Friday, 28 February 2014

Friendship and Afternoon Tea

A lovely afternoon with the gals... but it hasn’t always been this relaxed!

Anyone lucky enough to have a good bunch of friends knows what an essential part they play in our lives.  We may not see them every day, every week or even every month, but that doesn’t matter – when good mates get together, they pick up right where they left off, no matter how long ago that may have been.

Well, I consider myself as one of those lucky people, and I met up with my particularly lovely pals the other weekend for a spot of afternoon tea and a good old gossip.  Don’t know about them, but these days, I like to think of our group as Leeds’ very own version of the Sex and the City girls... except without the Manolos and Louboutins. Although actually one of us did bag a pair of Jimmy Choo boots in the Harvey Nics sale once – not me L

Anyhow, we get together every few months or so, usually for a nice meal, a few drinks and to share with one another what we’ve been up to since last time we met. It’s always pretty chilled and civilised, although I have to admit sometimes even a little risqué!  Forty plus we may all be (one or two of us fifty plus actually), but we can still engage in conversation that would bring a blush to the faces of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and probably even Samantha!

However, I think it’s fair to say the nature of our get-togethers has changed somewhat over the years. In fact, in the early days of our friendship, uninterrupted afternoon tea and cocktails would have been the stuff our dreams were made of.  You see we all met for the first time a very long time ago now (with our tiny little babies), at a local first-time mums’ support group.  Well, our ‘tiny little babies’ all turn twenty-two this year, and we’ve been meeting up regularly ever since.

Back then, we used to meet at one another’s house each Friday (even now we refer to our group as the ‘Friday Friends’), taking it in turns to provide a venue, a cuppa (or two) and a selection of cream cakes, bringing each week to a much needed, kind of grown-up end (actually, sounds like we’ve always done afternoon tea doesn’t it?!).  Generally speaking though, we spent our Friday afternoons trying desperately to engage in something that felt at least a little bit like adult conversation, whilst juggling nappy changing, breast feeding and pelvic floor exercises  - happy days!

Over the past twenty plus years, our friendship has created some unforgettable memories, you lovely ladies know exactly what I mean.  We’ve seen one-another through our second (one of us even third) pregnancies, and supported each other through the ups and downs of motherhood, the highs and lows of relationships, bereavement, illness, separation, divorce, celebrations in their many forms, and probably everything else you could possibly think of in between (navel piercing and tattoos included) and all without a crossed-word between us, seriously!

The fifth member of our original Friday Friends group is, unfortunately, unable to join us on most occasions these days as she no longer lives locally.  However, there isn’t a single get-together that we don’t think about her and wish she could be with us. For now, we'll look forward to when all five of us are, once again together, drinking tea and cocktails, eating cake, and celebrating our wonderful friendship.

Special people, special times!

As the Sex and the City girls toasted, at the end of their first movie, (raising their Marguerita glasses with a twinkle in their eyes and a knowing smile on their lips)... here’s to the next 50 years!

Thanks for reading, hope you’ve enjoyed the post.

If you’d like to leave a comment, all you need is a Google account... click here to sign up, easy!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

My Best Ever Valentine!

So what does Valentine’s Day mean to you? 

Maybe it’s all about the flowers (the price of which would buy you the whole florists shop any other time of year), or could it be the romantic intimate table for two in the usually dead but tonight full-to-bursting restaurant, where you can choose from a ‘special’ (and triple the usual price) Valentine’s menu. Perhaps a fancy box of champagne truffles would be the key to your heart (even more-so if accompanied by a chilled bottle of the bubbly stuff itself). It could be that none of the above fit your idea of romance, and in fact you’re more of a good Rom-Com DVD (if there’s such a thing), take-out pizza, few beers, and a cuddle on the sofa kind of gal!

Well, for me and my Valentine, this day of love and romance has an extra special meaning... it’s also our Wedding Anniversary!

No, we’re not a pair of incurable old romantics, although we can be at times - to celebrate our special day this year, my hubby’s bought tickets to see ‘From Paris with Love’, by Opera North at the Grand Theatre in Leeds (quite possibly followed by a late-night McDonalds drive-thru, but hey you can’t have it all!) Anyhow, back to the point, the only reason we tied the knot on Valentine’s Day is that we both work in schools and simply wanted to get married the first Saturday of the February half term which, that particular year, just so happened to be Valentine’s Day.

And what a fantastic Valentine's Day it was! This was marriage number two for both of us, and we wanted to keep things fairly low key, but obviously still very special.  So, we decided that our nuptials would have more the feel of a celebratory evening out than a ‘wedding’.  I didn’t want an ivory ‘gown’, wedding cars, or bridesmaids, and Neil didn’t want a stag do in Amsterdam (well at least that’s what he told me?!) or even a best man to get him organised. I didn’t want to ‘surprise’ Neil on the day with my outfit so, completely breaking with tradition, he came wedding dress shopping with me – he was the one I wanted to think I looked beautiful, quite frankly I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I didn’t want to be walked down an aisle or ‘given-away’, and we didn’t want a guest list as long as your arm, consisting mainly of long-lost aunts, uncles and cousins.

After much deliberation, we decided on a guest list of just 24, and our venue was a gorgeous little country house hotel on the outskirts of Leeds. The ceremony itself took place in the hotel ‘Library’, a beautifully intimate room, with a roaring fire and red carpet laid out especially for the occasion!  Being a pair of fairly modest souls, we didn’t really want to make a grand entrance and so, when the time arrived, we casually sauntered into the Library, together with our guests (still sipping champagne), to the velvety tones of Nat ‘King’ Cole's ‘Let there be Love’.

Once the serious stuff was done, we made our way into the hotel restaurant (exclusively ours for the evening), for our delicious reception meal.  The table was beautifully decorated ‘Valentine style’ with a scattering of red rose petals, love-heart confetti, Valentine’s trivia and lots and lots of tea-lights – perfect!

Bellies full, feeling happy and relaxed, and having sunk a bottle or two of the old fizzy stuff, some of us (in fact most of us), let our hair down and had a bit of a boogie before our wonderful day sadly came to an end.

That’s all five years ago now (I’d forgotten just how blonde I was! - should I go back there?!), and obviously we’re never going to top such a fabulous Valentine’s Day –  as you fellow married folk will know, the honeymoon period doesn’t last forever.  We knew this though, we’d both ‘been there, done that’ and we were well aware that our relationship would have its ups and downs (and believe me, it has!) But here we are, still together, still enjoying the good times and still working through the ups and downs... and, most importantly, still very much in love.

So, this Valentine’s Day, once the champagne has run dry, when the red roses are starting to wilt, and when the credits roll on the Rom-Com DVD remember this (one of the readings from our very, very special Valentine’s Day wedding) ...

Sooner or later we begin to understand that love is more than verses on valentines, and romance in the movies.  We begin to know that love is here and now, real and true.  Love is the creator of our favourite memories and the foundation of our fondest dreams.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Good Girl's 'Chocolate' Fix

Aahhh... chocolate, many a girl’s Achilles’ Heel.  

If only this sweet, smooth, velvety, downright  irresistible and heavenly treat wasn’t so bad for us. ‘A moment on the lips, a life-time on the hips’ they say, leaving us feeling completely guilt-ridden just thinking about the stuff.

Well ladies (and gents, if you're reading), this recipe could be just the trick for bagging that guilt-free luxurious cocoa hit we all crave  at times.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing can replace the real thing, but this alternative chocolate fix comes fairly close.  And, when you consider that the ingredients are actually beneficial... yes beneficial, for our health, it’s a no-brainer!

The original recipe comes from the latest addition to my cook-book collection, ‘Healthy Every Day’ by the 'Medicinal Chef', Dale Pinnock.  Dale’s philosophy on healthy-eating is “There’s no reason why good, healthy, wholesome food that will benefit your health shouldn’t taste incredible.  Healthy food can be decadent, indulgent and flavoursome, and give you pleasure at the same time as improving your health”.  Well I’m up for a bit of that!

I have to say, my family were not exactly bowled over by Dale's original recipe (the sesame version), although I was.  The sesame flavour is pretty strong, which is great if you love sesame, not so great if you don’t. So, I played around a little and replaced the sesame seeds with ground almonds, and the maple syrup with honey.  I love both versions, although the taste of the almond one is a little closer to the ‘real’ thing.

Too good to be true?  Well, I guess you may want to do your own research on the health benefits of this little ‘chocolate’ treat, but here are a few links I found to get you started.

Sesame (or Almond) Chocolate Fudge

You’ll  need:

120g white sesame seeds (lightly toasted in a frying pan and food processed to a powdery / bread crumby texture) OR 120g ground almonds
60g Cocoa powder (I used Bourneville)
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup or honey (original recipe said 3 spoons but I found it needed 4 to bind)
1 tablespoon coconut oil

Here’s how:

Pop all the ingredients into a food processor and process until the mixture is ‘dough’ like – (tricky eh!)
Grease a 20cm tin with coconut oil, or line it with foil/greaseproof paper and add the dough mixture.
Press the mixture down to evenly fill the tin.
Pop it in the fridge for 5-6 hours (this is the recommendation of the original recipe, although I thought it was 'good to go' after a couple of hours – or even straight from the food processor - depending on how desperate you are!))
Cut into 2cm squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.