31 Aug 2015

Little Gems: 9

Trying and failing to get lost in the woods. 

1) This week was the first time in months that I got drenched on the way to work, the first time in months that I pulled a blanket over me in the evening and the first time I noticed that it's now dark by half eight in the evening. Starting to feel like Autumn has arrived but I seem to be in the mood. Really quite looking forward to the season of red and orange. If it could just not rain...

2) The only downside of Autumn is the lack of Bank Holidays. So much love for the three day weekend.

3) Have you seen Trainwreck? I laughed (loudly) throughout this film; a lot better than I was expecting.


5) Lazy Sunday walks. Went for a walk in the local wood, tried and failed to get lost. Need more trees....

6) Top ten jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe. I'm a fan of number six.

7) Long weekend next week = a three day week! Meaning it's already Wednesday tomorrow.

8) Watched The Parent Trap for the first time in ages. Never gets old.

9) This article. Just for the phrase 'banter bogs'.

10) Tomorrow is 1 September. Surely this is the year I'll be heading off to Hogwarts?!

London Eats | My Old Dutch Pancake House

Pancakes, darling, pancakes. Surely one of the best food concepts ever? And there's only one official day dedicated to them a year. ONE. Luckily, I'm not the only one who find this outrageous. Otherwise I'd be stuck in a sad pancake-less void for 364 days a year. Imagine the horror.

I first went to the My Old Dutch Pancake House in my early teens, when my parents took me as a birthday treat, and I remember it being wonderful. But I haven't been for years. So long in fact, that I'd almost forgotten about it. 


It took our trip to Holland to remind me that I could get regular access to Dutch-style pancakes in the UK as well. My boyfriend, G, was very surprised when I oh-so-casually mentioned it on the last day of our holiday. He was shocked I hadn't mentioned it earlier on in our relationship which, given my obsession over food and general delight at exciting restaurants, was a fair point. 

Less than two weeks later, we were there. 

The first thing you need to be, when going, is HUNGRY. Do not go if you've had a long, lazy three-course lunch. Well, you can, but you'll probably throw up on some innocent guy on the tube home. There are both sweet and savoury options so naturally, you need to have both, and this is not a restaurant that understands the concept of small portions (and quite rightly, honestly, when are 'pancakes' and 'small portion' ever put together?). 

The second thing you're going to need is TIME. There is SO much choice on the menu and you're going to want to make a carefully considered decision. Relax, browse, ignore the waitress who keeps coming to ask if you're ready yet... 

My heavily-debated choice was the Chilli Con Carne pancake. An enormous portion of chilli comes wrapped in a pancake, served with tortilla chips, guacamole and sour cream on the side. I also added mozzarella to mine, because, cheese.

G goes for the My Old Dutch; smoked bacon, chicken, ham, sweet pepper, mushrooms, sweet corn and cheese, served more like a pizza.

They're both served on the biggest plates you've ever seen and we make a valiant effort to clear them. We're both pretty full by the time we're done but that's not enough to stop me having pudding.

Since I was last here, they've introduced the 'Butterscotch' menu which are butterscotch (obviously), American-style pancakes. Thicker and more spongy than the crêpe style used on the rest of the menu, I think they're perfect for a more pudding style of pancake.

I'm torn when it comes to the pudding choice; chocolate chip and chocolate sauce sounds pretty darn good but there is just something about the maple syrup classic... I eventually go with the classic because, as G rightly points out, this is not going to be my last trip here!

I get a pile of butterscotch pancakes, topped with icing sugar, two knobs of butter and a cup of thick, golden maple syrup.

There is something strangely hypnotic about watching maple syrup slowly drip down a big pile of pancakes. Definition of a foodgasam right there...

As if all of this wasn't enough, since I last went, they've also starting offering a load of UH-mazing looking milkshakes! Seeing as I was sticking to tradition, I went for my classic banana but I absolutely have to go back and try some of their more adventurous ones (peanut butter and Oreo anyone?). 

Naturally, our trip has inspired me to try cooking my own pancakes. I'm sure it won't take long for me to get in the kitchen and start whipping up pancake batter... 

25 Aug 2015

Cookies filled with rainbows and mistakes

You know those parties or events that are a big deal and planned months in advance? The build up and preparation is incredibly exciting and you plan out perfectly what an absolutely amazing time you're going to have.

And then the actual event arrives and it's a bit... meh. All your perfectly planned ideas of the exaggerated laughs, kisses in the dark and pleasant wine-induced feelings fall away, and you realise you were stupid to imagine anything that great could happen in your mate's kitchen. But then, once you lower you expectations and realise that the people are still just as brilliant as your scenario, even if the kitchen and Sainsbury's-own-cider is letting them down, you end up having a great time anyway.

Well, that was me and these cookies.

When I was growing up, our local bakery made 'rainbow cookies'. Essentially it was a large ginger-style cookie with mini-smarties on top. Oh how I loved them. I can't tall you anything else that bakery sells because I've bought nothing but rainbow cookies from them for 15 years. So when I wandered across the concept of M&M cookies on the internet, I knew that my first attempt at baking cookies was going to be a colourful one.

They were going to be small and doughy. They were going to be stacked high in a beautiful made-for-instagram picture.  They were going to be the kind of cookie a child would squash in their small hand as they gazed at all the different colours.

We can all dream I suppose.

I will admit that the reason these cookies didn't end up how I wanted was all through my own doing. So don't let that put you off having a go.

For M&M cookies, you will need (makes 16):

200g chocolate M&M's
225g baking block (I used stork)
300g plain flour
200g brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Put your brown and white sugar, eggs, flour, baking block, vanilla extract, baking powder and salt in a bowl.


Add the majority of the M&M's (remember to save some for the top).

This was my favourite bit to photograph. Look at those colours!!


This is where things started to go a bit wrong... C (my long-suffering sister) wanders into the kitchen to make a cuppa, just as I've finished separating the dough into 16 on the baking tray.

"Aren't you supposed to roll cookie dough into balls?"

I pause. Given she has actually made cookies before, I refrain from my usual sarcastic comment and double check the variety of internet pages I'm using for this recipe.


We both turn to look at my 16 uncooked cookies. They're definitely not neatly rounded balls, more... splodges.

"I don't think it's essential. They'll still taste fine. Put them in anyway?" C suggests.

I sigh but do just that. I squash some more M&Ms on top and pop them all in the oven, setting the timer for 10-12 minutes.

C wanders back out the kitchen which is unlucky on my part because I've now entered I've-buggered-up-mode, meaning I stop thinking sensibly. When the timer goes off, the cookies don't look anywhere near done to me. My inexperienced cooking brain shall later learn cookies are supposed to look like that... but I put them back in the oven. Rookie mistake. Soft, doughy dream slowly drifting away. When C comes back down half an hour later, she finds me desperately confused as to why I'm finding it so hard to get them off the baking tray without them falling apart.

"Mate, leave them to cool for a few minutes..."

In summary, my soft, small, squishy M&M cookies became giant, biscuit blobs. After my last baking attempt, I've learnt not to expect cooking adventures to look like the pictures in the cookbook but I still can't help being disappointed.

However, soon after I start eating them (still warm), the sugar rush makes me care a lot less. They don't look as beautiful and instagram-worthy as I imagined but they still taste damn good. Which is the whole point really.

Kate's learning corner 

Rolling cookie dough into balls

Having researched a variety of cookie recipes, the answer to this conundrum seems to be varied and dependant on what type of cookies you're making. I think the general answer is properly read the recipe and don't get excited and distracted by a big pile of M&M's...

Take cookies out of the oven a minute before they look done

... And definitely don't put them back into the oven several times after they've been in for as long as the recipe says... my bad.

23 Aug 2015

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Talk of this book has been everywhere this summer. I've seen it advertised at every station I fly through on my train to work and it's already confirmed that it will be turned into a Hollywood film. Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss is about.

The Girl on the Train is a great one to read if you yourself are a commuter. We've all sat in Rachel's seat; staring blindly out the window imagining possibilities and places we'd rather be. We all know (whether we like it or not) aspects of our journey off by heart; the Sainsbury's just before you go into the tunnel before your stop, the cat that always sits a little too close to the track, the houses you can see into when your train stops at a red signal...

Every day, Rachel gets the same train to work. Every day it stops at a red signal, briefly, along the row of houses she used to live in with her ex-husband, Tom. Where he now lives with Anna and the baby. A few doors down are 'Jess and Jason', the couple she sees on their terrace every day but doesn't actually know. 'Jess and Jason' have developed in Rachel's imagination but soon they will become a very real part of her life when she witnesses something shocking as her train passes by.

At heart, this is a classic amnesia thriller. A woman is missing, probably murdered. Another woman saw something crucial but can't remember. Both their lives are intertwined with the same people; people who have seen things, but not enough to put the whole picture together. However, what sets this thriller apart from many others, is the people who make it up.

There isn't one character in this novel that is particularly likeable. This is a risky move on Paula Hawkin's part and yet it works. The three female protagonists are all brilliantly flawed; enough to keep you gripped to their stories, not enough to loathe them. Certainly enough to make them realistically human, meaning each twist and turn of this dark, blurred thriller is believable and all the more creepy for it.

Rachel is an alcoholic. She's lied to everyone, doesn't accept help and has moments of irritating self-pity. She is not someone you have any desire to spend time with. But most of this is a result of a personal tragedy and a husband who chose to have an affair instead of supporting her through it. Likeable or not, you want her to seek some kind of personal justice for the way she has been treated, to gain closure and move on with her life. Somehow, solving the mystery of missing 'Jess' (A.K.A Megan) becomes her road to recovery.

An enthralling psychological thriller; tense and very creepy.

Little Gems: 8

Autumn leaves in August sunshine. 

Song: The Bad Touch - Bloodhound Gang. I caught up with some uni pals at the Great British Beer Festival last week. There was a steak pie, dancing and beer (obviously). But most of all there were friends I hadn't seen for too long. We spent many nights at uni dancing to this ridiculous song, and it's been in my head ever since I saw them.

1) The grumpy cat and I have been best pals since we got back from Holland. Post-holiday blues combined with feeling ill and an unpleasant doctor's appointment have made me unnecessarily grumpy. But the Little Gems post encourages me to appreciate that it's really not that bad. I.e. get a grip and cheer the hell up.

2) Well, we just have to start with THAT video of the baby and the cat.

3) Continuing our tour of outdoor cinemas, we hit up Regent's Park for a gorgeous viewing of Some Like it Hot. What a brilliant film. Plus fairy lights. And a free cookie. I could go on...

4) Trying to pretend we were still on holiday, we spent an evening at the My Old Dutch pancake house. Nom, nom and nom.

5) London hit 30 degrees again this week. But it did it ON A SATURDAY. For once, the weather is doing it right.

6) Obviously this constituted a picnic in the park and an ice cream. A cookie ice cream at that.

7) Which leads nicely to... Cookie dough cafe. I mean, COME ON.

10) This couple gave up their jobs and are travelling the world. Sigh...

17 Aug 2015

Little Gems: 7 | A Trip To The Netherlands

Canals as far as the eye can see. 
Song: Amsterdam - Imagine Dragons. Guess where we went...

1) Holiday take 2! This time, we took a visit to the land of clogs and tulips and cheese. Not that I saw many clogs or tulips. Can't say the same for the cheese. Guys, guys, guys, Amsterdam has a CHEESE MUSEUM. I'll pause for a moment whilst you book your flight...

2) Cocktails on the canal...

3) Night time cruise. Such a great way to see all of Amsterdam, and it's just as pretty at night. There was also 3 bottles of wine and a load of cheese, and it was all part of the reasonable ticket price. Needless to say, it was a tipsy walk back to the hotel.

4) Pancakes for breakfast. Oh yeah! We were in Holland, it would have been rude not to!

5) I'd forgotten how much bloody fun water slides are! I want more water parks in the UK! (Please don't point out the realities of the British weather because I don't want to hear it right now.)

6) I liked this guy...

7) Rotterdam is all about the weird and wonderful architecture. People live in this!

10) My holiday read was Alexandra Braken's The Darkest Minds series. Best dystopian YA series I've come across in ages!

'Posh' sausages and mash

I've done something a little scandalous; I've branched out from Mary Berry recipes. I know, I know, but you can't teach yourself how to cook and not explore a variety of chefs. Mary's currently stropping upstairs but I'm sure she'll come round eventually.

My boyfriend pointed out that this was a rather middle class version of sausages and mash and, whilst everyone loves the classic sausage 'n' mash combo, it's good to shake things up once in a while. Particularly when you're on a mission to explore new recipes. So here's a wonderful combination of sausages, feta and avocados (yep, still going on about those avocados) adapted from this Nigel Slater recipe.

For 'posh' sausages and mash you will need (serves 2): 

5 tablespoons olive oil

6 sausages
2 avocados
200g feta cheese, chopped into small cubes.
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
A small handful of finely chopped jalapeño (you can have more or less depending on how much spice you want) 

Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Prick each sausage a couple of times with a knife and then add to the pan.

Cook for 20 minutes over a moderate heat.

Whilst they are cooking, halve, stone and peel the avocados. If you want tips on this; check out my avocado post here.

Pop in a mixing bowl and mash with a fork until lumpy.

Add the feta, coriander, parsley and jalapeño and mix! 

Drizzle over 3 tablespoons of olive oil and mix some more! 

Serve up onto dishes. 

Add the sausages on top and enjoy! Super tasty and very filling! 

Kate's learning corner 

Even if you're not a big fan of spice, don't be afraid with the jalapeño. They add a real zing and the feta & avocado prevent it from being too much. 

6 Aug 2015

Little Gems: 6 | A Trip To Ludlow

Our pad for the week. 

1) What a beautiful few days it has been. This Little Gems post maaaaay have a bit of a holiday theme going on. But come on, we stayed IN A CASTLE. You'd want to talk about it too. So, here are some things you could get up to if you decide on an adventure in Shropshire. Like staying in a castle. Did I mention the castle?

2) Go to a bizarre old Tudor Lodge. There was a lot of empty rooms, creaking doors and an alarming amount of rugs... And a ghost. Probably.

3) Check out Iron Bridge. It was the first arch bridge in the world to be made from cast iron; in 1779. That's pretty impressive.

Plus there's a cafe opposite which does A-mazing banana milkshakes. You're welcome.

And a museum. Everyone loves a museum. Actually, there were ten (TEN). But I only went to one. I don't love them that much.

4) Climb a church tower. Cos, why not?

This is me 'climbing'

5) Go to the Museum of Lost Content. It's a bit like entering a parallel universe. Either that, or you're drugged when you go in. It's bizarre and overwhelming and so, so, weird. But a lot of fun... as long as you take your sense of humour with you.

6) Find your nearest English Heritage house. Come on, you're on a British holiday. It has to be done.

7) Pause your fun to eat cake in the afternoon. This is ESSENTIAL.

I wish I could remember what this was called but I know it was all pastry and cinnamon and sugary goodness.

7) Go on a ghost tour. They're such a good way of seeing parts of a town you would never otherwise have seen. There's usually an odd guy in a top hat that you have to follow into a dark forest but try not to let that bother you.

9) Well HELLO spa weekend!

 10) Appreciate all those little holiday things...

Like finding a random record store down an alley way...

 Making friends with the locals.

The fact that it goes totally silent at night.

And sitting on a bench eating chips with the loons you call family.