Cake For An Occasion

Well hello. Long time no speak, or at least it feels like it. Today I have photos of a banana loaf cake, and it comes with a story, probably one that you won't expect either.

No one ever teaches you how to deal with being made redundant, especially being made redundant at the age of 23. It's tough; the last few weeks have been super tough, but I've now made it out the other side and today I'm starting a new contract role. My unemployment lasted just less than 24 hours thankfully due to a number of factors; I have a brilliant support network of friends and family, but also a fear - that became all to real over the last few weeks - of being unable to pay the bills and rent. 

Shit got very real.

But, it's worked out OK and I ended up being able to take the back end of last week to focus on things I like doing and really chilling out at home, I feel much more human again instead of running around like a headless chicken, stressed to the max.

ANYWAY, when I was let go I posted on my facebook page that I was looking for a new role, and that if anyone knew of any temp/contract roles to get in touch. Long story short, my friends and family are utterly amazing and I felt truly well looked after. I ended up taking a role the next day from an application I had made myself but still felt so grateful for all the support. So back onto facebook I went, exclaiming my thanks for the love and support. I said I'd be baking and sewing and doing the things I love and as a half joke, that if anyone wanted any cake, to let me know and I'd bake it. For some weird and unknown reason loads of people commented saying they'd like some banana cake - only God knows why. So I baked a banana loaf cake. 

Because when you get made redundant, what else are you supposed to do? 

I think of it as not an occasion cake, but a cake to mark an occasion.

Onwards and upwards!

The Pizza Express Spring/Summer 2015 Menu

Last week I attended an event to sample the new Pizza Express Spring/Summer 2015 menu. Let me guess what you're thinking, 'I didn't know that Pizza Express did seasonal menus!' Well, neither did I. But Pizza Express are entering their 50th year of being in business, and they're celebrating.

I've previously explained how I feel about chain restaurants, and I stand by it with Pizza Express. It's reliable, it's affordable, and quite frankly I've never had a bad meal there. And how exciting that they've got new options on their menu for the coming sunny seasons, from appetisers right through to cocktails, and it's all delicious.

The event was held at their new restaurant a stones throw (quite literally) from Leicester Square Station on Charing Cross Road - a great location in the heart of tourist mayhem. The new restaurant is chic and has an almost 'Shoreditchy' vibe  - it's cool and totally unlike the Pizza Express I've previously known. We were greeted with tables filled with dishes of mixed nuts and garlic marinated olives - my fave yum yum. As well as a whole bar full of readily poured drinks including their two new cocktails one of which was a berry mojito. Just yes.

Everyone also had the chance to make their own pizza including prepping the dough for the pizza oven and doing some rather questionable dough tossing (questionable on my part anyway). We were allowed to top our pizzas with whatever we wanted. I went for a simple tomato base with mozzarella, pepperoni, olives, red onion, mushroom, roquito peppers and some seasoning. So delicious and it was ready in 4 minutes, fast food with style I'm sure you'll agree. And in celebration of their 50th birthday, Pizza Express are running a new competition to design a pizza that will be used on the menu! I think I could pick a winner... but then again I'm biased.

So what's on offer on the new menu? The standout dishes for me are the new, or should I say recreated favourites of the Margherita, La Reine and the American Hot, translating to; the Margherita Bufala, a much more grown up and sophisticated take on the classic pizza; La Regina an amazing recreation of the ham & mushroom, which now features.... wait for it... truffle oil(!!!); and the American Hottest, recreated to test even the most tolerable of tastebuds.

My favourite pizza toppings are ham & mushroom anyway but trying one cooked with a truffle oil on top just blew me away - hats off to you Pizza Express. And the new desserts including an eton mess cheesecake and a refreshing lemon posset, really just hit the spot. 

Pizza Express have really taken the time and effort into creating and recreating some wonderful dishes, that as we all know, won't break the bank. I've been having dreams of the La Regina pizza since last week and I cannot wait to go back and have it again. The new menu launched on the 24th March 2015 so is now available in all UK restaurants just waiting to be tried.

Thank you Pizza Express for a really wonderful evening - you sure know how to throw a party.

Let's Get Nakd

When you receive an email asking if you'd like to try loads of different flavours of Nakd bars, it's kind of a no brainer really.

I love Nakd bars; whenever I fancy something sweet without going overboard, the Nakd Apple Crunch bar is up there with some of the first snacks I think of grabbing from the shop. What Nakd manage to do really well is incorporating actually nice flavours into snacks that you don't have to do a million hours of exercise to burn off. So hooray for that. And as well as being healthy and helping you to get some of your recommended five a day, some Nakd bars are also jam packed full of iron rich foods. Bonus!

I think it's also safe to say there is a flavour for everyone. As a flavour combo I love love love mint & chocolate - Nakd have me covered. 'Scuse the pun. Don't like the sweetness of chocolate? The cocoa flavour is deliciously bitter, the perfect accompaniment for an afternoon tea break. Fancy something a bit more fruity? Check out the Berry Delight bar.  

You can buy Nakd Bars pretty much in all the supermarkets and online, they cost just as much as any choccie bar would and they provide for you in the deep and dark hour of 3pm when you need a little sum'n sum'n to keep you going.

What's For Lunch Today? Pho | Soho

Another Friday, another lunch in Soho... it's a hard life.

Continuing on my quest of trying out Asian foods, I decided to pop along to Pho on Wardour St for lunch after it cropped up on this website, a website I use for lunch inspiration more often than I'd care to admit.

After a little research on their website the decision was made. I've walked passed Pho many times, but never realised they did takeaway. As a reference point it's only a couple of doors up from the Hummingbird Bakery in Soho - great reference point.

The first thing that hit me when I walked in was the awesome fragrant smell, I'm not sure whether it was the food or incense but I liked it. I was shown round to the bar where I ordered my food, despite some reviews I read before leaving, the staff were perfectly friendly and polite. I took a seat for my 5-10 minute wait but before only a few minutes had passed my food was packed and ready to go which was a nice pleasant surprise. In all fairness the restaurant wasn't busy, it was about 12:15 and they open at 12, but still, I'm not complaining.

All the separate elements of the dish are well-packaged in different containers for ease of carrying and to keep everything fresh, which I like. It was also important for me, ordering the pan-fried beef with garlic as I believe it would have been overcooked by the time I got back to the office, had the stock been added beforehand.

So yes, I ordered the Pho tái län, which is their rice noodle pho with pan-fried beef and garlic, accompanied by all the usual suspects, beansprouts, onions, little dried prawns and the herbs and chilli separate. My bowl of pho set me back £6.75 which yes, is a lot for a lunch but considering the cheapest takeout option from Shoryu ramen is more expensive than that, I don't mind. And it was beef. The beef was still pink before adding the stock so it was nice and tender. The noodles were delish - can't go wrong with some rice noodles and the veg accompaniment was fresh and crispy. I also added in a few sprigs of coriander, the chopped chilli and squeezed the lime in. The dish on the whole was refreshing, filling and tasty. I can't actually fault it - although the only thing I'd like is a few more strips of beef but I'm still content.

I don't know whether it's sacrilege to compare ramen and pho - still fairly new to this Asian food game - but if I had to choose between the two, I'd definitely pick Pho over ramen. It still gives you the comfort of warm soupy goodness but is light and fresh, much like Vietnamese food on the whole really.

I'd definitely go back for a takeaway lunch again, not only because it was delicious, but because there are cheaper options and they do have quite a large takeout menu at that. I'd also definitely eat in to justify trying some of their sides and starters... why else?

The Perfect Spring Dress | New Look 6262

If you follow me on instagram, you may well have seen a picture of this dress posted a few weeks ago. This has been by far my most challenging project to date, for which I had to fumble my way through learning a few new skills.

Back in December I bought this beautiful cotton floral printed fabric from my favourite local fabric shop Rolls & Rems in Lewisham. It really is a treasure trove of fabric at really good prices. Without knowing that it would become a dress, I picked up 1.5m on a whim at £5.50 a metre and it sat in my fabric drawer until after Christmas when I saw this post. So I went back to the shop to pick up the New Look 6262 pattern and work began. 

It was a little silly of me as I didn't actually check how much fabric I needed so I had to be very clever with how I placed the parts but I managed to squeeze it all in with only scraps to spare.

I'm super pleased with how this dress has turned out, sure there are definitely parts that could be improved upon, but my main triumphs were inserting a zip (supposed to be invisible but I bought the wrong one... doh) and using bias binding on the sleeves, as well as sewing a gathered skirt to the fitted bodice.

If I use this pattern again - which I definitely will, the other variations are just as nice and I think it's the perfect style of dress for spring/summer - then I'll probably shorter the skirt by a couple of inches but it's still a good length as it is.

It's still a little too chilly to wear this at the moment in the UK... BUT as soon as the sun pokes out of the sky for good, this dress is going to get so much wear!

Mother's Day At The Science Museum

Usually for Mother's Day, we all head home or to my Grandma's to spend some time together but this year after seeing a feature on a new exhibition about food cravings at the science museum, my mum suggested we all go along for the day. 

I've wanted to go to the science museum for the longest time, we always used to go to the natural history museum, which lets face it, can get a little old and tiresome after the billionth visit. The science museum however is much more interactive and has exhibitions on things that actually affect us on a day to day basis. It's all really fascinating... despite me being completely and utterly uninterested by science at school. 

I was hoping that because going to the science museum isn't really your typical kind of outing for Mother's Day, that it wouldn't be so packed with little kids crawling up the walls. I can't really compare but I have to say, it wasn't too bad. After walking through the space room and the man-made world section (which was super cool with all the old cars, trains and planes) we made it to the Cravings exhibit. It was a little smaller than we all expected but still interested nonetheless. It explored the idea of how your senses and more biological processes can control what we eat and how we eat it. I'd recommend a visit if you're in the area.

After that we went upstairs to the communications room which I think was my favourite, not only because it was close to empty, but also because there was a section about the development of mobile phones. It's so crazy to think how fast everything has progressed in 20-30 years. We even discussed remembering when my dad and then a year later my mum brought home their first ever brick sized mobile phones. Bizarre.

After the museum we wandered around South Kensington to find a place that wasn't rammed for us to eat in. We found a pub, plonked ourselves down and had some good pub grub. We let our food settle, and meandered back to the station, stopping at the Hummingbird Bakery and I bought my dear ma a red velvet cupcake as she hadn't ever had a Hummingbird Bakery cake before! Yumz.

It's days like this that make me truly grateful for how wonderful my family is, and what a brilliant support network we are for each other.

Hope you all had a lovely time over the weekend!

March | Monthly Picks

It's safe to say, I've well and truly got the spring bug, much like the rest of the blogging world. The sun poking out of the sky has made me all giddy and I even omitted wearing a coat on Monday to work. It was a little chilly, but I'm an optimistic kinda person, what can I say?!

My favourite pick this month - although I love them all - has to be those gorgeous WAH London nail colours (I've totes been lusting after them on instagram). I've a serious problem when it comes to nail polish so have tried my very best not to buy any recently. It's been a few months so I think I deserve a treat. And tbh, who could deny when there's gorgeous colours like that on offer? And special mention goes to the rose gold casio. I've had a gold one since I was 16 so I think I'm due a shiny new watch, don't you think?

Nike Running Shorts
Running Headphones (that aren't in-ear!!)
River Island Makeup Bag
Rose Gold Casio Watch
River Island Pastel Duster Jacket 
WAH London Nail Colours

Sundays Are For Baking Bread

There's nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the oven, especially on a Sunday. It's like the most homely thing you can do, right?

On a bit of a whim and because I haven't made any bread in ages I decided to make some ciabatta bread on Sunday. I have made it before whilst baking along with last year's bake off, but haven't since even though ciabatta is probably my favourite bread.

I used the same Paul Hollywood recipe as last time, BUT instead of using strong white bread flour, I used '00' grade Italian flour. I'd seen it in another recipe online and wondered what the outcome would be.

As you can probably guess, the result was a much lighter loaf with a nowhere near as thicker crust - a major plus in my eyes because it made the bread *that* much easier to tear and dip. Yum.

One thing that remains certain when making ciabatta is how gentle you have to be when removing the dough from the proving bowl to the work surface. In fact, I was so terrified of over-handling that I barely shaped the loaves, which ultimately left me with four very different looking ciabattas. I'm sure Paul Hollywood would NOT be impressed.

But still, the bread rose well in the oven and as I remember correctly from that particular GBBO episode, Paul & Mary were looking distinctly for a good dispersement of air pockets throughout the bread, which I believe I managed.

Ciabatta is certainly a tricky one, but definitely doable. I'm still shocked I've managed to make it twice, and quite successfully at that. I love dipping mine in balsamic and oil but I am also a thorough supporter of ciabatta and nutella, and if that's wrong... well, I don't want to be right.

Nike+ Training Club with Ellie Goulding

This Particular isn't turning into a fitness blog, I promise. I love food too much.

BUT I do want to tell you about an awesome event I attended last night. I wasn't invited as a blogger, no - I actually chose to go, so I don't have an overwhelming amount of photos... mainly because I was too busy getting my sweat on but I'm gona tell you about it anyway.

The night was the launch of Ellie Goulding's Tighten & Tone workout on the N+TC app. What is the N+TC app? It's a free app for both iOS and Android filled to the brim with free, yes free, workouts that can be done at home or anywhere really. Some of them require hand weights or other bits of equipment, some of the exercises require nothing at all. It's great, and if you're looking to start getting into fitness, it's a great place to start without subjecting yourself to paying a gym membership that might not get used.

The night started with a mini acoustic gig by Ellie (which was excellent by the way) and then moved into the workout which was led by Ellie and her personal trainer Faisal! There was probably about 300 women in the room (an exhibition room at the Tobacco Dock in Wapping, East London) with high spirits and even higher energy. 

Even though the workout itself is only 15 minutes - plus a warm up and cool down, everyone in that room was sweating from the fitness elite to the more humble of us, Ellie's workout is tough. And as testament to the workout, my back and leg muscles are rather on the sore side today so I'll definitely be giving the work out another go. The ease of moves ranges from running on the spot to side planks so there's something to challenge everyone.

The workout ended with everyone getting a little too close for comfort for photo ops - not the nicest in a crowd of sweaty, panting ladies and it felt ever-so-slightly forced but I understand it would have been a wasted opportunity otherwise.

After the photos, we ventured out to where registration had taken place to grab a free salad - I had chicken caesar, the best choice I feel and a glass of prosecco. I think the prosecco was a bit of an odd choice after a workout and for a brand that promotes a healthy lifestyle... saying that I still guzzled a glass because HEY! It was a celebration after all. 

Overall it was a fab night, and despite the lack of management and organisation at the event everyone was having a fab time. I actually already had the app and have been to an N+TC before, also run by Faisal on Saturday mornings but had never actually used the app.

I implore you to utilise the workouts on this app, after all, they're completely free and it's so easy to get going. If I can do it, anyone can!

Keeping Motivated

Not only is January over, but so is February now, and motivation to keep moving and making changes are probably waning - I know I've certainly had my moments of 'what's the point?' so I thought I'd share some pointers that keep me going, even when it's wet and cold outside and changes aren't happening as quickly as you'd like.

A view from my run home from work

Healthy Competition
I like to think I'm not competitive, but I really am, even when I'm running home on my own I get competitive. Not necessarily with other people, although seeing someone slower than me is a guaranteed motivator (I don't come across those people often though) setting myself targets and being competitive with myself really pushes me on. It probably sounds crazy but when I tell myself 'just keep going, you're not going to die, you can at least run to the end of this road without stopping...' it really sort of eggs me on.

Tracking Results
I've been using the Nike+ Running app to track my runs, but I know there's a whole host of apps to pick and choose from. From 'coach to 10k' apps to fitness tracker gadgets there really is something for everyone. And the best bit about exercising for me, is seeing myself improve every time, even if I don't feel amazing afterwards, and by tracking my movement, I know where I can improve on for next time.

Trying New Things
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a creature of habit. BUT I think when it comes to exercise, it's good to know what your'e good at and then take yourself out of your comfort zone. When I started my exercise journey last year I only went to bootcamp. Being a terrible and terrified runner, I took the plunge and now I love it. Since then I've been to a couple of free Nike Training Club sessions and in the future I hope to get into pilates classes at my local gym. I guess it keeps things fresh and interesting, all with the same goal in sight.

What do you find keeps you motivated to keep going?