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Three tips for surviving Christmas with your family

4 Jan

To be quite clear, this post does not come from a place of resentment but love. Anyone who knows me knows exactly how much I adore my family and friends. However, never more than at Christmas is the phrase ‘too much of a good thing’ so pertinent. Whether it be hitting the cheese board a little too hard or spending an extended amount of time with your nearest and not so dearest.

Follow these three simple guidelines and all will be well…

Christmas, surviving christmas, family christmas, awkward photo, awkward family photo

1. The simple games are the best

When you open up a new board game and have a whole new set of rules to get accustomed to, it splits the family unit down the middle, and you find out very quickly which half each person falls in to. It separates those who are board game rule Nazi’s from those who couldn’t give two @$$*’s and just want to get on with the G%$ D*$% game.

Our favourite game to play at family gatherings is a variation of charades. All family members note down around 10-15 names of celebrities or well-known people on scraps of paper throw them in to a big bowl, pick small teams and commence ‘three round charades’. Teams get one minute each time and the bowl must be empty for you to move on to the next round. The most correct answers at the end of all three rounds wins the game.

Round one: You must describe the individual

Round two: You must silently act out the individual

Round three: You may just use one word to describe the individual

Super simple and loads of fun when everyone’s fuelled by a tonne of libations. I’m not going to promise that things won’t get ‘lively’ and someone won’t accidentally throw something or call their boyfriend an idiot (this has never happened) but it’s great fun.

2. You can NEVER have too much food and drink

Besides the fact that Christmas somehow turns off our natural ability to say no, to ANYTHING, regardless of matter how much you love your family and friends, when celebrating the festive season in the UK the inevitability of atrocious weather means that you’ll be confined to one room for an extended amount of time.
If it helps, visualise it as some kind of solitary confinement sentence or an awful disaster where you’re trapped in a lift with tinsel and flashing lights. Now wouldn’t you find it much more bearable plied with lashings of cheese* [*replace with your festive culinary vice] and alcohol? No! So stock up!

3. Foolishness must be unanimous

By foolishness, I’m talking ugly festive headwear (inclusive of headbands, deely boppers, santa hats and paper crowns) offensive jumpers and flashing earrings that at any other time of year would be considered an eyesore.

Make it known to any friends you invite along that your family enjoy, encourage and demand that all attendees must be willing to ‘ugly up’. Start as you mean to go on and set the tone for foolish behaviour, jokes and music.

You’re welcome! Please remember these three key things next time Christmas is fast approaching in order to enjoy quality time with your loved ones to the maximum.

Got any family rituals or essential components that make the festive season all the more bearable for you? Add your own contribution to the comment box below and help others in a time of need…


Jools & Jacks ‘Cupcakes & Co.’ cameo on 2013 Channel 4 ‘Grand National’ advert

21 Mar

Cupcakes are usually front of mind for me, so it’s no surprise that I spotted a cupcake stand within a channel 4 horse racing advert about The Grand National (of all things).

channel 4 racing advert, grand national advert 2013, The grand national

Only thing was, I recognised more that just the ’99p-style’ cupcakes, I also twigged that I’d seen the logo before. It was only ‘Cupcakes & Co.’ by Jools and Jacks!

>>> Previous blog: Rugby 7’s festival meets ‘Cupcakes & Co’ by Jools & Jacks<<<

My first chance encounter with these two lovely ladies was funnily enough was being mesmorised by their cupcake creations at a rugby 7’s festival in Manchester.

cupcakes and co Jools & Jacks

The advert itself features a scrum of horses charging through a rural town in England, residents cheer on as jockey’s are flung from saddles and whiplashed by tree branches. It climaxes in a scene of cheering and jostling (in amongst the all important Cupcakes & Co. food stand).

The full advert is below – check out the quick flash of the Jools & Jack’s banner at 1:18.

Cupcakes and baked treats for all occasions can be made to order by contacted Jools & Jacks via their Facebook page or website.

cupcakes and co jools and jacks

Food Craft: The Invention of Bawbag Heart Pie

10 Nov

Last weekend the boyfriend and I bundled off to sleepy town of Naaarwich (Norwich) for a long overdue weekend visit to see some dear friends of ours.

The Sunday following the night out the boys were glued to the football while Deb and I were struck with an utterly genius idea. This happened to be the weekend of all hallows eve, so the two of us bundled off in search of a pumpkin to carve…The moral of this story was, snatch up a pumpkin before every other sod has thought of it first.

Little did we know that hope was just around the corner in the farming town of Bawburgh, a place full of charming canals and picture perfect pubs. By the roadside were huge great bundles of apples bagged up and on sale for a mere 50 pence.

After a night on the sauce neither of us fancied making pie pastry, so shop bought pastry it was we added dried and sweetened cherries, lemon zest and juice in with the blanched apples in to a heart shaped dish.

With the little pastry we had left to cover our humble pie Deb came up with the bright idea of styling up the top with a ‘Snow White’ style lattice effect. The outcome was an explosion of pastry strips, which looked edgy and delicious.

Final step was to dust with caster sugar and cinnamon, bung it in the oven for around 20 minutes then slice up and serve with custard or ice-cream, smiles all round.

[If you’re wondering why ‘Bawbag’ pie for a name, we must confess it’s a funny Scottish insult that we had been throwing about that day, plus it sounded a little like Bawburgh, no?]

What a day for an ‘Outsider Tart’ Red Velvet Whoopie Pie

5 Jun

Southbank Real Food Market

The Southbank real food market, takes place on Fridays and Saturdays 11-8pm and Sundays 12-6pm just at the back of the Royal Festival Hall along the Thames. Not a stall I had come across before (it’s been a long time since I’ve visited the market, mind) was ‘Outsider Tart’ – two American outsiders, both confusingly called David (David Muniz and David Lesniak) set up the company to make up for the wholesome food deficit we suffer from in England.

Red velvet cakes are a fabulously calorific American import, and have become increasingly popular with experimental foodies here in England. Annabelle who works for  Outsider Tart said;  “We’ve been doing red velvet for years and years.”  Adding, ” We make a variety of products though, blondie’s, brownies, big layer cakes, cupcakes, cheesecakes – you name it we’ve got it.” (They even make doggie treats!)

Outsider Tart Southbank stall

I got my hands on a red velvet whoopie pie, which Annabelle admits to being one of her favourites, along with the monster cookie “I love the monster cookie because it’s just stuffed with peanut butter, and even Smarties.” Whoopie pies are rumoured to originate from the southern states where left-over cake batter was used to make ‘hockey-puck’ sized cakes. They’re sold at gas stations and diners (just like in those good ‘ole moving picture films.)

Whipped my red velvet whoopie out at Waterloo

If you want to be the most popular person in the world, make sure you pick up the duo’s new ‘Baked in America’ book. Annabelle explains; “The book’s coming out on August the 4th so what you’re holding there [points to flyer for breakfast puffs] is one of the recipe’s for it – we’ve been doing photo shoots for it so we’re really excited.”

Red Velvet Whoopie pie by Outsider Tart - glass of milk recommended

If you’re ever in the West end of London and you’re in the mood for a little indulgence, let’s face it who isn’t! Head on over to Outsider Tart, of Chiswick and pick up a £3 red velvet  whoopie pie on my recommendation, with a cup of milk though – it’s awfully rich. (You can also order online here.)

Whoopie Pies on an old Campbell's Soup crate

Colourful sculpture in the centre of the market

David Lesniak busying himself whilst Annabelle looks pensive - Outsider Tart

The rugby 7’s festival meets ‘Cupcakes and Co’ by Jools & Jacks

17 May

Cupcake dream-team ‘Jools and Jacks‘ from Cheshire, England recently set up a pop-up shop at a Rugby 7’s festival in Manchester.

The formidable Jools & Jacks of ‘Cupcakes and Co’

It was the last thing I was expecting to see whilst cruising the stalls at an event for one of the toughest contact sports known to man, but I was so impressed by their creativity and innovation that I had to stop for a closer look.

The two friends, originally from Macclesfield operate from home in Cheshire. “We’ve been going for about a year and a half now, while we used to produce around 100 cupcakes a day, our output is now around 500.

“We just love to play around with concepts.”

Cupcakes & Co by Jools and Jacks

The successful two-some have found a great home at farmers markets, and have even received great feedback when they sold their cutesy cupcakes in a hospital.

As you’d expect the team have capitalised on the massive shift towards ‘handmade weddings’: “While we create 7 or 8 tier celebratory cupcake stands, we also do an actual cake as well.

“We’ve found that the older crowd still like to see the couple cut the cake.”

I ask the ladies what the future holds for this brand: “We’re just going wherever it takes us, it’s just growing really organically, one day we want a shop another day we want loads of shops. It varies.”

‘What a treat!’ Cupcakes and Co by Jools and Jacks

What ‘Cupcakes and Co’ have in their favour is their amazing innovation in baking and presentation. I snapped up a mint Aero cupcake with light airy frosting, whilst the boyfriend opted for an Oreo number. (There was even a hidden surprise as you chomped your way through the sponge.)

You can get in touch with the team via their Facebook page or by calling: 07967 146703. Alternatively take a trip to some charming Cheshire markets where you’ll find the ladies flaunting their flair for cupcake craft.

Bit of Persil on that lads! (MR7’s)

A tense play (MR7’s)

Stafford in Colour

11 May

A bit of a grey area, Stafford is a largely overlooked hub of modern culture in a historic setting. Situated in the East Midlands (Staffordshire) it’s a town that just quietly gets on with things.

Tami and I have a stroll through St Mary’s green

The high street is rich with craft boutiques and knick knack stores, like Number 28 which offers quirky, individual gift ideas for the home and locally crafted cards, or Kalika homeware boutique, crammed with shabby chic and vintage items (which operates out of a front room).

Hidden down by the river, Jade second hand clothing boutique is where I unearthed a sequined ball gown that I’d been searching for, for the longest time, as well as a classic safari dress in black from French Connection that had to come home with me. The store also extends through to a prom, wedding and bridesmaid boutique (also vintage). The second hand samaritans at Jade are hosting a charity fashion show locally in the village, so do buy some tickets if you’re about.

Tudor house doubles as a museum along the high street

There’s even an old Victorian folklore which demands that all shops on certain streets must close on Wednesdays. Annoying if you need to pick up a spot of cod from Parkers of Mill Street, Stafford, for dinner but it certainly adds to the charm of the place.

Victoria park bridge Stafford

The 16th century thatched building that houses a family run restaurant-come tea-room called Soup kitchen  is perched down a cobble stone alley called Church street, and surprisingly enough overlooks a beautiful stone church (St. Mary’s). I must admit I have had two dates here in the past week, firstly with the boyfriend and secondly with a very dear old friend, visiting for the weekend.

16th Century Soup Kitchen Stafford

Everything is prepared and cooked on-site, the staff are always chirpy and the prices aren’t too offensive either. On both occasions I opted for their sky high puff pastry pie with veg, followed by cakes and desserts that are so naughty but too nice to pass up.

Tam looking very pensive

Carrot cake and cherry pie & custard for dessert

We topped it all off with coffee and conversation at The Grove on the other side of St Mary’s Church where talk somehow shifted to our shared love of actress and beauty Thandie Newton, which of course led to a Thandie ‘pose off’.

Thandie ‘Tami’ Newton

Thandie ‘Ella’ Newton

Here are some snaps from our wonderful day in Stafford:

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Kate & Wills ‘Street Meet’ on 29th of April 2011

25 Apr

Rich Simmon's on the Southbank (I'm hoping they opt for these outfits)

Okay so the royal wedding is a matter of days away, and living in and around central London you can’t go anywhere without it being shoved down your throat. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em______.

So maybe the best thing for it is to down (university dissertation) tools and arrange a ‘Street Meet‘. Yes I realise this doesn’t sound like a ‘thing’ but it’s the best way around having a ‘street party‘ at such short notice.

All you need for a ‘Street Meet’ is happy people, home made (supermarket) food and drink, tables & table clothes and a bit of decoration (bunting obviously, what else?)

I think I was inspired by the cringingly watchable ‘Kate & Wills’ TV film shown on Channel 5 yesterday (Sunday 24th) it attacked my eyes as I was innocently channel flicking, and there it was, in it’s shining cheddar-filled glory – the actor’s have said ‘it was meant to be light hearted…it’s not ‘The Kings Speech.’ As you can imagine it looked like it had been shot by the staff at poundland, but love it or loathe it, it got people talking/tweeting and raised the royal weddings’ profile. Here’s the trailer for it.

Back to the ‘Street Meet‘ though, this brilliant website tells you all about the legalities and logistics of creating an event to mark the wedding. It claims that ‘it’s too late to arrange road closures’ and such at this point, but a neighbourhood outdoor gathering is ideal. Just be warned though, the Met office is using words like ‘chilly’ and ‘max of 16 degree’s’ so be prepared.

Whatever it is that you plan on doing, have a great bank holiday, spend it with loved one’s and enjoy a little bit of history in the making.

You can find loads of cheap decorations at your local poundland shop, just ‘ave a look here!