So, it’s time for the final reveal of my office! I’ve hated the home office I’ve worked in ever since we moved in – peach walls, beige carpet, blonde wood bookcases, a bright purple desk (thanks teenage me!), a black fabric office chair… Nothing matched, it was always messy, and we didn’t use the space properly. Plus, I hate carpets and I couldn’t wait to rip everything up and replace it with fresh, clean laminate! (Style note: Charlotte Olympia kitty flats here.)
I recently posted about my office makeover, which felt like a mammoth task – only because it’s also taken place at the same time as a lot of other house decorating and renovation. So far in the past 12 months we’ve built a summer house, had a new boiler installed, had our kitchen redone, and also completely redecorated the office, which doesn’t sound like much… Except, honestly, it’s been pretty hellish.
There’s nothing brighter than a garden full of bright tropical colours to bring out the festive side of summer! Follow the link to my set here to find some of my favourite homeware items for this season!
It’s my favourite time of year again! Time for Ciate’s Mini Mani Month – 24 days of beautiful nails, and a whirlwind ride through all the colours of the rainbow!
First up is Snow Globe, a pretty top coat that’s full of flecks of iridescent silver foil. I couldn’t decide which colour would look best underneath, so I tried a different colour on every nail!
Ciate: Dangerous Affair
Ciate: Power Dressing
OPI: Keeping Suzi at Bay
Ciate: Cupcake Queen
Ciate: Cookies and Creme
OPI: French Quarter for your Thoughts
Which one’s your favourite?! (Many of these are from last year’s calendar – it’s so handy to have all these colours around for times when you want to try a new look or a mani you’ve seen online!)
I’m very pleased to start the month out with a beautiful new Christmassy top coat – I love top coats and I always wish I had more to play with!
This hearty, clean tasting bowl o’goodness is modelled on the sort of food that they feed to sumo wrestlers in Japan – but don’t be put off from trying it for fear of putting on weight. When it comes to food, sumo wrestlers go for quality and quantity – piling on the pounds with vast amounts of really good, healthy food.
Chankonabe is a kind of nabemono, or one pot dish, where all of the diners help themselves from a central, simmering stew. Not only does the tabletop stove the stew sits upon keep the diners warm in winter, but by sharing, friendships and familial ties are strengthened. Because sumos live together in groups in so-called stables, there is an obvious advantage to sharing meals – and although the origins of the word ‘chanko’ are unclear, many think the word comes from ‘chan’, for father and ‘ko’, for child, indicating the strong ties between a stablemaster and his trainees.
The chanko-ban, or chanko cook (that’s you, if you’re following my recipe!) is usually a junior sumo wrestler. There are no rules about what goes in chankonabe – the contents are dictated by the seasons, what’s in the kitchen, and personal taste. But generally, chicken is favoured, and beef and fish could be considered bad luck, as both represent a sumo in defeat (on all fours, or completely legless!).
Is it really chankonabe if it’s not served to or by a sumo? Well, maybe not – but eat it with a warrior spirit! This recipe will serve six adults, so it’s great for an informal dinner with friends.
- Four chicken breasts or thighs, skin-on for authenticity
- 3 litres chicken stock
- 1 large, white potato, peeled
- 1/3 of a daikon radish, peeled
- 2 peeled carrots
- 3-4 heads pak choi (depending on size)
- 2 leeks
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 12 shiitake mushrooms (approx 125g)
- 1 block firm tofu (or packet deep fried tofu)
- Enoki mushrooms
- 125ml soy sauce
- 60ml mirin
- 1 package cooked udon noodles (optional)
- If using fried tofu, place in a colander and blanch with boiling water to remove excess oil. When cutting the vegetables, try to cut them diagonally to make them look nicer.
- Slice the radish, potato and carrot, parboil (submerge into boiling water for around five minutes), then drain and keep to one side.
- Slice the pak choi into chunks. Wash the leeks and slice white parts only. Cut the chicken into 2-inch chunks, keeping the skin on. Prepare the shiitake mushrooms by wiping them with a damp cloth and trimming down the stalks. The enoki mushrooms should be trimmed and separated into smaller bundles.
- Add the chicken stock, chicken, onions, shiitake mushrooms, leek and tofu to a large pan, and bring to the boil. Add your soy sauce and simmer for 15 minutes, or until all the ingredients are cooked. Keep skimming off any scum that might form.
- Add the potato, radish, carrot and pak choi and simmer for five more minutes. Add the mirin and shimeji mushrooms, then simmer for a few more minutes and season to taste with salt.
- Serve in a pot simmering on a tabletop stove, or alternatively, dish into bowls. Seconds are compulsory!
- Once you have had your fill of the chankonabe, remove any remaining ingredients, then add the udon noodles to the soup, simmer for around five minutes, and serve with the broth.
I have a portable, tabletop stove that I like to use for this, but you can serve yourselves from the pot at the table without having heat under it, as it stays warm for a while due to the sheer volume of food inside!
It may seem like a simple dish, but somehow, the finished product is so much greater than the sum of its parts. I made this for my cousin and mum back in 2009, and they still talk about it… Maybe it’s time to make it again!
This evening, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and go for an impromptu picnic at Meon Shore, which is about 20 minutes drive from us. First off we popped by Marks and Spencer to pick up some reduced picnic goodies, then we jumped in the car and headed off!
Taupe Suede Plimsolls, Mint Velvet
For my husband’s 30th birthday, we visited Hawksmoor on Air Street, just off Regents Street. I’d heard this was one of the best places in London for steak, and I was certainly not disappointed.
The real stand out for the whole meal was actually totally unexpected and a real treat – cornflake milkshake!
We totally ordered this by chance but I’m so glad we did – it was delicious and incredibly unique. It was super sweet with a hint of malt to it, and the cornflakes on the top added a great texture.
Plus, gotta love those classic milkshake glasses!
At first, we just ordered one to taste, but when it came I insisted on getting my own!
If there’s a meal worth getting fat for, it would surely include at least one cornflake milkshake…
This was my husband’s starter – Doddington Caesar salad. It’s a bit of a running joke between us as the cheese also sounds a bit like his surname… It was pretty unusual to have cheddar on a Caesar salad, and it wasn’t until I tasted it myself that I appreciated the difference in texture – the waxy feel of cheddar is very different to the drier, textured feel of Parmesan.
I had the Tamworth belly ribs – I did want the potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires, but the waiter told us the chef wasn’t happy with the quality and asked us to select something else. To be honest, they were slightly dry in places, but very rich and great with the red cabbage. As usual, when serving salad and a meat dish to a table seated with a man and a woman, the waiter tried to give me the salad – this always happens when we go out together and perhaps I should take the hint and start ordering lighter options!
We opted for the express menu, which I think is excellent value, but does limit your choice of main course steak cut to just the rib eye. No matter, that’s my favourite! Here’s the piece de resistance:
Two gorgeous rib eyes, two sides of triple cooked chips, and a dish of Stilton hollandaise.
Without doubt, this was the best steak I have ever had. Meaty, beefy, robust – it was everything a steak should be. Tender in all the right places, cooked perfectly as a medium rare. If you ever wondered what aged beef tasted like, or why it was so much better than regular steak, I invite you to go to Hawksmoor and discover it for yourself. Absolutely phenomenal. It totally blew the steak I had at the Hind’s Head last month out of the water.
One aspect in which Hawksmoor couldn’t compete with Heston was on the triple cooked chips front. They certainly looked the part, but there was a suspicious taste about them which made me wonder whether they were yesterday’s batch… Anyone brought up with thrifty parents can recognise the taste of reheated potato, and that’s the taste I was getting from these. Unfortunate if they weren’t just reheated, unfortunate if they were – no win either way! But they were beautifully crunchy and did the job of soaking up the juices well.
The Stilton hollandaise was delicious – but just as with bernaise sauce, I found myself feeling stuffed after a few swipes at it – there’s something about an egg based sauce with steak that sits just on the wrong side of richness for me. Next time I’ll try the bone marrow gravy, but to be honest, I’d literally only eaten this exact same dish at the Hind’s Head two weeks’ before, so I thought I should at least chance the sauce!
I definitely recommend a visit to Hawksmoor Air Street – the express menu is just £23 for two courses, available between 12-18.30 and after 22.00. As a steak-hound, I thought it couldn’t get any better… but I was wrong. The best steak in London (so far!). http://thehawksmoor.com/
On Saturday, some of my friends and I went to The Fat Fig, a Greek restaurant in Southampton. I’d noticed it during a walk to check out a new ice cream parlour called Tooti’s and after researching it online, I found mostly glowing reviews. They offer an option on their menu called the ‘Fat Fig Meze Banquet’, which is decribed as ‘a feast, comprising of all dips, starters, a seafood course, finished with a meat platter’, priced at £18.95 per person. That seemed pretty good to me, so I booked the table and along we went! Inside, the restaurant’s decor is minimal, and the chairs and tables are canteen style – but the food, I assure you, is fantastic. Here’s what we had!
We started with some amazing houmous, tzatziki with fat chunks of cucumber and laced with mint, taramasalata, skorthalia – cold mashed potato with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, olives, and tabouleh – a zesty, juicy salad made of bulgar wheat, tomatoes and parsley, all accompanied by fluffy hot pitta bread.
Following that was haloumi and lounza, a grilled, supersalty cheese with a rubbery texture (actually, incredibly delicious despite it sounding like polystyrene) and griddled pork loin that tasted like smoked ham.
Then we had falafels – these, as I assume, most of the dishes, were homemade – piping hot and crispy with a spicy parsley and onion studded chickpea mash inside, accompanied by what I think was a tahini dip.
Following that came dolmathes and melinzanes together:
The dolmathes were vine leaves stuffed with rice, pork, herbs and spices, and topped with a fresh tomato sauce.
The melinzanes were possibly my favourite part of the meal, fried, smokey aubergine medallions topped with tomatoes, with a soft, rich interior surrounded by a crispy outer skin. I have a weakness for aubergine dishes!
Then came the chicken liver – cooked in onions with lemon and parsley. I did try this, and it was tasty, but unfortunately the smell reminded me too much of the food we gave our dogs when I was a kid, so I squeamishly skipped this one!
That was the starters dealt with, so then we moved onto the fish course. First up was a plate of hot calamari:
Then some fat king prawns covered with garlic butter, olive oil and parsley:
And finally maritha, breaded, deep fried white bait:
I’d never had white bait before, so I tried it out – it was incredibly delicious, although I do admit I removed the heads and scraped out the insides, which is not really proper white bait etiquette!
The second to last course was called Greek Village Salad – a classic Greek salad with the inclusion of iceberg lettuce. I’d never had it with lettuce before, and it had been wilted in the dressing which actually gave it an amazing texture and bags of flavour:
The chunks of Feta were generous, flaky and delicious, as was the dressing and the oregano sprinkled on the top.
The final course was souvlakia, meat skewers:
We had pork, chicken and sheftalies, homemade pork sausage. Honestly, the pork was slightly overcooked, but by this point we were pretty full and past caring!
The entire meal took around an hour and a half to eat, and we enjoyed everything with the exception of the chicken liver. Considering the price of most main courses at the restaurant is £10, our feast was very reasonably priced and I would love to go again some day! I highly recommend this for a special occasion if you’re on a budget and don’t want to go to a super fancy place – it has a sense of celebration and will certainly get you talking over the table!
Visit the Fat Fig’s website here, or call them on 02380 21 21 11. They are located at 5 Bedford Place, Southampton, SO15 2DB.
Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, you can get derailed on a fitness regimen. Even with all the support possible, with the best fitness equipment, a budget for healthy food, and plenty of time for exercise, goals can fall by the wayside. Motivation is a fleeting thing, and willpower is even more elusive. Can you see where I’m going with this? Yes, it’s true… I have been derailed…
Partially, I blame Hush’s ridiculously comfortable harem trousers. I live in them, and they are the most cosy items of clothing I own. I rarely leave the house with them but as I work from home that certainly doesn’t limit my opportunities to wear them. However, they are incredibly forgiving of the woman-slob, and very accommodating to expanding rear ends. It’s entirely possible to go up a dress size and never even realise it when you have these comfortable trousers to hand. That exactly what happened to me after I took a bit of a break from exercise due to work-related stress and a really bad cold. When it was time to reach for those skinny jeans – let’s just say they didn’t fit so well…
I also blame a lack of a real and concrete goal for my fitness – every year I go to Ascot, but this year one of my friends wasn’t sure if she could attend, and of course, I couldn’t go without her. So, I slacked off. Then, when it was confirmed we were going, and I tried on my usual dress size at the shop… It didn’t fit. No way. No how.
It’s obviously stupid to base your self-worth on an arbitrary number in a dress. We’re always told that dress sizes are bigger now than ever. Vanity sizing is rampant and Marilyn Monroe was a size 16 anyway, so what’s the big deal? (She wasn’t…). Of course, psychology is more complex than that, and no matter how stupid and arbitrary the numbers may be, I’m not afraid to say that it had a real, demoralizing effect on me to have gone up a dress size. I hold my hands up and admit it’s ridiculous, that as an intelligent and educated woman I shouldn’t let other people define my self-worth – if I had fit into my usual size I probably wouldn’t have seen a problem, and so on. But still, the fact remains, I was faced with two and a half weeks to Ascot, and a dress that didn’t fit me. Rather than spiraling into self-hatred (again, I am not saying this is a sensible or worthy reaction, I am simply being incredibly honest about my feelings), I decided to put into action probably the most drastic weight-loss plan I’ve ever embarked on, and went for a full-on DIY Boot Camp.
Now, boot camps are everywhere in the UK and beyond, and I must confess, I’ve never been to one. Their results are legendary, and their toughness even more notorious. Hours of exercise coupled with carefully calorie-controlled food is the secret to their success, though, and I was sure I could replicate that at home. However, I am no personal trainer, nor am I a nutritionist, so I’m not going to share with you the minute details of what I did – you shouldn’t take me as the authority on this as I have no qualifications. However, I will let you know generally how I went about losing weight in my DIY boot camp so you can do your own research.
- Take a look at the kinds of exercises offered by boot camps, with emphasis on duration and intensity. Taking a look at the boot camps I investigated, it looked as though 6-8 hours a day was usual. However, this mixed in everything from yoga to circuits and spinning, so there was a variety of exercises on offer, some of them fat burning, some of them more to do with sculpting muscle or relaxation. Gentle cardio and intense circuit training is something I’m familiar with doing, and have had good results from before – and more importantly, I knew I could keep it up, so I decided to opt for this for my own boot camp. A few hours of exercise biking in front of the TV, and a few work out DVDs back to back is the way I decided to replicate this at home. My go-to work out DVDs were ones I considered to be challenging but not advanced, so I stuck to Davina’s Three 30 Minute Work Outs (only cardio-box), Davina’s Super Fit, Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred (only level one), and Jillian’s Extreme Shed and Shred.
- Read up about the kinds of nutrition recommended at boot camps. I already had a head start thanks to my years of dieting and following healthy eating plans. It’s all simple stuff – low carbs, high protein, and lots of fruit and vegetables. I started off with one very low calorie day to kickstart my plan, then kept my intake to 1200-1500 calories a day of good food. In particular, I discovered Nakd bars, which are all-natural, raw food bars packed with fruit and nuts. Frustratingly, no boot camp will tell you how many calories they actually give participants, and given the amount of calories I was burning, I was reluctant to go below 1200.
- Hydrate. You will be sweating a lot. Drink as much as your body wants. Cut back on fizzy drinks, tea and coffee – you don’t have to cut these out, though, but I guarantee you if you do a lot of exercise, it’s water you will crave. I didn’t force myself to drink a lot at any point, but there’s no doubt I drank several liters in a day just by listening to what my body wanted. However, your body doesn’t just require water, but also electrolytes. So look into electrolyte replacement powder, sports drinks, and coconut water. Personally, my favourite way to hydrate naturally is coconut water because of its natural electrolyte content, but don’t forget that this and sports drinks contain calories that you need to count.
- Supplement. Boot camps aren’t a natural state of being for your body, and put an enormous amount of stress on it. You’ll be making huge demands of yourself, so you need to make sure you pay this back. A daily vitamin is always a good idea, but even more important during this time – and I also found out about the amazing anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil capsules by reading Bob Harper’s Jumpstart to Skinny. Although most people will take 1000mg a day if they supplement with this, he recommends 3000mg a day in order to combat muscle soreness. I have to say it really helps. Fish oil tablets also have loads of other great benefits, and they won’t break the bank, either. (Plus, they do great things for your hair!)
- Weigh yourself before, weigh yourself after. Do not weigh yourself during. This is something I can tell you from personal experience could derail you. In the first day on my plan, I lost 3lbs. In the second day, I lost 2lbs. I then regained everything I had lost over the next few days, before coming back to my original total loss of 5lbs. Now, for a week and two day’s worth of dieting and exercise, 5lbs loss is excellent (but not sustainable or necessarily typical). But my original 5lb loss was no doubt due to losing water weight and possibly some muscle, as well as a bit of fat. Regaining that weight over the next few days was demoralizing and painful to see, but it was just part of the process. If you weigh yourself every day during a boot camp, you might decide to give up when the pounds pile back on. But, if you stick to your guns, the weight does come off. It’s just nicer to see the progress at the end rather than that horrible up-down graph during. I am sure this is why boot camps ban scales and only weigh participants at the end of their stay. However, a slight amendment to this is measuring tape – you can use this throughout the process, because those inches will also drop off, and far more reliably than weight does.
- Know when to stop. This is not something that is healthy to do for the long term. Most boot camps last for one week, which seems a reasonable period of time. Think of it as a challenge to complete, not a way of life. Do not do anything without checking with your doctor first. Your body is amazing, so don’t damage it because of vanity. If you find yourself developing an unhealthy obsession with exercising or dieting, you need to seek help immediately. The psychological implications of this could be incredibly bad for your long term health and include disordered eating, or even anorexia. Look after yourself. Don’t follow advice without researching it yourself first – this includes everything I’ve written here. Only you can be responsible for your own health, and you owe it to your body to put the time in to research. If at any point, you feel faint, stop exercising for a while and give your body something good to eat.
So, on my epic weight-loss tour I gave myself two and a half weeks to lose enough weight to fit into my usual dress size. I exercised for hours, passed up roast dinners and doughnuts, and ate a healthy, low calorie diet. I lost 5lbs in total in ten days, and now I fit comfortably into my dress for Ascot, well before my deadline. I will continue to maintain my usual 1200 calorie budget per day and exercise for around 30-60 minutes a day between then and now, but I am amazed at my progress in such a short amount of time, and I feel pretty proud of my achievement. Yes, it may be vain and vacuous, but on the other hand, it has reminded me that weight-loss can be simple and, dare I say it, easy, when you have a clear, concrete goal and no excuses.
Disclaimer: none of this is intended as a regimen for you to follow, it is merely my account of my own personal experiences and should not be used for your own weight loss plan. Consult your doctor before starting any weight-loss plan and please do not consider me to be an authority or expert on weight-loss.
At the weekend, my friends and I went to London for afternoon tea at The Rubens At The Palace!
My friend had bought some vouchers so it ended up costing us £16.50 per person, which was pretty reasonable.
The room we ate in was beautiful, and although our table was pretty low, it made it easier to take photos!
Our sandwiches were delicious – the chicken bun was particularly good, with flaked almonds giving it a great texture. There wasn’t really enough cream to go around on the scones, and the jam was weirdly runny, but to be honest, we enjoyed the scones anyway. They were light inside but slightly crisp on the outside, which was tasty indeed!
The cakes were slightly hit or miss – I had a try of everything except the banoffee cupcake, and some of them were very good, but the layer cake was a tiny bit stale… But, hey – there was plenty of tea! I much preferred the Assam to the English blend they had, which is uncharacteristic. Usually I’m completely the opposite of a tea connoisseur.
The great thing about The Rubens is that it’s so close to Buckingham Palace, so we popped on over when we’d had our fill (and yes, we were stuffed at the end!).
All in all, I wouldn’t pick The Rubens over the other places I’ve been for afternoon tea in London (hey, The Ritz is pretty darn snazzy, y’hear?) but it was lovely to try somewhere new. The voucher price (through Virgin) was decent enough for four people, although the current deal isn’t too much of a saving on their listed price!
(Psst, don’t forget, UK readers can enter my competition to win 12 share bags of Popchips here!)