18 August 2016

Belhaven Fruit Farm

Unexpected roadside farm shops with attached tea rooms are pretty much the best reason in the world for learning to drive.

So, when I saw the sight for Belhaven Fruit Farm just a stones throw away from our Holiday Cottage in Scotland, I was in my element!

Belhaven Fruit Farm was just the cutest little stop off, with a lovely café, well-stocked shop, outdoor play area, and opportunity to pick your own strawberries!

We all love fresh juicy strawberries (who doesn't?!), and as we passed the farm on the way back from many of our day trips out we tried to incorporate a strawberry-stop into our journey whenever possible!

The kids loved picking their own, with just a little adult supervision for quality control purposes ('There's thousands to choose from guys, they don't all have to come off that one plant!')

Not only where they cheaper than supermarket strawbs (and more fun to pick!), they literally couldn't be fresher. These beauties went from plucked from the vine to home and covered in cream in less than half an hour, and were absolutely gorgeous!

Despite having strawberries lined up for dessert, it wouldn't have been polite of me to not try the onsite café at least once. I was on holiday after all, so two desserts was definitely allowed!

The café itself was pretty quiet when we visited, as most of the customers were taking advantage of the nice weather and had perched themselves on one of the playground-adjacent picnic benches instead.

Our main 'north-of-the-boarder' faux pas of the week was when the Mr asked for a pot of English Breakfast tea before being informed (in friendly fashion of course) that it's Scottish Breakfast they serve, oops! I played it safe with a pot of Earl Grey!

No matter where we go for cake, no matter the interesting and unique flavours to choose from, they both always go for the most chocolatey thing available - on this occasion it was chocolate brownies for the both of them, neither of which lasted more than a minute once they got them to the table!

My Pear and Elderflower cake was light and tasty, and best of all - no one else wanted to try any!

The shop was full of awesome looking local products, from chocolates to coffee, and more gin than you could shake a stick at! I always want to buy all the jams, I have a fondness for pretty little jars, but settled on a box of Bellhaven Farm's very own IceDelight!

IcedDelight is a frozen dessert absolutely packed with fruit (this can genuinely be counted as one of your five-a-day, not in the same way I tell myself fruit scones count...), it's dairy-free, gluten-free and absolutely delicious! The lemon is sharp and zesty, and the texture is so much creamer than I'd expected from a dairy-free iced dessert. This is no ordinary sorbet!

Unfortunately we didn't get to try any of the other flavours but the stuff is available from a bunch of stockists (mainly in Scotland but a couple of others about!) and I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for it!

11 August 2016

A week at The Tack Room with Sykes Cottages

When I first starting thinking about what I wanted to do for our family summer holiday this year, my first thoughts were of sunshine, outdoor swimming pools, all inclusive ice creams and exotic beaches. When suggesting these thoughts to the children I was met with '....can we go to Scotland instead?'

I wasn't initially besotted with the idea, but I aim to please! Once we'd definitely decided on Scotland, I knew to look at Sykes Cottages for accommodation. I've stayed in a couple of cottages on their books before and was certain they'd have something for us north of the border. As the sole driver in the household, I didn't want to be venturing too far up the country and we were all quickly won over by The Tack Room, Cove Farm both for it's favourable location and general prettiness.

House Tour

I will do away with any suspense by telling you right now that we LOVED our cottage! We really couldn't have asked for more from it. I know that appearances aren't everything, but pulling up to a house this cute sure can put you in a good mood!

Everything was spotlessly clean and tastefully decorated throughout with an emphasis on nautical colours and cute seaside-themed knick-knacks. Clean towels and bedding were plentiful, and a selection of books, CDs etc was also provided.

It's a three-bedroomed cottage, so the youngsters got a twin room each - it's weird how much mess they can make with only a small bag of stuff if the have the space to really spread it out!

They share a room on holidays a lot without complaining but they tend to keep each other up late and wake each other up early so them having a room each was probably more restful for all of us!

The bedrooms and bathrooms were downstairs and the communal areas upstairs, which is a little unusual but the 'upside down' design of the house really worked to make the most of the natural light in areas like the kitchen.

The kitchen was so bright and airy, as well as exceedingly well supplied for making a number of family meals - so much so that I feel like I wasted it by pretty much just using it for putting together sandwiches and making toast, but I was on holiday after all!

It's really only the lack of a bath that made me ok with moving out at the end of the week, otherwise the owners would have never got rid of me!

A Warm Welcome

The house was utterly beautiful but we knew we'd be well taken care of before we even set off. A week or so before our visit we got the most lovely email from the owners, with loads of brilliant suggestions about where to visit/walk/eat in the area .

The email also mentioned a 'welcome pack' of goodies provided to help us settle in - but I was still surprised at how generous the welcome pack was! I would have been over the moon with a couple of tea bags and a drop of milk just to get me through 'til we could do some shopping (there was no ay we could take a lot in the way of groceries along with our weeks stuff in the back of my teeny car!), but as well as the tea and milk we had bread, butter and jam, eggs, orange juice, wine (much appreciated after that long drive!) and best of all, shortbread and teacakes!

Such a thorough pack meant I didn't even have to think about shopping until well into the next day, and could get straight on with my holiday relaxing! Plus, in a brilliant but unexpected twist, turns out that despite their initial excitement about them neither of the kids liked the chocolate tea cake things so they were ALL for the adults!

Lazy Mornings and Relaxed Evenings

We knew we were headed to a rather quiet and secluded area, and though we've gone on family holidays in the past with a heavy emphasis on evening entertainment and kids activities, we were really looking forward to some peaceful downtime. No discos or party games, just us and our biscuits in our nice little house.

We had activity-filled day times, visiting local attractions and exploring nearby towns, but the evenings and the mornings were all about chilling. We read books, we watched TV, we drank tea (ok that was mainly me!), and we just had a really well-needed break. Evenings usually consisted of a DVD and a selection of sugary treats (Irn Bru floats were an inspired highlight!), cuddled up under one of the snuggly blankets provided in the cottage. Perfect.

The View

One of the nicest things to do at The Tack Room though, was to simply sit and admire the view. We had beautiful clear days...

....the odd foggy morning....

...and some truly spectacular evenings!

The Beach

With a sea view like that, we weren't going to be far from the beach! In fact, just a few minutes walk, a nature-riddled path and a secret tunnel were enough to bring us to a pretty little beach.

This was a perfect spot for building sandcastles, exploring caves, climbing on rocks and generally enjoying beachy things, but without the usual school-holiday crowds! We felt so luck to have such a quiet little spot more-or-less to ourselves !

We all had such a wonderful holiday, and the kids both agreed that this was their favourite yet. I wasn't overly sold on their grand Scottish plan to begin with but I'm very glad that the young 'uns got their own way! This was a truly lovely cottage in a truly lovely area and I will (and have) recommend a visit to anyone!

* Special big thanks to Sykes for offering a discounted rate for our stay

5 August 2016

Degustabox July 2016

I always look forward to the arrival of my monthly Degustabox, but usually I have a couple of hints of what to expect when exploring the contents. I may not always know exactly what products will be included but I usually have a pretty good idea about brands and sometimes it's possible to make a pretty educated guess from that alone.

This time, however, the goodies within were kept a complete surprise - so the whole receiving and unboxing become a much more exciting treat! Like a mini foodie Christmas!

Here are the mystery goodies I found in my box this month:

Sarson's Balsamic Vinegar (RRP £1.99) - My boyfriend uses an inordinate amount of vinegar. He puts it on everything. He dips sandwiches in it. Its disgusting. He can go through one of these sized bottles of Sarson's malt vinegar in a week. Balsamic vinegar, which is perfectly appropriate for dipping and drizzing, he wont touch - so this one is all mine!

Rowtree's Fruit Pastilles Infusions (RRP £1.29) - I fully meant to take these home to share with the kids but I opened the packet to try them and before I knew it, they were all gone! #oops These were great though, felt ever so slightly more 'grown up' than devouring a full packet of regular Fruit Pastilles!

ALO Aloe Vera Drink (RRP £2.45) - The taste of this was really nice actually, very sweet - but I don't think I could get used to the 'bits' in it (aloe vera pulp), no matter how good it is for you! It didn't help that one of my colleagues likened the bottle to a snowglobe - you shake it up and can see all the pulpy bit floating about in the bottle! Would be great at anyone that doesn't have my reservations about bumpy bits though!

Jodans Swiss Style Muesli (RRP £2.79) - I know Jordans are a well-loved name in the quality cereals world, but I'm not a big fan of Muesli so I made a gift of this to my dad who loves the stuff and he assured me it was delicious!

Itsu Crispy Seaweed Thins (RRP £1.00) - These seaweed snacks are super healthy - low in calories and packed with iron, zinc, B12 and iodine - so I'd love to say that I like them, but sadly it wasn't to be! A couple of people in the office found them more palatable then I did, so these have been distributed amongst those healthy types!

Felix Gerkhins (RRP £2.15) - Another one I've donated to a more appreciative home - my brother and his family love these!

Bahlsen Choco Leibniz (RRP £0.40) - My dad used to get these biscuits regularly but I haven't seen them in a while so it was really nice to see them pop back up in my life! The handy mini-pack of two biscuits will help prevent me getting through too many too quickly! The chocolate coating is thicker than you'd find on most biscuits - delicious!

Seabrooks Lattice Food Heroes (RRP £1.99) - Seabrooks make the best crisps, and I'm not just saying that because they're from Bradford, We used to visit the factory on school trips. Some of their better flavours of old can be a little tricky to track down but it's nice to see new products too! We all loved the Chorizo lattices in the office!

Rejuvenation Water (RRP £1.89) - I've had this amino-acid-enriched flaroured spring water before, but I wasn't overly keen on the previous flavour. The sweet Spanish Orange variety is right up my street!

Cracker Drinks (RRP £1.50) - I thought I'd have to fight the kids for the juice but turns out they weren't overkeen on the idea of coconut in it, so I had it all to myself! I loved the tropical combo of Pinapple, Coconut and Lime, made me think of sunny exotic beaches rather than the grey Yorkshire summer I was drinking it in!

Brookside Chocolates (RRP £3.40) - Sadly I never got to try these as I passed them to the children on the back on the car on a long drive and by the time we reached out destination they were all gone! They loved these chocolate covered berries and have been asking if we can get them again!

Berrywhite Sparkling Drinks (RRP £1.59 each) - These were my favourites of the drinks included this month, especially that Lemon and Ginger one!

QCumber (RRP £1.35) - I wasn't entirely convinced by the idea of a cucumber based drink, but this was actually surprisingly nice - light and refreshing. It's be perfect for a number of cocktails but as I had mine at work it was sadly alcohol-free!

If you sign up now with the code BLDEG15 you can save a whopping £7 off your first box, that's even better than half price!

3 August 2016

The Story of My First Ever Big Mac

Up until the grand old age of 35, I had never had a Big Mac.

We were never taken to McDonalds as kids, and my later teen years were marred by vegetarianism. I was probably in my mid-twenties before I'd ventured to one of their many restaurants for anything other than a milkshake. 

Even in more recent years, where my visits to the famous fast food chain have become more frequent, I've still never been overly tempted by their flagship product. That middle bit of bread just didn't seem *right* to me, and I was a little wary of that unusual sauce colour too...

But when I had the opportunity to check out the new changes to one of their Leeds restaurants, including the chance to make my very own Big Mac, I figured it was about time for me to see what all the fuss is about! 

Before we got the the food though, it was time to meet the McDonalds team to learn about the new upgrades and dispel any McDonalds myths ('what's really in the fries?' people have been known to ask... the answer is simply, and obviously, 'potatoes').

This was followed by a tour of the restaurant, so we could see the new changes in action. My favourite of the recent developments is the capacity for touch screen ordering. I love this! I don't really like talking to people at the best of times. I'm awkward and easily flustered and generally a bit socially inept. So trying to order at McDonalds, where its loud and and fast and busy and I have to deal with the complicated orders of several people in one go while figuring out what I want myself can be a little... overwhelming, (This probably sounds a little dramatic, its not actually that bad - but certainly not as easy and calm as the screen!) 

The touch screen makes it so much easier for ordering anything 'awkward' too - particularly helpful for my sauce-and-salad hating other half as we can simply amend the orders to not include the less desirable items (no more pickles!) The orders are send straight to the kitchen, where everything is made to order! The new ordering system is also great for fully seeing all your options - its easy to request carrot sticks or melon bags instead of fries with your meal, for instance: something I wouldn't have done before in the aim of making ordering at the counter as smooth as possible. If you liked the traditional ordering method though, don't worry - that's still available! 

Once we had our head around the ordering, we had a tour around the storerooms and kitchens so we could see how those orders get turned into hot meals! A brief visit to the freezers was particularly welcome, as our visit was on an extremely hot day. You probably wont be surprised to hear they go through a LOT of food supplies... my favourite McDonalds fact of the day was that these guys sell more coffee than Starbucks AND Costa together!

Then, after a quick demonstration, it was time for us to don our aprons and hats and have a go at making our very own Big Macs. I kindly volunteered Jamie to go first (sorry Jamie!) before I had my go. I like to think mine turned out ok, especially for a first time!

The proof of the pudding is in the eating though of course, so how was my first ever Big Mac? Pretty darn good actually! It's great to know my fears were unfounded and I'm sure this wont be my last! I was also presented with a Chocolate and Honeycomb Frappe (after previously being visibly giddy about it's awesomely creamy appearance!) and it was every bit as good as I'd hoped!

Big thanks to McDonalds for being so hospitable and making me expand my food horizons! (And also apologies for the lack of photos - I promise I took plenty but then managed to destroy them all!)

* Compensation has been provided for this post (financially and foodily)