Bloomin' Excited

So here we are again, another night before the week ahead has come round and most folk are feeling the benefits of the extra day off work for the Bank Holiday and enjoying the relaxed vibes. Not I...Oh no. For my weekend has been less 'long' and more 'long hours on site.' A building site to be precise. I can almost hear you asking what on earth someone who works in fashion was doing on a building site all weekend but it was for a good cause. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@2dyefor_) will have noticed a few mentions these past few days regarding a new bar opening at the end of this week. Well I can finally say a bit more about it and give you a few preview shots - you lucky lot!

The reason I have been on site is because of OH. He's a self-employed architect and his company have been hired to design and create a new bar in Manchester and, true to form, he's created an incredible project which will look idyllic but needs all hands on deck to get those finishing touches living up to the mental image he has for it.

The bar is going to be called Bloom and is based right in the heart of Manchester on Hardman Square in Spinningfields and opens on 31st May. (3 days away.) There's a lovely article about it here on the Spinningfields website.


OH and I are both real perfectionists so when he mentioned the live ivy outer walls needed concentrating on there was little else I could do than volunteer my weekend away to help the project along. So that's what I've been doing. All weekend I have been up and down ladders training ivy up the side of the bar so that the finished result is a living green box. And it looks ridiculously cool.

Vine training

Now that we've hit Monday night it's safe to say I am exhausted but there's no better reason for it than to help out a good cause. The actual bar will be owned and run by James Wrigley who already owns Fluid Bars and DockBar so he's a well established guy and will only be going from strength to strength. He's been a friend of mine for years so I was thrilled when he and OH teamed up on this latest piece and what they have created promises to be an urban oasis where you can spend time with friends, listen to good music and enjoy a few drinks and even some hot and cold meze style dishes.

Outdoor concept
The very pride-inducing board on site. OH's company.

What's so great about this bar is that, unlike most summer pop-ups, it has a fully covered indoor area and covered and uncovered outdoor seating areas. I think this is a great concept as we can all agree that Manchester's weather can hardly be counted on but this has all been taken into consideration so OH has created several spaces for anyone to enjoy whatever mood the weatherman happens to be in.

Interior coming along nicely

As mentioned it officially opens 31st May but a huge amount of us will be down there this Saturday (1st) along with some DJs and general first weekend revellers so drop in and say hi if you're in the area. Even if you aren't, make the trip. Trust me - it will be worth it.

In the mean time stay tuned for launch pics and follow the bar on Twitter for the latest updates and preview shots @BloomBarMCR

Taste Of Home.

A couple of weeks ago during one of my countrywide work tootles I was listening to a well known radio station in the car when they posed the question - what one meal could you not live without? About twenty dishes sprang to mind within seconds but the one that just pipped the others to the post was my mum's moussaka.

It is divine. And then another thought struck fear into me. I'm moving out soon (now that I am 'with job' again it is time for me to be 'with rent' again) and it's a dish I have absolutely no idea how to make. Now, I am well aware I could simply use a very popular search engine to generate a recipe for me and go from there but what is different about my mum's version is that she doesn't use potatoes in it at all - which is commonplace in most versions. This is simply as she's not into carb-overloading (a la Gwyneth, I s'pose.) and I like it that way. It often means I'll have a side of garlic bread and not feel one iota of guilt.

Anyway - with my next moussaka fix being nowhere on the horizon I thought what better time to learn how to make it than when I have unlimited access to mum's enormous collection of recipes, all with personal notes alongside them so you can be sure to cook it exactly as she does. Fantastic!

So I set to work gathering the ingredients which are (to serve 4-6):

For the meat and sauce:
1 pack of pork mince (500g) (moussaka is traditionally a lamb based dish but really any type of mince will do - I'd even think quorn would work for the veggies out there)
3-4 aubergines (eggplants to those folk across the pond)
2 large onions
1 tin of tomatoes in their sauce
1 parsley plant (the kind you buy in the supermarket pre-grown)
1 tsp ground allspice

1-2 tsp nutmeg
grated cheese (this is to top the dish at the end so use whichever kind you like and as much or as little as you like)
black pepper
olive oil

For the white sauce:
1 pint milk
1 dessert spoon cornflower
1 whole nutmeg, grated

I've been told many a time that this is an arduous dish to prepare but knowing the tasty result meant I wasn't deterred so I cracked on, taking pictures along the way for you guys. So let's get cracking.
The aubergines are probably the most lengthy bit so I started with them. Slice them so each 'disk' is about 6mm thick and layer them in a colander sprinkling a little salt on each layer. The salt helps draw the water out of the aubergines which is what we want. The longer you can leave them to do this the better. I left mine over the sink to drip away while I carried on. (You'd be amazed how much water they retain.)

Next, chop those onions!
They don't need to be particularly fine so this shouldn't take too long.

Then, more chopping - parsley. You'll need the whole plant really (not the stalks) as once it's cooked down the flavour is subtle but is key so don't be afraid that it will over-power the dish, it won't.

Then, in a pan cook the meat. Once it's started to brown add the onions, tomatoes and chopped parsley making sure to include the nutmeg, ground all spice and season it all well with black pepper.

Side note: at this point I added quite a lot of nutmeg but that's a personal taste thing, it doesn't *need* more than a tsp or two but I'm a bit of a fan so the more the merrier in my dishes!
Once the meat has browned and the contents of your pan are beginning to look like the above turn the heat down, pop the lid on and leave it on a low heat while you continue with the rest of the dish. As long as it's not burning the longer you can keep it simmering away the better. It makes the overall flavour even richer so don't rush it.
While you've been doing all that the aubergines should have had a good salting session so, using fresh kitchen paper towels, remove the slices from the colander(s) and pat them dry. Spray baking trays with light oil (or if calories aren't a concern for you just drizzle olive oil into the pans instead) and make single layers of the aubergines on each tray. I needed 3 trays in the end - pesky things!

Once done pop these in the oven on about 180 degrees and leave until golden brown. This can take anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes depending on how cooked you want them.

While these are cooking and the meat sauce is reducing it's white sauce time! White sauce has always been something that has intimidated me. I have visions of Bridget Jones' mum bursting into the room shouting about lumps and trying to seive it. But I needn't have worried, it's really simple.
Basically - heat a pint of milk (keeping a bit back) in a pan and gradually add a dessert spoon of cornflower. The key here is to not stop stirring or that's when the risk of lumps comes into play. Keep stirring with a whisk or similar and add the whole nutmeg (grated) in gradually. Once it thickens to the consistency you like remove it from the heat and set to one side in a Pyrex jug or similar. My mum taught me to leave a bit of the milk to one side in case you need to thin the sauce if it gets too clumpy. Luckily mine didn't so I didn't need the little bit over but it's a great tip.

By now it should be time to remove the aubergines from the oven if they're looking done and start the layering process in the dish you're cooking it all in. You'll need a deep, oven proof dish for the main event.
Starting with the aubergine create layers of them then the sauce and keep going until both are all used up.
Once done pour the white sauce over the top and cover in grated cheese. Pop in the oven at about 180 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until it's the golden brown you like then remove.

The good thing about this dish is that nothing is 'cooking' at this stage as it's all pre-cooked by now so the length of time you have it in the oven now is purely personal. I think around 40 minutes is the sweet spot for a nice crispy edge and gooey centre.
I happened to make this on quite a warm day so I rustled up a quick artichoke and olive salad with balsamic dressing to accompany it but it's a great dish in those colder months too with seasonal vegetables and boiled potatoes.

So there you have it - a pretty simple, delicious dish that I can now take to my new home with me.

Bon appetit!


Summer Saviours.

Like most people in the UK, I would imagine, my summer wardrobe never needs that much updating each year - due to the fact each lovely piece is barely worn the year before as a result of the poor weather it seems my items remain perpetually pristine so they rarely need the annual overhaul my winter wardrobe does. (My poor knitwear, on the other hand, gets far too much wear.)

And this year, so far, hasn't threatened to be any different. It was only when packing for my Portugal road trip a few weeks ago that I realised the majority of the garms I was wanting to accompany me on my break were at least 2 or 3 years old. This fact on its own isn't something that bothers me in the least - the old saying 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' springs to mind. But I've always thought there is something intrinsically holiday-ish about a bit of pre-break shopping. So with this mentality it was with very little effort that I managed to convince my sister to join me for a shopping session. The lure of a sushi lunch at the end was too much for her and before I knew it we were full steam ahead.

Now something that maybe not too many people know about me is my stance on shopping. And when most folk learn it they seem puzzled by it, I suppose it's because of what I do for a living but I think that's exactly why I am the way I am in shops -  I spend all day around newness that by the end of it I can barely stand to take in any more visual treats! I rarely browse, and even more rarely actually try something on. I prefer to get in and get out and return anything I need to, swiftly, at a later date. So this shopping trip with my sister that I'm describing is perhaps not the type most people envisage when they think of shopping. I am a firm believer in a bit of pre-shop online research so, really, I was only keen to plunder one particular store. The indisputable queen of the high street - Zara. 

As I mentioned it's rarely my summer clothes that need adding to but sandals seem to be something I am in constant need of every year. I'm not sure what I do to them the previous year but I never seem to be able to find them again and if I do they're always a little dogeared from weeks of me refusing to believe that we are having yet another miserable summer. For this very reason I have been caught short a few times with sopping wet be-sandaled feet, still in total denial that it's anything but a seasonal shower. Usually it's a typhoon.

Anyway, I digress. So to Zara we strode with my feet in mind and immediately began browsing their shelves for the pairs I'd seen online. After a little while, and with defeat in my heart, I was just about to turn grumpily to my sister and give up the ghost when I saw them, nestled on a very low shelf below some dresses were these beauties:

At only £19.99 a pair I knew I was sold on them before I even tried them on. I had to get a size up as I've quite a wide foot but I didn't care - they were mine! And they can be yours too if you click here or here. (Also available in white.)

Bolstered by my successful finds I began to view the shop in a different light. As an actual browsing shopper of all things(!) It was then that I came across a couple of other things I simply couldn't put down. A silk playsuit I'd seen a few weeks earlier in Look magazine and admired then, and some sunglasses.

Unfortunately both pieces are now sold out but they look like this:

The playsuit is close relative of the recent pyjama trend and feels great to wear. A small, geometric print in navy, beige and a deep red makes it very easy to wear and it's an amazingly flattering fit.

Similar styles here and here.

And the sunnies:

I just LOVE the white line detail on them and as often as I can wear them now, I do.

A similar, very cool pair available here.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of me wearing the sandals so you'll just have to believe me when I say they look great on. So great in fact that a few people I know have gone on to buy them. Theirs is a guilt free price tag that just won't quit!

So there you have it, this years summer saviours of mine. I can firmly say I need nothing else this season now. Well...maybe not until I see that next thing I simply can't put down.

Ah, why fight it?


Summer Sun.


Just back into the UK after some time out, relaxing with OH and travelling up the length of Portugal and to northern Spain on a road trip. We'd been due to drive a very beautiful vintage Austin Healey back up but unfortunately we weren't able to so some very generous friends offered us their Jaguar convertible to use. I think I'd accepted before they'd even finished the sentence! Although not quite the vintage tootle about I'd imagined the Jaguar did provide OH with some great, Supercar fun along the mountain passes we took at times.

But that's enough car shenanigans. Onto the fun stuff - the accommodation! We spent each night in a new place; so we started in Lagos and ended up in San Sebastian staying everywhere from olive groves to yurts along the way. It was incredible. Most of the places we found were from a website recommended to us - Sawdays - which is a site specialising in off the beaten track beauties to stay in. As I said anything from yurts to tree houses to ancient castles can be found on there. I'd strongly recommend them and they cover several European countries so do have a click.

We each had our favourite spots but mine was, without a doubt, if you'd not already guessed, the yurt. This was a little outside Arganil in Portugal in a vibrant, green mountain valley. Owned and run by London born and bred couple Hannah and Derek, it is a truly unique and beautiful spot. After spending an incredibly happy few hours lounging in a hammock outside our yurt with my book OH and I asked their story and they told us they'd bought the plot and run down foundations of what is now their large house about 14 years ago for a startlingly reasonable amount of money. Initially it had been a holiday home project but as the years rolled on the draw was too mesmerising and a few years ago they moved their family (their children, dog and cats live there too!) over to their handmade heavenly spot. Hannah then recommended a good site to wish away a few hours on - Pure Portugal. Ideas are flowing guys...

You can eat there at night outside your yurt and again in the morning. The meals are homemade and brought down from the house to you fresh in a great picnic style wicker basket so you can enjoy the sunset with a few vinos and a lot of good food! We had deviled mushroom starter, fish pie for main course and poached pear for dessert. Each mouthful was a delight. In fact just the memory is making my taste buds tingle!

They have spent years creating a little piece of paradise in the heart of Portugal so if you ever find yourself that way or better yet just want to go full stop (I'll definitely be back!) then their site is Enjoy!

Anyway - here's a few snaps from our hols.

Yurt Yurt Yurt!

We had a wonderful time but I'm pleased to be back and feeling inspired! Sorry about all the selfies. Got a bit carried away!