A little life update…

Hey folks, it’s been a while.

I would normally apologise and make excuses, but I’m trying to stop apologising when I don’t need to be sorry. I’ve always been the kind of person that leads a generally busy life and constantly juggles hobbies or priorities, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Some things slide for a while to make way for others, that’s just life.

So, what has been going on?

I have no idea whether anyone’s really interested in these ‘life update’ posts but when it’s someone I follow and read their posts regularly I know I like to be a little nosy so I figured ‘what’s the harm?!’. If it doesn’t interest you, you don’t have to read. More than anything I’ve been thinking it might be good to get my blog-related thoughts down on paper to hold myself accountable too.

Firstly, you probably already know from a few tweets and Instagram stories that my OH and I are buying a house which is all very exciting, but moving is something I find to be very stressful. I’m a control freak so have trouble just letting things happen, I prefer to make them happen myself. Buying the house in fact isn’t even the start of where my posting has gone awry; we were uncomfortable in the flat we were living in and decided to negotiate with our agents to leave our contract early, which in itself took time and then there was the whole closing everything down, moving everything out, getting our deposit back debacle to deal with. And now we’re living with my in-laws whilst the house is going through. Fair play to them, it’s so good of them to take us in in this interim period and we’re getting along really well but as it’s transitional, I still kind of feel like I’m moving. When you put it all together I think I’ve been ‘moving’ since July. But like I said, I really can’t (and don’t mean to) complain because I honestly don’t know how we’d have coped without having the support from our parents. Plus, we now have chickens at my in-laws which is great fun!

The knock-on impact from this is that I’ve been trying really hard to manage my money better lately (difficult for me at the best of times) and eating out a bit less than I used to, on top of the fact that I’m not actually living in Cardiff right now. Me three years ago would never have believed how much I miss our little city life at the moment; I grew up in a very rural village and then went to uni in the bubbliest uni bubble you’ve ever seen (Aberystwyth, woop woop!) so I remember being very intimidated by the ‘big city’ when I moved here. Cardiff, of course, isn’t big at all in the grand scheme of things but it certainly is for me!

In terms of blogging, I have a handful of half-written posts that I now feel are too far gone to finish. For this I do apologise, whole-heartedly, and intend to make up for in quality going forward if at least not in quantity. I’d also intended to come back with a food post having written so much about my single-use plastic journey recently but at the moment plastic is coming more naturally to me and to be honest, I haven’t been all that adventurous food-wise either (besides the Chai Street vegan menu the other week which was seriously good stuff). So heads up that the next post is probably another about plastic, but hopefully one that a few of you may be particularly interested in, we’ll have to wait and see. I have a few food posts in mind and a particular idea I need a little more work on, so will be trying my best to get back into some sort of swing from now on.

There you have it. Nothing ground-breaking and certainly a far cry from some of my best work but I felt the need to get something out there to explain why I’ve been so absent and hope that you’ll continue to bear with me while I sort my life out (although it’s about to be another very busy year both in and outside of work). Most importantly, the passion is still there. Also importantly, Ripple Living announced last night that it’s going to be on Albany Road, just a short walk away from our new house. I couldn’t be more excited!

I’ll be back very soon,

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

What we did in Madrid

Sometimes when life gets hectic and you find yourself feeling stir crazy, all you need is a good break away. My mother and I decided on a weekend in Madrid to blow the cobwebs away and refresh and we had a great time. I did do a little research beforehand such as reading blogs by Hungry City Hippy and Eat Liverpool, but for the most part we wandered our way around the city and went wherever our feet took us. That being said, Google maps is a godsend when it’s getting dark and you’ve lost your bearings!

Friday – arrival in the city

As we only had two and a half days in the city we operated a good balance of exploring, catching up on sleep/rest and eating. (Mostly the latter). On the Friday evening we arrived at rush hour and in the pouring rain – but at least we made it in spite of the snow and below freezing temperatures at home! Our Airbnb host’s assistant met us at the apartment, checked us in, giggled at my inability to do the careful jiggle with the keys needed to open the door (I have zero patience at the best of times) and pointed us in the direction of the nearest corner shop for a few kitchen supplies. It was a lovely little apartment, nothing too fancy – and, if you’re a light sleeper, not particularly sound-proof against noisy neighbours – but ideal for a couple (or mother & daughter) looking for a few days in a centrally-located city pad. Once settled in, we head out for a bit of an adventure and a wander and found ourselves heading in the direction of La Pecera, somewhere I’d heard about in Eat Liverpool’s blog and was very keen to try.

My mum went for the vanilla & activated charcoal ice cream mix, in a chocolate cone and with coconut shavings, mini cookies and sparkly balls (easy, tiger) on top. Mine was the salted caramel & matcha mix which sounds odd but was very tasty; topped with honeycomb, ginger biscuit crumbs and more sparkly balls, I was happy as Larry. The fish-shaped waffle cones are clearly the allure of this place but coming from a family where my dad fishes most weekends, we’re naturally drawn to anything fish-like. Sad, I know. All in all it was really good ice cream though, perfect treat to tide us over ‘til dinner and great for the ‘gram.

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Our fishy-looking ice creams in La Pecera

After proceeding to wander the streets a little more, realise we were lost with no phone battery and do our best to ask for directions in a nearby pharmacy, we found our way home to regroup before dinner.

Artemisa, vegetarian restaurant

Much to our delight there were all kinds of choices for an evening meal along the street we were staying in, around every corner were more and more cafes, bars, bakeries and restaurants. We managed to get a table in this charming vegetarian place (which also happens to be 100% gluten-free for those sufferers amongst you) just five minutes’ walk from our apartment and, at this point, I was glad I’d downloaded a free Spanish phrase-book app as I (foolishly) hadn’t been prepared for so many non-English speakers. It was actually very refreshing!

There was plenty on the menu we fancied the look of but decided to opt for a sharing platter and some nachos & guacamole to start, also sharing a bottle of organic white wine. We demolished the nachos in minutes alongside some free appetisers, which I couldn’t identify but were nice all the same. The sharing platter was much larger than we’d expected but I ate as much as I possibly could (forgot to take a tupperware for leftovers on holiday didn’t I *eyeroll*). It consisted of: Persian pie, vegetarian croquettas, tofu slices in a Cabrales cheese sauce, curry vegetables and organic paella. Tofu took me by pleasant surprise yet again but my favourite of all this was the organic paella; each component of the platter was delicious with well-balanced flavours, very fresh tasting and nothing overpowered anything else. The organic wine was a perfect accompaniment. I was really impressed with this meal and with the plethora of incredible-sounding options, vegetarian and vegan, I’d definitely be back here should I visit Madrid again.

Saturday – Mercado de San Miguel

This was what we’d been buzzing for. After a much needed lie-in we head there for lunchtime and it was an elbows out, hold-onto-my-shoulder situation but we didn’t mind, all part of the excitement! People everywhere, food everywhere, I was in my happy place. Y’all know I love a food market.

We bustled our way around for a nosy and a sense of what was on offer, beginning with two sangrias and a plate of mixed olives. If that isn’t the perfect start to this kind of feast I don’t know what is. The group next to us had a pretty impressive spread on the go, they clearly knew what they were doing and I got the feeling the local tactic is for the wives to grab a seat and the husbands to go fetch the food (I wouldn’t be complaining). Olives demolished and sangria all sipped up using my bamboo straws (as pictured above), which the Spanish did not understand, we grabbed a small cone of mixed nuts to munch on whilst we surveyed the options in full.

Crepes, macarons, lemon meringue pies and churros for desserts; stews, sushi, pasty-like things called empanadillas, all kinds of jamón and all the seafood you could want for mains/tapas; fresh fish, cuts of meat and all kinds of cheeses for you to try there or buy to take home. I could have easily spent my weekend eating my way around this place, but we still tried our best in the time we had. Without rambling on forever, here’s the run-down of our nibbles:

  • Sangria, olives stuffed with sundried tomato, olives stuffed with salmon & cheese, manzanilla olives (because I like ones that still have the stone in)
  • Mixed nuts for snacking
  • Chickpea & spinach stew which was bloody delicious, may even try to recreate it at home
  • Tuna maki rolls which I know isn’t Spanish but couldn’t help myself
  • Ham & cheese empanadillas or, as mum called, it ‘a foldy over thingy’ (obviously this was hers not mine)
  • Two big fat G&Ts: a raspberry gin with strawberries, orange peel & tonic and a Larios Spanish gin with lemon & tonic. These were pour-by-eye, strong measures and I was loving it.
  • Churros & chocolate dipping sauce because it would be a crime not to when in Spain…
  • A raspberry and a pistachio macaron to finish (very good but not quite Cocorico Patisserie standard)

Looking at it now it doesn’t seem as much as it felt. There were a couple of other things I’d have liked to try if I’d had the room such as oysters or some calamari, although I was put off slightly by the latter because there was no accompanying sauce so I thought it might be too crispy alone – is serving lemon mayo with calamari a purely British thing? After all that we were full, tipsy and my poor mother who isn’t quite as seasoned a day-drinker as I (not sure if that’s a good thing) was ready for an afternoon nap. Lesson learned for next time: be sure to bring tupperware on holiday so I can buy now and eat later, maximising my foreign food market game.

Saturday night – Las 10 Tapas de Santa Ana

Tonight we wandered around another part of town we’d not yet explored in search of some authentic tapas and possibly drinks. I had wished we’d been more organised and booked somewhere for the Saturday night, I’d read about a couple of highly commended places that required prior booking, however with the Beast from the East threatening to disrupt our flights we’d thought it best not to tempt fate.

There’s something kind of relaxing about walking around a new city at night (with your wits about you, of course), the lights, sounds, smells and opportunities change and in a place like Madrid you know you’ll never be short of places to go or things to do. There were quite a few theatres around and they seemed like a popular evening attraction; this restored my faith in humanity a little when, at home, there seem to be ever-increasing funding cuts to the performing arts which occupied so much of my life as a youngster and hold a special place in mine and my family’s hearts. Despite this, we were on a food mission and landed on a place in Plaza De Santa Ana with jazzy little placemats and very friendly, helpful staff. Here’s what we ordered (excuse the bad lighting on photos):

  • Two Spanish beers
  • 6 mixed croquettas (2 fish, 2 chicken and 2 ham I think)
  • Padrón peppers with Essex salt (a favourite of mine after trying them at Curado Bar)
  • Crispy fried cheese with puréed pumpkin and quince jelly
  • Goats cheese toasted roll with caramelised onion (not sure how Spanish it is but one of my favourite flavour combos ever so I almost always order it)

I always love to try local beers and lagers whilst away and I’ve rarely been disappointed, this was no exception. Not too heavy, not too sharp, just light enough for a meal without taking up valuable food space or risking a bloat. The croquettas were very fishcake-esque mostly being filled with creamy mashed potato but that was absolutely fine by me, satisfying as hell. The jelly from the crispy fried cheese went well with my fish croquettas as well as the cheese itself, which was perfectly gooey once cut open without being too hot and burning your tongue as can sometimes happen. The toasted roll was a little tough to the bite and could’ve used more caramelised onion to balance the flavours out a bit more, but still enjoyable.

To my surprise, the highlight for me (after the cheese balls) was the peppers as they’re so moreish and easy to devour in seconds. Really hits the spot as a side dish or bar snack and the salt isn’t overpowering, just marries nicely – I developed a taste for them after trying at Curado Bar, which I definitely recommend for a little slice of Spain in Cardiff. All in all this was a satisfying meal after a day of really good food, but we decided to move elsewhere for dessert and a cocktail to mix things up, treating ourselves to ice cream sundaes and mojitos. Not pictured because my phone had had enough!

Sunday – a bit of culture; the National Archaeological Museum of Spain

As our last day, we thought it best to do something other than eat even if just for a morning. There are a wealth of museums and art galleries in Madrid to choose from and I’m sure many of them are quite the experience, but we decided the National Archaeological museum was more our thing than paintings and such. Despite only having a few hours (my bad, I love a lazy morning especially on holiday) we really enjoyed reading about the evolution of our species, ancient jewellery and pottery found in the area from early settlers and even more learning about the development of weaponry, gold & silver decoration and the expansion of the Roman Empire in Spain. There was plenty to nerd-out over if you like your history and geography. Again, I know it might sound weird saying that walking around the city to and from the museum was a part of what made this holiday really enjoyable but it’s true, it’s like people-watching but with some stunning architecture and new sensory experiences thrown in. Plus, it’s just nice to be somewhere different, isn’t it?

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The grand entrance to the Archaeological Museum

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Cute little park outside of it, sun shining through the trees at last!

And back to the food…

The area of town the museum was in seemed nice, we walked around a bit in search of an afternoon nibble, but soon realised it was a little too nice and more pricey than we were willing to pay for. The cafes and restaurants we walked past looked very enticing, the perfect place to dine al fresco with a cold glass (or bottle) of wine, but we’d spotted MásQMenos on the way up that we returned to for a small lunch of cheeses, mini Spanish pizzas called cocas, and a chorizo in cider tapas dish for my mother instead.

Over the course of the weekend we couldn’t help but notice that there was always a queue outside this one taco place near the vegetarian restaurant from our first night, Takos el Pastor. So on this last day, we thought we’d wait in line and see what the fuss was about. There weren’t many veggie options but I took my chances with a mushroom & cheese and some sort of cactus fruit taco, whilst my mother enjoyed a traditionally fried beef and a chipotle chicken. They were relatively small but tasty and great value for money, I could see why so many people were taking full advantage of the 1 euro per taco deal! But unfortunately I’m still not sold on mushroom [besides the mushroom dish I had at Cathedral 73 those of you that remember that post, that was a surprising exception]. I think this is more of a place for you meat-eaters but it was nice to be in a queue and chat to a few people during the wait and it was clear why this place seemed so popular. Cheap, cheerful, happy food.

Madrid was a delightful little city break with so much to see and do and a plethora of foodie places to eat your way around the city. A weekend well spent, I look forward to returning one day and definitely recommend it for a refreshing getaway, though I would recommend doing your research and booking one of the many renowned restaurants in the city for an evening as I wish we had. It would’ve just been the icing on top.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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5 things to remind yourself of this Christmas

The festive season brings forth all kinds of emotions; excitement, anticipation (constipation if you’re not careful), stress, sadness, depression, love. It can be easy to get bogged down in any one of these, whether it’s the run up to the big day stressing over whether you’ve got every last present right, the wishing a loved one was with you, wishing you had more loved ones (dark, but for some this is a sad reality), or even get so caught up in the excitement of it all that you forget to appreciate the smaller details, casually overlooking something that should actually be crucially important. The most important thing, however, is to make the best of what you have and be sure to appreciate it. Really appreciate it.

TV adverts this time of year come out in brute force making us feel guilty, gluttonous and regretful that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a warm meal and people to share it with. The killers for me are the RSPCA adverts and this year’s WWF elephant adverts which remind us that despite recent (absurd) political changes, animals are in fact sentient beings and deserve just as much love as we humans do. With all this going on, it’s important to remember a few things in order to make the most of our own Christmases:

1. You can’t donate to everyone

Personally I find this one hard to swallow but it depends on your own individual beliefs and/or situation. I always feel plagued with guilt from all the emotional adverts and charity cases exposed to us at Christmas but it’s important to remember that whilst you may be more fortunate than many, you can’t give everything away. Yes, by all means give to any and as many charities as you practically can (also not forgetting street singers and musicians because often they’re doing it for a great local cause as well as a bit of fun), but don’t feel bad that you can’t give to everyone because you simply can’t. It’s not practical nor sensible. Just give to whatever causes you can or wish to, be kind and let that be enough.

Side note: if you’d really like to do more, have a sort through your wardrobe and donate jumpers, gloves, thick socks that you perhaps don’t need any more to a homeless charity or individual. Food banks always need extra supplies too – it’s not all about giving money.

2. Write down or organise your gifts

This is important if you’re buying on a budget. Make a list of everyone’s gifts (or dig out the original one you wrote months ago when you swore you’d finally get organised this year) and do your best to tick them off as you go along. This way, you can be sure you’ve got everything (and ‘enough‘) without panic-buying unnecessary things last minute and costing yourself a bloody fortune. If you do this in advance too it can really help spread the cost out over time – bearing in mind many of us have a long wait ’til January’s pay cheque…

3. Don’t be afraid to buy presents early

Basically, buy things when you see them and don’t be afraid to be that person that starts buying Christmas presents in September, because that was me this year and I have absolutely no regrets. As stated earlier, this is cost beneficial and there’s almost nothing worse than going back to buy something you’d seen before and it’s gone. Just, don’t take the risk.

4. Edible/intangible presents are as good as anything

It’s not a cop-out, it’s actually much more likely to be useful if you don’t have anything specific in mind. Moreover, this is immaterial and so can reduce your Christmas waste. A lot of restaurants now have vouchers available in-store or online so treating someone to a free date night could actually be much nicer than a typical box of ‘smellies’ all in single-use plastic bottles, covered in plastic packaging, tested on animals and that will probably take them until next Christmas to use up – if at all.

Alternatively, buy them an experience such as cinema vouchers, zip-lining, wine tasting, spa treatments, whatever their bag. You could even use the Christmas markets to pick up the chutney, cheeses and nibbles for the big day so that you know it’s going to be used and not wasted or forgotten (I do this for my parents, works a treat). As I said, this not only reduces waste in terms of packaging and excessive amounts of wrapping paper (there’s all sorts online about more sustainable ways of gift wrapping) but can also be more beneficial to the recipient anyway (unless you’re an insanely good gift-giver). Not to criticise anyone’s gift-giving abilities, merely a planet-friendly suggestion with everyone’s best interests at heart.

5. Let go and relax!

Whether it’s easing up on your time-managed schedule to make sure you fit everyone in, or taking a care-free approach to (and simply accepting) the serious amount of calories to be consumed; please, please just relax and enjoy the ride. Both are equally as important as each other. I’m a terrible culprit for the first as I’m usually only at home for a few days over the festive season and I like to have my annual traditions, stressing out a bit when the agenda changes. It’s so important, however, to just embrace those changes and enjoy everyone’s company, making the most of everything on your to-do list without worrying about meeting self-inflicted time deadlines.

IMG_6563Secondly, Christmas calories don’t count. I know, it sounds ridiculous and is completely untrue, but what I mean is that restricting yourself on a day we Brits have centred around indulging to the absolute max is just not going to give you joy. Eat that chocolate, those few extra mince pies; crack open that new bottle of booze now & not later because at the end of the day Christmas only happens once a year. Is the January workout going to hurt? Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. But, once it’s done, it’s done and it’s pointless wasting time regretting anything consumed over the festive period because it’s not healthy to never take a break. (This last point is as much aimed at me as it is you because I’ve conveniently forgotten how to gym lately and it hurts, but no point worrying this side of the big day – what good is that really going to do?!).

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So, there you go. I hope this is useful for at least a few of you, to be honest it’s more of a note-to-self. But I wrote it because I know it can be easy to lose perspective over Christmas of what’s actually important, which is not how many gifts under the tree are yours to unwrap or getting upset over things you can’t control, but doing what makes you happy and appreciating what and who you do have.

Nadolig Llawen pawb; Merry Christmas one and all

Charles xx

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