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Sri Lanka: For the love of Tea (plantations)

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea and that’s kind of the same thing

It’s true. It exists. Boutique tea!

Travelling around Sri Lanka you see more than your necessary handful of tea plantations, they are as common here as teenage girls at a One Direction concert. For that much tea there needs to be a hell of a lot of factories to process it all, after all there’s a pretty big demand for it worldwide. Because of this tea, the loving feeling has gone and instead the big factories churn out quantity over quality far too often.

Don’t get me wrong the average tea drinker probably wouldn’t notice the difference, we get upset if we get Liptons not a proper Yorkshire tea but don’t really know why.
At Amba Estate near Ella they’d be shocked and disgusted if you offered them that tea dust, which personally I cannot function without back home (oh what I’d do for a Yorkshire tea with REAL milk), instead of their hand processed tea leaves, it’s not your average brew for sure!

Set high up in the hills, so high in fact that sometimes the plantation is nothing more than an obstacle for the low-lying cloud to wrap itself around,  this tea plantation exudes that luxury feeling I’d expect from an upscale vineyard not a place where they grow tea leaves. To them though every leaf is gold and treated with genuine love and passion.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

You can so often get overwhelmed by all the options of where to go to get a ‘real tea’ experience, most places seem to lack an authenticity and personality but even on a dull day strolling through the grassy footways around the many acres of tea bushes, fruit trees and veg patches there’s something so peaceful. A break in the clouds sends sunbeams dancing around the dewy grass and our guide spreads his arms, grinning wildly exclaiming the skies are ‘blessing us with with gold dust, it always makes the tea sweeter’.

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Even the weeds here are an array of rainbow coloured flowers accenting the planes of green beautifully and as the clouds move like a screen across the adjacent hills they reveal the valley plummeting below. It seems the perfect place for the perfect cuppa to grow.

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The tour, like most, is free but be careful because you will literally want to buy the gift shop afterwards. You can choose to have a tea tasting after the tour which I highly recommend, after all why bother learning about if you don’t taste it!

White tea flower in full bloom

White tea flower in full bloom

Happiness is the perfect cup of tea (or wine glass)

Happiness is the perfect cup of tea (or wine glass)

The guide that showed us around was really passionate and knowledgable which made the whole thing so much enjoyable and at the tasting told us what each tea went best with, see good tea is like good wine.

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR0680.Green tea: Best with curried dishes and snacks such as samosas or fish

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0680.White tea: fruits and vegetables DCIM100GOPROGOPR0680.Black tea: cake and biscuits (and lots of them)  

Clearly us brits have got the afternoon tea down to a ‘t’ (yes I did just say that), we’ve known for years black tea is best with a biccy or two packets.

They also teach you how the different types of tea are made, contrary to popular belief it’s all from the same plant, it’s amazing what different tastes can come from a leaf being dried or not!

The tea chart... obviously

The tea chart… obviously

And just encase you were under any misconceptions about how to make the perfect cuppa, they even provide you with a guide on making the perfect brew, no excuses!

Green and black tea should be brewed for 3 minutes, with 80 degree for green and 85degree water for black (to be precise).
White tea for at least 5 minutes, the tea flowers blossom beautifully and should also be in 85degree water.

They actually have their own timers for this but unless you’re a diehard tea fan I’m guessing you’ll just do it how you always have…

Tea timer for the perfectionist in you!

Tea timer for the perfectionist in you!

The tea here is so brilliant they actually supply upmarket stores back home in the UK for a pretty hefty mark up, this is OP1 level tea, that’s the best of the best when it comes to tea grades, so best believe these guys know what they’re on about!

Actually the reason I decided to go to Amba wasn’t because of the tea at all, at first it was because of the jam, yep that’s right, they make the most amazing jam that just so happened to be served to us every breakfast at the homestay we were at in Ella. I’m talking passionfruit and vanilla, mango and vanilla and other amazing flavours. These guys are geniuses when it comes to utilising their surroundings including the fruit trees.

Trying to figure out if all this jam will fit into my backpack!

Trying to figure out if all this jam will fit into my backpack!

And yes because I love you all and want you to be happy I took a sneaky picture of the recipe so you can get making your own!

Mango and Ginger Jam

Mango and Ginger Jam

SO my little lovelies now you know if you ever find yourself in Sri Lanka and want an intimate encounter with some tea leaves then Amba Estate has your back.. and your cup of tea!

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P.S.
Don’t you just hate it when you think you’re friends with someone and then they put the milk in first … just no!
So just to end the debate, proper tea shouldn’t need milk but if you should still be inclined to add a little white stuff you should do it AFTER the tea has brewed. 

I didn’t receive any freebies or discounts for this post and all views are my own, I’m just an English girl who really appreciates a bloody good brew when she sees one!

 

Our rainbow plate of home cooked food!

Sri Lanka Cooking Class

At home I have therapy, its called making dinner and I do every night, no matter how tired. I cook for myself, I cook for whoever I live with, I bake for work, I would put a mattress in the kitchen, marry my oven and have an affair with the fridge. I’m committed.

One of the biggest struggles of being on the road for me is not getting the downtime to cook for friends and even for myself, so many meals are convenient and not all that healthy, yes it would seem I am one of those annoying people who could really murder a salad!!

Living on a budget often means that street food is my best friend come any given meal time and that also means a lot of fried food, it’s a carb lovers heaven, while it is (mostly) really yum, I don’t find you get the authentic ‘this is what we cook for our family’ feel, from a lot of it. But it is the cheapest way to eat and try some local ‘fast-food’, the satisfaction and convenience keeps me well away from those western restaurants and prices… most of the time!

Getting ill in Nepal robbed me of my chance to attend the Momo cooking class I had planned, while simultaneously handing me yet another reason to return, and India, well I’ll get to that later. Sri Lanka however provided me the perfect  opportunity to get hands on in the kitchen.

Sri Lankan food itself is a strange one, in many ways it mirrors Indian spices with a slightly fresher twist, more emphasis on ginger and garlic and less on the creamy bases found in Indian cooking. Still Cumin and Coriander are staples in the kitchen and the asian rice trend continues… but we expected nothing less right?

Lanka, a local Ella born Sri Lankan became my saviour by teaching my some absolutely yum local curries and side dishes.

My cooking guru Lanka

My cooking guru Lanka

The big Hit:

I’m now equipped with some pretty unique new dishes. The family is so lovely. They had puppies (relevant no, insanely cute YES!) It’s over fire stoves which takes away the sterility of cooking and made the experience feel authentic. Class size was small, we were only 5 people.

The little Miss:

I wish I’d been actually allowed to cook more, I felt more of an observer, furiously scribbling down recipes and rarely getting hands on with the cooking utensils.

All that vege goodness!!

All that vege goodness!!

In light of my new found knowledge I thought I’d help bring a little bit of Sri Lanka to your table with my favourite new recipes.

(Please note: You can leave out the Pandan leaves if you can’t find them, they’re generally just another type of curry leaf.
Curry Powder refers to premixed spices consisting of 500g Cumin, 500g Sweet Cumin and 1kg Coriander Powder. If you don’t want this quantity sitting around use 1/2 tablespoon of cumin and sweet cumin and full tablespoon for coriander powder)

The main: Moju (AUbergine curry)

1kg Aubergine (Eggplant)

The base:

2 red onion – diced
3 cardamon
1 2” cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
4 whole green chillis (non-spicy)
3 curry branch
1 Pandan leaf
3 tablespoon coconut vinegar

To Finish

Juice of 1/2 orange
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 diced tomato

(In this recipe you can substitute the sugar for dates or pineapple, my favourite is Pineapple and I generally add to taste, start with 4 rings and work up if you’re not sure)

  • Firstly cut all the aubergine into small strips and fry in preheated coconut oil, this can be frying as you cut the other veggies. Remember to keep it on a medium heat, too high and the aubergine will burn and go too crispy, we want it golden brown. When cooked drain off excess fat and season with salt.
  • Add the base ingredients together in a pan and fry in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil until the red onion is almost cooked through. (Add pineapple now if you’re using)
  • Add the finishing ingredients now along with the pre-fried Aubergine and cook for a further 2minutes
Frying the Aubergine over the wood fuelled fire

Frying the Aubergine over the wood fuelled fire

Bean curry (side dish)

Ingredients

500g Runner beans
3 large garlic cloves
1 tomato roughly chopped
1 diced red onion
1 pandan leaf
1 branch curry leaves
1 level teaspoon each of – Turmeric – Salt – Chilli – Curry powder
1 clove

  • Preheat 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • Add all ingredients together in a pan, cook covered, on a medium heat for 15minutes, stir occasionally
  • Serve (yup it’s that easy)
The Man in action

The Man in action

Devilled Potatoes (some like it hot)

500g Potatoes cubed

the base

5 sliced large garlic cloves
2 small red onions (sliced)
2 green chilli (halved) – take out seeds to reduce the heat of the dish
2 teaspoon chilli flakes (or to taste)
1 2” cinnamon stick
3 cardamon
Curry leaves
1 Pandan leaf

to finish

3 tablespoon tomato sauce
1 teaspoon crushed black pepper

  • Heat pot of water and boil potatoes till soft
  • Pre-heat 3tblspoon Coconut Oil
  • Fry base ingredient, not including the curry and pandan leaf, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add curry and pandan leaf and fry for further 2 minutes
  • To finish add tomato ketchup and black pepper
  • Serve

Cucumber salad

2 peeled cucumber (can be unpeeled)
1 red onion (thinly diced)
1 tomato (chopped)
Salt (to taste)
50g Grated coconut

  • Cut up all ingredients and stir in a bowl
  • Dress with Lime

Coconut Sambol

250g Grated coconut
1/4 teaspoon Chilli flakes
1/2 Onion – thinly diced
1/2 Tomato – finely chopped
Lemon/lime (to taste)
Salt

  • Chop, mix and enjoy sprinkled on dishes, as a side or mixed in with the rice
Our rainbow plate of home cooked food!

Our rainbow plate of home cooked food!

Such simple dishes but such good taste! This is best served with rice and poppadoms, a lot of friends and some nice cold beer!

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Spice up your life – the plantations of India

At home, when I lived with a friend we had a cupboard literally filled with spices, it was the largest cupboard in the kitchen and probably the most used.

Our friendship thrived around the pure object of food, the two of us both enthusiastic cooks and bakers we were never hungry, often unhealthy and always generous when it came to portion sizes. This isn’t to say that the local take-outs didn’t receive their fair share of orders. We are nothing if not fair and supportive of local businesses after all.

Travelling has meant I have sacrificed that part of my lifestyle , save for the occasional cooking class I am without cooker and this. is. tragic.

It has however made me more aware of where the food comes from in the first place, the indian subcontinent isn’t exactly boasting the wealthiest fridge to household ratio and I’m finding myself checking for cooling facilities before ordering the meat option. It’s not a ‘biggy’ for me, at home I’m happy to go veggie but more through cost than concern of it’s salmonella content, and after my nepalese hospital incident (which my veins have not yet recovered from) I tend to ere on the side of caution.

Luckily for me, and for you, for us all in fact, they really love their spices over here, not only do they love them, they know how to use them. On a regular basis an indian woman can put my spice knowledge to shame and make me feel as though I’m stood in front of Gordon Ramsey telling him I can only make burnt toast!

The wonderful thing that comes from this is that not only do people like to share recipes but also  spice plantations are available to visit (literally everywhere), that are not only educational but the good ones come with lunch… that’s a lesson I can get on board with!!

Oh yes, rainbow lunch served at the plantation

Oh yes, rainbow lunch served at the plantation

A spice in Asia, it seems, is never just a spice but a remedy to anything from dry hair to a cancer treatment, as well as obviously making the amazing curries we know and love. The following contains just some of the things I’ve learnt on my tours around the plantations. It’s hard work but you’re welcome:

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Nutmeg – this subtle little dream does more than just flavour your eggnog and top your custard tarts, although carry on regardless, mixed with water before a meal it aids with healthy digestion or mixed with warm milk before bed can cure insomnia. (Be careful though only use a small pinch as this people who have taken larger doses can experience nausea, dry mouth, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, agitation and hallucinations)

Fresh nutmeg

Fresh nutmeg

Aloe Vera- First and foremost sunburn, not because this is it’s best use but because I honestly could not be coping without it right now.

It has more vitamins and amino acids than you can shake a stick at, so drinking this in juices is great and also effective in fighting against stress levels. As a gel the obvious aforementioned sunburn relief but it’s also great for removing make-up, preventing wrinkles and shaving gel. This stuff is so cheap though you should check yours isn’t watered down, a good one I’ve been told isn’t sticky.

Cloves – Cloves should be bought light brown, not dark and should produce oil when the bulb is squeezed, if it doesn’t the oil has already been extracted and you’re not getting the best produce. This is great as an anti-oxident  and as an aid to relieve indigestion and constipation.

Cardamon – There are 2 types (who knew) green – good for sweeter or subtler flavours with roasts, in tea or cake mixture etc, this grows from bottom mild but is more aromatic. Black – A lot more pungent and spicy and is used for curries, this one grows from top of the plant and is dried.

Lemongrass – if you suffer from migraines (Mum here’s one for you) have this with lukewarm water, same applies for travel sickness except add some cardamon and ginger too.

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Basil – Great for respiratory problems due to its high iron levels which in turn assist our haemoglobin to carry oxygen around our bodies, it’s high levels of Vitamin A are also said to protect against oral and lung cancers. A strong source of vitamin K also which is great for blood clotting factors and bone strengthening. Also a blood pressure stabiliser. Italian food anyone?

Saffron- The King of all spices as the most expensive of them all, it’s price mainly due to the difficulty in growing it in mass production. Subsequently this is sold everywhere in India and Nepal by little street vendors approaching you from dark alleys, as though with an illicit narcotic.

This spice has one of the largest amount of vitamins and minerals available in one spice and is said to enhance any dish it is used in (although indian women do not eat this when pregnant as it is said to cause miscarriages in big enough doses). The medicinal uses are extensive though and it is said to help in treatment of cancer, depression and inflammatory diseases.

Cinnamon – Tastes of cocoa when fresh, indian cinnamon is flat whereas rolled cinnamon comes from china is more mass produced and not as tasty ( although I think the person telling me this could have been a little bias).

It's true it's like a woody version of chocolate!

It’s true it’s like a woody version of chocolate!

Turmeric – Known as the common mans saffron this spice seems to me like it’s gotten a raw deal, it seems like a bloody super spice if I’m honest. It won’t be long before we’ll be adding it to our food like salt if all these benefits are founded. A good quality should stain your fingers yellow even after washing, a lot of it now is diluted with flour.

Among it’s many talents it works as an antiseptic, antibiotic, anti-oxident, anti-inflammatory, a cancer deterrent and is good with weight loss.

The curcumin which makes it so great is not so easily digested though so best to take with pepper which aids it’s absorption. Sounds like a good excuse for a fish curry to me!

Curry leaf – good insulin stabilisation for diabetics. I swear if this is true then diabetes must be at an international low in Sri Lanka because they have branches of this is everything.

See and you all just thought I was travelling for a party and a good view! Which I suppose is partly true…

Walking into the plantation

Walking into the plantation

The truth is tucked away in our cupboards at home. The little glass bottles of their hard work and pride are produce we take for granted, that sit there for months or that we no longer use at all. The past few months have made me realise I don’t appreciate how easy it is for me to walk into a supermarket back home and pick up whatever I want at whatever time of year.

We live in a supply and demand world where we demand the produce and are lucky enough to have someone else do the running to supply it. In India/Nepal/Sri Lanka it’s not like that, they still live seasonally and within their means. I feel a childish irrationality rise in myself when I’m told I can’t have an avocado milkshake or that theirs no fresh mango, I am the product of a westernised ego.

In some ways it is enviable that they take so much pride in the produce they have and the processes that go into it. They still know what it is to be grateful for different foods, as I used to be when I was younger looking forward to strawberry picking with my family when it came to the season, now it seems Strawberries are always in season somewhere and so always available for my scones and clotted cream.

The magic of the seasons are still apparent here, just the other week a guy actually climbed a 12m tree right in front of me to retrieve a coconut, literally the freshest coconut I’ll ever have and the look of satisfaction as he exclaimed ‘coconut season’ was pure brilliant. This seasonal satisfaction of a varied diet slowly floating away from us with the rain that now permeates through our entire calendar year.

I know this envy is simple naivety though, but come to think of it if they really knew would they swap their satisfied pride for our spoilt convenience?

For the love of momo’s!!

It’s happened, I’ve fallen in love! 

I have discovered the momo God it tastes good!!

By definition the simple momo is a steam or fried version of a dumpling, they stuff these with all things savoury, next on my list is an apple momo, oh yes I’m living the dream. Nepal has kind of claimed it as their own and tonight I claimed a plate as mine.

My little plate of heaven

My little plate of heaven

A cute upstairsTibetan upstairs restaurant hidden in Thamel served them so fresh they were still steaming… Yum! Dining here is so social too, this place was crammed with locals and tourists, we met a girl about to start yoga teacher training, travelling is definitely not an unsociable event!

Emma and I had a plate each, do satisfying and,  at 160rupees, just over a £1. I love this country!! And man I love momo’s.

 

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Pink Houmous = yum Houmous

You may not of guessed this but I am a little in love with houmous. This one is brightly coloured, delicious and so easy to make, safe to say this gives your crudities the *wow* factor and I am loving it right now!

I was kind of having a grey day, you know it’s rainy, it’s boring, you get home from work and there’s nothing going on, you open your fridge and are faced with a bag full of organic raw beetroot that are about to grow legs and hop on out of there because you’ve been neglecting them. Hey that is just how this day went.

So, faced with this dilemma I had to think and fast, at this point I have one HUGE craving for houmous and I think about if it’s acceptable to just dip the beetroot in and then I remember this recipe I saw and I think, ‘if there was ever an opportunity for fluorescent pink food this is totally it’.

So, ta daaa, today I’m giving you this recipe to brighten up your grey days and get all your housemates/workmates/spouses/parents asking ‘what the hell is that?’.

Ingredients

1 raw beetroot
400g chickpeas
1 (hunky) tablespoon Tahini
1 lemon (or more, I’m not judging)
1 teaspoon Cumin
Salt and pepper
50ml Olive oil (add more as needed, I always do)
2 cloves garlic (roast them to avoid that sharp flavour and add some b-e-a-utiful depth)

The wonderful thing with houmous is you just kind of throw it all in and blend it all up, I am currently without food processor so I used a hand blender which, yeah, wasn’t great, but worked totally fine.

I’m always on the look out for new things to add to my houmous, so what’s the crazy things you’ve added?

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Smoothie time!

It’s official our 2 days of summer are here!!

Although I’ve been working to save the pennies for my endless summer trip that doesn’t mean I couldn’t squeeze in time to find a tasty new smoothie to cool off after that relentless heat.

I present to you…

Summer in a Smoothie!

Luminous loveliness!

Luminous loveliness!

It’s simple, light and so refreshing, it basically screams to be enjoyed as a post sunny afternoon walk, yoga session or hey even lazy tanning session.

Ingredients:

150ml Coconut milk
1/2 Passionfruit
Handful of spinach leaves
Pineapple (literally go crazy, as much as you want)

I got so carried away I never got a before shot!

I got so carried away I never got a before shot!

Put it all in a blender and ta-daa 30 seconds later, sunshine in a cup.

I’ll leave it up to you whether your a smooth or bits kind of person but personally I just drank it with the passionfruit bits in!

Enjoy!

Excuse me there seems to be potato in my cake…

I swear there is a day for everything now and this month I think I may have missed my two new favourite days…

World Baking Day

and

International Humous Day

What?! These exist and I was too busy working and moving to celebrate in full unapologetic ecstacy?! Well naturally there is only one solution to this I must now bake and blend till my hearts content to form my own belated celebrations.

Ok so I’m no machine one at a time… humous or cake?

…Hello cake…

It was a tough decision as to what I should choose, and if you’d told me even 2 years ago that I was going to be juggling which vegetable to base my baking around (sweet potato or beetroot encase you wondered) I’d of called you crazy and laughed you out of my kitchen waving my synthetic butter packet as I slammed the door… pfft vegetables in cake, are you out of you friggin’ mind?!… how times have changed!

Clearly, however, I giddily weighed the pro’s and cons and my unfaltering love of sweet potatoes won out and half an hour later this was happening…

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Softening the sweetness…

Followed by a little bit of this…

Manual de-pitting... this is dedication

Manual de-pitting… this is dedication

And a lot of blending and mixing, culminating in this…

Tempted?!?

Tempted?!?

Now, I know, you want to run out now and just buy a slab of brownie and laugh at my crazy efforts to recreate perfection, but stick with me.

Deliciously Ella would not just throw this recipe our way if she didn’t see it worthy, no, this my friends is how to eat an entire slab of brownie guilt free!! You. are. welcome.

Go on follow the link pretty Ella will show you the light.

It leads to this…

Accept it, it looks delicious right?

Accept it, it looks delicious right?

Even my room mates chocolate, gluten, dairy loving army man liked it, there is hope! And if not you know just… don’t tell them till they’ve eaten?

You are never to old to play with food

The wonderful thing about being older is that experimenting with food doesn’t always mean smeared fruit stains traipsed over mum’s carpet or black burny nasty stuff in the bottom of the new cookware, or maybe it does I don’t know, in my experience I’ve found it leads to a delicious meal or a hilarious fail with a story to boot.

Day’s dedicated to baking, humous, pirates whatever, are a great way to celebrate the little things, even if that does mean putting a potato in your brownie!

Coconut…ty?

That’s it I’ve taken the plunge, divulged in the world of coconut oil, buckwheat flour and tamari, is there any going back?

Well not till the end of this coconut oil at least, that stuff is expensive!

It’s true leafing through the pages of my pricey and totally warranted (research remember) cookbooks I am getting some serious food envy!

It makes me want to transfer all my money and re-stock my cupboards – overhaul my love affair with gluten – it’s true buckwheat is attempting to make me her bitch… and I am caving in.

First on the menu…

Buckwheat Burritos

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I’m already a sucker for a good wrap and man I love Mexican so this seems relatively pain free and what’s not to love?… well actually just one thing. Coconut oil.

Now do not get me wrong coconut and I come as a package, I’m talking conditioner, moisturiser, spray, lip balm, candles. If coconut were a man I’d have put a ring on it and locked it in a basement, but am I ready for everything to taste of coconut too?

Now if you’re wondering where it fits in to the recipe, it’s all in the oil for the pan and for the sweet potatoes and onions I added. It’s exotic to say the least!

This is just my first escapade with my new ‘forever friends’ and the pancakes were b-e-a-utiful, it did add a whole other dimension to the dish and as for the pancakes, oh yeah I’ve said that twice now, they turned out more pancake-y than burrito-ey, but they were so light which only means one thing… hellooooo second helping!

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My late night experimentation in review was everything I hoped it would be, I got to play around with new ingredients, didn’t having the late night bloat regret (good ol’ buckwheat), and got to take some ridiculous selfies ta-daaaa!

Following the food

I’m spending a bit of money this month (god forbid! What will the saving fairies say?!) on giving my diet a bit of an overhaul.

What can I say I am a food fiend and my need to experiment is calling me.

My friend often comments on how she is amazed that I can look into a cupboard and see a feast when all she sees is a takeaway menu, literally one of the best compliments I could be given, puts a huge smug grin on my face everytime.

Unfortunately with savings taking priority in my life, lunch has taken a backseat and has been reduced to rushed trips to the supermarket and leftovers with a side of chips, my diet has become rather … beige.

Not only has this had an effect on the way I’m feeling but I’ve begun to notice how little I have been experimenting lately with new ingredients and recipes. NO MORE. Saving up should not lead to a life of oven chips and noodles!

I’ve been looking forward to a trying a few new recipe books for some time now, ‘Deliciously Ella’ along with ‘Hemsley and Hemsley’ have kept cropping up in my suggested items and I cannot and damn it I will not deny them any longer!

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I get the same perverse pleasure from a new cook book as you would, say with a new gadget or guilty midnight fridge trip.

1st the excitement comes when you see all the pretty pictures, then reading all the wierd and wonderful ingredients lists so many recipes so many fresh and exciting adventures right there in my kitchen, fitting in perfectly with the fact they use so many ‘new’ items and preparing me for all the ‘new’ I’ll be experiencing on my trip, technically you see it is all research…