Student Organisation (with a few mini product reviews)

This post has been in my drafts for a long, long time. I kept meaning to come back and add how things have lasted over time, but just didn’t have the motivation. So now, when I should be revising for my exams next week, I’m doing it. Perfect procrastination!

I’m going to concentrate here on the organisation of the learning part of being a student – how I take lecture notes, work independently, stay on track of things and all little bits like that. What I’m not going to take about is the format of my notes, and how I revise. I think that’s something that is very individual to the subject being studied, and I’m not sure many of you will want to read all about how I learn maths – maybe that’s a post for another day!

 

Organisation is something very important to me – many will call me obsessively organised, and yes, if something is out of place, it will stress me out. One of my key priorities is to have subjects/tasks/stuff differentiated and separated into sections.

The way I do this within my university work is through (lots of) folders and (even more) dividers. For my first year, I have gone with a colour scheme of pink and green – this goes for my whole room (and I was very happy to arrive at university and find I’d been allocated a green room, completely by fluke). So I have pink folders, and green folders. All of these I actually saved after condensing my notes down at the end of sixth form, but if any of you are interested they are all from WHSmiths. Cheap(ish) and readily available. They get based quite easily, but mine generally stay in my room so I’m not too worried about that.
Pink and green folders. Because of the way my course is split, I do Pure Maths modules, and Applied Maths modules (the interesting ones!). Because of this, I’ve split my folders up – pink for the applied, green for the pure. Some of my folders are not ringbinders, but lever arch, and these bigger ones hold bigger modules, ie the 30 credit ones.

I then use dividers to split modules into topics. Usually this is quite easy, in that at the start lecturers told us what topics were coming up. Its not so easy when they just present you with a stream of knowledge, and I’m expected to organise it myself. Potential lecturers/teachers, take note of that!  Because I put a lot of things into plastic wallets, normal dividers don’t come out wide enough. You can buy extra-wide ones, but they are expensive. Instead I cut slots in plastic wallets, and put dividers in those. Works just as well.
So, that’s my main folders discussed.

I then have another ringbinder – a more expensive plastic one this time, again with my widened dividers in. I carry this around with me, with each division devoted to a module. I aim to keep at least one spare plastic wallet per module in there at all times, and some extra paper. This keeps my ‘current’ lecture notes organised, and allows me to slot new things in whenever.

I usually file the stuff in this folder away into the main folders either at the end of each topic, or when it is getting very full and heavy. I confess I usually leave it too late, so it tends to take much longer than it should!

I also keep in this folder two of an item that has become incredibly useful over this last year.  It’s going to be difficult for me to explain these, without sounding like a total idiot, so have a look here. I find them invaluable for throwing in things I will need quickly (I don’t need to take the folder out of my bag to retrieve things from these), and for keeping things in when I inevitably run out of plastic pockets. I actually bought mine from the university’s stationary shop, and paid considerably more than on Amazon, I know I’ll be ordering from there next time!

 

I then carry around the usual pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, calculator etc. I actually use a make-up bag as I couldn’t find a pencil case I liked in September, however I do now I have a smaller case from Wilkinsons for days my bag is really heavy. Such is my obsessiveness about being organised, I also have an exam pencil case – an extra large clear plastic one, in which a spare calculator lives, and some never used before pencils. Sad I know!

A quick notes about the pens I use. I have been using Pilot Frixion erasable pens since the start of university, and I really do love them. They erase reasonably well (not perfectly, particularly on low quality paper), are quick drying (a huge necessity for a leftie!) and last a while considering a write a lot! A box of 12 pens lasts me just over a 12 week term, at £17 a box. So they are pricey, but for me they are worth it.

For paper, I buy refill packs from Rymans – they’re cheaper (with student discount) than WHSmiths, a better quality paper and they always seem to have narrow-ruled in stock. I have to use narrow ruled!

That is my absolutely essentials, for carrying around a normal day at university. Now if only I could find a bag that would comfortably fit those (and lunch and a textbook) in I’d be happy!

 

For keeping track of timings of lectures, deadlines, exams, and all other activities, I use a combination of things that work for me. Everyone is different, so don’t assume this works for you!

I obviously make use of my smartphone, a Samsung. In my case, my university timetable has synced to my calendar, with all information about lectures. I keep an alarm on set for an hour before the beginning of each to give me enough warning. I also put exams and deadlines on here. I try to keep my work schedule on here too, particularly as I work flexible and so difficult-to-remember hours.

I then have an A3 wall planner. I bought mine from Rymans, as it was the only A3 one I could fine – other sizes were just too big! I record on here term dates, exams and deadlines, visits to/from my boyfriend, and important financial dates such as payday and rent day. I cross of days with a big black marker – this helps me easily see when I need to do what, and how long it is before I get hugs!

The most important part of my organisation is, however, something any older readers may recognise from the eighties. Yes, I have a beloved Filofax. This was not bought on a student budget (although some models are more easily affordable) and was in fact a treat for my A-level results. I chose a Vintage Pink Personal Malden, which retailed at around £75. I paid £41 for it on Amazon, and got a bargain, especially as second hand versions of this model are currently selling still for it’s retail price. My Filofax contains everything about my life – important medical information, diary (which EVERYTHING goes into, including minor to-do’s such as exercises from lectures), shopping lists, timetables, careers notes, finance recording, cards (credit, store, etc) that I don’t use too often, spare money (I advise to always keep a spare £10 somewhere!), university passwords, shopping vouchers, year planner. Literally everything. It’s currently stuffed to the brim and in need of a sort out. I’m definitely glad I paid a little bit extra for a leather filofax, it lies flat (a problem I have heard about affecting some of the cheaper brands), is lovely and soft, smells wonderful, and will last a long, long time! I am also still in love with the colour. It’s a lovely, romantic, dusky pink – girly, but professional too. Definitely something that will last in terms of style.

(I’ve recently noticed that Filofax have been producing a new range, called the original, which is produced by the Leather Satchel Company, who I talked about in a previous post. I could get a bag matching a (new) Filofax! Ah, if money were no object…)

At some point in the near future I plan to publish (another half-written) article fully reviewing my Filofax, or at least a more in depth discussion of how I use it. Until then, look at Philofaxy for inspiration about how others use them!

I believe that I have discussed the main points about my organisation, for now at least. I aim to blog more (i.e. procrastinate more) over the next few months, particularly as those a year younger than me will be preparing to head to university and I want to help them as much as possible. Bye for now!

Battle of the (Own) Brands

Let’s face it, students have to watch their pennies. Or in my case, watch their pennies leave their pockets as quickly as they’ve made it there (damn Canterbury rents being so expensive they swallow up my entire loan, and more…). So I thought I’d do a post on good-for-the-pocket-and-the-mouth food buys. And maybe some household and cosmetic items too.

So here it is, my cost-saving guide to shopping!

First of all, my first point is to always check the clearance shelves. You can normally find things that you would have considered out of your budget there – like two plaice fish fillets (fresh fish is SO good for you) for £1.20 as apposed to nearly £6. Okay, still not the cheapest meal option. But perhaps having a ‘treat’ meal on your shopping day will keep you satisfied with cheaper items.

I would also advocate looking in ‘cheap’ shops. Aldi is my favourite, along with Poundland, simply because I can easily get items from them.

My parents bring me my favourite from Aldi, seeing as the one here is unhelpfully located in terms of bus stops. I love their own-brand cereal and instant hot chocolate. Their branded bread tends to be far cheaper than other shops too. And according to my parents, their meat is the best quality they’ve had in the last few months. I’m unable to vouch for this, having not tried it.

Poundland is great for things like cereal bars, branded cereal (because who doesn’t like Chocolate Minibix…), and crisps.

I’m now going to completely contradict myself. PLEASE don’t avoid shops deemed as ‘expensive.’ And by that I mean Waitrose and M&S. They can have some seriously good buys, and in some cases work out cheaper than Tesco.

Who knows the much-longed-for Tesco deal of 3-for-£10 meats, mix and match? Its on for a couple of months, spread about throughout the year, or it is as far as I’ve noticed. Well Waitrose does the same deal. But it’s on permanently  And the choice is much greater. You can buy turkey breasts (healthier than chicken, unfortunately out of stock this weekend), and various cuts of meat. There is more weight in the mince and chicken included (550g mince as opposed to 500g). This weekend I purchased two packs of mince, and one of mini chicken breast fillets; this has made two portions of chicken/mushroom casserole (along with two portions of the sauce for pasta), two portions of chicken curry (two portions of the sauce made into vegetable curry), four portions of chilli, three cottage pies, and four portions of bolognese. I personally find some of their vegetables bigger and cheaper than Tesco too, though do check before buying – I notably saved money on the cabbage from Waitrose, and it was far nicer than Tesco! I also must mention that Waitrose do the best dried noodles ever!

M&S is less useful, and I mainly use it for their tomato-free curry paste (the Tandoori is lovely, the Balti is yet to be tried!). However, their Dine In For £10 is excellent, and is the monthly treat when my man comes to visit!

Now…(Own) Brand Winners!

Garlic Bread

Tesco Value (30-something pence a loaf, serves 3) is lovely, cooks great, not too strong, not bland, not greasy or dry – its a winner! Just avoid ASDAs equivilant…

Naan Bread

I must confess I have only tried Tesco’s, but it is very yummy. Their standard ones are the right size for a single portion, the garlic and coriander flavour is just enough, and they are 6 for £1 and freeze really well.

Yoghurt

For individual pots, ASDA is great. I like their 6x125g pots of low fat vanilla/toffee for £1. They do packs of 4 for a £1 too, with slightly more variety in flavour. For bigger pots, I like Tesco’s lemon, as it has just the right amount of bitterness.

Chocolate Mousse

Tesco is the clear winner here, at 24p for four value mousse, that are absolutely yummy. They’re also great frozen!

Scampi

I recently ‘risked’ some Tesco Value Scampi Bites, at £1.25 for two portions. I say risked, as cheap seafood scares me. However, despite oozing some dubious looking liquid during cooking, and having to be turned regularly to prevent going soggy, these were surprisingly nice, and definitely worth buying – I won’t bother with more expensive stuff until I can afford it! That said, if you don’t need to cut pennies too much, go for more expensive versions.

Southern Fried Chicken

Aldi and Tesco’s (both frozen) is very good, as is Waitrose (also frozen, and considerably more expensive).

Pies

Now, nothing beats a Pukka pie. Especially as they’re tomato free. Most other supermarket deep-filled ones are, so I tend to buy (when I’m not treating myself) the shallow puff pastry ones. They’re usually priced at around 2 for £1.10, and whilst they aren’t full of meat, they’re okayish. The chicken ones tend to be far nicer than the steak.

Squash

I love ASDA’s Lemon and Lime double concentrate. Be warned it is very strong, and tastes very nice with vodka. ASDA’s Blackcurrant high juice is another favourite and has been for several years – I don’t drink normal Ribena, only this.

Curry Sauce (Korma)

As I am allergic to tomatoes, I only have a few options here. Tesco Finest Royal Korma sauce has a very, very odd texture – it tastes floury. It is also very expensive! ASDA normal brand Korma is a bigger jar, smells amazing, and tastes okay. It is a little bland, but I tend to marinate my chicken in Mark’s and Spencer’s tandoori paste, which helps. As does adding onions, peppers and chillies. Yes it perhaps bumps the price up a little, but it also bulks it out, so the meat goes further – bulking out meals is something I really, really suggest when cooking on a budget.

Cream Cheese

Bit of an odd one. Philadelphia is lovely, lovely, lovely, and you can honestly tell the difference. But at 1/4 of the price, Tesco’s value version isn’t too bad, just buy the full fat!

Cookies

The best packet of cookies I have ever, ever bought is from Aldi. They are around 30-45p a packet for 20 cookies, and honestly taste far superior to Maryland. They stand up well to dunking into drinks too….

Hair Styling Product

One for the girls. If you have curly hair, humidity is a nightmare, and causes a lot of frizz (and tears). Boots Curl Creme (it is pink) is the only thing that helps me. Apply to wet/damp hair. Only use a tiny tiny bit and rub in between your hands first, so it goes white. It’s very, very cheap and lasts for ages. I have about 5 tubs as a few years ago there was a discontinuation scare.

Hot Chocolate

ALDI for the win! Their big tubs of hot chocolate are £1.09, as opposed to a more general price of £2+, and it does taste very nice. However their individual sachets are really not pleasant, and for here I reccomend Options, which are very pricey. I only buy sachets for taking to work, so it’s not too much of an issue, but definitely wouldn’t ‘live’ off Options hot chocolate as I do the Aldi stuff.

Washing-up Liquid

I personally would never, ever buy Value range washing up liquid, there’s something so sad about getting so little bubbles in the bowl. However, ASDA’s own Lemon washing up liquid is my current favourite. Very bubbly, cuts through grease well, and smells gorgeous (although coming from a family where citrus products are banned, maybe I’m just addicted to the scent!).

Tea Bags

I love Yorkshire tea. It’s my absolute favourite. I can’t afford it. Even after my student loan comes in, I know perfectly well that if I buy it I’ll drink a huge pack in a week, and that’s just too expensive. So I stick to Tesco’s standard brand, or Aldi’s. They are stronger though, so brew for less time.

Cheese

Please, please don’t waste your money buying cheaper stuff. It is awful, and really doesn’t taste nice. More expensive cheese really is the only thing to go, and thats why I save it for a treat (or when the parents pay for shopping!). If you eat a lot of meals that include cheese in the cooking, buy a packet of ready grated parmesan, provides cheesy flavour for a much lower price!

Things to AVOID

  • ASDA Smart Price Garlic Bread – just horribly strong tasting, but not strongly of garlic!
  • Own-Brand White Lasagne sauce – I’ve never found anything close to Dolmio!
  • Own-Brand Chocolate – it’s alright to cook with, but not for eating.
  • ALDI flour- makes Toad in the Hole soggy and watery, and makes pancakes sticky.
  • ASDA Smart Price chocolate mousse – so bitter its inedible!
  • Own brand pesto – bleurgh!
  • Value branded washing up liquid – no bubbles!

The Impossible-To-Find Necessity

You would think a bag is a pretty simple thing to find. I mean, virtually every shop will sell some kind of bags.

As a typical girl, I do love my bags, and freely admit to having quite a few. My lovely (and rather expensive) Hidesign Eton Leather Workbag  (available now from John Lewis, I bought it at a local saddler’s several years ago considerably cheaper than it is now advertised) was bought for sixth form. I do love this bag, I really do. Its stylish, simple, and most important good quality. But it isn’t quite big enough. Sure, it sits a folder in, but then not a lot else. For the moment it’s been relegated to my laptop bag. For this bag in the closest colours to the one I have, look here.

I also have an excellent-quality-for-the-price purple shopper. It was from Pepe Jeans around six years ago, has travelled to numerous countries, and acted as a school bag for many academic terms. It sadly took it’s last holiday last summer, where its zips gave up on a train somewhere between Zurich and Interlaken. I am looking into the replacement of the zips, but at a quoted cost of £40 to do so, I’m wondering whether it might be a good idea to indulge myself and look for a new bag.

(of course, I do have several “pretty” bags…my Zara bowler bag, lovely, unfortunately doesn’t fit A4…my fake LV, in lavender purple, which I went to great lengths to haggle to a good price in a shop off Side’s main high street…my over-sized Henry Holland clutch, bought purely (obviously) because I needed something to take to a wedding/prom and house my diabetic boyfriend’s insulin stuff…)

Anyway, I promise this post is student and university related!

For years, I have really struggled to find a stylish, elegant, decent-quality bag that will comfortably fit at least one A4 folder, along with pencil case, lunch, and maybe some textbooks. I really don’t think this is too much to ask.

The solution I am currently relying on is a felt-style black beaded bag, bought by my Nan many years ago and never used. It fits all my stuff in (just) but it has has a popper fastening, which doesn’t do anywhere near up when ‘full.’ So it’s not particularly secure, it’s hideously uncomfy on my shoulders, and yep, it’s falling apart after just seven months of use.

I’ve tried the satchel style bags from River Island back in my sixth form days. The strap broke, landing the bag in the middle of a very busy road, after two days.

I’ve tried rucksacks, cheap and pricey. One, I really don’t like the traditional hiking style ones (and the fashionable ones aren’t nearly big or strong enough) and, two, it’s just really impractical to use if you’re out shopping and want to grab your purse. Plus, I want something timeless and stylish.

At the moment, I’m currently searching for some kind of bag to use as my university bag for at least my second year, and hopefully beyond. It’s seeming impossible.

I found a close contender on a stall at Fosse Park. It was huge, compartmented, and made of strong PU leather. It was very lovely to look at, and I would have loved it. I opened it up and the flap hid a zip two-inches less wide than the bag. No A4 folder would fit. Damn.

I spent a whole day (even I don’t do whole-shopping-days!) looking for bags in Leicester last week. John Lewis, House of Fraser, Debenhams, TK MAXX, Primark, M&S, BHS. You name it, I looked there. The closest I found was this but it just didn’t seem strong enough.

So, at the moment, I’ve turned to the internet, and searching through word of house to find a bag big enough, strong enough, stylish enough, timeless enough, and just nice enough to justify the price tag….

I’ve looked at the Cambridge Satchel Company. I just adore the style of these, but I just can’t stand the feel. The leather is just too stiff, too inflexible, and they’re also getting a little too mainstream. I want something a little different, but still in the classic leather colours (preferably dark brown or tan).

I’ve looked at Zatchels, a slightly different alternative. Their executive style in brown would be perfect for me, but I just can’t justify the price tag. *sigh* £185, or £195 is just way out of my budget right now. If I can hang on until December, with my birthday and Christmas, then this would be a serious contender. Yet I can’t see my current bag lasting until next academic year, yet alone several months into it.

This weekend I saw an advert at my boyfriend’s university halls  from Chivote. I was really intrigued by this company, so I suggest you check them out!

Then, I found a company which has quickly become my favourite – The Leather Satchel Company here looks an excellent and slightly cheaper alternative, especially with the huge amount of customisation. And they are the original company offering satchels – which the Cambridge company is NOT despite what the majority of people believe.

I had thought, up until this weekend, that these companies were pretty much the ones I was going to be limited to. They are, after all, ones I’ve had recommended in terms of quality and customer service, and I’m pretty sure, almost, that they’d be big enough. But I’m not 100% sure enough to pay out that amount of money (and hey, my student loan doesn’t turn up til next week…).

To anyone who knows anything about bags; here is a list of what I want/need from a bag, so if you have any product or brand recommendations, please comment, or tweet me!

  • Leather, or leather style-plastic
  • Ideally a nice natural neutral colour – brown, tan or red
  • Big enough to fit A4 folder PLUS other items
  • Big enough for 15.6″ laptop (but not completely necessary as my current Hidesign does this well)
  • Ideally with compartments to separate stuff out
  • Outside pockets for easier access to essential items
  • Proper fastening – zip or buckle
  • Strong
  • Extremely long-lasting
  • Comfortable
  • Classically styled

I’m hoping that’s not to hard an ask…I guess the proof will be if I find a suitable bag in the next few months!

Baking: Banana Nutella Oat Muffins

I’ve been looking for recipes I can bake which will do for an on-the-run breakfast, or quick but filling snack, when I go to lectures. My second-term timetable is pretty evil; 9am starts four days out of five, and 5pm finishes most days. This means making things ahead is a must for me (my freezer is currently stuffed full of meals – another blog post!). Now, last week I bought some bananas, thinking I would eat them. I always get cravings for bananas, but never eat them. I tend to want them at ridiculous times (who gets up at 3am just to have a banana?!) and so they just go overripe. As these ones did. However, I’m now a student. I can’t afford to throw away food. I quickly went through what was in my cupboards, did a bit of googling, and decided to adapt The Londoner’s recipe (found here) to make them a bit more substantial. Basically I made it, threw in some oats, and reduced the nutella slightly. Here’s what I did, and what I ended up with:

 

2013-01-27 16.35.32

 

Banana Nutella Oaty Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 230g flour (I used plain, and added 3-4 teaspoons of baking powder and a splash of milk)
  • 150g sugar (I’d reduced this down next time, probably to 120g, maybe 100g)
  • 2 tablespoons porridge oats (could add more – I will be)
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 115g melted butter (I used salted)
  • 2 eggs (I used medium sized ones)
  • 2 tablespoons of nutella

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Peel, break up and then mash the bananas straight into your mixing bowl. Don’t worry too much about lumps.
  3. Melt the butter, and add to the bananas. Let it cool for a bit if its a little warm, or you’ll scramble the eggs.
  4. Break the eggs, beat lightly and add to the bowl. Mix everything together briefly.
  5. Add the flour (and baking powder if you’re using plain flour) and sugar, and mix until everything is just combined. It will look a bit like sick – don’t worry, it definitely shouldn’t be smooth! 
  6. Mix in the porridge oats – it will look even more like sick now!
  7. Prep a muffin tin by putting in paper cases. You could use the posh silicon ones, but that’s too much washing up for me!
  8. Add one tablespoon of the mixture to each case.
  9. Melt down your nutella slightly. Add a bit (around a teaspoon, definitely a good dollop) to each case.
  10. Top the nutella with around another tablespoon of the muffin mixture.
  11. Get a teaspoon and turn it upside down, and use the handle to swirl the muffins, making a marbled pattern with the batter and the nutella.
  12. Put the tray in the oven, cook for just over 20 minutes (mine took 22).
  13. Bowl licking time – the nutella one can’t just be washed of course, needs to be as clean as possible beforehand! 
  14. Let cool until you can handle them, eat warm if possible. 

 

I thought these were really good. I would maybe want them more substantial. Next time I will reduce the sugar, add at least double the amount of oats (and probably a little more baking powder), and maybe add some chopped nuts. There’s another version of this recipe which uses no flour and no butter (but does add low fat yoghurt) which I fancy trying, but that means digging my blender out of the cupboard. This recipe took about 15 minutes to mix up (rushing up and downstairs locating ingredients), and then 22 minutes to cool, and comes in at a reasonable 205 calories per muffin (the mix made 14 muffins). Alongside an apple, I reckon they could be a decent breakfast for days I wake up too late to make porridge. They’re definitely a good snack for a long weekend-day of maths!

 

These are amazingly quick to make, and a great fuel for the mind – I’ve made them lots during the exam term as they’re great to make when you need a break, and great to eat when you need cheering up!

Restaurant Review: Dinner at Zizzi Market Harborough

Italian restaurants are, surprisingly, some of my favourite. I say surprisingly because I’m actually severely allergic to a key Italian ingredient. Trust me, a tomato allergy is very limiting. However despite this being a key ingredient, it is easy to avoid in Italian cooking. Either dishes have tomatoes or they don’t. None of this ambiguity you find in other types of cooking (the amount of British stews and pies containing tomato puree really annoys me!).

Out of Italian chain restaurants, both ASK and Zizzi are close to being my favourite. ASK has the slight edge in that they don’t practise excessive use of herbs. Pizza Express doesn’t even come close. Anyway, I visited Zizzi in Market Harborough last Thursday for my sister’s birthday;

 

To start, we shared a ‘large’ portion of calamari, and some garlic bread.

I love love love calamari. The best I’ve ever had is either the baby squid at ASK (although seeing them whole is a little off-putting) or the spicy squid at Jamie’s Italian in Brighton. Zizzi’s was also very very good; served so piping hot it burnt, very very crispy, and with a creamy dip that had a good lemony kick.

The garlic bread at Zizzi is also very good, soft, buttery, and garlicky without that dreadful aftertaste.

 

For mains, I chose the Penne della Casa. Other mains on the table were Rigatoni con Pollo e Funghi, Sofia Rustica Pizza, Zizzi Fish Stew, and the Pork Belly.

My main was delicious, although not without faults. The chicken was beautifully soft and flavoursome, the spinach perfectly cooked, the cheese wonderfully goeey and stringy. The sauce was very nice, although far too thin. The biggest let down was the bacon; it was extremely fatty, and didn’t taste of anything. It was also a very off-putting highlighter pink colour.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t try the other pasta dish, the pizza or the fish stew. The other pasta dish was apparently let down by the extreme use of rosemary. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the other dishes, they were both wolfed down by the male members of our party.

The Pork Belly was the source of my food envy. Described as “crisp slow-roast belly of pork on spring greens sautéed in garlic butter” it was a huge piece of meat, served on top of a massive portion of green vegetables. No starchy-carby sides were provided, although they were not needed. The pork was seasoned beautifully, and cooked to absolute perfection. It was falling apart, yet still tender, succulent, and had wonderfully chewy and crispy edges. The greens still had a good bite to them, and were lovely and garlicky. This is definitely the dish I will order next time!

 

We didn’t order desert, and instead ate birthday cake. However due to a big delay in our mains arriving (there were multiple Christmas parties taking place) we were given a free bottle of Prosecco which went down very nicely.

The food was a little over-seasoned, but the staff wonderfully. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

Square Meal

Restaurant Review: Wined and Dined at ABode Canterbury

Now, this post is going to be slightly odd seeing as it’s on a student blog. Decent food (and I mean amazingly good food!) is wayyyy out of my budget, but for my birthday my lovely boyfriend treated me to an rather posh meal at quite an exclusive restaurant; certainly one of the best I’ve eaten in.

Before I start gushing about the food, a little complaint about my age. Nineteen sounds so old! I’m 20 next year, and in just 13 days I’ll have to say “I’m 21 next year” if asked that question. Just as long as, with the help of Loreal, my hair remains blonde, I’m happy.

Right, food.

I was lucky enough to be taken to ABode in Canterbury, a Michelin accredited restaurant in the city centre run by Michael Caines (the chef, not the actor). It is definitely up there with some of the best meals I have eaten; only one other strikes me as being memorable throughout my lifetime. Unfortunately due to restaurant rules I was unable to take photographs of the food, so I’ll just do my best to describe it.

We were warmly, if rather oddly welcomed. It was assumed when we arrived that we weren’t diners, despite our smart dress. I guess they don’t see many of their clientele being students! There was also a confusion with the booking, and as a result the menu we requested was unavailable.

We were seated quickly, and presented with a basket of fresh bread and butter. There were three types of bread; a white with sea salt; a brown with honey; and a sun-dried tomato. I tried the white and the brown, being unable to try the third (although apparently it was good). As this was the first bread I’d had in a good couple of months, I wasn’t in a fit state to take any of it in. It was very, very nice bread.. We made our food choice over the bread, choosing from the set lunch menu.

For me, my starter was probably the highlight of my meal, despite the eyelash it came adorned with. It was a pan-fried fillet of mackerel, served with potato salad and salsa verde. The mackerel was fried to perfection, beautiful crispy skin (no soggy bits at all!) beautifully flavoured, wonderfully salty and almost sweet flesh, and nearly all of the bones removed. I was cautious about the potato salad, but this was nothing like the pot you buy in Waitrose in the summer. This was a three tier tower of tiny diced potatoes, very al dente, with pickled vegetables. I enjoyed the pickled ‘something’ – a flat and very thin disk, which was crispy and well flavoured. I enjoyed the onions, and even the tiny mini-florets of pickled cauliflower. But despite my enjoyment of radishes in other dishes, I really disliked these. Maybe that was me. The entire dish was perfectly balanced, and I really enjoyed it.

My boyfriend’s starter was also very well received. He ordered cauliflower soup nervously; neither of us enjoys that particular vegetable. He was even more nervous when presented with a bowl of, admittedly quite nice looking, cauliflower florets. No soup to be seen. Disaster was averted when it was poured in via a jug at the table. This soup was some of the best soup I’ve eaten. I actually enjoy the taste of cauliflower, it’s the texture that spooks me. Soup is clearly the remedy for that, and I may consider buying it and making some soup next term. The cauliflower ‘croutons’ aside, I’d have happily eaten this.

 

The mains came perhaps a little too swiftly after the starters. But again, I’m being demanding and picky.

My boyfriend fell in love with his dish; pork fillet, with various vegetables, apple sauce, and some kind of jus. It certainly looked pretty, but I personally wasn’t a fan. However, I really dislike fruit in my main course; cranberry sauce with my turkey (and I don’t eat turkey more often that every five or so years) is my limit. For me, this dish was too sweet, but everyone else I witnessed eating it seemed to think differently to me.

My dish was very very close to the standard of my starter, and I really enjoyed it. I had ordered Wild Mushroom Risotto, with a Nutmeg and Parmesan Foam. The risotto was perfectly seasoned, both creamy and light, and the rice was cooked nicely. I would have perhaps liked more mushrooms, or perhaps more mushroom flavour, but I make my own risotto very strongly flavoured, so this is more personal taste. I had always thoughts foams a bit pointless; surely its just a bit air-like, and surely it would get cold quickly. I was wrong. This added a perfect strong flavour, and sort of melted into the risotto, making it even more creamy and luxurious. I would definitely order this dish again! However, one thing let it down; the garnish of cress felt like something a pub-restaurant would add, and for me its bitter flavour spoilt what was otherwise my dream dish.

 

We were left alone for a considerable time before ordering desert, for which I was grateful. We ordered two deserts, with an agreement to halve each. The first was a lemon tart, with raspberry coulis, lemon peel and various other adornments. For me this was a little cloying, but I had fallen in love with our other desert. The second was a white chocolate mousse on hazelnut biscuit with more raspberry coulis. I found this more delicately flavoured, with enough texture to keep it interesting.

 

Having read though my post, it actually doesn’t sound like I am praising the restaurant much – which is not the impression I want to give! In fact, it was by far ahead of many meals I have previously eaten, and definitely on my list to visit again. It was an amazing birthday treat for which I am extremely thankful, and I enjoyed the food immensely. Cress and eyelash aside. And hopefully, I’ll be taken back there again, or to other amazing restaurants (hint hint!)

Square Meal

Not All Students Live Off Baked Beans!

I’ve been keeping a meal diary since I moved to university, and I want to prove that not all students live off of ready meals, toast and noodles. Admittedly two of my housemates seem to, but I honestly think I can cook better meals and save money. For a start, many ready meals are upwards of £2. Considering I spend less than £10 in total on my weekly shop, I’d be spending a fortune more if I survived on ready meals. Basically, what I’m going to do here is to write a list of all of the dinners I have eaten since I have been here. If I can, I’ll give a rough estimate of cost, and maybe a brief description of how I made it. Some might even have stomach-rumble-inducing photos too…so here goes:

Day 1: Cereal in a mug. Yes naughty of me. Yes my mum would go mad. But I had half an hour in which to eat and get ready to meet newly-made friends. I had no clean pots out. I couldn’t find any of my food I’d brought. So cereal it was.

Day 2: Nothing. Yes I know that was bad. BUT I went to ASK with the family before they left, and had a huge plate of risotto and garlic bread.

Day 3: Chilli con Carne. I portioned out a 500g pack of mince, made cottage pie, bolgnese mix and chilli – and got six meals. This was the first, and very yummy it was with rice, cheese and tortilla chips. Because I’m severely allergic to tomatoes, I use a substitute which due to p&p is very expensive. Not ideal for a student, but I use it sparingly and it does enable me to keep eating a varied diet.

Day 4: Cottage Pie (see above). All I can remember about this is that it was deconstructed as I couldn’t get the oven to turn on. I have, thankfully, solved that problem now. I had this with carrots, peas, brocoli and sweetcorn, as well as extra gravy – yummy, homely and healthy!

Day 5: Prawn Stir fry. I have written about my stir fry recipe on here before – all I did was add frozen cooked prawns. I discovered Sharwoods noodles are awful – the best are Waitrose own, the ones that only need soaking. They’re surprisingly cheap as well, but then I’m hugely defensive about Waitrose prices.

Day 6: Chicken Kiev with Couscous Salad. Had a bit of a kitchen war with my housemates on this night (which gets repeated around once a week – a group take over the kitchen cooking using the oven and all four gas rings for several hours). It was 8pm by the time I got into the kitchen, and I needed something quick. This was the answer.

Day 7: Lasagne. I used the mince mixture I’d made up previously, and half a jar of Dolmio white sauce (the same one my mum used back in the days where I could eat tomatoes). This was amazing; served with a salad it was home on a plate.

Day 8: Pasta Bake, made with ham, mushrooms and the leftover Dolmio from the day before. Again served with salad, this was an amazingly quick meal, but definitely needed more pepper in the sauce.

Day 9: Sausage Casserole. One of my most prized possessions at university is a Le Cruset dish, which is the perfect size for an individual pasta bake or lasagne. Coming a close second is my Le Cruset casserole dish. I love stews and casseroles, and they’re perfect for batch cooking. I buy the most amazing sausages from Waitrose (2 packs for £5 – I get at least 8 meals out of this, which I think is great), they are spicy with chorizo, and they make the most amazing casserole. I also buy their Cumberland sausages for toad in the hole, and meatballs. I also insist on having Waitrose cheese. And to be honest, their meat is almost always on 3 for £10, exactly the same deal as other supermarkets. And call me a snob, but I can tell the difference.

Day 10: Carbonara. This is something I’ve mastered at university. I haven’t managed to take a photo, as its something that needs to be eaten immediately. But basically cook pasta, try chopped bacon, mix cooked pasta into bacon pan, season and turn off heat. Beat eggs with lots of finely grated cheese, and gradually add to pan, stirring constantly. If needed add heat to thicken sauce. It shouldn’t scramble, especially if you add the egg gradually. I occasionally substitute the bacon with mushrooms, courgette or even sausage meat, or a combination of all three. Mushrooms and sausage is my favourite combination – like a full English pasta dish!

Day 11: Prawn, Courgette, Chilli, Lemon and Garlic Pasta. Just something quick and delicious I threw together.

Day 12: Toad in the Hole, Onion Gravy, Spinach, Cabbage, Brocoli and Peas. One of my favourite meals. I use Nigellas recipe for Chinese yorkshire pudding, in which you add flour to eggs and milk rather than the other way round. I make a huge portion, and scoff the lot. I’m hugely greedy when it comes to this dish.

Day 13: Chilli con Carne, with rice and tortilla chips. Another one of my batches from the first few days.

Day 14: Courgette carbonara. Seasoned with lemon juice; not advised with eggs, but I enjoyed the lift it gave.

Day 15: Scrambled egg on toast. This was the night I rushed to the boyfriends…to be fair we had stopped for lunch on route…I had a massive plate of chips, peppercorn sauce, grilled mushrooms and a very rare and bloody steak. Nom nom nom…

Day 16: Nothing. It was an emotional day with my man, and leaving him again made me cry for virtually the whole of my four hour train journey. I didn’t fancy a thing.

Day 17: Carrot Stir fry. It was quick and easy, and used what I had in. Still hated Sharwoods noodles though!

Day 18: Sausages, mash, and green vegetables. Reasonably easy and homely. Not impressed with my cheap potato masher though – its very bendy…

Day 19: Cheesy Ham Potato Bake. My usual pasta bake, with parboiled potatoes cut into slices replacing the pasta. Again served with a salad. I really enjoy this dish, its definitely going to be a staple over the winter!

Day 20: Sausage Casserole, mash, and vegetables.

Day 21: Cheesy Pasta Bake, again with salad.

Day 22: Steak Pie, homemade chips, and vegetables. Pukka pies can be bought and frozen in tesco, and are often on offer for £1. I always stock up as (1) it is rare to find pies without tomato in, and (2) I just love them. They do unfortunately take 50 minutes from frozen, but they’re so good I don’t care!

Day 23: Mushroom risotto, garlic bread and salad. Yes, I cooked risotto. Yes I’m not a normal student. But it was so good! I just made up the recipe, and I’ll probably do a specific blog post about it at some point as it just was so very very yummy. Risotto is actually quite quick, and good for leftovers (one day only) or freezing. Purists would frown on reheating it, but I find it works quite well. Better than reheating pasta anyway.

Day 24: Cheesy Pasta Bake and salad.

Day 25: Creamy Mushroom chicken, with rice, peas and brocoli. I love chicken tonights creamy mushroom sauce, its one of my favourite things. Yes jarred sauces are quite expensive, but I think this is worth it. I get four meals out of a jar of sauce, so its reasonably economical – its chicken thats hugely expensive.

Day 26: Sausages, Mash, and veg.

Day 27: Chilli potato bake. An experiment which didn’t exactly work. I layered chilli with potato slices, topped with cheese and tortilla chips and then baked. The textures were awful, and it was a waste of good food.

Day 28: Cheesy Pasta Bake. Needed something quick and easy as my man was coming down that night and I needed to meet him at the station!

Day 29: Carbonara and garlic bread, requested and devoured by the boyfriend. We also shared a whole chicken and four sides in Nandos…and had chocolate pudding made in the slow cooker (which unfortunately looked rather a lot like poo…). The chocolate sauce was very yummy, the sponge very odd.

Day 30: Sausage Casserole, eaten in tears having said goodbye. Good comfort food, served with mash and veg. And bread to mop up the gravy. And then the last of the chocolate pudding, which was better having rested for a day, and then heated in the microwave.

Day 31: Jacket potato with cheese and salad. Nothing much to say about this really.

Day 32: Mushroom risotto, salad and garlic bread. Not as good as my first attempt, but I was making two batches with a small amount of mushrooms, and no bacon.

Day 33: Leftover mushroom risotto.

Day 34: Pukka Steak pie, and vegetables. Yummy yum.

Day 35: Ham and Mushroom Pasta Bake – with salad. Accidently added too much garlic to the mushrooms, but it was reasonably yummy.

Day 36: Sausage casserole, with garlic bread. I spent a long day at work, got home at half eight, and needed something quick. This was the answer; and as my casserole recipe is quite spicy, it works with garlic bread.

Day 37: Chips, garlic bread and chocolate cake; celebrating a friends birthday.

Day 38: Breaded plaice fillet, new potatoes, and peas, with butter and lemon. Managed to get the plaice on a whoops in tesco – £1.25 for two fillets, instead of four pounds something, it was lovely.

Day 39: I was violently ill with a stomach bug, as was everyone else in the house. Somehow I think this might be related to one filthy housemate who continues to chop raw meat anywhere and everywhere without ever wiping down. Anyway, I didn’t eat anything.

Day 40: Luckily I was feeling better. Attended a careers event in London, where I had canapes and wine, following my a dinner date with my dad (who works in the city)  – bread and balsamic, mushroom and truffle risotto to start, then braised rump of lamb with mash and green beans. Some of the nicest dinner I’ve had, although the lamb was well done rather than the medium I’ve asked for. We went to Cafe des Amis, near Covent Garden, and whilst it was lovely it was overpriced – even with 50% off using our taste card, we paid £60. Okay value at this price; full price it would have been a disappointment. But I’ll happily go back there again, maybe for a romantic dinner with the boyfriend.

Day 41: Mushroom and chicken pasta bake, using one of my Chicken tonight bag of frozen leftovers. Tasted very much like the dish on ASKs menu, I was impressed with myself. Served with garlic bread and salad. Word on the garlic bread; tesco values baguettes are 30-something pence, and are lovely. I split them into three. ASDA smart price are cheaper, but the garlic is too overpowering.

Day 42: Plaice fillet, with new potatoes, and chilli lemon garlic spinach. The last of my fish, which was very much enjoyed.

Day 43: The family came down for the weekend, and I was treated to pate and baguette, steak en croute (which I didn’t enjoy) chips and peas. Followed by two tubs of Hagen Daz split between the four of us.

Day 44: I’d been out for Sunday Lunch with the parents, so only had a bowl of cereal.

Day 45: Out for dinner with the parents before they headed home. Found an amazing pub in a village just outside Canterbury – so nice we’ve already booked a table for my birthday lunch in December. I had a chicken, leek and ham hock suet pie, with mash, courgette and cabbage (the cabbage was the best I’ve ever eaten) followed by an amazing sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. I felt feeling totally stuffed and happy.

Day 46: Toad in the hole, mash and veg. Had potatoes to use up, so had a massive, massive dinner that night.

Day 47: Cheesy Pasta Bake for lunch, crisps for dinner; I was working the late shift.

Day 48: Faggots with mash, and veg. I love faggots, but they only seem to sell them up North. I got my parents to bring several loads down from our local butcher – they are 60p each, and one is more than enough for one meal.

Day 49: Spaghetti carbonara for lunch, nothing for dinner. I was heading up to the boyfriend after three long weeks apart. Actually, I lie. I bought a Chicken & Bacon sandwich from M&S at St Pancras – it was the worst £3.25 I’ve ever spent. Very soggy, very fatty bacon, and gristly chicken. I ate two bites.

Day 50: Cheesy Pasta Bake with salad.The boyfriend makes it so much better than I do. Also had a hazelnut hot chocolate and a ‘chocolate egg and soliders’ at his local chocolate chip, preceded by cheese and ham toasties (with chips) at the local greasy spoon!

Day 51: Nothing for dinner, but me and the boy did made cheese stuffed chicken breasts, with homemade chips and chilli/garlic spinach for lunch – delicious. Didn’t make the M&S mistake on the return journey.

Day 52: Fish fingers, new potatoes, prawns, peas in a lemon garlic butter sauce. Youngs fish fingers are by far the nicest and the best quality, and at £1 for 10 I couldn’t resist a box to pop in the freezer. I have two at a time, bolstered with some sauted frozen prawns. This made for a very yummy meal.

Day 53: Carrot Stir Fry – and yep the noodles are still horrible, but they have finally all gone now!

Day 54: Mushroom pasta bake for lunch, with salad and garlic bread, crackers for dinner – another late night shift at work.

Day 55: Toad in the hole, spinach, cabbage, brocoli and peas. Was the best toad I’ve ever made. A very yummy dinner, even if I did cause the smoke alarm to go off.

Day 56: Sausage carbonara – simple and quick. Had with yet more garlic bread.

Day 57: ‘Homemade’ curry. This was a huge triumph. I finally found a curry sauce that doesn’t contain tomatoes, but tried some out of the jar and oh god it was bland! So I fried off two onions and one pepper in curry powder, and various spices. I marinaded my chicken in the same mixture of spicies, and I added three garlic cloves and two chillis, plus virtually a handful of black pepper. Two chicken breasts made three meals like this; to the one I ate tonight I also added spinach. Yes it looked liked sick, but it was the first curry I have eaten for two years, and it was delicious. I served with rice, and some naan bread.

Day 58: Cheesy Potato Bake, with garlic bread and salad. I need stodge and comfort food, as I didn’t feel great.

Day 59: Fish fingers, peas and homemade ‘chips’ – I had frozen some pre-boiled potatoes (I always tend to cook too many) so defrosted them, threw them in the oven tossed in oil, thyme, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. They were a little burnt, but tasted great, and the texture was as close to chips as I think you could get them. Will definitely have an experiment with making more like this.

Day 60: Mushroom Stroganoff. This was a bit of an experiment, and it paid off beautifully. I knew I had loads of mushrooms in the freezer – they seem to fry better from frozen – and I have a huge amount of rice, so I just bought some soured cream and raided my spice cupboard. I fried off some onion, then mushrooms, and added garlic and a little chilli. I stirred in a spoonful of paprika, added a bit of veg stock, simmered whilst the rice cooked…then stirred in a 3-4 teaspoons of soured cream and served. The sour cream did split a little – I heated it for too long – but it tasted good! Would have been better with some steak, but thats virtually impossible on a students budget! Another  dinner that looks a little like sick though:

Day 61: Stir fry with rice. For some reason, my usual yummy stir fry recipe wasn’t great that night. The spring rolls I bought (50p down from £2 – and 4 more in the freezer) were great though!

Day 62:  Homemade mushroom risotto – I seriously love this, isn’t become one of my favourite meals! Had with garlic bread and salad.

Day 63: Mushroom risotto again – it reheats beautifully as long as the leftover portion is undercooked. Had with salad, after coming home at 10pm from work and then picking the boyfriend up at the station. He wasn’t as impressed as me – but then he heavily dislikes mushrooms.

Day 64: Chicken and sausage casserole, with mash and veg. This was delicious, and a bit of a treat as the boyfriend was round. No photos unfortunately, as it was just to yummy to risk getting cold. We also split a whole tub of Karamel Sutra – haven’t been so full since I started university! I was especially full as we’d found an amazing cafe in Canterbury that lunch – Christmas Dinner baguettes are the best sandwich invention ever!

Day 65: Reheated chicken curry. Yes, it still looked like sick, but it froze and reheated really well. I again added spinach, and served with rice and naan. Great comfort  food after the train station goodbyes!

Day 66: Cheesy Pasta Bake, with salad.

Day 67: Faggots, mash, cabbage, brocoli, peas and lots of onion gravy. Delicious on a very cold and rainy day!

Day 68: Nothing for dinner, as I was working late, but for lunch I made bubble’n’squeak, with sausages, bread, and sweet chilli sauce. This deserves a blog post of its own!

Day 69 (que immature giggle): More cheesy pasta bake and salad. I have this far too often, but its so good! Served with a massive plate of salad, I didn’t feel toooo gulity when I ate this entire huge portion!

Day 70: Steak pie, mash, gravy and vegetables.

Will try and keep this post updated – and post more regularly.

Welcome to my Little Space in the Blog-o-sphere!

Hi, and welcome to my brand-new blog. I’m not 100% sure what exactly I’ll be blogging about yet, but its bound to be an ecelectic mixture! It’ll probably contain a good amount of recipes (I’m an enthusiastic cook and keen baker), some study skills (I AM a student after all) and maybe even some beauty reviews as I’m a little bit of a product junkie!

Anyway, I hope you stick around, maybe even give me a follow on any of the links below, as I’d love even just one person to enjoy my documentation of university life.

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