*Buttermilk Plum Cake

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We’re stone’s deep into berry season now, and while I love a bowl of strawberries and ice cream as much as the next person, cherries, raspberries and plums for me are where it’s at (although – boring fact – technically plums aren’t botanical berries, they’re actually “drupes”).  Plums are so underrated, but I love them for their slightly sour skins and juicy insides, and they’re even better when baked into a cake.  Even Bungle loves plums 🙂

Anyway, M&S got in touch recently and asked if I’d like to try baking with some of their berries.  They’re a huge fan of the Great British Berry (not to be confused with Mary Berry who is also great) – they’ve had relationships with some of their berry suppliers for over forty years and it absolutely shows; the damson plums they’ve got on offer at the moment are absolutely banging.  This plum cake is incredibly simple to make and turned out so well when I served it up at a recent barbecue that I made it again a few days later.  It’s a little bit like an upside down cake, except you bake it upright!  It also stays lovely and moist for a few days because of the buttermilk and juice from the sliced plums… if you can resist scoffing it all at once, that is! 😉

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Buttermilk Plum Cake

Ingredients

  • 125g Butter
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 125g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 50g Ground Almonds
  • 100ml Buttermilk
  • 4 Ripe Plums stoned and thinly sliced
  • (Single Cream to serve)
  1. Heat the oven up to 170°, then grease a 20cm cake tin, dusting it with a little flour.
  2. Hold back 1 tbsp of sugar, then beat the rest with the butter in a large bowl.  Beat in egg.
  3. Sift together the dry ingredients and then fold into the buttercream and egg mix along with the ground almonds.
  4. Gently stir in the buttermilk, then pour the mixture into the cake tin.
  5. Arrange the sliced plums over the surface, making sure to overlap them as the cake will rise and expand as it bakes.  Sprinkle the surface with the extra sugar, then bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  6. Serve up with fresh single cream. 🙂

Thanks to M&S for the ingredients and for sending this recipe my way – it’s a keeper!  Have a lovely weekend everyone! ❤

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 🙂

 

Hair of the Dog Shashuka with Vodka and Lime

The first time I made Shashuka I used the wrong pan.  I used a casserole dish that I assumed was okay to use on the hob as well as in the oven.  Oh how wrong I was.  I was vaguely aware of a popping sound as I started heating the oil and garlic but didn’t think anything of it and continued to cook until everything was perfect and ready to be served up for brunch (and for maybe a photograph or two 😉 ).  Sunny came strolling in to the kitchen just as I was about to lift the pot off the hob and carry it over to the table and, as I did, the whole top half of the pan came off in one clean crack and the shashuka slopped out the side and all over the hob.

I was left holding the top half of the dish in total shock, staring at all my hard work dribble down the side of the counter while Sunny exploded with laughter beside me.  Oops!  🙂

This recipe kind of reminds me of the “Wake Up Juice” that Marty McFly feeds to Doc Brown in Back to the Future Part III when he’s passed out in 1885 (one of my favourite movies of all time!).  It’s got a punch that’ll put you back on your feet after a heavy night out!  The egg and crumbly feta are just the kind of comfort food you need when you’re hungover, while the vodka, lime and chilli flakes give it a bit of a zing.

Summer Shashuka with Vodka and Lime

Ingredients

  • 1 400g can of tomato passata
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 100g diced and crumbled feta
  • 50 ml vodka
  • Juice of half a lime (use the other half to garnish)
  • As many eggs as you fancy 😉
  • 25g chilli flakes
  • Chopped chives to garnish
  • A handful of spinach to garnish
  • Pomegranate seeds to garnish
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Crusty bread to dunk 
  1. Firstly, make sure you’ve got a hob proof pan (*eye roll*) and then heat up a little olive oil.  Lightly cook the garlic until slightly brown, add the bell pepper, then pour in the vodka and lime juice.  Add the tomato passata and chilli flakes and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 25 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
  2. Drop in the diced feta, and then crack in your eggs.  Cook for 5 minutes until the eggs are cooked on the outside but soft in the middle.
  3. Add your garnish; crumble the rest of the feta over the top, drop in the spinach and chopped chives, and sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top.
  4. Serve with crusty bread. 🙂
Here’s the failed attempt.  (Excuse the bit of Bungle fur stuck to the side – my food isn’t riddled with his fur, promise!)

In case you’re wondering, we had to throw the pot; there was just no saving it. Sunny found it absolutely hilarious – especially as I’d spent such a long time cooking it and then styling it for a photograph if it turned out well. We salvaged what we could of the Shashuka and sat down to eat it and had a good laugh.  “Hey, look on the bright side,” Sunny said.  “At least we don’t have to wash up that pot now.”  Ha.

Have a great week everyone! 🙂

How I Got my Hair Back

Just before I turned thirty, I cut my hair short.  I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it, I just dropped into a London salon I’d searched up on Google that day at work, went armed with a couple of pictures I’d saved from Pinterest on the train ride, and I had the whole lot lopped off.  SNIP SNIP.  For someone who felt like her long hair had defined her throughout her teens and early twenties, this took guts.  And while the decision was impulsive and was put down by those around me to Saturn’s Return, the truth was that I did it – and decided that I needed to do it – because I felt like I’d completely lost control of my hair.  It was in bad shape and was making me miserable every time I looked in the mirror.

The long, mermaid hair I’d always thought of as “me” had split and thinned out to the extent that I’d actually stopped wearing it down, and just putting it into a lanky, limp ponytail made me upset.  It just looked awful.  Something had changed around the time that I moved to London.  London water is HARD, and the chalky residue it left behind every time I washed my hair was drying it out. It was so damaged that it was falling out in terrifying chunks in the shower or when I brushed it.  And even though Sunny and everyone around me kept telling me that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, I refused to hear them.  But then I also refused to do the one thing I could to get it back under control. Instead of getting it cut, I desperately clung on to the meager strands I had even though they were beyond help.

Finally deciding to let those dead ends rest in peace was the first step I took to getting my hair back, and three years of hard work later, it’s looking so much thicker and healthier.  I mean, it’s not perfect by any means, but I’m happy with it.  I think I’ve finally found a routine that works. 🙂

Of all my weird patterned shirts (and there are a lot.  A LOT.), I think this mermaid one is my favourite.  Unfortunately, it’s a few years old now but I did find a link to one selling on eBay if anyone’s interested. 🙂

Regular Trims

When I was seventeen I had hair down to my waist and my whole hair care regime involved my Mum dragging me to her hairdresser once a year where I mournfully parted with an inch of a dead ends.  Then, during my twenties it became horribly clear that the old ways just weren’t cutting it anymore (…see what I did there 😉 ).  My fine, dry hair was far more prone to breakage than it used to be (thanks London water!) and so far more susceptible to splits.  That meant that the longer I left it between trims, the thinner my hair got as the split ends made their way up the hair shaft.  Nowadays I’m still a bit lacsy-daisy about getting my ass down to the hairdressers regularly, but as soon as I see the ends drying out and splitting, I go and part with as much hair as I need to to keep the hair I do have looking healthy.

Less Washing & Heat Styling

I used to wash my hair every day – and sure it kept my hair clean and restyled, but by doing so I stripped it of all its natural oils.  Plus heat styling every day on top of that made it dry, which in turn left it brittle.  These days I wash my hair no more than three times a week (I like the Garnier Ultimate Blends Sensitive Scalp Shampoo and Conditioner) and heat style it as little as possible.  (It also helps that the water here in Cardiff is nice and soft).

I’m a huge fan of Toni&Guy’s styling products; they smell amazing, they don’t weigh my fine hair down and they’re usually on a two for one offer either at the supermarket or Boots! 😉 I can’t rave about Vitapointe enough; it’s basically a leave in conditioner that you put on dry hair and I like to put it on my ends after styling or whenever they’re looking a little frazzled.  You don’t need a lot of it, it’s not greasy and it’s cheap!  Aaaaand, I like to put a coconut oil mask on my ends once a week – usually when I’m in the bath – just to keep those split ends at bay.

Keep it Simple when it comes to Products

When my hair was at its worst I started buying expensive shampoos, conditioners and miracle oils to sort it out.  But that was a waste of time and money.  My hair was already broken, and layering heavy moisture-rich products on top just weighed it down, stressed out my scalp and no matter how expensive they were they were never going to be able to bring my dead ends back to life.  These days I’ve stripped my products back and only use ones that work with my hair type – and, they’re all cheap as chips! 😉  Oh, and I stick with them – no more chopping and changing.

Ditch the Hair Ties

It got to a point where I was so depressed about my hair that I stopped wearing it down and instead scraped it back into a bun every day.  But using hair ties was just making things worse and left me with flyaways and split ends halfway up the hair shaft.  I know there are supposedly hair ties out there that claim not to cause breakages, but for me, going cold turkey on all hair ties was the only thing that worked.  Clips and pins all the way!

No Dye

When I was at Uni I went through a whole pink hair phase – which was fun at the time, but did horrible things to my hair and scalp!  I had highlights and balayage throughout my twenties and although I loved how my hair looked with a bit of blonde through the ends, it just made it drier.  I made the decision to go Au Natural a few years ago and it’s definitely helped my hair spring back to its former glory.  I mean, I’m tempted all the time to foil up again like I used to… but I’ve worked so hard to get my hair back that I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Be Happy With What you Have!

Last time I went to the hairdressers there was teen in the chair next to me getting highlights put in.  She had the most gorgeous mass of curls I’ve ever seen and hair envy hit me HARD.  But, sometimes you’ve just got to roll with what you’ve got and be grateful for it.  Did cutting my hair short suddenly give me thick, curly hair?  Nnnnope.  But, it improved the condition of it and put me on the path to healthier locks. Sadly, thick, curly hair just isn’t in my genes.  I have fine hair.  I have dry hair.  I have annoying baby hairs around my face that like to stick up.  And, I’m probably never going to have the mermaid hair I was blessed with in my teens again.  But that’s okay.  The problem with wanting what you don’t have is that you forget to appreciate what you do have.

What are your top hair care tips or holy grail products?  Let everyone know in the comments! 💇

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Dutch Baby

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If there’s one thing I love about weekends (…there are many things, obviously, but here’s one for free) it’s brunch.  Bungle’s waking up before 6am most mornings at the moment, so during the week I get up and walk him, while Sunny gets ready for work.  We always eat breakfast together but it’s rushed and we’re both far too dog-tired (I’m starting to understand the origin of that phrase…) to care what we quickly swallow down before the day gets going.

But on the weekend?  Oh the weekend!  We take it in turns to have a lie in and then once we’re both up, we eat a fancy brunch.  No half burnt toast or lukewarm porridge… nope, we celebrate the weekend with something a bit special – whether that’s pancakes, a full English, or pink poached eggs… or, a new fave of mine: Dutch Babies.


Not babies wearing clogs, let’s call these what they really are, and what they are is basically a massive, sweet Yorkshire Pudding.  It’s what happens when you pour pancake batter into a hot skillet, and instead of frying, you bake it in the oven for thirty minutes.  It goes golden brown, the edges puff up and and go crispy and create a bowl for whatever filling you fancy!  And, they’re really easy to make; you can whip up the batter the night before and there’s nothing technical to worry about.  Perfect for lazy weekends 🙂

Dutch Baby (makes two mini babies, or one big baby 😉)

Ingredients

  • 200ml Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Caster Sugar
  • 70g Plain Flour
  • A little butter for greasing
  • Filling of choice: I used grilled nectarines, strawberries, shaved coconut and a bit of cream
  • A little icing sugar for dusting
  1. In a measuring jug, whisk together the milk, eggs and sugar.  Gradually add the flour, ensuring the mixture is smooth and without any lumps or bumps.
  2. Leave the mixture in the fridge overnight or for an hour.  Then, when you’re ready to cook, stir and allow it to warm to room temperature.
  3. Set the oven to 220°, putting your skillet or heatproof dish inside to heat up with it.  Once both have heated up, remove the skillet/dish from the oven and grease with butter.  Pour in the batter, then bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
  4. After twenty minutes, the sides should have puffed up and turned golden brown.  Turn down the temperature to 160°, and bake for a further 10 minutes whilst you prepare your filling of choice!
  5. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.  Yum!

Have a great weekend everyone!  (Hopefully we’ve finally seen the back of Spring-ter…) 🙂