Saturday, 14 April 2018

DIY Tutorial – Creating a Custom Wedding Blackboard

Readers, something a bit different for a post today – a wee DIY tutorial. 

Since the wedding, I’ve been meaning to share a blog post and some content around our day.  I did my first ever DIY wedding cake last year, which I wrote about on the blog (the moral of that was DIY all you want, but offer to DIY for someone else, not your own big day!)

Anyway, I massively enjoyed the creative side of all our planning and right from the start, knew I wanted to put a load of individual touches to our day.  We had a reasonably long engagement, giving me time to source stuff in sales, buy up Xmas decorations (honestly) from sales in places like Poundland (I know, again, you are like WHAT THEY HAVE SALES?!) and curate a load of simple and rustic style décor for our wedding.  

I hired in sashes for our chairs from a supplier, as I knew she’d do a way better job than me and enlisted the help of friends and family to help us set up the venue, but most of the décor, we did ourselves, collecting it as we went (and bonus, you can sell it on afterwards!)

In the midst of a load of stuff going wrong before the big day (long story short, our venue burnt down, some bad news about family and friends etc) I found the whole process of working on my décor projects as a bit of a relief and focus.

And today I’m sharing how you can DIY your own blackboard for less than £30… if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.  And make sure you buy markers that clean off with water and fairy liquid, so someone else can use your lovely piece of artwork again…
ikea hacks wedding blackboard what claire did
Image Credit: Ally Stuart Photography

Step 1 – Procure Blackboard
Here’s my big secret. I went to children’s Ikea. This started out its life as a kid’s toy.  It’s a blackboard on one side and a whiteboard on the other… I painted over the whiteboard side to make it look like the rest of the painted wood. 

Step 2 – Buy paint and sandpaper. Get some brushes and white spirit for clean-ups
I managed to paint this using 2 tester pots of sage green paint from Homebase’s value range. £1 each.   Maybe stretch to buying one more in case you need several coats. I also cheated and did 2 coats on the front and one on the back because nobody saw that anyway.

Step 3 – Preparation is key
Sand down all the wood with the sandpaper, then using a cloth and white spirit, clean it down before painting. 

Mask off the edges of the actual blackboard.  Nobody wants paint on there.  
DIY wedding blackboard What Claire Did

Step 4 – Paint
Go for one coat and see what you think. It might need two, depending on the colours you are using.  Let it dry between coats.
DIY wedding blackboard What Claire Did

Step 5 – Start work on your Stenciling.
You’ll need a printer, paper, greaseproof paper, pencils and a chalkboard marker.

Step 6 – Choose Fonts and a Size, Find a New Use for Greaseproof Paper
I created a canvas on MS Publisher, but there are some great tools out there like Canva that allow you to create designs. I created the canvas to the size of the blackboard, designed it, saved it as a PDF and then printed it.  It took up 6 pages of A4, but I stuck these together to make a big sheet of paper, the same size as the blackboard.

Then, cut a sheet of tracing paper / greaseproof paper, to match the size of this.  Overlay it onto your text sheets and trace out the text you want on your blackboard.  Once you’ve traced the front, trace the reverse, so there’s pencil on both sides of the greaseproof.

Step 7 – Onto the Blackboard We Go
Once you’ve traced out the wording or signage onto your greaseproof sheet, pin it to your board and using a dark pencil, trace over the front again, to leave a light imprint on the board.  Once you’ve traced it, there might be some gaps, so go over them on the board with a pencil (straight onto the board this time).

Once you’ve traced directly onto the blackboard, it’s time to get your whiteboard marker out and fill in the letters,after you've outlined them with the marker. Keep a damp cotton bud handy, to clean up any mistakes.

I’m a leftie, so I started from the bottom right and worked back on myself, so I didn’t smudge the text as I went.  Right handed, normal people probably won’t have issues with this.   Let the chalkboard ink dry properly, before deciding if you need a second coat or not.

Decorate your board with candles, flowers, fake ivy etc, to create a gorgeous looking rustic piece of décor, that nobody would know was an Ikea kids toy! 

If you manage to create your own, let me know. I’d love to see it!

Claire x

Monday, 9 April 2018

Glasgow Living Part 30 - Dinner at Amore, Merchant City

Readers, how are you? It finally feels like Spring is on the way. As I type this, I can still almost spot daylight out of the window! I’m catching up tonight on a restaurant review from the weekend before last – trying out Amore, the family run Italian and pizzeria on Ingram St, Merchant City.

It’s not somewhere we’d been before, but an invite from the PR company to go along and enjoy the atmosphere on a Saturday night wasn’t one we wanted to turn down. We had a table at 7pm and I was surprised firstly by how big Amore Merchant City is. It’s absolutely huge AND it was packed to the rafters!
It’s the type of place people start their night, but it attracts a massive demographic – from groups of girls chatting on a night out, to families celebrating birthdays (they dim the lights and the place flashes neon FYI, if you’re planning a happy birthday celebration). We saw young couples, dressed up to head out on the town and older people tucking into huge pizzas with big smiles on their faces.

Amore really does please all the generations. It’s got the feel of a giant Italian café – with exposed brickwork like a pizza oven, a rotunda space in the middle to seat a group (must be the VIP space) and fast moving service. We were quickly seated on a arrival, given some huge menus to peruse and our drinks arrived quickly – an Italian frascati for me and a Modelo for Mr WhatClaireDid.  We didn’t have to wait long for our starter orders to be taken and the food followed soon after – piping hot.
amore merchant city photo by what claire did
amore merchat city photo by what claire did

We’d suggest you prepare yourself for dinner here. Maybe don’t eat for 3 days beforehand?!  I am of course joking, but the portion sizes are incredibly generous. So turn up hungry.   I had the mozzarella triangles to start, mozzarella fried in breadcrumbs with a Napoli sauce.  They were so good… and I probably could have shared my starter with Mr WhatClaireDid, but he’d ordered the bruschetta and demolished that with little room left for mine.
amore merchant city starters photo by what claire did

Onto the mains we went, with me opting for Ravioli Casalinga and Mr WhatClaireDid going for Pollo Milanese.  My ravioli was also an incredibly generous portion (I didn’t manage to finish it – possibly a first) and it made me smile – all too often you order ravioli in a restaurant to be presented with 6 bits of pasta and you’ve eaten them before the rest of the table have made a dent in their mains.  At £10.45 a portion, it’s good value for the amount you get.  The Pollo Milanese came shallow fried in breadcrumbs and served with spaghetti napolitana.  It came with two portions of chicken, so again… come hungry.   The restaurant also does a half and half option with its pizza and pasta, so you can have a half pizza, half portion pasta if you’re unable to decide. We didn’t have this, but did see a few people tucking in! 
ravioli amore merchant city photo by what claire did

Amore makes for a good place to go for a group – be that a family, where you’re trying to please multiple generations from kids to grannies – or a group of friends starting a night out. Amore Merchant City is also a good shout for a pre gig feed, if you were going to a concert or the theatre, as the service is speedy, even when the restaurant is packed.
desserts at amore photo by what claire did
Some great choices, but we were too full! 

Dinner for 2 (two courses and a drink) from the al a carte menu would give you change from £50 – probably enough for another beer or two!

Amore Merchant City is located at 30 Ingram Street in Glasgow and you can keep an eye on their menu online, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Disclaimer: I was invited to dinner for two in exchange for a review, any opinions expressed are my own. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Dominican Republic Travels - A Historic Day Trip to Santo Domingo

Readers, I’ve got a travel post coming up for you today, after a recent collaboration with Go Dominican Republic to the historic and colonial city of Santo Domingo.

As you’ve probably seen over on Instagram – we headed off to the Caribbean region of the Dominican Republic – staying at the Excellence El Carmen Resort on honeymoon. We’ve done Excellence before – staying at the Playa Mujeres resort in Mexico and I might well do a comparison blog in the near future, to talk about both.  We enjoyed 10 days of taking it VERY easy and decided that we should at least leave the resort for one day... 
Excellence El Carmen Beach Sunset photo by What Claire Did

As part of trip, the national tourist board "Go Dominican Republic" organised for us to go off on a day trip to Santo Domingo – the capital and home to around 3 million of the Dominican Republic’s 10 million person population.

We’d managed to avoid early starts for most of our honeymoon, but headed off at sunrise for this one – being picked up in a mini bus at 6.30am.  We then met a bigger coach nearer to Punta Cana and were transferred over to the new bus, to go as a big group tour, with other visitors from around the world.  Hats off to Nacho – our energetic comedian tour guide who had a tough crowd to entertain on the early morning journey.

Around 10am we arrived in Santo Domingo, to blue skies and temperatures in the high 20s (Celsius) to start our day of historic visits.   For those who don’t know,  Santo Domingo was discovered in December 1492, by the European explorer Christopher Columbus and is considered the first city discovered in the Americas.  It’s the oldest continuously inhabited city and our trip helped us to learn more about the history of Santo Domingo and Dominican life.  For us Europeans, we are lucky to see some great architecture from a a similar time period, across our continent, however for our American cousins, this must be fascinating to see, especially if they’ve never been “across the pond” to Spain, Portugal and other places in central Europe.
Colonial District Santo Domingo by What Claire Did

Santo Domingo is home to the first castle, monestary and fortress in the Americas – part of the Colonial Zone which we visited on the tour – listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.  The first cathedral of the Americas was also built in Santo Domingo and we had the chance to visit this on our tour too.

The Colonial Zone is popular with tourists and Dominican school groups who are going to learn more about their history and we visited here first. It’s probably wise as I can imagine the buildings would get incredibly busy as the day went on.
santo domingo dominican republic by what claire did

We experienced it all on the day – including a buffet style lunch at a traditional Dominican restaurant where we saw dancing and singing, before heading off for a walk around the square and cathedral area in the afternoon.  The Catedral Primada de America was stunning inside – with beautiful historic architecture and we learned that Pope John Paul II visited here twice during his time in post.  It was also lovely to watch the world go by in the square after we left the cathedral.
Cathedral Santo Domingo Dominican Republic by What Claire Did

We went from the very old to the very new – visiting a 4D cinema experience showing a short film about the English pirate Sir Francis Drake and his invasion of Santo Domingo. It was great fun and an interesting way to learn - particularly if you were a family on the tour.  

Nacho our guide was with us every step of the way – providing humour, wit and interesting facts about Santo Domingo throughout the day.   He cared about us all, constantly reminding us to drink the free water they’d brought along for everyone!

Our day ended with a bus tour around some of the remaining tourist parts of the city – starting off at the National Palace and then on to a drive past the Columbus Lighthouse (spoiler – it’s not a lighthouse as we know it).  We would have loved the chance to walk around Columbus Lighthouse, as Nacho had talked a lot about it on the day, however, our tour didn’t have the time to stop off for a walk around at the end of the day, which would have been a nice touch.  

We got back on the bus around 4.30pm for our drive back to Punta Cana, stopping off at a great chocolate shop en route to buy some souvenirs for home.

The tour is around 14 hours from leaving in the morning to getting back to your resort (drive time from Punta Cana around 2.5/3 hours each way, so we’d recommend this for couples and families with older children (probably age 10+). Younger children could go on the trip, but we are aware that it's a long day and they'd need to be a point they are interested in learning. about history.  There wasn’t too much walking, so suitable for all athletic abilities and the tour would be of particular interest to those who like European history, architecture and learning about new cultures.
Flowers in the window Santo Domingo Dominican Republic

Thank you to Go Dominican Republic who arranged the day out for us.  We travelled as part of the Amstar DMC tour which included all transportation, entrance fees and lunch.  English tours run daily except Sundays and are priced from 70 USD per person. 

Disclaimer: we received a complimentary day trip for 2 people. Any opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Glasgow Living Part 29– Bibimbap Korean Restaurant, City Centre

Readers… It’s feast or famine over here at What Claire Did.  We did 2 restaurant reviews in quick succession after not doing any for ages and there’s another lined up for next week.

I am all over this one though.  I love when something new opens in Glasgow.  But not just a new restaurant. Something that’s actually different.  And Bibimbap is ticking all of those boxes with its genuine Korean menu.  Fast service, lots of kimchi, and the most amazing dumplings. The restaurant’s also got a fan base from Asian international students living in Glasgow AND has a Korean chef heading up the kitchen.  Bibimbap is the real deal.
bibimbap korean restaurant glasgow

We rocked up last Thursday night to a full of atmosphere, busy restaurant with foliage on the walls, umbrellas hanging from the roof and some sweet neon signs and lighting around the bar.  The restaurant was busy – full of a young(ish) crowd tucking into the Korean delights and some amazing cocktails mixed behind the bar and delivered to the table.
bibimbap cocktails glasgow

The problem with the menu… there’s so much choice.  I wanted to eat everything.  I love Asian food at the best of times, so when something new rolls into town, I’m usually keen to try the whole menu.  That said, we held back, asked for some recommendations of things to try and kicked off our night with a couple of cocktails. I went for a gin based Kibun whilst Mr WhatClaireDid went all naked with his Grouse, trying the Nunchi. Cocktails are between £6.50 and £9 – around average for a city centre venue.

Then we were onto the food. The food comes as its ready, hot, fresh and straight to the table for you to dig into. We started off with the Korean fried chicken – a small to share (£4.50) which for two was more than enough.  The highlight here was the yum yum sauce.  I’d never tried anything like it before. It was AMAZING. We also tried two small plates – the pork dumplings and the potato pancake, which I could only describe as Korea’s answer to a tattie scone.  It was so good.  And fried.  The dumplings were also brilliant.  I do think though that if I was on death row, I’d probably order dumplings for my last meal.
bibimbap cocktails glasgow

fried chicken bibimbap glasgow

For the main event, Mr WhatClaireDid went for the Bi Bim Bap – the restaurants signature hot stone pot with rice, beef and vegetables topped with a fried egg.  He thoroughly enjoyed it. Although we’d suggest you go hungry as the portion sizes are massive.  A bowl would easily fill you up without the need for sides as well.

I went wok fried – trying the stir fried marinated beef with salad.  I also went for a fried rice on the side, because who doesn’t love fried rice?! The beef was soft, tender, full of flavour and came served with lettuce, to make  beef lettuce wraps. If you were doing low carb, this would be more than enough for one without the rice as well.

For a new opening – the front of house team have got the place running like clockwork.  The food came quickly, it was piping hot and although it’s freshly cooked, there aren’t massive wait times for the dishes to come from the kitchen.  It’s been a while since we’ve gone to somewhere and though “THIS IS REALLY GOOD” but we’ll definitely be back to Bibimbap.  It’s a little taste of Korea in Glasgow city centre.  And I’ve still a lot of the menu to sample….

Bibimbap is on West Nile Street, a short stroll from Glasgow Central Station.  You can find out more by visiting their website or following their ultra sleek Instagram

Disclaimer: we were invited to Bibimbap to review their new restaurant. Any opinions expressed are my own. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Glasgow Living Part 28 - Smashburger on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Readers, hi! Welcome to my new look blog.  Thoughts?  Do you like it? It was time… after 5 years we needed to freshen up.  Content is pretty much the same – food, travel, recipes etc but presented with a fresh new look and name.
Anyway, after a bit of time away from reviews to do the whole LETS GET MARRIED thing (I might post on that soon) I’m back at it, with a trip to Smashburger in Glasgow… all the way from Denver, Colorado.
smashburger glasgow photo by what claire did

Glasgow is awash with burger joints and these guys are aiming to stand out with their “smashed” patties – they fork the meat in store, then hand press into burgers – it’s not machine made stuff at Smashburger.  They do sit on the more premium side – around £12 for a burger, side and soft drink with unlimited refills from one of those cool machines that you can add in fruit flavours to your Sprite and more.  So all in, you’re looking about £25 for a meal for two. It’s more of a treat venue than a lunchtime stop off. 

The staff are really friendly, including Fareed (I hope I’ve spelt your name right!) the manager who took some time to talk to us about the way the meat is “forked” then shaped into burger patties.  It’s not a mechanical process.  He also told us about the concept that had come all the way from Denver (which for those interested in the pub quiz points, is 4373 miles from Glasgow).

Fareed talked us through the menu – I liked the create your own section – for those who don’t want a straight up option – but this time went for the new “Triple Bacon Triple Double” which came with two beef patties, three slices bacon, triple cheese and the usual salad options served on a burger bun.   Mr WhatClaireDid decided on the Spicy Jalepeno Baja as he’s a big fan of chipotle (and it even came on a chipotle bun).
smashburger glasgow photo by what claire did
My bacon and cheese burger

For sides, we shunned fries in favour of the new tater tots.  I LOVE TATER TOTS.  It’s potato in a deep fried breadcrumb for those not in the know.  These came with bacon, cheese and bbq sauce which in my eyes is always a winner.  There is a spicy jalepeno version as well for those who love heat.
smashburger glasgow photo by what claire did
Tater Tots with Bacon and Cheese

We also tried the haystack onions – these are not traditional onion rings – and I’d recommend these to share.  You’d probably struggle to manage a whole portion solo.
smashburger glasgow photo by what claire did
Haystack Onions

Smashburger is located on Sauchiehall Street and chances are, if you’re going after dark, you’ll need to be looking for it. It’s located further down the road than the main restaurant area, across the road from M&S if you were heading in the direction of Buchanan Street.  

We enjoyed the food at our Smashburger Glasgow experience, the staff were very helpful and we didn’t have to wait long to be served which is a bonus if it’s the warm up to a night out or a gig. The restaurant is spacious with a mix of tables and booths for different sizes of group.

We went on a Friday and it was quiet which may be due to the location, as most other stores in the surrounding blocks were closed by 7pm.  The service was friendly and food was good, but keep in mind this isn’t the place to go if you’re in search of a cheap eat.  One for the burger aficionados perhaps? 

Follow the Smashburger UK takeover by visiting the website or keeping an eye on their Instagram for cool burger pics. and new menu releases.

Disclaimer: we received a meal for two in return for a review. Any opinions expressed are my own. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Favourite Holiday Moments with Holiday Gems

Readers, you’ll probably have noticed my blog’s focusing more than ever on travel?  I still LOVE FOOD – making it, baking it and eating it, but I also love flying off to faraway places, experiencing new cultures and of course, enjoying their food.

Holiday Gems recently got in touch asking me to talk about some of my favourite travel moments of the last few years… so here we go!

And if you're looking to to go off on your own adventure - Holiday Gems are a UK based short haul travel specialist and you’ll find their all inclusive deals for 2018 here.

48 Hours in Rio

A few years back, my now husband and I went to South America and to Rio – well before the Olympics and The World Cup made it cool. We were there for nearly a week, but 24 hours in particular stands out to me.  We negotiated the local bus system (more Ford Transit, hop on and hope for your life) and made it to the cable car, up to the midpoint of Sugarloaf Mountain. We nipped off to admire the views, grab a beer and then discovered that helicopter rides took off from the helipad at this point.   We jumped at the chance and half an hour later, had our ear defenders on, the rotorblades were spinning and we were on board, soaring high in the sky, above Christo Redentor – the status of Christ that watches over the city below.  We waved to the tourists and they waved back, before we swooped down to Copacabana Beach below, flying over the turquoise waters and golden sands… the sunbathers just tiny specks on the horizon.
Sunset from Sugarloaf Mountain 
Our chopper dropped us off back at Sugarloaf Mountain, where we ascended to the summit in time for sunset.  Enjoying the laid back Brazillian vibes, we hopped on a rock, grabbed a drink and watched the burnt ambers, golden hues and orange glows of the sun going down, with Christo Redentor in the background.  
Cable Car at Sugarloaf Mountain

And Closer To Home…

Adventure doesn’t have to be a 12 hour flight away.  Just a short hope from the UK can take you to cities and cultures different to ours, where the food is tasty, the buildings are beautiful and the vibe is relaxed.

Madrid is one of these great cities – drop by a tapas bar for a cervesa or two and you’ll be served with regional small plates to snack on, as you enjoy the atmosphere around you.  The main square is home to buskers and street artists in the evening and we had a great night just watching a group of guys perform a show on rollerblades.    We mastered the public transport system within a day – choosing to take the underground between the tourist sites and enjoying a walking tour to familiarise ourselves with the central zone quickly.
Tapas in Madrid

And the churros… wow.  There are churro cafes dotted all over the city – where you can enjoy a coffee to wake you and a fried churro with hot chocolate dip to power you up for a day of sightseeing. 

So there you have it folks - two absolute "gems" - get it?! - of trips I've experienced in the last few years. Both different, but fabulous! 

Sponsored Post: this post is sponsored by Holiday Gems. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Glasgow Living Part 27 - My new Glasgow Top Spots


I send my apologies for my sadly neglected blog over the last couple of months.  What I’d expected to be an easy ride into my wedding day, turns out to have been anything but that.  Sometimes, things have to give and in this case it’s been the blog, whilst we’ve handled reorganising an entire wedding in 6 weeks, family bereavement and having a whole host of unexpected stuff thrown at us.

We’re hopefully on the other side of it all now and my plan post honeymoon is to start showing my little piece of the internet some love again.  The time away has made me reflect though – my blog started 5 years ago to showcase recipes and things I made.  It’s moved on significantly as a place to cover travel and adventure, eating out and reviews and has made me think about what’s coming next.

I’ve found myself today with the luxury of time – something that for weeks has been in short supply, because there’s always been something more pressing to do.  So with an hour to myself, wedmin up to date and complete, I have the headspace to write.

Nothing wild today, but I’m showcasing my latest top 5… some new openings and old favourites around Glasgow, that I felt were deserving of a mention.

The One For Brunch

Hutchesons Bar and Brasserie – if you haven’t been – is a cracking brunch with the girls spot.  You’ll find it on Ingram Street, down in Merchant City.  They do a bubbles brunch for 2 for £50, or if half a bottle of Prosecco is a bit much on a Sunday morning, order a glass each and pick something off the menu. I had my old favourite – bacon, French toast and syrup.  It’s a go to!

hutchesons brunch glasgow

The One for Mediterranean

Recently opened on St Vincent Street, Mezzidakia is a small plate, Mediterranean dining heaven. A similar theme to its sister Indian street food café along the road, the focus is on sharing food, breads and dips and a whole host of interesting dishes. 

mezzidakia glasgow

 The One for Lunch

NEWlands… the clue is in the name, its where all the NEW places are popping up.  Fylkir of Copenhagen opened last year and already has a cult following of southsiders popping in for Danish sandwiches and great coffee (also available to take away).  Prepare yourself – the place is tiny and in a slightly odd location – you won’t fall over it, but it’s worth going to find it.  Be prepared to queue for a table, but I assure you it’s worth it. 

fylkir of copenhagen glasgow lunch

The Great 5pm Find

I’ve been an avid user of since moving to Glasgow 3 years ago.  Creature of habit though – I’ve started using it to book regular favourites, rather than trying out new places, until this week.  A colleague was retiring and we needed somewhere that was classy, but not too expensive and able to feed us all.  I took a punt on the Urban Bar and Brasserie, offering 2 courses for £12 on the market menu and we were all delighted by the service, quality of food and cracking city centre location on St Vincent Place.   I even ordered the vegetarian main as it excited me that much!

urban bar brasserie Glasgow

The New Malaysian Favourite

Julie’s.  Oh Julie’s Kopitiam.  You are simply fantastic. I’m telling everyone how wonderful you are, how you’re always packed, you serve the most interesting slushies and you actively encourage groups of 4 people to order the entire menu, which comes up with the goods.

Hailing from a small street food stall in Buchanan Galleries and now a fully fledged restaurant in the Southside - £60 feeds 4 people, an entire menu of food and we left with our bellies full and our faces smiling. Take note – they don’t do bookings, but will take your mobile number and text when there’s a table ready.  Plenty of nearby pubs though, for a quick pre dinner wine.  

julies kopitiam shawlands