Thursday, 29 October 2015

PUMPKIN HEADS!







We love Halloween and carving pumpkins, it's one of our favourite family traditions. One of our favourite pics was taken five years ago when we were staying at Bryn Eglur in Wales, we thought we'd recreate our pumpkin heads today and this time with little S too!


We've found some great pumpkins and squashes this year to carve, I just love the colours, they match  my new Bonne Maison socks (a birthday pressie from my boys.)



Wednesday, 28 October 2015

FIVE STAY IN A HOTEL!



I was talking to a friend recently about how awful hotels were when you had a big family, you just can't find anything that will accommodate a family of five or more that's either decent or affordable as I had been recently searching for a London one. And it was this conversation I had in the back of my mind when we were invited as a family to check out the new Coppa Club in Sonning on the banks of the River Thames. Despite enjoying camping trips and holiday cottages we don't really stay in hotels, I think having three boys it's not something I ever consider to be that relaxing!


Upon arrival we were keen to discover our room in the neighbouring Great House, which had a large double bed, three Chesterfield sofa beds made up for the boys and a massive TV! We were all quite giddy with excitement, rushing around to marvel at the huge walk in shower, the desk with fancy swivel chair and the key card that activated the lights (it doesn't take much to impress us really does it?)



Once we had settled in (and convinced the three year old to stop spinning on the chair!) we took full advantage of being on the Thames path and went out on foot to discover the huge garden and the countryside nearby, the trees lining the river had turned the most beautiful autumnal colours and squadrons of Canada geese were flying overhead. On the river noisy ducks pestered us for bread, but soon left us alone when they realised we had nothing to offer.


After crunching through all the leaves we felt we had earned a drink and returned to discover the Coppa Club. Coppa Club is a beautifully styled open plan space with large comfortable sofas; deep red Chesterfields and teal velvet, next to open fires and with a restaurant area with huge glass fold-back doors overlooking the river. We plumped down on a rather gorgeous pair of pea green sofas and ordered hot chocolates all round, which the boys declared "were the best hot chocolates they had ever had!" High praise indeed for the rich chocolatey drink that had no gimmicky whipped cream or marshmallows on at all!


After returning to our room to dress for dinner (or maybe we just used this as an excuse to get the boys dirty clothes off them!) we returned for an evening meal. The boys were properly tired at this point, the clocks had gone back in theory at the weekend but not quite in their minds yet, but they were excited about dinner having scrutinised the menu beforehand. The restaurant part of Coppa Club is lovely with lights reminiscent of art deco and long banquet seating in a dark teal through the middle and an Italian inspired all day menu.


The children's menu is excellent with interesting and thoughtful options, and not patronising like so many kids menus usually are! My boys ordered deep fried squid for starters, which I was delighted about as they'd never tried it before and it was delicious. They then followed it up with penne carbonara, bolognese and pizza - all the dishes were delicious the bolognese in particular was outstanding and cooked properly using both pork and beef mince mixed with tagliatelle (not spaghetti) -  I only know this having seen it made properly on Saturday Kitchen this week! Three courses plus endless drinks was a very reasonable £6.95 and the food on the menu also included steak and burgers using the same quality ingredients as on the main menu. They finished with Jude's ice cream and declared they were full.

The restaurant around us had steadily filled with lots of family groups, business people having supper and courting couples, there was a lovely babble of noise against a soundtrack of trippy background tunes. My husband ordered the sea bass as he never gets fish at home (I hate cooking it) and I ordered the broad bean, pea and ricotta ravioli. The sea bass arrived filleted and stuffed with courgette ribbons, he was delighted and washed it down with some local ale, my ricotta was just delicious and I enjoyed it with the recommended South African Chenin Blanc 2014 (this bit is for those of you who know about wine, which I don't profess to!)

Gosh I've come over all a bit 'restaurant critic' - apologies!

All the staff were really lovely and so friendly so dining as a family to our relief was an absolute delight, the boys felt grown up not being anywhere overtly 'kiddy' and my husband and I felt we had discovered somewhere that could cater for us all and we didn't have to compromise on quality and surroundings for the kids - which is really quite rare thinking about it!

After a great nights sleep thanks to our full bellies we awoke early, thanks to our body clocks still being out of sync, ravenous again (why does that happen?) and keen for breakfast as the menu looked awesome. We started with a 'green goodness' fresh juice that contained cucumber, spinach, avocado and watercress which was delicious and a great way to 'offset' the food that was to follow. My husband ordered the works skillet breakfast, a traditional full english served on an iron skillet, Alfie and I had the pancake stack with bacon and maple syrup that were light and delicious and so much better than I make at home, Ted chose a croissant or two and Stanley wanted two poached eggs and soldiers (not on the menu but kindly cooked for him) although he didn't eat much, instead stealing from everyone else's plate, the urchin!


I love breakfasts and would much rather go out for breakfast or brunch than any other meal to be honest so it's great to see that Coppa Club does breakfast through the week from 6.30-11.30am and brunch at weekends from 7.30-11.30am. That combined with an all day menu and relaxed philosophy of 'we are what you want us to be,' Coppa Club will soon be the place to go, oh and did I mention that George Clooney has just bought a new pad across the river?

p.s. I'd love to hear from you if you have three or more children and find holidays difficult and if you have any hotel or self catering recommendations?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

HEDGEHOGS UNDER THREAT


I had the great pleasure of working with BBC TV Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison a few weeks ago to make a film for our new hedgehog awareness campaign at work. She is our president, a keen conservationist and is as clever as she is beautiful, a joy to work with.

The campaign we were working on was the launch of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's Gloucestershire Hedgehogs in Decline report which states that we must all do something as hedgehog populations are suffering a huge decline. It is a bit of a shocker really as these enchanting creatures are disappearing from right under our noses. In Gloucestershire we've put together an online map so people can tell us when they see one (dead or alive!) and also record if they haven't seen one in their gardens as the gaps are just as important.

Already there are over 600 sightings which is amazing and will give us an understanding of where they in the county. We are also asking people to leave gaps under fences in their gardens to create hedgehog highways, not to use slug pellets and pesticides and to put out cat food and water if they've got a hedgehog - never bread and milk for example as we can all do something. It's a really great campaign and has been launched at the most pertinent time as bonfire night is only a few weeks away and it's important to check your bonfire for hibernating hedgehogs before you light them.

This week, is Wild About Gardens Week so visit the Wildlife Trusts website to find out about your local Wildlife Trust and how you can get involved and if you live in Gloucestershire we need you to add your sighting or non-sighting to our website. Thank you x

Sunday, 18 October 2015

FALAFEL FRIDAY


The fab thing about learning to bake bread is the hundreds of different recipes to try. Last week I used the Hobbs House white loaf recipe to make pitta bread, it was quick and so easy. I made some homemade humous blending together some chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and water and served with falafel and salad with a few edible flowers from the garden that are still flowering! It was a simple and delicious lunch so I'll definitely make them again.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

HARVEST FESTIVAL


We've dug out our winter woollens this week as the days get shorter and colder and we've been busy gathering fruits from the hedgerow to preserve for the winter ahead; sloes for making sloe vodka, rose hips and elderberries for syrup, blackberries and apples for jams, pies and chutneys. 






I couldn't resist these gorgeous colourful heritage carrots from the Farmers' Market yesterday that we made into a heartwarming chicken stew and herby dumplings. It's harvest time and that makes me very happy.

Monday, 5 October 2015

FARM TO FORK VIA THE FARMERS' MARKET


One of my favourite things is to shop at our local Farmers' Market. I am blessed as my nearest market is in Stroud, one of the first farmers' markets in the UK and winner of many awards. It is a foodie heaven with so many local producers selling their wares, from Days Cottage cider and apple juice to Hobbs House bread and cakes.

It is the epitome of slow living as it is often so busy you can't rush through the crowds even if you want to. I just go with the flow and meander along with my granny shopping basket stopping to buy bunches of gorgeous flowers and marvel at the stalls proudly boasting colourful vegetables. My three boys really don't share my love of the market but I find they are easily bought off with lardy cakes!


One of my favourite stalls is the Over Farm Market stall which at this time of year is piled high with home grown corn, squash and giant cabbages. I have been a customer of Over Farm since I was a little girl and love to know that the veg is grown just a few miles away by a local family. Shopping at the market helps me eat seasonally, something I loose sight of if I shop in a supermarket where everything is so readily available.


This time of year I get most excited about butternut squash, it's so versatile and I roast it with chilli, make it into soup and my absolute favourite is risotto so I though I'd share my recipe here.


Over Farm Squash Risotto

2 butternut squash - peeled, diced & roasted
1 glass of white wine
1 onion
1 garlic clove
1 chicken or veg stock cube - made according to instructions
parmesan cheese
1 cup of arborio risotto rice

Method

1. finely chop an onion and add to a large frying pan with the crushed clove of garlic with a little oil
2. cook until the onion becomes transparent on a moderate heat (approx. 10 mins)
3. add the white wine
4. add the risotto rice and stir so it soaks up the wine
5. ladle the stock bit by bit, constantly stirring the mixture as it absorbs the liquid
6. after approx. 20 minutes add the squash (towards the end) and stir in to risotto
7. serve with parmesan on top to taste and fried sage leaves to garnish!
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