Baking Banana Bread

What do you with 8 black bananas? You make two bananas breads, of course. One for now, one for the freezer.

This only took me 10 minutes to whizz together and about 40 minutes in the oven (it shouldn’t normally take that long but it was quite a wet mixture and I had opened the oven door a few too many times.)

Recipe

  • 8 ripe bananas
  • 250g Demerara sugar
  • Plain flour
  • 200g sunflower oil
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon

Method

Smash up the bananas in a bowl and mix in the oil. Add the flour (sieved) and sugar and mix well. Add baking powder and cinnamon and mix it all together again. Bake for 30 minutes or until brown on top and a skewer comes out clean.

Add Biscoff Lotus spread for an extra hit.

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Lush – Milky Bar Review

I’m loving Lush at the moment. I’m trying to rid myself of unnecessary plastic and this is a great way to do it. Do you remember the days when people just used a bar of soap instead of liquid soap in a plastic container?

I wrote a ‘first impressions’ style blog on my thoughts on my first shampoo bar from Lush, which you can read about here. Despite trying to resist the temptation to buy shed loads of soapy goodness in Lush, I did succumb and try their exclusive Milky Bar shower gel because it’s a cute concept.

As well as being cruelty free, this bar is also vegan, so thumbs up for that. It’s made from soya milk and has a Brazilian orange oil scent, and is marketed for hands and bodies so you can use it as a soap or a shower gel. It lasts an impressive amount of time and is so soft and gentle on the skin; it smells delicious, a bit like a sweet shop, but the scent is subtle and not at all over-powering.

Lush shampoo bars – first impressions

Like practically everyone, I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic usage. Although I’ve always recycled since I was responsible for my own waste disposal, there’s a lot of stuff I never considered, and whilst being so concerned with finding vegan, cruelty-free shampoo brands I completely disregarded the fact that they come in plastic packaging.

Shampoo bars seem like the perfect solution but I’ve been reluctant to invest because it seems messy and ineffective. But I’m giving it a go now! I’ve bought a shampoo and conditioning bar from Lush to try over the next few months to see how I get on. I also bought one of little silver tins to keep it in to manage that worrisome mess.

Godiva shampoo & conditioning bar

A visit to Lush is a very sensory experience – there are so many interesting smells and pretty sights. I always want to try everything or at least sniff it all. I went into the shop specifically for a shampoo bar so I tried not to tempt myself with anything else. There is an impressive selection of shampoo bars, which are all around £6-8; this does sound pricey but when you consider it’s going to last you months and months it’s a good investment.

I went for the Godiva because it’s smells great and conditions as well, which saves me buying an extra bar. Not only is everything in Lush cruelty free (and cute and amazing!), many of their products are vegan, and the Godiva bar is completely vegan. It has a jasmine scent and contains a variety of oils and butters to give a soft shine to the hair.

It lathers up really well and it’s actually really easy and convenient to use. It’s not messy like I expected and I was impressed with the amount of lather you get out of these shampoo bars, and how long they last – 80-100 washes, so I’m told. I’m not totally convinced it’s going to be provide sufficient conditioning to my hair though so I’ll probably use a leave-in conditioning spray or a bit of coconut oil as well (which I already do.)

This shampoo bar is going to be really handy for travelling and for taking to the swimming pool as it’s so small and fits snugly into its little tin.

I also bought a milk bottle shaped shower gel but more on that later!

Fairhaven Woodland & Water Garden – June 2018

On a hot day in June we took a drive out to Fairhaven Woodland & Water Garden, a faerie-like dreamland of quiet streams and secret rhododendron paths.

The garden took 15 years to create when the late Lord and his team of gardeners began to restore the house and land after the war. The spectacle is quiet strange; almost current-less waterways cross the garden, and rooms of hydrangeas and camellia merge. There were plenty of ducks and their young, dragonflies and damselflies, and schools of thousands of sticklebacks.

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I’d love to know what kind of funghi are these?

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The foxgloves were out in force.

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An Egyptian goose spotted.

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I don’t feel so bad about the green skud on the surface of my pond – the water here is covered in it, you feel like it’s grass.

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The fields of wheat.

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We were really impressed to find that in the tearoom not only was there vegan cake in the form of a delicious chocolate and marmalade slice, but also there was a sandwich option. It doesn’t take much to add an easy hummus sarnie to your menu but it makes such a difference!

Easy Vegan Blueberry Muffins

Recently I made these easy vegan blueberry muffins for a neighbourhood gathering and they got some compliments so I thought they were worth sharing.

I never have much luck with baking – something always goes wrong – so I enjoy my successes when they occur. This time something did also go wrong – I was following a recipe online on my iPad and the app crashed before I could find out how much oil to use! So I had to guess as I couldn’t trail through all the Google results (it wasn’t in my history – the crash removed it, I don’t know why.) It worked out just fine regardless.

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Ingredients
200 plain flour

75g sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

180ml soy milk

About 50ml oil

200g frozen blueberries

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Vegan cheese & chive scones

I made these vegan cheese and chive scones this weekend for a street party and they went down surprisingly well.

I had to use a variety of vegan cheeses as I ran out but I think the mixture of cheddar and parmesan worked well as it gave it a stronger flavour. In future I would like to try a dairy free alternative to red leicester as it gives a redder colour.

I used chives I cut from my garden – I’ve been growing a lot of herbs this year and the chive plants needed a hair cut.

Ingredients

  • 510g plain flour
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp mustard powder (I used Colmans)
  • 65g dairy free butter
  • 300ml soy milk
  • 380g vegan cheese

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Glamping in Wales (Part 3): Do

My final post in my series on glamping in Wales will look at the activities we took part in. You can catch up on my previous posts here: Sleep and Eat.

Do

Day 1: Check In

After a 6 hour train ride that involved several changes and delays, I checked into Hidden Valley Yurts for a week of comfortable glamping and fun activities. The first evening was really about having a brief look around the immediate site, settling into the yurt, and getting to know some of my fellow happy glampers.

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Day 2: Wye Valley Walk

We drove to Tintern and met John Bosley of Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tour Guides who took us on a guided walking tour of the Wye Valley. John was an excellent tour guide and provided plenty of facts about the local history of the area and also pointed out some of the local attractions, such as the Tintern cafe station and the Anchor Inn, in which we had later enjoyed tea and cake. The route we took meandered along the River Wye past Tintern, past the old Tintern train station (sadly defunct though once a hive of industry), through the notorious Brockweir, once famous for its debauchery, and up hill to take in views of Tintern Abbey, before winding up at the Abbey itself.

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The landscape was absolutely stunning and following the river via wildflower meadows, with dandelions out in full bloom, was a beautiful sight, even in the torrential rain. And it really did rain, though this didn’t put off John, who is a real trooper! The tiny village of Brockweir was really interesting as it used to be a centre of industrial activity when the river was the main channel of commerce in previous centuries. Brockweir had more than its share of criminality and immoral living, so much so that local Christians managed to persuade the Moravians to finance the building of a Church in the village to rescue these lost souls from depravity. The church was very simple and interestingly the gravestones were all flat and tiny as part of the Moravian tradition – we are all equal in death.

 

After Brockweir we walked uphill to look down at the valley and from here you can see the river Wye on your right and the river Severn on your left. You can also just make out through the trees the ruins of Tintern Abbey and it’s easy to imagine how Wordsworth was so inspired by this view that he chose it to explore themes of the sublime in ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’.

Day 3: Farm Walks & Gorge Walks

In the morning, Mike, the owner of Hidden Valley Yurts, took us on a guided tour around the farm, meadows and woodlands. He explained how a previous owner died in the stream when returning home drunk from the pub, and how the Roundheads hid a foundry in the hills and disguised the path to Trellech as an old waterway. It was never discovered and is thought to be the reason the area is called ‘Hidden Valley.’ It’s easy to see how you can stay hidden in an area as remote as this.

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As we walked, Mike pointed out the highland cattle that are used on the farm for conservation grazing. Magnificent creatures with longhorns and floppy fringes, they were a firm favourite amongst the photographers in our group, though unfortunately I didn’t get many good shots as I had to use my phone and not my camera at this point. We walked through some of the ancient woodland and took in the bluebells and wood anemone and tried to spot the fleeting woodland birds sheltering from the rain.

Further down we came across a rope swing attached to a tree and all spent some time on this. It was a lot of fun!


In the afternoon the rest of the group went with Inspire 2 Adventure on a gorge scrambling adventure. Unfortunately, with my heart condition this is not a suitable activity for me as it’s just too strenuous but it looks like a lot of fun. They climbed up waterfalls, scrambled through tunnels and generally got very, very wet! This looks like a fantastic activity for those up for a real challenge and you can find more information here.


Instead of the gorge walk, I had some time to myself and as the sun had finally decided to show its face I went for a long walk around the farm. I took my binoculars and hoped to do some birding but Tilly the dog had other plans – she decided she would take me for a walk instead. I think she may have frightened off the birds but I still had a fantastic time hanging out with the sweetest of spaniels and the cutest of companions. There’s nothing better than walking in woodlands, especially ancient, natural woodlands like the kind you find at Hidden Valley Yurts. A previous owner planted an arboretum in the 70’s to re-tree the area and the canopy is very impressive already after such a short time. It’s clearly very valuable ecologically as there’s evidence of badgers, birds, bugs and all sorts in the woods, as well as rare wildflowers.

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Day 4: Canoeing on the river Wye & storytelling in Trellech

On our final full day of activities we set off by minibus to Monmouth to catch a canoe ride down to Whitebrook. I’ve never been canoeing before but we were in safe hands with Graham from Monmouth Canoe and Activity Centre. This is a really popular activity in the are as travelling by river is a great opportunity to experience the landscape from a different angle.

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Sorry, I can’t pose!

I took up position in the front as paddler, though the river was quite fast and really there was very little need to paddle. Graham steered the boat around the known hazards you might find in rivers – difficult bridges, random rocks – so we were in very safe hands. We even picked up a bit of litter along the way to help keep the environment healthy. Graham had a lot of knowledge to share about the river and pointed out all the bridges and towns along the way. We had beautiful sunshine for most of the journey and it made canoeing very relaxing. There was, of course, a sudden shower that lasted about 10 minutes in which we just let the river drift us down stream rather than using our very cold hands to paddle onwards.

 

Along the way we spotted martins nesting in an old dilapidated bridge, buzzards circling the woods, mandarin ducks by the banks, and swans sitting on their nests. There’s plenty of wildlife along the river and kingfishers and otters are occasionally seen, though sadly not by us.

The Boat Inn is a really nice pub you can stop at along the way but we didn’t have time. You can do full days canoeing and go further up river and take in this pub or others along the route and I’d definitely love to come back and do a full days canoeing one day!

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On our final day we wound down with a bit of very pleasant storytelling with Jan from Strolls ‘n’ Stories. We met in Trellech and she led us to the old Norman castle that is now just a large mound with a very big tree on top. We climbed up and got good views of the surrounding countryside and I could see the first swallows of the year darting in and out of barns.

Jan is a fantastic storyteller and she told us about a character named ‘Old Nell’, a well-loved herbalist who met a sorry end when the plague struck Trellech and she suffered the anger of the mob who decided she was a witch. Jan made this sad tale really come to life and it’s a great way for children to learn about local history with a personal touch. Next we moved onto Harold’s stones, which are 3 stones stuck in the ground and no one is really sure why! Theories abound – are they druidical time-telling devices, ceremonial stones, the work of giants or a communication tool with aliens?!

 

Finally after another short stroll past the sun dial sculpture we went to the virtuous well, which was historically been used for its healing powers. Many people still place offerings here but it’s not advisable to drink the water any more. Here Jan told us the story of Lady Amberley, who is famous for being Bertrand Russell’s mother but should really be known for her suffragette activism and her own merits. This was a firm favourite amongst our group and we all loved listening to Jan tell this story about an inspiring woman lost to history.

 

Day 5: Lake House Tour & check out

Before our departure we took a tour of the new Lake House, which is soon to be open on site. The owners have been developing this new accommodation for some time – they’ve converted a previous owner’s summer party house into luxury accommodation. It’s a converted cricket pavillion and you can see all the stud marks on the floorboards from the cricketers’ spikes.

The Lake House is absolutely stunning and everyone wanted to move in straight away! It’s set by the lake, as the name suggests, so it’s a really tranquil location. It’s ideal for those who want to experience life in the Hidden Valley but want a little more luxury and privacy, as the Lake House will have its own driveway and is separate from the other yurts, though of course residents can still go to the main yurt area.

 

The accommodation is really beautiful and the location is so peaceful and perfect. There are two bedrooms, one with an immaculate en suite and beautiful tiles for the shower. The furniture is all boutique, unique specimens and it all fits beautifully together. The kitchen and living area is really spacious and the kitchen has everything you need – cooker, butler sink, Smeg fridge, and all the worktops and units are tastefully made. The sofa is very large and comfy and be converted into a bed if needed, meaning that the Lake House can sleep 4-6. There’s more in the way of technology here than at the yurts as there’s a TV and WiFi (though you don’t have to use it if you still want that digital detox experience!)

 

The outdoor area is really special as well. There’s a BBQ and seating, and a wicker fence surrounding it in front of the lake. You’re right in the woods as well, with the stream nearby as well as your own lake, which attracts ducks, otters, and toads in the breeding season.


After the tour of the Lake House (which I am totally booking one day!) we packed up our stuff, straightened out the yurts, said our goodbyes to Tilly the dog and gave our heartfelt thanks to Mike for accommodating us and Alex from ALS Marketing for organising and driving us all over. This has been an absolutely fantastic break in nature and a much needed digital detox. I’ve got to know some fantastic people and done some really amazing activities – I want to take up canoeing now! The woodlands I can wander in for days and never get bored, and the yurts could easily be my home for weeks without discomfort.

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