Sunday, 14 December 2014

REVIEW: Scruffs stocking fillers

Are you looking for some last minute stocking fillers for the man in your life? I know that socks for Christmas is the ultimate cliche for blokes, but let's face it, you can never have too many. Especially in our house, The Boy seems to run through them like nobody's business (I think he must eat them when I'm out). So it was with great enthusiasm that we received a bundle of goodies from Scruffs to try out as an early Christmas gift. We were particularly excited as they supplied the Boy with a waterproof jacket to trial earlier in the year which is still going strong and keeping him warm and dry out on the bike, so we knew that the quality would be good.

You can see a whole range of Christmas gifts that are available on the Scruffs website. We had a look at some of the bargain goodies available for around a tenner and came up with this two pack of boxer shorts. Don't ask me why the picture is upside down. I just don't know.

You'll be pleased to know that the Boy refused to model these for a picture, I'm not sure that's the kind of blog I am looking to write. However, these hard wearing and well fitting boxers were reported to be comfortable to wear with a good waistband. They do not have an open or button fly, but I guess that's just the style of this short. However, I think they'll get some good use and wear a lot better than some of the flimsier cotton styles. They are nice and soft too!

Next was the three pack of Scruffs trainer socks. At £7.95 (with free delivery) these are excellent value. They fit slightly lower down the leg than conventional sports socks and have a decently breathable fabric that makes them great for playing sports as well as wearing out and about during the summer. They were reported to be nice to wear and made of a good stretchy fabric which was durable as well as providing a nice fit. This picture is also upside down.

Finally, I decided that this review shouldn't be all about the Boy - so I also made sure that there was a little something for me - the Ultimate Thermal Socks. No comments about the picture please. At £6.95 they cost more than I would usually pay for one pair of socks, however when you commute by bike at this time of year, you will feel the value for money immediately, they are definitely an item I would buy more of. They have a luxuriously soft terry lining and the outer is a bulky yarn which in combination means you have super cushioned feet as well as them trapping a layer of warm air and keeping your tootsies toasty warm. I tried them out during one of our recent -1 degree nights and did not get cold feet at all on the ride home, a total win. They actually have a tog rating of 2.3, so they are like a little duvet for your feet. I adore them and, given the weather, have asked Santa for a couple more pairs so I can keep them on constant rotation during the winter. High praise indeed!

Why not get a sock in your stocking this Christmas? But hurry, not many days left for Christmas delivery!

We were sent these products for free to review, however all opinions are my own 
(unless I asked the Boy and then wrote down what he said). 
If I don't like something, I'll let you know, all reviews are 100% honest. 
This is a personal blog for which I receive no monetary compensation.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Talking kitty, sleepless nights

I have wanted to get a recording of the bizarre noises our cats make to get attention in the middle of the night for a while now and I actually got around to it this morning. What a beautiful cacophony it is to wake you up gracefully at obscene times of the morning. Yet undeniably extremely cute.

Yes, I am adding to the amount of cats on the internet. Don't you judge me.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Hop Bung Experiment

You may have seen that we visited the Everards Brewery lately. Mark Tetlow (the nicest guy in beer) gave us a hop bung and suggested we put it in to water so we could see just how much plant material was compressed in there. It seemed like a sensible thing to do, so we did.

Everards use these hop bungs to 'dry hop' some of their beers - adding some extra depth of flavour at the end of the brewing process. See, today we had fun, and we learned something.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

ACT FAST! Free Snowball Dough Balls at Pizza Express

This is an emergency announcement.

Update! 2015 Free Snowball dough ball day is today,  12/11/15.
The good folks at Pizza Express are having a free Snowball Dough Ball Day! For today only, 13/11/14, you can walk in to any branch, quote 'Free Snowball Dough Balls' and they will give you a free portion to take away. For free!

My colleagues and I have just nipped over on our lunchbreak and they were delicious - served warm with a sprinkling of icing sugar and cinnamon and a vanilla cream dip they are lucious and festive and made me feel happy all over.

What a wonderful promotion to kick of the festive season.

Hope plenty of you get to enjoy them too!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Everards Brewery, Leicester

I like blogging about beer, I like blogging about Leicester. My Leicester Happy Hour Directory is proving to be unendingly popular (thanks to everyone who pops by each day, to check out the listings!) So why, oh why have I not combined the two before?

I guess it is because I have never taken a tour of the Everard's Brewery before. Just outside of Leicester city centre, near to Fosse Park, this is by the far the largest brewery we have ever visited, producing 120,000 barrels every year. I hope that's right. I didn't write it down.

We were taken on our tour by Quality Assurance Manager and renowned 'Beer King', Mark Tetlow. Mark was a fantastic guide, whose humour, passion and knowledge absolutely shone through. I think that it's safe to say that as well as having awarded the title of 'Nicest Guy in Wine' I now have found the nicest guy in beer. He really gave us the full behind the scenes, no holds barred tour of the brewery and myself and The Boy were held captivated throughout.

Mark Tetlow, the nicest guy in beer?
We started at the beginning and the end - where the spent grain is taken for recycling, next to the area where the new malt starts its journey around the huge brewery. Mark took us up to where the hops are stored - a vast space with seemingly endless varieties of hops. Everards don't just make their own signature beers, but a whole range of seasonal and limited edition beers, as well as brewing on behalf of other companies. They have up to 18 brewing slots, which can run up to three times a day, so that's an awful lot of beer!
Hop pellets
The hop pellets come vacuum packed to keep in as much of the flavourful oils as possible. We felt and smelled 6 or 7 different varieties, hops from the UK but also from the States and around Europe. I was amazed at the variety in texture and smell. Some of the pellets had a higher oil percentage and these were more pungent. There were firm, crumbly, green and brown pellets which showed excellently how beer can have just as much variation, depth and sense of terroir as wine.

This idea of terroir is also keenly felt at Everards in the water that they use. Called 'liquor' by the brewers, the water has salts added to give it the same ph as the water that flows in Burton-upon-Trent to give a characteristic and consistent character to the beers. I found this fascinating and it makes me wonder how much attention wine makers pay to their own 'liquor'.

After seeing the hops, we followed the network of pipes around the factory, seeing huge shining stainless steel vats with valves and noise and steam as the brewing process took place - the milling, the mash, the adding of the hops in the copper - all taking place on a grand scale. We even met Mike, who was watching the latest batch of sweet wort bubbling away, like a giant witches cauldron. He seemed nice too, but we didn't speak to him enough to give him an official title about his status of niceness in the beer industry. Sorry Mike!

Let's call him Steamy Mike
After we had recovered from the excitement of meeting Mike, it was on to the fermentation tanks, another row of stainless steel soldiers. Luckily for us there was a batch that had been in for a week and was just about ready to go and a batch that had just been added to the tank that day so we could see the difference in the head as the yeast worked its magic.

After the fermentation came the conditioning and the filtering. All of the beers follow the same process up until this point, where their lives take very different turns which in turn leads to a varied product. This was a much quieter area of the brewery, where the beer was left with all the time it needed to become a consistent and excellent brew. I imagine if they had been filling the kegs at the next set of machinery it would have been far less peaceful! 

We saw the machinery for cleaning, steaming and sterilising the barrels and the kegs and learned about how some beer is pasturised and kept under pressure, while others are not, given them a shorter shelf life, but also a different flavour characteristic.

"Is that you, Michael?"
All of this amazing process, on such a grand scale is controlled by the Everards super computer. It takes up a whole room and having been installed in the 80s it will eventually be replaced by a single ipad! The computer took the form of a map of the brewery, showing what lines lead to where. The brewers move the connectors on the pipes to change the direction that the beer flows, like the tracks changing connection on a railway. My favourite part of the central command room was the dot matrix printer, that takes me back to my childhood!

After all of this, Mark took us to the lab. We were both unreasonably over-excited by the idea of a Beer Laboratory. This is where Everard's check all of their beers at all stages of the brewing process to check that it is consistent. They have machines to test every conceivable element of the beer, some which are incredibly expensive and fancy pieces of kit to test the IBU (bitterness) and other, perhaps more rudimentary, tests - if you want to check the haze the first thing you do is hold it up the light! We saw beers being checked for how they were clearing with the finings, there were gadgets and gizmos for checking the pH, the gravity, the alcohol content (that's kind of the same thing isn't it) and all sorts of things that a relative beer novice such as myself is baffled by. I just wanted to go and stand back outside until somebody shouted "Quick, to the Beer Laboratory!" but it didn't seem appropriate to suggest in the circumstances. Mark may have indulged me though, after all, he is a nice guy.

And finally we went to a room where kegs are conditioned and checked, to ensure that the uniform quality of product that goes out to the pubs conditions as it is supposed to - they know exactly what product the pubs have in their own cellar conditions. And hurrah! It was time to taste. We had a delicious blast of citrusy Sunchaser, an old favourite of mine that I was happy to revisit.

Created at the brewing school - recognise any of these pump clips?
We both tried the Regimental IPA, a hit with The Boy, who loves the floral nose and the hefty bitter kick. It was then we found out that this beer has a really interesting story. It was actually developed on a brewing course that Everard's runs for their tenants. They learn about the process and then have a go at creating their own recipe, brewing it, naming it and creating their own pump clip artwork. The Regimental was a successful outcome of this process which is still going strong. We found out that some of the beers had been picked up by national pub chains and been distributed across the country. I think it must be so awesome to have that happen to a beer that you invented in three days! I also love the idea that Everard's gives this really tangible experience to its landlords and landladies. We found just visiting the brewery to be inspirational, so I can't imagine how excited you would be about beer after creating your own recipe for the first time. 

Mark also told us about the Cyclops scoring system which he created to help customers to identify the colour, smell and taste of different beers, which is helping people across the country to learn to recognise the characteristics of beer they enjoy and encouraging people to be more adventurous in their beer selection as they feel more confident in trying something new, but with notes they already know that they enjoy. This system is now being used by an impressive 316 breweries across the country, it has become something of an industry standard!

And all too soon, it was time to go. I was truly impressed to Everard's commitment to sustainability and recycling throughout the process, their attention to detail and consistency in creating high quality products and also I really enjoyed the true mixture of local and national that the brand represents. Truly Everards is a name that Leicester can be proud of.

Monday, 27 October 2014

REVIEW: Cosy Club, Leicester

Right, I've had enough. I'm officially calling it.

Klaxon please.

Leicester is a great place to eat, drink and make merry.

I've spent a decade in this city now and the whole time I've heard people moaning about the standard of restaurant, the quality of the pubs and the general lack of anything to do.

It is simply not true. Absolutely diamond quality, excellent bars, pubs and restaurants seem to be popping up on an almost weekly basis in the city. Leicester is great.

We have the best curry in the country. That goes without saying. However, we also have juicy, medium rare burgers, black pudding scotch eggs, intimate cheese and wine tasting events, and safety conscious potatoes. Leicester is on the up in the gastronomic world, and now we have a new small chain joining the ranks. 

The Cosy Club has made it's home on Highcross Street, in an old hosiery factory that I'm pretty sure has stood derelict during the whole time I've lived here. Because of that, it was a real surprise to see just how open, light and airy the place is. It's huge! The factory has been so sympathetically renovated, keeping all of the character and a tonne of period features but with an added layer of funky artwork, splashes of bright, colourful upholstery and a real magpie sense of decor that is just on the right side of cluttered. I adore it. It's so, well, cosy! 

As well as the open, light main floor, there is also a smaller area downstairs that is available for hire. And they have a small, but perfectly formed outdoor terrace at the back, where you can sit and sip a cocktail and admire the industrial city centre skyline. Plus they have a big basket of blankets by the door so if it's a bit chilly you can get cosy with a layer of fleece over your lap. They appear to have thought of everything.

And, as a North-West girl at heart, it does me good to hang out in a place that really reminds me of the excellent conversions that we've been seeing for many years now in Manchester. It really has that hip vibe, without being overly trendy. Indeed, while we were there we could see that it is a super welcoming, kid friendly venue, at least in the daytime.

Once again, this is a new Leicester institution which has extremely welcoming, friendly, knowledgeable and relaxed staff. We were well greeted and seated and given plenty of time and space to settle in and to choose from the menu. The food on offer is varied, interesting and reasonably priced. They serve brunch - until 6pm. Already a good start. There are a variety of mains, tapas, panini, burgers and sharing options - definitely something for everyone if making for a slightly overwhelming menu.

Squid and Spanish Chorizo salad
The Boy and I opted to split a couple of starters, in the interests of research. We got the Squid and Spanish Chorizo salad. This was a vision in red, with the paprika oil of the chorizo being soaked up by the butter beans, the whole thing giving off an appetising aroma as it was served warm.

The butter bean aioli, smeared on the side of the plate was creamy and just the right hint of garlic to complement the rest of the flavours. The squid was soft, but still with a decent amount of bite without being chewy - perfectly cooked. This is an ideal combination of flavours, and I just had one small issue with it that stopped this dish from being absolute perfection. There was three pieces of squid in it. Three! Which was not what I expected from a salad in which 'squid' is billed as the key ingredient. And also is a bit irritating when the squid is so nicely cooked.

Smoked bacon, black pudding, olive oil crouton and poached egg salad
At the same time, we also tried the salad of smoked bacon, black pudding, olive oil croutons and poached egg. Let me tell you now, this wins. Hands down, no questions asked, might as well just pack up your s**t and go home right there. This is a magic piece of epic awesomeness. A bed of salad leaves, topped with crispy bacon, the most flavourful, delicately spiced black pudding from Yorkshire with robust croutons. Sat atop that little lot is a perfectly poached egg, which, when broken open oozes smooth, silky yolk over everything. All of these decadent, smooth and interesting flavours are then cut through perfectly by the tang of the lemon tarragon dressing. I could eat it for every meal, every day, forever. It was mind blowingly wonderful. Order this dish.

They set a pretty high standard with the starters. We were aglow with wonder and absolutely gagging to find out what the mains would be like. And we did not have long to wait - as well as being warm and friendly, the service is also deceptively efficient, with attentive staff clearing plates and bringing new dishes in perfect time for you to enjoy your dining experience to its fullest.

Duck confit
 I plumped for the duck confit, which was served on a huge bed of puy lentils, a generous serving of honey glazed vegetables and a red wine gravy. Again, perfect. I have no criticism that I can level against this dish. The flavours balanced so well - the sweetness of the carrots and parsnips cut so well through the crisp skin and rich meat of the duck. The duck was tender, as were the lentils. The whole was incredibly well seasoned and tied together by the sauce as well as The Dude's rug tied the room together. It made me happy and is possibly now my favourite Autumn meal in the realm.

Hero hamburger
In our quest to give you the fullest perspective on everything, The Boy went for a burger. It was in fact a Hero hamburger. It already featured chorizo, mature cheddar, red onion, chipotle mayo and marinated chilli. The waiter turned his head with additional bacon and cheese, although he could not be convinced into having an additional patty. I think he may have died of too much meat if he'd had that.

Served with a light salad and skin on fries, this was a pretty epic burger. Not quite served medium, which would have taken it right up to the next level, it was still a great combination of flavours and, as you can see from the photo, the sort of over-stuffed, decadent burger that one can only eat with a knife and fork, for fear of otherwise throwing the entire contents of the bun down ones lap.

The onion rings were large, homemade, had a fantastic audible crunch and a satisfying follow through of sweet, soft onion. You'd think there's not a lot to get over excited about when it comes to onion rings, but, I must admit, they were rather memorable.

It would have been remiss of us also had we missed the opportunity to continue our search for the Best Mac N Cheese on Earth, since it was on the sides menu. This mac n cheese was different because it had a truffle cheese sauce. This made it earthy and rich on a level that one doesn't normally see. It was a rather wet mac n cheese as well - the American ones tend to have a much thicker sauce which sticks to the pasta, but this one was very saucy - it tasted great and you'll have to decide for yourself what your favourite level of saucing is with this particular dish. Or I'll devise some kind of scoring system and then we'll get this issue sorted out once and for all.

And so it came to pass that it was time for dessert. We were already full - we had asked for half of our mains to be boxed up later (which coincidentally really helped to put everything back in mind for this review) in preparation for being able to manage a pudding. Weirdly, they do not seem to have stocked boxes for people to take away unfinished meals - I hope this changes because the food is so darned good it would be a crime to throw it away.

Gratuitous animal skull shot.
The 'Snowball' cheesecake came recommended to us by the host, and who am I to refuse a solid recommendation? It was worth following up, if not just for the paper doily under the jar. And it came in a jar. All the hipster, all in one dessert. I bet they have a little blow torch to toast the mini marshmallows on top with as well. I bet Jamie Oliver looks upon the Cosy Club with real terror. I do love a doily.

Again, this was another taste sensation. There is a hint of coconut in there which mixes with the chocolate cheese, rich and smooth, and the toasty marshmallow flavour which gives you the perfect feel of a chocolate teacake. Like a Dunnocks, but it lasts more than approximately 2.84 seconds. Deliciously lenient, it is like a cuddle from baby pugs in the snug of a bug's rug. Nom.

The Boy wanted something lighter and so opted for the blackberry syllabub, which was sharp enough to carry the blackberry but still somehow homely and velvety. The lemon thyme biscuit was a good texture mix, also being light and crumbly, although I struggled to taste the lemon thyme myself. It also had a real tang from the additional blackberry sauce which worked beautifully. I don't think they could have got the autumnal flavours more right on the present menu.

And of course, I haven't mentioned the wine! I was mentally excited to see two decent looking Californian reds on the menu and so I had to give one a go. 

Caberet Frank
Cabernet Franc, Lodi CA 2012

Bottled in France, this cabernet franc is light on the nose - almost reaching that round Californian sunshine smell that haunts my dreams. It has a real sweet punch initially and then mellows to a medium bodied savoury flavour - an interesting flavour journey throughout the drinking and then it fades out to almost nothing on the finish and so is light and easy drinking. The flavour is a rich, deep cherry which I thought complemented the duck confit particularly well. Definitely worth exploring if you are unfamiliar with the cabernet franc varietal.

Now I can't wait to go back and try the Californian Zin that was also on the menu. And we will be back. Cosy Club by name, cosy club by nature, this place is light hearted and fun, but with real quality cooking at its heart. Comfortable and chic, it'll be great for after work drinks with friends or for an intimate meal with a special someone. I love its vibe, I love its versatility, I love that I have yet another fantastic place to visit within 3 minutes walk of my office.

Great table.
Thanks to Cosy Club for inviting us down, you'll be seeing us again.

Festive Menu 2014 at Coast to Coast, Highcross Leicester

We were invited to an evening of celebration at Coast to Coast, Leicester, last week. I have enjoyed their menu since the first time we visited at their launch and we have continued to go back as the potato skins are just so yummy.  They were launching their new festive menu and, in mid-October, we got an advance taster of the lovely things that are to come.

Twas a dark and wintry evening, and so our welcome drink of warm Spiced Apple Cider went down an absolute treat. I'm normally not a big fan of mulled drinks, but this was just perfect - it tasted just like warm apple pie (in a totally non-innuendo based way) - sweet, warming and with a perfect hint of cinnamon. It really set the mood and whetted our appetite for what was to come.

And what followed was an exclusive cocktail masterclass, led by mixologist Andy Pearson, a super fun but obviously massively knowledgeable chap who has been working with Coast to Coast on their drinks menu development since the very beginning. We worked our way through making the perfect mimosa, a traditional egg nog, and on to the more unusual chocolate orange martini. As well as seeing how it was done and having a taste, members of the group also got to have a go at putting the new skills they had learned to the test - including me! I took so many photos that I decided to make a little video, break up all this reading for you a little bit.

In case you were wondering, the music is Ice King Christmas Ninja Party by Jonathan Mann, taken from There's a whole album of craziness on there. You're welcome. The Snowman was the final cocktail with which we finished the evening, but you've seen it now so I might as well include it here.

A traditional American favourite, this is a Bucks Fizz with an extra kick. Light, freshing and not too sweet, this takes you straight in to that Christmas morning celebratory feel. An excellent way to start a fun evening with friends.

Egg Nog
Not as thick as we were expecting, despite the thickening effect of the whole raw egg that is shaken in to it. Contains delicious gingerbread syrup - the very essence of Christmas - which made its way in to a whole lot of the cocktails. Creamy, without being heavy or sickly, this would be a good alternative when there's just no room for pudding.

Chocolate Orange Martini
By far the favourite cocktail of the night, so much so that we ran out of chocolate liquer-syrupy stuff and had to improvise when making The Snowman. Although a light, translucent drink, this is absolutely full of sweet chocolate orange flavour - it somehow tricks you into thinking you are drinking a Terry's classic. The white chocolate 'snow' around the glass is a beautiful touch and also adds that additional and optional creamy texture. Very potent though - maybe just stick with one!

The Snowman
The fun cocktail of the evening complete with carrot nose and matchmaker arms, you really can't get more Christmassy. It is creamy, sickly, sweet and delicious - when all you want to do is treat yourself to something excessive over the Christmas period.

In between the wonderful cocktails, we were introduced to Executive Chef, Jim Dickenson, who walked through some of the menu options that will be on offer for the Yuletide season. The menu offers three courses for £24.95 - a pretty competitive price looking at the seasonal menus that I have started to see pop up around the city. If you want more information, check it out for yourself here

We started off with the Goat Cheese Bruschetta Bites. These were crispy, warm mini ciabatta slices, topped with a fresh tomato, goats cheese and pesto topping. The soft, luxurious topping provides the perfect textual counterpoint to the crunch of the bread. Although simple, it is really well executed, providing a delicate basil hit which works really nicely with the sharp goats cheese. Really nicely balanced, there is just the right amount of cheese so you can taste every element and the cheese does not overpower. A good light starter if you are (quite rightly) concerned about being able to chomp your way through three of Coast to Coast's legendarily large portions.

Next came another vegetarian option, the mushroom risotto. This is made with five different types of mushrooms and is served with a lightly dressed rocket salad on top. It is creamy, earthy and homely, a real fireside winter warmer. I felt that the one we received was ever so slightly underseasoned for my palette, but that was my only criticism. 

As we had the option to chat with the Executive Chef, I took the opportunity to ask why a mushroom risotto was being served in an American themed recipe. It was really interesting to find out that while Coast to Coast pride themselves on their American inspiration, they are still trying new ways to introduce new flavours and ingredients to the British palette - the rack of Louisiana ribs, for example, was clearly a source of some confusion to some guests, who have simply never come across a whole rack of ribs in a restaurant before! The risotto is another of those compromises - big on taste, and certainly something you would find in the States, but not quite as American as egg nog, evidently Coast to Coast still have a way to go to bring everyone round to their exciting flavours.

The next dish was the Maple Burger - served to us for tasting as sliders (which was great as we were already getting pretty full!). The maple bacon on the burger was crispy, sweet, salty and delicious - a truly American flavour. It was in a decadent briache bun and this was served with a light and refreshing homemade coleslaw and crunchy fries. Once again, a textural delight.

Sadly, there wasn't time for us to try the Roast Turkey Dinner. You'll just have to go and try that for yourselves. But I can tell you that it comes with pigs in blankets, which means it is a winner in my book. And we went crashing onwards, in to dessert.

The desserts were by far the highlight of the menu. We tried the Pecan Pie and the Cookie Cheesecake. Both absolute American classics, served with a scoop of ice cream and a pot of house chantilly cream. 

I could not pick a favourite and I cannot emphasise enough that these desserts are both completely excellent. The pecan pie is sweet and crunchy with perfectly caramalised pecans generously topping a crisp pastry.

The cookie cheesecake features Oreos on top, oreos in the middle and oreos in the icecream. If you like Oreos, you'll be happy. It's chocolatey and thick, indulgent and heavenly. You'll be licking your spoon, licking your plate and, if you eat anything like me, licking your fingers at the end.

Thanks so much to Coast to Coast for inviting us along. It was a fabulous evening and a real pleasure to get the chance to talk in so much detail to the chef and mixologist about the menus, the American inspiration and much more besides. I don't know where we're going to be going for our Christmas meals with friends and colleagues this year, but Coast to Coast have certainly put in a strong bid to be on my list. Their menu is indulgent and ever so slightly wicked, American themed but with strong roots in tradition, and most importantly, delicious.

Extra special thanks to them for providing The Boy with a portion of wings. He is determined to try his way though all the Buffalo Wings in the world in order to see if he can ever find any that beat those at 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall in Santa Cruz, CA. He was SO happy - they were almost perfect in terms of hot, thick, spicy and flavoursome sauce over fried wings and served properly with celery and blue cheese sauce. I am concerned my husband is becoming a Buffalo Wing Nazi.

Anyway - Merry Christmas everybody - whenever you want to start thinking about it.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

My plans for #NextHalloween

We are excellent zombies
Halloween is coming! I get mardy every year because we never really do anything, so last year I decided to make a change. I started to build up a Halloween box in the sales after Halloween, and now it lives in the attic next to the Christmas decorations. I nearly have enough for a party, and so a party I will have! I'm still toying with ideas about exactly what will happen, and I am about to start sewing my costume - but I can't write about that now because I know people who will come to the party will read this and I don't want to spoil the surprise! However, I don't have everything I need, so I've been trawling the web looking for fresh ideas and great decorations to make my party everything I hope it can be!

The Party Stash
At the moment, the stash has some decorations; balloons, window stickers, table centre and the link. I also have all my tableware, including my giant black cauldron which will make an excellent punchbowl. The basis for our punch will be the fruit wine we made using this year's collection of homegrown blackcurrants and redcurrants from the garden. You cannot go wrong with a bit of homegrown punch.

The Pumpkin Harvest
I also have the plans in place for a pumpkin carving competition. The Extreme Housewifery has really come to the fore this year when it comes to pumpkin growing. I certainly have enough for teams to carve their own, which is great, as last year we only grew one! We have also grown The Behomoth, which is seasoning nicely on the side in the kitchen, just waiting for me to do something epic with it.

I have never carved a pumpkin before, and I've seen some great things on the internet. One friend who came round suggested that it would make an excellent Cinderella carriage. I wholeheartedly agreed, which led me on to thoughts of how I could make an RSPCA friendly cat harness, and hook it up to actual wheels so the kitties could work as a team to pull it. When I mentioned this to The Boy, he pointed out that there is actually no RSPCA friendly way to do this and if I went any further with this idea I would be a terrible person, so I have had to explore new avenues.

Picture from Morguefile
I love that people are so creative with pumpkin carving. I'll admit that I have never done it before, so I think I should not be too ambitious, but I would love to make a tableaux, rather than a face. We'll see how I feel on the day. What I do know is that I will be making some most excellent pumpkin treats with the flesh. And there will be a lot of flesh.

I would like sweet treats as well as savoury party foods. So here is my top 5 pumpkin party recipes from around the net:

1. Pumpkin Nook's Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
2. Taste of Home's Black Cat Dippers with Pumpkin Pie Dip (the prepared pumpkin can easily be substituted for fresh puree)
3. BBC Good Food's Sausage and Pumpkin Roast (I actually took inspiration from this using last year's pumpkin, took me ages to blog it though)
4. Better Homes and Gardens Melt-in-your-mouth Pumpkin Cookies
5. Kidspot's Pumpkin, Spinach and Feta Rolls

I have been looking at some great fun ideas for other treats. I have a tonne of marshmallows in already so I have been looking at all the funky ways people decorate marshmallows, including the cutest Oreo bats (check out I wash, you dry for more great ideas). 

However, my marshamallows are small and thin, so I think I'm just going to make the traditional marshmallow voodoo dolls with a bit of decorative icing and a does of good humour. I will also make some dipped marshmallows using for handing out to neighbours kids when they come a-knocking!

I have also put in a request with The Boy that I receive a pair of these skeleton feet slippers from Next ready for when I am doing my Halloween preparations. They will get me in the mood and keep my feet toasty when I am in the kitchen! They say they are for older boys, but happily they come in my size and will get me right in the spirit of things.

FInally, this party has to have a suitable playlist, and as we will be kid-free, we can make it super hardcore. If you've watched any horror movies you will know that plenty of metal is the way forward - White Zombie is a must. However, I'll also be mixing it up with Ghost Town by the Specials, Come to the Sabbat by Black Widow (an excellent tune and no mistake) and of course This s Halloween from the Nightmare before Christmas.

I have to end this post on an appropriate note and for me the father of the zombie flick and the unsurpassed master is George Romero. So here is my favourite tune, from admittedly my second favourite Romero film. Click play and feel the fear... Mwah ha ha ha haaaa....

I am submitting this post to the #nexthalloween competition 
to try and win more goodies for the party.
Wish me luck!

Learning to sew: The ukelele case

We went to Hawaii, I came home and bought a ukelele. Yes, it's all a bit predictable isn't it? But it did not have a case, coming off Ebay for a fiver as it did. So this was the perfect opportunity to put some of my new sewing prowess to the test and to learn some new techniques.

This is not a tutorial, I will quite happily admit that the bulk of the pattern I used was inspired by this lovely tutorial at Mommy by Day, Crafter by Night, which is excellent and has some easy to follow instructions.

I changed it a bit - I used a medium wadding instead of duck cloth, had a different zip arrangement, with patches to secure the open ends of the zip, and I also added an additional layer of padding under the lining given that my ukelele case is intended to see a certain amount of outdoor travel.

And of course, it is patchworked. Mmmmm, love my collection of vintage patchwork squares that I inherited from my mother.

That said, it means that this blog post is a gratuitous excuse for me to post endless pictures of my new ukelele case because I am so made up with it. I have tried new things - it was my first delve into quilting, something I would like to take forward. I added an additional layer of plain fabric on the quilted sections to stop the wadding from catching.

I also made my own bias binding (in RAINBOW fabric you'll note) and had a go at piping, so there are lots of new skills to take forward there. Hopefully you can see that it also has purple and white polka dot fabric as a contrasting lining. I am pretty pleased with the hand sewn lining, it is neater than I would have hoped.

It's not perfect and I've learned a lot that hopefully I can take forward, but practice is perfect right? It's taken me ages, but rightfully so. I think I've gained a bit more confidence in having a go at trickier projects now... Bring on the Halloween costume!

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