Friday, 22 August 2014

Word of the Week - Energised

Last night when I got home from work Sion was already in his gym kit and he said to me "You're not going to the gym tonight are you?" Without even thinking about it I said "Yes I am", I got changed and off we wnt to the gym for an hour.

Not a particularly ground breaking conversation, but telling all the same.

If Sion had asked me the same question two weeks ago, I would have thought for a second or two and said "No, not togiht, see you later" and watched him head to the gym by himself. This would be in spite of planning to go all week, but needing only the smallest of excuses not to go.

For some reason exercising has suddenly clicked with me. I enjoy it, I like pushing myself to go that little bit longer, go a little bit faster. I'm not going to lie, I can't really see any change appearance wise. I annoyingly seem to weigh exactly the same, but my clothes seem just that little bit looser. I'm walking that little bit taller. My knees don't pop as I walk up the stairs, I feel stronger.

My using energy at the gym I seem to have more energy to use.

This weekend I want to clear the garden, cut the hedges, file away 6 months of paperwork. I'm looking forward to cooking for my friends and family, fitting in a trip or two to the gym.

Most of all I'm looking forward to spending the weekend energised, rather than slumping on the sofa lethargically.

I've not yet got the body of an Olympic athlete, but I've at least turned a corner.

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The Reading Residence

Better with BRITA winners

Over the last few months I have been working with BRITA as a Better with BRITA ambassador. The aim was to find three food makers who shared BRITA's passion for great food, using fresh, great ingredients.

10 finalists were invited to a live cook off in London on 31st July where they were asked to cook their chosen product in front of 5 judges. Three winners would then be invited to sell their creations at The Big Feastival, held between 31st August and 1st September for one day each.

Drum roll please.....and the winners are....

At The Big Feastival on Friday - Rekha

Rekha's samosas are handcrafted, from the spices to the pastry, to ensure a perfect parcel of taste. Her creations are a favorite amongst her local farmers markets as people love her Indian cooking style. She's a perfectionist cook and ensures a golden glow by using the best ingredients, including BRITA filtered water.

At the Big Feastival on Saturday - Emily

At 15 Emily was the youngest person to enter the competition. Emily used to run her own baking website, Emily's Home Bakes, but gave it up to concentrate on her GCSE's. The judges were impressed with the bespoke cupcakes she designed for each of the judges, especially a miniature BRITA water jug made out of icing. 

At The Big Featival on Sunday - Alex

Alex created his gluten-free brownies after discovering that there was a lack of sweet treats available for his gluten intolerant sister. He's passionate about people enjoying food and wanted to get the best out of his ingredients by using BRITA filtered water. The judges loved the moist chocolate centre of the brownies, as well as the interesting addition of peanut butter.

The three winners received a BRITA tap to enable them to continue to discover the results of cooking with filtered water and they used a BRITA Talori tap at the cook-off. BRITA taps are the most convenient way to get filtered water in the kitchen.

Sadly I won't be able to sample the yummy looking products this year as I will be in Cornwall, but if any of you are heading to The Big Feastival next weekend, be sure to search them out and say Hi!

You can take a look at my other BRITA posts here;

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Recipe - Lardy Cake

And so onto a new GBBO week and a new baking category - BREAD. My gran wasn't really a big bread maker. We were brought up on loaves of bread brought from a local bakery, sliced by a huge (and quite frankly scary) bread slicing machine that spat out our once unsliced loaf into a ready prepared bag and secured with a little plastic peg.

No the bread recipe that reminds me of my Gran is for something much more exciting than a boring white loaf - Lardy Cake. Famous in both the Northern and Southern most reaches of England, Lardy Cake takes a basic bread mix and adds lard, spices and fruit to turn it into a perfect afternoon bread. You only really get Lardy Cake in Northumberland, Hampshire and Wiltshire and although my gran lived most of her adult life in Cornwall, she was born and raised in Hampshire.

During school holidays my brother and I would often be taken to stay with relatives in Hampshire and this would be the sweet treat that we only had on these rare occasions, there really is no other bread recipe that reminds me more of my Gran.

Despite being called a "cake" it really is a bread, "Apparently, Northumberland lardy cakes are made with milk and currants, while Hampshire lardy cakes have no fruit at all. I’ve seen Wiltshire lardy cake made with various combinations of dried fruit and spices. Call it what you will, you can be sure of two things: plenty of lard but no cake. Lardy cake is bread." River Cottage Baking Recipes 

I do have another sweet dough recipe lined up later in this series should "Sweet Dough" be a separate category.

To be a strict Hampshire Lardy Cake there should be no fruit, I have however added a small amount to my recipe, just because I like it that way. This isn't a bread that you can plough through guilt free in an afternoon, but the world would be a boring place without a treat or two in it.

This recipe is a slight adaption of Paul Hollywood's Lardy Cake Recipe.

450g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
2 x 7g sachets instant yeast
150g lard
300ml water
150 g dried mixed fruit
75g caster sugar
50g soft brown sugar
cinnamon to taste (I used 1/2tsp)

Mix together the flour, salt & yeast in a bowl. Rub in 20g of lard using your fingertips until there are no visible pieces.

Add 3/4 of the water and hand mix the flour into the water to form a dough. Add as much remaining water as you need to get a dough that is soft and leaves the sides of the bowl clean (I used it all).

On a lightly floured surface knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. Place in a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to double in size. This will take 1-2 hours. While you are waiting for the dough to prove, mix the remaining lard, sugars and cinnamon in a bowl to form a light brown paste. Set aside.

Tip your dough onto a floured work surface and roll into a circle about 1/2cm thick.

Dot a third of the lard mix over the surface of the dough, spread evenly and sprinkle a third of the fruit over the top. Working from the bottom of the circle fold up to the centre point, repeat around the circle so that you are left with a hexagon shape. Roll out and repeat twice more, using all the lard mix & fruit.

Line a round loose bottomed tin that your dough hexagon will fit in with baking parchment. Place your dough folded side down into the tin, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin, sprinkling with caster sugar and slicing into wedges.

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Alphabet Photo - O

Found on a beach at Barry, South Wales on a damp windy day. I wonder if I could find it again?

Joining in with PODcast and her #alphabetphoto

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Review: Viking Storage Boxes

I was recently sent a set of 30 Really Useful mini storage boxes from Viking to review. These cute boxes individually are 65mm x 55mm x 90mm and stack neatly on top of each other. They are free standing although you can if you wish order a separate storage unit that will hold up to 16 of the boxes. As you can see the colour range is huge and you get a mixture of see through and non see through boxes.

At first I was pretty stumped with what to store in them, I don't have craft supplies or DIY stores and if I took them into work they would slowly find their way onto other people's desks, but then searching for a specific spice jar one evening I knew exactly what I could use them for. This is the mess that greets me each time I cook.

And this is how tidy it looked after!

I still have 10 boxes left over so plenty of space to add herbs and spices as I need to. These boxes are not airtight or watertight so would not be suitable for storing liquids or perishables, but we get through spices quickly so they should be fine. They are waterproof so would be great for outdoor use such as fishing tackle or storing seeds. The various colours also makes it easier for you to colour code the contents, although I only thought of this once I had started labelling!

It would have been useful to be supplied with labels to use on the boxes. I used my own sticky labels, cut down to size but you definitely need some way of identifying whats stored in the boxes, especially the non see through colours. The catches only give a light pressure on the lid, meaning that if you happen to be a klutz who drops things *cough* the contents will spill out.

These boxes are currently reduce to £13.49 on the Viking website and the 16 box storage unit is £21.59. Next day delivery is free for orders over £30.00 or £2.90 for mainland UK orders under £30.00.

I received a complimentary 30 pack of Really Useful mini storage boxes for the purposes of this review, however all words and opinions remain my own.

Family Fever

Monday, 18 August 2014

London calling...

Last weekend we travelled up to London to spend the night away for my birthday.

We happened to visit the same weekend as thousands of cyclists who were taking advantage of major London streets being closed off, allowing them to cycle on routes not normally used. Saturday turned into a beautiful Summer day so we spent most of our time walking along the South Bank, stopping every so often to watch a street artist or musician.

We stayed in The Tommyfield in Kennington. This is a pub that recently converted 6 rooms upstairs into luxury bedrooms. The bed was like a huge Egyptian cotton cloud and our shower was incredible! Aside from the rooms though the staff really looked after us. Once they realised we were in London for my birthday we got complimentary drinks which were very much appreciated. The staff stored our bags for us both before we checked in and all day on Sunday once we had checked out. They even gave me a birthday dessert when we came back on Saturday evening. This is definitely our overnight stay of choice whenever we come back to London now.

Both pictures taken from
In all honesty the weekend was pretty much about food and cocktails! We had lunch on Saturday in the Garden Party themed pop up restaurant on the second floor of the Oxo Tower. We came back to have cocktails later that evening, but unfortunately there were no tables free so we walked back through South Bank watching  London get dark.

Saturday night's dinner was at Shaka Zulu in Camden, which is an African themed restaurant, although Sion ended up eating salmon and I had pork, so not too much bush meat at our table! 

On Sunday we spent the morning in The Science Museum, dodging the tail end of the hurricane that had travelled across the Atlantic. We had enough sunshine though to walk the length of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to get to our lunchtime restaurant Babylon at Kensington Roof Gardens. Of course we had to start our lunch with a cocktail, although I did wonder how strong they were when I noticed flamingos in the garden below us...they really were real though! We both loved our lunches, so much that no photos were taken and the magician who made me bend a ten pence piece was a really lovely touch. After yet another birthday dessert we took out full tummies back to Kennington to get our bags before heading home for the deepest night's sleep I've had in a long time.

Thank you Sion for making my birthday so lovely xx

Joining in this week with Magic Moments and What's the Story?

Friday, 15 August 2014


This last week has for me been about being together. Together as a family and together as a couple.

Last Thursday some of my family from Cornwall came to stay with us for the first time in our new home. Unfortunately Sion was in Ireland on a training course so he didn't get to see them, but this did mean that I could keep myself busy the evenings leading up to their arrival on Thursday by cleaning and cooking like a mad woman!

They had come to say because my younger brother is working as shore crew for the Dongfeng Race Team that will be sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race next month. The team were spending the week at Cowes and it was a perfect chance for everyone to catch up with him - particularly his wife and son who had been living in Chile, so hadn't seen him for 4 months.

The plan was that we would have a quiet evening at home before heading to Cowes on Friday morning for the big reunion with my brother - I had made other plans!

Once everyone had arrived on Thursday afternoon I waited for a certain text to come through and made my excuses to head out for half an hour. I drove into Southampton to meet Henry and snuck him into the house without anyone noticing. Luckily everyone was playing in the garden so I managed to video the moment Stefi & Robert realised that Daddy was here early. Champagne was opened, photos were taken, hugs and kisses were given.

We spent a lovely day together in Cowes on Friday, despite the rain rolling in late in the afternoon. I headed back to Southampton and got caught in torrential rain walking back to the car so got home soaking wet, tired and grumpy.

Once I got dried off and was sat on the sofa curled up next to Sion I realised just how lucky we were. Yes for the last two years we have had to work around usually having different days off, or being shattered by the time we sat down in the evening - but each night we would get to walk up the stairs together. So many people don't get that simple luxury, their partner has to work away from home and for the majority of time they are apart. The silly little incidentals that happen have to be stored away, ready to re-tell at the next opportunity. The moments of togetherness so much sweeter, deeper, important.

For all my many moments of togetherness with my family and with Sion I am grateful and thankful. To those counting down the time until their next togetherness, you have my understanding and love.

The Reading Residence

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Recipe: Lemon filled butter biscuits

I'm determined to join in with some of the blogging Bake Off challenges that have started now. I love baking but with only the two of us in the house it's not something that I do very often.

My grandmother was the complete opposite - almost every day there would be a pie, a cake or biscuits being baked. Her egg and bacon pie was ledgendary, as were her monster Cornish pasties. I thought it would be nice to try and tie in the weekly theme with either a memory or a recipe that reminds me of my Gran.

The theme on this week's Bake Off was biscuits (don't tell me what happened - a little recording mix up means I'll be watching this lunchtime on iplayer!). There's only one biscuit recipe that reminds me of my Gran - Mrs Brown's biscuits. Mrs Brown was a friend of my Gran. I don't know how they met each other, only that she used to live 2 doors down from my junior school. At least once a week we would go into Mrs Browns' and while they caught up over a pot of tea, I would get a glass of orange or lemon squash and a buttery, slightly chewy, coconut biscuit. They were amazing!

Mrs Brown moved into sheltered housing near our house and we continued to visit her. These biscuits would always be there, as a treat and as payment for running a little errand. A few years after that she moved to South Africa to be with her children, but before leaving she neatly and carefully wrote out the recipe for my Gran. As brilliant as my Gran was, her biscuits were never quite the same as Mrs Browns'. Even now over 25 years later I can still remember being sat in her house savouring this biscuit. Sadly I don't have this recipe with me, but in honour of Mrs Brown I've come up with a recipe that combines the taste of the buttery biscuit and the lemon squash.

Lemon Filled Butter Biscuits

275g plain flour
200g butter, cut into small cubes
100g icing sugar
pinch of salt
The zest of 1 lemon (or lime) and half the juice.
2 egg yolks
Lemon curd.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3

Place the flour, butter, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the zest, juice and eggs, mix together to form a soft dough.

Working with a small amount at a time, turn out onto a floured surface and roll to a thickness of about 0.5cm. Cut out 15 biscuits using a 6cm cutter and place on a baking tray (while you are working with the dough keep the remainder in the fridge, this will make it easier to work with).

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove and transfer to a rack to cool.

While the first batch are cooking, cut out a further 15 biscuits. Make a hole in the middle of each, using a smaller cutter, then bake as above.

Once all the biscuits are cool use a teaspoon to place a small dollop of lemon curd onto the underside of the whole biscuits, spread the curd slightly. Place a biscuit with a hole onto the curd covered biscuit and dust with icing sugar.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sticky Mix Gluten Free Brownies

It's that time of the year again - in countless homes up and down the country people are dusting down their cookbooks and digging out their mixing bowls...The Great British Bake Off is back on TV!

I love baking but honestly it takes a lot of time to buy the ingredients, mix everything together and bake to perfection. Factor in a boyfriend who's gluten intolerant and you can see why baking is kept for special occasions and rainy Sundays.

Recently though I found Sticky Mix on Twitter. This is a company that produces artisan cake mixes producing not only regular cookie & brownie mixes, but also various gluten, dairy, soya and egg free mixes.

They very kindly sent me a Gluten Free Chocolate Brownie mix to try out, so last night after a full day at work, the dreaded food shop and a gym session I made some brownies (in between cooking dinner and getting some washing ready)

The box contains individually wrapped sugar, flour & cocoa and Belgian chocolate drops. You only need to add a small quantity of butter and 2 eggs.

The instructions are clearly written out on the back - melt the butter & chocolate in a bowl, lightly mix the eggs and sugar together, then add the chocolate mix to the egg mix and add the flour. Bake in a pre-lined tin for 15-17 minutes.

And this is the resulting brownies. Even though I left them in slightly longer than the recommended time (that's what you get for trying to cook dinner at the same time!) the brownies are still soft and slightly gooey and taste amazing!

The boyfriend has already nabbed a few to take to work and I can't see the others lasting much past tomorrow's edition of GBBO!

The Sticky Mix ready mixes retail for £5.00 per box with a £3.99 delivery charge. Each box makes 12 generous brownies or cookies that will be enjoyed by people with both gluten free and non gluten free diets.

I received a free box of the Sticky Mix Gluten Free Belgian Chocolate Brownies for this review, however all thoughts and opinions remain my own.

Family Fever

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Garden Update

The last 3 weeks have been tough on our garden. The lawn is hanging on by a thread,despite Sion regularly giving it a good soaking, hosepipe in one hand, beer in the other. 

My strawberry planter struggled to hold onto moisture, anytime I watered it ran straight out of the holes. I think the plants may survive, just - but they're looking very sorry for themselves.

The petunias had a heavy session of dead heading last weekend and are just starting to re-flower now. I brought some miniature chrysanthemum plants to pot up and add some extra colour which is helping to brighten the patio.

The big news is that my tomatoes have finally, finally, started to ripen! Only two baby tomatoes so far, I think the larger varieties will still need a good week or so to start ripening. Just in case I've started to look at green tomato relish recipes!

After over 3 weeks of no real rain, last Friday we had a good overnight soaking. what a difference it made. Everything is starting to re-grow and green up. Everywhere I looked little creatures had come out of hiding to enjoy the damp weather and cooler conditions.

Finally the bulbs that I planted back in March have started to flower. Such an elegant but delicate flower. Once all the individual flowers have opened it will look beautiful. Now I just need to try and remember what it was called!!

Joining in this week with Manneskjur #HDYGG
Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?