Sunday, 17 December 2017

3D Christmas Cookie Tree


I feel like Christmas has almost passed me by this year. Normally I do all my shopping in November if not before, and do plenty of Christmas baking. This year being pregnant has meant I'm tired a lot of the time, spending half my weekends having naps, and when I am awake I have far more important things to do like register for nurseries which have a one-year waiting list!

My beloved cat was also unwell over the past week but is much better now, and I feel a bit more awake at the moment (I hope that lasts!) so decided it was about time I did something festive. Yesterday I listened to Christmas music while wrapping gifts and actually did some baking.


I bought the Lakeland 3D Christmas cookie cutter set in their January sale last year and hadn't used it yet so this was the perfect time. You get a set of star shaped plastic cookie cutters in varying sizes and two piping bags and nozzles.


There's a recipe on the back of the box which I followed though I also added some cinnamon for a more Christmassy taste. You need to make two cookies from each cutter, though I found the recipe recommended baking the cookies for 12 minutes, which I think works for the larger ones but once you get to the very small cookies, 12 minutes is too long. I baked them in batches and reduced the oven time as the cookies got smaller.


I left them all to cool, then mixed up some icing sugar with water to make a thick paste that I could pipe. I found the nozzle provided in the kit a bit thin so just snipped off the end of the piping bag and piped an outline around the edge of each cookie star. I then added some Dr Oetker gold pearls to the tip of each star while the icing was still soft.


Next I made up some thinner icing and used it to flood the inside of the cookies, and left them all to set.

The final step is to layer the cookies starting with the largest on the bottom; as you have two of each size, rotate one so that the points on the star are sticking out between the points of the cookie underneath.

I placed the final small star standing up on the top of the 'tree' though you could also add another decoration on top if you like.


The effect is really pretty and it is a little time consuming to bake this many cookies when you can't get them all in the oven at once but otherwise it's a very easy kit to use and something you could do with children. The cookies tasted really nice too - we tucked into them after helping my mother-in-law decorate her tree.

I'm sharing this with Cook Blog Share, hosted this week by Hijacked by Twins.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 50

This week I need to eat a special diet for three days ahead of a glucose tolerance test - the three days started on Sunday so it's really only Monday and Tuesday this week. It's a carb-heavy diet so shouldn't be too difficult!

Monday
Breakfast yogurt, fruit juice, toast from the canteen at work, tea with milk
Lunch ham or tuna sandwich/ bagel, packet of crisps (it's actually a high carb diet!), piece of fruit
afternoon snack: 3 rich tea biscuits
Dinner pasta with chicken, glass of milk, 3 rich tea biscuits

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt, fruit juice, toast from the canteen at work, tea with milk
Lunch ham or tuna sandwich/ bagel, packet of crisps (it's actually a high carb diet!), piece of fruit
afternoon snack: 3 rich tea biscuits
Dinner lamb grillsteak/ chicken chargrill with mashed potato and veg, glass of milk, 3 rich tea biscuits

Wednesday - at hospital in the morning then working from home
Breakfast nothing - fasting overnight
Lunch something quick like a sandwich when I am finally allowed to eat after my tests!
Dinner sausage casserole and mashed potato

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich or soup
Dinner chicken in breadcrumbs with chips or mashed potato for him, ready made fish pie for me

Friday
Breakfast  cereal
Lunch out - work Christmas lunch
Dinner hopefully out seeing Star Wars (so dinner will depend on time of film) but we haven't actually booked it yet!

Saturday
Lunch jacket potatoes
Dinner pan-fried hake in lemon butter sauce I was going to make a few weeks back but didn't - the hake is still in the freezer!

Sunday
Lunch smoked mackerel pasta for me, carbonara pasta for him
Dinner using up leftover hake in a curry for me, from this recipe; chicken curry for him

Join in the blog hop!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Forever Friends Decoupage Christmas Cards

A year or even two years ago I bought a set of Forever Friends decoupage Christmas pictures in Wilkinson’s – I remember it well as I only ever go into that shop about once a year as it’s not in a place I visit very often. I hadn’t opened the packs and came across them the other day when I was supposed to be tidying my craft supplies. I thought the cards would be so quick to make that I could justify pausing my tidy-up to make a couple!

 
Each sheet in the set came with three or four layers, starting with a background rectangle, then sections where you build up the bear. I used adhesive pads to make each layer stand out, and used a sentiment from another pack on the bottom of the card. The Christmas print background papers, which I covered each card with initially, were also from the same Forever Friends set I think.
 
It’s nice to be more creative and not just follow the designs prescribed but on the other hand these look quite professional – I didn’t even have to cut out the decoupage layers myself, they popped straight out of the pack!


I'm sharing these with the That's Crafty! Challenge and Papers Creators Crafts Christmas themed challeges.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Review: Novotel London Excel

 
It’s very rare that I stay overnight in a hotel in London as it’s where I work and I live just on the outskirts. In fact I can’t actually remember the last time I stayed in a hotel in the city or indeed if I ever actually have!

Recently I was put up overnight in a hotel near the Excel centre for an event I was attending there - the Novotel London Excel. It was going to finish at 11.30 which was too late for me to be able to get a train home –Excel is out to the east –and a taxi would probably have been nearly as expensive as the room, considering I’m fairly sure the event organisers would have got a block booking discount.
 
 
The Novotel London Excel is right next to the Excel centre – literally a five minute walk which is great if you are attending an event there. Unsurprisingly there are several hotels in the area, many of them along a little row that also has a couple of restaurants and convenience stores – the Ibis next door, the Crowne Plaza a bit further up, and even a fancy yacht that’s actually a floating hotel.

Check in and check out were both as quick and efficient as you might imagine at a hotel next to a big conference centre – they must have times when there are huge numbers of people wanting to check out at the same time! The lobby looked very modern and nicer than I was expecting for a chain hotel, complete with Christmas decorations. The room was also bigger than I expected, with a cool London design on the wall above the bed, though the toilet was separate to the bathroom and in such a tiny room it was hard to squeeze in with my baby bump!


I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the hotel itself but I did have breakfast there. Again as speed and efficiency is probably quite important, it was a buffet breakfast, with various hot and cold options. I’m not a big fan of cooked breakfasts so went to make myself a sausage sandwich, but when I cut into the sausages they were completely pink and undercooked inside. I wouldn’t have been keen on eating them that way normally but as I’m pregnant there was no way I was eating them, so went back to the buffet and picked two more sausages that looked better cooked. They were equally pink inside so I gave up, told a member of staff and had a croissant instead, which was a bit disappointing!


It also took me until about half way through breakfast, after all the faffing around with the sausages, before I was able to find someone to ask for a cup of tea – there was nowhere to help yourself and they didn’t come to my table, which again was a bit disappointing. It seemed a pretty good hotel otherwise so it was a shame that I felt a bit let down by the breakfast. Having said that I was lucky not to be evacuated at 2.30 am by a fire alarm that went off in one of the nearby hotels so I did at least get a good night’s sleep!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 49

I seem to be blogging even less and less these days. This weekend my husband and his dad built our new cot, moved the bed to the other spare room and moved the futon that was in there into the nursery. I was re-organising and tidying as they went, which is about the only thing I achieved this weekend as I spent half of Saturday and half of Sunday asleep! I don't know why I'm so tired - I'm not anaemic and most of the friends I've spoken to didn't experience this, apart from one who told me she often had to close her office door during the day and take a nap!

I didn't post my meal plan yesterday for two reasons, I hadn't actually written it (!) and also I had a rare night out on Monday night which ended with my connecting train being cancelled and having to stand in a mini-cab queue late at night by myself in a not particularly nice area. Sigh. I haven't really arranged any other pre-Christmas get-togethers with friends which is a shame but based on last night I don't really fancy it right now anyway!

So here's this week's meal plan

Monday
Lunch ham sandwich
Dinner you know when you're out drinking and you don't actually have dinner then get a snack at the train station on the way home? (Londoners who commute will know what I mean, anyway). When you're not drinking you suddenly realise part way through the evening that you are really hungry... and then your train is there and there's no time to get food, then your connecting train is cancelled and you're left in a dodgy area where the only thing open is KFC which really doesn't look that appealing.. and by the time you get home all you can find that you can eat (as you want hot food that's quick) is a packet of micro-chips in the freezer. That.

Tuesday  morning off to visit a very cool nursery that has its own mini farm complete with miniature goats and what they claim are micropigs that are just all grown up now.. I think someone conned them into buying normal pigs as they were huge!
Lunch coronation chicken sandwich bought from the bakery on the way home
Dinner homemade chicken pie using chicken from Sunday's roast

Wednesday working from home as I have an antenatal appointment
Lunch soup possibly - homemade if time but I never seem to get time these days!
Dinner chicken curry

Thursday
Lunch bagel if they haven't gone off already as I can't remember where I bought them!
Dinner lamb/ beef grillsteak with mashed potato

Friday
Lunch maybe a sandwich
Dinner might go to yoga as it was cancelled last week and I couldn't go for a few weeks so if I do, I'll have a baked potato or microwave risotto for dinner and my husband can have a frozen pizza

Saturday
Lunch sausage sandwich if we have bread, or baked potatoes if not
Dinner caramelised minute steaks with mustard and potato wedges based on this recipe

Sunday need to eat a special diet for three days ahead of a glucose tolerance test
Breakfast 2 crumpets, fruit juice, tea with milk
Lunch tuna melt bagel (pizza bagel for him), packet of crisps, glass of milk
snack: 3 rich tea biscuits
Dinner pork chop with roast potatoes and veg - sausages and Yorkshire pudding for my husband - followed by 3 rich tea biscuits and potentially 1/3 packet sugar-free angel delight

Join in the blog hop

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Tattered Lace Ornate Reindeer Christmas Cards

When I got my Sizzix Big Shot cutter two Christmases ago, I also received a beautiful tattered lace die called 'ornate reindeer'. I cut out several reindeer from sparkly cardstock almost right away, with a view to making cards for the following Christmas, but then that Christmas (last year) I made a few cards but think I forgot about these die cuts! So when I came across them earlier this year I made a few cards that I am now able to send out this year.

I've written before about using the die cutter and tattered lace dies. This one was particularly fiddly in places so my poking tool came in handy!

What I hadn't realised initially was the size of these dies - they take up most of the size of a standard 6x4 card blank, not leaving much room for other embellishments.

 
I did try out some different things though I'm not sure which of these works best and I don't feel like I'm really doing justice to the tattered lace die cuts. If you have this die and some good ideas for how to use it, please let me know!

For these first two cards I used large gold card blanks so I wouldn't need any other background. For one card I cut a gold oval with scalloped edges using another die, and mounted the reindeer on it - the reindeer is cut from sparkly red card. I added the words 'winter joy' which are from another die - I think it's actually a die of Christmas baubles with the words in the middle.

For the card on the right, I cut the reindeer from sparkly black card and mounted it using the smallest adhesive pads I could find which I even cut in half but you can still see them behind the reindeer. The ornate shapes around the edges are offcuts from die cutting - as this was so long ago I can't remember if they were the bits that came out from the spaces in between the antlers or from another die altogether. I used a 'merry Christmas' gold outline sticker to finish the card.


Here I covered the card blank on the left with two pieces of printed paper in complementary light blue colours - you can't see too well but I think they both have a snowflake design. I cut the reindeer from sparkly gold card and stuck it on the top half of the card, and a wooden gold card topper saying 'joy' - from a pack from The Works - on the bottom.

For the second card, I turned a gold card blank sideways and put two reindeers facing each other - one made from sparkly bronze card, the other from sparkly gold, with a 'merry Christmas' outline sticker in the middle and two little gold stars in the corners.


Finally I made a CAS (clean and simple) reindeer card using a green card blank and a reindeer die cut from gold card (non-sparkly this time) and a 'merry Chrismas' out line sticker.


I found the last of these in particular quite masculine so am linking up with the Cardz 4 Guyz challenge where the theme this week is reindeer.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - week 48

Yes I know it's Wednesday... I don't really know where Monday or Tuesday night went. I was so tired on Tuesday I spent most of the evening asleep while my husband watched TV! We had another busy weekend, with a visit to my family a couple of hours away (and back in the same day) for my niece's first birthday party - the first year has flown past! I made her birthday cake which you will be able to see on the blog soon. Then on Sunday I went to see my friend's nine year old daughter in High School Musical - the lead parts were played by teenagers, and the age range went right down to about 4 or 5, it was very sweet, and a bit unintentionally funny in places (I'm still not sure why there was a kid in a Pharaoh costume, I got the feeling that was just what he wanted to wear that day!).

I did at least spend a bit of time on Monday planning meals for this week so it's a bit less haphazard than it has been for the last couple of weeks. I expect meal planning will go out of the window entirely when I have a baby next March!

Monday
Lunch – sandwich
Dinner – stand and stuff tacos with mince and potato wedges/ salad

Tuesday – working from home as I have an antenatal appointment
Lunch – tuna melt bagel (ended up being too tired to make this and just had bread and butter!)
Dinner – pasta bake with meatballs and garlic bread

Wednesday
Lunch – sandwich/ bagel
Dinner – out at a work event

Thursday
Lunch – buy something as I won’t have been home (going straight into work from an overnight stay at the event)
Dinner – stand and stuff tacos (will need using up once they’ve been opened) with chicken and rice

Friday – working from home as the cot is being delivered!
Lunch- macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner – either a baked potato or pizza as it’s quick as I plan to go to yoga

Saturday – planning to sort out the nursery furniture today!
Lunch – crumpets with scrambled eggs and bacon
Dinner – steak and chips (my husband’s favourite and he will have been working hard moving and building furniture all day!)

Sunday
Lunch- bacon sandwich, another of my husband’s favourites
Dinner – roast chicken, which is my favourite!

 Join in the blog hop and link up your meal plan!

 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Kinder and Oreo Chocolate Pancakes


Inspired by my recent visit toMy Old Dutch where Kinder and Oreo pancakes were on the menu, I decided to recreate something similar at home when my parents were visiting, for an easy but indulgent dessert. My husband enjoyed it so much, he requested the same thing the next night, made in exactly the same way!

When I had the Kinder dessert, I had a thick stack of pancakes, but it was really too much and I only managed to eat about a quarter of the pancakes. I decided it would work well with one thin crepe, and as I was making several, and wanted the pancakes to be really thin, I decided to buy ready-made crepes and warm them through.

Here’s everything else I did and what you need – but really you can have fun decorating the pancake however you want!

Serves 4

4 ready-made crepes
60g milk chocolate, melted
4 Kinder surprise eggs
Handful of mini marshmallows
2 packets Kinder Bueno (with 2 sticks in each)
8 small scoops vanilla ice cream
4 dollops of cream or can of squirty cream
 
 
Melt the chocolate either in the microwave or a bain marie and spread over each pancake. Open out a Kinder surprise egg (you can give the toy on the side as you serve the pancakes!) and place the two halves on the pancake. Take one stick of Kinder Bueno, break in half and place in between the Kinder eggs. I then gave the pancakes a 20 second blast in the microwave at full power to slightly melt the chocolates.

Place a scoop of ice cream into each Kinder shell, sprinkle the mini marshmallows in the gaps, squirt some cream in the middle and voila! Everyone enjoyed these pancakes though I couldn’t finish mine – there probably is such a thing as too much chocolate!
 

When my husband requested a repeat performance I decided to make a pancake using Oreos – in the spirit of the Kinder vs Oreo challenge that My Old Dutch is running. I ended up making something quite similar to my Kinder pancake, with melted chocolate spread on the bottom, a sprinkling of mini marshmallows and some broken up chocolate Oreo biscuits, with a whole Oreo in the middle and a squirt of cream sitting on top.

I preferred the Kinder version because the Oreo biscuits were a bit too hard and crunchy for this kind of dessert – but if you’re feeling inspired, why not experiment with your favourite chocolates or sweets and share a picture of how you’ve decorated your pancake?
 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Restaurant Review: Tasha's Tearoom, Epsom, Surrey

Every time my parents come to visit, they drive through Cheam, and remark that it looks like a pretty little village with some interesting shops. So this time when they came to stay, we decided to go into Cheam for lunch, a look around and some shopping – helped by the fact there was a NCT nearly new sale in Cheam that afternoon!


It was a cold, drizzly day and Cheam turned out to be smaller than we thought, so we arrived in the morning in time for coffee and had pretty much walked around the whole of the central Cheam Village area by lunch. The NCT sale was still a couple of hours away so we decided not to bother and went home!

As we walked around I had an eye out for places to go for lunch and thought Love Crepe looked good, but had already decided to make pancakes for dessert that evening and we didn’t want the same thing twice. We ended up in Tasha’s Tearoom - the vintage crockery and cakes in the window looked very appealing.

 
They serve afternoon tea, cake and a small range of hot savoury dishes; as it was a cold day, all three of us went for a ham and cheese toastie, which came with salad and crisps. The toastie was a little limp (rather than crispy) but the filling was good – thick cut ham and just the right amount oozing cheese. I enjoyed a lemon and ginger tea which really hit the spot on a cold day.

We didn’t have room for any cake which was a shame as it looked really nice!
 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 47

Last week was a busy week so I didn't get to blog much. One night I was out at the Institute of Internal Communications awards - where I, ahem, won an award for the third year in a row - and the other nights I was either too tired to do much or preparing for my parents coming to stay (the spare room is finally tidy and ready to start being turned into a nursery, once we buy some nursery furniture anyway!).

Since my parents were here I didn't do the meal planning or food shopping I usually would on the weekend so everything is a bit ad hoc today.... I thought I'd do a bare bones meal plan at any rate and hopefully fill it in later!


Monday
Lunch: leftovers from the weekend
Dinner: Toad in the hole deconstructed (to use leftover Yorkshire puddings) with mashed potato

Tuesday working from home
Lunch: TBA
Dinner: Leek and ham hock gratin for me, based on this recipe, and something different TBA for my hubby!

Wednesday
Dinner: TBA

Thursday
Dinner – pasta, quick so I can make a cake (also my husband is out)

Friday
Lunch: TBA
Dinner:- quick dinner, as I will be decorating the cake

Saturday
lunch – out
Dinner – home late, pizza from freezer

Sunday
lunch- out
Dinner – TBA

Join in the blog hop!

 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Easy Chocolate French Toast


This is an indulgent brunch or snack that's easy to whip up- all you need is three slices of bread, some chocolate spread, an egg, and ideally some sugar or sweetener as well!

The idea came from the Slimming Foodie though her recipe also uses peanut butter, which sounds very nice. I just wanted to quickly share what I made and send you back to her website for more detailed instructions and recipe.

Spread two slices of bread with chocolate spread and sandwich together with a third slice so you have three layers.
 
Beat an egg in a small bowl with a dash of vanilla essence and dip both sides of the sandwich so it is coated in egg.
 
Fry the sandwich on both sides for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle one side of the bread with sugar or sweetener, turn and fry for another minute. Sprinkle the other side, then turn and fry that side for a minute.

That’s literally all you need to do – you can cut the crusts off the bread or leave them on. You end up with a toasted sandwich that’s moist and slightly sweet on the outside, with a gooey chocolate middle – fun for an occasional treat!

Monday, 13 November 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 46

This week I'm not having my usual working from home day on a Tuesday as I'm at an internal comms seminar followed by an awards event at which I am shortlisted for two national awards (ahem - again - I've won them both over the past two years!). They are Best Editor and Best Writer from the Institute of Internal Communications but as I've been in this industry for more than three years now, I'm starting to get to know people and know that there is definitely some stiff competition!

Then at the weekend my parents are coming to visit which I am looking forward to - I think they will be surprised at how big my baby bump has got since they last saw me at the end of September!
So here's the meal plan I will use as a guide at least....

Monday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch  leftover pasta from the weekend
Dinner chicken fricassee based on this recipe with leftover chicken from Sunday

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch sandwich as I won't have long before needing to head to the seminar and awards
Dinner home late after the awards - can't remember if it's actually a dinner event or not!

Wednesday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch quick mess-free sandwich as I will be with a supplier all day
Dinner will have to work a bit late as I have a meeting so something quick from the freezer with chips

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch soup
Dinner spaghetti bolognese

Friday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch leftover spaghetti bolognese
Dinner my parents here - something easy from the freezer

Saturday
Lunch out for lunch
Dinner risotto followed by pancakes

Sunday
Lunch egg and cheese/ tuna bagels
Dinner roast gammon

join in the blog hop!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Review: Club Cala Romani, Majorca

 
At the very end of summer I went on holiday with two girl friends to Majorca. We wanted a cheap and cheerful week (or almost week) in the sun, and with three of us wanting to fly from different airports, returning home on different dates, with different budgets and different requirements in mind, it was never going to be easy!

We found Club Cala Romani on lastminute.com and agreed to book it; I'd been quite busy at work at the time and didn't want to hold the others up as there were only a few rooms remaining, so I said go for it - and only read the reviews afterwards.

There were some OK but not great reviews on Trip Advisor, a few from people who loved it who go there every year - and some really, really terrible reviews. I've never gone anywhere with such poor ratings before, and my heart sank. So what I want to say right away was: it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I was expecting!

OK, it wasn't a great hotel -and I don't even mean by comparison with some of the amazing places I've been lucky enough (and I mean really lucky) to stay, like the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach. Even based on much cheaper self-catering holidays I'd had in my 20s to places like Greece and Cyprus, it was somewhere that had its pros and cons, but overall I had a nice holiday, it surpassed my (low) expectations and it's the sort of place I think children would really enjoy.

We were three lone females travelling without children, but going in the school holidays as one of my friends is a teacher, which did put us in a very small minority. This is definitely a family resort and I don't think I remember seeing anyone else without kids!

I will go through some of the pros and cons in turn, also addressing some of the main criticisms I read on Trip Advisor which were really off-putting and not necessarily what I experienced.

area next to the hotel pool
The airport transfer
Booked as part of the package on lastminute.com though provided by a third party called MTS Globe Spain. It was advertised as 90 minutes but I had seen several people on Trip Advisor saying it took three hours. It actually took me 2 hours 35 minutes on the way there - I got a taxi on the way back but that's another story.

It's easy to find the desk at the airport then they tell you which number bus to get on outside. The coach has air con and the journey was fine though Club Cala Romani was the very last stop.

I was flying home a day earlier than my friends and was worried that my transfer pick up time was four hours before my flight - it's not a big airport but I had seen a lot in the news about long queues so wanted to get to the airport two hours beforehand, but as it took more than two and a half hours on the way - and I'd seen one review where someone said it took 4 hours on the way back - I was a bit worried.

I spoke to the hotel reception and they said they could book me a taxi, though I would forfeit the money I had already paid for the transfer. The receptionist told me it was a 75 euro flat fee to the airport and since I hadn't needed to spend much money on holiday I decided to do it for peace of mind. But when it came to leave and my taxi was 20 minutes late, I went back to reception and the receptionist - a different person to the one who booked the taxi the day before - called the company and found that there was no record of my booking. They said they could send another taxi right away but that took another 20 minutes, though I still arrived at the airport in plenty of time. When we arrived the taxi driver charged me 86 euros - when I argued and said I'd been told there was a 75 euro flat fare he said there was no such thing! So if you are going to get a taxi instead of a transfer then I would watch out as it isn't as straightforward as you might think!

The hotel - checking in
I arrived with one of my friends while the third was arriving later. At reception we asked if she was in an adjacent room and they went to look her up - and found they had no record of her booking! We were in a bit of a panic but luckily the hotel wasn't full and by the time she arrived and we met at reception, they had allocated her a room - and we saw her name hand-written onto the bottom of a printed list! I'm not sure how that happened as we all booked through lastminute.com, albeit separately.

The room
I had a double room to myself which was a good size, basic and simply furnished but nothing wrong with it. My room would have overlooked the pool but I was on the first floor so I actually looked onto a flat roof that was the top of the restaurant below, so couldn't see anything at all.

my room
The room was supposed to have air con and there was a temperature gauge on the wall but no sign of an air con unit; instead there was a big fan on the ceiling. The lowest the temperature gauge could be set to was 23C which was a bit worrying as it was the end of August, but strangely the room actually seemed OK with the ceiling fan on. I did speak to some people who were staying in the family apartments on the other side of the hotel and they said there was no air con in their rooms at all, they were having to pay to hire fans and it was still unbearably hot - apparently the hotel is installing air con in those rooms in 2018!

view from my terrace - with a child's rubber ring on the flat roof
Walls are thin though - I could hear people upstairs banging around and at one point hear the conversation the people next door were having.

The pool
There are actually two main pools next to each other - one is supposed to be for adults only and the other for children but nobody seemed to pay attention to that rule. There's also a baby pool a short walk away.

Neither main pool ever seemed that warm - even though it was August, it was cloudy most of the time and even sunbathing we were rarely in direct sunlight, I never felt particularly hot and I never really got a tan - and when there was a breeze I felt quite chilly!

I'd read several reviews on Trip Advisor saying the pool was sometimes closed because a child had pooped in it, which sounded disgusting - though my friend who has a toddler assured me it can happen even if the child is wearing swim pants (like nappies but waterproof). I still thought it was pretty unpleasant and I've never been anywhere on holiday where that has been a problem, so I was half expecting it, but my heart still sank one day when I heard this announcement at 3pm: "The pool is now closed until 5pm. We would like to remind parents that babies should wear Pampers swim nappies in the pool, which are available in the shop." The most annoying thing was it was the larger adult pool that was shut for two hours - where there weren't supposed to have been children in the first place!

I found the sun loungers by the pool really uncomfortable - rigid plastic with no cushioning and most of them couldn't have the head propped up so you had no choice but to lie completely flat. They gave me back ache after about five minutes so I spent most of the time sitting on one of the chairs from the bar by the pool.

The food
The hotel is all inclusive, so all food is included other than anything you want to buy from the on-site shop. It has a main buffet restaurant and a small snack bar that is open between meal times. The snack bar was very disappointing - it looked like a cross between a cheap café and a school canteen. When we arrived in the afternoon, not having had lunch, we went in with high hopes, only to find a coffee machine that had a 'not in use' sign on it, a self-serve machine for juice that tasted very watered down, and a self-serve tap for red wine and white wine (not sure how you stop the kids from helping themselves, even though they have different coloured wristbands!).

buffet station
The food choice in the snack bar was the same every day - bread rolls, butter, ham and cheese - I suppose it's filling but also cheap for the hotel to do, and I couldn't help wondering about the reviews I'd read where people speculated it was the meat and cheese left over from breakfast or even the day before put out again.

The main restaurant isn't bad, I thought it would be a bit school dinner hall but it actually looked ok. There are three long serving stations all with the same food - or so we thought, we realised after a little while that the one at the back of the room was slightly bigger and always had something extra the other counters didn't have, like pizza or a whole joint of roast pork.

roast pork
It's self-serve buffet and children under a certain age aren't supposed to go up unattended; you need to be careful though as people do push in, or pile too much on their plate and spill it - one day I slipped and nearly went flying with my plate after stepping in a pile of spilled spaghetti on the floor.

The dining hall was busy but we never had to queue for a table whatever time we went.

lamb and potatoes
There was a fairly large choice of food with most things changing each day; always a couple of types of pasta, lots of salad stuff, and three mains - e.g. one day was fish (I think mackerel), lamb and lasagne, but only one hot vegetable to go with them  which bizarrely was Brussels sprouts! Then there were two types of potatoes plus chips and pizza cut into squares, so something for everyone - and the lamb which I had was pretty good.

fish in white sauce, croquette potatoes, plain rice

Another day I had pork, fried potatoes and cauliflower, which like a lot of the food I found under-seasoned, though there is salt and pepper on every table and that was probably the worst thing I could say about the food.

One evening none of the choices looked appealing, and just as I was about to give up and have pasta with tomato sauce, I spotted the extra serving station down the far end, where someone was carving roast pork, which I had with roast potatoes, and gravy when I eventually found it. It might have been Majorca in August but a nice bit of roast dinner was lovely!

dessert station

dessert plate
There's a separate buffet station for dessert, where there were three choices every day, all cake-based eg swiss roll or a creamy vanilla cake. The fruit is good - I often had a huge slice of watermelon for dessert. There's also a freezer chest of mini tubs of ice cream but they are generic and only basic flavours -if you want a proper ice cream you have to buy one from the shop. You can help yourself to water, watered-down tasting juice or wine, or get a drink from the bar in the building next door.

breakfast buffet
At breakfast there was a fairly big choice of food, but on the first morning the sausages were mini hot dogs (not to everyone's taste and I couldn't eat them since I was pregnant) and the 'bacon' was the same type of sliced deli ham we'd seen in the snack bar yesterday but fried, and curling at the edges - I did wonder if it was exactly the same ham! There are also croissants, and different types of biscuit or cake things every day, bread, porridge and quite runny looking yogurt and fruit. Another day there were real sausages and bacon and even churros with chocolate sauce.

breakfast selection
There's a pizzeria only open at lunchtimes (the main buffet restaurant is also open at lunch). It serves pizza - always plain cheese and tomato when we were there, cut into small squares - plus hotdogs, burgers and chips, and each day a couple of random things that I assume are what they are serving in the main restaurant, e.g. spaghetti and mixed veg. The pizza was actually quite nice and gooey but the burgers nothing special.
pizzeria lunch
We ate there a couple of times, alternating with the main restaurant at lunchtimes. The food there at lunch was similar to dinner - though not the same thing on the same day. I often didn't fancy meat and potatoes at lunch so had pasta  a few times which was a bit plain but OK.

The drinks
The pool bar has self-service soft drinks and there were wasps circling the taps constantly which wasn't very nice - you have to take your chances to get a coke or lemonade.

There is a two drink limit per person on alcoholic drinks and they come in small plastic cups - I suppose it's one way to make sure guests don't over indulge. If you have wine then the plastic cup isn't a bad size but if you are drinking beer it's tiny. Some people on Trip Advisor were complaining about the two drink rule - I suppose it's a pain if you want to get drinks for yourself and your family at the same time - but you probably can't easily carry more than two of the plastic cups at once and it does reduce wastage - if you are by the pool and having soft drinks you need to drink them quickly because of the wasps which are flying around constantly. I found they left me alone if I ignored them (and put my cup in the bin when I had finished) but my friend did actually get stung by a wasp which wasn't nice.

There are two bars open in the evening, one in the theatre (where the entertainment takes place so it's lively, quite noisy and busy) then a quieter bar near reception. The queues in the theatre bar weren't bad anyway, and both have the same choice of drinks covered on the all inclusive: vodka, rum, gin and one other spirit I can't remember with mixers, plus wine, beer, slushies and a limited list of cocktails, so you can't ask for just anything, though the cocktails seemed to cover most of the well known popular ones. There was even a non-alcoholic cocktail on the list that was great because I'm pregnant, though it was bright pink and a bit sickly sweet! My friend who had the gin said it tasted awful but the other drinks were apparently OK.

The entertainment
The hotel offers activities throughout the day, some for children, others for teenagers and some for the whole family, ranging from Spanish lessons to rifle shooting to aqua-aerobics and face painting.

activities board
There's a theatre with a show every night but not until 10pm (lasting an hour) which is surprisingly late for a family resort, especially when dinner runs from 7-9 and most people with young kids seemed to eat early. There seemed to be some sort of kids club activity in the theatre from 9 (involving getting parents to do embarrassing things on stage, then a kids disco) then the main entertainment varies every night (for two weeks at least then I imagine they repeat).


One evening the entertainment crew (who also run the activities during the day, and seemed popular with the kids) were miming or possibly singing along to different songs while dressed in character, e.g. Barbie Girl, YMCA, the Baywatch theme etc. It was quite cringe-worthy at times but over the course of the week I decided they were fairly good entertainers, we just weren't their target audience at all. Kids loved it, and parents enjoyed it because their children were enjoying it (or because they'd had a few drinks). Childless and sober (due to pregnancy) I wasn't exactly getting into it in the same way - but there was literally nothing else to do in the evenings!


Outside the hotel - the beach
The beach path is well signposted from by the hotel swimming pool and it's about a ten minute walk to some steps down to the beach. If you walk along the parallel path higher up you get to a little town centre which has some other restaurants and bars, souvenir shops and places you can book excursions.
the beach
We went to the beach one day when the pool was shut due to poo-gate; you are supposed to pay 4 euros 20 for a sun lounger and another 4 euros for an umbrella but it was already mid-afternoon and there was nobody around to pay.

There's a snack bar (nothing to do with the hotel so you have to pay) and toilets up at the top of the steps, and you can hire pedaloes. The water was quite warm and really clear; you can see fish even without a snorkel and I could hear people by the rocks (the beach is in a sort of cove leading out to the sea) saying they could see jellyfish.

We also went out for a day trip which I will review separately, to the Cuevas del Drach (dragon caves) and Porto Cristo.

Overall I didn't have a bad holiday at all - the people at the hotel were actually quite friendly and quiet, not the sort of rowdy drunk crowd I had been expecting given this is a pretty cheap all inclusive - probably because most of them were there with children. There are plenty of activities, the food isn't bad at all and offers something for everyone, the accommodation was fine, and while there were some issues like the poo in the pool and the entertainment not being to my taste, it was a lot better than I was expecting. I wouldn't choose to go back, but for the price it wasn't bad at all.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Tree and Santa Pattern Christmas Cards


These two cards are mainly made from a mini set that contained a few pieces of patterned paper and one sheet of die cuts. I think they are quite fun but there is also something a bit masculine about them, I think because of the colours and also the geometrical shapes.

On the first card, I covered a square card blank with the patterned paper and mounted a die cut tree with adhesive pads. It's also a little hard to see but there are a few tiny die cuts in the shape of presents and snowflakes also on adhesive pads so they stand out. To finish off, I used a 'noel' shiny red sticker from a different pack.

For the second card I covered the bottom half of the card with patterned paper and used a piece of washi tape across the edge as a border. The two child (elf?) stickers at the top were actually left over from a pack of Christmas address labels that I think came from Ikea a couple of years ago. Finally a 'tis the season' sticker in the top right corner completes the card.

I am sharing this with Crafty Hazelnuts Christmas Challenge and Cardz 4 Guyz where the theme is Christmas trees.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Baby Cow Gender Reveal Cake - For My Own Baby!


There’s a big trend at the moment for gender reveal parties, in the US at least. I’m seeing more and more posts and pictures on the internet where couples expecting a baby reveal whether it’s a boy or a girl in front of their family and friends – often in quite creative ways. For instance, when the gender is discovered at the antenatal scan, rather than tell the parent(s), the sonographer places the result into a sealed envelope. The parents give the envelope to a bakery, which makes a cake that has either neutral or both pink and blue decorations on the outside, but the cake inside is dyed either pink or blue, and often has sweets in the centre that tumble out. It’s only when the couple actually cut into the cake and see what colour is inside that they find out whether they are having a boy or a girl.

 

Another reveal method is for the couple or mum to stand surrounded by family and friends (usually outside) holding a large helium balloon that is opaque – often black or patterned. They burst the balloon and are showered with either pink or blue confetti – again having had no idea themselves what the gender would be.

Those seem really fun if you want to make a thing of revealing the gender in front of your loved ones, but the idea of not knowing ourselves was a bit strange to me – and gender reveal parties aren’t really a thing in the UK. Nonetheless, I decided I wanted to make a gender reveal cake – but rather than give a sealed envelope to a bakery, my husband and I would find out at our 21-week scan and I’d bake a cake that evening.

I wanted to fill the cake with sweets that would tumble out when it was cut, and I found getting hold of pink sweets was easy but blue surprisingly hard! As I was making the cake in the evening I wanted to have both colour sweets already to hand, so a few weeks before the scan started having a look on the internet and online in supermarkets. There are loads of pink sweets available, from strawberry bonbons to a giant tube of purely pink Smarties, but there didn’t seem to be a blue equivalent – at one point the closest I thought I was going to get was mint tic-tacs! Of course, I could have gone to M&M World in Leicester Square – where you can buy M&Ms by weight in any colour you like – and I do work in London but getting to Leicester Square is a bit of a pain and the shop is busy, full of tourists and generally not somewhere I want to go if I can help it.

Luckily I spotted an old fashioned-style sweet shop called Hardy’s near my office – there are a few of these around. They had giant jars of all kinds of sweets against one wall, including pink strawberry bonbons and blue raspberry bonbons, so I bought a bag of each.

I also wanted to plan the cake and buy the ingredients in advance – it might have been nice to have the option of baking both a pink strawberry cake and a blue raspberry-flavour cake but I decided to take the easy option and make a lemon cake.

I used this recipe from Good to Know, though I didn’t do the lemon syrup due to lack of time, and realised the lemon curd in my fridge was out of date and I didn’t have time to make more, so I made a simple lemon buttercream for the filling.

 
I made up the batter, adding lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice, and then added some gel food colouring before the mixture went into two cake pans.

 
When it was baked and cooled, I used a glass to cut a circle out from both layers of cake, going right through the top layer and part way through the bottom layer. I spread lemon buttercream icing on the bottom layer and sandwiched the other cake on top, then filled the hole I’d cut with the sweets, replacing a thin slice of the disc I had removed so the cake would be flat on top.
 

The rest of the buttercream went on the top and around the sides of the cake so I could cover it with a large piece of rolled white fondant. As my surname is Cowe – pronounced cow – this had to be a cow-print cake, like my wedding cake last year! But instead of black and white I made the patches a mixture of pink and blue. I used the same cutters from the Lakeland ‘make your own cookie cutter’ set that my sister and I used on the wedding cake last year – lovely to think that the cutters were coming out again for such a special reason!

 
It was already 9pm and I was watching the Apprentice when I decided the cake did need a baby cow topper as well, so I moulded the animal – complete with baby bottle – while sitting in front of the TV. It’s not my best creation but given it wasn’t even going to be seen very long (I was taking the cake into work, not having a gender reveal party) I didn’t think it mattered much. I also made four alphabet blocks spelling ‘baby’- I thought the cake looked quite pretty and it didn’t actually take that long.

So here’s what you’ve no doubt been waiting for…. when the cake was cut the first slice revealed the colour inside was…. Pink!  We are having a little girl.


The cake tasted really nice and it was fun to see people’s reactions and to be able to share our news!

I'm sharing this with CookBlogShare hosted by EasyPeasyFoodie.