Friday, 29 May 2015


Friday again. The weekend is almost here. PAAARTTTTYYYYY. I'm off out tonight after a busy couple of days in London and another London trip tomorrow to see my good pal Mike for brunch and *fingers crossed* a picnic! Sunday brings a day of sorting, packing, homeware shopping and a potential walk, depending on the weather!

It's been a weird week. These bank holidays, although nice, put me totally out of sync and I've had no idea what day it is! It's been a week of planning the move, overspending and catching up at work. So, I'll keep this short...

Here's this week's Five For Friday:

1) MOVING EXCITEMENT - I move a week tomorrow and I really can't wait. I've got a lot of new things for my room as well as the luxury of being able to have loads of my kitchen stuff back with me. It'll be so nice to live in a house that I love with somebody that I'm close friends with. YAY!

2) HOMEWARE SHOPPING - Similarly to above, EXCITEMENT ABOUT HOMEWARE. I've always loved homeware but now I'm borderline obsessed with homeware. Who knew there were so many things I want/need/MUST HAVE. I've gone a bit nuts, bought a few things that are probably unnecessary but equally got some necessary things (AND some BEEEEAUTIFUL prints for my room and the living room!) All the excitement!!!

3) COSY NIGHTS - I've really been enjoying recent company and cosy nights in. It's nice to chill out in between busy working days. I've been watching a few new TV shows I've been introduced to and a couple of new films as well. This does mean I've been overdoing it with my favourite Lindt dark chocolate with a hint of sea salt though! Eek!

4) DE-CLUTTERING - FINALLY! This has been long overdue but I finally managed to have a big clear out on Monday and fill at least 3 big bin liners for the charity shop. I'm a hoarder of things I 'might need in the future so y'know, I should really keep hold of it...'. This time I was cut throat. And I need to continue this as this de-cluttering only took place at my parents house. I still have a little bit of clutter I can get rid of at my house too! To be continued...

5) A REALLY LOVELY TRIP TO SHEFFIELD - Won't bore you with the Sheffield love BUT I nipped over to see my best pal Emily over the bank holiday weekend. We went out for a lovely dinner at Thyme Cafe in Broomhill and decided on a few drinks at The Picturehouse on Abbeydale Road. The night ended up being more exciting than we'd planned as we headed to my fave, The Gatsby. I was SO happy to have unexpectedly arrived there and had a great night. The following morning we ventured to Tamper (near Hallam City Campus) for breakfast and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I always have the best time with Ems and this spontaneous trip was one of my faves since leaving the city that stole my heart all those years ago.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend my lovely readers!


Thursday, 28 May 2015

LIFE: 25 Before 25

Having recently turned 24, well that fills me with absolute dread. The time that has passed between turning 21 and 24 seems to have gone by at lightening speed. Next year I'm 25. Oh. My. Lord. No offence to those 25+ but that makes me feel old. I still feel like I'm 18 (in body, not in mind - I'm definitely an old soul!)

With this horrifying truth in mind, it got me's time for another list. It's no secret I love a list. Love, love, love. Nothing satisfies me more than making a list, crossing things off (maybe even adding things I've already done JUST to cross them off, y'know, achievements!) At the start of 2015 I created my 15 for '15. So far I've completed (or almost) 6 of 15 - moving to a place of my own, planning a Morocco trip for later in the year, planning my next tattoo for later in the year, paying off most of my debt, more blogger meet ups and condensing my belongings - which I'd say isn't great going as we near month six of 2015, but still, better than nothing! A couple of definitely unachievable this year too. I've also got my bucket list, the big'un, the one that needs amending and attending too ASAP.

With all these lists in mind, things to complete by the end of the year, things to complete 'one day' and less than 12 months until I'm 25 (*shudder*) - it's time for A NEW LIST. 25 before 25 - it does what it says on the tin - 25 things to tick off before I'm 25. It can't really be things from my main bucket list because a) money b) time c) work commitments. It's realistic/kinda-realistic/maybe a chance things and a few things to strive for. So enough rambling, here we go...

1) ACTUALLY GET TO BLOODY MOROCCO - One of my closest chums (follow her and her boyfriend on their incredible travels around the world) will laugh/roll her eyes if she reads this. I have been banging on and on and on about going to Morocco since we were 16. I am SO desperate to go. I'm going to make it there, even if it's for a long weekend, before I'm 25.

2) A TOUR OF THE STRIP IN VEGAS - This is probably a bit of a cheat as I'm going to Vegas in August for a week for work BUT I only technically have a day to do anything. I plan to sunbathe, HARD. But I also want to check out the Venetian and the other cool hotels there.

3) THE SIGHTS OF NEW YORK - Another cheat as I'll be there for work in both September and February. I'm thinking February might be bad weather-wise and I've already got a few days extra there in September so I'm wanting to get to the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, The Empire State Building, Central Park, Upper East Side (xoxo Gossip Girl), Grand Central station and a bloody good Jewish Deli for some Pastrami on Rye. 

4) RUN A 5K - Whether it's a colour run, one of those obstacle things, a 5k twice round a park...I want to achieve it. I'm not great at running but it's a skill I'd like to possess even if it takes me an hour to run that far.

5) COMPLETE THE GAME OF THRONES BOOKS - A huge achievement if I manage it as they're CHUNKY. I tried to read the first one while I was travelling but kept stopping and starting. I'd love to be able to read the original story and not the alterations/different tone set by the TV series. 

6) GET THE NEXT TATTOO I'VE GOT PLANNED - I'm extending the tattoo on my ribs, know what I want, have spoken to the girl I get my tattoos done with over here and I am hoping it'll be done in the Autumn.

7) SWAP MY CAR - I've always been lucky enough to get my cars second hand from my Grandma, meaning next to no mileage, good cars. Before my next birthday I want to swap for the new Mini Cooper S or the new shape VW Polo. It feels like a big commitment getting a new car on finance but I feel like my job is now stable enough to do so.

8) GIVE BLOOD AGAIN - Because I tend to get a new tattoo at least every 6 months, I have only ever given blood twice (you have to wait six months after a tattoo to be able to give blood again). As it's now been six months+ since my last and at least another 4 or 5 until my next, I want to give blood in that time frame.

9) HELICOPTER RIDE OVER THE GRAND CANYON - As I'll hopefully have two Vegas trips between now and 25, I'm hoping that my next trip (probably in February) I'll have a few extra days to be able to get to see the sights and most definitely the Grand Canyon. But properly - in a helicopter. It fills me with so much excitement just thinking about it eek!

10) REPLACE OLD HOMEWARE (THAT'LL 'JUST DO FOR NOW') WITH NEW THINGS (THAT I LOVE) - As I'm moving soon, a lot of the things I have are either stuff from uni or from my room at my parents house. I love the majority of things from home but, over the years, things have been bought for me or I've just made do with cheaper alternatives. Now I'm working full time and will be living in a beautiful house, I want to make sure the things in my bedroom and other rooms of the house are things I love, not just tolerate. I've already started getting some beautiful prints, got a dreeeeamy bed and am slowly but surely getting bits and bobs sorted. BUT I want to love everything, if that's not asking too much.

11) SEE MORE OF ITALY - This year I'm already going to Lake Garda, Florence, Pisa and Milan. I'll be doing a Garda and Milan trip again at the beginning of next year (all work) but off the back of these trips, I want to see more of Italy. I can get from Milan to Florence on the train in just under two hours so what's stopping me? I'd love to go to Rome, Venice and/or Sicily.

12) DO SOMETHING MORE ADVENTUROUS WITH MY HAIR - I've always been a brunette. I branched out for 12 months or so and had blondish dip dye and absolutely loved it BUT I was told it looked better all one colour, and of course, I listened. I want to do something different. I don't want to just play it safe. Of course, I suit dark hair - I have dark features, so it makes sense but I want to just do something cool once so I can say to myself 'yeah, I went there' and if it doesn't suit me, at least I know.

13) EAT AT MY TOP 10 RESTAURANTS TO VISIT IN LONDON LIST - I'm going to blog this soon, but I have a list (/numerous lists) of places I want to eat at, not just in London but across the globe. I think London top 10 could be doable considering I'm there a fair bit for work.

14) UP MY FILM KNOWLEDGE - I only really think to watch new films if somebody suggests  putting one on. If I ever watch a film alone, it's usually one I've already see a million times (something girly usually, or Grease, Chicago or Hairspray, I love a musical). I really do feel like I need to watch more films - whether it's new releases or classics, I need to up my game.

15) EXPERIMENT EVEN MORE WITH FOOD - As this blog will probably demonstrate (or more likely, my Instagram will) I love food, I love to eat, I love to cook. This last year I've got more and more into healthier cooking but I still love my original favourites - Mexican and Tapas. I want to branch out more with cooking, making little tapas feasts or just generally experimenting with more authentic styles of cooking. I will still be an advocate of avocados, courgetti and anything sweet potato but I also want to do a little more with different cuisines.

16) BE REALLY ESTABLISHED WITHIN MY CURRENT JOB ROLE - This may sound a little overambitious but I've already come so far in the short time I've worked for my company. I'm hoping by April next year that I'm fully trained for the role and doing really well within it. I know this job could get me really far within the industry so I want to give it my all.

17) ATTEND A YOGA AND MEDITATION RETREAT - I love yoga, reaaally, really love yoga. I've also got into meditation since the beginning of the year. I'd love to combine the two and head off to a retreat for a long weekend/a week. I'd ideally like it in somewhere like Bali but I've also heard about a really good one in Glastonbury that's not too pricey considering it's for the weekend with food/accommodation included. It's a raw food weekend too, so right up my street!

18) LIVE WITHIN MY MEANS - Don't we all wish for this? But I'm pretty terrible. I'm a frivolous spender and having a credit card makes me even worse. I haven't got myself into any big messes yet *touches wood* but I need to stop thinking oooooh that's a nice dress, ohhhh I really need that hanging plant pot, OH LOOK a cushion with a sausage dog on. I love to travel, I love to eat out - these are more important things that things I may not get instantly excited over in 6 months time. I'm terrible for spending at least half of my monthly wages within a week or so of getting paid. STOP IT NATASHA. Aim: be better at the whole money thing.

19) USE MY FREE TIME PRODUCTIVELY - Because I'm so busy a lot of the time - be it for work, work trips, social life, family time etc - when I do have some time to myself I tend to like to do absolutely nothing (ie. watch Netflix in my pants, eating nut butter from the jar and snoozing). I need to find that balance. I need to spend my free time doing yoga, reading a book or going for a walk and my make sure my busy times aren't overlapping as much as possible so I'm not spreading myself too thinly and burning out - something I've done a couple of times in the last 12 months. 

20) SEE ANOTHER MUSICAL AND/OR CIRQUE DU SOLEIL AGAIN - I love musicals and I love Cirque Du Soleil. My parents and grandparents are big theatre fans so over the years I've seen a crazy amount of musicals and plays, something I always have and always will enjoy.   Cirque Du Soleil is obviously slightly (a lot) different but still something I really love. I've seen it live, once, but on TV many times. I would love to get to a show or two before I'm 25.

21) GO TO A THEME PARK - Rollercoasters are something I used to hate as a child but as an adult, I can't get enough of. My parents took me to Florida for my 20th and it was the best holiday ever. I'd had a pretty rough 12 months prior to that and it was exactly what I needed - the rollercoasters left me feel exhilarated and I absolutely love that feeling. Alton Towers isn't far from my parents house or my house so it's definitely on the cards, hopefully during the summer.

22) VISIT A PSYCHIC/HAVE MY PALM READ - This might sound like an odd one but I had my palm read while I was in New Zealand and the lady was absolutely spot on with the things she said. I told her nothing about me but she just knew (I was really hungover but it totally made sense to me). I'd love to go to another psychic/palm reader to see if it's a similar discussion and what more I could find out.

23) STOP WORRYING SO MUCH ABOUT 'BEING SKINNY' AND START APPRECIATING MY BODY - I've always had a self-confidence issue when it comes to my appearance and I'm sure this isn't uncommon among many ladies out there (and a lot of guys too!) but lets face it, we ALL have something we don't like about ourselves. I have fat knees, chubby cheeks and a big head but I also have curves, a smallish waist and narrow shoulders (which I kinda like). I have spent a lot of time over the years beating myself up over not being skinny enough, toned enough, pretty enough. Sometimes you have to realise, you need to accept what you've been given and learn to love it. Because what's the point in comparing ourselves to all of those cover girls that have been airbrushed to shit - made to look thinner, stretch marks/cellulite removed (WE ALL HAVE IT, STOP LYING TO US!!!). I'm slowly (very, very slowly) beginning to realise that, although it could be better, I've not been completely slapped by the ugly stick.

24) GIVE BACK A LITTLE - Mostly to my parents and my grandma. They've helped me SO MUCH financially and mentally over the years and I can't quite get over to them how much I appreciate it. I want to try to give back - be it a little money each month or a treat every now and them as a thanks and as an 'this is for all those times I've needed a hand'.

25) KEEP BEING 'A YES WOMAN' - This is something I decided on in 2013 as I felt like I was always reluctant to embrace new things and be spontaneous. 2 years on, I feel like I'm becoming more and more of a yes woman and whether it's just coincidence, luck or the result of this mentality but it seems to be paying off. I've said yes to A LOT of things already this year - travels, foods, experiences, a possible relationship - and things seem to be working out. I want to keep this up. I want to be the yes woman that gets these 25 things achieved before I'm half way to 50!

So that's it, my 25 things to achieve before I'm 25. Doable? I hope so, but if not, it'll be a lot of fun trying!


Friday, 22 May 2015


For once I actually feel like this week has really dragged. I've felt a bit unmotivated and found myself gazing out of the window, researching places to travel to or wanting to eat most things in sight. I'm wondering whether it's the mix of cold, grey weather then bright sunshine and warmer days. I'm not sure my body knows whether it's coming or going. I recently wrote a little catch up post to let you know what's been going on, but as usual, here's this weeks Five For Friday;

EARLY NIGHTS - I swear I put this in my FFF recently (yep, after checking, literally last week...), but I've been enjoying early nights again. I feel constantly exhausted at the moment so it's nice to get home, have a nice, light dinner and hop into bed early.
FLIGHTS BOOKED - Milan, Florence, Lake Garda, New York, Vegas - THEY'RE ALL BOOKED. Yes, for work but I've got a few days on the end of each for holidays. I feel so lucky to be typing this! I can't believe the travel opportunities I get. I'm also booking Copenhagen and Budapest over the next couple of weeks for a holiday!
A TRIP TO IKEA - I went over to Ikea on Monday after work and bought my very first bed! (BIG DEAL!) I also had meatballs, which made me very happy. I love Ikea, I'm not even ashamed to say it. They have everything you could ever think of wanting but it's super cool and super quirky!
HOMEWARE - as I'm moving in two and a half weeks, I'm starting to get giddy again over homeware. I've got my eye of around 5 or 6 prints now (including this beauty) that I'm buying today. I've got my bed, a beautiful new mirror and bedside table. I've got a rug and curtains sorted. All I really need is little bits, a lampshade another bedside lamp. It's all coming together!
THIS WEEK'S MEALS - Aside from Monday, I've cooked at home every night this week and made some really tasty meals. I made a delicious raw avocado, basil and cayenne courgette with grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and crumbled feta on Tuesday, a delicious peppered tuna steak, courgette ratatouille and lemon kale on Wednesday and I made a really good tomato and lentil soup for my lunch on Thursday and Friday. I'm hoping to blog all of these recipes next week but for daily/weekly updates on what I'm cooking and eating, follow me on Instagram.

What have you got planned this weekend?


Tuesday, 19 May 2015


I realised it's such a long time since I've done a little catch up post (I know you get my Monthly Goals posts but I mean a really catch up). I appreciate some (most/all?) may not been completely interested in this but, like I've always said, my blog is first and foremost for myself - my own online diary.

I seem to begin most of my Five For Friday posts with 'where has the week gone?', 'Life's hectic', 'Life gets in the way sometimes' or some variation of these words. But I do feel like that. I often feel very, very overwhelmed by how quickly time passes; how days, weeks, months all seem to blend into one and as soon as you know it we're almost half way through 2015 and have to look back in our diaries to actually remember what we did the previous month(s). I'm hoping this isn't just me?

Anyway, this is a little catch up. A catch up to catch me up on where I'm at and maybe to tell those few of you that are interested in what's been going on lately.

True to form, I can't believe we are almost welcoming the month of June. The past few months have been busy - mostly with work but also with having a jam-packed social life. Which kinda sounds braggy when I read the words...

As you know, March saw me go to China and have a little wander around Shanghai and also, do a little bit of work too. April saw me turn 24, have at least a week off (never, ever happens now!) and have a couple of weekends away. So far, May has been great. I move in a couple of weeks, I had a really great trip to the Lake District (actually Yorkshire Dales because well, we got it wrong..) and a stop off at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the way home. I have just had a weekend well deserved too; a busy Saturday buying furniture for my new place, a family lunch and a night at the pub with my friends. Sunday was as expected, a film/hangover day. This coming weekend I have a trip to Sheffield planned and the following weekend I am visiting Mike in London.

June is an exciting month - I'm moving the first weekend and I'm really excited. A really pretty, quirkily decorated place. Finally somewhere I can settle and call my own. My current place is great but it feels more like I'm living in posh uni halls. I'm also going away with work to Lake Garda for a few days, via a night in Milan then 3 nights in Florence as a little getaway. The end of the month is another weekend working at Best of Britannia, this time held in Shoreditch. It's a great event with a variety of different brands there.

Next month I'm hoping to just get my new room straight more than anything and try and save a bit of money where I can! My new place has a mostly unfurnished bedroom so I need to fork out on a few things. I'm off to Ikea this evening to get my new bed and hopefully a new wardrobe too.

What else is going on? Not a lot really. Mostly work, planning work trips away, planning my move and also getting excited about a potential Copenhagen/Budapest trip in August (then Vegas for work three days later!) I'm loving all of the travel opportunities that this year is giving to me. It's really exciting!

So that's it in a nutshell really, the last couple of months, the current month and the month ahead. I'm hoping next month I'll get back into blogging a little more. I've been having unintentional breaks lately - mostly because my weeks and weekends are so busy, any down time I get I just want to chill out.

Feelings wise? All's well. I'm pretty shattered most of the time but that's to be expected when so much is going on. I said in my newly updated 'Hello'/about me that at the moment life is about embarking on new experiences and having a bloody good time. Well, that's exactly what I'm doing.


Friday, 15 May 2015


I've had the best week. Since my last FFF I had a long weekend in the Lake District, which was the most fun I've had in so long! Apart from that I've been working, had a work event and been to another great meditation class.

This week, yet again, has flown...I think I need a new catch phrase.

I'm already excited for the weekend!

This week's FFF:

The Lake District - ...well, technically the Yorkshire Dales but, close...I went with my new roomie, her brothers and some of their friends and had the nicest time. Too much alcohol was drunk, so many laughs were had and, all in all, it was just a great long weekend. The rain didn't get us down!

Yorkshire Sculpture Park - on the way back from the lakes, we stopped off at YSP. I'd been once before with some of my friends from Sheffield and seeing as it was my suggestion, I was anticipating a torrential downpour. Thankfully the weather was absolutely stunning. We had a really lovely walk for a few hours too.

MOVING!!!! - I AM SO HAPPY THAT I'M MOVING!! Although I like my current house and my housemates, the house isn't homely and lacks a living room (greedy landlord!) I'm moving in with my friend and her two cats to a really, really lovely house. I've got a couple of weeks left in my current place, which is ideal as I'm away every weekend until moving weekend now.

Good nerves - this sounds like a really weird thing to be enjoying/be happy about but you know what I mean...those kind of nerves that are excitement about the unexpected but you know it's just something good that's going to happen. No...?

Early nights - After a busy/alcohol-fuelled/tiring at the weekend, I've been getting early nights since Monday (when we got back). I can't say I'm yet to feel 100% refreshed but it's really helped me get through the busy days at work. Sleep definitely is a healer!

This weekend I'm heading back home for my Grandad's 85th birthday and anticipating a delicious lunch with friends on Sunday...oh, and a trip to Ikea for furniture (which I'm excited about - why is Ikea so exciting?!)



Wednesday, 13 May 2015

MADE: Aubergine and Courgette Polenta Bake

I've never really used polenta that much in cooking other than in my Mum's wonderful salmon fishcake recipe. With that in mind, I thought I'd rustle up something completely new and kind of throw caution to the wind with, with regards to the ingredient list, it was a little more trial and error (so I think it's probably wise to just sprinkle the polenta out of the packet onto the veggies further into the recipe until all of it has a light covering...)

I must say, this was delicious and so easy. I incorporated my go-to ratatoullie recipe that I tend to include in anything that requires a tomato-based sauce. It really is perfect.

All you need to serve 3-4 people (depending on portion size):
2 aubergines, sliced
3 courgettes, sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 onion, diced
2 tsp mixed herbs
200g feta cheese
1 tsp sundried tomato pesto (optional)
1 tbsp tomato puree
100g polenta - I sprinkle this out of the bag usually so this is a complete guess!
A handful of sundried tomatoes (optional)
salt and pepper, to season 

Lets get started...

First things first, preheat your oven to 180 (fan assisted) and grab an oven proof casserole dish.

Grab the aubergine and chop into slices. Do the same with your courgettes. My cheat tip for anybody wanting to speed this up. Pop all the sliced veggies onto a plate and microwave in bursts of 60 seconds. You'll probably need to do this for 3-5 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave.

In the meantime, heat a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan on a low-medium heat and gently fry your onions. You'll need to do this for around 5 minutes until they are soft. 

When soft, add the tin of chopped tomatoes to the onions and allow to reduce on a low simmering heat. Once reduced, add the mixed herbs and a little salt and pepper to season. Throw in your sundried tomatoes if you're using them. Also add your tomato puree now and sundried tomato pesto if you're using it. 

Allow your ratatouille to simmer on a low heat. Whilst you start to build your bake.

Get your casserole dish and make a layer of aubergine and courgette.

Pour over some of your ratatouille to cover most of the vegetables. Sprinkle some polenta over - it only needs to be a thin layer. Crumble over a little feta.

Repeat the process a couple of times or as much as the amount of vegetables you have requires.

To find add a double layer of polenta by sprinkling it over the top of the bake and crumble more feta on top.

Pop in the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes.

I served mine up with some fresh spinach but you could have this with lemon kale or even a side salad.


Monday, 11 May 2015

TRAVEL: Playing Tourist in Shanghai

Although in China 'on business' back in March, I wanted to make sure the free time I did have was put to good use.

I had googled and scoured Trip Advisor for the recommendation 'must-sees' of Shanghai and whether, in actual fact, they were worth seeing.

High on my list were The Bund, The Old Town and Yu Garden. I had planned to make my way round, potentially using the Metro but decided to enquire at the Concierge Desk about any trips they may offer. Now, on holidays/during my travels I have gone on organised trips, but if I can plan things and get around myself, I will do. I figured this would be the case with Shanghai – although the majority do not speak a great deal of English (if any!) I figured I'd be able to do it. I just need to point out as well, I HATE being a traveller that feels a bit put out that people don't speak English and 80% of the time you can pick up local phrases and communicate, even a little bit, but in China that is virtually impossible! So, anyway, long story short, the hotel could offer me a four hour tour of everything I wanted to see (as well as the French Concession, People's Square and a Tea Ceremony) plus admission fee to Yu Garden for RMB 350 (£35) – as this included transport and an English speaking guide, I couldn't really justify not doing my sightseeing this way.

Since I'd been there the jetlag had hit me hard and with a 7.30am pick up, I was filled with dread having been wide away since 3am. However, I managed to get up, breakfast and hop on the tour (mini)bus full of enthusiasm.

We started off in The Old Town. I'd been recommended a visit here by a friend of mine who said it's really cool seeing the old buildings with the backdrop of the skyscrapers – the old against the new – however, these old buildings, although reflecting traditional Chinese buildings with their quirky roofs, terracotta against white walls etc. they were infact purpose built to adhere to the needs of tourists. As well as this, there are multiple old towns scattered across the city, which possibly could be genuine old towns. That said, I loved visiting The Old Town because, despite the fact they weren't necessarily historic buildings, that style or architecture was what I had envisioned for China. I also kinda felt like I was part on a anime film, which I quite liked.

We wandered through The Old Town, making our way to Yu Gardens – something I'd seen amongst my googling and it looked beautiful. Authentic buildings, scattered with lanterns, beautiful magnolia trees and flourishing water areas, Yu Garden was everything I hoped it would be. It was the kind of place I could imagine people arriving at, as the sun rises to meditate, to read or just simply to enjoy the peace and quiet. There were so many little things I liked about it and it gave me a more intricate view into the mentality of the Chinese – with their circular doors, symbolising happiness – something so simple yet so effective. The statues surrounding the gardens are of animals demonstrating the zodiac animals we were told a little about each animal – the rat symbolising wisdom, the elephant bringing luck, the goat symbolising curiosity and exploration. I find the Chinese way of thinking very interesting – they have very positive and insightful mentalities. Throughout the gardens they have numerous seated areas – my favourite area was the room designed for women to socialise overlooking a beautiful water area.

From Yu Garden we went on to a tea store to be greeted with a tea ceremony. The Chinese offer a tea ceremony to guests that visit their homes and as I love different teas, this was a great experience. William was our host and told us a little about the teas we were drinking and offered them to us in tasting cups. The Chinese drink a lot of tea so are really passionate about good quality and tea leaves – strictly no teabags. The teas we got to try were Jasmine, baby Jasmine, green tea, black tea with lychee and rosebud (which was delicious!) and several others that, quite frankly, I can't remember the names of. It was really interesting and I love that they spend the time greeting guests in this kind of way. They take it one step further than the British 'wanna brew?'

From Yu Gardens we were taken to the French area; a place of cafes and restaurants, scattered with character originating from the 1840's. This area was the French Concession area from 1849 until 1949 but retained much of it's original character. It was strange to see such a European area and knowing I was in fact in China. We had a little wander through here and took a few photos before hopping back on the bus and making our way to The Bund.

The Bund was the area I was looking forward to seeing the most. The Bund, meaning embankment, is the waterfront area of Shanghai, hosting a number of lovely restaurants and hotels that run along Zhongshan Road. The Bund hosts 52 different types of architecture, including Renaissance Revival, Neo-Classical and Art Deco - so, as you can imagine, it's a very interesting place to visit. We were given a little time to take photographs and have a wander. I really enjoyed coming down here, not just to check out the view but to people watch and get some fresh* air (*term used loosely with all that pollution!)

From here we were taken a little way round the corner to a Pearl shop. I swear EVERYWHERE you go in Asia there's a pearl store/pearl farm/somebody flogging pearls. I didn't really enjoy this part at all - I was practically followed round the entirety of the shop as I tried to fake an interest in what I was looking at. Personal space, ya know?

All in all, a 4 hour whistle stop tour of touristy-Shanghai which was definitely worth it. It hardly cost me anything and I can now say I've seen bits of Shanghai I might not have managed to alone.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

MADE: One Pan Spring Chicken with a Dijon Dressing

I'm not the biggest meat lover anymore, I find you can make much more tasty veggie dishes that don't need to centre around a serving of meat BUT, that said, you can't beat a chicken dinner.

With it now being spring time and the weather slightly warmer, I felt like a gravy roast dinner wasn't exactly warranted so decided on this one pan spring chicken, inspired by that of The Londoner.

There's something really inviting about a roast chicken that's left in the oven to cook in its own juices and the effect the slow cooking has on the vegetables in the pan. YUM YUM!

All you'll need is:
1 free range chicken
1 handful of fresh parsley
4 tsp Italian herbs
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
100g butter, at room temperature
4 tsp capers
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 shallots
1 lemon, quartered
5 or 6 baby carrots
A pack of asparagus spears (I'd recommend 3 or 4 per person)

I served mine with a handful of new potatoes that I halved, boiled for 5 minutes and oven roasted for around 35-40 minutes in a generous drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, black pepper and chilli flakes.

For the dijon dressing you'll need:
150ml creme fraiche (1/2 tub of a standard Waitrose tub)
5 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 pint of chicken stock - can be taken from the chicken you'll be cooking or use a Knorr/organic one
Black pepper, to season
1-2 tsp cornstarch, to thicken (optional - depending how you like the consistency of your sauce)

Lets get started...

First things first, preheat your oven to 180 (fan assisted) and begin the rub for the chicken.

Using a mini blender (pastel and mortar is also fine) - combine your butter, parsley, Italian herbs, capers, garlic and apple cider vinegar. Add some black pepper to season.

It needs to resemble a paste rather than being too lumpy.

Spread it onto your chicken - covering as much as possible. This mush has a tendency to glue itself to your hands!

The quartered lemon will also need to go up the chickens bottom...

You'll need to peel and halve your shallots and place them at the bottom of the dish/tin you are roasting your chicken in. They act as a little platform for the chicken (see below...)

 Once your chicken is covered, pop it in the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

When the buzzer goes after 45 minutes, throw in your chopped baby carrots and put back in the oven for another 45 minutes.

In the meantime, cut up your potatoes and boil for 5-10 minutes on the hob - if serving with roast potatoes.

Put them in the oven when your chicken has 20 minutes left on the timer of the second 45 minute roasting.

After the second 45 minutes, throw the asparagus in and cook for another 20 minutes.

The dijon sauce takes about 5-10 minutes to make - add your stock cube to 1/2 pint of boiling water and heat in a small saucepan. Add your creme fraiche, dijon mustard and a sprinkle of black pepper and allow to simmer on a low heat. When it's warmed through, pour into a serving jug.

When the timer goes off, dish everything up and drizzle the dijon dressing over to your hearts content. 

If I was serving this at home for myself rather than for my parents, I wouldn't serve with potatoes. I'd roast the chicken (from the second 45 minutes) on a bed of kale OR, for the last 20 minutes, on a bed of spinach. The dijon dressing goes really well with this though, I must admit!