Bike into town

So, I messed up. When I originally set myself the Bike Week Challenge, with 9 bike themed things to try between 15th and 23rd June, I had totally failed to remember I had two days in Leeds with work, with no bike. Oops. I’m a little behind with the challenges, so they may not all be completed in Bike Week itself, but it has spurred me on to try different cycling things than I may otherwise have done, which I guess is the point of the challenge really.

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That putting the challenge in context, I actually undertook this challenge before Bike Week had begun on a day off. After a couple of days of rubbish weather spent at home catching up on sleep and the blog, I hopped on the bike to cycle into town with no real aim in mind. I barely have to pedal to cycle into town as it is pretty much all downhill and only a ten minute or so ride. I took the scenic route along the river rather than the more direct, less beautiful way. You’ll have to take my word on this front I’m afraid- cycling alone makes it entirely impossible to take any photos without causing some kind of damage. I was hoping to get a remote controlled shot of me with the bike, but no luck- the out-takes are hilarious. So, here’s my bike almost in town.

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Side note- really need to shorten my brake cables- my bike currently has antennae! 

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Luckily, there are plenty of bike parking spots in the centre of town, so I locked up my bike  round the back of a flower stall whilst I wandered around town.

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Although I set off into town without much of a plan for my day, I remembered that there was an event on at Winchester Cathedral- A Symphony of Flowers. A quick google on my phone came up with some pretty impressive pictures, so I decided to give it a go. Truly amazing- expect a few posts to follow. After I’d seen the thousands of flowers inside the Cathedral, I had a look around the nearby marquee and took part in a quick flower arranging lesson with a lovely lady from NAFAS who helped me create a table arrangement. I wanted to create something that looked very English Country Garden-y and I think I succeeded?

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This seemed like a great idea until I realised that the arrangement would not get home in one piece if I took it on the bike. Really didn’t think that one through! Well, it turns out that cycle helmets don’t just protect heads from damage- my helmet turned out to be the perfect way of carrying my flowers home unscathed. I just had to push my bike home instead.

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I also got so many lovely comments from complete strangers when I was carrying this round town finishing off a few errands, which was really great. It’s so unusual to get compliments from people you don’t know- I passed people in the street who commented and had several chats with cashiers when I bought a few bits and pieces. An unexpected addition to my day.

Can’t remember what the Bike Week Challenge is? Read my original post here.

Bike to work

Monday morning- time to crack on with getting through my Bike Week challenges.

Today’s task? Bike to work.

The reason I don’t bike to work really is that I live so close. It’s about a ten minute walk, so cycling doesn’t really make the journey any shorter by the time I’ve dug the bike out of the garage and then locked it up at the other end. I’ve only cycled once before but for Bike Week I figured I’d give it another go.

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The journey was great. I barely had to pedal and there was next to no traffic- excellent. My issues with the bike commute? Clothing restrictions! I wear a dress to work most days and when cycling that just isn’t very dignified. So today I not only had to plan what I took to work with me (i.e. no more than I could carry), I also had to make sure I had on a suitable outfit. A lot more thinking than I usually engage with in the mornings.

Having arrived at the office and negotiated balancing around the side of the traffic banner, it was time to get into the dingy car park where the bike store is. This is virtually underground, with a roller shutter that rises painfully slowly. Then, when you are finally in, the bike parking is in the dingiest, darkest corner of the car park. Hmm.

How was the rest of the day? I felt quite smug with my helmet sitting on my desk, quite virtuous that I’d packed in a minute workout before my working day (hardly). But, when it came to the journey home, breezing past grid-locked cars, and getting back a lot sooner than I would if I’d have walked I really did enjoy my cycle commute.

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All in all, I think I might try to cycle more often. Especially if I have to head to the gym or somewhere afterwards- it makes getting about a lot easier but perhaps I need to make sure I use a backpack that day or invest in some new panniers. And, yes, I am aware how depressing the photographs are…

Have you ever cycled to work? If not, is it something you’d try?

Lemon(and lime)ade

Homemade lemonade. Just thinking about it makes me think of summer. I saw some beautiful Spanish lemons on the market and couldn’t resist picking up a handful to make some lemonade for the first time ever.

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You will need: 1.5 cups caster sugar, 2 cups water, 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon and/or lime juice.

Here’s what to do: Gently heat the water and sugar on the hob until all the sugar is dissolved. This takes less time than you think! Whilst this is heating, squeeze the lemons and limes until you have enough juice (I used 3 limes and 3 lemons, but they were huge so you may need more). When the sugar syrup is ready, mix in the lemon/lime juice. Transfer to a pitcher or jug and chill until cool. Once cooled, this syrup is concentrated, to needs to be diluted or you’re in for a very sickly drink! I found that around 1/4 to 1/3 of a glass made the perfect lemonade dilution, although obviously dependent on personal preference. This made enough to fill my Ikea carafe which holds 1l.

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Cornflowers

I picked up two bunches of beautiful cornflowers from my local market on Friday, in both blue and white. They are so lovely and just remind me so much that it is summer time. They also set the boy off on a massive hayfever episode yesterday, so they have been banished to the balcony! Luckily the weather is nice enough that I can still sit out there and appreciate them.

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Otterly mad

I’ve gone crazy for Wild Olive and the printables on her Etsy store this week. When I signed up to the Summer Stitch club, I couldn’t resist adding the gorgeous Otter Meal Planning Kit to my basket. We’ve been getting really into meal planning over the past couple of months and usually resort to the nearest scruffy bit of paper to plan our week’s dinners on or a tiny notelet for a shopping list!

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This set is perfect – it has recipe cards, a weekly planner and a shopping list. Plus, it is all covered in otterly brilliant otter puns- love it! Who doesn’t need otters in their life? Our fridge is now covered in otter organisation.

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Do you meal plan? Any tips on being organised?

Thanks to Rosalilium

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On Saturday, I set my alarm for 5:45 (ouch) and shimmied on up to Birmingham on the 7:09 train (far too early for a Saturday, let me tell you!). My destination? Birmingham Blognix, organised by Elizabeth of Rosalilium (she also organised #BEDM). It was a day of fun and learning as well as lots of tea and cake. I learnt a huge deal about how to develop my blog and what steps I could aim towards in the future, but it was also all about meeting other bloggers.

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There was lots of cake in the form of the Blognix bake off, the winner of which (Nic– see the amazingly decorated cake at the top) went home with the beautiful cobalt blue bag from Britstich you can see peeking out below.

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There was also savoury food a-plenty, which we enjoyed sat around on rugs for an improptu indoor picnic. I was definitely not alone in wishing I had chosen a more sitting on the floor friendly dress, but what can you do?

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And of course there was bunting and lots of it. The gorgeous lace and pastel toned bunting was I think made by the very talented Lace Lapin. It makes me want to make myself another lot of bunting for summer. There are only so many occasions where Olympic coloured bunting is appropriate!

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The day itself? Jam-packed full of tips, to the point where I’m feeling a little over-whelmed! The day began with a chat about working with PRs from Jen of A Little Bird Told Me, followed by Social Media expertise from Emma of Freelance Lifestyle as well as a blogger Q&A. In the afternoon, there was a selection of workshops, of which I chose Monetising your Blog Effectively with Carlene from Reward Style, followed by a presentation on blog design from Kim of Kim Lawler Creative.

I found the whole day really useful, but as I’m effectively starting out, much of what I have learnt has been stored in the ‘retain for later‘ section of my brain. The working with PRs pitch had some excellent ideas, but I feel I’m still at a stage where I am enjoying writing and phtographing as I like and I will see how this blog and its readership evolve. I don’t think I’m at a stage yet where that is anywhere near my radar.

As for Social Media? Wow, I sure have a huge to do list! There are so many things brought up by Emma that I didn’t even think of. I had no idea you could schedule tweets and that there is such a variety of software out there to help you get more organised with your blog. So watch this space to see me working more on that. It may be a while though as it will have to be when I have time to get organised!

Overall? A fantastic day with a lovely, friendly atmosphere and I will certainly be keeping my eye open for the next Blognix event if and when it happened. The Custard Factory was a fantastic venue for the day, and we even had a chance to browse a huge vintage/antiques market over lunch. More on that another day.

But finally, I need to thank Elizabeth for her recipe that inspired our lunch on Sunday- Roast Potato and Chorizo Hash. Whilst Elizabeth’s version looks truly immense, I threw our version together with what we had kicking about. Namely a load of homemade potato wedges, along with some sliced peppers and leftover pancetta cubes. Delicious, but I can’t wait to try the chorizo version.

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Winchester Farmers’ Market- 9 July

A gorgeous sunny day and a pretty early start resulted in a very successful famers’ market trip. A couple of weeks back, we left it too late and other than a few bits of greens, we had missed the best bits of the stalls by the time we arrived. This week we went earlier on so we didn’t miss out, and this was definitely a great plan.

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Look at those veggies- carrots, beets, kohlrabi, cavolo nero and red spring onions. Mmmm.

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As well as lots of veggies, we also picked up some local cider to try, as well as some local cheese. We also discovered that the farmers’ market is a great place to find good quality, locally sourced meat and fish. As well as some smoked trout pate (yum, they are normally all sold out) we chose some hot smoked trout, which we’ve frozen so we can enjoy it another day with a potato salad. We also got 2 packs of organic beef mince for £5 and a beautiful bunch of sweet williams.

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Expect to see what we’ve been cooking up with this soon.

Balcony update

I thought it was about time for an update on my growing gardening skills. Given that we only have a teeny balcony in the way of outside space, I’ve been doing as much as I can. You can see my previous efforts here, here and here. Anyhow, my tomatoes are starting to develop buds, strawberries are starting to appear and my Violas continue to flourish.

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I was really excited when I saw that the tomato plants are starting to produce buds. Brilliant.

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Tomato plants are taking over and looking more like a jungle each day.

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Violas are looking gorgeous and just keep on flowering and flowering. I’m sure it has been well over a month since they started to flower and they are just producing more and more flowers.

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Look at the progress with the cat mint- this is doing really well. Local cats take note.

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Look- signs of strawberries!

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The forget-me-nots I bought at the start of May have done so well they are almost over. I’m mentally planning what can live in my royal mug planters once they re well and truly over.

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Even my fuchsia is starting to look a little happier. I nurtured this indoors from a plug plant and it has been very unhappy since  it moved onto the balcony and seemed very shocked. With all this sunny weather, it has started to grow- brilliant.

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In other balcony news? The basil I planted about a month ago has started to grow and I now have teeny little shoots peeking through the compost. The plug plants I planted up at the start of may are all doing well, although I shall have to wait and see if they actually flower this year. I’ve even seen a couple of bees and hoverflies circling around the plants which is great to see.

Scandi style eats #4 and round-up

Time for the final installment in my  mission to better use my Signe Johansen cookbook in May- this is a little round up of a few other recipes I made and enjoyed last month but don’t really need a full post each.

Smørrebrød: Scandinavian open sandwiches. I tried two varieties, both served up on a crusty spelt loaf from our local Farmers’ Market. The toppings were lovely, but the bread was a bit of a let down. It was great toasted, but just too solid when served as bread. Such a shame as the loaf looked beautiful and we had treated ourselves to it. Lesson learnt…

So what were the toppings? Soft goats cheese with sliced radishes and smoked sea salt. The recipe also called for rosehip syrup (any ideas on where to track that down?!) and a sprinkling of chervil. I had parsley kicking about, so opted for that instead. This was a lovely combination, and I will definitely be going for the combination of goats cheese and smoked salt again- these complimented each other perfectly.

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Smoked Mackerel and Fennel. This was again delicious. The mackerel is sitting on top of horseradish sauce (I didn’t have horseradish paste to hand) and topped with a little fresh dill. I discovered the combination of mackerel and horseradish a few years back, and I forget how perfect they are together all the time. Definitely one to try if you’ve not before. With both these recipes, it was unfortunate that the slightly dry bread wasn’t the perfect base. I’ll have to try these out with another bread base, but as toppings they were lovely. Plus, there is something about an open sandwich which just feels more sophisticated and more of a special occasion than a standard lunch. We enjoyed these on our balcony in the sun  for another balcony picnic (my new favourite thing).

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Spelt and Fennel Bread. Now, this would have made a much better base for the toppings above. This was a relatively easy, hassle free loaf to make, and although the end result is quite dense, it is in no way dry, and I think the addition of buttermilk in the recipe is what gives the loaf this texture. Also good toasted. If you’re not a fennel seed fan (like the boyfriend) then other seeds can be used. I’ve got a tub of poppy-seeds waiting to be used, so might give that a go this weekend. Looking back at these pictures is making me crave this bread again, it really was delicious (or should that be scandilicious?).

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Jarlsberg and Fennel Seed Muffins. I think these win the award for weirdest ingredients list of anything I’ve ever cooked. I know not everyone enjoys a savoury muffin, but these were great for a late brunch or mid afternoon snack. I think on the whole I’m more of a savoury than sweet kinda gal. But seriously, just look at the ingredients:

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The marmite, mustard and cayenne pepper combo gave these a definite kick and they are a more feisty version of any savoury muffins I’ve tried before. Plus who doesn’t like Jarlsberg? 

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Bircher muesli for Spring and Summer. If you’ve not tried Bircher muesli before and are a porridge or muesli fan, this is well worth a try. This version is quite humble, with just oats, milk, grated apple and natural yoghurt (plus a sprinkle of cinnamon to serve), but the first time I had Bircher was in Austria where it was packed full of nuts, other cereals and dried fruits. Yum.

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You can catch up with previous Scandi style eats #1 here , #2 here and #3 here.

The verdict? The recipes in this book are like nothing I’ve tried before, there is a really wholesome feel to them, as well as being quite clean, fresh recipes. Just the sort of food I love. There are a lot of recipes though, that I would love to try but the ingredients are really quite specialist and without having a Scandi style kitchen cupboard they are a little restrictive. In general, as much as I love cooking, I don’t like buying ingredients that I know I’ll hardly use. That aside though, a beautiful book. It has also well and truly cemented my desire for a Crown Devon Stockholm teapot. Beautiful.

Coming next? June’s recipe book that deserves more love is Leon: Ingredients and Recipes. I may just be cooking up a storm from this one tonight, so watch this space. Did someone say beef and Guinness?