Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Year in Books - April

I am so late, I am almost too late, which is how life in general feels just at the moment. So much going on both at work and at home. I know it will all come together in the end, but the process of getting each of the individual projects completed seems forever destined to be done in the final possible minutes.

However this month I especially didn't want to miss the link as I managed to read three, very different, books. They were Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian. I am not going to say too much here, because I have read them as part of A Blogging Good Read, which will be going live on Alex's blog on May 7th (the link has now been updated to take you straight to the post). There will be more detailed comments over there, from three bloggers who have read the same three books. It would be great if you popped along to check out what we thought, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these books too!

I can't write this post without revealing that one of these three has become one of my favourite books ever, and I have been heartily recommending it to anyone who will listen. I simply adored it, and am wondering what will be a reasonable length of time to wait before I can pick it up and start it again. I cannot wait to see what the other bloggers thought (particularly as it was my pick - I had no idea I was going to love it, having picked it from the shelf full of books The Husband has bought me) and find out whether other people enjoyed it as much as I did.

I hope that has got you intrigued, and I will make sure I link to the post here when it goes live. Next month I will be reading The Shock of the Fall, having already started on the first few chapters, and I'm determined to restart, and finish, The Art of Fielding. I'm looking forward to catching up on everyone else's reads, as well as continuing to nurture my rediscovered love of reading.

Linking up with The Year in Books

Sunday, April 27, 2014

sunday sense check #4


We have been seeing lots of sunshine and blue skies this week, plenty of lovely, long walks with Millie. We are trying to get some longer walks in, and improve our pace, with the hope of starting to join in with our local parkrun in the next few months.


Not been listening to much music this week although I remember hearing Embrace's new single on the radio and enjoying it.


Not a pleasant one this week, but an unforgettable smell of sludge and mud after I stepped into a deceptively deep puddle whilst walking Millie.


We visited our wedding venue (again) and sat in the sunshine eating lovely sandwiches. The fresh salmon and homemade coleslaw was a perfect spring lunch.

Had our second Hello Fresh box delivered this week too, and enjoyed the chicken satay for dinner on Saturday night.


It has been an eventful weekend, as my mum was unexpectedly taken to hospital on Friday afternoon. Luckily she was discharged the same day, and although she was poorly, it wasn't felt to be anything serious. We're very relieved and Mum is already feeling much better, however it is still a shock for something like that to happen suddenly. We have had a quiet weekend since other than the spontaneous trip to our wedding venue for lunch, and we have been enjoying curling up in front of the tv and pottering around the house.

Project 365: 110 - 116

110. Took the dog for a walk in the evening. We had been due to go to the theatre but when we came to leave realised our tickets had been for the matinee so we had missed the show. Then on the walk with Millie I was picking my way through the mud - the puddle was a lot deeper than it looked, much to The Husband's amusement as I then hopped home beside him. Headed out to a country pub (after a change of shoes) and thoroughly enjoyed an evening spent chatting and , so all was not lost.

111. Some Easter baking in the form of a Sachertorte. I consider using a manual whisk part of the pre-emptive calorie burning in advance of eating any cakes I make!

112. We took an extension lead out on the dog walk, and Millie made full use of it, disappearing off into the long grass either side of the path. Loved seeing the white tip of her tail above the grass like a tour guide holding their umbrella up to follow.

113. Another dog walk, and after heavy rain there were snails out everywhere we walked. I spotted this stripy shell amongst the greenery.

114. These white tulips have been bringing calm to the bedroom, and so far they seem to be staying upright. I have them on my dressing table, and they make getting up and ready for work in the mornings (slightly) less painful!

115. An I forgot to take a picture day I'm afraid, so here is my work bag packed and positioned by the door ready for the ritual mad dash in the morning.

116. Finally, the Friday night calm. The Husband recently put up this canvas which he bought me for our first anniversary. The picture is one I took at Niagara Falls on honeymoon, and I love finally having a picture up in the room.

Linking up with Project 365 from The Boy and Me

Sunday, April 20, 2014

sunday sense check #3


The Husband and I went to watch the cinema screening of Richard II with David Tennant. Neither of us had seen or read it before so it was good to enjoy something new. We've also enjoyed watching the new series of Great British Menu which started last week.

One thing we didn't see was the play we had tickets for yesterday. After a wonderful afternoon with the family we returned home to get ready for an evening at the theatre, only for The Husband to lift out the tickets and realise they were actually for the matinee. We were pretty disappointed, so set out to walk Millie in the sunshine (including finding our first ever geocache at the beautiful spot below) and then headed to a country pub for a drink, a snack, and exciting chats about our plans for the house this year.


After a long day at work this week I was feeling a bit low - I can't even think now what about. What I can remember is that I found an album The Husband bought me for Christmas in the car, put it on full blast all the way home, and by the time I pulled up I was feeling much better. It was great to take a trip down musical memory lane and sing along with songs that remind me of being a teenager - this one included.


We headed to the beach for the morning on Good Friday, it was great to smell the sea air as we clambered up and down the sand dunes.

I asked The Husband to pick something for me to bake over the Easter weekend, anticipating a light, possibly citrus-based, cake perfect for spring. Instead he presented me with the recipe for a sachertorte, and so the house today has been filled with the scent of rich, dark chocolate.


We took a simple picnic to the beach, coffee, sandwiches and crisps that The Husband had put together in the picnic basket we got as a wedding gift. It is always lovely to make use of it, even if we did sit on a fence and eat out of the boot of the car!

We followed up the picnic with a trip to the ice-cream van. Felt very old when we realised that the '99s we used to get as children have now doubled in price to £2 each! Emptied the sand out of our shoes as we finished our flakes after a lovely few hours enjoying the sunshine.


A slight sugar rush between the Easter eggs and licking the bowl from the sachertorte! Also feel incredibly happy when I realise we still have another day off tomorrow, and after cleaning and baking today, it will be a day for long walks with the dog and a lovely lamb dinner.

Project 365: 103 - 109

103. A weekend walk in the woods with Millie and The Husband. I love it when we all go out for a walk together, because, aside from the fact that it's a good chance to catch up with each other, it also means I can take pictures without the puppy pulling me over!

104. I spent the morning trying to turn some leftover grapefruits into a drizzle cake, but it was one of those baking disasters. A slightly bitter, sticky loaf cake with the consistency of a brick. Then The Husband decided he fancied some biscuits and rustled up these with one bowl, no recipe, and in about fifteen minutes. I would have been pretty frustrated except for the fact that he shared them, and they were too delicious to be annoyed about!

105. Now Italian classes have finished it was wonderful to make the most of the sunny Monday evening and go walking Millie together. Something about this shot reminds me of Teletubbies!

106. Off to the cinema to watch the RSC Screening of Richard II with David Tennant. It was brilliant, although fairly heavy going for a midweek night out.

107. Beautiful red roses that I bought last week still going strong and brightening up the kitchen.

108. Snuggled up in the study watching a box set, and looking forward to the long Easter weekend. Feels like ages since we have had a few days off together.

109. Millie covered in sand as we made the most of Good Friday with a mid-morning trip to the beach and a picnic. A really lovely way to start the weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2014

box of tricks

Way back in February I received a gift through the post for my birthday. The gift, which had come from amazon, included amongst the several sheets of paper and brightly coloured inserts, a voucher for Hello Fresh. Intrigued, I didn't bin it automatically, and instead it languished in a drawer for a few weeks. Every so often I would spot it and realise I should do something with it, and then put it back away and get on with what I was doing. Then, during my recent spate of treating myself, I decided to place an order. 

The voucher got me £20 off my first box, so it cost £19 for the first delivery, which included three meals for two people. The voucher only works if you sign up for the subscription service which means you order a minimum of two boxes.

I was really impressed with the customer service, even before our first box arrived we received a handwritten welcome postcard, and a phone call to check we didn't have any questions. I couldn't decide if this was slight overkill, but it was nice to deal with a company that genuinely seem happy to have your custom.

As well as the recipes we got a free sample of a chia seeds "shot". I've never had chia seeds before but they livened up the yoghurt I had for breakfast, and I felt virtuous before I'd even started work. As well as the free seeds we got the ingredients for Chicken Laksa, Pork Chops with Crushed Potatoes and Pork and Beef Meatballs.

Every recipe comes with step by step instructions, although I would recommend reading them through before starting as they can jump around a little. The premise is that the delivery includes everything you need for each recipe (except for salt, pepper and oil) in pre-measured quantities. Again, sometimes the portion sent includes more than the recipe requires, but a few spare herbs is no bad thing.

Each of the recipes took between thirty to forty minutes, so I left the longest recipe until the weekend. I enjoyed getting in from work and spending some time cooking, and having everything to hand and a recipe to follow meant it was a good way to relax. It was lovely trying things I would never have thought to make at home, and for me the most surprising dish was the pork. It was very simple, but a real revelation to realise what a difference a little sage and butter can make to how much flavour a dish has.

All of the meals were a success, and all of the produce looked to be really good quality, particularly the meat. I was also pleased that the use-by dates on the produce left enough time to not have to eat all of the meals on consecutive nights. The recipes didn't require advanced culinary skills, but tasted brilliant. I found myself really enjoying dinner, and savouring it, rather than eating without really noticing. I liked that the dishes I made looked like the pictures on the cards, which isn't always the case when I follow a recipe!

I found the portion sizes more than enough for two people, but I'm not sure The Husband agreed. I was a little dubious at first, particularly with the Laksa, as the portion of noodles and chicken looked minimal. However, I felt pleasantly full after each meal; The Husband did too, but that was only with the addition of extra carbs in the form of bread or pasta each night.

With the box we ordered, you can do a meal swap for one of the dishes, and although we didn't use it this time, it was definitely a good option to have, particularly as The Husband can be, shall we say, selective, in what he eats. If you pick the vegetarian box, or the five dish box, there are no swaps available currently. Whilst part of the idea of the box is to try things you wouldn't normally eat, I prefer to have the option to rule out something I definitely wouldn't want. Also, having looked at some of the menus, I think that at times some of the dishes can be a little simple -  even with a money-off voucher I would hope for something more exciting than pasta with chorizo (which seems to be regular feature).

So, would I order again? Well, I am committed to at least one more box, and I am looking forward to ordering it in a few weeks. At the moment I have put the delivery on pause (otherwise you automatically get it every week) so that we can time it for a quieter week. The company have done the costings and I do think it is probably equivalent to buying the ingredients from the supermarket. 

However, the reality is, if I were shopping for the recipes, I would probably buy more of the ingredients and either make a double portion to freeze or use them for other dishes. I think that at least some of the ingredients would be cheaper to buy in bigger quantities, potentially reducing the cost per dish, per person. Having said that, as someone who is always mortified by how much we have leftover from our shops (hence the celery soup and grapefruit cake I made last weekend!) it was another tick in the virtuous box to know we weren't contributing to the food waste statistics for a week.

At £39, which is the standard price for the box we ordered, £13 for a dish for two people seems expensive when I consider what our normal weekly shop costs. It is definitely a luxury, and I'm still undecided as to whether the convenience of having all the required ingredients and a recipe dropped at the door, and the novelty of eating something other than the same few dishes, is worth the extra outlay. I would hope to keep the account open, and maybe place an order every few months as a treat. There are apparently extra perks when you have ordered a set number of boxes too, but I'm trying not to let myself get drawn in by that! 

If you are interested in trying it out yourself - feel free to use my referral code at Hello Fresh:


With this code, you get £20 off your first box (as long as you buy a minimum of two), and I get £12 off any box I order - which I would of course be thrilled about! Hello Fresh state that you can use this code on blogs and twitter so hopefully I'm not breaking any rules! I also just want to make clear that I haven't had any involvement with Hello Fresh beyond being a normal paying customer, I just wrote this post to share my experience (and it seemed a shame to waste the photos!). Let me know if you give it a go, or if you have already - I'd love to know what other people thought!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

recipe: lemon, lime and coconut cake

This is the cake that caused a revolution. The cake that changed my life. Now, I am making no promises. In fact, I think it unlikely that it will have the same effect on many others. Not unless you have the same rare affliction that I suffer from.

You see, I have a habit of taking things (baking) to extremes. Exhibit 1. And, as I mentioned in Exhibit 2 the fact that I own three loaf tins is, in itself, tantamount to a confession. I can never just bake A cake. I have to bake double, triple, I admit, sometimes even quadruple portions. If not that, then I have to justify covering the kitchen in flour by making two or three different recipes in the process.

Or should I say, that is how I used to be. For, you see, I am a reformed character. I am not really sure how it happened. I had half a lemon and half a lime left from my Hello Fresh delivery. I saw this recipe and then took part in the Blogtacular twitter chat where I realised how long it was since I had last baked. And so, plans were made. This weekend - I am going to bake, I announced. The Husband smiled encouragingly, but I could see the fear behind his eyes. His realisation that the time would soon be coming when I cooked up a storm and he was drafted in to provide emergency assistance in clearing the resulting wreckage.

But then, Saturday morning arrived. I made the cake, put it in the oven to bake, and started to scour the books for a second recipe. The grapefruits languishing in the bowl caught my eye and I frantically tried to find something to make that happened to match the less than ideal combination of ingredients in my cupboards. I wondered, not for the first time, how some of the other bloggers I read managed to rustle up a quick cake as part of a seemingly activity packed weekend. Then I realised, I had already rustled up a quick cake. The icing was made, the baking dishes were washed (in a rare show of cleaning as I go, what can I say, it was a morning of revelations), and in fact, the rest of the day lay ahead ready for alternative activity (or inactivity).

And so I stopped. Just like that. Life-changing. The Husband was amazed to enter the kitchen to find a cake that wasn't hidden by all of the bowls that we own filled with remnants of cake batter and icing sugar. He even got to eat a piece without working up an appetite doing three hours of washing up and wiping down first.

The cake was really lovely. I have put the recipe below, but really the only change I made was adding the lemon in place of some lime. If I made it again I would do the drizzle using the slightly messier method I have suggested below because I found the centre slightly drier than the edges, where the syrup seemed to have pooled. I loved the colours on top, it seemed perfect for a sunny springtime weekend. Even more perfect when I had the rest of the weekend free to enjoy it!

Lemon, Lime and Coconut Cake 

(Recipe from The Foodie Couple)


270g butter
240g golden caster sugar
250g caster sugar
270g self raising flour
4 eggs
1/2 lime - juice and zest
1/2 lemon - juice and zest
40g desiccated coconut
150ml water30g toasted desiccated coconut
250g icing sugar


  • Preheat oven to 170°. Grease and line a standard cake tray, or two square cake tins.
  • Combine together golden caster sugar, butter, flour, eggs, lemon zest, lime zest (keeping back a teaspoon of each zest) and the (untoasted) desiccated coconut using an electric whisk.
  • Pour batter into prepared tin, level surface using a palette knife (or by the banging tin on the worktop method!).
  • Bake in centre of the oven for 40 - 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • When cake is baking, prepare citrus syrup by heating caster sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and 150ml water. 
  • Remove cake from the tin and place on a cooling rack with a baking tray underneath. Use a knife to pierce holes across the surface of the cake. Pour syrup across the cake (keeping back two teaspoons of syrup). The baking tray should collect any of the drips from the cake, tip the syrup back into the pan and then pour the syrup back over the cake. Repeat until the syrup is used up (or you get bored!).
  • Add the remaining two teaspoons of syrup to the icing sugar, and thin down with water until it is the right consistency for topping the cake.
  • Top the cake with the icing. Add the remaining citrus zest to the toasted coconut and sprinkle over the cake while the icing is still wet.
  • Once icing is set, cut into slices and enjoy!

  • Sunday, April 13, 2014

    sunday sense check #2


    Lots of things this week. Seeing lovely friends for dinner. Seeing Elbow in concert. Seeing the brilliant production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Exchange.


    I have had the new Elbow album on repeat in the car - and mostly this song which I adored from first listen. They had live brass musicians on stage during the gig too which was wonderful.


    As we got back from walking the dog the aroma of baking hit me after I had spent some time this morning making a cake. It was lovely to come home to such a comforting smell.


    There has been a feast of flavours this week. Tapas with friends on Tuesday. Sushi before the concert on Wednesday. Rainbow coloured teriyaki rolls for lunch on Friday. A cheeseboard with Mum for a Friday night film.

    Dinner out before the play last night. Today it was time for simpler fare with homemade celery and stilton soup for lunch followed by some biscuits The Husband rustled up as I washed the dishes.


    Relaxed. I had a wonderful massage in the week, and we have had a peaceful day today pottering around the house. There is some cleaning to be done this evening, but it has been nice to sit quietly for a few hours and enjoy being still. I thought I would be exhausted after such a busy week, but it has been busy in the best kind of way.

    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    Project 365: 96 - 102

    96. Tulips on the kitchen table in the middle of a lovely Saturday. Watching retro tv programmes with mugs of tea, brunch at a nearby cafe, a (little) win on the Grand National, a clean tidy house and a box set night to round it off.

    97. Coffee and churros on a trip back to our wedding venue.

    98. Revisiting a book I studied in school as part of Alex's Blogging Good Read for May.

    99. Having enjoyed meeting up with my friend so much last week, we made arrangements to do it again soon, with the third member of our trio. Another lovely night, and beautiful to walk through the city in the sunshine.

    100. A night out with The Husband to watch Elbow in Manchester. A brilliant night, not a great photo but I hate watching gigs through the lens of a camera! Also celeb-spotted Bill Turnbull sitting behind us but resisted the urge to sneak a picture!

    101. Beautiful white flowers in the bedroom, which have been making getting up for work much more bearable.

    102. Rainbow-coloured lunch for a Friday treat at work.

    Sunday, April 06, 2014

    sunday sense check

    I had this idea for a post recently, in the hope of making it a regular feature. A quick google revealed it isn't by any means an original idea, but I'm going to pretend it is and carry on regardless! Let me know what you think, whether it works as a post, who knows if it proves popular I may even venture into a link-up one day, but that feels a bit ambitious for this evening!


    I wasn't sure whether to make this about things I had seen or things I had watched. The only thing I recall watching this week was the last ever episode of Silk. Thoroughly enjoyed the series, but the end left me a bit cold. I can understand the need to not wrap all of the ends up neatly, but it felt a little too open.

    Other things I have seen this week include the church where we got married, after we made a visit back to our venue today for a drive. It was lovely to go back, the first time since the wedding, and we were fortunate that it was unlocked. The flowers from a recent wedding were still in place, and we had a very similar floral arch, so we could stand and take in the surroundings, reminisce, and then walk down the aisle arm in arm singing The Wedding March at the top of our voices!


    Ever since I heard this song on the radio I have had it in my head. I'd not heard of Gregory Porter before (although I have heard his songs!) but I think his voice on this is incredible.


    I thought this might be a tricky one, but the barbecue I caught a whiff of while walking Millie made me realise Spring was well and truly underway!


    Our first Hello Fresh delivery has been the basis of most of our meals this week. Whilst visiting our wedding venue we also enjoyed coffee and pastries in front of the roaring fire, freshly made vanilla slice for The Husband, warm churros and chocolate for me - the first time I'd had them, and lovely they were too.


    A tricky one this, without getting massively introspective, like I have a tendency to! It has been a mixed week really, but right now, I'm feeling happy, and re-energised for a busy week ahead. It has been a brilliant weekend, a good mix of being productive and enjoying some lovely time with The Husband and Millie.