Wednesday 1 August 2018

British Cherry Season - Bakewell inspired Cherry and Almond Ice Lollies Recipe

For me, nothing screams 'British Summer' more than a bowl of plump, ripe, juicy red cherries.  Move over strawberries, step aside watermelon, for me Summer is all about the cherries.

Carefree summer drives around the Kent countryside, stopping at roadside stalls to load up on paper bags bursting with magenta red deliciousness. Gleefully shooting the stones from my mouth through the open car window into the verges - now, I don't approve of spitting per se, but legend has it that the origin of most of our wild cherry trees in Britain is from Romans doing this exact same thing from their chariots or marches along the country roads, so I see it as doing my bit to preserve this heritage.

Whether you pick yours up in the local supermarket in a huge crate, or a paper bag from the farmers market, you can be sure with all the different varieties of fresh cherries available you'll be able to find enough to see you through right from June to September. 

What better way to enjoy fresh cherries, and cool off in this exceptional summer heat than making these cherry and almond ice lollies.  Inspired by one of my favourite desserts - Bakewell Tart (which is sadly a very rare treat for me to find since becoming gluten-free), it is the perfect pairing of almond and cherries.

It's gluten free, and can easily be made vegan / dairy-free too.  Have a stash of these in the freezer ready to cool off the kids over the holidays. Made with only a tiny amount of sugar, they are a much healthier alternative than the lollies you buy in the shops.  Did you know that cherries are packed with vitamin C and are a rich source of antioxidants and melatonin which helps healthy sleep patterns?

Ingredients to make approx 6 lollies:

200g ripe cherries (de-stoned)
300 ml almond milk
1 tbsp almond butter (optional, but it does enhance the nutty flavour)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water

To decorate:

100g white chocolate or dairy-free / vegan alternative
100g chopped toasted almonds


Pop the cherries, sugar and water into a saucepan and heat on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the cherries soften and the juices are released.  Set aside to cool.

Toast your almonds lightly in the oven on 180 degrees for approx 10 mins, keeping a careful eye on them so as not to burn.  Blitz in a blender to chop.

Once cool, whizz up the cherry mix with the almond milk (and almond butter if using) in a blender until smooth.

Pour into lolly moulds and freeze.

Once fully frozen, melt the white chocolate and leave to cool for a while.  Remove lollies from moulds, dip into the melted chocolate and then quickly into the chopped nuts.

Lay on greaseproof paper and freeze again for at least 10 minutes before serving.

The crunchy bite of the frozen chocolate and nuts is a delight against the fruity flavour of the ice lolly, just perfect for cooling down after a hot afternoon in the garden!

This post is an entry for the BritMums #lovefreshcherries Challenge, sponsored by Love Fresh Cherries (Instagram: @LoveFreshCherries)

Thursday 24 May 2018

David Attenborough Officially Opens the ABA Rare Book Fair, Battersea, London

Now, clearly I'm not a serious collector - I don't have the cash to pursue rare book collecting, but I will openly admit that I have a passion for books.  I was blessed that I grew up in a house with  shelves groaning under the weight of books stacked three deep, and we've always tried to ensure that there are plenty around for Ruby to pick up whenever the mood takes.  It seems to have worked as she has a constant and ever-growing pile on her bedside table.

I'll happily lose hours on end in second-hand bookshops, soaking up the aroma that you only get from  musty old dust jackets, so when I got an invite the the ABA Rare Book Fair today I was intrigued. But when I heard who would be opening the fair, well I couldn't turn down the opportunity to be in the presence of the great man.

We've all heard Sir David Attenborough's voice on the TV, veering from soothing tones to passionate animation and hearing him speak live was a real honour.

Sir David Attenborough opens 61st ABA Rare Book Fair

Sir David Attenborough officially opens Battersea ABA Rare Book Fair

Not surprisingly, the first book he ever remembers purchasing was a copy of Darwin's classic The Origin of the Species. He recalls buying it in a shop in Leicester at the age of 15 for one shilling. This wasn't a First Edition, but the 13th edition, notable as this edition was first time in any of his books he used the word 'evolution', and with a run of only 1,250 copies it is now considered quite rare.

Aptly, this ABA Rare Book Fair, now in it's 61st year, is held in Battersea's Evolution in the heart of Battersea Park and just a hop across the bridge from Chelsea if you happen to be visiting the Flower Show this weekend.

ABA Rare Book Fair 2018

If you're thinking that maybe this isn't for you, please don't be put off attending a fair like this thinking it will be full of earnest and stuffy bibliophiles. People were more than happy to chat to a mere amateur like me and where better to start than attending one of their 'visiting your first book fair' talks.  In fact there is a wide range of talks and workshops sure to interest everyone, from the BBC's Antiques Roadshow book expert Matthew Haley guiding you on a search of the 'pleasingly affordable and collectible' delights on offer (10:30 Saturday), to the hand-press printing stand situated near the entrance with the St Bride Foundation - find out more about the original Fleet Street printers and their fascinating history.  I can recommend spending some time in the very good company of Mark Cockram  who knows all there is to know about book-binding.  In his intimate workshops he'll guide you through the principles of making a pamphlet book, and in a short 25 minutes you'll have made your very own creation to take home.

Mark Cockram Book Binder

Wondering around the stalls is a feast for the eyes with ancient manuscripts and maps on display, exquisite coloured plates, all manner of ephemera, beautiful book-binding patterned and marbled papers and ornate calligraphy.

If huge leather-bound gilded tomes are not your thing, then you can marvel at the modern classics like a set of first edition Fleming Bonds or Terry Pratchett works.  For those of us more financially endowed, perhaps peruse the First Edition JRR Tolkien's Hobbit, one of only two copies produced so that the nervous new author could show it to his local publisher.  This particular one was then bound and bejewelled and is now for sale for a cool £100,000.

The fair is totally free to enter, the workshops are free too, and families attending on Saturday can go along to the children's tour at 3pm.  Go to the website to sign up for free tickets to enter. The fair is only on until Saturday 26th May so do try to make it. Open from 10am-7pm on Friday 25th and 10am-5pm on Saturday 26th.  Combine it with an afternoon in the park, a visit to the boating lake cafe, or a wonder around Chelsea and Sloane Square soaking up the Chelsea Flower Show excitement and the spectacular floral arrangements on show at numerous Chelsea shops this week.

Thank you to the ABA for inviting me along.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Win Paddington Bear books from the new film with Harper Collins

You can't failed to have noticed that the new Paddington Bear film is out now in cinemas.  We adored the first film, and so the sequel has been eagerly awaited in this house.

The nation's favourite bear is back, firmly settled in now with the Brown family and London life.  He's searching for a meaningful present for his Great Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, and discovers the perfect gift in the form of an old pop-up book of London, now in the hands of antique dealer Mr Gruber, along with various other items of ephemera from a mysterious Victorian fairground family.

The book is rather beyond his means, but determined to show his beloved Great Aunt the city of London as he promised, he embarks on a hilarious series of odd-jobs to raise the cash.

The window-cleaning scenes are laugh-out-loud hilarious - to the point that people in the row in front turned to look at me in the cinema.

However, things take a turn for the worse as the true value of the book is discovered, making it hot property.  I won't spoil the story, but Paddington finds himself wrongly accused and in hot water.  Will he be able to clear his name?  Will his family be able to prove who really did it?

This film genuinely made me laugh and indeed cry. And I wasn't the only one - I witnessed quite a few adults hurriedly brushing tears aways as they walked through the foyer afterwards.

So any fan of the film will love these bookish offerings from Harper Collins to celebrate the release of the movie.

Paddington 2 - The story of the Movie RRP £5.99

Join the irresistible Brown family and their adopted bear, plus a whole new cast of heroes and villains. Bigger and better than ever, the story of the new Paddington movie is both hilarious and heart-warming. Guaranteed to capture the hearts of fans, old and new!
Read the story of the movie in this delightful book for ages 5 - 9.
Paddington 2 The Movie Storybook RRP £6.99

The bear from darkest Peru returns in a star-studded new movie! Discover the magic of Paddington 2 with this glossy storybook retelling.
Every page of this enchanting picture book features high-quality photography from the movie, and is perfectly pitched for a younger audience so all the family can enjoy the story time and time again.

Paddington 2 - Movie Sticker Book RRP £7.99

Meet your favourite characters and make some new friends along the way as the marmalade-loving bear returns for another sticky adventure. Packed with games, puzzles, crafts and much more! Includes postcards, mask, Paddington door hanger, and over 150 super stickers. The perfect gift for small paws!
Paddington Sticker Scene Book RRP £4.99

Explore the wonderful world of Paddington in this gorgeous sticker activity book!
With all your favourite characters and fantastic movie scenes to complete, this brilliant sticker book is packed full of fun. Marmalade sandwiches ready? It’s time to get sticking!

Paddington Little Library RRP £4.99

The perfect stocking filler! Four fantastic board books all about the world’s favourite bear! Perfect for fans of the Paddington movie aged 1 year and up. This chunky slipcase set with simple text and images is the perfect introduction to Paddington, for the very smallest of fans.


Meet the Browns
Paddington Gets Dressed
Paddington Loves London
Paddington’s Manners

One lucky reader will be able to bag all these wonderful books, simply by answering the following question:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway is open to UK entrants only. Closing date is midnight on Monday 4th December.  One winner will be chosen at random.

Monday 27 November 2017

#GiveMoreThanAGift this year with easyfundraising - get good cause donations for free!

We're making a list, we're checking it twice.  It's that time of the year when we're all busy shopping for Christmas presents for friends and family.

Last year, UK online sales topped £21 billion with people chosing to order via the internet, and just imagine if even a small percentage of that figure could be donated to charities and good causes...

Well, it can be and it's really easy to do.  Simply by signing up for an easyfundrasing account and nominating your favourite charity, each time you shop via their website, app or toolbar, you can raise money for charity.

Join easyfundfaising's #GiveMoreThanAGift campaign this Christmas and each present you buy could also contribute a donation to your favourite cause - isn't that the true spirit of Christmas?

There are tonnes of charities, large and small to choose from, and if you're involved with a charity yourself, you can register it to receive funds.  We have done this with our school PTA and it's proving a very useful additional fundraising income stream.  There is no cost to either the charity or the person shopping, so it's a win-win.

Just imagine if each parent signed up and raised even just a few pounds per year - that would be equivalent to one large fundraising event the PTA wouldn't have to work hard to put on, and your kid's school would benefit from the income.  So whether you're raising money for a new playground, IT equipment or reading materials, it's well worth local PTA's getting involved.

easyfundraising, along with its users have helped to raise almost £19 million for good causes so far. So this year, when you are online shopping for gifts, you can get double the warm and fuzzies and #GiveMoreThanAGift.

There are over 3,200 retailers on the easyfundraising site covering everything from holidays to toasters.  The retailers give a commission for each purchase and easyfundraising turn it into a donation for your charity - easy!

Now, I'm not completely magnanimous.  I know money's tight, and there's the old adage 'charity begins at home' so I do have another cashback site that I also use, which pays money out to me directly.  I'll freely admit that not all my online shopping raises money for my chosen PTA charity.  But that's ok.  I'll often 'shop around' between my cashback site and easyfundraising - sometimes retailers aren't signed up on my cashback site, but they are with easyfundraising, or sometimes there'll be a big difference in the commission percentage between the two sites and I'll decide which to use. But every little counts right?  In the last year since signing up, I've raised nearly £62, and the handy leaderboard of contributors keeps parents motivated and competitive.

If you sign up using this link before the end of November, as an added bonus your chosen charity will receive an extra £2 donation (as will my chosen charity).  Everyone's a winner!  So if you're planning of taking advantage of Cyber Monday and all the Black Friday deals still on, you can now shop with a clearer conscience!


I have received no payment for this post, however by promoting the campaign I'm in with a chance of winning a shopping voucher.  The link above is a referral link meaning both your charity and mine will receive a bonus donation at no cost to either of us.

Monday 6 November 2017

Reducing Your Energy Bills - Free Knitting Pattern for a Cute Caterpillar DIY Draft Excluder

As we finally exchanged contracts on our new house last week, I'm starting to think about the additional bills which will inevitably come with a larger and older house.  For all the character features I love about older properties, drafty old windows and lack of cavity insulation aren't on that list!

We've just had the first real overnight frost here and it's time to start thinking about how to keep our homes toasty and warm.

Statistics reveal that draughts are responsible for 10% of heat loss in the average home and up to 25% in some households. That’s a lot of heat to lose, especially in the coldest weeks of the year.

By draught-proofing, households can save between £25 and £55 per person on the annual energy bill. What’s more, draught proofing can be a cheap and painless (even fun!) activity.

First Utility has put together an illustrated guide which details the steps of making your own caterpillar draught excluder.  This cute and colourful character will add some fun to your home, but more importantly will help keep those pesky drafts out, and your heating bills down.

So, grab a cuppa, pull up a blanket and dust off those knitting needles.  What a lovely way to spend a cold winters evening.

The step-by-step instructions are simple to follow for even a beginner knitter, and you can easily adapt it to make the draft excluder as long as you wish to fit your door.  Why not make several - for your front door, your back door and even for internal doors to keep you toasty this winter?

You'll need four different colours of double knit yarn, some additional scraps, two buttons for the eyes and some wadding.  For the full, step-by-step instructions, please follow this link to the First Utility blog.

I'd love you to share a photo of your finished results with me, and if you have any other tips for reducing your energy bills this winter or draft proofing your home, please share them with me in the comments.

This post is in collaboration with First Utility.

Thursday 2 November 2017

5 Ways to Fix Your Stuff And Help Save The Planet

Any aspiring eco-warrior worth their salt knows the mantra of the Three Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  But truth be told, all too often the emphasis in society is placed on increasing our recycling.  In reality, recycling should be our last option and I'm going to share a few ways you can both reduce your purchase of new items (and the amount of materials and energy used to produce them) and reuse what we already have by FIXING it!

My grandparents were from the Make Do and Mend era - loads of items around their house would have been fixed up with tape or glue or have splints strapped to them. But a lot of those skills have been lost.  Added to that, the current consumer society where we are actively encouraged by manufacturers to keep buying more stuff, whether that's through trends and upgrades or built-in obsolescence, and we're destined to fill up our land-fill in double-quick time.

But there are lots of ways you can try and fix things and reduce the cost both to your pocket, and to the planet.

1. Fix it with Sugru

Have you heard of Sugru?  It's a bit of a revelation in the crafting world and is super-useful for mending all manner of things.  A mouldable glue, it comes in a range of different colours to be used to fix anything from plastic, wood, ceramics, metal, glass, plaster, stone and some fabrics.  Once 'cured' it will form a watertight fixing, and what's more it's flexible too making it ideal for reinforcing all those gadget chargers which often will fray after prolonged use.  It's advanced technology makes it heat and cold resistant, dishwasher-safe (got any broken dishwasher trays anyone?!), UV stable, electrically insulating, shock absorbent, wipe-clean and strong enough to hold up to 2kg. It's skin-safe and family friendly too which means the kids can have a go at fixing their own stuff, or even improving existing toys and creating new ones.

It's perfect for fixing all manner of things around the house and garden and it's mouldable so ideal for fixing broken toys, making lost parts and mending snapped plastic components.  I put it to the test fixing a pair of scissors that had accidentally gone in the dishwasher resulting in the plastic becoming brittle and the handle snapping.  There was nothing wrong with the blades, so a quick shape of some colour-matched Sugru and they were good as new.

Sugru have been kind enough to offer a set of family-friendly mouldable glue to one lucky reader, along with a copy of their rather fab 'Fixer's Manifesto' poster to inspire you.  Read on to the end of the post to find out how to enter.

2. YouTube it!

Let's face it, you can find videos on anything and everything on YouTube.  So if you don't know how to fix it, look it up, watch others do it and learn. Everyone can learn basic skills like replacing a broken zip or re-wiring a plug and if it saves you having to throw something out and buy a new one, you'll be glad you did.

3. Visit a repair cafe

We were lucky enough to have a repair cafe held in our village hall a few weeks ago.  There was a stream of people through the door dragging in knackered vacuums, broken torches, clothes with rips, jammed DVD players and all sorts. A helpful team of volunteer experts were on hand to help show the owners how to safely fix them, and with the added bonus of tea and cake on offer, what could be better?

I took along a suit jacket to be repaired which was beyond my capabilities, and the lady there did a magnificent job, it was well worth the donation to the local green group.

The international Repair Cafe network is 8 years old this year, check them out to find one near you, and if there isn't one - why not start one?

4. Buy spare parts

Sometimes, a broken bit can't be fixed but that doesn't mean you have to chuck the whole item.  Online stores such as e-Spares stock over 1 million spare and replacement parts from many leading brands of manufacturers.  You can get spares for washing machines, dishwashers, TVs, cleaning equipment and cameras to name a few. They also have a library of handy videos showing you how to.  I recently broke my vacuum nozzle and because there was nothing wrong with the mechanics of the cleaner itself, I popped along to e-Spares and ordered a new set of hoses and attachments and now my cleaner is good as new, looking refreshed and smelling much nicer!

5. 3-D Print it!

Now this may seem a bit out-there but trust me, the time will come when you'll be able to pop along to a 3-D printing store and make your own replacement parts.  The technology is still expensive currently but advances mean it's not beyond the realms of possibilities that it will be cost-effective to soon print new bits for your broken items.  If supermarkets are already 3D printing replica models of children for grandparent gifts, then anything's possible!

So there's no excuse to chuck that broken gadget.

As promised, I'm going to give you the chance of winning a multi pack of Sugru mouldable fixing glue and a copy of their awesome Fixer's Manifesto poster to inspire you to fix more. To enter simply complete the Gleam form below. Open to UK entrants only. Closing date is midnight on Sunday 19th November 2017.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is in collaboration with Sugru.

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with the Simplissimo Chef from Scott

Simplissimo Chef Cook Blender by Scott

A little while ago, my trusty blender broke and I found myself a little bereft. I tried to get it fixed, sent it off to the manufacturer but was told there was nothing that could be done.  To be fair, it had taken a hammering over the years with almost daily smoothie making, so I'd been looking around for a new model to replace it with.  It was perfect timing then, when Scott got in touch to see if I'd like to try out the new Simplissimo Chef cook blender, due to hit the market in early November.

The Simplissimo Chef it turns out, is so much more than just a blender.  Like all good quality models, it can knock up a smoothie with ease and has no trouble crushing up ice cubes so it's perfect for making drinks.  At this time of year, I make a lot of soups.  And I mean a lot.  The Other Half takes a homemade soup to work most days, it's our lunch of choice at the weekends and we never venture out on an outdoor adventure without a flask of hot, nourishing soup.

And when it comes to soup, this is where the Simplissimo excels.  It's not merely a blender, but it cooks the soup too, meaning one seamless operation from start to finish - less hassle and considerably less washing-up!  It has two pre-programmed soup functions, for either smooth or chunky soup and you simply put in all your ingredients, your water or stock, any seasonings, hit the button and away it goes.  30 minutes later and you have piping hot, perfect soup every time. You can add ingredients during the cooking process so it's perfect if you want to stir in things with a shorter cooking time.

This is such a timesaver as it means I can simply load it up and get on with other things, walk the dog, do the laundry...whatever!  No more watching a pot on the stove, no stirring and no checking to see if it's done.  It also has a very handy 30 minute keep-warm function once finished which is ideal in a household like mine when you never know what time people are getting home.

What else was I going to make on this beautiful Halloween day than spiced pumpkin soup?  The recipe is below, and it's quite forgiving so use whatever you have - add in some sweet potato, butternut squash, courgette... That's the great thing about soups, they're perfect for using up odds and ends in the fridge.


600g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 leek, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 inch root turmeric
1/2 red chilli, seeds removed
3/4 pint water or stock


Handful of pumpkin seeds
Sprinkle of sea salt (roasted in a low oven for 10 minutes)

There's no 'method' as such to write.  Simply add in all the ingredients, select 'smooth' and press start.  It really is that simple!

The cook function on the Simplissimo really sets if apart from other gadgets and makes it so much more than just a blender.  It comes with a steamer basket so you can cook healthy, nutrient-filled vegetables, and it will even cook sous vide so you can cook vacuum packs of fish and retain all the goodness.  I think this is really going to come into it's own when we're having our kitchen re-done as this little gadget can do it all.

The unit itself is very sturdy, with a good quality glass jug.  The controls and touch screen buttons are very responsive and easy to use.  It's stylish enough to have on your counter-top, and small enough to put away in a cupboard if you wish.

Oh, and the other thing? It has a self-clean mode.  Bravo!  Simply add water and washing up liquid, set it going for the 5 minute cleaning programme and it's done.  Seriously, this machine is genius.

Simplissimo Chef Self Cleaning Mode

I can't wait to try out more recipes - cocktails, dips, sauces and steamed food.

The Simplissimo Chef will be available from early November online here or from Amazon and Ebay with a RRP of £159.

Disclosure: We were sent the cook blender in exchange for our review.