Monday, August 21, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 34

Monday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch vegetable soup and wholemeal roll
Dinner chicken pie and mashed potato for him, harissa-spiced mackerel with cumin potato hash for me

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner peppered beef grillsteak, chips and beans for him; rest of mackerel for me (I have to defrost two pieces at once)

Wednesday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch chicken soup and a wholemeal roll
Dinner out - going to a sci-fi exhibition at the Barbican

Thursday
Breakfast porridge
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner chicken chargrills and mashed potato for him, lamb grillsteak and roast potatoes for me - or butternut squash enchiladas

Friday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch  sandwich
Dinner my parents will be here - my husband has requested burgers and chips

Saturday
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch out
Dinner roast chicken portions as I've got several to use up in the freezer, with roast potatoes or chips if there's not enough time for roast potatoes, depending on when we get home. Dessert is something I've had in the freezer for a while.

Sunday
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch with the in-laws so cooking for six people, one of whom is vegetarian: chicken/ butternut squash enchiladas and potato wedges. For dessert I will make chocolate cream pie.
Dinner as we will have had a big meal at lunch, I will do a light dinner of toasted cheese sandwiches and/or crumpets

Monday - including in this week's meal plan as it's a bank holiday and my parents are still here
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch - relatively early as we are then going out: full English or equivalent (eg sausage, bacon, hash browns, eggs etc) or sausage/bacon sandwich if preferred
Dinner - something fairly quick as we won't be back home til late afternoon: I'm thinking I will buy a big tray of lasagne and if my husband wants he can have carbonara as he never wants the same thing as me!

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

D'lish Donut Shopkins Birthday Cake


Do you know what Shopkins are? If you have children then you might… if like me you are yet to become a parent then you can be excused for having absolutely no idea!
 
I’ve written before about the fantastic charity Free Cakes for Kids – I made a Rapunzel cake for a girl staying with her mum at a women’s shelter who otherwise wouldn’t have had a birthday cake.
 
Another request came through from the same group that I decided to volunteer for, for a child who would like a Shopkins cake, even though I didn’t know what that was. Shopkins turned out to be a collection of characters based on items you find in the supermarket – everything from cakes to fruit to a loaf of bread, bottle of bubble bath and even clothes and shoes. They have names like Suzie Sundaw, Mandy Candy and Angie Ankle Boot.
 
I browsed the website for a while until I was able to find a character I thought I could easily incorporate into a cake and remembered I had a giant doughnut cake mould I bought in the sale ages ago and had never used. There is a Shopkins character called D’lish Donut that looks like a pink iced ring doughnut with sprinkles (and of course arms, legs and a face) which I thought would be perfect.

 
The mould comes in two pieces - simply grease them and fill with cake mix.

 
I used a standard Victoria sponge cake recipe for this cake – as it was for a child, I wanted to avoid strong flavours or making it too rich and thought that the icing would be sugary enough!
 
 
 
 I filled the cake with jam and buttercream – the cake mould worked perfectly, turning out the bake cake into a perfect ring doughnut shape.
 
 
 
It wasn’t too hard to decorate – I decided water icing with pink food colouring might be too runny and not look very neat so I coloured some white roll-out fondant, cut it into a  circle large enough to go over the cake and cut a space in the middle. The arms and legs are also made of fondant, and I used some tiny plunger cutters to cut out diamonds from pink, blue and yellow fondant, and stuck them with a dab of water on top to look like sprinkles.
 
The eyes took a couple of attempts and my husband actually ended up helping with these! We made four circles of diminishing size in white, blue, black and white, and layered them to make the eyes. I then used black fondant to make a nose and some eyelashes and pink fondant for the mouth.
 
 
I put the cake onto a silver board and at the last minute decided to spell out the little girl’s name with leftover icing. I had a lovely email afterwards from the charity co-ordinator saying she had been really pleased with her cake – it was fun for me to make a cake for a child and to copy a cartoon character as I don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that (my neice is 8 months old so too young for cake) – and of course I was able to do something good and help a charity that hopefully made a difference and helped that little girl have a happy birthday.
 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Houghton Lodge and Gardens, Stockbridge, Hampshire

On a sunny day Houghton Lodge and Gardens in Stockbridge, Hampshire, is a beautiful place for afternoon tea, a wedding reception or simply a stroll around the gardens. It has an orangery, a manor house, various sections of gardens, a river running through the bottom and – this is the best part – a field with alpacas.
 

 

My husband and I considered Houghton Lodge as a wedding venue as it was in the right area and we were quite taken by the idea of the above – a former work colleague of mine got married in the church in the village and had his reception at Houghton Lodge in a marquee by the river and the photos looked lovely.
 
 
 
However, when we came to look around the venue and ask questions, we were rather underwhelmed about actually having it for our wedding. The orangery by the entrance and the attached conservatory looked to me like a garden centre café – albeit a nice one. As we didn’t want to get married in church, the only option for enough guests at Houghton Lodge was to hold the ceremony itself in the orangery, a long rectangular room that forms an L-shape with the conservatory.
 
What put me off was that we were told if we did this and hired the orangery for the ceremony, the conservatory would remain open to the public as the owners didn’t want to close the entire place for a wedding. That meant there would be complete strangers sitting literally just behind our guests watching our wedding which I thought was very strange! Admittedly this was nearly two years ago and perhaps things have changed so if you are considering getting married here then you should get in touch with the wedding coordinator and find out what they can offer.
 
 
The reason I mention this, though, despite it being two years ago is that I went back a couple of months ago for a friend’s birthday. She had chosen Houghton Lodge for afternoon tea, having never been here before and not realising I’d considered it as a wedding venue- I was looking forward to visiting and seeing the alpacas again.
 
As my husband and I arrived, I joked to him that we might find that there was a wedding happening while we had our afternoon tea – and there was! As we paid for entry to the gardens, the lady on the till told us there was a wedding party arriving in an hour and that part of the gardens would be shut but we could still access the rest of the grounds. It was actually a wedding reception so they wouldn’t be having a ceremony here and we had a table in the orangery set up for us to have afternoon tea, so I didn’t think we would be in the way.
 
I had a quick look around the top part of the gardens, which I think is the walled kitchen gardens, then went to sit inside and waited for my friends. There was a door from the orangery directly into the garden so I figured when they arrived we would go outside and enjoy the grounds.
 
I also tried out my macro lens after doing a macro photography lesson recently.
 
 
 
 
However, when the wedding party arrived this door was locked, meaning we had to stay in the orangery (watching the bride through the windows which must have been a little odd for her) and then if we wanted to go out, walk around the outside and down into the other gardens, which in my opinion aren’t anywhere near as pretty. In fact we headed towards the river and saw a marquee being set up for the reception and thought perhaps we shouldn’t walk through that part either, so went the other way and down to the alpacas instead. 
 
 
 
By the time some of my friends arrived the wedding party was already here, meaning they paid full price for entrance to the gardens on arrival only to find they couldn’t actually go into all of the gardens. It was also surprising that the cost of afternoon tea didn’t include entry into the gardens and we’d had to pay for that separately.
 
 
The afternoon tea itself was nice though nothing that special, and my friend had pre-ordered a vegan afternoon tea for one of our party which the caterers had completely forgotten about, and the only vegan item on the menu they could offer her was a vegetable soup.
 
 
We had a selection of sandwiches that were nice but fairly basic – ham, cucumber, cheese and smoked salmon followed by scones with cream and jam, and two or three types of cake – what I think was a lemon and pistachio savarin (a small ring-shaped cake) with icing, mini Victoria sponges and I think something else I can’t remember. I was a little underwhelmed, I suppose having had some amazing afternoon teas before, but it was nice enough (aside from the lack of promised vegan option).
 
 
 
 
 
You can spend quite a lot of time here exploring the gardens and walking by the riverside, and there are things to look out for around the gardens that would be fun for children (such as a dragon and a topiary peacock) but in my opinion it was a shame both for visitors that they can be charged admission then told parts of the garden are closed for a wedding, and also for the wedding party who have to put up with random members of the public walking around and watching them. Some people wouldn’t mind that as you can’t always expect exclusive hire of your wedding venue especially if you are in a hotel but given the size of the gardens I am surprised that they don’t just close them to the public, or at the very least warn people when they book afternoon tea that there is also a wedding booked. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nigella Lawson's Croque Monsieur Bake


If you like a toasted cheese sandwich then you will love this croque monsieur bake by Nigella Lawson. It takes a bit more time but not much more effort and makes a great brunch or lunch. One advantage over toasted sandwiches is you don’t have to make them one or two at a time (limited by space in your grill or toasted sandwich maker) – you can make a large portion in an oven-proof dish. Nigella’s recipe says it serves 4-6 but I did this for two people one lunchtime recently.
 
The method is simple – spread your sliced bread with mustard if you like, or for those with more sensitive palates or who dislike mustard you could use butter or marg. Put some sliced cheese and ham into each sandwich – you could also be a bit more adventurous with your fillings if you like, but I stuck with ham and cheese.
 
 
Put the sandwiches into an oven-proof dish – don’t be afraid to really squish them in.
 
Beat eggs, salt and milk and pour over the sandwiches in the oven-proof dish. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight for the bread to get really moist.
 
 
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C, remove the clingfilm and sprinkle with grated cheese and Worcestershire sauce. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes and serve.
 
You don’t get the same crispy effect as you would with a toasted sandwich – these have a texture more like French toast or ‘eggy bread’ – but the oozy cheesiness is lovely.


 

 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Meal Planning 2017 Week 33

Finally we had some hot weather at the weekend so the barbecue we hosted for my father-in-law's birthday on Sunday was a resounding success. I'm sure it would have been anyway as it was lovely to have the extended family around (ranging in age from 7 to 70s) but sunshine really did help!

We were more sensible about catering than in the past, prompting my husband to wonder beforehand if we had enough food - and we still had leftovers! But we didn't have quite as much left over as usual which was good - though I did plan that we would have leftover barbecue food on Monday night for dinner.

Monday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner leftover BBQ food

Tuesday - working from home
Breakfast porridge
Lunch either chicken salad or leftover BBQ food
Dinner pasta with meatballs

Wednesday  day off to run some errands
Breakfast toast
Lunch probably out
Dinner lamb with roast potatoes for me, chicken chargrills for him


Thursday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch tuna bagel or sandwich
Dinner out with a friend

Friday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch sandwich
Dinner chicken fajitas/ enchiladas

Saturday
Breakfast toast
Lunch tuna melt bagel
Dinner sausage and apple casserole, followed by crumble

Sunday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch out at a charity open day so want a quick lunch - beans & macaroni cheese on toast
Dinner salmon with new potatoes and sweet potato wedges/ bbq chicken and wedges

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Paper 1st Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas

Everyone has heard of golden wedding anniversaries and ruby wedding anniversaries, but if you’re not married yourself, you may not know that every year has a theme! The theme is supposed to represent the gifts that the husband and wife give each other, and there is a traditional list and a modern list - for some countries they differ slightly but this is what I’ve found online:
 
Anniversary   Traditional                    Modern            
1st                     paper                              clock                                                               
2nd                    cotton                             china
3rd                     leather                            crystal or glass
4th                     fruit or flowers               electrical appliances
5th                     wood                               silverware
6th                     sugar                              wood
7th                     copper or wool               desk sets/ pen and pencil sets
8th                     bronze or pottery            linens or lace
9th                     pottery or willow            leather
10th                   tin                                   diamond jewellery
11th                   steel                                fashion jewellery, accessories
12th                   silk or linen                    pearls, coloured gems
13th                   lace                                textiles, furs
14th                   ivory                              gold jewellery
15th                   crystal                            watches
16th                   -                                     silver holloware
17th                   -                                     furniture
18th                   -                                     porcelain
19th                   -                                     bronze
20th                   china                              platinum
21st                   -                                     brass, nickel
22nd                   -                                     copper 
23rd                   -                                     silver plate
24th                   -                                     musical instruments
25th                   silver                              silver
30th                   pearl                               diamond
35th                   coral                               jade
40th                   ruby                               ruby
45th                   sapphire                         sapphire
50th                   gold                               gold
55th                   emerald                         emerald
60th                   diamond                        diamond

 
I’m a bit surprised at some of the themes on the modern list – in this digital age, I doubt many people want desk sets, and electrical appliances doesn’t seem particularly romantic! (Then again I suppose neither does the more traditional tin). Furs are a throwback from a former era unless it means fake fur, and I do think it’s slightly mercenary that women can expect diamonds after only ten years of marriage rather than 60 – in fact according to the modern list, there are three opportunities for women to receive diamonds!
 
I do think these lists are rather unrealistic because how many people can afford real diamonds? But still, I know a lot of people enjoy coming up with quirky gifts that fit each theme.
 
The first anniversary, paper, is quite good for people who may have overspent on their wedding or are still setting up home together – it’s also a fairly easy one if you haven’t gotten around to printing out wedding photos or doing a wedding photo album!
 
Here are some of my favourite suggestions for 1st (paper) anniversary gifts – and read on to see what my husband and I got each other!
  •  A card – you don’t need to give each other anniversary gifts on top of birthday and Christmas presents so why not agree from the outset you will just do cards?
  • Photo album, photo book or printing out photos to frame – of your wedding or honeymoon, or moments from your first year together, or a photo story from when you met right up to when you got married
  • A bunch of paper flowers – which you can fold yourself following an origami book, or buy ready made
  • A book – something romantic, or a copy (even a first edition) of a book they really love
  • The lyrics to the song you chose for your first dance, or your wedding vows, printed out and framed
  • A calendar made up of photos of you both
  • A personalised print like this or like this
  • A framed map, where you’ve marked places you have been together and places you want to go
  • A framed picture of your wedding venue – there are places online where you can commission a painting or line drawing, or you can frame a photo
  • A framed paper-cut picture like this or this
  • A scrapbook of photos and memories if you are the sort of person like me who keeps ticket stubs and mementos from places you have been together. You could also turn this into a memory board and frame to go on the wall.
  • A personalised notebook
  • Tickets to a show or gig or similar – the tickets are made of paper, or if you print an e-ticket that works too!
  • Write them a poem if you are feeling creative – this is a nice cheap idea. Or if you’re a bit more flush, you could commission someone to write a poem about your beloved!
  • Write them a love letter, or a series of love notes that you can surprise them with
  • A flying lesson – this is not strictly a paper anniversary gift, but you can give your partner a paper plane folded from a print-out of the details of the lesson!
My husband got me a fantastic anniversary gift which I hadn't spotted despite it being from Not on the High Street.com, which I had combed myself looking for gift ideas! It's the perfect present for me and shows how well he knows me, because I like to scrapbook and do papercrafts, and to make lists and fill in notebooks.
 
It's a wedding anniversary album, with 50 pages. Each page has the same layout, with a space for a photo, and places to write down where you spent your anniversary, what you gave each other and a space to write either some notable things that have happened over the past year or your wishes for the year ahead. It's really lovely and I'm looking forward to filling it in!


I was debating between several ideas for my husband and decided to get him two things - and after having a look online decided to make rather than buy them. First I went with one of the ideas I'd seen on various websites, getting the lyrics to our first dance printed out. It would have looked better if I'd had it professionally done but I don't think this looks bad at all - I selected a font and made different lines different sizes depending on how many words per line.

 
 Then because I wanted to do something a bit more creative I did a papercut of our wedding venue. A paper cut is where you use a sharp craft knife to cut out around a picture - every section must be connected to the edge of the paper otherwise you'd find parts of the picture come away in the middle. So it can be a little challenging but it's good fun!

I drew a sketch of the roman temple at the Larmer Tree Gardens which is where we stood during the ceremony (our guests were seated on the grass in front) and added some words at the top with our names and wedding date. As each letter has to be attached to the edge of the paper somehow the easiest way to do this is make the letters look like flags flying on bunting, and attach each letter to the bunting and attach the bunting to the edge of the paper.


The Larmer Tree has several peacocks which wander around and one featured in several of our wedding photos so I wanted to include a peacock in this picture. I decided to add some different colour and texture by using a peacock sticker that had little gems on it, and added a couple of other gems to the temple outline. I bought frames for each pictures as well.

It's a bit different, very personal to us, and homemade with love.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: The Larmer Tree Gardens, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire


I celebrated my first wedding anniversary in June and as the day fell on a Sunday we decided to go back to our wedding venue, the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire. We attempted to recreate one of our wedding photos - albeit without the professional wedding photographer as you can tell!



We also enjoyed spending the day with my parents, sister and niece, who was still a bump inside her tummy on our wedding day. The weather was glorious on our anniversary - I was actually glad it hadn't been that hot on our wedding day!

It was great revisiting the different spots where we had had wedding photos taken, some of them with our guests but also a few secluded romantic ones by the dell.


 The Larmer Tree gardens have plenty of things to explore from pathways between hedges leading to statues, a pretty garden within a garden called the bride's quarter, an old stage dating from 1866, a dell (basically a pond with a beautiful view), a grotto an of course the roman temple where my husband I tied the knot. There's even a trail of fairy doors around the gardens for children to seek out.



The gardens were first open to the public as 'pleasure gardens' in the 1880s and 1890s then closed for most of the next century until 1991 - there's some fascinating information about the gardens' history on the website.

 
The main pavilion isn't normally open to the public; this is the new building behind the hedge from the main gardens where we had the wedding breakfast in one room and the band and dancing in the room next door, spilling out onto a terrace where people toasted marshmallows over a fire pit.

The peacocks rule the roost at the Larmer Tree and won't bother you mostly - they do sometimes try to steal food if you're not careful, but otherwise seem totally harmless. They are so used to people, they think nothing of strutting around and showing off their tail feathers and effectively posing for photos. Look up when you arrive and you will probably find one or two sitting on the roof of the visitor centre.

 

 There's a Café with seating both indoors and outdoors, that has a small selection of food, drinks and ice cream. My husband and I wanted to spend a bit of time at the Larmer Tree on our own before my family arrived and then were a little hungry as we hadn't had lunch, though we'd had a big breakfast and it was too hot to really want to eat. So we sat inside in the little Café (there were no tables left in the shade outside, and it really was too hot) and had a cheese scone (the hubby) and a piece of Victoria sponge (me). The cake was delicious - though you can bring your own picnics to eat on the grass in the gardens, the Café is lovely for a snack or, as we did later with my family, a drink and an ice cream.


 We bumped into our wedding planner (technically she is the head of events at the Larmer Tree, as they do all sorts of things there) who remembered it was our anniversary which was a nice touch, given how many couples they must see every year.

If you're in the Wiltshire/Dorset area I highly recommend the Larmer Tree gardens for an afternoon out - and if you are considering it as a wedding venue read my more detailed post about our wedding!