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My Anti-Bucket List

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Kick the Bucket.”

In the last few years, the world has gone bucket list mad – including me! There’s tons of things we all hope to do before we ‘kick the bucket’.

I’ve always been a bit of a bucket list girl and I’ve already managed to tick quite a few things off my list including being front row at a concert; visiting certain countries; going to a New Kids On The Block concert; finding my dream job, and marrying the love of my life.

But there’s still plenty of things that I haven’t done and am still waiting to tick more off my list, such as spending NYE in Time’s Square; writing a book; becoming a really good baker and confectioner; reading the entire Bible, and becoming fluent in another language… and many, many more! In fact I don’t think I’ll ever have a completely crossed-off list as I keep adding to it.

But the thought of an anti-bucket list had never occurred to me until I saw The Daily Post’s writing prompt, and it got me thinking about things I would never in a million years want to do, want to have, or want to go to!

So here’s my selection of twenty (that’s right, twenty) things – in no particular order – that complete my anti- bucket list!

1. LEARN TO MAKE QUICHE

image from bbcfood.com

image from bbcfood.com

I absolutely hate quiche with a passion. If you came to my house for lunch, you can be sure that you won’t be served with this vile savoury tart/flan/whatever you want to call it. Why the rest of the world is quiche crazy, I’ll never know. Even though I want to hone my baking skills, this is one area of baking I don’t feel I need to even bother trying to learn let alone improve upon.

2. BECOME A BIGOT

Obviously no one goes through life intent on becoming a bigot. And even when most people do have an extreme intolerance towards others, they naturally won’t admit to it or even realise how offensive their views are- though you will get a few who don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with having such prejudicial views and will defend these views to the hilt. What they don’t seem to understand is how ignorant they sound.

Going through life with an open mind is so important on many different levels and for so many reasons- at the very least it makes the world a far better place.

3. APPEAR ON THE APPRENTICE

 

Don’t get me wrong – I love watching The Apprentice and tune in every year to find out who will be Lord Sugar’s new business partner. It’s addictive, and as someone who’s keen to go into business, it is of great interest to me.

There are times I think, fleetingly, about applying to go on the show but I know I never would. The other contestants show way too much arrogance, ruthlessness and attitude, and many of them are nowhere near as good as they claim to be. I really don’t think I could handle so many huge egos under one roof.

I’ll still continue to watch the show though!

4. VOTE UKIP

UKIP

The media would have you believe that the whole country is full of UKIP supporters even though I know that that’s not necessarily the case. I can see why a lot of people have fallen under the spell of Farage and co. but those who can look at things objectively can see that they clearly lack credibility, so whether they are the flavour of the month or not, I will not be jumping on the bandwagon and be voting UKIP.

And is it just me, or does their logo resemble something similar to a budget supermarket chain?

5. READ FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

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It’s meant to have enhanced activity in the boudoir and had women buying the E.L. James novel in droves. Nothing wrong with that of course. However, unlike Christian Grey, I am a hearts and flowers kind of person, so this isn’t a book that will be gracing my bookshelf, and I prefer old-fashioned though slightly corny romance rather than raunchy in your face erotica. Give me Mills and Boon any day!

6. WATCH WHAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HOT ON  BRITISH TV RIGHT NOW

 

The Only Way Is Essex, Made In Chelsea, Big Brother, The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity… these might constitute compulsive viewing at the moment but quite frankly I find it all quite boring.  I used to watch shows like these a long time ago but then it started to lose a bit of its gloss and I just gave up. However, I can’t escape these shows entirely because the ‘stars’ are always in the media. Even though I can’t profess to be a National Geographic kind of girl, this sort of telly really isn’t for me either.

7. BABYSIT A SPOILT CHILD

I like children as much as the next person but when it comes to children who lack discipline, don’t know the meaning of the word no, and think that all adults should do as they’re told (by them)… forget it! I once had the misfortune of babysitting a child (and not just any child, but a relative!)  who was a complete and utter nightmare but clearly thought that his behaviour was cute. And when his mum was told about his behaviour, she clearly couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

I think it takes a special kind of person to be able to handle a spoilt child. I’m obviously not one of them.

8. BECOME ADDICTED TO TECHNOLOGY

There’s no denying that we’re in the digital age and we all use technology to some degree. But to become addicted to gadgets to the point where it overrides common sense and courtesy is unacceptable. I really don’t wish to be that kind of person.

9. APPEAR ON MASTERCHEF USA

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Once again, Masterchef USA is a show Mr. D and I tune into religiously every year, and we’ve actually picked up a few tips from this cooking competition. However, I would never want to be a contestant on this show, even if I did live in The States, because Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich could very easily reduce me to tears and turn me into a nervous wreck. No thank you!

10. ATTEMPT TIGHTROPE WALKING

 

 

There are a lot of adrenaline junkies out there but I’m not one of them and heights are not my thing, so you won’t see me on a tightrope anytime soon.

11. SWIM IN SHARK INFESTED WATERS

 

As I’ve said I’m not an adrenaline junkie and clearly do not have a sense of adventure, so once again not for me.

12. RETURN TO WORKING IN RETAIL

 

Before anyone accuses me of putting down people who work in the retail sector, let me explain. I spent more years than I care to think about working in retail, so I have a lot of respect for those who work in retail because I know how tough it can be – especially at this time of the year.

In theory, it should all go swimmingly. After all it’s not the worst job in the world; you get to meet people every day; and there are some exceptionally enjoyable tasks i.e.- going to trade shows, generous staff discounts etc.

However in practice I’ve found it incredibly draining. Dealing with the general public is not easy. Dealing with those in head office is even harder. Sometimes your colleagues don’t understand the importance of working as part of a team. And let’s not forget with more and more stores open for longer hours and seven days a week, it leaves you with little time for yourself, family and friends. I still like the idea of owning a shop of some kind but I doubt I’ll ever do it as I found it incredibly draining.

13. WORK FOR A NATIONAL NEWSPAPER

 

It was my childhood ambition – until a careers officer said after a consultation that I lacked the ruthlessness and forceful character to be a journo. That and the fact that I didn’t like to pry into other people’s business!

Yep, I think I’m better suited to teaching English!

14. HAVE BOTOX

 

I know I’m getting older and I can see the signs. I don’t look or feel twenty one any more. However, I don’t believe that Botox is the answer – why would I want to inject poison into myself? I don’t believe in putting anything into my body that really shouldn’t be there, so I will fight aging with happy and healthy living.

15. BUY SUPER EXPENSIVE CLOTHES

 

When I was a teenager I was into labels and brand names as most of my peers were. That didn’t always mean I’d get them though and fast forward several years, I’m very grateful that my parents didn’t give into my every whim. I still love clothes and probably have more than I need but I don’t spend a fortune on each item and love spotting a bargain. I’d hate to spend a grand on a coat and then feel I’d need to wear it for the rest of my natural life and then be buried in it just to get my money’s worth!

16. BECOME A POLITICIAN

 

Where do I begin???

17. BE PART OF THE IN-CROWD

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During the course of my life, I’ve met some exceptionally interesting people who seemed to have it all. They said all the right things, had all the right things, looked the right way, surrounded themselves with all the right people and were seen in all the right places. In a nutshell, they were the in-crowd.

The only thing is that their hearts weren’t often in the right place and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised what’s important.

18. TO WATCH ANY MOVIE THAT’S BOUND TO LEAVE ME TRAUMATIZED

twelve

Twelve Years A Slave and The Passion Of The Christ are out as interesting and as fascinating as they are. When I watch a film, I want to be entertained not left feeling depressed.

19. OWN A FLASHY CAR

We’d all like a flashy car parked on our drive but I can’t help thinking what a waste of money it is. Unlike houses, the value of a car generally tends to go down not up. So I think I’ll invest my money in bricks and mortar, thank you.

20. RIDE A BIKE AROUND LONDON

visitlondon.com

visitlondon.com

I am most definitely not hot on two wheels at the best of times but riding around London with its super busy streets which I don’t believe is really ideal for cyclists… I’ll give it a miss. I’ve heard a great deal about accidents on our roads and even been at the scene of one, and my heart really goes out to those who have been hurt or worse. And I take my hat of to those who are far braver than me and are willing to have a go.

What’s on your anti-bucket list?

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Tenth Masterchef Winner: Congrats Ping

 

 

 

I’ve finally gotten around to watching the finals of the tenth – TENTH??? – series of Masterchef. This has been a great series with tons of amazing contestants who really gave it their all. I’m still disappointed however, that Alex, the rock n’ rolling wrestler was knocked out early on in the competition (gotta support my fellow rockers!) and I would have loved for Rani to have gone further as she did make me laugh but I think it’s fair to say that the best woman won.

 

All three of the finalists – Jack Lucas, Ping Coombs, and Luke Owen – were nothing short of awesome and really cooked for their lives (not to mention the Masterchef title!)

 

At an age where most people’s culinary skills extend no further than opening a tin of rice pudding, twenty one year old Jack amazed everyone with his flair and skills, and very rarely put a foot wrong. And Luke was a huge fan of daring flavour combinations and experimenting with food. His experiments weren’t always majorly successful but his boldness in the kitchen impressed Masterchef Judges John Torode and Greg Wallace.

 

 

But it was Malaysian-born Ping who really stood out from the moment she entered the competition. The very first dish she made – a curried chicken dish – just made me want to stick my hands through the television screen and grab a mammoth bowlful for myself. Even though Malaysian cuisine appeared to be her signature style, Ping showed her ability as a versatile cook by successfully cooking an array of non-Malaysian dishes. There was no doubting that Ping really put her heart and soul into everything that she was cooking, and her dedication, organization, talent, and the super-fast pace at which she worked were just extraordinary. As the finals approached I was so sure I knew who’d win – and I was right!

 

 

Ping says it’s her goal to introduce more people to Malaysian cuisine – she has ambitions to bring out a cook book and open a Malaysian style café – and I truly hope she achieves this. As someone who has family who hails from this part of the world, I can honestly say that Malaysian food is one of my most favourites. It’s just a shame most people don’t really know about it. The main that Ping created for the finals – nasi lemak – is the dish I always choose when I go to my fave Malaysian restaurant. There are many different variations of this dish but it basically consists of coconut rice with a variety of different side dishes. I always say that the restaurant I often frequent serves the best nasi lemak ever, and their version contains coconut rice; a spicy squid sambal; crispy fried chicken wings; deep fried anchovies and peanuts; a cucumber salad and a fried egg. This would most definitely be my last meal!

I’m so passionate about this dish that I’ve included a recipe for anyone who might want to attempt it. But be warned – it might be addictive!

 

 

I’m disappointed that this series of Masterchef has come to an end and I have to wait for another year. This has been an amazing series and I cannot wait for the next one to begin. Mr. D on the other hand, can’t wait for Masterchef USA to begin it’s fifth season as he much prefers that to our home-grown version. I like both of them and appreciate each of them for what they are but I’ve noticed that if you’re more interested in food than contestants’ dramas, then Masterchef UK it is. And of course we have the delightful John and Greg!

 

Ping hard at work

Ping hard at work

 

So congrats to Jack and Luke for doing so well to get to the finals. They seem like really cool guys who have a real passion for food and I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of them. And of course congrats to Ping. I just hope she hurries up and opens that café. Nasi lemak, mee goreng, chilli crab… bring it on!

 

NASI LEMAK
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:
•Oil, for deep frying
•Cucumber slices, for garnish
•Sambal chilli (recipe above)

Ingredients for the SAMBAL CHILLI:

40 gram dried red chilli

100 gram onion

25 gram garlic

5 tablespoon cooking oil

80 gram ikan bilis (anchovy)

25 gram sugar (to taste)

250 ml water 

 

Ingredients for the rice:
•250 gram rice
•275 ml water
•225 ml coconut milk (I used lite coconut milk)
•1 onion (about 125 gram), cut into chunks
•1 star anise
•1 large cinnamon stick
•Pandan leaves, tied in a knot (optional)
•½ teaspoon salt
•2 teaspoon sugar

Ingredients for the chicken wings:
•500 gram chicken wings (about 8 pieces)
•3 eggs
•½ tablespoon turmeric powder
•½ tablespoon salt
•½ tablespoon white pepper powder
•2 inch ginger, pounded
•3 tablespoon corn flour
•6 tablespoon rice flour

Ingredients for the ikan bilis and peanuts:
•50 gram peanuts
•20 gram dried anchovies

1 fried or boiled egg per serving

METHOD:

  1. To make the sambal chilli , rinse anchovies with water and allow to dry completely.
  2. Place dried anchovies in a food processor and grind into fine powder.
  3. With a pair of scissors, cut the dried chilli halfway to remove most of the seeds.
  4. Soak dried chilli in water to soften, then drain the water.
  5. Blend dried chilli, onion and garlic to form a smooth paste.
  6. To a heated wok, add cooking oil and stir-fry the ground ikan bilis for about 2 minutes till fragrant.
  7. Add the ground chilli paste and sugar and stir-fry over low heat for 10 minutes, adding water as you fry to avoid burning the paste.
  8. The resulting sambal chilli should be moist and pasty.
  9. For the rice: Put all the ingredients for the rice in a rice cooker.
  10. Leave to cook and remove onion, star anise and cinnamon stick when done.
  11. For the chicken wings: Mix all ingredients to form marinade and batter, and allow to settle for about 10 minutes. 
  12. Dip the chicken wings in mixture, and fry until golden brown and crispy over medium heat for about 2 minutes each side.
  13. For the anchovies and peanuts: Deep-fry the peanuts and ikan bilis separately before mixing together.
  14. To assemble: Serve a bowl of coconut rice with the chicken wings, egg, anchovy and peanut mix, and garnish with 2-3 slices of cucumber topped with sambal and  chillies.

 

Dinner At Mine By Chris Smyth

Journalist Chris Smyth’s debut novel Dinner At Mine is the reading book which has accompanied me on my way to work for a week – and it definitely made the bus trip seem a lot shorter which must mean that I enjoyed this book immensely!

One of the reasons why I picked up this book was because it’s loosely based on the concept of TV’s Come Dine With Me; a show of which I’m a massive fan. To be honest, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Come Dine With Me and many countries actually have their own version of the show – some of which I’ve seen and enjoyed. Even though the show has been around since 2005 (nearly ten years. My goodness!) it’s still as popular as ever with viewers despite slight changes to the format and for a while the nation went Come Dine With Me crazy, hosting their own dinner party events with friends.

 

And that is basically the concept for this book: a group of friends get together and compete to see who can hold the best dinner party. Even though they got the idea from the TV show, there are some fundamental differences:

  • Dinner parties are hosted in pairs rather than by four or five individual hosts.
  • Dinners are hosted once a week over a four week period rather than on consecutive nights.
  • There is no cash prize – they’re competing purely for glory!
  • Sadly, there is no voiceover from Dave Lamb. Shame!

The couples hosting dinners are: happily-marrieds Rosie and Stephen, proud parents of baby Jonathan; career couple, secretly-yearning-to-be wed Sarah and her ultra-competitive boyfriend Marcus; socially conscious vegetarian Justin and his beautiful,  American, artist girlfriend, Barbara, and reluctant singletons, Charlotte and Matthew who are thrown together by Rosie  in the hope that dinner won’t be the only thing cooking between the two of them!

 

The competition is Rosie’s idea and she is the one responsible for selecting this eclectic group of people, some of whom are good friends, while others are acquaintances and some are meeting the others for the first time. What should be simple and straight-forward proves to be anything but. Despite Marcus being the most competitive, determined to find fault with the other teams, friendship counts for nothing as everyone wants to be the best and win despite there not being any prizes – and they will go to any lengths to achieve their moment of glory.

 

The actual dinner party events are secondary to the tensions and problems in the lives of the competitors which is further exacerbated by the competition causing jealousies, insecurities and hostilities to come to the fore thus creating friendships and relationships to collapse faster than a cheese soufflé. There is tension between best friends Matthew and Stephen regarding lawyer Matthew’s former relationship with Rosie while the three friends were at university; Sarah is questioning her career and relationship choices;  Barbara’s career is in decline and she’s having trouble renewing her visa, both of which impact heavily on her relationship with Justin, and trouble-making loudmouth Charlotte can’t help stirring the pot every opportunity she gets.

 

I found this book to be a real page-turner; I couldn’t wait to get to the end. I really liked how the novel was divided into four parts, where each part focused on a different party which gives the reader a real sense of where they are in the story. The characters decide the best way to deliver votes is by email and I thoroughly enjoyed reading their overly frank comments and ridiculous reasons for why points were being deducted (tactical scoring of course!) And there were a few twists in the tale too – some of which really surprised me.

 

Smyth tells a great tale of what happens when an element of competition is introduced within a circle of friends. It could even be a metaphor for modern day society in which manners; honesty, and consideration towards others count for nothing as it’s every man for himself, and indeed many of the characters do exactly as they please and take what they want at the expense of the others. All the characters are flawed in one way or another but I have to say that  by the end of the novel, I really couldn’t stand most of them. Gossipy, bitchy, uptight, highly-strung, back-stabbing… all thanks to a three-course meal! It also seemed quite obvious to me that one character had an alcohol problem while another seemed to be suffering from a mild form of depression but neither of these issues were touched upon. I was also quite disappointed that the endings to some of the sub-plots were not neatly tied-up but were just left hanging.

However, I really did enjoy reading Dinner At Mine. It was thoroughly entertaining. I’m sure many of my fellow commuters thought I was a bit of a lunatic, grinning away to myself, but there were also moments were I felt quite sorry for some of the characters, and believe me, if I could have climbed into this book and given some of the characters a good slap – I would have!

A great book published by Simon and Schuster in 2012. I can’t wait to read Smyth’s next novel.

 

The Great British Bake Off: Beca’s Grapefruit Sandwich Cake

 

Another one of our guilty viewing pleasures is The Great British Baking Off – I suppose you could say that Mr. D and I are huge fans of any kind of culinary competition. During the first episode which focused on scrummy cakes, I was particularly fascinated by the grapefruit cake whipped up by contestant, Beca. I’m a huge fan of cakes made using lemon, orange, or lime but it never occurred to me that I could use grapefruit – which just happens to be one of my favourite citrus fruits. So here’s Beca’s recipe for her grapefruit cake. I love mascarpone and any kind of fruit curd so I’m going to have a go at making it myself but somehow I doubt it’ll be as great as Beca’s!

 

 

 

Ingredients

For the grapefruit curd
For the candied grapefruit peel
For the cake
For the grapefruit sugar syrup
For the mascarpone cream
 

Preparation method

  1. For the grapefruit curd, place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the butter in the bowl before adding all the other ingredients and whisk with an electric hand-held mixer until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to set further. (You will make more grapefruit curd than you need for the cake. Refrigerate the rest and eat within a week.)
  2. For the candied grapefruit peel, peel the grapefruit and cut the peel to the desired length and width. Place in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 10-15 seconds and then drain the peel. Return the peel to the same saucepan and add the sugar with 75ml/2½fl oz of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the liquid is syrupy. Drain the peel and coat in more caster sugar before leaving to cool and dry on a wire rack.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C(fan)/Gas 4. Grease and line 2 x 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
  4. For the cake, mix all the ingredients together in an electric mixer. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the tins for five minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
  5. Meanwhile, for the grapefruit sugar syrup, place the grapefruit juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for around five minutes, or until the syrup begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  6. While the cakes are still warm, pierce the surface with a cocktail stick all over. Drizzle the syrup evenly over both cakes. Allow to cool completely.
  7. For the mascarpone cream, whisk the ingredients together until thick and airy, but not too stiff.
  8. To decorate the cake, place the bottom layer of the cake onto a serving plate.
  9. Transfer a quarter of the mascarpone cream into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm/½in plain nozzle, and set aside. Then spread on half of the remaining mascarpone cream onto the cake. Spoon over a generous amount of the grapefruit curd – some curd may spill over the edges but don’t worry about this.
  10. Place the other cake on top and spread the remaining cream on top of the cake, smoothing it all over so that it is evenly distributed.
  11. Using the piping bag, pipe balls of icing around the edges and centre of the cake. Place a few strips of the candied peel on each ball of icing. Serve straight away, or refrigerate until ready to be devoured.

Armchair Masterchefs

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My husband and I pretty much gave up on television a while back. No matter how many channels there were, there still didn’t seem to be anything worth watching. But there are still some shows we make time to watch religiously. At a risk of sounding like a couple of oldies who have nothing better to do, Mr. D. and I are addicted to culinary competitions which seem to be all the rage on television these days: Come Dine With Me, The Great British Bake Off, Masterchef, Next Great Baker… you name it, we watch it! In fact it’s more than watching it’s become a full scale obsession. We must tune in to see what happens next: who stays… and who goes.

We have a lot of fun watching these shows. They’re entertaining and informative but they can also be quite depressing. Why? Because after years of thinking that I’m a pretty good cook (I’m no Heston but I’m not bad either) I’ve suddenly realised that compared to the contestants who take part in these shows, my cooking skills leave a lot to be desired. I’ve come to this conclusion after realizing that:

  • My pastry making skills are far from perfect (as explained by Mr. Hollywood and Ms. Berry.)
  • I have no idea how to make sushi – even though I love to eat it!
  • There is a tenancy for me to overcook food (as pointed out by Mr. D!)
  • I can really only bake cakes when I have a little help from my friend Betty Crocker.
  • Rare, medium rare, medium, well done… it’s all the same to me!
  • I’ve lost the ability to poach a decent egg.
  • I’ve never heard of half of the ingredients mentioned in the show.
  • There is no way I can chop onions, apples, carrots etc. so that all the pieces are virtually identical.
  • I have no idea how to debone a duck.
  • There’s very little chance of me being able to adequately filet a fish.
  • I don’t have the kind of palette where I can successfully identify every ingredient in a dish.
  • It’s really not a good idea for me to attempt to flambé anything…
  • Me and sharp knives are a dangerous combination so it’s really not a good idea for me to go at the speed of the professional chefs or the other contestants.
  • I like to take my time in the kitchen – that probably explains why we never eat before 10pm.
  • I probably don’t add as much seasoning as I should.
  • I love eating shellfish – but haven’t got a clue how to prepare it.
  • This may be an Anglo-Italian household but there is no freshly made pasta in this house as neither of us know how to prepare it!
  • If I cook fish so that the skin is super crispy, it’ll be burnt.
  • We like to drench our food in sauce – none of this ‘little smidgeon’ business.
  • We also like large portions in this house!
  • I haven’t got a clue how to make ketchup or barbeque sauce from scratch.
  • I’ve never used most of the gadgets and kitchen appliances I’ve seen.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ve learnt a lot from watching these shows and have got lots of new ideas.  We like to put what we’ve learnt into practice:

  • I can make bruschetta better than I did before.
  • I now know what goes into making honeycomb.
  • I know how to remove bones from fish easily.
  • I know the secret to a good pesto sauce.
  • Seasoning is important!
  • So is not overcooking food!
  • Garnishes are important but there should also have a purpose other than just decoration.
  • We come across lots of new flavour combinations.
  • I know that you should never wash sea urchin (not that I’m likely to cook it!)
  • we’re trying to put into practice that less is more!
  • I know what’s meant by tunnel boning.
  • I also know what a ballotine is.
  • I know how to pronounce words such as ‘coulis’ and ‘melange’.
  • I see the contestants mistakes and know what NOT to do.

 

I still have an awful lot to learn and I’m getting there slowly. There’s still hope for me. But I know that no matter how much I learn, I would never want a dressing down from Mr. Hollywood or Mr. Ramsay so there’s no chance of me ever entering one of these competitions. I know which side of the television screen is the safest for all concerned!

 

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