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Sunday Catch-up #44

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Writing about nail varnish and recipes seemed somewhat futile after the events that took place in Paris this week. However, life must go on, even if things do feel very uncertain at the moment…

This week I have been…

Making: bacon and avocado sandwiches for a lazy Sunday brunch

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Going: for a mid-week Wagamamas

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Wearing: pyjamas for most of the weekend!

Eating: Ramen

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Drinking: ale

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Reading: In the Kitchen (still!)

Watching: Season One of American Horror Story – I liked it, Ian hated it!

Buying: my first Christmas Costa

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Planning: holidays

Cooking: two beautiful pieces of hake

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Baking: some lovely almond and chocolate cupcakes

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Writing: the start of my Christmas lists

Favouriting: Twitter – I was glued to it from Friday night onwards

Working on: finishing the book I’m reading

Trying to decide: how many of my cupcakes it’s OK to eat in one evening…2? 3?

Wishing: I could start every day with a sunrise like this one

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Enjoying: this present from my brother

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Needing: to share how good these cookies are

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Feeling: very relaxed after a bath with these bad boys

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Giggling at: Josh Widdcombe live – he was great!

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Restaurant Review – The Milk Churn

A couple of weekends ago, we fancied trying a new place for lunch so I booked us a table at this Hall and Woodhouse pub. Part of the Badger Brewery chain, Ian loves their ales and, although their menu isn’t exactly fine dining, it offers really good pub grub.

I can’t say the pub itself is in the nicest setting but The Milk Churn is housed in a gorgeous building which has a converted barn feel to it.

We started off with a couple of their ales – I love ‘Golden Glory’ which is a light ale with a peach flavour and reminds me of summer holidays camping in Dorset!

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For my lunch, I ordered a Buffalo Chicken Burger which was coated in Frank’s hot wing sauce and served with a blue cheese mayo. This reminded me so much of the chicken wings we enjoyed in America and although the bun fell apart a bit, the chips were really good!

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Ian opted for a Fish Dog which is basically a hot dog with beer-battered cod goujons in place of a sausage, with mushy peas and tartare sauce. It may sound a bit strange but it really worked and reminded me of a slightly fancier fish-finger sandwich (one of my favourite comfort-food lunches!)

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We also shared some hot wings which were a little on the small and dry side for me.

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I always save some room for a pudding and The Milk Churn offer ‘mini puds’ which I think is a great idea if you are torn between two desserts! I ordered a mini toffee cheesecake and a mini chocolate pot.

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The cheesecake was OK but the ratio between the toffee sauce, biscuit and cream were a little off. My favourite by far was the chocolate pot which had a rich dark chocolate mousse topped with vanilla panna cotta. This was a perfect combination and I could have eaten two or three of them!

We had a lovely lunch here at The Milk Churn. I probably wouldn’t come back here for an evening meal as it has a bit of a ‘chain’ feel to it and I much prefer a local, country pub but it was a great lunch venue and we are big fans of the ales served here.

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Recipe – White Chocolate and Chai Tea Bread

After root canal treatment this week, I am feeling very sore and very sorry for myself. Ian has been lovely, making me a huge pile of cheesy mashed potato when I asked for ‘soft food’ for dinner. I’m hoping I will be back to my old self soon as I’m not used to feeling so glum!

I’m not a regular bread baker but add white chocolate and chai tea to the mix and I will give it a go! I love chai tea to drink and it adds a very delicate layer of spices to this bread.

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Ingredients

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275g of self-raising flour

A 7g sachet of yeast

50g of caster sugar

200g of white chocolate, broken into chunks

25g of butter

150ml of boiling water with 2 chai teabags steeped in it and left to cool

How to make it

  • Being by putting the flour, yeast, caster sugar and white chocolate chunks into a large bowl

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  • Add the butter and cooled tea then mix with a wooden spoon until it has turned into a sticky dough

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  • Tip out onto a floured surface and begin to knead. This is a very sticky mixture at first but keep going and after 10 minutes or so, it will all come together

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  • Next, leave the dough under a clean tea towel for 20 minutes to rise
  • After it has risen, place in a lightly greased loaf tin and leave to prove in a warm place (I always use the airing cupboard!) for about half an hour

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  • While it proves, preheat the oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4
  • Pop the dough into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and your kitchen is filled with the delicious smell of warm bread!

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Restaurant Review – The Moonraker, Bradford on Avon

Kind of a new restaurant review today…

We ate at the Milking Parlour back in October and it has recently been renamed as The Moonraker. We loved the tasting menu we ate there last time so were looking forward to revisiting this place which has recently gone through a rebrand.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was lovely to see that there was very little change in the welcoming dining room and bar and they hadn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken! I was also glad to see there was still a strong emphasis on using lots of local ingredients and produce grown within the grounds.

We ordered my favourite red (a Chilean merlot) and waited for our first course. As we were sampling the taster menu, we didn’t get an actual menu to peruse which I didn’t mind because a) we aren’t fussy and will eat pretty much anything and b) it kept an element of surprise to the evening!

Our first course was soup served with toasted bread in a cup and saucer. The soup itself was a rich beef broth with beef tongue, winter vegetables and girolle mushrooms. I know some people may balk at the idea of tongue but it was delicious and full of flavour.

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A slight moan about these next two courses as they were exactly the same as the ones we ate on our last visit. I would hope that a taster menu would change at least monthly so whilst they were both absolutely delicious (the beetroot salad was my favourite course!) it was a tad disappointing not to try something new.

Anyway, next up we had an incredible salad of lightly pickled beetroot, whipped goats cheese and micro greens served with peanuts, walnuts and a glaze. The crunch of the nuts really added to this salad and I could have eaten two or three plates of this!

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We had hay-smoked salmon after that served with an apple and celeriac remoulade and leaves. We both love smoked salmon and this went down well with the rich fish complimenting the creamy remoulade.

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For our main course, we had another interesting meat choice in the form of venison. This was made into a chilli and served with gnocchi. I’m a bit love/hate with gnocchi – I don’t mind it as an accompaniment but find a whole bowl of it a bit chewy and dense. Luckily, there was a good amount of venison served with the pasta. The chilli was quite spicy for me but full of flavour.

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Finally, for pudding we had a wafer-thin crisp filled with caramel and topped with a chocolate crème brulee. This was incredible, rich but incredible! I’m not too sure what the little amaretto biscuit on the side added to the dish but I loved it.

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Up to this point, I couldn’t fault the service but as per our first visit, we found that we struggled to get a waiter’s attention to pay. I was too tired to wait around so marched up and paid at the bar instead – my only real complaint, especially as this was the second time it had happened.

We found another deal on Amazon for this meal which I would recommend as it means you get a real bargain for some excellent quality food.

Restaurant Review – The Hinds Head, Bray

Restaurant Review – The Hinds Head, Bray

Ian and I were counting down the days to this meal and when we found out our friend Karen was free to join us too, were looking forward to it even more! The Hinds Head is one of Heston Blumenthal’s pubs that has been awarded a Michelin star since I last ate there a couple of years ago. It is a gorgeous 15th Century building that keeps that cosy pub feel without any pretentiousness.

I started with a G&T made with Hendricks, my favourite gin. It was served beautifully with cucumber, black pepper and a rose…stunning!

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The three of us decided to share a few starters which included a hash of snails (delicious!), a Scotch Egg, Devils on Horseback and potted shrimps. I think starters are often one of the best courses and these were a great way to have a little taste of everything. I know snails may not be everyone’s cup of tea but these were gently cooked in garlic butter and served on a lovely slice of sourdough bread.

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For my main course I had a fish pie with ‘sand and sea’. I was slightly puzzled when I was told this can come lukewarm with the fish still slightly uncooked and translucent or piping hot. Now I would always order my meat rare when offered but rare fish was a first for me and just didn’t appeal! Anyway, my ‘piping hot’ pie arrived and it was packed with fish (smoked pollock, cured salmon and prawns) and the ‘sand and sea’ turned out to be a creamy foam and crunchy breadcrumbs, both of which added a lovely texture.

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My friend Karen opted for the fillet of stonebass with crushed Jerusalem artichokes, mussels and a cider butter sauce.

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Ian had the duck which was served pink with beetroot, barley and turnips. We couldn’t resist a side order of the infamous triple cooked chips too!

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I was so glad I saved room for pudding as this was a good ‘un. I was torn between a few options but the waitress recommended this warm chocolate melt-in-the-middle pudding served with an amazing orange marmalade ice cream. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I didn’t share a mouthful of this either!

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Karen and Ian had a cheeseboard but were much kinder than me and let me try some too.

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I absolutely loved our evening here and for a Michelin restaurant, it was really reasonable considering we had three courses. It is the second time we have eaten at the Hinds Head and I would return without hesitation. In fact, our friend rebooked to go back there within a few weeks’ time!

Restaurant Review – Taplow House Hotel

It feels like I haven’t done a good restaurant review for ages! I think that’s probably because we keep eating at places I have already reviewed or just places that don’t lend themselves to a good blog post.

Anyway, today I wanted to share the amazing meal Ian and I enjoyed at Taplow House Hotel when we stayed there recently. We had a three course meal included in our hotel stay which I always like as it means you don’t have to have that argument about who will be the designated driver!

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We started with a good bottle of Merlot while we perused the menu. There were 4 or 5 options for starter, main and dessert which were a nice variety of meat, fish and veggie dishes. The dining room was beautifully decorated but I have to say there wasn’t much atmosphere…maybe that was simply because it was a Wednesday evening though.

I am going to get my other niggle out the way now because I really couldn’t find fault with the food. The night we ate at the Taplow House Hotel, there was a large party in the other room which meant the service in the restaurant suffered a bit. We actually had to wait for almost an hour for our starters which normally would really annoy me but because we were ‘on holiday’ I didn’t mind too much as we were enjoying our wine and conversation.

Onto our (much anticipated!) starters…

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I had a dish of lightly whipped goats cheese which came with salt baked and pickled beetroot, green apple, sesame seed sponge, blackberries and leaves. The pairing of goats cheese and beetroot is a favourite of mine and this was one of those perfectly balanced dishes with a lovely variety of flavours and textures.

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Ian had the grilled mackerel (which were smoked in-house) which came with avocado, celeriac remoulade, mouli, pickled mustard seeds and shiso cress. Again, this was a well-balanced dish with the rich fish matched well against the accompaniments.

I think you can usually judge how good a restaurant is after you’ve had the starters and I have to say we were both really impressed with what we had had so far.

For my main, I really fancied fish so ordered the fillet of cod. This was a huge portion (not complaining!) and it just flaked away perfectly. It was served with artichokes, cockles, mini turnips, squid ink gnocchi and a smoked herring roe butter sauce. Whilst it did look a bit messy on the plate, this dish was incredible! The rich sauce brought everything together and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.

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Ian opted for the lamb which again looked a bit messy on the plate but more than delivered on taste. There was a braised neck of lamb fillet and loin as well as sweetbreads served with pearl barley, charred baby leeks, celeriac and a lovely rosemary gravy.

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Onto pudding now and I had the white chocolate cheesecake which turned out to be a delightful deconstructed version and one of my favourite dishes of the night. The filling part of the cheesecake part was one of the balls sat atop the biscuit crumbs, the other being a rich vanilla ice cream. Surrounding the rest of the plate was a combination of chocolate ganache, shards of milk chocolate, hazelnuts, cocoa nib sherbet and cocoa marshmallows. It was truly delicious and every mouthful was different.

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Ian doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do so opted for the cheeseboard which had a nice variety of local cheeses, crackers and a chutney.

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If this hotel was nearby, I would be back to this restaurant in a flash. Although the atmosphere and service left a bit to be desired, I absolutely loved the food here and that would be enough to tempt me back. x

Restaurant Review – Afternoon Tea at BRGR.Co, London

I love afternoon tea but Ian isn’t as much of a fan so in my search for a more man-friendly version of afternoon tea I found BRGR’s offering. Priced at £17, it really isn’t too bad for a treat and I think it is a cool and original way of combining two of my favourite things: burger and cake!

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BRGR is a cool exposed-brick, hot-Spanish waiters kind of place near Oxford Circus where I could easily spend an evening with friends, gossiping over burgers and milkshakes.

Our afternoon tea began with two drinks; a raspberry and bellini and a refreshing ice tea. If I’m being picky, I would say that service was a little slow to get our drinks and food in front of us, especially as the restaurant wasn’t that busy but we weren’t in a rush so it didn’t matter too much.

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Our tray arrived and my first thought was that everything looked very ‘miniature’ but I got stuck in to the burgers straight away. First up was a southern fried chicken and coleslaw slider which was delicious. Crunchy yet juicy in a perfect brioche bun.

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Next up, a cheeseburger which was enough to convince me to return for the full-sized version! I saved the best for last – a lobster and crayfish slider. Overall, the three burgers were the star of the show, well the tray, and I could have eaten another three of them!

I liked the way the puddings were separated on their own little tray to avoid burger-juice contamination and there was a lovely mini vanilla milkshake too.

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The puddings were great actually; a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, a mini doughnut with a salted caramel sauce and a chocolate brownie.

Overall, this was a perfect pre-theatre treat and a nice twist on afternoon tea if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

 

Restaurant Review – The Milking Parlour, Bradford on Avon

We had a real treat for our date night this week. My lovely friends Hannah and Ben bought me a five-course tasting menu at this new restaurant and it was absolutely amazing!

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Located within the grounds of The Old Manor Hotel just outside Bradford on Avon, this beautiful farmhouse restaurant is welcoming and cosy inside and decorated with quirky wooden whisky signs and a good amount of exposed brick and wooden beams. I’m at that stage now where I kind of know when I walk in somewhere if I’ll really love it and this is definitely my kind of place.

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It was lovely to find out how local and seasonal the tasting menu was. The chef uses as much as possible from the kitchen garden and there is even a smokery, beehives and rare breed pigs on site!

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Anyway…onto the food!

After ordering a nice bottle of red, our first starter was brought out. The waitresses really know their stuff and talked us through each part of the menu as it was served.  To being with we had Chinese pulled pork belly topped with a fat, juicy scallop, some micro herbs and a pipette full of a shitake mushroom sauce. I know some may find the pipette a bit poncey but I thought it was a really fun way of serving this dish.

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Ian and I both loved this first course and it definitely set the standard very high for the rest of the meal. I love scallops and its sweetness went perfectly with the pork and sauce.

Next, we had a pickled beetroot and whipped goats cheese salad served with nuts and leaves. I love this classic combination but for me this dish really won on its textures. Rather than the usual crumbly goats cheese, this was light and whipped, almost like a cream, which tasty very indulgent. I also loved the crunch from the nuts – I plan on trying to recreate this salad at home.

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A fish course next with hay-smoked salmon (smoked on site) and a posh coleslaw-style remoulade made with apple and celeriac and an apple vinaigrette. Again, I loved this dish! The salmon was rich and smoky without the chemical taste you sometimes get with supermarket smoked fish.

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Our main course was beef cheeks which had been slow-cooked all day. I’m a fan of pig cheeks but hadn’t tried beef before. It’s another one of those cheap cuts that are terribly fashionable now and taste wonderful with a generous cooking time. The meat just fell apart and was served with a beefy sauce, crunchy green beans and a woody mushroom puree. Although I thought the portions throughout the evening were perfect for me, at this point Ian did say he was still not feeling very full so maybe some sort of potato would have gone well with this dish.

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Finally, my highlight of the meal – the pudding! We had ‘Monkey Bread’ for dessert, a kind of banana bread cake and proper bread hybrid. There was an almost crusty outer layer with a rich, chocolatey, gooey inside. It was served with a big scoop of clotted cream and a toffee popcorn caramel sauce – absolutely divine!

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Whilst the service was really friendly and informative throughout the evening, it did take ages for the waitress to sort our bill out. normally I wouldn’t mind this but we ate quite late and it was a school night so I was itching to get home into my pjs!

Overall, this was a really amazing dining experience. The location, dining room and food were all great and I love knowing you have found a real local gem too! Thank you to my very generous friends for such a great present xxx

 

Recipe – Pear, Cherry and Walnut Chocolate Tart

Hello and Happy Sunday!

It’s a glorious day here. Ian is off on a run so I have all morning to myself to potter, blog and read the papers…heavenly.

Today’s recipe was a slightly rushed and experimental job but one that tasted divine! Ian and I had a friend over for dinner last week and I had done most of the prep the night before meaning I could just pop home from work, heat up the food and not spend the evening flapping about in the kitchen. To make life easier for myself, I had even bought a pudding and was all ready to go when an hour before our guest arrived, I decided that I would make a dessert from scratch…why do I do these things to myself!

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This chocolate tart is the result of my madness and was rather tasty, if a little sweet due to the glace cherries (luckily I have inherited my mother’s ridiculously sweet tooth!). Think of gooey chocolate brownie, with sweet poached pears and the crunch of nuts all in a crumbly biscuit base. I think if I made this next time, I would try it without the cherries and possibly swap the walnuts for hazelnuts…I’m getting excited just typing that!

Now, I cannot continue without pointing out my massive baking error which will become apparent when you see the pictures below. I started baking my pastry case with baking beans inside and forgot to set the timer. I thought enough time had passed to remove the beans but it most definitely hadn’t which caused the baking beans to leave a lovely imprint on the inside of my pastry case! You definitely couldn’t taste this error (and I think it actually looked very cool!) but nevertheless, I will know for next time!

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Ingredients

1 packet of shortcrust pastry

3 pears, cored, peeled and halved

100g of caster sugar

100ml of water

A piece of orange peel

40g of good quality dark chocolate

30g of butter

150g of golden syrup

1 egg

Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

50g of walnuts

50g of glace cherries

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 200°C, Gas Mark 6
  • Roll out your pastry and line your pie tin
  • Tip in your baking beans and bake for 10 minutes or so then set aside to cool
  • Next, poach your pears by putting half the sugar, the water and orange rind in to a small panpear12
  • Add the pears and bring to the boil before simmering for about 10 minutes then drain and allow the pears to cool
  • Melt your chocolate either in the microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water
  • Add the butter and mix wellpear13
  • In another pan (quite a bit of washing up involved with this recipe! Sorry!) heat the remaining sugar and golden syrup until the sugar has melted and simmer for 2-3 minutespear6
  • Whisk your egg into the chocolate mixture, then add the syrup, vanilla extract, nuts and cherries
  • Lay your cooled pears on to the pastry basepear1
  • Pour over the chocolate mixturepear2
  • Bake for 25 minutes and enjoy!pear3

Football, Food Markets and Vintage Finds

The above title pretty much sums up my weekend!

After a fun Friday night spent with my brother’s girlfriend and one too many JD and cokes, I was up and out early on Saturday to meet my best friend Lu and her family for a spot of shopping, lunch and then to watch Bristol City play. We won 2-0 and the sun shone too – perfect.

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Today, Ian and I headed to Frome Independent Market. I have written about this market before and we try to go each month for a wander and to pick up some treats.

I headed straight to one of my favourite stalls, Dark Matters, to pick up a few of their incredible brownies. I chose their peanut butter and chocolate one, a mint choc chip brownie and a rose, hazelnut and pistachio variety…worth spoiling the diet for!

As well as brownies, I also picked up some cheeses, some heirloom tomatoes to recreate my orzo pasta recipe and Ian found a lovely Scrumpy cider stall where we bought a few litres.

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As always, we had a spot of lunch there. I opted for a dirty beef brisket baguette which was topped with pickles, BBQ sauce and a pot of the cooking liquid. Whilst eating, we watched some great local bands – my favourite was a punk band called Killing Felix who were ace.

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Finally, we had a wander around the huge selection of vintage stalls and picked up a few things for our house. We have wanted a new coffee table for a little while but couldn’t quite decide on one we both liked but when I saw this vintage trunk, I thought it would be perfect.

It has been painted in a chalky grey colour and I like the fact it isn’t a traditional four-legged table to add a bit of interest. We may move this to another room in the future but for now we are going to trial it as our new coffee table.

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The next one is a bit of a strange purchase but one I have been on the lookout for in vintage shops for absolutely ages! On an interiors website about a year ago, I saw an old wooden ladder used as a scarf and belt holder leant against a bedroom wall. It looked amazing and is a great way to actually see the scarves you have whilst adding a pop of colour to a room. I will post a few pictures when I get this set up in our new bedroom.

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The rest of the day will be fairly chilled out for us but we will definitely be having a cheeseboard tonight to try our new buys! x