Sunday, 9 April 2017

Kedgeree and Cocktails at The Old Bookshop

Salty Dog

I don't know about you, but kedgeree is one of those dishes that I really love but never cook at home (along with curry, and frozen parfait) so when it comes up on a menu, I find it hard to resist. I was recently invited to try the new brunch menu at The Old Bookshop, and joy of joys, kedgeree! I'd already got kedgeree on the brain because my friend Lyzi had recently posted hers on her Instagram stories, so to be able to have it without the effort of persuading my husband to make it for me! Result.

Following my February flirtation with veganism, this would be my first egg in about six weeks. The eggs that sat on top of the kedgeree were perfectly poached, and I really do feel that I let them down by not perfectly capturing them being popped. Apparently, featuring poached eggs on Instagram increases engagement by something like 120% so I rue the day I missed out on that one...

The kedgeree was gorgeous too; I think a bit coconutty, perhaps. I loved its creaminess and it was so satisfying. There was a generous sprinkling of crispy kale on top too which is a great touch. Can we start a petition for all sprinkled parsley and coriander to be replaced with crispy kale?

Now, if you know me well, the next sentence will come as a bit of a shock. I drank gin. Willingly! I tried the 'Salty Dog' which is "Psychopomp W├┤den gin with the zing of grapefruit juice, pickle juice, lemon and lemon salt".  It was really tasty and interesting. I loved the salt on the rim of the glass. I wondered if the pickle juice would be overpowering, but it wasn't. I loved it! I had a sip of the Bloody Mary too, and that was wonderful. 

I've since been back and had the kedgeree again, and the Bloody Mary and they were wonderful. It's £12.50 for one of the brunch dishes plus a cocktail which is fab value. When I visited last weekend with Simon, we also tried the Wild Garlic Dumplings from the small plates menu and oh my goodness, they were spectacular. 

I'm pretty much looking for any excuse to go again, so if anyone fancies going, you know who to ask! 
Wild Garlic Dumplings

Bloody Mary (not both mine!)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

All About The Buns

Something that I hear time and time again in Bristol Blog Land is how awesome bloggers are to one another. I consider myself so lucky to have been welcomed into this community and for how many awesome women I have met, and how many wonderful opportunities I have had because of my little blog. Last week, I had an absolute dream of a day when I was invited to go to one of Severn Bites's bread courses. Not only do I get to learn a new skill (and give my Kitchen Aid a proper job to do!) but I got the chance to spend the day in the company of some really inspiring women. Doing the course with me were Leila, Natacha and Karis.

Nothing gets the day off to a good start more than a road trip and some mini-eggs, and thus fortified, off we went to Danielle's house. You need a car to get to Danielle's, but it's a quick and easy drive, through some lovely countryside for a good chunk of the journey. 

After welcomes, homemade soup and handwashing, we were ready to get down to business. Danielle told us about her epic five month training in France, explained the format of the day, and told us about the type of dough we would be using and making. 

Viennoise dough can be used for a variety of sweet and savoury treats. We learnt to make the basic dough, and then how to turn that dough into burger buns, savoury whirls, little baguettes, hot cross buns and a chocolate studded pull-apart loaf. Danielle explained to us about working with ingredient percentages rather than weights, which is a system that'll be familiar to you if you ever bake any recipes which use cups rather than grams or ounces. 

We learnt a variety of shaping skills, including rolling the dough by hand into bun shapes. It's a little tricky to master as the dough is quite sticky. It turns out that I have very warm hands, and I found the chilled dough much easier to work with, so I'll know to chill my dough when I try the recipes at home. 

The workshop lasts about four hours, and while it's packed with activity and information, it doesn't feel overwhelming, even for a complete beginner. I won't give away too many specifics as I want you to go to Danielle's and do the course yourself. It's absolutely wonderful, and I loved doing it. 

Thanks so much to Danielle for having us! 

Have a look below to check out what we made.

Here's the savoury whirls. I was put in charge of spreading the pesto, which as you can imagine is key to the success of the bake... 
The one near the front is my special one. You can tell because it's slathered in chilli paste!

Here are our dainty little hot cross buns, pre-crosses. Danielle makes her own dried peel, which is much nicer than anything you can buy in a shop!

Here is Danielle showing us how to wrap up our little baguettes in what I'm going to call the 'bread blanket'. It's a special linen cloth that's shipped over from France.

The pull apart bread fresh out of the oven. Check out that gorgeous colour! You can just about see the different sections of the loaf, each made from separate buns which are individually shaped, then nestled together in the tin.

Here's the whirls fresh from the oven. I think these were my favourite of all the items we made. 

The little baguettes. They're not actually baguettes, strictly speaking, but close enough. Mine's the little fat one, obviously. 

The burger buns. These were so tasty! I had mine for my lunch the next day with some cheese and pickle in and it was wonderful.


Monday, 23 January 2017

92% Vegan (and really good chocolate cake recipe)

Over the last few days, a few people have asked me about the things I've been cooking and posting on Instagram, so I thought I would do a blog post about it.

Lots of people I know are doing Veganuary. It's one of those monthly challenges I'm actually really interested in, but my birthday is in January and frankly, there's not a cat in hell's chance I'm going without an omnivorous celebratory meal, or a giant cake with cream cheese icing. So I made the decision that I would do vegan February instead, so, erm... Vegebruary? Having made the decision to do that, I've already started cutting down on meat and dairy products. It's useful to see what alternatives I do and don't like, so that I don't have any really depressing meals in Vegebruary when the stakes (not steaks! Ha!) will be a lot higher. 

It's also led me to consider carefully my parameters for Vegebruary, and for life from March 1st onwards. Ideally, I'd like a lot of the vegan principles to 'stick' and become long term habits rather than just fleeting ones. I have called this post '92% Vegan' because that's what I'm aiming to be, long term. The 92% is actually an arbitrary number; I'm not going to calibrate and calculate it! But the 92 represents the intention to make the vast majority of my diet plant-based. There are things that I will really struggle to give up, and frankly, I'm not sure I want to! But if I do find, after a month without, that I can do without them - brilliant! One of these is milk in my tea. Having tried lot and lots of vegan milk alternatives (most of which I can't stand) I have found two which I really, really like. I will happily drink them on their own, and I use them for overnight oats, and I like them made into lattes, but I just can't get used to them in tea. I am going to handle this by primarily drinking other hot drinks, but also by allowing myself one cup of tea with cow's milk in the morning if I really fancy it. This will usually be when I first get to work. So that puts me down to 99% vegan. I am told by vegan friends that I may well lose the taste for milk as the month progresses, and if so; great. 

Another thing I've thought a lot about is honey. I hadn't ever really thought about honey production. I sort of assumed it was like when people have pet bees, and they waft smoke at them and talk to them and take just enough honey to fill a jar or two. I have no idea why I thought commercial honey farming was like that; it's a ridiculous thing to think really! Then not so long ago, a video was shared on Facebook (I tried to find it and I can't) that showed the reality of honey farming. I will spare you the gruesome details but I will never, ever buy commercially produced honey again. In Bristol there are lots and lots of people who keep bees as a hobby, and I have decided that I am ok with buying honey from them. Simon and I went to the Bee Festival at the Botanic Gardens a while back, and it was clear that the keepers there treated their bees with care that borders on reverence. It's somewhat of a moot point, as I actually hardly ever consume honey, but I have decided where I stand on the ethics!

This train of thought then got me thinking about milk and meat. I'm conscious that I've fallen into the trap of convenience and we often end up getting our milk and meat from the local mini-supermarket. We only buy meat with the Tractor on, which is better than nothing, but it's hardly peak ethics. I know there are some vegans and vegetarians who don't think it makes any difference how the animal is raised if you are going to kill it in the end anyway. Each to their own, but that doesn't sit right with me. I'm going to get back in the habit of buying meat, eggs etc from places that care more about how the animals are raised. We're lucky that a branch of Better Food Company has opened about a ten minute walk from our house and joy of joys, it's open until 8! It's undoubtedly more expensive to shop there, but given that we'll be buying much less, I hope we'll be able to balance that cost. When I lived in Devon, we got a lot of our meat from a place called Higher Hacknell Farm. They still do meat boxes, so that may be another way to go. 

Something I'm also going to be flexible on throughout February is that I am sometimes lucky enough to review restaurants, and go to events and so on. If there's no vegan option available, I am going to have the vegetarian. Luckily, I have found somewhere that does a vegan roast every week, plus a vegan starter and a vegan pudding! Happy days!

And finally (as a thank you for reading all of this huge post!) I promised you a chocolate cake recipe! It's an adaptation of one I found by googling 'chocolate mug cake' . I tweaked it a bit anyway, and then I realised it could easily be made vegan, and if you can - why not? I made it in the microwave a couple of times and it's lovely. I recommend doing a third of the quantity if you just want a little elevenses snack, and two thirds for a pudding-sized portion. I couldn't finish a full portion. If you're doing it in the microwave, check it from 70 seconds onwards to see how runny you like it. As it's vegan, you could eat the mix raw if you wanted, so no need to worry about under-cooking it. 

After cooking it in the microwave, I wondered if it would work in the oven, and it does! I have only done it once, so please do consider this a work in progress! As the recipe is proportion based, it's very easy to tweak. If you wanted a more traditional open texture, you could try upping the baking powder slightly (but go gently; you'll be able to taste it if you put in too much) and upping the milk alternative, or using self-raising flour. My recipe makes a fairly dense, moist cake which is very intense and not too sweet. 

I use a specific 'cup' measuring cup but if you've not got one, a small mug is about right. 

Pre-heat oven to about 160 - 180 (it doesn't matter too much!)

In a bowl, mix;
1 cup of plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 cup milk alternative 
1 cup oil 
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Simply mix together! 

Bake for around 12 - 20 minutes depending how squidgy you want them. 

This quantity makes 12 generous muffin sized cakes. They do rise, but not a huge amount. You can fill the cake case almost to the brim. You can easily make fewer; just use half a cup and half a tbsp instead. 

I made a few with a blob of peanut butter in the middle. They went down very well! 

If you'd like to see how I get on, I'm going to use the hashtags #vegebruary and #92percentvegan. 

If you have any amazing recipes I would love to hear about them!


Monday, 2 January 2017

Review, Renew and Reset

The shift from one year to another feels like a reset button. To me, it's a clean slate. The things that weren't so great about the outgoing year have an Official Full Stop. I think it's the same sort of feeling as getting a new notebook; the possibilities are endless. The combination of two weeks off work and a change in date mean that I start each year feeling particularly energised and hopeful. It's a wonderful feeling to be ready to make positive changes, and to shake off any negativity from the year before.

One thing that's been really significant for me in 2016 is reading the book Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. I'm by no means a devotee, and I found a lot of the book frankly silly, but the parts that resonated with me have been genuinely life-changing. Over the past few years, I've acquired a taste for minimal decor, but had no way of translating that into my home. It was far too cluttered and never tidy for more than a day or two. Reading Spark Joy and learning the KonMari method has helped me start the process of decluttering. I bought the house I live in right at the end of 2015, and it's the first place that's really been Home for a long time; somewhere rented just isn't the same. Owning it has made the process of decluttering more meaningful; I can make this house feel however I want, and I want it to be clean and simple and as minimal as practical. The KonMari (KM) method isn't necessarily about minimalism*, but for me they have parallels. This is definitely something I'll be continuing in 2017. If you're interested in KM etc, some friends and I started a Facebook group called A Joy Sparking Life. It's very new and there's not a lot on there yet, but we'll hopefully fill it up as we all continue with our KM process. You're very welcome to join. At some point in January, I'll write a blog post about my KM journey so far. Simon and I are restarting it now we've honed our skills, so it's an opportune moment to do so.

Something else that has been great in 2016 is that I joined a book group. I've met some amazing friends through it and we talk pretty much every day. It's also meant that I read more, and that I read things that I wouldn't usually read. It's a book group where we do actually read and talk about the books. I hear that's not always the case!

I've also started this blog! I started my first blog in something like 2008 and have started and abandoned quite a few more in the time in between. Through this blog, and through my writing at 365 Bristol I have got more involved in the Bristol blogging community, and through it I've met some amazing women who I'm now very lucky to call my friends. I have no intention of this blog being one I abandon!

When I look forwards to the rest of 2017,
I'd like to go on some nice holidays, to pay off some of my debts, and to think about maybe running some workshops from home. I'd also like to learn how to use some of the settings on my camera. I would be very pleased if I could find myself a source of income (however small) that's not related to my day job.

Something I do every January is the January Cure via Apartment Therapy. It's a series of small, easy tasks to declutter and refresh your home. I pick and choose from the daily assignments but I do probably 90% of them.

Also happening in January is Veganuary but I am not actually doing it until February. I didn't find out about it until 31st December-ish and we had no time to stock up on anything so I'd have failed by 10am on 1st Jan when I had my first cup of tea! Plus my birthday is in January and there's also the Bishopston Supper Club roast, both of which I wish to fully meatily partake in. I know that being vegan comes naturally to some people, but I am 100% not one of them, so I will find it really, really hard. I want to give it as good a go as I can, so I need to be prepared and do my research. Luckily, I live near two fab vegan cafes so I'll have easy access to great cake! So I'll be doing... Vegebuary? Veguary?? I'm also going to allow myself one cup of tea with cows milk, per day. I know it's cheating but it's the one thing that I can see myself failing on, and I suppose that if I acknowledge that from Day 1, then it's not so bad? Maybe as I work my way through the month, I'll find that I can give it up.

I know that what I'm about to say will sound annoyingly twee, and is possibly tempting fate, but I am at a point in my life where I feel very happy. And probably the first point in my life where I'm not actively seeking out big changes. In 2016 I left a job that was wringing me out, and I found a new one which I think I will love. I bought and started renovating a house that I love. I moved to a new area which I was initially wary of, but now I love. I got engaged and married, and in the best possible way, it changed nothing about my relationship. If nothing changes in 2017, and even if I don't achieve a single one of my goals, I will still think I'm incredibly fortunate.

*The key focus of KM is to keep things that bring you joy, so one person's house could be very brightly coloured and full to the brim of carefully considered objects but still be completely KM. Personally, empty space brings me more joy than Stuff, but everyone's KM vision is different and equally valid.
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