I was lucky enough to be invited to the Bournemouth Gin Festival recently and I had a fab time with my lovely friend Amy.

The Art Deco glamour of the Pavilion Theatre and the soulful music of pianist Dan Burnett made the perfect setting for sipping on gin cocktails and eating street food.

Taquitos

I must admit I was a little bit overwhelmed by the vast selection of gins, and wandered around the room unsure of where to start. In the end we were tempted by the cocktail bar, and the awesome Sean mixed me the most delicious cocktail I’ve ever had.

  

Sean very kindly sent me the recipe for the Rhubarb Rumble. 

All you’ll need is:

50ml (double shot) of Edinburgh rhubarb and ginger liqueur
50ml Advocaat
50ml good quality, clear apple juice
A dash of rhubarb bitters and a squeeze of lemon.
Shake well and garnish with a rhubarb and custard sweet!

If you’re wondering what Amy had, she tried a Tipsy Rocket – a lovely sparkling cocktail that would be perfect to serve at a garden party or summer wedding!

All you’ll need to make this is:

50ml Adnams Copper House Gin
50ml good quality apple juice
Squeeze of lemon
Shake well together and pour over ice. Pour (from a height, I’m assured this isn’t just because it looks cool!) 25ml of crème de cassis directly into the glass and top off with a generous glug of Prosecco. Garnish with a lemon wheel and two plump blackberries.

Next up we decided to have a couple of cheeky G&Ts. I tried a Welsh gin called Dà Mhìle. “This one has seaweed in, seems right up your street” – Amy knows me well!

I can’t say it was particularly seaweedy (seaweedesque?) but it had a lovely flavour. We were given a pairing guide and I was really impressed that each gin came with its own recommendation for both tonic and garnish.

I was very jealous of Amy’s drink. She tried Poetic Licence’s Picnic Gin, garnished with strawberry and served with Fevertree elderflower tonic. It was basically summer in a glass.

I didn’t actually realise Fevertree did so many different tonics, and I absolutely loved the elderflower one. A lot of people don’t like the strong taste of normal tonic, so I think this is a lovely alternative.

I was drawn to the fab stand for Brockmans Gin (seriously, they have the sexiest branding EVER!) and ended up having a great chat with the lovely Pip, who gave me a sample of their delicious gin, infused with blackberry and blueberry. It was light, fruity and a perfect summer alternative to regular gin.

I’ve been a big fan of Conker gin for a while now. They’re a Dorset-based company and their gin was the first one I actually really enjoyed. So when I saw they were launching their own coffee liquer I was so excited.

I can’t recommend this highly enough. Conker describes it as ‘espresso-driven’ rather than the usual sweet or creamy coffee liquers most people would be familiar with. It would make an ideal gift for any coffee-lovers in your life and I imagine it would make a lovely Christmas-time tipple.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with Scandinavia, so obviously I had to try a Swedish gin. This (right) was Ragnarok, paired with regular tonic and garnished with…dill of course! Smooth and light, the delicate flavour of the dill complimented it surprisingly well.

The most triumphant moment of the night was, without a doubt, when Amy and I decided to try out the photo booth. Believe it or not, this was the best photo we managed (and we took A LOT!).

If you’re a gin-lover (and even if you’re not!), the Gin Festival is well worth checking out. Just make sure to eat a big lunch first – it’s impossible to make your way round the room without being lured in by the cocktail bar, or offered loads of free samples!

Now, I love me a good lasagna and I pride myself on making a pretty mean one.

Today though, I had the opportunity to make one for someone with a very specific diet and I had great fun rising to the challenge.

I had to make it completely gluten free and substitute cows’ milk and cheese for goats’ as well as switching several of my usual ingredients.

Here’s what I used!

  • Buckwheat flour
  • Just under two boxes of gluten free dry lasagna sheets

Lasagna ingredients

For the red sauce:

  • 2 bottles of passata (I would normally use tinned tomatoes)
  • Small bunch of fresh basil
  • Dried oregano
  • 3 courgettes
  • 1 aubergine
  • Most of a large bag of spinach

I chopped the aubergine and courgettes into small pieces and fried in olive oil until lightly browned. Usually, a little before this point I would add in some finely chopped garlic, but I had to forego it this time. I also normally use mushrooms, but I substituted them for aubergine.

I added the passata and threw in some salt and pepper to taste (sorry, I never use measurements!) as well as finely chopped basil and dried oregano.

While that bubbled away nicely I set to work on the white sauce. I just added the spinach in right at the end so it didn’t overcook.

For the béchamel:

  • Butter (I used regular butter as my friend didn’t mind)
  • Buckwheat flour (I thought I had gluten free flour, so had to improvise)
  • Semi-skimmed goats’ milk
  • Nutmeg
  • Small block of hard goats’ cheese

I wasn’t sure the sauce would thicken as it normally would, as I was unfamiliar with the textures of the flour and cheese I was using. There was a worrying moment when I didn’t think the cheese would melt either, but thankfully it all came together.

If you don’t know how to make a béchamel, it really is quite simple.

Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan (I used two very generous ice-cream scoop sized knobs of butter as I was making a lot of sauce). Once completely melted, slowly sieve the flour into the butter, stirring gently as you go. Keep adding flour until the sauce reaches a thick, sticky consistency. I roll it into a ball, as it makes the next bit a lot easier.

From there, slowly keep adding dashes of milk, while stirring gently. It’s important to add the milk gradually and keep stirring so you don’t get lumps. The key is to keep stirring the sauce over a low heat so it doesn’t go lumpy or stick to the pan.

Once you’ve got a good amount of sauce and it’s at a consistency you’re happy with, gradually start stirring in the grated cheese. I used most of the small block, saving a little bit to put on the top.

Once the cheese is all melted in, you might need to slowly add more milk in. Again, I never use measurements, I just keep throwing things in until it looks and tastes good!

Then I added in salt and pepper to taste, and grated in some fresh nutmeg (you can also use the pre-ground nutmeg). Again, I add this to taste, but have to be supervised as I’m notorious for using far too much nutmeg. I love it so much I think I’ve gone mouth-blind. Is that a thing? Like nose-blind?!

To assemble the lasagna

Line the bottom of a large glass dish with some lasagna sheets. You’ll need to snap some into small pieces to fill in gaps, unless you happen to have the perfect sized dish. Word of warning, gluten free lasagna sheets are harder to snap than regular ones – I got shards of pasta sheets everywhere! The pack did suggest blanching them first which would probably have helped, but I personally never bother with that.

From there you just layer pasta, white sauce, pasta, red sauce, and so on. The last layer should be sauce, not pasta, and then I like to sprinkle a bit of cheese on top.

Lasagna

Pop in the oven at 180° for 45 minutes. This will vary depending on size, but I just wait until the top looks nice and brown, and I always cut through to make sure the pasta sheets are soft enough.

Serve up and enjoy!

My verdict

I’m a huge fan of goats’ cheese so I absolutely LOVED the flavour of the béchamel sauce. I found the buckwheat flour gave it a slightly grainy, mealy texture, but I still really enjoyed it.

Using passata instead of tinned tomatoes made the sauce a lot smoother, which was quite nice. While I missed the mushrooms I enjoyed the aubergine. I don’t know why I haven’t always been putting it in my lasagna! I found it difficult not being able to use garlic, but with fresh basil and the other seasoning, I thought it still had a really nice flavour.

I didn’t love the texture of the gluten free pasta sheets, but that could have been my fault for not blanching them first. I just found them a bit chewy and grainy.

Overall though, I would definitely make this again. I didn’t feel as bloated as I normally do after lasagna, and the flavour of the goats’ cheese was a winner in my book.

Lasagna

Just look at that bubbling, cheesy goodness!

I was so excited when the lovely people at Bluebird Tea Co. contacted me to offer me some samples of their lovely new summer teas.  I’ve never been to one of their stores (you can find them in Brighton, Bristol and Tunbridge Wells), but I’ve heard good things from lots of people, including Zoella, who has raved about them in several of her vlogs.  I have to say, after trying some of their teas I can see why!

Never one to miss an opportunity to eat cake, I asked my lovely friend Julie if she’d like to have afternoon tea.  She went all out with lovely finger sandwiches, delicious homemade lemon and blueberry cupcakes and some tasty fresh fruit.  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, right?

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Bluebird’s new flavours include Sangria, Strawberry Split, Red Velvet (OMG!), and Jelly and Ice Cream.  I was kindly given Sangria and Jelly and Ice Cream to try, but the other two sound incredible as well (I’m definitely ordering some of the Red Velvet!)

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I tried to get a bit arty with the tea leaves, though I’m not sure it worked too well.  But seriously, look how pretty they are!

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What I loved about the Sangria tea was that you can really see all the ingredients, in particular lots of lovely big chunks of dried fruit.  And it smelled absolutely gorgeous too, very citrusy and fresh.  It contains hibiscus, apple, rosehip, orange peel, coconut, pineapple, cardamom and lime peel.  I could definitely smell the orange and pineapple, and it made me think of summer holidays by the sea, and lovely warm balmy evenings.  I thought it kind of also smelled like jelly babies, but Julie wasn’t so sure!  Both teas can be enjoyed hot or cold, and we decided to try this one hot.

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IMG_20160617_150151 Blue kettle

It had a wonderfully fresh and tart flavour, and really did taste as vibrant and fruity as it smelled.  It wasn’t unpleasantly sour like some fruit teas I’ve tried, and we found it didn’t need any sugar.  Gorgeous, fresh and summery, this one was definitely a hit!  I look forward to trying it iced, I imagine it’s very refreshing.

So next we tried Jelly and Ice Cream, which I must admit I was more excited about of the two.  This one contains Rooibos tea (which I love!), coconut, strawberry, hibiscus, apple, elderberry, rosehip, vanilla, cornflowers and pineapple.  Doesn’t that just sound incredible?!  Smell wise, it didn’t wow me like the Sangria did, but oh my gosh it was delicious!

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We had this one iced, which we did simply by straining the tea over a cup of ice cubes.  It can be drunk with or without milk but we decided to go without.

Oh. My. Gosh.  This was divine.  So smooth and sweet, you can really taste the vanilla and strawberry.  It’s not too sweet though, and like the Sangria, it’s packed full of flavour.  So often I’ve bought fruit teas that smelled wonderful but tasted of nothing.  You definitely don’t need to worry about that with these teas.  I could really pick out all the lovely different fruit flavours, and it was a perfect balance of tart, sweet and smooth, just as you’d expect from jelly and ice cream.  A perfect drink to serve at a garden party or picnic, and a huge thumbs up from me.

After that, our lovely civilised afternoon took a bit of a turn when this little delinquent decided to gatecrash.

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Meet Mr T, Julie’s pet tortoise! Isn’t he sweet?

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I had such a lovely afternoon and the teas were a big hit.  There are so many other amazing sounding flavours I’d like to try, so I see a rather large order to Bluebird Tea Co. happening in the near future!  Julie was a big fan as well, and we both agreed that they’d make a lovely gift for any tea-lovers in your life.

Thank you so much to Julie for putting together such a gorgeous and Instagram-worthy spread.  And a big thank you to the lovely guys at Bluebird Tea Co. for sending me my very first blogger mail!  Being sent free tea- I’m living the dream, right?

Check Bluebird Tea Co. out here.

Those of you who are local to Bournemouth may be familiar with the veritable Valhalla of sugary treats known as American Fizz on Wallisdown Road.

Dave and I have been known to spend far too much money on American sodas (root beer for him, grape soda for me), Twizzlers, and Pop Tarts in every flavour under the sun.  They also have tonnes of amazing savoury snacks, condiments, and of course the indescribably delicious Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese.  If you haven’t tried it, trust me, it’s MAGICAL.

I mean, just look at it. ALL the heart eyes.

This gif should come with a NSFW warning. It’s basically pornographic.

This time I picked up some of my tried and tested favourites, as well as some new things.  And then proceeded to roll around on the sofa like a walrus and eat my yearly allowance of fat, salt and sugar in one evening.  Good times!

haul

Grape Crush

Now I’m normally more of a Twizzler kinda gal, but much like the shelves of Doose’s market after movie night at the Gilmore house, American Fizz was a Twizzler AND Red Vines-free zone.  Not to be deterred I went for these, swayed largely by the fact that they were grape flavour.  Seriously, why do we insist on having boring blackcurrant as a flavour in the UK?  Grape is so much better, sort it out UK candy manufacturers!  These did not disappoint.

Pancakes and Maple Syrup Jelly Belly Beans

I’m always a big fan of Jelly Belly beans, but these were in a league of their own.  My new favourite jelly bean flavour?  The maple kind. (And no, I will never stop finding that dog video hilarious).

Maple Bacon Pop Tarts

Um…so I don’t really know what to say about these.  I couldn’t resist buying them out of sheer curiosity and they (perhaps not surprisingly) were absolutely disgusting.  I’m pretty sure even the dog in that video would not be a fan.  Kellogg’s, I have some serious questions.  Namely, whose idea was this, and what were they thinking?  At any point did no-one think that perhaps bacon flavoured icing was a step too far, and maybe it was time to put a stop to the madness?  Did anyone except me actually buy these?!  Answers please!!

evil taste

Swedish Fish

I’ve always been curious to try these.  Their website assures me that they “taste like fruit, not like fish,” which is good to know, and their slogan is the delightfully nonchalant “try some if you want.”  I do want.

Combos

These are hands-down my favourite American snack.  We bought the pizza ones (the best flavour, IMO), but we also grabbed a pack of the Buffalo Blue Cheese (which sadly didn’t last long enough to make it into the photo!).  Eat these NOW.  Thank me later.

happy eating

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts

Kellogg’s, you are forgiven for your bacon-flavoured atrocities.  These are sublime.

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Are you a fan of root beer, or do you (like me) think it tastes like Listerine?  What are some of your favourite American snacks?  Is there anything I should definitely try next time?  Let me know in the comments below!