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.

We're going on an adventure

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.

We're going on an adventure

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Hestercombe Gardens

As part our of break in Somerset was during the grey, wet weather before this mini heatwave, we decided to look for local attractions to visit and found the perfect place in Hestercombe Gardens

Only five miles from The Secret Valley, at Cheddon Fitzpaine near Taunton, the drive took us through beautiful countryside dotted with a mix of pretty thatched cottages, working farms and beautiful old country estates.

Hestercombe Gardens is a collection of three gardens - Formal, Landscape and Victorian designed in part by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens. There are footpaths that lead you through the entire estate so you can see all three sections of gardens and spot the various "seats" or follies dotted throughout the landscape garden.

The path naturally took us past ponds and water features, round into the formal sections of the estate.

There were so many paths to take, so many views to stand and admire, that it was almost a shame to tear ourselves away to find a drink! The old Stables have been converted into a really spacious cafe restaurant where we took a little time to enjoy a milkshake each and of course share a slice of cake! The food & drink is very reasonably priced and it was lovely to see plenty of gluten free options available too.

There is also a restaurant within Hestercombe House that serves lunches and afternoon teas, as this overlooks the formal gardens it would be perfect for a special occasion! The House itself has only recently been reopened to the public. There is an Art Gallery on the first floor and a book shop on the ground floor. Unfortunately our time was short so we had to leave without going in ourselves.

Entry to Hestercombe Gardens was £10.50 per adult and £4.00 for 5-15 year olds. Under 5's are free. These prices include a charitable 10% donation towards the upkeep of the estate. It's open all year round from 10am.

We both came away from Hestercombe thinking that we had only scratched the surface and we would love to come back to Somerset to visit the gardens at different times of the year.

We paid for our entry to Hestercombe Gardens and were not asked to write a review.

How Does Your Garden Grow

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Ginger oat cookies

I try to always have a homemade sweet treat in the house. Over time I've realised that if there is nothing in the jar to temper that craving for a little sweet thing, I'll only head to the shops and by something so much worse for me than a little home made cookie.

These oat cookies, while having a high sugar content, are still "healthier" than chomping through a few shop brought cookies. An easy "cheat" that I've found is to make the cookies a little smaller than the recipe dictates. This recipe makes 24, but I stretched out almost 40 using the same quantities and one or two smaller cookies have got to be better than one or two large cookies, right?!

I also reduce the sugar content over time, I tend to find that recipes with spices in them can take a slightly lower sugar level without losing anything in the taste. For this recipe I have listed out all the ingredients as per the recipe and given my sugar measurements in brackets - use whichever you prefer.

Ginger Oat Cookies - Recipe from this BBC Food/Great British Bake Off recipe

225g unsalted butter
100g (80g) golden syrup
200g (160g) soft brown sugar
150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
400g rolled oats 
2 medium eggs, beaten
50g stem ginger chopped (I used jarred ginger in syrup rather than fresh ginger)
50g milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas 4. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment.

Melt the butter and golden syrup in a pan over a low heat. Set aside to cool.

Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and spices and mix well. Stir in the oats and mix thoroughly. Pour in the melted butter mix and combine before adding the eggs and stem ginger. Stir well to evenly mix the ginger pieces.

Spoon onto your baking sheets using a teaspoon. They will spread a little so leave some space between each cookie. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack to cool completely.

Put your chocolate pieces into a disposable piping bag (If your bag already has a hole for a piping nozzle fold it over and secure with some tape). Place the bag into a clean bowl sat over a pan of gently simmering water until the chocolate has melted completely. 

Place your cooled cookies onto some greaseproof paper, closely together. Cut a small hole into your piping bag and drizzle the chocolate over your cookies. Allow the chocolate to cool a little before transferring your cookies to an airtight jar or your mouth.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Somerset mini break

Happy Easter everyone! Sion is sleeping off "a few quiet beers" so I thought I would take a few minutes to show you briefly what our Easter weekend was like.

We headed to Bridgwater in Somerset for three nights camping at The Secret Valley organic farm and campsite. We arrived at 7.30pm on Thursday so quickly unloaded the car and headed to a local pub for a cheat dinner before stocking up with breakfast supplies ready for the following day.

On Friday we were greeted with a drizzly, grey sky but we had brought our waterproofs and walking boots so headed to Wells for a charity shop rummage and walk through the cathedral buildings.

Saturday afternoon we drove through the countryside and came across an open day at an animal rescue centre. I fell in love with this little lady - 

Once we got back to the campsite we waited for the wine and marshmallow delivery (yes really!) before tucking into our steak dinner and retiring inside for a film and early night.

Saturday was a slightly brighter day so we headed off for an explore around the nearby Hestercombe Gardens and some sea air at Dunster.

Of course there was another BBQ in the evening with some beautiful wine from the farm's vineyard!

We travelled home on Sunday and got the boring jobs out of the way ready for a hopefully sunny day today!

Over the next week I'll be writing more detailed posts about our campsite and Hestercombe Gardens but that's all for now, particularly as I'm doing this from my tablet and I'm pretty sure I'll be reformatting this all tomorrow!

I hope your weekends have been fun-filled, chocolate-fuelled ones?! Until next time...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Easter Craft Idea Glass Candle Holder

Back in early March I attended Blog On Cymru where as well as meeting some brilliant bloggers and brands, I also got to take home the most amazing goodie bags!

Nestled in the bag was a brochure for Graham & Brown, who sell the most beautiful wallpaper, wall art & accessories, with some stickable jewels and an invitation to get crafty. Having a niece who is obsessed with stickers and knowing that I would be spending a weekend with her in the near future I knew exactly who would help me with this challenge!

We decided to make a candle holder for her Mummy.

Using a recycled candle jar (you could easily use a clean jam jar or old glass) she carefully placed her jewel hearts around the glass. One or two didn't quite stick in the right place, but they were easily lifted off and repositioned.

Next we used glass paint and some little stencils to decorate the rest of the holder. The stencils were slightly tacky which made it easier for me to hold them in place while E dabbed the paint on.

She finished off by carefully writing "Mum" with lots of kisses using coloured Sharpie pens.

I had a mini Yankie Candle that we added to the holder, to complete the gift.

While we waited for the paint to dry E also made a card for her Mummy, using even more stickers!

The paint needs to be sealed if you are intending to get the holder wet but this will be kept carefully on a shelf so we skipped this step.

We still have plenty of stickers left, so I'm sure someone else will be getting their own candle holder soon.

If you wish to buy similar craft supplies you can find them by using the "No Follow" links below;

Gold glass paint
Red glass paint
Sharpie pens
Stickable heart jewels

I was provided with the heart jewels free of charge and invited to get crafty for the chance to win a £150 Graham & Brown voucher. All artistic direction was solely down to E!

Super Busy Mum