c March 2016 | Garden, Tea, Cakes, (Books) and Me

Glass Cup and Saucer Review

I love a nice cup and saucer and will admit to having my fair share, most of which are pretty fine bone china. But recently, when I have dined out I have been served a coffee or hot chocolate in a glass cup. I have been really taken with them, some had double glass walls so that you are not holding hot glass, some with handles.  I have been on the look out to buy my ideal glass cup, and a few months ago I managed to find my perfect glass cup and saucer.
When I visit a department store you will not find me browsing the ladies clothing department. Possibly because I find shopping for clothes a tricky task, my wonky spine makes finding any clothing that fits me a tedious and draining chore. But drop me in the middle of the Homewares section I am absorbed by all that surrounds me.  I love accessories for the home - kitchenware, pretty cake stands - because the six I already have is obviously not enough! So there I was in the middle of the shiny new John Lewis store in Birmingham, when staring right at me was the perfect glass cup and saucer, what a delight. Better still they were sold as a set of two.

So now I find myself sitting at home, sipping a milky coffee or hot chocolate with gooey marshmallows melting on the top from my new favourite glass cup and saucer. They are so light too. I find the new modern glass has hardly any weight to it, true also of some jam jars I have. 
When my mum popped in for a milky coffee and a natter, she was reminiscing how they reminded of the glass cups and saucers that were popular back in the 50's and 60's. She would meet up with friends in coffee shops and this style cup and saucer were the trend.
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Recipe Spring Sponge Cake with Tangy Curd Filling

A great cake recipe for a light sponge cake, with your choice of fruity curd filling. I topped my cake with a simple yellow icing and a collection of mini chocolate eggs for Easter. But this would make a great cake for the Summer.
Recipe Fruit Curd Cake

170g softened butter
170g sugar 
170g self raising flour
3 medium eggs

A jar of fruit curd
Small carton of double cream (optional)

Recipe Fruit Curd Cake
Line and grease 2 7 inch cake tins. Set oven temperature 180 degrees C or gas 4.

  • Beat the butter and sugar together, until light and fluffy.
  • Gradually add the beaten egg, add a little flour if needed to prevent the eggs and butter from separating. 
  • Add the remaining flour, then carefully fold this into the cake mix. 
  • Split the mixture between two 7 inch round cake tins that are lined and greased with a little butter. Bake for 20 minutes 180 degrees C or gas 4. Bake until lightly golden in colour.
  • Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
Sandwich the cake with your favourite fruit curd, if you are feeling decadent you can also add fresh cream.

Decorate the top with a sprinkle of icing sugar or simple icing made using water and icing sugar, add a little food colouring to co-ordinate with your curd. Top off with a collection of mini chocolate eggs, or your favourite sweeties or sprinkles.
Recipe Fruit Curd Cake
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Elevenses in the Work Place

Since leaving my office job in January and discovering my new balance of leisure time and blogging, there are a few things you only realise about working in an office environment that you do not notice until you leave. 

The quiet...it is so peaceful at home, in a good way. It is nice not to have the distraction of an open plan office.  General office noise and colleagues can be a distraction when you have work deadlines to meet, so I welcome the peace and productivity the office clatter I do not miss.

Office camaraderie...you build up relationships and friendships at work. I worked with some of my colleagues for over 10 years, and they more or less knew what I was thinking before the words were out of my mouth, or the the  email send button clicked.  So yes I do miss this. Blogging at home is a little different, although I have a great online blogging community I can rely on for help, support and advice. 

Baking Skills...not only did I work with a lot of clever, knowledgeable and organised colleagues (goodness I hope they are not reading this!). I also discovered there was quite a group of us who loved to bake, I organised several office bake off's during my time there. There was a lot of snack and treats being passed around the office, I'll be honest it was pretty much elevenses almost every hour.  It was great way to share recipes and experiment with new, if an easy way to pop on a few extra pounds. But it was also good to share the motivational support when you were focusing on healthier eating. My workplace even had a lunchtime walking group.

I have contributed a recipe to Elevenses in the Office recipe ebook,  it has a great collection of treats and healthy bakes suitable for office elevenses. My Peanut and Banana Cookies recipe is a yummy sweet treat suitable for vegans too.

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post. 
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Easy Easter Craft - Hoop Art

For months now I have been admiring photographs on Pinterest and Instagram of Hoop Art. The use of an embroidery hoop (wooden or plastic) to create and display a piece of fabric that has an embroidery or fabric design created on it. This is then displayed within the embroidery hoop, and hung as art.
Easy Hoop Art Easter Crafting
Easter Bunny - Hoop Art
My skills when it comes to embroidery are at the bottom of the skill scale, so I decided to use fabric to create my own simple but effective Easter themed hoop art. 
  • I used some fabric from my scrap pile. Calico for the background and a pink polka dot for the bunny.  
  • I download the bunny template from the internet, but you could use any design.
  • Once cut out used a little fabric spray adhesive, this temporarily stops the bunny hopping around on the fabric.
  • I sewed around the edge of the bunny with a glitter pink thread. 
  • Placed inside the embroidery hoop, before trimming the fabric. 
  • I hand sewed around the edge of the fabric using a large running stitch, and gently pulled the thread in order to gather the fabric at the back of the hoop. 
  • Added a little decorative ribbon to hang my hoop from.
Easy Easter Craft Hoop Art
Hoop Art - Easter Crafting
The pink bunny hoop art is now displayed in my craft room,  which the pink bunny co-ordinates with perfectly.

Happy Easter!

I am linking up with Mrs Crafty B Making Home linky, see badge in my sidebar.
Craft Project Easy Hoop Art Easter Bunny polka dot pink children easter craft idea

Follow my Creative Crafts Pinterest board
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Taking a Mini Break around Great Britain

I love championing the benefits of holidaying in the UK.  The size of Great Britain enables us to easily visit other locations for short breaks away from home.
Short Breaks Britain Ironbridge
The Ironbridge at Ironbridge, Shropshire
Within just a 2 hour drive from where I live in Shropshire I can find myself:-
  • enjoying the village atmosphere of Broadway in the Cotswolds
  • eating Bakewell Tart in the Peak District 
  • Strolling around the historic Docklands in Liverpool
  • Enjoying the view from the top of the Great Orme in Llandudno, Wales
  • Within just a few minutes I can be enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of cake looking upon the iconic Ironbridge, Shropshire.
Iron bridge short break
A view of the Wharfage from the Ironbridge
In the last year the thoughts of fabulous holidays abroad have been discouraged, my doctor thinks the risk of me picking up a respiratory infection from air travel too risky. But why let that stop me as there is so much more of the UK to be discovered.  If you find it difficult to explorer further from home or sometimes find life can create obstacles, then I find a short 'Mini Break' can over that escape away. Pack your essentials items and a few luxury treats, my pamper essentials include a face mask, everything I need for a manicure, and a good book. I like to balance sightseeing with relaxing, allowing myself the chance to recover as my scoliosis effects my mobility and energy. 

It can be pretty tricky predicting how the weather will behave once you have planned a break away - but be brave whatever the weather has to offer do not let it stop you enjoying yourself, smile what ever the weather!

I was sent a mini break kit from TENA Lady for the purpose of this post, did you know that 47% of British women have experienced bladder weakness.  Do not let bladder weakness stop you from enjoying a mini break away from home,  let TENA Lady give you your confidence.

Do you have a short break planned, or a favourite location to visit?
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Sweet Peas: A Guide to Sowing Seeds & Buying Plants

Sweet Peas are an annual plant, which means the plant will only last the year it is grown. Seeds planted in March that grow and flower during the Summer/early Autumn will die once the first frosts of Autumn arrive.
Now is the time to buy and sow your sweet pea seeds. I have put together some handy tips based on how I sow and grow my Sweet Peas from seed, to help any novice gardeners.

Sow Your Own or Buy Your Plants Ready for Planting

Sowing Sweet Pea Seeds 

There are many tips for encouraging Sweet Pea seeds to germinate. You can of course just sow them straight away into your pot of compost. However I prefer to nick the outer shell of each seed with a knife, although in the past I have soaked my seeds overnight in water.  Add potting compost to a 9cm diameter pot. Using a pencil or dibber make a hole in the soil about an inch deep, drop your seed in and cover with compost. I sow 3 seeds in a 9cm diameter pot.

Sowing in  March Option

From March you can order your chosen Sweet Peas seeds online or from a garden centre. There is a huge selection of Sweet Pea plants to choose from. There is wide range of colours, some will be highly scented, some with the characteristic for a show standard Sweet Pea. Once the plants have 4-5 leaves pinch them out at the stem, this will encourage side shots and a stronger plant. Then plant out into the garden after the final frost of the spring.

Sowing in Autumn Option Two
If you like to plan ahead for your garden and have a greenhouse you can sow Sweet Peas in October and November. They should germinate with a few weeks, and will grow slowly during Winter in an unheated greenhouse, but you will need to protect them from harsh Winter weather. I cover mine with fleece, but there is still an element of luck. A few years ago we had an extreme winter and I lost all of my Sweet Pea seedlings, along with many other plants. But if the winter is a mild one, come summer you will have plants that have a head start on those sown in March.

Buying Sweet Pea Plants

You can buy Sweet Pea plug plants from online plant sellers, such as Thompson & Morgan now. By ordering them now you are ensuring you get the variety you want, the first plants will be dispatched at the end of April. These will arrive in the form of a plug plant, and can be potted on but will need to be kept frost free, such as keeping them in a greenhouse.

If you buy your plug plants a little later in May the Sweet Pea plants can be planted directly into your garden, providing there is no risk of frost.

Planting Out Your Sweet Pea Plants

Grow your sweet Pea plants up a wigwam made from garden canes, or buy an ornate garden obelisk. Plant one or two Sweet Pea plants per cane, tying them in as they grow.  You should have a wonderful display of flowers for the summer and early autumn, be sure to keep picking the flowers to encourage more flowers. Remove any seed pods,  if these are allowed to grow they will divert the plants energy into setting seeds and not flowers.

I am linking up with Mrs Crafty B Making Home linky, see badge in my sidebar.

Post contains affiliate links. I will receive a small commission should you purchase your seeds or plants using my link.

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My New Composite Door & Tips on Choosing a New Front Door

Looking to replace an old upvc front door with a new composite door? That was the home improvement task that has been on my to do list from December. Now just a few months later I now have a shiny new composite door. Which both my sister and I are delighted with it really has enhanced the look of the front of the house. In total it took around 4 to 5 hours to fit the door and glass panels.
Looking to change a front door is quite a simple task. You just need to understand what questions to ask the business that will be fitting your door. You will also need to make some key decisions about what you want your door to be like - in both look and security.

To help you through the process I have put together some tips which you may find helpful.

What style door will suit your house? 
Do you live in a period house or modern house or unique home. I found looking at doors in your neighbourhood helpful. When you find yourself walking or driving along a street, it will not be long before you find yourself obsessed with looking at front doors. You will soon realise just how much choice there is available, and quickly appreciate what you like and dislike.

Composite Door External View Before and After
What is important to you? 
Some things that may be important to you are the look, style, colour, security features. Is the door made in the UK? Do you want to support a local business or a large nationwide business.

Selecting the right company to fit your door?
Ask friends and family if they have recently had a new door or windows. Who would they recommend? More importantly who would they avoid and why? Look on line for your local councils Trader Register, a list of local companies verified by Trading Standards. Be cautious when it comes to review website, yes they are a great source of information. But if someone has had a bad experience it is important to establish how the business rectified the problem, was it dealt with professionally and efficiently and to the complainants satisfaction.  

Visit 3-4 businesses and asking the right questions.
Ask how long they have been in business. 
Ask about the manufacturing of the doors, do they understand their product. 
What are the payment terms, you should not be paying for a door and fitting in advance. Final payment should be made once you are happy with the installation of the door.
Do they fit the doors themselves, or use self employed fitters. I have to say our door fitter did a fantastic job, so please with how tidy he worked and the standard of fitting.
How long is the door and work guaranteed for? 

Look and try the doors in the show room, check the colour swatches at the showroom, the brochure can be misleading.  Ask for customer recommendations, a well respected business will usually have thank you letters available from previous customer for you to read. Or even a property for you to visit, particularly if the business does not have a showroom.

Ask for a brochure, take it home and be sure to read it.
Eek! No door.
Did you know there are 2 types of composite doors.  
One that has a foam filled core and the other wood.  The foam filled doors are usually cheaper, so if you are comparing quotes from businesses be sure to establish they are for the same type of composite door.   

My front door has the sun on it for large period of the day, the heat from the sun makes the foam expand, thus making the door expand. I did not want any movement in the door over the years it will be in use, so I choose a wood filled composite door.

Think about the colour of the door fittings:- the letterbox, door knocker, handle etc. What best suits your home, you will have a choice of chrome, brass look, graphite, maybe event white. Do consider the inside of the door, will brass style fitting clash with a chrome or silver decorations in your hall way. Think about the position of the letterbox, a letterbox at the bottom of a door is not good for the postman. Some door styles will dictate the position of the letterbox. Will you want any glass side panels, do you want decorative glass. 
Internal view before and after including security guard
Extra Security? 
Additional security fittings of a peep hole or security door guard like the one I chose are also available. You can also get door that automatically lock (similar to Yale lock) when the door shuts.

See there is much more to buying a new composite door than just choosing a colour! If you find yourself in a dilemma of not being able to settle on choosing between 2 designs or colours, take a photo of the front of your house. Then on find an image of the door you want from a website, save the image and paste it over the door on your photo. This will really help you to visualise how it will look.

For those of you in the Shropshire/Midlands area I used a local firm Trotfield Windows & Doors in Ironbridge. The door is the Etna design manufactured by Endurance Doors,  Kevin at Trotfield did a great job answering the many questions my sister and I badgered him with! This is not a sponsored, just me sharing my experience.   
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Reading Challenge 2016 March Update

My 2016 Reading Challenge continues as planned, I aim to read 20 books during the course of the year. I have made progress with my plan to include well known authors and books that are seen as classics.
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I read this book in record time, the third in the Divergent series the second book was still fresh in my mind so I having to recall characters and their roles was easy. Another enjoyable read following the story of Tris Pryor. There is a prequel to these books  called Four, but I am happy to at this point with the story. I would happily recommend this trilogy of books for you to add to your reading list. I scored this book 4/5 on Goodreads.

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins
A well known American author who has written over 45 books mostly in the thriller crime genre. There was an extensive choice on the shelves of my local library. A very easy read, I had no trouble getting into the storyline. I enjoyed Mary Higgins style of writing, The Melody Lingers is a fraud thriller about a pyramid style investment scheme. You see this from both the investors point of view and the life savings they have lost, to the family of Parker Bennett the mastermind of the fraud who mysteriously  disappears, presumed dead. Amidst all this the FBI continue to investigate to establish to uncover the truth. Were the rest of the Parker Bennett family involved in the fraud.

There was no real surprise ending, but it was an enjoyable straight forward thriller. I understand that some of Mary Higgins early books have much more of an edge to them, so will certainly add another one or two to my bookshelf. I scored this book 3/5 on Goodreads.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
One of the classic reads on my list, also a book I have had for a long time having won a set of 20 books from the BBC Big Reads challenge - who remembers that? This book was such a disappointment, it took me a few weeks to read it, I would pick it up, put it down and so it went. Based in the future the main character Winston Smith lives in a totalitarian society, where the individual is suppressed and does as instructed by Big Brother, the leader of the Oceania government. 

I did not enjoy Orwell's style of writing, I did not connect with any of the characters. I usually enjoy futurist books but not this one, I could quite frankly not have cared less what happened to each character.  It is fair to say I will never read another George Orwell book. The only good thing to come from reading the book, at least now I  understand the references to 'Big Brother' in today's society. Which obviously in itself shows that the book has been influential. I scored this book 2/5 on Goodreads.

The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett
This was not a book I seeked out, but one I won in a Halloween giveaway. But what a book! It must be 20 years ago I became hooked on the Kay Scarpeetta books by Patricia Cornwall. The Chemistry of Death is of the same mystery, murder, thriller genre. 

Exceedingly well written and I soon finished it in a few days, I could not put it down. It follows the story of David Hunter who has escaped city life to start afresh as a GP in a small rural area of Norfolk. What follows is the discovery of one of the body of a local resident, dead at the hands of a macabre and ritual killer. David Hunter may be the resident GP but he has a secret that can help the police solve this murder. The characters were well written and it was easy to feel you belonged in the village storyline. There were lots of twists and turns, I thought I knew who the murderer was, I even had a back up murderer - I was wrong with that too. I never saw the ending of the book coming. An author I would not hesitate to read again. This book is now being passed onto my sister a brilliant not to be missed read. It should be top of your reading pile. I scored this book 5/5 on Goodreads.

The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato
I have just collected this book from my library, a review will follow in my next update.

I am just starting my fifth book, which keeps me on schedule to reach my reading challenge for 2016. You can keep up to date with my past and present reads by visiting my Goodreads page, see the link in the sidebar on the right hand side of your screen. 

Have you read any good books of late?

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Stoneywell National Trust Visit an Arts & Crafts Property

Stoneywell Cottage located in the Leicestershire countryside is one of the newer National Trust properties. It is a quirky stone cottage designed by Ernest Gimson for his brother Sydney, it captures the essence of the Arts and Crafts period.
Stoneywell Cottage National Trust
Stoneywell an Arts & Crafts Cottage 

Stoneywell National Trust
Stoneywell Cottage National Trust 
I visited Stoneywell as part of a group of volunteers from the Sunnycroft National Trust property. Stoneywell is like Sunnycroft in that in comparison with many of the National Trust properties they are both quite small, but both very beautiful. Built in 1898 with the aim of looking as though it has emerged from the earth, its zig zag design really does allow it to be part of the landscape. Originally it had a thatched roof, but following a fire this was replaced with stone. 
pressed pattern detail guttering Stoneywell
Pressed pattern detail in the guttering

Quirky stone staircase

Arts and Crafts architecture
Bedroom entrance
You must book in advance to visit Stoneywell, they are only able to manage a small number of visitors on site at a time. But it really is well worth the effort. 

There is a dedicated car park off site from the property, a free mini bus runs to and from the cottage and car park. 

Once you arrive you can choose a time slot for taking a tour of the cottage, which lasts around 45 minutes. There are of course toilets on site at the entrance, nearby the wash house has been converted into a small tea room which also sold some gifts.
Country Life magazine
Country Life
Stoneycroft Sitting Room
Arts and Crafts furniture Stoneycroft
Blogging in the 1900's
Stoneywell view to garden
A view to the garden
Here are some of the highlights from my visit to Stoneywell:-

  • Stoneywell Cottage is unique, and displays many exquisite arts and crafts items so be sure to pay attention during the cottage tour. 
  • Patterned guttering.
  • Bonus points to Stoneywell for baking their own scones on site! The ladies in the tea room managed very well with the influx of our group, the sandwiches made to order were very tasty too. 
  • They have a rustic walled garden.
  • The bedroom in the roof was called Olympus, after Mount Olympus this theme was even carried through by the National Trust in the tea room. You can order a 'Gift from Olympus' a fruit scone with jam and cream.
  • The cottage is just as beautiful outside as it is in.
  • Unusually cottage layout and shaped internal doorways.  
  • Set in beautiful countryside and gardens. The Spring flowers were just starting to bloom.
  • The Blue Tits in the garden.
Rustic Walled Garden
A walled garden somewhat rustic

Stoneywell Tea Room

Stoneywell Tea Room Scones
Tea, Coffee, Scones...

Stoneywell tea room
The old Wash Room water boiler in the tea room
Essential Visitor Information

Stoneywell Cottage is set into a small hillside, there is very little on the flat walking, and there are some unusual and quirky staircases - so take your time. If you are planning a visit and have particular mobility limitations, I would recommend phoning the property first. There are a number of benches at the entrance of the cottage, where visitors can sit prior to their tour.

Stoneywell is a small property, once you have toured the cottage and walked the gardens if the weather is poor and the small tearoom full you will probably be ready to leave. Other than outside there is nowhere else to seat. This is not a criticism in fact quite the opposite if the sun is out I could think of nothing nicer than sitting outside in this picturesque setting.

Entry is free for National Trust Members, check the Stoneywell website for the current cost of admission. 

Stoneywell garden
I love a display of flowers on steps

Flowering Currant
Flowering Currant
Stoneywell garden
The Stoney well

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Humorous Downton Abbey Quotes

Whilst we in the UK have survived without Downton Abbey on our television screens for 3 months, the Downton Abbey finale has only just been shown in America. Since mid January I have been indulging in watching what has become one of my favourite ever television shows from the beginning. It first appeared on our screens in January 2011. Over the years I have laughed and cried along to the story lines of both upstairs and downstairs residents at Downton Abbey

Image credit: ITV
So I am sharing with you some of my favourite humorous Downton Abbey Quotes. 
"Miss O'Brien we are about to host a society wedding, I have no time for training hobbledehoys." Mr Carson

 "I believe there was quite a brew haha." Lord Grantham
"I am happy Edith is happy, I am happy you mean to keep her happy, that is quite enough happiness to be going on with." Lord Grantham to Lord Anthony Strallan
Image credit: ITV
"What is a weekend" Dowager Countess of Grantham 
"There is nothing so ill bred than to steal other peoples servants." Lord Grantham to Lady Mary
"I always think there is something rather foreign about high spirits at breakfast." Lord Grantham
Image credit: ITV
Downton Abbey has reintroduced us to words that have long since been forgotten and no longer used in our daily vocabulary. Now how can I use 'hobbledehoys' in a conversation this week. 
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Recipe: Mint Chocolate Nougat Mousse

A rich and easy Chocolate Nougat Mousse Recipe, made using a standard chocolate nougat bar (you know that triangle bar) or a mint version. I have made both and they are equally nice, rich and chocolatey.

Recipe - Mint Chocolate Nougat Mousse

  • saucepan
  • heatproof bowl
  • balloon whisk or electric hand whisk
  • bowl
  • tablespoon
  • wooden spoon  
  • small glasses to serve in

Serves 6 -8

295g of Swiss Nougat Mint Chocolate I purchased mine from Aldi
6 tbsp boiling water
275ml creme fraiche
2 egg whites

  • Break the chocolate into chunks (keep one chuck to one side for decorating) with the boiling water in the heatproof bowl
  • suspend the bowl over a saucepan of lightly simmering water, allow the chocolate to melt
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool until it thickens and fold in the creme fraiche.
  • Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the chocolate mixture.
  • Spoon into small glasses or dainty cups and saucers.
  • Chill for a minimum of 6 hours. 

Before serving decorate with fragments of the chocolate you keep to one side. 

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