I’ve been trying SO hard to be healthy recently. I’m trying to cut down on the booze, eating healthily and I’m still running three times a week – I’ve completed the NHS Couch to 5k app now, but I now just replay one of the later weeks (anything from around week 6 really) every time I run. I find it much more motivating to be told how I’m doing and I genuinely just like having Jo Whiley in my ear. I whack on a bit of The Greatest showman, pop my headphones in and plod along for half an hour or so. I’m not the fastest runner, and I don’t really enjoy it that much, but I like the feeling of achievement when Jo finally says ‘and that’s it, you’ve done it!’ and I know it’s keeping me healthy. I tend to run before breakfast, so I like to make something healthy to come back to, and these vanilla, coconut and cashew overnight oats with frozen berries are my current favourite.
Breakfast on a weekday can be a bit of a rushed affair. I don’t generally even bother with breakfast, but if we do anything it will be a quick piece of toast or bowl of cereal. On the weekends, though, we really like to take our time and do a proper family late breakfast/brunch. Often this will be bacon and eggs or pancakes and syrup, but my absolute favourite is our vanilla French toast. The lovely chaps at Prestige sent me one of their fab Dura Forge square grill pans, so I thought it was about time I shared my recipe (it’s not a difficult one, but I have a certain way of doing it) and tried out my swanky new pan at the same time.
What if I told you I’d got a recipe for the floofiest pancakes you’re every likely to make, AND that the secret behind them is cheaty, home-made buttermilk, AND that you can make them all in advance, keep them warm in the oven and they don’t even sink a teeny, tiny bit? I know, right? Feeling pretty smug right now. So, quick sciencey bit: buttermilk is more acidic than normal milk (it’s also thicker, making your batter less runny) so using buttermilk in your pancakes (and indeed scones or whatever) means that there’s more acid to react with the baking soda, therefore making more bubbles and making the pancakes lighter and fluffier. See? It’s not magic, it’s science. But I never remember to buy buttermilk, so I use the next best thing: normal milk soured with lemon juice and left at room temperature for a couple of minutes. It works in exactly the same way and will give you the perfect, fluffy pancakes. Want the recipe? Read on!
One of my biggest commitments for 2018 is to eat healthily: to nourish my body and fill it full of good stuff. But let’s be sensible: we’re never going to eat healthily 100% of the time. I think I’m aiming for around 80%, with a bit of cake and the odd glass of wine thrown in as a treat (note to self: that’s a treat, not every day – catch up on my Drinkaware month here). Diets are one of my biggest bugbears. I don’t want to count calories, or cut out carbs. I like carbs. Carbs give us energy and are a great source of fibre*, but we need to choose the right carbs for our body, not depressing, flabby white bread, mass produced, sugary biscuits, or – sadly – doughnuts (mmmm, doughnuts). One of the greatest things I feel I do for our family is take the time to bake really delicious, home made bread. Rye is less refined and much more nutritious than some other grains but I’m not really a huge fan of 100% rye, so I mix it roughly half and half with normal white bread flour. These easy, no knead rye bread rolls are so easy to make and this dough will probably make 10-12, depending on how big you make them.
Recently, an enormous box arrived at English Towers with a lovely note from the folks at Kenwood: ‘we know you love cooking, so would you like this beautiful Kenwood Chef Elite?’ Seriously generous, right? But I didn’t rush to open it, because, well, I’ve got a mixer already that I’ve had for ages and love, and on the box it looks all complicated and new-fangled, not homely and quirky like mine. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, though, and because everyone kept complaining that there was a huge box on the kitchen floor, I opened it up and popped it onto the kitchen counter. Well. Cue choirs of angels singing and all that jazz, because this thing is beautiful. Seriously, I sent a pic to Mr E and he replied ‘erm, wow. It really goes in our kitchen’. To give it a thorough test, though, and make sure it has brains as well as beauty, I attempted some Christmas crumble muffins with my sleek and shiny new baby. Here’s how I got on:
You know me, I LOVE to bake. I go through spells of obsessing about things: recently it’s been fresh bread (including these yummy iced buns), all sorts of different flavoured brownies, and muffins, especially breakfasty ones. It’s funny how things change but at one stage the boys would happily scoff a big breakfast in the morning: eggs on toast, bacon sandwiches… that type of thing. Recently, they’re not as keen (probably because they’re always late) and I hate the thought of them going out into the world with empty stomachs. Bring on the breakfast muffin: easy grab and go food, and not too hideously bad for them (better than a McDonald’s breakfast, no doubt). I absolutely love the flavour combo of these fresh orange and dark chocolate muffins, although obviously you could add things like blueberries or chopped banana instead (I only add a scant 75g anyway).
I’m just not really a breakfast person. I’ve tried hard to change this, but the most I generally eat before about 11am are copious cups of tea and maybe a biscuit or a banana. So when Breville came along with their Blend Active Diary Challenge, bandying about phrases like ‘a smoothie a day’, and phrases like ‘lesser used vegetables’ and ‘superfoods’, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t enjoy my challenge week. Still, I’m always up for a bit of experimentation, and let’s face it, an entire healthy meal in a glass sounds like a lazy person’s dream come true. Here’s how I got on:
We get through tons of granola here at number one. Mr E and I both like it for breakfast, and the boys scoff enormous bowls of it whenever they’re hungry and often when they come in last thing at night, so it’s really important to me to buy great quality granola (we’ve all bought those ones that are a bit – well, ‘sawdusty’, haven’t we?). I use granola in quite a few different ways, and I thought I might share them with you. So here are a few different breakfast ideas using our fave Nature’s Path granola, including these really easy and yummy coconut and chia seed granola bars, plus the chance to win a lovely gift for you too!
It’s SO cold!! I know we should probably all be ‘clean eating’ or whatever it is that we all do to make ourselves feel even more miserable’ at this time of year, but for me, mornings start best when they involve baked goods and a bucket of tea. These vanilla breakfast muffins use real butter and that old fashioned ‘wet into dry’ method. Feel free to add whatever you like to the recipe: chocolate chips are a favourite here. I like to add blueberries, then top the muffins with a sprinkling of granola, which makes them feel extra breakfasty. Remember, with a muffin recipe, you need to assemble the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, then stir the wet into the dry, making sure you don’t overmix (a bit of flour visible is absolutely fine).
What do you use your microwave for? Do you even have one? Ours is used mostly for the boys to reheat meals that they’ve missed, and Mr E’s patented microwave bacon when I’m away. The rest of the time it sits forlornly in the utility, alone and unloved. And then Lékué came along and set me a little task: could I create a day’s meals using only the microwave and Lékué’s clever, colourful products. And you know I can’t refuse a challenge…
So we’ve dressed up as witches cats (was that just me?), trick or treated, eaten all the leftover sweets and now it’s full speed ahead to Christmas. But wait, there are all those cute little pumpkins and squashes we bought to decorate our home (and, if you’re me, adorn your Instagram feed)! And it’s such a shame as most of them will get thrown away. Before they go in the bin, though, consider the beautiful, autumnal thing that is pumpkin butter. Even better, consider using it to make the very delicious, frothy and warming pumpkin spice skinny latte with new Arla BOB milk.
So as you read this, we’re on our family cruise around the Med on Celebrity Eclipse and are currently steaming towards Portugal (squee!). During the run up, as you know, I was eating really, really healthily (with the odd treat) and exercising daily. Mr E and I have been out cycling on our bikes and I’ve been walking a few miles with the dog every day, plus – an absolute revelation: I’ve been doing free weights, kettlebells and even sit ups at home, which I really enjoy. I really feel that my arms are more toned already and my jeans feel looser too. Bonus. I know they’re not for everyone but I’ve found a couple of the fitness tracking apps really useful motivation, and I’m watching my portion sizes (always an issue when you live with three strapping fellas). I’ve been fiddling about with this recipe for a while as, while I’m definitely not eating biscuits, sometimes I really crave something crunchy and sweet, and I thought it I could create a little treat that’s going to kill the cravings, but not derail the healthy eating, I’d be pretty happy. So I had a little experiment and created these relatively healthy little oatbran flapjack cookies. And then I ruined it by smothering them in chocolate.
OMG it’s so sunny isn’t it? I’m absolutely loving it. The boys went camping last night – they found a place locally what would allow groups of young lads (I’ll report back to tell you whether that was a wise decision) and off they went with tents, sleeping bags, one of those bucket barbecue things, and basically the entire contents of the fridge: bacon, sausages, plus my freshly baked bread. I said on Twitter the other day that having teenagers is kind of like having massive Borrowers. You bake something, then ten minutes later it’s vanished and there are just crumbs left. Oh well, at least they won’t starve. I’m having a bit of a health kick at the moment myself, leading up to our family cruise in September (squee!): following a ten minute weights workout every other morning (to combat the dreaded bingo wings) and doing sit ups, bike rides with Mr E (who is waaay fitter than me) and longer dog walks too. These delicious kiwifruit and coconut breakfast bowls contain one of my latest obsession: Zespri SunGold kiwifruit. Have you seen them?
Literally as soon as I let my guard down, my old habits have slipped back in. Mr E and I noticed that our no wine on a school night rule had slowly reverted to a wine on every night rule, so we’ve got very firm with ourselves, and my must have breakfast every day rule has slipped again too (let’s skip the don’t eat biscuits with every cup of tea rule – I’m working on that one). Back on the horse, then, I’m concentrating on creating delicious, healthy breakfasts for myself every day, and I’ve got a couple of lovely new discoveries for you:
When I’m on a plane, I ALWAYS watch really happy, upbeat films. I don’t want to watch anything miserable or complicated when I’m flying – I just want to have a bit of fun to pass the time. On my journey home from Orlando last week, then, I gave Hotel Transylvania 2 a go. It’s fantastic fun and even if you haven’t seen the first one (which is awesome), you really must give it a go.
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