead I cropped out the shop front and ‘grammed the flats above.

Then I go in with a filter. I tend to use Clarendon on all my photos, bar ones that are on a really white background. However I will only use it at a maximum of 30% strength – double tab on each filter in the app to alter how strong it is.

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The main editing is then done ‘manually.’ Usually I do some or all of the following:

  • Up the contrast
  • Up the structure (by a max of 20 points as otherwise it can develop noise)
  • Up highlights and shadows
  • I’ll then go and adjust the warmth and saturation if needed, sometimes the highlight/shadow edit can wash these out slightly
  • Finally I’ll sharpen, usually by around 50%

I try to avoid upping the brightness as I find this was distort the natural shadows in the picture and the finished shot will look slightly flat. Occasionally I’ll also add a bit of Vignette, particular on a flat lay. I find it adds a little more depth.

Then I take a screenshot and crop it to show just the photo. Saving this then gives me a bank of Instagram shots, editing and ready to go. I can import these into my grid-planning tool, upload them to my laptop to use in blog posts and work out how long I’ve got being I need to go and visit a new pretty cafe to stock up on more snaps.

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Planning (Planoly)

Now, I wouldn’t say I have a theme as such. A lot of accounts I follow have a very clearly defined ‘look’ to all their photos, and it’s something I wish I could achieve. Frankly for me, though, it’s not practical. The every-changing weather means sometimes my skies are blue, sometimes grey and moody. I flit between countryside and the city. I spend more time working and studying that I do in pretty cafes. I like to document my food. So what I try and do is keep photos generally quite consistent in terms of style and colours. I’ll bring in a new ‘key’ colour to tie things together – at time of writing I’ve got a lot of green on my feed, a few months ago there was a lot of pink.

I use the app Planoly to plan my feed – it’s probably not the best out there, but it does the job and works well on my phone. I’d love something that can work offline (this one tends to drain my data if I use it away from the flat), and there is a monthly upload limit but it’s working fine for now. Any other Android recommendations out there?

Yes, sure, I’d love to take the perfect photo first time, but I’m finding that this works well for me. My phone also doesn’t have the ability to take ‘square’ photographs, so knowing I’ve got to crop them and play about anyway means doing this doesn’t create any extra work – and it means I have more chance of having a bank of ‘grams ready to post.

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And Finally…Some Instagram Accounts I Love

This is so hard to write – there’s so many accounts I love and my preferences change depending on my food. Generally though my favourite accounts are – rhymeandribbons, farewellmayblog, flatlaybreakfast, fridayfaye, londonfoodboy, jetlagontheroadnatbeesfashion and poppyloveslondon. And obviously so, so many more. If I listed all the ones I loved we’d be here for days…

Are you a fan of Instagram? Send me your account link!

Recipe: Blue Cheese & Pear Salad

Hands up who is fed up of the weather we’ve been having lately? Humid, very wet days alternating with very sunny days. Coupled with my office air-con being set to Arctic mode (I genuinely took a scarf in last week!) it’s left me confused about what to wear and, more importantly, what to eat.

 photo Blue Cheese Pear Salad_zpsjeu2m2q4.jpgTypically in warmer weather I crave lighter food. Salads, zingy flavours. Less of the carb heavy meals I love in winter. But the grey skies together with coming home dripping wet (because BBC Weather told me I didn’t need an umbrella) have got me craving comfort food. I’ve been turning to warm salads recently – the perfect combination of comforting and lightness – and this one is one of my favourites.

The pear provides a subtle freshness to the dish that, as long as it’s no over-ripe, just avoids being too sweet. The toasted walnuts give crunch. Fresh peppery leaves (I like a combo of spinach, rocket and watercress but most generic bags of salad work well). A punchy balsamic dressing. And lots and lots of blue cheese. We went for dolcelatte – it’s both strong and creamy which just the right amount of smelliness for me. AKA it tastes good and strong, but doesn’t make my fridge stink to high heaven. I also have a major love for slightly softer cheese in my salads. All the ingredients come together to make a big bowlful that’s heavy, light and fresh, but with enough cheese to be comforting. If I’m being naughty I love this served with some really good bread, lightly toasted, and a glass of chilled white wine.

Oh, and it you’re not a veggie, I highly recommend a rasher of bacon, finely chopped, and fried until really crispy. Blue cheese and bacon is another of my favourite combos…

 photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 9_zpstlok4l3x.jpg photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 11_zps6aakhlb7.jpgIngredients (Enough for 1)

  • For the dressing – olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard
  • 1 large pear – I found blush pears to work best
  • A knob of butter – goat’s butter* works really well
  • A bowl of salad leaves
  • A good handful of crumbled blue cheese
  • Another good handful of walnuts

Pop the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile throw the leaves in a bowl and season with a little black pepper. Mix up the dressing – add the ingredients to a small jar and beat. Taste and adjust as you go to make it to your liking. I’m a massive balsamic fan but W’s not so keen so I’ve deliberately not given any qualities. The only thing I will say is you really do only want a tiny, tiny bit of mustard. And don’t use English mustard here, I speak from experience when I say it really doesn’t go well!

Slice the pear (no need to peel). Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the pear. Fry for 30 seconds before adding the dressing and warming through – you want the pears to be in the pan for no longer than around 90 seconds or they will go too soft. Add the pears to the salad bowl, and scatter over the walnuts and cheese. Enjoy!

 photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 12_zpsqnuup0kq.jpgAlthough I haven’t tried it, I’m also told that this works just as well with cold sliced pears as part of a lunch box. One I’ll be giving a go very soon…

What’s your favourite salad recipe?