Wednesday, 29 July 2015

#TasteofLondon Heroes - DOC Prosecco

Over the last five years the UK has seen an explosion in popularity of Prosecco over it's often more expensive cousin Champagne. Twitter and Facebook went into melt down earlier this year when it was reported that there would be a national shortage, but how much do you know about this firm favourite?


I was lucky enough to be introduced to Neil Phillips, during my recent visit to Taste of London, who was leading classes on Italian Moments - The flavour of joy, showcasing Grana Padano PDO cheese & Prosecco DOC. He was welcoming enough to share a glass or two of Prosecco while talking me through what we should all look out for when choosing a bottle.


Where is it made?

Prosecco DOC is made using only the Glera grape variety. It's produced in North-Eastern Italy, in the Veneto & Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. Today there are more than 10,000 grape growers & 1200 producers of Prosecco DOC, producing in 2014 over 306 million bottles. The UK is the biggest importer of Prosecco, taking almost 29% of the total export market.

Why DOC?

DOC is an acronym meaning Origin Controlled Designation. This represents a set of rules covering not only the area it can be produced in, but the method & standard of production. While it certifies the particular product's origin, it mainly guarantees it's quality and provenance.

What types are there?

Imagine going into a pub and asking the barman for a "bottle glass of white wine" or a "pint of beer", without specifying the type! Yet I'm certainly guilty of ordering Prosecco without any idea of what sort is on offer. 

There are three levels of "fizziness" Spumante - fully sparkling and the most produced; Frizzante - semi sparkling; and Tranquillo, which has no bubbles and is completely still.

There are also three levels of dryness, although Dry is actually the sweetest, followed by Extra Dry and finally Brut - with a full bodied flavour.


Tips for choosing

I asked Neil what his three tips were when choosing a bottle of Prosecco;
  • "Look for the DOC mark" - It's easy to add DOC to a label, however truly DOC certified producers all add a security label to the neck of the bottle, as you can see on the picture below. This will give you confidence that you are getting the real deal.
  • "Take time to read the back label" - Often the front label on a bottle of Prosecco will have very limited information on it. The back label, however will give you the perlage type (fizziness) and the dryness, along with confirmation of the DOC status. Often one producer may make a number of different varieties so it always pays to check before buying.
  • "Look for the more expensive varieties" - This isn't just a marketing ploy! There are some fantastic smaller scale houses making excellent bottles of Prosecco. A standard bottle of Champagne will cost £20-£30, with a mid-range bottle being upwards of £50. Prosecco, however has a starting price point of £7 with an exceptional bottle easily found for £15. Marks & Spencer have a good selection of Prosecco on their website, from some of the less common producers.

Finally, I can confirm that there is no risk to the UK supply! Like most fruit crops you have highly productive years and less productive years as a natural cycle. The growers and producers prepare for this and hold plenty of stock to help get us through these leaner times. We can all rest easy, and relax with a glass on our hand - strawberries, or Grana Padano cheese a perfect accompaniment.



I learnt so much from chatting to Neil, it was a pleasure to meet him. 

The next Taste of London  - The Festive Edition is being held on 19th - 22nd November at Tobacco Dock. I'll definitely be making the trip up to London to go, not only to try the fantastic food on offer, but to chat to many more passionate producers & sellers.

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Super Busy Mum

Monday, 27 July 2015

Birthday Celebrations

Back in the very early days of this blog, I wrote about our Summer BBQs and how Dad was the lynch pin of this annual event. We tried a few times after he passed away to keep the tradition going but there was always something, or someone, missing.

My sister-in-law recently, after months of paperwork, got granted her visa to live in the UK allowing her & my nephew to finally base themselves here (along with my brother, obviously!). Added to that her 30th birthday & my nephew's 3rd birthday both fell in July and so a party for all their family & friends was in order.

We drove down, arriving late on the Friday night and were quickly roped in to helping to decorate his dinosaur birthday cake. (Unknown to my S-I-L, I had also made her a surprise birthday cake - so I was all caked out by this point!)

I woke up on Saturday morning to the quiet countryside sounds outside my window and got straight onto food prep duties - a tomato salad & mushroom salad were quickly made and it was outside to decorate the garden.





People started arriving early in the afternoon and it was just lovely to catch up with old faces and snap away with my new camera. Children quickly made friends and seemed immune to the cold water of the swimming pool, jumping in and out constantly!






Of course there was a breeze when it came to cake time, so the surprise element was lost as we battled to keep candles lit for long enough, but that's always the way.




As the afternoon wore on, people started to drift home until it was just those of us staying at the house left. The children were inside curled up on the settee playing games, most of the washing up was done and we sat around our large picnic bench, enjoying a drink or two, watching the light fade.




An old Chinese lantern was found, shoes quickly slipped on and we headed out to the back field to light it. I only got one shot, before my memory card was full, forcing me to watch through my eyes rather than the camera lens.



 Watching that bright spot be carried on the evening breeze, stood next to the Rowan tree planted in memory of Dad, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. How different life now was, with Dad not here. The newer members of the family that know him only through photographs, the news and events that he wasn't told about, the countless hugs missed out on. But life is still good, we are all happy, healthy and looking to the future. It was a good party, just like the old ones - he would have been proud.



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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

CenterParcs Longleat - Aqua Sana Spa

As I mentioned in my first post about our recent stay at CenterParcs Longleat, we booked a World of Spa session for our final day. This was a three hour session, costing £37 per person (there are a limited number of cheaper two person deals available each day too, but these were fully booked when I made our booking).

Bookings can be made without being a guest at CenterParcs for £59-£69 per person. You are welcome to eat at any of the restaurants within the park, although you cannot use any of the additional leisure facilities.

The Aqua Sana at Longleat can be found set back from the lake. It is less than a 10 minute cycle from the main plaza (20 minute walk) and there is plenty of bike parking. If you are going as a day visitor there is also car parking available nearby. When you walk up it looks a really small building, but cleverly concealed behind the trees is a huge complex, beautifully laid out.




For obvious reasons no photography is allowed inside the spa, but there are a range of photographs on the Aqua Sana website to give you an idea of the facilities.

On arrival

We booked our 3 hour session from 11am-2pm. You are asked to arrive 15 minutes early, but we actually got there just after 10.30am and were allowed to start our experience early. We gave our name and lodge number and were each given a key to a locker in the changing rooms. Inside the locker you had a huge, fluffy towel and a big, fluffy dressing gown. I forgot flipflops to wear on my feet, but once inside the spa it was obvious that I wasn't the only one! There were not sharp surfaces to walk on, but some areas could get a little slippery, so I would definitely recommend bring some footwear with you.

To get into the World of Spa area you had to walk through the Cafe which felt strange in our dressing gowns, although when we left it was later in the afternoon and there were lots of people all in their dressing gowns there.

What's included in the World of Spa

This spa experience gives you access to the heated outdoor pool along with 8 steam & sauna rooms, two meditation rooms, a physiotherm infrared room, foot baths, waterbeds, outdoor zen gardens & multi-sensory showers. There are no time limits to each room/area (although there are recommended times to spend in each area posted on the wall) and generally there is room for six or more people to use each room at one time. There is also a complimentary water station that you are encouraged to use, but the water had a strange taste to me.

The Pool

Steps from inside the complex lead down into the outdoor pool. Because the pool at Longleat is a round pool it wasn't really big enough to swim lengths in. There is one area of it that has massage jets, with enough seating for 8 people. The jets are not on all the time, but only switch off for a few minutes, before restarting. Despite having lots of trees and foliage around there were no leaves or debris in the pool any of the time we were in it.

The Rooms

The sensory rooms are a mix of steam rooms and dry heat rooms (saunas). The steam rooms have varying degrees of heat to them, but I didn't really feel much difference to them. As well as the steam, some of them also have essential oils and fragrances released. I think my favourite steam room was the Balinese room. The two sauna rooms were similar in temperature - you had to go outside to use the Finnish sauna, but it was a dry day when we visited so this wasn't an issue for us.

We only visited one of the meditation rooms, but we both dropped off briefly so they obviously work! 

Our favourite room was the physiotherm infrared room. This room has only four seats in it. Each seat has an infrared machine behind and in front of it. These machines gently heat your muscles and you gradually become aware of the warmth. Both of us found our backs and shoulders loosen after spending 20 minutes in here. it was perhaps the most simple looking room, but was definitely the most effective.

Additional Areas

Sion really loved the steam rooms, so while he was revisiting some of them I spent time in the outdoor zen garden reading one of the many complimentary magazines that were dotted around. Blankets are provided so you feel really snug, while enjoying the fresh air and cool breeze. I also had a 20 minute snooze on one of the waterbeds. Again there are plenty of blankets on each bed so you get really cosy - Sion actually had to come and wake me up so we could carry on our experience!

Refreshments

We were going to stop for lunch on our way home so didn't buy anything from the cafe, but the food that we saw looked very inviting and reasonably priced. Tables were being cleared quickly and the staff all seemed friendly and efficient. when we next come back I would have no hesitation in having a snack or meal there.

There were a couple of clocks in the Spa so we were able to see when it was time to head home. The changing facilities were clean, with lots of available showers, toiletries & hair driers. We left our robes & towels in the drop off point and handed our keys back to reception. We both mentioned how utterly relaxed we felt and how soft our skin was now feeling as we made our way back to our bikes and the end of our visit to CenterParcs Longleat.

We both felt that despite not having any massages or other treatments (these can be booked separately), this was the best value-for-money spa day we have had. We didn't feel rushed, the spa wasn't too crowded and the facilities were clean and well maintained. In fact the Aqua Sana spa is the main reason we would return to CenterParcs.

We paid in full for our Spa Experience, I decided to write this review on our return. All thoughts and words are my own.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

#TasteofLondon Heroes - T2

As I mentioned recently, back in June I spent a very enjoyable afternoon exploring the huge foodies event, Taste of London. As well as eating lots of beautifully prepared sample dishes, I was lucky enough to spend time with some of the producers showcasing their products. One of these was the Australian tea maker T2.

T2 was created over 18 years ago by Maryanne Shearer, with the first store opening in Fitzroy, Australia. Maryanne had a background in product development & visual merchandising and she wanted to give tea a modern re-invention, opening it up to a whole new generation of tea drinkers. Now there are over 60 stores in Australasia, the US and the UK, each one offering daily tea tastings and a table filled with teas to help you to discover which flavour and aromas you like best.

The T2 stand at Taste of London was no different. One entire wall was filled with the different varieties of tea, with exciting flavours like Toasty Nougat, Strawberries & Cream & Liquorice Legs. For every variety that was on the shelf there were opened samples of the loose blends for you to touch and smell. I was encouraged to try lots of different samples to see what sort of blends I liked - the chai was STUNNING!


Then it was onto the most highly prized, star of the show - matcha tea. This is a green tea that comes in powdered form. T2's matcha is 100% organic and is priced at £15.00 for 30g. It was explained that matcha can be an acquired taste, but there was a way of making an iced tea that I was bound to love.

A small amount of tea was placed into a bowl and water that had boiled & cooled for a few minutes was poured over. This was gently whisked using a special whisk until it was starting to froth and then it was slowly poured into a jug of sparkling water and ice cubes. Finally their was a quick squeeze of lemon to cut through the drink and it was ready to be served.


My verdict? The most refreshing, clean tea I have ever tasted. My T2 blender was brilliantly knowledgeable and answered all my questions. He and all the other staff I spoke to had such passion and pride in their products, it was a pleasure to spend time learning about the company and their range of teas.

Sadly though my time with the T2 boys had to come to an end. Not before they helped me choose a blend to take away with me, along with a really handy individual travel flask that comes with an infuser. My Strawberries and Cream tea really does smell and taste of strawberries & cream and its perfect for these hot summer evenings. One teaspoon of blend is enough to make 2 cups of tea. The cube is 100g and retails for £7.50 and I would think there would be a good 20-30 teaspoons in each pack.



T2 products are available on their website, they also have six stores in the London area and are planning on opening more soon. A visit to their Westfield Shepherd's Bush store is already pencilled in for August.

T2 very kindly provided me with my travel flask & tea free of charge, but they did not ask me to write a review. All words & opinions are my own. 

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We're going on an adventure

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

CenterParcs Longleat - My Thoughts

Three weeks ago we eagerly loaded up the car and headed up the A36 to spend four nights at CenterParcs Longleat. We were staying in a four bedroomed, eight person lodge with our good friends and their four year old triplets.

As you can imagine we were all looking for something different - plenty of fitness activities, child-friendly activities, rest & relaxation and activities easy on the wallet. We have never stayed at CentreParcs before, but had been told that it was "good fun but expensive" or "spread out over miles". However we were going with an open mind and knew that with 3 four year olds we were going to have lots of fun anyway.

There are plenty of reviews on line for visiting CenterParcs with children and while I'll make mention of things the triplets particularly enjoyed, this review is primarily for adults visiting.

ARRIVAL

We took advantage of filling out the pre arrival questionnaire online a few days before our check in date. This covered names, contact details and DOB of all occupants, vehicle details and if we were bringing our own bikes. You can check in from 10am and use all the facilities (swimming pool from 2pm), although you can only access your lodge from 3pm.

We got to Longleat at 1.30pm and there were only 2 cars in front of us. There were 6 book in points open and we quickly moved to a check in window. I explained that the other car in our party was arriving later so they kept one set of keys back. We were given a map of the site and some additional information and we were all set!

There's plenty of parking in the main car park (cars are only allowed on the main site to load & unload), meaning we were soon in the main plaza enjoying a leisurely lunch, before heading across to our lodge.

CenterParcs Longleat cycle path

ACCOMMODATION

We booked to stay in a woodland lodge, paying a supplement to choose what area we stayed in to make sure the walk/cycle wouldn't be too much for the Littles. Everything was clean, in a good condition and well thought out. The main living area was open plan, with the kitchen, dining and living space all in one area. The two twin rooms were side by side, perfect for the children and the two double rooms were both good sizes. Along with the main bathroom, there was also a separate shower room, with a sink and another separate toilet, meaning there were no long queues in the morning!

Outside we had a patio large enough for us all to be outside together, with plenty of seating and a good sized table. We were provided with a BBQ stand, although you could only use disposable BBQs on it.

We were too excited to take photos before the Littles arrived - and once they did there was stuff EVERYWHERE! This virtual tour is of a lodge similar to ours.

FACILITIES

All bedding and towels were provided. We did bring extra towels for swimming though. Each Woodland lodge has two fridges and a dishwasher, as well as plenty of crockery, cooking equipment and glasses. You are provided with a few sachets of washing up liquid & dishwasher tablets, but we also brought supplies and tea towels with us.

There is a cleaning/storage cupboard in the lodge that we stored the Littles balance bikes in, but it also contained a vacuum cleaner, ironing board & iron as well as plenty of other cleaning products.

On site there is a good sized, well stocked supermarket selling everything from newspapers to marshmallows! We used this to buy lunch supplies, snacks and of course alcohol. It was slightly more expensive than our usual store but it was a good option for topping up our supplies. The will also deliver your shopping to your lodge - perfect for that first night shop.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from too. We ate at The Sports Cafe, Huck's American Bar & Grill and Hawton's. Our friends also ate at The Pancake House. Every meal we had was lovely - Huck's had the added bonus of a fantastic balloon artist and a fully enclosed indoor play area, keeping the Littles entertained while we had a sneaky cocktail! On our last night we ordered pizzas from the onsite takeaway. We popped in to place our order when they opened at 5pm and booked a delivery slot (in half hour windows), paying a small supplement to have it delivered. Using a meal deal we had two huge pizzas, a large garlic bread, potato wedges, coleslaw & a large bottle of soft drink for under £40, including delivery. This is comparable to Dominos and the food was probably nicer too!

There is no WiFi in Woodland lodges and phone coverage is generally poor throughout the site. Free WiFi is available in the main plaza with a good speed, although none of us could make a call from there.

CenterParcs Longleat Pancake House

ACTIVITIES

There is a huge number of activities available at Longleat CenterParcs, from water activities to zipwires and tennis to teddy bear making, with everything in between. It's a good idea to prebook activities before you go as the more popular ones get filled quickly. There are booking points throughout the park too which we took advantage of.

We prebooked a spa experience for our final day before we arrived, which I'll talk about in a separate post (it was amazing!) and we also booked a canoeing session. This two person canoe cost £9.75 for 30 minutes. We were 10 minutes early but we were allowed onto the water straight away. All the buoyancy aids were provided and there was a safety boat on the lake patrolling. We booked an early morning session (10.30am - bookings are taken from 10am) and there was plenty of availability although it got busier as the day went on.

CenterParcs Longleat Lake

For the rest of the time that we were at CenterParcs we used the free facilities. There's plenty of walking and cycling routes that we explored each morning and of course the Subtropical Swimming Paradise filled many hours! This facility has a number of pools for babies & toddlers as well as a main indoor pool and outdoor pool, rapids, flumes, waterslides and whirlpools. Other than £1 for your locker (refundable) you can spend all day here. It was great to see that there were plenty of buoyancy vests available for children to borrow free of charge and there was even a cafe bar within the swimming paradise that you could refuel at.

CenterParcs Longleat Rapids

CenterParcs Longleat pathway

WHAT WE LOVED

The lodges were so well equipped, all you need to take with you was extra swimming towels, extra toilet rolls, kitchen roll & washing up supplies.

Seeing so much wildlife! Squirrels were everywhere and we even saw deer each evening walking past our lodge.

The choices for eating and the standard of food was faultless. Staff were all friendly and helpful.

Plenty of bike parking in the main areas meant there was no excuse not to cycle, although for Little legs or tired legs the land train was a welcome addition!

No cars (except for CenterParc maintenance vehicles) meant we could all take things at a leisurely pace. The Littles loved using their bikes on roads and footpaths and us adults could relax a little more.

Center Parcs Longleat is completely accessible for people with additional mobility needs. We have family members who use wheelchairs and we would be completely comfortable booking a break for them to enjoy. Pathways are wide with smooth surfaces and very few steep inclines. There are some stepped areas around the park, but there was always an additional route close by that is accessible to everyone.

CenterParcs Longleat wildlife

CenterParcs Longleat pathways

WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED

Our lodge didn't have a bin in any of the bathrooms. This may have been an oversight but with two contact wearers and three nappy wearers (not the same people!) a bin in at least one of the bathrooms would have been useful.

There were plenty of cycle and walking paths but we found we would cycle the same route. If there were marked cycle paths to follow we would probably have seen more of the site.

It was frustrating that phone coverage was so poor on site. There were a few occasions that I checked my work emails (I know, don't judge me!) and needed to make a follow up phone call, but this entailed either going back to our lodge or down to the lake to find a signal.

TIPS FOR YOUR STAY

Pay the extra to choose the location of your lodge. We were less than 5 minutes walk from both the main plaza & car park which made getting around so easy. On check out day we walked to the car park with our bags and were packed up in half an hour, rather than getting caught up with everyone driving to their lodges.

Book an activity for your last day. We had a spa experience from 11am-2pm which meant we were completely relaxed at the end of our holiday and we missed that first wave of people leaving. After a short cycle back to the car we were on our way home at 2.30pm.

We arrived at 1.30pm and were checked in almost straight away, but we noticed when we left at 2.30pm there was a long queue of cars waiting to check in. I would suggest timing your arrival before 2pm.

After lots of trials we found that sitting in front of the Sports Cafe we could get WiFi and network signal at the same time! Outside the Grand Cafe also gave some of the best coverage too.

Bring a small portable or disposable BBQs with you. You can buy disposable BBQs in the supermarket, but they are relatively expensive.

We found early afternoon and early evening were the quietest times in the swimming complex. I think this is because we went outside of the school holidays so most of the children had afternoon naps...leaving the pool for us!

CenterParcs Longleat Grand Cafe



We were all pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our stay at CenterParcs Longleat. It managed to cater to us all, leaving us with only happy memories of our stay. The fact that I only have a few photos snapped on my phone show that we were too busy having fun to think of things like blogging!

Would we visit again? Most definitely!

We paid in full for our stay at CenterParcs Longleat. We were not asked to write this review, but I thought I would share our experiences with my readers.

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Super Busy Mum