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I like hosting. It’s one of my favourite things. I have guest towels and I like to show off how fluffy they are. It brings me joy to take care of my friends and family – to pour them a glass of wine when they arrive, to make them a cup of tea in the morning and serve them a brilliant brunch. French toast is my go to brunch food – it’s completely delicious and incredibly easy. You can prepare it the night before, or whip it up in the morning and it’s sure to impress your guests.

This particular French Toast recipe incorporates my new favourite flavour combination – lemon and raspberry. Fresh, citrusy, sweet and tart – everything that’s good in the world. The added crunch of the poppyseed compliments the doughy goodness of the brioche. This recipe serves three – but you can easily dial it up or down depending on how many guests you have.

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You’ll need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of semi-skimmed milk
  • 1/4 cup of double cream
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 1 lemon
  • 9 slices of brioche – slightly stale is best
  • 1 cup of frozen raspberries
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of icing sugar

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1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, honey, poppy seeds and the zest of the lemon until combined and smooth.

2. Lay your brioche slices in a shallow dish and pour over the egg mixture. Smush them around a bit to make sure they’re all covered (technical term, there…)

3. Leave to soak in that eggy goodness. Place the raspberries, juice of half the lemon and icing sugar in a pan over a low-to-medium heat.

4. Stir occasionally until the raspberries break down into a warm sauce. Add more sugar to taste.

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5. Set aside and melt a knob of butter in a frying pan on a low-to-medium heat. Place the slices of brioche into the pan.

6. Flip after a couple of minutes. Cook until both sides are golden brown.

7. Keep going until all your slices are done. Depending on how big your frying pan is, you might want to keep the finished slices warm in the oven.

8. Serve with a drizzle of coulis and a glass of fresh juice. ‘Cos you’re the hostess with the mostest, after all.

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(Saturday morning scenes – French toast, hot drinks and cute cats. Life is good.) 

This weekend has been the best. I get so giddy when friends come to visit me in Leeds – I love showing off this wonderful city, and of course I love spending time with my awesome friends. Not only that, but I also went to (some of) the hen do of another beautiful friend, so all in all it’s been pretty exciting. Other than gallivanting about Leeds, eating too much good food and drinking too much wine, I’ve also been trying to get through all the Harry Potter books ahead of my trip to the studio tour on Tuesday (so. excited.). It turns out there are more pages than I thought, but it’s been interesting to reread them – I’m definitely more emotional this time around! Oh, and I went on a really good run. Just the one. How was your week?

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This weekend, I had a bit of a cooking disaster. I attempted a beer, chocolate and salted caramel cheesecake and spent hours carefully measuring ingredients, boiling caramel and crushing pretzels to make the base. It was a labour of love. It was also disgusting.

The problem with cooking, like all skills, is that there is a certain amount of failure built in. I want to push myself in the food stakes, but with that comes the increased risk of burnt, curdled and just plain gross food coming out of my kitchen.

So, on Sunday I promptly tipped the cheesecake in the bin and abandoned any high and mighty ideas in favour of this childhood favourite. Completely delicious and completely impossible to screw up.

This isn’t really a recipe – having just three ingredients and about as many steps to follow – but I did want to share it with you. Cornflake cakes are a staple of any child’s baking repertoire, but using Shredded Wheat make perfect little Easter nests. This is a fun weekend project with kids, or for adults who just want an excuse to gorge themselves in the name of the changing seasons. So good and super fun.

As an aside, Shredded Wheat is usually the devil’s work – the sogginess and lack of flavour totally grosses me out – but these cakes are proof that everything is better covered in chocolate. Don’t you agree?

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You’ll need:

  • 200g milk chocolate
  • 85g Shredded Wheat (about 4 batons (?!))
  • 1 pack of Mini Eggs
  • Cupcake cases

easter cake 1 1. Crush the Shredded Wheat and leave aside. You don’t want any pieces too big and any little pieces will stick together with the chocolate so don’t be afraid to really get stuck in!

2. Place the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally and remove when melted.

3. Tip in your crushed Shredded Wheat and stir together until it’s all covered with chocolate.

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4. Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases. Use the back of a teaspoon to make a little well in the middle of each cake. Place 2-3 Mini Eggs in the centre of each cake.

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5. Leave in the fridge for 2 hours to chill.

6. Scoff!

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rola wala

It’s that time of the month again. No, not that one. The time when we must bid adieu to the Trinity Kitchen street food vendors we’ve come to know and love and welcome a new crop into our midst. Goodbyes are always hard (I’ll forever miss Dorshi‘s dumplings) but the blow is softened by the new delights on offer.

This month, you can take a culinary tour of the world all in one room. Fun, huh? From Twisted Indian street food from Rola Wala through to the fragrant spices of Bangwok Thai street food, it’s a riot of colour and flavour inside Trinity Kitchen right now. We took a little trip to do a little investigating and, as usual, found ourselves wandering aimlessly, spoilt for choice.

I eventually plumped for a Hoi Sin Duck sushi roll from Happy Maki (cutest. name. ever.), which was rolled up for me right in front of my eyes. Impressive stuff. The lovely smily ladies in the van informed me that the word ‘sushi’ actually refers to the seasoned rice, and not to raw fish, so it’s possible to have all sorts of toppings. The duck was lovely; perfectly paired with cucumber, sesame seeds, sticky hoi sin and delicious soy. All the good stuff rolled into one. It was a bit tricky to eat all as one roll – my sushi skills mostly extend to the tiny rolls at Yo Sushi! rather than something as chunky and meaty as this, and at £7 it was a tad pricey but I would still suggest you try some – it’s good sushi!

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Predictably, Paul gravitated towards the slow-cooked meat and enticing colours of Bangwok Thai. For £7, you could have a little bit of everything that they offer – pork, chicken, beef, rice and a fragrant salad. I snaffled as much as I could, and I was rather envious of his plate. It wasn’t the most beautiful but it really was the most delicious. Soft tender meat, fragrant sauces and delicious sticky rice. Just too good.

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At Rola Wala, I had to pass on the wraps (too full of sushi) and go straight for dessert instead. We picked up some of ‘The World’s Hottest Ice Cream’ for £2.50 – a collaboration between Rola Wala and Leeds’ own Indie Ices. It sounds deadly – mango, lime and moruga chilli – but it looks heavenly. I was apprehensive, and although the first bite definitely has quite a kick (understatement), the creaminess of the mango ice cream more than makes up for it. The chilli ends up adding extra flavour rather than too much heat – it’s truly a joyful little pot. It’s exclusive to Trinity Kitchen this month, so if you want to try it yourself, make sure to get yourself over there sooner rather than later!

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(source)

As a child I was a bookish nerd, tearing my way through the Famous Five books at a rate of knots and dreaming of one day being a librarian. Nowadays you’ll more likely find me curled up on the sofa with my Macbook than with a real book, but I’m working on changing that.

I read an odd assortment of books in March. They were all satisfying in their own way; aren’t all books, really? Reading on the bus is becoming dangerous, however. Each of these books made me cry, mostly happy tears but not all, and I think people are starting to think me very odd having tears in my eyes so often on the way home from work…

Cuckoo in the Nest, Michelle Magorian

This is maybe my favourite book of all time; it feels so nostalgic, familiar and heart-warming. It’s predictable, sure, and sometimes unrealistic but the happy ending is so welcome that it’s something like drinking a hot chocolate in front of a warm fire on a chilly day. Totally blissful.

Set in post-Blitz London, we follow Ralph, a working class lad desperate to become an actor but blocked at every opportunity by his class, his lack of cash and his father’s disapproval of the theatre. He finds himself working backstage nonetheless and you can practically smell the greasepaint as you follow him through the various productions. I think this book is what gave me my love of theatre, and reading it makes me want to snap up every seat that I can just to feel that heady excitement that only live theatre can provide.

The cast of characters is a joy – from Ralph’s formidable boss Mrs Fossington-Smythe (my favourite) to the eccentric actors and Ralph’s own kind-hearted, rough around the edges family. This book is never going to be great literature, but it makes me smile wider than any other.

Sleepers: A True Story When Friendship Runs Deeper Than Blood, Lorenzo Carcaterra 

From one extreme to another, this book will definitely not make you smile. The blurb reads:

They were four boys who shared everything – the laughter and bruises of an impoverished upbringing in New York’s West Side. Then one of their pranks misfired – a man nearly died and they were sent away to a reformatory school. There they suffered the worst abuse the guards could inflict on them. They were forever scarred by their experiences. Eleven years later two of them became killers for the mob. They met the ringleader of the guards who abused them – and shot him dead in front of several witnesses. No one thought they would see the outside of a prison again – but the four friends banded together once more and in one last, audacious stand brought their own vengeance to the courtroom.

It’s a gripping read, but it’s brutal. I had to put it down a few times; they don’t spare you much on the description of the abuse they suffered and knowing that it’s a true story brought those hot, angry tears to my eyes more than once.

However, much more than the riveting plot (thankfully the sections on their childhood and the court case are longer than the harrowing section in the middle which links them together), I found the descriptions of their lives in Hells Kitchen completely fascinating. It’s a little snippet of history which is not often told, and this book is incredibly evocative of what life was really like for four boys growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood which underwent dramatic changes during their lifetime. If you can stomach it, it’s worth a read.

American Savage, Dan Savage 

I try to introduce everyone I know to Dan Savage’s work. I know he’s not always the most popular figure, but I really enjoy his books and podcasts. They’ve definitely taken on a more political bent as he’s aged, so this book probably isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoy a well-written diatribe every now and again. Unlike Savage’s other works, this book is more of a series of essays on various topics (particularly marriage equality, but he touches on euthanasia, healthcare and gun control), rather than a coherent story but his voice and wit carries it through. The chapter about his mother’s death stands out as a truly moving piece of work, whilst story about the time he invited one of the most bigoted men in America to his house for dinner and a debate will have you both speechless with horror and stifling laughter.

link loveHow is it April already? I’m not complaining, of course, since I’ve got so many exciting plans for April. The first week has already been pretty great. As well as the usual foodie outings that often pepper my weeks (blog posts to come!), I was lucky enough to go to Dawn O’Porter’s book signing, which was super fun. The world is reminding me constantly at the moment how much I love reading – and I’ve been getting stuck into some of my favourites in the last few weeks. As well as that I’ve been practicing potential recipes for my upcoming supper club (watch this space!), going for a morning run (what?!) and wearing more breton stripes than is strictly necessary. How about you?

You don’t need me to tell you that restaurants are more than just a place to get fed. The food may be the driving force for you walking through the door, but the creation of memories is what keeps you going back. Some may be remembered for one heady night where the food was rich, the wine was flowing and the laughs were plentiful. Others weave themselves into your life, playing a cameo role at many occasions – big and small.

Browns is the latter for me. By various twists of fate, a lot of moments in my life have been celebrated at a Browns restaurant – my 21st birthday springs immediately to mind, but there were others, too. Graduation week was another biggie. Then, the smaller but perhaps no less notable events. That time that Michelle declared her New Year’s Resolution to be ‘eat more lobster in 2013′, for example. There have been many cocktail hours spent there, too. They do a good deal on a cocktail most nights of the week, and the selection is varied enough to keep me coming back.


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(21st birthday celebrations at Browns in Windsor)

So I was delighted to be invited to review the Browns in Leeds and share a few of those stories with you. Standing on the Headrow, Browns has a lounge-y sort of feel. There’s a grand piano in the centre, which does get played but seemingly never when I’m there. The ceilings are high, the lighting is low and there are plenty of tables for all sorts of occasions – from big parties to intimate drinks. One thing to note, however, is that the toilets are as far away as possible from any of said tables down a maze of stairs. If you’re feeling a bit tipsy, the many stairs and doors to get there can be somewhat confusing…

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The food is British, and offers a fairly good selection. I’ve dined with vegetarians, pescetarians and full-on carnivores with no complaint from any of them – although the veggie options are fairly few and far between. We skipped out on starters this time (although I recommend the sharing platter from previous experience) and went straight for the main – lobster taglietelle. After the year of the lobster (see above) I can no longer resist lobster if it’s an option and at £15.50, this pasta dish is a cheaper way to eat it! The dish was creamy, rich (maybe too much for some, but not for this glutton) and the lobster was perfectly cooked.

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For dessert, I tried one of their ‘Perfect Combinations’ – a dessert and a cocktail for £10. The salted caramel cheesecake caught my eye, and with it came ‘The Cuban Espresso Martini’. The cheesecake was decadent, tasty but – after the pasta dish which came before it – too rich for me to finish. A case of eyes being larger than stomach. I was rather jealous of Eloise’s sticky toffee pudding, which is my usual favourite and having had it at Browns before, I know it to be just the right amount of indulgence, even after a substantial main.

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The espresso martini was delicious, although I’m not much of a coffee drinker so any particular nuances were probably lost on me. I have had a lot of cocktails at Browns over the years and not one has disappointed; the Elderflower and Cucumber Collins is very good. I’m not sure that the pairing of espresso martini and salted caramel cheesecake worked as well as intended – but, as I say, coffee is sometimes lost on me.

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A quick word on the service is necessary, however. I have found that it is rather changeable overall – it ranges from excellent to rather slow. On this occasion, although the waiter was very pleasant, we found it difficult to catch his eye and it took quite a while to take our orders (for both courses) despite the place not being heaving. It wasn’t a problem, we weren’t in a rush, but it’s just something to bear in mind if you prefer snappy service. The bar can get pretty busy as well, and the complexity of the cocktails can mean you’re waiting for a drink for quite a while.

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That being said, I am a fan of Browns. I find myself coming back here time and again, despite my usual preference for a cool, indie restaurant. It fulfils a specific need – for slightly glamorous after-work cocktails or a reasonably-priced but luxe-feeling meal. The decor, the menu and the well-dressed clientele make it feel just a little bit fancy but not inaccessible. The food isn’t blow-you-away incredible but it is very good. It’s traditional, not surprising, but you’ll be mopping up the sauce at the end.

The amount of times I have visited and the number of memories I have might cloud my judgement slightly – but I wouldn’t keep going back if there wasn’t something just a little bit special. Try it and see – you might be surprised…

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I’ll admit that I didn’t do very well with my three little goals in March. I was ill for over two weeks – which is so unlike me – which totally threw me off course. Plus, it gave me an excuse; I am really the worst at motivating myself, especially when it comes to exercise or getting up early. As an avid over-achiever, I end up frustrating myself constantly but it doesn’t help. One of my aims for the year is to stop my goals from being a stick with which to beat myself up with. So, onwards and upwards friends. A new set of goals for a new month (and what a month it will be – I already have so many exciting plans). I’m ready.

1. 30 Days of Yoga

This month, I’m switching up my exercise goals. I don’t want to abandon running completely (my friends keep posting excellent times on Facebook and my competitive spirit just won’t allow it…) but yoga is something that I want to focus on going forward. It’s so good for me to focus on relaxing, breathing and being in the moment, and although yoga can be tough, it’s not scary enough to put me off from the get-go.

However, although I love the studio near me, it is expensive to go as often as I would like. I want to develop a home practice which can supplement the classes I can afford, and to stop me using my dwindling bank balance as an excuse! I found this 30 days of yoga challenge on Youtube and since ’30 days has’ April, it should work out perfectly!

2. Eat at the Table

At the moment, we eat all our meals sat on the sofa in front of the TV. It’s not the most elegant solution but it’s borne of a lack of space. Our large sofa takes up most of the space in our front room, leaving our compact dining table squished into the corner. More than one person can’t sit at it without re-arranging the furniture somewhat, and the inconvenience means we only ever bother when we have guests.

However, I much prefer to eat at the table. It makes eating into more of a ceremony, forces you to make conversation (rather than staring at a re-run of The Big Bang Theory) and is just that little bit more sophisticated. In my dream home, we’ll have a proper dining room and eat there every evening – but I figure, why not start now? I want to give it a try – a little bit of shifting chairs about isn’t the end of the world and it gives me an excuse to buy proper napkins…

3. Bake Bread

A rather self-explanatory goal – and hopefully a simple one to achieve. I can rustle up a simple cake in no time at all, but I’ve not really ventured much into the world of bread. There’s nothing more delicious than freshly baked bread with a smear of salted butter, is there? I was gifted ‘Baking Bread’ for Christmas and although I have worked my way through the introduction, I’ve yet to get my hands dirty and actually make a loaf. I have all the ingredients, I have the free time in April – it’s time to get baking!

 What are your goals for April?

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lemons

Recovering from the worst cold I’ve had in years. I’m glad to have my voice back.

Watching Breaking Bad. We’re close to the end now. No spoilers please.

Smiling at the sight of so many daffodils. They’re my favourite.

Enjoying the warmth of the sunshine (sometimes) and the longer hours of daylight.

Crying at ‘The Commitment’ by Dan Savage. I’m an emotional wreck.

Posting our Save the Dates. It’s getting real now.

Coveting pastel pink hair, always.

Baking with lemons. A lot.

Walking in Roundhay Park. The best.

Looking forward to a trip to Harry Potter Studios. Finally.

Knitting baby blankets. So many new tiny people in my life. 

Adding spinach to pretty much every meal.

Feeling zen after morning yoga sessions. So good.

Contemplating my summer wardrobe. Without the funds to buy it…

Craving Dorshi’s dumplings. So sad to see them leave Trinity Kitchen

Travelling to Harrogate to spend time with Emma. So much fun.

Spending time in London with some of my favourite people. So good to catch up.

Cringing at Mother’s Day cards. Why so twee, card companies?

Using my slow-cooker pretty much every weekend. Best. Invention. Ever.

Hanging new art on the walls. Our little gallery is coming together nicely.

How about you? 

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Can we all just take a second to marvel at how long the days are getting? Leaving work when the sun is still up is the greatest joy – I don’t intend to take it for granted at all this summer. On that note, we’ve just paid for our mini summer holiday – we’re not going away anywhere fancy this year because of wedding savings, but we do get to go to the beach with this little nugget. So I’m happily planning a summery-ish wardrobe and dreaming of lazy afternoons drinking wine on the balcony. It’s going to be good.

This weekend was super relaxing, and much needed after a brain-melting week. I read two and a half Harry Potter books in advance of our trip to the Studio Tour (am I the only person who’s not been yet?), ate French toast at LS6, watched some more Breaking Bad (we’re so near the end now!) and hoovered up about a million cat hairs. I’ll be sad when Tuna gets rid of her winter coat entirely and stops being so fluffy. It’s super cute, even if she does complain every time I try to stroke her.

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