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

Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire a National Trust Day Out

National Trust property Hanbury Hall is located just off the M5 motorway, on the outskirt of Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire. It was something of a convenient pit stop, as my sister and I were meeting friends for lunch just off the next motorway junction.

A view of Hanbury Hall from the veg patch
Many National Trust properties remain open all year round or with reduced day over the Winter period. It is a great chance to enjoy a stroll in the gardens or parkland when they are a little quieter. Just be sure to wrap up warm, then again that sounds like the perfect excuse to call into the tea room for a cuppa. 

A view of Hanbury Hall and the Partiere

Hanbury Hall is an 18th century house and garden, set in 400 acres of park land home to the Vernon family.  

We had around one hour and twenty minutes before we had to be back on the road. Just enough time for a short guided tour around the ground floor rooms, then a stroll around the Parterre and vegetable garden. 

It's a short level walked up to the front of the house, you walk through a rather lovely gated entrance to the forecourt. It is indeed a beautiful looking house, but not a huge mansion. 

Hanbury Hall Partiere
A view of the Hanbury Hall Partiere
There were eight visitors on the house tour, and I am pleased to say our guide was very knowledgeable. I love hearing the stories of intrigue, family success and ruin. There was even a mention of Shropshire, but I will not elaborate as I would not want to give anything away. The staircase paintings by Sir James Thornhill were most impressive. Something noticed at a few National Trust properties I have visited recently, including Croft Castle, they encourage visitors to sit on the furniture. Specific chairs  are available for visitors to stop, sit and take in the surrounding - obviously not all properties can do this.

Hanbury Hall Garden National Trust
Plants protected from frost
I hope to visit again in the Spring, as the Partiere is sure to look magnificent with a Spring bulbs display. As we had very little time there was no visit to the Tea Room or a chance to explore other areas of the garden. There was also other tours of the house available, next time maybe.

  • The Partiere
  • Tour of the house
  • It maybe Autumn but the gardens were looking very neat and tidy
  • Staircase painting
  • Location - just 10 minutes of junction 6 of the M5, great way to break up a long journey up the M5.
Interested in other National Trust or English Heritage properties I have visited:-

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Review - Afternoon Tea Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

You all know how I love an Afternoon Tea, and what better place to enjoy one than at a Country Hotel in Yorkshire. Last week during a short break to Yorkshire my sister and I were given the opportunity to indulge in Afternoon Tea at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough.

Afternoon Tea at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough
Table laid for Afternoon Tea at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough
We were seated in the Courtyard Restaurant for our Afternoon Tea as there was a function taking place in the lounge.  There was gentle classical playing in the background adding to a relaxing atmosphere. Having enjoyed many Afternoon Teas I can honestly say the right music really does make a difference. The table was laid ready for us including a vase of fresh flowers and 3 tier cake stand. It was not long before our tea arrived, served in a silver style teapot, along with another pot of hot water, the china was all matching as you would expect.

Afternoon Tea Scarborough, Yorkshire
Finger sandwiches make for a perfect Afternoon Tea



Finger Sandwiches
Roast Beef, Egg, Tuna



Fruit Scones
Pastry fruit tart
Ginger Cake
Lemon cheesecake
Sponge cake

Served with cream and a selection of jams

Afternoon Tea Scarborough Yorkshire
Afternoon Tea at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

We chose a Taylors Afternoon Tea decaffeinated to accompany our sandwiches and cake.  We also opted for plain sandwiches, strictly no smoked salmon for us, all served  as finger sandwiches with no crusts, all of which tasted lovely.

The scones were served still warm, a definite requirement for a good Afternoon Tea. I much prefer my scones crusty and bigger than a 50 pence piece, so was delighted to see these very homemade scones - just how I like them.   Before you say anything about the jam being an a jar, if it is good enough for Fortnum and Mason! 

Scones and Cream at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Scones and Cream at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel

Afternoon Tea cakes at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Afternoon Tea cakes at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
The Shortbread tasted very short and buttery and complimented the cup of tea perfectly. I was pleased to see the tea served was Taylors of Harrogate, nice to see a Yorkshire hotel championing a fellow Yorkshire supplier, particularly when it is such a well respected brand in the UK.

There were particular things about the serving of the scones that showed it is the attention to detail, those little extras that make an afternoon tea special.  I loved how the chef served the whipped cream in a small espresso cup decorated with a strawberry, so much nicer than just in a small bowl. The butter served as flower shaped pats.

It would be nice to have a menu on the table accompanying the afternoon tea, or have the array of cakes explained. You can refer back to a menu as you are enjoying your Afternoon Tea, it is easy to forget when you are told what the cakes are.

My highlights:-  

  • Linen tablecloths and napkins
  • Cream served in Espresso cup
  • Flower butter pats
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Delightful cakes

Hollyhock in bloom
Even in November the courtyard garden looked tidy and ornate. It is not the easiest time of the year to make a garden look attractive, leaves endlessly falling to the ground, flowers coming to the end of their season. But my hat goes off to the gardener at Ox Pasture Hall it all looked very neat and tidy and there were even some flowers still out, Roses and Hollyhock. In the Summer Afternoon Tea is served on the terrace overlooking the garden, which must be delightful.
Welcoming Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

Read my review of my stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire.

Disclosure: I was offered 1 nights accommodation for 2, breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner for the purposes of reviewing my stay.  I was under no obligation to give a positive review, opinions expressed above are my honest opinion.
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Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies a Vegan Recipe

Vegan Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies now that is a recipe I thought I would never bake, but I am up for a challenge. So when my friend Linda who owns The Ferns, a Vegetarian Bed and Breakfast in Shropshire, was coming by for a cuppa and a catch up I promised I would bake some Vegan biscuits. We wanted to test a biscuit recipe that would be suitable for a Vegan guest at The Ferns.
Vegan Cookies Recipe
Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies Recipe
I found a recipe for Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies that contained no eggs, no butter but ingredients that I also had in the house. Many vegan recipes contained specific ingredients such as dairy free butter, not something I normally have in my fridge. 

Such a simple biscuit recipe to make, and both Linda and I agreed they had a great taste and texture. I will certainly be baking these again. I halved the original recipe to make 15 biscuits, I also adjusted the amount of vanilla extract.

Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies Recipe
Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies Recipe
Vegan Recipe - Peanut Butter and Banana Cookies 

  • bowl
  • scales  
  • wooden spoon
  • potato masher  
  • lined baking tray
  • fork

60g mashed banana
65g peanut butter
35g dark brown soft sugar
50g caster sugar
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
83g plain flour
half teaspoon baking powder
40g plain dark chocolate chips

makes 15

  • Preheat the oven to 190 C / Gas mark 5
  • In a bowl, mash the banana, stir together the banana and peanut butter until well blended. Stir in the dark brown 
    soft sugar, caster sugar and vanilla until smooth. 
  • Add the flour and baking powder to the peanut butter mixture and mix well. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips. Cover and chill dough for at least 1 hour.
  • Roll into walnut sized balls, space out on a lined baking tray. I would use a fork to gently push down on the dough, otherwise you will end up with ball shaped cookies.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to completely cool.
Recipe for Vegan Cookies Peanut Butter and Banana
Recipe for Vegan Cookies - Peanut Butter and Banana

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Review Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough, North Yorkshire a four star hotel within a countryside setting yet just a 5 minute drive from the Scarborough seafront. I was delighted when I was invited by the owner to stay and review this Country House Hotel. I could summarise my stay in one word 'amazing' but I thought you  might like to be tempted and wooed by the details of my visit.

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire
Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

I could summarise my stay in one word 'amazing' but I thought you  might like to be tempted and wooed by the details of my visit.

Diaries juggled, my sister and I ventured off from Shropshire to Yorkshire, and after three and a half hours we arrived at a sunny if slightly breezy Scarborough. A stroll along the beach taking in the sea air, admiring the amazing Victorian architecture Scarborough is home to. It took us just 5 minutes from looking out to the sea to arrive at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel in the Yorkshire Countryside. 

Yorkshire, Downton Abbey
My Downton Abbey moment 'Lady Ediths' Drive

Ox Pasture Hall is located off Lady Edith Drive - I know I was suddenly having something of a Downton Abbey moment!

The reception area and staff were welcoming and friendly, we arrived hungry and had booked Afternoon Tea for 2.30pm. This gave us time to check into our room. We were shown to our room, the York Suite, located off the second courtyard. 

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough
Courtyard - Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
The suite consisted of a twin bedroom, lounge area and a sumptuous bathroom. It was exceptionally clean and smelled fresh.  

York Suite Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
York Suite - Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
review Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
York Suite - Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
  • The bedroom contained a dressing table and stool, hairdryer, chest of drawers, bedside tables, television and twin beds. 
  • In the lounge area a two seater sofa, chest of drawers, side tables, coffee table, tv, cd radio player, tea/coffee making equipment, wardrobe containing plenty of coat hangers, safe, iron and ironing board, fan and extra pillows. I always have to ask for extra pillows, so it was nice to have these available immeditely.
  • Bathroom – a large bath with waterfall mixer tap with non slip mat, two separate basins with waterfall mixer taps, toilet with soft close seat, separate walk in shower. The bathroom fittings and finished were of a high quality. Bathrobes, bathmat and plenty of towels. Toiletries of shampoo, body wash, body moisturiser, cotton wool, cotton buds, soap and soap dish. My sister did say she would of loved to have packed the whole bathroom into her suitcase to bring home!
Ox Pasture Hall Hotel Review
Comfortable beds make for a good nights sleep
review Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Soak it up - enjoy the sumptuous bathroom
We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon tea, which I will be sharing with you in a separate review. 

Later that evening we made our way to dinner, where we were greeted in the lounge and settled into the sofa in front of a real fire. We were bought complimentary drinks, whilst trying to decide on the menu, which offered a mouthwatering choice of dishes. The staff happily talked through and answered our questions about the menu. When we went into the restaurant to be seated, they had remembered I had a cushion at Afternoon Tea, (this helps with Scoliosis), a nice touch.

For dinner we decided on:- 
  • Appetiser - Carrot and Cumin Soup, with cheese and chive homemade bread.
  • Starter - Confit Duck Salad, Duck Parfait and Cherry Sorbet. Wild Mushroom Risotto.
  • Mains – Slow Cooked Pork Belly, Tender Loin Pork Stuffed with Apricot and Sage, Savoy Cabbage, Sautéed Potato, Homemade Black Pudding, Red Onion Marmalade. My sister opted for the vegetarian; an Open Lasagne of Provencal of vegetables, Toasted Pine Nuts, Basil and Parmesan Cheese. 
  • Dessert - there was a fabulous choice of desserts to choose from  but my stomach had reached capacity. The chef did oblige with some Passion fruit sorbet, which was light and refreshing.
Dinner at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Open Lasagne
Dinner at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Slow Cooked Belly Pork
We could not fault the food, it was of exceptional quality and presentation. Which should be no surprise as Ox Pasture Hall hold 2 rosettes for culinary excellence. The waiter was very attentive and enthusiastic, a member of staff I am sure the hotel will be holding onto.

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel Review
Relax in your room and plan your days out 
Courtyard Restaurant Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Courtyard Restaurant Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
The suite had every comfort from home - feet up, kettle on and nibble on one of the complimentary biscuits. This did bring a smile to our face as our packet were Shrewsbury biscuits, which is so close to where I live in Shropshire. A day out at the seaside or exploring Castle Howard - on return you have the extra space to relax and unwind. I took the opportunity to indulge in some 'me' time - a pedicure, manicure and facial.

Yorkshire Breakfast Ox Pasture Hall Hotel
Locally sourced food - fabulous breakfast

Ox Pasture Hall Breakfast
Perfect poached egg on toast

My highlights
  • Excellent food
  • Friendly and talkative staff, no one walks by and ignores you.
  • Dark quiet rooms and comfortable bed for a great nights sleep, no noisy corridors with doors slamming shut.
  • Sumptuous soak in the bath, your very own DIY spa treat, be sure to bring a face mask.
  • Tea making facilities included a teapot along with Yorkshire branded teas.
  • Our room overlooked a large pond and the Yorkshire Countryside, it was very relaxing. We watched the geese on the pond bobbing down to feed with their bottoms up in the air.
Would I return to Ox Pasture Hall? In a blink of an eye that is a definite yes. There are still many historical places and gardens waiting for me to discover, along with the many coastal towns and country villages to be explored. Ox Pasture Hall Hotel makes the perfect location. 
Ox Pasture Hall Hotel York Suite
Ox Pasture Hall view from York Suite
Disclosure: I was offered 1 nights accommodation for 2, breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner for the purposes of reviewing my stay.  I was under no obligation to give a positive review, opinions expressed above are my honest opinion.
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Cake International and the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones Cakes

Cake International this weekend was something of a star studded show. Mitch Turner, Ed Kimble, Kat Dresser… oh and then there was Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones and Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games all made from cake!          
Katniss Everdeen Jennifer Lawrence Hunger Games Cake
Katniss Everdeen - Hunger Games Cake

Tyrion Lannister Cake a Game of Thrones Cake
Tyrion Lannister - Game of Thrones Cake
This years show was bigger and better than previous years, more retail exhibitors means less people around each stall so you can really have a browse. More demonstration theatres and the opportunity to get hands on with chocolate and sugar paste. Renshaw were giving visitors the chance to make a poppy to create a wreath for Remembrance Day, I lovely idea and I joined in.

Muppet Chef Cake
Muppet Chef Cake 
Beach hut cake
Not a competition cake just one
of my favourites
There were a huge number of cake entries this year, I did not envy the judges of the wedding cake and cupcakes categories, the large number and high calibre of cakes would of made for a difficult task. It is difficult to appreciate from a photograph the detail and scale of some of the cakes - they are huge. The weeks of time and patience the contestants put in to each entry - phenomenal.
Shoes and Handbag Cake
Fabulous Shoes and Handbag Cake
Dog Cake with sweets
Dog cake
I went with no shopping list this year, with the exception of a chocolate thermometer, which I did not get.  I was on the lookout for something different, not the usual cutters, sprinkles or sugar paste. I found it too. Following an interesting demonstration at the Chocolate Theatre by Tracey Mann on how to decorate using chocolate paste. So off I popped to Tracey's stand and purchased myself some. Flavoured icing sugar seem very popular at this years show, which really appealed though it was difficult settling of flavours as there was a huge choice.
Christmas Punch and Key Lime icing sugar
Discovering Chocolate Paste 
I also popped into the Hobby Crafts Show and you guessed it, I got tempted to buy some fat squares of polka dot fabric. I also bought something else for less than £3 and rather sweet and practical. However I can not share it with you just yet as it is a Christmas present for my cousin.
Hobby Crafts Show Nec
Fat squares from the Hobby Crafts Show
Disclaimer : I was given free tickets to this event.
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Relaxing costs nothing but time

Your time is precious as is your well being, therefore it is important you remember to treat yourself well and relax in those spare moments you do have. A decision I embraced in April this year.  Everyone has their own way of relaxing, a shopping spree for the latest fashion, a weekend away, a night out at the theatre, a massage and facial at the local spa. All of which will put a slight dent in your bank balance. It is possible to achieve some relaxation for free, here are my favourite tips.

*Free ways to relax*

Enjoy a walk in the park

Shrewsbury Dingle in Autumn
Autumn in Shrewsbury Dingle
Whether it is your local or town park or a country park enjoy nature and your surroundings. The change of seasons bring always bring something different to look at and enjoy. Fresh air and a change of scenery is good for your mental well being.

A Lunchtime Concert
If you live near a town or in a city you will find that many churches or concert halls offer free lunch time concerts. There is nothing quite like live classical music to help make your mind and body drift off. There are free lunchtime concerts held by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra or St Chads Church Shrewsbury. What better way to relax and escape the stresses and strains of work if only for an hour.

Escape to another world and read

Reading a book really does help me relax, I disappear to either another century or totally different universe. Join your local library and your book reading will not cost you a penny. Most libraries also have many periodicals and magazines so if you do not have the time for a book, read the latest copy of your favourite magazine.

Deep Focused Breathing
Need a few moments of escape, everything crowding in on you. Apparently 10 minutes of deep breathing can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. My respiratory consultant recommended this to me to help stretch every tiny filament of my lungs. You can try this where ever you are - waiting to pick the children up from school, or queueing in the shops.

Follow these simple instructions:- 

  • Breathe in through your nose slowly, counting as you fully inflate your lungs, then slowly, still counting breathe out. The counting helps you to focus on the deep breathing and nothing else.
If you find this really works for you, your local library will have books to help you find out more about meditation.

Friends and a pamper
Invite a friend or two to around to enjoy a little me time together, although do not invite too many as you will not be able to talk and spend time with them each. No need to worry about your hair or makeup, wear some thing casual and comfortable. Each of you bring your collection of manicure products, relax, have a gossip and do your nails without any interruptions. This way you all get to try out new products without having to spend a fortune.

Stop the bus of life, I want to get off!

Use that mug or cup and saucer, you know the one, its out on show or kept for best. Make a hot drink using those tea bags at the back of the cupboard you forgot you had. We all have our routine sitting in the same chair, this time sit in a different chair be sure to have a comforting warm throw to hand.    

Now unplug from the world and enjoy your drink. If you have managed this successfully, relax back and pull that throw over yourself and have that ten minute snooze you deserve.

Finding the time
Time a most precious commodity, it is easy to find more if you did not have to work you would have time on your hands. But no work costs money, something not everyone can afford. So you have to find time from else where. Ask yourself before you do something or put your to do list together - is it necessary, can it wait, will the world end if I do not do it? Replace it with something that puts the relaxation back into your life.


Do you have a favourite relaxing tip to share, ideally one that does not cost  anything. 

This is my entry to the art spas says relax competition.

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