Easy Homemade Pesto

I came to the Pesto Party a bit late in life (I’m a peculiar sort of person who doesn’t eat pasta) but it’s the ultimate accompaniment to any summer meal. It works with meat, fish, potatoes and even cheese on toast (try it!)

It turns out it’s also incredibly easy to make. There are two methods you can use – the blender or the pestle and mortar. The blender is by far the easiest to use and will create the kind of pesto you are used to picking up in the supermarket. The pestle and mortar is the more traditional method and creates a chunkier pesto with stronger flavours.

For either method you should adjust the quantities below according to your taste preference:

2 Packs of Fresh Basil (or 2 bunches)

30g Pine Nuts

4 Cloves Garlic

7 Tsp of Grated Parmesan

Pinch of Salt & Pepper

Drizzle of Olive Oil

I’ll start with the blender method as it’s the easiest:

  1. Blend the basil until it’s finely chopped
  2. Next add the pine nuts and blend until they are coarsely chopped
  3. Add the garlic (whole cloves) and blend again
  4. Add in the seasoning and olive oil and mix to combine
  5. Stir in the parmesan

If you’re using a Pestle and Mortar, it takes a little bit more work:

  1. Grind the Pine Nuts until they reach a paste-like consistency
  2. Next add the garlic. You can do this as a whole clove (skin off) or to speed things up, use a garlic press.
  3. Add the Basil in small batches and grind
  4. Sprinkling Salt in between the batches will help the basil to break down more easily, but be careful not to over-salt.
  5. Stir in the remainder of the Seasoning and the Parmesan
  6. Stir in the Olive Oil

For both methods, remember to taste the mixture once all of the ingredients have been added – if it’s too nutty, add more basil, if it’s too peppery add more cheese.

Finally, if you aren’t using the pesto immediately, transfer it to a jar, tap it down and cover the top with a generous layer of olive oil. This will help preserve it and should mean it lasts for a few weeks in the fridge.

Hardwick Hall

Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick’s story is the tale of a tenacious social climber. When she married her first husband, she had an income of £20 per year. By the time she had survived four different monarchs and outlived four different husbands, she was earning £10,000 per year from her estates. She ended her days during the reign or Elizabeth I, with the title Countess of Shrewsbury, but she was known as “Bess of Hardwick” – thanks to this impressive house.

The lady herself:

Bess played the political game well at court, but with the passing of each husband she had to fight for the right to inherit their property. Hardwick wasn’t her only accomplishment though – she was also responsible for the creation of nearby Chatsworth House.

Hardwick Hall is thought of nowadays as a testament to Bess’ ambition for power and her status. Its ownership passed to the government in the 1950s when its owners could not meet the bill for inheritance tax, and thereafter it was given to the National Trust to be maintained for the nation. However the National Trust have worked in partnership with the V&A to maintain the extensive collection of ancient and rare tapestries housed at Hardwick.

Due to the need to conserve these tapestries, there’s very little daylight permitted in the majority of the rooms, but if you can look beyond the gloom (and fix your pictures in Photoshop) then you’ll find some pretty opulent furnishings.

For me, as always, the real treasures were found outside, enjoying the benefit of the sun shining down on them.

The walled garden just outside the hall blooms in May.

Venturing further into the grounds there are fairytale pathways, carpeted on either side in Wild Garlic (if you can stand the smell – fortunately I love it!)

And of course some friendly locals to get acquainted with.

Florida: Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney’s Magical Kingdom was last on my list. I was overwhelmed by the choice of parks and activities in Orlando, and having not experience many of the others I went for those first.

However you can’t really say you’re a Disney fan and not visit the original park when you get the chance. So on our last day that’s just what we did.

Unlike California and Euro Disneylands though, this one you have to reach by steamboat!

I think this picture accurately sums up the feeling when you complete the epic voyage and reach the opposite side of the lake…

I was curious how the Florida park would compare to others – particularly as I’ve had my fair share of trips to Euro Disney – and there were a few differences.

There are a couple of rides I hadn’t been on before – the runaway mine train (based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) and the Log Flume (based on Song of the South).

They’ve also upgraded one or two rides and I particularly enjoyed the changes to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

At the end of the day though, it’s Disneyland and you can be sure that you’re going to feel the magic, no matter what.

And the day always ends on a high…

About our travel:

As this was primarily a business trip – with a leisure break included – our flights and accomodation were take care of for us by another party.

Flights: Virgin Atlantic

Car Rental: Sixt

Accomodation: Grande Villas by Diamond Resorts

Florida: Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The last time I visited a Universal Studios I was 10 and on a family holiday to California and I can’t believe it’s taken this long for me to make it to the Florida parks – especially since the addition of the Wizarding World I love so much.

The Florida site seems bigger for sure, and there are some new additions worth a mention (like the 4D King Kong ride) as well as some nostalgic favourites (e.g. the Jurassic Park log flume) which are starting to show their age against newer areas:

Universal Studios is actually comprised of two parks and the Wizarding World is split across both – with Hogsmeade and Hogwarts in the main park, while Diagon Alley and Gringotts are in the Islands of Adventure Park. It’s an entirely profit-driven move by Universal as you have to purchase tickets which get you into both parks to get the full experience.

Apparently there was a bidding war with Disney for the Wizarding World and Universal won. I can only assume they are still trying to recoup their expenditure because our visit was not cheap. But was it worth it…?

There are two Owl Posts – one in each park and while this one is purely decorative, you can actually use the one in Diagon Alley to send mail (including Wizarding World purchases).

For a small fortune you can also buy a wand which will make certain objects in the village windows move when you wave it at them.

There is something very unsettling about experiencing a supposedly snow-capped village in warm sunshine, while wearing tropical print shorts (ASOS Tall – Old).

But it’s even more unsettling when you’re making your way from the village to Hogwarts and you bump into a T-Rex. Don’t worry though, he calmed down after a Butterbeer (or several).

Hagrids Hut marks the entrance to the “Flight of the Hippogriff Ride” which is a smaller ride in the shadow of Hogwarts. Worth a go but by no means the main attraction in this part of the park.

The Hogwarts ride itself is like the majority of the rides in Universal Studios – a simulation coaster. You join Harry flying on a broomstick through the castle and grounds and while it’s not a patch on the Avatar Ride at Disney, it’s certainly good fun.

What Universal have done exceptionally well here and on other newer rides is to enhance the experience of queueing for the ride. Here, you wind your way through the Hogwarts grounds, via the herbology greenhouses, through corridors lined with talking portraits, passed Dumbledores office (above) and eventually into a classroom where you meet the famous 3 (Harry, Ron & Hermione) and get to experience a little magic with some more special effects.

When night falls Hogwarts is put under a new spell and it’s fabulous to watch it light up.

I had to get a picture of it in my house colours…

Part two and our second day: We entered via Universal Studios but boarded a train at Hogsmeade Station to make our way over to Diagon Alley in the Islands of Adventure park.

For me this was where the park could use some improvement as the story starts to vere away from the books and even the films. The story that plays out on the train ride throws together characters who had little to no interaction in the stories and I found it frustrating that the park and ride developers hadn’t done as much research as they maybe should have given the scale the story plays out on. And don’t even get me started on what passed for “Toad in the Hole” at the Leaky Cauldron…

Diagon Alley itself is true to fiction. It’s dominated by Gringotts (the main attraction in this part of the wizarding world) and the dragon from the seventh book spews out flames over the street sporadically.

Much like the Hogwarts ride, they’ve tried to make the queue an equal part of the attraction and it’s certainly a visual feast – but only once you get indoors.

The ride itself is thrilling – you take a runaway cart on a ride through Gringotts which will leave your stomach lurching. But again, it fell down on story for me and I found the inaccuracies too distracting from the overall experience.

Back on the Alley, you can visit Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Florean Fortescue’s or, if you’re feeling brave, Knockturn Alley.

There’s no show in this part of the park after dark (instead a light show plays out on the lagoon) but it’s worth taking a quick detour back to Diagon Alley before closing to see it lit up at night.

There’s a wide variety of restaurants outside the theme park and we rounded off our magical excursion with a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe.

Florida: Kennedy Space Centre and Cocoa Beach

After I had lived out my childhood dream at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, it was time to let my Dad live out his.

[Bit of background if you are new around here… I work for my Dad and unbelievably, this was a work trip!]

My Dad was 9 when his family gathered around a black and white television set to watch man land on the moon. I don’t think he’s ever dreamed of travelling to space, but he loves all forms of transport – be it cars, boats or planes. And yes, rockets too.

I had imagined this was going to be a day of smiling politely and feigning interest while he ran around like a kid in a sweetshop, but after an hour, I was finding it all quite exciting as well.

Space travel doesn’t need any glamourisation, but NASA certainly know how to put on a show. If I had children, and I wanted to spark an interest in science or STEM fields – this is where I would take them.

I don’t think anyone could ever convince me to board a rocket, but I have a new found respect for those who do.

There are many educational resources at the Kennedy Space Centre but I found the film on their planned mission to Mars especially interesting. I’m not sure I see a need to push the boundaries of what the human body can endure, but for those who do want to venture further from earth, the work they are doing to support life in space is fascinating.

And if you aren’t able to venture to Florida yet, I would definitely recommend the film ‘Hidden Figures‘ in the meantime.

A couple of days after our trip to the Kennedy Space Centre, we headed south for our conference. It seemed wrong to bypass Cocoa Beach on the way so we made a slight detour for lunch.

This area is where the families of the astronauts lived in the 1960s, and the beach is where they gathered to watch their loved ones take off for the moon.

It’s relatively quiet compared to other tourist spots in Florida and we had a lovely peaceful lunch at the end of the pier, overlooking the ocean.

Where we were joined by a few locals.

Florida: Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom

When I was 10, my Aunt won a Safari Trip in a photography competition. When she and my uncle arrived home they brought us souvenirs. I was given a necklace featuring “The Big 5” (Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Buffalo). I’ve never worn it but the symbolism is something that has always stayed with me: You are an exceptionally lucky person if you get to view The Big Five (or any endangered creature) in the wild.

Not long after I got my necklace, Walt Disney World announced it was opening Animal Kingdom. I knew I might not ever get the chance to experience the real thing, but a Disney safari seemed like the next best thing to 10-year-old me.

Fast forward a couple of decades and (through hard work and some very good fortune) I found myself in Florida on a work trip. So as you can imagine, Animal Kingdom was the first park I wanted to visit.

I made a beeline for “Kilimanjaro Safaris” as soon as we were through the park gates.

I have to be honest, visiting as a 30-something, the safari area was a little smaller than my childhood memory had led me to believe, but of course I was much smaller back then…

Some animal rights campaigners don’t support zoos, for obvious reasons (lack of space, enrichment, animal welfare, etc) but most reputable keepers of big game will off-set that by directing some of their profits toward conservation. I also think parks such as this have a vital role to play in educating children and adults alike about the magic of the natural world and the need to protect and conserve it.

Looking at the wildlife documentaries and films available on Disney+ it certainly feels like this attraction is more than just an amusement park to the corporation. For honesty’s sake though I will say it would have been nice to see some more mental enrichment in this area of the park (which wasn’t overly large).

These guys in particular seemed a bit bored of their enclosure…

The safari itself is certainly educational and there are other resources dotted around for visitors too.

I had to share this as (being tall) I have a certain affinity with the Giraffe.

Back out in the main park there’s colour and life, everywhere you look. It’s classic Disneyland and makes you feel like you are wandering through one of their live-action remakes.

The street acts were just as impressive as the rides and attractions too.

Everest is a ride with a twist. I loved every second on that runaway cart.

We saved the best for last though. The Avatar Flight of Passage is billed as an immersive 3D ride through the world of Pandora (from James Cameron’s Avatar). Personally, I would have described it as 4D. It’s the best theme park ride I have been on to date. It’s that good. Get there early because naturally, everyone wants to ride the Banshee!

Visiting in February (2019) meant that nightfall came early so we finished our day with the Rivers of Light show on the lagoon.

Maybe it was the magic of Disney, or maybe it was the jet lag, but I found this show and it’s message very moving. Visually, it was stunning, and a real feat of aquatic engineering.

Kedleston Hall

I’ve become so obsessed with Netflix’s “Bridgerton” that I’ve started shopping for Corsets. Yes, actual corsets. The most uncomfortable item of clothing imaginable, which women tried desperately for decades to be rid of… are now on my Amazon wishlist.

If you’ve not seen Bridgerton yet, it’s one of the most visually pleasing shows to ever grace the screen. It’s no Downton Abbey, but if you like both period dramas and ‘Gossip Girl’ then this is the series for you.  A show full of beautiful people, beautiful costumes and beautiful houses.

Kedleston Hall is not one of the stars of the show, but it very easily could be.

Note: I visited Kedleston Hall in 2018. The Hall itself is currently closed and the grounds are open to locals only in line with current government guidelines. Visit the link above for updates on reopening when lockdown restrictions ease.

I could just imagine the Duke of Hastings striding purposefully down those steps…

The interiors are just as impressive as the exterior too.

With the most equisite detailing:

Of course, not all of the treasures are on the walls…

The famously fabulous ‘Peacock Dress’ belonged to Lady Mary Curzon, who was Vicereine of India. She wore this extravagant dress to a ball at the Delhi Durbar. It was specifically designed for the stately occasion – owing to the venue being famed for its ‘Peacock Throne’.

The Times of India wrote in 1906 that “The dress she wore that night has become almost historical.” and that “the ensemble was such that not one of those who saw it is likely to forget.” The description they gave of her ensemble described “two shades of gold, hand embroidered into an elusive pattern, only betrayed as peacock feathers by the emeralds that centred each feather’s eye.” The dress was so opulent that it eclipsed her jewellery, and the writer of the article could only recall that “the rest of her jewels were, I think, diamonds.”

Once I’d finished oggling this masterpiece of fashion and craftsmanship, it was time to take in the scenery outdoors with my favourite adventurer.

There are miles of walks and lots of little wonders to see along the way.

Winter Sales Try-On

There’s a running joke in my family that my dad has never paid full-price for anything. His haggling is legendary and he can smell a sale a mile away. I think I inherited a little of my bargain-hunting ability from him, along with my height.

Today I’m giving you a run down of all the items I bought on Black Friday – most of which are now in the winter sales. This year I shopped Dorothy Perkins (Tall), Coast and H&M. Here’s what I got (and what I sent back):

First up: Dorothy Perkins Tall.

These trousers looked super comfy but they were enormous on me. I bought a UK 12 so they would fit my hips but it felt like I was wearing a size 14/16. If you’re in the 6 foot and up club they might work better on you, but the waist was super high and the leg length was more suited to a 36-38″ length really. They also had a ribbed texture, which was comfy but not as loose and flowy as I had envisaged. (Available in Tall only).

However, this black top with sheer overlay is a winner. The length was spot on, it fit true to size and it’s a total bargain!

This pleated skirt was also a real winner. It looks shiny/satin-like online but is a jersey material in reality. Similarly the picture online shows an asymmetric hemline, but it’s definitely A-line. Feels super-festive and elegant to wear though so no complaints from me! Fits true to size.

Finally, the most chic and cheap winter coat. Double breasted with a snuggly faux-fur collar this coat is just perfect. I could also imagine Cameron Diaz wearing something like it in The Holiday – so it gets extra glam points for that.

All in all (and despite my personal feelings about their CEO) I’ll be sad to see this brand go now that the parent Arcadia Group is in administration – the DP tall line has some real gems.

Next up: Coast

I’m always a bit disappointed that Coast is less size-inclusive than other high-street brands, but you can’t argue with the quality of their garments for the price. I tried just two items and sadly neither was a perfect fit but they both had some major plus-points.

This body-con dress is a Size M and almost fit my body shape perfectly – albeit that the arms were a tad short and gathered at the elbows. I also took issue with the belt which was much too large and sat very high (even for a person of average height). It’s available in 3 colours with limited availability.

I was gutted that this lace detail top was so small on me. The intricacy and detail of the design made it feel really special (for a high street item). Available in two colours.

Finally, I went a bit overboard with H&M while they had 20 percent off the site over Black Friday. Using their size guide I ordered most items in Medium and they were much too large. Everything in a UK10 fit perfectly but if you’re picking a generic size, go one lower!

This black top with twist-back detail felt thick and warm but as you can see – was much too big for me. As was the v-neck/back cream jumper (no longer available online) which was also too short on the body & sleeves for me.

I’ve always been a bit wary of dresses like this Belted Dress as I’m quite broad shouldered and feel this sort of neckline can have the unfortunate effect of accentuating that… but I got over that pretty quickly as the fit and design of this dress were just lovely. I wish my work didn’t have a strict navy-and-white dress code for officewear as this would be the perfect pretty dress for the office. I’m wearing a size 10 and it fits true to size.

I’m rounding off this try-on with another pretty dress. Sadly too large but I would go back for the next size down as this was a really unique take on the shirt-dress. With concealed buttons, pleat detail and a pretty print, it’s really rather lovely. Size down.

Leather-Look

When I was re-launching this blog recently, I thought about re-naming it and making the tag line into the name. Since “Country Chick, City Chic” perfectly sums me up.

When I was in my first year of university, London seemed very daunting at first. It was a million miles away from the green fields of home, where wellies were my preferred footwear and “on foot” was my main mode of transportation. I shared a flat in halls with (amongst others) another girl who had also come from a small village, like me. One day she came out of her room wearing shorts with tights (don’t judge – it was the hottest trend at the time!) and I remember her saying to me “I could never get away with this look at home.”

She wasn’t wrong. Communities are smaller, gossip is louder and trends are slower to catch on in the countryside. Which is perhaps why it sometimes feels safer to blend in, than to stand out.

It’s not a mentality I like, but the longer you stay in the countryside the more you feel it taking root. So when I started thinking about experimenting with the leather-look, I was a bit worried it was too edgy for me. But then I found the perfect pair of leather-look skinnies and now I can’t stop thinking about ways to style them. (We’ll save that for another blog post though.) First of all let me take you through my search for the perfect pair of leather-look trousers…

First up is this pair of “Leather-look leggings” from New Look Tall via Asos. When these arrived the label on the packet actually described them as wet-look and that’s a much more accurate description for them. They fit true to size and felt like a second skin but they left little to the imagination and it was really the leather look I was after…

Next up was a pair of coated black skinny jeans from Missguided. I’d never shopped from Missguided before and found the quality left a lot to be desired. The material was very unforgiving on me and the fit wasn’t perfect on me either (as my hips are a dress size bigger than my waist) though I would describe it as true to size.

After that, I tried Next. This pair I absolutely loved. The quality is amazing. They’re a snug fit with just the right amount of stretch to be comfy. They’re also lined with a fleece-like material which makes them very cosy for these cooler temps. And they come with the added bonus that they look much more expensive than they are. Sadly though these were also true to size at the waist and therefore not a good fit for my pear-shape. I was gutted but with no way to alter them I opted to send them back.

I went for these coated jeans instead and finally found the perfect pair! I love the zip detail on these, the quality is great and they fit like a glove. No, actually, they fit like the perfect pair of jeans. (I’m wearing a 12 XL Tall.)

P.S. The t-shirt I’m wearing for this post was designed by a very talented friend of mine and it’s part of a much larger range for this streaming channel. You can buy the exact t-shirt I’m wearing here and you can see the full range here. I’ve found the sizing guide to be very accurate (I’m wearing an M) and was pleasantly surprised by the quality – as well as being a decent length and the perfect fit it’s also 100% cotton.

48hrs in Stockholm

First things first – this is a post about a trip I took in 2018 (pre-Covid) and the pictures reflect that. It’s also worth pointing out that some of the info below may not be current and/or the attractions mentioned may be closed or operating under restrictions. Please visit their websites for the latest info.

I don’t fear getting old (it is after all, a privilege denied to many) but I do worry about growing old without living a full life. I think that may be why I have developed a bit of a habit of taking mini-breaks around my birthday. In 2014 I spent my birthday in Rome, in 2015 I went to Scotland and in 2017 I went to America. Ok, ok… that one wasn’t a mini break, but then again it was my 30th birthday!

In 2018 I chose to spend my birthday weekend in Stockholm.

We landed mid morning and headed straight for the Gamla Stan district where we checked into the Scandic Gamla Stan Hotel. I chose it mainly for the blue gingham armchairs. (Anyone know where I can get one of those?!)

The first stop on our minibreak was the Fotografiska gallery. I’m not much of a photographer, but I’ve always loved the art form. In this gallery I found myself immersed in a feminist body of work by Ellen von Unwerth whose work presented “a compelling journey through a world of emotions, from a feeling of strength and power to high-spirited games and play, then from the great moment of drama to profound passion, leading us into the sugar-sweet valley of love, taking a detour via the question of gender roles and concluding in the intimate space of desire and lust.”

After a wonderful afternoon spent admiring her work, we took a stroll through the Gamla Stan neighbourhood. I was craving Swedish meatballs for dinner yet somehow, we ended up in the Ardbeg pub & bar (and if you know anything about Whiskey, you’ll know that Ardbeg is Scottish). I will say this though – the meatballs were as good as any others I had on the trip.

Slightly tired from our flight and afternoon excursion, we opted for an early night, determined to pack as much in as possible the next day.

I was travelling with a scientist in tow (with her very own PhD) so our first stop of the day was the Nobel Prize Museum.

This plaque detailed the discovery of plastic in 1963 – how strange to think that something society is now working to eradicate was once considered such a wonderous discovery.

Nobel Prizes are awarded every year on the date of Alfred Nobel’s death (10th December). While the peace prize is presented at a ceremony in Oslo, the other prizes are presented in Stockholm. There are 5 prizes in total (including the peace prize) and a 6th prize sponsored in memory of Alfred Nobel. The 6 prizes are for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Economic Sciences.

During our visit, the museum was holding an exhibition titled “Literary Rebellion” which profiled 12 Literary Laureates who had used their writing to “question, create change and offer resistance.” The exhibition profiled writers of both prose and poetry and opened my eyes to a host of new writers.

The museum also profiled the life and discoveries of Alfred Nobel himself – as well as the recipients of his prizes. These days knowledge of Alfred Nobel’s legacy revolves around the Nobel prizes themselves, but I made some discoveries of my own during my visit (did you know he is also the chemist who invented Dynamite?)

While my sister might have a PhD, I can’t claim to be much of a scientist. I enjoyed learning about Alfred Nobel and the literary laureates though and came away with many new books added to my Amazon wishlist. (Incidentally, if you ever want to feel inspired by humanity or have your faith in it restored, I would also highly recommend a visit to the Nobel Peace Prize museum in Oslo.)

Before lunch I found an hour to explore the Royal Palace – which could rival the Louvre for opulence.

And to watch the changing of the guard.

After a lunch which mainly consisted of Gelato, we hopped on a boat…

Taking in the sights from the water, we travelled to an unusual museum away from the hustle and bustle of the central districts of Stockholm.

The Vasa Museum is home to just one exhibit – a 17th Century war ship. This spectacular vessel (which has got to be the largest and most ornate ship I’ve ever seen up close) sailed just 1300 metres on its maiden voyage before sinking. It never even left Sweden. Several hundred years later, and miraculously preserved by the sea bed, it was recovered, restored and moved to the museum where it has been on display ever since. In order to preserve it, the cavernous room which now holds the Vasa is kept cold all year round – be warned, you’ll need an extra layer to visit it.

After our excursion to the Vasa Museum we were in need of something to warm us up again. I was determined to find a more Swedish dining experience, which led us to a Viking restaurant back in the Gamla Stan neighbourhood. While obviously more touristy and less authentic than other restaurants we could have chosen, what this place lacked in sophistication it made up for in interesting conversation. Dining here is done communally at long wooden benches. We could have met a whole variety of travellers – but instead we got seated next to some fellow Mancunians. At least we had something in common!

Our last day was just like the others before it – gloriously sunny. So after leaving our bags with the concierge, we headed out on foot to soak in the sights before our flight home.

Having now ticked all of the main tourist attractions off my list, I’d love to go back to Stockholm one day and take it in at a slightly slower pace. The Swedes have a word for this: Fika. It means to make time for the important things in life – good friends and good food. A concept I could totally get on board with.