Tag Archives: food

August Al’s Adventures….

Hey! How are you all?! Sorry it’s been a while since I wrote, but things have been crazy!

You may remember from Aprils Al’s Adventures that I had started a new full time job, started a Cafe venture, Toast Herne Bay, and the Holiday let was finally ready to launch! Well, that’s why I’ve not had a moment to think clearly let alone write. But for the first time in 4 months, I have a few hours of no paperwork, cleaning, shopping or chores to do. Well, not for a few hours at least!

So where to begin? Let’s start with the new job.

As you know I was thoroughly fed up of Insurance. It’s going through quite a rough patch and it will only get worse for a few more months yet. I’m starting to see friends leave – either being made redundant, or just walking away. Some of those I’ve known 20 years, it’s not easy to watch. Times are changing – some bits for the better, some not. However despite that I have found an amazing role where I’ve learnt more in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 years. It’s totally outside of my comfort zone, but surrounded by some of the best in the business it’s such fun. Everyday is a school day for sure! It’s great to flip things on their head and see life upside down sometimes – exactly what this role has given me. Next. Level. Business.

Next – Al’s Beach retreat. It’s finally finished and guest are staying! Thanks to my friends who stayed when there wasn’t any curtains or internet – deffo a discount next time! It’s going well, I have had some wonderful reviews already from guests far and wide, that’s the wonder of travel I guess – I’ve had guests from Bogata, Belgium, Germany & France – all in my first two months! Everyone has been so kind. It’s a wonderful experience to bring such a project together, and see the results. To me it’s like having a baby, it took 9 months to create! As you can see from Instagram (alsbeachretreat) it’s changed a bit. With new windows, electrics, heating, and walls removed – it certainly wasn’t easy. Thanks to all the tradesmen who helped – and tolerated the snow, cold & my stubbornness! Life hack – make sure all workmen have enough tea, coffee & biccies. Your welcome.

Next stage is to build a website (no idea) and get it advertised. It’s on fb and Instagram as Als Beach Retreat and Air B&B here:

Woop woop!

Last, but certainly not least Toast Cafe. The new and second baby of the family. Slowly growing up, making friends and discovering new things everyday. I couldn’t have begun to understand the sheer learning cliff. From setting up a Company, to writing staff contracts, payroll, tax and VAT returns, to rotas, design, promotion and events – in 4 months we have done it all. Sleepless nights, tears and joy – I’ve never experienced anything so rewarding. I don’t have any children of my own (lots of godchildren and friends gorgeous ones to spoil) but I now habe 2 baby businesses!

I absolutely adore this business and all the people in it. From the moment my biz partner Sherry & I were introduced I knew we would work well together. We couldn’t have begun to imagine what we have achieved but we have had such a lot of fun doing this and we could not be prouder. In a short 4 months we have Team Toast, and our passion has spilled into all of them, leading to PROFIT already, 3 months ahead of plan.

So I need to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported us, helped is build this, visited us or liked any of our social media. You all lead to us succeeding. Every single one of you – THANKS.

Hopefully now some of you will understand why I may have not been in touch, or been a little silent. In between bulding Al’s Adventures Ltd I’m trying to stay healthy, sane & loving my seaside life when I can. Everyone here has been so bloody lovely I couldn’t feel more loved across all my amazing friends – wherever you are. The best news for me is not a single panic attack this year. Maybe some anxious moments, but no days lost to panic or anxiety. That is huge. So yay me!

I am amazed at what has happened this year and I truly am thankful. They say things happen for a reason – my 2 angels are working their magic at last. Truly blessed for once. To be honest it’s about time!

Right – enough from me for today. I’ve got a plan to write…

Lots of love

Al xxx

Kyoto – a step back in time…

Kind and beautiful Kyoto…

Konichiwa all. Morning. I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop in Kyoto train station awaiting my bullet train back to Tokyo. I’m feeling a bit emotional to be honest. Let me explain why.

I was here in Japan on business. The last week was spent at a conference in Tokyo. That was great fun, but so exhausting. Normally on these business trips (and the first week was no exception) we go from airport to hotel, to meetings to dinner and to sleep. A bit like the song – Eat, sleep, network, repeat. Or something along those lines… (see the tired eyes below)

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Japan is a country I have longed to visit, but for one reason or another it hasn’t quite happened. So  as I am here for 11 days on business I decided to escape for the weekend to the old Capital of Japan – Kyoto.

Friday I left the amazing Capitol Tokyu hotel (who kindly kept my suitcase for me until I get back to Tokyo – that’s not a big thing here) with my wekekend bag, my matcha latte and my guide book. I hopped on the Subway (so easy, all lines are colour coded like the UK) and headed to Tokyo station to catch the Shakinsesen (bullet train). Kyoto is 536 miles away, and the train covers that in 2 hours and ten minutes. I treated myself to a green ticket (first class here) as it was only £20 more! Total return – £165.

Embarking the train was an experience – the crew bowed to me, and escorted me to my seat (Network Rail & all UK train companies take note).  The seats are huge. They recline, and have footrests. I laid back, put my feet up, and thought of Kyoto.  Until we sped up. Then I was not so comfortable. It was a little weird to begin with – a kinda out of body weird. However, after the initial stages of panic, it all became quite a pleasant experience! If you ever get the train, sit on the right to see Mount Fuji. What a delight, even on a grey day.

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Mount Fiji – stunning!

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Before I knew it we had arrived. I’m staying at the Westin Kyoto, as they offer free shuttle buses & Japanese style accommodations (Ryokans). I’m not brave enough on my own to go fully local! Many Ryokan owners do not speak any English, and although they provide traditional breakfast and dinner each day, I want to explore more. This option gives me the best of both worlds.

My room was beautiful- a traditional layout with low seating and a plunge cedar wood bath. Just walking into the room made me feel calm and serene. Japanese culture is one of respect, calmness and happiness- something I really wish we could do more.

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Despite the rain I decided to take a walk. Due to the rain not much was open, but I found somewhere to sit and stare at a temple whilst sipping some tea. A pure moment after the weeks work excursions!

Tired and hungry I headed back via the sushi counter (see the piccie below). I could literally eat my body weight in the stuff (currently quite large). As I headed to my room, my futon had been made up for me and I fell asleep in seconds – first time this week!

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However, my slumber didn’t last long – I was woken by a dripping noise on my futon. I had a leaky roof. Not what you need at that time of the night. So after a call to reception, a lot of apologising I was moved to the normal part of the hotel. Gutted to say the least! Even more gutted when I was told the hotel was fully booked the rest of the weekend and I needed to move hotels. However, the Regency Hyatt was an amazing alternative! Well worth the price. So welcoming and beautiful. Rooms were clean, comfy, and with a huge walk in shower certainly washed away the aches and pains from the sightseeing- over 22km in 2 days was tiring!

Saturday morning (after moving hotels) It was time to see the old Japan. Via various shrines and temples I headed on foot to Gion, renowned for its traditional way of life. With its miriad of little lanes, full of wonderful Japanese style shops and restaurants it was truly breathtaking – I felt like I had walked into another world, or jumped back in time. After some perusing I stopped for lunch in a traditional restaurant serving a set menu (called Teisoko). Only 4 tables, very serene and calm. A break from the world outside with its bustling and winding streets. My beautiful lunch of fish, sushi, vegetables, pickles, rice made me human again. Followed by a wonderful ice cream from red beans. Delicious! Ready for the afternoon! As I left, I was so lucky to catch a glimpse of 2 beautiful Geisha girls scurrying along the street to their next appointment – a rare and beautiful sight which left me mesmerised and brimming with joy.

 

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I spent the afternoon meandering around Downtown Kyoto – not forgetting the sensory overload that is the food market. Wow. Small alleyways laden with produce – from fish of ALL kinds, to vegtables, noodles to rice, spices to teas the place is a MUST for anyone visitors Kyoto. Full of bargains, I only wish I could bring it all home! Instead I settled for squid on a stick, and a cucumber on a stick to munch on as I browsed. Both delicious as you can see (suprisingly!).

To my delight I found a tea shop. Here I bought some wonderful teas which are roasted gently in house on traditional and old roasters then mixed to make a perfect blend. The owner didn’t speak a word of English, but he ushered me to a seat to try 4 types – kind of a try before you buy gig. Needless to say I left with 2 kinds, and a very big smile.

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Downtown Kyoto is a mix of Western chain stores and small coffee bars, cake shops, bars and restaurants. Totally fabulous. I spent hours here trying the local delights – mainly all delicious (avoid the omelette and blue tofu though). Sake sampled I wandered back a little hazey to my hotel, bath and bed exhausted but buzzing from the day..

Sunday – I woke up feeling the effects of the day before.  My legs were sore, but it was time to grab breakfast and head to the Temple (it is Sunday). And if you are going to visit any Temple make it a Golden One! Kita-Ku (golden pavilion) is a UNESCO world heritage sight, and deservedly so. A truly beautiful area of natural beauty – with the most amazing golden temple.  I didn’t expect it to be so shiny! I sat up on a hill just taking it all in – the vibe was so peaceful despite the crowds. People flock in their thousands to visit here and I can totally see why. I can’t describe how it made me feel, I guess the best phrase is ‘at peace’. Not something I experience very much it has to be said.

After a quick visit to the Imperial Palace (don’t bother) I headed to Fushimi Ku. Yes, another temple and shrine – but one of architectural brilliance. Time out describes it as “unmissable  ”

First – lunch. I stumbled off the train into a ramen shop. It what a hidden gem. The staff and chef were so friendly as I watched them cook everything freshly for its 10 customers (maximum capacity). I was gobsmacked to see gluten free fried chicken by using a little rice flour to hold the marinade, keeping it juicy and crisp. This led to a mini cookery lesson from the larger than life chef – and a plate devoured by moi. Along with a bowl of ramen (rice noodles) I was so gluttonous I had to leave before I burst!

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Off I rolled to the shrine itself. Like all places in Japan despite the crowds, everyone is polite and calm. Maybe it’s all the temples and good vibes! Let’s just say Time Out were not wrong. What a marvel. I wandered along the pathways through the beams, marvelling at the sheer brilliance of it all. Photos do not do it justice at all, but hopefully you get a sense of how amazing it is here.

My legs and feet told my brain it was time to head back to rest a little, so off I went. Always good to listen to the mind and body when they agree! Snooze complete I headed to dinner. I decided to treat myself at Touzan – the stunning restaurant in the Hyatt. It was a delight. Small, perfect portions (after ramen and fried chicken I wasn’t starving!) of dreamy sushi, figs in miso, and Wagyu beef all washed down with a super sake, amd a matcha ice cream to end.

Bedtime called, signalling the end of my Kyoto weekender. It was a certainly a special one – brain button reset, ready to head back to the madness of Tokyo for my last 48 hours in Japan to work and play hard. And what an amazing few days it was… next instalment to follow!

Axx

Al’s Brekkie Bars….

Brekkie special bars

You know those days where you’re trying to be good but fancy a big fat muffin? Well here’s my answer to those days. (frequent occurrence in Al’s house, so luckily these freeze superbly without losing any of there loveliness).  These are based on a Nigella Lawson recipe which is fab, so please see her book Simply Nigella or website for the original recipe.

The joy of these is once you have your base you can pretty much add whatever you fancy – your choice (well within reason!) they are dairy free (unless you add chocolate!) and if you use gluten free oats & cornflakes or puffed rice they will be GF too

This is my fav combo, I’ve broken the recipe into must haves and swappable (my favourites, but please experiment).

Hope you like it, please let me know your opinion, comments, and general taste testing! Drop me a line at alsyclarke@yahoo.co.uk

Or on twitter @alsyclarke

Ingredients

Must have

Dates – 250g (preferably Medjool – what a funny name, reminds me of Ali G!) They must be pitted. But if not just break them up and whip out the stone.

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

125g porridge oats (gluten free ones if needed – oats are not gluten free as I discovered to my pain)

25g rice krispies or cornflakes (gluten free options now in most supermarkets)

25g chia seeds – yep, I know but they are great for your skin!

300g in total of seeds and dried fruit – the seeds must be 200g of the total (see some suggestions below)

50g of cacao nibs which are dairy free (or chocolate drops if not making dairy free)

Swappable

75g of any dried fruit – cranberries, blueberries, apricots, goji, the choice is yours! You can use fresh, but that will reduce the storage time

130g of sunflower seeds or flaxseed – sunflower are easier to get I find and cheaper.

75 grams of pumpkin seeds or flaked almonds

25g of nuts (any you like) to mix in or to decorate

White Choccie drops, well we all need a bit of chocolate some days.  Even a small amount will make people happy.

Marshmallow pieces.  I’m not a fan, but kids will go wild! They melt well too.

A teaspoon of vanilla essence, or honey – I like this to give a little sweetness

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The fun bit – making them!

Simples.

Firstly make sure you switch the oven on at 180 degrees centigrade (Gas Mark 4)

In a small saucepan (milk pan size) put the pitted dates in and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and let bubble away on a gentle heat until soft (takes about 5 minutes). Take off the heat and either blend or mash using a fork or a masher till you have a thick syrup style mush!

Put all the other ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add the date syrup. Stir well until all mixed together (be patient, it takes a few minutes). Use a spoon or you may burn your little fingers.

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Then put into a lined and greased baking tin – doesn’t matter if square, oblong or circle – depends how particular about the slicing into even portions! You need a layer about 2.5cm (1inch in old money) thick.  I use my brownie tin (note to you all, brownies are my favourite.  Hint over).

Put into the oven and cook until set. It should feel firm to the touch and a little tanned from the heat. In my fan assisted oven it takes 23 minutes but please check after 20 minutes.

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Let cool and cut into 12-14 portions.   Freeze half if you live on your own like me, or spread the love to your families or colleagues (hint, hint).

Eat with tea or as I prefer on my morning commute an Oat milk latte (with a little dunking action going on!).

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Enjoy!

Ax