Plastic Free July: how did I get on?

You may have seen my last post 10 ways to kickstart your Plastic Free July which also included the extra steps I planned to take in my own. I decided to go totally single use plastic free as the next logical step in my Saying Goodbye to Single use plastic journey, and now it’s all over I thought I should hold myself accountable and let you all know how I got on. Here goes…

What went well?

  1. Loo roll
    This I managed to do by first trying a trial box, then subsequently ordering a bulk order of Who Gives a Crap? toilet roll.
    I love this stuff because it does the job well, it’s made from 100% recycled paper (or bamboo and sugarcane if you go for the fancier version), no nasty chemicals, inks or dyes added, 50% of profits go towards charity & building toilets in communities that need them AND they arrive totally pointless plastic free. What. A. Dream. At 0.135p per sheet too, compared to Asda’s own brand (plastic-wrapped) 0.16p per sheet*, it’s clearly price comparable.
    *figure from a colleague who worked it out specifically for price comparison
    Maker:S,Date:2017-10-15,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y
  2. Tea bags 
    Following on from part 3 of my ‘saying goodbye to single use plastic’ series I bought a couple of boxes of Pukka Herbs teas – three mint, night time and turmeric to be exact – which I’ve been using as well as the occasional pot of loose leaf from Natural Weigh. Besides the extra added cost (search for the deals on the Pukka teabags) I’ve loved making this change and fully intend to stick to it, particularly because there’s such a range in the Pukka herbs selection too.
     

  3. Veg and fish 
    Even in supermarkets now there seems to be an increasing amount of veg available loose; Morrisons in particular have taken the bold but
    sensible step to sell cucumbers without that ridiculous plastic shrink wrap around them. Thank God someone has a brain. You’ll likely already know that these guys as well as quite a few other supermarkets will happily let you take your fresh fish/meat cuts home in your own box too if you ask (or in some cases, insist before assumptions are made), which I continue to do as and when I need it.

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    This was actually a little haul from Cardiff Market 🙂 (in the box are some glamorgan sausages)

  4. Milk 
    In the absence of a proper front porch suitable for milkman/woman deliveries, I’ve been buying glass bottled milk from a nearby Nisa local which I was reliably informed about on Twitter, as well as the odd bottle from Hard Lines Coffee in Cardiff Market, as above. Thank you social media!
  5. Olives 
    Deli counters are not exempt from the above, don’t be afraid to ask to use your own box when stocking up on olives and that sort of thing – if you don’t ask you never know!
  6. Using my reusables
    This past weekend we visited friends in London and headed to Foodstock in Battersea Park. I was thrilled to see they were using the £1 deposit per cup scheme already, but me being me I already had my own with me and was glad that using them on this occasion felt far more normalised. We also asked for our food to be put into the lunch boxes I’d brought with me, which the vendors happily obliged to and so we tucked into our food guilt-free. (I also had my spork and cloth napkins on hand because I’ve become a super nerd with this stuff now)
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  7. Straws 
    These have been mentioned before but nowadays I often take enough out with me to lend to a friend so that as few straws are sacrificed as possible. On a family meal out last week my request for no straw meant that all of us enjoyed our happy hour cocktails straw-free – result!
  8. Takeaways – I’ll come back to this later, some pros and some cons.
  9. Refusing to buy 
    Things I’ve not bought for the past month: salad, fruit, ice lollies, biscuits, crisps. Might sound easy to go without but rightly or wrongly for me it really wasn’t. The latter two, however, gave me the opportunity to really demonstrate to my OH why the problem is as big as it is when he realised there are absolutely no plastic-free biscuits in our local corner shop and pulled a sad face. We opted for Toblerone instead as the cardboard and foil can be mostly recycled. I also made my own ice lollies with a super cute little mould set 🙂
  10. Chocolate & sweets 
    Following on from the above, I thought chocolate was going to be super hard to find but actually it seems there are quite a few you can get in foil and cardboard. These do come with a slightly higher price tag though so moderation is required unless you’re a total baller. Sweets-wise it took me until halfway through the month (when a craving kicked-in) to realise that pick’n’mix is the only obvious way to get sweets loose – why had I never thought of this?! I subsequently stocked up on our next cinema trip, paid a small fortune for it, then realised that Wilko and some Tesco stores also sell it for an undoubtedly slightly cheaper price. We live and learn.

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    Pick’n’mix in a tupperware and some plastic-free chocolate, the paper and foil can be recycled

  11. Snacks 
    I had every intention of making loads of my own snacks but life has been crazy lately so got in the way a little. I did manage to finally get around to making popcorn though which was way quicker than I realised and so much cheaper! I also have a bag of dates which I
    will get around to making energy balls with – both from my last trip to Natural Weigh.
    My main snack substitute has been a stroke of pure genius if I do say so myself; I always get sugar cravings after lunch and had recently got into a bad habit of buying a chocolate bar from work most days. Instead, I bought a jar of chocolate spread and have been shamelessly snacking on spoonfuls at my desk rather than wasting all that packaging. It’s probably even worse in terms of nutritional value and clearly not a long term solution, but it addressed a problem and for that I am slightly proud. Much cheaper over time, too and I’ll add the empty jar to my collection.

What didn’t go so well?

  1. Theatre drinks ×
    During our trip to London last weekend, we were unable to take glasses into the theatre itself for hygiene and safety reasons so I sacrificed two plastic cups for G&T purposes. The bartender assured me they are recycled so I’ll have to hope that’s enough, and we did use my bamboo straws of course. I must admit I felt quite deflated about this, but sometimes I have to reality check myself and remember there are so many other things I work hard to do that the odd slip-up is only natural. Yes, I could just not have had a drink but it was a treat experience we’d wanted to do for a long time, so I have to let that be okay.
  2. Ordering online ×
    Packaging is always tricky when ordering online because basically, if you’re not ordering from a specific environmental/plastic-free store, more-or-less 9 times out of 10 there’s single use plastic involved. As much as I hate that, it would be largely impractical to stop ordering things online completely (#firstworldproblems) so this is another area of compromise. For now. (Let’s hope it can change)

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    Something I recently ordered online, ironically an ‘eco-friendly’ product…

  3. Ice lolly/cream ×
    I knew this was going to be a tricky one for me and if I’m honest, it’s the one thing I’ve not been painfully strict about. Not everyone has a sweet tooth but for me ice cream is easily one of my top 3 favourite foods, I don’t go a week without it! Despite this, we have tended to only buy it in a guilty pleasure-type way from the local Tesco express rather than planning it into my weekly shopping and as a result, most of the ice cream we eat is either Ben & Jerry’s, Halo Top, or something else in one of those cardboard-looking cartons.
    The problem with these is that they have an inner plastic lining like disposable coffee cups which make them non-recyclable waste (and upsets me greatly), yet much to my dismay even when I gave myself a talking to and bought a tub instead which could later be used as yet another lunch or freezer box, there was a plastic film between the lid and the box. WHY?! Carte D’or, I’m very disappointed in you. (FYI – I’m not actually that snobby about ice cream it just appears that way reading back…)

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    #POINTLESSPLASTIC

  4. Bread (hit & miss)
    Not all supermarkets have their bakeries loose so when we have run out of fresh loaves or I haven’t had chance on the weekend to pop to the market, OH has bought a couple of loaves in wrapping. I recently learned that plastic bread bags can actually be recycled, however, along with carrier bags at larger supermarkets – as can some of the frozen Quorn packaging and bags from frozen peas – so this offers some light relief at least. Check the label next time you’re out shopping and it should say.
  5. Wrapping on a nut butter jar / sellotape ×
    Some of the jars or tins I’ve bought over the month have still had plastic wrapping around the lid, despite my best efforts. Meridian I’m looking at you.
  6. Greetings cards ×
    Some places like Card Factory or the odd local store stock greetings cards without wrapping but not all that many sadly. Maybe I’ll get back into making cards but then sourcing the resources without packaging may be a challenge in itself. Tips welcome.
  7. Takeaways
    This is a weird one which has some ups and downs. I know what you’re thinking. Why not just go out for food or make it yourself? But realistically when you’re spoilt for choice in as wonderful a place as Cardiff we do like to treat ourselves once in a while (aka more often than we’d like to admit). Deliveroo have recently added an option that lets you tell them you don’t want cutlery in an attempt to reduce their environmental impact, which is fantastic, and some of their vendors are clearly making conscious efforts to adjust their packaging.
    An example of this is Pieminister who have taken to using cardboard boxes for their deliveries which they assured me are suitable for kerbside recycling. Result! A lazy morning breakfast delivery from Pret the other day was also almost completely plastic free, bar a small pot of smoothie bowl which I’ll keep for seeds and that sort of thing.
  8. Smoothie ×
    I did give in on one of our SUPER hot days this month and buy a big bottle of Innocent smoothie. I know, I could’ve made one myself at home, but it was just too tempting and too convenient – I caved. I’m obviously keeping the bottle and intend to take it along to my next zero waste shopping trip because reuse > recycle.
  9. Toothpaste & deodrant ×
    Whilst I’m still using Lush shampoo and conditioner bars and recently started on their shower gel (although they’re not doing the naked one at the moment so not totally plastic-free), I have recently regressed from using natural deodorant and toothpastes for two reasons. I felt it important to keep myself accountable and be totally honest with you all.

    • firstly, it’s been bloody roasting during this heatwave and as a sweaty human being (sorry not sorry) I wanted the safety net of a classic antiperspirant during this time. The aerosols are recyclable in my local kerbside but still not the ideal solution.
    • secondly, our bathroom sink is having trouble draining and we suspect it may have something to do with the film clay-based toothpaste creates around the basin… so I’ve swapped to the cruelty-free, but not plastic-free, toothpaste I buy for my OH from Superdrug for the time being.

 

 

And there you have it, my Plastic Free July round-up. I didn’t keep track of my waste in a glass jar because I didn’t have one going spare, but I do kind of wish I’d kept my month’s waste somewhere as a physical demonstration. Measuring it in terms of bin bags wouldn’t be accurate in our case either because as much as this is important to me and my boyfriend is happy to go along with most of it, I also don’t force it on him so there will be things he’ll buy that I wouldn’t.

Now the official challenge is over there are some things I’ll succumb to buying again such as berries and the occasional salad or stir fry, but I do intend to try out some local pick-your-own farms and forage for blackberries in the near future. The important thing is that I made some more changes I hadn’t done before! And I hope I’ve inspired you to do the same. Don’t forget, saying goodbye to single-use plastic isn’t just for July…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Getting Saucy in the kitchen with Saucy Affair

Saucy Affair Raw Sauces are new and coming to the UK market. I was fortunate enough to be invited to try their sauces for review, so the following post is kindly sponsored by themselves (however the opinions are my own).

So, what are these ‘raw sauces’? The idea is that they’re simply blended fruit, veggies and herbs, no nonsense, making it easy to cook up something healthy in the kitchen with their ‘just coat and cook’ slogan. Admittedly, it is as simple as that. Upon checking I was also informed that due to these natural ingredients all sauces are vegan friendly, gluten & wheat free, lactose and nut free too. However, the only potentially questionable ingredient is guar/xanthan gum as there is some debate over the fact that although both are derived from natural substances, they have to be processed in some way to make the gum; thus questioning their classification as ‘raw’… But, from what I can gather, despite being largely indigestible neither tend to have negative impacts on the human gut unless consumed in large quantities, and I can only assume that the gum is there just as a preservative. So personally, I’m willing to overlook it (it’s already in so many things, including many dairy products) but if you’d rather stay paleo maybe skip this one out.

There are 6 sauce sensations to choose from: Teriyaki Malarkey, Cucumber Blunder, Smokey Cokey, Fiery Fiasco, Beetroot Cahoot and Tarragon Shenanigan. Each comes with recommended flavours and ingredients to pair with such as white fish, goats cheese, sausages etc. including several of their own recipes on the website. I chose to do a few of theirs and a few of my own in order to be a bit creative. Here’s what I found!

Teriyaki Malarkey

For this I used their Tofu stir fry recipe which was tasty, satisfying and very easy to do. All done in about 15 mins so really good for a quick, simple dinner and this sauce worked really well with both the stir fry and the tofu; all in all, I’d recommend and repeat this recipe. Tofu isn’t something we usually go for but I even got my boyfriend to like it for a change!

Cucumber Blunder

This one I did my usual trick of just chucking things together in a pan to see how it goes; I did follow their advice from the sea bream recipe and fried my cod fillets in the sauce on a medium-high heat, also throwing in some chopped peppers and green beans. I fried all this for 5-8 mins (by the end the cod broke apart into chunks but I don’t mind as long as it’s tasty) and served with creamy mash potato, which is my own secret recipe. It wasn’t very photogenic as you can see above but the sauce complimented the ingredients well without overpowering and the whole dish tasted delicious. Another thumbs up from me.

Smokey Cokey

A smoky BBQ-style sauce, I had this as a packed lunch stirred into pasta with chunks of Quorn sausages and some veggies in the mix. Some grated cheese on top would’ve been the icing on the cake to be honest but this sauce provided a good, smoky flavour without feeling too ‘meaty’ as I sometimes find with BBQ flavoured foods. I can imagine this sauce would go well with chicken wings (key word being imagine) though I wish I’d tried the mac ‘n’ cheese recipe on their website too, maybe next time.

Fiery Fiasco

Burrito bowls have been one of my favourite things to make recently for a quick, tasty dinner and easy meal prep for the following day’s lunch – you may have guessed from my Instagram. This time I used the Fiery Fiasco sauce instead of frying the onion & peppers in fajita seasoning, served with coconut rice and a dollop of mayo – recipe below. Take note of the two chilli rating on this sauce though, it gave a bit more kick than I was expecting! I really enjoyed this dish and the sauce worked well, but personally I don’t think I’d use it again as it was just a little bit hotter than I’d usually make. Perhaps if I tried their seafood fiesta recipe.

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  • 3 Quorn sausages
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 tin black beans
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 peppers, chopped
  • (1 medium clove of garlic, crushed – if doing with normal fajita seasoning)
  • Coconut oil
  • Basmati rice ~130g or 1 mug-full (also works with brown but that takes longer, or can substitute for cauliflower rice)

Method:

Boil a kettle. Heat a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil in a pan over a medium heat; once melted add in the rice and stir around so that the oil coats it. Add boiled water and reduce to medium-low, simmering for around 10 mins* until rice is fluffy and most or all of the water is absorbed. (Remember to stir occasionally to avoid any sticking to the pan, but the coconut oil should help with this anyway).

Meanwhile, cook the Quorn sausages to your preference (I like to grill them on our panini press), this should take around 10 mins so *try to time it the same as the rice.

Whilst the rice & sausages are cooking, heat a little olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and fry until softened. Then add chopped peppers and fry until onion starts to turn golden.

Drain the chickpeas and black beans and add to the pan. Fry off for about a minute then pour in the bottle of Fiery Fiasco sauce and stir to mix. If your pan has a lid, put the lid on and let it simmer and reduce for around 5 mins. Keep an eye on it and keep intermittently stirring.

By this point, the rice and sausages should be done, or nearly there. Remove the sausages from the heat and put onto a plate to cool for a few minutes. Drain the rice in a sieve to remove any leftover moisture and allow to steam a little.

Next, chop the sausages using kitchen scissors and stir the chunks into the sauce, which should now have thickened and be ready to go; remove it from the heat whilst doing this.

Serve with the coconut rice and a dollop of mayo or yoghurt and enjoy!

Beetroot Cahoot

This is another one I decided to make my own recipe with; there’s a little note on this sauce saying that it can be enjoyed cold as a ketchup, which gave me the idea of pizza, substituting the usual passata for Beetroot Cahoot. Seeing as it was #Veganuary at the time, I also decided to branch out and try a cauliflower base (taken from letscookvegan.videos), so this whole recipe can be vegan (and gluten free) if you skip the goats’ cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole cauliflower (or cauli rice)
  • 2 tbs Olive oil
  • 1 tsp Sea salt
  • ½ cup oat flour (made from grinding GF oats in a nutribullet/food processor)
  • ½ cup GF self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Sprinkle of thyme
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika
  • Toppings of choice (chopped peppers, sweetcorn, goats’ cheese)

Method:

Preheat the oven to around 200 degrees C. Chop the cauliflower into florets and use a blender or processor to turn into rice. Blanch the cauli rice in hot water then drain into a sieve, shaking as much moisture out as possible before shocking with cold water and transferring to a clean tea towel or nut milk bag, if you have one. Twist and ring out the bag/tea towel until the water is pressed out, then empty into a mixing bowl.

Add all ingredients and mix well with your hands to form a dough. Next, either line a baking tray (circular if possible) with baking paper or grease the tray with olive oil. Form the crust onto the sheet/tray, gently pushing about with your fingers and palms to fill the tray.

Bake for 20-30 mins, keeping an eye on it. The video I used says to overbake it, which I would’ve done had I not been in a rush and so would recommend for next time.

Once it’s browning nicely, take it out and spread the Beetroot Cahoot sauce over the base, using the back of a spoon. Add your toppings of choice and put back in the oven for around 5 mins.

When the toppings look done, take out and enjoy! Be careful because this base is very crumbly – or at least mine was; if yours works like the video it should be fine. This worked well as a combination, the base was really nice and the goats’ cheese really complimented the sauce, however the slight kick of horseradish was not to my liking so I wouldn’t choose this one again. My boyfriend liked it though so each to their own.

Tarragon Shenanigan

I originally had another website recipe I was going to adapt for this one, using the basis of the aubergine bake but swapping out the aubergine for butternut squash and the feta cheese for halloumi. Sadly though, for various reasons, I didn’t manage to cook with this one before its expiry date so I’m unable to give a full review. It did sound delicious and I truly am gutted because I hate to waste anything, yet had I realised sooner that the sauces are actually suitable for freezing I would’ve done that to ensure full usage. My apologies here, guys. I will be looking to try it out when it becomes available in stores out of curiosity.

All in all, I enjoyed cooking with these sauces as a change from my usual routine. I don’t actually tend to use bottled sauces often and prefer to create my own, but as these are formed of humble, natural ingredients I made the exception. My personal favourites and those I would choose to buy in stores were the Teriyaki Malarkey and the Smokey Cokey; the first because the tofu stir fry was absolutely delicious and the second because I’d love to try it with mac ‘n’ cheese. I’d also have the Cucumber Blunder again to try with sea bass and roasted potatoes, so my advice to you is to have a browse on the website for some recipe ideas and pick up one or two bottles when you see them in stores and on supermarket shelves (which should be very soon!).

Have you tried any of these yourself? If not, which are you looking forward to trying? I’d love to know if you try one of the recipes above!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Special thanks to Saucy Affair for sponsoring this post with their tasty samples.

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!

A tasty Mon-mouthful: Monmouthshire Food Festival 2016

Caldicot Castle is a stunning setting for any occasion.  Despite the recent turn of cold weather, the sun still shone proudly for a few minutes as I drove through the estate and started to walk towards the castle gates.  Some classic 80s cheese was playing in the background, I could smell a fresh BBQ, and I could hear my stomach rumbling – this was a good day.

The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably smaller than Abergavenny, but this was to be expected due to the confined nature of the castle itself and the impressive reputation Abergavenny Food Festival itself holds.  There was still plenty to choose from here, although it seemed to be mostly jars, preservatives, sweet treats to take away with you rather things to eat right here and now – nonetheless impressive, of course.

What I did think was a nice bit of something different was that there was a stall dedicated to home delivery vegetable boxes; Riverford Organic Farmers, whose motto “Live Life on the Veg” I think is just brilliant.  Whilst not the cheapest way to get your weekly shopping, I love the fact that you can opt for a ‘100% UK’ veg box to support local produce – my affinity for which I have expressed previously yet, unfortunately, I struggle to do so in my own day-to-day life.  This is something I do intend to rectify, so maybe I’ll give Riverford‘s boxes a try.  Even more exciting is that you can ask for recipe boxes which deliver all the ingredients readily weighed out so that all you need to do is whack them all together and boom!  A lushious, nutritious meal is on your table.  What a dream.  Although, I have to be honest, as a big lover of cooking and baking I sometimes find half the fun in faffing around sorting out all my ingredients, only to realise halfway through I’ve forgotten something and must now improvise – which is where the magic in one’s own recipes really happens.

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Another interesting and unusual addition to the party was Kitchen Garden, a plant centre offering a wide variety of living herbs ranging from Chocolate Mint, to White Rosemary, to Sweet Camomile or even Vietnamese Coriander.  Imagine the possibilities!

My first taster of the day was a Goats Cheese and chutney pizza from Newport-based food van Flour’d Up.  This wood-fired traditional Napolitan pizza was a pleasure to eat (so much so that I didn’t get chance to take a photo before it was all gone…) and I have to say, the base was the perfect level of thin and crispy for my liking!  My only criticism would be the more cheese the merrier… but to be honest I was so hungry it was still amazing.  The customer service I couldn’t fault; they saw I was looking after a very hungover friend and brought it over to my table for me once ready.  Top effort guys, thank you!

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Flour’d Up and their mobile wood-fired pizza oven!

Another little wander around the stalls brought me (inevitably) towards the beers & ciders, where I settled on Brecon Brewing; a bottle of their limited edition Olicana IPA to be exact, which I’m actually sipping right now as I write.  At first it tastes like your usual British IPA, yet there’s a subtle after-taste that gives it that edge; sort of fruity, a little bit bitter, it’s hard to place but very enjoyable.  And noticeably cheaper than the likes of Brewdog, who’s Punk IPA I am a huge fan of, don’t get me wrong, but a bigger bottle for a smaller price is always a winner.  I’ll more-than-happily drink both again regardless.

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My smart-looking tipple: Olicana IPA

I turned around to find an old friend Chock Shop there to greet me; their spreads at food festivals continue to amaze and impress me!  Always so much choice and arranged so file_000-15tantalisingly, especially when the words “would you like that with chocolate sauce and cream?” are mentioned… I mean, who could say no?  This time I went for a plain chocolate brownie with a strawberry on top and, as much as I love banoffee, I preferred this to my last selection.  There was less of a smack in the face of sugar and more of the classic gooey, stodgy (in a good way) texture which I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of.  Aside from the fact that it smelled amazing, I also imagine this would be an absolute dream warm with ice cream – I’ll certainly try that next time.

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Another amazing spread from Chock Shop!

My sweet tooth didn’t stop there, however, leading me towards Shelly’s Foods in the top right corner.  Here I tried a taster cup of small chunks of millionaire shortbread drizzled with caramel sauce.  A very guilty pleasure but much appreciated after a busy week – I’m sure you all know the feeling – especially as once again there was fantastically friendly service.
file_003-3Above all, Monmouthshire Food Festival seemed to me to be one of the happiest places on earth this weekend.  Everyone who served you, stopped to speak to you about their products, or even just caught your eye in passing had a smile on their face and a genuine interest in you as a person, not just a customer.  It was lovely to feel a part of, even if just for a few hours.  This community-feel resonates with me personally as a country bumpkin and rural village girl at heart; a reminder of the true value of kindness and friendliness, no matter what else is going on in this crazy world.

On that slightly philosophical note, my food adventure for the day was complete.  I stood in awe for a while, gazing around at the castle itself which provided a brilliant backdrop for the whole thing.  Its enclosed and cosy nature enhanced and encapsulated that community feel.  I’d recommend Monmouthshire Food Festival as a nice little wander during a day out and about but perhaps not so much a whole day in itself, in my opinion, due to its limited size.  Still, I very much enjoyed my experience; Caldicot Castle certainly caught my eye as an ideal spot for a summer picnic sometime, maybe next year I’ll return!  For now though, as the days get colder and the nights get longer I eagerly await one of the best parts of the winter/festive season… Christmas Markets!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks to Juno Lounge for their hospitality whilst I posted this using their wifi (mine had run out at home) – I’m a big fan and promise I’ll write about you soon!

Protein banana-oat muffins

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a bit bored with the same flavour protein powder after a while and whilst I love all this ‘clean eating’ business, I still struggle to resist sweet treats like cakes when temptation strikes!  So I decided to try my hand at putting my protein into baking to mix things up a bit.  There are loads of different whey protein recipes online to choose from but after reading a few I decided to do my own version and kinda make it up as I went along… turned out pretty well!  So here goes: my protein banana oat muffins recipe – hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 bananas (the riper the better)file_000-11
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt
~180g egg whites (~4 eggs)
2 scoops protein powder (mine is My Protein’s chocolate brownie flavour)
~60g sugar substitute (I used honey, but you can use coconut sugar/alternative)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
~180g oats
~20g chia seeds (optional)
3 scoops/~150g wholemeal self-raising flour

Method:

  • Put the oven on at 180ºC and spray Fry light once or twice into each muffin hole of your muffin tray, at a distance so as to cover the whole area and avoid sticking – in my opinion, this is much easier than using cupcake cases but just a personal preference
  • Chop/break up the bananas into chunks, then mash in a bowl with a fork until smooth
  • Pour the flour, protein powder, oats, sugar substitute, baking powder and bicarb of soda into a large mixing bowl, mix together and form a well in the middle
  • Add the banana, egg whites and Greek yoghurt into the well and mix until combined (this can be a bit of a workout in itself…)
  • Scoop the mixture into the muffin holes, they will be quite full but enough for 12 large muffins or 16 or so smaller ones
  • Bake at 180ºC for 17-20 mins, then cool for 5 mins in the tray and transfer to a cooling rack

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And that’s that folks!  Hopefully your muffins should come out looking like mine did as pictured above and smelling wonderful.  Plus, they’ll last a good few days in air-tight tupperware/the fridge so you can spread them out over the week rather than pig out all at once (which, with protein, I wouldn’t recommend).  These really are perfect as a quick breakfast on the go, post-workout snack, or coupled with ice cream or natural yoghurt as a fitness-friendly dessert!  ‘Let them eat cake’, as they say.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

A heavenly haven for the hungry: Street Food Circus, Cardiff

As the sun went down and dark fell upon us, the bright, colourful lights of the Street Food Circus lit up the Cardiff night sky like a shining beacon of promise; promise that an incredible experience and insanely good food was waiting, patiently, to be discovered.

As I walked through the gates I had no idea where to start; overcome with a sense of giddy excitement and sheer awe of this heavenly food world – ‘like a kid in a candy shop’ one might say.  First, I decided to do a lap around to get a proper feel for the place and carefully observe the options before making my precious choices.

There’s something about streams of fairy lights, a buzz of background music and big bold colours beaming across the backdrop of tall, towering trees that gave that kind of festival magic to the Street Food Circus.  It reminded me of Bestival when I went back in 2014, with bunting made from all kinds of different coloured and jazzy-patterned strips and rags of material.  Draped gracefully around the circus tent ropes and encircling a little cubby-hole of Asian delights, it gave that funky, hippy vibe to the place that says “yeah this is cool, this is different and this is a moment you need to live in”.

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Singha Street sporting its Bestival-esque bunting and bright, flashing palm trees

The cubby-hole itself, ‘Singha Street’, lay in the top-left corner of the festival and featured flashing, light-up palm trees at its entrance – also very Bestival-esque.  Nearby tuk-tuks decorated with bamboo plants and traditional coloured umbrellas drew further attention, as excitable children scrambled around them, all waiting for a turn and a photo in the driver’s seat.  There also lay a vintage van in soft terracotta and pale green and yellow, sporting an array of funky flower garlands across its windscreen; adding to the authenticity of this cute little corner full of colour and life.  Inside, people sat on recycled plastic crates at pop-up tables, each with a different umbrella through the centre.  Whether you were tempted by a thai-style roti from Brother Thai, sweet/spicy samosas from Purple Poppadom’s Tukka Tuk, cod bites & Thai green fries from Big Fish Little Fish, or The ‘Roald Dal’ from Gopal’s Curry Shack (photos at the end), you were sure to be in for a powerful punch of flavour whatever your choice.  This, for me, is one of the beauties of street food: there are so many different cuisines and cultures in one place that it brings people together and lets them communicate through their shared love of really good food.

The rest of the festival offered a range of pulled pork delicacies, incredible seafood and some seriously good-looking tacos; but for me, it was high time for a pint.  Much to my delight, they had several Pipes beers on tap – which you may recall me mentioning in my last blog.  I went for a pint of the 6% Farmhouse Saison, which holds some fruity yet peppery tones whilst still boasting that lovely, strong ale taste. file_008-2

Next to the bar stood Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, whose plantain chips I couldn’t resist and I have to say, were incredible.  Plantain is such a simple yet effective ingredient we just don’t tend to use much in day-to-day cooking; but it’s actually full of fibre, vitamins A and C and is a really good source of Potassium and Magnesium.  Surprisingly, even more so than its more common cousin the banana*, which, in my opinion, makes it totally worthwhile adding into your diet where possible.  Anyway, back to the circus…

file_001-2Now accompanied by one of my flatmates, Seadog’s famous Sakana Burger was our first choice of main meal: composed of crispy Haddock, spicy mayo, sweet soy and seaweed, it was truly a sensation.  “One of the best burgers I’ve ever had” was my flatmate’s reaction – which, coming from a meat-eater (unlike me), is very high praise.  The sweetness of the soy and the lightly-spiced mayo complimented the perfectly battered haddock; it was a dream.

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My Crofters Street Food burger was stunning too: two chunks of grilled halloumi, hummus, aubergine, harissa onion jam and rocket; all wrapped up in the boss of all burger buns – brioche.  I never would’ve thought of putting aubergine, onion jam & halloumi altogether but it worked an absolute treat, putting sweet and salty in perfect balance.  Plus, I think there’s something quite satisfying about a burger so full of yummy goodness that you physically can’t put it down until you’re finished, bits dropping all out over the place – puts a smile on my face, anyway!

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We were so full of burgers and beer after all that we just sat and soaked up the atmosphere for a while, people-watching as friends laughed and couples cwtched, all with beaming smiles on their faces.  The Little Tipple Van to my right had started forming a queue and I could clearly see why on closer inspection, it’s so cute and small and it shells out prosecco – what’s not to love!

I have to say I was very tempted to choose another drink over a dessert, but ultimately ice cream always wins – and this wasn’t just any ice cream… this was Science Cream.  I first spotted these at Abergavenny Food Festival and wrote a bit about them in my last blog, but I didn’t end up trying any for myself.  Well, now was the time.  I strode over to the stall, grinning from ear to ear as I proudly announced “I’ll have a Brown Butter Caramel ice cream sundae please!”.  Watching the mixing and freezing process was just as entertaining as I remembered; vapour frothed out of the mixers as the liquid nitrogen was added, much as dry ice fills a theatre stage or steam billows out of an active volcano.  My sundae ‘adorned with golden honeycomb & salted caramel sauce’ was then handed to me in a tub and at this moment, I did have to second-guess myself for a second, was I actually in heaven right now?  Food heaven, most definitely.  It was so smooth and sweet and just generally glorious.  I will definitely be wandering down the arcades for another next time I’m in town!file_007-1

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Brown butter caramel ice cream, honeycomb, salted caramel sauce… what’s not to love?

And so came the end of another food adventure.  It’s safe to say that Street Food Circus offered an incredible range of options even for the fussiest of eaters, all of them a delight to devour.  It truly was a safe little haven in the middle of a busy and often stressful world.  I absolutely loved it and will certainly be returning next time it comes around!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*sources: Live Strong, Nairaland

Fun for many in Abergavenny: Food Festival 2016

Festivals have become kind of a big deal lately, with all kinds of new themes and experiences popping up all over the place.  But to my mind, food festivals are firmly at the top of the must-do list.

There have already been several in South Wales catching my eye over the summer, including Cardiff International Food & Drink Festival back in July and the Street Food Circus at Sophia Gardens running through August & September (individual post to follow), yet Abergavenny Food Festival is the one I had heard so much about and had been buzzing to go have a gander.

 

Coming off the train, I had expected stewards in brightly-coloured t-shirts or high-vis vests to be leading the way; but instead, those of us arriving at Abergavenny train station had to follow the crowd and hope for the best.  This wasn’t exactly ideal; but after ten or so minutes, the bunting came clearly into view.  Immediately upon entering the main high street there was a soft buzz of excitement with people everywhere popping in and out of shops with smiles on their faces and goodies in their hands.  It was the kind of busy where everyone’s friendly, laid-back and there for a good time – as oppose to the sometimes stressful impatience of places like London – which lent a lovely welcoming community-feel to the event (and in my personal opinion, a very Welsh feel).

First stop was The Castle; or rather, queueing for The Castle which had at this point reached full capacity.  Of course my first thought was one of slight panic thinking of the uncomfortable closeness that ‘full capacity’ crowds tend to be, however, once inside I was relieved to discover that this was not the case at all.  Rather than overwhelming and congested it was cosy and intimate in what felt like a very special way, perhaps because of the natural romance of the historic castle setting itself and the gentle rays of sun that beamed down upon us (if only for about ten minutes…).  To my left was the well-renowned Cyrus Todiwala speaking at the Rude Health tent about the importance of buying local produce and supporting local businesses.  This is something, I, myself believe to be of great importance, especially as a geography graduate with a strong interest in encouraging sustainability.  The fact that this more localised and sustainable culture is becoming so widely embraced and encouraged restores my faith in humanity a little and certainly put a smile on my face if there wasn’t already.  I mean, all you have to do is walk around a food festival such as this to see that most of what’s on offer has been made right here in Wales and you’re instantly filled with a sense of pride and achievement.  It becomes clear that we can and do produce all we really need within our beautiful little country and I love to see that the awesome and impressive nature of this is being admired and appreciated by all.

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Cyrus Todiwala and his colleagues at Cafe Spice Namaste [photo credit: Abergavenny Food Festival Facebook page]

My only real criticism of the experience would be that I was disappointed not to see as many local breweries and craft beers as I expected or would’ve liked, although this may have just meant that I didn’t get around enough to take full note of the beverages on offer.  I did spot Tiny Rebel along the way, a brewery based in Newport (S Wales, of course!) with its own pub in Cardiff called Urban Taphouse as many of you may know.  Cwtch and One Inch Punch are mine and my father’s current favourites: a Welsh red ale which holds the title of Champion Beer of Britain 2015 and a Tiny IPA, both packed full of the iconic flavour and character this proud little brewing company are all about.  I’d also personally recommend Cali as a fan of American Pale Ales but the choice is up to you, I still have several more to try but well recommend a visit to Urban Taphouse if you’re a big into your funky local beers.

As a side note, if like me you love a well-done craft beer then Pipes in Pontcanna is the place to be; their Bar Open events tend to be on the first Saturday of every month, totally transforming its tiny little back lane courtyard into a buzzing bunting-laden social hub.  It’s an ideal place to spend your Saturday afternoon – but I digress.

Back to Abergavenny: my next stop was the food tent area just off the main high street which brought to life so many wild and wonderful smells.  It was like its own little paradise for a foodie like me, something different everywhere you looked.  What instantly caught my eye was Science Cream, a Cardiff-based company which not only creates its own ice creams fresh to order with natural ingredients, but freezes them in seconds right in-front of your eyes using liquid nitrogen.  This is truly a wonder to behold and was famously described as ‘an ice cream you must try before you die’ by Buzzfeed in 2015.  From ice cream sandwiches to banana splits, to thick shake sundaes and even butter fried pancakes you’re certainly spoilt for choice here.  Flavours range from the tantalising caramelised peanut butter and double shot chocolate to the exotic cherry coconut and rhubarb ripple, of course with a multitude of toppings to add on as well, if you want to go all out – and I mean why not, when in Rome, right?  Everyone needs a cheat day!

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An example of Science Cream’s concoctions – this wasn’t mine but I wish it was! [photo credit: Buzzfeed]

I resisted the urge to dive straight in with the sweet stuff on this occasion, however, and opted for a savoury treat as my first taster of the day: a Butternut Squash, Mixed Bean & Cheese pie from the award-winning Tom’s Pies; which, as Bruce Almighty would say, was B-E-A-utiful.  Hot butternut squash and beans for me is definitely one of the ultimate healthy comfort foods; so hearty and rich, yet still nutritious and filling.  The perfectly thin, crumbly pastry (which okay, obviously isn’t exactly healthy or nourishing but cheat day is a wonderful thing) made it all the more comforting and I thoroughly enjoyed every guilty mouthful!  I was also amazed and impressed to learn that Tom’s Pies have a “long standing relationship” with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, according to their website.  Hugh is another chef I greatly admire for his work in sustainable farming and food practices, as well as his ongoing War on Waste campaign.  For this, I will forgive them for not being Welsh locals, as I had first assumed, later discovering that they are in fact a Devon-based company who have the absolute pleasure of being invited to all these fantastic food festivals and taste awards – twelve so far this year judging from their website! Living the dream if you ask me!

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I ate my pie too fast to take its picture, but the box was pretty so…

There was still much more to see, so off I went to explore the streets of Abergavenny itself where further food and craft stalls were dotted around all over the place, all teeming with more eager festival-goers.  Turning onto Nevill Street was a feast for the eyes, bright colours and fresh flavours everywhere from the mouth-watering stuffed olives of The Olive Press to the fiery-looking chillies and sauces of Fearless Flavour.

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An impressive spread from The Olive Press

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Taste the rainbow, as they say… looking good Fearless Flavour!

Past these, however, came what we’ve all been waiting for: the bakeries.  A quick taster from Isabel’s Bakehouse clearly demonstrated why they had a very successful weekend – they sold out both days!  But Chock Shop was where I couldn’t resist temptation and treated myself to a Banoffee Brownie… wow that was good.  A little sweeter than I would normally have liked, if I’m honest, but perhaps this was because I saved most of it until the next day when I was (of course) wallowing on the sofa in hungover self-pity.  I, also, have a weakness for meringues which worked well to the advantage of Flower & White Ltd… I know, I was naughty.  But surely you kind of have to be at food festivals, else you’ll only look at all the good food and not actually enjoy any of it!  And besides, their Lemon Meringue was a seriously guilty pleasure in the best way.  I regret nothing.

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Isabel’s Bakehouse stall on Nevill Street

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A fully-stocked Chock Shop! [photo credit: Abergavenny Food Festival Facebook page]

This brings me to the end of my weekend adventures, as far as the food festival is concerned anyway.  The wide ranging variety of products and produce on offer, in addition to the guest speakers, live music and interactive sessions, meant that there was something fun for everyone at Abergavenny Food Festival.  The beauty and charm of the town itself also makes it a lovely place to visit any other time of year for a day’s mooching around the shops and cafés.  I can confidently say it was well worth a visit.  I had a great time!  And I will definitely be returning next year.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx