This Week I Have Been Mostly….

this week i have been mostly

Another catch-up post? I know – this is a good thing. It means things have slowed down to the point, where I have some time to reflect on what I’ve been up to, rather than just go with it!

I have been LOVING this warmer weather. I really do feel like we’ve gone straight from Winter to Summer, leaving Spring behind. I also love thunder storms, and we’ve had a few corkers! I’m enjoying seeing all the plants coming up in my garden – so many different colours and shapes popping up out of nowhere – I have no idea what any of it is!

I’ve been busy planning things for my upcoming holiday to Florida, in September. We’ve booked in some really fun things, lots of places to eat, and my shopping list is well under way. We’re there for two weeks this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ve already filled each day!

I’ve also got my Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party costume sorted, for this year. Even though this isn’t a Disney World holiday (same as last year) we’re still going into the Magic Kingdom park for one evening, for the Halloween party.

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Can you guess who I’m going as? Hmm….

Aside from this, I’m still really enjoying my calligraphy course, and have started doing a few mini projects. I’m not pressurising myself to get them done in a certain time frame or in a certain way. I’m letting them happen organically, which works well for me.

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They mainly happen to be Disney themed, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone really….

I’ve also been adding art to my office walls. Again, I want this to happen organically, and we visited Homesense recently, and their selection of framed art was really great. We ended up getting three pictures for my office, and two for around the house. I happen to have chosen all illustrated pieces for my office, and these two look great on my wall.

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Lastly, I’ll just mention that the jewellery making masterclass I attended with the MK Bloggers group earlier in the year, was featured in the events supplement of Blogosphere Magazine this quarter. It was fun to see my face in print!

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So that’s it for now. I have a week off coming up, and some fun things planned for that, and stay tuned for more recipes too. Are you enjoying seeing my 2018 food challenge recipes each week? Let me know what your favourite recipes have been so far – I’d love to know!

Until next time….

Food Challenge Recipe 22: Soft Baked Pretzels

I hadn’t deliberately set out to make theme park food so much, during this challenge, but when you’ve got 52 recipes to make and you love eating park food, then why not?!

Gary and I decided we wanted to make pretzels a while back, and found a recipe (they’re all about the same anyway) but we saw it takes a long time to make them so decided to wait until we had a whole day free. Which was a good thing. Pretzels are HARD.

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You start with the dry ingredients

  • 600g of strong white flour (sifted)
  • 1 level tsp of fast acting yeast
  • 2 tbsp of soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

You mix this together. Then create a well and slowly add liquid (375ml warm water, with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil mixed into it)

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Mix this together to create a dough that’s not too dry and not too sticky. I had to add more flour as mine was way too sticky.

You knead this for 10 minutes by stretching it out and folding it back on itself.

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After the 10 minutes your dough should spring back when you push a finger into it.

The dough goes into an oil lined bowl and has to prove in a warm, dry place for 1-3 hours, or until it’s doubled in size.

We left ours near the airing cupboard, with clingfilm over top and a towel loosely wrapped around the bowl. After 2 hours it was almost spilling out of the bowl!

I lined two baking trays and set the oven to fan 210c.

Next the dough has to be split and shaped. I removed it onto a lightly floured surface and punched it down, and then knead lightly. I then divided it into 10 pieces which I covered whilst I shaped each piece. I think I should have cut it into 14 bits though, to make the pretzels a little thinner.

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To shape, you roll the piece into a long snake, no thicker than a pencil (I found this really hard because the dough kept springing back…)

Then you twist it around and stick the ends to the shape using a little water.

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Not the easiest task. Once they were all shaped, I had to leave them for 10-20 minutes (I think I went for 15!) sat on their tray and covered.

Next is a step I’m assured you must not miss out, because this is what gives the pretzels their shiny brown crust.

You bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a large pan, add 75g of bicarb and dissolve it. Then on barely a simmer, you carefully place up to 3 pretzels into the water for 30 seconds on each side, before removing to their tray.

This was really hard. The shapes fell apart on moving them, and then flipping them in the water. They looked like poops when they came out of the solution….

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Two trays of wet pretzel-ish shaped lumps later…. I sprinkled salt on top of one tray and left the other plain for sugar and cinnamon afterwards.

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The recipe said to bake for 8-10 minutes. My oven runs hot, so I always go for the shortest time and then test. The recipe also said to turn half way through, but this was impossible…..

After 8 minutes I could see the pretzels were mostly cooked, but still had a little raw dough in the very middles, so I carefully flipped them over as much as I could and left them back in the oven for about 2-4 minutes. I kept testing them until I got bored and decided they were cooked enough.

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As much as they had lost their shape somewhat in the dipping stage, they actually looked okay when they came out of the oven. Nice and brown, with a lovely crust.

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Somewhat thicker than we’d hoped though. We sprinkled the cinnamon sugar on top of the second batch and moved the whole lot to the cooling tray.

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We left them to mostly cool, and then both decided to try a sweet pretzel.

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The inside was soft and light, and it tasted like a pretzel! I was kind of impressed!

We left them to cool before putting them in tins, but here was where we discovered that these have absolutely NO shelf life. Even before we got them in the tins, the tops of them looked like they were wrinkling, almost curdling. It was so strange.

I took one to work the next day to eat as a snack, and it was definitely not the same as it had been the day before.

My verdict is, if you want a pretzel, pay the money for a pretzel. These are time-consuming and difficult and need a very specific level of skill to make them correctly. I don’t think we’ll be making them again, but I’m glad we tried even though they went weirdly bad very fast.

I give this recipe 6/10

Shock, Horror – It’s my May Favourites!

Yes, I know I haven’t done one of these in a LONG time, but I thought since I have been enjoying a couple of things this month and seen some awesome TV I wanted to share, I might as well do this!

I’ll start with a few beauty items I’ve been liking, all of which are re-purchases from some time or another, but I’m so glad I re bought them!

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I earned some Body Shop points I needed to use up, and being the skin-flint I am, I didn’t want to spend over the £5 I’d earned. So I decided to pick this shower gel up. When I was a kid I was given one of those Body Shop minis sets for Christmas, and all the items were Satsuma scented. I loved it but for some reason have never gone back to the scent. Now I have this shower gel, I’m loving being transported back to that time when I was a child. It’s the exact same smell, and it’s so fresh and citrusy, but also comforting! Perfect for the milder weather, too.

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I re purchased the NYX Dark Circle Concealer Corrector, since the pot I’d been using was about 2 years old and I wasn’t near finishing it. I figured it was a bit gross to keep using it, and at £7 it wasn’t going to break the bank to buy a new one. I’ve actually been wearing this exclusively under my eyes in the warmer weather. It covers my dark circles enough, but since I’m no longer wearing foundation it works well with the natural skin look and actually looks like I’m not wearing anything under my eyes. It creases ever so slightly, but barely and not every time I use it.

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I use the second lightest shade (I suggest you go one darker than you would normally for concealer) and the peach tones work against the shade of my under eyes perfectly.

My only gripe is that the pot is near impossible to get your fingers into if you have any kind of nail growth…. but we persevere!

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This Vaseline spray moisturiser is something I used to use a few years back, and is perfect for a quick top-up of moisture on the legs without the stickiness or heaviness of a cream moisturiser. I re-purchased it for this summer, since I’d noticed my legs were feeling a little dry when I jumped out of the bath. I love how easy this is to spray, rub in and go. The can works upside down too! The cap also has a convenient lock so you can pack it, without worrying it will spray in your bag. And it smells amazing!

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The Too Faced Peaches and Cream range launched last year in the US (around September) and was meant to launch here in November. When I was there last October I picked up a couple of bits from the range, and my primer decided to run out last week. Which was handy since the range actually only launched here this month, for some reason!

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The range is a Debenham’s exclusive at the moment, and our local store didn’t stock it but thankfully the Birmingham one does, so my husband picked this up for me when he was there for work! This Primed and Peachy primer is very expensive – £27 for a primer is crazy. But it’s so good I will pay it….. This primer is cooling, smoothing and mattifying. It keeps my skin matte all day, which is impressive as I am oily and usually need to blot part way through the day. The smell is nice, peach and sweet fig, and it comes out tinted but that pretty much goes away as soon as it’s smoothed on the skin.

The packaging is a tube with a pump, which means you can control how much you use, but also means you don’t know when it’s about to run out, which is annoying. I’ll be picking a backup of these up, when I’m in the US later in the year!

So, that’s all for the beauty bits, but I wanted to share a couple of TV shows I’ve enjoyed this month.

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If you enjoyed watching Girls then you’ll most likely enjoy SMILF. It’s an 8 episode series, each episode is about half an hour, and it’s very good. It’s a humorous drama about a young single mother and her life in Boston. The cast is great, the kid is an amazing actor and it’s just very interesting. It’s also fairly explicit so don’t watch it if you’re easily offended!

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The other show I’ve been really loving is Barry. Bill Hader has written, directed and stars in Barry about a hitman who discovers acting and becomes conflicted. This is dark and funny and I’m really enjoying watching it!

So that’s everything I wanted to share with you! I can’t guarantee another favourites post any time soon…. but who knows!

Food Challenge Recipe 21: Easy, Tasty, Stove-Top BBQ Chicken

G-Man and I love BBQ chicken but we’ve never made a BBQ sauce from scratch before, and when I saw this recipe and saw it was so simple, I knew I wanted to try it.

There are quite a few ingredients in this recipe, but they are all items you’d probably have or don’t mind stocking up to have in your store cupboard.

I made some potato wedges to go with this chicken. The recipe for the wedges was from the same place and told me to soak the chopped wedges in water for an hour before cooking. This step was totally unnecessary in my opinion.

I coated the wedges in spray oil, 1 tsp of garlic powder and 1 tsp of Italian seasoning. I cooked these at 200c (fan) for 40 minutes, turning half way.

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For the chicken, it couldn’t be easier. All the ingredients for the sauce go straight into a large deep frying pan, all together. Here’s what I added:

  • 3/4 cup of passata
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1.5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2.5 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch mustard powder

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Then I added 400g diced chicken breast, which was enough for two people, and one small diced red onion.

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I brought this to the boil and let it bubble on high for 20 minutes, turning the chicken over half way.

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The sauce will reduce down towards the end, so keep an eye on it, and if you need to add more water until the chicken is cooked, then do, but I didn’t need to.

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And that was it – so seriously easy!

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Not the most photogenic of dishes, but what it lacked in pretty, it gave in flavour!

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The wedges were tasty but I think they were a flavour too many with the chicken, so next time I’ll cook them with just salt and pepper on them to go with this.

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The chicken, however, was delicious. The sauce was exactly what I like from a BBQ sauce. Sweet, tangy, smokey but not too much of any of those. The tomato flavour wasn’t over powering, and it was seasoned perfectly! I was very impressed that something so simple was so full of flavour.

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I will definitely be making this again!

I give this recipe 10/10!

HayFever Tips and Tricks: Treating HeyFever Naturally with HayMax

I’ve mentioned previously that I suffer tremendously with HayFever. My season is typically mid March to end of September, meaning I’m probably allergic to all the different pollen and spore types that are flung into the air during these periods.

You can download various apps to track your symptoms, which also tell you what kind of pollen is about at that time, and as a result can give you more of an insight into which allergens you’re sensitive to.

There are loads of things you can do to help reduce your HayFever symptoms

  • Wash your bedding frequently, especially if your windows are open during high pollen periods.
  • Avoid exposure during peak pollen times of the day
  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses
  • Cover bedding and furniture during the day
  • Wash your face, hair and hands after being outside

Over the years I’ve been through all the different medications for HayFever. I’ve tried all the antihistamines to the point where there’s now only one that continues to work for me without side effects. What I’ve found works for me currently is an antihistamine each day, supplemented with nose spray and eye drops throughout the day. But still, I find once I’m up to my maximum dosage, I’m still suffering.

I also find I’m stuffy when I wake in the morning and if I’m honest I feel like I suffer from allergies throughout the winter too. But who wants to be dosed up all year around?

Enter HayMax. I was asked whether I wanted to try a few of HayMax’s allergy barrier balms. I’d seen them around but never tried them, so I said yes!

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They sent me a whole range of their products. Their award-winning balms are organic, drug free and depending on which one you pick up, contain natural oils.

Since they’re drug-free they can be used instead of or to supplement any other allergy meds you’re taking. Perfect for me when I’m up to dosage. It also means they’re suitable for kids and pregnant or breast-feeding women. You also get no side effects from the balms, so you don’t have to worry about getting drowsy – ideal when you’re driving or taking exams.

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To use HayMax you apply a little of the product around your nostrils and/or your orbital bones first thing in the morning, or whenever you need it, and can re-apply throughout the day. The balm traps allergens before they get into your body so you don’t get itchy or sneezy. Perfect!

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Let’s look at the range.

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Their Pure balm contains organic sunflower oil and beeswax. With no added fragrance or essential oils, this one is perfect for people who are sensitive to smells or have sensitive skin.

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HayMax Kids, which is new to the range, is suitable for children from birth, and is basically the same as the Pure product but the packaging is a little more kid friendly – so your child is more likely to entertain you applying it to their face! Every little helps!

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HayMax Lavender contains organic lavender essential oil. It’s calming properties make it fab for applying just before bedtime (I’ll come back to this in a moment) but it also claims to be helpful for people who snore and acts as an insect repellent.

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HayMax Frankincense contains organic frankincense essential oil, and is helpful for anxiety, coughing and asthma, which means it’s great for those whose asthma peaks at high pollen times.

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HayMax Aloe Vera contains organic aloe vera leaf juice powder and is soothing to the skin – so if you’ve been rubbing and blowing your nose a lot this could be your saviour!

Each of the pots contains 5ml of product and a little goes a LONG way. The pots are plastic and light meaning they’re easy to pop into your bag and use when needed.

I mentioned the lavender balm was great before bed. I’ve found when I apply it this way, I wake up less stuffy in the morning. In the warmer months I sleep with my windows open, and even though I change my sheets regularly, the mix of pollen and dust mites (urgh) which no doubt lurk on my bed sheets can do nothing but add to my congestion. The calming lavender scent and soothing balm is lovely to apply and I do feel like it’s making a difference.

I’ve been using the Pure balm on a daily basis when my HayFever is really bad and my medication isn’t cutting it. I apply it to the outside of my nostrils and also applied it before doing essential work in the garden and it helped reduce the after effects I always experience.

I’m pleased to have these little balms in my tool kit – they’re a saviour when I’m at my maximum dosage and really add a little bit of comfort depending on the scent I pick on that day.

If you’re suffering from HayFever and want to go down the natural route, or you’re needing something to supplement your current HayFever tool kit, look no further.

You can pick up HayMax at pharmacies such as Boots and health stores like Holland and Barrett for around £7 per balm.

HayMax sent me these samples for review, free of charge, in return for an honest review which I have provided. 

A Romantic Getaway to Chicheley Hall

I love my new home. Having been in it less than a year, there’s nothing I like more than to soak in the air and atmosphere I’ve created. But from time to time, I feel it’s important to get away, even if it’s to somewhere pretty close to home, so you can relax and enjoy a slower pace.

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Enter Chicheley Hall. When I was asked whether I’d like to spend a night away at Chichely Hall, I’ll be honest, I’d no idea where it was. It’s actually incredibly close to the office I work in, and located in 80 acres of stunning Buckinghamshire countryside close to Milton Keynes and the M1.

Offering 48 individually furnished bedrooms, this Grade I listed Georgian mansion oozes British history, but also offers comfort and beauty.

We arrived just after 3pm, eager to start our relaxing, romantic night away. Having watched the Royal Wedding only hours before, we were reminiscing about our own wedding almost twelve years prior, at a manor house in Hatfield (which sadly no longer hosts weddings). The feel of Chicheley Hall only helped to bring these memories back. As an amazing wedding location, Chicheley Hall would have definitely been on the wishlist of locations, had I been planning a wedding now.

Nevertheless, we felt incredibly lucky to be told we would be staying in the Bridal Suite during our stay.

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The Blackett room, named after Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1948 (all of the rooms are named after notable scientists) was found on the top floor, down a corridor, through another private door and across from its own spiral staircase.

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A huge super-king bed, comfy chairs and beautiful windows welcomed us. The views from this corner room of the Hall grounds were breathtaking.

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There were so many touches in this room, which screamed history; the wardrobe door:

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Inside there was a tea-making tray, teas, coffees, biscuits, iron and ironing board, hairdryer, safe, bathroom and slippers (everything you need)

The carvings above the bed:

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and other touches like stunning mirrors and a huge fireplace.

The bathroom was in keeping with the room but lovely and modern

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And offered another lovely view

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Once we’d unpacked, we were eager to get outside, enjoy the weather and have a look over the grounds.

Chicheley Hall is steeped in history. Built between 1720 and 1724 for Sir John Chester, it is regarded as one of the finest examples of early 18th Century architecture in the country. It’s now home to the Royal Society, which has been at the heart of scientific discovery for over 300 years, and whose fellows include Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. During World War II the house was requisitioned and used by the Special Operations Executive. A small-scale version of the bouncing Bomb was tested on the lake. With this much history coming from one small space, we wanted to soak it all in!

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On the first floor, after descending our spiral staircase, we saw a tea and coffee bench, where I assume you can help yourself to refreshments as you enjoy the Hall and grounds. The large staircase to the ground floor screams out for a bride and a long train to swish all the way down. A stunning tear-drop chandelier hung from ceiling to floor and pillar candles lined the stairs.

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Out the backdoor and we were greeted by a stunning path and topiaries, with a lovely sundial at the end.

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Lakes, complete with swan and geese, a couple of amazing old trees, so tall and old no photo could do them justice and some amazing colours from the various flowering plants – put together with the stunning weather – we were in our element.

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The grounds were kept immaculately. Guests were having afternoon tea on the lawn, and we occasionally heard the cry of George the resident peacock, though I didn’t get a glimpse of him during our visit.

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We worked out our room was the four corner windows on the top floor.

And then it was time for dinner.

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The small, and wonderfully furnished dining room was light and airy. A lovely and traditionally British menu was offered.

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I started with a warm Mediterranean vegetable and feta tart, served with a basil vinaigrette and rocket salad. This was lovely, and the flavours complemented each other perfectly. It was also just the right size.

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Next I had beer-battered haddock, with chips and mushy peas. The fish was lovely and the batter light, but the star of the dish was the chips. They were epic, cooked wonderfully and seasoned just right. I could have eaten another plate of them!

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For dessert I chose the tarte au citron, which was lovely, but very rich so I couldn’t eat the whole thing! I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I’m glad I gave this a try.

The dinner service was excellent, attentive and brisk. Our waitress was really lovely and made sure we had everything we needed.

After dinner we decided to take in more of the room, have a relaxing bath and watch some Netflix on our iPad.

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The next morning we awoke bright and early. That’s the only downside of having a corner room – so much window and so much light as a result. The gardens were stunning in the hazy morning light, promising another beautiful day. And what a way to bring in the morning than seeing those views!

Breakfast was a self-service affair, and I have to say it was one of the most impressive breakfast buffet turn outs I’ve experienced. The cooked breakfast options were great and plentiful. All well-cooked and very delicious. As well as cooked breakfast options were pastries, bread for toast, cereals, cheese and cold meat. Juices were available too, coffee (damn fine) and tea was made to order and brought to your table.

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I’m a full-English kind of girl so I chose my fill from the chafing dishes.

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Before we checked out of our room, we had a little peek into the library, adjacent to the dining room. All the books we spotted on our visit were about science, so if you were that way inclined you could get your brain cells ticking over with a quiet spot of reading in this room. So tranquil!

Our visit to Chicheley Hall was so relaxing. The staff were welcoming and friendly, and every guest we encountered was relaxed, slow-paced, and seemingly enjoying their time away from the hustle and bustle. Being so close to Milton Keynes, this is a perfect location to lay your head if you’re visiting the area for a concert, event, or convention. Its surroundings offer the perfect home away from home, and it reminded me how lucky I am to live in Bucks so close to both urban and rural life.

I can aslo see how it would also make an amazing and welcoming location for your small wedding, whether it be the whole ceremony and reception, or just the reception. The sweeping staircase, decor and grounds would make for stunning photos too! Maybe I’ll think about a vow renewal!

I was honoured to be welcomed to Chicheley Hall to experience such a relaxing and comfortable break away from it all. Both Gary and I felt tremendously refreshed after our night away, and so glad we know this treasure is there!

For more information on Chicheley Hall, its history, accommodation and weddings, visit their website.

Thank you to Chicheley Hall, who invited us to stay with them for a complimentary stay in exchange for an honest review. 

Food Challenge Recipe 20: One Pot Vegetarian Chilli Mac

This week’s recipe is another Mexican inspired one. I think this warmer weather has me thinking of hotter climates all over the world and all I want is spice and punchy flavour!

I found this recipe on Pinterest and I’ve tweaked it somewhat so that it tastes the way I like it. This recipe serves 3 people and is fairly filling. It required using some frozen chopped veg which I’d never used before, and tomato soup instead of passata to add depth.

I found a tomato and herb soup which didn’t have any dairy in, so I used this. It was 100ml less liquid than the recipe required so I made up the rest by adding to the required water volume.

Here’s what I did!

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I took 70g of frozen diced onion, 125g of sliced frozen mixed peppers and 4 medium mushrooms which had been diced, and soften them in a pan in some already warm olive oil. The recipe also called for 1/2 a mild chilli, diced. I can’t handle too much heat so I left this out.

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Once softened I added 120g of canned (rinsed) kidney beans, 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp mild chilli powder and 1/4 tsp of ground cumin. I also added salt and pepper (but not too much because this could be tweaked later on) I stirred this around and then added 400ml of tomato soup and 250ml of water.

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I mixed this up and then added 180g of dry macaroni. You can use whichever pasta you’d like, but I just so happened to have some macaroni in my cupboard. I brought this to a simmer and let it cook for 15 mins, stirring regularly.

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At about 5 minutes before the end of cooking, I tasted the liquid and decided it needed more salt and 1 tsp of sugar to break the acidity. I also decided it needed a bit more depth and asked Gary to choose a BBQ sauce from his vast collection. I needed one which wasn’t too sweet, was a little vinegary and with a bit of smoke. I added 1.5 tbsp (approx) of this, gave it a stir and the flavour was just right.

At 15 minutes, the macaroni wasn’t cooked yet so I gave it some more time, testing it in 5 minutes increments and adding a little boiling water if I felt it was getting to dry. This macaroni seems to always need 10 minutes more cooking time when cooking it within a one pot dish, so I was prepared for this, but your pasta might cook faster.

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When I was happy with the ‘bite’ of the pasta, it was time to serve!

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I served mine with some grated lactose-free mature cheddar, but it would be equally nice with snipped spring onions or herbs on top.

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This was a super quick and really easy, hearty meal to cook. It even tasted great when I had the leftovers for lunch during the week.

I think I’ll be making this again!

I give this recipe 8.5/10

This Week I Have Been Mostly….

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I’ll be honest – this week I have been mostly TIRED! The past heatwave created a ‘pollen bomb’ and so many people have been suffering with hay fever symptoms despite not having normally suffered.

As a big sufferer of hay fever I have been struggling BIG TIME and after mowing my lawn a couple of weekends ago, it seems to have been a downwards spiral. I’ve been suffering with a sinus infection which is causing a lot of pain, headaches and I just want to keep my eyes shut all the time to relieve the pressure.

Despite this, I’ve still been busy at work and at home. The recent bank holiday was glorious. It was amazing to soak in the sunshine and kick off what seems to be some more settled spring-like weather. I saw family and spent time on hobbies and just relaxed a little.

The following weekend I was sent to a newly opened local Escape Room to cover for About Milton Keynes, a local information website. You can read my article here, and see how I got on! I’d never done an Escape Room before, but I’m certain I’ll be trying out more in the near future!

I also got to spend some time with some good friends, and continue planning our impending trip to Florida in just 4 months time. It’s getting nearer and we’re super excited. With some great things planned, places to visit, and so much new stuff. There’s never enough time to do everything in Orlando, hence the multiple visits. I swear you could live there and still visit somewhere new each week.

Between now and then, we have tonnes of exciting things planned, overnight stays, visits to London, concerts and events to attend. I’m sure the time will just whizz past and before we know it, it’ll be Christmas again (OMG!)

So that’s what I’ve been up to in the past week or so…. I’m now off to tend to my poor painful head…. maybe a nap is in order!

Food Challenge Recipe 19: Fresh Orange Sorbet

When I started this challenge I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just making recipes for me, but also making recipes Gary would like and giving us both the opportunity to expand our cooking skills.

Orange sorbet has been one of his favourites since the 80’s when this was something you could get everywhere – it was the sorbet flavour of choice! But now you really can’t find it. More often than not it’ll be mango, raspberry or lemon sorbet, and if you do find orange, it’s usually blood orange which doesn’t taste the same.

This year we took the plunge and bought a very reasonably priced ice cream maker. The idea being he could make his sorbet and since I’m unable to eat standard dairy ice cream, I could also use it to try my hand at making dairy-free ice creams!

So to start we decided to give orange sorbet a try. There are a tonne of orange sorbet recipes, all differing, but being the same all at once. The amount of juice and sugar you need are the most common variants, but we found a recipe that looked fairly good and decided to go with that one.

To start with, you need to make sure that if you’re using an ice cream maker with a freezer bowl, you’ve put it in the freezer for the relevant amount of time ahead of beginning your recipe. Then you need to make a sugar syrup.

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You bring 1 cup of water (250ml) and 1/2 cup (125ml) sugar to the boil and then let it simmer low for 20 minutes.

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You can tell the syrup is done when the fluidity of the liquid is thicker than water and it lightly coats the back of a metal teaspoon.

Then you take it off the heat and let it cool. We took this opportunity to juice the oranges at this point, whilst the sugar syrup was cooling.

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We had a net of 7 oranges so we juiced them all. We needed 2 cups (500ml) of juice for this recipe, so after juicing all the oranges we had a small glass of juice left over to drink. Yummy!

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By this point, the syrup was room temperature, so we poured the juice into the syrup and gave it a quick whisk together.

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This then went into the fridge for an hour to chill. After the hour we took it out, assembled the ice cream maker and set it to work!

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This churned for 30 minutes, which may have been a bit too long, but we’re still learning.

What came out of the machine was more like a granita than a sorbet.

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But the taste was epic. Essentially this is frozen, sweetened orange juice. But it was incredible. So much so that the whole of the following day at work I was craving another bowl of the stuff!

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This was a good, fairly simple recipe to follow and the resulting flavours were really great. We need to try this again but churn the mixture for about 5 minutes less.

This will be great to try again in the heat of the summer, and I’m eager to try different flavours too!

I give this recipe 8/10

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….