My Little Duke

Food

Afternoon tea at Montalto

Travel, Food, BloggingSteph DukeComment

Last week my mum and I were treated to a luxury afternoon tea and a private tour of Montalto House. What a beautiful setting to indulge ourselves and learn more about this 18th century mansion!

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We had a delicious spread of delicate finger sandwiches and sweet treats to enjoy, with as many pots of freshly brewed tea as we wished to wash it all down!

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With tummies full up, we headed upstairs to the ladies sitting room to begin the private tour. We were guided by the Managing Director, David Wilson, who gave us a brilliant history lesson on the fascinating story of Montalto Estate. You can read more about the team at Montalto here.

Image credit: montaltoestate.com

Image credit: montaltoestate.com

David talked passionately about the rich history of Montalto, right from its pre-plantation beginnings to the present-day operations. You can read more on the history of the estate here.

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The tour lasted approximately an hour and a half and was thoroughly enjoyable! I could have listened to David all day telling us tales of days gone by, and even some more recent stories of those who have come to stay at Montalto House. One story in particular had us all captivated from start to finish - what a treat to get a unique insight into the goings-on at this stunning property.

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The house itself is immaculate with every detail carefully curated. Every room we entered saw us checking out every nook, every corner in amazement. A truly breathtaking building with an equally fascinating history.

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Getting the chance to share this experience with my mum was even more special - I want to take this opportunity to publicity thank the team at Montalto for kindly inviting us along.

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I can’t recommend visiting Montalto enough - there is something to suit everyone on the estate. Whether it’s walking the dog along the beautiful trails, letting the kids go wild in the purpose-build park or having a coffee in the cafe - you are sure of a great experience. You can even become an exclusive Montalto member - you’d be one of the 7,000 who have already availed of this brilliant option. Read more about ticket prices and membership here.

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Disclaimer: My mum and I were gifted this experience by the lovely team at Montalto, all thoughts and views are my own.

Six by Nico Review

Blogging, Fashion, FoodSteph DukeComment

On Sunday 10th March I took myself off to the big smoke for a few hours. The weather was wild and so was my hair as I bumbled my way through the door of Belfast’s hottest new restaurant ‘Six by Nico’.

There has been a real buzz around this new eatery and rumour has it that you can’t get a reservation before the end of April! So when I received an invite to come and try the unique 6 course menu at ‘Six by Nico’ - I couldn’t say no.

Pic by Michelle  @two_daisies

Pic by Michelle @two_daisies

Six by Nico offers customers a series of carefully curated and constantly evolving restaurant concepts. Each six weeks, Nico and his team will serve a brand new six-course tasting menu – each one themed upon a different place or memory.

I have to say a special thank you to Rumour Mill PR for the invitation to attend Sunday’s taster event. The afternoon was kindly hosted by SKAPA and Cathy Martin and we were treated to the current menu - ‘The Chippie’ - I cannot wait to share these incredible dishes with you.

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’   Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’

Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course Two - ‘Scampi’   Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Two - ‘Scampi’

Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’   Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’

Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’   Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’

Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’   Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’

Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’   Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’

Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

The photos hopefully speak for themselves. Gosh. The food was really incredible! I’m not entirely sure I can pick a favourite … probably the scampi or the smoked sausage dishes topped the bill for me! I’m a dessert person though so I can’t not mention the deep fried mars bar - literally have no words for this dish! Stunning. Just stunning.

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I can confirm that they make a decent skinny flat white too! Hurrah!

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Everything about this place is top notch, what an honour to get the opportunity to experience it like I did!

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Mummy Cooks Review

Bakes, Motherhood, Food, BloggingSteph DukeComment

I first met the lovely Siobhan Berry of Mummy Cooks at a Pregnancy & Baby Fair not long after having my first and only daughter Phoebe. We chatted about her weaning pots and recipes and I purchased a set of starter weaning pots. The set included a range of sizes of pots, perfect for sizing different portions during different stages of Phoebe's weaning journey. 

Order yours  here

Order yours here

On my return to work, my husband and I started trialling a two-weekly grocery shop to try and ease the pressure of cooking and meal planning. We had a fixed menu of recipes to work from and two of our favourites were Mummy Cooks recipes: Coconut Chicken Curry & Spaghetti Bolognese. Both recipes are baby friendly, easy to batch cook and freeze. We regularly still eat both dishes!

Baby friendly Coconut Chicken Curry - Phoebe enjoyed eating this from 6 months!

Baby friendly Coconut Chicken Curry - Phoebe enjoyed eating this from 6 months!

Just a few weeks ago I kindly received Siobhan's new Baby & Family Recipe Book. This is her first ever book and it's just bursting with advice and recipes for families. I love her simple philosophy: Cook for family, adapt for baby. Her belief that introducing family meals from the start encourages children to eat more adventurously is one I have found to be true. I just wish I'd had this book sooner! 

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My daughter Phoebe loves to bake, so last Saturday we tried out Siobhan's Banana & Berry Muffins from the recipe book. Again, the recipe is freezer friendly and super easy to follow and make. We really enjoyed the results too!

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I'd highly recommend Siobhan's book, especially for parents with small children. I've learned so much from the book already: proper food storage, following the seasonal calendar when choosing food and reading labels. I'd particularly recommend this book for those who are on, or who about to start the weaning process - Siobhan provides invaluable information to help you if you are on that journey. Please do check out her website too, there's a wealth of information, loads more recipes and really helpful advice for parents. 

* This recipe book was gifted to me as part of a collaboration with Mummy Cooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own. You can buy a copy of Siobhan's book here

My weight, and me - Part 3

Dieting, Food, MotherhoodSteph DukeComment

Anyone who has been around these parts long enough will know that I wrote two blog posts (a very long time ago!) about my dieting journey from when I was 19, through to being pregnant at 27. You can read part one here and part two here.

I can’t apologise enough for leaving you hanging! I wrote those posts during a very different season of life – one where I had little or no time to blog. I’m going to attempt to do two things in this post; try and bring you up to speed with where I’m currently at, and give you an insight into those last few months of pregnancy along with my post-partum weight loss. I hope that’s ok?!

I left part 2 on a rather sombre note … and things just didn’t get any easier for me as the months progressed. I was extremely unhappy. I felt alienated from my own body and didn’t know who I was anymore. Matt was coming to terms (in his own way) with his soon-to-be fatherhood and we just didn’t talk about our issues. We had a rough few months that ultimately scarred my overview of my pregnancy with Phoebe. Unfortunately, I don’t look back fondly on that time … and it makes me really sad. I won’t give you the details, but I would be more than happy to chat through my experience 1-1 if it’s something you’d like to know more about.

6 months pregnant at my brother and sister-in-law's wedding

6 months pregnant at my brother and sister-in-law's wedding

As my due date approached, I was more than ready for the pregnancy to just be over. Writing these words absolutely breaks my heart. Pregnancy should be a time full of joy and hope, yet I battled continuously with feelings of insecurity and hopelessness in my mind, and feeling completely out of control of my body – I couldn’t cope with it. I was actually (believe it or not) physically unrecognisable by the end. A close family member didn’t even recognise me out shopping about a week before I gave birth - I had to affirm to them that it really was me! Plus, the endless stream of comments on how big my bump was and those sympathetic stares was enough to nearly put me over the edge. I hibernated at home for the last few months, only venturing out if I absolutely had to.

When labour finally came, it was like the sour cherry on top of a bad cake. (Except getting to meet my Phoebe - that was the most incredible moment of my whole life!) But, keeping with the context of this post -labour ... was horrendous. When I tried to document it, it turned into a 5 part series (!) – you can start to read it all here. I came out of labour stapled together and in more pain than I thought was ever possible. Post-c-section pain was crippling and my recovery was incredibly slow. Having had such a big belly, the weight of that over my scar was heavy, and always present. It took a few weeks for me to get anywhere near back on my feet.

Phoebe's first outing on Christmas Eve 2014 - still very swollen and sore.

Phoebe's first outing on Christmas Eve 2014 - still very swollen and sore.

Phoebe was born on December 16th and I was back at Weight Watchers the first week of January. (In hindsight, I know I should have given myself more time.) I didn’t weigh myself during pregnancy as I had allowed myself some time off the scales while trying to conceive: to alleviate some pressure I was putting on myself and give myself a break. Even before I found out I was pregnant I knew I had a little extra weight on. So as I stepped on those scales, I felt physically sick. I had 4 stone on. From that moment, sheer determination kicked in. Now, it was time to take back control. Pregnancy forced all control clean out of my hands and now … I would be taking it back, by force. This all reads very melodramatic, but it’s an accurate portrayal of my feelings in those moments. Fourth trimester hormones probably didn’t help matters either!

February 2015

February 2015

Our first Mother's Day together March 2015

Our first Mother's Day together March 2015

May 2015

May 2015

April 2016

April 2016

Summer 2016

Summer 2016

Summer 2017

Summer 2017

I breastfed Phoebe until she was almost 9 months old - looking back … I don’t know how my body produced enough milk for her. It was a hard few months as I was as stubborn about losing weight as I was about nourishing Phoebe, and there was a definite conflict of interest there! I followed the Filling and Healthy plan the whole time I breastfed as it encouraged wholesome food options that suited breastfeeding. I honestly don’t know how I stuck so rigidly to it. Phoebe was a good baby - that definitely helped. But, I was adamant. Any of you who have dieted successfully will know that you’ve got to just be ‘in the zone’ – wholly committed to the cause and implementing action daily. I was enjoying the control I had regained, both over my body and with food, and once I saw the fruits of my labour I was (once again) hooked.

In my previous posts I alluded to the dedication required to lose weight. It’s no easy feat – no matter what stage of life you are at. Yes, some times are easier than other times (age/weight dependent etc) but ultimately … it takes great self-control and sacrifice. It’s a well-worn path for me. Almost 10 years of calorie controlling can’t be good for a person! I know that my brain has now been wired to think a certain way when it comes to food. I also know that I have to re-wire some new pathways to renew and transform my thinking.

Thankfully (for me) I lost the 4 stone. I’m currently at a healthy weight, once again, for my height. I only had a wee shaky period when I went back to work full-time. I was stressed and under-eating as a result. If I couldn’t control the situation or workload – I was sure as hell going to control something! No hard guess that it was food. But now, from the outside, I probably look to be a healthy weight. Yet, on the inside, I have such a long way to go. I guess I’m writing this as both acknowledgement of how far I’ve come and a declaration that there’s still plenty of work to do in this area of my life. But also, as a virtual ‘me too’ to you reading - if any of this resonates with you.

I step on the scales almost every single morning.

Yes. I do.

It is absolutely not something I advocate.

It is habit.

Thankfully I don’t let the numbers on those scales dictate my mood like they used to. It just keeps me in ‘check’ if you like. I’ve still a long way to go! I’m a work in progress and I have a suspicion that I’m not alone in these thoughts/issues.

My faith and identity in God are huge factors in any progress I’ve made to date in my dieting journey. It is only with His strength and power that I can overcome and walk into complete freedom. I know it’s coming … and SOON. I’d love for you to be part of that overcoming (if you’d care to share your journey with me.) Can I also possibly recommend another blog for you to read? … my friend Zoe (@nest_and_gather) recently documented her own journey – you can read it here.

Just know this today ... you are never alone. Social media can make lives look all shiny and wonderful ... no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors. 

I live too close to Lidl!

I live too close to Lidl!

Let me finish by clarifying that all these yummy pastries you see me scoffing on my insta-stories – they usually mean I don’t eat lunch! Lots of you have asked me how I can consume such nice treats and stay ‘thin’ – truth be told, I’d almost always rather eat something sweet than have a proper meal. I’ve always been like that! NOT HEALTHY – I know! I’m working on that too! I also have a really poor diet and that needs to change. 

I’d really love to hear your thoughts and experiences in this area. It’s something I’ve struggled with for such a long time now and can empathise entirely with you. As a mum too, I am so conscious of what I do and say around Phoebe. If I ever thought that she would feel some of the feelings I have felt about my body – I’d never forgive myself. I want to role model a healthy and happy attitude to food, not a constrained or cautious one. Our society and social media will do enough damage to our young girls and women  - I never want to add fuel to that fire. My prayer is that I can learn to swim upstream, go against the grain and find my value and worth in Him, not in a number. 

NYC February 2018

NYC February 2018

Bless you my lovelies,

Steph xo