Keep Calm and Cook on – Banoffee Pie

Food, Lifestyle, Opinion, Recipes

Banoffee pie is one of those desserts that can be executed so bloody awful that it puts you off a slice for life. Plasticky squirty cream, Dry pre-made shortcrust pastry bases, and my personal worst nightmare, the deconstructed versions that tend to crop up at “cool” gastropubs. Done right? It’s a gloriously indulgent, American style pud that makes your teeth ache but still has you raiding the fridge for another slice before bed.

In my family, it’s the thing we all gun for at a party, it’s the pudding that we sneak out of the fridge before someone else steals the last slice, but, on one condition, Mam’s got to have made it. Banoffee Pie is admittedly 90% assembly and 10% cooking but ask anyone that has tried my Mam’s Banoffee Pie and they will tell you, it’s the best you’ll ever have. She frequently has to assemble two, because none of us can possibly only have one slice. That is unless Uncle Mark is around. If Mark is around then you have zero chance of a second slice, that is unless you fancy losing a finger.

For me, it’s a dessert that will forever remind me of my family, one that both sides absolutely adore. The sight of tins of boiled condensed milk on the kitchen counter will forever be one of my favourite sights and fighting my brother off to clean the tin of toffee with my Mam shouting at us to get out of the kitchen will forever be one of my favourite (and most dangerous) memories.

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Banoffee Pie

  • Roughly half a pack of digestive biscuits
  • 125g salted butter, melted
  • 1 tin of condensed milk
  • 275ml of double cream
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp of instant coffee
  • 3-4 ripe bananas
  • 1 Dairy Milk Flake

The first bit of this recipe is the best bit, the best option is to do this step the day before you need the dessert, that way the toffee has adequate time to cool. Pop your tin of condensed milk, still sealed in the tin, into a deep pan of cold water making sure the top is covered. Bring to a light boil. Leave it that way for 4 hours,  just checking in between that the tin remains submerged in water. Once the time is up, let the tins sit in the water until cool.

Do not let the pan boil dry. I have fond memories of my Nan and Mum scrubbing toffee of my Auntie Donna’s very pristine, white kitchen walls/ceilings. I don’t suggest it as a decorating technique.

In the meantime, shove the digestives into a sandwich bag and smash them into a fine crumb with the help of a sturdy rolling pin. yes, you could use a food processor but this is much more fun. Empty the biscuit crumb into a bowl before pouring in all of your melted butter. Mix. Your biscuit should be visibly coated in butter but not too wet. Grab a flan tin/cake tin, whatever you have really and pour the biscuit mix in. Press it down to create a level and compact buttery biscuit base. Refrigerate this for at least an hour.

Open up your tin of cooled and now deliciously sticky condensed milk toffee. The result should be a medium/dark golden brown toffee. Scrape the contents out onto the biscuit base and level out. Grab a teaspoon and eat the remnants of toffee straight out of the tin. Chefs prerogative. Pop your cream into a separate bowl along with a tsp of caster sugar and a tsp of coffee granules. Whisk until it forms into stiff peaks.

Chop your bananas into circles around 1cm thick and place onto your toffee layer. Then top with the cream. Finally, crumble the Flake over the top, half of it at least, the other half can be for the Chef.

Finally, refrigerate, half-hour will do.

Best enjoyed quickly and in a secret spot, family members become very aggressive when Bannoffe pie is on the line.

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Keep Calm and Cook On – Mushty Egg Sandwiches

Food, Lifestyle, Opinion, Recipes

In the midst of the global COVID-19 madness, something odd seems to be happening. Ask many of us six months ago what we do in our spare time when at home and the answer would be Netflix and chill or lying on the sofa scrolling through our phones. Then, in what still seems like some kind of awful dream the UK was put into lockdown and many of us stepped away from our usual permanent state of comatose fixation in our devices. Instead, We have picked up mixing bowls, started growing sourdough starters, slow-cooked cheap cuts of meat and took utter pride in sharing photos of our seasonal veg boxes.

An odd sort of wartime spirit has fought through and food seems to be at the helm of it. It got me thinking about the comfort that food brings, both subconsciously and consciously. The circumstances outside our doors are so uncontrollable right now but that fresh tomato soup on your stove will be comforting and delicious regardless, the big wedge of farmhouse white bread and raspberry jam will remind you of being in your Nan’s kitchen as a child and bring you a moment of solace and, yes, that banana bread WILL make you feel bloody amazing when it comes out of the oven because you baked something and it is absolute perfection to you, regardless of any flaws.

So, I want to share some recipes, and the stories behind them, that bring those tiny moments of bliss to me and hopefully to you. I hope this brings you a little moment of nostalgia in this crazy world and gets you cooking recipes that mean something, even if only to you.

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Egg Sandwiches

Everyone has a sandwich that brings them nothing but pure unadulterated joy. It’s usually something simple; thick slices of cheddar cheese with red onion, tuna straight from the can, mixed with a big blob of mayo, pre-sliced breaded ham stacked so thick you basically use an entire pack to yourself.

Mine is the good old-fashioned egg sandwich. Boiled to be exact, although I am also partial to a fried egg bap. A boiled egg sandwich though, always remind me of my Dad. He fondly calls them “Mushty egg” sandwiches because he boils the egg and then “mushes” them up with salad cream (his choice) or mayo (my choice) then plenty of salt and pepper. They remind me of being at home with him. Admittedly, he does wheel out these sarnies at every family event he can but mainly it reminds me of watching Formula One on a Sunday with him, Mam would be cooking Sunday Lunch but we’d be ‘starving’ by midday so he’d make us sandwiches. Let me add, that is the only ‘cooking’ he has ever done, But, he does it well so I would never complain.

Recipe

Makes 1

  • Slices of medium-thick soft white bread. (Nothing with too hard of a crust)
  • Two room-temperature eggs.
  • Hellman’s mayonnaise (my choice).
  • Salt.
  • Black Pepper.

Use whatever white bread you have. Dad usually would use the white packaged variety and that works just bloody lovely, there is nothing wrong with a slice of Mother’s Pride. Place two room-temperature eggs into a saucepan of cool water. Bring it to a heavy simmer. Once simmering set a timer for 7 minutes. When your timer is up, plunge the eggs into cold water for a minute or two then peel. Pop the eggs into a bowl and mash them into small chunks with a fork (or an egg masher if you’re fancy). Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and finally a big blob of Hellman’s mayonnaise. Mix to combine lightly. Spread a thin layer of mayo over both pieces of your bread and grind a bit of black pepper onto them. Stuff all of the “mushty egg” onto the bread and assemble your sandwich. Finally cut into two triangle pieces. Everything tastes better in triangles.

Enjoy preferably whilst watching reruns of the 2015 Grand Prix.

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Me, Myself and I

Lifestyle, Opinion

Do you know what movies taught me about being a woman? They taught me that we can sort ourselves into one or two boxes. Box A – Single, you have a kooky group of girlfriends who you will see almost every night and go to fun parties and cool clubs with. Any nights alone are sat eating cold noodles, watching tv and contemplating how utterly pathetic you are. Box B – Single, you have basically zero back story but you are about to meet the absolute love of your life (It’s Hugh Grant, by the way, it always is) and he will make you complete. Up until that moment, you will be sad, lonely and eating cold noodles.

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See the theme here. No, it’s not the cold noodles, although that does have relevance. Whether you are single or in a relationship, being alone is something that we all experience, whether that be for long periods of time or for small periods of time, but the word ‘alone’ just sounds so sad doesn’t it? Speaking from a female perspective, we have no representation of a woman being comfortable and happy spending time by herself.

As most of you know, I am in a long term relationship, one that I am sickeningly happy in, like really, I even make myself nauseous sometimes but how enamored I am; but, much to my disgust, I cannot physically attach myself to him like some kind of crusty old barnacle on a ship. So when faced with time alone, what do I do? I watch endless episodes of Real Housewives, I eat an entire bar of dark chocolate and I go to bed early and sulk. That is far from my perfect existence I can assure you.

It was only last year, when Joe went on a last-minute trip to Japan, that all of a sudden I realised, I am that girl eating cold noodles and wondering why I’m so pathetic and it is all because we know no bloody different! We have no positive examples of why spending time alone can be bloody wonderful. So, I made a conscientious effort to think about what I wanted to do with my weekend, what could I do that I wouldn’t do if Joe was here, how can I make the most of my alone time. The outcome? A bloody good weekend. Even if the extrovert in me was screaming “BUT YOU’RE ALONE!!!!!”.

So, whether you are single or not, introverted or extroverted, I hope this little list helps you enjoy a bit more ‘me-time’ and leaves those cold noodles confined to the world of Rom-coms.

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The Art of Being Alone

Plan your day.

I have an awful habit of spending days alone doing absolutely nothing other than watching terrible television shows, films starring Kate Hudson and drinking endless cups of tea purely from boredom. It is, not a choice, it is me going into moping mood. Instead, really think about what you want to do with your day. Sure, by all means, do the things you need to do (laundry, spring cleaning, etc) but don’t make it arduous, try to make it therapeutic rather than a task. Organise your dresser, clear out your wardrobe or have a clear-out and take a trip to your charity shop. Clear conscious, Clear mind. 

Find small joys.

What makes you happy? Not the huge idealistic things. The little things. Mine include:

  • Getting up early and going downstairs to watch James Martin Saturday Kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee
  • Taking my dogs out when it’s cold out but dry and sunny.
  • A hot bath and a glass of red.
  • Exploring museums

Each of these things I actually enjoy more when I’m on my own, with my own thoughts. It’s like therapy for me. Remind yourself of what those things are for you! Take the time to enjoy them.

Get out of the house.

You don’t need to watch that third episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. You don’t need to sit in your crusty pyjama buttons eating those cold leftover noodles. You also don’t need to not do either of those things. You do need to stay sane however and that may mean leaving the confines of your bedroom.

Get yourself out of the house, if you have dogs then you have a perfect excuse! if you don’t, find an excuse. Need some basics from your local corner shop? Great. Been putting off that trip to the post office? fine. Just love to get outdoors and don’t need an excuse? even better!

I hope these little tips help you even in a small way. In the busy world, we live in its so important that we enjoy every single moment, even when we are alone! Let’s take away the negative stigma from that word. Let’s see it for what it is, an opportunity for me time and self-care. A break made for us and no-one else. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: If cold noodles are your happiness then you do you huns. I support all small happiness’. Except those of you that enjoy HIIT. I don’t condone that. Stop making me look bad…

 

 

8 things you must eat in New York City

Food, Travel, Uncategorized

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If a trip to New York is on your bucket list then I can almost guarantee that you have thought about all the glutinous goodies you can inhale whilst there. New York cheesecake, fresh street cart pretzels, mammoth stacks of pancakes, pastrami sandwiches, deep-fried… anything. The list really is endless, but there are certain things that you really cannot miss. Here are your top eight must-eats whilst in New York City

 

 

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1.An Everything Bagel from Russ & Daughters

We have far too few Deli’s in the UK for my liking and that is something The Big Apple does very, very well. Russ & Daughters has a 100-year history in NYC and has become a well-loved part of the City ever since Joel Russ, a Jew who emigrated from Poland, got his first Bricks & Mortar store in 1914. Today, his legacy is adored by many. Oprah herself included. The Everything bagel is something us brits also seem to miss out on – A white bagel with poppy seed, sesame seed, pretzel salt, onion flake, garlic flake, and pepper topping. A little bit of everything. Pop into any one of the many locations across Manhattan and order one of these bad boys. There is an overwhelming amount of fillings to choose from so if it all gets a bit much for you, opt for the pastrami smoked salmon, scallion cream cheese and don’t forget the tomato, onion, and capers. A bagel truly made for the Gods.

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2.New York Cheesecake

A food of much contention. Personally, I often prefer the *buttery* biscuit base variety topped with the chilled cheesecake filling that we often get in Europe but you can’t possibly visit New York and not try the cheesecake. This American counterpart, however, is often baked and comes with a sponge bottom. For the best in the City, there are a few contenders for the top spot but there is one major standout and you don’t have to break the bank for a taste. Eileen’s Special Cheesecake opened up in 1976 and is still serving up a dazzling array of lovingly homemade cheesecakes in every flavour you can imagine. Eileen offers up the large scale cheesecakes to share but the best part of this small corner shop in Little Italy is the mini cheesecakes on offer in over 25 different flavours, including seasonal varieties. After all, why have one cheesecake when you can have three?

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3.A Hot Pastrami Sandwich from Katz’s Delicatessen

“I’ll have what she’s having” goes the immortal line. Well, unless what she is having is the Hot Pastrami Sandwich, I’m not interested. Many tourists flock to Katz Delicatessen as fans of When Harry Met Sally and THAT scene but there is so much more to this venue than a little taste of Hollywood. Katz offers up the best damn sandwich I have ever had in my life. Seriously, Joe genuinely spent the rest of our holiday talking about that sandwich and looking at photos of that sandwich. It was like he was having an affair… with a sandwich. There are many things that this delicatessen has lacking; the decor hasn’t been changed since what looks like the 50s, the ordering process is manic and the service is lacking in, well everything, BUT, it is all worth it for that sandwich. I recommend getting the meal combo of a bowl of soup and half a sandwich. That may not sound like much but when the giant matzo ball soup is placed in front of you along with a sandwich packed with what is a mountain of hot pastrami, you won’t be disappointed.

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4.A Dollar Slice

It’s simply an NYC institution. I’m sorry but you cannot visit the Big Apple and not have one (or several in my case) dollar slice/s. there are seriously countless stops dotted around the city where you can get your fix of hot pizza but it really is a tale of the good, the bad and the greasy. For some of the best $ slices in the City check out Percy’s in Greenwich Village or Joe’s Pizza near Times Square. Ok, you pay a little more for your slice at Joe’s but I promise you it’s worth the extra $1.75.

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5. A Huge Stack of Pancakes or French Toast

I feel like something the city does really well is their brunch! So don’t book a hotel with breakfast just because it’s more convenient, get your butts up early and find yourself a breakfast worth having. For that quintessential American diner vibe, you have to get yourself over to Big Daddy’s Diner. Whipped cream-topped milkshakes, bright fifties decor and pancakes the size of dustbin lids just packed to the sky with whatever topping you choose. the Hunka Hunka Burnin Love comes stuffed with chocolate chips and piled with sliced banana and whipped cream. The real showstopper though has to be the french toast at Upper west side, Maison Pickle. If you want to have brunch here you are going to have to book. Their Challah french toast is well known and it is not hard to see why…

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6. Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding

Yes, the cupcakes are iconic but the banana pudding is the real superstar here. For the Brits amongst you, pudding is not referring to the term we use for basically any dessert! It’s more like a hybrid of custard and cake. I can’t even explain it but, Oh my god it is next level. The Magnolia Bakery banana pudding is pretty iconic and there is a justification for that. A banana and vanilla pudding cup swirled with pieces of vanilla sponge and banana chunks. Its heaven in a pot. The store also does a monthly special which are total one-offs, most recently chocolate hazelnut, pumpkin gingersnap, and red velvet. Don’t offer to share a tub, I promise you will regret it.

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7. Cheap but very Cheerful Chinese Food

Some of the best eateries in the Big Apple leave much to be desired when it comes to decor and that rule is no exception when it comes to getting some of the best Chinese food. Chinatown might not be top of your list of sightseeing but you may change your mind when you hear about the food on offer. Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles Inc, Bo KY, and Xi’an Famous Foods are all fantastic stops for some very high quality and very very cheap dim sum or noodles but the top of the charts has to be Nom Wah Tea Parlour. It’s worth the queue. Serving dim sum and dumplings since 1920, Nom Wah with their Argos order style menus and dirt cheap dumplings is phenomenally popular for a reason – The food is insane! Oh, and it’s insanely cheap. Four dumplings? $4. It doesn’t get better than that.

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8. Anything from Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market is without a doubt one of the best food markets in the world. It is truly a treasure trove for any self-respecting foodie. Fresh oysters, hand-rolled sushi, wine bars, doughnutterys, Korean soups, matcha porridge, and lobster rolls. The list is truly endless. You can get anything your stomach desires all under one roof. It’s also home to a fantastic vintage store – Artists & Fleas (well worth a visit for some very cool souvenirs). This is all about the food though after all and there is no shortage of choice. A little tip – Please do not skip by Los Tacos No1. They serve up fresh authentic tacos that you will struggle to beat. My fave? The Adobada (Marinated pork).

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A Woman’s Right to Choose

Lifestyle, Opinion

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We all remember the Sex and the City episode don’t we? Carrie is made to remove her silver jeweled Manolo’s at a party so that she doesn’t tread in any nasty street germs that could infect the children waltzing about in this Upper East Side perfectly styled townhouse (So obvious they have kids, duh). The episode rolls on and Carrie is torn between wondering whether she should have the 1950s housewife life with the husband that works late with his twenty-something secretary, two children in coordinating outfits and a dog, most likely a golden retriever. Or, does she go against the strain? Should she feel guilty for spending $465 on a pair of shoes and not a week’s worth of Peppa Pig novelty toys? I’m assuming Peppa Pig was about in 2003. It does seem like she’s always been somewhere, lurking in the shadows, ready at any moment to hypnotize toddlers and drive parents to the brink of insanity.

Exactly sixteen years on and the silver Manolos are incredibly out of fashion but somehow the question still lingers. Do women have a right to choose? This year’s gender pay gap data showed that women in full-time executive roles in FTSE 250 firms fell to just 6.4% whilst in FTSE 100 firms it flatlined at a woeful 9.7%. Director roles look mildly better, coming in at 29% for FTSE 100 and 23.7% for FTSE 250. I could go into a never-ending Ted talk right now about factors and policies that are needed to change this but each time I think back to Carrie and that god awful pair of silver Manolo’s I always come back to the same thought. Do we have to choose? Children or career?

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In 2015, the UK government introduced shared parental leave, allowing parents to share up to 50 weeks leave between them and 37 weeks of statutory pay. Fantastic right? Well, the uptake has been less than 1%. Personally, I didn’t even know this existed until I started researching this post but nonetheless it at least provides female employees with a choice. To some respect… Of course, we still need to consider the gender pay gap, men still earn more in around 75% of all male/female couples. Financially speaking, it just isn’t feasible for many people to take a household pay cut so severe when having a baby. Let us digress from the stats a little though, as much as I want you all to ‘Stay Woke’ I don’t want you to lose the will to live.

I am twenty-nine right now, at the peak of fertility apparently, after this, it’s a downhill slope of ‘don’t leave it too late’s and ‘do you really want to be a geriatric mother?’. By the way, whoever introduced the term geriatric mother needs to be seriously dealt with. Not a fan. Every man and their dog are obsessed with what we, as young women, are doing with our wombs and that includes in the workplace. But the pressure doesn’t stop there, does it? 

I consistently battle two demons:

  1. Do I prioritise career overall?
  2. Am I a cold-hearted bitch who prioritises career overall?

It’s a lose/lose situation. I feel motivated and successful in my career but selfish in my home life. Or, I feel fulfilled in my home/family life but like I am letting myself down as a woman who has always dreamt of that high flying career. Perhaps a Woman’s right to choose is to actually have to make no choice at all. Do we have to always compromise? Am I a bad mother if I work 9-5, 5 days a week and leave the children with childcare? Am I a disappointment to the modern woman if I sometimes prioritise my love life and home life in place of my career? Can’t I be both?

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Compromise is something sadly we have all grown very used to. I choose a career yet I must accept the fact that women effectively work for free for 65 days of the year due to the gender pay gap. I choose a family yet statistically I will earn less than my counterparts who are not Mothers.

What is glaringly obvious through all of this though is that we do, of course, have a choice but it isn’t a fair one. It certainly doesn’t come without stigmas but yet we still make that decision. Men do too. We make a decision that we know in some way will be detrimental to us. Yet we still make it.

What can we draw from all of this? Make the decision but make it with only you and your world in mind. Every decision is hard. Every decision comes with a disapproving look from some bitch that thinks they know best. Every decision will make you feel so proud some days and absolutely awful the next.

We have the right to choose.

We have a right to choose from fair and equal options.

Let’s just keep fighting that good fight for the last bit. All whilst wearing those silver Manolo’s of course.

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Thursday 14 November was equal pay day. As of last Thursday, all women effectively work for free. Check out The Fawcett Society for more information.

 

 

Peachy Keen Jellybean – Grease the Musical – Cardiff

Cardiff, Lifestyle, UK

Dan Partridge as Danny & Louis Gaunt as Kenickie (front) and the T-Birds in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel HarlanMartha Kirby as Sandy and Dan Partridge as Danny in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel HarlanLtoR Natalie Woods as Jan, Eloise Davies as Frenchy & Tara Sweeting as Marty in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel Harlan

Picture the scene. I’m thirteen, studying for one of my singing grades and my tutor picks ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You” as one of my exam pieces. I spend almost every waking hour listening to Olivia Newton-John perform it in the 1978 movie. Whilst studying for my exam, the guy in my class that I think is pretty lovely tells me that I look like a boy and have a bowl cut (I did). I now not only love Sandra Dee, I think I am her. I watch that scene of her singing by the pool and I wallow over my childhood crush. A heartbroken and pitiful teen. Thank god fourteen years later I’m far more Rizzo than Sandy…

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This week, I kindly got invited along to the performance of Grease the Musical at the Wales Millenium Centre. Now, if like me your memories of the 70s classic are watching it on a Sunday afternoon with your parents and later singing the songs into your hairbrush in front of a mirror, I doubt you would know that Grease was actually a stage musical first. Shock. I know! I was as shocked as you. What do you mean Sandy is actually brunette?! What do you mean there are MORE Grease songs!? The outrage that no-one told me this before.

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I only found out that the Musical actually preceded the film as I gulped down a large glass of red in the theatre bar beforehand but as soon as the curtain lifted and the stage was revealed, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed, regardless of any differences.

Grease the Musical is everything that the movie is. It’s fun, kitsch, tongue in cheek and packed full of the most iconic songs to ever hit the silver screen, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. This is no Sandy and Danny show though, sure, the main storyline still has them at the centre of it, but, with standout performances from Rizzo (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) Kenickie (Louis Gaunt) and Jan (Natalie Woods) you find yourself more invested in their storylines rather than the post-summer fling genre that we have all come to know (and love).

Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky (Rizzo) in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel Harlan (1)Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky (Rizzo) in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel Harlan

The musical had a lot of qualities that I felt the movie simply didn’t. Despite being almost fifty years old, there is a lot of grit behind the storyline. The plot focuses more around the incessant need to fit in at all costs, bullying and other pressures that teens today still face. I have always adored Stockard Channing’s rendition of “There are worse things I could do”, who doesn’t, but when McCaulsky started singing, almost directing her words towards Sandy, you feel her pain, you start to contemplate just how hard this character works to fit in and the impact it can hold on a person. Something that I know many of us can relate to, especially in the world of social media. Her rampant sexuality is paramount, it oozes out of McCaulsky’s performance in every way. The way she walks, speaks, the way she sidles up to some of the main male customers or shuns others that aren’t in favour. In many ways, this performance, despite still being an All-American bubblegum setting, is incredibly modern.

There are parts of the show that tear at your heartstrings; Jan and Roger performing “Mooning”, Sandy (Martha Kirby) watching on as Rizzo (McCaulsky) teases her in “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee”, but Rydell High’s high octane, free-spirited group of teens are still serving up pure cheese and boy is it served up well. As the curtains roll and the cast burst immediately into Frankie Valli’s “Grease” it is hard to not be blown away with the performance – Sharp dance moves, bright fifties costumes and Rydell High in huge neon lights. It’s simply electrifying.

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A huge surprise for me personally was Darren Bennet’s performance as both Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine. As Fontaine, he is the eccentric, high energy, slightly sleazy radio DJ we expect from watching the movie, his performance during the Rydell Halloween Ball is frantic and a little wild, so he plays Fontaine perfectly. Making a return on stage as the pretty in pink Teen Angel, in a set that looked like the inside of my dream had exploded, Bennett gets right into “Beauty School Dropout” and its a performance that is something quite special, for me, I kind of forgot about Frenchie!

Much like the movie, you simply won’t be disappointed by the musical, it is everything we need in our lives, it’s bright, it’s fun and it’s a wonderful escape from what is a very grey UK right now! Today and tomorrow will be the last performances in the Wales Millenium Centre Cardiff but the cast will be popping up all over the UK in 2020 and it is certainly worth the journey.

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To purchase the last remaining tickets for the Cardiff showings you can use the WMC website.

I was invited along to the performance of Grease the Musical at the WMC but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Ultimate Guide to Harry Potter Studios, Watford

Travel, UK

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Any self-confessed Potter head has either already ventured to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford or has spent each waking moment dreaming of going. Well, whether you are an Auror or a first-year it doesn’t really matter, This guide should help your visit be the best yet.

 

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Tips & Tricks

1.Buy your tickets in advance and try to go on a weekday!

You will inevitably arrive to a hoard of people queueing outside the main entrance. If you have already pre-purchased your tickets online you have no need to queue at the kiosk. There are handy touch screen machines that you can collect your ticket from and that is much quicker.

2. Leave the shopping until the end of your tour

Unless you’re a sad act like me and want a prop to wear on the tour, then leave the shopping until you are finished. There are several shops throughout the studios and the exit point is through the store that you see on entering anyway. Save your arms from carrier bag marks and wait. Unless you know Hermonie’s bag enchantment charm? DM me!

3. Stop off at the Three Broomsticks and share a Butterbeer

Ok it’s not actually The Three Broomstick it’s The Backlot cafe but there is a small Butterbeer shack for you to stop at. If you have an insane sweet tooth then be my guest, have a Butterbeer all to yourself, if not, get one to share. Butterbeer is exceptionally sweet, imagine a cream soda with a butterscotch cream on top, That’s the level of sweetness. I’d recommend ordering one in a souvenir glass, ok it’s plastic and isn’t the most attractive but it makes a much better photo than if you order one in the flimsy plastic beer glasses they have. Rain or shine, I recommend getting a seat outside the Backlot Cafe. There is a small overhead canopy and you get a lovely view of the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, etc. Take a jumper!!

4. Make sure to take your Time Turner with you

What? You don’t have one? How absurd. I suppose you will have to make do with the good old fashioned Muggle way… taking your time. The website advises that you will spend 2-3 hours at the Studios, I spent just over 4 on my visit and I still didn’t get to see everything. Don’t give yourself any time constraint. Take your time wandering through and read the information sections – you can find out some really fascinating facts about the movies and the sets. A lot of the props are incredibly detailed too – Spend your time meandering over the Gryffindor Common Room tapestries or gazing at the carefully placed detail on the Tri-Wizard Cup. One of the most beautiful things about the Harry Potter franchise is the almost incomprehensible attention to detail that went into the films, so take a few moments to appreciate it. I promise you, you’ll feel like you are in Hogwarts itself!

 

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Hidden Gems

We know the books and the films are magic but so are the sets and the props. Here are a few hidden gems that you shouldn’t miss.

  • The tiny bottles of memories stored in the corner of Dumbledores Office – You’ll spot a few familiar names…
  • Uncle Vernon’s most prized possession, The trophy made entirely of drillbits – Sat on the mantel in 4 Privet drive behind the flurry of letters
  • Dolores Umbridge walking the tight rope in Fred and George’s Joke Shop – The Diagon Alley set
  • a grubby little package wrapped up in brown paper lying on the floor” of Vault 713. 
  • The Chocolate Frog cupcake at The Chocolate Frog Cafe – Entrance of the studios
  • Harry’s spectacles on a shelf in the cupboard under the stairs
  • Self-stirring cauldrons – These were made for the film!
  • The board of the animal actors in each film – Read the short bio’s, it is utter heartfelt loveliness reading them.

 

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Best Photo Opportunites

You can be honest with me, it’s ok, we all know that one of the main things you want to do at the Studios is have your photo taken in the Potions Lab to show off on Instagram. Me too, but there is no need to spend hours queuing at the green screen stations. Seek out some of these locations to get the Golden Snitch of photo ops.

  1. The Harry Potter Undesirable No1 posters – Outside the studios either as you arrive or exit
  2. Sat at one of the benches in The Great Hall – Everyone else will be gathered in front of the costumes, take your moment and get a great shot of you on one of the benches.
  3. Mirror of Erised – this one is trickier to get (crowds) but try to find a moment and get your closest photographer to snap your reflection in the mirror.
  4. At the entrance to Dumbledore’s Office
  5. Looking into the Pensieve
  6. Boarding the Hogwarts Express – Queue to board the train and as you are boarding get your mate/partner/resident photographer to stay at the bottom of the small steps to catch you heading off to Hogwarts!
  7. Rushing onto Platform 9 and 3/4 – Luggage in hand of course
  8. Sipping on a Butterbeer – Take it outside and use the Knight Bus or Privet Drive as your backdrop
  9. Outside No3 Privet Drive – yes, I know Harry lived at No4 but there will be a huge queue outside No4 – Go next door and stand tactfully in front of the house number. They’ll never know the difference…
  10. The Hogwarts bridge.
  11. Gringotts Bank in front of one of the Goblins – Hand over your card and request some galleons.
  12. Perusing in any one of the storefronts on Diagon Alley.
  13. The sweet shop within the gift shop – This real store looks just like Honeydukes!

 

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Key Information:

Website here.

For all transport information, opening hours and FAQs use the above website link.

Ticket prices:

  • Adult (16+): £41
  • Child (5-15): £33
  • Family (2 adults & 2 children OR 1 adult & 3 children): £132

HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT

Food, Lifestyle

Faced with the ‘Lunch on the go’ counter at an M&S service station I stare long and hard at those carefully packed sandwiches. Thick white bread, Huge chunks of chicken and bacon smothered in mayonnaise. Then the little tiny bars of sea salt chocolate. All the calories my little heart can dream of. I’m tired, I have horrific stomach pains, I want the bread and chocolate. 

What do I buy? Some sort of quinoa salad box. I don’t even like quinoa that much, personally, I think it tastes a bit like gravel. It’s just something, just like kale, that we eat because someone had the audacity to publish that it is a superfood. Why did i choose the sad-looking grains? Because I got the guilt. “I am a small and dainty woman. I eat nothing but air and leaves and tiny, tiny portions.” If the sales assistant sees me buying a sandwich and chocolate they will think I am a disgusting and greedy human being. My thighs feel bigger just thinking about buying what I really want.

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The point isn’t that I chose something healthy over something unhealthy. The point is that I am subconsciously punishing myself for wanting the sandwich and cake. I am all for ‘Everything in moderation’ and balanced diets but when it comes to a moment like this all my brain can think is ‘that food you hate? It’s healthy. It’s especially healthy because the healthiest food is bad, tastes bland and leave you as dissatisfied as the UK is with Brexit’

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I could have chosen anything! I could have opted for that Moroccan butternut pot I like (healthy), or a small sushi tray (still healthy) or even that chicken and avocado wheat sandwich (STILL HEALTHY) or I could have just got the poxy sandwich and chocolate and not punished myself. Wouldn’t that have been a revelation for the history books?

As Women, in particular, we have a tendency to use food as a way to punish and reward ourselves. Period pain? Chocolate. Long day? Glass of wine. Gained a little weight? Insane military diet that means I will live off nothing but plasterboard and water for 6 weeks. There seems to be no middle ground between binge mode and diet mode. There often seems to be no middle ground too between ‘I feel like a supermodel’ and ‘I feel like a pig, why are my thighs touching?’.

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If you are a food lover. I certainly am. Most of the memories that stick out in your mind will involve food. Those gyros you had on the beach in Greece, the birthday cake at your 21st birthday party, the spaghetti marinara you enjoyed on a first date. So many of our relationships are entwined with memories of food and that’s ok. Read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. Listen to Nigel Slater speak about swiss rolls. Watch anything that Nigella Lawson does. All of them live for that direct correlation of love/romance and food. All of them revel in the unadulterated pleasure that a good pasta or casserole brings.

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It’s a bloody terrible resolution but I do resolve resolut What on earth is the verb of resolution?! Anyway, my insanely late 2019 resolution is to change my relationship with food – for both the good and the bad. I want to order the cake at the patisserie and enjoy it without that voice in my head telling me I’ll have to have a kale salad tonight to even it out. I also want to not reach for the jaffa cake as soon as I’ve had a stressful meeting. I do not want to be on a (insert ridiculous fad here) diet ever again. I want to eat balanced meals, each enjoyable as the next, both healthy and unhealthy and not beat myself up about it.

I want to have my cake and eat it. In moderation of course…

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Recipe – Korean Fried Chicken Bao Buns with Pickled Courgette

Food, Recipes

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As a self-confessed bao bun addict, I was beside myself with excitement when M&S started selling their ready-made baos. Just over a minute in the microwave and you have perfect fluffy buns ready to be stuffed with whichever glutinous filling you set your little heart on.

If your creative juices aren’t flowing then this crisp, sticky fried chicken is not only super easy to make, its also incredibly tasty.

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Ingredients

For the chicken
  • 6 chicken thigh fillets (skin removed)
  • 1 thumb size piece of ginger, grated
  • 100g cornflour
  • Vegetable oil
For the sauce
  • 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp kimchi paste (Korean chilli paste)
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp finely chopped or grated garlic (roughly 2/3 cloves)
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
For the pickled courgettes
  • 1 medium-sized courgette
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 30ml rice wine vinegar
  • 50ml boiling water
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
Extras
  • Pack of 6 bao buns (Follow instructions on the pack to prep)
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced lengthways
  • Half a cucumber, finely sliced lengthways
  • 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp Sriracha sauce (or a tsp of kimchi paste)
  • Chopped peanuts

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Method

1.Start with your courgette pickle. Peel your courgette into ribbons and place to one side. In a small mixing bowl add the ground turmeric, salt, sugar and boiling water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved completely. Once dissolved add the rice wine vinegar and mix again. Now add the courgette ribbons and stir to cover. Place in the fridge until ready to serve.

2.Grab a small saucepan and place on a medium/low heat. Add all of the ingredients that you need for your sauce and stir until sticky and simmering gently. Take your sauce off the heat and place the pan to one side.

3.Cut the chicken thigh fillets in half and remove any fatty excess. Then season with salt, pepper and the grated ginger. Pour the cornflour onto a plate and one by one toss the chicken thighs in the flour until completely coated. Shake off any excess.

4.Heat about 2-3cm of vegetable oil in a wide-based frying pan. Use a small piece of fat (removed from the chicken) to check when the oil is hot. If the oil starts to bubble up around it then you are ready to cook your chicken. Fry the chicken thighs on each side for around 4 minutes until golden. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. I recommend frying in batches.

5.Remove the thighs from the oil once cooked and place onto some kitchen paper to cool for a few minutes – Leaving the oil on the heat. Then place the chicken back into the hot oil and fry until extra crisp. Again, removing and placing onto kitchen paper to cool.

6.Reheat the sauce on low until warm and sticky. Add the fried chicken to the sauce and stir gently until evenly coated. Sprinkle a generous tbsp of sesame seeds in the pan and shake to cover.

7.Now time to build your baos! Mix the mayo and tsp of Sriracha together and put a dollop in each bao followed by a few sticks of spring onion and cucumber. Now for the main event, grab a piece of your sticky fried chicken to nestle in there and finally top your bao with toppings of your choice. Chopped peanuts and fresh chilli are my favourites.

8.Serve your beautiful baos with a nice little heap of courgette pickle and a cold beer. Well, that last bit is up to you…

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What’s on in Cardiff – Autumn Edition

Cardiff, Wales

It may still be sitting around a humid 26 degrees right now in South Wales but last Sunday welcomed the 1st September and for me, that means one thing…It’s officially autumn guys.

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Get your bulk order of opaque tights in before it’s too late, put the pumpkin spice candle and furry socks down, this season there is no room for staying in, there’s far too much going on to spend Fall sat in your dressing gown watching X-Factor. Here are a few of my favourite events popping up in the next few months around Cardiff

Luna Cinema

This is my absolute favourite event of the year by far! Grab your camping chair, a blanket, and a picnic and get yourself down to Cardiff Castle to watch a movie under the stars in the most incredible cinema surroundings you’ll ever see. Luna Cinema is the country’s leading open-air cinema and they pop up in the most beautiful venues around the UK showing a multitude of movies, from the latest to blockbusters to classics like Pretty Woman and Back to the Future. My favourite thing about this event is that you have the freedom to bring what you need. If you don’t fancy queuing at the bar or grabbing a snack from the street food trucks then come prepared with some snacks of your own. You can even bring your own booze. Just leave the glass at home!

Luna Cinema Cardiff runs from September 13th-15th. Further information and ticket purchases can be found here.

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Photo credit: Luna Cinema

Oxjam Cardiff

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Photo credit: Oxjam (Oxfam GB)

For the music lovers amongst you, 27th October is a date for your diary. Oxjam is not only the UK’s largest grassroots festival, but it is also a music festival of a whole new breed; it’s a festival created to beat poverty. Oxjam Cardiff will see 20 different artists perform at spots all over the city and all of the money raised goes directly to Oxfam to help support their work around the world. Oxjam is also a huge promoter to independent artists. Since the first festival in 2006 several artists have gone on to become huge stars in the music world. Foals anyone? Everything Everything? They might ring a bell.

There are few details released to date but keep a close eye on the facebook page as well as the Oxjam webpage.

I’ll be working with Oxjam Cardiff to promote this event so I’ll also be sharing key info closer to the date on my instagram and twitter.

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Rugby World Cup 2019

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Ok so it’s not in Cardiff but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a huge event for your Autumn calendar. One small detail… since the matches are being played in Japan all of the matches are played around breakfast time here in the UK. Now if I know Cardiff, and I think I do, that will not stop any rugby fan in the way of enjoying a proper rugby day out. It just means that you’ll be enjoying an Eggs Benedict with the match instead of a pint, or four…

Now, I haven’t seen much in the way of venues announcing showings of the match yet but here are a few of my favourite rugby spots. Now just pray they will all be showing it!

Depot

Let’s be honest, the team at Depot were always guaranteed to announce one hell of an event timetable for the World Cup and they have not disappointed with their Fanhub returning for both the Wales v Uruguay and Wales v Australia games. Every £5 ticket gets you a free pint. I think that’s a good indication of how this breakfast screening will go down…

Old Arcade

The Old Arcade is my absolute favourite Cardiff pub, particularly on a matchday. I love how it’s kind of tucked away in the side streets, you would barely know it is was there if you weren’t familiar with the area. It’s packed to the rafters with rugby memorabilia and more often than not you’ll spot a few Ex-Blues and Ex-Wales players in there.

Welsh Fixtures – announced to date

Monday 23rd September- Wales vs Georgia – KO 11:45am (UK Time)

Sunday 29th September- Wales vs Australia – KO 16:45pm (UK Time)

Friday 11th October- Wales vs Fiji – KO 18:45pm (UK Time)

Sunday 13th October- Wales vs Uruguay – KO 17:00 (UK Time)

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I wish I could list a thousand more events and autumn spots to you lovely lot but I’ve got Bake Off to watch and a custard tart to eat, but how could I leave you without a few extra recommendations for when the cold weather rolls in? Enjoy!

Extra Events

Wales Millenium Centre, Supper Club

Abergavenny Food Festival

St Fagans Real Food Market

Oktoberfest Comes to Cardiff