Thursday, 28 May 2015

#238. My amazingly fun hen do (part 2) in Cumbria

Long time no speak pals! Things have been crazy busy over the past few weeks, with lots of majorly exciting things happening, which didn't leave much time for blogging. It was refreshing to take a break, just to really appreciate what was happening and soaking everything up. I'm now a Mrs(!) having married my wonderful boy, I've spent lots of time with our amazing family and friends and had the adventure of a lifetime on honeymoon to Kenya and Zanzibar. Life has been good and I feel so lucky and incredibly grateful. Things have been pretty special and I have treasured those unrepeatable moments and am looking forward to sharing them with you all, over the coming weeks. 

So to start with the wedding updates, a few weeks ago I and thirteen of my best pals headed away on my hen weekend. My second hen event...lucky bride to be! My bridesmaids were complete secret squirrels and so I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing, which was so exciting. I love surprises and knew I was in the best of hands, but as quite an organised person in life and work who loves making plans, it was strange knowing nothing at all. I had been lucky enough to have a bigger hen a few weeks before which was so much fun (think fancy dress, drinks, lots of dancing and so many laughs!) so I knew whatever we were doing would be awesome. I was given a vague packing list of old trainers, a sexy bikini, a less sexy swimming costume and a towel...cryptic huh?  

So, two of my bridesmaids and I set off one sunny friday morning, with the tunes blaring...roadtrip! We made a surprise stop off to collect another friend from the train station and continued on driving for a couple of hours, heading south, ending up at a beautiful converted barn in Cumbria. Some of the other girls had arrived already and had decorated the barn with bunting, funny hen things and so many bottles of prosecco, ready and chilling in the fridge. 

My amazing chief bridesmaid Kim had also made up hen party survival packs with sweets, resolve for any upset tums, a map for our activities on the Sunday, fun foam crowns to decorate and awesome hen party tshirts. I had been sent an exciting email a few weeks before, offering some tshirts for the hen which Kim organised so as not to give away any surprises...see, secret squirrel! The tshirts were in two colours, to split us into two teams, white and blue and personalised with some of the places we would be visiting, all in really bright and vibrant colours. So fun!

While the other girls were arriving, friday afternoon and evening were spent chilling and chatting in the hot tub, playing silly games like the classic never have I ever, drinking lots of prosecco and laughing loads. Just the perfect start to the weekend.

On Saturday morning, I was up so early, the first one awake in fact which is so unlike me! Must have been all those bubbles the night before. It was nice and relaxing, sitting reading a magazine with a large cup of tea with my back to the warm AGA, gearing myself up for an action packed, surprised filled, fun day.

Our first stop was to Comiston Water for a spot of canoeing. I had never been canoeing before and it was a lot of fun being out on the water. We were split into two teams of six based on the colour of our awesome vests, with each team split over two canoes latched together and spent time getting our strokes on and trying to go in unison. It was so windy though and quite hard to get going - quite a few times we ended up stuck or beached, especially my team haha. It seemed that however much effort we put in, when we looked back we were always closer to the shore than when we started. This just made us laugh even more and drift further away from where we were meant to be going, while the other team seemed to glide through the water. I think they had been practicing! Once we had all managed to get going, we started playing some games and racing, which was so funny, especially when chasing each others canoes for a sponge! 

After our canoeing escapades, we all jumped into the water in our wetsuits from the pier. It was bloody freezing and as the hen I had to jump in first, be the guinea pig haha. What a shock to the system but it was great to do and we all felt invincible afterwards. What an amazing memory to have! Once we were all dried and changed, we then had a picnic by the side of the lake and like true Brits abroad, stayed put even when it started hailstoning(!) and just put our hoods up.

We headed back to the Barn for the rest of the afternoon and again, cracked open more prosecco and sweets and headed into the hot tub for chats. Then we started getting glammed up for dinner, heels and dresses on and got taxis to a nearby restaurant which had set out a private room, just for us. The restaurant was quite little, but beautiful and felt really cozy, like someones house, which was nice and relaxed. The food was delicious especially the sticky toffee pudding (my fav!) and we were truly spoiled. It was such a nice treat being all dressed up, out for a lovely leisurely meal with your best friends. 

After dinner, we headed back to the Barn for more drinks, silly games including a pinyata (which I hit open with a fire shovel - standard) and Ring of Fire and tipsy dancing around the living room. The perfect end to a lovely day.

Before we knew it, it was Sunday and the final day of hen. Sad times. We spent some time chilling out in our PJs with big mugs of tea and sweets, before packing everything up into the cars and heading to a lovely cafe called The Byre for afternoon tea. Now the girls know me so well, I love an afternoon tea and this one was so delicious making me an even happier bunny than I already was. The scones were huge and we layered them with heaped spoons of jam and clotted cream making us all hyper with the sugar. Unfortunately the chutney looked very like jam on the tables, so some of the girls got a bit of a nasty surprise with their scones! Oooops. There was so much cake left that we all got to take some home as a doggy bag for our journeys back. I know I was so happy about that.

After some team photos sadly it was time to head home. It was totally my perfect weekend and I wouldn't change a thing. Prosecco, sugar and friend filled fun. My bridesmaids are truly special ladies and I felt so spoiled the whole time, they did such a good job of organising such an amazing weekend. It was so wonderful having my best pals around me for a full weekend and it all felt really surreal. I kept thinking, wow, this is my hen do and couldn't quite get my head around that was why we were all together and that this would never happen again. My friends are from all over the country and travelled to be there and they all got on so well with each other, even though they are from different friendship groups. I would love to get that same group of incredible ladies together for another weekend, although the chances of that happening are quite slim, but hey, there are always henniversaries! haha Shotgun! I have some amazing memories and photos to cherish of my last big weekend as a single lady and have the best friends in the world.

Thank you so much to Anna at for the tshirts. They were such a fun addition to the weekend and went down a storm with the girls. They were good quality, made from 100% cotton and as our style was unisex they were slightly oversized which was perfect for layering up in the slightly chilly Lake District. The colours were so vibrant and it was easy to personalise them for the weekend too. The company have a wide range of different designs, that will suit all tastes and can be customised but you can also design your own as well, if you wanted something a bit different so the options are endless. Prices are also really competitive, with a single tshirt starting from £10.99 if you order in bulk and there are no minimum orders, which is fab. Kim found the whole ordering process really simple and said that the team were quick to respond with any queries and turnaround time was short. All the girls and I thought that the tshirts were great and it was a lot of fun to wear them during the weekend. I would definately recommend the company to any other brides to be considering tshirts for their hen do.

What a fun weekend that was! I want to do it all over again.

**Disclaimer - I was invited to design some tshirts for my hen do in return for a review. Whilst the tshirts were complimentary, I was under no obligation to write a positive review and the post above reflects my true and honest opinion of my and my friends experiences.

Monday, 13 April 2015

#237. Recipe: Lorraine Pascal's yummy chocolate mousse pots

I've got quite a sweet tooth but don't often have desert in all honesty and recently I've been finding if we are out for dinner, I would much rather have a starter than something sweet to finish the meal off. But, I LOVE making desert when we have pals coming round for their tea as it means I get to experiment and try new recipes. Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you of my love for Lorraine Pascal. I think she is just amazing, is so gorgeous and all her food is incredible. We have all her books in the house and I enjoy just flicking through them, choosing imaginary meals, my mouth watering over all the pictures.

I've made this little chocolate mousse pot a couple of times now and it is always such a crown pleaser, but is so easy to make and you can be done in 20 minutes. It really is the perfect desert for having pals over as you can make it in advance and keep it in the fridge, ready to bring out when it is time. It's not too heavy either but gives a good chocolate fix. The one thing to note though is that it uses raw eggs, so not really suitable for wee ones or pregnant ladies.

This recipe makes enough for 6 so to make these delicious little pots you will need:
  • 3 fresh eggs
  • Dark chocolate (150g)
  • Milk chocolate (50g)
  • Double cream (200ml)
  • Punnet of raspberries
  • Caster sugar - 2tbsps
  • 6 ramekins (all of ours are leftover from GU puddings! haha)

First of all, pour the cream into a pot and leave to warm up over a medium heat. Then break the chocolate into small chunks and once the cream starts steaming, remove the pot from the heat and add the chocolate. Now this is where it gets really difficult as you don't need to do anything else with it for now, no stirring, no mixing...just let it do it's thing. ie. No touching!

Next up, break your eggs and separate the whites from the yolk. Pop the whites in a large bowl and keep the yolks to the side as you will need them later. Then using an electric whisk on high power start to mix the egg whites until the whites become a bit thicker to medium peak. You aren't looking for the whites peak to stand on end, like you would with meringue, rather they should flop over slightly to look like a sortof pixies hat. 

Once you have reached that consistency add a tablespoon of caster sugar and whisk some more until all the sugar has been fully mixed in and the whites are shiny. Then add another tablespoon of sugar and keep whisking, again until all the sugar is dissolved and the whites are glossy and thick.

By this point, the chocolate will all have fully melted, even if it doesn't look like it. Give the chocolate and cream mixture a good stir to mix everything together. Next add the egg yolks to the pot and mix in.

The next step is to take a spoonful of the chocolate mixture and add it to the egg whites. Mix well as the heat from this mixture will make the egg whites easier to work with. Then gradually fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs whites, trying not to overmix to keep as much air in it as possible so you get the lightness and fluffiness of the mousse. You should still see little air bubbles on top, like the picture above once you are done.

Now that your mousse is all done, spoon the finished mixture equally into your ramekins and garnish with a few raspberries. 

Your mousse will need a little time so set, so cover each ramekin in cling film and pop it in the fridge to cool. As I mentioned above you can make these ahead of time, so earlier in the day or even the day before for cool as a cucumber dinner party. Just remember to take the puddings out 10-15 minutes before you would like to serve them.

I like to serve the puddings on a small side plate with raspberries at the side, dusted over with icing sugar. Just delicious! If you aren't a fan of raspberries, the puddings would also go down well with other soft fruit, like strawberries or blueberries.

I hope you enjoy making and eating these puddings as much as I do. They really are so simple to make, but so tasty. Thanks to the wonderful Lorraine Pascal for the recipe.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

#236. Review: The History Boys

Now, I had heard of Alan Bennett's The History Boys before but had never been to see it, read the play or watched the movie. I had heard really good things though about how it was a classic piece of British drama and a must see, so Robin and I were looking forward to a another wee night at the theatre. 

The History Boys tells the story of a group of talented and promising pupils at school who are being coached for the entry exams at Oxford and Cambridge. They are assisted by their inspiring English teacher, Hector and Irwin, who has been employed especially to help them pass. The play follows the boys relationships with each other, their teachers and the themes of education and learning, in an enjoyable way. This production was created by Sell a Door theatre company.

I must admit that I enjoyed Act 2 a lot more than Act 1. I found bits of the play confusing and hard to follow. The musical interludes (although I enjoyed them) and the quoting of long bits of literature interrupted the flow of the play and the action, although I understood their purpose to show the wide education of the boys and how they are talented enough for Oxford or Cambridge. I couldn't really lose myself in the story and found things quite slow paced. I struggled to grasp the meaning of the bits of literature and appreciate their context at each specific point in the play and felt quite silly when the whole cast were speaking French and acting out a scene in one class. Now I don't speak French apart from the basics and although the cast were quite physical in their comedy, I still felt quite remote as everyone around us seemed to be laughing and I just didn't understand. I've never had that from a theatre experience before and that decreased my enjoyment of the play quite a bit, which was a shame.

Overall though, I found the play witty and entertaining. I thought the cast were good, funny and adept at capturing the teenage angst of being in school, love, heartbreak and every other emotion in between. Steven Roberts as Posner and Kedar Williams-Stirling as Dakin particularly stood out to me. The confidence of the pupils was something that I found quite hard to believe though and as I am unfamiliar with the play I'm unsure if that was in the writing or the direction. I don't know any 17 year olds with that much confidence, all so loud, chatty and cheeky in lessons or who are so outwardly comfortable with their sexuality and of others at such a young age. It may be to show that they are a really interesting and unusual group of young people, very in touch with their emotional intelligence as a result of Hector's teaching, but surely they couldn't all have been like that to such an extent?

I thought the teachers were really good, particularly Richard Hope as Hector and Mark Field as Irwin. I understood how inspiring a teacher Hector was and his unusual ways of teaching, allowing the pupils to learn by default rather than by traditional lessons. Irwin was the complete polar opposite and this made for some nice contrasts, in both age and teaching method. But both are flawed; Irwin teaches the pupils to question and dissect knowledge, to flip things on their head but to such an extent that it can border on the right side of wrong. Hector, although a brilliant teacher gives his pupils seedy bike rides home. Both actors portrayed these roles well.

I did think that the pupils relationship with Hector was quite unusual and disturbing, which is testamount to the acting, writing and direction, it made me uncomfortable. The boys all like him as a teacher and are all very protective of him, but yet he isn't all that he seems and was a complete perv. When the other teachers find out, they all laugh and shrug it off, Hector doesn't end up losing his job but is encouraged to retire instead and there are no repercussions for the abuse of trust. It just shows how relaxed this sort of thing was previously and how issues could just be brushed under the carpet and forgotten about. It's all quite scary and so relevant given the findings of Operation Yewtree. I know it was a different time, but that is still no excuse and for me, I just didn't understand why the boys were protecting him. 

Finally, I liked the set, a basic school English classroom complete with desks, shelves of books and a piano for the musical elements of the show. There was also a motorbike hanging above with marquee lights that lit up at various stages and walls plastered with book covers. It was perfect for telling the story and complimented the action well.

Overall I enjoyed the production of The History Boys but I wouldn't say it's my favourite play. I thought it was interesting and at times funny, but found the musical interludes and quoting of long pieces of literature and poems interrupted the flow of the action. There were some great performances though and I would be quite interested to see the film now.

Have you seen The History Boys before? Did you enjoy it? Oh and if I'm missing something behind the play, please let me know! Everyday's a learning day - wee geek me!

**Disclaimer - I was invited to the show in return for a review. Whilst the tickets were complimentary, I was under no obligation to write a positive review and the post above reflects my true and honest opinion of my experiences.

Friday, 10 April 2015

#235. Friday Fitness - An ode to avocado

I bloody love avocado, I really do. It's just so deliciously creamy and uber yum on it's own and makes any salad instantly tastier, not to mention the joy that is guacamole. It's also really good for you and one of those healthy fats that you often read about and is packed full with vitamins and essential fatty acids. Happy times all around!  

My favourite way to have avocado is mashed, with a sprinkle of chili flakes on a slice of wholemeal toast, topped with a poached egg. Bliss on a plate, right there. I've also made a Tone it Up guacamole style dip before which went down a right storm with pals. But in all honesty, I will pair avocado with anything I am cooking, be that a stirfry or a chili bowl. 

I'm always on the lookout now for healthy recipes that I can use an avocado with, so here are some of the recipes I've found that I'm am keen to try soon.

I can't wait to get cooking and try some of these recipes soon. It's not long to go until our wedding now (3 weeks tomorrow!) so keen to stay well and truly on the healthy eating and exercise bandwagon! 

Do you like avocado as much as I do?