Tuesday 31 July 2018

CatFest London and vegan street food

CatFest was London's first ever festival dedicated to cats (in Shoreditch, where else?) featuring everything from handmade cat baskets to bejewelled cat collars (which could also be worn by humans), posters and paintings of cats, cat themed stationery and gifts, and books about cats.

It took place in July and I managed to get two tickets for me and a friend who was visiting. I left baby S at home with her dad and enjoyed one of the most random days out I've had in a while!

The event opened later than the advertised time so there was a queue of people waiting outside as we arrived, but luckily it didn't take long to get in. The stalls were arranged in rows around a hall and we took our time browsing, though the only thing I bought was a catnip toy. I did however get to meet Artemis and Apollo, two Instagram-famous cats with about 115,000 followers - this is a selfie with Artemis!

There was a stage at the front with various speakers over the course of the day, but nobody I had actually heard of - while we were there, a lady from the "Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats" (a cat rescue in Los Angeles) was giving a talk but we couldn't hear her very well over the general hubbub of the festival, and there was nowhere to sit and not much room to even stand in front of the stage - they would have been better doing this in a separate room with some seating I think. There were also some very odd 70s style dancers which we watched for a few minutes but I was more interested in the cats!

Having said that, other than the Instagram stars we didn't see any actual cats. There was an adoption area in another bit across the road, where you could meet cats and put your name down to adopt one, but I already have a cat and the queue to get into this separate area was very long - they were only letting a few people in at a time so not to overwhelm the cats, which was sensible, but we didn't want to queue in the hot sun.
Instead we visited the food court to get some lunch. For some reason all the food on offer was vegan and though there weren't that many stalls, there were choices from every end of the spectrum so pretty much something for everyone. My friend had a cauliflower patty served in a box with cous cous and a few other things, though as there was only a tiny seating area and we had to stand, she found it a little difficult to eat out of the box with a fork (given we also had a glass of Pimms as well!). I had a vegan hot dog from Pig Out - they had three options, all vegan, and I had American style with macaroni cheese on top the sausage. It was absolutely delicious and as they travel the country visiting various food markets and events I urge you to check them out if you get the chance.

I also spotted one of my favourite bakeries which just happens to be vegan - Ms Cupcake, based in Brixton, makes the best cookie sandwiches I've ever had. I had a salted caramel and took a chocolate chip home for my husband - he is about as far removed from vegan as you can get, and he loves them too!

I wore my cat print dress from Lindybop which I've had for a while but only worn once or twice before as it seems a bit OTT for daily wear but this was definitely the event for it - I got so many compliments from complete strangers!

CatFest was a fun day out though I did think the £20 ticket price was a bit steep considering that pretty much everything inside involved purchasing things, other than adopting cats, and the guest speakers, but even if we had wanted to stay and listen to any more speakers it wasn't very well set up for that, as there was nowhere to sit and even standing to listen we were in the way of people walking around looking at the stalls. So if this event takes place again, which I think is their intention, I hope they will drop the ticket price and also think differently about the logistics. The food was great and it was definitely something a bit different!

Monday 30 July 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 31

My husband's week off really did not go to plan. We were both really sick for nearly the whole week - more ill than I remember being for a long time. Luckily baby S didn't get ill at all, and we were just about able to take it in turns to take care of her - I got sick first then my husband, then we were both recovering and feeling really rough for a couple of days but able to cope. We couldn't have managed without my mother-in-law's help though!

So any plans we had for the week went out the window (down the toilet would be a more accurate phrase) and we were off our food and not eating much all week either. We were ok by the weekend when my sister and niece came to stay which was really nice; now they have left and my husband is back at work it's back to my daily routine of being a mum on maternity leave.

Lunch (with my sister and niece) hotdogs
Dinner Fishcake and mashed potato for me

I promised my husband takeaway after a rotten week off so I'll see if he wants to do it tonight, or at the weekend


macaroni cheese with bacon lardons and sausages


Lunch  bacon sandwich
Dinner chicken stuffed with boursin in a red wine sauce I didn't do last week

Lunch TBA maybe pancakes
Dinner pizza topped chicken I didn't do last week

Friday 27 July 2018

Summer Watermelon Spritz

You can find frozen diced fruit in most supermarkets for making smoothies but I found something I'd not come across before recently - Tesco has frozen watermelon balls in beautiful little spheres which are good for so much more than throwing in a blender!

I made this drink which took just moments but tasted delicious. It's a glass of lemonade straight from the fridge with frozen watermelon balls instead of ice cubes and some fresh mint. If you like tonic water you can try that and I bet it would be nice with a splash of something alcoholic!

I muddled the fruit around in the glass as it softened and ate it at the end using a milkshake straw - a straw that has a little spoon on the end. It was just the thing for this hot weather we've been having!

I'm sharing this with CookBlogShare hosted this week by Lost in Food.

Hijacked By Twins

Monday 23 July 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 30

My husband has finally got some time off so we can spend the week as a family - we haven't really planned anything to do yet, but I know he's coming along to baby massage and My Gym to see what baby S gets up to every week, and we will have at least one afternoon out, and hopefully do a few other things like finish decorating the nursery.

Then at the weekend my sister and her 20 month old are coming to stay so we've got some fun but low key activities planned. I will also adjust the menu depending on what my niece prefers to eat and whether we are eating our dinner at the same time as her, or later.

Lunch - sandwich
Dinner - barbecue

Lunch- pasta bake or bacon sandwich
Dinner- gammon and new potatoes or macaroni cheese with sausage

Lunch- homemade sausage rolls with puff pastry
Dinner- barbecue

Lunch- pasta bake or fresh rolls for sandwiches if I buy any
Dinner- chicken stuffed with boursin in a red wine sauce

Lunch- ham and cheese toasties
Dinner- gammon and new potatoes or macaroni cheese with sausage

Lunch- probably something easy like a bacon sandwich
Dinner- barbecue

Lunch- crumpets and Scotch pancakes
Dinner- pizza-topped chicken with mashed potato or new potatoes and veg

Friday 20 July 2018

Age is Irr-elephant Birthday Card

I couldn't resist buying a card making magazine recently when I saw the free cover gift was a sheet of zoo animal clear stamps, including an alpaca, as I love alpacas! The set included some great sentiments and phrases to go with the animals as well; here is a card I made using the elephant stamp, the 'tree in the savannah' stamp and a sentiment saying 'age is irr-elephant'.

I inked the background using a cotton wool ball and an ink pad which also came with the craft magazine, pressing more firmly on the bottom half of the card and lighter on the top half.

I'm sharing this with CCEE stampers where the theme is zoo animals for national zookeepers week and Moving along with the times where the theme is wild animal.

Thursday 19 July 2018

The Diner, Ganton Street London and the Regent Street Festival

London’s Regent Street was pedestrianised for four consecutive weekends in July, with all sorts of entertainment provided by the shops and businesses along the street.

I went to the festival with a friend and my four month old, not really sure what to expect, and we had a great time. There was a large display about the importance of bees - apparently some of the buildings in this area have bee hives on their roofs - where children could get involved in various activities and meet a lady dressed as a bee.

Hamley's toy shop had a man blowing bubbles up and down the street outside and a promotion in store where we were able to get a free teddy for my little girl; Holister had deckchairs and giant inflatables, there was face painting, free samples from Whittards (I love their instant iced tea) and various food stalls.

My favourite part was the Wimbledon-themed ball pond outside Ralph Lauren Polo, where you could climb in and have your photo taken from a camera above; we were then given prints of the photo straight away (free of charge) and I gave my phone number for a digital copy of the photo to be texted later - but when it arrived they had sent me a stranger's photo! Still it was a really fun experience and a lovely day out.

There were lots of food stalls which looked very tempting including Gaucho and Ham Yard Hotel but we decided it would be easier to sit down in a café or restaurant, as baby S would need feeding and changing as well. We cut through from Regent Street to Ganton Street where there were several restaurants that looked good but most appeared very busy. I spotted the Diner, a larger restaurant with more space inside, and asked if they could accommodate a buggy as I knew most of their tables are fixed booths, but they took us to the back of the restaurant to a table that had fixed seating on one side and movable stools on the other. The greeter even helped carry the buggy up two small steps to get to the table, and helped move the stools so I could get the buggy next to the table.

I've been to the Diner in Spitalfields several times and really like the food but this was the first time I'd been in with a baby in tow. She had her milk as I was reading the menu; when the food arrived we posed for a photo and baby S tried to grab my friend's burger!

My friend had a chicken burger and I went for the macaroni cheese with bacon; I would have preferred the bacon a bit crispy but the dish was really nice and very filling - though that was probably because I also had a Snickers milkshake as a treat with it!

We were then joined by a vegan friend and I was pleased to see the Diner had a couple of vegan options - a burger and a vegan version of the mac and cheese, and some of their locations including Spitalfields now have a completely separate vegetarian and vegan menu.

If you are wondering about visiting with a baby, they do have baby change facilities in the ladies toilet, though when you pull down the wall-mounted changing table you are actually blocking access to one of the three toilet cubicles, and I wasn't sure people would be too thrilled I was changing a poopy nappy right next to the sinks as the baby change isn't in a separate cubicle but in the main part of the ladies, though they don't have a huge amount of space and it was better than nothing. Overall I'd say the Diner is definitely baby friendly and was a good place for us to sit down for a while and eat lunch while we enjoyed the Regent Street festival.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Oreo Marshmallow Fluff Cheesecake

Whenever I buy a jar of marshmallow fluff for a recipe I end up eating the whole jar  - not in one go, but it doesn't usually end up being used in the recipe I intended!

This time around I bought two jars so I could definitely make the recipe I wanted! My husband loves Oreos and I decided to make an Oreo cheesecake and use the marshmallow fluff in the filling.

I kind of made the recipe up as I went along and it didn't set particularly firm - you need to eat this with a spoon rather than a fork - but it tasted really good!

See the recipe below..

You need:
1 packet Oreos
50g butter
213g jar marshmallow fluff
200g tub soft cheese
100ml crème fraiche
100g icing sugar

Crush the Oreos either with a rolling pin or in a blender. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat or in the microwave and stir in the crushed Oreos.

Press into the bottom of a 7 or 8 inch loose-bottomed cake tin.

In a large bowl, mix together the marshmallow fluff, soft cheese, crème fraiche and icing sugar and spread over the crushed Oreo base.

Allow to set in the fridge, ideally overnight.

I'm sharing this with Baking Crumbs and Casa Costello's Bake of the week (even though there is no actual baking involved!) and CookBlogShare.

Monday 16 July 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 29

I had a great weekend with a friend visiting going into London twice, once with my daughter and once leaving her with my husband - we went to CatFest and the Regent Street Festival. While I was there I had macaroni cheese in a restaurant which reminded me of how much I like it, so I'd like to make it again soon - though with the weather so hot at the moment we will probably be barbecuing a lot again!

Monday - barbecue

Tuesday - out for a family birthday

Wednesday - barbecue

Thursday - stir-fry for me, chicken chargrills for him

Friday - gammon, new potatoes and apple sauce

Lunch- bacon sandwich
Dinner- barbecue

Lunch- crumpet pizzas
Dinner- macaroni cheese and sausage

Monday 9 July 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 28

It's too hot to think - and to cook! Unfortunately my husband doesn't eat salads or I would consider doing those for dinner every night. Instead we plan to barbecue a lot.

Since having a baby I don't have a lot of time to prepare food so while I'd love to be trying out new barbecue recipes every time, I'm more likely to be found ordering ready-marinated meat and ready-to-cook things from the supermarket, but there are a few easy but tasty things we can do to liven it up a bit.

Tuna steak, hot dog and potato salad for me, beef kebabs and hot dog for him

Burgers plus chicken kebabs

Watching the football, like most of England - which starts around the time my husband gets home from work so I'll put something easy in the oven from the freezer

Burgers, mozzarella sticks, potato salad, garlic bread

tuna steak, beef steak for him, chicken kebabs

Lunch - I'm out with a friend at CatFest (Google it!)
Dinner - barbecued whole chicken, sausages, mozzarella sticks

Lunch - I'm out again with friends so will get food while I'm out
Dinner - probably something easy from the freezer

Sunday 8 July 2018

Pink Unicorn card - Be a Unicorn in a Field of Horses

Unicorns are a really big thing at the moment - I can't really remember when it started but suddenly they are everywhere, from toys to children's clothing to cakes to stationery. Late one night in between feeding the baby I was browsing the internet and decided to look for a rubber unicorn stamp for card making. I thought there would be loads but couldn't find any I liked until I came across this unmounted one from China. It's quite large so just right for the main element of a card.

The backing paper is from a set called Glitter Girl which was from Hobbycraft only a couple of months ago but they don't seem to stock it any more unfortunately. The frames and banner are die cuts I bought pre cut from Ebay (getting out my die cutting machine seems like hard work at the moment!). I stamped the unicorn and coloured it in with Promarker and stamped the sentmiment from a separate set of unicorn-related sentiment stamps.

I'm sharing this with Penny Black where the theme is 'things with wings' as unicorns are usually depicted with wings; Crafting with Dragonflies where the theme is animals; Crafty Friends which is fairy/fantasy; Send a Smile 4 Kids which is anything goes for kids; and the Fairy and Unicorn challenge where the theme is mythical.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Trip of a Lifetime - exploring the Galapagos Islands

There’s something tragically romantic about being the last of your kind, the only one of your species left on earth, with no way of continuing the line. That was the plight of Lonesome George, a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands, specifically a Pinta Island tortoise.

There are plenty of other giant tortoises in the Galapagos but George was the last from Pinta; he was a symbol for the conservation efforts of the Charles Darwin Research Centre and famous the world over.
 George died in 2012 so I didn’t have the opportunity to see him when I went to the Galapagos Islands on my honeymoon in 2016, but we saw several of his compatriots and learned about the different types of giant tortoises – some have domed shells and short necks, and others have saddleback shells and long necks. These differences contributed to Darwin’s development of his theory of evolution.
There’s something both humbling and mind blowing about standing in a spot dedicated to the man, looking at creatures that are direct descendants of the animals that gave rise to such an important discovery.

But a trip to the Galapagos Islands isn’t all about science – sometimes it’s just about marvelling at the natural beauty of spots like Pinnacle Rock, above (which will be familiar to those who saw the film Master and Commander, the first movie to ever film in the Galapagos) or the fish market on Santa Cruz, where sea lions vie with pelicans to steal fish.

Riding in a panga (small rubber dingy) to sail under rocky outcrops to watch Galapagos penguins – who seemed just as interested in watching us back – and snorkelling with sea lions which wanted to play, darting in and out among our group – will be among the most memorable experiences of my entire life. What makes this experience extra special is knowing how protected all these species are – only 5 of the 18 islands are inhabited, and there are restrictions on how many people can visit the other islands and at what times, so you’ll never get there and find hundreds of people descending from cruise ships all at the same time. Some of the islands, formed of volcanic rock, make you feel that you are walking on the moon, or stepping back in time, or discovering your own uncharted territories like the explorers who have gone before.

We stayed at the Finch Bay Hotel, an award-winning 'sustainable eco hotel' voted the world's leading 'green' hotel for the last three years in a row, and took day trips on their yacht so most days, so the size of our group was in single figures. Led by a knowledgeable local guide, we would carefully pick our way across the rocks under the blazing sun, stopping to let a huge iguana cross our path, or to watch the mating dance of a blue-footed booby. The animals seemed totally unfazed at our presence, as they have quite literally never been at risk from predators, so they have nothing to worry about – and we definitely had a sense that we were guests in their lands. In fact, sometimes I felt like we were slightly irritating paparazzi – with the laid back iguanas wondering why we were so keen on taking their photos when they were more interested in basking in the sun.

The bio-diversity is amazing, both on land and in water. I’d never snorkelled before – or since – so was pretty nervous, but nothing was going to stop me from going underwater and marvelling at so many different species of fish. I was lucky enough to see a giant sea turtle swim right past, and lucky to have escaped what was apparently a close encounter with a bull shark. We saw plenty of small (as in, a foot or two long) shark which were relatively harmless and ignored us, but at one point our guide signalled to everyone to get out of the water and back into the panga as quickly as possible. We found out later he had spotted a bull shark, a fairly dangerous species - shark attacks in the Galapagos are rare, but when they happen, they are usually bull sharks. I’m very relieved I didn’t actually see it myself, and didn’t know why we were exiting the water until afterwards, so I didn’t panic!

Visiting the Galapagos Islands takes some effort and dedication (and money, though there are ways to do it on a smaller budget than the top end cruise ships). At the time of our trip, there were no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador - anyone would think they want to discourage package holiday tourists!  We had a couple of options for indirect routes and fancied a few days in a luxury hotel (it was our honeymoon after all) and really like visiting the US so opted for Miami where we stayed in the luxurious Fontainebleau hotel. Then it was the ‘simple’ matter of a flight to Quito, a flight to Baltra in the Galapagos, then a bus, boat, car and another boat to get to our hotel. 
This time two years ago we were on our way back home from our honeymoon - it was worth every moment of the long journey, and I would have said it was truly a once in a lifetime experience – but now that I’ve had a daughter I’d like nothing more than to take her to the Galapagos Islands one day so she can experience the adventure, the beauty of nature and animals in their natural habitat, for herself.
This is my entry in the Trips100/ Audley Travel blogger challenge.
Win an African safari with Audley Travel by sharing your best wildlife photograph or video on your social media channels. To enter write #AudleySafari and @AudleyTravel on your Instagram or Twitter post or share directly on the Audley Travel Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/audleytravel/. To find out more or enter via the website, visit www.audleytravel.com/social.  Entries must be posted between 20th August – 23rd September.

Monday 2 July 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 27

I can't believe we are more than half way through the year - I don't know where the time has gone! My little girl is now 4 months old, it seems a lifetime ago that we brought a brand new baby home from the hospital as she has grown and changed so much. Her latest thing is blowing raspberries and as I started writing this with baby S on her playmat at my feet, where I thought I could leave her while I did my meal plan, I looked down and she'd learnt to shuffle and had moved several inches off the playmat! I love that she is learning new things all the time - even if it means I have even less time to myself! And by 'time to myself' I mean time to stay on top of housework and so on... it's rare that I get any 'me time'!

Last week's meal plan was a bit of a write-off. We planned to barbecue a lot and on the first night, the food burnt and was totally ruined, because our gas barbecue had a build-up of fat that caused huge nearly-take-your-eyebrows-off flames. The next day when it had cooled down my husband took the barbecue apart after he got home from work, and the next day I spent an hour cleaning it while I was napping, but an awful lot of elbow grease and four cleaning cloths going in the bin later, it looked like I'd barely started. So I gave up and booked a professional oven and barbecue cleaning company, who were supposed to come on Friday afternoon - meaning we'd be able to use the barbecue once in the week at least, plus the weekend. On Friday afternoon I got a call saying the guy's van had broken down and he couldn't come! I couldn't help but wonder if he just didn't want to do a final job at 4pm on a blazing hot Friday.. they are now coming back on Monday so hopefully we can barbecue next week. I ended up freezing some of the food we were going to cook last week but also having to throw some of it out, which was a shame!

For lunches this week I will try to mainly have salads!

Barbecue - pizza and sausages with salad, barbecued new potatoes

Barbecue - burgers, fish kebabs, chicken kebabs ,halloumi

Barbecue - sea bass with this sauce for me, steak for him, halloumi, potato salad/ cous cous

Something different for a change...lasagne from my batch cooking for me, chicken nuggets and chips for him

May as well barbecue again! Pork loin steaks for me with couscous, burger/sausage for him, mozzarella sticks

Lunch - ham and cheese toasties
Dinner - Barbecue lamb with salsa verde from this recipe for me, steak for him

Lunch- bacon sandwich
Dinner - Whole barbecued chicken with limonata, potato wedges, salad and Weber chocolate fondants