Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Is watercress gin one of my five a day ?

Seasonal gins

I said there would be a second post about my visit to Winchester, but with the school holidays and all that it's taken me this long to make good on my promise. However, it's a booze filled post so I hope it's been worth the wait !

Fields of watercress 

So when me and my fellow bloggers went to visit the Winchester Distillery we were sworn to secrecy about where it is. The drive through the beautiful Hampshire countryside revealed enormous fields of watercress - which explains the watercress line where we've taken the boys on steam train before now. The herb is an important part of the process so pay attention as it will become relevant later !

Specialist gin

So first up I know we're all supposed to be keen consumers of artisan gins nowadays and while I enjoy a G & T when we visit the in-laws it's not my go to drink of choice. It harks back to an unfortunate student prank where my friend Phil woke up to find his entire bedroom had been put outdoors and he was asleep in his bed in front of halls. He drank an entire bottle of gin to deal with the trauma and the smell of gin was so overpowering that I couldn't drink it for years afterwards.

Delicious botanicals 

Anyway, now we have an entire festival devoted to gin - I mentioned Ginchester previously - and there is an advent calender you can buy with a different botanical for every day of advent. I have grown to enjoy the occasional gin and also realised how diverse the flavours can be.

On our visit to the distillery we were shown the specially designed still and the unique botanicals that are used in the process. This is where the fields of watercress come in. Ok, so usually it's a salad ingredient in my house, but believe me when I tell you that added to an artisan gin it gives an amazing taste hit.
Enormous and specifially designed still 

When we were invited to taste the different gins it took all of two seconds for all of us to sit down raring to go. I've never tried gin without a mixer before so it was a bit of a revelation I can tell you !

Tasting time 

The Twisted Nose gin has a real kick to it which is surprising, but really tempting to go back for more. I did decide to add tonic - I am a lightweight - because we were trying a few different gins and I wanted to have a chance of remaining at least a little sober. Failed !!

Twisted Nose - gin with a twist of watercress 

Winchester Distillery make a range of gins and it's worth trying them out - not least the seasonal gins which would make a fab present. They are working on distribution through shops at the moment and you can order online.

The Winchester Distillery range

Disclosure: I was invited to visit the Winchester Distillery for a tour and a tasting.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Pretty nails and a relaxing bath - because you're worth it.

One of the things about being a mum on the go is how much it takes out of you. In light of this I've made a commitment to 'self-care' which was one of the strategies on a course I went on recently. I thought I was pretty good at taking care of myself what with swimming regularly and having Saturdays as 'my day' to do with as I please. What I realised was that I was rushing around to fit in a swim and using my free day to do chores while the boys were out. What I'm trying to do now is make proper time for myself. The other week I went to the theatre for pretty much the whole day - by myself - and loved it.

In order to convince you to take this self-care business seriously too I've been looking into some simple ways to help yourself to have a break and look after yourself better. I know I'm all heart.

Mavala Nails: 

One of the things I've treated myself to for a long time is nice nails and a salon brand I love is Mavala. The shades for this season are based on the Hindu festival of Holi with gorgeous bright colours named Pink City, Coral Bay, Blue Mountains, Red River, Rose Hill and Purple Beach.

My nails used to grow really long and loved painting them myself, but in recent years - well since I had my oldest son actually - they've been pretty weak. I've been using a Mavala product called Mava Strong to help strengthen my nails and it really does seem to be helping. With all the swimming I do it's inevitable that my nails will be soft and break, but this has made a big difference to them in the month I've been using it and it's a great base for the colours.

To finish off there is a fantastic top coat with a gel finish to really make the brightness stand out and it also helps the varnish last longer. A must when you are busy and don't lead a life of leisure.

Westlab Pure Mineral Bathing:

I'm not a bath person. I rarely take them and I have never understood the appeal of lying in one when a shower is so much quicker and - to my mind - cleaner. Of course this is fine until you want to actually relax and then a bath comes into its own. In the old days I tried bubbles, bath salts, bath oils and even those baths bombs that are all smell and cleaning up afterwards. Not so much with the relaxation.

The lovely folks at Westlabs, however, have given me a new found respect for baths and the curative effects of their pure mineral bathing range. I have heard of dead sea salt - of course - but hadn't ever tried it before so it was a real eye opener for me. I'm running again - ok I'm jogging, this body was not made for running - and one of the effects of this is that I have tired and aching limbs. A bath with reviving salts after a period of exercise is more likely to interest me than a soak in smelly stuff and I would recommend the Epsom Salt from Westlab. The 1kg bag is a really generous size and even if you are a hardcore exerciser it will last a long while. You don't need to use much and it's effects are gentler than the old school stuff I used to use that smelled medicinal and didn't do much.

I've mentioned before that I'm a very keen swimmer and the consequence of many hours in chlorine is dry skin. As I've got older my skin has become drier anyway and the swimming has added to this. The Dead Sea Salt bath is perfect for this and can be used on skin with conditions such as Psoriasis and Eczma too. It's gentle and healing while also being relaxing.

For total indulgence you can go for Himalayan Salt - which is also detoxifying. I think pink crystal salt is pretty special so you could even give this one as a luxury gift. Pop it in a nice basket with some nice chocolates and fizz with a pretty bow and you've got an indulgent treat right there. If I got that I'd be delighted !!

I'm going to be taking this muscle spray with me tomorrow for after my run. Ok I'm no Mo Farah, but  until I get home and get into a recuperative bath this will help with muscle recovery. It uses the same espom salt that is in the bath products, but with the addition of spearmint and eucalyptus so there is a chance that I will smell like a Koala bear !

If you get the chance to spoil yourself make the most of it. Treat it as you would a gift to someone else. Why not gift wrap something and make it an occasion ? After all, you're worth it.

Disclosure:The nice folks at Mavala and Westlabs sent me some products to try so I could tell you about them. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Visit Winchester: A foodies paradise (with gin !)

Winchester is a place I know a little from visiting with mother-in-law for a celebratory afternoon tea. I also know it a bit from studying history at Uni. What I didn't know is that it is a big cultural destination and even has festivals and cultural ambassadors for the city. Visit Winchester invited a few bloggers to come and experience what they have to offer and there is so much to tell that this is the first of two posts I'l be writing about it.

Historic letter box 
On arrival we walked to the tourist information office and it gave us the opportunity to bask in the unexpected sunshine that we had not dressed for at all. Our first host was an official city tour guide who took us to see the beautiful cathedral and gave us a lot of the history including the limited time that Jane Austen lived there.

Alfred the Great 
Jane Austen 

There are some lovely touches to Winchester that are eccentric and unexpected. These bollards for instance are decorated in different artistic styles. There is a Mondrian and an Andy Warhol one and they do look pretty striking. They are located outside the City Museum which is the first purpose built museum outside London. We skipped it on the day we visited, but as I fully intend to go again I'm saving it for a future trip.

Having seen the beautiful sights and learned some of the history of the city we went to meet Gary Whiter of the Cabinet Rooms who is the Food / Drink ambassador. He took us to see some of the independent resturants and bars that are putting Winchester on the map as a foodie destination. He and his partner opened their chic bar having been drawn to the city by it's focus on organic, local produce and artisan gins. We spent a lovely afternoon meeting some of the people bringing wonderful food and drink to this historic location.

Flat Whites is based from a coffee van that built a loyal local following that has enabled them to see off a sandwich chain that has set up directly next to it. We spoke to the staff who told us that they also have a branch in Southampton so when I next visit the in-laws I will have to search it out.

Forte Kitchen is universally regarded as one of the best places to eat in Winchester although the chef / patron Ollie is suitably modest about this accolade. While we were there they were preparing for lunch service in a tiny kitchen in which they prepare simple, but ridiculously good food that requires you plan ahead to ensure you get a table. I will definitely head here for breakfast on my next visit - I hear the pancakes are amazing.

Ollie chef/patron at Forte 

Pie Carumba has the dual honour of being the best named place I've seen in a long while and having by far the best decor. I think my kids would love it here and Hubbie would definitely appreciate the menu. It's tucked away a bit so you do need to look for it, but I suspect it's a local's favourite. 

Chococo is on my list of heavenly places. On a previous visit to Winchester I spotted this shop and just stood outside drinking in all the chocolately goodness in the windows. This time we went inside and even got a chance to taste some of the delicious chocolate. It is really excellent quality so you don't need much to get a sweet hit, but honestly when it looks this fab how could anyone resist ?

I feel as though I've barely touched the surface of what we saw on the day, so there will be more in a future post. For now though I'll share a view from our walk along the river. We passed a weir and joked about making a future visit to properly take in the food places and drink some of the local gins. I didn't even mention the Ginchester festival !!

You can find out more on the Visit Winchester website and the social channels @King_Alf on Twitter and King Alf on Facebook under the hashtag #CreativeWinch.