A cook off amongst friends – Olé!!

Because the Stassen’s won the last cook off, they hosted this most recent one and the theme they chose was Mexican. We had the most wonderful day and we even had a guest team…Team Taylor…. joining us from South Africa. So without further a do, I present to you the Mexican cook off!!

We started the day off with some nachos and desperado’s. It was a lovely warm day so we ate these outside watching the kids run about in the garden. There was a delicious, spicy guacamole and sour cream for dipping. What a great start to the cook off and a great scene setter for what was to come.

Team Breetzke
So, this team kicked off the challenge by going first. They did burritos filled with slow roast beef, spicy rice and topped with tomato and cheese. They made a home-made tomato salsa for dipping with guacamole and sour cream. The juicy beef  just melted in your mouth and the spicy tomato rounded this dish off perfectly. What a fabulous dish!

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Team May
We went next with spiced pulled pork fajitas with a mango salsa. I have to say that the pulled pork on its own was sublime and the mango salsa was amazing with chilli and lime juice. But in my honest opinion, when we put all the ingredients together it wasn’t as amazing I thought it would be. Not to say the dish couldn’t be amazing but I confess I didn’t practice our dish and in hindsight, I should have. Well, suffice to say, I shall be practising the next dish to make sure it is perfect for next time! We still scored really well with the “judges” so everyone still seemed to enjoy them…

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Team Stassen
The Stassen’s were next with chicken quesadillas with chorizo, cheese and chilli and home-made guacamole and chilli sauce for dipping. Crispy, spicy and cheesy… all the good things you expect from a good Mexican dish. Lip smackingly good and so easy to make, it would literally take you a few minutes to rustle up!

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Team Taylor
So our lovely guests, Mr and Mrs T contributed to the day and seeing as they were there for the very first cook off (steak) it was so fitting to have them join us for this one. On this occasion, they presented mince Chimichangas. They are traditionally deep fried but on this occasion we had them soft and gooey. They were filled with spicy mince and refined beans with a home-made chilli sauce for dipping. The mince and beans were such a good combination and the chilli sauce just added the kick you needed at the end. They were absolutely delicious and I would love to try their fried counterpart too!

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Team Jooste
So this team is always the one to watch and this was no exception! They did beautifully plated sweetcorn fritters, pulled pork, crushed tortilla chips, feta and a sprinkle of chipotle chilli. so so good! The feta added a depth to this dish that was instantaneous! Such a lovely combination of flavours!

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We were so stuffed by the end of the day we couldn’t eat another thing but what a fabulous afternoon! Good food, good friends and lots of laughs.  The voting for this one was nerve racking! I personally didn’t think my dish was that good and the Breetzke’s were ready for a win.

After counting, the Stassen’s gave us the great news that the winner of the Mexican feast was…..

Team Breetzke!!

They took home the small roaming trophy and a bottle of tequila. Well done guys! A very well deserved win and we look forward to what you have in store for us at the next cook off!

Keep an eye on the recipe tab of the blog for some recipes from the day. If you want one in particular, do contact me.

Nos Vemos (Till next time)…

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Summertime fun so far!

We wait with baited breathe for the sun to come out and the weather to warm up so we can officially call it summertime!! I know, sad really… But one thing could not be more true… Britain (particularly London) is one of the most wonderful places on earth during the summertime and I am happy to be here.

It is a crazy busy time of year as everyone tries to make the most of the good weather by spending as much time outdoors. I saw an advert for a supermarket that read: “Sunshine… Quick!! BBQ” Made me chuckle cause this is really what it is like and we have been no different. It has been a lovely summer so far and these are some of the things we have gotten up to.

DIY Projects
We have been busy in the garden and doing up various bits of the house. Matthew does most of the heavy lifting, sawing, and sanding etc and I am always on the sideline shouting instructions! We have completed our new headboard with left over pallet wood and our pallet furniture for outside is almost complete. We have painted the table in our kitchen and the next project will be the chairs. We have also built a new outdoor table with left over decking boards. It is so rewarding to see the transformation although, I cannot take the credit… Matthew is a DIY machine!

A day on the beach
The weather has been great the last few weeks and we decided to make the most of it! We both took the day off and spent the day on Camber beach in Rye. It only takes about 2.5 hours to get there. We started by having breakfast at The Ship Inn in Rye. They have the BEST French toast. The most delicious door stop piece of eggy bread with cinnamon, blueberries, bacon and syrup. Even though gluten does not agree with me, I made an exception on this occasion.

We then spent the rest of the day basking in the sunshine! Emily, of course, was in her element! Running around on the sandy beach, building sand castles with daddy (her favourite thing to do) and collecting shells. It fills your heart with joy to see your child run around with wild abandon. We ended the day with an ice cream before heading home at which point Emily passed out.

Cycling the Wandle Trail
If you live in South West London, I can highly recommend this trail for walking and cycling. We love cycling and to be able to do it as a family makes it even more special. We don’t head out on the bikes as often as we used to but whenever we feel the need, we haul them out and head off for a few hours of exercise. We love the Wandle Trail and it has been recently redone with new paths and bridges which make your cycling experience that much better. Morden Hall Park is our stop off point where we have a cup of coffee, go for a walk and pick flowers. This park has a number of activities throughout the summer such as outdoor cinema, beer on the river, summer food fares and camping nights with night trails for kids. Check out their website for more details. Put both the trail and the park on your “to do” list for the summer holidays.

Picking Carshalton Lavender
Carshalton is known for its lavendar and every year they open up the fields to the public to go picking. We didn’t do it last year but this year we decided to give it a go. As you walk into the field, you get these little wafts of lavender and with the beautiful surroundings, you really feel like you are away from it all. Emily enjoyed picking the flowers and smelling them. “Mmmm, beautiful!” She says. I love doing things like this with her. We have a strawberry plant in the garden that Matthew bought for her and they would go out every day to see how the plant grew little flowers which then turned into fruit. I feel like it teaches her patience and appreciation for the things around her. What a lovely morning! Of course, we took our pickings home and dotted small bunches all around the house.

So much love for the summertime and while we have a couple months of summer left, we certainly have a few other activities up our sleeve. Some great Summer ideas are:
Udderbelly festival on the south bank
-Visit a “pick your own” farm
-The beach near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
-Camping in the garden/or camping at a camp site
-Local summer festivals (check your council website)
-Do a wine tasting tour
Outdoor Cinema
-Picnic in your local park

There are loads of activities for adults and kids alike. Have a look at your local council and parks for ideas. Make hay while the sun shines and enjoy the rest of the beautiful British summer. Happy long, lazy summer days to you all.

Have you got any great summertime activity ideas?

My 30 day paleo challenge – A new way of life

As some of you may know, I have followed a paleo diet on and off (more off really…) for the past 2 years. It all started with the trouble I had weaning Emily. When speaking to a nutritionist in South Africa, I realised that giving Emily baby cereal as her first foods was causing a whole heap of trouble. While cereals certainly play their part, I personally feel that there are more nutrient dense foods you can give your baby as a first food. Needless to say, Emily’s tummy cramps, sleepless nights and unsettled bed time all stopped the moment I let the baby rice go and started to feed her food that she could actually digest easily. I guess it was on this journey that I discovered paleo.

I posted an issue I was having regarding my skin on the Paleo Britain facebook page and realised that it could be related to a hormone imbalance or intolerance to foods I may be eating. I was then approached by Chloe from Paleo Britain to do their 30 day challenge for free to see if there was any change. I quickly agreed and embarked on my 30 day journey!

What is Paleo?
This page on the Paleo Britain website sums up the paleo diet really nicely. It is a nutrient dense way of eating which eliminates processed foods known to be bad for our health. Paleo has a keen focus on gut health making sure you are getting a good intake of your gut friendly bacteria by eating fermented foods such a sauerkraut. I believe the paleo way of eating to be very personal. While you can introduce other foods back into your diet after the 30 days (such as white rice and legumes), I have found that lentils do not agree with me but white rice I am actually ok with. It is all about what makes you feel good. If anything does not agree with you, eliminate it! It is not good for you!

My 30 day experience
If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail! This has definitely been my experience. Because all of your food is unprocessed and eliminates refined sugar you need to prepare for each day so you are not tempted to go out at lunch time and buy that pesky sandwich. The transition can be hard and the prep time can be time consuming so being organised makes a big difference. Chloe emails you every day to tell you what you can expect to be feeling. From energy loss in the beginning to when you may have cravings and how to overcome them. She provides an exercise plan with suggested workouts you can follow as well as useful information on the paleo diet and the reason for eliminating various foods from your diet for 30 days. She also provides some scientific based information for aspects of the paleo diet for those that are interested. The Paleo Mom is my “go to” resource for everything scientific in the paleo diet. She explains most aspects of the diet right down to cellular level. I find it fascinating and gobble up all the scientific facts but then again, biology was my favourite subject!!

Chloe is literally there, every step of the way. Hints, tips, and advice are all part of the service. Meal plans are provided and a full shopping list to compliment your meal plan is also given. She also tells you where you can source your paleo friendly products (Mainly for UK based customers). The Paleo community is all about animal welfare and the meat you consume should ideally be grass fed/outdoor reared/free range/organic. I honestly can’t fault the support you receive and the wealth of information given to you to help you understand why you are on this journey.

As suspected, I began the first week feeling very tired and I had very intense cravings. Once I hit week 2, I was in much better spirits. I was finding it easier to make good choices as I started to get the hang of preparing meals and figuring out what foods I could enjoy. Week 3, I was almost 3kgs down and felt amazing. My energy levels were up and all symptoms of reflux and painful cramping in my abdomen were totally gone. I normally live on antacids for my hiatus hernia but I took a total of 3 zantac the entire month!! I slept well (due to the lack of heart burn) which meant I felt so much better during the day. I did not suffer from afternoon slump because the protein and fats maintained my energy and sugar levels. I only got one flare up of my skin where it is normally a daily issue… All in all, it was a great month! I detailed my months worth of meals on my Instagram account with the hashtag #essenceoflifepaleo. Do pop in and have a look at some of the meals I enjoyed throughout the month.

I will certainly be staying away from gluten and wheat from now on as this is a big stressor to my gut health. I have also become so much more aware of my body and how it reacts… it’s as if I have finally fallen into step with myself so I can now easily pick up on foods and environments that are not good for me. I really can’t go back now to how I was living. The constant stomach ache and reflux is no way to live your life! For me, this is now really just the beginning. Making myself and my health a priority. Not just for me but for my family too.

Some of my meals:

Here are some of my tips to prepare for the week ahead:
-Boiling a whole bunch of eggs on the Sunday for the week (they last a week in the fridge)
– I found having a BBQ/braai over the weekend and cook a whole heap of meat made meals so much easier later in the week
-Cook extra for left overs, they make a great lunch!
-Pack your lunch box the night before so you are not running around in the morning
-I would blend a head of cauliflower for Cauli rice, cook it and keep it in the fridge.
-Roast a large dish of veggies and store in the fridge. Great in salads, with egg or in a fritatta.

Thanks Chloe and Paleo Britain! My new beginning starts now.

If you feel that the 30 day challenge is for you, you can contact Chloe here. The plan only costs £30 so for £1 per day, I would say it is very reasonable… you won’t be sorry… I promise!

*My 30 day challenge was complimentary

10 things I LOVE about Rome

I have the wonderful privilege to work for a global company that allows me to manage events all over the world. One of my most recent accolades is my company’s contribution to an international congress that took place in Rome and Florence. I was lucky to visit Italy twice before the event for site visits and meetings with suppliers and we even managed to piggy back off one of these visits, to have a very quick family city break! Both hubby and I fell in love with Rome. It is a wonderful, colourful, vibrant and extremely friendly place to be! I have collated 10 of the top things that we loved so much about this amazing city.

1) The weather
It is the small things that count! We were there in November as a family and normally, in London, you would be wrapped up snug with hats and jackets but we were actually walking around in shorts and sandals! As a South African who dreads the gloomy London winters, it was so lovely to be outside, basking in the sun like a rock lizard! See those blue skies for yourself at the Spanish Steps!

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2) Gelato… of course!
Not sure if I even need to say anything about this really because not only is the gelato WONDERFUL, it is Italy at the end of the day… what else would you eat in Italy???

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3) The food
So… of course, there is more to Italian food than pasta and pizza but really this is what I was most excited to experience and it didn’t disappoint. Naturally, there are other fantastic foods to enjoy like parma ham, various Italian cheese and the wine… oh my… the wine, it is too delicious to even explain! Needless to say, we drank our fair share of the wine too.

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4) Caffè Taza D’oro
I was introduced to Caffè Taza D’oro when I was in Rome on a site visit to pick the hotel we would use for the event. It is nestled in a side street just off the Pantheon. I was taken here by our event agency for a quick coffee break and instantly fell in love! With no seating area, it is typically Italian. You get your coffee, stand at the bar and drink it. We decided to have the iced coffee. It is strong, cold and creamy. It was so delicious, I took hubby back on our visit and it was as good as I remember. Would definitely recommend this little gem.

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5) The St Regis hotel
In the end, this was the hotel that was chosen and might I say, It was a good choice indeed! Honestly, one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. It is a truly beautiful hotel and in a wonderfully central location with one of the main shopping streets in Rome just around the corner. The service was impeccable, the food amazing and the rooms outstanding!! They were so wonderful with Emily that they left a few gifts in our room for her.

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6) Colosseum and surround
I don’t think it is any secret that the Colosseum is of course one of the most famous Roman landmarks. It is truly something to behold. The surrounding area is equally beautiful. You cannot believe how the area has been preserved! Angie from SilverSpoon did a post just this week on the Aroma restaurant. It looks like a wonderful place to treat yourself to a beautiful dinner with the Colosseum as your backdrop.

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7) The Vatican
The cathedral is amazing. I felt completely overwhelmed being in the Sistine Chapel. That ceiling was so amazing, I had to just stop and be quiet and enjoy what I was seeing. Emily of course could not fathom the immensity of what she was experiencing so spending an entire day (Which you could easily do) was out of the question so we saw the major points and then headed off for some lunch. Definitely worth your time.

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8) Shopping
This is Rome. Of course the shopping is amazing! Not just the abundance of leather goods on offer but the shopping in general is great. There is something for everyone and of course, who wouldn’t indulge in a Italian designer handbag while you are there?!

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9) Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
We hosted our drinks reception and dinner at this amazing venue. It is steeped in history which you can find on their website. With it’s Baroque style in interior design and the array of galleries, you can so easily be swept away with it all. It houses the most amazing tapestries, paintings and statues. Truly a fairytale evening with many delegates talking about it for days afterwards!

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10) The Fountains
You will find fountains on almost every corner. It is an absolute delight and makes you want to discover more and more of the city. Of course the most famous is the Trevi fountain which is truly amazing but I was more taken with some of the smaller ones on secluded Piazza’s away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a welcome retreat and for some reason, being around water always calms me, centres me and makes me feel rejuvenated. The drinking fountains have clean clear drinking water so take an empty bottle with you and drink spring water to your hearts content!

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This is an amazing city and one of my favourites so far. I would love to hear your favourite bits of Rome if you have been. But for now, I am going to look forward to my Italian dinner tonight (In London) and dream of my long, warm days in Rome.

Ciao for now.

The Challenge Is On! – A cook off amongst friends

Of course, as South African’s we have a love for all things meat and wine!! So when you get invited to a steak cook off with friends… who can refuse?? It is the perfect combination! Since then we have done 3 further cook off’s and the bug has well and truly bitten.

Our previous cook-off’s have been:
Steak, Burgers, Sosaties (Kebabs) and Meat-on-the-bone

The rules are as follows:
-The couple that wins will host the next cook-off and gets to choose the theme
-You need to bring your own goodies to plate and present your dish
-One couple at a time presents their dish
-We decide the order by picking numbers out a hat
-It is up to the host to decide how the scoring will work
-Enjoy!!

The previous 2 cook off’s have been great because the theme has been so broad that almost anything goes! Matthew and I won the burger cook off so we hosted the sosatie one. It was just before we flew to SA for holiday and it was a great excuse to see everyone before we left.

Team May
Matthew and I went first with a Middle Eastern inspired, chicken thigh sosatie. It had loads of spices, hummus and tabbouleh. I was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe and I was so happy with how it turned out!

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Team Stassen
The Stassen’s did a delicious spicy chicken breast sosatie with freshly squeezed lemon juice to add a bit of punch. Such lovely, bold flavours!

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Team Jooste
A traditional South African lamb sosatie was displayed by the Jooste’s with curry and sweet chutney flavours. Absolutely amazing! This recipe would be even better with karoo lamb which is just unbeatable in flavour but not readily available in the UK.

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Team Breetzke
The Breetzke’s presented a incredibly tender, Thai inspired, chicken breast sosatie. Everything you would expect with the delicious Thai spices and the heat from the lemongrass and chilli.

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The winners that took home the trophy at the end of the evening were the Jooste’s who’s South African sosatie was a clear winner with the wonderful taste of home. They are certainly a formidable team, having won the steak round already and now the sosaties too… We going to have to watch these guys!!

We had our most recent cook off this past weekend and the Jooste’s decided on Meat-on-the-bone as the theme. Now this is an interesting one because you can literally do pretty much anything with this! Fish, ribs, roast chicken, leg of lamb, beef stew… I mean the world is your oyster! Matthew and I really struggled to think of something because there were so many options! I then figured that while the weather is getting warmer, it still feels like curry would go down really well and if you do it well, it is a sure winner!

Team Stassen
The Stassen’s went first with the most delicious, Indian inspired lamb chop spiced with a rub that left a crust around the chop and a tingly taste in your mouth. They cooked it on the BBQ/braai and served it with grilled aubergine and a mint dip. Truly inspired. They were so delicious that Emily ate 3 chops in one go. You just could not hold the kid back!! I knew then that we were in trouble!!

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Team Breetzke
Now, the Breetzke’s decided on a simple lamb chop seasoned well. They decided on a thick cut chop and I cannot express enough what a big difference this makes. They were perfectly seasoned and so juicy, we all had to eat them outside. The thickness of the chop keeps in all the flavour and tenderness. One of the nicest chops I have had in a while!

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Team May
We were next and Matthew and I presented our lamb neck curry that we cooked in the slow cooker over night. We served it with yellow rice and coriander. It was spicy but not hot and incredibly fragrant. I was very impressed with the recipe and I will certainly use it again.

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Team Jooste
The only team that did not do lamb! The Jooste’s presented an American style feast!! Spicy ribs that had been slow cooking for 6 hours, sweet potatoes and American style Macaroni cheese! Such a wonderful way to end. Those ribs people!!! They were so tender you would be forgiven if you forgot to chew! I am telling you… This team is dangerous!!

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Well, this one was a toughy because every single dish was amazing!! In the end, the Stassen’s kicked it out the ball park and took home our tiny roaming trophy. Well done you guys!! So well deserved.

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What a wonderful way to spend time with friends, eat some amazing food and enjoy the lovely weather (for now). Thanks for the lovely day Jooste’s and we look forward to finding out what our next challenge will be once the Stassen’s decide on the next theme!

*Please get in touch if you want any of the above recipes*

Bread

Paleo Banana Bread

I simply cannot take credit for this amazing recipe. It comes from Elana’s pantry (another great website full of wonderful paleo recipes). I made a couple of changes to fit my own personal taste. This is one of the nicest banana bread recipes I have tried in a very long time and the best part is… it is paleo/primal!!

Make sure the bananas are very ripe. I used butter (grass fed butter only) as I was after the rich taste the butter would offer but you can use coconut oil if you prefer. The original recipe uses palm shortening but it is difficult to find in the UK.

This bread is so easy to put together and is simply delicious as an afternoon treat with a cup of tea or coffee.

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 Ingredients:
3 bananas (about 1-½ cups) mashed
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup coconut oil/butter
2 cups blanched almond flour/ground almonds
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Method:
Line your bread tin with baking paper
Place bananas, eggs, vanilla, honey and oil/butter in a food processor
Pulse ingredients together
Pulse in almond flour, salt and baking soda
Scoop batter into your lined bread tin
Bake at 180°C for 55-65 minutes
Remove from oven and allow to cool

Serves 12