Lifestyle: Valentine’s Cooking and a #ShareTheLove Giveaway

Our fifth Valentine’s together, and the first we actually spent the day with each other. I’m not the mushy, lovey type and really don’t go in for the commercial aspect. If I want to show my boyfriend how I feel I won’t wait until the 14th of February! That said, it was nice to spend a day focussing on each other, no ipads, few phone interruptions. We spent the day in the kitchen, slowly creating a delicious but simple meal to enjoy.

 photo 2015-02-14 21.20.04_zpseqpt0fnq.jpgOur favourite things, without the extortionate price tag of eating out on Vlentine’s. Plus we could snuggle up in PJs AND both of us could have wine. Bliss!

 photo 2015-02-14 14.22.09_zpsrxiqb4hi.jpg photo 2015-02-14 14.23.38_zpseffg5dat.jpg photo 2015-02-14 14.35.22_zpsp6lsro6s.jpg photo 2015-02-14 15.45.42_zpsh9ppu3ld.jpgFirst up was pasta. Yep, we made pasta from scratch!  It was surprisingly simple, the dough was more basic than my usual pastry recipe. Just pasta flour, egg and olive oil, gradually combined on a work surface and knead until firm. This was chilled, and then rolled. W was lucky enough to get a KitchenAid for his twenty-first, and it’s pasta-machine attachment made the rolling and cutting of the pasta a breeze…and extremely fun. We went for fettucine, which we left to air dry whilst we got on with desert…

 photo 2015-02-14 15.47.42_zps2ntjuomj.jpg photo 2015-02-14 15.59.11_zps0pmxy0hv.jpgMars Bar Mousse. Again, surprisingly simple with the help of the KitchenAid (I never want to whip egg whites again by hand!) and absolutely delicious. The Mars Bars mean this isn’t as rich and bitter as usual recipes, and being a mousse it’s deceptively light. We definitely felt a bit ill after gorging this whilst watching James Bond (we’re trying to get through allllll the films this year).

I’ve teamed with with Intellcig, and together we’re offering you the chance to win a box of goodies – all baking themed, and many from Paperchase. They sent me the same box (I wanted to keep the contents a surprise) and it really was a treat, full of things I can’t wait to use! To enter (it’s UK only I’m afraid) just use the widget below, I’ll contact the winner in two weeks and send their details off to Intellicig who will be sending the package direct. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The set will include; A Paperchase baking recipe notes book, an apron, heart shaped measuring cups, heart cookie cutters, heart shaped muffin tray, set of teacup cake moulds, cupcake cases and toppers, vanilla/strawberry icing and heart sugar sprinkles. Intellicig are running a campaign called ‘SpreadTheLove’ – encouraging you to do something lovely for someone else. Be it a bunch of flowers, the washing up, or baking them a cake – just make them feel loved.

Now, I will be validating entries so please leave usernames etc so I can check. I’ll email the winner asap on the closing date, but if I don’t hear back from them by the end of that Friday’s working day I’ll have to choose another winner. Prize will be sent direct from Intellicig and may differ from described, but I hope you love it as much as I loved mine!

 photo 2015-02-15 18.57.57_zpsx80zmvsh.jpgI so enjoyed spending Valentine’s with my man, doing something we both love. It’s been a while since we spent a good long time in the kitchen so it was well overdue. Fingers crossed we can have more baking days over the next few months…diet or no diet!

Would you like the recipe for Mars Bar Mousse? How did you celebrate Valentine’s day? Hope you were all spoilt rotten!

What’s Occurring Wednesday: Young Love

There’s so much stigma on people falling in love at a young age these days. It’s not helped by the trend of the other young people – the sleeping around, the lack of commitment. I’d be the first one to admit that I never, ever, ever expected to be in a committed relationship from a young age. My plan was always to try and work abroad at the earliest opportunity.

Life however dealt me a slightly different card. Four years ago today I went round for an innocent dinner at a new friend’s house, and came back with a boyfriend. Despite insisting to my mum prior to going to the local boy’s school sixth form that I wasn’t interested in starting a relationship. Despite insisting to friends that day that I wasn’t sure I liked him (that was a lie). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never turned away from what I wanted because of him, but what I wanted has changed. Yes, I’ve gone to a university 150 miles away from him, but that placement year in America? Well, I’m working in Surrey. And loving it, I hasten to add! I certainly don’t feel I’m missing out!

I’ve had a lot of questions about whether I feel that being in a relationship has made university life more difficult, more boring. I have to say no. Yes, I sometimes miss occasions and parties because it falls on a visit weekend, but realistically I know I’d much rather be with him than not. Sometimes I miss out on girly nights in because of Skype dates, but those aren’t just nights sitting staring at my laptop. They are giggly chats, playing cute songs to each other, catching up with our lives, and generally just trying to pretend that there’s not the distance between us.

 photo 2014-09-13150145_zps6a3c57b6.jpgSome of the best couples I know met when they were relatively young. One of my besties (hi Libby!) has been with her boyfriend since they were 15; currently long-distance between here and America (hat’s off to them!). Another blogger Briar Rose got married at a young age and looks wonderfully happy – I’m not a teeny bit jealous of course! And of course there’s my wonderful parents – meeting one lunch time on a blind date, with my seventeen-year-old mum announcing to friends that night that she’s met ‘the one’, they’ve just celebrated 25 years of marriage.

 photo 1157450_10151785402043516_1823432763_n_zps74278bb0.jpgIt all goes to show that sometimes following your heart isn’t a bad thing. I’m so glad that, terrified as I was, I took the plunge and held his hand four years ago. I’m grateful that I had the courage to keep going when we started university, because it only made us stronger. And I’m thankful, and quite frankly amazed, that’s he’s put up with me for four years. Happy Anniversary – here’s to many more to come!

Student Summer: Taking Your Relationship to University

My post on Long Distance Relationships remains one of the most popular posts on my blog; I’ve had a lot of positive comments and tweets about it, and I’ve loved hearing other people’s LDR stories too. Today I thought I’d concentrate specifically on taking your relationship to university, whether that’s going long distance or moving together.

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Side note – my boyfriend cannot pull a ‘normal’ face in photographs anymore…

As I’m sure you’re all aware, I was in a relationship for two years before starting university. We both live in the Midlands; I moved South to university, and he moved (slightly) North – good planning! We picked our universities completely independently of each other, although having said that there was nowhere offering both our courses, and so knew for a good while we were heading towards long distance. Other couples I knew ended up purely coincidentally heading to the same university, which really worked for them. Funnily enough, the majority of couples I know who ended up splitting actually went to the same universities because of each other.

If you’re ending up going to the same university, I recommend making sure you give each other space. University really grows you as an individual, and it would be a shame for your and/or your partner to miss out on that. Don’t plan to move in together straight away, have your own friendship groups – basically just carry on as normal just away from home. Of course, moving in straight away does work for some people, but it isn’t something I’d necessarily advise at 18.

 photo 2014-04-26123410_zps4e0140e9.jpgObviously I’ve already written a whole post about long distance love, so do go there for more advice, but if you are going straight into a long distance relationship when you start univesity, I do have a few more targeted tips.

  • Have a talk. Realistically, if you aren’t sure about being together for a significant period of time, going long distance is unlikely to work. You need to sit down and have a serious chat – are you committed to each other? How often will you visit? We sat down several times over the summer before university and ultimately decided that we were sure we were ‘it’ for each other – and that was enough for us to know that we needed to make it work.
  • Sort out visits in advance. Whilst we have graduated from a calendar to a spreadsheet (I AM a trainee actuary!) its so helpful to know when we’ll be seeing each other over the coming months. Gives us something to look forward to, and it means we won’t accidentally arrange things and then be unable to see each other. We see each other roughly every fortnight, any more and we both get moody – it works for us as its often enough to avoid missing each other loads, but far enough apart to give each other space to get out with friends and get on with work.
  • Make some ground rules. What do you class as unacceptable behaviour?
  • Arrange time for each other. Have specific nights where you chat on the phone or Skype. Let the other know in advance if you can’t make it. Making time for each other when you’re apart is key to lasting long distance.
  • Get to know each others friends/housemates. I won’t lie, it is very easy to get jealous when your partner is making new friends. One of the best things for me was running into them whilst visiting and them saying ‘we’ve heard so much about you” – it honestly made me so much more relaxed.
  • Make plans for visits. Even if its just try that nice cafe for lunch, or making a yummy dinner, its important to make the most of your time together. You want to look back on the last visit and know you had fun, and not just sat waiting to say goodbye.

 photo 1157450_10151785402043516_1823432763_n_zps74278bb0.jpgI have had friends ask me whether I’ve felt that I have “missed out” on university or felt “held back” due to my relationship – but really I feel the opposite. I’ve moved away from home and really, really grown up, and I have had the support of a lovely young man to help me. Yes I sometimes turn down invites as its a weekend I’ll be away visiting, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I’ve managed to do everything I want, do fantastically well in my degree so far, get offered not one but two work placements, all whilst keeping a long distance relationship going. And because I work out all my assignments and revision so I don’t do any when I’m with him, it works out that I get a mini-holiday every fortnight!

 photo 2014-07-08110119_zpscd552875.jpgStarting a serious relationship at a young age doesn’t mean it won’t last, and likewise it doesn’t mean that you say goodbye to other life opportunities.  I wouldn’t change any part of my life; its not easy, its not perfect, but its right for me. Going to university in a relationship is something to be proud of, and it is entirely possible. So don’t worry if that’s what you’re about to do this month.
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What happened to your relationships when you went to university?

Lifestyle: Long Distance Love

I’m sure most of you know by now, but I’m in a long distance relationship due to university. I told the details in full a few months back, but basically we met at the beginning of sixth form at the sweet age of sixteen, got together within a few months, spent two years together before we travelled to university 200 miles apart. We’ve now been long distance for nearly two years, and we have at least another two years ahead of us. This Sunday will mark the start of our third year apart, as I move to Surrey to commence my placement. It’s bittersweet – the end of a short summer together, but we’re hopefully over halfway there! Here’s my tips for going long distance, and how to cope:

 photo 1157450_10151785402043516_1823432763_n_zps74278bb0.jpgDon’t compare yourself to other relationships. Be they people who live together, or people who are in an LDR with a lesser distance between them, you don’t know the details of their relationship. I’ve had people look down on me when I’m struggling ‘cos he’s still in the same country; yes, but that doesn’t mean I can see him, it doesn’t make me feel any closer! Yes, its only 200 miles, but its also a minimum of four years – I’ll be nearly 23 by the time I can even think about trying to move in with my boyfriend. Equally I know I’ve gotten extremely jealous of couples living closer to each other, but I do try not to show it. Most of my friends are coupled up, I’d soon see them and their partners as opposed to sit sulking on my own!

Try to have a long-term plan. I know where we are going in the future, and that helps an awful lot. Wanting the same things is ultimately what keeps a LDR going; if you are about to embark on one its probably a good idea to have a frank discussion.

In terms of a plan, it’s also useful to try and plan out visits in advance. This is easier when you are in the same country, but even international relationships should try and have an idea about when they will see each other next – even if its ‘by XXX date’. When we first started university our plan was to see each other every four weeks. That never happened, and we see each other every fortnight, with the occasional three-week gap.

 photo 2014-04-26123410_zps4e0140e9.jpgCommunicate. This is really the main point, and its a must-do. You need to make time to speak to your partner. Not just a quick chat, but real conversation. What you’ve been up to, what’s been the highlight of your week, everything and anything. Really listen to what they have to say too. We try and call each other every other night, and have a Skype around 3 times a week (Skype will seriously become your best friend!) – I’ll also call my boyfriend if I’m walking home in the dark on my own!

That said, try to communicate in ways other than through your phone. I found that when we first went long distance I become unhealthily attached to my mobile, it was like having a relationship with a handheld electronic object! We try and write each other old-fashioned letters – and I loved it when I used to be surprised with a parcel of goodies he’d baked!

 photo 27918_10151267754238516_1513098207_n_zps73521391.jpgMeet each other’s friends. Obviously you need your own friends, but introducing your partner and vice versa means you feel a little more involved in each other’s lives. My boyfriend seems to naturally have more girls as friends than boys at university; whilst I know that’s just him, I can truthfully say that meeting them all, hearing them say “we’ve heard lots about you” made me feel a lot better!

Have boundaries. We trust each other absolutely, but we do ask that neither of us put ourselves in certain situations. These will be different for different couples – I have no problem with my boyfriend going out with just a few of his girl mates, but I know others would. Above all though, you really do need to trust each other. If you don’t you will be eaten alive with jealousy, and to me jealousy isn’t a good thing in a relationship.

 photo 10464251_10201833358628057_7137741447011300528_n_zpsda2dc99f.jpgMake visits exciting. Sure you might want to spend the whole weekend cuddled up, but building memories means you’re far more likely to look forward to the next visit. Explore their area, go for brunch, cook for each other. One of my favourite weekends was when we paid (a ridiculous amount) and caught the bus to Whitstable. A day by the sea with ice cream and a giant sausage roll just can’t be beaten! If you can’t manage a whole weekend, arrange a day-trip in a central location. During my exams I knew I couldn’t cope with a whole weekend off of revision, so instead we met up in London – got soaked in the rain, explored Borough Market and had a yummy dinner at Wahaca.

My biggest tip of all – have fun! Whether it be together in person, laughing along on the phone, giggling over Skype, or apart and with your friends. Try not to mope away when you’re in need of a cuddle, but do something to cheer you up and remember: if it’s meant to be, you will get through it!

What are your relationship tips?

 

Weekend Antics #1

 photo 2014-03-16150744_zpsd3115368.jpgI feel so bad about posting this weekend – it became clear on Friday that I wouldn’t have time to blog (I like to keep weekend’s schedule-post free – I like a bit of spontaneity in my life!) and I don’t really like to send out a quick post just for the sake of it. Instead today I will make my excuses, and show you why I didn’t get chance to post.

Luckily my busy-ness wasn’t just down to the mountain of work I have at the moment (currently have three assignments on the go, and a three-hour ‘class test’ to revise for, and I’m expecting more coursework to be added on any day now), but because I decided to treat myself to a relatively relaxing weekend.

It was a ‘boyfriend’ weekend – as one half of a long-distance couples I see my boyfriend once a fortnight – and instead of trying to do work and getting annoyed/snappy when I couldn’t concentrate, I instead gave myself pretty much the whole weekend off. It was lovely to relax and not think about my ever growing to-do list!

 photo 2014-03-15103235_zpsad5d5805.jpgI took advantage of our lovely local butchers and bought some black pudding, which we used to make a lovely try up. I have a little leftover which I’m trying to decide what to do with – I’m torn between fritters, or adding to a carbonara!

 photo 2014-03-15105150_zps900146c8.jpgWe also took advantage of the lovely weather – I cooked some part-baked rolls and grabbed a pack of salami, and we headed out for a picnic.

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 photo 2014-03-16140944_zps3656ae74.jpgDespite being at my house, my boyfriend treated me to a lovely home-cooked meal (he did most of it whilst I was showering – I was impressed!). He made Swedish meatballs, and they were amazing. I’m going to adapt the recipe for my usual lower budget and post up soon!

 photo 2014-03-15183941_zpsfdce6b56.jpgI made the mistake of planning to cook stew (yep, on the hottest weekend of the year…), but despite it being far too warm for it, it was a damn good stew!

 photo 2014-03-13194754_zps7cca1226.jpgI also made one of my favourite cakes – caramel, chocolate and peanut butter sponge. I’ll definitely post about this soon!

 photo 2014-03-16162552_zps90534215.jpgI even got ‘proposed to’ with a hula hoop…who said students aren’t romantic?!

Sorry again for the lack of posts! What did you get up to this weekend?

Valentine’s Special: Relationships

I still remember the first time I was “in love.” I was between the ages of 3 and 5, and he was called Tom. Tom lived up the road from me, and was probably about 16. I adored him. I’d watch at the  window and wave as he went to/from school, and I’d jump at any chance to visit him. It wasn’t exactly unrequited love; he used to indulge me and wave back, come over to play with whatever toddler toy craze was about and was always friendly. My love affair ended  when he found someone else. I’d come home  one day and found him walking hand-in-hand with a beautiful brunette. I remember feeling actual physical pain, and ended up vomiting my spaghetti bolognese everywhere. He actually came round to apologise to my parents and to say he hoped he hadn’t upset me too much. Years later I found out that he didn’t let his girlfriend near his house for 3 months to prevent upsetting me (he was such a nice boy).

Now I’ve told you that embarrassing little story about my childhood, I’ll add another embarrassment of my teenage years. I didn’t really talk to boys. I went to a girls secondary school, but even before that I’ll admit I was terrified of them. I have no idea why, but I got tongue-tied, red-faced, even a little (ew) sweaty palmed and so nothing went beyond a facebook add or a number request. I will also say, however, that I was happy with the way things were. So for my younger readers – boys don’t necessarily make you happy, and if you want my advice I’d steer clear of them til at least mid-to-late teens! I had my dog and that’s all that I needed!

DogCuddles

To top it all off, I ended up some an over-persistent rather old male friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, which definitely didn’t help my boy-phobia. As far as I can remember (15 suddenly seems a long way off!) it took a threatening message and a change-of-number to get rid of him.

My boy-phobia had to change though, and it had to change quickly, when shy-timid me decided to go be part of a small select group of females at the local Boy’s School. I was 16, quickly growing into myself, and more comfortable in my own skin than I had ever been before. And that’s when I met my boyfriend.

Electrons

I very quickly began to fail AS chemistry, and was introduced to a tall, geeky guy who offered to help. Over a lunch-time tutoring session (where he demonstrated electron shells with marshmallows and skittles) I began to think this geek was actually rather cute, and so we began texting. Two weeks later and we ended up in town during some afternoon frees, in the pouring rain. Ever the gentleman he offered me his umbrella. The problem was he was just too enthusiastic…I can’t say a soaking wet umbrella to the face is the best chat-up act in the world!

He must have been pretty good at apologising, because the next week I accepted his invitation to dinner at his house. We chilled on the sofa, watched the ever-so romantic film Hot Fuzz followed by a couple of episodes of Top Gear, moving closer to each other as the hours passed. Somehow the awkward first kiss happened and the rest, they say, is history.

More than three years on, we’ve finished sixth form and are currently living two-hundred miles apart. Despite time-consuming and demanding university courses and jobs, we make the effort to see each other as often as possible, planning cheap-as-possible dates and scheduling in Skype dinners. Old fashioned letters dropping through the postbox is probably the highlight of our weeks, and despite some days wishing I could have a boyfriend-cuddle whenever I wanted, I know that even if we’re apart I wouldn’t change our relationship for the world. And I get to be surprised on train journeys with flowers!

I’m not sure when we’ll close the distance between us, I’m not sure when we’ll be able to live together, but I do know that those lunchtime Chemistry lessons produced much more than some vaguely remembered facts. They gained me person who knows me better than myself, the person who still can’t be trusted to hold an umbrella safely, and the person who I know I’ll end up spending the rest of my life with.

Now, sorry for the spectacularly gushy and lovey-dovey post today. It wasn’t really what I was aiming for, but its what got written.  I had originally wanted to do a post on surviving long distance in a relationship (and let me know if you do want to read it as its in my drafts!) but it didn’t quite work out. I certainly hope this wasn’t too personal a post !

Now a final plea – please let the trains be running this Valentine’s, cos otherwise it’ll be a date between me and my laptop! And because we all know this is the most important part of my story, I actually ended up with an A in Chemistry…

What’s your relationship story, or your first experience of love? I’d love to read them!

Valentine’s Baking: Very Easy Chocolate Fudge Cake

2014-02-12 14.34.39A bit of a romantic themed bake for you today. If you remember last weekend I posted about making Cake Pops, and promised you my favourite chocolate cake recipe? Well here it is! I originally found it here, but have altered it ever so slightly to be more to my taste. Really all I have done is increased the cocoa:flour ratio and decreased the sugar slightly. The cake is rich and moist, but to make it even more of a treat (looking at the weather forecast, I’m getting more and more worried that I’ll be spending V-day crying into a plate of cake…so if the weather/train gods are reading this, I’d like the lines to be clear from Northampton to Canterbury please!) I added a very rich frosting. I haven’t eaten it yet, but I have a feeling it will be chocolatey heaven!

If you aren’t in the romantic mood, this cake fits perfectly into two 20-inch sandwich tins. To be honest I reckon heart-shape tins bake unevenly, so I’d recommend you use a normal tin really!

So to the really easy recipe!

2014-02-12 13.31.22Grab three eggs, and weigh them in their shells. Weigh out the same amount of butter, and make sure it is really, really soft. Weigh out the same amount of sugar, then put around 25g back. Weight out the same amount (again!) of flour, but 70g of it back and replace with 70g of cocoa powder. That’s your weighing done!

2014-02-12 13.50.54Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy…this is a great way to burn the calories in the cake before you’ve eaten them! I always find beating the butter before adding the sugar helps this step a little.

2014-02-12 13.52.01Now beat in the eggs one by one. If you add them all at once (like I did in this recipe) it will go wrong and curdle. Curdled mixture is fine in the long run, but it doesn’t look pretty, and often the cake is a little greasier than it should be!

2014-02-12 13.58.52Gradually sift in the cocoa and flour mixture, incorporating the mixture fully. It should be thick and fudgy looking (a little like brownie mixture!) but if it looks too thick add a splash of milk.

2014-02-12 14.23.17Spoon into a tin (which you have greased well, obviously…don’t be silly like me and forget!) and bake for 20-25 minutes at 170C, until firm to the touch, but with a slight give. Let it cool completely before removing from the tin.

2014-02-12 14.34.39Now to make the frosting! I used this recipe, but found it to produce ridiculously thick icing which I had to thin with a lot of water. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but it sure tastes good! I’d like to try this frosting again but on a slightly plainer cake.

2014-02-12 19.37.12You want to melt 100g of chocolate, beat into 100g of soft butter, and then beat in 400g of icing sugar and 50g of cocoa powder before thinning down with two tablespoons of strong coffee. I used 300g of icing sugar and it was still very thick!

2014-02-12 20.02.44I sandwiched the two cakes together with some of the icing, then attempted to smooth (not so neatly!) the rest over the top and sides. I was slightly constricted with the size of my tin (I AM buying a domed cake stand with my leftover Amazon vouchers!) so it wasn’t the neatest work I’ve ever done. To try and disguise the damage I added a final flourish of grated white chocolate (grated a piece of my nail off in the process…) which I think works well!

2014-02-12 20.19.19So that’s my little Valentine’s themed post – together with my favourite and easiest chocolate cake recipe. Its the type of sponge that’s easily adapted to anything – I’m thinking of introducing orange and/or chilli to a version soon!

Are you baking for your loved one this Valentine?