Sunday, 9 November 2014

Alternative Christmas Cake Ideas

Christmas Parcel Stacked cake 

Fruit or sponge for a Christmas cake?

I did this cake as part of our work xmas bake-off. I haven't done a cake this big before and was lucky that the base did manage to fit into my cake carrier (when I took the silver board off anyway). It would have been an awkward moment otherwise.

With this cake being for work I took the decision not to do a fruit cake as it's rather rich and many people are not a fan. Instead I did two types of sponge. The top parcel was vanilla genoise cake with strawberry buttercream filling. 

I cut the cake so it had four layers of sponge to keep it light and to assist with the height. The silver cardboard board was also iced so to be part of the design. The bottom parcel I used chocolate genoise cake with vanilla buttercream filling. Once again I cut the sponge into four layers. The top parcel was 6 inches square and 3 inches high. The bottom cake was 10 inches square and 3 inches high. 

How do I work out how many portions for an iced cake?

One dessert portion is 1 inch by 2 inches so the top layer provided 18 portions and the bottom layer provided 50 portions, that's 68 portions in total.

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Monday, 15 September 2014

Frozen Egg & Honey Facial Mask

This homemade facial mask is recommended for dry or sun burned skin. 

Frozen Egg & Honey Facial Mask Ingredients:

1 egg
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (tepid)
1 tablespoon honey 

Frozen Egg & Honey Facial Mask Method:

1. Beat the egg in a small bowl until frothy and well-mixed. Slowly add the melted coconut oil and honey, beating until your mask is the consistency of mayonnaise.

2. Take an empty toilet tissue roll and set it on end in a clean bowl. Spoon mixture into the cardboard toilet paper roll. Place tube, in the bowl, in the freezer overnight.

3. To use, peel away just the top 1/4 inch of the cardboard roll and smooth the frozen stick over your face (think of it as a push-up pop). Leave your mask on for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

4. Return the cream stick covered with plastic wrap and frozen between uses.Keeps indefinitely.

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Monday, 8 September 2014

The magic ingredient for amazing skin

The magic ingredient to amazing skin

The magic ingredient for amazing skin

Beauty products will help keep your skin fresh but there is one magic ingredient which is often over looked. And that is water. Don't forget to drink enough water. In general you need 2 litres of water on a normal day. If you are somewhere warm and/or doing more activity than normal make sure you drink more than 2 litres. Water feeds your skin enabling it to produce more cells.

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4 of the Best Places to Visit in North East Asia

From the idyllic countryside of rural China to the sensory overload of Japanese cities, North East Asia offers a fantastic blend of contrasting and conflicting places for you to visit. This vast region is largely dominated by China and its much smaller neighbour Japan, and there is so much to be explored here. 

Despite belonging to the same continent, the cultures, laws, customs and costs of the countries comprising Northeast Asia can differ hugely. It’s best to fully research where you’re going before you set off on your discovery of the orient.

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

Shanghai, China 

While not as attraction dense as other major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai offers an exhilarating experience without the need for tourist traps. But the few sights it is home to are truly magnificent. Not to be missed is Yu Yuan Garden, a 400 year old classical garden located in Shanghai’s Old Town. Look past the throngs of tourists and allow yourself to be transported to 16th century China, taking in the beautiful architecture and wealth of history that surrounds you. Yuyuan Garden is the most lush, lavish and magnificent Chinese garden that is situated in the middle of the Old City area, very near to The Bund in Shanghai whose history dates back to the time period of 1559. 

This classical area is considered to be a source of great temptation for the visitors and people gather here in large numbers. Its fascinating halls, pavilions, rockeries, cloisters and ponds are some of the major attractions. The most alluring treasure and astonishing feature of the garden is the Jade Rock which is 10.8 feet high and contains 72 holes. 

The magic related to this rock is that if a stick is burned under it, all the holes will produce the smoke and the same happens if you put water. That’s why the site is truly bewitching and is admired a lot by the people.Apart from all such charming places of the garden, there is much more in this dazzling area. So plan a visit for the stunning Yuyuan garden of Shanghai. 

Hollywood films which have been set in Shanghai include: Transformers: Revenge of the fallen (2009), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) and Empire of the Sun (1987).

Tokyo, Japan 
A fascinating mix of old and new, Tokyo is a fast paced, thriving metropolis that still stands true to its rich heritage. Expect century-old tradition to be interspersed with startling modernity, and don’t be surprised if you get left behind on the rapidly moving trends. 

If you’re visiting in January, May or September, squeeze some sumo into your schedule with a visit to Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall. Hollywood films about Japan include House of Bamboo (1955), a film noir feature directed by Samuel Fuller about American gangsters setting up shop in Japan; Sayonara (1957), starring Marlon Brando and based on James Michener novel about American servicemen that falls for Japanese girls; You Only Live Twice (1967), a James Bond thriller with ninjas, sumo wrestlers and the ultimate Bond; Sean Connery.

Jeju-do, South Korea 

Beautiful Jeju Island is a world away from the hectic, concrete jungle that is mainland Korea. This lush, mountainous landscape is the destination of choice for Korean newlyweds and holidaymakers, and it’s not difficult to see why. Take a tour of the many waterfalls found here, making sure not to miss Jongbang Waterfall, believed to be the only one in Asia that falls directly into the sea. 

Guilin, China 

A rich abundance of historic treasures and natural beauty can be found in picturesque Guilin, an ancient city located on the west bank of the Li River. While many have complained that economic growth and overpricing have detracted from Guilin’s charms, it still retains much of what made it the most well-known tourist destination in China, including meandering blue rivers, dramatic mountain formations and rolling green rice fields.

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Festivals in Japan, October

The autumn season is sensational in Japan. Mild temperatures combined with vivid colours make a landscape of splendour, especially as the leaves take on a rusty glow. Japan makes a great holiday destination in the month of October as the mild weather is perfect for getting out and about. As it happens, October is also host to a number of festivals in Japan, meaning you won’t be short of things to see and do during your stay.

Festivals in Japan, October 

Naha Festival, October 

Also known as the 41st Naha Great Tug of War, the Naha Festival is definitely worth a visit. Open to everyone, this is tug-of-war with a difference, because the rope is gigantic! In fact, the rope weighs more than 40 tons, and needs more than 15,000 people in order to pull it. You won’t need to spend any of your Japanese Yen for a memento though; a little piece of the rope is apparently enough to bring you good luck for the rest of the year. 

Kurama-no Hi Matsuri

The Kurama Fire Festival is one of the most unique festivals in Kyoto. Everyone from young children to adults gather together on a procession from the village houses to the Kuki-jinja shrine. Japanese taiko drums bang out powerful rhythms as young men hoist five-metre-high pine torches onto their shoulders. They then parade through the village streets, showering sparks everywhere. It's believed that being touched by a spark is a sign of good luck. This festival is likely to bring your holiday pics to life, providing you don’t keep your camera too close to the flames. 

Niihama Drum Festival

Located in the Ehime prefecture of Shikoku – one of the main four islands of Japan – the city of Niihama hosts a truly exciting event each October. The Niihama Drum Festival takes over all five districts of the city as hundreds of people take to the streets. You will see over 50 lavishly decorated drum floats, each carried by 150 men. Keep an eye out for the Kaki Kurabe event, where teams compete to see how long they can hold up their float.

No matter when you plan to visit Japan, you are most likely to find a quirky festival or celebration worthy of a few holiday snaps. Don’t forget, Japan is famous for electrical goods!

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Monday, 1 September 2014

Make your own skin exfoliant and moisturiser

Making your own skin exfoliant and moisturiser is a great way of cutting down the cost of your essentials. I use this recipe wherever I am.

Skin exfoliant and moisturiser ingredients:

Table salt
Olive Oil (original, not virgin)

skin exfoliant and moisturiser

Skin exfoliant and moisturiser method:

In a mug pour add in 4 table spoons of normal table salt. Then pour in olive oil (not virgin) and stir. You want to make sure the oil and salt have bonded so keep adding olive oil until there is no more white salt and you can pick the mixture up without it running through your fingers. When in the shower make sure your skin is damp and the pores have opened due to the warmth of the water. Rub the mixture in circular motions onto your skin firmly but not too hard. 

It's particularly great for those tough areas (elbows, knees and ankles) particularly when you wanting to do a spot of fake tanning. I use this on my face about once a week after a good facial steam. I use two fingers and gently massage the mixture in small circles.  Once rubbed in, wash the mixture off which will dissolve in the shower and your skin will feel silky smooth. I find I don't need to use a moisturiser after this as the olive oil is enough.

The olive oil and salt mixture may sound rather odd but it is something I either take with me on holiday or make wherever I am. If you're making it at home and taking it with you then use a decent plastic container (like a lock n lock) within a sealed sandwich bag to avoid any leakage.

How to remove acne scars

Scars left by acne skin have lost elasticity. Olive oil contains nutrients that help hydration. Mix 3 tablespoons of olive oil with four tablespoons of salt. Apply the mixture on your face and leave it 2 minutes then rinse with warm water. Do this every day for a week then 2 times or 3 times a week for significant results.

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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Master the Italian Meringue Method to Make Amazing Macarons

French macarons are gorgeous filled biscuits that are totally irresistible. 

They do, however, have a reputation for being rather tricky to make. Have no fear, once you the learn the techniques and follow a few simple rules (as laid out below) you cant really go wrong. Other flavours I will include will be lemon, chocolate and my favourite, pistachio.

Start with the basics

There are a few basic ingredients needed when making your own macarons; finely ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. Blanched ground almonds or almond flour are best to use so as not to create a 'speckled' macaron from the almond skin but don't stress, it's only for aesthetic purposes.

Italian Meringue Method

The most stable macaron batter is made using the Italian meringue method. For this you will need a sugar thermometer which reaches at least 150oC. The finished macaron will have the same taste, however, they tend to be more brittle and can lack the nice chewy texture on the inside.

The combination of more or less equal parts ground almonds and icing sugar is the "tant pour tant", meaning so much for so much. For the smoothest macaron shells this mixture should be processed together in a food processor then sifted. If only mixed together by hand the batter may be a bit lumpy and the resulting shell may not be completely smooth and shiny.

When making macarons using the Italian meringue method you will need to add the colouring to the almond paste. If making the uncooked meringue version you will need to add the colouring to the meringue as it's being whisked. To many numerous flavours of macarons it is easier to keep the shells plain and sandwich them together with different flavoured fillings but they won't look as pretty!

Allow the piped mixture to rest

Before baking the macarons it's important to allow the piped mixture to form a 'skin' before popping them in the oven. This usually takes 20-40mins. You should be able to run your finger over the piped mixture without it sticking to you. By drying the top of the shell it forms a protective film on the surface which then becomes crisp when baked and prevents the shell from cracking and also prevents ridged 'feet' around the base. 

What temperature should my oven be when making macarons?

Make sure your oven temperature isn't too or you will find that the shells will go brown and will loose their pretty colour. For macarons between 4-6 cms in diameter, your oven temperature needs to be 150oC and the biscuits baked for 14-15 mins.

When the macarons are cooked...

As soon as the macarons are out of the oven immediately slide them off the hot baking tray onto a cool counter top preferably marble or metal. This will help insure an easy release from the baking paper. If the shells stick to the baking paper it is the most likely is caused by the macarons being underbaked.

What fillings can I fill my macarons with?

Filling flavours can be anything from a simple vanilla buttercream to an exotically flavoured creme mousseline with fresh fruit. Remember not to overfill your shells so it doesn't overpower the crispy shells.

The Best Macarons

Should I decorate my macarons?

Decorations can be added before baking, after baking or both. The shells look lovely on their own but can be made to look extra special. Small sugar pearls or flowers can be added before baking. After baking when cooled the shells can be dusted with lustre or pearl dusts, drizzled with melted chocolate or even better...dipped in chocolate! 

How do I store macarons?

After filling and decorating, place the macarons in the refrigerator for 30 mins to an hour to firm up. Filled macarons will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Unfilled macarons can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days or frozen for 6 months. If frozen thaw in refrigerator before filling.

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Visit Wales

Holidaying doesn't necessarily mean going abroad. Why not consider visiting Wales where there are lots of things to do for everyone? Wales is well known for its history, stunning beaches and incredible nightlife. If you are looking for somewhere special to visit here are some great reasons to choose Wales.

Walking up Snowdon

Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire

No matter what time of year you visit these beaches you will be blown away by their beauty. Barafundle Bay, also known as “The Jewel in the Crown” has been voted as one of the best beaches in Pembrokeshire. With its golden sandy beaches and clear water, Barafundle Bay is the ideal destination for anyone who appreciates beauty in its purest form. It’s only accessible via its cliff path and stroll through the grassy dunes, which helps to maintain its understated tone. After experiencing the beautiful golden sands and crystal-clear water, visit Stackpole Quay, a small harbour along the coastline of Pembrokeshire, and try a beverage at the Boathouse Tearoom.

Mount Snowdon, Snowdonia

Another great reason to visit Wales is Snowdonia. Mount Snowdon is the highest point in Snowdonia, Wales. Its unbridled beauty, stunning hilltops and quite lakes is something white spectactular. To experience the spectacular scenery in comfort, you can travel on the Snowdon Mountain railway. Whichever route you take up the mountain, be sure to look out for markers which will show you the way down - it is easy to take a wrong path, and some are not suitable for inexperienced walkers, or those without proper climbing gear. Although many thousands of people climb Snowdon each year, it is still a mountain with steep cliffs in places, and even though beautiful, can be very dangerous.

View up Mount Snowdon

The Wildlife

Wales has fantastic countryside with lots of interesting wildlife. For example, you’ll come across badgers and lots of species of birds you’ve may not have seen before. Take a gentle stroll on many of Wales’ country walks and experience tranquillity like you had only dreamed was possible. There are two principal areas for watching marine wildlife in Wales, Cardigan Bay and the Pembrokeshire coast, particularly the Llyn Peninsula. Grey Seals may be seen on the coast at various places in Wales, such as Cardigan Island, Ynys Lochtyn, Cwm Tudu and New Quay. Polecats and Pine Martens still inhabit the forests of Snowdonia though are very rarely seen. Red squirrels can still be found if you know where to look; try the Clocaenog Forest (a good place for black grouse too) in North Wales it's not far from Corwen. Also, 13 species of bat have been recorded in Wales, including Greater and Lesser horseshoe bats.


If you like learning about history, Wales is home to churches, cathedrals, and is known as the “Castle Capital of the World" as it has about 400 castles. Over 100 of these castles are still standing, either as ruins or as restored buildings. The rest have returned to nature, and today consist of ditches, mounds and earthworks, often in commanding positions. To find out more about the history of each castle, book one of the many tours that take you on a journey through the country’s proud history. With over four hundred castles, there’s plenty to see. If I were to pick one to visit I'd say Caerphilly Castle which is a medieval castle that dominates the centre of the town of Caerphilly in South Wales. It is the largest castle in Wales and the second largest in Britain after Windsor Castle. It was built mainly between 1268 and 1271 in an attempt to stop Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's southward ambitions.

Dining Out in Wales

Wales has a growing reputation for fine dining. This is down to great local chefs, and even better local produce – Welsh lamb and beef, fresh seafood and organic vegetables. In the city’s Brewery Quarter you’ll find a range of great restaurants with an endless choice of cuisine. Famous welsh chefs include: Angela Hartnett, Bryn Williams and Stephen Terry.

Enjoy the Nightlife

Wales contains enough castles, wildlife, and breathtaking mountain scenery to occupy your entire summer. But, if you’re in the mood for a night of fun, both Swansea and Cardiff contain an abundance of funky clubs and unique bars.

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Things you need to consider when going on holiday

It's easy to forget the importance of planning effectively in order to enjoy our holiday. After all, the reason to have a holiday is to have fun! Planning and preparing isn't necessarily fun but with going on our hols without preparing properly can be a stressful experience. Here are a few handy tips to make sure that you enjoy your time away…

1. Plan the holiday that you want

First of all, remember to plan the right holiday for you, not merely the right one for everyone else. This is your time too. Whether a winter ski week in Canada is calling your name or the ancient ruins in Mexico are beckoning make sure it’s the holiday that you, as well as those who are with you, will enjoy.

2. Plan your budget

Let’s face it: we all have dream destinations that we can’t currently afford. If you’re maxing out with flights and accommodation make sure you have also taken into account the cost of living over there. Keep in mind you’ll only ruin your hols if you constantly find yourself worrying about the costs of things at those moments when you are supposed to be enjoying the sights and creating lifetime memories. If you're tempted to take the risk with your credit card make sure you can afford to pay it back when you get home.

3. Do your research

Another invaluable piece of holiday planning advice is to research your destination. You may see yourself as the more spontaneous type rather than someone who plans every aspect of their itinerary, but many trips only last for a few days. Don't waste them by struggling to find your way around, finding out what there is to do or how to get to and from places.

4. Be currency aware 

Do you know  how much things cost in a foreign currency? Do you know if you can use 5,000 of your foreign currency to buy a chocolate bar or a car? Your holiday will be much more successful if you change your money in advance. Buying online can help you to get the best rates and some providers will even deliver it directly to your door or allow you to pick it up at the airport when you jet off!

5. Check your passport

I once made the mistake of checking in at Gatwick with an out of date passport - doh! Lesson was learned and I have (so far) never made that mistake again. Make sure your passport is in date and has 6 months left before it expires. 

6. Vaccinations

I am typing this with one arm as my other is rather heavy and non respondent. The reason? Hepatitis A booster job. Ouch! No matter how much you hate needles it's best to check with the doctor as to what jabs you need (if any) at least a month before you travel especially if it's somewhere exotic.

7. Travel Insurance

We don’t like to think of anything bad happening on our hols, but nonetheless it’s important to have travel insurance, just in case. Accidents do happen and some hospitals require a cash payment upfront before they’ll treat you. Many providers offer single trip insurance as well as an array of other variables and you can usually apply online.

8. Visas

It's worth checking whether you need a visa to get into the country you are going. Some visas need purchasing in advance and others can be done when you arrive.

9. Pack sunscreen

You never know how sunny it will be. No matter whether you are beaching it in Miami or skiing in the Alps, it's certainly worth packing a high/semi high SPF sunscreen. 

10. Photocopy your key documents

If you were to lose your drivers licence, passport or travel tickets, you could find yourself in a really sticky situation. Make photocopies of all your important documents and keep them in the safe in your room and/or with friends/family at home so they can fax them over should anything happen to your originals. I take photos of my documents on my iphone and email myself - just in case.

I hope I haven't put you off from going on your hols but as my mother always says, it's better being safe rather than sorry!

"We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment". Hilaire Belloc

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Simple Buttercream Birthday Cake

Simple Buttercream Birthday Cake
It's difficult to get a professional looking finish to a cake with buttercream frosting. Here I have used baby blue food paste for the blue buttercream and then have used melon food paste for the yellow. 

crumb coated the cake first with normal coloured buttercream to make sure no crumbs got into the blue buttercream. The blue flowers are made from bluebell Squires flower paste and indented using a sculpting tool to add a little dimension. As a beginner in cake decorating this cake (including making the vanilla sponge, slicing, filling and decorating took me little over 3 hours. 

Sometimes I doubt if the effort is worth it though - I mean, after all of those hours it will take seconds to be eaten!  The diametre of this cake is 7" and will serve 10 greedy people.

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Quick Fish Risotto Recipe

Risotto has had a reputation for being high maintenance, chaining the cook to the hob, forcing them to stir incessantly until the risotto is ready. 

This recipe slashes the myth, allowing time to put together a fresh green salad and pour a nice crisp white wine.

Take 20 mins
Serves 4

Quick Fish Risotto Ingredients:

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 vegetable or fish stock cube
250g risotto rice
250g smoked cod/haddock, skinned and cut into chunks
large cupful of frozen peas
knob of salted butter
1 lemon cut into 8 wedges

Quick Fish Risotto Method:

1. Put the oven and garlic in a large heatproof non-metallic bowl with stock cube and 300ml boiling water.
2. Stir well, then cover and microwave on High for 3 mins.
3. Stir the fish and peas into the rice and another 300ml boiling water.
4. Cover and microwave on High for 4 mins. If rice not cooked pop on for another minute. 
5. Leave to stand for 1-2 mins for liquid to be absorbed.
6. Stir in butter and serve with lemon wedges, fresh green salad and a crisp white wine.

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Homemade Cucumber Eye Gel

Puffy eyes are never a good look. Reduce your puffy eyes with this cooling cucumber eye gel, it really does the trick and saves you £££s. Use within a few days, keep refrigerated.

Homemade Cucumber Eye Gel Ingredients:

1/4 large cucumber

1 ounce aloe vera gel 

Homemade Cucumber Eye Gel Method:

1. Puree the cucumber in a blender (Ieave a little pulp), then strain the mixture into a glass bowl until you have at least 2 ounces. Spoon in just a tad of the pulp from the strainer.

2. Add the aloe vera to the cucumber puree in the bowl and mix lightly.

3. Pour into a clean, sterilized container.

4. After cleansing face, stir mixture gently and apply with a cotton ball to under eye area. Avoid the eyeball!

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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Get your travel mojo

I try to aim to discover a new city or country each year. 

Tourist the stereotype

The tourist can be a horrible stereotype: the trick is to blend in with the locals, showing respect for their culture. You'll find more opportunities are open to you if you follow this simple rule.

Choose a destination

"Life is like a box of chocolates" well, picking a destination certainly is. You can see what it looks like on paper, the box certainly looks appealing but you never know what it's like inside until you've taken a bite. Don't keep going back to the ganache, find a new favourite; a salt caramel perhaps?

Find your inspiration

Films and books are a fabulous source of inspiration. Picture in your mind a movie which has taken your breath away. For me it was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and so this year I went to Petra in Jordan where the holy grail was hidden. If you think Sound of Music then Salzburg is for you, Moulin Rouge, Paris calls for you or Amadeus, Prague is your perfect place. If books trigger your inspiration then head to Dorset is Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a firm favourite, Transylvannia if Bram Stoker's Dracula makes your blood run cold or Florence if A Room with a View is a literary favourite.

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Shanghai - an aspiring international financial centre

Shanghai - an aspiring international financial centre

Population: 22.5 million

Shanghai's metro population is the largest in China, described as the 'showpiece' of the booming economy of mainland China. Shanghai is now a national financial centre and aspires to be an international financial centre by 2020. Shanghai ranks 5th in the latest edition of the Global Financial Centres Index.

The rapid economic growth has fuelled a substantial rise in the housing market. A number of government measures, including property taxes, have since been applied to cool the market and these appear to have had an effect last year.

Shanghai, like most other first and 2nd tier cities in China, has announced that it plans to keep annual residential price growth from exceeding annual growth in the municipality's GDP and disposable income. Demand is growing from a cooling sales market and corporate activity, including expats, plus inwards migration and investment.

Shanghai, China - 4 of the Best places to Visit in North East Asia

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City Breaks on a ShoeString

Don't allow your perceptions of cost to limit your choice of destination. There are plenty of ways to explore these locations on a budget. Below are some ideas on how I have and how you can visit these costly hotspots on a shoestring budget and still have a gay ‘ole time.

Paris on a Shoestring

Make savings on a break to the French capital by carefully selecting when to go. While Paris in the summer can make for a wonderful holiday, the best time to go for the frugal traveller is between November and April. Not only will you save money by going during the ‘off-season,’ you’ll have the chance to experience a romantic Parisian spring, or the magic of Christmas during winter. Cut back on costs by spending your time at free attractions such as the Pompidou Centre, Notre Dame Cathedral and Parc des Buttes.

Oslo on a Shoestring

With a spot of lunch costing just under £30, Oslo is a regular on ‘world’s most expensive cities’ lists. But don’t be disheartened by these astronomical prices; it is possible to explore and enjoy Oslo on a tight budget. Make your first big saving by camping in the forest in the north of town, for free. Instead of spending bags of cash on dining out, take a trip to a supermarket and head out for a picnic at one of Oslo’s many parks, such as Frogner and Vigeland. It will provide you with an opportunity to take time out and really see Oslo. Forget about costly cab fares or public transportation passes; for 60 Kroner, you'll be able to bike virtually anywhere within the city limits to your heart's content, or at least as far as your legs will take you.

Copenhagen on a Shoestring

Falling from 8 to 12 in ECA International’s list, cosmopolitan Copenhagen is a beautiful but pricey city. Budget accommodation is hard to come by, so reserving a room early is recommended. The DanHostel Copenhagen City is a ‘design’ hostel located in the heart of Copenhagen, offering beds from just £15 a night. For cheap eats, the city streets have plenty of fast food options in the shape of hotdog stands, but for a healthier option make your way to Det sunde køkken for salads and chicken at €2-4, the equivalent of around £6. There is a regular and super clean train from the airport to the central train station in Copenhagen, so taxis are a waste of time; please note though, that the trains put their final destination (which is usually after Copenhagen) and you should be aware where they are going. There is a bike service for free, where you can rent bikes all over town.

Stockholm on a shoestring

Stockholm is the most expensive city in Sweden and the 17th most expensive in the world. However, with some careful planning and research, it is possible to make the most of the Swedish capital while still being kind to your pocket. Hotels can be pricey but hostels are much more reasonable, as is eating and drinking at the hip Sodermalm area. There are also plenty of free sights in the city, including the National Museum, and two popular beaches. Planning really did pay off and saved me a lot of money and time, thankfully I had bought a Stockholm Card, which gives you, among other things, free museum entrances and free ferry transportation between Gamla Stan and Djurgården (an 8-minute trip that otherwise takes long by bus, not to mention by foot. This ferry leaves every 20 minutes, and the schedule can be accessed at Stockholm Sightseeing's website).

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tarte au citron - Great British Bake Off

My mom loves the tarte au citron from Paul patisserie. The Great British Bake Off tarte au citron recipe is as good as any I have tried previously. Mary Berry shares her secrets for a classic lemon tart. It can be made up to two days in advance, but don’t decorate it until just before serving.
Tarte au citron recipe

A Winning Tarte au Citron Recipe:

Prep time: 1-2 hours
Cooking time: 30 mins to 1 hour
Serves 8

Pastry Ingredients:

175g/6oz plain flour
100g/3½oz cold butter, cut into small cubes
25g/1oz icing sugar
1 free-range egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water

Citron Filling Ingredients: 

5 free-range eggs
125ml/4fl oz double cream
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 organic lemons, juice and zest
Icing sugar for dusting

Pastry Method:

1. Place the flour, butter and icing sugar into a food processor. Pulse briefly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolk and water. 

2. Pulse again until the mixture sticks together in clumps then tip onto a work surface and gather it into a ball with your hands. Knead the pastry just two or three times to make it smooth. If your butter was a bit too soft, the pastry might be too. If so, wrap it in parchment paper and chill for 15 minutes. 

3. Grease a 23cm/9in loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin. 

4. Lay a piece of parchment paper on the work surface. Remove the base from the tart tin and lay it on the paper. Using a pencil, draw a circle onto the paper 4cm/1½in bigger than the tin base. 

5. Dust the base of the tin with flour. Place the pastry ball in the centre of the tin base and flatten it out slightly. Roll out the pastry, still on the base, until it meets the circle mark. As you are rolling out, turn the pastry by turning the paper. Gently fold the pastry surrounding the tin base in towards the centre. 

6. Carefully lift the tin base off the work surface, drop it into the tin, then ease the pastry into the corners and up the sides of the tin, pressing the overhang lightly over the rim. If the pastry has cracked at all, simply press it together to seal. Press the pastry into the flutes of the tin then lightly prick the base with a fork, but not quite all the way through. Place the pastry-lined tin on a baking tray, cover loosely with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. 

7. Remove the cling film from the pastry case and line with foil so it supports the sides, then fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 12-15 minutes, until the pastry is set, then lift out the foil and beans. Carefully trim the excess pastry from the sides using a sharp knife, holding the knife at a sharp angle and slicing away from you. Remove the trimmings from the sheet. Return the empty pastry case to the oven for another 10-12 minutes or until it is pale golden and completely dry. Set aside to cool while you make the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/325F/Gas 3

Citron Filling Method:

1. Break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk together with a wire whisk. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and whisk again until they are all well combined. Pour the filling mixture into a jug, then into the cooled baked pastry case. To prevent it spilling as it goes in the oven, pour in most of the filling so it almost fills the tart, carefully sit the baking sheet and tart on the oven shelf, then top up with the rest of the filling to completely fill it. 

2. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until just set but with a slight wobble in the centre. 

3. Leave to cool slightly then, when the pastry seems firm enough, remove the tart from the tin. The easiest way to do this is to place the base of the tin on an upturned can or jam jar and let the outer ring fall to the work surface. Transfer the tart to a serving plate and serve warm or cold, dusted with sifted icing sugar.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Chamomile & Oatmeal Facial Scrub

Inflamed facial skin? Want a deep cleanse which is gentle on the skin? Try and make your own Chamomile & Oatmeal Facial Scrub with this recipe.

Benefits of Chamomile & Oatmeal Facial Scrub: calms skin, exfoliates for deep cleansing.For all skin types

Chamomile & Oatmeal Facial Scrub Ingredients:

1/4 cup chamomile tea (brewed and cooled to room temp)
1/4 cup oatmeal (lightly ground)
2 tbsp honey
2 drops of almond oil

Chamomile & Oatmeal Facial Scrub Method:

Combine the ingredients. Rub over face and neck gently but still with enough pressure to exfoliate the skin. For deep cleansing, leave the scrub on to create a mask, or simply wash off with warm water and pat dry. Moisturise if required.

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

What to know when travelling to Morocco

I had the most excellent time when I spent 2 weeks travelling round Morocco. Whilst on my travels, I wrote a travel diary which I will publish shortly. Here are some of the practical things I learned on my trip in Morocco:

1. When's the best time to go to Morocco?

Weather plays a big part on when deciding the best time to go on holiday. The peak tourist season in Morocco is July and August. If you want to avoid the crowds and the heat, travel before or after this time. During the winter months, from November to March, it can get quite cold and rainy especially in the Atlas mountains. I went in January and found the air to be fresh. Experiencing driving through the Atlas mountains with gushes of rain water crossing the roads was an experience I will never forget. Avoid the desert in the summer months and watch out for sandstorms in February to April.

2. Do I need a visa when visiting Morocco?

Most nationalities including those from the US, Canada and the UK do not need a visa to enter Morocco as a tourist. Like with many other countries your passport must be valid for at least six months after you enter Morocco. You will get a stamp in your passport upon entry into the country (make sure you get it) which will allow you to stay for 90 days. No entry fees are charged.

3. What immunisations do I need when travelling to Morocco?

No vaccinations are required by law to enter Morocco but my doctor did recommend Typhoid and Hepatitis A which I did take. It is also a good idea to be up to date with your polio and tetanus vaccines as you never really do know what you will encounter.

4. Women Travelling in Morocco, including single travellers

Morocco is an Islamic country so it’s advisable to be modest in what you wear. No short skirts, shorts or tank tops. Wear a bikini or swimsuit only at a pool or on a beach. You'll attract male attention regardless what you wear, just ignore it and move on, most of it is harmless. I did have a number of men who thought it their right to touch my waist or arm but it was mostly in Marrakech. I firmly but politely requested they removed their hand which they all eventually did. I even wore a small gold ring on my wedding ring finger as a preventative measure since I was travelling alone. I am not sure if I would have got more attention if I hadn’t been wearing one though. Of course it didn’t help me being blonde but I tied it back with a headband/scarf most of the time. One thing I did find in Morocco is that the people were very welcoming and generous and even though I was alone I never felt I was ever in any serious danger.

5. Can I drink the tap water in Morocco?

Tap water should not be drunk. Bottled water is the way to go and is available all over. Make sure that when you order bottled water at a restaurant they open it in front of you. Also be careful what you eat and try to avoid street vendors.

6. What foreign currency do they use in Morocco?

The currency used in Morocco is the dirham which is divided into 100 centimes. I found there to be ATM's throughout Morocco in all of the major cities and most towns. Credit cards are accepted at most of the higher end hotels, restaurants and shops. You can change money and travellers cheques at all major banks, bureau de change and at some of the larger hotels.

7. What is the best way of travelling round Morocco?

Before you arrive at your destination, especially in touristy towns like Marrakech and Fes, you are quite likely to have unofficial tour guides offering you ‘guides’ and offering you to stay at their hotel saying that your hotel is booked up. No matter how persuasive people may be, don't believe everything you hear and stick to your original plans.
Train is a really great way of getting around. There are train lines between the main cities and towns and train tickets are very reasonably priced. You have to pay for your tickets at the train station in cash so make sure you have your cash to hand. Also, it's wise to know the approximate time of your arrival because stations are not well sign posted and the conductor is barely audible when he announces the trains arrival. If you bring your own food for the journey it's courteous to, offer some to your fellow passengers (unless they're fasting during Ramadan of course).

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Friday, 15 August 2014

Top 3 tips to reduce everyday pressures

It seems more and more women are feeling more exhausted and anxious than before. We seem to be cramming more and more into our modern lives and the use of modern technologies seem to hinder rather than help; it just means we can do more in more places. Women are being pulled in so many different directions, often reduced to lying in order just to get some time to ourselves. 
Image from: Health Culture Society

Working pressures of the modern day

More and more companies now provide flexible working hours and job shares which on one hand is great. This has also stretched out the working week for other colleagues work emails come in from colleagues working 8am-4pm to 10am-6pm  With the continual impatience of colleagues expecting a nearly rapid response a day at the office becomes 8am-6pm. Often with a new job a laptop and blackberry is provided making it not as easy to step away from the office as it once was. The line between work and play has merged more over the years. Work often invades our private lives with many of us feeling pressure to put work first before spending times with loved ones or on yourself.

How switched off are you?

But it's not work which affects us being able to relax. We're now being constantly bombarded with emails, texts and messages from others. Unless we turn off our machines, we're always on chronic alert. No matter how much we want to switch off, it's more difficult to do than you initially think. Do you switch your phone off when at the cinema or do you put it on silent?  

Make time for yourself

Forget shopping or pampering, try sitting on your own with a guilty pressure of a book, a film or a forgotten album. Find some balance in your life. Women have been programmed over the generations to measure their own self-esteem through the valuations of others.  

More stress reducing tips including link between stress and hair loss

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Where are you going o your next City Break?

City breaks are a great way of taking time out of the daily grind. They provide an opportunity to explore a new place and do something out of the norm. If you are considering taking a city break anytime soon then why not try a more unusual country rather than the well beaten tourist trails of Paris, Amsterdam and Rome? The less well-visited destinations are often priced a little cheaper than their better-known counterparts and money exchange their respective currencies – like the Forint in Hungary for example - may work out well for British travellers. 

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, capital of Hungary, is in fact two distinct areas: Buda and Pest. Split by the great river Danube, each side of the city has different characteristics. Buda is rather hilly, with a peaceful vibe that is perfect for a romantic trip away; whilst Pest is the more cosmopolitan area packed with trendy bars, shops and restaurants. Must-see historic attractions include Budapest Cathedral, the Castle, Royal Palace and State Opera House. This city is perfect for budget city breaks due to the prices for accommodation, food and drink, and Budapest has even been rated the ‘most affordable European city’. Make it easy on yourself and find the best deals on hotels in Budapest.

Reykjavik, Iceland 

Reykjavik is a charming city break destination with bags to offer visitors. From the dramatic, mountainous landscape to the modernity of the city and the serenity of the ocean, there is plenty of beauty to feast your eyes upon. The capital of Iceland has an unusually vibrant artistic community, so there are always lots of exhibitions and theatrical performances to keep you entertained.This city isn't known for being best value for money. The big savers when it comes to Hotels in Reykjavik are found with a little know-how.

Krakow, Poland 

To experience a true medieval city, visit Krakow. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city’s buildings were surprisingly left relatively unscathed by WW2 bombing, and they will leave you spellbound by their beauty. There is a magical tranquillity here, where you can spend each day meandering through the cobbled streets discovering something new; a little chapel here, a magnificent royal castle there. With savings you would make with budget airlines flying into Krakow why not splash a little cash on a 4-5* hotel and make this a trip worth writing about. That’s just a taste of the range of unusual cities in Europe. Others you might want to consider include the stunning Swiss capital of Bern and Dubrovnik with its historic legacy and stunning geological features.  

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