Monday, 23 July 2012

Sunday Smörgåsbord

So much for becoming a regular feature - this is only the second time I've managed it in a month! And technically speaking, it's now Monday... Oh well, if you can forgive my tardiness, here is a quick bedtime post with a roundup of a few recent highlights:

Top row (from left to right):
1. An unexpected second wave of blooms on the rose bush just outside our front door :o)
2. Delicious lunch with fab friend @ Mildreds (mildly irksome lack of apostrophe forgiven on account of super tasty food) vegetarian restaurant in Soho. Neither one of us is a veggie but we were so distracted by all the yummy dishes on the menu that we failed to notice this fact until we asked for a business card at the end of the meal!
3. Boo the Pomeranian of YouTube fame can be yours! Visit Urban Outfitters, who also stock a very sweet book featuring 'the cutest dog in the world' photographed in a vast array of endearing poses.

Middle row:
4. Snickers milkshake @ the fabulously fifties JB's American Diner in Brighton. Heaven through a straw. Also your entire recommended daily calorie allowance in one hit, I imagine.
5. Summer has made a tentative first appearance this weekend! Sssh, don't get too excited or we might frighten it away. Loved the fact that I could finally step out in shorts and flip-flops today, and that the glorious sunshine justified an outing for my trusty straw trilby. Joy.
6. Salted caramels from Hotel Chocolat. In my humble, yet discerning chocolate-lover's opinion, simply the best chocolates you can buy in the UK. Crisp, rich chocolate coating gives way to unctuous, salty sweet and velvety smooth liquid caramel. Too good.

Bottom row:
7. My homemade truffle filo tulips (recipe to follow soon...). Very simple to make, suitably pretty to serve up to guests. Lighter than you'd imagine - we and our friends managed three each!
8. A great favourite of mine in the nail varnish department, especially when the Sun is shining ~ Cajun Shrimp by O.P.I. Their products are superb: easy to apply, quick to dry, and long-lasting, and on top of that they have the most fantastic range of colours.

Wow. I hadn't realised when I was putting this together, but you can tell what I've been doing a lot of recently ~ indulging in the food department! I hope you've all had a great weekend, and particularly to readers here in Blighty, enjoy this spot of summer weather while it lasts!

Sweet dreams...

pp x

Thursday, 19 July 2012

I see trees of green.

I'm sorry to say that over the past week or so I have rather put off writing. However, this has mostly been in favour of going out and doing interesting things to write about, so I hope that the next few posts will make up for my recent absence.

I cannot believe that the best part of two weeks of the summer holidays has already been and gone in the blink of an eye. Our approach to making the most of these precious weeks is attempting to strike a balance between doing lots of lovely things and doing, well, nothing at all! So far, we have managed both, though perhaps not in equal measure - I feel as though this last week has been as busy as term time! Last week was a little more laid back though, and on Sunday we donned boots at the first twinkle of sunshine through the rain, and went to take a stroll around one of our local parks...

It really was the most beautiful walk I've enjoyed in a long time. The colours were stunning, the light enchanting, and it was such a great pleasure to explore somewhere new, hand in hand, at our leisure. Through the lens (of my iPhone), I discovered unexpected textures and depth of summer hues that I've been overlooking in this dull, grey weather we've been having. It was so refreshing to get out of doors, to stretch our legs and to escape the hustle and bustle of living in town.

Apparently we are due some sunshine from tomorrow (hooray!), so I hope that you may get a chance to be outside and feel it on your skin over the weekend. Why not find somewhere new to explore as we did? After all, as Louis would say, it's a wonderful world.

pp x

Monday, 9 July 2012

Poles apart.

Phew! What a week since my last post! The school year finished on Saturday, after what feels likes a protracted countdown, and the last few days were rather hectic to say the least. So much so that I spent all of yesterday in my PJs, just doing odds and sods around the flat, and being just the tiniest bit lazy - hence no Sunday Smörgåsbord this week. It is such a physical, mental and emotional release to be able to relax your body and mind after the stresses and strains of a school term. Doubtless some of you will be thinking something along the lines of 'part-timer', but I assure you that the holidays are an absolute necessity rather than a luxury when you're a teacher!

This evening, I'd like to talk about something that I discovered back in January, and have become a fierce advocate of over the past seven months: pole dancing.

January 2012. Every year for the past six or so, getting fit has made its way onto my list of resolutions, but this year I actually had the impetus to get going and stick with something - our wedding in December. I am not, nor have I ever been overweight. I've no doubt carried a few extra pounds at one time or another, but never outside the boundaries of a healthy bmi. Having said that, I am no Skinny Minnie. I love my food, and like to think of myself as having curves in the right places, let's put it that way. My intention to get fit is precisely that, not an attempt to shed multiple pounds and end up looking like a bony, sickly, hungry version of myself on my wedding day. With that in mind, I considered what I would enjoy doing, rather than looking for a sport that would help me lose weight, and I pinpointed that I was looking to build my upper body strength and tone my arms in particular.

There have been times in my life when I have been a regular at the gym, which I enjoy, but prioritising saving for the wedding meant that an expensive gym membership was out of the question. I have always loved dance and aerobics, and one lesson a week would certainly cost less than the gym, or so I thought... Some dance classes were in the region of £30 an hour, and having tried out a few aerobics classes, I felt most of them were not leaving me feeling as though I'd had a good enough work out. Body Combat was the only reasonably priced class that was fun and made me break a sweat, but various commitments meant that I wasn't always able to attend. So it was, that with curiosity, trepidation and the moral support of a friend to join me, I signed up for a Level 1 Pole Fit course at my local leisure centre, and the rest, as they say, is history.

First, I must point out that I practise pole fit, as opposed to pole dancing, which really is something quite different. Let me first reassure you that I do not spend my weekly lessons grinding against a pole in a push-up bra. Pole fit is about strength - in your arms, legs and core - and is far more like gymnastics than lap-dancing. It is also, when performed well, quite beautiful...

I hope you'll agree that the above (performed by Doris Arnold, a famous Parisian pole artist) is tasteful, sensitive and expressive; there is nothing sleazy or degrading about it. The only thing you cannot escape is the necessity for skin contact on the pole - hence not very much in the way of clothing - but it's arguably similar to other forms of dance. Let's face it, male ballet dancers' outfits leave little or nothing to the imagination!

Needless to say, I've not quite reached Doris's level of expertise just yet, but I have learned many of the moves you see in the video above, and in seven short months, with only one lesson a week and no pole at home to practise on (until yesterday, that is!). I cannot emphasise how quickly you begin to see results with pole fit. I have lost 5lbs, as well as inches from various places, gained core stability, subtle definition to my biceps, triceps and quads, and the ability to do full sets of proper press-ups, which I could never do before.

Please indulge me while I share just a few silly shots of me performing some of my favourite moves (taken at my instructor's house, where my friend and I now have our lessons - NB the Barbie pink wall!):

Inverted crucifix

Butterfly handstand

The plank


My motivation for writing this post is a desire to share the joy of this sport, and perhaps also to close the gap between people's possible preconceptions of pole fit, and the reality of it. Pole fit is not synonymous with stripping or lap-dancing, or advertently alluding to sex. Sensual it may be, provocative even, but not in a way that should be viewed as degrading or indicative of the sexuality of those who practise it. I hope this post may also encourage you to have a closer look at some of the awe-inspiring routines on YouTube!

Over and out.

pp x

Monday, 2 July 2012

Heavenly angel cake.

Having wanted to bake one of these for what feels like an awfully long time, it was such a joy to finally get around to it this weekend, and now I am very happy to share that joy with you all!

I first had the inclination to try my hand at this a couple of months back, when I was offered Mr Kipling's incarnation of the traditional angel layer cake. His version is not true to original recipes, lacking as it is in the plain sponge department, and tastes, like so many other shop-bought baked goods, mildly synthetic. It was nevertheless tasty, and so I resolved to bake one for His Lordship at the first opportunity. There is something undeniably nostalgic and really rather kitsch about this cake ~ the density of it, its appealing vintage fairground colours, the subtle vanilla sweetness of the unctuous buttercream... Salivating much?

I must confess that I cannot take any credit whatsoever for the recipe that follows, as I found it (having trawled the internet for some time, dodging recipes for angel food cake - a different confection entirely) on a lovely blog by the name of Nom! ~ thank you, Nicola! My only tweak to the recipe was that although the icing between the layers is only intended to be minimal, I found that with the increased surface area of my cakes (see the tins I used below) I needed a double batch of the buttercream.

*        225g butter at room temperature (a good quality one)
*        225g caster sugar
*        4 large free range eggs
*        225g plain flour
*        1tsp baking powder
*        3 tbsp whole milk
*        1tsp vanilla extract
*        85g icing sugar
*        35g butter again, keep this aside for the buttercream
*        pink and yellow food colouring

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees (celcius).

2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Break in two eggs, half of the flour, baking powder and vanilla (sifted), whisk, and repeat with the other half. Now add the milk and whisk into the mix. 

4. Take a third of the mixture into a seperate bowl and add either the pink or yellow food colouring until you get the desired depth, remember, it's 'angel' cake, so don't make it too strong. 

5. Take another third in another bowl and mix in the other colour. 

I couldn't get pink, so used a little red food colouring instead. This wasn't ideal, as it turned out: the final result was a somewhat insipid salmon, rather than a lovely candy pink.

6. Now grease and line a loaf time, three if you have them. 

I used square sandwich tins instead...

7. Divide the mixtures into the tins and bake in the oven for about 25-35 minutes. Check with a skewer to make sure its cooked perfectly.

8. Leave to cool

9. Once cool make the buttercream by whisking together the butter and icing sugar, you can add some more vanilla extract to this for an extra kick of gorgeous if you want - I did.

10. Level the three layers and stack with a layer of buttercream between the layers. 

11. Slice and eat. Nom!

This really is such a deliciously simple treat to make, and looks effortlessly impressive served in a neat little tranche with a cup of tea. I do hope you'll be inspired to have a go yourselves ~ perhaps you could experiment with the colour combinations? Blue, lilac and pistachio green might look pretty..? Let me know how it turns out!

Bon appetit! pp x

Sunday Smörgåsbord!

Smörgåsbord ~ what an intensely satisfying word to roll around one's tongue, and a useful one at that! Just a quick one this evening, ladies and gents, but something I hope to make a regular weekend feature of. The following pictures represent a few of the little pleasures of my weekend. Enjoy!

1. Boiled egg and soldiers, courtesy of His Lordship.

2. Good old-fashioned, bandstand-worthy tunes under blue skies ~
thank you to The Sussex Band in support of Help for Heroes.

3. Delicious and frankly GARGANTUAN Quattro Stagioni
@ ASK Italian. Two meals in one sitting. Seriously.

4. Complimentary paper windmill ~ result!

5. Just managed to squeeze in a chocolate banana for
dessert, purchased from the incomparably charming
Old Sweet House. Go there, immediately.

6. Whipped up a quick angel cake, as one does. Please
excuse me while I polish my halo... Recipe to follow soon.

7. Sunday morning was spent in my favourite pyjama bottoms.
I'm a sucker for a kitsch fabric and an elasticated waistband.

8. Deliciously girly Barbie pink toes...

9. ...complimented by the luscious clash of
peachy coral on my fingers.

10. Fab!

Other weekend loveliness has included celebrating our first year living in our current abode (and, to mark the occasion, having finally got around to steaming the kitchen floor ~ feeling über virtuous), finally getting to see our beautiful made-to-order bridesmaid dresses 'in the flesh', so to speak, and a yummy supper this evening with my wonderful future in-laws.

I'm afraid that's all for this week, folks, but I look forward to sharing the angel cake recipe with you tomorrow. I hope you've all had a great weekend, and would love to hear what you've been up to!

À demain, pp x

PS blogger won't seem to let me centre-align my photos in this post sans tinkering around with my formatting - sob! Any techies amongst you able to advise, please..??