Monday, 20 October 2014

Mid-term break

My Instagram followers will know that I recently spent a week in France, on an exchange organised by my school. Each pupil was paired with a pupil in France, and we went to stay at their house and experience a little bit of French life for ourselves. 

We went to Aix-en-Provence, in the south. I’d visited many areas of France before but never Provence, so I was looking forward to the trip. 

We arrived on one sunny evening in Nice airport. One look at the palm trees and we realised we were abroad! The bus journey took about two hours, which whilst on one hand seems like a long time, it wasn’t enough to prepare us for meeting our partners! Before stepping off the bus I felt a strange mixture of excitement and fear. (Well, primarily fear.) What was my partner like? (I’d only sent her a few emails in the previous week.) What about her family? What were they going to feed me? What were we going to talk about? And - most of all - what if I didn’t understand anything they said? 

My fears were soon laid to rest, however. I stayed with a wonderful family who really tried to make me feel at home. They introduced me to new foods, took me round their local town and made sure that they included me in dinner table conversation. My French had definitely improved by the end of my stay, which will be a great help when it comes to exam time! Even if I didn’t know a word in French, I was able to mime or describe the subject in another way so that they could understand it. 

If you decide to go on an exchange, make sure to speak the language as much as possible. You will reap the rewards! It’s also a good idea to have  a little slip of paper and a pen on you at all times because you will learn lots of new words, even in seemingly everyday situations. 

Here are a few tasters of my trip. 

A windy day at the beach.

A pretty water wheel. 

Cooling walks alongside a river. 

 Old buildings in Avignon.

Cafés in Aix. 

I'll be posting a few more photos of my trip later in the week, so stay tuned! 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Maple Pecan Bundt Cake

I've been waiting a long time to make this recipe. 

Three or four years ago, when I was first getting into baking, Mum and I split the cost of Nigella Lawson's new book 'Kitchen'. I would flick through the pages slowly and carefully, looking at flavour combinations and the mouthwatering photos. Every time I looked through the book, one thing stood out to me - a Maple Pecan Bundt Cake. 

However, two things barred my way: the fact that I didn't have a Bundt tin for a while, and the price of maple syrup. 

I did buy a bundt tin in Ikea a few years ago, but it sat in the cupboard, neglected... until one fine Saturday morning. I longed to make the cake that I had looked at for so long and I decided to go for it.  I even had the best excuse in that I had opened a bag of pecan nuts for my banana muffins and the nuts needed to be used up!

On reflection, maybe I should have bought a different tin - perhaps one with more angles and peaks. But I totally forgot about the appearance of the cake once I'd cut into it and tasted the gooey, nutty filling. It's absolutely divine with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk! 

Eat, and enjoy. 

Maple Pecan Bundt Cake 
For the filling:
75g plain flour
30g soft butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150g pecans, roughly chopped
125ml maple syrup

For the cake:
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g soft unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
250ml sour cream

icing sugar, for decoration
flavourless oil, for greasing
One 23-cm Bundt tin

1. Heat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease the tin using the oil, then leave upside down on a piece of newspaper to let any excess oil drain out.

2. Make the filling by rubbing the butter into the flour, as if you were making a crumble. Stir in the nuts and add the maple syrup. Mix well until all combined. 

3. For the cake, measure the flour, bicarb and baking powder into a bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture and then add one egg. Mix well. Add another tablespoon of flour, beat again and then add the second egg. Mix well. 

5. Gently fold in the rest of the flour mixture. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. The batter will be fairly thick. 

6. Spread just over half of the cake mixture into the Bundt tin. Spread it a little up the sides of the tin so that there is a dip in the middle. Gently spoon the nutty mixture into the dip, the whole way around the cake. 

7. Cover the filling with the remaining batter. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until cooked all the way through. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes then loosen the edges with a knife, before turning the cake out onto a rack. Dust with icing sugar when cool. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

City Picnic

I really do think I am beginning to fall in love with Belfast.

Well, maybe 'fall in love' is a bit strong... but over the summer I've been able to explore the Ulster Musem, various restaurants and just generally experience city life. And it's given me a hunger for more! Whilst I love the variety of Victoria Square, there's so much more to the city than just a huge shopping centre and chain coffee shops. (Don't worry Caffe Nero, I'll still drink your cappuccinos.)

I love the idea of discovering hidden corners, of finding individual shops with cute clothes and knick-knacks. I want to be able to experience Belfast as a unique city. It has so much history and recently it's really started to come alive. Unlike the renovations in Lisburn, which have done nothing for the town and caused major pedestrian troubles (lots of uneven paving), Belfast has started to look smarter and overall more interesting.

Anyway... back in August I met up with my good friend Susanne for a catch up. She's just finished her final year at school so I knew that I wouldn't get to see her as often (who am I going to talk to in the corridors now?) and we decided to meet in Belfast for a morning of shopping. 

We hunted for hair accessories, searched for satchels (namely this dreamy blue one in River Island) and even nipped into Hotel Chocolat in the hope that we'd find a free sample or two. After a morning of successful purchases we needed to rest our weary feet and have a good long chat about our problems, summer activities and plans for the future. 

Enter City Picnic. My sister and I had passed this place a few times but had never dared to step inside. It's basically half American convenience store - i.e. it stocks Lucky Charms/Vanilla Coke/Nerds - and half diner. They sell bagels and burgers, filled with everything from chicken to chorizo to mushrooms and monteray jack cheese. 

I chose a bagel, served with a side salad and coleslaw. It was delicious - stuffed full of chicken, bacon and avocado. No flat bagels here! Also, look at the newspaper-filled tray and the little spoons for table numbers... it's just too cute.

Susanne picked the 'firecracker bagel', filled with chicken, sundried tomatoes, cheese and pesto. If I hadn't been in the mood for bacon this would definitely have been my choice! 

We sat for a good hour and a half, talking and laughing whilst sitting at colourful picnic tables and watching the world go by outside. Eventually we decided to leave, and it was with much sadness that we stepped outside into wind-swept Belfast. 

I'd really recommend a trip to City Picnic. They sell a good, filling lunch for about £7 and it's a lovely place. Despite being in the centre of the city it's tucked away on a corner and so it doesn't feel too people-running-everywhere-rushed. Give it a try! 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Life Lately - September

It's such a cliché, but... is September really over already?! The month seems to have flown by and I haven't really done anything significant other than go back to school. 

I have, however, tried to enjoy small and simple pleasures, such as:

.... making a frothy chai latte at home with my new milk frother. I'm in love!

... spending some time sitting under the trees in the garden, thinking about the summer and looking ahead to what the next few months will bring. 

.... picking blackberries for jams and crumbles. 

... listening to Jamie Cullum's fantastic piano playing. ('Imagine' is my favourite song on the album so far.)

... flicking through two new cookery books full of gorgeous photography and decadent desserts. 

... watching 'Jean de Florette' in preparation for a visit to France in October (yippee!) .

So, what about you - what's been happening in your life recently? Or what are you looking forward to the most about October? 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Party @ Gatsby's

I tend not to make cupcakes very much. It's not that I don't like them (buttercream is my fave) but I find that it's a lot of hassle for some tiny little cakes that will be eaten in several bites. I think there's something to be said for old-fashioned fairy cakes or little queen cakes that require the minimum amount of effort yet still taste delicious. 

I made these lemon cakes for a Gatsby-watching session with a friend of mine. They were specially chosen for the occasion - Gatsby gives Daisy some little lemon cakes in the book -  but unfortunately we were unable to see the film. We chose 'Clueless' instead, which I enjoyed immensely (though I didn't get to finish it, so don't tell me about the ending!). Did you know that it was based on Jane Austen's Emma? 

Anyway, these cakes are so simple to make and they are sweet and light and fresh. Enjoy one or two with a mint julep... or alternatively just a cup of tea!

Daisy's lemon cakes (makes 6 - 9)
3oz butter
3oz caster sugar
3oz self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 huge egg or 2 small eggs
1 1/2 tbsp lemon curd

4 tsp icing sugar
juice of 1/2  a lemon

1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a bun tin with cases (keep extras cases out - you may need more). Combine the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and egg in a bowl. Mix well until smooth and creamy.

2. Fold in the lemon curd. Spoon into the bun cases, filling until the mixture reaches two-thirds of the way up the case. Bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden.

3. Mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice. It will make a very runny icing. When the cakes are cooked, spoon a little of the icing over the top of each one. Leave to cool and eat, preferably with some sort of fancy cocktail and a feathery hairband.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Autumn Attire

The weather is beginning to change. The trees are losing their leaves, there's a slight chill in the air and the sun seems to set even more slowly now, spreading its golden fingers along the horizon. 

For me, the perfect autumn colour palette consists of rich reds, soft greys and an unlimited number of tan accessories.The colder mornings require something a little warmer than standard summer clothes, so I put together an outfit for you.

Blazer // Trousers // T shirt // Boots // Scarf // Earrings

What's your go-to September outfit? 

More exciting recipe posts to come, I promise!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Potted Hen

I may have just found my new favourite restaurant. 

At the end of August we went out for dinner to celebrate my mum's birthday. We went to The Potted Hen in Belfast. It's a restaurant situated in the Cathedral Quarter (somewhere I hadn't been before) and has views of a pretty little square and the back of St Anne's Cathedral. 

I hadn't planned to take photos of the meal but to be honest it was so spectacular that I couldn't help myself. My dad and I actually ended up ordering exactly the same dishes!

The restaurant is large and airy, with long windows for maximum light. It has dark wooden tables and creamy walls, which contrast with the 'industrial' lighting and pipes on the ceiling.

As per usual, we ordered main course and dessert - though I have to say the starters sounded amazing too.

Dad and I had a spring vegetable salad - fragrant fennel, green edame beans and firm broccoli paired with little slices of potato and a lemon vinaigrette. There was also buttery spinach and a little butternut squash purée, which felt very masterchef-esque! It was fresh and felt healthy, and the portion size was perfect. I love my vegetables and this felt like the right sort of meal to say goodbye to summer.

Mum also picked a vegetarian dish - beetroot risotto with feta cheese and walnuts. Earthy, slightly creamy and delicious.

Tender chicken with crispy polenta chips, vine tomatoes and a buttermilk sauce for the sister. I had to sneak a mouthful of it and it was really tasty. 

Next up, dessert.

Thick and creamy pannacotta, punctuated by a delicious cherry compote and lemon curd. It came with a lovely little white chocolate cookie, too, which added a little bit of 'crunch'. Mmm.

Mum choose a raspberry parfait with blackberry 'gel' and granola - lots of berry flavours.

My sister picked chocolate fondant with a little hint of ginger. We had to wait a bit longer for it but she says it was worth it - warm and rich and totally decadent. 

So, have I convinced you to try The Potted Hen yet? I would go back without a second thought. You can find them here; but if hotdogs are more your thing, take a look at 'Hendog' place upstairs for a more informal night out.