Bomb Cosmetic’s You Can’t Catch Me

Christmas might have come and gone but some of the delights, including a stack of bath blasters from Bomb Cosmetics, are still lingering around the flat. Several of the blasters are really strongly winter scented but a few of the others can be used going into the spring so there has been some tactical consideration of which to use and when.

This ginger scented “You Can’t Catch Me” strongly makes me think of winter and the festive season, perfect for soaking in whilst supping at a apple and cinnamon tea, and it was the first one that I wanted to use. It is super cute to look at though and I did feel a little guilty at the idea of causing the little gingerbread guy to melt away in the hot water… I really need to stop giving every item in my life a personality.

Looking at it you can see the glitter running through and the top part of the bath blaster has a bit of a jelly like texture as it starts to melt whilst the bottom is a more traditional texture of a bath bomb or fizzer. The combination of the texture allows for colour to be dispatched through the bath water as well as some scent to be released whilst the more jelly like part contains extra scent and softness.

Bath blaster by Bomb Cosmetics
Bath blaster by Bomb Cosmetics
Bath blaster by Bomb Cosmetics
Bath blaster by Bomb Cosmetics

Bath blaster by Bomb Cosmetics in action

The water, and bubbles on the surface, got a gentle hint of red and orange that looked like colours of little jelly sweets you would found stuck on a gingerbread house. Luckily, the mild colours came through in the water rather than ending up soaking in some horror of red bath water!

Whenever I try something a little new or different I get a little nervous about if there will be a scent throw once it hits the water let alone if it will manage to actually hang around during the entire bath but the ginger and general spices packed within this bath blaster really managed to hang around. They really gave me a lifted and lively feeling whilst also helps me to relax and reorganise everything going through my head as I soaked into the delightfully hot water.

I have found though that these need a little help staying afloat as they are quite top heavy because of the different textures and if you don’t hold them up to show off their magic they just immediately plummet to the bottom of the bath and the magical show gets lost as the gingerbread man drowns quickly. Even for somebody that doesn’t take photos of every single thing that happens in their life I can imagine this still being a little disappointing as watching it bob along the surface would be so satisfying. If you have any tips on how to get them to float please let me know!

Coloured water from bath blaster

Floating little gingerbread man bath blaster
Gingerbread man on the run across the water

Melting gingerbread from Bomb Cosmetics bath bomb

Eventually though it was time to say goodbye to the little fella that had enjoyed hanging out for so long. I tried to do a fun little story on Instagram about his bath adventure but it fell sort of flat because fun little stories in captions aren’t really appreciated over there these days (though that is a different story).

Despite it being difficult to keep afloat the scent and gentle effect on the water was really enjoyable and it was a great introduction to Bomb Cosmetics. I found it to be as satisfying, if not more so because of the scent kick back, as other bath products that I have used that often come at a much higher price point.

If you have any bath blaster staying afloat tips or have a favourite product please do mention them in the comments below!

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This book was a find in a charity shop just along the local row of shows. It threw me off a bit finding it in a charity shop because it is a relatively new book and has received such high praises but of course I know that some people read a book and put it in the pass-along pile immediately (a skill that both amazes and terrifies me simultaneously).

The cover of the book was one of the things that stood out to me as it was sitting there on the shelf. The green snake shimmered in the dim light as it twisted its way around from front to back and it really gave the hint of mystery and that this snake would be a presence, wrapping the whole world in its grasp, throughout the entire timeline.

Just after the book came away from the charity shop with me, it was time for me to start another book. Instead of this one I attempted to focus on one that I already had sitting around but The Essex Serpent was just playing on my mind and, with the other one not quite winning me over, I gave up resisting and picked it up and got stuck in.

It very quickly became clear it was going to be the sort of book that once I picked it up it would be really difficult to put back down but a busy schedule and a constant state of tiredness there was still slow progress (it took just shy of a full week to read; just shy of 400 pages of actual reading).

Book by Sarah Perry

The style of the book really worked for me as well. It had sub-sections for each month of the year and then many chapters within it to allow for either a quick chapter to be read whilst dinner was cooking or for a longer read of a whole month of the story. The numerous divisions help you to pause and evaluate everything that you have just read and that helps to slow the mind down a little to reflect the long year of the lives of all the characters involved; given the number of characters and their varying interests, topics of conversations and habits that is something you grow to appreciate the further into the story you go.

It sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? The desire to read a book at rapid pace whilst also being grateful of those moments where the book forces you to pause and reflect. Perhaps it is a contradiction but perhaps it is just an incredible skill and understanding of desire and a readers mind by Sarah Perry. To write a book like this with multiple locations, numerous characters, several underlying plots as well the big running theme really takes some incredible skill and that shows in the end product of the book and the plaudits it received on publication.

There was something very refreshing about the book as well, perhaps it is just how modern day books are now and I have gone so long without a real modern read, and that whilst it did not seem super hard hitting in terms of giving a life lesson, though there certainly are several hiding in there, it still felt like much more than just a throwaway book.

With little nudges to the Victorian housing crisis, the Socialist League, quotes from Marx and also the many statements on women, their place and what they can do with their mind and body there are many political undertones in this book that not only highlight issues of the era but get the reader to consider certain situations in the here and now. In fact the whole book can only exist because the main family, Cora and Martha, defy social traditions and put aside love and beauty for education and social issues. It is nothing groundbreaking in the way that their views are put across but the numerous strong women in this book really makes this book that little bit more enjoyable and refreshing.

This is an enjoyable book with a really refreshing and enjoyable structure that has carefully been thought through. The author has carefully created the characters and considered how they fit into the year long story to make this a story of strong females complimented by interesting male characters. It has an underlying story and there is a deep meaning as to what The Essex Serpent represents but this does not hit you hard in the face but more reveals itself to you genteley and leaves you to ponder it each time you put the book down. Would recommend.

Are you following me on Goodreads yet? Let me know in the comments below what you think of this book if you have given it a read?

Tuna And Spinach Risotto

We reached that point in the Cooking Up A Treat household where the ingredients to make a full meal were starting to run a little low and I decided to go a bit rogue by creating a tuna and spinach risotto. It might seem a little out there but, especially when combined with all the other flavours and kitchen basics, it actually worked incredibly well and was one of the most enjoyable meals I have cooked for some time.

It was certainly nice to have some greenery included properly within the risotto as well instead of searching around for something to put on the side to make it more than just carbs, protein and fat! This was certainly a much more balanced meal, with me going gentle on the cheese, and was packed with various flavours and textures too.

Rice dish with tuna and spinach

Ingredients (For Two)

  • One tin of tuna, preferably in brine (as this can be used in the risotto instead of salt)
  • Two portions of risotto rice. The one we use is Arborio rice from Asda where the packet is useful enough to tell you how much should be poured for a single portion
  • An onion, chopped
  • A large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • A large handful of mushrooms, we just used standard white mushrooms, sliced
  • Pepper, mixed herbs, chilli powder and a litre of boiling hot vegetable stock
  • A cup of frozen sweetcorn
  • 3/4 cup of frozen peas
  • A little bit of margarine, about a 25g knob
  • Some cheese, I would suggest about a small handful of it once grated would be enough
  • (For the side you can serve with salad to balance out the dish and make it more nutritious)
  • Four cups of roughly chopped spinach

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan
  2. Add in the garlic, onions and mushrooms to cook down and lightly brown
  3. Mix in the risotto rice
  4. Pour in a couple of ladles of stock. Drain the tuna into the pan as well. Whilst I didn’t I think a squeeze of lemon juice would work well added here
  5. Add in seasoning; pepper, dried mixed herbs and the chilli powder when adding another couple of ladles of stock. We have quite a strong chilli powder so only use a couple of pinches!
  6. Add in the frozen sweetcorn and peas with the next round of adding stock
  7. Keep adding a little stock until the rice is cooked. Let the remaining stock boil away before turning off the heat and mixing in the tuna, spinach (bit at a time, forcing it down and into the risotto with your stirring utensil) and the cheese
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Storing/Reheating

This is one of those dishes that I would be weary of having cold the following day but simply because the spinach has wilted a little and will go that bit soggy and mushy as it cools. If you are thinking of doing enough to produce leftovers I would suggest splitting the mixture to the right serving amount and then adding the spinach to the bit that you intend to eat immediately and then mix the rest into the cold risotto the following day (or have it on the side).

As always if you are intending to store some for later then remove it from the pan whilst it is still hot to a tub but keep the lid off until it has fully cooled; this helps to stop the risotto from continuing to cook in the pan or risking it sticking. If you have one of those tubs that divides into two sections this is a great dish to put into one half and then have the spinach and any other salad you might want in the other half.

What is your favourite fish based risotto to make? If you give this a go, or have any questions, please let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter or Instagram!

Café Adagio, Croydon 

My partner and I love a trip to Café Adagio on Lower Addiscombe Road here in Croydon. It is our very most local independent cafe and happens to be run by a really love guy. In fact my partner likes it so much he sometimes goes there without me to sit and read his book!

There is fierce competition in Addiscombe for the title of the best coffee house or café and often several of them grab awards in local independent publications but also get serious honourable mentions in the likes of Timeout and similar London wide sources.

So, if you want to succeed around here you need some serious tasty food, a fantastic attitude amongst all the front of house team and to know how to make an absolutely banging brew. Café Adagio not only hits the brief with all those three essential basics but they also bring an incredible unique selling point of having live music and events whilst exhibiting exquisite artwork on the walls (that is also available to buy)! It describes itself as a “suburban music cafe” but feels very much like a little community hub and especially when the front of house owner remembers so many visitors by name and is always sure to make time to have a little chat.

Hot choc and coffee

We aren’t just talking your bog standard latte or perhaps a bit of a fancier powder of instant cocoa we are talking incredible combinations that have been carefully curated to provide the perfect flavour and aesthetic balance; my partner had a wonderful looking coconilla latte, which I informed him was almost certainly coconut and vanilla, and I opted for a mexican hot chocolate that had the nicest little punch of spices mixed into the deep and rich chocolate mixture.

And in typical blogger style, or perhaps it is just a millennial thing that the news hasn’t picked up on yet, I adore the decor and that is certainly helped by the hefty marble tables that are a more natural shade with gold detailing. The changing artwork always stands out against the red walls and the lighting is the perfect level of ambience to be able to feel able to chat, relax and just clear your mind a little. Everything comes together to feel homely, cosy and like a place you really want to spend some time; it is so different to our pale blue washed rented walls that it really helps to bring warmth and joy to my life. Isn’t it funny how a cafe decor can feel more homely and refreshing than where you actually live?

Soup and bread roll

They don’t do a huge selection of proper food in the cafe but they do soups, specials that include savoury options and platters to go alongside a variety of cakes (that include vegan, gluten-free and other allergy/nutritional choice options) that are so incredibly soft, bouncy, fresh and full of flavour.

The food is well done and wonderfully presented whilst also being a further hit of that homely feel. On the day I had a potato and leek soup my partner opted for a thick slice of deliciously freshly made pie (and who doesn’t love pie!?). It is clear that they take pride in every single item that they produce and as a result it does take a little longer than it might in another cafe but if it was speedy it wouldn’t really fit the vibe that the rest of the cafe and experience provides.

For me this is a spot that really helps to warm me heart and allows my mind to focus without being so entirely zen that the minute I step out I fall into a panicked daze as I walk back along Lower Addiscombe Road to return home. It pours out happiness, comfort and care and genuinely goes that step to fit into the community and to bring all us grumpy sleep-deprived Addiscombe dwellers more than just another coffee shop.

If you don’t believe me why don’t you read some of the Croydon Citizen articles or the Tripadvisor reviews!

One of my local friends that wants to chat over coffee (or in my case hot chocolate or delicious tea) then hit me up because I’m always looking for reasons to sit in Café Adagio! If you happen to be local and have visited the cafe why not share your thoughts on your experiences in the comments below?

Quick Chicken And Sweetcorn Risotto

Cooking a proper risotto takes time, care and only a few ingredients. This is not one of those proper risottos as it is done from start to finish rather quickly and is loaded with dairy products and other needless ingredients; it tastes delicious and is delightful to make all the same.

This is a recipe that you can easily change the ingredients around for and adopt to your own taste; add in a few different spices, choose a different meat or meat-free substitute and choose different vegetables. The same person can cook a risotto ten times and it look and taste completely unique and that is a fantastic way to keep the meal idea alive and in rotation for a quick go-to mid-week meal.

Before you even consider giving this recipe a go, please make sure you have a really good non-stick saucepan. Unless you have trained the eye to know when the risotto is going to need that little bit more boiling stock it can be a little difficult to avoid the odd bit of sticking and a dodgy pan will do you no favours at all here.

Quick mid-week risotto

Ingredients (For Two)

  • Two small chicken breasts, or one larger one of course, chopped into 2x2x2 style cubes
  • Two portions of risotto rice. The one we use is Arborio rice from Asda where the packet is useful enough to tell you how much should be poured for a single portion
  • An onion, chopped
  • A large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • A large handful of mushrooms, we just used standard white mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt, pepper, mixed herbs and a litre of boiling hot vegetable stock
  • Two cups of sweetcorn, we just use frozen but tinned or fresh from the cob is suitable too
  • A little bit of margarine
  • Some cheese, we probably use way too much, I would suggest about a handful of it once grated would be enough
  • (For the side you can serve with salad to balance out the dish and make it more nutritious)

Method

  1. Put the margarine into a large saucepan and start to heat up. Add in the chicken and wait until this is fully cooked before adding the onions, mushrooms, garlic and seasoning in
  2. Add in the rice and then add a small amount of the stock (usually two to three ladles at a time should be sufficient) and put the pan on a medium heat
  3. Make sure that you stir the rice occasionally as this helps to ensure that there is no sticking to the bottom of the pan but risotto rice also takes quite well to a mild stirring. When the stock seems to have disappeared keep adding a couple more ladles until the rice is cooked to the level of bite you like
  4. At this point you need to use your judgement and when you are adding in what you believe will be the last amount of stock pop the sweetcorn in and give it a good mix around. Doing it at this stage and giving it a mix should not result in it being cooled down too much and should help to add that final bit of liquid alongside the stock
  5. You need to turn the heat down that little bit more now as when the stock has gone there will be no additional liquid getting added and you do not want it to end up sticking or becoming dry!
  6. Take the pan off the heat completely and mix in the cheese well. If you wanted to add something in like spinach this would be the stage to do it as mixing it in with the hot ingredients in the pan will see it wilting but not too much that it turns to mush. This will change the consistency of the risotto so add a little of the cheese at a time until it is either cheesy enough for you or has a texture that you feel comfortable with
  7. Serve up

Storing/Reheating

This is not the sort of dish that I would recommend for reheating because of it having both chicken and rice going on but it could be transformed into something like risotto balls (minus the chicken pieces) that are reshaped, coated and then cooked at a really high temperature whilst being fried.

If you do have leftovers take the risotto straight out of the pan and put into a tupperware dish to cool down. The risotto will continue to cook and risk drying out if it is left in a hot/warm pan whilst you go off and eat the immediately served up food. Be sure to give it a good mix up with a fork before popping it into the fridge and before you go to eat it take it out of the fridge for 15 minutes to settle at room temperature a little as cold risotto can be a little claggy otherwise.

What is your favourite type of risotto to cook? The Cooking Up A Treat household gets through quite a few risottos over the space of a year so we are always on the hunt for new tasty combinations!

Peerless Flats By Esther Freud

What made me pick up Peerless Flats when I found it in a charity shop a number of years ago is a mystery. What is more of a mystery is what made me pick it up as my next book to read through. The reviews from 1993, when this book was revealed, to more recent reviews hardly sing its praises and yet a part of me wanted everybody else to be wrong.

They were not wrong. This book had so much potential and could have really packed a hard hitting punch but instead it was just a wishy washy story that came close to discussing issues and making a bold statement about society but it constantly fell short of the mark. The plot line was wholly unremarkable, the characters largely lacking personality or enough of anything to give you empathy for them and the writing of the story itself was dry.

Modern day Penguin book

The plot presented of a family leaving the countryside, essentially being homeless in London and crammed into a tiny flat with the “temporary” label, and becoming mixed up in love, drugs and anorexia is a combination that gave the expectation of tears, a real journey and a well-researched understanding of the concepts being presented but it very much felt like it was written by somebody with no regard for the sensitivity of the situation or the impact that their words could have.

To put it politely, this book is an absolute disaster. I got to the end of it being bitterly disappointed that I had battled through the first chapters waiting for the emotional punch and aloud whispered the words “was that it? what was the point in that?”. There was no point and it would not even stand up to being a good airport read. I would not recommend this book and it has certainly put me off the idea of reading anything else by Esther Freud.

Close up of book front cover

This book has sort of thrown me off a little because reading a bad book sort of puts me off reading, which I am desperately trying to get into, because so much time was spent reading a book hoping that it would get better and it just never did. Those hours could have been better spent doing something else where at least some sort of lesson would have been learned or some sort of thoughts might have been provoked but this did none of that.

Part of me wants to take it to the nearest charity shop immediately but the other part of me does not want to inflict this book on anybody else because it is just so pointless and meaningless. Perhaps that is the life lesson here and that it will help somebody else to remember that there really is so shit literature out there.

Are you following me on Goodreads yet? What book are you currently reading?

Vegetable Packed Mac N Cheese

Mac n cheese is a real comfort meal in the Cooking Up A Treat household but for something so comforting it actually involves more effort than the traditional thoughts of ‘comfort food’. It is the food of exhaustion but of wanting to reward and nourish, I suppose, and that makes those extra few moments of putting the dish together completely worth it; you get leftovers the following day to make it quick and comforting so it sort of balances out and gives you a day to recover from all the woes that led you to mac n cheese in the first place.

There is no real consistency in the mac n cheese that gets cooked here though; sometimes there is a lot of cheese, other times it includes meat and sometimes there is barely a vegetable contained within it. The basics are considered and anything else that gets added directly into it is a bonus but that entirely depends on when the food shopping was last done or our general mood. The versatility of a mac n cheese is certainly one of its greatest strengths.

Top of mac n cheeseIngredients (For Four)

  • Tablespoon of margarine
  • Plain flour
  • Approx. a pint of semi-skimmed milk
  • Grated cheese (quantity depends on how cheesy you want the sauce and how much you want on top). Have a healthy block to hand and use what suits you and your tastes
  • 3x Salad tomatoes, quartered
  • A finely chopped onion
  • A large handful of mushrooms
  • 3x large carrots diced
  • A bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • Four portions of dried macaroni
  • Salt, pepper, mustard, general seasoning
  • (I like to put broccoli and spinach in there too – this one happens to have some bacon in but is completely optional or can be replaced with a meat-free alternative)

Grilled cheese and pasta insides of mac n cheese on a plate

Method

The Cheese Sauce

  1. Put the margarine into a small pan and let it melt
  2. Add some plain flour in and mix together to make a soft sort ball and turn the heat down
  3. Pour in a couple of tablespoons of milk into the mixture at a time and ensure it is stirred well
  4. Eventually this will become a smooth and thick white sauce
  5. Take this completely off the heat and add in some pepper, mustard and the cheese making sure you stir well before letting it settle, cool and thicken slightly

The Pasta and Vegetables

  1. Put the pasta into some boiling water with a pinch of salt
  2. Add in the carrots, and any other vegetables, when there is about five minutes of pasta cooking time left just to help soften it a little
  3. Drain it, pour some cold water over it to stop the cooking process and set aside

The Bacon and Other Vegetables

  1. Fry the bacon in a small frying pan
  2. Add the onion and mushroom into the pan and fry on a low heat until lightly golden. If you are not using bacon or anything that gives off fat/oil then add a little oil into the pan to cook the onion and mushroom
  3. Add in the pepper and tomatoes to help mix everything together and take that bite off of it completely

Mixing It Together

  1. Put your grill on a very high heat setting before you set about putting the dish together
  2. Mix the bacon mixture and the pasta mixture together and then pour it into the tray you are using to cook. If you are wanting to use something like spinach here is the time to do it as it will get mixed through well but not end up overcooked
  3. Pour the cheese sauce mixture, after stirring, evenly over the mixture. This should allow for the sauce to sink through the layers but if you are in any doubt give it a poke around to help it all get coated evenly
  4. Put grated cheese on top and then pop under the grill
  5. I usually find that it needs at least fifteen minutes under the grill but usually leave it for more like 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on it and that it is not starting to catch and look for that perfect golden melted cheese look

Side view of mac n cheeseStorage/Reheating

Having mac n cheese for leftover is great and super simple to do. It often gets consumed with salad, coleslaw or similar light items in the Cooking Up A Treat household.

  1. Wait for the dish to cool entirely and remember it has been under the grill so the dish itself may remain hotter than appearances suggest. Approach with caution and at the beginning use an oven glove or similar to double-check the dish heat before handling glove free
  2. If you are wanting to reheat the dish the following day then cover it well with foil and pop this into the fridge. Take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to reheat it as otherwise it tends to get quite shocked by the heat of a pre-heated 180° oven. It will need about 30 minutes in the oven to be piping hot
  3. If you are intending to eat it cold or take it to work with you in a tub the following day then cut it and/or serve it into a tupperware tub before you put it in the fridge. I find this works better than trying to cut it when it is super cold the following day. If you are intending to microwave it then leave the tub out of the fridge for 15 minutes and then put it in on full blast (standard home microwave) for 3-4 minutes

More mac n cheese

What are your favourite ingredients to put into a mac n cheese? I would love to hear all about your favourite combinations in the comments below.