Slimmeria; a much needed return to my favourite detox retreat

As many of you who follow my social media will know, I recently spent a week in Sussex at a detox retreat. Slimmeria, dubbed ‘Britain’s poshest fat camp’ by the media, is possibly as misunderstood as the loyal clients who visit it time and again. Ok, so for me my reason for going is clear – I work in a tea room baking cakes all day long. Twelve cupcakes come out of the oven and I really should try one (quality control don’t you know?). We try a new recipe; I need to taste whether it’s worked well. Someone orders a fish finger sandwich… well you get my drift. I simply can’t help myself and I’m surrounded by temptation. As Ado Annie sings in Oklahoma! “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no”. So, when I had the opportunity to escape to the beautiful Sussex countryside for a week of hiking, fitness classes and a diet of around 400 calories a day of raw, vegan food (no caffeine, no carbs, no meat, no dairy, no alcohol – what on earth could be left?!) I jumped at the chance. Another challenge I face is keeping fit. Between running my business that, at that time, saw me tied to my shop for most of the week and living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome the past year or so had seen my fitness deteriorate into a distant memory. So Galia and the team at Slimmeria were to be my saviours, or at the very least provide the intense support I needed to kick-start my journey back to health again.

When I got to Slimmeria and met the other ‘inmates’ as we affectionally referred to ourselves as, it was clear that there are many different reasons for staying there. One lady wanted to tackle her daily bottle of wine habit, someone else was hoping to embrace a healthier lifestyle after suffering from gout, another just needed peace after a family fallout and one lucky lady was preparing to move to Spain and wanted to feel better in her summer dresses. We all had our own very personal reasons for being there but were ultimately after the same goal; weight loss and increased fitness. Slimmeria doesn’t make any promises but what is clear is that if you follow the plan and do as you’re told wonderful things will happen.

We weren’t a particularly large group – around 10 of us – and we all got our own room. I loved having my own en-suite space. It was pretty and cosy and comfortable, on the top floor of the original part of the house so I got even more exercise in with two flights of stairs!

On arrival we were met by the Slim Reaper herself; Galia has been named this by the media but let me make this clear, the lady we know through the various television programmes (including Four in a Bed, Celebrity Fat Fighters and The Extreme Diet Hotel) is not the lady I know in real life. When you’re welcomed to Slimmeria you are weighed and measured and asked about challenges with food and lifestyle but there’s no judgement, just support in finding a way to a healthier you. Throughout the week Galia proved to be strict but super supportive, knowledgeable and with a sense of humour – which you need when you’re consuming just 400 calories a day! In fact, the whole team really made the stay so much easier than you might imagine.

Each morning we’d start the day with a hot lemon tonic (sadly no gin) and a thin slice of apple followed by a two-hour long and rather muddy hike through the Sussex countryside. I used my Nordic poles for the hiking because of my instability when walking, and with all that mud I’m so glad I did! The walks were tough but the feeling of achievement on returning to the Georgian manor house we were calling home for the week was huge. But there was no time to feel smug; the hike was followed by breakfast (no full English here, at Slimmeria breakfast was a glass of either grapefruit or carrot and apple juice) and then we were straight into our one-hour fitness class. The fitness classes could be anything from box-fit to circuits and for me this was the toughest part of the day. I reminded myself that I have abs! The classes were held in a room at the back of the house with a large mirror along one wall that we desperately looked in each day for signs of weight loss. However, the signs were first noticeable in how we felt rather than how we looked. My first plank of the week lasted for just 25 seconds but by the end of the week I’d managed to increase this to 45 seconds although the one-minute plank is still to be achieved… After the fitness class we enjoyed a yoga class. This was a much-needed hour of stretching, strengthening and relaxation so by the time lunchtime rolled around we were all in a place of calm. Lunch was usually a really tasty (albeit not very large) salad or soup. While portions are small, we were all encouraged to drink a glass of water before each meal, as well as throughout the day, and this really did help to keep hunger at bay for much of the time. Although in that kind of environment it’s only natural that we all talked about food – favourite dishes to eat and make.

After lunch we were treated to some spa treatments; I chose the back massage to rid myself of the post-Christmas stress and then halfway through the week I indulged in a much-needed leg massage. Between 3-4pm we enjoyed afternoon tea. Now this isn’t afternoon tea as you and I know it. No sandwiches, scones and clotted cream in sight at this detox retreat, obviously! Afternoon tea at Slimmeria is more of a light afternoon snack of a few pieces of delicious fresh fruit and a hot fruit or hebal tea. As you might expect, afternoon tea was my favourite Slimmeria meal of the day!

We were also encouraged to take independent walks during the afternoons, and a few of us would work a trip into Battle or to the seafront at Hastings into our timetable. Yes, it was challenging to be faced with fudge shops, fish and chips and the local pubs, but we all stayed strong wanting to stick to Galia’s programme and not risk achieving less than we knew we could. So mostly we were tempted by the antique shops!

After an early dinner at 6.30pm (again, salad or soup with a lot of water, followed by a much-needed hot drink) we would gather together for either a motivational talk, a nutritional talk or dancing. I feel it’s best not to talk too much about our attempt at burlesque dancing to Black Velvet…

With a strict lights-out at 9pm rule which also goes for hot water and WiFi, we were all heavily encouraged to get an early night ahead of the 7.30am bell the following morning. It actually became really comfortable to escape the world of social media, television, news, and the outside world in general and just to do as we were told and I found myself sleeping really well (although my bed was super-comfy too!).

The funny thing was that we could all see a difference in each other before we noticed the difference in ourselves – isn’t it always the way? We were panicking but the compliments were there: “You’re losing it from your face, I can see the difference” and “Wow, your legs are already looking more toned”. So when it came to the weigh in on the Sunday I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d done the programme before so I knew it worked. I’d worked really hard this time, harder than ever, and I’m not sure I could’ve put more into it. My previous losses have ranged from 11-14lbs in the week so while I was pleased with my 9.5lb loss this time there was some disappointment. Until Galia got the tape measure out – five inches off my waist, three inches from my bust and an inch from my hips. I was beyond happy! The difference in photographs from me at the end of my Slimmeria stay and me on my Christmas cruise is obvious, as was the huge grin on my face as I left Slimmeria and headed back to the big wide world!

One of the misconceptions people have about Slimmeria is that it’s a quick fix diet that won’t last. Yes, Slimmeria can help you lose that last half a stone if you have a dress to fit into, but it’s so much more than a quick fix which is why it has such a loyal client base returning time and time again. It helps us re-programme our minds so that we can make healthier choices back in the real world. In the weeks following my stay at Slimmeria I continued to lose weight with the help of Slimming World and I now continue on this healthier road to a smaller dress size. In the same way you wouldn’t go to one slimming club class and never go back, or wouldn’t go to the gym just the once and think “I’m done now”, Slimmeria is somewhere I’d recommend returning to on a regular basis (even if it’s once a year). Whether it’s weight loss, detoxing, or just a break from modern life, Slimmeria helps its clients get back on track and feel human again in just one week and for that Galia, I am truly grateful. Thank you and see you soon…!

Russian beetroot salad

Russian beetroot salad

Another delicious salad that I love, and that is the perfect accompaniment to barbecued meat, is a beetroot salad I’ve been making for years (if not decades!). This recipe was originally shared with me from the wife of a very good friend’s cousin.

Back when we were teenagers with driving licences and too much time on our hands, my friend Helen and I would race around the country on a whim, visiting wherever we thought was a good idea on that day! One day we decided to go and visit (unannounced – I now realise how irritating we must have been!) Helen’s cousin and wife in Southend-on-Sea. They were so welcoming to two crazy teenage day-trippers and gave us a meal that included one of the most delicious salads I have ever tasted. I LOVE beetroot, and it also includes cheese (which is something of an addiction for me) and garlic – yes please! Helen’s cousin had married a Russian lady and she said she’d brought this recipe with her from Russia.

What is so great about this salad is that its really yummy the day after, spread thickly on a piece of crusty baguette. The only thing is, it’s so delicious it may not last until the day after!

Grate equal parts of cooked beetroot and cheese (I like to use a mature cheddar) and mix with a couple of spoonful’s of sour cream and crushed garlic (I’d suggest two cloves of garlic for every four cooked beetroots). It really is that simple!

Loquat salad with serrano ham and goat’s cheese

We’re at the height of barbecue season (yes, even in the rain – we’re British!) and while meat plays the staring role in most people’s barbecues I find the supporting role of the salad to be just as important. So my next couple of posts will focus on delicious salads that go perfectly with your barbecue.

Fresh loquats

Last month one of my lovely regulars, Pam, gave me a couple of homegrown loquats the day before I was due to host a family barbecue. The loquat is a tangy plum-like fruit originally from China and Japan but it’s increasing in popularity in the UK – and as Pam has proved they can be grown in Wimbledon!

Loquat salad with serrano ham and goat’s cheese

Loquats make delicious jams and jellies but I decided to use them in a summer salad. I sliced the loquats and layered them along with pieces of serrano ham and slices of goat’s cheese on top of a bed of baby salad leaves and I have to say this salad was just beautiful as a side dish to the delicious burgers and sausages we feasted on. You may also want to try my potato salad recipe for a refreshingly zingy side!

Apple and elderflower cake

I can’t get enough of elderflower in the warm weather and this juicy apple cake is yet another delightful way to enjoy what has become a rather British taste of summertime. I would suggest enjoying a slice of this cake with a cup of black Earl Grey. Too delicious for words!

Ingredients:

8oz butter

8oz sugar

4 eggs

8oz self-raising flour

3 apples, roughly chopped

Icing sugar

Elderflower cordial

Dried elderflower petals

Method:

As with most of my cake recipes, soften the butter and cream in the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then mix in the flour (make sure you don’t overmix, it’s important to keep as much air in as possible). Fold in the chopped apples. I like to keep the skin on for texture. Bake in a greased and lined loaf tin on 150 for around 40 minutes or until golden brown. Don’t forget to do the skewer test to make sure it’s cooked all the way though!

To make the drizzle add a couple of capfuls of elderflower cordial to half a mug of icing sugar and stir vigorously. You may need to add a tea spoon or two of boiled water to help it on its way – I would advise you to add a tiny amount at a time or you might find you need to add more icing sugar. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake and lightly sprinkle the dried elderflower petals on the top. This pretty loaf cake deserves to be served on your finest china!

Bingham Riverhouse; a review

The tennis championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, more commonly known as ‘Wimbledon’, brings excitement to our little corner of south west London every summer. And for those two weeks it’s hard to venture out of our borough. But now that the tennis is over it’s worth noting that south west London has more to offer than just two weeks of tennis.

Sitting on the River Thames at Richmond, the Bingham Riverhouse gives you beautiful views whether you’re seated inside or out. Having recently undergone a makeover with a £1m refurbishment and a new Head Chef – one who has a Michelin Bib Gourmond and 3 AA Rosettes – the Bingham Riverhouse is definitely worth visiting this summer. While it has the feel of a members club as you enter – there’s no garish neon signage at this restaurant, only a discreet name plate by the door – we were told by the team that their aim is for the restaurant to be far more accessible than it was in it’s former life, so please don’t put off booking because you think it’s too posh; everyone is welcome at the Bingham Riverhouse!

I can’t lie, as I stood on the balcony enjoying my aperitif cocktail, I did feel like I could’ve been in a period film, one that’s set in the twilight of the big houses’ heyday. There is a calmness to the river, despite it being kept busy with rowers training, birds flying overhead looking for supper, aeroplanes flying to nearby Heathrow; noise seemed to disappear and it was just me and my drink. And the many other guests enjoying the Bingham Riverhouse that evening too!

I was treated to a tasting menu which included torched mackerel, raw beef with a spiced tomato relish and raw egg yolk (I would call this steak tartare), and delectable duck (the most beautiful slices of rose-pink duck breast). The absolute stand-out dishes for me were the pig head croquette (I’m still dreaming of that succulent meat) and the salmon with oyster mayo and crispy oyster on the side. Simply heavenly. We finished off our feast with a pudding of bitter chocolate with wild strawberry sorbet, which I certainly went wild for!

You can enjoy dining at the Bingham Riverhouse from just £37 (for two courses, £45 for three courses) and I would say with such fine quality food and beautiful surroundings it’s really not to be missed. Dining here may become another British summertime tradition for me!

Cheers to cake!

I love working with fruits and flowers all year round but there’s something about summer that makes me want to make and bake with them all the more. My birthday seems so far back now (although it was only in May) but I’m still thinking about the beautifully rustic Pimms-inspired sandwich cake I made for my party. Yes, I still have a party, even at my age! Although at my age the cake is allowed to include my favourite tipple…

I wanted a summery cake, something that summed up British summertime, so I reached for the Pimm’s. Now I have to admit that I was originally thinking of the original – Pimm’s No 1 – but in my haste I hadn’t realised that I’d run out of this at home. However, what I did have was Pimm’s Special Edition Blackberry and Elderflower, which is super summery and just delicious! And recently I’ve been doing a lot of baking with blackberries and, in particular, elderflower, and it seemed perfect to combine these two delicious flavours. And the final magic ingredient, which I love to add to so many of my recipes, alcohol, made this the perfect summer birthday cake!

Ingredients

12oz butter

120z sugar

6 eggs

12 oz self-raising flour

One punnet of blackberries (seven put aside for decoration)

For the buttercream:

A generous knob of butter

Pimm’s Special Edition Blackberry and Elderflower

Icing sugar

For the drizzle:

Pimm’s Special Edition Blackberry and Elderflower

Icing sugar

 

Method

Cream the butter (I always find this easiest if the butter is at room temperature when you begin) and then add the sugar, followed by the eggs one at a time. Then add the blackberries to the mix before sifting in the flour. Share the mix equally across two 8” cake tins (I use the ones with the removable bottoms). Bake the cake for around 40 minutes or until golden. As always, I’d suggest you do the skewer test to make sure the cake is cooked all the way through.

To make the buttercream icing cream the knob of butter, adding icing sugar a spoon at a time. Add a dash of Pimm’s. Keep adding and mixing until you have a beautiful purple buttercream. Spoon the buttercream onto the bottom cake and sandwich the top half on it. I usually squish it down a bit; don’t worry if it oozes out a bit, I always think it adds to the homemade look and makes it appear all the more tempting!

To make the drizzle mix a few large spoonfuls of icing sugar and a capful or two of the Pimm’s and mix until you have a nice drizzle. Pour this over the whole cake, letting it dribble down the edges. Finish the cake with a small handful of blackberries in the centre of the cake. I also dusted the cake with some dried elderflower to finish it off. Now, do you enjoy this with a pot of tea or with a refreshing glass of Pimm’s? Cheers!

Giggling Squid; a new menu to make anyone smile

Crispy duck and lychee bites

Last night I was lucky to be treated to a taste of the new menu at Giggling Squid, Wimbledon. The restaurant, which is a favourite amongst locals, offers an authentic Thai cuisine cooked by authentic Thai chefs in all their restaurants and there really is no aspect of dining there that disappoints. From the exquisite décor, to the friendly-yet-polite service, and then to the deliciously delightful food, Giggling Squid has it all.

Salt and pepper squid

And the new menu doesn’t disappoint. The evening began with a selection of starters, including the classics spicy prawn crackers, pork dumplings, and spring rolls. My particular favourites, that I’ll definitely be going back for, were the salt and pepper squid in a light crispy coating and the crunchy duck and lychee bites; both highly recommended! For the main course I chose the Rising Star Red Duck Curry, juicy confit with pretty star fruits and pea aubergine in a red curry sauce, which I had with a side of jasmine rice. When asked how it was there was only one word I could find: “special”. I really do think I chose well, the only problem I have now is that I’m so in love with this dish will I try any of the others?!

Rising Star Red Duck Curry

The new menu was definitely a hit with the eight influencers and food bloggers sitting around the table, and I’d urge anyone who loves authentic Thai cuisine to book a table there today!

The chain are celebrating the new menu with an online competition – with first prize being a Giggling Squid meal cooked for up to 10 people in your own home!

Valentine’s Day rose creams

I’m a big fan of homemade gifts; to me they show far more thought (they’re so easily personalised) and are made with love and imagination (although flowers and jewellery are still gratefully accepted ). These rose creams are pretty, easy to make and are as sweet as the person you’re giving them to!

Ingredients

1 egg white

14oz icing sugar

2 teaspoons of rose water

A dash of pink food colouring

 

Method

Mix the egg white with the icing sugar, rose water and food colouring (I like to use my Kenwood mixer) until it makes a pink paste – see, I told you they were easy to make! Lightly dust a rolling mat with icing sugar and roll out until its around 5mm thick and cut out into pretty hearts, flowers or any other shape you choose. Leave to dry for around an hour or so. These look so charming in a lovely gift box, or on a pretty vintage plate.

Chorizo and olive macaroni cheese; a taste of summer with winter comfort

I love the first part of winter – the novelty jumpers, looking forward to Christmas, smells of gingerbread, mulled wine and clementines – but there comes a time during winter that I start to really miss the summer; my sunny holidays and the taste of Mediterranean food. This dish brings together winter comfort food with the flavours of summer holidays in such a delicious way!

Ingredients:

1oz butter

1oz plain flour

1.5 pints of milk

7oz cheese grated

1 Chorizo

20 black olives, halved

9oz macaroni or conchiglie

Method

Slice the chorizo and fry in a non-stick pan. You’ll find the chorizo leaves oil in the pan. Remove the slices of chorizo and add the butter to the chorizo oil and then, over a low heat, stir in the flour to make a roux. By using the chorizo oil with the butter you’ll give your roux a lovely zing! Once you’ve made the roux, gradually add the milk, still over a lowish heat, until you have a sauce. Thicken the sauce by adding the cheese and stir in the slices of chorizo and the olive halves. You don’t want the sauce to be too thick as it will naturally thicken as the macaroni cooks in the oven.

Place the dry macaroni in a dish and pour the sauce over the top, covering entirely. Cook in an oven on gas mark 5 for 30 minutes. This is quite a rich dish so I like to serve it with a crisp salad or some fresh broccoli stems.

Chocolate orange Battenberg cake

This cake is for my Dad. He’s always loved Battenberg cake and the smell of an orange being peeled doesn’t remind me of him for no reason! So I decided to bring the two together for this delicious chocolate orange Battenberg cake.

Ingredients
Chocolate cake
6oz butter
6oz sugar
3 eggs
4oz self raising flour
2oz cocoa powder

Orange cake
6oz butter
6oz sugar
3 eggs
6oz self raising flour
The zest of one orange
Orange food colouring

Thin cut marmalade or marmalade
Marzipan
Icing sugar for dusting

Method
To make the chocolate cake:
Cream the butter and then add the sugar. Add the three eggs, one at a time, and mix well to give the mixture airy volume. Sift in the flour and cocoa and mix, but not for long (I usually mix for no more than 10 seconds building from a slow setting to the highest within that time). Put in a greased and lined tray bake tin and bake on 150 for around 30 minutes or until it passes the skewer test.

To make the orange cake:
Cream the butter and then add the sugar. Add the three eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Sift in the flour and then fold in the orange zest and orange food colouring. If you want to give it a bit of extra oomph add a capful of orange essence. Put into a greased and lined tray bake tin and bake on 150 for around 30 minutes or until it passes the skewer test.

Once the cakes are cooked and cooled, cut them both into four long strips. Build your Battenberg cake by placing an orange strip on top of a chocolate strip that you’ve already painted with the marmalade. Place next to another chocolate and orange ‘bunkbed’ cake, with marmalade between both – you need to make sure you’ve created a checkerboard effect rather than stripes! Roll out the marzipan on a dusting of icing sugar making sure you’ve rolled the icing into a size that will fully wrap around your stacked cakes. Paint the marzipan with the marmalade (I find it helps to warm the marmalade in the microwave first to get it to spread a bit thinner) and place the stacked cakes in the middle. Fold the marzipan up, overlapping slightly. You can seal the marzipan with either some marmalade or for something a little bit boozy – you know me, I just can’t resist! – run some Cointreau along the edge before sealing. Finally, roll your Battenberg in the icing sugar, making sure each side is lightly coated. Slice and enjoy!