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

Holiday eats – Restaurante Rebate, Alicante

Every now and again we all need a break. I recently returned from a lush two weeks off, one spent in Southern Spain with my wonderful other half who never takes holidays but was in dire need of relaxation, one spent milling around at home-home then driving across country to North Wales for some adventuring. All in all, we had a fantastic time and although I didn’t document this trip as much as previous holidays for various reasons, it was really good to have a proper break from pretty much everything. What we did do was sleep, eat, drink, repeat; basically my idea of living the dream (with some exploring thrown in of course). So without writing my usual fairly lengthy run-down of the whole holiday itself I decided to focus on my food highlight of the trip: Restaurante Rebate.

Staying in a family apartment not far away from the small town of Sucina, we hadIMG_7620 hired a car in order to get around and explore some places. This restaurant was recommended to us by said family and was easily one of, if not the highlight of the Spanish half of our holiday. Restaurante Rebate is tucked away down some remote, dusty roads towards Alicante and appears to be in the middle of bloody nowhere by all accounts; yet on arrival we were instantly impressed by the appearance, layout and style of the restaurant. Mostly focused outdoors, there was plenty of sun, plenty of shade and several gorgeous trees among the tables. A small platform had been placed in the middle for the main event; this was the Flamenco Show which is on every Wednesday and Friday lunchtime, according to their website, and which we’d booked a few days before flying out.

Setting the scene…

Once seated at our choice of table (sun or shade) we were offered drinks whilst perusing the menu, which we took gladly and I followed the waiter’s recommendation of a glass of IMG_7619Cava. Start as you mean to go on. Seeing as it was a gorgeous sunny day and we were planning on spending most of our afternoon there, we treated ourselves to the 4 course tasting menu for the bargain price of 24,50€. At this point I feel it important to mention how incredibly polite, attentive and accommodating the staff were to every question or request, adapting my courses to include only fish and vegetarian dishes without hesitation whilst my boyfriend took them as was.

As the cherry on top I opted for the accompanying wine flight, making it 25€, as I don’t currently drink red wine (nor much white wine that doesn’t originate from New Zealand) so was keen to expand my horizons. Also, red wine makes you seem quite adult, doesn’t it? This was a fantastic choice because our wine waiter was incredibly knowledgeable and clearly very passionate which made the experience all the more special – and myself proud that I’d chosen to be grown up and get sophisticatedly drunk on a Wednesday afternoon.

First course: ‘Waking up your tastebuds’

Parmesan & lemon jam, a hummus cone, orange & kale smoothie, fishcake on sunflower toast. Paired with a pale but fruity white wine which was delicious; not as sharp as I’d usually go for but very easy to drink. [Disclaimer: best to declare early-on that I am in no way a wine connoisseur so do forgive the lack of fancy terms here. Maybe oneday.] 

Needless to say, I was most excited about the hummus cone. It was awesome; sprinkled with a little paprika it was like a savoury ice cream cone of loveliness. Good crunch, too. I imagine that the fishcake could’ve been a close second because I love a good fishcake, however I think this was before they’d asked whether I ate fish or not so it was swapped out in place of a decorated cream cheese, also very tasty in fairness. The smoothie was weird as is any kale smoothie in my experience, but not unpleasant, and the parmesan with lemon jam was a delightful little sweet crunch to present a great texture contrast between the tasters. All of these nibbles complemented each other well in flavour and texture, so far so good. Before you ask, yes I did note the plastic bag and straw for the smoothie and yes, it could’ve been avoided but my Spanish is already very limited so I wasn’t sure how to convey this to the staff nor if they’d understand where I was coming from.

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I chose the wrong seat for insta-worthy lighting, didn’t I?

Second course: ‘Refresh moment’

Cesar salad, strawberry salmorejo, ceviche served on patacon, beetroot tartare. Paired with a medium white wine, sharper than the last but still soft and equally as drinkable. It still had a hint of fruitiness but less so to coordinate with the savoury tasters in this course.

The salad was very tasty and refreshing with a light crunch, likely my highlight of this course as I particularly enjoyed the sprinkling of crumbs on top. Beetroot isn’t usually to my taste but despite being a little sharp, the tartare was more pleasant than anticipated and accompanied the salad well. I hadn’t understood what ceviche was (I now know it’s a kind of seafood) but the components worked well together and atop the sweet patacon it was a lovely little mouthful. The strawberry salmorejo turned out to be a tomato and bread-based purée, originating in Andalucia, and whilst this balanced out the dish in terms of texture by contrasting with the crunchiness of the salad and patacon it wasn’t to our liking to be honest. The taste of strawberry just seemed a bit strange in conjunction with tomato, though I understand its intention was to be refreshing.

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Third course: ‘Fried specialities’

Mussel croquette, wild mushroom croquette, roasted chicken croquette, criolla pastry. Paired with a rosé wine, getting sharper again but with good flavour and body to it.

Here I had a vegetarian substitute for the chicken croquette but all of the fried delights were very satisfying and not over-greasy, fried just right. A heavier course than its predecessors, the sharpness of the rosé cut through the mashed potato within the croquettes nicely so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed or bloaty, just well fed (though the food-baby was beginning to kick-in). Moreover, by this point I was on my fourth glass of wine so was getting to the level of merriment that requires fried goods to keep you going. Perfect timing.

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Fourth course: ‘Tasty’

Creamy Spanish omelette, roasted pear with blue cheese, duck delights on sweet potato puree. Red wine, medium bodied and rich without being too heavy or bitter of aftertaste – I enjoyed, much to my surprise.

This was possibly our favourite course because of the presentation of the omelette; it was IMG_7649deconstructed in such a way that a lightly cooked egg laid atop a crunchy base of what I think was some kind of thin, tiny homemade potato chips and some seasonings, and you had to stir them all up together to form the omelette. This might sound strange but it was bloody delicious and so creamy! Definitely our favourite nibble of the whole experience and I think it’s quite fun to get involved with the food as well as simply eating it. The roasted pear was done very well and balanced out the strength of the blue cheese, though because of the cheese I was glad it was a small portion as oppose to a normal-sized dish else it could have been overwhelming. The duck delights was thoroughly enjoyed by my other half in his tasters – despite his taking a likeness to some particularly photogenic ducks strutting around the restaurant from a nearby pond, pictured – but unfortunately I can’t remember what my duck substitute was and had been so distracted by said photogenic ducks that I’d forgotten to take a photo of this course. My apologies! What is pictured below is the red wine with this course and the dessert wine for the next.

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Fifth course: ‘Small desserts’

Cheesecake, fruit salad with sangria, carrot cake. Dessert wine, sweet and very rich but a great end and matched perfectly with the desserts.

The deconstructed cheesecake-in-a-jar was a good mix of sweet and savoury but lacked the biscuit base we are so accustomed to at home so wasn’t a full cheesecake as far as we were concerned – enjoyable all the same. I helped myself to both portions of the fruit salad with sangria which was both refreshing and deceiving in the sense that fruit sounds healthy, but when one considers the four previous courses and sweet but tangy alcohol alongside, perhaps not realistically part of your five-a-day after all. But we don’t go on holiday to diet do we?! (Christ, wouldn’t that be a miserable world).

Last but not least, the carrot cake was perfectly spongey and deliciously moist. As someone who doesn’t like an over-abundance of carrot in their carrot cake, this was spot on; as was the relative amount of frosting (because I’m not keen on too much frosting either, I often find it over-powering). The cake especially paired with the dessert wine as light and moist met rich and flavourful, whilst the natural sweetness of each element of this course was what made it work well altogether to round off the meal without being sickly.

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Final thoughts?

We loved this tasting menu and the experience overall. It felt personal, it felt special and everything was executed to a high standard for a real bargain price. At the end of the meal we felt full but not uncomfortable, very content and in my case very ready for an afternoon alcohol-induced nap. As I said at the beginning, this was likely the highlight of our Spanish holiday and as well as the brilliant food, the attentive and knowledgeable staff and the venue as a whole provided such a welcoming, friendly and easy-going atmosphere that you felt right at home spending several hours there as we did. I really would recommend visiting if you find yourself in the Alicante area, especially for the traditional Flamenco Show which was an encapsulating and exciting performance of several phases, a fantastic accompaniment to the meal itself. Information can be found below – if you visit too I’d love to hear your thoughts!

IMG_7626Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Information: 24.50€ for the taster menu, 25€ including wine flight.
Address: Carretera CV 952, Km. 10,5, 03190 Pilar de la Horadada, Alicante
Bookings: reservas@restauranterebate.es
Website: Restaurante Rebate

Saying goodbye to single-use plastic: Part 3

We’ve now had more than enough of 2018 to ‘get back into the swing of things’ and try get our heads around whatever resolutions we made for ourselves (is it really Spring already?). Hopefully, if you’ve been interested in reading this series, reducing your plastic consumption has been one of those resolutions – refer back to parts 1 and 2 for more context – and hopefully some of the little tips and tricks I’ve been sharing in my journey have helped some of you do this. Small changes really do have an impact when everyone gets involved! So, what’s new since last time?

Laundry (the bane of my adult existence)

I finally ran out of the laundry tablets I’d been using and decided to search for an eco-friendly alternative. I was sent this very useful video a few weeks ago and was tempted to make some of the laundry tablets on there, however I hadn’t realised I’d run out until going for the empty box in the cupboard (doh!) and so had to act quickly. Luckily, next day delivery is a thing and I was intrigued having read about Ecoegg from fellow Cardiff bloggers The CSI Girls and heard about it from a work friend, so I bought myself one online and it arrived the next day. So far I have absolutely no complaints!

IMG_7375The egg itself is, to be fair, made from recyclable rubber and plastic but the key selling point is that it’s not single-use and comes full of refillable pellets so that once you have an egg, all you need to do is replace the pellets to use time and time again! These pellets biodegrade throughout your washes, coming in a variety of scents (I ordered lavender to begin with but may mix it up next time) and your first full egg is claimed to last around 54 washes – you get a little tick list to keep track if you like.

Additionally, the company are UK based, UK made, cruelty-free, vegan friendly and package the product in cardboard making it fully recyclable. I’ve been really conscious over the past year or so to start phasing out anything not cruelty-free in our house, starting with makeup, so this was a major selling point for me too because you’d be surprised how many household things are tested on animals (this, like the plastic, is a gradual process of adaptation and a learning curve). I must note that on this occasion I was also very impressed with the minimalist brown paper envelope it was delivered in, later recycled. The only possible criticism is that the scent of the Ecoegg pellets isn’t as strong as some of the popular laundry detergents, but to be honest this doesn’t bother me as long as the clothes are clean!

Sustainable cinema – is it a thing yet?

IMG_7376 (1)Something else I wanted to talk about, although it may seem more of an occasional thing rather than an everyday lifestyle change, is that I’ve recently been trying to apply the reusable coffee cup principle to my cinema outings. Several years ago when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, I fell for the marketing strategy and bought one of the limited edition decorated drinks cups from the cinema. I had since kept it lying around as a keepsake until we went to go and see the latest film, The Last Jedi, when it dawned on me that surely if I took this drinks cup to the cinema it could be refilled same as a reusable coffee cup would in a café? The answer, sadly, has been somewhat unclear.

First time around, the poor guy did look a little confused when it wasn’t one of the more recent ones they had on sale at that time, but didn’t hesitate to fill it up once I’d explained it was already mine from years ago. Second time, the server seemed unsure what size drink it represented so insisted on pouring out a usual, plastic cup and tipping it into my reusable one and yes, this does defeat the point. Third time (was not lucky), I was flat-out told that it would not be refilled and that if I wanted to use it I’d have to tip from a normal plastic cup myself. On this same occasion, my own bamboo coffee cup lovingly featured in my first post (which was refilled without any hesitation – why the difference?!) went missing after the film so, all in all, I feel a bit defeated by this sustainable cinema quest! I’ve raised the issue with Cineworld via twitter where all of these attempts took place but so far haven’t had a clear answer. I will continue to be a pain in the arse and take my cup with me, however, so this line of enquiry is to be continued…

Cuppa, anyone?

In other news, as you may have seen it turns out that a lot of teabags are actually sealed with plastic. Slightly heart-breaking, I know. The good news, however, is that the Loose Leaf pyramid teabags from Twinings are plastic-free and fully biodegradable, or there’s always the option of loose leaf tea and a cute little strainer, such these I picked up in Madrid IMG_7308last weekend and now keep in my desk at the office (pictured right).

Moreover, this is something you could buy in bulk similar to pasta, rice, coffee etc. at the new Natural Weigh store in Crickhowell which opened last weekend and which I am dying to try out! For the time being I’ve been using up the teabags I currently have – which are still recommended to be composted at home or in the food waste bin, despite the small amounts of plastic currently in most – but will thereafter be switching to more loose leaf and making sure to buy fully compostable or biodegradable* brands when necessary – here’s a list below:

  • PG Tips pyramid bags (recent change but should be on sale now, see article for more)
  • Twinings Loose Leaf pyramid tea bags (specifically these, the rest are not yet plastic-free)
  • Pukka Herbs – fully compostable
  • Teapigs – these are confusing; the tea bags are compostable but must be put in your food waste not home compost because they need to be broken down industrially. The plastic bag the tea bags are packaged in is, however, compostable at home
  • Aldi’s premium Specially Selected range
  • Waitrose’s Duchy range
  • Coop [coming soon] – their own-brand 99 teabags are set to become plastic-free by the end of the year

*I just learned there’s a difference between compostable and biodegradable; call me foolish but my mind is now blown.

Zero Waste washing-up: Tabitha Eve Co.

I’m revisiting this subject from part 2 because as I feared, my microfibre cloths idea isn’t quite as plastic-free as I’d hoped. At the moment, I am still using them for cleaning and dusting until they get past their best, at which point I’ll invest in some reusable bamboo cloths or cotton muslins, but when I saw Tabitha Eve Co. at Cardiff’s Riverside Market I couldn’t resist her ‘none sponge’s!

IMG_7053This mum of two started by taking the no straw stand with her much-beloved cocktails, then began to wonder where else she could make a difference around the home. Debbie decided to begin working from her studio in Cardiff with the aim to provide beautiful, handmade zero waste products that can convert people to living more eco-friendly and plastic free ways and has only been trading since December of last year, so it was a real bonus that I was able to support a new, local business as well as get some great products!

The ‘none sponge’s are simply bamboo material and cotton sewn together carefully (sourced from the UK as much as possible but otherwise Debbie scours the ‘net for sustainable alternatives, such as hand woven organic cotton by a cooperative in Kerala), these resemble washing up sponges without the unnecessary plastic and work great. They can be cut up and composted once done with, though it’s worth noting that fabrics do take longer to decompose than food so should be tucked into the middle of an actual compost heap rather than the food waste bin [what can go in the food waste bin can be found here]. Composting is something I’ve been meaning to look into further so I’ll come back to this point another day, but for now I’ll be using my parents’ compost heap as and when I visit home.

The point is, you need to check out this lady’s products because they’re gorgeous, natural and plastic free. [Her etsy is here in case you don’t have chance to catch her at the market!] I’ve also started using the cotton produce bags to store my loose fruit & veg in the cupboards, as a means of keeping potatoes apart from onions etc. in line with Love Food Hate Waste’s recommendations.

Wrapping it up

One of my closest & dearest friends was kind enough to send me some beeswax wraps IMG_6969after reading this series so far (I know, she’s a keeper) and I’ve been avidly using them as much as possible as I’ve heard good things – they even came with a lovely little note from Beeswax Wraps UK. So far I’ve tested them out for wrapping sandwiches and covering bowls of leftover food, they’ve worked a treat! Much better than nasty old clingfilm; natural, reusable, available in lots of pretty patterns – I urge you to invest as soon as your last roll of clingfilm runs out. They can also be home composted once worn out or you can even have a go at making some yourself, either using online tips or one of Tabitha Eve Co’s special kits which were on sale at Cardiff Market.

And finally, two things I’ve found to be absolutely key in sticking with sustainable changes:

  1. Investing in or rediscovering an old, larger handbag or small backpack is a great way to ensure you remember all your eco bits when out and about. As long as it has room for a reusable coffee cup, your bamboo straws, bags for life, a Tupperware container for those leftover bits at the end of a meal (or even for fresh fish or meat you get at the market), a refillable water bottle and ideally some reusable cutlery, you’re good to go. I’m yet to make a cutlery pouch myself but I’ve been keeping an eye on Zero Waste Cardiff’s Instagram how-to and am definitely keen to try!
  2. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It might at first feel like you’re being a pain in the arse, but if you don’t ask the awkward questions you’ll never get a straight answer. Ask for the straw to be left out of your drink. Ask if you can have your water bottle refilled (this is actually your legal right in most premises). Ask if you can have your fresh fish/meat in your own tupperware instead of wrapped in plastic bags*. And what’s more, the more people ask then the more this kind of movement will grow and opinions begin to change.
    *I’m told Cardiff Indoor Market have answered yes to this question, though if you can’t always make it local I asked Asda and was told it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you have the sticker to scan!
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My backpack/handbag with (almost) all my eco essentials 🙂

Change really is happening guys, especially with new drinking water fountain/refill plans and a potential plastic straw ban following Scotland’s success, so don’t be afraid to get involved…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Tasty Tapas at Cathedral 73

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve always found it hard to share. Fortunately, not when it comes to tapas. Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to Cathedral 73 to try out their new tapas taster menu, following management changes back in November; I was informed that some of the options have been designed as sharers so brought a friend along for the ride.

We arrived not quite sure what to expect but were greeted kindly on arrival with some very nice Bloody Mary’s and took a moment to enjoy the décor around the place; funky, chic and interesting without seeming tacky, this place has truly been decorated to a high standard. It was a very warm welcome from both the staff and the establishment; it was so nice to walk into a hotel lobby and not shudder at the excessive use of air-con! Before the food began, we were treated to a tour around some of their unoccupied rooms: the bridal suite, a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment.

The Bridal suite is spread over two floors and is cosy yet very comfortable, with extra little luxurious touches such as a stand-alone bath within the lounge area itself to soak in bubbles and watch your favourite TV… Or just enjoy the freedom of a separate bathroom to send your partner off to rather than let them interrupt your relaxation time! The apartments are more focused towards business guests for long stays, who may prefer to keep to themselves and cook rather than eat in the restaurant each night. They are, however, also suitable for couples or even small families, each containing a small but functional kitchen area (I say small, about the same as my own one-bed flat kitchen to be fair), lounge area with TV, and bedroom with generously-sized ensuite. I’d happily live in one of these if it were an option! Overall we were very pleasantly surprised by the size and comfort of the rooms in Cathedral 73, all with a very professional finish, and it’s now definitely on my radar should we or any relatives ever need a place to stay in the centre. Grand tour over, it was high time for a bite to eat.

On our table waiting for us were some delicious garlic breads to whet our appetite and keep us ticking over whilst the food was being freshly prepared. Needless to say; they were gone in a flash. First came some well-presented faggot balls atop mushy peas and sporting a single parsnip crisp, which although I couldn’t eat I was told were hot but tasty. My veggie option was a thick slice of goat’s cheese atop a leafy salad, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and a zesty jus. I thoroughly enjoyed and the cheese slice was just the right size so that I still had room for more, as goat’s cheese can sometimes be too filling as a starter.

Fish pie then came in cute little pans and tasted and smelled delicious, yet their handles were very hot to the touch so approach with caution when trying to scoop out onto a side plate. The individual components were also cut into small chunks for ease of consumption, which actually felt like a really nice touch. There was then a cottage pie for the meat-eaters, which again looked and smelled very good, yet at this point we began to think that ‘small plates’ may have been a better description than tapas as we were beginning to get very full. My alternative was a porcini mushroom wellington, which is not something I would usually go for as I’m not keen on the mushroom texture but the jus was delicious and the pastry was perfect, all together a very satisfying dish actually.

Finally, full to the brim we just managed to squeeze in some Welsh rarebit with a poached egg on top to finish. The egg was perfectly runny and as my first taste of rarebit it was delicious. I would definitely go for it again!

All in all, it was a really good evening with generous hosts, a lovely venue and very tasty (very filling) food. Despite unfortunately not catching the details of the full menu or prices, I would very much like to return for dinner some time (I did eye up their Valentine’s menu but haven’t decided yet) as well as try out some of their cocktails; plans were mentioned to expand their gin collection in the near future, starting with an event tomorrow evening (Friday 26th) that I sadly can’t go to, but I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled for more.

Have you been to Cathedral 73? What did you think?

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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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Meal prep top tips; Charlie’s cheats

#MealPrep has become a huge thing recently with the boom in food and fitness on Instagram and throughout our current culture; this is not to say that it didn’t exist before, of course it did, but getting people thinking more about their food can surely never be a bad thing.

Personally, I go a little bit nuts if I don’t plan my meals out. Not only because it results in spending way more on my weekly shop without a set shopping list, but also because I like to be organised and know what to expect and when. Plus, reducing your food waste is a huge bonus for your pocket and the environment if you plan it right. So, how do you begin to make it part of your routine?

Cook in bulk

I don’t mean you have to make a cottage pie for 8 and freeze the entire thing, but if you usually cook for one then cooking a little extra is usually easier because most recipes IMG_6227cater for two anyway and you can then have dinner again for lunch the next day without any extra fuss. Simple and effective.

The best dishes to do this with tend to be pastas, casseroles, curries, soups etc. but to be honest the key for me is rice. Simple, white rice (purely because it cooks quicker than whole grain, but it’s up to you) is super easy to cook a big batch of and can last you a good few days if you don’t mind eating it cold. If you do want to heat it up be very careful and be sure to absolutely zap it! If you have a steamer as well then you can chop your veg and have that steaming away at the same time, perfect. As I said, this for me is key because I can cook four lunches worth of rice & veg in one go (simply add tuna/chicken/protein of your choice), all whilst cooking my evening dinner at the same time. [Pictured is a Gousto halloumi salad which I’ll come back to later].

Keep it simple

IMG_6030As stated above, tuna, rice and mixed veg is a pretty simple, balanced lunch to prepare. But it works. Don’t get me wrong, it can get boring after a while! In these cases, however, I like to mix it up by sometimes roasting some butternut squash, parsnips, chickpeas etc. instead or having Quorn sausages as my protein rather than fish. This is only a base meal, there’s nothing to stop you having leftovers once or twice a week instead. Have a play around and find what works for you, something that’s easy to prepare but also well-balanced and hits the spot.

Pick your meals by their ingredients

First off when planning your menu & shopping list, pick one or two meals you really fancy this week – spag bol, fajitas, or cottage pie for example. Then write these in for the appropriate day of the week (i.e. Tuesday dinner, Wednesday lunch) and base the rest on similar ingredients. Take fajitas for example:

  • mince/Quorn/fish (optional, beans & chickpeas would be a fine base for a vegan version*),
  • peppers,
  • kidney beans/black beans/tin of mixed beans,
  • chickpeas,
  • red onion,
  • fajita spice mix (I use Schwartz ‘cos it’s in a handy little jar),
  • butternut squash or sweet potato, if you like*
  • wholegrain wraps

Think about these ingredients, therefore, in relation to the rest of the week: peppers you could use again to steam or roast for lunches; sweet potato could be a mash with sausages or homemade chips or even form part of a hearty salad; sausage/meat/fish could go with the remaining sweet potato or veg; you could even use mince (or Quorn mince) and halve it between the fajitas and a cottage pie, allowing you to use the remaining peppers, beans, sweet potato and onion all in one.

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[Bad] example of my meal prep weekly calendar

At the end of the day it’s totally up to you, but personally I like to think about what I’m going to use the ingredients on my shopping list for before I buy them so I can make sure I use them all and there’s as little waste as possible. This week, for example, I’ve got fajitas on my menu but I’ve converted it to a burrito bowl with rice instead because I don’t think I’ll use a whole packet of wraps and from personal experience they don’t freeze well (plus they come packaged in plastic which I’m trying to reduce, but that’s another post for another day!)

Stock your cupboards

The best thing I find to reduce your spending and food waste whilst getting in a good, balanced meal is to have well-stocked cupboards. Think tins; tuna, mixed beans, red kidney beans, black beans, baked beans (I like my beans… we get it), chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, and rice pudding in case of emergencies. Also frozen veg can be a life-saver. Whilst I’m not an advocate of using frozen veg all of the time – I personally think that frozen broccoli and carrots bags are gross and remove most of the actual flavour – but frozen peas and sweetcorn are real saviours in my house if I’ve run out of fresh veg or I’m trying to stretch it out ’til payday. Even better, if you happen to have a few packets of microwave rice in the cupboard for emergencies then if you’re ever caught off-guard you can just grab a tin of tuna, a packet of micro-rice and chuck some frozen peas in a small tupperware. Boom! A convenient, healthy lunch with no fuss! (For some more healthy work lunch ideas refer back to my previous post which also touches on food prep).

Finally, keep it exciting!

No one wants to eat exactly the same meals every single day of the week! Whilst it’s great to be consistent, it’s also great to try new things or make small changes to make all the difference to your meal time satisfaction. One of the ways I like to do this is to order Gousto boxes from time to time [examples below], where you can pick your meals for the week online or on their app and all the ingredients come readily weighed out and carefully packaged delivered to your door. Yes, I have mentioned these boxes before and no, (sadly) I’m not being sponsored to do so, I just genuinely find them a really good way of trying new foods, cooking new foods and they can take the hassle out of dinner times because those meals are then planned for you and all you have to do is sort out lunches and breakfasts. The minimum portions you can get is 2 but even if you’re only cooking for yourself, have one for dinner and one for lunch!

My only gripe with these is that the packaging is pretty over-the-top. They can also get pricey week-on-week so personally, I’ve had a break; but I definitely recommend them to anyone wanting fresh inspiration!

IMG_4427.JPGOne last point to remember: don’t forget snacks. If you’re a snacker then factor this in too else this could end up being an additional cost over the week you hadn’t initially planned for. Whether that’s making your own healthy snacks such as protein balls [pictured left, a #LeanIn15 recipe] or fresh fruit and yoghurt, or adding a box of energy bars into your weekly shop, it’ll all help in the long-run!

 

So, there you have it. My top tips for introducing successful meal prep into your own lifestyle 🙂 once you get into the swing, you get so used to it that it feels normal, trust me! Any other tips and tricks you have or if you find the above useful, feel free to comment below and let me know. Best of luck!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

My fabulous first year!

So today my blog is officially a year old – time flies! It’s definitely been a learning curve and I’m still learning new things all the time with plenty more still yet to come. However, I thought I’d write a quick little update on what I’ve learned in my first year, so here goes…

It is a hobby, but it’s a lot more time-consuming than you may first realise.

Social media is a huge part of our lives these days, for better for worse, and it’s where many of our main influencers now come from. With this in mind, it’s a hugely important part of promoting yourself and gaining recognition as a blogger and widening your audience. Yes, some people are much better at taking the typical ‘instagrammable’ photos than others especially if they have a fancy camera, but you can still do a lot with the photos you do take just by trying different angles and edits/effects. Either way, this takes time; I’ve found that working full time in something unrelated can make it hard to juggle everything so the fact you can save things as drafts and schedule posts nowadays is an absolute life-saver – it’s basically a part-time job! Although it does depend on how seriously you want to take it and at the end of the day, I’ve gathered you get out what you put in.

Also, twitter is a huge part of engagement and networking with other bloggers, restaurants and influencers so when the twitter convo strikes up it’s important not to be late to the party if at all possible. I’ve also realised there’s no need to be afraid to talk to people you recognise from twitter or Instagram, this is how you make meaningful connections and even friendships and therefore gain supporters for your blog and vice versa. It also means that if you both go to the same event or go out together, you both come away with useful material.

Don’t be afraid to do things on your own.

File_000 (73)For me this wasn’t really an issue anyway as I enjoy meeting and speaking to new people and don’t find social situations too awkward, but it links in with the above in that it’s important to physically talk to others you recognise from or have connected with in the blogosphere as this is how you make friendships and good connections and may just lead you onto opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise known about (such as the fabulous Cardiff Gin Club, for example!).

Read other peoples’ blogs and take interest.

This, again links back to making friends and connections but also, as a new and developing blogger it was really useful reading other popular blogs to get a sense of how everyone portrays their own individual style and also how other bloggers have designed their websites, whether there’s anything you like about theirs that you can work into yours somehow. I’m yet to do a review and rehaul of my page but it’s something I’ll be considering over the next few months so watch this space… Plus, reading other peoples blogs can give you ideas for new posts of your own, give you great insight into some of the places on your to-eat list you perhaps haven’t quite got around to yet, or even just give you something to talk about next time you see them.

Finally, there are no hard and fast rules. Yes, engagement and all the PR side of things is important and if you’re dead set on posting three times daily then you’re doing very well for yourself, however it’s different for everyone. Just remember that comparing yourself to others never did anyone any good – true in many aspects of life. As I said, it starts as a hobby at the end of the day and if you start stressing yourself out over it all (as I have done many a time and probably still will) then you’re in danger of losing the funFile_000 (72) and why you started it in the first place.

For me, it’s a creative outlet where I don’t usually get one in my day job. Also happens to give me a perfect excuse to eat out a lot. However through this I’ve met some lovely people and eaten some fantastic food and I really look forward to seeing where else I can go with it all.

 

Happy Anniversary to me!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*the cover photo is a personalised olive wood cheese board my boyfriend was lovely enough to buy me!