Two months ago, Matt and I had a 4m x 3m concrete box. It was far from Pinterest worthy, and minuscule in comparison to the results thrown up on Google when I typed in ‘yard ideas’.
This tiny outside space attached to our Victorian terrace had gone unused all summer, despite the amazing weather we’ve had. It needed overhauling and although we were on the approach to winter, believe it or not that was the perfect time to do it. You see, garden and outdoor living prices take a steep fall in the colder months. Makeovers at this time of year also bring the opportunity to plant plenty of bulbs so that come spring, your outdoor space is a gorgeous retreat. Oh, and I couldn’t bear another Winter looking out of our patio doors and seeing nothing but the peach, flakey walls.
So, here begins a series looking back at our plans, sharing the journey and finally revealing our end result. Be warned, I’m sharing the ‘uglies’, my life isn’t picture perfect and nor is our home right now. This is real life.
We had three main issues to tackle in the yard. We needed to soften the box feel, brighten it up and make it more usable. We planned a brilliant white paint for the walls to reflect light back in to our kitchen and living room and make the yard seem bigger. To soften the concrete floor, we began to look at artificial grass and settled for the best we could find within our budget. To inject some colour, we chose a Cuprinol Coastal Mist for the yard gate and some accents.
To make the space more usable, we needed a solution for the washing line. The position it was in made it impossible to stand in the centre of the yard. We found a retractable washing line by Minky that would neatly tuck away when not in use. That would leave space for a dining set. Our next issue came with our decision to use artificial grass. We then needed an area of hard standing to put the bin and recycling box on and a barbecue for the summer months. Here’s how that would plan out:
As for plants, I teamed up with Plant Me Now to create a planter full of colour and a herb box for our kitchen window that would stock my recipe needs. I can’t say how helpful their advice was because when it comes to flowers, I’m a novice at best. I’ll talk you through our planters in the next post, how we got on with planting up our winter bedding plants, spring bulbs and whether Matt and I can lay this grass properly… I’m nervous! From this point, we still have a lot to do.
This nutty superfood salad recipe is a ‘dupe’ of one of my favourite Marks and Spencer lunches. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a salad as much. It’s knocked the wild rice & lentil off the top spot. To call this a hearty salad sounds rather oxymoronic, but it is hearty, and it is a salad, so I’m going to persist in calling it that.
I’ll forgive you if you’ve never tried nuts in a salad before, but they’re a game changer. The protein, healthy fats and texture they bring turns what could be a limp salad in to something much bolder and better for you. Raw broccoli is a new one for me too, but it really works in this.
Before I share the recipe, let’s have a moment of ‘real life as a blogger’ from the day I took these photos. It was an overcast day. I hunted the house for the best light and decided to set up on top of a big wooden chest by the front door. The exposed stone wall adds a bit of interest to a photo and for lazy points, I can sit on the floor whilst I get the perfect shot. So there I am, sat on the floor in the huge entry of my Parent’s house. The entire wall is floor to ceiling glass. I’d picked out a white pasta bowl that I laid on top of some hessian for a bit of texture (actually a 10p B&Q sandbag). Camera slung around my neck, spatula in hand, tub of houmous in the other.
Something in the corner of my eye caught my attention. It was the postman. He looked completely bewildered. He didn’t knock, he just dropped the parcel on the floor outside and walked away. Turning back I could read the look on his face. “Was that girl eating her lunch off a wooden chest by the front door, with a sand bag as a coaster?” Yep, Mr Postman, that is what I was doing.
The Marks & Spencer version of this recipe comes with a heap of houmous buried under the salad. I pinch a little with each forkful, Matt mixes it right through. However you eat yours, the houmous is an essential flavour in this mix up so don’t skip it. Smoosh around one tablespoon per person on to your plate or in to your lunch box.
Combine the other salad ingredients, chopping the broccoli in to the tiniest florets. Heap on to the plate.
Mix the dressing ingredients together and drizzle over each portion or alternatively, toss through the entire lot in a large bowl.
There are quite a lot of ingredients in this but feel free to play around with the components of the salad. Lighten the prep by using the ready cooked quinoa, stocked by most supermarkets now. Use frozen peas if it saves you hunting down a fresh pack out of season. M&S have green beans in their version, try bulgar instead of quinoa, use different nuts, add some chilli to the dressing. And if you do make it, please let me know how you get on.
I love banana milkshakes. My Mum used to make them when I was younger, with just bananas and milk. Sometimes she’d add ice cream and it was a whole new level of awesome. Now I’ve grown up and those shakes have too. These days the ice cream is skipped and I add a few dates for sweetness. Coconut water replaces the milk and with the addition of some hemp protein powder, the finished product is just as creamy. I also love to add a little cinnamon in the colder months, I could tell you all about it’s anti-inflammatory properties but really, it just tastes ridiculously good.
I don’t work out, but this is the perfect post workout recovery drink. It brings much needed carbohydrates, protein for muscle repair and the coconut water is incredible for rehydration and balancing electrolytes. Of the 25 recipes I developed for Vita Coco, this is the one that fills my glass most often. You can see more of them on the Vita Coco twitter account if you fancy giving your smoothies and juices a shake up.
I pride myself on my recipes being something that even an inexperienced cook could pick up and turn out great results. 99% of recipes on my blog are exactly that. If something is quite complex, I weed out the problem areas, finding alternatives for you until it’s manageable. This Char Siu Bun recipe however, is purely self indulgent. Matt loves them, I adore them and although the recipe is fairly hands off, the steps take place over 24 hours. I’ve got your back though. I know a lot of people avoid anything that needs that much forward planning, so I’ll give you two ways to make the char siu pork; the real deal and the sneaky cheat. Same for the bao (buns); a from scratch version and something easier.
Whichever way you choose to do it, these buns area heavenly, smooth pure white dough holding the key to my heart. The Char Siu pork is just incredible, you’ll impress your guests with this, but to be honest, it’s almost too good to share. I tested the water with this recipe on my Facebook page, and y’all went crazy! So let’s do this.
Rub the five spice in to the pork shoulder and transfer to a large ziplock bag.
Mix together the honey, rice wine, garlic and hoisin in to a thick paste then let down with the soy sauce. Pour the mixture in to the bag with the pork and seal. Leave overnight in the fridge to marinade.
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celcius. Place the meat on a rack (or tinfoil balls) in a roasting tin with 1cm of water in the base. Cook for around 4 hours or until the pork comes apart easily with two forks. Keep the bag of liquid and baste the meat with a ladle of it every half an hour whilst it is in the oven.
Once the pork is ready, shred with 2 forks. At this point, the pork can be frozen or kept in the fridge for 3 days. When you come to serve, just fry it off in a hot dry pan until the edges of the pork begin to brown and it’s piping hot right through.
The cheat: Pick up a good quality pack of barbecue seasoning, like the Flava It marinade (75p in Tesco at the moment) and mix with 3 tsp of five spice. Roast or slow cook the pork using the directions above and then shred the pork. Once shredded, mix the seasoning with 2 tbsp water and combine with the pork. Fry off in a hot dry pan until slightly browned. Obviously this isn’t a legitimate char siu, but it’s good and distinctly reminiscent of the real deal for those that just don’t have the time.
For the buns:
This recipe is converted and adapted from David Chang’s steamed bread recipe. It makes enough buns to be the main meal for 4 hungry people. You’ll need:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
350ml warm water
3 tablespoons lard, melted
480g strong white bread flour
180g plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
Mix together the yeast, water and lard, stirring until the yeast has dissolved and the mixture is cloudy.Combine the flours, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl, adding the yeast liquid bit by bit and mixing until the dough comes together.Knead the dough by hand for around 15 minutes of in an electric mixer with a dough hook for 8 minutes. Turn in to an oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about 2 hours).
Punch the air out of the dough and shape in to a log and cut in to about 25 pieces. Shape in to golf balls. Using a rolling pin, press the centre of the ball and roll up and down until a flat oval is formed. Brush the top of the dough with a little sesame oil and fold in half. Transfer to a lined baking sheet, cover with cling film and leave to rise for another 40minutes.
If you don’t have liners for your bamboo steamer, cut squares of greaseproof paper to go under each bun. Lay as many as you can fit in each basket with a little space to expand. Add 2cm water to a wok over a high heat, rest the bamboo steamer in the base of the wok and steam for 8 minutes.
The cheat: You can actually buy pre made dough for these buns from asian grocery stores or alternatively an instant mix that just requires water. Will they be as good as home made? I doubt it, but it saves a lot of time if you don’t have the patience.
There are juice recipes everywhere you look on the internet, but two ingredients I feel are really lacking the limelight are berries and herbs. Not only are berries amazing at bringing a little sweetness to any juice but in the UK we have these beauties in hedgerows up and down the country. They’re in plenty of smoothie recipes, but why aren’t we juicing these little blighters? We should be. Fresh herbs have the ability to transform an otherwise mundane juice in to something on another level. They’re full of vitamins and minerals which are especially potent when raw.
With this in mind, I created a blackberry, sage and cucumber juice as part of a series of 25 recipes for Vita Coco.
It’s the perfect Autumnal drink with its bold berry flavours and the sage brings in some of the rich earthy notes that we reach for as the days get cooler. Simply juice two handfuls of blackberries, half a cucumber and a small bunch of sage leaves. It’s best to feed the sage in first so that the other ingredients can carry the flavour through the juicer. When juicing the more aromatic herbs like sage and rosemary, remember that they can pack quite a punch so you’ll need much less than parsley for instance. Once the juice is done, top up with 330ml of Vita Coco’s lovely coconut water.
I’ll be sharing a few more of my favourites from the collection over the next two weeks so keep your eyes peeled for them if you’re on the look out for some new juice and smoothie recipes. I’ve loved working on this project and I’m so pleased I can finally share them with you! You can browse some of my other recipes in Vita Coco’s twitter gallery along with some gorgeous cocktails and mocktails made with their coconut water too.
If you’d like to get involved with some juice and smoothie fun, you can use the hashtag #cococreations to tweet your favourite juice or smoothie for the chance to win a 3 month supply of Vita Coco, Nutribullet blender and a fruit and veg hamper!