Stop the world, get off the ride.

Why the radio silence for the past three weeks? If you follow me on social media you might have gotten an idea, not that much was there either, but essentially I just got off the ride. 

It's not something I've written about much, but like a lot of bloggers out there I have my mental health issues. Not wanting to seem like another bandwagon jumper or anything like that, and given that before they were pretty much managed and under control it didn't "come up" as such. I wasn't in treatment, I was doing good, except for the whole social phobia. Famous last words really, turned out they came up and bit my ass with a vengeance! So, in the words of the doctor I got off the ride for a few weeks to sort myself out. No work, no nothing really except some baking and lots of Pokemon Go. No sleep either, that one was not the most fun. 

Sometimes getting off the ride is the best thing you can do. I mean, truthfully, my shit is not fixed by any means, but taking a break from everything gets you out of the stream you get dragged through day to day and lets you sort out what you need. There's no flow that is pulling you along, you get off the journey that seems like a never ending swirl of work-home-sleep (or lack of) and really chill and work out what the glitch is that got you into that state again. Have you had this? It's one of those things that I think makes you feel like a failure - you've done this before you should have seen it coming or if you did, should have nipped it in the bug first. I guess that can be even harder to do though. 

A holiday is great but, maybe its me, there is almost a pressure to make the most of a holiday right? When you crumble badly, like I have been, you need to take time but, well this sort of thing isn't a holiday, its a reset. Stop the system, reboot the drive and figure out what went wrong or what was missing. Evaluate and reassess, make the changes you need to make to make you, well to make you "you" again. So maybe you might notice a few changes to stuff, because like all things I did my thinking about all of this too. For starters, you might have noticed that etsy shop is back at the top. I guess what I'm saying is it might be becoming a slightly different fairground now, but hopefully you guys still enjoy the rides. 

On the Rocks - Sloe Vanilla Rum

This is something that has been a permanent fixture on my drinks shelf for a few years now, always at least one bottle in reserve. Now its coming up to Sloe season again I thought it was time to drag it from the back of the shelf and remind everyone of its loveliness. Gin is great, but sometimes you need something different.

It's glorious, with a taunting ruby red colour and, something about it that reminds me of overly thick cordials as a kid. Not the best description but think schnapps in its sweetness, rather than the lightness of a flavoured gin.

Sloe Vanilla Rum

1 standard bottle of white rum (I used value brand)
600g Sloe berries, frozen overnight
250g Vanilla sugar
250g White sugar

In an old fizzy drink bottle (easiest in my experience to store) mix the frozen berries, rum and sugars. Shake every now or then until the sugar is dissolved. Then store somewhere dark, shaking once a week.

On principle I do not decant for 3 months any fruit booze, but I like flavour to punch me in the face. If you prefer a milder flavour you don't need to wait that long. A month will give you a lighter flavour - open the bottle and sample a bit if you are desperate, but I give it three months at least. If I have more than one bottle the others generally don't get drained off until I need to do it.

Adding the berries frozen saves pricking each berry and opens up the skins so you get the great colour.

8 of the best spots in Patagonia

I've been busy gallivanting lately, so please enjoy this guest post. This guest post is written by Frank Lee, he works at Rebateszone, you can follow him @franklee84

Patagonia is a region in southern South America between the Andes and the South Atlantic. It is shared between Chile and Argentina. The area has great geographical diversity relative to its size – there are deserts, grasslands, as well as mountains and steppes and the island of Tierra del Fuego, is often considered a part of Patagonia as well. The population in the area is extremely sparse with less than 2 people in a square kilometer.

The people who see the region in only pictures agree that it looks wild but something they would want to enjoy themselves as well. Anyone who plans to cover the area will have to spend his time hitchhiking and this will lead to the discovery of dozens of glaciers and remote villages which are spread all over the area. There are few places which can leave as memorable an impression as Patagonia.

Cerro Tronador

This trek is located at the northern gateway to Patagonia on the outskirts of Bariloche, Argentina. The distance one would need to cover in order to get to this place is nearly 18 kilometers but it is one of the very few glaciers where you can truly enjoy the breathtaking view of the sunrise. When the glacier melts, small pools and lakes form on top of the rocks. The sunlight reflected by the water in these small temporary pools is a sight to behold.

Chaitén’s Haunting Beach

Have you ever wanted to be at a peaceful place with no one to disturb you in the vicinity where you have all the time in the world for introspection and to think over things you would never find the time elsewhere in your hectic life? If the thought of this sounds fascinating to you then Chaitén’s Haunting Beach should definitely be high in your places to visit in Patagonia. A volcano had erupted in the area in 2008 which burned nearly everything, now the houses buried and ash and eerie remains of the trees adorn the beach. The ash covered beach has attractions of its one and the sunset is extremely unique.

Puyuhuapi’s Bay

Puyuhuapi is a small town on the Chilean side of Patagonia which exists between steep cliffs along the Carretera Austral. The small size of the town makes it a very quiet place which mostly consists of a few small farms, a few campsites, and boats which line the shore. The calm water exudes a sense of tranquility which is very uncommon in the busy lives we’re used to living now. There are ample opportunities to go on fishing or a long walk in the middle of the best that nature has to offer.

Puerto Madryn

There are many places for whale watching in Patagonia but there is no doubt that Puerto Madryn is the best of them all. The water in the area is warm and the enclosed waters are some of the most suitable areas for the breeding of whales. The best time to visit this area in Patagonia is between June and December though. There are trips arranged by many companies for whale-watching which last for nearly an hour and a half on average.

The Marble Caves

The town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo is made famous by these Marble Caves which have been carved out by clear blue lake water and many of these caves are big enough to allow a boat to pass through which gives visitors the chance to see the exquisite formations in a range of colors. This is surely one of the best places to visit in the area. One thing to keep in mind is to have warm waterproof jackets on which you can get at a discounted price from Groupon.

Paleontology Museum Patagonia

Patagonia is an extremely interesting region as it has not just served to humans but to dinosaurs as well. Nearly 1700 fossil remains of plants and animals found in the region are exhibited in the museum and some of which are dated to the age of nearly 40 million years. Not only is the museum an important place to see dinosaur remains in Patagonia but there is a dinosaur route in the northwest of Patagonia which is the place paleontologists believe is a home to the remains of a multitude of beasts.

Condor Lookout

The Condor lookout is a great place to view the sun as it rises. It is located just above El Chaltén and an early morning hike is a great way of reaching the place. The tiring hike will seem worthy of the effort when you see the mountains turn red when the sun hits them.

Refugio Dickson

Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile is considered the crown jewel of Patagonia. It is something of great pride for the residents of Chile and the reasons for this pride become very obvious as soon as you enter the national park. Refugio Dickson is the most beautiful part of the national park and the most tranquil campsite if one ever exists.

Don't know about you guys but I'm ready to pack! 

On the Rocks - Juno Temple

Sometimes a cocktail needs to be a bit vanilla, that is without the booze. The Shirley Temple is the classic example of the virgin cocktail - Ginger ale, Grenadine and with a luminous cherry on top. Good old Shirley has gone through some changes in the 80 odd years since its inception, some people now add orange juice - which makes it a little less sugary sweet. I opted for that version, and also to ditch the cherry. Move over Shirley. , this lady is a bit more 20th century, and given that its almost the colour of her coppery locks, this needed to be known as the Juno Temple.

You Will Need

Collins Glass
3 shots of orange juice
6 shots of ginger ale
1 shot of grenadine
an orange slice

Construction Technique

Fill a Collins glass with ice. Mix the orange juice and ginger ale together, then pour into the glass. Pour over the the grenadine, letting it settle into the "sunset" look. Garnish with an orange slice. I opted to do this long, over ice, but it could work equally well in a martini glass or in some other fancy glass if you like.

I actually really liked this. I'm not an orange juice person but if I'm out and not drinking a St Clements (orange and lemonade) is my usual go to in the pub to avoid that caffeine. This is similar, but the ginger is a nice almost spicy touch, Also has the vibe of a proper drink - definitely not just for kids.

Things I'm hoping for next season in Game of Thrones

Anyone who knows me knows I am a rabid fan of all things Westerosi. I've been reading the books now since 1999, so we are talking about one of the longest relationships of my life. Certainly longer running than my relationship. It was actually one of the first things I insisted the hubby do - read the first book and tell me what he thought. Kind of like the test George gave HBO, only much more important.

Season six of Game of Thrones was great, not least because I got some new info for the first time since A Dance of Dragons came out. Of course, some of it I was expecting - Jon's parentage, the fate of Benjen not the least of it but others were certainly jaw-on-the-floor moments. I was expecting Cersei to do what she did eventually, but that one had me slack-jawed for a fair while last week! No such luck this morning however, no new episode and its looking like there won't be one for over a year now, what with it being winter in Westeros now. I have my hopes for the future, for the things that will happen next.. we know Dany will land with her army, but I'm hoping for a few other bits. I have my theories

The Blackfish isn't dead.

Hear me out on this one. We saw no body. This is possibly one of the most gore-heavy show on TV and they didn't show the body. In fact, if you think about it, they spent more time talking about how there was no big fight that killed the Blackfish as he tried to escape, than it would have taken to show him getting stabbed in the back and killed or however they wanted to play it. In the books he escaped, and while I know the show has diverged from them a lot, I think they might keep this one. Rule one of Westeros, never trust when they just say someone is dead, not until you see the corpse. Sometimes not even then.

Jaime will be revealed as the Valonqar, and will kill Cersei

The prophesy that tells of Cersei's death says specifically

".. the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you."

Jaime is her little brother - the translation of valonqar - being that he was the second born twin. His face when he saw what she had done to kings landing, and that she caused the death of their son, solidified the theory in my head that he is the one that kills her. More proof - you think she is letting Tyrion that close to actually strangle her? Hell no, but Jaime she would, and more importantly Jaime and her would have "private time" so he would have opportunity.

Sam is going to find something potentially explosive in the Citadel

I am not talking about wildfyre, but potentially as dangerous, and this one is based on something in the books. There are comments made that lend to the idea that the maesters had something to do with the end of dragons, and maybe there is something a little sinister going on. It is also said that Rhaegar read something that made him decide he needed to be a fighter, and a lot gets spoken of a lost book of prophesies written by a Targaryen before they came to Westeros. So there are a few little eggs that George left in the books. If any are actually important, the answer is going to be in that gargantuan library.

Bran will bring down the wall

Something needs to bring down the wall, or the Night King cannot pass. Jon is between everyone else and the wall, and even if, say Dany, got up there I can't imagine it actually going down. It has to come from the other side. And, given that the Night King's mark on Bran's arm let them into the cave of the three-eyed-crow, it is likely that Bran crossing the wall will let him into Westeros too.

Tyrion will be revealed as the third head of the dragon

It's been really interesting seeing that pieces from the books that have been kept in the TV show. There are rumoured reveals to come that can never play out - be it due to character cuts or character deaths. And there are odd little bits of dialog that make it, like Tywin declaring to Tyrion "If I could prove you were not my son".

Tyrion dreams of dragons, his mother died in childbirth and the dragons didn't eat him. Tyrion's mother was Tywin's cousin, which covers him looking like Tywin. Aerys was also (according to the books) sexually obsessed with her. This is another one of those things where there is so much evidence in the books, and like Ned telling Jon "you have my blood" rather than "you are my son", it is all down to the phrasing used. Tywin can't prove it, but he does suspect something in my opinion, to say such a thing. Plus, I'd just love to see Dinklage on a dragon!

What are you hoping to see next season?

On the Rocks - The Vampire

Not every drink I've had so far has been exactly to my taste, despite what it might look like. The thing is, I know what I like - sweet fruity rum drinks, a good G&T or something fizzy I'm generally a happy bunny so I've stuck to those so far. But the point of this cocktail once a week thing wasn't just content - it was to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. So, only having had the classic martini and the Bond Vesper before, I figured I'd try something a bit different. I like lime, I like it with gin, so trying this little bloodsucker seemed like a good idea, and a nice way to break out the vermouth. 

This isn't some gauche vampire in a flowing cape with a bad accent, this guy is classy and sophisticated - a true count. I couldn't finish it, I'm not sure martini's and my palate mix, but it is definitely one in the suggestion box if someone comes over and says they like a martini. 

You Will Need

A martini glass
1 Shot dry vermouth
1 shot gin 
5 drops of fresh lime juice

Construction Technique

Another classis martini idea - pop everything in the shaker with ice and shake. Or stir if you want to be a rebel, Then strain into your martini glass. Dress with a slice of lime or a clove of garlic if you really want to rock the vampire idea.

Citrus Syrup Cake - two ways.

I have made so many different versions of this cake over the years, but these are two of my favourite ones. Its a nice, easy base recipe that can work with whatever you have in the kitchen, citrus wise.

For the Cake 

125g unsalted butter
175g sugar
2 large eggs
175g self raising flour
pinch of salt
4 tbsp of milk

For Limoncello Cake - Zest of 2 limes and ½ an orange
For Citrus Cake - Zest of 1 lime, 1 lemon and 1 orange

Firstly, as always, preheat your oven, and here we need it at 180⁰C. On the tin front, this works equally as well in the ever traditional loaf tin, or in a square tin for easy cutting into bite sized and waist saving portions. Line the bottom and sides with greaseproof paper.
Cream together the butter and sugar, then mix in the zest (whichever variant) before adding the eggs. Mix them well. Fold in the flour and salt until it’s all nicely mixed in, then add the milk. Spoon into the tin and bake for about 40-45 minutes or until  golden, risen in the middle and a knife/cake tester comes out clean. Usual rules apply.

While that's cooking away, work on your syrup.

The Syrups

For Limoncello syrup
100g icing sugar
juice of one lime
2tbsp Limoncello

For Citrus Syrup
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice  of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 orange
100g Icing Sugar 

Put the juice and icing sugar in a pan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Once the cake is done, leave it in the tin, but pierce it all over and bring the syrup to a bubble. This bit gets a little time sensitive here, but don’t worry, it sounds harder than it is. It's done as soon as the syrup starts to turn golden, so at that point remove it from the heat. This is when you add the Limoncello is you are using, it will take a bit of stirring to get it to mix but it does mix in fine. You don't want to burn off the booze after all!! 

Before it gets cool and thick and sticky, pour it over the pre-skewered cake. Leave the cake in the tin until it is cold, then turn out onto a plate. 

If you try this yourself, please leave your own review below!