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!

In Pictures: Christmas Holiday

I have a lot of pictures to show from my Christmas holiday and as most of today is being spent on a train back to university (I can’t wait to see everyone again, although I’m already missing the people at home!) I thought I’d just do a simple photo-heavy post and show you them all, with a few explanations. Let me know if you want more lifestyle posts like this…here goes!

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2013-12-21 17.45.43Coming back to my mum’s amazingly decorated tree!

2013-12-21 17.49.50Snuggles with this cutie…

2014-01-03 09.43.46…and this one! I enjoyed spending lots of time with my boyfriend. During term time we’re anywhere between 150 and 200 miles apart, and although we try and see each other every fortnight it’s been great to see him every single day for a long period of time. We tried to do a lot of ‘dates’ this holiday to offset me having to study, and it’s been great!

2014-01-09 13.47.01One of our dates included a wander round Borough Market, where we lunched on this yummy paella.

2013-12-31 10.41.18I received some lovely expensive make-up…

2013-12-28 09.22.09…and got myself some fab bargains!

2013-12-23 15.21.05Did a little bit of baking.

2013-12-31 10.39.10-1And made sure I pampered myself!

2014-01-02 13.49.20Made the most of the Christmas leftovers.

2013-12-31 13.31.54Devoured some bread baked by my boyfriend (and resolved to make my own!)

2014-01-04 19.42.19Made some amazingly good Massaman Curry.

2014-01-11 16.19.00Watched a lovely sunset…

2014-01-11 16.20.53…whilst drinking a yummy hot chocolate!

2014-01-13 19.34.51I was treated to my favourite meal, fish pie! Thank you to both my boyfriend and his mum for their joint effort in this meal, it was wonderful!

BeHwDX8IYAAjbmpAnd this was topped off by lemon-y pancakes with the papers the next morning.

2014-01-15 20.48.02One of our date nights was a lovely Italian meal (paid for via a voucher we received for Christmas) which we finished off with a trip to the local cinema purely for the Ben & Jerry’s counter! I went for Peanut Butter Cup, with is my absolute favourite, and Smores. The perfect combination in my eyes!

And finally, perhaps best of all…

1157450_10151785402043516_1823432763_nYep, I managed to secure my Year in Industry placement which forms part of my degree! I feel really proud of myself for gaining one so quickly, it was my first non-retail/leisure interview, and I didn’t have to start panic-applying to every single placement I could find! I have a few posts set to publish on the University of Kent’s Employability blog about my application journey, but as soon as they are up I’ll be reblogging on here to give some tips. Back to the subject- I’m looking forward to working within the Pricing team of one of the UK’s biggest insurance companies from July, it’ll definitely be a change from university, and it’s an amazing opportunity. So excited!

 

How was your Christmas holiday period?

12 Days of Christmas (#3): Gifts For The Man In Your Life

I will confess that the products that on this post aren’t the cheapest and most budget friendly options, but (1) I have to avoid posting exactly what I have got my boyfriend or dad, and (2) I try and do my Christmas shopping in advance, so most things I would have originally chosen are long gone. I’ll give some cheaper ideas in the post too, but a lot of those don’t photograph too well! All photographs are taken from the links given.

Collage

 

From left to right, top to bottom, we have…

  • A box of classic ales. Beer or cider always goes down well!
  • A cute Christmassy jumper – I love this one!
  • Some kind of manly cooking course – this Pie & Pint one local to my home looks amazing! I’d want to book one that we could both do together though, as I’m greedy!
  • A scarf – I love the tartan styles ones around at the moment. I bought a lambswool one (before they became fashionable I’ll have you know!) during the Edinburgh Fringe and I love it!
  • A Make Your Own Bacon Kit – how cool does this look?! I can’t think of many men who would be disappointed to find this in their stocking!
  • A good leather wallet – Ebay has some fab offerings, like this one.
  • A funny book is something I think is a great little stocking filler. I’ve done FML ones in the past, but I desperately want to read this Exam Fails one!
  • If you know your man’s style well enough (I find they are quite personal things) then a watch is a good idea. Argos seems to have some good looking and relatively cheap ones (I like this). There’s currently an offer on too, so definitely have a look!
  • Finally, some aftershave. I’ve bought W this Paul Smith since the beginning of our relationship, and I love the smell.

Other ideas I have include finding a small plastic toy (try toy shops) version of his favourite animal, IOU’s (whatever you like – cooking, household chores, etc…), gift-cards for places such as Cineworld or restaurants (if all goes well, a nice date night for you!), or a selection of DVD’s and sweet treats to make your own night in. If you have met at university (and so will be spending Christmas apart), a nice photoframe filled with you two is a nice idea too! Basically, I like to think of presents I’d like to receive, make them a little more masculine, and then find those. And that way, it means if he doesn’t like something, I get to keep it!

What is Santa bringing your man this year?

Welcome To My Second-Year Room

This post is about two months late, but something I’ve been meaning to do. My landlady paid a visit recently and my room had to be tidied and cleaned (it isn’t usually THAT bad, but I generally have a floor-drobe going on!) and I took advantage of that to take some photos and write this post. Sorry that it’s so picture heavy, but I really feel this gets some of my personality across.

I also hope this will give you tips on how to make a home on the budget; check out my first year post about home-ifying student halls too! Here we go…

Welcome to my room!

2013-11-20 15.57.00I got the ‘big’ room of the house this year (paying the premium for it too!) and I’m very glad as I really enjoy having space.

Here you can see one of my favourite bargain buys for this year – the three canvases on the wall look great, are a neutral colour so can move with me from house-to-house in the future, and were ridiculously cheap at £6.99 from Argos. Most importantly – they are really lightweight so blue-tac onto the wall, with no need for damage! There’s a great cheap selection online, so it’s really worth having a look.

2013-11-20 15.35.32The price for having a bigger room is the fact that I have to share with the boiler. Luckily it’s in its own cupboard, but its slightly noisy, and also has various lights which glow out through the door. And it doesn’t mean my room is warm either, far from it! I have, however, accessorised the boiled with the addition of a five-hook over-door hanger (from Wilkinsons) where I place my coats, belts and bags.

2013-11-20 15.36.36My lovely Leather Satchel resides here too! I am still totally loving my bag, it gets so many comments, fits everything in, and is just perfect. I’m so lucky to have it!

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Now onto my bookcase – I have a LOT of books and folders, and really that’s for another post! Put it this way – the shelves are actually being supported by the folders as they don’t hold up themselves anymore (they were broken when I moved it!).

Now over to my bed…

2013-11-20 15.51.02I love love love cushions, and really think they give my room a home-y feel. I have six, which is probably overkill, but it means I’m nice and warm and cosy when I snuggle in! I also love my sentimental soft toys – the penguins above were one of the first presents my boy bought me, back when we’d been together for about a fortnight. He did well!

2013-11-20 15.51.28Speaking of cuddly toys, this is the adorable Highland Cow my parents bought as an early Christmas present – so cute!

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Now to the realllyyyyy girly part of my room – the dressing table! Here I have the makeup mirror that formed part of my 18th ‘Prep for Uni’ birthday present bundle, and is probably one of the best things you could buy a female prospective student as it ensures a good light to apply makeup. No idea where mine is from, but I’m sure I’ve seen them in Boots.

I also have lots of lovely photos, my make-up bag, my vintage-style alarm clock, my Cath Kidston Salt & Pepper Pots Ornaments (I have a terrier cross, hence the terrier theme with my cushion and ornaments), my bargain wide bowl (£1 in the sale in Marks & Spencer), my key pot (the really lovely butterfly box – a leaving present from work) and various other pretty bits. This is the one area I try to keep work/uni free!
I have also built a ‘bedside table’ out of two plastic storage boxes (storing dried foods I buy in bulk) and a prettier fabric box. In the pretty box go my cooking books, kindle and emergency chocolate supply. Oh, I always recommend a little lamp too – I love mine for giving a soft glow to the room before bed, instead of using the harsh main light.

2013-11-20 15.55.39Here’s my desk. Its a little battered, and rather on the small side, but it isn’t too bad (one of my housemates doesn’t have a proper desk at all!) and now I have another extension lead I can finally charge and use my laptop at the same time!

The academic in me really recommends a wall planner for students – mine really does help me keep track of deadlines, and how long it is until I can go home to a really decent (i.e. expensive) meal.

2013-11-20 15.55.54To hide a really bashed part of my desk, I’ve made an arrangement of my biscuit tins (bought separately, from TK Maxx) and my memory box (filled with letters/card from my boy, birthday cards from my parents, pictures my sister drew me when she was younger, etc – I really recommend that everyone has a box like this!).

And that rounds up the room I’m living in for my second year of university. Of course, I spend less time in it than my room in halls, because I’m living with lovely friends, we have a lovely lounge area, and it’s just a whole lot nicer than my experience of university accomodation (which really wasn’t great for me!).

What’s your way of adding home-y touches to a rented place?

Baking: Peanut Butter Snickers Brownies

Another baking post for you! Anyone would think this is turning into a food blog, but that isn’t really the case…much as I love food I still want to keep this as much of a lifestyle blog as I can manage. Food is just a big part of my lifestyle…

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Anyway, this recipe has quickly proved to make a favourite baked good of mine. These brownies are rich, gooey, crunchy from the snickers, with a savoury hint coming from the peanut butter. Wonderful on their own, but spectacular warned with Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. Diet = ruined.

 

I will say is that the snickers did make this very unstable and virtually impossible to cut. The crunchiness of the nuts is a pretty key part of the finished bake, but I’m not sure whether Snickers bars is the best way to achieve this. I plan to make another batch trialling a slightly different method, which I will blog about in due course. I will also add my method of using tins is slightly odd – I always line with tinfoil and grease this, then add greaseproof paper. Mainly as it eases the washing up…

 

So, here is the recipe for some of the best brownies I have ever eaten. Gooey, crunchy, chocolatey and salty. If you ever bake one thing from this site, make it these!

I made these as part of a bunch of presents for my lovely old boyfriend, for our third (yep, third – sickenly loved-up couple alert – but happy anniversary again my lovely!) anniversary of being together. His reaction was pretty impressive, so I think he liked them. They have been greatly appreciated by parents and housemates alike (and also travelled the five, yes five, thanks Southeastern Trains, hour journey to said boyfriend in a suitcase relatively unscathed) so would be great to make when meeting new people, having family visit, or for sending home in the hope of a fund relieving cheque in return…

 

Ingredients

  • Brownie mix (I used this recipe, as it is my go to for brownies. I also like this slightly healthier one, but I admit to using Tesco’s “just add water” mix on occasion, as baking ingredients can be expensive!)
  • Peanut Butter (around two tablespoons, smooth seems to work better in baking)
  • Snickers bars (I used three snack sized bars)

 

Method

  • Preheat your oven to around 180C.
  • Chop your snickers into rough chunks.

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  • Once your brownie mix is made up, stir through your chopped up Snickers, and add roughly half the mix to your prepared tin.

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  • Warm your peanut butter slightly in the microwave to make it a little runny (photo is before microwaving!).

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  • Add around half of your peanut butter over your brownies, trying to drizzle it evenly over the mix.

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  • Add the rest of the brownie mix, and drizzle over the rest of the peanut butter. Smooth the top down.

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  • Bake for 20-25 mins, turning if your oven cooks unevenly. If it is slightly underdone when you check it, my tip is to turn the oven off and leave to cool in the oven. It should finish it off nicely.

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  • Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin and cutting. If you do this while they are still warm, so know from experience that you will just make a mess.
  • Now sit and eat, preferably with a class of milk or a cup of tea. Oh, and although the snickers might make the base sticky, it means great pickings for the baker…

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This post has made me so hungry, I think I might need to go and steal another from the boyfriend… If you liked this post, check out my brownie post here. Also look at my take on The Londoner’s Banana and Nutella Muffins, and my Citrus Drizzle Cupcakes.

Strawberries, Sunshine, Sightseeing and a Show: Romantic Mini-Break in London on a Budget

Many, many months ago I had to deal with one of the worst aspects of being in a relationship; what to buy them for Christmas/Birthday. This is made all the worse by my other half very inconsiderately having his birthday at the beginning of January. So two presents in just a few short weeks. This stretches both my pocket and my brain, as I do generally want to treat him to something special. For the first year, I went generic male present with a watch and wallet. The year after was his eighteenth, so I found 18 little meaningful (I hope!) things. This year I cheated and moved away from the tangible goods (see, I did learn something in Economics lectures!) and went with an experience. I booked tickets to see the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory musical (which, by the way, is fabulous and if you get a chance you should definitely go!), and a hotel in Covent Garden. I say hotel, I mean a travellodge. Well, student budget and all… Anyway, this trip was taken over the last few days, so I thought I’d blog about the experience, blog about interesting things to do in London, and hopefully offer a few tips on how to survive a few days in London without spending too much money.

 

First of all, transport. We (or I) booked our train tickets from our home town wayyyy in advance. Well, about 8 or so weeks ago. Doing this meant we got a excellent deal, but it did mean we were limited to exactly timed trains. But it saved us a lot of money, and I think it worked out to be around £3.95 each way, per person. A generic one-month return is generally around £25, so we saved a considerable amount of money. I recommend any young person gets a 16-25 rail card. Mine has more than paid for itself (I only have to do two journeys to the boy’s university to make up what I my parents paid for it). Then look around for the cheapest deals, and try to book as far in advance as possible. A trip to the boy’s, with railcard, costs a scary £56+ booking the same week of travel. Booking in advance I have managed to reduce this to under £40. However, train prices for next year seem to have skyrocketed, and currently I am less than impressed at the prices, even for trips in September. I also recommend you follow 10 Ways to Have More Money As A Student Without Working, as they often have deals whereby you can gain vouchers to use on Red Spotted Hanky, a train-booking site. I prefer this site, as they don’t charge booking fees (ahem, trainline) and it is free to have tickets delivered to your address.

For the tube, it IS pricey. The standard travelcard for zones 1-2 (which is generally all you will need, unless you want to visit Stratford shopping centre) is £7-something, which is quite frankly ridiculous. But, if you first state that you have a railcard, you can then get a card covering all 6 zones, for £5-something. Definitely the cheapest and most flexible option, although the ticket machines don’t exactly make it easy for you to find it!

 

For where to stay, I’m not sure you could beat the Travellodge in London. The prices in the area are just extortionate, with the only other affordable options being hostels where we’d be sharing a room. Not exactly romantic if you know what I mean…
I booked the Covent Garden travellodge for around £47 for one night, with an additional £1.50 cancellation insurance. This turned out to be far better inside than out (the exterior of the place looks, to be honest, pretty horrible and grim!), which a very welcoming reception area (although the self check-in machines did annoy me slightly – I do like to talk to a real person occasionally!). The room itself was spotless, the bathroom not so. It was clean, apart from the bath which needed a good wash before I used it! The room was also lovely in its decoration, and smelt very fresh. And we got this view, what more could we want…?

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It was a surprisingly quiet night for a stay in the middle of London, with an exceptionally comfortable bed. Even with my recent bout of insomnia, I managed a good bit of sleep. Recommended, particularly if you want somewhere close to Covent!

 

Now, for food; a romantic dinner for two. Please, please, please; whatever you do, don’t just turn up at a restaurant as you will pay a fortune. Look around, find deals, book in advance. I spent a long time looking for a nice pre-theatre menu. There are some lovely ones out there, but unfortunately with an allergy to tomatoes I was so limited in choice I decided against them. Instead I found an offer at Cafe des Amis, a lovely restaurant just off Covent Garden. I was first introduced to the place by my dad late last year, and really enjoyed the food. And this offer was far too good to pass up; two course, a glass of proseco, for two, for a grand total of £28. It had to be paid for in advance, via Paypal. And as I have £5 credit on my account (a joining incentive if I remember correctly) this made it even better value for money. I duly paid for and booked a table, and then slobbered over my laptop as I stared at the online menu. I’m notoriously known between friends and family for taking a long time to decide what to order, so I started in advance. It definitely made the decision easier on the night!

For my starter, I went for a crab risotto, topped with scallops, and served with a lemon-caper butter sauce.

risotto

This photo isn’t mine (for credits see the end of this post – I must say it is far better than any I could have taken!) but it definitely shows the delicacy of the dish. Mine was topped with rather less green stuff, although I still picked it off – I don’t like restaurants who insist on garnishing like this, as I find it rarely compliments the dish. The risotto was wonderful – rich, creamy, sweet and fishy, with a fabulous bite where the rice had been perfectly cooked. The sauce disappeared beneath the other aspects of the dish, but it wasn’t missed. The scallops, however, were definitely the star of the show. Cooked to absolute perfection, they melted in the mouth and were no-where near the chewiness that tends to put me off ordering them. A fabulous dish, one that I truly loved.

My boyfriend opted for a ravioli, of spinach and ricotta, with a sun-dried tomato dressing. The dressing was very sauce-like, but apparently it tasted great. For obvious reasons I didn’t try the dish, and nor have I managed to source a photo. I also failed at finding a photo of his main; roast rump of lamb, with buttered green beans, pomme mousseline, and lamb jus. I have eaten this dish in the past, and I can confirm is is utterly superb and well worth a try.

For my main, I went for the venison medallions on a grain mustard mash, with a shallot and port jus. The menu advertised buttered salsify; I’m not sure if I received carrots instead, but whatever the vegetables were, they weren’t cooked enough and were far too crunchy. Again, this photo is not mine, but its very accurate to what I received. The meat was perfectly cooked, I definitely prefer how French restaurants cook meat (never overdone, if anything under what you ordered – so if you don’t like blood order well done). I love my meat almost running around the field, so it was perfect for me! The venison was also perfectly flavoured; this was the first time I had eaten it, and I will definitely order again. The mustard mash was a little too strong for my liking, although it worked extremely well with the sweet and sticky jus. Another more-than-satisfactory dish.

Venision

We declined pudding, and then had a bit of embarrassment when asking for the bill – we knew we had nothing left to pay, just the service charge, and this confused the waitress slightly. If you do this, I recommend ordering bread at the beginning, or an extra drink, so that you have more than the service charge to pay!

Service was excellent, if a little too fast. The atmosphere was lovely and romantic, until the adverts came on the playlist softly playing in the background – this spoilt the mood immensely, although it was quickly restored once the music recommenced. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, but would I pay full price? Probably not. My two courses, both the most expensive choices, were £11.50 and £24.50 – so we made a huge saving. Previous meals there have been using a Taste Card, which meant 50% off the food bill. In my opinion, prices are too high normally, but with the commonly-occurring deals, its a place well worth a visit as it is truly lovely food.

 

Obviously, I have only discussed one meal so far – and there are obviously many more that need to be eaten if staying in London more than a few hours. So,  eating in London on a budget. A restaurant (sort of chain, there’s only a handful of restaurants, all in/around London) that I LOVE and that is affordable is Wahaca, and this will feature in a blog post of its own over the coming weeks. If you’re staying overnight, particularly around Covent Garden, I heavily discourage you from choosing to add a breakfast to your hotel stay. In the travellodge we were offered this option for £7.95 per person. I decided to send the boy out in the morning to one of the many local bakeries (we went for the Balthazar Boulangerie, attached to the restaurant) for pain aux chocolat and croissants. These were superb, far better than any I have eaten before.

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He also came back with a fabulous full-sized baguette (the total of this came to, I believe although he didn’t divulge, just under £10 – a bargain for the quality) which would make up the bones of our lunch. We had originally planned to visit a food market to buy additional bits for a picnic. But it was a Tuesday, and we were struggling to find one within an acceptable distance, especially with our outdated A-Z street map. So instead we popped into an M&S and had a browse at their new/improved picnic range. I have to say, there is a huge amount of stuff I’d love to try in the range, but we went for the basics – a chorizo selection, and a punnet of strawberries, for the grand total of around £4.50. We went and sat in Green Park, in the rare English sunshine (I even managed to take my cardigan off…) and ate baguette torn with our hands, and chorizo, then fed each other strawberries, each grimacing at the icky display of public affection we were taking part in. It was a wonderfully romantic picnic, and incredibly cheap (far cheaper than two eating out at McDonalds!) for the amount of food we got. So, if in London on a budget, buy a picnic!

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Now, for “things to do”. We could have gone really cheap, and visited (like the child inside me wanted) the free-entry science museum. There’s a whole host of free museums to take advantage of, but for us the weather was too nice to stay indoors.

After coaxing me up from the grass where I was soaking up the sun, my boyfriend decided he wanted ice-cream. After reading the Londoner’s review of an interesting ice-cream parlour place in Camden Market, I knew it was the perfect place for us to visit. Chin Chin Labs offers yummy ice-cream to satisfy me, weird machines and chemicals to (hopefully) keep my wonderful nerd of a boyfriend entertained (I lie, we’re both a little bit like that…)! The decor is nice and minimalist, with fabulous chairs (I love metal ones, my fashion sense of skirts disagrees as they were a little chilly!). The menu is also minimalist – a choice of four ice-cream flavours, with about 3 sauces, and then maybe 8 toppings. As soon as I walked in, I fell in love; they GRILL white chocolate. Mind is still boggling at that! We quickly decided to go for the specials (vanilla and chocolate flavours and permanently offered, with two specials per week) – I had “Strawberry and Hay” and chose a topping of the aforementioned grilled white chocolate, and W (the boy) went for “Griddled Peach” topped with a pistachio and cardamon crumb. The peach is dairy free, which was amazing as upon tasting it was so creamy, so I’m planning to take my dairy-free mum to London just to introduce her at some point. I couldn’t decide which I liked loved more. The staff pour the right amount of mixture for one serving into a KitchenAid mixer (my boy was already excited – I think it’s a lifetime ambition for us to own one in our future house, though we currently argue over what colour) and whilst it is mixing add liquid nitrogen. There is a lot of gas which is released at this point – not to worry as you don’t consume any. Or if you do then its a negligible amount. But its worth it for the ice-cream! Its then scooped into a bowl, and the topping of your choice added. At £3.95 for each, its not cheap. But this seemed to hit my pocket less hard than the £3.50 ice cream cost in the theatre the night before. It was definitely worth it, for the portion size, the smoothness of the ice-cream (the nitrogen isn’t just a gimmick, it prevents ice-crystals forming and makes the smoothest mixture imaginable), and the unique flavours. Whoever discovered the strawberry and hay combination needs a pat on the back, for it was simply gorgeous, and I hope I will get to try it again! The grilled white chocolate was a complete revelation, and my only regret is that I didn’t have enough cash (they don’t take card payments) to purchase a bag of it. Or a truckload. So good, and I will be back!

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of Chin Chin Labs, although I have emailed them to ask if they can supply any, as I’d love to show you the experience a little more fully. I did however manage to get this picture:

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That is clearly the face of a boy who has tried something that has change his life (I like to think he looked like that when he first met me!). As we were eating our ice-cream, in the hot sun, on freezing chairs, we noticed a board outside the neighboring shop. It was advertising Chocolate Bacon. I think if I’d have refused to go in I’d have been leaving London on my own! The shop was called Mighty Fine, and they make chocolate and fudge on-site, where you can view the production process. There was a lot of fudge to sample and chocolate to try, but we only had eyes for one thing, the chocolate bacon. At £1.50 per rasher, I’m glad it wasn’t me paying, but it was a delightful mix of salty and sweet, and worth it! Be warned, more than one rasher and you will be ill, as it is rich, but it is also delicous. We washed it down with one of their homemade ‘slush puppies’ which reminded us of our youth, but a lot better – this was a lemonade ice base, topped with a choice of either raspberry or passionfruit coulis. We went for raspberry, and it was immensely pretty (I insisted on carrying it) and very refreshing. A must on a hot day, and on a par with the rest of the drinks prices in Camden Market.

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As for completely free-activities, I so recommend walking along the Thames. I love it, especially along the Southbank. It’s fabulously touristy, without having to dodge them (as in Oxford Street), you get fabulous views of the city, discover hidden gems (there’s many nice restaurants, and they’re noticeably cheaper on the north side of the river), and on a hot day like yesterday there’s a cool breeze which was very much welcomed. There’s the street performers in Covent which are well worth watching, although the acts are getting old (the same man has repeated the same performance over the entire length of mine and the boy’s relationship), and general window shopping to do. Camden is great for a wander round, but not with a suitcase. I also aim to head over to Portobello Market for a browse, and visit Primrose Hill for the view at some point.

 

For the more extravagant, you may want to see a show or musical. I highly recommend Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but it obviously depends on taste – we’re a couple that are just two kids at heart, and we loved it. The scenes and props were utterly magical, the acting and singing superb. Another excellent product is War Horse, we have seen it twice (it really is that good) and I would also recommend the Bodyguard. A word of warning, don’t take a tall boyfriend into the balcony unless you have booked aisle seats. He will have to sit squished and folded up for several hours. One advantage of having short legs I guess!

 

So that’s it, my guide to doing London a little more cheaply. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d happy hear them – I’m always open to new cheap ideas for days/nights out!  For now I’ll leave you with one of the views across the Thames (taken a few months ago, hence the winter coat modelled by the photo-bomber…)

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Feature image courtesy of Love of London.

Cafe des Amis images from Food Spotting, and Holly Hearts Food.

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