Maths and baking with the #estimationnation challenge

Those of you who have read here for a little while will know that I enjoy baking.  While I don't have the biggest sweet tooth in the world I love whipping up cakes, puddings and treats for when we entertain. I'm probably a better cook than a baker (cookery's room for improvisation is more my speed than baking's precision), but there's something quite therapeutic about the steadiness and calm that baking requires.

Imagine my delight, then, when I was invited along to a baking event by the crew at Smart Energy GB, to see if my powers of estimation were up to snuff.

Full disclosure, I went in to this challenge knowing my skills of estimation were....a bit rubbish. Having taught primary maths for years I'm super happy with numbers and calculations, but my estimation has always been a little bit...iffier. It's more of an innate skill than something you can learn, and it's not something I find particularly easy. Nonetheless I happily signed up to go along, knowing that either I'd pleasantly surprise myself, or amuse the rest of the people in attendance. Smart Energy are the team behind the rollout of Smart Meters for electric and gas bills, so estimation worries are at the forefront of their mind...

 Once we'd arrived at the kitchens in Hoxton (where they do some of the auditions for Bake Off, apparently) we were split into teams and handed a fetching purple apron. I was paired with May of Eat, Cook, Explore, who I've seen at several foodie events but never worked with, so it was fun to chat and catch up as we baked and attempted to measure.

 Our MC for the proceedings was the lovely Ian, who'd been the runner up on last year's Great British Bake Off (a.k.a. my food and TV heaven each spring). He was thoroughly nice and very sporting, even with teams who had a bit of a nightmare on the estimation front.

*cough* us *cough*

For both bakes we were given a pile of ingredients, plenty of utensils, and a recipe card.

Alas, the recipe card had no numbers on it. No weights, no temperatures, no quantities of any kind.  When it came to those things it was estimation all the way....

Ah, here we are, so young, so hopeful....

 ...and here are our finished cupcakes (or semi-souffles with dog poop icing,as we decided to call them). An oven too low and icing too buttery conspired against us.

 For reference, this is what they should have looked like!

After that disaster we broke for a restorative cup of tea before the second bake of the afternoon - cheesy, herby scones. As you can see below, these worked out far better, and were even, dare I say it?


I had to get a snap with the Bake Off meister, of course.  The red mark on my forehead is from the Go Pro I was wearing all afternoon...the team from Smart Meter should be sending that footage, plus the video they took, over in the next few days.  Nigella I'm not, but there are bound to be some truly hilarious faces pulled, so I'll be sure to share that here when it arrives.

We were so proud our second bake took, we all had to get a picture!

After all the drama the contestants were greeted downstairs by the team for wine and canapes while Ian and the other judges decided who would win the prizes for the best and worst bakes.

And guess who got the wooden spoon for our cupcakes?

Good losers that we are, we still happily posed for a picture. We both won a gift voucher for cooking lessons, though as it was an estimation fail that did for us rather than a cooking based mishap, I'm hopeful my next creations will be more delicious!

Thank you so much to the team at Smart Energy GB for a fun and challenging afternoon, and for all the writers and bloggers in attendance for making it such a fun event.

Disclaimer: I was the guest of Smart Energy GB at this event. Cooking without quantities is stressful, for the record.

 PS The Smart Enrgy GB team have now sent me the video they made on the day (thank you!). I pull a classic bemused face about thirty seconds in!

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London: Bottle Apostle, East Village, Stratford

I've written before about how much I love living in East London, and about all the cute spots that are cropping up in the East Village as that area of Stratford grows and develops (you can read my review of Tina We Salute You, one of those businesses, here). There are more and more places opening each months, including shops, restaurants, beauty salons and cafes.  And....a cracking wine and spirits shop. 

Matthew and I both love wine and beer, so a great shop with a decent selection of both is always going to be on our radar.  We popped down to check Bottle Apostle out earlier this month and loved it, I think it will be a firm favourite when we want new wines for dinner parties; interesting, quirky craft beers, and spirits for new cocktail creations.

The selection of wines is really stellar - as well as old favourites there are intresting selections from Austria, Portugal, Brazil...

Look at the colours of the liqueurs on that top shelf - that Violette one with its gorgeous purple hue is firmly on my wishlist.

There's a lovely long table for sitting and sipping, and wondrous Enomatic machines where you can try a sample glass or two before you buy.  I loved this space - I may take my laptop there one Friday and do some writing as it's as lovely as any cafe!

Wine, glorious wine.

There are always events advertised. Clearly 'Holy Cheese Mountain' is firmly on my to-do list, and 'Mums of East Village' sounds like the Real Housewives spinoff we are all waiting for.

There are lots of great beers as well - Matthew had to buy one called 'Spreadsheet Ninja' for the name alone.

I'm so happy that Bottle Apostle have opened a store at this side of town (they also have shops in Clapham, Crouch End, Primrose Hill and Victoria Park Village), and am looking forward to popping back often for wine, beer and cocktail making supplies.

Where do you buy alcoholic delights?

Bottle Apostle,
Unit 7.2, 3-4 West Park Walk, East Village
E20 1DH
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Getting back to my country roots at The Pointer

Farm fresh veggies, deliciously prepared.

As the title of this blog would suggest, I love the countryside. While London is currently my home, and I love being in the thick of things in the hustle and bustle of the city, a big part of my heart belongs to the countryside. I love the greenery, the space, the quiet, the people - it's always good for my soul to get out of the city and replenish myself with some country air and some good times.

So when an invitation to the blogger summer BBQ at The Pointer in Brill, Buckinghamshire, popped into my inbox I was very excited to say yes. The thought of green fields, farm animals and a little downtime in the country sounded like a perfect Saturday. I was also very keen to visit their pub & restaurant. I'd heard good things from friends who had visited the village before, as I used to live not a million miles from Brill, just over the county border in Northamptonshire. I'm very enthusiastic about good, honest farm to fork food where animals are treated with compassion, so this felt like a great fit for my interests and for the blog.

Here at home we've starting eating more and more vegetarian meals, and when we do eat meat we are trying to get it from farms that have good standards of welfare. It's better meat, on a selfish level; and it's much better for the animals, on the kinder one. Not only that, having grown up in farming country I like to ensure my money is going to support farmers and farms who are taking great care of their animals and crops, not big faceless factories with questionable welfare and awful conditions for animals and workers alike. Raising crops and animals well is a true skill, and if that skill means that I have to pay a premium, I'll do so whenever possible. We've actually found that by eating a couple more veggie meals a week we can afford to go for free range, well-sourced meats for when we do have animal products, and the budget has stayed about the same. I'll be featuring a few veggie recipes here in the next few months - I'm enjoying experimenting and improving my repertoire of vegetarian meals.

At The Pointer, they are also very passionate about animal welfare, great food, and a way of eating that's holistic and which is good for all. It's a definite little industry - there's a big farm, where veggies and fruits are grown and animals raised; a little butchers where the meat is processed; and a lovely little pub and restaurant where people can enjoy meals made with the produce and meat from the farm. I spoke to people at all three locations and their passion for The Pointer and what they do was tangible - it really felt like a big family, working together to produce food and meals they were truly proud of.

I took over 300 hundred pictures as we toured the farm and visited the pub...fear not, I've pared that number down a little to share here!

There were so many doggies out and about. I don't subscribe to the cat person/dog person divide at all, I love them both.  For our current lifestyle and location, it had to be cats, but when we make our break for the countryside, there will be dogs too.  I loved walking with Blue and Boo, the farm owner's dogs, although I got far too few good shots of them as I was having a jolly good play with them.  I'm animal crackers.

As we arrived the tempting scent of freshly made bacon rolls wafted out from the kitchen. As I was veggie all last week I couldn't enjoy the treats but I did settle in for a cup of coffee and a chat instead!

As well as the farm dogs, sweet Darcey daschund (and owner, naturally) joined us for our tour - what a sweetie!

Once we were all in and full of coffee and/or bacon, Fiona and David laid out to plans for the day. We were split into two groups for the tour. Katy and I were in the group touring the gardens and fields first, then out to see the herds of cows and the piggies.

The house was beyond gorgeous. Poor Matthew has had me chattering on about it all week!

We set off across the fields to explore the gardens, where much of the produce grown is used in the kitchens at the pub & restaurant, or sold in the little village market.

We marvelled at the well kept gardens, while the dogs made friends and romped around.

As we walked past the trees I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the blossom.  Love May for the pink and white confetti nature provides!

These two little calves were both orphan calves, so they were kept in a little paddock of their own. They were so sweet and really enjoyed a pat and a belly rub when we popped in to say hello. Don't they look content amongst their buttercups?

These freshly shorn sheep were very friendly and trotted straight up to the fence to say hello.  The fellow above loved the camera and was giving us all so many angles for shots. Tyra Banks would have been proud!

We picked strawberries straight from the plants (with permission, of course) and snacked on them as we learned about all the fruits raised on the farm. So juicy and succulent - I was delighted to discover they were also for pudding later, served with a delicious dollop of vanilla-orange cream.

Next up were the horses, including this cheeky fellow above.  I adored giving them all a fuss (as did Katy, as you can see below), I was just sorry I hadn't brought any Polos for them. Katy got some very soppy pictures of me greeting the horses; I really do love them.

There are all sorts of rare breeds and unusual animals on the farm. These pigs, which are usually native to New Zealand, were so cute, romping around their grassy little field.

Aren't their markings extraordinary?

Everywhere we walked there were plants and prettiness. Katy and I were often the stragglers of the group, we were so busy taking pictures!

After a quick photocall for the whole group, we headed out (via a trailer pulled by a tractor) to explore the cow fields. The herd greeted us with pleasant moos but kept a measured distance - I think they were trying to suss out what we were up to!

These cows were definitely giving us the once over!

We got to meet lots of little piglets - they were very cute and very noisy!

After that it was time to head back through the gardens to the house, to head over to the pub.

 I think these ducks were waddling off to their ducky pub too!

The pub was delightful, full of cosy nooks and pretty tables. Had I not been there for an event I would have been curled up in front of that fire with a book and a glass of wine, for sure.

There's also a lovely garden - it was rather chilly on the day we visited, but it was lovely to see the outside area too - I imagine it's the perfect place to have a Pimm's on a summer's day.

Pretty plants abound in the garden, making it a lovely space in which to linger. We also spotted this local kitty exploring the rain shelter! Wherever I go, I will find a cat, it seems.

After all that wandering and exploring, we were ravenous, so we were delighted when we discovered it was time for lunch. As I wasn't eating meat for National Vegetarian Week I had the veggie option, but I was a little jealous of the lovely meat being enjoyed by the others, all from the farm.

I tucked in to this delicious courgette roulade and a huge plate of veggies, fresh from the gardens at the farm.

Katy had some beef and some pork, and enjoyed both. After that we just had time to pop into the butchers (I picked up some sausages for Matthew and I to enjoy this week - they were divine), hop onto the coach, and head back to town.

It really was a splendid day, and I headed back to town feeling happy, relaxed, and full.  Many thanks to all at The Pointer for the gorgeous hospitality and for hosting us so beautifully. I'm definitely going to try to head back at some point, and I must bring Matthew too - he's dying to visit the pub!

Disclaimer: As mentioned in triplicate above, I was kindly invited to this event by the team at The Pointer. All opinions, anecdotes and animal picture overload entirely my own.
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Book Review: Martini Henry

I am so enjoying doing more book reviews here on the blog. I am an avid reader by nature and always have been - a lovely of words and a definite propensity to hoover up knowledge means I'm never happier than when curled up with a book. I read in bed, in the bath, outside, inside, on the tube (I would blush to tell you how many times I've missed a stop or been given a very odd look as I cry, giggle, or guffaw my way through a few chapters). 

I always think I'm lucky too, because of the breadth of books I like. My natural nosiness (TM: my mother) / inquisitive nature (TM: my grandmother) means I'm happy to skip from genre to genre. A thriller there, some nonfiction here; a nice bit of historical fiction now, some self-help later.  When it comes to my comfort zone, however, it has to be chicklit.

Side note: I both love and loathe the 'chicklit' label.  

I love it because it's very effective at describing the books I enjoy, full of interesting, fun characters, well plotted storylines, drama, sadness and mirth. I love it because some of my favourite authors (Jojo Moyes, Cecelia Ahern, Helen Fielding) have written the most amazing, treasurable (is treasurable a word?) books in this particular genre. Heavens even the novel I'm working on (slowly) is a chicklit one! The label, as tricky as it may be, is simply the best describer we have at the moment: 'books for women' sounds a little staid, and 'women's lit' sounds like a university course. So chicklit it will have to be for now. 

I loathe the label because it conjures up acres of pastel covers with identical fonts and near-identical titles. I hate it because some of the books I've flung with the most vehemence across a room have been 'chicklit'. I despair of a genre where I once read a book where an author spent 7 pages describing an outfit. An everyday day outfit. When I want that, I'll read Vogue (and when I do want that, I do read Vogue!); in a book I want story, characters, plot, drama, not a list of what's in a character's closet. If I want wardrobe envy, I can always watch Real Housewives....

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now, and actually get on to the review!

Martini Henry is a lovely little book.  It's fun, warm, quirky, and full of many of the things that make me so fond of chicklit - well-drawn characters, amusing subplots, and an interesting setting (crumbling ancestral home? Check). It's a deliciously gentle book too, perfect for settling down with for an hour or so after a long busy day - I read most of it curled up on a sofa with a G&T and a small furry cat (Leela loves reading time), thoroughly enjoying being whisked away to a world before mobiles and the internet. It's gentle in the nicest possible way - Crowe writes in a lovely, languid, unhurried way that moves the plot on nicely but also takes the time to do plenty of showing as well as telling.

Sue, the central character of the novel, is such a sweetheart and through her journal entries and correspondence we get to know this budding writer well. She's naive and unworldy, but also warm, caring and sweet - you cannot help but want her to succeed and achieve her happy ending. I loved the little 'to do' lists and historical factlets that cropped up in the narrative too - it's a little Bridget Jones, a little Adrian Mole.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, enjoyable summer read - there's enough mystery and plot to keep one entertained, but it's also a cheerful and relaxing romp - Sara Crowe does the hard work so the reader can just sit back and enjoy. I'd give Martini 4 stars out of five - I loved my time with the characters. If you enjoyed books such as Love, Nina or the quirky, unpredictable chacters of authors such as Nick Hornby, I think you'll enjoy this book.

Thank you to Transworld for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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London: An evening at Chelsea in Bloom

One of the big events happening in London right now is the Chelsea Flower Show.  I've been a couple of times before and adored it, but this year my schedule didn't have a whole day spare to go along so I didn't buy any tickets....and subsequently got some major FOMO as friends and acquaintances started to share their pictures from the show.

Luckily, life conspired to give me a dose of floral wonder to enjoy and to help to ease the envy. Alongside the flower show, lots of businesses in Chelsea come together to celebrate Chelsea in Bloom, with flowers bedecking several of the shops, hotels and bars around Sloane Square and beyond.  So when the delightful Emma asked me if I'd like to pop along to take a tour with her, I immediately said yes!

So many local businesses have got involved....

....making walking around the area...

...a real treat.

Both inside and outside, the shops and restaurants looked stunning! There was also some very cute streetstyle on display (see above).

As we head towards the excitement of Rio, the theme is Carnival. This handsome fellow, outside 11 Cadogan Gardens, was such a vivid, stunning piece, designed by Larry Walshe (be warned, if you love flowers you will spend quite some time getting lost in beautiful arrangements on this site!). This hotel looked so beautiful, and their Chelsea in Bloom afternoon tea sounds wonderful (we all know by now that I am a sucker for a good afternoon tea).

All across the area, the feeling was one of a fiesta, with bright colours and amazing arrangements abounding.

In the dappled early evening sunlight the streets and lanes away from the main drag looked so serene and lovely.

I adored the range of pieces, arrangements and ideas on display - from huge, vibrant displays like the above at Hackett, to a window full of lavender...

The Liz Earle store in Duke of York Square had got well and truly involved and I loved their 'Carnivearle' display. They have events running all week long, as do many other businesses in the area - full details can be found on the Chelsea in Bloom events page.

As well as walking around the area, Emma and I also took a quick tour by rickshaw. This was great fun, if a little white-knuckle in certain spots (we travelled at rush hour!). Nevertheless, we enjoyed the ride and our pilot was as cool and collected as can be.  As was his co-rider, Mr Parrot. The rickshaws were festooned with carnival and floral doodads, and if you'd like a complimentary rickshaw tour you can book one from the information area in Sloane Square.

After our trip, we went on a little walk around some of the smaller streets. We were admiring this fabulous headdress at Sarah Chapman (the headdress and accompanying peacocks were designed by the team at Little Lake Flowers) when we heard one of my top ten favourite sentences ever from the doorway. "Would you like a free glass of prosecco?"

Yes, yes we would.

Emma and I had a lovely time at Sarah Chapman - we both had our skin analysed (verdict - not too bad, actually), and were shown some amazing products. The morning facial smelled like a dream and was so good on my always temperamental sensitive skin! It's now firmly on my 'to try' list, along with the overnight facial product and the eye recovery cream.  We also got to try on the amazing headdress the shop has for photos while sipping our prosecco.

I kind of want to wear this everywhere now...

And yes, I wore florals to a flower event. I'm nothing if not a fan of a theme.

Emma looking splendid in the headdress too.

Now I just need someone to make headdresses fashionable year round, because the look is fierce, no?

And with that we repaired to Comptoir Libinais for drinks and dinner, after squeezing in a last minute picture of the elephant outside The White Company!

Chelsea in Bloom runs all this week until the 28th May, and I'd heartily recommend a visit. There's so much to see and do, with so many people and brands in the area involved. I may even pop back to experience the Floral Food Market Partridges have planned. West London is looking lovely right now!

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