Baking with Beechs Fine Chocolates Plus Review

There are grim scenes in our house at the moment. Husband and I are trying the 5:2 diet which basically means for two days a week we forgo any food based joy and eat dust, lettuce and dust. Anyway it’s starting to work which is a great thing, especially for my endurance event in training husband. The 5:2 diet does mean that for five whole, blissful days each week we can eat whatever we want (though seven trifles in a sitting is frowned upon apparently). It was with some considerable delight (and woe, they arrived on a fast day) that we received a selection of Beechs Fine Chocolates to try in time for Easter.

Beechs Chocolates

We were sent two of their many flavours of chocolate thins, mint and ginger as well as some chocolate fondant bunnies for the small boy to have for Easter.

Beechs Chocolates

The thins are lovely thin disks of  chocolate, meant for after dinner but actually eaten before, during and after our dinner because they were amazing. Husband is a real lover of mint chocolate and he was blown away by them, saying they were seriously good (praise indeed from him). He tried the ginger and said they were the best ginger chocolates he’s ever had.

I loved both the mint and the ginger, they packed just the right amount of flavour and would be perfect for offering around with coffee after a lovely dinner with friends.

Each packet contains 20 thins and costs £4.99 a box, the chocolate is very rich and unless you’re a glutton (looks at hubs) then one or two thins are plenty to satisfy any chocolate craving. I always find that with good quality dark chocolate a little goes a long way, which is great if you’re trying to drop a couple of pounds.

There are four different kinds of thins available from Beechs Chocolates, these are Milk Chocolate Anglesey Sea Salt Thins, Dark Chocolate After Dinner Ginger Thins, Dark Chocolate After Dinner Mint Thins and Dark Chocolate Lime & Chilli Thins.

We were sent two boxes of  the Beechs Chocolates Bunny Family for the small boy to try. These are priced at £2.99 a box and contain ten different chocolate bunnies filled with fondant, though you can also get caramel bunnies too.

The bunnies were very popular, seriously cute and a nice chocolate nibble, the bunny shapes make them perfect for an Easter treat. The small boy loved them and somehow we managed to make the box last a couple of days, but only because I managed to hide them.

On Friday afternoons the small boy and I like to bake something, usually a cake to offer any visitors over the weekend. We decided to make a chocolate sponge cake and as an experiment we added some Beechs Chocolates Ginger Thins to the cake, it was delicious, so I’ve decided to share the recipe.

Beechs Chocolate

Chocolate & Ginger Sponge Cake

Ingredients:
4oz sugar
4oz butter or margarine (I used stork)
2 eggs
4oz self raising flour
2 dessert spoons of chocolate powder
3 Beechs Chocolate Ginger Thins
splash of milk if needed

Method:
1. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir in the eggs.
2. Add the chocolate powder and combine, then sift in the flour and stir through. If the cake batter is too thick (which it might be a little) add a drop of milk until it is the right consistency.
3. Put mixture into a lined loaf tin and put the thins half way into the cake at regular intervals (see picture).
4. Bake in pre-heated oven at 190 degrees for 30 minutes.
5. Leave to cool and then try not to eat it all in one go.

It’s utterly delicious on its own, but would be lovely slightly warm with a scoop of ice cream. The chocolate thins impart a deliciously subtle flavour of ginger into the cake. Definitely something we’ll be baking again.

Beechs Fine Chocolates get the thumbs up from us, I’ll be looking out for them in the future, they’re seriously delicious British made chocolates, perfect for after dinner and equally great to bake with, and what’s more hard to please hubs loves them.

Note: We were sent a selection of chocolate thins and bunnies from Beechs Chocolates free of charge for review purposes, all images and opinions are our own.

My Sunday Photo 29.3.15

Beechs Chocolates

Compliments for beginners

Last week I received a compliment, I’m fairly sure it came from a loving place, but it came out all wrong. For about three minutes I was mortally offended and rather indignant, but then the giver of the compliment explained it and it made some sense. The compliment I took offence to was “Your eyes look very much like Mark Rylance when he’s looking slightly worried”. This is Mark Rylance, he’s looking worried, do I look like this?

Compliments

On further examination I discovered the compliment meant my eyes look very thoughtful, like there are deep things being considered in my head. Fairynuff. My eyes generally get lots of compliments, which is nice.

I’m sure everyone has at sometime been given a back handed compliment. I’ve almost given up wondering why people can’t just say “your hair is nice” rather than “is it meant to look like that?”. My family are experts in making me feel like a muddy troll wearing tattered sackcloth whenever they see me. Compliments are just not done and if they are they’re clearly meant as a ‘could try harder’ motivational piece of sarcasm.

If you sometimes give compliments, especially to ladies like me who rarely hear something nice about themselves, then I’ve put together a list of nice things I think are good to try and say to people, and a list of things you should NEVER say to people, but have regrettably been said to me, sometimes more than once. Is it any wonder I have the self esteem of a worm?

What’s good:

You look nice.
You look pretty.
Haven’t you got lovely eyes/hair/smile.
That colour really suits you.
Have you lost weight? You look great.
You’re beautiful.
You’re hilarious, I love your jokes.
I love spending time with you.
I love your perfume, it really suits you.
You write beautifully.
Being with you makes me feel good.
You’re such a good person/mum/writer/driver/lover/maker of tea/whatever.

What’s not good:

Is that how you meant your hair to look?
Are you wearing make up, or do you have two black eyes?
*looks at old photo* Oh you used to be so pretty.
You should wear black more often, it suits you, makes you look slimmer than you are.
You’re not very wrinkly, but that’s probably because you’ve got a fat face.
Your eyes look very much like Mark Rylance when he’s looking slightly worried.
Oh, you’re not very tall are you?
Gosh you can drink a lot can’t you!
Have you moisturised? Your face feels greasy.

What’s the worst compliment you’ve ever received?

Recipe: Birnenpfannkuchen – German Pear & Ginger Pancake

We’ve been making Apfelpfannkuchen at home for a number of years, it’s a lovely baked apple pancake pudding, a bit like a sweet toad in the hole with fruit. It’s a handy store-cupboard pudding which takes no time at all to prepare and it’s pretty easy on the pocket as well as being delicious.

It occurred to me that it would be good to try making one using pears and ginger instead of the traditional apple and cinnamon. It was only afterwards I discovered that the Germans had beaten me to it and had got there first with the Birnenpfannkuchen, though all of the recipes I could find online were in German, so what you’re looking at here is probably the worlds first Birnenpfannkuchen recipe in English (I take my victories where I can find them).

Any pud that I can prepare with any degree of success must be easy, I’m not a natural when it comes to desserts, so I urge you to give this easy recipe a try. I promise you will not be sorry!

Birnenpfannkuchen

Birnenpfannkuchen – German Pear & Ginger Pancake Recipe

Ingredients:
50g butter
2 teaspoons of oil, I used groundnut
1 tin of pear halves in juice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
75g plain flour
65g sugar, I used golden granulated, but use what you have
3 eggs
150ml semi-skimmed milk
Pinch of salt

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 220C. I used my tarte tatin pan, but if you don’t have one of these a lined cake tin will be fine.
  • Put the butter and oil in the pan and put in the oven to melt for a couple of minutes, once the butter has melted arrange your pear halves in the pan and sprinkle over a teaspoon of ground ginger. Put in the oven to warm through while you do the next bit (tinned pears are already soft, but if using fresh pears cook until they are soft but not collapsing).
  • Meanwhile, tip the flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt, add the sugar and a teaspoon of ground ginger and combine. Add the eggs and milk and whisk thoroughly so it forms a thick batter.
  • Remove the tatin pan with the pears from the oven and quickly pour over the batter. Put the pan back in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, make sure you keep an eye on it towards the end. When it’s cooked your Birnenpfannkuchen should be all puffed up and golden brown like a giant Yorkshire pudding.
  • Once cooked flip it out of the pan, upside down on a plate and serve either hot or cold with cream, ice cream or custard, whatever floats your boat.

Birnenpfannkuchen

If you liked this easy recipe you might like my incredibly easy Joulutorttu recipe (Finnish jam tarts).

Man hands on misery to man

I’m not great right now and I’m blaming therapy. I’ve been merrily plodding on for months and months now, the odd bad day dragging me down but not for long. My strategy of locking all my demons away has been working terrifically, so as long as I don’t actually think about anything other than the things I’m doing that day.

Then last week I started therapy. After some mental health assessments I’ve been prescribed some CBT and some intensive counselling which is great news, but it does mean I have to put my demons in their best party dresses and take them out for a spin every week for the next three months.

My therapy will focus on sorting out my self esteem (minuscule) and getting my critical voice to be a bit nicer to me. Fine. But what that means is I’m now looking at WHY my self esteem is so tiny and WHY my critical voice is such a massive bitch. I know the reasons why and it really really hurts to delve back there and pick at those open wounds.

If you want a clue as to why I’m a messy mess of messy issues, a pretty good starting point can be found in Philip Larkin’s famous poem, This Be The Verse. I had a perfectly nice, normal, boring childhood, pretty devoid of praise, with overly critical parents, compounded by my abject failure to match up to my high achieving younger sibling.

I love my parents and I know they love me, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m a disappointment, a failure on all fronts. Even now their every interaction with me is peppered with criticism about me, how I look, how I act, how I dress. They criticise my husband and child, my life, everything really. Occasionally they slip up and tell me they’re pleased or proud of something and it’s so rare I figure they must be lying or have made a mistake. I do love them though, but I’m determined not to be like that with the small boy.

I know the first few weeks of therapy will be the hardest. Opening up to someone and showing them the darkness within. Talking about the things that hurt the most without having the strategies I need to cope with this new avalanche of pain will knock me for six, but I’m really, really upset I’m feeling this way again and I’m frightened that it’ll drag me down again, pull me under and overwhelm me and I just can’t go back there. Part of me wants to slam the door shut and run far away from it all. Part of me, most of me knows this is all for the best, in the long term at least.

So please bear with me, I’m struggling right now, I hurt a lot and I’m really, really hating on myself, but you know this isn’t really me. I’m not really like this. I’m just frightened of being swept away on the tide and never finding my way back again.

Therapy

My Sunday Photo 22.3.15

image

Recipe: Authentic Imam Bayildi Armenian style

I am married to a tall, dark and (I think) handsome man, he gets his olive skinned good looks from his Dads side of the family and he is half Armenian, meaning the small boy is one quarter Armenian. I have no hint of interesting ancestry on my side of the family so I have wholeheartedly embraced some parts of Armenian culture. If I’m honest it’s the bits which involve food.

Armenian food is very Mediterranean, you can find very similar food in Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. They do beautiful things with vegetables, so I’m sharing my favourite vegetarian Armenian recipe Imam Bayildi, I hope you like it.

Imam Bayildi is basically stuffed, baked aubergines. They’re simple to make, you can prepare them ahead of time and then cook them when you need them and they are melt in the mouth gorgeous. I like to use good quality ingredients in this recipe as every single mouthful zings flavour. Fresh vegetables are essential and Cirio Tomato fillets are ideal, full of flavour and a little does go a long way.

Imam Bayildi Imam Bayildi – Armenian Style (serves four)

Ingredients:
2 aubergines
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (I prefer red, but a white onion works too)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 green pepper, finely diced
Half a can of Cirio tomato fillets
Big handful of chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt & pepper

Method:
1. Cut the top off each aubergine, slice it in half lengthways and scoop out the flesh, leaving an aubergine boat, leave a little of the aubergine flesh around the skin so it can help retain its structural integrity while in the oven. Griddle the aubergine halves on a high heat until they have a little bit of char, then put in a baking dish so they are snuggled up close to each other, this will help them keep their shape in the oven.
2. Chop up the aubergine flesh and fry gently in the olive oil, while that is cooking (stir frequently) chop and add the onion and peppers to the pan. Cook until they are all soft and then add your crushed garlic cloves and half a tin of Cirio tomato fillets.
3. Season well and add your sugar, cook and stir regularly until most of the liquid has evaporated and all of the vegetables are cooked and soft. Stir through the chopped parsley (reserving a small amount to garnish with later).
3. Carefully spoon the tomato and vegetable mixture into the aubergine skins. Add two tablespoons of water to the baking dish to help the aubergines to cook. Bake for 30 minutes at 200c.
4. Once cooked serve with salad, rice or bulgar wheat, maybe some pitta bread.

Imam Bayildi

We love Imam Bayildi, it’s a regular meal for us, really flavoursome and healthy as well as being a traditional Armenian meal. I’m ticking all of the good wife boxes here.

I like to use Cirio tomato fillets because the quality of the tomatoes, the juice is really thick and you can tell by the colour, texture and flavour of the raw ingredient that anything you make with them will be delicious. They are especially good in my Imam Bayildi, a meal we all enjoyed as a family.

Note: I was sent some Cirio tomato products to try out in some of my recipes. All images, opinions and recipes are my own.

Celebrating World Oral Health Day with White Glo

As a child I neglected my teeth and from the age of 11 to the age of 24 I didn’t go to the dentist at all, I’d developed quite a bad phobia and it was only when one of my front teeth was visibly rotting that I found a dentist who was used to dealing with nervous patients. Over a period of three or four months he repaired all the damage my neglect had done leaving me with 11 new fillings. Since then I’ve gone back to him every six months and he’s kept my teeth looking good and in good health.

One of the things my dentist says every time is how good I am at brushing my teeth, they are always clean and mostly plaque free which is half the battle when it comes to oral hygiene. I usually brush with an electric toothbrush in the mornings and a normal toothbrush at night. I rinse once a day with whatever mouthwash is knocking around in the bathroom cabinet and I use a leading brand of toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

I was sent some White Glo Sensitive Forte+ to try out for a few weeks to see how I liked it.  Each White Glo toothpaste pack contains a toothbrush, and a little packet of Dental Flosser toothpicks. Research shows that old brushes lose their cleaning and stain-removing properties over time, so it makes sense to change your toothbrush as regularly as your toothpaste.

white glo

I was a bit sceptical about the benefits of changing my toothpaste to White Glo, toothpaste is toothpaste right? Hand on heart my teeth haven’t felt this clean in ages. I don’t know if it’s the toothpaste or the new, softer bristled toothbrush.

The sensitive White Glo toothpaste I tried was minty without being overpowering. I could feel it was slightly abrasive on my teeth which is the same as every whitening toothpaste. My mouth felt really clean and zingy afterwards.

white glo

It is impossible to take a nice picture of yourself brushing your teeth.

The toothbrush was shorter and softer than what I am used to, I wasn’t convinced that the soft bristled brush would clean my teeth as well, I was really wrong. The soft bristles seem to clean better and my teeth feel and look cleaner; I’m totally sold on the soft brush now.

White Glo’s premium fluoride-enriched toothpastes use “micro polishing particles” to remove discolouration and yellowing on tooth enamel and they say that results are visible in two weeks. It’s at this point I rue the day I forgot to take a “before” picture, but they’re definitely better and I am going to continue using it.

White Glo is available in five formulas – Professional Choice, Coffee & Tea Drinkers, Smokers, Sensitive Forte+ and 2-in-1 with Mouthwash. White Glo toothpastes retail at around £3.99-£4.99 which is comparable in price to my regular brand, but you get a toothbrush and toothpicks with White Glo.

White Glo is available from Boots, Boots.com, Superdrug, Amazon, ASDA and Morrisons. I will definitely be changing over to White Glo now, it’s been years since my mouth felt so clean. I’m very happy (despite the look on my face in the picture above).

For more information on White Glo visit their website.

Note: I was sent a sample of White Glo to try for review purposes. All images and opinions are my own.

Blissful Facial at the Sienna Spa, Radisson Blu Edwardian, Manchester

I like to think of myself as a reasonably articulate person. I’m usually pretty good at stringing a sentence together, but as I left the Sienna Spa at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Manchester, I literally had no idea how I was going to write it up. It’s rare I’m left speechless, but my afternoon at the Sienna Spa was so incredible I had no words. A few days later I’m now able to formulate proper sentences, so here goes.

On Monday I went to the Sienna Spa at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Manchester. I love going to the spa and pre-baby, it was something I treated myself to fairly regularly, I used to have regular facials and massages but now time is tight and my face further down the priority list. I was booked in for an ‘Advanced Enzyme Facial’, I arrived early and was offered the chance to use the facilities before my treatment. I took one look at the pool and couldn’t resist.

Sienna Spa

The Sienna Spa is gorgeous. There is a modern, well-equipped gym, a stunning pool with jacuzzi as well as a selection of steam rooms. I had a quick swim in the pool and enjoyed the hot bubbles in the jacuzzi before drying off and going for my treatment (for this reason, next time I’ll take a spare swimming costume, one to swim in, one to wear during my treatments).

I was given a lovely fluffy dressing gown to wear and I was escorted to the relaxation room. This had a number of comfortable, adjustable couches where you could recline, relax and drift off before and after your treatment. You could also help yourself to water and herbal teas. The relaxation room had ‘spa music’ piped in, you know the kind of music I mean, the sound of water in a stream, birdsong and such like. I do find ‘spa music’ quite restful and it helps me to focus on relaxing and clearing my mind.

My therapist, Cathy came to collect me and ushered me into the treatment room. Cathy ran through the details of my ‘Advanced Enzyme Facial’ and explained that it was quite an intensive treatment which would involve a fruit acid peel which wouldn’t be suitable for very sensitive skins.

The ‘Advanced Enzyme Facial’ is described as “a powerful and highly effective facial to boost cell regeneration and give an instantly smooth, softly glowing complexion. A deep brush cleanse is followed by an intense Enzyme Peel containing botanical extracts and Pumpkin Enzymes to deeply exfoliate and remove dead skin cells. After a soothing massage using Rose Quartz Crystals to help cool and calm, a Lifting and Smoothing Mask is applied, containing concentrated Seaweed Extracts, Argan Oil and Menthol, to give your skin a more plumped and firmer appearance”.

I lay on a heated treatment table and the treatment began. The heated table is such a good idea, especially for someone like me with a very bad back, the heat helped to soothe my aches and after my 90 minute treatment was over I got off the table quite nimbly, without the heat it would’ve been a different story.

Cathy talked me though every step of the process, telling me what might tingle and what might feel cold. She looked at my face carefully under a special lamp and told me that the skin around my eyes, on my forehead and chin was quite dehydrated, she advised me on skincare to help hydrate my skin as well as encouraging me to drink more water, something I have been trying to do lately anyway.

The facial was relaxing but thorough, the treatment also included a scalp massage and conditioning treatment as well as a hand and arm massage and some neck and shoulder work too. At one point I drifted off I was so relaxed.

My skin looked and felt so much better. It was clearer and it glowed, some of my more noticeable lines were less prominent too. Have a look at my before and after picture and see for yourself. (Also, note how incredibly relaxed and happy I look in the ‘after’ picture).

Sienna Spa

It was absolutely the perfect pampering treatment and without a shadow of a doubt THE best facial I’ve ever had, both in terms of how good my skin now feels and just how relaxed and pampered I feel right now.

The Sienna Spa is a beautiful spa, well designed and comfortable, I am already planning to go back very soon. They have regular special offers available to book on their website, so it’s worth looking our for deals on their spa days and treatments.

My ‘Advanced Enzyme Facial‘ cost £100 for a 90 minute treatment. Any regular spa goer will know that this is a good price for that quality and length of treatment, especially one which includes a peel. I really feel it made a big difference to my skin and to the appearance of my wrinkles. I will be returning to the Sienna Spa very soon. Sometimes a girl just needs to treat herself.

Note: I was an invited guest of The Sienna Spa and I was not asked to pay for my treatment. All images and opinions are my own.

Review: Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Games

The small boy loves puzzles. They play them a lot at nursery in school and he had a few favourites which we’ve bought him for home. He loves matching pairs and anything with letters, numbers or counting. We were sent the Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Game to review, which I thought would be right up his street.

The Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Games is suitable for ages 3-6 years. The small boy is four and this was perfectly pitched for him. He’s just getting into numbers and letters and really gets excited when he recognises them correctly, we do a lot of play around this at home at the moment since he likes it so much.

Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Games

The Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Game comes in two parts, there is an Alphabet Lotto Game which comprises bingo style boards with images and letters on (H for Hat for example) and a number dominoes game, which is like traditional dominoes but with colourful cards depicting frogs and horses etc. The game also comes with a set of reward stickers, something which sets every four year old child’s heart a flutter!

Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Games

We began by playing the alphabet lotto game. You can play it two ways, the match the image to the board way, which we did, or the slightly harder match the letter to the corresponding letter on the board. I think this is something which we’ll be doing with confidence in a few months, but for now we embraced the simple joy of just matching the letters to the right image on the lotto board, we also talked about what letters and pictures there were. It’s all good learning.

Growing up, I’d play dominoes for hours with my Grandma and I still love a game. The Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Game includes a lovely set of board dominoes, with each piece having animals instead of dots, for example, four dogs and five owls. The small boy really loved this and enjoyed counting the numbers of animals and finding a matching half to put his domino against.

Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Games

It was a really fun game and we enjoyed playing together. I’m less fussy about sticking to the actual rules of the game and prefer to just try and guide him in the right direction if possible, but as long as he’s learning and most importantly having fun then it’s all good.

You can play with up to four players, so it’s a lovely game for our little family. It’s really versatile too, you can stick to the rules, or make up your own as we tend to do. I know it’s a game that he will enjoy playing when his Grandad comes round for the afternoon, they like to sit together and do puzzles, just like I did with my Grandma.

We like to have puzzles like this around because he does really enjoy playing them, he’s a really active boy so it’s nice to sit down and do a focussed activity with him, even just for a few minutes. The Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Game is great for:

  • Stimulating the brain
  • Increasing vocabulary
  • Encouraging creative story-making
  • Having fun with words and rhymes
  • Building confidence and concentration
  • Improving numeracy skills

The Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Game costs £9.99 from Argos and we think it’s a versatile game that will last many years, being played with differently as he grows and develops.

Note: We were sent the Chad Valley PlaySmart Alphabet and Numbers Learning Game free of charge for review purposes, all images and opinions are our own.