Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dressing for Date Night with Simply Be

I work in an office that full of really bubbly, bright, young things.  Evening plans, weekend parties and ‘new men’ are hot topics.  The thing is, I’m married.  In fact,  Hubby and I have been together since we were 17, so I haven’t really ‘dated’ – and to be honest, I’m relieved… 

Hubby used to work shifts, and our diaries never matched.  I wouldn’t say it put a strain on our relationship, but it does make things difficult.  He’d get in to find me in bed, or I’d have to crawl around the bedroom in the dark trying to wake him has I got up to do my office job.  We weren’t like a married couple, it was more like two single people attempting to live together, and simply not get in the way.

So it might sound cheesy, but my ideal date night, is one where Hubby and I can just spend time together - without the distraction of friends, family, the TV or our work.  For my birthday last year, Hubby took me to a restaurant; nothing too swanky, but I enjoyed delicious freshly made food overlooking the Thames near our house with a cocktail in my hand, and my man by my side.  Being able to snuggle into a protective arm, or rest your head on a shoulder and simply enjoy each other’s company is so special to me.

Hubby no longer works shifts, but it is still all too easy for work to get in the way, so we do try to make time for each other – and when we do go out we both like to make the effort and dress up a little bit.  It’s special after all.  So when I was asked by Simply Be whether I would like to try a new outfit for our next Date Night, I couldn’t say no!  And as I wanted to do something special for our next Date Night, I wanted to try something a little different.

Being a curvy girl, I do get really self-conscious and haven’t ever really considered myself to be fashionable.  I know what works for me, and I’m always scared to really try something new.  I love bright colours.  But I never choose them to wear.   So I did!

My 'date night' outfit

The dress is wonderful.  So comfortable, and beautifully flattering.  The length is just right too, coming just above the knee, it looks young, fresh and flirty, without being so short that I’ll flash my bottom every time I bend over – I’m not a lady alright?!

Hubby loved it too.  The slash on the chest is just cheeky enough for a date, and also helps to break up the awesome animal print.

The jacket is a great, really warm, and did just what I wanted it to by making outfits that little bit more formal, but still young and fun with the biker-jacket zip.

But there was a problem…  Although, there is nothing wrong with the jacket or with the dress (in fact I love them both) the two items together made a bit of a fashion clanger.  Patterns, textures, colours - There was just too much going on…

Our solution… Two dates! I teamed the jacket with a little black dress some sheer tights and some cute heels I had lurking at the back of the cupboard for date one, and for the second the pink dress got an outing with opaque black leggings, black boy-style slough jacket and a pair of biker boots for that grunge glamour. 

And all I need to say is that Hubby was a very happy chap!

This post has been written in collaboration with Simply Be - however all content is true to my own thoughts, experiences and memories.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Mojito cake: There's always an excuse for a cocktail!

So you may have gathered that Hubby and I have heen going through a bit of a tough time at the moment.  Thankfully,  and I really do mean lucky-stars thankfully, that seems to be slowly edging behind us...

One of my colleagues put my troubles into perspective - by passionately raising money for charity. Running a half marathon,  selling cocktails desk-to-desk for an added financial boost to sponsorship... it made me sit up and remember the bigger picture.  I've been whining a lot recently, without thinking about what other people might be involved in or going through,  so I decided to surprise my colleagues with something special: cake!

And inspired by my cocktail-peddling colleague I took my flavour inspiration from the mojito!
Who doesn't love a cocktail?!

Mojito Cake


For the cake
25pg butter,
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs
130ml rum
Zest of three limes
350g self raising flour
2tsp baking powder

For the syrup (oh my god, the syrup...)
200ml water
200gm sugar
A good slug of rum
Juice of three limes

For the buttercream
250gm butter
400gm icing sugar
Green food colouring (or if you're feeling creative like me blue and yellow food colouring mixed)
Peppermint essence

For the [pepper]Mint leaves
350gm icing sugar
1 egg white
Food colouring (optional)
Peppermint essence

1) To start with we focus on the cake: cream together the butter and sugar, it's best if you can to have allowed the butter to soften first. Otherwise you're in for a work out if you do things by hand like me. Once light and fluffy gradually add in your eggs. Once combined fold in the flour, lime zest and baking powder.

2) Split the batter into two cake tins and bake in a 170c oven for 30 minutes,  or until cooked all the way through. When the cakes are ready place them on a cooling rack to cool.

3) Whilst the cake is baking it's time to move on to the syrup.  This should really come with a health warning as I really had to stop myself just drinking it... so so good. Make a sugar syrup by dissolving sugar in the water, keep syrup boiling for 5 minutes and then add the lime juice and rum. Leave to cool.

4) Whilst you're waiting for everything to cool  is a great time to start prepping all the decorations. The bit that takes the longest are your peppermint cream leaves (see what I did there) so  I would start here to give them time to harden a little.

5) Mix together all your peppermint cream ingredients until you have a soft dough. You may need to add more sugar - you add a lot of liquid in with the egg white, food colouring and flavouring so you might need to tweak this a little to fet the right consistency.  Cut leaf patterns out from your dough and set to one side to harden whilst you whizz up a quick buttercream.

6) Once everything is cool and your hapy with your decorations you're ready to assemble: carefully prick your sponges and brush or spoon over the syrup. Struggle not to drink it. In traditional sandwich sponge style layer the two cakes with buttercream but then ice the top with some more.  Finally artistically place your leaves.

7) Force yourself to throw away the remaining syrup.

8) Indulge.

Mojito Cake

Sunday, 6 October 2013

We're going to be homeless

How I wish I could turn back the clock and take my own advice. How I wish I hadn't been persuaded by the experts or believed them when they said everything was fine...

We needed to reduce our notice period to get the sale through. We negotiated.  We got out of it.  All so we agreed a completion date.

How I wished I hadn't.

We're now up the foul-smelling creek without a paddle.

The day we were meant to exchange (in fact after our solicitor attempted exchange twice that day) we got a phone call from the estate agent saying there was a bit of a problem with the seller's onward purchase. Cutting a long boring story short (trust me, we've heard the estate agent go through it enough times, as if repeating the story makes us feel better), a couple of major issues came up on their local authority searches and they need a certificate to get their mortgage. It's going to take 8 weeks to get. We only have 4 weeks left on our tenacy...

And that's before we even start to think about the affect on the rest of the chain...

So why on earth have they been chasing for exchange?!

They weren't ready!

I don't believe for one minute that they have only just become aware of this... they've not even sorted the mortgage! 

I'm angry. I'm upset.

I'm homeless.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Why I hate buying a house

You may have gathered that Hubby and I are trying to get on the property ladder. We've moved a few times in the past 5 years so the whole packing up everything isn't that  uncommon to me, but this is the first time we're not simply moving into a rental. I appologise if I'm sounding a little bit like a stuck record but, this should be an exciting time... in fact at the moment I'm wavering between being totally non-plussed and hating it. Here's why:

Everything takes so long
We were lucky, we found the house we wanted back in June. It's now nearly October and we've still not exchanged.  It could all still fall down around our ears like, well, a house [of cards].

Our solicitors, their solicitors... both are just frustrating.  We went for a large online conveyancing firm to save a few pennies, and to be fair they've been okay... but they skate around giving advice. They don't ever seem to want to commit to a course of action.  I guess that's what you get for saving pennies.  The seller's solicitors on the other hand they are complete lemons.  They love giving advice. Shockingly poor advice. For example they have advised their client to not allow us to come for a pre-exchange visit.  I mean we're spending a ridiculous amount of money (only all our life savings) and the last time we saw the house was two months ago. We just have to hope that they've not knocked a wall down or been having wild house parties in the meantime.  We very nearly walked away from the whole sale...

People coming to poke around
So we've given notice of our intent to move to our landlord... I know I said we wouldn't,  but we were meant to have exchanged this week (it didn't happen as, surprise surprise, everything takes so long!) so we tried to talk hypothetically to our landlord... and it's all just run away from us. And now we've got people coming to our flat this weekend to have a poke around to see if they want to move in. Oh god.

Part time evening work (unpaid)
Both Hubby and I work a full time week. In fact I'm often working in the evenings and weekends to keep on top of everything... but somehow we have to try and squeeze in trips to mortgage advisors, calls with solicitors,  reading legal documents, shuffling paperwork... not to mention the seemingly endless toing-and-froing with the seller's estate agent. So I do a full day at work,  have a 2 hour commute home, and then have to start working all over again. It's exhausting.  It's also particularly challenging when estate agents and solicitors only work office hours!

We're buying our first house. Our family home. It's the start of something very exciting.  Somewhere where Hubby and I can start a family. Redecorate.  Get a cat. (Not necessarily in that order.) There's so much life ahead.  But before we get our foot through the front door we have to talk about our dream ending.  I know it's the sensible thing... but discussing your partners untimely demise or the fact that either one of us could become critically ill does take the romance out of the adventure.

I know I'm whingeing. It's just that I'm finding it such a hard journey. I can not understand how people regularly  remortgage and move house. It's not pleasant.  Everything seems to just get put on hold. You empty your piggy bank which makes everything seem a lot more expensive. You can't commit to anything because you may be packing or moving or trying to squeeze in some extra paper work... to be honest I'm looking forward to moving in and getting on with living.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Pushing away the grey: Bright Zebra Nails

It's been getting grey and miserable outside... Utterly bleak to be perfectly honest.  Rain.  Wet.  Grey...  Even the leaves are looking muted, the ones that are still clinging on to their green-ness look washed out, and the fallen ones are just too soggy to be anything more than mush.

So I decided to buck the brown-grey trend.  Just because the weather is turning doesn't mean that I have to pack away my summer-bright nail varnish.  So think week I've decided to brighten up my nails with a spot of zebra print.  But to help banish the autumn gloom, my zebra is turquoise.

Bright zebra nails

Zebra print is a really easy effect to achieve - simply pick your base colour (in my case this was Barry M's Pure Turquoise) and once it is completely dry it's time for the creative fun.

Black and white tend to work best, however any really contrasting should work.  Simply drag the brush of your secondary colour from the outside edge of your nail towards the middle of the nail in a line.  Don't go beyond the middle of the nail, otherwise you start to lose the zebra-edge. And don't try and make it too straight or even, in fact, the wonkier the better.  Then all you need to do is continue down the nail.

The effect works best when you move from one side of the nail to the other: once you have completed one zebra stripe move to the other side - move from left to right and back again so you end up with a little overlap in the centre of the nail.

Once completely dry (I didn't wait, which is why once of my nails has 'fuzzy' stripes), seal with a top coat - and be proud!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Why you should go to Thorpe Park in the rain

I've always loved rollercoasters.  I'm not one of those people that just loves to be scared (I'm not a huge fan of the static rides that swing you around, or drop you from a great heights, or horror films that delight in shock value, nor to I harbour a particular desire to do a sky dive or bungee jump), but stick me on track, buckle me in and I'll be grinning from ear to ear.  The views from the high point of the 'coaster before the big fall, the sensation of the wind whipping through the air - it's like flying.   

Usually when you're planning a family day out, you pray for blue sky and dry weather, but when we started to map out our visit to Thorpe Park yesterday with Hubby and the In-Laws (who says kids have to have all the fun), I hoped for rain...  

Making the most of your day : Shorter queues at the rides

Don't you just hate it when you fork out for your ticket, and then spend the day standing waiting to ride.  I know I'm British, but if I wanted to spend my days standing in a queue I'd just head to my nearest Post Office...  Whilst theme parks do their very best to keep those queuing entertained (actors in the queues, things to see, silent discos) the fact still remains is that you can sometimes be waiting for two hours to get your turn on a ride that will be over in less than a minute.  

That's why a grey sky is a great thing for a theme-park visit.  The idea of waiting in queue getting wet, cold and miserable puts a lot of people off making the trip in the first place... so as they snuggle back down in their nice warm duvet, you can make the most of the fact that the park is really under-capacity. Take yesterday for example: the longest time we queued was just 20 minutes to ride Colossus, with queues at THE SWARM and Stealth only taking 5 minutes each.  

Queue for SAW: The Ride at Thorpe Park
The queue for SAW: The Ride yesterday

We managed to ride all the big 'coasters and a number of the smaller thill rides within 2 hours of being at the park.  We were very happy bunnies.  

Get the fun started: Reduced waiting time to get in

So you're gearing up for  your trip.  You've accepted that you'll have to queue for the rides, but hey, maybe you can make that part of the fun... you've packed a spare change of clothes (you know, for after the water rides), you've got a picnic ready, your driving songs on the radio and by the time you arrive you're brimming with excitement.  You spill out of the car, rush up to the gate... Only to have your momentum completely thrown by the crowds of other adrenaline-seekers snaking their way up to the ticket booths...

No queues to get into Thorpe Park
It might look like a scene from a zombie film, but the lack of queues got our day off to a great start!

Yesterday, the entrance queues were, well, non-existent.  It was simple - just to stroll up to the counters! We maybe had to wait 5 minutes to pick up our tickets, and we were in!

Saving the pennies - Less excuse to spend money on sweet treats

When you're out and about it's just so easy to treat yourself.  Even if you've pre-planned, and have brought your own lunch, with the sun beating down the idea of an ice-cold cola or refreshing ice-lolly is almost expected: just what you need to cool down, and keep hydrated.  It's the perfect excuse.  But when temperatures have dropped slightly and the sky is grey the idea of something cool, sticky and sweet just isn't quite as tempting.

Which brings us nicely on to our next reason...

No one likes a pest - Fewer wasps

With stalls and shops selling icecreams, fizzy drinks, donuts and sweets around every corner, theme parks must be an absolute heaven for suger obsessed bugs - and with the warm summer we've had this year wasps are absolutely thriving.  There is nothing more annoying when you're queuing for a ride, or sitting trying to eat your lunch than being hounded by the little blighters... but with the cooler weather, they're sleepier and less likely to be a bother. 

Weather proofing: Rain rain go away, come again another day!

And finally, whilst I know that all these things are big ticks, no one wants to risk their day being a complete wash out... which is why I just love Thorpe Park's commitment to Weather Proofing.  If the rain is really bad, or it is too chilly to be comfortable, Thorpe Park will give you a free pass to return another day.  The offer isn't valid during peak season, but if you're like me and try to go off-peak, then there is the potential to score two days of fun for the price of one. Woooohooo!  So yesterday wasn't one of those Weather Proofed days, but it didn't stop us from having a blast!

This post has not been written in collaboration with Thorpe Park or any other third party.  No incentive has been received for writing this post and is completely based on my own experiences and thoughts.

Friday, 13 September 2013


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Friday, 6 September 2013

House Buying: Why I refuse to risk homelessness

There's a big difference between a house and a home.  And today I realised, that I'd rather lose a house, then ever risk the stability of a home.

But then maybe I'm beung unreasonable?

You may be aware that Hubby and I are trying to buy our first house. We've had our offer accepted.  We've sorted the mortgage. We've had the survey done. Problem is, we haven't handed in our notice on our rented flat, and today we find out that delaying two months may be a deal breaker.

For those who have never been in the buying process,  you don't legally need to buy a house, nor the seller sell you the house until you have exchanged contracts... a position we hoped to be in next week. Once we had things signed and sealed we'd hand in our notice.

Personally, I think this is reasonable.

It might be longer than average gap between exchange and completion but as we live no where near relatives, if we somehow end up with no roof over our heads (which is possible if the sellers pull out and we've given notice prior to exchange), to put it bluntly,  we'd be screwed... Bunking down on Park benches and curling up in our own cars becomes genuine possibilities.

But it's like talking to a wall to get the estate agent to grasp this fact.  I'd rather risk losing the house we're trying to buy, than end up without a home.

On top of that, our first-time-buyer wallets are already stretched to breaking point to reach an agreeable sale price, so moving into the house early and still paying rent on our flat just isn't an option (no matter how many times the estate agent 'strongly recommends' it). 

The thing is, I could almost understand the agents insistence on us moving faster if we hadn't mentioned it before.  But we did. I have 2 separate emails to prove it. And I'm genuinely not sure how much clearer the sentence 'We will not hand our notice in until exchange, and then we have to give 2 months notice' can be... so goodness knows why all of this has come as a surprise.

This whole situation is making me angry as the agent's attempts to smooth things over - not by fully recognising his mistake (oh no, apparently he simply 'misunderstood') - involved asking me if I would negotiate with my landlord to let me out of sone of our notice period.

Brilliant.  You don't want to explain to your client that you mucked up, so instead of taking a deep breath and having an awkward conversation you'd rather send the buyers to do the dirty work.  I'm sorry.  I refuse.

I'm starting to wonder whether this latest debarcle may just end up being the straw that breaks the camel's back... I'm honestly now on the cusp of not caring.

What will be will be...

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Dear Tooth Fairy. Re: Outstanding Dental Payments


Firstly I'd like to say thank you for all those years where you deftly left one pound coins on my bedside table (I never did understand why you never ventured under my pillow, but the I suppose in term of piece-work, delivery to an clear surface must be more efficient), you did seem to forget to take my baby teeth with you however - don't worry, they have been stashed, somewhat macabrely, in a jar in my parents' house, should you ever decide to collect.

Secondly I wanted to enquire why you don't seem interested in the more mature tooth? You see, yesterday Hubby had his two bottom wisdom teeth removed... and he wasn't even asked if he wanted to keep them. All I can assume is that your Fairyness isn't interested in 'impacted' molars, either that or you have a good deal going with the NHS... although I suspect the potential return of £4 per surgery isn't quite enough to fund our National Health Service...

Could confirm whether you need sight of the tooth, or whether the gap in the gum is sufficient for payment?

You'll be pleased to know that Hubby is keeping his calcium levels up -albeit with chocolate milkshake and iced lattes (well, we don't own a freezer you see, and we've got to try something to keep the swelling down) - and has his new dental regime all planned out.

I look forward to your response,


Friday, 30 August 2013

Recipe: Rum and Raisin Fudge

As some of you may know, a couple of years back and under the guise of 'The Frugal Flat Hunter', I attempted to save the money to move house by cutting out luxuries and scrimping and saving whenever I could.  Well I'm back in a similar situation, but now things have got serious - whilst we no longer live in a flat where the roof leaks, or where condensation runs in sheets off the windows (yes really!) but now, not only are we looking at moving again... this time we're looking to buy.

One of my favourite parts of my money-saving challenge was forcing myself to only use what I had in my cupboards.  It's all far too easy to just pop to the shops and pick up some extra groceries all because you were missing the 2 drops of vanilla essence from a recipe... and seeing as money is going to be tighter than ever, when the baking bug hit recently I decided to make something using only what I already had... the result:

Homemade Rum and Raisin Fudge

It all started when I found a rather ridiculous stash of muscovado sugar at the back of my cupboard - all of which were already open and part used in the way of these things.  Muscovado sugar has a deep flavour, and is great at high temperatures... so I got creative:

  • 900gms Muscovado sugar (I used a mix of dark and light - the molasses flavour ended up quite strong so if you're not a fan I stick more towards the light end)
  • 250gms butter
  • 1 can of evaporated milk (again lurking at the back of my baking cupboard)
  • 200ml water
  • Rum flavouring (3-4 tsp)
  • Handful of rum-soaked raisins - I'd been making my Christmas Cake, so I had some fruits already soaking, but if you don't have any to hand pour a small amount of rum over your raisins and leave to soak overnight.

  1. Using some of your butter grease a Swiss roll tin or similar - I used a a square silicone tray.
  2.  Melt the remaining butter in a large saucepan.  Once melted stir in the evaporated milk, 200ml water, and rum flavouring.
  3. Stir in all the sugar (I found it best to use a whisk to stop the sugar getting too 'clumpy' ) until it has all melted into the buttery liquid.
  4. Now you need simmer vigorously for about 50 minutes, stirring with your whisk every few minutes, to turn it from this:

to this:

Once you're at this stage rapidly cool the mixture by plunging the base of the saucepan into cold water and stir like there is no tomorrow... As you keep stirring and the mixture cools, sprinkle in your raisins. Once the mixture has thickened, become almost grainy in texture and isn't quite so shiny, pour it into the prepared tin and leave to cool completely.

Homemade rum and raisin fudge

Once cool chop into bite-size pieces!

I have to say, this fudge went down a storm in our offices, but it is really really sweet... personally the next time I make it, I think I might top it with some bitter dark chocolate to try to cut through the sweetness... but hey, I think it was a success - not only have our colleagues been treated to some rather scrummy fudge, but that is three boxes of sugar that won't have to make the move with us!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Merry August! My first Christmas cake

It's August Bank Holiday!  And in traditional British bank-holiday style, the blue sky we were promised is no-where to be seen.  Hubby and I have spent the weekend in Kent with some of Hubby's family, and it has been either been pouring with rain, or at best, grey and miserable...

We made our way back around the M25 this morning and, realising that all the shops will be closed due to the bank holiday we decided that an in-house activity was very much on the cards - and for me, when we make the decision to 'do something' in the house, that always means baking!

I had a quick rummage in the cupboards, glanced at the calendar, and formulated a plan...

We'd spent the weekend lazing around with family, so I wanted to make a cake that represented that - and frankly, if the weather wants to turn, at best, autumnal then my baking can be something suitable for chilly day.

Deck the halls with bows of holly... fa la la la la, la la la laaa...

Yes, it may be August, but I have started my Christmas cake!

Currently, the dried fruit is sitting in a bowl of brandy, but once I am satisfied that the little shrivelled things have plumped up enough I'm going to start in the rest of the mix.

Having never made a Christmas cake before I'm really rather excited.  My mum has always been the one to make our family one.  Each year around October she complains that she hasn't started her cake yet, and threatens that this year will be the year that she doesn't bother... but then on Christmas Day, out she comes with a beautifully hand-painted cake.  It's may favourite part of the Christmas meal.

Even if my finished article isn't a patch on what my Mum makes, I figure that 3-months of 'feeding' a fruit-cake will turn it into something beautiful and boozy.

So I better get cracking...  There's only 120 days until Christmas!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Why New Look never gets old

I have a soft spot for New Look. When I was growing up, it was the only "proper" shop in our village (it boasted shoe shops, cobblers and pubs galore but clothes shopping was rather limited). As a result, I have really vivid memories of my best friend's Mum taking me to New Look to buy me a brand new outfit: a lovely pair of navy and cream, striped dungarees.  In hindsight I looked a little bit like a walking bar code... but hey, it was the 90s.

I've always been a big girl, as a youngster I often had to buy adult-sized clothes due to my height so when I grew out of my clothes there was still plenty of time for my friends of the same age to wear them. But as an adult being on the larger size and still trying to keep stylish proved difficult.

My weight has yoyoed in recent years. I lost 3 stone to get married,  that all piled back on (and a bit more!) and now I'm dieting again.  Currently I'm roughly a size 16, not my largest... but also not my smallest. Being bigger being able to wear clothes that make you feel attractive is so important.  It's so easy for your confidence to get shot down... that's why I love New Look. Shopping trips with the girls don't need to be awkward,  with me trailing behind my friends from shop to shop knowing that I can't squeeze into the small sizes they stock: New Look caters for us all.

For day:

I am currently a real fan of these mid-length dresses.  They are short enough to still be young and fresh, but don't look out of place when worn with leggings - meaning that it is an outfit that can cross seasons.    I also have a bit of a 'thing' about the top of my arms... so the little capped sleeves on this Burgundy Heart Print Pleated Sleeve Dress are just perfect for boosting my confidence.  And let's be honest, you just can't go wrong with a vibrant red dress for the autumn!

The phrase 'Does my bum look big in this?' is never uttered in our house because, to be completely frank: Yes it does.  

My bum is big.  

But I accept that.  It's part of me.   I just know that in order to wear cute dresses like this I need to wear them over leggings, or risk flashing my underwear to every passer-by!  

For day-to-night:

I love this Dark Green Lace Skater Dress!  It's something I could wear into the office, at an important meeting, a night our with the girls, or dinner with Hubby.  I'm all for outfits that are multi-purpose.  And at less than £23, I could possibly even excuse myself from buying it in two different colours... well, a girl has to have options... ;)

For that special occasion:

I was just casually flicking through the New Look website, and I came across this Navy Embellished Waist Sleeveless Maxi Prom dress.  I wish I had an occasion coming up that I could wear this so that I could allow myself to buy one.  I'm not usually a fan of full-length dresses, but the resemblance to the dresses that my bridesmaids wore at our wedding is uncanny.  It's a modern twist - the dresses the girls had didn't have the lovely detailed waist - but the colour and cut is just spot on.

No matter the occasion New Look has always been able to come up with a possible outfit for me.  And, with a store in the majority of high-streets, and a fantastic online delivery service, I hope that this long continues!

This post has been written in collaboration with New Look - however all content is true to my own thoughts, experiences and memories.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The view from the Gentleman's Room: Macbeth, Shakespeare's The Globe

For our anniversary last year Hubby and I spent the weekend in Stratford Upon Avon. We stood on the steps of The Swan theatre and watched the river burst its banks. As we helped move sandbags to protect local businesses in The Bard's hometown Hubby mentioned that he'd like to see more Shakespeare... and seeing as he was a huge part of my English degree who was I to disagree!

So last night we headed off to The Globe. The recreation of the open-air theatre of Shakespearian England on the banks of the Thames. I'd got a seats in The Gentleman's Room (I'm all for a padded seat over a hard wooden bench!) and as we gazed out over the gathering crowds I explained to Hubby, just how the people standing for 2 and a half hours were much better behaved than the original Groundlings - no hawking your wears, or cavorting in sight, all eyes firmly trained on the stage. The play would be the focus, with nothing to distract from the passion, betrayal and madness of Macbeth. 

I was surprised how wrong I was.

Within moments of the first Act opening a gentleman sitting behind me lost his footing as he leant to get a better look at the stage, his cup slipped from his fingers, soaking me in a pint of larger... I figured sitting in a cloud of beer just added to the authentic experience.  But the distractions didn't end there...

I completely missed the royal Princes fleeing to from Scotland as I watched a lady empty her stomach all over the floor, and was finally coaxed off her bench and through the crowds by members of The Globe's team.  Then, moments later, one of the people in the standing area collapsed and the stewards dashed to their side barreling through other Groundlings out of the way with a wheelchair...

Maybe these distractions are to be expected in the notoriously unlucky Scottish Play - but the show must go on. The cast covered up the off-stage drama with absolute professionalism.  This was the first time I'd seen a live performance of Macbeth and although it is one of Shakespeare's darkest and most sinister of plays, this RSC version really makes the most of every possible comic moment. It's not all doom and gloom - there is light, shade,  texture...  with light touches of musuc, singing and dance the show really was something very different to the versions of Shakespeare that I had seen before.

I love a bit of Shakespeare,  but Hubby was totally mesmerised by his first experience.  A trip to The Globe is not just a night of great theatre,  its a completely different performance experience - and this season's Macbeth is one I thoroughly recommend.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Why I love the theatre

There's something about the smell in a theatre that makes the onstage magic come alive. I've always loved live performance - there's an intimacy of being able to make eye contact with a performer as the belt out a song, or  the possibility that something tonight might go differently from every other night. There's something so special about the gamble that performers and the audience jointly enter into.

After being theatre-less for months now, by a strange fluke it appears that I'm going to be at 3 different theatres watching 3 very different shows over the next few weeks. The first was an amateur production of the comedy musical The Witches of Eastwick.  It's quite a dark musical for a comedy, that plays on themes of lust and power... and just what is too much. 

This weekend I'm heading to The Globe for Hubby's belated birthday to see Macbeth. We spent the weekend in Stratford upon Avon for our last Anniversary and we missed out on a trip to The Swan due to the floods, so I figured I'd gamble on the weather for an open air production.

And then finally, the following weekend I'm going to toddle along with a group of friends to The Southwark Playhouse to come face-to-face with Titanic: The Musical, it's a show I'm quite familiar with having been in an amateur production last year, but I'm really looking forward to seeing to show done by a professional troupe.

I feel so lucky that I have to opportunity to see these shows. I grew up in Somerset, which was lovely,  but it did mean that a trip to a big theatre was a lot more challenging... and fairly limited.

I look back on these times when my theatre options could essentially be boiled down to whatever happened to be on at either Bristol or Bath, and I realise how much things have changed for me by moving East...

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bath: Learning to make time for yourself

Finding time for yourself can be really hard. Sometimes it takes someone rlse forcing you to step back that makes you get off the endless hampster wheel and just pause for a minute.

And that's exactly what I did this time last year when I made a trip to the Thermae Spa in Bath. My Mum had a big birthday, and had become a carer for my father, so we thought she needed a special treat, and the  chance to recharge with a massage, a nice meal and an afternoon focusing on herself without distraction. 

So when I heard that were offering the chance for someone to similarly chill out and explore the wonderful city of Bath, I just had to share the news... I mean, who doesn't love a bit of pampering?!

Win one of three luxury experiences in Bath from! 

Simply follow the link to like redspottedhanky’s Facebook page and enter the competition to win a weekend stay at the luxurious Francis Hotel in Bath and your choice of one of three Beautiful Bath experiences! Choose from a session of luxury spa treatments at the Thermae Bath Spa, a torchlight visit to the historic Roman Baths, or a gourmet dinner for two at Brasserie Blanc!

 The competition is free to enter and open to UK residents 18 and over.

Ends 5th August 2013.

Note: I have received no payment or incentive for sharing this competition.  I just feel that we all deserve the chance to enjoy ourselves!

Monday, 22 July 2013

We're Buying

So I've been at bit AWOL recently.  I do feel bad about it. The thing is Hubby and I have been spending every spare minute preparing for the next big step. Buying. 

The thing about Buying (the capital is mandatory obviously) is that it turns everything on it's head. We're first time buyers and the whole process is like wading through treacle.  None of our family have purchased recently so we've had to do our best - and at best, it has been very much the case of blind-leading-the-blind.

We've analysed our savings, spoken to 3 different mortgage advisors, endlessly Googled the house buying process, registered for countless estates agents... all before the actual viewing. And boy, isn't there sone real variety on the market?! We saw one place that essentially just needed tearing down and starting over. A lick of paint and marketing the property as 'an investment opportunity' was no where near enough to put the poor thing out of its misery.

But we've finally had an offer accepted. It's stretched us to the limit (we're going to be hand washing clothes and sitting on the floor for a while after the big move - currently unclear as to how we'll stretch to furniture), but that's short term pain.  Long term we'll have a beautiful garden, a house with three bedrooms and when we eventually have children it's in a good catchment for schools.

We've instructed a solicitor, and are getting the mortgage sorted... so all we can do now is wait.

That and try to scrabble together the pennies for white goods.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

How to make a Pink Ladies jacket

They say the most stressful things in life are getting married,  moving house and starting a new job.  Well in the past 4 months I've done two, and as I'm already married, I suspect Hubby would be rather alarmed if I'd made the hat-trick! Running around putting offers on houses, and learning new routes to work are firmly my excuses for not keeping up the blogging schedule. But this weekend Hubby and I agreed to take sometime for ourselves... 

I love fancy dress, but I do find that pulling off the perfect costume can end up really rather pricey,  and as first time buyers with an offer accepted on a property, money is a real issue. The theme is 'America' (a friend is emigrating) so I decided to raid my nearest charity shop for inspiration...

Hunting for anything that could be adapted into cheerleader/cowgirl/American football outfit I came upon a really lovely vintage blouse... and all modern interpretations of America were cast aside.  With the help of a little customisation I'm going to channel one of the cult images of 50s America.

The Pink Ladies were a group of Girl-Friends. Street-wise, confident, sassy, hopelessly flawed - and likely burst into a spontaneous song and dance routine.

Take one vintage blouse:

Add some sequins, a bit of fabric glue and some more sequins:

Team with a trusty Little Black Dress, big hair, vintage sunglasses (again charity shop find, £1.99) and some bright red lips - Et voilĂ ! Grease is the word!

Total  spend:
- Blouse: £8
- Fabric glue: £3
- Sequins: 70p

I'll make sure to tweet the full ensemble once the glue has dried!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Recipe: Butterscotch and Marshmallow Slices

Last week was a big time of change for me.  I changed jobs.  I left the company that I've been with for two years which had become all comfortable like a security blanket, and jumped head first into the situation I'd been craving - one of change, and challenge.

It's all be going well so far, but I find that the first hurdle when you go somewhere new is often to make connections and new friends.  I remember going to residential writing courses when I was a youngster, I loved them, but I'd have to share a dorm-room with up to 4 complete strangers and it was always a bit of pot-luck as to whether you'd get on... I learnt from those early days that the best way to disarm people was to reach out to their stomach.  The whisper of a midnight feast is enough to make any pre-teen grin with delight. I employed a simular tactic when I moved into Halls at university; I propped open my door, and whenever anyone walked past and made eye contact I offered them a gummy sweet... bizarrely that too seemed to work too.

So the time has come to reach out to my new colleagues - and as I feel that this might require more than a bag of Haribo - so I've been busy baking.  On Day Two a box of brownies accompanied me on the commute, and we're dutifully wolfed down by my delighted colleagues, and in fact I've had a number of people comment on them subsequently... so in terms of making an impact I appear to have hit my mark.  But my new office is a lot bigger than my last workplace, so I decided this weekend that one batch of brownies just wouldn't be enough.  And so I've gone for something a little more adventurous.

Creme Egg Brownies
I needed something good enough to follow these fellas...

I've always tend to make something with chocolate, so I wanted a sweet alternative, and this Butterscotch and Marshmallow slice recipe, inspired from one from the Hummingbird Bakery seemed to tick the box...:

Butterscotch and Marshmallow Slices

You will need:

For the base
150g flour
40g icing sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
10ml milk (depending how well your pastry combines you may not need this this)

For the topping
100g pink and white mini marshmallows
210g caster sugar
150g brown sugar (I used a mix of dark and light as that's what I had in the cupboard)
210g golden syrup
80g unsalted butter
60ml double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
60g crunchy peanut butter
Pecan nuts (enough for sprinkling) - roughly chopped

Marshmallows and pastry
  • Preheat the oven to 170C; grease and line a 22cm x 31cm baking tray.
  • Mix the ingredients for the base until a dough forms.  Hubby and I struggled here a little bit, so we added in a very small splash of milk to encourage the pastry dough to bind together.  However this did make a very sticky dough, and so we had to roll it rather than press it into the baking tray.
  • When you add the pasty to the baking tray make sure that there is a slight lip around the edge (this is to stop all the liquid topping oozing everywhere later) and bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are a light golden brown and the middle is pale but cooked.   Keep a close watch, as the base is very thin and can burn really easily.
  • Once the base has cooked remove from the oven, and scatter the marshmallows on top - as the base is still warm they'll start to melt almost immediately so make sure you spread them out evenly. 
  • Place both types of sugar with the golden syrup and 240ml of water and bring to the boil.
  • Keep boiling for between 5-10 minutes, or until a small drop of sugar syrup forms a soft "ball" in when dropped in cold water. 
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. 
  • Bring the butterscotch back up to the boil and allow to bubble away for approximately 3 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the heat and stir in the double cream, vanilla essence and peanut butter.  Stir continuously until the peanut butter has melted.
  • Pour the mixture on to the base and sprinkle the chopped nuts on top. 
  • Allow to set at room temperature for a few hours or preferable overnight. To be honest, this is the hardest part of the whole bake... because it just looks and smells divine!
  • Slice into bars and serve. 
Butterscotch and marshmallow slices

Oh my, are these bad boys good?! They're sweet and salty, crunchy and chewy... Fingers crossed my new colleagues give it their seal of approval (and that I just don't scoff them all before tomorrow morning!).

Saturday, 30 March 2013

A gift to a very close friend - keep it personal.

I feel really blessed that when I look back on my childhood it is full of wonderful memories.  And I shared a lot of those good times with my best friend at school. Like all friendships we've had our ups and downs (I picked on her at playground because her hair was longer and blonder than mine - a terrible crime, obviously) but I'm proud that after more than two decades we're still so close. As an only child she's the closest thing to a sister that I've ever had.

So when I got the news on Tuesday that she'd  given birth to a beautiful baby daughter I couldn't help but swell with pride. I know that if that little girl ever needs something I'll be there for her.

As I am venturing deeper into the realm of crafting I'd already knitted a blanket for her, but I wanted to post sonething to the new family to know that I was thinking of them all whilst giving them space to do that new family thing.  I hunted around online but I couldn't find anything that hit the right spot. I loved the idea of sending a hamper of bits but I just couldn't find the right combination of thoughtful, useful and celebratory. Either it was all new baby clothes,  or champagne and chocolate.  So I decided to make my own...

I went to my local super market and purchased everything I needed, a beautiful bag, some useful new-parent essentials, some choccies, a baby book that the new Mum and I loved growing up, a range of things! I came home laiden with shopping bags and set to work individually wrapping each gift and writing the reason I had bought it especially for them on the labels.  When you've been close for so long you have a lot of memories and thoughts to draw on, and it made each present special.

I've just come back from the post office and realised that I never took a photo of the finished collection to share, but as they say, it's the thought that counts so I'm  sure you'll appreciate the level of thought that I put into it.  And what makes it better is even with the added cost if postsge my personalised gift was at least £5 cheaper than all the cookie-cutter hampers I found online.

I just hope it arrives safely.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

How to: Fun and funky nails for Easter

So the weather is completely miserable.  The sky is grey, it's bitterly cold and, for heaven's sake it is snowing.
To make myself feel better for the fact that it is snowing in March I decided that some bright, fun nails would make me feel better. And yeh, they have certainly made me feel cheery.
After applying a base coat to protect the nails I selected four easter-egg colours. I raided my nail varnish for colours that most closely resembled mini eggs and I settled on a pink, yellow, blue and orange combo.  Paint one nail each colour leaving your ring finger on each hand. Your ring finger will be your feature nail. Paint this one black.
In Primark I found nail art pens for the handsome sum of £2 which are great for fine work. They come a sets of two colours, and I can really recommend the set that comes with the black and white pens as they are useful for contrast.
On each coloured nail use a nail art pen, start in the middle of the nail and do four dots down the centre. Then in repeat the dots to fill the nail.
Once your dots have dried move to your feature nail.  Using white carefully draw a circle on the edge of your nail. The circle should fill roughly a quarter of your nail, and this will be your bunny's head. Whilst the polish is still tacky I added a pink gem in the centre for the rabbits nose. Finally I drew in some  ears and gave the rabbit some eyes with a quick dot from the nail art pens.
Seal the whole lot with a layer of top coat and you're good to go!
How cute are they?!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Recipe: Herman Starter Dough

My office love to bake.  But in December, knowing that post-Christmas we'd all have mountains of leftover food, cakes and chocolate, we agreed that January would be a cake-free month.  Our office wasn't to be used for the family leftovers. We'd leave them at home, and the cupboard in the centre of the office that's normally over-flowing with unhealthy treats would be instead filled with fruit.

That didn't last long...

The thing is, we heard about Herman.

One of our colleagues told us that at her last job her boss turned up one morning and left a strange yeasty smelling pot on her desk... (no puns please).  It turned out that the goo was dough and that her boss wanted her to make a cake out of it.  It sounded such a strange thing to do, to pass on cake-mix friendship-letter like, but at the same time it sparked our imagination... And so a date was set for the Inter-Office-Herman-Challenge.

Essentially Herman is a starter dough which can be included in lots of recipes - it's yeast based, so it "grows" if you look after it properly, which means you should end up with enough mix to make cake for yourself and to also pass on some to friends who can either get baking, or to grow more Herman.

I agreed to get the chain started.  I'm currently on day five of 10, carefully nurturing Herman so that he matures enough to split up and dish out to my colleagues.  So far, so good.  I've not killed him (he stops bubbling when he dies poor thing)- in fact, he's been growing so fast that I've had to invest in another mixing bowl to contain is girth!

I don't know what Herman will eventually turn into - that's up to my individual colleagues to decide, but if you'd like to start your own Herman this is what you will need:

1 packet of active dried yeast
2 tbsp lukewarm water
240ml warm milk
150gm plain flour
225gm caster sugar.

  1. Dissolve yeast in water for 10 minutes and stir.
  2. Place flour, sugar and yeast into a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Slowly add milk and stir until combined - you'll be left with a strange thin custard-like mix.  Cover this with a clean teatowel and leave somewhere warm - it doesn't need to be anywhere too special, the dining room table works, or the kitchen side.
  4. For the next 3 days stir well once a day.
  5. On the forth day, add one cup each of flour, caster sugar and milk and cover again.
I am currently on day 5, and I think Herman really enjoyed the meal I gave him yesterday as when I went to stir again today he looked like this:

The best bubble-reaction so far!  A little bit like AngelDelight I thought, but it certainly won't get mistaken for a pudding... by now the yeast is having a real feast and it smells really strongly!  If you visit your Herman for his daily stir and his surface isn't covered with bubbles its an indication that your yeast has died and that you need to start all over again from scratch.

Assuming that your yeast remains fine and dandy keep stirring once a day until day 9, when you again add 1 cup each of flour, caster sugar and milk, and then on day 10 you can finally split the mix into four and give away a section to three friends for them to either grow their own Herman from, or to bake with.

It's really strange how attached I've got to this strange bowl of goo sitting on my worktop over the past few days.  But I really feel like I'm caring for it, feeding it when it's hungry and offering it a new home when it out grows its current one...  In a way I am not sure how I feel about splitting up Herman and chucking him in the oven.  I'm sure I'll get over it though.  I'm already on the hunt for a good Chelsea Bun recipe.  I can't think of a better way to treat Herman, than to transform him into a bun!

Have you tried Herman before?  What did you make?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I Knitted Mittens

I've made no secret about wanting to become more craft-able.  My first challenge I set myself was making a poncho, and that seemed to turn out okay.  Next, Hubby and I made some Christmas presents for certain members of the family - they too were well received.  So for a completely novice crafter I think I'm progressing well.

Then on Christmas day my Mother-In-Law presented me with my next challenge - a subscription to a knitting magazine!  Every month for the next year a little parcel of wool, needles and patterns will arrive so that I can flex my knitting skills.

It seems that I'm surrounded by pregnant ladies at the moment - my best friend, a couple of cousins, colleagues  people at my theatre group - so I'm sure in the next few years I will be able to find endless excuses to knit little bits and bobs for little-people.  But I decided that my first knitting project from these magazines had to be for me (it was a Christmas present after all).  So a few nights ago I sat down with my large wooden needles and chunky thread, and after some dropped stitches and a couple of snarl-ups I managed to work my way through a whole pattern and produce a pair of finger-less mittens!  I'm very pleased!

So what if the thumb hole is almost as big as the whole for the rest of the fingers combined? Or that one glove is slightly smaller than the other as I ran out of wool for the last few rows?  They are my mittens, and I made them.  I just won't look to closely. They will live pride of place in my glove box, and if the weather turns as chilly as is predicted in the next week I bet I will be pleased to have them!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

How to: Bright French Manicure

It's January. It's cold and it's dreary. I took a look out of my window this morning and it was a struggle not to grab my duvet and hide.

I love bright crisp winter mornings, but today it's just yuck.

And last week was also back to work, which means packing away the Christmas jumpers and tinsel accessories as office wear is firmly back on the horizon... So this is my solution to a bit of creative nail work for the office. A beacon in the dark at this time of year: a bright French manicure.

Okay, so it's not really a French manicure, it's just bright coloured tips, but having just that little flash of colour really makes all the difference.

Paint a base coat with a pale colour - I used a silvery beige (sorry I can't share the name exactly as it came from a trip to France...) - and then once dry select a bright colour of your choice - I used Barry M in Turquoise.

Carefully remove the excess paint from the brush and then paint the tips. I find that the best way to do this is in small stages moving vertically. First paint the very tip of all your nails, and then go back over them to increase the spread of colour, always working with your brush ending up at the tip. Don't move your brush horizontally across your nail, it might seem quicker but it is really hard to keep control.

If you don't have a steady hand you can even use masking tape trimmed into ovals to help, but make sure that your base colour is completely dry before using tape.

And there you have it. Nails suitable for the office, but with enough brightness to help banish the January grey.