Friday, 15 April 2011

Come On Over!

Hey guys,

I've had a lot of trouble getting into this blog for the past couple of weeks (locked out - grrrr).

But whilst that happened - I managed to get another blog up and running!

It's exactly the same as this (with all previous content now exported over) but I managed to secure so I decided to haul it over there to keep titles simple!

The link will direct to here for the next couple of days - and then off to my new blog.

I'd love it if you'd come and join me :)

Jenni xx

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Colourful Spring Salad

The thing I’m liking the most about my new diet is how bright and colourful the inside of my fridge looks. It’s full of greens and purples, yellows and oranges, reds and even more greens. And I like knowing that every bit of that food is going to be eaten. Nothing will go to waste. Because my veg is carefully chosen to go well with both lunches and dinners.

I love raw veg in a salad. A crunchy carrot, and sugarsnap peas that I can’t help but snack on because it’s too hard not to. A new favourite of mine is red cabbage. I love the texture of raw red cabbage, and equally love the colour it brings to a dish.

On Saturday afternoon, I whipped up a salad with something of almost every colour in my fridge. Red cabbage, celery, radishes, apple (don't forget the apple) and carrot, topped with toasted nuts and seeds and dressed in olive oil, lemon and a dash of honey. There was a lot. So much, in fact, that I couldn’t eat a plate of it, but I had a lot of fun in trying.

There is something so satisfying seeing a plate of colours. Particularly when you know that a variety of colours means that it’s very healthy indeed. I can think of nothing worse than a plate of beige food.

It’s deliciously crunchy and full of flavour. I imagine it would be an excellent addition to a summer barbeque – a sort of coleslaw without the mayonnaise.

I’m on the lookout for super healthy and delicious salads that I can take to work. If you know of any, please let me know!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash & Rocket Salad

I think the thing I'm finding most interesting with my new diet is that for the first time, I'm actively looking in the fridge to see what I can whip up with what is in there.

Since my weekend away, I haven't been shopping and usually that means I end up picking something up from the supermarket on the way home. But that's not really an option now, as they don't have anything I can eat - so it's off to the fridge to find something interesting.

I had a butternut squash and some spinach, rocket & watercress salad leftover from last night's pancake day feast. A quick google and I found some recipes that looked good. Although I didn't have the feta cheese, nor the puy lentils that some asked for (which made me think that I needed to get some in for back-up), I got to work roasting the squash with some chili flakes.

I made a dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and tamari. I didn't measure - just threw it in to taste. Then lightly toasted some pine nuts and seeds that I had in the cupboard, chopped up some spring onions and popped it all on a plate.

The result was a beautifully light dish. Perfect for me, though Matt did say he needed a bit more to fill him up. We came to the conclusion that next time I made it, he could have a steak on the side. Which is fine by me because even though I do love the taste of a good steak, the thought of one sitting heavily inside me really doesn't fill me with pleasure at the moment.

I will definitely be making this again. Especially for lunch. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Pancakes!

Pancake Day. Possibly one of my favourite evenings as a child. Our kitchen table would be full to the brim with jacket potatoes and salad, and my mother would stand by the cooker, handing out pancakes as soon as they had cooked. We’d start with galettes filled with ham, cheese & tomato, and chicken in a white sauce.

Then once we’d eaten about 3 of those each, we’d start on the sweet pancakes. The potatoes and salad would be switched with mountains of sweet treats. Lemon and sugar, toffee sauce, maple syrup, jam, chocolate spread, bananas and ice cream. We’d have to have at least one pancake of each and I vividly remember my brother filling a pancake with huge amounts of chocolate ice cream, pouring out at the sides.

I love traditions like this. Traditions that bring back fond memories and ones which we try to re-create as we get older.

Last year, I held a pancake day party. But it failed miserably because other people aren’t fun. All the girls bailed on me, and all the boys arrived late – having already eaten. Great. This year I wanted it to be just me and Matt having fun in the kitchen. But he got distracted by a film on TV and it wasn’t really as ‘fun’ as I’d have hoped. Instead, I get told that he doesn’t really like savoury pancakes. Why didn’t I know this before I got all the stuff?!

But food wise – the pancakes were a success. This was my first time making them with soya milk and the first time using gluten-free flour. And they were a hit! The sweet pancakes took on a yellow tinge thanks to the milk, but they tasted great. I wasn’t too sure about the ‘cheese’ I bought – but it was alright enough. The Vegan hazelnut chocolate spread was gorgeous, and the dairy free ice cream was incredibly tasty. I moved away from traditional lemon and sugar, and delve into a plate of banana, raspberries and ice-cream.

Despite my shockingly poor effort to plan for this year’s pancake day (instead of having a trial run to make sure I could actually make them properly) they were a success! Proof to me that I don’t need dairy and normal flour to make good pancakes. My next task is now to adapt Nigella’s pancake mix so I can always have some in a container ready to whip up at a moment’s notice on a Sunday morning. Pancake’s aren’t just for one day of the year – we all need a treat every now and again!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Katie's Hen Party

At 24, I have only now began the stage in my life where Hen Parties will be frequent. In just a few weeks, 3 couples I know have got engaged, and 2 others will be married this year. This weekend I attended my first Hen Party – and I had a fantastic time.

Fizz on arrival, a Cocktail Making Class, vodka punch and even more fizz, then a night out on the tiles for some dancing. Can you see the day revolves around what we drank?? We drank… a lot. But I stopped drinking at 8.30pm when we actually ventured out into the City so by the time we got home I had sobered up a remarkable amount and had spent a grand total of £5.10. Brilliant.

The party was hosted by on girl in particular, but the rest of us all chipped in. We all paid £20 for the cocktail-making class, and each provided either a selection of food, drink, decorations etc. I provided music – which was awesome as it was simply a matter of putting fun music on an iPod. I got that because I was already spending a bit to actually travel the 300 miles back north for this party – so if you’re attending something where you’re all chipping in as well as travelling - it's worth mentioning it to the host to see if they can be nice and give you something purse-friendly to chip in with!

Katie looked very happy with her Cosmopolitan in hand.

The party got behind the bar for a celebratory pose!

And showing our drunken state, Mandy thought it would be funny to shove her hand in my face when taking a nice photo.

As for food while I was there? While they were tucking into pizza, I made Alicia Silverstone's Vegan Nachos and Bean dip with Guacamole. It went down a storm and others were tucking in, too! (though I didn't tell them it was vegan & gluten free - these Northern birds would scoff at me!) The morning after we all headed off to a pub in search of some breakfast. The rest of the gang tucked into a full English breakfast. Me? I went with a fruit salad and orange juice. And I can tell you that I felt better than the lot of them for it!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Pretty Teacup

I've picked up another cup. Yes, this new tea cup joins the Thursday's Child mug in a bid to start my own cup 'collection'. It looks pretty. Very pretty. In fact, when I have more I shall very much want to serve tea in them as I'm sure they'll bring a smile to a guest's face (or is that just me being a bit odd?)

This teacup is one of a set of 3. This was the only one on sale in Bert's Homestore in Hove - but I'm sure I've seen others in their store in Hove. I will get them all! They're a set from dotcomgiftshop and if I can't find them in Bert's, I'll just order them online.

Along with the high tea cake stand! How utterly adorable is this?!

It's £3 cheaper in Berts, and I wouldn't have to spend on postage. But still, it's almost £30 and I'm not quite ready to part with that amount of money just for a cake stand... although I think I might be swayed once I get round to making these ah-may-zing looking cupcakes from GlutenFreeGoddess. She's got an entire section dedicated to gluten-free vegan recipes and I'm having so much fun reading through them all. So pretty cupcakes need somewhere pretty to be displayed.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Hi there!

I thought it was probably about time that I actually introduced myself. You know, properly.

I’m a Northern sprite at heart, but moved to the South Coast of England, to Brighton, back in the summer of 2009, and in that time I’ve already lived in 2 apartments.

The first was great – it was my first place with my other half, Matthew, and it will always have a special place in our hearts – but it was nothing compared to what we have now.

Thanks to a bit of snobbery about where we’d live, and a nice dollop of good luck, we landed with an absolutely gorgeous apartment in an old Victorian Mansion on a street lined with trees. We are just a hop and a skip away from the beach, but don’t have to hear those pesky seagulls on a daily basis. We live within walking distance to the town, but a 5 minute walk to the nearest train station and a 1 minute walk to the nearest bus stop.

Our neighbours are fantastic and our landlord is a gem. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to live the life we lead – but it’s not out of reach for anyone. We work hard, and penny pinch harder – but we still give the impression that we have more than we do.

As my other half is still a student, we’ve had to live on one salary. And not a great one at that. We don’t shop for clothes that often, and we almost never go out partying. Instead we spend on things that can benefit us in the long term – like a piece of furniture, good food, and quality skin-care.

I’ve not been a very healthy person. For the past 6 years my health has been a constant burden. I had headaches almost every day for 3 years. Then I had tendonitis in my wrist. I had an operation to remove an abscess and managed to get phlebitis – the vein running down my right arm completely emptied and I couldn’t straighten my arm for weeks. In October 2009 my knees gave way and I was out of work for 2 months – and then in September 2010 I had the worst abdominal pain I had ever experienced. Needless to say I started to question not only my overall health, but the competency of every doctor I had seen who refused to look at all of these problems as related issues.

And then I went to see a doctor. The best doctor I have ever seen in my entire life. Doctor Barker – the woman who saved me. Her no-nonsense approach to diagnosing me was incredible. She asked me every question under the sun and wouldn’t rest until she understood ‘why’.

My father was diagnosed with Coeliac’s Disease 20 years ago. I grew up eating an almost gluten-free diet, with the exception of bread, pasta and cakes in small quantities. My family weren’t big on ready meals and my Mum cooked a well-balanced meal every evening. I’d been tested for Coeliac’s before but the tests always came back negative. I explained this to my doctor. She told me that due to the low intake of gluten in my diet, it was likely that it spiked levels high enough to be detected in a blood test. Seeing as Dad has Coeliac’s and it’s genetic – add that to my surname (clearly I had Irish heritage – where Coeliac’s is most common) and bam – that was probably the root of all my problems.

Rather than being tested again, I was told to try it out. To go Gluten-Free for a month to see how I felt - and I was blown away by what happened. I started to feel better. I didn’t constantly feel sick or sluggish and I felt well for the first time since I could remember.

Of course I slipped up at first. After the initial month I ate a pizza to see how I felt and I did feel awful afterwards. But although it proved to me that I’d feel a lot better if I stayed off the gluten, the cakes occasionally tempted me. And I wouldn’t be happy afterwards. But I began to become more in control of my cravings and now I don’t even bat an eyelid. In fact, I look at it as if it were poison.

However – the feeling of well-being was short-lived. I felt great for the first few months, but in January I started getting more pains. Clearly I wasn’t being as good as I should be. Sure, I wasn’t eating gluten any more – but was a substituting bad food for good food? No. I took out what was making me ill, but I never once thought that I should add something to make me better. And then I read a book that changed me.

I became vegan the day after. 90% vegan. I still eat fish, eggs and honey. But I have cleansed myself of dairy and meat and I feel incredible.

It’s quite a strange feeling to become vegan without doing it for animal-rights reasons. People automatically assume that I’m a hippy (my dreadlocks probably don’t help this connotation either) and want to ‘save the world’. I also live in Brighton – the only contingency in the whole of the UK with a Green MP – but although that might just add to the ‘hippy’ idea, it also means I live in a great place to find great vegan food.

So food is a big thing for me to blog about. But I also love crafts and design. You may have noticed at the beginning of this (incredibly long) post that I love my apartment, and I try my very hardest to make it as beautiful as I can – with as little money as I can. I renovate as much as I am allowed in a rented property, and I decorate with colours. I’ve never been a fan of brown, white, beige colour schemes and to me, minimalism shows a lack of character depth.

I read lots and lots of blogs to help me with my inspiration and I have been known to copy one or two ideas I have found. Sometimes I like to have something that’s unique. Something I want something that is quick and cheap (I have a lot of Ikea things) but the main thing to me is that it looks more expensive and luxurious than it was. I have a deception of wealth because I know how to show it.

So welcome to my blog. I hope you will find inspiration, information and ideas. I’m all about making you the best person you can be when it comes to yourself and your surroundings.

Please come and say Hi.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Kitchen Tile Stickers!

I fear I have been chatting too much about food recently (what with it being my new obsession and all) so I thought I'd write about something else that I have done recently.

You see, as I live in a rented apartment, it goes without saying that there will be something hideous. That, my friends, is in my apartment in the form of kitchen tiles.

Errrrr. Gross. They remind me of summer houses in the Mediterranean. Not a good look in England.

But back when I was at university, I revamped my hideous kitchen with some groovy tile stickers. So I figured I'd do the same here!

First I got out some leftover stickers (because I do save things like that for 2 years...) and tested them out to see if Matthew would give me the thumbs up.

And he did! But not in pink. Our place is far too girlie as it is, and it's a bit harsh on the boy to have almost everything feminine, so I chose green as a good colour. That would tie in well with the cupboards and cream walls (who designed this place?!) and make it feel a bit more 'funky' in there.

I only needed one packet so it cost me a grand total of £9! Woo! £9 to update a kitchen? Er, yes please!

So okay, it's not a drastic makeover or anything, but it feels a bit more contemporary in there now. Who chooses 'bumpy' tiles in the first place is beyond me, but hey - I did the best I could. And looks totally cute with the scales.

And here's the whole kitchen in all it's new green mosaic glory!

An improvement, don't you think?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Muesli with Rhubarb

I usually eat my breakfast at work. I eat Eat Natural Muesli with Buckwheat with a dollop of natural yoghurt and some honey. And it works for me. Oh, does it work for me. But on Friday night I dropped in at Infinity Foods on the way home from work to pick some up and there was none left! I wasn't very happy.

So this morning I had to improvise (I had some fruit yesterday but there was none left this morning). Initially I was going to go without breakfast - something I never do - but I didn't want to eat anything I shouldn't. Nope - no milk for me this morning! And then I remembered a blog that Cherry Menlove posted the other day and it got me excited. Honey Oat & Rhubarb Breakfast. I had gluten-free oats. And a few nuts and seeds. And rhubarb. I'd initially wanted to just put rhubarb on my breakfast at work, but I could make this from scratch today!

It wasn't exact. I threw in whatever I had in the cupboards, but my goodness it was lovely. I did use honey, I'll admit - but you could easily substitute with some other form of sweet syrup. I've substituted natural yoghurt with Alpro Soya Plain Yoghurt, and it tastes fantastic - seriously, it's good stuff. The rhubarb was perfectly tangy and delicious and it was a great breakfast.

Check that beauty out!

This vegan thing is easy! If I can eat like this every day then I am happy. And I'm now seriously considering making a huge batch of muesli myself instead of buying it. That will probably be cheaper and I'll know exactly what's going in it and match it to my own personal taste! The huge batch of rhubarb is just staying stored in an airtight container in the fridge. I'm sure that won't last long - not because of shelf life - but because I'll gobble it all up!

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Kind Diet

My book finally arrived!! Last night, I spent over 3 hours reading it when I got home, as well as reading it on my lunch break as soon as I got it, and whilst waiting for the bus this morning (it was raining – I normally walk) but I was quite happy to get to spend that time reading.

Look at it, happily sitting on my desk at work.

It’s such a good read – and hard to tear your eyes away from. I found myself questioning the things I was eating and if I was to blame for my bad health? I wouldn’t say I ate badly,  I stayed away from processed things because I knew they were full of rubbish, but I didn’t actively seek out good things, either. I didn’t think about why we needed to eat our greens, and the importance of adding extra ingredients into our food in order to hit our dietary requirements.

I’d snack on chocolate bars – but why wasn’t I snacking on dried fruit? At least that way I’d still be snacking but getting some goodness from it.

So as of today – I am going 90% vegan for a month. I say 90%, because I’ll still be eating fish. Fish is the easiest ‘meat’ product for the body to digest – and hopefully that should help the phasing in process – going 100% hardcore might push the cravings a tiny bit and I don’t want that. Also, the fish dish I’ll be cooking is salmon, brown rice, and vegetables so it’s still good and healthy and something I cook rather often – great for the one night of the week when I need to not be concentrating on what I’m cooking too much!

So because of this transition, I had to shop online. I usually go to the Tesco down the road, but it isn’t a huge supermarket and doesn’t stock everything I’d like. Instead, I logged on to Asda online and bought my shopping from there. Vegetables, yoghurt, brown rice, salmon, spices, maple syrup and a few other treats. I tried to get organic wherever possible and was waiting for the huge bill at the end when I saw this:

Can you see that there? Probably not because it's tiny, but it says "£32.12" Can you believe it?! Just over £30. For organic vegan food. £32.12 for a week’s shopping!! I try and get in budget of £40 when I normally shop and more often than not I do not hit target. Sometimes I end up spending as much as £60-70 if we have a week free of veggie meals (which I’ll admit we haven’t been doing since Christmas!!) so a £32.12 shopping bill was a wonderful surprise. Even with the £5.50 delivery charge – I think I’ll be doing my shop on a Thursday evening more often to save both pennies and precious time on a Saturday!

So to break down the bill: here’s what I bought:

1 Mange Tout & Babycorn £1.50  
1 Clipper Fairtrade Green Tea £0.86  
1 Organic Salmon fillets £3.47  
1 Billington's Fairtrade Natural Golden Granulated Unrefined Cane Sugar £1.48  
1 Rhubarb £2.97  
1 Organic Red Kidney Beans in Water £0.55  
1.0kg Butternut Squash £0.97  
1 Courgettes pack £1.00  
1 Lemon £0.23  
1 Easy Cook Brown Rice £1.26  
1 Whole Earth Crunchy Peanut Butter £1.50  
1 Organic Watercress, Spinach & Rocket Salad £1.24  
1 Celery Sticks £1.00  
1 Garlic Granules £0.58  
4 Organic Chopped Tomatoes in Tomato Juice £2.28  
2 Alpro Soya Plain Yogurt Cultures £2.00  
1 Ground Coriander £0.32  
1 Vermont Canadian Maple Syrup £2.50  
1.0kg Sweet potatoes £1.18  
1 Curly kale cabbage £0.97  
1 Eat Natural Free From Almond Bars £1.98  
1 Morinu Silken Tofu Firm £1.00  
1 Strong & Absorbent Kitchen Towels  £1.28  

And with all this I shall be making:
Spicy Chick-Pea Stew with Brown Rice
Brown Rice Penne with Tomato Sauce, Kale & Salad
Kale, Sweet Potato & Peanut Stew with Brown Rice
Salmon, Brown Rice & Vegetables
Brown Rice Spaghetti with Courgette & Lemon
Butternut Squash & Chilli Stew

I bought some Alpro Soya Plain Yoghurt to go on my gluten-free muesli for breakfast, and I snapped up some rhubarb which I’m going to make into a compote by simmering it down with some organic unrefined sugar. This will probably make a lot of compote and if I have too much I’ll just bring it in to work to share with the girls.

Speaking of which – me chattering on about healthier eating has spurred on some of the others in the office to try it along with me! It’s great having the support of other people - especially when there so many negative connotations surrounding veganism.

And I hopped on the scales this morning – I’ve lost 4lbs! In a couple of days of not even trying and not even cutting it out altogether. Just eating salads at lunch time and snacking on healthier things. I’ve not had a glass of wine in over a week.

So I am completely sold. I’m feeling better, I’m losing a few pounds, and I’m saving money – what’s not to like?!

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on this journey as I go along and I hope to inspire some of you to consider even becoming a part-time vegan to make some pretty good improvements.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cheap and Easy Green Salad

On the subject of eating healthier I would like to share a wonderful salad that I just made for lunch. It's worth buying a bag of prepared salad to give you less hassle in the mornings (which then makes you not want to bother, so you leave for work without lunch in hand, and have to spend a few pounds on something less healthy and more expensive). As well as other things that are easy to throw together.

This is a 'throw together' salad, and it was delicious.

a handful of salad leaves (I like watercress, spinach and rocket - all in the same bag)
a good large handful of sugar snaps
a handful of other beans or peas (such as edamame, broad beans, runner beans)
half an avocado
half a tin of tuna

Throw it all together on a plate and it's done. No dressing, no nothing. The tuna is the perfect accompaniment to the avocado and the sugar snaps have the best crunch ever. There is no need for anything else.

And there is a fair whack of food on that plate - so by the end of it I felt nicely filled up! And happy with myself as I looked down and saw a plate of green. No beige foods for me there!

I've been snacking on some unsalted nuts, dried fruits and seeds so I'm never starving when it comes to lunch time - definitely a good thing for me as my eyes are far bigger than my stomach and I buy lots if I go out and I'm hungry.

I'm already full of energy and think I can definitely power on through to the end of the day, now. There is really something to this.

Flirting with Veganism

So this weekend I've been sat reading cookery books. There's a bookshop near me that is closing down and all the books are less than half price, so I figured that now would be a good time to stock up on some as I'd be saving a bit of cash (as I'd no doubt by them at some point anyway).

I picked up some Jamie Oliver books, Gizzi's Kitchen Magic (which looks absolutely incredible) and another book which I didn't really look at properly before buying, but it looked good so I bought it anyway.

This book was Skinny Bitch, by Kim Barnouin. I got home and started to flick through it when I realised that all the recipes were vegan. No big deal - I quite like going veggie sometimes as it saves a bit of money - but I've never actually bought a vegan cookbook before. I haven't even got a vegetarian cookbook, so this was quite a new read for me.

The book starts off by explaining the ecological benefits of eating vegan and organic... and I lost interest and put the book down. I hate to say it, but I'm just not drawn in by the whole 'save the environment and save our animals' argument. I'm selfish and if I enjoy eating meat, I won't feel bad because it's an animal. I've known this all my life and haven't felt bad - so why would I change now?

But I picked up the book again. Why? I think it was because I'd been eating a lot of salads that week and fancied reading some light recipes, but I got hooked into the text. This bit wasn't about the environment - this was about health. So I kept reading.

When I found out I would have to eat a gluten-free diet back in September last year, I didn't find it that difficult. Sure, for the first couple of weeks I missed pastries, and I would occasionally indulge in the odd office birthday cake, but then feel my poorly tummy and realise that it was a silly thing to have done. But I got through that and now I don't really miss it. I've had fun experimenting with different brands of gluten-free foods and finding my favourites. Good. Really good. Bad. Awful. There are lots that fall into every category and it's proved to me that by experimenting and trying different things, I could find something both my palate and body agreed with.

Unfortunately, the stomach cramps started again and I spoke to my doctor. Apparently my gut hasn't been working properly for years and it's going to take a rather large diet change to get it working again. My determination to feel better again has seen me eat an incredible amount of fruit and vegetables this past week. Gluten-free muesli with natural yoghurt and honey for breakfast, salad and a portion of fruit for lunch, dried fruit and nuts to snack on, and a home cooked meal for dinner. No alcohol for the latter end of the week (Monday was Valentines, Tuesday was spent finishing off the super expensive champagne...) and only one slice of cake.

I have felt amazing.

So I carried on reading. And I found a page that mentioned Alicia Silverstone, and it had an address for her website, The Kind Life. Naturally, of course, I picked up the laptop and had a bit of a look.. and a bit more of a look.. and a bit more.. and before I knew it, I'd spent the past two hours looking around this site and watching youtube videos of Alicia and her book, The Kind Diet. I also went as far as buying the book from Amazon because I was so impress with what I'd seen.

Skinny Bitch is a little bit more... judgemental than what I've read and watched from Alicia. She suggests 'flirting' with veganism to see how you find it. She doesn't judge those who take on the diet for health benefits, and instead she is happy to see anyone take steps towards any form of vegetarianism as no matter what the reason, it's doing some form of good for the world and the animals that live on it. This is an approach I like.

I want to save my body. Of course saving the environment and being kinder to animals is a definite bonus, but ultimately I want to save me. I want to be healthy again. I want to consciously think about each item I put in my body. I already do this to an extent as I hate cheap meat, processed foods and any kinds of crap already so I can't imagine it'll be difficult for me.

I am so excited to get this book next week, and I definitely see that I'll be taking a step forward to a healthier me.

(please take a look at the video of Alicia talking about the book and the health benefits of changing your diet)

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Valentine's Gifts

It has been so nice to have a weekend that has been relaxing! I bought two books this afternoon and I intend to curl up in the reading nook and get stuck into one of them this evening whilst Matt is out playing a gig tonight.

Last weekend, however, was another story. It's a tradition in my house to always make some sort of treat when it's an occasion, and Valentine's is no exception. This year Matthew cooked a delicious 3 course meal and as he was in charge of the food, I didn't have to worry about it and could focus all my energy on treats for the office - and boy did it need energy.

My first attempt was a pathetic failure. My idea of making pink marshmallow rice krispie cakes seemed so simple! But the marshmallow mixture was such a sticky mess that I could not cut them into a heart shape (as I desperately wished). So on to attempt number 2: chocolate rice krispie cakes. These wouldn't be sticky, right? And I'd seen so many tutorials online about how easy it was to cut them out with a cookie cutter - surely they wouldn't lie to me?


Once hardened, the cakes just broke apart. Far too delicate for me to give as gifts and I wasn't risking them crumbling over everyone in the office. I tried it many different ways - cutting them out (broke apart) packing them into cookie cutters and then pushing them out (broke apart) and pushing them out of the cutter at the perfect temperature (worked! yippee!! - but blatantly not spending all that time and effort ensuring the perfect temperature for over 40 cakes).

This is the only heart I managed to create. The heart in the cutter broke. Bummer.

So I had to get my thinking cap on. By the time I'd completed my two disasters it was Saturday evening and I had to think of something that I knew would work - something I was confident making. But cakes and biscuits were out of the question. Since going gluten-free, I haven't yet perfected baking where I'd be happy to give the end result to other people. I'm still learning, and I wanted to be able to hand out a little treat that I knew they'd enjoy. Especially as the Christmas Puddini Bonbons went down so well at Christmas.. I needed to keep me reputation up high!

And finally, it hit me. The chocolate florentines! I'd been making these almost every week and could easily whip up some more. Not only are they really cheap to make and naturally gluten free (which is by all means a good thing when giving food to people who aren't coeliac) but they easily cut into heart shapes! (I knew this as I had a batch in my fridge at the time and tested it out - perfect.)

I set to work making the florentines and added a couple of drops of red food coloring to the mixture to get a pinkish tone. Popped them in the oven, the freezer to let them cool down a bit, and started to cut them out. I made two batches in total - enough to make just over 20 large and 20 small hearts.

They were so cute.

But the task wasn't over. I couldn't just take them in in a tin. Oh no - I needed to take them in in a wicker basket, all wrapped up with ribbon. So I spent Sunday evening on the floor surrounded by cellophane and pink ribbon. But it was worth it.

Aren't they adorable? And the basket was almost as exciting as the finished treats themselves! I spray painted this bad boy a couple of weeks ago and it was so perfect for this occasion. I'm thinking of buying a few more to decorate, as they only cost £4 and make all the difference when it comes to presenting gifts.

Everyone at work loved them. Some asked for more (always nice to hear!) and other's took them home to their girlfriends as an extra present (though how they'd pass them off as their own is beyond me, as we obviously don't have a cooker in the office).

But it was great to be able to put a smile on their faces. That's why I do it - sure I like making things, but I like to see the happiness it can bring when others realise that there are people in the world who like doing nice things.

Monday, 7 February 2011

My New eBay Store

This Friday just gone, I had my wisdom teeth removed. All four of them. It wasn't a scary experience by all means - the nurses were super friendly (the anesthetist was my favourite - he said working in a hospital is just like how it is on Green Wing) and everything went swimmingly!

But because I was having an operation under general anesthetic I needed someone to look after me for at least 24 hours after. Matt had work on Saturday so he was out of the question - so cue my Mother!

My mum makes me laugh... a lot. She's recently made a new *like soul mates* best friend and they are always hunting for bargains here there and everywhere. Margaret practically lives in TK Maxx and she's driving my mum down the same path.

When she arrived on Friday night she told me a story about how the two of them were searching for sale items in a home store, and were grabbing up everything they could find for 30p - they each left with 2 huge bags full for a grand total of £10.

The reason for this madness? My mum was thinking of her brand new addiction: eBay selling. It started at the beginning of the year when the family were clearing up old toys to make way for new things after Christmas. My 13 year old sister brought down bin bags full of old clothes, toys, games etc and my mum couldn't throw them out. Their nextdoor neighbour had recently made £800 by selling unwanted items on eBay so if they could do it... so could she!

Less than a month later, and she's already made an incredible £80. All by selling little things that my sister was going to throw out! Any that don't sell are just re-listed and if it becomes obvious that they won't sell, then off to the charity shop they go - but it's been so worth a bit of time and effort to actually make some money out of it.

This weekend my mum has been constantly checking her eBay account to see what's sold and what hasn't - so much so that me and Matt have got the bug, and we've been convinced to sell some of our old clothes.

I've had a pile of jeans waiting to be gotten rid of so tomorrow I'm taking photos and putting them up! But that's just the start. At the beginning of the year, I said that I wanted to sell at least one thing that I had made - so I'm on a mission now to get creating things to sell on an eBay store. It'll be a bit of a hobby, and a way to make a few pennies on the way.

I've even already started to make my shop!

Does anyone have any tips?

Friday, 4 February 2011


I'm going into hospital today to get ALL FOUR wisdom teeth removed.

It isn't going to be... pleasant.

So whilst I mope around in discomfort, eating lots of jelly, ice cream, yoghurt and soup, I don't think I will be getting up to anything interesting enough to blog about. And if I do (I have a sneaky feeling I might have to make some super awesome jelly to give me something) I will write when I stop feeling like a sad, giant hamster.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Send Happy Cards!

What a week! Not only did one of my friends get engaged, but so did another - and a baby arrived!

Congratulations to all the happy couples!

When I hear wonderful news like this, I must express my happiness by sending a card. Everyone likes post, especially when it's lovely post, and I like my friends to know I am thinking of them throughout these exciting times.

So I nipped down to malarkey (my favourite card shop - ever) to get something lovely for the soon-to-be-wed couples. But I had a little bit of time to prepare for the arrival of baby Samuel so I made a handmade cross stitch card!

What a beauty! It took 3ish hours to make (I'm new to cross stitch - though thoroughly loving it) but it's so worth it! It was also pretty darn easy to make - and quite relaxing to sit and copy a pattern on a Saturday afternoon... or on a train, as I did with the majority of this... there were a few looks. *ahem*.

I just like the thought that they'll know my time and effort went into it and hopefully that should make it an even nicer card than it already is!

I like putting myself out there for occasions. People will always remember who has been thoughtful at these times and a kind gesture is always appreciated.

Never underestimate the power of lovely post!

Monday, 31 January 2011

New Project Inspiration

Eeeeeeeeeeeee do you ever see something which gets you one hundred and ten percent excited?

I've been wanting to join a class at Just Sew in Brighton for ages now, and I've needed a project so I can bite the bullet and just go (I'm a little scared of not really knowing what to do in new situations).

I've been thinking about making a new tablecloth for the round table in the living room (because Matt dropped a candle and burnt a hole in it) but after I saw this apron, I have now decided that this will take priority. Which is impressive, really, because I only saw it an hour ago. My mind can be made up like that! *clicks fingers*

(image via cherrymenlove)

It's BEAUTIFUL! Cherry, Cherry, Cherry - how do you do it?

I have been 'wowed' at an alarming rate this past year, and most of it is because of this lovely lady. I often see her posts and then have an overwhelming urge to copy her do something similar myself.

If I ever meet anyone who likes crafts and other homely things, I point them in Cherry's direction. She's such an inspiration and I love seeing how her life is turning into everything I've always dreamt of.

So this will definitely be the next sewing project I embark on. All I need now is to find myself some material that will do it justice!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sausages, Mash & Chili Burst Tomatoes

Every now and then, we need a good old plate of comfort food. Especially in winter where the cold is just outside the door. We want to feel warm and cosy and curl up in front of the TV with a good film and something to munch on.

'Bangers and Mash' - a firm British favourite. And it's good, of course it's good, but it's just sausage and potato. It needs something more. Gravy - too common. Beans - too student. Burst cherry tomatoes with dried chili and garlic - that's more like it!

It's all the comfort of the traditional meal with all the flavour of something more fancy. Plus it's only 3 ingredients and bits from the store cupboard - which also makes it incredibly cheap.

Debbie & Andrew's sausages are the best sausages I have ever come across in a supermarket. 98% pork shoulder from British farms, zero rusk so it's perfect for all those avoiding gluten, and so little fat that none seeps out whilst cooking. Ah-may-zing.

So whilst your potatoes are softening, and the sausages are cooking, heat a little oil in a small frying pan, add a clove of crushed garlic and a teaspoon of dried chili flakes, then follow with a small packet of cherry tomatoes (or more of you're cooking for more - this serves 2 generously) and let them sit there for 15 minutes, or until they start to burst and bubble in their own juices. You may want to give them a bit of a prod to make them burst if you start to get impatient (as I always do).

The chili takes away most of the sweetness of the tomatoes, and it makes a beautiful sauce as it swims in the tomato juice. Plus, it adds a teeny tiny bit of goodness to an otherwise meat and carb filled plate.

I served this to a friend who came to stay for the weekend and she loved it. Simple enough to put together whilst spending as little time in the kitchen as possible, and different enough to impress a guest.

Absolute winner.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A Paper Pleated Flower

I took yesterday afternoon off work and spent my time cleaning up and doing a big food shop. These are normally things I do on a Saturday so this morning I woke up with nothing to do!

I had a wonderful extra long lie in, and sat in bed flicking through blogs and looking for something to do with my day, and I came across a blog I had never read before - dirt cheap decor - and a valentines banner that was utterly gorgeous.

Now ideally, I would make one exactly the same as hers because it was too pretty not to, but unfortunately I didn't have any paper remotely similar to what she had and I wanted to use up paper I did have. So I got up out of bed and had a rummage through paper at my craft nook and found something pink.

Unfortunately, I'm not hosting anything to do with Valentines and it's sad to say I can't really decorate for a holiday that I'm not hosting. Mainly because Matthew would probably tut at the amount of pink banners and love hearts surrounding the place, and because it seems a bit pointless to put all that time and effort into Valentines when I could be baking instead. But the banner was too pretty not to make! So I compromised with myself. And set off to make a single pleated flower instead. This way I'd be happy that I made something, Matt wouldn't sigh in disbelief when he came home from work, and I would have enough time in the afternoon to make some Chocolate Fudge cookies and Chocolate Florentines.

So after half an hour of folding, gluing and listening to Vernon Kay on Radio 1 I ended up with this!

Pretty cute, isn't it? It's hanging in the window in the living room (which also resulted in me cleaning it thoroughly and finding out how to open it for the first time in 9 months - it's an old victorian-style pull window) and the light just shines through it! My one little piece of Valentine decor.
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