Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Spring garden plans

Springtime is here, the blackbirds are hurtling across the garden building a nest somewhere close by, the seeds in my mini greenhouse are germinating warmed by the March sunshine and slowly buds are unfurling on some of the trees. A close look at the ground sees perennial flowers pushing their way through and after a flurry of daffodils, many are now done with flowering, ready for the next batch of spring bulbs to come through - April is gearing up for my favourite tulips. 
Seeds germinating

Over the weekend in between all the torrential rain we made a start on clearing a couple of car loads of garden rubbish to the tip in order to have a new canvas for the spring season. I have a mountain of seeds to start sowing into plastic pots, toilet rolls and will have every inch of the kitchen lined up with seeds bursting forth from their cases especially ones that are more tender and susceptible to the slugs and snails that find their way into the mini greenhouse. I've ordered plug plants too, a bumper package of cottage garden flowers - this year the garden will be brimming, a floral extravaganza.
Coloured primroses

But what to focus on for April? 

Any hard landscaping such as putting in paths or patios are ideal jobs for early spring, done before the main growing season so you can enjoy the garden for the rest of the year. On a rainy day get your ideas together and have a look at experts such as Eden Landscapes for project case studies and inspiration. This year I want to have a proper path laid from the patio to the yellow playhouse at the bottom of the garden so I can eliminate the muddy situation at the moment. I am going for an informal cottage garden feel so it will be a sinuous path that meanders along, stepping stones and golden aggregates for a warm look. 
pathway through spring flowers
Image source: garden pathway, Shutterstock

Prune any shrubs that are getting too large. I remove any dead wood and cut back any previous seasons growth by about 1 inch to invigorate and promote new shoots. This is a great time to prune any roses too, of which I have a few and adore. I remove any diseased looking stems and also any which have rambled too much into the way of the main garden for I have my son and the dogs to consider with the sharp thorns. I prune to just above a bud node and also secure to trellis to keep well under control.

Also in need of taming come spring are any thuggish perennials that have a habit of growing so quickly that they take over. Divide and move to different areas of the garden or pass onto friends and family - such an economical way of creating new plants. Patches of finished snowdrops can be lifted up gently with a garden fork and divided, create naturalised looking planting by replanting at other parts of the garden. 
patio pots

Even though it is just spring, think ahead to summer. Along with planting seeds, think about summer bulbs such as lilies and gladioli. Inexpensive to buy, pop them into pots on the patio and come those warm summer days you will have a wonderful display. I grew gladioli on the allotment last year so I had them for cut flowers in the home. Stagger you planting of bulbs and corms so you have a constant display over the season. This year I am going to try growing dahlias but these tubers will need planting out as the weather gets warmer. 
growing salad
Image source: Growing salad, Shutterstock

One of my favourites to start doing in April is sowing my lettuce seeds, it makes me so happy to start my vegetable garden off again. Some grow at home as well as the allotment, I can pop outside the kitchen door and snip some for lunch or tea come summer. Salad crops are such a joy to grow with kids too so I'll have my son regularly watering radishes that he's sown and then see his smile when they are ready to harvest. We like to try lots of different salad leaves and they look so attractive growing together with all their colours  and textures. 

What plans do you have for the garden this spring? 

*Collaborative post

Monday, 28 March 2016

Chocolate and crisp treats with Degustabox

Degustabox February

Another box of Degustabox goodies to cheer up the cold days as spring approaches, a lovely mix of healthy foods and some luxurious treats.

First up, Divine chocolate in caramel milk and dark chocolate - 2 x £1.00
These were just delicious, creamy and great as they are Fairtrade and suitable for vegetarians like me. The packaging is really pretty too so I'd pop some of these in with a birthday present. 
Divine chocolate

Then it was come cakey deliciousness of Mr. Kipling Exceedingly Good Slices, 1 x £1.49. Fruity Cranberry & Orange: sprinkled with honey toasted British Oats. Not too bad calorie wise (132 kcal) either as an after dinner treat or with a cup of tea late morning. Gorgeous and fresh tasting, would buy these again.
Mr Kipling Slices

Hartley's 10 calorie jelly pots and new Hartley's Fruit in Jelly pots, 2 x 50p /2 x 70p. These are amazing for a calorie controlled diet where you still need a sweet fix. Can't believe how low in calories they are! 
Hartley's Jelly

Sarson's malt vinegar, 70p, an odd addition to the Degustabox but useful. Special edition bottle designed by Paul Thurby. The usual, will go onto the chips.
After those chips, wash them down with a bottle of J2O Spritz. 2 x £1.49 Low calorie again, yay! 63 calories per 275ml bottle. Refreshing and bubbly, hope to see this in the pub. There are three flavours: Apple and Watermelon, Pear and Raspberry, Peach and Apricot.
J2O Spritz

Some savouries now and first up are the very moreish London Crisp Company hand-cooked crisps, 1 x £2.29 Perfect for the Friday night movie! We tried the Sea Salt & Malt Vinegar which were really tangy. Each of their flavours is inspired by an area of London. Forget the calorie count on these, a definite treat!
London Crisps

Ritz Crisp & Thin are another potato snack, like little oven bakes strips and another for the Friday night munchies. We tried the Sea Salt and Black Pepper flavour and they were very peppery indeed so good with some dips. 1 x £2.19
Ritz snacks
For a healthy breakfast try Gold and Grains Nutribix, so yummy and my son ate these dry as a snack. Made with coconut, honey and Sorghum grain for a wholesome start to the day. £3.79. I'll be looking out for these again in the shops as a change for breakfast. 
Nutribix breakfast

Cereal bars are always great for our days out so I was pleased to find these Beloved Dates cereal bars in our box. 2 x 59p so a good price for a snack. I sound them quite sweet and calories wise they were probably on the high side but they are 100% natural 
Date Bars

Vit Hit is a low calorie juice based soft drink, no added sugar and just 35 calories per bottle. Really liked this and tried the Berry flavour with Ginseng and Rooibos Tea. A healthy vitamin hit £1.80 a bottle, 
The DB's Discoveries offering were Nothing But Apple & Fig Snacks and the Sliced Beetroot & Parsnip, 2 x £1.19. I think we may have had these before and are not too keen on them despite how healthy they are and low in calories. The fruit and veggies are freeze dried, locking in nutrients but tasting a lot like space food. Tim Peake might like them? Maybe you will and they'll count as one of your 5 a day. 
A reasonable overall offering from Degustabox where we liked mostly everything, especially the sweeter items and I'll be looking out for the Nutribix again. 

If you would like to try, BLDEG15 will fetch you a grand £6 discount on your Degustabox. 

*I was sent a Degustabox for the purpose of the review, opinions are my own honest experience.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Gluten free Easter Treats

Always one to enjoy trying out new recipes I was happy to bake some Easter gluten free treats for us over the weekend. Still with the main oven broke, I thought it would be great to see how our temporary mini oven fared as up to know I've been putting off using it for any cake, biscuit or in this case gorgeous gooey brownies.

So we tried out one of the recipes from Discount Supplements supplier of protein and here are how to make them:

Vegan Cherry and Almond Brownies


2 tablespoons Linusit Premium Organic Flaxseed

120g dark chocolate

½ teaspoon coffee granules

125g self-raising flour

70g ground almonds

50g Naturya Organic Cocoa Nibs

¼ tsp baking powder

250g golden caster sugar

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

70g glace cherry (rinsed and halved)


1) Heat oven to 170° C

2) Grease and line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment.

3) Combine the flaxseed with 6 tablespoons of water and set aside for at least 5 mins.

4) In a saucepan, melt the chocolate and coffee with 100ml water on a low heat. Allow to cool slightly.

5) Put the flour, almonds, cocoa nibs, baking powder and 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt in a bowl and stir to remove any lumps.

6) Using a hand whisk, mix the sugar into the melted chocolate mixture, and beat well until smooth and glossy, ensuring all the sugar is well dissolved. Stir in the flaxseed mixture and vanilla extract, the cherries and then the flour mixture. Stir until combined and spoon into the prepared tin.

7) Bake for 35-45 mins until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean with moist crumbs. Allow to cool in the tin completely, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container and eat within 3 days.

Chocolate and cherry gluten free brownies

Of course I had to add a sprinkle of edible glitter too! They were absolutely delicious and I would use the Naturya Organic Cocoa Nibs again, so versatile for lots of different recipes or sprinkling on ice cream or other desserts.  The Linusit Premium Organic Flaxseed is another great addition to the food cupboard, a source of omega 3 and other nutrients that you can add to anything from soups to salads.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Loft room ideas

I've mentioned the loft room in my house before for it is both a source of delight and a pain. The room itself is fantastic and what sold the house to me, for it's like a secret den that's light and airy with far reaching views across my town - rooftops, gardens, churches and across to the river. In summertime especially, the room is a peaceful hideout and if it were tidy I’d spend a lot of time up there. Which leads me onto the main issue – storage! The room also needs to hold a lot of stuff, as all lofts do - toys, coats, suitcases, decorations…..
Loft room view

This year I am going to start the room more or less from scratch. It’s already painted white to increase the feeling of lightness but a new coat will make it all feel cleaner and provide a blank canvas. Under the eaves I would love some built in storage although having seen these built in beds I may have changed my mind. How wonderful would these be for cosying up in as a book nook. The children would love them for sleeping in of course but also for imaginative play. There is lots of super loft conversion inspiration out there that you can be spoilt for choice whether it’s for a bedroom, study or a play area for the children.
Loft room bespoke beds
Image source: Folio

The use of all white really opens up the space and I like to use Antique White emulsion paint, it a favourite of mine that I actually use all the way through the house for a seamless look. It’s not a stark white but a chalky matt finish that gives a beautiful finish. For pops of colour I like adding fun pieces of art work or bunting that can be changed around each season. I am on the search for a vintage map or star chart like this as with the room being a prime lookout for the stars it would be an ideal decoration for the room.

Star chart for the wall

Image source: Carlie & Me

For storage there is the space under the eaves or a full wall for some shelving to accommodate all the families extra belongings! The room won’t accommodate a wardrobe so it’s some bespoke cupboards required to fit the sloping walls and size of the eaves. For me it will be a worthwhile investment as the room will then look like a proper bedroom and less of a junk space. Firstly though a good clear-out has commenced with items being taken to the local charity shop or sold. There’s a huge amount of my son’s baby clothes and toys no longer played with that I must sort and sift through – a huge job but one I must do as they are taking up so much space.

I keep lots of my son’s toys up there and rotate them so some canvas storage cubes would be great for easily moving them up and down the loft stairs. The more colourful the better so they are attractive as well as functional.

Chldren's toy storage

Last of all, I would like to paint the wooden stairs up to the loft in a quirky way, perhaps using wallpaper samples to create a vintage floral feel. A simple transformation for a unique look.
Floral wooden staircase

Hopefully this year we will get the room to our liking and it will be back to the perfect room for stargazing and for guests to stay in as well as an easy store for children’s toys. Do you have a loft room? I’d love to hear how functional the room is for you.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Classical garden

Tatton Park Hall The Italian Gardens designed by Joseph Paxton in 1847; terraces, low hedges and a fountain centrepiece of Neptune/Triton leading down to a magnificent view of the parkland at Tatton. 

This was from a few weeks back when it was still all a bit chilly and I must admit that winter gardens are a bit of a quick visit for me as until there are blooms aplenty and bees buzzing around it can be a hurried glance, a snap or two and move on. The time of year I resort to armchair gardening and taking stock of my seed box contents. 
formal gardens Tatton Park However, a little bit of sunshine had me lingering around the primroses and the formal beds. I love primroses, can't get enough of them and the good old English cowslip or a simple yellow primrose are my favourites. yellow primroses Italian Gardens fountain blue skies over Tatton Mansion
 I enjoy the historical context of these gardens, the development of gardens generally and the grandeur but actually I can find them too sterile and pompous. Bring on the herbaceous borders and froth and fizz of the next few months. I'm going to renew my membership of a local garden that is just that and plan to visit plenty of the Yellow Book gardens that I find really exciting, poking around ordinary folks borders.Italian Garden Tatton Spring Bet it would be fun to sweep down these steps in a beautiful dress though like Cinderella.Italianate Garden Tatton Park in the Spring At the end of the Broad Walk is the Choragic Monument, Classical architecture based on that in Athens - a focal point. All very grand and that typical parkland landscape with long stretching vistas towards hills and clouds. Coragic Monument formal bedding display From grand scale to small scale, this week I am hoping to get some preparation done is my little back garden at home. A new fence, clearing away dead foliage and pulling  grass out of the cracks in the patio. The mini greenhouse will be getting busy and next week will be time for my steadily chitting spuds to be planted out at the allotment - can't wait. Rustic gardening with rough edges and wiggly paths make me the happiest.landscape view blue skies

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Degustabox January

Degustabox January

The Degustabox January selection was a mixed bag for me in terms of yes I loved a couple of items but a few I was not able to eat due to dietary reasons. 
Finn Crisp sourdough crackers

Absolutely love these, Finn Crisp are a crunchy crispbread baked with sourdough. It has a unique tangy taste that took a little bit of getting used to but I am now a convert, especially since each one is only 22 calories! For a snack, one of these with some salad or cheese on is a tasty offering and helps me on my diet plan. At £1.20 I will definitely be looking out for these and adding them to my monthly shop. 

Yushoi Snapea Rice Sticks were another winner in February's box, an unusual taste but again highly addictive and at 22 calories for a 21g serving they are a nice snack in between meals. Made with baked peas and suitable for vegetarians and vegans, they are healthier than the usual crisps. I will also be buying these again as they are a quirky treat. £2.00
Paleo friendly Cro Bar

OK, this was a terrible occurrence here - I'm a vegetarian and have been since at Primary School, I'm pretty strict and also pretty stupid to not check labels. All I saw was peanut crunch, bit in and then saw made with cricket flour!!! Quick spit out, spit out and rush to the bathroom to brush my teeth extensively and yuk, yuk what on earth. Awful, this is a energy bar made from ground up crickets - runs off and vomits. Too weird thank you very much and makes me think of that terrible celebrity jungle programme. This was a DB's Discovery offering and it from Crobar by Gathr £2.25 NEVER stop checking labels veggie friends. 
Organic raw chocolate

Luckily I was calmed down by this bar of Conscious Chocolate, raw, organic, vegan choc! There are three flavours - Plain Jane, Intense and Chilli Hot bar. I tried the Intense which is dark chocolate infused with vanilla and very nice it was too over the course of a few days. Very strong chocolate and just a couple of pieces were enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. A sumptuous treat £3.00

Slim Noodles are an interesting product made from organic Konjac flour which is the corm (bulb) of a Japanese plant used as an alternative to noodle with zero carbs and only 9 calories per 100g serving. OH had these and sadly he didn't like them, even jazzed up with some chilli and added to some beef he wouldn't have them again. A shame really as it's amazing for a low calorie diet. £2.49

Amoy's New Taste of Asia range are cooking sauces for a quick meal, these were Thai Green Curry and Malaysian Laksa. Unfortunately, OH doesn't like this type of sauce and thry contain seafood so I couldn't have them. £1.79 each
Chinese beer
Tsingtao is a fine beer from China founded by The Anglo-German Brewery Co in 1903, brewed using pure Laoshan Mountain spring water and the finest malt and hops and blend rice from Western China paddy fields. A great Chinese beer for the New Year that was in February. OH enjoyed this beer, said it was crisp and refreshing and would pick it up again from the shops, £2.00 a bottle.
Clarks Low GI Syrup

Clarks Carob fruit syrup £2.39 a bottle is sweet and low in GI made from the Mediterranean Carob plant. Can be used for all manner of uses from sweetening tea and coffee or in baking. We have yet to use this as baking has been on hold due to a health kick but with Easter coming up it WILL be used. One to report back on but it seems a great idea.
Coldpress Golden Delicious
Coldpress Golden Delicious was lovely and so much so that I guzzled it and clean forgot to take a picture. I'd heard of cold presses but not know what they are - basically not heat pasteurised so the nutrients are retained and that gives a fresher taste. A lovely zingy drink for the spring and for a vitamin C boost I would try the drink again. £1.40

Finally Jordans Country Crisp Fruit & Nut, a brand of cereal I have tried before and love. This is crunchy golden oat clusters with fruits and nuts  - apple, coconut and banana chips etc that is a super treat although I had to limit myself as it tasted quite sugary and I'm trying to cut down on these kinds of cereals - a lovely weekend breakfast instead. £2.69

Degustabox is a total surprise each month and this box was not as good as previous for us, I think the currys we couldn't use and the energy bar experience disappointed me but they are still great for foodies wanted a surprise each month. If you would like to try, BLDEG15 will fetch you a grand £6 discount on your Degustabox

*I was sent a Degustabox for the purpose of the review, opinions are my own honest experience.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Scarecrow festival for the brave

scarecrow in a hatHalf term frolics among the stuffed straw lot at Tatton Park....bit creepy aren't they? 
Brimmed hats, sack faces, pink dresses, menacing eyes, confused smiles. Friends or foes?

A lone scarecrow in a field is bad enough but a congregation like this and a meeting of straw minds is enough to make you run. After all, you have to be suspicious of a scarecrow in winter with no seeds to scare the crows away from......they must be up to something else instead.
scarecrow in a pink dress garden scarecrows Fantastic Mr Fox scarecrow Groucho scarecrow Nope no signs of anything unusual here in the kitchen garden, apart from the grasshopper playing the violin of course. boy and scarecrow country scarecrow Spookiest of the lot! freaky scarecrow clown scarecrow scarecrow in a checked shirt Some jungle scarecrows and the BFG. A couple of friends that we have met before here by the leafy fronds and the waterfall.tiger scarecrow BFG scarecrow witch scarecrow This one will hypnotise you with his eyes. nightmarish scarecrow field scarecrows Along the paths and springing out from bushes, some odd characters. March on very quickly!funky scarecrow king of hearts Probably the creepiest greenhouse you will see, where the scarecrows get reanimated in the heat. Don't be fooled by them all slumped over the potting benches....they are waiting....scarecrow house scarecrow party

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall