Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Chocolate Christmas Cake

We always seem to be visiting someone or having guests over Christmas so I wanted to share with you one of my favourite things, Chocolate Christmas Cake with gingerbread Christmas trees. None of us are very keen on a traditional Christmas cake but there is something magical about serving a slice of cake and a glass of wine to our holiday visitors.

What is special about this cake is that it has a hidden Christmas tree inside that is only revealed when it is cut, a special extra christmassy surprise. The gingerbread trees make the perfect topping and add that spice that we associate with this time of year. To accompany this delicious cake I would pair it with a Tempranillo wine with its smooth flavour bringing out that rich chocolatey flavour, a match made in heaven. 

Chocolate Cake:
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
4 large eggs, beaten
250g self raising flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon milk

Method Chocolate Cake: 
Preheat oven to 180C and grease 2 X 20.5 cake tins lining the bottom of the tin.
1. Put butter into mixing bowl and beat until creamy, then gradually beat in the sugar until its lighter in colour.
2. Gradually add the eggs a tablespoon at a time beating well throughout. With the last two tablespoons of the egg mixture add 1 tablespoon of the weighed flour. 
3. Sift the remaining flour, salt and cocoa powder into the bowl and gently fold in. Add the milk. The mixture is quite firm but if you want it to be less firm add more milk. 
4. Divide the mixture between your two cake tins and bake for 60 mins at 180C.
5. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
6. Chill in the fridge wrapped (to make icing easier)
7. Cut out the top of the cake, I used a bowl to help guide my cutting. This allows for a deeper filling and is where your Christmas tree will go. I made the christmas tree using green royal icing but it would work with marzipan too. I rolled it out into a roll and then pinched the top to create the tree shape. 

This is the bowl I used to cut the hollow for the buttercream and you can see the green christmas tree behind ready to go in.
8. Fill the hollow bits in both cakes with buttercream (see recipe below) and press the green christmas tree in, then put the two pieces together. I found it easiest to pipe the buttercream in to stop the cake crumbs from spreading.

9. Ice using the ganache icing recipe below and then decorate with gingerbread christmas trees.

Buttercream Filling:
125g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method Buttercream:
1. Put the butter into a mixing bowl and beat until pale in colour and creamy. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl. Add the milk and vanilla extract and beat until smooth and thick.

Ganache Topping:
100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
100ml whipping cream

Method Ganache:
1. Finely chop the chocolate into a heatproof bowl.
2. Heat the cream up so its hot but not boiling and pour it over the chocolate slowly.
3. Leave for 2 minutes before gently stirring. 
4. When its firm enough to hold its shape you can use it to ice your cake.

Gingerbread Christmas trees:
350g plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175g unsalted butter
150g dark muscovado sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup

Method Gingerbread:
Preheat oven to 180C
1. Sift the flour, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.
2. Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan (it needs to be big enough to hold all of the ingredients). Place on a low heat and stir until everything is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and tip in the flour mixture, mixing well to form a dough.
3. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop and knead into a ball. I always then chill mine wrapped in cling film for 30 mins before using.
4. Roll and cut out your christmas trees and place on a lined baking tray.
5. Bake for about 8 minutes and leave to cool on tray before removing.

My boys and I had great fun putting this cake together. They really enjoyed making the gingerbread trees (a few dinosaurs got in there too) and even though they are too little to ice they enjoyed helping to stir and put the cake together. It made us feel very Christmassy indeed and who can resist a Chocolate Christmas cake and gingerbread trees! 

This post is my entry into the Yapp Festive Foodies' Christmas Blogging Competition which you can find more about here: Yapp Brothers Competition.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dreaming of a creative bed

Time 4 Sleep are asking for ideas from children about what their dream bed would look like. I was interested to hear just what my two boys 2 and 4 thought about it and what their ideas would be, as well as being a little apprehensive to what they might say as well.

So this is what they think:


Both boys love high beds (neither have a high one currently) and they have a huge love of climbing, so I am not at all surprised that they want something high that has a ladder for access up and a fireman's pole and slide to get down. They talked about a covered tent for sleeping under and I took that to mean above them but also on the side as well, and for my own sanity the idea of a tent is fantastic as I know they would be secure all night long and not have to worry. I can picture the side of the bed at the top being a fixed part of the tent at night securing them in and then dropping to form a slide in the day for extra fun. My two year old also added that he would like an extra springy mattress like Mummy and Daddy's for bouncing on. We have a memory foam mattress which is quite squidgy so you understand the texture he is after.

I love how practical both of my boys are already in their request for somewhere for drinks storage - a huge current problem that we have is that there is no obvious place. When both boys go upstairs to bed they often have treasures that they have been carrying lovingly in the their hands and pockets all day long. These special items often cause issues because there is no safe place to put them, hence why they would love a secret box for treasures. Password protected of course! I also like their idea of voice activated and iPad controlled and I am sure these are not that far in the future.

The one thing they said that I was most surprised about, and that I loved the most was that they wanted it to have a built in garden for flowers so that when they woke up it would be like being outside. I also like the responsibility this comes with and the instinct to nurture and grow things. Finally colourwise it has to be like the rainbow.

What ideas do your children have for a dream bed?

Finally Time 4 Sleep have already been asking adults what their ideal bed would look like and come up with three designs to suit everyones needs. My favourite is the dream bed for famillies which you can see in the video below. Have a look and see what you think.

I love its auto-pet feeder and built in coffee machine as they are exactly what I need. What about you?

This post is my entry into the #dreambed competition.

Christmas Card Decoration

I love Christmas cards and hearing everyones news, seeing their pictures and I appreciate the effort they have made to send it. Then I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by the Christmas cards, the mantlepiece was bursting and everyday the kids seem to have brought home more and more cards from school. Just where was I going to put them all? Everytime anyone opened the door all of the cards seemed to crash the floor in the gust.

So I decided to think out of the box a little bit so I decided to make a Christmas card tree. I wanted them to be in the living room so we can all enjoy them, but I have arranged them in a Christmas tree shape and made them into a feature rather than a nuisance. I have used pins to attach the cotton to the wall, I picked gold end ones as I thought they would stand out and define the tree shape. If you have choice, go for the finest tip you can so that it leaves barely a trace of a hole on your wall. I then used cotton between the pins, doubled up which I fixed by twisting it around the pin. It needs to be fairly tight otherwise it will droop too much, thats also why I used a pin in the middle of each tree branch line. I freehanded the tree because I like that its not perfect because a tree wouldn't be perfect, but you could easily measure out with a pencil first. At the top of the tree I have added a snowflake star and you could always hang cards and decorations too to add your own little touch.

I am so relieved to have finally given the cards their own space, and the card tree has really added a lovely extra christmassy touch to our living room. It also nice to know I still have space for more cards too on my tree. What DIY decorations have you been making this year?

This is my entry into the Christmas Decorations competition with Victorias Vintage and Able Skills.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Super Sleigh

Its starting to look a lot like Christmas with nativity plays, christmas parties and cards arriving so to get us further in the mood we embarked on turning my youngest bed into a magical super sleigh for the afternoon. Red happens to be very much a colour favourite so we hunted around to find two red blankets to help us. I have also caught my two year old pulling the tinsel off the tree pretty much everyday this week so I said he could use it for his sleigh bed too. He gladly lugged it upstairs with glee written all over his face.

He got making straight away, talking about it and traipsing the tinsel everywear and I as always loved hearing his ideas about where he and the toys were going to go. You can see him in this picture talking away.

Things you need to know about this super sleigh are: 

- It has a special area to carry toys in at the back which is very soft and just how they like it.
- The tinsel when in flight makes it shine light a star for everyone to see and makes it look very pretty.
- The pirate T-shirt my son put on especially keeps other pirates away as you never know who you might meet on an adventure.
- It has a built in sleeping area to keep your legs cosy when you are travelling and also in case the driver happens to need a nap on route (which sometimes happens when your driver is two).
-The giraffe likes to eat chocolate off your fingers and so they have to keep all chocolate in a hidden pocket under the toys seat for extra protection. He called it the rocket pocket as his duvet and pillow have a rocket on them and they are what create the pocket.

The toys really really wanted to go to the safari park to see the animals and requested to see the camel, elephant, lion and kangaroo as "must see" animals. Thats why its pulled by the giraffe as who better to take the toys a sleigh safari then a giraffe.

Here it is the super sleigh! 
This post is my entry into the Super Sleigh Christmas Competition. If you fancy having a go at making your own sleigh bed I would love to see what your little ones come up with and you can find out more about the competition here: Super Sleigh. All you need is a bed and some imagination!

What are you doing to get you in the Christmas mood?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Criminal Menswear Outfit

Fancy a new outfit for the man in your life? I have styled one using Criminal Men's wear from House of Fraser to give you some ideas for what to get them for Christmas.

Criminal Mens Outfit

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Warm and Cosy Living Room Ideas

Decorating our living room is one of the many rooms that we need to transform in 2015 in our new house and I have been pondering just what to do with it since we moved in. One of the key colour trends said to be hot for 2015 is Seaport (the lovely blue/teal colour below). I picked the seaport colour palette as inspiration for my living room because we already have a armchair with a teal pattern on it and teal in our colourful stripy rug. Both of these items I love and I wanted to be able to keep them in any update we do without them looking out of place. I also felt it was a fun and fresh colour that brings the outside world in and would be enjoyed by both adults and children.

As you can see from my mood board below seaport is a rich colour which can be picked out in key features like furniture, wallpaper and blinds. I have complimented it with silver as I felt it made the colour look more vibrant and really gives it the wow factor without being overpowering. One of the things that our living room currently lacks is good lighting and I love the large bow lamp shown below which would bring the extra light we much need. I think when you use a coloured blind it can really add to your room accenting everything else you have making it seem brighter, and when I look at the blinds in the moodboard I can't help but think about the sky or the vastness of a clear blue sea.

Seaport Living room

Get the stuff: Large Bow Lamp, Boule Pendant Light, Hive Pendant Light in soft green and Twist Sofa in pello teal all from, Energy Saving Blind from, Metallic Bark Cushion in silver and Croft Collection Diamond Throw from John Lewis. Laura Cole Titanium Sardinia Wine Vase from Wayfair. The pouf, side table and painting are sadly not available to buy in the UK and I am pretty sure that I could find something similar here.

One of the challenges that we are also faced with is keeping the house warm. Its a big house and I want to be as energy efficient as possible but I feel we just loose heat. We have a big patio window in the living room as well as a large bay window which have the potential to be really lovely but right now they just feel really cold. We put the curtains up that you can see in the picture because we had them and they were better than the ones that the previous owners left, but I feel that they darken the room and they don't really match what we have.

Patio Window
Bay Window
One of my ideas for combatting this is to put Duette energy saving blinds up which work like a bit like honeycomb trapping the heat and thus keeping the heat inside my living room instead of it escaping (as you can see the picture below). It will also hopefully save us money on our bills too which is always good.  The second really good benefit for us as a family is that swapping from curtains to blinds is much better for dustmite allergies sufferers so it would be a really good choice for us and our health. When I watch all these amazing grand designs programmes with contemporary features they never have curtains so it is definitely the way forward in design which fills me with confidence that its the right move. I also think it looks neater not to have the clutter of a curtain.

I am imagining how different the picture of our bay window could look without the curtain clutter and with a bright and vibrant blind accenting the room but also bringing the outside in with it. Instead of a dark focal point it would be radically transformed.

Energy Saving Blind from
Would you swap your curtains for blinds? What do you think of the seaport colour scheme?

This is my entry into the Duette Blogger Competition.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Diggers book review

This month as part of the Parragon book buddies scheme we have been sent The Diggers by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Antoine Corineau.

Both boys were hugely excited by the look of this book when it arrived as they always are when it comes to machinery. The cover looks so inviting with that great big smiling digger on it so we got reading straight away. "Dig, dig, dig" is how it starts as you join the animals and machines as they discover the underground. The boys love this book and I have read it everyday since it arrived so its definitely a firm favourite, particularly with my two year old. One night this week I read it twice to him and then he told it back to me telling me all about what was happening on each page. I do like it when a book really captivates him to read like this one.

I like the story, starting with the animals, however I found the page about the pirate digging a little out of place with the rest of the book, but my boys didn't notice. A big part of me likes it when the momentum of the rhyme drives you forward through the book, where as in this book when it changes from the animals, to the man and then the big digger the pattern changes too. I am not sure about the change as I liked the original rhyme, but this is just my personal preference and one I have got over after reading it a few times.

The book is beautifully illustrated and we particularly like how they captured the animals such as the worm digging down to his home as it gave good holes for little fingers to trace and follow. The digger is well drawn with his smiling and welcoming face.

Overall we really like The Diggers with its vibrant illustrations and fun story about digging and we would recommend it. If you would like to buy your own copy you can get it here from Amazon:

Disclaimer: We received a copy of The Diggers in order to review it but all the opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

My Wishlist to Santa at Debenhams

Its almost December and this is the first year that my two year old has really understood what that means. Christmas might just be his new favourite word so I asked him what he would like for Christmas. After much consideration about this question he decided to draw what he would like and this is what he came up with.

To the untrained eye this might look a bit like squiggles however, once drawn he was very keen to talk about them. The top left is of skipper in blue and dusty in orange from planes, bottom left is of a christmas tree in green (very important) and Mummy and Daddy. I am really glad that despite Christmas being about gifts he has already grasped that its more than that, and I think this picture with his family in really captures that. Bottom right is of a new disney cars book and top right is something new to colour and draw with. I did try and capture on camera him talking about his wishlist but he turned terribly camera shy. I did manage to coax him in to talking a little bit though and I love how proud he is of his drawings.

Finally I tried to turn his drawings into an actual wishlist and managed to pull together a Disney cars and planes themed wishlist using items from which I hope also gives you some inspiration and ideas too. He was pretty excited when I showed him and I made sure to include his tree and to tell him that Mummy and Daddy would definitely be around to share in Christmas with him too.

My Wishlist To Santa

Get the list: Disney Planes Mini Dusty Radio Controlled Plane, £13.60, Planes Large Magnetic Scribbler, £12, Disney Planes Projection Torch, £12, Dickie 41cm Light and Sound sky force Helicopter, £17.60, Disney Planes Walkie Talkie, £12, Disney Cars Sing along, £5.99, Planes Dusty Go Glo Pal, £21.60, Disney Cars Off-Road racing Lightning McQueen, £23, Planes 9 piece Giant Foam Floor Puzzle, £13.60, Disney Planes Slide & Hide Game, £8 and Disney Planes 2 Riplash Flyers Playset, £17.60.

I tried to pick items that he asked for as well as some others too. The number one item that I think he really wants is a Disney Planes Mini Dusty Radio Controlled Plane, which I am glad is his first choice because thats exactly what he is getting. I interpreted something to draw and colour with as the Planes Large Magnetic Scribbler and I love that you can wipe this and start again as thats perfect for a two year old. The Lightning McQueen book I found was a Disney Cars Sing Along book which is something different from the Cars books we already have. Jigsaws and games are always popular but I think the extra items that I added to the wishlist that he really would use a lot is the Disney Planes Projection Torch as he is always stealing my husbands torch, and the Disney Planes Walkie Talkies as he loves to talk on the phone and I could see hours of fun being had with them.

What are your little ones after this Christmas?

This is my entry into the My Wishlist to Santa Blogger Competition hosted by Mummy Constant in conjunction with Debenhams. You can find out more about the competition and how to enter here: Mummy Constant.

Winter Hats from Liliputiuans

Many of you know we walk to school and neither of my boys are particularly fond of coats and I find it a constant struggle to get them to wear them. However hats are a totally different subject, they love them! I recently came across this new accessories brand Liliputians who stock some fantastic boys hats that I just love, and I think you will too.

Snow Belle Hat, £20
Their tag line is "Small accessories, 'MIGHTY' impressions" and they passionate about fashion, styling and beauty. They started out their business with hair accessories and have grown from their and if you have a little girl you should have a look at some of hair accessories as they are lovely. The brand was named Liliputians after the characters of the Liliputians in Jonathan Swift's story: Gulliver's Travels. Like the Liliputians characters in the story who were small, but brave, strong and mighty they believe that although accessories are a small part of fashion they can make a significant impact. I definitely think these hats would make a big impact and I can just imagine how much fun my boys would have wearing them.

Reindeer Hat, £12
I really love their Knight and Roman soldiers hats and these would make fantastic Christmas presents  for boys. Imagine how fun the school walk could be battling dragons and armies along the way. I am also pretty sure they would be really keen to wear them and they would be a real talking point with their friends. You can find them here: Liliputians and use the code below to get 20% off.

Roman Solider Hat £15, Knight Hat £15

Lilputians are offering my readers 20% off all of their products until the 20th December 2014 using the code DEC20 so if you are still looking for stocking fillers they have plenty to choose from. They have a lot of different accessories from the prettiest hair clips and hairbands to baby bands, do take a look.

Knight Hat, £15
Which hat do you like the best? My favourite is the Knight, although I do love that red tassel on the Roman Soldier hat too.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post but all of the opinions expressed are my own.

A Carroty Chicken Casserole with Zingology

Over the last few weeks we have been trying out the Zingology powders adding them in to our recipes to create something delicious. This week we have been using the carrot powder and with the winter drawing in I wanted to create something warm and comforting and a casserole seemed to fit perfectly. I also love this recipe because its quick to put together and I can prepare it in the morning and just leave it cooking whilst I go and collect the kids from school.

1 Red Onion
1 Corgette
2 cloves garlic
4 chicken thighs
2 carrots
6 mushrooms
1 tsp Carrot Zingology powder
1 chicken stock cube
1 tablespoon of corn flour

1. Cook the chopped red onion and garlic in a pan then add to your casserole dish. Chop all the other ingredients and add to your dish.

2. Make up the stock cube adding 400ml of hot water to it. Then add in your Carrot Zingology powder before stirring in your corn flour. Add to your casserole dish.

3. Turn oven on to 150C and leave for an hour before serving with rice.

After we had finished eating my husband asked me what I had done differently this time as this was the best casserole I had ever made - the only thing different was the zingology carrot powder which gave it a lovely orange colour as well as an extra sweet deliciousness. My boys were very interested in the casserole because of its lovely orange colour of the gravy and I will be adding the Carrot powder everytime I make this casserole from now on as it was such a hit.

This is the stock after I added the carrot zingology powder
We have been trying the Zingology powders over the last few weeks and if you missed my previous posts you can read about our beetroot pizza base here: Pink Pizza and our raspberry icing cupcakes here: Pink Cupcakes. Keep your eye out for our final flavour Strawberry. If you haven't seen anything in the last few weeks what makes Zingology powders special and different from other is that they are 100% natural and because of the way they process it you don't lose the nutrients. This would be great if you have a picky eater that won't eat carrots, and I made my boys beetroot ice lollies which they loved. Zingology have lots of recipe ideas on their website but what about adding the carrot powder to make your cream cheese icing orange on top of your carrot cake?

What hearty meals are you making this winter?

Disclaimer: We were sent a sample of the Carrot Zingology powder in order to review it.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Dream Christmas Spread

Christmas is fast approaching and I am already thinking about the all important Christmas day dinner menu and what we will be cooking. It is my favourite meal of the whole year and I love the time I get to spend with my family around the table sharing in the feast. Christmas is also a great excuse to dress the table up and make it feel really special and its fun getting out the Christmas decor and table decorations.

I have put together a mood board with all of my favourite Christmas table decoration ideas themed around jewels. I wanted each piece to have a little sparkle of its own and to have a rich jewel like feeling about it to capture the luxurious feeling that Christmas gives me.

Christmas Jewel Table
Recreate the look - Large glass star tea light holder, Denby 'Halo' sixteen piece dinner set, Salt & Pepper set of four metal reindeer place card holders, Purple beaded table runner, Betty Jackson. Black Designer purple frosted glass decanter, Star by Julien McDonald Silver Table Gems, Sass & Bell Rotary snowflake Christmas tea light holder, Betty Jackson. Black Designer dark red ombre glass tumbler, Jasper Conran Large glass covered cake stand, Betty Jackson. Black Designer purple graduated oval frosted glass vase, Silver vintage cut glass tea light holder, Purple beaded placemat, RJR. John Rocha Orr brushed 44 piece cutlery set, Set of two dark grey beaded napkin rings, Set of four silver beaded Christmas coasters, Betty Jackson. Black designer dark red ombre wine glass, Silver glittery reindeer Christmas ornament, Pack of 12 luxury snowflake Christmas crackers.

I love the glass star tea light holder and this would make a lovely focus hanging down over the table for everyone to see, a little reminder of why we are celebrating Christmas. I picked some the Betty Jackson. Black glass range as I loved the deep ombre colours, and the vase and decanter would look lovely on the table in contrast to the purple and silver place settings. For me when I think about some of my favourite Christmas meals over the last few years they have always been under candlelight and I wanted to bring that into my table and I thought the light would flicker off the table gems creating a magical effect. It wouldn't be Christmas without crackers, a reindeer and a cake, and I think in the middle of every table should be a cake for everyone to salivate over whilst they eat the rest of their meal, like an Argentine Yule log filled with dulce de leche.

I have also put together a pinterest board with some of my favourite and dream Christmas foods. The recipe that has really caught my eye this year is the Jamie Oliver Turkey Wellington with its cranberry jewel like centre, its a little bit different and a twist on the traditional turkey but it felt like the perfect accompaniment to my table. You can see the recipe here: Jamie Oliver Turkey Wellington

Jamie Oliver's Turkey Wellington
Here are some of the other foods that would be apart of my dream Christmas spread. One of our little family traditions that we have made over the last few years is to make sweet potato casserole with that delicious marshmallow topping. We first had it when we celebrated Thanksgiving with some of our American friends and it goes perfectly with the Turkey for Christmas too.

What Christmas foods would you have on your dream Christmas spread?

This is my entry into the Love Chic Living and Debenhams Blogger Competition: I'm dreaming of Debenhams dinnerware. If you want to find out more about the competition you can read about it here on Love Chic Living.

Elegant Christmas Party Look

With Christmas fast approaching and parties to go to here is my dream Christmas party outfit. I really wanted it to be bold, sophisticated and elegant, with a little sparkle and a lot of glamour.

Elegant Christmas

I love this gorgeous Consuela Tapework dress, from the colour of it to the depth of the detail in the design that will glimmer and shine amongst the dim party lights. I chose black accessories as I felt they complimented the look without making you take your eye from the dress, yet adding that extra sparkle to make it really stand out. 

What will you be wearing for your Christmas parties this year? 

This is my entry into the Debenhams Christmas Party Outfit Competition

Friday, 21 November 2014

Fake it to Make it

Most of you will think that I am a pretty confident person, I always come out as an extravert on the scale, but the truth is I am actually quite shy. I am always very nervous of new situations and so I wanted to let you in on a little secret...shh... I fake confidence a lot of the time.

My husband started a new job earlier this year which resulted in us having to move to Lincolnshire in September, so the last few weeks have been full of lots of new places, situations and things to explore. Sometimes I just long for that little bit of "normal" and "usual" which is probably why the school run walk has become my place of refuge, my time to think. 20 miles a week walking the same path has become my go to place for normality in amongst the busyness and settling in. I have been faced with so many situations that need my steel wall of fake confidence its unbelievable. It is easy to fool strangers into thinking you have confidence but to convince my two boys and my husband is far harder. My two boys can sense fear is on my lips even before the whisper comes from them so I have been working pretty hard on hiding it.

A few weekends ago my husband and I were invited to go away with the management team from his new work. I write it like it was just another event but this was the first time I would met people, his colleagues. It meant trying to remember who everybody is, what they do and what I know about them. It was also the first time for Matt's colleagues to meet me which I think adds extra pressure for me to look and be, not only myself but also the person they are expecting. Finally on the Saturday we had a more formal start to the event at Newmarket Racecourse where there would be an expectation for me to wear heels. Heels may actually be my biggest confidence nemesis. I never wear them, they come out for weddings, evenings out and special occasions. I live in boots and flat shoes - I have two small children afterall and I am particularly clumsy, in fact the last time I wore heels I rather embarrassingly got my heel caught on some uneven pavement and flew into the ground scraping half of my leg! So you can see my fear but I also knew I had to conquer it and smother it in fake confidence.

So to fake confidence and dull my fears I have five things I always do:

1. Prepare, plan and prepare some more. I visually try and think about the event ahead of time, going through the expectations on me, the location, ask hundreds of questions to my husband about his colleagues. Knowing information about key people beforehand I find really helps as you can come up with questions to get you out of those awkward silent moments. I always feel more confident when I know whats happening.

2. Practice walking in my heels. I pull out the heels (I only have one pair) and remember how to walk in them, I make sure I tackle a range of terrain in my pre-training. I also remind my husband on the day that my usual walking pace is significantly reduced and I NEED an arm to hold. Walking in heels is an art and needs practice.

3. Picking the right outfit. This is so crucial to my confidence and I am so glad that I realised how important it is to feel confident in what your wearing. Fashion and I have a love/hate relationship and its an area that I am gaining in confidence in slowly. For this particular weekend I picked a Hobbs dress from my wardrobe which you can eat in without it showing, it has pockets and is very flattering. Pockets mean I have somewhere to put my idle child free hands - as its very important when you are on show to not look awkward. I also practiced my make up just in case you were wondering why I had quite so much on the school run one morning!

4. Pep talks. I am always giving myself them either mentally or out loud, if you have read the hunger games trilogy Katniss is one for self pep talks too and I find they help - sometimes you just need to remind yourself you can do it and no challenge is too big. It brings perspective and focus and thats exactly what you need when you want a confidence boost.

5. Be me. I find I get so busy with the boys and being Mummy that my final preparation is to remind myself that I am a person who is more than just Mum. I take a moment (usually when I am getting ready) to switch from Mummy to Hannah mode. As a Mum I often have 10 half conversations or talk never gets far from the children so I try and remember that I need to delve beyond that point.

We finally got to the weekend away and I tried to put my nerves aside and be me. When I feel nervous I always try to either let other people talk or be the question instigator as its much easier to use a stock question that you have pre-thought about than to be coming up with an answer. My confidence grew as the day went on and I became more familiar with our surroundings and I took every opportunity I had in the day to keep swatting up with Matt about who people were. I also had a few little things that make me feel good and that boost my confidence too that are personal to me like when I put my sunglasses on I feel like I can rule the world (they went on as soon as we stepped outside onto the coach), having lipgloss in my pocket always make me feel very pretty and girly.

We had a break before dinner after we had arrived back from the races to change and refresh. I am pretty sure that everyone else went back to their rooms to sleep but I spend it going over who people were and putting names to faces that I had now met in preparation for the evening. I also tried to speak more one to one with everyone if I had an opportunity as its less daunting for me and I felt that I would come across as being more confident.

First impressions go a long way and there were a few partners who obviously didn't feel that comfortable or confident and I know that I was not one of them. Despite my nerves I know I did a great job of faking it using my toolkit above and I am sure that was the reason that I was successful. Its a real boost when despite nerves and fear you are able to pull something off with fake confidence that you weren't sure that you could, and I know that next time the nerves will still be there but not to the extent of the first meeting.

Have you ever had to fake confidence?

This is my entry into the Feminesse Great British Fake Off Blogger Competition which you can find more about here: Feminesse.

Pink Cakes with Zingology

Last week was children in need at school and so to help the school raise money I was asked to make some cakes for my son's class. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to try out using my Raspberry Zingology powder. I have already reviewed their beetroot powder which you can read about here if you missed it: Pink Pizza with Beetroot Zingology powder.

Zingology is not like other brands of dried powders as it is 100% natural and the goodness of the Raspberry fruit remains with it because of their unique process. It comes in four flavours: beetroot, carrot, raspberry and strawberry and I have being trying out the raspberry in my Pink Cupcakes.

Ingredients: Cakes
200g butter
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder

125g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons of milk
1 tsp Raspberry Zingology powder to flavour

Making the cakes:
1. Preheat oven to 180C and line your tin with 24 cupcases

2. Mix all if the ingredients for the cakes together in a large bowl and beat well until the mixture is blended and smooth.

3. Fill each paper case about 3/4 full and bake for 15 - 20 mins in the oven.

4. Leave cakes to cool on a wire rack.

Making the icing:
1. Beat the butter until pale and light then sift in the icing sugar and zingology powder

2. Add the milk and beat until smooth

3. Pipe onto your cupcakes we used a star end.

I did try adding a bit of the Zingology powder to the sponge mixture as well but unless you put a lot in you couldn't see the colour in the sponge, however it was really easy to add to the icing and left the icing a lovely pale pink colour with little speckles of pink in it too. The cakes looked really pretty and I know that they all got eaten. They were really simple to make and we found the raspberry powder gave them that little extra special thing. My youngest was really keen to help me make them and there were plenty of things for him to help with.

The raspberry Zingology powder tastes delicious and gave the icing a lovely extra raspberry favour instead of the vanilla one you would normally get. It was really easy to use it and we will be adding raspberry to some of other foods too. Zingology have loads of recipe ideas on their website but some to get you thinking are, you could make raspberry icecubes or add it as a topping on your icecream. Or what about whipping it up with some cream to accompany your chocolate cake? Pink cream would definitely make a good talking point.

What have you been baking this week?

Disclaimer: We were sent a sample of the Zingology Raspberry powder in order to review it.

The Bully and the Shrimp Review

This month as part of Parragon's Book Buddy Scheme we have been sent The Bully and the Shrimp to review by Catherine Allison and Kim Geyer.

I was a little apprehensive about this book because I have never used the word 'bully' when we talk about people being unkind and I was in two minds about whether this book would be a help or a hindrance. The book has been developed in conjunction with school teachers and child development experts which put me at a bit more ease, but I really had no idea as to what to expect.

On our first reading of it my eldest immediately liked the main character Noah Shrimpton who is small for his age, but he says " being smalls not so bad!" Noah is a very lovable character and he uses is journal to show his favourite things (superheroes and dinosaurs are just some) and how he is feeling throughout the book. Noah's personality seems very similar to my four year olds and it was like they instantly connected. When Connor (the bully) first comes into the page my son was very quiet and I could see his eyes getting wider. He really isn't very nice and I know that my son didn't know how to respond, so we talked about Connor not being very nice and how that must have felt.

What I really liked about the book was how Noah dealt with the bully. He didn't go running off to tell tales but feeling encouraged and loved by his friend Ellie he finds his big voice to stand up to Connor. Confidence is such an important skill and I loved how it was portrayed here.

I was a bit apprehensive about this book to begin with, but I shouldn't have been. Its very well written and worded and the word bullying is not banded about, but carefully used tackling this sensitive subject. The illustrations are brilliant and we loved Noah's journal drawings throughout. My son really enjoyed this book and learning more about Noah Shrimpton and I would recommend the book whether you are facing bullying head on, or if you just want to talk about it like us.

If you would like to buy your own copy of The Bully and the Shrimp you can find it here on Amazon:

Have you ever had to face bullying with your children? At the end of the book there is a page dedicated to giving advice and where to get help from.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book in order to complete my review.

Monday, 10 November 2014

YOU Cleaning Products

I have been looking for chemical free cleaning products for quite a while as normal cleaning products have been making increasingly more ill everytime I use them over the last few years. I am sure that for some of you are thinking that it sounds like the perfect excuse not to clean, and perhaps it is, but as a busy Mum thats not really an option. It seems that I only have to turn around to discover sticky finger prints across my surfaces and windows. My kids are fond of messy activities perfect for learning and development, but not so good for me when I have to clean up. I have tried all kinds of different things over the past few years including mixing my own cleaning products with bi-carbonate of soda, vinegar amongst other things but although effective by the time I had mixed them up my time to clean had passed. So I was really excited and slightly skeptical to try out the new chemical free products YOU.

They have four products in their range Allpurpose, Kitchen, Bathroom and Window and you can get them in Waitrose as well as a few other places. The bottles feel really sturdy and I like that you can buy a refill rather than having to get a new bottle. The refill cartridges are really small and easy to store too. I think to get the best spray you have to open the nozzle and then you get really even spray coverage.

My favourite and most used is the Kitchen (red) bottle which I find degreases the work surfaces perfectly. We have granite which is a lot of work to keep clean and I find this gives the best clean on it and leaves it smear free. I also find it effective on our induction hob and around the sink. I bake quite a lot and there is always caked on dried flour and food which the Kitchen cleaner wipes aways with ease. What I like the most is that you buy a refill to top your bottle up rather than a new bottle. It works by you filling your bottle with water to just above the label line then you screw on the refill and shake. I have found the refilled bottle a little more soapy than the first bottle but it works just as well.

This is how simple refilling the bottle is
The allpurpose antibacterial spray (yellow) perfect for wiping up in between meals and keeping my surfaces clean after my boys have been in the kitchen. The smell reminds me a little bit of deep heat which I like but my husband opts not to use this one and uses the kitchen bottle instead because he is not so keen on the smell. This works well but I find is a bit more smeary than the kitchen cleaner on the granite.

The window cleaner was the first product I tried (blue) and was what convinced me that I should try the others in the range. I spent weeks saying "I can't believe I have found a chemical free product that actually cleans!" We were living with my parents when we started using the window cleaner as my boys kept leaving their lovely fingerprints all over their lounge window and my Dad and I were both impressed with the clean smear free window.

I am yet to fully try the bathroom cleaner but can let you know my thoughts at a later date, but I am hopeful. It nice to find a set of chemical free cleaning products that actually work and have a refill as well reducing the amount of plastic bottles I use too.

Have you tried them? What did you think?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Sparkles with The Real Effect

I love jewellery, I am like a magpie to it always looking at what other people are wearing and how they are wearing it. I am a firm believer that a good piece of jewellery can turn a miserable school run outfit into a dazzler and can make you feel good to when you wear it. It can add elegance to your evening outfit or an incredible ring can just make your friends eyes pop out when you meet for coffee.

I have always had some kind of jewellery adorned on my person but since getting engaged and married I have found it much harder to pick other rings that compliment my diamonds. I am pretty sure I am not the only person with this problem. As much as I would love to compliment them with the real deal its just not really an option for me right now so I have been looking for something else.

What I like about The Real Effect who have been around for over 20 years is that they use hand-finished craftmanship with their silver pieces and they use cubic zirconia priding themselves that their gemstones look every bit as lustrous as diamonds. Perfect for accompanying a real diamond in my case or looking every bit as good as one in others. I like that idea that they look good enough that you can't tell they aren't real but without the diamond price tag which is very important for a magpie like myself. I like the idea of hand-crafted items as it feels more personal and I have an expectation with that of high quality products.

The Real Effect have lots of different items to choose from from contemporary pendants, silver and rose gold rings and elegant bracelets and earrings that would be perfect for a dressy evening out. I have picked out my two favourites although I could have easily picked a top ten as they have some lovely pieces going with a more contemporary feel. They do have a real range of different pieces so there would be something to suit everyone's tastes.

This stunning Fully Stone Sterling Ring, £70.10 is my first choice because it would go very well with my engagement ring (which is one white and one black diamond). I love the contemporary feel of this ring and I can imagine it looking great with skinny jeans as well as with heels dressed up for a night out. I love how elegant and pretty it looks and the overlap gives it that element for me that is a bit different and feels fun.

My second choice is this Sparking silver Pendant, £26.75 which caught my eye because its a little bit quirky and unusual and I think would look great with an elegant evening dress. It would draw attention to itself without overpowering the dress and it oozes with sophistication. I would feel very glamourous wearing this pendant and it would make a lovely present (hint, hint). When I look at this pendant I am drawn in by its mesmerizing swirls as they overlap and coil is so very pretty.

I love how real the stones really do look, and I know I would be fooled, what about you?
What pieces would you choose?

This is my entry into The Real Effect Blogger Competition in conjunction with The Diary of A Jewellery lover.