Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Getting into the Yuletile Spirit...

As an accountant I don't get much opportunity to be creative. I think that's why I like baking so much. It gives me the chance to make something from scratch that gives enjoyment to myself and others.

The run up to Christmas is an especially creative time. I hand stamped my own wrapping paper last year and want to make a few gifts this year.

I was asked if I would like to take part in Topps Tiles' Yuletile Greetings Christmas campaign, and when I heard it would involve getting crafty I thought it would be a perfect thing to work on slowly in the evenings.

I was sent a plain white tile and lots of lovely paints & brushes to come up with my masterpiece *cough* and this is what I made...

My first thoughts were to go with a traditional 12 days of Christmas theme and I carefully measured out my boxes ready to put my designs into. I quickly realised that my artistic talents were limited and that my partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, geese & swans all looked exactly the same and there was no way I would be able to fit all the drummers, pipers, lords, ladies and maids into my little boxes...a new theme was needed - quickly!!

I came up with our personalised 12 Days of Christmas. In no particular order these little pictures are snippets of what I hope our Christmas this year will be like;

Our favourite foods prepared by all of us, ready to be enjoyed.
Stockings to be opened while still in bed on Christmas morning
Frosty days perfect for woodland walks
Gingerbread men fresh from the oven with a big mug of hot chocolate
Our first real Christmas tree, probably way to big for our little living room, decorated with new decorations
A special posh scented candle, saved ready for Christmas
And a real hope from snow, just a sprinkling to give Christmas that magical air...

Most of the pictures were outlined using ceramic pens and filled in with ceramic paints. Once the base layer had dried I went over it with any top colours like the white dots on the Christmas pudding. I was sent 6 different colours of paint so if I needed a colour outside of these I mixed them in a little tray before using.

I finished the tile by writing Christmas 14 in fairy lights. Fairy lights are the epiphany of Christmas to me, delicate, sparkly, magical.


I know this tile isn't going to win the Turner prize, my holly leaves are not quite perfect and it looks childlike - but isn't that what's good about Christmas? It's a time for us to all forget about work for a day or two and allow ourselves to remember the childlike pleasures of playing with new gifts, eating chocolate for breakfast and staying up late. It's a time for imperfection - who cares if lunch is later than you expected, or if you want to wear PJs all day?

Christmas for me is a time to gather together all that you love and enjoy, to remember past Christmas' and look forward to future ones - maybe we should all paint a family Christmas tile?

This post is an entry into Topps Tiles' Yuletile Greetings Christmas campaign. I was sent the tile & craft products free of charge.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Great Christmas Clear out...

Welcome to our spare room of doom...

We are lucky to have a second reception room. When we moved in we had plans to make it our quiet reading room, with a sofa bed for the occasional overnight guest. It quickly turned into a dumping ground for luggage, paperwork, spare bedding and Christmas presents.

When my nephew came toddling into the other room carrying a tube of wrapping paper (that had been right next to his unwrapped Christmas presents) I knew it was time to a pre-Christmas tidy up.

Luckily I was recently sent a selection of packing boxes and tape from Eco Movers which gave me the incentive and storage space, to start clearing the decks.

I made up three archive boxes, one for Sion, one for myself and a joint one in a matter of seconds and started filling them with the paperwork that was sitting on the coffee table and shelf. 

The bedding was vac-packed and stored under the stairs, along with our overnight bags. Underneath the bedding I found a big bag of books, too heavy for me to lift. I made up two small boxes and transferred the books into them. They can now be easily stacked on top of each other or stored in separate places.

Finally I gave everything a quick polish and wipe over and re-arranged some of Sion's wooden figures.

One hour of tidying has got our room back. Admittedly we still have boxes in there but they can be easily sorted through and filed away properly. The boxes are collapsible and reusable so we can just store them until they are next needed.

Eco Movers have lots of packing boxes and discounted ready packs that you can use to help get your home ready for Christmas stating from £1.30 + VAT. Next on the list for me is to wrap some Christmas presents and box them up ready for each location - Cornwall, Northampton & Southampton...just in case more little hands and eyes come round exploring!

Next week we will be deciding on the type of tree to buy and our decorations colour scheme...decisions, decisions, decisions!!

I was sent a selection of boxes and packaging tape for the purposes of this post. All words and opinions remain my own.

Linking up with 

#TinselTuesday, hosted by Farmers Wife & Mummy

Family Fever

Monday, 24 November 2014

"Streets of London"

Last week I took a days holiday from the joys of accounting and headed up to London. I had been invited to a Christmas get together, organised by Bake With Maria and Victoria Eggs (separate post to follow) and decided to take the day to have a leisurely day in the city before the Christmas shoppers start to visit en masse.

My train finishes at Waterloo so I had a loose plan to walk along the Southbank, stopping off at Borough Market, before heading on to see the poppies at Tower Bridge and finishing in one of the great museums London has to offer.

It was one of those beautiful, bright Autumnal mornings, arriving into London at 10.30 meant the crowds had not quite materialised yet. In actual fact I got quite a few shots with no-one else in them, especially around the London Eye...

Further along the Southbank I watched a man make huge bubbles for children to pop...

And I found this little fellow by The Globe Theatre...

A quick detour into Borough Market brought me my lunch of traditional Pie & Mash (yum!) and huge foodie envy looking at the stands that were open for trading...

Feeling decidedly full I needed to get a bit of a march on to make it over Tower Bridge and to the Remembrance Poppies. This was the busiest part of London with crowds of people all around the Tower. But it was also one of the quietest areas, people lost in thought, maybe saying little prayers of thanks. Everyone subtly moving to allow a photograph or two to be taken. I felt so privileged to have seen them before they were all picked and sent away. The sheer scale of the installation was incredible, even with half of the poppies already collected. I walked the whole perimeter before heading on to my final port of call..

I've never been to the British Museum, but as soon as I stepped inside the Atrium my breath was taken away. Picking up a map, I decided to focus on the Egyptian rooms. The mummies looked pretty scary and I was amazed there were so many, even pets were mummified - I felt a bit disrespectful taking photographs of mummies so just took a few of the different artifacts instead...

And then before I knew it, it was 4pm and time to head up to North West London for Christmas food and chats...but that's a whole different post...

Joining in this week with Magic Moments and What's the Story?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Time to be in the Kitchen...Bakewell Tarts

I'm on a mission to free the world of dried fruit baked goods this Christmas. I can't really say what it is about dried fruit that I don't like...maybe the heaviness of the associated bakes, maybe the cloying sweetness. All I know is that this week I'm taking a stand and saying "no" to mince pies.

My alternative is a take on the Bakewell tart, made festive with the addition of mulled fruit Mackays jam and silver stars instead of the more traditional glace cherry. Feel free to change your jam to any of your choosing. I'm planning a chocolate pastry version with an orange marmalade base and zest added to the icing for a real festive hit.

The method below produces good flat based tarts, however unless the sides are properly sealed you will get leakage during baking. Make sure to overlap your side strip enough to allow for shrinkage and if in doubt is offcuts to seal your base to your sides before filling. Alternatively cut circles of pastry large enough to cover both the base and sides of your baking tins, pressing well to the moulds to get a good tart shape.

Mini Bakewell Tarts - Recipe adapted from BBC Food


150g Mackays mulled fruit jam

For the pastry
100g butter, chilled & cubed
200g plain flour, sifted
40g icing sugar, sifted
1 medium egg beaten

For the Frangipane
55g butter, chilled & cubed
55g golden caster sugar
1 medium egg beaten
40g ground almonds
1 tbsp plain flour

For the topping
85g icing sugar
small quantity of cold water
decorations of your choice

To make the pastry rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then use a blunt knife to cut in the beaten egg. Using your hands bring the mixture together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Grease a 12 hole muffin tin. on a floured surface roll out half the pastry to a thickness of approximately 3mm. Using a 5cm round cutter, cut 12 circles to fit into the base of each muffin tin hole. Make the sides by rolling out the remaining pastry and cutting 12 strips approximately 1.5cm wide by 20cm long. Gently press around the sides of each hole of the muffin tin, making sure the edges are sealed to the base.

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3

For the frangipane, beat the ingredients together until they form a smooth, well combined paste.

Prick the bases of the cases with a fork, then place half a teaspoon of jam in each. Top with a teaspoon of the frangipane mixture and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the frangipane is risen & golden. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing topping mix the icing sugar with a few teaspoons of water and mix to form a thick paste. Spread over the tarts and decorate how you like.

I was sent some Mackays marmalade and jam to use in some Christmas recipes free of charge.

Linking up with 

#TinselTuesday, hosted by Farmers Wife & Mummy




Friday, 14 November 2014


It's been a little while since I took part in Word of the Week, but this week I am definitely


I'm impatient for the weekend to start. We have no set plans and it will be lovely to just relax at home and prepare the house for next weekend because...

I'm impatient to see my niece & nephew. They are coming down to spend the weekend with us (with their Mum & Dad!) and I think we are going to head to our first Christmas Market over in Winchester. This is good because...

I'm impatient to start Christmas shopping. I've ordered a few bits & pieces, but after paying for an MOT, Service & new brakes on my car, the bulk of Christmas shopping will need to wait until early December. This will work out nicely though, because...

I'm impatient to spend the weekend in London, visiting Winter Wonderland with Sion's family and heading back to stay in The Tommyfield. We stayed there for my birthday and the staff looked after us so well, we can't wait to return to see them again.

Most of all I'm impatient for Christmas.

Ignore the commercialism of it. Christmas for me is a time to ease back, spend time with loved ones, to laugh, remember and look to the future. It's a time for old films, traditions and arguing over the best chocolates. It's a time for outdoor walks, indoor pub fires and overstuffed bellies. It's a time for gratitude and thanks. It's a time to just be...and I can't wait.

Share with me what you are most impatient for...

The Reading Residence

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Christmas Marmalade Cake

Confession time...I don't like Christmas cake, mince pies or Christmas pudding. Unless I put my thinking cap on Christmas lunch will turn into an ordinary roast dinner - and that'll never do!
Luckily for me I was recently sent some Christmas Marmalade and Jam from Mackays. This Scottish company was founded in 1938 and are the only remaining producers of the "Dundee Orange Marmalade". You can read their story here. The marmalade was not at all bitter, the cranberries add sweetness to it and I tasted a hint of alcohol, although that could have just been my wishful thinking!

I decided to use both the Marmalade & Jam in some festive bakes. First up Marmalade Cake, a lighter, refreshing alternative to Christmas Cake. This cake does end up being wonderfully sweet and sticky...definitely forks needed to eat this!

Ingredients -

For the Cake

1 heaped tbsp. Mackays Christmas Marmalade with Cranberries
3 large eggs
100g caster sugar
125g light brown sugar
200g butter at room temperate, cut into small pieces
225g self raising flour
2tsp baking powder

For the Icing

250g icing sugar
225g cream cheese
150g butter at room temperate, cut into small pieces
2 heaped tbsp. Mackays Christmas Marmalade with Cranberries


Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan, gas 4. Grease & line two sandwich tins (I used 8"/20cm tins).

If you have a food processor add all the cake ingredients into the processor and whizz until well combined.

Alternatively cream the sugars and butter together until light & fluffy. Stir in the marmalade and eggs. Finally fold in the flour & baking powder until well combined.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins & level out using a spoon. Bake for 25 minutes or until the cooked through and a skewer should come out clean.

Remove and leave to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Meanwhile combine the cream cheese, butter and marmalade until smooth (I used a hand blender for this). Gradually add the icing sugar until it is all combined. Chill until required.

When the cakes are cooled, use half the icing to sandwich the sponges together then spread the remaining icing on top and decorate however you like.

Next week I will be making a Christmas version of Bakewell Tarts with my Mackays Christmas Jam.

Should you wish to, please pop over to the Mackays website to read about their full range and find your nearest stockist.

I was sent some marmalade and jam to use in some Christmas recipes free of charge.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Miracle of Merumaya

OK...time for confession...I do not have a skincare regime. Well actually that's not true, my regime is a quick wash in the shower with whatever face wash happens to be on special offer, followed by a liberal smear of any moisturiser nearby...hand, face, leg - they all do the same, right?!

I could blame it on lack of knowledge but honestly, I just can't be arsed with the 6 step cleanse, steam, polish, tone, serum, moisturise routine we seem to be encourage to do by the big skincare houses. That and the fact that it's bloody expensive!

You can see that I would be a hard sell to even the best skincare specialist and this was put to the test at the recent Southampton Blogger meet up, where a number of skincare brands were in attendance (honestly the only one I had heard of before was Lush! and I started my chat with them with the words "your shop gives me a headache") giving us helpful tips and skin reviews before sending us on our way with lovely gift bags.

My skincare fatigue was soon squashed when I sat with Lekha, of the brand Merumaya. She immediately understood my apathy and rather than making me feel like I was doing my skin a huge disservice, she carefully took me through the ethos of Merumaya's Founder, Maleka Dattu and the complete range of skincare products. The enthusiasm Lekha has for the brand and the experience Maleka brought with her when developing the products, made me sit up and pay attention to everything Lekha showed me.

I was given the Cleansing Balm and Iconic Youth Serum to take away and try out. Two weeks later I am still using the Cleansing Balm as my daily cleanser. Yes, you can use it like a traditional hot cloth cleanser...or you can use it like I do, in the shower, in a matter of minutes. It easily removes all make up (including mascara) and leaves my skin feeling as if it has a layer of goodness still to soak in.  My redness around my nose and cheeks has noticably reduced and I haven't had my usual hormonal breakouts. The Cleansing Balm retails at £14.50 for 100ml, more expensive than the supermarket cleansers, but very reasonable when compared against the elite brands.

I was also given the Iconic Youth Serum to try (£34.50 for 30ml), along with the Exfoliating Peel (£19.50 for 50ml). Just like the cleanser you get incredible feeling skin after using the smallest amount of the serum. It soaks into your skin beautifully and doesn't leave any trace of greasiness or product behind.

I'm going to use the peel as a treat this weekend, but I'm sure I will be just as impressed with this as I have been with the rest of the range.

All Merumaya products can be ordered directly from their website, they are also stocked in John Lewis stores and can be delivered as part of their "Click & Collect" scheme, to multiple Waitrose stores for your convenience.

If like me you don't have the time, money or confidence to invest in a skincare brand I would encourage you to try the Cleansing Balm as a stand alone product first. I'm already earmarking the other products in the range for my Christmas list!

I was given a full sized Melting Cleansing Balm free of charge along with sample sizes of the Iconic Youth Serum and Skin Brightening Exfoliating Peel, however all thoughts and opinions are my own and are un-influenced.

Family Fever

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Remember, remember...

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason
why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot

As a lover of all things Autumn, my favourite event of the year is Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night. Wrapping up against the cold and watching beautiful fireworks fill the sky, while the scent of food vans makes your mouth water and your tummy rumble.

We haven't made it to an organised fireworks display for a few years but on Saturday night we made our way to the Beaulieu Motor Museum for their event. Arriving at 4pm we had a few hours to wander around the museum looking at the incredible cars, This was Sion's favourite...

This little cutie, but completely impractical one was mine...

And this Jenson Interceptor threw up a whole load of memories for me. My Dad brought this dream car when we were children. He only used it occasionally, but I still remember the thrill of being squeezed into the tiny back seat as we roared down the street. I stood next to this car for a little while, lost in my thoughts - I miss you Dad.

We headed outside to feast on hot chips and curry sauce. I wanted to go on the Big Wheel but the queue was just a little too long for my short attention span so we just wandered amongst the stalls until it was time for the big event.

Set the the music of Rock Legends the display was far and away the best display I have ever seen. The fireworks we constantly being set off in perfect time to music for over 30 minutes. We absolutely were blown away and despite only having my trusty iphone with me I managed to snap a picture or two...

Beaulieu, you were amazing - we'll be back again next year!

There are lots of displays taking place all over the country this weekend, Hampshire events can be found here, Berkshire events here, Dorset events here and Sussex & Surrey events here. Be safe and have fun watching x

Monday, 3 November 2014

Time to be in the kitchen...Bacon and Savoy Cabbage

We had an absolute scorcher of a day on Friday when we enjoyed a few days in Pevensey Bay with family. It was so strange to be talking of "Trick n Treating" while sipping a cold glass of wine at a local marina with the sun blazing down.

This all changed though by Saturday afternoon, the winter coat was certainly needed watching fireworks at Beaulieu Motor Museum and the treat of hot chips help stave off the chill.

With the onset of this wintery weather our usual lunches of salads needs changing pretty sharpish. Sometimes we may just take in leftovers from the previous night's cook (Monday roast anyone?!) but I like to have something in the fridge that we can dip into without having to slave over a stove. Our slow cooker makes this so easy, we usually start it off on Monday morning. The joy of a slow cooker is that you can't really burn or dry out food, by the time we come home from work the house smells amazing and our lunch is sorted for the next few days.

Casseroles and chilli is a easy option, but to keep things different to our evening meals I try out different recipes for our lunches. I thought I'd share our Bacon and Savoy Cabbage Hotpot. Be warned, the amount of bacon means there is no need to add extra salt to the cook!

Ingredients -

2 tbsp. olive oil
450g chopped unsmoked bacon
200g smoked bacon
1 chopped onion
400g can haricot beans, drained
1 stick celery chopped
1 carrot cubed
1 red pepper cubed
1/2 savoy cabbage, shredded
2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
400g canned chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp. oregano
450ml chicken stock
pepper to taste.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook off the bacon. Add to your slow cooker, along with all the other ingredients. Cover and cook on a medium setting for 4-5 hours, or low for 6-7 hours. Just before serving sprinkle fresh parsley to garnish. Serve with crusty bread.