2014 Travel - The Iceland Edit

Iceland has been high on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, so I was excited when I got to make the trip this month. My cousin’s husband hails from Reykjavik, so armed with the knowledge of the cold and the very short days, we hopped on a flight and made the three hour trip.

The gorgeous Blue Lagoon.

The gorgeous Blue Lagoon.

It was fantastic.

The highlight of the long weekend for me was the Blue Lagoon; a tranquil place to relax and a really fantastic and unique experience. You change into your swimwear and walk out doors in the freezing cold before getting into bath-like waters; the result is blissful.

How blue are these waters?!

How blue are these waters?!

The water contains silica (which gives it its blue hue), algae and minerals which leaves your skin feeling baby soft - plus there are buckets dotted around full of clay so you can give yourself a DIY face mask and sip on a fruit smoothie. It’s like the antithesis of a pool bar in Cancun! We were also witness to a proposal which made it all the more lovely.

The lakes at Thingvellir

The lakes at Thingvellir

I also absolutely loved the Golden Circle Tour. We boarded the bus and took a trip to Thingvellir, the site of the first Icelandic parliament and the divide of the two tectonic plates that split Iceland in half; Eurasian and North American. The pools of clear water were stunning but the bracing wind had us straight back on the bus to visit Gullfoss, the huge waterfall that takes its name from the golden hue its surrounded in in the evenings.

Gullfoss, or "Golden Waterfall"

Gullfoss, or "Golden Waterfall"

The next stop on the bus tour was the Geysers which were amazing, and then the geothermal power plant to see more about how they get the boiling water out of the ground and use it to provide all heating and hot water in Iceland.

The Geysers

The Geysers

The calm before the water began

The calm before the water began

The only thing I found a little disappointing was that we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights.  The night we took the tour the weather was very cloudy and wet, and although the guide said she saw some activity, all we saw was cold noses and raindrops!

The next morning all there was left to do was sadly head back to the airport. I would love to head back and explore more of Iceland, especially as we didn't see any ice!

The lighthouse at our Northern Lights destination

The lighthouse at our Northern Lights destination

Have you been to Iceland?

Posted on November 26, 2014 and filed under Travel.

Ilumi Meal Plans and my Gluten Free Month - Week 1

Food fads are the talk of the town at the moment, and food exclusion diets seem to be the eating plan du jour, but I can safely say that I never, EVER participate in them. Being type one diabetic I have to be fairly careful of my diet anyway and have started a process called carb counting to ensure that my daily insulin dose is more precise and therefore keeps me in better health.

So when Ilumi contacted me to see if I would participate in a 28 day gluten and dairy free diet, I was sceptical. Firstly, the type of food I have experienced on these ‘free from’ products is less than what I am used to (being a bit of a food snob) and secondly, I felt a little nervous about cutting another thing from my diet and being restrictive. But when I took a look at the product offering I decided to take the plunge and have a go anyway – the choice is amazing and although I was a little freaked out that it isn’t supposed to be refrigerated (fish, wuuut?) I did some meal picking.

I’m now through my first week, and I can report that although I was a bit hungry to start with (the portions are way smaller than what I am used to, but actually ‘appropriate’ portions) I feel really well. My tummy doesn’t feel bloated (I have suspected an intolerance to either wheat or gluten for a while but loved bread and cheese too much to do anything about it) and the ingredients list doesn’t seem to have any nasties hiding in it either. I haven’t lost any weight as yet, but to be honest I haven’t really been doing much other than eating these. My gym schedule has slipped pretty heavily in the last 2 weeks!

My favourite dishes from this week have been:

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Chicken Soup)

I am SO DISAPPOINTED I didn’t order more of these. I opted for the safe soup options in case I didn’t like them, but this is one of the most delicious soups I have eaten in a long time. Weighing in at 353 calories per pack, it’s jammed with a delicate coconutty flavour and is absolutely delicious.

Slow Cooked Lamb Casserole

I loved this one as it was a bit of a change to the normal pouch + rice scenario, and this has big lumps of potatoes in. It has a mere 333 calories and a yummy Lancashire hot pot flavour, perfect for cold and dark evenings after work.

Sweet Five Spice and Chilli Pork

This has been my favourite this week, and I am so surprised at how well flavoured all the meals are. This was delicately flavoured and served with rice was a delicious, Chinese style dinner. It contains 270 calories and needs pairing with rice, but I could eat this for days.

The one I didn’t like:

The pea and pancetta soup. Its not a favourite of mine anyway, but it was just overwhelmingly herby.

I have found the dinners to be a little bit sauce heavy, and that there is a lot less meat in them that I had thought, but overall I’m pretty pleased with the result. The Boy has also been participating in them with me, and seems to be doing pretty well so far. He has had to stop eating the soup as he is finding that the portions aren’t big enough to keep him going but I’m doing just fine!

Have you ever tried Ilumi?

Posted on November 18, 2014 and filed under Food / Recipes / Reviews.

2014 Travel: The Dublin Edit (Part I)

You may already know, but I love to travel. The butterfly feeling as you queue to board the plane and the feeling of release as it takes off is addictive to me and I always go back for more.  As the stamps fill up on the pages in my passport the possibilities dawn on me and my sense of adventure kicks in and I’m most likely to book a trip in the weeks after I get back from one, when the instinct to see the world is still strong.

So I’m disappointed that in my twenty eight years I have never made it across the water to Ireland. The expanses of green and the beauty of the architecture has always appealed to me, but the need for sun has dominated and I have headed off to the sunnier climes of Portugal and Spain when I need a quick getaway.

The view through the peephole into a bare cell in Kilmainham Gaol

The view through the peephole into a bare cell in Kilmainham Gaol

But when Tourism Ireland asked me if I would like to go for the weekend, I jumped at the chance. The Boy and I are knee deep in planning a new life, and the prospect of a trip together this side of summer was unrealistic so of course we said yes to a quick 48 hours in Dublin!

We arrived in the pouring rain, and dashed to the hotel to down tools and consult a map. Everyone had told me that Kilmainham Gaol was the place to go, so we hopped on the tour bus and took the trip.

There is no filter or editing on this photo, its just the way it came out. A doorway in the abandoned gaol highlights how creey this building was!

There is no filter or editing on this photo, its just the way it came out. A doorway in the abandoned gaol highlights how creey this building was!

It was breath-taking. I love a good prison (I know that sounds weird but I am a huge history fan) and I felt that this was better than Alcatraz for the creepiness. The fingers of cold crept round us as we embarked on the tour, and you could really imagine how the prisoners felt to be locked in these bare rooms with no windows.

The tour lasted 40 minutes and culminated by us being led into a courtyard with a metal cross pitched at each end. We then learnt that the 14 organisers of the Easter Rising were executed in these 2 spots by English soldiers, including one who was injured in the fighting and was too poorly even to stand. It was a sobering moment that reflected on the cruelty of conflict, and perhaps an apt time to visit on Remembrance Weekend. We left the tour wondering of the thoughts of those involved in their final moments.

We hopped back on the bus, and took the tour round the city. I have always been sceptical of these tours, feeling that they are a bit touristy but in my humble opinion it was the best way to see the city. The tour guide gave us historical information and interesting facts on all the landmarks we passed, and I really think that if you have a short amount of time in a new city then it’s the best way to make the most of your trip.

More on Dublin to come!

Have you ever visited the city? What do you think is unmissable?

Posted on November 13, 2014 and filed under Travel.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

Have you had the chance to visit the poppies at the Tower of London yet? If you haven't, the display has been extended till the end of the month, so you have time to go and see the majestic beauty of the ceramic poppies and pay your respects.

The poppies are to mark a century since the start of the First World War and the planting finished last night with the Prime Minister placing the last poppy in the display. The thing I loved about it was that you could buy one of the poppies online to give as gifts; a really thoughtful way of paying your respects, remembering those who lost their lives and donating towards the charity that supports the veterans.

The only downside was the access. Understandably, millions of people have visited the display with more making the trip nearer to today to see a Tower with most of the poppies planted. This meant that it was a crush and especially difficult for the elderly and disabled who wanted to visit the site. I found it very claustrophobic, and think that they should have made provisions so that those less able could still see the poppies in all their glory.

Sheila Hancock has been in the news this week saying that she thinks the exhibition should be destroyed by a tank at the end, so that the youth of today don't glamourise war and remember why we pay our respects. I personally disagree; I think that we are able to celebrate the lives of those who fought to protect our futures without having to bear witness to more destruction. Luckily this type of war is very unlikely to be one that we see, and we celebrate each and every one of the men who lost their lives. I think that by extending their stay at the Tower we are encouraging more people to pay their respects, to learn about those who went before us and to donate to such a fantastic charity.

Lest we forget.

What do you think of the poppies? Did you get a chance to visit?


Posted on November 11, 2014 and filed under London.

Brownies Make The World Go Round

I’ve never been very good at cooking sweet treats, preferring to stick to savoury delights. I pretend I don’t know why my cakes and bakes go wrong, but it’s actually a bit of a lie. You see, I have a problem. I just can’t do as I am told and stick to a recipe. That’s fine with savoury dishes but sweet puddings and cakes are like science, and if you don’t stir it just so or add the ingredients as prescribed, bad things happen.

Brownies are a sure fire hit though, and I have a recipe that never fails me, so when Billingtons got in touch for their #bakeface campaign, I wasn’t sure whether I would have the ability to pull off a recipe that differed from my norm.

I should have trusted my instinct. I followed the recipe to a ‘t’, stirring and sifting and trying my hardest to not create apocalyptic scenes in the kitchen. And yet, when I took them out of the oven, the recipe that I had stuck to meticulously resembled something like lava, burnt not only to the pliable brownie tin, but to the shelf below in the oven.

I was distraught. What had I done wrong? And then it dawned on me. It was nothing to do with the recipe or the ingredients BIllingtons had sent, but more the Tinker effect. The recipe called for 300g of chocolate, and as my (gorgeous) hamper only included 100g, I had bought some more. But that’s where it all went wrong. Not content with sticking on regular chocolate, I bought a chocolate orange, forgetting the amount of oil in this particular choice. It seems the oily chocolate had a reaction and created a huge gooey mess.

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Fear not, I still had some of the ingredients left, so I thought I would try again, shying away from the recipe provided and instead sticking to my favourite, but using the BIllingtons ingredients.

They were fantastic. The crust broke when you bit into them, and the gooey chocolate oozed through the bite. Delicious.

The finished, successful product. If you want to try my failsafe recipe you should click here

The finished, successful product. If you want to try my failsafe recipe you should click here

Have you made brownies? Do you have a favourite recipe?

If you cook it and share your #bakeface here you can be in with a chance of winning a grand prize of a day in CakeBoy with Eric Lanlard (who I had the pleasure of cooking with a few weeks ago, read more here!)

Posted on November 10, 2014 and filed under Food / Recipes / Reviews.

Superdry SS15 Press Day

This week I had the pleasure of being invited to the Superdry press event for Spring Summer 2015 at their flagship store on Regents Street, and popped along during lunch with Lauren from Hiking in Heels.

I’ve never been a Superdry customer for myself, but have often bought the men’s shirts for my cousins - until this year when I chose one of their winter coats with my trip to Iceland in mind. Lined with fleecy fluff, I have been road testing it since the weather has turned colder and its perfect. I don’t get too hot on the tube, but it kept me really warm during a particularly blustery fireworks night and has therefore proved its worth in my wardrobe!

We wandered round the collection, and I fell in love with the collars of the beautiful jackets below, adorned with sequins and sparkles, what do you think?

I wanted to share with you some of my favourite items from the collection.

Are you a Superdry fan? What do they do really well that I need to add to my wishlist?

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Posted on November 6, 2014 and filed under Press Events.

Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway

When it comes to living my life, I have become very stuck in routine. I’d like to say it was over the last few years, but in actuality I think I have always been slightly afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that scares me. It was highlighted last night when watching The Amazing Race (a US TV show where they bomb around different countries and do all sorts of challenges) when for the entire hour my boyfriend sat and commented “You’d be out. You wouldn’t do that”.

A year has passed since I lost my granddad, and I vowed to get the most out of life, but I still think there is more fear to be faced. I have tried cookery classes in cuisines I’m not used to and visited places I have never been, but if I’m honest none of this is “out of the ordinary” for me.

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So now I face a huge challenge, and a big fear. I’m standing on the edge of realising a huge dream – moving 5000 miles across the world and starting a new job in a new country. Yes, its an English speaking one but there are so many uncertainties – when I am going, what I will be doing, where I will live…. But if I don’t do it I will regret it for the rest of my life. And the boy is happy to pack up and do it with me, so if he can feel the fear and not care I think I can too.

Maybe this is the bridge to skydiving and bungee jumping, you never know. Although maybe it isn’t!

What have you done that is brave? Do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

Posted on November 4, 2014 .

Eating My Way Around: Ping Pong, London

I'm not a huge fan of chain restaurants. Don't get me wrong., when you need something fast on the hoof there are good ones, but on the whole I prefer to frequent somewhere a little more unique. In London, that doesn't happen. These places start off as one offs and then spread across the suburbs, meaning that everyone has access to them but often meaning they become a bit average.

Ping Pong isn't the same. I went to cocktail classes this summer and learnt some fantastic tips on how to make a cracking mojito which was fun, but their main draw for me and my friends is the Dim Sum selection and the reason we go back time and time again. The amount of times I have had to run through the rain to meet a friend in the Waterloo location, arriving steamed up and giggling, but ready to eat my fill of little parcels of goodness is uncountable!

I love the fact that each of the restaurants retain the same feel, but manage to feel like totally different places all at the same time.

chicken and garlic dumpling, steamed

chicken and garlic dumpling, steamed

Unfortunately my photos came out very grainy because of the lighting, and also the sliding scale of cocktail drinking! So I have used photos from Ping Pongs Instagram feed (but sampled all these delights!)

When Ping Pong got in touch asking me to review their winter menu, I jumped at the chance. The boy and I popped along to the Great Marlborough Street location, and were shown to our tables to dine on a selection of dim sum, rice pots and unusual sounding cocktails.

scallop and shitake dumplings, steamed.

scallop and shitake dumplings, steamed.

We picked a selection of baked and steamed dim sum, including our favourites; the pork puffs and the crispy prawn balls. The prawn balls are a firm favourite althugh they come in threes and trying to saw the third in half to share with a chopstick means flying bits of crispy pastry!

We also picked the edamame and potato cakes and a selection from the winter menu including the lovster dumpling - prawn, lobster, shiitake mushroom and coriander in beetroot pastry. This one was a bit of a struggle to eat, preferring to stay stuck to the bottom of the steamer, but when we finally extracted it and chopped it up with our chopsticks (amusing to watch) it was so delicious that we ordered it again.

A trip to Ping Pong isn't complete without a cocktail and I opted for my favourite, the lychee and roses martini (or as she likes to call it, the Erica) and he went for a warm cocktail where you added hot water. I had visions of it being aromatic but to me it just smelled of whisky, although he polished it off pretty quickly and deemed it worth drinking again.

Have you been to Ping Pong? Do you like Dim Sum?

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under Food and Eating, London.

Halloween - Carving Out Memories

Apologies for the puns, but I can't resist them on Halloween. they're too spooktacular!

As a child I wasn't allowed to partake in anything Halloween related, and I think its part of the reason I love it now. Costumes have included Edward Scissorhands, Dead Riding Hood and a collection of witches and ghouls, all of which I have attacked with vigour. (You can read my past Halloween posts here, here, here and last but not least, here!)

Top Left: My friend Chop and I out as witches, Top Right: Last year when I went as Dead Riding Hood, Bottom Right: My friend Ellie and I, I was a vampire bat and she was a doll, Bottom Left: Me and my best friend as Indians at a Cowboys and Indians night.

Top Left: My friend Chop and I out as witches, Top Right: Last year when I went as Dead Riding Hood, Bottom Right: My friend Ellie and I, I was a vampire bat and she was a doll, Bottom Left: Me and my best friend as Indians at a Cowboys and Indians night.

I love the fact that everyone gets involved for that one night a year, and despite my skin protesting the trowel loads of white face paint I don, its just one night, right?

This year I'm not sure what I will go as. I like the Day of the Dead mask look, and also have my eye on this fantastic zombie scrub nurse costume (I think this is to do with my unhealthy obsession with The Walking Dead, which begins in a hospital).

Do you go out for Halloween? What will you go as this year?

Posted on October 27, 2014 and filed under Friends, London.

Eating My Way Around: Iberica, Marylebone

When asked what my favourite thing to eat out is, I’m always strike by the enormity of the question. All those cuisines, all the different cultures available to experience and I have to choose just one? I tend to deliberate but eventually the choice is.... Tapas.

I love tapas because there are so many chances to try different things. I’m adventurous with food, but I can get overwhelmed with certain cuisines, not wanting to pick something that I can’t eat or may be disappointed with. Tapas cures that concern and offers you bursts of flavour and textures in small quantities, satisfying all sorts of food cravings in one meal.

And Iberica is one of my favourites. Right round the corner from my office, its great local tapas bar for lunch meetings and Friday indulgences, and I love how their tapas selection is more than your average chorizo and cheese of some of the more mainstream places.

My picks?

Serrano Ham Croquettes.

When I was small we used to holiday with my grandparents in Portugal, and my favourite thing to do was to cross the border to a small Spanish town called Ayamonte and sit in a tapas place with little tables that backed onto a large church. We would sit for hours as he drank his beer and we ate these delicious little ham and cheese croquettes, and when we tired of grown up talk we would run up and down the beautiful steps of the old church.

serrano ham croquettes

Crispy confit of Suckling Pig with Apple Puree

This is so delicious. The belly pork is tender and light and contrasts against the crack of the paper thin skin. The apple puree adds a sharpness, and every time we go we order this. It’s the showstopper by a mile.

Fried chorizo Lollipops with Pear Alioli Sauce

One of the more unusual items on the menu, and also one of my favourites. The pear in the alioli is subtle, and the lollipops have just the right amount of batter round them. They’re a crowd pleaser and a constant reorder.

Where is your favourite tapas place or dish? Give me recommendations!