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...