What’s for Dinner, Babe?

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Happy New Year (never sure about those capital letters)! Did you have a good break? Mine was fun and relaxed. I saw lots of friends and family, ate good food and got loads of sleep. Perfect really.

But! Now now it’s all over. Homes have been found for the new presents, the tree’s been taken down (I’m GUTTED, our tree and in particular the lovely bunting that my sister Jem made me looked beautiful this year) and we’re back to the grind. In JANUARY. The bleakest, poorest, most depressing month of the year. Getting up when it’s still dark after all those leisurely 10am wake ups is painful! And its at this time of year that you’re supposed to be healthier too, when you’ve got good and used to staying in all day and eating whatever you like, when you like. But sadly you can’t eat like Henry VIII forever, it’s time to bring back proper meals, at proper times.

Which brings me to… the dreaded “What do you fancy for dinner, babe?” text.

This text is generally received at about 4.15pm, while you’re still at work, possibly just after you’ve eaten your afternoon cake or Kitkat, so you’re not even hungry. You won’t have thought about dinner, apart from reading a Time Out review of a restaurant near work that you really fancy but can’t afford. You know there’s no food at home (apart from brie and Celebrations, obviously) so any dinner prep means a trip to the shops, which is annoying. This is generally a very stressful text. And, by the way, whoever receives this text is making dinner, so get in there first if you can. It’s part friendly query about your evening, part passive-aggressive declaration of war.

I know it can be hard to think of different, interesting meals to eat every night that don’t mean spending £10 to £15 on ingredients on the way home from work. It’s that reason we’re a nation of mince eaters. So I have made a list of my favourite go-to meals, so you don’t have this agony. You can thank me later.

Chicken Thai Green Curry

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We eat this meal so much. It’s from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals book and TV show but I’d say it takes around 40 minutes start to finish. The chicken in this recipe is pan fried under something heavy so it goes crispy, then we always shred it and stir it into the sauce at the end. I now always cook chicken this way, it’s so good.

Any equipment needed? Yes. This recipe is really only fast and easy if you have a food processor or a mini processor attachment on a hand blender, as you make the curry paste from scratch. You can do it with a regular hand blender, but the paste becomes weirdly smooth and creamy.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Co-Op. Jamie generally likes a lot of ingredients so you’ll probably need a few fresh bits. A good cheat would be  buying a jar of minced lemongrass and some trays of frozen garlic and ginger cubes to keep on hand, but you’ll need to pop to the shop for fresh coriander and some green beans.

Find the recipe here.

Leek & Smoked Haddock Risotto

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This is from the BBC GoodFood website and we’ve only had this once, but it was so good. As it’s a baked risotto, it’s really quick to make- about 10 minutes to prepare and then you can ignore it for 20 minutes. No constant stirring required! The recipe specifies haddock as the fish of choice for this, but I used river cobbler because it’s much cheaper and apparently more sustainable and I really liked it. Pollock would work well too. One minor change I made was to add grated parmesan on top at the end, but I was told by my boyfriend that cheese and fish don’t go *shrugging emoji*.

Any equipment needed? Nope, just a pan you can use on both the hob and in the oven. We got Pro Cook ‘Le Cruset-esque’ ones for Christmas and they’re amazing.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Mayyybeee the corner shop for some creme fraiche. But on the whole this is pretty much store cupboard stuff and it would work well with frozen fish fillets if you have any in. Oh, and the recipe says to stir in fresh baby spinach but I added in some of those frozen balls when I took it out the oven and put the lid back on till it thawed and then stirred through. Worked fine!

Find the recipe here.

Ramen Soup

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Another GoodFood recipe! It’s such a good site. I love ramen soups like this, particularly when I’m not feeling well. You can use pretty much any noodles you like for this, we used big thick soba noodles, but regular egg or vermicelli would be good too. For the chicken on top I cooked it the Jamie Oliver way on a griddle pan, for a bit of texture. And I have to admit, I did do soft boiled eggs for the top, but smashed them  (in my HULK-LIKE HANDS) while trying to take the shells off.

Any equipment needed? No, just big bowls to eat out of. As with most Asian cooking though, it is worth getting everything chopped and prepared before you start cooking as it comes together very quickly.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? No! The beauty of this recipe is that you can just chuck in any near-death vegetables and tinned sweetcorn, so as long as you have some noodles in the cupboard, you’re good to go. You may need to go to an Asian supermarket to get Nori seaweed paper, but let’s be honest, you probably won’t bother. I didn’t.

Find the recipe here.

Crispy Chicken Legs with Sweet Tomatoes

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This is honestly one of my favourite ever dinners and it’s so easy. I’ll link the recipe below but basically: put cherry tomatoes and garlic in large pan, place chicken legs on top, scatter basil and drizzle oil, cook. That’s it. Half way through the cooking time I chuck in a tin of cannellini beans and then serve it with crusty bread. Excellent dinner.

Any equipment needed? No, none at all. Just remember to season the chicken well.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Tesco for chicken legs and fresh basil (the plant on your window sill is dead, btw), but it’s totally worth the trip.

Get the recipe here.

Basil Pesto

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Yes, boring old pesto, stirred into pasta. I know its a cheapo studenty dinner, but if you make your own it makes all the difference. If I’m on my own I’ll just have it with pasta, but when we’re both in I stir through tagliatelle and place white fish on top, that’s been steamed in foil with a bit of lemon.

Any equipment needed? Yep, food processor or at the very least a pestle and mortar.

Tesco/ Co-Op/ Corner Shop trip required? Co-Op. I guarantee you’ll need at least one of the ingredients, probably pine nuts.

Get the recipe here.

So there you go, a Monday to Friday of meals and not a beige dinner in sight. Let me know if you cook any!

Final Signature

ABM Happy Mail Review

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My name is Clare and I’m addicted to stationary.

I’m OBSESSED with fancy pens, notepads and greeting cards. It started when I was young; like most kids I thought the best part of going back to school was buying a new pencil case and all the bits to go in it and I’ve never really got over that. I like shopping for stationary, talking about stationary, using stationary and even reading about stationary. I love greeting cards and will happily spend £4.50 on the perfect birthday card. I’ll even watch people unboxing new planners and Filofaxes on YouTube (honestly, it’s really addictive) and I follow so many American planner fans on Instagram that my timeline is basically one long succession of girls debating the merits of PaperMate pens over Sharpies, interspersed with the occasional avocado.

But despite my love of cards, when I first read on their brilliant site that the craft and lifestyle blog A Beautiful Mess were launching a monthly subscription service of greetings cards and stationary, I have to admit my first reaction was “Monthly greeting cards? What a waste of money. #richpeopleproblems”. I just couldn’t see why anyone would ever want or need a pack of cards delivered to their door every month.

Then I watched a video that showed the contents of the first pack and I knew I had to sign up.

First of all, ABM Happy Mail is just so CUTE. Everything in the pack is so beautifully designed, I just can’t wait to send them out or frame my favourites. And I don’t know if this is because it’s American, but I like how all the designs are just so fun and friendly, without the irony that everyone in England loves so much.

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I also think that, despite my original misgivings, its actually really good value. If you sign up to a 12 month commitment (which I obviously did) then it costs $15.00 a month plus $2.00 international shipping, paid by monthly Direct Debit. This works out to about £12-ish per month and ABM say you receive roughly $50.00 in cards and gifts. I think that’s about right. To give an example, here’s what I received last month with what I’d cheerfully pay for it in Paperchase or John Lewis:

5 ‘flat cards’ with envelopes = £7.50

3 folded cards with envelopes = £7.50

1 postcard = £1.00

1 mini “Hello My Name Is” notepad = £2.00

2 mini washi tapes on dispensers = £3.00

1 large A4 unframed art print = £10.00

Total = £31.00

That’s about $47.00 so bang on.

One thing I wasn’t sure about when I received the first pack were the ‘flat cards’- basically postcards with what would be written inside a card on the back, that you send in an envelope. I didn’t get how you’d display them if they couldn’t stand up on their own. Are they an American thing?? But! I soon realised that they were much easier to display for a long time: flat pics are better to frame nicely or put in a little wire cardholder (this “keeping and displaying treasured items forever” idea is very much in the spirit of the ABM blog, now I think about it 🙂 ).

As I mentioned above, there’s always a couple of gifts in with the cards as well, usually washi tape (I LOVE washi!), stickers or a notepad plus an original art print. The prints are beautiful- usually a quote or phrase on a graphic background. I’ve used a couple- “Create the things you wish existed” is on our sideboard framed on an old wooden clipboard I nicked from my old work and “Get to work” is my planner bookmark. They’re great to give as presents too, my writer friend really appreciated a framed Maya Angelou quote about creativity that I sent to her out the blue.

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I’ve been receiving ABM Happy Mail for about 8 months now and I would totally recommend it. It’s fun, good value and it turns out it’s really handy to always have cards around, particularly if you’re as forgetful as me!

Has anyone else joined any subscription services? I know there’s loads about, 90% of my office seem to have signed up to Pact coffee. If anyone has any recommendations (Birchbox looks good) or just wants to chat stationary, let me know in the comments!

Final Signature

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All Change

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We’ve moved to London!

Over the summer, my boyfriend Jonny and I both got new jobs, me in Islington and Jonny in Oxford Circus. I got my job first and as soon as I did, we decided that we wanted to move to London, cat and all. I know a lot of people commute from Chelmsford but for us, the price we were paying to live in our house plus a monthly season ticket (£450!) each just didn’t make sense. Jonny had been wanting to move to the big smoke for ages and it just seemed like the right time.

Seriously.

Seriously.

So we gave notice on our house and started looking for a flat. We decided on Walthamstow, because it’s cheap (ish, it’s still London), close to Essex and it’s not on the Central line. We found a really lovely Warner flat, which are really common in this part of London apparently and are basically purpose-built Victorian flats. The flat is so much brighter than our little cave-house and the kitchen is about 3 times the size of our old one. We’ve even got a (shared) garden! Our commutes are pretty sweet now too, just 20 minutes for Jonny and 25 for me.

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My brilliant family helped us move but it wasn’t the smoothest of starts after they left- we soon discovered that there was no TV arial(!), the boiler leaked and the oven didn’t work. Also, I changed a lightbulb in the living room and for some reason that made every light in the house blow up. We spent our first night eating takeaway kebabs (which were actually excellent), in the dark while watching Gavin and Stacey on DVD because that’s all we could find, quietly weeping. But all these problems were soon easily sorted with an indoor arial, change of fuse and a polite but forceful letter to the lettings agent. Living in London has been great ever since.

We’ve been here almost three months so far and we’ve had a bit of an explore around the area. Walthamstow’s actually quite pretty; it has a beautiful canal that you can cycle all the way to Waltham Abbey on and it’s right near Epping Forest, which is really lovely for a walk. There’s a few things to see here too- God’s Own Junkyard near Walthamstow village is a weird showroom/shop devoted to neon lights that is free to enter and is absolutely amazing to look round on a Sunday. It even has a little courtyard garden and cafe that does sandwiches and nice coffee.

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I’ve eaten some great food since moving too. Last week, Jonny and I went to Street Feast, which has moved to Hawker House in Canada Water for the winter. There were some great stalls; not least Meringue Girls, where they were selling chocolate cupcakes with hot chocolate sauce, ice cream and a little meringue ghost on top. Absolutely amazing for £4. The spicy brisket buns and mini tacos were great too and I’m definitely going back soon to test out everything else.

Also, I’ve finally got into coffee! Well, lattes. I’ve been testing all the coffee places around mine and Jonny’s work and I so far rate Love Die Latte in Soho and Saint Espresso right next to work on Pentonville Road. And yes, I’ll finally agree, it does taste completely different to Starbucks (although I’ll always love a venti caramel latte).

Lastly I can’t write about food in Walthamstow without mentioning Jesse’s Cafe on the High Street whose strong tea and full English really sorted us out after some serious wedding drinking. It’s also mega cheap and always seems to be full of policemen, if that’s your bag.

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If I’ve missed a great part of Walthamstow or you’d like to point me in the direction of a wanky coffee place I’ll definitely love, let me know in the comments!

Clare xx

@ClareErin

2015 Resolutions

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Happy New Year!

Time to think of the ole’ resolutions.

I know a lot of people think NY resolutions are bollocks, but i kind of like the idea of them; listing all the things you want to change this year just seems to make sense to me. I’ve come up with 5, without having to resort to the usual healthy eating or getting fit ones.

My boyfriend has also asked if i can have one that involves me chucking old clothes to clear up space in the wardrobe, but that ain’t happening…

1. Remember birthdays and generally get better at keeping in touch with people. (Facebook doesn’t count!)

This is the main one because I SUCK at this. I am always the person sees you post the (now mandatory) “Thanks for the birthday love guys, I’ve been very spoilt” Facebook post, waits 20 minutes then writes a happy birthday message so it doesn’t look like I only remembered because YOU mentioned it. Don’t look at me like that, we’re all guilty of this.

I’m generally just quite bad at keeping in touch with people. I tend to refer to everyone I know or used to be close to as my friends, to which my boyfriend always patiently asks “Are they really your friend? When did you last see them?” which I think is a little rude, but I also think he’s got a point. I partly blame social media. I use Facebook and Twitter constantly so I therefore know what’s going on in most of my friends and acquaintances’ lives; I know when they’re seeing someone new, what they cooked for dinner and even (if they’re an over-sharing Susan) when they last went to the doctors. I comment on statuses and say congratulations when big things happen, so I feel like I’m still in the loop and socialising.

But I’m not really socialising. All my (real!) friends and I are very busy now, with boyfriends and babies and weddings and increasingly stressful jobs, so we see each other less and less. We are in our 30s, after all. I talk to people online and email occasionally but I probably physically see my friends maybe once a month, once a fortnight at the most. I’m lucky I’ve got a boyfriend at home, close friends at work and a twin sister and mum that I talk to all the time, or I would truly be a hermit. Remember when you said “When we all move out and get our own places, we can just go round each others houses and see each other all the time. We’ll probably save loads of money, too.”? Did that come true for anyone??

SO, I’m going to try and keep in touch with my friends better! It’s not as simple as announcing “You’re seeing more of me from now on, I’ve signed us up for a bowling league!”- as I mentioned, my friends are busy people, but I’m definitely going to check my calendar for birthdays, make an effort to text, email and send cards more, and just try and see people more. I did a kind of ‘soft launch’ of this by actually writing and sending out Christmas cards and I’ve downloaded a birthdays reminder app, so wish me luck!

2. Make lunches for work and waste less food

Speaks for itself really, but spending up to £5.00 a day on lunch when I have the food to easily make sandwiches or salad at home, honestly makes me feel a bit disgusted with myself. As does the constant ‘forgetting to freeze leftovers, so having to throw away half a pie’ situation. No more!

3. Look more groomed and glamorous

In my natural state, I am scruffy, curly-haired and honestly, a little spotty. I look alright when I put the work in, but I can’t always be bothered to make much of an effort beyond the exact same makeup every day and a quick hair straighten.

I would like to look more glam and grownup though so I’m going to make a conscious effort to improve myself in the following areas:

  • Care for my skin by taking my makeup off at night moisturising properly
  • Use all the colours in my new makeup palettes and not just the nude champagne one every day
  • Moisturise my legs everyday
  • Wear perfume more
  • Look after my hair and grow out my crop (although my boyfriend pointed at Shirley in Eastenders the other day and said “That’s just what your hair’s going to look like soon”, so looking forward to THAT)
  • Finally stop biting my nails

That’s actually quite a long list when you write it down, isn’t it?

4. Blog more

I do really like writing this blog, I just have a hard time actually getting round to it, or thinking of stuff to write about. I want to try and post things once a week, or at least once every 10 days if only because it makes me try and think of new things to cook.

5. Read more

I love reading and I did read quite a lot last year, but I would like to get through more books in 2015. I just find sitting reading a book quite anti-social when I’m not on my own so my boyfriend and I tend to watch TV together instead.

I’ve been reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson for MONTHS so I want to start by finishing that and then reading at least one book a month. I would like to put book reviews on here too, but my critique of books tends to be simply ‘hate, like or love’ so I’m not sure they’d be too long, but I might give it a try, which would add to Resolution 4! It’s all coming together!

I’ve kind of started on all the resolutions, except the reading and 5 days in, it’s going well! Has anyone else made any resolutions? Please let me know in the comments if you have.

I also saw this http://www.buzzfeed.com/alannaokun/im-so-im-so-proud-of-you#.sue51KK4do on Buzzfeed which is sweet but very ‘Pinteresty’ . It also has the worst name ever (The REMEMBERLUTIONS JAR!!) but I might give it a go.

I hope everyone had a great NYE and here’s to a top 2015!

Clare xx

@ClareErin

UPDATE: On new year’s eve (A super-fun night of Chinese, drinking and board games) my friends and I decided to start going to our local quiz night once a month. We shall see if this actually happens, but I’m hopeful!

ZIGGY UPDATE: Our little cat is now so friendly that he was referred to a ‘needy’ the other day! He follows me everywhere from the moment I wake up, demands to share all our meals and sleeps on the sofa, flat on his back like he’s sunbathing. I’m so pleased we got our water-loving weirdo, he’s a brilliant addition to our home. I’ve also found out that just before we got him, Ziggy got his old housemate pregnant and she’s now had 4 kittens. #PLAYA

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