Home Made Sustainable: part 2 – Water saving tips & tricks

This week is #WaterSavingWeek, an annual initiative run by Waterwise, an independent, non-profit NGO focused on reducing water consumption in the UK. As such, this isn’t a post about a particular room (if you were expecting all of this sort-of series to follow that structure then I’m sorry to disappoint!) but about the ways in which I try to keep our water footprint down and conserve our most precious resource on the planet.

Water may not seem like a commodity, many of us will expect to just turn on the tap and have it there, yet it is not actually a renewable resource in the way you might think because only 1% of all the water on the planet, is usable for human consumption. Just 1%. And when you think about all the things that treated water is used for – washing our clothes, washing dishes,  washing ourselves, flushing toilets, cleaning and so on – then you begin to realise just how precious water is.

As you can tell, this is yet another thing I’m very passionate about (spoiler: it’s my job), so I wanted to share a few things we’ve done to make our home more water efficient. For more information on why it’s important to save water, follow this link.

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Source: Waterwise’s Instagram

Like energy efficiency, being water efficient can save you money in the long run. If that’s what motivation works for you then that’s absolutely fine. Did you know though, that water scarcity is a serious and rapidly increasing problem in the UK? And that London actually receives less rainfall than Sydney, Istanbul and Morocco? [Source: Waterwise]. Even here in Wales, water resource is a concern because with the extreme peaks and troughs of weather we’re seeing more and more of now (climate change is happening guys), if we get a sudden burst of rain after a long dry period then the ground can’t absorb it properly and we end up with flash flooding. And it’s not as simple as just storing up the extra rain to use later on – if only it were. I could go on about this for hours as a geography and water nerd but here are a few helpful resources if you’d like to go a bit deeper: this podcast by Climate Queens which I recommend listening to, the “Explained: The World’s Water Crisis” episode on Netflix, or this blog on Waterwise’s website.

The point is, reducing our personal water consumption where possible to do so is much needed for the sake of the planet. It is not a renewable resource and it’s significantly more expensive to treat and get to your tap than many people realise. So, how do we do this? Easy, here goes…

Check your supply

The first thing we did was have a new service pipe installed as the house was being supplied via lead [common for old properties like ours], which has been proven to be detrimental to our health and is not recommended, particularly for young children and expectant mothers.

To identify and rectify this issue is pretty simple, all you need to do is get in touch with your water supplier and request a sample to be taken and/or an inspector check your supply [they will still be able to do this during lockdown as it’s an essential service]. If found then some water companies will replace the lead for free in particular circumstances but if not, it wasn’t expensive to arrange a Water Safe registered plumber do the job. The water supplier then needs to return to swap over your connection and you’re good to go!

Additionally, if you aren’t already on a meter then this is definitely something to consider, as it can not only save you money (though not always) but more importantly allows water companies to customise their service a little more and identify any leaks on your supply that you may not see (they’ll tell you if they find anything and what to do about it). This helps to reduce water wastage overall and keeps your supply running as it should.

Check your taps

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My kitchen sink set-up… I love it!

As mentioned in #TapThursday of #WaterSavingWeek, checking your taps is a great way to save water without impacting your daily experience. Our new taps in the kitchen [pictured left] and bathroom come ready-fitted with aerators, which do exactly what they say on the tin; aerate the water so that you get the same supply, same pressure but using less water. To ensure best quality and standards, keep an eye out for WRAS approved products and clean the mouth of your taps regularly to keep any bacteria at bay (holding a cap full of bleach or household cleaner over it for 5 mins or so, then running the tap on full for a minute to flush it should do the trick).

Adapt your shower

There are a few things you can do in the shower to save yourself and the planet some valuable water. Firstly, deploying a water saving shower head is great for lowering your water usage without compromising on quality or experience. These are often available from your water supplier directly but also tend to be in most supermarkets or hardware stores nowadays – they usually contain a tiny little aerator as I just mentioned for taps.

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My water saving shower head & timer

Secondly, shower timers can provide a fun incentive to take shorter showers and save water that way. You could even make it into a competition with your house mates/family and see who can get in under the 4 minute limit! Four minutes isn’t prescriptive, but tends to be the optimum/recommended time for water efficient showering [4-5, better still if you don’t shower everyday but only when necessary]. Timers are, again, often available from your water supplier directly but can also be found online or just use a stopwatch you already have.

Thirdly, those precious few (or maybe not so few) minutes spent waiting for the hot water to come through if you have a combi-boiler like ours, can be prime opportunity for some water saving. Placing an empty bucket or watering can in the shower to capture this excess water is a fantastic adaptation that can save a lot over time; it has more of an impact than you might think! I tend to keep the bucket there during the rest of my shower to catch any bounce-off etc., then use the water to flush the toilet (not all in one go, just as and when until empty), provided that there aren’t any nasty chemicals in there of course – best to opt for natural products to be on the safe side or take the bucket out before you begin washing your hair and such. I’ll go into this more in a minute but do remember that all we should be flushing is the 3 P’s: pee, poo & paper. I’d also like to note that essential oils should not be part of any bathroom cleaning as they are known to be very harmful to aquatic life (despite their presence in many homemade cleaning recipes). I could do a whole other post on what happens from toilet to treatment so let me know if that’s of interest.

Reduce the amount you flush

So, as mentioned above I would hope it goes without saying that nothing bar the 3 P’s should be going down your toilet on a regular basis. Even cleaning solutions are best kept to a minimum where possible. Wet wipes, sanitary products, hair and all kinds of other stuff cause vile, disgusting and disruptive blockages [even fatbergs] which can lead to flooding yourself or your neighbours and ultimately, the price of fixing this is reflected in the bills you pay (not directly, but it’s an expensive problem to fix).

The age-old saying “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down” genuinely has some merit when it comes to saving water because the average toilet flush uses around 9 litres. Can you believe that?! Again, many new ones have now been adapted to use less; however, toilets are also the leading cause of household leaks, so it’s totally worth checking yours over to make sure it’s in tip-top condition. There are also some nifty, inexpensive little bags you can pop into your cistern which reduce the amount of water used for each flush. The Hippo is a great example.

Get a water butt

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Excuse the messy garden but here’s my butt!

As well as watering our flowers & plants with grey water (a term often used to describe household waste water NOT from the toilet i.e. washing up/shower/dishwasher etc.), we have a water butt fitted in the garden which collects rainwater ready to use as and when we need it. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can get special types of crystals to go in plant pots or glass bulb things which secrete the water at a slow & steady pace, making it last longer and keeping plants better hydrated.

I installed our water butt all by myself (rather proud) and have to say it wasn’t complicated, plus it filled up in just one rainy evening! Dream! I’m seriously considering getting a second to be honest, especially as we don’t have an outside tap.

And there you have it, my top tips for saving water at home/things that we’ve done to try save as much as we can. One other habit I’m trying to get into is remembering to pour excess water from drinking glasses etc. into the watering can instead of down the drain! It’s all a learning curve. If you don’t have a water butt you can also use the water left after washing up the dishes to water your plants & flowers, provided that you’re using an eco-friendly washing up liquid.

Do you have any extra tips? Let me know in the comments!

Disclaimer: this post was not sponsored in any way, however was done in support of Waterwise who happen to be friends of mine.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Veganuary 2020 – What, why and how?

First thing’s first, let’s acknowledge that the what we should be eating to be sustainable debate is a very complex one, complicated more so with the use of globalised statistics (rather than national or even local) with many variables, new research emerging all the time and by no means do I believe that everyone should be doing the same thing. For example, being gluten-free for medical reasons AND vegan would be a challenge unfeasible and inadvisable for many. Notwithstanding the fact that even having a choice in the first place is heavily reliant on privilege (that’s a whole other kettle of fish for another day, here’s a podcast that explains some of it). That being said, I believe strongly in doing what you can, when you can and being kind to yourself about it [relevant now during lockdown more than ever]. Many of you will already be aware that I’ve been vegetarian for just about ever – finally giving up full-time fish midway through last year (I say full-time because really, do we need to label ourselves as strictly this or that? A responsibly-sourced treat once in a blue moon is still a reduction and therefore a win in my view) – so I figured it was time to take the plunge and see how much further I could go. How hard could it be, right?

My answer: pretty damn easy.

Obviously there are a multitude of caveats as touched on earlier, which I feel important to mention: I was already following a plant-based/vegetarian diet but with some added dairy; I am privileged to have the access, finances and time to shop & eat in this way; I don’t (to my knowledge) have any medical issues which might compromise a vegan diet; and I’ve done my research to do my best with regards to proper, balanced nutrition, which is absolutely crucial if you are considering making such dietary changes. Ideally it’s advised to seek professional dietary advice to ensure you’re aware of how to cover all bases, which I do intend to do when funds allow.

Right, now that’s out of the way we can get to it.

What is Veganuary?

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Peanut butter noodles from Zanna Van Dijk‘s ebook Eat More Plants

Most of my followers have no doubt at least heard of the concept (because social media is designed to be an echo-chamber thanks to those damn algorithms) but just in case you haven’t: this is the idea of pledging to go vegan for the whole of the month of January – Veganuary is the official charity running this. I would recommend pledging via their website if you do decide to go for it because they send out super helpful emails throughout the month advising on nutrition, helpful swaps and how to cope with cravings if you have them. If you fancy the challenge sooner than next January, there’s nothing stopping you trying it now and in fact Macmillan ran a campaign this year supporting a Meat Free March [I had meant to publish this prior to that, my bad] which they may well repeat – there’s no deadline!

Why did I decide to do it?

The answer to this is basically that I wanted to push myself because most of what I was already eating was only a couple of ingredients away and I’d gotten into a bit of a rut of cooking the same stuff over & over, so this was a brilliant excuse to mix things up in the kitchen. As well as the environmental impacts, of course, though it’s important to note that some things like avocados & almonds can also have a large carbon footprint in comparison to other fruit/veg/nuts due to importing and growing practices; hence why it’s super important to do your research and consider what’s manageable for you personally. Don’t beat yourself up if you start with these things to ease the transition and phase them out gradually; I still eat avocado sometimes and had more during veganuary than I normally would but the whole thing is a journey. Some argue that shopping local, regardless of whether it’s meat or veg, is still better for the planet overall but there are so many variables at play and relatively little research on a localised scale that I’ll let you make your own call on that one – it’s preferable, no doubt about that, but not necessarily a definitive answer. Anyway, I digress.

How did I do it?

As mentioned earlier, I would really recommend signing up to the official Veganuary emails, they were so helpful during the first few weeks of getting into the swing. Those first few days post-New Year celebrations I was pretty clueless to be honest and not in any fit state to do a thorough, planned food shop, but once I had set aside time to do this I felt much more in control and confident. A crucial golden nugget of info for me has been the ‘daily dozen’ checklist from Veganuary which details the recommended portions of fruit/veg/nuts/seeds/wholegrains/beans to succeed nutritionally in a vegan diet. Absolute game changer. I’ve since used it alongside my weekly meal planning to ensure I’m getting as much ticked off as possible each day. [If anyone’s interested in this please get in touch, I’d be happy to share] I also think that talking about portions rather than macronutrients (% or grams of protein/fat/carbs) is a much healthier way of looking at things and promotes a more positive relationship with food, which is especially important in any sort of restrictive diet.

What did my typical meal plans look like?

Well, I’ll show you. As someone who bases their intake on 3 meals a day plus a few snacks, it was relatively easy to incorporate most of what I needed according to the

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Curry is super easy to make vegan! Plus, you can throw in as many veggies as you like.

daily dozen checklist but getting absolutely everything in required a bit of extra effort and careful planning, so I didn’t always manage it truth be told. But it’s so handy to have that awareness to start with! And crucially, which I should’ve mentioned earlier, the widely accepted advice is that all plant-based eaters should be taking daily supplements for optimum health; namely B12, vitamin D and omegas [ref: podcast linked below]. This is not to say that meat & dairy eaters are exempt from supplement requirements, in fact I’d wager that most people probably don’t tick all the right nutrition boxes because we’re not really taught about it growing up and consumption of animal products does not guarantee a balanced diet.

Exactly what supplements to take/how much and how to meet nutritional needs in your own diet can only be answered by a registered dietitian though, as it depends on your own body chemistry etc., but Dr Rupy Aujla of Doctor’s Kitchen recommends these three as a base to work from in this podcast. As I said earlier, I intend to seek professional advice on my own requirements when funds allow; for now I take these three daily (most days, sometimes I forget) in the form of easily available pharmacy tablets – there are sprays and drops on the market but can come at a greater cost and are not as widely available.

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As you can see, our meals were not revolutionary, ground-breaking or particularly challenging for a competent home cook and the benefits we found of not topping meals with grated cheese was that I put more effort into herbs, spices and more intense flavours. My OH reckons that some of my best homemade meals came out of veganuary! There were a few things we tried that one of us didn’t like much but these were mostly substitutes and they do take a bit of trial & error to work through. Going into veganuary I was particularly worried about not being able to use most Quorn, which we relied on quite often before, but during meal planning I found that I didn’t even need substitutes most of the time to be honest; carefully balanced veggies/beans/legumes was more than enough.

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Homemade tapas went down a storm for a Friday night feast!

So, my advice to you:

If you’re thinking of trying vegan cooking, even if just a day or two a week, is to look up some recipes and just give it a go. If you find you like it, then do a bit more research into properly balancing your meals and appropriate nutrition. And if you like that? Then go for it. You don’t need to label yourself as vegan to enjoy vegan food most or even some of the time. A perfect example of this is my in-laws, who when my OH and I first got together were ex-farming meat lovers. 3 and a bit years later I’ve taught them to recycle properly (no easy feat with my father-in-law let me tell you), they’ve cut down their packaging consumption, keep their own chickens whose eggs they distribute to friends or other family and now eat plant-based about 90% of the time. It’s a journey. (PS. if you’re reading this I’m super proud of you guys!)

Final thing: have I carried on veganism post Veganuary?

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Jackfruit fajitas were one of my favourite new discoveries

Most of the time. We still have some things in the house like mayo, cheese and non-vegan Quorn that it would be wrong to waste, plus my OH isn’t vegan so there will still be some consumption there; but since the start of February I’ve only had the odd bits of dairy and still practise vegan eating the majority of the time. I thought chocolate would be really difficult for me as a previously daily consumer but found that during Veganuary because I was snacking on more fruit, nuts, seeds and small-ish amounts of dark chocolate I slimmed down a bit and didn’t crave that sugar hit as much as I thought. Cheese was the hardest thing by far. Most vegan cheese I tried just did not cut it. However, since then I’ve visited La Fauxmangerie during a weekend in London and that is pretty damn close to the real thing in my view – not to mention the vegan cheese & chocolate we had in Paris recently which was NEXT LEVEL so there’s still hope for the future of non-dairy cheese.

If I’m honest, I’m not convinced cheese actually agrees with me based on my experience of reintroducing it. My digestion has never been all that reliable, I definitely have work to do on my gut microbiome (could be a number of things, one of the reasons for wanting to double-check dietary advice), but post-veganuary I do feel much better in myself – until having cheese in a couple of my meals. It could be a coincidence but my skin has been great lately and I don’t buy into the ‘veganism gave me more energy’ thing but if I feel good in myself and am having more normal digestion than I was used to, then why not carry on? Not prescriptively, I don’t think labels are helpful as you can probably tell, but enough rambling. Diet is a very personal and emotive thing. There are so many arguments for so many things but if you aren’t able to go plant-based and have the privilege to be able to make choices such as organic, free-range, responsibly caught or local then make those choices when you do decide to eat meat, fish or dairy. There will be some that disagree but that’s what makes us human.

As of the day of posting (which is much later than intended but better late than never), I am back to my milk chocolate addiction but do mix it up with vegan ones every so often and I’m going to blame some of it on the Covid-19 chaos because we all need to cut ourselves some slack right now. I am more consciously aware of what snacks are nutritionally preferable so it just depends on my mood on the day at the moment; doing #PEwithJoe helps me feel on top of things and make those healthier choices too (who knew it’d only take a global pandemic to get me back into fitness?! Sure I’m not alone there). Enough rambling – I hope this post was of some benefit to you and please let me know any questions via Instagram or the comment box 🙂 I’ll link some of my favourite plant-based recipe sources below just in case!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Plant-based recipe sources I love:

  • Zanna Van Dijk – as mentioned earlier
  • The Happy Pear – YouTube or Instagram & they have a new book coming out soon
  • The Food Medic – some great plant based meals in her Lunchbox Club IGTVs
  • BOSH! – I use their book every so often which is full of good ideas
  • BBC Good Food – Vegan Meals book, I use this regularly for all sorts!

And so many more…

Welcome back! Charlie’s next chapter…

Croeso y Charlie’s Chapter, if you’ve never been before! If you have, then I apologise for my long absence from writing – I’ve missed it if that’s any consolation. You may or may not know that this dormancy was largely due to having bought our first house and it being a full renovation, which meant living with my in-laws for several months and many, many small breakdowns (not because of them, they’re lovely). Truthfully, I’m a control freak; so whilst I’d rather not do (some) things myself and risk getting them wrong, I’ve discovered that I also get anxious having other people in my space – despite how necessary it may be. Renovating has therefore been without doubt the most stressful experience of my life so far. But we’re finally living there, feeling more settled and getting our life back together bit-by-bit, so it’s high time I start writing again!

It’s tricky, because I feel like I’m starting from the beginning. Doubt creeps in; what should I write about? I don’t have anything much to talk about besides the house… How do I write about house stuff without sounding naïve to some or condescending to others? Does anyone actually give a rat’s ass? And then I remember why I started this blog in the first place – for me. Because I wanted a creative outlet to talk about things I’m passionate about. And there is far too much focus on the numbers of everything these days, so I’m going to crack on with what I want to talk about and see what happens. Same as before.

I’ll start with a confession: unsurprisingly my food endeavours during this time have mostly been quick or familiar fixes, with the occasional meal out to feel human again – so not very inspiring.

Second confession: I have used single use plastic. The shock, the horror! Does this make me a bad person or a hypocrite? Absolutely not (in my opinion), because when shit hits the fan and your life quickly becomes a mess (whatever the cause) then you are absolutely allowed to cut yourself some slack. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nobody is perfect. Total clichés but totally true here. When you’re knackered and having a rough time of things, beating yourself up is the last thing you should be doing. Also, have you tried renovating sustainably?! It’s an effing minefield in of itself. One that I hope to share with you through a new series of mine (like that sneaky segway?) in which I’ll be talking my way through some Dos and Don’ts, things I’ve learned along the way and what I’d love to improve next time. I’m still figuring out the structure of these posts so if there’s anything in particular you’d love to know, please leave me a comment or a DM on Instagram.

Let’s get one thing straight before I dive back in: I am by no means a food or plastic-free or house renovation expert. My belief is simply that if any of my experiences could be useful or interesting to others, then why the hell not. Plus I like to talk/write and have met some bloody fantastic people since starting this blog, so I intend to continue!

Quick shout-out to some of the people who’ve kept me sane recently: my friends, family, OH and wonderful new neighbours; Dusty Knuckle Pizza – you guys & your pizza always cheer me up and I’m buzzing that the Warden’s House crowd funding paid off! And Ripple Living – Sophie’s vision and the success of this shop restores my faith in humanity. Plus it’s right around the corner, yay!

[Also Deliveroo and Abel & Cole veg boxes have been real lifesavers during all the upheaval, just saying]

Thank you all for your patience, please, please give me a shout if there’s anything you’re burning to hear about and in the meantime I’ll get cracking on some more posts for you soon.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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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