Monday 29 June 2015

Bedroom Dreams

As I'm sure I've mentioned a fair few times, Simon and I have just bought a new house and with it comes a desire to create ourselves a clean and comfortable living space that we feel happy to call our home.

After two years of living in a small and cluttered rented flat, we are counting down to September when we can start afresh and settle down somewhere that is truly ours.  I fear I have fallen into the trap of believing that our lives in our new home are going to be picture perfect fabulous!

In my dream to create our perfect home I find myself pretty distracted on a daily basis with my thoughts constantly turning to furnishings. A quick browse on the web finds me lost for hours admiring beautiful interiors on Pinterest and even our weekly shop sees me forgetting to pick up the milk because I've been too busy looking at pretty homeware in Tesco.

Having lived in rented homes for my entire adult life I unfortunately don't have a clue about where to start when it comes to decorating a new home.  All I do know is that having just blown a small fortune on our house deposit, solicitors fees and expenses we don't have a great deal of money left to spend on furniture.

So at the moment I'm focussed on one room at a time, thinking about how I can make us a comfortable, clean and chic home on a limited budget.

I spend most of my time dreaming about our new bedroom.   We hate our current sleeping space with its shabby carpet, dark walls and limited space and I'm very excited that our new room is going to be far larger with white walls and gorgeous skylights to keep the room nice and bright.

I'm desperate to create a relaxing and comfortable environment so have decided to keep things simple and fresh by decorating our new space white whilst adding a few details in gold to create a feeling of opulence.

All of our bedroom furniture is going to be white so we're on the hunt for pieces that are going to look great but are friendly on the bank balance.  I'm also keen to have a good amount of furniture so that everything has a home.  No more using rooms as dumping grounds!

I've started looking out for pretty pieces in gold that we can use to decorate our room.  I quite fancy a gold lamp for our bedside table and a white bedding set with some beautiful gold features.  We are also keen to use artwork by local artists to decorate all of the rooms in the house so will be looking for some beautiful drawings to add to the walls in our bedroom. 

We are currently a little guilty of dumping our clothes on the floor of our bedroom so I'm thinking about getting a chair for the corner of the room, I like to pretend to myself that I'll relax in the chair with a good book but I think the reality will be that that's where the pile of clothes goes (neatly folded of course!).

The thing I am probably most excited about when thinking about our new bedroom is that I will finally have my very own grownup lady dressing table.  The perfect place to store my cluttered collection of makeup and somewhere for me to get ready in comfort. 

With my limited knowledge I am relying on bloggers with beautiful homes and amazing tips and have even found myself eyeing up a few home furnishing books.

I'd love to hear how you've decorated your bedroom, give me some ideas!

Friday 26 June 2015

Jesmond Tour Guides

When people ask what it is I love about blogging my number one answer will always be having somewhere that I can share my passion for the North East.  Above all else promoting this gorgeous part of the country is my main goal and nothing makes me smile more than someone sending me a message to say that I've inspired them to visit Newcastle.

Someone who's been wanting to visit me for a while now has been my favourite Yorkshire lass Kelly. Our friendship is based on a mutual passion for food (and cake in particular) and I've been tempting her up to the North East for a while now with all of my photos of delicious afternoon teas. 

When she messaged me a few weeks ago to say she was planning a weekend trip to Newcastle with her fella I was eager to play tour guide and immediately started giving a few ideas of where to stay and what to do.  This backfired slightly when she proceeded to book into our favourite hotel, Jesmond Dene House - JEALOUS!

I love playing host when people come to Newcastle so I put on my geekiest "I love the North East" hat to spend Saturday afternoon showing our guests round one of the best suburbs of Newcastle, Jesmond.

First on the agenda was brunch and I was keen to get a table in Arlo, somewhere I've been wanting to try for a while after seeing delicious photographs all over Instagram.

Every time I've walked past the Bistro it's been rammed so I was a little worried about getting a table at 11:00 am on a Saturday.  Luckily although it was busy there was plenty of room to wait in comfort whilst having a catch up and admiring all of the dishes of food that were rushing past us.

We didn't have to wait too long for a table and quickly put our order of teas and coffees in.  I went for a caramel latte which came with a little square of brownie.  Luckily it's perfectly acceptable to eat cake before breakfast on a weekend so I wolfed it down without a second thought.

Talking of brownies, I did spend most of my time in Arlo admiring the rather amazing looking counter of cakes, I think I may have even zoned out a few times mid conversations just because my eyes were constantly drawn to a stunning looking Victoria Sponge that was oozing jam and cream.   I think it's safe to say I will be returning to Arlo soon for some afternoon tea and cake!

The breakfast menu was spot on, with something for everyone.  I was quite tempted by Toasted Tea Cake or Homemade Granola, but my greedy eyes were soon distracted by the description of the Cooked Veggie Breakfast.  I've never ordered a vegetarian breakfast in my life, but it sounded so good it had to be done.

When my plate appeared in front of me I was one happy lady - spilling over the sides it was filled with two poached eggs, a mini saucepan of baked beans, mushroom, grilled haloumi and two slices of toast served with little pots of hummus, guacamole and sweet chilli.

Any breakfast that consists of cheese and sweet chilli is a winner for me and I absolutely loved it!  I just wish I could have had a whole loaf of bread next to me to mop up every single last bit.

Simon ordered Toasted Waffles with Bacon and Maple Syrup, still recovering from our Malmaison Brunch last week when I pinched one of his waffles (believe me he's gone on about it all week!), he was very happy to find me so distracted by my own food that I let him finish his entire plateful without asking for a bite. 

With full bellies we decided a walk may be a good idea so headed to Armstrong Bridge for the Jesmond Food Market that takes place on the third Saturday of each month.

I'm not sure strolling through a market full of the most amazing smelling food is the best idea when you're full from breakfast.  We were left a little frustrated that we didn't have enough room to join in and instead were forced to watch from the side lines.

This probably wasn't helped by me enthusiastically leaping about the market yelling out the names of all of my favourite vendors and telling Kelly how amazing they all are.  Teasing her by shouting "OH MY GOD FAT HIPPO" "WOW! Le Petite Creperie" and "Oooooooooh Longhorns" probably was a bit mean.

The Food Market is probably the prettiest market I've ever visited, located on the picturesque Armstrong Bridge with Jesmond Dene sitting below it, it was bustling with happy foodies.   The next one is on 18 July and we will be there, this time with empty tummies!

We decided to walk our guests back to their hotel through Jesmond Dene.  It was a pretty wet day but it meant that there was a lovely fresh smell in the woods and I was pretty hopeful that my too white Converse may finally get some mud on them.

Of course no walk through the Dene is complete without a stroll through Pet's Corner and we made a quick visit to see the rabbits and pigs before continuing on our way through the woodland.

One of my favourite things to do after eating food is walking and it was so lovely taking a stroll in the fresh air, chatting and pausing every now and again to take a few photographs of our gorgeous surroundings.   Letting my hair frizz in the rain and not even caring, this is what weekends are made for!

The big show off part of  Jesmond Dene is the waterfall so we had to take a little divert off the path to pause for a little while to appreciate the beautiful scenery.

We soon made our way back to Jesmond Dene House but there was no way Simon and I could be that close to JDH without popping inside and we very quickly persuaded ourselves that we might be able to fit in a hot drink before leaving our guests in peace.  Grabbing a table in the Cocktail Lounge our fun filled afternoon ended with Hot Chocolates and Chocolate Chip Cookies in comfy chairs.

Ahhhh Jesmond life! 

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Las Iguanas, Newcastle

Do you ever get restaurant envy?  It usually happens to me when I'm rushing up Grey Street and happen to take a glance in the direction of Las Iguanas.  The large windows always make me peak in and the people inside always seem to be having such a great time.  Each time this has happened I've promised myself that one day I will book a table to join in the fun ... somehow it's taken me over two years to get there!

Yes, shocking as it may sound, until last week I had never been to Las Iguanas!

We finally booked ourselves a table for a Thursday evening, making sure we were there for Happy Hour as I'd heard wonderful stories about the Buy One Get One Free cocktails.   Simon wasn't overly bothered by the offer as he had his heart firmly set on a Corona, so really this was all about me being greedy and wanting two cocktails.

The cocktail list was just as I expected, a plentiful amount of fun and fruity flavours.  I changed my mind quite a few times before finally settling on the Pink Passion Fruit, a new addition to the cocktail menu.  

My two glasses arrived, I felt a little naughty for all of two seconds and then had a lovely time with a cocktail for each hand.   The Pink Pigeon vanilla rum, apricot liqueur, passion fruit puree & vanilla sugar made for a fresh and zingy cocktail.

I had spent much of my day carefully studying the menu to select what to have, with a mouth watering choice of food it was a decision that definitely needed many hours dedicated to it.  I was particularly impressed that the menu was clearly labelled for those with food intolerances, as a nut allergy sufferer I really appreciate when a restaurant makes life a little easier for me.

When it comes to Mexican food I always end up making the same decision and ordering my favourite, Enchilada.  I would usually have it stuffed full of meat but the vegetarian option sounded delicious so instead I opted for roast butternut squash, roasted red peppers, spinach and cheese.

It came served with spring onion & garlic rice and was sitting in a generous helping of thick refried beans.  I loved my meal and was really impressed with the delicious flavours and subtle level of spice.  I could have perhaps done with a little more cheese, but maybe that's because I'm a cheese addict and would happily cover all of my food in half a block!

Simon chose a new addition to the menu for his main course, Camaro ala Criolla - prawns in a sauce of peppers, tomatoes, parsley, coriander, garlic, paprika, coconut milk, cumin & lime.  It came served with chilli & garlic buttered wheat & corn tortillas and spring onion & garlic rice.

Whenever we are out in a restaurant for the blog I like to quiz him intently about his meal. He was ready for me this time as the cheeky monkey tried to tell me it was horrible, just to put me off trying any.   Luckily I saw past his lies and paid him back by dunking my fork in and swiping a nice big mouthful to try.   

The prawns were plump and juicy and tasted amazing with the creamy sauce and rice.  He didn't let me take a tortilla time!

As we tucked into our food I stupidly told Simon my story of how I'd often walked past Las Iguanas and enviously watched the people inside having a great time.  I wish I hadn't shared this as the next second he was performing his best dance moves to people outside the window - you can't take him anywhere!

Finally being a part of the "Las Iguanas crowd" was fantastic, it's a really fun restaurant to people watch in and we enjoyed seeing large groups of girlfriends drinking cocktails, families enjoying dinner and couples out for romantic meals.  The atmosphere was busy and happy.

We were, of course, looking forward to ordering dessert.  It doesn't matter how full we feel, it's a given that we will be wanting something sweet after our main meal.

I chose Aztec Chocolate Fudge Cake - warm spiced chocolate orange sponge cake served with vanilla ice cream.  WOW!   I am a huge fan of fudge cake at the best of times, but adding some orange to the mix is inspired.  It was beautiful.

Simon opted for Churros which I was very pleased about as I've been told countless times that you can't go to Las Iguanas without ordering them.  They come in a choice of sizes, the sensible option would have been to order a modest 3 Churros, but since when were we sensible?  Of course, we ordered 6!

The Churros were served with pots of chocolate ganache and dulce de leche. I will admit when they were put down on the table, I almost threw my fudge cake aside - they looked that good.

Despite being fit to bursting after wolfing down the fudge cake I still managed to pinch 2 Churros from Simon and covered them in a, some might say, greedy amount of chocolate ganache.   They were absolutely perfect - crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and covered in a generous sprinkling of sugar.

The dipping pots were so generous there was plenty left over once we'd finished the Churros. I sat on my hands to stop myself grabbing a spoon to scoop out the rest of the pots.

We loved our first experience at Las Iguanas and it's safe to say that next time I'm strolling past and see happy faces I will be walking through that door to join the party! 


Monday 22 June 2015

Summer Swish at the Metrocentre

As we move ever closer to the day we leave our rented flat to begin our exciting adventure in our first home, I'm very aware that we need a good sort out.  One of the biggest problems we face is the excessive amount of clothes that I own.  Crushed into small wardrobes (with very little room for Simon's clothes!) my ridiculous collection of jeans, jackets, dresses and shoes has, perhaps, got a little out of control in recent years.

So when North East blogger Rachel decided to organise a swish event at the Intu Metrocentre, I saw it as a perfect time to start sorting through my outfits.

At times I can be a very impulsive buyer.  I have bought a dress because I love the colour even though it doesn't suit me, heels that are so pretty but impossible for me to walk in and a "must have" bag just because every blogger on the internet has it.

So a lot of my collection is made up of things I regret purchasing but have managed to survive every wardrobe cull just because they are too pretty to part with.  I've never been able to bring myself to get rid of the impractical beauties in my wardrobe, but swishing with bloggers gave me a chance to finally get rid of these pieces.   The thought of a treasure that I can't wear appearing on someone elses blog as an "Outfit of the Day" was enough to convince me to finally let go.

For the Summer Swish we each took along at least five items which we could exchange for the same number of items from others.  We were given tickets for each item that we passed over which we then hung on anything we liked the look of on the rails of clothes. 

I managed to take a rather staggering 11 items along with me, but was pretty sure Simon probably wouldn't want me to return to the flat with 11 new items so I was very restrained even though the other bloggers had bought some great things to add to the rails.

The biggest joy for me was seeing little red tags hanging off the clothes that I had brought with me, some of my goodies even had more than one tag on meaning that they went into a draw.   My beautiful pastel blue H&M bag became the hit of the afternoon and I was really happy to see it going to a happy and deserving new home.

As our Swish was Summer themed, the Metrocentre's Style Queen, Michaela joined us, bringing with her a rail of rather beautiful Summer clothes from around the centre.   Michaela gave us some really helpful tips on packing for a Summer holiday and how you can build an entire weeks wardrobe out of just 16 items. 

Michaela gave us advice on savvy packing using a Summer appropriate colour theme to create a capsule wardrobe for your holiday that you can mix and match for every occasion.  Her idea of wearing a swim suit with some wide legged white linen trousers for an evening outfit was inspired.

We were also joined by the Body Shop who were treating us to makeovers and showing us some of their new products including the rather delicious smelling Virgin Mojito range. 

During the event we were raising money for the Sunshine Fund, a local charity supporting disabled children, and I managed to win myself star prize at the Raffle meaning that later this year I will be off to the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle to watch a show of my choice.  What a prize!

The perfect afternoon ended with a spontaneous trip for sushi with Ashlie and Katie where we had a fantastic time gossiping and stuffing our faces with delicious food.  One thing I love about blogging is the wonderful people you get to meet and I loved spending a bit of extra time with two of my favourite blogging ladies. 

The afternoon also resulted in the lovely Ashlie sending me a surprise copy of Hello Magazine in the post after I mentioned to her that I hadn't been able to find the Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan issue anywhere ... that there is a blogging friend for life!  


Friday 19 June 2015

Park Life

I will admit we are beginning to run out of new and original places we can get to on public transport when the sun shines.  Our fail safes tend to be the coastal town of Tynemouth or a stroll round nearby Saltwell Park.  So every time I spot some sun on the forecast I start anxiously examining Google maps and the train timetables to see if I can discover somewhere new we can adventure to.  

Going on an adventure can be a bit of a commitment - spending lots of money on a train ticket when you don't know if you'll be able to fill a day at your chosen destination is a gamble.  Recently my research paid off when we headed on the train to Morpeth, a little market town in the heart of Northumberland.  

Morpeth is 20 minutes outside Newcastle and falls under Northern Rail's "Duo Ticket" rail scheme, meaning we got 25% off our tickets.   Bargain!

Our first destination of the day was Carlisle Park, a short walk from Morpeth station it is a great place to head if the weather is sunny.

Not sure what to expect, we were surprised at how huge the park was.  I'd been expecting a bit of grass and a few swings but instead we were greeted by a colourful display of flowers and endless paths promising adventure.

As it was a hot day we decided to head to the woodland area first to cool down in the shade.   The paths were quiet and we happily tiptoed between the trees keeping our eyes open for red squirrels that have been spotted in the area.

Unfortunately we didn't manage to spot any wildlife this time but we did stumble across the last of the Spring bluebells.

Next we went for a climb up Ha' Hill, an 11th century motte and bailey promising fantastic views across Morpeth.  

As we climbed the steps to the top we were joined by a few bouncing bunnies who were happily skipping just ahead of us.

The views were lovely, an aerial view of the Park and the Morpeth countryside beyond it, we were lucky to have a very clear day so could see for miles.

We were more than ready for a cool down after our enthusiastic climb so decided to spend the rest of our time in the Park ambling around at a snail's pace.  

We plodded along the river watching people in rowing boats, feeling a bit too lazy to hire one for ourselves.  

We were very excited to spot a Heron sitting by the river, and a lovely local told us that he's a pretty frequent visitor to Carlisle Park.  One of the best things about living in the North is that everyone is so friendly,  I love how easy it is to start an enjoyable conversation with a stranger in a park.

The centre of Morpeth is a short, yet beautiful stroll from Carlisle Park.  I will admit that I purposely made us walk a slightly longer way round just to get this beautiful shot of the bridge (Simon wasn't too amused at the time, but I think we can all agree it was worth it?!)

Morpeth is a pretty Market Town complete with picture perfect buildings that are home to a number of independent businesses and colourful bunting.   It's a great place for a weekend amble - perfect for people watching and admiring fluffy pooches.

As we happily strolled around in the sunshine it wasn't long before I realised that I'd gone a good many hours without having any cake, which is just wrong on a Saturday. 

Morpeth may be small but it has a great amount of tea rooms, so many that it's pretty hard to decide where to go.   A lot of my "cake list" is actually made up of places in Morpeth so I was very happy to finally be there and able to tick one of them off.

With the weather being so beautiful the winner of the day was Micah's Tea Room as it had a courtyard and I rather fancied the idea of eating cake in the sunshine.

As we made our way through the tea room I was struck by the amount of knickknacks filling the small space.  Every surface was covered in little trinkets and it reminded me a little of going to an eccentric Aunt's house for tea.  

The courtyard was similar, busy with colour and plenty to look at.   We grabbed ourselves a table in the corner and were amused to see that we would be sharing our space with a frog ornament. 

There was plenty of cake to choose from and I had definitely earned myself a slice after surviving the battle back through Aladdin's Cave to look at the cake counter!   I went for a Chloe classic - a nice big wedge of Red Velvet.

As we all know, given a choice, Simon will always favour ice-cream over cake and ordered himself a honeycomb sundae, a definite wise decision given the soaring temperatures in the courtyard.

First job before eating is always taking a silly amount of photographs on your phone .. anyone think that Simon has been hanging out with a blogger a bit too long?

I don't care how hot it is, I always want tea with my cake and they do say that hot drinks cool you down in scorching temperatures, so I was quick to order myself a nice big pot of tea.

We spent our last hour in Morpeth chilling out in our own little secret garden eating the best kind of weekend treats. 

We loved exploring Morpeth and plan to return soon to tick some more tea rooms off our list.

Where should we head on our next sunny adventure?


Wednesday 17 June 2015

The True Value of a Mum

Today I'm talking about Mums, or "Mams" if you're from up here in the North East.  Legal and General have recently done some research to find out how much the average Mum is worth and, through her unpaid (and often thankless) role looking after her family and home, the figure is £31,627!

Appreciating the true value of your Mum is something that I think comes with age.  Having spent your youth treating her like an unpaid maid and your teenage years shouting at her, you enter adulthood with a sudden realisation that your Mum is someone that has always looked out for you and supported you no matter what.

A friend for life, there's nothing better than catching up with your Mum over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and if you ever find yourself with a problem that you just can't solve Mum is the person you can go to for advice.   If I find myself struggling with making a decision about what to do in my life whether it be relationships or career, my Mum is always on hand with some wise words.

Mum plays an important role in keeping family traditions, passing on skills that she has learnt from her own Mother.   I'm not the best in the kitchen but the few meals that I can just about manage have all been dishes that my Mum has taught me.

Shaping the future generations, the adults that we become are thanks to Mum.   Although in some ways I'm very different from my Mum, things that she has taught me over the years will stay with me forever.   Struggling with confidence, I will always appreciate how my Mum told me how to "fake it", if I ever walk into a room of strangers and find myself panicking I think of what she has taught me and it makes me feel stronger.

So as I sit here on a Sunday evening, about to ring my Mum and ask her if we can still eat the chicken that's been in the freezer for a stupidly long time, I've come to realise that, really, I can't put a price tag on my Mum, she's just too important!

What do you think is the true value of a Mum?

Monday 15 June 2015

Cupcakes at the Copthorne

I may like eating cakes but any attempt I've ever made to bake them has resulted in disaster, I'm definitely not a natural in the kitchen.  Yet when Joe Blogs invited me to a cupcake decorating class, I saw the word "cake" and conveniently forgot that I'm not very good with my hands and immediately accepted.

An enthusiastic bunch of North East Bloggers met in the Copthorne Hotel, on Newcastle's Quayside for an afternoon of cake decorating (and eating).

Our ridiculously talented tutors for the afternoon were some very clever ladies from Julie's Cake House.  Based in Newcastle, Julie and her team make the most stunning Wedding cakes and imaginative Birthday cakes as well as running cake decorating classes.

I'm not sure Julie's Cake House knew what they were letting themselves in for as I enthusiastically plonked myself down on the front row. 

Our task for the afternoon was to decorate four cupcakes so that they would hopefully resemble the ones on the table at the front.  

Luckily no baking was required and we each had "here's what I made earlier" freshly baked cupcakes to work with.   Good job really because even if we were useless at decorating, at least we knew the cakes would taste nice.

Our first cake was a beautiful white and yellow flower design, simple yet effective, we coated our cakes in butter icing and then covered them in mini marshmallows dipped in yellow sugar.  

I was pretty proud of my attempt, although I soon realised that this was the easiest cake of the lot.

Our second mission was to make a beautiful pink bear cupcake.   The cake at the front looked adorable and I wasn't sure how Little Miss Fingers and Thumbs was going to cope with what looked like a pretty mammoth task.

We were each given bags of coloured icing to work with and began by rolling ourselves a nice big bit of pink icing to cover the surface of the cake.  I'm sure you're thinking that's a simple enough task but unfortunately even that was a little outside my capabilities, putting the icing onto my cake it was an immediate mess.

Next we had to carefully craft all of the bear's features out of the icing and stick them onto the cupcake.  Julie patiently took us through each step from creating the ears to shaping the nose. 

Unfortunately I was sitting next to my good friend Lisa, the Queen of Innuendo, and it wasn't long before cutting questionable shapes out of pink icing had us in stitches.  It's a bit hard to make a beautiful cupcake when you're trying not to cry with laughter at how much the shape you've just cut looks like something else!

So, of course, I'm blaming this disastrous result on the fact that I was crying - I'm sure if Lisa hadn't been making me laugh my cupcake would have looked more like it was supposed to.

Being the lovely supportive friend that she is it wasn't long before Lisa had taken a photo of my awful attempt next to her beautiful bear and had shared it with all of her Twitter followers.

Oh the shame!   Let's never talk of this embarrassing cupcake ever again OK?

Next was the cake we all had our eye on, the ridiculously cute makeup cake, complete with lipstick, makeup brush and pearls. 

Again Julie was a wonderful teacher, taking us through each stage.  I was concentrating hard to try and get my shapes to look like hers, but unfortunately despite every effort they didn't really look how they were supposed to.   Still, I thought the finished result wasn't too awful.

I will admit, by the last cake I'd admitted defeat and after I'd made my mini ladybird decided to then do my own thing.  Which basically meant I cut lots of weird shapes out of my remaining icing and then plonked them all over my cake.

Although I was pretty useless at cupcake decorating it was the most fun I've had in ages and from the amount of giggling going round the room I think everyone else thoroughly enjoyed themselves too.  If you're after something a little different to do with your friends, or maybe for a hen do definitely get in touch with Julie.

Decorating cupcakes is exhausting work so after my fourth and final disaster had been finished we headed for a little guided tour of the Copthorne to stretch our legs.  The hotel's position on the banks of the Tyne means the most beautiful views from the bedrooms.   I took this gorgeous photo of Newcastle's famous bridges from an outside of balcony of one of the suites on the top floor.

Our afternoon finished with a buffet style afternoon tea, just what we needed after hours of looking at cupcakes!

Thanks to Joe Blogs, the Newcastle Copthorne and Julie's Cakehouse for a brilliant event.

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