Tuesday 24 June 2014

Win a cheese and wine hamper from Serenata

Do you fancy a little treat for yourself, or perhaps a gift for someone special?  Well what could be nicer than finishing off a meal with a selection of delicious artisan cheeses and crackers, washed down with a bottle of Bordeaux?

This hamper from Serenata retails at £35.99 including next day delivery so it's perfect to send as a gift - maybe a thank you, a birthday treat, anniversary congratulations or even an end of term gift for teacher.

The items came very well packaged and all arrived in good order.  Included in the hamper are *:

1 pack of Moroccan Spice Crackers
1 pack of Olive Crackers
Hand waxed scrumpy and apple cheese
Hand waxed Worcestershire Gold mature Cheddar
Hand waxed blackberry, cranberry and apple cheese
1 bottle of Grangeneuve Bordeaux

* on rare occasions it may be necessary to substitute some items for alternatives

The Cheddar cheese won't disappoint. It's rich and strong and incredibly moreish.  The fruit flavoured cheeses were good too, and not something I'd generally choose when shopping so it was great to try them.

The crackers were a big hit, much more interesting than plain old cheese biscuits. The spiced crackers had a real zing which complemented the fruity flavour of the berry cheese.

You'll be amazed to hear I'm sure that I haven't actually tried the wine yet - what?  I've been away!  But I'm sure it will go down a treat too.  Overall, this is a gift I'd be very happy to receive and would probably get much more pleasure from it than a bouquet of flowers.

If you'd like to win your own cheese and wine hamper from Serenata, either for yourself or to have delivered to someone else, simply complete the rafflecopter form below, leaving a comment on this blog post.

The giveaway ends at 12 midnight on 2nd July 2014, one winner will be chosen at random.  UK entrants and over 18s only.  The promoter and supplier of the prize is SerenataHampers.com

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received a hamper for the purposes of this review and the company will also be supplying a hamper as described above to one winner.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

What my sight means to me

I've been thinking a lot about this question.

My sight is so integral to almost everything I do, every single day, that it's hard to express in a few words.

It's being able to do my work.

It's connecting with people both through the written word online, and face-to-face reading body language and facial expressions.

It's seeing a beautiful view or visiting a new place.

It's admiring the flowers.

It's seeing my daughter is safe.  Helping her learn to read and write and seeing her progress at swimming club.  To be able to shout proudly "YESSS" when she rushed towards me, dripping wet and bursting with excitement as she swam her first length "did you see, did you see, did you see me Mummy, didn't I do well??"

It's standing secretly at the school fence on the way to the shops, my heart missing a beat as I see her smiling and happy playing with friends on the playground.

It's seeing my other half asleep next to me when I wake in the night.

We perhaps know in this family better than some just how important sight is. Ruby is currently under a specialist eye consultant for a problem, and she was picked up as needing glasses.  It's made such a difference to her both at home and at school and we're hugely grateful she is receiving ongoing expert care.

We also have our uncle who is registered blind.  For many years he has had no sight whatsoever, having slowly lost it over the years due to a degenerative disease.  Spending time with him really reinforces how much we use our eyes to function in the world. He never complains though and spends a lot of his time visiting schools and youth clubs talking to children about what it's like to be blind, or fundraising for the Guide Dogs. Even the simplest of tasks or trips out can be difficult for him, even with the aid of his canine helper.  He has never seen his grandchildren.  He doesn't want to move out of the house he's lived all his married life because it's the only place he can still 'see' from the memories he has of it.

This is why I'm happy to support the work that SightSavers do.

Did you know that 80 per cent of all blindness could be prevented or cured. That’s over 31 million people, most of whom live in the poorest countries in the world who go blind unnecessarily. And with poverty being both a cause and effect of blindness, a cycle is created that can be hard for communities to break out of. SightSavers can break this cycle with straightforward operations costing £8-£28 or annual doses of antibiotics costing 7p-35p per person.  If you’re moved to give someone their sight please visitwww.sightsavers.org.uk/donate.

Find out more about the campaign by following @SightSavers #mysight on Twitter and head over to Baby Budgeting to see other posts linked up and find out why bloggers are supporting this campaign with their own personal stries.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Pitch Perfect - beautiful camping


Camping just got pretty!  Forget the utilitarian khaki and embrace the pastels, sorbets and florals.

Whether you're off on your hols or headed to a festival, I've rounded up the pretty for you here.

My favourite picks, top to bottom:

A Touch of Chintz tent by FieldCandy £395. Purchase here.

FieldCandy are proud to add just A Touch of Chintz to our range - a beautiful array of vintage roses against subtle duck egg blue.
Each tent is built to withstand extreme weather conditions to the same high specifications of an expedition tent. 100% waterproof, UV fade resistant and with a breathable inner tent, you will even find the Original Explorer to be much roomier than most other two person tents complete with a large front porch for muddy boots.
“Stand out from the crowd with unique design, colour and creativity”.
Do check out their other innovative, bold and quirky designs, including many which can be personalised.

Recycled Wool Random Picnic Blanket by Solway Blankets £20. Purchase here.

These fabulous Random Rugs are exceptional. Made from recycled fibres they are a sustainable quality blanket and proving to be extremely popular.
Random by name, random by nature - due to the re-spinning process no two blankets are the same, each is totally unique and individual in colour combination.
Perfect for picnics, an extra layer at night or for wrapping round your shoulders at the camp fire.
Melamine Cups and Saucers from Sisters Guild £18 set. Purchase here.

Pretty pastel melamine tea set by Rice Dk.
Each set includes 4 cups & saucers. One of each of the four colours green, yellow, blue and pink

Pastel Melamine Bowls from Shiny shack £6.00 set of 4. Purchase here.

Set of four, one each of pink, purple, blue and green.  Add some pretty to your morning cornflakes.

Screen Print vintage style washbag by Megan Alice £20. Purchase here.

Cut a dash to the shower block with this delightful toilettries bag tucked under your arm.  Hand printed on 100% cotton canvas, with eco-friendly ink.

Woven String Hammock from Waitrose Garden £59.99. Purchase here.

This attractive hammock provides a cosy and comfy space for you to sit back and enjoy all your hard work this summer. This hammock is completely handmade with each and every stitch of the crochet hammocks being made in El Salvador by artisans, who try to keep their culture alive by applying traditional production techniques.

Monday 16 June 2014

Magpie Monday - Cat and Mouse

Good morning magpies!

Wow such a busy week I've barely had time to unpack all my treasures from last weekend. Still so much to clean, scrub up and share with you.

Just a brief post from me today as I've got lots of catching up to do, but I wanted to quickly share with you this gorgeous children's book I picked up in Hastings for 99p.

We adore books in this house, but now that Ruby has become addicted to Roald Dahl books for bedtime, and with all her school reading homework it feels as though we don't have as much time for reading other stories.  I must make time to do that with her, even though she's reading much more independently now and will often spend an hour in the morning before we're up reading to herself, you can't beat a snuggle on the sofa sharing a good book together!

This charmingly illustrated book is the re-telling of an old tale from the 1890s.  Miss Browne - the story of a superior mouse is a cautionary tale of a well-to-do town mouse, full of airs and graces.  Visiting her peasant cousins in the country, she's condescending and patronising, despite them going to great lengths to welcome her into their home.  She derides and embarrasses them, but sadly is not as savvy as her street-wise cousins and falls foul of the local tom.

I'm going to have fun putting on my posh feline and common moggy voices for this one!

The book was originally printed in America in 1978 (nearly as old as me!), I wonder how many children it's been read to?  Does your child have a favourite old picture book?

If you have any second-hand finds, please link up below.  Looking forward to seeing your treasures.


Saturday 14 June 2014

Elderflower and Lemon Fudge

The warmer weather means there's now white frothy elderflowers in abundance here, filling the air with their musky fragrance.  That means making lots of refreshing elderflower cordial to sip with ice cubes on balmy days.  But what else to do with it?

I had some leftover condensed milk (from my other summer indulgence of iced coffee) so thought I'd try my hand at fudge. The result was delicious. Smooth, creamy, buttery fudge with the zesty tang of lemon and subtle fragrant hint of elderflower.

If you haven't made any cordial, you could always use good quality shop bought stuff, but it's so easy why not have a try.  I popped about 10 large flower heads in a large bowl with one lemon sliced up.  Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of sugar then pour over 1/2 - 1 pint of boiling water (depending how concentrated you want it - for this recipe make it quite strong).  Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for 24 hours before straining through a muslin and pour into in a sterilised bottle.

For the fudge, you will need:

approx 200g condensed milk (half a regular tin)
75ml milk
200g demerara sugar
60g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons elderflower cordial
zest and juice of 1 lemon
few drops of yellow food colouring (optional)

First zest your lemon and cut the strips into small pieces.  Line a 20cm square tin with baking paper.

Put all your ingredients into a heavy bottomed pan and heat until the butter melts - stir constantly.  Bring the mixture to the boil then simmer for about 15 minutes.  Be careful as the melted sugar will be extremely hot.

When the mixture has reached 118 degrees c (use a confectionery thermometer), remove it from the heat.   Alternatively you can test by dropping a small amount of fudge into a bowl of very cold water - if it forms a soft ball then it is ready.

Now use an electric whisk to beat the mixture.  Use the fastest setting and beat for about 10 minutes until it becomes thick and creamy.

Pour into your lined tray and smooth out.  Leave to cool before cutting into chunks.

For more elderflower recipes check out:

Elderflower and Rhubarb Cordial

Elderflower and Rhubarb Granita

Elderflower Custard Tart

Elderflower and Dandelion Scones with Elderflower Lemon Curd

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Protect yourself from identity fraud - win annual subscription to the People's ID Bot

Identity fraud is a big concern nowadays.  We're always being advised to shred confidential correspondence before recycling it; to frequently change our online passwords; to be aware of scam and phishing emails and to be careful what personal details we share on social media. The recent Heartbleed bug caused many of us to re-think how we use passwords on sites.

Being the victim of financial fraud or having your identity stolen is an unpleasant experience.  I'm sure the perpetrators think it's a 'victimless crime' and that on the whole people are covered by insurance or are reimbursed by banks or credit card firms.  However, it causes untold stress and hassle, and not everyone is lucky enough to recoup their losses.

"A staggering 4 million* people in the UK have been victims of identity fraud. Even more troubling, the average cost of these incidents to each victim is £1,190* - but that rises, in some cases, to as much as £9,000. What’s more, it takes an average of 444 days** to discover that they’ve been a victim so by that time the trail may have gone cold and the case is harder to resolve." - source - IdentityProtect

Last year, on New Year's Eve I went to take some money out of the ATM machine for our night out.  My transaction was declined.  I couldn't understand why, so I called the bank.  It turned out my card had been cloned and they'd noticed some unusual activity in 'my' spending - my Other Half jokes that it's because it was with a sports store that I wouldn't be seen dead in!  Luckily for me, my bank were on the ball and refused the transactions and cancelled my card to prevent it being used.  It did however leave me with no cash or access to money all over the bank holiday period and was a total pain.

When I applied for a mortgage a few years back, I was advised to get a credit rating check done beforehand.  I was shocked to find some total stranger on my record, and counting against my credit score. It took me nearly a year of phone calls and letters to get that person removed from my file.  I have no idea how it happened, but a woman with a totally different address, and date of birth had somehow registered my name to sign up for catalogue accounts.  She'd been ordering huge amounts of clothing and not paying her account and ended up massively in debt to them.

Thankfully there is a solution to the threat of identity fraud.  The People's ID Bot by IdentityProtect offers protection and peace of mind.

IdentityProtect is a smart bot that scans the internet constantly.  It will then alert you straightaway if your personal information is at risk of being shared illegally, stolen or sold.   

In addition to the subscription service, there is a Facebook community called The Peoples ID Bot Project. The social media community are being encouraged to share news or stories about ID fraud and keep themselves up-to-date on current threats and issues.

To help you ensure your personal date is safe and sound, I have 10 free year-long subscriptions to offer readers.  To win one, simply complete the rafflecopter below before midnight on Tuesday 17th June 2014. Ten winners will be chosen at random from all eligible entries to receive special codes for a free years' trial. Valid and open to UK entrants only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This is a featured post.

Bake some super cute cookies for Father's Day

You may remember a few months back we attended a brilliant cake pop course. Well, the fabulous BKD Kids Cookery School have come up trumps for Father's Day and produced these DIY cookie kits for the special dad in your life.

Supplied with fresh cookies, and ready topped with high quality yummy white fondant icing, the kit comes with two decorating pens so your little ones can get busy with some edible graffiti.

There's a 'DAD' or a 'DADDY' version, and do check out the online store for their other kits such as the dinosaur 3D cookie set, and some very cool cookie cutters.

You can purchase the kits here for £15 plus postage or if you're in London, you can order and collect without delivery charges from their stockist Nancy’s Pantry, Dalston Square, London, E8 3GP.

As soon as our kit arrived, Ruby got busy decorating!  The biscuits were well packaged so arrived in great shape and the decorating pens were so easy to use - if you can wield a felt tip, you can do this!

We've popped them in an airtight container and we'll be presenting these to Daddy as part of his breakfast in bed on Sunday morning!

Do check out the other kits too, including the gorgeous pinwheel set and the 3D dinosaur kit.

Disclosure: We are being sent a kit to try out.

Monday 9 June 2014

Magpie Monday - Fun in the sun

Howdy Magpies!

I'm just back from what was possibly the NICEST weekend ever, and I'm sure you'll totally get this.

I scooted down to Hastings with one of my loveliest girl friends for a weekend on full on thrifting fun.  We stayed in a lovely B&B which served the most delicious breakfasts and crammed in almost every charity shop in the vicinity; a host of junk shops; a street market; house clearance stores and two car boots sales. We only stopped for sustenance of prosecco; chocolate lime salted brownies; ice cream and wild garlic and chilli crab claws; more prosecco and some rosé.

It was just glorious.  Apart from a very brief rain shower and a rather unpleasant shower from a low flying seagull (yeah, that was rank), the sun shone down.

We met some amazing characters, really great people who tipped us the wink about secret places to go and the best boot sales.

Seriously, we came home with so much booty I hardly know where to start.  Most of it is going through the wash, so for now I'll just share this little ray of sunshine.

A bright, bold graphic print orange juice glass- so I can both practice my French vocab and detox my rather groaning body (50p for the Cat's Protection League shop) sitting atop this beautiful citrus coloured handmade crochet picnic blanket (£2 from the same shop).

Expect lots more posts about my finds, and also one on what I've now declared the best restaurant in the world!  Hope you've had a great weekend.  Share your thrifted treasure here.


Friday 6 June 2014

How To Make Tin Can Bread

How to make bread in tin cans

This is a fun way to reuse old food cans and a rustic way to serve your bread at a BBQ or summer garden party.  You can serve it still in the can, and maybe tie some hessian or twine around for an even more country-chic look!

I tend to use the pre-mixed dry bread packs as they are super simple - just add water and knead, and this way you can choose from a wide variety of flavoured breads without the expense of buying lots of ingredients.  But if you're just making a basic white or brown loaf obviously you can use your own recipe.

A 500g bag of bread mix is enough for 2 tins.

You'll need clean, washed tins with the labels removed.  Try to use the ones you open with a tin opener rather than the ring-pull ones which have a lip around the top - it will be easier to remove the bread after it's cooked!  Also use the ones which are all metal, rather than the ones that are coated inside with a plastic/rubber substance.  Spritz a little spray oil or easy-release baking spray inside the tins before using.

Follow the bread pack instructions and leave the dough to prove in the tins according to the timings.

Cook the dough inside the tins - my baking instructions had timings for a whole loaf (30 mins) or for individual rolls (15 mins), so I baked for half-way between the two and after 20 minutes they were perfectly cooked.

Leave to cool a little before turning upside down and tapping out - or leave in the tins to serve.

The cylindrical loaf these produce are perfect sliced up for burger sandwiches at a barbecue!

Tin can bread loaf

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Liven up mealtimes with OXO shake & flavour

I don't know about you, but I often get stuck in a rut with family meals, rotating the same old dishes every week because I know they're meals that everyone enjoys.

I'm lucky that none of us are particularly fussy, but even so, we all have individual tastes so sometimes heavily seasoned foods can just be a mealtime nightmare.

Like most parents, I'm also short on time and need to be able to rustle something up quickly after school.  I don't have time for hours and hours of marinating and faffing.

So when we were asked to try the new OXO Shake and Flavour range, I knew that they'd help me with both of these problems.  They are a quick and easy way to make your food more flavoursome, liven up old classics and encourage a bit of experimentation in the kitchen!

Because you can use the granules either in cooking or as a seasoning after cooking, it means that each of us can easily vary the intensity of flavour, so it's perfect for family mealtimes.

OXO Shake and Flavour comes in a handy jar with flip top lids with both a pour option (great for adding to cooking) or a sprinkle option (great for final seasoning).

I used the Chinese variety to add some mealtime magic to our tuna steaks. Served with steamed pak choi and roasted sweet pepper and tomato, the warming aniseed and fennel flavours worked perfectly with the griddled fish.  

Today I've cooked some bulgar wheat for tonight's salad in some water seasoned with the Italian Shake and Flavour and it smells delicious now it's cooling. I'll be adding more sprinkles over some grilled halloumi and that's us set for another tasty supper tonight.

There's a whole range of flavours to try: Chicken, Beef, Garlic and Herb, Tikka, Chinese Style, Southern Fried (available in all supermarkets) and Italian (ASDA only) so why not give them a go?

Disclosure: This post is part of a BritMums project with OXO Shake & Flavour. Shake & Flavour seasoning granules can be sprinkled into food during cooking or before serving. Find out more about the Shake & Flavour varieties by checking out the OXO Facebook page.

Monday 2 June 2014

Father's Day Giveaway with Your Image 2 Canvas

If you're on the lookout for a great gift for Father's Day (or any occasion for that matter, or just want to treat yourself), then I can recommend the great people at Your Image 2 Canvas.

We were sent a canvas to review and it arrived in super-fast time after uploading my photo.  With a solid pine frame (from ethically sourced timber), the digital print of my image is crisp and sharp and great quality. The canvas is UV protected meaning I can hang it anywhere I like, even in direct sunlight and it wont fade - it's guaranteed fade-resistant for 75 years!

Uploading your design is easy and you can customise your canvas how you want - size; black and white, sepia or colour, edge finish and either a 1 or 2 inch depth.

If you hurry and order today, there's a 3 for 2 special offer on - you could get a beautiful print made for Dad and Grandads!

Your Image 2 Canvas are also offering one of my lucky readers the chance to win their own medium size canvas.  Simply complete the rafflecopter below to be in with a chance.

Terms: Open to UK entrants only.  One winner will be selected at random from correct entries to win any medium canvas from the range of square/rectangle/panoramic canvases. The winner can so they can pick one that best suits the image.  Closing at midnight on Sunday 8th June 2014.

Disclosure: We were sent a canvas for the purposes of the review and the prize will be fulfilled by Your Image 2 Canvas.

Magpie Monday - Vintage Nature Books

I am that person who judges a book by it's cover.  I am resisting the conversion to an e-book reader, I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to abandon books for a Kindle.

These books are a case in point.  I chose them because they are beautiful.  It helps that the subject matter appeals to me, and I adore flicking through them. Information soaks in and next time I spot a new flower or bird in the forest, I can trawl back through my brain and put a name to it.

I remember being totally absorbed in the little Observer books as a child - both my mum and my Nana had lots and I would scan the pictures learning the names for fish, seashells and wild flowers.

Observer books for a time were hugely popular and collectable recently and their prices shot up, with charity shops reserving them for their glass cabinets, with glass-cabinet-appropriate-price-tags.

Now you might see them again back on the regular bookshelves, coming down to a more reasonable price.

The two I have here are battered and tatty, but I don't mind.  They remind me of my childhood.  Remind me of the long summer holiday I spent collecting and pressing wild flowers and recording them all in a little notebook with field notes, pencil drawings and identifications.  I won a headmistress's prize of a £1 book token I recall and was proud as punch.

The Ladybird book of British Birds and their nests is a joy too.  It seems to jog distant memories, so perhaps we had this when I was a child?  So many birds detailed that I remember being common garden visitors back then, but which you so rarely see nowadays - House Martins; Jays; Wrens and Bullfinches.  Where did they all go?

If you're a fan of Ladybird books, check out Ladybird Tuesday over at Being Mrs C.

Did you find any second-hand treasure this week?  Grab the badge and link up.