Last week, Graeme and I spent a few days exploring Rome. And by 'exploring', I mean eating our way around the city. I pretty much ate my own weight in pasta, pizza, gelato, coffee and wine. And it was awesome.
Here are some of the highlights:
You have to climb 551 steps to get to the top of St Peter's Basilica, but the view when you get there is so worth it.
Piazza Navona is a great place to kick back and watch the world go by, especially when chomping on some roast chestnuts.
I have never tasted ice cream quite like the gelato we had at the Trevi Fountain. It was just delish.
Pasta for lunch while looking over at the Colosseum. Could it BE any more Italian?
I made a wish at the Trevi Fountain, but I can't tell you what it is or it won't come true.
We had the thickest, sweetest, chocolatiest hot chocolate I have ever tasted at the Spanish Steps.
It's been said a lot, Rome truly is a gorgeous city. December was a great time to go, as it wasn't too hot, and although there were plenty of people so there was a good buzz, it wasn't packed. If you're a people-watcher like me, you'll love it. There's so much going on, we spent quite a bit of time sitting back and watch the world go by. I mean, where else would you see a nun juggling?
You may be aware that I love to bake. To explain to you exactly how and why I love to bake, I decided to take part in the Baking Beauties tag, after I found it on Laura and Michael's blog.
1. What is the first thing you remember baking?
I can remember making a Teisen Lap in a cookery class in my first year of high school. I think it's a Welsh thing, it's basically a sponge with sultanas in, so you can't really go wrong. It was my grandad's favourite, so he was Very Pleased Indeed when I brought it home from school.
2. What was the last thing you baked?
Graeme's birthday cake. It was a chocolate sponge cake with chocolate buttercream in the middle. I put buttercream all around the outside and on the top, and decorated it with Kit Kats and peanut butter M&Ms. It went down a storm - whoever said the way to a man's heart is through his stomach was definitely on to something!
3. Something you've always wanted to bake?
I'd love to master the art of baking bread - I've tried it a few times and it's never been quite right. I'll keep trying though - I refuse to be defeated by a bit of flour, water, salt and yeast! Back in my cakey comfort zone, I'd like to try my hand at a Battenburg, as it's one of my all time favourites.
4. Tell us about a time you baked something and it went ridiculously wrong.
I've had a few mishaps in my baking life. Like the time I made fairy cakes in paper cases but without a tin, and they all expanded outwards so they were more like fairy pebbles than fairy cakes. Then there was the disastrous chocolate cake I made, that was dry and crumbly and tasteless and generally rubbish. I blame the recipe for that one (I'm looking at you, Hairy Bikers!)
My most recent baking hiccup was when I was making the afore-mentioned birthday cake for Graeme's birthday. I was a bit enthusiastic when creaming the butter and sugar, and this happened:
Don't beat your butter straight from the fridge, kids - warm it up a little bit first. Wooden spoons aren't invincible.
5. Be honest. Do you lick the spoon?
Not really. I sometimes have a little bit, but I'd rather scrape every last bit of batter from the bowl and the spoon into the tin, so I get as much cake as possible. I'm so ladylike.....
6. How often do you bake?
Not often enough. I go through phases - sometimes it's a couple of times a week, sometimes a whole month goes by baking-free. Those are sad months - I must make an effort to get my bake on more regularly.
7. What baking successes are you most proud of?
Last year I made a giant French fancy for Graeme's birthday. It took over 5 hours and a kilo of butter - it was a beast. That was pretty awesome.
8. Do you tidy up as you go along or leave one big mess until the end?
Tidying up distracts me from the task in hand, so I tend to let the mess build up, then have a quick tidy up while the cake's in the oven. That's mainly to create space for more mess when I'm making the icing or buttercream later on.
9. Do you use recipe books or get them online?
Both. I've got a few recipe books that are quite good, but if the baking fancy takes me I tend to look online for inspiration. Once I've tried a recipe and decided I like it, I write it out in my recipe notebook, so I tend to refer back to that quite a lot, too.
10. Do you stick to the recipe or do you experiment a little?
When it comes to baking I don't have the natural flair some people have, so I always need to follow a recipe. I experiment with meals and soups and things, but baking is an area where I feel like I need to follow instructions, otherwise very scary things happen.
11. Who are your favourite food bloggers?
I don't tend to read 'food blogs' as such, but the Caked Crusader is a firm favourite. Her cherry bakewell recipe is to die for, and is so easy.
12. What is your favourite thing to bake?
Cake. Fairy cakes, cupcakes, sandwich cakes, banana bread - anything that's sweet and calorific. I just love cake.
On the day we met him, it was love at first sight. We'd met a few other dogs that day, who were all lovely in their own way, but when they brought Toby bounding down the path to meet us, I think Graeme and I both knew he was the pooch for us. He was so excited and friendly, and so cute! People often ask us how old he is because he looks like a puppy.
Bringing him home was interesting. We let him hop into the boot of Graeme's car, and in the time it took us to shut the boot and walk the three steps to the front of the car, Toby had jumped over and was sitting in pride of place in the drivers seat. That pretty much set the tone for life with Toby - he's cute and cheeky, and will always try to push his luck, but he's ultimately a good egg.
Over the last year he's learned to swim and to chase sticks, but not to bring them back. He's also grasped that if he's a good boy, he can come to sit on the mat in front of the fire and warm his belly to his heart's content.
Happy birthday Tobes - here's to many more jolly years!
Last Sunday I spent a jolly afternoon with my pal Alycia, wandering around the Vintage Village in Stockport. Once a month, the market hall is filled with stalls selling all things vintage, from clothes and jewellery to books and brooches.
We paid our very reasonable £1 entrance fee and got our hands stamped on the way in, like a twee nightclub.
When we walked in, I was overwhelmed. There was just. So. Much. Stuff. It was an Aladdin's cave of quirky vintage bits and bobs. I felt like I was walking around with great big eyes, trying to take it all in and not miss anything.
I loved all the old-school dishes - I lost count of the number of times I found myself saying "Ooh my gran had one of these!" or "I remember these from when I was a kid!"
The clothes and shoes were amazing, but I was more taken with the cute dishes and kitcheny stuff. And the tea sets. Ohhh the tea sets! They were so twee and dainty and pretty. I'm now left with an overwhelming sense that I need a tea set in my life. I don't know when I would use it, but that's not the point, is it?
I'll definitely be going back again. After all, I'll need to start my collection of twee teacups. Or tweecups, as I will call them.
Happy Friday! I know traditionally Friday is meant to have that woo-hoo-it's-the-weekend-I'm-so-giddy-get-me-a-Crunchie feeling, but it doesn't always happen. We all have those long and busy weeks where you get to Friday and feel drained.
So, to try and bring a bit of end-of-the-week giddiness back into the world, I'm going to start a series called the Friday Feeling. Every week, I'll post about some of the things that have made me smile over the past few days, in the hope that they'll spread a little weekend cheer. Here are a few things that have made me feel good this week:
Katy B - 5am I've had this song in my head for days and days. I've had to keep an eye on myself to make sure I don't accidentally end up singing along to myself and serenading everyone around me - nobody needs that.
I don't often read crime and thriller books, but I love this one. There are so many twists and turns to the plot - just when you think you know who the bad guy is, Flynn flips it around. I've found myself thinking a lot about the the idea that we present a certain version of ourselves to the world, and how that can be different to who we really are. I love a book that makes me think! I'll do a proper review when I've finished reading the book, which won't be long!
I went down to London on Tuesday for a training day for work. Although it was a long day (up at 5am, home at 9pm - ouch!) it was well worth it. I met some interesting people and learned loads. It felt so good to use my brain, and to actually learn stuff! I've been missing that feeling since I graduated. What's been making you feel shiny and jolly this week? Have a splendid weekend!
This is a recipe for a really quick and simple pasta sauce. I originally found this recipe on Pinterest. There are a few variations out there, but this is my Happy Chapess version.
Here's what you'll need:
a dash of olive oil
a good splash of lemon juice
a smattering of salt
as much black pepper as you can shake a stick at
I don't use precise measurements because this is one of those recipes you can tweak to suit your taste.
First of all, cook your pasta.
While your pasta's bubbling away, dice your avocado, and put all the ingredients into a bowl together. Don't use too much oil, as you don't want your sauce to be greasy. You can always add more later if you think it needs it.
Use a blender to jhujjj (real word there) all the ingredients together. If, like me, you use a hand blender, you may want to start off by gently pulsing so that you don't get bits of avocado flying around your kitchen. Believe me, it gets everywhere.
Blend it until it's smooth. This will take approximately 10 seconds.
Taste your sauce and add more lemon juice / salt / pepper. Keep playing with it until you get the right balance to suit your own taste.
When you're happy with it, stir it through your cooked pasta. I tend to add mushrooms, ham and sun dried tomatoes to mine. Tomatoes work really well with avocado, and I will take every opportunity to add in a mushroom where I can. The ham is kind of an afterthought, but it works.
The creamy texture of this makes it feel like proper comfort food, even though it only uses a few ingredients and only takes a couple of minutes to create. Bon appetit!