Crumpets Take Two

On Thursday last week I took it upon myself to attempt making crumpets - after many homemade crumpet conversations that have been had at work. I planned ahead and bought myself some pastry rings from ebay and purchased some last minute ingredients on my way home from work. The boy was out doing music related things, so obviously while the cat is away the mouse will sit in the kitchen cooking up a storm.

The crumpets on Thursday were a let down, too thick and just not right. I took the recipe from my Basics Baking Handbook sadly but at least I now know what is required from a good crumpet recipe. So on Sunday I made another attempt, and ended up using a Paul Hollywood recipe found on the BBC Good Food site and I was so impressed with how easy and successful the whole experience was.

Although the crumpets pictured below still aren't perfect and my technique still requires improvement, I'm actually pretty impressed with how they turned out. The boyfriend took some to work with him for a mid-morning snack and the feedback has been great - toasted with a slathering of lurpack and marmite. Sounds delicious - I'm sure they'll be gone before long.

There are some things I've learnt from this little crumpet venture, which I'm determined to improve on now that I think I've got the recipe and method down;

Use non-stick crumpet rings - Something I wasn't aware of that would be important as all recipes call for the rings to be greased lightly before. On my next payday I'll be investing in some good quality non-stick crumpet rings as I had a lot of trouble flipping the crumpets and getting them out of the rings as you will see in the picture below. But ho hum, you live and you learn.

A low heat on the hob is best - As crumpets require use of a pan and not the oven, finding the perfect heat for the pan was tricky, especially as the hob in my kitchen is electric and not gas - boo! I did find however that the crumpets are easier to control when the heat is low as the bottoms won't burn.

Aside from the sticking crumpet situation, I'm really pleased with how these turned out and can't wait to try them out again, especially for whenever we have friends and family round, as they're a perfect tea-time treat. Hooray for crumpets.

Dear Food, I Love You

After joining in with latter part of the food bloggers chat last night, discussing snacking and what we do to try and stop ourselves from snacking, Sal from Sal's Kitchen said: 'All this talk of healthy snacks is very virtuous, but I'm a firm believer that a little of what you fancy also does you good!' And I say: here here! 

Although most days I try my hardest not to snack but I'll be the first to admit I fall off the wagon *quite* a lot. And who am I to try and fool you all into thinking I'm the perfect example of nutritional heaven, because I'll tell you now, the reality is quite the opposite. Maybe I need to re-introduce myself? My name is Ala, and I love all food and from now on I'm going to make a conscious effort to stop myself feeling guilty about it, because after all, we should do the things that make us happy right? Right.

Now, I'm not in any sense saying that I'm going to go out have a Bacon and Cheese Criossant from Pret for breakfast (even though I love them *so* much), a McDonald's Quarter Pounder for lunch and a Dominoes, large, for dinner every day of the week. No. The point is, that in enjoying these junky luxuries of all things naughty, I can make the decision to take it or leave it, and I can and do, make the choice to go for something that is much more healthy, nutritional and better all-round for me.

This, coupled with learning slowly but surely that actually I do need to do exercise on a regular basis, no matter how much I really dislike doing so 80% of the time, all contributes to be able to indulge on the junk and fast food. And I love those foods that much that I'm willing to put in the effort to exercise so that it doesn't take it's toll on my lifestyle. Now THAT is true love.

I guess this is sort of an open letter but also a commitment to myself to quit the guilty feelings that we all pressure ourselves into feeling whenever we want to reach for a chocolate bar over an apple. Who cares?! Not me anymore, or at least I'm getting there. I just refuse to feel guilty about the choices I make when really it affects no one but myself.

I love food, every single last morsel. 

I love the freshness of a main meal salad in the evening, and eating lots of lovely ripe fruit in the morning for breakfast. I love pasta and I love eating it with a side of really garlicky bread. I love a thick creamy mushroom sauce over my steak, with a side of fries and some green beans. You can't beat green beans. I LOVE curry, and bhajis and rice. I love all of the crunchy vegetables in my stir fry. I love a huge roast dinner with a yorkshire pudding the size of my face, swimming in gravy. I love McDonald's breakfasts, and their quarter pounders. In fact, I love all burgers. I love a hearty soup, especially broccoli and stilton. I love a grilled chicken kebab with loads of salad and a couple of whole chilli peppers, in a pitta with hot sauce and garlic sauce. I love anything spicy. I love crisps and dip. I love biscuits, especially little chocolate chip cookies. I love tea, and won't settle for anything other than semi-skimmed milk with it. I love chocolate; Galaxy, Dairy Milk, Lindt, Kinder, Terry's Chocolate Orange, you name the chocolate - I love it. I love sweets, especially anything sour. I love mint choc chip ice-cream, amongst a number of other flavours. I love pizza, and I especially love ordering it in, but I also love the fresh flavours on the ASDA fresh vegetable pizza. I love fish and chips with a side of curry sauce. I love a full English, and I'll have my eggs fried, thank you. I love cake, and I love baking my own cakes. I love pickled onions, pickled gherkins, sauerkraut and anything else with a strong flavour.

I literally don't even know where to stop, but I will... for now. And now I actually feel a bit glutenous for writing all of that out... But my point is, it's ok to enjoy the food we love, even if it isn't healthy and isn't always the right choice, because what's the point in enjoying food if we can't indulge every now and then?

As for me, I'm off to McDonald's for lunch.... JOKE. I had soup.

My Spag Bol

Is there nothing more comforting than a bowl of your own home-cooked Spaghetti Bolognese? Yes, I'm well aware of the fact that this dish doesn't exactly push boundaries in terms of innovation but it's one of my favourite staple dinners, and what I love most about it is the fact that everyone has their own recipe, their own spag bol.

I do feel a little silly writing about something that is so inherent certainly in my own food routine, but what I wanted to talk about is how I do this dish, my way, and see how the rest of you tackle this dish.

I know certainly my way originates from my dad's recipe, and his is still my favourite in the world ever. I remember asking him to write out exactly how he did it in my first few weeks of university and since then my own has changed and morphed into something not too dissimilar but still my own.

So here's *my* spag bol:
(autocorrect keeps changing spag to slag so I apologise if I miss a typo)

What you need:

1 onion, red or white I'm not fussy
3 cloves of garlic minimum or however many you feel like
500g of lean beef mince - you can get 500g of extra lean mince for £2.85 in ASDA, no need to thank me
250g or more of white mushrooms, closed cup or button
500g of good passata - chopped tomatoes just don't make the grade anymore (I must hasten to add the image above used 400g chopped tomatoes, not passata)
Tomato purée
A good glug or two of nice red wine
Worcestershire Sauce - a good sprinkling
Tobasco Sauce - only two teeny tiny drops
Oil - any kind, olive, coconut or even calorie control


Get the saucepan nice and hot
Chop the onions as fine as you can and grate the garlic to get it all mushy so the flavour are released easier
Sweat both in a saucepan with a little oil until the onions soften
Add the mince meat until browned, stirring as you go
Optional step: draining the saucepan of the fat from the meat, although I like to keep it for flavour
Chop the mushrooms however which way you like - I like mine sliced, yes it makes a difference - and add to the pan
Mix everything together making sure the mushrooms are coated in the juice from the meat
Cook for about a minute, stirring as you go
Add the passata and stir stir stir
Add about two tablespoons of tomato purée or two really good squeezes and stir in
Add a really good glug of good wine, if you've got one open for the meal use that
Add a good sprinkling of worcestershire sauce and two teeny drops of tobasco - I don't want it spicy, just to add to the flavour
When this is all mixed in I like to season and this is where you're all going to shoot me:
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Mixed herbs to taste *hides behind hands*
If I have fresh basil, I'll undoubtedly use a good handful of that or to taste
A tiny sprinkle of chilli powder, again not to make it spicy just to add flavour
Then turn down the heat on your pan, or even move to a smaller ring on the cooker, put the lid on and let it simmer away for a good 30-40 mins
When you're good and hungry, take the lid off the pan and let it reduce whilst you cook your pasta, the key is to have a really nice thick sauce
Whilst it is reducing I usually top up on the seasoning and add more wine - there ain't nuttin' that wine didn't make ok
When the pasta is cooked, drain and serve with a couple of bits of garlic bread and a lovely glass of red wine and there you have it.

For the spag bol in the picture above I used a Côtes de Rhône which was £5 in ASDA, which is obviously a French wine, not Italian (if you'd like to know exactly which one, I can send you a picture of the label). Personally I don't think it really matters, as long as the wine is full bodied and spicy, again which is personal taste. For this kind of dinner we'll either pick a good Rioja, Chianti or a heavy French red. I'm not an expert on wine in any sense, I just know what I like and what in my mind goes with what. But if you have some suggestions for what might go even better, please let me know.

So there we have it, my spag bol. How do you cook yours?

A Good Old Car Boot Sale

It's Summer and that means car boot sales! Hooray!

I love a car boot sale, and often find myself and my purse in dangerous territory, despite the average price of anything at a car boot being £1. Funnily enough I travelled back to the home counties to help my dearest best friend sell her belongings before she moves down under - sob!

The weather on Sunday was glorious, a key factor to any successful car boot, so much so that because I was hungover with a few hours sleep (although said friend had only one hour, hardcore) I didn't take precaution and now my nose looks like it took a trip to the sun over the weekend. I never learn.

Whilst successfully selling various items to many a punter, we each took it in turn to have a wonder round and peruse the competition, or in other words find some stuff to buy, after all it would be rude not to. I even very sweetly asked my dad to come and bring me a big bottle of water if my parents were going to pop along at some point during the morning. He took that as an opportunity to browse too (who can resist?) as well as bringing a 2 litre bottle of water and some fizzy drinks to keep us going - what a super man he is!

So I browsed, a couple of times and came across a variety of gems, I only spent £6 over all but I think it was £6 well spent. First of all I saw this old camera, which very much reminds me of my Olympus Trip 35. I tried to ask the man selling if he knew anything about it, to which he scoffed at me and said 'your guess is as good as mine, I don't even know how I got it', but at £1with it's original case, lens hood and the accompanying flash, I couldn't say no. It needs a bit of a clean and some TLC but is definitely bargain of the day.

I've done a little research on it, and it turns out it was made around 1967 and could probably definitely be included in my lomography camera collection. It looks quite complicated to use so I'll have to do some more research but I'm definitely excited. PLUS there is a half-used film in there already, which I found out by opening the back of the camera and exposing the film - idiot. But I'm hoping that not all of the images will be ruined and some will be salvageable. Could be interesting to see what was on the film and use the rest of it to test out the camera.

Whenever the boy and I are at a car boot we keep our eyes peeled for records on sale. I couldn't see many at this car boot initially, which would have been odd. But I saw one box and it was filled with really well-looked after vinyls, a major bonus. We've come away from car boots before, got home and the vinyls we've bought have been so badly scratched they're basically useless. 

From the first box I picked up The Final - Wham, one of my favourite, if not the best, compilation albums. A double disc and in superb condition. As well as the Spandau Ballet picture disc single for 'True', a fab song and an amazing 7" to add to the collection, again in great condition.

After paying £3 for those two I almost walked away, until the man in the stall next door said 'hang on a minute, you haven't had a look at my collection yet'. I was running out of time as everyone was packing up to go home but I went round and the *whole* boot of his estate car was filled with piles of records, what a find. All of his records were basically in mint condition apart from some of the covers, he said he had a leak in his shed. I quickly rifled through as many piles of vinyl as I could manage and found two albums I had to purchase; The Collection - John Lennon and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John. Amazing. Need I say more? I picked them up for £2 altogether and again they're in mint condition so an amazing bargain I think.

I can't wait to get these on the turntable, and it'll be all the more sweeter knowing how much of a bargain they were. I also can't wait to go back and get some more vinyls from him, he had an amazing and broad collection, and selling them for £1 - £2 - a complete steal.

I'd love to know, what's your best ever, bargain buy at a car boot been?

What's For Lunch Today? Sub Cult | Soho

Haven't done one of these in a while, but I had a feeling it would happen as soon as a colleague of mine came running back from the Berwick St market earlier this week, raving about a new stall, serving *the* best subs. Friday lunch treat it was.

There's not much to say about Sub Cult as they're a relatively new venture with a market stall on the Berkwick St market in the heart of Soho serving Tues-Friday, and The Duke of Wellington in Dalston on evenings and weekends. Quite the venture. But as they put it themselves 'Sub Cult is an Anglo-American Culinary Clash, putting the soul in your roll since April 2014'.

First impressions the staff were super friendly, and talkative - something that will always encourage returning customers. It's needless to mention, but I will anyway: the staff are seamlessly cool, which in turn made me feel cool just standing there.

At the market stall they have four options of sub sandwiches, all of which are served in a gorgeous brioche bun. And you can ignore what I said about brioche buns in my Five Guys post because it was damn tasty and full of flavour, much how a brioche should be. Although I maintain, a brioche bun is not always relevant, despite a lot of new food places serving them. Sub Cult however, have got it spot on as their sandwiches are filled with flavour but not overly complicated.

The four options include two meat choices, pork and steak, a seafood and pork option and a vegetarian sub and start at £5 and range up to £6.50. I went for the vegetarian option which was a gorgeous mushroom sub, I can't remember exactly what was in it but the mushrooms (I think oyster but not sure) were cooked to perfection and the accompaniment of sauce and salad was divine. Completely unfussy, but completely gorgeous. I can't wait to try the seafood and pork roll next.

More often than not when I go to the market, I end up feeling really super stuffed (because I have an inability to waste food) and struggle to move for the next few hours, but right now I feel fine, I ate well but it wasn't too much, and I certainly don't feel stodgy.

All in all I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Sub Cult, they've put a lot of thought into their product and the culture of the business and that is so refreshing to see. This was certainly my most favourite trip to the market so far and my favourite in the 'What's For Lunch Today?' series. 

I have a feeling that Sub Cult will be making a shift into the mainstream in the very near future.

The Underground Cookery School

Somehow, I managed to blag myself an invite to a blogger event at the Underground Cookery School in London on Monday night. And it was so good. The Underground Cookery School is an event venue that can be booked for all-sorts; birthdays, hens, stags and even team building corporate days which I think is a fab idea. The main jist is that you all cook a meal together under the supervision of some lovely trained chefs, whilst guzzling wine and socialising. I guess you could say that I was pretty excited.

After arriving, slightly late and rather hot and bothered after a trip on the Northern line during rush hour - not for the faint-hearted - I was immediately greeted with a glass of prosecco and an offering of gorgeous canapé nibbles. What a way to start. So after checking in and grabbing a name badge I sat down amongst an almost full table of lovely lady bloggers - who were already chatting away and getting to know each other, which put me at ease. I'm by no means a shy person but sometimes feel slightly anxious before events where I'm potentially going to be out of my comfort zone. However, not even a smidge of anxiousness was felt and I settled right in and introduced myself to the ladies sat around me.

After catching our breath and chatting for a bit we casually sauntered over to the kitchen area where the chefs who would be teaching us some skills were doing some prep work for the food we were about to also prep and cook. I loved how casual the whole situation was and really lent itself well to getting to know others without any potential awkwardness that a load of strangers in a room might feel.

We started by being split into two teams and creating the meringue for the strawberry meringue roulade dessert, there were only two mixers so this was pretty hands off and only a few people were able to get stuck in but no complaints as I took a step back and discussed food loves with some of the girls. I did learn however that putting salt and vinegar in a meringue helps the protein in the egg and glue the egg and sugar together respectively. Learn something new everyday.

Next we moved onto filleting the seabass, which was received by a bunch of squealing and grimacing little girls. We all sucked it up though and grabbed an already gutted fish to subsequently fillet. Two years ago I wasn't even eating fish, so I was very proud of myself and I actyally really enjoyed doing it, something I think I will try at home. Also, my fillet didn't have any bones left in - I'm a natural, ha.

Lastly it was onto the whole chicken to butcher up, which weirdly I enjoyed, quite a lot. First we chopped off the wings, then snapped, yes snapped the leg and cut it off, then carefully removing the breast. We then moved back to the leg and separated the thigh from the drumstick and deboned the thigh. Phew.

The group was then left to chill out back at the dining table whilst the chefs cooked all the bits that we prepared and served up. The food was so delicious, and as a relatively new fish eater, I enjoyed the seabass probably the most of all the dishes. My only qualm with the meal would be, as a wine lover, I would have enjoyed a wine that complimented the food but as the night was complimentary, it didn't bother me too much. The prosecco was divine however. Swings and roundabouts.

I had so much fun at the Underground Cookery School. I not only think its an excellent idea but I'm starting to calculate when I can return with a bunch of friends to do it all again. The environment is so welcoming, relaxed and so conducive to being completely sociable as well as learning some new cookery skills. I would thoroughly recommend checking this out for any special event you might be booking in your calendar. If you want to find out more you can find more info and contact details, here on their website.

But whilst you ponder that, I'll leave you with some pictures of the fab food that we devoured.

Salad of Seabass, Fresh Pea & Aspargus Salad with a Lemon Dressing

Roast Chicken Breast with Salsa Verde, Broad Beans and Jersey Royals

Strawberry Meringue Roulade

The Current State of Music

Having just read an article on the BBC website about how Youtube intends to start a music subscription service and subsequent bridge burning activities (not literally), I feel compelled to write something on the matter. I'll try and keep this short but I'm not making any promises...

To put this all into context, I'll paraphrase the article: Youtube wants to jump on the music subscription bandwagon, and any label that doesn't strike a deal with them will have their content removed forevermore. In the article there is a strong leaning towards independent music labels being the victims who will not be partaking in the deals set out by Youtube.

I feel quite confused about the whole thing to be honest. Don't get me wrong, I understand what they're trying to do and why, but I also realise what the complications will be for the 'independents'. Obviously Youtube wants to cash in on people freely enjoying music through their site, I get it, they want an even bigger slice of the pie because lets be honest, they're already making bucks from advertising and whatnot, but knowing Google as it is, that just simply isn't enough.

But what I don't understand is why they would want to alienate the majority of their users. Why will it alienate users? Let me tell you why.

1. A lot of people already have music subscription services through Spotify and other such mediums, and to be honest, they're already quite proficient in their offerings, so why would anyone look elsewhere? Possibly for a cheaper price, but certainly not for a more inferior service which it will inevitably be.

2. Some people don't want to have to pay for their music on top of having already paid for the download/CD/vinyl. I don't have a subscription to Spotify or any other service, because quite frankly I've already paid for my music collection fair and square by going to the shops and buying my CDs - yes there are still people that do that - so I'll either pop on a CD, my iPod or Youtube when I want to listen to something.

3. There is a huge youtube community, by charging for a part of the usage of the site will damage its integrity and potentially put people off from using Youtube.

But way more importantly (in my eyes) than alienating users comes further damage to the industry and its ability to turn a profit.

The outcome of some record labels, for example Domino who are mentioned in the BBC article, not signing their soul away to Google to get a fraction of the profit from their content being on the site, certainly won't be devastating but just another avenue shut off to them.

I see user engagement going two ways, positively and negatively, the worst case scenario is that people who don't like paying for their music turn back to illegal downloading, which will continue to damage the industry. OR it will encourage people to turn back to buying music legally, although this will probably still be digitally.

This post hasn't really come to any conclusion in particular because as I said, the whole situation confuses me. But one thing I am certain on, is that its not a smart move for Youtube.

Five Guys

As the search for the best burger in London continues, I couldn't not do a quick write up about my trip to Five Guys in Westfield, White City on Saturday.

After hearing such good things about Five Guys from pretty much, er, everyone it was inevitable that we should go, particularly as we would be in such close proximity to a branch. To say I was feeling a little worse for wear after the night before would be a bit of an understatement, and I'll be honest the one and a half slices of grilled cheese on toast I wolfed down before venturing onto the London public transportation system was not at all sufficient.

There was quite a large queue by the time we got there at about half 12, but a large queue is only ever a good thing. We quickly figured out how Five Guys works, you choose your burger/hotdog/whatever, any toppings and/or sides and a drink, get your order number and wait, with excitement and baited breath. At this point I'd just like to point out the amazing nature of picking your drink, like your typical fill up station you'd find in any fast food place but so much more. There are so many flavours of fizzy, and still, drinks, including the world's best ever invention, Fanta Lemon. They have Fanta Lemon on tap, and with that I could probably just stop there.

But I won't.

We just about managed to find a seat (pretty much all the tables were taken, cue anxiety of having a burger and nowhere to eat it) and opened our brown paper bags of joy.

Everything about the experience shouts 'USA, USA', from the brown paper bags to the burger wrapped in foil - a novelty I enjoyed a lot. I went for a cheese burger 'all the way' and it was so good. So, so good. Having two patties was such a treat, and all of the toppings I had were divine. Mushrooms in a burger? I'm in heaven.

I also really enjoyed the fact that the bun was a normal, bog standard and unfussy sesame seed burger bun - unlike a lot of these new fangled burger joints that show off with their brioche buns. Sometimes you just don't want that, y'know?

Next time (because there will *definitely* be a next time) I'll probably either share a fries with someone or have none at all, because although they were really really good (skin-on too), it was a large portion, even for me, despite choosing the 'little fries' option. 

As usual, my only qualm was the price, £13.50 for a burger, fries and drink. Yes you get a lot for your money but most of the fries were wasted shamefully. I'd just rather pay a bit less and get to enjoy all of it, but ho hum it kept me full for a long time. And when a burger tastes that good, I actually don't really care about the price - I'd probably even say it was better than MEATMission?

All in all, I can't wait to go back to try out the rest of the menu, and of course get some Fanta Lemon on tap. Hot damn I love that stuff.

MAC Fanfare

This weekend marked my first venture into MAC lipsticks. I know.

I went to Westfield on Saturday morning with my sister to do a little shopping before going home for Father's Day so I finally took along six empty foundation bottles/tubes from who knows how long ago to trade in for a lipstick.

I didn't really have any idea of what shade to get but I knew I wanted something muted. I'm a big fan of a strong lip and have a number of bright and bold lipsticks. I went for something completely different from my normal choices of corals, oranges and bright reds.

MAC Fanfare is a beautiful muted and almost dusky pink and totally a day-to-day wearable colour. I wore it all day today and now I can finally see why MAC lipsticks are so coveted by pretty much everyone because as you probably already know, the formula is easily applied, and not drying in the slightest.

I love this new lipstick and am even happier that I got it for free - love a bargain, me.

Soft Boiled Egg, Salted Grilled Asparagus & Proscuitto Mixed Leaf Salad

Wasn't that a mouthful?!

Now that the weather has really picked up in the UK and everyone is baring a bit more skin on a day to day basis with sunnies surgically attached to heads, neither the boy or I can really stomach having a heavy dinner. This lends itself well to relying on creating some interesting and flavoursome (but still healthy and very filling) salads for the evening time.

Here's what we had for dinner last night, a gorgeous mixed leaf salad with all the usuals (cucumber, baby plum tomatoes, red onion and beetroot) as well as two slices of proscuitto each, a bunch of seasoned and grilled asparagus and a gorgeous soft boiled egg placed perfectly on top - you can still see it steaming in the photo below.

I finished my salad with a splash of balsamic vinegar, but the boy made himself a dressing consisting off balsamic vinegar, olive oil, wholegrain mustard, lemon juice and garlic with some seasoning - I dipped my finger in and it was delicious.

For anyone who is interested, I pointed this up and with the two slices of proscuitto and a 25ml drizzle of balsamic vinegar, this salad came to a measly 4 Weight Watchers Pro Points. Which is practically nothing.

Hooray for light, fresh and delicious summer time dinners.

Barry's Bootcamp London

STOP THE PRESS - I went to an exercise class.

Ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but I'm being completely honest when I say my idea of exercise is walking to the pub for a pint and a packet of pork scratchings.

So I finally dragged my lazy self to Barry's Bootcamp, along with the boy after being told time and time again *just* how amazing the workout the sessions that are on offer are, for a Friday evening, 7:50pm to be exact, 'Full Body' hour session.

Just to give a quick overview, Barry's originated in the US in 1998 and is known as a 'revolutionary' way of working out - high intensity interval training. Barry's is open seven days a week and each day focuses on a different muscle group finishing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with 'full body' sessions.

Our sold out Friday night full body class consisted of four 15 minute rounds alternating between the military treadmills and floor work. At the beginning, our instructor Faisal Abdalla showed us (the newbies, of which there were four of us) how the class would work, how to use the treadmills and what to expect in the impending hour, then the rest of the class poured in and everyone either took a spot on a treadmill or a box on the floor.
I have to say, I was really nervous - in fact I don't think I said one word in the 10 minutes running up to the beginning of the class, but Faisal put us at ease by being incredibly motivational throughout the entirety of the class, as well as being a great laugh too!

I definitely maintain however, that I had reason to be terrified. At one point I was running at 8mph... and because I was running so fast, probably faster than these little legs have ever gone before, I felt like I was going to fall off the back of the treadmill. I turned round to the boy with a face of pure terror and screamed 'I CAN'T PHYSICALLY RUN THIS FAST' to which he burst out laughing and told me to turn the speed down... Faisal shortly came over to tell me not to worry and to go at my own pace if need be which was encouraging and relieving all at the same time.

The class was intense, like the most intense thing I've ever done. There were points when I really felt like pushing myself and points when I just wanted to go slower and at my own my pace - during the second treadmill section, I put my finger on the button to lower the speed but before I knew it Faisal was shouting down the microphone 'Hold it there Ala, you can do it' which spurred me on when I had felt like giving up. And I guess that's only really something you can get from being led in a fitness class environment. Had I been on my own in the gym; 1. I wouldn't have been pushing myself that hard anyway and 2. I wouldn't have had the motivation to keep going.

I loved the personal nature of the class, everyone was extremely friendly (although the lights were down low in there so no one is really bothered about what a hot and sweaty mess you are) and Faisal seemed to know all of the names of everyone in the class, ensuring he was encouraging everyone over his mic.

When I walked out of the class after getting a high-five from Faisal and some positive encouragement on my performance, I hit the showers. I was so impressed - not only were they clean, we were provided with towels (as well as towels for the class) and the showers were stocked with shampoo, conditioner and bodywash, which totally makes life alot easier. And the best bit, when I went to blow-dry my hair it was to my great surprise that there were GHD hair straighteners and dryers provided. A bit of pampering after a hard workout doesn't go a miss.

We then sat at the shake bar and indulged in a protein shake - they have an unreal amount of flavours, all prepared fresh and to order (you can choose when you want your shake made and waiting for you as well). 

As I said, I was absolutely terrified going to this class, having never even been to any kind of exercise class before - I simply didn't know what to expect. And although at points I wanted to collapse on the floor because it felt like my arms and legs were going to drop off, all I can think about now is when I can book in for my next Friday session... because I enjoyed the Friday evening session *that* much. I don't know who I've become!

I'm officially an exercise convert, the Barry's way.

Summer Berry Pavlova

We had friends round to see the new flat on Saturday, so what better excuse to get the creative, baking and food juices flowing than through hospitality.

It wasn't a huge thing, and we mainly just sat in the lounge talking, laughing and drinking but I wanted to share the dessert I made, which ended up being perfect for the hot and sunny day that Saturday turned out to be (you were so wrong Mr Weatherman).

I have been making meringues for longer than I can even remember. I don't know how it started, but mainly just because I found a love for homemade meringue and wanted it all the time. My parents would happily let me sit in the kitchen whisking away, and the results got better and better as I went on.

I used a different recipe this time mixing half caster sugar and half icing sugar with the beaten, fluffy egg whites, which was a really nice change and made the meringue noticeably lighter. I baked the meringue for an hour on 120C (fan oven) and then turned the temperature off and let it sit in the oven for another couple of hours whilst we ate lunch and digested our food.

Although the strawberries, raspberries and cherries were ripe and sweet the season is still not in full swing - buying three punnets of fruit set me back a good £6 at the supermarket, *but* give it a month or so and all you'll see in the shops is mounds of summer berries - I can't wait.

This was probably the best meringue I've ever done, crispy on the outside, and only some slight breakage as I manoeuvred it off the baking parchment and onto a plate, and so light and fluffy on the inside, I was actually very impressed with myself. I used Elmlea instead of double cream because to me it tastes the same, with a hint of vanilla. Whilst the cream was being whisked in my KitchenAid (getting so much use out of it, so pleased), I prepared the fruit. I cannot stand seeing the green leafy tops being left on strawberries and stones left in cherries - it's so lazy and doesn't make a good food experience in the end. So people, please prepare your fruit :)

Recipe as follows:

Pre-heat oven at 120C fan
Separate 4 medium egg yolks and whites and start whisking the whites until firm and forming 'soft peaks' - basically really bubbly and double in volume
Weigh out 100g of caster sugar and 100g of icing sugar, sieve well and spoon in together a tablespoon at a time
Whisk until thick, silky and well-formed
Pour the meringue on to a baking tray covered with baking parchment/greaseproof paper, spread it out a little and form a well in the middle using a spoon

Pop in the oven and after an hour, turn off the oven and let it sit for a few hours
Transfer the meringue onto a plate or serving dish

Whip 300ml (or more) of double cream or Elmlea and add a teaspoon of vanilla (or to taste)
Spoon the whipped cream on top of the meringue being careful not to break the meringue

Prepare your fruit and place/dump/chuck on top

And there you have it, a Summer Berry Pavlova, probably the easiest dessert in the history of baking!

Payday Wishlist June 2014

This month's payday wish list is all about the makeup. Apart from my splurge on a Chanel mascara a few weeks ago, I haven't really mixed anything up in my make up bag for a long time. A very long time. And with a couple of weddings coming up this year AND a holiday - I know, push the boat out - I want to make sure I'll be looking back at photos with a smile, and not a grimace of utter disgust.

1. Obviously we all know of the Chanel Vitalumière Aqua foundation as it made its way round the beauty blogging world countless times. So when I went to pick up my mascara, I got matched and took home a sample of the shade 20 Beige. I haven't completely used up my little sample bottle but I have loved using this, not only does it smell luxurious but it glides on the skin and I have to say, it's a pretty good match. I love the fact it is so light but still gives good coverage and stays on for a good amount of time. I'll be purchasing this as my summer base and I couldn't be happier.  

2. I know the NARS Laguna bronzer made it on to my wish list a few months ago but I still haven't picked it up and as we draw closer to the summer months (looking outside today, it feels like we're already here) I need a good new bronzer, and this will do the trick. 

3. If you read this post, you'll know I've started to get interested in blushers. I'm a bit awful and don't really trust a lot of the pharmacy brands and would much prefer to splash out on something I know works and will last a long time. Cue the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush in Dim Infusion. I know it's expensive, I'm still weighing up my options but it looks so gorgeous and has had rave reviews. At long last I'm ready to delve into the world of blush. 

4. Another potentially expensive but worthwhile buy, I think the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Diffused Light could be the perfect product for summer, a nice setting powder over a tinted moisturiser or a beautiful highlight, this product looks gorgeous and I'm putting it on my birthday list. 

5. I love all things CK, I love the clothes, I love the underwear, I love the fragrance and their candles. When I found out a few weeks ago (late to the party I know) that CK One I became obsessed and researched a lot. I need to find a stall so I can see what the deal is with their foundation but I'd be more than happy to sample the range first via their lipsticks (I've got a problem, I know), especially in  the CK One Shine Lipstick in 700 Bliss - what a gorgeous colour. 

6. I have had the Urban Decay Naked Palette on my wish list for a long time. However, I never wear eye makeup so I've never really felt comfortable enough to spend the money on something I might not use at all. I have started using the Maybelline 24hr Colour Tattoo eye shadows occasionally and have been really enjoying so I'd definitely like to branch out in time for the weddings I'm attending this year. 

7. This one is fairly simple, I've run out of concealer, I've wanted this one for a long time but the last time I bought a Mac concealer I was pushed into buying the Mineralize one, which is good don't get me wrong, but my lust for the Mac Studio Finish Concealer never died, and now I'm here... funny that. 

8. I'm still on a quest to find a great but easy to apply gel liner, I actually chucked out my L'Oréal Blackbuster liner because it was/still is shocking. My sister used to rave about the Urban Decay Ink for Eyes that came in a box with the brush, which they've now changed to a pot (so inconvenient, why did you do that Urban Decay?), so I thought I'd put the Urban Decay All Nighter Eyeliner on my list and give it a go. 

Wow, I was clearly in a really chatty mood. Well done if you made it this far :)

Holiday Wears | Summer Dress Edit

So now I've actually booked the flights for my holiday, I'm getting super excited and all I want to do is go out and buy loads of nice loose dresses to wear in the blazing Turkish sun. Cue a wishlist...

Printed Sundress, £8, George @ ASDA - For less than a tenner you can't really go wrong, and I have to say George is really doing it for me on the summer clothes front. 

Sleeveless Midi Dress, £45, Topshop - With this dress I'm thinking, evening time, some gold sandals and a nice statement necklace to have dinner out in the town... catch my drift? Spot on, I know! 

Jersey Beach Dress, £7.99, H&M - What a steal. I literally can't believe how cheap this dress is! The print is so gorgeous and I love this style of dress from H&M, they are the ultimate in comfort. 

Lace Baby Doll Dress, £30, River Island - How lovely is the style of this dress?! I love the straps and the lace detailing as well as the colour, a perfect dress for bouncing around in the sun, non?

Short Bandeau Dress, £7.99, H&M - Again, such a steal, well done H&M! I love bandeau necklines, they make me feel free (I know, get out more Ala...) and the print on this dress shouts 'I'm on holiday and I love the sun', as well as this being an easy day to night dress.

Tulle Contrast Slip Dress, £65, Boutique @ Topshop -  I think this is my favourite out of all of the dresses here. I love a slip and I think this dress is absolutely gorgeous. Coral is my favourite colour for dresses and summer-wear, as I *think* it really compliments my skin tone. And is there nothing more elegant than a slip?! Just stunning.

A Lazy Weekend

Whenever I get to work on a Monday morning and someone asks me 'what did you get up to on the weekend?' I always, always struggle to remember. Which makes me look like someone with not much of a life, as I can't remember doing anything decent. 

That's not the case I assure you.

This weekend was chilled, relaxed and all things lazy. My most favourite part was going up to Brockley Market for the first time ever, despite having lived in the area for over a yealifestr. I was supposed to go with the boy but he had a few too many beers the night before so couldn't muster up the courage to make it out of bed.

I put on a nice outfit, did my makeup in a different way than usual, and actually used a blusher, correctly and dare I say flatteringly for the first time in my life ever. A major break through.

Sometimes it's nice to just take time over things and that's exactly what I did; I pottered about once I was ready and made myself a cup of tea. When I felt emotionally ready for what I was about to do I left the house and immediately regretted my cardigan choice. It was scorcho outside!

When I got to the market I was almost overwhelmed by the variety of food stalls. I did however get there late in the day when some stalls had started to pack up already, but that's a lesson learnt - the early bird catches not just one, but all the worms. I picked up some homemade fresh scotch eggs, they had run out of the flavours I wanted, a normal pork and a black pudding scotch egg so I settled for jerk chicken and pulled pork scotch eggs, as well as a packet of homemade pork crackling - mmm! There ain't nothing like the taste of pork fat in the early afternoon, or ever really.

As a consolation prize for not being able to pick up any hot food as almost every stand had ran out, I stopped by the Ruby Violets ice cream van for a salted caramel ice cream cone. Well over-priced at £3 for one scoop, but I wasn't feeling tight and fell in love with the idea of sauntering back home, ice cream in hand in the blazing (not really even an exaggeration) sun through the beautiful roads of South East London. Bet you thought you'd never hear that sentence said ever. It was damn delicious too.

I had one of those feelings as I walked back from the market feeling really good about myself for setting myself up for a little independent activity. I don't have an issue doing things on my own, but it's really nice to make the effort to go out looking and feeling good, and doing something different from what you would normally. Very gratifying, well done me.

The two days either side of my lazy Saturday consisted of drinking, with good friends at good pubs which was great fun.

This is not my feature on Brockley Market obviously, as no images shown are of the market, but below you'll see images of the scotch eggs mentioned earlier. And I have to say, the jerk chicken one (on the left) was fab.

I hope you all had a nice time on the weekend, hopefully lazing about in the sun!