Wednesday, 30 September 2015

LIFE: Birthday Love From Detroit

Autumn Michigan Avenue Slows Slows Slows Detroit Toast

Mid week birthday's give you the perfect excuse to drag celebrations out across two weekends. Fun weekends sandwiching your birthday from either end. While I'm not a big birthday celebrator, I'd rather not have all that attention, I don't mind using it as an excuse for some yummy food, exploring a couple of new places on our endlessly long Detroit visit list and spending some time with family who visited from Pittsburgh. From a mighty tasty blackened catfish sandwich followed by a huge bowl of the best mac n cheese Detroit has to offer in Slows BBQ, washed down with some handcrafted cocktails next door in The Sugar House. Capturing a sunset over the Motor City with our stomachs full and happy. A Sunday morning starting off with brunch at Toast down the road in Ferndale (review to follow) and a very delicious strawberry waffle and my new favorite place for breakfast. 

But that is just me. 

Happy memories, exploring a great city (yes really) and eating some great food.

Monday, 28 September 2015

FOOD: Nakd Bars - a Wholefood Alternative

One of my favorite aisles to wander down on any given shopping trip is the natural foods aisle especially around all the treats and snacks. I'm guilty of being a big snack eater and with choosing to be a bit more selective and healthy in our buying choices, a whole new range of goodies have been opened up. And it's pretty fun getting to taste them all out, finding some new favorites. So when Natural Balance Foods got in touch with me about trying some of their Nakd bars, I was excited to try yet another temptation.

Nakd Bars

Natural Balance Foods are all about iron rich foods. British based, they are branching out into the US market (online at least - you can make your purchases through their website) offering a wholefood alternative - with snack bars free of those unnatural processed foods using natural sugars (like those found in dates and raisins). But it's more than that, their bars are wheat, dairy, gluten free and 100% vegan.

Nakd Bars

Delving into their goodies and you'll come across some tasty flavors - caffe mocha, rhubarb and custard to cocoa orange and ginger bread to name but four. Soft and chewy they give you a great boost whether you need a mid afternoon snack or you're busy on the go. Speaking of being out and about they are the perfect size for fitting into your pocket, your bag, or popping into your lunchbox. What I really love is how clear and bright their packaging is especially with how clear the ingredients are labelled - so it shows you just how simple their recipe really is.

Nakd Bars

Using natural sugars found particularly in dates (43% of the Nakd cocoa crunch bar was made up of dates) they aren't low on the sugar front so you do have watch your intake. Not being a huge date fan sometimes it was a bit over powering, but still edible. I have to admit the more British of the flavors - the Bakewell tart and rhubarb and custard (although oddly enough rhubarb is not listed in the ingredients which was a bit of a let down that it's probably just a "natural flavoring" which was a bit of a downer) had to be my favorites.

Nakd Bars

The bars certainly fill up a hunger gap, they are a great size and come in a great variety of flavors. It's a shame they aren't available to buy in stores - because for me, that's just how I tend to do my shopping - picking whatever flavors rather than brands that I fancy. But for me, the high date content and flavor puts me on the fence a little.

Have you ever tried Nakd Bars? 

I received a complimentary sampler box of Eat Nakd bars in exchange for an honest review. However as always, my opinions and photographs are all my own. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

LIFE: Small Things


I should probably start numbering these posts so I can actually make a note of how on point I am at keeping this little series up. But anyways. Another two weeks have flown by, flown by so fast I'm not actually too sure where the time has gone. That's the thing I find the hardest about this adulting game, time goes so much faster as an adult. Yesterday actually marked ten years to the day that I packed up my life and moved into freshers accommodation at Newcastle University. Ten whole years ago. It feels like yesterday sometimes. I miss that city. Like so much, blah.

So a thank you has to go out to all the forms of social media for being my brain memory back up for the exciting happy things of the last two weeks, here goes!

  • Cats chasing the yarn while crocheting - I'm sure they think they are helping. 
  • Working on two cross stitch projects - my seaside piece which takes me right back to all the Yorkshire seaside towns and Flossie, which would be me circa 1880's or something ... 
  • Watching the trees along the street and in the park slowly starting to turn a burnt orange at the tips
  • Working my way through the HUGE graphic novel collection my local library has - joining said library has brought my love back for reading for sure - happy happy times. 
  • All the wild sunflowers that have burst into life around the garden. Wild sunflowers have upwards of 20 flower heads per plant which is just incredibly beautiful.
  • Watching all the bees not only on the sunflowers, but on the Sedums I grew from cuttings over the winter - mental note to do more of the same this year
  • Thoroughly enjoying The Girl On the Train - a little obvious in parts but well worth a read all the same.  
  • Currently reading A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott which, if you're a fan of either the 1930's, Hollywood and or Gone With the Wind then I'd highly recommend it. Being a fan of all three myself, it's becoming one of my favorite reads in a long while.
So that pretty much sums everything up!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

LIFE: York From the View of a Yorkshire Lass


When you grow up with a city as great as York just down the road, you somewhat take it for granted. All that history, culture, shopping, farmers market, train love. Yeap I was lucky. So I thought I'd share the things I love(d) about the city I've spent many an hour in growing up because I never really got around to talking about the place when it was all on my doorstop.

Do a ghost tour

Ghosts seem to like York, in fact it's the most haunted city in England. So as a result there are a lot of various ghost walks around the city. Ghost Hunt of York was one I took on a birthday many moons ago, it meets nightly at 7:30PM by the end of the Shambles (M&S end) and it's well worth your time. 

Walk the walls

Whether you call them the York City Walls, the Bar Walls or the Roman Walls, walking around the walls is one of the best ways to see the city centre and all it's history. From views of the Minster, towers to the Bars (historical Bars, not the drinking variety). It's about a two and a half mile walk around, there's lots of steps involved so it's not the most accessible way to see the city, but it's certainly one of the finest!  

Shop locally 

York has a great number of independent and smaller chains, probably too many for me to remember and name. But my favorites have always been: The Viking Loom (best local needlework shop I've ever come across), The Antiques Center (vintage treats), Lily Shambles (gorgeous jewelry) to Shared Earth to name but four.


Fall in love with trains

The National Railway Museum was the basis for this girl falling in love with trains. Capturing the history, the design to rail-road paraphernalia, the Railway Museum has it all. Take a ride on a Bullet Train or see them working on engines, I always left that place knowing something new every time. Plus it's free. 

Take afternoon tea

It's rather a cliché these days that to visit York you should eat in Betty's, but it's still remains one of my favourite places for afternoon tea. The trick is knowing when to visit, aka not when the queue is half around the block. Pop along around holiday seasons and they do some great window displays.

Enjoy an ice cream

Whether it's in the Museum Gardens or in Deans Park (right behind the Minster) sit on the grass and soak in the gorgeous setting. Both places are well worth enjoying a picnic in, great for people watching and there's always some wildlife roaming around too.


Insider tips;

Farmers markets are well worth a visit but go earlier before the coach loads of visitors are dropped off. Use the great park and ride and bus services that run around the city, York just gets more and more complicated to drive around. There's always been a lack of public toilets (it's important to know this stuff).  Take your patience with you, you're more than likely to be stuck behind slow tourist walkers throughout the day. The York Sightseeing (the big bus buses) have always been my favorite for the city bus tours.

Ever been to York? I'd love to hear your favorite things to see and do in the city!

Monday, 21 September 2015

LIFE: The Butterfly House

Butterflies Butterflies Butterflies Butterflies Butterflies Butterflies

One of the many advantages of having zoo membership is that we can pop in whenever we fancy and not have the pressure of having to see everything, every time. After hearing that the three newest penguins editions had been released into the penguin habit we thought we'd try and spy them. We couldn't, baby penguins kinda look too much like adult penguins. But anyway, on the same trip we took a walk though the butterfly house.

With bright sunshine, 90F heat outside the Labor Day weekend happened to be great time to visit and the butterflies were in their element. For whatever reason, even if my camera wasn't on it's last legs, it's always struggled a little in the butterfly house, but the photos didn't turn out too bad if you don't look too closely that is. 

The Detroit Zoo have a great balance between butterflies as an exhibit and helping the native butterflies. Not only do the zoo offer guides on identifying species found in Michigan but also on how to encourage butterflies into your garden. With the zoo landscaped in such a way that butterfly gardens and especially the Monarch Way Stations decorating the borders, it really does make it all seem to very possible to create in your own space.

Friday, 18 September 2015

CREATIVE: Dinobot, a Cross Stitched Poster


Everyone probably remembers the infamous Obama "Hope" poster for his 2008 presidential campaign, and everyone has seen countless variations using celebrities and so on in the same design. One such similar design was created for Dinobot, a character in the Transformers Beast Wars animated TV show from 1996. With Dinobot being one if not the favorite character of Joe's when it comes to the entire Transformers universe, it was time to turn it into a cross stitch design. 

So who the hell is Dinobot and why is he shouting honor around?!

If you're not familiar with Beast Wars, Dinobot may not be a character you're aware of (at least as an individual - groups of Dinobots did appear in the last Transformers movie but we don't talk about that urgh). Dinobot actually started out as a baddy - an aid to Megatron has they landed on what they believed was Earth. While Predacon (the baddies) Dinobot was ruled by his strong code of honor and lives to die gloriously in battle. In short Dinobot rebelled and joined the Maximal team lead by Optimus Primal. Eventually he gets his wish of dying a hero when he sacrifices himself to save a group of protohumans (hunter gatherers) from a Predacon onslaught. These hunter gatherers having observed and interacted with Transformers who happened to appear on their planet  so yes, you could say in this universe at least, Transformers helped the evolution of humans.


So, after transforming the poster into a pattern, the design was pretty much straight forward. Using only four colours was somewhat novel, I wasn't really sure how it would all look stitched up, perhaps turn out looking a bit too flat especially without any form of backstitching, but it turned out a lot better than I could have hoped. It's always awesome when that happens.


Three months and 9,920 stitches later, Dinobot is complete. It measures a little under 6 x 9 inches and self framed in a dirt cheap frame I picked up at an estate sale. Now to find a place for him alongside that other Transformers piece I stitched earlier this year.

And as for the recipient, Joe loves it. Which is the biggie.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

LIFE: Among the Wetlands and Tigers

Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo Detroit Zoo

Perhaps it's because of how colourful the zoo is at the moment, or how the trees are just starting to turn that burnt orange on the tips of it's leaves against the deep blue skies. Maybe it's from seeing the animals a little more attractive as the days turn cooler, but popping to the zoo for a long walk, breathing some fresh air and hiding away from the suburban world - the freeways, the honking cars, the endless rows of houses, that surround it, the zoo has become a favorite place of mine of late. 

I guess going so often as we do, we have the time and the chances to explore and take in everything other than the animals - the flowers, the landscaping, the wetlands, the wild birds that make the zoo their home.

Detroit Zoo

Without a [working] netbook it's hard to find the time aside from working to be on the [desk] computer and type away for blog posts, it's nice just to have photographs from wanders and adventures from life on my doorstep to just stop and share.

Where's your favorite place to escape?

Monday, 14 September 2015

SNAPSHOTS: The Strip District

Strip District
DSCF4176 Strip District Strip District Pittsburgh

In the shadow of Downtown Pittsburgh, you'll find a hive of activity - historically an area of mills, factories, warehouses and even of a manufacturing base of H. J. Heinz. Today the Strip District is alive with outdoor vendors, an eclectic mix of food stores to full wall artwork, where former warehouses are turned into marketplaces, nightclubs and restaurants. In fact it's very much like the area and spirit you'll find around Detroit's own Eastern Market. We had a super quick walk around when we ate the the infamous Primanti Brothers back in the summer of last year, it's always a place we head back to, walk or drive around while killing time. 

Admittedly driving around downtown and the Strip District makes me fall in love a little more with the city. Far too often do I crave those infamous oversized coleslaw and fries sandwiches to the views, the hills, hopefully we'll be heading back there soon until then this snapshot post will suffice. I have far so much exploring left to do there.

It's always worth a visit if you happen to be in the 'burgh.

Friday, 11 September 2015

LIFE: Small Things

Veg Patch

As much as I love summer, and as much as this Brit is getting more and more use to the heat that Michigan summers like to throw at me (okay, okay I'm still a bit of a whimp when it gets over 32C/90F) I'm looking forward to the cooler (I say cooler being in the 20's) days ahead. Cooler days get me feeling a little bit more crafty (if that's even possible), TV shows are about to restart for the season and my birthday is at the end of the month. Lots of doing and planning ahead!

Also other happy happy things!
  • Three baby pengys at the Detroit Zoo - too cute and I URGE you to check out the video if you ever need a pick me up, or even if you don't. Because penguins.
  • Decorating cheap notebooks with cross stitching, just because
  • Talking of cross stitching - working on a Pusheen design, starting two new projects, framing up Dinobot and completing another self designs cross stitch piece - home sweet home design for friends buying their first house. More on the last two to come - once I get around to it. 
  • Reading Station Eleven - what a great page turner
  • Finally getting around to watching The Mindy Project - what a great show
  • Pretty sushi presented on a boat as a treat for Joe getting a pay rise and a bonus. Yey. 
  • Drawing up an endless shopping list of bulbs to buy for next spring
  • Spending all of yesterday morning (Thursday) pulling out the longest flower bed back to the main sturdy plants (the Iris's, the poppies and day lilies) to just build it back up from scratch next year. 
  • Two zoo trips in two weeks!
  • Cooking (and eating) with tofu for the first time, still a little bit on the fence and it'll never replace chicken in my curries completely, but it's okay ... kinda
  • Baking lots of mini zucchini breads in the toaster oven because of the still broken oven. Wasn't sure they'd turn out edible but they did, yey! 
  • Pretending to be very adult (well Joe was) and pretty much paying off a very large debt on a credit card
  • Waterproofing the basement aka giving my arms a work out with a roller and 5 gallon tub of latex paint
  • The thought of cooler days ahead, of being able to work in the garden without melting, throwing windows wide open and the changing fall colours 
  • Going on a Detroit haul at the library - noir, food, fiction, biographies I grabbed them all
  • Finding the most amazingly quirky vintage wallpaper (here and here) hanging in a basement at an estate sale down in Detroit 
So that has pretty much been my life in the last couple of weeks. Who else is ready for cooler times ahead?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

GREEN FINGERS: On the End of Summer and Fall Crops

Veg Patch

With summer drawing to a warm close, I thought it was high time to work on a little post reflecting about our first summer attempt in our vegetable garden. As other crops start to fade, some still offering their treats and space being cleared for new additions, it's time to take note of what worked and what was a bit of a fail. 

The successes;

Basil - perfect for throwing into curries (our favorite being a green basil curry) and making home made burgers. Basil turned into a great little herb, it pretty much looks after itself and it gets limp enough to give you a heads up when it needs a water. For someone with a tendency to kill plants, it worked out great.

Cliantro Seeds

Cilantro - I would have loved to have picked more leaves for curry making from the cilantro but it sadly bolted while we were away. Fear not, letting the flowers turn to seed I have row upon row of bags of dried cilantro seeds which I'm looking forward to crushing and turning into coriander powder. 

Hot Peppers - I have more hot pepper then I know what to do with. Pretty easy to grow, keeps itself to itself and doesn't need that much water. Happy times.


Raspberries - we inherited these with the house, always a winner.

Rhubarb - granted you can't eat it in the first year, but one of the two bulbs grew and it's happily entertaining itself.

Carrots - mentioned previously, the carrots turned out pretty decently, certainly colourful.

Zucchini - Mmmm all the curries and breads. Love me some zucchini. It pleases itself, kinda taking over it's corner of the veg patch and something likes to try and eat it before I can get my hands on it to pick it. Certainly to growing it again next year.

Hit and Miss;

Salad Greens and Radishes - being British a summer salad is one often filled with salad greens and radishes, but Michigan heat in the height of summer is too warm that they turn to seed. Lesson learnt.


Cucumbers - we started off with 12 plants ended up with five living - cold snap and not enough water. Then we had more cucumbers then we could ever eat and cucumbers don't appear to be something you can hold out to grateful friends (until basil and peppers). Then they got all mildewy. I'm on the fence about trying them again.

Tomatoes - perhaps because they are a heirloom variety but our tomatoes have been a little picky and something likes to eat them. What I'm not sure. They also take forever to change to red. I think I'll try them again next year, but a smaller or cherry tomato for sure.

The Fails

Sweet Potato - not for the want of trying, the groundhog dug it up.

Strawberries - one of the three original plants were again dug by the groundhog, the replacements were perhaps brought too late for this season. Hopefully they'll make it through the winter with a bit of luck.

Bell Peppers - Michigan throw a late cold snap in March (or it might have been April, I forget) but it was just after the bell peppers were planted. The result was stunted growth, few flowers and zero peppers. We'll try again next year.

Veg Patch

So more hits then misses and a couple of who knows. Pretty decent for a first go. I've learnt a lot of things along the way - that groundhogs are evil, wire fences are excellent things to constantly trip over and that bees really love veg patches. Eastern Market will be our go to place for buying crops next year and I'm a bit of a whiz at constructing trellises.

My head is buzzing with ideas for next year. Planting wise, I've learnt the need to spread seed planting out across a couple of weeks so everything isn't ready all at once. We're off to construct some kind of wooden fence (with a gate for no more tripping for Rayray), thinking of planting either some apple or cherry trees.

But before next year, there's fall and some cooler weather for getting some new crops started - broccoli and carrot seeds are already in the ground. I have some salad greens and radish seeds to finish off and I'm going to attempt at growing garlic.

 How did your garden grow this summer?