Sunday, 18 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like...


Apologies for the complete lack of blogging action recently - I've been ridiculously busy and my internet connection at home has been playing up. Anyway, here I am! Since I last posted, I've done all sorts - I put on a posh dress and went to a ball, I drank far too much at the running club's Christmas party, and I did a bit of celeb-spotting at the work Christmas lunch.

I also managed a PB on my usual Wednesday night 4.4-mile run - look!
I'd promised myself a night off, as it was the day after the aforementioned work do and I was anticipating a monster hangover, but I actually woke up feeling fine and therefore had no excuse for not getting out there for a run. I'd joked with one of the running club chaps that he should coach me to a PB, and he was as good as his word - he paced me round and I knocked a whole minute off my previous best! Just goes to show what I can do when I actually put some effort in...!

I've also been doing some Christmas shopping and baking - this year I made little gift bags for my friends with all sorts of homemade goodies inside, like rhubarb gin, caramel apple jam, and chocolate, cherry and almond cookies. And I also made some gingerbread men for some vegan friends of mine - they were the ones I made a vegan banana and mango loaf for a few months ago, but unfortunately I'd somehow managed to forget that my friend Janet hates bananas, so that didn't go down quite as well as planned! So this time I wanted to make sure I made something extra delicious, and this recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen was fab. I think my mini gingerbread man cutter must have been extra small, because I got hundreds of the little buggers! They looked brilliant all packaged up and ready to go - I just hope they've survived the post!

I've only got two days at work before I head down to the Westcountry for a (well-deserved, I like to think) Christmas break, but I'm sure I'll be taking lots of photos and I'll try to blog about all of our festive adventures as often as I can!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Soft spicy gingerbread cookies...

Yes, it's another Sunday afternoon bake! Last week, someone at work mentioned the soft gingerbread biscuits their grandmother used to make, and I thought I'd have a go at making some. The flat now smells extremely festive - I'm resisting putting the Christmas tree up for another few days (I usually put it up a couple of weeks before I go home for the Christmas break) but the whole place smells spicy and sugary and very Christmassy!

I used this recipe from Two Peas And Their Pod and it was great - I did find I had to use more flour to make the dough into something that I could roll into balls (I think chilling the dough first might have helped, too) and I think because of that I should have upped the spices a bit, as the finished cookies are gently warming rather than in-your-face gingery. But they're still delicious, and the coating of white sugar makes them look like they've been dusted with a little touch of frost.
Yum yum! I'll have to see what the verdict at work is tomorrow...!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Winter light...

Apologies for the lack of posts lately - this week has been insanely busy! I somehow managed three nights out in a row, each more booze-filled than the last, and tonight is my first night in since Sunday! Today I've been trying my best to be healthy in a vain attempt to make up for the excesses of the last three days - it's been wall-to-wall green tea, water and vegetables!

I also decided to clear the cobwebs with a wander along to Waitrose after work (it's about a mile away) and the light was absolutely beautiful, so I took a couple of photos of the green...

It's actually been quite cold today - November was really unseasonably warm, but finally I've been able to break out the scarves and gloves! I like cold weather - it's December, it's meant to be cold! It doesn't feel festive without chilly weather. I'd like some snow...but maybe not quite as much as we had last year, and not when I'm trying to get home for Christmas...!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Apple and coconut cookies, mushrooms, and That Syed Off Eastenders...

We're coming up to late November (only a month until Christmas, people!) and although the weather is still unseasonably warm, I want to cook warming, autumnal things. And I want to get cracking with my Christmas baking - every year, I make some sort of sweet treat for my friends, and of course I have to do a bit of recipe testing first. Of course.

These apple, coconut and cinnamon cookies, while delicious, didn't quite fit the Christmas brief, which is why I'm sharing them with you now.
I made them on Sunday and took them to work - I was a bit worried that my colleagues wouldn't like them because of the texture, which is very soft and moist and quite far away from what you'd traditionally describe as a 'cookie', but they seemed to go down really well. They're too moist for Christmas presents, as the icing melted very quickly into the cookies, and I think they're a little 'healthy' for Christmas presents, but it was a good experiment! They're completely gluten- and dairy-free, which is always good to know.

Then this evening, I tried out another recipe - this time, it wasn't anything to do with Christmas, but it was gorgeous! I made a mushroom and pearl barley stew based on this recipe - I wanted to make it veggie but didn't want it to taste of vegetable stock cubes (I always have that problem...) so once I'd fried the mushrooms with the onion for a bit and they'd started to release their mushroomy juices, I added a good splash of Lea & Perrins and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I also added less water - about three cups - because I wanted it to be even more stew-like than Alisa's version. It was seriously yummy, and ridiculously healthy!
And, just to add a touch of the bizarre, as I was walking through the shopping centre earlier I discovered that Syed Off Eastenders - aka Marc Elliot - was switching on the Christmas lights. So I took a photo.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

WIAW: Running

I've gone for the Polaroid approach again for this week's What I Ate Wednesday! Well, it's much easier to snap a quick photo of my lunch at work with my phone than it would be to get my camera out - my office is very small and very friendly, but I still think people would think I was barking mad if they saw me taking photos of my food!

Anyway, today started off with some Mornflake instant oats with oatbran, topped with a sprinkle of crack Tesco Finest nut granola.
And lunch was a bowl of New Covent Garden 'Jammin Jamaica' soup, which was lovely and spicy, plus a couple of Krisprolls with a Laughing Cow cheese triangle spread on them.
Plus (unpictured) a small handful of chips - whoops! One of my workmates had fish and chips for lunch and I 'helped' her eat a few chips. I also had a chocolate digestive at about 3.30, but we'll gloss over that as well!

Before my run, I had my usual couple of rice cakes (just plain today) and a nakd bar...

...and then supper (after another 39-minute run - I got a PB last week but I had to stop at some traffic lights today, boo) was a fabulous veggie fry-up with a fried egg, beans, mushrooms and two Linda McCartney Italian sausages. Yum yum - protein-tastic!
As usual, head on over to Peas and Crayons to see what everyone else has been eating!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A week out and about...

It's been a busy one!

On Tuesday, I came back from lunch to find two of the girls I work with discussing getting tickets to see Manon at the Royal Opera House that evening. I'd never been to the Royal Opera House, so I ended up deciding to go along with them, and it was a brilliant impromptu night out!

The Royal Opera House is beautiful and even though I'm not a ballet buff by any stretch of the imagination, I really enjoyed the performance.

Then on Friday, my mum made her annual trip to London for Christmas shopping! Yes, I know Christmas is still weeks away, but it was the only weekend we could both do! I'm lucky enough to finish work at 4pm on a Friday, which meant we could hit Westfield nice and early and get plenty of shopping done before finding somewhere to eat. We started off with our traditional trip to the champagne bar, where I had the most amazing cocktail!
It was called a 'Gold Chocolate Cocktail' and, with Frangelico, Creme de Cacao and champers, it was basically a Ferrero Rocher in a glass. Incredible!

I used the trip more as a scouting mission for present ideas than an actual shopping trip, and (true to form) the only things I bought were for myself! I ended up with some socks, some hair grips (I'm growing my hair and my fringe is driving me absolutely mental) and a real bargain of a jacket from H&M. It's this one, but in a lovely camel/tobacco sort of colour, and it was half price - £17.49!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

WIAW: Polaroids

It's WIAW time again! This week I took photos of Sunday's food, and just for a change I used the funky app on my phone that makes things look like Polaroid pictures.

Breakfast was a weekend treat - Oat So Simple chocolate brownie porridge. Yum yum!

And lunch was a socca (chickpea flour) pancake topped with loads of leftover roasted veg (beetroot, pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes and the food blogger's favourite, kabocha squash) and tahini sauce.
I then ate the other half of the tub of leftover veg, because it was so nice!

Then I chopped up loads of leeks, mushrooms and pak choi and had a great big bowl of stir-fried green veg with soy sauce and chilli.

And finally, I finished the day off with a nice big mug of mint tea!
Jenn and Peas and Crayons hosts WIAW - have a look over there to see what everyone else has been eating!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Weekend away 4 of 4!

Yep, for my fourth weekend away in a row I headed down to Somerset to spend a long weekend at my parents' new house. It was the first time I'd seen the place - apart from the photos on Rightmove - and I was really excited! And it's absolutely gorgeous. Mum and Dad have only been there just over a week, but already (thanks to all the hard work they and my sister have put in) the house feels incredibly cosy and homely. There are a few cosmetic things to sort out (my bedroom has the most delightful '90s yellow and terracotta colour scheme, with a tasteful zig-zag patterned decorative border and curtains and lampshades to match...) but it's a lovely, lovely house.

The cats came home on Friday too, after a short stay in the cattery, and they made themselves at home fairly quickly (although to start with they did retreat to the cupboard under the stairs!)
(Note the lovely carpet there...)

And we even managed some baking - there are loads of apples still clinging on to the tree, so we made a Suze-friendly apple crumble with a seriously delicious topping. We made it up as we went along, but we basically rubbed some ground almonds into some Pure dairy-free margarine, then added oats, brown sugar and flaked almonds. It all went on top of some chopped and peeled apples, which had a sprinkle of vanilla sugar and some mixed spice. Here it is pre-oven (we ate it too quickly to take a photo of it when it was cooked!)
It was a lovely weekend, and I can't wait to see how the house has changed next time I go back (which won't be until Christmas - I bet it'll come around ridiculously quickly, though!) While I was there, I also painted a new sign for the house, as Mum and Dad have changed its name. I was quite pleased with how it turned out - just look at the lovely little cottagey front door!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

WIAW: Catching Up...

I haven't taken part in What I Ate Wednesday for weeks - I've just been ridiculously busy, and then last Tuesday, when I had all sorts of good intentions about photographing my evening meal, it ended up looking like this:

But today I remembered to take pictures of everything, hoorah! I started off with a new breakfast experiment - Mornflake 'Oats 2 Go' with added oatbran. The boxes of oat sachets were on special offer in the Co-Op near work so I bought some, and they're really nice! Plus the box is really cheery on a dull winter morning.
Then I returned to an old lunch favourite - baked potato with cottage cheese. Excuse the rubbish photo - the lighting in the kitchen at work leaves a lot to be desired! I'd originally planned to have a baked sweet potato, but Waitrose didn't have any (!) so I had to have an ordinary one. It's hiding somewhere, under a pile of broccoli (which I added to bump up the veg quota in the absence of the sweet potato) and some onion and chive cottage cheese.
Once I got home it was time for a pre-run snack - usually I don't put my rice cakes and cereal bar on a pretty plate, but I thought I would seeing as I was going to be taking a photo of it!
Had a decent run - I managed 39:38, which is just under 9-minute miles! I've been stuck on 40 minutes for ages, so it was nice to get a 39. And then, finally, supper! Just look at the amount of effort I put into styling my plate. Oh, wait...I just ate it out of the bowl it came in...
I had planned to have egg and beans on toast, but then I felt like I really ought to go all-out on the veg, so I went to M&S and got one of their new Thai noodle soup bowl things, which you just add water to and microwave. As you can see, I clearly have some kind of broccoli problem, because I couldn't resist adding some of that and some Brussels sprouts just to make absolutely sure I got my five-a-day!

Head on over to Peas and Crayons to see what the other WIAW-ers have been eating!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Welsh wedding...

My third weekend away out of four, and this time it was off on an epic road trip to north Wales for my friends' wedding. We woke up on Saturday morning to this glorious sunrise...
...but unfortunately it really was a case of 'red sky in the morning, shepherds' warning' as the weather soon turned rather nasty. It didn't dampen anyone's spirits, though, and we set off for the beautiful 12th-century church, which is famous for its rood screen - complete with skeleton!
The groom arrived in style, in the Caterham car he built himself - and there was much hilarity as he and the best man attempted to get themselves out of the car in their smart morning suits!
The reception was held at a beautiful country house hotel on Anglesey, and the whole day was absolutely lovely despite the best efforts of the Welsh weather. The happy couple are off to live in Vietnam in a few weeks' time, and they had a very fitting (and absolutely delicious) suitcase cake!
The following morning, my friend Dave and I felt very smug as we dragged ourselves out for a four-mile run in the gorgeous countryside - it was a bit hilly (well, we were on the edge of Snowdonia!) but we managed it somehow! I'm annoyed that I didn't think to bring my Ealing Eagles running vest - I could've snapped an 'Eagles on Tour' photo! We then set off to explore a bit of Snowdonia before heading home - we wanted to go up the mountain on the train, but because of bad weather it wasn't running to the top and we were going to have to wait ages, so we just had a walk around Llanberis and saw the lovely castle.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Mum's Famous Dumplings...

There's an internet forum that I frequent, and a while ago, maybe a couple of years back, someone asked for a dumpling recipe. Being a helpful sort, I replied with my mum's recipe, which makes the most gorgeously light and fluffy dumplings with no suet. The original recipe is hand-written inside the cover of Mum's well-worn copy of the Dairy Book of Home Cookery (from the 1970s) and it's also now hand-written inside the cover of my copy (I've got the 'New Edition for the '90s'!). And it became something of an internet sensation - even now, every time someone mentions making a stew, someone else will inevitably pop up saying 'Make sure you use Allie's mum's dumpling recipe!'

So I thought it was about time these famous dumplings made an appearance on the blog...

My mum's dumplings

1 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2tbsp vegetable oil

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. 

Mix oil and milk in a separate bowl (or Mum always uses a Pyrex jug).
Stir the wet and dry ingredients together until just mixed.

Place dessertspoonfuls into your bubbling stew, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

All packed and ready to go...

My parents are moving house this weekend, after 17 years in the current family home. I've already made my last visit to the old house, as I'll be away when the big move actually happens, but my sister's there helping with the packing and the final bits and pieces.

And she sent me this brilliant photo!

Poppy has clearly been listening to my dad (who keeps joking about not telling the cats where the new house is - he loves them really, honest) and has decided to take matters into her own paws!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A Belfast hen do...

My friend Ali is getting married on Saturday, and last weekend we all went off to Belfast for her hen do. I'd never been to Northern Ireland before (it was quite strange getting off a plane and just waltzing out of the airport without showing my passport to anyone!) and I had a great time, despite the fact that it absolutely tipped it down for most of Sunday!

We had a few drinks...
...saw a few sights...
...had a Sunday morning Ulster Fry (without meat in my case, but with lovely potato bread and soda farls!)
...and went to the oldest pub in Belfast for a hot whiskey!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

30: Take Three!

Yesterday I (finally) turned 30! Hoorah!

Unfortunately I had to go to work, but luckily my family brightened things up by sending a HUGE cake, decorated in my favourite colours with loads of glitter, to the office.
It's gorgeous and there's already less than half left!

Then in the evening, I went to a fab bar, Graphic, for lots of cocktails with my friends. I was very impressed with the turnout, given the fact that it was a Tuesday, and I had a brilliant time.

I drank cocktails out of paint tins...
...and I got more lovely presents and cards!
I had a wonderful birthday, and I even managed to avoid a hangover this morning! Gin is good for you!
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