Sunday, 29 January 2017

A to Z Dating... Afternoon Tea at Almondine

A is for Afternoon Tea
Aquarium - Art Gallery - Abseil - Adventure

Once Christmas is over, and the fireworks signal the start of the New Year, it can be too easy to start feeling the dreaded January blues. I'll admit they've been creeping up on me this last week or so (mainly after checking my bank balance) but luckily I had something to look forward to. I'd booked the table and paid the deposit, and we finally kicked off our Alphabet Dating challenge with afternoon tea at beautiful Almondine!

Aberdeen's only French patisserie has been on my must visit list for far too long, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to check out their famous afternoon tea. A is also for Almondine, which seems to be confusing some people into thinking we're trying different restaurants in alphabetical order! We're actually trying to choose activities or events for each letter, although it is fair to assume that many of them will end up being food based! This is Dinner Stories after all...

Rows of pretty pastel macarons and a warm welcome met us as we entered, and were guided to our seats by the window. Parisian d├ęcor and hints of duck egg blue create that soft and dreamy, relaxing ambience. A cold, crisp glass of pink fizz was just what the doctor ordered. Gordon took the role of designated driver but the signature hot chocolate looked just as much of a treat! I'm not a hot chocolate fan (chocolate water, no thanks) but this was the real deal - rich, thick, deliciously smooth and perfectly sweet.

Naturally we tucked into the sandwiches first, working our way from the bottom up. A classic selection of beef, ham and mustard, cucumber and egg and cress, each of them were fine. At £22.50 per person, I would have liked to see something a little different on this tier - maybe a mini version of the filled croissants and savoury crepes from their lunch menu?

The scones rounded up the first layer, smothered in cream and topped with raspberry jam, before we moved onto the piece de resistance - the handmade patisserie! Where do I even begin? Gordon loved  being all manly with his tiny cakes and teacups...

The charlotte - with it's purple polka dot almond sponge and blackcurrent mousse filling - was my favourite by a mile, closely followed by the chocolate opera cake. Of course it wouldn't be Almondine without a taste of their exceptional macarons!

I really enjoyed our afternoon date - I'd highly recommend a visit, but save afternoon tea for a special occasion! It was a lovely little treat but if you're on a budget, perhaps just a macaron or two will do. Next time I'll be popping in for a taste of these delicately crafted, almost too pretty to eat mango and passion fruit bonbons!

Would you give alphabet dating a go?
What would your 'A' be?

Monday, 16 January 2017

A Taste of Thailand - Thaikhun Cooking Class

There's still 10 months to go until our honeymoon adventures, yet Thailand is taking over my life. My evenings are spent scrolling from travel blog to travel blog, browsing everything from luxury beach resorts to backpacking tales from this tropical paradise. When I'm not banging on about elephants, it's the food I'm obsessing over!

Stories of glorious street food markets buzzing with vibrant colours, and all sorts of scents and flavours have got me excited. Mango sticky rice, fresh fruit, soups, noodles, pad thai, peanuts, peanuts everywhere! And all for just a couple of quid - no wonder they call it the Land of Smiles!

Cooking classes are a recurring theme when looking for things to do in Thailand. You'll find them everywhere from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and even the party islands of the South. Some include trips to the local market while others will take you to a private herb garden to pick ingredients. It doesn't get any fresher than that! I'm pretty sure we'll check out a class at some point in our two week trip.

Researching all these cook schools brings me back to my first experience of Thai cooking. Back in October I went along to Aberdeen's very own Thaikhun with Lynne. She'd bagged some vouchers from itison and we made a day of it, starting with brunch at Rye & Soda, a spot of shopping and a cocktail (or two) before we headed for the Sunday evening lesson. We were welcomed with warm smiles and the offer of drinks. A refreshing, watermelon flavoured Full Moon cocktail was the perfect start. 

We were seated in a sectioned off area at the entrance to the Union Square restaurant, around 8 of us in total, each with our own individual gas cooker in front of us. Separated into two smaller groups, ours kicked off with a mini geography lesson. A lovely lady explained the various areas of Thailand, and the differences in ingredients, spices and cooking styles between them.

Up next was a short but sweet cocktail lesson...

A brief introduction to the classic mojito led us on to crafting our very own coconut variations. We muddled together fresh limes and mint, adding white rum, Malibu, coconut syrup, and topping it up with crushed ice. A slice of lime, a sprig of mint and a sprinkle of coconut flakes later and our masterpieces were ready. Imagine relaxing on the white sandy beaches of the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, exotic cocktail in hand... Perfect.

All the while our chef was bustling around, preparing ingredients ready for us to get stuck into the main event. The class included two classic Thai dishes - Tom Yum Soup and Phad Thai. Some of the ingredients I'd never even heard of, nevermind seen before (galangal, anyone?) but luckily we got a brief introduction to each one, with tasters of various spices and herbs being passed around the group - some seriously challenging our spice tolerance! 

The end result of our first dish was spot on! A hot and sour soup, most commonly served with shrimp, Tom Yum is full of flavour. Ours was made with chicken, lemongrass, galangal, lime leaf, fish sauce and evaporated milk, sweetened with sugar and spiced with chillies. Thai food is so fragrant, and you could say this soup is an acquired taste. I made it at home a few days later and Gordon was not impressed with the smell but quickly changed his mind after tasting!

The phad thai was my personal favourite and I love that you can add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. I guess this is the beauty of street food when it's made fresh right before your eyes! I piled the peanuts on while only sprinkling a small amount of chilli flakes.

My only negative note from the experience was the waiting times between cocktail making, soup and phad thai. With only the chef himself and one other person to help, the clear up process in between took a bit longer than we expected. The dishes themselves were surprisingly quick and easy to make, and the evening was fun and light hearted in keeping with that Land of Smiles ideology!

We left the class two and a half hours later, with happy bellies, goodie bags and a new found love of Thai. The goodie bags included vouchers, recipes cards and even the fresh herbs and spices we'd need to rustle up some tom yum soup at home. While I can't yet compare or comment on how authentic the experience was, I can say that if it's a taste of what's to come in Thailand, I can't bloody wait!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Hello 2017

Happy New Year!

While many of you will be glad to see the back of 2016, its a bit of a mixed bag for me. In some ways I'd agree it was a year of misery with all the well discussed celebrity deaths, foreboding political change and issues much closer to home. But for us it will always be the year we got married, and I'll always look back on 2016 with fondness.

We've made so many great memories over the last twelve months between the hen parties, the wedding and two minimoons. I smashed a couple of goals along the way - passing my driving test first time, and surviving Tough Mudder! I might not have mastered those pull ups or found any abs this Christmas, but my attitude to health, fitness and my body has changed throughout the year. I'm no longer fixated on aesthetics and I refuse to waste another year of my life dieting.

So, what's in store for 2017?

This year we hope to travel more, and plan to explore parts of Scotland we've never seen, as well as spend more time in Spain. We're saving for an actual honeymoon which, so far, will be in Thailand towards the end of the year - please send recommendations and links to blog posts! As always, I have a few goals to aim for over the coming year.

Walk more (10,000 steps a day).
Try Alphabet dating with my husband.
Read the stack of books I bought last year.
Bag at least two more Munros.
Run my first half marathon.
Discover Thailand.
Learn Spanish - enough to order in a restaurant at least!

Whatever happens in the next 365 days, I hope yours are filled with health, hope and happiness.
Cheers to 2017!
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