Our Trip to New York City with WOW Airlines

Shauna Cleary Blog

I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to write a blog about our trip to New York in January. It’s not as if this was our dream vacation, the one destination that we both always wanted to visit and that we saved up for for almost 8 months in advance… but better late than never, right?

In short, New York was… incredible. We’d been talking about going for almost two years and failed to book lots of flights which we saw online for a good price. Then, in May of last year, WOW Air announced their amazingly cheap flights to the US via Reykjavik and without hesitation, we booked the return flight for €230 each from Amsterdam #bargain.

If a flight is €230 return you’re always going to have the initial worries – will it be safe? Is it going to be comfortable? We did of course have our reservations, especially after seeing some bad reviews online during the icy Christmas season where a lot of flights were delayed or cancelled. However thankfully, our flights didn’t cause us any problems.

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We departed from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at 11am on the Thursday morning and after a short three hour flight arrived in Reykjavik where we had approximately 45 minutes to wait for our connecting flight to Newark Airport. Our first thoughts about the plane itself was that it was pretty basic. It definitely wasn’t what we expected for a Trans-Atlantic flight but then again, if you pay €115 to fly to America, should your expectations be that high in the first place? If you think about your standard Ryanair flight, this is how the WOW Air plane looked. There wasn’t a huge amount of leg-room and we did have some initial issues with people in front putting back their chairs, however it wasn’t a big problem and once we explained the cramped situation to them, they were happy to stay in an upright position. 😉 There was no on-board TVs so unfortunately we didn’t experience the amazing entertainment systems as seen so often in the movies. You could however rent an iPad for €20 for the duration of the flight however we opted to read and watch a movie on my own tablet.

Once we arrived in Reykjavik we grabbed quite possible the most disappointing pizza of our entire lives! Not only did it cost a whopping €16 but sadly, it was not very tasty. The airport there is really tiny so there wasn’t anything to do or see but there was a small gift shop but we didn’t even browse through it. The benefit was that it only took us ten minutes to get from the airplane to our next gate so that was convenient! As it was January in Iceland, a bus had to pick us up from the bottom of the stairs exiting the plane and transport us the 300m to the entrance of the airport. We had the same experience on the way home although at 4am in the morning, it wasn’t as fun!

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Flying into Newark

 

The flight that would take us from Reykjavik to Newark was exactly the same as the first. It was basically the same plane and so again, not much leg-room. Fortunately we did have the last row of the plane to ourselves so that definitely allowed us to get some rest and to also have an incredible view of New York as we flew into the city. The six hour flight was probably the longest either of us have spent on a plane however it wasn’t as bad as we expected! We arrived in Newark at 17.30 US time and after some luggage delays and the standard custom-clearance queues, we finally made it out of the airport where we were picked up by my uncle.

Overall I would say that the experience with WOW Air was great. We did have some delays on the flight back from Newark to Reykjavik and had to run to catch our connecting flight with approximately 15 minutes to spare, however for the weather conditions during this time of year I thought that everything was handled well. For the price that we paid I would definitely recommend them to anyone wanting to travel to New York on a budget. You really do get what you pay for but the staff were also really friendly on board. On the way back at 2am, the flight attendant stopped by our row (again at the back) and invited us to her window to see the Northern Lights. The view wasn’t crisp clear but we did see the lights and it was amazing. It was really a nice touch for her to invite us back.

With flights this cheap and a great service, you would be crazy to pay four times as much just to have a direct flight or on board entertainment. We’re already looking at our next holiday to the US and will definitely be checking out the WOW Air prices to get the best deal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade Vegetable Soup

Homemade vegetable soupAs my graduation is coming up I have decided to go on a no-sugar cleanse for two weeks, ending with a 4 day juice cleanse for the last four days leading up to the big day. However, as juice alone does not and never will provide enough sustenance for any working individual to survive through two hours of work without a grumbly tummy or hallucinating that your colleagues are donuts, I have allowed myself to have a chunky vegetable soup for some of my meals.

This soup is absolutely delicious and is so cheap and easy to make. You can literally add any vegetables you want and can make it whatever consistency you like simply by adding or not adding more water to the pot. Conveniently enough, this soup is perfect for the cold weather that has recently hit and I also love to dip some homemade fresh Irish soda bread into the bowl… mmmmm (recipe to follow). While I don’t normally add potatoes to the soup, this time I did, leaving the skins on so that when I was eating the soup I could crunch through the soft skins. Although Jacob didn’t like the potatoes in the soup as he thought it made it taste a bit bland, I found that it was very tasty and especially the next day after all of the flavours had combined! Because of all the vegetables it does actually leave you feeling full after a bowl as well as providing those essential vitamins and your 5-a-day.

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Ingredients:

  • 4-5 large carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 leek
  • 1 large or 2 small onions
  • 2 potatoes (optional)
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 400ml water
  • Mango chutney
  • Salt and pepper

 

Method:

  1. Chop the carrots, parsnips, leek and onions into small cubes and put in a pot of 400ml boiling water.
  2. Add a chicken stock cube to the water and leave for 20 minutes to boil.
  3. Chop the potatoes into cubes and boil in a separate pot for approximately 15 minutes before draining and adding to the pot of other vegetables.
  4. When the carrots are soft, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool briefly. Taking a hand blender, slowly blend all the vegetables and the water until the majority of the chunks are pureed.
  5. Alternatively if you are using a self-standing blender, simply take lapel-fulls of soup and blend spoonful at a time, re-adding the puree back to the pot after each blend.
  6. If the mixture is too thick simply place back on the heat and add more water until the soup is the right consistency for you.
  7. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of mango chutney to the soup along with salt and pepper.
  8. Leave the soup so the flavours can set for approximately half an hour.
  9. Enjoy!

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Homemade Cheesy Lasagne

A beautiful day on the boat

A beautiful day on the boat

The weather in Holland has been so crazy lately! Last week was rainy, wet and wintery and saw me wearing full waterproof gear just to cycle to work, while this week has been blue skies and sunshine coinciding with cold beers and boat trips. Following a beautiful day on the boat on Tuesday with Jacob, his brother and brother-in-law, we returned home absolutely famished, so I decided to make my homemade cheesy lasagne.

I found this recipe in a cookbook a few years ago and as I never remembered to write down the recipe, I added my own twist by using my own bolognese filling for this delicious dish. It might take a bit of time at the start but now that I am used to making this meal, it takes me approximately 40 minutes from preparing the ingredients to putting it on the table! Even better, this lasagne tastes even more lekker the day after! I use a simple, homemade white sauce for my lasagna which tastes especially delicious with the melted cheese topping. It is very simple and easy to make and it is a healthier option to the prepackaged ones you buy in the shop! Personally I always buy the cheapest lasagne sheets as I am on a modest budget and I don’t notice a difference (so professional lol) but if you would prefer to buy a more expensive brand then that is completely up to you.

Still need to work on my photography :)

Still need to work on my photography 🙂

Ingredients:

For the bolognese:

  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • Half a jar of red pesto
  • 1 tbsp Italian herbs
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and Pepper

For the white sauce:

  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • approximately 300ml milk (I never really measure but read below for details) 🙂
  • Salt and pepper

Additional:

  • 1 packet lasagne sheets (of course!)
  • 1 packet grated cheese (although any sort of cheese will do as cheese is just delicious)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 200C.
  2. Chop the onions and garlic and fry in a saucepan in some olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the minced meat, herbs, salt and pepper and leave to cook for five minutes. Then, add the red pepper and leave for another five minutes.
  3. In the meantime you can begin the simple white sauce. Melt the butter a saucepan. Take off the heat and add the flour. Mix until it turns to a breadcrumb consistency. If you find that the mixture is very gooey, simply add more flour.
  4. Place back on the heat and slowly add the milk. As I said, I never add a set amount of milk, but it should be approximately 300ml. As you add the milk while stirring constantly, you will know when the mixture is becoming too watery. If you feel like you have added too much, then simply leave it on the heat for a little longer while stirring until it thickens. Add salt and pepper and set aside as you finish the bolognese.
  5. Add 1 tin of chopped tomatoes to the bolognese followed by 250ml stock cube. I personally like my bolognese to be thick and sweet but if you like the sauce to be a bit thinner just add more water. From experience I find that a thicker bolognese sauce makes the lasagne easier to cut into slices once it is cut.
  6. To the bolognese mix add the sugar and pesto. The sugar is optional but it adds a sweetness to counter the sourness of the tomatoes.
  7. Bring to the boil and reheat your white sauce.
  8. In a large, glass pyrex dish you will begin to layer the lasagne. Depending on the size of your dish you will normally have 2-3 layers. In my dish, I normally have 2 so I half the amount of bolognese and white sauce to each layer.
  9. The first layer is as follows: 1 layer bolognese, 1 layer white sauce, 3-4 sheets of lasange until the mixture is covered.
  10. Layer 2: 1 layer bolognese, 1 layer lasagne sheets, the remaining white sauce. It is very important to layer the top layer of the lasagne in this order as you will add the cheese on top. Sometimes if done incorrectly, the cheese will burn into the lasagne sheets and becomes very hard. If you are using three layers then simply repeat layer one twice but ensure that the top layer is finished with the white sauce on top.
  11. Add 1 packet of cheese to the top layer of white sauce and pop in the oven at 200C for about 25 minutes. If you want to test if it is cooked, simply stick a knife in the middle. If the lasagne sheets still feel a bit hard simply pop back in for another 5-6 minutes until they soften.
  12. Serve and enjoy!!

I think that this recipe is really simple and it is also very cheap to make. Especially if you wanted to make this dish for a weeks worth of dinners to reheat it grows in taste every day! If I have any cheese that has gone a bit hard I never throw it out and keep it to top a lasagne if I make it as it tastes absolutely perfect when cooked! So please try out my recipe and let me know how you get on!

 

Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies!

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Gooey Chocolate Chunk Brownies (excuse my unprofessional photography skills)

This brownie recipe is by far the best brownie I have ever eaten in my life. When I was in second year of college, my old roommate gave it to me, warning me that it was the secret recipe of her Indian grandmother, and that I must never EVER let this recipe slip under the gaze of another living human being… Fast forward three years later and as I was browsing through BBC Good Food, low and behold I came across the exact same recipe and therefore feel it necessary to share it with everyone who I meet!

I have had my fair share of difficulty with this brownie; the cooking time is absolutely imperative to creating the correct texture and leave it in two minutes short, it becomes a gooey mess, while two minutes late and it burns to a crisp. After attempting and failing several times to perfect this recipe, I now feel like I have discovered the correct formula to make this heavenly brownie a success at every party and event.

While the amount of sugar in the recipe will probably make you have sleepless nights, this isn’t the cheapest recipe to bake, so it isn’t as if you’ll be eating this dessert every week. As a treat, I like to buy good quality vanilla ice-cream and make a nice cup of tea, before settling down to the perfect guilty pleasure after a long day at work.

If followed correctly, I hope that this recipe will bring you the same amount of happiness and pleasure that it brings me every time I make it! You can give this recipe your own twist by adding nuts or marshmallows to the recipe below!

Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies:

Ingredients:

  • 180g good quality dark chocolate
  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 70g milk chocolate (I use 3/4 of a chopped up Milka bar)
  • 70g white chocolate (also a Milka bar)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar
  • Handful of hazelnuts/ mini marshmallows, dried cherries (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 160C – this temperature is imperative!!! Grease your tin; the original recipe suggests to use a flat, rectangular shaped tin approximately 20cm but for mine I use a deep, square tin. If you are using a rectangular, shallow tin then you will need to reduce the cooking time for the brownies.
  2. Chop up the butter into small cubes and break the dark chocolate into small pieces. Put both in a microwaveable bowl and heat until melted (approximately three minutes). Take out after one minute to mix the mixture before continuing to heat, always keeping an eye on it to ensure that it will not burn. Once melted, take out and set aside to cool.
  3. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder together to introduce air and to get rid of any lumps.
  4. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and add the sugar. Whisk until the mixture becomes pale and almost doubles in size. I use a regular hand whisk so this usually takes about five minutes but for those who are privileged enough to own an electric mixture, it should only take about three.
  5. Add the cooled chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs and sugar and mix with a wooden spoon. Mix the ingredients slowly and be careful not to over-mix, you should make a figure of eight in the middle about six times to ensure that everything is combined but not overdone.
  6. Add the flour mixture and continue to make a figure of eight mixing motion, once again ensuring that you do not over-mix.
  7. Chop up the milk and white chocolate (as I said in the ingredients I usually just buy a block of white and milk Milka chocolate and chop them up into smallish chunks. A bar is 100g in Holland so I usually just use 3/4 of a packet) and add to the mixture.
  8. Pour the mixture into the tin and cook at 160C for 38 minutes. After this time you can take a knife and stick it in the centre of the brownie dish. If the knife has a very gooey mixture left behind, put it back in the oven for another two minutes but no longer as the mixture will completely dry up. If it seems only slightly gooey then you can leave it aside to sit; as the mixture cools, the centre will harden so that the inside will not fall apart when you begin to cut them. I usually cut the brownies 4×4 to get sixteen brownies as they are incredibly heavy and rich.

And that is it! Easy peasy, delicious brownie recipe!   I hope you try and enjoy them and if you do please comment and let me know what you think! 🙂