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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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Barbecued Balsamic Beef Recipe

Barbecued Balsamic Beef Recipe
The quality of ingredients certainly makes a big difference to the texture and flavour of any recipe, especially when the focus of the meal is a big chunk of meat. Take care not to over cook and make sure you allow the beef to rest. I'm lucky enough to have a weekly farmer's market and this is something which the butcher recommended.

Takes 30mins, plus marinating.
Serves 4

Barbecued Balsamic Beef Ingredients:

600g rump steak
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
500g new potatoes
250g spinach
2 tbsp olive oil

Barbecued Balsamic Beef Method:

1. Put beef in a wide shallow dish and rub it over with shallots and balsamic vinegar.
2. Slice the potatoes and cook in coiling water for 12-15mins. Add spinach and cover pan for a few mins. 
3. Drain well, toss in 2 tbsp oil. Keep warm.
4. Grill beef for 3-4mins on each side. Remove and cover with foil for 5 mins. 
5. Uncover and slice thinly across the grain. 
6. Serve piled on top of potatoes and spinach, sprinkle a little oil and vinegar on top.

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Sydney - an up and coming world city

Population: 4.6 million

Sydney has long had a high profile on the global stage but might be described as only recently bursting forth into the World Class when it comes to residential real estate. Sydney is beginning to display many of the common characteristics of a World Class city- constrained land supply, increasing pressure from overseas investors and high demand for prime accommodation - but it is unusual in offering very spacious living accommodation in relation to other world cities.
Pen drawing by:

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Travelling by Trans Siberian Railway

Some say the journey is just as important as the destination, and that’s never been more true than when travelling on the Trans Siberian Railway. It’s the longest railway on earth, with each run stretching almost a third of the globe.

While on board, you’ll enjoy at least seven days travel through the Russian wilderness. You’ll have a picture in your mind of what it’ll be like, but we’re sure nothing will prepare you for the stunning landscape you’ll see.

Where can I get to on the Trans Siberian Railway?

Most people are aware of the Trans Siberian and have an idea that you can get to the Far East from Moscow. There are in fact three different routes you can take, two of which are interlinked with the Trans Siberian. It’s common for travellers to go west to east but of course you can go in the opposite direction.

- The actual Trans Siberian line runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, passing through Yaroslavl on the Volga, Exaterinburg in the Urals, Irkutsk near Lake Baikal’s southern extremity, and then Khabarovsk. Your journey doesn’t have to end in Vladivostok however, as it is possible to continue by ferry to Niigata – which is on the west coast of Japan.

- A second primary route which links in with the Trans Siberian is the Trans Manchurian line. This coincides with the Trans Siberian as far as Tarskaya which is a few hundred miles east of Baikal. From Tarskaya, the Trans Manchurian line heads southeast into China and ends in Beijing.

- The third primary route is the Trans-Mongolian line which coincides with the Trans Siberian as far as the Buddhist enclave of Ulan Ude on Baikal’s eastern shore. From here you can head south to Ulaan-Baatar before the line makes its way southeast to Beijing.

Can I get off the Trans Siberian Railway along the way?

It’s easy simply just to jump off and enjoy stopovers at many of the picturesque Russian cities and towns along the way. It really is the perfect way to visit areas of Russia you’d perhaps otherwise never think of visiting and is a great way to understand more about Russian culture and hospitality.

Now you know the details, what are you waiting for?!

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Curse of the High Heel

Cummon, it's happened to the best of us. Avoiding getting our heels stuck in a grate is a daily objective for many of us working women. 

No matter how hard one tries day after day, one time or another it's going to happen. I have seen women get their heels caught in the escalators of the tube (even though not as bad as in this video), in grates and getting their beautiful (often pastel coloured) heels stuck in the grass at weddings.

On my way to work this morning I counted the amount of pavement obstructions I need to avoid in order to get to the office with my heels and dignity intact. I have come to the conclusion there needs to be a new sport added to Olympics 2016.

Marathon running in high heels

Women took part in Russia's annual stilettos competition, running 50m in heels of at least 9cm (3.54 inches), I sooo wouldn't want to go down in front of all of those cameras.

Chinese women run in 10cm high heels for 500-meter dash, high heeled boots with the extra ankle support seem to have been an advantage.

It can happen to the pros

It's the response by the male news presenters in this this video of Paris Fashion Week high heel fail which made me chuckle. Next time on NBC: men walking in skyscraper shoes.

There is hope...

I have read in Stylist Magazine that skyscraper heels are now no longer the fashion and mid block heels are on the way up. My ankles will certainly thank me for adopting the new trend, however part of me is a little disappointed; I have only just learned how to walk in my skyscraper heels!

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Monday, 11 August 2014

Homemade Hand & Foot Sugar Scrub

Benefits of Hand & Foot Sugar Scrub: makes unwanted rough skin silky smooth.

Homemade Hand & Foot Sugar Scrub Ingredients:

2 tbsp light olive oil (not extra-virgin) or grapeseed oil
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Homemade Hand & Foot Sugar Scrub Method:

1. Mix all the above ingredients together
2. Rub this emollient mixture into hands and feet, focusing on any hardened, calloused areas.
3. Rinse under warm running water and pat dry. Voila! Fabulously silky-smooth skin.
I find it works better if you soak your hands/feet first.

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Benefits of using a skin toner

There are a number of reasons to use a facial skin toner. I am often complimented on my skin, using a toner is something I don't skimp on. Here are my top 5 benefits for using a facial toner:

1. A deeper cleanse

A toner can help remove any residue left behind by your cleanser, especially if you use a soap based product. If you wear make up they will help remove any leftover make up residue. Many of my girlfriends, when asked, agreed that their skin feels particularly clean and fresh after using a toner. I have a tried a few. It's important to find one that suits your skin type and which gives you that squeaky clean feeling.

2. Reduces the appearance of enlarged pores

This is something that is particular prevalent in my family. The right toner can create a temporary physical improvement in the appearance of your pores. It can encourage your skin to swell out and this makes it look like your pores have shrunk in size.

3. Oil reduction

If you suffer from oily skin and a shiny T-zone, a toner can certainly help to minimize this. A toner, formulated for use on oily skin, acts as an astringent stripping away the excess oil. If you are prone to acne you might like to look for a toner that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. However, be wary of using a toner with a high alcohol content. Initially it will work well to help control oil production, but over time it can cause the skin to produce more oil to compensate for the drying effect. Witch Hazel and essential oil based toners are typically a better option. I do prefer to make my own green tea skin toner.

4. P.H balancing

There is a wide variety of toners out there. The good news is that this should allow you to achieve the correct P.H balance, no matter what your skin type. A hydrating toner encourages your skin to excrete more oil and a toner aimed at oily skin will encourage the skin to secrete less oil. In this way the correct P.H balance can be reestablished. Hydrating toners also often contain extra ingredients like those aimed at assisting with acne. Why not try making your own skin toner which is certainly a keeper and more natural option.

5. Refreshes the skin

A toner can act as a great pick me up to revive a tired complexion, by somehow releasing tension. Many toners contain energizing essential oils or natural extracts. The act of applying toner also helps encourage blood circulation to the skin on your face, which can bring color back into the face.

Make your own Green Tea Skin Toner

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Experience the Rocky Mountains, Canada

When you think of Canada, what do you imagine? Houses on stilts, polar bears and a constant cover of snow? Yup, me too.

These visions are frequently associated with this vast country, but this only exists in extremely remote locations in the northern territories. I and am sure we have the hugely popular TV programme Due South to thank for that. Whilst the southern regions do get a dusting or two of snow in the winter, autumn in Canada is a time of radiant reds, vibrant oranges and burnt yellows as the leaves change colour before they inevitably fall to the ground.

The Rocky Mountains

Canada is a top notch destination during the autumn and draws guests from around the world who wish to climb its peaks, study its wildlife or take in its views. Not only do you get to see an awesome array of colours, but the landscape itself is simply breathtaking. The National Park Service indicates that Rocky Mountain National Park serves as the habitat to 66 mammal species, including the rare lynx and wolverine. Above the tree line, small pikas live in the rocky crevices of the mountains. Black bears, coyotes, elk, marmots, mountain lions, bighorn sheep and moose also live in Rocky Mountain National Park. Banff National Park in Canada has numerous bighorn sheep as well as hoary marmots, grizzly and black bears and the golden mantled ground squirrel, among other creatures. The Rocky Mountains is probably the most notable location in Canada for a stunning backdrop; and autumn here is especially attractive with the annual Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival.

The Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival

The 14th annual Calgary based event will be held for two days from October 14th-15th 2011 and the Edmonton event will be held a week later from October 21-22. In these few days you can expect to taste plenty of world class wine, as well as sumptuous local culinary creations. The main event will take place in the BMO Centre at Stampede Park; here you will find the 2010 Grand Tasting Hall, completely full with everything from value based meals to ultra exclusive fare.
Special Seminars

Aside from the delectable delights in the main hall, you can also spend your Canadian Dollars on an exclusive seminar. Choose between wine and spirit tasting, or a Canadian cheese tasting seminar. Then again, you are on holiday, so why not do both? Although getting some authentic Canadian cheese may not have been on your holiday to-do list, the idea becomes a lot more appealing when you realise that wine pairing is part of the tutorial! Visit The Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival website

Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch) Brewery

If eating isn't your thinking but drinking lager is then you may be interested in visiting the Anheuser-Busch Brewery which distributes its Budweiser beer brands worldwide. The Fort Collins production facility offers free beer tours from its Brew Hall viewing area that overlooks the brewing control room. Visitors also see the large cellar where the beer naturally ferments and learn how Anheuser-Busch packages its beers. You may be happy to learn that for the over 21s complimentary beer tastings follow the tour. The fee, as of 2010, is $25 per person, $10 per child. I am not personally into the lager scene but I am into memory making ads and Budweiser really did themselves proud with this 1995 advert:

Bicycle Tours in the Rockies

In order to burn off the calories consumed at the Anheuser Brewery why not take a bicycle tour? The Rockies offer some of the highest, most scenic touring in North America. There are numerous scenic byways and bicycle events through the Rockies, creating the opportunity for anything from a single-day to multi-week tours. Organized Rocky Mountain bicycle tours take place throughout the summer months. In the late summer, the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bicycle Tour holds a charity event that rolls through mountain passes like Squaw Pass, Fremont and Loveland and includes scenic byways like the Peak to Peak and Trail Ridge Road. All tours run about a week.

If you are about to embark on your next bicycling adventure don't underestimate the power of layering, 't's essential when participating in a bicycling tour of the Rocky Mountains. Not only can Colorado mountain weather shift drastically from morning to mid-day, but elevation changes experienced during tours also create major weather shifts. It is has been known to go from hot, sunny, 85-degree weather to cold, overcast, snowy, 30-degree weather in a few hours. Be sure to pack rain gear and warm, insulating layers. Pack leg warmers, arm warmers and warm, full-fingered gloves. You'll want to wear bicycle-specific clothing, including padded shorts, and attire made from quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabric.
Arkansas River Tours

Between the Royal Gorge region and Salida of south central Colorado, Arkansas River Tours conduct a variety of river adventures. They offer customizable half-day, full-day and multi-day whitewater rafting tours for those who like the thrill of the rapids. Rafts drift upon Class IV waters flowing amid three major canyon areas and the Royal Gorge. Multi-day packages can include meals and lodging at Bighorn Canyon, the Gorge, or Brown’s Canyon, or camping itineraries. Arkansas River Tours offers options to accommodate all rafting abilities from timid beginners to fearless veterans. They also offer guided float-fishing tours for anyone who wishes to take life at a slower pace.

Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures

The Missouri River is famous for its historical significance to the Lewis and Clark expedition and its status as the longest river in the US. A Night at the Museum film might jog your memory here. Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures offers scenic river tours that retrace the Louis and Clark Expedition through the White Cliffs river area of Montana and Idaho. The Missouri River canoeing tour spans 47 miles of river, paddled and camped during a three-day excursion that includes camping and canoe equipment, as well as in-depth tour narration for visitors to learn about the river's natural history, its Native American history, its role in the famous Lewis and Clark expedition and its significance to western expansion before the emergence of the railroad. And you thought this was going to be boring! According to Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures, this river tour is "not for the faint-hearted." Custom tours can also be arranged for groups of 10 or more for six-day trips.

Bus Tours in The Rock Mountains

Free Shuttle Buses
It's surprisingly nice to learn that the Rocky Mountain National Park offers a free shuttle bus system that running on three routes through the park. The system runs during the greater summer season from Memorial Day through early October. Service begins as weekend-only, but runs daily starting in mid-June. The Bear Lake and Moraine Park shuttles connect hiking trails and points in the park along Bear Lake Road. The Hiker Shuttle connects the gateway town of Estes Park with RMNP. While these shuttle routes aren't designed specifically as scenic bus tours, they provide visitors the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery -- and they're the best bit ia that they are completely free. Shuttle buses run in the Bear Lake corridor, between many trailheads, the Park & Ride across from Glacier Basin Campground on the Bear Lake Road, Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds, and the Moraine Park Museum. There are two routes: the Bear Lake Route and the Moraine Park Route.

Trail Ridge Road Tour

For those that want a more purposeful tour, the National Park Service runs the Trail Ridge Road Tour during select days throughout the summer. The five-hour tour includes stops at popular points along the road such as Rainbow Curve and Forest Canyon Overlook, along with an hour-long lunch at Alpine Visitor Center. Patrons are given time for sightseeing and photography, and there is park staff on board to provide historical and geological information on the area. The tour departs Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at 10 a.m. and returns at 3 p.m. The cost for adults(in 2011) is $27. Youths 16 and under $13. Children not occupying a seat are free. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Centre Book Store or you can call: 970-577-7477.

Commercial Tours

Commercial tour operators such as Estes Park Transportation provide scenic and informational tours of Rocky Mountain National Park. The service's tour includes historic sites in the Estes Valley and an intimate look at Rocky Mountain National Park that stops at such sites as the former Hidden Valley Ski Area, Moraine Park and Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. The tour begins and ends in Estes Park and is led by a knowledgeable team that includes former park rangers and historians. The company also offers a Trail Ridge Road scenic tour during the summer and elk watching in the autumn.

So there you have it folks. It seems that the Rockies has something to offer to anyone and everyone, even Boris Johnson!

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