Sunday, 26 January 2020

Elderflower and white chocolate cake: Free Cakes for Kids

Think back to when you were a child and celebrated your birthday. I’ll bet there was cake, and you can probably remember some of your favourite cakes as a child, right? I was obsessed with Sarah Lee Double Chocolate Gateaux and often had one of those for my birthday but I also remember very clearly when my mum baked several loaf cakes to make the shape of the number 14, decorated with chocolate icing. I have a feeling I remember a hedgehog cake with chocolate buttons when I was younger as well!
Some children aren’t lucky enough to get a birthday cake, for all sorts of reasons - money is tight, they are living in temporary accommodation without the facilities to easily bake a cake, their families have got a lot on their plate due to illness or disability or maybe the child is a young carer themselves and deserves a treat. Free Cakes for Kids is an organisation that links up local amateur cake makers to provide birthday cakes for underprivileged children and makes sure they get a homemade treat on their birthday, which makes them feel special.

I’ve written about Free Cakes for Kids before as I’ve been involved with the group for a little while. To find out if there is a local group in your town check out the website.
For a little while now my local group has been baking a cake once a week for an Age UK tea party at a residential care home. I was just about to go back to work after maternity leave (yes, there’s been a bit of a delay in posting this!) and knew I wouldn’t have much time to bake any more so signed up to do one of these as it fell nicely into my last week off when my daughter was doing half days at nursery, so I could bake the cake and deliver it while she was there.

I wasn’t doing any grocery shopping for the next few days and rather than make a special trip out (which is not as quick as it used to be before I had a one year old in tow) so decided if at all possible to use ingredients I already had at home. I knew I had an unopened bottle of elderflower cordial in the cupboard and that I had seen recipes for elderflower cake somewhere.

I made Lynn Hill’s elderflower cordial cake with white chocolate ganache from the original Clandestine Cake Club book - you can find part of the recipe online here though to see the whole thing you will have to buy the book!
I found it interesting that the cake itself doesn’t use butter; it seemed to give a light texture to the finished cake but of course I didn’t get to eat any as it was for Age UK!
The white chocolate ganache was a little tricky as first it was too thick to spread (I left it too long in the fridge) then it was too runny. I wasn’t happy with the finish and decided I needed to decorate it but not in a way that would be too time consuming.
I loved the idea of piping ‘hello’ on the cake, since this was for a tea party and wasn’t a birthday cake, so I used some melted milk chocolate and a tiny piping bag. I then got out my special flower piping nozzles that make beautiful shaped petals of different kinds - you don’t have to have any special piping skills as the nozzles do all the work! The purple flowers were a bit darker than I would have liked as I used a bit too much food colouring but overall I was happy with the effects and hope the residents of the care home enjoyed their cake!


Saturday, 21 December 2019

Personalised Christmas Cards with Paperless Post

This is a sponsored post
Every year we seem to get fewer and fewer Christmas cards - actual Christmas cards, that is. With an increasing focus on climate change and the environment, it just doesn’t seem right any more to be sending out dozens and dozens of cards - not to mention the cost of the stamps.
That’s not to say I am against the idea of sending cards at all, for one thing I love to make greetings cards so of course I like to send them! But with a very active toddler I hardly have any time any more and the idea of sitting down to write a pile of Christmas cards seemed a bit overwhelming.
Instead, I sent cards to family and a few others but for the most part, decided to send e-cards this year. I’ve used Paperless Post before so went straight back there this time to make our Christmas card.
We had a Christmas themed photo shoot for my daughter in November - we’d done the same the year before when I was on maternity leave via a ‘bumps and babies’ group and as it was really good value, we did the same again this year.

The photos aren’t particularly Christmassy - my daughter is wearing a pretty red velvet dress but there were no props or Christmas images in the photo. Even so, I thought it would be nice for a Christmas card.
Paperless Post has sections for all sorts of greeting cards ranging from birthday cards to event invitations and also business flyers. I went to the Christmas section and looked at cards where you could add your own photos - there were well over 200 designs.
I chose one that I liked and uploaded the photo just by a couple of clicks, then added wording, selected whether I wanted a coloured background and the envelope. It’s really easy to add multiple recipients’ email addresses, and if you have used Paperless Post before, it remembers addresses, so you just have to start typing in the person’s name. That made it so quick to set up a list and to send the card out.
As I ended up doing it quite late at night - as is often the case when you have a toddler - I was also able to schedule the card to be sent at a suitable time, which was a function I liked.
The site uses ‘coins’ to pay for the cards, which you buy in blocks, with the price per unit decreasing the more coins you buy at once. You can get a card for just a couple of coins which as far as I can tell works out at less than sending a card in the post given the price of stamps these days.
My family and friends seemed to like receiving a personalised card and I think the pictures of my daughter were particularly appreciated by family even though I was giving people a print out of some of the photos anyway - and using Paperless Post made doing my Christmas cards a lot easier this year!
Thanks to Paperless Post who gave me coins to use on their site in return for this post. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Restaurant review: Franco Manca, St Paul's, London

My husband and I didn’t manage to do anything for our anniversary this year until more than two months later. He had a job interview for a fantastic new role (which he got) the day after, and had to prepare for a full day of interviews at the company’s offices, so didn’t want to go out the night before.

We rescheduled for a few weeks later and arranged for family to babysit but then one of us was ill (actually we took it in turns over a couple of weeks to all be unwell). So that got cancelled, and we never got around to rescheduling with one thing and another.

Once my husband started his new job he was working five minutes walk up the street from me - considering we work in London this is quite a coincidence! So we decided to meet for lunch one day and as we were eating, I realised this should count as a celebratory meal for our anniversary. I think it was actually our first meal out together without our daughter since our anniversary the year before!

We were walking near our offices wondering where to go as we didn’t have a lot of time and I

spotted Franco Manca- a pizza chain I’ve heard good things about but hadn’t been to before.

The pizzas use a sourdough base and were delicious - even the crust was good. They are surprisingly cheap as well, at least for a plain pizza - which really does only consist of a few not particularly expensive ingredients – but at £6.75 I was surprised at how cheap it was. They even have an option with no cheese – with just tomato, garlic, basil and oregano, for only £5. I had a pizza with chorizo and mozzarella – not that much more expensive at £8.25, and we shared a garlic bread with mozzarella (£4.95) which was actually totally unnecessary and not that dissimilar to the margherita my husband had to follow, but he loves garlic bread and always orders it.

The pizza and garlic bread were excellent and the only disappointment was the choice of soft drinks – it’s quite unusual for a chain restaurant not to have either the Coca-Cola or Pepsi range of drinks and I appreciate it’s nice to support smaller businesses but aside from water, the only cold drinks on offer were organic lemonade, Green cola, or orange, apple or cranberry juice – my husband ordered an orange juice but it was the ‘with bits’ variety which he doesn’t like. I hadn’t tried Green cola before and thought it tasted OK - it contains no sugar or aspartame and uses sweetener from stevia instead, and the caffeine comes from green coffee beans. It’s more natural therefore than some colas – I had a look on Google and found that the caffeine used in most soft drinks is synthetically produced in China. But I think my husband would have preferred a Coke Zero!

Service was quick and we were in and out within 40 minutes, leaving us time to get back to the office – I really enjoyed the pizza and the chance to have a meal with my husband in peace so I expect we will be going back!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Let's go on an Adventure - Alpaca my bags! Handmade card

I'm a big fan of alpacas - and even had them at my wedding - so when I saw a card making magazine on sale where the cover gift was a set of animal stamps including alpacas, I had to have them! It also came with some fun sentiments to go with the different animals including this one: Let's go on an
adventure - alpaca my bags! Probably my favourite alpaca pun :-)

To make this card I started with a background paper of pink and blue hearts. I then stamped the alpaca onto a piece of pink card and mounted it onto a piece of blue card with scalloped edging (a die-cut) and stuck it at a jaunty angle on the card. I followed the pink and blue theme with two die-cut balloons and stamped the sentiment onto a piece of pink card. I used some little pink gems in the four corners of the sentiment box to make it look like it had been fixed onto the card.

I'm sharing this with the Library Challenge where the theme is 'Five weeks in a balloon' and
Penny Black - 'summer colours'.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

1st Birthday Cakes - giraffe cake with giraffe pattern inside

My daughter got to have two birthday cakes for her first birthday, as had a party with her dad’s family one weekend and a celebration with my family (who live a few hours away and weren’t able to come to the first party) a week later. So of course I had to make her two cakes!

The first cake was decorated as a tribute to her favourite You Tube channel, Cocomelon. The channel consists of short animations of nursery rhymes, all a couple of minutes long, with the same characters – a family of five and various animals – cropping up regularly. Until she was about a year old this was pretty much all my daughter watched on TV – I wasn’t sure she would follow programmes that had episodes or dialogue, and she seemed to really like the songs. The channel’s logo looks a bit like a watermelon with a television screen face so I did my own version as a tribute, covering a cake in pale green fondant and adding dark green stripes and using flesh coloured fondant for the face. I bought a ‘1st birthday’ cake topper on two long sticks to go in the top, and of course a number 1 candle.

Baby S is allergic to egg and I wanted her to be able to try a little bit of the cake, so I used a vegan recipe for lemon cake that I’ve used before. I was careful not to let her try the icing as I thought it contained too much sugar, but I didn’t worry about reducing the sugar content of the cake itself as I thought she wouldn’t have more than a couple of mouthfuls. As it was, she wasn’t really interested in eating the cake at all! (Since then five months later she had some of her granny’s birthday cake and really liked it).


I can’t seem to find the recipe anywhere now but it’s quite easy to search for vegan lemon cake recipes online.


For her second cake, I didn’t make it egg-free since I correctly assumed baby S wouldn’t want to eat any. In the end when we had the cake at her grandparents’ house I think she was getting ready for a nap.


I wanted the cake to represent something else that my daughter liked and remembered she was really attached to her Sophie the giraffe – she has two in fact. She seems to have lost interest in the giraffe over the past few months and prefers to play with other toys but there was a time when she was happiest clutching the giraffe in her little fist and waving it aloft.


It’s fun to make cakes with a surprise inside – particularly in this case because my two-year-old niece would be there and I thought she might enjoy it. It’s a lot easier than you might think to make a polka dot effect inside a cake – or in this case, giraffe print.


So how do you make a cake with a giraffe pattern inside? I used a standard vanilla cake recipe, and split the batter into two bowls, adding cocoa powder to one to turn it chocolatey. For this cake, you want to have about two thirds of your batter yellow vanilla and a third chocolate – I also added a bit of yellow food colouring to the vanilla batter.


If you want a perfectly even pattern – almost a chequerboard effect – inside, then you pipe concentric rings of alternative colours around your prepared (greased) cake tin. As I wanted the giraffe print to be a more natural random pattern, I put a layer of vanilla cake in the bottom, piped some very uneven circles of chocolate cake batter and then a layer of vanilla over the top. You can see what this looks like when it has baked, and here it is after I sliced the top off the cake to make it flat – and then the inside when it was sliced.


I covered the cake in white fondant and decided to turn the giraffe itself into the number 1, so I cut a 1 out of yellow fondant and added brown spots as well as ears, a face and hair. I don’t think giraffes have hair quite like that down their backs but never mind! I decided the rest of the cake looked a bit plain but I hadn’t left enough room for my daughter’s name (if you have a one year old, you will understand the rush things have to be done in while they nap!). So I used some of the leftover green fondant from her other birthday cake to make some trees and used a butterfly plunger cutter to do some little pink butterflies at the top. I was quite pleased with how it looks overall and have printed out some photos for my daughter’s baby book so when she is older she can look back and see what cake and presents she had for her first birthday!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Restaurant review: Harvester Old Castle, Salisbury

Eating out takes on a whole new dimension when there are young children in the equation. I know some parents firmly believe their child should eat what they eat, and there’s no need to go to ‘child friendly’ restaurants with kids menus. I agree that I want my daughter to be encouraged to eat more than fishfingers and chips when we go out, but it’s helpful when smaller portions are offered. At any rate, she’s only 15 months old at the moment, so a lot of food ends up on the floor, and she’s good at what I call finger foods, but can’t use cutlery yet – which does limit what we can order for her unless we want a total mess!

We’ve been to the Harvester twice in recent months, both times with my family to the one at Old Castle near Salisbury. It’s easy, good value, has enough parking (we came in three cars) and has plenty on the menu for everyone.

My daughter has an egg allergy and when I mentioned it to our friendly server, he made a note on his handheld device and told me they have buttons to press for each of the 14 most common allergens (I can’t even think of 14!) and can enter others manually – it’s good to know they have a system like that in place. Meals at the Harvester start with a free trip to the salad bar, which always sounds more exciting than it is – there are about a dozen salad elements to choose from, including small bread rolls, with the standard lettuce, cucumber, tomato, potato salad options – but weirdly also pineapple.
There’s no protein though – no meat or cheese – so the first time we went when my daughter had just turned one, we got her a selection of food from the salad bar and gave her some extra bits and pieces we had bought with us. This time around she got her own little meal from the children’s section (and some bits from the salad bar to eat while we were waiting) which she devoured with gusto!

The kids’ menu is divided into sections of smaller meals for under 5s, and larger meals for under 7s, where you build your own from a choice of mains, veg and sides. She had some grilled chicken strips with sweet potato fries and a little pot of fresh vegetable sticks, which was supposed to contain batons of peppers, cucumber and carrots, but only had one tiny sliver of cucumber among the peppers and carrots – luckily S had already had plenty of cucumber from the salad bar as it’s one of her favourites. She’s eaten sweet potato before but never sweet potato fries, and seemed to really like them, though it was the chicken she went for straight away. I love watching her eat, it’s so cute!

My husband had his usual burger – he orders a burger about 90% of the time when we go out, and the other 10% of the time it’s steak – and I really fancied a roast dinner, even though it was a very sunny day, as it was a Sunday and I hadn’t had one in ages. I decided to pay an extra £1 to get a larger portion of roast potatoes as they are my favourite part of a roast, but they were quite disappointing – small and crispy and very different to how I make roast potatoes. My chicken was beautifully moist and the Yorkshire pudding not bad at all – the cauliflower cheese was a bit of a let down though and was more like boiled cauliflower with a thin cheese sauce poured over the top, than a dish I would consider a proper cauliflower cheese. Overall though it wasn’t a bad meal at all and good value at just over £10 for the amount of food and the quality of the chicken.

Soft drinks are on a serve yourself free refills basis and they have one of those machines where you can select your base drink e.g Pepsi or lemonade (they also have non carbonated juice drink options) and then if you want you can add a flavour like strawberry or vanilla. It’s fun to experiment but I imagine this wastes a fair amount of drink - the person in front of me poured herself a glass of something, tried it and decided she wanted something else so poured it down the drain. On the other hand it’s possible to pour a small amount of a drink to try it then get something else - though I think free refills do encourage people to drink more carbonated drinks than they might otherwise!

We never have room for a dessert after a meal at the Harvester which is a shame as we saw a sundae go past that was absolutely massive and looked very tempting!

It’s worth downloading the Harvester app as they have special offers - when we went there was a deal to get a child’s meal for £1 per adult paying full price so with two children we saved £6.

I do quite like the Harvester - the salad bar could do with a bit more oomph but there’s a big menu with something for everyone, it’s good value and has a nice family friendly atmosphere. While it’s nothing fancy, that suits my family and I expect we will be back.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Design Your Own Invitations with Paperless Post - Review

You may have noticed that I love to make birthday cards, and have even made other greeting cards and invitations by hand. You may also have noticed that I haven't had a lot of time lately! My daughter is 13 months old now and takes up most of my time and attention, and when she's with my husband or having a nap, I'm doing housework or preparing her meals or one of a myriad of other chores.

So the opportunity to review Paperless Post couldn't have come at a better time. This is a site that allows you to create online cards and invitations, either by using one of the thousands of designs they offer, or uploading your own.

I had a go at making a few cards - I started with an invitation to my birthday celebrations and a photo upload Easter card.

The site is very easy to use and the end result looks really professional. The cards are received as an email where you can watch an envelope opening and the card coming out, and there are options to reply or leave a comment on the site. My friends and family thought the cards were lovely and I was impressed with the site.

The card are fully customisable. To make my birthday invitation, I searched for 40th birthday invitations and chose one of the designs. I was then not only able to enter the text I wanted but change the font, colour and size of the text, choose a background pattern to go behind the card, and pick the design of the envelope. You can also add a particular stamp and postmark to the card if you like.

For my birthday invitation I included a RSVP card; if you are making wedding invitations and want extra options like a card for guests to fill in their menu choices you can add that as well. You can also use the site to send messages to guests if there is information or a change of plans (or just send them an event reminder) that they need to know.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many different cards are on the site with themes like invitations to a barbecue or picnic, a hen party, a moving house announcement and so on. There are even designer collections like Oscar de la Renta and Kate Spade cards. I can definitely see myself using this on a regular basis!

There are also lots of cards were you can upload a photo so I also created Easter cards for friends and family featuring a photo of me, my husband and our daughter and a giant Easter bunny from a farm we visited recently. This is what the card looked like:

The site uses its own currency called 'coins' which you buy in packages, starting at 25 coins for £8 but the price per unit decreases eg 100 coins for £18 and 200 coins for £28. You get 25 coins free when you sign up for an account and can get extra coins for doing things like liking Paperless Post on Facebook.

My fairly simple birthday invite plus envelope and reply card cost 6 coins per invite. There are e-flyers which are free of charge to make and obviously the more you add to a card (eg extra sections for a wedding invite) the more they cost, but these are still pretty reasonably priced and much cheaper than buying and posting a physical greetings card - plus they are better for the environment. But if you do want a physical printed invitation or card there is an option on the site for that as well. I was very happy with the online cards and another benefit is that they are very quick - I didn't do the Easter cards until Good Friday and they only took a few minutes to create and send, whereas if I had bought cards and put them in the post, they wouldn't have arrived until after Easter!
 Thanks to Paperless Post for some coins to use on their site. All opinions are my own.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Meal Planning Monday 2019 Week 7

I've got laryngitis at the moment so we had to cancel the visit to my parents last week and plans for this week are a bit up in the air until I get my voice back! So I am going to plan meals as if we were going to be at home every day but hopefully we will get to visit my parents at some point.

Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S peanut butter sandwich and apple slices with cinnamon
Lunch for us hotdogs
Dinner for baby S butterbean and veg stew followed by quark and fruit
Dinner for us fish pie for me, chicken wrapped in bacon for him

Breakfast for baby S porridge with fruit
Lunch for baby S crumpet and soft cheese
Lunch for us soup and bread
Dinner for baby S lentil, coconut milk, butternut squash and chicken curry based on this recipe
Dinner for us rest of fish pie for me, sausages for him

Breakfast for baby S cereal with milk
Lunch for baby S cheddar and butterbean bites with bits of finger food
Lunch for us just me as my husband is out - I'll probably have a sandwich
Dinner for baby S homemade risotto from the freezer
Dinner for us chicken goujons and prawns in breadcrumbs and chips

Thursday Valentine's day
Breakfast for baby S cereal with milk
Lunch for baby S  baked beans and toast
Lunch for us full English with heart shaped toast if I can be bothered
Dinner for baby S something from the freezer (I've got lots of batch cooked meals for her)
Dinner for us TBA

Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S  puff pastry with tomato puree and cheese
Lunch for us puff pastry with tomato puree and cheese
Dinner for baby S something from the freezer
Dinner for us pasta and meatballs I didn't do last week

Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S at a birthday party
Lunch for us at a birthday party
Dinner for baby S something from the freezer
Dinner for us  sole with new potatoes for me, chicken mini fillets for him

Breakfast for baby S cereal
Lunch for baby S pitta bread, cucumber, her favourite finger foods
Lunch for us bacon sandwich
Dinner for baby S sole with potato and sweetcorn
Dinner for us chicken mini roast

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Why Iberian ham deserves a place on the British dining table

How much do you know about Iberian ham? I have to admit I was a little hazy - I knew it from restaurants and deli counters as a wafer thin type of cured ham from Spain but that was about it.

In fact it's the pigs that are Iberian. They have dark skin and look black rather than pink, with long slender hind legs. They live in freedom and graze on acorns in certain parts of Spain, which apparently gives the meat a unique taste.

It's quite interesting reading about the process to produce the ham from salting to washing, then the pieces are left for up to three month for the salt to permeate. The really unique bit is the way the hams are cured - hung up and exposed to the natural climate conditions for 18-24 months and after that aged in a cellar for at least another 12 months (usually 18). The secret of curing is passed down in families from generation to generation.

It's also part of the famed Mediterranean diet - Iberian ham is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, zinc and vitamins B1, B3 and B12, according to the information leaflet I received.

I was sent some Iberian ham by Ibeham, a project promoted by the Denomination of Origin Guijuelo (Spain). There are plenty of recipes on their site suggesting how to enjoy the ham but I wanted something fairly pure and simple, so tried it on a piece of fresh bread with some mozzarella and a little olive oil.

The slices are so wafer thin they are almost transparent, separated in the packet by pieces of plastic so you can peel the ham off. Each slice has a ribbon of fat which dissolved on the tongue and the taste and texture were both top notch. There are a lot of recipes you can use this in but I just want to savour the flavour by itself!

If you can get hold of some proper Iberian ham - and you don't have to go to specialist shops, Waitrose has some - then I highly recommend it as a little bit of luxury if you're just having a sandwich, or a platter for guests if you are entertaining.

Thanks to Ibeham for the ham to review


Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Review: Thomas Fudge's flatbreads

This time of year I love a bowl of warming soup for lunch with something on the side. Ordinary bread is good but it’s nice to have something a little bit different especially if you are going for a plainer soup like my husband who only ever wants tomato. I used to make my own bread sometimes but the bread maker machine has made way for the steriliser and the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep machine!

So I was pleased to come across these flatbreads from Thomas Fudge's's - they come in two delicious flavours, chickpea & sesame and cheddar & shallot. 

They are thin and crispy like crackers, so they are better dunked into a thick soup like tomato rather than a thin watery soup. You can also spread soft cheese, houmous or whatever you like on them, or use them in a dip - I’m planning to put these out with some dips at my daughter’s birthday party (for the adults). They also make biscuits for cheese and some flapjacks and Florentines which look very tempting!

They also look like quite a premium product both with the packaging and the flatbreads themselves - the chickpea & sesame flavour has linseed, pumpkin and sesame seeds which you can see a lot of on top. The 140g boxes  are only £1.89 and go a long way so I think these are particularly good if you are entertaining.

Thanks to Thomas Fudge's for sending the flatbreads to review - all opinions are my own.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Meal Planning Monday 2019 Week 6

I didn't manage to do a meal plan last week as I had very little time and had to just wing it when it came to meals... which isn't that easy when you are trying to prepare healthy nutritious food for a baby, finish feeding her and realise you need to get your own dinner on and have no idea what you are going to cook! My mum is out of hospital and has been for over a week now, and is doing really well; we are going to see her and my dad this week.

Breakfast for baby S Porridge with red berries
Lunch for baby S Chicken, potato waffles, veg
Lunch for us sausage sandwich
Dinner for baby S  pork with butternut squash and broccoli
Dinner for us steak and chips

Breakfast for baby S toast
Lunch for baby S banana pancakes
Lunch for us  pancakes
Dinner for baby S jar of baby food I opened yesterday that she didn't want followed by sugar free jelly
Dinner for us sole with lemon and parsley sauce for me, chicken chargrills for him 

Breakfast for baby S quark with fruit or possibly just milk depending on when we leave
Lunch for baby S finger food of cheese, pitta, cucumber etc followed by malt loaf
Lunch for us with my parents
Dinner for baby S sole with veg followed by a fruit pot
Dinner for us McDonalds which I know my husband has been wanting for a while, as we will have had a long drive

Breakfast for baby S quark with fruit
Lunch for baby S cheese toastie followed by malt loaf
Lunch for us cheese and ham toasties
Dinner for baby S homemade risotto
Dinner for us  sausage casserole 

Breakfast for baby S crumpet with Marmite
Lunch for baby S sausage casserole
Lunch for us soup and bread
Dinner for baby S something homemade from the freezer
Dinner for us burger and chips

Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S crumpets with soft cheese
Lunch for us crumpets and hot cross buns
Dinner for baby S pasta and meatballs with garlic bread
Dinner for us pasta and meatballs with garlic bread

Breakfast for baby S porridge
Lunch for baby S pitta, cheese etc
Lunch for us sausage and egg muffins
Dinner for baby S something homemade from the freezer
Dinner for us TBA

Sunday, 27 January 2019

A Unique Valentine's Day Gift - Engraved Silver Marmite Lid

What do you get for the man who has everything? OK not everything, but if there's something my husband decides he wants, one click of a button and it turns up the next day from Amazon Prime. It takes a lot of thought at birthday and Christmas to come up with something he will like but hasn't already bought himself, and I try hard to find slightly quirky or unusual gifts from independent retailers or online gift companies (one stocking filler I got him this year was a doorstop for his 'man cave' (study) carved with the word 'hodor').

Game of Thrones is all very well but not the most romantic inspiration when it comes to Valentine's day (I don't even watch the show but can tell most relationships on it have met a nasty end). Marmite may also not seem the most romantic of gifts - until you think of the famous advertising strapline: 'Marmite - you either love it or hate it'. Believe it or not, that advert was devised in the mid 90s, and has lasted so long that it's become a metaphor for anything people have strong feelings towards.

People who love Marmite, love Marmite. It is a sign of true love for them to say they love you more than they love Marmite!

So what better way to say I love you this Valentine's day than with a jar of Marmite? Well how about this: a personalised engraved silver Marmite lid that is a beautiful keepsake, and actually fits on top of your jar of Marmite so you can either keep it in the larder or on your bedside table (the engraved lid that is, not the Marmite - unless you really love it).

There are a few different places that sell engraved Marmite lids but this one from The Engravers Guild has a beautiful design of a cupid and hearts and the words 'I love you even more than Marmite' along with the recipient's name. You could even get your own name as a keepsake for yourself!

Made of solid 925 sterling sliver in a UK silversmiths, the lid fits a standard 250g jar of Marmite. The engraving is done with a diamond-tipped machine cutter so it will last a lifetime making this a really lovely keepsake for your valentine. This one, the sterling 925 silver, retails at £79 including the cost of the engraving and a gift box.

The Engravers Guild has some other options as well including a Brexit/Remainer version, a plain silver lid (£59.95) which you could have engraved with a message for a birthday or Christening or anything else, or one finished with 9 carat gold for £140 if you want to treat your love to something even more lavish.

I love the way it has turned out - you can see more of the details on the lid in this close up photo above.
Standard delivery is 3-5 working days but they also offer a next day service if you've left it a bit late - and the lid is of course delivered with a jar of Marmite!

Thanks to The Engravers Guild of London which offers a range of personalised gifts for the complimentary engraved Marmite lid. All opinions are my own and this is not a paid-for post though I was sent an engraved lid free of charge.


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Baby Hand Print Get Well Card - A little bird told me you're not feeling so chirpy

My mum has been in hospital for nearly four weeks after being suddenly struck by a serious illness but she is recovering really well and will hopefully be back home soon - a huge relief for all of us.
I live a couple of hours away so in between visits I’ve sent her a few things in the post, including a get well card that I made in haste and forgot to take a photo of.
This is the second get well card I made, or rather that my ten month old daughter made. We go to a class occasionally called ‘Baby Picasso’ that is basically hand and foot painting with some messy play as well. There is a theme each week and we have the opportunity to make one picture or card or other item (before Christmas for instance we did tree decorations) using hand prints and one using foot prints.
It gets quite messy - you have to put paint on your baby’s hand or foot and then stop them wiping it on themselves or you before you are able to get them to place it flat on a piece of paper! Then the other details and embellishments are added by the parent, as this particular class is for pre-walkers so the babies are too young to do it themselves.
The theme this week was birds, and my little girl made a picture of two robins sitting on branches with handprints in paint.
I decided to turn it into a card so when we got home I glued the picture onto a blank card and had a think about a suitable sentiment. The phrase ‘a little bird told me’ sprang to mind straight away then the rest followed and seemed perfect for a get well card - ‘you’re not feeling so chirpy’!  I wrote the sentiments on the computer and stuck them on the front of the card and inside printed ‘get well soon’.
I gave my mum the card when I went to visit a couple of days later addressed to granny from my daughter - she really liked it and hopefully it helped cheer her up a little bit!
I'm sharing this with the following craft blog challenges: The Male Room - nature (this card would work for a man easily!)
Paper Funday - anything goes
Everybody art challenge - anything goes
Unicorn challenge - things with wings
Heart 2 Heart challenges - creative cards

Meal Planning Monday 2019 Week 4

My mum is still in hospital (this is her 4th week) but she is recovering really well and I think pretty close to being allowed to go home, which is brilliant. I don't really know when I'm going to visit her in advance at the moment as it depends on when she is going home, what help she and my dad will need, and if I get any more job interviews - everything is quite up in the air at the moment really!

I've been winging it so far this week but had an online shop last night and realised if I don't plan meals, food will sit in the fridge until its use by date and I won't get around to cooking it. I also wanted to make some more meals for baby S though I seem to be running out of freezer space with all the little plastic tubs we've got in there now!

So right now it's nearly 10pm and I've got two pans of veg cooking to make some baby meals - this is the first time I've been able to stop all day!

I went to see my mum in hospital and we had something easy from the freezer for dinner when I got back, I can't even remember what it was!

We had hunter's chicken (ready made) with potato croquettes

Breakfast for baby S - porridge with banana
Lunch for baby S - crumpet with soft cheese
Lunch for us - hot dogs
Dinner for baby S - pasta with tomato sauce, veg and chicken followed by half a fruit pot
Dinner for us - burger and chips - not good when you consider what we had for lunch, this is why I need to plan - the planning starts here!

Breakfast for baby S - porridge with fruit if time, just milk otherwise, as we have to go out shortly after 10
Lunch for baby S rest of veg and chicken from yesterday mixed into pasta with a cheese sauce and a tiny bit of bacon for her to try
Lunch for us bacon sandwich
Dinner for baby S Cod with butternut squash, leek, potato and kale (veg mix cooked in advance and batch frozen) followed by apple and plum crumble
Dinner for us  roast chicken - it's not Sunday but why not, since neither of us is in work at the moment!

Breakfast for baby S porridge with fruit - I did try her with Cheerios but she found them a bit difficult to manage so it's back to porridge for the moment
Lunch for baby S - chicken pieces with roasted veg from yesterday (finger food)
Lunch for us - cheese and ham toasties
Dinner for baby S - chicken with mixed veg from freezer followed by rest of apple and plum crumble
Dinner for us - chicken curry

Breakfast for baby S crumpet
Lunch for baby S banana egg-free pancakes
Lunch for us  pancakes
Dinner for baby S - moussaka
Dinner for us - slow cooked gammon in apple juice

Breakfast for baby S porridge with fruit or toast as we may be at my MIL's
Lunch for baby S finger food of pitta with fish paste, cucumber, cheese and any interesting fruit or veg I find at my MIL's!
Lunch for us If we are still at my MIL's, probably a bacon sandwich
Dinner for baby S - gammon from yesterday with veg
Dinner for us sausage casserole

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Meal Planning Monday 2019 Week 3

This is the first meal plan I've managed to do so far this year as 2019 didn't start off as expected - my mum was rushed into hospital on December 30th and spent a week in intensive care, most of that unconscious. Thankfully she is now awake and on the mend on a ward where she will be for a couple more weeks; I've been to visit several times already but then had a cold so was asked to stay away while her immune system is still weak. And with a job interview for myself and a meeting with a recruiter for my husband this week I'm not sure if I will be able to visit more than once this week (the hospital is a 2.5 hour journey away at least but last time it took me 4 hours to get back) and I've got a 10 month old baby at home to look after as well. So for the moment I'm planning to visit on Monday and then maybe later in the week again or at the beginning of the week after.

Lunch for us beans on toast (in a hurry to take baby S out to a play session)
Lunch for baby S crumpet with houmous
Dinner for us steak and chips
Dinner for baby S homemade risotto (in freezer)

Breakfast for baby S cereal
Lunch for us sausage and egg muffins
Lunch for baby S pitta bread with houmous, peanut butter, cucumber sticks, cheese etc
Dinner for us spaghetti and meatballs
Dinner for baby S homemade beef casserole (in freezer) with extra veg

I'll be away visiting my mum in hospital
Breakfast for baby S porridge or toast, whichever my husband finds easiest
Lunch for us I will be out so whatever is easiest; my husband won't get much time looking after baby S by himself so I will leave him something ready made in the fridge
Lunch for baby S jar of baby food
Dinner for us not sure when I will be back (South Western Railway let me down last time) so something easy from the freezer
Dinner for baby S Depends when I am back but possibly another jar of baby food or something homemade from the freezer

Breakfast for baby S cereal
Lunch for us just me today as my husband is meeting a friend for lunch - I think I will have a jacket potato with a  tuna filling that baby S can also eat
Lunch for baby S tuna pasta from this Annabel Karmel recipe
Dinner for us seabass in watercress sauce with veg and new potatoes for me,
Dinner for baby S chicken and butternut squash Annabel Karmel recipe

I'm in London at a job interview this morning so my husband will be holding the fort for breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast for baby S porridge or toast
Lunch for him something ready made he can easily eat
Lunch for baby S something from a jar or the freezer that my husband can easily serve
Dinner for us rest of seabass for me (two portions frozen together) with lemon and garlic sauce; chicken breast with the same sauce for him
Dinner for baby S fish with butternut squash, kale and peas from this Annabel Karmel recipe

Breakfast for baby S porridge, toast or cereal
Lunch for us mini pizzas
Lunch for baby S mini pizza
Dinner for us sausage casserole
Dinner for baby S homemade risotto from the freezer

Breakfast for baby S porridge, toast or cereal
Lunch for us just me I think today as my husband has a meeting with a recruiter - he is looking for a job as well - I'll have a sandwich
Lunch for baby S selection of finger food
Dinner for us chicken goujons with chips
Dinner for baby S something ready made to save time so we can tidy up before people come tomorrow

Breakfast for baby S porridge, toast or cereal
Lunch for us bacon sandwich
Lunch for baby S pitta bread with tuna mayo and sweetcorn based on this Annabel Karmel recipe
Dinner for us having friends to stay - TBA
Dinner for baby S something ready made

Breakfast for baby S porridge, toast or cereal
Lunch for us very excited today that I am having a proper 'dinner party' even though it's lunch time - you will be able to read more on the blog soon!
Lunch for baby S jar of baby food at her grandmother's house (with daddy as he's not coming to the 'dinner party' - it's just girls!)
Dinner for us  TBA
Dinner for baby S TBA

Monday, 17 December 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 51

I didn't do a meal plan last week, as I was really busy in the run-up to Christmas and also had some unexpected bad news to deal with. I realised just how much I rely on my meal plans - they do take a little bit of time but it's just once a week then for the rest of the week I just check back at what I was supposed to be making. Without a plan I really struggled and wasted time looking through the freezer trying to find something to cook. So this time I've managed to find time to do some planning!

In previous years I've done a lot of festive baking at this time of year and it's a shame I haven't really got time to do any this year. I would have thought that being on maternity leave I'd have more time than when I was at work, but my gorgeous nine month old is pretty all-consuming and when I'm not feeding, changing or playing with her, I'm trying to keep on top of housework and life chores. Maybe next year she will want to join in and bake something with me!

So here's this week's plan:

Breakfast for baby S: crumpet
Lunch for us: beans on toast as I have to go out to a playgroup at 1.15
Lunch for baby S: chicken and veg
Dinner for us: chicken goujons/ scampi and chips
Dinner for baby S: pouch of organic baby food that needs using by January, followed by baked apple

Breakfast for baby S: porridge with fruit
Lunch for us: bacon sandwich
Lunch for baby S:  tuna and avocado on pitta bread
Dinner for us: orange glazed chicken for him and salmon for me with roast potatoes if time
Dinner for baby S: baby pasta with tomato and chicken

Breakfast for baby S: toast
Lunch for us: hot dogs
Lunch for baby S: salmon from dinner yesterday followed by tangerine
Dinner for us: bbq pork loin steaks for me (using up freezer stash) and chicken for him, with croquette potatoes
Dinner for baby S: cod and sweetcorn chowder with apple crumble for dessert

Breakfast for baby S: porridge with fruit
Lunch for us: pasta carbonara using packet sauce
Lunch for baby S:  pasta carbonara
Dinner for us: burger and French fries
Dinner for baby S: rest of cod and sweetcorn chowder

Breakfast for baby S: breakfast muffin
Lunch for us sandwiches
Lunch for baby S:  pitta bread, cucumber sticks, chicken pieces, followed by petit filous
Dinner for us: gammon steak and chips
Dinner for baby S: pouch of organic baby food that needs using by January

Breakfast for baby S: fruity porridge
Lunch for us: mini pizza
Lunch for baby S:  mini pizza
Dinner for us: homemade fish pie for me (in the freezer), toad in the hole for him
Dinner for baby S: gammon, veg, mini potato waffle

Breakfast for baby S: fruity porridge
Lunch for us: cheese on toast/ French toast combo
Lunch for baby S: cheese on toast/ French toast combo
Dinner for us: steak and chips
Dinner for baby S: pouch of baby food

And then tomorrow is Christmas eve! What are you doing for Christmas?

Monday, 3 December 2018

Meal Planning Monday 2018 Week 49

I've not managed to get my daughter into any sort of proper routine at the moment which means that sometimes we miss a solid meal I'd planned as she is asleep and then she just has milk afterwards - I'm also finding she wakes up too late for a solid breakfast if I'm giving her lunch as well at the moment. So from now on I'm going to plan three meals a day, and hope that she eats at least two of them! I'm also going to start giving her a cooked meal like fish pie or risotto at lunch and finger food at dinner as when she goes to nursery she will have her main meal at lunchtime.

Breakfast for baby porridge with fruit
Lunch for baby  roast beef from Sunday
Lunch for us beans/ macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner for baby homemade risotto from the freezer. For dessert - baked apple
Dinner for us cottage cheese stuffed chicken based on this recipe

Breakfast for baby  yogurt with fruit
Lunch for baby baby pasta with some chicken from our dinner yesterday
Lunch for us bacon sandwich
Dinner for baby not sure if we will be back in time (see below) so maybe some finger food
Dinner for us probably back late as baby S has an appointment at the allergy clinic so something easy from the freezer

Breakfast for baby  homemade breakfast muffins
Lunch for baby cheese on toast we didn't have last week
Lunch for us cheese on toast
Dinner for baby  something ready made to make it easy for my husband as I won't be home
Dinner for us I'm going into work this afternoon so something quick and easy for when I get back - pasta ready meal for me, something from the freezer for him

Breakfast for baby  porridge or yogurt with fruit
Lunch for baby pitta bread pizza
Lunch for us pitta bread pizza
Dinner for baby cottage pie and green beans with petit filous for dessert
Dinner for us  Orange glazed salmon and mini roast potatoes for me that I didn't do last week, chicken for him

Breakfast for baby  homemade breakfast muffin
Lunch for baby salmon and potatoes from yesterday
Lunch for us sandwich with fresh bread
Dinner for baby spaghetti Bolognese using mince with baby food from a jar with poached pear for dessert
Dinner for us tuna pasta bake for me, chicken chargrills for him

Breakfast for baby toast
Lunch for baby tuna pasta bake
Lunch for us  bacon sandwich again at my husband's request; I will have the rest of my pasta bake
Dinner for baby cod and sweetcorn chowder with apple crumble for dessert
Dinner for us beef and lamb chargrills with mashed potato or roast potato

Breakfast for baby  toast or porridge
Lunch for baby  houmous and pitta with cheese and cucumber
Lunch for us breakfast burritos
Dinner for baby  cottage pie with petit filous for dessert
Dinner for us salmon en croute for me, chicken pie for him

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

How to make a Felt Christmas Stocking Advent Calendar

I'm really looking forward to my baby's first Christmas and thinking of all sorts of ways I can make it special. I wanted to have a handmade keepsake of some sort that would hopefully be in our family for years, and I hit upon the idea of an advent calendar - consisting of little stockings, each numbered 1 to 24, that I can fill with all sorts of things year after year.

Given that I haven't done any sewing in years and can't think of any time I've ever sewed for fun, I found this surprisingly easy to make. It was a little time consuming but only because I don't get a lot of free time as I have an eight month old baby, and would sew a couple of bits in the evening here and there, over the course of several weeks. If you have a sewing machine that would speed up the process as well.

The design is my own - I know there are plenty of advent calendars like this out there but I didn't copy any of them and just thought about how I wanted it to look:

To make them is very easy:
Cut out the stocking shapes from felt - you will need 48
Draw and cut out the numbers from 1 to 24
Sew the numbers onto what will be the front facing stockings first
Then sew on the ric rac edging onto the front facing stocking
Sew both parts of the stocking together along the edges
Attach the stockings  to some string with the pegs; you could also sew loops into the stockings instead if you want.

I'm really pleased with the way they turned out even though the stitching and numbers are slightly different on each; my husband says that just adds to the homemade effect and he thinks they will make a lovely Christmas keepsake.

My daughter will be nearly ten months old at Christmas so won't understand advent calendars and I had considered just filling it with chocolates for us this year, but I saw a set of finger puppets on a site called Once Upon a Time that are designed for a baby's advent calendar, at a very reasonable price, so I ordered them back in September. They were supposed to be with me by early November but with only a few days to go until the start of December they still haven't arrived and the site owner hasn't responded to my messages, so I'm hoping they will still come in time - she has a few days yet!