Family staycation: Why out of season is the new in season

February 28, 2017

The past few months has been a lot for my family. Good and bad but no doubt, a lot. Throw that in with still kinda figuring out how to be new parents and a whole heck of sleeplessness, and you'll end up with two people (and two tiny people) who could really do with a break.

In a fit of midweek 'aaaargh!' I hopped on to the internet and found us a place to escape to- Falmouth, MA.

We've been to Falmouth a few times before and have a special little affection for it as it shares a name with the British town where Charlie and I met at university.

We had a completely wonderful time, even with the military operation that was packing for the trip and the world of stuff we took with us. It's made us feel totally ready to head away on more mini breaks (and almost ready for the bigger trips we have planned this year) so I thought I'd share what we learned as new parents for other families looking to get a bit of R&R!

Out of season is the new in season-

You first though for a February getaway might not be a New England beach town.. rather a Florida beach town with some winter sun, but hear me out.

Staying at resorts out of their usual season has it major perks:

  • It's not as busy- this means you'll have your choice of travel and accommodation dates, you won't struggle to get into restaurants, and you won't spend half your vacation time in traffic jams
  • It's cheaper- MAJOR perk! You can stay in the better hotel, in the bigger room, and splurge on the upgrades that'll make your stay extra special because you're not paying the high season premium
  • Avoid the crowds- a certain amount of hustle and bustle can be fun, but if you're navigating a double wide strolled through narrow doorways and lugging a diaper bag the size of suitcase crowd can be a bit of a headache. Visiting out of season you might not get to don your swimsuit for a beach day but wrapping up for a bright blustery walk on a beach all to yourself isn't too shabby.
  • Low season doesn't mean a low chance of good weather- if you pick your dates right and cross your fingers you can enjoy glorious days of beautiful weather without the high price. We're having a 'summer' holiday later in the year in June, the week before high season starts and are paying a lot less then if we were staying in the peak of summer. If you're staying when the weather is unpredictable and it ends up not being exactly what you'd hoped have an alternative plan: Watch a movie nice and cozy in your huge hotel bed, choose a hotel with an indoor pool (which'll be more affordable out of season!) or hanging out someone fun locally.

Travel time-

Vacation might bring to mind hopping on a plane and jetting off somewhere a few hours away, but with littles in your party an hours drive might be the most your nerves can take in travel terms.

So often we overlook the wonderful places that are close to where we live in favour of far off locations, but does it matter if you're going 45 minutes down the road or flying 5 hours? As long as it's somewhere you'll enjoy being at the end of the journey it doesn't matter if it's in the same zip code or another country.

Familiarity is also a bonus if you've only got a short time to take your trip. By staying somewhere whose local haunts you're familiar with you'll know exactly where to head when you arrive in town to make the most of your time. It'll also mean you have a mental directory of what to do if the weather turns or children's attention spans are a little shorter than hoped for!

Discovering somewhere new is a lot of fun. But not if you don't have time to enjoy the perfect restaurant with stroller accommodating tables and a menu with kid friendly options thats just the right walking distance from your accommodation if you've spent the whole of your short trip searching for it!

Treat yo self-

..and by that I mean take advantage of all the conveniences you can. If, like us, life has been working you pretty hard and you're after a bit of a break, really give yourself a break.

I make all the babies' food myself from scratch, but the idea of transporting a weekend's worth of frozen home made puree cubes seemed like a lot of work, so we brought ready made pouches and everyone survived. My mum guilt didn't swallow me whole and the kids kinda liked the novelty of having food squirted at them from small bags- wins all round.

If you're a cloth diapering mama, maybe consider disposables for the weekend; if your kids are always in the most adorable matching outfits maybe let yourself off the hook and be ok with throwing a sweater over their pyjamas to take 'em out to dinner (it's SO much easier for when you get home and have to do 'the transfer'); screen time limits are great but if the weather doesn't know you only want the kids in front of the TV for half an hour a day and decides to throw down- movie night in bed isn't the end of the world.

Vacations are about treating yourself. As a parent I think treats come in both the form of a nice cold beer but also an easier life and happy kiddos!

A different kind of trip-

The mini-breaks you may have taken pre-babies may have been filled with unplanned days of exploration, stumbled upon local gems, and squeezing on to a seat at the bar of the hottest new spot in town, but that's probably not what this trip is going to look like.

I'll admit that when we were choosing our restaurant for our one night away, I really wanted to head to the local independent foodie favorite. But after a quick call to check about stroller access and subtly glean whether or not their eyes would roll at the sight of not one but two small babies on a busy Saturday night's service, it was clear it wasn't going to work!

We instead went to a chain restaurant in the nearby larger town who were incredibly friendly on the phone when I asked about bringing our huge stroller, and were so welcoming and helpful with all our kid related requests when we went to eat.

No, it wasn't going to yield my most liked instagram post of perfect culinary dreamer's flatlay, but it was a great meal that I got to enjoy with my whole family without worrying about the side eye I was getting from fellow diners (or staff).

We took that same approach to all aspects of our trip: breakfast in the restaurant at the hotel instead of the quaint but super packed local diner; a short walk to the beach and back instead of spending too much time in the beautiful but blustery sea air; heading to bed by 8pm with a movie on low and take out tiramisu instead of a late night and cranky kiddos the next day.

It wasn't the same kind of trip Charlie and I would have gone on in years passed... it was so much better.


Pan baked sausages with cauliflower mash and onion gravy

February 24, 2017

Trying to eat healthfully during the week can be hard. Even if you're full of good weekend-meal-prep intentions life often gets in the way and suddenly it's Monday evening and you're not sure what's for dinner.

This is a hearty, wholesome and pretty healthy weeknight meal that won't use every pan in the house or have you dining at 10pm.

Serves 4 people

8 x sausages, I like sweet Italian but it’s your choice!
1 large red onion
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 tablespoon cranberry/redcurrant jelly
1 teaspoon flour
16 oz frozen cauliflower
1oz butter
salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 400F.

Slice the onion into chunky eights and scatter over a roasting tray; don’t separate all the layers of onion, you want them to remain chunky.

Lay the sausages over the onions, space them evenly on the pan to allow them to brown all over. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper; pop in the oven for 25 minutes.

Whilst the sausages cook prepare the cauliflower mash. Use frozen vegetables rather than fresh to cut your cooking time as they are part cooked before freezing. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil on the stove (fill with already boiling water from an electric kettle to save time), drop the cauliflower into the water and boil for 6-10 minutes until tender.

Drain the cauliflower. Add butter, salt and pepper, then use an immersion blender or food processor to puree into a fine mash. Cover until needed, you can pop it in the microwave for a minute or two to reheat it when you are ready to serve- this also freezes really well for an even quicker weeknight side dish!

When the sausages have been cooking for 25 minutes they should be browned and cooked through (if you are unsure use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature is at least 165F and no pink, uncooked meat is visible), and the onion will be soft with crunchy edges.

Mix the bouillon cube with water (follow the instruction on your brand’s packet- typically it’s about 1 cube to 2 cups of boiling water- again, use the kettle to save time), stir in the jelly and flour. The flour shouldn’t be lumpy if you add it to the liquid whilst hot, but whisk it in well to be sure that the stock is smooth.

Pour the stock into the pan around the sausages and continue to bake for a further 5 minutes (use this time to reheat your cauliflower mash and assemble your plates and flat wear).

Serve with a generous dollop of mash topped with two sausages per person; spoon a pile of roasted onions over the sausages and pour over the gravy.

This post was originally created for and posted on the Mac + Mia blog here


DIY ribbon sweater

February 22, 2017

Whenever I have an event or occasion to attend I get a very specific idea in my head of what I want to wear. Not like I've seen an outfit I'd like to buy, or I fancy wearing something yellow, I mean I almost instantly get an idea for an entire outfit... whether or not it exists.

I, along with the rest of the aesthetic world, really like hand lettering. Instead of paint or an iron-on patch, this DIY uses ribbon to create a unique, handwritten design. You can adjust the ribbon to mimic your own handwriting, or use a print out of a script you like to work from

I wanted an oversize, baggy sweater to wear with skinny jeans. Something cute and unique I could throw on and look vaguely presentably in when I'm still actually wearing my pyjama top underneath.... no judgement please. You can use this DIY on any style shirt you fancy, with any pattern or design that suits your style. 

To make this shirt you will need:

-A sweater of your choice,- I used this one from Walmart for $7 
-Ribbon in your choice of colour- the only thing to check for is how well it drapes so that you can create your letters easily- I used this one from Walmart for $2.97
-Sewing pins
-Needle and thread in the same colour as your chosen ribbon
-Handwriting sample, written or printed (optional)- here are some great handwritten style fonts for inspiration

Start by hemming your ribbon so that the raw, cut edge won't fray. Fold over the edge of the ribbon, then fold it over itself again so that the raw edge is completely covered. Use your needle and matching thread to make some small, neat stitches to secure the hem.

Place your ribbon into your chosen word. I find a short, simple word works best. You don't want to work too small otherwise the loops and folds of the ribbon can get a bit complicated and difficult to read.

I chose 'hello' as I'm planning on wearing this sweater to The Lady Project Summit (which you should totally come to!) as I want it to be an easy conversation starter for all that networking and friend making!

Some other words that would work really well are:

Feel free to print out any of these for your design!

One you're happy with how your ribbon text looks (be sure to check it's positioned in the middle of your shirt), use dressmaking pins to secure it to the sweater.

I wanted the ribbon to keep a lot of its natural drapes and loops so I pinned as little as I needed to keep the ribbon securely in place.

Now that your motif is pinned and secure, you can slip on the shirt to make sure you're totally happy with the positioning and how the ribbon drapes when it's being worn vertically. Be careful of the pins!

It's also an excellent time to check you have accidentally pined the front and back panels of the shirt together by accident!

Once you're happy, get to sewing.

Try to use as small stitches as you can so that they aren't very visible on the ribbon- you want it to look like the ribbon is just casually thrown on the shirt. Choosing a thread that matches your ribbon REALLY well helps a lot!

It's easier to work with shorter lengths of thread than try and affix the whole word with one continuous line of stitches. I always use a double thread to add strength to my sewing, it also means the thread doesn't slip out of the needle.

Thread the needle and pull the end of the thread until it's inline with the other end. Hold the thread together and tie them in a double knot.

Secure your final stitch by sewing over it a couple of time on the inside of the shirt, then tying the thread into a tight knot.

TO care for your shirt, wash on a gentle cycle and spot treat any stains rather than washing your sweater on a heavy cycle- be gentle with your ribbon!

Did you try this DIY? I'd love to see! Post your DIY on instagram or twitter with my tag, or email it to me so I can see!

The shopping links in this post are only for the convenience of anyone that wants to buy the same materials I used, I do not earn anything from you shopping through them and this post is not sponsored by any of the features brands or products.


Theo Chocolate Clusters + GIVEAWAY!

February 16, 2017

I snack HARD. The majority of my diet, although I attempt to do otherwise, is snacks and coffee. If you can eat it with one hand whilst the other hand is soothing a baby/wiping something/shaking a bottle/holding a very big coffee then it's on my 'to eat' list.

I do try and make sure I have healthful snacks to hand but there are those days when every fresh diaper has been instantly filled, the fifth outfit changed has been sicked on (my clothes included), and nothing else but chocolate will do.

At this point I say thank goodness for Theo.

Seattle based pioneers of supplying organic cocoa beans into the US back in the 90's, Theo take its chocolate seriously. As the first fair trade, organic chocolate maker in North America (and remaining one of only a handful today) for Theo 'chocolate isn't just a product, it's a journey from bean to bar'.

Their newest offering, Chocolate Clusters, are perfect for me to grab on the go, and with ingredients like crispy quinoa, toasted coconut and 60% dark chocolate I know I'm not munching on rubbish. I get my hit of chocolatey goodness with the feel good flavors of salted almond, coconut turmeric, and lemon hemp.

I was super lucky to get my hands on these little bites of loveliness as Theo prepares to make them available across the US- they'll be in Whole Foods nationwide in May!

Until then they are available via Theo's website, along with a whole host of their other fair trade, organic and generally awesome sweets.

I've managed to get my hands on a few extra packets, and dug deep into my will power not to eat them, to offer a packet of each of the new flavours to one lucky winner. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

To enter simply follow @hollylikestocook on instagram, like & comment on the post here!

The small print.

This competition is open to residents aged 18+ of the continental US. Competition closes at midnight on Friday 24th February 2017. One (1) winner will be picked at random and receive three (3) packets of Theo Chocolate Clusters, one (1) of each flavour. No cash prize alternative is available. The winner will be notified by midnight Sunday 26th February via instagram (you will be tagged in a public post on the @hollylikestocook feed) and must make contact with postage information by Friday 3rd March or forfeit their prize. The prize will be sent by USPS mail, postage cost is inclusive in the prize. 


Made with love: Chocolate Truffles

February 08, 2017

Valentines Day is supposed to give you an reason to shower your loved on with something special to let them know you (still) kinda fancy them. What a bunch of balls (in this case chocolate balls), if you love someone tell them every day.

I think this message is conveyed particularly well by Erin Ollila on The Lady Project Blog, who tells us (in an open letter to her daughter):

"Every day is Valentine’s Day. Live your life so that every day is spent celebrating the love in your heart."

Rant about Valentines over, if you fancy marking the occasion on the 14th (or any other day) with balls of rich, chocolatey goodness then this is the recipe for you.


8oz milk chocolate
4oz heavy cream
flaked almonds
shredded coconut
cocoa powder


Blitz the chocolate in a food processor into a fine powder, or at least give it a good chopping with a knife. Melting the chocolate from a fine chopped or blitzed form has it melt a lot more consistently in the warm cream, making a much smoother truffle with an even, chocolatey consistency.

Warm the cream in a pan over a medium heat. You want it to be very warm but don't let it boil or begin to bubble. If you want to flavour the truffle this is when you would add your choice of flavour. Some flavour ideas are: brandy, rum, orange zest, peppermint essence or chili.

Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate in a large bowl and stir. You want to stir gently but being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that all the chocolate is melted into the cream- a rubber spatula is best for this job. 

When the chocolate is melted and the cream turned a silky, rich brown colour, pop it in the fridge to set. Allow it to fully cool for at least 5 hours, or ideally overnight. 

When the chocolate is completely firm, get your coating plates prepared. My favourites are cocoa powder, shredded coconut and flaked almonds- although you really can use anything you like.

Other idea for coatings are a little sprinkle of sea salt or chili flakes (don't roll the truffles in these, just a little sprinkle on a naked truffle will do), grated white chocolate, orange zest, or a shell of melted chocolate- form and cool the truffles again before dunking in liquid chocolate and swiftly popping somewhere cool to set.

Use a teaspoon to scoop a blob of chocolate truffle from the bowl and roll quickly in your hands to form a more uniform shape (if you wish, or leave them in rustic quenelles).

It's best of your hands are cool to roll the truffles so they don't melt. If your hands run particularly warm, you can cool them by rinsing them with cold water before drying throughly. 

Drop each truffle into one of the plates and roll, applying a little bit of pressure so that the coating sticks to the truffle. Move the coated truffle to a baking sheet covered in parchment or wax paper. If you find you're working slowly or the room is warm, move the pan to the fridge every now and again.

Store the truffles in the fridge, and advise any lucky recipients it's best to do the same... or eat them quickly to avoid the need for cool storage!

The chocolates will remain fresh in the fridge for a week, although the chance of them actually lasting that long is slim!