Sunday, 10 December 2017

Laura's Much Requested Green Bean Casserole Recipe

Every year, at every festive event we throw or attend from November onwards, we are asked to bring one of my signature recipes - the runaway favourite dish from Thanksmases past, Green Bean Casserole. I know it's past Thanksgiving, but Christmas is still to come, which is a perfect opportunity to add this recipe to your family dinner. It is easy, delicious, and a side that we start talking about/looking forward to in like September, so for Brum Blogmas today (the brief is winter warmers, of which this definitely is one!) I thought I'd write down the recipe as I do it. Also, so I don't ever forget it, I'd be so upset!

I've done the recipe to serve 8 people, full disclosure I usually do double this, but it's because I feed like 14 people and want leftovers.

Laura's Slow Cooker Green Bean Casserole
Serves: 8
Takes 4 hours on high or 6 on low

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 large onion, diced (about 1/4 cup onion needed)
1 cup sour cream
6 400 gram cans of green beans, drained
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I use extra sharp)
1/2 cup Ritz crackers or similar, crumbled

Method:
1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter into a large pan over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth, cook for one minute.
2. Stir in the salt, sugar, onion, sour cream. Add green beans and stir to coat. Mix in half of the cheese.

3. Transfer the mixture to your slow cooker, pack and flatten top. Crumble Ritz crackers on top to cover, you're looking for about 1 cm cover. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, to cover the crackers.



4. Put lid on slow cooker and let cook for 4 hours on high, or 6 hours on low (I usually set it up in the morning on low!)



Enjoy!

See, it's pretty easy, but will have your friends/family coming back for seconds!

We have Thanksmas on today, cooking for 14 people (and three dogs in attendance!) - wish us luck, and leftovers, and follow our day and preparation on our Instagram Story!


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

10 Reasons To Visit Oslo, Norway!

If you follow us on Instagram you may have noticed that we recently spent a long weekend in Oslo, Norway. Thanks to some friends recently departing London for Norway's capital city we had a great excuse to make a quick trip over.

It would have been quicker had Brussels Airlines managed to get a flight on time but you can fly direct from London in a few hours. We went from Birmingham to Brussels to Oslo. We certainly wouldn't recommend Brussels Airlines if you can avoid it.

November is not the recommended time to visit Oslo, according to their tourist guides.They recommend summer where you can enjoy the stunning countryside for all it's glory, not cram all your sightseeing into the few hours of light that you get at this time of year. That didn't deter us though.

View from our friends apartment
For us it was perfect. Oslo was finishing it's roll out Christmas. The markets were in full swing, the building decorated and we even got to take part in a Santa greeting parade that involved getting a bag full of fruit, nuts, an advent calendar and a candle.

Oslo was feeling festive!

We also got super lucky with the weather. Our first day was cold, crisp and sunny. The blue sky was the perfect backdrop for the days activities. And the early unset was great for pictures over the fjord.

Our second was cold, misty and an ideal day for our Thanksgiving festivities that mainly involved eating. Although a chilly evening was lovely for wrapping up warm and exploring the Vinterland market in the centre of Oslo.

The third day was a mixed bag. We started the day under clear skies but my lunchtime the sky had turned a shade of grey and we had snow flurries on and off for most of the afternoon - amazing!

So with the weather summary sounding like a lot of places in late November here's what we managed to fit in and why you should visit Oslo.....

1) It's stunning - it's Nordic for sure, with houses in all shades of colour (although mainly blue, orange and yellow) dotted around the city, there is no uniformed design but you can tell you aren't in Europe. It reminded us a lot of Reykjavik in Iceland.

2) The city buildings are artwork in themselves or at the least the sides are. Building sides are covered in full sized paintings of all kinds of things. Flowers, people, creatures, landscapes. There is no rhyme or reason but it makes walking around interesting.


3) There are sculptures everywhere. Oslo has two well known sculpture parks but you don't need to visit them to see sculptures. You'll find them in parks, in the street, in shopping areas, in areas you'd least expect them - they pop up everywhere!

4) It's super easy to get around. If you purchase a metro pass (90 Norwegian Krone or £9 for 24 hours) you can hop on and off every mode of transport - metro, tram, bus and boat. Yep the boat across Oslo fjord can be taken at no extra cost. And is a MUST! The city is manageable enough that you  can cover a lot of it in 24 hours.

5) Okay so the fjords deserve it's own reason. Tranquil, beautiful and a great way to see all the islands that are home to Oslo residents summer houses. You can hop on and off to explore should you wish or do we what we did and spend the hour relaxing and enjoying the view from the water. In summer you can even hire a hot tub to float across the fjord.


6) Go high! So we mentioned that it's stunning but to really appreciate the city go high. You have a couple of options - the giant ski slope that provides amazing views on a clear day or the sculpture park in the woods that allows you stroll up high enough for a great view. We were lucky enough to be on the 14th floor of a tower block so got a great view from the couch.

The opera house is shaped like a ski slope but brave it for a great view of the harbourside
7) There is no shortage of things to do in any weather. Unlike the UK, Norway treats snow like any other weather - they grit constantly at this time of year so paths are safe to walk on with the right footwear (walking boots in our case). When it started snowing as we explored the Folk Museum it added to the experience rather than becoming dangerous.


If Folk Museums aren't your thing you could see 3 real life Viking Ships at the Viking museum, head to a number of art galleries, shop in the many, many shopping centres or find your way to a sculpture park. It would also be worth checking out the Opera House - built by the fjord front and looking like a giant ski slope. Or the Acker Brigen area that straddles the canal area and is home to lots of different outdoor activities (a screen showing Christmas films when we were there).

8) Norwegians are polite, unassuming folk. They don't like talking for no reason but ask then for help and advice and they will be happy to chat - and in fluent English! Having read about the 'Norwegian way' I am convinced I must have Nordic blood.

9) They LOVE hotdogs......cinnamon buns and other delightful bakery goods


10) The Trolls. Love them or hate them Oslo has embraced the troll as a symbol of the country. We weren't personally fans but they have a certain cute appeal....or so we're told. And you can find them in shops or just hanging around anywhere touristy.


One thing to note the rumours of Norway being expensive are true. Certainly the £ isn't strong BUT nothing is more than you would pay in London. Alcohol is expensive but if you plan ahead and pick some up at airport duty free in Oslo you can drink fairly cheaply. Also eating out you will struggle to find cheap eats - unless you really like hotdogs - but if you eat in for a meal a day you can limit your spend. We spent around £200 over 3 days.

A strange final point but there is also a lack of tourist trap shops. Not something worthy of note but it's not until you want to find a souvenir that you realise how hard that is in Oslo. Unless you want a troll or something with a moose on it or an expensive Norwegian jumper. Our choice of things that said 'Oslo' on to were limited to cups and hats. The airport does have a few more things on offer if you hold your nerve and wait till then.

So there you have it. We loved it. We'd love to go back in summer. But whatever season you go we're sure you'll find plenty to entertain you.



Sunday, 3 December 2017

Day In The Life 2017!

Way back when we did a day in life video about our days in London, you can check it out here:

This year we decided to take part in Blogmas and post as many times as possible in December on a number of different topics.

The first topic was 'Day In The Life' and we thought we'd combine a Facebook post that asked us to compare our life's nowadays to a year given to us by a friend. Here's how's things have changed.....


Sarah: 2001 vs 2017
So 2001 was before I had Facebook but this is the earliest pic I could find :)

Car
Then: VW Polo
Now: Toyota Yaris
Job:
Then: Student at Bournemouth University studying Retail Management
Now: Head of Relationship Management at Unicorn Training (eLearning & LMS provider)

Age
Then: 18
Now: 34

Relationship
Then: Single
Now: Married to the wonderful Laura

Living arrangement
Then: Sharing a hotel room as part of my student accommodation in Bournemouth
Now: A terraced house in Birmingham 

Pets
Then: None
Now: The lovely Bisbee

Was I happy?
Then: Absolutely not - I took a weekend job back in Reading so I could go home everything
Now: Absolutely, completely and utterly


Laura: 2011 vs 2017

Car
Then: Toyota Corolla (2nd hand and super old)
Now: Toyota Yaris

Job:
Then: Receptionist at a PR firm
Now: Office Manager at a training company

Age
Then: 23
Now: 29

Relationship
Then: Dating Sarah
Now: Married to the wonderful Sarah

Living arrangement
Then: A flat in Fulham over looking the Thames
Now: A terraced house in Birmingham 

Pets
Then: None
Now: The lovely Bisbee

Was I happy?
Then: Yes
Now: Yes
enjoying our day exploring Gloucester with friends

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

If You Wear Contact Lenses You Need To Read This!

This is a cautionary tale about the over wearing of contact lenses.

Now just to be clear this isn't a lecture this is an experience we went through recently that will forever be a lesson to us and anyone we know who wears contacts.

Laura and I both wear contact lenses. We have both over worn contact lenses. We've slept with them in, gone days without taking them out and never quite known when our month runs out for our monthly. In all honesty we broken all the rules.

Or should I say we did we in the past.

Earlier this year I had an eye infection that would not ease up. I took my contacts out and wore glasses for over week and nothing eased it. It wasn't until I got medicated eye drops and had another week wearing glasses that things started to improve. It scared me enough to make sure I take my contacts out every night and thoroughly wash the container. Thankfully I haven't suffered since.

Then I came across this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5033087/Why-NEVER-wear-contact-lenses-shower.html and it scared the life out of me so much that I forwarded it to Laura. Now the content of this is unpleasant! And I'm not sure how you shower without contacts if you are blind....I mean leg shaving requires sight! Nevertheless it is worth a read.

Anyway the article prompted an immediate reaction from Laura and her contacts that had been in for a week came out that evening.

A week of wearing glasses and Laura was ready to get her contacts back in - anyone else suffer with heavy glasses after a while?! Or start to miss peripheral vision?! It was Sunday morning and we were heading out for a dog walk with friends. On the drive over to the walk Laura started saying her contacts seemed cloudy - strange but not unusual, I thankfully had some contact lens solution and suggested rinsing them.

It made no difference and within the half an hour drive Laura's sight had become completely cloudy even without contacts. We were freaked but thought the fresh air might make a difference.


It didn't!

Some 3 hours later nothing was making a difference. The contacts were out and glasses back on but the vision was like being in a smokey kitchen. We rang 111 (UK non emergency healthcare line) and ran through the symptoms. They asked Laura to touch her chin to her chest, and if there was dizziness or blurriness, nothing gave them a clear indication of the problem and we told to get to A&E ASAP. In fact if I wasn't around they would have sent an ambulance.


We were freaked.

Arriving at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth hospital we headed into A&E and were greeted with a fairly empty waiting room. A doctor saw us within 40 minutes. Great we thought until all his eye tests proved inconclusive. He seemed more concerned about figuring out if the eyesight was deteriorating than addressing the cloudiness. We sat patiently as he called the Birmingham eye hospital and asked for their thoughts. The conclusion was that they needed to see her.

It was almost 9pm by this point and we got the car out of the £4.70 (how do hospitals get away with such rip off charges!!!!) car park and drove the 3 miles to the central Birmingham hospital. Our instructions were clear - check in at A&E and ask to be directed to the eye department.


On arrival a mentally disabled vulnerable adult was mid fist fight with a nurse (they really are heroes) and we stood patiently by waiting for our chance to cross and check in. From there we had more instructions.....to get to the eye department go down the long corridor, turn left, through the double doors, past the cash machine, take the exit doors to the right and cross the car park towards the red building!! Simple. Actually hell no! That car park was massive. There were no obviously red buildings at 9.30pm and no signs. The main path wound past bins and piled rubbished and ended in a yard. There were dozens of pathways and no obvious choices. We ended up in a delivery area. We found abandoned buildings. Buildings in complete darkness and just when we were giving up hope a small building with lights on in the far distance. That was the eye department. We had walked for 20 minutes!

We were seen as soon as we walked in and the Doctor was reassuring from the off. Sight was perfect - check. No obvious signs of degenerative disease - check. Macular degeneration stable (remember that story about Laura's eye developing a hole? It's here)- check.

A few tests more and a conclusion was given. Overuse of contacts has dried Laura's eyes so much that when she put her contacts in after a week they burnt the surface of her eye! THEY BURNT THE SURFACE! That cloudy/burnt kitchen was burnt eyeballs. There is no reason why it happened at that exact moment, it could have been the case the contact had been stored in wasn't clean. It could have been something on the lenses. It could have been bad luck. One thing was clear though, over wearing contacts dries out your eyes and leaves them susceptible to this. No matter how long you take them out for to give them a rest. It's all about how dry your eyes are.

It's 2 days later and the cloudiness has subsided, thankfully. Laura was prescribed lubricant drops that she finds eases the dryness and glasses are on for at least a week.

It was a horrible, horrible, frightening lesson but one that has made sure we will never take wearing contacts for granted again.

And nice to see hospitals embracing the gender neutral bathroom approach!



Friday, 3 November 2017

National Jigsaw Day!

That's right you read it right....it's National Jigsaw Day!

The 3rd of November is a day that all jigsaw fans, young and old can come together to celebrate the past time of many that is rarely discussed - or celebrated!



The 2017 Jigsaw Day Jigsaw Party is hosted by Wentworth Wooden Puzzles who you can find out about here. The party starts at 1pm on Twitter you just need to find @WentworthPuzzle to join in. Oh and hashtag for the party will be #NationalJigsawDay

If you, or a loved one, enjoy puzzles it's worth checking out as the hour long party will include giving away spot prizes and limited edition National Jigsaw Day puzzles. All you have to do is join in - simples! Even Radio 2 are getting involved....


This will be the second year of celebrating all things jigsaw (and not the scary horror movie version). We are talking about puzzles, the nice peaceful past time that you used to do as a kid and gradually find yourself doing more and more as you get older. Even in a world of online games, brain training and puzzles there there is something relaxing about switching off technology and completing an actual puzzle. We often do it on holiday and love when an AirBnB we stay at has their own selection.

The strange thing is as a kid I used to be very particular about my puzzles - I had to complete them alone. Piece together the outside then work in. Help was a distraction and I wouldn't move until it was complete. Nowadays though jigsaws are an activity I enjoy with Laura. We both use the method of 'getting the edge first' which means I find it less confrontational.

To help us get involved this year Wentworth have kindly sent us a limited edition jigsaw that I'll be trying to complete during the party and they have kindly offered to give one away to one of our lucky readers.

So if you used to love jigsaws but it's been a while or you're an avid jigsaw completer let us know in the comments, on Twitter @SarahplusLaura or on Facebook @SarahplusLaura and we will put your name in the draw to receive your very own puzzle!

Even if you don't win check out Wentworth wooden puzzles - they make a great gift and count as brain training so are perfect for any age. Plus there jigsaws range from 25 pieces to 1500 so you can be a beginner or hardcore veteran there's something for everyone!

Happy National Jigsaw Day

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Is Halloween Overrated?

So before we race of and start getting all festive-y I thought I would take a quick moment to ask a big question..... Is Halloween Overrated?

Here in the UK Halloween has historically been about dressing up as a kid usually in something scary and maybe knocking on a few people's door when trick or treating. It was never a major holiday. No-one ever decorated their house unless it was for a party.

Fast forward 20 years and Halloween has become so much more, well for me. We can blame the Americans, I blame my American, we can blame commercialism or we could just accept that people love the opportunity to dress up and Halloween is the perfect excuse.

Over the years this blog has featured many of our Halloween celebrations. A lot have included a night at the Rocky Horror Picture show but more recently it has involved family costumes. The change happening when we bought our house and could actually decorate and welcome trick or treaters.
This years Rocky Horror Picture Show outfits!
As with most things I took some convincing on Halloween. I'm not a fan of scary things and I used to prefer to turn off the lights and wait out the trick or treaters rather than encourage them. But then I realised it was me missing out in that situation. I was the one wasting an evening avoiding Halloween.

The first time I embraced Halloween as an adult was at Uni. Thankfully there are no photos in existence but I can guarantee 'scary' and 'not wearing much' would have both featured. Ah the shame!

Then when I moved to London, just before Halloween, it seemed like a great theme for a housewarming party. The only challenge was with everyone fully embracing the dress up, my 3 housemates and I had no idea who people were and it turned out by the height of the night we had a ton of strangers as well as friends. Thankfully we and the flat survived!

That year was the year I met Laura. We had just started working together and Halloween was some of our first pictures together. I should have sensed then that Halloween was going to be something I celebrated every year!

It's fair to say that we have celebrated Halloween in some way every year. Even our low key Halloween nights involve a fully decorated outside - complete with spider webs on the bushes and purple covers on the lights. For added scariness this is also scary music playing when the door opens.

Laura's proudest Halloween achievement is that in 3 years we have gone from being the only decorated house to now being one of 5 - all because of her :)

Last night we had a record 100 pieces of candy and we still ran out! That's 3 years in a row we have had to put out a sign saying 'Sorry we have run out of candy'. That also involves giving away our favourite pieces that we save till the end in the hope that we get to eat them :)


This year was fairly low key though, well for us.

Previous years Laura had baked for work and held party games, see the outcome here and here.


Or there was the year we bought Paul the Pumpkin into the world and spent the entire evening making him do things pumpkins shouldn't do! Check out the photo shoot here.

A personal highlight of that night
Last year studies by Mintel showed that spend in Britain now hits £300 million on Halloween! With 40% of adults saying they would do something for Halloween. That is a significant increase from the previous year in a trend that is set to grow.

So whether you are a Halloween lover or hater one thing is clear - it's only getting bigger! If you think it's overrated now, prepare yourself it's only getting spookier!

I've accepted it for all the joy it can bring. Seeing kids faces when Bisbee shows up in her outfit, the sheer confusion on their faces when Laura asks who they are dressed as (either it should be obvious or their parents have just chosen a random outfit and they genuinely have no clue), the fear and anticipation of the first trick or treater. Laura's always convinced it's going to be teenage boys, it never has been. Laura's strict 'TAKE ONE' rule that I find so awkward (it's being British I think) but if she didn't do it we'd run out far sooner so I know it needs to be done.



It's a shame Halloween is but once a year!


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Birmingham's Best Dog Walks!

As dog owners there are few things better than a long stroll in a beautiful location where your dog can run free safely. We are lucky that Birmingham is one of the greenest cities in Europe so wherever you are you're never far from a park. It's one of the reasons we choose to move here.

So in no particular order here are our recommendations for parks to enjoy with your four legged friend!

Cannon Hill Park
Depending on what you want from your park you can find playgrounds, mini theme parks, lakes, rivers and mini golf! One park combining it all is just outside the city centre and is called Cannon Hill park. Complete with a cafe and plenty of space for dogs to run free or chase squirrels this park is family friendly and great on warm summer days.

The MAC is an activity centre that holds art and music fairs on a regular basis and there are tennis courts if you fancy trying your hand. Plus it has a cafe and toilets so you can spend the day in the park and have everything you need.




Or if you feel even more energetic Cannon Hill also does park runs at the weekend! Turn up at the wrong time and you could well find yourself swept up in a crowd of joggers.

The only downside is you have to pay for parking (£2 for 4 hours or £3 all day - at time of publishing).

If you want more info and location details all park related activities and details can be found here.


Kings Heath Park
Not far from Cannon Hill is Kings Heath Park. This park has the added benefit of a garden centre if you time it just right - it seems to open odd hours but mostly during the week. You can also find puppy schools and dog socialising classes. The reason we love Kings Heath park is an area towards the back of the park, there is a mix of woods and a sunken garden space. It's the perfect spot to let dogs wear themselves out. Every single time we've been we have met lovely dog owners who have had the same idea. It's a safe, enclosed area that means you can easily keep an eye on even the most energetic dog.

Car parking is free but is often busy but you can park on the street near by.

All park details can be found here.

Warley Wood
Our recent favourite discovery is Warley Wood. A green flag park and one of the UK's current top 10 parks this area has a history that you can explore inside the grounds. With trails for Halloween, dog socialising events and plenty of other activities this park has a lot to offer. There's even a golf course!

The signs tell you the history of the park and the fact that it goes back over 500 years. Originally it had Warley Abbey within the 100 acres but only the gardens still exist. (Some of us were more interested in the signs than other...Bisbee!)

Located at the end of an urban area of Bearwood in the area of Smethwick we spent the drive up convinced the Sat Nav had the wrong place. Thankfully it didn't and the unfolding green space provides the much needed breath of fresh air.


We parked in the street but there is a car park.

The area is one third woodland and with 450 million leaves falling in the park each autumn it's the perfect location for dogs who loves leaves or just for autumnal strolls. However if your dog is an all out runner the slight hill that leads up to the woods is a perfect place to wear them out.

The circular routes around the park take less than an hour so it's great for an easy walk but still offers the variety of scenery you'd get to enjoy from the bigger parks.

You can even find fairy doors on some of the trees....this puppy was happy about that!


All details can be found here.

Wasley Hills Country Park
A long time favourite park of ours is Waseley Hills Country Park near Rubery. As the name suggests the area is hilly but it is beautiful. Voted the number one dog park in Birmingham we tried it out over a year ago and have taken everyone we know, and their dogs there. The park has a small cafe and toilets but after you head through the first gate you are in the country.


Highlights for us include the wood that fills with bluebells in spring and the hilltop views over the Cotswold's and Malverns. You also get a great view of Birmingham city if you follow the suggested loop. There are actually a few trails you can follow but we have learnt to go our own way. It's hard to get lost.



We've bumped into cows grazing and have often taken picnics to sit and enjoy the view. We have watched Bisbee run up and down the hills until she's laying out huffed and puffed and we managed to walk 5 miles without noticing. It really is a great location to stretch your legs.

With 150 aches in total this area has plenty to explore.

We do suggest taking at least a drink but a picnic is always appreciated after the hill walking. It's also a good idea to take stuff you can carry easily as there is a lack of bins.

It's also worth noting that you have to pay for the car park. It's not much but does require change and there is no cash point for miles!

All details about the park can be found here.



Clent Hills
10 miles south of Birmingham and technically in Worcestershire are the stunning Clent Hills. Owned by the National Trust this beautiful park has plenty to over - especially if you have 4 legs! Although for those of us on two the views alone are worth the walk.

The National Trust has put in an accessible path meaning those with buggy's or that struggle with uneven surfaces can get to the main vantage point. You know when you get there because of the Clent stones.

Although if you fancy a more adventurous ascent try the horses mane - starting from the road this route is steep and under the cover of trees. Bisbee loved it as there were plenty of squirrels to chase and trees to runaround. We liked it because it was shaded from the sun.


From the top of the hill you can make your way down into woodland towards an abandoned tower or through into open fields. Like the Wasley Hills you are surrounded with great views - the Cotswold's, Malverns and Birmingham are all visible on a clear day. There are also plenty of suggested trails to follow.

This park also has toilets and a cafe. If you are a National Trust member the car park is free, if you aren't you do have to pay. Or there is plenty of road parking.

You can find all the details here.

Have we missed any?


Happy Autumn