Food.

My Prestige Christmas Hamper!!

Hello! Recently the very kind people at Prestige Hampers sent me a luxury Christmas food hamper to review,  how cool and more importantly kind is that?! Even though it is the middle of November and some people may deem it too early still, I am very much in the Christmas spirit already. Whether that might be because this is my first year out of many I won’t be working in retail and I won’t have the pleasures of irate Christmas customers during the most wonderful time of the year or just because I am a great, big kid when it comes to this time of year.

I love everything from hunting for the right present for a loved one, going to Christmas markets munching on sweet, roasted chestnuts and daydrinking mulled ciders and wines. The dark winter nights aglow with fairy lights and candle lights too, and snuggling by the fire with a hot chocolate in hand watching some feelgood Christmassy films. In my household Christmas has always been such a lovely time of year and I am eternally grateful to my parents for raising me with some cherished memories over the festive period. We always have a lot of family time and enough food and drink to make a King jealous as do a lot of families all around the world I’m sure so with that in mind that’s why I think a food hamper would make an excellent gift at Christmas. Well at anytime of year really but Prestige Hampers do an amazing selection perfect for any occasion and also would suit anyone from your parents, your tricky in laws, that friend that already has one of everything to the colleague who has gone above and beyond for you. You don’t need me to recommend who to give it to, you get the gist!

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Lifestyle.

Blogger Recognition Award

Good morning my delightful little pain au chocolat’s I hope you’ve had the most wondrous of weekends and are settled in and enjoying this brand new week. You may have noticed I am a brilliant mood at the moment and to top off my ever glowing mood the very lovely Erika nominated me for the Blogger Recognition Award and I squealed seeing I’ve been tagged. So thanks a BILLION. If you have a spare moment or two I’d really urge you to check out Erika‘s blog; I love reading her posts or catching up with what she’s up to on Twitter or Instagram.

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So the Blogger Recognition Award was made for bloggers by the bloggers. It’s basically a great way to celebrate, champion and let other bloggers know that you appreciate and are a fan of their hard work. If you are on twitter and follow the drama surrounding the blogging world and circles you may have seen a lot of drama erupting over the last couple of months or so. There has been a lot of bad business where a small few can let the side down a little and make it a more uncomfortable, catty place to be. There are some who are only blogging to get numbers, followers and freebies which is a great perk but if that’s the only reason you’re doing it then you might be in it for the wrong reasons! Before I ramble on and on for the rest of the night I’ll explain a bit more about the rules of this one.

  1. You have to write a blog post thanking the person that nominated you.
  2. Explain your story on how and why you started blogging.
  3. Share two general pieces of advice to other bloggers.
  4. Nominate fifteen other bloggers and let them know you’ve nominated them too.

Continue reading “Blogger Recognition Award”

Beauty.

I made homemade body scrubs.

I probably spent FAR too much time and money on my skincare and beauty regimes. I’m thoroughly getting into the crafting mood thinking about what I can make or bake next and after an afternoon out shopping and spending a ridiculous amount at Lush I tried my hand at making my own body scrubs. For some reason I thought it would be really quite difficult but I honestly couldn’t be farther from the truth with that. I was so, so shocked at how easy it was and also how much money I’ll be saving from now on. If Lush go into administration you can entirely blame me for no longer buying their Rub, Rub, Rub salt scrub. All you need to create your own concoctions are:

  • A sugar or salt. You could you any kind depending on what you want so you could really personalise it to you or even someone you’re gifting it too. Fine, course, maybe even himalayan pink sea salt if you want to make it look nice and pretty. Brown sugar, caster sugar, demerara, once again it’s all completely down to you and your preference.
  • A base oil. Coconut,vitamin E oil, olive oil, jojoba, sweet almond oil, wheatgerm, avocado oil are all really good options. They are all really nourishing for the skin, available in most health food shops or online too and all have a neutral scent so wouldn’t overpower your scrub with a strong smell.
  • An essential oil or something similar to add some scents or even colour to your scrub. Things like herbs might make for an interesting addition, freshly chopped mint, lavender or even rose petals. Rose would look lovely with a pink himalayan salt. I used coffee grounds to make a lovely coffee scrub. It helps reduce the appearance of cellulite so I think I might start bulk making it and selling it off!

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I had these four mini mason jars I originally bought from Ikea with good intentions to do something creative with but they were unused and I filled them instead. You could use kilner jars you can buy pretty much anywhere, bargain shops do them for a relatively cheap price. Old jam jars that have been washed out would look really cool and kitsch.

I made four different flavours or scents if you will. As tasty as these smell, I’d probably recommend against eating them!

I made a coffee scrub. Filling half the jar with brown sugar and the remaining half of coffee grounds I then poured that into a bowl. I did it like that so I knew it would definitely all fit in rather than making waaaaay too much. I poured the coffee/sugar mix into a bowl and then added a tablespoon of coconut oil until I got the consistency I wanted.

I also made a gingerbread scrub. Inkeeping with the christmas theme on my blog at the moment this would also make the perfect gift at christmas for those also keen on clean beauty and skincare. I used the same principal as with the coffee scrub but I filled the little jar up full of brown sugar. Pouring it into bowl with some ginger essential oil, cinnamon essential oil and a dash of star anise. mixing that altogether I poured it back into the jar and screwed the lid on tight.

Switching it up a bit I thought for my next two I would use a course sea salt base instead. Sea salt can be a bit more vigorous so using that in a body scrub would help with shifting dead skin cells and also helping to shift toxins from the body. Rubbing it in, in a slow circular motion helps to get the blood flowing reducing the appearance of stretch marks and cellulite as well as removing the toxins from the body.

I used sea salt with some coconut oil, a few dashes of some spearmint essential oil and some finely diced mint leaves from the garden.

For my last and final scrub, I added some lavender essential oil to sea salt and coconut oil. I wanted a runnier consistency for this one as I love applying it to my hair. It helps with repairing the hair shaft and it leaves it feeling so silky, smooth. It sounds mad I know, but don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

 

 If I knew just how easy it was to make these beforehand I would have been wailing it from the rooftops. Scrubs like this are usually fiendishly and wrapped with a nice bow and a tag would make a lovely present for a friend for Christmas. Or even yourself, I’m sure you deserve it a whole heap more!

Food.

My easy Christmas chocolate cake!

I cannot stand Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, I’m not sure if that’s an unpopular opinion but I’ll be sure to close the door on my way out if so. Baking or buying a Christmassy pud for me used to be a bit of a struggle but I think a lot of supermarkets are catering for a much wider range of people these days so chocolate Yule logs are up there as an atypical part of the Christmas day diet as much as the humble pig in blanket. Strange to refer to that in singular terms who would eat just one? Not me that’s for sure! Gimme gimme more of that delicious sausagey bacon-ness. SOMEHOW sidetracked by the bacon thoughts getting back to the point, I wanted to be able to make something that was both as much good to look at as it is good to eat for a Christmas baking idea for this Christmas feast as food is just as much for the taste as it is for the instagram. After spending some time speaking to Carrie from Branded 3 and also perusing over Pinterest ideas I spotted a pretty cool chocolate cake idea made to look like a Christmas pudding.

As mentioned in my previous post on here, I’ve been working with Branded 3 and a company called Provident financial on how to budget for christmas and perhaps find tips or tricks on making or baking things for the festivities to make life that little bit easier and also save a few extra pennies too which is always a bonus. I’ll leave a link to their page here, they feature some great posts and ideas both from themselves and articles from other bloggers on how to save some monies for Christmas. Whether that be on how to budget, baking something or making your own cards or decorations. I think that extra added homemade touch can make all the difference. Plus if you have or know young children, they can be made into fun activities for them to keep them busy too! What’s not to love?!

Back to my beloved cake, I stuck to a Mary Berry recipe for this one. I love Maz Bez and I hate dry cake sponges at the best of times but chocolate sponge is the worst for drying easier. However this recipe makes it so so easy and I’ve always had a succulent (dare I say the dreaded *moist* word) and fudgy recipe every single time.

For the cakes you will need:

  • 2 20cm 8inch deep cake tins.
  • 175g self raising flour.
  • 1 rounded teaspoon of baking powder.
  • 100g softened butter.
  • 275g caster sugar.
  • 50ml milk. I went with semi-skimmed simply because that’s the one we had at home but you could use any substitution.
  • 3 large eggs.
  • 6 tablespoons boiling water.
  • 50g sifted cocoa powder.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c and grease and line the two baking tins. This bit always makes me feel super prepared and hands on like I should be on a cookery show although I make a lot more mess.
  2. Start by mixing the boiling water and the cocoa powder in a large bowl (I used my Mum’s kitchenaid for this it’s a lot easier to use a stand mixer as it takes out a lot of the hardwork!) blend it together until it’s a smooth paste like consistency/
  3. Add in the remaining ingredients until the mixture forms a thicker batter.
  4. I use a ladle to evenly distribute the mixture into the two cake tins as I find it a little easier doing it that way.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the cakes feel firm, spongy or when bounce back when pressed with a finger. Leave the cakes to cool completely before applying the next layers.

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I was really happy with how my little cakes turned out. They were both even in colour, texture and height, thus making it all a lot easier when it comes to sandwiching them together.

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When they were cooling I took them out of their tins and started to think about how to layer the cake. Checking which side had the flatter or more even surface to become the base as you can see above.

Once leaving them to cool I got on with the beautiful task of washing up. That’s the laborious parts you don’t see on Nigella of her singing along to radio 2 and washing up her old pots and pans, because that’s the end of an episode I would wait and watch for. I also emptied all the Malteasers I bought for this recipe into a large bowl.

I covered the cakes in a homemade ganache but if you want to make life easier for yourself the store bought tubs of chocolate icing work just the same.

To make the ganache you’ll need:

  • 250g good quality dark chocolate. I used an 85% one. I love dark chocolate and the bittersweet flavours.
  • 235ml double cream.
  1. Cut the chocolate up into fine pieces and place into a bowl. At the same time put the cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil, careful not to burn it.
  2. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk it til it’s smooth. If you want a thicker ganache leave it to cool completely and then whisk it again til it becomes fluffier and thicker. If you like it runnier and thin then as soon as it is cooled pour over the cake from the centre working outwards.
  3. I will say however if you are planning on sticking the Malteasers on the cake like I did you will need a thicker ganache.

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I felt like adding a touch of decadence so used a silver cake serving plate I found at home and iced it on that. I blobbed a small dab of ganache to the place and then put the bottom layer on top of it which’ll secure the cake, sticking it down in place a little. The ganache is thick, rich and chocolatey and everything you’d want for a decadent treat.

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I used 3 bags of Malteasers to the cake starting at the bottom and slowly going round and round the cake until it was all completely covered. It was very fiddly and would require a little bit of patience (Also, not easy in acrylic nails may I add)

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Using some white fondant icing which I rolled out and cut using a knife in a wavy pattern to give the appearance of icing dribbling off of a christmas cake. I used some green fondant icing to make holly leaves too. If fondant icing is not for you, if you don’t like the sweetness (like my stepdad) or if you don’t want to add it, dusting some icing sugar over the cake would have the same impactful look.

This recipe is honestly one of the easiest and most straight forwards recipes I’ve followed. It leaves no room for anything to go wrong so you can’t really! It makes for a really gorgeous centrepiece if you’re throwing a party as it looks really impressive AND looks like you spent a long time and a lot of money on it too! I was super impressed with this bake and will be sure to make it again for the festive period.OH did I mention it was totally mouthwateringly delicious too?? I’ve said Christmas so many times in this post I’m sure i’ve summoned Michael Buble to wake from his year long slumber, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing now would it ladies?

Lifestyle.

Working with Branded 3.

I was approached by the ever so lovely Carrie who is one of the PR gurus and all round wonderwoman working at a company called Branded 3 towards the end of September about working alongside themselves on sharing my handy hints, tips and tricks on homemade crafts to make the Christmas period that little bit easier. They even sent me this lovely Christmassy care package as a kind gesture and their way of saying thank you (and also getting me straight into the Christmas spirit in October. Apparently it’s still not socially acceptable to be singing christmas tunes then? I heart Boney M what can I say? Plus I’m dying for a white fur coat they all wore in the Mary’s Boy Child music vid…Just me?

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This was the very kind parcel of joy they sent me one dreary friday afternoon. A biscuit that made me feel like a sheriff saying ‘thank you Abbie’ on it. A hexagonal marble white coaster with an A for Abbie inscribed onto it. A very delicious smelling Yankee Candle perfect for christmas in a fruity, cranberry spice scent. And a tesco voucher to help with the planning and preparations for what I’ve planned with them.

Christmas is very often a stressful time of year for a lot of people, whether you’ll be overworked and underpaid over the festive period, catering for your whole entire family even that cousin of yours who has a new intolerance and allergy every family occasion picking something else for you to cook off of your not so secret A La Carte menu but of course. Shopping for loved ones, well Christmas shopping is an experience in itself, leaving it til last minute and buying everyone random giftsets from the local health food shop because THERE IS LITERALLY NOTHING LEFT IN BOOTS and hoping they appreciate the random purchases and have perfected their I-didn’t-want-this-gift-but-am-going-to-give-it-the-once-over-say-oooooh-i’ve-always-wanted-this face. Or being that annoying smart arse who takes great pleasure that they have already bought and wrapped their gifts for everyone this year in July 2010.

So i’ve compiled a few different posts that’ll be appearing on here today on simple ways in which you can craft your own Christmas. I’ve made a homemade Christmas chocolate cake that would make the perfect centrepiece, easy homemade chocolate bark which you could customise as personalised gifts or even just to treat yourself. And homemade body scrubs, which could also make a lovely gift or an even lovelier treat for yourself.

There’s something quite nice about receiving a present that is homemade and crafted. Knowing that person went to the time and effort to make you something possibly a little bit different and not something you’d see everyday or even get as a present. More and more people I know are opting to making someone something over buying this year and I’d like to think I’ll be able to show you just how easy it is and how impressive it is too!

Food.

I made a sticky toffee pudding!

Tell me one thing better than slobbing out in bed on a Sunday morning eating lots of warm, buttery toast and drinking copious amounts of tea? Maybe add in some easy watching E4 american tv show is on in the background, the sun is shining through your bedroom window and Tom Hardy is on his way back up the stairs with another round of breakfasty carbs.Sadly the last part for me didn’t come true, I can’t help but feel Mr Hardy keeps going to the wrong address for some reason? The main feeling that I get from that analogy is comfort. Sometimes that is all you need and it just does the trick. After a horribly long day, getting soaked in the rain on the way home and all you really want is deep fried carbs and chocolate coated errthang.

Creeping into the Autumn and Winter months and all I want to eat is sweet, carb laden foods. To be fair I feel like eating sweet, carb laden foods all year round but more specifically in the colder months. Comfort foods like jacket potatoes, mash potato covered in a thick gravy, pies and any of the types of foods you see on pub food menus that are hearty, wholesome and leave you feeling all warm and gooey on the inside. The more I’ve been trying to get better at cooking and baking the more I’ve realised how I find it so relaxing and therapeutic. It’s a good way for me to escape for a little bit and make a delicious little something to cheer me up, feed the family and also show off on instagram and twitter with a smug little ‘oooooh look what I made, and it was so simple and I made zero mess everyone’.

I decided to bake a sticky toffee pudding one afternoon basically because I really wanted to eat some. I always think of it as a typical pub grub pud  and one that would involve so many technical bits and foods it’s easier to bang a microwave one in your basket than make it yourself. But BOY was I wrong. I went online and had a scout for some simple recipes. I’m a simple type of girl I really can’t be bothered to flambe a fruit or what have you. Trust me when I say how easy this recipe is though and if I can do it I like to think anybody can!

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So I actually used a recipe from the Sainsburys Magazine website and you can use the same recipe found here. It’s a super simple recipe to follow I found and there were a few bits I either tweaked or skipped on.

For this super yummy slice of goodness you will need:

  • 250g of dried dates that have been stoned.
  • 75g softened butter.
  • 175g dark muscovado sugar. The recipe calls for light but I accidentally picked up the dark one whilst I was in Asda. It gave it a richer, more treacle like taste which I like anyway so win, win!
  • 2 medium eggs.
  • Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice.
  • Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

That’s all the ingredients for the cake for the sauce you will need:

  • 100g dark muscovado sugar.
  • 100g butter.
  • 150ml double cream.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
  1. Start off by turning your oven to 180c and lightly greasing a 20cm by 20cm tin. I love a thiiiiick slice of cake so I used a slightly smaller one than the recipe required. And also because I’m not a chef that doesn’t have ENDLESS supplies of different shapes and sizes in tins. That might have accidentally come across a wee bit passive aggressive but sometimes when you’re watching a cookery show (Love you Nigella but you’re the worst for this) they act like getting things like samphire, tagine pots and himalayan rock salt whilst living in deepest, darkest Dorset to be an easy; and cheap feat. It is not.
  2. Next take your dates and chop them up to smaller pieces. It’ll make it a lot easier on yourself when you come to mashing them later on. Once they are all finely chopped put them in a saucepan and submerge them in water and then bring it to the boil. Let the water boil for a few minutes. Then drain it and mash it until its a mushier consistency. I used a potato masher because I found that a lot easier, less messier and a lot less of a workout than using a fork.
  3. Whilst the dates were boiling I put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat it until creamed together. I had left the butter out for about half an hour so it was softened a little which helps it bind together a lot quicker.
  4. Add the eggs to the sugar and butter and beat until smooth.
  5. To the dates add the bicarb, it will foam up a little bit and then add straight into the batter mix. Following this add in the flour, spice and vanilla extract and gently fold in until it’s all mixed nicely.
  6. Pour this into your tin and then bake for about 25 minutes. Or until the cake feels firm to the touch.
  7. Leaving the cake to cool, I made a start on making the sticky toffee sauce. Putting the butter, sugar, cream and vanilla extract into a pan and bringing to a boil. Making sure all the sugar crystals have melted I poured it into a jug and left it for serving later.

I was super impressed with this AND myself for managing not to set anything on fire nor kill anyone. It was so yummy, food for the heart and food for the soul. I would totally recommend you trying this, I know a lot of people don’t like the taste of dates but they give it a fudgier, treacle like taste and you wouldn’t even know it’s there.

Sticky toffee pudding is one of my fav comfort eats what’s your favourite winter warmer?

 

 

Lifestyle.

Life Update.

Apparently there are people out who work Monday to Friday 9-5 get home just in time to watch The Chase on catch up and settle in for the evening and can actually switch off. Now to me these people are just like those infamous Nandos black cards, you’ve heard about them, yourself and no one you know has one but apparently they exist somewhere in the world.

I’ve spent all day today updating my CV, which hadn’t been done in years, I was fairly comfortable, or maybe just a little afraid of making the jump or most likely just lazy, I never got round to keeping it up to date in my old job. Traipsing through job sites and search engines to find the perfect career is a job in itself; everything sounding so pretentious/lame/or really not what you’d imagine. Take the sandwich artists at subway for instance (yes that is their job title, no I’m not kidding) I’m sure I can speak for the majority of us when I say I’ve never come away from a Subway with a work of art style sandwich; delicious yes, Monet maybe not. My point being sometimes they make jobs out to be so much better than they actually are.

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I’m not really sure what type of job I’m looking for which makes looking for one even harder. I’ve had so many conversations with people I know about things like this. A lot of people I know, don’t even know what they want to do with themselves and there is often an awful lot of pressure, especially on the younger generation to sort of know what to do. I am at the tender age of 22 and I have no idea. I know what I don’t want to do which helps but I still have a list as long as a piece of string about my possible career options.

One of my favourite things to do is people watch. Much like everyone else apparently, now I feel even more under pressure knowing that as I’m clumsy as sin and anyone could be watching me trip over thin air outside a busy starbucks. But I used to do this with my friend Leah at my previous job and I remember one afternoon we had a couple of the maintenance people instore fixing something and we were both saying after they left how they seemed to truly enjoy their job. Which we thought was kinda strange and a bit of an alien concept to the both of us. PEOPLE ACTUALLY ENJOYING THEIR WORK? Is that a thing?!!?  It’s something I wish sometimes to be honest. I’ve never really known or had a longing to do just one thing in particular but I have always been so jealous of those that had. I am much, much happier since leaving my previous job however where to go from here has left me in a bit of a dilemma, sort of like I’m at a crossroads and the Cat in the Hat has just bounced out of nowhere with a chuckle and ran off with the map.

I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to college and learning a skill, something that will separate me from the rest and perhaps give me a new lease of life and introduce me to something I enjoy. And maybe help me meet new people. I have a small handful of friends and over time that handful is getting smaller. That isn’t a real problem because the friends I do have I wouldn’t change for the world but it can get a bit lonely at times.

Since quitting my job in July, I’ve felt kinda all over the place, I was a shop manager at 22 and I felt like that changed me for the worse and very quickly defined me too. I was stressed out all the time and the only thing I could think about or talk about was work, BOOOOOOOOOOORING. It took a few weeks for me to normalise to regular life, going from high intensity to lie ins (for the first time in months and months and months may I add) and doing whatever the heck I fancied. I felt like I was on a gap yah but remained in sunny old blighty without having to buy a visa to Thailand to find the New Abbie she was discovered on a day trip with my best bud to Weymouth. Not exactly the glamourous moonlight party on a thai beach like most, but hey who wants to be like the others eh?

It came to me on one of those very cheesy 2p machines at the arcade that I wanted to do fun things like this everyday. I want to feel happy, have a positive relationship with my family and friends, make Abbie happy and just do FUN things everyday. So until I’ve found the job that’ll make me do backflips and cartwheels I’m very content with making my own happiness. Whether that be learning something new, I really want to go to a sushi making class or taking up belly dancing, or dying my hair blue, then pink then bleach blonde cos why not? Or booking tickets to a gig or a comedy night or a festival on a whim. I’m sure to keep you all up to date with what I’m up to either on here, on my insta feed or on my twitter too.

What I’m also trying to say, if you’re going through the same thing. Don’t worry because so am I. Everything happens for a reason and life is for living. I have been a bit hesitant in looking for another job as I don’t want to end up in the same way as I was last time. So taking some me time can never work out for wrong reasons. And hey, maybe you’ll see an ad for tap dancing, discover your passion for it and become the new and improved Michael Flatley and you can thank me in your memoirs or in that infamous Ellen Degeneres interview in years to come??