I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s SO much easier to eat healthily in the summer isn’t it? We’re such lazy eaters and it really suits us – I’ll bake a load of chicken breasts and we’ll have them hot with the yummy easy rice dish above (you might have seen it if you follow me on Instagram), and when the boys come in they just slice them and stuff them into baguettes with a load of salad. Easy peasy. Here, then, for your viewing pleasure is the latest instalment of ‘this week, I have been mostly eating…’
We were talking the other day about the last time we deliberately bought something labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘low sugar’. For us, it’s been a really long time. I think we’ve deliberately moved away from things with bits and bobs taken out, to more natural, healthy products: proper wholesome, whole milk yoghurts; proper bread from the bakery (yes, I love to make my own, but I don’t always have time and who wants to live on squishy plastic bread?), and mature cheddar. We’re never going to be a hard-core healthy family that lives on quinoa and chia seeds and gives up sugar, salt and dairy – that’s not my style at all. I’m an ‘everything in moderation’ person when it comes to food, and as a family we embrace everything, even treats in small amounts. But even with treats, I’d rather the boys were scoffing homemade cake than handfuls of sweets packed with artificial goodness-knows-what.
On a chilly day, is there anything better than a proper English pub with a roaring log fire? Well, yes, actually, there’s The Hinds Head, Bray. Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the tiny village of Bray, about 5 mins from Maidenhead, to try out Heston’s glorious ‘gastropub’ (I always think that’s such a weird term – let’s just call it a pub please?). The beautiful 15th Century building is the most welcoming, cosy pub and restaurant with leather chairs, dark wood panelling and low ‘duck or grouse’ beams: just Heston enough to have a Michelin star, but pub enough that the clientele is a mix of excited visitors (me) and the locals just popping in for a pint and a chat.
So as I mentioned recently, I’ve been in Orlando for a few days with my friend Laura, experiencing the fabulous food (plus the odd ride, parade, and other lovely things) available throughout Walt Disney World.
One of the highlights of Walt Disney World for me is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I adore the showbiz theming – it feels like a real movie set, with all the main areas seamlessly blending into each other.
One of my favourite places in Miami is Lincoln Road. It’s a huge, pedestrianised area stuffed with shops, restaurants, cafés, and on certain days there are market stalls and food stalls too. After working up an appetite on our cycling tour of Miami Beach, we headed to SushiSamba and flumped down in the shade of their gorgeous orange brollies to do a bit of nibbling and people watching.
So last Friday I headed up to Covent Garden for a meeting with Kellogg’s to hear all about their new campaign. We met at the incredibly gorgeous Covent Garden Hotel – it’s like a fabulous underground rabbit warren – all dark, cosy and warm – our meeting room had ornate flock wallpaper, comfy sofas and faux window/mirrors. I’m now on a mission to stay there.
All-Bran’s been going for absolutely donkeys’ years – we watched that advert with the ‘they’re tasty tasty very very tasty’ theme tune – remember that?
Basically All-Bran’s moved on a lot from those days. Yes, you can still buy the hard-core slightly twig-like All Bran, and Bran Flakes, but now there are all sorts of scrummy new varieties including chocolatey and fruity, plus our favourite, Golden Crunch (the box I got in my goody bag lasted ONE DAY after I got back) that will up your intake of healthy wheat bran fibre.
We had a good giggle about the amount of poo talk there was, but honestly, none of us eat enough fibre and it’s so important – not only does it ‘keep you regular’ (insert snigger here) but it helps keep you feeling fuller for longer (handy if you’re trying to lose weight) and can impact positively on your general health too.
The recommended GDA for fibre is 25g a day, but very few of us actually eat that much. The Kellogg’s girls had challenged one of the girls in their office to take up the 5 Day Challenge (basically one portion of one of the cereals from the All-Bran range for five days, plus health tips and support during that time) and she honestly said she felt better – with more energy and, I have to say, she really did look great – bright eyed and glowing. If you eat more fibre, Kellogg’s recommend that you also drink more water (2 litres a day) which all goes to making you feel healthier.
After our meeting, we made the short walk to our pampering afternoon. The Sanctuary Spa in Covent Garden is absolutely amazing. There’s no way you can get a sense of the sheer scale of the place from the unassuming exterior. We had a delicious lunch lolling around on cushions in the HUGE relaxation lounge – it reminded me a bit of a Bond film – there’s a pool WITH A SWING (which I didn’t end up trying, darnit) and acres of room where women in various states of undress were lolling around sipping champagne. There are also a mesmerising set of interconnect pools containing Koi Carp. Sadly there’s a no camera rule so I can’t show you – you’ll just have to go and experience it yourself!
I decided to have a facial and it was probably one of the best ones I’ve ever had. My therapist, Hannah, talked to me about my skin concerns and then gave me the most heavenly treatment, including a very firm head, neck, shoulder and arm massage. I’m not a fan of pummelly massages normally, but afterwards I floated out with all the tension from my neck and back completely gone, and my skin glowing.
NB: I’m going to have a go at the 5 day challenge and report back. You can find the 5 Day Challenge here.
Here’s a thing: that Jay Rayner, yes, him off the telly, the scary one who can close a restaurant with a swish of his pen? He’s actually really nice. I’ve chatted a bit with him recently about his new book, and he actually cares what I think. He cares about food: not just posh restaurant food, but the everyday stuff that goes in our trolley. He doesn’t eat foie gras for breakfast. Who knew?
This book is probably the hardest I’ve ever read. I read it twice (sorry, Jay, I lied when I said I wasn’t finished), not because it’s full of big, complicated words or anything, no, it’s actually very funny and incredibly entertaining (wait ‘til you get to the big wooden willy bit). Jay – I feel like we’re on first name terms now – is self-deprecating (almost cringingly so on occasion) and honest and it’s very interesting. It’s just hard because there are facts in it that made me question everything I currently believe about food, how I buy my food and where it comes from.
The book will take you on a journey from 1960s Kenton (where people like his mother spent half a day a week and probably a third of the family’s weekly income food shopping), through heart-breaking Rwanda, where children are starving in a fertile, but overpopulated land, to today’s supermarkets where 1 or 2p added to the price (and less BOGOFF deals) could make a massive difference to this country’s farmers. It will introduce you to terms such as ‘sustainable intensification’, ‘virtual hectares’ and ‘gastronomics’, and make you really scratch your head over GM foods and food miles.
This book is basically about feeding a burgeoning population. It’s about why sometimes, buying local isn’t, environmentally and economically, always the best option, and about why farming on a huge scale can be a good thing. This, of course, has upset everyone who believes that small-scale and local is best and I understand that, I really do. But (to totally oversimplify things) take Jay’s example of potatoes. In Norfolk, with its peat-rich, loose soil, farmers can yield about 20 tonnes of potatoes per acre. But in London, with its hard, clay soil, they’d get more like 16 tonnes an acre. So in order to match Norfolk, London farmers would need much more fertiliser, or more land, or something. And all of this would impact on the carbon footprint of those potatoes. This, I understand.
I learned so much too. I know that China is buying up vast tranches of agricultural land in Africa to safeguard their future, and that biofuels are really, really bad. I know that in Britain we slaughter between 150,000 and 160,000 pigs a week (oh, the slaughterhouse bit, just… bloody hell) and why farmers’ markets, whilst I love them, will only ever be a luxury.
The trouble is, there are several quite complicated elements of the story to understand here, and I’m just not sure I have the mental capacity to understand them all (and no, I’m not participating in any foolish Silly Me Syndrome ‘gosh I’m blonde I am’ thing here, I just honestly believe that some of it went over my head).
I’ve made decisions after reading this book. I’ve resolved to buy only what I need, avoid BOGOFFs like the plague, to cut down on my meat purchases and to pay proper prices for things like milk. After I’d finished the book, I tried to explain it to my husband. But like all immensely clever writers, Rayner is practically un précis-able (yes it’s a real word because I said so). Which is a good thing, because if you care about food, and about how we’re going to carry on feeding ourselves, our children, and their children, the one thing you absolutely must do is read this book for yourself.
Baking… with Waitrose’ new home baking range. We especially loved the chocolate coated popping candy, but the range includes loads of other fab decorations, flavourings and ingredients.
Setting my mouth on fire… with Lovepickle’s delicious, spicy new range (mild, medium, hot and extra hot priced at £2.95 per jar). The range is available to purchase directly from the website www.love-pickle.com and can be found in other food stores and delis across the UK.
Making amazing cocktails… with Five Valley Cordials. Based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the company offer some really unusual cordials including Lemon and Mint (fantastic for a really easy Mojito), Pomegranate and Rose, Apricot & Ginger, Sloe & Raspberry and Coconut & Kaffir Lime (my favourite) all made from natural ingredients and free from artificial flavours, sweeteners, colourings or preservatives. Available at Waitrose, priced £3.50
Wrapping everything… in Warburton’s new Half & Half wraps… sturdy enough to take any of the teenagers’ mad combinations of fillings (chicken, guacamole, salsa and cheese, for example), they’re 50% white and 50% wholemeal so quite a healthy choice too.
Sipping… a glass of Brothers’ cider and ice in the garden during our (rare) sunny Bank Holiday weekend. We especially loved the Toffee Apple flavour (£2.09 available nationwide at Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons).
Whipping up… a scrummy moussaka and a creamy New York cheesecake with all these fabulous ingredients from The Lake District Dairy Co, responsible for Quark, the low fat soft cheese. This stuff is AMAZING! It’s naturally fat free, high protein and and low carb. How did I exist without it?
More info at lakedistrictquark.co.uk
Grinding pepper…. onto everything, now we’ve got our fab new Graviti electric pepper grinder from Ozeri. You just turn it over above your food and it grinds pepper until you turn it back to its upright position. Amazing fun and really handy when cooking as you can operate it one-handed.
And finally, sipping Tea India’s absolutely delicious Cardamon Chai tea. It’s a new range, offering three authentic chais and a black tea blend. They’re also giving away a free selection of tea on their Facebook page at the moment. Pop over to have a look: http://bit.ly/CupofChai
If you’re a food lover, eating and drinking are naturally a huge part of deciding where to go on holiday. I, myself was persuaded into staying in a massive half board hotel in Gran Canaria (something I wouldn’t normally do) by my Dad’s stories of epic Torres wine and amazing seafood restaurants along the coast in Maspalomas. I wasn’t disappointed.
On a Royal Caribbean holiday, the food is all-inclusive, meaning that you can eat in quite a few restaurants, including the VERY posh main dining rooms, without forking out (see what I did there?) any extra cash. Obviously if you’re going to order wine you have to pay for it, but RCI provide various wine packages, so you can pre-order wines that are then delivered to you at your table. If you don’t drink all the wines you can have them corked and saved, (which means that you can have a white and a red open at the same time) or take them back to your cabin.
I was really impressed by the wines on board. At various parts of our journey, we tried the following (excuse some of the pics – it can be dark in restaurants):
There are also several different dining options should you wish to pay a tiny bit extra. The lovely burger joint, Johnny Rockets where the waiters danced and sang, is definitely worth a trip – order the chocolate malt and burgers as big as your head! There’s no booking, so you might have a wait in the queue, but it’s only an extra $3.95 to eat here and it’s well worth it.
The Italian themed Portofino was our favourite restaurant by far. In fact, we loved it so much we went back again on the last night. The waiter was great fun and a real wine buff (although some of his recommendations were slightly out of our league!). We joked that we ate so much beef we were going to walk off the ship mooing, but it was just soooo good. The filet mignon was out of this world tender, and we also had massive fish skewers with salmon, prawns, lobster and scallops. Delicious ($20 extra charge per person).
Chops Grille is another high end restaurant where you pay $25 per head to dine. The surroundings again are really sumptuous – on a par with a really nice London restaurant, and the food again was excellent. We went for the beef again (I know, I know), but there were all sorts of other options too, honestly. This is where we had the amazing Belle Glos (two bottles in fact) and where I couldn’t remember that I’d had a dessert until, thumbing through my pictures from the night before, I came across a flaming crème brûlée!
We also had a chance to meet Executive Chef Garry Thomas and visit the ship’s galley (a rather insignificant term for the cavernous kitchen!). Garry and his chefs serve more than 18000 meals a day and we got the impression that Garry literally runs a tight ship. We loved that occasionally in the main dining room, the chefs were introduced by a Master of Ceremonies and came out into the dining room to rapturous applause. Well deserved, in my opinion.
I’ve also heard rumour that Royal Caribbean do wine cruises. That’ll be me next, then..
For a similar cruise aboard Liberty of the Seas (sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA) prices start from £288 per person for a 4-night Western Caribbean cruise, calling at Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Fort Lauderdale. Departs 12 December 2013 and includes meals and entertainment on board and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Obviously this doesn’t include flights. We flew British Airways to Miami.
I’m very lucky, and the postie often brings me all manner of yummy bits and bobs (he doesn’t miss out – he’s got a bit of a thing for blue cheese, which I’m not massively keen on, so he’s often rewarded).
Here’s the latest bunch of postal bounty that we’ve loved:
Abra-ca-debora pancakes made me my very own pancakes in time for Shrove Tuesday – isn’t that amazing?
But pancakes aren’t just for pancake day – these beauties are the perfect storecupboard ingredient all year round – fill them with creamy chicken and spinach, or roasted veggies in tomato sauce. Scrummy.
Steenbergs Organic were established in 2003 and are based in North Yorkshire. They sent me a fabulous selection of products from their amazing array of fairtrade and organic goodies. The spiced chai sugar is absolutely gorgeous, and the flavourings are incredibly good quality. Check out their website as I can’t even begin to list all the stuff they sell.
We’ve been drinking a ridiculous amount of this delicious Villa Maria Gewürtraminer. It was on spesh at Majestic but is sadly back up to £9.99. I’ll be watching out for the next time it’s on offer.
Cawston Press brought out a range of ‘grown up’ fizzy drinks (just in time for my failed attempt at alcohol free January): the sparkling apple & rhubarb was my favourite, closely followed by the sparkling lemon and lime (which tasted sublime with a dash of gin).
Lovely Sophie at Mullion Cove makes traditional Cornish fairings. They’re gorgeously soft and spicy, and the fig and ginger had us all fighting over the last one. Oh, and apparently the word ‘fairing’ comes from the fact they were sold at Cornish fairs and feasts and in Victorian times they were brought by a gentleman to give to his sweetheart as a love token!
French’s have brought out some new products this year: our faves by far were the Jalapeno Tomato Relish and the Sweet Onion Relish (scrummy on hot dogs, but I’ve taken to putting it in toasted cheese sandwiches too). I’m not keen on mustard, but English Dad insists that the new Smooth & Spicy version of their original yellow mustard is fabulous too.
Elizabeth Shaw have brought out two new scrummy new flavoured bars: Pear and Almond and Blackberry and Ginger. We liked them both, but I would have liked to see larger chunks of nuts in the almond one that came across as slightly gritty. I was, I admit, in the minority in this view, though, and they were both scoffed in seconds.
The lovely chaps at Farmison sent me an ENORMOUS British artisan cheese box. Really well packaged, with lots of ice packs to make sure the cheese stays in perfect condition, the selection was varied, interesting and creatively put together. The Caboc Highland Cheese, which is covered in oatmeal, I think, was especially delicious (just as well as there were two of those in the box), and my other favourite was a sharp, but still creamy Keens of Wincanton Traditional Cheddar. For blue lovers there’s a hand-made Yorkshire Blue and a seriously strong Colston Bassett. The quince paste and water biscuits are delightful extras. The whole box would make an amazing present for any cheese lover.
Wagamama‘s new chilli, coriander and ginger dressing is fab on salads and in chicken wraps, but SUBLIME on avocados, mushed into rye toast. Don’t question me, just do it. We also tried Nando’s Smokey BBQ marinade which is lovely with chicken, sausages, ribs and any chunky white fish.
I think that’s it. Go forth and get shopping!
As usual Montezuma’s, my favourite chocolate brand, have brought all sorts of deliciousness out for Christmas this year. I’m particularly taken by these milk chocolate Christmas tree baubles (so pretty, with gorgeous ribbons attached) and their fantastic advent calendars – nothing worse than hideous ‘plastic’ chocolate in your calendar – they look fabulous and festive too. I’ll also be putting their chunky chocolate snowmen and chocolate snowballs on my list too.
halfwine.com specialises in half bottles of quality wines. The bottles are 37.5cl which is about one large glass each. A lovely idea for a gift, and also handy if you’re matching your wines with each course and want to prevent wastage. the Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 shown in the picture was absolutely delicious – soft, rich and fruity. It comes part of their winter collection which, at a cost of £35.65 for four bottles: the red, a decent sparkling white, a St Emilion and a good Chardonnay is cracking value.
Joe & Seph’s
Gourmet popcorn makers Joe & Seph’s have bought out two amazing flavours in time for the festive season: the new mince pie flavour has pieces actually coated with mincemeat and contains brandy infused fruit, caramel and almonds. The brandy butter flavour is coated in a rich butter and Spanish brandy – it is quite alcoholic tasting though, so one for the adults! Both flavours are available in lovely gift jars as well as 70g packs. Really scrummy.
The Kraken is a fabulous black spiced rum (RRP: £22.99) from the States that is now available in some UK supermarkets (I’ve seen it in Waitrose already and, frankly, makes Morgan’s Spiced look like a bit of a sissy girl. Try it in this fab cocktail called ‘The Perfect Storm’: 50ml Kraken Black Spiced Rum + 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice + 5ml sugar syrup + 2 dashes Angostura Bitters. Top up with ginger beer. Serve with ice in a tall glass and garnish with two squeezed lime wedges. It comes in a lovely flagon bottle too. Yummers.
Godminster has joined up with famous wine merchants Yapp Brothers to produce this lovely ‘Classic Red’ gift box, containing a 200g Godminster Organic Cheddar, 200g Godminster Smoked Organic Cheddar, a lovely jar of Godminster Beetroot and Apple Chutney, and a bottle of Yapp Brothers’ Cotes du Ventoux Rouge: Chateau Valcombe 2008, which is a delicious soft red. Scrummy. The Classic Red Gift Box is available from www.godminster.com for £40.00 inc postage and packing.
Bakerdays.com send delicious little ‘letterbox cakes’ just three or four portion sized that, as the name suggests, fit through the letterbox. The cakes come in gorgeous little tins, with all sorts of personalisation, and I can definitely recommend the double chocolate chip cake which is dark, moist and deliciously chocolatey.
Soreen’s Cinnamon and Raisin Loaf
We’re massive malt loaf fans already, but this one is utterly delicious. It’s very moist, as usual, but with extra ‘Christmas Puddingness’ thrown in! Gorgeous toasted with a splodge of butter too. Nom. Available from Asda, Tesco and Morrisons nationwide, retailing at RSP £1.29.
There was much excitement at English Towers this weekend, with a delivery of delicious smelling goodies from Lola España, a gorgeous website selling everything Spanish. Our rummage through the MASSIVE box brought all sorts of squeaks of excitement: ‘six month cured manchego cheese!’, hand carved jamón Ibérico Bellota…oooooh!’ and ‘look at this chorizo!’, before leading us off on dreamy plans as to what we’d cook up.
While we were dreaming, we troughed our way through this entire pack of delicious Spanish biscuits too…
Of course, we had to stay slightly traditional and decided to make a proper tortilla de patatas. Purists will blanch slightly at the fact that we added the chorizo and manchego, but hey, you can’t please everyone and I’m delighted to say that it tasted utterly delicious.
Spanish omelette with six month cured manchego cheese and chorizo Ibérico
4 or 5 floury potatoes
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 shallot, finely diced
3 or 4 thick slices of chorizo, cubed
6 large free range eggs, beaten
Large chunk of manchego cheese, cubed
So firstly, peel the potatoes and chop into inch or so dice. Boil in plenty of salted water until tender.
Next, fry the shallot in the oil until translucent, then add in the chorizo – stir it around until it starts to darken and release its oil, then add in the cooked potatoes and stir gently so you don’t break them up too much.
Add in the cubed cheese and pour over the beaten eggs. Cook gently until the bottom is set. If you’re brave, try the traditional method of popping over a large plate, flipping the omelette over and then putting it back in to cook the other side. Otherwise, just pop it under the grill until golden. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.
Click here for the recipe for the serrano ham shank with summer haricot beans. Mahoosive thanks to Lola Espana for the delicious food and the inspiration.
For a while now we’ve been watching the new Carluccio’s Caffe take shape in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire… little noses pressed against the window, wishing the time away until the sign finally turned to ‘open’.
Finally, piles of delicious-looking meringues and lemon tarts appeared in the window, and we rang up to make a reservation. ‘We only take reservations for 40% of the restaurant’, we were told. ‘The other tables are first come, first served’. Seeing as there was only two of us, we decided to chance it, and happily, we were in luck. Be warned, though, a family of four were turned away, and there’s nowhere to sit and wait as the reception area doubles up as the shop so it’s likely you’ll be in the way wherever you stand. There’s no sitting and waiting at the bar area either, as people were eating there too. Next time, we’ll book early.
The interior is light, airy and modern, with a mix of semi-circular banquette seating and normal tables. The kitchen area is open and the whole place was bustling. The service was informative, mega-friendly and very efficient.
We started with marinated olives and a ‘bread tin’ with a mixture of different bread, from soft foccacia to thin Ligurian crisp bread. There was olive oil and balsamic for dunking and we sat, munching away, enjoying the atmosphere. Our lovely server recommended a 2011 Gravina (£23) which she said would be perfect teamed with seafood. Great choice. It was light, floral and indeed perfect. For a starter, we shared an ‘antipasto massimo’ plate which was a very generous selection of Italian meats, marinated olives, stuffed chicken, loads more bread, a delicious caponata and garlicky green bean salad.
For the main course, we both chose fritto misto with a green salad. With hindsight, this wasn’t a brilliant choice as, although the fritto misto was delicious, with crispy-coated squid, whitebait, prawns and seabass (again, MASSES of it) and a yummy garlic mayonnaise, we regretted our decision as after a while it all seemed rather heavy and samey. Our waitress expressed concern that we didn’t finish, but we were both a bit full up and a bit, well, bored with crunching through our dinners. Bad planning on our part.
Skipping dessert, we ended our meal with VERY good coffee. The whole lot coming to £80 including wine. You can eat a lot more cheaply though as they do a fixed price two courses for £9.95.
We’ll definitely go back again for dinner, and this time we’ll chose a bit more carefully. We loved Carluccio’s though, and decided to go back the next weekend for breakfast. It is to die for. Go there if you can. Again, the portions are generous, and we feasted on the most perfect grilled pancetta, creamy herby scrambled eggs and heavenly mushrooms all piled high on Italian bread. The hot chocolate is delicious and the coffee amazing. £55 for the four of us (well, the coffees were quite small so we all had two each) meant it was a treat rather than an every weekend sort of outing, but still. Worth every penny.
We’ll be back very soon. Our verdict? Favoloso!
Carluccio’s is in the old town hall, Berkhamsted, Herts. Tel: 01442 877807.
Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Florida was Clearwater. Driving across the Frankland Bridge from Tampa, we were all struck dumb by the beautiful turquoise water, with the fabulous waterfront homes gleaming on the shores. Our first stop was Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of ‘Winter’, the dolphin made famous by ‘Dolphin Tale’, the movie. The poor creature got caught in a crab line when she was just a tiny thing and was rescued by the CMA. Sadly they couldn’t save her tail but have helped her with a permanent home, physical therapy and a succession of prosthetic tails, kindly donated by a company that usually makes human prosthetics. At first sight, it’s a little saddening to see her bobbing around (she doesn’t wear the tails all the time), but the staff love her with a passion and give her the best life possible, and of course now she’s famous, everyone wants to come and visit:
After visiting Winter (and the miriad turtles, otters and other dolphins), we stopped in the utterly gorgeous St Petersburg (think white sand beaches, Riviera chic palm-lined streets and sun-drenched outdoor cafés) for lunch. The Cassis American Brasserie is something of a St Pete’s institution, with a famous bakery attached (apple tart TO DIE FOR) as well. We worked off the excesses of the previous night’s lycheetinis and karaoke (another day, I promise) by diving in to gorgeous fresh oysters, bloody marys and mahoosive burgers. Everything was delicious and the location, right on the sidewalk on Beach Drive, shaded by enormous umbrellas, was just fabulous:
Fully restored, we took a gentle sunny amble along Beach Drive to the Chihuly Collection where lovely director, Wayne Atherholt, showed us around these frankly stunning glass pieces. If you’re around St Pete’s you MUST visit. I promise you’ll stand awestruck in front of these phenomenal, complex glass sculptures:
Another quick drive took us to the amazing Dalí Museum. Our wonderfully eccentric and terrifically knowledgeable guide, Janice (complete with Dalí inspired shoe hat) steered us around hundreds of Dalí pieces, pointing out specific things in the paintings we would never have spotted, and explaining the thinking behind the paintings. Without a guide, you’ll still have a great time, but trust me when I say I learned more than I ever thought possible with Janice’s help. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens, cleverly named, of course, the ‘Avant Gardens’, with the enormous Dalíesque moustache and Wish Tree, where people have been writing their wishes on scraps of paper and tying them to the tree for years. By the way, if you want to add a wish to the tree, the museum will do it for you if you tweet your wish to #Daliwishtree.
We fell in love with Janice. In fact, so much that we couldn’t bear to leave her at the Dalí and persuaded her to join us (after a slight altercation between her car and a bollard – the bollard won) on our segway tour of St Pete. The segways are a little tricky to master, but with the help of the wonderful David Boston from St Pete’s guided segway tour company, Gyroglides, we were soon whizzing along in a happy troupe along St Pete’s pier, Janice merrily shouting explanations for her Dalí shoe hat as we glided past stunned passers by. Here I am looking utterly ridiculous on a segway:
And here’s Janice. In her multicoloured coat. On a segway. With her shoe hat on. Surreal (Dalí would surely have loved it):
After all that excitement, we were delighted to check into our evening accommodation, the delightful Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites, located smack bang on the gorgeous Treasure Island beach, and chill on the balcony overlooking the ocean, sipping a cold glass of champagne generously left in our fridge (the condos are huge and really well equipped with washing machines, huge kitchens and two large bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as a sofa bed (three bed apartments are also available).
The condos are a fab idea if you want to go to Florida and have a bit more freedom. Self catering is a breeze with a café on site plus a huge supermarket within half a mile and plenty of lovely restaurants within easy walking distance (I highly recommend Sloppy Joe’s – order the firecracker shrimp – you won’t be disappointed!). If you’re staying a little longer in the area, George Hoch, the General Manager, recommends a trip to John’s Pass village, a lovely historical fishing village with loads of things to do and some fabulous seafood.
Here’s the inside of our condo:
And here’s the view from the balcony. With my cankles:
I travelled to Florida with Visit Florida and Virgin Holidays. If you’d like to recreate my trip, here’s some information about a very similar seven nights in Orlando from £949.
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, two nights accommodation at the 5V Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, two nights accommodation at the 3V+ Sunset Vista Beachfront Suites, two nights at the 5V Longboat Key Club & Resort and one night at the 5V Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel, all on a room only basis with car hire included starts from £949. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures 12 – 14 Nov 2012.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport or Manchester Airport; Adults £20, Kids £12
Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected
To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk , 0844 557 3859 or visit one of our 90 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
Did you watch the Sport Relief version of the Great British Bakeoff? I was actually quite struck by how, if you don’t cook much, it’s actually quite difficult to get your head around it (case in point: Arlene Phillips not knowing that you had to line a pastry-filled tart tin before pouring in the baking beans). The same goes for healthy eating, really – if you want to move away from chucking a pizza in the oven when you get home from work, but have no clue how to do it, where on earth do you start?
This thought occurred to me again when I was approached by hellofresh.co.uk. They offer a delivery service with a difference – they basically deliver all the ingredients PLUS a recipe that’s easy to follow, taking all the hard work and guess work out of it. I was quite impressed. Tell me more, I said to Caitlin.
So first you pop to their website – tell them how many there are in the household and choose how many meals you want, and they do the rest. They do all the shopping, and it appears at your door on a Monday evening between 5 and 9pm with recipes, all ready to go. All the meals area easy to do and take under 30 minutes to prepare, with no fancy schmancy cheffy tools required.
The sample recipe was, I have to say, very impressive: a chicken breast with creamy rocket risotto and tomatoes for 2 people:
2 chicken breasts
6 cherry tomatoes
200g risotto rice
1 piece of garlic
500ml chicken broth
75g creme fraiche
50g Parmesan cheese
Prices work out to just over four quid a meal, which I don’t think is bad, especially considering they’ve done all the thinking and the shopping for you. The meals have been designed by a team of chefs in conjunction with nutritionists too.
The only downside is that at the moment, the service is only available in the London area. Hopefully this area will expand as the service takes off. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will.
One thing about being back in the same country together after our long period of job-enforced separation is that we can now go shopping together.
I’d kind of forgotten about this. I’d happily tootled around shops in Ireland (just happy to be there, frankly, after the epic journeys that necessitated getting to any decent shops), picking out just what I wanted and never thinking twice about it. Now there are several things about co-shopping that drive me insane:
Before we’ve even got into the shop, we’ve started. I like a big trolley and I like to push it. I also like to bring my own bags (they’re bigger and stronger and yes, more environmentally friendly). He favours trying to cram everything into one of those small granny trolleys and has no truck with bags hanging on the front (‘they give you bags at the checkout, FFS’), so I have to hold them. And apparently (bag-free) trolley pushing is the man’s job. Sexism: alive and well and living in Hertfordshire.
I know what I like. And I know what I don’t like. I don’t like shopping a deux and wish to be finished as soon as possible. Therefore I don’t want to stand around and look at all the cheeses in the deli (we always buy Cheddar – what’s the point?). Neither do I want to discuss the merits of wild vs farmed salmon at the fish counter (he doesn’t like salmon so it’s kind of pointless). The only time I like to dither is when I’m shopping alone in Waitrose – then I could spend hours. Fickle? Moi? I also like to tut loudly at those silly arses that stand in the middle of the aisle and chat, whilst blocking everything up with their trolleys. Want to chat? Sod off outside. Shops are for shopping. I’m thinking of writing to the supermarket bosses and suggesting a special ‘dithering/gossiping’ aisle, so the rest of us can bloody get on with it.
I will only buy free-range chicken. As the awesome Jimmy Doherty says in his book, A Taste of the Country, ‘if the chicken you buy in your supermarket is not labelled free-range, I’m afraid you are responsible for terrible cruelty’. I can’t have this on my conscience. The husband, however, cannot see the point in picking up a pack of two chicken breasts for £5, when there is a pack of four just below them for same price.
The chicken, being relatively near the front of the shop, causes us to bicker all the way round the store. We’ve kept chickens, I argue, and you know what intelligent and freedom-loving little chaps they are. He knows, he says, but somehow his wallet rules his brain…
Hence, every time he picks up biscuits (we don’t need them – I can make my own), chooses Perroni over Budweiser, or adds ridiculous items such as Rice Krispie bars to the trolley, he is reminded that he’ll spend money on that, but not on the welfare of a poor little innocent chook. It’s all wrong. In return, of course, I get told off for buying fresh herbs ‘in bags! Pointless‘ and arborio rice.
We’re just speaking by the time we get to the dairy aisle, then it all goes pear shaped again. It has to be Yeo Valley. I’m sorry, but I can’t be doing with that watery shite and I’ve a special affinity with the Valley of Yeo, seeing as I’ve visited a couple of times. The husband picks up Mullers. I put them back. Then we spot the big pots of Yeo Valley lemon curd and grab several. Marital bliss is resumed.
After relenting to his requests for the small trolley AND his insistence on being the one to push it, he then proceeds to do the worst stacking job in history… milk is rested on top of eggs and salad is squashed with beer. I tut and move things. He tuts about pickiness. There’s a lot of tutting.
So by the time we’ve bickered all the way round, him dithering to look at things, me charging ahead tutting at the gossipers, got to the checkout where he’s flirted outrageously with the woman behind the till (he’s never that nice to me), and we’ve huffed out to the car with my ‘ridiculous’ bags… we end up driving home in silence.
So I’m afraid I’ve asked for a trial separation. Oh not permanently, just every time we need some shopping.
I just need to be on my own… to find out who I really am.
I hope you understand, Hubby, it’s not you, it’s me. I hope we can still be friends…
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