Victoria Sponge

We love baking in our house and when I saw ‘Children’s Book of Baking (Usborne Cookbooks)‘ sitting on the shelves of our local charity shop I simply had to buy it and got a little excited to try out some recipes. Since it’s Valentine’s we thought we make a Victoria sponge, well who doesn’t love cake?

Apron donned and hands washed let the cooking commence….

Here’s what you will need if you’d like to join in;

Cake

2 x 20cm cake tins

4 medium eggs

225 g softened butter

225g caster sugar

225g self raising flour

Filling

100g softened unsalted butter

225g icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

4 tablespoons of strawberry jam

Victoria Sponge making

Method

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4.

Wipe the insides of the tins with cooking oil. Place parchment paper in the bottom of each tin.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat together with a fork.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat them until they are pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time and if the mixture curdles pop in a little bit of flour.

Sift the flour over the mixture and gently fold in with a metal spoon.

Divide the mixture equally between the tins.

Smooth the top (Emily and I find this really tricky).

Bake the cake in the oven for 25 minutes. Pop on some oven gloves and carefully remove the tins from the oven.

Press the cakes to check they are cooked.

Leave the cakes in the tins for five minutes to cool. Then run a knife around the edges and turn them out onto a wire rack.

For the filling

Put the jam in a bowl and beat it. Spread it over the top of the bottom cake.

Make the butter cream by mixing the icing sugar and butter together until they reach a delightful texture then spread that over the bottom of then top cake (we ignored this and tried to pop it on top of the jam but this didn’t leave a nice clean typical Victoria sponge white and red line but more of a gorgeous pink marriage).

Sandwich both cakes together and gently press together.

Scatter some caster sugar on top. We decorated our cake with strawberries but this is optional.


TYummy cakeotal Time
: 70 mins Taste: Fabulous (if we do say so ourselves).

Check out Emily on Instagram.

Be our Valentine

Love from Sofa Stories x x

Topher McGrillis

I’ve always loved stories by Roald Dahl, I wish I could have jumped into his brain and listened to the whirring of the inventive musings. We are all so lucky that he put down on paper his thoughts and generously shared them with the world.  I simply can’t wait to share one of my favorites stories with Emily my six year old daughter.

My lovely little lady can watch Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp) and Matilda on loop but this is her first experience of the grasshopper, centipede, earthworm, spider, ladybug, silkworm and glow-worm of James and the Giant Peach. What’s even better is that it’s on stage rather then screen at one of Emily and my favorite places, Northern Stage.

Dahl’s first novel for children tells the story of a lonely little boy named James. He escapes in a giant peach after a magical encounter and finds he’s capable of much more than he ever imagined.

Director Mark Calvert says,

James and the Giant Peach is a massive show which deserves to be on a massive stage, so for the first time in Northern Stage’s history we’re using both of our stages combined into one huge space to tell one story. It’s so exciting to be working on this scale, taking the audience on an epic adventure that deals with being lonely and discovering how important friends and family are, which is not a bad tale to tell at Christmas time.

Adapted for the stage by David Wood OBE and directed by Mark Calvert (who first introduced me to Northern Stage with 40 Babies back in 2009/2010), this new Northern Stage production has been designed by the ever-inventive Rhys Jarman (Institute, Gecko£), with original music inspired by big bands and swinging Broadway musicals of the 1940s and 50s.

 

Recommended ages 5-11 years with a running time of two hours (including interval). The production runs until Sat 31 Dec so why not book your ticket here . We’ll be posting our review soon but keep an eye on twitter and instagram for photos of our evening.

james

Gill from Central Healthcare
Our recent posts have featured how Nic and I are becoming the best we can be in 2016.
Both of us have decided to get well in our own way whether it be going through C.B.T (cognitive behavior therapy) or sorting out toe nails. So here’s the next installment and this time it’s all about cleansing.

You may have seen the tweets about going for colonic irrigation. This was the ‘in thing’ back in the day, everyone seemed to be talking about it and even though you might not hear it as a buzz word anymore it’s still well and truly alive in Newcastle at Central Healthcare. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for years and since I’m wanting a full cleanse of my life it seemed sensible to include my colon too.

I’ve heard lots of stories, the good the bad and the indifferent. Prior to my appointment I was called by the Gill a nurse of 27 years to go through ‘what to expect’ which put me at ease and I was able to ask questions. The questions that had prevented me from going in the past. Things like, ‘will it hurt?’, ‘what are the short, medium and long term benefits?’, ‘will it hurt?’, ‘will the water be warm?’, ‘will it hurt?’…..

Gill talked me through her experience and why she is so passionate about the treatment. She went through the ‘ins and outs’ so to speak. Appointments last one hour so this pre visit call is very beneficial so it doesn’t actually eat into therapy time. One thing that Gill highlighted on more then one occasion was that the treatment MAY not lead to weight loss. I accepted the statement but also thought that if poop was being irrigated then surely weight loss is a side effect albeit only until you replace it with more food.

One week after the call – appointment time

I ensured the appointment could be on a child free day and I arrived into Newcastle city centre (train station area). There is on street parking nearby and two multi-storey car parks in the area. Ensure you buy a ticket and display it (I didn’t display so got a lovely parking ticket which I successfully appealed).

Central Health care is situated in one of the newly developed railway arches and looks unassuming from the outside which I saw as a positive as I’m not sure I’d want everyone to know where I was headed (instead I’ll write it down in detail and tell 1,000’s about my experience).

Gill welcomed me in and immediately put me at ease. I completed a short medical questionnaire and we went through the process again. He’s an A to K – of the process;

a. Entered white room with two white beds adorned in red towels. I recognised one of the beds locations from a     review by Lisa of Tried and Tested for a vitamin infusion.

b. Gill then went through the entire process with me and showed me where I could undress from the waist down.

c.I lay on the bed and Gill got to work. The sterile parts of the equipment was opened in front of me and then the speculum was popped into where it needed to go. Although completely being put at ease I did feel quite             embarrassed.

d. It was now time for the actual irrigation to commence. Here a slow stream of water went up the tube and goes     inside to fill the colon.

e. This gentle process carried on for a few rounds but then the intensity increased. Gill massaged my tummy and   then turned the water pressure up and she asked me to hold it for as long as possible and then release. I’m not     ashamed to say it, I was crap rather rubbish at the hold and it was definitely my least favourite part of the process. It simply felt weird and uncomfortable (not painful).

f. After the initial site of the number two there was nothing for a while. The clear water went in and tinged water
came out but there was NO substance to it. I really thought there would be a never ending exodus of backed up     poop from my rather poor diet. A few minutes went by and nothing.

g. Gill asked me if I thought I could take the deeper pressure again, and because I wanted the best results
possible I said yes….Then the pressure was upped and voila more extract happened but this was nearing the end of the prescribed treatment time, however she continued until more came and then that was over. A very quick hour.

h. Now time to extract the speculum.

g. Gill cleared up and disposed of all of the now non sterile equipment used whilst and I went and got dressed.

h. I went to the toilet as recommended to ensure any movement came out then and there.

i. I entered the main room again. Had a drink of water and a probiotic (you can read about their benefits in a Central Healthcare blog post here) which I was recommended to take for 30 days. I could have bought a supply but I knew I had some unopened probiotics in the house.

Then it was time to say goodbye…. 

How did I feel straight after the treatment? I felt clear in my brain as I’d been suffering from a niggling headache for days. My bloating reduced and I felt more vibrant. Gill recommended some more sessions to get the full benefits of irrigation.

Within the hour after treatment

Stupidly I decided to enjoy more mummy time off and headed to the Metro Centre and embarrassingly I did a big pump and more….I was mortified. I needed to find a toilet really quickly and whatever got moved during the colonic came out quick smart.

Rest of the day

I spent quite a lot of time at the loo and I drank lots of fluids to ensure I stayed hydrated.

The next day

Again I was quite poo tastic and the contents of the loo were rather bright yellow in colour. Normal? It didn’t look normal but I reassured myself that it was. (NOTE: yellow poo can be down to lack of good bacteria in the body).

Later that week – Fat class weigh in

As for weight loss on my weigh in I got a ‘maintain’ rather than a loss, so Gill was right after all but surely there should have been pounds lost from my body, I guess not.

Would I recommend colon therapy? I am of the persuasion that you shouldn’t knock anything until you try it. Gill and I talked all of the way through the treatment so it was akin to visiting a hairdressers in that respect. Therapy for the mind not the body; What I would do before, during and after a second treatment;

  • Clear your day if possible
  • Relax during the treatment (easier said than done)
  • Eat some probiotic yoghurt
  • Do not go shopping
  • Go home
  • Rest and enjoy the clarity
  • Don’t go with the expectation of miracles or weight loss.

Treatments start from £75.00. You can follow Central Healthcare on Facebook and Twitter  To find or give them a call on 0191 222 0100.

Suzanne HarissaNow when it comes to lovely dining, Sandyford in Newcastle might not spring to mind but our recent trip to ‘Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen’ has definitely opened our eyes. In fact we were a little reticent to share this gem of an establishment but since the blooming ‘Secret Diner has outed it as, “being so good he visited it twice” I only think it’s fair to give our view too.

This place most definitely has curb appeal and we were greeted by the owner (James/Jamie – depending on what day of the week it is) and we instantly felt as if we were at home, quite strangely as if we were going to a friends for dinner. Jamie was so friendly we were sure we’d already met him but couldn’t place where!

With a glass of ice cold water in hand, I started to talk to Jamie whilst Nicola took photos aplenty. My first question was; “What is Harissa” as I had visions of bottles of Harissa sauce in my head as my partner is a lover of all things spicy!  I on the other hand am a bit of a wuss, so Jamie talked through the menu and helped to select flavours that married well but weren’t overly spicy on the taste buds.

flowersThe decor is clean and crisp with such fab attention to detail. Jamie let us into a secret about the copper piping on the ceiling housing the Edison lamps (we’re not going to reveal his secrets though!).

Once all in-situ we were introduced to the restaurant and the concept of Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen or Harrisa for short.  Jamie explained the history of sister company Food Nation (at which point Nicola and I turned to each other and remembered Simon Preston who we’d worked with when promoting The Great North Eco-Feast way back in 2009 and is a director of Food Nation). You can read more about it here to stop me going off in on a whole other tangent!

Now back to the food. I was starving. I’d done a round trip to Leeds and back that day and Nicola had had a mega busy day and still had some prep for her LinkedIn training she was delivering the next day. Two tired, hungry ladies meant ‘eyes bigger then belly’ food consumption!

We started with a melody of nibbles in the form of spiced roasted nuts (hint go for the ones with less dusting for less spice), Honey, Cumin, Coriander & Smoked Paprika Marinated Olives (they warned us they weren’t pitted so all was good) Lemon, Chilli & Fresh Herbs Harissa House Pickles (punchy and well balanced).

Alongside this we ordered some marinated and char grilled Halloumi and some hummus – great flavours but I don’t think I will ever get used to the squeak of that particular cheese.

Fresh and lovely food Harissa

Next, mains. Be careful not to over order; at one point we had everything on our table as we hadn’t yet finished the starters.

We both opted for slow roasted shoulder of spiced pork with apple, grilled spring onion and crackling – they got me at crackling as it’s one of my all time favorites. It was tasty, but there was something missing and Nicola hit it on the head; honey. The very savoury taste needed to be lifted just a little with something sweet.

Et voila, a squirty honey pot was given to us and it really lifted the meal. Thankfully, the team didn’t think we were cheeky in-fact quite the opposite; the chef is going to make this part of the dish.

Mains HarissaDesert. We weren’t going to indulge but couldn’t resist and went for the honey, tahini & pistachio parfait and sesame praline orange and saffron polenta cake. Both were super scrummy but we couldn’t help coveting Laura’s and Kayleigh’s chocolate torte it was a ‘special’ and not on the menu. As we had already ordered it was a tad too late to change so we’ll go for that next time.

honey tahini and pistachio parfait

Overall:

There was a nice blogging buzz in the restaurant and it would be amusing being a fly on the wall watching us all trying to get ‘that perfect angle’! What was even nicer though, was people who saw us eating started to walk in and sit down and were greeted with open arms and the waitress (I’m so sorry we didn’t take your name) looked genuinely chuffed to be helping, ‘real customers’.

Hats off to food, your mission and your fabulous customer service, we’ll thoroughly recommend Harrisa.

Love Suz and Nic. x

 

When I was chatting with one of my friends about weaning she looked at me in horror! I genuinely thought it was ‘normal’ to let babies play with their food. It’s a little like burping isn’t it? You say good boy after each and every burp and celebrate the release of wind but at some point the line blurs and this gesture is no longer acceptable.

Don’t get me wrong when weaning first started I wanted full control of the spoon but when I saw the sheer glee and delight on my little boys face when he delved into his Babymoov bowl and squidged and squeezed the contents and then devoured the contents of his palm (I had only turned my back for a nanosecond). From that point he refused the spoon from me unless I relinquished at least fifty percent of the power.

I loved reading the blog by Babymoov’s chosen nutritionist Julia Wolman who recently answered my queries in my post entitled, Stressless Weaning: The Answers To My Questions  Here’s a little extract of, ‘Mess is Best: Why babies should play with their food!’

This is my son Leo at 8 months. Whilst weaning, my obsessive-compulsive tendencies made me mindful of the clean-up process that lay ahead, on the other hand, the nutritionist in me knew how important it was not to stress about the mess.

All too often I witness babies reaching out to touch a spoon or bowl of food to see and feel what’s in it, whilst the parent ever so quickly retracts it out of their reach. I understand, I have a fear of mess too, and I know it really is so much easier to just steer little hands clear of anything semi-solid. However, when it comes to weaning mess really is best.

Here are five good reasons why it is important for babies to explore (or squish, prod, smear!) their food at mealtimes:

1. It’s fun

2. Learning through sensory play

3. Increasing familiarity

4. Fine motor skills development

5. Hand-eye coordination

Whether using spoons or self-feeding, when babies do it themselves they are learning how to get food into their mouths. And while most of it may go anywhere but their mouth at the beginning, with practice they’ll quickly work it out!

#Messisbest but I must admit that I currently have help from MessyMe to keep it somewhat contained and Bibetta to keep the little fella clothes as clean as possible – read about our experience of these two brands very soon.