Thursday, 28 August 2014

Hosting a Tea Party - A Fat Frocks Guide

Afternoon tea can mean many different things to many different people. It can be an extravagant day out to a chic hotel eating miniature sugary delights, it can be a  party for all your friends, the perfect idea for a hen party or a great way to catch up with a special friend.  I'm going to share some of my tips, cheap decorating ideas and recipes which I hope will inspire you to host your own tea party like I do for birthdays and other special occasions.

I think what really elevates afternoon tea to a grand occasion is the setting and attention to detail. A coffee and slice of cake with a friend is just fine but I love spending time planning what I'm going to bake and really going to town with the table setting. The cost of hosting a tea party could really run away from you but I always make everything myself and on a tight budget.

Setting the scene

Get your best table cloth out
, if you own a tiered cake stand, dust it off and use it as the centerpiece of your table. Otherwise, use your best china and make it a little more special with  doilies, folded napkins and homemade name place settings. I've been collecting tea cups and cake stands from charity shops for years and you could mix second hand things in with more modern pieces. I really like the mismatched look and I've never payed more than a couple of pounds for any of the items featured below.  Finally, string up some bunting and you're feeling ambitious, make your own. You can get some great free printable bunting online and I even found cute cake bunting which you can print at home.

I made bunting with doilies and the materials cost under £2. The doilies came in a pack of 60 from Poundland and the embroidery string cost about 35p each. Bargain!

How to make your own bunting

How to make your own bunting

They are so easy to make, just fold the doilies over the string and glue down.

You can customise your buting by drawing on it, stamping words on it like I did or just leave it plain.

How to make your own bunting with doilies

The spread
A standard afternoon tea comprises a layer of sandwiches, a layer of cakes and a layer of scones but don't feel constrained by this. You can add little pastries, more savoury food and maybe some biscuits. I try not to make too many fiddly items as it can be hard to get the timing right and tea parties are suppose to fun, not tiring.

If you're going to make little sandwiches prepare your fillings in advance and assemble just before your guests arrive to avoid the dreaded soggy sarnie. Scones  don't take long to whip up, I rely on this Good Food recipe to make mine. You really can't go wrong with that recipe and I don't think I would go back to shop bought after eating my own creations still warm from the oven. 

I made some meringue kisses (recipe here) and the Meringue Girls' pistachio and rosewater pavlova
because they were nice and light which was a good call because eating loads of cake and sandwiches can leave you more than a bit weighed down.  

I would say the most important element of hosting a tea party is your guests. Invite your friends over, hold a birthday tea party for your loved ones and show someone you care with a cup of tea and a huge slice of cake. I'm more than happy to sit around eating cake on my own but it's much more fun with company.

I hope this post has inspired you to host a little get together. If you have any afternoon tea tips for me please do let me know. I would love some savoury food ideas for my next one so links to recipes would be much appreciated.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Holiday in West Wales Pt 3 - Caldey Island

I was making a list of things to pack for my weekend camping in West Wales when I realised I hadn't shared these photos from my last trip there. Martyn and I were lucky enough to spend a few days in West Wales when it was nearly 30 degrees. We made the most of the weather and headed out to explore every day and I was excited to visit a place that's always been on my list of things I want to see in Wales, Caldey Island.

Caldey Island lies on the magnificent South Pembrokeshire coastline on the western fringes of Wales. It is one of Britain's holy islands and the Cistercian monks who live on Caldey continue a tradition which began there in Celtic times. The island is a beautiful haven and is very tranquil and quiet.

Boats run to and from the island every 20 minutes or so from 9.30 am until 5.00 pm Monday to Friday, and on Saturdays during the Summer. The twenty-minute trip leaves visitors at the landing spot on the beautiful Priory beach, the only safe bathing spot on the island. From here it is a short stroll to the village and Monastery. I loved seeing all the pretty pastel houses on the way to the island and the sea breeze cooled us down in soaring temperatures.

Martyn and I hung out on the beach and went for a swim to cool down before exploring the island. A word of warning, spray yourself with bug spray before visiting. I ended up with about 20 huge bites all over after visiting Caldey.

Caldey Island is owned and run by the Reformed Order of Cistercian monks, who live a simple life farming the island alongside a small village community. They produce a number of famous homegrown items including chocolate, ice cream, clotted cream plus perfumes and hand lotions derived from wild flowers that grow on the island.

We walked up to the Lighthouse for spectacular panoramic views of the Pembrokeshire Coast, Tenby and the Preseli Hills, the Gower Peninsula and Lundy Island. Caldey lighthouse was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be powered by acetylene gas right up until 1997 when it was converted to mains electricity.

I'm really looking forward to camping in West Wales again this weekend but the forecast is a bit less tropical. I think it's going to be a bit grey and rainy but I'll be packing my bike and waterproofs and making the most of it.

Have you visited Caldey Island or West Wales?

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Meringue kisses - Meringue Girls Recipe

This is a picture of pink vanilla mernigue kisses

I was so happy with how these little beauties turned out and they couldn't have been easier to make. I always eat shop bought meringues but they lack that chewy centre so I thought I would make my own. I spent ages searching for the perfect recipe and when I saw a photo of these I knew I had to make them because they were so dainty and pretty.

You only need two ingredients to make them. Unless you want to colour or flavour them. The possibilities are endless, I've seen them in all the colour of the rainbow and with flavours like pistachio, ginger and rose. It was my first time making meringues so I decided to keep it simple and make vanilla flavoured ones with a dash of colour.

This is a how to make meringue guide

Meringue Girls Mixture

Original recipe here
Makes about 30 kisses
150g free-range egg whites (5 medium eggs)
300g caster sugar
  1. Start by lining a large baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Line a deep tray with baking paper and heat 300g caster sugar at 200C until the edges are just beginning to melt. Heating the sugar helps it to dissolve in the egg white more quickly, creating a glossy and more stable mixture. Now, turn the oven down to 100C.
  3. Add egg whites to clean bowl of a free standing mixer (or a bowl and use a hand held like me) At first whisk slowly allowing small stabilising bubbles to form, then increase the speed until the egg whites form medium peaks.
  4. Using a large spoon, add the sugar spoon by spoon while continuing to whisk. It is ready once you have a full bodied, stiff and glossy mixture (5-7 minutes). Add any flavouring at this point.
  5. Turn a disposable piping bag inside out, and use a paintbrush to paint stripes of natural food colouring on the inside. Fill the piping bag ensuring there are no air bubbles, and cut the tip off to the size of a 20p piece. Pipe small kisses onto a lined baking tray.
  6. Bake for an hour and leave to cool fully before pulling away for the tray. If you cover them or pop them in a tub they will last for a few days.

This is a picture of pink mernige kisses on a cake stand

I grated a square of frozen 50-70% cocoa chocolate into my mix for cute speckled kisses. I used a few more squares melted and mixed with cream to make a sauce.

This is a picure of chocolate mernigue kisses

The recipe I used is the Meringue Girls one and they have lots of videos and tutorials online. If you make these yourself I would love to know how you get on.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Recipe - Portobello mushroom & halloumi burger with homemade chilli jam

I spent most of my weekend in the kitchen, trying out new recipes and really enjoyed making new things and pushing myself. I've done loads of baking and I will be sharing some recipes later in the week but today I'm sharing a recipe for a jam/chutney with more than a little kick. This is something I improvised and came out as more of a chutney than a jam which is what I intended it to be. It makes a good accompaniment to meat or the veggie burger I made on Saturday night.

3 fresh red chillies
2 ripe red peppers
olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g brown sugar
4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

You can double this to make a large jar or add more peppers if you prefer it sweet.

If you want your chutney to last for a while, make sure you have a small sterilized jar ready to go. I just got a jar and filled it with boiling water, emptied it and put the finished jam in.

Place your chillies and peppers  under a hot grill, turning them now and then until blackened. Put the peppers and chillies into a bowl and cover with clingfilm. By the time they're cool enough to handle, you'll be able to peel the skin off easily.

Remove the skin and seeds and chop finely by hand or in a processor.

Heat a saucepan and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the onions and season. Cook very slowly for about 20 minutes.

Add the chopped peppers and chillies, the sugar and the vinegar to the onions and keep cooking. When the liquid reduces and you're left with a lovely thick sticky chutney, season well to taste.
Either spoon into the sterilized jars and put them in a cool dark place, or keep in the fridge and use right away. In sterilized jars, the chutney should keep for a couple of months.

I used my chutney to add flavour to my portobello mushroom & halloumi burger. I simply cooked the cheese and mushrooms in a griddle pan for around 20 minutes, turning half way through and served them in a soft bun with some rocket. I added some lemon juice and crushed garlic to my mayonnaise with a dash of paprika on the top to dip my chips in. I loved this burger and the chutney had just the right amount of heat for me but I'm not sure Martyn (a committed carnivore) was entirely sold on a meat free burger.

Are you a keen preserver? What should this jam/preserve novice try next?

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Life Lately - Birthday update

I celebrated my birthday last Tuesday with a lot less fuss that I normally do. Birthdays just aren't as exciting as you get older and I'm not really a fan of big nights out anymore. I followed Hollie's lead and baked my own cake this year (a bit less visually appealing than Hollie's though) so I got exactly what I wanted. I like simple cakes but I'm not a fan of shop bought ones so I made a basic sponge with a cream cheese frosting and a colourful surprise inside.

I was very lucky this year when it comes to gifts and I got a beautiful rose bush from Martyn's sister and Martyn bought me a bike so we can go for rides together and improve our fitness. I've been going to yoga and the gym and I'm hoping a bit of cycling will compliment that.

I had to work on my birthday this year so I tried to do it in style and treated myself to the Boden Nancy dress that I've wanted for ages and paired it with my favourite Mel Heart shoes which I've ordered in the navy blue too. Is having the same pair of shoes in four colours excessive? 

I got to see the premiere of the new Doctor Who episode, the first one to feature Peter Capaldi on Thursday at the premiere in St David's Hall. There was a red carpet and a Q&A with the cast after. It was the effect way to spend a morning for a Whovian like myself. I'm not going to share any spoilers but I did shed a tear at one point and Capaldi was brilliant. Make sure you watch it on the 23rd!

My birthday week was rounded off with a big shindig at my friend Oonagh's parents house in Monmouth. There was a BBQ, home brew, dancing and plenty of cake baked by Oonagh. Oonagh has been away in the Arctic doing a research expedition and I haven't seen her for a long time so it was nice to hang out with her and have lots of my favourite people all in one place.

I hope that you've been having a lovely time too, what have you been up to? Please leave some links so I can have a good snoop at your days out.

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

My 'can't live without' technology

I spend so much time at a computer in work you would think I would want to switch off at the end of the day but I use my laptop and technology in my life for so much more as I'm sure you all do.

I use my computer as a recipe book when cooking in the evening, I'm always on Good Food looking for something new to try out and things to keep my diet varied. I take my laptop to conferences, watch Netflix on it and I spend most of my time on it blogging. I just wouldn't be able to keep up with all my favourite blogs, breaking news or work from home without this device. I love how I'm not tied to one room with my laptop and I love blogging sprawled out on my bed. I saved up to buy my laptop but there is so much choice today and so many are entirely affordable, one of which being the Acer Aspire E 11

I remember my first laptop back in the early 00s and it felt like I was carrying a bag of bricks around college campus and that Acer is razor thin, things have some such a long way...

The most recent item I have acquired that I can't live without is my DAB Radio. I got this on special buy in Aldi fir £35 and it's constantly on in the kitchen whilst I cook and I take it upstairs so I can dance around my bedroom. It's only ever set to two stations: 6Music and Absolute Radio 90s. I ♥ indie and Brit Pop.

I have a love/hate relationship with my HTC One phone, I hate being someone who is always looking at my phone and not engaging so I leave it at home when I head to the gym, leave it in my bag when I'm with friends and I might enforce  no phone in the bedroom rule and buy an alarm clock. Despite all of that I find it incredibly useful for making the most of my time, I catch up on emails, read the news and reply to blog comments during my daily commute to work. I think our mobile phones are something we would all find it very difficult to live without now. 

I LOVE my camera. The Nikon D3200 is an entry-level digital SLR camera, I managed to get it from Very when they had an amazing deal on and saved about £100. It comes on all my day trips and holidays with me and me and my boyfriend have taken some amazing photos on it. I don't think having a fancy camera is essential, iPhone cameras are pretty good and my old Canon click and point had an excellent zoom but for someone who takes as many photos as me I felt like it was worth the investment. 

What items can't you live without?

*Collaborative post

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Monday, 4 August 2014

Summer Style - New Look kimono

 Kimono:c/o  New Look - Dress: ASOS (old) - Backpack: MoonyMood

Lots of people are doing 'Festival Style' posts but I'm not heading to any this Summer *sob* I'll miss you Bestival, but that's not going to stop me from taking inspiration and working festival-like essentials into a weekend friendly look.

My New Look kimono was the perfect lightweight cover up for a walk on a warm summer evening. The walk was a fairly gentle climb uphill but the walkway was shady so this was the perfect top to stay cool but not get chilly on the way back down. I've already got more outfits planned with this beautiful kimono, it's going to look great over bright pastel hues for a chic contrast and perfect for nights out with a black dress and some heels.

If you're wondering where these photos were taken it's Cwm Carn Forest drive. Cwmcarn Forest drive is only a five minute drive from my mums house and I spent a lot of time there as a teenager. You can camp there, fish, use the mountain bike trails and have a BBQ. Martyn took me and Sookie up for a walk and there are stunning seven miles of Forest Drive.This area used to be mined and it has been transformed. It is difficult to imagine that some of the surrounding hillsides were slag heaps with hardly a tree to be seen. The Forestry Commission started to plant trees here in 1922. Today Cwmcarn Forest in the Nantcarn valley is a haven for people and wildlife.

Look at my baby, so beautiful! I know I'm mad but I miss her so much now that I'm not living at home. She loved the drive and comes here often with my brother.

Martyn was looking very handsome in his new top and Vans. You can see a close up of his Jawbreaker tattoo here. Sookie loves Martyn and wont let him have a minutes peace, always wanting him to throw a ball for her or fuss over her.

I hope you're all enjoying your summer and exploring the great outdoors. What are your summer wardrobe essentials?

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Friday, 1 August 2014

52 lists - List the good things you have done this week

(photos from my instagram account)

1. Went for a walk one evening and saw some wild bunnies.
2. Made some very tasty garlic and lemon chicken. 
3. Celebrated a one year anniversary with my boyfriend.
4. Arranged some flowers that were a very thoughtful gift.
5. Planned another trip to West Wales for September.
6. Treated myself to a DAB radio which I've wanted for ages.

What good things have you done this week?

This is part of the 52 lists series by Emma from Made in Hunters which I'm dipping in and out of.

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Anniversary Dinners in Style: Top Five Restaurants in Birmingham

I've been planning an anniversary trip to a location i don't think would be many people's first choice but it has loads to offer if you look a little deeper. While you don’t have to wait until an anniversary to enjoy a swanky meal out with your other half, celebrating another year of your relationship is a splendid excuse to do just that. While the local bistro may be perfectly fine, it’s always nice to sample somewhere a little different – a place where you haven’t dined before, in a city you haven’t stayed in for a while, perhaps. Take a trip to the West Midlands for the evening and stay at one of the Travelodge hotels in Birmingham – spending less on accommodation means you can spend more on a beautiful meal at one of these incredible restaurants that can be found in the city.  

I've grown to love Birmingham and I've been visiting frequently over the past three years. I go there for blogger meet ups, gigs and to shop but I've only ever eaten fast food there like Five Guys. I would love to try something new and explore a culinary side of Birmingham that I haven't seen before so I've been doing a little research.

Glynn Purnell has definitely made a name for himself over recent years, appearing on various television shows including the Great British Menu. His restaurant in the heart of Birmingham is one of the city’s Michelin-starred offerings, where this down-to-earth Brummie creates standout dishes including neck of lamb with basil emulsion, burnt lettuce and capers and beetroot mousse served with a horseradish crumble. Tasting menus are also available for £85 per person, if you want to go all out.  

Another familiar face if you watch the Great British Menu, Aktar Islam is the owner of Lasan which can be found in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter. His take on Indian food, combined with his ability to bring it well and truly into the 21st century, has been highly acclaimed by foodies far and wide.  

Another one of Birmingham’s Michelin-star restaurants, Simpsons has a top notch team working both in front, and back, of house, meaning that what you receive is nothing short of divine. There’s a range of menus for you to choose from too, including a la carte and tasting menus, so you can choose one that suits your timeframe, and budget. The 7-course tasting menu is £85 with a sommelier’s choice of wines to accompany, if you fancy it.  

Situated just off New Street, slap bang in the middle of the city, Adam’s was awarded 3 AA rosettes this year – one of only 11 outside of London to receive such an honour in 2014. While the restaurant is a newcomer, in comparison to some of the others that have graced the city’s streets for years, it’s got a bright future ahead of it. There are two tasting menus to choose from – five course and nine course – as well as a stunning lunch menu if you’re hoping to dine before enjoying the nightlife later in the day.  

If you fancy something a little different, Fumo is one of the many restaurants in the city that will provide you with a unique experience to remember. ItItalian-style tapas is perfect for a couple who wish to share their dishes as they share their lives. Plus, there’s an extensive cocktail menu, to wash it all down with.   

As a melting pot of cuisines – from street food to Michelin-starred fine dining – Birmingham has something for every palate. Treat your SO to a gorgeous meal in the city this summer, and let your tastebuds do the talking.  

Do you have any Birmingham recommendations for me?

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