Perusing the blog of late you could be easily forgiven for thinking I’ve been swanning around drinking lots of nice things and eating in the sunshine. The thing is, I have been doing that quite a bit but I’ve also been working hard too.

One particular day from the last few months that definitely involved posh food, plonk and actually a few swans too, was the big Mattdenweirberg reunion fun day at Hever Castle, Kent. Mattdenweirberg is the collective nickname (and watsapp group) for some of the lovely friends I made in my old job. Weir (also known as Katherine) moved to Kent a few months ago, so pining for her and feeling brave we made the big trip down to Kent for a visit a few weeks ago. Feeling the pressure to entertain, Katherine took us on a whirlwind tour of the garden of England and Hever Castle played an important part, not least because it was the venue for possibly the best picnic of my life!

A little while ago I received an email asking if I’d like to sample a hamper and it was this hamper – stocked with champagne and luxury breakfast goodies no less, which formed the basis of our picnic. We started out with a breakfast hamper from hampergifts.co.uk, the basket itself was beautiful, so I’ll be reusing it come Christmas when I start my homemade present factory for family and friends! It usually costs £57.99, so we were feeling very lucky to be sampling it in such a fantastic setting. We chose a spot next to the lake to enjoy our brunch and the view was pretty special…the lake

I was a particular fan of all the lovely condiments in the hamper – from acacia honey and wholegrain mustard with spitfire ale through to the award-winning three fruit marmalade (the rest of which is destined for a sponge pudding) each one was of a really good quality and flavour and there were chunks and lumps in all the right places. We’d purchased a few little extras to go with the hamper – namely some olive bread, croissants, chorizo, brie and butter.

We settled down and popped the cork on the bubbly (which was a different brand to the usual featured in the hamper but actually my favourite champagne to date) and started spooning generous lumps of butter and strawberry jam onto the croissants. Generous partially through greed and the good portions the hamper (meant for two) contained and partly because we were armed only with a bread knife and it’s hard to spread things with a bread knife! Our second course (of many) was Edinburgh Preserves Wild Boar Pâté, which was rich and meaty and worked beautifully with the wholegrain mustard on our olive bread. Here’s how everything looked on the day!

Thanks to Beth (Den) for sharing her photos with me!

The hampergifts folks select a lot of award-winners for their baskets and it showed, we were impressed with the selection. The only things we weren’t so keen on where the cakes, which didn’t match up to the excellent quality of the rest of the goodies but it’s possible we were unlucky. I do send some of my clients hampers at Christmas time and think the British themed hampers they have might work their way into the present list as I like to support Great British Food where I can. Speaking of which, it’s British Food fortnight next week, are you doing anything special to celebrate? I’ll be paying extra visits to my favourite butchers and putting the leftover marmalade to use in a sponge pudding, because autumn is all about comfort food, right?

I’ve only been working freelance for a few weeks but I’m already enjoying the change in lifestyle it’s afforded me. At the beginning of the week I now work in Newcastle at my part-time comms/marketing job and the rest of the week and weekend is mine, mine, mine!

I fill these days of freedom with copywriting and feature writing and have already carved out a bit of niche writing about marketing and food topics. The flexibility of the freelance lifestlyle is already allowing me to catch up with friends more often and I’m finding that I’m starting to tick off restaurants and other foodie spots on my to-do list, which in turn means more runs and walks beside the beach are required!

One recent ‘to-do’ was ticked off on a catch-up with my friend Jane when we visited the Brownie Bar in Eldon Square. I first encountered the Brownie Bar at food festivals and have also taken advantage of their gift service in the past but until a few weeks ago I hadn’t visited their café spot in Newcastle. With a few jobs to do in town, I arranged to meet Jane for a completely novel mid-week catch up so that we could take advantage of the bargainous Groupon voucher I bought for £6, which entitled us to a warm brownie and ice cream with hot beverage each.

It was Thursday, I wasn’t at work, there was coffee and there was cake. I was a very happy Fay indeed. So happy, it almost didn’t matter that Jane was her standard 45 minutes late. I spent some of the time perusing the growing range of brownies and blondies available at the Brownie Bar. I have a feeling I might have pressed my nose up against the glass to look at the many varieties in all of their close up glory. In the past I’ve favoured the Brownie Bar millionaire brownie. However, on this particular day I was enticed by a banana and salted caramel blondie and moved over from the dark side. Jane chose a nutella and peanut butter brownie and we both selected a cappuccino to wash them down.

The staff at the bar were very friendly, answering questions about the brownies and serving our drinks super quick. As I’ve come to expect from the brand, the bakes themselves were delicious, mine with a beautiful undercurrent of banana and sticky toffee sauce. I chose a good dollop of chocolate ice cream to go with it and Jane opted for a vanilla. I would say the sauce in my blondie was more butterscotch/toffee than salted caramel but it was delicious. I attempted to taste Jane’s brownie but found it far too peanutty for my peanut hating taste buds – a good choice for peanut lovers though, undoubtedly.

Even without the Groupon (which netted us this little lot for £6) this treat wouldn’t have been very costly and it was really refreshing to be able to meet up with friends during daylight. I’m more than enjoying my taste of flexibility and freedom, here’s hoping my waistline can take the joy!

P.s I have one voucher left that needs used by the end of August, anyone fancy a coffee catch up?

I work at Team Valley, a place not renowned for having an abundance of choices when it comes to eating, drinking and entertaining, however, not so far away is Low Fell and what has become a favoured spot for myself and team of fellow wordies.

Aside from location, Indian restaurant Angeethi also boasts a loyalty card scheme, a cracking barbecue in the summer, a very friendly owner and over Christmas, a very appealing party menu. We decided to visit Angeethi for our Christmas team meal and it’s taken me almost two whole months to blog about it (oops, never move house, moving house is bad for blogging).

This was actually our second visit to Angeethi as a team, on our first visit we fell in love with their Tandoori platter (huge chunks of salmon) and the Mahkni (far better than a standard chicken tikka masaala). In fact, several members of the team asked if they could swap the Mahkni into their festive meal.

With a pleasantly crowded table it was hard to take photos of the food so you have an unusually lively roundup of the folk I was actually dining with, who all deserve a special mention for putting up with me on a daily basis and allowing me to dominate the decision making when it comes to choosing where we go for ‘copywriters’ tea’.

On arrival we were given a friendly welcome and a drink. The building itself is stylish without being over the top and the outside area is somewhere I’m looking forward to hanging out with an after-work drink come summer time. On this trip we chose from a set menu, but usually there’s plenty to choose from, including some more unusual dishes.

I must confess that I have forgotten the exact sum that we paid for our two courses, side plus drink but I think it was around the £15 mark and as you can see from the selection of snaps above, the portions weren’t stingy. I was particularly impressed by the Aloo Gobi side dish, which wasn’t too much of a surprise as I also really enjoyed the palak paneer on our first visit. It’s always nice to discover a restaurant that does vegetarian food equally as well as meaty meals, especially as we have a vegetarian in our midst.

The destination of the next copywriters tea is yet to be decided – though Lane7 and bowling has been bandied around as a possibility. We will no doubt be heading back to Angeethi again at some point, roll on barbecue weather!

Christmas is a lovely time of family, festivity and FOOD! There’s not much that tops the pure indulgence of the holiday season and the jewel in the crown of this socially acceptable eatathon is Christmas Day itself. It’s become a tradition in our household that I prepare the starter for Christmas dinner while my hardworking Ma makes everything else including dessert. This is in spite of the fact that neither she nor I actually eat Christmas pudding. For our final course we usually tuck into a large bowl of rum sauce and soya rum sauce respectively, mmm.

This year I decided we deserved more, far more. So, I got my hands on some alternatives to the traditional Christmas pud, desserts without a zillion nuts and sultanas but not without a festive feel. Here are my top three and their respective reviews.

1) Bettys chocolate orange cake £12.95

This is a very classy chocolate cake – filled with chocolate orange ganache, it’s coated with swiss milk chocolate and shimmering gold chocolate. Extraordinarily rich it found favour among the adults who said it went perfectly with a cup of after dinner coffee. This is quite a large cake and could easily feed 10 with it being so rich, however we thought it would be better at an adults gathering or perhaps a New Year shinding because of how utterly indulgent it is. The mix of textures from crisp chocolate through to soft, moist cake and smooth ganache were mouth watering.

Bettys chocolate orange cake

Bettys deliciously rich chocolate orange cake

2) Asda Sparkle Chocolate Cheesecake £7. Apologies for the photo quality on this one, I didn’t have my camera to hand and my iPhone seemed to think this was a blurry cheesecake and not a sparkly one. What you should be able to see though is that it came generously topped with chocolate sauce, curls, balls, flake and more gold shimmer! Apparently gold shimmer is where it’s at when it comes to festive desserts. This was the all-round family favourite thanks to the chocolate topping and crunchy chocolate biscuit base. Not quite so rich as the Bettys cake this still felt like a luxury dessert and the cheesecake tasted ‘cheesy’ unlike many cheaper cheesecakes you buy in supermarkets and at 1kg per serving, it was a real family sized dessert. This was probably our favourite all rounder and is a great fallback for those with unexpected guests.

Asda sparkle chocolate cheesecake

Asda sparkle chocolate cheesecake from the top, complete with sparkle

And to show it’s plentiful size.

Asda sparkle cheesecake from the side

Deep and crunchy and even chocolate cheesecake

I decided to take a slice snap to just how deep the cheesecake was, and yes that is a Christmas tree in the background.

3) Coles black cherry and Amaretto Christmas pudding £6.95-£8.95 This was the closest to a traditional Christmas pud and the dessert I as a huge cherry and Amaretto fan was most excited about.

Cherry and Amaretto pudding

Cherry and Amaretto pudding with cream

Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite the cherryatto delight I was hoping for. It was a little like a toffee pudding crossed with a traditional pud. A strong selling point for the non-Christmas pud eaters was – though it did have almonds on the top it was relatively nut free and sultanas were nearly non-detectable. However, it wasn’t nearly as Amaretto flavoured as I would have liked and the sweet almond liqueur was only really noticeable when you got a cherry (oo-er) which were obviously soaked in the stuff. Still, it was definitely nicer than the traditional Christmas pud and a good compromise for the family. It also felt like a proper grownups dessert.