Archives for category: Food

2018-04-08 18.46.53…nothing good comes without a price, no pain no gain, take the good with the bad – I’m sure you’ve heard them all before, but I learnt something new this weekend. Despite the aphorism, not all roses have thorns!

I know little about horticulture and the same goes for my husband David, so our garden is pretty much a disgrace, being left to grow wild 99% of the time. The 1% that we devote to it consists of hacking away weeds or branches that prevent us from getting from front door to car door. We are definitely people more suited to enjoying beautiful landscapes than creating or maintaining them!

I am, however, far from oblivious of the plant life in our garden, and have always admired the massive bright blooms on a bush next to our driveway, particularly this time of year. More than once, David has speculated that they are roses (though he admitted to being stumped by their thornless disposition), and each time, I have expressed scepticism because (as you can see from the top image) they look nothing like conventional roses, except when they are budding (as per the photo below).

2018-04-15 14.02.14On Sunday, I was finally spurred to settle it once and for all, and it turns out David might actually be right! Sigh! #CuetheEyeRoll

We appear to be the proud (if somewhat lackadaisical) caretakers of the Rosa Gallica Officinalis, otherwise known as the Red Rose of Lancaster, one of the eponymous emblems from medieval England’s Wars of the Roses and official county flower of Lancashire, thus making perfect sense that it should be flourishing on our little patch here in this part of the country. Doh! I could be forgiven for my ignorance, but Blackpool-born-and-bred David should have known better…tsk tsk! 😀

This damask of ancient pedigree is, when you take into account our neglect, fortunately hardy and will grow in most conditions. As mentioned previously, it has the unique honour of being among the few roses that bear little or no thorns…somewhat ironic given its place in a long history of bloodshed.

Sometimes also known as the Apothecary’s Rose, it earned that nomenclature by becoming a popular ingredient in many medicinal and cosmetic products. This variety is today still widely used in food, perfume and skincare, including homemade preparations. The beautiful crimson blossoms in my garden have inspired me to adopt a rose theme in many of my recent ideas, and I began by experimenting with my favourite hot beverage – tea!

Full of vitamin C and antioxidants, rose tea has a reputation for having wonderful healing and restorative properties that can help slow down the signs of ageing whilst boosting immunity. It is considered to be anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, making it highly effective in treating a number of skin conditions, such as acne. Although the probiotic claim seems rather doubtful to me, roses are often listed as a part of many detox and weight-loss teas.

Edible rose petals or rose hips can be easily purchased if you haven’t got a rose bush (or if like me, you simply don’t fancy plundering too much of your own garden), and a few supermarkets even stock them. The price and quality can vary, so some shopping around may be required before you find a suitable supplier.

2018-04-15 19.24.54I’m generally pretty adventurous (especially when it comes to food) but as described above, rose tea is detoxifying, and working as a mild laxative is one of the ways it purges your body of impurities. This is great if you’re not…erm…regular, but those making this for the first time may want to keep quantities small (perhaps start with half a teaspoon) by combining the dried rose petals with something more familiar, like black or green tea. I picked the latter as I felt the light and delicate flavour of green tea would better complement the floral element of this brew.

2018-04-15 20.44.58If you’re concerned the scent of rose petals will be so overpowering that it would be like drinking perfume, worry not! Its natural fragrance is incredibly more subtle than I expected, and taste-wise this blend is more like green tea with only a very slight hint of rose. Some people like to add a bit of honey, but unless it’s black (which I take very strong, sweet and creamy), I prefer my tea unsullied.

It’s up to you how long the teabag should be left to steep…I actually didn’t remove mine as I was hoping for a more intense aroma. There’s simply no better way to enjoy a steaming hot cuppa than taking time to smell the roses.

29416430_188733358522561_6383110640751345664_nEaster is fast approaching, which means that Lent will soon be over. Although I’m not Christian, I have in the past given up something for this occasion. It’s a good time to challenge yourself as you’ll probably get loads of support from many others who are doing the same…I guess there’s nothing like companions in misery! 😀

Jokes aside, setting myself goals and then meeting them always fills me with positive energy. Plus, it’s kind of like giving yourself a second chance if you failed at keeping your new year’s resolution! I once abstained from all food with sugar and high FODMAPs. My body did feel the benefits after the 40 days, but I’m not about to martyr myself on the detox pyre again in a hurry! It’s not all about sacrifice though…you can choose to start a new habit (like exercising more regularly), or pick up a new skill (theremin lessons anyone?). The important thing is to better yourself (and possibly even help those around you) through incremental changes in your lifestyle. 🙂

This year, I am trying to create less waste, and hope that this will eventually become second nature. It’s true I’m not doing very well at the moment, so I’ve decided to take baby steps by focusing mainly on food for now. This does tie in quite nicely with Lent since you are traditionally meant to use up what provisions you have before the fasting period begins. Also, I have been hoarding loads of empty tubs and jars which should be doing a lot more than just sitting in a cupboard!

Previously, we’d find ourselves chucking away fruit that have gone off (or over-ripened) at the end of every week. Well, no more! I now try to use it all up by making smoothies, or pancakes. However, it’s a bit difficult to do that when you’ve only got one or two items on the verge of expiry, like the couple of lonesome bananas turning black on our kitchen worktop last Sunday. Though still perfectly edible, no one seemed keen on eating them.

19055155_10155234474365856_6692917612276566672_oQuite by coincidence, Jack Monroe recently blogged a recipe for Blushing Berry Banana Bread, and since I always have a supply of frozen blueberries for the Blueberry Oat Bars (pic above) I regularly make for breakfast, I thought…why not?!

I have followed Monroe’s recipe closely, with a couple of small tweaks. My loaf is less pink as I only had blueberries, and because I like my cakes to be quite buttery, I allowed myself one small indulgence by replacing the oil with melted butter. It does of course cost a little more, but if it’s within your means, your taste buds will thank you for it.

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As mentioned in the original recipe, not all ovens are created equal, and ours is definitely not like the others, since only two gas marks work – one and nine. Baking in our household typically involves faffing about with the oven knob, and re-positioning manoeuvres from one shelf to another before hitting the Goldilocks zone.

29089638_352836771874600_706105186241740800_nLuckily, yummy treats are not beyond our faulty ancient appliance! The Banana Berry Loaf was a success, and emerged from the oven as a kind of cross between bread and cake. We had it freshly baked with some vanilla ice-cream from Aldi…Mmmmm, yesss! 😛

Photo 28-01-2018, 20 43 28Most of January saw me in very ill health, and to make matters worse, what I had was contagious, and soon my entire household was poorly. However, I seemed to have been hit the hardest…Even when everyone else was getting better, I was still bedridden. Not being in a position to get anything done, my shop had to be closed temporarily. After (finally!) being prescribed two strong doses of antibiotics, the worst is now over. Though not quite fully recovered, I am starting to get my life back on track again.

First thing on the agenda has been to make sure our meals at home are healthy again. We were all feeling so sick we couldn’t keep food down, and if I’m honest, my appetite still isn’t what it used to be. Since none of us had been eating right, I decided we needed nourishment from some homemade ABC Soup.

Right now, you’re probably picturing Alphabet Soup in your mind, the one with letter-shaped pasta swimming around in a tomato broth…unless you’re from Singapore or Malaysia of course. Most Asians will probably know I am referring to a Nonya classic. However, the origin of this soup’s name isn’t as clear to us as its contents. The soup’s hearty and nutrient-rich ingredients have given rise to a popular conjecture: ABC refers to vitamins – A in the carrots and corn, B in meat and potatoes, and C in the tomatoes.

I personally prefer a simpler explanation – this soup is as easy to make as ABC, and indeed it is! You literally chuck all the meat and veg in a pot, boil, then leave to simmer. Search for a recipe and you will find many variations out there. You can modify this soup as you like, but the core components remain the same:

• Meat
• Onion
• Garlic Cloves
• Carrots
• Corn
• Tomatoes
• Potatoes
• Water

It doesn’t matter whether you use chicken or pork, but it is best to use meat on the bone as a lot of the flavour will come from that. I used pork ribs this time, but have previously made this soup with chicken drumsticks and thighs. This next step isn’t essential, but I usually like to marinade the meat in some rice wine, white pepper and light soy sauce.

Forgive me for not including exact quantities…I am more familiar with the agak-agak style of cooking, an approach which is quite common in Peranakan culture. Instead of painstakingly measuring out what is needed, we cook based on gut feeling that’s very much tied to an understanding of how each ingredient works with others. Granted there is a lot of trial-and-error involved, but there’s not much that can go wrong with this soup.

Once the meat (and marinade, if so desired) is in the pot, add the carrots and potatoes (peeled and chopped into chunks), followed by the corn (cut into smaller sections), onions (cut into wedges), tomatoes (cut into wedges), and garlic cloves (peeled and crushed). Pour in just enough water to cover everything (but don’t overfill the pot), boil and simmer for a few hours. The longer you cook it, the tastier it will be. A slow cooker would be best for this, though not strictly necessary. An hour before serving (another optional step), season to taste with salt and pepper.

My recent adaptation of ABC Soup that you can see in the photo above has had a few additional items thrown in – Turnips, Goji Berries, and Spring Onions. We normally polish this off with rice and fried egg (sunny side up), but this time, I made so much soup in our humongous slow cooker that we had enough leftover for lunch the next day…Great as a base for instant noodles!!! 😀

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Before my constitution failed me, I went through a phase of craving mussels, and if I had my way, we’d have had it every night for dinner! Well, seafood is good for you! 😀 Luckily for everyone else, I only had the opportunity to make two mussel-inspired dishes. One was a pasta dish with Grilled Asparagus and Mussels in Creamy White Wine Sauce, and the other was Spicy Steamed Mussels with Ginger and Garlic, which was paired with Spam and Onion Omelette. All turned out as nomalicious as I hoped they would be. 🙂

2018-01-07 21.08.06Just a few days ago, the thought of anything sweet would have made me reach for the vomit bucket, but not long after the Christmas break, I attempted a recipe for Coffee and Ricotta Shots with Chocolate Shavings and Biscuit Base. David and Zhouyi loved it, but I felt I could have done better…possibly because I was aware of the mistakes I’d made. The coffee wasn’t strong enough, and I used icing sugar instead of castor as I’d run out of the latter. When I have a little more time on my hands, I’ll have another go at perfecting it. In the meantime, I’ve got a home to put in order…I don’t know…out of action for a few weeks, and now everything’s in such a mess! 😛

27500985_10155903714310856_4956690107225114775_oLess than a month after my very first VoxBox was delivered, I also received a mystery box of free goodies from Triyit. As mentioned previously, this product discovery club is still in pre-launch phase, which means initial campaigns won’t be very big, so I was well-chuffed to be have been selected.

 

Unlike the VoxBox, I was not told of the contents beforehand, though I did have a suspicion it would be health-related, and I was proven right when a hefty box arrived at my house. As with most full-sized complimentary items, brands expect something in return. It’s not usually much…often just a review and/or exposure on social media.

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The Triyit box came with a campaign booklet that had a set of instructions for each product – little jobs which would lead to earning points towards another collection of freebies. Everything was very straightforward: snap a photo, then share it on any (or all) of the big platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter) using the relevant hashtags…All stuff I would have done anyway.



MOMA INSTANT PORRIDGE POT – PLAIN WITH NO SUGAR

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The first product I tried was a little pot of instant porridge from MOMA Foods. Oats are very kind to the tummy, and because of this, my favourite choice for breakfast. I prefer to cook my porridge (with lactose-free milk) in the microwave but, for the sake of convenience, have in the past tried Quaker’s Porridge Pots when out and about.

What makes MOMA’s gluten-free porridge different from most conventional instant porridge is the type of oats they use. They are wholegrain, with a generous helping of jumbo oats, therefore making them less processed and higher in fibre. MOMA’s blend of oats has a lower glycaemic index, and will keep you full for longer, making it a far healthier option than most brands.

The only other ingredient is low-fat milk powder, so all you need to do is add hot water and stir it thoroughly. Although MOMA does sell an interesting variety of flavours, the plain and sugar-free porridge leaves you free to improvise by mixing in fruit, nuts, or syrup (maple for me please). The texture of this porridge does take some getting used to as it’s quite gummy and chunky…definitely not as creamy as the porridge I normally have at home. That said, it would be pretty handy to have one of MOMA’s pots around when you’re on the go (or at work, like me in this instance). As you can see, it’s not very big, but it was certainly very filling and when lunchtime came round, I found I wasn’t hungry in the slightest!



LOVE CORN ROASTED SNACK – SMOKED BBQ

27878135_365661947235858_3985098939035549696_nMidnight snacks are a bad habit of mine. Actually, it doesn’t have to be midnight. I am often munching on something at bedtime. However, it is mostly junk food…sometimes chunks of cheese or salami, and even chicken drumsticks. It’s worse when on holiday in Singapore as my mum and I would drive around looking for food stalls (loads open late there), eventually consuming a heavy supper before slipping into a food coma at 2am!

The night (or should I say ‘morning’?!) I tried Love Corn‘s snack was probably the first time (in a long long while) I had something healthy past 9pm. It’s really yummy, moreish, and (being low-cal, high-fibre, vegan, gluten-free etc.) also completely guilt-free, making it great for those times when one is feeling peckish, even if it is at silly o’clock!



EAT REAL LENTIL CHIPS – SEA SALT

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I never buy ready-salted crisps, so I was a little sceptical when I opened the bag of Eat Real‘s Sea Salt Lentil Crisps Chips. Since it was Friday night (Netflix & Nom!), I made sure my more exotic-flavoured crisps (such as Wasabi Ginger, and Lobster Firecracker) and pork scratchings were on standby…just in case. I’m pleased to say I needn’t have bothered because the Lentil Chips were a treat and I soon scoffed the lot. Although they only had sea salt on them, the natural flavour of the lentils came through, making the chips quite tasty. I think I actually prefer them to the ordinary spud variety, and of course these will be much better for your body. They’ve even got a crunchier texture!

Other natural snacks by Eat Real are also available, and whilst I can’t list all the stores that stock them, I have previously spotted in Morrisons their Quinoa Chips which I will be adding to my next shopping list.



GET NOURISHED ICED COFFEE – HAZELNUT & CACAO MOCHA

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Although I often cannot do without my morning latte, I have to admit I predominantly get my caffeine fix from leaves rather than beans. However, when I do drink coffee, I like it extremely creamy and loaded with sugar. This Iced Coffee from Get Nourished only ticks the box for the former, but (for obvious reasons) not the latter. It does have a very strong taste, and (as expected) smells a lot like Nutella (not that I mind). To be honest, I wasn’t totally keen on this beverage. Yet, I was convinced that coffee-lovers would actually enjoy it, so I decided to get the opinion of a true connoisseur – my husband David…And guess what?! He gave it a thumbs-up! 😀

I suspect David’s conclusion was based mainly on flavour alone, but there are a lot of other benefits to drinks from Get Nourished. Like the brand name implies, their coffees are highly nutritious and ideal for those with a fitness regime that requires lots of energy and protein. Plus, they are also gluten-free and lactose-free. As an added bonus, Get Nourished will donate 1% of sales to The Kinetic Foundation, a charity that aims to improve Sport Education for kids.



THE BERRY COMPANY SUPERBERRIES – PURPLE JUICE DRINK

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I thought I’d save the best for last, because this drink is easily my favourite item in the Triyit box. If you love Ribena, but not so much a fan of the sugar that’s in it, and can’t quite stand drinking the ‘light’ version due to the saccharine taste of aspartame, this vegan drink from The Berry Company might convert you. Even my 17-year-old daughter Zhouyi, who drinks Ribena by the gallon, was impressed.

The Superberries Purple Juice is super refreshing, super light, and super delish. The Berry Company have got the fruity flavour and sweetness level just right, and it’s all down to the natural ingredients they use. There are no artificial additives in it, and as per the other products reviewed on this post, also free from gluten, fat, and GMOs.

Sadly, Purple Juice is not yet available in most supermarkets, and the one litre carton retails for over £2. This might change over time since it’s still a fairly new product. Until then, it’ll have to remain an occasional treat each time I visit my local Holland & Barrett.



Free gifts are always fun to review, and the Triyit box was particularly enjoyable…probably due to being filled with multiple goodies. It felt like it was Christmas all over again! Hopefully, this (and VoxBox) is only the beginning, with many more to follow. As they say, good things come in threes. Well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed it doesn’t just stop there!

2017-12-31 16.28.46A few months ago, I was! Someone from a Facebook group I joined – Feed Yourself for £1 a Day – shared a photo that took me back to my childhood. This lady had made what she called Wartime Jelly Creams which her gran had taught her, and it got me so nostalgic for jelly I was practically drooling!

It reminded me of the creamy Almond Agar-Agar desserts I used to eat as a kid (usually at parties), often with fruit cocktail, mangoes, or peaches. The Western version is sometimes also known as Milk Jellies, Jelly Fluff or Jello Whip (depending on whether the mixture is whisked before being left to set). I suppose it’s a little like blancmange, but without the cornflour, so it has a lighter and airier consistency. All versions include cream or milk in the recipe, with evaporated milk the more traditional of the two in the UK. I suspect the reason is down to cost, and the clue is in the name – Wartime Jelly.

Food was rationed in those dark times, and milk was scarce. However, it was possible to get tinned milk which is more economical, and lasts longer. Across the pond, it’s also been documented that gelatin was used in the US to “stretch rationed foods”, so perhaps it’s not surprising that jellies were as much a treat back then as they are now. Although here in this sceptred isle, I am not so sure about Colleen Moulding’s Carrot Fudge from “Frugal Recipes from Wartime Britain” which also contains gelatin. Then again, carrot cake is a lot yummier than it sounds! 😀

Most of the modern recipes I’ve come across do not list gelatin itself as one of the ingredients, but I really fancied a fusion of East and West, and had decided on layered mango jelly. Unfortunately, jelly crystals of that flavour are not easy to get hold of here; the ones I found online were instant set (at room temperature) which wouldn’t do at all because the jelly solution would need to boil, then cool before blending with milk (otherwise it would curdle)…And so it was that I ended up making my jelly from scratch.



The stars of the show:

• Evaporated Milk (Loving the tin’s retro design!)
• 2 Sachets of Gelatin*
• Mango Juice**
• Water
• Sugar

Also, basic arithmetic! LOL

2017-12-31 16.49.30Mix one packet of gelatin with freshly boiled water as per manufacturer’s instructions. Add mango juice in a quantity proportionate to amount of gelatin…again, related details can be found on the sachet/box/tub. Stir well, pour in mould, and refrigerate until set. This could take a couple of hours or more.

Reserve some of the evaporated milk and put it in a small pot.

Mix the next packet of gelatin with freshly boiled water, and add it to the rest of the evaporated milk and some mango juice (as before, milk and juice relative to amount of gelatin as per packet instructions). Stir well.

Quickly heat up the evaporated milk that’s in the pot and melt some sugar in it. It’s probably best to do this to taste as mango juice of different brands have varying sweetness. Add the sweetened milk to the rest of the mixture. Stir well, and pour over initial layer of jelly that’s set.

Pop the layered jelly in fridge to set for a few more hours, or better still, overnight.

*Can also be swopped with vegan gelatin, or agar-agar.

**Other types of fruit juice can be used, but nothing citrus as it may curdle the milk. My mango juice did have a bit of citric acid in it, but it must have been a small percentage as it didn’t affect the milk.

Here’s a tip – If any bubbles form, prick them with a toothpick or bamboo skewer. Make sure the tips are dry each time.


2017-12-31 16.17.03With the two sachets of gelatin, I made enough jelly to fill four wine tumblers, probably just under a couple of pints. It can be served with any topping of your choice – whipped cream, diced mango etc. – but seeing as we’re ushering in a new year, I sprinkled mine (see top pic) with spangly gold sugar stars! Hope your celebrations also went off with a great big shower of sparkles…I can still hear fireworks going off everywhere! May 2018 be full of wonderful times! 🙂

25037454_138865226896675_2036079854268448768_nMerry Christmas to you and all your loved ones! Hopefully, everyone has had as wonderful a time as I have, filled with joy (and treats). I realise this post is a little late, but maybe it could come in handy for next year…Not that advanced preparations have actually helped me in the past. Despite my best attempts (even taking time off work), there’s still always a lot of rushing around at the very last minute! I did, however, manage to get all the wrapping done by the morning of Christmas eve. Whew!

2017-12-21 22.11.31I try to come up with different gift ideas every festive season, and thought I’d have a go at something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time – personalised goody bags…or mini sacks/pouches in this case. The designs were created in Photoshop (remember to reverse them!), and then printed on transfer papers before being ironed onto the hessian pouches.

Unbeknownst to me then, my iron was actually damaged. It wasn’t distributing heat uniformly, so some of the fabric ended up with slight burn marks, and in other areas, it wasn’t hot enough for the design to transfer successfully. The result was a tad patchy, though some of my friends felt it contributed to the overall rustic appearance. I’m still getting a new iron though!

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These little bags are a good alternative if you have many friends you want to buy gifts for, but have a limited budget. I filled these with scented tealights (a bargain from any pound shop), homemade espresso truffles (recipe here), skincare/aftershave samples, poppers, and a few other party favours or stocking fillers.

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As for other presents specially for family, I made 3D Christmas Trees from origami paper, and glued them on gift tags made out of card, patterned ribbon, and gold raffia. If you haven’t got any pens with metallic ink, it’s probably best to use light coloured card instead of the burgundy ones like mine.

2017-12-18 21.51.07We normally send charity cards every Christmas, so I was very pleased to find out that Snapfish had partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support to offer bespoke merchandise, such as greeting cards. We have a gorgeous photo of our cat Magic playing with tree decorations when she was 16 weeks old, and I just knew it would be perfect for this occasion. My order did turn out a bit more expensive than previous years, but looking at the glossy outcome, you can see why I didn’t regret a penny of it!

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Speaking of tree decorations, look at these two adorable ones a friend and fellow crafter made for us! Needlework is one of those skills I never quite got to grips with, and how I wish I had…Perhaps a new goal for 2018? 😀

2017-12-15 00.49.20…to be giving! But what makes me equally joyous, is to be on the receiving end too!

A month or so ago, I blogged about how you can get your hands on free products, either through social media, or joining marketing campaigns. Since then, I have been sent many goodies that I didn’t have to pay for, and amassed quite a growing collection. It’s almost like Christmas come early!

2017-12-15 01.32.54There are basically enough items here to fill the average subscription box, except most of these did not cost me a penny. However, there were a couple of occasions when I had to pay a quid or two for postage. I always suspect the amount does cover the cost of production, and the reason brands give them away for so little money is because they need to get rid of overstock. Still, majority of products are in launch phase so all you may be asked to do is review the samples you receive. Personally, I think it’s a fair bargain.

A new range of freebies that I am particularly excited to try out is from Your Good Skin by Boots. The full-sized beauty products below were delivered entirely for free, and in return I have to commit myself to the 28-Day Challenge, plus share my results on social media. There is one catch – in order to be selected for this campaign, you do need to have over 1000 followers on Instagram.

2017-12-15 00.51.39The Balancing Skin Concentrate is the focal point of this challenge, but included in the package was the Pore Minimizing Tonic, Oil-Lifting Make-Up Remover Wipes, and the Instant Dryness Rescue balm.

I don’t wear make-up frequently, so would have preferred to receive a cleanser instead of the wipes. However, as luck would have it, my Boots card has loads of points because I haven’t spent any of them in ages. So, to treat myself, I used them to order the highly-recommended Nourishing Hot Cloth Cleanser (to counteract the toner) and ProVitamin Overnight Cream. Since I didn’t technically hand over any money, I guess I kind of got these for free too!

2017-12-15 00.54.26Your Good Skin also has a day moisturiser with high SPF, but I decided against buying that as I’ve already found my HG (Holy Grail) sunscreen and don’t want to replace it with anything else. I reviewed Bioré UV Perfect Milk for Face and Body not long ago, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for decent protection from photoaging. I figured that if the Balancing Skin Concentrate isn’t hydrating enough, I’d just apply a little of the ProVitamin Overnight Cream under the Perfect Milk sunscreen.

While my freebies were on their way to me, the support team from Your Good Skin emailed to suggest I post a ‘before’ picture of myself so I can share the progress of my transformation. I made up my mind to start the challenge after a late night out to a Christmas party. It’s one of the few occasions I would wear make-up, so I knew my skin would not be at its best the next day.

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And I was right…In the first photo, you can see some light foundation just about hiding a spot on my chin, but I swear it actually ballooned overnight because the next pic of me in the morning shows a definite flare-up. Two new tiny spots were also beginning to form under my nose. Boo!

Well, Your Good Skin aims to improve your skin so it becomes visibly healthier, or your money back. I don’t think I would qualify for the latter, but Boots skincare products are generally effective so I’ve got nothing to lose. Hopefully, at the end of four weeks, I will emerge with more “good skin days” as advertised.



INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Here I am again, on day one of the challenge, face sans make-up, freshly washed (hence a little pink and blotchy), and with Your Good Skin products duly applied.

2017-12-19 14.21.34If you’re wondering why I have one eyebrow slightly raised, it is not a response to this new beauty routine. This expression is normal for me…I constantly go through life in a mildly bemused state. 😀

Where the new lotions and potions courtesy of Boots are concerned, everything’s so-far-so-good. It’s of course too early to tell if they are benefiting me in any way, but I don’t seem to be allergic to any of the ingredients and my skin is sensitive enough to react quite quickly. There is hardly any fragrance to all the products (though the toner smells a bit weird, almost sickly), and some of them don’t glide on my face as well as I’d hoped. The moisturiser in particular feels quite tacky and takes quite awhile to absorb. That said, it does appear matt after application, so I suppose it’s the end result that matters. Also, the spot on my chin does seem a little less red and angry, so perhaps the new stuff is doing something after all!

I’ll blog about this again at the end of the challenge, and in the meantime, I shall keep all my fingers (and toes!) crossed that this will be (as touted) a “journey to better skin for life”!

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Everytime someone whinges “but it’s not even December”, an elf loses their sense of purpose, and gets turned out into the cold. Help save jobs in Santa’s Workshop by keeping the festive spirit alive! Forget S.P.E.W…that’s so 1994. Elves of today have a new campaign and slogan – Christmas should be forever, not just once a year. 😀

Yes, I know…I’ve gone a bit OTT, but people can bah-humbug me all they like. I’m still not going to change; I just love Christmas. I was making plans for this occasion even before Halloween had been and gone…Actually, I probably started as early as spring when I went looking for pine cones during our nature rambles.

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Early May saw us at Spring Wood in Walley which was practically covered in gorgeous bluebells. Quite by coincidence, it also had a lot of pine trees in the vicinity…The ground was full of pine cones, much to my delight. If you live in Lancashire, another great place to gather pine cones would of course be Beacon Fell.

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I wish I’d thought of bringing a bag or basket with me because I could only carry the cones in my coat pockets. They were very large and deep pockets though, so I did collect enough pine cones for craft purposes. The little branch that some of them were attached to could come in useful for another project, so I took that home with me as well.

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As it’s my first time working with pine cones, I had to do some research on how to prep them. According to various online sources, there are a number of methods. However, a vinegar bath seems to be the popular choice. Mostly because it not only cleans them, but also kills any bugs that may be hiding within. It will stink the room out as well, but that can’t be helped! 😛

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It’s advisable to grab a pair of tweezers so you can remove any visible debris before doing anything else. There’s probably all sorts of muckiness trapped in the scales. After that, put the pine cones in a bucket or large bowl. Mixing the solution is not an exact science, but it’s roughly two parts water and one part white vinegar.

Leave the cones to soak for about 20 minutes or so. You might want to weigh them down with a small dish as they tend to float to the top, and the cones need to be completely submerged in order to be cleansed thoroughly.

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As you can see, the pine cones close up when wet, but this is normal, so no need to panic. They open up again once dry. From here onwards, there are two ways you can proceed. Either lay them out on some old newspapers or a towel, and let them dry naturally, or use your oven.

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I am not certain if there’s a difference in the outcome if you opt to do it either way, but I have heard that airing cones can take a few days, whereas the oven gives a much quicker result. Plus, it has the added benefit of further bug-proofing your cones.

As I was impatient, I put them in the oven on the highest setting and took them out after about 45 minutes. It was probably a little too long as a few of the cones turned darker. I didn’t mind so much as some of them will get painted eventually, but for future reference, I’ll take the cones out after half an hour, or turn the heat down.

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When the pine cones are dry, it is recommended that you coat them with some sort of clear varnish in order to preserve them. The smaller cones were quite brittle, so the lacquer did help slightly in keeping the ends from flaking off. I am not keen on gloss, so it was a matt spray that I used. You can’t really tell from the photo above, but the pine cones that I sprayed have a smooth sheen as compared to the ones in the tin trough which have no varnish on them, since I will be painting those at a later date when making some of my Christmas ornaments.

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Pine cones fully sanitised and glazed, I could finally relax and enjoy a small batch of truffles I made earlier. What could be more Christmassy than chocolate? Truffles are a simple treat to make, whether for yourself, or friends and family.

The recipe is pretty forgiving as not a lot can go wrong…It’s basically ganache that has been allowed to set, rolled into little balls, and coated in ground nuts, cocoa, or any other ingredients you like. To make these, I used:

150gm Dark Chocolate – Chopped
150ml Double (or Whipping) Cream
25gm Unsalted Butter

Melt the butter in the cream until the mixture begins to simmer. Then pour it into a bowl with the chopped chocolate. Keep stirring until the chocolate melts and blends smoothly with the cream. If you want to add other flavours, such as coffee or Amaretto, now would be the time to do so.

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Let it the ganache set in the fridge for a few hours (it took four hours in my fridge). You’ll know it’s ready when the little balls keep their shape after you’ve rolled them in your hands. The first one I made sank into a sort of squishy blob, so back into the fridge the ganache went.

I used unsweetened cocoa and ground almonds to finish off my truffles, but you could also try dipping them in milk chocolate or desiccated coconut. After coating them, I left my truffles to chill in the fridge overnight so they could solidify further. I am not sure what the shelf life would be for homemade truffles, but that might not be much of a concern…If your family is anything like mine, it won’t be 24 hours before they’re all gone.



In other news…

Processed with MOLDIVI’m very happy to say that the relaunch of my Etsy shop is going well, and I have made quite a few sales since opening it a couple of weeks ago. As a gesture of appreciation, all customers will receive complimentary gifts of either sweets or scented tealights, along with a small discount for their next purchase. Thank you all for your support…It’s been awesome! 🙂

…on a tight budget!

At long last, our loft conversion is complete, and just in time for the Easter hols! Work on it actually started last summer, but because it was mostly DIY (apart from rewiring, reinforcements, and boarding), progress was slow.

Not taking into account the metal edging (not sure of correct terminology?!) which still needs to be installed on the carpet around the trapdoor thingy, I now have my own personal sanctuary and craft space, not to mention extra capacity for storage and (maybe-not-so-secret) snack stash. I am beyond chuffed! 😀

Even before we started building the loft, I had factored in an area for a mini photo booth with chalkboard wall. It wasn’t too difficult to set up, and the outcome was more or less what I pictured in my head. I’m now also thinking I should get a thin plank of wood to slide over the blackboard, painted white, just so I can have another background option…But perhaps that is a job for another day.

This month has also seen us celebrate our wedding anniversary, and although David and I agreed in advance to keep our expenditure to a minimum (due to the loft!), I couldn’t resist getting him a little something, complete with cheesy homemade card featuring puns related to a common interest of ours – Astronomy.

If I’m honest, it was more of an excuse to show off a gift topper rose I’d made using a few of the remaining pipe-cleaners from last year’s Halloween Spider Bun.

 

Using this helpful video, a friend put my hair up in a bun and pinned to it a pair of googly eyes that I’d stuck on a bit of cardboard the night before. I know it’s not really a costume, but still a spookily acceptable (and cute) low-cost, last minute alternative in the spirit of the occasion.

 

Although I haven’t really been experimenting on the culinary front, I did make more of an effort on this year’s Pancake Day. As it’s normally close to dinner time when we get home from work, I didn’t fancy anything too dessert-like, so I decided to make us savoury pancakes with Stilton spinach and mushrooms, topped with bacon and egg. It didn’t look like much after I made it, but was quite rich and thus, more filling than I expected.

What I am particularly proud of, however, is a classic dish that’s also one of David’s favourites. He likes to call it ‘red stuff’ (which we usually get from the takeaway), but is more traditionally known by its Cantonese name Gou Lou Yuk, or over here in the UK as Sweet and Sour Pork. That night’s meal was met with much satisfaction, with only one complaint. Apparently, I’d left the kitchen looking “like an industrial accident” had occurred in there! Luckily for me, our family has a rule I am not above exploiting, and that is…whoever cooks is spared from doing the washing up!

Whilst essentially not all that difficult to master, Gou Lou Yuk does require a lot of prep work, and some of that includes deep frying. Was having our home smell like the local chippy worth every mouthful? Yes. Would I be making it again anytime soon? Probably not! 😀

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I started off this year wondering if I should have made consistent blogging a New Year’s resolution, but super glad I did not since that would have been one big fail. My last post was actually before Christmas last year, which means we’re now practically halfway to Santa’s next visit! Whoops, I guess real life just got in the way. You could say this is a good thing since it means I must only have been up to loads.

Whilst I have been rubbish in updating my blog, at least I can say I’ve kept one promise to myself, and that’s to be a lot less lazy in the kitchen. I used to enjoy cooking whilst working part-time, but moving into full-time employment made me feel like I was coming home to another job when faced with anything domestic, and so an unhealthy (and expensive!) habit of relying on ready meals (particularly during the week) was developed.

This is, happily, no longer the case, as you can see from my very first crack at Okonomiyaki in the image above. For the uninitiated, it is a type of Japanese savoury pancake.

I have even started baking again! Nothing too ambitious (due to a broken oven that only has two settings – low and high), but these Nutella Cookies were not completely beyond my skills. (Translation: Did not burn them.)

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I even tried a Low FODMAP diet as a spring challenge…I would say Lent, but as I’m Taoist I can appreciate some readers may prefer a more politically correct denomination.

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You’d think the no-garlic and no-onions rule would render everything bland, but the Coconut Shrimp Chowder was particularly tasty, even if its consistency was more like risotto! And the Buffalo Chops with Roast Butternut Squash are definitely staying on the menu, not just for sheer scrumminess but ease of preparation as well.

I stupidly decided to include all sweet food and drinks in the restriction, which I personally found harder to give up, so I made sure to have my fill over Valentine’s Day with a huge sugary fix of Chocolate Mousse and Cinnamon French Toast.

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Rest assured, I was back on all manner of cakes, pudding and confectionery as soon as the 40 days or so were up, starting with this two-ingredient Maple Soufflé.

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Things got back to normal after that, but my journey as a foodie continues, albeit with a low-cost caveat. This hasn’t made me any less adventurous, and I think I surprised myself with what ended up on our dinner table despite the limitations, such as this Thai-Cajun fusion of Shrimp Étouffée, and Lamb Kofta with Tzatziki.

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Hopefully, I won’t suffer a relapse and resort to anything pre-cooked ever again, unless it’s the homemade variety. Both my Rainbow Rolls, and ‘Pot Noodle’ with Soy-Pickled Egg make perfectly acceptable lunch options, seeing as neither require the use of a microwave!

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Update 01/01/17 – I often share photos on facebook whenever I make something so it made perfect sense to create an album on there dedicated to yummy things, and the result is Nom-Nom Foodage which will hopefully provide some inspiration despite my poor photography skills. 🙂

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