Category Archives: Food/Drink

An Interview With Spark

This week I’m talking about kitchen gadgets, utensils and gizmos – those gadgets that  you think you don’t have a need for, then you get one and you realise it is an absolute godsend for making your life easier! I bet every household has got at least one  kitchen gadget that may not be a necessity but its versatility renders it one of your favourite kitchen items. If you haven’t got such a gadget, then perhaps my guest this week will tempt you with one of his creations. I’m talking with Billy Dulay, co founder of “Products By Spark” – a small company that has big ideas – its Splatter Catcher and Infinity Mat are just two items worth looking at. Hi Billy & welcome!

Hello & welcome to “Spark”, a small but growing company specializing in “The newest kitchen gadgets/utensils and beyond”. We believe passionately in innovation and first-rate service, which is why we commit ourselves to giving you the best of both. If you’re looking for something new, you’re in the right place. We strive to be industrious and inventive, offering our customers something they need but with an innovative twist, putting their desires at the top of our priority list.

What was the inspiration behind the introduction of the Splatter Catcher and the Infinity Mat?

The Splatter Catcher, this idea was made after cooking a rather splattery chicken thigh for dinner. Covered in grease, we wanted to develop a product that wouldn’t affect the food in any way but keeps stoves clean, behold the Splatter Catcher.

The Infinity Mat was a bi-product of our creative juices after creating the Splatter Catcher, “What multi-use tool can we create which will be a must in any kitchen?” thus sparking into life the Infinity Mat.

There are similar items on sale from other brands – so what are the main selling points of your products?

The Splatter Catcher is the first product of its kind to the hit the UK market, the main selling points are as follows:-

Fits 28cm pans (Diameter)
BPA free – Made from fully compliant 100% food grade silicone 
Heat resistant up to 230 Celsius
Dishwasher Safe – Place on to two racks of the dishwasher, leave out to dry.
Easy roll up storage
Seamless application – Tab system allows for the Splatter catcher to be applied with ease, ensuring it has been applied securely.
Allows all steam to escape the pan
Blocks fine oil from escaping – rest assured that your cooking surface and clothes will be free of any fine oil splatters.
Prevents Spills – freely overfill the pan without the fear of food contents dropping out of the pan. Perfect for large stirfries

The Infinity Mat not only has uses for indoor and outdoor application:-

Trivet
Food Cover
Placemat
Jar Opener
Oven Glove
Grip for your chopping board
And Many More!

It is also available in 4 different colours.

The Splatter Catcher and the Infinity Mat come in array of lovely bright colours – which colour seems to be the most popular amongst your customers?
Yellow and Red – These colours can brighten up the dullest of kitchens.
Are there any new additions to your range of products in the pipeline for 2019?

Yes! Yes! Yes! There’s definitely more in store for 2019 we haven’t even got started.

As you are based in the UK, are your products available to customers abroad?

Yes, we ship all over the world.

Working in the field of kitchen products, as you do, do you enjoy spending time in the kitchen cooking? If so, do you have a signature dish?

When I can get time I love cooking. I’m not the best chef in the world however I’d like to say I’d hold my own in the “Chicken Stir Fry Arena” which is my signature dish.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Jeans, open collar shirt and blazer – smart casual and definitely a nice pair of shoes.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? 

Definitely Asos.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Has to be a nice winter coat, I’m dreading winter.

Boots or Shoes?

Shoes – Look smarter.


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about the Splatter Catcher & The Infinity Mat.

Website (www.productsbyspark.com)

Instagram – (_sparkproducts)

Thank you Billy for chatting to us about your kitchen gadgets.  I can just imagine you cooking your stir fry and pondering over how you can make sure the oil doesn’t splatter everywhere…. 🙂 I didn’t realise just how many different ways you can use the Infinity Mat – definitely  a useful item to have in the kitchen.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Products By Spark (Billy Dulay).

 

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An Interview With The English Cream Tea Company

There’s nothing quite like an English Cream Tea – it’s an indulgence that is worth every penny and an experience that I recommend everybody to try at least once.   My guest today, Jane, epitomises the spirit of the traditional English Cream Tea – and through her company, she has extended the experience into people’s own homes, picnics and even overseas.  Grab a cup of tea and settle down whilst I introduce Jane to the blog… hi Jane!

Hello – I’m Jane Malyon. My husband Roger and I are the parents of 2 amazingly spirited lads, one of whom is an ‘advertising creative’ in Toronto, Canada and the other has the exciting job title of Cirquador. That means he travels the world as a team member of Cirque du Soleil. It also means we travel in his wake, trying to catch up for hugs, in between visits to Toronto. I’ll go a long way for my hugs you understand!

The English Cream Tea Company is a brilliant idea – what inspired you to concentrate on promoting the quintessential English afternoon cream tea and picnic hampers?

Roger and I have run an outside catering company for 35 years, with ancient (Tudor) Pledgdon Barn as our venue near the Essex/Herts border. I have also been an NLP coach helping people to get on better and communicate well…and a balloon artist, pianist, author of 2 books and public speaker (including a TEDx talk). However, in 2011, I had a chance meeting with an elderly lady who loved afternoon tea (like I do!) but could no longer travel to great hotels for her favourite treat. Suddenly the mental lightbulb went off and The English Cream Tea Company was born. My thinking was that if this lady could no longer travel to The Ritz or The Savoy, could the afternoon tea experience travel to her instead? I contacted the companies who move human organs around the UK for transplants and asked about their technology for keeping it all safe, in perfect condition and chilled – and then copied it! We now send indulgent and authentic fresh afternoon tea and English picnic hamper boxess UK wide – and have an ambient (shelf-stable) range of products, gifts, corporate gifts, teas and jams for retail, post and export. It’s been an absolute adventure bringing all this to life and every day the roller coaster continues (with downs as well as ups, of course).

do love an English Cream Tea.  I love clotted cream & strawberry jam on my scone. I did read about a man on Twitter who loved his scones with cream & lemon curd (I must try that out one day!) Do you have any personal favourites when it comes to a cream tea?

I must have had 100 interviews since starting the company, including the BBC a few times – and the two questions I am most asked are: is it pronounced ‘ scone ‘ or ‘scon’ …and is it cream or jam first. Only the TV crew from Russia surprised me by asking: “Jane, what is builder’s tea?” !!

Our best sellers are our Fresh Afternoon Tea for Two hamper delivered to your door (Best. Gift. Ever!) and our award winning Double Chocolate Brownie. However, out of our range of absolutely delicious preserves (truly lovely – I kid you not), our Lemon Curd with Passionfruit is actually the best seller – and lots of people enjoy it with clotted cream and scones – though Strawberry is the nation’s favourite with English Cream Tea. My own favourite is our Raspberry and Blackberry Jam (with clotted cream too) – and as I’m an Essex girl, I can apply the cream/jam in any order I like. It’s only in Devon/Cornwall where you might be escorted from the county for doing it the ‘wrong’ way round (hint, jam first for Cornwall, jam second for Devon!). We actually gained the Guinness World Record for the largest English Cream Tea party (featured in the 2013 album) – but Devon were not happy at all that the record went to Essex!

Sandwiches feature in an English afternoon tea & hampers – I do so love an interesting filling – but what fillings tend to be most popular amongst your customers?

When selecting our main range of sandwich fillings, we felt it was important to have Smoked Salmon with lemon (classic and delicious) and of course Cucumber (with cream cheese). The cucumber sandwich has represented wealth since Victorian times because only the rich could have the hothouses and teams of gardeners to produce them! They are quintessentially associated with an elegant teatime array and we couldn’t leave them out. After that, we chose a cheese and relish sandwich and an egg mayonnaise with cress – because they’re both vegetarian. Our range fits with many Indian and Jewish customers as well, whereas adding Ham sandwiches or other meat based options, changes that. However – we do get special requests which we try to meet and we also occasionally offer ‘special edition’ hampers with other cake and sandwich options (including Coronation Chicken). We’ll be offering a new Royal Wedding hamper soon with different treats inside! Keep an eye out on our site. We also run competitions on our Facebook page, one of which was to invent a new sandwich – and the winner’s was made and delivered to them. (In case you’re wondering it was Turkey, Goats Cheese, Watercress and Cranberry Sauce – yum!)

Your scones are delicious and I do love the idea of the xscone mixes so those who are not quite so clever at baking scones from scratch can have a go (especially the chocolate version)! What inspired you to produce the mixes? You also have a range of jams & chutneys – have you plans to introduce new flavours in the future? 

Creating new ideas and products is my favourite part of running the business BUT I have to keep myself in check. Developing any new line is actually very costly by the time the packaging, labelling, bar codes etc are added. Having said that, there will be new hampers for the corporate and gift market this year plus two new Tea Blender’s Kits…oh, and the Royal Wedding hamper….but I really must restrain from adding too many new lines. Sigh 😀

As you are based in the UK, are you able to ship products overseas? 


After launching in 2011 via that Facebook page initially, on the very first day we received enquiries from 5 other countries all asking if they could have Fresh Afternoon Tea hampers delivered too. We were shocked and er, no – we can’t quite get our freshly made scones, clotted cream, cakes, sandwiches, shortbread, brownies etc all the way down to Australia within 24 hours. So we developed gift tins embodying the treats of cream tea without the cream (but including our own Scone Mix) to be able to send out this beloved traditional treat in some form at least, world wide. English Heritage stocked our Festive Scone Bake Kit last Christmas (that came with marzipan holly and berries to go on top of your completed scones!).


We also include etiquette tips with most of our products, keeping the British traditional teatime manners going! I have videos on YouTube and Instagram etc about that aspect (and answering the Scone/Scon question) – and these seem to attract a worldwide audience (not to mention Trolls!). Indeed, every time there’s a Royal event here or Downton Abbey is aired, there’s more interest still. Apparently Nelson Mandela said that Afternoon Tea is Britain’s greatest export. Well said Sir!

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

In terms of clothes, I wear trousers almost 100% of the time. Actually take out the ‘almost’. I like winter clothes best eg jackets with structure – and still mourn the waning of the padded shoulder (but perhaps it’s making a come-back!). Love a bit of colour too and am known for wearing red, which is our main corporate colour.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? 

Location-wise, I do most of my shopping in Toronto. That sounds so much more jet-set/international than the reality. When I’m in the UK I almost never get the chance to do personal shopping – so it’s only when we’re visiting our son in Canada that I’ll get that chance. I head to the Hudson’s Bay Co (a little like John Lewis) and lose myself in the trying-on process. Bliss.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

My next purchase (though really, I probably already have outfits that would quite suffice) could be an evening jacket as hubby and I celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary this year and plan on enjoying a very special dinner out. Yay. That 40 year anniversary bit obviously also demonstrates that I had my lightbulb idea about starting The English Cream Tea Company, somewhat late in the day. But never say never, ladies! I didn’t know anything at all about retail/export/packaging/distribution or trying to build an iconic brand. However, I was certain I’d be very, very cross with myself for not giving it my best shot, so it simply had to be! With the loveliest team of Scone Gnomes, designer, web guru and more, the adventure continues….except now you’ll know that inside my oversized boots, there are little wide feet trying to keep me grounded!

Boots or Shoes? 

I absolutely love boots but possibly not for the usual reasons. I have spectacularly wide and short feet and most shoes won’t stay on – but boots are the solution. This is because I often buy 2.5 whole sizes too big to accommodate what nature gave me foot-wise. My feet would come out of shoes that were way too big but boots are more forgiving. One of our darling sons has offered to have a ‘last’ made for me so I can have made-to-measure shoes…which sounds amazing! Bless.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about The English Cream Tea Company.


Jane’s top ten tips on English Cream Tea etiquette!


(AND someone made a spoof of that last video – hilarious: Spoof videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVXVdPBxipk)

Mmmm..simply delicious! Thank you Jane for making our mouths water!  Your business is simply delightful …and as far as Scone or Scon goes….I say “Scone” ….

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Jane Malyon & The English Cream Tea Company

 

 

 

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An Interview With Vitamin Coffee

Coffee. For a lot of us, we can’t seem to function without a cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  Trying to go on a health kick, and struggling to forego that daily wake up routine?  What if I told you that there’s a coffee available that is tasty AND contains our daily vitamin intake?  Sounds good, doesn’t it? I thought so, so I caught up with Vitamin Coffee founder, Bryn Ray, to find out what is so special about his coffee….hi Bryn…

Hi! I’m Bryn Ray – fitness and coffee enthusiast, turned entrepreneur to blend those enthusiasms.

What was the inspiration behind the setting up of Vitamin Coffee?

A software designer by trade, when I worked in the city I found myself coming in rather groggy after some of the nights before. The old solution used to be a mug of coffee and a glass of some horrible effervescent fizz, so I thought there must be a way to blend the effect of both things. That’s where the Complete and Defence version of Vitamin Coffee were born, the Energy blend then followed when I started reading ingredients list of pre-workout drinks.

You currently offer 2 coffees – medium & dark with a choice of 3 vitamin blends (Medium, Energy, Defence). The coffees all contain the full daily requirement of 14 essential  vitamins and minerals – so what is the difference between the blends on offer?

All three blends are based on the same set of vitamins. The Complete offers 100% of what you need of each per day. The defence is then hyper-dosed with extra vitamin C and D which has positive effect on the immune system. The energy is higher in B-vitamins which are particularly useful for people who are very active, it also has added caffeine (on top of the standard amount in the coffee).

Early days yet I know, but what coffee blends are proving most popular amongst your customers so far? Have you got a favourite blend?

Medium Defence seems to be the superstar, but it is winter. My personal favourite is the Dark Energy, I drink it before every workout.

Where do you source your coffee beans from?

The Medium blend sources from Asia and Africa – it’s a little unconventional, but it’s based on Monsoon Malabar beans that give it an incredibly smooth and creamy taste. The Dark blend is a brighter and fruiter pairing Central and South American single-origins with Ethiopian Mocha Djimmah beans for boldness.

Can the coffee be purchased as a one off or is the coffee available on a subscription basis only?

Coffee can be a one off or as a subscription at your chosen interval. The bags each contain 14 daily servings so with most customers being daily drinker a two week subscription is the standard.

As you are based in the UK, is your coffee available to customers abroad?

Currently we don’t ship abroad, but we’re actively looking into distributing around Europe.

Personal now- what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Generally, i’m a monochromatic man. Black Levi 511, black leather Janoski and a long sleeve sweatshirt.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Most of my tops come from Reiss, Cos or Arket. Recently started to use Farfetch online though which I like.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

A new coat is next on the shopping list – all suggestions welcome.

Boots Or Shoes?

Boots – I think they give a cleaner line to a silhouette.

Links you would like to share:

www.vitamincoffee.co.uk
www.instagram.com/vitcoffee
www.facebook.com/vitcoffee
www.twitter.com/vitcoffee

New coat, eh Bryn?… I think a black leather coat would look good especially as the styles of the 70s & 80s are trending at the moment. For a more classic look, a black wool pea coat always looks stylish and you can wear a suit under it although it equally looks good with those black Levi’s you favour 🙂  Thank you for introducing us to your coffee and it’s great to know that we can still have our coffee with the health kick included.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission from Bryn Ray/ Vitamin Coffee

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Keeping Hydrated With ION8

If you feel inspired to participate in any sporting activity, it’s important to keep well hydrated, especially if you are:  sweating away in a poorly ventilated gym; lobbing a shuttlecock over the net in a sports hall; cycling up and down the hills and country lanes; hiking in the wilderness;  scoring goals on the football (soccer) pitch or netball/basketball hoops.  In fact, keeping well hydrated daily is a must, even if you are not particularly active.  Drinking water regularly as been shown to: increase energy, relieve tiredness, boost the body’s immune system, improves the skin, promotes weight loss (water has zero calories!), aids digestion, relieves cramps and headaches.  Schools in the UK encourage children to take in a water bottle to use and sip throughout the day to help them keep alert and use those brain cells.  Having 5 children and an active cycling mad husband, I have a drawer full of water bottles – not all are the same and when I was given by ION8 their water bottle to review, I was looking forward to seeing if the ION8 stands up to my family’s scrutiny!

My 12 year old son Jack was the perfect reviewer/critic. He has had  3 water bottles since the start of the school term. One was lost; one leaked badly due to the spout snapping off that he had to have a new rucksack; and one split.  He takes a water bottle to school and refills it throughout the day; the water bottle has to endure a bus journey there and back; and Jack doesn’t treat his bag with kid gloves either. So, the ION8 has a lot to live up to! This is what Jack expected:

1. NEEDS TO BE REUSABLE & ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.

Jack drinks a lot of water during the day – it is important for him to be well hydrated as he does suffer from migraines and water helps to alleviate the headaches.  It is also cost effective according to Jack as it gives him more money  by refilling his water bottle to buy another chocolate muffin! Refilling bottled water bottles isn’t a good idea as tiny cracks often appear in the bottle after its initial use and these cracks can harbour germs such as the dreaded norovirus.  Reusable bottles have been designed for multiple usage.  The ION8 is reusable, is bpa free and is made of non toxic Tritan – a material that is highly resistant to odours, can be easily cleaned & is dishwasher safe.                                                                                               10/10

2. NEEDS TO BE STYLISH.

The ION8 is definitely stylish.  The product was winner of the Reddot Design Award 2017. I wasn’t sure until the water bottle arrived, what colour I would receive.  There are 14 different colours to choose from – I was hoping it wasn’t going to be pink as I have 4 boys and a daughter who doesn’t go a-bundle on pink – but as luck would have it, I received the black glossy onyx colour. This was the preferred choice.  Jack approved. I think the colour was the main deciding factor for him.  From my point of view the range of colours was a fabulous idea especially in families where each person can have their own water bottle identified by a different colour.  Like packs of toothbrushes in assorted colours….. I’m sure you’ve got the drift 🙂  Only downside to the design that Jack mentioned was that opening and shutting the lid, the click was loud especially when he was taking a quick swig of water during his lesson and the classroom was relatively quiet.                                                                                           9.5/10

3. NO LEAKS.

Having been through various water bottles that have leaked despite being upright for the majority of the time, this was a major consideration. Soggy schoolbooks are a no no. Soggy gym kit – not amusing. ION8 claim to be 100% leakproof 100% of the time. They also offer a lifetime guarantee.  The lid lock offers that peace of mind  as well as the inner seal (which can be replaced).  Most water bottles have just the spout at the top which opens and closes – where most leakage occurs – so the lid is a pretty good idea.    The ION8 has lasted 10 days with no leaking so far….                                                10/10

ION8 comes with a tough carry strap, but I did not test the strap. Another difference is that the spout is at the side and not in the centre like most water bottles.  Drinking out of the water bottle is like drinking out of a cup – you need only to tilt the bottle slightly.

The aperture on the ION8 spout is wide to allow a uninterrupted flow of water. Water bottles, including the ION8, do not have thermal properties, such as keeping a hot drink hot or a cold drink cold – but the ION8 is capable of holding cold beverages as low as  -10C as well as hot beverages up to 96C.

The company mission is to produce the simplest and safest BPA free, spill free, leak proof water bottles, hydration products and drinking vessels.  My son and I are very impressed with what we’ve seen so far.  As far as water bottles go, the ION8 is the bees knees and we’ve been converted! 🙂

ION8 is available to buy via Amazon UK, Amazon USA, Amazon DE (Germany); Amazon ES (Spain); Amazon IT (Italy); Amazon FR (France).

For further information: www.ion8.co.uk

Disclaimer:  ION8 sent me the ION8 water bottle to review.  All views are entirely my own (and Jack’s).

Linda x

All photographs are by Linda Hobden. 

 

 

 

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6 Tasty Treat Discoveries

Food glorious food! I couldn’t not start the New Year off without sharing with you some tasty food treats that I discovered over the holiday period.  Trying new foods is always a pleasure – visiting my local Indian restaurant I usually order Lamb Rogan Josh but this winter they had revamped the menu and I actually tried a delicious squid curry… it made a lovely change and one that I hope is still on the menu when I next visit.  Here are 6 other tasty treats that I discovered recently … some healthy, some not so healthy .. but all are thoroughly delicious and worth tasting …

1. Wilkin & Son Tiptree – The Chocolate Collection.

People who know me know that I love chocolate spread – so I was really thrilled to receive this chocolate spread selection. Wilkin & Son Tiptree is well known internationally for their fruit jams, and over the years have expanded into fruit curds and spreads too.  The company uses 60% Belgian chocolate, real double cream and natural flavourings – the box selection contains plain chocolate spread, chocolate orange (yum), chocolate mint, chocolate cherry (reminiscent of Black Forest Gateau), chocolate coffee, and salted chocolate using Maldon sea salt (my favourite!).  The Chocolate Collection is completely nut free – as Tiptree’s factory is a completely nut free zone.  I love spreading the chocolate spread onto hot toast, or inside a warm croissant – but the chocolate can be melted to be used as an ice cream dessert topping or stirred into milk to make hot chocolate.

2. Galaxy Ultimate Frothy Hot Chocolate

My 12 year old son is a big fan of hot chocolate and this instant hot chocolate – I made it with hot water and 4 heaped teaspoons but milk can be used instead – was a big hit with him.  It is so frothy and chocolatey that it resembles the hot chocolate you can buy at the big coffee establishments but you can make it yourself at the touch of the kettle button!

3. Yeo Valley 0% Creme Fraiche

Creme Fraiche is cream with friendly bacteria added to it – the French version of soured cream.  Strict European regulations ensure that Creme Fraiche only contains cream and friendly bacteria.  I like the 0% fat version – it is still thick & creamy – but you can get half fat and full fat versions. A lovely alternative to milk when topping granola & fresh berries for breakfast.  Can be used instead of normal cream with desserts.  I add Creme Fraiche to my mushroom sauce when making my turkey & mushroom stroganoff. Or for a party dip idea, mix Creme Fraiche with a tub of hummus & a chopped bunch of coriander. Garnish with carrot and celery sticks.

4. Muller Light Rhubarb Crumble And Custard Yogurt

This season’s limited edition flavour, inspired by the traditional British dessert, rhubarb crumble and custard.  I was unsure of trying this yogurt.  Since I was a child my dad had always loved rhubarb yogurt and, that was the only flavour we had in our fridge – it was a thin yogurt and it was not my favourite flavour.  To be honest, rhubarb crumble nor custard were not on my list of favourites either. However, I think tastes change as you get older – I quite like rhubarb crumble and custard now ! My  impressions: it was a lovely creamy yogurt despite being fat free; it had bits of rhubarb in it – always a plus with me; and the flavour was surprisingly pleasant!

5. Castello Pineapple Cheese

Made in the land of the hygge, Denmark, this soft cheese made with pineapple, papaya and almonds, is unbelievably delicious.  It is for spreading onto crackers as part of a general cheeseboard ….. BUT, I love this cheese most of all spread on a slice of wholemeal, seeded or GI toast topped with mashed banana! It is my ultimate quick lunchtime snack!

6. Butterkist Salted Caramel Popcorn

If I eat popcorn, I tend to go for the sweet version rather than the salted version.  As I am a fan of all things salted caramel, I bought a packet of this popcorn for nibbles on Boxing Day.  I opened the packet in the kitchen, had a taste… had another handful … well, there wasn’t much left to put out for nibbles in the end! Basically this popcorn is coated with salted caramel flavour toffee  – so it would appeal to those who would prefer the sweet version.  It isn’t really that salty.  Although it is a sweet snack, the popcorn is made from natural wholegrains, is a source of fibre, is gluten free, vegetarian friendly and 125kcal per 30g serving.

What tasty treats did you enjoy over the holidays? Do share your tastebud discoveries…

Linda x

All photographs are by Linda Hobden

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6 Seasonal Drinks To Try

Party Season is in full swing and as we near the end of the year I decided to end my blog this year with a fun & frivolous post to toast the old year along with welcoming the New Year!  So here is my round up of 6 seasonal drinks to try this year – with a couple of non alcoholic alternatives too!

1. PROSECCO 

Prosecco is perhaps the most popular sparkling wine in the UK at the moment.  It is an Italian wine, having the subtle flavouring of white peaches,  is made in the Venetian region, from Glera grapes (aka Prosecco grapes) – occasionally other grapes are added.  The controlled designation of origin can be spumante, frizzante or tranquilla.

If you are an animal lover that would like to celebrate the season with your pet, then why not get your cat or dog a bottle of Pawsecco!  Yes, it is virtually prosecco for your pet! I say it is “virtually” prosecco – that is because it is not made with grapes, thus making it safe for dogs to drink.  And it is still rather than sparkling.  And it is non alcoholic.  However, for novelty value Pawsecco is definitely up near the top slot – not having tasted it, I cannot vouch whether it tastes of Prosecco  – nor, can I guarantee your cat or dog will join you in toasting in the New Year!

2.  GIN

Gin  – a  popular drink in the summertime – and in 2017, gin is one of, if not the top, spirit drink bought in the UK.  In bars up and down the UK,  gin tastings and gin based cocktails are very popular.  It is lower in calories than a glass of wine or a pint of beer – so for those who are looking for an alcohol drink that is a bit more accommodating when dieting, you can’t go wrong with gin.  In the 19th century, gin was drank as a straight drink.  Today, gin & tonic is the normal pairing.  I remember in years gone by, elderly relatives drinking gin with bitter lemon or with ginger ale.  Why not try mixing gin with your favourite fruit juice combinations, such as grapefruit & orange; or, cranberry & grape.

Alternatively, why not try Seedlip?  Seedlip is distilled in the same way as gin, is clear like gin and is best served with tonic water. However, Seedlip is alcohol free, sugar free, calorie free and sweetener free.  It is a great alternative for drivers, pregnant ladies, teetotallers & dieters.  It is made with spices, herbs and the predominant flavour is clove.  As a base for non alcoholic cocktails requiring a gin substitute – Seedlip is your friend.  It is expensive but it does make a refreshing change from cola/lemonade/lime & soda ….

3. SPARKLING PERRY

Babycham was the original party drink, launched in the UK in 1953. Invented by Francis Showering, a brewer in Shelton Mallet, in Somerset, England.  The sweet and not overly  alcoholic drink was particularly popular during the 1960s and 1970s.  I remember Babycham being served in a Martini/cocktail glass with a glacé cherry on a cocktail stick.  It felt very glamorous at the time!  With the 1970s/1980s vibe being very popular at the moment, Babycham is trying to make inroads into the party market again.

Currently dominating the British commercial perry market is Lambrini, a light & fruity perry made from the finest quality pears.  Lambrini is manufactured in Liverpool by Halewood International and was first created in 1994.  Like Babycham, it is low in alcohol and      low in cost.  It is the butt of many jokes – mainly because of its low cost – but it is a refreshing alternative to wine, and less likely to produce a hangover after a couple of glasses!

4. MULLED WINE

There are many recipes for mulled wine and many supermarkets stock bottles of ready made mulled wine. “Mulled” simply means heated & spiced.  We usually associate “mulled” with wine, but in fact many liquids can be mulled, including cider.  Traditional English Mulled Wine is made with brandy; in Ireland it is made with Irish whiskey; in the USA, with a touch of bourbon.

How about trying the Scandinavian version – known as glogg.  It is a cherry- scented mulled style wine, traditionally containing other fruit and almonds too.  In Sweden, glogg is an essential part of the lead up to Christmas with glogg parties held throughout Advent.  I found many recipes on Pinterest on how to make glogg – but I have found a ready made bottle by Marks & Spencer which does the trick admirably too.

For a family and driver friendly version of mulled wine,  replace the alcohol in the recipes with red grape juice instead.  It is just as delicious – although just as calorie laden, I’m afraid.

5. VODKA

Last Christmas I spotted in Asda supermarket, peppermint vodka.  This year, I spotted in the delectable chocolate shop, Hotel Chocolat,     an English vodka infused with salted caramel & cocoa.  The Salted Caramel Vodka is not too sweet and in each bottle floats a whole cocoa bean.  Only available in small bottles, and more expensive than the normal supermarket vodkas, however this vodka is a real treat for the vodka connoisseur and worth every penny.

I’ve not really got a low calorie alternative, but if you happen to visit a Hotel Chocolat store with a cafe attached, then try their speciality hot chocolates whilst savouring the aroma of chocolate in the air.  Get  punch drunk on chocolate fumes rather than alcohol.  Chocoholics heaven on earth indeed.

6. Irish Cream

Every Christmas bar needs a bottle of Baileys or an equivalent Irish Cream.  I prefer the original version with no ice… some prefer their Irish Cream with ice or dashed into their coffee. My daughter likes to experiment with the seasonal flavours on offer … last year salted caramel, this year spiced pumpkin flavour.

What will be your seasonal tipple this year?  Will you try something new or will you stick to your favourites?  Whatever you decide to do, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Healthy & Prosperous New Year.

Linda x

All photographs are by Linda Hobden

 

 

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Back To The 80s

During the summer I received an invite from my friend Tracy inviting my husband and I to her 50th birthday party.  It was to be a “Back to the 80s” fancy dress party, to boot.  Normally, I’m not a big fan of dressing up but it sounded really fun to relive memories of being a teenager in the 1980s.  In 1981, I was 16 and pretty shy but by 1984 I had embraced the 1980s with fervour – I loved the big hair, the bright colours and the sexiness of the decade – and then by 1988, I swapped my blonde spiky big hair for a brunette perm and shiny tracksuits … (that part was a blip!) Make up was just as bright – and plenty of black eyeliner!  I needed to get some ideas on what to wear for the party. First of all I looked at Amazon – the fancy dress outfits were mainly leg warmers, leotards and from the Flashdance film era; with a splattering of early Madonna outfits. They were very nice but wasn’t what I had once worn, so I decided to look back at some old photos to see if I could recreate my old looks.

1981 – My old bus pass aged 16!  I was wearing a long black leather coat (my first purchase with my first wage packet!) and a black & gold glitter jumper.

1982 –  I used to wear a lot of red and matched my outfits with red lipstick, red earrings, red handbag & red shoes! My hair was in the style of Lady Diana.

1984 –  This was me aged 19 on a night out.  The shirt was one of my favourites.  I was wearing a faux black leather pencil knee length  skirt.

1989 – perm!  I kept this style until 1997 when I then had my hair cut short.

I remembered I used to love the strapless peplum dresses on a night out; my denim jacket used to take pride of place alongside my leather jacket; and if I was going to the local disco – my shiny black satin tight trousers with a yellow lace body and a yellow & black kimono style shirt; a winter’s date in the pub – fuchsia pink knitted dress with fishnets and high leg boots; or a rib knit purple maxi skirt with matching cardigan teamed with a fuchsia pink satin blouse…. 

In my wardrobe, I found my original denim jacket and a black string vest …. 

 

Looking in my Bon Prix catalogue, I realised that a lot of the 1980s style were making a comeback – I found white slouchy boots, sling back shoes…

I found stirrup pants (used to be known then as ski pants); jeans with piping down the sides (I used to have a khaki pair with red piping); fishnets (haven’t really faded from the fashion scene); tight satin disco trousers and black faux leather skirts. 

It was harder to recreate the make up but, not impossible.  Having a pale matt foundation was no problem but I had to forego the subtle contouring or hint of blush that I favour today – in the 1980s blush was loud and proud!  In 2017 I like a pale or nude lip gloss; me in 1984 favoured red or burgundy – it was really strange to wear such a bright colour.  Even more embarrassing was that I found at the bottom of my make up drawer my original Charlie red lipstick….

When it came to my husband – he said he used to wear a rock band t shirt and jeans… not much different to today’s attire.  He decided to join in the fun and become an iconic favourite of his in the 1980s – Axl Rose of Guns n Roses.  He managed to get hold of a kilt, wig and bandana from Amazon.

In the end I got my outfit: blonde rockers wig (from Amazon); denim jacket; 80s red/black/white strapless satin dress from Envy Boutique; black fishnet faux stockings; black slingback shoes from Bon Prix.

The party was a big success… there were Baywatch star lookalikes, early Madonnas, Flashdancers, and even Slash from Guns n Roses too. We drank pimped up prosecco but I somehow thought babycham would have been great if it was still around…. then guess what I found on my supermarket shelf the other day….

What would you wear to an 80s party?  Can you remember any favourite outfits from that era? Do share your stories … 

Linda x

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All photographs are by Linda Hobden 

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Shopping Fairtrade Style

It’s September already and here in the UK, harvesting is in full flow.  It’s time to think about farmers around the world who toil endlessly – growing cocoa beans, coffee, cotton, tea, bananas, flowers.  I found out the other day that September is the time to celebrate all things organic.  When I think of “organic”, I automatically think of Fairtrade – The Fairtrade Foundation is the UK based organisation behind the Fairtrade trademark – although, to be fair, not all Fairtrade items are organic.

So, what is Fairtrade? Fairtrade is a global movement with a strong and active presence in the UK. There are over 4,500 Fairtrade products from coffee and tea to flowers and gold. According to Fairtrade’s website, their mission is “to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives”.  Fairtrade’s vision: ” a world in which all producers and consumers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and decide on their future”.  Fairtrade has strict standards for companies, farmers & workers  as well as ensuring that worker’s rights are maintained, that payment is made of at least the Fairtrade minimum price and that extra money is given to reinvest in business/community projects of the community’s choice. By choosing to buy Fairtrade goods, you can positively help farmers, workers & their communities.

Buying Fairtrade products is easier than you think – products are on sale in supermarkets, independent shops, cafes, restaurants, catering suppliers & wholesalers, as well as online.  I’m lucky, my local village coffee shop/book shop is also the local mecca for Fairtrade goods from companies such as Divine and Traidcraft.  It’s great to see the crafts, products, jewellery and clothes – they make fantastic gifts and it is great to have a browse.

Divine chocolate – I love the plain dark chocolate but I am tempted to try the Dark Chocolate with Himalayan Salt! Divine is the only mainstream chocolate company 44% owned by the farmers who supply the cocoa!  Other Fairtrade chocolates include Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Green & Black’s Organic, M & S, Rawr Foods, Sainsbury’s “Taste The Difference” White, Dark & Milk chocolate bars, The Co-Op; Meaningful Chocolate Company, Raw Chocolate Company, Traidcraft, Waitrose “Seriously” & Belgian range, and Zotter Chocolate.

Traidcraft do some fantastic stem ginger cookies – I devoured packets whilst I was pregnant with my children ( ginger cookies and lemons/limes were my pregnancy cravings!)  Traidcraft itself has been at the fore front of Fairtrade since 1979. The company offers the widest range of fair trade products in the UK.  They even do Fairtrade wine – but I haven’t tasted it yet so I can’t comment.  I can recommend their range of spices, dried fruits and rices; their craft boxes, jewellery, socks, scarves are all pretty and make good gifts. Their clothing range is pricy but having said that the Fairtrade ethos is fair price to the workers and to be honest I rather pay a bit more knowing that the workers are not young children toiling under horrendous conditions to produce a t shirt. I know that they are getting a decent wage for their labours.

I have included some pictures of the Fairtrade items sold in my local shop … if you wish to find out more about Fairtrade or wish to shop/browse Traidcraft’s goods online, here are some websites you might find useful:

http://fairtrade.org.uk

http://www.traidcraftshop.co.uk

Happy Shopping!

Linda x

All photos are by Linda Hobden

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Take 4 ingredients – Frozen Chocolate Bites

I enjoy cooking. I enjoy cooking meals for my large family. Over Christmas and other family occasions I normally cater from around 15 family members.  I love cooking main meals … but when it comes to desserts my repertoire is limited.  I can make apple pie, rhubarb pie, summer fruit pudding and… erm… banana and walnut cake.  Year after year, I churn out the same puddings! Looking at a copy of the Slimming World Magazine I came across a recipe for Gold Bullion Bites. These frozen chocolate-toffee treats looked easy enough to make, so I decided to have a dry run to see if they turn out alright and if they do, I thought that I’d make them for the next family do.

I bought all the ingredients, made the bites and all turned out well. So I decided to experiment a bit more with the recipe, and lo and behold I found a new dessert/snack to add to my repertoire – and the best thing is that you need only 4 ingredients!

So here is my version of the recipe…

Makes 14

Ingredients

  • 45g bar  Dairy Milk Chocolate (I used  Cadburys Dairy Milk), broken into pieces
  • 175g pot of SMOOTH yogurt (I used MullerLight Smooth Toffee, Mullerlight Raspberry & Cranberry, Strawberry)
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • Edible gold glitter/ gold cooking spray to decorate
  • Ice Cube trays ( flexible plastic ones that pop out ice cubes easily)

Method

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Once melted, remove from the heat, stir until smooth and leave to cool for a minute.

Quickly mix in to the chocolate 1 tablespoon of your chosen yogurt, to loosen, then add the rest of the yogurt. Add the cocoa powder and mix well.

Fill the ice cube trays – allow about 2 teaspoons per cube. Gently tap the trays to level the mixture. Put in the freezer for around 3 hours, until set.

When you are ready to serve as a dessert, turn out the chocolates and arrange on a serving dish, sprinkle with cocoa powder and gold glitter or gold spray.

These were so popular that I made several more batches and once frozen I put the chocolate cubes in plastic bags and stored in the freezer. Whenever anybody fancied an iced chocolate snack, they just helped themselves straight from the freezer.

I am hoping to try the recipe using dark chocolate and some new flavours of yogurt, such as Mullerlight’s After Dinner Mint. If I can find orange yogurt, that might go down well too.  Do let me know if you try the recipe and what chocolate/flavour combination did you use!

Linda x

Photos by Linda Hobden

Inspiration by Slimming World.

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Let’s Talk Strawberries!

In the UK it is currently strawberry season (from end May to July) and although the season is relatively short, strawberries feature heavily in the British eating and drinking calendar – from strawberries and cream at Wimbledon to strawberry jam making; from strawberry teas to strawberry cider! 

Famous UK jam and marmalade manufacturers, Wilkin & Sons of Tiptree, are well known globally for their famous Tiptree jams – I have travelled to far flung places and seen pots of Tiptree Little Scarlet Strawberry jam served at breakfast.  They have been jam & marmalade manufacturers, fruit and arable farmers since 1885. I live not far from Tiptree and Wilkins have purchased farms in my village since 1920 to grow strawberries and other fruits for their range of jams, curds and ketchups.  The farms have produced a mixture of fruit crops over the years: large strawberries (as shown in my photo), little scarlets, gooseberries, red & blackcurrants, plums, greengage, damsons & morello cherries – all picked by local village people and seasonal helpers and transported the 3 miles or so to the jam factory at Tiptree.  The factory is a great place to visit – it has an interesting museum, a gift shop/food shop  and a restaurant/tea room. 

Why is the Tollesbury/Tiptree area ideal for strawberry farming? Tollesbury claims, along with Great Wakering, to have the lowest rainfall in Britain, has more than 1600 hours of annual sunshine and regularly claims England’s top temperature (along with Southend) at least once a week during the summer months.  Thunderstorms occur on average 15 – 18 days a year, which can often cause damage to the fruit crops – although sometimes they are just lightning storms and the rain doesn’t materialise – I have experienced severe thunderstorms in Tiptree which have bypassed Tollesbury 10 minute drive away!

Technically, strawberries are not actually fruits because their seeds are on the outside and the fruits are not produced by seeds. Strawberry plants are actually members of the rose (rosaceae) family.  Each strawberry has on average 200 seeds. 

The modern garden strawberry popular in Europe was actually introduced into Europe by a French engineer in 1714, who, on a trip to Chile and Peru, was so impressed by the size of the strawberries in that region, that he brought back plants to cultivate in France.  Historically, strawberries were always considered an aphrodisiac and were often often served at a wedding breakfast with soured cream!

Nutritionally, strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, as well as providing a good amount of fibre, folic acid and potassium. Strawberry leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or used to make tea.  Once picked though, unlike bananas, they do not ripen any further – so any strawberries that are dull, or have green or yellow patches are probably best avoided.

Medically, they have been used to help with digestive ailments, teeth whitening and skin irritations.  Unfortunately, they are a common allergen – especially if you are already allergic to birch pollen, as you are more than likely to develop an allergy to strawberries.  I do suffer from hay fever caused by birch pollen but thankfully, strawberries haven’t given me a reaction ( although raw tomatoes do!) 

My favourite strawberry recipe is : Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.  My favourite strawberry sandwich idea:  slice of wholemeal bread generously spread with soft cheese (Philadelphia style) topped with chunky strawberry jam.  Strawberries & Cream lunchbox style. My favourite strawberry based drink:  Iced Strawberry Cider…. cheers!

Do you love strawberries?  Do share your favourite strawberry dishes!

Linda x

All photos are by Linda Hobden

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