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Monday, 4 May 2015

Gourmet Gadgetry Electric Popcorn Maker Review

For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with savory popcorn!  When Walkers bought out their own Cheesy popcorn in my tweens, I was obsessed.  I loved the taste, the branding and even now almost 16 years later I still know all the words to the advert!

Sadly I seemed to be one of the few that loved the extreme cheesy taste and the product was soon pulled.  Over the years I have resorted to all kinds of inferior products to get my popcorn fix, but none lived up to the taste of Sundog. 

The popcorn industry in the US has been going strong for years, but it's only recently starting to catch on in the UK and I am in my element!  My absolute favourite is Tyrells Sour Cream and Jalepeno Proper Popcorn

The flavors may not be as punchy as I'd like, but they are so savory that it ticks all my boxes!  The problem is that this stuff is pretty over-priced (1,275% mark up for most popcorn!) and this particular blend is becoming increasingly hard to find.

There is a solution to being such a cheapskate fuss pot, make my own!

I admit that microwavable butter popcorn has long been a guilty pleasure of mine, but the calories are pretty intense and we try to limit the amount of microwaved food we consume.  I have been considering an electric air popper for ages, but never got round to buying one.  However last December the Mr decided to take me to Lakeland to pick my Christmas presents and when I saw this beautiful red machine I decided to take a gamble!

 It is marketed as a 'retro design' I'm not sure I would agree with this, but I do love the red (it matches my kitchen).

It is a very simple mechanism with an inner chamber that rotates at speed whilst circulating really hot air.  This hot air pops the kernels and et voila, popcorn!  Above the chute is space to store the measuring scoop, this not only delivers the right amount of kernels without the need to weigh them, but you can also place butter in it and the heat from the popper will melt it providing a perfect popcorn topping!

We've used this a handful of times now and I can honestly say I'm really pleased with it.  The simplicity is actually really impressive and although air popcorn is reputed to have a slightly drier taste and texture, but for me personally this method doesn't detract from the taste.

There are tons of popcorn flavoring recipes out there now and Asda have even started selling their own seasonings.

We've tried the Nacho Cheese and Sweet and Salty, both of which are devine.  I also plan to purchase some gourmet flavorings at some stage too!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Joseph Joseph Adjustable Pastry Rolling Pin Review

It's not exactly a secret that I love baking.  I love to make pastry and biscuits, but I've always struggled with gauging the depth when rolling out dough, or getting an even thickness.
My wonderful husband took me to Lakeland to choose my Christmas presents last year, and this nifty rolling pin really caught my eye.

The rolling pin is by Joseph Joseph and features different widths of plastic rings that ensure you can roll your pastry to not only the correct depth, but also that you have an even finish.  Initially the price put me off big time.  At £22 (price correct for December 2014) for a simple wooden rolling pin with coloured plastic ends, it seemed really over priced.  I didn't even put it on my Christmas wish list as figured I could find a cheaper alternative on Amazon.

Well I did scour both eBay and Amazon and there were a lot of alternatives, but they either had terrible reviews, or looked so cheap I knew they would break after a few uses.  Plus, the quirky colourful design had kind of grown on me.  I added it to my wish list and Father Christmas (under the guise of my husband!) delivered it to me in time for Christmas morning!

I've only used it a few times, but each time it has made rolling my pastry a cinch!

The rolling pin is solid and sturdy, made from long lasting beech wood.  It is long enough to cope with most standard pastry recipes, although rolling larger batches may not be possible whilst using the plastic guides.  You are somewhat restricted to rolling pastry no larger than 35cms whilst using the guides as this is how long the rolling pin is.

The rolling pin has measurements written on the shaft.  It took me a little while to figure out how to actually use these and then I cheated and checked the Lakeland website! Basically, there are mirrored increments of measurements on either end of the rolling pin.  If you want to measure 4" the space between the 4" mark on the left and the 4" mark on the right is 4".  If you want to measure 6" the space between the 6" mark on the left and the 6" mark on the right is 6" - and so on.  There are also measurements in mm too.

These markings have not been printed on, instead they have been etched/burnt into the wood meaning that they will last as long as the rolling pin itself.

The rolling pin has a solid feel to it, although it is light enough to easily roll.

I now love the fact that all my dough is the same thickness all the way through!  Perfect if you're a little on the OCD side like me.

The plastic ring guides come in either 2 mm, 4 mm, 6 mm or 10 mm.  They are also colour coded which makes it easier to match the ends and quickly grab the depth you need.  The green turn key to keep the guides on is made from chunky plastic and feels well made.  The screw thread of the rolling pin has been made from the actual wood, so there is no fear of rust or plastic wearing down.

The reviews on Amazon are pretty impressive - to date it has earned 4.5 stars from 35 reviews.  The only negative review refers to the older model (grey rings) where she complained the pastry sticks to the rough wood.  I can honestly say that I haven't encountered this, she either had a dodgy batch or they've updated the smoothness on the new model.

Each time I've used it, it's given me a flash back to Art class at school where we used to use wood blocks and a rolling pin to achieve a uniform depth in our clay - this would have been a perfect alternative!

I think this will last me years and with that in mind, perhaps the outlay isn't too bad.  I probably still wouldn't just buy it, but I think it does make a great item for a present wish list! 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

My Pinterest Obsession

Like most of the world I am obsessed with pinterest.  I can easily lose hours looking through all the awesome things that I plan to replicate some day and pinning to a board that I have every intention of coming back to make from.
The sad truth is that like most although I put the hours into pinning, very little time is ever spent actually creating anything from my boards.  Periodically I may have a little pin or board cull where I decide to organize my jumble, but even then it is rare that I see a DIY I decide to actually make.

I mean how awesome is this tea set from Good Housekeeping? When I saw it, I thought it was adorable and would be really cute in our kitchen.  Heck, I even have the porcelain pens to create it!  However, I've never gotten round to it.

This amazing etched glass trifle bowl by makeit-loveit was one of my very first pins!  In fact, this DIY was one of the reasons I bought my Silhouette Cameo!  A friend even presented me with an exact replica trifle bowl as an anniversary gift so that I could make my very own.  But, after some not so great attempts at glass etching, I always manage to talk myself out of it :(

It's not just homeware DIYs either!

When I spotted this cute skirt from iCandy, blog hopping on Kojo Designs, I was desperate to make it!  Sadly the sewing machine has not been out to whip this up, instead I continue to look lovingly at it sat on my 'Sewing Patterns to Attempt' board.

It's not all doom and gloom though, I mean I have managed to create a few pinterest finds!

 Who could forget our awesome Wizard of Oz Dorothy glass?

And we actually use pinterest as a family quite a bit when it comes to arranging dinner recipes!

I have two main boards; 'Possible Dinner Recipes' which is where we store all the recipes we would like to try as a main meal and 'Tried and Tested Recipes' which is an elite board that only the yummiest recipes are pinned to.  For our pins in the tried and tested board, I use the description text to make any notes about the recipe.  For example we have a mean pizza dough recipe that we slightly alter by omitting the corn meal, but adding Italian herbs into the dough.  Adding notes ensures I don't forget when whipping up the next batch.

I actually know of a few ladies that have made it their New Years resolution to make one new thing from their pinterest boards a week.  I'm not sure I could quite manage one a week, but I'm definitely going to try and increase the amount.

In an effort to start as I mean to go on, tonight I am making Roasted Cabbage Wedges by MeandPinterest.  Fingers crossed it makes it onto the Tried and Tested board ;)


The roasted cabbage wedges were okay, but not amazing.  In truth, I probably wouldn't make them again as both myself and Chris prefer boiled cabbage!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Do you know what's really in your cake?

We all know that cakes are bad for us, but have you ever actually read the ingredients list on shop bought cakes?  Believe me when I tell you that there all kinds of nasty chemicals, unnatural additives and a ton of 'ingredients' that in my opinion shouldn't be there.

Mr Kipling Mini Bakewell Tart

Even the packaging that touts 'natures' own will have some not so natural additions, and if the cake is organic, I can guarantee that to act as a preserver they've used a ton more sugar than you should consume.

So, should you give up cakes?  God, no!  To me the thought of not having a sweet treat in the house sends me into palpitations, a dinner is not a meal without an indulgent pud to finish it off.  So what can you do?  Simple, make your own.

I'm not going to lie, it will be more time consuming, (slightly) more expensive and even stressful at times, but you will have the benefit of knowing exactly what has gone into your cakes and bakes.  I promise that 95% of the time they will even taste better than the shop bought stuff!  There is something very fulfilling about having a tin filled with cakes, I get an enormous sense of pride knowing that I am carrying on the traditions that my Nan taught me - always a home baked treat to share with loved ones.

If you've never baked before or are somewhat of a novice, then start simple.  No one is expecting you to be churning out patisserie standard confections!  I've been baking for a few years now and my husbands favourite cake of mine is still the humble Victoria sponge.  Your time spent baking should be one of indulgence and an act of love to both yourself, family and friends.

You may worry that you don't have enough time in your schedule to squeeze this in.  We are a single income household (mine) and on top of working full time, running two businesses, general household chaos and spending time with my family, I still manage to bake at least once a week.  No, I'm not being smug, just telling you it can be done; I just tailor my bake to the time I have available.  Forward planning is a must and so whenever possible I will decide what I will be making in advance and ensure the ingredients are ordered with the weekly shop.  Simples.

I shall share some of my easy bake recipes with you, just click here for a full list.  I'd love it if you commented below with links to your creations!

Enjoy :)

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Trying to Conceive Update

I guess we are very over-due for an update on our current trying to conceive situation.  After all, this blog was created to help me get through both the struggles of trying to conceive, but also to discuss the impact that the process was having.

The 8th February 2015 saw us hit the 5 year mark of trying for our first child.  If our first pregnancy had carried to term, we would have a 3 year old that would be quickly approaching their 4th birthday.  If our second pregnancy had stuck, we would have just celebrated a 2nd birthday.  I still struggle to get my head round the fact that these potential babies would now be so old, we would be contemplating first school and nursery!

So much has changed in our 5 year journey, we have grown from newly-weds into life weary adults and I can honestly say that we are closer than ever.  They say that long term trying to conceive will either make or break a relationship and one of the most positive things to come from all of this is the bond that has strengthened between us.  If you support each other through miscarriages, intimate tests, false hope, crushing failure and can still find the topic of the porn on offer during semen analysis a hilarious subject rather than an embarrassing and depressing one, you will be together for the long haul.

My lowest point was in October 2012, we had just been advised that the memorial for our second miscarriage had gone ahead without our knowledge and I was separated from my husband as I had to take part in a hen party.  I was already feeling depressed and vulnerable, so when a friend announced at they party she was expecting I did not take the news well.  I said the mandatory congratulations, but I am ashamed to admit that everyone could see just how insincere it was.  I couldn't help but feel jealous and wish it were me.  When I finally got over myself a few hours later, I did apologise and explain it wasn't personal and how I really was happy for the Mum to be, but I still cringe every time I think of how all eyes turned to me during the announcement and how I really did not deal with it well.

In late 2013 and into 2014, something changed.  My husband became ill, scarily ill and life was no-longer about my quest for our first born, but the worry as to whether or not I was going to lose my husband.  When we learnt that things were not going to get better and the best we could hope for was for him to remain stable, our priorities and outlook changed.

Instead of constantly planning for a future and forever looking ahead, we realised that we had to focus on the now, enjoy what we have today and make new memories, because none of us know just how long we have left.

Instead of keeping friends safely behind a guard, I started opening up and joining in more.  My friends have been an amazing source of comfort and delight.  My closest friends know exactly when I need to talk, but equally when I don't want to answer questions or dwell on the latest bad news.  I feel blessed to share my life with such amazing people and they have been a big part of helping my husband and I start to integrate ourselves into the now.

Our new outlook also included us (trying) being more positive, yep things are pretty scary and can seem bleak, but we are also aware that we have so much more to be fortunate for and although the occasional spiral into self pity is allowed, it's not something that I permit either one of us to indulge in for too long.

Unfortunately we have been told that IVF is our only option, but very fortunately our IVF journey is about to start and even more amazingly we have been told that our best hope is ICSI and it is to be covered by the NHS!  Two fresh rounds and (hopefully) two frozen, I am so confident that we will manage the frozen cycles and even more confident that one of these four are going to result in our forever baby.

For now I am banning any research on the subject, I plan to go in to this just using common sense and the guidance from my health care team.  Of course I still think of what ifs? But I refuse to get drawn in to negative thinking as it's not good for stress levels - one of the supposed negative impacts on IVF.

Wish us luck x

Saturday, 29 November 2014

It's Going To Be A Kraft Christmas!

Every year my wrapping of Christmas gifts seems to turn into a torturous event.  My painstakingly chosen gifts are turned into a crumpled, sad looking monstrosity of ill wrapped disappointment.  This year WILL be different.

It started (as most of my craft obsessions do) with pinterest.  After browsing for Christmas crafts, I started to lust after the beautifully presented packages that seemed to festoon the pins.  An absolute favourite seemed to be Kraft tags and brown paper.

I have always loved the traditional red and golds of Christmas, so perhaps it wasn't such a leap for me to decide to pair this colour scheme with the Kraft card and brown parcel paper.

Turning back to pinterest, I started a board for inspiration.  Here are a few of my favourite pins!

I'm a sucker for anything gingerbread related, so there is a definite NEED to create my very own gingerbread house tags!

Do you see that fantastic 'Time to Drink Champange' tag?  Well that tag started my inspiration for printing my own using Kraft card gift tags using my beloved Silhouette Cameo!

These are so simple, yet so adorable!  I love the idea of mini message bunting and I just know that it is going to be a cinch to create with the silhouette cameo print and cut feature!

Where to even begin with this one?  It has a jingle bell and a cute Monogram tag that could easily double up as a hanging tree decoration once it's all unwrapped.

Candy cane gift tag? Yes Please!  I can see this will be a winner for all the littlies (and a great deal of biggies too!)

This year I am going to own that wrapping!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Colour B4 Extra Strength Review - Part Two Using the Dye Remover and helping to prevent re-oxidation

If you haven't already read it, you should really check out Part One of this as it details preparation, it can be found here

Well it is done and I am rather impressed with the results, even if I do say so myself!  There were a few things that I did differently this time and I will go through the entire process and then share the finished result.

You will need;

  • Sectioning Clips
  • Comb
  • Colour B4 Extra Strength
  • Cling Film
  • Two beanie style hats
  • Hair Dryer
  • Shower
  • Bucket Loads of Patience

Step One

Start by sectioning your hair and clipping the upper portion to the top of your head.  If like me you have long hair, it is best to start with the underneath layers.  I found the easiest way to apply the remover was to take a small section of hair (no more than an inch wide) and squirt a small amount into my gloved hands and start with the ends carefully rub it in.  I usually applied 3 squirts to each section; end, mid length and root.  Time should be taken to ensure each squirt is completely rubbed in and the section is fully saturated before moving on.

Clip back each of the soaked sections and gradually move from the underneath to the top of the head.  Although it's tempting to rush at this point, you need to make sure that you have fully covered all of your hair, so be patient!

Step Two

Now it's time to massage your scalp and brush through your hair.  You really should use a wide toothed comb for this part as it is a hot mess of tangles at this stage.  Again you need to take your time and make sure the remover is fully and evenly distributed through the hair.

Step Three

Now pile all the hair on your head and wrap in clingfilm - yep that's right clingfilm

Over the top of your clingfilm you need to put on your two beanie hats, I promise this isn't some ploy to make you look a fool!

If you've ever had your hair coloured or bleached at the hair dresser, you will know that during the waiting period, you are wheeled under the drier.  There is a reason for this, heat helps to activate the chemicals used.  In fact, if you read the Colour B4 packaging, it tells you to sit in a room away from drafts - this stuff doesn't work if it's too cold!  So it makes sense that by keeping in the heat, you can help the remover do it's stuff.

Step Four - Optional

Red and dark brown are tricky colours to shift, I knew from using Colour Rewind last year that I could do with some extra help - the hair dryer!

For the next 50 minutes, I sat with my clingfilm/hat helmet and used the hairdryer on it's hottest setting all over my head.  My arms were killing as I had to keep moving it in small circular motions across the whole of my head.  It was hotter than hell and a few times I thought I was going to just give up, but I persevered and kept at it.

If you do decide to do this step, you need to keep checking your hair and make sure not to keep the hairdryer in any one area for too long (no one wants melted clingfilm in their hair!).  If you start to feel faint or dizzy, stop straight away.

When I removed the hats and cling film I was a little shocked at just how much lighter my hair was.  I was also a little anxious as this is a LOT lighter than my natural hair.

Step Five

This is probably my most hated step of all, rinsing.  I spent about 40 minutes rinsing this stuff from my hair.  I used hot water as I know that red dye molecules fade under hot water as they are smaller than most other colours and fall from the hair shaft when shrunk with hot water.  I then used half of the buffer solution and rinsed again - if you have used this stuff before and know that re-oxidation / darkening of the hair after a few days is a problem for you, make sure you follow the step below.

Step Six - Optional

When I used Colour B4 last year, my hair darkened within a day or so each time :( It wasn't lots, but enough for me to notice and feel annoyed that I had become a few shades darker.  This is called re-oxidation and is where small amounts of the old hair dye become trapped in the shaft and expand when exposed to air - this darkens the hair again.  Although not enough rinsing is thought to be the most common cause, Scott Cornwall admits that some hair types are more prone to it, but they have been unable to pin point what kind.

I scoured the net and found some handy tips and tricks to try and minimize the amount of re-oxidation that would happen;

  • Double the amount of rinsing time, this should ensure all dye molecules are out of the shaft
  • Before using the buffer solution for the second time, hop out of the shower and dry your hair completely, you can use a hair-dryer to speed things up.  This step not only helps prevent re-oxidation, but you can assess your colour
  • After using the second buffer solution, run a bath of hot (hot enough to tolerate laying in) water and soak your entire head for 10 minutes, continuously running your fingers through the ends (underwater) to agitate the dye.

Step Seven

Once you have followed all the instructions on rinsing and buffering, it is time to dry your hair and assess the results!

When I initially dried my hair after the first buffer, I completely panicked as it was way lighter than my natural mousy brown hair!  Colour B4 is not to blame for this lightening, all the vibrant reds I use have a degree of peroxide in them that bleaches the hair to achieve a more vibrant tone - this lighter than natural colour I have been left with is simply the Colour B4 doing what it's designed to do and removing all dye from my hair.

I actually made the decision to let my hair re-oxidise a bit to try and darken it and skipped the hot bath.  It darkened slightly, but maybe by only 1 shade.

Over-all I am really happy with the results of my Colour B4, I genuinely believe that keeping the hair warm during it's activation phase really helped with the lightening process.

As you can see my natural roots coming through, I am going to have to make the decision whether to try and dye it back to a closer tone to my natural hair (boring mousy brown) or leave it be.  We are about to start IVF and I don't really want too many extra chemicals in my system, so I may decide to just leave it be and hope that as my roots grow it isn't too noticeable.

Before and After

Before and After