Friday, 31 July 2015

French banana toast


What's better than French toast? Banana French toast, obviously!

Banana bread, French toast style, topped with crème fraiche, frozen raspberries and a drizzle of chocolate syrup. 

This makes the perfect weekend brunch; it's a little bit special, a little bit naughty, but more than a little bit easy. Not only that but it looks super impressive and packs a punch taste-wise. 

You'll need to start by making banana bread. I blogged about my favourite banana loaf recipe (with added chocolatey loveliness) way back in 2012 - I  have no idea where I got this recipe from so can't credit it, oops. This time I used a very simple Mary Berry recipe from her Baking Bible book, a must buy for anyone who loves baking. Mary's recipe is even simpler than the recipe I usually use, and is gorgeously moist but maybe not quite as banana-y. Anyway, start by making a banana loaf - you can do this the day before as it keeps quite well. 

Then, take a slice of banana loaf and coat in egg (whisk an egg in a bowl with a pinch of cinnamon and lay the bread in, turning after a few seconds to coat evenly). In a non-stick pan, fry the bread in a little butter or Fry Light on a medium heat until golden brown on both sides. 

Serve the banana bread with crème fraiche, yogurt or even ice cream and berries. Drizzle with chocolate syrup (I use Choc Shot by Sweet Freedom) and serve whilst the bread is still warm. Delicious!

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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

bookworm #36


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This one needs no introduction, but rather embarrassingly I'd never read it! I missed studying it for GCSE English, instead reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Since getting over the assumption that because this was a GCSE set text it must be pants, it has been firmly on my 'to read' list. The problem is, my to read list is pretty extensive and made worse by my fairly regular trips to Oxfam books where I pick up a couple of new reads each time. When I saw that Harper Lee was releasing the prequel to this (Go Set a Watchman) I knew it was about time I finally got my arse in gear and read it. 

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of Scout and Jem Finch and their father Atticus, the local lawyer, and their struggles with racism, bigotry and inequality in 1930s America. The novel starts with Jem and Scout's obsession with local recluse Boo Radley, and later develops to follow the controversial case of Tom Robinson. Controversial because Tom is a black man charged with raping a white woman, and Atticus is hired to defend him. The book tells the story of how Atticus teaches his children to be fair and considerate, despite living in a neighbourhood with a very different view of diversity.

I loved this book. The topics of race and inequality really interest me and this was a great account, from a child's perspective, of morality and compassion in the face of small-town, small-minded bigotry. As most others, I saw Atticus as a complete hero and the picture of strong ethics and morals. I am just left with the question; why did it take me so long to read this?!

Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? What about Go Set a Watchman?

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

walking through summer


This summer is a funny one. I'm off for five weeks, we're not going on holiday and we're desperately saving money. That means I'm needing to find ways of filling my time with lovely things that don't cost the earth. Fewer days shopping and eating out, and more days spend exploring our local area and everything it has to offer. 

Last Saturday was lovely and sunny in Farnham and we wanted to get out for a long walk. After a little internet browsing we found this walk 'in the footsteps of Jane Austin' and hopped in the car down the A31 to Chawton (near Alton). We walked around 4 miles, cutting off a small section round Upper Farringdon, and it was blissful. Gorgeous countryside, rolling hills, a quick nose at some beautiful homes - all ending at Jane Austin's home. We didn't go in the house but enjoyed a cream tea in the tea rooms opposite; sitting outside soaking up the sun the whole time. All kinds of perfect.

Want to do the walk yourself? See full details here

Walking should be about soaking up your surroundings. These snaps are from my iPhone - I wanted to enjoy the walk rather than lugging round my DSLR. Living in the moment, taking it all in. 

So this summer will hopefully be spent making better use of the great outdoors! I already have two walks planned; a section of the South Downs Way with my family and a section of the St Swithun's Way with work friends. I'm praying for better weather than we've seen in the last few days, or this dream may not become a reality...

What do you do to save money in the holidays?

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Sunday, 26 July 2015

a hint of celebration


Today I'm going to the Christening of my good friends Sophie and James' baby. Baby Hugo is just gorgeous, and when I was asked to make a cake for the celebration (I suppose I volunteered really, any reason to get baking is good with me!) one thing instantly came to mind. After seeing this lemon, thyme and yogurt cake in the June edition of Delicious Magazine I've had bundt cakes on the brain!

A lemon drizzle cake is a firm favourite of mine, but add thyme to the mix and you've got an interesting combination of flavours. Using yogurt adds moisture to the sponge, making it the perfect cake to have with afternoon tea. Check out the recipe here for full ingredients list and method. 

Tip #1: Buy a decent lemon zester. This one from Lakeland is my go-to and makes what is usually a fairly laborious task super easy. It's worth every penny!

Tip #2: Liberally grease your bundt pan before baking. And I mean, be generous - this generous!

What do you think? Is a lemon and thyme cake something you'd try? 

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Thursday, 23 July 2015

school's out


I am the Queen of Casual. That's not to say I do it well, but I most certainly favour a baggy jean or pair of dungarees over a better fitted, slim fit garm. 

You may know that I'm a teacher, and you may have also noticed that for students and teachers alike, the summer holidays have begun. Don't worry, I won't rub it in too much - I'm not even going on holiday this year, sob - but I will give you an insight into the life of an overworked sixth form college teacher in her weeks off. 

Wearing? Much like the image above, you will find me in boyfriend jeans, loose fit tees, gym gear, muted tones and denim - all the denim. I'm just not one of those who does 'off duty chic' all that well! I'm all about the comfort and will openly admit I rarely wear a bra when I'm not at work. T-shirt bras, bralets... what resemble training bras your pre-pubescent self bought from Tammy Girl - that's my holy grail. That, or nothing. #freethenipple. Dungarees are great for hiding a bra-free day. 

Dungarees Topshop Striped Tank ASOS Mohair Cardigan ASOS Boyfriend Jeans Mango Nike Joggers ASOS

Eating? This week I've been back on Slimming World with a vengeance. I really went off-piste in the run up to the end of term and it showed. I put on about 5lbs and felt frustrated with myself. Now I'm back on plan and two days in can already see the difference! I really struggle with SW-friendly lunches at work, but being off gives me the freedom to be a little more inventive; jacket potatoes (radical, I know...), pasta dishes and noodles - I'm relishing making lunch enjoyable again. 

Reading? All the books! I love the summer holidays for giving me the time and head space to really get back into reading. I'm currently half way through To Kill a Mockingbird after never having read it before! I have a huge pile of books to get through, including The Two of Us by Andy Jones for my Book Club feature next week. 

Watching? I've just finished the current series of OITNB, and have just come to the end of watching all eight series of Entourage with the boyfriend. I need something new, suggestions? 

Doing? Making the most of a quiet gym mid morning, popping into town to run errands, catching up with friends, window shopping (downside of summer holidays? all the time and none of the money to do the things you'd like!), concocting new, tasty (and SW-friendly) recipes, seeing family... you get the idea. Tomorrow my Surrey-based pal Lorna is coming to Farnham for a day of charity shop book shopping (my favourite), lunch and generally catching up on life and making some fun summer plans. It's always good to have friends working in education to enjoy the holidays with! 

So, that's me for the next few weeks. As I said, we're not going away this summer so I will be using this time to really relax and get myself reading for what will undoubtedly be a hectic September. I hope to make the most of what Surrey and the local area has to offer - if you're local, have any day trip ideas or know anything fun going on in Surrey this summer do help a sister out!
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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

curry club


Last month I shared instalment #1 of curry club. Today, I bring you more curry deliciousness! 

This time: a chicken balti.

I used to think making a curry from scratch took hours; selecting and blending the spices, cooking until fragrant... I was wrong. This chicken balti takes no longer than 30 minutes to prepare and cook, making it the perfect mid-week meal. It may seem like the recipe requires a lot of spices, but once you buy them you'll use varying combinations in different recipes and you should find you have most of the ingredients in your cupboard. This recipe makes enough for two hungry people, but just add more chicken and tomatoes if you're cooking for more people, and throw in a little extra of each spice. 

You will need
1 onion, sliced (not too small)
3 tomatoes, sliced
3 chicken breasts, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
4 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
100ml water 
1 vegetable stock cube
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp fat-free Greek style yoghurt 
Handful of coriander, diced
1 green chilli, diced


Start by frying the onion in a pan with a few sprays of Fry Light, until golden. Add the tomatoes, combine, and throw in the ginger paste, garlic, garam masala, cumin seeds, chilli powder, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and salt. Fry for a few minutes until the garlic is cooked and the spices become fragrant. 

Throw in the water and crumble over the stock cube, followed by the chicken. Poaching it like this in the water and spice mix will ensure it stays moist rather than drying out. Leave to cook on a medium heat until the chicken is cooked through and the water has reduced by about 70%, it should take about 10-15 minutes. 

Stir in the Greek yoghurt and lemon juice and leave for a further few minutes to reduce down. You still want some juice/sauce so don't leave it to reduce completely! Five minutes before serving stir through the chilli and serve with coriander. 

Tip - fish out the cardamon pods and cinnamon stick before serving. No-one likes biting into a pesky pod!

Slimming World - syn values
Completely free served with basmati rice! Add a poppadom for 2.5 syns, a mini plain naan bread for 7 syns or a chapatti for around 6 syns (check the app for up-to-date branded syn values). 

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Monday, 20 July 2015

Iced Latte


As easy as A, B, C...offee.

Summer is here, and hot coffees are out. There's nothing more refreshing than an iced coffee on a hot day - that caffeine fix at cool, iced temperatures. Call me tight, but I just can't justify coffee shop prices every day, so I got to thinking how I could create these at home... the good news is it is super easy and costs just a fraction of the price. 

I've made a few varieties of iced coffees over the past couple of weeks, all of which I plan on sharing with you on here. To start, the simplest - an iced latte. Over ice, rather than blended. My favourite!


Start by making a batch of strong coffee. I just use instant coffee, and make a small jug stronger than I normally would. If you usually have sugar or sweetener in your coffee, add at this stage and stir. Leave until completely cool before pouring into an ice cube tray and pop into the freezer to set. I put them into a tupperware or freezer bag once frozen into cubes to save room in the freezer. 

Now for the easiest bit. Pour a glass of milk and throw in a few ice cubes (I use three or four), give a good old stir and in a few minutes time you will have yourself a deliciously simple ice cold coffee. Its so simple I feel silly sharing! 

Want a little variety? Try making flavoured coffee - I love using flavoured coffee granules or syrup to give a little burst of flavour. Douwe Egberts do really nice flavoured instant coffee (vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, caramel...) which are all free on Slimming World. 

Want it colder? Freeze cubes of milk and add one or two to half a glass of milk with the coffee cubes.

Slimming World - syn values
Free, as long as the milk is your Healthy Extra A (I use 350ml of skimmed).
Sweetener is free, sugar is 1 syn per teaspoon. 

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Sunday, 12 July 2015

Bookworm #35


I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

You can't go wrong with a Richard and Judy Summer Bookclub recommendation! Previous years have seen reads like Daughter by Jane Shemilt (my review here), The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty (my review here), Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (my review here), The Thread by Victoria Hislop (my review here) and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (my review here). In such good company, I knew to expect good things from I Let You Go. 

I Let You Go starts with the death of a small boy, Jacob, who is killed in a hit and run accident. We follow the story of Jenna Gray as she deals with her grief and bereavement by moving to a small Welsh coastal village and hiding away from memories and her past. 

The twist(s) in this book really caught me out. I didn't expect that first one at all! Once the initial twist came about mid-way through the book I raced through chapter after chapter completely enthralled. 

After said twist, the story became really dark. I mean, with a title like I Let You Go it was expected, but I put this book down in places feeling pretty distraught. It is emotionally charged and reading some parts of this book was difficult. It's raw, well written and convincing. Heartbreaking. 

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Friday, 3 July 2015

parmesan perfection


A diet that allows you to eat carbonara? My kinda diet!

Ever since starting on Slimming World I've been adapting recipes to make them SW-friendly; either low syns or syn-free. Top of my list? Carbonara. My favourite guilty pleasure just got less guilty. 

You will need (for two people)
Spaghetti
3 egg yolks
Bacon - fat removed, chopped
Mushrooms - chopped
1 garlic clove
2 level tablespoons crème fraiche 
25g parmesan 

Start by frying your bacon and mushrooms in Fry Light until golden, adding the crushed garlic clove half way through this process. Pop your pasta on to cook. 

In a bowl mix together the egg yolks, crème fraiche and parmesan with a fork. Season with salt and pepper. 

When the pasta is cooked, drain and put back in the pan off the heat. Add the egg mixture and mushrooms and bacon. Stir through and serve - the residual heat of the pan will cook the eggs. Don't put back on the heat or you'll get scrambled eggs!

Slimming World - syn values
Parmesan, 25g - 5 syns
Crème fraiche, half fat, 1 tablespoon - 1 syn (=2 syns)
Remember to split the syns between servings!

For those of you who want the real, syn-filled deal you can see my recipe here. It is oh-so-good!

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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Slimming World: hitting the wall




Anyone who has dieted has done it: hit the wall.

I've lost over a stone in weight, and feel great! I've hit a couple of mid-term goals but not quite reached the overall long-term goal. People are noticing my weight loss and the compliments feel amazing! I fit into clothes I hadn't been able to for years and am buying a size down in jeans - a huge achievement. I'm starting to notice a real difference in my fitness and muscle tone due to exercising more and eating better.

And then... complacency sets in.

What's the harm in a cheeky Dominos? A little cake here and a few choccies there. A pudding with dinner and 'forgetting' to keep tabs on how many syns left for that day. A few pounds creep back on and I end up feeling worse than I did at the start of the whole process. I've never had great willpower, right?

Of course, giving yourself a break is no bad thing, but when your goal is still a little way off 'hitting the wall' can be frustrating. For all that effort, I don't want to waste it on a few overindulgences.

Upon reflection, this for me has highlighted the potentially harmful effects of dieting. When do you stop? When is so far, far enough? If gaining a few pounds can cause that much guilt, unease and upset then is it really worth it? Because in reality most people's weight will fluctuate over the course of their life. A friend recently asked me 'when do you stop counting and return to normality?'. A fair question, but one that I can't answer. Because losing weight - when you manage to do it - can become an obsession. Like anything, when you start to see the rewards of your labours the effort becomes justified.

Honestly? I don't know how I feel about it. I want to be happy in my self and feel confident in my body. But obsession? I don't know.

Confession: I've eaten the same thing for breakfast since January 5th 2015. Fat free natural yogurt, a handful of raspberries and 30g of Special K granola. To some, that may seem incredibly boring. For me, it works and I love it! What I'm getting at is that hitting the wall doesn't necessarily mean becoming fed up with eating the same old thing day in, day out. Personally it's been about finding ways that I can maintain Slimming World and have a life - making it work for me, without sacrificing too much or feeling fed up.

So I'm trying to get back on the waggon - not denying myself the odd treat, but eating well and in balance and moderation. Slimming World works for me because I'm greedy, love carbs and struggle with cutting things out. I'm just trying to figure out if it's going to work out in the long-term.
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