The granola of unemployment (or how I learned to turn off Netflix)

I’ve now officially finished working at my last job and have spent the last four weeks or so officially not working. Which has been awesome, but I am going slightly insane, what with talking to the cat, binge watching truly terrible series on Netflix (so far four seasons of The Vampire Diaries, which is like a rubbish combination of True Blood and Buffy), hanging out with my folks and being incredibly impressed by the quality of cars in the car park when I pick my niece up from her fancy school.

So, in my downtime from all that hard work, I’m spending a lot of time in my kitchen. My 1970s monstrosity of a kitchen, but a kitchen nonetheless. And as it’s (nearly) Christmas, there’s many an aroma of cinnamon and ginger and cloves emanating from within its orange and beige interior. But baking and eating aforementioned baked goods, doesn’t really promote good heart health when the most exercise you get all day is walking from the fridge to the sofa and back again.

From my earlier post, you’ll see that I’ve been on a bit of a juice binge recently but a girl cannot live on juice alone so I’ve been experimenting with granola and crackers.

First up, granola. On paper, I should hate granola – it’s dried fruit and nuts, neither of which makes me salivate. But turns out, coating them in a mix of honey and butter and baking them with oats, seeds and the merest hint of spices and a sprinkling of dark muscovado and then baking till they’re gooey and crunchy at the same time makes them utterly delicious. And it’s incredibly simple too, you just need to decide what you want to add to the oats and seeds.

I’m using US measurements (sorry) but I couldn’t find a good granola recipe to adapt on a UK site. And besides, it is a little trial and error because everyone likes different flavours or more or less crunch so don’t panic if you’re not happy with how this turns out, just try different variants on cooking time or oven heat.

Base ingredients: 

  • 1/2 stick of butter (this is about 57g in metric measurements)
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 2.5 cups of oats – not the quick cook kind but proper old school oats
  • A selection of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc etc)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar – I used dark muscovado because I like the treacly taste, but use whatever you have apart from icing sugar
  • Pinch of salt (about half a teaspoon but depending on what fruits you use, it could take more)
  • A selection of ground spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, all work well. Add to your taste, I do about two tsps of cinnamon to half a tsp of ginger and a pinch of cloves

Other ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup of nuts – pecans, almonds, brazils, cashews all work well – I find the taste of walnut a little overpowering but that’s just personal preference
  • 3/4 cup of dried fruit – raisins, cranberries, blueberries, apricots (chopped, obviously), pineapple (I’m stopping there before this becomes a long list of fruit that can be dried- that’d be tedious)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (do this instead of the fruit or half the amounts if you’re doing a combination of fruit and chocolate)

Method

  • Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 or equivalent and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper
  • Melt together the butter and honey over a low heat till its all combined and set aside to cool whilst you mix the dry ingredients
  • Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl including whatever nuts you choose – but don’t add the fruit at this stage
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together – using your hands seems to make it easier to get everything evenly distributed
  • Pour in the honey and butter mix and stir till every oat is coated in butter and honey
  • Spoon the mixture into the baking try and press flat
  • Bake for approximately 15-25 minutes, giving the mix a stir half way through

You’re looking for a glorious golden shade on your oats so keep an eye on them to make sure you’re not going from gloriously golden to ‘burnt toast’ – this can happen quite quickly

  • After you’ve removed the tray from the oven at the end of the cooking time, quickly stir in the dried fruit or chocolate chips of your choice and then press flat again
  • Leave to cool in the tray – after it’s cooled, you should have a crunchy toasty tray full of delicious granola – break into bite sized chunks and store in an airtight jar. I’m gifting this with some crackers for Christmas, so have put into small Kilner jars
  • It should keep fresh for a good couple of weeks like this. It’s perfect as a healthy snack, on yoghurt or as a smoothie topping. Or just with milk for breakfast – it’s terribly versatile

Today I’ve made two batches: the first featured almonds, walnuts, cranberries, raisins and the second was cherries, blueberries, pecans and dessicated coconut. I added the coconut at the first stir (halfway through the baking) so it didn’t get tooooo toasted. The second batch I screwed up a little (hell, we all make mistakes, right?) by using the wrong sized cup to measure oats so the mix is a little chewier than I’d like.

Here they are:

granola: ready for gifting Granola: raisins, cranberries, almonds Granola: blueberries, cherries, coconut

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Reasons to be thankful. 1, 2, 3.

I’ve been doing a lot of complaining and bitching and moaning this year. In fairness, it has been a crappy arse of a year.

However, on Sunday, I officially entered the last year of my 30s and for the last month I’ve been on gardening leave, so it’s been a long period of reflection and contemplation. A little like Lizzie in The Walking Dead, I’ve been looking at the flowers (thankfully, I don’t have a Carol in my life though) and I’ve realised I’ve got a bucketload of things to be utterly grateful for. So here they are in no particular order.

  • My family (immediate and extended). They are an utter bunch of weirdos but I wouldn’t change ’em
  • Mr Wino (aka the husband). Slightly less of a weirdo than the above, but still peculiar in his own special and indeed fabulous way
  • Forever buddies/chums/gangs of awesome. Yes, sometimes they drive you insane, yes sometimes they let you down but let’s be honest, you’ve done the same to them. Ultimately these people are your brothers and sisters and whilst they may take a bullet for you, they’re just as likely to laugh at you when you fall over. Perfection
  • Rekindling old friendships and forging new ones
  • Autumn. Living in a world where seasons exist is something to be stupidly grateful for, particularly in Autumn when the skies are blue and the clouds are fluffy and there’s dew on the grass and a nip in the air
  • The Supermoon. This summer’s supermoon was incredible, watching it rise and glide across the skies above my garden was a treat
  • Discovering far flung places. We’re so lucky to live in a time where it’s affordable to jump on a plane and in a few hours, experience something so utterly different to the world we live in and learn from that. Or just to go shopping.
  • The internet. If you can’t jump on a plane, you can still learn about the world at the click of a button or a well worded search. And you can buy clothes and look at pictures of cats/food/clouds/doge or watch videos of animals doing ridiculous things. What else do you need?
  • Books. I’ve had a Kindle for a number of years, but I’ve recently rediscovered the joys of actual physical books. I’m in awe of people who can craft words into beautiful phrases that make your heart sing with joy
  • Being a woman. This is a short list, so I’m not going to go in depth here, but being a woman is fucking awesome for reasons that I’ll explain in a future post. I’m sure you all agree with me anyway
  • Being a woman of colour. As a woman of colour, fast approaching 40 who felt like there was nothing out there that spoke to her as a teen, I’ve been inspired by the likes of The Aerogram and Brown Girl magazine for giving young Asian women today a voice and hopefully helping them realise they’re not alone
  • Having a roof above my head and food to eat. Obviously.
  • My cat. She’s got a number of curious quirks and strange habits due to being abused (we assume) but there’s nothing that makes you feel more loved than when she miaows at you until you feed her. And then ignores you.
  • Being frivolous. Often it’s wise to ignore the voices in your head that tell you that a beanie with a veil is utterly nonsense. If it’s going to make you happy and you’re not going to starve yourself for a month to afford it, buy it. We all deserve a treat now and again.

I’m sure there’s more but I’m leaving it there for now for fear of becoming one of those list people who can only write in bullet-ed form. Which is a distinct possibility.

What are you grateful for? Let’s fill this page with joy and wondrousness. And until then, here are some pictures of my ridiculous cat. It is the internet, after all.

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Getting juiced

I’ve never been that good at being healthy. I’ve never found an exercise routine that keeps me motivated and I’ve never been good at eating in moderation. And I’ve got a sweet tooth that would have been delighted if Marie-Antoinette had told me to just eat cake. Bring. It. On.

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been on gardening leave. That’s another story that can only be told five months from now. Prior to that though, I’d think nothing of having a croissant at 9am or a large packet of Minstrels to myself in the afternoon after a gigantic baguette and a packet of cheesy Wotsits for lunch.

However, being on gardening leave has made me realise that my life is far too sedentary to maintain this sort of diet and that I really need to focus on what I’m putting into my body unless I want to buy a forklift truck to move me from sofa to fridge in the future.

I’ve just entered the last year of my 30s which has been a particularly indulgent decade and I’m keenly aware that if I don’t start making some changes now, getting older is not going to be a fun process – and after the year I’ve had, I’m desperate to bring the fun back.

Inspired by a green smoothie a friend made for me when I visited a few weeks ago, I’ve been spending the last few weeks getting healthily juiced. I haven’t completely cut out all the sugars and any Instagram followers will know that I’ve eaten a heck of a lot of cake recently (birthdays innit) but a daily juice or smoothie has helped me feel much more energised and able to take on the world.

Below are a few of my favourite recipes which are easy enough to replicate. I find it peculiar writing ‘recipes’ there as there’s no specific amounts of each – ‘a handful’ or ‘a few’ is about as detailed as it gets. To be honest, don’t really think any of these are particularly mind-blowing, they’re just good to try if you, like me, feel you need to stop eating crap and care about what’s going in to your body.

Pear, kiwi, plum and ginger juice. Recipe exactly as the name. Really simple but utterly delicious and if you do them in the juicer in an order, you end up with a pretty rainbow as per below. Admittedly, slightly sludgy in colour after you stir and pour.

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Cantaloupe melon, celery and ginger. 

I love celery, I like its weird alkaline flavour and slight tang. It’s the perfect foil to a melon that may or may not have been much too ripe because it had been forgotten about in the fruit bowl. Coupled with the ginger, it took away the sweetness and made for a much nicer drink. I used three sticks of celery for a whole melon but use to your own taste.

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Strawberry, banana, raspberry smoothie. 

This was my first smoothie, made from fruit that was about to go off with a dollop of yoghurt added for bulk. And it was possibly my favourite so far. I usually only like bananas as actual bananas (for example, I hate banoffee pie) but they work so well in smoothies and means you don’t have to add honey for sweetness.

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Today’s smoothie, that I’ve yet to make, will include kale, ginger and I’m not sure what else yet. I’m hoping to find inspiration from the gorgeous Leon smoothie recipe book that I got as a birthday present, but would love to hear what you shove in the blender of a morning!

 

 

Struggling with being age appropriate

I’ve been struggling for a couple of years with being age appropriate, particularly as next year sees a ‘life begins at…’ age hitting (which is weird, as I still feel like I’m 24 most of the time). Whilst I love seeing amazing women in amazing outfits at any age and wearing what makes them happy regardless of what the media says they should wear, I’ve taken a bit of  confidence knocking in the last few years and this has very much been reflected in the kinds of clothes I wear.

In the past, I loved dressing up and finding and creating unusual outfits. This post was in part inspired by a denim skirt I made once that I recently remembered. It was made by unpicking the inner seams of a pair of old jeans, resewing them up the front and then I created a bustle/train thing out of some old fabric I found lying around. I loved that skirt, it was terribly sewn, the fabric was rainbow striped fake silk (it was the 90s, don’t judge me), I’d wear it out clubbing and the train would be grubby with sweat and spilled drinks (and I don’t like to think of what else), but I loved it. Similarly, I had a dress from a charity shop (back in the day that charity shops had actual vintage finds) from the 1960s, a purple shift with a golden embroidered bib that I’d wear with Converse or DMs to lectures, the pub and anywhere else my world would take me. And there was the period of patchwork skirts, crochet tops and rubbish dreadlocks too, that I’d rather not revisit.

However, in the last couple of years, it’s rare you find me in anything other than jersey or denim or knitwear and usually quite muted. And rarely in pattern. And whilst I’m probably not going to go back to my early 90s hippy revival (goddamn you Glasto), I think what I need to do is start being braver with colour and bring that joy back into dressing that has been a little lacking.

So here are my favourite picks of this season’s high street and online- and I promise, I’ll keep off the shades of grey and black.

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This is firmly out of my price range but I love the bright and muted tones mixed in the faux fur, would be a lovely occasional winter wear.

I’ve always loved Irregular Choice shoes – the heels are wearable, the shoes are striking and fun. This season, I’m really liking its new range of slip ons – these ones in particular.

irregular choice

Big fan of a bright coat and this one from ASOS is affordable and orange – two of my favourite things.

orange asos coat

 

This skirt is perfect for the party season (or every day – with a black jumper. Sorry). And you can’t go wrong with shiny things.

asos metallic skirt

Deliciously slutty brownies

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I work in Camden (you can read my Camden musings here) and right across the road from my office is a fantastic creative space called The Camden Collective that hosts pop up stalls from up and coming designers and foodies. It was my favourite place for presents last Christmas – I’d say at least 30% of Mr Bon Bon’s presents came from there. And I’ve recently treated myself to a lovely bracelet and earrings and all sorts of other accoutrements. Basically, I love it.

I may have mentioned earlier, I fancy myself a relatively OK baker – I once had a pop up bakery with some friends (awesome fun, bloody hard work) and the main thing I learned through that was it’s so much better to make a bloody good cake than it is to bake a crap cake and cover it with glitzy icing. I’m sure I’ll write again about my particular hatred for cupcakes but I hate cupcakes. Hate the icing to cake ratio. Hate the cutesy girliness of it all. Hate that it turns grown women into jibbering wrecks. It’s a cake for crying out loud, it lasts minutes and shouldn’t cost a fiver. In fact, Sophie Heawood said it best right here.

So, last Christmas, when popping by Camden Collective for an amazing Black Sheep coffee, I happened across Dub Plates Kitchen and her fabulous slutty brownies. In a nutshell, she’d taken a brownie and made it incredible with toppings and a pie base. I have dreamed about this brownie and so, a couple of weeks ago, with #CakeFriday at work and my niece and nephew staying for the weekend, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try my own version of slutty brownies. Rather than a pie crust base (mostly because I’m hugely lazy and couldn’t be bothered to), I decided to make a biscuit base (like on a cheesecake) and used all sorts of stuff that I had in my cupboard as the toppings. And I made them in muffin cases, because I thought that’d help them bake more evenly, not because I had any cupcake desires. Have I mentioned how much I hate cupcakes?

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The basic brownie recipe was inspired by one for chilli chocolate brownies, on the beautiful Del Sole blog. I didn’t chilli them this time though. Recipe below, with some pictures. If you make them, I’d love to see how they turned out.

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Slutty Brownies – makes 15-20 muffin sized brownies

For the base:

8 x digestive biscuits
5 x ginger nuts
50g butter melted

For the brownies

200g unsalted butter
450g dark chocolate
150g strong flour
6 large eggs
400g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Toppings:

Whatever you like really – I used mini-marshmallows, Smarties (although the colour ran so maybe try M&Ms), Maltesers, salted pretzels and honeycomb but if you like nuts and chocolates, peanuts or walnuts could work well. Next time I’m going to try wasabi peas, I think that’d be a rare treat.

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Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees and line a muffin tray with cases

Crush the digestive biscuits and ginger nuts to crumbs. Mix in to the 50g melted butter and spoon a couple of spoonfuls into each muffin case. Set aside to cool.

In a pan on low heat melt the butter. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir the chocolate until fully melted. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl combine eggs, sugar, salt and spices and mix with a electrical whisk for 5 minutes or until the mixture falls from the whisk in ribbons.

Fold in the melted cool chocolate into the egg mixture. Do so gently to avoid deflating the air in the mixture.

Sift the flour in the mixture and fold in with the spatula.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases – 2-3 tablespoons per case as it will rise a little. Grab a handful of whatever toppings you’re going for and throw them onto the top – the thing with slutty brownies is that they don’t have to look perfect, they just need to taste delicious.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes until the top of the brownie is a little cracked.

Troubleshooting

If you go with the loaf option, turn the heat of the oven down – I didn’t and ended up burning the top whilst the middle was a little undercooked

Smarties lose their colour in the heat – maybe try M&Ms

If you don’t like toasty marshmallows, then add them onto the top halfway through the cooking time

 

Wilderness 2014

Last weekend, we hit the road to get our glamping on at Wilderness Festival.

We’d agreed that given my less than outdoorsy nature, we’d go for the boutique camping experience, despite the faintly ridiculous cost (we could probably have done a week somewhere exotic and luxurious for the same price…) But it was quite something, turning up to Charlbury on a sunny Thursday afternoon and being greeted by rows of yurts, tipis, wigwams, Airstreams and Touregs – as the husband said, it was like being in the Hobbit shires. Complete with free copies of the Times, The Telegraph and HuffPo water bottles obviously.

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Nestled in amongst ancient oak trees and set back from the main festival ground, our yurt was at the far end of the boutique camping ground so noise from the main site didn’t travel to our tent. People in the yurt next door singing The Thong Song at 4am though, we could definitely hear that.

My festival highlights were definitely Arcola Theatre presents Boy on the Wilderness Stage on Friday lunchtime – a beautiful, moving dance performance to commemorate WW1 which made me cry like a baby at the futility of war. Despite the rain, Metronomy on the main stage on the Friday night were amazing but possibly even better was the mad dash to escape the rain into the Secret Forum, where we watched Future Shorts – nothing like a Tibetan movie about a photographer to make you realise how lovely and random and peculiar the Wilderness experience is. The mobile disco we stumbled across on the Saturday night, which was 8sq foot of joy that danced around the fields between Hix and the bandstand brought a smile to all our faces.  And the food – the food was spectacular, from breakfasts by the Breakfast club to dinners from Moro. We didn’t book any banquets, but we’ll definitely do that for next year, the food looked incredible.

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As always, some lowlights and mostly around the cost vs benefit of boutique camping. The event organiser in me couldn’t quite work out why checking in to our yurt, with only four people checking in ahead of us, took around 1.5 hours, particularly when there were a lot of staff just hanging around… Similarly, having spent £300 on tickets + double that on the yurt, we expected a little more than a futon mattress, a duvet and a side table. Just a couple more little touches (camping chairs, lamps) would have made the experience infinitely better.

The Breakfast Club, which is without a doubt one of my favourite places in London, couldn’t make the festival service work – at one point on a Saturday morning, the queue for boutique breakfasts was about 10 people long, yet wait time was 2 hours. For a bacon sandwich. Not ideal for a group of hungover campers. And the fact that the boutique bar closed before the main festival site did – would have been nice to be able to grab a drink for the tent on the way back.

However, having said all that, we’ll definitely go back again – it’s one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever been too, the foodie in me had a lot of jealousy at those better organised who had booked banquets and feasts. Bring on Wilderness 2015.

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A year goes by…

And what a year it’s been. 2014 has not been kind to me or those I love- family lost through evil illnesses, friends lost because it became too much for them to keep on keeping on, limbs lost in road accidents (not mine), relationships feeling on the edge of brokenness but trying SO HARD to be fixed. All in all, I (rather dramatically) feel I’ve lost the very essence of me, this year has been throwing bricks at me to see which one would send me collapsing into rubble.

So I’m taking a break and taking some time to fix myself and stop all the emotions in the world living in my throat, just waiting to break free at any moment in time.

Rather than making this a big ole ‘poor me’ post, I’m writing this to say that over the next few months, I’m going to make a concerted effort to write more here – but not about misery and woe, mostly about food and drink and drinking and eating.

Watch this space. I’m bringing the joy back and it’s starting with writing. Hopefully.

Story telling, bad dancing, much eating.