My Sunday Photo 2.8.15

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Click here for the full story behind this photograph, and to read about my experiences as a Judge at the International Cheese Awards 2015.

Kids Crafts: Summer Snap Bracelets with Baker Ross

I got a bit excited recently when I was invited to join the Baker Ross Blogger Network. I got even more excited when a big box of craft supplies arrived on our doorstep, just in time for the loooong summer holidays. I squirrelled it away out of sight and waited until a rainy day to get crafty with the small boy.

snap bracelets

There was so much in the box, as you can see above, lots to keep me and the small boy busy for any number of rainy days, but project number one was to decorate our own snap bracelets.

In the box was a packet of snap bracelets and a packet of rainbow stickers, I had in our existing stash of craft materials a packet of stick on foam letters, so we set to work making personalised ID snap bracelets.

snap bracelets

The small boy is four and he’s getting on really well at school, but his teacher did suggest we should do more craft with him to strengthen his hands, work his pincer grip and to encourage his fine motor skills, crafting is a really good way to do that, plus it’s a really nice way to spend some time with the boy during a damp afternoon.

As you can probably see from the pictures below, peeling the fiddly backing off the rainbow stickers and the letters was a good test of his fine motor skills and patience. Finding the letters of his name in a big pile of foam letters was a brilliant opportunity to talk about the letters of the alphabet, the letter sounds and what words begin with that letter.

snap bracelets

He really enjoyed making his snap bracelet, he was really proud to show it off to everyone and liked to snap it around his wrist. Not to be outdone, I joined in with the activity and made this snazzy little number, which he insists I wear too!

Snap Bracelets

Making these snap bracelets was a really simple craft activity, it was ideal for the time we had available and was a lovely way to talk about what we were doing and why, as well as ticking all the boxes for his teacher too. There are plenty more things in our summer survival craft kit from Baker Ross, we’ll be playing, experimenting and crafting with those next week, so watch this space!

Note: We are part of the Baker Ross Blogger Network and have been sent these craft items free of charge in return for a blog post about what we made. All images and opinions are our own.

Judging the International Cheese Awards 2015

This week I went to the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich in Cheshire. I went last year and had a brilliant time, discovered some lovely new cheeses, met some nice new people, had an delicious lunch and ate an awful lot of cheese. I was looking forward to more of the same this year, but it was not to be. It was better!

I was really pleased and honoured to be invited to help judge four categories of cheese this year, these were –

– Class DP54 Derby Block, UK Creameries only
– Class DP179 Lighter Cheese (17-24% fat)
– Class DP133 Speciality Cheese, Hard Pressed
– Class DP170 Smoked Cheese

Nothing too alarming there. In fact I was delighted with those categories as they’re the kind of cheeses I would normally buy and eat anyway.

Dressed in my judges white coat with my clipboard tucked under my arm, me, two judges, both cheese experts, and a steward began judging. Each of us thoroughly examining the cheese, and my fellow judges, both industry experts, taking time to talk me through what we should be looking for and the typical characteristics of each cheese.

International Cheese Awards 2015

Thankfully we were all of a similar mind when choosing the winners, so there were no arguments. I made sure I went around afterwards too to make a note of any cheeses I especially enjoyed. It was an experience I will never forget, it’s not everyone who can say (and have the enamel badge to prove it) that they were a judge at the International Cheese Awards 2015.

After my official duties were over I ambled over to where the Irish cheeses were displayed and took part in their special cheese matching session, in which three superb Irish cheeses were matched with three equally delicious Irish whiskeys.

International Cheese Awards 2015

During this whiskey and cheese session I discovered this very, very sexy Brie style handmade Irish goats cheese. It’s was fantastically ripe and oozed seductively across the cheese board towards me. It was love at first bite!

It would be a cliché to say I was charmed by the Irish contingent, but I was. The whiskey was interesting, the cheese was so good (there was also a beer washed continental style cheese I need to find again) and the lovely chaps at Ballymaloe made exceedingly good chutneys and relishes, which went beautifully with the Irish cheeses. It can be slightly harder to find these lovely Irish cheeses in England, but I was told that Booths and some speciality cheese shops stock them, and the Ballymaloe relish is available in some supermarkets.

Full of whiskey and cheese I sat down to enjoy lunch, canapés, quiche and salad, a selection of desserts and of course an amazing cheese board. After lunch and much deliberation they announced the winner, the Supreme Champion UK of the International Cheese Awards 2015 was the Greenfields Dairy with their delicious crumbly Lancashire cheese.

The giant 83,000 sq ft cheese marquee was home to what felt like hundreds of trade stands, small artisan cheese producers to huge dairies as well as supermarkets; there was a chance to try every kind of cheese under the sun, and from all over the world.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of the awards, I made a short and slightly shonky film, but it gives you an idea of just how much cheese was there to be judged – this year I believe there were 4,615 entries – a record breaking year for the awards!

For me at least it was an incredibly memorable day, I became a cheese judge (with badge to prove it), I met some delicious cheeses and I made some new friends. Here’s to next years awards – sláinte!

My Mummy's Pennies

Summer Cocktails – Gin Fizz Recipe with PLj PLUS Giveaway

In 2007 we went on our first summer beach holiday as a couple, we were going to a wedding in Cyprus and we booked a lovely hotel in Protaras. At first we were a bit taken aback by all the cheesy bars, but we soon learned to embrace them and their cheap cocktails. Quickly I discovered the most popular cocktail in the resort – the Gin Fizz. It wasn’t hard to see why this was so popular, not only was it delicious but it was really refreshing, which is what you need on a sultry summer evening.

gin fizz recipe

I was recently sent a bottle of PLj to try, it is 100% lemon juice, unsweetened, nothing added and it’s a really handy way of having fresh lemon juice whenever you need it. My first port of call was to add a dash to a cool glass of soda water, it was sharp and refreshing, but it was crying out to be made into a Gin Fizz.

gin fizz recipe

After a good deal of wholly scientific experimentation (hic), here’s my recipe. It’s incredibly simple and was very reminiscent of hot summer evenings in Cyprus –

Gin Fizz Recipe

Ingredients:
2 shots of gin
1/2 shot PLj lemon juice
1 heaped teaspoon of icing sugar
Soda water
Ice
A slice of lemon

Method:
1. In a cocktail shaker (or a jug with a whisk if you discover your cocktail shaker has been packed away in the loft) put your gin, PLj lemon juice, the sugar and a few cubes of ice and shake like billy-o. Check it to see if it’s sweet enough for you, you can always add more sugar if you want to.
2. Pour into a tall glass filled with ice and top with soda water and stir it through, garnish with a slice of lemon, and perhaps a spring of mint if you have it.

I’m giving away a fantastic Summer Cocktail Hamper with PLj so you can make your own delicious and refreshing cocktails! To enter this great competition, please complete the rafflecopter widget below…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only.
2. There is no cash alternative offered.
3. To enter, please use the rafflecopter widget above. Please ensure you leave some contact details or I will not be able to contact you if you win.
4. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a Summer Cocktail kit from PLj.
5. The competition will close on 23rd August 2015.
6. The winner will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode for delivery purposes.
7. Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the prize out to the winners, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for prizes being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
8. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this competition.

My Sunday Photo 26.7.15

Abney Hall

Preview: International Cheese Awards 2015

It hardly seems like a year since I returned home from the International Cheese Awards, a bag of cheese slung over my shoulder and the inspiration for a thousand cheese boards filling my head. Since my invitation to this years International Cheese Awards arrived, I have been eagerly watching the construction of the massive (massive is an understatement really, it’s 83,000 sq ft) marquee on Twitter and sneaking a peak at some of the entries.

This year is the 118th International Cheese Awards, which are held as part of the Nantwich Show in Cheshire on 28th (judging and trade day) and 29th July 2015 (show day). This year there have been a record breaking 4,611 entries across literally hundreds of different categories of cheese, with entries from small artisan producers, to huge dairies and supermarkets. Last years Supreme Champion  was the Nottingham based Colston Bassett Dairy with their Whole Blue Stilton, and rather delicious it was too.

I’ll be there on trade day, but the 29th July sees the International Cheese Awards marquee open to the public as part of the Nantwich Show. You can take a tour of the trade stands, try a few cheeses and book in and watch a cookery demonstration by a celebrity chef – James Martin, Will Holland, Jonathon Harrison and Sean Wilson will all be there, and last year I bumped into Aldo Zilli too!

The Nantwich Show is a brilliant day out for all the family, there’s so much to see and do, the Nantwich Show is apparently the biggest agricultural show in the UK, with everything from cows, sheep, pigs and pigeons to horticulture and honey. Take a look at the vintage cars and agricultural machinery as well as the latest in tractor technology! I know my boy would love it there!

The morning of the judging day is a hectic whirlwind of activity, with the marquee packed full of huge wheels of cheese, it is a sight to behold and enough to keep several large villages in cheese for a lifetime. The white-coated judges patrolling the tables, deliberating over their category and choosing the very best cheese. It’s an opportunity for non judges like me to take a turn around the trade stands and explore new cheeses and other dairy products (though chocolate cheese has yet to find a place in my heart).

The afternoon of judging day will this year see 1,144 people sitting down to a delicious four course meal, followed by the announcement of the winners and of course the supreme champion. The International Cheese Awards is the largest dairy hospitality event in the UK and the highlight of my foodie calendar!

You can find out more about the International Cheese Awards on their website, and you can find out more information  and buy tickets to the Nantwich Show here.

International Cheese Awards

Kitchens of the future – dystopian nightmare or dream come true?

I try not to think too much about the future, sometimes futural things frighten me, I suspect it’s because I spend too much time watching dystopian films and imagining the worst. Partly it’s a fear of change and partly it’s because I don’t think me and hoverboards will get on so well.

This week I read an article about kitchens of the future and whilst I was secretly excited about the idea of a robot chef, I have watched some of the current series of Humans and wouldn’t want it making eyes at my husband. That’s a real concern, he is a good looking lad after all.

kitchens of the future

Don’t get me wrong, some of the things in the article sound pretty useful; such as general improvements in water and energy consumption. The kitchen is one of the most power hungry rooms in the house. I know our dishwasher and washing machine are on at least once a day, no matter how energy efficient our current models are, they are an expensive luxury.

What do I really need? The thing I hate most is tidying up, so I’d like a giant robot arm to come and put away everything I’ve got out and used while I was cooking and then give the work surfaces a good scrub so they’re clean for next time, maybe load and unload the dishwasher for me too.

One thing I’m terrible at is sorting the fridge out, so I occasionally happen upon something lurking at the back which is older, much older than it ought to be and then I have to bin it without getting any of it’s ‘juice of decomposition’ on the floor. Yes. Ick. A device to deal with that would be pretty good. Something to sort the fridge before Environmental Health get involved.

If I could have anything at all it would be a new fridge freezer. I know that’s nothing radical, but ours has been dying a slow death for a while now. It’s starting to become a bit of a health and safety issue, it’s my birthday soon so I’ll be asking for vouchers or money from relatives so I can replace it before it finally turns nasty and kills one of us!

In collaboration with Legal & General

I had a Twitter copycat

A funny thing happened to me over the weekend. In an idle moment I went to search my Twitter username “HodgePodgeDays“, it’s something I do occasionally just to see if anything comes up that I haven’t been directly @’d in. As I got to the end of the username another account flashed up with  my logo, so I clicked on it and found my account had been cloned. They’d stolen my logo, the background which includes a picture of my four year old son and my bio which reads “Lifestyle & Parent Blogger, Copywriter, Writer for Hire & Occasional PR”, and my Twitter name was almost identical, with just a couple of the letters transposed – I was livid!

twitter copycat

Naturally I had a bit of a panic. Who would do this and why? For what nefarious reason have they done this? Some suggested it was to blag “free” things from PRs using a similar name, maybe it was to send spam to people, maybe there was another reason. I’ll never really find out. I’ve spent over two years building my Twitter profile, making friends and establishing myself as a blogger and they were attempting to capitalise on this. I was angry.

I checked out the Twitter support page and filled out a report, citing that someone was impersonating my account. They sent me back this email…

twitter copycat

Before Twitter would even look at my report they needed government issued photo ID and evidence that HodgePodgeDays was me. It seemed a bit of a faff, but I sent them a copy of my passport, a screenshot of my blog dashboard, a screenshot of my domain registration, a screenshot of the copycat account and a screenshot of my Twitter account. I sent this off on Sunday afternoon as requested.

I then spent several days checking occasionally to see if the copycat account was still there. It was. The bloggers in the North West Bloggers group were brilliant, some reported the account as spam, I think most checked to see if they’d been copied too, a few found that they had and reported it to Twitter too.

Twitter had given me a report number, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a way to check the status of my report – which I think is a bit of a flaw in the system. In the meantime friends continued to report the account on my behalf as spam and I began to lose what little faith I had in Twitter to do the right thing.

This afternoon I finally got an email from Twitter, they’d suspended the account, specifically for being a spam account, which seems a bit odd, but at least it’s been removed.

twitter copycat

Going forward I’m going to be more aware that this kind of thing happens, I never really expected it to happen to me. I think it’s made me more aware and I’ll be looking out for copycat accounts on behalf of my fellow bloggers from now on.

It was a faff and a worry, but hopefully that’s the last of it. Keep your eyes peeled folks – there’s a copycat about!

Pond dipping at Abney Hall

Abney Hall is one of my favourite places to visit and it’s virtually on our doorstep. It’s just outside Cheadle village and is less than ten minutes in the car from our house. It has everything a little adventurer and his fairly exhausted parents need to while away a couple of hours. We went over the weekend with the promise of some pond dipping and an ice cream, what more could a small boy want?

Abney Hall

We parked up and walked round to the pond. The pond was looking incredibly healthy, with water lilies in bud and lots of ducks and birds in and around the water. Last year the pond suddenly developed a sink hole and all the water drained away, so it was good to see it looking in such fine fettle.

We found a suitable spot and tried pond dripping. There wasn’t much to be found, but the small boy enjoys the process of pond dipping as much as catching something, and every good fisherman knows they can’t catch something every time. His Dad however did catch some tin cans and other rubbish, which we put in our bucket and took away to a bin. I wish people were more considerate!

Abney Hall

Having no luck at the pond, we walked up and around near the Hall and then down the steps to the stream. As a child I used to paddle in the stream which always looks clear and cool and it’s quite shallow so it’s great for (supervised) little ones to play in. Plus there’s the stunning backdrop of Abney Hall to admire!

Abney Hall

The boys didn’t manage to catch anything in the stream either, so we decided it was time for some ice cream. I’d already managed to cross the stream (without getting my feet wet) so the boys had to follow. The small boy was a little nervous, but managed it by holding on tight to Daddy’s hand. Later he had to cross some stepping stones over slightly deeper water, which he did all by himself.

Abney Hall

We walked round to the cafe, spotting a heron, cows, a squirrel and several different kinds of birds along the way. We had a lovely few hours, a nice walk and a bit of an adventure. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon!

My Sunday Photo 19.7.15

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