Monday, 26 August 2013

Flower and Music Festival

Every year, my area's local church has a flower and music festival in order to fundraise for the church. This year, my mother and I popped along to see what was going on. The theme was 'The Celebration of Marriage' which was beautifully portrayed through various flower arrangements. These, combined with the church backdrop made for some very pretty scenes which I thought I'd share with you.

After a wander around the flowers, Mum and I headed for a quick home made cake stop while discussing which arrangements had been our favourite. Hard to choose, don't you think?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Perfect Syrupy Lemon Drizzle Cake Recipe

On days when rain is bucketing down so hard that you'd get drenched walking between your front door and your car, you may feel that the last thing you want to do is leave the house. On days like these I often feel restless, wandering around the house wondering what to do with myself. Then, one particularly wet day I discovered the perfect answer. Baking.

Baking can keep me occupied for hours. The process of deciding what to make, picking out your ingredients, combining them in just the right quantities and then watching them cook in the oven is incredibly therapeutic and perfect for a day when really, you can't do all that much.

Over the many rainy days we have in Britain, I've perfected one recipe: my (if I do say myself) amazing lemon drizzle cake. Today, I thought I'd share it with you.

You will need:
175g of sugar
175g of self raising flour
175g of butter
3 eggs
2 lemons
a teaspoon of baking powder

This recipe is very simple and rather quick to make. Start by preheating your oven to 170 degrees centigrade. Then grate a little of the lemon peel off one of the lemons. (I tend to use a 'lemon zester' as you get lovely thin ribbons of peel.) Be careful only to use the yellow peel- the white pith can be quite bitter. Next, squeeze the juice out of one and a half of the lemons. If you heat them for 30 seconds in the microwave first, you'll get more juice out. Bung your peel and your juice into a large mixing bowl.

After this, simply tip in the rest of your ingredients and mix until you have a smooth creamy mixture. Pour your mixture into your well greased baking tins so they fill about half of the tin. Personally, I tend to use four mini loaf tins, but you can use anything from one big tin to cupcake cases.

Bung them in the oven for around 25 mins. This time will change slightly depending on the size of your tins. (If your cake is larger, it will take slightly longer). To check if your cake is done, see if it is a golden brown on the outside and 'springy' to the touch. If you're not sure, you can poke it with a skewer- if it comes out the cake covered in raw mixture, give your cake a while longer.

Once you've removed your cakes from the oven, let the tin cool and then tip your cakes onto a wire rack to cool further.

If you wish to ice your cake, take the remaining half of the lemon from earlier and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Mix this with either three tablespoons of icing sugar or 3 teaspoons of castor sugar. The type of sugar you use will change the type of icing- you will get a thicker icing with icing sugar, where as you'll get more of a syrup with the castor sugar. If you wish to make a syrupy icing, you should heat your bowl for around 30 seconds in the microwave to help the castor sugar dissolve into the lemon juice. When your cake is cool, drizzle with your chosen icing and leave the icing to set.

I decorated mine with a twist of lemon coated in lemon syrup. To do this, take a thin slice of lemon and make a small cut to its centre. Twist and drizzle with your chosen icing. 

There you have it, the perfect cake to wash away rainy day blues!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

V Festival 2013: Queen B, The Script, Jessie J and more!

It's that time of year again. That time when you dust off your wellies from their summer hibernation, grab your camping kit, adorn yourself in floral headbands and dig out copious amounts of hand sanitizer. Festival time!

Lu and I are lucky enough to live relatively close to V Festival and so decided to have a day of sister bonding while listening to track after track of popular music. Therefore on Saturday morning we rose early and headed off for a day of exactly this.

The weather forecast (typically) predicted heavy rain and so we left with a bag packed full of festival wet day essentials- bin bags with arm and head holes and extra socks... Oh, and wellingtons of course! Armed, we excitedly drove to Chelmsford, animatedly discussing exactly what we wanted to see that day.

Bin bags at the ready!

After an initial quick mooch around the festival grounds, we started our day in the Glee Tent. I have to say this was a first for me- I've never watched live comedy at a festival before and have, quite frankly, never felt the need to. With the risk of sounding miserable, I find it rare that a comedians can make me laugh at most of their jokes. There are some exceptions of course, but these tend to be few and far between. However, my sister and I found Eddy Brimson and Katherine Ryan absolutely hilarious! We ended up spending a good hour or so giggling along with the crowd before moving on.

On our way to the next stage we had a quick bop in the 'Our House' warehouse party before bumping into some friends and stopping for a quick chat. One of the main things I love about festivals is the social aspect. People are always so friendly to each other, whether they are strangers or old acquaintances. Not only that but somewhere in the crowd there will be someone you know!

After our chance meeting, we headed off to the main stage to start the process of claiming our spot for Beyoncé! From here we listened to Two Door Cinema Club, Jessie J, The Script before finally, B!

But before the Queen takes the stage, a quick word on some of the other artists.

Jessie J gets better every time I'm fortunate enough to see her (and I've 'accidentally' seen her three times now!). She has such a powerful voice and a friendly stage manner which combined with her well known songs, really draws you into her performance. She was one of my favourite performers of the day and I'd really recommend seeing her if you ever get the chance!

The Script doesn't really play my sister's and my type of music. Initially we started nodding off during their first few songs, but tuned back in when they started interacting with the audience. During a rendition of their song 'Nothing,'  Danny O'Donoghue took a fan's phone and sang the song to the fan's ex boyfriend! Later, much to security's despair (and his bravery- the front row girls wanted to eat him alive!) he decided to jump over the barrier and sing in the crowd- a reckless feat for any artist. Essentially in the end, they became unexpectedly entertaining.

But Beyoncé was in a league of her own. She dazzled with her passionate voice, invigorating dancing and spectacular costumes. Her performance was a mixture of new and old songs, with all the firm favourites making an appearance and causing the entire crowd to dance along. Her set was broken up by etherial video clips which really set the mood for her entire performance. She was, simply put, amazing and the entire crowd adored her. What was also incredible however was her stage manner- she seemed genuinely please to be there and humbled by the adoration she was receiving. A true queen in the making?

After the last act, Lu and I dragged our aching feet back to the car while singing all the way.

My sister and I had a wonderful time at V. Not only did we get to see some great artists, we got to soak in a spectacularly alive atmosphere (even if the day was a little damp!). I would highly recommend V for future years and getting yourself to any kind of festival before summer is officially over.

Go on then, what are you waiting for?

P.S- apologies for the poor photo quality but our camera doesn't fare too well in the festival environment!  

Monday, 12 August 2013

Swattesfield Campsite: A Walk on the Wild Side

This weekend, Marcus felt the call of nature and decided that camping sounded like a brilliant idea. However, in his typical man way, he left his less than enthusiastic girlfriend to do the actual finding of a suitable spot to pitch our (my) tent. After much searching, I stumbled across what seemed like a very pretty campsite in the north of Suffolk called Swattesfield, which previous campers claimed had good facilities. Therefore on Friday night we set off (me somewhat dubiously) to start our camping adventure.

I have to say, camping exceeded all my expectations. Swattesfield was beautiful- you could pick from a number of fields to set up camp and there was plenty of space so you weren't pitched near anyone else. The campsite provided hanging fire pits which were perfect for barbecuing, a cute little shop which stocked camping essentials such as firewood (and pick 'n' mix!), clean bathrooms and a pizza oven!

The campsite owner had even built a little shelter out of bushes which was ideal for playing in and there was a rustic swing hung in the woods. We were surrounded by twelve miles of mapped walks around golden corn fields and little forests. Essentially, it was a little slice of lush British paradise!

(I was very jealous of the glamping tents).

Our time in Swattesfield was totally chilled and was spent ambling around the countryside, picnicking outside our tent, wandering through the near by village and playing frisbee. Our biggest challenge however turned out to be cooking dinner.

We thought it'd be easy with our instant BBQ. But for some unknown reason, after roasting a couple of marshmallows, it burnt out!

So we decided to do things properly and Marcus pulled out the big guns.

After a few more (hundred) frisbee throws, our BBQ was ready to cook on. We gobbled down a couple of well earned burgers and then polished off the last of the marshmallows. Yum!

Much to my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed camping. Being in the middle of nowhere, disconnected from the bustle of every day life was incredibly refreshing and it was wonderful to just switch off. I'm also a girl who likes her creature comforts and was lucky enough to find that Swattesfield didn't leave me wanting. All in all, our trip was a lovely way to explore a bit more of the British countryside, spend some quality time together and simply enjoy each other's company (and copious marshmallows, of course!), all without breaking the bank. Maybe I've found my inner woodland nymph after all?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Whitstable: A Day at the Seaside

Today was one of the few days this summer my family has all been in the same place at the same time and so we took the opportunity to hop in the car and visit a bit of the English coast. We ended up at Whitstable, a small seaside town in Kent, famous for its oysters.

The town was delightfully twee, full of independent shops and restaurants such as a wonderful little juice bar. We had a lovely time browsing through the shops before retiring to the town's tiny but famous oyster bar, 'Wheelers'.

The restaurant was amazing! Personally I'm not really into sea food, but even I found something to nibble on. We were seated at the bar overlooking a full counter of fresh fish. You would think this would make it easier to chose what to eat but there was so much choice! Mum eventually went for a number of dishes, including carpaccio tuna, sea bass in a grapefruit salad and of course, half a dozen oysters! My sister and I were initially a touch more reserved, both opting for soft-shell crab tempura, but then were drawn in by the amazing puddings. Lu and I ended up picking identical dishes in the end, opting for an incredible raspberry soufflé with salted caramel ice cream (the best I've tasted) and a mini eton mess.

Wheelers was (unsurprisingly) incredibly popular. The entire time we were eating locals were popping in and out looking to purchase fresh fishy produce, while others were asking for tables and being met with a firm "I'm sorry we're fully booked today" even though it was mid day on a Monday. So if you're planning a visit, you may want to book in advanced. Then again, you may be lucky like us and just manage to squeeze in!

We happily munched our way through piles of food before eventually rolling ourselves out of the door to wander down to the harbour.

We loved looking at all the different boats and the restored 'fishermen's shacks' which lined the sea front. There was even some interesting street art to peruse along the way as well as more wonderful little shops.

Eventually it was time to return to our car. We'd had a brilliant little day trip to a place we'd vowed to return to.