Cherry pie (and a damn fine cup of coffee)

Cherry Pie Collage

I don’t know a single person who’d turn down a big fat slice of hot cherry pie. It’s been one of my favourite pies for as long as I can remember, but this mighty fine dessert took on extra special significance when I was about 15 and became absolutely obsessed with the cult David Lynch / Mark Frost surreal murder-mystery, Twin Peaks. To this day, whenever I hear the opening bars of the ever so haunting Falling, a shiver runs down my spine.

Every Wednesday morning I’d rush to school so I could swap notes with my best friend Ruth on all the twists and turns of last night’s episode. I would have given anything for a leather jacket-clad biker boyfriend like James Hurley, was terrified if ever I entered a room with long red curtains, had recurring nightmares about Bob, and I so wanted to be Audrey Horne. I wasted much too much time trying in vain to tie cherry stems with my tongue…

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Healthy and delicious temple food

Temple Food Collage

Temple food
Definition: food that does you good from the inside out;
restorative, refreshing, reassuring and revitalising;
virtuous and delicious;
as in ‘my body is a temple’

As you know, I’m on a mission to eat more healthily; not just by embarking on a silly fad diet, but by introducing better, more balanced food choices as part of my everyday lifestyle. And I am feeling so much better for it.

Thanks to my fellow bloggers who took part in the latest Spice Trail challenge, I now have an incredible menu of vibrantly virtuous (and of course beautifully spiced) dishes to test out in the weeks and months ahead. Take a look at the entries below – eating well never looked so tempting! Continue reading

Benedictine truffles for Mother’s Day

Chocolate at Home4

Mother’s Day isn’t usually a big event in our house as it generally falls pretty close to my birthday. Some years it’s even fallen on my birthday.

This year I turn the big four-oh and I am being treated to a whole host of dinners and parties, which started last weekend with Saturday lunch at the outstanding Ethicurean and then pampering followed by tapas at the Lido in Bristol on Sunday. My other half is cooking us a fabulous Middle Eastern feast for us tomorrow (my actual birthday), as well as baking his infamous carrot cake. And then next weekend there will be a gathering of family and friends at the Thali Cafe in Southville, and who knows we might even venture out to a club on Saturday night – partly to prove I’ve still got the stamina despite my advancing years.

So this year I really don’t expect much on Mother’s Day. My family has organised quite enough for me already!

And so when my Mum came to stay for a long weekend at the end of February, I decided to celebrate Mother’s Day a little early but in her honour.

me and mum

I’d been sent a chocolate making kit from Chocolate at Home to try out so I thought it would be lovely if my daughters helped me make Mum some special chocolates laced with her favourite liqueur, Benedictine. This was always my mother’s Christmas time tipple and I have memories of sniffing her glass as a child and absolutely loving that intense perfumed scent. I tried it for the first time when Mum was here and hated it – much too strong for me! But it works a treat with chocolate, and I can imagine it would be good in cocktails too. Something to investigate… Continue reading

Beetroot, orange, carrot and ginger juice

beetroot orange carrot and ginger juice text

My health kick continues to go well. As well as feeling so much better in myself, I’m thrilled to report that I’m finally back to my pre-children weight and dress-size – my oldest is nearly 10, so it’s been some time coming. This feeling is really rather addictive and I can see how the changes I’m making to my lifestyle and eating habits will stay with me for the long-term.

In addition to doing the 5:2 diet and generally eating more healthily, I’ve also set myself targets of walking 10,000 steps a day, getting a good night’s sleep every night (I’m aiming for at least seven hours), and fitting in a short workout most days (even if it’s only 10 minutes of Pilates or cross-training), plus a least one run a week.

And I am really feeling the benefits. I have so much more energy, my brain feels more focussed and productive, my clothes fit well (the muffin top has been banished!) and I just feel good in my own skin. Continue reading

A double helping of foodie feasts

Love Food Collage

We’ve had a good food day today. A lovely Sunday roast followed by homemade cherry pie and ice cream. But it doesn’t compare with what we got to tuck into last Sunday. (Although I must say the cherry pie was pretty top notch. You’ll be able to judge for yourself, as I’ll be posting the recipe on the blog soon.) But last Sunday was rather special on the food front, as we were well and truly spoilt for delicious delights with not one, but two foodie feasts. Firstly an afternoon spent at the Love Food Festival in Bristol, and then an incredible five-course Italian meal in the evening, cooked by the marvellous Valentina Harris, for all those involved in the Wells Food Festival.

The Love Food Festival is the brain-child of Lorna Knapman and takes place throughout the year in venues in and around Bristol, showcasing and championing local producers from across the South West. Lorna has been described as a “food loving mum on a mission to create a sense of community and pleasure in food wherever she goes.” I like the sound of this woman! Dubbed Bristol’s Creative Quarter, The Paintworks on Bristol’s Bath Road is a fantastically vibrant location, and it regularly plays host to Love Food and that’s where we whiled away many happy hours last Sunday, talking to local food producers, growers and cooks and blissfully tucking into some of the best food and drink the Westcountry has to offer. That’s what Love Food is all about after all and we took full advantage of all that was on offer.

After devouring their Burger Theory burgers and Rib Street hot dogs (despite my best efforts to bring them up as adventurous eaters, meat in a bun is still their favourite form of street food – and my husband’s too for that matter), my daughters had a brilliant time making paper lanterns and dragons for Chinese New Year, as well as cute little yarn-wrapped sheep, perhaps in readiness for Shaun the Sheep’s imminent arrival in Bristol.

When I asked them what their favourite activity of the day was, both girls agreed it was making their own Chinese spring rolls and wonton dumplings with a little help from the head chef from the cafe at St Werburgh’s City Farm. They prepared them using those little wraps you can pick up at any Chinese supermarket and filled them with lots of fresh veggies. We took them home to cook for lunch the following day. They were so easy and very tasty too, especially dipped in sweet chilli sauce; the kids were so proud of their culinary creations and I’ll definitely be enlisting their help to make more again soon.

My personal highlights of the Love Food Festival were a beautifully spiced South Indian vegetable curry and parsnip and ginger pakora from Gopal’s Curry Shack, Henny & Joe’s rather wonderful homemade masala chai infusion (which I’m told also works a treat in a fruit cake – look forward to trying that out), and the gorgeously addictive Turkish delight from MKS Food Distribution. And it was so good to bump into Sarah again from Wookey Farm, just down the road from us in Somerset, who I was so pleased to see was doing a roaring trade with her goat’s meat, milk and cheeses.

The next Love Food Festival at the Paintworks will be on Sunday 29 March. To keep up-to-date with all their latest news and events, visit www.lovefoodfestival.com.

If that wasn’t enough, we then headed back down to Somerset for a special dinner hosted by Paddy and Judith O’Hagan who are both involved in the organisation of the now annual Wells Food Festival. A gathering of volunteers and supporters of the festival, we were treated to five mouth-watering courses by Italian cook Valentina Harris, chef and author of nearly 50 cookbooks and the chef behind last year’s stunning Italian Feast. Valentina created a whole host of beautiful canapes, followed by various pasta dishes (including macaroni cheese, which I devoured but was delighted when my daughter told Valentina it was good but not as good as mine!), then a delicious risotto, all kinds of naughty puddings and finally cheese and biscuits. Phew!

Valentina's puddingsI was far too busy scoffing and chatting to take any photographs, but I did manage to get a quick shot on my phone of the puddings – a chocolate torte, orange cake and pears poached in red wine and spices. Bang went my diet!

Valentina promised my daughters she’d send us her recipe for the poached pears as they loved them so much. Watch this space – I’ll share it with you once I’ve had a go at making it myself.

There was lots of talk that night about plans for this year’s Wells Food Festival, which returns in October. As soon as the details are firmed up, I’ll bring you news of that too. But rest assured it will be a joyous and delicious celebration of all the very best that Somerset has to offer in terms of food and drink.

Crispy Chinese duck with pancakes

Crispy Chinese Duck Pancakes3 web

It’s the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations tomorrow, so what better reason to have a go at making my favourite must-have dish whenever I find myself in a Chinese restaurant?

Crispy Chinese Duck Pancakes text

I absolutely adore Chinese crispy duck. It’s that irresistible combination of soft, succulent meat; crispy, spicy skin; crunchy vegetables (I added rocket to the usual mix of slivers of cucumber and spring onion); rich, sweet plum sauce; and the DIY joy of wrapping it all up in paper-thin pancakes. It’s why children love this dish so much too – anything they can make up themselves, putting them in control of what they put in their mouth as well as a great excuse to get all sticky and messy – it’s just such delicious fun. Continue reading

Chocolate pancakes with berries & rose-scented yoghurt

Chocolate pancakes2 web

Pancakes are always a popular weekend breakfast in our house, and then when you go and add chocolate into the mix, well, who doesn’t love chocolate? So these bad boys are always a winner.

Served with juicy berries (I always keep a stock in the freezer so we can them all-year-round) and a heavenly perfumed rosewater yoghurt and drizzled with syrup or honey, these simple pancakes are elevated to celebration status, perfect for Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and birthdays. Continue reading