astralI have been using Astral for years and I always have some (quite a lot actually) in the house. I have the big jar for every day use and I have some smaller sizes for my handbag or travel.  Over the years I’ve become a more and more lazy shopper, so I’d much rather one product covered a range of uses.  Astral has always ticked lots of boxes for me because the whole family uses it, even the husband on occasion.  Recently though I’d run out of night cream and started using Astral for that.  I’ve always done this occasionally like when I’m travelling (why take two creams when you can take one?), but this was every day at home.  Not only is it considerably cheaper than the average night cream, but it saved me a trip to the shops which has got to be good.  I’m not sure that I’m going to bother going back to a special cream either because Astral just the job as well if not better.

Astral recently sent me a box of goodies and I was surprised to see the Astral Soft product in the box as I wasn’t aware of that.  I tend to use the original astral cream for dry areas like hands and feet.  Generally I find the original Astral a little thick for all over body moisturising, but the Astral Soft version is perfect for that. It glides on easily and doesn’t leave my skin feeling greasy.

A Day At River Cottage HQ

river cottage hq and veg gardenIt all started off very early in the morning when I was picked up at 5.30am for a car trip down to Dorset with 3 other local food bloggers.  Arriving a River Cottage HQ‘s car park we waiting for a tractor to take us down to the main building.  It’s quite a way down a very steep track and the ride was a little bumpy.  On arrival we tried some goodies from the kitchens.

omlettesThese little omelette slices went down very well with their fermented salsa and spring onion topping.  There was something for those with a sweet tooth too, with some very moreish mini chocolate croissants.

cookery school river cottageMy first session was in the cookery school.  Gill (if you watch the River Cottage programmes you’ll have seen him) taught us how to make soda bread and butter.  First of all we made the butter.  We started off whisking by hand, but it was soon clear that most of us would need mechanical help, if we were to make butter this side of Christmas, so out came the electric mixers.  From there on it was child’s play.  I was genuinely surprised how easy and quick it was to make butter from double cream.

TV chef GillNext up we made soda bread with spelt flour and the buttermilk which we’d made as a by-product of the butter making.  This is the kind of thing I love about River Cottage: the philosophy of making good use of everything. This was no ordinary soda bread either because we added interest by adding some freshly picked blackberries ( plucked with our own fair hands) and some apple from the River Cottage orchard.

food photographyNext up was a session with food photography session with Capture by Lucy.  It was the first time I’d attended one of Lucy’s sessions and I found it very useful.  We got to play around taking lots of arty photographs with food, but there were some concrete tips on how to take better pictures.  I learnt a lot and I now know where I can look for more inspiration too as Lucy shared a number of her influences.

food photography with capture by lucyAfter all that taking pictures of food, we were ready to eat some.  We had lunch in the barn.  It was really, really good.

lunch at river cottage hq For our main course we had Dexter beef (reared at River Cottage HQ and aged for 5 weeks), which had been slow cooked (for 36 hours) till it was meltingly tender. It was served in a wholemeal ravioli on a bed of vegetable ragu (from the kitchen garden), with oh-so-freshly baked bread and the most wonderful corn on the cob that I have ever tasted.

fennel meringue with coffee bean and vanilla with salted caramel and damsons Dessert was a fennel flower meringue, served with vanilla and coffee infused ice cream, with salted caramel and damsons.  I’m not a coffee drinker, although I often eat coffee flavoured cake, but I’m not sure that I’ve tried coffee ice cream before, and it was delightful.  The salted caramel really lifted the dish and the damsons were full of rich, autumnal flavour.

pears growing against a wallAfter lunch we went on a tour of the kitchen garden and the farm.  As we went round it became clear that vegetables are now at the heart of the River Cottage philosophy.  I think a lot of people associate River Cottage with meat or fish, but it’s moved on to bring vegetables to the heart of things.  After all River Cottage is all about sustainability and making the best use of things, so vegetables are key.  Even within vegetables some produce is makes a lot more sense than others.  Food fashion fads like micro-greens can be wasteful of seeds and soil resources, so when you are trying to feed large numbers of people sustainably they just don’t make sense.  River Cottage HQ is no longer self-sufficient in terms of fruit and vegetables grown, but they do as much as they can themselves and then source as locally as possible.

river cottage pigsThe stars of the garden and farm tour were the very friendly pigs. They looked so happy and well cared for.  The same was true of the chickens.  River Cottage rears animals for the table and makes good use of all parts of the pig (or other animal), which I think is a very respectful way to farm.  If the pigs taste as good as the Dexter Beef that we had at lunch time, I’m sure there will be many visitors that agree.  In fact, it’s the Pig in a Day course that is beckoning me back to River Cottage.  I think I’ll be doing making sausages before long.

Heading To River Cottage

Hugh cookbooksWhen I first heard about the Foodies100 event at River Cottage I was so excited.  It sounded perfect for me.  Over the years I’ve watched the TV programmes and followed Hugh’s culinary adventures.  As you can see from this little selection from our bookshelf, we have a lot of the cookbooks too.  The River Cottage Meat Book and the Fish Book are real staples in our house.  They get consulted whenever we try anything different with fish or meat.

Canteen AxminsterGoing back to 2011 we were staying on the Dorset coast for a holiday.  As it happened it coincided with my birthday and for my birthday meal that year we went to the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster.  We popped along at lunchtime, as we had our son with us, and found it a real breath of fresh air.  Great food served in a friendly way.  There were no stiff white tablecloths and we felt very at home there with a 4-year-old in tow.  The food was great too: interesting, high quality and nicely presented.

Since then I’ve been promising myself a trip to either the Canteen again or maybe to River Cottage HQ to do one of their food courses.  I haven’t got around to managing it yet, but I’m thinking the trip I’m going on this week might prove to be inspiration.  A car load of food bloggers are heading down from the Midlands to meet up with other food bloggers from all over the country. We’ll be learning about making bread and making butter (really interested by that).  There’ll be lunch of course – I am looking forward to that.  Then there’s food photography in the afternoon.  Then back in the car for the long drive home.  It sounds like the perfect day.

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