c October 2014 | Garden, Tea, Cakes, (Books) and Me

Win Whittard Luxury Hot Chocolate Gift Set - Giveaway (Closed)

One of my blog readers had the chance to #win a Luxury Hot Chocolate Selection from Whittard. Autumn has arrived and the nights are drawing in, what better time to enjoy a nice mug of Hot Chocolate. 

Prize - one set of Whittard Luxury Hot Chocolate gift set, includes 1 x Luxury Hot Chocolate 1 x White Hot Chocolate and 1 x Hot Chocolate 70% Cocoa  RRP £12

How to enter
  • Leave me a blog comment telling me how you like to enjoy your hot chocolate. I like my hot chocolate with marshmallows and a sprinkle of grated chocolate.
  • Confirm your entry using the Rafflecopter widget, for extra entries complete the additional tasks. 

If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5.  

Remember if you enter the competition by tweeting be sure to include the link to your tweet. If any of the links are not working on the widget leave me a comment or tweet me.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Closes 20 November 2014. 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. Any entrant not abiding by the rules will be disqualified.

Good luck!
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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. 
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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.

Follow my baking board on Pinterest 

Cakes you can freeze
Tea Fruit Loaf makes perfect cake you can freeze

fruit tea loaf cake recipe earl grey

Disclosure - thank you to Whittard who supplied the tea.
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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

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How to Save Sunflower Seeds

Early in the 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.
Saving sunflower seeds
Collecting Sunflower seeds
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. 
Dwarf Sunflowers Little Leo variety
Dwarf Sunflowers Little Leo variety
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.

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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. 
How to grow Hyacinth bulb vase for Christmas

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!
How to grow Hyacinth bulb vase for Christmas
Hyacinth bulb vase
You can 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.

How to grow Hyacinth bulb vase for Christmas
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.

How to grow Hyacinth bulb vase for Christmas
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.
How to grow Hyacinth bulb vase for Christmas

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Much Wenlock, Shropshire and a vist to Wenlock Priory, English Heritage

Much Wenlock, Shropshire is just a short drive from where I live, a place I visit frequently.  As such it was about time I visited Wenlock Priory an English Heritage property located in Much Wenlock, these are the kind of decision I enjoy making on one of my none working days.

Topiary display Wenlock Priory Much Wenlock
Topiary display at Wenlock Priory, Much Wenlock

Having arrived just after one o'clock my sister and I sought out a light lunch from the aptly named Priory Tea Rooms. The decor was a little mismatched and lack an identity but boy you could not fault the food at all. I enjoyed a brie, cranberry and grape panini with a light salad - very nice indeed.

Priory Tea Room  Much Wenlock
Priory Tea Room - Much Wenlock
What amazing cake!
It was followed by a devilishly light slice of Victoria sponge, one of the nicest pieces of cake I have had in a very long time accompanied with a refreshing cup of tea. I made enquires to the owner and following a discussion it turned out the cake was gluten free! I was stunned, not by the fact that  just because it is gluten free it would be nice but that it was so, so nice. Certainly means I will be adding making a gluten free cake on my list of bakes, if you have any recipes you can recommend please do let me know.

Much Wenlock Antiques shop
An array of vintage china

Bull in a China Shop?
For me no visit to Much Wenlock would be complete without nipping into the antiques shop, just few doors up from the Priory Tea Room.  Now there are a few rules to bear in mind before entering this shop, watch where you walk, watch how you turn around and keep control of your coats, bags, hair and children. Every shelf, table and floor space is cram full of silver, china and cutlery . All of which is stack rather precariously, but this just adds to the fun. On this occasion my other sister asked for us to keep our eyes peeled for a tea strainer - yes the fascination with afternoon teas extends to all my female siblings. Success, they had the perfect one.

Onto the priory.
We now moved onto our visit to Wenlock Priory managed by  English Heritage. A Cluniac monastery dating from the 13th century, it blows my mind trying to image how things must of been like at this time in history. Which is where English Heritage play their part in helping to eduction us as visitors.

Welcomed in the entrance hut come gift shop, we paid and gathered up our audio tour. We headed to the site of the priory ruins, dodging the dead mouse lying in the footpath, it is amazing what you remember about a day out!

English Heritage Wenlock Priory Shropshire
English Heritage - Wenlock Priory

English Heritage Shropshire

Much Wenlock Priory Shropshire
Peeking through the gates to a nearby garden
We pressed number 1 to start the handheld audio unit. Whilst the audio tour was very good, I did find it did not spark my imagination - not like the Stokesay Castle tour. You should bear in mind that if you chose not to do the audio tour, you will find very little information displayed around the site.  Though I am sure their must of been a book in the gift shop.

There was an information board that showed several drawings of how the monastery would of looked back in the day, however they were both from different view points and not from the view point of the visitor standing in front of the board in relation to physical layout of the monastery remains before you. I really think that English Heritage could do better in relaying this to visitors, please take note English Heritage!

There were plenty of benches to sit and enjoy your surroundings including the interesting topiary within the grounds. Perfect if you have decided to bring a drink and a sandwich with you. As we move into the Autumn and Winter tourist season,the opening hours reduce, so be sure to check before you visit.

The site is well suited for anyone with mobility problems, there are gravel paths and they are on the flat too.

stone carving Wenlock Priory
Beautiful stone carving - Wenlock Priory

Essential information

  • Entry to the property is free if you are a member of English Heritage, otherwise your should check the admission charges on their website.
  • There is no tea room, however there is a good choice in the town, just a short easy stroll on the flat.
  • Car parking costs £1
  • Wenlock Priory is located in Much WenlockShropshire and is well signposted.
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Chocolate Cake Raises Money for Macmillan

A week last Friday thousands of Macmillan Coffee Mornings were taking place, including one at my work place. Just as last year I took part and this year contributed with a rather large chocolate cake. I am pleased to say that we raised a magnificent £176 for Macmillan, all from the staff located on our floor of the building. 
Chocolate Cake for Macmillan
Chocolate Cake for Macmillann
The chocolate cake I made was a Thornton's cake - yes I know a packet mix cake, not something I would normally do when a homemade cake is so easy. Thorntons had launched a cake mix as part of their range of products and were giving away a number of packets, not one to miss a giveaway I put my name in the hat. Ta da I was one of the lucky winners.

CAkes for Macmillan
Cakes for Macmillan
The cake was made using oil as with many packet mixes, and actually made a light and very rich chocolate cake. The slices soon disappeared and the donation pot filled quickly. Others also made cakes or purchased cakes to sell, someone even made up some doggy biscuits packs to sell!

Dog biscuits for Macmillan
Apologies for the photo quality they were taken on my phone either early in the morning or in the office.

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Easy Sew Cosmetics Bag - even I can make it!

I have been enjoying one of my days off this week with a little sewing, an easy sew cosmetic bag. I love You Tube, and blogs, they really do open up the world of sewing to everyone. I purposely searched for a easy to follow tutorial to make a cosmetics bag. This one at So Sew Easy is fantastic it includes a template and video tutorial. It has very clear instructions and is easy to follow.

Easy Sew Cosmetic Bag
Easy Sew Cosmetics Bag
Rummaging through my fabric box I settled on a blue print for the outer fabric, and a pink for the inside lining. I was using quite thin fabric so added some iron on interfacing to the outer fabric, to make it a little stronger.

Pattern for cosmetic bag
Fabric pattern pieces for cosmetic bag

I did customise mine a little, adding some rick rack trim and a Made With Love label inside my bag. These should be added once you have cut out your pattern but before you start sewing the bag together. Take your time and do not rush, wonky stitches will stand out. Unpick and start again if you have to, its worth it.

personalised cosmetics bag
Personalise your cosmetics bag
easy make up bag pattern
Rick Rack trim
Sew your own zip bag
Concealed zip 

I shall be making a few of these over the coming months, in varies sizes they will very likely end up as Christmas gifts.

I am linking this post to Homemade Thursday linky hosted by White Lily Green.

Homemade Thursday

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