Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Shack Falmouth Restaurant Review

A few weeks ago we went to Falmouth in Cornwall to visit family and to celebrate a special lady's 90th Birthday. Despite being early April, the weather on Saturday was warm enough to wander through town without a jacket. It seemed like a shame to eat indoors during such a nice spell so we headed to Discovery Quay (also known as Events Square) to have a bite to eat.

Discovery Quay has quickly become a foodies delight. Based around a large piazza, dominated by the National Maritime Museum you will find a whole range of restaurants, from Pizza Express & Zizzi to Rick Stein's Fish with a range of smaller independent restaurants too.

We decided to eat at The Shack, a shellfish restaurant found in between it's sister restaurants, The Shed & The Ranch. These three restaurants share Lee Fuller as the executive chef and while there are similarities with all three, namely locally sourced, fresh ingredients in a relaxed dining setting, each allows their own chefs to put unique touches to make each restaurant a different dining experience.

We of course had to order drinks before any food. The wine list has something for everyone and my Sauvignon Blanc was fruity and light, perfect with the seafood that The Shack specialises in. Sion went for a beer. Refreshingly the beer choices were not your usual mass brewed options, but rather a range of Australian ales. Our server was able to recommend a pale ale based on Sion's preference and he loved it!

But onto the food...As a small starter we ordered 2 fresh Fowey oysters (£2 each) that came on a bed of Samphire, with a generous portion of lemon, dressing and a jar of tabasco sauce. These had been well prepared and were incredibly fresh.

I ordered Whitebait for my main course (£9), that came with a side salad and fries. The whitebait was some of the best that I have ever tasted, meaty and properly fishy! The fries seemed to be in an endless pot, not that I was complaining! But a special mention needs to go to the side salad. Full of fresh salad leaves and herbs, it was lightly dressed in the most gorgeous fresh dressing. I seriously considered ordering a side portion of salad just to continue eating it!

Sion went for the Fowey mussels and fries (£10). A big, steaming bowl of the largest mussels we had ever seen in a creamy parsley sauce. Despite not being a fan of mussels myself I could see that this was a perfect dish, with a lovely parsley and cream sauce. Just as a small point, there was no finger bowl given for Sion to freshen his hands with, although he was more than happy to pop inside to use the facilities.

The menu is not the largest I've ever seen - the lunch menu consisted of 8 choices, including one chicken dish & one vegetarian along with whole crab & lobster based on availability. This to me is a good thing though. Each dish is well thought out, using the freshest of ingredients to make a good, honest plate of food. The Shack is unashamedly a shellfish restaurant and is perhaps one of the best I have ever visited.

I have not been asked to write this review, we paid for our meals and drinks in full.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Thinking Slimmer...Being Slimmer

I've struggled to make any significant weight loss in the last five years. I've rolled out all the excuses - lower metabolism, too busy for exercise, comfort eating, even the "this must be my natural body shape" one, but they have been just that - excuses.

The problem is always that I set myself an unrealistic target, always weight related - lose two stone, weigh the same as I did when I was eighteen, lose at least 3lb a week and so I begin an obsessive relationship with my scales, even to the point of moving them around the bathroom to find the sweet spot of a loose floorboard (instant 4lb weight loss) just to make myself happy. I ignore the better fitting clothes or the higher energy levels, fixating only on the "result" or lack of, shown by the scales. Of course the self doubt then starts and the afternoon snacks appear, quickly followed by the evening snacks (and wine), perhaps even a morning snack, because why not? bringing me right back to where I started, ready to try the next fool proof plan.

Dare I say it though something is changing. For the last four weeks I have been taking part in a focus group for Thinking Slimmer. This weight loss programme isn't a diet or a food plan. It's based around listening to a podcast each day, empowering you to make changes without even realising your doing it. The main thing I've noticed is recognising when I am hungry and only eating at those times, rather than eating when I am bored, or stressed, or because I feel like I can't say no! Even more than that I'm not weighing myself. I don't know how much weight I've lost, or even if I have lost any, but I am noticing that I feel slimmer and surprisingly my clothes are fitting better. That's enough for me, more than enough, that's healthy and has longevity. I will be doing a full review towards the end of the programme.

No I'm not saying that I have three meals a day with no snacks, I do snack but on naturally healthy food and products. The Easter eggs are still in their boxes, I can't remember the last time I brought from the morning snack van! But when we are out and about walking, or when we have been to the gym (yep I'm even doing that - week 4 of couch to 10k...go me!) we need something more substantial than fruit to keep us going and this is where Kings Elite Snacks come in. Started by 4 International rugby players in 2010 and merged with New World Foods in 2014 they produce three types of Jerky and Biltong that are high in protein, low in fat and with no additives. We were kindly sent samples of all three varieties and oh my word this is THE BEST biltong I have ever tasted!

The pork & beef jerky have 30% protein with 4-5% fat, but the beef biltong has a whopping 50% protein, with 4% fat and the lowest sugar content of all three. I personally preferred the texture and flavour of the biltong the most, satisfyingly chewy with a real punch of seasoning. I found the jerky too sweet for my taste and this made the strips a little sticky in texture. 

The market is saturated with energy and protein bars, which while being high in protein can also be high in sugar and calories. This Jerky & Biltong is not like that - we are most definitely converts and will be ordering box after box of the biltong!

All three varieties can be ordered from the Kings website varying in price from £1.50 - £1.90 per pack, you can also order a mixed box to cover the full range.

I was sent some complimentary snacks to review, however all words and opinions remain my own.
We're going on an adventure

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Secret Valley Campsite

Tucked away high in the Somerset Quantock Hills lies The Secret Valley. Run by the Hardwick family, headed up by Farmer John, this luxury camping site is made up of wooden wigwams, bell tents, tepees, even a traditional shepherds hut, spread over 4 paddocks to give everyone a level of privacy.

The farm remains a working organic beef & poultry farm, alongside growing Christmas trees and most impressively a vineyard producing gorgeous still and sparkling wines.

We booked to stay in a wooden wigwam for three nights over the Easter weekend. The booking process was easy using their easy to navigate website and payment was taken via PayPal. The week before our arrival date I noticed that I had only booked for one person but this was quickly rectified over email, for an additional small charge to cover our stay.

Our satnav took us on a scenic route rather than via the M5 and only to the nearest village so it took a little time to decipher the directions to the site, perhaps a traditional map detailing the local area could be added to their website, particularly useful for visitors without a satnav too. On arrival a large board confirmed our wigwam location and plenty of signage quickly led us to our home for the next few days. 

Finding the keys in the door we quickly let ourselves in to find a well equipt cabin with every thing needed to make our stay comfortable. Fully insulated we were also provided with electricity, heating, a kettle, toaster and microwave as well as seating that converted into a huge bed. We brought our own bedding and all of our cooking equipment & food. Electricity was provided via a prepaid card that had been topped up prior to our stay.

We had a single toilet in our paddock, perfect for those late night dashes, with a sink, loo roll & hand towel all provided. The main toilets and shower block were a short walk away and were always clean and inviting when we visited them. We both left our shower gel in the showers one morning and unfortunately they had been moved when we returned the following day. Perhaps it would be helpful to store any found toiletries somewhere for 24 hours before disposing of them to give people a chance to reclaim them?

Each evening we would be visited by a member of the family where we could purchase extra electricity, wood for our fire pits, marshmallows and most importantly, home produced wine...that's right, we had a daily wine delivery!! This was also an opportunity to ask any questions or find out information about the farm. There were plenty of walks and animals that you could visit as well as vineyard tours and wine tastings. There is also an outdoor activity company that is based on the farm should you want to do some different activities.

Washing up facilities were provided in two desperate kitchen areas that were kitted out with lots of equipment if you preferred to cook indoors, along with plenty of seating areas, although we chose to cook on our BBQ fire pit each day.

Over the three days we were there we spent less than £3 on electricity, despite using the microwave, kettle and toaster. The huts are so well insulated that we didn't need the heater on at all. 

We loved staying at Secret Valley. It was well located, close to both Taunton & Bridgwater, but still in beautiful countryside with no main roads close by. There were no negative points to our stay although it would be great to have an area on site where we could get tourist information and there were no bins in the shower rooms. Our stay cost approximately £130 for three nights and we would happily return later in the year.

Further information can be found on The Secret Valley website. 

We paid for our stay in full and were not asked to write this review, all words and opinions remain our own.

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Friday, 17 April 2015

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

There are flavour pairings that have been married together for years, cheese and onion, chocolate and strawberries, tomato and basil to name a few. But over the last few years a new classic has emerged, the perfect blend of saltiness and sweetness - salted caramel and I am most definitely a convert.

Since taking the dessert scene by storm this flavour has been used in everything from ice cream to chocolate bars and doughnuts to macarons. Having recently been sent some beautiful Italian salted crackers from Doria there was only one recipe for me to tackle - Baked salted caramel cheesecake!


240g Doria Doriano salted crackers
300g plain shortbread biscuits
150g unsalted butter, melted
450g mascarpone cheese
400g cream cheese (full fat)
175g light brown soft sugar (to get a deeper caramel flavour & colour use dark brown soft sugar instead)
4 eggs
2 tbs golden syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract

small can of ready made caramel sauce
flaked sea salt

Place the biscuits into a food processor and blitz until finely crumbed. Add the melted butter and process until it is combined. Line a springform cake tin with baking parchment (I used a 12" tin) before pouring the biscuit mix in. Press your mix into the base and the sides of the tin before refrigerating for one hour.

Preheat your oven to 160C, gas mark 3.

Beat together your mascarpone & cream cheese until smooth, add in your sugar and beat again until it is completely combined with the cheeses. Add one egg, mix well, before repeating with the remaining three eggs. Finally add the golden syrup & vanilla essence. Gently pour the mixture into your biscuit case. 

Place the tin into a deep baking dish and pour enough boiling water into the baking dish to come to halfway up the side. Gently place this into your oven and bake for 90 minutes or until the cheese mix is firm to the touch.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and let it cool while still in the tin. Once cool place your tin in the fridge for 3 hours to set fully.

When you are ready to serve the cheesecake, carefully release the tin sides and place the cheesecake onto your serving dish. Put 3-4 tablespoons of the ready made caramel sauce into a disposable piping bag, either fitted with a medium sized nozzle or just cut the end of the bag accordingly, and pipe the sauce in your chosen pattern over the top. Finally sprinkle with sea salt flakes.

This will serve 8 - 10 people.

I was kindly sent some complimentary Doriano biscuits, but have received no other compensation for this post. The full range of Doria biscuits can be found in Tesco, Waitrose and most other large food retailers.

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Hotter Shoes - Mist Review

While I was at Blog on Cymru I had a lovely conversation with Jenni & Mel of Hotter Shoes and I was delighted when they agreed to send a pair of shoes for me to put through the paces over our Easter holiday (pun most definitely intended!)

Hotter Shoes was founded in 1959 and manufactured slippers until the early 90s when they then extended the range to cover all sorts of styles, while retaining a comfortable fit. I'll be honest and tell you that before I looked at Hotter Shoes in more detail I assumed that their range would be limited to those original slippers and "old lady" shoes - I couldn't be more wrong! From smart heels to flats, trainers, boots and of course slippers there is a shoe for every foot.

I was especially interested in their GORE-TEX range. We were going glamping for three nights and while we would be doing lots of different activities there would be very little space. I needed a shoe that was practical but didn't scream hiking boot and I think I found it in the Mist range.

First impressions count and as soon as I took these out of the box I was really surprised by how light they felt and how much flexibility there was in them. They fitted perfectly and didn't feel tight or uncomfortable anywhere. Admittedly I was only sat at my desk, but the signs were good!

I wore them all day, every day for the three days that we were away, on a range of surfaces and conditions and they were brilliant.

On gravel and loose ground they had a strong grip, on muddy surfaces there was no sliding around. When I was walking around Wells and Hestercombe Gardens they didn't rub or pinch, even though I was only wearing trainer socks with them. I even walked along a beach and over sand dunes wearing them and not only did they keep my feet dry, they kept a lot of sand from getting inside the shoe too.

Once we got back to the campsite it was easy to remove the insoles and shake what little sand there was out, there were no little creases for the sand to get stuck in so the next time I wore them they felt absolutely fine again.

Since I've been back from out break I've kept wearing them, on cliff walks and even bike rides.

It would be silly to ignore that Hotter Shoes are a brand based on comfort, but it would be madness to not recognise that many of the designs are stylish too. I would happily recommend the Mist range over some of the more well known hiking brands of footwear, for the vast range of settings that they are perfect for and the brilliant construction of them.

The Mist range of performance shoes retail for £95.00 in store and online. To find your nearest Hotter store click on this link

I was sent a complimentary pair of Mist shoes for the purpose of this review. I have not been compensated in any other way. All opinions and words are my own.

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