Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Strictly Come Dancing Tower Ballroom a Special Family Blackpool visit

A highlight of a recent visit to Blackpool was the Tower Ballroom, most recently famous for the Strictly Come Dancing Blackpool special it hosts once a year. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram may recognise some of the photographs in this post, as I shared the celebrations of my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary weekend. 

Blackpool Illuminations Promenade
Blackpool Illuminations promenade

Blackpool Illuminations Tour
Blackpool Illuminations Tour
Blackpool was my parents honeymoon destination fifty years ago. This time around they did not holiday alone, there were 13 members of  the family including myself to help with the celebrations. We stayed at the Hilton as the original B&B they stayed in having long since gone (thankfully).  My parents stayed in a suite which enjoyed fabulous views of the promenade showing the illuminations and Blackpool Tower at it best. 

Hilton Blackpool view of Illuminations
Fabulous Blackpool Tower and Promenade view
Golden Wedding Anniversary Cake
50th Golden Wedding Anniversary
I had made some little cakes with gold 50 on them, and a pair of wedding rings, as part of the table decorations for dinner. Our table at the hotel overlooked one of the illuminations, there were lots of reminiscing of the wedding day fifty years ago.The illuminations were good, but not quite as I remember as a child. Although I do think they could do much more to co-ordinate the movement of vehicles driving through them.

Strictly Come Dancing Blackpool Tower Ballroom
Blackpool Tower Ballroom - can not wait for Strictly Come Dancing to arrive!
Strictly Tower Ballroom Tickets
Amazing period interiors at Blackpool Tower Ballroom
Tower Ballroom Strictly Come Dancing
Magnificent Blackpool Tower Ballroom
Sadly we did not get to go up the Tower the following day as it was closed due to it being far too windy, but we did pay the £2.95 to visit the Tower Ballroom. What wonderful decoration and design inside this old Victorian building. There were many couples dancing on the sprung dance floor, it was like watching an episode of Strictly Come Dancing - my 8 year old niece was mesmerised. I must say I think we will all be looking forward to the episode of Strictly Come Dancing that comes from the Tower Ballroom, and watching it with a different perspective.  A few years ago my friend was lucky enough to get tickets to the Strictly Come Dancing Show from the Tower Ballroom - how lucky were they! There were tables around the dance floor laid up for afternoon tea, but having enjoyed a most satisfying breakfast at the hotel food was not on my mind.

Golden Wedding Anniversary Cards

Blackpool Tower Ballroom Strictly celebrations
Celebrations in Blackpool
Thank goodness for the trams though, the prom is exceptional long and far beyond my ability to walk that distance particularly in such strong wind. I was impressed with how clean and tidy the promenade was. We were sustained through the day with hot donuts and visits to the arcade, before returning back to Shropshire with some fabulous new memories of the occasion.  Here is wishing my parents many more anniversaries. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Earl Grey Fruit Tea Loaf Recipe with Whittard

This Fruit Tea Loaf recipe also known as Tea Bread or Teacake is perfect served as part of an Afternoon Tea. The fruit is soaked in hot tea, to help plump up the fruit and infuse the flavour of tea. I used Whittard Earl Grey Loose Tea Pouch. Not only does this make for a fruity and flavoursome cake, best of all it is both a Fat Free Cake and Dairy Free Cake.  It is quite popular to butter a slice of tea bread, which I think tastes particularly nice, however no longer fat free if you use real butter.

Fruit Tea Loaf Recipe
Fruit Tea Loaf Recipe
This recipe is used greatly in my family and is a proven favourite. The original recipe is from an old magazine cutting.

Recipe - Earl Grey Fruit Tea Loaf

  • bowl
  • kettle
  • measuring jug
  • scales  
  • wooden spoon
  • knife  
  • 2 lb loaf tin (or 2 1lb tins) - lined
Baking Tip - I use loaf liners which you can buy from most stores
Recipe Tea Loaf Tea Bread Tea Cake
Recipe Tea Loaf / Tea Bread / Tea Cake - you decide

makes one loaf 2lb loaf or 2 x 1lb loaf

150ml hot tea made with an Earl Grey tea bag (I used Whittard)
200g sultanas
75g dried figs* roughly chopped 
75g prunes* roughly chopped
150g dark muscovado sugar
2 medium eggs beaten
225gr self raising flour
2 level tsp mixed spice

*you can use any fruit you like, sometimes I swap some of the prunes and figs and add dried apricots or cherries.


Oven temp 190 or 170 fan, gas mark 5.
  • weigh and chop all the fruit and place into a bowl
  • make a pot of Earl Grey tea (I used Whittard), lets this brew for a few minutes(pour yourself a cup now if you do not like it too strong)
  • Pour 150ml of hot tea over the fruit, leave for 30 minutes to allow the tea to soak into the fruit
  • Sit and enjoy your cup of tea (this is compulsory!)
  • Beat the sugar and eggs together.
  • Add the flour and mixed spice to the egg and sugar and mix together
  • Add the fruit and tea and combine well together
  • Pour the mixture into the lined loaf tin
  • Bake in the oven for 1 hour, the cake is ready when a skewer pushed into the cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, before removing from tin and cooling on a wire rack.

It is always nice to enjoy a slice of Earl Grey Fruit Tea Loaf whilst still warm.

Fruit Tea Loaf Recipe
Loaf Liners are great for Fruit Tea Loaf Recipe
Baking Tip - Perfect cake you can freeze. It is always worth cutting a few slices and placing them in the freezer. If you have used this recipe to make 2 of the 1 lb loaf, I cut one into slices and freeze it. It makes a fabulous slice of cake to get out the freezer for any unexpected guests, a few seconds in the microwave to defrost it leaves it warm and tasting fresh out of the oven. Or leave to thaw at room temperature.

Will keep for a week in an air tight container.

Cakes you can freeze
Tea Fruit Loaf makes perfect cake you can freeze
I am linking up to Love Cake with October theme of dark, perfect for the muscovado sugar and tea in this recipe. Also linking to #CookBlogShare at Super Golden Bakes.


Disclosure - thank you to Whittard who supplied the tea.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Great British Sewing Bee is back on BBC2 for Children in Need

The Great British Sewing Bee returned to our tv screens this week, for a very special celebrity special for Children in Need. I have watched both series, by the second series I was totally hooked and had resurrected my sewing machine from it's hiding place under the stairs.

Toyota sewing machine
Ready for the Great British Sewing Bee
If you have yet to watch Tuesdays show you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.

There are three episodes it total with the next on BBC2 today, Thursday. Each has a different presenter, Jenny Eclair, Sara Cox and Anita Rani. I must say Jenny Eclair was most entertaining, watch out Claudia Winkleman! We have the usual judges the very knowledgeable May and the suave Patrick now supporting a new moustache, I say bring back the beard, my sister says loose them both!

Watch a clip from the first show 

If the first Children in Need Great British Sewing Bee show is anything to go by the celebrity contestants showed great skill, though some had a shaky start. Some of the celebrities taking part include Dr Dawn from Embarrassing Bodies', Hairy Biker Dave Myers, actress Pam Ferris of Call the Midwife fame (love that programme), Louie Spence, and comedian Helen Lederer. 

One of the first items they made was a Sewing Bee A line skirt with an elasticated waist, and made in just a few hours. Unlike mine which took me 10 weeks at evening class and hours at home. I used the Macalls 3341 pattern to make my A Line skirt, which I later found out was featured on the first ever episode of the BBC Great British Sewing Bee.  

Great British Sewing Bee Macalls 3341 skirt pattern
the back of my skirt
Although I did learn something at college it was a painful process. I was forbidden by the tutor to even consider making an elasticated waisted skirt, even though I had pointed out that with my scoliosis elasticated waists work really well. I did leave the course with some knowledge though. I half learnt how to read and adjust a pattern, pinning and marking out a pattern, eventually cutting it out by week 5! 
Macalls 3341 skirt pattern Great British Sewing Bee
Front view of skirt
My skirt may look a little wonky to you, but it is made to fit my shape particularly my wonky hip and waist. Which you can see clearer from the front view as I have more fabric at the back of the skirt to allow for it hanging higher on my waist. I finished off with some trim and a button, and I have worn it a few times now. I hope to make another using this pattern again soon, fingers crossed.

Macalls 3341 skirt pattern

Homemade Thursday

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

How to Save Sunflower Seeds

Early this year I sowed Little Leo Dwarf Sunflower seeds, into pots. I have been very impressed with this variety of sunflowers and every seed germinated. I was rewarded with a fabulous bright yellow display of flowers through the Summer. I want to ensure I have another great display next year, so it is time to save  Sunflower seeds.
Dwarf Sunflowers Little Leo variety
Dwarf Sunflowers Little Leo variety
Autumn has now arrived, the flower heads have died back and have been left to dry out in the greenhouse. I removed them from the plant around two weeks ago.  

Sunflower seeds are ready for harvesting when:-  

  • there are no petals remaining 
  • the back of the flower head will have turned brown  

My sunflower seeds have also turned black in colour, this resembles the seeds I planted earlier in the year. 
Saving sunflower seeds
Collecting Sunflower seeds
Once the sunflower seeds dry out sufficiently they should fall out easily as you rub them with your hand, be sure to have some paper underneath to capture them. I found I had quite a few seeds, more than the original 16 I had in the packet.

Whenever you save flower seeds be sure to label them, store them in a cool dry place and label them. Also do not forget to label them. That is right label them, ha! something I have forgotten to do occasionally, so be sure you do not forget.

You can also find my useful guide to saving Cornflower seeds.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Planting Hyacinths for Christmas make your own Hyacinth vase

It is time to start planting Hyacinth bulbs for flowering at Christmas. The ideal time to plant Hyacinth bulbs for a Christmas display is the end of September to early October, so I am just about in time planting mine. 

Hyacinth bulb for Christmas Flowering
Hyacinth bulb for Christmas Flowering
Last year I planted a Hyacinth bulb in a pot indoors, and whilst it started well, with it being slightly out of the way and the central heating on it resulted in it not being watered just as it was starting to flower. A flower failure.

So, this year I am going to also try something a little different, and plant some of them in water and not in soil. There are an abundance of of Hyacinth bulbs available in garden centres at the moment, with a choice of colour. I think I selected white - time will tell!
Hyacinth bulb vase
Hyacinth bulb vase
You can also buy special Hyacinth vases for growing Hyacinth bulbs in water, that have a pinched neck that the bulb sits in without it sitting in the water. As the bulbs grow you will be able to see the roots grow down into the vase. I do not have a special vase so I have decided to create my own, from a couple of small glass vases I have.

Hyacinth bulbs grown in water
Hyacinth bulbs grown in water
  • Wash your vase and beads or pebbles to ensure they are clean. 
  • Carefully fill your vase with the pebbles to around two thirds full, arranging them as required.
  • Gentling pour in some water, the top row of beads/pebbles should be dry.
  • Sit the bulb on top of the beads/pebbles.
  • Place the vase and bulb in a cool dark place for a few weeks, once you see signs of growth more to the location in the house you want to display them.
Caution - Take care when handling Hyacinth bulbs as they can irritate the skin, best to wear protective gloves if you have sensitive skin.

Planting Hyacinth bulb for xmas
Planting Hyacinth bulb for Xmas
I will let you know how they progress, and hopefully I will have the sweet smell of Hyacinths in the house come Christmas time.