New Mum Wishlist

New Mum Wishlist

If you follow me on my various channels, 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.

New Mum Wishlist

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

New Mum Wishlist

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

New Mum Wishlist

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

New Mum Wishlist

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 Nursery

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

New Mum Wishlist

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

New Mum Wishlist

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! 

The One Where I Learnt How to Hand-Stitch Leather

Leather Workshop

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. 

Duke Studios Leeds The Conservatory

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.

Dyeing

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.

Leather Workshop

Bevelling

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.

Leather Workshop

Burnishing

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.

Leather Workshop

Studs

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!

Stitching

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! 

Leather Workshop

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!

Leather Workshop

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?

Find Ruth over at her website ruthpullan.co.uk and on Instagram @ruthelizabethpullan.

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!

Twins on the Way!

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:

Twins

1. Neutrals We 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. Nursery I’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 Pillow I 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.

Hitting the Reset Button

Lunch at my desk

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.

My aims (explained in more detail over here):

  • 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?

HittingtheResetButton2

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.

HittingtheResetButton1

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

HittingtheResetButton3

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
Serves 4
Warming, spicy bites that are quick, veggie, packed with protein and basically guilt free.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For the falafel
  1. 4 small onions
  2. 8 garlic cloves
  3. 2 tins chickpeas
  4. 1 handful fresh parsley
  5. 2 handfuls fresh coriander
  6. 2 tsp sea salt
  7. 1 tsp mild chili powder
  8. 3 tsp cumin seeds
  9. 2 tsp baking powder
  10. ½ cup gluten-free wholemeal flour
  11. 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
For the cucumber salad
  1. ½ cucumber
  2. 1 handful fresh mint
  3. 1 green rocket chilli
  4. ½ tsp sea salt
  5. Squeeze of half a lemon
  6. 2 tsp white wine vinegar
Instructions
  1. Skin and halve the onions and garlic cloves and pop them in your food processor. Pulse them until they're roughly chopped.
  2. Add the oil to a large, heavy bottomed pan and heat it over a medium heat.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
Notes
  1. 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!
Adapted from Just a Taste
Adapted from Just a Taste
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
 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.

Happy weekend!

Coconut Cake

Coconut Cake

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. 

Coconut Cake
Serves 8
The lightest, softest sponge with a hint of tropical flavour - perfect for summertime.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
For the Cake
  1. 350g Plain Flour
  2. 1 tbsp Baking Powder
  3. ½ tsp Table Salt
  4. 300g Golden Caster Sugar
  5. 155g Unsalted Butter
  6. 60ml Vegetable Oil
  7. 300ml Coconut Milk (well mixed)
  8. 2 Egg Yolks
  9. 6 Egg Whites
  10. 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  11. ½ tsp Vanilla Extract
  12. ⅛ tsp Cream of Tartar
For the Icing
  1. 150g Unsalted Butter
  2. 360g (2 Packets) Cream Cheese
  3. 400g Icing Sugar
  4. ½ tsp Vanilla Extract
  5. 75g Desiccated Coconut
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla extract, and then add the egg yolks one by one until combined.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
Notes
  1. 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.
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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.

Stocking a Store Cupboard [+ Free Download]

Store-Cupboard-Essentials

Today is a day for making lists. For standing in front of your freezer and taking inventory. For opening the fridge door to observe your leftovers. It’s a day for browsing cook books – for inspiration not instruction – for thinking forwards and getting your affairs in order. Because tomorrow everything starts again, and it’ll be a good few days before you get the chance to step back and take stock again. 

I seem to have made somewhat of a transformation over the past few months. I think I’ve finally become one of those things I thought I’d never be: an adult. Weekends have become a time for being at home, for catching up with each other and the house. My Sundays so far this year have been restorative, an exercise in boosting morale and getting excited about being organised, as sad as that may be. Yesterday we cleared out our box room. I now have a dedicated space for my food props and styling stuff, and the idea is to slowly turn it into a Utility Room/Pantry – a plan I couldn’t be more pleased with. This plan will free up space, find a place for those things that float around the house without a designated home, and it gives me somewhere with shelves and boxes, to be calm and quiet.

These days, I find planning a treat. As I mentioned in 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life, I’ve stocked my cupboards and I have everything I need to make the basis of delicious meals all week – without having to spend loads of cash on a weekly shop. Honestly, a well-stocked store cupboard can really sort you out. The cost of every single meal you prepare at home will start to go down, and paired with a fit-to-bust freezer, soon all you’ll need is a few fresh ingredients to serve up a banquet. It encourages you to cook seasonally and allows those one or two fresh ingredients you have to really shine. A well-stocked store cupboard saves money and it gives you free reign to get creative.

Give it a quick Google and you’ll find there are hundreds of “Store Cupboard Essentials” lists on the internet. Everyone from Jamie Oliver to Mumsnet has their recommendations, and honestly, I think it’s a very personal thing. Each household uses ingredients differently, so I don’t see how one list can fit all. As you cook, you’ll start to gain an idea of what your own personal taste is. If you cook a lot of North African dishes, you’ll need more couscous and sumac, if Asian’s your thing you’ll need to stock up on egg noodles, Szechuan peppercorns and anise. You’ll fashion your own list for must-haves, and that’s what we’re aiming for. For now, this is just a starting point to help you on your way. 

Whip Until Fluffy Store Cupboard List
(click image to download pdf version)

A few notes:

- Spices and Herbs Dried Bay is the only green herb you’ll find in my cupboard. I keep small plants on the kitchen windowsill which provide me with coriander, parsley and basil, and I have rosemary in the garden too. I know that isn’t possible for everyone, so while supermarket packets aren’t the most cost-effective or sustainable things in the world, a pack each of rosemary and thyme will serve you well and their woody nature means they have a longer shelf life than most. Freeze your leftovers.

- Olive Oil Buy the most expensive olive oil you can, but use it sparingly. I use vegetable oil or butter for most of my cooking, reserving olive for pasta dishes, salad dressings and roasting vegetables. It should taste so good that it feels like a treat, and it should really make the difference to your dishes.

- Rice Vinegar A lot of lists will have white wine vinegar in place of rice vinegar. Ideally we’d all have both, but if you have to choose, I think rice vinegar is a more versatile investment. Great in Asian dishes, for dipping sauces and pickling liquor, it does the job of white wine vinegar and much more besides. The same can’t be said in reverse. 

- Beans This is just down to taste. Tinned beans can be anything from Borlotti to Chickpeas, and you’ll work out your own favourites. In my household we use a lot of Cannellini and Black Eyed Beans. They go a long way and they’re extremely cheap.

- Anchovies, Capers & Redcurrant Jelly These last items on my list are great for packing in flavour and are worth a look even if they don’t seem necessary. They seem costly upfront but they last for ages. Lots of people think they hate anchovies, but chopped and added to dressings and sauces, they add a layer of umami that’s hard to find elsewhere, plus they’ll make a whole meal simply by lying them on top of garlic-rubbed toast. This works similarly for capers in salads and pasta sauces. Redcurrant jelly is perfect to stir into gravy or to glaze meat with.

Further reading on this subject:

For a general philosophy of eating what you have, and making use of seasonal ingredients – try Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries. For example, on this day in his book he ate pork chops with chard, topped with a herb butter he made from fridge-dwelling odds and ends. Well worth a look, and if you’re anything like me – a game-changer.

A few years ago I was given Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I’m currently rereading chapters like “How to Boil Water” and “How to Have Balance” with added interest. You’ll look at your kitchen, ingredients and equipment differently after reading this.

I hope this list helps. These ingredients have come to be the ones I live by and rely on, and they haven’t let me down yet. Here’s to a tastier 2015! Any thoughts or questions? Leave them down in the comments or catch me over on Twitter @WhipUntilFluffy.

 

Beginning Again

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Contrary to popular opinion, I’m a big fan of January. I crave the cold, I never feel deflated when the festive season is over, and rather than setting unrealistic goals for myself – I harness the natural desire I have for a fresh start and turn it into crazy productivity. January is easily the most productive month of the year for me. I feel positive, inspired and ready to conquer the world!

So after the rush of December, I’m rarely ready by New Years Day to list my plans for the next year. Instead, I tend to mull things over throughout the month that follows, not setting any serious resolutions, but instead jotting down plans and ideas that I’d like to turn into reality. Here’s what I have so far:

- Run an efficient household
I’m aware that this makes me sound like someone from the 19th Century, but I want to keep my house clean, tidy and organised, and I think that’s achievable. I want to stick to a weekly shop budget for food and household supplies and continue to meal plan in an interesting and adventurous way to get better at using what I have and minimise waste. I’m going to know what’s in my cupboards at all times, and never let clutter build up. Tidy house, tidy mind.

- Work on the house
Please note that this isn’t “finish the house”. I’m realistic, I know that in my terms, this house will never be finished. I’ve spoken to enough renovators to know that once you finish the final room, it’s time to redecorate the first again – or to sort out the garden, or think about that extension, or replace the boiler. I’m not into setting unrealistic goals, so all I want to do is regain my enthusiasm to turn this house into a real home. We’ve come a long way, and I’m proud of that, but for now I’m diving deep into house and interior blogs to get the blood pumping again. First stop: declutter the box room and transform it into an efficient storage space, starting this weekend.

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- Pick up new skills
Much like last year, I’m keen to develop some more skills in the kitchen. This year, I’m determined to bake at least one batch of croissants from scratch (all twelve layers!) and start pickling and making my own condiments. Orange curd – I’m coming for ya.

- Get my finances in order
Some major life changes over the past few years have left me gazing at my current bank balance with a mix of awe and horror. This is the year I take charge and become a grown up. I’m going to consolodate and pay off debt, and I’m going to start to save for the future. I’m also going to become much better at being self-employed, promise. Pass me that calculator…

- Even more food
2015 is the year I commit to food even more than I already have. Sadly, that doesn’t mean eating more of it (I’m already on my last belt hole, after all) but it means looking for even more food based work, starting with that little festival I’m helping to organise in May. I’d like more styling and photography jobs this year, more social media work for food brands and more consultancy for smaller businesses and start-ups. All of those things were the most enjoyable parts of my job in 2014, so I hope this year brings more.

- Get a dog
‘Nuff said.

So that’s me. How about you?

Goats Cheese, Chorizo & Chilli Scones

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One of the only things my mother has ever truly mastered in the kitchen, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying so, is the humble scone. I didn’t exactly grow up in a home-baked household – my mum didn’t teach me the culinary basics and she certainly isn’t the kind I’d call to request fondly-remembered childhood recipes, years later. She has a go, bless her, with varying results, and I can’t fault her for that. Scones though, that’s different. Years of practice have lead to success, and somehow I don’t think anyone’s can beat hers. 

We hail from Bristol, all of us, the Neales (though my sisters and I have all given up the name, the characteristics are forever embedded). But since we all left home, my parents have moved even further into depths of the West Country, and now live in the quaint little seaside town of Sidmouth, Devon. As you can probably imagine, scones (plus the obligatory clotted cream) are a very important part of their lives. 

As a child with diabetes, baking with mum never consisted of fairy cakes and Rice Krispies folded into melted marshmallows, but being the great mum that she is, she was determined that we’d still give kitchen creation a go. After a short dalliance with peanut butter cookies packed with a teeth-squeaking amount of Canderel,  we almost always defaulted to scones. We thankfully stuck to caster and simply halved the sugar content, and we packed in raisins to make up the shortfall. I always ate the scones hot, straight from the wire rack, twisting and pulling the two halves from each other with my fingers and dabbing on too-cold butter before it was ready. The texture was, and still is, something that dreams are made of: soft, buttery and comforting – the three characteristics that describe most of my favourite things in life.

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Because of all that, scones are a fairly regular occurrence in my own kitchen. As always, I favour savoury over sweet, so more often than not I’m packing in leftover cheese and morsels of salty, fried pork, cut through with a bit of garlic or a wilting spring onion or two. Whatever’s in the fridge, basically. And that’s how we got here, today: a dreary Sunday filled with fluffy socks, the Observer Food Monthly and linen laundry. January budgets and an enthusiasm to just be better has lead me to another of those fridge-raiding meals that’s somehow managed to become something quite delightful. Nigel would be proud. See also: Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza from a few weeks ago.

Mostly, I eat scones on their own, but they also work amazingly well on top of stews and chillis, as an inventive alternative to rice, bread or potatoes – indulgent and packed with flavour. 

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Previous experiences with scones… the first bacon and stilton, I think, followed by gorgonzola and spring onion atop a beef and ale stew

And in the spirit of frugality, these babies freeze like a dream. Portioned and unbaked, they’ll last in the freezer for up to three months. Just defrost them thoroughly before putting them in the oven. If anything, a bit of time in the freezer improves their texture. For us, there was no need for freezing this time, Matt and I devoured two for a low-key Sunday lunch, spread with soft, salty butter and garnished with a scoop of last night’s fiery coleslaw. Two more are currently sitting in a tin for tomorrow. Take that, January. 

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Goats Cheese, Chorizo & Chilli Scones
Serves 4
Soft, buttery and comforting - a quick, cheap and easy alternative for lunch
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
18 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
18 min
Ingredients
  1. 315g Plain Flour
  2. 1 tbsp Baking Powder
  3. ¼ Bicarbonate of Soda
  4. 1 tbsp Sugar
  5. 115g Salted Butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  6. 120ml Natural Yogurt
  7. 1 tbsp Whole Grain Mustard
  8. 100g Goats Cheese
  9. 100g Chorizo, chopped
  10. 1 Onion, diced
  11. 2 Birdseye Chillis, chopped and deseeded
  12. Pinch of Black Pepper
  13. 1 egg, beaten
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 220ºC.
  2. Combine your flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sugar. I used golden caster sugar because it was all I had, but you could use normal caster or granulated without a problem.
  3. Make sure your butter is very cold, in fact, freeze it if possible. Add the butter to the flour mixture and mix until the butter is in roughly pea-sized lumps. If you're using a mixer or processor this'll be easy enough, but if using your hands just rub the butter into the flour, trying to handle it as little as possible - you don't want it to melt!
  4. Add the yogurt and mustard, mix to combine, and then follow with the goats cheese, chorizo, onion, chilli and black pepper. The mix should come together to form a rough, sticky lump - this is what you want.
  5. Turn the lump out on to a lightly floured surface and shape into a smooth ball. Flatten so as to form a round cake, 4-5cm high. Divide into 4 or 8, depending on your preferred portion size.
  6. Brush the beaten egg over your scones and place on the middle shelf of the oven.
  7. After 17 minutes, remove your scones and poke them in their fattest part with a skewer or fork. If it comes out clean, transfer them to a wire rack to cool. If still raw in the middle, pop back in for two minutes at a time until the skewer comes out clean.
  8. Enjoy warm with lots of butter.
Notes
  1. Can be frozen in portions before baking. Defrost thoroughly before putting in the oven. Will last for up to three months.
  2. Eat within 48 hours of baking.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
You can mix things up a little by switching your extras. In place of goats, use blue cheese or parmesan. Try bacon or ham, or throw in half a tin of sweetcorn or some sorry-looking herbs languishing in the fridge door. There are loads of variations to be enjoyed and the formula is simple. Get creative and enjoy. For example, these Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Skillet Scones by Joy the Baker look awesome.

Got a favourite scone recipe? Share it with me down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. Let’s talk soon!

Building a (Small) Kitchen

KITCHEN-BEFORE

KITCHEN-AFTER

When Matt and I started looking for a house to buy, we really only had one stipulation. We were spoilt with the flat we shared, although technically a “studio”, its lack of doors was made up for with high ceilings, a split level and a large, modern kitchen – something pretty unusual for a city-centre property. We had workspace for miles, storage enough for two cook’s wants and needs, and room to swing the proverbial cat. So when we decided to buy our own place, we agreed on one thing: the kitchen in the new place must be large. It’s where we spend most of our time, so it makes sense.

But it turns out, even when you only have one box to tick, sometimes compromise is necessary. Even after four seasons of Kirsty and Phil under my belt I wasn’t prepared to give up my one sticking point, but somehow, when Matt and I viewed our now-home it just felt like the right place for us – despite it’s piddly kitchen space. To be quite fair, there wasn’t a lot in the house that didn’t need transforming, and we took it all in our stride. While the prep space was small, the kitchen opened out into a huge dining room which now houses an industrial style table and benches, big enough to seat 12 comfortably – 14 at a push. As long as we had that room for people to congregate – to kick back and relax while something bubbled on the hob – we’d be content. And so the contracts were signed, the money changed hands and the renovation began.

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Still a bit of painting to do…

When I look at the “Before” pictures, I find it hard to even see the bare bones of it in what we have now. Work on the kitchen started in early September 2013, and finished mid-October. The breakfast bar was taken out first, followed by the cabinets, plumbing and old appliances, and actually, following an unplanned central heating system replacement and a total rewire, nothing but walls remained.

We had a reasonable budget, but we still decided to go with IKEA. The units are so versatile and we did loads of research online to dress it up and get just what we wanted from the basics. We ordered custom worktops in Iroko from WoodWorktops.com, which were then cut to size by our builders. We sanded and stained them ourselves, and I think they play a big part in making our kitchen look much more custom than it might’ve. On our honeymoon in Portland, we found some ornate doorknobs to add something else a little bit different from the norm. We went without cabinets up-top, because we thought what it offered in storage wasn’t enough to counteract the amount it would make the space appear smaller. Instead, we tiled up to the ceiling on the wall behind the cooker and ordered extra worktop wood to have thick shelves cut, held up by cheap, plain brackets that could hold large weights.

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The open shelves became home to all our glassware, crockery and some frequently used dried herbs and spices. This was something we agreed on from the start and pulled inspiration from loads of different places – from cookery programmes on telly to Pinterest and blogs. I also found my backlog of Living Etc magazines a real source of inspiration during the whole renovation. The kind of things in those magazines are usually totally out of my price range (it’s a how the other half live kind of thing) but I jotted ideas down and then trawled the web for cheaper alternatives or things we could do ourselves.

We chose to allocate big sums of money for our appliances – nothing crazy, but a little more than we perhaps needed to, because we wanted quality. I’ve not regretted that once. A good quality fridge-freezer and oven are the kind of things that bring us joy – as sad as that may be – and we both happily sacrificed meals out or a holiday, or more money for the rest of the house, because we use them all the time. We bought a range-style oven by Belling, which gave us five hobs, two ovens and a grill. We bought a double fridge-freezer from Samsung with water and ice dispensers in the door. A slim-fit dishwasher straight from IKEA was a necessity too. Finally, a farm-style square sink and pressure washer tap to make washing up quick and painless.

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Having a kitchen island for the past three years meant we were really loath to give it up. That one-step triangle between work-space, hob and sink was something we’d both grown used to and we didn’t want to sacrifice it, even if the alcove gap between kitchen and dining room wasn’t quite wide enough to make it comfortable. We tried repeatedly to work out a way to fit a standard size island in but it just wasn’t happening. We needed something narrower, so instead we decided to fashion our own island out of IKEA cabinets – cheap, easy enough and great for storage. It’s only 80cm wide, but that’s more than enough space to stand at. We topped and backed it with the remaining worktop wood, with an overhang to turn it into a little bar one of at can sit at if the other is cooking. It’s not the most solid or sleek thing in the world, but it’s practical, and I think it looks pretty sweet too. Once the island was fitted, the beloved one-step triangle was back, and everything was within arms reach to prepare a meal.

This kitchen really is a dream to cook in. There are a couple of things I had to learn – clean up as you go, the key, but once I developed new habits in place of old, I found everything within reach, great light and a real “heart of the home” feel. You face it as you come into the house, there are no walls or doors obscuring it from the front door, so you really do enter straight into it, so it always feels busy and welcoming.

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In case you’re planning a kitchen renovation yourself, I thought I’d put together a few tips I picked up along the way. Whether you’ve gutted your space and you’re starting from scratch, or you want to adapt a rented kitchen to suit your needs, these will be worth bearing in mind:

1. Keep it practical

Fundamentally, you need your kitchen to work for you. If you’re here at Whip Until Fluffy, the chances are that you like to cook, or at least you’d like to start. Unless you use your oven for storage (Hello Carrie Bradshaw), then workability should be at the top of your priority list. Keep the kitchen work triangle in mind. This can be your own version – for example, I adapted that model from oven, fridge and sink to be more like workspace, oven and sink – that’s just what works for me, but nothing is more than one step away and it works really well when you’re in the zone, getting stuff done.

Try not to be fooled by super-fancy technology or gadgets – know yourself and know what you’ll use. Kitchen real-estate value is high – don’t go wasting it. Don’t adapt your kitchen design because you see something and think “My life would be so much better with one of those”. Unless, of course, it would. This ties in with point number four. 

2. Modern doesn’t necessarily mean sterile

When we decided on an IKEA kitchen, I was worried it wouldn’t look right. I was worried it would be flimsy, that it might look plastic-y and cheap. We learnt really quickly that to avoid that lightweight, sterile look a lot of modern kitchens have, you don’t need to spend a lot of cash – you just need to be inventive. Our open shelving livens things up a bit – the contents of the shelves, as long as they’re tidy and organised, add a bit of colour and interest to the room. It’s also about some of the things I mentioned earlier – splashing out on different worktops avoids that matchy-matchy look, and a few added accessories like a lamp or antique door handles can add a richer, more lived-in quality. Our spotlights are great but they’re very bright. The angle-poise lamp we clipped on to the shelves is great for lighting a specific area and gives the room more of a soft, yellow glow, great for cooking in the evenings – especially in the winter. 

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BuildingaKitchen1

3. Use colour to make it yours

Small spaces can be hard to make your own. Fill it up with trinkets and you risk it looking cluttered, and kitchen furniture and appliances tend to come in a bland colour palette. Personally, we like to keep walls and furniture to similar tones (we’ve done this throughout the house – with a few feature walls), but we’ve injected a bit of personality into the kitchen by using colour in smaller pieces. Our Le Creuset collection is all Volcanic, providing lovely pops of bright orange all over the room, and then we’ve mixed in smaller accents in the form of our Kitchen-Aid, which is Boysenberry, and some lovely vintage tea, coffee and sugar canisters in pale green. Cheap, bright utensils in clashing colours really aren’t for me, but little pops that compliment each other have really helped to give the room a bit of personality. We’ve kept the trinkets to a minimum but small touches like the carved wooden wine holder, an antique thermometer on the side of the fridge and the odd piece of decorative crockery are subtle nods to who we are and what we like, without dominating the room and taking up valuable space.

4. Be ruthless

I asked Matt what his advice would be to anyone building a kitchen. He had just as much, if not much more input into planning ours than I did, and his number one tip was “don’t be afraid to downsize”. When we moved from our flat we packed six large boxes of kitchen stuff. We had to unpack slowly due to the ongoing work, but we’ve been here for nearly 18 months and there are still three boxes in garage which we haven’t even touched. The best bit? I have no idea what can be in them, even though I clearly thought everything was essential when I moved. If you don’t use it on a regular basis, chances are you don’t need it. This goes for any smaller gadgets you have out on your worktop, too. If you don’t use it once a week, put it away.

If you’re redesigning from a kitchen that came before, remember that just because you think it belongs in the kitchen doesn’t mean it does. This works on a bigger scale, like a washing machine for example. Can you find an alternative space for it? Do it. Anything that doesn’t link directly to food and food prep, try to move it out. I put my washer/dryer in under the stairs and it’s so much more practical – I can do laundry while Matt’s in the kitchen without getting in his way and vice-versa, plus there’s a door in the way to help block noise. 

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So, that’s the story. We’re still adapting, and no doubt things will change for us over the next few years, but at the moment, I’m happy. It’s taken a lot of work and there are a few unfinished bits (anyone spot that unpainted pipe cover in the corner?) but it’s getting there. 

As for renovation inspiration, I have so many recommendations. I decided it was best to put together a whole separate post to share my favourite links. Please feel free to share any thoughts, ideas or questions down in the comments or over on Twitter @WhipUntilFluffy. I hope this has helped anyone thinking of doing it themselves.

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Every now and then I like to try my hand at something a bit fancy. I first made gyoza about three years ago, when I was still in my old flat. I was new to Leeds and Matt used to work long shifts, so I’d spend my evenings in the kitchen, trying new things. I covered all sorts of stuff, from Thai fishcakes to chicken kievs. Because I had time, I made things you might usually buy ready-made, just to teach myself a few techniques - the more complicated (and far from essential) stuff you can only really attempt if you’ve got hours on your side.

Crimping gyoza is the kind of long job that becomes weirdly therapeutic. The first few are fiddly, but after a bit you settle into a system and before you know it you’ve got a whole tray crimped and ready to steam. I’m not even going to attempt to explain to you how to do it, so have a look at this video to guide you – I owe it everything. Last night, I had plenty of mix, so I made fifty. After sharing 16 yesterday and demolishing six today alone, 28 are now nestling between layers of greaseproof paper in my freezer to steam or fry at a later date. They’ll last quite happily in there for about three months – tidily achieving one of the 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life I wrote about last week. Stock that freezer, readers!

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Believe it or not, this was one of those “let’s see what we have in the fridge” meals. I use my local asian supermarket pretty well – stocking up on sauces, vinegars and spices regularly. It’s cheap, and you can find more exciting things than you might see browsing the shelves at Tesco Express. I usually have a store of gyoza wrappers hanging around. I buy them frozen for about £1.75 a packet, and each one contains about 60 skins. While I love stuffing them with minced pork or shredded duck, these babies are particularly cost effective when you rifle through your crisper drawer to see what’s left.

On Saturday afternoon, during a search of the fridge and cupboard, I found a shrivelling piece of ginger, a wrinkled red chilli, an onion, a corn on the cob, one carrot left in the bottom of the packet, some sorry-looking spring onions and three cooked beetroots that had been stewing in a tupperware since Christmas. Grated up and mixed together, this veg that might’ve just as easily ended up in bin came together as fragrant, spicy bites which don’t just fill a hole, but genuinely impress whoever’s eating them. I added a squeeze of (again, shrivelled) lime, a dash of soy and a slug of rice vinegar to help, too.

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

So are we steaming or are we frying? Well, both of course! These guys get their underside fried til golden, then we add water to the pan to steam them through – potsticker style. This way, you get crunch and chew. It’s the best. What I especially love about these is that the beetroot starts to bleed through the skin so they turn pink. Simple pleasures, eh?

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza
Yields 50
Cheap, healthy bites that'll seriously impress your guests
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
For the Gyoza
  1. 3 Cooked Beetroot
  2. 1 Carrot
  3. 1 Corn on the Cob (or half a small tin)
  4. 1 Red Chilli
  5. 1 Knob of Ginger
  6. 5 Garlic Cloves
  7. A Sprig of Coriander
  8. 1 Onion
  9. 3 Spring Onions
  10. 1 tsp Light Soy Sauce
  11. 1 tsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  12. Juice of Half a Lime
  13. 1 Pack of Gyoza Skins
For the Dipping Sauce
  1. 60ml Light Soy Sauce
  2. 60ml Rice Wine Vinegar
  3. ½ tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
  4. Chopped Spring Onion to Garnish
Instructions
  1. If using a food processor, throw in your peeled garlic cloves, peeled ginger, roughly chopped red chilli, halved onion and trimmed spring onions. Pulse for 10 to 20 seconds until the mix is chopped finely. If you don't have a processor, either dice all ingredients as finely as possible or grind in a pestle and mortar until the correct consistency is reached.
  2. Remove the mix from the processor and transfer into a frying pan. Add a slug of vegetable oil and fry, keeping the mix moving, for four-five minutes to soften the onions and bring out the flavours.
  3. Back in the food processor (don't panic - there's no need to clean it), pulse your sweetcorn, carrot and beetroot until it looks as though it's been grated - you want to keep the texture chunkier so it has a bit of bite to it. When finished, transfer to a bowl with the ginger and onion mix and combine.
  4. Add your soy sauce, vinegar and the juice of half a lime to the mix and stir through. Set aside.
  5. Pour a little water into a glass or ramekin and set it next to your bowl of mix on a chopping board. With a gyoza skin in one hand, spoon around a teaspoon of the mix into the centre.
  6. Dip your finger into the water and trace it around the edge of the skin and fold the skin in half, the bottom up to the meet the top, being careful not to seal it. Use your fingers to create folds in the front flap of the skin, crimping around 5 times per gyoza. For reference - have a look at the video mentioned earlier in this post, a visual speaks a thousand words, after all.
  7. Repeat, getting into a nice rhythm, until all your skins are used. You'll probably have a little mix leftover. Put a frying pan on a medium heat, and add a good slug of vegetable oil to the bottom.
  8. When the pan is hot, place your a few gyoza into the pan, so their folds point straight up. This flat bottom will get nice and browned as they fry. I can fit around 12 in my large frying pan, but you can pack them in quite tightly if necessary. Keep an eye on them and after 3-4 minutes, the bottoms should turn a golden brown colour.
  9. When the frying stage is complete, get around 65ml (that's roughly a quarter cup) of water from the tap and throw it into the pan, still on the heat. Be sure of yourself, and as soon as the water hits, cover the pan (with anything - if it doesn't have a lid, use a plate or a baking sheet!) and allow the gyoza to steam for 4-5 minutes, or until the water is gone.
  10. As the gyoza steam, pour equal parts light soy and rice wine vinegar into a small dish. Sprinkle with dried chilli flakes and drop in some chopped spring onion. Take to the table.
  11. When the water is gone, turn off the heat and transfer your gyoza to a dish. Take them to the table with pride! Alternatively, keep your gyoza in a a simmering oven - about 80ºC - while you fry and steam your second batch.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Have you ever made gyoza? If so, let’s compare notes! If not, what’s stopping you? Next time, I’m thinking I could experiment and stuff my skins with confit duck. I think I’ll deep fry them too, and serve with a plum sauce. I love these ideas from Serious Eats - maybe I’ll add a fig or two?