Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake

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I love a good birthday cake, and this year we have a lot of important (big!) family birthday celebrations! This summer saw a big birthday celebration for my (step) Father in Law! After some discussion with my Mother in Law we settled on his favourite cake – a Victoria Sponge! I have never made a Victoria Sponge before, but I thought it turned out well! I used strawberries to decorate and thought it looked cute! Here is the recipe I followed if you fancy making your own!

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Ingredients:

  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 225g/8oz caster sugar, plus a little extra for dusting the finished cake
  • 225g/8oz self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 225g/8oz baking spread, margarine or soft butter at room temperature, plus a little extra to grease the tins.
  • Strawberries for decorating (plenty, so that you can ‘test’ some too!)

The filling:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 140g icing sugar, sifted
  • drop vanilla extract (optional)
  • half a 340g jar good-quality strawberry jam

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 190c. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins (in hindsight, lining them with baking paper would be a good idea!) In a large bowl, beat all the cake ingredients together until you have a smooth, soft batter.
  2. Split the mixture between the two tins, remember to smooth the surface. Then bake for about 20 mins until golden and the cake springs back when pressed. Turn onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely (mine ended up with a crossing pattern on the top from the rack, so I’ve still not worked out 100% the best way to cool the cake!)
  3. For the filling, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, then gradually beat in icing sugar. Beat in vanilla extract if you’re using it. Spread the butter cream over the bottom of one of the sponges, top it with jam and sandwich the second sponge on top.
  4. Use some of the buttercream to stick strawberries to the top of the cake in a pattern (I went for a circle around the edge) Then dust with a little icing sugar before serving.

As a side note, it didn’t travel so well because I hadn’t let in cool enough (ahh time, that precious commodity!!) so it ended up arriving with the top half mostly slid off!! Hahaha! Oh well, I mashed it back together and I’m told it tasted lovely! Thank goodness I have an understanding family!! 🙂

Thoughts on ‘Me Before You’

Me before you

Jojo Moyes is an award winning novelist, but until this book I had not read any of her work. ‘Me Before You’ was turned into a film, which was released June 2016, now I have read the book, it’s one I would be keen to watch!

I liked the characters in this book, and how it bravely took on a pretty sensitive subject of disability and the impact on family. In this case it was not disability from birth, but through a horrific accident. I like how it was a massive contrast between Will’s active and thrill seeking ‘previous life’ and his reliance and isolation of his ‘current life’. It would be easy to make this a character you pity and to become the sole focus of the book, but actually I felt Jojo handled it beautifully – he was just a character with baggage, like many in the book. His initial abrupt and rude behaviour towards Louisa makes him difficult to warm to at first, but as she breaks through his walls, we do to and this strong, intelligent character shines through.

The relationship between Will and Louisa builds up and you end up totally routing for them. He helps her overcome her past and issues which held her back. You think that he’s the character who has obstacles to overcome, but in fact it is Lou and his family. Unknown to us at first, Will has made a decision to end his life. The book is looking at how the people around him handle his accident, his life limiting disability and ultimately his decision to end his life. Will himself seems to have come to terms with all of this and helps guide others. It’s an amazing take on the situation and really has you questioning yourself. I found myself wondering what I would do in his situation, but also of all the characters around him. I found putting myself in his mother’s position particularly challenging, it’s incredibly hard to imagine.

Jojo has managed to create an incredibly thought provoking book, it’s not hard to see why it was turned into a film. I would definitely be interested in reading more of her work!

What did you think of the book? Could you relate to the characters? Would you have made the same decision as Will? Would you recommend any more of her books?

Me before you

Top Ten Tips For Travelling With Baby

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Travelling with a baby is like moving an army! Whether you are going away for a weekend, a week, to a strange place, or to friends and relatives, it’s all the same (more or less) when it comes to taking a baby with you! We have been to stay with friends and relatives, and even managed a weekend away in the Forest of Dean, but this summer we braved a week long trip to France with our 10 month old little bundle of fun!! I had learnt a few things from previous trips, but it was a little trickier as I was not 100% sure what we could get from where in France if we forgot it! So, I pass on my top ten tips of things to take when you are travelling with a small!

  1. Familiar cot or cot bedding – we are still co-sleeping, so took our Chicco Next to Me, which we love, and is so easy to move! It didn’t take up too much space in the boot, and meant that the little man had something familiar. If you don’t need to take a cot, then familiar bedding means it smells like home and can make baby feel safe.
  2. A stroller – we have a lovely Cosatto Travel System (so, bright and pretty – it features on my Instagram page a bit!) but it was just too big to get in the boot along with everything else. We took the plunge and got a stroller that would fold down smaller and was easier to fit in the boot of the car. We went with a Silver Cross Pop stroller, and it was fabulous and easy to use.
  3. Medicine (and thermometer) – remember to take things like Calpol, Ibuprofen and Piriton. Despite the little man being absolutely fine when we left home, and on the ferry (mummy was seriously not so fine!!) on our second day there he had a slight temperature, was snotty and not very happy! Calpol was needed! Piriton was useful to have because of the itchy (oh so very itchy) mosquito bites!! (Again, mummy was worse off, but the little man did get bitten!) It’s useful to have these medicines to hand!
  4. Nappy rash cream – nappy rash can strike at anytime and it is important to keep on top of it, I tend to keep a tube of Sudocrem Care and Protect in my changing bag! It’s so easy to use, gentle on the skin and helps clear up any rashes quickly. The tube is a great size to keep in your changing bag so it’s easily reached in an emergency! When you are travelling nappy rash cream is an absolute must!
  5. Teething gel! – oh teething gel! I forgot teething gel, what a mistake!! Fortunately my sister was travelling a day later, so I asked her to bring some!! Was an absolute must! You never know when those pesky teeth are going to cause problems!!
  6. Bathroom items – it’s pretty easy to remember to take the wash items, but sponges, bath toys and most importantly the bath thermometer are items that are easily left behind! Again it’s about keeping familiar things and routines around for little ones, to make your life as easy as possible! I also took a bath towel with a hood, one we always use at home!
  7. Box of toys – This was just so much easier to transport!! We have a box of toys in the living room, that occasionally get tidied back into it! There are lots of his favourite toys in it and a mixture of textures (wood, plastic, material) which he really enjoys. We use the Drona box from ikea, which fitted perfectly in the foot well of the car behind the carseat. This meant, not only did we have toys to play with when we were there, but I had plenty of toys to entertain him whilst we waited in very long queues to get on and off the ferry!! Perfect!
  8. DVDs – We haven’t yet upgraded to having a DVD player in the car (although, I think it is in our future!!) but we did want to take some favourite shows as an extra, sort of an ‘in case of emergency’ item! Of course my little man’s absolute favourite show, by a massive stretch, is Hey Duggee so we made sure to have some DVDs with us!
  9. Favourite stories – We find stories calming in our house, and often use them in the bedtime ‘routine’. We have a few books he loves – Usborne’s “That’s Not My…” books are a firm favourite! Also, some lift the flat books are very much loved!
  10. Washing powders – Even if you think you have packed enough clothes, clothes for every weather and loads of bibs, chances are your baby will catch you out by making more of a mess than normal! It is worth checking if there is a washing machine/tumble dryer so you can wash them whilst you’re away! If not, washing in the sink will certainly do!! I did one wash load mid-week and still had another full wash by the end of the week! How do they make so much mess?!

Have you been away with a little one? What would you have on your list? Have I missed anything you thought was essential?

Disclosure: I was sent Sudocrem Care & Protect free of charge but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

About the book – Me Before You

Me before you

Second month of book club, and I asked for some recommendations. I even looked into book club lists and this book popped up. It’s a New York Times number 1 bestseller, and was recommended by my librarian friend. I’m already excited to read it! From what I hear from others it is one that is hard to put down, might be tricky with a 10 month old, but still keen to try!!

I haven’t read any of Jojo Moyes work yet, but feel I may have been missing out!  The book was first published in 2012 and has been made into a film. I would be interested to watch the film, but definitely want to read the book first! Sometimes films don’t quite match the books, and I don’t want to have an image of it all in my head before I read it! Do you prefer watching the films first or reading the books? The synopsis of the book is as follows:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

I purchased my paperback copy from Amazon, it is currently in their 3 for £10 deal. You can also pick it up for the Kindle there if that is your preferred reading method!

I will write my thoughts for this book in a post on Monday 26th September, am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and sharing the book with you!

Happy reading 🙂 x

Me before you

 

Thoughts on ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’

Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is definitely one of my favourite authors, so when I saw this book, I thought it was well worth a read!! And boy was I right! I loved it! Her style of writing is just so readable, and it never feels like a chore – in fact, I’m always gutted when her books end!

I loved the family dynamic in this book, it’s not all singing and dancing happy families, this is a family who all have secrets and things they hide from each other. It’s a character who barely appears in the book who has the biggest secret though and one that is uncovered as the book unfolds. I love her ability to drop in little nuggets of information on the characters which just build and build until you have the whole picture. Jumping backwards and forwards in time, but never in a confusing way.

The middle child, but oldest sister, Monica is a very controlled character who does not reveal much and tries to be in control all the time. I loved the description given when it was explained she did not want children:

‘Monica was seized with a horrified fascination at the devastation childbearing wreaked. The slack pleating of stomach flesh, the slivered scars that found their way over dimpled legs, the deflated sacs of breasts.’

It’s just a brilliant description of what happens, and far from being bothered by this, it had me laughing out loud – yes, yes, how true! Monica is an interesting character who seems to take life incredibly seriously, there seems to be a weight on her for the majority of the book. It’s almost like she has got stuck, and despite her younger sister Aoife being a wild child and the black sheep, I feel it was Monica who was most lost in the story. Aoife also had her own secrets to hide, but I loved her nature and lust for life. The difficulties between the different family members is raw, but something that is easy to relate to – families can fall out and it is often a mystery how or why!

‘Aoife sitting with a face like that. And Monica over by the sideboard, doing that tossing thing with her head and fiddling with a basket of laundry. The pair of them not looking at each other. As if they were strangers.’

The mysteries which are revealed throughout the book give the story momentum and keep you interested. I could not put it down! The observer says the book is ‘addictive…told with real humanity, warmth and infectious love’ and I just cannot put it any better than that. It is absolutely true! Well worth a read.

Did you join in with the book club this month? What were your thoughts on this book? Did you like/dislike the characters? Let me know your thoughts!

Maggie O'Farrell

A Book a Fortnight for a Year

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A few years back I started writing a bucket list. I was trying to get to 100 things, although I feel I could write a few lists and still want to do more. There are so many things I want to do, but I wanted to try and make my bucket list reachable, things I could achieve. Once I have done it I want to create a scrapbook as memories of each activity, but I’m still making the finishing touches to the list (some years in the making!) So one of the things I wanted to do was to read a book a fortnight for a year, and I achieved it a few years ago. I loved it! I wanted to read as many different genres of books as possible, so the list is a bit random! It was a really enjoyable thing to do, and once my little man is bigger, it is definitely something I want to redo! Maybe I could go for a book a week for a year when he is much bigger!!

Here is the list of what I read:

  1. ‘The White Queen’ by Phillipa Gregory
  2. ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey
  3. ‘The Return Journey’ by Maeve Binchy
  4. ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ by Audrey Niffenegger
  5. ‘Dizzy’ by Cathy Cassady
  6. ‘The Shell Seekers’ by Rosamunde Pilcher
  7. ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
  8. ‘You’re the One That I Don’t Want’ by Alexandra Potter
  9. ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ by Stieg Larsson
  10. ‘Knots and Crosses’ by Ian Rankin
  11. ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ by Trisha Ashley
  12. ‘Artemis Fowl’ by Eoin Colfer
  13. ‘Sapper Martin’ by Richard Van Emden
  14. ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ by Robert James Waller
  15. ‘Tears of the Giraffe’ by Alexander McCall Smith
  16. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’ by Mark Haddon
  17. ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell
  18. ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ by Roald Dahl
  19. ‘If You Could See Me Now’ by Cecelia Ahern
  20. ‘Wives ‘v’ Girlfriends’ by Katie Agnew
  21. ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris
  22. ‘The Single Girls To Do List’ by Lindsey Kelk
  23. ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop
  24. ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls
  25. ‘The Italian Girl’ by Iris Murdoch
  26. ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ by J.K. Rowling

Next time I definitely want to get more classic books in! You know, the ones on those lists of ‘books you should read’, maybe I can work some into the book club!!

What books have you read recently? What are your favourite books? Have you read any on my list?

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You

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My sun, my moon, my stars, my sky;

My who, my what, my when, my why.

 

My east, my west, my north, my south;

My eyes, my cheek, my hands, my mouth.

 

My dreams, my thoughts, my love, my soul.

My wish, my desire, my heart, my whole.

 

Written for my husband x

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The Gruffalo

Gruffalo

A Mum took a stroll through the deep, dark wood, she came across a book, and the book was good!

Gruffalo

I thought I would start on a cracking book! If you are just starting your collection of picture books to share with your child, I have to massively recommend this one! It has been a favourite of my nieces and the classes I’ve taught. Julia Donaldson’s knack for creating clever rhyming books is fantastic, this one in particular has a wonderful story line which has children wanting to hear it over and over. They are able to join in with the familiar rhyming parts and love it if you create voices for the different characters. Teaming up with Axel Schoffler’s wonderful drawings, this book will be a family favourite.

In this story a mouse goes on a rather interesting journey. He is interrupted several times by characters who would rather like him to come round for food (or be the food!!) Mouse is too clever and finds a way to trick them all…..although in the end Mouse gets a shock himself!

There are plenty of activities you can do based around this story, if you would like to extend the interest. The mouse talks a lot about the Gruffalo’s favourite foods, (scrambled snake – yum, yum!) this lends itself nicely to creating these ‘dishes’ in the kitchen, or coming up with your own recipes the Gruffalo might enjoy! You can also go on a walk looking for the Gruffalo, or create your own monster, using descriptive language to create a terrifying beast. Drawing and painting will bring the new character to life.

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What did you think of the Gruffalo? What activities would you want to do? Which is your favourite children’s book?

About the Book – Instructions For a Heatwave

Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O'Farrell

Welcome to the first my first Book Club. I have long wanted to be part of a book club, so thought maybe I should just start my own! Every month I will share which book we are going to read, if it goes well I will publish a list of 12 books that I will be reading in 2017 and hope that you will continue to join me! I will post my thoughts on the book in the last week of the month and invite you to comment with what your thoughts were. I will endeavour to publish the book for the next month the same week, so that there is time to purchase or borrow a copy.

I thought I would start off with one of my favourite authors, Maggie O’Farrell. I have read and really enjoyed ‘After You’d Gone’, ‘The Distance Between Us’, ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ and ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’. I would recommend all of them. She is a fantastic author and I always feel fully engaged with her stories.

This book was published in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Costa Book awards the same year. The synopsis for the book is as follows:

It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children – two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce – back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share.

I am really excited to get stuck into this book! I purchased my copy from my local charity shop, but they are available new or secondhand from Amazon. You can also pick it up for the Kindle there if that is your preferred reading method!

I will write my thoughts for this book in a post on Sunday 28th August, am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and sharing the book with you!

Happy reading 🙂 x

Family Fun in the Forest of Dean

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This year is full of big birthdays in my family and we are celebrating with lots of big family holidays and breaks. It is exciting! Last weekend was the first celebration and for it we didn’t venture too far, but far enough to feel like a break, all the way to Forest Holidays. I was so excited! After packing all the “essentials” for travelling with a 9 month old, the car was full to bursting. Seriously. Super full. Those days of throwing in a toothbrush and a pair of pants for the weekend are long gone!! Even with such an overly full car, we still managed to forget things! Still, I digress! We all jumped (try tetris style squeezed ourselves round, next to, on top of, inside of, etc etc) into the car, and headed off to the Forest, Sat Nav on to guide us there.

We found it no problem, and thankfully the boy slept the whole way! It immediately seemed so relaxing and we were surrounded by trees. Just what we wanted! We were staying in one of the cabins, the Luxury Family Treehouse. This cabin has an additional ensuite room away from the main body of the house. It was beautiful and had lots of space. We had arrived first, so after a mad dash round, we chose the upstairs bedroom and began to set up shop! Not long after the rest of our family arrived, unpacked and all chose rooms. All in there was 7 adults, 2 teens, 1 tween and a baby. You would think that it was going to be a squeeze, particularly as my lovely Mother in Law brought enough food to feed a small army!! It wasn’t though, it felt big and spacious. The cabins are scattered around a field surrounded by the woods; ours faced directly onto the woods which gave us a great view from our bedroom, through the huge window.

We had paid for the entertainment package, which meant that there was a wide selection of films we could watch too. I finally got to watch ‘Inside Out’ which was brilliant! Having so many members of family round meant that the little man was not short of people to play with and have cuddles with. It also meant that me and the husband got a break! It had been such a long time since we watched a film together, we really enjoyed ourselves!! The lounge had enough space for everyone to sit comfortably and was even centre stage to some amazing performances for family charades! Highlights being L’s reenactment of ‘Jurassic world’, C’s epic acting for ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and the husband actually having a go for ‘Top Gun’. Such a funny evening! We even moved to the large kitchen table to have a girls vs boys game of Pictionary! (The guys thought I was just being cruel when I had time to draw a mermaid before even drawing the crab my team had to guess! But I think they were sore losers!! Haha!)

The outside area was wonderful too, a giant table which could fit us all round, space to BBQ and most importantly a lovely hot tub which could fit lots of us! (Think we counted 8 in at one point!!) When we had first arrived the hot tub was empty, but they were quick to come over and fix it for us. The hot tub was definitely worth having, we all enjoyed some time in there! (Apart from the little man!) I even managed to sit in the hot tub for quite some time with a drink of fizzy pink wine! I did remember to use a plastic glass! It was so relaxing, like being at a spa! Really nice both in the summer and in the winter!……..Man I wish I was there now with my lovely Gin cocktail (my in laws make a mean cocktail!!) surrounded by the nature; trees, flowers, squirrels – yes very friendly squirrels too!

The weekend was filled with food too! I’d baked a birthday cake (only had a small disaster on the way there) and some of my awesome cookie bowls with just some normal cookies. My MIL had organised some amazing meals and yummy snacks and my sister in law had brought loads of chocolate (an absolute must to accompany Charades, Pictionary, conversations, drinking, sitting, well, most activities really!) The kitchen has the basics you need, so if you plan on making anything when you’re there (such as pizza bases – K’s pizzas were amazing!) you need to bring additional tools with you. Although, the wine bottle rolling pin did the job superbly!

Although some of the family went out on walks to explore the area, I only did a short walk with the little man to get him to sleep (I was battling a virus that made me feel like I’d been hit by a bus, although I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time!!) There are endless walks and bike rides to do, also  Go Ape, pottery, a playground, the list is long! You can even get in house spa treatments, so they come to you!!! I honestly think you could go back every year and still have plenty to do! Fortunately I’m going back again for two more visits in the next year, so I will strive to try out some of the other things and get a bit further than the hot tub this time!! It was an amazing break and was a fantastic place to spend time with family! I would really recommend going and think it’s perfect for a large family or group holiday!

Have you been to Forest Holidays? What did you like most about it? Are there any other holiday’s you’ve done with a large family group? Where would you recommend going?

 

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