30 November 2015

#GeorgeSecretSanta

Christmas is getting so close now I can almost taste it (though that might be the mince pies I brought in for lunch!), and while I usually have a very strict 'no opening presents 'til the 25th' policy, I'll admit that I've got the party started a little early this year following the arrival of a fabulous box of festive treats from George and my Secret Santa! 



Yup, the lovely guys at George and the happy little elves at Talented Talkers have been spreading Christmas Cheer all around the blogosphere (first time I've ever used that word!) by letting us choose sneakily choose treats for fellow bloggers from their massive gifting range.

I think I'm generally quite easy to please anyway, as I'm giddy just looking at the  shiny packages so anything inside is a bonus - but my secret santa did an amazing job! 



I know it's a cliché to say that I 'couldn't have picked better myself' but the truth is I picked a fair few of the same items for me mystery giftee because I thought they were great!

It's a secret to none that I'm partial to a bit of cake. Though my main skills lie in the eating of said yummy baked goods, I occasionally dabble in the creation of them - and cute new bakeware only makes the task more enjoyable! 


Cute bakeware doesn't come much cuter than George's Sweet Treats range! The measuring cup set is as adorable as it is useful - recipes using cup measurements usually scare me off! - and the kids will absolutely love using the baking stamps! 


The mixing bowl is gorgeous - I love the steep sides, making it a lot harder for the messy kids to spill everywhere! My dad, a former chef, was most impressed by the sturdiness of the spatulas too - I might have to keep an eye on those or he'll have them away while I'm not looking! 


And obviously a baking set wouldn't be complete without a super cute pinny and matching oven glove - decorated with baked goods and polka dots and the oh-so-true declaration that 'I never met a cake that I didn't like'.

My presents weren't all cake based though! It's starting to get cold out there, waaay too cold, but now I can stay snug and toastie in my new chunky knit snood and matching mittens - I love these because you can still get your fingers out to use cameras and phones while keeping the rest of your hands warm! 


The whole package was finished off beautifully with the gorgeously scented apple spice potpourri Yankee Candle. It's wonderful wintry aroma should offset all the fabulous fragrances of my baking!

The only downside of this awesome box of gifts is that I think I may have peaked early, Christmas wise - I can't imagine doing better than this on the day itself! Big thanks to George, Talented Talkers and my amazing Secret Santa!

26 November 2015

Picnic Table Afternoon Tea at the Old Barn, Esholt

Finding a good afternoon tea that the Mr will enjoy as much as I do can occasionally be a tricky task, mainly considering that he doesn't really like sandwiches (other than cheese) or cake (other than Christmas). It doesn't stop me dragging him along of course, but I know that to balance it out I'll have to listen to hours of agonising over fantasy football decisions, or explanations for historical differences between North and South Korean cinema. Such is life.

But hurrah, I recently found one that he loved just as much as I did - smiles all round!


Before this visit I'd only ever been to The Old Barn for a wedding reception, so it's only really by accident that I discovered they also did these adorable picnic-themed afternoon teas. The place is really gorgeous and we were made to feel very welcome!


A cold glass of prosecco is always a great way to start such occasions, and I loved that we got out own little bottle! The kids were a bit curious about what it was and why they couldn't have any but I managed to fob tem off with fruit shoots instead, winner!


The biggest excitement was when our goodie-laden picnic table arrived though - look at all those pretty things!

It's not just aesthetics though of course - I do love me a dainty little cake stand,... but at the end of the day, the bigger the surface area the more food you can fit on it - and this was a feast!


The savoury section of an afternoon tea is usually,.. ok. It's the bit you have to get through to get to the good stuff. Even when the sandwiches are particularly good, they're never the best bit.

But this board of savoury delights changed all that!


Sandwiches weren't missing entirely, but the hefty turkey, stuffing and cranberry open sandwich was a far cry from the dinky and delicate affair usually served with afternoon tea, and it was supplemented with a whole host of scrumptious nibbles, including a warm goats cheese tart (yum!), mini prawn cocktail and potato skin smothered in melted cheese and spring onion.


The mini steak and ale pie was as delicious as it was adorable, and the cup of hot vegetable soup was a very welcome addition on these increasingly cold days! And no smoked salmon in sight, it's like a Christmas miracle come early!


That's not to diminish the joy of the desserts of course - a gorgeously creamy cheesecake (HUGE slice at that!), nutty chocolate brownie, fruit-filled jelly pot and a strawberry-topped jam and cream scone, with strawberry milkshake to wash it all down with! I didn't get to eat my brownie as I had to swap with little madam for her scone, as she's decided she 'doesn't like cream' (what even is that?!), but since I got to double scone I won't complain too much!


The kiddos got their own mini version of the afternoon tea, with a bonus pot of sweets and a balloon each - one of which didn't make it to the car before she 'forgot' to keep hold of it and it floated off, but was a really nice touch nonetheless!

It was awesome to find an Afternoon Tea that suited everyone, and even more awesome to discover they have a festive version of this coming up in December - and we all know that the best way to make things better is to make them Christmassy!

24 November 2015

#ShopInYork

I've discussed my love of the city of York many a time here on this blog.  It is second only to dear old Bradford in my affections, and moreover it appears that out of the two cities, York is the one most people agree with me on!

Visitors flock to York in their thousands to experience the city's historical attractions, quaint cafes, iconic architecture and unique shopping opportunities. But since we are the way to Christmas and I've not done any gift shopping yet, I'm going to be mainly panicking talking about shopping!


Within the city walls, open pedestrian areas with the hottest of high street names snuggle up cosily to the cramped and cobbled medieval Shambles.

A stones throw from the centre you'll find the impressive Monks Cross shopping complex. Open late, with free parking and a whole range of great stores including Topshop, Boots and a newly refurbished Rodgers of York, this would be a great spot for picking up those last minute gifts!

Within this huge range of shopping options in the city, there are a couple of spots I never fail to visit - usually leaving a little lighter of purse and a little heavier of shopping bag.



Bettys
The inclusion of this Yorkshire institution on my list will, I'm sure, shock no one. However, much as I am a vocal lover of the wonderful café, the young ones I often have in my company on trips to York are less keen on the inevitable queueing needed to nab yourself a table. There is another option! Anyone can bypass the long line of waiting folk and go straight into the shop where a plethora of baked goodies and chocolatey treats are available, as well as teas and coffees galore to take home and brew up in the comfort of your own home. The place is looking particularly festive at the minute too - the windows are beautifully decorated for Christmas and there are loads of special seasonal items to tempt you. Be warned though, it can be easy to get carried away - I can't count the amount of times I've 'nipped in for a fat rascal' and left £20 lighter....


Museum Gift Shops
Like I said, many of my York trips have kids in tow so it would be a tragedy to not make the most of the wonderful array of museums and educational attractions available in the city - and these inevitably end with a quick visit to the gift shop. Our house is full of wooden bows and arrows from Cliffords Tower, Victorian soap and sugar mice from The Castle Museum, and endless amounts of notebooks, pens that look like arrows or quills, mock historical jewellery and vaguely historical toys from the likes of Jorvik Viking Centre and Dig. There are plenty of great quality beautiful items and wonderful books in between the branded bouncy balls and pencil sharpeners though, and in most cases you wouldn't have to trawl through the museums to visit the gift shops!


York's Chocolate Story
This spot really straddles the two worlds above, as it is the home of both a fabulous attraction about the history of chocolate in York, and a wonderfully sugary chocolate-heavy café. When time allows we love to visit one or both of these but when only a flying visit can be made I still have to pop in for a bar of their amazing rose chocolate, and a chilli hot choc to go!


The Yorkshire Soap Co
Unusually for me, my other favourite shop in York doesn't contain lovely things to eat, thought you'd be forgiven for thinking it did. The Yorkshire Soap Company make the most beautiful soaps that could easily be mistakes for delicate cupcakes and extravagant gateaux. The shop, one of only three across the region (the other two can be found in Leeds and Hebden Bridge), combines wonderful unique products with a really serene shopping experience, making it one of my must-visit spots in York.

I've only scratched the surface of the best places to shop in York - I've not even mentioned the year-round Christmas shop, or the place that only sells things with cats on, and there's the Christmas market any day now which opens up a whole host of other options... do you have any favourites in the city that I've missed?

* Collaborative post

23 November 2015

Degustabox October 2015

I'm running so late on the latest Degustabox write up, but I finally got hold of a new camera so I can share the goodies they sent out in the October Box. It's been really painful having it sat in the office for weeks knowing I couldn't eat anything 'til it was all photographed!



The Food Thoughts Cocoa Powder looks perfect for baking and it won't be long now before we have to get started on the Christmas Cookies and other goodies for the festive season so I can see this getting used an awful lot in the coming weeks!


I was a little wary when I saw the Lorina coconut-lime drink, as I have a fridge full of coconut water I've amassed from various places that I'm not likely to drink as I'm just not that keen... This isn't coconut water though, but a delicious sparkling coconut and lime flavoured soda. This was lovely and I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for their other flavours too!


I'm a bit fussy with fruit and pretty much only like mine fresh - but healthy fruity snacks for the kids are always good discoveries and my little ones were big fans of these freeze dried apricots from The Snack Organisation.


Though I was a lot less willing to share these sweet chilli rice crackers from the same brand! These were so addictive, it didn't take us long at all to finish off the packet - it's a good job they're low in fat!


I wasn't a big fan of the fruity 9 bars that I'd received in a previous Degustabox, but still bravely decided to give this variety a go. I don't know if it's because I knew what to expect a little more, or because the carob coating allowed me to pretend I was eating chocolate, but these really weren't bad at all!


Cirio aren't new to Degustabox but are always welcome - I'll never get bored of pasta in a tomato-y sauce, even thought it's pretty much all I ate for like three years when I was a poor, unimaginative vegetarian student!


Office-based snacking is essentially how I get through my day at work, and the Degustaboxes are great for giving me new things to snack on so I'm not just racing through bag after bag of Haribo. This last few days my office based snacking has mainly featured these tasty nutty treats from Liberation - the chilli and lime cashews and peanuts with roasted corn have been a particular success around my workplace!


I know how appreciated Gluten Free products are by people with gluten intolerances so have passed this onto a friend who will get more out of it than myself. It's a little wasted on my anyway as I'm not really a big fan of oatmeal, but glad that its gone to a good home!


I've seen the Kabuto noodles in the supermarket and have been intrigued by their yummy sounding flavours and ultra cute packaging but have been a little unsure about giving them a go as the amount of times I've had one of these 'just-add-water' meals that have been any good is a very small number indeed. This is the best thing of it's kind I've tried, by quite some distance, and I'd certainly consider trying some of the other flavours too - it tasted surprisingly fresh for what it was!


My other half is a self-proclaimed crisp expert, so I took these home for his more knowledgeable opinion. These are really weird, they're like a eight inch long rectangular flat crisp. I'm not entirely sold but Mr Crisp Expert gives them the thumbs up!


Lastly, I found a voucher for some President French Butter. I've not actually redeemed this as yet as they don't have this particular brand in my local supermarket (it's only a small one!) but hopefully I'll get to pick it up at one of the larger stores soon. I love real butter, but rarely buy it - it feels like such a cheeky indulgence - so I'll certainly enjoy the excuse to pick up this little treat!



If you'd like yourself a monthly delivery of ace new foodie treats (and who wouldn't!) you can sign up to the Degustabox subscription service here, and you can get a whopping £6 off your first box by entering the code BLDEG15 at the checkout! And it's not an exciting enough prospect as it is, the next box is to be festively themed - and we all know food is better at Christmas!

22 November 2015

Fitmas Week One: Going For Gold

In a recent burst of fitness related enthusiasm, I jumped on board Corinne's blogger #fitmas challenge - a five week long exercise programme with the added bonus of a built-in support network of bloggers all undertaking it at the same time.



My fitness (or lack thereof) is something I've been working on for a while, though not really discussed here before. But I figure that reporting weekly on my challenge progress vastly reduces my likelihood of skipping a workout - I don't want to have to confess publically what a lazy bones I've been!

The challenge set up by Corinne (Corinne by the way is like a fitness/blogging wonder woman, she knows all things!) consists of an Abs & Cardio workout weekly, one just for arms, one for legs, and can by supplemented with additional workouts. My first week went ok, with arms being my favourite session (aside from the evil push ups), and the abs bit being my least favourite - I was feeling that for a few days, I tell thee!

In terms of the additional optional workouts,....

Like many parents, many of my evenings are spent taxi-ing my kids to their various activities and extra-curriculars... Earlier in the year my oldest lad was going through a basketball phase and his little sister decided that instead of watching him, bored, each week, she fancied joining the karate class going on in the room next door. How convenient! Until she decided she was too scared to go by herself and wanted me to go with her....

To skip to the end of the story, I somehow found myself competing in yesterdays National Championships. I actually came second in my division and have this nice shiny silver medal for my efforts....


I'm obviously pretty darn pleased with myself, but lets face it - a gold one to go with it would be nice! So that's my next aim - but for that it couldn't hurt to be a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, a little bit (okay, a heck of a lot) fitter - fitmas seems like a great place to start (or at the very least might help me justify the odd extra slice of cake!)
 
Here's to week two! (once I have another day or two off to recover!)

18 November 2015

Fentiman's and Bloom - Gin for Beginners!

I'm never going to be a 'big' blogger. Heck, I'm never going to be a medium-sized blogger.... or even one of those small-but-well-known-and-loved-in-the-right-circles sort of bloggers. There could me many reasons for this (a lack of any actual talent, my generally slipshod approach to blogging and social media, the fact I'm just not that interesting.....) but I choose to blame my relative obscurity on my ambivalence to gin.


I like beer. I like rum. I mainly like tea. But it seems for a while now gin has been the tipple of choice for bloggers across the country.

I'm all about education, so when I saw these cute Fentimans & Bloom bottles I figured I should take the opportunity to increase my experience with this mythical beverage, safe in the knowledge that the Fentimans soft drinks taste as good as they look (which is pretty darn good!), and that Bloom is a gin brand I've heard of, implying they are pretty good at what they do!


Since I've already fully disclaimed my lack of gin knowledge, I wont pretend to give an informed review of these - instead I'll just people that didn't already know about them that they are available (from Sainsburys, I hear - though I actually picked these two up from the Fenwicks food hall in Newcastle), and say that this gin-novice very much enjoyed them, the Rose Lemonade variety in particular!


Also, notice how sunny and pleasant it is in the pictures? That's because they were taken literally months ago and I've only gotten round to digging them out now because I'm camera-less and filling in the gaps until I can take some new pics - what was I saying earlier about my slipshod approach to blogging....?

15 November 2015

Booths Great Northern Christmas

Well, it's official - Christmas is on the way! I know its still a little while 'til the big day itself but we all know the important bits of Christmas (this films and the food) start well in advance of that or we'd never fit them all in!
 
To get me in the festive mood, as well as giving me some tip-top ideas for what to feed and seasonal dropper-inners, I bobbed along to Booths Supermarket in Ilkley to check out some of their yummy Christmas goodies!



All supermarkets like to push the boat out at this time of year, but Booths have a bigger boat than many and their Christmas offerings are top notch.


 
Usually my dad is responsible for Christmas Dinner for the whole family, making Boxing Day my job. This works out well for me, because no one wants a big full meal on boxing day, and because I'm not a great cook. So party food nibbles are perfect. The bacon-wrapped stuffing balls above were out of this world tasty, and there were some gorgeous venison sausages floating around too that I need to serve up!
 

Any of the cheesy parcels or Indian-inspired nibbles from the chilled party food ranges would also go down a storm and as a bonus a lot of the things I have my eye on are on a 3 for 2 offer!  These are all definitely a cut above my usual Iceland spread! 
 

The Wensleydale Creamery make my favourite cheeses. I've been obsessed with them since we visited the creamery a couple of years ago. Even the kids recognised their logo, though they were less willing to try some of the stronger cheeses on display!


Though the young ones were happy to get on board with the cheese-on-Christmas-cake thing that I know confuses a lot of people. Seriously, If you've never tried this winning combo make sure you do this year!


And speaking of cake, there were of course loads of cakey goodies to tempt us too! My dad loves a good Panettone at Christmas time so I better add one of these to my shopping list too...


... whereas the kiddos were obviously more taken with this cutie snowman cake!



I on the other hand prefer these little teeny cakes - It's not that I don't like a large volume of cake, you know I do - but with the teeny ones you get to try lots of different kinds of cake - woo!



As well as nibbles and cakes, it wouldn't be Christmas without beer and Booths had some great local breweries at the event too! 
 

I was already pretty familiar with the Ilkley Brewery - their Mary Jane is my brothers favourite tipple so I'll be sure to be getting some of that in for the 26th, and I might supplement it with a couple of beers from the Wold Top Brewery too. In fact, Booths has a pretty amazing beer selection (I of course investigated after the event!) but there are few things that are done better than they are in Yorkshire so I'm happy to stay local this Crimbo!



I love Booths - I love their focus on great quality products and local suppliers - but it's a wee trek from my house it's not always the most convenient for shopping. But it is the time of year for miracles! You can get your shopping delivered for Christmas this year so no one needs miss out all the scrummy goodies!
 
Responsible for feeding people (if only yourself) over the Christmas period? I recommend checking Booths for something a bit special!

13 November 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at The Grand, York

The great city of York is known for many things - not least being it's long and proud association with chocolate. Terry's chocolate orange and the humble Kit-Kat are among the well loved treats that owe their existence to the city, and if you visit on the right day the streets of York are still filled with the wonderful aroma of melted chocolate.

I'd have been excited hearing about a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea anywhere, but in York, and at the gorgeous Grand Hotel, it just seemed to fit - so of course I got myself booked in at the earliest opportunity!


My first couple of visits to The Grand for afternoon tea didn't quite live up to me (high) expectations I'll admit. We were all a little taken aback by the buffet-style set up and excess sugar at the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea, and while the traditional afternoon tea was more,.. well, traditional, it was still tough going sugar-wise, and that's for someone with my sweet tooth!

This time though, I was prepared. I knew what I was letting myself in for. I'd lined my insides with bland savouries beforehand and I was ready to go!


To find our way to tea we jut had to follow the bubbles down the colourful corridor to our special tea room. Call me a simple child if you will, but this simple touch got me all giddy in itself! We were also handed these 'fizzy lifting drinks' to really get us flying!


The room, as I'd expected following my previous visits, looked marvellous. It's such a grand old place anyway, but the little details that does into dressing the room for these special tea events is really something.


Plus this time we had extra entertainment in the form of Mr Willy Wonka himself and his Oompa Loompa buddy (who'd had a tragic accident with one of the factories machines, resulting in his increased stature). These guys were grand and did an amazing job of pleasing the children in particular (though us adults certainly weren't left out!)



To kick off the feasting, we were presented with our 'three course bubblegum dinner' - remember when Violet Beauregarde had the full dinner in the form of a stick of gum, before turning into a massive blueberry? What we had was a less disasterous version of this mini-meal - a shot of yummy hot tomato soup followed by a tasty salt beef croquette finished, finished off with the most delectable tiny blueberry meringue pie!


Once that was done, it was time to hit the big buffet table! On the menu were Sundried Tomato and Cream Cheese Scones, Golden Eggs (filled with the most delicious chocolate praline mousse!), Edible Mushrooms, Oompa Loompa Cupcakes, Grand Chocolate Bars, White Chocolate and Raspberry Pannacotta,...



.... and at the middle of it all, a huge chocolate waterfall, with piles of marshmallows, brownies and fruit to coat in the chocolatey goodness!


One of the concerns with this buffet style of afternoon tea is portion management.... you don't want to greedily pie your plate high on the first time round of things you might not eat, but you don't want to miss out on anything either. This was one of our worries at the similar Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea here if I remember and something that went through my mind again on this occasion on observing some kid load up on alllll the remaining marshmallows before I'd gotten to them. As I was silently cursing the child (I'm a terrible person!), I saw a fresh pile of marshmallows being delivered to the table! Hurrah!


In fact, the table was toped up pretty regularly throughout the afternoon, so there was no need to panic (as if I hadn't already had enough food - told you I'm a terrible person!) and no need for anyone to not get to try anything they wanted! The other welcome addition to the table was fresh fruit - strawberries and pineapple - that was meant for the chocolate fountain but if you managed to resist the extra chocolate made a refreshing and palette-cleansing break from all the gooey stuff!


I don't know if it was the above factors, the change in my expectations, or the fact that my company on this occasion was not as tea-fussy as my fellow bloggers and was having a grand time - but whatever it was, this was by far and away my best experience at The Grand.  I knew it had the potential to be this good, and I'm glad I persevered with it!


The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea is available on the second Sunday of every month for £35 per adult (it's steep for sure but it's quite the experience!) It does need to be booked and paid for in advance though, and you can find the details on how to do that here. Now I can't wait to see what their Festive Afternoon Tea looks like!