May: Currently

 May currently
Cherry Blossoms on Hatchings Lane, Leafield.

Enjoying experimenting with mocktails and coming up with new flavours.

Needing to find a new book to read - any recommendations?

Seriously thinking about starting Project life.

Writing lists of projects I want to start and finish.

Loving our house and how it is becoming our home.

Trying to find enjoyment in the little things.

Appreciating my husband and everything he does.

But missing my family too.

Looking forward to summer and some sunny weather.

Grateful for being sober.

Feeling surreal about finishing studying in October. For good.

Excited for the opportunities this will bring in the future.

Finding inspiration and motivation from the little things.

Happy Tuesday.
x

A week in the life

This week has been slow but relaxing, I haven't done much to be honest.  Except go to work everyday, make dinners, do chores and finish my assignment.  I do struggle not do a lot but sometimes in life it is good to have a break, to revitalise my creative energy and get excited for things to come.

We went for a walk and he made me a daisy chain ♥



I made smoothies for the first time in like. forever.


I studied with the aid of avo on toast and coffee.

I studied some more on the couch.


Mani mowed the lawn - I love our garden.

Lucy was just too cute when she was balancing on the top of our door.

Enjoying experimenting with salads.


I spotted some pretty wisteria.



Happy Friday x

Lentil Dhal


Carrying on the with favourite supper series, one of my all time favourites has to be this lentil dhal.  Another recipe which Mani's mom passed onto me and seriously it is totes amazeballs people.  Yes, it is.

You can have it as side dish with a curry or by itself with chapati/roti/naan/rice or even some fresh chunky bread.

You will need:
♥ 300g lentils - brown/green/puy/red whichever you choose or a mixture
♥ 1 onion, finely chopped
♥ 1 tomato, chopped
♥ 2 garlic gloves, minced
♥ 1 tspn cumin seeds
♥ 1 tspn ground coriander
♥ 1 tspn garam masala
♥ 1 tspn tumeric
♥ fresh chillies or chilli powder to taste - depending on how spicy you want it
♥ 1 cube stock mixed into approx 1 litre boiling water

Steps:
♥ Fry the onion and garlic, add the chopped tomato and then all the spices.
♥ Pour in the lentils and the stock.
♥ Leave to simmer until the lentils have split.
♥ Serve with fresh coriander (this makes the dish!) and side of your choice.

Yum. x

Avo Tree Update

Remember a couple of weeks back I told you I was going to try and grow an avocado tree?  Well, there has been some progress.  The avo pit has begun to crack and a root has sprouted out the bottom.  There is nothing to do for now but just wait for more roots to show and eventually some leaves too.  I will just keep watering it and making sure the bowl is kept clean.  I am also hoping our weather will improve a little bit and some more sunshine rays will cast themselves on our little kitchen windowsill.
 avocado tree  avocado tree



In other gardening-related news, I planted some pumpkin seeds a few weeks back and hoped for the best.  I am so chuffed to say that they are growing well - I might start putting them outside in the day to harden them up and then eventually plant them in a few months.
 pumpkins
I suppose it might be a good idea to actually dig up a vegetable patch to plant them into?  I like the idea of raised beds and Mani has offered to build a couple for me.  So we might get cracking on that this weekend depending on the weather.

Happy Wednesday friends x

Making Milk Tart for World Baking Day

 milk tart

So, I wrote about World Baking day on Friday and I am pleased to say the mission was accomplished.  It certainly was a challenge but I really can say the milk tart tasted fab and I would make it again.  I did have to re-do the pastry as I lined the tin too thick with the dough but you live and learn. Plus this is what baking brave is all about.  I also only made half the mixture the second time round as I didn't really want two milk tarts to tempt me!

I used the recipe provided by Dolce Bakery in Cape Town, however I did not freeze the pastry like the instructions said - mainly because I didn't really have the time or the patience.  It still turned out well though.

It didn't take long for the milk tart to set, which I was glad of because I could have a slice sooner that I thought I could.  I enjoyed it with a lovely cup of tea while I was writing my (third to last)assignment on Sunday.

You can see where Nikki also took part here - don't her cupcakes look amazing?

Happy Tuesday!

A walk in the woods

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I am feeling so grateful at the moment.  Grateful for our house, our garden, our village and the walks we can take.   After a lot of studying this weekend and not feeling the greatest we decided to go for a short walk for some fresh air.  Our house backs onto fields which then leads onto a small forest and more fields.  You can do a 30 minute circular walk with some beautiful scenery.  The bluebells are out and just so pretty.  We saw a deer and a hare too.  The walk cleared my head and gave me the chance to practice with my camera again.  Here's to more evenings like this for the summer ahead.


Happy Monday x

World Baking Day

 world baking day

Did you know it is World Baking Day on Sunday?  I found out via this pretty blog and as soon as I read about it I just knew I had to take part.  I haven't baked in a while as I am trying to keep as healthy as possible since being diagnosed with PCOS.  But I figured I could bake to my hearts content and take my creations to work to share.  That way there is nothing at home to tempt me!

I first started baking when I was fairly young - I remember my mom baking cupcakes to take to school on a Friday when I was 5 years old for Bakerman on a Friday.  I remember her making these delicious muffins and these naughty bars.  When my parents divorced I used to go to my Dad's every Tuesday night for supper and always make brownies for dessert.  My friends used to come round to my house after school sometimes and I would whip up a batch of brownies and we would watch TV and eat the whole lot.  Memories.  I love remembering good times.  And that is why I love baking too.

Making something from scratch and sharing it with friends and family is the best.  I love experimenting with new recipes and sitting down with a cup of tea and a slice of something that is homemade.



This year, World Baking Day, which is being sponsored by Stork, is daring us to step out of our comfort zones and bake something that we have never baked before so to push our skills to the limit.  By answering a question on how often you bake you will be given a recipe based on that which might test you.  Based on my answer I was given level 27 - Coconut Carrot Muffins.  Sounds amazing right?  But I wanted something a bit more out of my comfort zone - I wanted to be brave.

So I chose the South African Milk Tart - Level 74.  Whenever I go home, one of the first things I do is pop to the Kwik Spar and pick up a Milk Tart.  But I have never made one.  So this is my chance.

I will bake my creation on Sunday and share it on twitter and instagram - remember to use #bakebrave if you are taking part too.

Are you going to bake brave this weekend?

On running

 running

So it has been nearly a month since I started my running routine – I thought I would let you know how it was going.
I aim to run three times a week, each run at the moment lasting about 20 - 30 minutes.  I cannot run for the full twenty but I can certainly run a lot longer than I could when I first started.
I use map my run on my iphone, which I put into this armband and it then tracks the routes I run so I can see all the details afterwards.

Sometimes it is a real struggle to go out in the evenings but I have never regretted going out.  Once I am on the road, I can literally feel the day’s events slipping away behind me.
It has definitely been a stress-reliever for me. I am not a stress-ball (although I am sure others would disagree!) but I am quite an anxious person and running has helped me relax and feel good about myself. 
I make sure I go out as soon as Mani gets home which is normally around 5:50pm.
My routine is getting into my running gear when I get home from work too and I also tend to not think about it too much otherwise I will convince myself to rather go out "tomorrow". 
It is all about forming good habits.

 Each run I can feel myself getting fitter and it really does get easier. I love our little village – it is perfect for running.  Initially I went out our back garden, into the fields and then onto more roads but I found it quite hard to run in the fields because of uneven ground and the tractor roaring past wasn’t ideal (although the farmer was friendly!).  So I have changed my route to road running only and it has helped me better my pace and my running distances.

My next aim is to get some better shoes – at the moment I have asics and they are super comfy but they are old and a bit weary.  I love the look of some of the below and am hoping to get down to a running shop soon to try on a few. 
I just want them to be comfortable and good for my feet and running alike.  Do you have any that you can personally recommend?

 1// Asics Ladies Fuji 2// Nike Dart 9 3// Adidas Furano 4// Adidas Lite Arrow 5// Ascis Gel Oberon

I am glad I have gotten back into exercise.  Since stopping drinking my energy levels have come back.  Plus the fact I am following a new eating plan I am feeling the best I have done in years.
I am proud of myself for getting back on track and I hope this inspires others to put on those running shoes and get yourself out there.

What do you have to lose?

Mocktails

 mocktails
Firstly - thank you so very much for the many messages of support and love I have received since posting about being sober.  I was overwhelmed by the kind words and thoughts sent from all over the world.  It really blew me away.  So thank you.

I have gotten used to the fact that I don't drink alcohol now but I won't lie - on social occasions and odd days - especially when the weather is good - I would love to sit down with a cold beer or a glass of white wine.  So - I try to make my drinks more interesting and have come up with some really tasty and easy drinks which make the cravings go away.

Mostly - when I fancy something alcoholic its normally because I am just thirsty - so after having a cooldrink or water it goes.  Why not try these recipes and see what you think? 


Sunrise Mocktail

Get a large highball glass, add a few blocks of ice.
Fill up with half soda water, half Mango & Orange juice.
Pour a few glugs of grenadine syrup in - this gives the beautiful sunrise effect.
Top with a few mint leaves/strawberries/raspberries - whatever takes your fancy.


Mint & Strawberry Fizz

Grind a few mint leaves, a strawberry, lime juice and a small amount of brown sugar in your glass until the mint leaves are all squished (this is my favourite part - the smell is just amazing).
Add some ice (preferably crushed) and top with soda water and a piece of lime.
You can also add some grenadine for that extra sweetness.

You can really just use your imagination when making non-alocholic drinks - make it interesting and experiment with new flavours.

Happy mocktail-making! ♥

Brown Rice Greek Salad

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So as the weather is getting better and I am eating well - I find myself searching the net for new salad recipes for both lunch and supper which will be both tasty and filling.  Well - I found a gem of a salad which I know I will be making over and over.

Liz over at The Lemon Bowl has really hit the nail on the head with this salad bringing together some awesome flavours.  You need to make this salad. Pronto.

Brown Rice Greek Salad
adapted from this recipe

You will need
♥ 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
♥ 1 cup of cooked brown rice (remember brown rice takes longer to cook so needs more water)
♥ 1 cup of cherry/plum tomatoes, halved
♥ 1 small tin of corn
♥ Handful of olives, pitted and halved
♥ 1/2 cup of feta cheese
♥ 1/4 cucumber, cubed
♥ Zest and juice of one lemon
♥ 3 tbspn olive oil
♥ Handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
♥ 2 garlic cloves, minced
♥ Salt and Pepper to taste

Steps
♥ In a bowl, mix together the chickpeas and rice along with the tomatoes, corn, olives, cucumber and feta cheese.
♥ In a separate jug, combine the oil, lemon zest and juice, mint and garlic to create your dressing
♥ Pour the dressing over your rice mixture and mix thoroughly
♥ Season with salt and pepper to taste

For best results and yumminess refrigerate for a few hours as this is best served cold.
You could add a finely chopped red onion or some fresh chillies if you want a bit more zing!

Happy cooking x

A garden update

Back in March I wrote about goals and inspiration for our garden.  I thought I would write a little update and let you know whats been going on.  Last weekend was just amazing weather and we took full advantage of this - it doesn't normally last long.  It made such a difference being outside and soaking up the sun, getting things done and enjoying the outdoors.  I just loved it and am so super grateful that we have a house and a garden that is our own to look after and cherish.

The back garden is huge.  But we are taking it slow.  We have to mow the lawn every two weeks and if we don't keep on top of it, it becomes a nightmare.  We have painted our shed and garden furniture which has made the world of difference.  We used Cuprinol Garden Shades - Seagrass. I cannot tell you how lovely it is to have a bit of colour in our garden

The front of the house used to be covered in ivy with bushes in the front and it looks a million times better but it still does not give off a cottage vibe.  But I have to be patient.  New windows and paving and a canopy cost money.  Patience is not my strong point but we will get there eventually.  Think cottage, trailing roses, flower boxes and lovely wooden windows with a canopy above the front door.  So excited to get this all done.


I then started on my container garden.  Ideally - I would like to dig up curving flower beds all the way down the side of the garden but this will take time - so I am starting small.  I got some gravel  and put this down which gives a lovely clean effect.  I planted some herbs, fuchsias, snapdragons and petunias which I bought and planted some Forget me Not seeds too.  I got some tomatoes (Tumbling Toms) and planted them in our hanging baskets.  



I also planted some petunias in our hanging baskets and they are sitting pretty waiting to flower at the front of our house.
So all in all - a busy and fun weekend. I am learning along the way and enjoy cultivating my garden and hoping to be able to harvest some tomatoes in the summer!

Happy Gardening! x

I love links Friday ♥

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It has been a short week - I could get used to only working four days at a time. If only!  The weather was glorious to begin with and slowly turned colder and colder but I am OK with that - I got my dose of sunshine and look forward to the next.

Much to look forward to this weekend what with catching up with family and then I have to get my next assignment done. Gosh - I cannot wait until I get this degree finished in October.

So to gear you up for the weekend, here are some fabulous links.

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Fancy spoiling your Mom rotten this Mother's Day - look no further.

15 things you should give up to be happy. Words to live by people.

Need some inspiration to get you blogging again?

Just swooning over these scones - seriously.

Loving this adorable site - genius idea.

Awesome freebies to download and print.

I might just need to do this.

Some interesting tips to keep you focussed and productive.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Happy Friday friends x




5 tips to a better blog

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So I started blogging on the the 3rd May 2012.  I just went back and read my first ever post.  So funny - and of course it was about my cats.  I cannot believe it has been a year since I started Bright and Illustrious and it has changed and evolved into my little space which I am growing and improving on a weekly basis.

I started blogging after I stopped drinking as I found myself a bit restless in the evenings, not knowing what to do.  I now enjoy keeping busy, always improving myself in all aspects of life and this blog helps me to do that. I can write about my hobbies from cooking, baking, running, gardening, sewing to everyday menial tasks and share my thoughts.  I can give you a peek into my slice of the world.

I have discovered so many amazing people since joining the blogging world.
I have found inspiration and ideas. 
I have found people I can relate to.
I have found people I admire.
This blog gives me something to work on, something of my own that I can share with my children and my children's children. 
I can also look back when I am older and see what I went through and what I accomplished.

On reflection, I thought I would share some tips I have learnt about blogging and how these have help me to continually improve Bright & Illustrious.

1. Be Yourself
When I first started out, I felt I needed to write about things or happenings that people would find interesting and while of course that is important to start a readership you also need to stay true to yourself and write honestly and about things which mean something to you.  "Just be yourself - everybody else is already taken".

2. Never stop learning
I had no idea what html coding, tags, sourcing and general etiquette of blogging was but I learnt. I read and continue to read a LOT and learn new things and ways to better my blog everyday.  I am sure one year from now I will look back and wonder why on earth I did things the way I did now but it is all down to experience and its the only way to learn.  Especially when you are self-taught.  There are many courses out there however and I took Elise and Elsie's Blog Design Love course which helped immensely and I often refer back to it for tips and reminders.

3. Develop your own style
It has taken me a while to develop a style for my blog which I feel represents me. I am actually still working on it but I do feel that my blog represents what I believe in which is capturing the little things, loving homemade and being real and honest.  I love interacting with people and learning from them.  I try to photograph my projects/posts in a certain way so if people see a photo they will think "that must be one of Claire's".  But it takes time and practise.  Which leads onto the next point.

4. Be Patient with yourself
It takes time to develop skills and make your blog into something you love.  Be kind to yourself but at the same time don't be afraid to try something different and experiment.  Maybe try a project if you have always wanted to, blog about something you are passionate about or go on a course.  By bettering yourself you will better your blog too.  But just remember to be patient.  It all comes with time.

5. Take a break if you need to
Sometimes, if life gets too much or if I have things going on like family/studying/work stuff I take a break and don't write on the blog for a few days.  It is good to sometimes recollect your thought, remember your priorities and start fresh in a few days/weeks. Lot of bloggers do this and one point in their blogging career and it just shows that you are normal like the rest of us!  You will come back fresh and rearing to go, full of new inspiration and energy.

Do you have any tips to share?  Please do leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Happy blogging x

Paneer Curry

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So last week I shared a vegetable coconut curry as well as list of my favourite suppers to make in the week.  Here is another recipe I wanted to share.  I was first introduced to Paneer when Mani's mom cooked it for me.  I have never looked back since.  Paneer is an Indian cheese, its quite rubbery but seriously tasty.  This is my favourite way to eat it.

When I tried to cook it for the first time I was not very successful but I have got it down to a tee and its a perfect mid-week meal if you want something easy and quick to whip together.

Paneer Curry

1 block of paneer cheese, cut up into small cubes
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 pepper, finely sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
1 tspn cumin
1 tspn tumeric
1 tspn ground coriander
1/2 tspn salt
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
Olive oil for frying
A handful fresh coriander

Fry the onion in the oil for a few minutes and then add the cubed panner.
Fry until the paneer/onion begins to brown.
Add the peppers and the tinned tomatoes.  Squish the whole tomatoes to make it less chunky.
Add the spices and seasoning and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.
Taste and check if further seasoning is needed.

Remember you can add some chilli powder or fresh chilli's if you want an extra kick.

Serve with naan, rice or chapati/roti and sprinklings of fresh coriander.

Seriously - this is a delicious dish to make at home and beats any take-away curry I have had!

Happy cooking x

Homemade Marinade Sauce

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This weekend the weather was just amazing in the UK.  Wow - normally over a long weekend the weather is known to just be awful but the sun shone and we got so much done.  One of the things we were determined to do was have a braai (bbq) and we did.

I thought it was only apt to make my own marinade for my chicken.  I thought I would share my easy recipe as it really is so simple and delicious - making your chicken juicy and tasty.  I love marinades and my all time favourite would have to be Jimmy's back home in South Africa.  Whenever I go back, I buy a couple of bottles and use them up with all our braai's we tend to have.

When marinating your meat it is always best to leave it as long as possible in your marinade sauce to allow the meat to soak up all the flavour.  Make sure you always marinate your meat in a container which is then kept in the fridge - ideally from 2 - 4 hours or overnight if possible.

Here is my homemade recipe - enjoy!
Homemade Marinade

Makes approx. 200ml - enough to cover 3 or 4 chicken breasts.

50ml olive oil
2 tablespoons chutney (I use Mrs Balls)
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons tomato sauce (I use Heinz)
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
A few glugs of Worcester sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper
Sprinkling of garlic salt

Mix all of the above ingredients.
Pour over meat, cover and leave in fridge for at least 2 - 4 hours
When cooking - baste the meat with any leftovers with a pastry brush.

Do you have any tips for marinating meat or recipes to share?

Happy Tuesday x

What Makes you Itch?

I came across this video the other day.  I have seen it before but had forgotten how truly inspiring it was.  Often, oh so often, I think to myself - what is it that I want to do with my life?  It is a broad question but in this instance I am thinking about what I do 9-5, Monday to Friday.  I am a PA/administrator at a business which I thoroughly enjoy working at.  I love the people, the place, the vibe, the work ethos.

This video, both the music, pictures and most importantly the words is such a good way to evaluate what you want in your life. If you know what that is - then go and get it.  No one is stopping you.  Only yourself.



But sometimes I wonder if there is more to life than managing diaries, ordering stationery, booking flights and filing. Is there something else out there that I should be doing. Should I be brave and go in search of this - but I like safety and the knowledge of a pay cheque each month.

BUT say money was no object.... I would paint, I would bake, I would be a stay at home mom, I would blog, I would sew, I would garden, I would write, I would create. And I do these things now - (well not the mom bit yet!) but just not full time. And that's ok. You never know what is around the corner.

Go live the life you imagined.
x

Growing an avo tree: Step 1

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Yes, you read that right. I am going to try and grow a tree.
And I am going to show you how. 

This post will explain the first step and each step will be posted as it happens with my tree.
I eat a lot of avo's - I love them. My favourite is on thick toasted wholegrain bread with vegemite and a sprinkle of salt.  I also love them in salads, on provitas, with tuna mayo or on a pizza with feta.
As I write this I am getting hungry.

So - how do you grow an avo tree?  First - get an avo and eat it.
Keep the pit and wash under cool water, wiping away an residue with your fingers and dry with a towel. 
 photo IMG_1991_zps0c76560b.jpg Next - you will need 3 or 4 toothpicks. Make sure the avo's pointy side is facing upwards. Stick them into the avo, evenly spaced.  The avo pit is quite soft if its fresh so you shouldn't have any trouble.  Then, fill a bowl with water and place the avo in the bowl.  The toothpicks will balance the avo on the top with the bottom half submerged.  If you are struggling to balance it, just take the toothpicks out and insert them at more of an angle.
 photo IMG_1997_zpsdfe3863e.jpg Reminder - the pointed end should be facing up and the rounded end in the water.  Keep an eye on the water level and top it up if its getting low. Keep in a warm, sunny place near a window or a well lit area and let the growing process begin. Change the water every few days to avoid mold or bacteria.  Always make sure that the bottom half of the avo is submerged.

Once my avo put begins to crack and a root shows - I will post step two.  Probably in 3-4 weeks.

Until then - Happy growing!
x

Around here

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The past few weeks have mainly been about enjoying spring, eating good food, relaxing, keeping up with my running schedule and oogling over the ducklings on the canal. Aren't they the cutest?  I can't believe it is May already.  Where is the time going? Lots to look forward to this month.

Let's have fun x
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