Halloween Challenge

So on October 22nd Miss Snare from The Magic Square Foundation siddled over to my deak at work and informed me of this awesome challenge she had come up with – Can you really create things that appear on Pinterest – so I created a baking board on Pinterest and the picture that jumped out to me was the Brain Cake! Something truly greusome to look at but amazing to eat! Add into the mix, today is my birthday and I am have made the Brain Cake for all the ace cool kids I work with.

This is the image from Pinterest that I was working from

So here is how I did it!

If you want my advice, buy a boxed cake mix, I love baking, I did it for a living but these cakes are perfect for a quick and means there is no excuse for throwing together a gory yummy cake.

So these are the things that you need…

To go into a basic cake, you need 3 eggs, 75ml of vegetable oil and 250ml of cold water. Then you can add whatever else you wish, I went for glacier cherries, mini marshmallows, and oreo cookies.

Set your oven to 180 degrees. Add the dry mix, eggs, oil and water to together and whisk, you can use a stand mixer like a Kitchen Aid or just use some brute force and a hand whisk. If you are adding extra bits them this is the time to add them. I chopped up the oreo cookies, and cherries and mixed them in with the marshmallows.

I then added a little red food colouring, gives the chocolate colour something a little more. Then grease and line the cake tin and pour in the tin and into the oven for 40 mins.

Once a skewer comes out of the middle of the cake clean your cake is done! So out of the oven and onto the side for 10 minutes to cool. Then once 10 minutes has passed take the cake out of the tin and leave to completely cool.

Then the fun bit! Making the brain! You need cocoa powder, red food colouring butter and icing sugar. Add 500g icing sugar, to 200g of softened butter and mix, then slowly add a teaspoon of red foo colouring at a time until you have a pink shade, then finally add a tablespoon of cocoa powder to darken and flavour the icing. A final mix to blend it all.

Then comes the icing! I suggest a narrow nozzle and a bit of patience!

And hey presto! Here is the finished result….

Then as a cheeky extra, I had my halloween birthday party, so I decided to recreate one of my favourite make up artists Sam Chapman did, Marla Singer from Fight Club, one of my favourite film characters of all times.

Happy Halloween!

E x

Chaophraya – a slice of Thai paradise

When the invite landed in my inbox I was more than a little thrilled to see it was an invite to the relaunch of Chaophraya my favourite Thai restaurant. Which I am thrilled to tell you now occupies the ground floor with the Palm Sugar Lounge Bar as well as the first floor restaurant.

I must admit I haven’t been for one of their incredible feasts for at least 2 years! Thats what being out of the dating game does for you, I must rectify that, perfect excuse to eat my way round Leeds!

A little history of the brand

Founded in Leeds in 2005, Chaophraya now has five sites in major cities, including Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. The latest Chaophraya recently opened in Glasgow in one of the city’s most prestigious buildings making it the biggest Thai restaurant in Europe.

The brand Chaophraya (pronounced Chao-pi-ya) takes its name from the main waterway in Thailand. In ancient times this river breathed life into the families who lived along its banks. Today the river is still regarded as part of the essence of Thailand, which is where they take their inspiration from.

“Palm Sugar Lounge, Chaophraya’s new downstairs bar, is a sophisticated setting for the city’s social scene.  Its already one of the busiest bars in Liverpool and Glasgow, and is now set to raise the bar for the Leeds social scene with artistic cocktail makers on hand and an interior which fuses traditional Thailand with modern glamour.”

So back to Thursday and to say it was somewhat of a rush is an understatement, a crazy day at work followed by a dash around the new Topshop in the city centre left me extremely hungry and gagging for a drink. As I raced to meet Amy all I could think about was the Pad Thai they create at Chaophraya and I can tell you when I arrived I was not disappointed.

I have always wanted to walk a red carpet, and not one at a wedding, but a snazzy one with security and a policy of “if your name is not down you ain’t coming in” thrilled I was, you can imagine when I was confronted by the sea of beautiful lights and a red carpet leading into the stunning new restaurant entrance – helped immensely by the fact that we were on the list!

Welcoming the guests were the most exquisitely dressed women, in traditional Thai outfits beckoning us through the doors with a plethora of jewel coloured drinks. Once through the welcoming parade it took me a moment to really take in the size of the place, I’ve always been used to arriving up a flight of stairs, but this is far more grand, the fantastically stocked marble bar was staffed by knowledgeable and hugely efficient staff dressed in crisp white shirts.

My cocktail was a blend of fruits and spices an topped off nicely with champagne, and a flourish of mint and strawberries. Amy and I sat people watching for a good 20 minutes taking in the glamorous girls and dashing chaps flooding into the palatial bar area.

Then onward upstairs we decided, the staircase is the most sensational mix of glass and dark cherry wood and leads you up to the stunning restaurant area, laid out almost identically to the last time I had visited, although clearly had been spruced up and now offers a more glamorous place to eat. Glass bi-fold doors open onto a patio that even in the last days of September air was a joy I sit on and enjoy another cheeky cocktail.

Then came the food. The chefs preparing Pad Thai fresh in front of you is a sight to see, such skill in making simple ingredients taste so unbelievable. I won’t lie to you I went back for seconds, and thirds…..you get the picture.

The evening was rounded off by an indulgent hand massage and a blessing from a guru. The whole night was planned to perfection and having been to a fair few of these events I have never seen so many content faces. But that’s clearly what comes from fantastic service, stunning food and a couple of cocktails.

In summary I will be booking a table ASAP to indulge in the whole menu and may even treat myself to one of their Thai Cookery Courses.

They are offering some great offers to celebrate the arrival of Palm Sugar in Leeds, they’ve  introduced Fizz Fridays – (two glasses for £11, Friday evenings between 5pm and 8pm.) The restaurant also has a brand new à la carte menu and a range of set menus designed by Chaophraya’s founder, Kim Kaewkraikhot. You can book online for dinner so there really is no excuse.

Let me know if you have visited since it has reopened and what you thought?

Yorkshire Sourced….Scandinavian Inspired

I have a coffee addiction, quite shocking really! I can easily drink 8 cups a day – I know this is shocking, but I don’t smoke and I don’t drink often, so please world allow me my coffee adoration.

As you can imagine I am a picky bugger about my coffee, hence when I opened my shop Bespoke I had a bespoke blend made for me and prided myself on the sharp crisp and fresh taste. Even now I am eternally on the search for the ultimate coffee. But I must tell you that is not just down to the taste of the coffee, I am picky about the type of cup it comes in, the milk temperature and standard of their espresso. Then I have to take into account the seating, the music and the general ambiance in the coffee shop.

So imagine my utter delight when I saw the boards go up around a slightly dilapidated shop in Harrogate, I wandered past every week or so to see how they were getting along, nosy as ever at what new shop would be opening, and I have to tell you I was a little skeptical about a new clothes shop, or worse another cheap and nasty shop.

However, on a random sunny Sunday morning in town mum and I decided that we would pop into the new shop.

Image by Colin Murdoch Studio

Baltzersen’s is located on Oxford Street, a pedestrianised busy street, with a number of independent shops and the internationally known Harrogate Theatre.

When approached Baltzersen’s is incredibly striking, with its blue grey exterior and the neon outside seating create a wonderfully trendy welcome, the branding is stunning, striking and very individual and I must tell you they already had me on side. They had clearly thought this through, there was a theme, a process and most of all it was clearly owned by people who not only cared about their products but about their whole brand.

Then as you step through the dark and inviting door you are welcomed by the most beautiful crisp white tiling and wide array of the most incredible looking cakes, from the Cinnamon Buns to the Fat Free Fruit Cake. The staff really make the independent coffee shop, I have never, no matter where I have been in a large scale multi site coffee shop have I ever found staff who really care about the brand, who really represent the company the are working for. My immediate reaction when I was confronted with the Baltzersen’s staff was sheer joy, sincere smiles and genuine knowledge about the coffee and baked products left both my mum and I thrilled.

We both had a Flat White, it is a real skill to make these perfectly, it requires not only skill but practice and care. We also indulged in their apple cake, and if mum had allowed me to I would have had the whole damn cake, but no we shared a piece. Although you order at the counter, you are welcomed to find somewhere to sit and the rest is table service.

Now I am going to really gush, the seating in this joint is perfect, from the benches that are perfect for lunch goers and families, then the lovely neatly arranged couples tables, with a long bench and beautifully upholstered chairs, follow it round and you are met with a ‘living room’ set up, vintage leather chairs all beaten up and loved, big curl up in chairs and a few gorgeous retro sofas. There is somewhere for everyone here, over my 4 visits in the last 2 weeks I have sat in all the areas and think I am the biggest fan of the beautiful vintage, aged chocolate leather chair.

 Image by Colin Murdoch Studio

Image by Colin Murdoch Studio

So whilst I was in having a flat white, I got chatting to Paul the owner and he talked me through the history of the name and the concept and here is what he said……

“Liv Esther Baltzersen was born in Sauda, Norway on 17th April 1923.  She grew up in Norway and in 1948 she visited England, attended the London Olympics and through a mutual acquaintance met her future Husband.  She was a fantastic cook and baker, spoke 7 languages, loved knitting and gardening, but most importantly to me she was my Grandma.

During my childhood, without realising it, I grew up eating Norwegian food whenever we’d visit Grandma.  There was always a battered old Wall’s ice cream tub of serinakaker or mandelskiver biscuits and waffles were a regular snack on a Sunday afternoon – I never really wondered why other people didn’t eat them.  As we grew older Baltzersen’s was a concept often discussed in our family.

When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, with the aid of a tatty copy of The Financial Times’ ‘Guide to Business Start Up’, I wrote a document that described what I thought Baltzersen’s could be and what it should mean to the people who worked there and to those who visited.

On my return I married Katie and we decided that life in the Army was no longer for us and I handed in my notice.  I began applying for jobs but I found myself talking about Baltzersen’s during interviews and explaining that this was what I really wanted to do.  After some long discussions we came to the decision that we had to give Baltzersen’s a go, or we’d regret it for the rest of our lives…..roughly 18 months later on 1st October 2012 we opened the doors and the rest is history.”

When I asked what the concept behind Baltzersen’s this is what he said

“Food made from scratch on site using the best produce Yorkshire can offer. Friendly staff who care about what they do and are good at doing it. Coffee done right – whatever that means to you. Clean, functional and comfortable design.” If you want to read more about the concept and the business going forward Paul writes a great blog about it, he talks about the sourcing of the furniture and the wonderful coffee they serve.

I have never been anywhere that whole heartedly embodies its concept from the staff uniforms, to the beautiful etched table numbers.

This is now my go to place.

They also were amazing when I asked about them making something gluten and wheat free for my coeliac friend, not only did they make something with 24 hours notice, they made something so tasty even me a wheat lover really enjoyed it.

I cannot recommend this place highly enough, the coffee, the green tea with jasmine, the deep filled sandwiches and the yummy sweets.

Let me know what you think?!

You can also find Baltzersen’s on Facebook and twitter

If I knew then what I know now….

So on Friday night I raced home from work and literally threw myself into the shower, forgetting to take my socks of, thus almost sliding to a shocking yet comedic death. The reason for my hysterical rushing I hear you ask, well I will tell you what, a party and not just any party but an 18th Birthday party for a rather wonderful girl who it saddens me to say I have known since she was about 5!

As I stepped into my floor length dress and amazing jewelry I was reminded of how excited I was before my 18th birthday party. The thrill of the new outfit, the call of the bar and all of my wonderful friends, because lets face it I was at my most popular during 2004.

Once home following one of the most unexpectedly fun nights I’d had in forever I sat on the sofa with a slightly wobbly head and got to thinking about all the things I know now compared to then and what I would have said to my 18-year-old self, if I knew then what I know now, if i had the chance this is what I would have said….

For the love of god Emma be kinder to people, in years to come you will need your friends more than you have any realisation of at the moment and if you continue the way you are then you will wake up one day and realise they are no longer a part of your life. Although you go on to have the most incredible friends,  who are hilarious, supportive and make your life inexplicably better, you will miss the friends you had as an 18-year-old.

Appreciate your body, stop moaning about your thighs, you have no idea how much you will put yourself through 8 years from now to try to get those thighs back. And all that long dark curly hair, leave it alone, stop dyeing it please or when you are 26 you will curse yourself the years of dying and straightening. You know those boobs of yours that get you all kinds of attention from boys, try to be a little more discreet about just how much you love the attention as it will get you a nasty reputation that 5 years later will really ruin a friendship. Oh and finally stop biting your nails, its grim, you look gross doing it and you will save a fortune on acrylic ones!

Boys, now this is a big one, cherish them, all of them. The dates, the sex, the heartache the butterflies, all of it. Love never feels the same as it does when you are in your teens, it never has that all consuming can’t breathe feeling. Oh and the heartbreak, god Emma the heart-break, I know you think its awful now. Those awful break ups, the hours spent crying about love, listening to Westlife and hating your life. Appreciate the heartache as a teenager because once kids, homes and money all get included in the mix it all gets so much harder to deal with.

Forgive yourself, that thing you did, that you think now looking back on may have ruined your life, it hasn’t I promise, it does alter your whole outlook on life and marriage and kids but you did the right thing, you made the right choice. You were way too young. And please forgive him too, he was young too, he didn’t know any better than to go out and get drunk with his friends and ignore your texts. He didn’t mean to break your heart.

Appreciate your parents, you have no idea what a small amount of time you have with your dad, those arguments about whose right or wrong don’t matter, pick your bloody shit up off the floor when he asks you too, its his house and his rules, be respectful of him, he’s earned it. Do ever belittle the love that he has for you, there will come a point when you will feel your heart-break into a million pieces as you realise that you can’t talk to him anymore, ask his advice or have a proper Geordie hug.

But most of all 18-year-old me, I beg of you do not regret anything that you chose to do, at the time it was exactly what you wanted to happen. You wanted those tattoos, you wanted to go home with the guy from the band, you wanted to dance on the piano in just a shirt and heels and all those nights you don’t remember all that well, definitely don’t regret them.

On the flip side there are some things that you at 18 could really teach 26-year-old you

1 – Believe that love will happen again, believe it with almost entire abandonment

2 – Have faith in yourself that you are as great as people say that you are

3 – Throw yourself into things without worrying what anyone else thinks about it

4 – Tell your friends how much you love them as often as possible.

So that’s it, that’s all.

18-year-old me really thought she knew it all……

If you could tell your 18-year-old self what would you tell yourself

E x

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I have had a funny old weekend, starting with some really rather horrid tests to try to work out whats up with my heart – my doctor found it very amusing when I told him maybe I was the tin woman and I just did’t have one!

I’ve found whenever I am ill it makes me think back to being a child and how things seemed so much easier when I was poorly and 7 than poorly and almost 27.

Got me to thinking about the others things that change. Whilst feeling sorry for myself on Saturday I watched Eat Pray Love, a movie I have seen more times than I care to mention. Yes, yes I know its not as good as the book and there are parts that are just too outlandish to really believe, there are also parts that really resonate with me, that make me analyse the life that I live.

When Liz ( Julia Roberts) is in Italy she talks with her friends about what ‘word’ she is – if you had just one word to describe yourself what would it be? Would it be the same as the word you would have used as a child to describe what you wanted to be when you were grown? When did it change, more importantly why?

When we are little we learn all about “explaining words” ways to describe things, people, places. We are wildly imaginative as children, using words far above and beyond what we could ever have experienced. But with that lack of experience came a sense of wonder and hope that one day we would travel through space and time to a land where the clouds were made of candy floss and sand on the beaches made of sherbet. We were asked as children ” What do you want to be when you grow up” how many of you wanted to be a Fireman, a Nurse, an Astronaut…a footballer or a CEO? What are you now?

So what happens when we are grown ups, is that it? No more dreaming wildly of ‘when we grow up’ because here we are, we are grown up, are we where we wanted to be 20 years ago?

Me aged 7

I am intrigued by how many people have dreams as adults, they have aspirations to do something life changing, sadly I have found that mostly when they admit these dreams out loud people are less than supportive. Think back to when you were a kid and you told your mum that you wanted to be a Princess or the Prime Minister, how did she react, did she laugh in your face and tell you not to be so ridiculous, did she list the numerous down sides and reasons that it simply would not work out, doubtful. Instead she listened with care, consideration and support your dreams. Now if like me, you are a lucky bean and have a mum who supports you regardless of your wild grown up dreams, I am thrilled for you. However if you don’t then here I am offering my support and care for whatever you want to do.

This all came to a head for me the other week when I was chatting to one of my closest friends. She had decided to do a night climb up Ben Nevis for charity, what an awesome thing to do I thought, however her hopes were dashed when her mum told her she didn’t think it was a good idea, in turn that made my friend feel like her mum didn’t support her dream and therefore didn’t support her.

Sadly although my mum is a never ending beacon of hope and support for me, the same cannot be said of the rest of my family, when I told them I was starting my own cake company the majority of comments were along the lines of “but you have no training”, “there’s a recession you know” & “you’ve never run your own business”.

Not once did any of them say, “that’s amazing, good luck”. As a kid I have a lemonade stand with a friend when I was on holiday in San Francisco  everyone cooed about how industrious we were, fast forward 20 years and I am being irresponsible and it wont work.

I have many people in my life, from a little girl who just turned 3 to my grandmother who is 85. I plan on being as supportive of them every day of their lives as possible, no matter age, time of life, ideas or dreams. So Gracie if you want to be a Princess in 20 years then I will be there with a big ass hat sitting proudly in the Church, Amy if you want to make your books into movies then I will be more than happy to audition the leading man :-) and Gran if you want to run a marathon I will buy trainers and run with you.

If I had listened to the negative comments, I would never have owned my own cake shop, I would never have made cakes for everyone from Radio 1 to First Direct, I wouldn’t have been a part of so many amazing weddings, I would never have sold up and had the money to travel America & Canada, I would never have started writing a blog whilst travelling, I would never have had the nerve to go for my dream job and I doubt I would have got it. So if you think that I dream too big then go right on ahead but know this, I might be 20 years older and wiser than I was when I had my first dream of being a CEO but I still have the dreams, I still aspire to greatness and that wont ever change.

So today do me, and yourself a little favour and be supportive of someone, even if they are not doing things exactly how you think they should, give them praise for dreaming big, for wanting more than the mundane.

Think to yourself, how would you have described yourself 20 years ago, and how do you describe yourself now?

E x

Although I don’t always show it…..I am grateful

So last week was some what of a downer for me, I cannot put my finger on why it was, all I know is, I was not in a good place.

Feeling down is something that tends to creep up on me when least expected, when everything seems to be easy sailing  then without warning a dark cloud appears and no amount of joviality or relaxation seems to shift it.

Now I would never, ever class myself as depressed, mostly because I spent 5 very sad years during my teens suffering from depression, going to counselling and being on medication that made my whole world very flat. As such I know that even on my worst day now, its nothing like the dark days of then. So I know that as most things in life do, the feeling will pass.

The thing that I struggled with though was, no rhyme or reason for my deflated, sad and truly low mood. I am in a job I love, surrounded by lovely people, I have a beautiful home to live in, with the love of my life Lynyrd, I have friends I adore and to be honest I have a charmed life.

Last week though even the joy of being asked out on a date did nothing to pacify my feelings of gloom, maybe it was the hideous weather, or the fact that another week has passed and yet again I have failed at eating healthily, maybe it was the dark mornings and lack of decent sleep. More than likely it was all of those things.

Today though, not only heralds a new week but also a new month and more importantly the start of my favourite season.

Thus, new beautiful winter boots have been purchased, and the excitement is building for my Birthday Fancy Dress party. So today the new boots are on, I am embracing the Berry AW2012 trend and I am planning on blasting that hideous dark cloud into oblivion. Here is how I plan on doing it: -

I read a wonderful blog post on This Little Lady Went to London it was written by a really great guy I follow on twitter called Ryan James Lock - not only is he incredibly gorgeous he really is a champion of positive thinking and looking on the bright side of life. Perfect tweets for Monday morning drudgery. The post he wrote was entitled ’14 Ways to feel better about yourself’ It listed some really fantastic ways of being kinder to yourself and thus being a nicer person to be around. Of the 14 here are the 3 that I plan on taking forward with me this week in my bid to be kinder to myself.

1 – Every day write down 20 things you are grateful for

(this seems and inordinate amount, but once you are on a roll its not that hard)

So here are mine  - my dog Lynyrd, having a beautiful home to live in, getting to go to a job that I love every day, twitter followers who make me smile, the 40 minutes of peace on the train in the morning, sunshine this morning after all that rain, reading a book that makes me howl with laughter, my incredible friends, knowing I am a little part of  my friends new book, new winter boots that fit my calves, its the month of my birthday, the super friendly guy in Starbucks  my freedom, getting a seat on the train, having naturally curly hair that looks great just out of bed, my mum, today is a brand new start, I have people in my life who love me and finally I am alive.

Try writing your own, once you get into the swing of realising that there are all kinds of things that have already happened to you today that you have to be grateful for.

2 – Don’t buy into it 

This is a good one for me, I have been known to go rapidly  from being really happy with the person that I am and the way that I look to being shockingly down on myself simply because I have read a magazine and felt like I am not achieving enough. I am not the highest achieving creative exec at work, I am not the perfect size 10, I do not have perfect skin or have saved the lives of 100,000 children. But today, today I am not buying into all of that, I am appreciative of what I have, who I am and the fact I have the total control and freedom to do as I wish with my life, and make it whatever I chose. Something I know a lot of people in my life suffer with, something I wish I could make easier for them, but I have realised that I cannot make them happy, I just have to be there to make them see that the person that they are is just perfect.

3 – Let it go 

The past is exactly that, with all the amazing technological leaps forward man kind have made, we cannot go back and change the past, its there, its done, leave it the hell alone! Stop despising yourself for the choices you made 10 hours, 10 weeks, 10 years ago. At the moment you decided to do it, it was your choice, stand by it. At the same time take solace from Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen Lyrics  -

“Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum”

So that ladies and gentleman is my little bit of wisdom  do with it what you will, discard this email never to be read again, or take from it some small ways to make your day a tiny bit better.

Thank you all for being wonderful  reading my ramblings and being so kind. You all make me very happy, even on my worst day.

E x