It’s called Eden Hall for a reason

Eden Hall Day Spa, Elston, Newark

A couple of years ago my friend and I decided to enjoy a day out together instead of giving each other Christmas presents. We chose to celebrate in January, to give us something to look forward to in the cold, dark post-Christmas months. And our place of choice? Eden Hall Day Spa. This week we took our annual trip, and had as restorative a time as always, with perhaps the best food so far.

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Eden Hall Day Spa (photo Eden Hall)

Eden Hall is a most beautiful Victorian building not far from Newark. Built in around 1872 as Elston Towers, a mansion house for preacher Robert Middleton, it is the most stunning place to go and spend a relaxing and restful day. Our only criticism is that there are overnight facilities to stay the night. The setting really is lovely – set back from the main road and surrounded by green fields, the building is magnificent to look at. And despite being converted to a top-class spa, it’s retained its original features inside. And one of the best bits? From the moment you enter, you’re cocooned by its warmth; perfect in January!

Our day started at 9am when we were welcomed by friendly staff offering us a cup of cherry tea. Nice, but not as good as the hot chocolate we enjoyed last year! Checking in is super-easy, and I love that the staff are so knowledgeable and kind; they clearly understand that people are a little disoriented and it takes time to slow down and relax.

The Conservatory at Eden Hall
The Conservatory at Eden Hall (photo Eden Hall)

Having changed in the incredibly clean and spacious changing rooms, we chose to have a cup of coffee in the Conservatory – a lovely place to relax, plan your day and enjoy the views over the countryside. There’s also a divine breakfast menu to choose from if you’ve had an early start. On arrival you are allocated a lunch-time slot, times for pre-booked treatments and given a gym class timetable, so it’s well worth spending a few minutes getting your head around all of that, however tempting it might be to immediately flop by the pool and read. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of an exercise class; the schedule indicates each class’s intensity and includes a lot of fun options too, like hula-hooping! I did this class last year and as well as getting me out of breath, it made me laugh so much.

My friend had pre-booked a massage, so whilst she went to be thoroughly pampered, I made my first trip to the gym. I’m training to do a 10km at the moment so took the opportunity to do some intervals on the treadmill. I’m not usually a fan of gyms that aren’t my own, but I loved this one. Wide windows let natural light flood in, the machines were easy to use, and the music great! After that I nipped into a toning class and loved the opportunity to do something different. And the day after, I definitely felt it!

We met up for a pre-lunch swim and relax by the pool. I love that there are very few notices, but those there are remind guests to be mindful of the calm and tranquil atmosphere- ensuring that it’s so easy to switch off and genuinely relax. Sadly the outside area of the pool was closed (well, it was frosty and foggy) but we still enjoyed our swim.
By this time I’d thoroughly worked up an appetite for lunch.

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The SaltWater Vitality Pool at Eden Hall (photo Eden Hall)

The food at Eden Hall is one of its many highlights, and I can’t understand why the team don’t make more of this on their social media and website (although you can view the current menu here). It really is delicious. It’s not often that I find so many options on the menu that I would like, but this is definitely one of them. In addition to an inclusive three course meal, there is an amazing salad and bread bar – with everything from Greek-inspired mezze (think hummous, marinated artichokes and olives), to prawn cocktails, cold meats and fish, beetroot and feta salad, carrot mouli, and all the breads – granary, olive, cheese. You really could just have that and be completely satisfied!

The salad bar at Eden Hall (photo Eden Hall)
The salad bar at Eden Hall (photo Eden Hall)

My friend and I both chose Cajun salmon with pineapple, mango and tomato salsa, then polenta and parmesan served with roasted vegetables and vine tomato. They were absolutely pictures – so artfully served that it almost was a shame to eat them. For pudding, the chocolate brownie with mini meringues and Grand Marnier cream was truffle-like and rich, whilst my baked pineapple with lemon sorbet, honeycomb and caramel sauce was light and refreshing.


The staff are polite and lunch was unrushed – we sat for 1.5 hours before moving into the conservatory for complimentary coffee and tea. After that pretty epic meal there was no way we could swim straight away, so we whiled away a good couple of hours reading. Oh, and if you get hungry later on, you can order all kinds of cakes, treats and gelato to enjoy in the Conservatory. I do think they additional food and drinks are rather expensive, considering the overall cost of the day and any treatments.  But I suppose this is a captive audience, and it is a day of treats.

The spa area has a multitude of areas for relaxing in – including a saunarium, herbal caldarium, thermal spa suite and massage jets. There used to be the most amazing minty steam room which I loved, but it was done away with in a recent refurb. My favourite areas are the tropical rain shower, thalassotherapy room and warm foot bath. I was disappointed that the minty room had gone, and also the refurb has made this space a little too dark for my liking. But, you know, I can live with that! If you can bear to, make the trip outside to have a soak in the hot tub. It is so tranquil with its view over the gardens, and come dusk, the fairy lights are switched on in the surrounding trees to create a magical environment. The slumber room is also a must-visit with its moulded beds, swinging cocoons and cosy fleece blankets.
All too soon, it’s time to leave. Just one day here is nourishing, restful and good for the soul. Book your day now…

Top tips

1. Take a couple of bikinis or swimsuits – putting on a damp bikini if you’ve changed for a class or massage is never pleasant.

2. Pack a water bottle. There are several water dispensers dotted around with plastic cups but it’s easier to remember to drink if you’ve got it with you.

3. A good book or magazine is a must!

4. Be prepared to disengage from the rest of the world for the day. There is no reception in the changing rooms, and using your phone in the pool and slumber areas is very discouraged.

5. Watch out for the sale dates and special offers on the website.

6. Don’t plan too much! The day whizzes by incredibly quickly and it’s meant to be about relaxation.

Stunning salads at Caffe Portico 

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Have you discovered Caffe Portico yet? If not, get there now for Italian inspired cuisine – insulate, pasta, fritatte, pizza and antipasti.
Lincoln’s Steep Hill and High Street has an abundance of coffee and cake shops and the usual high street chains. If you are looking for something completely unique with guaranteed super-fresh food sources from the best producers in Lincolnshire and Italy, then add Caffe Portico to your list.

I love this place. Every time I’ve visited I’ve been astounded by the quality, originality and variety of their menu. So to start with, Caffe Portico is tucked away in The Terrace on Grantham Street – a collection of independent business in a contemporary building behind Lincoln’s high street. Modern, smart and warm, the space buzzes with shoppers, parties and business people. Whilst I was in there, a few people from neighbouring offices popped in for their caffeine fix. One of the walls is dominated by an incredible textured cityscape. I challenge you not to go and touch it.

Caffe Portico’s point of difference? Well, there are many. They have chirpy, friendly staff who are so happy to give you recommendations and make suggestions about what to eat. Secondly, the provenance of their produce is super important to owner Sim Bellandini. Their Italian produce is imported specially and their coffee is a special roast made for them in Malton, North Yorkshire, whilst cakes are handmade just for them by Lisa and Lena. Sim is obviously proud of this, making a point to mention this on the menu.

I love that they are totally flexible too. Want a sandwich or salad that’s not listed? No problem – let the staff know what toppings you’d like and they’ll create something just for you. Or, you could opt for ‘surprise me’ to take the stress out of narrowing down and choosing from the extensive menu (which features delights such as home-pulled pork, wild boar ravioli, and chicken spezzatino with ciabatta).

On our visit their pizza oven, unique to Lincoln in that it’s in a van around the back of the kitchen, was working. Usually it is fired up on Friday evenings only but we were lucky enough that it was serving on that Saturday lunchtime. The pizza had the necessary crispy-thin base which still had some ‘chew’, and tasted divine. Topped with a fragrant, herby tomato sauce and balanced with just the right amount of mozzarella and slightly spicy pepperoni, it was delicious. Sim told me that he has quite a client base of local Italians too who visit just for the pizza – a sign that he is definitely doing something right pizza-wise.

Caffe Portico's wood-fired pizza oven at work
Caffe Portico’s wood-fired pizza oven at work
Wood-fired pizza oven at Caffe Portico, Lincoln
The amazing wood-fired pizza oven at Caffe Portico

For me, the salads definitely have to be the star of the show. As I mentioned, you can pick and choose any ingredients off the menu to top your salad, then the chefs choose a base and dressing to complement your flavours. I went for the waitress’s recommendation of the Roasted Mediterranean and Goat’s Cheese salad, but asked for added mushrooms. I cannot rave about my salad enough – surely at least 8 of my 5 a day?! The base was a mix of green salad leaves, green beans, slices of avocado, cherry tomatoes and peppers, baby sweet corn, celery, lightly-pickled cabbage, red onion and cucumber, with a light dressing of sweet balsamic. All of this was topped off with a generous helping of roasted vegetables – peppers, courgettes, aubergine, mushrooms – and a thick slice of a log of Goats’s Cheese, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and served with a crusty breadstick. (Out of interest, previous salads have included olives, oven-dried tomatoes, carrot, beetroot, eggs, squash and sweet corn). Oh my gosh, I could eat it again right now.

Roasted Mediterranean vegetable and Goat's cheese salad at Caffe Portico
Roasted Mediterranean vegetable and Goat’s cheese salad

Sadly, the main courses were so huge that we couldn’t manage a dessert from the divine-looking selection in the chiller; I think a visit for just coffee and cake is on the cards – the raspberry and vanilla concoction looked amazing! 
Other items on the menu include a selection of antipasti, sharing platters, paninis, sandwiches, soup, quiches, pasta, a special breakfast menu, coffee and more.

So thats it; plan your visit! Oh, and it might be worth reserving your table; we were lucky to grab the last one. It’s a place to linger too, with papers and magazines provided to help you while away a few hours.

Look out for their special music evenings and, of course, their special Friday pizza nights. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook for event information and mouth-watering pictures of their food. Love. 

Pepperoni pizza at Caffe Portico
Pepperoni pizza at Caffe Portico

‘From Alsace to Yorkshire’ – learning to cook at Cooks at Carlton

This week I enjoyed the most inspiring, fun, hands-on day I’ve had in a while. My mother and I travelled over to the magnificent Carlton Towers, near Selby, North Yorkshire for a day of French cookery with Lionel Strub, of The Clarendon Hotel, Hebden. Here, we learnt how to make the most incredible French food that looked amazing and would be easy to replicate back home.


First up, a word about Cooks at Carlton. This cookery school has a very special feel, as it is housed in the former kitchens of the 17th century and absolutely glorious Carlton Towers. The servants quarters were quite literally shut up after the Second World War; the key was turned in the lock and there was no looking back. Carlton Towers was sad, isolated and uninhabited for years, until Lord Gerald Fitzalan Howard returned in 1990 and breathed a new lease of life into the building. His dream was to create a top quality, popular cookery school, and that’s just what has happened. When the quarters were ‘rediscovered’, there were still coals in the grate and the massive rooms were stuffed full of treasures and memories. Rather than sweep all of these aside, however, the rooms are sympathetic to their original use and features. The lovely thing is how passionate the Cooks team are about this too. They genuinely love to talk about the building’s past and this new chapter in its history. I loved how the original China was stored in a pantry cupboard, and how the room where we ate lunch – the Duchess’s Dining Room, was furnished with original pieces. I felt like I’d stepped back in time, and felt completely at home.


On to the course. A day’s learning at Cooks is an experience. On arrival, you draw up to the most beautiful building, then take the servants entrance under the grand stone staircase into a long, echoing stone corridor. You can see where the footsteps of hundreds of cooks, maids and footmen have worn away the flagstones over time. The atmosphere is warm, welcoming and conducive to exploring. After tea, coffee and chat with the other course students in the Housekeeper’s Sitting Room room, the school’s Development Director Elaine Lemm told us about the history of the building and the school. There followed a wonderful tour of the kitchens. Each room in the kitchen is now being used as close as possible to it original purpose; game and butchery classes are held in the game larder, the cool dairy is used for cheese making and pastry, and the Duchess’s Dining Room is used for lunch. Even better, the outbuildings are being out to fantastic use. A micro-brewery has been installed, and there are plans for a vineyard in the former kitchen garden.

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The kitchen at Cooks

Our course was led by Lionel Strub, who moved over to England from Alsace in 1987. A classically trained chef, he is an energetic, enthusiastic and personable teacher. The kitchen at Cooks has been thoughtfully designed to fit in with all of the original features but thoroughly modern and fit for purpose. It holds up to 12 students, but our class had only seven – a comfortable number which allowed us all to get individual attention. At Cooks, all of the equipment, ingredients and recipes are laid out ready to use, so the focus and time are spent on cooking and learning, rather than weighing and prepping.

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Beetroot bread

We started with beetroot bread. I had no idea how easy it would be to make. Forget the ten minutes of kneading – Lionel was happy with two! After smelling the delicious fresh yeast and crumbling it into s mixture of flours and salt, we grated in fresh beetroot – as much or as little as we wished. I wanted to make pink bread, so I added a lot. After a quick knead, it was left to prove whilst we got on with our chicken ballotine. Lionel whipped up a quick, easy Pommes Dauphinoise, then demonstrated how to make the ballotine stuffing. We fried bacon, garlic, shallot, mushroom and seasoning, then mixed this into sausage meat. The tricky part came next. I don’t usually eat or buy chicken thighs so was nervous when we were presented with some large joints of meat. It looked quite a complex procedure, but Lionel showed us twice and then left us to it. Breaking down the process into smaller sections helped, and I was rather pleased when I managed to get the leg joint out and end up with a reasonably neat looking piece of meat. The stuffing went in next, before the whole thing was wrapped up in cling film and popped into a Water bath of stock.  A quick coffee break, and we moved onto shaping the bread. Again, such a quick process! We knocked out all of the air, then shaped into whatever shape we wanted. I went for a plait –  channelling my inner Mary Berry I think.

Time to make our starter. Lionel had bought some home-smoked trout, which he showed us how to prepare into a divine tian with horseradish, cream cheese, seasoning, lemon and chives. Then it was time for a bit of restaurant-standard presentation. Thinly-sliced cucumber, moulded trout pâté, lemon, chive and a sliver of avocado all made this the most beautiful starter I’ve ever made. It was so easy to do, and I learnt a few tricks I’ll be using back home.

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Smoked trout tian with chives, avocado and cucumber

By this time, chicken, potatoes and bread were all done and it was time to eat! The Duchess’s Dining Room table was laid beautifully and we all gathered around to enjoy our cooking. The bread and terrine were a particular favourite, and the Pommes Dauphiniose was delightful. My chicken was good too but I found the stuffing a little heavy. I think I might use more vegetables and add in some soft cheese next time. I love how it was cooked though; the chicken was so moist and tender.

It was great to sit down with the other course students and continue the friendly, social atmosphere of the day.

Rest over, it was back to the kitchen to make the final dish of the day; Tarte aux Pommes. We made a basic shortcrust pastry, enriched with icing sugar, then lined some individual tins in the traditional French manner, crimping the edges so they stood proud of the tin. We then prepared sharp Bramley apples and a quick custard base – simply eggs, cream and sugar. It was refreshing that Lionel was so easygoing about measurements, just going with what he thought right. The filled tarts went straight into the oven, whilst Elaine took us on a tour of the house.

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Tartes aux pommes

It really is magnificent. Everything about it is on an impressive scale, yet it manages to retain a homely, welcoming feel. I loved that we had time to soak up the atmosphere and just enjoy being in the hoise. Rather than being a stately home, this has such a lived in feel, with personal bits and bobs dotted about. I just which we had been allowed to go up the ‘wibbly wobbly staircase’.

Sadly it was time to go home, armed with our recipes, beautiful Tartes aux Pommes and leftover pastry. Thank you Lionel, Elaine and all of the staff at Cooks at Carlton for a wonderful day. I can’t wait to try to out the dishes again at home.

New Year, new Pilates

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So here it is, 2016. And with it, a new challenge. You might remember my blog post about pursuing a happier, healthier lifestyle and I’m so pleased to say that I’ve found something for which I’m passionate and excited. In February, I’m going to be starting an intensive course to become an accredited Pilates teacher, and I can’t wait.

Last May, and again in September, I was lucky enough to enjoy a fantastic week of yoga, Pilates and various other healthy pursuits on the glorious island of Lefkada, Greece. It really inspired me to actually do something about my lifestyle. I admired one teacher in particular, did some research and the result is that I’ve enrolled at Body Control Pilates in London and will start the course in a few weeks’ time.

I’m excited, apprehensive and cannot wait to be learning again. But in the meantime, I’m on a mission to become stronger and more flexible. Wish me luck!

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Time out in Cornwall; top ten things to do in the winter

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Cornwall. Sea, cliffs, cream tea, time away from it all.

Last year I spent a wonderful September week in Cornwall. We were blessed with the most beautiful weather; the temperature hovered at around 25 degrees every day, winds were warm and light, and the sea was calm with waves gently lapping up on the  beaches. When we left, I physically yearned for the landscape and the way of life, so I was delighted to return this November. I firmly believe that if you like a place in November, you’ll like it all year around.

 

Looking out onto the Helford estuary  from Trebah beach, Cornwall
The stunning Helford estuary from Trebah beach
The Helford river from Mawnan Smith
Green fields roll down to the Helford estuary
Cornish sun near the Helford estuary
Enjoying the Cornish sun and wind near Mawnan Smith

Despite having wet, windy weather I loved it. And here are my top ten things to do to pass a short winter day in the Mawnan Smith and Falmouth area.

1. Spend an afternoon at Trebah Garden. These sub-tropical gardens, just 20 minutes’ drive from Falmouth, reach down a sheltered garden to the south coast of Cornwall. November isn’t known for its stunning plants, but even at this time of the year there was plenty to keep my interest. From a forest of gunnera, sheltering under their own cut leaves from the colder weather, to passage-ways of succulent, fresh green bamboo, the walk down to the beach is full of different areas to explore. And the hydrangeas are still in bloom. I loved the zig-zag walk and really wanted to know why the various areas are so whimsically named – Alice’s seat and Petry’s path. If you’re a history enthusiast, you can’t fail to be interested in the garden’s previous owners – ranging from the Donald Healey, racing driver and car designer, the Healey of Austin Healey cars (who built a special road using stone from the beach to build Healey’s Hill – to zip down to the beach on in his car), to Major Tony Hibbert, a prominent hero of Arnhem. And from the beach, American troops embarked for the D-Day landings at Omaha.

Gunnera at Trebah
Gunnera bed down for the winter at Trebah
Helford from Trebah
Waves lap onto Trebah beach
Fuschia at Trebah
A splash of pink fuschia at Trebah

 

2. Sunset-spotting at Porthleven. At this time of year, a visit at around 4pm will offer you the most fantastic sunsets over the harbour. The wind was up, so the waves coming over the harbour wall were spectacular and the strong breeze was refreshing and invigorating. After an energizing  tramp along the sea wall, you can treat yourselves to some word-class food courtesy of Kota (get there early to take advantage of the set menu deal). Oh, and the owners are perhaps the friendliest restaurateurs you could hope to meet.

Sunset at sea. at Porthleven
Sunset out to sea at Porthleven
Stormy seas at sunset at Porthleven
Stormy seas hitting the beach at Porthleven
Coast at Porthleven
Open sea and menacing sky at Porthleven

 

3. Jogging along the south west coast path. Hopping out of bed and pulling on running gear on a cool winter morning may not be at the top of your list, but can you resist an early morning jog along the deserted coastal path to set you up for the day? As well as working up an appetite for Cornwall’s local food, you’ll be able to get unbeatable views across the Helford estuary, spot some late blackberries and sloes and glimpse the beautiful gardens of Glendurgan and Trebah.

Trerose estate, Cornwall
Sunny skies after a morning run

 

Coastal path, Cornwall
Jogging towards the coastal path

 

4. Cream tea at Meudon Hotel. It’s not in many places where your afternoon tea hosts will join you for a chat as you sip tea and eat scones, jam and cream. At the Meudon Hotel, choose to sit in the garden (it’s a sun-trap so even in November a sun-drenched spot is comfortably warm) or on the Deck to enjoy the well-maintained garden which leads down to the sea. The cream comes from the Rodda’s dairies – and the milk comes from the cows in the surrounding fields. Scones are warm and freshly-made, and the waiters are full of local knowledge and happy to tell you all about the history of the massive estates in the area.

Cream tea at Meudon Hotel, Cornwall
The epic cream tea at Meudon Hotel
The garden at Meudon Hotel, Cornwall
The garden at Meudon – beautiful even in November
Rodda's clotted cream
Rodda’s clotted cream – so thick and delicious

5. Wave-dodging at Mullion Cove. It’s windy, wild, and breath-taking. Look one way, and you’ll see a quaint English harbour; look the other, and you’ll see cliffs and rocks emerging from a turbulent sea, waves crashing around them in a violent, awe-inspiring way. Unmissable (but wrap up warm).

Stormy seas at Mullion Cove
Sea crashing at Mullion Cove
Sea at Mullion Cove
Mullion harbour
Mullion harbour
The sound of the waves at Mullion was deafening

 

6. Dawdling around Padstow. It may be small and full of Rick Stein’s restaurants, but Padstow has everything; a well-maintained coastal path for walking, local gift shops and fudge parlours, a working harbour full of trawlers, clothes shopping, the best local tea-room serving Tregothnan tea (the first UK tea produced) AND a cottage called Cwtch Cottage – tr. ‘hug’ cottage.

Padstow harbour
Padstow’s picturesque harbour
Padstow harbour
Colourful boats in Padstow’s working harbour
Seagull in Padstow
Hello Mr Seagull
Cwtch cottage in Padstow, Cornwall
Fancy a cwtch?

 

7. A day in St Ives. Park at Lelant Saltings and you can enjoy the most picturesque train journey in Britain, hugging the southern coastline. In St Ives, take time to explore the RNLI lifeboat station, then take a walk to the other side of town to watch the surfers push their own boundaries and brave the sea.

St Ives
View of St Ives from the train station
Sea at St Ives
Look closely and you can see surfers
RNLI lifeboat at St Ives
The lifeboat ready for launching
Gingerbread biscuits in St Ives
Gingerbread family at St Ives

8. St Michael’s Mount. Exposed, glorious, magnificent. You can just absorb the view from the mainland, or walk across the causeway to explore the tiny town.

9. Sit. And watch the sea rolling in. Spectacular in the winter storms, soothing in calmer weather. It will soothe your soul.

Gentle waves
Calming

10. And finally… fill your tum with some top-quality fish and chips (they do kale too if you ask) in Falmouth then head up onto the cliffs near Mawnan Smith for some star-spotting. In a place so dark, the sky appears deep velvety blue and the stars shine bright.

Logs carved into seats, Trerose
Take a seat and we’ll start the story
Trees at Trerose
The most inspiring tree-scape
Trerose viee
The view to wake up to

 

Slow down for sloe gin

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It’s dark. It’s cold. The clocks have gone back. We have five months of gloomy nights and chilly days ahead. But wait! What’s that dusky blue berry scattered over the hedgerows? It’s the sloe berry. And within its bloomed skin lies the secret to the purple, gloriously rich syrupy nectar otherwise known as sloe gin. Despite its dry, sour, tongue-drying taste, the berry imparts the richest of flavours to acerbic gin. Making your own is the perfect way to while away a sunny autumn afternoon. Knowing that a bottle of sloe gin is hidden away, slowly maturing in time for Christmas drinking, makes Autumn a lot more palatable. Try this, and see if you agree.

Sloe berries
Sloe berries

Ingredients
Fresh sloe berries
50g caster sugar
70 cl good quality gin
1 litre gin bottle

Equipment
Small bottles
Muslim cloth
Ribbon
Brown luggage tags
Silver pen

Method
Get outside and gather an empty icecream tub or two takeaway containers of sloe berries. You’ll find these on wild blackthorn trees.
Carefully rinse the berries and spread out to dry. Prick each berry several times with a clean pin.
Sterilise the empty 1 litre bottles, then half fill with the berries.
Top it up with gin and add the sugar.
Seal tightly and shake well.
Put it in a dark cupboard and shake it well every other day.
After 6 weeks, strain through a muslin cloth.
Sterilise the small gift bottles and decant the gin into them.
Label with the luggage tags and give as gifts.

Social cold turkey: lessons learnt from three weeks without social media

Three weeks. No 3G. No 4G. Limited Wi-Fi. No Facebook. No Twitter. To a digital marketer, used to being connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the prospect of going cold turkey might consume one with fear and panic. A recent tour of China forced me to give up social media for three weeks. And you know what, the time and headspace away from constant social media has given me much needed perspective.

Here are a few things I realized.

1. #Nofilter.
Social media allows us to create an online persona, to self-edit our language, pause before we hit ‘go’, craft our words and images to portray an pre-planned character. With an absence of social media, and complete reliance on the spoken word and body language, I felt more ‘me’. I had to think on my feet to make my point clear, my emotions and needs were more real, I could not retreat into an alternative ‘social me’. In short, I lived. If social media is your job, learn to get a balance.

2. The chance to reconnect face to face.
So often we forget the distance between marketer and audience created by modern technology; the screen which simultaneously connects us with new, larger audiences yet acts as a barrier. A faceless person in front of a screen writes for a faceless audience, crafting content for what we *think* our audience is interested in. But can anything compare with actually talking to people and getting to know them thoroughly? Don’t forget to take time away from the screen, get on the ground and meet the consumer.

2. Time to think.
Noise, noise, noise. There is no escape. With 4G, Wi-Fi on the tube and now Apple Watch, when can we switch off and take some much-needed time to think, to be, to live fully in the moment? With time away from social media and the Internet, we get time to process our thoughts and emotions, returning refreshed and more able to be creative, to work in an inspired and efficient way.

3. Messages become more powerful.
With a return to social comes the need to find out what has appended in one’s absence. Thousands and thousands of tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram posts and WhatsApp and we chat moments. Who has the time or energy to digest three weeks’ worth of data? This is the time to notice what brands leap out, what grabs your attention and what messages you remember. Notice, and apply these nuggets in your next campaign.

4. Better interpersonal relationships.
It’s common now for dinner parties, social gatherings and coffee dates to be accompanied by tablets and devices. Is a person ever completely concentrating on their friends and family anymore? Are they planning to document it on various social channels, and are they listening out for the familiar ping of their phone? With no internet access, I found that I gave my companions the attention they deserved, and that I could appreciate the moment so much more. Surely social media should enhance, not eclipse, an experience.

To sum up, there is a time and a place for social media. Sure, I missed keeping up with my friends, taking part in discussions about current affairs, and easing boredom on long train journeys and sleepless nights. Yet the flip side of the coin is that I was present in the moment, I re-learnt proper face-to-face communication, and realized how much it is possible to create an alternative self on social media. One word – balance.

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Adventure #1 Greece

Vasiliki bay

A summer holiday in Greece with the girls… do these eight words evoke visions of sun, sea, and sisterly escapades? Well, we got all that and much, much more.

When I planned my itinerary for the months after leaving a (more than) full-time job, I’d hoped to round my travels off with a week of relaxation and absorbing the sun’s heat before the cold and dark of an English winter. Practicalities and the commitments of my holiday companions, however, meant that my Lefkada trip came at the beginning of the tour. And in retrospect, what a sensible and serendipitous arrangement this was. Here-forth, let us refer to my Grecian trip as Adventure #1.

Back in May I spent a week on a Healthy Options holiday close to a small town called Vasiliki on the Southern coast of Lefkada. I’d looked at the holiday the year before, but the attitude of the booking staff in England had put me off and I’d taken part in a yoga retreat in Cyprus instead. I digress. The trip in May, the people I met and the experiences I’d had kick-started this massive cycle of change in my life. I’d found the courage (I didn’t recognise it as courage to start with – more an indescribable emotion propelling me to DO SOMETHING as I was no longer content with the status quo) to resign from a good job in London that I’d simultaneously loved and loathed, realised that life is for living, and opened my eyes to a way of life far from the accepted routine. I’d also been incredibly lucky to have made friends with a group of like-minded girls, all with different backgrounds, all with their own goals, all exceedingly strong. Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you vow to meet up or go away together again? Does it ever happen? No? Well it did, and I am so thankful.

Over the summer I’d kept in touch with the girls over email, but various events in all of our lives meant that we all needed a (delete as appropriate) reprieve/healing holiday/escape to look forward to. Suddenly, dreaming about a return to Vasiliki developed into a viable option, and between us we started to discuss dates and prices. Now, we hadn’t seen each other since saying a hurried goodbye at Gatwick airport. But I had no nerves, no doubts about getting together again. Indeed, I was more concerned that Michelle, who I would be room-sharing with to reduce costs, would get fed up with my chatter and company.

So I ended my job with some intense days of work in London, followed by a fantastic day catching up with a university house mate who had given birth to three children in the eight years since we had last met, a finishing-off day working from home, a whistle stop to Lincoln, doctor’s appointments, and visiting a friend locally for courgette-cake baking, chatting, Great British Bake Off watching and staying over. I also squeezed in a walk in the beach and lunch with my mum. This was actually super important to do.

I’m the kind of person who loves looking forward to things. I like to plan, make lists, and find such joy and excitement in this anticipation. I’ve felt so stressed and busy though that I find myself ricocheting between tasks, trips, life. I feel like a hamster in a wheel, unable to stop and take time out in the fear that the wheel will run away without me and I’ll be unable to catch up. Despite the sensible part of my brain saying I needed a couple of plan-free days to enjoy being at home, spending time with my family and sorting myself out, I managed to fill my time with friends, the gym, dashing to and fro. Don’t get me wrong; I love seeing people and keeping busy, but the overactive FOMO part of me squished every thing that had occurred to me into the time available. And this was precisely in opposition to the drive to have some time out from work. Was it habit? Fear of not being busy? A need to convince myself that I am superwoman and can do everything? I don’t know.

Back to Greece. Meeting everyone at the airport felt naturally, easy, as if I was picking up a conversation with friends. Hurrah!

Now, Healthy Options. This holiday is a unique mix of exercise, activity, yoga, Pilates, socialising, self-discovery, time-out, water sports tasters. The company started as Wildwind, specialising in sailing and windsurfing holidays. The bay is renowned for its superb cross-shore winds and the holidays soon became extremely popular. It was soon realised that a lot of the sailors coming here bring their wives and partners with them, who might not be as keen on water-sports as them. Healthy Options was born: to provide a variety of activities on a ‘do as much or as little as you want’ basis during the day, with opportunity to socialise and relax in the evening. At first the holidays were booked up by those linked to Wildwind sailing, but soon they became exceedingly popular with independent individuals looking for an active escape. I loved the range on offer, that I could do whatever I wanted, chill out if I wished, and take part in the sailing activities too. What struck me most was how sociable and group-minded everyone was, and how easy and anxiety-free it was to fall into conversation. Going away by yourself can be daunting, but the inclusion of some optional meals and meetings made it easy to get involved, or not.

Our return to Greece was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. As the accommodation is split between 3 small, family-run hotels, we were delighted that Afrodite and Vicky recognised us when we walked through the Sunwaves hotel doors, as did the Healthy Options and Wildwind staff. Within a matter of hours I could feel my shoulders lowering, my spine lengthening, and my head raising. It’s always hard to return somewhere, so of course I made comparisons. I think though that acknowledging that people and situations would undoubtedly be different helped me to accept changes and enjoy them just as much. Michelle and I were so lucky. We had chosen a basic first floor room but we’re delighted to be upgraded to a room with a balcony and the most beautiful view of the sea. I had to keep looking out to imprint it in my mind, and to enjoy and appreciate how the sea and beach changed throughout the day. First thing in the morning the sea was calm, just a few ripples disturbing its surface. The air felt fresh and clean, and the hotel garden was receiving its daily drink from a network of sprinklers. And on the sea, a few paddle boarders could be seen gently floating along, joggers would beat the heat of the day, and wet-suited swimmers would notch up lengths up and down the bay. The gentle sound of water, the cool air, and the anticipation of an activity and relaxation filled day were the perfect way to wake up. And depending on the atmosphere, the neighbouring islands would show themselves crisp and sharp, just a stone’s throw from the shore, or misty and mysterious, inviting us to discover them with the their layers of blue and grey undulations. Later in the day, the beach would fill with people, the water’s edge was a hive of activity with sailors and surfers preparing for the day ahead, and the smell of fresh bread would drift upwards as the sea darkened and a gentle breeze whipped up its surface. A lull in sailing action at lunchtime created an increase in the number of people strolling along the ‘promenade’ (I use the word loosely but back in May it was part gravel, part stone, part sand, part grass, and walking into town was an intrepid trip of dodging the waves to jump over streams, picking our way through grass and sand, and periodically stopping to empty our shoes and sandals of stones and gravel. What luxury then, to discover a newly-concreted pavement which reduced our regular walks from a game of risk to more sedate stroll). In the afternoon, the wind would suddenly pick up, riggings would jangle in the gusts and windsurfers would whip up and down, seemingly with nerves of steel. Toward evening, groups of people gathered on the terraces by the sea, meeting friends, catching up on the day’s events over a beer or ‘kilo’ of wine whilst the sea smoothed itself out and the hills and bay became bathed in the warm, golden light of sunset.

Enough about the view. Daily life in Vas is a delightful mix of heart-healthy early morning exercise, combined with a gentle programme of yoga and Pilates, soul-soothing stand-up paddle boarding, adrenalin highs from catamaran sailing, joy-riding, cycling and windsurfing, and a wind-down with daily Yoga Nidra, dressing up for the evenings for leisurely dinners and drinks, or the more entertaining barbecue and cocktail nights. Hanging out with the girls was easy. We knew what each other liked, so I was happy and grateful for others to take the lead and make the decisions – ordering drinks and food (our regular orders were pita, tzatziki, taramasalata, squid, fresh fish and probably a bit too much local wine) and deciding where to eat. Perhaps what happens in Vas Stays in Vas. But barbecue night, cocktail night and our final night out gave us all the opportunity to relax, have fun and live in the moment, in a way in which I am unaccustomed back home. It goes to show that all you need is good company, good wine and a place to go.

Nights out were balanced by intense activity. Every day stayed with some kind of cardio boost. Morning runs along the beach and through the olive groves, insanity circuits with Amy, revitalising sessions out in the paddle board on the sea, or challenging bike rides pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do, let me enjoy myself and relax around daily rules and reassured myself with the knowledge that I CAN achieve and do it and feel proud. Getting involved with Swiss ball, body sculpt and Pilates helped me to appreciate my body for what it can do and reconnected body and mind. I’m not the type that can lie by the pool all day relaxing without intense guilt and feeling that I need to earn it. I acknowledge that I’ve described a balance and that I needed to work hard to deserve the chill out time and fun nights out. But I think that even recognising this is a step in the right direction; I don’t need to have slogged to earn downtime. I should be able to allow myself to relax and enjoy the moment without crediting the ‘theoretical bank of activity’.

Here’s to the girls. Michelle – your strength, stableness, clear-sightedness and hilarious sleepwalking made you the perfect roommate. Vicky, when I first met you I was in awe of you and slightly scared. I didn’t feel worthy of your attention! But underneath your chipper exterior you have a wicked sense of humour and so much warmth and kindness. Julie, plain-speaking, no-nonsense and so comfortable in yourself. Your dedication to your job and your ability to be you are inspirational.

I came home from this week feeling balanced, stronger, energised, buoyed up by the weather, fun and people, happier for having made a distinct contrast from the work life immediately preceding it, tired in a good way and in a good frame of mind for Adventure #2: America.

Late summer fruit picking

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A blustery day. Windy, noisy, autumnal. But evocative of a French day in that the wind was warm, the air smelt earthy and natural, and wandering around in shorts and t-shirt at all hours was comfortable.

When the breeze dropped, albeit slightly, we took the chance to drive a couple of miles up the road to our local fruit farm. With such an abundance of fruit; blackberries, blackcurrents, gooseberries, blueberries, blueberries, raspberries, pickings should have been easy. 

However, a sunny Sunday afternoon lent itself to lingering and enjoying the fields and atmosphere.

Yet looking on the raspberry canes, over the fields of wheat and at the tractors harvesting, my appreciation was tinged with sadness. At this time of year, the summer is drawing to a close and the months of promise are almost over. What happened to all those plans of things I intended to do, people I intended to see? I guess life got in the way.

   
  
   

  

The ultimate chocolate polenta cake

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This isn’t meant to be a recipe or baking site (take a look at Elegant Rose Cakes for all things wedding cake related) but I had to share this recipe. Sad though it might sound, it really made my weekend as it was the first time I’ve cooked using polenta and the cake was incredibly delicious. 

The cake itself is a delightful combination of lightness and moistness, with the icing adding a decadent finish. It’s perfect served with tart, fresh raspberries and a blob of sharp natural yoghurt. Enjoy in the sun with a glass of sparkling elderflower cordial.

Chocolate polenta cake

Ingredients

Cake

240g butter

250g caster sugar

30g cocoa powder (100% cocoa is best)

225g ground almonds

120g fine polenta

1tsp baking powder

3 eggs

75ml milk

1tsp almond essence

Icing

100g softened butter

200g icing sugar

30g cocoa powder

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees fan. Grease and line a deep 9 inch square cake tin with a loose base
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Beat in the cocoa powder, baking powder, ground almonds and polenta
  4. Stir in the eggs until thoroughly combined
  5. Fold in the milk and almond essence
  6. Pour into the tin and spread evenly
  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until you can hear no ‘popping’
  8. Leave to cool for ten minutes then turn out onto a rack
  9. Cream the icing sugar, butter and cocoa powder with a tablespoon of boiled water until fluffy
  10. When the cake is completely cold, spread the icing on in swirls
  11. Slice into 12 fingers and serve with fresh raspberries and a spoonful of natural yoghurt