Review of 2013

2013 has been a strange year for me; in the earlier part of the year I was struggling to find work, but then I got my teaching post and have been run off my feet ever since. However, intermingled with that have been plenty of fun times. I’m not even sure what my hopes and aims are for 2014 – I’ve never been much of one for making new year resolutions. I just hope that 2014 is a happy and healthy one for all my friends and readers of course.

Right, kicking off the best parts of 2013…

Firstly, there was lots of travelling.

Including Edinburgh for my Birthday

Visiting Caz at her home in the New Forest

Tuscany with Anna

Lots of walking in both the Lakes and Cornwall, combined with a little yoga of course.

Bath at half term in October

And last but certainly not least – our recent visit to Amsterdam.

Travelling really is my biggest extravagance (that and eating out). I try to off set it as much as possible by not shopping very much, mainly because I don’t really enjoy it and so I’m always searching for the best deals where possible. Airbnb has been a godsend.

The biggest disappointment was not being able to attend my cousin’s wedding in Hong Kong. M and I had planned (and unfortunately paid for our air tickets) to go to both HK and then a 3 week visit to the Philippines, but couldn’t go as it was during term time. Hopefully we’ll still make it there at some point in the future.

I’ve been cooking lots too and made my first ever Christmas dinner. I was happy to discover that it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be. We also bought and decorated our first real Christmas tree and M and I continued our tradition of making and decorating a Christmas cake.

We’ve eaten at lots of lovely places, including my particular highlight – Dabbous.

How has 2013 been for you? Do you have any New Year’s resolutions or hopes and dreams for 2014?

If you want to enter the Moments that mattered Prize Draw together with Lloyds bank in order to win an iPad mini, follow this link for instructions.

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Christmas

A belated Merry Christmas to you all! We spent the days surrounding Christmas with M’s parents in Manchester. Our arrival was fairly eventful. We were supposed to land on the 23rd in Gatwick from Amsterdam, before getting a train up to Manchester the following day. However the winds saw fit to do otherwise and our flight was delayed by 5 hours before landing at  Liverpool as Gatwick was deemed too dangerous.

Luckily for us, Manchester and Liverpool are relatively close so M’s parents kindly collected us in the middle of the night.

Following our unorthodox journey there, Christmas was perfect – filled with good food, drink and Cranium.

I always love having a nose at other people’s blogs at the gifts they receive so thought I would write a similar one myself.

Starting with this treasury of True Grace candles from my Grandma. I love scented candles so this huge variety was perfect – it was difficult to not light them all at once

I was so pleased with this Blondie I bought as stocking filler for Martin from Le Pain Quotidien, until I realised he’d done exactly the same! I guess we just know each other too well. It’s an awful lot to eat by April 2014 but luckily it’s a task I’m very willing to undertake.

Here are the rest of gifts from M to me – he just knows me so well.
Chocolate from Liberty.

Almond shower oil from L’Occitane – this smells divine.

A scarf from Zara that I’ve had my eye on for ages.

In the mix was the latest book by one of my favourite authors, Sebastian Faulks. He’s quite hit and miss: I adore Birdsong, Engleby and Human Traces but a few of his other offerings left me a bit cold so I’m hoping this marks a return to his previous form.

And last, but certainly not least, this cashmere jumper with detachable snood from M&S. I squeaked when I saw it! 

My best friend, Caz got me this clutch from Miss Selfridge which I’m already looking forward to using at weddings.

M’s parents were incredibly generous and bought me the black boots I bought back in October in Bath. Somehow I managed to save them to Christmas day. Since then they’ve been worn numerous times and I just know they’ll be perfect for the poor weather months ahead.

Finally, I can’t resist showing you my new bag I bought in Amsterdam which was kind of a present to me for completing my first term as an NQT. I know I shouldn’t have but I couldn’t resist.

How was your Christmas?

Amsterdam Part 2

I really love Amsterdam. Despite the fact that there are ‘coffee shops’ serving cannabis and a well known red light district, it’s a really safe, clean, accessible city. Being only 45 minute by plane from London makes it really convenient too.

Amsterdam is like England. It’s really open to other culture’s cuisines. As such you can find pretty much any world food there. The coffee is also fabulous as are the chocolate and cheese shops – a real foodie haven.

We were staying right around the corner from an amazing store – full of quirky clothing and interiors complete with a cafe upstairs- called Hutspot. You could (we did) spend a whole afternoon there perusing the shelves.

Continue reading

Amsterdam Part 1

We headed straight to Amsterdam when I broke up for the holidays. I’d spotted a fantastic looking apartment on Airbnb (yet again!) and we couldn’t resist going for a few days before Christmas. At £77 per night, it was an absolute steal.  Nina’s apartment was perfectly located at the Albert Cuyp market. I love the whole European thing of having 2 duvets – it’s definitely something to think about next time I buy soft furnishings!

As with all my breaks, much of our time was spent exploring, eating and drinking. I’ll add a post dedicated to eats and drinks tomorrow. The weather was appalling so we went to the museum quarter and spent a while at the Van Gogh museum.  
I don’t really enjoy shopping very much but Amsterdam was perfect for me. It has lots of small independent quaint shops with things that you wouldn’t get on the high street – much more my kind of thing. It felt so christmassy wandering around the Christmas markets and looking at the festive displays in shop windows.

Christmas dinner 10 days early

We stupidly agreed to host a pre-Christmas at ours. Our kitchen is absolutely diddy (2mx3m) so I thought it was pretty much mission impossible. Because I didn’t want to stress out too much about the cooking we bought things like cranberry sauce and bread sauce pre-made. The rest we did ourselves with a little help from our friends.

We started the proceedings with Sainsbury’s mulled wine* – if you’re looking for a pre-made bottle than look no further than this – absolutely divine.

I served up roast turkey complete with all the trimmings: red cabbage, brussels, pigs in blankets, kale, roasties, parsnips, carrots, bread sauce and cranberry. It felt like a massive undertaking but with a little help from everyone it was totally doable. I inadvertently made far too many shredded vegetables: kale, red cabbage and shredded sprouts with bacon but it all tasted good.

We finished with Christmas pudding and brandy butter and then ate mince pies* and our homemade Christmas cake. We got sent some amazing Ecclefechan tarts* which are basically a caramel eccles cakes in mince pie form – not to be missed! After that, I could barely move!

We swapped our Secret Santa gifts, and as with all our gatherings, we couldn’t resist a game or two of Articulate made even better by the accompaniment of the biggest bottle of Prosecco ever (thanks to Sarah and Paul!)

Later we avoided playing charades and instead played ‘Who’s in the bag?’ which must be the most fun free game out there.

Phew! Job done – first Christmas of many out the way!

Do you have a favourite Christmas game? Do you love or hate sprouts?

Christmas Cake 2013

After last year’s christmas cake success, we were keen to match it this year.

For the cake itself we used the both fool proof and delicious BBC Good Food simmer and stir cake which we made made back in October to allow it time to mature. I can’t recommend this cake enough – it’s just so easy and quick to do.

We were so pleased with the look of the 2012 cake but we didn’t want to get stuck in a rut, making the same cake year in year out, so we used this recipe as inspiration for the decoration. A couple of years ago we didn’t follow any design and ended up with what resembled a penguin grave yard.

2012 effort:

2013 Christmas cake 

How do you like to decorate your Christmas cake or do you prefer to buy one?

Our first ever real Christmas tree

I’m very excited – we have just bought our first ever real Christmas tree.

I’m always in two minds with christmas decorations, having been brought up in a household where the christmas decorations go up until one week before christmas, and not a day before. The thought of putting up the tree ‘gasp’ on 3rd December therefore seemed very shocking to me.

However, we put it up ‘early’ because we’re away for most of the christmas period in Amsterdam and M’s family home in Manchester, and we wanted to enjoy it for at least more than a few days.

A similar thing happened last year where we weren’t spending any time in London at all, so shock horror we didn’t put any decorations up at all. Just call us Scrooge. This was in part due to the disastrous attempt at a christmas tree the year before – our first christmas living together in London. Being total cheap skates we bought the cheapest artificial tree we could find and decorated it without any thought of a colour scheme or theme. This culminated in the worst tree ever – so bad it was in fact embarrassing.

This year, I was determined to be different, and, since I’ve always longed for a real tree (my family always used a battered, much loved artificial tree from the 1970s), we hopped and skipped along to our local Homebase.

At £10 it was an absolute steal, but it’s perfect for our tiny flat. Admittedly, it’s more of a christmas bush than tree and it will not stand straight unless we tie a ribbon around it and attach it to the wall, but I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t realise how ridiculously spiky they are though; my arms are covered in scratches! I also didn’t know that you had to saw through the trunk to put it into a pot to allow it to absorb water. Our poor tree has been hacked at with our bread knife(!) to no avail. Let’s hope it manages to make it to christmas!

We’ve kept to a natural silver theme, complete with warm white lights and I’m so pleased with the whole effect.

Because it can get super expensive buying and decorating a tree, I tried to be savvy when it came to the decorations.

The bulk of them came from this brilliant set of 45 silver decorations for M&S priced at a reasonable £25.

I splashed out on a couple of more expensive single items. Both of these were from M&S, but they were in the three for two offer which was happy happy (link to the apple bauble).

I also bought this sweet bird’s house from House and Fraser and glass bauble. I must mention though that I’m not hugely impressed with the glass bauble which just had a rubbishy plastic tag attached, so I had to steal some twine off a christmas bag handle I’d bought for a present (Shh please don’t tell Caz!). However both were half price at £2 each here and here so I can’t really complain!

Which do you prefer – real or artificial trees? Where do you get your decorations from? Do you have a colour scheme you like to follow?