Our houses are so much more than just shelter from the elements. It’s the place where we expect to find peace; feel safe; be ourselves; relax; represent who we are; have friends over, and most of all, be happy!
As an excited first-time homeowner, it’s so important that the place that Mr.D and I call home is somewhere that brings us a lot of peace and happiness – a place that we can’t wait to come home to every day. And happiness doesn’t always come from designer kitchens, finished basements, and Olympic sized pools – although I wouldn’t say no to any of those! But quite often it’s the simple things that that make a house a home and bring a sense of peace, happiness, and well-being. These are the things that make mine a happy home.
1. LET’S GET PERSONAL
Many of us would like to live in the kind of home that wouldn’t look out of place among the pages of Home and Garden – or in my case, MTV Cribs! But in trying to do so, we get so bogged down with the details concerning our chosen theme or colour scheme that we discard anything that doesn’t ‘go’ with the decor – even though quite often these are the very things that reflect our personality and gives the home we live in a sense of identity and signs of life.
I’m often quite underwhelmed by homes that don’t seem to contain anything personal or tell me anything about the people who live there. To me it feels a little soulless. So I love to see photographs, artwork, holiday souvenirs, collections on display, a library of well-loved books, home made furnishings, home-grown flowers in a vase… anything that tells a story and says something about the habits, interests and personality about the owner of the house.
True there should be some flow between personal objects and the style of the house but with a little imagination, you can bring together the most eclectic of objects bound together in your own inimitable style. So our house is most definitely going to refect our love of travel, rock music, food, family and friends, 1980s nostalgia, angels and… Lego! Now that’s some story to tell!
2. DISPLAY PHOTOS
There’s hardly anyone out there who doesn’t carry some kind of device for taking photos which means that they can literally snap away any time, any place, anywhere. Taking photos has never been easier. But unfortunately most people have a tendency to just leave the photos on their phones or tablets or upload them on to social media and then just forget about them. When I worked in a gift shop, most of my customers would only really buy photo frames or albums as a last resort. “Well that’s what Facebook’s for,” they’d say.
Well I personally think that’s a waste of a good photo.
When I lived at home with my family, I was photo mad. My room was a shrine to me and Mr.D. which some people found nauseating but who cares! Then I framed photos and put them all over the house which annoyed my family as they kept knocking them over. Which in turn annoyed me if the photos were just left lying there, or worse the frame was broken. And when we moved to the States, I couldn’t bring my mammoth collection with me but I made sure I had enough to put all over the apartment.
I love displaying photos and I don’t think a home feels complete without them. There’s nothing like seeing the faces of the people you love most every day, especially when they can’t be with you in person as often as you’d like. Each photo tells a story and gives you the chance to relive memories. I’ve also found that photos can be a real talking point when you have guests over – especially with people you don’t know very well.
And there’s an array of gorgeous frames available to suit everyone’s taste, to simple and elegant to colourful and funky. Yep, I’ve got the lot!
3. A SOFT SPOT FOR SOFT FURNISHINGS
As the child of parents who own a soft furnishings business, I definitely have a liking for soft furnishings – much more than Mr. D does. I think they add a touch of luxury and a lot of comfort and really make a house feel like a home. True, I’m not into doilies, you’ll never find chairbacks or armcaps on my sofa, and I’m not sure how fussed I am about tablecloths.
But I know that I’m most definitely a fan of curtains. I appreciate the beauty of a well dressed window as well as the practicalities of providing privacy and retaining warmth. Beautiful bedding is a must; beanbags and floor cushions provide extra, informal seating for guests, and I don’t believe that a couch is really a couch unless is got throws – perfect for snuggling under when you’re watching TV or surfing the net – and a truckload of cushions. Not that Mr. D would agree with me!
And what I love most about soft furnishings is that it really is the quickest, most convenient, and possibly the cheapest way of instantly changing the appearance of a room.
4. SIMPLY SCENTSATIONAL
Like songs, certain aromas are highly evocative and have an effect on our moods, feelings and well-being. But quite often how fab – or unfab – your home smells is often overlooked.
When I used to live in a house-share, some of the highly pungent foods that my housemates used to cook would make me want to gag. I would have to hold my breath as I walked into the kitchen and I would be afraid that the not-so-sweet fragrances would be lingering on my clothes. And I couldn’t even escape it in my bedroom where the dreaded smell would be wafting up into my room. So even though I do have happy memories of my time in the house-share, this was not one of them!
But pleasant aromas can have a positive effect on us and can make us feel refreshed, calm, energised and can induce sleep. Everyone knows why people eager to sell their homes are keen to have the aroma of freshly baked goodies wafting around their home, and its that same smell that can be delightfully welcoming to a guest visiting your home. That and freshly ground coffee, and beautifully-scented cut flowers.
I’m not really a fan of air freshener or highly fragranced cleaning products with that ghastly synthetic smell, so I wouldn’t use those. But I do love good quality scented candles and incense sticks; good old-fashioned drawer liners and lavender sachets; essential oils being used in oil burners, floral-scented water spritzed over bedding, and an aromatic bath doesn’t just do wonders for you but also makes your bathroom smell divine.
And although I wouldn’t normally have it in the house the rest of the year, I really don’t think Christmas is Christmas without some festive-looking and festival smelling pot pourri!
5. MAKE TEA-TIME A REAL TREAT
It wasn’t anything as grand as afternoon tea in a posh hotel or quaint tea-room but growing up, tea-time was a pretty big deal in my family – especially when I went to Granddad’s house. Everything stopped for tea! I guess that’s where I get my love of afternoon tea from.
Unfortunately with the hours most of us work, tea at four o’clock every day is impossible. It would however make a fabulous, relaxing weekend treat – just what’s needed to help you unwind. And why not go to town by using real china, cake stands and serving lots of scrumptious, sweet, creamy delicacies?
There’s no reason why tea-time at home shouldn’t be every bit as enjoyable as at your local tea shop.
6. HAVE A BAKE-IN!
Closely linked to number five, baking used to be regarded as something that your mum or gran would do especially if you needed cheering up or deserved a treat. But for a long time it wasn’t really considered cool or especially trendy. When we wanted a birthday cake or fresh bread, we headed over to our local bakery rather than whip something up ourselves. We all live such hectic lives that when we get home after a hard day’s work, the last thing we feel like doing is creaming butter and sugar!
But baking can be relaxing, enjoyable and therapeutic. And shows such as Great British Bake Off, Masterchef and Next Great Baker have reignited our enthusiasm for baking and enabled us to get happy with the mixing bowl again.
Baking is an activity which involves all five of the senses. Who doesn’t love the sight of prettily iced cupcakes; the texture of bread as it’s being kneaded; the taste of choc chip cookies; the aroma of delicious home baking, and best of all, the sound of everyone happily tucking in!
If there’s something else I think that makes a home complete other than framed photos out on display, it’s candles – and lots of them. And if they’re scented candles then that’s even better. There’s nothing like the cosy, warm glow of candlelight to bring that touch of magic into your home. It’s great for when you want to unwind, meditate, or get romantic. Candlelight is also great to fall asleep to but for this I would strongly recommend the common sense option of battery operated candles.
8. CREATE YOUR OWN SPACE
When Mr.D and I lived in London, we had to make do with a flat that was a little on the cosy side! But despite this, Mr.D and I both marked out places that were our ‘spots.’ These were places where we could put our feet up; watch a bit of telly; read; have a cuppa; blog or do crafts (me!) play computer games (definitely Mr. D!) and have it looking the way we wanted it to look.
When you live with others, I think it’s important for you to pick a place in the house that you can call your own: a place where you can talk on the phone; read a novel; write etc. and generally just slow down, enjoy your own company and be lost in your own thoughts. Absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Your own space could be a comfy armchair by the window; a window seat with a nearby bookcase containing your fave novels; a corner of the room with bean bags, floor cushions and a side table with all your fave knick-knacks on it. In fact who even says it has to be indoors? Maybe you could relax on a blanket beside gorgeous, sweetly scented rose bushes in your garden, or a bench under a tree.
In one episode of Wife Swap, I came across a lady who had built a thirty thousand dollar meditation feature in her garden, which she never used for meditating but she did like sitting out there and admiring it (admittedly, we don’t all have the budget for that!)
9. TO READ OR NOT TO READ
Knowing that printed literature is fast becoming obsolete makes me feel sad as just looking at a book puts me in a better mood. To say that I am a bookworm is something of an understatement. I grew up with books, newspapers, and magazines and I cannot imagine a world without them.
Yes, I know that E-readers are all the rage and that everyone reads newspapers and magazines online these days. But when I was growing up, the focal point of the sitting room were the bookshelves that contained Dad’s vast collection of books which he used to sit and read most evenings in ‘his space’. And I like the fact that some kind of reading material perched on a coffee table gives a home a nice ‘lived-in’ feel.
And taking a look at people’s bookshelves also tells you a lot about them. Mine reveal my love of crafts, writing, studying languages and chick lit. My mum’s extensive collection of recipe books gives away her love of cooking, being a bit of a feeder, and ambition to be the next Masterchef! My brother’s books show that he’s sports mad, while Mr. D’s reading material point towards being a Trekkie and avid watcher of Game Of Thrones and that he loved Brian Jacques books as a kid.
10. WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
Sleep: the one thing that most of us can’t get enough of and would never say no to more of – if only we had the time!
When I’m sleep deprived I am not a happy bunny but then, who is? That’s why it’s so important that your bedroom is a tranquil haven where you can nod off easily and get adequate hours of peaceful slumber. And when I’m not sleeping, my bedroom is the place where I lounge around, read, and meditate, so it really is the place where I get some much needed rest and relaxation.
That’s one of the reasons why I firmly believe that, if it can be helped, you should never use your bedroom for working or studying in. It should ideally be kept clutter-free and as device- free as possible which, yes I know is hard, but we all know how technological gadgets interfere with our sleep. And if you suffer from allergies like Mr. D and me, then its important to keep your sleeping area clean, tidy and dust-free.
Even though my bedroom when I lived at home was pretty loud (which wasn’t a problem for me) most people would generally decorate their rooms in calming, serene colours or darker colours which help them to nod off more easily. Use adequate blinds, curtains and poles for windows as early morning sunlight seeping into your room might cause you to wake up sooner than you would like.
You can decorate your home any way you like but it’s the people we love who bring the happiness and laughter into our homes. And being a born hostess who loves nothing better than to entertain, I love having friends over to watch movies, major sports games or to stay for the weekend. I enjoy throwing parties and gatherings; hosting formal dinner parties or informal supper nights, and my famous cocktail and canapés events.
After all what’s the point of having a beautiful home of you can’t share it with your amazing family and friends?
In less than twenty four hours time, we’ll know who will be the winner of The Great British Bake Off 2015.
The downside of this is that this year’s series of Bake Off will come to an end, so we’ll have to say goodbye to Mary, Paul, Mel and Sue, cakes, pies, biscuits, meringues, pastries and breads until we see them again next summer – though sadly we’ll have to bid farewell to the 2015 contestants forever!
I get lost in my own little world when The Great British Bake Off is on. I actually feel as though I’m in the midst of the tranquil English countryside where the Bake Off tent is pitched. All those pastel, candy shades of iced goodies appeal to the kid in me. And even though the bakers often feel flustered and panic-stricken, there’s something so calming about the gentle pursuit of baking. It also invokes memories of home life and family time because let’s face it, who didn’t have a mother, aunt or grandmother who didn’t whip up baked delicacies, and I remember that growing up, teatime was a pretty big deal. And of course, the show celebrates that great British tradition, afternoon tea – which I’m sure you all know I’m a huge fan of. And best of all, for one deliciously decadent hour every week, we can forget that healthy eating ever mattered!
I think it’s fair to say that The Great British Bake Off is my very own televised Disneyland!
Mr.D and I have loved this year’s series – not to mention it’s sister program An Extra Slice with the hilarious Jo Brand. I often find that when I’m hooked on one year’s series of any show, the following year’s will fall a little flat so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this series so much as I thought 2014 was brilliant. But this year has been equally fantastic and we thought the contestants were a delightful and mega-talented bunch. It was so hard to pick a favourite because I had a soft spot for so many of them including Alvin, Sandy, Nadia, Tamal, and Paul. We’ve been watching Bake Off since the third series and one of the things that I love about the show – apart from it developing my love of baking and further increasing my love of all things sweet – is the sense of camaraderie among the contestants and the way they’re always willing to pitch in and help each other out even though this is a competition, and this year’s series has been no different.
Everyone has their own idea about who will win the title of Great British Bake Off Winner 2015 but I personally cannot make my mind up between the finalists Ian Cumming, Nadia Hussain and Tamal Ray. A lot of the work they’ve done has been highly original and really had the wow factor. Some people may have thought that Ian’s chocolate well last week was too simplistic but I thought it was amazing and showed that he really thought outside the box. All three have worked hard to secure their place in the final, and they’re all so likeable that it’s impossible to decide who to root for, so I’m cheering them all on!
Tomorrow’s final is going to be a real show stopper in itself. It’ll be interesting to see what culinary creations Ian, Nadia, and Tamal conjure up. I cannot wait!
As everyone knows, I really like the cooler months of the year rather than the blazing hot ones ( I don’t need to be told I’m strange – I already know that!) So I didn’t mind when it was pelting down with rain last Friday. I didn’t mind at all. I just wished I could have been at home watching the rain come down from the comfort of my own home rather than be outside in the rain, freezing in my lightweight summer clothes while carrying three times my weight in groceries!
Thankfully Mr. D. was on hand to give me a, um, hand with the shopping but even that couldn’t take away from the discomfort I felt as the rainwater slowly began to seep into my totally inappropriate ballet-style pumps. Just then an image of a steaming hot mug of chocolaty goodness with enough cream and marshmallows to concern Jamie Oliver flashed into my head.
“You know what?” I began as I turned to Mr.D. who makes carrying a multitude of grocery bags look so effortless, “this is perfect hot chocolate weather.” All I wanted to do was get home, change out of my damp clothes and into comfy pjs, and sit by the fireplace, sipping gloriously thick hot chocolate and munching on toasted goodies. OK, so I don’t have a fireplace but the radiator with a few candles around it would do! Then I realised – we didn’t have any hot chocolate. And we hadn’t thought to pick any up. But then again why would we? Summertime’s all about the Pimm’s and cider. Or perhaps I should say, it should be all about the Pimm’s and cider. But at that exact moment all I wanted was hot chocolate and I could very easily have kicked myself for not buying any, if it wasn’t for the fact that I felt as though I had a swimming pool at the end of each foot!
It seems strange to be writing a post that’s better suited to the Autumn months than in what should be a blazing hot July, but it did get me thinking about cosy and warming suppers; the kind that’d be a real treat after a trip out in the cold, wind, rain, and possibly even snow. Or when you’re indoors, all snug and cosy while it’s chucking down buckets outside. Or perhaps you’re just in need of some good old-fashioned comfort food. There’s no special occasion for this supper; you can prepare this when you need something warm and comforting. None of the following should be served cold; everything should be either piping hot, warm or lightly toasted. You could serve all the following courses as a kind of high tea if you really wanted to go to town, especially if you are having friends over. But the main idea here is to keep it simple (who wants to do a whole lot of cooking when you’re looking for some much needed comfort food?) so I would pick one or two of the food items and serve it with a hot drink. Furthermore, unless you’re going for your own brand of comfort food, a lot of the foods listed here are deliciously stodgy and high in carbs, so I would choose carefully! Oh, and a lot of it will most probably be dripping in butter…
The good thing about this kind of supper is that even if you’ve invited your friends to come over and join you, there’s really no need to go to town on dressing up or creating an elaborately decorated table. The key here is simplicity, comfort and warmth. So comfy trackies, sweaters, pjs, robes and slippers are ideal. Oh and don’t forget the blankets!
Sandwiches should ideally be made with thick-sliced, soft bread and toasted:
Bacon and tomato
Sausage and mushroom
Chocolate and hazelnut spread
Cheese and tomato
Cheese and ham
Serve with warm crusty bread:
Chicken and sweetcorn
BREADS AND PASTRIES
Don’t forget the butter, jam, marmalade etc:
Oat and raisin cookies
Jacket potato with cheese and bacon bits
Kipper with poached egg
Egg on toast
Mushroom on toast
Spinach and cheese muffins
Apricot tea bread
Tea – of any kind
Hot chocolate – with a splash of your favourite liqueur for the adults
Hot apple toddy
Hot milk with honey
And I’m well aware that we’re not all fortunate enough to live in a house with a fabulous fireplace (I know I don’t!) so we’ll just have to crank up the heating a notch and dream of romantic, roaring log fires! And you can always create that cosy glow with dimmed lighting, candlelight, and if you really want to push the boat out, fairy lights.
Here in Britain, we celebrated Mothering Sunday back in March, but tomorrow people in the rest of the world will be celebrating motherhood and honouring the very special women in their lives: mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, godmothers and even aunties. So what could be a more special way to spoil the extraordinary women in our lives then by treating them to a decadent afternoon tea – which if you ask me, is an occasion made for mums!
In case you didn’t know by now, I really love the idea of a themed afternoon tea (come to think of it, I love the idea of a themed anything!) and when it comes to a Mother’s Day afternoon tea party, vintage is the only way to go, with mismatched, floral, china teacups, an elaborate cake stand, bird cages, and decorations in the form of pearls and lace. Mothers are obviously all different, so you’ll cater your tea party to your mum’s tastes but inspiration for my ideas have come my own mother who’s pretty big on tradition. Chocolate and flowers also feature quite heavily as they tend to be gifts we traditionally give our mothers on their special day. Colours for this event could be in the traditional pink and lilac, or any pastel hue, or maybe even cream and gold for a classic vintage feel. With the weather getting warmer, there’s a good chance that you could hold your tea party outdoors.
When thinking about the menu, I went for old-school English classics, real ‘like mother used to make’ stuff, with an added touch of elegance and luxury. After all you can’t get more English than afternoon tea, so English classics it is! The list below gives food ideas of what you can include as part of your afternoon tea party menu:
- Egg and cress
- Cucumber and cream cheese
- Ham and English mustard
- Smoked salmon and cream cheese
- Rare roast beef and horseradish
- Rose petals with honey
- Prawn mayonnaise
- Smoked salmon soufflés
- Mini sausage rolls
- Blinis with smoked salmon
- Mini Cornish pasties
- Parmesan thins
- Roast beef-filled Yorkshire puddings
- Goats’ cheese rarebit
- Spinach and parmesan muffins
- Cheese straws
- Potted shrimp on melba toast
- Trout pate on melba toast
- Mini chicken and asparagus pie
SWEET SCONES/TOASTED BREADS
- Tea loaf
- Tea cakes
- English muffins
- Scones with clotted cream and rose petal jam
CAKES, TARTS AND OTHER SWEET TREATS:
- Victoria sponge cake
- Apple pie with cinnamon cream
- Chocolate fudge cake
- Lemon drizzle cake
- Cherry Cake
- Jam tartlets
- Battenburg cake
- Rose and raspberry or chocolate macaroons
- Fruit cake
- Mini Bakewell tarts
- Chocolate mousse with sugared violets in shot glasses
- Mini English trifles
- Pink and lilac iced buns
- Lavender shortbread
- Chocolate éclairs
- Strawberry shortcake
- Custard slices
- Frozen strawberry daiquiris
- Mixed berry tea
- White chocolate mocha
- Jasmine tea
- Pink lemonade
- Chilled Chrysanthemum tea
- Raspberry bellini
- Cava with nasturtiums
- Pomegranate Martini
- Chamomile tea
- Champagne with hibiscus
- Chocolate flavoured cocktails
Don’t forget the extras you need to serve such as butter, clotted cream, honey and a selection of jams to go with the toasted breads and scones. And for the savouries, you may need to provide a variety of chutneys, sauces and pickles.
Here’s a recipe for the unusual but delightful sounding rose petal sandwiches which is taken from The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree
ROSE PETAL SANDWICHES
60 dried organic rose petals
Few drops of rose essence
25g (1oz) butter, at room temperature
12 slices of soft white bread
6 tsp lavender honey
1. Soak the dried rose petals in a bowl of cold water with the rose essence for 20mins.
2. Drain and set aside.
3. Butter the bread.
4. Spread honey over 6 of the slices.
5. Divide the petals between 6 slices of honeyed bread.
6. Top with remaining slices.
7. Cut off crusts.
8. Cut each sandwich diagonally into four.
9. Serve immediately.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!!
Easter is just around the corner and we are looking forward to yet another gloriously long weekend. For me, long weekends mean gatherings, socialising, fun, food as well as a healthy dose of r n’r – and I reckon afternoon tea combines all of these elements perfectly. I’m a huge fan of afternoon teas, and when it’s a holiday-themed afternoon tea, then that’s even better! One of the great things about hosting an Easter/Spring themed afternoon tea party is that if it’s a gloriously sunny day, you might just be able to hold your party outdoors. Inspiration for this party comes from colours and ideas associated with this time of year as well as food that is in season. Colours in soft, muted pastel shades are typical of Spring, and chicks, bunnies, Spring flowers, eggs and chocolate are what springs to mind (excuse the pun!) when we think of Easter, so these will probably play a role in your choice of food, drinks and décor. The list below gives food ideas of what you can include as part of your Spring-themed afternoon tea party menu:
- Egg and cress
- Cucumber and cream cheese
- Chicken salad
- Chicken and pesto
- Ricotta and apricot jam
- Egg and asparagus
- Prawn cocktail
- Scotch eggs
- Mini asparagus and quail’s egg tartlets
- Mini Yorkshire puddings with lamb and mint gravy
- Pea and mint soup in shot glasses
- Bite-size lamb samosas
- Chicken tikka on bite-size naan bread with mint raita
- Spinach and ricotta/feta in filo pastry
- Cheese and spring onion scones
- Broccoli and spinach mini quiche
SWEET SCONES/TOASTED BREADS
- Hot cross buns
- Fruit loaf
- Apricot muffins
- English muffins
- White chocolate and raspberry scones
- Rosewater and vanilla scones
CAKES, TARTS AND OTHER SWEET TREATS:
- Lemon cupcakes
- Chocolate fudge cake
- Carrot cake
- Simnel Cake
- Mini rhubarb and custard tartlets
- Crème egg chocolate brownies
- Pastel coloured macaroons
- Chocolate whoopie pies
- Lavender shortbread
- Raspberry panna cotta in shot glasses
- Mini chocolate and cherry trifles
- Lemon tea
- Raspberry tea
- Vanilla latte
- Mint tea
- Elderflower cordial
- Shot glasses of thick chocolate milk
- Chocolate flavoured cocktails
Don’t forget the extras you need to serve such as butter, clotted cream, honey and a selection of jams to go with the toasted breads and scones. And for the savouries, you may need to provide a variety of chutneys, sauces and pickles. And now I’m going to leave you with an awesome recipe for raspberry and white chocolate macarons. Yum!
- 130g pure icing sugar
- 110g almond meal
- 2 egg whites
- 65g caster sugar
- 4-5 drops of pink food colouring
White chocolate and raspberry ganache:
- 50ml double cream
- 100g white chocolate
- 45g raspberries, coarsely chopped
- Preheat oven to 140C.
- Combine icing sugar and almond meal in a food processor until finely ground.
- Triple-sift into a large bowl and set aside.
- Whisk two-thirds of the egg whites in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks form.
- Add caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously until fully combined and mixture is thick and glossy.
- Add food colouring.
- Stir in almond mixture in batches until fully combined and mixture slowly slides down sides of bowl when bowl is tilted.
- Add remaining egg white to loosen mixture.
- Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle.
- Pipe 3cm-diameter rounds of mixture onto heavy baking-paper-lined oven trays.
- Stand until a crust begins to form which should take around 5 hours.
- Bake macarons until firm.
- Cool completely on trays.
- Meanwhile, for white chocolate and raspberry ganache, bring cream just to the boil in a small saucepan.
- Remove from heat.
- Add chocolate, stand until melted, stir until smooth and glossy.
- Refrigerate until firm yet still pliable then stir until smooth.
- Add raspberries, stir to form a ripple effect, then spoon a teaspoon of ganache onto half the macarons. Sandwich with remaining macarons and refrigerate until set.
- Macarons will keep for 1-2 days refrigerated in an airtight container.
Christmas day may be over but that doesn’t mean that the fun times should stop!
I absolutely love Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year and I don’t care what anyone says – it’s not just for kids! One of the things I love about Christmas is the chance to eat, drink and be merry (is that three things?) It’s also great that you have the chance to catch up with people you might not see a great deal of throughout the year, and that you have time to relax. Furthermore, could there be a more aesthetically pleasing time of the year that Christmas? This year I’m super lucky that I will have two glorious weeks off work. Yes, I know it’ll fly by but right now I’m just going to wallow in my super relaxed state of bliss!
So I think that the Christmas break is the perfect opportunity to indulge in a festive themed afternoon tea party. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a huge fan of afternoon tea. In fact, I’m a huge fan of anything that involves, food, drink, people and conversation. But there’s something extra special about having afternoon tea. I suppose that it’s because we don’t often find the time to have a real, proper afternoon tea so it’s become something of a treat.
And when you combine afternoon tea with my most favourite event of the whole year, Christmas, then you have a delightfully themed tea.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you have a Christmas afternoon tea on Christmas Day itself. By the time you’ve devoured the turkey with all the trimmings followed by a helping of Christmas pudding, tea will be the last thing on your mind! But the good news is that you can hold your Christmas themed tea at any time during the Christmas holidays which generally last for twelve days beginning on Christmas Day.
The beauty of hosting a Christmas afternoon tea during the season is that many of your family and friends are likely to be in town in order to celebrate the holidays, so it will be a lovely way to spend more time with them before they go home. There’s also no need to buy decorations for your tea – because it’ll already be there: the tree and other decorations will still be up; you might have poinsettias on the table; your fancy Christmas table cloth is likely to be adorning the table, and you may have lots of accessories in traditional Christmas colours.
Furthermore, it’s also a great way to use up any leftovers that you might have. Everyone knows that when it comes to Christmas, we really go town, buying/baking/cooking as though we’re facing the apocalypse. So there’s no need to prepare too much food, and in addition, any Christmas type food items that need to be bought are likely to be reduced in supermarkets after Christmas.
The list below gives food ideas of what you can include on your afternoon tea party menu which include typically Christmassy give festive flavours of Christmas:
Smoked salmon and cream cheese
Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce
Ham and chutney
Ham, brie and apple
Bacon and chipolata
Cream cheese and cranberry
Cheddar cheese and chutney
Ricotta and orange marmalade
Mini sausage rolls
Mini Yorkshire puddings with turkey, stuffing and gravy
Filo parcels with cheese and cranberry sauce
Pigs in blankets
Baked brie with cranberries
Cheese and bacon vol-au-vents
SWEET SCONES/TOASTED BREADS
Slices of Panettone
Cranberry and dark chocolate scones
Orange and cranberry scones
CAKES, TARTS AND OTHER SWEET TREATS:
Spiced apple pies
Mini yule logs
Orange and walnut cake
Cranberry and orange jelly in shot glasses
Sherry trifle served in teacups
Ginger and cinnamon tea
Apple and cranberry fruit tea
Hot apple toddy
Spiced pumpkin latte
Shot glasses of thick hot chocolate flavoured with rum or Bailey’s
Remember to serve butter and jams such as fig, mulled plum or orange curd to go with the toasted breads and scones, and you might need some clotted cream if you’re serving scones which you could flavour with spices, orange zest or brandy if you wish. You might also need some chutneys and sauces to go with the savouries.
I found a delightful recipe for chocolate and orange scones, by Ellie Simmonds, which I have tried before so know it’s delicious and would be perfect as part of your Christmas tea.
700g/1lb 9oz self-raising flour
150g/5½oz caster sugar
2 large oranges, finely grated zest of both and juice of one orange
150g/5½oz chocolate drops
200ml/7fl oz whole milk, plus extra for brushing
- Preheat the oven to 210C/400F/Gas 6.
- Lightly butter two baking trays.
- Sift the flour into a bowl.
- Rub in the butter using your hands until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the sugar, chocolate drops and orange zest.
- In a measuring jug, mix the milk with the juice of one orange.
- Add to the flour mixture gradually until the dough just comes together.
- You may not need all the liquid. Be careful not to overwork the scone dough.
- Roll out the dough to approximately 2cm/1in thickness and cut out scones using a 5-6cm/2-2½in cutter.
- Transfer the scones to the buttered baking trays, brush the tops with milk and bake in the centre of the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown.
- Remove from the oven and cool on wire rack.
- Serve with clotted cream and satsumas.
I bought a book today which is absolutely, fantastically, smack-you-in-the-face awesome! It’s called The Vintage Tea Party Book and it’s by – I just love her name – Angel Adoree.
I’m a huge fan of books about tea parties, dinner parties and home entertaining because it’s based on something I love to do – have a house full of people eating, drinking and having a bloody good time! Angel says in her book that her parents ‘ have always been motivated by feeding people’s souls with food laughter and cocktails,’ – and that pretty much sums up the story of my life! And like Angel, I think my own parents played a big part in my love of home entertaining as it wasn’t unusual for them to have dinner parties and gatherings at home when I was growing up. I was allowed to join in even though I should have been tucked up in bed. But I grew up with memories of Dad’s awful jokes; raucous laughter; happy people, and empty dishes as everyone loved Mum’s cooking. So it’s no surprise that when I grew up I had an overwhelming desire to recreate those fabulous evenings.
The first thing you notice about the cover of The Vintage Tea Party Book is the shades of red, white and blue, and the images of top hats, monocles, pocket watches, Union Jacks, pipes, a cake stand, china teacups and teapots, pearls, butterflies and rose buds. What you get is a cross between a quintessential British vibe with full-on vintage glamour – two themes which feature heavily in this book. This suits The Vintage Tea Party Book down to a, well, tea!
The cover also explains that The Vintage Tea Party Book is ‘a complete guide to hosting the perfect tea party,’ but in reality it is so much more than that. What you essentially get is Angel Adoree between a hardback cover. We get a glimpse into the author’s life with pictures of her family, friends, and some childhood snaps. There are also quite a few pics of the present day Angel; a buxom lady with cherry red lips, and hair the exact same colour worn in a victory roll.
We hear about her childhood, work, entrance into the world of business, appearance on BBC’s Dragon’s Den, and her business venture, The Vintage Patisserie. And as if her appearance wasn’t enough of an indicator, the reader also learns about Angel’s lifelong love affair with all things vintage.
The Vintage Tea Party Book contains more than just recipes for a good tea party. There are ideas about how to host a party; helpful hints about sourcing vintage items; fashion and beauty advice for those who want to look 1940s; grooming advice for men; a little about the history of the Union Jack, and suggestions for games to play. There’s also arts and crafts with instructions for sewing aprons; drying edible flowers; making a butterfly display, and more. And let’s not forget templates for invitation and thank you cards. All this before we even get to the recipes.
And you won’t be disappointed with the recipes. They’re divided into three parts: brunch, afternoon tea, and evening tea.
The usual tea time treats are still there but they’ve been elevated to a more sophisticated level. So instead of your usual cucumber finger sandwiches, you’ve got cream cheese and cucumber heart-shaped, open sandwiches, and there are lemon scones with lavender cream instead of your usual run-of-the-mill (but nonetheless delicious) scones with clotted cream. There are some really unusual and delicious sounding treats such as hot baked grapefruit; chilled raspberry soup; crab choux, and pork and lemon quail scotch eggs. I especially liked the sound of the romantic sounding rose panna cotta, and the very unusual rose petal sandwich. There are also recipes for a selection of drinks including iced teas, smoothies, cocktails and hot drinks. I particularly want to try the white chocolate mocha and the bourbon slush.
The Vintage Tea Party Book is most definitely going to be one of the most inspiring books I own, and I can’t wait to try out the recipes and put the other suggestions to good use.
And just to give you a hint of how awesome this book is, I’ve posted Angel’s recipe for the divine sounding cherry and dark chocolate trifle shots. Yum!
Angel Adoree, we adore thee!
CHERRY AND DARK CHOCOLATE TRIFLE SHOTS
6 sponge fingers, broken into small pieces
100ml cherry brandy or chocolate liqueur
50g dark chocolate, grated
1 pack of dark cherry jelly, made up according to instructions, then chopped up
jar of morello cherries
100ml whipped cream
- Arrange sponge finger pieces at the bottom of 6 shot glasses.
- Add 1 tablespoon of chosen liqueur to each one.
- Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon chocolate.
- Once the sponge fingers have absorbed the liqueur, add a heaped tablespoon of prepared jelly to each shot.
- Top with a few cherries and more grated chocolate.
- To serve, top each shot with a heaped tablespoon of custard, and a tablespoon of whipped cream.
- Finish with decorative sprinkle of grated chocolate.
The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree
As much as I’m a cappuccino and cake kind of girl, I do love a good tea party – especially if it’s done properly. I know in the States, an afternoon tea party is considered to be a quintessentially British pastime. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news guys, but most of us here in the ‘old country’ don’t even own a piece of fine bone China, never mind drink from it every day. And I really cannot remember the last time I used a saucer. On the rare occasions I do drink tea, it’s usually from a cardboard cup – just like my cappuccino!
But I do know a typically British afternoon tea party can be a fabulous occasional treat. We don’t have them every day or every week, but they are very popular for birthdays, bridal showers, little girls dressing-up tea parties, and just generally when you feel like being a little bit girly and going overboard with the hats, gloves, tea dresses and pearls. Told you it’s not an every day thing!
Tea parties can vary in terms of theme, style and food served, and there’ll be more about that in later posts. Although they are usually considered to be quite formal occasions, they don’t always have to be. They’re just great fun and a chance to have a cup of tea and a natter with a huge slice of cake. However formal or not, there are certain rules (for want of a better word) which need to be taken into account for a smooth running party.
So here’s the low-down on tea party etiquette.
TEA PARTY ETIQUETTE
IF YOU’RE THE HOSTESS:
1. Depending on how formal you want to be, you may want to send out invitations. Make sure you send these out in plenty of time.
2. Greet your guests as they come in. I don’t really think a handshake and a ‘how do you do?’ is necessary as one book suggested. Hello and a smile work just fine!
2. Show guests to the table and invite them to sit down. Whether you give them assigned seating or allow them to chose their own seats is up to you.
3. As the hostess, it’s your job to serve each of the courses and pour the tea. Make sure the conversation is flowing and your guests are eating and drinking.
4. It’s fine to arrange for someone else to do the serving if you wish so that you can concentrate on just having a good time with your guests.
5. If you are not able to get outside help and you have a fairly large number of guests, you can nominate a couple of friends to help serve – especially if you know that they are happy to do so!
IF YOU’RE THE GUEST:
1. It’s always nice to bring a small gift for the hostess.
2. Take your place at the table and wait to be served.
3. Keep your purse or handbag on your lap or behind your chair but not on the table.
4. When the party’s over, always send a handwritten note of thanks to your host – preferably within a week.
1. Place napkins on your lap. If you need to leave the table, leave the napkin on your chair and not on the table.
2. No reaching across the table for anything. If you’d like something, ask someone to pass it to you.
3. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat with your fingers – no one eats sandwiches with a knife and fork – but anything that has the potential to be messy should be eaten with a fork.
4. Remember that thick cream is for scones – not for tea.
5. Take small bites of the sandwiches no matter how tiny they are. Don’t cram a whole one into your mouth. Now is not the time for party pieces!
6. When eating scones or muffins, break off a bite-size piece, then put a small amount of butter and/or jam on it. If clotted cream is being served, a small amount can be dabbed on after the jam.
7. Don’t dip the sugar tong or sugar spoon into your tea if you are taking sugar.
8. Stir the tea with your teaspoon and then place the teaspoon on the saucer behind the cup.
9. If your tea is too hot, simply leave it on the table to cool. Don’t blow on it to cool the tea down.
10. Slurping is not acceptable!
11. And neither is dunking biscuits.
12. Whatever our American friends might say, nobody here sticks their little/pinky finger out when drinking tea from a teacup. Who does that???
This is of course a rough guide and rules are open to interpretation. The most important rules which go without saying is that everyone should be happy, comfy, well-fed and having fun!
For someone who is as immersed in coffee-shop culture as a tea-bag is in hot water, I have only just tried bubble tea. Sure I’ve heard about it before but never had the chance to try it due to it not being sold in a lot of the places I frequent. I frequent a lot of places but maybe I’m just not going to the right ones!
On one of our rare super-hot days, I saw a poster on the window of a trendy coffee shop near where I live, advertising bubble tea: a drink that consisted of what I thought were little pearls of sago floating around in a milky liquid. It closely resembled the Indian dessert/drink falooda, and looked so delicious and refreshing – just perfect on such a hot day – so I thought I’d give it a go.
The drink came in three yummy sounding flavours: strawberry, mango, and coconut. The mango sounded especially delicious so I selected that and waited to discover the mystery that is bubble tea.
WHAT IS BUBBLE TEA?
Also known as pearl milk tea or boba milk tea, bubble tea originated from Taiwan in the 1980s. It’s typically a tea base mixed with milk or fruit with large tapioca balls thrown in – the ‘bubbles’! The earliest form of bubble tea was a mixture of black tea, tapioca pearls, syrup, and condensed milk.
There are many different variations of this drink. You can either get milk-based or fruit-flavoured teas, although some shops tend to sell a mixture of the two. There are fruit smoothies made using crushed fruit, and versions using blended ice which has a more slushy consistency. Milk smoothies are based on a similar concept except that they don’t contain any tea! In some drinks, the tapioca is replaced with jelly cubes, aloe, sago or taro balls. So many variations of one drink!
As I am quite familiar with the culinary delights of South-East Asia, I thought I knew what to expect and was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it was nothing like I had expected. The drink – which was not as chilled as I would have liked – had the consistency and taste of watered down milk and I very much doubt there was any tea in it. And watered down milk was the only real flavour I could taste; if I had not ordered mango, I wouldn’t have known what flavour it was supposed to be. And the ‘bubbles’ were not chewy tapioca at all but rather small balls filled with a syrupy type mixture which looked a lot like the gel balls I place in vases for flower arrangements. I have to say that although I was disappointed to have not had real tapioca or sago, I found these ‘syrupy bubbles’ to be quite interesting: the slightest pressure from your tongue would cause these bubbles to burst releasing the mango-flavoured syrup. It was like bubble wrap for your mouth – once you started popping them you couldn’t stop!
Has it put me off drinking bubble tea in the future? Of course not! This was in no way the real deal but a pseudo-bubble tea, created mainly, I believe, for the novelty factor.
I look forward to trying the real stuff at some point!