Amphora Aromatics Product Review

FYI; These products were given to me to try for free but there was no obligation for me to review them, and Amphora Aromatics have not seen this post before I publish it. 

Amphora Aromatics

I have always been somewhat slapdash with my skincare routine* and but I’ve recently been encouraged to take a bit more care of my skin now I’m getting a bit older…

*occasionally rubs facewipe across face before bed

A little while back, I was invited to an event at Bristol-based company, Amphora Aromatics, and I was given three products to try at home, Frankincense and Rose moisturising lotionBotanical Boost Shampoo Bar and Pure Pleasure Body Lotion. After using them for many weeks now, here are my thoughts.

Shampoo Bar

Pros

  • Perfect for use at home, the gym or for travelling. One less liquid to fly with!
  • Minimal, recyclable packaging, just a small, cardboard box and no plastic
  • Quickly gives a luxurious, scented lather which leaves hair soft
  • Gentle enough to use in place of body wash

Neutral

  • I still needed conditioner

Negatives

  • I would have liked to be able to buy a tin to keep it in when going to the gym etc as at the moment I have to put it in a plastic bag which isn’t ideal. I’ve not been able to find a tin quite the right size

Moisturiser

  • Beautiful scent
  • Non-greasy
  • Quickly absorbed
  • Long-lasting moisture

Neutral

  • Doesn’t contain any SPF, so wearing separate SPF may negate the need for moisturiser

Negative

  • Plastic bottle (Is it recyclable?)

Body Lotion

Positive

  • Heavenly scent
  • Non-greasy
  • Rich texture

Neutral

  • Not moisturising enough to be used after showering. I found my skin felt dry again after a few hours. I use it before bed instead, or to top up during the day.

Negative

  • Plastic bottle

I loved all three products and have no hesitation in recommending them.

 

Food Subscription Services – are they worth it?

FYI; This isn’t an ad, I haven’t been paid to write this, and the offers I refer to are open to everyone.

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One question guaranteed to have me rolling my eyes like a sulky teenager is, “What shall we have for dinner?” I love food but by the end of the day, I’ve invariably got decision fatigue and I can’t make any. more. choices. If I had endless pots of money, I’d probably get Pho delivered six days a week, but until I win the lottery, I need to make another plan.

Living in Bristol, we’ve got plenty of food delivery options but they work out as really expensive if you use them a lot, so I wanted to look into subscriptions instead. Subscriptions appeal to me because I can pick what I want from a limited selection of options, and it arrives at my house ready to go.

So far on my list to try are Miller Green and Hello Fresh.

I googled Hello Fresh and saw that they have a 50% offer on your first two boxes, working out at about £30 per box (regular price c. £60). Please note that this is for four portions per meal – my husband and I prefer to take homemade food for lunch where possible, and I wanted to be able to continue to do so. For comparison’s sake, this works out at about £5 a portion when full price. Hello Fresh is available all over the UK, and delivery is included in the price of the box.

Miller Green is Bristol-based, 100% vegan, and a large proportion of their produce is homegrown. Miller Green deliver daily from Tuesday to Saturday and you can order on the day or on subscription. We went for the three-day subscription box in regular size (large is also available for a bit more money) which works out at approximately £5 per portion. Miller Green have a sliding scale for delivery cost, and we are in the £2.50 bracket.

Miller Green

The food arrived within our given time slot of 6 – 7pm and arrives ready to go straight in the fridge. This means that you need to be around to collect the food – it can’t be left outside if you’re not home. The food arrives in cardboard pots with plastic lids or in foil containers with cardboard lids meaning that the packaging is mostly if not entirely recyclable.

We didn’t choose our dishes, but as the service is small scale I imagine if there’s something you don’t want to eat, that can be accommodated. The dishes that arrived were massaman curry, Iranian stew, and lasagne.

We ate the massaman curry straight away and it was wonderful – absolutely packed with flavour. I took the Iranian stew to work for my lunch the next day, and while it was pleasant, it didn’t hit the heights of the curry. I took the lasagne for my lunch the following day and it was also fantastic, even despite the fact I couldn’t bake it as instructed and had to microwave it instead. I would definitely order the curry and the lasagne again but would ask for an alternative to the stew.

Pros

  • Two out of the three dishes were excellent, one was fine
  • Local where possible
  • Vegan
  • Very convenient
  • Excellent communication and customer service

Neutral

  • Regular portion size is great for lunch, but my husband found he was still a bit hungry when he had it for dinner. Larger portions are available

Cons

  • You need to be in to receive it

Conclusion; is Miller Green worth it?

Absolutely. Miller Green has set the bar really high! I have two weeks of Hello Fresh on order, so I’m definitely going to use those, but if I hadn’t, I’d be tempted to stop my research there and just stick with Miller Green!

Our Hello Fresh Box arrived this morning, so I’ll add another post later in the week to let you know what it’s like. If you have any recommendations for other subscription services worth a try, let me know!

 

Backwell House

Backwell House
Photo credit – Backwell House

Sometimes you visit a place and you instantly fall in love. And so it was when I visited Backwell House. The house has been lovingly renovated by Guy and his team, and it’s truly a wonderful place. Alongside beautiful views, there are sumptuous bedrooms, a glorious garden and wonderful food. To be honest, I’d like to move in.

I was invited to visit as part of the Bristol Bloggers and Influencers group. We started off with some Pimms while we took in the view. Isn’t it amazing? It’s hard to believe you’re so close to a city.

YesStarling | Backwell House

After our drinks, we headed inside for a tour. I loved the style; Backwell House is the perfect blend of classic country house, and clean and modern. There are no dark swirling carpets here! The handmade bar provides the perfect space to have a cosy nightcap, and there’s a drawing room with an antler chandelier and open fire. Every window gives you a view of something beautiful, and there’s an Instagram opportunity around every corner.

YesStarling | Backwell House
YesStarling | Backwell House

Next, we had a tour of the bedrooms. I didn’t feel anything spooky, but apparently, there’s a ghost! My favourite room had a bathtub with a view of the rose garden. With sides high enough to preserve your modesty, I think it would be absolutely blissful to relax here before bed.

YesStarling | Backwell House

YesStarling | Backwell House

If you’ve followed me for a while, or you’ve looked at my Instagram, you’ll know how much I love photographing flowers. Backwell House’s gardens did not disappoint. With an epic tumbledown greenhouse, rose garden and archways, I was in heaven. I was almost disappointed to be called in for dinner…

YesStarling | Backwell House

YesStarling | Backwell House

YesStarling | Backwell House

YesStarling | Backwell House
Liv and Sam looking gorgeous under the rose arch!

YesStarling | Backwell House

We started with canapes in the beautiful lobby, then moved into one of the gorgeous dining rooms where we nibbled on bread and whipped butter.

YesStarling | Backwell House

YesStarling | Backwell House

YesStarling | Backwell House

I had made my menu choices in advance and was very happy to have had Emily’s review to refer to. Everything sounded so amazing, I’m not sure how I’d have chosen otherwise.

To start, I had the Brixham Crab, Beetroot, Apple and Nori. The flavour of this dish was incredible. It was so light and delicate. I could have eaten about three times as much crab, but only because I’m greedy and it was so tasty; the portion size was great for a starter.

YesStarling | Backwell House

For my main course, I went with the Hereford Sirloin, Ox Cheek, Alliums, King Oyster Mushroom, Beef Jus. I’ve been known to drink jus directly from the ladle (there’s photo evidence) and I am pleased to report that this was a lovely version. The beef was succulent and tasty, and as you can see from the photos, beautifully cooked. If I had any criticism of this dish, it would be that the onion was a little too al dente for me; I’d have liked a bit more squish. I loved the combination of the ox cheek and the sirloin.

YesStarling | Backwell House

For pudding, I chose the Strawberry Cannelloni, Meringue, Cheddar Valley Strawberries. A reimagining of strawberry laces, I loved the variety of textures. I could have eaten a tub of the soft meringue!

YesStarling | Backwell House

Finally, we had some amazing petit fours with our teas and coffees; beetroot (and blackberry, I think? Possibly raspberry?) marshmallows, fruit pastilles and tangy shortbread. I loved the marshmallows in particular. Homemade marshmallows are a world away from the ones in bags; such a treat!

YesStarling | Backwell House

I loved Backwell House. The staff are so friendly, and the food and surroundings are wonderful. We loved it so much, in fact, that we went back a few days later to try the Sunday roast! I’ll be posting all about that meal later in the week, not to mention the fascinating discovery we had in the cellars…

Thank you so much for inviting us, Backwell House, and to Heather Cowper for organising.

Essay – On Coincidences

I have sat on this post for a few days. I have been suffering somewhat from writer’s block. But on Friday evening, when I got home, this nearly-thousand works just fell from my fingertips. I read it back and felt immediately glad that I had written it, and equally bashful about publishing it. I know it’s a bit grandiose and sentimental. And I worry it’s a bit wanky. But sometime’s life is about being a bit vulnerable, so here it is. If you read it, please be gentle in your criticism. 

I’m not generally a telly watcher. Unless it’s Hoarders, Game of Thrones or Love Island, it’s probably passed me by. I’m on holiday in Cornwall at the moment, so evenings are of a somewhat slower pace, and some TV has been watched. We’ve watched a fair bit of Amazing Spaces and Grand Designs. Then last night, Wonders of the Universe was on. (As an aside, it should be every human’s love goal to find someone who talks about them like Brian Cox talks about physics…) Despite physics and I ending our love affair at A Level, I found the episode fascinating. It was focussed on entropy and the passage of time. Brian visited long abandoned towns built for the diamonds once found in their sand, and shipwrecks now kilometres from the shoreline, where the decaying iron carcasses split and crumble like dry wood. And then he explained, with sandcastles, what entropy is, and what will happen when all the stars die.

Sometimes, life hands you lovely consequences. One of our missions for this week was to have a look at some towns/villages that we don’t usually visit. Our plan is to eventually move back down here, but none of the places we typically visit are quite right for living in. We wanted to very vaguely start thinking about where might work for us. Top of the list are Mousehole and Newlyn. On the day we visited Newlyn, we popped into the shop at the gallery right at the end of our day. I was getting to the point of being ready to head home as we were planning to go to the Land’s End fireworks that evening, and we needed to go back and have some dinner. As we left the shop, and went to head home, something in the main gallery caught my eye through the window, and I decided that we should pop in after all. I’m so glad that we did!

The gallery’s theme for the season is ‘Craft Week’ and it’s all about celebrating simple, beautiful, hand-made things. The downstairs gallery features clothes, shelves, furniture and small sculptures made from holly wood. Upstairs features some books, videos, some amazing rescued chairs and the small workshop space.  The Itinerant Quilter were there for just the day we visited and were adding pieces to their quilt. Simon offered up a bit of his t-shirt and now it has a little boat patch to mark its contribution.

One of the sections featured work by Celia Pym; examples of mending through darning. The largest (but still tiny) piece is a heavily darned baby’s jumper. I spent ages looking at the intricate mending work and marvelling at the delicacy and beauty of the original garment. Hung above it are photos of it being worn.

As we sat down to watch some of the videos, I picked up one of the flyers. It just so happens that we’d picked the perfect week to visit as the exhibition is being supplemented by events. Today (Friday) saw a foraged meal followed by a talk by none other than Celia Prym! What luck!

So today we had delicious curry and flat bread, followed by blueberry ice with hogweed seed biscuits, and then we had the absolute pleasure of hearing Celia talk about her journey as an artist, her influences and her work. I knew that I would find it interesting, but in fact I found it fascinating. I’m fangirling so hard that I’m not going to link to her directly, lest she read this and I look like a crazy stalker person. Luckily her name is distinctive should you want to find her, and I strongly suggest that you do. The part that resonated with me most strongly was when she discussed the power of mending. How people brought her their grief, their history and their loved-to-pieces happiness, all under the mantle of a hole that needed a patch or a darn. I also loved her thoughts on visible mends. Just like the Japanese art of kintsugi, where ceramics are repaired with gold, Celia repairs clothes with unapologetic, bold colours; bright yellow on jeans, bright blue on white gloves and so on. A darn is not a weakness, to be ashamed of or to be hidden, it’s tiny “act of love and care” to be worn with pride.

As we walked back to the car, Simon said that it was a funny coincidence that we’d watched the Brian Cox programme about the passage of time, decay, and renewal, and then we’d gone to this talk which is, of course, all about those very same things. And as we walked, we spotted all those signs of the passage of time that are all around us; a pipe peeping through the pavement where thousands of feet have walked; the dull grey metal on the handrail of the bridge where thousands of people have stopped to look at the river rushing past; the scooped out steps down to the water on the harbourside. It got me thinking about the scale of those marks; the tiny, domestic, personal, and then the planet, the stars, and the universe.

It feels like we’re going through a period of history where there are a lot of people determined to make their mark on the world, and they’re making holes; leaving damage and decay. And it really does scare me, if I’m honest. I feel helpless.

But we are not helpless. Because wherever there’s someone making holes, there’s someone darning; there’s ingenuity, and compassion and resourcefulness. Even if we can’t stop the damage or prevent the holes, we can always pick up the needle, be the thread, be the darn.

 

 

 

Cargo 2 Launch: Spuntino

If you read my Bristol Cider Shop post, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Wapping Wharf. The area just keeps getting and better. With the opening of Cargo 2, we now have a whole raft of new amazing places to visit. Located on the upper level, on the corner nearest Wapping Wharf, is Spuntino, which has one of the best views in the area. We visited on July 8th, so Bristol Pride was in full flow over the water at the Lloyd’s Amphitheatre. Bristol is never better than in the sunshine, and it was absolutely glorious sitting outside having such a lovely vista. Contrary to how it looks in this photo, it was actually really sunny!

As we had a look at the menu, we were given some popcorn with chilli salt. I love chilli with everything so this was very welcome. To drink, my husband had a beer, and I went for a ‘rhubarb refresher’. The cocktail menu was really tempting, but knowing that I needed to get back and do some writing, I managed to resist.

Simon chose the special, a ‘Hunters Chicken’ burger, and some fries. Ever indecisive, I went for a mix of starters, sharers and salad. I chose the buttermilk chicken starter, the mac & cheese and the pea, mint and feta salad. Now, while my husband is a very good blog-husband in that he will politely sit and wait while I take 20 pictures, he’s more the strong, silent type. However, he did manage to squeeze out the following words about his burger; ‘succulent’, ‘nice, soft bun’, ‘well cheesed’, ‘just the right amount of pickle’.

[Random aside; I wanted to insert a gif from Labyrinth here. Do you remember the bit with the man with a bird on his head, and the bird says, “And I think that’s your lot,”? That bit. I couldn’t find it though, so here’s the link to the scene if you have no idea what I’m on about! Skip to 1.28]

  

I must apologise for these slightly rubbish photos; it was so sunny I couldn’t really see my phone screen so they don’t really do the food justice! The fried chicken starter was excellent; the meat was really succulent and the spice mix was delicious. I have to admit to jabbing my fork in and eating it like a lollipop. And no bones! Loved it. The salad was simple and fresh. I knew that I would want something fresh to cut through the richness of the other two dishes, and it did its job. The mac n cheese was a perfect example; rich, tasty and comforting. I loved the perfectly-toasted breadcrumbs on top. There’s the option to have lobster with the mac n cheese, if that floats your boat.

The total bill came to a few pennies shy of £37 including a 10% tip. The amount we ordered was a perfect late-lunch aka really-quite-hungry portion. If you’re heading there for a bigger meal, there are also some excellent sounding puddings, such as ‘brown sugar cheesecake’, and in the Starters section, I would like to try the eggplant chips.

As part of the Cargo 2 launch, me and some ace Bristol bloggers have done a round up of the new openings. The links will go live on 9th July, so get yourself a cuppa and have a read through.

Joanna Clifford  – Cargo Cantina

Wuthering BitesSalt & Malt

Kym GrimshawTare

Bristol Bites – The Athenian

Stuffed 265 – Pickled Brisket

Lily Doughball – Gopal’s Curry Shack

StripdHarbour & Browns

Stuffed265The Pickled Brisket

 

 

Kedgeree and Cocktails at The Old Bookshop

Kedgeree

I don’t know about you, but kedgeree is one of those dishes that I really love but never cook at home (along with curry, and frozen parfait) so when it comes up on a menu, I find it hard to resist. I was recently invited to try the new brunch menu at The Old Bookshop, and joy of joys, kedgeree! I’d already got kedgeree on the brain because my friend Lyzi had recently posted hers on her Instagram stories, so to be able to have it without the effort of persuading my husband to make it for me! Result.

Following my February flirtation with veganism, this would be my first egg in about six weeks. The eggs that sat on top of the kedgeree were perfectly poached, and I really do feel that I let them down by not perfectly capturing them being popped. Apparently, featuring poached eggs on Instagram increases engagement by something like 120% so I rue the day I missed out on that one…

The kedgeree was gorgeous too; I think a bit coconutty, perhaps. I loved its creaminess and it was so satisfying. There was a generous sprinkling of crispy kale on top too which is a great touch. Can we start a petition for all sprinkled parsley and coriander to be replaced with crispy kale?

Now, if you know me well, the next sentence will come as a bit of a shock. I drank gin. Willingly! I tried the ‘Salty Dog’ which is “Psychopomp Wôden gin with the zing of grapefruit juice, pickle juice, lemon and lemon salt”.  It was really tasty and interesting. I loved the salt on the rim of the glass. I wondered if the pickle juice would be overpowering, but it wasn’t. I loved it! I had a sip of the Bloody Mary too, and that was wonderful. 

I’ve since been back and had the kedgeree again, and the Bloody Mary and they were wonderful. It’s £12.50 for one of the brunch dishes plus a cocktail which is fab value. When I visited last weekend with Simon, we also tried the Wild Garlic Dumplings from the small plates menu and oh my goodness, they were spectacular.

I’m pretty much looking for any excuse to go again, so if anyone fancies going, you know who to ask!

Wild Garlic Dumplings
Bloody Mary (not both mine!)

All About The Buns

Something that I hear time and time again in Bristol Blog Land is how awesome bloggers are to one another. I consider myself so lucky to have been welcomed into this community and for how many awesome women I have met, and how many wonderful opportunities I have had because of my little blog. Last week, I had an absolute dream of a day when I was invited to go to one of Severn Bites‘s bread courses. Not only do I get to learn a new skill (and give my Kitchen Aid a proper job to do!) but I got the chance to spend the day in the company of some really inspiring women. Doing the course with me were Leila, Natacha and Karis.

Nothing gets the day off to a good start more than a road trip and some mini-eggs, and thus fortified, off we went to Danielle’s house. You need a car to get to Danielle’s, but it’s a quick and easy drive, through some lovely countryside for a good chunk of the journey.

After welcomes, homemade soup and handwashing, we were ready to get down to business. Danielle told us about her epic five month training in France, explained the format of the day, and told us about the type of dough we would be using and making.

Viennoise dough can be used for a variety of sweet and savoury treats. We learnt to make the basic dough, and then how to turn that dough into burger buns, savoury whirls, little baguettes, hot cross buns and a chocolate studded pull-apart loaf. Danielle explained to us about working with ingredient percentages rather than weights, which is a system that’ll be familiar to you if you ever bake any recipes which use cups rather than grams or ounces.

We learnt a variety of shaping skills, including rolling the dough by hand into bun shapes. It’s a little tricky to master as the dough is quite sticky. It turns out that I have very warm hands, and I found the chilled dough much easier to work with, so I’ll know to chill my dough when I try the recipes at home.

The workshop lasts about four hours, and while it’s packed with activity and information, it doesn’t feel overwhelming, even for a complete beginner. I won’t give away too many specifics as I want you to go to Danielle’s and do the course yourself. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I loved doing it.

Thanks so much to Danielle for having us!

Have a look below to check out what we made.


Here’s the savoury whirls. I was put in charge of spreading the pesto, which as you can imagine is key to the success of the bake…

The one near the front is my special one. You can tell because it’s slathered in chilli paste!


Here are our dainty little hot cross buns, pre-crosses. Danielle makes her own dried peel, which is much nicer than anything you can buy in a shop!

Here is Danielle showing us how to wrap up our little baguettes in what I’m going to call the ‘bread blanket’. It’s a special linen cloth that’s shipped over from France.

The pull apart bread fresh out of the oven. Check out that gorgeous colour! You can just about see the different sections of the loaf, each made from separate buns which are individually shaped, then nestled together in the tin.
Here’s the whirls fresh from the oven. I think these were my favourite of all the items we made. 

The little baguettes. They’re not actually baguettes, strictly speaking, but close enough. Mine’s the little fat one, obviously. 
The burger buns. These were so tasty! I had mine for my lunch the next day with some cheese and pickle in and it was wonderful.

92% Vegan (and really good chocolate cake recipe)

Over the last few days, a few people have asked me about the things I’ve been cooking and posting on Instagram, so I thought I would do a blog post about it.

Lots of people I know are doing Veganuary. It’s one of those monthly challenges I’m actually really interested in, but my birthday is in January and frankly, there’s not a cat in hell’s chance I’m going without an omnivorous celebratory meal, or a giant cake with cream cheese icing. So I made the decision that I would do vegan February instead, so, erm… Vegebruary? Having made the decision to do that, I’ve already started cutting down on meat and dairy products. It’s useful to see what alternatives I do and don’t like, so that I don’t have any really depressing meals in Vegebruary when the stakes (not steaks! Ha!) will be a lot higher. 
It’s also led me to consider carefully my parameters for Vegebruary, and for life from March 1st onwards. Ideally, I’d like a lot of the vegan principles to ‘stick’ and become long term habits rather than just fleeting ones. I have called this post ‘92% Vegan’ because that’s what I’m aiming to be, long term. The 92% is actually an arbitrary number; I’m not going to calibrate and calculate it! But the 92 represents the intention to make the vast majority of my diet plant-based. There are things that I will really struggle to give up, and frankly, I’m not sure I want to! But if I do find, after a month without, that I can do without them – brilliant! One of these is milk in my tea. Having tried lot and lots of vegan milk alternatives (most of which I can’t stand) I have found two which I really, really like. I will happily drink them on their own, and I use them for overnight oats, and I like them made into lattes, but I just can’t get used to them in tea. I am going to handle this by primarily drinking other hot drinks, but also by allowing myself one cup of tea with cow’s milk in the morning if I really fancy it. This will usually be when I first get to work. So that puts me down to 99% vegan. I am told by vegan friends that I may well lose the taste for milk as the month progresses, and if so; great. 
Another thing I’ve thought a lot about is honey. I hadn’t ever really thought about honey production. I sort of assumed it was like when people have pet bees, and they waft smoke at them and talk to them and take just enough honey to fill a jar or two. I have no idea why I thought commercial honey farming was like that; it’s a ridiculous thing to think really! Then not so long ago, a video was shared on Facebook (I tried to find it and I can’t) that showed the reality of honey farming. I will spare you the gruesome details but I will never, ever buy commercially produced honey again. In Bristol there are lots and lots of people who keep bees as a hobby, and I have decided that I am ok with buying honey from them. Simon and I went to the Bee Festival at the Botanic Gardens a while back, and it was clear that the keepers there treated their bees with care that borders on reverence. It’s somewhat of a moot point, as I actually hardly ever consume honey, but I have decided where I stand on the ethics!
This train of thought then got me thinking about milk and meat. I’m conscious that I’ve fallen into the trap of convenience and we often end up getting our milk and meat from the local mini-supermarket. We only buy meat with the Tractor on, which is better than nothing, but it’s hardly peak ethics. I know there are some vegans and vegetarians who don’t think it makes any difference how the animal is raised if you are going to kill it in the end anyway. Each to their own, but that doesn’t sit right with me. I’m going to get back in the habit of buying meat, eggs etc from places that care more about how the animals are raised. We’re lucky that a branch of Better Food Company has opened about a ten minute walk from our house and joy of joys, it’s open until 8! It’s undoubtedly more expensive to shop there, but given that we’ll be buying much less, I hope we’ll be able to balance that cost. When I lived in Devon, we got a lot of our meat from a place called Higher Hacknell Farm. They still do meat boxes, so that may be another way to go. 
Something I’m also going to be flexible on throughout February is that I am sometimes lucky enough to review restaurants, and go to events and so on. If there’s no vegan option available, I am going to have the vegetarian. Luckily, I have found somewhere that does a vegan roast every week, plus a vegan starter and a vegan pudding! Happy days!
And finally (as a thank you for reading all of this huge post!) I promised you a chocolate cake recipe! It’s an adaptation of one I found by googling ‘chocolate mug cake’ . I tweaked it a bit anyway, and then I realised it could easily be made vegan, and if you can – why not? I made it in the microwave a couple of times and it’s lovely. I recommend doing a third of the quantity if you just want a little elevenses snack, and two thirds for a pudding-sized portion. I couldn’t finish a full portion. If you’re doing it in the microwave, check it from 70 seconds onwards to see how runny you like it. As it’s vegan, you could eat the mix raw if you wanted, so no need to worry about under-cooking it. 
After cooking it in the microwave, I wondered if it would work in the oven, and it does! I have only done it once, so please do consider this a work in progress! As the recipe is proportion based, it’s very easy to tweak. If you wanted a more traditional open texture, you could try upping the baking powder slightly (but go gently; you’ll be able to taste it if you put in too much) and upping the milk alternative, or using self-raising flour. My recipe makes a fairly dense, moist cake which is very intense and not too sweet. 
I use a specific ‘cup’ measuring cup but if you’ve not got one, a small mug is about right. 
Pre-heat oven to about 160 – 180 (it doesn’t matter too much!)
In a bowl, mix;
1 cup of plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 cup milk alternative 
1 cup oil 
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Simply mix together! 
Bake for around 12 – 20 minutes depending how squidgy you want them. 
This quantity makes 12 generous muffin sized cakes. They do rise, but not a huge amount. You can fill the cake case almost to the brim. You can easily make fewer; just use half a cup and half a tbsp instead. 
I made a few with a blob of peanut butter in the middle. They went down very well! 
If you’d like to see how I get on, I’m going to use the hashtags #vegebruary and #92percentvegan. 
If you have any amazing recipes I would love to hear about them!

Review, Renew and Reset

The shift from one year to another feels like a reset button. To me, it’s a clean slate. The things that weren’t so great about the outgoing year have an Official Full Stop. I think it’s the same sort of feeling as getting a new notebook; the possibilities are endless. The combination of two weeks off work and a change in date mean that I start each year feeling particularly energised and hopeful. It’s a wonderful feeling to be ready to make positive changes, and to shake off any negativity from the year before.

One thing that’s been really significant for me in 2016 is reading the book ‘Spark Joy’ by Marie Kondo. I’m by no means a devotee, and I found a lot of the book frankly silly, but the parts that resonated with me have been genuinely life-changing. Over the past few years, I’ve acquired a taste for minimal decor, but had no way of translating that into my home. It was far too cluttered and never tidy for more than a day or two. Reading ‘Spark Joy’ and learning the KonMari method has helped me start the process of decluttering. I bought the house I live in right at the end of 2015, and it’s the first place that’s really been Home for a long time; somewhere rented just isn’t the same. Owning it has made the process of decluttering more meaningful; I can make this house feel however I want, and I want it to be clean and simple and as minimal as practical. The KonMari (KM) method isn’t necessarily about minimalism*, but for me they have parallels. This is definitely something I’ll be continuing in 2017.

Something else that has been great in 2016 is that I joined a book group. I’ve met some amazing friends through it and we talk pretty much every day. I’m enjoying being challenged by the choices, rather than just sticking to the same kind of thing. It’s a book group where we do actually read and talk about the books. I hear that’s not always the case!

I’ve also started this blog! I started my first blog in something like 2008 and have started and abandoned quite a few more in the time in between. Through this blog, and through my writing at 365 Bristol I have got more involved in the Bristol blogging community, and through it I’ve met some amazing women who I’m now very lucky to call my friends. I have no intention of this blog being one I abandon!

When I look forwards to the rest of 2017,
I’d like to go on some nice holidays, to pay off some of my debts, and to think about maybe running some workshops from home. I’d also like to learn how to use some of the settings on my camera. I would be very pleased if I could find myself a source of income (however small) that’s not related to my day job.

Something I do every January is the January Cure via Apartment Therapy. It’s a series of small, easy tasks to declutter and refresh your home. I pick and choose from the daily assignments but I do probably 90% of them.

Also happening in January is Veganuary but I am not actually doing it until February. I didn’t find out about it until 31st December-ish and we had no time to stock up on anything so I’d have failed by 10am on 1st Jan when I had my first cup of tea! Plus my birthday is in January and there’s also the Bishopston Supper Club roast, both of which I wish to fully meatily partake in. I know that being vegan comes naturally to some people, but I am absolutely not one of them, so I will find it really, really hard. I want to give it as good a go as I can, so I need to be prepared and do my research. Luckily, I live near two fab vegan cafes so I’ll have easy access to great cake! So I’ll be doing… Vegebuary? Veguary?? I’m also going to allow myself one cup of tea with cows milk, per day. I know it’s cheating but it’s the one thing that I can see myself failing on, and I suppose that if I acknowledge that from Day 1, then it’s not so bad? Maybe as I work my way through the month, I’ll find that I can give it up.

I know that what I’m about to say will sound annoyingly twee, and is possibly tempting fate, but I am at a point in my life where I feel very happy. And probably the first point in my life where I’m not actively seeking out big changes. In 2016 I left a job that was wringing me out, and I found a new one which I think I will love. I bought and started renovating a house that I love. I moved to a new area which I was initially wary of, but now I love. I got engaged and married, and in the best possible way, it changed nothing about my relationship. If nothing changes in 2017, and even if I don’t achieve a single one of my goals, I will still think I’m incredibly fortunate.

*The key focus of KM is to keep things that bring you joy, so one person’s house could be very brightly coloured and full to the brim of carefully considered objects but still be completely KM. Personally, empty space brings me more joy than Stuff, but everyone’s KM vision is different and equally valid.

National Dahlia Collection

Back in October, my mom and I visited The National Dahlia Collection. We had no idea it was there! We were driving towards Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, and as we were nearly there, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a blaze of colour! We scooted back and we were absolutely blown away by the beauty. I took a few pictures on my iPhone, but was cursing myself for having left my camera at home. We returned a couple of days later. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking!