Are Disney Parks for You?; Unlocking the Disney Mythos

Unless you’ve been living in a media-free world for the whole of your life (in which case how are you reading this) you’ll have heard of Disney.

From their animated movies, their real-life films and Pixar masterpieces, there’s something for everyone. Not to mention their purchase of Marvel and rolling in the world of Star Wars for good measure.

But they’re not for everyone. A common preconception of Disney is that it’s for girls, pretty in pink, all glitter and so many princesses. And it’s a fair assumption since that’s what I always thought, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. As a child I adored The Little Mermaid and was devastated when my VHS copy got chewed up by the video player. I had to wait until its 10th anniversary to repurchase it on DVD because you couldn’t get the video any more.

When I was younger I never visited theme parks – they were too far away from home and just too expensive. My first park experience wasn’t until 2012, when my husband surprised me with a trip to Disneyland Paris. Until then I hadn’t considered the Disney parks. I knew they existed, of course, but it wasn’t something I’d ever take part in. I’d never been on a rollercoaster at that point, and I had no idea what I was in for.

By the end of that trip I was converted – to it all. The parks, the atmosphere, the theming and the rollercoasters. I never wanted to leave. I’d found my happy place!

As a child I liked Disney films but during the 90’s with the release of films like Tarzan, The Lion King and Pocahontas, which hadn’t interested me in the slightest, I moved away and grew up from them. (Don’t grow up, it’s a trap!)

But back on that trip to Disneyland Paris, I fell head over heels back in love with the Disney world. I still feel the same way about the movies I wasn’t fond of back then. But that doesn’t matter – and if you’re not a Disney film fan, it doesn’t matter to you either.

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After having many conversations over the years I have discovered that people just don’t know about the Disney Parks, and they’re in the same boat I was in back in 2012 before I made my first trip. So, I thought I’d demystify the parks for your reading pleasure. I’m going to give you a little education in the Disney parks and maybe help you understand how taking a magical trip to one of these places might be the best decision you could ever make.

The Locations

Let’s start with WHERE the parks are. There’s a bunch of Disneyland parks and only one Disney World – get that straight. If you’re speaking to a Disney park fanatic and you refer to the parks in Florida as Disneyland, you’re going to get a glare.

  • Disneyland California – the original Disney Park, opened in 1955
  • Walt Disney World Florida – next to open, in 1971
  • Tokyo Disneyland – opened 1983
  • Disneyland Paris (used to be called Euro Disney) – opened 1992
  • Hong Kong Disneyland – opened 2005
  • Shanghai Disneyland – opened 2011

I’ve only been to two of these locations, so my experience will obviously be focussed to those – Paris and Walt Disney World (WDW)

Disneyland Paris (DLP) and WDW are similar and very different. DLP consists of two parks – Disneyland (the one with the castle) and Hollywood Studios (focussed on the creation of film and animation), each with rides and attractions as well as shows, parades and fireworks. WDW has 4 parks and two water parks. It’s so vast that it’s basically a city of its own, with its own transport system. The parks here are

  • Magic Kingdom
  • Hollywood Studios
  • Epcot
  • Animal Kingdom

To give you an idea of the size of the place, the carpark for Magic Kingdom alone would fit the whole of Disneyland California inside it (125 acres – for a carpark!)

I know what you’re thinking – great, here’s some dull facts about a park I have no interest in going to…. So, I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of each park. You have the world of the internet at your fingertips for that and once you’ve read this, you can go and look up the answers to any burning questions you might have.

But let’s get started on what’s in the parks for you:

They’re not just for kids or girls

I don’t have children. I’ve never been to a Disney Park with a child. In fact, I feel like going with a child might dampen my experience. But that’s just my personal experience.

There’s a lot of walking involved – and some of the rides are just too big for kids. So, I’d rather go without, thank you very much!

The whole theming of the parks, the food, the drink, the speed in which I like to take it all in, just works for me. There are so many aspects of nature, water, fire, looking out over the lakes, the rides, waiting for parades, watching parades – all seem fairly adult to me, BUT you will feel like a child again. I swear the Disney parks are made for adults so they could feel and act like a child again and not have any kind of guilty feeling.

Rides

Each of the parks has rides – and they vary from location to location.

  • You’ve got dark rides (the ones where you sit in a little car and a track takes you around diorama-type scenes with music and special effects) These are usually suitable for kids and, at Disney, most often will take you around the storyline of a Disney film.
  • There are only a handful of extreme coasters at Disney parks. The majority are fast and quick, and sometimes themed to a Disney story but mostly just themed – for example Big Thunder Mountain is gold mine themed.
  • Thrill rides – these tend to be unique alternatives to rollercoasters. For example, The Tower of Terror, which is an amazing Twilight Zone themed ride, based inside an elevator.

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Parks

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  • Castle parks – the ones with the castle in them – tend to be princess and knight themed. They will also have wild west, futuristic, pirate, Arabian, and adventure theme in different areas. Music plays as you walk the streets, characters wander amongst guests (what they call the visitors) and smells are pumped into the walk ways.
  • Hollywood Studios – these parks bring in the creation of film, but also tend to include the Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel aspects of Disney. In Disneyland California, their second park is called DCA (Disney California Adventure) and this has an abundant Pixar area, with more being built as we speak.
  • Animal Kingdom in WDW – this is for all the animal lovers. A plush green expanse of a park which has real animals in its skies and plains. You can go on a real safari and see an abundance of animals roaming free, see monkeys swinging above you whilst wandering the park, and also ride some pretty gnarly rides (Everest is my favourite!) Theming leans towards African. Since I was last there they opened Pandora, based on the film Avatar. I haven’t seen the film, but I’m interested to immerse myself in the theming when I next visit.
  • Epcot in WDW (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) – This park is mostly known for Spaceship Earth (aka as the Golf Ball) and was historically known as the ‘boring’ park since it’s all about science and feels a little learny. But it also hosts some great festivals, most notably the Food and Wine festival. Epcot is home to the World Showcase with pavilions (areas) and food locations representing 11 countries from around the world.

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Each of these parks has rides, fireworks and most of them have parades. There’s something for every kind of person. You can get alcoholic beverages in all the parks, there are food locations of every type of palette. For the kids, characters roam the parks (perfect for those autograph books and fun pics!) and the theming is enough for those who recognise them from the Disney films but not too much for those not really into the Disney entertainment side of things.

Experience

The staff at the parks are there to make your visit magical – no matter what. They know all the answers to your questions and will accommodate you to the max.

Food

Oh, the food. Not only are there signature foods that you can pretty much only get in the parks (hello, Dole Whip and Citrus Swirl) but this isn’t all just typical theme park food. Yes, you can get your hotdog and fries on Main Street, but you can also get your chicken fried rice, funnel cake and all you can eat buffets. For more on the food at the Disney parks, I can’t recommend the Disney Food Blog enough. Plus, if you manage to book your WDW trip during the free Disney Dining Plan offer, all your food is basically free! And if you time that with the Epcot Food & Wine festival (I usually do!) then you’re laughing!

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Try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious!

Fireworks

If you’re a fan of fireworks, like me, then staying for the castle fireworks at your chosen park is a must. They seem to go on forever – and did you know that Disney is the single largest purchaser of fireworks in the US? They’re only second to the US Department of Defence on purchase of explosive devices – mind blown (geddit).

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Hotels

Assuming you’re staying on property (by that I mean in an officially licensed Disney hotel) you’re in for a treat. OP (on property) hotels are themed in so many ways, so you can choose which one which will suit you and your style. They go from all-out Disney castle theming, to wild west, to camping, to New Orleans, Hawaiian, plush Colonial-feel, cartoonish, artistic, golfy – you want it, you got it. And each of these hotels are vast. And you can visit them even if you’re not staying there. They have activities, and show films ‘under the stars’, and have shopping and sports courts. At Animal Kingdom Lodge in WDW you can even go on a safari around the hotel grounds.

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The Polynesian Hotel lobby at WDW is particularly special.

Shopping

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to shopping. Each of the Disney locations has a shopping ‘park’ which is separate from the actual park locations. In Disneyland Paris and California these are called Downtown Disney, and in WDW it’s called Disney Springs. These are basically leisure complexes, which you don’t need a park ticket to go to. There’s food, shopping (officially licensed Disney Parks merchandise can be bought here too, without the need for a Disney park ticket!), music, entertainment. There’s usually a bowling alley, a cinema and more often than not, these locations home a Rainforest Café. These areas are usually open later than the parks which means once they chuck you out, you can keep on going!

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So, have I convinced you yet?

The long and short of it is: if you like fun, you like being entertained, you don’t mind rides (I mean you can always go on It’s a Small World and the Teacups), you like to eat, you don’t mind shopping and you miss the feeling of being a child, then Disney Parks are for you. Plus, there’s the planning (oh my, the planning!) If you decide to visit Walt Disney World, the planning is a long-term effort and half the fun of going…. When you enter a Disney park, the rest of the world falls away. You feel lighter, you lose all of everything outside and you become a child again. It’s fully immersive – and EVERYONE feels the same. It really is the happiest place on Earth.

You can’t tell me I haven’t convinced you….. go on, do a little research into your chosen park and tell me I haven’t convinced you….

Food Challenge Recipe 18: Sweet & Sticky Tomato and Onion Bake

You’ll probably have noticed an unintentional theme in my last month or so’s recipes. I mostly eat vegetarian food, and a lot of it focusses on tomato and basil maybe with potato thrown in there.

I’m lactose intolerant so can’t eat dairy and my husband has Crohn’s meaning there are a few things that have to be omitted from his diet, including red meat. We never ate a lot of that anyway, so that wasn’t a problem, but I thought it worth mentioning, just in case you wondered why I rarely include meaty or cheesy recipes!

This week’s recipe is one I found whilst scooting through recipe books on Amazon. I don’t know if you’re aware, but sometimes they publish full recipes in the image section of the recipe book. I use this to gauge whether I think I’ll like what’s included. But on this occasion I liked a recipe so much, I screenshotted it, and that’s what this week’s recipe turned out to be! I’m rubbish so I can’t remember the name of the book. I’ve looked but I can’t find it. If I do I’ll update this post!

Anyway, this recipe was for 4 people but I cut it down by half and it was the perfect amount for 2.

You start off with preparing 250g of baby onions. I couldn’t find baby onions so I used the same amount of small shallots.

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To prepare them, you pop them into a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Then after about a minute, I pulled them out one by one with a slotted spoon and peeled the skins off. They just slipped right off! I’ve never prepared an onion in this way so I learned a new skill, and found it quite therapeutic!

I’d turned the oven to fan 190c already and lined a roasting tray with foil (for easier clean-up!) In hindsight I think, for my oven, 170c would have been a bit better.

I tumbled the peeled onions into the tray and then added 375g of cherry tomatoes and 375g of halved new potatoes.

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Then I drizzled about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil over the top and added salt and pepper, and gave it all a good mix.

This then went into the oven for an hour. You’ve got to stir it all around every 15 minutes to make sure the tomato juices get all up in every nook and cranny.

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After the hour was up, I added 200g drained and rinsed cannellini beans and a handful of fresh basil leaves and mixed it all together.

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At this point I turned the oven down to 170c as you can see the onions are already quite charred. Everything went back into the oven for 15 minutes more, and then it was served!

The recipe states to ‘make sure not to miss a drop of those juices’. There weren’t any juices in my pan, so I really believe the temperature of the oven had been too hot!

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Everything was cooked well, and you can still see the tomatoes have some moisture but if there had been some more moisture in the pan I think the beans would have been slightly more tender.

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I served this with some (probably too many) green beans, which added some clean greenness to the meal.

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This was a very good meal. The onions were sticky and caramelised, the tomatoes had deepened in flavour and basted the rest of the meal. The beans, though a little dry, added a texture and savouryness to the dish, and the potatoes soaked in all the lovely flavours from the rest. The basil added a great hit of fresh herby green.

I had thought we might want to add some balsamic glaze to this meal, but it wasn’t necessary. A simple, fresh and relatively healthy dish – we’ll be making this again (with only a tweak in oven temperature!)

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I give this recipe 8.5/10

Calligraphy Update: Module 1 Complete!

I’ve done it! I’ve completed workbook 1 of my learning calligraphy course and I’m loving it.

I feel like I have come on leaps and bounds since beginning this journey. If you haven’t read my last post all about learning calligraphy drills then head over.

So this module was learning minuscule letters (did you know minuscule letters began being called Lower Case letters, because that’s where Printers used to keep them… in the lower section of an actual case full of individual letters?) .

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Each week we would learn how to form the letters using the standard drill shapes we’d previously learned, and seeing how they would fit together to create actual letters.

And then we would practice practice practice. Every week I would go back and write the whole alphabet ‘so far’.

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I would do this from memory as much as I could, and then try to write words that only included the letters I’d learned so far! I haven’t learned how to link the letters properly yet, but I improvised where I needed to!

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Not only was I learning brush pen lettering, but I was able to use the skills I’d learned to write simple lettering too.

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Trying to fit it all on one page began to get harder, so I squidged it all in!

At the start of the process we were asked to write the whole alphabet out, ahead of learning how to form the letters properly, and not refer to any learning materials we already had. Then at the end write out what we knew the alphabet should look like, so we could compare.

Here’s mine!

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I’m very pleased with how I’ve improved, and obviously I’ll continue to practice! I am being inspired to create some exciting stuff, so I can only get better!

I’m really enjoying learning this new skill. The next module is majuscule letters (or Upper Case – these were kept in the upper part of the case by Printers….) so soon I’ll be able to write names properly (lol!)

Onwards and upwards!

Food Challenge Recipe 17: Simple, Quick Pasta Sauce

I’m going to be straight with you, I was really stumped for this week’s recipe. I had no inspiration and after spending 2 days on Pinterest I gave up. But Gary made a good point – the pasta sauce we usually buy (just a stir-in tomato and basil sauce) isn’t available in stores any more for some reason and we’re struggling to find a sauce we like.

So he found a recipe on the NHS website (did you know they had recipes?!) and it looked simple and quick so I thought I’d give it a go. Being from the NHS, the recipe had no salt or sugar in it and very little oil, so I adapted it a little so that it would actually potentially taste nice. Which is the point, right?

This was a recipe for 2 people’s worth of sauce.

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The only ingredients you need other than the pasta you’re going to put it on are:

  • 1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion chopped as finely as you can manage (for me that’s not very fine!)
  • 2 tsp of garlic infused olive oil
  • 1 tbsp double concentrate tomato puree
  • a sprinkle of Italian seasoning, to taste
  • pepper, salt and sugar to taste (sugar is really important to take away the acidity of the tinned tomatoes)

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All good recipes start with frying an onion. I fried this off in the garlic oil until they were soft (but should have probably left them in a little longer than I did…. I was feeling lazy!)

Then you add the tin of tomatoes, puree and herbs.

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I mixed this all together and allowed it to simmer for about 15 minutes. I tasted this at the start of this time, seasoned and added sugar. I also tasted again about 5 minutes before the end and tweaked it a little.

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In this time you can cook your pasta according to the packet.

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The finished sauce was okay. But it was just okay. It needed more sweetness, and I should have fried the onion down a little more. It was fresh flavoured and the herbs came through. But I still had that creaky feeling on my teeth from the acidity of the tomatoes. I feel like maybe some stock and a bit more sugar would have helped that.

The recipe suggested this might also make a good pizza sauce, and I can see how that would work. I appreciated the speed of this recipe and the fact that you would probably have all of these ingredients in your cupboard anyway.

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I give this recipe 5/10

Dinner at ENEKO Basque Kitchen & Bar

I consider myself something of a foodie. I have fairly high standards, and though I have some dietary stipulations with regards to what my body can and can’t tolerate, when I eat I want to eat great quality and interesting food.

I watch Masterchef every year. As a kid I would watch the Lloyd Grossman format of Masterchef and my whole family was convinced I would apply for the children’s version but never actually did. They still always thought I’d be a chef when I grew up.

Clearly that never happened. I think the kitchens are too hot and stressful, and I don’t enjoy being told what to do. Nevertheless, I still cook and I love to watch cooking shows to pick up tips and inspiration. And I LOVE to eat.

This year one of the first professional kitchen challenges was at ENEKO in Covent Garden. A Basque kitchen and grill that brought the flavours of traditional Spanish cooking to London and in a unique and original way. Bringing in the elements of fine dining, but still offering an accessible menu, I was totally impressed when I visited their website.

Down to some freakish fluke, our Sky box recorded that episode of Masterchef from BBC Wales HD an hour earlier than it was being shown to the rest of the country and so when we tuned in 10 minutes after the start and saw the restaurant, we were able to view the site and book a table before the site was bombarded with hits from the rest of the country. It must have been fate since an hour later we couldn’t get onto the site any more!

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We arrived at the location, positioned just opposite the Lyceum Theatre which is currently showing the Lion King. The weather that day had been glorious so people were on the streets outside the pubs and bars soaking in the last of the day’s sunshine before heading into the theatre.

We entered the restaurant and were greeted by the lovely maître d’ who took us to our table. Down the stairs and into a small but not too small dining area, with some cosy booths and floor tables all with candles. The lighting was dim but not too dark and it created a cosy but airy atmosphere. It was light enough to see your food and menu but dark enough to feel intimate.

From our table you could see into the kitchen and view the pass, which Gary and I both find fascinating.

Our waiter was really friendly, and explained the new menu, which had a ‘tapas’ feel based on small and larger plates. The idea is to order little bits to share, and go for differing sizes plates dependent on how hungry you are.

He took our drinks order. Having noticed only wines on the menu, and since I don’t really drink, I asked him what non-alcoholic beverages they had. I was told they could make any cocktail I wished to a non-alcoholic recipe and he asked what I wanted. I asked for something with an elderflower base and was told he would ask the bar to make me something up. The resulting drink was elderflower with soda and I think a hint of lemon. So refreshing and just what I wanted.

To eat, Gary decided he wanted two of the smaller plates and a side, and I went for one larger plate and a side.

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In the picture above you can see left at the back is Gary’s beetroot tartare, with soufflé potato and barbecue sauce. And on the right is his Traditional Talo. This was crispy corn talo (like tortilla chips), heritage tomatoes and basil emulsion. This also had other sauces and caviar type beads on with edible greens and flowers. I wish I knew exactly what was on it but the overall flavour was incredible. At the front is my tempura hake with red pepper sauce and a parsley emulsion.

We also ordered mashed potato which came with an apple compote, and grilled tenderstem broccoli which was topped with toasted hazelnuts.

So, what did we think of our mains?

The beetroot tartare was so unique. I only tasted a little and a little of the sauce. Being tartare it was cold, and the beetroot was finely chopped. The flavour was fresh and not overpowering. The sauce was powerful and also fresh – not too sweet but packed a punch.

The Talo was incredible. The fresh flavours of the tomato was brought out by the various sauces and vinegars.

My hake was incredible. The fish was light but meaty and so flavourful and the tempura was light and crisp. The pepper sauce was almost like a gravy underneath and I wish I knew how they made it! I detest parsley but actually liked it on this!

Gary was in love with the mash – it was so smooth and buttery, and though I would never usually consider paring apple compote with mash, when you did, it really cut through the creaminess and added another dimension.

My broccoli was lovely, but didn’t need the nuts on top. Still the whole thing was well-rounded, and I think we chose our menu rather well!

Then onto dessert.

We both decided to go for Apple Cake which came with cider sorbet.

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Less of a cake, and more what I’d describe as the fruit from a tarte tatin but without the pastry, this ‘cake’ was really delicious. Fine layers of apple were topped with a creme brulee type layer of sugar that had been torched to a cracking, sticky, burnt sugar lid. Topped with an incredible cider sorbet and then some very very thin caramel apple crisps. Along side was a cream inside fine green apple twists and around the edge was an INCREDIBLE green apple sauce. I could have eaten a whole bowl of that green apple goo.

Such an amazing end to the meal. This dish wasn’t too heavy, or sweet. It was very balanced and wonderful to eat!

Throughout the meal, the staff were aware of everything going on, attentive but not overbearing. Checking everyone had water, being aware of when people had finished eating, holding the door open for the bathroom when people enquired where it was (the bathrooms had the most incredible waterfall taps in the sinks!)

We were both beyond impressed. It was clear these people know how to invent dishes, cook them and host an amazing restaurant. I’m going to be keeping an eye on their menu as they tweak and add things, because I’m very interested in returning and tasting more.

If you want to see whether their food is something you’ll enjoy, visit their website and take a look at their menu. I found Eneko to be accessible both for food and atmosphere, and had a truly lovely evening there. We’ll be back!

Food Challenge Recipe 16: The Ultimate Veggie Burrito

For about a week before I made this recipe, I wanted to eat it. I pulled the bulk of the method from this recipe, and adapted it to my skill set and for the kind of flavours I like.

I love carbs and this recipe includes rice, potatoes and tortilla wraps, as well as beans and peppers. It was love at first sight! Burritos aren’t really a thing in the UK and I can’t say I had much to compare this to, but it was easy and delicious, and though my burrito wrapping needs some practice, I don’t mind eating one with a knife and fork until I’ve perfected that part!

Also, this part of the recipe (the filling) feeds 8 people, and I made that much so I would have leftovers for my lunches in the week.

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I started with 3 tablespoons of garlic infused oil in my largest pan, and popped a diced onion and 3 peppers, also diced.

Once these had cooked down a little and softened, I added 3 peeled and diced potatoes, 1 can of rinsed black beans, 500ml of vegetable stock, 85g of double concentrate tomato puree, 1 tsp of ground cumin and 1 tsp of smokey chipotle paste (add more or less dependent on your tastes and how hot the paste you have is). I then seasoned to taste once this was all mixed together.

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I brought this to the boil and then let it simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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You need to make sure, after this time, that the potatoes are fork tender, so if they’re not keep them simmering until they are.

When the filling was nearing the end of its cooking time, I started on the rice. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t cook rice, so I like to use the microwave rice packs. They’re so easy and the rice is perfect, so why not! I microwaved one pack according to the packet, and then heaped in 3 large spoonfuls of salsa from a jar. I mixed this together lightly, and presto the rice was done!

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By this point the filling was cooked, the liquid had boiled down nicely, and I tasted for seasoning and everything tasted good!

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To put this together, I laid a tortilla down, popped a thick line of filling down the middle, and then some rice to one side and some grated cheese to the other.

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My condiment of choice for these type of flavours is ketchup, but you choose whatever you want or no sauce at all. Guacamole would be lovely too. I added mayonnaise and ketchup and then tried to roll my burrito….

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I decided to leave my second one ‘open’ since my first collapsed so much, and I definitely ate this was a knife and fork. But either way, it was delicious!

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Despite the first one collapsing, the flavours were all wonderful and it was all very filling. Gary and I both agreed we could have managed one and a half instead of the two we ate!

This was a definite success, and I’ll be making this again!

I give this recipe 10/10!

This Week I Have Been Mostly….

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Hello from a glorious and sunshiny Buckinghamshire. I hope you’ve all been loving the weather we’ve recently been having?

I’m aware that by the time this post publishes, we could be sitting in jumpers and staring into the grey abyss, but as I write this I’m soaking in the sunshine, enjoying the cool breeze and sipping on an iced coffee.

I didn’t realise how much the weather affected me until a few years ago. Up until about 3 years ago my favourite season was always Autumn – not too cold but nice and crisp and you could wear cute jumpers and feel all cosy wrapped up and snuggly. And then I went to Florida and it broke me – in the best possible way. The sunshine, the humidity, the heat. Being able to whack on a summer dress and sandals and fly out the door. The wide open skies with only fluffy white clouds.

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Everyone is happy, everyone looks healthy. My skin was smooth and tanned, my mind was calm and I was getting so many important vitamins into my system. From that point I was a summer person. This year’s winter felt colder than ever. My joints hurt, everything felt dark and dull. Even this heat wave hasn’t been hot enough. I need at least 30c and humid…. I’m ruined!!

So needless to say I’ve been enjoying this taste of summer, and I can’t wait for it to return soon.

Other than soaking in the weather, I’ve been busy doing other things. At my job we celebrated 10 years of the business and all headed to Alton Towers.

It was my first time there, and since it was a chilly grey day we were able to ride every ride with no wait times on the majority. It was an epic day. My favourite rides were Oblivion, Thirteen and the new coaster The Wicker Man (UK’s first wooden rollercoaster in 20 years). Alton Towers is on a massive site. I was very impressed!

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I’ve also been cracking on with my calligraphy course. I’m nearing the end of the second module, learning minuscule (lower case) letters. I’m actually really impressed with how much I’m improving. This course really suits my learning style and I’m brimming with inspiration of how I can put it to use as I continue to learn. I’m waiting until I’ve learned both minuscule and majuscule letters (and possibly how to connect them!) before I start being too creative, though!

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We recently went off to London and to a restaurant we’d seen on Masterchef called Eneko, and had an amazing dinner there. I’m posting a separate review all about it, so keep an eye out for that.

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As you’ve no doubt seen, I’m still completing my 52 new recipes challenge and I’m really enjoying putting the effort in to discover and then make the recipes. If you want to see what I’ve made so far, you can do so by clicking this link. I’ve got a few ideas of recipes I want to try in the future but I’m actually enjoying looking up what I fancy on a weekly basis.

So, without a crystal ball I can’t predict what the weather will be like as you’re reading this post. I hope with all my heart it’s sunny. Even if it’s not in the mid to high 20’s like it has been, I hope it’s still sunshine!

Until next time…

Food Challenge Recipe 15: Baked Cheesy Gnocchi

I’d planned to try my hand at making fresh gnocchi a few weeks back, but when I got around to it the recipe I’d picked was clearly wrong and all the others I’d seen took way too long to make for the dinner I had planned.

When I saw this week’s recipe I really wanted to give it a go, but didn’t have the time (or inclination) to make the gnocchi myself, so I just bought the packets from the fresh pasta section of the supermarket. Much easier!

This is another vegetarian recipe, and can be made lactose/dairy free dependent on the choice of cheese you make. The original recipe was meant to use mozzarella but I didn’t want any dairy in my dish, and I don’t like the texture of mozzarella anyhow.

I tweaked this recipe in some parts, but loved the fact that I was making tomato sauce from scratch because that’s something I’ve never done before. I’d like to do it again and tweak it some more, maybe add some different herbs in. This recipe makes enough for 4/5 so we had leftovers for another meal in the week.

Here goes!:

I started by finely chopping 1 red onion and roughly chopping 6 large ripe tomatoes.

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I sweated down the onion in 2 tbsp of garlic olive oil. I didn’t add the garlic cloves that the recipe asked for (4!) and used garlic infused oil instead, which I much preferred and had the desired effect.

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The I added the tomatoes and cooked them down until they started to break down.

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Once they’d started to break down, I added 1/2 cup of passata, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp of sugar and salt and pepper to taste.

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I then let this simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

When this was nearing the end of its time cooking, I put the fan oven on to 200c and cooked the gnocchi according to the packet.

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See the little blighters floating to the top!

Once everything was cooked, I tasted the sauce to check it was seasoned correctly, removed the bay leaves and stirred in a handful of torn basil leaves.

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And then I stirred in the cooked gnocchi.

Then I topped it with grated cheese and popped it into the oven.

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After 10 minutes the cheese was bubbling and melted!

I topped it with some more fresh basil and it was ready to serve.

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Although not very photogenic, this meal was delicious! The gnocchi was soft and fluffy and the sauce was really deep with flavour. The cheese had managed to melt down into the gnocchi and added a little salt to the flavour too.

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I was really impressed with this dish and will definitely be making it again – and definitely be making the sauce again to try with other things!

I give this recipe 9.5/10

Smelly Witchcraft – The Magic of Scent Memory

We’ve all done it. We’ve opened up a bottle of sunscreen, got a whiff and been transported to a warm holiday destination. We can feel the sun on our skin, the breeze in our hair and almost feel the sand between our toes. It’s an incredible feeling to get from just a small sniff of a fragrance.

I have a very strong sense of smell and taste. It’s a hindrance at times, but wonderful at others. I never really was a fan of perfumes until a few years ago. I always wanted to wear them, but since my sense of smell is so strong I found most of them overpowering. Some even made me sweat because the scent was so acidic.

But yet, I still loved the idea of having a signature fragrance. Something people would smell and know it was me. Friends did this, and I would go out and buy the same perfume and it would never smell the same on me. And it’s scientifically proven that fragrances will meld with a person’s body chemistry and create a new version of that aroma. But I could never find the one that worked best on me.

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That was until I turned 19. One of my friends bought me Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue for my birthday. I have no idea how she managed to find a fragrance that was so me. Light, citrusy but not heavy, overpowering or too sweet. I love it. And at that time I had just started seeing my boyfriend (now husband). I didn’t wear the perfume too much, but every time I wore Light Blue, later on in my life, it instantly transported me to the time in which I was falling in love. Excitement, fun and endless possibility in a bottle. I wore this perfume on my wedding day and even now it reminds both me and my husband of the early days of our relationship. It’ll always be my favourite perfume.

New fragrances are being released all the time. I’ll go through some of my favourites in a little bit, but since there are so many, cosmetics brands are starting to try to stand out from the crowd, using chemical innovation rather than just creating a new smell. Glossier, for example, released their perfume ‘You’ which is supposed to have ‘humany’ notes and smell familiar from the offset. I personally didn’t really like the scent. I’m not even sure I like the idea of a perfume that’s ‘human’ scented…. Byredo is also about to release a perfume called Elevator Music, in collaboration with Off-White, they claim is almost so subtle it disappears even before it reaches contact with the wearer. Ben Gorham of Byredo says “the idea is that its wearer is noticed, and not the perfume”.

I’m not sure about that but I must say I do prefer a subtle scent over a garish cloud of chemical mist. I followed someone through the supermarket the other day who almost brought me out in allergies because her perfume was so strong.

Scent memory is so important to me, that I decided a few years ago I would buy a perfume for each holiday I went on, wear the scent during the trip and then I would forever be transported back to that place each time I wore it. My idea didn’t exactly go to plan since perfume bottles aren’t very travel friendly and I just didn’t wear perfumes when I was away (plus who has that kind of money?!). Instead I moved onto body sprays and scented skin care, and that seemed to work well.

I started off with coconut and pina colada scents since they’re so tropical and remind me of holidays anyway.

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Enter Coconut Passion from Victoria’s Secret. I wore this every day for about a year and a half. It’s so fresh, coconutty and reminds me of summer. But it also reminds me of Christmas in New York since this is where I discovered it. I love this stuff and could swim in it.

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This Body Shop fragrance, I believe, has gone the way of the do-do. Their Polynesian Island Tiaré came in a perfume and body spray option. I went for the body spray and it’s delightfully light but strong enough that you notice it. It smells like tropical islands but with enough floral notes to stop it being too sickly. It’s wonderful.

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I picked up this little glass travel spray of Bath and Body Works’ At The Beach perfume, last year in Florida. It does exactly what it says on the bottle, and transports you to a fresh, salty and tropical beach. I also bought the hand cream and body wash of this and used it whilst I was away. To me, it screams Florida.

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As does Tahiti Island Dream in hand cream form, which I bought the year before in Florida, and I used the shower gel during my trip too. This reminds me of carefree, sunny, hot days in the Disney parks. It’s honestly the most amazing scent, and I’m trying not to finish this since I couldn’t find it on my last trip. I need this scent in my life always!

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Another Bath and Body Works fragrance was this Snowflakes and Cashmere body spray. I didn’t use this until I returned from my trip to the States, and used it all throughout the Christmas season. I then moved onto a different scent (which I’ll come to next) but recently when I went back to use this in the last few weeks I was pleasantly surprised to discover it smells like Christmas to me now! I was instantly transported to Christmas-time and I loved it!

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And last but not least, is this Ariana Grande perfume called Sweet Like Candy. I love sweet fragrances, but not too sweet. And this is perfect. I was given this as a Christmas gift and I wore it pretty much every day until recently (I’ve been giving some of my spring/summer scents a go!) and I adore it. She’s just come out with a new one, Moonlight, too which smells amazing too! Sweet Like Candy isn’t too strong and it lasts beautifully on my skin, all throughout the day. It also mixes really nicely with other scents too.

So as the years went by, and I struggled to find my signature scent, I seem to have realised that I don’t actually want that. I want different scents that remind me of experiences and times in my life, rather than a scent that will remind other people of me. What’s more important to me is that incredible element of instant time travel you can get from smelling something that reminds you of a time past. I’ll always be afraid of over-using a scent and losing that. And I feel I have somewhat lost the power of the memory I received from smelling Light Blue. But at the same time, those memories will change, so if I don’t wear it from fear of losing the original scent memories, I won’t be able to create new ones.

I think I’ll always be amazed at how intricate our senses are. I’ll never understand the chemistry that occurs that allows us to experience scent memory, but I’m not going to knock it. I’m just going to keep sniffing those incredible scents and going on my own little time travel experience for as long as I possibly can.

Food Challenge Recipe 14: Home Made Dole Whip!

This week’s recipe is for those Disney Parks fans out there! Yes, I made Dole Whip at home!

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For those who aren’t Disney Park fanatics, a Dole Whip is a pineapple soft serve dessert. The one in the parks is completely Vegan. My version wasn’t but can be made easily dairy-free or vegan.

I used a recipe I found via The Trackers, which can be found here if you’d like to see it.

It contains just 5 ingredients, all of which I already had apart from the frozen pineapple. But I was able to pick it up from Costco, and it can be found in most supermarkets.

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So, I needed 2 cups of frozen pineapple

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1/4 cup of whatever milk you want to use (you can also use canned coconut milk for a pina colada flavour), 1/16 tsp of salt (I put a tiny sprinkle in because who can measure 1/16 of a tsp?), 2 tbsp of sugar (or a pinch of pure stevia extract) and 1 tbsp lemon juice.

I put all this into my blender.

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But my blender didn’t want to do the job. My blender, though expensive, has not once been up to the task I’ve asked of it. So I transferred everything into my BlendActive smoothie maker.

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With a few shakes and knocks of encouragement, the task was complete!

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I can’t knock the recipe. The flavour was so creamy and almost spot on compared with what you get in the parks. I’ll definitely be making this again.

This recipe made two large portions of whip, and as long as your blender is up to the task, I’d recommend any Dole Whip fan to give this a try!

I give this recipe 10/10!