This succulent chocolate cake is based on a recipe I picked up during my stint living in America. My lovely neighbour Barbara was an amazing baker, always willing to share and exchange kitchen tips! This quick-fire recipe whips up an incredibly moist cake that goes perfectly with a generous helping of double cream…
8oz plain flour
12.5oz caster sugar
3oz cocoa powder
1.5 oz baking powder
9fl oz milk
4.5 oz vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
9fl oz boiling water
Preheat your oven 180C/Gas mark 4.
Grease a 10 inch cake tin. I like the ones with the false bottoms – they make the job of retrieving your cake after baking that much easier.
Leaving aside the boiling water for a moment, combine all the other ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Using a wooden spoon or electric whisk beat the mixture until smooth.
Add the boiling water slowly and continue to mix until smooth once again. The mix should be a runny but quite thick.
Pour into the tin and bake for 25-35 mins or until a skewer comes out of the middle clean.
After cooling, pop it onto a plate, slice and serve with vanilla ice cream or custard with lashings of cream. Yum!
Diabetics don’t have it easy. Not being able to eat sugar, chocolate, biscuits or other delicious sweet treats is a really tough challenge. Here’s a sugar-free Victoria sponge recipe dedicated to any diabetic readers out there…you deserve some ‘yum’ too!
One 7 inch cake will give you eight slices.
150g/5oz self raising flour
8 tbsp granulated Splenda
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp dried skimmed milk powder
2 tbsp ground rice
2 eggs beaten
7 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp skimmed milk mixed with 6 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
Sugar-free jam and whipped cream for filling
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/Gas mark 4.
Line the bases of two 7inch cake tins and grease the sides with vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder.
Stir in the Splenda, the ground rice and the dried milk.
Add the eggs, oil, milk with water, vanilla extract and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon or electric mixer. The mixture should drop off the spoon, if not, add more water.
Spread into the two tins, level the tops with a spoon or knife then bake your cake for around 25 minutes.
Allow to cool then turn out onto a wire rack.
Once cooled, spread whipped cream onto the bottom of one half and strawberry jam onto the bottom of the other, then sandwich together.
While cleansing your skin is beneficial, using a refining cleanser, preferably an oil free facial exfoliator, will not only remove makeup, dirt and grime but also exfoliate your skin, removing dead skin cells, bringing new life to your once dull complexion, and reduce the signs of aging, leaving you with visibly healthier looking, vibrant skin.
Along with the immediate visual rewards of exfoliation, the elimination of dead skin cells speeds up the skin’s restoration process, encouraging smoother, healthier looking skin. In addition, along with the anti-aging benefits that include a reduction of fine line and wrinkles, an oil free facial exfoliator will help reduce discolouration. Exfoliating will also help moisturiser penetrate deeper into your skin allowing for dewier, younger looking complexion; this is also the case when it comes to sunscreen and makeup; by regularly exfoliating your makeup will go on much smoother and your sunscreen as well which will enable it to better protect your skin from the sun’s aging UV rays.
A good oil free facial exfoliator will also help reduce blackhead and acne breakouts. Acne prone skin sheds more skin cells than normal skin types; unfortunately the cells don’t fall away and end up sticking to the skin, clogging hair follicles and pores, producing excess oil which ultimately leads to blemishes.
A good example of a great exfoliator cleanser would be vbeauté’s Rub Off Gentle Facial Exfoliator, a gel cream cleanser that features exfoliation beads in an extremely gentle cleansing agent extracted from coconut. The tiny exfoliating beads won’t tear your skin; only slough away the dulling dead skin cells, leaving you with beautiful, perfectly smooth skin that will help you experience the maximum results of your skincare regimen. vbeauté’s oil free facial exfoliator also contains Rosemary extract which minimises large pores and helps control excess facial oil. Developed without fragrance, it’s a great choice for all skin types and is the perfect option for anyone wanting to address hyper-pigmentation issues, fine lines and wrinkles.
I've been hearing a huge amount about South America recently, particularly since starting my writing MA. There are a good few characters from the United States enrolled on the course, and between them they've travelled extensively around the continent. I've not had the chance to visit even one South American country yet, but with each conversation, my desire to visit this tantalising land is heightened more and more.
Which country has battled its way towards the top of my list, I hear you ask? That would be Chile. Bordering Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and the Drake Passage, it looks like the perfect country to start in for the ultimate South American adventure.
And, incidentally, Chile's tourism board has just launched an initiative promoting its adventure, nature and wildlife offerings. Believe me, it certainly has a lot to offer. After watching the video below, I'm sure you'll be as tantalised as I am by the prospect of a trip there.
Wild expectations, indeed. The Chileinitiative has so much appeal to adventurous travellers. The idea of getting right out of my comfort zone and exploring such pristine landscapes in Chile is a welcome one.
The video is shot beautifully, though in a country of such organic diversity and unspoiled locations, I suppose it would be difficult to shoot it badly. I love the concept of Renéon travelling back to his roots in his native homeland after living abroad – it’s an innovative and relatable idea. I’m looking forward to watching the next instalment of his adventures.
This is a Sponsored Post written by Lauren Razavi and funded by Chile Travel.
If you were to ask me what I thought epitomizes masculinity – what conjures thoughts of rugged, manly men – the answer is quite simple: the quintessential cowboy.
Not only could he fearlessly wield a handgun while riding his steed with reckless abandon, but he had a strong, silent air about him that could make every pair of bloomers at the saloon drop, too. Cowboys were the perfect balance between honour and rebellion; quenching every girls’ thirst for a bad boy while still knowing when to tip his hat and call you “ma’am”. Think: the Marlboro man or Clint Eastwood in his heyday. No girl in her right mind would kick them out of bed.
Yes, much of the cowboy era has gone the way side but more than just his swagger has transcended the old west.
Although I highly recommend leaving the chaps out of the equation (with the exception of a few kinky special occasions, of course), it’s incredibly easy for men to maintain this effortless masculinity in their day-to-day attire. Whether he’s sporting his worn and washed favourites on a Sunday morning coffee run, or a slim-fit deep indigo pair with a sport coat for a night on the town, the right pair of denim always adds the suave of Charlton Heston.
But, jeans aren’t the only way a guy can work denim into his look and still have that in-the-moment feel. With today’s coloured trouser trend and secondary material options like chinos, it’s easy to pair off a denim button-up. This incredibly laid-back look is one of my favourites; worn open with a V-neck (not too low, please) and your sleeves rolled (thick, relaxed cuffs just about the elbows to show off those forearms!) you really can’t go wrong. For the more fashion-forward guys, wear your washed denim button-up with a darker wash or black jean à la David Beckham or Yeezus. If it’s a more preppy look you’re after, wear a button-down chambray shirt (I’ll save you the Google search, boys. Chambray is that denim-looking material with the linen finish… you’re welcome.) with your trousers and a blazer in place of a baby blue or white collared shirt.
There’s just something about a guy who knows how to rock denim and channel his inner cowboy that exudes manliness. He’s a scent of spiced leather and a little bourbon on the breath away from being the rough and tumble man dreams are made of.
At least, this is the type of guy who wouldn’t have to convince me to ride off into the sunset…
Over the summer, the 21-year-old daughter of some family friends got engaged. I found this absolutely shocking. Somebody just a little younger than me was in pursuit of an old-fashioned, arbitrary ideal: marriage. A few months later, it was announced that this girl and her fiancé were going to buy a house together, and were looking at mortgages. I found this absolutely mind-boggling.
You see, this young lady has never lived away from her parental home, let alone with her newly-acquired fiancé. I wasn’t sure whether to admire her for being so ballsy or beg her not to do it when I heard. Nevertheless, it all seems to be going ahead – but it’s left me with questions. The one that I’m going to tackle in this blogpost is the question of mortgages – do young people want them these days, and should we want them?
archer10 (Dennis) / Flickr
So, first off: in principle, I am against the idea of getting a mortgage. To me, the notion screams of unquestioned traditions and laying down roots that prevent you from being free. It’s fair to say that I’m not planning to pick up the mortgage calculator quite yet. But perhaps I’m being closed minded in my assessment of the good ol’ mortgage. After all, there’s a reason they’ve lasted so long, and that Britain is one of few countries still intent on owning property.
My first problem with the idea of a mortgage is losing my freedom to travel because I’m suddenly ‘committed’ to one place. But I may well be worrying unnecessarily.
Take my friend Ed, for example. Ed is genuinely one of the most free-spirited gentlemen I know. He’s had a mortgage for the past twenty years, and it hasn’t stopped him travelling the world by bicycle or living elsewhere from time to time. He got a mortgage at a good time for mortgages, so take note potential mortgagers: when good schemes become available, do take advantage. My understanding of it is that more recently he got pretty good at arranging sublets and the suchlike while he was away – a viable option for absolutely anyone who owns property and wants the freedom to jet off and explore the world.
The second issue I have is the sheer cost of a mortgage. Some months I do fine with money and can have a treat or two – other times, I struggle to pay rent and eat. What can I do if I’m worried I won’t have the money to pay the mortgage that month?
My next example are my friends Polly and Ben, who are married and have a mortgage. They’re also musicians who find themselves out on tour a lot. So, in order to go on music tours but not lose out massively on their mortgage, they let their house to a tenant and stay elsewhere when they’re back in their hometown. Circumstances made this easy since Polly runs a pub with a flat above it, but still, getting a mortgage doesn’t mean these guys are restricted from doing what they want to do because of the financials.
401(K) 2013 / Flickr
There are obvious positives too. With buying a house comes the security of always having a roof over your head – something comforting if you’re a person who really values the feeling of home and having somewhere to return to.
There’s also the argument that homes are very good investments, which is generally true: property holds its value, and if you own (or through a mortgage, partially own) a home and need access to money, homes tend to retain a lot of value in the longer term and can be sold at any time.
Finally, if you’re in a serious relationship, there’s something to be said for buying property together. Part of a long-term relationship and shared life-building expedition is building a home together, and whether that’s a suitcase of a 4-bed semi-detached just outside of town, property – and a shared mortgage – can be a really important part of that.
I still don’t know if a mortgage is ever going to be for me personally, but I can definitely see the value in getting one under certain circumstances. Let’s wait and see what the government has to say about Help to Buy schemes this week and then perhaps reassess…
I watch a lot of films. I think telling stories on screen is one of the most engaging, astounding and beautiful ways to learn about something or find inspiration or experience the feeling of being understood. If it’s done well, of course. I can’t say I was that blown away by the legendary mess that is 2003′s The Room – a film so dire you can’t even seem to buy it on Amazon anymore, new or secondhand.
Over the course of last weekend, when I came back from Italy with what’s officially referred to as the Italian lurgy (or should that be lergy?), I took the opportunity to indulge in some film-watching.
Before Midnight (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy)
There are very few characters created in any art form that compel fans to follow them for eighteen years. In this instance, I don’t mean eighteen years in the space of one two-hour movie either; I mean eighteen long real-time years between when you meet the characters and their story concludes. That’s quite a feat for any actor, actress, writer or direct to add to their CV.
The ‘Before’ trilogy follows Celine and Jesse, a young couple who meet on a train in 1995. Romance blossoms and they spend a night walking around Vienna together, believing this will be their only encounter. Nine years later, Jesse has written a book about their night together and Celine appears at his Paris book-signing. They spend the day walking around Paris and talking – the film ends with Jesse sitting in Celine’s apartment, about to miss his plane back to the US.
Fast forward nine more years to the present day, and Before Midnight concludes the eighteen-year tale of true love. The third and final instalment in the trilogy, like the other two films, is exceptionally well-written and boasts incredibly acting from both Delpy and Hawke. With more of a bittersweet message than the previous two stories, Celine and Jesse are having some relationship issues in a film that tells us love isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t diminish it.
Friends had mentioned Weekend to me, but it took me a long old time to finally sit down and watch it. Boy, am I glad that I did. This beautifully-crafted modern love story is British independent film at its very best. Two guys living in Nottingham, England meet at a nightclub and spend a weekend together, talking about life and falling in love. It’s a simple premise, but executed perfectly. You wouldn’t even know it was created on a low budget. The characters are incredible and it’s not a surprise to learn it picked up much critical acclaim at the film festivals when it was released.
As well as using Nottingham as a gorgeous backdrop to the story, there’s a travel element to the story which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever fallen in love quickly before they’re meant to leave a place.
Socially conscious and forward-thinking company Liberation Foods launched a new range of nuts last month. Fairtrade and farmer-owned, Liberation Nuts are aptly named and absolutely delicious.
True to the ethos of the company, all nuts are sourced from co-operatives of small-scale growers and farmers, all of whom own a 44% share of the company. Peanuts travel from Nicaragua and Malawi while the cashews journey from India, and every step of the process is committed to all things fairtrade.
Available in two scrummy concoctions, you can now get your hands on 100g bags of Oven Baked Chilli & Lime Cashews with Peanuts & Roasted Corn or the simpler but still crunchy and delicious Oven Baked Salted Cashews & Peanuts.
Grab yourself a packet from Waitrose now for just £1.49. More info on Liberation here.
Mention the Bobal grape variety and you might be met with a few blank stares, or even some raised eyebrows from the few who are familiar with it. But for one young Spanish winemaker, this grape has spurred on a passion for achieving the very best expression of his local region, DO Manchuela. Situated east of Valencia and west of La Mancha, you’d be forgiven for not being entirely familiar with its wines – awarded a separate classification in 2000, its producers wanted to differentiate the area from the bulk-wine reputation of its larger neighbours and establish a name for quality production.
Continuing this quest for quality is Juan Antonio Poncé, who founded Bodegas Poncé in 2005 when he was just twenty-three years old. After studying at the Requena School of Viticulture and Oenology and undertaking several trips to France, he developed a keen interest in biodynamic and organic viticultural methods. Opinions about the science behind the more ‘spiritual’ biodynamic techniques may be divided, but many cannot argue with the results, with over 450 quality wine producers worldwide adopting them and winning plaudits for the fruits of their work.
As Ben Greene, online marketing manager and wine expert at Roberson Wine, says “biodynamics are general principles for farming in general yet, for some reason, wine producers (especially in France) are falling over themselves to label their wines biodynamic, while producers of other crops are not”.
The success of these producers has attracted controversy, with many citing that superior quality wines could be down to simply organic techniques and the skill of the winemaker, but for Poncé, these techniques are all about getting the very best expression of the terrior in his wines – a flavour that reflects the unique combination of a particular soil, climate and grape variety. His choice of the local Bobal grape to make red wines may well be surprising, but its characteristics are perfectly matched with the moderate climate and the lime-enriched clay soil of Manchuela.
Although not considered to be a ‘quality’ variety, Poncé has succeeded in producing wines with sweet fruit notes and savoury, light tannins that maintain their acidity. His methods respect the vineyard as the primary asset and the most important factor in determining his production techniques – adopting biodynamic methods that treat the plots as cohesive, interconnected living systems, and undertaking wild yeast fermentation of whole bunches before having them foot-trodden in small wooden vats, all contribute to wines that have the expression of their locality at their very heart.
Prior to setting up Bodegas Poncé with his father, Juan Antonio was the Vineyard Manager for Telmo Rodriguez, a position that involved learning about regional diversity, working in thirteen quality in regions including Rioja, Toro and La Mancha and learning what makes each of these unique regions tick. His combined experience has led him to describe himself more as a viticulturalist than a winemaker – respecting each different vineyard and basing his techniques on their characteristics is key to his winemaking philosophy.
Whatever your opinion on the merits of biodynamic and organic methods, it can’t be denied that they are being used to great effect in Manchuela. Producing wines of this quality from an almost unknown grape takes drive, determination and an in-depth understanding of the vineyards involved, something that Juan Antonio Poncé has in abundance.
The kitchen is the heart of any home, even if you live alone. The day begins here with a cup of coffee, and ends here with a glass of water to take to bed. Throughout the day, it’s where cooking and eating takes place – usually alongside casual chats with friends, family or flatmates.
As lovely as an affinity with your kitchen is, when you spend a lot of time in a room, even if it’s beautifully decorated and adorned with precious treasures, that space can easily begin to seem mundane and stale. Here are three easy ways to rejuvenate your kitchen – on a mental and a physical level.
Credit: barockschloss / Flickr
Step 1: Reorder and Reorganise
The difficulty with kitchens is always their limitations in terms of movement. Furniture is often fixed into place, so a refresh of your surroundings can’t always include moving the staples of the space around as it might for other rooms.
Instead, try keeping things in different places – food, plates, cups, glasses, utensil pots, herbs and spices, and the kitchen bin can all be moved so your kitchen operates in a totally new way. The perfect refresh! Sometimes the smallest changes can be the most important.
Credit: camknows / Flickr
Step 2: Superior Equipment is Worth the Cost
If your kitchen equipment, work surfaces, cupboard fronts, stove and more are all hand-me-downs from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends or kindly strangers, you do need to make some radical changes.
It doesn’t have to cost the earth, but investing in some superior kitchen equipment really can make all the difference to the style and feel of the room. Particularly if you love all things food and cooking-related (like me!), a decent oven and hob are really important. Honestly – dinner parties will be improved no end with this important purchase!
Credit: vidalia_11 / Flickr
Step 3: Get the Paint Out
A lot of kitchen space is covered by appliances, cupboards and more. But the bits that aren’t covered by practical necessities should – no excuses – be painted in a vibrant, warm and inviting colour. This can give the whole room a delicious new atmosphere and make you feel like you’re working in a totally new space.
Even if you’re living in rented accommodation, landlords or letting agencies will often grant permission for you to paint walls, provided you either let them approve the colour or agree to repaint it a neutral colour when you move out.