Well, we’re on our way back. As it turns out, when you don’t check on your blog for awhile, there’s a fair amount of housekeeping and maintenance to do before you can get up and running again properly (1,500 unapproved comments binned, 19,963 to go – I’m not even exaggerating).
So, where have we been? We’ve been pretty busy between one thing and another: working hard, not really playing hard but at least picking up some new hobbies, which you’ll hear more about soon, namely the wonderful game of curling and a more advanced level of gardening. For some reason, there never seems to be enough time to do everything we want to while keeping a clean and tidy house and trying to get enough sleep. It can’t be just us, right? Who actually has time to watch Love Island or any other TV show that’s on every day?! Especially when you have an awesome little black labrador who needs feeding and walking twice a day.
Inspiration struck and we’re going to have another go at this here blog. I seem to spend an hour and a half a day cooking anyway!
Cards on the table, I forgot my password. Charles, tech guru that he is, managed to break me back in and we’ve got a bit of boring stuff to do before we can come back full guns blazing, but are at least planning a re-design, which should make things a bit more visually appealing.
We’ll see you soon for more recipes and random ramblings about things we like, maybe some books, interior design (we’re starting to look at paint and flooring for our new house), what we’ve learned from our vegetable patch and maybe even some photography from the very talented husband. Keep an eye on our Instagram in the meantime. AB out.
The Berwick Food and Beer Festival is starting to become a bit of a tradition for us. Well, as far as going to something two years in a row can be called a tradition. If you live, or have ever spent a meaningful amount of time in the Scottish Borders, you’ll know there isn’t all that much to do, so you have to take the chance to do something interesting when you get it. Fortunately for the organisers and exhibitors, lots of other people in the area seem to have the same idea.
As food bloggers, and all round greedy humans, Charles and I jump at the chance to go to any event involving food. We’re not hugely keen on crowds so there aren’t that many that will actually make our day. I’m still trying to justify making a trip down to The Big Feastival (an annual food and music festival at Alex James’ farm – Alex James being the former frontman of Blur turned epic cheesemaker) but it would almost certainly be far too busy and overpriced, which would make us very cross indeed. They do say never meet your heroes and I have a feeling that biting the bullet on this one would be the food festival equivalent (but watch this space). As ever, I digress.
So, Berwick Food and Beer Festival. It’s held at the Berwick on Tweed Barracks every year, which is less impressive than it sounds, but it’s plenty big and might just have a couple of men in uniform floating around. Berwick upon Tweed has some pretty places, but not all that many, and there’s not very much to do there either, so when the festival’s in town, it gets mighty busy.
That said, it does have some pretty special restaurants (Magna Tandoori for a wicked curry and Upper West Street for lunch) and and one heck of a chocolate shop – Cocoature (they deliver, by the way – you’re welcome). Northumberland itself is both twee and pretty, so it’s worth the drive up or down (as long as you don’t get stuck behind as many farm vehicles as we did).
If you have a well-behaved dog, you can take it along, or if you have a moderately well-behaved dog that you wish was very well-behaved like our naughty Cress, you can take her along too. Just don’t expect your experience to be quite as plain sailing. There was a maverick old Border Terrier just pottering around off his lead, peeing on the recycling bins – we enjoyed that little guy immensely.
Pro tip: go when you’re hungry. Ideally right before lunch. That way you can make the most of the numerous street food style stalls they have on offer. My big problem with these situations is that I immediately want to try everything, so it’s pretty difficult to decide what to have for lunch. Charles made a very sensible suggestion which I took him up on – let’s get two things and share.
That seemed epic to start with as we immediately joined the long-but-worth-it queue for wonderful wood fired chorizo and red onion pizza from Earth & Fire, but the pulled pork Yorkshire pudding wraps we picked up as we were leaving were a huge disappointment. Not only did they get our order wrong which left us an extra quid out of pocket (and one portion of roast potatoes still would have been too much as they weren’t good at all) but what we did get was a real let down. The pulled pork was tender enough, but it was served up in a Yorkshire from a packet with a dollop of wholesale apple sauce. It needed a couple of scoops of good sage and onion stuffing and a couple of cracks of black pepper. You can’t win them all.
I suppose the really disappointing thing was how few local exhibitors were there compared with the number of exhibitors making a career out of attending festivals. Funnily enough, our favourites (and those who got us to empty our wallets onto their tables) were almost all local food superheroes. Two of which we specifically made a point of returning to after loving their produce last year.
Northern Edge Coffee – a local coffee roaster who was selling whole beans, ground beans and wonderful takeaway coffees and hot chocolates (this one always confuses people as I drink coffee as black as it can get whereas Charles orders the girlies, frothiest hot chocolate available). I chuckled at the irony of two ladies joining the festival queue with Costa cups in their hands.
The Geordie Banger Company – a sausage and occasional burger maker based in North Shields. These are quality sausages available in variety of different flavours, such as Newcastle Brown Ale, Bourbon and Hog Roast. The chap at the stall was the salt of the earth. When I made a point of telling him we’d come back specially for his sausages he even gave us a quick little recipe if we got bored of eating them just as sausages. He clearly doesn’t appreciate how many sausages we eat.
The Brownie Bar – sells all different types of brownies and cookies with brownies in the middle (I know) – really pleasant chap behind he counter but I wasn’t all that impressed by the brownies themselves. They were lovely and fudgey but a bit too sugary and buttery for my taste – they could have done with a bigger chocolate hit.
Le Mini Macaron – There was a very similar little business back home in Perth, and to be fair, who can be bothered to make their own macarons? Very pretty little confections in a variety of flavours and they’re relatively local (based in Jesmond, Newcastle).
The Chirnells Farmhouse Kitchen – this lady was at Kelso farmers’ market last week and has a table heaving with beautiful home baked cakes, cookies, tarts and scones. It’s how I’d like my stall to look if I ever had the courage to bake for a living.
Earth & Fire – The aforementioned excellent pizza makers. They tow their oven around on a little concrete lined trailer and it turns out that they also offer their services to build a similar oven for you in your very own garden. Might just have to enquire about that one…..
The live music was too loud and pretty off-putting to be frank – I’m not convinced any of them actually had to audition. That or the sound production was really, really bad.
The Yorkshire pudding wraps.
Having to queue for about 20 minutes, only to be given the wrong change when paying, and getting our wristbands was fairly disorganised.
Having to pay to get in, despite basically emptying our wallets at the first stall we got to.
Oh, and we didn’t try any of the beers – I’m sure they were very good but it’s not my bag and Charles was driving. We also missed the demo kitchen, but had sort of forgotten about that element when we decided to take the dog with us!
Anyway, we’ll be back next year. Hope you had a great time if you’ve been, and have a brilliant day if you’re going tomorrow!
I’m going to be 30 tomorrow and Charles will be too at the beginning of July. I’ve just treated myself to a MacBook (which is how we’re getting a chance to post some content for you again – sorry about the absence but my old Toshiba finally gave up when Cress pushed it off the sofa and bent the charging cable), and it’s got me thinking about that whole bucket list caboodle. But instead of writing you a list of 30 things to do before I’m 30, it’s going to be 30 things to eat before you’re 30 (I mean, it is a food blog, right?!).
1.A Deep Fried Mars Bar People give these such a hard rap, but really you ought to try one. For some reason they’ve become synonymous with ‘Scottish’ cuisine as if we’re all wandering around with them on a Friday lunch time, but I’d be surprised if the average Scot has had more than three in their lifetime, if any. That said, it’s not to be missed. If you’re down with eating ready salted crisps at the same time as a square of Dairy Milk, you should really order one of these bad boys. It’s like that, only hot, and meeting in the middle. Do it. Just do it.
2. Lobster Weirdly, this was Charles’ suggestion. I say weirdly because he is both too tight to actually buy lobster and allergic to fish (apparently) so he won’t be taking part in this one. My Mum, loves lobster. It was the ultimate in 80s decadence. But it’s all a bit too much for me. If you want to cook it properly, you have to be prepared for the wriggling in its bag in the car, the going in the freezer, the squealing and then the decapitation, and after all there’s the removal from the chill, trying not to cut yourself and then attempting to serve it up as something halfway to pretty. In any event, I find it all a bit too sweet and rich. Nevertheless, it should be on this list because, really, it’s for you to make up your own mind about.
3. Caviar Again, this is Charles’ pick, although I’m not sure either of us has had it. It has such a highly regarded cultural status, though, that really we ought to give it a go. Like lobster, it’s a foodstuff that has made its way into common speech so you should at least taste the stuff, right?
4. Snails Tastes like chicken, looks a bit like mussels, generally in a creamy sauce. Do the French actually eat snails or are they just something they can flog to tourists for top dollar?
5. A T-Bone Steak This is another pretty 80s one. Part fillet steak and part sirloin with a bone in the middle, it’s verging on an average supper for Desperate Dan. My Grandad was always keen on the idea of one of these, but surely if one part of the meat is cooked well, the other steak will be all sorts of wrong? Definitely man food.
6. A Really Good Chocolate Cake There’s chocolate cake and there’s chocolate cake and if you’ve had a really good one, you’ll know it. I spent years trying to perfect my recipe and I reckon it’s getting there. You should always have a knockout chocolate cake up your sleeve.
7. A Hendricks Gin & Fever Tree Tonic ‘Nuff said.
8. Freshly Picked Watercress I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly had watercress but Charles and his Dad rave about it. They’re from the South East of England and apparently there was once a watercress farm (?) nearby where they would be able to pick up bags of the stuff, fresh as you like, and apparently it was pretty unmissable.
9. Hot Smoked Salmon on Oban Pier This, clearly, is one of mine. My auntie and uncle used to have a holiday home on the bank of Loch Awe, nestled in the foothills of Ben Cruachan. Spectacular views, barely any TV or mobile reception and 20 minutes from the nearest Tesco. One of the highlights was a Saturday trip to Oban, where there was the most fabulous fresh fish shack on the pier. They sold tremendous langoustines, dressed crabs an wriggly lobsters, but what In remember most is being introduced to hot smoked salmon there. The texture is totally different to regular smoked salmon, given that it’s been cooked and smoked at the same time. It’s beautiful. Although I’m not sure it would taste quite the same if you weren’t pulling your coat up past your ears to ward off the drizzle while watching the ferry come in.
10. Lardy Cake More Englishness here. It’s some sort of risen bread bun type substance, packed with lard and dried fruit. Apparently it’s delicious and best eaten on the first day before it turns stale and while the edges are still crisp. I’m yet to try one, but apparently they’re much healthier than they sound….
11. A Krispy Kreme Doughnut You can love these, hate them, or feel something in between towards them but you really should try them. They’re synthetic, often too sweet and must be eaten fresh, but they’re an American import so we Brits have to go made for them. Our favourites are the Original Glazed, Lemon Meringue and Lotus Caramel Biscoff.
12. A meal at a Michelin Starred Restaurant Charles has got me convinced that this would be somewhat disappointing. And he probably has a point. Overpriced, notoriously small portions, and you can’t always pick what you want to eat. Still, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Surely it’s a life experience you really need to be open to?
13. Lasagne in Rome If you thought you knew lasagne (no matter how delicious your homemade or favourite restaurant’s version is) you won’t know proper lasagne until you’ve eaten it in Italy. It’s a food cliché in some ways, but come on – homemade pasta sheets, Italian tomatoes, cheese and fresh herbs – what’s not to like? Interestingly, the version I had in Rome was constructed with about a dozen layers of pasta and hardly any sauce at all – it was carbalicious and just shows you really need to go back to the source with some things. Interestingly, the best thing I’ve had to eat in Italy was a wild boar ragú pappardelle in Florence….
14. A Proper French Baguette If you’ve ever spent some proper time in France, you’ll be overwhelmed by just how seriously the French take their bread. It’s like a religion and it’s glorious. Fresh every day from the local baker, or from the supermarket at a push (although French supermarkets are a million miles from the ones we’re used to, stocked with shelves of beautiful fresh bread, brioche, pastries, delicate patisserie and exquisite lemon meringue pies. even service station sandwiches are something to behold. What you don’t realise, however, is that the French rarely eat actual proper baguettes (which are much narrower and crispier than the ones we’re used to here), but rather gravitate towards flutes which are broader, longer and have much more soft bready insides than their more famous cousins. And don’t start me on French butter……
15. Any Sort of Portuguese Pastry We’re getting into a bit of a travel theme here, but to be honest you really do need to travel to broaden your gastronomic horizons. I spent a couple of days in Portugal with my Mum a couple of Novembers ago. It was grey, wet and unbelievably cold due to a bitter wind blowing in from the Atlantic. but their Port houses are excellent and one thing I wasn’t expecting was just how good their pastries are. We went in search of shelter from the rain and a hot drink and stumbled into a cafe. Their coffee is strong and short – much like a Turkish coffee – and it takes some getting used to, but I could eat their pastries all day. I know Portuguese custard tarts are pretty famous, but it doesn’t stop there. I had the most divine almond croissant that wasn’t quite a croissant type affair – powdered sugar on top, flaky and buttery and stuffed with almond paste. Don’t visit Portugal without trying at least a couple of their pastries. And their Port of course…
16. Greek Souvlaki Ok, a pause in the globetrotting (although my most memorable Greek food was a red snapper dish at a marina restaurant). Souvlaki looks and tastes wonderful, provided you like pork, bread and yoghurt, you’re in. I’ve made it a couple of times and it always seems a bit odd trying to make the meat turn white with vinegar and lemon juice, and it doesn’t seem like you’re packing in much flavour, but it is typically Greek with lashings of oregano, a skewer and a yoghurt dip. Try Aki’s Kitchen’s recipe for starters.
17. Your Own Homemade Bread You couldn’t expect a list of 30 things to eat before you’re 30 without your own homemade bread, surely? Bread making can take some time to master, but it’s so worth it. Try it on a rainy day and fill your home with the heady scent of fresh bread, then rip it open, barely cool enough to touch and load it up with butter and jam. Just try it. It’s a very satisfying experience. There are many things that just aren’t the same (even from a bakery) than making your own and gobbling them up fresh, and bread has to top that list.
18. A Spaghetti Sandwich This is probably not for everyone (or even for many!) but one of my childhood favourite lunches or snacks was a couple of slices of cheap white sliced bread, buttered and loaded up with hot Heinz spaghetti (you know the stuff that comes in a tin in that bright orange sauce?). It’s messy, it’s childish, it’s fiendishly unhealthy, but by gosh it’s moreish.
19. A Cheese Toastie This is probably one of those things that people will surprise you by saying they’ve never had before, but surely it’s the most basic comfort food. With good bread or bad bread, fresh bread or stale, cheap cheese or luxurious cheese, this is always going to be a winner in my book. Bonus points if you drizzle on some worcestershire sauce.
20. A Dominos in the car It’s not really proper pizza but it can be ruddy delicious. Eaten in the car on the way home from a long day in the city when you’re starving and a little bit chilly, it tastes even better. Or when you’re in the office on a bank holiday and you decide to treat yourselves. Bonus points if you plump for the garlic dip.
21. A Proper Burger Whether you make it or eat it somewhere where they make them properly, a real, honest burger is hard to beat. It needs to be made with good beef so you can serve it up rare, and it should ideally come with bacon, cheese and maybe an egg, a brioche bun and really good chips. Ooh and onion rings. If you eat out and they won’t serve your burger rare, they’re making it with poor quality meat – get out of there!
22. A Freshly Picked Tomato I can’t stand tomatoes, but apparently they taste best when they still smell like the vine and they’re slightly warm from the sun. This one suppose you either grow your own or know someone who does.
23. Homemade Pasta I used to be fairly scathing about fresh pasta, but if you make your own it’s an entirely different beast from the shop bought variety. Ravioli stuffed with your choice of filling, or spaghetti cooked in a buttery, white winey, herby sauce with a little chicken stock – and it really isn’t as hard to make as you would think. You do need a pasta machine though.
24. Your Own Victoria Sandwich Much like a really good chocolate cake, a freshly made Victoria Sandwich stuffed with tasty jam is a thing to behold. Learn how to make your own and you can whip one up whenever you fancy.25. A Freshly Baked Scone See above…. Make them big, make them fluffy and add whatever you fancy (sultanas, cheese, cherries, chocolate..), spread thickly with butter and jam or dollop on some clotted cream. Now pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey
26. An Extreme Steak Sandwich Steak sandwiches used to be in my regular rota when I live on my own. You need a decent ciabatta or baguette, in my opinion. Minute steak works if you have a screaming hot pan. Sprinkle with paprika and serve with fried onions. Charles reckoned the CAU version is about the best you can get.
27. A Meatball Sub The meatball sub is iconic – and after hearing about them on Friends (you know Joey was mad for those) I couldn’t rest until I’d made one, complete with marinara sauce and melted cheese. I’m sure it’ll be on the list if we ever make it to New York.
28. A McDonalds Everyone knows someone who claims to have never had a McDonalds. I could go years without having one and be perfectly ok about it, but really you need to try a cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets and a McFlurry at some point in your life. Rumour has it that you get fresh fries if you ask for them unsalted.
29. Eggs Benedict This is the king of breakfasts for me. In fact anything with a muffin and poached eggs is pretty excellent, throw in some bacon and you’re right on the money.
30. Exactly What You Fancy, When You Fancy It Tonight, I made burgers and garlic bread pizza. Because we fancies it and we had the materials and ability to make such a thing. It was epic. And that’s what life’s all about.
If you’re aware of our background, Charles and I had a long-distance relationship until very recently. Even after we got engaged. In fact, we left it a full four days after getting married before I had my worldly goods packed up into a moving van to be dragged the 99 miles down to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Why did we wait so long? Well, I’m starting to wonder that myself now I’m here. Moving meant leaving my job. Well, not when I first planned to move it didn’t as I was given the impression I would be able to work largely from home, but when we first got engaged, say, I was in the middle of my professional exams and building up my career, so a flat, a mortgage and a steady income were things we both thought were worth staying for. On Charles’ end, he had his family’s construction business, his own two businesses (a B&B and a picture framing business) and the offer of a brand new house a year or so down the line. And of course, we each had our respective families to think about. So, we stayed where we were and battled on with our long distance relationship, keeping ourselves busy with work, planning our wedding and starting up our blogs. We were happy. We texted throughout the course of the day, and committed around an hour and half to a good old fashioned phone chat most evenings, and we were happy. We missed each other, but, fundamentally, we were happy.
Last Monday, all of that changed. I’m currently on garden leave from my job, leaving me with lots of free time but feeling pretty useless, and our house isn’t yet ready. We’re still missing gas, power, carpets and water. Just the little things then. But we’re hoping that with a little bit of extra work we can be moved in within the next month or so. It’s still something wonderful to look forward to and plan for, but in the mean time, living together for the first time has been made that little bit harder, with the two of us sharing two rooms and a small hallway most evenings when there are B&B guests in residence. Thankfully, having the run of the B&B during the day and being able to use the kitchen when the guests are out at the local pub means we are still provided with a level of comfort and we are managing to blend our two lives into one relatively seamlessly.
Nevertheless, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve been learning along the way, to help anyone who’s moving in with their other half, or indeed any housemate, for the first time.
It goes without saying that switching from living on your own where pretty much everything you do is at your own pace and according to your own wants and needs to sharing a space and a life with someone else is going to need some moral fibre, consideration and patience. This simply will not work if you think you can keep up the same routine, having the same long shower at the same awkward time, sitting up until 2am watching YouTube videos and finishing the loo roll without making sure there’s another one waiting nearby. So before you crash in clearing wardrobe space and filling the kitchen cupboards with your protein bars, take a breath and think how it would feel if was your home that was being invaded by an incomer. You haven’t moved anywhere and yet your way of life is being disrupted. Of course, you should want to feel at home, and you should be able to as time goes on, but that might mean making some compromises and it will certainly mean asking permission before you ride roughshod through the place.
Be prepared to let go to protect your relationship
On that same theme, you must be prepared to let go of particular habits, foibles and fussiness. If you like to listen to trance music at 3am, whilst your boyfriend or roomie prefers to be tucked up in bed at 10pm ready for an early start, it would be rather selfish of you to continue with these late night raves, so bring them forward or let them go. You may well find that curling up in front of the TV together and getting an early night is exactly what you need. It’s a new phase in your life so don’t be afraid to grow up if you have to. Not only will some of your interests be affected, but also your general way of going about life. Walk more quietly, don’t sing loudly and out of tune every time you have a shower, and refill the kettle after you make a cup of tea. On the same theme, try not to be easily angered by the little things your cohabitee does which might serve to annoy the hell out of you. Chances are, they’re not doing these things specifically to annoy you, but simply because they haven’t thought that it might annoy you and are just going about their way of doing things. So the next time he leaves his pants on the bathroom floor, chuck them in the laundry basket – you’re probably going anyway and it really isn’t worth starting a fight over. If it’s something you really can’t bear after finding your blood boiling one too many times and you feel you realy have to raise the issue, choose your time and tone well. Ask nicely, or make a joke of it, if he agrees to try, it’s a win. Consider intention rather than initial results and remember that there are probably as many things you do which annoy him just as much, only he’s too much of a gent to mention them.
Establish a new routine
On the same theme, you should consider that your individual routines aren’t likley to be able to slot seamlessly together, at least without one of you bothering the other or never having time to see each other. It may be a delicate art, or you may just need to move a couple of things around, but you have to recognise that you’re going from being two completely separate entities to two being orbiting the same planet: if you don’t want to collide you should think about altering your paths of orbit.That could be as simple as changing your meal times or pushing back when you go to the gym, to something more severe such as the time you get up or go to bed. Try not to become a victim. Think of it as a beginning, not an ending. Most of all, remember why you made the move in the first place. Unless you’re willing to change your way of life, you’re never going to quite reach the level of coupledom you’re aspiring to. It’s not about me any more; it’s about becoming an us.
Spend some time apart
Even the most saintly and generous of persons will find moving in with someone for the first time difficult at times. Just because I have some advice as to how things can be made eventually easier, it doesn’t mean I have all the answers or that the process of achiving things won’t be hard. By living together you will see more of each other than ever before. You will see the best of each other, but there will also come a time when you see the worst, and living out of each other’s pockets will not only make those latter occasions more likely to explode into something potentially irreparable, but it will make any time you are forced to spend apart once you have moulded into each other that little bit more difficult. So whilst it’s really important to be able to bend like a reed in the wind, it’s also important that you remember who you are underneath it all, where you want to be and where your roots are. Remember you have friends and family elsewhere and don’t be afraid to spend some time with them, and try not to forget your dreams and ambitions before you became an us: you can have your own separate aims and achievements without putting your ‘us’ at risk. Both of these things entail spending some time apart, be it on weekends visiting family and friends, be it at work or after work activities, or simply by getting out on your own for a walk or shutting yourself in a different room in the house. You don’t solely exist to make a relationship work.
Keep up your own hobbies and interests
Where there was life before the two of you lived together, there may well, if you’re unlucky, be a life where you find yourselves apart again. For that reason, and to just keep hold of yourself, and spend some healthy time apart, keep up your hobbies and interests. Of course, you may find that your hobbies and interests are things you can do together, such as the camera club Charles and I are thinking of joining, or you may find that the time you have available to commit to your own endeavours is limited, but if there are a few you feel really passionate about, find a way to fit them into your routine. Chances are, the other half of you will want time to spend on their own hobbies too. for example, I took up Blogilates in the run up to our wedding, and I’ve enjoyed feel fitter and stronger as a result, so I want to keep it up. I’ve managed to keep it to roughly the same time of day as I used to before I moved, but I keep it flexible so that it can be fitted around when I’m not needed for anything and to coincide with Charles’ daily catch-up with his family. Likewise, I find time to read when the men are watching cricket….
As with any relationship milestone or stumbling block, communication is key to getting to the same place together. If you have any worries, share them. If one of you has an issue with something the other one is doing, raise it kindly before it mushrooms. On the flip side, you don’t want to be complaining all the time, and you want your shared home to be a nice place to live. Remember, as with dogs, positive reinforcement is stronger than whinging! If your other half does something kind or helpful, remember to thank them. If they achieve something, congratulate them. If you like the meal they cooked you, tell them so. Just be a nice person!
Most importantly, remember why you decided to move in together in the first place as often as is practical. It’ll take you a lot further than you might think.
Sorry to go all deep on you there! We promised to share a bit more about our new adventures into marriage and moving into our new home as well as our recipes. If you enjoyed reading this post, please comment below so we know to keep them coming, and if you think we ought to stick to the recipes, we’re happy to hear that too!
Hello, followers of Brookers of Blunty’s. As you might have gathered, life has become rather busier for myself and Mr Brooker. What’s more, Miss Campbell has become Mrs Brooker and I’ve invited myself to moving down to the Scottish Borders, meaning we are finally, officially, the Brookers of Blunty’s. I imagine we’ll bore you with some wedding photos shortly, but for now, we’re seriously busy trying to get the new house finished so that I can finally unpack. Living out of boxes will lose its novelty factor fairly sharpish!
As you’ll know, the most important part of the move will be getting our own kitchen, together, at last, so we spent a chunk of yesterday cleaning down the new units and floor, while waiting for the joiners to come and fit the hob (they didn’t turn up but we are hoping they might today), and this morning has been spent fitting the inner shelves to the kitchen units. I’m fairly sure we’ve managed to assign about 3 different areas for oils and herbs but hopefully it’ll all be ironed out when we unpack. The biggest hurdle is that I can only reach the first shelf in most of the upper cupboards, so all of Charles’ horrible horseradish sauce and so on will have to find its way to the upper shelves. My baking cupboard is also yet to present itself!
There are all sorts of other things still to organise – namely gas, electricity, broadband and water – due to various screw ups on the part of the various providers, so there is a lot more outstanding than the new hob. Softly, softly and little by little, we’ll get there, and you’ll be hearing from us non-stop once we get there.
The best news so far is finding a little fruit and veg shop attached to the garden centre which sells the most incredible fresh produce for a fraction of supermarket prices. It’s about 7 or 8 miles away but most things are now, so we’re looking forward to plundering it weekly. I didn’t even know you could get purple sweet potatoes!
Speak soon, ladies and gents; I might even manage to workout how to change my name by the next time!
Here we are, 4 days to go before our big day, and time to pull our socks up in terms of getting you guys some lovely interesting content to read. We’ve had bit of a month of it, for many reasons, but it’s time to get organised and start looking forward to our new life together. It sounds a bit cheesey, I know, but I really am the happiest I have ever been. So please accept our apologies!
As for a quick update on how the house is progressing, well we very nearly have an intact kitchen, the electrics have been tested and approved, and Charles is whipping the water people into shape. My office is good to go, with the carpet for the upstairs due to arrive next week along with the boiler. We have so many hard working guys who are pulling out the stops to get the project finished, so saying thank you feels a little weak!
While Charles has been busy working 14 hour days to get us into our home, I’ve been pottering around making things for the wedding, organising thank you cards and generally keeping my fingers crossed that nothing has been forgotten. We didn’t really want a theme for our wedding, but we have had an overriding ideal that as much as possible should be reusable and good value for money. For my part, I was keen to make as much as possible, both because I enjoy crafts, and because it’ll help to keep things as personal as possible. One of the easiest projects I took on was these little lace tealight holders which cost about £1 each all in all, despite going for £5 each on Etsy.
To make these you will need:
Glass tealight holders, available from craft shops like Hobbycraft
Lace, enough to encircle the glasses, 15cm for each in my case, again, purchased from Hobbycraft
1. Use the measuring tape to measure around the glass at the point you’ll be wrapping your lace around. I decided the lace for these ones should sit just above the bases to let the lace hide the tealight as far as possible. You should measure to allow a small overlap and a margin for error to hide the glue line.
2. Cut the lace to size and plug in the glue gun to hear up, making sure there’s a glue stick plugged into the back, and that the glue gun is propped up over an old magazine or newspaper in case of dripping.
3. When the glue gun is ready, you should be able to test it out by squeezing the trigger. If hot glue comes out easily, you’re golden. Squeeze a small line of glue onto the tealight holder and rapidly stick down one end of the lace. Be very careful not to burn yourself as the glue is really hot but will set very quickly.
Once the first line of glue has set, pipe another line of glue just behind the first to avoid the dried glue being too bulky. Stick down the other end of the lace, being careful to match the line and scallop and to pull it right but not too tight. Let the set and trim off any excess lace.
Pop a tealight in and you’re good to go. As we’re using these for our wedding, I bought 8 hour tealights which are deeper than the normal cheaper ones, but contain much more wax so they won’t run out of steam before the end of the evening.
Sorry about my lack of contribution to the blog recently. As Alyson has said countless times, I am beavering away trying to get our house built. Progress is a bit better this week but still plenty to get on with.
While we both have our own places, moving into our own house is proving to test our wallets with the wedding etc. costs all mounting. Can you believe they charge £305 for a civil servant to come and read some boring legal mumbo-jumbo to people!
About a week ago, we were contacted by Dealslands regarding a sponsored post. In that time, I have been looking at several items to purchase. Ranging from shower trays to ovens. Even though we are not quite ready to buy things, a good coupon/voucher site is often handy to know about. I have been pleasantly surprised about how good they are. They might even find a place on my bookmarks list!
There have been a few things I have enjoyed about using Dealslands in the last week:-
A lot of these companies bombard you with “vouchers”, that are actually just an advert that they are having a sale. Dealslands do have these but they always seem to be below that actual coupon codes.
The site is very clearly laid out without a mountain of spam links here, there and everywhere. It is pretty refreshing to be perfectly honest!
I also like the categories section, I am looking at some gardening equipment and with it not being an area of expertise, I don’t know which retailers are about, so if I can be presented with the ones that are having sales and good offers then it will save a fair bit of time.
The only real negative I have found is that if you search for a store and the site doesn’t recognise it, it just reloads the homepage and this caught me out a time or two, re-searching it again.
It would be totally disingenuous to be pushing a brand that served no purpose and I can genuinely say that there have been a few coupons that I plan to use. – There is a Currys promo code for £30 off on purchases over £299, which will be helpful for an oven that Alyson and I both think will be ideal! I almost used a Matalan offer to buy a couple of shower trays until they asked for £72 deliver to deliver them!
Given that I am ageing rapidly and Alyson STILL hasn’t bought me some slippers, I very nearly used the Mahabis discount code, but I saw that the bloke on their website had a man bun and was immediately put off a pair. Disappointing!
They also have some really good Nike discount codes that are worth checking out
I will let you into a cheeky secret I have discovered that works a lot more than it should – If you type VIP15/VIP10/VIP5 into the discount code section of an online purchase, it is amazing how often it works!
If you are ever going to buy something online, take 10 seconds to load the Dealslands UK page and check there isn’t a discount code you can fire in. It’s so easy and as they say, a penny saved is a penny earned!
Things are getting really exciting in the Campbell/Brooker camp at the moment. I posted our wedding invitations yesterday marking the eleven and a half week countdown and a year to the day since we got engaged. It really has been the most wonderful time in my life so far, but what’s to come is going to be so much better. Charles has been so busy trying to get our house finished in May, but he promises you will hear more from him once we’re installed in the house and he has a little more time on his hands.
Our wedding venue was one of the more contentious issues at the start of the planning process – between me and my family, that is, Charles didn’t particularly want a white wedding at all – as I had my heart set on Loch Lomond but my mother was having none of it, claiming it was too far from home. I didn’t really understand the issue, but bulldozed I nevertheless was. So we looked at venues in the Scottish Borders and on my back door, but nothing fit the bill in terms of giving us what we wanted and doing so in budget.
Until we found Forbes of Kingennie. I was browsing the Scottish Wedding Directory and happened upon Forbes of Kingennie in Angus, North of Dundee – a place I had never heard of despite it being only 40 minutes up the road. It looked beautiful, suspended over fishing ponds with beautiful countryside scenery, golf and fishing onsite for the boys and exactly the type of catering packages we were looking for.
We took a few more trips up there before we booked it, but it immediately felt like the relaxed sort of place we were looking for. Charles and I had a trip up to try the food and walk around the grounds and had a lovely day taking photos and chatting about the future. We’ll be going up for 3 days as there is a 3 night minimum stay for the self-catering accommodation but it’s reasonably priced so it doesn’t add too much to the budget.
It also comes with the most incredible honeymoon suite – a self-contained boathouse with balconies over one of the fishing pools, known as the Leannan Boathouse.
The main bar has just been refurbished, which is a stroke of luck and it looks beautiful, with the addition of panoramic picture windows and a lovely wood burning stove (although we’re hoping we won’t need to use that in May!).
I hope you all enjoyed this post; we did promise to share some more about our lives as well as our revipes so I’ll try to spend more time on posts like this if you like them.
It’s a busy week for food: Chinese New a year has given us cravings for takeaways we only want on the one night of the year they’re not available, today is pancake day and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner this weekend. Whilst I think taking a day out every year to celebrate a very delicious breakfast/pudding made from flour, milk and eggs is truly righteous in some ways, the rush to buy ready-made crêpes and batter mixes has ripped the very soul out of the celebration. Pancakes are all about simplicity; a classic act of love to be mastered over the years, topped with a squirt and a sprinkle of your own personality. One of my very favourite memories is the anticipation of the first pancakes Charles ever made me, then scoffing them up with a variety of toppings. That is what food is all about, to me anyway.
Charles insists that Pancake Day is the one day a year you should refrain from making pancakes, and I can see where he’s coming from, but still I think there’s a place for it, as long as you do them well. There’s something wonderful about serving up a plate which can’t fail to raise a smile on a soggy February night.
It’s from a similar stand point that Valentine’s Day passes us by every year. We’re still a long distance couple, and our anniversary is 9th February (although it’ll be superseded by our wedding anniversary after this year) so it isn’t really an obvious celebration for us, but even if that wasn’t the case, we have plenty of reasons to avoid it:
Commercialisation is a somewhat trite story of capitalism exploiting sentimentality, but clichés usually turn out to be true. If you want to pay 3 times over for the same bunch of flowers you bought 2 weeks ago, be fleeced for a novelty box of chocolates or battle for a booking at a cramped restaurant where the food is offered at 150% its usual price and half its usual quality with side orders being upsold with every course, be my guest. But we’ll be staying in, thank you.
The weight of expectation. Much like the dissappointment of Christmas, birthdays and New Year, Valentine’s Day is notorious for falling flat. Let’s face it, who’s in the mood for romance with that weight of the expectation for “the most romantic day of the year” on their shoulders? Inevitably, it’s overpriced, average quality and completely impersonal.
The public displays of “affection”. Show offsare the worst kind of Valentine celebrant. It’s all very well wanting to spoil your girl or man, but really, is a bouquet of 100 roses really necessary? It’s not a competition. And quite frankly if you’re spending £500 I’d rather have a holiday. Or a piece of furniture. Or a KitchenAid. If you need a huge public display like that you need to rethink your priorities, as well as the impact it’s having on everyone around you. Your obscene spending doesn’t make you look big or clever. If your way of celebrating is to make a public show of someone (or indeed to demand roses delivered to your office by cupids) you need to rethink your relationship.
The effect it has on everyone else in the world If you really have to make a grand gesture (or generally be sickeningly happy in public), can you at least spare a thought for the rest of the population? You happiness isn’t dependent on looking better than other people or making others unhappy. Sending ridiculous gifts to your other half’s office or posting multiple smug photos showing “how happy you are” all over Facebook will do more to upset other people than it will to improve your relationship. The fourteenth day in February is just another day: it doesn’t belong to couples and it shouldn’t exist to shame the single. It shouldn’t be necessary to celebrate “Galentine’s Day” with your friends to compensate. And don’t go thinking we’re part of the smug brigade; we always spend it apart (although I should add that doesn’t make us bitter and twisted about it!).
If you can’t do it the rest of the year why get interested for one day? This sentiment rings true for so many of these days (Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day etc); joining in for the sake of it is hollow. If you really meant it you would buy them treats, take them out for dinner and dress up for them at random intervals through the year, “just because”. Taking me out for a meal because your mates are busy with their wives and girlfriends isn’t going to impress me. We want your thought, your time and your effort. If you really want to show someone you care about them, cook their favourite meal from scratch, bake them a cake, write them a letter, learn how to make their favourite snack, and tell them you love them randomly and frequently just because you do. Hug often, share in-jokes, be as sickeningly sweet to each other as you want to, but do it at home!
With the recent spell of bad weather, which could well be the first of many as we tread steadily on into the deepest darkest depths of winter, I thought it would be a good time to share my tips as to how I run my freezer. Not just because it’s almost as cold out there as it is in the freezer drawer, but because it’s a really good time to make sure you have lots of good food in stock which could potentially make you a meal if you can’t make it out to the shops (or in case the shops run out again!).
Ok, it isn’t the tidiest freezer just now, but there is plenty in it, although I am trying to run things down a little to replenish with fresher food.
It’s important to me to have a good-sized freezer because I cook a lot, pretty much every day in life. And to cook economically in a household of one, batch cooking is essential. And unless you want to be eating the same stew all week, you have to learn to freeze your leftovers. It’s genius really. Not only do you prevent waste, but you give yourself “ready meals” for those days when you don’t have the time or inclination to throw something together from scratch, but when you still feel you need something balanced, nutritious and homemade.
In case you’re interested, I thought I’d share some of the things I have in my freezer most of the time which help me to keep things ticking over.
The Top Drawer
Because this is my shallowest drawer, as well as the easiest to access, it’s where I like to make and keep ice. It’s not totally essential at this time of year, but it’s good to have. Because I have a frost-free freezer, however, the ice in the trays is constantly being eroded, so I like to make it then decant it into a big freezer bag to try to keep it intact.
Ice cube trays are also really useful for preserving all sort of things, such as fresh herbs, and I used one to freeze some homemade chicken stock into little portions which can be added to sauces to lift their flavour a little. Pictured here I also have a couple of frozen homemade tortilla wraps, as well as three homemade vegetable samosas, which are too delicate to risk being thrown about when I’m rummaging around in the major drawers.
The top drawer is also home to my ice cream collection. I have an open tub of Ben & Jerry’s Frozen Yoghurt hanging around from when I first tried to lose weight (which I may have given up on as a result of how bad this was) and I’m keeping it around for emergencies.
The Middle Drawer
This is where things get serious. We’re in the belly of the beast here where there’s most space, but it can get to be a bit of a mystery what’s in here!
First, we have the vegetables. You have to be careful with some vegetables if you decide to freeze them from fresh; carrots, for example, are prone to losing structural integrity when frozen in a domestic freezer (frozen food producers have industrial rapid-freeze units to combat this problem) but others work really well.
Leftover green beans are great to freeze to avoid them going bad, and are so quick to defrost and cook (cook from frozen) but I always forget to top and tail them before I put them in the freezer!). Peppers work really well as well if you have a glut (my dad grows them in his greenhouse) – just slice them, bag them and put them in the freezer and you can then use them in stir fries or fajitas when you forget to buy fresh.
I always have frozen peas in my freezer as they are so quick to provide a nutritious and tasty portion of veg, as well as being great to bulk out a pasta sauce or rice dish. Although I haven’t yet needed to use them to soothe someone who has been punched in the face!
Next up we have various frozen bread items. The problem with fresh and homemade bread is that it goes stale within about 24 hours. So when I make fresh bread, I like to slice and immediately freeze anything that’s not going to be used. You can then pull it from the freezer and put it straight into the toaster. I have a couple of old frozen loaf heels as well which can be defrosted and blitzed into breadcrumbs.
I like trying out different types of breads as well, so I often have a couple of homemade naan breads chilling out in this drawer, but just now I have a couple of flatbreads, which can go straight into the oven to defrost and warm through when needed.
Given I live on my own still, I like to batch cook and freeze leftovers, like curry or pasta sauces and homemade burgers (which taste best if you freeze them uncooked). Ready meals in a flash! The big guy in the front is half a batch of cookie dough which can be defrosted, sliced and baked off when needed.
Along the same lines, I like to keep some frozen raw ingredients in the freezer for later in the week when I haven’t made it to a supermarket, and it’s also an economical way of making sure one person can use up a packet of 8 sausages! The usual suspects are salmon fillets, chicken breasts and sausages, but I also have a cod fillet and some blueberries just now. Freezer bags and a Sharpie are a must!
This is where I have to admit to resorting to “convenience foods” every now and then! I have a couple of ice lollies for when it’s warm outside, as well as some cheeky breaded mushrooms and potato wedges (because sometimes you just have to!). Fish fingers are another must have, because they can easily be cooked off from frozen and served up with peas. Not the most heathy choice but everything in moderation (and I fear I’ll have to give up when I move in with Charles due to his fish allergy….).
The winner in this category is these Tesco frozen King Prawns. They’re usually about £5 for a bag (although I got these for about £3.50 I think) which is much more economical than the fresh ones. They’re nice and big and defrost relatively quickly in a bowl of cold water so they’re great for a last minute dish if you forget to take something out of the freezer in the morning. Just remember to remove the gut!
The Bottom Drawer
This is the drawer which has the most turnover, because it’s where I keep my frozen soup and more liquidy leftovers such as meatballs in sauce and casseroles. I love having soup for weekday at my desk lunches, so I usually make a big pot of it every Sunday, with leftovers going in the freezer for weeks when I don’t have time on the Sunday. It also makes a great last-minute starter or lunch if someone decides to visit.
The Lakeland Soup and Sauce bags are great for freezing this type of thing as they sit nice and upright to be filled, but it does mean they need a deep freezer drawer until they’re nice and solid. More recently, I’ve been using these Tip N Zip bags my Mum found at Home Bargains – they’re much cheaper and sit more horizontally so they’re easier to squeeze into the freezer.
This drawer also houses some random odds and sods like homemade linguine and a brioche roll, as well as some more bread.
Sorry this post went on for days, but I hope it was helpful or interesting. I’d love to hear what you always keep in your freezer.