Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Super Chicken Noodle Soup

This has to be one of my favourite soups. It truly is a super soup: healthy, cheap, quick and easy to make. What more could you want? As a student it's great because I can make a big batch on a Monday afternoon and it will last the rest of the week in the fridge for lunches.

Serves 4
200g or 2 dry egg noodle nests or medium rice noodles
900ml chicken stock water
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
5 times 4mm thick slices of unpeeled root ginger
300g chicken breast, very thinly sliced (or you can use prawns)
4tsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
7 spring onions, trimmed and sliced at an angle
large handful of roughly chopped coriander
Large handful of sugar snaps
1 small chilli (if you like some extra heat)
1 Cinnamon stick

1) Put both noodle nests in a bowl, cover them with boiling water and let them soak whilst you make the soup.
2) Place the stock in a large saucepan with the garlic, ginger and cinnamon stick. Bring to the boil, then add the chicken and cook for about 2 minutes until the chicken is opaque. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, coriander, spring onions, chilli and sugar snaps and cook for a further 2 minutes.
3) Drain the noodles and add to the saucepan.

Other than the main components of this soup (noodles, stock, chicken), the best part about this recipe is that you can improvise and add other elements or veggies to make it more substantial. So feel free to mix and match with ingredients! Genuinely delicious and perfect for a cold, wintery afternoon. Hearty and Healthy.

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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Top 10 ways to get your guests chatting at a wedding

This may seem like a very bizarre post for a 19 year old to be writing but in fact I have been working at wedding venues since I was 16 years old and I have become accustomed to wedding trends over the years. In fact I thought about writing this post since friends of my parents' have to decided to tie the knot at one of the venues I work at and they asked me for my advice about how to make their June wedding unique and stand out from everybody else's.
I love walking into work at 11am, and seeing the ideas that the bride and groom have come up with- especially as they make their special day truly individual. I have seen my fair share of weddings: some of them direly boring, others which I have been very tempted to join in with. Whatever you want your day to be like: a typical white wedding; an elegant affair; a 'fete' style summer party or a themed do, the most important thing is that you have a fun time, and so do your guests. Thus the future husband and wife must make every effort to make sure that guests integrate and have something to talk about.

Obviously both have their own school friends, uni friends, parents' friends, grandparents, family members, cousins, step-brothers and sisters etc. etc. The question is how will these people actually merge together and get talking? How does one prevent the dreaded 'jager-for one' situation as no-one else will speak to your guest? My answer to this is to make your wedding as individual as possible with quirky touches in order to get your guests talking!

1) If the catering company offers non-plated meals this is definitely the best option.
This is not to say that I am endorsing the free-for all buffet style which I don't think is a particularly  elegant option for anyone as it means that many come back with food piled high! At the venues where I work, in order to create a fun, rustic, individual touch to weddings rather than plating food individually, the waiters and waitresses will bring out a big wooden board of meat, a big bowl of beans and a bowl of potatoes (for example). As a table you help yourself to food by passing your plate around which will inevitably get your table talking (and not just to the person on one side of you). I absolutely love this system as it is a far more sophisticated version of the buffet style and you interact with everyone around you.
The second reason as to why I think this is such a fab idea is if you really want to inject some fun into your big day you can choose a carver. Tape a chef's hat and an apron under a chosen guest's chair, and before the meal get everyone to check under their seats to see if they've been chosen. If you have a leg of lamb then this selected guest will wear his hat and apron to carve. I can 100% assure you that this is the perfect way to get your guests chatting and is definitely an ice-breaker! The number of times I have been behind the bar, overhearing conversations of "Oh so you were the carver! Nice to meet you I'm so-and so". Proof is in the pud. Which brings me on to my next top tip!

2) Instead of having caterers do the cakes/pudding, get your guests to bring cakes along!
One of the BEST and most individual ideas I have ever seen. The bride and groom had asked every guest (or couple, or table- however you want to organise it) to bring a cake along. They were told that there would later be a competition for the most individual and tasty treat. As all of the guests arrived, they would whip out the most extravagant and beautiful cakes to put on a long bench (we have a mezzanine area) which could be seen from the seating area. It was a very impressive spread!
After the main course the bride and groom went up and tried all of the cakes, judging them on appearance, individuality and taste. They eventually got everyones attention and gave out prizes for who won each section. Each guest would come up and receive a prize which had the bride and grooms name on and the wedding date as well as what they won it for. They had "biggest cheat" which went to someone who had got his mother to make the cake, "most colourful" "most detailed" etc.
This really is a win-win option for anyone. Firstly, you save a great deal of money on pudding supplied by caterers and secondly, guests are more than happy to join in with a wedding as it gives them the feel-good factor as well. Thirdly and most importantly it gets the guests involved and gives those who have come by themselves something to talk about!
I feel that this particularly goes well with any fete- style wedding as the fun factor is definitely there. (Bring out the bunting!!!)

3) Pictures and Pegs
A great touch of decoration which is always a winner for me is when a bride and groom make a sort of washing line of small photos of when they were younger, attached with pegs (you can get really sweet ones with felt hearts on for example- or even make them yourself!). From the left, is the youngest picture of the groom and on the right is the bride. The photos closer to the middle are those of when the couple met. I always think this is such a sweet display and it makes each and every guest feel like they're involved in the day as they obviously knew the couple at some point (from a baby-current times). Once again- another conversation starter!

Photo Credit

4) Something for the ladies
Although I have never been a guest at many weddings, I have worked at a fair few and I definitely know from my university experience what it is like when it hits about 12am. You have been drinking all day, chatting all day, physically knackered and probably need a touch up on makeup. Some brides I have met have evidently experienced that feeling numerous times in the past, so decided to help their friends by leaving out firstly, a big wicker basket of flip flops and a sweet little basket of girly things in the ladies loo. Let me start with the flip flops. Whoever first came up with this idea is an absolute genius. It is very infrequent that you see a lady on the dance floor at 1am who still has her 6 inch heels on. They are a rare breed who must have calves of steel! For many of us, those heels are chucked to the side relatively early on in order to carry on dancing. However, we are then faced with the problem of those rowdy men, buttons undone, tie tied round their forehead who are wielding their bottle of wine like a medieval knight, smashing glass on the dance floor left, right and centre. Hmmm. Solution? Prevent trodding on this glass by putting a large basked (preferably tied with a bow) in the corner full of flip flops of all sizes so that us ladies do not end up in A&E with glass in our foot. Problem solved.
Secondly, another lovely touch is to have a basket in the loo. This can be full of deodorant, dry shampoo, makeup, makeup wipes, tissues, hairspray etc. whatever your friends use! It means your girlfriends are looking gorgeous 24/7!

Photo Credits
Photo Credits
5) Photo Booth
SO MUCH FUN. There are so many great photo booth companies around nowadays who can come to your big day at any time (probably best when meal has ended) to set up a photo booth which has lighting inside/fan/fancy dress box. This genuinely looks like so much fun and is the best way to document any after-party of a wedding! Pile your friends in to the booth, add some with feather boas, a sprinkle of masks and and a handful of funky hats, take a few photos and glue them into an after-party wedding book as it's probably the only way a lot of people will remember what's happened past 12am!

6) Make individual party favours
As I have said before, the best weddings are those with individual touches. After speaking to many guests, they all say to me that it's difficult to make your wedding stand out amongst so many which are all happening at the same time. Best solution is to find a way to make them always remember your special day. Some people make sloe gin in a small bottle and tie a name tape around it (2 birds with one stone as works as a great name place too) others find companies who bake cakes in small jam-like jars, some even make the jam/chutney/marmalade themselves! This extra effort that you put in is firstly a money-saver and secondly really brands your big day as you and your husbands. Producing something which was made by both of you! Fab idea. And finally, the more personal to the couple these gifts are, the more things your guests will find in common with each other. Therefore more chit chat amongst your friends! Click here to find out how to make homemade Sloe Gin or Limoncello as the perfect party favours.

7) Band rather than DJ
I have this time and time again. You've got a bit of Rihanna 'Only Girl' blaring out of the speakers. I personally feel like I'm back at university. I think to myself- this is a wedding! Surely pull your finger out a bit and differentiate yourself to a student union. It's especially tragic when I see the grannies dancing to Beyonce's 'Single Ladies' together. To prevent this audacity, make sure that you start your party off with a band. I have never seen a DJ single handidly get the guests up on the dancefloor. After your first dance, get the band to interact with the guests by singing along and dancing. I think that psychologically when you see a big band playing to yourself, guilt kicks in and you get up and dance. When you see a man sitting behind a DJ booth on his phone, guilt is definitely not the first instinct that you feel! Obviously bands are more expensive than DJs and perhaps I have expensive taste but don't feel that you have to hire them for the whole night. Many couples have a band to get the party started and then play music from an iPod or get a DJ in when everyone has much more dutch courage to show off their take on the Gangham Style.

Photo Credits
8) The Power of the Blackboard
This simple tool is such a small/cheap way to decorate your venue. Scatter little/big blackboards around your venue and write your favourite quotes/lyrics/stories/drawings on them. Most importantly many couples forget to inform everyone of what the plan of the day is and menu. Once again, having these special touches makes it memorable and gives guests common ground to chat about! It also looks great. Simple/rustic and informative!

9) Couple Quiz
The worst weddings I have worked at are those where I walk in serving the food and it is absolute silence and everyone turns to look at you. Embarrassing firstly for me, but more importantly for the bride and groom. Banish this silence by creating a quiz about the couple to put on each table. Whichever table wins gets a prize e.g. a £20 tab at the bar or something. This way the tables get competitive (although remaining friendly of course!) and it injects a little fun into the evening. Especially as small talk gets a bit much sometimes. It's a great way to start conversations about how you know the bride and groom and funny stories etc.

10) Happy Campers
Obviously this depends on what your venue permits and I guess it has to be in the countryside but where I work, because there are fields all around the barn, we allow campers to stay overnight and leave the next day. This could be disastrous if it's a wet, windy and cold night but in the summer I would say GO CAMPING! It is so much fun because the party carries on, you are with all of your friends and my venue offers (with special request) big brunches in the morning. It means you don't have to worry about booking taxis/paying ridiculous prices to get back to a hotel. Win win?

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Prague 2012

Prague 23rd-26th November 2012

It has definitely taken me a while to put this up I know but I am just getting the hang of blogging! Here is my 3-day trip to Prague with my boyfriend, Adam. What a fantastic trip and a beautiful city! I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to explore a European city without the large price tag. We actually booked it through Groupon who were pretty tricky to deal with to begin with, but once we arrived there it was such an easy-going holiday. However, for me the hotel is of main importance so if you do book through Groupon be sure to have a look at Trip Advisor to make sure that the photos aren't deceiving!

The beautiful view of the city

Day one- 23rd November 2012
After much anticipation and anxiety about our first holiday abroad, Adam and I arrived at Prague airport after an astonishingly comfortable flight flying Whizz air. Instead of choosing to book a minivan which could have picked us up from the airport and driven us directly to our hotel we decided that we would be adventurous and cost-efficient and take the tube which turned out to be a much better option. I would highly recommend it: was so easy and I often prefer to avoid tourist traps.
This bus/tube journey is suitable for anyone hoping to travel to the city centre. As soon as you get out of the arrivals lounge at the airport the bus shelter is literally straight in front of you- it's difficult to miss- although you do need to see through all of the taxi drivers keen to get your business. 
The price of this whole journey is the equivalent of £1.66 per person or 96 koruna in total, so super cheap! However BEWARE- before leaving the airport make sure you have coins as these machines don't take notes. Despite not knowing this, we were lucky enough to find a friendly young woman who gave us the equivalent of about 20p in change in order to pay for our tickets! Don't get me wrong- there was a part of me that thought that after a 7.30am flight the most comfortable option would be to take a taxi to our hotel. However, I really was very impressed with how easy this journey turned out to be!

The system for paying for tickets is also very different: it charges you for the length of time you are hoping to travel on public transport instead of your final destination. Looking back on it, I would recommend buying a half day option. Once you have bought your ticket you have overcome the first barrier! Catch Bus 119 which ends up in DEJVIKA. From there, you catch the metro (which is also very straightforward as there are only 3 lines). Metro A takes you to MUZEUM which is the top of Wenseclas Square, so this is ideal if you are staying near the city centre. However, as our hotel was in New Town, we took Metro C (red line) and our stop was PAVLOVA. From there it was a very easy and straightforward walk.

As we organised our trip as part of a Groupon deal, we were a little bit sceptical about the accommodation as a few of my friends have had some dodgy ones in the past. However, we were very pleased to find that Hotel Assenzio was a modern and relatively small 4*  hotel with good service, very clean rooms and a good breakfast. Definitely a bargain!!
Because we couldn't check in until 2, we left our bags there in search for some lunch and to get our bearings a little bit. Walking back to Weseclas Square from our hotel couldn't be more straightforward. 
Weseclas Square is in fact not a square but a very long oblong rectangle which at the top has the very beautiful green and gold National History Museum. As the sun goes down and all of the street lights are lit up, I would highly recommend going up a few steps to take advantage of the brilliant view of the square. 

Unfortunately, I ashamed to say that Adam and I were so hungry, we did not even attempt to find a nice restaurant for lunch. Don't judge me but we were far too hungry to go in search for Czech food so we ate in quite a touristy restaurant in the square. However, one of the good things that came out of this was a complementary limoncello-like shot (which soon became complimentary in nearly every restaurant) called BECHEROVA. Although this was a lemon-tasting one the original has more like an Aniseed-flavour. It was super delicious although very strong and later on we realised that this was a very popular drink in Czech Republic as it was sold and advertised in nearly every store. 

With a hefty shot of this stuff in our systems starting to kick in we were raring to go and decided that because we were only staying for three nights, we wanted to make the most of our time here. We had a wonder down the beautiful, cobbled streets and eventually found our way to the Astronomical Clock which is really very beautiful and is situated in Staromestske Namesti. 

This beautiful space is surrounded by absolutely stunning architecture (best seen at night with a glass of mulled wine!).

After spending some time in this vibrant square, we attempted to find our way to Charles Bridge. However, Adam soon learned that I should never be put in charge of map reading and whilst our patience was running low and tiredness began to kick in we decided that we would head back for a quick nap before dinner. Although something of interest caught Adam's eye and he could not help but be drawn into the Sex Machine Museum on Melantriclova- just off from the Astronomical Clock. Let's just say that it was an experience somewhat similar to '50 Shades', if anyone is interested! So after an unnervingly silent and thoughtful walk back to the hotel with Adam, we got ready to go out for dinner. 

Before dinner, we found our way back to the Astronomical clock. With the buildings all lit up and the square spotted with people, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to watch this surprisingly quiet city go by with a glass of mulled wine and beer. There were no horns, screaming, or cars zooming past . Despite the muffled sound of voices and typical Prague ham sizzling over burning logs, it remained beautifully still yet powerfully present when you glanced up at the looming architecture. This proved to be one of the best parts of the evening. 

We hadn't booked anywhere specifically for dinner as we thought that it would be best to meander down the little cobbled streets to find some authentic Czech cuisine. We eventually found a restaurant called A PROPO down Platnerska. It was on the corner of a street with many Italian restaurants which looked trendy although we decided to take the plunge and start on the right foot by choosing Czech food. It was a charming, friendly pub-like restaurant. What won us over in particular was the offer of 2-pint jugs of Budvar each, which although I struggled to pick up, was very delicious! I don't normally like beer but it felt like the perfect setting. 

The food was local and tasty although I have decided that it it definitely not my food of choice as I find dumplings very stodgy. So after two more complimentary plum shots and a rose (was very flattered!), we walked back. With the lights on and many couples ambling down the narrow roads, I realised what Kafka meant when he once said "Prague never lets you go." "This dear little mother had claws." It was only our first night and we were already entranced by this beautiful city.

Even though at this point it was 10pm, we both still felt so safe walking down the small dark alleys. It's one of those cities that manages to retain so much charm despite the ever growing modern New Town. Even though we had walking similar streets during the day, it seemed like we could carry on investigating new windy roads all evening.

Day two- 24th November 2012
I have now come to the conclusion that one of the worst feelings in the world is waking up excited for an all-inclusive breakfast only to find that I forgot to change the clock on my phone so my alarm didn't go off!! However I feel that this was a chance for us to find a cafe which was recommended on Trip Advisor called Cafe Corso. Trip Advisor truly was such a great help when organising this holiday and I would highly recommend to anyone that this is a must before you head anywhere!
This charming, bright and modern cafe conveniently serves breakfast until 12pm on Saturday so we were definitely in luck! Food and coffee were absolutely delicious, with great care taken on the presentation and the high quality ingredients.

From here we were ready for a long day of walking up to Prague Castle!  In order to cross from Old Town to Lesser Town, you must walk over Chalres Bridge. I say 'must' although I don't feel as if it is a very appropriate word. It is truly a spectacular view and we were so lucky with absolutely gorgeous weather today- blue skies and crisp winter mornings are my favourite, so the views were fantastic. 

Along the walls of Charles Bridge are beautiful Baroque-style sculptures of the patron saints. I feel you can really spend a while here, admiring the spectacular views of the castle. Once you reach Lesser Town it is a climb to the top so it's definitely worth it. 

In Lesser Town the buildings which border the cobbled narrow streets are colourful and cheerful and there are many hot chocolate shops on either side if you are already slightly peckish or if your hands need to be heated up a bit!! Walking to the top, you reach Prague Castle. In front of you is the Old Royal Palace which was home to Bohemian royalty from the 11th-17th century, and inside the massive Vladislav Hall was where the old Bohemian Kings were elected. This building is now used for swearing Czech presidents into office. 

I would highly recommend buying the short visit to the castle, which lets you into the Old Royal Palace, Basilica of St George, St Vitus' Cathedral and my personal favourite- Golden Lane. This short visit is only 125 koruna for a student ticket and really worth it I think to get a real understanding of historical royalty in Prague. This ticket shows you everything you need to see without all the extra historical exhibitions. 

As I said, Golden Lane was my favourite part. Wandering down this short and cobbled street, you feel like a giant next to these miniature colourful houses. It is made up of toy-sized tradesmen's cottages and what was so wonderful is that at the door of each of them is a story about who once lived there. Frans Kafka briefly lived in number 22 which was his sister's house during World War One. At number 27 lived an old woman who used to be able to see into the future. Eventually she was captured by the Gestapo after predicting the fall of the Third Reich and was tortured to death. 

After walking round the the castle, Adam and I decided we needed to treat ourselves. We noticed on our way up to the castle a bar which served pints for the equivalent of 50p which sounded perfect. I can  truly say that I have never had a tankard with gloves on- but it was so fitting and a perfect rest from a long day of walking!

At this point is was getting quite late and because we hadn't even had lunch we decided we would walk back to Old Town and indulge in some of the Prague Ham we saw the night before when we had our mulled wine! However, before we reached here Adam saw a brilliant find: a small door on Charles Bridge (Old Town side) which had 350 steps to the top, eventually revealing the most spectacular view of the city. Although it did cost £5, the view was really beautiful and the cherry on top was when the street lights on Charles Bridge turned on as soon as we reached the top. 

So after our delicious (but surprisingly enormous) portion of Prague Ham and (another) glass of mulled wine, we were ready to head back to the hotel. But not before we found ourselves in an impressive alcohol shop which featured an array of many (and rather exotic) types of absinthe. 

We decided that for dinner we would investigate further into New Town in search for Trip Advisor's number 3 ranked restaurant in Prague- U Kroka. I would consider taking a taxi here (especially if you're staying in Old Town as it's further away) as firstly it's quite a walk, and secondly, it's not the nicest of areas. We found this gem eventually, and it was definitely worth the walk! A local shabby-chic style restaurant serving excellent good with a great atmosphere. I always love it when I go to a restaurant and I cannot hear any English. The waitresses barely spoke English and there wasn't an English menu. For some this may seem like a daunting prospect, but for me it shows that this is genuine czech cuisine, so much so that all the locals come here. 
Czech cuisine is mostly based around meat so I decided to go for the ribs which were delicious. Adam chose a czech speciality of tenderloin steak with cream and cranberry sauce and dumplings. Although he said it was delicious- BEWARE- It is genuinely whipped cream on top of your steak! 
The bill only came to £15 for two main courses and a bottle of wine. Really amazing value. One of the best things about Prague was I found that food was so delicious and was so cheap! We were so fond of this restaurant- I cannot recommend it highly enough. Adam and I were nattering about it all the way back to the hotel!

Day three- 25th November 2012
Sad day for both Adam and I as was the last day of our first holiday together! We woke up feeling energetic and decided that as we had seen all the general sites such as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock and Wenseclas Square, we wanted to do a very specific day tour. The one part of this city which we felt we had not touched upon yet was the Jewish Quarter- or Josevof- as it's called. None of the guide books I had brought with me covered this area in much depth and I thought the only way to do it justice was by getting a tour guide to show us round. We avoided all of the "ultimate" tours which only briefly touch upon each site. Although you could argue these are great for a short trip to a city like Prague, you might as well go round by yourself because they do not go into as much depth as specific tours.
Tour guides can only be found in the square of the Astronomical Clock. We noticed a friendly looking man called Roman with an umbrella saying "Jewish Ghetto" on it and we instantly knew we hit the jackpot as there are not many other tour guides who just do this area. After realising that there was only one other gentleman in the group, I panicked knowing that there was no place to hide if I lose my concentration! The prospect of doing this for over 3 hours terrified me. For those who know me well this is a challenging task. However I eventually realised that there was no need to be worried as Roman was a gripping storyteller. 
We first walked around the perimeter of what was the old Jewish Ghetto- the walls were taken down however at the end of the 19th century. The Jewish Museum and Ghetto is so popular as firstly, at one point Prague had the third highest Jewish population in Europe and secondly because this was an area taken over by the Nazis, but many buildings still remain today. This is very surprising as elsewhere Nazis were systematically destroying and burning synagogues. They wanted to keep all of the buildings intact so they could eventually document and make the synagogues into a 'museum of an extinct race'.
We visited the Maisel synagogue which is unused today, but houses many interesting Jewish artefacts which date back to the 10th century. 

The Pinkas synagogue however was particularly moving. In the 1950's this synagogue was transformed into a memorial for Jews of Bohemia murdered by the Nazis. This spectacular arrangement of names on the walls in alphabetical order with their birth and death dates really put into perspective the masses of Czechs who were victimised by the Nazis. 80,000 names. Even more moving was upstairs where children's drawings from Terezin concentration camp were put on as an exhibition. The vast majority of these children were deported to Auschwitz after these pictures were drawn. These drawings depict the desires to return to Israel, home, parents and often frightening impressions of executions.
We were then allowed to roam the Jewish cemetery which was established in the first half of the 15th century. It contains almost 12,000 tombstones and it is estimated that there are over 100,000 Jews buried there, 10 layers deep, as orthodox Jews were not allowed to be buried outside the ghetto. 

I would highly recommend having a guide to go around this particular area and if you see Roman (white umbrella with Jewish Ghetto written on it) then you can be assured that you will have an informative tour. 
After the tour we found the Cafe Louvre which was recommended by Trip Advisor and wasn't far. Adam had amazing sage and bacon dumplings with pork whilst I tried another czech dish called Spatzle which is basically like gnocci- very delicious!

One of the best parts of this city is that everything is relatively inexpensive. So Adam and I decided that our last night in Prague needed to end on a high. We treated ourselves to a meal at the Bellevue restaurant which is a Michelin Star Restaurant definitely true to it's name boasting a fantastic view over Charles Bridge. How romantic! We had 3 courses with wine to match which was truly delicious. The waiters were very friendly as well, giving us an honest opinion about the meals which I always really appreciate.

Overall what a fantastic holiday. A close friend said to us before we left that a holiday either makes or breaks a relationship so it's nice to know that we returned home with enormous grins on our faces! 
Money-wise I brought £200 spending money with me, as did Adam. Obviously as I said we did splash out on the last night- spending about £65 each so I would say £150 is a comfortable enough spending money although it is worth I think to end with a treat! 
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