*How to Host the Best Ever Barbecue

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So far it’s been a summer of Barbecues; the weather’s been so beautiful here in Wales (I mean who’d have thunk it?) that we’ve had or been to one practically every weekend.  I’m not complaining!  I LOVE a good barbecue, and over the weekend we hosted yet another one in our back garden, thanks to the lovely people at Marks and Spencer who recently sent me an email asking if I’d like to try some of their goodies for the grill.

So, having put a few successful barbecues under my belt this summer (literally, you should see my waist line…), here are my top ten tips for hosting the best ever barbecue. 🙂


1. Fire up the Grill at 3pm

There’s nothing better than banging barbecue weather, but standing next to the grill at midday – when the sun is blazing overhead – will have you melting faster than that slice of Monterey Jack crowning your burgers.  Spare a thought for your grill jockey and get the grill going at 3pm instead when it’s cooler and shadier.  It’ll also give you plenty of time in the morning to prepare the food and set up. 🙂

2. Keep your set up simple

The last thing you want to be doing when the whole neighbourhood is squeezed into your back garden is rushing around making sure everyone’s got plates, ketchup, napkins etc…  The best way to host a stress-free barbecue is to make sure people can help themselves to whatever they need, whenever they need it.  Create a “Pimp Your Hotdog” stand where all the sauces, buns and garnishes can be found, and set up another space for plates, forks (no one uses knives at barbecues!) and napkins.

When it comes to decorating, keep it simple!  Brightly-coloured streamers and pom poms will look great when there’s a breeze, while fairy or pontoon lights will keep the party going when the sun goes down.  Oh, and don’t forget a couple of citronella candles and wasp traps to keep those stinging party poopers at bay.

3. Serve Pitcher-friendly Drinks

Aside from bottled beers and cans shoved in a massive ice bucket, pitcher-friendly drinks are a great way to serve up some fancier drinks that everyone can help themselves to. Plus, they’re easy to prep and make up beforehand.  I served up these Peach, Apricot and Raspberry Floats over the weekend and they went down a treat!  Just smear some glasses with raspberry coulis and pop them in the fridge or freezer, then make up a jug of the Peach and Apricot Fizz.  Serve up with a hefty blob of frozen yoghurt and garnish with some raspberries and mint.  Yum!


4. Something to Keep Pets Entertained

Bungle is an absolute nightmare when he’s out in the garden.  He digs holes, chews on the plants and just generally likes to cause trouble.  So, when we’re having a barbecue making sure there’s plenty to keep him (and his friends!) entertained is a must.  First things first, make sure there’s fresh water handy and somewhere for furry guests to cool down – whether that’s a shady area or a massive paddling pool is up to you, but be warned, if you pick the paddling pool then you’re going to get showered with shake off!  Make sure there are plenty of toys out, as well as a few treats handy. I like to make Bungle his very own cup of frozen yoghurt with chopped up bits of cheese and sausage.  They’re super easy to make and he goes absolutely mad for them (…plus they keep him out of trouble for a good half hour…).


5. Serve up the *Best Ever Burgers

I mean, can you even call a barbecue a barbecue if you don’t serve up some show-stopping burgers?  Especially here in Wales; according to statistics we consumed 180,000 M&S burgers in the last 12 months – that’s enough to fill the Principality Stadium to capacity twice over!  You all know how much I love Marks and Spencer when it comes to barbecue food; their Posh Dogs make the best hot dogs (and you all know how fussy I am when it comes to Hot Dogs, right?).  Well, now they’ve taken the Grill Crown once again with their Best Ever Burgers.  Apparently, the M&S boeffins (see what I did there?) spent a whole year creating the recipe, playing around with different cuts until they came up with a juicy patty that’s got a little bit of added bone marrow for an extra hit of flavour.  (M&S is also the only national retailer in the UK that can trace every single bit of beef it sells in store, right down the exact cow that provided it.)  We served them up on the weekend with fresh salad, fried red onion rings, beef tomatoes, bacon (phwoar…), some Cheddar and Balsamic Burger Melts and a hefty smudge of Smoky Onion Relish and they were a huge hit.  Sunny grilled them to perfection on the BBQ and when he asked my brother and I how they were, we just nodded and mmmmm’d with warm juice drizzling down our wrists.  Oh yes.  We may have sneaked a few before everyone arrived… 👌


6. Something for the Veggies

But why should us rampant carnivores have all the fun, eh?  Veggies like my Mum love a barbecue too.  There are plenty of great vegetarian dishes you can cook up on the grill, from stuffed peppers and mushrooms, to these spicy halloumi kebabs drizzled with hot mango salsa.  Just remember to make extra because you can bet everyone else is going to want to have a couple too.  And remember, depending on how strict your veggies are, you might want to have a separate grill or disposable barbecue handy to prevent cross contamination.

7. Pick Simple Sides

No one wants to faff around cooking up fancy sides in the middle of a barbecue, so pick a handful of recipes that you can make ahead of time.  Plenty of salad, grilled sweet corn and chips are always easy to make up and go down well.  I like making these baked new potato wedges with my Chilli and Red Pepper Jam and chopped chives.

8. Don’t forget to serve up something sweet!

But make sure it’s not going to sweat in the heat!  Ice lollies and ice cream are great if you’ve got somewhere to store them where guests can come and go as they please, but there are lots of other options too.  Why not whip up a very messy Eaton Mess, or serve up some cake with plenty of fresh berries and ice cold cream? 🙂

9. Evening Games

I went to a barbecue recently where we played musical chairs, no kidding!  We’d all had a bit to drink by that point, and what started off as a game to entertain the kids turned into an adults only duel to the death.  It was hilarious!  Once everyone’s had their fill of food, it’s great to have some after dinner games to entertain everyone while the grill cools and the sun goes down.

10. Make the Cleanup a Doddle

“Let’s host a barbecue, it’ll be great!”  And it is, until everyone goes home and you’re left to scrub grease off the grill and clear up all those bottles (and the mud and grass that the dog’s trodden in through the kitchen…).  Make life easier for yourself and clean up as you go along or consider serving food up on paper plates to cut down on the late night washing up.  Also close doors to rooms indoors that you want to keep clean and tidy; that way guests won’t get lost and leave you with extra spots to scrub up at the end of the day.

How many Barbecues have you had or been to this summer?  I think we’re up to about ten and honestly, I could easy go for at least ten more 😉  Massive thanks to Marks and Spencer for all the glorious food! 🍔

Vancouver in a Day

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Okay, let’s be clear; we actually had a grand total of three days in Vancouver (two and a half, really, when you count the fact that we were stuck in immigration for most of the afternoon after we landed).  But, we pretty much explored the whole city in one day and then used our second day to explore North Vancouver – including Capilano and Grouse Mountain (stay tuned for that one…).  Of course, Vancouver isn’t a small city and we were absolutely cream-crackered by the end of the day (maple cream-crackered), but we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. 🙂

MAIN STREET

Back when we booked our trip we were stunned by how expensive hotels in Vancouver are and really struggled to find something that wasn’t either horrendously expensive or waaaaay out of the city.  We settled on the Best Western Plus Uptown Hotel, which was just off Main Street in an area called Mount Pleasant.  I’m told by an ex-Vancouverite that it used to be a bit of a run down neighborhood, but recently it’s undergone a bit of gentrification with its mural art, poke restaurants and taco bars.  The hotel was great; especially the crew on reception who were full of insider info and put out fresh drinks at the end of the day for weary, overheated guests to take back to the room.  We weren’t far from downtown but not close enough to walk (especially as there was heatwave on while we were there) and so we ended up using the bus to get around quickly.




GRANVILLE ISLAND

We started off the day on Granville Island, heading over there nice and early for breakfast waffles before all the crowds of other tourists swooped in.  It’s not technically and island but a peninsula wedged between downtown and South Granville and while it used to be full of factories and warehouses, nowadays its home to Vancouver’s Public Market and foodie heaven.  From fruit and veg to doughnuts and bagels, and pies and oysters to clothing and artwork, it’s my number one recommended place to hit up if you’re ever in Vancouver.  We wandered around the stalls, stuffed our faces and shopped for some unique bits and bobs to bring home.



STANLEY PARK

From Granville Island, we caught one of the cute and colourful little Aquabuses that ferry people around False Creek, and got off at Yaletown.  From there we had the crazy idea to walk the seawall to Stanley Park, hitting up Sunset Beach and English Bay along the way.  By that point it was late morning, it was getting hot and it was much longer walk than we realised.  BUT!  It was a lovely walk and well worth it to see the beaches.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s not-so-little oasis right on the edge of downtown.  It’s more than just a public park, it’s actually 400 hectare rainforest and home to plenty of wildlife (including racoons and beavers).  It’s also where you’ll find the famous Vancouver Aquarium.  We didn’t have much time to explore the whole park, but we did walk the scenic sea wall route which took us right past the famous first nation Totem Poles.



JAPADOG

By the time we did a loop of the park it was time for a pitstop and we just happened to stumble across a Japadog Stand.  I’d heard about Japadog before heading out to Canada and then passed one of the stands on the afternoon we arrived.  They’re basically Japanese-themed Hotdogs, which sounds really weird, I know.  But, as a self-proclaimed hot dog connoisseur I felt it my duty to give one a go.  I know, how I suffer, right?  We went for the Terimayo, which is a hot dog topped with teriyaki sauce, mayonnaise and seaweed, and d’you know what?  It was… really weird.  But good weird.  Like, really good weird. The salty seaweed totally made it.



VANCOUVER LOOKOUT

Next we took a tip from our hotel receptionist and headed back downtown to visit the Harbour Centre’s Vancouver Lookout.  We like to climb to the highest point whenever we visit a new city, so the Vancouver Lookout was definitely on our list.  However, it costs $17.50 each to zoom up in the glass lift to the viewing platform.  Thanks to a sweet little tip from our hotel receptionist, we got in the lift (for free!) and whizzed up to the revolving restaurant instead.  It was mid-afternoon, they were only serving small appetizers and drinks and it was pretty much empty.  We bought a hot drink for around $6 each and just sat and watched the view go by. Of course this trick would never work during peak restaurant hours, but during the middle of the afternoon it worked like a charm 😉


GASTOWN

Gastown is the oldest part of downtown and is named after “Gassy” Jack, a steamboat captain from “oop norf” who made it to Vancouver in 1867 and decided he’d had enough of the high seas and opened up the city’s first saloon.  It’s full of old brick buildings that reminded me a little bit of New York and is the best place to head to if you’re looking for a bite to eat.  We ended up at Gringo on Blood Alley which is basically where I want to retire to someday.  80s Music?  Check.  Stadium Nachos and Street Tacos?  Check.  Cocktails with Gummy Worms?  Check.  Neon Lighting?  Check.






COAL HARBOUR

We ended the day in Coal Harbour, which doesn’t really have that much to see or do – it’s basically a big harbour and bagged the name “blue blood alley” thanks to all the swanky apartment blocks and mansions there.  But, it was a nice place to round off our first day.  We walked down to the water and watched all the sea planes coming and going – flying off across the water towards the mountains – and then ended up soaking up the sunset on the terrace of the oh so trendy (and very reasonable) Cactus Club with a burger each. Perfecto.  🙂

Phew, that was a long one!  Have a great weekend everyone 🙂

 

Piña Colada Pavlova

It was my Mum’s birthday over the weekend and since we’re still in the middle of a heatwave I decided to do something a little bit different instead of baking the ol’ tried and true sponge cake.  If there’s one thing I remember about dinners in my house as a kid, it was the prepacked meringue nests my Mum used to buy from Sainsbury’s to make impromptu pavlova for afters (sorry, Mum, I know… I meant “pudding”).  So I thought I’d give it a go from scratch and make a pina colada flavoured one complete with pineapple curd, coconut cream and a healthy splash of rum.

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Pina Colada Pavlova

Ingredients

For the Curd:

  • 80g butter
  • 80ml pineapple juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks (keep the whites, you’ll need those later!)
  • 2 tsp cornflour

For the Meringue Layers:

  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

For the Cream:

  • 300ml Double Cream
  • 100ml coconut syrup
  • 100ml rum
  1. To make the curd, whisk together your eggs, sugar and cornflour in a pot and then transfer onto the hob.  Warm everything up on a low heat, adding your pineapple juice and butter.  Make sure you stir slowly but constantly to prevent it sticking or scrambling.  After 10 minutes the mixture will thicken and look a little bit like custard.  Take it off the heat and leave it to cool.
  2. To make your meringue layers, whisk together your 4 egg whites, gradually adding the caster sugar and cornflour.  Once you’ve got nice stiff peaks, whisk in the vinegar – that’s going to give you a nice crispy meringue on the outside whilst keeping it nice and gooey in the middle.
  3. Spread them out on a lined baking tray, smoothing them into disks and then bake in the oven for an hour at 120°.  Leave to cool.
  4. Once you’re ready to assemble (and eat; meringue’s hate moisture and as soon as you pile them with cream they’re going to crack and then go soggy), whip up your double cream with the coconut syrup and rum and then sandwich it in between the meringue layers with the pineapple curd.  Top with chopped pistachios if you want to be fancy 😉

Tada!  I decided to give Instagram TV a go the other day, so you can catch a video of me making this recipe over there.  It was my first attempt at making a video with a voiceover, so let me know what you think! 🙂

 

5 Hot Weather Beauty Favourites

I can’t remember the last time we had a proper summer here in Wales.  And I’m not just  talking about a couple of lukewarm days here and there, but a real “it’s way too hot to sleep”, “I’m sweating between my toes” – kind of summer, with weeks and weeks of genuinely hot weather.  It’s been a-mazing, but it’s also been a bit of a shock to the system when the usual programming involves 365 days of tepid Welsh drizzle.  So, a bit of a shake up of the ol’ beauty routine is definitely in order when your makeup’s literally melting off your face and the agoraphobic pins are on suddenly show every day.

With that in mind, here are five beauty bits and bobs I’ve been reaching for every day during this heatwave (long may it sizzle!). 🙂

1. Simple’s De-Stress Sheet Mask

Not gonna lie, it took me a while to get on board with the whole sheet mask beauty trend; Sunny still says I look like a burn victim/Hannibal Lecter every time I prance around in one and I’m not 100% sure they make a massive difference compared to the more traditional face masks I’ve got stocked in my bathroom cupboard (The Origins Clear Improvement Charcoal Mask and the Liz Earle Intensive Nourishment Mask are still my top two), but damn it, they do feel good – especially during hot weather.  I picked up a couple of Simple’s sheet masks (I like the Rich Moisture Mask and the De-Stress Mask) from Tesco and ended up going back for more because they’re cheap and kind on sensitive skin, but more than anything else I really enjoy the cooling, soothing feeling I get when I wear one.  Plus if you keep them in the fridge they’re great to pop on when you’re feeling a bit hot and bothered. 🙂

2. Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic Spritzer

I LOVE this stuff; my skin drinks it up like a sixteen year old slurping down their first WKD (sorry, Liz; I’m sure that’s the branding you were going for…).  Except, this toner isn’t going to stain your lips blue.  I’ve got sensitive skin that’s prone to some wide open pores, acne and rosacea – the unholy trinity of skin complaints – and this little bottle of holy water always seems to calm things down.  It hydrates, brightens and shrinks my pores – plus, it smells lovely.  It’s also perfect to stick in your handbag on a hot day whenever you need a little refresh.  (I also love L’Occitane’s Essential Face Water)

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3. Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse

I can’t pronounce it to save my life, but oh baby, I like to think of this stuff as sexy, French je ne sais quoi bottled.  It’s basically a multipurpose dry oil (lightweight and not too greasy) that you can use to nourish not only your face and body, but also your hair – so it’s perfect for prickly, sunburnt legs and frazzled summer tresses.  Some people like to pour a little in their bath water or spray it onto their hair brush, but I like to just spray it on after I’ve showered to moisturize my skin and add a bit of a summery glow.  I feel like the scent is either a love it or hate it kind of fragrance – it’s kind of musky and old fashioned – but personally, I love it.

4. Make Up Forever Ultra HD Microfinishing Loose Powder

I used to steer clear of powders when it came to makeup because I was afraid of either drying out my skin or piling too much on – plus I tend to prefer a glowy look rather than the matte, chalkboard-look most powders create.  But in hot weather a setting powder is a must if you don’t want to look like a sad clown by lunchtime.  The Make Up Forever Finishing Powder works really hard to keep everything stuck in place without you even really knowing it’s there.  It’s talc-free so doesn’t dry out your skin, and also combats shine and mattifies without taking away that healthy summery glow.  A smidge on the pricey side, but a total knockout product if you want to splurge on something that really works.

5. Bourjois Healthy Mix Anti-Fatigue Blurring Primer

I’ve been using Bourjois’ Healthy Mix foundation for years and so when my Clarins Beauty Flash Balm ran out just before the heatwave, I set out on the hunt for a cheaper alternative to help combat sweaty makeup slidy face (…That’s the technical term, yes). So I decided to give the Healthy Mix Primer a try, and d’you know what?  It’s pretty good.  It’s obviously not going to punch as hard as Clarins, but it does do a decent job of smoothing out any redness and fine lines, and applies nicely under the Healthy Mix Foundation.  It’s a small tube, yes, but I never feel like I need to apply a lot – plus, it’s handy for popping in your carry-on if you want to feel a bit more human once you’re off the plane.

What beauty products do you reach for during a heatwave? 🙂

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Oh Canada…

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I’ve just come back from a week driving around British Columbia and Alberta and all I can say is, Oh Canada!  If you’re with me over on Instagram then you’re well aware and have probably been following along with my Canadian adventure via Stories – but oh my gosh, it’s been absolutely amazing.  I’m nackered, I’ve been feasted upon by mosquitos, caught an air-con cold and have eaten waaaaaay too many Maple Cream Cookies (…and brought four more boxes back with me in my suitcase), but have loved every single minute.

The reason we went out there was because Sunny’s cousin (who lives in Calgary) was getting married in Kananaskis, and so when we RSVP’d to the invitation we decided – what the hell – we’d tack on a little Canadian road trip before the big day.  We flew into Vancouver and spent a couple of days exploring the city, and then took a few more days to drive the scenic route to Kananaskis, hitting up Jasper and Banff National Parks along the way.  We had an absolute blast and definitely want to do another driving holiday sometime soon.  Once I’ve vanquished jet lag and unpacked I’ll go into a bit more detail, but for now, here are some of my favourite snaps (and, if you’re curious, all my Canadian Stories are available to watch over on Instagram – just go to my profile page and look for the highlight reel titled ‘Canada’). 🙂













Have a fab week everyone! (And Happy Canada Day!) 🙂