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Visiting the snowdrops in Colesbourne, Gloucestershire

For years and years (brilliant band by the way), I’ve wanted to visit Colesbourne Park to see the snowdrops, but somehow in the 10 years that I’ve lived in Cheltenham I’ve not quite managed to make it, until yesterday.

I’ve been missing out.

snowdrops in Colesbourne

All wrapped up (scarf, bobble hat and mittens!) we made our way Colesbourne Park that is around a 15 minute drive outside of Cheltenham and is set in the most beautiful grounds. The estate has a brilliant history which I recommend you read about before you go, complete with a church on the grounds and with the most gorgeous lake that is a brilliant vivid green colour. There is also an opportunity for you to take a walk round to see different areas of the estate, including around the lake, making the visit so much more than just seeing the snowdrop gardens.

Lake at Colesbourne Estate

There are many varieties of snowdrops on display and they were all absolutely gorgeous. Whilst wandering around, we stopped to admire a selection of jams and chutneys and got talking to a lovely lady to whom I expressed my admiration of the snowdrops and how delighted I was to have finally visited. I was also informed by her that if you actually have a little sniff of the snowdrops, they smell like honey – who knew! Little did I know that we were actually having a chinwag with Lady Carolyn Elwes, owner of the estate!

What I think makes this garden so special is its beauty and the fact it’s only open for 5 weekends of the year. Whilst walking round the woodlands in the beautiful sun, with spectacular views it really made me feel like spring is on its way.

The last day its open is Sunday 1st March, so get your skates on and go have a look!

Tip: Get there for around 1pm when it opens as you get a bit more time to enjoy the views without as many people being around.

Happy Halloween!

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You are welcome!

Is it me or does Halloween seem like it’s on steroids this year? I’m not complaining by any means, but looking on Twitter and Facebook it seems like everyone is dressed up – I actually feel a bit left out!

All Hallows Eve is something that is usually celebrated more widely in the States than it is in England, but this year I think we’re stepping up to the mark!

I’ve investigated where Halloween originates from and it is thought that it is of a Christian origin and it’s a celebration dedicated to remembering the dead; including saints and martyrs, focusing on ridiculing death. Nothing surprising there then. What was of interest is that it was encouraged to go without meat on Halloween and it was tradition to eat apples, potato pancakes and drink cider – I could get on board with that.

My Halloween consists of many traditions, with my most important being watching Hocus Pocus! I genuinely love this film (how can you not?) and regardless of how old I get I will always, always watch it, obviously dressed as a witch and sat on my broom.

Have a brilliant Halloween all!

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Autumn’s here – let’s get our cook on!

I mentioned in my earlier post that I feel autumn deserves a whole post dedicated to the food in this season – what am I on about? It needs about 10! There are so many lovely things to cover that we can cook in autumn so I’m going to start with a few of my personal favourites.

I’m a big fan of slow cooking food – what’s better than going for a walk knowing that when you walk back in the house with a red nose and cold face that there is a lovely warm smell to greet you?

Now this recipe may not be that autumnal for you but for me, as soon as it gets colder, this is one of my favourite dishes to cook – may I present to you the hearty jerk chicken with rice & peas. My Nan used to cook the BEST jerk chicken and try as I might, I’ve never quite got it to her standards but this is a pretty good recipe to follow. I add in a tin of chopped tomatoes before the chicken goes in the oven and a little bit of extra water then turn the oven right down to about 160C (fan oven)/gas 4 and cook the chicken for at least 2-3 hours (turning once or twice) because when you go to eat it, the meat just falls off the bone, delicious! It also makes this recipe a little more saucy and less dry, which is how I prefer it. I serve the meal with bowls of greens and cauliflower for everyone to help themselves.

Paste:

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Finished article:

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It getting colder is an excuse for me to eat pasta and one of my favourite dishes is chicken and tarragon pasta – I like this recipe, but I have made a few changes to this one. I roast chicken legs or thighs in the oven (instead of using chicken breasts) for about 45 minutes (covered with tin foil) with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh tarragon and lots of salt and pepper. I am a big fan of spinach but I’m not sure it works that well in this recipe so I substitute it for chestnut mushrooms (cook these in the pan before you make the sauce) then use plenty of salt and pepper to season the sauce. If you’re feeling extra naughty when cooking this dish use double cream instead of single. And finally, use fresh tagliatelle it is just the bomb! I find a nice glass of Malbec goes down a treat with this.

We need to talk about blackberries – they are amazing and I love nothing more than taking a bowl out into the country and picking them until my hands are red! Obviously I pick them above a certain height as I live in fear that a dog might have been there beforehand and cocked his leg…

Now I love pies and crumbles, who doesn’t? But I think this blackberry and apple cake is just yummy! Also, a brilliant time to be cooking with apples as well, so a win, win situation all round.

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It’s official: Onesie season has arrived!

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been waiting for this day for a few weeks now. Officially, autumn started two weeks ago on the 22nd September, but seemingly, no-one told the weather. It’s been glorious and sunny, which is nothing to complain about but I so love the thought of being out in the blustery wind and rain, then getting inside and straight into my onesie!

Although I love the feel of autumn, I’m glad the weather held off this weekend so I could enjoy a few days walking the streets of the buzzing Cheltenham, kicking the leaves around. Cheltenham is a lovely place to be at the moment, as the Literature Festival is on and it really is not to be missed. Here is the festival on Saturday in all its glory.

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And here is another picture I couldn’t resist taking as I walked up the Promenade.

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Sunday was slightly less sunny, but still lovely so what else is there to do but get your trainers on and go for a walk? I decided the best place for us to go would be Leckhampton Hill, as I think it gives some of the best views over Cheltenham and I don’t think you can deny that it looks pretty good.

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I then properly got into the autumn feeling and had a beautiful homemade french onion soup with mature gouda for supper – it was truly yummy and extremely filling.

Did anyone else wake up this morning thinking their alarm clock was broken because it was so dark outside? I’ve been known to do an excellent hippo impression, which consists of me pulling the cover slowly down my face, peeking over the top of it, not liking what I see and then slowly pulling it back over my head. Let’s just say I perfected my impression this morning.

Once out of bed, I had a cup of tea and watched the rain fall thinking, tonight is the night I bring out the onesie :)

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Why eat organic?

Now I know there is a bit of a divide between people who think organic is just an excuse to charge more and those who really believe they are paying for produce that has less pesticides, better kept animals and is better for your overall health.

I admit previously that I may have thought that organic was a bit of a money-making scheme, but now after researching organic food, I am definitely an advocate and I think you might be when you read this article.

This article highlights what ‘free-range’ actually mean. Reading this opened my eyes because I thought, as I’m sure many of you do, that buying free-range eggs or meat is a good thing and that the animals have a better quality of life when in reality that is far from the truth. What really stuck with me is that ‘free-range’ egg-laying hens only have 11.1cm per hen – that’s half the width of an A4 pad, which is no space at all.

I saw that Outside Beauty Inside Health has done a post dedicated to Organic September in conjunction with Waitrose and felt that if we can take on board the campaign ‘Small Change, Big Difference’ that is being run by the Soil Association, we can help create a better food system encouraging the development of wildlife and better conditions for our animals.

It’s understandable that people overlook organic produce because of cost but there can be very little in it but if you think about it, our body is so precious and we need to be aware what we’re putting into it to fuel us.

I’m not suggesting we all go organic for everything (I’m sure not many of us could afford to!) but if we could make small changes like buying organic eggs, or substituting meat for a vegetarian option one day a week so we can afford to buy the organic chicken, let’s do it and have piece of mind that we’re contributing to better animal welfare and a higher standard of eating.

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This picture shows how our animals should be kept.

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The start of autumn!

I’m a big fan of summer – I love the warmth on my skin, BBQ’s, the good mood it puts people in and of course Pimms; but in my opinion autumn is truly the best season.

You can smell the change in the air, feel that slight dampness and see the leaves starting to change colour; it can’t just be me that still loves kicking their way through the leaves, even though I am 28.

Even better it’s an excuse to throw on your hat, wrap a scarf round your neck and go for a walk, which is exactly what I did at the weekend when I visited Westonbirt Arboretum. However, I might have been slightly too keen for autumn to have arrived as I went in a jumper over a shirt and a big woolly scarf, so after about 10 minutes of walking I was carrying more than I was wearing. Massive fail.

Westonbirt is a lovely place to go for a long walk and encounter lots of dogs and children on your way round; the changing of the leaves makes it one of my favourite places to visit in Gloucestershire in the autumn.

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Talking of events in Gloucestershire, the Crucible 2 exhibition is on at Gloucester Cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever visited and a place where they filmed some of the Harry Potter movies. Crucible 2 is a sculpture exhibition which  features some extremely well known artists such as Damien Hirst but also some lesser known but still incredible sculptors. It is free to attend and on until 31st October, so I suggest you pay at least one visit because I was walking round in complete awe of the cathedral and I definitely missed a couple of sculptures!

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This is definitely my favourite stained glassed window in the cathedral, I just love the colours and find it fascinating.

I know I’ve omitted to mention something very important in this post and that is, FOOD. The reason for this is that there needs to be a whole post dedicated to this, so keep your eyes peeled because that is what’s coming next.

In the meantime, enjoy kicking the leaves!

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Abi’s Brushetta

I love cooking, but being a busy bee with an extremely small kitchen makes it a little tricky. As the suns been out it’s made me crave brushetta which I learnt how to cook a few years back.

It’s incredibly simple, quick to make and can be made in advance, so what’s not to love!

This recipe should serve two as a lunch or light dinner.

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Ingredients:

5/6 tomatoes (room temperature)
1/2 a red onion
2 (or if you dare then 3) garlic cloves
1 bunch of basil
1 lemon
Good quality olive oil
Good quality balsamic vinegar
Maldon salt
Black pepper
1/2 ciabatta loaf

1. Start by preheating the oven to 180 degrees  to toast the ciabatta loaf , then cut the onion and garlic cloves into as small chunks as you can.

2. Slice the tomatoes in half and cut the middle out. The chop into small cubes. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the most precise chopping, it will still taste amazing.

3. Slice the ciabatta in half and put in the the oven to cook for about 10 mins.

4. Put the onion, garlic and tomato into a dish then tear up most of the basil and squeeze half of the lemon over it. Add 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, a glug of balsamic vinegar and lots of salt and pepper.

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5. Take the ciabatta out when it’s ready, divide into two and place it on the plates. I like to drizzle a bit of olive oil on the bread before spooning the tomato mixture over the bread and some of the gorgeous juice. Add the last bit of remaining basil and voila!

Personally I prefer to prepare the tomato mixture the day before because the flavours really come out overnight. Just make sure when you serve it, it’s at room temperature.

 

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Weekend in Cheltenham

Hasn’t it been a glorious weekend?

The promise of rain today made it a little easier to go to work, however the weather forecast has now changed its mind and today is supposedly going to be the hottest day of the year! Go figure.

There was so much fun to be had this weekend that I simply must share. Friday night started with a long walk with Mr Darcy. We stopped in the picturesque Pittville Park, had a sit down and let the sun warm us whilst a young guy sat under a tree and played his guitar – truly heavenly way to end the week.

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This was followed by an impromptu drink with some lovely ladies at All Bar One in Cheltenham, however everyone seemed to have the same idea as us as the bar was rammed!

Saturday saw us take a stroll round Cheltenham Town Centre before having a little bite to eat outside La Tasca, complete with a glass of sangria. I was surprised by how nice their salad was (broad bean, chorizo and mushroom) and I will definitely be going back.

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Then in the afternoon we took a little trip to Daylesford Food Festival.

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I’ve never been there before but it’s safe to say that I will definitely be going back! It was full of gorgeous food stands and I tried the best smoked salmon I have ever tasted. They are called Hansen & Lydersen and they are going to be selling their salmon at Daylesford farm in the next month or so, so I urge you to get down there any try some!

There was also plenty of entertainment for the children (and me…) as they horses pulling carts, sheep shearing and animals to walk round and see!

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The bull was most unimpressed by our presence.

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The day of rest, also known as Sunday was particularly pleasant as the pooch and I explored the beautiful Cleeve Hill in the morning. This is such a great place to walk the dog and clear your head. A lazy few hours were then spent drinking copious amounts of tea and of reading the paper and magazines. I then went and met a friend to make the last of the sun in the Montpellier Gardens. The best part of these gardens, is that they have a bar to which we used to our full advantage. So we sat on the blanket, drank Pimms and talked away until the sun started to set. All in all, a fantastic weekend.

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Friday Fun

I am going to try and update this every Friday with anything funny or slightly amusing that I’ve seen or done. It’s going to be pretty hard not to just have a list of Buzzfeed links but I will try my best to keep it varied! Here it goes…

1.  This picture makes me chuckle every single time I see it – I just think it’s brilliant.

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2. We’ve all been at weddings and encountered at least 3 of these awkward moments. Click here, you won’t regret it.

3. I put this on my Instagram the other day because I thought it was hilarious and I hope for children that are this mischievous. My dog, Mr Darcy, is already there.
 

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4. When trying to take a nice selfie of you and your dog and it goes horribly wrong as he tries to get ‘French’.

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5. I went riding last weekend and got to take the gorgeous Bramble out on a lovely hack. His reaction makes me think he didn’t enjoy it as much as me…

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That’s it for this week! Have a great weekend lovely people.

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A Round Up of Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014

In a word: FANBLOODYTASTIC! (See below for a lot more words and pictures on how good it was.)

As you will know, I have not ‘properly’ attended the jazz festival in the 10 years that I’ve lived in Cheltenham, and now I know I’ve been missing out.

The jazz festival started for me on Friday 1st May (officially it began on Wednesday 30th April) and excited doesn’t begin to express how I was feeling, as I was attending the vintage glamour night at Cowley Manor! Well a mixture of excitement and panic because I had no idea what to wear.

There were acrobats from Gifford Circus, burlesque dancers, a beautiful performance from Laura Mvula, an arrangement of show-ground style food and much more.

As you walked in (up the red carpet, may I add) you were greeted by lovely Jazz Festival staff and then promptly offered a glass of champagne which is ideal but I was slightly distracted by Gifford Circus performing this act:

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Whilst we were picking up our jaws up off the ground, the lights dimmed, the music became louder and to our delight we realised we were about to see a burlesque show and it was brilliant.

After this fabulous performance we were told that Laura Mvula was about to perform, so we made our way to the designated room as fast as our heels would let us! Let me just say that Laura Mvula is even more beautiful in real life and her performance was mesmerising.

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The incredible Laura Mvula

One of the highlights of my night (ok, THE highlight) was when we were stood talking in one of the beautiful walkways of Cowley Manor and Laura Mvula actually came up to me and told me she loved my dress *SCREAM*. My friend commented after she walked away that in all the years she’s known me, she has never seen me speechless! Thanks Laura Mvula for making my night.

The next ‘biggie’ of the night was seeing Jamie Cullum. Now, I’m a big Jamie fan, I think he’s fantastic, he regularly features in my Spotify playlists so I knew I needed to take a big swig of champagne and get my picture taken with him. It might be good to point out that he’s rather on the short side and I’m 5’10 (and add a couple of inches for the heels) but Sophie Dahl is 6ft so it’s all good.

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Hanging out with Jamie Cullum!

I spotted Cerys Matthews looking absolutely stunning and just walking about, then I realised that she was actually DJ’ing. Que everybody getting their groove on in their finery – splendid.

All in all an absolutely brilliant night and perfect start my jazz festival experience.

Saturday then arrives, the sun is shining and I walk to my lovely hairdressers (Stuart Holmes really are fab) to let them work their magic. It was then on to watch Nick Mulvey in the afternoon. Before the festival I was ashamed to admit that I’ve not really spent much time listening to him music but his voice really was incredible! Being the lucky so-and-so I am, I had VIP access so once he had finished performing we made our way over to the hospitality lounge where Westons Cider had a stage and Nick Mulvey performed again in a much more intimate setting. He really is a great musician, with a beautiful voice and very handsome!

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I was then enjoying a vintage pear cider (Westons obviously) outside in the lovely sun when I turned around to see this. I could barely contain my excitement! Just Nick Mulvey and Jamie Cullum having a nice little chat!

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Jamie Cullum and Nick Mulvey having a chinwag!

After dragging myself away, I then went home to get ready for a night at Crazy Eights (the cocktail bar below 131 The Prom) listening to Jamie Cullum DJ. This event sold out ridiculously fast so I was really happy my friends and I managed to get tickets. It was a great night, Jamie Cullum has a lot of talents!

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That brings us to Sunday and this is a day that I had been looking forward to for quite a while as one of my lovely uni friends, Jake Issac was performing. Now you’re going to think I’m biased (and I am) but he is SO TALENTED! I listen to his music all the time (my favourite song being Everytime We Kissed, I’m a romantic what can I say) and he was even better live. Luckily, I booked the tickets straight away so we were very close to the front and I was constantly waving and trying to get his attention – probably not what he needs whilst performing in front of a packed crowd!

Afterwards, we had the pleasure of him performing in the VIP lounge and I managed to have a quick chat with him afterwards, it was just like the good old days :)

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Me and my old mucker, Jake Issac

I need to take a moment to mention the staff. They were all absolutely brilliant at every event I was at, they couldn’t have been more helpful or more friendly and even when I was late (cough cough) to a performance they were just faultless.

Then low and behold it’s Monday and the last day of the festival – insert sad face here. We get ready as we have tickets to see London Afrobeat Collective who seemed really lively and energetic which I think is the perfect way to end the festival – and man alive, were they!

Their performance was great as well as entertaining and at one point, I don’t think anyone was sat down! I have to mention the saxophonists – they truly blew me away and were immensely talented.

We take a seat in the hospitality lounge for the last time as we watch the London Afrobeat Collective perform, complete with a pear cider in hand, some lovely food from the wide variety there was on choice in the gardens and let the sun warm our shoulders as we savoured the last few moments of what had been a truly amazing event.

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Cheltenham Jazz Festival, you’ve been amazing. Until next year.