Wednesday 16 December 2015

DIY Copper Leaf Plant Pots

There's a super easy and low cost way to add some of this season's must-have metallic look into your home.  These plant posts are so simple to make for your home or as stylish Christmas gifts.

Applying copper leaf is very straight forward.  You will need some specialist glue which you can buy in art stores and copper leaf.  I purchased mine from Amazon and the service was excellent with it arriving the next day.  For less than £5 you will get 25 pages of copper leaf, enough to do tonnes of pots - set up a production line to make your Christmas presents!

There's a useful guide to applying the metallic leaf here, but it's really simple.  Just clean your pots (I used vintage terracotta plant pots I'd picked up at car boots), apply the adhesive size in the pattern you want, then gently lay the sheet over the top, rubbing gently on the reverse.  Leave to dry for an hour or so, then use a clean soft brush to brush away any excess.

You can go for bold geometric patters, or simple banding like I did, but I'm really pleased with the finished effect.  It brings my houseplants bang up to date!

Have you used copper leaf?  What do you think of it as an idea for adding the copper trend to your home?

Monday 14 December 2015

Eco-Friendly Stocking Fillers - Ten under £10

Are you still looking for a few last minute stocking-fillers for that hard-to-buy for eco-warrior in your life?  I've rounded up some of my favourite festive treats for those environmentally conscious folks.

Edible Shoe Cream from Po-Zu £7.50

Just because they care about the planet, doesn't mean they'll dress like Swampy. Eco-savvy can be stylish too and with this shoe cream they'll keep their natural leather footwear buffed and polished.  Because it's made from natural coconut oil, its use doesn't end at shoe shining.  It is certified organic, 100% edible, can be used as hair/beard wax; skin moisturiser; teeth whitener; hair conditioner or even spread on toast!

Recycled phone cover - £6.49

A stylish eco solution to protecting your phone, this cover is made from 100% recycled plastic and is impregnated with silver ions to reduce levels of bacteria keeping it naturally germ free!

Grandpa's Fire Fork- £3.95

An ingenious gift for outdoor lovers and campers, this device turns any stick into a toasting fork for campfire marshmallows, toast or bangers.

Cubed Earwax Fudge £5.00

For those with a sick sense of humour, this 'ear wax fudge' and other delights in the range including 'thickest human snot preserve' and 'salt made from the tears of anger' will tickle the taste buds too. Hoxton Street Monster Supplies make this fudge using traditional methods in copper pans over gas flames.  Profits go to support Ministry of Stories, a  voluntary organisation who work with young people aged 8-18 to mentor them and encourage them to write.

Bee Friendly Seeds - £2.89

Any greeny knows that one of the most pressing issues facing our planet is the decline of the bees.  This pack of seed can be grown to encourage and support bee life in our environment.  The seeds can be sown in gardens, open spaces or even a window box and are free from pesticides and insecticides.   100% British wildflower mix.

Oyster Mushroom Windowsill Kit - £9.99

What better way to reduce your food miles than growing you own.  This kit allows you to grow exotic oyster mushrooms on your kitchen windowsill, reducing reliance on supermarkets and excess packaging.

The Green Book - £9.99

Perfect for budding planet-savers this little book is packed with ideas of small, simple changes which will make a big difference.  It's American so there are lots of US references, but that same advice applies anywhere and there are interesting celebrity contributions from the likes of Robert Redford, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston, Martha Stewart, and Justin Timberlake of all people.

Bamboo Thermal Mug - £4.99

Available in a huge range of designs to suit all tastes, this re-usable yet ultimately biodegradable cup will encourage users to ditch the plastic or polystyrene takeaway cups and drink their skinny soya latte with a clean conscience. 

Milk Chocolate Coins - £2

No stocking would be complete without some gold coins.  Although the true eco-warrior may be less than impressed with the excessive packaging of foil wrappers and netting, you can at least make sure they are ethically sourced and fairly traded like these from Divine. Find them in stockists nationwide including supermarkets, Lakeland, health food shops and online.

Catch Up Lessons for a Working Child - £10

For true anti-consumerist and ethical sorts, rather than buying more 'stuff' why not give a charity gift instead?  World Vision offer a few options at £10 including these education lessons for children who have to support their families during normal school hours, or 2 months supply of vital vitamins for a child or pregnant mother, or a blanket to provide vital warmth and comfort. Your gift will come with a card you can pass on to show what you've donated on your recipient's behalf.  Find out more at World Vision.

Friday 11 December 2015

Flower Sprouts - A new addition to the veg scene

It's not often you can announce a new vegetable on the block, but Flower Sprouts are hitting the supermarkets after 15 years of hard work by the team at Tozer Seeds.

Flower Sprout is a non-GMO veg developed through a traditional process of hybridization rather than genetic modification.  Blending together the characteristics of kale and brussels sprouts, the end result is a beautiful new green, resembling a tiny cabbage with frilly leaves and hints of purple colouring.

For anyone who doesn't like traditional sprouts on their Christmas plate, this is the ideal alternative with its sweet and nutty flavour.  They are packed with vitamins too, containing twice the amount of both vitamin B6 and vitamin C compared to traditional sprouts.

They are easy to cook and versatile to use in a host of recipes, they can be steamed, stir-fried, sautéed, roasted or eaten raw.

We've used them as a tasty and pretty accompaniment to our Sunday roast, I've used some to make a delicious, hearty and healthy soup, and I used it as the base for these fun Christmas canapés.

Blending with pancetta and wasabi, these little bite sized treats have the perfect mix of salty bacon, warmth from the wasabi and sweet nutty flavour from the flower sprouts.  You could use this mix to fill ready-made vol au vents or mini savoury tarts for a quick and easy festive nibble.


1 pack Flower Sprouts
65g pancetta
1/2 tsp wasabi paste
1 tsp cream cheese
10 ready made vol au vent cases

Steam the flower spouts for 5 minutes.  Heat your vol au vent cases in the oven following the pack instructions.  Meanwhile pan fry the pancetta until crispy and golden brown.  Drain off excess oil.

Blend the remaining ingredients before filling your cases.

Super-simple, takes less than 10 minutes and even my brussels sprout hating daughter enjoyed these.

Disclosure: I was sent a couple of packs of fresh Flower Sprouts to experiment with.

Monday 7 December 2015

Flavours of Greece - Yiayia's Greek Kitchen Recipe Book Giveaway

A few month's back my lovely friend blogger Sarah Pylas excitedly told me about her plans to publish a recipe book of her Greek family's favourite recipes.  Having sampled some of this amazing food at blogger get-togethers and also at her book launch party, it was a book I couldn't wait to see.

It was fascinating hearing the process and the hurdles a cookery writer has to get through from concept; design; styling; translating and testing right up to getting the book on sale.

It must have been no easy feat actually penning all these recipes which have been handed down through the generations, and usually made by eye and taste rather than with specific measurements, but I'm so glad they did because now not only will their family secrets live on through the coming years, but we get to share in them too.

Flicking through the book I'm instantly taken back to happy holiday memories, sat on cobbled pavements at tavernas on balmy evenings.  Many of the recipes are foods I enjoyed in Cyprus this summer and even just looking at the photos makes me smile.

But don't be fooled into thinking this is a summer recipe book.  The hearty soups are great winter warmers and the meze and dips are perfect for entertaining this Christmas.

Our fallback weekend lunch is usually meze and various dips (picky lunch my daughter calls it), although if I'm being honest I totally cheat and buy it from the supermarket.  With this new book in my clutches I've got no excuse now for not making authentic, additive-free homemade versions of our favourites -taramosalata, tzatziki and houmous.

This weekend I whipped up a batch of melintzanosalata (aubergine dip) and I was delighted how easy snd quick it was to make.  The recipe was simple to follow and easy to adapt - I don't think our non-Greek taste buds are up to quite so much garlic!  It went down very well for lunch and I loved that I could make it with what I had in the fridge without any fancy ingredients, and best of all it was healthy and wholesome with no hidden additives like you'd get in the supermarkets.

Other Greek specialities in the book include keftedakia (meatballs), bourekia (mince filo rolls), calamari (squid), dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) and spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie).

Reading through the book written by Sarah Pylas and her sister-in-law Eva Ryan, you get a real sense of family through the stories and anecdotes that punctuate each dish, and understand that Yiayia (grandmother) is absolutely at the heart of it.  This is the first time that Vasso, the family matriarch has disclosed the secrets of her kitchen, and dishes that have been passed down through the generations.  You feel like you're actually being welcomed into the bosom of the family through this book.

The book is available to purchase now through Amazon. This is definitely one to add to your cookbook shelf, and I'm delighted to say I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader.  Simple complete the rafflecopter below for your chance to win.

Find more information on the website Yiayia's Kouzina.

Giveaway ands midnight Sunday 20th December 2015, open to UK entrants only.

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Sunday 29 November 2015

Deck the Halls - My Top Five Christmas Decorating Themes

Decorating your home for the festive season doesn't need to break the bank. Re-using those family favourites year after year and adding some fresh on-trend items from stores such as HomeSense which offer great value for money, mean you can have a home to be proud of when friends and family drop in for mince pies and mulled wine.

I've rounded up some of my favourite themes from interiors store HomeSense:

Copper Dream

Metallic tones in copper will be the must-have look this season for the fashion-conscious Christmas stylist.  Add in a few copper accents to your existing stash of decorations to bring your look bang up-to-date.

Large candle holder £6.99, Studded reindeer £9.99, Copper jar £3.99, Copper beaded bauble, Copper bauble £5.99, Large copper star £9.99

Woodland Wonderland

Bringing nature indoors is an age-old tradition, and including some rustic items such as these to a green and budget-friendly assortment of holly, ivy and foliage collected from the garden or a woodland walk will give you a calm and traditional Christmas feel.

Silver tree stand, Wooden star box £12.99, Acorns £3.99, Bear head £16.99, Wooden star

Scandi Christmas

Scandinavian style is embraced again this year, with red and white themes and natural wood leaving us dreaming of log cabins, roaring fires and glasses of hot glogg.

Metal hanging hearts £6.99, Red hanging hearts £3.99, Wooden heart £6.99, Sledge £7.99, Snowflake candle holder £5.99

Glitzy Gold

Ever since the Three Wise Men brought the gift of gold to the manger, this tone has been associated with Christmas decor.  Go for all-out decadence with these glitzy pieces.

Snowflake wall panel £12.99, Gold vase, Gold Angel Wing £14.99, Gold heart £5.99, Gold wooden snowflakes £9.99

Folksy Christmas

Embrace all things colourful and fun with these whimsical homespun decorations.

Merry Christmas garland £12.99, Painted bird, Paper heart £7.99, Multi coloured star £3.99, Paper tree £7.99, Multi coloured garland £6.99

Find your nearest HomeSense store here.

Which is your favourite look this year?

Disclosure: Post in association with HomeSense.  Images courtesy of HomeSense, image items not to scale.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Win A Christmas Star on DVD - Brand New Christmas Movie

A heart-warming and uplifting movie at Christmas is all part of the tradition in our house, the whole family snuggled up in our onesies with hot chocolate and popcorn.

This year's movie to see is A Christmas Star which is out in cinemas now, and released on Blu Ray and DVD on 23rd November.

Staring Pierce Brosnan, Suranne Jones and Robert James-Collier, narrated by Liam Neeson and guest cameos from Kylie Minogue and Dermot O'Leary there's plenty of household names.  But there's also a host of up-and-coming stars like the fabulous Erin Galway-Kendrick.

From Belfast-based children's charity Cinemagic and Signature Entertainment, celebrating the charity's 25th anniversary, this is their most ambitious project to date.  The innovative film production gave budding young actors the chance to work and star alongside movie legends and learn from the best.  As well as this, over 40 trainee crew aged between 18-25 were given the opportunity to learn the trade and be mentored by film professionals in a wide range of roles from directing to camera operation, music and production.

Cinemagic patron and Oscar-winning writer, Julian Fellowes, said: “I am proud to be associated with the fantastic work that Cinemagic has been delivering for twenty five years. We are told on every side that it’s time to lower barriers and cross frontiers and this is exactly what Cinemagic is doing.” He added: “Young people, from every type of background and culture, are being encouraged to explore the world of film for themselves, first hand. We want them to break through the glass ceilings and walls that surround them, and see for themselves what it’s really like. Whether or not they continue to live or work in the Arts, there can surely be no better preparation for seeking and finding the right life.”

A Christmas Star tells the heartwarming story of Noelle, a spirited young who embarks on a magical journey to save her friends and family. Born in dramatic circumstances under the Christmas Star, Noelle believes she has the gift to perform strange miracles. When conniving developer McKerrod threatens her peaceful life she teams up with a misfit gang of local kids to save the village from demolition.  However, one by one her friends lose faith in Noelle’s abilities and she is left to fight McKerrod on her own. The town’s future hinges on a final showdown in Belfast’s historic Stormont building as Noelle implores politicians, her friends and the watching world to believe in the true meaning of Christmas…love.

For your chance to win your own copy on DVD, simply complete the Rafflecopter below.  I have three copies to give away, so three winners will be chosen at random.  Open to UK entrants only, the giveaway will close at midnight on Sunday 29th November 2015.  Winners will have 7 days to respond, or I reserve the right to pick another winner.  Prizes will be supplied and dispatched by the PR company, the owner and author of this blog will not be responsible for prizes not received.

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Tuesday 10 November 2015

Lake Vyrnwy Hotel - A Room With A View

We spotted this hotel, nestled up on the hill overlooking the spectacular Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales when we visited back in the summer and I made a pledge to myself that we'd stay there.  This October half term, after a week in a self catering cottage, and days of glorious autumn sunshine trekking about the beautiful Snowdonia countryside, we finished our week with a nights stay at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel and Spa.

The lake itself is in quite an isolated location, and although there are several ways to access it (it's actually pretty close to the English border so easy to visit from Shropshire and The Midlands) I'd thoroughly recommend driving the mountain pass route from Dinas Mawddwy. Its such a spectacular drive across the heather covered mountains, looking back down the valleys dotted with waterfalls.  In the summer sheep graze on the wild bilberries amongst the purple heather, and in the autumn and winter there's a bleak, barren beauty to the landscape, untouched by human life.  You drive for miles without a glimpse of the modern day, with the exception of the road you're travelling on.  It really could be a scene from any point in history.

Arriving at the lake, the magnitude of the expanse of water opens out before you as you take the picturesque lakeside road around the perimeter.  Autumn time is just stunning with the gold, copper and russet reds of the trees, a plethora of pheasants ducking out of the way of your car and outdoor lovers cycling the path or sailing on the blue waters.

The fairy-tale tower dominates the view of the lake, giving a Bavarian feel to the scene.  It's actually rather inelegantly used as a straining tower for the reservoir, but we preferred to tell tales of maidens and princesses!

Like many of the large reservoirs, there is a sad story of how the original village here was flooded so the people of Liverpool, some 70 miles away could benefit from clean drinking water.  It is said that in high summer, when water levels are low, you can still see remnants of the old village beneath the 5 mile long stretch of water.

The area now has an RSPB reserve and is teeming with wildlife.  I have never seen so many birds as I saw on the feeders here.  It's well worth popping in to speak to the amazing staff in the RSPB shop who offered all kinds of tips and advice (special shout-out to Jan and Sioned who were fabulous).

As you approach the driveway to the hotel, you're struck by the Victorian country-house grandeur of the building.

Passing the walking sticks and green Wellingtons in the boot rack at the porch, you step onto the beautiful parquet flooring of the reception hallway with its imposing, sweeping oak staircase, traditional carpet and brass stair rods.

We arrived earlier than the 4pm check in but the staff were happy to take our bag and we took full advantage of lunch on the verandah overlooking the lake. There were couples enjoying a quiet drink, some partaking of a delicious looking afternoon tea, some sat in the leather armchairs by the cosy log fires in the drawing room style bar, and others just sitting enjoying the birdsong and the spectacular view.

We took the secret path from the hotel car park down to the lake to explore, and walked across the magnificent arched dam which has stood here since the 1880s, the first large-scale stone built dam in Britain.

Returning to check in, I was keen to see the view from our bedroom before the sun set.  I was not disappointed.

Opening the door, I literally caught my breath, the architrave of the window framing the lake view like a water colour painting.

So often you book 'sea-view' or similar rooms in hotels and you have to crane your neck, lean out of the window and stand on one leg to catch a glimpse of what you've paid extra to see.  Not here.  When they say 'lake view' they really mean it.

The vista here, surrounded by thick forest and the Berwyn mountains doesn't just change season by season, it changes minute by minute as you watch the changing colour of the sky and the movement of the clouds reflected on the inky black mirrored water.  It's hard to tear your eyes away from it.

We had booked a family room in the Victorian part of the hotel.  There are executive rooms with balconies in the newer extension, but we wanted a real feel of the traditional building.  Our room was furnished with solid, dark oak antiques such as the huge double wardrobe and substantial chest of drawers.  We had a deluxe king sized bed made up with Egyptian cotton white sheets and a put-you-up child's bed at the end.  It wasn't a huge room, but there was ample space for us and the en-suite was very spacious (again with views of the lake from the window).

My daughter loved the quirky take on the 'do not disturb' signs - a small cuddly toy which you leave outside your door. Aptly ours was a Welsh dragon.

We were supplied with all the mod-cons we needed - a hair dryer, TV, tea and coffee making facilities (with proper Welsh tea and real filter coffee) and free wifi, although we struggled to get any connection anywhere other than in the downstairs lobby, and even then it was rather intermittent.  Like large swathes of North Wales, there's limited 3G here (and you can forget 4G!) so it's worth bearing in mind if a connection is important to you.

Dining at the hotel is a rather formal affair, with guests expected to dress for dinner.  After a week romping up mountains we pretty much only had our walking gear with us so we decided to give it a miss - plus it was Halloween and Ruby had other ideas!  I must say though, the aroma wafting up the stairs from the restaurant suggested we were missing a treat.

Due to it's location, there's not a lot of dining options nearby, although there is the more relaxed sister bar and eatery The Tavern Bistro next door. But we were lucky to have found a local event going on in the village celebrating Halloween and had a brilliant evening at their fireworks display, complete with BBQ, huge bonfire and pumpkin and fancy dress contest.

Returning to the hotel that evening, the hotel windows were giving a cosy glow of the warmth inside.  There was the smell of wood smoke and the distant unmistakable aroma of fireworks in the distance. Inside, fires were roaring and guests were enjoying drinks in the bar settled in front of the log fires.

We retired to our room and I was insistent on sleeping with the curtains thrown wide back and the window open so I could awake to that beautiful view again. As ever, getting Ruby to sleep in a shared hotel room was a bit of a nightmare, so we resigned ourself to a night of TV and room service.

When she eventually crashed out, we feasted on a local meat and cheese platter and freshly made sandwiches before lights out and peaceful sleep enveloped us all.

The next morning as I sat up in bed, the sight from the window was somewhat disorienting.  Where had my beautiful fairy-tale tower gone?  Where were the trees?  Someone had stolen it in the night and replaced it with a thick white blanket.

I had been warned that in the mornings the lake is covered by dense mist which slowly swirls Harry Potter style and eventually lifts leaving just a few wisps in its wake.

We fell out of bed, pulled on our clothes and walking boots and sneaked out of the hotel while most were still sleeping.  The Old Man was in search of a clandestine early morning swim and I was just happy to be breathing the lung-burning crisp autumn air and crunching through the leaves with nobody but the pheasants.  It was the perfect way to build up an appetite for breakfast.

A quick shower and a change of clothes and we were seated for breakfast.  The tables are laid in the restaurant to take full advantage of the morning views and it is the most amazing memory sitting quietly, sipping coffee watching the mist slowly dissipate and the tower emerge.  In the hour that we sat for breakfast, the sight just kept on changing and getting more and more beautiful.

Breakfast itself was delicious, if fairly slow and even then our order wasn't quite right.  But really, it didn't matter, I was very content to while away my time there.

Checking out at 10:30am, we still had a while to explore before the day-trippers started to arrive on what turned out to be the hottest November day in generations.

Our stay in this piece of paradise certainly lived up to my expectations.  If you're moved by beautiful scenery then this hotel should definitely be on your list.  I truly believe it has the best views in the whole of the British Isles. Perhaps it's a hotel for a romantic retreat rather than one for young children though.  The staff did everything they could to make us welcome, but some of the other guests gave the impression that they'd prefer it to be child-free, which was a shame, or perhaps I'm being over-sensitive?  Maybe I'll go back just with the Old Man, and perhaps try out some of the spa treatments next time.