Mirror, Mirror

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When do you feel that you look most like yourself?  For me it’s about twenty minutes before I fall into bed when I’m in my bathroom and about to take my makeup off (on one of the days where I’ve actually done my makeup – that’s very important; I don’t count the other days).  That moment before I scoop my hair up and run the tap, I lean on the sink and look into the mirror and actually recognise the reflection staring back as most like “me”.  Or maybe the more accurate way of putting it is that I actually like the reflection staring back.  I mean sure, it’s not as polished as the 10am version – but that’s okay and I kind of prefer it that way; it’s more realistic, less maintained (but at the same time not the horror show that is the 7am version).  I’m slobbing around in my pyjamas, my makeup’s worn in, I’ve shed my glasses, the curl’s mostly fallen out of my hair and I’m about to get into bed (the best time of the day, I think you’ll agree) so I’ve usually got a happy little grin going on.

That slightly dishevelled, chilled out and cheerful reflection is what I expect and hope to see in every mirror I come across day to day – not just in my bathroom one – but also in changing rooms, hotels, other people’s houses, the windows I walk past when I’m out and about, in photographs and in the eyes of everyone I know.  Kind of like the evil step mother in Snow White (Mirror, mirror on the wall…).  So, how come I NEVER do!  That bathroom reflection never bloody leaves the house and I feel like I’m constantly being pounced on by other reflections of myself that I don’t recognise AT ALL.  Like the one lurking behind me in that long, tilting mirror you get in every H&M fitting room that lets you see what you look like from a horrible backwards angle (“Jesus christ, is that what my nose looks like from the side???  That’s not me!”).  Shudder.  The horror at seeing a photograph of myself on a day where I thought I was walking out of the house looking absolutely smokin’ in that new skirt when actually – turns out – it makes my thighs look massive.  Yeesh.  Then there’s that weird moment where I try and correlate those two very different images of myself and work out which one is actually real – because there can’t possibly be two.  I’m just one person after all, I don’t have two sets of thighs.  So which is the liar: the camera or the mirror?

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We’ve all experienced those surreal moments when people actually voice how they see you.  The first time I became aware that other people might see me differently to the way I saw myself was when I was about seven.  I was in school, queuing up with the rest of the kids to go to assembly and one of them suddenly turned around in the line and gave me a long, hard look.  “…It must be really strange having one eye bigger than the other,” they said, then shrugged and went off to assembly without realising that they’d just performed the equivalent of a hit and run on my appearance, and man was it a kill shot.  I remember being simultaneously confused and completely horrified, because firstly I’d never noticed anything different about my eyes, and secondly – hold up – “is that what everyone thinks I look like!?  Am I a monster!”   Thinking about that now makes me laugh out loud (kids are dicks, aren’t they?) – I mean, how ridiculous!  But I never forgot it and – you know what? – there might actually be some truth to it because to this day I can never seem to apply my eyeliner evenly.  Oh well.

Why is it that criticisms of our appearance – however wide off the mark and ridiculous – are so easy to believe, but compliments aren’t?  There are some observations that we want to believe, but flat out refuse to – like a mirage.  For example, my husband is always telling me that there’s nothing of me – that I’m stick thin.  I know he’s not lying, but I’m convinced that he sees me as skinnier than I actually am because he’s taller than me and so he’s always looking at me from a slightly skewed angle (isn’t that mad?!).  A few weeks ago my sister-in-law turned around, pointed to my eyes and said they were “quite stunning” because apparently they’ve got a darker ring around the outside of the iris.  Excuse me, what?  Looking at my eyes in mirrors all my life I’d never once noticed this mythical dark ring – but she’s right, it’s there.  How the hell did I miss that?  Why didn’t I see it?

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It’s a kind of weird, daily challenge that we all face, isn’t it?  Gathering up all these different versions of ourselves and trying to marry them up with the one we accept as the “real” us (and that’s without adding that impossible bar set for us by the media, fashion and beauty industries).  I’m 33 and I still haven’t figured out which is the real one, or whether I care.  Is it that bathroom version?  The skinny one with the stunning eyes my husband and sister in law see?  Or the sloppy one my neighbours see at 7am when I walk the dog?  Or are they all way, way off?  Are my thighs big?  Are my wrinkles easy to spot?  I can’t for the life of me work out how I can look in a mirror and love my appearance one minute and then take a photograph two seconds later only to stab furiously at the delete button.  I have absolutely no idea.  There’s no easy answer except that I’m probably all of these different versions of myself and none of them at the same time – and that mirrors are very, very strange objects.

Fun fact, every time you see your reflection in a mirror it’s out by about 10 nanoseconds – so it’s a slightly younger version of yourself.  *eye roll* In case you wondered, that’s probably the real me – the one who has to punctuate everything with a nerdy fact. 😉

Chilli Mac & Cheese

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Happy Monday (and Happy 1st of July!)!  Here’s a recipe to bookmark for later, because – well – firstly, Mac & Cheese isn’t exactly the kind of thing to be scoffing in the middle of summer, is it?  It definitely falls under the category of cold weather comfort food; it’s perfect for gloomy, November night’s in rather than a sticky, July suppers scoffed alfresco – right?  (Although, honestly my appetite knows no season, and – besides – you never know when the Welsh Weather’s going to trip you up…) And secondly, it’s two recipes in one!  Definitely one to keep up your sleeve. 😉

Chilli is one of my absolute favourite meals to make because it’s a one pot wonder that’s easy to whip up mid week when I’m feeling too tired to cook and tempted to reach for that takeaway menu.  It’s also perfect for batch cooking; the recipe makes more than enough to sort both one dinner and a couple of lunches for the week.  Make it meaty with beef mince if you like, but I actually prefer the veggie version using Quorn Mince.  I’ll usually serve it up with some rice, grated cheese and sour cream (my husband likes to add a couple of crushed nachos to his too for some extra crunch), but it’s also pretty fabulous served up on a bed of gooey, super-cheesy Mac and Cheese.

I feel like Mac and Cheese gets a bit of a bad rap from all those cardboard microwave versions (bleugh!).  I mean it only takes a little extra effort to make it yourself, and it tastes so much better!  Especially if you use the right kind of cheese.  Lucky for me, the guys from Dragon Wales (who make my favourite vintage cheddar – my fridge is always stocked with a block!) sent me a lovely little hamper full of their brand new range of cheeses, including a Maple Smoked Cheddar that was born to make the smokiest, creamiest cheese sauce for Mac and Cheese. 👌

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Chilli Mac & Cheese (serves 2 – with plenty for leftovers!)

Ingredients

For the Chilli:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 350g mince (sure, beef’s traditional, but I personally love Quorn mince)
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp chipotle paste
  • 500g tomato passata
  • 225g black beans
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ancho chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp runny honey
  • chopped fresh coriander
  • salt and pepper to season

For the Mac & Cheese:

  • 100g macaroni
  • 100g cheddar cheese, grated (I really like Dragon’s new *Maple-Smoked Cheddar)
  • 100g butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 200ml milk
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. To make the chilli, heat up your olive oil in a deep pan – then add the diced red onions and fry on a medium heat until they’re glossy.  Add the garlic and fry for one minute.
  2. Next, add the mince and fry it for a couple of minutes until brown, then add the bell pepper and black beans.  Add the chipotle paste, honey and passata and stir until combined.  
  3. Season the chilli with the paprika, cumin, ground coriander, cayenne pepper and chilli flakes – then turn down the heat, whack on the lid and allow the chilli to simmer for twenty five minutes.  If it’s looking a little dry, pour in a little cold water.
  4. Once it’s cooked, you can stop there, season it with salt and pepper and serve it up with some fresh coriander, rice and sour cream… or you can keep the lid on and whip up some Mac and Cheese to scoff it with! 😉
  5. To make the Mac and Cheese, first get your macaroni boiling with some salt.  While it’s cooking, grab a fresh saucepan and gently heat the butter until it’s melted.  Next, add the flour and whisk to make a roux (fancy-pants term which basically means a sauce base). 
  6. Keeping the heat down low, slowly pour in the milk and whisk until everything’s combined.  Add the grated cheddar, season and stir to make a lovely, thick and cheesy sauce. 😉
  7. Stir in the cooked (and drained!) macaroni, then serve up with the chilli and fresh coriander.  Yum!

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Have a great week everyone!  And thanks to Dragon Wales for the lovely cheese!  💛💛💛

*This post isn’t sponsored, but contains gifted items.  To find out more about what this means and to read my disclaimer, click here.

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

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Okay, I’m well aware that it hasn’t exactly been “Ice Cream Weather” recently (it’s been so wet and windy here in Wales the past couple of weeks that I’ve had to dig my winter coat back out of storage)… so let’s call this post aspirational, shall we?  Mind you, I grew up slurping down Joe’s Icecream cwtched-up in the back of the car with my Mum and Mamgu parked up on the front in Mumbles in the dead of winter so I can’t say the weather’s ever really stopped me, so…

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that making ice cream is difficult – or that you need a special machine to do it – because they’re having you on (and trying to stop you from creating your own never ending supply of the good stuff…).  There are a lot of complicated recipes out there that involve creating the custard base with eggs, or stirring the mixture every hour as it freezes (ugh)… but this recipe?  It’s EASY.  Too easy, in fact.  All you need is some double cream and condensed milk, and with some restrained whipping you’ll have yourself a simple ice cream base that freezes like a dream (no need to break your wrist when it comes to scooping!) and can be flavoured any way you like it.

Since the weather’s been a bit… autumnal, I added some marshmallow fluff and toasted marshmallows to mine to make this Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream – which I bet would be absolutely awesome served up between two cookies as a kind of Smores Ice Cream Sarnie.  Yum! 😉

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Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 600ml double cream
  • 400ml sweetened, condensed milk
  • 100g marshmallow fluff
  • 200g large marshmallows (plus a few more to serve!)
  1. This recipe is so easy, it’s practically criminal.  To make the ice cream base – grab a mixing bowl and whip up your double cream (whip it good) until it’s nice and thick and forming stiff peaks (if the cream becomes foamy and starts to separate then you’ve whipped too much!).  
  2. Pour in the marshmallow fluff and condensed milk and whip until everything’s combined.
  3. Next, toast your marshmallows.  It’s completely up to you how you do it; you can either pop them in the oven under the grill until they start to brown and bubble, or you can (carefully!) scorch them with a blow torch.  Set them aside for a few minutes to cool down – then mix them into your ice cream!
  4. Pour the ice cream into tubs, then freeze for at least five hours.  Serve up in cones, or between a couple of cookies (yum!) or over grilled peaches with a couple of scorched marshmallows and toasted nuts on top. 🙂

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Have a great week!

Coffee, Maple and Walnut Cake

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It was my Dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and so – of course – I baked him a cake.  He’s a big fan of coffee and walnut cake, and so I decided to bake him one of those – but fancied levelling up the flavours a little.  I have a candle in my kitchen called “Coffee Break” (a TK Maxx bargain!) that I like to burn in the morning while I’m making breakfast or cleaning; I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t drink coffee but absolutely LOVES the smell of it.  Anyway, this candle smells like an American Coffee Shop in the best kind of way; it gives off a kind of nutty, syrupy, dark roast smell and I love it!  I kind of gave myself the challenge of making the cake taste like that candle smells – which is a very weird thing to do, I know – but I think I kind of pulled it off!  I added in a good glug of maple syrup and some brown sugar and that seemed to do the trick! Nutty, syrupy, coffee(-y) – it’s the perfect bake for Father’s Day! 🙂

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Coffee, Maple and Walnut Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 2 egg whites
  • 150g butter
  • 150g ground walnuts (just blitz them in a blender until they look like wet sand)
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 100g self raising flour
  • 75ml milk
  • 2 tbsp coffee granules

To decorate:

  • 50g ground walnuts
  • 200g salted butter
  • 400g icing sugar
  1. Set your oven to 170°C and grease and line a small, round, spring-form cake tin (less than 20cm).
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar, then pour in the eggs and egg whites.  Mix until well-combined and fluffy.
  3. Next, warm the milk in the microwave and mix in the coffee granules.  Leave the coffee mixture to cool before stirring it into the batter (you don’t want to scramble the eggs!).  Stir in the maple syrup.
  4. Next, sift all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl (that’s the flour, salt, baking powder and ground walnuts), then gradually add the mixture to the batter – stirring until well-combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 50 minutes – or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.  Leave to cool.
  6. Once the cake has cooled, carefully slice into two or three layers (depending on how dab-handed with a knife you are!).  Sandwich the layers together with buttercream, then ice the cake with whatever you’ve got left.  Sprinkle with ground walnuts and decorate with whole nuts and fresh flowers. 🙂

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Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, but mostly to my awesome Dad.

Snapshots from Tenby

Snapshots from Tenby / Dinbych y Pysgod

It’s absolutely crazy that Tenby is less than two hours away by car from Cardiff (…a little less if the roads aren’t bad around Carmarthen and you don’t get stuck behind any coach-trippers), and yet, the last time I went down there was on a Brownie Pack Holiday (as a Brownie, I might add – it was that long ago).  We stayed in this massive guest house around Castle Rock, wore jelly shoes to explore rock pools on South Beach, and made kites out of plastic bags from the local spar and a couple of sticks (these were the days before Pinterest, you know).  They didn’t work – surprise, surprise.

A few weeks ago, Sunny and I did a bit of a road trip out west to Pembrokeshire to see the puffins on Skomer Island and decided to make a little pit-stop in Tenby.  I totally forgot how pretty Tenby is!  From the painted Georgian Townhouses, massive harbour and beautiful sandy beach – it’s no wonder it’s been the favourite seaside holiday haunt of people like George Eliot and Roald Dahl, and it’s kind of criminal that I don’t head down there more often to be honest! 🙂

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Have a lovely week! 🙂