Pignoulet**In the interest of transparency, I’d like to state that I was asked to review the Domaine du Pignoulet Pilates Retreat in exchange for this blog post. (I paid for flights and transfers.) If you would like to read my full disclosure policy, you can do so by clicking here.**

Pignoulet was a pinch me experience! 

When I was invited to review the pilates retreat offered by the owners of Domaine du Pignoulet – a stunning restored farmhouse in the French Pyrenees – I thought I might be dreaming. Thankfully I wasn’t, and it was the most amazing weekend I’ve had in a very long time.

You can read about my incredible bonding experience with the other nine bloggers I went away with here. Our three days together were full of delicious food, interesting discussions and debates, pilates classes (obvs) and as corny as it might sound, soul searching. It’s hard not to end up reflective after an experience like this.

We laughed, cried and stayed up way past bedtime drinking local wine putting the world to rights. I mean seriously, what more could a group of tired mums, with twenty five children between them, possibly want out of a retreat?

A little bit about Pignoulet and it’s owners

Susie and James Wetton are a husband and wife team with big hearts and wonderful ideas. I like to approach things like this without too many expectations, but to say I was blown away by every element would be an understatement. From the second we started approaching the entrance to the house I was mesmerised. Driving through the wrought iron gates, past the barn and onto the sweeping driveway, the brightly painted shutters and masonry meant the house felt warm and grand at the same time.

James’ parents bought the house in 2000 and fully restored it, and he and Susie bought it from them in 2016. They are now living out their dream semi-retirement, which has been many years in the making. I found listening to their story of ditching the rat race and living life on their own terms incredibly inspiring.

PignouletThe rooms were spacious and clean with comfy beds and powerful showers. We didn’t spend very much time in our rooms, but had lovely views when we did. The night sky was absolutely stunning with all the stars on display twinkling brightly. Really does make you think about the awful air pollution in London.

We had brilliant weather for September, and were able to spend a few hours by the pool each day, which was amazing considering it had started getting chilly back home in the UK.

What the food was like at Pignoulet

Susie and James were up against it to cater for our lot. Between us we covered paleo, vegan, celiacs, and almost every other allergy/food intolerance you can imagine. Not only did our fabulous hosts feed us well, but the incredible food was served in an inclusive way. No-one was made to feel like they were an inconvenience and nothing was too much trouble. We ate every meal together, and there was plenty of choice.

Far from dishing up underwhelming free from processed nonsense, serious effort went into ensuring our party was suitably looked after. This is really important for people like us, who often feel excluded when we eat out. The local wines were delectable, and completely natural which meant no hangover the next day!

PignouletBreakfast and lunch were served on huge help yourself plates, and dinner was a three course affair. Breakfast included grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, home made granola, fresh fruit and lots of (herbal and caffeinated) tea and coffee. Lunch was salads, fresh bread, cured meats and local cheeses.

Dinners were carefully crafted morsels of deliciousness – stuffed chicken, huge stuffed roasted peppers, baked sweet potatoes, to name but a few components. One of the desserts was low sugar vegan chocolate mousse, which was out of this world. I really have to hand it to them for pulling this off so impressively.

What the pilates was like at Pignoulet

You’re in safe hands with Susie, who has been self-employed for the last 15 years as a personal trainer, sports massage therapist, pilates teacher and Nordic walking instructor.

We did two classes on the Sunday, and one on Saturday and Monday. By lunchtime on the Monday I was feeling it. Pilates is all about working the core muscles, strengthening and stretching. For some the classes will be the main reason for going to Pignoulet, but for me they were like the cherry on top of a delicious cake. Although I’ve not done pilates for many years (getting on for twenty), I really enjoyed it.

Susie’s teaching skills are phenomenal, and it’s made me want to continue practising at home, as well as finding a local teacher. I came back from the retreat with sore abs, which felt like a rite of passage. Sitting by a pool without children is lovely, but most people find it boring after a couple of hours, so it was brilliant to have a fitness element to the trip, and something other than eating to plan the day around.

 

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(#AD) When I was asked to review the pilates retreat offered by the owners of @pignoulet – a stunning restored farmhouse in the French Pyrenees – I thought I might be dreaming. Thankfully I wasn’t, and it was the most amazing weekend I’ve had in a very long time. Susie and James Wetton are a husband and wife team with big hearts and wonderful ideas, who have quit the rat race to live their dream semi-retirement. I like to approach things like this without too many expectations, but to say I was blown away by every element would be an understatement. Pignoulet was a pinch me experience! 🧘‍♂️ It was incredible having the time and space to bond with the other nine bloggers I went away with (see previous post). Our three days together were full of delicious food, interesting discussions, lovely pilates classes, and as corny as it might sound, soul searching. It’s hard not to end up reflective after an experience like this. 🧘‍♂️ We laughed, cried and stayed up way past bedtime drinking local wine putting the world to rights. I mean seriously, what more could a group of tired mums, with twenty five children between them, possibly want out of a retreat? I highly recommend checking out Pignoulet if you’re in the market for some R&R! Head over to the blog for my full review. . . . #freefromgang #freefromgangontour #pilatespignoulet #pilatesparadise #pilateslovers #Pilates #retreat #pilatesretreat #france #gascony #mindfulness #relaxation #meditation #frenchcuisine #specialdiet #bloggers #bloggerretreat #getaway #yoga #weekend #retreatyourself #dailycalm #france4dreams #allergytravels #mummytries @lecoindemel @glutarama @freefromfairy @freefromfarm @glutenfreealchemist @sneakyvegblog @peachicksbakery @dairyfreekids @_just_eilidh 💖

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A few tips for getting the most from your Pignoulet pilates retreat

A three day and night retreat will set you back £450, excluding flights and transfers (check out this page for more details). Although excellent value for money, given once you’re there everything is included, it’s vital to ensure you get the absolute most from your trip.

– avoid the temptation to capture each moment by tuning out to your phone as much as possible.
– don’t stay up too late, don’t drink too much. I could have definitely gone to bed earlier both nights, but I love to chat, so…
– just enjoy the classes, even if you’re a novice. Switch off the “is everyone looking at me?” monster. No-one is watching you because they’re too busy with their own practise.
Pignoulet– expect tears, time out from everything is bound to stir up repressed emotions and bring them to the surface.
– do a little extra each day, but don’t over exert yourself so you’re exhausted coming home. We went to a quaint French market on the Sunday, and had a nice hilly walk on the Monday. Combined with the pilates, these two activities were perfect.
– nothing is too much trouble for Susie and James, they can cater for anything as long as they have plenty of advance warning.

I think a retreat like this is the ultimate self-care, and worth every single penny. I’m going to pay for next years’ stay in monthly instalments, which will make it manageable.

Especially if you have small kids like I do, I’d advise putting together a little plan for the thud back to earth. Inevitably it will hurt more than you’re expecting it to. Allowing myself to take it easy for a few days after meant my zen experience didn’t go to waste. I arrived home around 2am on the Tuesday morning, and got very little sleep that night. I was prepared for Tuesday to be difficult, but Wednesday was worse.

Here are a few things I did to ease myself gently back into normality:  
– asked my in-laws for Polly to go and stay with them for a few days, which she did Tues-Fri. I still had two kids to look after during those days, so it wasn’t exactly another holiday, but it definitely helped.
– prior to leaving I organised a food shop to be delivered the day after getting home.
– didn’t put too much pressure on myself work wise and took the day off social media and emails on the Thursday.

PignouletWill I do anything differently next time

We opted for Easy Jet flights from Luton to Toulouse, which were at awful times both ways, but such a bargain they were difficult to resist. Coming from South London, and being a non-driver meant it was a massive journey for me.

I’m very grateful to the lovely Mandy (her blogs are Sneaky Veg and Cook Veggielicious, you really should check them out!) for driving me to and from both airports, but it involved two late nights and one very early start out of the four days.

There are other flight options (both airport and time wise) which would lighten the load in this aspect, so I’ll be aiming for something a bit friendlier next year.

Pignoulet

Photo Credit: Le Coin de Mel

Full address and social media links

Domaine du Pignoulet,
Chemin de la Maoube,
Ladevèze-Rivière, 32230, France
Email: info@pignoulet.com

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

Reviews from my fellow retreaters

Eilidh | Emma | Kate | Laura | Vicki | Mandy | Midge | Mel | Rebecca

I honestly cannot thank Susie and James enough for their hospitality. I’m feeling chilled out, inspired and shall be recommending Pignoulet to every single person I know. If you’re in the market for a retreat, or just a bit of R&R, you know where to head.

Until next time, Pignoulet! 

The term “clean eating” might feel overused, but I make no apologies for my love of it. For my little family, this means eating unprocessed, mostly organic food, and making almost all of it from scratch. I say mostly because it’s unrealistic to cook absolutely every single thing for the five of us, every single day. We have our pre-made cheats, but I scrutinise the labels to ensure there are absolutely no hidden nasties. I only have a handful of brands I truly trust, and my kids love the Organix range which comes with their no junk promise.

mostly organic

Eating mostly organic doesn’t have to break the bank 

I’m not exaggerating when I say food is everything to us, and top of the priority list for me is sourcing the very best quality ingredients. There’s no denying that eating mostly organic is expensive, and as much as my children are convinced otherwise, we all know money doesn’t grow on trees. I like to ensure I find the most cost effective ways of making our food without it being debilitating price wise.

Farmers Markets: My favourite place to buy organic food is from farmers markets. Although there will undoubtedly be stalls selling very expensive goods, there are also little gems to be found. I have access to a weekly market as well as a monthly one, and the main fruit and veg stall is run by the same people. Eating seasonally comes with a whole host of benefits, plus compared with supermarket prices, it can be a real bargain. I’ll often pick up double the amount of veggies for half the price of what they would have been pre-packaged and covered in plastic.

Bulk Buying: I can’t advocate more for buying in bulk, which always saves money. There are plenty of suppliers to scope out, in order to buy dry goods by the kilo, for a lot cheaper than they would be in smaller packets. The top of our kitchen cupboards are crammed with tins of coconut milk and packets of coffee and nuts. It’s also worth stocking up when the supermarkets have offers on your favourite products. The offers go live on a cyclical basis, and most will be doing some great deals right now for Organic September. In addition, both of the main budget supermarkets have brilliantly priced ranges of organic food.

Quality Meat: I order our free range meat from a London based butcher who delivers within the M25. They only sell ethically reared meat from the best British native breeds. The animals are reared on independent farms and smallholdings, and are always free from growth hormones, antibiotics and cruelty. I think it’s up to us all to start waking up to the devastating consequences of cheap meat. Personally I’d rather eat much less, but ensure it’s absolutely top quality.

mostly organic

What led me to a clean eating, mostly organic diet?

As I’ve mentioned before, I started coming away from refined sugars and processed food in 2007. This is a long time in faddy diet terms, but clean eating shouldn’t be a fad. It should be about making gradual life long changes, which lead to a healthier you.

My own journey began after being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and doing a ton of research into my new condition. I learnt about insulin resistance – which means my body doesn’t absorb carbohydrates the way it should – as well as the glycemic index (GI).

GI correlates to the amount of carbohydrates a food contains, and how they affect blood glucose levels. Everything we eat is considered either low, medium or high GI, and the lower GI the better for an insulin resistant body like mine. High GI foods are typically heavily processed, made from white flours and refined sugars. Medium GI foods are less refined – things like oats and other grains. Low GI foods tend to be meat, fish and some fruit and veg.

Healthy alternatives   

I took baby steps in those early days. I started buying more organic ingredients and made healthy swaps, such as using organic wholemeal flours and natural sweeteners. Rather than cooking from scratch being a weekend only occurrence, it became every day life. Once I’d established good habits in the kitchen, it got easier and easier. Now, eleven years later, this mindset comes without the slightest effort. Food should lift us up and revive us. It shouldn’t zap our energy leaving us feeling rubbish.

Here are a few of my failsafe recipes:

I only use raw organic honey or organic dried fruit to sweeten my baked food. Over time I’ve created some fabulous recipes with very little natural sugar in them. Check out these delicious paleo brownies, which contain just 1.5tbsp honey in a batch.

If you’re in the market for pancakes, but want to also boost your veggie intake (YES!) then you will love these. They’re my ultimate free from everything except taste pancakes.

For a superb savoury winter warmer, you can’t beat a good beef stew! I’ve challenged many over the years to make this dish and not have nice things to say, and no-one has yet. Check out this blog post for four easy paleo one pot meals, including a vegetarian option.

Do you have any great tips on eating organically? Tweet them to me @MummyTries 

**Disclaimer: this is a sponsored post. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

Planet Hollywood London Before having children, eating out in nice restaurants was a regular occurrence. For Hubby’s thirtieth birthday, which was six days after Polly’s first, we went to The Ivy and were in for a massive shock. It would seem that dining with a small child in tow was a very different experience to the ones we had become accustomed to. We’ve still eaten out a fair bit over the years with the children, but now choose where to go based on reviews of kids menu and entertainment. So you can imagine our delight when Planet Hollywood London invited us for lunch.

Why? Because they’ve been voted Bookatable’s Best Child Friendly London Restaurant for the third year in a row. We had our meal on Andy’s 38th birthday, and here are our thoughts.

Planet Hollywood London is not your average themed restaurant  

Usually when hearing the words themed and restaurant, my mind starts conjuring up images of tacky fancy dress joints and un-instagrammable fodder. I was surprised in the nicest way when I discovered the incredible food on offer.

There are a ridiculous amount of delicious dishes to choose from, and a wide range of cuisines. You’d be hard pressed to not find something to eat. They cover everything from sharing platters and American fare to burgers and grills; pizza and pasta; fajitas; noodles and salads. There is an extensive gluten free menu, and Donald Russell supply their beef.

For those not in the know, Donald Russell are an online craft butcher, whose meat is traditionally matured and grass fed. They’ve held a Royal Warrant since 1984, so they’re clearly doing something right. Quality ingredients like this are everything, and just in case you were wondering, my chuck eye did not disappoint (more on that later).

Planet Hollywood London

I imagine one of the main reasons Planet Hollywood London gets the thumbs up for family friendliness is due to their entertainment. There are huge screens all around the restaurant, and you can ask for messages to be displayed for your loved ones. They can be anything you like, and ours revolved around Hubby’s birthday. The screens flip between cartoons, movies, music and these personalised messages, which is lots of fun.

There is tons of original memorabilia to check out, including outfits and props from iconic movies. Clara and Freddy were delighted to see a Power Ranger’s costume as we walked in, as it’s their current favourite TV show to watch. The big kid in my life was suitably impressed, especially seeing Hans Solo frozen in carbonite, and Polly was in awe of the Willy Wonka chocolate bar. I had to do a double take of the T-Birds jacket, worn by John Travolta himself when he played Danny in Grease (my fave film growing up). We were also thrilled to see a storm trooper wandering around.

In addition they have colouring for the children and a fab game for the adults where you have to guess the film star based on a photo from their younger days. Some look exactly the same as they do now, others were trickier to figure out. There really is plenty to keep you and the little ones busy throughout your meal, so much so for us that we stayed almost three hours. I could have quite easily set up camp and stayed all afternoon. In another life I would have hung around drinking cocktails.

Planet Hollywood London

What we ate at Planet Hollywood London

Regular readers will know we eat mostly paleo as a family, but I’m happy to be flexible when we’re dining out and gave the children free rein over the kids menu. Polly had spaghetti and meatballs, which she loved and Clara had hot dog and chips, which she polished off with gusto. Our little fussy eater Freddy just had chips, which is better than eating nothing, right? Meal times can be fraught, especially when we’re out, but they were so mesmerised by the big screens that we had zero fighting. Possibly a first in our family! They all enjoyed their ice cream sundaes afterwards, but that was never going to not be the case.

Portion sizes are very generous, and excellent value at £9.50 which includes a main, dessert and unlimited soft drink. The staff are all great with the wee ones too, which can make or break a lunch like this. There’s nothing worse than being made to feel like your children are not welcome.

Hubby and I shared some popcorn shrimp to start, and both had surf and turf for mains with medium rare chuck eye. He had his as it was on the menu – with a trio of fries, buttered green beans and a grilled tomato. I had mine from the gluten free menu, served with salad instead of chips. The steak was cooked to perfection, juicy and succulent with just the right amount of marbling. I’ve salivated over the memory of it many times these last two weeks.

Andy had sticky toffee pudding for dessert. The staff decorated it with a sparkler and sang him Happy Birthday as they brought it out. We had seen them do it for another table earlier on, but it was still a lovely surprise. I hadn’t asked them to do Planet Hollywood Londonthis, and thought it was a really nice touch. I had a bite, and it was very yummy, but I’m definitely over non-paleo sweet things. I appreciate I’m the exception not the norm in this respect, and if sweets are your thing you’ll love the dessert menu. It has all the classics some with a modern twist. You’ll find white chocolate bread pudding, Toblerone cheesecake, good old fashioned coke floats and more.

They even have a giant brownie sundae called the Big Boy, which is served in an oversized martini glass and is meant to be shared between the whole table.

Apparently their hand-dipped milkshakes are amazing, and they are currently serving Super Nova Shakes, which sound epic. Check out this video if you’re interested.

Where could Planet Hollywood London have improved things? 

No restaurant is perfect, and improvements can always be made. If I could have a direct word with the management, I would urge them to redecorate the toilets. They were very clean, had brand new Dyson hand dryers and non-touch soap dispensers. However, the seats were a bit wonky and the tiles were in need of re-grouting (or better still replacing).

It’s also worth mentioning that they do not have a coffee machine, and only offer standard filtered coffee and tea. This did come as a shock, because I’m so used to all restaurants offering a range of artisan coffees. To be completely honest though, I didn’t need to be putting anything else in my belly, it was more than full.

Planet Hollywood LondonWe were looked after so well and I wondered if we were being given special treatment, so had a stealthy look around a few times to see if the other patrons were also getting great service, and they certainly seemed to be. The staff weren’t only competent, they were happy, which is always a good sign.

Hubby said it was his best birthday since having kids, and the children have been asking when we can go back on a daily basis. All in all it’s a huge thumbs up for us!

Follow Planet Hollywood London on Social Media 

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**disclaimer: we were invited to Planet Hollywood London for a complimentary meal, in exchange for this honest review. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

Need a silly easy recipe for refined sugar free chutney? Look no further…

refined sugar free chutney
When I returned from a year of living in Cambodia in 2006, it was with a very heavy heart. I was down and out and ridiculously vulnerable. I worked briefly for my friend’s (now ex) husband which did not end well. Then I worked for a year for a man who was essentially the male version of Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.

Yes. He was that bad!

He’d come into the office the morning after watching The Apprentice thinking he was Lord Al. Firing people left, right and centre over the silliest things. I was one of his right hand wo/men, and stood on the correct side of him. Until I dared to disagree with him that is, then he turned on me quicker than milk left in the blazing sun. We were on a jolly up in a foreign country. It was the catalyst for my second mental breakdown, hitting rock bottom and turning my life around. I guess in a way I have a lot to thank him for.

refined sugar free chutneyYou might be wondering what all this has to do with refined sugar free chutney?

After I was eventually freed from that particular toxic environment I couldn’t face getting another job. So I set up my own business making dips and chutneys from my little kitchen in Streatham. Having recently gone refined sugar free (this was 2007) I wanted to create food that would appeal to people eating like I was. Alas, it was way ahead of it’s time, and ended up bankrupting me. You live and you learn though, and I genuinely would not change a thing.

Life lessons like that sometimes take, well, a lifetime to gather. In the year that followed they were plentiful and shaped the way I now think. Especially when it comes to money. This might sound silly to some, but if you aren’t taught financial well being at a young age it can have devastating consequences. More on that topic another time.

Just like all my other recipes, this is also low in natural sugar. Regular readers will know by now that nothing winds me up more than someone calling a recipe sugar free only for it to be loaded to the hilt with sugars and sweeteners. Most food in it’s natural state (fruit, veg, grains, nuts…) contains some form of sugar. If you aren’t adding any to your recipe you wouldn’t call it sugar free you would say no added sugar.

I’m sharing a small batch recipe here, but it lends itself marvellously to being made in a bigger batch. I once turned 200kg of onions into 500 jars for a trade show. My friend said the house smelled like pickled onion monster munch and refused to sleep on our couch in case the scent never came out of his clothes. Oh how different things are now, eleven years later with three children to keep me busy.

refined sugar free chutney

What you’ll need to make a small jar of my refined sugar free chutney

A clean 350g jar, you can sterilise it if you wish
Small lidded saucepan
Spatula
Sharp knife
Chopping board

refined sugar free chutney500g onions
1/2cup or 120ml vinegar
(I’ve used raw organic cider vinegar here but balsamic also works wonderfully)
1/4cup or 35g sugar
(I’ve used organic coconut blossom, but muscovado works great too. You could use honey, but I feel that cooking honey for this long would be a waste of all the gorgeous nutrients. You could also use maple syrup or coconut nectar)

Method

– chop your onions any way you wish and place them in your saucepan

– sprinkle over the sugar

– pour over the vinegar

– place on the highest heat for about 30 seconds, then turn down low and put the lid on your saucepan

– simmer for one hour, checking in every 10 minutes or so and stirring to ensure it’s not getting burnt

– add a small drop of water to loosen the chutney if it does start getting a little bit stuck to the pan

– allow to cool and decant into your glass jar, keep in the fridge

– wow all your friends at barbecues with your home made condiments

– this is a perfect accompaniment for burgers. Check out my trio of easy home made burgers

 

 

Three years ago I created my paleo flatbread recipe, and I’d say it’s been made at least a hundred times since. My little crew love to use it as the base for pizza, which is always a fun meal as it involves the whole family. Mumsnet came to our house to film us making our perfect paleo pizza, and we had a blast!

The base is ridiculously easy to make, and is super tasty. The two main ingredients are arrowroot and coconut flour. Arrowroot is a non-grain resistant starch said to help lower blood sugar levels, which is always a win in my book. It also costs a fraction of the price of nuts, which are my other go-to flour substitution. Coconut flour has many health benefits and compliments the arrowroot perfectly. Check out this article for more info.

Perfect paleo pizza – full recipe 

Ingredients for the base (super yummy on its own as a flatbread):
1 cup ground arrowroot
1/3c coconut flour
1/3c fat of choice
1/3c water
1 egg
1 clove garlic, chopped finely or crushed
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp mixed herbs
1/2 tsp sea salt

Other ingredients:
Tomato puree or pesto
Favourite cheese
Favourite toppings

perfect paleo pizza

Method:
– preheat oven to 200C and line a baking tray with parchment paper

– in a small saucepan put the fat (I like using leftover dripping from roast lamb), vinegar, garlic and water. Heat gently until it’s all liquefied

– while that is heating, put the arrowroot, salt and herbs into a large bowl and stir

– make a well in the centre and crack the egg in it, then pour in the warm fat mixture and give everything a good stir to form a sticky dough

– add the coconut flour and mix well to form a ball

– then start putting it onto the baking tray, either as one large bread or several small ones if you have little helpers like I do

– remove from the oven and spread over your tomato puree or pesto

– add your toppings and cheese

– cook for another 5 mins and serve immediately