Day 17 – Our last day in China

It’s our last day in China today! Tonight we head off to the airport for our flight home!

We have a slow morning after last night.

I need to go back to the Pearl Market before we leave, so we head over around mid day. This place still amazes me. If I had the time and money, I could spend all day here.

I get to a couple of things I want. I could certainly get carried away here but I’m strict with myself! I have a lot to squeeze into my case already.

After shopping we go to Linda’s for dinner. We order noodles, egg plant, chicken Kung po as well we 2 other dishes. It’s our last chinese meal in China. All the meals we have had here have been good, and this one also doesn’t disappoint.

As we sit outside eating, I can’t help but smile when I see their delivery van! It’s a bit different to our Amazon delivery or the postman!

After lunch, we are all quite tired so retire to our rooms to lie down and have a quick snooze!

We spend the rest of the time chatting away or packing.

Finally it is time to head to the airport. I can’t believe the holiday is over. It has been the best ever.

I would definitely recommend Viking River Cruises if you ever want to visit China. They treat you so well, everything is so organised and you get to visit and learn about so many new places.

We were also lucky to be able to spend a few days with some great friends who showed us even more of China.

As we take off I close my eyes and capture every single memory into my brain. It has been the best 3 weeks ever.

Until next time!

Day 16 – The penultimate day

I can’t believe we only have 2 full days left in China.

I was awake at 4 am, so checked into our return flights. The trip has flown by.

We are having a lazy day today. Our host has offered for us to wash all our clothes so we have a clean case to go home with. I’m not good at letting others do things for me, but accept. I have work the very next day when I get home l, so this will help me.

We go to brunch at another ex-pat complex. After all the food I have eaten, pouched egg and salmon on crusty toasted bread is just what the doctor ordered.

Back at the house, while the girls get to the washing, the boys play pool. They really are competitive.

When you stay with people in China you have to register at the police station within 24 hours, so while the boys played we went off to register.

Tonight we are going out for dinner. It’s called the lost plate! You get onto a tuk tuk and are taken to 4 different restaurants ending up at a pub.

As Beijing are preparing for the 70th anniversary of China’s peoples republic, there were warnings of potential traffic jams and road blocks, so we decided to head into the city early.

We parked up not far from the Hutongs. As we drove, I recognised some of the restaurants we had eaten in whilst with Viking.

We arrived with plenty of time so went to a pub that sells a massive selection of draft beers.

We were a bit peckish so I ordered some spicy nuts and crackers. When the crackers arrived, the guy serving us poured what looked like water over them. I thought it was a bit odd, but as it hit the bowl the crackers were in, steam came off it!

The crackers was absolutely amazing. I thought whatever he had done would make them soggy, but they were so crisp. They were also cold but very tasty.

We eventually headed to our meeting place for the tuk tuk ride. Again we were early so found a lovely place opposite for another quick drink.

A word of warning about drinking anything in China! What goes in must come out! The toilets are not always great! Most are just holes in the floor and many don’t have doors on them!

There was due to be 10 of us on the trip, with maximum 4 to each tuk tuk.

4 of the group were running late so we were given a beer to keep us going.

Eventually 2 of the 4 arrived, but we had to leave without the other 2 as they were under pressure to get us around before some of the restaurants closed.

Just as we were heading off the final couple arrived so they managed to catch us up.

The tuk tuk ride takes you through the Hutongs. They are very windy. It is great seeing into the alleys, peoples houses and bars etc.

Our first stop was for noodles. They were amazing. I learnt on the Viking trip that Shanghai to Xi’an is rice country. Once at Xi’an it’s noodles, so we have only had them a couple of times on the trip. These were the best I’ve ever tasted.

Next was a Mongolian BBQ. We had a couple of dishes here. The first was a beef dish cooked on a griddle, the next a lamb one along with mushrooms. I don’t eat lamb but the beef was delicious. They give you a pot to which you add chilli, garlic and another seasoning to your liking. When the meat is cooked you dip it into your mix before eating.

Throughout the evening there was unlimited beer or soft drinks, which you would take from restaurants to tuk tuks etc.

The third stop I wasn’t sure about as I heard it was a pie. I had no reason to worry, it was the best pie I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what the pastry was made of, but I would say it was steamed, although the bottom was caramelised.

The pies were served with a selection of dishes.

To go with this, they gave us a bottle of the fire water to share. I did have the one shot but no more! It is lethal. Hubby couldn’t say the same. The boys in the group finished the bottle off!

The final restaurant we had About 5 more dishes which included my favourite dish – Kung Po chicken, before heading back to the pub we had started our evening at. Another beer was included in the tour.

It was gone midnight by the time we had finished and it had been an absolutely amazing experience. I would certainly recommend it.

I think we were all ready for our bed by the time we got home!

Day 15 – Staying with friends in Bejing

It’s funny but after over 2 weeks in China I’ve seen so much. What I hadn’t seen though was an actual house. Lots of apartments, but seriously, not one single house.

When we arrived at our friends last night, I was so shocked to see their house. It is so not what I was expecting. 2 living rooms, dining room, breakfast kitchen, 5 bedrooms – one is used as an office, 4 have en-suite and the master has a walk in wardrobe which is bigger than the dining room at home and a fantastic, enormous bathroom, area for gym and a balcony overlooking the front living room. If that wasn’t enough it has a double garage and a basement where they have a full size pool table, Darts board, bar, lounge area and even space for a full drum kit. To put the icing on the cake it also has a large garden. It is definitely a dream house.

This morning they have taken us to Hong Qiao, or as it’s also known, the pearl market. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was enormous, and simply sold everything.

We wanted a handbag for a gift and a cap for hubby! What we ended up with was 2 bags, iPod headphones, cap, T-shirt, 4 scarfs and a camera lens! If we had more money, we could have bought so much more !

Afterwards we went in search of tea. If you read my previous blogs you will know that I’d been to some tea places with the tour but the prices were too high for me to justify buying them. Our friends knew of a road full of tea suppliers. We only went to one of the malls, but that was enough. I’ve never seen so many places that sell tea. Everyone was so so friendly.

Our friends wanted to try Lychee tea. They were more than happy to give us a taste. It wasn’t for me as far too sweet, and for me it tasted like liquorice. They bought some and at 80 yuan for 500 grams it was a bargain. For £1O they have enough tea to last years.

The initial place didn’t have the chrysanthemum tea I wanted, but they took us to another one that did. Again they happily made us some to try. I loved it. So light and refreshing. I bought 500 grams for less than £20. As you reuse the leaves multiple times, it is going to last years.

Wandering around the mall, and when I say mall I have to point out it’s very basic, we looked at teapots and tea caddies. I ended up buying 2 tins for less than 50p and a beautiful chinese tea set. I have no clue how I’m going to get this all home.

It’s been a brilliant day and so different. We have been to places where the locals shop. We have also learnt there are 2 prices. One for tourists and the other for locals! My friend got us some amazing deals.

This evening the boys are playing pool before firing up the braai. I decide to throw some darts. I’m trying to think when the last time was that I played. I think it must be 35 years! I’m very pleased when I get 4 bullseyes!

I’m so glad we added these extra days on with friends as we are seeing another part of China and I’m still loving it.

Dinner was fabulous. Steak, jacket potato and salad. It was just what I needed.

We sat in the garden chilling before heading to bed.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 14 – Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Rickshaw Ride

Today is our last full day on the official Viking Tour. We are leaving the hotel at 7.45 am to travel to Tiananmen Square before heading to the Forbidden City. Either before or after lunch we will be doing a Rickshaw ride. It should be a good final day!

We arrive near Tiananmen Square and queue up. Terry already has our entrance tickets for us.

In the next few days there is due to be an important event in the Square, so security is very high.

We have been queuing for some some now, but not moving. We can see that Terry has gone off and we can hear him talking to officials in our earpieces. I can see him talking to many of them and on his phone too.

Eventually, he pulls us all out and breaks the news to us. The police won’t allow us through without seeing our visas! Terry has tried everything. As we don’t have them with us we can’t visit the Square.

We are all disappointed, but there is nothing we can do and we know Terry has really tried for us. We can all see he is really disappointed for us too so we all reassure him that it’s ok, we understand.

We talk a walk to meet our bus to go straight to the Forbidden City.

In the meantime Terry warns the other tour guides that were coming after us. They were in the queue too so would wait to see what they said to them.

We reached the Forbidden City and any disappointment I was feeling soon disappeared. Oh wow! I didn’t expect it to be this big or beautiful.

I can see why they say it is the worlds largest palace complex, with 980 buildings and 9,999 rooms. I wonder if they ever counted the rooms and if so, why they didn’t round it up to 10,000?

The palace dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Terry explained all the pavilions, courtyards and gardens to us, including the concubine courtyard and room. Sadly you could only see in through the glass to this room.

The whole place is just stunningly beautiful and I was so pleased we could spend so much time there. Even if we still only saw a fraction of it.

I’ve since heard that the other groups were allowed to enter the square without their visas! I’m jealous but these things happen.

We left the palace and headed to the Rickshaws, where we had a 20 minute ride around the Hutongs. These people must have really strong legs, cycling with hubby and I in the back. It was good fun even if they used the Rickshaw in front as it’s brakes.

It was time for lunch now. For the first time this trip it was actually quite late for lunch, and I was thankful for this.

I have to say, this was the best lunch I’ve had all holiday. My favourite was a chicken dish with nuts including walnuts. It had a bit of a kick, but I loved it.

This was our last meal with our travelling companions As we were checking out tonight. It is a night earlier, but we are going to stay with friends who are living in Beijing for 3 nights.

We say goodbye to the group, although I’ve missed Terry, which I’m gutted about. I leave a thank you note and a tip with reception for him though. He has been an amazing guide.

We get back to the hotel, pack and leave at 6 pm. I’m going to be sad leaving the tour part of the trip, but the holiday isn’t over yet!

I have no idea what our friends house looks like, so I’m excited.

We arrive and it’s huge and beautiful. Nothing like what we have seen in China up to now.

Tonight we go out for dinner in a western pub. A chicken Dorito is just what I needed after 3 weeks of chinese food!

We sit in the garden of the White Swan. It’s so different to what we have been used to, but it’s perfect to catch up with our friends. I’m looking forward to the next few days, to see a different side to Beijing.

Imperial Jewels of China – Day 5 – Sailing up the Yangtze River

Today is a sailing day so there is no need to get up too early however as we have a safety exercise at 9.30 am we decided to set the alarm for 7.30 am. I have to say this was a good decision as I had the best nights sleep last night in so long. I think it was the sound of the water that must have relaxed me so much. If the alarm hadn’t have gone off, I’m not sure when I would have woken up.

There are no kettles in the room so hubby was keen to get up and head for breakfast so he could get a coffee.

I really wasn’t that hungry today so settled for just some fruit and a mint tea.

After breakfast I’ll be honest I went back to bed for a couple of hours, while hubby sat on our balcony reading and watching the activity on the river.

I think we are both very surprised how wide the river is and how much commercial traffic is on it. I don’t think we have seen any other passenger ships on the river yet. It’s so peaceful you can’t help being relaxed.

As I had a light breakfast I was getting quite hungry so around 12.30 pm we headed to lunch. You can either eat from the buffet or off the menu. You will never starve on this trip that is for sure.

I opt for a tuna salad to start followed by spaghetti bolognese and Chinese green beans, while hubby had the same starter with a lamb curry. I really fancied sorbet but it wasn’t on the menu. I asked Eddie our waiter who said it wasn’t a problem and quickly returned with some.

Drinks run freely over lunch so I opted for the fizz while hubby had a beer.

During the day there are activities going on. I was gutted to read I’d missed a lecture on the Yangtze River this morning. Now reading the programme I see there is a talk on Chinese medicines after lunch and a lesson in Chinese. I am planning on going to the latter. In the meantime I’m going to chill out on the top deck watching the world go by.

It’s nice and warm but there is quite a haze today. As I sit watching the activity on the river it’s hard not to fall asleep. It’s really is calming sitting on the deck. There are fishes jumping out of the river. I don’t know what they are but they come right out.

The staff come round offering ice tea or water to keep you hydrated.

When we pop back to our room the maid has been. Again, they have left some really lovely extra touches such as bookmarks. Hubby had been reading his book but didn’t have one so had folded it over. She had noticed and gave him a Viking one. She also left a card each for us with our own Chinese year on and what it means. They must have got our years from our details. Hubby is a rabbit and myself the rooster. The description for both of us was actually quite accurate.

I did go to the Chinese lesson but couldn’t get into it so decided to return to our balcony to chill. Later we have welcome drinks with the captain as well as a Chinese themed menu. Eddie assured us at lunch that if we didn’t like Chinese they would make us something else, but you can’t scare me with Chinese food.

Before dinner we were invited to deck 5 for the welcome party with the captain. On arrival we were given champagne which was continuously topped up. Canapés were offered too.

The evening started with a dance performance before the key staff were all introduced to us. The captain had been sailing this river for over 30 years so we are in safe hands.

As we were listening to the speakers, we looked out of the window and saw the most spectacular sunset. Sadly we didn’t have any cameras with us but will definitely be making a plan to get some photos tomorrow night.

After a quick briefing about the next days tours it was time for dinner, and what a dinner.

As it was a Chinese menu, food plates of different dishes were placed on our Lazy Susan for us to help ourselves. Kung po chicken, ribs, fried rice, fish etc etc. It kept coming. A lovely dumpling soup and banana sorbet completed the meal. Oh of course more bubbly.

After dinner we retired to the bar for a couple before bed! Tomorrow we are off to visit a school and the old wall.

Why don’t we have a dollar store in the UK?

A few months ago I came across a lovely lady called Kathy on YouTube. She has a channel called MyDIY and publishes projects based around the things she mostly picks up in Dollar Stores.

Now to say I’m very jealous is an understatement. I cannot believe the quantity and quality of what she can get for just $. And don’t get me started on some of the creations she comes up with.

We have pound shops here in the UK. I do love having a good wander around them. They are great for branded toiletries, large dog poo bags(yep, we have a preference for them in our house!) and kitchen bits and pieces.

Since finding Kathy I have been more inspired to check out the pound stores around me. My recent video shows some of my recent finds :

But it doesn’t matter where I go or when, I never find the amazing things Kathy has from the Dollar Store.

It got me thinking. Why is there such a difference in products from the UK pound stores compared to the to USA dollar stores ? Is it our shopping habits? Are we not as creative? Can USA get better access to products than buyers in the UK? I really don’t know!

I used to be very creative. I always made my own cards for example. I even had one published in a crafting magazine a few years ago. It was for my dad and was based on a pair of denim overalls filled with tools. I have also made a few cakes for family and friends, but in the last few years time has been in short supply. With the right products, I am sure I could be inspired again to get my craft cupboard and drawers open once more.

Kathy comes back with signs, flowers, ribbons and so much more from her trips to the Dollar Store. She creates great wreaths, pool party decorations as well as ornaments such as the recent truck she make.

I appreciate that at Christmas, Halloween or Easter our pound stores do step up a bit, but day to day the products are not that inspiring in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I have picked up the odd thing. I love my hanging flower pots from my recent purchase. It is incredible the gap in products.

It’s a question I may never get the answer to, so for the time being I am just going to have Dollar Store envy and keep watching Kathy.

On the flip side, I do wonder who makes the products at that price. Are they getting a fair wage? I do hope so. There could be an argument that without that work they would be able to feed their family, even if it isn’t much. It’s a tough one!

I’ve never been into a Dollar Store myself. If I ever return to America, I’m certainly going to make a visit! I may have to pay excess baggage home though and I could potentially get carried away!

If you don’t know what I mean, pop over to Kathy’s YouTube channel MYDIY and see, and of course don’t forget to subscribe to my channel Slimminginspirations4u.

Have a good day

Cooking is my passion

This weekend, I finally found an excuse and the time to do some ‘non’ Slimming World baking.  Its been a while and it reminded me so much of how much I miss it.

There must be nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread or cakes in your house.  Since my hubby has stopped eating Carbs during the week, the opportunities for this have been dramatically reduced.  I don’t eat cakes anyway and on Slimming World, the lovely baked white loaves I used to make would be a no no.

My stepdaughter was over this weekend, so I had the perfect excuse to bake.  I had some lemons that needed to be used up, so a Lemon Drizzle Tray Bake it was.  I went to my favourite baking book for cakes – Mary Berry Easy Cakes.  I’ve had it for around 30 years.  It is full of so many amazing recipes that don’t take long to throw together!

https://youtu.be/33038fcXl0A

It is funny really when you think of my other favourite baker – Paul Hollywood.  I loved them both individually. In fact,Mary Berry’s cookbook was purchased at a time I didn’t really know who she was.  They both went on to great success working together.

I am not sure if it is the fact that I turn 50 next week, but I’m beginning to get really nostalgic.  In my grandparent’s day and even during my childhood, you would make a lot more cakes than you would ever buy.  Who remembers the good old Victoria sponge?  We would even make our own sponge to use in the trifle.

When I was first married in the late 80’s, every weekend I would make batches of cakes to keep us going through the week.  My best ever was a chocolate cake for an Easter party I was hosting.  

If people popped round, you always had something in to offer them with a cup of tea.  Cakes weren’t the only thing I’d make – biscuits and sweets too.  It is a bit sad to think that these days, it is a treat rather than the norm.

I know I blame my hubby and my eating habits for this, but the reality is, I just don’t have the same time as I used to.  The 3 hour a day commute certainly eats into my weekdays.  Walking the dogs and cooking meals from scratch every evening leaves me with only an hour a night to relax or catch up with any other jobs I need to do.

My blogs are written during my train journey.  Multitasking is the only way I can get through the mountain of tasks I have each week.

As time is limited in the week, we tend to leave all our jobs for the weekend.  That then means again that having the odd hour to spare is limited.

Hubby and I were talking recently about what our ideal future would be.  We would both love to work together in a joint business venture.  Doing something where you produce a dish, whether a savoury or sweet would be my ideal.  Hubby said he would be the delivery man!  It’s only a pipe dream, we both know that, but it’s funny how something I really enjoy features so little in my life!

That said you never know. If we won a million our idea may become real, and I do have an idea and a name ! So watch this space !

In the meantime I’m going to keep cooking!

Maybe that is why I love my vlogging.  It forces me to think of new recipes or make the effort to cook something that will help me on my own Slimming World journey, but also inspire others.

I’d like to say I am going to make sure I find the time to do more.  I know the people I work with would welcome some home cooking.  Sadly, I am not sure I would be able to stick to it.  In the meantime, I’m going to embrace every opportunity I can to get into the kitchen.  I have a great platform in my Youtube Channel.  I will ensure I keep motivated each week.  So don’t forget to subscribe to my channel to see what delights I come up with.

 

How am I doing on my 50 things to do in my 50th year list?

Do you remember at the beginning of the year I decided to write a list of all the things I would like to achieve during my 50th year?  Well we are now officially half way through that year.  Where has all that time gone? 

How have I done so far?  Below is my update:-

1)  Travel to China

 Still on schedule to achieve.

2)Visit Croatia

We went as planned in May and oh wow!  How amazing.  Following where we went on my YouTube channel

I still have my last day to publish – but it is worth waiting for!

3)  Weekend away in a VW Campervan 

Still not on my radar!!


4) Re-visit Lundy Island

Well after a tricky time sorting out a boat, this trip is scheduled to happen and I can’t wait!

5)    Eat at a Michelin star restaurant

Still not happened!

6)   Bake with Paul Hollywood

Sadly Paul hasn’t popped over to help me in the kitchen yet!

7)  Be my own boss

I’m still searching for that ‘ah ha’ moment that will make me rich!!

8)   Buy a new car with the registration of the year I was born

It is still a few months away before the 69 plate is out. Sadly by bank balance isn’t matching this wish yet, but you never know!

9)    Get at least 1000 subscribers on my YouTube Channel

I’m at 149 at the moment so a few more to go!

10) Take a hot air balloon over my home town

Still need to do!

11) Have a weekend away with my parents

Sadly this hasn’t happened yet, but I hope to make it come true!

12) Fly first class

@Emirates – can you help me with this one when I fly with you to China in August? Pretty please!!

13) Complete a successful ‘Dry January’

Woo hoo!  I absolutely smashed this.

14) Walk 5,000,000 steps in 2019

As I am still half way through the year, I have time to complete this!

15) Learn to crochet

I think this is for a winters evening don’t you!!

16) Visit Stonehenge

I made this happen in March this year and loved it!

https://youtu.be/j9PDDkP5dg8

17) Swim with dolphins

Not sure if this will happen, unless they appear in Lundy!

18) Run 10k

This was always going to be a tough one!

19) Learn to decorate a cake with icing

Oh wow, I forgot about this one.  Work had a festival week and one of the sessions was about Cake decorating!  I’ve done it without even realising!

https://youtu.be/yOTVetHzo5Y

20)Learn to ballroom dance with Anton De Beke

Well I haven’t danced with @antondebeke but I did get to meet him at @thismorning Live this year.   He is still a delight to spend time with!

https://youtu.be/Qln3XrVmjgI

21)Be on the panel of Loose Women

I’m still waiting @LooseWomen

22) Own a designer handbag

Maybe I’ll get one for my birthday!  Hint hint

23) Replace my greenhouse

Oh it is looking pretty sad at the moment so I think this may need to happen soon!

24) Reduce my daily commute to work

I’m still having fun with the trains!!  At least the morning commute has changed thanks to 4 extra carriages, which means I mostly get a seat now!

25) Teach Lola to walk off a lead

Yer right!  Hmm, not sure this is not going to happen!

26) Teach Fido to not bark at the door

We have been trying very hard!  I’ve now applied to the programme ‘Dogs Behaving Very Badly’ for help!  Fingers crossed!

27) Teach Fido not to bark at noises

As above!  Eek!

28) Have 5 minutes of fame on T.V. – preferably on This Morning

I’m still waiting for them to snap me up lol!!  I did get to meet Ruth and Eamon at the @thismorning Live at the NEC in Birmingham.  Eamon even had his hand on my knee!!  Lol!  They were such a lovely couple!

29)Go to see a musical at least once in 2019

Still to do, but we are in London very soon so who knows!

30) Go to a music festival or concert at least once in 2019

No happened yet, but the summer isn’t over yet!

31) Write a blog at least once a week

I’m smashing this with 2 – 3 some weeks!

32) Improve my photography skills

I’ve not had chance much to take many photos but when I have, I’ve really tried to be creative.

33) Clean out the garage

Don’t tell my hubby but, nah, not yet!  I will though promise!

34) Help raise awareness of homelessness

I’m still promoting this.

35) Help out someone at least once a month

Ooh now I really have to think about this one.  I think I have, but I could do more!

36) Have a professional make over

Still need to sort this one out!

37) Have a ‘hot’ Christmas

This may not happen this year, but one day!

38) Remember friends and family’s birthdays

I’m doing better.  I could be a bit quicker poster but it is an improvement.

39) Be surprised

Not yet!! 

40) Have dinner out once a month

We have done this and it has been really nice to have someone cook for me.  It hasn’t had to be posh, but good food.

41) Take an hour out a week for ‘me time’

I’m trying but some weeks are just so busy.

42) Get 8 hours of sleep a night as much as possible

I’m totally failing this one.  Only 6-7 hours a night at the moment. 

43) Drink more water and less diet coke

Right now I am drinking a litre of squash!  I’m trying!

44) Have a girls night out at least once every 3 months

I’ve just about done this, but I really need a few more!

45) Have a date night with hubby at least once every 3 months

I think we have done this – yes, definitely.  It is good to spend quality time together.

46) Take a canal trip

Well I did say a trip not a holiday so does the 30 minute trip with work count?

47) Go to see Wasps at least 3 times during the year

We have been once but will go more later in the year – promise.

48) Learn the rules to Rugby

Oops!  I really must talk to hubby!

49) Take up a new hobby

I just need to find the time!!

50) Keep in touch more with family and friends who live away

Facebook is great, but I really need to put some weekends away to see friends.  We have managed a couple of weekends this year, but we should do more!

So, there have been some things ticked off, I really need to start doing a few more!  I will keep you posted!!

Feeling hot hot hot !

Wow, what great weather we had this weekend! So who has a Braai? Ok BBQ? Yep it has the be done.

We went the whole hog and had 2! First one Friday night and another last night. You have to love eating outside.

Last nights Braai was all about using the leftovers. It’s amazing what you can create with a bit of imagination.

Saturday temperatures reached over 34 degrees for us! Not that I sat out in it myself! Oh no! We had friends round on the evening so first things first I needed to catch up on the housework! It has to be done especially with 2 malting dogs!

Talking of malting dogs, they do struggle when it’s so warm! Fido thankfully knows how to cool down. He stands in the shower waiting for someone to turn the taps in for him!!

Anyway, back to the friends coming for dinner. As it was going to be such a lovely day I decided the menu needed to reflect that.

Hubby offered to make his prawn soup! It’s light but very tasty. Perfect for a hot summer evening.

For main, I opted for pineapple and salmon kebabs with Jerk seasoning, with home grown new potatoes and a pomegranate and feta salad. As a salad dressing I made a Dijon mustard dressing. So far all free on Slimming World, but still tasty.

Now, this is where it got interesting. For dessert, I decided on an ice cream cake. Well why wouldn’t you!

The cake requires 2 layers of ice cream and a raspberry coulis, topped with a ginger biscuit layer! Sounds fab doesn’t it! And it was apparently (I made a syn free version for me).

The problem I had was the weather! I mean, when it’s over 34 degrees outside, how are you supposed to stop the layers melting while constructing them!

It was a case of moving very quickly and having a hubby on hand to open freezer doors for you!

I published a video of it here!

I had to laugh when I watched it back. I looked quite fresh at the start of it! By the end I was definitely wilting !!

The main thing is the food went down a treat! Note to myself though! Don’t try it again unless it’s about 10 degrees cooler!

I’m not complaining though! I love it when it’s hot hot hot !

Have a good day.

The Pioneer Women – My current inspiration!

Do you ever read a magazine or see something on TV that gets your creative juices going? Over the years I have!

In previous years it’s been Jamie’s 15 minute meals, The Hairy Bikers and of course not forgetting, Ready Steady Cook.

My current favourite has to be The Pioneer Women. I’m totally hooked. I’ve even series linked all her episodes.

So who is The Pioneer Women? Ree Drummond! I love her nick name Ree. Her real name is Ann Marie. My own name is Maria but have always been known as Marie to my family. As a kid my nickname was Me Me. My nieces still call me it. Ree is such a great nickname for Marie!

Ree seems to have an amazing life, living on a ranch in Oklahoma in America. She is married to a real cowboy – Ladd – and has 4 children. How romantic does that sound?

Her cooking is every day cooking from dinners to desserts, to things that keep the kids happy!

She always starts the programme with the phrase ‘welcome to my frontier’.

Ree started off blogging about her time on the ranch back in 2006. Her blogs have even won awards.

In 2011 The Food Network awarded her her own Series called what else – The Pioneer Women!

She prepares every day meals from chicken pie, pork ribs, chicken dinner, pork chops to easy desserts and cakes in her lodge. I think she is now up to series 20!

What I love about her is that she showcases her food in such a way that you can easily transfer that to your own kitchen. She doesn’t use fancy gadgets, just everyday pots and pans like we have.

You have to sometimes translate some of the ingredients as we call some things a different name here in the UK.

I love sitting down in the evening and catching up on an episode. Last night she did a beef stroganoff. I haven’t done one for ages. It’s definitely something I’m planning for next week now.

Now when I say she inspires me, that is exactly what she does. I wouldn’t cook her meals exactly to her recipe as she uses ingredients I wouldn’t, because I’m on Slimming World. Don’t get me wrong, her cooking is amazing and my hubby would eat them just as they are. I just need to shift a few pounds as you know, so a tweak would be needed for me.

She uses cream, butter, oil and salt. All things I wouldn’t use. This is where the inspiration comes in! I look at what she makes and try to work out how I can do it for me on Slimming World. Most things can of course be changed. There are some things she makes though that you definately wouldn’t want to mess with, like her chocolate episode! Marshmallows covered in chocolate and cookie pieces! I think my nieces would have a great time making those.

On the whole though, her recipes easily transfer into syn free versions. This is what I love about cooking. Taking great ideas and making them your own.

I’d love to cook alongside Ree and create great meals together that taste good but work for Slimming World too. Obviously that isn’t her cooking style or requirement. I should image with the work they do on the ranch, they soon burn off any calories.

Ree is such a natural presenter. It’s like a friend showing you how they cooked dinner tonight. She is so easy to watch and I’m also loving following her life on the ranch. Watching her children growing up and going off to college!

If you haven’t seen her programme before, go along to The Food Network and check her out! Maybe she will inspire you to get into the kitchen too!

When it’s not quite how you expected!

So today I’d planned the topic of my blog out! It was supposed to be titled ‘The Sun is out, the sky is blue!’. Well the sun is definitely not out and the sky is a grubby shade of grey!

The weather reports have been promising us a heatwave. Europe is steeped in temperatures in the 40’s. We were not going to get those type of temperatures, but in the 20’s is still good for me!

Yesterday was a horrible day. It did start off around 18 degrees and humid, but oh boy did it rain. I really considered not taking the dogs out, but then that wouldn’t be fair. Being Border Collies they have so much energy. If you don’t exercise them you know about it! Especially Lola who is currently going through the terrible 2’s!

So I popped on a pair of shorts and raincoat. Yes you heard right, shorts. I figured that wet legs would be more comfortable than wet trousers or jeans! And I was right!

By the time we got back the 3 of us were dripping wet. I was able to jump into the hot shower but the dogs had to settle for a rub-a-dub-dub! In normal speak, a towel dry!

The downside to wet dogs is that smell! Eek! Lots of Scentsy wax warmers were needed. I tried opening windows but the rain was just heavy!

Thankfully it finally stopped late afternoon, but not before it had dropped around 50mm of rain! I know that as I bought my hubby a weather station for Christmas. It’s great for keeping a check on what the weather really did in our area.

Working at home yesterday meant I had time to be creative in the kitchen last night. I do love having that extra hour our so. I’ve posted one of my videos from that session here:

Tomorrow I will publish my gorgeous breakfast cakes.

After an amazing dinner it was time to relax, in anticipation of the heatwave today!

I woke up all excited this morning. I dressed in shorts and a fleece!

As I stepped out of the house it dawned on me. Instead of sun it was raining. That was not forecast!

We had a drizzly walk. Quite cool too! I’m not loving this.

It’s nearly July and I can count on 1 hand the sunny days we have had this year! I’m so disappointed.

I’m praying now that this is just a blip! Tomorrow I’m going to be swamped in that heatwave.

Fingers crossed guys!

Be Inspired!

If you are a member of Slimming World you will know there are so many recipe books out there. I think I have most of them.

Every so often, if you buy a 12 week countdown you get one for free!

I must be honest, recently I’ve been a little bit negative about them producing another book. What else could they come up with. I mean, they have the BBQ, Soups, One Pot, Meals for One, meals using 5 ingredients, desserts, the list goes on!

The recent one is called SP Sensations. I received mine as part of a 12 week countdown a few weeks ago!

I took it home expecting it to go into my recipe book cupboard, never to see the light of day!

That evening as I ate dinner I flicked through. Suddenly I found myself leaving markers of things I liked! Oh wow, this book truly was different and amazing.

Suddenly I had an increased urge to be more creative in the kitchen. I got my groceries app out and started my weekly shopping list!

Turkey with Chorizo, Tuna Niscose are my first dishes. Hubby tasted them and was amazed at the flavours!

Another dish was cinnamon prawns! I think I actually got ‘you have excelled yourself’ from hubby on this one!

Even where I haven’t used the recipe exactly, it’s inspired other dishes.

The other night I made the Gong Bao Chicken. The recipe is for 4. As I only needed it for 2 I still made up the oyster sauce mix for 4, so I could use the left over to create a dish last night. Which I have to say was amazing. I will be posting that dish on my YouTube channel on Friday!

Suddenly dinner times are exciting again. I’m no longer tired or bored of having to think of meals every night to cook. I can’t wait to get home and produce something amazing.

When you have only 2 hours every evening to cook, prepare breakfast and lunch for the next day, eat and do everything else that you need to do before going to bed to start the day again the next day, it’s easy to get into a rut. This new book has completely reenergised me!

So if you are able, go get this book. If you can’t, then make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel to see my creations, as I share them with you!

Rules of Ready Steady Lets Cook Slim

Well today, I have officially launched my Ready Steady Lets Cook Slim challenge.

Although I am a keen Slimming World member, and I will be looking to make dishes that fit that programme, I also want to be able to open it out to anyone who is looking to eat more healthily.

I’ve done Weight Watchers in the past, but don’t know how the points are done now. I anyone would like to send me anything to help me give them their points equivalent for Weight Watchers please to do so.

I want this challenge to be inclusive of everyone, whether you are vegetarian, vegan, dairy free etc also.

So what are the rules?

Each week, I will be inviting my followers on YouTube and my Blog to put forward virtual bags. Each virtual bag will have a maximum budget. I will pick at random each week 1 bag.

After I have chosen the virtual bag, I will go shopping for those ingredients. I will then create dishes based on those ingredients and store cupboard staples. So what will those store cupboard staples be?

Store Cupboard Staples

  1. Anything from the Spice Rack
  2. Vinegar – all varieties
  3. Salt & Pepper
  4. Stock cubes, bouillon powder or stock pots
  5. Mustard Powder
  6. Soy Sauce
  7. Oyster Sauce
  8. Tomato Puree
  9. Fat Free Dressings
  10. Sweetener
  11. Low Calorie Cooking Spray such as Frylight
  12. Gelatine
  13. Bovril
  14. Marmite
  15. Mint Sauce
  16. Thai Fish Sauce
  17. Tabasco
  18. Vecon
  19. Vegemite
  20. Worcester Sauce

All other ingredients will need to be part of the bag.

The Virtual Bags

  1. Budget Bag – Maximum Value £3.50
  2. Classic Bag – Maximum Value £5.00
  3. Bistro Bag – Maximum Value £7.50
  4. Gourmet Bag – Maximum Value £10.00

What can you put into the virtual bags

You can put anything you like in the bags as long as it can be bought at most supermarkets.

If the value of your items doesn’t reach the maximum value and you want some additional ideas, you can give me the remaining balance as a wild card. This wild card will allow me to spend the remaining budget on any other ingredients I feel may enhance the dish.

You may tell me if you have any special dietary requirements for the dishes. You can also say if you are looking for specific meal time ideas such as dinner, lunch or breakfast or a mixture!

I will cook the dishes and publish them each week on my YouTube channel. I will let you know how they were made, how many they serve and anything else you might need to know to help you replicate it yourself at home!

To ensure I provide you with the best food options possible and have the chance to go shopping, I will be looking for the virtual bags by 5.00 pm on the Tuesday each week.

I’m really looking forward to this challenge and I hope you are too.

So start thinking about your virtual bags and leave a comment on my YouTube video here.

See you next week for the results!!

An apology to Paul Hollywood!

Anyone who knows me, will know I have a celebrity crush on Paul Hollywood!  It’s been going on for many years.  I’m not sure if its the beautiful blue eyes, the cheeky smile or just his rugged good looks that attract me too him, but I also think he is an brilliant baker too!

Before anyone worries, I also think he has a look of my hubby too!

So anyway, back to Paul! 

I’ve been a massive fan of Paul as I said for years.  I have many of his cookbooks.  In my old house, a couple of them were pride of place on my kitchen top.  Everyday, I would get my Hollywood fix!  Sadly, in my new house, I don’t have the same work space, so he is now on a book shelf in my hubby’s study!

Whenever I need to bake, I first go to Paul for inspiration and direction.  Whether it be from one of his many books or online! So when we arranged a GBBO mince pie competition at work, there was only one man to help me!

I wanted to stand out, and Paul didn’t disappoint with his recipe.  The filling took a normal jar of mince meat, and turned it into something special.  By adding chopped apple and satsumas, it was delicious.  The problem for me was the pastry!

I can make bread, but for some reason pastry just doesn’t go right for me!

My mum bakes regularly.  As we were to make vegetarian pies, I asked her for advice.  She suggested Trex!  So I substituted butter for Trex.

As my Youtube video will show, it all went a bit wet at first, but with a bit of flour I got it sorted. 

I decided to not do a full lid, but be creative with a star!  Hum!  Maybe I didn’t think that through, as the filling leaked over the edge!  Now I couldn’t really tell if they were fully cooked or if it was the juice catching!

I finally pulled them out of the oven and left them to cool!

They certainly didn’t look anything like Paul’s would!   In fact I’m a bit embarrassed, but as I had run out of ingredients, they had to do!

I brought them into work and placed them on the plate with my name on the underside.  We had 4 staff blind judging them on taste and look!  As I expected, I didn’t win!  Apparently, they tasted good, but I had a soggy bottom!!  

I mean, what would Paul say to a soggy bottom!

I suppose I should be grateful that my other colleagues got comments too like, the filling was missing, the pastry wasn’t good enough or the filling was too sweet!  

Oh Paul, what did I do wrong?  I’m so sorry that I took one of your amazing recipes and turned it into a complete disaster!

I’m not going to be beaten though!  I’m going to keep going until I can master the pastry!  Or if Paul is out there and wants to show me where I’m going wrong, of course I wouldn’t be offended!!

Happy baking!!

The Great British Bake Off

So last night saw the winner of the 9th series  of Great British Bake Off (GBBO) crowned the king/queen of baking!

I’ve been a fan of GBBO ever since its first series.  The mixture of great baking challenges, creative cooking, individual personalities and of course, last but by nowhere near least, Paul Hollywood.

Paul Hollywood is the absolute ‘god’ of baking for me.  It helps of course that he has the most gorgeous blue eyes, cheeky grin, and is my celebrity crush!

I know there has been a lot of bad press about him over the years in his personal life, and yes he may be a ladies man, but a girl can still have those crushes.

The crush aside, I do also admire him as a baker.    He had a good start in life, with his own father having a bakery.  He then moved on to be head baker in a few hotels around the world.  One of those countries was Cyprus, where a friend of mine met him a few times, in a local bar.  I am not jealous of that at all!! Much!

His TV career includes The Generation Game, The Heaven and Earth Show, This Morning and other one with one of my admired men – The Alan Titchmarsh Show.  Yes I know, some people find that weird, but have you read his books?  If you had, you would see him very differently!

In 2010, Paul’s career really climbed, when he was chosen as a judge, along with Mary Berry, on GBBO.

He has produced many cook books of which, I think I have all of them!  It really motivates you to be in the kitchen when you can see his face staring back at you!

His books include Paul Hollywood’s Breads, Pies and Puds, British Baking, How to Bake and Weekender Baker.  I think my most used is the book on breads.  Sadly, since I moved, my kitchen work surface isn’t as big as it used to be, so I find making bread more of a challenge!  I have plans in my kitchen though to sort that out one day!  I just need to boost my savings first!

For the first 7 series, Mary Berry worked alongside Paul as a judge, with Mel and Sue as the presenters, on BBC.  In 2017, it was moved to Channel 4.  Sadly Mary decided to remain with the BBC, so a new judge was needed.  They worked so well together, I was worried it wouldn’t be the same.  Mel and Sue also decided to leave the show, so it seemed the whole dynamics was changing!

Some people I know didn’t want to watch it on Channel 4, as they felt it wouldn’t be the same, plus it now had adverts included.  I was always going to be watching it, just to get my PH fix!

So in 2017, the new series started, with Prue Leith as Paul’s side kick.  Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding were to present along with them.

I have to admit now, I loved the connection with Prue and Paul from the beginning, but I struggled with Sandi and Noel.  I can’t quite tell you why, but it took a couple of episodes for me to warm to them.  Now I have,  I love them both.

I do have a silent jealousy of those contestants on the show.  I would love to give it a go, but I know I’m nowhere near good enough!

Some of the creations they come up with are absolutely amazing.

If you have never watched it, each episode is made up of 3 challenges.  Each challenge tests the competitors baking skills.

Signature Bake

This tests their creativity, and gives them a chance to show off their individual personalities.    They know in advance what they are baking, so have the chance to practice it as many times as they can, at home.

Technical Challenge

This is the most difficult challenge I think.  The competitors are given a very basic recipe to follow, usually without baking times, temperatures,  etc, along with some ingredients.  They are given the name of the finished product, but most of them will not even know what it is supposed to look like!

The end product is then blind tasted by Paul and Prue, ranking them in order based on taste and how they look compared to what they should look like!

Showstopper Challenge

This is the final challenge of the round. This is where the competitors can really show off their skills, producing a show stopper to wow the judges, and us at home!

It has to not only look good, but taste good too!

All these challenges are carried out in a huge tent!  It is filmed in the summer months.  The temperature in the temp must reach huge heights, withl all the lights, camera equipment, ovens etc.  In some of the challenges, you will see the impact of the heat on their creations, especially when they are working with chocolate.

After the 3 challenges have been completed, the judges will pick a ‘Star Baker’ for that week.  This is the person who has impressed the most over the 3 challenges.  You receive a ‘Star Baker’ apron and the respect of the other bakers.  There is then sadly someone that has to leave the competition.

This continues week on week, until only 3 are left, to go into the final!

This years final had a bit of a twist!  For the technical challenge, they were taken out of the tent, to where an open fire was waiting for each of them.  Their challenge was to make 6 equal sized Pitta breads with 3 dips!  You have to love Paul’s creativity.  I think the viewers were as surprised as the finalists.

It’s true to say, that all 3 struggled with it, but I admire they way they just got in with it.

If you have never watched the show, I recommend you do!  If you have a love of baking, or even just eating, you will love it.  Or if you are like me, just for the weekly fix of Paul Hollywood!

Paul has inspired me to bake for many years.  I love making his breads and coming up with cake ideas for friends and family.  Here are just a few of my creations of the last few years.

This was for my nieces 4th birthday party.  She wanted butterflies on her cake so this was what I came up with.

My dads 70th birthday.  He is great at making and fixing things.  I felt this reflected him well.

A friends 60th.  The jockey was based on the birthday boy.  He doesn’t ride but loves horse raising and works for a trainer, so I based the horse and jockey on the actual racing colours and one of his horses.

A surprise 50th birthday for another friend.  The man and women are meant to be the birthday boy and his wife!  Thank fully they are still speaking to me.  If you look behind the 3rd photo, you might see a familiar face!!

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This was one of the first cakes I made, to take to my neighbours for a party to celebrate the final of the Rugby World  Cup.

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And my last cake, was for my mums 70th birthday meal.

I do love baking and creating.  I’m not fantastic at it, but its fun having a go.  Pininterest is a great place for ideas.  You can keep it as simple or as complicated at you like.

You just need a good cake recipe, a good imagination and a bit of time.

Watching GBBO inspires me to get back into the kitchen.  I hope it does for you too!