Beautiful Philadelphia

Beautiful Philadelphia

Following New York we had a day each in Philadelphia in the city; however due to having limited time we made the most of our trip by only having a day each in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

There is so much history in the older American cities. To us Philadelphia felt like a cross between New York and Amsterdam. There’s something very laid back about the city. We started our visit by eating cheese steaks in one of the parks before taking in some of the historical building and seeing the Liberty Bell. We learned something about the early days of American independence, went to an exhibit in the Peale house and toasted our engagement in City Tavern. I’m not 100% sure that everyone in the Tavern really understood our Northern English accents though but we both had some Olde Fashionde drinks which were welcome on such a hot day.

For a slice of foodie heaven we stepped into the Reading Terminal Market. Which made us extremely hungry and would make the biggest foodie excited. The range of food inside that market was exciting and mouthwatering. If you’re in the area is it well worth a visit and it was extremely tempting to fill our suitcases with salami, pasta sauces and cheesecake.

In a total change of scene, we were told of the NFL draft and we followed the hoards of football fans. Although neither of us have any idea about American football the excitement was infectious. We had fun perusing all of the stands and watching the commentary in the sunset. Although it was unplanned to be in Philadelphia for the event it really felt like we were getting a taste of the USA.

In Philadelphia we stayed in an Airbnb, it felt like such luxury to 1. spread out our possessions and properly repack our cases. 2. Have a bath instead of a shower. We barely spent any money once we were actually in Philadelphia as so many of the places to visit are free or very inexpensive. My one regret about the visit was that we couldn’t get a picture near the infamous Rocky steps due to the Football draft, but it was such an experience we couldn’t complain too much.

 

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New York and an announcement

New York and an announcement

 

Hello! Its been so long! I must apologise for not filling you in sooner on life, our travels to America and what I’ve been up to lately. The two biggest bits of news:

  1. D and I went on an amazing trip to the USA covering New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Shenendoah, Northern Florida and Orlando.
  2. We got engaged in New York.

New York really lived up to the hype. Growing up the media and friends and family talk about how amazing New York was and truly we had a fantastic time. There’s so much to see and experience, I feel like I could go back and still not do everything I’d love to do.

We stayed in a tiny hotel room in a hotel off 8th Avenue. Apart from the fact that we could only open the cases on the bed, it didn’t really matter as with only 5 days and the whole of New York to explore it was really more of a base to sleep and for that we really only needed somewhere safe with a comfy bed!

 

We walked about 15 miles each day around the city (pack comfy shoes) and did a lot of the iconic things but I think my favourites were:

  1. Watching not one but two musicals on Broadway – we got to see Josh Grobin in Natasha and the Great Comet and we saw the opening night of Bandstand. We actually got engaged on the stage at the Imperial Theatre after watching the Great Comet.
  2. Going to Central Park and seeing iconic places from films and tv programmes.
  3. Seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (we love a bit of History).
  4. The shopping. Need I say more?
  5. Watching Twin Forks in Chinatown.
  6. Watching Wrestling in a Catholic School Gym in Brooklyn – although I was so jet lagged I fell asleep for a chunk of the match.
  7. Randomly happening upon Katz’s deli from “When Harry Met Sally”.
  8. The food! Although we didn’t really actively seek out trendy places to eat we certainly ate really well. We ate in a lovely diner, had some wonderful Chinese Food, ate a lot of pizza and had some delicious pizza in a local deli.

 

In summary, a trip to New York really doesn’t have to break the bank. We saved a lot before our trip but some of our top tips for keeping costs down were:

  1. Use the Subway. You can get weekly Subway tickets for about $37 which makes it so much easier to get across the city.
  2. Food needn’t break the bank. We ate in diners, pizza shops, delis and fast food restaurants. We ate hot dogs from a hot dog stand and we ate a lot of fast food. We found that if you eat in the more residential areas of Manhattan or Brooklyn there is a lot of great food. Notably when we went to the Railroad Diner in the East Village the food was fantastic, the staff were so lovely and the portions were so ridiculous we ate at 10am and didn’t need to eat until the evening.
  3. If you want to watch something on Broadway – Google Rush Tickets. We got amazing seats to see Natasha and the Great Comet for under $40 (I forget the actual amounts). I actually cried during the final song, something I had wanted to do since I got into theatre was to see a musical on Broadway. You can usually get Rush Tickets for certain musicals if you buy tickets when theatres open at 10am.
  4. You don’t have to pay the full admission price for the Natural History Museum – it is a suggested donation only.
  5. Plan ahead, we looked a lot of ticket prices before we went and D put together a vague itinerary so we knew what we were likely to be spending that day and took advice from friends and online reviews to determine what we wanted to do.
  6. Don’t feel like you have to have a whole new fashionable wardrobe to fit in with the locals! This won’t apply to a lot of readers but it will apply to some. It is really worth noting that although there are some truly stylish people in New York; Sex and the City is a myth. Being on the Subway a lot we noticed we didn’t really stand out as tourists for dressing how we usually do and like everywhere there is a huge variety in how people dress.

 

If we had just done New York as a short break we would still have had one of the most memorable trips of our lives. I feel like New York was kind to us and we left in a happy bubble, engaged and excited for the rest of our trip.

 

Smoothie Ideas

Smoothie Ideas

D and I are on a bit of a health kick at the moment and when we are eating healthier I tend to have smoothies a lot for breakfast. I broke my blender making smoothies and now I have a shiny new smoothie maker. I know they’re notorious for being sugary but you can make them less so but adding spinach and using fresh fruit instead of using ready made smoothies. Also in my defence I find that eating fruit earlier on in the day prevents me from craving sweet things made from refined sugars later in the day and it puts me in a happier, more energetic mood and my skin looks better. Generally we try and eat mostly vegetarian and pescatarian meals now so maybe it just fits in with these meals?

I nearly always thicken my smoothies by adding a banana. I also add oats or a nut butter to make it filling enough to see me through until lunch. Then I will add frozen fruit such as mango, blueberries or raspberries or the frozen fruit mixes designed to make smoothies with (like the banana and strawberry mix). Sometimes I use up fruit that isn’t quite at is best (minimise food waste when you can) and I also like to add frozen spinach. It is packed with all sort of nutrients and also because it has anti inflammatory properties so I find it really helpful with stomach pain or aching muscles. I switch between making smoothies with unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk or sometimes normal milk depending on what I have in. (Sometimes I have coconut water too).

I don’t think there is much of a recipe for what is essentially squashed fruit whizzed up in a blender, these are just some ideas to inspire. Maybe I’m just obsessed with fruit?

Banana and pineapple loaf

Banana and pineapple loaf

I’ve really started enjoying fruit recently. I have a (somewhat deserved) reputation as a chocoholic within my friendship group, but I feel my fruit consumption of late might have redeemed me. I got sent a selection of Nature’s Finest fruit pots a little while ago and it was just a bit too easy to take the majority of them to work for lunch. I also appreciate anything that stops me having to wrestle with a pineapple, or decipher when a mango might be ready.

Anyway, we always have a stash of bananas in the house and I sometimes think simple is best I made a more tropical themed banana loaf (especially in time for the first week of the Great British Bake Off cake week). It turned out pretty beautifully because the banana and pineapple kept the cake soft, even after 40 minutes of baking. I made this last night and D has been eyeing it up for hours while he was waiting for me to get in from work.

To make a banana and pineapple loaf you will need:

140g butter

140g caster sugar

2 large eggs

2 bananas (slightly over ripe is best)

140g self raising flour

200g pineapple chunks (keep back the juice)

50g icing sugar

Approx 20g dessiccated coconut

Heat the oven to 180°C. Line a loaf tin. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the bananas and eggs (if doing it by hand mash the banana first). Once the wetter ingredients are mixed beat in the flour to form a creamy mix. Finally, add the pineapple chunks.

Add to the loaf tin in a smooth layer. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, until a skewer comes out of the cake cleanly. Allow the cake to cool.

To prepare the icing add about a teaspoon of the juice the pineapple came in to form a smooth paste and thinly cover the loaf with this. To finish, sprinkle over the coconut.

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Usefully, this cake keeps for several days in an air tight tin, if you can keep the people you live with’s hands off it for long enough!

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Natures’ Finest fruit is available in most big supermarkets. It comes in coconut water or fruit juice, rather than syrup so it makes it a preferable baking ingredient and a healthier snack when you’re on the go. I was sent samples of this to try. For more recipe suggestions visit here.

Rome

Rome

A month ago this week we flew to Rome and enjoyed the delights of Rome and Sorrento (but not really the delights of the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento without air conditioning on one of the sweatiest days of my life!). Anyway, I thought it would be nice to add a few more recent travel themed posts and as Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world it would be a good place to start.

We flew via Ciampino Airport and travelled round mostly on the Metro and on foot. I would really recommend buying a Roma pass; which as well as giving you a 3 day travel card for the Metro, also gets you into 2 attractions (we opted for the Coliseum and Castel Sant Angelo). I would really 100% recommend buying your tickets for the Vatican Museum before you travel, the queues were insane and we were grateful not to have to worry about queuing in the heat. On the subject of the Vatican, I would also plan what you want to wear in advance, make sure its an appropriate length and covers your knees and elbows otherwise you will be made to cover up, either in a shawl or paper trousers. I don’t know about you but paper doesn’t feature heavily in my travel wardrobe.

Apart from the above attractions we also paid a trip to the Pantheon, explored Trastavere and mistakenly attended Mass in the oldest Christian Churches in Rome (the congregation were so lovely to us and the church was beautiful). I certainly felt like we could have spent a fortnight there and not seen all of the wonderful museums, churches and historical sites.

I would also advise caution when it comes to things like touts, people coming up to you to try and sell you things outside tourist attractions etc. It can be difficult to walk past them politely but tickets are nearly always cheaper from attractions or online vendors and a lot of street sellers will try to rip you off (I feel pretty bad writing this as I am aware its to make ends meet, every beautiful place has some downsides).

However, I would recommend walking round the city and getting a feel of the place. Rome is so beautiful and has so many different areas. We stayed just down the road from the Coliseum in a hotel called Hotel Centro Cavour – the hotel itself was a good base and the staff were so friendly. Upon arrival the man on the reception gave us a map, added the best places to visit on your first visit and explained the best routes to each place.

Although Italy has a reputation for being more on the pricey side, we actually found it pretty reasonably priced for food and drinks. I don’t know what it is about European cities but one of the loveliest things about being on a city break is always sitting outside a bar in the early evening with a drink before the sun goes down.

On the topic of food, embrace gelato. It is one of my absolute favourite desserts and the flavour range is fantastic. I particularly loved raspberry, passion fruit and coconut flavours as the temperatures soared.

One last thing, I  saw another blogger recommend getting up as something ridiculous like 5am to avoid crowded places in more touristy areas. Its very rare something makes me get up this early when I am not in work, but I don’t think this is the sanest, or safest advice. However, if you DO want to visit some of the more popular places at quieter times; crowds tend to disperse around 7.30 to 8pm which provides ample photographic opportunity and a chance to see things at a more leisurely pace.

Why you should nominate me for the 2015 Cosmopolitan Blog Awards

Why you should nominate me for the 2015 Cosmopolitan Blog Awards

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Slightly later than usual the nominations for the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2015 have opened. I was shortlisted to these awards in 2013 and it was a huge honour and remains one of the biggest achievements for me. In 2013 being shortlisted came at a pretty low point in my life, my long term relationship was crumbling and my self confidence was on the floor. But the opportunities that came with being shortlisted; especially given the low number of followers I had at the time provided a distraction and helped make me feel that I was clever and could be me, even when I felt that my world was being turned upside down. (I also wholeheartedly thank my amazing parents, brother and my friends for cheering me up and making me smile A LOT).

Anyway, since then my life has got a whole lot more lovely. Through a shared interest in writing; I met D and moved in with him. Which means I now no longer house share and I am no longer that annoying housemate who makes cakes late into the night and hogs all the pans in the kitchen. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the nominations and subsequent shortlisting meant a lot to me then and the continued support from everyone still astounds me. It still gives me a thrill when people post comments, or I get a new follow on here.

I am aware the direction of my blog has changed somewhat since 2013. I feel like it has gone from “lets see the maximum number of cakes I can make in a week” to “busy woman throws ingredients together to feed herself and partner”. But to be honest, the pride I feel more posting recipes I know might inspire other busy women (and men) to do their own ad hoc cooking is greater now. Plus when I do bake I enjoy it all the more for feeling like it’s a treat, or like I am giving somebody a great birthday cake.

So in summary, it would mean the absolute world to me if anyone could nominate me by clicking here., but if I don’t make it to the finals all the support I have been given has been the most wonderful blessing and I can’t imagine where I’d have been without it.

Keeping your food at its best for longer

I’ll start this post with my hands in the air; I am probably not the most domestic food blogger who ever lived. However, lately something made me start organising our food cupboards and fridge to see what was actually in there. It all started a few weeks ago when we had to buy cereal canisters for rabbit food as one of ours ate their way into a large food sack causing a telltale trail of kibble from the conservatory back to the rabbit hutch. Then the lovely people at Fresha sent me a sample and I started storing fruit and veg in the food bags. (FYI, Fresha bags are a wonderful invention which keep your fruit and vegetables at their best for way longer, they’re also reusable and seem to stop my kitchen smelling of banana).

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So I basically realised that if you keep your cupboards more organised you’re more aware of what you have in and you stop yourself buying the same thing with every shopping trip. You also minimise the risk of food spoiling by getting damp (or hungry pets getting into stuff). The more food you buy and don’t eat the worse it is for the environment and the more money you waste spending money on food that goes in the bin

So here are my best learned food storage rules so far:

1. Proper storage of fruit and vegetables is your friend. Fruit and vegetable storage bags, banana trees and fruit bowls all help keep things more fresh. Make sure you don’t hang onto rotting things as they impact on the freshness of your surrounding produce.

2. Keeping dried foods in plastic boxes and jars looks much tidier, helps you to store more in your cupboards and stops you repeatedly buying spaghetti when you don’t actually need to.

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3. Store your cakes and biscuits separately. Cakes cause biscuits to soften and biscuits cause cakes to harden. My heart actually aches when I have to discard cake as I love it so much.

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4. Keep a cheese box. This stops you from finding random old bits of cheese in the back of your fridge but it also prevents that cheese pong you get when you have been to the deli (or in my case this weekend the Wensleydale Creamery)

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5. If you eat meat, every couple of days go through your fridge and check nothing is coming to its use by date. If it is, either freeze it or cook with it as soon as you can. Nothing says “I love you” like a nasty case of food poisoning from old chicken.

It turns out, I quite like being organised in one place in my house.

As an entertaining side note here are a couple of photographs of our mischievous pets who inspired me to be more organised.

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Also a big thank you to Fresha and the nice PR lady who sent me the sample without whom I would not have written this post. I was sent my first pack of Fresha bags free of charge but they can be purchased for £3.99 for 20. I will be buying more.