Monday, 14 April 2014

Ciao, Poynton

It can be easy to get stuck in a bit of a rut with restaurants, and keep returning to a place where you know the menu and you know you’ll have a good evening. A few weeks ago, Andy and I decided to swap our usual Italian choice for another Poynton restaurant, Ciao. We have eaten there before, but quite a long time ago, and we decided it was well worth another visit.

It was a Saturday night, about 7pm, and it was packed. Whilst we were there, they had to turn a couple of groups away as every table was full. Despite that, it didn’t feel busy or crowded. Instead, there was a lovely atmosphere, and you could tell the restaurant owners knew plenty of their regular customers very well. The overall fell was friendly and bustling, and we settled in for some food.

We had had a fairly large lunch that day, and baked cakes too, so decided to skip starters and go straight to main meals. Despite that, they actually brought over a complimentary round of bread and butter, which kept us going until the meal arrived, and was a nice little addition.

For our main meals, Andy had a pizza with salami, and I had a spicy, tomato-based pasta with bacon. Both dishes were done to perfection, and full of flavour. The portions were fairly large, but we had no problem polishing them off!

Never one to turn down a dessert menu without at least having a look, I opted for chocolate fudge cake. You can’t go wrong with a good old chocolate fudge cake. Andy had said he didn’t want a dessert, but he did end up joining in with mine… cheeky!

We left feeling full and having had an absolutely lovely evening. It’s a welcoming, lively restaurant and we will be returning.

Are you an Italian restaurant fan?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Reading List #23

I cannot believe how long it has been since I’ve published a reading list! I really want to get back to doing them weekly, as the amount of books I’m getting through has definitely not slowed down. I’ve kept lists of what I’ve been reading though, so there’s plenty to get writing about. Without further ado, here is the latest list:

Sovereign, C J Sansom

It is autumn 1541, and lawyer Matthew Shardlake is in York with his assistant, Jack Barak, to do some work for King Henry VIII. Whilst they are there, a glazier is murdered, and Matthew becomes entangled in the mysteries surrounding the man’s death. Matthew narrates the novel, and it is a web of intrigue, threats to the throne and the life of the church in Tudor England.

I loved that this was set in York, because I went to university there and was able to picture some of the streets and landmarks, or moments in history it referred to. It was a brilliant murder mystery, complex and gripping. It’s certainly a long novel, but it doesn’t run away with itself.

The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling

One of my favourite films as a child, I was interested to read the book that inspired the tale. The film uses only small elements of this original text, so the book stands very clearly and separately on its own.

This reads like a series of short folk tales, mixing poetry and prose. It didn’t wow me, but was more a nostalgic read. I love seeing the inspiration for films or stories I’ve loved, and I’m glad I added this one to my list.

The Mystery of Mercy Close, Marian Keyes

Helen is a private detective, and her latest case involves working with her ex, Tom. Torn between Tom and her current detective boyfriend, Helen races through her discoveries, often making up her own investigation rules. On the surface, this is a fun detective novel with a bit of a love story thrown in.

The other element to the book is that Helen is battling depression, and this side of the story really impressed me. It added much more to the character, and was written in a sensitive, yet witty fashion. As someone who struggles with panic, I found some of the sections where she talks to her doctor or has internal monologues with herself to be spot on, and I really related with the character. The fully-formed character of Helen lifted this book out of being simply trash, and made it a warm and touching read, blended with a lot of humour.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

Whilst working as a lady’s companion, the narrator meets and falls in love with Max de Winter. They marry, and she finds herself living in the shadow of the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca. This feeling is emphasised by the presence of Mrs Danvers, an elderly housekeeper who doted on Rebecca.

This book is a favourite for many, and one I’ve been meaning to read for years. I loved the narrative voice of a young girl trying to find herself. She is growing up into a world which she does not fully understand, and is a voice you warm to, and feel uncomfortable for in Rebecca’s shadow. The second half of the novel is a page turner, and draws some interesting, and unexpected, conclusions.

So there we have it, the reading lists are back! I’m going to write up my next now, so it’s ready for later in the week.

What have you been reading recently?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Recipe Post #7: Buttercake Cupcakes

I can’t believe these photos have been sitting waiting to be blogged for so long… Andy and I made them on Valentine’s weekend, oops!

Anyway, they were so yummy, and the most simple cupcakes. If you want simple, tasty cakes, keep on reading. The recipe is based on one from a Women’s Weekly baking book I found on my mum’s bookshelf a while ago.

To make 8, you will need:

150g self-raising flour
90g butter, softened
1tsp vanilla extract
110g caster sugar
2 eggs
2tbsp milk

For the buttercream
 - This made FAR more than we used, so feel free to cut it back a little -

125g butter, softened
240g icing sugar
2tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 160C for a fan oven. Line 8 holes of a muffin pan with paper cases and set aside.

Sift flour into a small bowl, add the remaining ingredients and beat with an electric mixer on a low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth and pale.

Divide the mixture between the paper cases. Bake for about 20 minutes, leave to stand for 5 minutes, and then move onto a wire rack to cool. Ours rose far more than expected, and had fairly crispy tops. We all enjoyed that, but you may want to bake them for a slightly shorter time.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter in a small bowl with an electric mixer until as white as possible. Beat in sifted icing sugar, and the milk, in two batches.

Ice cakes once fully cool. We added on some Haribo hearts (and an egg as we ran out), because why the devil not?

What’s your favourite simple cake recipe?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Pizza at Piccolino

Sometimes, when you go out for dinner, you want simple food that’s done really, really well. A pizza at a restaurant just has so much more flavour than one you’d buy at home, and that’s what I went for when I ate out with the girls a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, I’m jumping ahead, so let’s start at the beginning…

Piccolino is an Italian restaurant in Bramhall, and one you can rely on to have something for everyone. They have an extensive menu, incorporating pizzas, pastas, fish and meat dishes, and everything I’ve tried has been so tasty. Right in the centre of the village, it has a lovely bar at the front, then opens up into a restaurant, with an open kitchen where you can watch the food being prepared. It’s a favourite spot for many, and I’ve been there a lot, whether it’s just for drinks, or for food as well.

A few weeks ago, me and two friends needed a bit of a catch-up, and went for an early Piccolino tea. I think we were there about 6pm on a Monday, so it was almost deserted when we first arrived, and then began to fill as we ate and chatted.  The staff are all incredibly friendly, and eager to give recommendations and tell you all about the menu. In fact, on this occasion they were a little too attentive, with 4 different people coming to ask how our food was when we were eating, but I assume that’s because it was so quiet.

All three of us went simple – a Margherita pizza for me, spaghetti Bolognese for Helena, and carbonara for Laura. As I said, sometimes you just want simplicity, done well!

All three dishes were really tasty, and we left feeling very full and happy.

Piccolino is a great dining spot for any occasion. On this evening, it was an early tea and catch up for three tired girls. I’ve been for romantic dinners with Andy. I’ve been with groups of friends in an evening. We used to go there for our after-show meal when I did musicals locally. It fits the bill for all of them, and is well worth a visit if you live nearby.

What’s your favourite local restaurant?

The Challenge #5: April 2014

It’s a new month and that means it’s time for a new challenge. Yet again, I’m a couple of days late posting about my challenge, but the bonus is that means I can give a bit of feedback on my first couple of days.

The challenge: walk to and from work, don’t take the bus.

I should probably mention that this walk is 3.5 miles each way…

I’ve been doing this for 2 weeks now, since moving to the new house, and have made it my April challenge to make sure I keep it up. Here’s the bonuses I’ve noticed so far:

- It gives me a great slot of thinking time. As someone who has been struggling with panic for the last 6 months or so, I’ve heard it’s a good plan to give yourself some thoughtful time, which you can then block off and set aside and continue with your day. So far, that’s working.

- It’s great exercise. A brisk walk at both ends of the day can never be a bad thing. I’m doing a fast walk for about 45 minutes each way, which is no bad thing. It leaves me feeling energised, and over 2 weeks I’ve found it’s getting easier to keep up a pace.

- It satisfies my nosiness. Who doesn’t love people watching? I like to look at shops, houses, people, and this gives me more of that than the bus.

- It’s free. I’m trying to be really sensible with my money at the moment, and there are things I’d far rather spend my money on than a bus pass.

- I don’t like buses. I mean, the option is there if I want it, which is nice. But they’re usually hot, crowded, and I don’t want to just sit in still traffic for ages.

So there you have it. I will report back at the end of the month, but I’m on a roll so far!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Challenge and Results #4: March 2014

Slap on the wrist for Sophie, I didn’t press publish on my March challenge post! So now I’ll combine the challenge and results in one, which is great because it was a big fat success.

The challenge was to properly begin our house hunt, narrow down our options, and put every effort into finding somewhere to live. For a bit of background, Andy and I lived together for two years whilst at university, then made the sensible choice to both move back home whilst we job-hunted after graduating. I started my job in September, then Andy his in about November. And whilst we fully intended to then find somewhere to live, life gets in the way a bit sometimes and the weeks rocket by.

Anyway, just over a month or so, enough was enough. We were ready to have our own space again, and my parents said they could tell I was frustrated by having less independence, and that I should really get a move on and push forwards.

After that decision had been made, it was like things were put on fast forward. We are renting, which is a market that moves quickly, and so when we found a place we liked, we put in an application immediately. Unfortunately, we got a call a couple of days later to say another agent had already promised it to somebody and not informed their colleagues. It was so frustrating, and at first I was completely gutted.

They then offered to give us ‘first dibs’ on another property, in the same area, at the same price. I saw it on the Monday, and they then held it for us until the Saturday, when Andy could take a look. Application in, 4 days passed, and that was it. It was ours!

We moved in on the 23rd March, and I absolutely love it. We’ve settled straight back into living together again, and I just love the house itself, too. It was stressful at times, arranging viewings, paying large deposits, sorting things like insurance, broadband, furniture… but those things would have had to be done whenever we took the plunge and moved, and the tiring period was more than worth it.

So there we have it: March challenge SUCCESS, more so than I expected. I don’t think I believed we’d already be in and settled by the end of the month!

I promise to get back on track with my monthly challenge posts now, so stay tuned for my April instalment, which is already getting underway. Also, get ready for a post with pictures of the new house, which will be coming very soon!
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