Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Simple Pleasures - Kitchen Comforts

The kitchen is an enduring place of comfort and the food which comes out of it provides essential sustenance, not just for body but for soul too” – Nigella Lawson


I know, my ‘Vino Years’ are supposed to be about ‘me-time’, and that means relaxing, pampering and spoiling myself rotten, right?  Well yes it does, if that’s what I’m in the mood for, and if that’s what I need to do to feel good at the time.  However, feeling good doesn’t have to mean whipping out the credit card and buying that £300 handbag you’ve been eyeing up in Harvey Nicks window, or booking yourself into a luxury spa for the weekend, although I have to say I wouldn’t need my arm twisting to spend time on either of these activities!

Sometimes, the best quality me-time is just about taking time to appreciate and enjoy the simple things in life. You know, those things that give us a warm, comforting feeling inside, and put a perfectly content smile on our face.  For me, that could be a walk in the park when the ground is crisp and twinkling with frost like it’s covered in tiny little diamonds; lingering for a while over the marvellous smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning; or locking the bathroom door and sinking into a hot bubbly bath, surrounded with candles – good book in one hand, glass of vino in the other (I haven’t done this for what feels like years - must make time soon).  It may be that cleaning the house top to bottom, changing the beds, mowing the lawn and cleaning the car (all before 9:30am on a Sunday morning) gives you a feeling of happiness and contentment, and if that’s the case, brilliant, knock yourself out, whatever floats your boat!

My point is, as long as you’re taking moments to ‘indulge’ in whatever makes you feel good, be that working out or pigging out, having a well deserved lie-in or jumping out of bed with the larks, being alone or in a room full of people, it really doesn’t matter (well, obviously, as long as it’s not breaking the law or hurting anyone!)  Nor does it matter if the feeling lasts for 5 minutes or for 5 whole days, every little bit of feel-good time you can grab for yourself, doing exactly what you want to do, counts (and 5 minutes is better than nothing at all).

So, that said, what’s been giving me that warm, cosy feeling inside, how have I been spending my me-time? Well, I’ve been taking time to enjoy my kitchen, and a bit of leisurely cooking.  Now I know cooking is seen by some as slaving needlessly over a hot stove (and why would you, when ‘ping’ meals are cheap and plentiful?!), and I’m sure there are lots of people out there who certainly don’t consider cooking as a way of spoiling yourself.  However, judging by the many massively popular cooking shows on TV these days, the endless choice of celebrity cook books on offer, not to mention some of the fabulous cooking blog posts out there, clearly many more people see cooking as an enjoyable, satisfying and completely delicious way of spending their time.

Life can be hectic, and I admit I’m no stranger to convenience food, but weekends are the perfect time to get in the kitchen, and create some sizzling sounds and wonderful smells.  Some may like a bit of help in the kitchen but, personally, I’d rather be left to get on with it.  No-one under my feet getting in the way, favourite tunes on loud, sipping a nice glass of red as I go. Then, when I’m done chopping and slicing, beating and baking, and my dish is cooked and presented to perfection, what better than sitting down and sharing the fruits of my labour with my nearest and dearest?  Add a few beers or a bottle of wine,  plenty of laughs and good conversation, and you have comforting, simply delicious, quality me-time that just can’t be beaten (well, perhaps, except for that £300 handbag in Harvey Nicks or a weekend at the Spa ;-)).

Only thing left to do now is decide who’s doing the clearing up!

Anyway, next time you find yourself in the mood for a bit of ‘slaving over a hot stove’, why not try these no fuss, no frills, (yet yummy and perfect for sharing) recipes.  Oh, and watch this space, I just got a new cook book, ‘Healthy Every Day’ by ‘the Medicinal Chef’.  There are some fabulous dishes in this one, which I shall be sharing with you soon!


 One Pot Spicy Fish Stew (easy, tasty and wholesome - my very own creation!)

You’ll need:
·         1 green, 1 yellow and 1 red pepper (roughly chopped)
·         2 medium red onions (roughly chopped)
·         1 red chilli (finely chopped and de-seeded – unless you like it really hot!) or 1-2 tsp dried chilli flakes
·         4 or 5 crushed garlic cloves (depending on taste)
·         Small punnet of button mushrooms (chopped, sliced, or whole, whichever you prefer)
·         1 tsp dried ginger
·         1tsp mixed herbs
·         Handful of chopped coriander
·         350g of fresh fish (supermarket fish pie mix works a treat – salmon, cod, smoked haddock)
·         2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
·         400g tin of chick peas (drained and rinsed)
·         Splash of balsamic vinegar
·         Ground black pepper and sea salt to taste.
·         Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
·         Olive oil
·         Garlic bread, green salad, and a nice Pinot to serve.

Here’s how:
·     On the hob, heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a large casserole pot.  Throw in peppers, onions, garlic, chilli and mushrooms and cook until everything starts to soften.
·         Stir in ginger, mixed herbs and salt/pepper to taste. Cook for a few more minutes.
·         Pour in both cans of tomatoes, add lemon zest and juice, chick peas and balsamic vinegar – mix it all up, bring to the boil and then simmer for a further 5 mins.
·         Stir in the raw fish, pop on a lid and simmer for about 20-25 mins (or until fish is cooked). You can add the chopped coriander during cooking, use it as a garnish just before serving (or both!)
·         Serve with garlic bread, green salad (rocket works well), lemon wedges and a large glass of Pinot!

Chunky Chilli (saw this recipe on ‘This Morning’ a couple of years ago and it’s been a firm favourite with my brood ever since – think my hubby would have it every mealtime if he could!)

You’ll need:
·         500g lean minced beef
·         2 red peppers (roughly chopped)
·         2 medium red onions (roughly chopped)
·         4/5 crushed garlic cloves
·         750g (approx) Passata
·         400g tin red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
·         About 20 cherry tomatoes (halved)
·         1 level tablespoon of sugar
·         Ground black pepper/sea salt to taste
·         1-2 tsp dried chilli flakes (or 1 fresh red chilli – de-seeded and finely chopped)
·         4 medium baking potatoes, washed and halved
·         Olive oil
·         To serve: Guacamole, sour cream, nachos, chilled Peroni

Here’s how:
·         Pre-heat oven to 200°c (gas 6)
·         Place peppers, onions and garlic in a large casserole or roasting dish.  Drizzle with olive oil, add a little salt and pepper and pop in the oven for about 10 mins (or until veg starts to soften).
·         Meanwhile, using hands dampened with cold water, form mince into small meatballs (about the size of a golf ball).
·         Cut potatoes in half, and score flesh in a criss-cross pattern.  Rub potatoes (flesh and skin) with a little olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper (making sure you rub these well into the scored flesh), place on a baking tray.
·         Remove veg from oven and add Passata, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, chilli and kidney beans – mix it all up, then sprinkle with the sugar.
·         Pop the prepared potatoes in the oven.
·         Place the meatballs on top of the veg mixture and return to the oven for about 25 mins (or until meatballs are thoroughly cooked) – check and turn meatballs half way through cooking.
·         Fingers crossed, potatoes and chilli should be ready about the same time.
·         Serve with guacamole (home-made if you can be bothered it’s so much nicer – lots of recipes available on-line), sour cream, nachos and a few bottles of Peroni... yummy!

Get cooking!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Oh me, oh my... Thai Na Plai!

Pleasure or pain?

Treat yourself and relax

In an attempt to alleviate the January blues, and to take my mind off my return to work after a lovely long festive break, I decided it was time to redeem the Spa Gift Voucher given to me by some very generous friends way back in September.

I guess I’m what you could call a bit of a ‘Spa Virgin’, having only ever been once or twice in my entire life.  Some of you regular pamper loving ladies may be horrified to learn that, at forty something,  I’ve only ever had one massage, one facial and one full Spa Day experience... ever!

I guess it’s just never been a priority of mine (always something more pressing or practical to spend my money on), not to mention the fact that I find it extremely difficult to part with that much cash on something that feels so self-indulgent – a mind-set I am trying desperately to change (there’s nothing wrong with self-indulgence every now and then... I know).

Anyway, cost is something I did not need to worry about this time, this was a gift and I was going to enjoy it... guilt free, self indulgent pamper time at the Thorpe Park Hotel & Spa in Leeds.

So, what treatment to choose?  Facial, massage, manicure, pedicure, make-up lesson... chin wax?!  After much deliberation, I decided to go for the ‘YTSARA Na Plai Recovery Head Massage’ (lasts for 40 mins and costs £45) and so, I got myself booked in.

Expecting to be sitting in a chair, having my head massaged with a few aromatherapy oils, I was a little surprised to be asked to take off my boots and socks.  I was a tad horrified too if I’m honest (had I known, I’d have paid a little more attention to the condition of my ‘winter’ feet before I went!)  The lovely therapist, Laura, explained that as this was a Thai treatment, they like to do things in the traditional Thai way, which is apparently to cleanse and massage the feet to relax you before your treatment. Laura must have seen the horror on my face at the thought of getting my feet out,  and told me we could skip this part if I wanted, but I decided to go with the flow... what the hell (and actually it was very nice).

Then... further horror, Laura said she was going to leave the room whilst I got undressed!  Undressed? I thought I’d booked a head massage! She advised I take everything off except my knickers (again, had I known, I’d have worn nicer knickers), get comfy on the massage table (face down) and cover myself with the towel.  I did what was asked of me, and Laura came back into the room (which, by the way, had a beautifully relaxing ambience – you know, dimmed lights, sweet smelling oils burning, hundreds of tea-lights, whale music, etc!)

Laura then proceeded with the ritual that is ‘Na Plai Recovery Head Massage’.  Using the most gorgeous smelling oils she kneaded my aching muscles to the point that it was almost painful, applied heat and pressure using what looked like a large muslin cloth tied in a very tight knot (these things probably have a name but, like I said, I'm a Spa Virgin so I don't know) and heated - I don’t know how she heated it, I couldn’t see, it was too dark.  I was then asked to turn over and the same ‘ritual’ was carried out on my d├ęcolletage (down to the top of my boobs), and down the length of my arms, right to my fingertips. Laura gave me the muslin ‘knot’ to bring home and suggested I pop it on the radiator and use it, after a nice long relaxing bath, to help loosen my shoulder muscles (apparently they’re very ‘knotty’).

I actually found the back massage part a little uncomfortable (perhaps because I’m so ‘knotty’) but the head massage that followed (which is what I actually went for) was amazing.  Again wonderful aromatherapy oils were massaged into my scalp and run through to the ends of my hair (this left me looking like I hadn’t washed my hair for six months, but had a fantastic conditioning effect).

All in all, a very pleasant and beneficial experience, but I think I might go for a simple (pain free) facial next time (I’m such a wimp!)
PS:  Sadly, Thorpe Park have not paid me to write this post, but why not check out what else they have to offer at

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Spa Treatment Room
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Treat yourself and relax

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'YTSARA Na Plai Recovery Head Massage'... plus much, much more!