Explore :: Banff, Canada





Our next stop in Canada was Banff. I didn't want to leave Toronto, but oh it was worth it to see Banff. It's now in joint first place as my favourite place in the world, alongside Yosemite.

It started off with a lot of drama, which could only be calmed by Tim Horton. As I've said before, that man is always there when you need him. After a slight change of plan, we were on board a bus and heading to our hostel in Banff. We arrived to definitely the nicest, most lively and helpful hostel we stayed in during our trip. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone going to Banff. We were exhausted, so unfortunately couldn't witness the karaoke we could hear from the cellar and went straight to bed ready for adventures in the morning.

Banff was everything I expected Canada to be. We'd arrived in the dark, so when we stepped out the door the next morning we were taken aback by the sheer scale of the mountains around us and just how beautiful it was. I spent the whole time unable to believe that it was real.

We got our free bus pass and went to the top of the Banff Gondola. It was blooming freezing at the top and were most definitely not prepared for this. After taking a rather large amount of photos, it was time to go back down the mountain to visit the Upper Hot Springs. A few hours in the hot springs, followed by a massage in the spa was just what we needed and felt perfectly refreshed, ready to walk back down into the village. We had a 4 course fondue meal, which included wild boar and venison and melted Toblerone for dessert. Why oh why have I never thought to melt Toblerone before?!

After walking off our four course meal whilst browsing the shops, it was time to head back up to the hostel to collect our bags and catch our bus to Lake Louise.

Bake Along with Bake Off :: Creme Brulee

Until I went to Canada back in June, I'd never had creme brulee. It seemed to be a firm favourite with a lot of people and I often envied the pastry chef in my old job, wielding her blowtorch as she created the crunchy glaze on top of the dessert.

The bakers on the show seemed to make a bit of a mess of these, but I guessed without the pressure of the bake off tent upon me, I could manage to whip up a few.

Now they aren't the prettiest, I definitely should have wiped the sides a bit before I glazed them. Plus I had to use Mary's grill method, opposed to a blow torch unfortunately.

My family and I tucked into these the other night and seemed to get good reviews all round, so here's my recipe for creme brulee.

Recipe

500ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g caster sugar
5 egg yolks

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/320F/Gas mark 3.

2. Pour the cream and vanilla extract into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to simmer gently.

3. In a different bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until a pale colour.

4. Bring the cream back to boiling point, then add to the egg mixture and keep whisking until it starts to thicken.

5. Strain through a sieve and then pour into 6 ramekins.

6. Place the ramekins in a large roasting tin and fill half way up with hot water.

7. Bake for 40 minutes until just wobbly. Remove from the tin and leave to cool.

8. When ready to serve, sprinkle a little sugar over the top of each creme brulee and either caramelise with a blowtorch or under the grill.


Explore :: Toronto


I loved Toronto. The city atmosphere with an ability to walk 5 minutes down the street to the harbour and island area, definitely won me over. There's so many things to see and do, from the obvious such as the CN tower, to the less obvious like the Hockey Hall of Fame, Steam Whistle Brewery and China Town.










Not to mention, Toronto introduced me to the new man in my life, Tim, who I have to say is perfect. He's always there when I need him, sweet, efficient and basically just everything I want in a man. It's long distance, but I'm sure we can make it work.


On our penultimate day, after a bit of hassle, we managed to get to Niagara Falls. The area itself really wasn't what I was expecting. It was like Blackpool mixed with Vegas - casinos, tacky gift shops and American chain restaurants. Nevertheless, it was still a great sight to see. If I every go back again, I think I'd like to book onto one of the tour buses, so I get the chance to see Niagara-on-the-Lake and explore the vineyards too.






I was sad to say goodbye to Toronto, so was very glad to have Banff and Disneyland ahead of me on my adventure. If it wasn't for this, I don't think I'd have left. I'm already planning a trip back there as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I shall eagerly await these photos...

Bake Along with Bake Off :: Orange and Cranberry Quick Bread



I've fallen behind. It was inevitable, but I didn't think I'd be behind on week three! My excuse being that I moved flat, started a new job (with normal, sociable 9-5 hours, woohoo!) and had a mini trip to the Isle of Wight. That doesn't make much time for baking. Therefore, a quick bread was just what I needed this week. I loved the sound of Prison Paul's Cranberry and Orange Soda Bread, so I hunted down the recipe and whipped this up one evening after work. A nice welcome to Autumn just around the corner.

The recipe can be found on BBC Food.

Recipe

400g Plain Flour
1tsp salt
2tsp baking power
50g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
100g cranberries
1 1/2 unwaxed oranges (zest)
1 large egg
175ml buttermilk

1. Preheat the over to 200C/Gas 6. Line a baking tray with parchment.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Using your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the cranberries and orange zest.

3. Mix the egg and buttermilk together and stir into the dry mix. Use your hands to bring the dough together, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball.

4. Place the dough on the prepared baking tray and cut a cross into the top. Bake for 35mins until golden brown.

Bake Along with Bake Off : Cherry, Almond and White Chocolate Biscotti





Week 2 of Bake Off is biscuit week! I didn't really fancy making a biscuit box or arlettes. I'd never heard of arlettes before this weeks show and after a Google search, none of the internet seemed to have either. I've just done another search and there's now a whole tonne of recipes - the power of Bake Off!

I'm going off tangent. Biscotti seemed most favourable for eating during this weeks episode. The best part about this recipe is you can eat the end pieces for 'quality control purposes' before they're ready to serve. Anyway, here's my recipe for Cherry, Almond and White Chocolate Biscotti.

Recipe - Biscotti

115g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
275g plain flour
1/2tsp baking powder
100g dried cherries
100g chopped almonds
100g white chocolate, well chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs.

2. Add in the dry ingredients (flour and baking powder) until a soft dough is formed. Add in the cherries, almonds and 75g of the chocolate and mix until evenly combined.

3. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and place onto a lined baking sheet. Flour your hands and form them into nice rectangular shapes.

4. Bake for around 25mins until just firm and golden. Remove from the oven an allow to cool for 10 minutes. Don't forget to leave the oven on, you'll be needing it again!

5. Slice the baked dough carefully. Gently lay the slices on the baking sheets and cook for a further 10 mins.

6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. As the biscotti are still fragile, make sure you leave them on the tray until they have firmed up. Once cool, melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle or dip the biscotti for decoration, whatever your preference!

Trek America :: Tips and Tricks


I'm going to assume that if you're reading this you've either already booked or are thinking of booking a trek with Trek America. If you're in the already booked category, be prepared to have one of the best times of your life. If you're still pondering over the thought and have resorted to Google to see what other people think, open a new tab right now and book it.

I've had a few questions recently about Trek America, my experiences and what you should pack ready for your trip. I spontaneously booked my trip in the last few weeks of my 3 months working at Walt Disney World, so definitely felt unprepared and overpacked for my Trek. Every trek is different, but here's what I'd recommend from my experience on the Western BLT trip:

1. Pack comfy shoes - As the name suggests, there's quite a few opportunities to do some hiking during your trek. Although they aren't too strenuous, trainers would be the most practical option. Don't forget to pack some shoes for exploring the cities, beach days and nights out too.

2. Pack for each location - Make sure you check out the weather forecast for each place you're visiting before you leave. I got a massive shock at how cold San Francisco was when I arrived and you could do with a jacket for the early mornings in places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite too. Don't get a swimming costume either!

3. Pack light - I had so much stuff with me after living in Florida and oh how I wish I didn't have 3 months worth of packing with me. The lighter you can pack the better. For starters, you're in a mini van, so if you want enough leg room try to keep any hand luggage as small as possible. Ideally just a bag that can carry a camera, phone, snacks and water.

4. Water bottle - Take a reusable one with you if possible. Trek America is all about good RT (responsible travel). If not, buy a big bottle at one of your supermarket stops and refill it when possible. You don't want to get dehydrated on your hikes or feel thirsty when you're driving through the desert on van appreciation days.

5. Take a camera- You'll regret it if you don't! You're going to see some amazing sights, meet amazing people and you're going to want to annoy as many people as possible with the photos of your trip when you get home.

6. Update your iPod/Phone for music - A good playlist is essential for your time in the van. There's going to be some very early mornings and long journeys, so some good songs make these more bearable. There's still songs I can't listen to without feeling I'm back in the van. Going to Vegas? It's pretty much essential you recreate this scene, so make sure you download Kanye.

7. Take two towels - This isn't a completely necessity, but 2 towels may be a good idea. One for showers, one for recreational stuff like beach trips and river swimming.

8. Spending money - I'd recommend getting a travel card such as a Fair FX. Don't forget some cash too for tips and gambling in Vegas. Trek recommend about $50 per day of your Trek to cover food, tips and other items. Don't forget to account for any extra activities you might want to take part in whilst you're there. 

9. Sleep - Get as much sleep as you can on the plane over as you're not going to get much of it over the next week or so. Most of my sleeping was done in the van from place to place, so if you can't fall asleep at the drop of a hat like I can, it might be worth packing a eye mask, ear plugs, neck rest etc.

10. Ditch the technology - Don't bother taking your laptop/iPad etc. You're going to be having way too much fun to care about having those with you, so save the weight and space. 

A few other questions I always get asked:

What are Van Appreciation Days? - The affectionate name given to those days where you're in the van for 4 hours+ travelling from place to place. They're not as bad as you'd think, so don't let this put you off. They're a great chance to get to know your fellow trekkers, catch up on sleep, sing along to your amazing playlist, play games or in our case complete some pictures in our colouring books. These days are normally broken up by your trek leader stopping at petrol stations and points of interest along the route so you can stretch your legs and grab some snacks.

How does food work? - Every trek seems to do this a bit differently. In our group, most of us put about $20 a day into a kitty. We used this to buy breakfast and lunch for each day of our trip. This gave us more than enough food and also some alcohol. Evening meals we paid for ourselves, either as a big group sharing pizza's in Yosemite, eating at the hotel or finding nice restaurants in Vegas.

What is accommodation like? - Much better than we all expected! I did a 'BLT' tour, which stands for Budget Lodging Tour. From 'budget lodging' I expected cheap, basic motel style hotels and hostels, yet on the most part they were actually really nice hotels. The only 'motel' style accommodation was in the Grand Canyon and the only hostel was in Yosemite. Aside from the Yosemite hostel where we were all in the same room, you got paired with one other person on your Trek to share your hotel room with. Here's the hotels we stayed at during our Trek:
San Francisco: The Good Hotel
Yosemite: Yosemite Bug
Las Vegas: Bally's (I know a lot of Trekkers stay at the Golden Nugget)
Grand Canyon: Red Feather Lodge
Laughlin: Harrah's
Los Angeles: Hacienda Hotel

I'm afraid I can't comment on camping experiences on Trek as mine had no camping involved, but there's plenty of info on what you need to take on these treks online if you need it.

Should I travel alone? - 100%! Don't let the fact you'd be travelling alone put you off. Our trek was half solo travellers, half people travelling with a friend or partner. It's an ideal way of going travelling solo, with the safety and company of other people.

If you want more information on your specific trek, Trek America have also put together some Trek specific tips here.

I hope this helped with your upcoming trip, you're going to have an amazing time. If there's any other questions you need answered, just leave me a message below and I'll do my best to help! 

Explore :: 24 Hours in Quebec City - The Video


Following on from my blog post, here is the video for my quick trip to Quebec City.
:: Take a look at the rest of my trip ::
New York
New York - The Video

A 'Want to' Life

Source: Contextual Posts 

It's taken me a while to write this post, mainly because I can't quite seem to word it as I imagined.

In January I started the new year by packing up my bags and moving my life down to Southampton to start a job in the New Forest, a part of the world I've definitely fallen in love with. The job however, not so much.

I made a big decision a month ago and decided to quit my job. I handed in my months notice with absolutely no plans of what I'm going to do.

There were plenty of positives to my job, working with lovely people who make me laugh every day, learning a lot from the chefs and sommeliers I work alongside and seeing the horses on the way to work and deer on the way home would never get old. Yet sometimes these little things aren't enough.

I've seen so many quotes recently along the lines of "Don't spend so much time making a living that you forget to make a life". I'm 23 years old, I don't want to look back on my life when I'm in my 80's and think about how I spent years of my life working long hours, with no social life, in a job I'm not passionate about.

To me, the logical step to take was to quit the job I don't enjoy and take some time to do things I enjoy, earning a bit of money where I can on the way and hopefully finding a job I love in the process. I'm happy to admit that I don't really know what I want to do in life. I know that I want to travel, bake and play sports as much as I can and if I could do all that then get married and pop out a few kids by the time I'm 30, I'd say I'd be living the dream life. So why not do these things?

The question I'm being asked most at the moment is "So have you worked out what you're doing next?". Yet a surprising number of people seem shocked when the answer is "No, I have absolutely no idea". I've recently read "20 something, 20 everything" and it really saddened me to read how many people featured in that book were in jobs just because it paid well and felt like it was the path they had to take after university, even if it wasn't necessarily the path they wanted to take.

There's so much pressure to join the corporate world and work our way up in business, which is the path some people want to take and that's fine. Although I bet if you asked the vast majority of people my age, they really wish they were pursuing their passions or hobbies instead. So that's what I'm doing.

I've got some potential fun, short term jobs in the pipeline to give me a bit more money and keep me away from binge watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix all day, but why should I stay in a job I'm not happy in just because of how society has built itself.

As the many quotes on Pinterest say I want to live a want to life, not a have to life.

Bake Along with Bake Off : Black Forest Gateau










It's my favourite time of year again. Season 6 of Great British Bake Off started last week and after 6 years and one almost successful attempt to be on the show, I love it just as much as I did on the first episode.

For the past 2 years I've attempted to 'Bake Along with Bake Off', yet got about half way through and failed. All of the recipes are sat in my drafts section, I just never got around to actually baking them. This year, I have more time on my hands and a bit more motivation. Plus it's just embarrassing if I fail three years in a row!

The first week on Bake Off the contestants made a black forest gateau. I had a black forest cake at The Parlour in Fortnum's a few months ago and it was one of the nicest cakes I have ever eaten, so I was more than happy to try this recipe out for myself. I decided to stay away from the chocolate mousse, to avoid any similar disasters as on the show and slightly adapted the Black Forest Gateau recipe on BBC Good Food.

Let me know if any of you try it out for yourself!

Recipe - Black Forest Gateau

Ingredients
175g butter
200g dark chocolate
300g plain flour
375g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
200g buttermilk

425g can of cherry pie filling
100g cherry jam
6tbsp kirsch
500ml double cream
3 tbsp icing sugar
1 small punnet of cherries

1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line the base of 3 x 20cm cake tins. Boil the kettle. Put the butter and 75g chocolate broken into chunks in a small pan and gently heat, stirring, until completely melted. 

2. Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda with a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk or yogurt together. Scrape the melted chocolate mixture and egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add 100ml boiling water and whizz briefly with an electric whisk until the cake batter is lump free. 

3. Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25 mins, swapping the tins round after 20 mins if they’re on different shelves. To test they're done, push in a skewer and check that it comes out clean. 
Prick the cakes a few times with a skewer. Mix together the 2 tbsp reserved cherry juice and the kirsch (or more juice) and drizzle over the cakes. Cool the cakes.

4. Mix together the remaining drained cherries and jam. Tip 200ml of the cream into a small pan and heat until just below simmering point. Chop the remaining chocolate and put in a heatproof bowl, pour over the hot cream and stir until melted. Set aside until spreadable.

5. When the cakes are cool whisk the remaining cream and the icing sugar together until softly whipped. Spread over two of the cakes, then spoon over the jammy cherries. Stack the cakes together. 

6. Spread the chocolate cream over the third cake and sit on top of the other cakes. Pile the fresh cherries in and around the cake and serve.

Explore :: 24 Hours in Old Quebec









Last winter my Instagram feed was filled with snow topped buildings from this city. I found myself endlessly scrolling through photos of the Petit Champlain district and knew I had to visit, snow capped or not.

Landing in Canada, we were greeted by drizzly rain (you know that fine rain that soaks you through). We didn't want to let this defeat us, so after a quick stop at the hostel, we donned our rain coats and headed out. We took in the sights of the Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world, before heading down the breakneck stairs to find somewhere to eat our very late lunch.

On our walk around the Petit Champlain, we discovered Le Lapin Sauté. If any of you are going to Quebec City any time soon, please do yourself a favour and eat here. Eppie and I pretty much spent the entire meal in food heaven. Definitely one of the best meals I've had and most definitely the best meal of my trip. Maple Syrup Creme Brûlée, need I say more. We then spent the evening in a plaid laden Canadian pub, watching the Stanley Play Off Finals. Best way to spend our first ever night in Canada.

We spent the next morning cramming in the rest of the sights we wanted to see before we moved onto Toronto that evening. We went to Erico Chocolatier, where we perused the small museum, watched them making the chocolates and ummed and ahhed over which chocolates to take away with us. After making the difficult decisions, we walked across the road to J A Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. Truly a food lovers dream. We poured over the maple flavoured items in the shop purely dedicated to maple syrup and started Eppie's collection of comical christmas decorations in the christmas shop, before making our way back to the hostel to cram our maple delights into our already bursting suitcases.

I feel 24 hours was just enough time to explore the town. Partly because after 24 hours you're exhausted from climbing Quebec City's hundreds of staircases and hills. It's safe to say I'll be back to Quebec again soon. Montreal, you're on my list.

By the Lakeside



Something about water is so calming to me. There's rarely a time I'm happier than when I'm by the water, watching the ripples and light reflecting on the surface.

Today we journeyed into the forest for a BBQ by the lake. The guys wake boarded, tended to the BBQ and messed around in the water, whilst us girls happily ate the food cooked for us as we sat on the dock, watching the sun slowly go down behind the forest in front of us.

As we were driving home through the beautiful countryside, passing fluffy maned foals, music playing and sky slowly turning a shade of pink, I couldn't help but feel a sense of happiness I've not felt in a long time.

There's finally a light at the end of the tunnel and I feel like today was once again reminding me of how good life can be. Oh how I needed a day like today.

Explore :: New York City - The Video



Carrying on my tradition from Trek America last year, I filmed each section of my 2 week trip in June. 

Following my blog post on New York, here is my video from my few days in the Big Apple.

Explore :: New York City




New York has always been on my list of places to visit one day. Although I never really knew what to expect. Everyone who has been has said how amazing it is, but a part of me felt slightly intimidated by the huge city. I'd always imagined I'd be in New York in the winter. Visions of the thanksgiving day parade, ice rinks, snow and giant Christmas trees lined my thoughts of how I'd spend my first visit to NYC. Basically Home Alone: Lost in New York with less drama. However, last month I made my first visit to New York City, in the heat of June.




I landed in JFK and made my way through the city traffic to meet the girls at our Air BnB apartment. We headed straight to Central Park, picked up a pretzel from one of the dodgy looking street venders and wandered around taking in the sights. We had tickets that evening to see Aladdin on Broadway, which was definitely one of the best shows I've seen. The genie was hilarious and fully deserved his Tony award. If you're in New York in the near future, definitely purchase some tickets. After the show, we explored Time Square at night. I feel Time Square is something that would have been amazing 5+ years ago, but with the rest of the world catching up with technology it was slightly underwhelming. Plus there were extremely creepy dressed up characters. which I was not a fan of.






The next day we had a typical New York tourist day. We started our day with an iced latte from Dunkin' Donuts and took a boat ride over to see the Statue of Liberty. The three of us are big Friends fans, so it was no question that we needed to buy Chandler style Statue of Liberty hats. Happily exclaiming that "New York is awesome!".







Having taken as many photos as possible of the iconic landmark, we made our way to Chelsea Market for lunch. We were a bit spoilt for choice, so decided on pizza and some doughnuts from Doughnuttery. We climbed up the steps to the Highline to eat our food and enjoy the New York sunshine, with a quick stop at the gelato stand of course.

Exploring more of New York, we went in search for Carrie's NYC apartment and had cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. We even tracked down the Friends apartment after looking at a whole street of what seemed to be identical buildings.

With tired feet, we made our way back to the apartment to get ready for our last evening in New York. We had reservations for Top of the Rock, which we'd purposely booked so we could watch the sunset whilst we were there. I'm so glad we did, as we got to see the cityscape in both day, dusk and night. It was a great way to end the New York part of our adventure.