It’s Not Jimmy’s, It’s Mine!

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I will never forget the first Jimmy’s I had. I bought it in a deli behind Ladbroke Grove on one of our first sunny days of the year. Before then I wasn’t necessarily convinced that iced coffee was a drink for me; sticking to piping hot espressos and frothy cappuccinos to perk me up. Well I was wrong. Since this very day in the middle of May, I have never looked back. It was also on this momentous occasion that I posted an alluring shot of my iced coffee on a bright turquoise bench in my friends garden….@jimmyicedcoffee ‘liked’ the picture and the rest is history.

What Jim Cregan has created is something cool,  fun and something so delicious that it is genuinely sad when you reach you the bottom. Iced coffee never tasted so good.

I grabbed Jim for a quick Q&A, to  give us a little insight into his world…

I am going straight in for the kill, which Country do you think produces the best coffee?

I think Costa Rica produces the best coffee.  I’ll put this down to ignorance of not exploring enough countries and their own coffees but when I went to Costa Rica, I distinctly remember having cup after cup of consistently incredible coffee.  That isn’t to say our Honduran coffee isn’t bad, as it’s EPIC.  I guess it’s also down to enjoying it in the place of origin, sat on plastic chairs in a road side cafe, without a care in the world after a great surf. That all adds to making a cup of coffee taste that extra bit better.
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Lying in the grass, on a hot & sunny day, I would reach for an Original Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. What is your ideal coffee-scenario?

My ideal coffee scenario is this; waking up knowing I’ve got enough time to brew an epic Iced Coffee at home using my Aeropress and cook up some scrambled eggs to enjoy with my wife whilst listening to some crazy music on BBC 6 Music. It’s super simple as everything should be, and so fulfilling for my belly and my brain.
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How long has it taken you to grow this wonderful brand from the very first seed of inspiration, to the Iced Coffee Empire it is fast becoming? 

Firstly, thanks for calling it a wonderful brand! The seed was sewn in Australia in 2008 when I first found ready to drink Iced Coffee. It wasn’t ‘watered’ until November 2010 when it turned into a weed and grew like mad. I guess the brand is me and my outlook on stuff which has always been there, it’s just needed to become a tangible object to make it come to life for others to enjoy. Does that even make sense?

Tell us about your involvement with the ‘This is Africa Initiative’? 

‘This is Africa’ is an epic little initiative run by a friend of mine, Lucy Devall.  She runs a heap of school enterprise campaigns here in the UK and in Africa, encouraging young people to actively think about being entrepreneurial.  She asked if we could be involved as a case study for the students as it fits well within their community and their climate. She figured that as Africa produces amazing Coffee and the sun shines a great deal, Iced Coffee could be produced for two reasons. One, the sunshine puts you in the mood for Iced Coffee and two, Solar energy could be used to power fridges, making it a viable business proposition. We proved to be a useful case study and it made the students broaden their ideas on enterprise, which is ace. In the future, I’d love to go out and do more, but for now it seems like we’ve managed to help out in a way that’s different and I like that a lot.
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Do you have a favorite café in the UK and what makes that place so special?

My favourite cafe…that’s a tough one as there are a great deal of them across the length and breadth of the UK. Right now, I would have to go with ‘Boscanova’ in Boscombe, funnily enough. It’s ace. There are some of the UK’s greatest baristas in there who literally love coffee to death.  Their breakfasts are off the chart and the chefs are like mechanical maniacs.  It’s always rammed, always playing the best music and if you get in before 9am, you can do 2-4-1 early bird brekkies. They love messing around with different types of coffee without being all ‘London’ about the whole thing and are so happy to explain all the processes involved without making you feel like a douche.  It’s perfect on a hangover, then a stroll down the beach. Simple.
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Where do you see Jimmy’s Iced Coffee in 5 years time? 

Wow. Big question.  In 5 years, the Jimmy’s brand will have a great presence in at least 5 countries across this fine globe in number of guises from Iced Coffee to the best portable BBQ you’ve ever seen.

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Your view right now… 

My view right now is the length of my office out into the car park at our Industrial Estate named ‘Beaver’ for some ridiculous reason. It’s not all that glam, but it’s amazing what a few plants and some optimism can do to your work space.

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Your next adventure is… 

My next adventure is the birth of my first nipper and man what an adventure it’s going to be. My wife is already experiencing contractions, so it won’t be long now, maybe a week!  It’s made me reflect on my life heaps and how much my folks have looked after me.  What a mission I’ve been on, even at 32.

And finally, what are you listening to in your (perfectly adorned) truck on a Jimmy’s road trip? 

On a perfectly adorned road trip, I’m listening to a mix of Nas, Pearl Jam, Snoop, Black Seeds, Russ Chimes, Beirut, Fat Freddy’s Drop, stuff like that.

Amazing. Thank you Jim! 

On that note it is time to sit back with an ice cold glass of the good stuff and enjoy this…

(Stockists include: Waitrose, Selfridges & Co., Whole Foods, Budgens, WHSmith, RoadChef and many more!)

www.jimmysicedcoffee.com 

My Spain…

Back into the swing of things here in London and with Summer finally here, my holiday blues are subsiding. Leaving Spain for me however, is always hard…

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Arcos De La Fronterra is a little Spanish town near Jerez, that I can happily call my second home. If you want to discover typical Andalusian culture then this is a good place to start. It is surrounded by olive groves but towering high above the surprisingly lush landscape are elaborate churches, family run tapas bars and Moorish inspired homes and dwellings built into the rocks. There is a wonderful little vineyard called Bodegas Marascal, right next to Arcos town which is a simple hobby to its owner Marco (& a real treat for those locals who get to taste the wines!) We visited last year and got to see this working vineyard in action, followed by a thorough tasting whilst snacking on cold meats and cheese.

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Just by the reservoir 10 minutes from Arcos is a town called Bornos and this is where I experienced Caraquoles for the first time. ‘Caracoles guisados en caldo’ (snails stewed in broth!) is an apertivo typico for the Province of Cadiz. I spotted the gentleman on the table next to me devouring this peculiar looking delicacy as we sat outside a Tapas bar a couple of weeks ago. My only experience of Snails before now, has been stabbing at big, garlic escargot in piping hot ceramic dishes ‘the French way’. Drinking down the grey liquid then carefully picking at the little caracquoles with my teeth was a new venture. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised and washed down with a chilled glass of Cruz Campo, I can see why this herbacious and well seasoned broth is popular despite its daunting appearance.

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(top tip: avoid the black sack at the base of the snail….!)

On June 23rd, we celebrated Midsummer in honour of San Juan (St. John the Baptist). Led by a group of Spanish friends it was a day of good food and very good wine as well some fantastic ‘Spanglish’ conversation- we were really stuck on the word ‘Host’ and this escalated into a rather hilarious game of language-charades. Needless to say, the Spanish dictionary was coming in handy. At 12am the fireworks started and out came a banquet of sweet treats; traditional Spanish cakes and desserts.

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The sun setting over Arcos de la Fronterra

It is a celebration particularly prominent to some of the coastal towns of Spain (Alicante for instance consider it their most important Fiesta) and they spend their day preparing huge bonfires, which become the focal point of the night when revellers jump over them to “purify and cleanse the soul”. We kept it a little more low key but toasted to the shortest night of year with copious amounts of Cava, whilst releasing lanterns into the sky.

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Cucumber & Mint Salad: Light, fresh salads are essential lunches for scorching hot days

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I take my Cruz Campo with a slice of lemon!

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The train from Jerez to Seville is very simple and well worthwhile. It takes just over an hour and gets you right into Seville about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre. Seville won my heart over the first time I visited on a lone expedition 4 years ago. With very little planning I jumped on a bus from Algerciras on the southern coast (next to Gibraltar) and made a journey with nothing but a map and a camera. I have returned every year since with friends to show them this magical place.

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A visit to the Alcázar is a must when visiting Seville. This Royal Palace, encased by the most enchanting of gardens, is still in use and houses the Spanish Royal Family when they are on trips to the city. Peacocks strut in between cooling water features & ancient foliage whilst tourists stagger around in awe of the Palace’s fine detail, inside and out. Good food and drink isn’t hard to come by down the many cobbled streets surrounding the Alcázar and horse pulled carriages wait patiently at the Cathedral to lead you further afield.

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To really, really experience the true heart & soul of Spanish life however, you must find and witness the passion of its Flamenco. Last year my boyfriend and I were near hypnotised behind the big wooden door of Tablao El Arenal; sweat was flying, heeled boots were clicking and hands were clapping during this deeply emotive performance, that has stayed with me ever since…

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Now, tucked away in the Sierra Morena mountains just outside of Seville, is another little piece of heaven. This year Isaac and I were lucky enough to spend the night in the perfectly rustic ‘Trasierra‘ (owned by Charlotte Scott) which is the ultimate escape.

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We drankRosé by the pool and were treated to a typically Spanish spread for lunch; fresh salads, almond gazpacho, braised sausage & lentils. Homemade cakes & mint tea are served in the afternoon, post siesta and by night, you can enjoy a three course dinner under fairy lit trees in the courtyard of the Cortijo. Sleep was easier here than I have found it to be in years, no doubt the fresh white linen sheets and rare silence of the night had something to do with that. Sounds pretty idyllic doesn’t it…

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The warm breeze is perfumed with Jasmine and around every corner, set against white washed stone are dashes of colour from the lavender and rose bushes. Come here to relax. Be barefoot and carefree. Read. Eat, drink and surrender to this rural way of life.

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There is no doubt that I am truly in love with Spain. The culture, food, drink and hospitality. The weather is glorious and it continues to fill my soul with goodness each and every time I visit. It also beholds many more little secrets and adventures which I can only hope to indulge you in on countless other occasions…

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For more information on Trasierra you can LIKE their Facebook page, check out their website or give them a Tweet @trasierra
http://trasierra.eu/
https://www.facebook.com/trasierra?fref=ts

It’s been a while….

Over the past couple of months it feels as though I have been totally consumed with work, which has left little (or no) time to keep up with the blog. Really it is inexcusable but I can assure you there have been daily thoughts about it, or more like ‘daily pangs of guilt.’ It is finally time for me to give A Shuffle in the Pantry some much needed TLC, whilst I sit in the peace and quiet of the Spanish countryside…. (and breathe a sigh of relief).

I am waking up early at the moment around 7:30am and spending 20 minutes meditating- something I have been doing twice daily for the past 3 weeks. It clears my heads and provides an inner calm, which in turn prepares me for the day ahead. Prior to learning the Transcendental Meditation technique my stress levels were sky high, which was manifesting in the inability to sit down and the constant tidying up and moving of objects (to his dismay, my boyfriends belongings) around our flat. The need for a holiday was becoming increasingly apparent. Now I am here, it is heavenly and paired with TM*, contentment has captured me.

Today is no different with regard to my routine. I woke up naturally (no alarm, which is bliss!), sat for 20 minutes then made myself scrambled eggs with the essential addition of Salsa Picante, a glass of peach juice and a French press. I never make coffee this way at home in the UK but it has become habitual for me when on Spanish soil, finding the whole process satisfying and delicious.

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Now this is when I sit down to write but where do I start? There are places I have been that I’d love to share with you, dishes I have cooked or baked that I want to tell you about and lethal-but-delicious cocktails consumed which are a must, however with mention already of meditation and trascendence…it seems appropriate to touch on the book I am currently reading- “The Physiology of Taste, Or Meditations on Trascendetal Gastronomy” by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

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“Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.”

I came across it on Amazon when I was buying a book on TM called the Science of Being and Art of Living. In the section labelled “Recommended for you”, was this book, staring at me with its big, beautifully illustrated artichoke. No sooner had I read “The most famous book about food ever written” in the description, I had ‘bought now’ and it was on its way…

A book that would appear to be so highly sophisticated is always daunting as a holiday read. Last year as part of a book club that I am in, I was battling my way through ’50 Shades of Grey’ poolside, grimacing with each page turn and every repeatition of “lip biting” and appearance by her “inner goddess”! As much as I would love for a minute to be the sort of person who loses themselves in a romantic fiction or the like, I am not. I generally look through cookery books, read biographies and learn from books on spirituality (although did totally adore the Hunger Games!)

Let me touch on this all ever so briefly, as I am only just starting to read this myself but firstly I will admit one thing. I am reading this book in one hand with a dictionary firmly in the other. There are the most magnificent words page after page, some I know and some I don’t (and as it was first published in 1825, this is no surprise), what a shame it would be to never know their meaning. It is easy to arrogantly breeze through a book like this and pretend to yourself that you understand all of it, which will potentially result in very little learning, however I swallowed my pride (a mildly dyslexic one at that) and made a decision after the first page to have a reference guide alongside.

The book is set out not in chapters but in ‘Meditations’, which makes clear to the reader the devotion and contemplation of this subject of Gastronomy by the author. Jean Anthelme Brillat- Savarin was born in France in 1755, aside from his epicure status, he was primarily a lawyer and politician. He spent the last few years of his life writing ‘The Physiology of Taste’ and in 1825 published the book at his own expense. He died in 1826.

From what I have read thus far, I have learned that Brillat-Savarin had a wicked sense of humour and a brilliant mind. For a foodie of any kind this book will be a wonderful education and an entertaining read. Don’t rush it, take it all in at your own pace, research as you go anything you do not understand, underline beautiful quotes and enjoy all that it has to offer on food, drink and the culture that surrounds it. It covers everything from the senses & the power of taste, to the theory of frying & the pleasures of the table.

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“Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking”

*TM or Transcendtal Meditation; A technique of meditation derived from Hindu traditions that promotes deep relaxation through the use of a mantra.

For more information have a look at the work of the David Lynch Foundation.

My Foodie Week: THE Full English, Coconuts & Picklebacks…

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If you want to start the weekend with a bang, then I highly recommend the Full English at The Electric Diner. It is served from 8am All Day long and it hits the spot like nothing else. Get your hangovers down their over the weekend and try it for yourself if you don’t believe me!

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I never got the  ‘Coconut Water’ thing when the artificial looking cartons first starting to hit our newsagents & supermarkets (especially when there is a stall on the Portobello Road with the real stuff). However after much searching I have found a couple of brands that definitely do what it says on the label and i’d say are the next best thing. As Summer seems to be approaching keep rehydrated with Go Coco 100% Coconut Water (pictured above) or the equally refreshing Cocofina, Natural Coconut Water.

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Having made some rather delicious Courgette and Cinnamon Muffins last week, I was left with an abundance of grated Courgette. Making the most of the ingredients I had (1 beaten egg, a chopped green chilli, 1 grated potato, fresh parsley and seasoning) I made these fritters, which were a simple and delicious vegetarian dinner. Make sure that once you have grated your veg, you ring out the excess water (I did this buy using a clean, dry tea towel). I winged this without any recipe however here is a nice and easy one from Nigella.

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I had the rare treat of going to Nobu for dinner with a girlfriend after visiting Ronnie Wood’s latest exhibition at the Castle Fine Art Gallery on Bruton Street. We both indulged in a pre-dinner cocktail and I chose the exquisite ‘English Rose’  which my friend described as “like the breath of an Angel, having just eaten a marshmallow”- I tend to agree!

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My friend Molly had her Birthday at our fave East London hangout, The Hemmingway. The food is absolutely fantastic and this Beef Wellington, has to have been the best I have had. It was a sharing dish and came with perfectly cooked runner beans, salad and thick cut chips served on a big wooden platter. If you are looking for a quirky, cool pub with a great menu and friendly staff then head to Victoria Park Road and check it out.

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Guilt free sweetener…? Yup. You may have already heard of Stevia or Pure Via (the natural sweeteners) but until a recent trip to Holland & Barrett I had never tried Crystallised Coconut Nectar! ‘Tiana‘ is 100% raw, high in nutrients and as I have discovered, a great sugar replacement for tea or coffee.

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And finally… presenting to you The Pickleback. If you have never tried one of these then shame on you! A shot of Whiskey followed by a shot of Pickle brine…enough said!  

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

Simply Raw

What is Raw foodism? How can you live on a totally Raw diet? Is it expensive? Does it taste good?

I am sure I don’t stand alone in asking these questions about Raw living….so let’s get down to basics.

Raw Foodsim it is a diet of unheated food, or food cooked to a temperature less than 46 °C, preserving enzymes and nutrients in the foods whilst avoiding some of the toxins that we put into our bodies when they are cooked above those temperatures. Most people living on a raw diet will be vegan, however some may incorporate fish, meats and dairy.

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An Evening at Yuuga Kemistri

I have always been interested in raw diets and alternative lifestyles- reading about, sampling them and hearing about them from friends however salads and juices are pretty much as far as I have taken it. I did try Pescetarianism’ for a number of years but decided that I really love all foods too much to give up one thing completely.

I am usually throwing myself into things without much idea of what to expect and in this case, my mum emailed me a voucher from a deals website for a Raw Food Masterclass, knowing that it would be right up my street.

There is a whole wealth of recipes that transform raw foods into complex, tasty dishes suitable for any 3 course meal or dinner party and this class was about to give us a little insight….

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My friend Susie has a wonderful site called “Blusher and Blogging” and with as much interest in health & beauty as I have in food & lifestyle, I knew she’d be the perfect partner in crime.

We found ourselves at Tooting Broadway last Tuesday night with no time to spare and so hot footed it to class, full of enthusiasm. We arrive in a small gated business park, looking for the unit “with the big, white cake in the window” as per the tutor’s emailed instructions.

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Upon entering the class, which seemed a tad full for my liking, we were promptly told to wash our hands and pop our bags down. I do get a slight wave of anxiety when I see crowds of people, especially trying to see one particular thing and by the time the class started there must have been 30 people in the fairly small kitchen space. Susie and I managed to burrow our way into the only little corner with some view and settled in with our notepads. Within 5 minutes our teacher Asa had us all captivated with her calming presence. Her name means ‘healer’ in Hebrew which suits her perfectly as she extols the virtues of the health giving and healing Raw foods.

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Originally from Iceland, Asa decided at an early age she didn’t like meat. She waited until she left home (and no longer under the watchful eye of her carnivorous parents) to start living as a vegan, followed a few years later by an almost totally Raw diet. Asa never denied the fact that she is “OBSESSED” and that she did not expect any of us to walk out of the class and be converted to her rather strict regime, being careful at all times not impose her habits upon us. She did however want to share knowledge on nutrition and give a few helpful hints to go home with and did so successfully.

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Making or Cooking?

If the definition of cooking is “to prepare for eating by a heating process”, then I guess we can refer to Raw Food preparation as “making”…Asa did mention that for some dishes people may want some heat through them and warming the plate or bowl (below 41 c degrees) is doable and will still manage to preserve the enzymes in the food.

Our starter was a Creamed Avocado and Spinach Soup

Much like a gazpacho, it was cold and flavoursome. She literally blended spinach, avocado, celery and garlic with water, added herbs and then finished it with some diced red pepper and sunflower seeds as a garnish. Asa seasoned with Himalayan salt, a little cumin and cayenne pepper. The colour from the raw vegetables when it was blitzed together was just incredible, you could see the life in the dish in bright, vibrant green. Incomparable to some of the lifeless ready made soups we see on the supermarket shelves…

Main course was Courgette ‘Spaghetti’ with Marinara Sauce

Using the Spiralizer (see below!) Asa showed us how to get long strands of courgette, that did not look dissimilar to spaghetti. Raw courgette is really tasty and although I have used ribbons of courgette in salad before, had never tried this method.

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The Marinara sauce was blended red peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, dried tomatoes, garlic, herbs (rosemary, basil, parsley) a seasoning of sea salt and pepper and finally, a dash of olive oil. It tasted so fresh and complimented the courgette perfectly. I even went back for a second helping!

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And for dessert…Apple tart with Almonds & Dates

For the base of this tart, it is simply Medjool dates, ground almonds and a pinch of Himalayan salt. Asa had made up enough little balls of this mixture prior to the class to hand out to each of us. They can easily be prepared well in advance and put in the fridge until you are ready. Once we all had our ‘pastry’ cases nicely put together, we made a big batch of the filling- Apples, vanilla extract, grated ginger, cinnamon and lemon juice whizzed in the blender.

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Using the Spiralizer again, we thinly sliced apples and mixed with a little lemon juice, agave syrup and vanilla essence for the topping.

Susie and I carefully wrapped these little beauties in cling film and took them home to enjoy with a cuppa. They were absolutely delicious however I wouldn’t advise carrying them across London again unless in an appropriate container- the raw, fresh apples contain a fair bit of water and we incurred a small leakage on the Central Line!

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Life After Class

With all diet and lifestyle changes, it is important to find your “own suitable path for nutrition” based on budget & beliefs. It is undeniable that there is an abundance of health benefits following a Raw Food diet, as Asa does. It is said to slow the ageing process, help control your weight and lead to an increase in energy levels to name but 3 of them, but one thing this class really opened my eyes to was the intensity of flavour that comes from “making” with living fruits and vegetables. Flavour that is sometimes lost when boiled, baked, heated, fried and so on.

I, however, will not be cutting off the electricity supply to my cooker or oven any time soon and will continue with my fairly balanced diet of all things weird and wonderful, but what I took away from this particular class was heightened interest in this way of life and a few amazingly healthy dishes to add a spring to my step and a glow to my cheeks!

Shopping Tips…

Think seasonally -I have talked about this before in previous blogs but eating seasonal fruit and vegetables is more cost effective, higher in nutrients and tastes better! End of.

Look out for offers- Holland & Barrett often have some great deals in store and on their website. It’s not just specific health food shops but also some delivery websites like Ocado where they have health & wellbeing sections with plenty of discounts.

Go organic– or as much as possible and within reason given that we are all at time of budgeting a little here & there. I have been very happy with Abel & Cole in the past, an Organic delivery service. You chose the specifications of the box (small, medium or large/gourmet, veg. or salad) and they provide you with the seasonal, organic produce to you door!

Some Raw Essentials…

Himalyan salt has endless benefits. Found at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, it contains 84 essential minerals that are found within our own bodies and beneficial for day to day health. It is pure, raw, unrefined salt. Contains no chemicals or additives and helps to restore & rebalance.

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Agave Syrup (or Agave Nectar) is a natural sweetener that comes from the Blue Agave plant, most commonly grown in Mexico. It is the vegan alterantive to honey, has a low glycemic index and so keeps your sugar levels balanced. Delcious, without the highs and lows of a sugar rush.

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The Spiralizer is a piece of kitchen equiptment used to cut fruit and vegetables from thin slices to long spirals. You can create dishes like Courgette ‘spaghetti’ or strips of carrot or cucumber to add to salads. It is simple and easy to work and adds a little fun to the whole process. The Spiralizer below is by Lurch and can be found here.

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Fruit & Vegetable wash removes Pesticides, Herbicides, Fertilizers, Dirt, Waxes, Micro-Organisms, Bacteria, Mould & Mildew. Because it is impossible for foods to be 100% free of chemicals (yes, even Organic produce!) a vegetable wash like this will easily and successfully remove all contaminants improving the flavour and extending the freshness. It is also easy to make your own, see here.

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Further Reading…

The Complete Book of Raw Food by Julie Rodwell is jam packed with recipes for raw meals, juices and smoothies plus heaps of information on the benefit of this diet. For help with a more structured program then I can definitely recommend the Raw Food Cleanse book by Penni Shelton, which helps you to follow a 3, 7, 14 or 28 day plan along with recipes and weight loss advice.

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Yuuga Kemistri is run by Asa and based in Tooting, a 5 minute walk from Tooting Broadway tube station.

Information on Asa’s classes can be found on the website.

Be My Guest!

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I love hosting and entertaining, getting friends together and enjoying food & drink in an intimate environment is my ‘happy place’! On Friday night, I held a dinner party for a group of my oldest girlfriends from school to celebrate Valentine’s day.

About a month ago, when I first emailed the gang to get a date in the diary I had just bought Supper Club, which is all about the joys of entertaining in your own home. Kirstin Rodgers however, entertains strangers with her Supper Clubs. She is a skilled cook, with much experience in catering for large groups of people, unlike me! She is also responsible for getting the Underground Restaurant craze fired up in the UK! However much I love to cook and bake, a group of more than 5 can come with it’s complexities and in turn, result in lost sleep leading up to the big day. So I came up with some pointers below, that help make the process a whole lot more efficient and enjoyable from start to finish.

In Advance

  • Invites! I personally email my invites to guests, as that is the most reliable form of communication with a large group of friends. As much as I would adore to use pen and paper at all times, it is not always viable time wise and can be expensive. My mum introduced me to the fabulous ‘Paperless Post’ which is ideal for any occasion. You can also see when the mail has been read and the guest can respond by the click of button. It adds charm & ease right from the start of the organising…
  • Putting your menu together– firstly, I would find out if there are any dietary requirements within your party. No point finding out once it’s too late and throwing you into a panic! When you have confirmation of this, start piecing together your seasonal menu using books, magazine tear outs, Pinterest…Keeping in mind your own level of skill and experience (I should mentioned my first attempt at making fresh ravioli on the day of was daring to say the least and resulted in a few fails, disaster! Read my next blog on pasta to hear ALL about that).

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(For Friday night, I printed out my menu’s and on the back of each one I put a different Love poem. Adding a romantic twist!)
  • Music- make a playlist that last lasts at least 4 hours, so you don’t have to worry about fiddling around with the ipod during the night. Bear in mind that this music is for your guests too and so you have to think about what they would enjoy? Choosing something like ‘Death Metal’ wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea for instance…
  • Shopping lists- a few days before the party I go through all the recipes and make a note of ingredients, I then go through the cupboards and start crossing off anything I might already have. Once I have a list of things to buy, I split the list into 3; ‘Fresh Produce’, ‘Supermarket’ & ‘To Drink’. Doing this keeps it all clear and concise and ensures that nothing is overlooked! 

The Day Before

  • Start Shopping– Head to the Supermarket with that list you have made and buy your condiments, juices, dairy produce etc. 
  • Got Everything? Do a count of all your crockery, glassware and cutlery to make sure you have enough. I realised the day before that I was short of one set, so lucky I checked! Phew!

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  • Your table- get your table ready and arrange your seating plan. Name places are lovely ‘extra detail’. Think about who should be next to who, things in common, any newcomers to the group? It is important to give this some thought so that you get the dynamic right.

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  • Drinks– Go on a booze run to your off license with your ‘Drinks’ list; having decided on your menu at this point, go for wine’s that compliment the meal. I asked the lady in the shop near me to recommend good wines having told her my menu and she was unbelievably helpful. We got the task done in under 15 minutes! A bottle of prosecco or champagne as an apreratif is a good starting point, 1 glass each as people are arriving is a nice gesture. 3 bottles of red & 3 white’s for the table for a group of 9/10 people (it is roughly 5 glasses per bottle by the way!) and there is nearly always at least 1 beer drinker in the group, so I like to have a 6 pack in the fridge just in case.

On The Day

  • Get cooking! Anything you can cook in advance and put in the fridge, then do it! I made the fresh ravilioli & filling, chocolate puddings and herb crust for the lamb as early as I could, that way I had an organised mise en place and was ready to go once guests have arrived.
  • Flower arrangements- do it yourself! It is a really nice touch to have fresh flowers on the table and I like to buy a few bunches from the market and put little posies together myself. I think 3 different flowers, with some sort of greenery works perfectly. Old jam jars are the perfect vase for a small arrangement and add a rustic flavour…buy flowers on the morning of, otherwise they will start to look a little sad.

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(I used Anenomies, Hyacinths and Roses brought together with Solidago. It’s colour theme was romance but that hint of yellow remind us that spring is on its way!)
  • Fresh produce-Your 3rd and final list. It is so much more cost effective to buy all your fresh fruit and vegetables from either a green grocer, or if you are lucky… a fresh fruit & vegetable stall in a local market or farmers market. On the day, I wake up at 7am and get straight to my local to pick out the best before it goes. You can sleep tomorrow… so an early rise is definitely necessary to get everything done.
  • Hoover! I am a messy cook, so once everything is set, it is essential that I hoover the kitchen/living area and make sure the kitchen is looking acceptable (especially as my kitchen and living room are all in the same space). Get rid of any bin bags and dirty tea towels too, very off putting.
  • Atmosphere. Just before the guests arrive and once you are dressed and ready, it is time to get everything just right. Music on, not too loud. Turn the lights down a bit and get  some candles going (just be careful not to put them in any precarious places).

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Now It’s Showtime!

We Ate…

Starter

Beetroot Ravioli with Ricotta & Sage Butter

Main Course

Herb Crusted Lamb with roast potatoes, Kale & Beetroot Top

Dessert

Molten Chocolate Pudding with Amaretto Cream

&

Cheese Board with Chilli Jam

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We Drank…

Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial

Glorioso, Reserva 2006 & Cosme Palacio, Rioja 2008

Pazo Do Mar, Ribeiro Blanco 2010

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We Listened…

My love-themed playlist starting with 1940’s early blues, moving onto 1950’s (Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone…), then the swinging 60’s with Elvis & Ray Charles. The tempo progressively became more energetic, which coincided perfectly with the gradual volume increase and liveliness of my guests.

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We Played…

‘Apples to Apples’ provided by my friend Parker, the Games Master. A hilarious game, especially when tipsy.

P.S. It definitely helps to know your opponents in this one!

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And One For The Road…

Mmmm, Amaretto Sours

(Made by me but special thanks to my friend & colleague Chris who kindly text me the recipe, on demand, at 01:00 a.m. Gotta love him!)

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Why don’t you let us into some of your dinner party secrets….

Thank you Molly, Emily, Parker, Charlotte, Simon, Rupert, Lara & Skippy for being wonderful guests.

(Readers, I apologise for the lack of quality and of photographs but I was having far too much fun to snap!)

For a Rainy Day…

I woke up bright an early this morning to blue skies, so decided to don some warm clothes and go for a walk. Five minutes in and grey clouds appeared as if by magic. Drizzle soon followed. Back home now and ready for a cosy day inside.

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The books I am browsing through at the moment are particular handy on a day when the weather can’t decided what it’s doing….

1. Drink Me by Matt Walls (see blog post here)

2. Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers; secret restaurants & underground supper clubs! Sounds amazing! Ex-Rock band photographer Kerstin Rodgers was one of the first people to start this dining phenomenon in the UK. This book is full of quirky illustrations and ideas for starting your own ‘Supper Club’, (which I am currently in the process of organising for my friends and I- you’ll hear more about this next month). Along with her yummy recipes and personal photographs it is a really fun book with plenty of hosting and culinary tips polished off with a directory of people doing this in their homes worldwide. So you too can venture into the unknown….

3. Baking Bible by Annie Bell; I love baking but have so much to learn. I make mistakes (often) and get very frustrated when I see the sponge sinking in the oven. Annie Bell was a food writer for Vogue, The Independent & more, who has gone on to write books like ‘The Camping Cookbook’ & ‘Soup Glorious Soup’. This is her ‘bible’ of 200 very trustworthy recipes for cakes, puddings, bread, tarts… the list goes on. It is pretty much fail-safe & easy to understand for beginners, yet still exciting and enticing for the more experienced. Totally delicious.

4. Eat London: All About Food by Peters Prescott & Terence Conran; If you live, or have visited London, then you may have realised that there are restaurants and cafes popping up at two-a-penny. This is the ultimate directory for someone wanting to discover old and new put together by the well-known Terence Conran. Plenty of recipes to keep you entertained in between reviews and a front cover that doubles up as a big map of London, so no worries about getting lost whilst in the depths of Dulwich, looking for a butchers!

5. Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo; Following her perfectly kitsch, Paris based TV show. Rachel Khoo has let us into the secrets of her life, style and recipes. Her illustrations are adorable and thankfully there are no overly complicated methods or long winded techniques to try and follow. If she can make it work, so very well, in such a small and intimate space then there is nothing stopping us all from trying it out….follow her lead. Oh and her ‘madeleines à la crème au citron’, are a must! Mmm.

6. The Simple Things; a glorious monthly magazine of all things home & garden with recipes, crafts and inspirations! A total gem. WHSmith sell the mag, but you can also look on their website to find out about the subscription. January was filled to the brim with pasta making, lantern stitching and home made pizza nights! The February Issue 6 is out now. This could be the only reason I venture into the rain again today!

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A small Arpeggio coffee from my Nespresso machine sets me up nicely for the day ahead. My pastel pink cup is from Ikea, perfect for espresso’s but also for desserts like ice cream, or a mousse! I am not sure if they are in stock at the moment, but a lovely alternative are the Ikea 365+ pastel espresso cup and saucer.


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My candle of the moment is Roses by Diptyque. It is so gorgeous and fills the entire room in seconds. For me the smell of Roses reminds me of my childhood. It is nostalgic, romantic and puts a gentle arm around me in times of need. Diptyque candles are not cheap but they are, in my opinion very, very good. Their standard size are £40 and the mini candles are £20. I got this mini Rose for Christmas, they make a really special present!

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Listening to Classic FM. Yup, tis’ true. I EVEN downloaded the app! This is coming from the same person who used to squirm when anyone (my sister!) put it on in the car, I thought it had to be ‘cool’ music or nothing at all. How things have changed. All I want on a day at home, is to have classical music playing quietly in the background. I find it so unbelievably calming and so does the cat…

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Daffodils are ALREADY in bloom in some parts of the UK. My mum excitedly informed me of such a carpet of sunshine spotted on a walk at the weekend. I decided to get myself a few bunches to have a big, early dose of Spring time in my home! Tesco’s currently have £1 a bunch on offer so forget S.A.D. and treat yourself.

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Right then, I have procrastinated enough. On with some writing!

And have a great day come rain or shine…

Fancy A Drink?

I adore wine. Red or White and sometimes Rose (but did some damage with cheap bottles & sunshine as a teenager so it’s no longer my first choice!) I can’t say I have a favourite bottle at the moment but definitely have my ‘go to’ options. That is getting a little boring though and I am now at the point of wanting to move on from the norm.

My dad has great taste in wine, so I have always been around the good stuff. It wasn’t until recently that I wished to explore the different grape varieties and viticulture to get to know what I love, appreciate and dislike in some rare cases. I long to confidently recommend a bottle when at a restaurant with friends or pair the perfect glass when I am cooking a meal. I started the year planning a wine course and am currently looking into options for tastings around London as well doing my own research and I have come to realise that you can really learn a lot from simply stepping into a nice wine merchants and asking a few questions. Tell them what you are eating? What you like? What you don’t? If they are working there for the passion of it all then most likely they will be keen to offer advice and this will definitely help to get you off the usual suspects and try something new.

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In my local off licence just yesterday I picked up a nice bottle of Rioja and as I was talking to the very informative chap at the counter I spotted this book, ‘DRINK ME!’ by Matt Walls. It was immediately appealing, not only because of the recycled-look, cool cover and graphics or reasonable price but because Matt states in the first paragraph that it is “a guide for people who drink a bit and know a little but would like to know more.” – simply put, that’s me!

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I can already recommend grabbing a copy from a local book shop or on Amazon, especially if you are a newcomer to all of this and petrified at the thought of tucking into the heavier read that is the ‘Wine Encyclopeda’ which believe me, I have attempted.

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Matt's blog is also a good platform to start picking up helpful hints and recommendations without much effort involved on your part. He keeps it concise and leaves out the gumpf.

Hopefully this is the start of a wonderful (& potentially boozy!) journey and I look forward to sharing some of the treasures I find along the way.

Find out more about the book, the blog and the expert here-

http://www.mattwalls.co.uk
@mattwallswine