In general I’m not much of a Traditional Afternoon Tea person. I know it must seem blasphemous, and don’t get me wrong, I think they’re fun and all, it’s just always been more about the occasion and the company for me rather than the food. If, like me, you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, things can get a bit samey. Once the sandwiches are done with, game over. An afternoon matcha tea with goodness of matcha and matcha benefits, done a little differently though… that’s something to get excited about.
On Sunday, nine of us met in the bar at the Cedar Court Grand in York to celebrate Jen’s birthday. Poised and ready for a last, festive blow-out before real life set back in, we were all on our best behaviour as the tinkly piano music played and the front of house staff took our coats. Indoor voices at the ready, we were lead into the dining room.
From the off, the service was good. Attentive and very thoughtful, but relaxed enough to give you breathing room. Our dietary requirements had been requested when we booked, and in hushed tones they were confirmed and our preferences noted. We had one nut allergy within the group and one pregnancy, both were accommodated for without a second thought. Chairs were pulled, napkins draped across laps and we were left to peruse the menu at our leisure.
Hendricks Gin & Tonic Afternoon Tea
Cucumber & dill on white bread
Egg mayonnaise & watercress on malted bread
Roasted turkey & apricot chutney on white bread
Smoked salmon with soft cheese & chive on malted bread
Ham and English Mustard on white bread
Christmas pudding Cheesecake, Mulled Syrup
Chestnut Cupcake, Pine Frosting
Tea loaf with Rum Butter
Chocolate & Satsuma Delice
Fig Cone, Spiced Bread Meringue
Two Mini Scones: Cranberry & Plain Masham Clotted Cream
Selection of Preserves
There were a couple of different choices on the menu. I can’t remember exactly what they were called, but there was a classic afternoon tea – the full menu and your choice of tea, the Sparkle afternoon tea – the full menu with a glass of Prosecco and your choice of tea, or the Hendricks Gin & Tonic afternoon tea – the full menu, with you guessed it, a cheeky gin and tonic on the side plus your choice of tea. No need to say what I went for. I like a hard spirit in the afternoon. The tea selection was classic but varied – everything from the usual black leaves like Earl Grey, Assam and Darjeeling to herbal choices like Ginger and Lemon, and Peppermint. Nothing to forge new ground, but a solid selection nonetheless. Enough to keep a tea enthusiast happy.
My G&T came in a Hendrick’s branded tea pot, complete with matching cup and saucer. For the whole two hour stint it stayed cold and refreshing, and the pot gave me at least four cupfuls to sip as we ate. To be honest, I’d quite like one at my desk. On brand, the Hendricks was served with a slice of crunchy cucumber. It felt strangely decadent and refined at the same time, to be getting tipsy while nibbling sandwiches with the crusts off, but I was so into it. In fact, it was just the twist on an afternoon tea I needed. Alcohol makes things more interesting, who knew?
For a festive themed menu, and in such a traditional setting, I was really impressed by the creativity with which each sweet was devised. Distinctively Christmassy but with few of the usual cranberry cliches, there wasn’t a mince pie or a marzipan holly leaf in sight. The Christmas Cake Cheesecake was rich and boozy, and the cupcake a refreshing take on an overdone trend. The flavours were unusual enough to get us all talking and the decadent Chocolate & Satsuma Delice and delicate Fig Cone were balanced nicely by traditional, tasty sandwiches, scones baked to perfection (crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside) and tea loaf to make any granny proud.
To finish it all off, the surroundings were divine. Not so much the dining room, which was pretty but a bit bland, as the bar, hallways and even the loos. The interiors were rich and opulent without being flashy. It felt posh, but comfortable. I could seriously spend some time in front of a roaring fire in that bar, curled up in a jewel purple armchair with a mystery novel and a pair of fluffy socks on. The bathrooms are marble, with Molton Brown hand wash and cream, the stuff daydreams are made of. The hotel is a 5-star and I understand why. It only left me wanting to sneak off to explore. For my next visit, I think I’ll try the spa!
For £29.50, I’d say the afternoon tea was good value. We were there for a good two and a half hours, never felt rushed and we left stuffed to the brim full of treats. We erupted out onto the forecourt rosy cheeked and laughing – a great afternoon of catching up and communal indulgence had by all. I’d recommend The Grand to anyone looking for a good way to celebrate an occasion, or even just to treat themselves. The Afternoon Tea is a great way to entertain visiting family, spoil a birthday girl or treat a bride to be, and it’d be a great place to stay – conveniently located next to the station and easily walkable to and from town.
I spoke a bit last year about how to learn “the basics”. Both online and in real life, I seem to be asked often about how I cook, well, and on a regular basis. But what do I need? You ask. What are your staples? Basically, most of you (and my offline friends) want to know how to do the simple stuff.
At the start of last year, I talked you through my philosophy of how to eat well. Today, I want to talk to you not so much about cooking, as preparation. Tools, tricks, habits to garner better results from your life in the kitchen. These are some simple tips I’ve picked up over the years. This post has been sitting in my drafts for about 8 months, and I’ve been adding bits and pieces as I go, trying to share only the really valuable tips. Some of them may seem like common sense, but it’s alarming how many people tend to ignore something so obvious – myself included of course.
In case you’re planning a kitchen renovation yourself, I thought I’d put together a few tips I picked up along the way, if the project is to big for you to tackle on your own, Boise Kitchen Remodel has a great team of contractors for those of you living in Idaho!. Whether you’ve gutted your space and you’re starting from scratch, or you want to adapt a rented kitchen to suit your needs,
I hope these ideas help, after all – the way I see it, I’ve learnt the hard way so that you don’t have to.
1. Cook in a clean kitchen
Now I understand that this might not always be an option. You might get home late from work, tired and grouchy, see the dishes piled up in the sink and think no thanks, I’ll have an oven pizza. The last thing you’ll want to do is wipe down the surfaces, sharpen your knife and fasten your pinny at the back. But, where possible, it’s a great idea to take a few minutes out to prepare your space before you cook. Besides, you have these wonderful tips you can get from kitchenhome.co.uk on how to expedite the cleaning. A grubby, cluttered kitchen will stress you out, throw off your timings and put you at risk of burning yourself or damaging your crockery if you’re fighting for space. Grab a cloth and spend just five minutes decluttering your prep area and, trust me, your experience will improve tenfold. You might even enjoy yourself.
Of course, this’ll work even better if you clean as you go, and spend ten minutes after dinner every night doing dishes and wiping down the hob. But after a couple of hours slaving over a hot stove and a belly full of good food, that’s not always realistic. Cleaning as you go is beyond valuable if you have an open plan kitchen like mine. No one wants to arrive to see their hostess whisking furiously in a cloud of icing sugar with dirty pots covering every surface, and there’s no door to hide behind. Simple adjustments like using a mixing bowl as a make-shift bin to keep your surfaces clean as you prep can make a world of difference. It’s a space saver and it’ll fence in the amount of mess you can make. I’ve done my best to get into these habits after renovating my kitchen and it’s really improved the time I spend cooking and baking.
2. Build up that store cupboard
This is more about cost than anything else. Without doubt, you’re less inclined to play around in the kitchen if each recipe you attempt costs £15 minimum. Experimenting can be expensive – and in January, money is tight. If you do have the cash, just one big shopping trip will sort you out – spend a morning wherever you usually buy your groceries stocking up on dried goods and herbs. Follow that with a trip to your local Asian supermarket for cheap sauces and spices in bulk packs. Health food stores are also great for large bags of pulses and grains – if you’re in Leeds, try Millie’s for things like couscous, pearl barley, corn kernels and lentils. It can be a big outlay at first, but it means you only need fresh ingredients to create an awesome meal.
If your budget doesn’t stretch, add bits and pieces in small amounts to your weekly shops. Things will soon build up, and with a full store cupboard you can get creative anytime. Use my listas a starting point. You’ll also start to learn a lot more about marrying flavours and what tastes good with what. Over the last year or so, I’ve come to rely on the fact that I can raid my cupboard and freezer anytime and be set for a day or two if needs be. Speaking of which… Worried about your cutting board? If you are worried about selecting the right amazon mineral oil, product labeled as “white mineral oil” are considered food safe, as these are refined to a certain degree past other oils.
3. Use your freezer (and not just for chicken nuggets)
For years my freezer was the place where unidentifiable liquids and pieces of meat went to die. In our old flat, the freezer drawers were all but frosted closed: loose spinach leaves lying brittle and sorry for themselves, old chicken breasts shrivelled with freezer-burn. These days, I run a tight ship. Number one, my new freezer is frost-less and it’s BRILLIANT. It’s also full height so it’s easy to keep track of what’s in it, much less chance of something slipping by, unnoticed for months. Number two, I am very organised about it. I have regular sort outs and I keep an inventory stuck to the door. When I use or add things, I delete or add them to the list accordingly. It’s sounds a bit obsessive, but trust me, it’s a good system. I love a system.
Knowing what you’ve got in the freezer makes you more inclined to base your meals around what you already have, instead of buying new. This is great because it cuts down on waste, and it saves you money. Outside of pizzas, peas and ice cream, there are a great many things you can put in your freezer. Some of my favourites are berries, pastry, cookie dough, bread, spinach, herbs and chicken bones. Take a look at this Lifehacker infographic about shelf-life for a bit more info. For example: Matt and I never get through a whole loaf, but we love having sourdough bread around. When we buy it, I slice half straight away and put it straight in the freezer, and toast it straight from frozen in the mornings. Also, when do you ever use a whole packet of fresh rosemary or coriander? Chop herbs, add water and freeze in ice-cube moulds to add to stocks and sauces. Save your chicken carcasses and freeze them until you have four or five to make a stock from. Pinterest is a breeding ground for freezer talk, have a look on there for inspiration – make sure you follow my boards while you’re there!
At the supermarket I always check the reduced section for cuts of meat or fish – usually their used-by dates are fast approaching and that’s why they’re discounted, but I just take them home and whack them straight in the freezer to call upon when needed. You can make massive savings this way and get some really lovely cuts. Taking advantage of offers on meat is also a really cost effective way to fill your freezer. Finally, I’m really into freezing leftovers after I cook too much, which happens a lot, instead of living off them for days at a time. I’m rubbish at eating the same meal twice so freezing works well for me – I just make sure I label everything clearly with names and dates, and add it to my list so I don’t forget it’s there.
4. Cook from scratch
Over the last two or three years I’ve managed to cut out almost 100% of processed foods from my kitchen. The weird thing? It was kinda easy. It started small, I wanted to learn a few basic recipes – things like how to make an easy pasta sauce, a Béarnaise to eat with steak or a simple custard for an apple crumble. I wanted to learn basic skills, like how to fry safely and cleanly at home, how to steam and chargrill and all that stuff. Gradually, I started to realise that my new recipes weren’t all the effort and money I’d expected. Once I had them down after a few goes, they were really quick, they tasted better and they actually cost less than something prepackaged.
I also found it really easy to get my five a day all of a sudden. Knowing what goes into your food doesn’t guarantee a healthy diet, of course, but it does help you learn a lot about how your body reacts to things and factors like seasonality stop being a mystery and start to define how you pick your meals. It also ups your enthusiasm for high quality, basic ingredients. Since then I’ve learnt that you can eat like a prince on cheap, common ingredients like lentils or chopped tomatoes, and even from someone who relies on at least one burger a week – the amount of sugar and additives in a lot of shop-bought dishes makes me turn my nose up. Cutting out processed foods sent me on a real path to finding my way in the kitchen. Sure, I liked to cook before that, but this level of enthusiasm was all new. Skills are easily picked up and transferable, so making one dish could lead to five more – opening the door to a whole new culinary repertoire.
5. Create in bulk
Sometimes, inspiration just isn’t there.And you can’t force it. Other days, however, the kitchen is the only place I want to be. On a quiet, rainy day, with a sunbeam or two peaking through the window, I can stand at the hob for hours on end making stock, flavouring oils or roasting veg. It took me a while to realise, but those days don’t have to be wasted on making cupcakes for the sake of it, or a massive lavish dinner for your other half – although sometimes it’s nice to do that. Those days can be spent stocking your cupboards, fridge and freezer for the days ahead. One of my favourite things to do is caramelise onions. Pretty sad, right? I know, but there’s something about it – watching those chunky, sharp slices turn from white to translucent, all the way through to brown – picking up a sickly sweetness on its way that’ll add oomph to any gravy or sauce you chuck them into. I do this in bulk sometimes, at the start of the week, and keep a box in the fridge.
I also love to roast sweet peppers, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic and left to sizzle in a hot oven. Keep them in the fridge, or in a jar of oil to preserve them for longer, and add them to sandwiches or serve with roasted sausages and slices of halloumi for an easy mid-week meal. I’ll also buy olive oil on offer and stuff the bottles with garlic, peppercorns and rosemary, or hot birdseye chillis – shove them to the back of a shelf and let them infuse for a few months. You can also make a batch of your favourite cookie dough, roll it into balls and pop each portion in a ziplock bag. Pull them out one at a time and cook on a baking tray in a 200º oven straight from the freezer – satisfaction in minutes! Stocks, soups and ragus can bubble away on the stove all afternoon and then be portioned out into tubs or bags for the freezer, too – then when you hit a busy patch, or you’re stumped for cash, you have an easy, stress-free solution.
So there you have it. That’s what I’ve learnt. I hope these ideas help, and I hope I can share more with you as I pick up more skills. Do you have your own tips for staying chirpy in the kitchen? If so, tweet them at me @whipuntilfluffy or share them down in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Zucco’s Deep Fried Zucchini At this particular moment I’m very excited. I’m lucky enough to have bagged a space at the bar at Zucco tonight, so Matt and I can ring in 2015 in style. And let me tell you, the anticipation is high. No big deal, but this year the Deep Fried Zucchini single-handedly changed my mind about courgettes. I know, who am I kidding? That’s a big deal. Until this year I thought they were slimy, spongey buggers with no place in my life. However, made by Zucco: dipped in milk, coated in flour, then deep fried and sprinkled with mint, I’m pretty sure I could live on them.
Zucco is my favourite restaurant in Leeds, hands down. Probably in the world, actually. During 2014 Matt and I have become regulars, all too often springing up on a Friday night a little bit drunk, without a reservation and begging for a table. The staff at Zucco are so friendly, so accommodating and always make room for us. They’re very knowledgable about the food they serve and so much of it is steeped in tradition, without being remotely old fashioned. Without doubt every time I go I order the same three dishes, leaving Matt to experiment. That’s the beauty of sharing plates, see. I don’t think he’s rumbled my tactics yet. Zucchini is always top of my list, alongside Arancini and Braised Beef Pappardelle. I could eat and drink at Zucco for the rest of my life and I’m pretty sure I’d never get bored. Throw in an Aperol Spritz to start and a Moscato to finish and I don’t think life could get any better.
I didn’t have a pic of the beans, sorry. Here are two other delightful dishes from The Reliance
Green Beans with Shallots at The Reliance Oh, I love a side dish. I really do. They’re the glitter top coat of the culinary world. Let me start by saying that over the last year The Reliance has really risen up the ranks for me, I’d say it’s the best cooking in the city: forever reliable and never boring. Whether you drop in for a meatball sandwich at lunchtime or a full three courses plied with wine on an evening – the food, drinks and service are all consistently top notch. Somehow the food manages to be at once comforting and exciting, a place to take both fussy eaters and real food lovers alike. It’ll please your (my) “nothing foreign – well, Italian and French is ok… I suppose” parents as much as it’ll please the part of you that wants something a bit special on a Saturday night. Simplicity done exceptionally well seems hardly praise enough for this place but it’s the closest I can get. Green beans and shallots are just that, served in a cute pie dish in all of their seasonal glory, dripping with butter. Kale in Fig Salt is also a triumph, an extra worth getting excited about – whether you eat it with a humble plate of sausages and mash or a melting featherblade.
Dirty Burger on the left, Colonel Patty and Session Fries on the right
Patty Smiths’ Dirty Burger It’s no bold claim that 2014 was the year of the burger for Leeds. This year Byron, MEATliquor, Almost Famous and Five Guys opened their doors in our fair city, alongside a new, independent offering from Boss Burgers in Hyde Park. Building on the success of their launch in 2013, Patty Smith’s – a concession at Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen – have been producing consistently brilliant, dirty, oozy burgers all year round. Menu originals the Dirty Burger and the Big Ron remain staples, with The Colonel Patty – a deep fried chicken burger, and Session Fries – fries seasoned with lardons, jalapeños and parmesan, as recent additions well worth trying. My “when in doubt” lunch, the Dirty Burger is just what you want on a hangover or for a cheeky treat. It basically fits any mood. Sticky like that untouchable (dare I say it?) McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger, sweet and salty, it’s cooked pink and the juices run down your chin and you just don’t give a s**t. Nothing beats a good burger, after all. And Patty Smith’s is perfection in a paper wrapper.
Grub and Grog Shop Breakfast at Northern Monk Refectory Silly I know, but I see the Grub and Grog Shop residency at Northern Monk Brewing Co as some sort of urban fairytale. Having consumed their sandwiches, stews and cocktails for over a year, it’s really amazing to see their hard work and talent turn into a sparkly kitchen at the new brewery in Holbeck. At launch night when I set eyes on their menu it was breakfast that really caught my eye, and it’s quickly become one of my favourite places to visit over the past few months. Homemade crumpets made with the yeast from the beer brewed by Northern Monk downstairs, and Breakfast kaiser buns stuffed with celeriac fritters, hash browns, eggs and roast tomato sauce are the stuff dreams are made of. In true G&G style, there are shedloads of veggie and vegan options, along with healthier Breakfast Bowls made up of porridge, granola or Birchir muesli. Prices are really reasonable and the space is beautiful – high ceilings, big windows and perfect sunlight when you roll in at 10am, plus the added bonus of a cloud of hoppy air that envelopes you when you walk through the door. Not to be missed.
Bundo Chaat at Bundobust On pretty much every most-loved list of 2014, it’s safe to say that the launch of Bundobust – a collaboration between Bradford’s craft beer pub The Sparrow and Drighlington’saward-winning vegetarian Indian restaurant Prashad – has been the Leeds success story of the year. A bustling bar with canteen style seating, it offers arguably the best beer selection in Leeds and matches them with little pots of Indian street food. Bundo is a great place to start a night out, or refuel as you hop from place to place. The Bundo Chaat is my must order everytime I visit – crunchy, sweet, sour and gently spicy. It’s made up of chickpeas, potato, tamarind chutney and crunchy samosa pastry and it’s like a bloody party in your mouth. The Masala Dosa is also pretty tops. A great place to take visiting friends and a real treat for veggies – a whole restaurant for them – imagine! A real highlight of 2014 for me, and I’ll keep going back.
A few weeks ago I was offered a bottle of Malibu. For me, Malibu is oh so very 2005. A smell and taste that reminds me of very late nights, dancing to The Killers and Britney Spears one after the other, and eating chips while giggling with my best friend Anna. The idea was that I put the Malibu to use in a creative way – in baking or cooking, instead of straight up with a splash of pineapple juice – the way I used to drink it back in the days of my youth.
Christmas sweets are difficult. The desserts of this season really aren’t for me. I’m not into sweets at the best of times, really. Christmas for me is all about the cheese, and a dark, dense pudding of dried fruit really isn’t my idea of fun. I do, however, love to put a festive spin on a classic. These brownies are rich and indulgent, but the Malibu and desiccated coconut cut through and add a hint of Caribbean flavour. Perfect for listening to “Mary’s Boy Child” by Boney M (my favourite Christmas song) and having a dance in your living room.
As for the melting snowmen, well I can’t take the credit for that idea – it’s one of those Pinterest projects that’s all over the internet. Cute little snowmen with perplexed faces sitting on top of sugar cookies. This kind of thing is usually a bit fiddly for me, but in reality, I found this pretty easy – little hassle for a nice pay-off. They’re fun, festive and guaranteed to get a smile. Take a batch to your Christmas gatherings and you’ll definitely be in the good books.
The brownie recipe is fairly spongey – there’s a lot of rise from the little baking powder that goes in. You’ve got two options, really. Bake for 20 minutes and you should get a nice gooey middle. Go for a bit longer (no more than 25 minutes) and you’ll have a springy, cake-like texture. I’ve adapted the recipe from my Fail-Safe Blondies, adding cocoa and a few other things, swapping the vanilla extract for the Malibu.
Drunken Snowmen Brownies
A very sweet festive treat with a bit of a boozy kick - oh, come on, it's Christmas!
Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.
In another bowl, beat together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs one by one, followed by the Malibu. Beat until smooth.
Fold the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Chop the chocolate into shards and mix into the batter, with the coconut, until evenly distrubuted.
Transfer to a greased tin (approx 8x8) and bake in a preheated oven at 180ºc for 20 minutes. 25 for a firmer, more cakey finish.
While cooling, mix the icing sugar with water a little at a time until a thick icing forms.
Once the brownie is completely cooled (this could take a while, so plan ahead!), cut into four pieces. Spoon a little icing into the centre of each brownie. It should spread into an artful splat, but if you need to, help it along with a spoon.
Use your black tube icing to decorate marshmallows with eyes, smiles and anything else you fancy. Use a tiny blob to stick on an orange midget gem for the nose.
Place the marshmallow on to the top of the brownie, the tacky icing should hold it in place. Add buttons and arms to your melted snowman's body.
Just to drive home my point, this is today’s graph. The blue is where I should be.
Now this is quite heavy subject matter, all about the inner workings of my (semi-dudd) body. It’s kind of a weird thing to talk about on a blog, and if health and medicine don’t interest you, I won’t hold any grudges if you give it a miss and come back for a recipe next week. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll know that recently I’ve been talking about diabetes a lot and some of you have registered an interest, so that led me to the decision to talk about Having Diabetes a little bit more.
I’ve alluded before to the fact that conceiving a child can be difficult when you are a woman with diabetes. It’s actually not necessarily conception itself, it’s more the carrying a healthy baby to full term thing. My knowledge about this is basic, and I was actually in the dark about the subject on the whole until recently – until the doctors deemed me to be of an “appropriate baby-making age and circumstance” (read: over 25 and married). My reaction to that wasn’t necessarily positive, as you might have guessed, and initially I was very cross. I still am – to an extent, but there are reasons that it happens this way and all that stuff is for another blog post. For now, we’re covering the practicalities of how to get and stay pregnant when you’re a person with diabetes. You know… the medical stuff.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, only a “patient”. Therefore, try not to get your knickers in a twist if my facts aren’t always exactly straight. In fact, if you know better, please correct me down in the comments. I’m learning, after all, and I’d really appreciate your help.
Let me walk you through it. In layperson’s terms, as a person with diabetes (pwd) my blood sugars move in peaks and troughs. With self-administered insulin, even with a pump, the doses I am giving myself are reactionary. Your pancreas, as a healthy person, measures the sugar in your blood and acts accordingly with the correct amount of insulin every single time, so there’s never an error, and you never stray out of those 4mmol/l – 7mmol/1 parameters. For even well controlled pwds, there’s a lot of guessing involved with basal insulin rates and dealing with carbohydrate on a day to day basis. Calculations are made and quantities decided on, but it will sometimes, inevitably, go horribly wrong. As a pwd, I’ve learnt to accept that and put it down to experience. That’s something that most diabetics will go through, because frankly, otherwise there’s a tendency to go a bit mad. As I understand it though, the thing with diabetes and pregnancy, is that the peaks and troughs can’t be there. Or at least, they need to be down to a serious minimum, so the graph of my blood sugar over a 24 hour period must not be a zigzag, but a smooth, undulating line.
For me, and for most, this will take a lot of work.
Because the first trimester of pregnancy, especially for those with diabetes, is the most important, these things can get complicated. A lot of the time, pregnant ladies may not even know they’re “with child” until at the very earliest a few weeks, and more realistically 6-8 weeks gone, by which time some of the crucial development for baby is already complete. Therefore, there’s a training process. Pregnancy Training. When you say that to people, the initial response is usually a raised eyebrow and a sheepish grin. LOL sex! You need to practice having sex! Yeah… that’s not the bit I need to work on, thanks. Awkward for everyone now, right? Welcome to my life. Let’s move on quickly.
Just so you know, the risks of being pregnant and not having your diabetes under control are the following (quoted directly from NHS Choices). Please proceed with caution if you are a lady with diabetes and you haven’t necessarily read a lot about this before:
If you already have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may be at a higher risk of:
having health problems shortly after birth (such as heart and breathing problems) and needing hospital care
developing obesity or diabetes later in life
Cheery stuff, eh?
So, in light of all that, there are certain hoops I need to jump through in order to qualify to be able to “start trying”. I don’t really know what those are officially. Apart from the main thing, get my HbA1c (that’s my three month average) down to an acceptable level. That’s around 48, or 6.1%. I sit, generally, at 60-65 but in times of stress or activity or during burnout, that has at times risen to a rather frightening 80. 48 is a scary number. A number that, of the pwds I’ve met, most wouldn’t deem within their reach without some serious lifestyle changes. When I first started doing my research, there was talk of no post-meal blood sugars being over 7.0mmol/l. I can’t really explain to you, if you’re not a pwd, what kind of fear that struck in my heart the day I found that out. I still don’t know if that’s true. But if it is, I’m in for a tough few years.
So what are the alarm bells that ring in my head, now, towards the beginning of my journey?
No carbs. Less fat. No alcohol. No big days out. No big nights out. No exceptions. Mostly, no carbs.
And the questions that spring up as a result of those alarm bells?
Is it all worth it? Do I want a kid that much? If it means no chips, no bread, no sneaky Milky Way Crispy Rolls at 4pm on a particularly boring day in the office, or glass of red wine to celebrate a good day?
At 27 years old, and I hope you can appreciate my honesty here, that’s not a question I can really answer yet. I think the answer is yes, it is all worth it. And I know it must sound ridiculous, not to mention insensitive, to consider giving up a chance to have a child in exchange for complex carbohydrates, mind-altering liquids and the faint glisten of animal fat on the surface of my plate. But it seems like an awful lot of work. An awful lot of hospital visits, blood tests, monitoring and, most of all, an awful lot of self-control. Which, as someone who since their 13th birthday has perpetually been three stone over-weight, has never been my strong point. It’s worth mentioning now that none of those alarm bells are strictly fact. They’re exaggerations, on the most part. But they are based in fact, and they do weigh on my mind.
I think that’s why I’ve decided to write it all down. And this might not be the right place for it, who knows, I might move my updates over to Medium or somewhere more appropriate. But for now, I wanted to be honest, share my life experiences and keep you guys in the loop. I wanted to get my thoughts out on the biggest “issue” in my life at the moment (hopefully the biggest issue I’ll have to face for the next few years). Also, as mentioned in my original Having Diabetes post, I’d like this to be a sometime place for me to share parts of journey in figuring all this stuff, diabetes on the whole, out, and a place where others can come as a resource. Because during my process of research, I’ve found those resources to be seriously lacking.
Errr, so yeah. I suppose I’ll be back with progress reports over the coming months. Please give me any feedback you can on this post, even if you feel like diabetes is none of your business but enjoyed the read. I’m really interested to see how people feel about this kind of update.
So now Halloween is over, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas right? I know, I know… eye roll. It’s weird for me to get festive anytime pre-December 1st, but a few weeks ago I was invited to spend a bright but crisp Sunday afternoon with Katie Laura Flowers in Harrogate, to discuss wreath making and Christmas decorations. My first thought? Oh god, not yet. But it turns out I really rather enjoyed myself. Plus, it pays to get ahead with these things. After a few hours I had well and truly slipped into the festive spirit, and picked up a few new skills too.
I must say, wreath making has always somewhat appealed to me. I love the way they look, whatever they’re made from, and I even bought a foam ring from Hobbycraft last year, to put some of my artistic ideas to canvas, so to speak. It never actually happened, and the ring stayed starkers all winter long, giving me a slight pang of guilt every time it caught my eye.
After my workshop with Katie, I honestly think I’ll make a wreath of my own every year. The whole process was surprisingly easy and, like with most arts and crafts, I found it extremely therapeutic. I zoned out of my busy brain and sipped on tea for a few hours, chatting away to my blogger friends. I left Katie’s gorgeous studio feeling significantly calmer and with something pretty awesome to carry home in my (extremely grubby) hands.
We started with a wire frame. Katie recommended this, and always works with them herself, because they weigh less than the other options. Better for hanging, see. We wrapped flexible floristry wire all the way around the frame in a zigzag pattern. This provides a good framework for your foliage, preventing fall out, keeping everything solid even when your wreath is upright. Ever the perfectionist, I wove mine pretty tight, though I was told this wasn’t necessary and I took at least ten minutes longer than than anyone else. I felt pretty proud though.
After winding the wire, we kept it attached and began gathering greenery. We clipped off larger strands and bunched a few together to create a little posy. Katie taught us lot of clever tricks, like putting bushier plants towards the back to make others stand forward, giving your wreath a voluminous shape. We attached each posy with a few more loops of floristry wire to secure it. We kept adding small posies, working in a clockwise motion around the ring, each new posy on top of the next. Tips here include making sure you cover the width of the frame, working outwards – the wider the leaves reach outside of the loop the better, really. What you’re after is something really full and bountiful, and not necessarily perfect symmetry either.
After the green base layer was complete, we dotted in flashes of colour. This is when an artistic side really comes in helpful. The urge to place bundles of colour at regular intervals around the ring is strong, and taking a more relaxed, and (dare I say it) random, approach is key. I played around with mine for a while, and though there was loads on offer, I chose to keep it pretty simple with skimmia and a little statice, along with that Christmas staple – berries!
What was really great about the workshop is that we used a lot of materials that can be found in your garden or local area. Be sure to check up on the rules for wild flower picking in your area, but if you look in the right spots, there’s no need to spend any cash apart from the minimal costs of the ring and wire. If in doubt, you can always head to your local florist. They should have all the basics, even if it’s not out on display, so make sure you ask!
We used a mix of fresh and dried foliage, and the glorious thing is that everything fresh will dry well too. That means you can hand your wreath for months if you like, without it starting to look a bit dodgy. It might even look better. If you keep it inside, just mist it every now and again to keep it fresh.
If you live anywhere near Harrogate, I’d really recommend Katie’s workshops. There are currently two options on offer. The wreath making workshop lasts a few hours, and like me, you’ll craft and leave with your own Christmas wreath. This would be awesome for a pre-Crimbo treat for mums and daughters (or fathers and sons!), a fun activity with friends or even a festive hen-do. Katie has a huge breadth of knowledge – from facts about the type of plants to use, to showing you how to wire-in delicate succulents to make your wreath that little bit different. This workshop costs £55, but mention me when you book and you’ll receive a 10% discount, taking it down to a bargain-tastic £49.50. Each class last three hours, includes fresh materials, coffee, tea and nibbles. They take place on 29th November and 7th December. You can also attend a simple step-by-step demo. These will set you back £20, include tea, coffee and nibbles, and are happening on the 18th and 30th November, and 2nd December.
This class suited me down to the ground. I’ve always fancied a bit of floristry and this really whet my whistle to try some more at home. I nearly always have a fresh bunch of flowers on my kitchen island, but I tend to buy cheap. Intricate arrangements and displays seem so out of my price range, but this workshop really convinced me that I can try some myself, without spending a ton of cash (hey, we can’t all be Elton John, ok?)
Have you ever tried your hand at flower arranging or floral crafts? Got anything exciting planned for the festive season?
Disclaimer: I attended a workshop at Katie Laura Flowers free of charge, thanks to an invitation from Emma. This hasn’t affected my opinion at all, I loved my experience of wreath making.
Ah, sick days. Thankfully, until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had one in a while. Being freelance means it can be hard to take a guilt-free duvet day, so even when I’m sniffily and surrounded on the sofa by snotty tissues, I find it hard not to check in. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear those emails ding-donging into my inbox, unless something really bad happens. But if you follow me on Twitter, you might know that a few weeks back something really bad kinda did happen. A bout of gastroenteritis sent me into a little something called diabetic ketoacidosis and, as a result, I was admitted to hospital. It wasn’t much fun, a little scary to say the least, but thankfully now I’m back at home no more than a little bruised and queasy, and feeling better by the minute.
There’s only so long on the sofa I can handle before I start to get bored. A few days after I got out of hospital Matt had to go back to work, and mentally I was fine. Totally back to normal – thinking about normal things, needing to be entertained. It was just the physical element that was letting me down. Naturally, my thoughts turned to food. Obviously, the less said about hospital food, the better. Eating in hospital when you have diabetes? Even worse. Luckily, for once, I wasn’t really in the mood for food. When I started getting better, there were two things I craved. 1) Ready Salted Crisps. Walkers, if possible. 2) Thick, soapy white bread spread with salty butter. 3) The ultimate blend of the two: a crisp sandwich! So that was the first port of call.
Once I got home to my own living room, bathed, feet up, favourite teddy under one arm (hey, I may be 27, but he’s been with me through every bout of ill-health so far. He’s going nowhere), I started thinking about real sustenance again. I had to take it slowly, of course. Day one, I couldn’t actually turn my thoughts into physical things – so other than one half of a tuna sandwich lovingly made for me, I settled on buying Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers (the first series) from iTunes and whiling the afternoon away watching him stirring up pork and apples in his shallow casserole, folding berries into whipped mascarpone and sizzling sausages with mustard and honey at his perfect, shiny, kitchen island while he cooed softly to the camera. Oh, Nigel. You brought me back to life. When the six episodes ran out, I bulldozed through The Kitchen Diaries autumn section like nobody’s business, wrapped in my waffle knit blanket, with the curtains shut. If I could’ve found a copy of Toast without getting up from my comfy spot on the sofa, I would’ve devoured that too. There’s nothing so healing as Nigel Slater’s voice tiptoeing around your brain.
Day two, time to eat! And move about a bit! I dislodged myself from my sofa dent and went to the cooker. I wanted buttery, wholesome and filling, but I could stand at the hob for approximately 4 minutes before I fell over. Plus, I hadn’t been shopping in a while. Matt had diligently bought everything I’d asked for, but I hadn’t been thinking about real food at that point – just asking for tea, crisps, bread, oven chips (which I weirdly craved, having not eaten them since my student days) and fruit juice. Now ready to kick the bland stuff, I went rifling through my fridge and cupboards to find onions, potatoes, half a tin of sweetcorn, and in a totally *ahhh, heavens opening* moment, a little wedge of chorizo.
I turned the oven on to preheat, chopped in record time, perched at the kitchen island on a tall stool, and then had a little rest. Later I pulled that stool up to the oven, and got it all frying. Onions first, followed by potatoes, then I left it sizzling with a lid on over a low heat for 15 minutes before throwing in chorizo and sweetcorn. After five minutes I poured over 4 eggs and slid it into the oven for 20 minutes until it had a little smidgen of wobble left in the middle. Spanish omelettes (or tortillas) are so low maintenance. I turned it out onto my butchers block and carved it into wedges, which I happily revisited over the next 4-6 hours, testing the waters with a little bit more each time, squidging each segment between a folded piece of bread. For my tastebuds, and my extremely empty belly, this was pure heaven. salty, savoury and with just a touch of spice, it got me back on track. After that I didn’t look back, I even dashed a few drops of Tabasco over the last piece I ate.
That experience, of cooking from a seated position, swaddled in a dressing gown, with an extreme hunger in my tummy reminded me of a memory I have. I was 13, it was the 23rd December, and I was sitting on a ward in Bristol Children’s Hospital. It was diabetes related again (it always is)- a nasty cold had developed into a chest infection and then pneumonia, and I was so desperate to get home in time for Christmas. The Play Specialist was really pushing for me to make a collage, but I was a moody teenager on a ward full of sick babies and I was cross. I hadn’t consumed anything other than a glass of that sickly sweet apple juice that looks like (sorry) extremely unhealthy wee, every mealtime for about 4 days. My mum asked the nurse if she could make me some toast. It was the thinnest, cheapest white bread in existence, but man was it good. Crispy, almost burnt around the edges and deliciously anaemic in the centre, spread with real butter. I ate it and it was like colour started bleeding back into the scene around me. I was home by the end of the day. Even now, I genuinely think that moment is responsible for my constant need to have butter in the butter dish at all times.
Back to this year, the week that followed that spanish omelette brought all the comfort food I could take. Spaghetti Bolognese started me off, then sausage and mash with onion gravy which no one makes better than my husband. On my first trip outside the house I wolfed down a Patty Smith’s burger like never before. These days, I’m off a purely beige diet and back to eating normally. That’s if normally includes a whole kilo of cheese shared between four of us on the weekend just gone. I went to the Scottish Highlands for a four day break with some friends, which was probably the most restorative, healing trip I could’ve gone on. It was so beautiful, so peaceful, I absolutely loved it. I’ll be back soon with some photos.
What do you eat when you’re poorly? Is there a specific food memory that you have relating to a bout of ill-health? Tell me your stories of eating to replenish, heal and recover.
So, I deviated from my meal plan. I’m sorry but I had to. You know how on Wednesday I was planning to make raspberry ripple ice cream? Well I saw some delicious looking last-of-the-season peaches and I had to snap them up. I figured I’d adapt my recipe and make vanilla ice cream – something that despite having quite a varied ice cream repertoire, I can’t remember ever making before. I topped it off with said peaches rolled in brown sugar and flambéed in bourbon. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but it was pretty top. What can beat a delicious, boozy ice cream sundae to send off summer? Made for eating on a patio wrapped in a waffle knit blanket as the sun ducks down behind the trees. Because it’s autumn now, you know.
My peaches were pretty wrinkly by time of consumption. Personally, I think that’s ok, as we’re cooking them down a little so they lose a bit of firmness anyhow. You could use tinned peaches for this too, in a pinch. I kinda like tinned peaches. I don’t mind leaving the skins on mine, mainly because it’s a faff to take them off, but if you’re a texture stickler, feel free to free those guys from their jackets.
For the ice cream, I used the same method that I used for my Yorkshire Tea Ice Cream recipe, but obviously skipped the part where we infused the tea. I was watching The Mind of a Chef (season one) the other night and that told me that this is a traditional “creme anglais” base, which I guess makes sense. It’s basically equal parts milk and cream, and then a shit-tonne of egg yolks. It’s very rich and kinda eggy – but that suits me down to the ground. I don’t have much of an inclination towards volume when it comes to ice cream, usually it’s just a scoop or two, so I need it to be super satisfying.
When it comes to vanilla, as with a lot of ingredients, you get out what you put in. Essence is a hell no, it’s the cheap, synthetic stuff that contains little actual vanilla. Extract is good, even better is vanilla bean paste or an actual vanilla pod, if you could get your hands on that. Trust me, if you have the money, spend it. A bottle of extract or paste lasts for a long time in your cupboard and you can use it in countless recipes – paying for quality will pay off in your baking. Plus, you get the satisfaction of seeing the little vanilla seeds in whatever you make. I’m easily pleased like that.
I’m relatively confident when it comes to cooking with alcohol in savoury dishes, but I’m a bit hazy on sweet stuff. I guessed the amount of alcohol to cook the peaches in, and it seemed to work well, they were neither too strong or too bland. You can, of course, tailor the alcohol level to suit your tastes. I used a slug of my old favourite from back in my student days, Jim Beam. I love that guy. He’s always there.
You can use something fancier if you like, you could also try rum or brandy, or even a bit of Cointreau if you’re feeling frisky. The process is short, which nicely balances the long slog of the ice cream preparation. Eat them all or save some in a sterilised jar. As time goes by the texture will breakdown a bit more and it’ll turn into a lovely boozy compote.
You can be as posh as you like with it. Layer the ice cream and peaches in a tall glass for that ice cream sundae look, or just dump ’em in a bowl and tuck in. Now that I’ve tried it out, I might revive it next summer with an added layer of damson or raspberry jam and a few crushed and salted pecans.
Bourbon Peaches with Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
A creamy, boozy treat to send off summer. Perfect for a big kid.
The day before you want to eat your ice cream, heat your milk and cream in a medium sized saucepan over a low heat. Whisk in the sugar. When the milk is steaming (don't let it boil), take the pan off the heat and scrape in the contents of your vanilla pod and stir through.
Leave the mixture off the heat while you separate your eggs. Whisk the yolks in a medium bowl. Spoon a little of the milk into your egg mix, whisking quickly to incorporate. Add a little more of the milk mix a few spoonfuls at a time until about half is mixed through. Add the rest and give it a good whisk.
Transfer to the pan and place back on the heat. You need to stay with it, stirring constantly over a medium heat, scraping the sides, until the mixture thickens into a custard and coats the back of a spoon – if in doubt, stick with it, it may take 10-15 minutes, but you’ll know when it starts to thicken properly.
When it's reached the right consistency, strain the custard through a sieve to remove any lumps and place in the fridge to cool. It needs at least 4-6 hours to get to the right temperature. I prefer to leave it overnight and churn the next morning.
Churn and freeze the mix according to your ice cream maker’s instructions – I churned once and transferred to a clip top tupperware container. Place it back into the freezer for 2-3 hours to firm up.
When you're ready to make your peaches, remove the ice cream from the freezer. It'll take 15-20 minutes to melt enough to scoop cleanly. Chop each peach into eight segments and roll them in the brown sugar.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan until it's frothy. Throw in your peach segments and cook for 4-5 minutes until the sugar starts to caramelise and the peaches turn golden. Pour in the bourbon and toss. The liquid will start to reduce and turn into a stickier consistency. When it's reduced by half, turn off the heat.
Time to plate up! I scooped some ice cream into the bottom of a tall glass, followed it with 4 or 5 peach segments and a little sauce. Next, more ice cream, more peaches and a dusting of brown sugar. Take your spot on the patio and enjoy!
nb. If you taste your custard before you churn it, it’s going to be very sweet, very creamy and very eggy. Don’t let this worry you. The freezer dulls its flavour, so think about how sweet you want it to be as a finished product, and turn it up by half again.
By Elizabeth Dix | Whip Until Fluffy
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
How are you sending off summer? Let me know whether the turn of the season has you clinging on to summer with white knuckles, or if you’re embracing the colder, darker nights already. I think I’m a little of both!
It’s probably become quite clear to people who know me, follow me on Twitter, see me about, that I love where I live. I mean, I really do. I’m a relative newcomer to suburban life, my move out of the city centre coincided with my wedding last September, but man have I adapted well. I’m fully into it. The neighbours, the local independent scene, my single piccolo at 9am every morning, served to me by my friendly neighbourhood barista. I’m one of those people now. Those inner city flats, they’re just so impersonal, aren’t they?! You can’t get asparagus fresh from the ground down there, can you! Those people just don’t understand what they’re missing. </patronising> Joking aside, I know you can shop independently in the city centre, but no one makes it easy for you. What I love about being in Chapel Allerton is that there are lovely, local people running lovely, local businesses everywhere. It’s great!
Anyway, I’m here to tell you about The Fruit Stall. It’s funny because it’s a shop, not a stall. But it was a stall. In the 18 months leading up to the opening in March, Richard set up his fruit and veg on Fridays and Saturdays under a canvas umbrella outside Yorkshire Bank on Stainbeck Lane. Now they have permanent premises in a unit just round the corner on Harrogate Rd, next to Neil the Butcher, so they can trade for longer hours and from a Wednesday through to Saturday.
I’ve talked on the blog before about how, as I’ve got older, eating locally and seasonally has become much more important to me, so when I heard The Fruit Stall was expanding, I got pretty excited. It seemed like just the antidote the people of Chapel A needed, shortly after the announcement that a new Morrisons superstore was on it’s way. I mean, I’m not judging, I’m realistic: it’s easy to nip into the supermarket on your way home from work – they’re open late and they’re cheap. But the thing is, I believe that supermarkets have us missing out on the way things are supposed to be eaten and enjoyed. Personally, I don’t want to eat strawberries in February and asparagus in December. The supermarket confuses me. Everything is available all the time – and there’s a trade-off for that. Taste.
That’s what I love about having The Fruit Stall so close to home. They stock what’s fresh. It’s out of the ground that morning, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Come September, those peaches are no where to be found and you just have to live with it until next June. Thing is though, there’s a silver lining: in return, you get plums. Modern day convenience, maybe not – but the taste comes back. Things are ripe, juicy. Shiny and green. You get what’s there at its very best, and I’m really into that.
Way back in January I wrote about my philosophy on How to Eat Well. In that post, I explained that the way I operate is to buy little and often, what’s fresh and looks good. A little of what I fancy when I fancy it, if you will. It’s a very Nigel Slater way to be and it suits us in the Dix household. Annoyingly, it’s not the cheapest way to do things, and in some way it contradicts some of what we spoke about last week in Meal Planning. Buying day to day can be more expensive than planning ahead, but buying from independents can help keep that cost down. While a lot of local products are charged at a premium, what they sell at The Fruit Stall is amazing value for money. I rarely spend more than £3 a pop, and I still seem to have fresh fruit, veg and flowers at home for days. Packaged produce at the supermarket may have a longer shelf life, but the stuff grown around the corner is often bigger, rounder, brighter. All together, much more appealing.
I guess the purpose of this post is much the same as the purpose of my post on The Greedy Pig from a few weeks ago. I’m surrounded by a lot of people who have no qualms waxing lyrical about the sad state of local economy, but it’s those same people I see walking home with flame-orange Sainsbury’s bags every night. I’m not trying to vilify anyone, I don’t want to preach – after all, we all do it. I’m just here to slowly prod you, slowly coax you into visiting your local butcher, greengrocer, coffee shop, cafe, family-run restaurant. My generation is one of the first to become truly consumer driven – favouring cheap prices and bright, white warehouses over small spaces shrouded in passion, effort and history. Thankfully, there’s started to be a little backlash. If we make it a part of our routine to keep good, quality establishments in business, if we shake off that need to be anonymous as we browse but instead say hello as we hand over the cash, it should start to feel like second nature. Don’t you think?
/rant. What do you think? Do you shop locally or do you see it as out of your price range right now?
1. Food stylin’ in France 2. New comics 3. Dumplings in Birmingham 4. A weekend with at my sister & brother in law’s 5. Fried halloumi at Bill’s in Bristol 6. Frozen yogurt 7. Currently reading 8. He helps with my emails 9. PIE! 10. A mega mac n cheese last week 11. Cubanos at The Greedy Pig 12. Experimenting with pulled pork
Let’s talk about what’s been going on lately. Basically… work. I’ve been busy doing the boring bit of my life (writing skip hire websites and formatting spreadsheets) so that this week I can do more of the exciting stuff! I had an exciting styling job today and have another lined up for tomorrow, so I’m beavering away editing and planning for all that. I’m attempting to flesh out my portfolio a little so I can try and pitch for more food clients from now on, and it’s very nice to have those kind of prospects on the horizon.
France was awesome, by the way. It was amazing to spend some time with Karen from Lavender and Lovage and learn how she maintains such an inspiring blog which has become such a resource to aspiring cooks. She’s a real inspiration! I have LOADS of photos from that weekend and it’s taking me a little while to wade through them, but bear with me, there will be a post coming up soon sharing my experience. So much glorious food!
I’ve been working weekends and evenings for the last few weeks, so I’m looking forward to a break. My plans consist of reading The Goldfinch – I’ve started but haven’t been able to dedicate much time, so I’m only 50 pages in, finishing Top of the Lake – I’m currently on episode three and completely enthralled, and visiting Leeds Beer Festival this weekend. I don’t actually drink beer, but I’m looking forward to the food on offer, as always.
In other news, I’ve come up with a little redesign for Whip Until Fluffy, with help from the guys at Guide, so I’m getting pretty excited about launching that within the next week or so. There will only be a few simple changes, but hopefully it’ll make the blog a bit more pleasing to the eye. A few people have brought up problems with the font size before, so if you have any comments on the way you’d like the layout to change, I’d really appreciate reading them down in the comments.
Last night I ended up at the @MEATLiquorLDS launch party and by golly was it fun. I drank quite a lot of rum punch and munched on Tobacco Onions, deep fried pickles and really juicy burgers. I’ve visited the London restaurant a few times so I’ve been really looking forward to the launch, and the intro didn’t let me down. I’ll be back next week to try it out for real.
I’ve got a couple of recipes coming up this week, plus a “day in the life” style post too. I have to apologise for keeping you waiting on that mac n cheese recipe, I’ve been struggling with the light in my house and wasn’t happy with the photographs. I’m going to remake the dish and shoot it again. It’s worth the wait, I promise! I’ve got a dessert coming up for you over the weekend.
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.