c January 2016 | Garden, Tea, Cakes and Me

A stroll around the garden in January

Ah the sun, yes that wonderful golden orb up in the sky, it was even accompanied by a blue sky too. Sunday has brought parts of the UK a milder day of weather. Typical, for I had planned to spend the day sorting and reorganising my wardrobe. But I did step out briefly into the back garden to have a wonder around, to see how some of the plants are fairing. 

Join me on my quick tour...

A little colour is bursting through, it is so lovely to see the bright yellow of the Daffodils flowering, this one has just started to flower.

daffodils blooming early uk
Daffodils in bloom
Blackcurrant buds
Blackcurrant buds
New buds are forming on the Blackcurrant bush, had quite a good first harvest from them last year. 

There it is below...sunshine!


At the bottom of the garden there is a huge Copper Beech Tree, some of the plants nestled at the bottom of the tree are ferns and Hellebores. Not my best photo I'm afraid I struggled to get down low enough to do it justice. But looking up to photograph the tree was much easier, and it looks quite monstrous with all its bare branches. The rope by the way belongs the tree swing.


Copper Beech Tree
Look up! Copper Beech Tree

Alpine trough
Alpine trough
Now making my way back up the garden to the greenhouse, sitting safely outside are the Alpine troughs. These were replanted at the end of Autumn and are filling out nicely. Onto the inside of the greenhouse, which is wrapped up for the cold weather that has yet to arrive, this is where the more tender plants are kept over Winter.  The broad beans have grown well, although it looks like something has been nibbling them. With such mild weather the scented Pelargonium ontinue to flower adding much needed colour in the greenhouse. The Aeolium is looking fabulous, usually it loses quite a few of its petals, another benefit of the milder weather. There are also quite a few pots of succulents.

Over winter scented Pelargonium
Scented Pelargonium
Over wintering Aeolium
Aeolium
succulent over winter
Succulent
I have just realised that I walked right past the cyclamens without taking a photograph of them, and they looked splendid too. 

Most satisfying of all I completed my wardrobe declutter, just in case you were wondering.
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Window Bird Feeder and the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

In the UK the national bird charity the RSPB encourage us once a year to sit for an hour to watch and and record the type of birds that visit our gardens. I have joined in for the last few years, with varying degrees of success depending on the British weather. It is here again for this weekend the 30 & 31 January is the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you want to join in visit the RSPB website for more information.

Window bird feeder perspex
Even the rain will not keep Blue Tits from the window bird feeder
This year I am expecting to see many variety of birds visit my garden, some up close as they now visit the perspex window bird feeder.  I had such a good response from you all when I first shared photographs of  the new window bird feeder.  At that time the Robins were the only bird to feed from it, but now Blue Tits and Coal Tits visit equally as much. It has never once fallen off the window, even with the endless rain we have experienced over the last few months. Although it does have to be removed briefly when the window cleaner calls.

I am hoping that Blue Tits will use the bird box this year which is located close to the window bird feeder, who knows I may need to get an additional feeder.

Window bird feeder perspex
The Robin was the first to visit the window bird feeder
Window bird feeder perspex
Keep topping up that bird feeder
Will you be joining in with the Big Garden Birdwatch? 

I have always wondered if other countries organise national bird counts, I am sure they must in order to monitor the bird populations. I will update this post with details on the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch.


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Giveaway Win Ahmad Fruit Tea Selection

Ahmad Teas are offering one of my blog readers the chance to win one  a box of Fruitytea. Now doesn't that sound ideal, perfect for you to enjoy and indulge in a little me time. Maybe you enjoy watching the birds in the garden, reading a magazine, listening to your favourite radio show or catching up on your tablet with your favourite blogs.



The Fruitytea box contains
  • Raspberry Indulgence: black tea with raspberry fruit pieces
  • Peach & Passion fruit: black tea with peach and passion fruit, fruit pieces
  • Blackcurrant: black tea with blackcurrant fruit pieces
  • Lemon & Lime Twist: black tea with lemon and lime fruit pieces
  • Strawberry & Kiwi green tea: green tea with strawberry & kiwi fruit pieces
  • Blueberry Brilliance: green tea with blueberry fruit pieces 
You can find out more about Ahmad Teas from my recent fruit tea review.

How to enter

To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize confirm your entry/entries using the Rafflecopter widget. 

Answer the following question: 

What do you do to relax whilst enjoying a cup of tea? (leave your answer as a blog comment and confirm your entry using the rafflecopter widget below) You will need to leave a comment on this article to release the additional entry tasks. 

If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5. For more information on how to enter you can watch this Rafflecopter video or visit fellow blogger Super Lucky for a simple guide on using Rafflecopter. Winner will be selected at random.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Closes  23 February 2016. Winner must respond within ten days of being notified, after which time a new winner will be selectedUK entrants only. For Terms and Conditions click the link on the Rafflecopter widget.

Good luck!

Disclosure: Prize is supplied by Ahmad Tea UK.

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Little Sins Cupcakery Home Cake Mix Review

I have baked a lot of homemade cakes, I have also baked with a number of different packet mixes. I am a confident home baker, but I also appreciate that not everyone has the confidence to bake from scratch, no matter how simple a home baker makes it sound. This is why packet mixes are so successful. I have a cupboard full of ingredients, if you are an infrequent or novice baker you will not have all the necessary ingredients to hand. But it is easy to have a box with pre weighed ingredients for that time or occasion you are ready to bake all waiting for you in the cupboard. 
Carrot Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
This is where packet cake mixes come into their own. So I was happy to put the Little Sins Cupcakery luxury cake mixes to the test.  I was sent four varieties:- 

  • Double Chocolate cupcakes
  • Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • Carrot Cakes
  • Vanilla Cakes

What's included in the Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes
What's included in the Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes

Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes
Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes
What's included?

Included in each box are all the dry ingredients required to bake your cakes, and 12 cake cases. For carrot cakes this includes the dehydrated carrot, and chocolate chunks for the chocolate cakes. 

You need to supply the eggs, oil and if required hot water. You will also need to make your own decorative topping.

Baking
The baking instructions were clear and easy to follow, printed in white text on a colour background they were also easy to read. Something many manufacturers do over look.  

I have baked both the Double Chocolate Cakes and the Carrot Cakes. I followed the instructions completely. You may think you have a lot of mixture, but when split evenly between the 12 cupcake cases and it was the perfect amount. The cakes baked evenly and were well risen. I was fascinated with the pack of dehydrated carrot, which transformed with hot water. The inclusion of real carrot in this mix really made all the difference.
Carrot Cakes ready for baking
Carrot Cakes made and ready for baking
When you bake cakes made with oil as opposed to butter your mixture will always be that little more liquid. So take a little care when filling you cases, so you do not dribble too much mixture.  I assisted my niece when making the chocolate cakes, we were both eager to get them into the cases and did get into a slight chocolate mess, as you do! Baking with oil make for a moist and flavoursome cake.
Carrot Cakes from Little Sins Cup Cakery
The Topping
I know some people will be surprised that the Little Sins Cupecakery mixes did not include a topping or frosting.  They do include a recipe leaflet with 3 different frosting recipes.  But I will be frank with you I was glad they did not. I have yet to like any pre made cake frosting. Yes even the well known brand of frosting is a guppy disgusting mess.  However, the only improvement I would like to see would be a sachet of icing sugar. If non bakers do not have flour and baking powder in the cupboard they are not going to have icing sugar. They can soon add either butter to create butter cream or water for a simple icing.


Carrot Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
I partly followed their recipe for the cream cheese frosting for the carrot cup cakes, then sprinkled with a little mixed spice. Even three days later the cakes were still moist and fresh tasting. My favourite has to be the Carrot Cakes, they had a very good consistency, were light and moist. There is no way anyone would have said they were a packet mix.   
Double Chocolate !
The Chocolate Cakes included huge chucks of chocolate you sprinkled on the top of each filled cake case before baking. I was expected the chunks to sink to the bottom, but no they stay on the top of the cake and looked great. They were particularly nice still warm, and had an almost chocolate pudding taste to them.

If you like the sound of these cupcakes you can buy each of the varieties of Little Sins Cake Mixes from Amazon UK, they currently retail for £5.99 a box. The attractive packaging makes them an ideal gift for a non baker, maybe include a cake tin to create an ideal new home present too.

Disclosure: I was sent Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes for the purpose of review.


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Knitted Blue Owl Cover for Portable Hard Drive

I can honestly say I am so enjoying rediscovering knitting. I got a little adventurous for my second project and created this sweet little blue owl.  Inspired by a recent email from Hobbycraft which included a link to a number of knitting project, I was taken with the knitted owl phone cover.

knitted portable hard drive cover
Knitted Portable Hard Drive Cover


knitted phone cover
Cute Knitted Blue Owl
I have a portable hard drive which did not come with a protective cover, so thought I could knit a cover for my portable hard drive. I had to adjust the pattern slightly, as my portable hard drive differs in size to a mobile phone. Those adjustments did not quite go as planned, but on my second attempt I had it just right. I was intending my little blue knitted owl to be a little knitted Blue Tit, but I think I think it suits being a Blue Owl.

For those interest in knitting their own cover you can find the pattern here.



knitted portable hard drive cover pattern

New skills

Knitting this project I learnt how to add a different colour thread, which I actually do not think went that well. As you will see if you look closely.  I was amazed by the Mattress Stitch used to joining the knit together. I have never used this stitch before, you can not tell there is even a join it just looks like continuous knitting.

knitted phone cover pattern hobbycraft
Blanket stitch
The knitting continues, my current work in progress is a hat which is looking rather large!

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Fruit Teas - Finding the Right Balance of Fragrance and Flavour

It is easy to find yourself just putting the kettle on for yet another drink, whether that be for tea or coffee. I have no wish to stop drinking tea or coffee - I love them both equally. But now I am spending more time at home I am concern I will drink too much caffeine.  I am not a huge drinker of water, so need to find an additional drink to enjoy that will balance all my caffeine based drinks.

Love Tea Love Fruit Tea

My solution is to introduce some fruit and herbal teas. The only herbal tea I drink with any regularity, and particularly enjoy is Peppermint Tea. So I am looking for something to match my like for this. and I think I have found it.   

Winter Charm Fruit Tea from Ahmad Tea London
Winter Charm Fruit Tea from Ahmad Tea London 


So for the past few weeks I have been enjoying a selection of teas from Ahmad Tea London. The Winter Charm tea from Ahmad Teas,  which tastes particularly, refreshingly warming. It reminds me of warmed apple juice,  the positive differences being, it is not as sweet and has less calories. It is also so much easier to keep a box of Winter Charm tea bags in the cupboard than have fresh apple juice in the fridge. These tea bags are ideal to pack in your rucksack with a flask of hot water if you enjoy a jaunt in the countryside, the perfect comforting and warming drink.

I have also been making my way through a box of selected black Fruit Teas.  Lemon and Lime Twist, Strawberry Sensation, Peach and Passion Fruit and Apple Refresh. A good all round selection of fruits, my favourite being the Peach and Passion Fruit. I did find the Lemon and Lime a little too sour for my taste buds, possibly because I may have over brewed it, although I did still drink it all.

I am looking forward to trying the Lemon & Ginger, on those days when I have over indulged as it is a natural digestive.

Using Tea to detox less caffeine
Time for a detox?


One thing all the fruit teas I have been drinking have in common is the amazing fragrance they release when brewed, they really are a delight to the senses. I have often found with fruit teas that I am slightly disappointing that the taste does not pack the same punch as the fragrance. Although I now realise that is not true of every fruit tea, the Winter Charm and Peach and Passion Fruit most certainly delivered on both. As such they are top of my fruit tea chart. All the tea bags are individually wrapped, for convenient storage and use.

Give fruit teas a chance, if like me you want to reduce the amount of caffeine you intake during a day, or have decide to move over to the fruit side. Experiment with the time your brew your fruit tea, to find out how weak or strong a tea your taste buds prefer.

If you will excuse me I am off to enjoy my cup of Strawberry Sensation and a catch up with one of my favourite magazines.

 Fruit Teas Ahmad Tea
Ahmad Tea Strawberry Sensation

Do you have a favourite flavour of fruit tea? 


Disclaimer: I was sent packs of Ahmad Teas for the purposes of this review article.
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2016 Reading Challenge

My reading challenge for 2016 is going to reflect the recent change to my lifestyle. I have moderately increased the number of books I plan to read, from 15 to 20. Reading is just one of my interests, I still want to continue with my blogging, sewing, crocheting, National Trust volunteering and my rediscovery of knitting. Never mind enjoying the garden, a little baking and days out. When I typed  like that I wonder how I ever found the time for work, but hobbies can be so rewarding.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte Penguin Cloth Cover
A Penguin Classic read Jane Eyre
I will use the Goodreads website again for tracking my 2016 Reading Challenge. You can see my progress whenever you visit my blog, on the handy little tracker widget located on the right hand side of the screen, or sidebar as we bloggers like to call it.

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Angela has read 0 books toward a goal of 20 books.
hide


I will start my 2016 Reading Challenge with the third book in the Divergent series called Allegiant by Veronica Roth. From then on I am wanting to read books by well known authors I have never previously read. Such as Ruth Rendall, Charles Dickens, Dick Francis to start with, I already have the next Lee Childs, Jack Reacher novel so that will also be on my reading list. One of the features of Goodreads is that it allows you to add books to your virtual bookshelf, waiting for you to read them.


Allegiant by Veronica Roth book cover

I have some unread books on my bookshelf and also received a beautiful copy of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for Christmas. It must be over 20 years since I first read it, so it will also be part of my reading challenge. The majority of the books will be from my local library, use it or lose it as they say - although we have a number of shiny new libraries where I live.  Or the many secondhand bookshops that are available, particularly those at National Trust properties. 

Do you have any book recommendations for me? Is there a must read I need to add to my bookshelf? Tweet me, or comment on my Facebook page or leave me a comment on this blog post.


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I've Achieved my 5 Year Plan - Life is Good


Sometimes in life plans can go array, but with planning and determination you can make positive changes to your life. I had a plan, a 5 year plan.  Today that plan is now a reality. After 13 years I took voluntary redundancy from my job,  I had applied a number of times and previously it had been rejected so I was delighted at last to have it accepted. 


I have so much planned,  so much me time that is. Getting another job is most defiantly not on the list.  But indulging in all my hobbies is :-  sewing, baking, blogging, knitting, reading, days out, gardening, entering competitions, spending time with my family and friends, family history research. Or should I so wish, do absolutely nothing!

But most importantly I will be managing my health and the challenges caused by my severe scoliosis, something that has had more impact on my daily life now I am in my mid forties. 

The next year or two will be fun and exciting, I will be looking at ways to make my pennies stretch a little further (I have been saving hard the last 10 years) - hopefully my blogging will also help me live within my new budget. I am happy to sacrifice some luxuries and extravagances as I think these are out weighed by the health benefits of my new relaxed lifestyle. I will still get to enjoy an office environment as I volunteer at my local National Trust property, Sunnycroft - transcribing old diaries so they can be recorded and searched electronically. 

To celebrate I will be giving my blog a make over, hopefully if all goes well it will not only be a new me but a shiny new style blog too. I hope you will continue to accompany me on my new adventure on Garden Tea Cakes and Me.

Angela






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Closed Win a Go Grow Mushroom Kit from Pret a Pousser - Giveaway

Who is missing getting out in the garden? Here in the UK we may not have had the normal cold and frosty weather, instead it has been pretty much none stop rain. So whilst it is warm enough for gardening, it is very water logged. But do not despair just yet, why not enjoy some indoor gardening and grow your own mushrooms, in just 10 days. 


Pret a Pousser are offering one of my blog readers the chance to win a Go Grow Mushroom kit of their choice. These are not just your usual plain beige mushrooms - no they come in some fabulous colours! Grey, Yellow and Pink starting from £14.90. Growing them is very straight forward, nothing too tricky. Position your Go Grow Mushroom kit,  cut a small cross in the internal plastic wrapping and spray the opening with a little water using the spray bottle provided, and in no time you’ll start to see the mushrooms grow, getting bigger each day. You can even get multiple harvests.


How to enter


To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize confirm your entry/entries using the Rafflecopter widget. 

Answer the following question: 

Which Go Grow Mushroom would you like to win? (leave your answer as a blog comment and confirm your entry using the rafflecopter widget below) You will need to leave a comment on this article to release the additional entry tasks. 

If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5. For more information on how to enter you can watch this Rafflecopter video or visit fellow blogger Super Lucky for a simple guide on using Rafflecopter. 

If any of the links are not working on the widget leave me a comment or tweet me.

Closes 26 January 2016. Winner must respond within ten days of being notified, after which time a new winner will be selected. UK entrants only. For Terms and Conditions click the link on the Rafflecopter widget.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

Disclosure: Prize is supplied by Pret a Pousser.

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How I Rediscovered Knitting and my First Project

It is odd how my hobby of sewing has lead to reigniting an interest in an even older hobby. Last year I made a needle case, to keep safe my late nan's collection of knitting needles, which included a pair of smaller knitting needles I used as a girl.  Though I do not want you to think me a competent knitter, I have not knitted for over 20 years! Yes I may have managed knit and purl stitches, but I drop stitches, add stitches and lets not mention tension. I could not understand or follow a pattern and I have never actually created anything. So with that in mind, I put the knitting needles away.

Toft knitting scarf pattern
My first knitting project - A Scarf
Then in November thanks to a press pass I visited the Stitching and Sewing Hobbycraft Show.  I was mostly interested in the sewing stalls, but then I spotted the Toft Alpaca Wool stall. The name was familiar, a few months previous I had received press releases for their new animal crocheting kits, particularly a cute Ballerina Hippo. Which having only just grasped the basics of crochet and managing to make some wrist warmers,  I deemed this little hippo far beyond my ability.  

Toft crocheted ballerina hippo
The inspiring crocheted Toft Ballerina Hippo

I was enjoying chatting to one of the ladies on the stall, whilst getting hands on with their alpaca wool. Which had a wonderfully soft and light feel to it, as well as coming in some beautiful colours. Also on display I spotted a completed crocheted hippo, which felt super soft and looked delightful. I mentioned how nice to was to see the the completed hippo and that my limited crochet skill would not do this little ballerina credit. One of the ladies suggested I try my hand at one of their scarf patterns, 'they are very easy' she said. I dithered a little. Why my reluctance?  I was worried I would screw up knitting a scarf with such beautiful wool. Which would of been a waste of money. Yes, I was tempted, but I was focused only on sewing shopping on that day. I kindly accepted the free scarf pattern postcard, popped it in my bag and thought nothing more of it.  

But then in December on the success of completing my first crochet project and winter approaching, I thought, maybe I could knit a scarf. So, it was time to get my knitting needles out.

It's a knitted scarf

Now those of you that are knitters will laugh at this tale. I was out Christmas shopping and spending some gift vouchers, and I had little leftover to spend frivolously on myself, as you do. Whilst browsing the haberdashery section of John Lewis, I spotted wool. I was totally baffled by the choice of yarns, blends and weights available. I could not remember which wool was recommended on the scarf pattern, and I could not see any Toft wool. So I took the plunge and chose a colour and price I liked, and crossed my fingers it would be ok. 

The lady at Toft was right, it was an easy pattern to follow, it used the knit stitch, with some wraps. One or two of the knitting terms were new to me, such as wrap, but a quick search on you tube and all was explained. The pattern instructions were clear and easy to follow. The scarf progressed quickly and by Christmas Eve it was complete and I was triumphant!

So proud of my knitted scarf

Easy knitted scarf pattern 

I can wrap stitch! 

I love it, and it has already received many compliments. Although it looks fabulous, the wool I choose is not perfect it did not feel soft against my skin. However, now that I have the confidence and skill to knit successfully next time I will choose a soft and gentle alpaca wool and something a little more colourful.

I am looking forward to trying my hand at more knitting and crocheting in the year ahead. I also realise that I need to understand more about the different types of yarns, so need to do a little research on the subject.

Sometimes in life you never know when an unexpected encounter can lead to a new skill or hobby. I wonder if the lady on the Toft stall that day realised that her conversation with a stranger would have such an impact. Well a big thank you from me!
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