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Easter Baking

By 18 April 2014 General
Easter baking on RachelBirchley.com

Happy Easter everyone!

It’s finally Good Friday. With Easter being so late this year, it seems like it’s taken forever to come around. The chocolate eggs have been in the shops for months and I’ve eaten far too many Creme Eggs!

The only Easter eggs I’ve bought this year are for hubby’s nephews and niece. In the past I’ve also bought for my cousins but we’re not going to be seeing them. I’d like to think that I’ll get an Easter egg off of hubby but I know that’s not going to happen! If I want an egg, I’ll have to buy it for myself like I have for the last 2 Easters. I don’t mind really. I am trying to lose weight after all!

Easter Cake Off!

To celebrate the holiday at work, one of my colleagues came up with the idea to have a Great British Bake Off inspired “Easter Cake Off”!

I was definitely up for the Easter baking challenge. I bought a flower cake mould from Sainsbury’s and baked a sponge using Mary Berry’s All in One Victoria Sandwich recipe. It was too much for the tin and domed massively but it seems to have turned out OK in the end. Luckily! I didn’t fancy failing miserably and having to bake and decorate the cake in the same night.

This is what the cake looked like fresh out the oven. Cool, huh?

Flower cake undecorated

I decorated it with buttercream icing with a little lemon juice in. The wafer butterflies are Dr Oetker and I’ve sprinkled hundreds and thousands on top along with some popping candy in the centre as pollen. I’m not sure that it looks better iced, I’ve lost the detail of the mould. But I suppose it looks pretty cute. What do you think? Next time I use this tin I’ll probably make a sponge that I can just sprinkle icing sugar on.

Flower cake decorated

Creme Egg Brownies

A few weeks ago, I made Creme Egg brownies using Cathryn’s recipe. They turned out very gooey and very scrummy! I did eat two in one afternoon and felt pretty sick though. Oops!

Creme Egg Brownies - perfect for Easter

How are you spending this Easter weekend?

Today we’re visiting my grandparents for dinner but we haven’t got any plans for the rest of the weekend. I know hubby’s looking forward to having a rest. He does work hard, bless him. He’s in bed by half nine usually as he’s so knackered.

Whatever you’re doing, have a lovely weekend and don’t eat too much chocolate!

Rachel x

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Recipe: Homemade Pizza (and it’s healthy!)

By 6 April 2014 Food, General, Home Cooking, Life, Lifestyle
Homemade pizza with smokey paprika tomato paste, parma ham, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatos and reduced fat mozzarella.

I LOVE pizza! But the problem with shop-bought or takeway pizza is that it’s normally covered in cheese and/or olive oil. Now don’t get me wrong, I love cheese too! But I’m trying to lose weight so that’s hardly ideal. There is cheese on this healthy pizza but it’s reduced fat mozzarella.

This recipe is really easy and there’s a definite satisfaction of making your own.

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C with your baking tray or pizza stone in it. (This helps to cook the bottom of your pizza.)
  2. Weigh out 200g of plain flour, you don’t need anything special; I use Sainsbury’s Basics, which costs just 55p for 1.5kg. Add half a 7g sachet of fast action yeast and a pinch of salt. Measure 200ml of tepid water and slowly add it to the dry ingredients, mixing as you go. You won’t need all the water so don’t add it all at once.
  3. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, use plenty of flour on your worktop as I normally find it’s quite sticky.
  4. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave for 20 minutes or so to prove.
  5. Turn the dough back out onto the worktop and knock out the air. Divide the mixture into two and roll out each half. It can be quite thin so just roll it to a shape that best fits your tray. Put each pizza base on a piece of baking paper so it’s easy to move and doesn’t get stuck to your tray or pizza stone. Belazu smoked paprika and tomato paste. Great for pizza topping.
  6. Now for the topping. About half a jar of Belazu smoked paprika tomato paste mixed with about a tablespoon of tomato puree is plenty for both pizzas. For a really smokey flavour you could just use the Belazu paste but it’s a little pricey so combining it with regular tomato puree that most people have in the cupboard at home makes it go further.
  7. Slice up roasted red pepper from a jar (avoid the ones in oil), a couple of slices of parma ham, a handful of cherry tomatoes and a ball of reduced fat mozzarella. I use the Sainsbury’s Be Good to Yourself one. Divide the topping between the two pizzas and arrange how you want. Thinking about it, it would be nice to add a few leaves of fresh basil too.
  8. Transfer each pizza onto the preheated baking tray, or pizza stone if you have one, and cook for about 15 minutes.

Serve with a fresh green salad.

This recipe is enough to feed four if you serve the pizza with lots of salad and perhaps some garlic bread, but really it’s best for two!

Shopping List

  • Plain flour
  • Fast action yeast
  • Belazu Smoked Paprika and Tomato Paste
  • Tomato puree
  • Karyatis Roasted Red Peppers (or similar)
  • Parma ham (San Daniele or any other cured ham would work just as well)
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Reduced Fat Mozzarella Ball
  • Fresh Basil

The best thing about homemade pizza is that you can top it with what you like. Sweetcorn, mushrooms, pineapple – whatever floats your boat. It’s also not your normal ‘diet food’ so hubby will happily eat it too! This pizza still feels like a treat and it tastes amazing.

Do you make your own pizza? What’s your favourite topping?

Rachel x

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Happy New Year!

By 4 January 2014 General, Life, Lifestyle
Happy New Year 2014 London fireworks twinkling

What a cracking start to 2014! The fireworks in London were spectacular, even if we only saw them on TV. The last (and only) time I’ve been to London for New Year’s Eve was for the millennium.  I was 15 when my Dad decided at the last minute that we should jump on the train to the capital to join in the celebrations.  We ended up walking for miles, nearly getting separated from each other in the pulsating crowds in Trafalgar Square and not getting back home until 4.30am.  It was awesome!  My husband says he wants to go to London this year to see the fireworks but I know it won’t happen because he doesn’t like how crowded London is normally!

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t normally make new year’s resolutions but I think this year I’ll make an exception.  I think you should create goals that you really want to achieve rather than making stuff up just because it’s a new year.

In 2013, I lost 2 stone and am halfway to my weight loss goal.  So in 2014, I want to lose another 2 stone to reach my goal weight and become a gold member at WeightWatchers.  I’m hoping to do this by July.

My second resolution is to keep my house tidy and resembling the home of a married couple rather than a student doss house!  I’m not known for my tidiness so this will be a real challenge, but hopefully with the help of some amazing home organisation blogs that I’ve come across it will be a doddle! (Yeah right!)  There’ll be loads of DIY and crafting along the way as we have zero storage in our house.  Luckily I enjoy crafting!

My third and final resolution is to concentrate on this blog!  I’ve been more than a bit lax recently.  My day job is as a content writer for a search marketing agency, so all day I am writing webpage and blog content for various clients.  This means that when I get home I’ve been feeling like I need a rest!  However, I want to resume normal service.  In the last few years I’ve not been able to travel nearly as much as I would like.  First I lost my job while trying to save for a wedding, then the wedding happened and we’ll be spending the next couple of years paying for it!  I want to change this.  Any travel that I do will be very much on a budget so I’ll really be trying out the travel on a shoestring way!

What are your new year’s resolutions?

Let me know in the comments below 🙂

By Rachel Birchley

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Liebster Blog Award – passing the baton

By 9 February 2013 General, Lifestyle

So  I got a happy surprise.  I got nominated by Bev at Staying Native for the Liebster Blog Award!  This award is designed to celebrate and encourage emerging bloggers.  I’m honoured to receive this award and pass on the baton to my nominees.

The rules of the Liebster Award are as follows:

  • When you receive the award you post 11 random facts about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you
  • Pass on the award to 11 other blogs with less than 200 followers
  • Set your nominees 11 questions

So here goes!

11 random facts about me:

  1. I actually LOVE brussel sprouts!
  2. I don’t like cola, wine or beer
  3. I really enjoy aeroplane food
  4. The first place I went on a plane was Gran Canaria when I was 1 year old
  5. I only like expensive ice cream!
  6. The longest flight I’ve ever been on was from Singapore to London – 14 hours! But it was on an Airbus A380.
  7. I didn’t pass my driving test until I was 24
  8. I lived in Australia for 5 months in 2008
  9. I can’t eat spicy food
  10. I get scared really easily and hate horror films!
  11. I am terrible at maths!

Bev, who nominated me, set me 11 questions.  Here are my answers:

1. Favourite way to travel and why?

I love to fly.  As a child all our holidays were spent down in the South of France, which we would spend 2 days driving to.  I find the whole experience of flying exciting, as I wrote above I enjoy plane food and sitting watching movies for 10 hours is bliss!

2. What is the most important thing you have learned on your travels?

Self confidence and the ability to be alone.

3. Who would you like to take on a round the world trip (RTW)?

My soon-to-be-husband!  He’s never travelled and didn’t own a passport until 6 months ago.  I’d love to travel the world with him, explore new places and show him some places I’ve been too.

4. What festival or celebration would you like to experience in another part of the world?

New Year’s Eve in Sydney has to be the ultimate experience.

5. What is the best way to pass the time when your flight is delayed?

Reading.  I can get stuck in a book for hours.

6. Why did you decide to start your blog?

To get the job that I have now!  I enjoy writing and love to travel.  There’s only so much talking at people that you can do.  It’s nice to write for people who are interested in what I have to say.

7. Carry on must haves?

A bottle of water because I get really thirsty on planes and the thimbles of water provided are not enough.  Also, thick socks because I like to take my shoes off but my feet get cold.

Beehive Wellington Parliament of New Zealand

8. From an architectural perspective, what is your favourite building, tower or bridge?
The “Beehive” building, part of the Parliament of New Zealand in Wellington.
9. What is your favourite travel memory?
The whole time I spent at Nomad’s backpackers in Melbourne.  I had the best time with an amazing and diverse set of people.
10. Best advice for a fellow traveller?
Do it!!!  Don’t be scared just suck it up and get out there.  You won’t regret it.

My nominees for the Liebster Blog Awards are…

I don’t know how to tell if a blog has less than 200 followers and how that would even be measured?  Is that subscribers?  Anyway I’ve chosen travel blogs that are quite new on the block as well as 1 or 2 that I just think deserve the award however many followers they have.

  1. Chasing the Wild
  2. Ele’s Travel Blog
  3. Tourism With Me
  4. Flashpacker Family
  5. AngloItalian
  6. Farsickness
  7. Piccavey
  8. The World is a Book
  9. Sky vs World
  10. Backpacks and Bunkbeds
  11. The Travel Hack

11 Questions for my nominees

  1. What is your earliest travel memory?
  2. What has been your favourite journey?
  3. Backpack or suitcase/holdall?  Why?
  4. What’s your favourite airline and why?
  5. What’s the most interesting food that you’ve eaten on your travels?
  6. What’s your favourite souvenir?
  7. Where are you going next?
  8. Window or aisle?  Why?
  9. Is there a song that reminds you of an amazing travel experience?
  10. What’s the worst travel experience you’ve had?
  11. Did you have to overcome any fears to go travelling?

So there you are.  Thanks again to Bev for nominating me and I hope the bloggers I’ve nominated enjoy taking part.

By Rachel Birchley

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5 Things to do for Free in Sydney

By 1 November 2012 Australia, General, Travel
View of Sydney city skyline from Botanic Gardens

Sydney is an amazing city but it ain’t cheap!  If you want to take in all the attractions it could set you back a small fortune.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are plenty of things to do in Sydney for free.

Fruit bats in the trees in daytime Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens

1. Explore the Royal Botanic Gardens

Established in 1816, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney are the oldest botanic gardens in Australia.  The gardens span over 30 hectares and contain plants from all over the globe.  In addition to the flora the Royal Botanic Gardens are home to various animals including hundreds of fruit bats.  I just happened to look up into the trees when coming out of the loos and got a bit of a surprise!  The gardens are an easy walk from Circular Quay, just round the corner from the Opera House.  The walk around the outside of the gardens offer fabulous views back towards the city (see the photo at the top of this post) and when you walk round to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, actually just a rock ledge, you reach the perfect spot for snapping that postcard shot including the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.  If you want to learn more about the gardens you can join a free guided walk.

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia Circular Quay Sydney

2. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art: Australia

The Museum of Contemporary Art is housed in an industrial-looking Art Deco building that was originally built for the Harbour Services Board.  The museum exhibits, collects and interprets contemporary art from around Australia and the world.  There are over 4000 works of art in the permanent collection, all of which are available to view free of charge.  I do like a free gallery.  I’m not much of an art buff but enjoy looking.  I think I spent about 40 minutes in this museum.  Art lovers could spend many hours I’m sure.  The MCA is open daily from 10am to 5pm, except on Thursdays when the museum is open until 9pm.  The museum also offers free guided tours and there’s an MCA Insight app available to download.

Cockle Bay Wharf Darling Harbour Sydney

3. Wander round Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is a former dockside area that has been transformed into one of Sydney’s favourite recreation spots.  At Darling Harbour you can enjoy leisurely waterside walks, browse the shops at the Harbourside Shopping Centre and enjoy street performances.  Darling Harbour is also home to the Sydney Visitor Centre, basically a tourist information office, but I love this places because I’ve got a bit of a leaflet fetish!  The newest addition to the area is Cockle Bay Wharf , seen in the picture above.  The wharf is home to various restaurants and bars making Darling Harbour somewhere to visit after dark too.  You can also find some of Sydney’s major attractions in Darling Harbour including the IMAX, Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World.  If you’re on a budget I’d steer clear of these places.  This November enjoy a spectacular firework display every Saturday night at 9pm hosted by the Harbourside Shopping Centre.  When I arrived in Sydney, Darling Harbour was the first place I found myself.  I was so overwhelmed by the realisation that I was actually in Sydney that I cried!  I’m not sure I should have admitted to that :-/

The Rocks Discovery Museum Sydney

4. Have fun learning at The Rocks Discovery Museum

This kid-friendly (and big kids too!) museum offers up interactive fun and houses a unique collection of images and archaeological artefacts that tell the story of The Rocks area of Sydney from pre-European days to the present.  The Rocks Discovery Museum can be found in a restored 1850s sandstone warehouse in the centre of The Rocks, the birthplace of modern day Sydney.  To find out more check out my previous post about exploring The Rocks area.

View over The Rocks Sydney Harbour Bridge Sydney Opera House

5. Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge

Now you can’t go to Sydney without seeing the Harbour Bridge.  There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on the Bridge Climb, unless you’re feeling flush of course.  It’s perfectly possible to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  It might not be quite as high but the views are still pretty spectacular.  The picture above shows the view from one of the access points to the walkway that runs from The Rocks to Milsons Point on the North Shore.  The pedestrian walkway across the bridge provides a fantastic vantage point for panoramic views of the city, harbour and ocean.  Depending on how fast you walk and how many photos you take(!) the walk should take about half an hour.  To check access points to the bridge pick up a free copy of a Rocks map from The Rocks visitor centre.

Hopefully this post has given you an insight into some cool things to check out in Sydney without having to spend any money, apart from travel and accommodation obviously.  If anyone has any other tips for free things to do in Sydney please do leave a comment.

By Rachel Birchley

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