Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Change one thing....

With the first of January looming, it's the time for New Year's Resolutions! For many people (me included!), we make a great start and then we're lucky if by the 31st of January, we're still on track!

Image via http://bit.ly/16jAEUr

Well, this year, I'm taking a different approach. Change, improve or add one thing to your life every couple of days throughout January and you *should* find it easier to stick to your resolution as the change has been a gradual one. Again, for many people 'to lead a healthier lifestyle' is a common resolution to make so for the first two weeks of January, I'll be posting each day with something that I have promised to do. Sometimes it will be really easy to achieve, sometimes a bit more will-power will be needed, but none (I hope) will be an impossibility!

So, here goes and I hope you will join me!  Don't forget to share with your friends and keep me updated with your progress as I keep you updated with mine!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Advent Post #24 - Merry Christmas!

Well, I hope that you've enjoyed this series of posts!
All that's left to say is MERRY CHRISTMAS and I hope that you fully enjoy your day tomorrow, whatever it may bring!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Advent Post #23 - Quick chicken pasta bake

As Christmas creeps up on us, quick and easy family meals are a must in our house! This chicken pasta bake recipe is a perfect winter warmer and is also delicious cold the day after (if you have any leftovers, that is!). And an added bonus is that it's low in fat so you can be on your best 'foodie' behaviour before the indulgence starts!

Image via www.bbcgoodfood.com
You can vary the recipe by replacing the chicken with pork or prawns; we used left over chicken so reduced the cooking time slightly. You could also swap the broccoli for similar veg - sugarsnap peas or baby sweetcorn would be perfect!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Advent Post #22 - Yummy Chocolate Brownies!

As much as we *try* to be good with our eating habits over Christmas, who can resist a delicious chocolate brownie!
Image via www.bbcgoodfood.com

However, fear not(!), I came across this recipe for some super chocolate brownies with a magic ingredient that reduces the fat and salt content quite considerably. OK, yes they still contain fat and sugar but without butter or spread on the ingredient list, they've got to be on the healthy side of the brownie fence, right?

Click here for the full recipe if you want to know the secret ingredient and try them out for yourself!

Let me know what you think when you've made them and then challenge your friends to guess the secret ingredient... I bet they'll struggle to get it right!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Advent Post #21: 50 Festive Facts!

Following on from our little quiz, here are 50 festive facts to get you even more in the mood for Christmas!

  1. US scientists calculated that Santa would have to visit 822 homes a second to deliver all the world's presents on Christmas Eve, travelling at 650 miles a second.
  2. Robins on cards were a joke 150 years ago when postmen wore red tunics and were named after them.
  3. Although now mostly vegetarian, in Victorian times, mince pies were made with beef and spices.
  4. The tradition of putting tangerines in stockings comes from 12th-century French nuns who left socks full of fruit, nuts and tangerines at the houses of the poor.
  5. Despite the tale of three wise men paying homage to baby Jesus, the Bible never gives a number. Matthew's Gospel refers to merely "wise men".
  6. Carols began as an old English custom called wassailing, toasting neighbours to a long life.
  7. Carols weren't sung in churches until they were introduced by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.
  8. Hanging stockings out comes from the Dutch custom of leaving shoes packed with food for St Nicholas's donkeys. He would leave small gifts in return.
  9. There is no reference to angels singing anywhere in the Bible.
  10. Nearly 60 million Christmas trees are grown each year in Europe.
  11. The word Noel derives from the French expression "les bonnes nouvelles" or "the good news".
  12. Jesus was probably born in a cave and not a wooden stable, say Biblical scholars.
  13. The abbreviation Xmas isn't irreligious. The letter X is a Greek abbreviation for Christ.
  14. The world's tallest Xmas tree at 221ft high was erected in a Washington shopping mall in 1950.
  15. The chances of a white Christmas are just 1 in 10 for England and Wales, and 1 in 6 for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  16. Many theologians estimate that Jesus wasn't born on December 25 but sometime in September between 6BC and 30AD.
  17. James Pierpont's 1857 song Jingle Bells was first called One Horse Open Sleigh and was written for Thanksgiving.
  18. Before turkey, the traditional Christmas meal in England was a pig's head and mustard.
  19. In 1647, after the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell banned festivities. The law wasn't lifted until 1660.
  20. In 1999, residents of the state of Maine in America built the world's biggest ever snowman. He stood at 113ft tall.
  21. The Greeks celebrate Christmas on January 7, according to the old Julian calendar, while Xmas presents are opened on New Year's Day.
  22. Many parts of the Christmas tree can actually be eaten, with the needles being a good source of Vitamin C.
  23. The holly in a wreath symbolises Christ's crown of thorns while the red berries are drops of his blood.
  24. The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by civil servant Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. Featuring a family drinking wine, one sold for  £8,469 last year.
  25. Hanging presents on trees may come from the Druids who believed the tree was the giver of all good things.
  26. The largest Christmas cracker - 45.72m long and 3.04m in diameter - was pulled in Australia in 1991.
  27. The long shopping spree before Christmas began in America when relatives of soldiers posted overseas in the Second World War were encouraged to mail gifts early.
  28. Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space when Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra sang it on December 16, 1965.
  29. Astronomers believe the Star Of Bethlehem, which guided the wisemen to Jesus, may have been a comet or the planet Uranus.
  30. Santa has different names around the world - Kriss Kringle in Germany, Le Befana in Italy, Pere Noel in France and Deushka Moroz (Grandfather Frost) in Russia.
  31. The word Christmas comes from the Old English "Cristes maesse" meaning "Christ's Mass".
  32. The bestselling Xmas single ever is Bing Crosby's White Christmas, shifting over 50million copies worldwide since 1942.
  33. In Britain, the best-selling festive single is Band Aid's 1984 track, Do They Know It's Christmas?, which sold 3.5million copies. Wham! is next in the same year with Last Christmas, selling 1.4million.
  34. Upside-down artificial Xmas trees are sold to allow more gifts to be piled under.
  35. Since 1947 Oslo has sent an Xmas tree to London to thank us for our help in the Second World War.
  36. Christmas pudding was originally a soup made with raisins and wine.
  37. London sweetmaker Tom Smith created the first Christmas crackers in 1847, based on the sweet wrapper design.
  38. Santa Claus comes from a Dutch folk tale based on Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, who gave gifts on December 6.
  39. Boxing Day gets its name from all the money collected in church alms-boxes for the poor.
  40. Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to spring from Frigga, the Norse goddess of love, who was associated with the plant.
  41. The Beatles hold the record for most Xmas number 1 singles, topping the charts in 1963, 65 and 67.
  42. Electric tree lights were invented by Edward Johnson in the US in 1882.
  43. They may date back to pagan traditions, but the earliest known reference to a Christmas tree is in a German pamphlet from 1570.
  44. The highest-grossing festive movie is 2000's How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which has raked in #175m so far.
  45. There are 13 Santas in Iceland, each leaving a gift for children. They come down from the mountain one by one, starting on December 12 and have names like Spoon Licker, Door Sniffer and Meat Hook.
  46. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was invented for a US firm's Christmas promotion in 1938.
  47. Gold-wrapped chocolate coins commemorate St Nicholas who gave bags of gold coins to the poor.
  48. The first Christmas celebrated in Britain is thought to have been in York in 521AD.
  49. In Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany, workers get a Christmas bonus of one month's salary by law.
  50. In the Czech Republic they enjoy dinners of fish soup, eggs and carp. The number of people at the table must be even, or the one without a partner will die next year.
So there you are, lots of facts to strike up a conversation with at family gatherings where you've forgotten exactly who is who... or is that just me!?

Facts sourced from the Daily Mirror online.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Advent Post #20: more edible treats! Butterscotch Cookies

Simple to make and delicious to eat around the fire with a hot chocolate, but also nice enough to give as a gift to a child's teacher, lovely neighbour or anyone you like really! Once completely cooled, wrap in cellophane with a pretty ribbon or in a small box or tin decorated however you wish!

Butterscotch cookies, makes 10, prep 10 mins, cook 20 mins

100g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the baking sheet
100g light soft brown sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
175g self-raising flour
25g puffed rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies
dark chocolate chips, for decoration
  1. Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and golden syrup until smooth.
  2. Sift in the flour and mix together, then fold through the puffed rice cereal. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place, well spaced, on a lightly buttered baking sheet. Decorate each ball with a few chocolate chips.
  3. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden. Leave on the baking sheet for 1 min before removing to a wire rack to cool.
Recipe source: BBC Good Food Magazine.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Advent Post #19: I bet you didn't know.... Christmas Quiz

I love fun (and often useless!) facts and this week have been finding out lots of little Christmassy snippets of information and compiled into a Christmas Quiz. Feel free to print and share around the table at Christmas - the answers are below, but no cheating!
  1. What was the first song sung in space?
  2. What are the chances of a white Christmas in England or Wales?
  3. Was Rudolph a male or female reindeer?
  4. In which year was the Queen's speech first televised?
  5. Who invented the Christmas cracker?
  6. Where and in what year was the first Christmas stamp released?
  7. How many reindeer pull Santa's sleigh?
  8. Their names....?
  9. On which instrument was Silent Night first played?
  10. Who wrote the poem 'Twas The Night Before Christmas'?
  11. How many gifts (in total) are mentioned in the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'?
  12. In Germany, what is Twelfth Night known as?
  13. In which year was the first Christmas card created?
  14. By whom?
  15. On which day of the week will Christmas Day be in 2014?
  16. Which song made the Christmas number one spot twice?
  17. And in which years?
  18. Where does the tree in London's Trafalgar Square come from each year?
  19. In which American state would you find the town of Santa Claus?
  20. In which year were electric Christmas lights first used?
  1. Jingle Bells
  2. 1 in 10
  3. Female - male reindeer lose their antlers in winter
  4. 1957
  5. Thomas Smith
  6. Canada in 1898
  7. 9
  8. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph
  9. The guitar
  10. Clement Clarke Moore
  11. 364
  12. Three Kings' Day
  13. 1843
  14. J.C. Horsley
  15. Thursday
  16. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
  17. 1975 & 1991
  18. Norway
  19. Indiana
  20. 1854
Highlight the space above to reveal the answers! How did you do?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Advent Post #18: Angel, Fairy, Star... what's on your tree?

The 'fairy' at the top of the Christmas tree was originally a figure of the baby Jesus. In the late 17th century, this became a shining angel.

In Victorian Britain, little girls would take the angel down after Christmas and dress him in doll's clothes. Eventually, the angel turned into a thoroughly female fairy., complete with a wand. The transformation was boosted by the emergence of pantomimes which became popular in the Victorian era and naturally included a good fairy in the cast (... oh yes they did!).

Cherubs were hung on trees to represent the angels who heralded the birth of Christ. The star, which forms one of the most important ornaments, indicates the guiding star which led the Shepherds and the Magi to the new born in the stable.

In recent years, stars have knocked angels off the top of the nation's trees - demand has reportedly fallen so much that some larger retailers have dropped angels altogether! A decade ago, angels were outselling stars but now stars outsell angels tenfold!

What do you have on top of your tree?

 Text from a local Parish Magazine, December 2013.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Advent Post #17: It's a Christmas Cracker! Jokes, jokes and more jokes!

A bit of light hearted fun! Get ready to rival any Christmas cracker joke that you've ever heard! Be prepared to groan.....

Why are people so shocked about how quickly Christmas comes round? It's been on the cards for ages!

A pantomime horse walks into a bar. Barman says, "Pint?" Horse say, "No, two halves."

Christmas is the worst time to be on a diet because of all the carolies!

What kind of bug hates Christmas?  A humbug!

Where does Santa do his Christmas shopping? Tesc-ho-ho-ho!

Who looks after Santa when he's not well? The National Elf Service!

How do you know if Santa has been in your shed? You have 3 extra hoes!

What's the difference between the Christmas alphabet and the normal one? The Christmas alphabet has no 'L'!

Where did the three Wise men buy their gifts? From the Lidl donkey!

What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? Christmas Quackers!

And I'll just leave you with the hope that all your festive pizzas be deep pan, crisp and even!

Thanks to The Huffington Post and The Telegraph for the joke inspiration!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Advent Post #16: Jack's Welsh Lamb, Rocket & Parmesan Risotto

My son has 2 passions - Minecraft & cooking! So when we're providing screen-time distraction cooking is always the answer! Most families (mine included!) often cook sweet treats with their children, but I've come to realise that cooking of savoury dishes is actually a greater life skill as you can't live off cupcakes once you've left home!

We first tried this dish whilst sampling some tasty delights at a Christmas Market event in Portmeirion and was loved by all of us, so armed with the handy recipe book provided by Meat Promotion Wales my son made it for us one evening this week.


The verdict - still as delicious as when the professional made it! So here's the recipe - enjoy!

Lamb, Rocket & Parmesan Risotto
Takes 30-35 mins, serves 2 very generous portions (but we served 2 adults and 2 children!)

225g lean Welsh lamb leg steaks, cut into small cubes
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
150g risotto (Arborio) rice
1 pint stock
Black pepper
50g sugar snap peas, sliced
50g frozen peas
Rocket leaves
Parmesan cheese or mature Cheddar cheese

  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and lightly fry the onion and lean lamb cubes.
  2. Add the risotto rice and stir thoroughly.
  3. Add a little stock and bring to the boil, add plenty of black pepper, add the remaining stock gradually and give it a good stir every now and again, simmering gently for about 30 mins or until the rice is cooked and all the liquid has been absorbed. (Add a little more stock to achieve your desired texture/consistency).
  4. During the last 5 mins of cooking time add the sugar snap peas and frozen peas, stir together and cook until the sugar snaps just start to soften.
  5. Season and finish off with a handful of rocket and grated parmesan cheese or a strong Cheddar cheese.
We were so impressed with my son's cooking of this recipe! He's decided that he wants to take part in Masterchef when he's older and this is what he will cook! I hope he sticks to this dream (along with being a train driver and pilot!) and gains his Michelin stars!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Advent Post #15: Christmas Recipe - Cottage Pie

At this time of year, simple to prepare meals are essential as often we have 'to-do' lists longer than the proverbial piece of string!

Cottage pie is a classic meal - pretty cheap to make, easy to prepare, basically cooks itself and can be stretched a little further if you end up with more guests than you planned for! Make it your own by adding a little twist to the side dishes; stir fried sprouts with pancetta, red cabbage or pickled beetroot are all favourites in our household.

Cottage pie - serves 4-6, takes 15 mins to make and 50 mins to cook.

2 tbsp. olive oil
450g lean beef mince
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks celery, trimmed and diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves or dried thyme
2 tbsp. plain flour
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. tomato puree
300ml red wine
400ml beef stock (made using 1/2 stock cube)
800g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
15g unsalted butter

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/gas 7. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tsp oil. Add the beef and cook until browned. Place onto a plate and drain any excess fat from the pan.
  2. Heat the remaining oil and gently cook the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and thyme for 10 mins until soft. Add the flour, cook for 1 min then add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree, wine and stock. Simmer for 10 mins until thick. Pour into an ovenproof dish with the mince.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for 15-20 mins, drain and place back in the pan to dry out. Add the butter, freshly ground black pepper and mash. Spread over the mince and bake for 20 mins. Serve with veg of your liking!
Recipe source: The Co-operative instore magazine.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Advent Post #14: Bean & Brush Family Art Cafe Review

Whilst visiting family over the weekend, we paid a visit to a great café near to my brother's house in Sale, Cheshire. Bean & Brush Family Art Café is a great place to meet, eat and make! Downstairs, there's a fantastic café offering a superb range of delights; from hot and cold drinks to tasty dishes with many items and ingredients locally sourced. (Their cupcakes and scones are fantastic!)
And then the beauty lies upstairs where there's a huge selection of pots and decopatch items ready for you to transform with your artistic talents (great AND small!). After much deliberation and decision-making, we decided upon our items to be painted. We settled on a cute gingerbread man plate, super-fast sports car and a little Welsh dragon - although I'm pretty sure the dragon may have been English, but it's Welsh now because it's home will be with me!

The space is well used and there are plenty of staff on hand to offer help if needed, but they do let you just get on with it if you want to. There's a great selection of paints to choose from with lots and LOTS of brushes; from really really fine to sponge and foam stamps in many different shapes.
Items start at just £5 so it's not too expensive to return to on a regular basis as a monthly treat, for example. They also hold children's parties - in fact, there was a party being held whilst we were there and it looked like all the children were having a great time and were well-supervised.
As a side note, even though there were definitely more children than adults in the craft area (and probably the whole place) it wasn't overly noisy. The overall ambiance of Bean & Brush is very family-friendly, so because the parents are relaxed about  the children walking around and making happy 'children-noise', the atmosphere was definitely stress-free!
My only (very slightly!) negative point with the whole experience is something which is completely out of Bean & Brush's control - my indecisive mind! There's that many items to choose from, it took me ages to decide what to paint! But once I had finally decided, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole morning and so did the other 10 people who were in my family group painting as well!
We have to wait a week or so for the pots to be fired and so once they are ready, I'll update this review with the finished items.
I think on our next visit we will try decopatch - described as painting with paper, we can't wait!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Advent Post #13: Christmas Card Craft!

Am I the only one who saves the Christmas cards each to make 'something' with? Then 10 months later find them and wonder what on earth I am going to do with them (other than let the kids make their own gift tags!). Well, here's a lovely craft activity that children would be able to manage but will need a bit of guidance from an adult.

Here's a link to the full instructions, but our own overview is shown below!
  • Cut 20 circles from any scrap card or thick cartridge paper. The circles must all be the same size; we used a mug to draw around or you can download the template from the link above.

  • On the back (plain) side of each circle, lightly draw a triangle that touches the perimeter of the circle at each corner. Cut a small notch into the circle at each corner of the triangle.
  • With a ruler and blunt knife, score along the points between the corner of each notch. With the card now picture-side facing up, bend each semi-circle edge upwards along each fold.
  • Now staple the circles together to form a 3D bauble shape. For us, this was a moment of trial and error and if I'm honest, we did undo a couple a re-do them! The easiest way to do this is to firstly staple 5 circles together in a flower shape and then add to these visualising a larger 3D bauble! You know that you have 20 circles, so just carry on until they all fit together properly! (This may be of NO help to some of you, but that's how we worked it out ourselves!).
  • Then, voila! You have it; a home made large bauble to hang on your tree (if it's big enough to hold larger then life baubles!) or to hang in your window - which is where ours are living at the moment!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Advent Post #12: A Special Secret Santa! Festive Shortbread Biscuits Recipe

When planning family weekends, making a Secret Santa present for Jamie Cullum's dad was definitely not on the list! Secret Santa 'events' are planned and carried out in many, many offices and workplaces nowadays. It takes the pressure off buying a present for everyone and often turns into a bit of fun with jokey and slightly risky gifts that you wouldn't be brave enough to give with your name attached to them!
To cut a long story short, my sister was the lucky recipient of the little slip of paper with said jazz singer's dad's name on it - he's chairman of the company that she works for! To add to the melee and confusion, the gift had to be homemade!
So... like any talented, crafty, cooking family - we opted for homemade biscuits! With the help of my kids(!), here we have the masterpiece itself!
Festive biscuits - just biscuit!

Mixing it up a little with the addition of sweetie glass!


The finished item - Bath Abbey at it's finest! (Or baffabbi as it was fondly known throughout the making process!)
I'm sure he'll be as proud as punch with the efforts made - well I hope so! :)
Here's the recipe for anyone who wants to give it a try!
300g plain flour
175g butter, cubed
1 level tsp ground ginger
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
100g golden syrup
24 clear coloured fruit sweets
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Sieve flour, cinnamon and ginger together. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the golden syrup and mix with a knife until lumpy. Then, use your hands to mix the mixture to form a dough.
  3. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 mins.
  4. While the dough is chilling, break the sweets into very small  pieces - a pestle and mortar is ideal.
  5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to the thickness of a pound coin.
  6. Cut into shapes as needed. Gather left over dough and roll out again.
  7. Place on a baking tray. Cut out any 'windows' from the shapes and sprinkle a generous amount of crushed sweets into each 'window'.
  8. Bake for 15 mins - the sweets should have melted and the biscuits should be lightly browned. Leave too cool on the tray for a minimum of 10 mins then remove with a fish slice. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. Enjoy!
Adapted from a recipe in Morrisons instore magazine.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Advent Post #11: An afternoon with Santa!

Living in a little corner of Wales is great, but when your family seems scattered around the UK (and further afield!) it's hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time! So, each December after a few weeks logistically planning a weekend in Manchester, we all *try* and meet up and have a festive weekend together as on the 'real' Christmas Day, it's impossible for us all to be together due to work and extended family commitments!
So....  here are some snaps of our first Christmas of the year!
We were even lucky enough to take a ride in Santa's horse and carriage - definitely a first for us! The elves were raising money for the Manchester Children's Hospital; a very deserving good cause!
Santa gave my children some homework to do for next time he sees them (ad they happily accepted it!) We had to learn the names of all of his reindeer! We managed a few whilst still in the grotto but had to think long and hard in the car later on - but we managed it (without the use of Mr. Google!).
So here we have them! Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and of course Rudolph!
My daughter has them written down now so that she can send the list off to Santa - along with some homework of his own! Learn the song 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' in Welsh! :) Good luck with that one Santa!
Have you celebrated an early 'Christmas' yet this year?!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Advent Post #10: Cranberry & white chocolate chip cookies

Try these really easy and tasty cookies - perfect as a gift in a ribbon-tied box or just lovely to munch!

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and grease 2 baking trays.

In a bowl, cream together 150g caster sugar and 175g butter, softened, until light and fluffy.

Stir in 175g plain flour, 1 beaten egg, 100g white chocolate chips and 75g dried cranberries.

Drop spoonfuls of this mixture on to the baking trays, spaced well apart to allow it to spread, and flatten slightly.

Bake for 20 mins until golden.

Cool on the tray for a few minutes then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.


Recipe source: Morrisons instore magazine.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Advent Post #9: Christmas Recipe - Festive Chocolate Slices

These are perfect to make on a quiet morning and keep to share with unexpected visitor who may drop in on you on a festive visit! They will keep for a week in airtight container - if they last that long that is!

Festive Chocolate Slices - makes 25 small slices, takes 35 minutes to make plus 2 hours to chill

200g milk chocolate (or dark if you prefer)
200g unsalted butter
5 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp cocoa powder
20 digestive or rich tea biscuits, broken into pieces
About 100g glace cherries, 60g dried mango and 75g dried cranberries (or a similar weight of a mix of dried fruit and/or nuts)
100g dark chocolate, to drizzle

  1. Grease and line a square tin (about 23cm) with greaseproof paper. Break the chocolate into a pan, add the butter, syrup and cocoa and heat gently until the chocolate and butter have melted. Remove from the heat.
  2. Crush the biscuits into small pieces with your hands or a rolling pin. Add to the chocolate mix and stir together. Spoon into the tin.
  3. Sprinkle the fruits/nuts over the top while the mixture is still sticky.
  4. Chill for 2 hours or until set. Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Drizzle over the top and cut into 25 squares.
Source: Co-operative instore magazine.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Advent Post #8: Christmas Craft - O Christmas Tree!

You can spend a fortune at this time of year on the little extras which are sold to you promising to bring that 'Christmas Magic' into your home. But for me, my most treasured Christmas decorations and ornaments are the ones made by my kids! And I'm sure that's the same for many of you.

Many items are made at school and brought home on the last day of term, proudly passed over to Mum or Dad at the school gate (quite often, there's more than you can carry and it will probably be raining!). Don't forget the carrier bag!

To help with ideas to make some lovely decorations at home, have a look at the links below. There's plenty of ideas to fill a quiet Sunday afternoon while you get on with some Christmas present wrapping!

Printable Christmas tree craft

Christmas tree hanging decoration

Handprint Christmas Tree

Scrap ribbon Christmas tree

Toddler crafts - pom pom Christmas tree

You can also pick up 'colour your own decorations' kits from various shops - or even design your own if you're handy with programs such as Paint!

Happy crafting!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Advent Post #7: Keeping warm this winter with Age UK!

It's a sad fact but this winter 24,000 older people could die from the cold - that’s 200 deaths a day that could be prevented.

It's important that even if we aren't living with someone elderly, we try and keep an eye on our elderly neighbours who do live alone.

Age UK have a great campaign running thought the winter months - Spread the Warmth is an integrated campaign to help older people keep warm and well this winter. There's also a great article on how to make sure you or someone you help care for are receiving the benefits you/they are entitled to - have a read here.

How Age UK helps older people in winter

Local Age UK groups offer a very wide range of services to help older people feel warm and well in winter:
  • They distribute essential items like clothes, heaters and electric blankets to keep older people warm.
  • They provide free information and advice to ease financial worries, and help older people to feel warm and well.
  • Their handy people provide energy services, like fitting draft excluders and radiator foils, as well as help with practical tasks around the home.
  • They offer shopping support so those with mobility issues can get what they need.
  • They run Christmas parties and provide befriending services to help fight loneliness.
Have a look ay my top 5 tips for keeping yourself warm this winter - feel free to add your own in the comments!
  1. Layer up! Try to wear a few layers rather than one thick jumper. The layers help to trap warm air within your clothing and keep you warm for longer.
  2. Keep your rooms cosy! Once the sun sets, draw your curtains to keep the warmth in your rooms and stop draughts creeping in.
  3. Fuel your body! A good, warm breakfast like porridge is a great start to the day followed by tasty soups, stews and casseroles for your other meals during the day. Foods high in carbohydrates (starchy foods) are great to keep your body fueled for the day, and they're pretty cheap too! Potatoes, pasta, bread and rice are perfect to base your meal around.
  4. Close the door! Keep windows and doors (including internal doors) closed to help keep the heat contained.
  5. Wrap up in bed! Make sure you wear warm clothes in bed, including warm, fluffy socks!
You can have a look at the full Age UK guide to keeping warm and well here. Don't forget to keep an eye on your neighbours!

This blog post was written to promote the Age UK campaign, Spread the Warmth.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Advent Post #6: Christmas Gifts - Giving & Receiving ... With a Smile!

Anyone have an all-weather camper on their Christmas list? Why not check out Camping Insider's great gift guide! There's gifts from under £10 to as much as you want to spend. From practical items to things to bring fun to your camping trips next year.

Camping Insider is a great source of outdoor offers, freebies, reviews and lots more cool stuff. Click this link to sign up to receive their newsletter direct to your inbox every month for free!

While you're here reading, have a giggle at this infographic! Camping Insider asked nearly 500 people what their worst Christmas gift was that they had received - and this was the result! I must think myself lucky that I've not been on the receiving end of most of these presents! Or given them for that matter!

Giggle away....

This blog post is an advertorial.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Advent Post #5: Keeping on top of the seasonal stress!

Why do migraines strike at the times when you're busiest!?

Imigran Recovery Tablets have launched their Facebook quiz contest to help educate the online community about the true impact of migraines on the UK. Supported by a competition to win a night at a luxury spa hotel, entrants are required to share their contact details and complete 3 quick fire multiple choice questions about migraine.

All entrants who successfully complete the migraine quiz will be entered in to the sweepstake to win the prize, whether they answer the questions correctly or not.

The campaign is designed to reward users who take part in the Migraine Matters Facebook quiz and "like" their Facebook page. With migraines affecting parents and children alike, every family could be affected at any time.

How to enter:
  1. Click here http://bit.ly/1jrRe4E and ‘Like’ the page.
  2. Click 3 multiple choice questions around Migraine when prompted
  3. We will randomly select one entrant at the end of the contest to win the luxury spa weekend.
The campaign starts on 1st December 2013 and closes on the 15th January 2014.

This blog post is an advertorial.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Advent Post #4: Keeping warm, whatever the weather! Aldi Ski Wear Review

The start of the ski season is upon us and some of you may be lucky enough to be hitting the slopes either before Christmas or for a well-deserved New Year break.

Aldi have a new range of superb quality ski wear suitable for all levels of skiers at great value prices. We were sent a girl's ski outfit to road test this week ready in time for the range to be launched tomorrow! Sadly, we didn't get to jet off to the Alps, but we did visit a local Christmas market in the cold!

The children's ski trousers and jacket have lots of pockets including a handy ski pass pocket (or a secret, special pocket as my daughter liked to call it!), detachable trouser braces, side leg openings and snow (and cold wind breeze!) protection at the waist, leg and inner cuffs. The outfits are available in sizes 5-14 years and retail at £14.99 which in my opinion is an excellent price for a really good quality skiing coat and trouser set.

But don't be disheartened if you're not planning on embarking on any skiing this winter - this outfit is perfect for family walks in the snow, which I'm sure will hit us at some point. My daughter felt really warm wrapped up for the evening and so now there's no excuse for not wanting to walk the dog with me over the holidays when it's 'too cold'!

We have our sledges at the ready, along with our warm and cosy coats - all we need now is the snow! This is a photo from a couple of years ago... maybe we'll get a white Christmas again this year....

There's many more items in the range from just £1.99 so pop down to your local Aldi from tomorrow when the full range is available in store!

We were sent a two-piece children's ski suit for the purpose of review on behalf of Aldi.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Advent Post #3: Christmas Recipe - Mushroom Bourguignon

Mushroom Bourguignon - serves 4, takes 30 mins, vegetarian, suitable for freezing

2 tbsp. olive oil
15g (1/2 oz) butter
125g (4 oz) shallots or pearl onions, halved
1 carrot, thickly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp. tomato puree
2 tsp. plain flour
125ml (4fl oz) fruity red wine
150ml (5fl oz) vegetarian stock
2 sprigs thyme
625g (1 1/4 lb) mixture of mushrooms, halved if large

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil and butter in a heavy-based pan. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes, then add the carrot and cook for 5 minutes more until soft. Stir in the garlic, tomato puree and flour and cook for 1 minute until the vegetables are well coated.
  2. Pour over the wine, stirring well to ensure the sauce is smooth. Leave to simmer for a couple of minutes until the wine had reduced by half. Add the stock and sprig of thyme and cook for another 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tbsp. oil in a frying pan. Cook the mushrooms for a couple of minutes, add to the pan, along with any juices and simmer for 5 minutes. Scatter over some thyme leaves and serve.
Each serving contains 159 calories, 4g sugar, 10g fat, 2.9g saturated fat, 0.2g salt.

This recipe is ideal to double up as a delicious mid-week evening meal and then freeze the leftovers for a quick and tasty meal for Christmas week. Just don't forget to label it correctly and reheat thoroughly once defrosted (defrost overnight in the fridge is best)!

Recipe source: Tesco instore magazine, December 2013.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Advent Post #2: Christmas Gift Ideas - Bellucci Chocolate from Turin

With Christmas now just literally around the corner, it's a present-buying frenzy in most households (mine, anyway!).

Some people are really easy to buy for because anything suits and some gifts seem to jump off the shelf towards you when you realise they are perfect for a particular family member. But... there's always the time when you're really stuck and you feel like a box of chocolates are a bit of a cop-out as a gift!

Well, let me introduce Bellucci Chocolate to you all! Bellucci Chocolate is a new brand of speciality chocolates from Turin in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. With the 'Tonda Gentile delle Langhe' hazelnut at it's heart, the brand showcases traditional glanduiotti, cremini and other gianduja products; a rich velvet smooth hazelnut praline that melts as it touches the tongue.

The 'Bella' selection boxes contain a combination of praline, nougat and traditional chocolates. And great news for those who have a dairy and/or gluten free diet - the traditional gianduiotti are gluten-free AND dairy-free! So when the box of chocolates get passed around, you'll be able to say 'Yes please!' instead of looking on longingly, wishing for some chocolate!

We were sent a sample of each chocolate that goes into the Bella Box Grande. Let me tell you that you needn't be sheepish about buying these chocolates as a gift for a loved one! They look exquisite and almost too good to eat! But don't let that hold you back! They are absolutely delicious and taste as good as they look. The flavours are subtle but classically beautiful, in fact I don't think I'd want to share them with anyone!

Have a look around their website here or pop over to their Facebook page here. You won't be disappointed with their range of gift ideas! With next day delivery available, you've no excuse for running out of time this December (subject to courier/Royal Mail restrictions, that is!).

I'm off to enjoy some more luxurious chocolates!

This blog post was written after receiving a sample selection box of chocolates from Bellucci Chocolate.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Post #1: Christmas Craft - Santa Hat Ornament

Santa Hat Ornament

Decorate a red party hat or make your own smaller version to create this jolly ornament.

What you'll need:
Red party hat or red craft paper, glue, tan craft paper, scissors, black and red markers, white pom-poms, yellow paper, ribbon

Make it:

1. Remove string from party hat or form red craft paper into a cone and glue to secure.

2. Cut a 2" to 4" circle (depending on size of cone) from tan paper; draw eyes and cheeks on circle. Cut 2 ear shapes and glue to back of circle. Glue to middle of cone.

3. Glue white pom-poms at the top point of the cone, around the cone above the face, and as Santa's beard.

4. Colour a black band around the bottom as the belt. Cut a small rectangular shape from yellow paper and glue to the centre of the belt as a buckle.

5. Glue ribbon hanger to top of hat.

Source: http://www.parents.com/holiday/?sssdmh=dm17.696093&day=76&esrc=nwprnts100days13_a_day76_113013#page=11