Monday, 26 June 2017

A Gin Education with Masons

So, I'm not really much of a gin drinker - and I know what an unusual thing that is for a blogger to admit. I have gone as far as to declare, publicly, and on more than one occasion, that rum is better than gin. But even I am not blind to the really cool and exciting gin based developments of recent years, and recognise that I'd do well to learn to embrace this trendiest of spirits. 


The best place to do this was invariably Bradford's The Gin Bar, tucked away in the city's exciting Sunbridge Wells development. This cosy little gin joint is reason enough in itself to get on board the gin train, and a recent collaboration with Masons Gin give me the perfect opportunity to wrap my brain and tastebuds around this boozy revolution! 


Now, I know I said I wasn't a big gin drinker but still always known that Masons was my gin company, if for no other reason than they are The Most Yorkshire of Gins. Not the only Yorkshire based gin company by any means, but the first and biggest.

Our evening consisted of drinking our way through the different gins produced by Masons, while their ambassador Sophie talked us through the history of gin in general and Masons in particular, all while we nibbled cheese and biscuits - certainly not a bad way to spend an evening! 


The Masons original blend is, in my uneducated opinion, a lovely gin (paired beautifully, on this particular evening, with a really interesting cucumber and watermelon tonic from Double Dutch), but my real star was the Tea Edition. I'm of the belief that most things can be improved by adding tea, and it turns out gin is no exception! 


I was also intrigued by the Lavender edition, served up here with Fentimans Herbal Tonic Water and a sprig of rosemary - a combination that on paper sounds like it could be a tad overwhelmingly garden-tasting but was actually rather wonderful. 


To finish off before heading home, I figured I really should take advantage of the evening's offer of £5 Masons cocktails, and try out my new favourite beverage in yet another tasty combo. I let myself be talked into the Yorkshire Royale ('talked into' because the idea of egg-whites in drinks makes me a feel a bit icky, but the Gin Bar guys really know their stuff and wouldn't lead me astray!) I'd have loved to have tried all the speciality cocktails on offer but 'twas a schoolnight, so sadly it was time to head home.

Now I've got my foot in the door of the world of gin, I know how much I need to learn and experience! Do you have any favourite gin brands to recommend, or any unusual serving suggestions you think I might enjoy? 

(I still think I like rum more though!) 
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Sunday, 18 June 2017

Blog at the Beach and Flaó d'Eivissa

Earlier this month I was thrilled to attend Icelolly's highly anticipated Blog At The Beach event. There can't be many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon that talking holidays with some of my favourite bloggers, sangria in hand! 


I managed to pick up some great tips from guest speakers Rhianna, Jen and Jess - and though I'm yet to put any of their great suggestions into practice yet, I haven't forgotten them! (I'm biding my time, like a ninja,.. and then when you least expect it BOOM - I'll remember to put proper hashtags on my instagram posts.)

As well as being educational it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with some familiar faces, meet some new ones and generally relax and enjoy the summery island vibes of the Ibiza themed event.

I'll be honest, I don't really know that much about Ibiza as a holiday destination. I'm of course aware of it's reputation as the clubbing capital of the world. I remember that my mum went on holiday there when I was a youngster and remained completely unaware of aforementioned reputation. And I hear the island is pretty as all get out..

In order to really get into the spirit of the event and appreciate the summery Ibizan vibe of the afternoon (well it was very hot in the venue!) I thought a bit more research was necessary. And much as I want to know about the beautiful beaches, the surprising culture spots and the glorious weather the main thing I want to know about a place is - 'what's the cake like?'


It didn't take long to stumble across flaó d'Eivissa - a kind of cheesecakey-flan thing (can you see why I'm not a proper food blogger?) made with fresh mint and aniseed that hails from the White Isle. I figured I was unlikely to find this in the local supermarket so if I wanted to try it I better have a go at making my own. Here's how I did it...

Pastry

125g plain flour
75g butter
15g ground almonds 
50g icing sugar
1/2 egg
zest of 1/2 lemon
tsp aniseed 

Filling 

250g cottage cheese
2 large eggs
75g sugar 
10 fresh mint leaves (finely chopped)

Mix together the butter, almonds, sugar, egg, lemon zest, and aniseed. Add in the flour and mix well. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill for half an hour. 

Roll the pastry out to fully line a round baking tin, and chill for another half an hour. 

Blind bake the pastry case for around 20 minutes in a preheated 170 degree oven. Remove whatever you've used as weights and bake on its own for another 10 minutes.

Let the pastry case cool completely on a wire rack.

Whisk together all the of the ingredients until smooth. Pour into the pastry shell bake for 25 minutes at 170 degrees. 

Once cool, dust with icing sugar to serve. 


Now, this is just what I managed to smoosh together by patching bits of different recipes based on most readily available ingredients (hence it probably isn't at all authentic and I should probably make sure I go to Ibiza for the real thing) but it still tasted pretty good actually! 

If you know of any great reasons to visit Ibiza other than cake I'd love to hear them (though you know I don't need any more excused to want to book a holiday!) 
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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Postcards From Malta

Here's the last few bits and pieces from out holiday to Malta!


Huge great big wibbly wobbly cactus. There are some weird plants in the world for sure.


These gorgeous little lizards were everywhere, hiding in the bushes all along the road by the hotel.


We took a hot, uphill walk to St Agatha's Tower to discover that it was closed just three days out of the year - Christmas Day, New Years Day, and the day we went - oops! Still, nice views from up there!


KC is boat mad, he was very jealous of some of the colourful vessels found along the bay!


It's not immediately obvious from the picture, but this is the BIGGEST ice cream!

 

I loved all the gorgeous little pretend houses at the Popeye Village, but if I had to live in one it'd be this nautical dream!


The kids found this secret mini prison on their adventures.


I did have visions of one of the little dudes falling in - some of those ledges were pretty narrow - but we all managed to stay nice and dry!

KC embarked upon a vegan diet about a month before we set off on this holiday, and I did feel bad for him and his diet of chips and grated carrot in the hotel buffet - so it was a nice treat when we happened upon a menu of beautiful smoothies and refreshing sorbet on our day in Mdina.



We booked a boat trip to some of the nearby islands, only to turn up 20 minutes before the appointed time to be told they'd changed the departure and it had gone an hour earlier! After hanging round for a little while they found another boat they could send us on to meet the big one....


... only for the second boat to break down ten minutes after setting off. Still, a full refund meant we essentially got a free boat trip and we've got a good excuse to go back and finish that trip one day!


All in all a lovely family week away in the sunshine! I managed to keep the kids from getting sunburnt too - - just wish I could say the same for myself!
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Monday, 12 June 2017

Malta - Hotel DB Seabank Review

Choosing the right destination for a family holiday can be HARD. With a world of possibilities out there and two children who like very different things, finding something that suits both their personalities and my budget can be tricky.

In the end I just stopped asking for their opinion and just booked the place with the biggest pool, as that's one thing I know they'd both love - and that's how we ended up at the DB Seabank in Malta.


As one of the youngsters wanted to go somewhere hot, and the other one insisted it not be 'too hot', I figured April would be nice inbetween so we headed off over the Easter holidays for a week. Here's what we thought.


The Room

We booked a family room which had a great layout for making our stay comfortable. When we've stayed in hotels before it's been all four of us in one room, usually in a pair of double beds. The squirmy kids sharing means they annoy each other, and since we're all in the same room, that means they annoy us too (I mean that in a loving way of course!)


Here they not only got their own beds, but got them in a separate, partitioned-off part of the bedroom. They got their own kid-space and we got our own adult-space, while still being very much together, pretty perfect. The kids even got their own TV, and got a surprising amount of enjoyment out of watching cartoons in Maltese for the rest of the week. I don't know if it's a wonderful testament to the universality of animation, or just that they've seen each episode of Teen Titans Go! about 400 times but they seemed to know when they were supposed to laugh....


Of course the 'adults' side of the room was the one with the nice big window and balcony!


Ocean views are available round the front of the hotel, and pool views at the back - we didn't get either but were happy with our quieter side room anyway, and still not a bad view at all!


As well as the sweet balcony and the perfect family space, rooms also came with tea and coffee making facilities and a fridge. Both parts of the room had ceiling fans too, which were a help as the only problem with the room really is that it did tend to get a little too warm for my liking.

The Pool

As mentioned, the huge pool was the main reason for booking this hotel and did indeed turn out to be the most appreciated part of the holiday.


As you can see, not only was the pool massive, it was also pretty quiet for the most part. Don't get me wrong, there's a very good reason for that,.. namely that it was absolutely freezing in there, but it didn't put these guys off!


There was also an indoor pool but this was both much smaller and much busier - we spent some time in there too but everyone preferred having the space of the outdoor one,.. and really it wasn't that bad once you got used to it!


The Food

Ok, so I'll admit, apart from the pool the other main reason I booked this hotel is because loads of reviews had mentioned how good the food was, and we do all love food! As well as the main buffet restaurant there was a pool-side restaurant for afternoon snacks as well as four other 'speciality' restaurants that could all be booked as part of the all-inclusive package. 


Booking into The Jungle was our main holiday food priority as it looked like the most kid friendly. It's pitched as an 'American Buffet' but it was the Jungle theming, complete with waterfalls, vegetation and the odd lil monkey that appealed most to the young ones - there was also a soft play area in the restaurant which went down a treat with the younger of my pair.


The older one was too busy concentrating on his food! Offerings included burgers, pasta, tacos, chilli, a well-stocked salad bar and some delicious desserts!

The next night we headed to La Pellicola,  the onsite Italian restaurant. I really dig the sweet checked tablecloths and Italian film posters on the wall. I didn't so much dig people putting their fingers in all the pizza on the buffet, ugh. Adults too, when did people forget how to eat? Not the staffs fault at all and I saw them remove anything that they'd seen anyone prodding (and tell people off a couple of times, which was awesome) but still a tad off-putting.


I still, of course, managed to put away some of the desserts though! 


As a family, we had mixed feelings about L-Orjent. I'd argue that this was the nicest of all the restaurants in terms of ambience and décor, and I thought the food was great too. I could have eaten the spring rolls 'til the cows came home, and the rice dishes, noodles and duck pancakes were all tip-top too. There was sushi available but none of us are fans.


Unfortunately a couple of our number are foodie philistines so the littlest one and the other grown up wandered back to the main buffet on a chip hunt while I ate some more spring rolls.


Our last night at the hotel was spent at the Brazilian restaurant El Rodizio, where skewers of meat are brought to your table and can be topped up with items from either the excellent salad bar of the separate 'sides' buffet. (I did take pictures but they've vanished!) Everything we tried was grand but due to the last minute changing of our plans during the day we'd ended up eating later than usual and weren't really hungry enough to really appreciate this experience. I didn't even have dessert!

The main buffet restaurant, Coral, was a bit hit n miss. Breakfast was a solid offering, and we were all excited to see pancakes were available. There was a children's section but I never saw anything in that bit other than chips and chicken nuggets. We generally found the food a little better (fresher, hotter) in the Laguna pool restaurant, but we didn't discover his 'til the last couple of days.

Overall, out party of four contained at least three very fussy eaters, and we all managed just fine!

The Entertainment

As well as a kids club, there were a number of activities put on by the hotel during the day, with a schedule for these found on the walls in the lobby. However, we didn't make use of these at all (with the small exception of the quiz one afternoon because we happened to be sat in the right place when it started), so really don't have a lot of insight on these - sorry!


We did make use of the bowling alley one grey afternoon though. This was a handy little feature, but it was chargeable so we didn't go overboard on it!

The evening entertainment was a bit of a funny one for somewhere so family orientated - as far as I can tell it basically consisted of a 'kids disco' starting at 8.30 which was just a half hour CD of party songs? They had the entertainers up doing the dances with the kids and were enthusiastic and everything but by day three I could have told you what songs they were going to play and in what order.


This was usually followed by a (predominantly dance-based) show, which by all accounts were of a very high standard, we only ever caught the start of this once and the kids weren't overly interested. All in all I think everything started a little late for these guys after a long day of holidaying.

The Location


The DB Seabank is located in a gorgeous little spot in Mellieha Bay. There's not much around, but the town of Mellieha is just a short bus ride, or a steep uphill walk, away. 


There's a beach pretty much directly over the road from the hotel, soft sand and the most beautiful colour water! The beach had plenty of places to grab ice cream or beach toys, as well as sun loungers to rent. The kids are odd though, and had very little actual interest in the beach. They much preferred to clamber on the rocks and explore the little caves just a little way up the road instead. 


There's a local shop and a couple of cafes and restaurants (it the piles of food at the hotel weren't enough!), and the hotel was within walking distance of the Popeye Village. It's not exactly a party spot, but had everything we needed, plus was real pretty!


Other stuff

There was a nice looking bar serving pretty cocktails in proper glasses (unlike my plastic beaker booze from the poolside bar) but 'twas an adults only bar so I never went.

Ditto the spa.

You can book excursions in the hotel lobby, but the day before your trip double check the setting-off time as apparently these can be changed after booking!
There's a bus stop directly over the road from the hotel, which should get you wherever you want on the island. The Gozo ferry is one direction, and pretty much everything else is the other direction. You can grab a list of destinations and bus numbers from the hotel reception.


Apologies for such a long post, but I definitely think I've covered everything? It was a really lovely hotel, and we had a fantastic holiday. 

Now I just needs ideas for next years holiday - any suggestions? 
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Thursday, 1 June 2017

May Happenings, June Plans

Well, this is gonna be a bit of a quiet re-cap of the month to be fair, as I've spent most of my free time this last month either gardening or stressing about politics (sometimes both at the same time!)


Little madam has got really into gardening recently,... and unfortunately since she a) can't be trusted with tools or,.. well,.. anything, and b) demands constant attention, it means I've been doing a lot of gardening too! To be far, it REALLY needed doing, 'twas beginning to look a bit like a jungle out there! 

There's still plenty of work to be done - but I guess that's the way with these things - but it's looking SO much better and hopefully it won't take much more of the heavy work before it's looking grand and we can just enjoy it for the rest of the summer! 


Oh yes, and then the politics.  I've been relatively quiet on twitter I think about my thoughts on the upcoming election but those in 'real life' will have barely heard me shut up about it (no matter how much they want me to). I just,... I think we have a really good opportunity here, for the first time in a long time, to decide to make things better. I really hope we do.

So, we haven't got up to a whole lot for the most part to be fair. Weekends have been spent weeding, or obsessing over the slightest shifts in polls before admonishing myself for getting over optimistic. 

That being said, the Mr and I did manage to escape for a couple of days over the last weekend to the wonderful city of Dublin! 


The kiddos were away for a couple of days so we thought we'd take advantage and nip away for a day or two! It's a great city and we had a lovely time - we're hoping to take the youngsters next year so it was nice to be able to get a few of the things done that wouldn't appeal to them (they're smart kids who love to learn but imagine their interest in the 1916 Easter Uprising, for example, is quite limited).

The plan is to get a couple of posts up about our time away over the next few weeks - but then blog plans generally haven't been going too well so far this year! Maybe when the garden's done I can get my blog on amongst the flowers...

As a good incentive, I'm off to Icelolly's Blog At The Beach event in a few days which I'm really looking forward to. I haven't been to a blog event in forever and this should be a corker! 

At the end of the month we have booked one of the Go Leicestershire: Stay, Play, Explore trips - it's a great little deal that we've done a few times before now, though not for a couple of years. A set price gets you a nights hotel stay for a family of four (with breakfast) plus entry to a number of local attractions - stuff ranging from zoo entry to visiting the National Space Centre. We've not necessarily pinned down our chosen attractions yet but should find fun things to do for everyone! 

What have you got planned for the upcoming month? 

(PS That's not actually my garden in the pictures - but hopefully mine will look like that soon!)

(PPS Don't forget to vote!)
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Thursday, 25 May 2017

Malta - Popeye Village

I don't know why I was so keen to visit the Popeye Village when we were in Malta - I have no particular affection for the film, and won't have seen it for a good 20 years... I can't even pretend I wanted to go for the kids sake,  because they were barely aware that a fictional character called Popeye even existed. 


 I guess the answer is 'because it looked cute', and sometimes that's enough.


It did also help that the Popeye Village, the original filming location for the 1980 Robin Williams film, was within cosy walking distance of our hotel (I don't think I'd have convinced the kids another day out on the bus would be what they really wanted to do!) 



I was utterly charmed by the little village of Sweethaven, the ramshackle buildings and higgledy-piggledy houses were all just lovely to look at. 


Not jut for looking though - many of the cute buildings were used as shops, cafes or mini-museums, while others gave you the opportunity to look round the interiors of some of the films sets (like Olive Oyl's house, below).


You'd see some of the characters walking around the village too, and they do the occasional little show. I do wonder about these kinds of jobs sometimes .... like you go to the bank to apply for a mortgage and you have to explain to the bank guy that your job is being Popeye the Sailor Man. Anyway, these guys were all super! 



The village was built into Anchor Bay, and its' just the prettiest little cove. They do run boat trips out here included in the entrance fee, apparently, but this sadly wasn't running on the day we visited (weather was a bit iffy to be fair!)




There were a couple of games set up for the youngsters, and we found not one but two mini golf courses...



... and for reasons I'm not quite sure about, a little Christmas workshop. We all thought Santa spent all year at the North Pole preparing but looks like he might hand round in Malta a lot too - - can't really blame him to be fair! 




Without doubt, the best thing we did at Popeye Village was get involved with making a film. Twice a day, visitors have the opportunity to recreate a bit of cinema magic and star in a film they can then take away on DVD to cherish forever. 



The film was genuinely brilliant and hilarious and we all had loads of fun making it. I imagine it could be a different scenario depending on who was in your group, but ours was a gangs of good eggs. All the dads in particular really put a lot into their roles, it was quite impressive! 



Making the film took around an hour and a half to two hours (including screening time). If we hadn't taken part in that, I can't imagine it'd have taken us too long to explore the little village, lovely as it is, so it really added a lot to our experience and made this a really full afternoon out. 




I imagine if you have a particular love for the 1980 movie, Popeye in general, or just the process of set production and filming of movies, this would be a cracking place to visit. If you don't know the movie and don't care about Popeye,.. it's still definitely a well worth a trip! 
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