Advent Calendar 9: Goulash

My mum makes phenomenal goulash. When I was growing up, on a sunday evening, we would gather as a family in the lounge to watch some silly tv, chat about our day and eat a simple meal. We were a busy family (my brother plays sports, my mum was a teacher…) so there usually wasn’t time for a traditional roast dinner. We often had delicious jacket potatoes with varied toppings and left overs. However if more time was available, mum would whip up a delicious rich beefy goulash, let it cook for a couple of hours, and serve it with boiled potatoes and sour cream. Yum.

This recipe of hungarian origin is easy to throw together. Like all good beef stews, it’s a  little bit of chopping, and a whole lot of leaving it alone to bubble and brew for a couple of hours. I know I’ve put several beef stews in this advent calendar, but these warming, hearty dishes are perfect for the winter season. They’re great crowd pleasers and show stoppers for impromptu entertaining, perfect meals to fit other tasks like card writing and gift wrapping around, and for a little bit of effort you get a lot a reward. They’re also exactly what I’m eating right now, and they make me think of spending time with family, and therefore christmas.

Goulash

400g stewing beef (I used shin)
2 onions
2 peppers (one green, one red if you have them)
Handful of flour
2tbsp tomato purée
2tbsp paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
75ml wine (red or white work)
300ml beef stock
Salt and pepper

Chop up the beef into one inch cubes.

In a large pan, brown the meat. Remove it from the pan and add the chopped vegetables.

Soften the veg for about five minutes or until the onions are sweated. Add the flour, purée, wine, paprika and seasoning and stir through to make a loose paste.

Put the meat back, then add the tomatoes and stock. Give the stew a good stir to combine all the ingredients.

If your pot is ovenproof, pop the lid on and bake in the oven at 180c for 1 1/2-2 hours. Otherwise, you can cook the whole dish on the hob, covered, for the same amount of time, removing the lid for the final 20-30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Serve will mountains of fluffy mash, sour cream, and sprinkles of paprika.

I’ll add photos of this delicious redder-than-red stew asap. I hope you’ll give it a go!

Natasha x

Special Delivery! June Cathampurr review

This review is SUPER overdue, but after the fun and games of the first Cat Hampurr review, I decided to give their second box a go. This time, I invited Dexter, my big black tuxedoed cat to join me in the unboxing. Japes ensued.

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DeeDee also demanded to be included.

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This box was really heavy, and jam packed with goodies. The first item I picked out was the Feline Fayre tins. Cathampurr were kind enough to furnish us with five of them, wrapped in purple tissue…

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Yeah…

Anyway, five tins is an excellent sample. My two fuzzbutts are greedy guts, so one of these wouldn’t go very far- more a snack than a meal. I was really pleased that the chosen protein source was fish, as I prefer to feed these two on fish products. I feel, probably erroneously, that the source/level of processing of fish in animal feeds is less than with poultry and meat. I also worry about growth hormones and such in poultry not of british origin… but I digress.

The packaging on these tins, plus the portion size, suggests this is a classy, premium product, and the cats were definitely interested. Truth be told, I’ll probably end up feeding some of this, if not all, to my rats, because I am a cruel mummy, and the cats eat a mainly dry food diet.

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Since June marked the start of the football World Cup, Cathampurr included some catnip spiked toy balls so the cats can have their own kick about. I appreciate the inclusion of a two-pack, as it means they can have one each, instead of one of them (DeeDee) playing whilst the other stares on wistfully (Dexter). Also, my cats love to throw their toys under furniture, so at least they’ll still have one to play with if they lose the other.

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Uhoh. Another catnip toy. This time it was an adorable floral bunny from the Natural Pet Toy Company. This went down a treat with the kitties, and it still has some mojo, nearly two months on. Here’s Dexter’s reaction to said little rabbit…

Pretty scary, really. Basically, they loved it. It’s a brand I’m not familiar with, but I’d use it again!

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Next up was a sample of Burns’ chicken and rice dry cat food. Burns is a great brand and I have used them for years to feed my other pets. They provide excellent quality at competitive prices. I consider them to be a premium brand, but they won’t break the bank either. I’ve never used their cat food before, however, so the kitties will enjoy trying this out. The sample is about one meal’s worth.

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Lilly’s Kitchen Crunchy nibbles are a wet food topper to add interest and promote dental health. My cats actually decided they wanted to eat them on their own, and tore into the packet one night when I left them unattended. I never said they were well behaved cats. They have no class. Anyway, the packaging of this product is so. Darn. Cute. I love it! It’s a brand I’ve never heard of, and given how much they enjoyed the product, and the lovely packaging (I’m a packaging fan- I can’t help it), I would be interested in trying it again.

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I think the above picture sums up Dexter’s thoughts and feelings about this product.

It’s true love.

Arden Grange Liver Treat is a patê/paste treat, which I have never used for the cats, but they took to it like a duck to water. Or a pig’s liver to a cats face. It smells… rich, and the cats, once they worked out how the deliciousness was conveyed, went mad for it. I’ve used paste treats for other pets before, and for them it’s been excellent to mask medicine. I imagine this product would be perfect for getting ground up or liquid medicine into tricky customers, too. Regardless, it was a huge hit, a new brand to me and something pretty different to what I was expecting from the hampurr.

Finally there were some vouchers. One was a huge, laminated monstrosity for a brand that wasn’t even in the box.

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If you have read previous unboxings, you’ll know I don’t tend to count vouchers towards box value, because they generally require additional spending, and that’s not what we’re about here at SWB. I also thought it was weird that this brand had put a voucher in, when they hadn’t provided a sample. Very odd.

So, as you can see, the box was jam packed, and pretty much every product was a hit with the fluffies. But, was it a good deal?

  • Feline Fayre Simple cat food x5: 24 tins retail for £16.56, so 5 are worth £3.35
  • Jolly Moggy Catnip Sisal Balls: £2.50
  • The Natural Pet Company Catnip Bunny: £4
  • Burns Original Cat Food: 2kg is worth £7.99, so this 50g sample is worth a minuscule £0.20
  • Lilly’s Kitchen Crunchy Nibbles for Cats: 400g goes for £4.95, so this 40g sample is worth £0.49
  • Arden Grange Liver Treat: £1.99

Total: £12.63

I think this total really proves that quantity, and even quality, doesn’t always mean value. On a subscription, a CatHampurr will cost you a total of £15.90 (£11.95 + 3.95 shipping)- it’s more if you want to order a one off box. That means that before shipping, the contents of this box aren’t worth much more than what you paid, and with shipping included, you’re out of pocket. I know that Cathampurr is a new start up (this was only their second box) but this is pretty poor. Subscription boxes across the board should be providing value for money, no matter who they are catering for. LootCrates regularly provide twice the box value, and LIB often give you thrice the cost of the box back in goodies. For this reason, I decided it wasn’t worthwhile at this point to continue getting the Cathampurr, no matter how much the cats enjoy opening them with me. For less than the cost of the box, I could buy them stacks of treats and toys each month. However, I would be very interested in following this company, and I hope they go from strength to strength. If their repute grows and they manage to increase the value of their boxes, I would definitely think about going back.

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If you’d like to watch the unboxing, be sure to check out the video below for live action shenanigans!

Later days!

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July at She Who Bakes, PLUS! New blog!

Hello kittens! I hope this finds you well.

June ended up being a pretty scant month here at She Who Bakes, what with my birthday and my holiday… but if you’re a follower of the SWB twitter or instagram pages, you’ll have probably had a better deal. Be sure to scurry on over to catch up on all the #swbholibobs shenanigans.

The New Forest was a hoot and a half, and I’m delighted to say I’ll be zipping off there again in the autumn for another well deserved break. But in the mean time, there’s loads going on in my life, and here at SWB.

I have two massive family do’s coming up- the party to celebrate my grandparent’s SEVENTIETH wedding anniversary (yes, 70!) in a few days, and my brother’s wedding in early august. I’ll be baking for one of these, and I’m sure those celebratory cakes and bakes will find their way here!

I’ve been promising it for two months now, and the wait is over! The Spiced Blueberry Jam recipe will go up this week without fail! Some other fruity treats will follow: I’m trying my hand at shrubs- no, not the leafy kind. Be sure to check that out when it goes up online.

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If you’re here for the pretty things, I have a couple of fun box reviews to come, as well as a review of a new company and different kind of subscription service (oo-er!), and a sort of haul… You’ll see!

To be honest though, I might not get through all the content I’d like this month, as I’ll be blogging nigh daily over at Cavewoman Eats Paleo! After much reading I’ve decided to give the Paleo diet a go for 30 days, and rather than clog up the feed here, I’ll be separating the content out onto the new blog. I’ll be sure to flag any recipes over here too, but if you’re interested in watching me cry into steak and long for dairy products and cakes, you’ll know where to find me.

 

Later days!

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SWB on holiday!

That’s right kittens- I’ve jetted off for a much needed break with my darling mother. I won’t be posting for the next week, though I have a scheduled box review coming on the 23rd. I’ll be back at the end of the month with a recipe or two, but if you want to follow my shenanigans in the mean time, follow the tag #swbholibobs on @shewhobakes Instagram and Twitter.

Later days, kittens!

BEDA: After the ball was over…

Today have entertained some of my bestest pals, and stuffed them full if turkey and the trimmings, plus 4 homemade cakes which were freshly baked today. I have also mopped my floor three times after spilling huge quantities of oil on it, and washed my rapunzelesque locks. For someone who has mild issues with her energy levels, I am calling this a huge win.

However, now I have bid everyone adieu, stripped the 6.5 kilo bird, packaged up the fridgeables, wrapped up the cake leftovers and prepared dinner for the vermin swarm, I am now half undressed on my soft, typing on my phone, longing for pajamas and bed whilst my cats zip past in a turkey fuelled meat rage.

Thus, wait til tomorrow for some recipes :p

The hostess with the mostest,

Nx

Black and Gold

When I got into doing my nails, I treated myself to the Ciaté Mini Mani Month. For over the half the month I did a manicure a day based on the colours that came out, ranging from basic to somewhat elaborate. This is one of them.

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I used the following polishes:

  • Ciaté ‘Ladylike Luxe’: a metallic shimmery gold that blows warm and cool depending on what you wear it with. A versatile shade.
  • Ciaté ‘Bumblebee’: a bold, striking caviar mix of hot gold and black pearls, this manicure leaves you feeling like a Bond girl.
  • Ciaté ‘Twilight’: a black polish teeming with golden sparkle, like sparks from a bonfire. A new favourite!

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Combined, these colours are pure luxury. Really, I was tired when I did this manicure, and I wasn’t that adventurous, but you could go wild with these and revel in their sparkly chiaroscuro. The formula for the polishes is lovely, they need 1-3 coats for full opacity and colour depth, but as per most Ciaté polishes, the colour is eye-popping intense and luxurious. Finish all but the caviar with a high gloss top coat to protect and intensify the sparkle.

This look is awesome for swanky nights out, or any time you want to feel like a glamazon 🙂

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I’ll do a Caviar tutorial soon, as they are easy but require method for ultimate coverage and wear. Until then, I hope you enjoy this look, and try your own version at home!

Later days,

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The long and winding tale of a recovered nail biter.

Nail biting isn’t good for you.

Ok, it’s unlikely to kill you, but it’s not the grandest of things. It’s a ‘bad’ habit; socially dubious and probably likely to put someone off in an interview. Whatever is on, under or… around your nail ends up in your mouth and sometimes down your throat, including potentially parasites and germs. It leaves unsightly hands behind- flaky or torn or bitten cuticles which are more prone to skin infections than unbitten nails and their cuticles are. It also results in jagged stumpy nails that snag hose and, more importantly your skin, imbedding whatever is on your nails (afore mentioned bugs and whatnot) in a fresh scratch, ready to cause havoc.

Or at least that’s the way I’ve always seen it. I still did it- I started in primary school when I saw other children doing it and was desperate to fit in. As a person with a somewhat nervous disposition, it stuck, and became not only a nasty habit, but later an obvious tic when I was stressed, down, or out of mind with anxiety. The same is true for many people.

Last year, I had what people certainly used to refer to as ‘a nervous breakdown’. The doctors called in Generalised Anxiety and Depression, and PTSD. I fell apart. I couldn’t work, I could barely get up. As time went on, with hard work, help both medically and therapeutically, and from the friends and family who gathered around me, I began to improve. I still savaged my nails to cope- to take out my nerves and stress in a mildly self destructive way.

When, in autumn, I decided it was high time to face some demons and start seeing people I had to see again, I looked in the mirror and despaired. I thought of all those handshakes, and my blunt and bitten fingers trembled. I had to do something to face, in this case, my cousin’s birthday party.

I picked up my chaperone (phase 1) and we started on the road down the coast to the seat of my family. I swung in to a supermarket, and bought a set of false french manicured nails. We sat in the carpark for 5 minutes while I glued them on, and I drove, spread handed for a few miles, as they dried.

At the party, even if I felt like my insides were swelling up, and my skin was crawling, I looked at my hands, and they were… pretty. Neat. Acceptable. No longer a source of personal shame; evidence of my miserable state of mind. I could fit in with the ‘norms’. A lot of people talk about ‘putting your warpaint on’ to face the day. Well, for me, I sharpened my claws.

I kept gluing the things back on every time they pinged off until there was really no point- they were so glue covered and done.  I was left with my own nails, a tad longer than normal for the exercise, but soon to be savaged by another deep bout of anxiety.

The lead up to Christmas is a busy time for my family, and, having dipped my toes once into that particular social pool, I felt obliged to do it again. I was terrified, but determined. The memory of my talons stuck with me- how much stronger I felt with those ten tiny crutches holding the shreds of my self esteem up. However, I knew I didn’t have the willpower to go cold turkey. I knew the bitter tasting biting stopping potions they sell spoil everything they (or rather, your fingers, touch) including delicious sandwiches and what not, and weren’t a strong enough deterrent for me. I needed to physically NOT be able to bite my nails. At all. So found a local salon (The Nail Boutique– they are truly lovely, barmy ladies), and had acrylics put on.

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Naturally, my nails looked great, and however much I put them in my gob, I didn’t want to bite them, couldn’t really. I felt better- in control of something for once, and a worry was lifted off me. No one could judge me (if they even would) about my hands. My nails were neat and tidy, and they made my short little fingers look longer. For two months I kept getting refills, every 2-3 weeks. I even got them ‘did’ for Christmas.

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When my nails had grown out under the acrylic to the same length as the acrylic, I had them soaked off, and immediately had shellac put on. I had heard about how long it lasted, but also how it added a little strength to the nail too. I have to say, even though I tried the product a few times, it wasn’t me. It never lasted more than a few days- I’d always have to go back and get repairs done, wasting both mine and the salon’s time. I had one set that was discoloured by a mystery substance- no idea what. My nails weren’t strong, and it didn’t really help, and in retrospect- the same colour for 2-3 weeks? I’d get seriously bored.

So I did a bad thing, which made me feel bad- I got rid of the shellac pretty badly, damaging my nails in the process. They were already damaged by the acrylic, so I didn’t care. I was disheartened. But, I realised, my nails were longer than they had been in years. And I wasn’t biting them. Not even a bit. Yes, I’d destroyed the polish (and I was very stressed at the time), but the nails had, pretty much, survived.

I filed them a little bit the improve the shape, and shortened them up when they broke. I oiled them, moisturised them and pampered myself to keep the drive going. Every week they got stronger, broke less. I looked up nail polish brands, told my friends and family what I had achieved (and it WAS an achievement), and found they cheered me on. I bought some lacquer, and then some more (oops), and then found care packages were arriving for my claws and me:

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I was going through a really tough time then- reintegrating back into the work place, still plagued by my illness. Looking after my nails became part of my cooldown. It didn’t matter how bad I felt, I had to do my nails. I had to make sure they looked good, because then I would feel good. And nothing could hurt me then.

Of course, that isn’t true really, but that kind of positive thinking and behaviour is part of building up your self esteem, part of fighting to get better. And some days yes, I do chew off my polish. And yes, when stressed or sad I have bitten at my nails in the past month or so, but only broken ones, and you know, it doesn’t make me happy or calm anymore. They don’t taste the same. Because it isn’t my crutch any more.

I am not suggesting that you need to tumble into a pit of misery and despair in order to claw back out with fabulous nails. In fact, I really, really hope that is not what you need to do it. But if, and only if, you really want to stop biting, this is my advice.

  • Find something to take your mind of biting: Drive that potentially nervous energy into something else, whether it be a hobby (crochet or knitting are good, as they occupy your hands) or even taking care of your nails.
  • Use a deterrent: ‘No more biting’ solutions are to nail biting what squirty bottles are to bad dogs. However, as afore mentioned, they are evil and want to stop you from interacting manually with tasty things. For me, the deterrent was a barrier. A bad dog can’t steal a biscuit if they’re locked away. You can’t bite your nails through falsies. And you’ll get that instant ego boost too.
  • Get support: Tell your friends and family. If they know this is a thing for you (and if you don’t, explain it), they will care, because they love you. Giving up anything addictive is helped by encouragement more than it is by suffering in silence, or chiding. Hate yourself a little less, welcome in love some more. I can’t guarantee they’ll send you insane care packs like my aunt (because, DAMN), but I found that every person who said ‘let me see your nails then… good for you!’ helped just a little more. In fact, I have a friend who complains they are too long now!
  • Be patient: It takes approximately 6 months for the average human nail to grow from the cuticle to the the tip of the finger. If you have little fingers, and/or if your hair grows fast, you might see them grow faster. Likewise, if your hair doesn’t grow fast, or you have larger fingers, you might have to wait longer. But your nails ARE growing all the time, especially when they aren’t being bitten. The more you lavish care on them (nail strengtheners like Nail Envy by OPI, or cuticle oils like Solar Oil by CND), the better they will be when they get there, and on the journey.
  • And finally, if they break, don’t give up!: Filing your nails short is NOT a bad thing. Shorter, broader nails are stronger, and the more weaker, older nail you have filed away, the more cared for, new nail remains. The nail remaining will grow through stronger, and you WILL see a difference the next time they grow out.

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So that’s the story of how I beat my bad habit. I hope my story might help if you’re thinking of quitting. And I apologise that I am not wearing make up in any of the pictures :s.

Good luck, and later days!

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