Archives for posts with tag: homemade

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 by way of Google, 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. Various varieties of roses are 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.

2018-04-15-19-24-541I’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 (lightly crushed or bruised to release the scent…I use a mortar and pestle) 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! 😛

2018-03-11 00.28.40This is what I like to call my budget basket! 😀 It’s perfect for those times when you are stuck for ideas, and have a bit of a cash flow problem. That’s how we found ourselves this Mother’s Day. Fortunately (piggybank-wise), my mum is in Singapore where this occasion isn’t celebrated until May, so for the time-being, we only had to take care of one present.

The gift you see in the photo above is actually for my mother-in-law. She’s the sort of person who likes a simple quiet life, with no particular hobbies or interests (apart from cats), which makes her a pretty tricky recipient. We often buy her feline-related paraphernalia, but wanted to get her something different this time.

Posh nosh is always a great fallback…There aren’t many of us who will say no to yummy treats! They don’t necessarily cost a lot either. The little hamper I put together actually came to less than £15 in total, and could have been cheaper had I not decided to shop in Booths. Well, I wanted it to be special, so it was worth the few extra quid. 🙂

2018-03-10 22.05.54The basket was a bargain from a pound shop, but if you can’t find one that’s suitable, you could cut up a cardboard box and stick some nice wrapping paper on the outside of it. Apart from the card (in colours to match), I didn’t buy anything else because I already owned most of the necessary materials to put this gift basket together. As you can see below, I’ll not be experiencing a shortage of patterned cellophane anytime soon!

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I also have a collection of artificial flowers I keep as props and decoration. However, you can embellish with something else if you haven’t any of those. Be inventive! I think shaped bath bombs or candles can look pretty as well, or possibly mini plush toys and beads. To cushion the items in the basket, I filled it with some leftover packaging from parcels I’d received, and paper from my shredder.

The whole endeavour was fairly quick and easy, but would have taken me a bit longer had hubby David not lent a hand when it came to taping the cellophane down. I’m really rubbish with dates and suck at time management, so this really isn’t bad for a last minute job (even if I do say so myself)! It’s a trait that must run in the family, because my daughter Zhouyi admitted she was similarly pushed for time and only got my present yesterday!

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She does know me well though…Her gifts are always the most adorablest! And that card did make me chuckle. 😀

I hope there’s much joy going round this Mothering Sunday, and that you’re having a lovely time with your mum whether or not you follow the UK tradition!

…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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My intention when creating this blog was for it to feature news about my Etsy store, such as upcoming homemade products, and any ideas I might have which could be pin-worthy or even better, lead to commercial viability.

The latter I had no shortage of…The problem was finding the opportunity to put everything together, much less write about it. That’s not to say I haven’t had any time for my craft projects. Quite the contrary…

This collection of gift packaging and gift tags will soon be available (along with the Make-Your-Own Spa Gift Set) at my store when it reopens. I’m just waiting for my loft conversion to complete so I’ll have more room to tinker.

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If you’ve noticed remarkable improvement in these photos compared to pictures in previous posts, don’t worry…there’s nothing wrong with your screen (or eyesight)! These images were taken by my photographer husband David. 😁 Unfortunately, he’s not always available when I’m in arty mode so I make do with my trusty old iPhone. 😎

Many of my recent (ish) creations have been related to the presentation of…well…presents, mainly for friends and family. The gift toppers often involved origami or kirigami since both styles are so versatile and economical.

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They work great on gift-bags too…

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…though sometimes I prefer a quicker route sans paper cuts. 😁

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I’m light years away from matching the skill of Jo Nakashima, but I think my efforts are fairly respectable! If you’re ever in need of a tutorial, consider subscribing to Paper Kawaii which also has a pretty helpful YouTube channel.

After the success I had with my DIY Foot Scrubs, I thought I’d experiment with a few other beauty concoctions. The Spiced Sugar Body Scrub still needs perfecting, but the Whipped Coconut Mousse was a dream. It could be used in a variety of ways – moisturiser, make-up remover, and most effectively, as an overnight hair masque. I infused it with Green Tea and Grapefruit Oil which gave it such a lovely tropical smell.

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When grownup colouring books became trendy, last year also saw me dabbling in an old childhood pastime, with the notion that it would serve as a form of art therapy.

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The outcome was pretty enough, and creating gradients with colour pencils (instead of Photoshop) was a refreshing change, but I simply didn’t have the patience to persevere, so that little diversion didn’t last. Much the same as my attempts to pick up knitting. I did contribute a mini hat or two to The Big Knit though. I wouldn’t say I’ve totally given up on either pursuit…It’s more the case of having to put them on the back-burner for now.

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By this stage, I’d amassed a stockpile of craft materials. There were cheap retail storage options available, but if you’ve got that much stuff to organise, costs do mount up. Fortunately, I had loads of cardboard boxes lying around due to online shopping and they came in handy when I wanted to make boxes for my shelves. All I needed was a roll of hessian and strong double-sided tape. I’ve tried painting boxes and sticking them with patterned paper, but I kind of like the rustic look more.

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It’ll take forever to chronicle all my craft activities in one go, but here’s a little preview of the ones I favoured most – wedding presents for my brother and sister-in-law last spring (above), and a Jewellery Display Greeting Card (below) for a friend who was off to uni. Both relied quite heavily on my skills as a Graphic Designer (particularly my brother’s gifts), but I found the other aspects trickier. The Scrabble Box Frame was quite fiddly to assemble as I wanted everything to be precise, and did require a couple of cracks at it before I got things right. I shall expand on these separately with more in-depth posts at a later date, and will include photos of the process…mine sadly, not David’s. Sorry!  😜

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I love Christmas, and it’s not just because I get so much time off from work. If I’m honest, the day itself can be a bit anti-climatic. Once the imaginary bearded man has been and gone (having deemed us worthy beneficiaries of course), all presents opened, and turkey consumed, most people just lie there in a booze-induced stupor, nursing a food baby. It’s really the prep that builds up excitement – shopping in the (hopefully) snow at markets, putting up the tree and decorations, carol-singing, gift-wrapping etc. That last bit is what gets me into the spirit, and I try to come up with new ideas every year.

We’re on a bit of a tight budget this Christmas, but I had loads of pipe cleaners leftover from earlier projects so they came in handy when making the gift-bags for colleagues…and coloured paper as well, so kirigami (yet again) ended up being a prominent feature when making my gift-topper bows.

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As I have a tendency to spoil my daughter over the festive season, she usually gets a hamper or gift basket from me. It’s a more attractive solution than putting everything in one huge box if someone’s getting multiple gifts. I’ve made a few bespoke gift baskets and hampers over the years…

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…But putting one of these together can be quite a challenge, especially when you want some items to be a surprise so they cannot be visible through the clear cellophane. The best way to get round that is to wrap them in matching paper beforehand.

I cut it quite fine this year by buying almost everything online, and was still awaiting deliveries on the 23rd. Thankfully, all my orders arrived on time, but it did mean a pretty late night for me Christmas eve.

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I remember a time when it used to be plush toys and girly stuff, now it’s skull candles and gothic-type paraphernalia. What a difference six years can make! She still likes pink and purple though. I guess my daughter isn’t quite ready to completely give up being a girly girl at 16.

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Keeping costs down during this yearly ritual of frenzied commercialisation is no easy task when you’ve got kids, and it’s also the time of year when most of us are guilt-tripped into supporting a charitable cause. I’ll admit Christmas Jumper Day did catch me by surprise…Most schools got involved so Zhouyi was all set, but as work suddenly decided to join in, I had to make a bit of a last minute decision to temporarily modify a pre-existing non-festive jumper with felt and yarn. My fox’s little santa hat cost me less than £1, leaving me in a better position to donate, so I was overall pleased with the result.

2016 has not been kind to many of us…I’ll always see it as the year that took from us Starman, Snape, Chekov, Princess Leia, Harper Lee, Vera Rubin, and our right to be a part of the EU, whilst giving Trump/Putin and the far-right greater power, but perhaps it might end on a happier note.

Much love and joy to everyone this festive season.

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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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It’s that time of the year again! No matter how hard I try to keep festive activities to a minimum, things never quite seem to work out. Thankfully, having to be frugal doesn’t necessarily mean resorting to basics, and can sometimes be the stimulus for creativity. It does help if you have lots of paper lying around though!

For the giant modular snowflake above, I just used cheap A4 printing paper. The kirigami instructions were easy enough, and it didn’t take long for me to produce a few to hang around home and office.

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I continued the origami theme when it came to everything else, including the mini gift buckets you see above – each containing ingredients and recipe for either Mulled Wine or Hot Chocolate, along with assorted treats. It’s a bit similar to the gift jars I made awhile back, though far more fiddly, since those only involved a few leftover present toppers, and jar covers which I generated digitally.

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Things would probably have been simpler if I’d re-used the gift tags I made last Christmas (left image below), but what can I say? I just got a little too carried away with Japanese-inspired papercraft!

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Fortunately, there are no culinary expectations of me this year, what with hubby roasting the potatoes and mum-in-law sorting the turkey out. So I can simply sit back and enjoy my handiwork.

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Hope the festive season brings joy to everyone!

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As an introvert, I’ve never been one for parties, yet my passion for cosplay equals my distaste for social interaction, which presents a bit of a paradoxical situation since there’s hardly any point dressing up if there isn’t an audience.

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Most previous attempts were unambitious, and included ideas such as a witch and a vampire (I was in a hurry!), though I’d count Faith Connors from Mirror’s Edge a success…in large part due to my husband’s steady hand in replicating the tattoos!

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So imagine my delight when an opportunity arrived to organise a Halloween charity event at work. For a small donation, a member of staff could materialise on the day as any spooky character of their choice, with cakes or other yummy goodness a bonus.

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I did consider turning up as Gogo Yubari, but due to time constraints, decided that Sadako Yamamura from Ringu would be more realistic since less prop-making would be involved. Plus, I have the hair for it! So one long victorian nightdress and a huge sheet of cardboard later, and the result was freaky enough to unnerve even colleagues taking the photos on this page.

All in all, it was a pretty good Halloween…lots of great pics, and we got to stuff our faces. I doubt a lot of work was done that day, but it made a change to be haunted by something other than deadlines!

This is my first attempt at a homemade beauty kit which I’m hoping will turn out to be a great birthday gift for a friend. As a part-time Reiki Healer, she has an interest in natural therapy and all other related products. Plus, being a Graphic Designer like myself, she also enjoys the creative process and has an eye for the unique. The idea is to make her something which would combine both these qualities, and as she’s been under a lot of stress lately, a personalised spa set seems ideal.

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If it all works out, I might make some more and see if I can get some interest on Etsy. The product’s at concept stage so there’s quite a few bits to iron out, but so far so good, even if I do say so myself!

There’s still lots to do and much testing required to get the kit right. I made some mistakes with the packaging. Bottles too large, may have to change the label design, and also still not quite decided how far to go with the personalisation option. As I’m funding this myself, things are going a bit slow so I’m taking it one step at a time.

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Luckily, my hubby David has been a great help, though he did catch me off-guard a few times with the Dragon’s Den treatment…but I guess it’s better to fall flat on my face now than later on!