Saturday 26 September 2015

An Inspirational Day at Blog Camp River Cottage

A picture of River Cottage HQ in Axminster, Devon, UK

I was recently one of the lucky bloggers whose name was pulled out of a hat to take one of the remaining Foodies100 places for a fun filled day to River Cottage HQ near Axminster in Devon and Wednesday was the day it all happened.

To say I was excited was an understatement! I’ve been blogging for almost 3 years and it’s only now that I’ve the “child free” time available to experience blogging events and not worry about childcare arrangements. My first was a couple of weeks ago in Swindon for the Gorgeously Green Gathering and this was my second.

And boy, my River Cottage experience didn’t disappoint. As blogger events go, it was organised to perfection and I came away the most inspired I’ve felt in a long time.

Like many of you, I’m no stranger to River Cottage. I’ve watched pretty much all the programmes from the very humble beginnings of Hugh’s journey and we used to live just up the way from the original River Cottage and would pass it on our walks with the girls. As a family we have attended one of their half day River Cottage experiences and also went to their Summer Fair about 4 years ago. Hubby has attended one of their bread making courses with his father (lucky thing), so I couldn’t wait to see how things had developed since I’d last been and also what was planned for the day.

Picture of River Cottage's Blue Tractor Trailer

There was a mixture of Food, Lifestyle and Parenting Bloggers at the event and we all started our day with a rather bumpy tractor trailer ride down to River Cottage HQ from the car park. The anticipation from everyone was palpable and the hum of excited chitter chatter filled the trailer as we bounced our way down the track.

Picture of River Cottage Outside Yurt

Picture of River Cottage Yurt with Log Burning Fire

Once we’d all safely disembarked, we were taken into a Yurt with a beautiful log burning fire and given a breakdown from Jason of what the day had in store for us. We were divided into 3 groups and I was in the red group. I was excited to see that I was in the same group as Annie Spratt from Mammasaurus and, as I later found out, Chris Mosler from Thinly Spread. It was like being with blogger royalty!

Picture of Bloggers socialising at Blog Camp River Cottage

We were then offered refreshments and some very delicious mini pain au chocolat and omelette canapés. This gave us all a chance to chat, and for some to catch up with old blogging friends.

Picture of omelette canapes served at Blog Camp River Cottage

Picture of Mini Pain Au Chocolat at Blog Camp River Cottage

Our group had ‘Food Styling’ first with the lovely Lucy from ‘Capture by Lucy’. I have to say that I felt completely out of my depth with this session, but I took away so many tips and tricks which inspired me to really try harder with my photography. I love taking photos however at the moment I only have my iPhone and my Sony Compact Automatic which is very limited on what it can really do. Seeing so many of my fellow bloggers with “proper” SLR cameras made me realise that I really need to update mine if I intend to take my passion further.

Lucy imparted such a wealth of tips and advice; what books to source for inspiration, useful apps, how to use the colour wheel when choosing props to compliment the food we photograph, how to use stones, Lego or Bluetack to make a tea cup rim appear straight and how to create the effect of steam using a tampon. Yes, a tampon!

I came away from this session a touch shell shocked if I’m honest and wondered if I was worthy of being there with all these seasoned food photographers, however to have that level of expertise coming my way was fabulous and it made me think harder about what I was photographing throughout the rest of the day.

Our second session was with the wonderful Will Livingstone, Head Gardener at River Cottage HQ. Will is a long standing member of the River Cottage team and his passion for what he does is infectious. I think what hit me more than anything about the whole day was the passion and commitment all the staff have in making River Cottage HQ what it is. There’s an energy there which sweeps you along. We were encouraged to try things from the working gardens and really experience what River Cottage had to offer. Nothing was off limits and we were encouraged to ask questions and really immerse ourselves in the experience.

River Cottage HQ is set in approximately 90 acres and is certified organic by the Soil Association. As we’re currently in #OrganicSeptember being somewhere such as River Cottage felt very fitting and brought home the amazing possibilities with “going organic”. River Cottage’s Soil Association certification is their benchmark, however as Will imparted, they try hard to go beyond these standards which is amazing.

They have ewes, beef cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and guinea fowl. They also have bees which produce their own honey for them. As River Cottage has grown they are no longer completely self-sufficient, however what they can’t grow or produce onsite they source locally from small producers within a 30 mile radius. This is the same for their cafés too.

They are fully sustainable with a well for their water, wind turbine to generate electricity and a reed bed sewage system for the toilets.

The kitchen garden is Victorian style with a 4 bed system. This enables them to rotate crops, which in turn reduces pests and disease in the soil. Their 4 beds contain Legumes, Brassicas, Roots & Onions and Others. To give an example of their crop rotation, they may plant peas and beans as they produce nitrogen, then they would rotate and plant brassicas next as they need nitrogen in the soil to grow well and so on. It’s all very clever yet very simple too.

I tasted my first Nasturtium Flower which Will encouraged me to eat in one. I did and it was quite peppery in taste almost like watercress. These later featured in our cookery session in the afternoon. I was also able to taste some of the delicious ‘All Gold’ Raspberries which were growing in the fruit garden. I had only the day before been chatting to my youngest daughter about whether yellow raspberries existed. She was watching a programme on television whilst I busied myself with other things, and asked me if yellow raspberries were real. I said “no, they are pinky red. You know that”. However, she was having none of it and told me to rewind the programme (oh the joys of modern TV eh?) and low and behold there on the screen were yellow raspberries. That was me told!

To then be up close and personal with those very same raspberries the following day made me chuckle. And boy do they taste good. They are less tart and have a mild sweet taste. According to Will these are a good choice for gardeners as birds don’t think they’ve ripened due to the colour and leave them alone. Clever gardening indeed.

We then met the pigs and chickens and saw what the poly tunnels grow throughout the year. I could chat so much more about this part of the day, but with so much more to tell you, I must move on.

We came back after our tour to the aromatic smells of lunch wafting from the kitchens. And what a delight this was. Gelf Alderson one of the Head Chefs stood at the front of the dining hall and made our mouths water as he told us what we were to experience. We had homemade wholemeal ravioli made with Dexter beef which had been aged for 5 weeks and then slow cooked over a 36 hour period. This was then served with a tasty ragu, freshly baked bread and the most scrumptious corn on the cob I’ve ever eaten. I was in need of a tooth pick afterwards and the lovely Jason gallantly found me a wooden skewer which did the job perfectly! Thanks Jason; you saved the day. Nothing worse than sweetcorn stuck in your teeth!

 Desert was a sumptuous delight; fennel flower meringue, served with vanilla and coffee infused ice cream with salted caramel and damsons from the garden. It was a taste explosion in the mouth and each flavour complemented the next perfectly. I’m not a coffee drinker myself however I happily lapped this offering up. Delicious.

After lunch our last session of the day was with Group Head Chef, Gill Meller, who taught us all how to make butter from double cream and then soda bread using the butter milk we’d created from the butter making process. I never realised butter was quite so easy to make and I loved that we were able to add in leaves and flowers from the garden to create a work of art. I found the whole process really therapeutic and had forgotten how much I love being in the kitchen creating on my own without little people to direct.

To flavour our soda bread we foraged for blackberries which really tested our skills, as most of them had been picked by the earlier two groups. We all managed to find enough for our bread and we added in apple, herbs and cheese to make a tasty bread to take home with us and eat with our butter.

By this stage of the day I was buzzing with all the things we’d done. We headed back to the dining area for refreshments and more chat and were able to buy some goodies from the River Cottage shop if we wished.

Sadly our day had to come to an end and we all piled onto the trailer again and headed back up the bumpy track to the car park. Reality hit once more as I got into my car, however I was left completely inspired from my day out.

I had an amazing day, met some great bloggers and came away with a renewed passion in taking my love of food, cooking and nutrition further.

If you get the chance to visit River Cottage HQ, do it. It doesn’t disappoint. Dare I say it, for me it’s a magical place and one I’m keen to revisit sooner rather than later.

Until next time x


A heartfelt, “Thank You”, to Sally & Lindy of Foodies 100, and the whole team at River Cottage HQ. You made a group of bloggers very, very happy and I for one will be heading back as soon as possible to experience one of the many River Cottage cookery courses on offer x


Saturday 19 September 2015

Gorgeously Green Gathering 2015

It’s hard to believe that a week ago tomorrow I was getting up at 6.00am on a Sunday to make the 2 hour journey to Swindon for the much anticipated ‘Gorgeously Green Gathering’ organised by Rach (All Natural Aspirations), Sarah (Sugarpuffish) and Jen (Jen’s Green Skincare).

For me, this was my first official blogger event and my first green beauty one too. I was excited and nervous about the day. You spend so much time reading people’s blogs, watching You Tube videos, and tweeting behind your computer that it can seem a touch surreal to be finally meeting everyone face to face for the first time.

I needn’t have worried though, as everyone was just so lovely. I’ve met Kim from Botanical Brands and Elijah from Bodhi & Birch before so it was great to catch up with them both again. It was also good to make new contacts with Rachael of MyRoo and Olga of The Rose Tree. Both these smaller artisan brands are new to me. I’ve read about them on other green beauty blogs but never tried their products. Finally Caroline, a Weleda Wellbeing Advisor came and spoke to us on behalf of Weleda.

I truly love to find out more about how a brand began. Having launched my own online boutique I know that we all have our own personal story to tell, about why we took our passion for green beauty that one step further. Each and every one is different and I think it’s that which came across on Sunday. Each brand is so unique because the founder’s personal journey is so different. I found it inspiring to hear of other’s journeys and unwavering determination to make their brand a success in what is now a very competitive marketplace.

I also enjoyed finding out more about the essence of Weleda. I use their products and have always wanted to attend one of their Insight Days. As a Holistic Therapist I really resonate with the length they go to in making their products. It’s not just about the ingredients; it’s also about the people too. Weleda is about the energy vibration that goes into each and every one of their products. Now to some that may sound a touch “hippy” or “out there”, however for me, it makes my connection to the brand that much stronger. So thank you Caroline for making me fall in love with the brand just a little bit more than I already did x

In the afternoon, we were all given an informative make up tutorial from Ailish (The Glow Getter) using make-up from Living Nature and Lippy Girl using Bathing Beauty’s beautiful new make-up brushes. Amber (Amber’s Beauty Talk) was Ailish’s model and whilst watching, it made me realise that I could really do with a one-to-one make up tutorial all of my own! I’m rubbish when it comes to make up – probably why I don’t wear much of it – so watching tricks and tips of how to make your eyes “pop” or defining your cheek bones was really worthwhile. Thanks Ailish.

We were also let loose on a box of Living Nature & Lippy Girl make-up on each table. Alex from The Greener Beauty Blog make me giggle with her enthusiasm for getting stuck into the goodies – see picture. It was great to see the joy natural make up can bring to a table of women!

Rach, Sarah and Jen had organised a raffle in aid of the charity Facing the World. They raised a fabulous £165 and I was lucky enough to win some of Living Nature’s make up – yay! Prizes were generously given by the brands who attended the day so a huge “thank you” to them.

We had a networking session at the end where we could chat and connect with the Brands and I’d say that this was the part of the day I wish had been longer. There didn’t seem to be enough time to chat and connect with fellow bloggers and the brands, so if I had one recommendation for next time (if there is one), then this would be it.

We were sent home with fabulous goody bags, so a huge “thank you” to the brands for these and also to The Primal Pantry, Consider It and Essential Trading for the yummy foodie additions to the bag. Yummy scrum.

I had a fabulous day and was absolutely knackered by the time I returned home. I imagine that Rach, Sarah and Jen collapsed in happy heaps when they got home after all the hard work which went into making the day such a success. Thank you all.

I hope there’ll be another Gorgeously Green Gathering next year. I think it was a lovely way to bring green bloggers together in one space so we could all network and chat. I’m looking forward to trying out my skincare goodies particularly the brands I’ve not tried before.

Thanks again guys. Until next time x


If you’re interested in seeing a video of the day, then check out Rach’s You Tube Video here. You can also see other pictures and blogposts from other bloggers at the event in this Twitter feed.


Monday 14 September 2015

Discover Autumnal Herbs with Herbalist, Vivienne Campbell

It’s been a while since we’ve had a guest post here on Sophia’s Choice; in fact it’s been almost 2 years ! Wow. Time races by at such speed it’s hard to keep up sometimes.

If you’ve been an avid reader of Sophia’s Choice from the beginning, you’ll have enjoyed guest posts about nurturing mums, making rainbow glitter candles, baking gluten free, home education, the joys of music & dance with children and our very first guest post on embracing the joy of food with your little ones.

So what have I in store for you today? Well, if like me, you love a holistic way of being, then foraging for herbs which you can then use both in your cooking and therapeutically at home for the whole family will appeal greatly.

I’d like to therefore introduce you to the lovely Vivienne Campbell, Qualified Herbalist, who has an exceptional passion for her craft. I love connecting with like minded souls, and Vivienne’s infectious joy & enthusiasm for herbs and how they can enhance our lives and wellbeing, was too much not to share.

Read on to find out more about Autumnal herbs you’ll find whilst on your country or woodland walks in the coming months, and if you fancy taking your interest that one step further, be sure to take a look at Vivienne’s fabulous online e-courses & exclusive offer to my gorgeous blog readers. Enjoy x
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