48 Hours in Edinburgh

The opportunity for me came up to live in Edinburgh for you a year…I say opportunity, The Boy got onto the Brewing and Distilling Masters course at Heriot Watt so being the loved up girlfriend I followed him up. I’m so glad I did. At first it was incredibly hard leaving friends and family but Edinburgh had so much to offer. So I’ve decided to do 48 hours in Edinburgh for all those looking for something to do. I’ve tried to add the links to most places (sorry if I’ve missed some!) to make it easier for you to book things. My main bit of advice regardless of the season –

ALWAYS HAVE YOUR RAIN COAT!!

Day 1

img_20160319_112021Start your day nice and early at the Caffeine Drip – a South African Café and Bakery. The entrance is just the door but head down to be welcomed and seated. Do start early as this place is incredibly popular and fills up quickly! My go to is the French toast with bacon and maple syrup. It’s unbelievably filling and will give you fuel for the day.  I naturally have a coffee but also highly recommend their smoothies. You definitely won’t be hungry if you eat all this.edinburgh-in-the-castle

Head up to Edinburgh Castle, its £16.50 per adult. Have a good walk around. There is a lot to learn here. Go to the Crown Room where, you guessed it, you’ll see the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State which were first used in 1543 by Mary Queen of Scots! There can be a bit of a wait but it’s worth it. Look around the prisons (or vaults if you wish to use a nicer word!) that were used to hold prisoners of war during the 18th and 19th centuries. Then walk up to St Margret’s Chapel which is the oldest part of the castle. Take a minute, or two, to look over the edge and at the view, it’s breath taking!

img_20151124_115103Leave the castle and take the 1 minute walk to the Scotch Whisky Experience . If you have time and want to learn more about whisky (and remember you’re in Scotland so there is no E in Whisky!) take the tour where you will also get to see the world’s largest collection of whisky. Also the “ride” you start on is a bit of fun and an original way of learning about the process. If you don’t fancy this, head down to the Amber Bar. The ambience is incredibly touristy but the barmen will talk you through picking the perfect whisky. It’s great if you aren’t sure what you will like. My favourite is the Balvenie 14 year rum cask!!

Having had a couple of whiskies it’s time for a snack. Go to Lovecrumbs and get a coffee

img_20160714_131758and cake. It’s by far the best in Edinburgh, I took most people here when they came to visit. Opened by Hollie and Rachel in 2011 they have been rushed of their feet ever since. However, since then Rachel has stepped away, leaving Hollie to run the show. She’s doing a fantastic job, the cakes sell themselves and check out those signature swirls! They are expanding their menu from just cakes to include some savoury items too. Now fulled up on coffee and sugar head down to Grassmarket, which actually only has a market on on Saturdays but it’s a nice walk through. Head to your right and see Greyfriars Bobby, rub his nose for some luck before carrying on to the Royal Mile. If you’re a Harry Potter fan you can see the café where J K Rowling wrote the incredible novel, The Elephant Café. If I am honest don’t go in, it’s not worth it! Have a wonder down the Royal Mile to Hollyrood House and Arthur’s Seat!
The walk up Arthur’s Seat is a must. It can be a bit of hard work (I fell over, ironically
trying to avoid the smallest bit of mud!) but it’s worth it. The view up at the top is gorgeous. Be warned though, even though you are only 251m above sea level it can still get incredibly windy up there. On taking my sister up she mocked me for wearing a ridiculous coat until she got up there and realised why! We were nearly blown away. It’s perfect on a sunny day to just take a seat and watch the world go by.

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img_20160422_193326By this point, it’s definitely lunch time! Head back down and go to Salt Horse. They let different people occupy their kitchen so check out there website before going to see what you can expect. The beer menu is also on form and regularly changing, having the choice of 12 different beers on draught. They do only serve schooners and thirds though. For some this is okay as they are high in strength but sometimes you really do just want that pint of beer. Head to their bottle shop after and pick up a few cans. Someone here will always be willing to help you pick something! The staff are incredibly friendly. And take a meander down to The Meadows. Time for a bit of a chill. Have your beers before heading back and getting ready for you evening.

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The Dogs
, on Hanover Street is a British cuisine restaurant with a quirky love of dogs. The food and wine are both great. The pork cheek to share is definitely worth a go. Take time to relax and take it all in. Don’t rush!

 

If you fancy a few more drinks go to the Lucky Liquor for a cocktail, don’t expect anything normal, it’s definitely not there thing! Then move on the Panda and Sons (I don’t want you to have to walk to far now between drinks, these are all within 5 minutes of each other), another quirky cocktail bar. This one is a bit more speak easy as it masquerades as a barber shop. Go for the Monet Talks, it’s bellinis with a twist! Be the artist as you use the “paint” (peach, mixed berry, melon, and kiwi coulis) and prosecco to create your own drinks.

Day 2

img_20160311_113644After your busy first day time to relax a little! Go to Spoon  for a bit more of a lighter brunch. It’s got a great atmosphere and the waiters are always willing to help with any dietary requirements. It’s a very bright open restaurant with a homely feel. The toilets are great, covered in old adverts – see if you can find any you recognise. They use top ingredients and the coffee is fantastic, what’s not to love!

Take a leisurely walk through town and down to the Water of Leith Walkway. Go via theedinburgh-walkway Scottish Gallery of Modern Art . Remember to check out all the art, including the bits outside. It’s not massive but it’s nice to take a little mosey around, especially as it’s free you don’t feel as if you have to stay there all day. Also note that there are two parts to the gallery, one on either side of the road. Once you’re finished carry on down the Walkway to Stockbridge. If it’s Sunday you are there check out the Market. Pick up a coffee from the img_20160320_131703Steampunk Coffee stall, if you’re lucky their campervan will be there, before having a mooch round. There is a little of everything going on from crafts, to food, to of course alcohol! If there is no market take a walk around the boutique stores. For lunch take a quick 5 minute walk Smith and Gertrude and enjoy some cheese with wine pairing! If you don’t fancy more cheese head back into town and go to Checkpoint, it’s a nice walk to get there and the portions are massive!!

img_20160503_163332From here, go to Prince’s Street Garden via George Street and Prince’s Street for a wee bit of shopping. Admire the Scottish Monument and head up it if you’re feeling brave! From here go to the National Gallery. It’s full of some fantastic piece of classic art. You can lose yourself there all afternoon. Which is great if it’s raining! But again it’s free to get in so you don’t lose anything if you choose to only pop in for half an hour.

You’ve done a lot of walking by this point and hopefully seen some different parts of 20160228_105151Edinburgh! Reward yourself with the Edinburgh Gin Tour . This time learn about the history of gin and how it’s made. They also give you a G&T at the end so why wouldn’t you go? Pick up one of their bottles to take home with you – the Cannonball or Classic are my favourites. If you do have more of a sweet tooth though, go for the Elderflower Liquor. Head straight up to dinner at the Huxley afterwards, literally, it’s located right above it! It’s the perfect place to put your feet up and unwind after all the steps you’ve taken in the last 48 hours!

I hope this has given you a good idea of what to do in the capital of Scotland. On a side note…I obviously have no idea where you will be staying so mix it up depending where you are based.

Also if you are there for longer I highly recommend the following…or try to squeeze more in if you can…or incentive to visit again!

Edinburgh Zoo – they have Giant Pandas!!

The Jolly Ristorante – great value for money, massive portions

Cuckoo’s Bakery – more great cake

Mary’s Milk Bar – if its sunny get ice cream, if its cold get ice cream float hot chocolates

The Potting Shed – great food in an unusal setting

The Hanging Bat – busy craft beer bar

National Museum of Scotland – amazing artefacts, great building, and head to the roof for another view

The Balmoral Afternoon Tea – want a treat, this is a must!

Leith and Portabello

 

 

 

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Vegan Peanut Butter Brownies

When I last saw my sister-in-law she mentioned she was looking at going vegan. She is already a vegetarian so not a complete change of diet. It did make me realise that I wouldn’t be able to bake for her and the family if I didn’t come up with some dairy free sweet treats! A mixture of this and my healthy eating but craving chocolate I wanted to come up with something that covers both. 
So here are my fudgy, sticky vegan (and gluten free) brownies…with a hint of banana too…

They are approx 145 calories per bite, though this seems a lot remember there are no refined sugars or flours. So at least you know it’s all good, natural stuff 😊

Ingredients 

Brownies 

250g Peanut Butter, smooth (I use Meridian which is 100% Peanuts!)

75g Maple Syrup 

1/2 tsp Baking Powder (Gluten Free) 

35g Cacao Powder (I use Choc Chick organic) 

Pinch of Salt

1/2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste 

115g Banana 

Ganache

20g Cacao Powder

20g Maple Syrup 

10g Coconut Oil, melted

Peanut Butter Topping
 

30g Peanut Butter

5g Coconut Oil, melted 
Method

First pre heat the oven to 170C and line a 8″ square tin.

This is a super easy recipe as you put all the brownie ingredients, except the banana, into a mixing bowl and give them a good whisk. When combined add the banana and mix until smooth.

Fill the tin, trying the make as smooth as possible as the batter is very thick and doesn’t change too much in the oven. Bake for 20minutes.

While it is in the oven in two separate bowls mix up the two toppings. Again very simple, pop the ingredients in each bowl and whisk up with a fork or electric mixer. The ganache should be quiet thick and the peanut butter a little runner…

When the brownie is baked (it showily still be slightly soft) remove from the oven and take out of the tin. Leave to cool completely.

First take the chocolate ganache and dollop randomly over the top of the brownies. Do the same with the peanut butter. Using a skewer or knife swirl them together. Don’t over do it though! You want to be able to see the two separate toppings.

Cut into 16 bite size piece and enjoy.

Urban Larder, Cambridge, UK

A few weeks ago I was passing through Cambridge in the morning on my way to London. Sounds like a bit of an odd route as I am now in Dublin but as a friend of mine lives there it worked nicely! We got some breakfast at the lovely Urban Larder (http://www.urbanlarder.coffee/). I’ve been following them on Instagram for about a year now and I was super excited to finally go. They have a wide menu from cakes to bagels to salads, plus all the chutneys and condiments you could need. They also sell the chutneys, jams and all the other condiment to take away too. I couldn’t get any this time as I only had hand luggage for my return.

I went for the Smoked Salmon Bagel, I was on holiday after all (ish, it was a work day and I wasn’t at work so it counts in my eyes). Coffee was an Americano as I can’t justify too much milk when I knew I would be eating a lot in London! They were both fantastic, as I img_20170116_142158_379write this my stomach is rumbling craving for it all over again. The bagel was toasted to perfection and still warm when it arrived. It had the perfect layer of cream cheese and they definitely didn’t scrimp on the smoked salmon. Their coffee is roasted by Butterworth and Son which is based in Bury St Edmond, approx. 30 miles away from the shop, so almost local! They also won “Micro-Roastery Espresso” award by Caffeine Magazine. And it did not disappoint. It was perfectly balanced, smooth coffee making it incredibly easy to drink. Unfortunately I didn’t have time for another, though maybe that was a good thing as I might have never left otherwise. My friend did make me feel a tad guilty as she only had toast. It was beautifully presented on a wooden board with jam and butter. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, though the toasted could have been warmer. But let’s be honest here, you’re never going to get piping hot straight from the toaster toast in any café!img_20170116_142343_267
The décor is adorable! They use a label maker to do all of their food labels which I absolutely love. My sister got me in to the idea, even though I have yet to purchase one it is on my list of things to buy. You can do so much with them and Urban Larder prove that. They have a great art piece, which I assume they made themselves; a very simple Dr Seuss quote made on their label maker, printed and stuck onto plain brown paper and framed. Great idea!

They are coming up to their second birthday this year and there is no sign of them slowing down! I can’t wait to head back to Cambridge and try some more of their food…and coffee!

A Foody in Cuba!

One of the first things I was told by everyone when I said I was going to Cuba is that the food is terrible! As a foody I was naturally very curious. Could this really be true? Could a whole country that exports such great things really be that bad at food? The answer is no!! It’s brilliant! So many different choices.

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The saying of our holiday became “why eat in a place that looks like a restaurant” – the majority of our best meals were in places that looked like houses or even looked like a building sight. So never judge a book by its cover…

Firstly breakfast, we never ate out for breakfast, preferring to eat in our Casa Particular. It was great not having to walk around looking for somewhere to eat, we always get so grumpy if we have to go too long between getting up and having breakfast. In the three places we stayed they all had a very similar set up – fruit, cake and/or biscuits, pancakes, bread, eggs and of course coffee! We never went hungry. The mango de bizcochuelo is by far my favourite. It’s slightly sweeter than your average mango you get down at the supermarket and a great way to start the day. The eggs were done okay as most places don’t tend to add enough butter and seasoning which can make them a little dry. If your Spanish is up to scratch I’m sure you can ask them to add some. The main thing is we were full for our full day of sight seeing!

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The coffee here is amazing, even their “cheap stuff” is better than you £4 Starbucks. And at around 1.50 CUC you really can’t go wrong. One of the best we had was after hiking around the Topes de Collantes National Park just outside of Trinidad. It was a cute little coffee estate known as Finca Codina. All but one of us had an espresso the other having a cortadito, an espresso topped with steamed milk and slightly sweetened. Even after our long hike we were all slightly buzzed after!

At this point I don’t want to write about every single meal we had so I’ve picked some of the top ones or parts…

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Christmas Day we had traditional pork, potatoes and Cuban rice. This doesn’t sound like much but it was delicious. The pork was so tender with a little fat on it to keep it moist. I think it had been marinated in lime juice. The rice, known as Moros and Cristianos (Moors and Christians to use English folk), was definitely a highlight, it’s very simple as it’s just black beans and white rice but it’s done so well. We continued to sought it out at pretty much every meal afterwards.

img_20170106_194344_679Pork is very popular over here, I think at least one person of the group has had it every day. One of the best ones was in Havana where it came on the bone with crackling and everything! They manage to keep it all very tender, I never had a dry pork dish in the whole time we were out there. If you’re not sure what to have on a menu always pick the pork, I would be so surprised if you were disappointed.

 

Seafood is obviously readily available with Cuba being a hot climate island. I’ve never eaten so much lobster in my life and it was none of this £25 a portion. I think the most wimg_20170106_193946_863e paid was 15 CUC for a whole lobster with sides of veg and rice. Like all places you can get it there is a chance it will be over cooked. This did happen a couple of times however they always seem to flavour it well so you end up minding a lot less (you also remember the price). We had sushi one lunch time; on arrival the restaurant looked like a shack. We would have never guessed it would serve some of the best sushi I’ve had! Starting with a mixture of Sashimi, Ceviche, Tataki and Sushi Rolls. It just tasted so fresh and perfectly seasoned! The presentation ways also so gorgeous. It looked like they really put some love and care into it. Their mains weren’t quiet as good but my swordfish was still very tasty. img_20170106_194359_855They did just recite the menu to us with no prices so we were a little fearful that it might have cost us one of our kidneys but when paying it was 200 CUC approximately £20 per person. This included starters, mains, beers and water so it actually felt like a steal!In another restaurant my sister-in-law had some of the best garlic prawns known to man, served warm in oil and with lots of bread to dip in it was a great starter. I also had a fish fillet in another restaurant done in a similar way (they never seem to tell you exactly what fish fillet it will be but it always seems to be a white fish). I had to order extra bread to soak up all my oils and juices, I didn’t want any of it to go to waste.

On the bread front a small warning, it can be massively hit and miss! If you ask for bread you can’t be guaranteed it’s bread and not toast. 90% of their bread is very good, light white bread but toast is a different story. It can be dry and seem that it’s about a week old! Again if you speak Spanish well enough emphasis you would like bread…you’ve been warned.

img_20170106_193807_467With such a strong Spanish heritage you can naturally get some great paella! For our finally lunch in Havana we decided to get some to ensure we were all very full before our long journey home. It did not disappoint. Cooked to order in traditional paella dishes you had to order a minimum of 2 portions. Not that hard when you’re a group of 8, always someone who will want the same…or in this case we were split in two! All wanting the restaurants award winning or the Cuban paella. Perfect! It takes around 25 min to cook so we had a few cheeky starters to tie us over. When the paella arrived we were all amazed! It was served in the dish it was cooked it and we dove straight in. It was delicious! And super filling which is exactly what we were after. Ours was filled with lobster, shrimp and chicken and it was amazing, I would say a must do in Havana! They do however leave the shells on the lobster when they look it like this so keep an eye out for those shells and be prepared to get your hands messy.

img_20170106_194138_646Street food is also great, though very heavy on the sweet dishes. When you think about this it makes sense as they produce so much sugar. We naturally had to have some churros! They were cooked in front of us and only 50c (10p), you can have a choice of tops but we stuck with the classic Clenfuegus (1).jpgsugar. Another one we tried was something called a Cappuchino, a cone shaped sponge soaked in syrup. You will definitely get a sugar high from these. The second I finished it I wanted another but managed to restrain myself, just. The final thing we tried where Chivircos, what can only be described as fried dough. They were okay though a little dry, probably my least favourite of the three.

I really was surprised about the food we had. I know we were very lucky having a local show us many of these spots and I also know without him we probably wouldn’t have found a fraction of them. But it really is yet another thing the world has wrong about Cuba. So you can now add food as one more reason to head there ASAP!