baking · celebrations · gluten free · low FODMAP · Seasonal

Gluten Free Easter Nest Cakes Recipe (Low FODMAP)

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Last year for Easter, my husband was following the low FODMAP diet to try to help us identify his food intolerances beyond just gluten intolerance. The year before, I had baked a delicious chocolate Easter Nest cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, but although we had really enjoyed it, clearly it wasn’t going to be suitable for a low FODMAP diet. So I set about adapting the recipe to ensure that everyone could enjoy it – and I also adapted it from a massive Easter cake into smaller individual cakes that would be suitable to bake with a young family. Presenting: my gluten free Easter nest cakes recipe! And if you still want to make one big cake, just double up the quantities and stick it all in one big cake tin…

Gluten Free Easter Nest Cakes Recipe

Ingredients For Your Cakes:

You will need the following ingredients for your gluten free chocolate nest cakes:

  • 3 eggs
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 75g salted butter (butter is low FODMAP but not completely lactose free, so if you need a completely lactose free recipe, then replace with coconut oil (75g) or vegetable oil (55g))
  • 125g dark chocolate (make sure it’s vegan dark chocolate if you need 100% lactose free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

And for the topping and decoration, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 125ml vegan double cream (Elmlea do a plant based double cream which works perfectly)
  • 70g dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 pack chocolate mini eggs or buttons
The finished product

Gluten-Free Easter Nest Cakes: The Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C.

2. Lightly grease the bases of a non-stick muffin or cupcake tray. A silicone cupcake tray is best, as you can easily pop out the cooked cakes. A metal cupcake tray will work too, but prepare yourself for a bit of an adventure getting the cakes out of the tray (however – even if you break them, they will stick back together again if still warm!)

3. Put the 75g butter and the 125g chocolate in a bowl and melt them down together either in a microwave (short bursts of 10 seconds at full power, stirring in-between, until melted) or over a saucepan of hot water.

4. Separate two of the eggs.

Separating the eggs

5. Whisk the two egg whites with a handheld or stand mixer, slowly adding in 50g of the sugar until the mixture forms soft, gleaming peaks.

6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the two egg yolks with the remaining whole egg (I mean… Not the shell, obviously), the vanilla essence and the remaining 35g sugar.

7. Gently add the chocolate mixture to the bowl and fold it in carefully.

Folding in the chocolate and butter

8. Next, start adding the whisked egg whites and folding them in gently. First, add about one-third of the egg whites, then once that’s all combined, add another third and so on.

9. Pour the mixture in to the cupcake tin, filling each cupcake hole about 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cakes are risen and cracked but not wobbly when you shake the tray (see the picture, below). Let the cakes cool in the tin on a wire rack, and don’t panic when they sink – that’s what makes the nests!

Fresh from the oven

10. Once the cakes are cool-ish, get them out of the cake tin. Don’t worry if they break – I promise that if you gently squash the separate pieces back together, they will magically re-combine through some incredible cakey voodoo.

11. Melt the 70g dark chocolate and set it aside while you whip the double cream until it’s forming soft peaks. Add the vanilla essence and slowly fold in the melted chocolate, but make sure it’s cooled down a fair bit first.

12. Dollop the cream into the sunken centres of your chocolate nest cakes, and add the chocolate eggs or buttons.

13. Enjoy your gluten-free, low-FODMAP chocolate Easter nest cakes!

Om nom Easter yum yums

Top Tips For Your Easter Nest Cakes:

These cakes are sort of like a brownie/meringue hybrid, which means a lot of folding various mixtures into one another. Usually, where whisked egg is involved, the idea is to combine the two mixes completely without knocking too much air out of the egg whites. Not confident on how to do this? Here’s a handy guide on folding in egg whites.

It’s also worth noting that the sugary shell on the outside of the chocolate eggs will melt over time, so if (for example) you’re preparing these the night before for a party the next day, don’t add the eggs until a few hours before you’re ready to serve, if you can.

More recipes for gluten-free chocolatey treats!

If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, why not try my favourite gluten-free Rocky Road recipe (no baking required!) or this delicious recipe for coffee-lovers – gluten-free chocolate cappuccino brownies. Yum!

celebrations · Seasonal

How To Make Christmas Pudding Vodka – Easy Infused Vodka Recipe

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This recipe for homemade Christmas Pudding vodka is super-easy and delicious (whether or not you’re a fan of Christmas pudding itself!). It was actually inspired by a recipe for Swedish ‘Christmas Vodka’ which I found in a 20-year-old IKEA recipe book that my father-in-law slightly randomly decided to buy for us from a charity shop.

The best thing about this recipe book is the comments scribbled against a few recipes by the previous owner – for instance, the recipe for Herring Au Gratin includes the comment “29/04/06 – very odd taste“. If I’m completely honest, some of these notes have rather put me off (especially of herring au gratin…), so I haven’t braved any of the recipes – but I did very much like the idea of making a spice-infused vodka that would be ready in time for Christmas. So I gave this a go for Christmas 2020 and loved the results! Now, I want to share this recipe with you for 2021 – it also makes a great homemade gift for friends and family who like a drink. Scroll down for the recipe, as well as ideas on how to serve your Christmas Pudding vodka!

Christmas Pudding Vodka Recipe

1. Gather Your Ingredients

First you’ll need to gather your ingredients. The ingredients list for Christmas Pudding Vodka is actually pretty flexible – you can totally add your favourite spices if they’re not in the list below, or remove spices you’re not fond of! Many recipes for Christmas vodka include cloves… I hate cloves, so my recipe doesn’t have them! On the other hand, I love citrus flavours, so this recipe really emphasizes those flavours. If you’re not so keen, you can reduce the quantities of peel and zest. It’s up to you!

Now I’ve got that off my chest, here’s your list of ingredients…

  • 1 litre cheap supermarket vodka (it will also work great with cheap white rum!)
  • 1 clementine (or your small orange fruit of choice) zest only
  • 250g sultanas/raisins/currants
  • 100g mixed peel
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

2. Mix Your Vodka

You could probably have predicted the next step already… Yes, that’s right – bung all your ingredients into a large jug, bowl, or bottle and give them a good stir.

Then, cover your bowl or jug with clingfilm (or close your bottle!) and pop it in the fridge.

3. Let The Spices Infuse

And now, we wait. Leave the vodka in the fridge for at least a week, stirring every day, to let the spices, sugar and fruit infuse their flavour into the drink. You can leave it for longer – the flavours will just get stronger – but I personally found that after a week, like Goldilocks, I thought it was juuuuust right.

4. Filter Your Infused Vodka

When you’re ready to end the infusing process, it’s time to filter your Christmas Pudding Vodka, so that you can drink it without being hit in the face by a cinnamon stick and a whole pile of soggy raisins. You can do this through a sieve or tea strainer, but it will still be a little cloudy. A butter muslin cloth would do a better job of straining out the little particles of spices, but if you want your vodka to be really crystal clear, I recommend using a coffee filter to strain it. It takes a while but you’ll get the best results!

5. Bottle Or Drink…

And finally, the best step of all… Your Christmas Pudding vodka is ready to drink! If you’re not quite feeling up to downing a litre of vodka in one go (hint: you should never feel up to downing a litre of vodka), pour your filtered beverage into a sterilised bottle or bottles. It should keep nicely at room temperature for a year – store the bottles away from direct sunlight to preserve that beautiful golden colour.

Alternative Christmas Infused Vodka Recipes

Maybe you’re not a fan of Christmas puddings, or maybe you want to make a range of different infused vodkas for the festive season. As I’ve mentioned above, the recipe for this Christmas Pudding Vodka is super-flexible and you can add and subtract ingredients as you please. Cranberries, toffee and chocolate are all Christmassy ingredients that can be infused into vodka (or other spirits) – why not play with adding them to your Christmas Pudding vodka?

Or if you want to get a bit more creative and unusual, you could even try this candy cane vodka recipe, or invoke the spirit of Narnia’s White Witch with this amazing Turkish Delight infused vodka recipe…

How To Drink Your Christmas Pudding Vodka

Now you’ve made your Christmas Pudding vodka, the question is: how should you drink it? Well, I can attest that it’s delicious served neat, either at room temperature or chilled, but it’s also great as a mixer in other drinks and Christmas vodka cocktails. If you have a cold or sore throat, try adding a drop of your Christmas pudding vodka to a hot honey and lemon drink – it’s the perfect combination. Similarly, it will work well as a hot buttered vodka drink to warm you up on those chilly winter evenings.

Equally, if you’re looking for a more festive serving suggestion, you can add your vodka to homemade eggnog or mulled wine – it will bring the perfect rich, sweet and spiced flavour. Or, why not check out this list of festive vodka cocktails recipes and see what catches your eye?

Other Recipes To Try

If you enjoyed making Christmas Pudding vodka, why not try out this recipe for delicious homemade hawthorn berry gin – the perfect autumnal treat?

health · Just for fun

Why You Should Always Find Out Your Surgeon’s Birthday

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Today is my birthday! How old am I? Fortunately that’s not relevant to this blog post. Because today, we’re going to be talking about the most important birthday you need to add to your calendar. And, hard though it is to believe – it’s not my birthday… It’s your surgeon’s. Because a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has found that patients who underwent surgery on the surgeon’s birthday exhibited higher mortality than patients who underwent surgery on other days.

Wait, what?

Yes, that’s correct. Your surgeon is more likely to kill you if they’re operating on you on their birthday. How’s that for a crazy fact – and a completely inappropriate topic for a light-hearted celebratory birthday blog post? In my defense, the study was published as part of the British Medical Journal’s fun and festive Christmas edition, so I’m not the only one completely misjudging the suitability of the topic for light entertainment.

It’s my surgeon’s birthday. How worried should I be?

The study looked at almost a million surgical procedures performed by 47,489 surgeons, and found that mortality rates were 6.9% on surgeon’s birthdays, compared to 5.6% on other days. That’s a pretty noticeable difference – but there are, of course, a few “buts”…

The study looked at 17 common emergency surgical procedures, performed on patients aged 65 – 99, at US hospitals from 2011 – 2014. The fact that these were emergency procedures performed on older people means the expected mortality rate for the first 30 days after surgery was already quite high. Unless you’re a 65+ year old undergoing a common medical emergency, even if it is your surgeon’s birthday, you’ve probably not got a 6.9% chance of dying. Good news for anyone getting an ingrowing toenail removed (or having pituitary surgery).

Additionally, apparently it’s actually comparable to the kind of increase in death rates that is seen at other times – including Christmas, New Year and weekends. So that’s… not at all reassuring, actually, now I think of it.

Why does it happen?

Well, the study was observational, meaning that the authors couldn’t establish the reasons behind the ‘birthday effect’ they observed, or exclude the impact of other, unmeasured factors. But they suggested a number of factors that could be at play:

  • Surgeons rushing to complete procedures on their birthday if they have plans to celebrate later on.
  • More distractions from birthday phone messages or conversations with team members, which could lead to more errors.
  • Surgeons being less likely to check up on patients following surgery, if they are busy with birthday plans.

They all sound totally plausible, although I’ve also thought of a few of my own that the researchers somehow missed:

  • Surgical staff suffering from a sugar rush and subsequent drop in blood sugars after eating birthday cake, impairing surgical performance.
  • One or two evil surgeons intentionally killing patients as part of some kind of sick annual birthday ritual. It’s probably a whole conspiracy, guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out Bill Gates was involved.

How reliable is the study?

I’m not a statistician, so I’ll leave that question to more experienced maths jockeys. I will say, however, that the letters section of the British Medical Journal website contains a number of letters on the topic from some very disgruntled surgeons, and is well worth a read. To quote one letter from neurosurgeon Steven A. Reid: “One wonders about the intrusion of errors on the part of statisticians on their birthdays — I’m certain the outcome isn’t as dramatic. More speeding tickets perhaps?”

And in conclusion…

Well, I’m not a surgeon, but you’ll be glad to hear I’ve booked my birthday off work anyway. You can’t be too careful, right? And if you’re reading this while in the office, well… play it safe and go read about my experience of transsphenoidal pituitary surgery rather than doing any more of that dangerous work stuff…

baking · celebrations · food · gluten free · Just for fun · recipes · Seasonal

Ridiculously Delicious Pancake Day Inspiration and Ideas

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So the 16th February is, of course, Pancake Day. And let’s face it, what with lockdown and coronavirus, we’ve not got much to look forward to this year. Which means (in my mind) that Pancake Day should now be treated as a major holiday and celebrated as such. To that end, I’m bringing together some of my personal favourite recipes and ideas for incredible pancakes – including sweet and savory recipes, gluten free pancakes, and some slightly outlandish ideas as well… By the time I’m finished, I might just have to turn it into Pancake Week!

Pancake Day Inspiration and Ideas

Big Fat Pancakes

Ah, big fat pancakes. You know the ones. The kind of fluffy pancakes you find stacked up like the Empire State Building and smothered in syrup, on a plate that’s much too small, in a cheap American diner…. Om nom nom. Here’s a recipe for big fat pancakes from BBC Good Food – the normal flour can be directly substituted for gluten-free flour. And see below for ideas on how to make them a bit more exciting…

Savoury Pancakes

These kind of American pancakes really work well with additions to the batter. If you’re a fan of the Hawaiian pizza, I highly recommend scattering shredded ham and small pieces of pineapple into the pan along with the wet batter. They will cook into the pancake and, served with a little melted cheese on top, create a delicious (if slightly unorthodox) Hawaiian pancake treat! Unless you are my husband, in which case you will think it is the pancake of the devil. Fair enough.

If you are of my husband’s mindset, with regards to the combination of ham, pineapple and cheese, then there are of course big fat savoury pancake alternatives. Another great choice is to keep the shredded ham in the batter (but drop the pineapple!… not into the batter…) and then top your pancakes with smoked cheese and chives.

Sweet Pancakes

The obvious choice is, of course, to drop blueberries in your pancake batter and serve with syrup or, if you’re feeling especially extravagant, blueberry yoghurt and maple syrup. I think pretty much any fruit + yoghurt combination works – I’m not the biggest ever fan of blueberries but I love these pancakes with raspberries and yoghurt (in fact you can see that exact combo in one of the pictures on this page!). Ice cream is a more than acceptable yoghurt substitute if you don’t care about pretending that your breakfast is remotely healthy.

Another amazing big fat pancake is a cinammon swirl pancake. These are perfect breakfast pancakes! Basically it’s a normal American pancake but with an addition of sweet cinammon butter, swirled into the batter. I make them at home on a semi-regular basis and they are super delicious, but fair warning: I have never managed to get them looking particularly attractive (hence the absence of photos). To this day, I have no idea how the folks over at BBC Good Food managed to get theirs looking so perfect. But who cares? They don’t last long enough to photograph anyway.

I also weirdly love the combo of banana, bacon and maple syrup for the ultimate sweet and savoury twist.

Skinny Flat Pancakes

Let’s be clear. By ‘skinny’ pancakes, I mean pancakes that are physically slender, not ones that are in any way healthy to eat. That is not in the spirit of Pancake Day. The best thing about skinny flat pancakes, a.k.a. classic French crepes (basic recipe here, straight swap the flour for gluten free flour if needed), is that you can eat a lot more of them before you’re full! As we all know, on Pancake Day one should maximise the quantity, as well as the quality, of pancakes consumed…

Savoury Crepes

Crepes work super well with savoury flavours. My favourite is to spread the crepe with cream cheese, sprinkle with cracked black pepper, smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon and a generous scattering of chopped chives. It’s sort of like a smoked salmon blini, but much much bigger!

Sweet Crepes

Having started with a savoury crepe (or two, or three) obviously you need to move on to dessert. When I was a kid, my mum always served up crepes spread with strawberry jam, and/or a sprinkle of lemon juice and sugar. Sometimes the classics are the best!

But these days I often dish up a range of sweet fillings, so people can pick and choose their favourites and maybe have a few different combinations. Strawberries and banana are the perfect versatile fruits to have available to fill your crepes, along with Nutella (other chocolate spreads are available…) or caramel sauce.

Fun and Fruity Pancakes

Speaking of fruit, my husband was the one to first introduce me to banana pancakes. Before he came along, I thought ‘banana pancakes’ were the same as ‘banana and pancakes’ – I clearly didn’t pay enough attention to Jack Johnson in my youth. Boy, was I missing out! Proper banana pancakes are now a staple in our house, and Little Man loves them too.

Making banana pancakes can be as simple as two ingredients – banana and egg – making them naturally gluten free, although I prefer recipes that include baking powder for a little extra lightness. My go-to recipe is here, but I usually add a tablespoon of gluten-free flour – because I find the addition of flour makes the pancakes much easier to flip! Banana-only pancakes can be very runny, and you end up with rather unattractive melty blobs (although to be fair, they are absolutely delicious melty blobs). I recommend serving them hot from the pan with either maple syrup or golden syrup – both are delicious.

I’ve heard a rumour that you can make other types of fruit pancake, but honestly why would you bother?

Boozy Pancakes

The classic boozy pancake is, naturally, the Crepe Suzette. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a delicious recipe, but also requires a certain amount of confidence and fancy chef-y skills like making caramel and then setting it on fire. The BBC conveniently have an easy version recipe which they call Cointreau Pancakes (other orange-flavoured liqueurs are available).

I have been religiously Googling alternative alcoholic pancake recipes for Pancake Day 2021 inspiration, because as we all know, lockdowns are vastly improved by the addition of booze. The ones that have caught my eye the most are these caramelised banana and rum pancakes (drool!), these Bailey’s red velvet pancakes with whipped cream (I love the idea of red velvet pancakes!), these pina colada pancakes (my favourite cocktail) and these strawberry lime margarita pancakes which just sound straight-up amazing. Will I get the chance to try all these recipes before Pancake Day? Clearly, no – so if you try one, let me know what you think in the comments!

More Pancake Day Inspiration

Do you have any 2021 Pancake Day inspiration of your own? Let me know your favourite recipes in the comments! Or check out my other recipes and gluten-free baking ideas here – or if you’re not much of a baker, why not try a ready-made pancake kit instead?

celebrations · history · Just for fun · Seasonal

Just Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway? Love, Beekeeping and Epilepsy

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Ah, Valentine’s Day. If you have no-one to spend it with, it can be an unwanted reminder of singledom. And if you do have someone to spend it with, there’s a lot of pressure for the perfect romantic day. But you may not know that St Valentine is one of those greedy saints who is the patron saint of all kinds of random things, not just romantic love. So just who was St Valentine…?

Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway?

St Valentine The Romantic

First things first: there are various legends and stories surrounding St Valentine, which may actually refer to multiple different figures. Valentine’s Day itself honours Valentine of Rome (who died in 269) and Valentine of Terni (who died in 273), but there were apparently even more early Christian martyrs named Valentine, which at this point seems like it was basically the Roman Empire’s equivalent of the name John Smith.

The legend that most obviously connects a St Valentine to a tradition of romantic love relates to a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II, who was apprehended performing marriages for Christian couples and assisting Christians, who were at that time being persecuted. This was a major inconvenience to the emperor at the time, who supposedly believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers (legend is silent as to why he believed this, but perhaps the widow’s pension scheme simply proved too costly on the imperial purse). St Valentine was therefore promptly put to death. How romantic.

So next time you’re single and a newly coupled-up friend tells you about their Valentine’s Day plans, you can smugly remind them that Valentine’s Day is a holiday for married couples, and St Valentine (or any one of the various St Valentines) would certainly disapprove of chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner out of wedlock.

St Valentine The Epileptic (?)

Less well-known is the fact that St Valentine is also the patron saint of epilepsy. And once again, he’s not the only one. According to Epilepsy Action, there are forty separate patron saints of epilepsy, although St Valentine is the most famous one… which does seem a little unfair, considering some might argue that he’s already famous enough for the celebrations on February 14th. He’s very much stealing the epilepsy thunder from other saints like St Vitus. Ever heard of St Vitus? No. But after he freed the Emperor Diocletian’s son from demonic possession (read: epilepsy), he was promptly put to death for doing it like a big old Christian. That’s gratitude for you.

Anyway, the point is that St Vitus literally died to cure epilepsy and you’ve never even heard of him.

So how did St Valentine become one of the many patron saints of epilepsy? Well, allegedly it once again comes back to the name Valentine. Epilepsy was for many years known as the ‘falling disease’ and in German, there is a similarity between the word ‘fallen’ and name ‘Valentine’, which led to alternative names in German for epilepsy, such as St Valentine’s disease. Bit of a weak connection, if we’re totally honest. St Vitus is pissed as all heck about it.

St Valentine The… Everything Else

Saint Valentine (well, one of them anyway) is also, for some reason, a patron saint of beekeepers – a link that seems even more tenuous than his connection to epilepsy, but there we go. The best justification for this link that I could find was a few beekeeping websites that vaguely referred to a supposed relationship between love and honey/bees. I can only assume they’re confusing love with pollen.

Now, you may be thinking that, well, someone has to be the patron saint of beekeepers, and maybe there just weren’t many volunteers for the job. Perhaps St Valentine just offered to help fill a blank spot on the celestial staffing rota? But no. St Ambrose and St Bernard of Clairvaux (you have to include the “of Clairvaux part, because otherwise people assume you’re talking about a dog) are also patron saints of beekeeping. If anything, you might say it’s a little oversubscribed on saints.

On top of this, Catholic Online lists St Valentine as the patron saint of fainting, greetings, plague, travellers and young people. It’s certainly a miracle that he has time to rest at all, especially as he seems to have overlooked the opportunity to become the patron saint of something a bit more chill, like embroidery (Rose of Lima got that gig). No wonder he needs Cupid to lend a hand on the 14th February…

So there you go. If you’re feeling a little left out this Valentine’s Day, why not try a spot of beekeeping, or celebrating your love for travel? It’s just as valid a way to mark the occasion as a box of chocolates and a bunch of roses…

baking · celebrations · food · recipes · Seasonal

Christmas Round-Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas

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It’s that happy season where everyone is posting about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas… In my house, the Christmas season doesn’t start properly until the 7th December, as my husband’s birthday is the 6th December and clearly takes precedence over the other festive season! But that doesn’t mean the preparations haven’t started, so I thought I’d share my Christmas round-up post, including ideas for festive baking, food and drink, gift ideas and family activities…

Christmas Round Up: Fun Ideas For Christmas 2020

Festive Food & Drink

Christmas is, of course, the season of food – and for those of us who love baking, it’s an opportunity to get into the kitchen and get creative! I’m planning on trying out this festive white chocolate rocky road traybake (complete with candy canes!) and this sticky gingerbread recipe. I’m not sure if I’ll get the time but I’m hoping to manage this impressive looking chocolate twist Christmas tree! Of course, in our house gluten free baking is pretty important, so I was also excited to find this recipe for gluten free mince pies. Let’s be honest… It’s not Christmas without mince pies!

Baking with kids at Christmas

If you have young children, the festive season is a lovely opportunity to get them involved in baking (and eating, of course!). These easy no bake sweet treats are just the right kind of safe and fun recipes to make with your kids at Christmas. Slightly older will love this Mars Bar fudge recipe for slow cookers, which is also a lovely, simple recipe that they can get involved in creating.

Christmas drinks and cocktails

Cranberries are one of those ingredients that I really associate with Christmas, but other than cranberry sauce with your Christmas dinner, it’s hard to come up with much to do with them… I’m planning on using cranberry juice and orange juice to make some tasty morning mocktails over the festive season – just what you want to wake up to!

On the alcoholic side of things, earlier this year I made some delicious hawthorn gin which should be ready for Christmas – I can’t wait to enjoy it in some prosecco in a festive hawthorn fizz. You can find my recipe for hawthorn gin here. I’ve also tried making some Christmas pudding vodka – so I’m pretty excited to see how that turns out! Or if you can’t decide between booze and dessert, why not whip up a delicious zabaglione – then you don’t have to choose…

Christmas Gift Guides

Buying presents can be so tricky, and especially this year when lockdown and the Covid tiers system means it’s not easy to get out to the shops and just browse.

If you’re buying gifts for kids, there are some great ideas in this Christmas gift guide for children, or why not consider a magazine subscription so they get a new gift every month?

In our house, we’re very much aware that food intolerances and dietary requirements can make Christmas gifting challenging – so I love this guide to buying gifts for vegans!

Moving away from food and drink gifts, this guide has some lovely homeware gift ideas, to or this weird and wonderful gift guide gives some quirky and different ideas for gifts your loved ones won’t be expecting. If you’re looking for super-specific gifts, I even found this gift guide for fans of the TV show Friends (I actually re-watched the entirety of Friends over maternity leave so it’s kind of perfect…)

If you’re buying gifts for a tea lover in your life, I have a guide coming soon on the blog – keep your eyes peeled!

Fun Christmas Activities

Christmas is definitely time for relaxing in front of the television… But it’s nice to use your time off over Christmas to do some other fun activities – and as we’re all going to be staying indoors this Christmas, I’m trying to plan some fun activities in advance.

Christmas Crafts & More

I’ve always vaguely wanted to try making my own decorative Christmas wreath for our house, so I was excited to find this guide to making your own natural foliage wreath – hoping to get the chance to give it a go this year!

I’m also planning to use the time to do some home improvements; we’ve got some old furniture that we’re hoping to paint and upcycle, and we want to put up a mural in Little Man’s room.

Your Ideas For Christmas

What will you be getting up to for Christmas this year? Let me know your ideas for Christmas and the festive season!

craft · days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · Seasonal

Window Wanderland: Making An Illuminated Window Display

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For the last couple of weeks, I’ve used pretty much all my spare time when Little Man was sleeping or doing his settling-in sessions at nursery to work on creating an illuminated window display for Window Wanderland 2020. I themed the display around the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro, because a) it’s one of my favourites, b) I assumed there would be lots of families out and about with kids, and c) honestly the characters have nice simple designs that should be easy to recreate in a papercut.

I was really happy with the final result!

The front view

In this blog post, I’ll talk about how I created my window display, and also share some photos of some of my favourite illuminated window displays from my local Window Wanderland event this year. Hopefully others will find it useful for information, ideas and inspiration if you’re planning on creating a illuminated window displays yourself. But first things first…

What Is Window Wanderland?

Window Wanderland is a scheme encouraging communities to set up “fun, local, all-people-friendly, window-display-based walking trails then share them with the world.” Illuminated window displays are set up by individuals or families in their homes over a couple of days, and then you can look up a map of your local area showing you where to find displays. It’s a really fun scheme, and obviously it’s especially great this year with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, because it’s all outdoors and compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

How Do You Make Illuminated Window Displays?

The flippant answer is: however you want to! As I walked around the illuminated window displays in my local area, I would say that it looked like most people (like me!) did displays using coloured crepe paper and black card. I did spot what looked like a display that had been painted onto tracing paper (?) so that it illuminated beautifully, which I thought was a great effect and allowed for a lot of detail:

How Did I Create My Window Wanderland Display?

By taking over the dining room table for about two weeks! Apologies to my very patient husband. I’ll outline exactly how I approached it and some of my top tips for how to make an illuminated window display with paper and card…

Step 1: Measure your windows

We have quite a complicated downstairs front window set-up, with 10 panels of varying shapes and sizes, so the first thing was to measure them up. I did a really bad job of this and actually got the measurements for six of the panels wrong, which I only discovered on the night when I went to put my display up in the window… Oops. They were only about 1cm out, but still! I recommend measuring everything twice…

Step 2: Buy your supplies

For my display, I bought a pack of 10 sheets of A2 black card, and a mixed pack of 20 sheets of coloured crepe paper (I already had a lot of the dark blue crepe paper that I used for the background colour). I didn’t use tracing paper as a backing, but lots of people do, especially if you’re going for a more collage-style effect.

My dining room table is in there somewhere…

I already had a craft scalpel in the house, which was essential for the finer lines, and a cutting mat. I also already had Pritt Stick glue in the house, but I ran out on the last day and had to run to the shops to get more – so make sure you have enough glue, as if you have large windows you can end up using a LOT. I also used blu-tack to stick the panels to the windows.

Step 3: Plan your design

I had a vague idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but I first cut my panels of black card into the right sizes for all the window panels – in some cases I also had to stick extra bits of card together to get the right size and shape for my windows. Then I outlined a reasonably thick border around the outer edge of each panel, and then started designing.

I did this as an iterative process, working panel by panel and outlining a design in pencil – rather than designing every panel from the start, before beginning to cut and paste, and I’m glad I did, because the first panel I did was way too complicated and took forever! After that, I simplified my designs a little, and also learned what shapes were easy/difficult to cut etc. as I went. You can see my excessively complicated first panel here – the top one with all the leaves:

I definitely think that when coming up with your design, less is more! I saw some amazing illuminated window displays around town that were just done with two colours – black card and a white background (for instance, see the Halloween themed Window Wanderland display below!). I think the simpler panels of my design have more impact as well.

Spooky…

Step 4: Cutting and sticking

My method was to cut a design out of black card, using a craft scalpel, and then stick coloured crepe paper in the gaps. For a few features, such as the eyes, I then glued more bits of black card on top of the crepe. It was quite fiddly, but I definitely got faster as I went along.

Actually one of the trickiest things was just finding somewhere I could put the panels while the glue was drying!

From indoors, you can see the construction more

How To Illuminate Your Window Display

I simply used blu-tack to attach my pieces of card to our front room windows. We then put the lights on in the front room. To make the display brighter, I also placed a lamp on a table by the window. If you’re wondering how to make your Window Wanderland display brighter, using extra lamps or even a projector will help light up the windows perfectly.

Window Wanderland Ideas and Inspiration

Before I started making my Window Wanderland display, I really wanted to see other people’s displays, for inspiration! So I thought I’d share a few more illuminated window displays that I particularly liked from my local area. Perhaps they will give you ideas for your own window display. Personally, I think windows work best when they have a strong theme – I really liked some of the Halloween themed windows we saw, and those themed around literature or music. As we get closer to Christmas, I imagine that Christmas themed Window Wanderland displays could be really awesome as well. Anyway, here are a few photos of displays from my local event… and my thoughts on how to make something similar.

Koi carp and irises window:

This beautiful display looks like it was made in a similar way to my display: cutting the design out of black card, and backing it with crepe paper.

Abstract colours window:

This abstract design is so beautiful and I think something like this would be easily achievable if you’re not feeling confident about making your window display. Again, it looks like it’s made with black card backed with crepe paper.

Prehistoric ocean window:

This lovely prehistoric ocean display looks like it was made by glueing strips of crepe paper onto tracing paper, and then sticking black cut outs on top.

Your Experience of Window Wanderland Events

I hope this post has been helpful if you’re looking for some inspiration and ideas for a Window Wanderland illuminated display!

Are you taking part in Window Wanderland in your local area? I’d love to see your designs and ideas! Let me know in the comments or tag me on social media for a share.

baby · celebrations · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting

Little Man’s First Easter – Lockdown Special

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We had big plans for Little Man’s first Easter. We were going to go stay with my parents. My father-in-law was going to come along too, as were my sister and auntie. On the Saturday lots of other aunties and uncles were going to visit to get their first chance to meet the little dude. And as my parents live in the countryside, we were going to chill in the garden, go for lovely walks, visit the local pubs… Etc etc. Then coronavirus hit and instead we’ve had to spend Easter at home, just the three of us.

So it wasn’t quite what we planned, but we still had a fabulous time. Some of my highlights were…

Little Man’s First Easter Egg Hunt


Martin and I took it in turns to hide eggs in the garden and then search for them. Little Man was absolutely useless at finding eggs. He spent most of the time just squinting in the bright light and dribbling. He’s seriously going to have to up his game for next year.

Eating, Drinking and Baking


We’ve had some really great food and drink this weekend! Particular highlights: Martin made me a fabulous gin and lemonade with mint leaves on Saturday, and made incredible lamb neck fillet kebabs on Sunday. He put a dry rub on the meat and let it marinade overnight and it was dreamy!

I baked a delicious gluten free Easter chocolate cake from this Nigella Lawson recipe, which I highly recommend! I also think it will be fabulous in the summer with raspberries instead of mini eggs.


Family Video Calls


We had some lovely video calls with family over the weekend and it felt like we had fun together despite the lockdown. We chatted to family in Japan on Saturday morning while they had their dinner, and it was their first chance to meet Little Man albeit remotely! It’s crazy how our nieces in Japan grow so fast, every time we see them, they seem to have grown so much. Another highlight was family Easter quizzes with my family over WhatsApp/Kahoot, masterminded by my awesome sister. It was fun to do something different and interactive together.

Playing Dress-Up


Obviously Easter means bunnies, which means a great excuse to dress Little Man up in an adorable costume! He was our Easter Bunny for the day on Sunday and it was ridiculously cute.