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.

 photo Instagram Tips_zpso24sckxu.jpg

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…

 photo Instagram Example_zps8ykgjspy.jpg

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…

 photo Instagram Example 2_zpscx9mqkkn.jpg

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.

 photo Instagram Example 3_zpsnl3pbrve.jpg

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.

 photo IMG_20170520_130925_zpsd2m6vsvb.png

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.

 photo Peanut Butter Bakewell Tart 10_zpsusokyej1.jpg

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?

Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #18

This post was difficult for me to write, very difficult. I’ve mentioned it briefly on social media, but 2017 is proving to be an extremely hard year for me. In the space of just over four months, I’ve lost both of my granddads. Both matriarchs of the family. Both loved, admired and respected both within our family and their community. The 9 days have been a struggle for me, and trying to see the good bits in my day-to-day life has proved a little difficult. But I wanted to try, to write this post to remind myself just how much I still have in my life to be grateful about.

 photo Happy Things 2_zpstx894dal.png

  1. Gardening. My company arranged a Global Day of Giving, with offices worldwide closed to allow us to go and volunteer in the community. I went to Alexandra Palace to do some gardening – an activity I love (oh, how I wish I had a garden!). Despite the rain it was a great day, and we were allowed on a tour of the old theatre whilst it’s being renovated.
  2. A good catch up with my parents. The night before I got The Phonecall I’d spent over an hour chatting with them. After a busy time at work with only a few short conversations it was what I needed.
  3. Visiting Columbia Road Flower Market for the first time. It was scarily busy but I bought some succulents and now feel like a proper blogger…
  4. Cheese Toasties at Maltby Street Food Market. The Cheese Truck is now a permanent fixture in my foodie highlights – my fav was the Goat’s Cheese, W loved the Queso & Chorizo. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve dreamed about them since!
  5. Picking up the perfect Gingham Dress from Marks & Spencer. It fits well, is really good quality and the perfect length for wearing with thick black tights and boots, or bare legs and sandals. And I had to get a Size 6. #winning
  6. Starting to firm up our wedding cake arrangements. Though given her *amazing* chocolate chip cookies I’m tempted to just have a cookie tower instead…
  7. An evening at the pub, even if I was mistaken for being in my thirties. Note to self: wear makeup after crying!
  8. Beginning to plan our trip to Switzerland. I spent a good few hours trying to work out the cheapest train tickets
  9. Enjoying National Vegetarian Week. Other than some meat stock used in one of my freezer meals, I didn’t eat meat for the entirety. We had some amazing meals – a chickpea curry with tandoori roasted cauliflower was a particular highlight. Whilst I love meat too much to be veggie full-time I’m definitely going to up from one meat-free dinner a week to at least two and cut it out at lunchtimes.
  10. Playing with my new Kenwood Stand-Mixer*. They make baking so much easier, and I’ve always been a little bit scared of breaking W’s Kitchen Aid! Is two stand-mixers in a tiny flat excessive…?
  11. The BBC drama Three Girls. Not exactly a happy thing as it was based on the child sex trafficking in Rochdale, but it was such a gripping three-part series. Raw, emotional and it really got me thinking. Definitely recommend having a watch on iPlayer.
  12. A raspberry and blueberry crumble with peanut butter topping. As good as it sounds.
  13. Will. He’s been my rock these past few weeks despite being insanely busy. I don’t know what I’d do without him!

What little things have made you happy recently?

Recipe: Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake

This is my all-time favourite chocolate cake recipe. I find most chocolate cakes too cakey, too dry, not chocolate-y enough. And whilst I love brownies, sometimes I want something lighter. This is the perfect in-between. Rich with a deep chocolate flavour, moist, but light enough to eat with a cuppa.

 photo Beetroot Loaf_zpsfuiuq3of.jpgPlus the fact that it contains beetroot makes me feel a little healthier. Sure, it’s still just oil, sugar, chocolate and a bit of veg – but at least it’s got the veg right?! Having said that, I just it as an excuse to demolish most of the loaf in just two days so perhaps not the best way of thinking…

It’s super-simple to whip up – just a case of blitz-ing the beetroot, melting some butter, mixing it all together and throwing in a tin with some chocolate chips. However I’m lazy, the mix is super-thick and it can split if you don’t add the oil gradually. Rather than give up, I just shove it in my new Kenwood Stand Mixer* which means I can literally have this in the oven in under ten minutes. Washing up included. It’s rather dangerous on study days when I’m bored and peckish!

 photo Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake 4_zpsnzk1kzub.jpg photo Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake 6_zpsf4lbb2f7.jpgIngredients

  • 1/2 vac-pack of beetroot (around 150g), roughly chopped. Use the rest to make a risotto or delicious salad!
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 250g sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 175ml sunflower oil
  • 100g dark chocolate – either a bar chopped roughly, or chips

Blitz the beetroot in a food processor until you have a rough puree, then tip into a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. Add rest of the ingredients, except the oil and chocolate, and mix. When combined (it’s a thick mixture, so using a stand mixture makes it easier – though doing it by hand = extra calories burnt = more cake), add the oil gradually whilst continually stirring. Once the oil has been added, stir through the chocolate and tip into a lined 900g loaf tin. Pop in the oven and bake for around 50 minutes at 190C (stick a skewer in – if it comes out gooey the cake needs a little longer!). Leave the loaf to cool on a rack before slicing.

 photo Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake 3_zps6ghbw5yy.jpgI like to serve it with a spoon of natural yoghurt and some raspberries (it makes the perfect lazy brunch!), but it’s also so, so good just on it’s own. Bonus if it’s slightly warm and melty too…

*I was gifted a kMix Stand Mixer as part of a baking collaboration with Kenwood. All opinions are my own – I really love cake, and I really love things that make baking cake easier!

What’s your favourite chocolate cake recipe?

Lifestyle: Studying Whilst Working

I’ve moaned enough about it lately – the early-morning studying, the late-night revision, the spoiled Bank Holidays. I’ve had a lot of questions both on here and on social media about what I’m actually studying for (and even one memorable accusation of me lying about studying as I graduated last year – the dark-side of blogging cliques right there!). And I’ve had even more questions about how I’m balancing working, studying, blogging and (kind of) having a social life…

 photo Working Whilst Studying_zpshvfkalig.jpgWell my personal feeling is that I’m not balancing it. Most of the time I feel overwhelmed. I’ll sit down to study and think about all those unread emails in my blog inbox. I’ll be blogging and think about all the studying I need to do. I’ll feel guilty having some free time. I love my job, yet I’ll want to leave on time so I can do something in the evenings – either study or blog. I struggle to make time to exercise, there’s always something else that needs to be done.

The exams I’m doing are tough. I’m studying to qualify as an actuary – eventually I’ll be a Fellow of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries with some shiny new letters after my name. The exams intensive in terms of both time and content – and only around 45% of candidates tend to pass each exam. The exam I took in April has a recommended study time of 400 hours, with my notes filling 5 level-arch folders. Squeezing in 400 hours to a 6 month period, whilst working full-time, has actually turned out to be quite tough. I am lucky enough to get around a day off a week from work to study, though the response of many of my non-work friends is that I use them for lie-ins and lazy days – I wish! Most of them I’m at the kitchen table by 8am, and generally spend longer working than an average day. Though I guess doing all that in my PJs is rather nice…

Finding The Time

Whilst it is depressing, I find looking at my average day and seeing where I could fit in some study is the easiest way – doing a little bit as often as possible means (1) I’m in the habit of it and (2) I feel more productive and thus feel a lot more prepared and confident. My commute is generally spent reading material – or revising using a study card app nearer to exams. Lunch breaks I like using to do a couple of questions – I’ve found picking a particularly difficult topic and spending 20 minutes working through it is a great way to power through it (plus I’d put off the difficult bits otherwise!). I also like to spend an hour or two in the office after work. I’ll book a meeting room and put my head down – though obviously I tend to only do these for a couple of months before an exam. All year round would probably exhaust me!

If all else fails, I find physically slotting some study time, some blog time, even exercise will make me do it. If it’s in the diary, I’m committed.
 photo Workwear Outfits 5_zpsh6xj6p3x.jpg

Little Hints to Keep Motivated

  • Focus on the end goal. Thinking about when I’m fully qualified, with those extra letters after my name, just helps keep me focused
  • Ignore the pass rates and stats – as they’re quite low for my exam, I find them quite demotivating.
  • Set days for certain things. I like to have Wednesdays as my study leave from work, I like to study Tuesday and Thursday evenings, on Mondays and Wednesday evenings I blog and exercise. And Friday night is fun night – until the fortnight before exams of course!
  • Make sure you have some down time. Treating myself to a magazine and face-mask, or a nice bar of chocolate will always boost my spirits.

And if all else fails, productive procrastination helps!

How do you balance everything in your life?

Review: Peruvian Food & Señor Ceviche, Carnaby Street

With Will spending January in Chile, he came back with a taste for lighter, fresher food. Typically I was used to the cold weather and was craving comfort food and stodgy carbs – so finding a destination for our first date night of the year was difficult! After much too-ing and fro-ing and menu consulting, we decided on Señor Ceviche. Offering both Ceviche and Peruvian Barbecue we thought there would be plenty of choice to keep both of us happy!

 photo Senor Ceviche_zpsi2qthbfj.jpg photo Senor Ceviche 13_zpsmytnvhsm.jpgFirst off, Kingly Court is one of my favourite little pockets of London – a multiple level open area, with around twenty different restaurants offering food from across the globe. Plus Carnaby Street is a bit of shopping-addicts playground! The restaurant carried on the relaxed feel of it’s surroundings – the decor felt authentic and homely, the music was foot-tappingly fun, and the staff super-friendly. I love it when restaurants have an open kitchen too, it gives me more to be nosey at…

Allergy information obtained, having studied the menu over the few days leading up to date night we both quickly ordered. We took the opportunity to catch up properly before our food came out – as this visit was back in February (hence the horribly dark and badly edited photos!) it was our first chance to properly talk about his trip. We were also given some popped corn to nibble on while we waited – insanely addictive stuff!

 photo Senor Ceviche 7_zpsfu5sohu7.jpg photo Senor Ceviche 8_zpscpeuanvk.jpg

Food arrived as and when it was ready – but it arrived quickly and pretty much at the same time anyway. The Pachamanca pork ribs were slathered with a slightly sweet sticky sauce and peanuts. The meat fell right off the bone, the sauce was insanely good – these were very much a favourite of us both. I only wish we had more of them! I absolutely loved the Anticucho De Res of beef heart skewers served with sweet potato mayonnaise, aji panca, botija olives and mint. The heart arrives in big pieces, each one folded onto a skewer, with a good gamey texture. It was rich, satisying and super-flavoursome, though I’m a big fan of offal as it is. Will wasn’t convinced by these, and he was definitely put off by the strong olive flavour of the topping. I have to say, I was massively disappointed with the presentation considering Señor Ceviche’s own Instagram post above!

 photo Senor Ceviche 3_zpsv2fwmztu.jpg photo Senor Ceviche 2_zpszdpltery.jpg photo Senor Ceviche 1_zpsqeqglmde.jpgFrom the ceviche, we went both hot and cold. The hot option was mussels with rocotto & coconut tiger’s milk, chorizo and charred sourdough – it was rich, spicy and intensely savoury, and the mussels well cooked and juicy. I wished we had had more bread to mop up the delicious sauce too…though I may have used the empty mussel shells to ferry most of it down! The sea bass ceviche with aji limo tiger’s milk, sweet potato puree, choclo corn, red onion, coriander & plantain is their classic dish. Beautifully fresh and zesty, full of colour and full of flavour – this was my first time trying ceviche so I was a little nervous, but I definitely enjoyed it!

The only dud of our meal was the quinoa. We both love the stuff, but this was really buttery which clashed with all the other flavours. It was overly rich and cloying – not good at all, in fact completely inedible. If our servers hadn’t been so lovely, we probably would have sent it back…

 photo Senor Ceviche 9_zps29jlj7l2.jpgWhilst W was more self-restrained and ended his meal with a Pisco Sour (too sweet apparently, he preferred the ones he had in South America) I finished with the Dulche de Leche. Tooth-achingly sweet, the warm sauce and crunchy pecans went wonderfully with the smooth ice-cream. It was the perfect end to the meal for me!

Quinoa aside, we both really enjoyed our time at Señor Ceviche. Our issue was the price – whilst not expensive, we both felt for the portion size all of the dishes (with perhaps the exception of the ribs) was overpriced. Considering the two of us can eat a massive meal at Wahaca for less than £25 total, we both felt a little put-off by our bill – and whilst we enjoyed our food, it didn’t absolutely blow us away. Perhaps we’re still not used to London restaurant prices!

Have you been to Señor Ceviche? What’s your favourite restaurant in London?

Food: Recent Eats #1

When I say I’m a foodie, I’m not lying. I probably have a borderline unhealthy obsession with food – I like to think about what good meals I have coming up, I like to plan trips to certain restaurants months in advance, then dream about the food I have eaten for months afterwards. I get over-excited to try new things, I have a new foodie favourite virtually every week (case in point – beetroot, goat’s cheese, chickpeas are all recent favourites!). Here’s the latest things I’ve been trying and (mostly!) loving…
 photo Recent Eats_zps27qdzabg.jpg photo Recent Eats 8_zpsblisaihw.jpg photo Recent Eats 9_zpsvydoi13x.jpg photo Recent Eats 2_zps4xsj2x3z.jpg photo Recent Eats 6_zps6zd3wykj.jpg photo Recent Eats 1_zps6gcwi6er.jpg

HECK Products*

I was a lucky girl recently, receiving a massive parcel of Heck products. I actually didn’t think much of their standard pork sausages (a bit bland for me), and unfortunately I couldn’t eat their Italian chicken ones (due to their tomato content – though W enjoyed them!). However I loved their sausage squares as part of a massive fry-up, they went perfectly with black pudding and Scottish potato scones.

The biggest highlight, however, was their new Veggie Bites.The Super Green Balls turned out to be my favourite, witha mix of quinoa, spinach, kale and ginger they were the perfect lunch-time snack with some courgette couscous. The Thai Bites were slightly less successful as their texture was a bit sloppy, but I loved the flavours of the fragrant Thai pesto, sweet potato & sticky rice. Great with a chopped Thai salad!

Pork Pilbil

Wahaca will always be one of my all-time favourite places to eat, we’ve been heading there pretty much since their first restaurant opened. And my all-time favourite dish? The Pork Pilbil tacos. Tender shredded pork in an addictive sauce, creamy refried beans and spicy pickled onions. I mean, most things on the menu are amazing (my other must-order is the chicken tacquito) but these are divine – and we’ve finally made them at home. Trust me, they aren’t cheap to make and it’s a two-day process but it was so, so worth it. Plus we have leftover marinade so they’ll be made again soon!

I also figured out how to make my own flour tortilla wraps – I’ll never buy them again, homemade are SO easy and far tastier!

Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake

I’ve made no secret of it, my favourite form of procrastination is baking. This loaf cake is perfect as it’s ridiculous quick to mix up and is absolutely delicious. I originally made it to use up some leftover beetroot (following this risotto) but it’s become another of my favourites. Rich, chocolately, studded with dark chocolate chips and just a tiny bit of sweetness. It was rather nice served with yoghurt and raspberries as an indulgent Sunday brunch too…
 photo Recent Eats 10_zpsi8qwy96i.jpg photo Recent Eats 11_zps2ml8qrce.jpg

Dirty Chicken Burger @ Meat Market

Just typing this is making me hungry! I have to admit none of us had high expectations for Meat Market, but my dirty chicken burger was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Deep fried chicken fillet, mayo, lettuce, cheese, and red onions into a soft bun – it was definitely messy! The coating on the chicken was spicy and crunchy, the cheese perfectly melted, the lettuce and onion fresh. It was so, so good – the only downside was the slightly ‘meh’ bun, some brioche would have been perfect. Sides of fries and onion rings were also excellent – and I can only regret not leaving room to try some ‘Filth Pie’ (oreos, marshmallow, coconut & chocolate pie served warm with ice cream). Maybe next time!
 photo Recent Eats 15_zpss4o4cxze.jpg photo Recent Eats 14_zps06uohmck.jpg

Low Carb Oomi Noodles*

High in protein with 75% less carbs, Oomi noodles* are made from fish protein. Not the most appetising description, and nor did they smell great out of the packet (to the point W refused to eat them and cooked himself some rice!) however I actually really enjoyed them. Tossed with stir-fried kale and sugarsnap peas in ginger, garlic, chilli and soy they tasted exactly like normal egg noodles. Perhaps a bit softer than I would like, but they were enjoyable and extremely filling. I served with salmon fillets in a soy glaze, a perfect Friday night tea!
 photo Recent Eats 13_zpsaexzbw1t.jpg

Herby Pomegranate Quinoa Salad

This is definitely a new favourite! Wholesome quinoa, crunchy pistachios, flaked almonds, red onion, fruity pomegranate seeds, salty feta all tossed in a zingy dressing with coriander and mint. It’s delicious for dinner served with lamb, chicken or falafel and makes a great packed lunch too. I can imagine we’ll be eating a lot of this over the next few months!

St Helen’s Farm Goat Products*

Another parcel recently arrived featuring a whole host of goat products, as well as an adorable cuddle goat toy. I surprised myself and really enjoyed the goat milk, although unfortunately my skin seemed to react in the same way as it does normal dairy milk (I tend to stick to lactofree where possible). However I loved the Goat’s cheese, which we served in salads, omlettes, tortillas and pretty much everything for a few weeks. Another highlight was the butter, perfect on homemade crumpets
 photo Recent Eats 12_zpseleiyavt.jpg

Chocolate Overload @ Choccywoccydoodah

It feels far too long ago now (I have an extreme backlog of posts to write!) but I finally, finally visited Choccywoccydoodah. I have to admit I thought it was be a bit of a tourist-trap, style over substance kind of thing – but the chocolate was really high quality and the portion sizes massive. We each ordered a dipping plate (definitely mistake, two would have been more than enough between three!) and I ordered a hazelnut milkshake.I’ll be heading back for sure. Just maybe not after a pub lunch…

Alpro Go On Plain*

Ah, the only negative on this post. Alpro’s newest plant-based alternative to yogurt is designed to be versatile – in their press release they suggested using “as a base for delicious dips, stir it into fragrant curries and spicy stews, or mash with avocado on top of toast.” For me, whilst I loved it as yoghurt (with chunky granola and fruit) it was far, far too sweet to use in cooking. I managed to make a passable chickpea curry with it, but not a fan!

A post shared by Chloe Ellen (@ninegrandstudent) on

Hay Roasted (Half) Leg of Lamb

A tradition I’ve developed over the last couple of years is to cook lamb at Easter – quite a traditional tradition to follow I guess! Last year I cooked a whole leg in red wine (it only just fit in my oven), this year I practically fought over the last half-leg in Sainsburys and picked up the rest of the ingredients in Pets At Home. Roasting it in a bed of hay gave it a lovely subtle sweetness and flavour and it was a definite hit. We then used some of the leftover hay to infuse a strawberry ice-cream. A posh version of the raspberry ripple I loved as a child…

What’s been your foodie favourites recently?

Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #17

It feels like far longer than a fortnight since I last penned one of these posts – I’ve enjoyed plenty of time off studying, although my next ‘exam’ kicks in this evening. It’s an online fortnight course, with an element similar to coursework and a multiple-choice exam in a few months. One of the easiest ones I need to do, then I’ll crack on with studying for September’s exams. It’s never ending…though I’m enjoying it (despite the moaning!). Here’s what’s been making me smile…

 photo Happy Things 2_zpstx894dal.png

  1. Early Friday finishes. My office shuts mid-afternoon before a Bank Holiday so I was on my sofa with a cuppa before 4pm. Bliss.
  2. Impromptu meet-ups with my besties, meaning we saw each other two weekends in a row.
  3. Wandering around Canterbury and grabbing a Pork & Co roll – and a black pudding scotch egg for the next day. I don’t know why I didn’t try one of their scotch eggs before I moved away from the shop, it was delicious!
  4. My new mattress topped from Eve. It’s made my bed so much comfier, I’m having a hard time getting out of it in the mornings…I highly recommend it if you’re living with a less than perfect mattress in a rented place.
  5. Perfectly cooked brisket alongside W’s amazing cauliflower cheese. The perfect Sunday roast!
  6. Sticky salmon with vegetable noodles. Yummy, and low-carb thanks to Oomi.*
  7. My new Dyson. I didn’t realise quite how bad my old hoover was until we had to empty it twice. And our flat is tiny.
  8. Getting my blog mojo back. Lots planned for the next few months!

What’s made you happy lately?

Recipe: Super-Easy Homemade Falafel

Falafel are one of my absolute favourite things to eat, yet I’m supremely fussy about them. I have eaten some truly, truly dreadful falafel in the last few years (including one that had big chunks of apricot in – why?!). However the absolute worst falafel I’ve tried? It’s the ones I’ve made myself. They’ve always been overly mushy, never coming together, never crispy and just horribly bland.

 photo Falafel_zpsmxeqopix.jpgThat is, until now. This is inspired by a John Torode recipe from BBC Good Food. I’d made it a couple of times now, adapting as I go and now I’ve pretty much got it down to a fine art. Not only are these delicious, they are ridiculously easy to make. Sure, they take a bit of time (i.e. you need to remember to soak the chickpeas – tinned ones absolutely do not work and that is exactly why my attempts had always failed!), but once that’s done you can pretty much get them made in under half an hour. And if you want the process to be a little less hands on, along with a little healthier, you can even baked these instead of frying. Frying gives the best crispy texture, but the flavour is pretty much unaffected so if you’ve making these ahead for lunches I’d bake (and use the spare calories on chocolate).

Now, the flavour. It’s so much better than other falafel recipes I’ve made. The added vegetables add to the complex flavours, and I’ve added a spice mix which I love (though feel free to customise it). These are moist, but not mushy, they hold together without crumbling and have a slightly crispy outer. Pretty much my perfect falafel!

 photo Roots Collective Blends 3_zpsioqo0b5n.jpg photo Homemade Falafel 4_zpsqh8bwbqn.jpgIngredients

  • 125g dried chickpeas or dried split broad beans
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 leek
  • 1/2 celery stick, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • a tiny pinch of cinnamon
  • good handful chopped coriander
  • 25g plain flour

Soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours, or overnight (or do as I do if making them on a weeknight – soak them during the day.

Drain the chickpeas and pulse with the bicarbonate in a food processor (I use my mini food processor) until roughly chopped. Remove around half of the mixture and pop into a large bowl. Add the garlic, vegetables, spices and herbs to the remaining mixture in the processor and purée to a paste. Stir the paste into the rough purée of chickpeas, add the flour, season (these take plenty of salt) and mix well. I find it best to give the mixture a quick knead with my hands to make sure it’s all incorporated.

Take tablespoons of the mixture and form into balls before flattening – I tend to get 12-13 out of this quantity as I like my falafel slightly smaller.

If you’re frying the falafel, heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add some of the oil. Fry for 2-3 mins each side until crisp. Keep warm in a low oven while you fry the remainder of the mixture, continuing to add a little oil to the pan with each batch. Alternatively, place the falafel on greaseproof paper, spray with a little oil and bake at 180C for half an hour, turning once.

 photo Homemade Falafel 6_zpse4mmgjg6.jpgI like to serve mine with couscous and salad, but they are also reallllyyy good served as part of a meze platter (particularly with beetroot houmous!) or in homemade pitta bread. The perfect filling lunchbox!

Are you a fan of falafel? Have you ever made your own before?

Lifestyle: Falling in Love Young

Long-time readers of my blog will know the story of my relationship, but here’s a recap. Me and W met at the age of 16, when I moved to the local Boy’s school for Sixth Form. We got together around three weeks after first speaking, and that was it. Although we went our separate ways to university, we stayed together – travelling up and down the country every other weekend. And during our final year, just before Christmas, he got down on one knee.

 photo Falling in Love_zpssvs7l1p1.jpgSo that’s it. I fell in love at the age of 16. Even if I didn’t know it at the time (spoiler alert – I didn’t). Obviously I wouldn’t change what we have for the world, but falling in love at a young age isn’t easy. Sure, it’s nice to know you’ve found your soulmate already, but there’s the tough bits too…

“You’re Too Young”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”

If I’m truly honest, I actually didn’t hear this nearly as much as I would have imagined. I did have a lot of people assume we wouldn’t manage to stay together throughout university, including one lovely piece of super-helpful advice – that we split up, then get back together after it. Oh, and the comment about the ‘unexpected surprise’ when we announced our engagement. No, no I did not (and do not!) have a bun in the oven…

I guess I kind of understand. Both of us can pretty much pinpoint the day we realised this was ‘it’ for us – and that day was nearly three years into our relationship. The “I love yous” we spoke after just eight weeks had little of the meaning they do now, despite us meaning it at the time. However I do remember thinking that something was different, the night we got together. No matter how young you are, I think you’ll always remember the first kiss with your future husband.

You Grow Up Together (or Grow Apart)

We’ve definitely grown up since we met – and we knew that we would inevitably grow together or apart. No matter how in love you are as a teenager, I do think there is still the chance of growing apart. I’m not the same girl I was at 16, W isn’t the same guy. I know couples who were just as good as us back in sixth form who just grew in different directions, developed different priorities. And that’s fine.

You’ll Be Useless At Dating Advice

This is something I actually found quite tough – I feel a little bit excluded in girly conversations as I have very little relationship experience. I met a boy, dated said boy, will marry the same boy, done. Yes, I’m lucky in that I’ve never had my heart broken or any major relationship drama, but it’s rendered me pretty much useless at advising my friends.

Also, I have no idea how you meet people in your twenties. I’m technically of Tinder generation but I don’t know how to use the thing…I have no idea of the ‘rules.’ How soon should you sleep together? When do you introduce them to the parents? What about your wider family? Sidenote: we met each other’s parents before getting together, and he met my grandparents after a month. And my entire family by three months in.
 photo 2016-07-15 17.31.45_zps9nbjlg9g.jpg photo IMG_20160711_210217_zpscbfgi6qj.jpg

You Still Get to Experience Life, Just Together

Falling in love has never, ever stopped either of us from doing what we wanted. We both did the undergraduate degrees we wanted, at the university we wanted. We’ve graduated. W is doing his Master’s in “Inventing Stuff” (and you can help his Solo Project out by taking filling in this short form on “Sharing Your Struggle“) whilst I’m working in my dream job. We’ll be looking into getting our first dog in hopefully not too many years. We’re doing the travelling we want to do (UK and Europe based). He watches the golf and snooker *snores* and I watch crime dramas and Disney. I buy too many clothes, he wears jeans with pen strains and holes. We’re still our own people, we just muddle through life together.
 photo 196719_136981439707157_2668990_n_zpsmhrvncgq.jpg

You’ll Have a Hilarious Bank of Photos

Yay for planning an ’embarrassing photo wall’ at your wedding. Whilst I don’t think I’ve changed that much since I was sixteen (just worked out how to style my hair!), he looks SO different. I’m surprised he hasn’t had his ID rejected yet…

I will also add it’s painful for me to share this photo. It just makes me cringe!

Your First Dates Won’t Be That Romantic

After McDonald’s lunch with friends and a few hours of MSN chat, our first ‘date’ (the week before we got together) was to Pizza Express. It was raining heavily and he whacked me round the face with a soggy umbrella. Most of our dates were Friday evenings spent alternating at each other’s houses, with the occasional trip to Nandos.

 photo 2016-02-14 15.21.08_zpssj2k95vo.jpgBut above all, falling in love has been fun. We got to know each other without any pressures, no tick-tocking of a biological clock, no desire to settle down. We were able to be ourselves at university, not too closely attached to each other – but there for the other at the end of the phone. I get more years to share with my soulmate. And above all else? I have excellent evidence of the embarrassing moments of his later teens. Though I’m sure he can say the same, so I won’t be sharing…

Did you fall in love at a young age, even if it didn’t last?