Matcha, dumplings,walks and dislocations

I’ve really been trying to gather my life into some sort of routine – getting up at the same time daily etc to try and maximise productivity and make the most of every day! So far I am not doing too well at organising everything, but this is a new week so I’m going to REALLY try now! One thing I do need to work on is this blog. Before I started blogging I would read others and wonder why they only post once or twice a week, if that. Now I totally understand. I now retract my ‘I’m going to blog everyday’ statements. Fully. And I apologise for being to naive! So this is a little late, but here goes…

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Last weekend was full of promises of wonderful treats. I set of to Bath early Saturday morning to drop Dan at jiujitsu (I’m not entirely sure that’s how it’s spelt!?!) and made my way into town to visit some of my favourite shops. I went to Uni in Bath and lived there for a year so it’s a town full of nostalgia. I’ve said before I think it’s one of the only cities in the UK I would happily live in. I managed to mooch around Anthropologie and Hay before receiving a phone call from Dan to inform me he was in A&E with a dislocated shoulder. For a split second I was angry he had ruined my shopping trip (selfish cow I know!!) then I quickly felt guilty rushed to the car park to head to the hospital.

We had planned to visit Comins Tea Shop and after a couple of hours in A&E decided it would be a great way to chill and for Dan to relax a little after his morning’s antics! We met the owner at Abergavenny Food Festival and he introduced us to Matcha Green Tea – my new fave! Comins is all about the whole experience of tea drinking, and is not your typical tea and bun cafe. Each tea is served in its traditional teapot and receptacle, and comes with a timer and a flask of hot water (the temperature of water is again different depending on the tea). I first went for the Matcha – a fine powder which is sifted before being whisked into hot water in a small bowl. I won’t lie it looks a little bit like frothy pond water, but it’s such a deliciously fresh tea – and bang on trend! Dan had a Green Sencha which was served in a Japanese Kyusu teapot. We ordered some Japanese dumplings to go with our tea – the perfect accompaniment! I would recommend Comins to any tea lover – and in fact to anyone who is open to trying something different!

Our Sunday morning plans weren’t affected by Dan’s accident and we headed to Westonbirt Arboretum. The colours haven’t quite turned yet so we will be visiting again in the next couple of weeks for the gorgeous orange and red glows! One thing we weren’t expecting was the new treetop bridge. I’d read about it but because we haven’t visited for so long we hadn’t yet seen it. The bridge is pretty amazing and far longer than we anticipated. It was absolutely full of people though so it will be nice to go back at a quieter time. Westonbirt is such a beautifully maintained arboretum and I can’t wait for the Autumn and Winter events there!

Some friends of ours – Will and Kat – recently took over the Royal Oak in Leighterton. They’ve spent the summer stripping the pub back, redecorating, sanding, varnishing, building and accessorising, and Sunday afternoon was the first time we got to fully experience their hard work. They have done such a beautiful job to create a warm and welcoming feel – a traditional yet contemporary country pub. The selection of ales and cider has been as carefully considered as the decor, with a range of local Uley ales and Black Rat cider and perry among them. The Sunday menu was impressive and I opted for the tomato and mozzarella arancini, roast beef and bake well tart. The food was absolutely incredible, and the beef quite possibly the BEST I’ve ever had! I urge you all to pay the pub a visit – you will not be disappointed!!

I find the best way to help a big meal settle is an afternoon stroll. After gaining directions from a local farmer, we set off across the fields of Leighterton for a brisk walk to try and burn off some of the thousands of calories we had consumed!! I’ve never really explored the area before but in the early evening light it was absolutely stunning! Even more of a reason for you to go and visit the Royal Oak!

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Center Parcs

I had a school friend who’s family would regularly head to Center Parcs for weekend breaks. I was always envious of the stories about cycling through the woods, whizzing down water slides and gliding through the rapids. Don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful childhood and we went on plenty of holidays but I felt like I was missing out on the magic of Center Parcs. So earlier this year when my parents offered to take us – along with my brother, his girlfriend and their baby – to Longleat for a long weekend, I (at 25) obviously didn’t hesitate to say YES PLEASE!!

Upon arriving, I was mildly disappointed we had to park up in the car park until 3pm – when the barrier opens and the race is on to locate your cabin. However I soon began to appreciate the ‘no parking’ policy within the grounds – you can drive to your cabin to unload, but then all cars must be left at the car park until your day of departure. This means everyone travels by one of three ways – foot, bike or the land train (similar to those little trains you get at the beach in the summer).

We were staying in a Superior lodge in ‘Oak’ – at the bottom of the site and far enough away from the hustle and bustle to feel pleasantly secluded. The lodge was surrounded by Redwoods and Scot’s Pines and I felt like I was in a forest in Canada! Each bedroom had an ensuite, and we even had an Infrared room – a bit like a sauna but it warms you from the inside out (i’m not totally sure of the science behind it but apparently it’s almost as effective as exercise!)

We did discover that it is totally worth taking a food shop with you (or picking one up on the way). The onsite supermarket was a little pricey and heading out to the local Morrisons meant we had to rejoin the queue to get back in. Lesson learnt!

After settling in and filling the cupboards, we didn’t waste any time and cycled straight up to the ‘Plaza’ and spent an hour or so exploring the pools, slides and rapids. I think over the whole weekend the rapids were my favourite thing to do! We had been advised to book in a few activities before we went, so signed up for miniature golf on Saturday, an afternoon in the Aqua Sana (spa) for the girls on Sunday and bowling on monday. The golf was pretty fun and we played two different courses. I find the less you try with miniature golf the better you tend to be! My Mum was an absolute whizz!

Saturday afternoon took us to the Jardin des Sports where we played tennis. I used to be quite good as a child…or so I thought. The Venus Williams in me seemed to be recovering from Rio that weekend – my tennis was utter crap. I left the boys to it and spent some time watching my nephew with Mum. One of the best things about the weekend was spending time with Oscar. Even at just 3 months old it’s incredible how quickly he is changing, and you notice small differences every day. I feel truly blessed to be Aunt to such a beautiful baby boy.

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Sunday morning was spent in the trees. Literally. Me and Dan booked the ‘Aerial Adventure’ session – a series of high ropes and obstacles set in the trees just next to the lake. The course ended with a zip wire that meant you sped right over the length of the lake. It was awesome. I had one wobbly moment but adrenaline urged me on, and the zip wire made it totally worth it! I left my brother as photographer and think he did pretty well! Although a harness and gym leggings is never going to be a hot look!

Having decided to save money on food by cooking ourselves, we did agree we should visit The Pancake House once during our stay. It was amazing. I went for a full on fatty breakfast of pancakes with banana, toffee and chocolate sauces and cream. Totally the best decision I made that day.

Sunday afternoon was spa time for us girls. The range of saunas and steam rooms was epic; they had different temperatures, different aromas, different essential oils, different lighting, different seating, different sounds. We all left feeling positively chilled and relaxed (and a little tipsy after prosecco and mojitos!).

The weekend left us all absolutely exhausted. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was so wonderful to spend time with Dan and my family – and to share Oscar’s first holiday! I would thoroughly recommend a stay at Center Parcs and would like to thank my parents for such a fun filled weekend!

Abergavenny Food Festival

Abergavenny Food Festival is an event I welcome warmly. The summer is always full of wonderful events, long evenings, sunshine, family and friends and fun days out. As soon as September begins, reality sets in that that’s it for another year, and it’s time to brace ourselves for the shorter days of Autumn and Winter. So unsurprisingly the event softens the blow a little, and offers a small extension of the buzz and festival feel of the summer.

We woke up to blue skies and a fresh breeze on the Saturday morning, signs of a good day ahead. With the roof down we took the scenic route over to Wales, making the most of the unexpectedly glorious weather. I have never actually been to Abergavenny on a non-festival day so to me the town is always a hive of activity, bustling with people from all walks of life. I don’t really want to imagine it any other way!

This year we booked on to two masterclasses. The first was with Malaysian chef and Food Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur – Norman Musa. His Manchester restaurant ‘Ning’ is also a base for his cookery school. We were guided through a live demonstration of a few recipes from Norman’s new cookbook ‘Amazing Malaysia’ followed by a sample of the food at the end. Dan and I both love the simplicity and freshness of Asian food, and the lightness of it compared to traditional British dishes. The combinations of spices and fresh ingredients always results in a deliciously clean bowl of food.

The second masterclass was with Eleonora Galasso, who again led us through a few traditional Italian recipes from her new book ‘As the Romans do’. A lot of Italian cooking seems to be based around using up ingredients and making sure leftovers never go to waste. Having spent some time in Milan a couple of years ago we learnt just how important food is to the Italians and how eating and meal times are an occasion rather than just a necessity. The process of cooking and eating becomes an enjoyable event rather than a chore and is always a social yet chilled affair.

We try to sample and buy foods at the festival that we don’t normally eat, or things that we wouldn’t necessarily cook ourselves. Our first purchase this year was a bottle of Champonzu from The Wasabi Company, a sauce made from 5 Japanese citrus fruits and that can be used as a dressing, marinade or dipping sauce. The guys were so friendly and we learnt a lot about Wasabi! They grow and sell the plant here in the UK, a product that is so much more delicious than the Wasabi you buy in the supermarket. The taste is a lot cleaner, the texture much creamier. We also bought a jar of Eastern Meditteranean inspired Pomegranate Ketchup from Aphrodites, something I cannot wait to use! Again it can be used as a sauce or a marinade, and has a depth of taste so much richer than that of tomato ketchup. I also fell in love with the company’s branding!!

One of the things I love about Abergavenny is the vast range of unusual products and flavours. I am a bit of a fiend when it come to truffle, so just had to try the stilton and truffle honey macaroon from La Cave a Fromage – it was perhaps my favourite combination of flavours from the whole day! Absolutely delicious! The food festival seemed the perfect opportunity to sample some Sake – the Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice. The lady on the stall was so welcoming and selected the ‘perfect sake’ for us after a few simple questions. It really was scrummy – so lightly refreshing and sweet! We will definitely be having a glass or two next time we go for sushi!

My favourite part of the day is heading to the market hall where there is always an amazing aerial display. This year there were beautifully stitched human sized owls suspended from the ceiling. They were so incredibly life like, with some even clutching on to equally stunning mice, and others perched on branches or captured mid-flight.

With full bellies (and a full rucksack!) we headed home with the sun setting on Abergavenny Food Festival for another year. I am already looking forward to the Christmas market in December..!

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