Elfie: My #ARWOMAN

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You may have seen the #ARWOMAN campaign floating around a couple of blogs recently.

It is a movement created by Atterley Road, whose goal it is to get women openly celebrating other woman. As a pretty headstrong feminism loving woman myself (*fistbump*) I am more than happy to take part in celebrating the women in my life who are inspiring leaders, role models and all-round wonderful human beings.

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I’m lucky in that I have lots of strong woman in my life. From my best friend Kirsty who is the wiliest businesswoman I know to my Mum friends Bryony and Amy who all juggle multiple things to be wonderful mothers. My mum, who has gone from open heart surgery to marathon training to my old friend Su who is the most intelligent hardworking solicitor I have ever met and hugely kind to our planet, too. Then there are the multitudes of blog cohorts who inspire me every day – my soul sister Charlotte, viral blogger extraordinaire Alison, beautiful businesswoman Fritha and creative genius Aly. I am so grateful to have these wonderful women surrounding me – life wouldn’t be the same without them.

But when Atterley Road asked me to pick one woman in particular I knew who I wanted to write about.

My very own little Elfie.

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Now, she may not be a woman (yet – though she has the attitude of one) but she is one of the most inspiring people I know.

Elfie did not have an easy time of it when she was born. She was a very poorly baby and was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition at two and a half months old. Looking back it is heartbreaking how close I came to losing her; she was so tiny and so unwell with a disease that took a long time to diagnose.

I call her my special snowflake because that’s what she is. Though it’s impossible to say exactly how many, she is one of around 180 people in the world with her condition – making her a very fascinating specimen to her Consultants and Professors when we visit Great Ormond St.

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She’s always been a fighter. She fought to get well when she was so close to death and in such obvious pain as a baby. She fought to put all the weight back on that she’d lost while she was so ill. She fought with me last week because I gave her crayons instead of colouring pens ;)

Elfie is such a clever little thing and so much of her brains are her own doing. She will happily sit on a Sunday afternoon with her pens and paper, painstakingly spelling out her favourite words (and doing a marvellous job of it too!). Reading is one of her favourite things to do and she’ll spend hours reading to me, her brother, her toy animals… anyone who will listen to her. Her reading and writing skills are more than on-par with those in her year in school, despite her being a young July baby who spent months being ill and then catching up. I’m so proud of her intellect and the work she puts into it – long may that remain.

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Elfie reminds me so much of me. On the outside she is headstrong, independent, feisty and knows her own mind yet she still needs the occasional hug of reassurance, a cuddle and a talk with her mum. She tells me I am her best friend and that when she grows up she wants to be my helper at work :) I always think it’s good to lead by example so I love that she takes an interest in the work I do. Maybe one day she can join the family business of the Internet?

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Poor E gets put through a lot. Blood tests and daily medications, wearing a special medical ID, being that little bit different from her friends. But she takes this in her stride, not once complaining or asking ‘why?’. She knows she is special, I tell her every day, and that I am so proud of the person she is becoming. She inspires me daily with her resilience, with her spirit and with her loving heart. I’d want to be more like her but then I remember that I made her :) And for that I will forever be thankful. Elfie, you’re my very best friend too.

Which strong woman in your life inspires you?

 

Tried and Tested: Scented Candles

scented candles

Scented candles: my new obsession. Or actually a not-so new obsession, as I’ve been burning the scented little lovelies for years and years and years, but an obsession that’s grown as time goes on. Though not this winter, because weirdly there’s something I find a bit odd about burning scented candles at Christmas time.

Bear with me on this one.

For me scented candles mean spring time, floral scents; they’re uplifting with promises of sunshine and daffodils, not cosy days on the sofa under winter blankets. I love them in my lounge, in my bathroom, in my bedroom – every room of the house from Spring (yay!) to Autumn. While I’m working, relaxing, or taking one of those loooong baths that happens once in a blue moon.

Scented candles are one of the best bits of being a grown up. I love them.

Here are my favourites… burn and be merry! Though don’t burn unaccompanied, obviously. Or near curtains. Or children. You know the drill.

scented candles - Diptyque

Diptyque
Arguably the most blogged about candle, Diptyque hails from Paris and creates some of the loveliest room scents you will ever sniff. I adore the Baies and Vanilla varieties, with Baies being their bestseller (I’m not surprised, it’s divine). Light one of these on an evening and you’ll enjoy a scent that will last a couple of days.

Get yourself down to Liberty where you can sniff them all (I often used to retreat to the Diptyque counter after work) or buy online. Maybe not a snip at £40 but they truly are the most elegant and beautiful smelling candles I’ve ever come across.

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Cowshed
I adore pretty much anything the Soho House group touches: Shoreditch House, Soho House, Dean Street Townhouse, Pizza East, Cowshed Spa. Their products are truly not to be sniffed at (please excuse the pun…) and I love how the scent of their products takes me back to their venues.

Their hand wash and hand creme in particular is marvellous with a long lasting calming scent – you’ll always find it atop my bathroom basin. I’m also a fan of their Grumpy Cow uplifting candle (£30). I’m yearning for their amazing food and brand of relaxation just thinking about it…  will someone please take me to Babington House?

(sidenote: please reassure me you also have a Tangle Teezer in each room of your house?)

scented candles

Daylesford
I cooked a brilliant three bird roast one Christmas from Daylesford and have always rated their food, so who’d have thought they do such amazing candles as well? I picked up their Fig Leaf variety for half price with my Ocado shop this week so it was a total bargain, too. The scent may not be as sophisticated as Diptyque but it’s strong and it marks. Top marks, Daylesford.

Have I missed any? Which scented candles do you rate?

 

MTT: Homemade Squash

Homemade squashWhen it comes to what my kids eat and drink I’ve always been a bit of a fanatic. I don’t really understand those who simply see food as fuel for their bodies; for my family it has always been a way to celebrate, get together, enjoy each other and eat something lovely. It’s an occasion and I think is evident in my (and by indoctrination, their ;) love of cooking and restaurants.

Homemade squash Homemade squashBecause of this I’ve always placed an emphasis on the importance of healthy eating with my children. Whether it’s kale, avocado or salmon… they’re pretty good at not being fussy and trying new things and I’m really proud of them for that. Even at the age of almost-five Elfie (and Hux!) has never tried a fizzy drink and is interested only in water or milk. I know some people might think I’m depriving them of the pleasures of fruit juice and squash but having heard nightmares about children as young as four having their rotten teeth pulled out I’m happy with a little bit of healthy deprivation.

They have recently become curious about what other children are drinking however and there was one occasion this supper I caved and let Hux try a Fruit Shoot (he basically went into spasms of joy).

Homemade squash

I’d never considered making our own healthy drinks before so when BRITA got in touch to suggest we had a go at creating one at home I thought it would be a great idea. A chance for me to get in the kitchen with Elfie (she loves it), talk about why we eat the way we do (oh god I’m starting to sound like a cult leader) and teach them why we pick healthy alternatives to some food and drinks. BRITA sent across one of their classic water filters and some recipes for us to base ours on and we got cracking.

I’ve never owned a BRITA filter and was amazed at the difference it made to the taste of our water. It definitely now has less of a chemical taste, it’s softer, much easier to drink and as I think it’s so noticeable as our area is hard water. The filter works by reducing impurities and chloring, resulting in the best possible taste. 
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(They’re standing on a little stool, FYI. Not giant children)

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Raspberry and Blackcurrant Homemade Squash

We decided to go for a berry infusion for our homemade squash, beginning by steeping two fruit teabags (Twinings are my favourite – we used Mango & Strawberry and Cranberry & Raspberry) in 210ml of BRITA water boiled on the hob and taken off the heat. Leave these in for about 15 minutes before removing.

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Then add your berries. We don’t use anything fancy – just 3tbsp of Waitrose’s Frozen Berry Smoothie Mix which I stick in my morning juices – and 1 or 2 tbsp of Maple Syrup (depending on how sweet you like things, I used 1). Simmer for around 10 minutes.

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Strain through a sieve and leave to cool. Discard your berrries or keep to serve with yoghurt or ice cream.

Fill a class about 1/4 full of your squash and top up with BRITA or sparkling water for a bit of fizz – this should serve around 4 people.

Refreshing when cold, warming when hot, yum!

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The homemade squash went down well with these two so we’ll definitely be making it again for a special treat. I loved the fact that I knew exactly what had gone into it – all natural, no nasties – so spent the evening polishing my mum halo.

Eat your heart out, Fruit Shoot.

 

Divorce: What I’ve Learned

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Two years down the line and my divorce is final. It happened last week, the week after I was made redundant and on my last day in the London office. It was a big day for life changes, that Thursday – divorce and redundancy – totes emosh, as the kids say.

Or actually not so totes emosh, really. I’ve known this has been coming for a long time and the only way I can describe how I felt upon being divorced is… weird. It was a totally unceremonious experience; I filled the final form out at home, signed it and drove it to the court on the way to work where it was stamped and put in a pile of other paperwork. Nobody congratulated me, offered me a coffee or asked me to marry them because I now legally can. As this happened so long after our break-up I didn’t really feel sadness, just a sense of finality, I guess.

I did use it as an excuse to have a pizza and wine lunch with one of my favourite soon-to-be-ex work colleagues, though. Every cloud.

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FYI: Pizza Pilgrims on Carnaby Street – disappointing and slightly soggy. Sad times. 

It has had me thinking about the divorce though, and what it has meant to us all. Someone asked me recently if I felt like I tried hard enough in my marriage and that led to more thinking. I can say with my hand on my heart that yes, I did try very hard to make it work. I think in any situation like this when there are children involved you do your very best to do the right thing by them, which mostly is to have two happy parents in love. And it’s because of this that I spent a long time feeling guilty and like I had failed by choosing divorce.

But it took the final stages of my divorce to realised I haven’t failed, not at all. Choosing to get divorced was instead the bravest thing I have ever done.

The Brave Divorce

I ‘had it all’ by many standards: a big house, a husband with his own business, two beautiful children, a car, money in the bank, a David Lloyd membership. But I was very unhappy – we both were, really – and rather than stay together because it was safe and the marriage was easy and familiar we both mutually decided to walk away. Him to London to throw himself into creating a successful business and me to I’m-not-quite-sure-what yet. Children and work, work and children.

I can’t even tell you how terrifying that was. I hadn’t been on my own since I was 18, had never lived alone or had to deal with things like bills, Council Tax and insurance. It might sound a but silly but I was really scared of that independence, managing my budgets, knowing who to pay and when. Looking back I can’t believe that I lacked confidence in what would turn out to be one of my favourite household tasks.

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Divorce doesn’t have to be sad. We worked through most of our issues before splitting up and then got the anger/sadness out of the way in the first six months. I’d say we’re friends now, though he might disagree, being on the receiving end of phonecalls that consist of “OMG IF YOU DON’T STOP FEEDING OUR CHILDREN SO MANY SWEETS THEIR TEETH WILL GET PULLED OUT” (basically, if you aren’t a fan of overreactions then don’t marry me or let me watch Junk Food kids). Looking back it’s incredible to see how different we both are independently compared with how we were as a couple; I know I feel like a much nicer person, less selfish and more hardworking. I am happy, content. And I say that after a night of broken sleep that culminated in me getting toddler poo on my leg (don’t ask).

The worst thing about the divorce has been the paperwork. Reams of it. And all in centuries-old legal speak… colour me confused. I managed the process without a lawyer, having already worked out finances and chidcare arrangements amicably with the ex and it’s been fine. It must have saved us thousands so we only ended up paying the court fees. Told you I was good at finances!

It feels like a door has firmly closed now and I’m excited about that. Rightly or wrongly I still very much believe in marriage and think it can be a wonderful thing. Divorce has been an experience, one I don’t want to repeat, but I don’t regret anything. It brought me Elfie and Hux, after all. But if I could give myself advice ten years ago it would be this: perhaps don’t believe you know everything there is to know about life and love when you get engaged at 19, eh?

 

MTT: Cheesy Toad In The Hole Recipe with Caramelised Onion Gravy

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A Cheesy Toad in the Hole Recipe

I’ve been wondering how to explain the concept of this dish to you.

It’s a tricky one, a dish that may well have you pulling faces and asking me if I’ve gone mad (I haven’t! Not this time!!!). When raving about this dish to a couple of friends they’ve been skeptical, but let me tell you now, buddies: it really is up to the hype.

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This dish was born of a trip to Gillray’s, a lovely steakhouse on the Southbank where I recently enjoyed a lunchtime boozy meatfest with my friend Neva. The pre-starter was not bread or olives as you might expect but the most enormous cheese-filled Yorkshire pudding (see below) served with a horseradish cream. It was genius, most delicious but all the more important it was doable at home without the help of a gastronomy lab. I was totally sold.

Cheesy Yorkshire Pudding at Gillray's

The next week I was at it, plopping my chunks of cheese into the Yorkshire pudding batter. It was good, but I knew there was more to this idea.

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toad in the hole recipe - Sausages in Yorkshire Pudding

Which was when I had my next lightbulb moment. Having been asked by Betfair to create a dish to celebrate a team in the Cricket World Cup (my money’s on England, long live Kate Middleton and all that) I started thinking about my favourite traditional English recipes. One of these has always been Toad in the Hole recipe – total winter comfort food – but having cooked it to death I wanted to try something new.

And so I got to thinking. We spend our Christmases chowing down on all sorts of cheese with caremelised onion chutney: why not plant the cheese in a Yorkshire pud, make a caramalised onion gravy and create a dish that surely would be total cheesy sausagey gravy happiness?

My friends, I was not wrong.

onions frying - toad in the hole recipe Ahh Bisto! toad in the hole recipe

The cheese is popped on the Yorkshire approximately five minutes before it’s finished cooking, meaning it’s delightfully gooey without going brown or crunchy. The sausages (use fat sausages over chipolatas – these will just overcook) are juicy and flavour the batter ever so slightly. The gravy, odd though it seems, when accompanied by the caramelised onions is just amazing and compliments the tangy cheddar.

This is not a recipe for Weightwatchers, that’s for sure. I like to keep my waistline down and mum points up by counting the Yorkshire as the only carb in this meal and bulking the meal up with veg rather than add mashed potato for example (I forced my children to eat, I mean accompanied mine with kale and carrots this evening). I’m not a purist when it comes to the gravy, either. Good old Bisto will do for this – the caramelised onions provide the overriding taste anyway.

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Here’s Elfie and Hux tucking into their Cheesy Toad in the Holes. Elfie cleaned her plate, Hux was semi-interested before he started putting his carrots in his water glass. A success, then. toad in the hole recipe toad in the hole recipe

Apologies that this was not a particularly handsome plate of food to photograph – I really need to work on a) my photography skills and b) not photographing food in the difficult light of dusk. You’ll just have to take my word for the fact this meal will give you one almighty mouth party.

 

5.0 from 2 reviews
Cheesy Toad in the Hole with Caramelised Onion Gravy
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This recipe serves one adult and two children with a couple of sausages left over for midnight snacking: for a family of 4 I'd add two extra sausages and double the Yorkshire Pud ingredients.
Author:
Cuisine: British
Ingredients
  • 6 sausages (or 8, if you're feeding 4)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 150g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml milk
  • 110ml water
  • 1 white onion, halved and finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 250ml gravy, I use Bisto
  • 50g of your favourite cheese, I like mature cheddar.
  • Veg, to serve
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat your oven at 200 degrees C and pop your sausages in to brown. Cook off until golden, around 10 minutes.
  2. While this is happening you can make your Yorkshire pud batter. Weigh the flour into a large bowl and season; make a well in the middle of the flour and crack your egg into it. Using either a hand-held electric whisk or a good old balloon whisk, whisk the egg and slowly start incorporating the flour. Measure out the milk and water (in the same jug is fine) and start adding to the egg/flour mix.
  3. Take the sausages out of your dish and place on a plate. This is where it gets tricky for a couple of minutes and you have to mind the spitting oil so make sure there are no little people underfoot! Add your tbsp veg oil to your dish and pop back in the oven for five minutes to heat up.
  4. Whip the oil out and, working quickly, pop the Yorkshire pud batter in the dish and place the sausages on top. Put the dish back in the oven as quickly as you can, and this will need to cook for around 25 minutes.
  5. Start on your gravy; finely slice your onion and cook on a medium-low heat in1 tbsp of butter. Cook until soft and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Add your sugar and cook for 5 minutes more Meanwhile make up your gravy and add to your caramelised onion mix. Leave on a low heat to keep warm.
  6. Roughly chop your cheese.
  7. When you're 20 minutes in to cooking your Yorkshire pud/sausage mix quickly take it out the oven, sprinkle your cheese on top and cook for 5 minutes more until golden brown and crispy.

I was invited by Betfair to take part in the Cricket World Cup Recipe challenge. Thank-you, Betfair!

Voucherbin: For All Your Maternity Discounts

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