Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Pines and Needles Christmas Trees

It's full on Christmas in our house now - how do I know that? 

Because there's a bloody great tree in the house that's how!

Blah blah blah you know how much I love Christmas so I'm totally one happy mummy right now. 
The very kind people at Pines and Needles invited me to their opening event at their Wimbledon Park branch last week and we were able to choose a Christmas tree to bring home. 

If you are a tree connoisseur then you really need to know about Pines and Needles - they do trees for celebs don't you know! Actually, they are a lovely family business, here's some blurb from them:-

"Pines and Needles was founded by brothers Josh and Sam Lyle back in 1995. It all started when the youngsters (then aged 15 and 13) came up with the brainwave of loading an old horsebox with Christmas trees from their family farm in Scotland and taking the long journey down to London.After a few years the kilted crew grew in size, the Internet beckoned, and the rest, as they say, is history."

They really can provide the whole package; for those who want it, you can have your tree delivered and completely installed for you (but that takes away all the fun of getting stabbed by a million needles doesn't it?!)
Back to our visit........
Carol singers provided the perfect soundtrack to our search and a good game of hide and seek amongst the mini forest (seriously - so many trees!) made for wonderful family fun.

There was a lovely event laid on which made the whole tree choosing experience extra magical!
Of course my boy knew exactly which tree he wanted!!!!!!
To be fair we absolutely would go for a tree this size if we lived in a mansion but sadly that's not the case.
However we always choose the biggest tree we can get away with and this year we hit the jackpot and found the most stunning 8 foot Nordmann fir.

All the trees are grown on the family farm still and they are excellent quality, no brittle branches and all shapes and sizes to choose from plus the Nordmann are non-drop meaning less mess and potential for injury!

For this area and this type of tree the prices are extremely competitive.

You can even gift a tree through Pines and Needles, what a lovely idea!
Josh helped us pick out our tree and all the staff were so friendly and even took time to share some fun and games with my boy - that's such a lovely touch. He was also super helpful in terms of recommending the ways to get the most life out of our tree. 

There were a range of stands, mini trees, wreaths, garlands, lights and decorations also available on sale in the little log cabin. Pines and Needles have branches all over London and the South East (get it? BRANCHES - hahaha, lol!)
We were given a delivery slot for the same day and received text messages throughout the process to keep us updated. The tree was delivered by two very friendly members of the team and we followed the advice given to us and popped it outside for a couple of days sitting in water. It had been given a fresh cut when we choose it so we gave it another mini cut before bringing it into the house two days later. 
Ta-da!!! Here it is in situ, in it's stand filled with water to keep it healthy and the branches are nicely levelling out now, all ready to be decorated with my boy when he comes home from school this evening. See how well-proportioned this tree it - not bare spots, good branch distribution - this is all a very serious business in our household!

Fear not - I'll be back with an update of the finished tree very soon. 

It really is the most wonderful time of the year!
When does your tree go up usually? With December starting tomorrow you've got loads of time left to go out and choose your own tree too. 

**Disclosure** We were gifted this tree by Pines and Needles in exchange for this review. However all opinions are honest and my own and never influenced by gifts. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Crayola 3, 2, 1 Draw

3, 2, 1 - Review!

Christmas is right around the corner now (yey!) and as you all know - in this Rhiality we simply adore all things Christmas. 

Something else we adore is a good board game. I actually didn't know that Crayola made games now but it's true........they have released a new range and I was very kindly sent one in exchange for this review. 

Here's what Crayola has to say about the game...

"Picture this: think you have what it takes to beat friends and family with your dynamic drawing skills? Be game for a laugh as you experience the board games with a doodletastic difference! For fast fingers on the move, new 3,2,1 Draw! is perfect for on the go fun for ages 6+ with a variety of game options in one compact stow-away set! Inspiration dice can help generate ideas for your drawings so you can play on your own or challenge family and friends to guess your sketch! It’s up to you what you draw and how tricky your doodle designs are but remember you are against the clock as the Pipsqueak pen has a fun sand timer attached!"

Let's look at what's in the box... the wipe clean whiteboard comes with its own eraser. There is a mini Crayola whiteboard pen which is super cute and clicks into the mini sand timer so once you start to draw, the time starts to run down; finally you have the three dice. 

Here's where I get excited - everything you need fits neatly into the drawing board and the pen with its timer clip onto the side. This means you're less likely to lose any pieces and it just pleases my neat-ness-o-meter (mums, you know what I'm talking about!) The instructions are written on the box meaning that there's no leaflet to lose either!

There is practically no set up so you can get to playing straight away plus this would be so easy to travel with and even play on the go - in the car or on a plane. 

One thing I love about this game is that you can actually mix and match the versions of the game but play at the same time. For example, I played the hardest version which made it more challenging for me but my boy played an easier version as he is younger. This would be especially good if you had children of various ages so they would all feel challenged but be able to enjoy it together. (The recommended playing age is 6-106 years).

Now onto the gameplay itself: 

Think of something, draw it, and hope the other players guess it within the time limit. 

We started by trying this simplest version of this game which was fun but sometimes little ones struggle to come up with ideas.....which is where the dice come in to help. 

We grownups rolled all three whilst my boy rolled two and this gave us the inspiration and instruction for what to draw. 
  • One die gives you the first letter of your drawing
  • One gives you a category from which to choose something to draw (TV, book etc)
  • The third one can be a help or a hindrance eg: you can only use half the space to draw in or you get extra time. 

At first I was worried that the timer wouldn't keep running unless you held the pen straight upright all the time but it's actually really well designed so that even little ones who may hold the pen in a funny way will still be fine so you don't have to worry about that while you're drawing. 

You can use one corner of the board to keep score: when someone is able to guess what you've drawn you get a point. You can play for as long as you like or set a goal like, first one to 5 points wins for a shorter game with a definite ending - depending on the age of the children playing this may be a very good idea!

Here's my boy drawing Romeo and Juliet because he rolled the book category and the letter R. He decided it would be too tricky to draw so he drew "Gnomeo and Juliet" instead, hoping that we would guess it from there - and we did!

This was my attempt at drawing William Shakespeare! It took them ages to guess what it was and I nearly ran out of time - I reckon I did a good job though. 

Here's an example of when we had rolled the instruction die and we could only use half the board for our drawing - and we had to draw a job beginning with A - can you guess what it is?

Even the dog wanted to join in with the game but sadly he wasn't great at drawing. 

Off-topic but how cute are the boy and the dog in their Christmas jumpers???????

I asked my boy how he would rate this game and his answer as 10/10! What more can you ask from a family game?

We really enjoyed playing this as a family and I think it would make a great Christmas present. It retails for around £9.99 which means it's totally affordable to give to friends or even go in a Christmas stocking. I'm fairly sure that we will be playing this on Christmas day once we've retired from the table and are totally full of Xmas yummyness. 

Thanks Crayola, I can't wait to try the other games in the range. So what do you reckon.....will this be going on your Christmas list? 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Half term happenings

Hello you lovely lot, 

Well, it's fair to say that I've been a little bit awol of late and maybe even lost my blogging mojo there for a while. Happily I'm back though.....I thought I'd kick things off with a little round up of our trip to Wales last week.......

We are so lucky to be able to visit this little pocket of the countryside. It's the same place that I've been visiting since I was a child and now I love taking my boy there to relive these memories and make lots of new ones!!!

pretty stunning view from the house 
The weather was unseasonably good this year and it was even what you might call hot on one of the days! 

The boys went go-karting. This was N's first time and in a place we'd never been to before. It was a two-seater kart and he was able to do the steering while his Daddy controlled the pedals. He absolutely loved it so I'm sure in time we will be heading back there. We also had a go at archery while we were there and although the boy got one arrow into the centre of the target I can honestly say that the rest of us were a bit rubbish!

The beaches are never particularly busy in these parts but at this time of year you pretty much have the whole place to yourselves which is so special. Plenty of time to explore to your heart's content.

Who doesn't love a proper picnic with a proper hamper and actual china?! Playing cricket on the beach is something I remember doing with my dad when we were all little (we Indians love cricket) so we busted out the wickets and bat and had ourselves a good game. The dog was by far the best fielder - fetching tennis balls is his bag!

A big thumbs us for the sand dunes! This was by far the dog's favourite activity as well because he had an actual grin on his face as he tore up and down them.

I couldn't leave you again without at least a bit of cake now could I?

This is the cake I made for my dad's birthday last week. As you can see inside it was a checkerboard design. Vanilla and chocolate sponger layered with chocolate mousse. Vanilla buttercream and chocolate ganache coated the cake plus a bit more chocolate mousse and then I decorated it with honeycomb matchsticks, mini Crunchie bars, Maltesers and chocolate curls. My dad has a very sweet tooth indeed so this was right up his street. I was pretty proud of myself as there were a few elements to this cake which I had never tried before and I was happy with the results - although I learned a few lessons for next time I give these elements a try.

Well - at least now you know I'm back in the land of the living. We're having a Hallowe'en party this weekend which is always super exciting so I'll be back soon with a report on that.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sugru - a review

Now, crafty I might be, but DIY is so not my strong suit.

However ----- I am the queen of botch jobs and quick fixes, mostly because I'm impatient (and thrifty) but also because I do love to use the phrase, "fashion a device."

Example - I need something to hook this door back but don't have access to a hook/nails/drill etc....."Allow me to fashion a device!" The boy wants a new way to hang up all his fancy dress costumes and the shops are shut/I have no idea how to use rawlplugs, "Allow me to fashion a device!"

You get the's finding a way to repurpose something you already have, fix something instead of buying something new, combine two old things to create and entirely new creation.

I once heard of a magical substance which seems to have been invented entirely for such purposes...Sugru was it's name. It's basically been top of my Xmas list for about 3 years but I guess Father Christmas (or my family) didn't take me seriously and so alas - I have had to live on without this genius invention in my life. Sure, devices have been fashioned - but when I think of what could have been....the devices, the fashioning.....I won't lie to you it's been tough!

I know we're not supposed to be in the blogging business for freebies and review opportunities (and I'm certainly not) but when I was contacted and given the opportunity to try this stuff out I literally jumped for joy (what can I say - I'm sad like that).

Now if you visit the Sugru website it tells you all about how to use it and ideas for ways to use it. They call these ideas "hacks" but clearly that's because they don't know about "fashioning devices" - it's cool, I'm happy to be ahead of the curve.

In short, this is a mould-able putty substance which air dries to bond solidly and become heat, weather and waterproof. You can put it in the dishwasher or use in bathrooms. It will even stick to fabric.

Another thing I totally love about this stuff is that it is so British - it totally embraces the "make do and mend" attitude we are famous for. It started as a small idea and made it all the way to big business and what's more this idea came out of the mind of a woman - total awesomeness!

You didn't know you needed this stuff in your life - but you do!

So far I have, solved a problem with my taps that would have been very costly, fixed my loo without having to call a plumber and created a cool way to store and hang my ever-growing hat collection. Oh yeah - and fixed those bloody annoying Apple chargers which are coated in crappy plastic which always breaks to expose the wires.

I was given a starter pack of Sugru for free. It was a product I already had interest in. I decided to write this review and share my thoughts with you.

Over and out buddies xx

Saturday, 2 April 2016

A tale of two cakes.....part two

So here we are again and, yes, there's more cake. 

My boy had his birthday party a little early with some school friends. I made a large cake for them all to enjoy which hopefully you have read about in my most recent post. It was his actual birthday in the Easter holidays and I simply couldn't let him not have a cake on his actual birthday.

I had to think long and hard about which second cake to make for him. Sure, he would always love a Star Wars cake but he had a hint of that in his joint cake. He would always be pleased with a superhero cake - but again, been there, done that. 

I decided theme wasn't the key this year but fun certainly was! My boy loves him some Smarties and that's where it all began. I'm not usually one for trends or fads in the baking world but this time I had to go trendy (yep - I'm so old now that I use words like trendy which are so totally not trendy in any way!)

Here we are then -------- a rainbow, skyscraper, pinata cake. Everything that my boy adores - purple, cake, get the drift. 

I whipped up an all in one Victoria sponge mix which I use all the time - holla at me if you would like the recipe. Normally, I would always use golden sugar but in this instance it is advisable to use white sugar (I know - shit right?) because it makes your cake mix nice and pale so that it takes the colour in a true way rather than with a tinge. 

I divided it by eye into six bowls and then added the colour. Gel colour for the win. Doesn't dilute the mix and make it too sloppy. Easy to build for the desired shade. Come on - you know by now that gel colour is the only way to go right? 
Red and yelloe and pink and green (there's seriously no pink!)
Once the colour is mixed in well it's time to pop the mixture into the pre-greased pans. I actually bought a set of 6inch cake pans for this cake. I normally wouldn't and then would bake cakes in batches as I have two of pretty much every size for making layer cakes. It felt truly luxurious to have the proper "kit" for once instead of making do!

 Ta - DA!!!!! Here's the finished cake. I layered it with vanilla buttercream, crumb coated it, left it to dry and then fully iced it with the buttercream. Much as I love a cream cheese icing or any flavoured icing over a plain vanilla buttercream I had to choose what my boy would love and plus the pale colour of this icing really helps the colour of the cakes to pop when you cut into it. 

Howe cute are these star and letter candles which we bought randomly in our local newsagent a couple of years ago?!

There you have it. Not the most fancy creation in the world but it was yummy and moist and the colours were fab! I used actual Smarties for the inside and I decorated the outside with slightly smaller, fake ones which I had got from a cake decorating shop a while ago. 

When my boy saw this cake his jaw dropped and he literally fell to the floor, completely silent. This was quite a dramatic and hilarious reaction - just the sort of thing I would expect from my boy. He's super awesome after all. 

A yummy cake which packed lots of fun was shared by all of our friends and family. 

Two birthday. Done for another year. Deets on request. 
Much love. Goodnight. 

Monday, 28 March 2016

A tale of two cakes....part one

March Madness - aka birthday bake-a-thon is upon us. My boy turned six this month which is both crazy and awesome in equal measures!

This year he had a brilliant party with three school friends. It was the first time we have gone down the route of a children's entertainer but I must say it was fab! Sharing with three other families also brought the cost to a much more reasonable level - being a children's entertainer in London means you gets PAID!!!!!

Naturally - I was in charge of cake.

I've been to joint parties before where there has been one cake for each child but this is massive overkill and usually ends up with a lot of left over cake (luckily I'm like Joey with a fork in my pocket ready for just such an occasion). So I decided we would have one large cake - big enough to feed everyone. The issue with only one cake however is that little ones like to have their own candles.....cue a little bit of creative thinking. 

The children have been doing castles as their topic at school recently so that's what I decided to make. A castle with four towers, one for each child - themed to their personal interests. (It seemed like a good idea when I came up with it - there may have been certainly was lots of swearing throughout the process!)

I went for a square layer cake for the main part of the building, alternate layers of vanilla and chocolate sponge which was then covered in icing which I imprinted with a brick pattern (using something like this). I bought white icing and coloured it grey myself to achieve the colour I was looking for. I used black gel colour and gradually built it up to a light stone shade. (My guns were pumped after all the kneading!)

For the towers I needed something really solid which I could cover with the same icing but still stand up! I opted for a rice crispie concoction. I melted a random amount of butter and mini marshmallows in a pan, stirring until smooth. Then I poured in an equally random amount of rice crispies (or at least the cheaper, Waitrose version).

WARNING: If you attempt such a mixture you need to know that this shit is stickier than an actual stick covered in sticky stuff so please be careful!!! You need to grease every utensil and surface to fuck in order to handle it. Also unless you have the asbestos hands of Indian lady who's been cooking roti all her life (like me) you should not put your hands directly into the mixture until it is much, much cooler!!!

I had to get all Blue Peter on this project to construct my towers. I covered some stiff card with greaseproof paper and then used tape and paperclips to roll them into cylinders. I greased my hands liberally and grabbed chunks of the mixture and packed it inside each of the four towers to the height I wanted.

You may be realising that my approach to this kind of thing is somewhat haphazard and you'd be right!!!

I squished it down so it was in tight then left it to set. As sticky as this stuff is when warm it's ridiculously solid when cold and dry. Thanks to the greaseproof paper they came out totally clean when I unwrapped them. (Phew!)

I crumb coated everything with vanilla buttercream, once that was dry it was all given a more liberal coating of buttercream. Next I covered the square cake in the rolled icing and then each tower individually with the same. The towers were then attached to the main cake with cocktail sticks (yet more hi-tech equipment in use!). 

At this point I realised that I had - 1) forgotten to put battlements under the fondant and 2) not made all the towers the same height or circumference. 

It was at this juncture that I revisited my original design and of course remembered that I had planned all along for this to be a ruined castle, therefore rendering all such mistakes totally and utterly planned! Problem solved :)

Afterthought battlements added I moved on to the decoration for each tower:

  • My boy requested Star Wars so clashing light sabres and a Darth Vader motif (he is a big fan of the dark side).
  • The only girl in the group was given a Minnie Mouse tower (I know that she also likes Hello Kitty but seriously my decorating skills could not stretch to that!)
  • English cricket up next - wickets, ball and those big leg pads - job done :)
  • Liverpool football club got some simple football decorations - weirdly my unwavering hatred of football meant that I couldn't manage to make a sodding fondant football for love nor money (most of the swearing happened here). Thankfully my football-loving husband who has literally never fondled fondant footballs before was impressively good at making them (he also makes a good G&T so the cake was once again back on track). 

Towers done and all cracks patched up I added the other bits and bobs. The children had recently been on a school trip to an actual castle and one of my boy's favourite parts was the "small door within a big door" and the drawbridge so naturally, these features had to be included. String and mini drawing pins were surprisingly effective in this section. (I'll take that Blue Peter badge now thank you!)

I made the lettering for each tower so it said each child's name and then I did the lettering for the roof so it read HAPPY BIRTHDAY (aka - shit there's loads of space on top and I've got no idea what to do with it!!!!)

Those cocktail sticks came in handy again as I made a mini flag for each tower and a "6" banner. 

So there you have it - a sufficiently long-winded story of how I made this beast of a cake. 

Each little chap and chapess was happy to have a joint cake which was also totally individual. Plus they had their own candles to blow out after the song. Win-win.

All in all - a successful birthday cake and four happy six year olds (then there was Prosecco - it's all good). 

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