Tag Archives: food

Healthy Eating and Exercise

I think it’s fair to say that I’m a bit of a fitness freak. I go climb once a week for upwards from 3 hours; during term time, Guy and I do archery twice a week; we attend the aforementioned double salsa classes; and we also have a more-or-less weekly run of about 5km.

Sometimes, this isn’t enough. My entire quota of films/TV comes from shoving something on whilst I do starjumps (20 minutes to an hour), bunny hops (sets of 100) or pull weights for a while. Usually for the duration of the film.

So I think it’s reasonable that I wasn’t sure how to up my exercise regime to get fit for my dress. However, my weight fluctuates a lot – by up to about three quarters of a stone either way. Whilst I didn’t need to “lose” weight as such, I wanted to make sure that I was at the slimmest end of my natural healthy range come the wedding day.

When I had my dress fitting, I was at the top of my weight range, and the hook and eye popped off – awful! So I was even more determined to be happy with my weight come the wedding.

So it was going to have to be food.

I love food.

You already know that: food at the wedding was important, but eating well in the weeks leading up to the wedding was also important: partly for keeping us in shape, but also for keeping us healthy, perky, alert. So whilst I put us on a diet, it wasn’t a lose fat diet, it was a healthy eating diet. I even decided we should lay off beer as much as possible; Guy was very sad about this, but at least he could have a gin and tonic or a glass of wine to cheer himself up.

I learnt about calorie counting. I learnt about calorie counting. By counting average days, I discovered I was only eating between 1300 and 1800 calories a day plus drinks. This was an interesting discovery.

So I thought a lot about the foods we ate and made some select changes. For example, I bought some brown spaghetti, cooked chips in the oven, rather than frying the potatoes; steamed things rather than boiled (I usually do a mixture of both) and reduced cheese, whilst increasing spinach. I made “healthy” snacks, so that we’d be eating homemade cereal bars at 85 calories each (less than a medium apple) instead of crisps or chocolate – yet feeling like we’d got our sweet fix. After meals, we’d have one chocolate each (or two shared) from a chocolate box, rather than a big pudding.

I looked for alternatives to bread. Bread is about 119 calories a slice + 25 if it’s buttered, and can also cause bloating, making you look bigger than you are. I reduced the amount of bread I was eating and had more crackers, wraps and other alternatives.

We also ate lots of soup. Soup without bread has very few calories in it because the bulk of it is water, so it’s filling, but mostly low-calorie, high-vitamin vegetables. I got some recipe books out and got creative with flavours.

Here are some pictures of yummy dishes we had – just to show you that healthy eating can be fun.

A great supplement to a healthy diet is two cups of green tea a day. It’s a mild laxative and clears out your gut, so you look less bloated, feel lighter and more energetic, and drop a few pounds in weight. Don’t drink 20 cups a day thinking you will get thinner and thinner though: that’s not how it works. On the other hand, it’s very high in caffeine and as such is a good addition to the diet if you have a busy or active lifestyle.

Vitamins and minerals are also good. I upped my taking until, the week before the wedding, I was taking daily doses. Guy wasn’t keen, so I offered him energy vitamin supplements which dissolve to form an odd-flavoured fizzy drinks; I used to use them before exams. In that last week I did my starjumps/bunny hops every day – just a few of them, but enough to feel I was doing what I could, that I was ready.

On the day before the wedding we were, of course, fairly busy, but we deliberately build in some relaxing time: a session at the hotel’s swimming pool and saunas, which was relaxing and didn’t feel like exercise at all. It was also especially nice because we bumped into Abby, who used to be my babysitter: Guy was particularly pleased to meet her before the wedding and individually: there were so many people on the day!


Another Slice of Cake

We decided to make our own cake toppers. After several abortive efforts with icing, we decided to have non-edible ones, which we could make them well in advance of the wedding! To make an “adventure” cake, we also had some confetti on top, mini champagne bottle candles (with the wick cut off the top) and Little Guy was punting whilst Little Rowena was climbing!

Here they are:

Little Guy

Little Rowena

Little Iris!

These were made out of fimo modelling clay, which you mould with and afterwards bake in the oven to make it go hard (and Little Guy was fixed with superglue, after one of the cherubs snapped his arm off). If you want to know more about how I modelled them, there is a tutorial here.

The cake stand was designed to look like Oxford English Dictionaries, on theme with Oxford! Here is the inspiration picture –


And the finished article


We made this out of blue and black ringbinders with polystyrene down the middle and cardboard with a “book page” pattern stuck on top. We decorated the spine using silver pens (and mimicking the spines of OEDs) and a wax stamp we made ourselves out of a piece of wood with a wood burning tool.

Polystyrene mess




To make sure the stand could take the cake, we overestimated it’s weight and tested it using a pile of recipe books! The books are piled upon the scales, which rests upon the stand, so we increased the test weight by the weight of our scales (unknown for obvious reasons). It was a really good test for assuring us our construction was stable!

A Piece of Cake

We were determined to make our own cake.

I know what everyone says – that it’s too hard and too much work close to the day (especially if, like us, you want sponge not fruit). That we’ll just end up stressed. But I continued to read about other brides making their cake, and I really really wanted to.

We couldn’t believe the costs of cake, and I wasn’t convinced that any were that good (knowing how long they left them out, and trying a few samples). We didn’t want “meh” cake: we wanted excellent cake.

When I am stressed, I bake. I baked all the way through my exam revision (much to the delight of my housemates). My cooking style is high speed and manic, so people often think I’m stressed. I’m not. I translate internal stress into physical actions: I create things, and creating takes the stress away. What better thing to be doing on the lead up to the wedding! And furthermore it would be something we would do together, we could work together on in the lead up to the day. Because that’s important, and when you’re organising a big event, “you (pl)” time is not necessarily on the cards.


Here are some pictures of our trials.

After extensive research, and the subjecting of many innocent people to lots of cake testing, we decided on our four layers:

We had 11inch, 9inch, 7inch and 5inch tins from TK Max and bought dowels and boards from Halstead Icing. We made the cake boxes ourselves with tape and cardboard (Tom had to remake one because I had underestimated originally).

The chocolate raspberry port cake was especially popular during the trials. I put some on the table and everybody took a polite share. Then I said I had more, put out some extra, and it was seized!

For completeness, I include my recipes (to scale) here. Each of these recipes have been tried and tested, with different quantities of ingredients and methods to get the softest, yummiest sponge that keeps okay for a couple of days.

Victoria Sponge

For the whole cake (mixture should be halved so that the two halves may be stuck together):

150g sr flour
150g soft margarine
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
Vanilla essence

180°C/Gas Mark 4

Sticky Rum and Vanilla Pudding

For each half of the cake:

100g sr flour
100g soft margarine
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
Vanilla essence
Rum flavouring
100g of crushed walnuts (or walnuts and flaked almonds)

Overall topping
125g clear honey
250g caster sugar
200ml water

180°C/Gas Mark 4

Put all the syrup ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon.

Limoncello Indulgence

For each half of the cake:

150g sr flour
150g soft margarine
150g caster sugar
40g dessicated coconut
1½ lemons (grated rind)
3 eggs
1½ tbs milk

Overall topping
3 tbs caster sugar
3 lemons (juice)
Limoncello to taste

180°C/Gas Mark 4

Cook for 45 minutes and allow to cool for ~5 minutes before lifting from the tin.
Mix and warm the sugar and lemon juices, make holes in the top using a fork and cover spoonwise.

Raspberry Chocolate Port Cake

For each half of the cake:

200g of cooking chocolate
2 port glass full of port – combine in Henry
150g butter/margarine

2 punnet of pureed raspberries

4 egg yolks
12 tbs sugar – combine

4 tbs sugar
4 egg whites – beat together

COMBINE ALL + 12 tbs sr flour

165°C/Gas Mark 3


Only Part 1
electric whisk
big tins
1 port glass
a small grater
a lemon squeezer
a cup
a rolling pin

All/Only Part 2
2 mixing bowls
small tins
bowl scraping out tools
butter knife
pastry brush
table spoon
a small, non-stick pan
a wooden spoon
weighing scales
pestle and mortar (if nuts are whole)

NB. an extra 2 eggs are needed to use the white for sticking on the ribbon.
Henry is my pyrex measuring jug. His real name is Henry III.

Making the real thing:


I get the impression a few people were on tenterhooks as I updated my facebook status on the amount of cake we had produced. On the Thursday before the wedding, we did the chocolate and lemon layers, then we did the top two at Cecily’s the day after.

The lemon layer did collapse a bit – and I realise I should have shaved off the tops to make them sit less wonkily together. We had the top two layers removed before the breakfast as the lemon layer was so bad! So we cut a somewhat dimished cake. But – here is the final thing!


And post-accident:

Again, I don’t have any pictures of the cake being served and eaten, but it looked very exciting being circulated on massive round trays with an assortment of colours. Guy and I had some of all four layers and took a massive leftover piece of the rum layer on honeymoon, which was consumed for lunch on the Eurostar the next day! Guy’s dad also managed to wing an extra slice, and was very pleased with himself about it!

As had always been my priority, the cake was delicious. Guy said afterwards how pleased he was that we had done it: as it was displayed and as we watched it go out and everybody tuck in, we could think, “We made that. We did that.” So even a wonky, tumble-cake was so worth the effort, and I would urge anybody considering it to have a go!

And if you will, here are a few tips! …

– Test your oven many times to see ‘how’ it cooks your cake. We made the top two layers at Cecily’s and just had to trust her oven – luckily it was amazing (and these were the least risky layers by composition and size! – and we had time for repeats).

– Give yourself times for repeats!

– Don’t put the icing on your cake when it is still warm, even if you’re struggling for time. This is what I did with the lemon layer aiding it’s collapse. It will mostly be fine, but the weight may be too much for delicate sponges at this stage

– Test putting together layers in advance (we should have done this)

– Skim off the rounded top of your cake (don’t just try to squash it a bit) to help them stack better

– Talk to a good cake shop person and get advice and ideas

– Test the stand can hold the weight of your cake (we had fun with this)

– Try your recipes lots to get an idea of variation

– Get lots of help. Guy and I had Tom for the first ones and Cecily and Tom for the second ones

– Buy LOTS of icing. We had 1.5kg left over (we bought 5kg)

– Enjoy it! Everyone loves cake!


Finding a caterer was stressful and difficult; we had wanted choice, but in a way, we had too much choice. The Town Hall had traditionally used Fosters in-house caterers, but from 2012 they were going to have a preferred list: so we could essentially seek out the caterer of our dreams and ask them if they were happy with them.

…There are a lot of caterers in Oxfordshire.

Contacting all, filtering them and asking for quotes is a lengthy, boring and complicated process, especially when they all have their own expertise which they want to show off and were convinced that packages were the way forward.


Unfortunately, I had very specific ideas what I wanted, but am abysmal at saying no, so I tended to say maybe and then run away to hide.

My specific demands:

– I once ate a very nice cheese pate at St Hugh’s formal. Three years after eating it, I finally plucked up the courage to email the catering manager, and the chef sent me his recipe – nice man. I really wanted this as a starter: Guy loves his cheese, and I wanted it to be veggie so everyone had the same.

– It seems to be a Somerville “thing” to serve desserts or sorbet palate cleansers containing blackcurrant. I rather like blackcurrant, and had the idea of a Cassis sorbet palate cleanser between the starter and the main. And Somerville was where we met and where we fell in love…

– Most importantly of all, the vegetarian and meat main courses much be thematically and visually similar.

If the veggie had risotto, the meaties had risotto. You can do versions of any dish. Even chunks of meat may be replaced with battered veg, nut roasts or mixed vegetable ‘things’.

This is particularly important to me because whenever I’ve been to a set menu event, I get something completely different and comparatively crap looking to everybody else, with which I cannot even mix the side veg served to the table – at least not tastily! This always leaves me feeling disappointed and left out, not to mention the fact that the vegetarian dish is usually served well in advance or well after the meat, so that either my food is cold, theirs is, or we’re not eating together. This upsets me and I wanted everyone to feel equally special and included at our wedding.

For similar reasons, I made sure blackcurrant sorbets and elderflower fizz for toasts were available to those who didn’t drink alcohol. I labelled which layers of cake had alcohol in them and made sure there were alcohol-free and chocolate-free layers for those with these restrictions, asked for some non-chocolate sweets to be served with the coffee and didn’t serve fish (we didn’t have any vegans or nut-allergies).

– I wanted to serve our cake for dessert.

You wouldn’t believe the fuss we encountered over the main course! If I hadn’t been a keen cook myself, I might have believed the caterers who made such a hoo-ha that this

wasn’t sensible
couldn’t be done in budget
was unreasonable
was unnecessary
was something we didn’t understand

I didn’t cave. I had no pretentions to being the kind of bride who would be too excited to eat: I would eat. And as the most expensive part of the wedding day, and essentially a gift to our guests, I felt entitled to have my concern heard and not to be bullied by my caterers. This was discrimination: mild, unintentional discrimination though it may be.

If the objection had been to using the recipe for the starter, I would have been disappointed and moved on, but instead I spent many a sleepless night, and cried several times on Guy’s shoulder.

We also went through a ‘haggling situation’ with Lamb Caterers.

We were going to book them, but in the end pissed us off too much. You see, their price was overbudget, (advised expectations of around £30 per head are laughable for any served sit-down meal in Oxfordshire – and I wanted it to be like formal hall!) so naturally we tried to negotiate it down…


Neither of us are great hagglers, so we focussed our efforts on making compromises and cuttingthings out: dessert, glassware, chocolates, doing a family style serving to each table rather than individuals. And you know what happened?

They put the price up.

Every time we negotiated with them we cut something else out, asked for a re-quote and the price increased. We were getting stressed. We now didn’t have all of the things we had originally wanted and we were afraid to ask for anything else to be reduced or skipped because the price would probably, inexplicably, increase. Whenever Guy tried to insist that we wanted to reduce the cost, they made him feel like an idiot. Time was ticking and I was worried that if we didn’t book soon we wouldn’t be able to get a caterer for our date.

Cue sleepless nights and crying in Guy’s arms.

Guy decided he had had enough. He returned to the drawing board and started looking for a new caterer. This time he ended up hunting on Guides for Brides and contacted several new possibilities. Three replied (many don’t bother to reply).

Of these, two were out of our price range, uninterested and unimpressed by the main course proposal.

And the other one was Cathy from Wrighton’s.

Hi Guy,

I have looked at the recipe for the starter and that’s no problem at all, I am away for the weekend but I’ll put a few ideas together next week and e-mail them to you, once you’ve had a look through and given it a bit of thought perhaps we can have a chat either on the phone or I can come to you… At the moment the most obvious ideas that are coming to mind are things like Beef and mushroom in red wine with a hint of horseradish with a root vegetable medley in a similar red wine sauce or perhaps something with a morrocan feel, I do a mean butternut squash and sweet potato tagine, which we can easily do a carnivore version of with the addition of chicken, or lamb.

Sorbet will not pose any difficulty.

As I say I’ll do some ideas and some number crunching and send something on next week.

Thanks again


I was immediately impressed that a caterer, a butcher-based caterer no less, had ventured on suggesting making similar meat and veggie dishes by putting meat in a veggie dish. This woman knew about food; she could think about it from different perspectives. Most amazing of all, she had ideas: she wanted to come up with ideas, and she readily took to the challenge of our main with excitement and enthusiasm – so very different from all the other caterers!

We were over the moon.

We discussed things with her a bit more and waited anxiously for the quote. It came – oh… it was only just shy of Lamb’s starting quote – but! Wait! Hang on a minute! Lamb had quoted ex VAT. Wrighton’s quoted inc VAT. It was a substantially better deal!

And so we booked with Wrighton’s.


And now my frustrated rantings transform, as if by magic, into excited ravings: because Cathy really is that good.

I’m sorry, good? FANTASTIC.

We had a phone call with her, and it truly was one of the most exciting parts of the wedding planning. Why? Because Cath made us feel special, she made us look forward to our Wedding Breakfast and she showed keenness and enthusiasm and dedication to our plans. Nothing was too much for her. She gave us advice, ideas and included us in the synthesis. It was thrilling.

Talking to her, I felt a weight had been lifted from us; and I had complete and utter confidence in everything she was in change of!

She also offered to lay out the tables for us – a great relief for our ushers. In order to make things as easy for her as possible, I put together little table “packs” which were delivered to the Town Hall the day before.


We told Cathy all kinds of things we liked to eat and she constructed a beautiful main dish to go with the rest of the meal. Here is the final choice (look how pretty it is with the pastry meshing!):

And menu:

Apple and Wensleydale Pate with melba points, accompanied by mixed leaves, walnut oil and red onion marmalade.

Blackcurrant and Creme de Cassis Sorbet

Confit of Duck or A Troop of Mushrooms and Walnut Wellingtons
complimented by a Sauce of Port, Redcurrant and Oranges, Baby Potatoes with Butter and Fragrant Rosemary, Garden Peas and Assorted Caramelised Root Vegetables

Wedding Cake

Coffee and Tea with after dinner mints

The real thing was not to be sniffed at either – totally delicious and beautifully presented – we were not disappointed! Here is another beautiful picture of our food:

(we don’t actually have that many, so if anyone had any more of it being served, eaten or presented, I’d be most grateful to see them)

In addition, when the caterers came to serve our (4 tiered, 4 flavoured) cake, one of the waitresses came and asked me which I would like, or whether I would like a little of all four layers (yes please!) and whether I could make a decision on my husband’s behalf (he would like all four too)! This was a really lovely touch, and Guy was very pleased and excited when he was suddenly brought 4 pieces of cake, for we had been circulating the room speaking with our guests, and the cake got to him before I did!

Even more touching was Cath bringing me the cork from the first bottle of champagne they opened split with a 50 pence piece. She had tears in her eyes.

Here is my review. It doesn’t cut it, of course, but it was the best concise construction I could come up with:

Cathy Steer and her team provided an invaluable service for our wedding in May.

They offered a good price, quoted VAT inclusive with no hidden costs and flexible deadlines and were easy to communicate with.

Cathy demonstrated an unrivalled enthusiasm for food and eagerness to meet challenges and create a menu to our personal requirements.

Presentation was flawless and the food stunningly delicious: we continue to receive compliments from our guests.

Timings were excellent, staff friendly, attentive and thoughful and the team went beyond the contract to provide additional support and make the day stress free.

I do not believe you could find make their match.

Recipe for Chocolate Dipping Sauce

Using a rolling pin, crush one 100g bar of plain chocolate, still packaged. Open the package and empty into a pyrex measuring jug. Boil ~3 cups full of water and pour into a deep pan. Stand the measuring jug in the pan over the heat so that the water comes about halfway up the side. Add 1 rounded dessert spoonful of margarine or butter. Stir as the chocolate melts.

Dip another dessert spoon in the boiling water for about 20 seconds and then use the hot spoon to add 2 or 3 big dessert spoonfuls of golden syrup. The hot spoon should mean the syrup glides off easily.

When the mixture is smooth and uniform, leave to cool. The sauce is good hot or cold: whilst it thickens on cooling, it should not set (unless you haven’t added enough golden syrup) and can always be reheated.

The Proposal

Marriage had never been something I aimed for or aspired to – I always imaged I’d get engaged sitting on the sofa with my long-term partner and father of my children, after a long, sensible conversation weighing up the pros and cons. Probably when about 40 years old (I’m 23). I had never imagined getting married before having children, and I had certainly never imagined a whirlwind romance.

I was to be surprised.

…And so was he!

Our first date had been a pub lunch at the Gardener’s Arms – and there were many more to follow. Both of us are very fond of good food and drink, and I am an enthusiastic cook: cooking is my way of winding down.

I had already introduced Guy (very stickily) to my homemade chocolate truffles, and now I promised to make him some of my amazing chocolate dipping sauce. We bought some strawberries and profiteroles to dip, and some cheesy crackers (not to dip!); Guy picked up a bottle of Cava; we took a towel – and went for a picnic in the University Parks.


We settled in a quiet spot, hidden by the trees, and lounged upon our towel, full of food and bubbly. It was unreasonably warm and light: a lazy, idyllic day. Guy sat on his knees, and pulled me into his arms. He told me once again that he loved me, tried to express why, how much, how I was every part of his future.

And then he said –

“In fact, will you marry me?”

I sat up. I said,

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” he said, “I -”

I don’t think either of us remember what he said next: it was babble; he was trying to justify himself and at the same time come to grips with [i]what he had just said[/i], realising that he had meant it.

And a moment later, I knew that I was serious too – I interrupted him: “Yes!” I breathed.

BAM. We are now engaged!


Over the next few days I thought about it a lot, and gradually came to terms with what had happened. I was terrified that I would change my mind, and realise I had moved with the feelings of the moment, but the opposite occurred: the more I thought about it, the more right it felt, the more everything in my life fell into place.

I was going to marry Guy Fletcher-Wood.

Falling in Love

We had our first date at the Gardener’s Arms – an exclusively vegetarian pub and Guy’s choice. I bought the cider, and he paid for the food.


I remember being so nervous – because it was so important to me to be “good enough” for him, just like Oxford. I agonised over what to wear, not wanting to look like I was trying too hard, nor be too sloppy and casual. I’d never been like this before – what had happened to me?

When Guy kissed me, he had done something to me – intoxicated and absorbed me so powerfully and unfamiliarly that if it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t’ve believed it could. I thought of him all the time. I yearned to be with him, to speak to him, to see him, to touch him again. It was like a madness. In many ways, it still is…

…In science terms, what happened was a massive hormone rush. If you’re genetically compatible with someone, you’ll like their smell because of the pheromones they release. And kissing Guy was a massive pheromone green light for me.


In the first week of our relationship we were with each other most of the time. He taught me to relax, and helped me sleep. He asked me what I believed about marriage, and whether I wanted children. I taught him some of my own made-up language, Epidict. We punted, pub-crawled and played drinking games with ‘the Cherubs’:


I would come back from lectures at 11, buy muffins from Hall to use up my dinner credit, and then swing by his house (sometimes I would hide chocolate muffins round their kitchen and living room). If he wasn’t at his window I would ring the doorbell, and if he didn’t hear the doorbell I would ring his phone, and if his phone was off because he was still in bed, I would climb up the kitchen extension, squeeze my arm to the shoulder through the small top window, open the big window from inside, climb in over the oven and go up to his bedroom door to knock.


A lot of people would find that creepy, but Guy was pushing the relationship forwards as fast as I was. And we went at breakneck speed.

At the end of the first week he rolled over in bed, looked into my eyes and said very solemnly, “I love you”.

And I knew I loved him too.

But once again, something very strange happened to me – something out of my control: I started shaking. I tried to speak, to say, “I love you too”, but I was shaking so much I couldn’t enunciate it. He held me, and tried to calm me, and eventually I subsided and was able to give him my very important message.