Friday, 31 August 2012

How to make authentic Wiener Schnitzel

My Wiener Schnitzel!
During my time here in Vienna, I'm determined to sample as much traditional Austrian culture as I can (whilst simultaneously sharing some English culture - I'm making the family a Victoria Sponge later today!), so eating Wiener Schnitzel was a definite must on my list. I'm not usually a pork fan, but I actually reeeaaally liked it cooked like this: it's so thin and covered in breadcrumbs therefore not overly porky. Sehr lecker. Schnitzel is also super easy to make - I was taught by the 13 year old boy I'm a pairing for. Watch out, uni housemates... I'm going to be Schnitzelling everything from now on! One pork steak feeds one person. Here's how you can sample some Viennese cuisine yourself:

1. Warm a frying pan on the hob with a little butter or oil in.

2. Pound your pork steaks with a, um, poundy utensil until they're really thin.

3. Fill three flattish bowls with plain white flour, whisked eggs (two or three) and breadcrumbs (bought in a packet) - one in each bowl, that is.

4. Next, dip a pork steak in the flour bowl and toss it around until all the pork is covered, then put it in the bowl of whisked eggs until covered, then do the same with the breadcrumbs. Your hands get messy, but it's actually rather fun.

5. When the frying pan is hot, fry your coated pork steak until golden, turning it over to make sure it's cooked all round. And there you have it - Schnitzel!


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Being away from home and how to deal with homesickness

I've always been a big home girl - it's my favourite place - and have always been really close to my family. They are the most important aspect of my life. I've had a charmed childhood, growing up in a lovely environment with a lot of support and love. Naturally, I feel extremely blessed. So perhaps this is why I've always struggled with homesickness. Up until my mid-teens I couldn't even go on a sleepover down the road without missing my mum so much that she had to come and get me. No joke. School trips and French exchanges were always a challenge: When I was happy and having fun there was no problem, but whenever something made me feel slightly down, the homesickness bug would bite. And it still bites me now. I get a lump in my throat, tears well up in my eyes, and all I want is to go home. Anyone relating to this at all?

Unsurprisingly, going to university was a challenge at first. Prior to leaving home last September, the longest I'd ever gone without seeing my family was ten days. I think my record is now four weeks, which is a loooong time for me, although I know this is NOTHING for some people. It's interesting, isn't it - how we're all different about this type of thing? A year on, university is a home from home, and although I'll still miss my family when I'm there, I can't wait to get back.

I'm currently pushing myself out of my comfort zone by working as an au pair in Austria. I'm only here for three weeks, but three weeks can seem like an awfully long time when you're in an unfamiliar environment. Here's what I've learned about dealing with homesickness:

1. It gets easier as time goes on. A lot of people think that if you've only been away for a few days, how can you possibly be homesick, but I find that the hardest part is just after you've arrived in the new place or left your loved ones. As time goes on, despite not having seen your family or been home for a longer amount of time, it actually gets easier. Remind yourself of this. I remember when my family came to visit me at university for a day in my first term - I cried so much just after we said goodbye and they left me again. But then I settled back into my uni life, and everything was fine.

2. The more you do it the better it is. You have to push yourself to do the things that you find difficult, as they then get a little bit easier each and every time. When I'm feeling homesick, I always find it reassuring to remind myself that going through these feelings are making me stronger.

3. Keep yourself busy. Sometimes when you're missing family, friends and home, all you want to do is sit in your room, alone, and look over pictures that remind you of them (whilst gorging yourself on chocolate/ice cream/wine - delete as appropriate). This is possibly the WORST thing you can do in this situation. You have to go out, socialise with others and keep yourself busy. Trust me. I know. Now, when my family leave me after visiting at uni, I make sure to go and hang out with my friends and thus put on a brave face. It's good to distract yourself, if nothing else. When I arrived here in Austria, I went out with one of the other au pairs to sample a spot of Saturday night Vienna, despite being shattered from an early start and travelling all day. I'm glad I did.

4. It's OK to cry. Every once in a while, just let it all out. My place of choice for such an activity? The shower. No one can hear, and you can't even tell how much you're crying. Every chance you will feel better after a few minutes bawling your eyes out. Or exhausted enough anyway. But don't do it too often.

5. Put things into perspective. And sometimes, you need a bit of tough love. Just man up! What are you crying for? There are people in the world battling life-threatening illnesses, living in war zones, struggling to find shelter and put food on the table, and you're crying because you miss your home!? Geeez. Listen to the song "Generator" by The Holloways. It'll remind you how lucky you are and how you really have nothing to be moaning about.

Now, after writing down what I've learnt about dealing with homesickness, I feel better already. You should try it. For now, I'm going to carry on submerging myself in Austrian culture as best I can, and making the most of this great opportunity.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Au Pairing in Austria: First impressions of Vienna

Stephansdom in Vienna
I arrived in Austria for the first time not much more than 48 hours ago - although it seems like I've been here much longer than that. I'm here to work as an au pair and English tutor for an Austrian family living on the edge of Vienna. The idea is to improve my (pretty feeble) German, although the fact that everyone here speaks English isn't ideal.

stripey Austrian fields
It's quite a nerve-wracking thing to do. As the plane came in to land in Vienna I realised I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. One thing that did strike me as the plane descended was the completely different layout of the Austrian fields: as opposed to the patchwork quilt that is Great Britain (and one of my favourite things about the UK), there were stripes. Weird.

this was one of the first things I saw. Brill.
Here's another slightly odd thing: Austrian people (or at least the ones I'm staying with) don't seem to use bathmats. I asked where their's was and just got an odd look. I explained what they are for (albeit in pretty shoddy German) and they told me they don't have them. Who'da thought it?

Viennese bakery treats
So, on another note, Vienna is bloody beautiful. The first day I was here (AKA yesterday) it was unfortunately rainy and grey, which was less than ideal, but I was still blown away at the beauty of the city's architecture. From Stephansdom to the Rathaus, they are all stunners. You just don't get cities that look like that in the UK. (Although I'll hand it to Bath... that's a beaut of a city.)

a church in Modling
So as it was raining, we decided to go to a museum, and chose the Esperanto Museum (a mere two euros 50 for students!) As a language lover (and student) I found it absolutely fascinating. We found out all about the history of Esperanto as well as many other planned languages. And there were interactive games, videos and touchscreens too. Yay!

learning about language in the museum
I've had Sachertorte but was highly disappointed. I think I was at a rubbish place to be honest, and shall be on a mission to find the best (at a student friendly price!) that Vienna has to offer. I think I also need to sample Schnitzel and Tafelspitz, but I'm not really sure how much I'm going to like them. Watch this space as I explore Vienna and the Austrian culture on offer all around me.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Student resolutions for the new uni year

Generic students. Seemingly stuck in the 90s. Pic from
I'm currently on my summer holiday after my first year studying at the University of Bristol, and quite frankly, the summer is dragging on for far too long if you ask me. I know, that probably sounds weird, but uni is SO MUCH FUN. I just want to go back NOW please. I had a cracking first year, throwing myself head-first into uni life: I spent my time working on the student paper, performing in a musical, dance show and Glee concert, and going to chocolate society gatherings (around studying, obvs.) Next year I hope to do all that as well as working two part time jobs, a role on the editorial team for the paper, being PR rep for German society and potentially doing some work for the uni TV station too. And I want to join the handball club. So, erm, yeah... perhaps not your typical student life, but I love it all the same.

However, I've decided that I need to make the most of my precious uni years in another sense, and have thus decided to make some resolutions. No, not to study more and drink less (because I'm a bit of a granny on the ole alcohol front). Here are my alternative (ooh, "alternative"... I almost sound edgy) uni resolutions:

1. I will remember it's OK to stay out/up past 2am.

2. I will try new drinks and not just stick to Malibu, Baileys and Amaretto. Mmm... sugar is my friend.

3. I will not get into a tizzy if I ever don't get my ten a day. (Portions of fruit and veg that is, not ciggies. I don't smoke. Eww.)

4. I will be kind to everyone. Well, I'll try anyway. Remind me of this if I am mean to you.

5. I will not take on more than I have time to do - I will learn to say NO!

6. I also will not be so busy that I have no time to socialise.

7. I will cook a new recipe every week. I can see myself slipping into a routine of eating my top comfort food - pasta, cheese and beans (don't knock it till you've tried it) - every night.

Well that should do it. Seven resolutions that will hopefully make my second year of uni a million times better than my first. Which was awesome anyway.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

RECIPE: Chocolate topped, custard filled vanilla cupcakes.

This morning I realised that my jeans seem tighter every time I put them on these days. Then I went and made these. Good one. Well, it was totally worth it because these are delicious.

I'm not a major fan of chocolate cake with chocolate icing (although there are exceptions), and much prefer the latter on a vanilla sponge. I have also realised that filled cupcakes are really making waves in the cupcake world, especially in America: it's no longer enough for cakes to be iced purely on top, we need something exciting in the middle, something you can't immediately see. (If this is your type of thing, do check out my Lindor surprise cupcakes!) You bite into it thinking "This looks like your average nice cupcake", and then BOOM! Custard inside to tingle your tastebuds. I luuuurrve custard. Perhaps its down to The Great British Bake Off, but recently I've been wanting to challenge myself in my baking and try something new - these were perfect as they aren't overly difficult to be honest, and I'm no Mary Berry.

This is a recipe I've adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days recipe book, and it makes eight cupcakes. The plain cake in itself is really delicious in this recipe. As ever, do take your eggs and butter out of the fridge a good few hours beforehand so they can reach room temperature. I made the custard first, but you could do it while the cakes are cooling if you felt like mixing it up.

INGREDIENTS - Custard filling

125ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 egg yolk
25g caster sugar
1/2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tbsp cornflour


40g unsalted butter, softened
140g caster sugar
120g plain flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
120ml milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence


150g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
60g unsalted butter, softened
30ml milk
Optional toppings eg raspberries or Malteasers


1. Start with the custard: Whisk the egg yolk, caster sugar and two flours together by hand in a bowl until smooth and well combined. Pour the milk and vanilla essence into a saucepan and bring to the boil.

2. Once the milk is boiling and rising up in the pan, remove from the heat and pour two tablespoons of the heated milk into the egg yolk mixture to loosen it. Stir it in, then add the mixture in the bowl to the rest of the hot milk in the saucepan, stirring to incorporate it.

3. Return the pan to the heat and bring to the boil, whisking constantly to prevent lumps (school memories, anyone?). Boil for 30 seconds to one minute to ensure the flour is properly cooked. Once thickened, tip the custard into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming (again, we don't want good old school-style custard.) Leave to cool completely for about 40 minutes (conveniently, you can bake the cakes in this time...)

The custard after being left to cool.
4. The cakes: Preheat the oven to 190C and line a muffin tin with eight muffin cases.

5. Using a hand-held electric whisk, mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt on a low speed until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

6. Place the remaining ingredients in a jug and whisk by hand, then pour three-quarters of this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix on a low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium and keep mixing till smooth and thick, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the remaining milk mixture and beat until combined and smooth.

7. Spoon the batter into the paper cases, filling them by about two-thirds. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes - they should be well risen, golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool completely.

It's hard to resist eating the plain cakes by as they are!
8. Make the icing: Slowly beat together the icing sugar, cocoa powder and butter using the electric whisk until it has the texture of sand. Gradually pour in the milk, beating in between, then increase the speed to high and whisk until soft and fluffy - the longer the better!

9. Using a sharp knife, make a hole in the centre of each cupcake about 2cm wide and 3cm deep, keeping the scooped out sponge in tact, Spoon the custard into the hole in each cake, then replace the sponge lid (trimming if necessary, but you can use the sponge to really push the custard down so the top of the cake is level.)

Cut out the sponge...

...and fill with custard!
10.Swirl on the chocolate icing with a palette knife, and decorate with whatever takes your fancy! Yum!


Monday, 20 August 2012

Why we all love The Great British Bake Off

Sue, Mary, Paul and Mel
I was really excited when I woke up this morning. I thought episode two of the current series of The Great British Bake Off was on tonight. But then I realised today is only Monday. Nooooooo! Oh, the despair of having to wait another day. Episode one seems like aaaages ago, am I right?

For anyone who doesn't know about said brilliant TV show - firstly, what are you doing with your life? - it is a televised baking competition for amateur bakers, and quite frankly, a gem of a programme. There's no prize money or record contract for the winner, just the title of "The UK's Best Amateur Baker". Currently in its third series, the BBC 2 programme has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the past few years (it even has its own app now not to mention numerous recipe books). We are a nation obsessed with cake, and this was most obvious on Twitter during last week's episode. After the series returned on Tuesday, I read a review in The Daily Telegraph claiming that the hour-long Great British Bake Off  (GBBO as it is known to the fans) episode would be better off condensed into half an hour, but I disagree wholly. We need a good hour to really feel for the contestants (who are, overall, extremely skilled bakers) and to understand the details and intricacies of what they're doing. What's more, I happen to highly enjoy the short clips educating us all about the history of baking.

The show inspires me to be more adventurous in my baking. Sometimes, in a wave of ambition, I think to myself "Maybe I should apply!", but then I watch an episode and realise just quite how challenging the competition is. The challenges are bloody difficult! And over the weeks the contestants get tested on just about everything it is possible to bake. I would have no chance. Every episode is themed, and the contestants have to create a signature bake, technical bake and showstopper bake. And, core blimey, some of them really are showstoppers.
showstopping cake. (pics from
The judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, are a perfect pairing. They both have high standards, but Paul is stern and instils the necessary fear in the contestants, whereas Mary is encouraging - we all wish she was our granny really, don't we? The presenters, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, are somewhat uncool in their comments (in the same way I am), but they make me chuckle and do a great job consoling the contestants and bringing the non-expert opinion to the (kitchen) table.

There are 12 bakers in the competition at the start of the show, and one leaves each episode. Sometimes it's predictable, sometimes there is shock. It is always tense. Just like any reality competition programme, some contestants will annoy us, and we grow fond of others. There are six men and six women, and whilst I don't doubt that there are men out there who bake, I just find it hard to believe that there was an equal number of men and women who made it to the top 12. This may be cynical of me, but surely it's easier for a man to get on to the GBBO? Perhaps I'm wrong... We shall have to see how these men progress. I know for a fact they will all be more skilled than me, for sure. Did you see that Union Jack cake last week? Uh-may-zing.

Adding to the charm of the GBBO is its set: a huuuge marquee decorated like the quaint country kitchen we all dream of. I'm talking Smeg pastel fridges, Union Jack bunting and gloriously clean work surfaces. What's more, the bakers have every piece of equipment or ingredient they could ever want. And THAT is a real luxury when it comes to baking. As a student, I have been known to use old takeaway boxes as baking trays. It was interesting.

The question is: Does The Great British Bake Off really inspire the general public to bake more? Or does it just make us want to eat more cake? I know what the answer is for me personally, that's for sure. The next episode is on tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8pm on BBC2. See you there!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

RECIPE: Nectarine, raspberry and almond cake.

This is a real beauty of a cake - delicious for afternoon tea, but equally perfect as a pudding. I'm thinking warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Ooh yeah. As far as I'm concerned, any cake with ground almonds in is a winner as it's always so moist, and this is a great way of making the most of the amazing summer fruits at this time of year. I've always found BBC Good Food's recipes to be very reliable, so this is one of their's that I've slightly changed - one of the ways in which I've done that is by turning a tray bake into a round cake (I think they're prettier and thus better for a party), so that's why the quantities are slightly odd. Just go with it. Trust me. It fits a 23cm diameter round cake tin. I usually like to try new recipes all the time, but this cake really is that good that I (and everyone else) always want to eat it again and again. Good Food's version has 40 five star ratings!


167g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
133g self-raising flour
33g ground almonds
1/4 tsp salt
2 nectarines, stoned, halved, then each half cut into 3
100g raspberries
handful flaked almonds
1 tbsp icing sugar, to finish


1. Butter and line a 23cm diameter round cake tin and heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

2. Gently melt the butter in a large saucepan and cool for five mins. Meanwhile, measure out the sugar, vanilla and eggs, then add to the butter and beat until smooth with a wooden spoon.

The sugar, vanilla and eggs mixed with the butter.
3. Stir in the flour, ground almonds and salt.

4. Tip the mix into the tin, then lay the peach slices and raspberries on top in whatever pattern you like, but it's probably best to do so evenly - that way each piece of cake will have a bite of fruit. Scatter the almonds over.

5. Bake for about 50 minutes - one hour, covering with foil after 30 mins (or sooner if it seems to be going very brown on top.) Test with a skewer: the middle should have just a tiny hint of squidginess, which will firm up once the cake cools.

6. Cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then lift out onto a cooling rack. Once cold, dust with icing sugar, and display proudly to your guests. Or just smile fondly to yourself before devouring. You know, whichever.


Monday, 13 August 2012

RECIPE: Chocolate peanut butter biscuit cake with HobNobs, Malteasers and raisins

I wasn't going to blog this recipe, but after posting a pic and description, the response revealed just how appealing these babies are. The recipe is actually a twist on my Rocky Choccy Biccy Bites (which are slightly crazier!), and I'm not entirely sure how to describe it. Except for DELICIOUS, that is. The HobNobs and Malteasers make it so much more than a simple chocolate biscuit cake, but just calling it a fridge cake seems inadequate. And adding peanut butter takes it to a whole new level, if you ask me. It's not overwhelmingly peanut buttery, so if you're a mad PB fan, you could up the quantity to 200g and use just 100g of chocolate. I feel I may do this next time.

It's the sort of thing that goes down especially well with kids, but all the adults who've ever tried it have loved it too. In fact, a fair few people have tried different versions and they have all gone down a storm. I cut mine into quite small pieces as it's rather rich, and if you do the same you'll get 16 little cubes of yum. This is so simple, honestly. You will be shocked at quite how delicious it is for such little effort.

  • 100g butter
  • 150g chocolate, broken into squares (I use milk chocolate - it depends on your tastes)
  • 3tbsp golden syrup
  • 150g smooth peanut butter
  • 150g HobNobs
  • 135g Malteasers (the size of one of their large bags)
  • 50g raisins (or you could try another dried fruit if you prefer... the possibilities are endless!)


1.  Line your tin with foil - I use a square one that's 18cm x 18cm and about 3cm deep, but it doesn't really matter. As long as it's not too small. That's not ideal.

the melted choc, PB, syrup and butter
2. Melt the butter,chocolate, syrup and peanut butter together in a large bowl (which will eventually contain all the mixture) over a low heat, stirring frequently (and trying not to eat it all as you go) until it's really smooth. Let this mixture cool for about 5 minutes, and while you wait, prepare the rest by measuring out the HobNobs, Malteasers and raisins into another bowl.

the biscuit mix
3. Add the biscuit mix to the chocolate mix and stir until they're well combined. Then spoon it into your tin, spreading as evenly as you can.

4. Leave to cool until room temperature, then transfer to the fridge to chill for a few hours until set hard. Lift the cake out by the foil and cut into chunks/fingers/bites/whatever shape you like. Depending on the temperature of your house/country and your preference, you may like to keep your choccy bites in the fridge, but it's not necessary. Simples.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

How social media can (hopefully!) help you get ahead in your career.

pic from
A few years ago when we all started signing up for sites like Bebo and MySpace, few could predict how big social media would become and quite how great the potential was for development into much more than a way of keeping in touch with friends. Anyone who knows me won't deny that I am a social media addict, and without setting out to do so, I seem to have found ways of using it to (hopefully!) help me work out my future career path.


When I first got Twitter three years ago, most of the people I started following were journalists, PR agencies and those who work in television, mainly because I was desperate to get an insight into their industries. Sure, Twitter's great for a spot of celeb stalking, but I would also recommend following professional people with jobs you're interested in. They're easy enough to find. For example, try searching "ITV presenter" into the Twitter search box and you'll be spoilt for choice by the interesting people that pop up as results.

It's worthwhile contacting people you admire. Last year when I found out that my half term in February coincided with London Fashion Week, there was no way I was going to let the opportunity to experience it pass me by, so I tweeted Cosmo's fashion director, Shelly Vella (@shellyvella), and after further communication I ended up working with Cosmo's fashion team and sitting alongside them at goodness knows how many fashion shows and exhibitions (read all about it here!) Marios Schwab anyone? It. Was. Awesome. I learnt so much and it was so kind of the Cosmo ladies to have me along. All because of a tweet. Similarly, my recent work experience at ITV News all came about originally through a tweet to one of their producers. When I was finally there, ITV News' top editor, Deborah Turness, told me she admired my initiative, which was very flattering.


One of the interesting developments in Facebook over the past few years has been the explosion of companies and brands with their own pages. I "like" a fair few, and my work experience last year at more! magazine came about after there was a post on their Facebook page saying they were looking for workies in their fashion department...


...Then when I was working at more!, one of their senior ladies, the lovely Alison Perry (@iamalisonperry), noticed the instagram pictures I was posting of my experiences behind the scenes at more!, and she then asked me to start up their interns' blog, which was highly exciting. I did four blog posts for them, which are all up on my blog. Here's a link to the first one!


Any of my millions of dedicated blog readers will know that back in June I was lucky enough to have won tickets to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace (read all about it here!) and that I was also interviewed about it on SKY News (here's the blog about that!), which was great, particularly for someone so interested in broadcast journalism. "How had that come about?" I hear you ask. Well, one of SKY News' producers had searched on Twitter for tweets about the concert, found mine and my excited blog posts about it, and then asked me if I'd like to be interviewed - obvs I did. Simples!

So as you can see I probably spend far too much of my free time on social media - this obsession probably began when I did a stint of work experience in the social media department of the fabulous online company, Tamar (@TamarUK). And as a result of all this, I now have a part time job as a social media intern for the incredibly exciting new company, SecondSync (@SecondSync) and have also got a job as a web editor for my uni paper next year. Exciting times all round!

Social media is definitely the place to be at the moment, but who knows how long it will last. The question is: What's coming next..?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Lilly & Boo's Cupcakery, Bristol

Chocolatey peanut buttery yumfest
After a few weeks away, I was looking forwarded to going back down to Bristol (my uni city) enough as it was, so imagine my delight to find a brand shiny pink new cupcake place had opened up! And what's more, it's relatively close to my house for the next academic year, although I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing really.

Located on Cotham Hill, just off Whiteladies Road (taking over what used to be Deli Delish), apparently the shop/café has been open for about three weeks now. Bristol definitely isn't in short supply of quaint cafés offering every type of baked good that could take your fancy, but as far as I'm aware (and trust me, I know my cake places), Lilly & Boo's is the only one dedicated to cupcakes. About time.

I imagine (and hope) that they will be a huge success, particularly when all the students come back in the autumn. The world has been crazy for cupcakes for a few years now, and I reckon they'll be in fashion for a long time to come. Remember when macaroons and whoopie cakes popped up on the baking scene a few years ago, and everyone was like "These are the new cupcakes"? Well they weren't, were they? No. It's all about the cupcake. Yay!

Lilly & Boo's has a really cute feel to it - its interior is as sweet as the cupcakes! Not only do the cakes look fantastic, they are really yummy too. Both my brother and sister couldn't handle all the icing (they claimed there was too much - pah!), but the more icing the merrier, in my opinion. I loved them! Quelle surprise.

Someone was a bit excited... Understandably so.
They have an array of delicious flavours, such as chocolate peanut butter, marshmallow popcorn, and white chocolate & raspberry - I was spoilt for choice! Adding an extra dimension to the adorableness of these cupcakes is their names, such as Jimmy Shoes, The Velvet Elvis and The Mr Big. What's not to love?

White choc & raspberry, caramel & hazelnut, chocolate peanut butter
An individual cupcake costs £2.20, but then you can get better deals if you buy more. With new specials coming out every day, I know where I'll be spending my time between lectures at uni this year! Um, no, not the library.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The marvellous Mulberry factory outlet store at Shepton Mallet

Mulberry Shepton Mallet store
Throughout my teenage life, I've lusted after a Mulberry handbag. I've always said to myself, "Oh, one day I'll have one of my own" (instead of stealing my mum's!) Well, ladies and gents, 'one day' was yesterday.

The trouble has always been that, as beautiful as Mulberry's bags are, their prices are less appealing to the average student. On countless occasions I've gone to their outlet shop at Bicester Shopping Village with high hopes of finding The One (not that I had any particular One in mind) at an affordable price, but each and every time I left disappointed and empty-handed. They never had any particularly amazing bags on offer, and the reductions were equally uninspiring most of the time. On numerous occasions I considered buying one of their teeny bags as a way of having just a little piece of such a beautiful brand (as that's all I could afford) but I never did, as what I really wanted was an It bag. A statement bag. Something that I would use again and again but would last me a lifetime.

Mum and I had known about the Mulberry factory store in Somerset (Shepton Mallet, to be precise) for some time, but had never actually been until yesterday. And sweet Jesus am I glad we made the trip. The name "factory shop" is somewhat deceiving. I was picturing a little room on the edge of an actual factory, but in reality, the "factory shop" is so much more. In a beautiful old building on the edge of Kilver Court outlet village, the store is huge: it has its own café and loos, not to mention several rooms full to the brim with beautiful, gorgeous Mulberry.

the café
Naturally, I went head first for the bags on entering, and was very impressed. There was a great selection of bags on offer, with a range of reductions. I think the best I saw was a red Oversized Alexa reduced from £2553 to £638, which is bloody incredible if you ask me. I went into the shop thinking, "Maybe I'll get a keyring or something." Anyone who's been following my tweets or Instagram over the past couple of days will know that I bought a lot more than a keyring.

Yes, I am the extremely proud owner of this beauty - an Oversized Pink Champagne Mulberry Alexa Satchel:

And I love it with all my heart. Not only was it at a fantastic reduction already, I also got a 10% student discount because I have an NUS card - how awesome is that!? 10% makes a big difference on Mulberry prices, I tell ya. I just knew when I saw it. Beautiful, classic shape; great size; more unusual colour (come on... everyone has it in tan) that will still go with everything. IT'S PERFECT. I AM SO HAPPY. MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. OK, maybe that was a bit far, but you get my drift.

Having worked hard at two part-time jobs around my degree and saved up all year, I had the money in the bank, so just thought "Why not?" Usually I fritter away my money on a £20 pair of trousers here or £9 necklace there (which, being from somewhere like Primark, obviously don't last), but I think it's actually much better to make a one off, special, more expensive purchase. And I am so glad I did. I don't have one smidge of shopping guilt. Honestly!

Anyhoo, back to the Mulberry store. It's a delightfully pleasant shopping environment, all the staff were ridiculously helpful and friendly, and they have a great selection on offer: I'm talking bags, jewellery, shoes, clothes, keyrings... you name it! If I hadn't been so smitten with my bag (or if I was richer) I may very well have purchased more - a cute little skirt reduced from £250 to just £50, perhaps. The shop assistant also bagged up my bag in a beautiful dust bag and then another, erm, bag, for me to carry round all day. Yes, you know those women you see walking round the streets with Mulberry shopping bags, and you think "Ooh, she's just bought something from Mulberry"? Well, I was one of them. And it felt gooood.

My bag went on a trip to the Clifton Suspension bridge in Bristol
So, to sum up this blog post, the Shepton Mallet Mulberry factory store is brilliant, and I love my bag. YAY!

Monday, 6 August 2012

RECIPE: Banana pecan muffins

Well, these babies are yummy. Equally perfect at breakfast and afternoon teatime, they are best served warm (in my opinion that is). Everyone in my family has loved them, which isn't a common occurrence, I can tell you that. The recipe makes 12 big muffins, but to be fair I did have some mixture leftover which I just ate, obvs - you could probably get a 13th muffin out if you were so inclined. Go forth, and bake! And then eat. And enjoy. And spread the love through muffins.


250g plain flour
25g oat bran
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g pecans, roughly chopped
3 bananas (as ripe as possible)
1 egg, beaten
85g butter, melted
125g light muscovado sugar
174ml natural yoghurt


1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with baking cases (I chose rather topical Union Jack ones!)

This is the size I chopped my pecans, but it's up to you!

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oat bran, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and pecans.

mashed bananas
3. Peel and mash the bananas (I find a fork is the best utensil to use for this.)

The egg, butter and sugar mixture.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, butter and sugar, then stir in the mashed banana and yoghurt.

5. Add the wet mixture all at once to the dry flour mixture, stirring until just combined and no white traces of flour remain, but don't overmix or the muffins will be heavy.

6. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases - they should be nearly full to the top.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden on top. Leave in the tin for ten minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack. Not for too long though, as they're delicious still warm from the oven!

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