I’m having a Sriracha moment. Or maybe it’s a Sriracha life. I put the stuff on anything and everything, and it’s bloody delicious. I had some rice left over from cooking Cashew Chicken the other night, and what with a hot dinner being far superior to a lowly sandwich or salad, I took it upon myself to spice it up.
I’m often in a rush at lunch time. If I’m lucky, the twins will be napping, but more often than not I’m trying to grab a few minutes between feeds and nappy changes, all while keeping a keen eye on the bouncer and the Jumperoo. Ten minutes is often all I have, so I try to be resourceful. This recipe can use any leftover rice you have, along with any stray vegetables sitting woefully in the crisper drawer. Today, I had half an onion, a few wrinkly chillies, a can of sweetcorn and a couple of limp spring onions. You can throw anything in there – some grated carrot, a bell pepper or a handful of mushrooms if you have them lying around.
It takes no time at all, it’s crunchy, spicy, sweet and satisfying, and it only uses a wok – or if you haven’t got one, a large frying pan will do it.
Sriracha Egg Fried Rice
A quick and delicious lunch dish, perfect for those in search of something spicy and warming to fuel their afternoon.
Chop your veg. I recommend slicing your half an onion into nice, thick wedges - the heat of the wok means it chars around the edges and cooks super quickly while still keeping a bit of its bite.
Heat your wok until it smokes, then add about 3 tbsp of a flavourless oil - I used veg. Once the oil is hot, throw in your onion.
Leave the onion to char, only moving it after a few minutes have passed. Once it starts to brown and soften, add the chopped chilli and sweetcorn and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
Dump in the cold rice and stir. Leave it to cook on full heat without moving it around in the pan - that way you'll get brown, crispy bits as well as soft, plump grains.
After another 2 minutes, add around 3 tbsp of soy sauce and the same again of Sriracha. Mix in well and try it, add more to taste.
Beat the eggs. Tilt the wok towards you and clear a space to pour your eggs. Once you add them, the edges should start to solidify quickly. Leave for 30 seconds to make sure the bottom is cooked, then gently fold it in on itself, as if you were scrambling eggs.
Once the outsides are cooked through, break up the egg. Level your wok again and fold the egg through the rice mixture. Stand the wok on the heat and stir for another 1-2 minutes to combine.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle with chopped parsley (or coriander if you prefer) and sliced spring onions.
Add to bowls and zigzag with more Sriracha. Serve and enjoy.
By Lil Dix
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
It’s really important to use cooked and cooled rice for this – for some reason it just doesn’t work if you cook the rice fresh (and that kinda defeats the point, anyhow). If you have it in the fridge you could shred and add cooked chicken, sliced sausage or even strips of beef to this if you wanted. Plump little pink shrimps would work too, or squid rings if you’re fancy. I prefer the ease of this veggie version and I love that it basically clears my kitchen out any sorry looking leftovers.
I’ll be back with more of these 10 minute lunches in the future, partly cuz I’ve bet myself I can go a whole month without resorting to a sad sandwich. Standing at the stove with the sunlight flooding in through the side window, it feels like there’s no better way than this to prep for the afternoon ahead. What do you eat for lunch?
I knew that having kids would unleash the arts and crafts lover inside me. Pasta shapes, glitter glue, pipe cleaners, PVA – I love all that stuff. Give me some yarn to make a pompom and I’m in heaven. I told you all this sensory stuff was as much for my benefit as the twins’ a couple of weeks ago and I really meant it.
So, while I got out and about to classes pretty early after the babies were born (so important in keeping me sane!), I missed a spot at the local Baby Sensory class because it’s always in such high demand and of course we needed two spaces. The course was on my hit list during pregnancy thanks to my sister’s recommendation but our local area is mummy central so you gotta be quick off the mark. We did eventually start in July, so all was not lost, but in the meantime I wanted to do a bit of sensory stuff at home with the girls to get them started. I put these boxes together at 8 weeks, having seen some similar ones on Pinterest and having read all about the benefits in the only parenting book I bothered with - The Gentle Parenting Book: How to raise calmer, happier children from birth to seven by Sarah Ockwell-Smith.
Treasure Boxes (often called baskets) are just simple containers filled lots of objects for little ones to feel and explore. Apparently a treasure box with some natural bits in is best, because while bright, clashing colours and manmade textures are stimulating, studies say that babies and small children actually respond better to and learn more from natural materials and muted colours. From my research, I concluded that mix of everyday objects and a few things a little out of the ordinary should do the trick nicely.
In simple terms, kids learn through their senses, so treasure boxes provide a wonderland of things to look at, feel, smell, listen to and taste. The stimulation they get from what they play with helps them make connections in their brain and gives them an opportunity to learn and remember, applying what they’ve learnt to their experiences going forward. Studies say that watching a baby play with a treasure box gives us an insight into how their physical, cognitive, emotional and communication skills are developing. Putting items in twos and threes is also proven to help develop numeracy skills. It’s advised that as adults we leave them to it, so when the girls and I get these out, I just offer help when it’s needed – that way they can learn to rely on their instincts instead of being spoonfed.
- a handful of coloured feathers
- a small measuring spoon
- a cork
- half a sponge
- a pompom
- a wooden dinosaur
- pasta shapes
- a foam “N”
- two pipe cleaners – one glittery, one plain
- a pebble from the beach where Grandma & Gramps live
- a string of pompoms
- an interesting ribbon from a gift
- a handful of coloured feathers
- a measuring spoon
- a cork
- half a sponge
- a pompom
- a wooden dinosaur
- pasta shapes
- a foam “A”
- two pipe cleaners – one glittery, one plain
- a shell from the beach Grandma & Gramps live
- a string of pompoms
- an interesting ribbon from a gift
Our boxes are Wham Boxes from Staples (£5.29 for 4) and the initial letter stickers for the box lids were found by the checkout in Topshop!
For me, it was important that the boxes I made for Nina and Ada were slightly different. We try never to match the girls, as we’re keen to help them develop their own personalities and independence as they get older (especially now most school separate twins into different classes from Reception). Where possible I always pick different colours for them, and if possible a different design (like with the dinos). When the twins play with these together they interact with each other and borrow items from each other’s boxes too – double the fun. It’s great to watch them discovering each other as well as the stuff in the boxes!
Examples of other stuff you could add to your box:
- pine cones
- cloth or fabric scraps
- bells or shakers
- hair rollers
- rubber duck
and loads more… get creative! I find it’s best to get these out when the girls are fed and rested, to maximise the time they spend playing. Obviously some of the bits are small so they should never play with these unsupervised either. If you get boxes which fasten tightly, they’re great to travel with too and can provide up to about an hour of quiet time when you’re out and about.
What do think? Fancy giving it a go? Let me know how you get on in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. Happy playing!
Weirdly, I’ve started doing a bit more baking lately. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a particularly competent baker. I don’t really have the patience needed for really great results, but I spend a lot of time at home these days and it’s a nice thing to do to pass the time.
Now that the newborn fog has finally cleared and I’m feeling a little bit more “me” again, we’ve been trying to get back on track with meal planning and cooking. This is mainly on my part, Matt loves it and needs no motivation, but I find it hard to think of something new and exciting to make everyday without a bit of forward planning. Buying ingredients for one bake a week with our regular shop means we’ve always got a sweet treat to hand if we want one, and it’s also a great time filler for a dreary afternoon.
Baking is actually a really fun activity for the girls too - I usually sit them in their bumbo seat or lie them on the kitchen table facing me, giving them a little of each ingredient as I go. They just pat their hands in it, get to know the texture and maybe give it a taste (no raw eggs, obvs). It’s fun for them, and educational, and as parents I guess we have a pretty laid back attitude towards weaning anyway so we don’t mind if they give any of it a little try. We’re planning to start Baby Lead Weaning in a few weeks when the girls hit six months, and I think it’s important to get them feeling enthusiastic about food as early as possible.
Tray bakes are always a good option for me because there’s little to no pressure (minimal rising, very few fancy techniques to master, just mix it all up and shove it in the oven etc). Over the past few months I’ve made rocky road, my Fail Safe Blondies and flapjacks. Yesterday was the turn of the Pretzel Chocolate Chip Tray Bake. They’re a nice sweet and salty treat and you can cut the pieces as big or as small as you like. Plus the recipe is customisable so you can add all your favourite extras! I’d like to try it with bigger chunks of chocolate and maybe some mini marshmallows for a s’mores-esque vibe.
I basically only use Le Creuset bakeware these days *hair flip*. Because I’m no aficionado, I find I only use a few tins anyway, so I’d rather spend money and get quality in return. So far I’ve got my excellent 9×9″ Square Cake Tin (£20) which I used for these, and I have my Kugelhopf (£30) for cakes, as well as mousses and jellies. Next I think I’ll replace my simple round Sandwich/Sponge Tins, then my loaf tin and my muffin tin and I’ll be pretty much set. The Afternoon Tea Set (£78.40 down from £112) is actually really good value and currently on sale, so that’s worth checking out. I love the Le Creuset bakeware because it’s thick and sturdy, plus it’s really easy to clean. I promise they’re not sponsoring this, as always I just love them!
175g Dark Chocolate Chips, split into one 100g and one 75g portion
100g White Chocolate Chips
60g Salted Pretzels, in 2 x 30g portions (I used Penn State Pretzels - deelish!)
Preheat your oven to 180ºc or if you're using Fan, go for 160.
Grease a square baking tray (mine's 9x9") and line it with greaseproof paper ready for the filling.
Pour your melted butter into a medium sized bowl (or a mixer, if you have one) and stir in the Muscovado and caster sugar until combined.
Next, add the eggs one at a time, then split the vanilla pod and scrape out its insides. Add it to the bowl and mix in.
Now it's time for the dry ingredients. Stir in the flour, followed by the salt until it's just combined. Don't over-mix.
Follow that with any extras you might like - I used 100g each of dark and white chocolate chips, along with the first 30g of salted pretzels, which I snapped into smaller pieces. Mix well until they're well distributed.
Scrape the batter into the tin (it'll be super thick - almost like caramel!), smooth it and press the remaining 30g of pretzels into the surface. Bake for 25 minutes or until a knife poked into the middle comes out clean.
While it cools, melt the remaining 75g of chocolate chips over a bain marie or in the microwave until smooth. When the bake is completely cool, drizzle over the melted chocolate with a spoon.
Wait for the chocolate to set and cut into 16 squares (or however many you fancy!). Store in a tin for up to 5 days.
I waited until nap time and tucked into two of these with a steaming cup of tea and Lunch Lady – it’s an awesome blog and print magazine all about food and family. It’s packed with fab photography and great recipes, I love it. In Leeds, I buy my copy from Colours May Vary.
Giving these a go? Let me know how it goes! You can reach me easily down in the comments, or over on Twitter or Instagram at @whiptuntilfluffy. Happy baking!
What’s better than a Sunday morning brunch? Nothing, that’s what! Who doesn’t love that lazy and slightly fuzzy rise followed by plentiful portions and something strong to wash it all down? When it comes to the menu I’m not exclusively a pancake girl, a Prosecco guzzler or a granola fan, because for me variety is the spice of err… brunch. I love it all. Brunch is my bae. I just love brunch.
Recently, mostly during Leeds Indie Food back in May, I’ve been blessed to enjoy some seriously delicious late morning meals. Mostly with Jen, my fun-loving brunch companion. Now I’ve got the little ones, I find a brunch break is a super convenient way to exercise my social skills. It’s much easier to leave them with their dad or my mother in law during the day because bedtime is a two man job, and I still get to drink! Wahey!
TO DIE FOR Cheddar Bacon Pancakes with Chipotle Maple Syrup, Green Chilli Mac n Cheese and Black Sauce Hot Wings at the Rita’s pop-up at Ox Club during #LIF16 – with a glass of bubbly, of course.
Over the past few months we’ve snaffled a selection of exciting, indulgent plates at the Rita’s Ox Club pop-up, and we ate entirely plant-based at Izy Hossack and Noisette Bakehouse‘s In Defence of Plants (which Emma wrote about it full here). Unfortunately I missed out on BundoBrunch which saddens me greatly as Bundobust and Laynes Espresso are two of my ultimate faves. Last year, during #LIF15, I was lucky enough to get a spot at The Man Behind The Curtain x Laynes Espresso early sitting, where I ate, amongst other dishes, a “steak tartare” of watermelon with a mango “egg yolk” alongside a menu of matched coffees. It was easily one of the most creative dining experiences I’ve had - who said breakfast foods had to revolve around bacon, eh? … though in fairness I do love bacon.
Oat pancakes, dill and potato waffles, granola, fruit salad and two Cherry Shrub fizzes at In Defense of Plants by Noisette Bakehouse and Izy Hossack at Sheaf Street Cafeteria during #LIF16
Nowadays if you’ve got yourself a hankering for a little avo on toast, you’ve never gotta look far. What a time to be alive! Here are the best spots in Leeds for a late morning pick-me-up:
Coffee and a Bloody Mary at Ox Club
Ox Club – Anywhere you can order steak before lunchtime is a winner in my book. Try the Steak & Cheddar Eggs, with meat charred on the custom 9ft grill that sits in the middle of their open kitchen, or go for Korean Fried Chicken with kimchi and wild rice. I fully endorse both, as well as the Corn Beef & Kale Hash and the Ricotta Pancakes. Don’t forget a Bloody Mary either. The simple decor is bright and breezy – a top setting to blow out the cobwebs from the night before, and afterwards you can pop upstairs to the roof terrace!
Those pancakes tho, at The Greedy Pig
The Greedy Pig - I’ve written about this gem before and I need to get back there asap. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure (a double buggy will do that to you) but they’ve since added multiple new strings to their bow with their evening service The Swine That Dines going strong and a whole new brunch menu. No better pancakes in the city (served with fried chicken – hubba hubba), plus a house black pudding that’ll knock your socks off. That house Merguez looks pretty great too… Not open on Sunday, so save your visit for a sneaky mid-week treat.
Deeelish seasonal pancakes at House of Koko
Killer Avo on Toast with plenty of chillies, plus a smoked salmon bagel at House of Koko
House of Koko – Tucked away at the heart of Chapel Allerton, House of Koko is a relatively new addition to the Leeds food and drink scene but man has it made its presence known. Try the avocado on toast, in its two different guises – the first piled high with chillies and pine nuts, the second with lemon, feta and spinach. Or go for any of the three options on their pancake menu, personally I like the classic with berries. Dip into their impressive tea menu for an unusual brew while you’re at it.
Perfection on a plate – Avocado on sourdough with lemon and sumac at Laynes Espresso
Laynes Espresso - When I’m going solo, Laynes is the brunch for me. Now serving at their original site on New Station Street, having handed the Sheaf Street Cafeteria reins over to The Grub & Grog Shop, it’s my favourite spot in town for a relaxed start to the day. Another top quality avocado on sourdough, this time with lemon and sumac, or there’s braised beans or one of the regularly changing seasonal specials. Basically, if you like Kasundi and duck eggs, you probably won’t leave disappointed. Served up alongside their top quality coffee too, obvs.
Coping with babies in a heatwave is no fun. This week has consisted of relentlessly trying to keep one room as a “cool zone” by blocking out all the glorious sunshine and basically sitting in the dark half of the day. Then there’s worrying about whether they’ve got too many layers on while you’re out and about, and then come bedtime glaring at the sad face on the Gro Egg like it’s your worst enemy. I’ve spent most of this week wishing the hot weather would just do one and praying for that familiar overcast sky with its intermittent drizzle to make its comeback.
We stayed in on Wednesday so I started thinking about some activities that could keep the girls cool. Going outside isn’t really an option for us – our garden is an overgrown, gravelly, concrete mess, plus there’s coating the babies in suncream to worry about – so we took to our conservatory with the fan on full and the back door open. The girls have never been swimming, generally because I can’t do a swimming class on my own with two and the weekend sessions are so busy we’ve not made it down for a family trip yet, but they love their nightly bath so I figured a little water play would be fun.
I love doing sensory play at home because it mostly consists of stuff we already have, plus it gives me the opportunity to flex my creative muscles – trust me, it’s about 75% for my benefit and 25% for the little ones. We all find it really fun, it doesn’t cost much and it whiles away a good few hours, also allowing the girls to discover something they never have before. It seems to be the everyday stuff that babies find the most interesting anyway, things like pebbles and feathers, so there’s no need to spend loads of cash.
I’m not kidding either, I seriously love this stuff. Before I start, I tend to browse Pinterest for some inspo (mostly for guidance on what’s safe at what age etc, although instinct and knowing your own kids comes in handy there too) and then I run with a theme depending on what I have available to me. This week I did a whole session with tubs and toys and all sorts, but I love sensory bottles and bags too – they’re really fun, can travel with you and the girls love ‘em.
For this week’s play the first thing I did was lay down our big Lamaze Take N Tidy Play Mat. It’s a good base for messy play as it’s easy to clean and dries out really quickly, plus it has it’s own features to keep the babies happy like ribbon tabs and textured parts. It also folds up and turns into some sort of magic bag which you can store stuff in so it’s a pretty good space saver. I’d recommend it, especially if you travel a lot or you’re always round at Grandma’s.
To that I added a big tupperware of cool water, and sat it on top of a square piece of foil. The foil adds a bit of crinkly fun for fingers and toes while they explore the water tub. Our bath thermometer happens to be a blue whale so I chucked that in too. For the ice pool, I just used the top of a large cake tin. We have an ice machine as part of our fridge so that part was easy for me and I kept topping it up as time went on, although Nina especially was puzzled by how the ice kept disappearing.
For another sensory element I added a bubble machine that I picked up at Tesco last week – it cost around £6 and I’m sure we’ll use it on plenty of occasions yet so that was an investment well made. I used foam bath letters to spell out the word “Ocean”, the girls love these in lots of different situations (they have their initials as part of their treasure boxes and a 1, 2, 3 in the bath!) they stick to stuff when they’re wet and they’re also safe to chew, which has really helped with teething over the past few weeks. I bought a bag of these a while back and have used them for all sorts of play since – mostly in sensory bags to practice tummy time, mixed with glitter, beads and googly eyes.
I dotted the rest of the mat with anything remotely water-related we had – including some accessories from our Mama’s & Papa’s Tummy Time Octopus, a few hand bells and shakers, plus the sensory bottles my sister made my nephew and then passed on to us. I let the girls explore on their tummies first, and then when they got tired we flipped over on to our backs and I held up things to look at. I’m really looking forward to the girls sitting up so they can get even more stimulation out of all this stuff. Lastly, I used a spray bottle filled with water and misted the whole room every few minutes, just to make sure everyone was staying cool. This worked really well with the fan and definitely aleiviated the girls’ crabbiness for a few hours.
I’d totally recommend this for a fun, sensory activity on a quiet afternoon. It keeps the babies cool and would be as great outside on a patio (under a gazebo or umbrella) as it is indoors. Looking forward to trying different themes in the coming weeks! I heart maternity leave <3
If you follow me on myvariouschannels, you’ll probably have noticed that just under three months ago my beautiful twin girls Nina and Ada were born. I *think* I’ve finally wrapped my tiny mind around it and things have started to settle, so while I’m absolutely loving life as a new mum I figured it was time to get this show on the road again. You know, now that I’m all about nesting and kickin’ back with my babes.
Now, not to complain or anything, but things didn’t go particularly smoothly for me during pregnancy, which I’m sure you’ll have picked up on if we crossed paths at any time during those 35 weeks and one day (yes, I was counting. Every. Single. Minute.). And while I’m super glad my little pals are here now, those last few weeks got pretty hairy with hospital stays, preeclampsia, diabetes complications and much more besides. I gave birth by c-section thanks to all those issues combined, as well as the fact that Twin 1 (that’s Nina) was breech. We had a pretty lengthy stay on the Transitional Care ward afterwards, thanks to a postpartum haemorrhage which was followed by three blood transfusions and then a brief trip to Critical Care with hospital-acquired pneumonia. *Deep breath* It’s not been easy, but it feels great to finally be at home with my daughters attempting to recover from it all, sitting on my sofa, drinking tea and dedicating myself solely to looking after myself and my family.
Now, the reason I know I must be feeling better is that I’ve started shopping again. We had no shortage of clothes for the twins when they arrived but sadly they kinda swamped them a bit, seeing as they were born early (37 weeks is full term for twins and that’s when you’d usually be induced or have a section scheduled if you haven’t given birth already) and only weighed 5lb12 and 4lb15 respectively when they arrived. For their first three weeks they lived mainly in plain white Tiny Baby sleep suits and looked pretty damn cute in the process, but after a while I was longing for baby leggings and cute little cardis. Once I could start putting them in proper outfits I absolutely loved it, and I’ve had more than a few late night Instagram sessions during feeds, finding gorgeous things to lust over. These are the items I’m currently coveting:
1. Jazzy Leggings and Matching Headgear
I’ve been obsessed by cute leggings since I found out I was pregnant, so it’s no surprise that even with a sizeable haul I WANT MORE. My main haunts are Milk Moustache Apparel, Tobias & the Bear and Maebelle & Bo. I’ve just placed a big order from MMA, but next on my baby treat list for a few weeks time will be these Hearts Baby Leggings with matching hats and mits in both yellow and red. These Twisty Headbands from MMA are also on my to-buy list to match the donut, eyelash and feather leggings the girls already have in their wardrobe. Gonna style these up with long sleeve body suits and bandana bibs for ultimate baby-chic.
2. Teething Jewellery
This is a really awesome concept that has been executed in such a pleasing, design-conscious way. I love a long necklace (my fave is my terracotta tassel by Gem Smith - more on that in an upcoming post on my favourite independent jewellery brands), but I’ve already noticed the issues that crop up during feeding and cuddles. Organic Mama makes gorgeous pieces made from 100% food grade silicone and are completely safe for little hands and mouths. They can go in the dishwasher, they have a break-away clasp for safety and, the best bit, they’re totally beautiful. My favorite is probably the “Indie“, but there’s more than one on my shopping list.
3. Lush Products
Lush products should by no means be restricted to pregnancy and new motherhood, but right about now they seem particularly necessary. Because of my c-section wound I wasn’t allowed to use anything fancy in the bath for a while, but showers were a-ok and any little treats I could get my hands on felt extra special during those blissful moments alone in the bathroom. My number one Lush lust is the Salted Coconut Hand Scrub. My sister bought this as a present for me during pregnancy, and I’m totes obsessed. I’m washing my hands so much at the moment, plus my skin is still recovering from the dryness of an extended stay in the hospital, so this stuff is a real godsend. It smells amazing, sloughs away dry skin and leaves your hands feeling supple and hydrated. I’d recommend it to all new mums and, actually, just to anyone who wants to indulge in something a bit luxurious.
4. Everything from La La Land
The girls’ nursery as it currently stands…
I first came across La La Land when Jen bought some prints to decorate our work studio. One of them was the “Support Your Local Girl Gang” print, simple gold foil text on a white background, and when the girls arrived, I figured there was nothing more perfect for the wall. I’ve been carefully collecting prints and cards over the last few months, all of which have gone up in the nursery on a few simple picture ledges from IKEA. The nursery has loads of white, grey and turquoise and an awesome wardrobe system for all those cute little leggings. It’s also going to have a jungle/woodland themed mural painted by a friend, as soon as I get my act together and organise it. I can’t wait for it to be complete!
5. Parenting Books
Despite its challenges, my pregnancy seemed to pass pretty quickly and I barely had time to pick up a book. I did most of my reading on online forums and blogs, but mostly my research was about pregnancy and birth, rarely what comes after. Now the fog of hormones and illness is starting to clear, I’m ready to restart reading around the subject of raising happy kids. One of the best pieces of advice on motherhood I received from a friend went along the lines of “Smile and listen to everyone’s advice, then make up your own mind”, so while Matt and I don’t put a huge amount of importance on rules and plans, I still get a lot from reading about what works for others and then using that to piece something together that works for us. After a couple of recommendations, I ordered The Gentle Parenting Book: How to Raise Calmer, Happier Children from Birth to Seven by Sarah Ockwell-Smith and I’m really excited to get stuck into that. I’ve also just started putting my baby book together. I’m using a SMASH Book with lots of cute, bright stickers and prints ordered from the Free Prints app to record the twins’ first year.
6. A Whole New Wardrobe
I wore the same five pairs of maternity leggings, five tops and one coat on a loop during the last four months of my pregnancy. I got so big with water retention towards the end that I could barely wear shoes – only wide fit pumps from Primark two sizes too big and my neon pink Nike gym trainers would fit come the last few weeks. I dropped 25kg (I think that’s nearly four stone?!) in just under a week once the girls had come out – I think I literally wee’d it out (soz), but I still haven’t managed to get myself into town to buy some new threads. After being so puffy, I can’t tell you how excited I was to see my waist and my ankles again. The only thing I have treated myself too is this awesome “Winging It” t-shirt from Selfish Mother. I practically lived in their “Human” baseball tee while I was pregnant and I love the ethos behind the brand as well as their designs. And talking about things I love, I’ve recently become obsessed with awesome blogger Dress Like a Mum, so I’m using her as my postpartum inspo!
I’ll be back soon with some more posts – who knows, I might even surprise everyone (myself included!) with a recipe or something crazy like that! I’ve mostly been relying on Matt to cook me dinner every night, but now I’m feeling better I’m pretty excited to get back in the kitchen… I eased myself back into baking the other day with a simple Rocky Road, so who knows where I’ll go next – the local Co-op is my oyster!
Back in November sometime I booked a place on the Intro to Hand-Stitched Leather Workshop at Duke Studios. The workshop was run as part of their November Taster Sessions where attendees are invited to learn something new in a manageable bitesize piece and for a super affordable price.
The class I’m going to tell you about had snuck into December, because thanks to the extreme popularity of the first taster sash which sold out in record time, it demanded a reprisal. Some of the other sessions up for grabs during November included Gin Tastings, Stitch-Up Knitting Intros, Natural Wine Tasters and much more. Keep an eye on the Duke Studios Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds to catch the next ones before they sell out.
Now, it’s a true Lil tradition to try something creative once a year. 2014 brought the excellent Wreath Making Workshop with Katie Laura Flowers and before that it was the short-lived Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group at work where I made a William Morris tote bag with a leather strap that was only big enough to hold a bottle of wine (arguably, that’s all you need). In 2015, it was the turn of the hand stitched, hand dyed leather purse and boy, let me tell you, it might’ve been my most successful yet. For your information, I think 2016 might be the year of Mindful Colouring – I’ll keep you updated.
The workshop was run by Ruth Pullan, a local lady who makes beautiful leather goods out of her home in Ilkley. Take a look, please, because the satchels, purses and belts she makes are gorgeous and really different from the others you find on the web. This isn’t your mediocre Cambridge Satchel Company shiz, you can really see the love and craftsmanship that goes into each item and they’d make for lovely, unique presents – for yourself or a special someone.
Ruth started us off by setting us each a place at the table in the Duke Studios Conservatory (available for hire, and totally the right environment to get those creative juices flowing after a long day at work), complete with all the tools we’d need to make our purses. Ahead of time we’d let Ruth know whether we’d prefer to make a coin pouch or card wallet. I’d chosen a coin purse, ideal for a night out or when you’re carrying a tiny handbag or clutch.
I failed to snap a pick of the natural leather shape we were provided with, but with that in hand we headed over to a table covered with both oil and water based stains. We were given scraps of leather to play around with and shown how to apply the stains for an all over colour, layered effect or use a cotton bud to create a more intricate pattern. Inspired by one of Ruth’s examples, I went for a mottled effect, using cotton wool to dab on blotches of yellow, green and blue dye with overlapping edges. My lack of artistic talent meant I threw caution to the wind and hence I was the first to finish, while much more artistic brains ummed, ahhed and perfected their designs. Mine had lots of time to dry! After staining, we used an old rag to rub oil into the leather, giving it the softer, shinier finish it would end up with.
This was maybe the most satisfying part of the whole process for me. We used a tool to turn the edges of the leather into smooth curves. We wiggled the exciting bevelling tool (pictured) into the leather at a corner before pushing with purpose to sheer off the sharp edges. Kinda like when you just push the sharp edges of your scissors through wrapping paper at Christmas, it felt awesome. Very satisfying and therapeutic, I could literally do it all day.
On these newly cut edges we then took this excellent smelling gum stuff and rubbed it on with our fingers on all the edges that weren’t going to be joined. We then rubbed the surface we’d just coated with a rag, because as I understand it, the process of burnishing is the softening of a rough surface via a “sliding” contact with another object. It smooths the surface/edges of the leather and makes it shinier.
Next up, we used a huge clamping device to make holes for our studs to go through which meant the flaps of our purses could fasten to the body. My very weak forearms somewhat failed me on this and I had to battle with the machinery to make my marks, which were then a bit wonky… more practice needed!
I’ve probably forgotten a step or two here, but I think what we did next was use an excellent diamond shaped poker to make small holes along the edge of the leather where Ruth had helpfully made marks for us. This is where stitching happens. Next we glued the edges of the purse together where they should join to give it a bit provide the purse with a bit more strength and to give us stitchers a helping hand before we began. Then we picked out some thread/twine from the beautiful selection of colours and materials that Ruth had with her, I went for brown – everyone else went for white!
Stitching was hard and I fell behind pretty quickly. I am in no way an adept sewer or knitter and my eyesight is not so sharp, so even threading the needle seemed to take forever for me. This ain’t no ordinary stitching either. You have two needles, one at each end of your thread and with your purse clamped in a handmade wooden vice popped between your legs, you work with both hands to create this super strong, super pretty stitch pattern. It was awesome but I definitely need some more practice – mine could be tidier! Ruth moved at a really realistic pace which meant I still enjoyed the process and didn’t beat myself up for being rubbish, no matter how many times I asked for help!
The Finished Product!
Once we finished the stitches, we burnished the newly joined edges and as you can see, I ended up with a pretty awesome coin purse. I absolutely loved working with leather, and I really enjoyed working with other people to see how they approached the same set of instructions – it was so interesting to see how everyone’s came out! Some people chose a straight-up, all over colour wash, and some of us got a bit funky with patterns. Overall it was a great three hours and I would definitely do it again – Ruth was a very relaxed, laid back teacher which made me feel comfortable going at my own pace, and it meant I could enjoy the experience without feeling rushed to keep up or risk missing the next step.
As I said up top, keep an eye on the Duke Studios feeds because I believe Ruth is coming back this year to teach some more workshops. This one only cost £20 which I think is a complete bargain considering all your materials are included, it’s three hours long and you get a purse to take away! I’d definitely be interested in making something else next time.
I can’t stress enough that if you’re new to Leeds, you’re self-employed or you just want to meet new people and get creative after working all day in an office job, I think these kind of workshops and classes are awesome. I know when I moved up north nearly five years ago now, I was aching for ways to meet people and put myself out there, without having to reach out to someone I barely knew and say “Hey man, let’s go for a coffee!” – this kind of thing would’ve been fab!
Obviously, from February-ish my movements are going to be pretty restricted thanks to two little bundles of joy (aka tears, sick and poo) dropping into my life, but after the class Ruth emailed around the attendees and said she’d been thinking about putting some starter kits together including pre-cut and marked leather, a couple of the necessary tools, some thread and some dye etc – basically everything you need to get going at home, the way she did (Ruth isn’t formally trained, but discovered a talent for working with leather at a workshop and took things from there – v inspiring). I’m seriously considering investing and turning my dining room into a makeshift workshop between feeds and nappy changes… what do you think? Unrealistic?
Disclaimer: I’m a resident of Duke Studios and I’ve rented a workspace there for around three and a half years now. I absolutely love the place and was in no way paid or asked to recommend these sessions – I paid to attend with my own cash and just think there’s some great stuff on offer down there – check it out, and give me a wave through my studio window if you’re visiting!
So I haven’t posted since July, and let me tell ya, a whole lot has happened since then.
I’m four months pregnant with twins. “WHAAAAAAAT?” I hear you shout. IKR? Madness. I found out within a few weeks of my last post and since then it’s been smooth sailing. Kind of.
So this week is number seventeen. They’re the size of avocados. I’m still sick, but I think it’s getting better. I hope it’s getting better. I guess the main reason I haven’t been posting is because I haven’t been cooking. Or eating out. I’ve mainly been living on crisps and Rennie. Not particularly great food blog fodder, I’m sure you’ll agree. I hope to get back to the kitchen soon, but in the meantime, here’s what I’m obsessing over:
1. NeutralsWe don’t know the genders of our little ones yet. They’re in two separate sacs which means they’re most likely (very likely) to be non-identical. We’ve still not decided 100% whether we want to know or not, but if we do it’ll be before the end of November. Whatever we have, it’s important to us that they’re not blue or pink, if you know what I mean. We like monochromes, woodland creatures and gender non-specific baby-grows. Things like these CUTE leggings from Tobias and the Bear.
2. NurseryI’ve had a board of nurseries on my Pinterest account for a few years now. You gotta catch that shit when you see it, amirite? I’ve been combing through and deciding what I do and don’t like, and what’s gonna be possible for our spare room that’s currently the home office. The box room just ain’t gonna cut it for two. I like rustic, colourful and, you got it, neutral.
3. Maternity PillowI bought this bad boy from Mamas and Papas about four weeks ago and it has been a lifesaver. It supports my back when I’m sitting on the sofa and takes the pressure off when I’m snoozing. Plus it’s not pink/fluffy/frilly. WIN! I could actually marry it I love it so much.
I hope to be back soon, but if you’re loving the baby stuff (or you just like recipes) have a little look over at my Pinterest account to see what I’m currently coveting.
Lunch at my desk: homemade falafel and hummus, salad leaves, cucumber and mint salad, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, olives and feta topped with sumac, seeds & Sriracha
We talked a little towards the end of last year about my need for some lifestyle changes. Well, it’s finally time for an update! After a good start, early 2015 brought Leeds Indie Food and all that entailed with it, and from January to May I had far less time and quite a lot more stress. You know, my eight hour days turned into 12 or 14 hour days and all that stuff. Naturally, my health took second string, I indulged to the max and, man, was it was glorious. Burgers for lunch, gins every evening, plus some of the most exciting food I’ve ever eaten during the festival itself.
So, with my health goals still in mind, it’s no surprise that June had to bring a shift in what I ate and how I ate it. All that indulgence meant I was feeling pretty run down, tired all the time and I still had a way to go if I was gonna get on top of my diabetes and get myself to baby-ready status. We all know that my life revolves completely about what I eat, but it was time to reset, knuckle down and fine-tune. I decided to go all-in.
Nourish my body, give it everything it needs to function properly and happily
Reduce any stress, inflammation and pain my body is experiencing and make it a healthy, happy place for a little person to live
Keep my blood sugars as level as humanly possible with a faulty pancreas
Work less, exercise more and sleep more
Maybe get stronger, healthier, more luxurious looking nails and hair in the meantime? Maybe lose a few pounds too?
What with the diabetes and the general interest, my food knowledge is pretty good. I know my carbs from my proteins, my zinc from my beta-carotene. However, even with that back-up, the world of nutrition is a flippin’ minefield. So fat is good for you? Fruit is bad? But, hang on, what about cholesterol? -__- I’ve always adopted an “everything in moderation” philosophy before (even if I haven’t stuck to it) but it’s become clear that in this situation that just ain’t gonna cut it. So what do I do? Go paleo? That seems alright. What about Whole 30? Someone told me charcoal is really good for you? *rolls eyes/bangs head against wall*
One fail-safe way to start is with processed foods, kick them to the curb and you can get back on track. That, along with a few small changes, meant I could easily get on top of things, especially when eating at home. I cut down on high carb, high sugar foods straight away (heck, I know I’ll never kick that burger habit completely, and honestly who would want that? Not me) and it’s been pretty easy for me to make everything from scratch.
One area I’ve struggled with over the years, as supportive as Matt and my friends are, is that personally I need something more than that to keep me on track and answer the myriad of questions that pop up. On my own it just feels more difficult. Spinach versus kale? Peanut butter versus almond? Fuck it, I’ll have a brownie. You know the stuff. So I started talking to Laura. She’s a nutritionist. She first came on my radar when her then-blog, Peaches and Greens, was nominated with mine in the Blog North awards last year. She’s plant-based, which – as I understand it - is basically vegan without the stigma attached. I started talking to her and she cleared a lot of things up for me. I’ve been meeting with her every few weeks, keeping a food diary when I remember and packing as much veg into my meals as humanly possible. To be quite honest, it’s helped massively in keeping me on track.
Now, I’m only a month or so in, but I’m already seeing a difference. I’ve ditched simple carbs for the most part and quite a lot of meat and dairy – around 70% of my meals every week have been meat-free – and that’s lead to a decrease in my daily insulin of around 30% so far. Oh, and I’ve given up booze, fish and caffeine. That’s not totally necessary, but it helps with the whole conception/pregnancy thing. I also feel quite a lot more energetic, I don’t get that afternoon slump at my desk, I’ve lost the post-meal discomfort I used to get during the evenings and my skin looks better than it has in ages. I’m hoping I can maintain the way I’m eating at the moment (peppered with one or two cheat-style meals a week, naturally) and that’ll get me to where I want to be (mum to a healthy, normal sized bambino).
If you’re interested, here are my starting tips for eating better for health and wellness reasons aka not weight-loss:
You can’t do it all at once When I first committed to making a change, I was like “Yes. This is it. I’m in this. All kale all of the time”. Turns out, that’s probably not a helpful attitude. Six days in, I looked up from my plate of fish and chips and thought “Oh bugger, I’ve failed”. It’s great to get excited, but if you’re anything like me you’ll need to reign that in to keep things up. If your diet currently consists of quite a lot of everything, the way mine did, deal with one thing at a time. Burn out will sneak up on you, and there’s no point in beating yourself up. Just take things easy and don’t expect results in seconds.
Increase the good stuff before you cut out the bad When Laura helped me work out what I was aiming for, she put it in a really interesting way. I was aiming to reduce the amount of “anti-nutrients” in my diet and replace them with nutrient-rich foods instead. I thought about this kind of how I think about skincare. I don’t just want to clean my skin at the end of the day, right? I want to nourish it. So don’t just stop eating things, silly! Just make them better things. Nowadays I’m filling up on grains, nuts and seeds. I’m not fixated on calories, that’s not what this is about after all, I’m all about the nutritional value and taste (cashew butter, I’m looking at you).
You honestly won’t be hungry As above. My tendency to view this as a “diet” has quickly disappeared. My plates are always full and I’m never hungry after I eat. That’s what I’ve always feared about “low carb” and it just isn’t true – for me, it’s all about variety. Give me a plate of leaves and I’m miserable – gimme a selection of loads of stuff, however healthy, and I’m into it.
Eat the rainbow Plates that look prettier are the ones you’ll want to eat, trust me. I try to make my meals as colourful as possible – red peppers, sweetcorn, beetroot, loads of greens etc to keep my enthusiasm up. No one wants to eat a plate of muddy-green and beige.
Vegans have good treats When I’m on the run, I generally try to look for vegan snacks, just because it’s easier to understand the ingredients list – there are generally fewer of them – and a lot the time they’re also refined sugar and gluten free too (bonus!). I’m totally into Bounce Balls @bounceballsUK and Ombars @OmbarChocolate, as well as the coconut mylks by @Rebel_Kitchen.
One of the things I was super quick to realise, is that food that’s good for you actually does taste quite nice. You can also get food that’s good for you when you’re out and about (!!) you just have to know the best places to go. If you live in Leeds, check out Laura’s Feel Good Guide for tips and discounts. I think I kind of already knew that, because I’m lucky to like a lot of different foods, so with lots of variation and a little expertise in the kitchen I’ve been making meals which I’m pretty into without any trouble at all. Last night’s tea (and today’s lunch) for example:
Homemade Falafel with Cucumber & Mint Salad
Warming, spicy bites that are quick, veggie, packed with protein and basically guilt free.
Skin and halve the onions and garlic cloves and pop them in your food processor. Pulse them until they're roughly chopped.
Add the oil to a large, heavy bottomed pan and heat it over a medium heat.
Add the rest of the falafel ingredients to the processor and pulse to the consistency you like - I like mine pretty smooth but if chunky's your thing - work it.
When the oil is hot enough (see notes), use an ice-cream scoop to drop balls of the mix into the pan. You'll hear sizzles when it hits the pan. Don't crowd the pan - I fried no more than four at a time - it's time consuming, but worth it.
Leave the falafel to fry for 3 minutes or until a nice, golden brown crust has formed, but keep busy - while the pan is sizzling, dice your cucumber into 1cm-ish pieces and chop your chilli. Transfer to a bowl and add your fresh mint, roughly chopped.
It's probably time to flip your falafel! This should be easy, Use a spatula or slotted spoon to turn those babies over. Fry for another two minutes, until golden brown, and then transfer to a tea towel or kitchen paper to drain. Wait a few seconds for the oil to come back up to temp, and crack on with the next lot!
The next break you get add the salt, lemon juice and vinegar to the cucumber salad. Mix well. To plate, sprinkle that stuff on a bed of hummus and top with delicious, warm falafel. Serve with pitta or salad for ultimate satisfaction.
To test my oil temperature I use a wooden chopstick. When you think the oil might be hot enough, dip the tip of your chopstick into the pan. If tiny bubbles form around the outside, you're on the money!
These falafels are seriously delicious and they make for such a filling, satisfying tea that weirdly feels very naughty even though it’s basically all good for you. Try ‘em, you won’t regret it.
So that’s where I am right now. No doubt it’s easier to eat better in the summer, especially with all this uncharacteristic weather we’re having, but I’m hoping that with planning, research and a little effort I’ll be able to slide on through to Autumn without much trouble. I’m going to try to post here more often, not just about this, but with a variety of recipes, reviews and much more besides. If you’re interested in following my journey a little more closely, you can follow me on Twitter over @whipuntilfluffy and on Pinterest too, where I basically spend all my time these days.
The thing about me and baking is that I don’t really like cake. Sure, every now and again I could go for a slice, and there’s a couple of flavour combos I can get behind, but generally… not my thing. I guess it starts with the absence of much of a sweet tooth, then it develops into a texture thing… too soft, too dense. Where’s the crunch, cake? How about the chew? Why u so fluffy, cake? Anyway, occasionally I get the urge to dust off the cooling rack and plug in my mixer. Today was one of those days.
It’s been my first Saturday off in quite a few, and after a lie in, eggs on toast for breakfast and a coffee al fresco at my local shop, I felt the urge to fasten my apron and reach for my whisk. I wanted something a little different from the usual suspects, the sunshine meant I wanted light and fluffy, tart and fresh, so I set to work adapting a few recipes I’d collected over the years and viola…! Made in the gentle sunlight of my kitchen, to the sound of Rafa Nadal in the French Open, here comes the Coconut Cake.
The lightest, softest sponge with a hint of tropical flavour - perfect for summertime.
Preheat your oven to 180°C and line the bottoms of two round, deep cake tins with parchment paper. I used a loose bottomed tin by Delia Smith for Lakeland. Butter the parchment paper and set aside for later.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
In another large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vegetable oil until smooth. I used my KitchenAid mixer with a paddle attachment to make short work of this, but it's possible by hand too.
Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract, and then add the egg yolks one by one until combined.
With the mixer on a medium setting, add one third of the flour mixture followed by half of the coconut milk. Once combined, add a second third of the flour and the last half of the coconut milk. Finally, add the last third of the flour mixture and beat until the batter is smooth.
In a clean bowl, whisk your six egg whites and cream of tartar until they stiffen and form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the cake batter mixture half at a time, until just combined - be careful, overmixing will deflate them.
Spoon your mix into your two tins until each one holds about 2 inches of mixture. Shake your tin to flatten the top and place both tins on the middle shelf of your oven. Close the door and set the timer for 24 minutes. Do not open the door until the timer beeps.
Test your cakes with a skewer or fork - if it comes out clean, remove the cakes from the oven and leave them to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before running a knife around the outside edge and turning them out onto a wire cooling rack. If the skewer doesn't come out clean, put them back into the oven for five minutes at a time, checking with the skewer after each five minutes passes.
While the cakes are cooling, beat together the butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and sugar for the icing. Refrigerate the icing until the cakes are at room temperature.
Using a palette knife, spread icing on top of one of your cakes, then place the other cake on top to make a sandwich. Ice the top of the sandwich in whatever fashion you like - I take the rustic approach and just smear it on - then shake over the desiccated coconut to finish.
Oven temperatures vary so if your cake doesn't bake as fast as mine did, the important thing is not to panic. Take your time and keep testing it with the skewer - it'll be worth the wait.
By Lil Dix
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
Baking a cake always brings a mix of emotions for me. It starts off therapeutic: the whir of the machine, the crack of eggs, the splash of milk. But very quickly it gets stressful. The cake mix goes in, the timer goes off and suddenly my patience is no where to be seen and no matter how many hours I have to while away, I’m slathering too thin icing onto too hot cake simply because I can’t find it in me to Just. Wait. I’m trying though, honestly, today I really tried.
So, with the benefit of hindsight readers, I urge you to take your time with this one. Give it some love and care and attention. The Coconut Cake is a simple being, but done right, it’s a thing of beauty.
Hey, I'm Lil. I'm a freelance food and drink consultant living in Leeds, West Yorkshire. My life revolves around my next meal, and this is where I come to talk about it.
Whip Until Fluffy is also where I share my recipes and practice my styling & photography skills. I'm a new mum to twin girls Nina and Ada, so there'll be a bit of parenting chat, plus a good ol' ramble about things I like and places I visit.
For now, take a look around, but if you fancy a chat you can find more of me via the channels below.