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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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Recipe – Sicilian Sardine Pasta

I had a tin of sardines hanging around in my cupboard so wanted to find a recipe to use them up that was not too ‘fishy’. I know that probably sounds ridiculous but I’m not a huge fan of the taste of oily fish on its own but mixed with other things, I quite like the saltiness it can add. I found a few versions of this Sicilian dish online and kind of mixed up a few recipes to create this one. We enjoyed this for dinner one night and the fennel and pine nuts add really lovely flavours and textures.

Ingredients

A generous handful of dried raisins or currants

1 can of sardines in oil

1 fennel bulb, chopped – save the fronds too!

A pinch of chili flakes

Diced bread – you could use normal bread but a sliced up French stick is better

One onion, roughly chopped

A handful of pine nuts

Enough pasta for two people (I used fusilli)

A small handful of fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

How to make it

  • Begin by soaking the raisins in hot water for about 15 minutes until plump then drain

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  • Pour a little of the oil from the sardines into a large frying pan on a low to medium heat
  • Add the chili flakes and the fennel fronds then sauté for a minute
  • Add the diced bread and fry for about 5 minutes until crisp and golden

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  • Transfer the croutons to some kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil
  • Add the rest of the sardine oil to the pan followed by the fennel and onion

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  • Soften on a medium heat for about 10 minutes
  • In a separate pan, cook your pasta until al dente then drain
  • Add the pine nuts and raisins to the fennel and onion followed by the sardines (you can break the fish into smaller pieces using a wooden spoon)

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  • Cook for about 5 minutes then add the croutons back in and cook for another 3
  • Add the pasta and mix well
  • Season to taste then serve with fresh parsley sprinkled on top

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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

Travel Diaries – Washington DC

Washington was our fourth and final stop on our East Coast road trip – you can read Part One and Two of our New York trip and all about Atlantic City and Philadelphia by clicking on the links!

Day Eleven – Thursday 6th August

I couldn’t have left Philadelphia without running up and down the ‘Rocky Steps’ so I dragged myself out of bed early, put on my trainers and ran out to the art museum, up those famous steps, posed for a quick pic with Sly then headed back to our hotel room to pack our bags again.

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We caught a bus to Washington which was fine (it had free wifi!) then taxied it to our hotel – you know it’s going to be an interesting ride when you tell the taxi driver your hotel address and he asks you “Where’s that?”

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We stayed in Hyatt Place and we loved the room. It was a pretty new hotel and had a lovely little lounge area to chill and watch TV and a really modern, cool bathroom. We weren’t that impressed with the area our hotel was in. NoMa is apparently very up and coming but I just don’t think it was quite there yet and although it seemed quite vibrant in the daytime, it didn’t feel the best place to be walking about at night.

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We decided to head out and do some exploring that afternoon so walked down to the Capitol Building (which was stunning but covered in scaffolding!), wandered through the parks, saw the Washington Monument and had a great dinner of prawn, crab and lobster rolls – yum!

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Day Twelve – Friday 7th August

After breakfast at the hotel, where I tried my first ever ‘biscuits and gravy’, we spent the morning at the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the media. Outside, there is the front page of every main US State’s newspaper as well as some from the UK, Spain, Brazil, China, France and so on.

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This was a fascinating museum and there was such a good variety of exhibits including the Berlin Wall, the history of comic strips in newspaper, a huge archive of the most important headlines over the past two hundred years, a September 11th exhibition, the challenges journalists face in different parts of the world, the dogs of the White House (loved this one!), the Washington Nationals and my favourite which was all about the Vietnam War and the influence the media had on changing public support for it. There was also a section where you could record yourself as a news anchor on screen which was really fun! This was probably my favourite museum of the whole trip (OK, maybe joint favourite with Ellis Island in New York and the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia!)

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We refuelled with some chicken wings and pizza before a wander through the Sculpture Garden on our way to the Museum of American History. On paper this place looked cool but it was very much aimed at a younger audience so we only did a couple of exhibitions…obviously the one including food and a visit to Julia Child’s kitchen!

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That evening we caught the metro over to the Nationals Park to watch a baseball game. This was so much fun especially the firework display at the end of the game.

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Day Thirteen – Saturday 8th August

After a few days in Washington DC, we started to realise how huge and spread out it was so in order to cover it all and not add to our blister count, we bought tickets for another hop-on/ hop-off tour bus. Whilst it wasn’t as good as the Philadelphia one as it was a recording and felt a lot less personal, it did take us everywhere and also to places and memorials we probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise such as Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon which are over the water in Virginia.

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Lunch was my first ever Shake Shack and was as good as I had hoped! That afternoon we visited the Vietnam and Lincoln memorials before heading to Chinatown for happy hour cocktails and an amazing Mexican meal where our waiter made our guacamole at our table…I grilled him for his recipe!

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Day Fourteen – Sunday 9th August

Our last full day in America! It was Liverpool’s first match of the new season and I read about a Liverpool supporters’ bar not too far away from us. We spent the morning there and it was such a good atmosphere and a chance to chat with some locals too. We left a bit tipsy and realised it was still only about midday!

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That afternoon we went to Georgetown, one of the oldest parts of Washington and one I’d heard was a bit less touristy and cool. I loved it here and wish we could have spent longer wandering around the shops and trying out the bakeries and bars. We had a really nice lunch here (ribs!) before hitting Sephora where I got so excited running up the stairs that I tripped and fell! I was so embarrassed and ended up overspending to hide my shame – like in that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie falls over in Dior and ends up buying loads to make up for it!

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We spent our final night packing, eating doughnuts and watching Sons of Anarchy and I also cracked open my new Essie polish to try out!

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Luckily our flights home were a lot less stressful than when we left the UK, although I suffered with horrendous jet lag for the next few days and was a bit zombie-like most afternoons!

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So that is the end of this ‘Travel Diaries’ series. I think you can probably tell we had an absolutely incredible couple of weeks and I feel a bit lost now I don’t have something to spend my spare time planning for…I may have to get our next trip booked soon! x

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Travel Diaries – New York (Part One)

Right, I think I’m feeling awake enough to make a start on some holiday posts! I love making a record of our adventures and when previous trips pop up on Timehop, I’m really grateful to have this little corner of the internet to look back on fun times.

In case you didn’t know, my husband Ian and I spent two weeks travelling down the East Coast of America, stopping off at New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Today’s blog post will be part one of the five days we spent in New York.

Day One – Monday 27th July

So our holiday started with a 4:30am alarm clock although I think we were both awake before then, a bit too excited to sleep! After a big mug of tea (me) and coffee (Ian), his parents and their dog George very kindly dropped us off at Bristol airport with just enough time for me to purchase a new perfume (L’Impératrice by D&G).

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We flew with Aer Lingus, which meant having to go via Dublin. I hadn’t flown to the States via a connecting flight before and after this experience, I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to do it again. We sat on the runway at Bristol for about 45 minutes meaning when we landed, we were really late for our connecting flight. Cue a mad dash through Dublin airport and security and arriving on our next flight a bit hot and bothered. Not the best start and I definitely needed a large G&T afterwards!

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Apart from that drama, it was a fairly uneventful flight…bad food, good films and I also read Mindy Kaling’s book ‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?’

We landed mid-afternoon and after a bit of hanging around at the airport, we caught our transfer and were dropped off at our hotel, The Ameritania, which was a couple of blocks from Central Park, right in the centre of Broadway.

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My first impressions of the hotel were good. I would say that the décor was not my style but it was very modern and clean, the staff were so helpful and you really couldn’t beat the location. Our room  wasn’t huge but again very clean, luxurious and modern with a lovely bathroom, really comfortable bed and good views. We weren’t sure about the ‘Lover’s Intimacy Kit’ which was included in the minibar though! I think the only thing that could have made our stay more perfect was free wifi as we had to go to Starbucks over the road for it.

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After settling in, I was quite ready for bed but knew I had to stay up and try and get on US time. We walked up to Central Park and had a leisurely stroll around, sussing out our running routes for the next morning and taking in the atmosphere. It is without a doubt my favourite space in New York; a little oasis amongst the hectic pace of the city.

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We then walked over to Times Square which was a bit of a mistake as it was packed with people waiting for Tom Cruise who was there for his latest film premiere. We finished the night with a bite to eat and of course I had to order ribs for my first meal!

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Day Two – Tuesday 28th July

Thanks to the time difference, I was awake at about 5am to see a beautiful pinky-golden sunrise from our hotel window. Ian and I both packed our running gear for this holiday as we decided we should try and balance out all the eating and drinking with a few morning runs. I never thought my running shoes would make it into my holiday suitcase but I’m so glad they did! Running through the streets of New York before everyone else was up was kind of surreal but also a chance to see a different side of the city. A near-empty Central Park was beautiful and it was refreshingly cool too.

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On my list of foodie places to go was a café called Argo Tea and I was pleased to see one on the way back to the hotel. They did an amazing iced chai tea drink which I had every day we were there!

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After a quick Starbucks, we bought our Metro passes and headed Downtown to Battery Park. It was absolutely boiling the whole time we were away and the air-conditioned trains were a godsend for getting around the city.

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The first thing we decided to do was to take a trip to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Previously when we visited New York, we got the free Staten Island Ferry past the island which was OK to see it but this time we wanted to get a bit closer. We got a ferry over to Liberty Island, had the first of many audio guides and enjoyed great views of the green lady as well as back over Manhattan.

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Next, we hopped back on the boat, this time to Ellis Island and its Immigration Centre. I found this place fascinating. It was well set out, the exhibits were really interesting and it not only told the history of immigration to America but really challenged my views on it today too.

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The grand hall was impressive and having travelled there by boat, you could really imagine how people would have felt decades ago, arriving and seeing the statue before starting a new life in America.

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After getting back onto dry land, we were really hungry so walked to South Street Seaport where I had read about some cool foodie places. We stumbled upon ‘Smorgasburg’ with lots of individual stalls selling a great variety of food and drinks. We settled on some local beers, a Vietnamese-style beef brisket roll and the best lobster roll I have ever eaten!

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Fed and watered, we walked through the Financial District and visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It didn’t feel right to take lots of photos inside but it was a fascinating and very moving, sombre experience. I didn’t think the actual exhibits were particularly well laid out (lots of waiting for the people in front to move before you could see the displays – I would recommend going early before the crowds) but it took you through the events of the day using video clips, artefacts, newspaper reports, answerphone messages and parts of the actual Twin Towers. Outside we saw the two huge memorial fountains too.

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We decided to end our day at one of my favourite places to eat in America: Bubba Gump! Yes, I know a Forrest Gump-themed restaurant isn’t the height of culinary sophistication but I order the same dish every time (Cajun-spiced mahi mahi and shrimp with a bourbon sauce) and loved it!

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Right, that’s it for Part One…the next one should be up tomorrow x

Recipe – Fish Tacos

Phew – it is hot! I have been loving the sunshine so far this week – we are even thinking of an impromptu camping trip at the weekend if it continues. My weekly food shop reflected this today too with lots of lovely fruit and salad ingredients and treats coming in the way of salted caramel ice cream!

One of my favourite summery recipes is fish tacos. They are light, vibrant and full of flavour and don’t take too long to cook either. I serve my fish with a salsa, salad, sour cream and hot sauce. I would usually have guacamole too but my avocado didn’t ripen in time for this recipe!

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Ingredients

Olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

A handful of fresh coriander

The juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

4 small white fish fillets (you can use any firm white fish for this recipe – I picked up haddock this time)

A handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped

About 1/3 of a red onion, finely chopped

A couple of radishes, chopped

Mini tortilla wraps

Salad leaves

Sour cream

Hot sauce

How to make it

  • Begin by making the marinade for the fish. In a bowl, add a glug of olive oil, garlic, coriander and most of the lime juice (save a squeeze for the salsa!)

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  • Add the fish fillets and allow to marinade for at least an hour
  • Next, I made up my salsa by mixing up the tomatoes, red onion, radishes, some more coriander, salt, pepper, olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice

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  • Heat a griddle pan to a medium heat then lay your fish fillets in the pan
  • Cook for a few minutes on either side

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  • Now layer up your tacos! I like to start with salad, then the fish and finally the salsa and sauces…sooooooo good! x

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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!