When the train causes the strain!

I absolutely love it when that big yellow thing in the sky appears.  You can’t beat the feeling when you step outside and you don’t need your coat!  Even at 5 am!  For me though, it is also bittersweet!

Take this week.  Whilst I am cheering on one hand that the weather has finally improved.  That we can use our braai every night for dinner, sit outside until late at night drinking a nice cold glass of wine, or even just be able to keep the patio doors open so the dogs can run in and out.  On the other hand, it means the inevitable chaos that is our public transportsystem.

If you read my blogs regularly, you will know that I commute 3 hours a day for work.  Most of that is by train.  It is never a dull moment on the trains here in the UK.  It is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too many leaves, not enough drivers, not enough carriages, the list goes on!

Twice this week I have had the journey from hell.  I’m going to save the best until last!

So yesterday saw the second highest temperatures recorded in the UK.  Our weather station at home recorded a maximum high of 36.3 degrees, so it was a hot one!  The BBC news in the morning warned of the potential for chaos on the railways so we were prepared.  Apparently as the track heats up it expands, which can cause the track to buckle!  Now I get that, but what I don’t get is how countries with hot climates cope!  Surely, we should have built our railways to cope with all types of weather.  Apparently not!

From around lunchtime, we are all checking our phones to see what is happening with our trains.  When I come back from lunch, a colleague warns me to check my line.  It is cancellations after cancellations.  He has taken the wise decision to take some leave and go early.  I decide to hold out! 

As the afternoon continues it becomes evident that we are not going to be going home on our usual route tonight.  After a quick check, I notice a train is due to leave another station going in the direction of my parents.  It means leaving work 30 minutes earlier, but I feel we have no choice.

Hubby and I quickly walk to the other station. It is uphill and the heat is intense.  We arrive with seconds to spare!  We are so grateful for the staff who hand us both a bottle of water as we get to the station.  The train should be 4 carriages but today only 2.  We are like sardines.  The heat is intense, and I can feel beads of sweat pouring down my face.  I’d be embarrassed if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone else on the train is looking just like me!  Obviously, I’m standing which makes it worse!

Thankfully the train journey isn’t too long, only 35 minutes.  I am so happy to finally get off and get some fresh if not hot air!  My dad is waiting for us.  Thank heaven for dads!  He is going to drive us home so we can collect hubby car, then drive back to our station to get my car!   It is all very long winded, but when I look at my phone, I am relieved we took that decision.  It’s 8 pm and so far, no train have left to go to our station.

It may have taken 3 hours to get home, but we are home!

Now, let me take you back a few days earlier to the worst day ever in my commuting history!

Tuesday was another hot day.  Not the hottest but still hot!  I left work in preparation to get my train.  There was no indication that there were any problems.

As I arrive at the station, I check the boards.  My train is due in on Platform 4, so I head down to it.  I am then told by a member of staff that it is now coming into Platform 7.  I grumble and head off to platform 7. The train is already late, I’m hot and I just want to get home!

When I arrive at 7, I am told that the platform change was a mistake and it is still coming in on 4.  I turn around and head back to 4.  I’m then told it is coming in on platform 1!  So,another trip up to 1.  When I get to 1 I’m told no, I need to go to 3.  By this time, I am not very happy to say the least.  I get to 3 and am told its back on 1.  Off I go again, to be told it is on 5.  Oh, no, we think it’s 6.  I arrive at 6 again to be told it is definitely coming in on platform 2a!  I get to 2a as the announcer says platform 4, but thankfully says she is sorry that was a mistake it is coming in on 2a.  

We are all waiting on 2a.  It’s very crowded and hot.  It is now almost an hour since I arrived for my train!

They then announce the train is actually waiting on platform 2b!  We all have to quickly try and get through the crowds to get to the other side of the platform.  This is really testing me now!

As I get on, I grab the first available seat.  I’m so grateful for it.  The train fills up and I now have a man’s crotch in my face.  Lovely!  The train then sits there for half an hour whilethey try to find a driver!  It is so hot, and I am extremely dehydrated by this point.

Finally, the train moves, and I head home.  What should have been 1.5 hour journey home is now 3 hours!  I’m hot, sweaty and tired.   I have the most amazing hubby ever though.  As I finally walked through the door, he handed me a lovely glass of Slimline Wine.  Just what I needed.  He had also prepared the food for the braai, so all I had to do was shower, sit in the garden with my wine and relax!

Now they say, ‘let the train take the strain’, but in my experience it is the train that courses the strain!

I’m definitely not a fan of public transport.  I appreciate we need to try and use it to save the planet, but when you have days like this, you really have to question if it is worth it!

Thankfully tomorrow is Saturday, and I do not intend to go near a train for the rest of the week!  Have a good weekend!

 

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And of course it rained!

It’s so typical of the great British weather! It’s absolutely gorgeous all week. Come the weekend and the sun decides to take a break too!

This weekend was no different. All week it was beautiful. Friday I worked at home. Temperatures reached 25 degrees. Did I go outside and enjoy it? No! Why? Well firstly I had work to do, but secondly, I thought I’d have plenty of time in the sun at the weekend.

We had 4 friends coming to stay and had planned outdoor activities!

Firstly breakfast on the patio followed by a lovely walk around Stratford-upon-Avon. It was the river festival. Bands would be playing and a few little stalls selling a variety of goods. As it is held on the banks of the River Avon, it was going to be a lovely few hours relaxing!

Well that was the plan! What wasn’t planned was the rain! Not to be put off we all still ventured out to Stratford, after eating breakfast indoors !!

Dinner was going to be a braai! We had the biggest piece of meat to cook!

Just as we thought the rain was going to stop, it started up again! The Gazebo it was then. Rain was not going to stop 3 South African men from doing what they do best!

As we 3 ladies watched them through the lounge widows sipping our Gin and Tonic, you can’t help but laugh at the body language of the men!

One of them checks the heat of the fire using the hand test! Then another checks it! Wait for it, yep, the third one has to check it too! Just in case one of them got it wrong !

The meat was a big beast and a challenge to cook. The fire to hot, the outside would burn but the inside would be raw. The fire too low and it would never cook. So, as with the 3 bears, it has to be just right!

After a couple of hours it was done. Absolutely gorgeous!

Sadly we had to eat indoors again!

My ice cream cake was probably the only thing that was pleased about the change in weather!

You know, the weather may have not been in our favour but it didn’t matter. We still had fun!

It doesn’t matter how much you plan things in life, something always goes wrong! Take it as an opportunity not a disaster!

Don’t put things on hold. Adapt and have fun!

Here is the video to my weekend:

This week the weather is going to be unpredictable. Don’t let that stop you enjoying life! Embrace it!

Have a good week.

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.

What a fab weekend

I can’t believe it’s back to work again so soon. This weekend has been amazing. There are 3 reasons why it was so special:

1) A 4 day weekend

2) The sun was out

3) It was hubbys birthday

The 3 combined meant we had a fun filled weekend.

As you know, we both have a very early start during the week. To be able to wake up when we wanted to, relax in bed with a couple of cups of tea, and getting up when we wanted was magical. The dogs loved it too. Especially Lola who isn’t a morning girl.

Friday we decided to go into Birmingham for the day. A bit odd you may think for people who travel there everyday for work! Whilst we work there, we never really go into the centre.

With the worlds biggest Primark, hubby was intrigued as to what it was like. I needed to get him a birthday present from my parents do this seemed like to perfect excuse to go.

I have to say, shopping for men’s clothes is a nightmare. He wanted a lightweights jacket. Do you think we could find one? It was so hard! It seems that men only get a limited amount of space in stores! Very frustrating!

As hubby isn’t a shopper, we agreed we would get his things together, then he would go off and do some photography around the city while I shopped for me!

Check out what we bought here !

After a few hours we met up and had lunch on the canal at Marco Pierre White Restaurant- Bardolinos! It was so lovely to chill out and enjoy a nice late lunch together!

Saturday was even more chilled which just a hair cut for me before heading out to Hubbys favourite Thai restaurant for Dinner.

Sunday was his actual birthday so after another lazy start, we went off for a nice long walk around Charlecote. With the warmth of the sun, it was a perfect day out!

In the evening we celebrated with friends at their house.

The last day of the weekend was equally as chilled! We visited a museum at our local airfield which was a training airfield for British, Canadian, American and Belgium RAF. Reading stories of bravery and lives lost, it was very humbling. A spot of brunch at the cafe followed by a bit of gardening and a braai, it certainly had been a magical weekend!

Now I’m back on the train and it will soon be a distant memory, but at least they will be good memories!

Have a great week.

A perfect weekend with friends

I’m on my way home now after an amazing weekend with friends!

Our friends live in Bridgend in Wales. After feeling very guilty about how long it’s been since we last visited them, we put a date in our diaries!

So yesterday we drove the 2 1/2 hours to see them. Now if you know me, Wales and I just don’t get on when it comes to the weather! For some reason it always rains on me! This weekend however it was kind! The sun came out. A little bit chilly, but still it was a beautiful spring day.

After arriving our friends took us out to 2 amazing beaches. The first one was in Ogmore-by-sea. So beautiful. The dogs would have loved it.

Next was Dunraven Bay – Southerndown. Again the dogs would have loved this beach, but what was stunning was the rock formations!

Both beaches are absolutely worth a visit. There is something magical about walking along the beach. Listening to the waves. I just love it. Great way to get exercise too.

We headed back to their home and enjoyed a few drinks in the garden in the spring sun. A nice Cedars gin and tonic was perfect ! Followed by a Slim Wine!

As the sun set the braai (BBQ) was lit! Steak, South African sausage were cooked to perfection by our host.

The salads to go with it were amazing. Slimming world friendly pasta dishes and salad. Even a @promise roll for garlic bread. Delicious!

It was a lovely evening catching up.

This morning after a cooked breakfast we headed home via Caerphilly Castle.

Wow, we were totally blown away by it! If you have never been I highly recommend it! I’ll post some pictures on my YouTube channel. In its prime it must have been magnificent! The entrance fee is £8.90 for adults, but well worth it!

Eventually it was time to head home.

We have had such an amazing weekend. Thank you to our hosts Derek and Michelle.

Sometimes just a night away can really recharge your batteries, and getting to visit new places is fantastic.

Here is a fuller insight to my weekend

We will certainly not be leaving it so long next time!

So you fancy a BBQ or Braai?

Woo hoo, this weekend promises to be a hot bank holiday.  Being born and bread in the UK, as soon as the sun comes out, the first thing we do is reach for our BBQ’s.     So if this is your plan for the weekend ahead, what are you planning to have on it?  Traditionally for me, it was burgers and sausages, with the occasional chicken drumstick! Then I was introduced to the South African way!  Having a braai!

South Africans have the benefit of much better weather than us Brits, so it wouldn’t surprise you to know that they spend a lot more time having a BBQ, or as they call it a braai, in one year than we potentially could in a lifetime!   The benefit of this is that they seem to take it to another level!

In 2006 I moved house.  One of my neighbours was South African.  This was my first experience of a Braai.  2 years later, I met my very own South African who is now my husband.  Now burgers and sausages are a rarity.

I don’t know about you, but cooking your dinner al fresco is so much nicer!  Everyone is much more relaxed and its fun!

So what makes the perfect braai?

The Equipment

I always thought one bbq was as good as the next!  How little did I know!

Ok, lets start with the actual bbq/braai itself!  Firstly gas or charcoal?  I personally have never seen the point of a gas one.  To me, it would be like cooking in the kitchen.  I can see the benefit though if you want to be able to control the temperature, or if we had wall to wall sunshine.  For me its charcoal all the way!  Gas cooking doesn’t alter the flavour of your food, but with charcoal, you get a lovely smokey flavour!

When looking for a charcoal bbq, you will find there are hundreds of options ranging from cheap to expensive.  We have been using a Weber, as does everyone is South African, so it seems!  The main advice I would give you is to make sure whatever your budget, look for one that allows the air to flow under the charcoal!   If possible, it should also have an adjustable grid so you can control the heat (sadly the Weber doesn’t have this!) and another to try to catch your ash!

weber-charcoal-bbq-2018

You will also need a good set of tongs, a cleaning brush for the grid and if you like kebabs, metal skewers!  If you want to experiment with different meats then a meat thermometer would be a good idea!

The right fuel

If you have gone for the gas option this is easy!  You just need to buy the right gas canister!  For a charcoal one, you need to consider what it is you are planning to cook!

Charcoal – This is great for faster cooker.  Its easier to light but also burns quicker!

Briquetttes – This is the best type of fuel if you want to retain the heat longer.  They are also recommended for a kettle braai such as the weber above.

Wood – If you want a smokey taste to your food,  you can use wood.  Be careful what wood you use though as some of them let off horrible smells which you certainly wouldn’t want with your food!

If you want to add flavour to your food, you can buy wood chips which are infused with things like Hickory.  These are great for things like fish or pork. Or go for Applewood infused chips for a sweeter taste! Just soak them before adding to your fire.

Lighting the Braai/BBQ

There are a few options to help you get a perfect fire going:

Kindling – Lighting small sticks and twigs may remind you of old camping days as a boy scout!  Scrunch up some old newspaper, light it, then top with the small twigs.  As it catches, you can add larger pieces of wood or coals.

Gel – I don’t recommend this.  It is difficult to see if the coals or wood is alight, and seems to not last that long, so you end up using the whole bottle with little effect!

My personal favourite is Fire Lighters!   They are relatively cheap to buy these days.  You can add them around your coals or wood.  Once lit they will burn for up to 10 minutes, giving the coals or wood a chance to catch!  I also love the smell of them – which I know is a bit weird, but a Braai/BBQ is all about the smell as well as the taste!

Building the perfect fire

Fire needs oxygen, which is why I recommended you buy a Braai/BBQ that allows air to flow under the coals.  These mini ones you can buy in foil trays at the shops might sound like a good idea, but they are more difficult to use than you think, as the airflow is restricted.

Place some firelighters inside the Braai/BBQ and light them.  After about 10-20 seconds add a few coals over them.  As the coals catch, you can add more coals.  To help regulate your cooking it is a good idea to build the fire so that one side is higher than the other.  That way you can place your food on different parts of the grill to cook at different times and speed. Replace the grill and relax to allow the fire to take hold!

So when is the right time to put the food on?  Well this type of cooking can’t be rushed!  How many times have you seen food raw or burnt from a Braai/BBQ?  The best time to add your food is when you can hold your hand over the grill about 2-3 inches away and count to 3 without burning your hand!  Any longer and the coals may not be hot enough to cook your food through.  You can of course add more later and some people have some heating up separately.  This is especially useful when you are cooking something that takes many hours!

What do we put on our Braai/BBQ

Well the number 1 item you will mostly find on our grill is a nice piece of steak!  This in itself was a learning curve for me!  Not any old type of steak would do!  It had to be about an inch thick and have some fat on it!  We marinate it with a dry rub which you can buy in most supermarkets although as you would expect, ours comes all the way from South Africa!

So what else can you find on our grill?

  • Spatchcock Chicken – this is usually marinated in a piri piri, chinese or bbq sauce.  Its basically a flat chicken!  These need to be cooked on a low heat for a long time.  Always check it is fully cooked before serving!  We tend to put it in the microwave for 10 minutes before adding to grill to help start it off.  Keep the lid on to retain the heat while cooking will help it cook all the way through.
  • Chicken Drum Sticks – again marinated ones are great.
  • Chicken breast – just be careful it doesn’t dry out!  Using a marinade will help this.
  • Beer Can Chicken –  Place an opened can of beer inside a chicken and stand up on the grill.  You can also use soft drinks like ginger beer!
  • Rack of Ribs – great with a marinade
  • Lamb Chops – these need to be chunky chops.
  • Kebabs – These can be made in different variations – Vegetable, Chicken, Lamb or prawn!
  • Garlic Potato Kebabs – Pre – boil your new potatoes and put them on skewers with garlic cloves!
  • Corn on the Cob – I prefer to put these in foil.  You can add butter if you wish.
  • Roasted vegetables – Chop vegetables of your choice and place in foil dish with a bit of oil and garlic.
  • Garlic Bread – Wrap in foil
  • Whole joints of pork or beef – These need to be cooked slowly.   As with the Spatchcock Chicken, keep the lid on during cooking.
  • Fish – again I would recommend wrapping in foil unless it is a whole fish
  • Burgers – yes I know what I said earlier but I still love my traditional burgers.  If you make your own they can be great fun and you can vary your flavours.
  • Sausages – go for big chunky ones or the Cumberland wheels.  Again there are so many flavours out there that you can really vary it!

If using marinades, keep some aside to baste the food as it cooks.

Amazon sell some really good Braai/BBQ recipe books.  Treat yourself to one.  It might give you some new and interesting ideas!  Remember that cooking this way isn’t something you can time exactly.

I mentioned above about building your coals up higher one side to the other!  This is great when cooking as you can move the meet around so it doesn’t get burnt!  If cooking the chicken for example you can put it on the lower side with the lid on.  This will ensure it is still exposed to the heat without the flames being directly under it.  It will act like an oven.

Don’t forget to include some side dishes with your meal.  The usual salads are great but what about a potato bake.  They are easy to make.  Just peel some potatoes then slice.  Chop up an onion!  Layer a dish with potatoes and onions adding some feta or cheese of your choice throughout the layers.  Cover with either chicken stock (for healthy option) or full fat cream.  Bake in over for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and potatoes cooked.

What ever you do with your Braai/BBQ this weekend, make sure you have fun!  We Brits don’t get to see the sun very often, so make the most of it.  Experiment with different things.  A good old British BBQ can be so much more than just your sausages or burgers, although to be honest, there is nothing wrong with just having them either!

A word of warning though! Make sure the ash is 100% cold before you dispose of it!  Even the slightest heat could spark a fire if you threw it into the bin!