Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Spanish Stories: Paella, Ponies & Pink Salt Lakes

While our minimoon in St Andrews was a welcome break for Gordon and I after the wedding, we're still planning/saving for a bigger, more exciting, once in a lifetime kind of honeymoon next year. Where or when that will be, nobody knows. We're still working on it! In the mean time though, we booked ourselves a little winter getaway and found ourselves in sunny Spain in the middle of November.

Despite being the top holiday destination for more than 12 million Brits, neither of us had ever been before. In fact this was the first time we'd ever seen an actual palm tree in real life! We landed in Alicante on a Sunday morning, jumped in our hire car and cruised the roads of the Costa Blanca to our home for the week. Day one was spent wondering, getting used to our surroundings and hunting out an open supermarket! We stocked up on essentials (read: beer and chorizo) for the week at La Zenia Boulevard - the biggest shopping centre in Spain! Think Union Square on steroids.

Our first evening was a cosy one. I rustled up a huge prawn and chorizo paella, which we ate out on the terrace and washed down with surprise bubbles (cheers Mum & Dad) and ended the night wrapped in blankets, playing Uno under the stars!

Day two was a fun one! We made our way to Lo Rufete adventure park near San Miguel and after much deliberation (AKA me refusing to go quad biking) we settled on horse riding around the stunning La Pedrera lake. I haven't been on a horse since my 6th (?) birthday but I've loved horses ever since!

Our guide was a Yorkshire lass who introduced us to our beautiful white mares - Clara and Sombre. We got to brush them while they got saddled up as a way to get to know the girls and bond with them. Clara was lovely and soft and very needy. She'd stamp her hooves for attention if I stopped stroking her for one second. Basically the horse version of me! Sombre on the other hand, didn't seem to enjoy human contact quite so much. She was happy to let you touch her until you got anywhere near her face... then she'd try to bite you! Sombre by name, somber by nature. Of course I ended up with her.

I was helped up onto the saddle by a Spanish man who didn't seem to speak much English. He literally told me to swing my leg over, waited til I got myself comfortable... and then buggered off! No guidance on how to hold the reigns or steer poor Sombre! Gordon meanwhile was told all of the above, despite having owned horses and already knowing far more than me. A quick "Pull left for left and right for right!" and we were off. Luckily Sombre was much kinder to me on her back (not so much the other horses, who's bottoms she nipped to  make them speed up!) and we relaxed with each other along the way.

Our hack around the lake lasted an hour and was lovely and peaceful, with clear blue skies and beautiful views across the picturesque, turqouise lake. Turns out horse riding is pretty tiring, and not easy on the legs, so our daily siestas became a thing soon after!

In the evening we headed for a bite to eat before the infamous Monday night pub quiz and discovered our favourite restaurant of the trip. A fairly recent addition to Los Dolses, Brooks California BBQ boasts their very own smoker and unbeatable prices. Three tacos for 6 euros? Yes please! Gordon enjoyed a BBQ pulled pork bun while I tucked into the best tacos I've ever tried!

The highlight of day three was our visit to the pink salt lakes at Torrevieja. An alga and a certain type of bacteria thrives in the salty environment and turns the water at the Salinas de Torrevieja this striking colour. It's also responsible for the colour of the shrimp and for turning the flamingos that eat them from white to pink - who knew?! I was gutted there weren't any flamingos on the go that morning. The locals use the lake as a natural spa as the salty water is apparently great for your skin, and it's not uncommon to see people just floating around! 

While we weren't quite brave enough to take the plunge (or not, apparently the water is such a think consistency it's impossible to sink. Hence the floating spa users!) I did dip my toes as we strolled among the washed up salt crystals on the banks. Maybe next time! 

Wednesday was completely overshadowed by the lakes and the rest of the day was a casual affair, strolling along the prom at Torrevieja and tucking into some tasty tapas back at La Zenia Boulevard. A look around the many many shops, a late afternoon siesta and a lovely Italian meal washed down with a huge glass of sangria in the evening and our third day in Spain was complete.

More Spanish stories coming soon...

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Bloggers Brunch at Rye & Soda, Aberdeen

A few weeks back I was invited along to Rye and Soda to check out their exciting new menu. After seeing many a tempting Instagram post from the man behind the foodie offerings, I jumped at the chance to taste test, and brought a friend along to help.

Our day started off with a DIY Bloody Mary station, beautifully laid out, ready and waiting. Having never tried one of these infamous brunch cocktails, I was eager to get involved. I started with a vodka nip, added a classic tomato based Bloody Mary mix (carrot and beetroot being the alternative) and a little lemon juice. BBQ sauce and tobasco were popular additions but I wasn't brave enough and sprinkled a little bacon dust on top instead. Garnished with some decorative vine ripened tomatoes, pepper and celery, my very first Bloody Mary was complete!

I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm converted but I'd definitely give it another go. Maybe next time I'll leave it to the experts though! If you fancy having a go at making your own hair of the dog, Rye & Soda are adding the DIY Bloody Mary Station to their brunches soon!

A generous selection of tasters was laid out for us to sample and I worked my way around the lot - hard work but somebody has to do it! The new menu is all about keeping it fresh and local, as shown with their fresh veg box soup of the day and the use of The Veg Company and Katy's eggs on various dishes.

Particular highlights were the gin and beetroot cured salmon, feta and pomegranate salad, mac and cheese bites and bruschetta. The burgers weren't quite as good as the ones from our wedding but my absolute favourite by a mile was the curried smoked haddock risotto. The menu is an eclectic mix of tasty, affordable dishes, bound to cater for everyone. I've got my eye on the tacos next time! With head chef Chris Tonner on the team, Rye and Soda is one to watch on the Granite City food scene.

Meanwhile, they continue to add to their ever growing drinks options with 10 Dollar Shake keeping the bar at the top of their game. Other offerings at Rye and Soda include the Tasting Academy and Bottle Shop. We were treated to a wine tasting session from bar manager Elias, who paired three wines with particular meals we had sampled. First up was a Chilean white wine to go with the salmon, followed by a much sweeter tasting dry white with the bruschetta. The red was our final wine, paired with the mini burgers in sweet brioche buns. I'm no wine conissieur but thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the various options from Elias.

After all that, I just about managed to fit in one of these mini chocolate muffins! If you're looking for a delicious and relaxed brunch this weekend, I'd highly recommend a trip to Rye and Soda. You'll find them in the Academy shopping centre, just off Belmont Street!

*I was invited to Rye & Soda's blogger brunch in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own and 100% genuine.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Dinner at Passorn, Edinburgh

The fact that I just typed "Dinner at Passorn, Thailand" rather than Edinburgh pretty much sums up this post!

The night before our holiday we found ourselves staying at a hotel at Edinburgh airport to catch our early morning flight. Not wanting to dine on Premier Inn's finest (I'm sure it's perfectly tasty!) we took a trip into the city centre. Our plan was to eat at the recently opened Voyage of Buck in the west end, but as we arrived to a crowd of rowdy blokes and a bustling bar, my mistake suddenly dawned on me. It was a Saturday night in Edinburgh, after a big rugby game at Murrayfield and we hadn't booked a table. The Voyage of Buck will have to wait until another day but lesson learned - I'll be making reservations next time!

After being turned away from various George Street restaurants, we turned onto Hanover Street. I recognised the Passorn name, checked out the menu and popped inside. My heart sank as we were told they had no tables available... but they did have two seats at the bar! I was beginning to think I'd be chowing down at KFC for the evening so you can imagine my relief! We jumped at the chance and were guided to the gilded marble bar, where we could enjoy the buzz and watch the bartenders at work.

While Gordon sipped on the poshest looking glass of Appletize I've ever seen, I switched to holiday mode and opted for a passionfruit and pineapple cocktail - the Thai Smile. A couple of starters kicked off our meal and mine in particular stole the show.

Satay chicken is a classic Thai dish that never goes wrong, and Passorn's take lived up to expectations. My beautifully presented, surprisingly lavender coloured flower dumplings were on a whole other level! A delicious mix of pork and peanut flavourings with just a hint of spice. Look out for "Chor Moang" on the menu - I'd highly recommend them!

Our main course was another Thai classic as we both decided on the less adventurous chicken Pad Thai. Again the dish was presented well with the tulip carrot a nice touch, and it tasted as good as it looked. I like that the crushed peanuts and chilli are served on the side so you can add as much or as little of each as you like. Gordon likes his spicy and I like mine as nutty as possible!

All in all, we had a great experience at Passorn. Delicious food and first class service. It just goes to show that sometimes it's ok to go with the flow and see what you find. (Instead of fussily planning restaurant dates in advance like I always do... #foodbloggerproblems.) We couldn't have stumbled across a better restaurant if we tried!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Festive Aberdeen 2016

The leaves have fallen, temperatures are dropping and the John Lewis ad has bounced onto our screens. It can only mean one thing... It's the most wonderful time of the year! I bloody love Christmas and everything that goes along with it. As the cards and decorations take over the shops, I thought I'd share a few things going on in and around Aberdeen over the festive season to get you in the spirit!

Christmas Village
25th November - 8th January. This year's Christmas village on Union Terrace promises to be bigger and better! With the help of Codonas, you'll find the return of the fairground rides, traditional wooden chalets at the market, a bigger ice rink, live music in the marquee and a Christmas tree MAZE in Union Terrace Gardens. I am far too excited for this new addition! Unfortunately the food and drink stalls won't be provided by Aberdeen businesses but if you're intent on keeping it local you'll find plenty places to eat nearby!

Light up Aberdeen
24th November. Watch the Granite City glow as they switch on the lights at Marischal college and the Castlegate tree.

Carol Singing
The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear...
Duthie Park hosts their Carols in the Park on the 17th December at the Winter Gardens and there's bound to be a service at your local church or school too.

America is the talk of the town at the moment what with the new President being a "local" business owner. Help celebrate this American holiday with a 5 course Thanksgiving dinner at Rye & Soda. On the 24th November you can tuck into a feast of a menu created by head chef Chris Tonner, in association with local turkey farmers Barra Bronze and Wild Turkey bourbon. At only £22.50pp you'd be as nuts as a Trump supporter to miss out on this! 

Reindeer parade & the Christmas Light Switch On
27th November. The Trinity Centre's annual parade will see Santa and his reindeer make their way from Castlegate to the shopping centre at noon - great one for the kids! Make a day of it and enjoy the Christmas Village festivities until the second parade of the day for the switch on at 5.30pm!

Wreath Making
Something completely different to try out at Underdog, Union Street. Heart Art Aberdeen are hosting this crafty event on the 3rd of December. Pick up some wreath making skills while sipping on a glass of Brewdog's Santa Paws!
For other crafty activities check out Teasel & Tweed.

Visit Santa
There will be many Santa's Grottos popping up in the area, but I hear the big man flies in specially for BA Store in Dunecht! The kids (young and old!) will love seeing Santa arrive in style by helicopter. Even Rudolph needs a rest sometimes! More details here.

Drive in Movie
Buddy the Elf, what's your favourite colour?
Nothing gets you into the spirit more than a good Christmas movie. We all have our favourite but I've never met a soul that doesn't love Elf! What better way to enjoy it than at a drive in theatre?! You can catch Will Ferrell in all his yellow tight clad glory at Aden Park, Mintlaw on 11th December as part of a World Challenge fundraiser. Tickets are priced at £25 per car.

Catch Dick McWhittington starring Elaine C Smith at His Majesty's Theatre or check out your local theatre! This year's Peterhead Panto is Peter Pan, while Inverurie will put on a show with Puss in Boots throughout December. Please check individual websites for dates, times and ticket info!

Scottish Ballet
Hansel & Gretel is this year's winter performance! I saw their version of the Nutcracker a couple of years ago and loved it. The show makes its way to Aberdeen in January so it's an ideal Christmas present to keep those festive feels going into the new year!

Ice Shows
Disney on Ice takes over the AECC with the magic of Frozen from 7th-11th December, or you can watch local ice skating stars perform "Once Upon a Christmas" on the 17th-18th December at the Linx Ice Arena!

Have a Ball
Breakneck Comedy are hosting not one, but two Xmas balls at the Beach Ballroom this year! Tickets are priced at £65pp and include arrival drinks, a 3 course meal, comedy acts and live music. A Christmas party with a difference on the 2nd and 3rd December!

Twelve Days of Christmas Trail
Twelve unique sculptures based on the classic carol have been lovingly crafted by a local woodcarver. They'll be located around the city during December to create the trail. Can you find them all?

Various Markets
There are a number of Christmas fairs being held in and around Aberdeen - so many I couldn't possibly list them all! Ministry of Crafts Christmas Market takes place on 3rd December at the Methodist Church on Crown Terrace, while the Etsy Made Local event takes place on the 2nd at The Foyer on Crown Street. UnderDog host their Old Togs New Tricks Vintage Fayre (the Christmas edition!) on 11th December. Keep an eye out for local adverts/Facebook events to find one near you!

Boxing Day Dip
Join the madness of Aberdeen Lions Club's annual Nippy Dipper event! Take the plunge into the chilly North Sea to raise money for the Lord Provest's charitable trust or any well deserving charity of your choice. Kick off is 10am from the Beach Leisure Centre and you can register online here.

The infamous Stonehaven Fireballs are going ahead this Hogmanay! If you'd rather stay in the city keep an eye on The Tippling House and Rye & Soda for news of their themed ticket only events - their dinner pairings are sure to be a treat! You can bring in the New Year with live music from local bands The Lorelei and Funk Connection at Schoolhill, with an impressive fireworks display from the roof of His Majesty's Theatre promising to start 2017 with a bang!

Whatever your plans this winter, make the most of the attractions. Have fun, stay warm, think of those less fortunate and spread some Christmas cheer (donations to Original 106 Christmas Appeal must be in by 12th December) and don't forget your local businesses!

Eat, drink and be merry - locally!
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