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A Mini Garden Makeover

Over the summer, we gave our front garden flower beds a little revamp and before it gets all cold, dark and dead-looking, I thought I would share our simple improvements.

I feel I should firstly start with the incident that caused us to need to makeover our front garden. The house next door to us was empty for a little while and before the new neighbours moved in, they had a complete clear-out of the very overgrown front garden. Unfortunately, the gardeners got a bit carried away and along with next-door’s weeds and dead plants, they also pulled up all of the flowers and plants in our garden leading to me writing several angry emails to various garden companies until I was offered an apology and compensation for the cost of new plants!

In retrospect, our front garden wasn’t looking that great and although we lost some nice plants, they also pulled up a lot of weeds, in particular a rather invasive climbing plant that we could never seem to get on top of!

Here is the long flower bed in our front garden a few weeks after the gardeners had visited with a lot of weed regrowth. We (I roped in my parents to help!) began by pulling all of the weeds up to create a blank canvas then laying down a good layer of topsoil.

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My Dad then secured this lovely little white picket fence to separate our front garden from our next-door neighbours’.

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Then it was time to get planting. I’m no Charlie Dimmock so cannot give a proper list of plant names but I do know we now have a jasmine tree, several hydrangea bushes, some osteospermum daisies, some ferns and a yellow poppy plant amongst other things.

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After nightly watering and weeding, things seemed to flourish and this is our garden at the end of October. I love how the little pink flowering plant hangs over the side of the wall and how alive and colourful everything looks…the bees seem to love our new flower beds too!

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Sunday Catch-up #41

A real week of two halves as half-term started mid-week for me. So far, I have enjoyed a couple of lie-ins, lots of life admin and a fair few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. My parents are staying for a few days, I have a few essay days scheduled then my friend Cat arriving and a comedy gig, tasting menu and a facial to enjoy before work takes over again.

This week I have been…

Making: appointments for a Neals Yard Facial

Going: to a pub in Bath during a student pub crawl (note-to-self: avoid in the future)

Wearing: hats

Eating: smoked salmon and eggs for a late breakfast

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Drinking: red wine

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Reading: In The Kitchen

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Watching: The Apprentice

Buying: memory-foam slippers…so cosy

Planning: essays (groan)

Cooking: my ‘Carluccio Pasta’

Baking: Pumpkin Pies!

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Writing: on my blog again

Favouriting: Fleur de Force’s America vlogs which are making me want to plan another trip there!

Working on: my ironing pile!

Trying to decide: what colour to paint our spare room

Wishing: for an extra hour in bed every weekend

Enjoying: pomegranates

Needing: to pick up the leaves currently carpeting my lawn

Feeling: relaxed

Giggling at: Gogglebox

Recipe – Sausage and Beer Casserole

Ahhhhhh hello half term! This break could not have come soon enough for me and I plan on making the most of it. I started today with a lovely lie in then eggs and smoked salmon – a perfect start.

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Today’s recipe is a lovely seasonal dish that you can make for a crowd or some extra portions for the freezer. You can also add a twist depending on what sausages or beer you decide to use!

Ingredients

A glug of olive oil

6 sausages

I onion, roughly chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

A tray of mushrooms, sliced

1 can or bottle of beer

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

Mixed herbs (fresh or dried)

Salt and pepper

A handful of green beans

How to make it

  • Begin by lightly frying the sausages in a large pan with the oil until browned on all sides
  • Add the onion and garlic and fry for another 5 minutes

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  • Next, add the mushrooms for another few minutes

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  • Pour in the beer, chopped tomatoes, herbs and a good helping of salt and pepper

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  • Mix well and leave to simmer for about half an hour
  • Add your green beans (I also threw in a handful of shredded carrot I had in the fridge)

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  • Serve with crispy potatoes or mash

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Our London Break (Warning: lots of food photos!)

Ian and I have just got home after a wonderful few days away in the big smoke. He has gone off for a run whereas I have chosen a cuppa, a catch-up of this week’s Apprentice and sorting through my photos instead! I decided to take my ‘proper’ camera up to London with me in order to practise using it for a variety of shots rather than just reaching for my iPhone. I did look like a complete tourist with it around my neck but hopefully I managed to take some better photos and I definitely feel like I have gotten to ‘know’ this camera better after shooting a variety of inside, outside and (of course!) foodie pictures!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I am one of those weirdos who wants to drag out a mini-break for as long as possible and thinks a holiday starts at the airport (or even at the hotel the night before a flight!). This trip was no different and before we even got on the train we had treated ourselves to a Bertinet Bakery (the best in Bath!) brunch and I had a new book ready to get stuck into on my Kindle.

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Upon arrival, we headed straight to our hotel in trendy Dalston, Avo Hotel. We have a good variety of friends we usually stay with in London, but for this trip we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel and I found this little boutique hotel which turned out to be cheaper than your bog-standard Travelodge and it always feels good to help the independents. We stayed in the King Top-floor Suite which we loved. It had a huge and comfortable king bed, a double sofa with good tea and coffee facilities and a fabulous bathroom with sparkly black tiles, a rainfall shower and nice Elemis products. Oh, and a view of the Gherkin! It is a family-run business and really friendly. There was always someone behind the front desk and they offered a simple but tasty breakfast too.

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After we had settled in, we hopped back on the tube and went to see the poppies at the Tower of London. I thought this was stunning and a very moving installation although be prepared for the crowds!

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Seeing as it was such a gorgeous autumnal afternoon, we decided to have a wander along the river via Borough Market and a drink with a view as the sun set.

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We also noticed several decorated buses dotted about. I hadn’t heard of this project but I do love these city-wide art installations and it was great to see the different varieties.

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That evening we were meeting our friends, Cat and Lucie, to try out a new restaurant; DF Mexico in Shoreditch. I will be writing a separate restaurant review of this soon but it was a great night with good friends and margaritas…need I say more?!

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The next morning, after a quick bite to eat at our hotel, we paid a visit to the Saatchi Gallery. There were a couple of installations I wanted to see (the ants and the oil room) which we both loved and then we wandered around the remaining rooms. I really like this gallery – there are bold and daring installations which can invoke a love/ hate reaction and you don’t feel like you need to be an ‘art expert’ to enjoy yourself. I think this may be my new favourite art gallery in London.

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Next, it was time for lunch and I had heard amazing things about Comptoir Libanais which was just around the corner from the Saatchi. Again, I will do a restaurant review soon but I really enjoyed our lunch here, from the décor to the sharing platter to the wonderful rose-mint tea and baklava.

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Unfortunately, it was a bit of a grey and drizzly afternoon so we decided to head over to the Tate Modern to shelter and soak up a bit more culture. I’m not sure if it was due to the half-term crowds but I wasn’t really feeling this visit compared to how much I loved the Saatchi Gallery. We didn’t stay too long here and instead popped back to the hotel for a warming hot chocolate and to get glammed up for our evening out.

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For an early dinner, we had booked an afternoon tea with a twist…burgers! We ate at BRGR where we had a delicious selection of mini sliders, drinks and puddings – my review is coming soon!

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Then, we walked over to the Noel Coward theatre to watch Shakespeare in Love (via Leicester Square where we tried to grab a glimpse of Matthew McConaughey at his latest premiere!). For our first wedding anniversary, where it is traditional to give a ‘paper’ gift, Ian bought me these tickets and being fans of the film, both had high hopes for the play. It did not disappoint and was actually better than I thought it would be. It had some really funny moments followed by some very poignant ones and there was a dog which easily makes it deserve its five star reviews!

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I also discovered Crème Brûlée flavour Häagen-Dazs during the interval which was a highlight for me!

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On our way home, we both had the munchies and noticed a Jamie Oliver pop-up diner selling burgers and hotdogs – perfect midnight snacks!

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Today we were pretty knackered so just enjoyed a late-morning brunch at an amazing American-style diner near our hotel, aptly named The Diner, a quick photo opportunity in front of Big Ben and my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season before catching the train back to Bath.

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Suffice to say, after such an indulgent foodie few days, my shopping basket was full of fruit and veg this afternoon to restore some much needed balance!

Beauty Review – October Birchbox

I’ve had a lovely few days with my parents. We’ve shopped non-stop and yes, I have started to make a dent in my Christmas shopping…too soon?!

My Dad and I also took over the kitchen last night and cooked an epic array of tapas dishes including scallops with bacon and honey, prawn fishcakes, calamari, cod fritters, chicken and chorizo and warm crusty bread…delicious and only a few arguments between the chefs!

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I received this month’s Birchbox a little while ago but after having a quick peek upon arrival, I’ve only just got around to having a play with the contents.

Partnered with CoppaFeel for Breast Cancer Awareness month, an issue close to my heart, I was pleased to see a focus on health and wellbeing in the accompanying literature.

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First of all, I was happy to see a pretty pink bag instead of the usual drawstring one. This is a lovely size for travelling and I will use it for our mini-break to London next week.

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And here are this month’s goodies:

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First up a moisturising lip balm from Pixi. I like this brand and it’s nice that there is a hint of colour in this balm which smells lovely and is packed with things to make your lips soft as the colder months hit us.

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Next, a KMS dry wax spray. A good brand but not a product that I think will work on my hair. Luckily, I can gift it to Ian to try!

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An interesting little product next – a cooling gel lotion to treat ingrown hairs and redness after shaving or hair removal from Shaveworks. This is not something I would seek out to buy but useful to have in the bathroom cabinet nonetheless.

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A fun little extra now in the form of this pen shaped like a lipstick. This is just a tad too girly for me so I’ve passed it on to my Mum.

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I love facial lotions and serums, basically anything that promises to add a glow and moisturise, so was pleased to see this tube of Glowing Serum by Meaningful Beauty. With Cindy Crawford’s name on the bottle, I’ll give it a go to look as good as she does at her age!

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Finally, two generous sachets of Cattier’s Pink Clay Face Mask. I have seen several pink clay products that claim to do wonders for your skin so will try this out as part of my usual Sunday routine which usually involves a long, bubble bath with a face and hair mask (if I find the time!)

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Overall, a nice little box for October. I love the face masks, Pixi balm and serum and various family members can make use of the other bits…sharing the love this month!

Recipe – Two Cottage Pies

 

Ahhhh hello half term! This very welcome time off from work couldn’t come soon enough and I have plans with friends, family and a romantic theatre break to London on the cards.

With the clocks going back this coming weekend and darker, chillier mornings, I think we can safely say the seasons are a-changing! This calls for some comfort food that makes your kitchen smell delicious and welcoming and these two cottage pie recipes certainly tick all the right boxes.

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I love a spot of batch cooking and this recipe is great for freezing or for pleasing a crowd.

I decided to make two different varieties so I didn’t get bored of having the same meal for dinner a couple of nights running. The base of the pies are the same but one is topped with a cheddar and horseradish mash and the other has a sweet potato and brie topping.

Ingredients

For the pie base:

A drizzle of olive oil

1 white onion, roughly chopped

Half a dozen carrots, peeled and chopped

A couple of rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped

A tray of good quality minced beef

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

A few bay leaves

A pinch of dried thyme

One tin of chopped tomatoes

A squirt of brown sauce or ketchup

A handful of frozen peas

For the topping:

Enough white or sweet potatoes to cover your pie

Butter

Salt and pepper

A dash of milk (or cream if you’re feeling naughty!)

Cheddar, brie or any other cheese of your choice to top

A few teaspoons of horseradish

How to make it

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C, Gas Mark 6
  • In a large pan, heat a little oil and lightly sauté the onions and carrots for 10 minutes until they have softenedcp7
  • Add the bacon and fry for another few minutes
  • Next, add the beef mince and garlic then fry until brownedcp8
  • Season well and add the bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes and sauce. If you have a bottle open, I usually add a splash of red wine too, anything to get a bit more flavour in!cp9
  • Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes while you make the mashcp10
  • In a large saucepan, boil your potatoes until soft
  • Drain well then mash with a little butter, salt and pepper and milk
  • You can add cheese or the horseradish into your mash at this stage toocp11
  • Mix your peas into the mix then in an oven proof dish (or dishes), spoon in your meat layercp12
  • Then top with your mash and sprinkle over some cheesecp13cp17
  • Pop it in the oven for about half an hour until you have a golden crust on topcp14cp18
  • Enjoy straight from the oven…I had mine with some baked beanscp2

Restaurant Review – An 8-Course Tasting Menu at The Muddy Duck

 Yes, that’s right…8 courses!

When Ian and I saw our local pub was doing a seasonal tasting menu, we signed up immediately as their food is wonderful. I was expecting 4 or 5 courses (which is still pretty extravagant) so imagine my delight when I saw we had 8 dishes lined up for us. Luckily, I had a very light lunch so was ready for a feast!

We started with cocktails by the fire to warm up then moved into the dining room for our first peek at the menu. It all sounded so tasty and completely autumnal. We were also persuaded to have the accompanying wine flight which turned the whole evening rather boozy!

To start, we had a tray of Wiltshire pork canapés. You may have seen my Friday Instagram pictures of the amazing strips of pork crackling we usually get. This platter had some mini sticks (served in the oh so trendy Mason jar), pork belly tempura sticks, three-meat pork pies and a pork fritter all served with a different dipping sauce. I love a pork pie and this black pudding, minced pork and pork terrine combination was delicious. This starter was served with a glass of crisp sparkling cider which was a perfect complement to the porky-ness and a nice twist on starting a meal with a glass of bubbly.

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Next we had what was named on the menu as an Amuse-Bouche but which was actually quite a hearty dish! We had a bowl of woody mushroom velouté with a crispy fried mushroom on top and an enormous Parmesan crisp with a generous drizzle of truffle oil. This was really rich and decadent and if I was being really picky then I may say a smaller bowl would have been better (when I think about how full I was by the end of the night!)

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Then we had a crisp glass of white to be enjoyed with our next course: a free range hens egg, sticky wings, sweetcorn and spring onion. This was a beautifully flavoured creamy chicken base with a scattering of crunchy sweetcorn. I love BBQ chicken wings and the meat just fell of the bone. For me, the best part about this dish was the perfectly cooked egg which had a lovely runny yolk that mixed with the chicken sauce perfectly. There were lots of elements to this plate, including a crunchy cheese crisp, and they worked together wonderfully.

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Another glass of white wine arrived in time for course number 4, our fish course, which looked ever so pretty. We had steamed wild sea bass, celeriac and pickled autumn vegetables. I liked the combination of the vinegary and crunchy veg with the delicate fish although the skin wasn’t crispy so I ended up giving mine to Ian.

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We moved on to a big hearty red wine next which went perfectly with our grouse, Jerusalem artichoke, pumpkins and blackberries. A really beautiful autumnal dish, this was one of my favourites of the night. I had never had grouse before but it had a lovely rich gamey flavour which the sweet blackberries complemented perfectly. There were several sauces and purees on the plate which meant every mouthful tasted different and the wine really brought out all the flavours of the dish.

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Moving onto the sweeter things now, we had a lovely refreshing palate cleanser in the form of a beetroot and champagne granita. This looked great and was just sweet enough too.

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I liked having a cheese course next – I don’t think it always needs to come at the end of a meal. We enjoyed honey truffle roasted figs, crottin de chavignon goats cheese and hazelnuts with a lovely sweet dessert wine. This was a lovely ripe cheese which worked well with the sweetened figs and the crunch of the hazelnuts.

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Pudding time now and my favourite new wine of the evening: this dessert wine was bursting with berry flavours and serving it chilled meant it wasn’t overly sweet either. We had a huge lemon and raspberry meringue for pudding. The lemon curd was amazing but I was slightly disappointed the meringue didn’t have the lovely chewy inside I love – it was more of a crumbly, crunchy texture throughout.

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By now I was getting quite full and feeling the effects of such a generous amount of wine. We had coffee and petit fours to finish the meal. I loved the homemade marshmallow pieces but the chocolate truffles were a tad too bitter for me and I was just so stuffed I really didn’t fancy anything else to eat!

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We were offered a nightcap of warmed brandy too which just about finished me off! I’m not a huge brandy connoisseur so this was probably wasted on me but it was quite nice to be left with that warm, fuzzy feeling inside when we were walking home in the cold.

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Overall, this was an incredible night out, if slightly indulgent for a Tuesday evening! The atmosphere was really relaxed, cosy and welcoming and the explanations of the food and wine flight were not all pretentious or intimidating which I know some tasting menus can be.

I think The Muddy Duck are going to be offering another tasting menu soon and I cannot recommend it enough for a wonderful evening of seasonal, local food.

(The tasting menu was £45 per person and the wine flight was £18 per person)