Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Introducing Quantum to the 007 fragrance range for Christmas

Well we all need a little James Bond in our lives surely? These James Bond 007 fragrances are really lovely and the range which now totals three has something for both day and night and will suit all age ranges too - so could be a solution to those tricky to buy for men in your life. I particularly liked Quantum.

First off is Signature James Bond 007 which has ever popular Vetyver and lavender undertones. It also has a hint of citrus which keeps it fresh and for Christmas comes in a limited addition gold bottle making it an extra special gift for under the tree.

Second in the range is Ocean Royale, an energising fragrance perfect for daytime which has bergamot, lime and anise making it fresh and vibrant. This comes in an ocean inspired blue bottle and packaging.

The new fragrance to hit the shelves this Christmas is Quantum. Grown up and recalling the signature of Vespa Martini in it's Juniper berry top notes, this fragrance gives both a citrus hit while having the age old appeal of leather. Violet Leaf enhances the overall fragrance and the bottle is a steel grey with red trimming for a timeless classic look and feel.

Gift-sets for all three fragrances come with an Eau de Toilette and shower gel for extra value for money (from £20). Fragrance prices vary on size from £20 - £42. The Gold Limited Edition is £32. Available nationwide now!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Clarks Shoes Spring/Summer 2014 preview warms us up nicely

Again in the topsy-turvey world of fashion PR it's Spring (when the rest of London is shivering) and they are tasked with recreating a peaceful summer's afternoon with a picnic by a lake in mid-November. The Clarks shoes PRs are pretty good at thi,s so I found myself by a lake sipping a freshly made fruit smoothie and munching a summer sandwich with the new collection for Spring/Summer dotted around flower beds and bowers. I particularly liked the mad-cap colour from designer Orla Keily - though the designs are maybe a bit too retro for me (you know the saying, if you've already worn it in the past it's best to steer clear).

Really didn't want to go back into the ice blast that was Covent Garden I can tell you - could have stayed all day!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lunch at The Fleece, Addingham, West Yorkshire

You would think that after 24 hours of doing little but eating we wouldn't be able to fit in another meal. But I am made of heartier stuff - even for a 'southerner' and our final stop for lunch at The Fleece, also in Addingham, was a memorable one. We did walk off our hearty breakfast and with the cold wind coming in off the rolling hills needed some hearty nourishment and a warm Yorkshire welcome. Which we got, in spadefuls.

The Fleece has 'Yorkshire grub, done proper'. They also serve fantastic beers and wines to go alongside the great cooking with local ingredients. They've used their imagination in terms of the little extras..... and are careful to include the best of the regions produce on their menus.

I was delighted to see freshly made pork crackling as an accompaniment to drinks was on the menu too - this is about as far removed from pork scratchings than you are likely to find anywhere!

Freshly made pork crackling
For a starter I chose a Yorkshire blue cheese (which was subtle and creamy), poached pear, candied hazelnuts and young leaf salad for £6.50. The pear was the perfect foil for the cheese and nuts and the whole ensemble looked as good as it tasted! It is so good to see local produce being showcased in this way - if only they sold the cheese next door in the deli I'd have been an even happier woman!

Yorkshire blue cheese and pear salad.
My partner opted for a hot smoked salmon fishcake with a tomatoe and chive beurre blanc which he assured me was equally delicious and then it was on to the serious business of the main course. I had heard great things at the The Gray Ox, Liversedge, about a dish using 'woof' which I hadn't been able to order as it was no longer on their menu. But here it was and I felt that I couldn't miss the opportunity to eat my first taste of 'woof' as I knew that it wouldn't be a disappointment! Woof (or Atlantic Wolf Fish) is a large, white flaked fish not dissimilar to cod in either texture or taste. Slightly stronger if anything the fillet had been rubbed with cumin and served with curried mussels and a crayfish potato cake - all found in local waters off the coast of the UK. The sauce was creamy and not overpowering so I could still taste both the woof and the mussels which were delicious. I am not a fan of huge mussels - these were the perfect size, not so small as to be insignificant and not to large to be unappealing - just right in fact!
My partner opted for the Pig on a Plate which was pork fillet in parma ham, braised cheek, twice cooked pork belly, black pudding apple puree and mashed potatoes - again he said that the pork fell apart it was so tender and the sauce was more like a perfect gravy.

Pig on a Plate

Woof cooked in a curry sauce with mussels and crayfish potato cake
I had already tried out the dessert menu at both The Craven Heifer and The Gray Ox and had been so impressed by the Yorkshire blue cheese salad that I decided to delve further into the local cheeses with a cheese platter to finish whereas my partner couldn't resist the ice-cream which is local too (his selection was vanilla and a nutmeg flavoured scoop).

All in all we were very impressed with the lunch at The Fleece Inn. They have opened a shop next door which sells hot coffee and things to take away. As I said I think they are missing a trick not selling things like the local cheeses as I would have filled my car, but the sausage roll which I did buy was devoured warm later in the day and was overflowing with filling and flavour - a real triumph!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Wright Whisky Company, Skipton, Yorkshire

I have been to Skipton in Yorkshire three times. And all three times I have been there for one reason and one reason only - The Wright Whisky Company shop. That is not to say that Skipton doesn't have other delights to offer. It's a pretty Georgian market town which is worth a wander in itself, but we are always drawn by a force greater than visiting what is essentially just another high-street to this amazing shop that always has something we have never seen before. Whether you are a die-hard whisky fan or simply like a good bottle of wine that's a little out of the ordinary then it's worth a visit. We bought a few bottles to both drink and give as Christmas presents so left very happy with our purchases.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dinner, B&B at The Craven Heifer, Yorkshire

After lunch at The Gray Ox we spent the afternoon in Leeds then headed North/West by about 17 miles to Addingham near Ilkley where we were to sample dinner, bed and breakfast at The Craven Heifer. This family run inn has rooms, each one decorated in a distinctive style to pay homage to famous Yorkshire folk. There's the De Havilland, so named after pilot Amy Johnson's Gipsy Moth, which has wings above the bed and is very 'cockpit' inspired. I particularly loved the dressing-table which was like a glass control centre. There's also the The Heathcliff for romantics and our room, The Perry Green with it's roll-top bath at the foot of the bed in an environment that will inspire art lovers everywhere having been inspired by Yorkshire sculptor, Henry Moore.

The Perry Green bedroom

We arrived as it was turning dark. The crackling fire in the corner of the dining room warmed the whole ground floor and as you stepped in from the cold you were welcomed by the informality of the bar area. But once you look closely you can see that this property has had a large amount of time, thought and money lavished on it. Small touches; magazine racks in the hallways, suggested walks behind the bar, all go that little bit further to ensure the perfect stay - whatever the dales weather decides to throw at you.

The Craven Heifer is on the edge of some simply beautiful scenery and places to visit. Bolton Abbey and Skipton are just up the road and you have the beautiful countryside and many, many walks in some breathtaking countryside on your doorstep. One night is just not enough here as it is the perfect base, but if you're looking for a bolt hole to simply disappear for the weekend then look no further. You will find this a convivial, welcoming and quiet place to simply be.

We crashed in our lovely room for an hour on a bed that was extremely comfortable before going down for dinner which was served in the cosy dining room.  Here the best of British dining gets a showcase and the chef and team try their hardest to only use local, seasonal ingredients.

Best of British dining is showcased and the chef at The Craven Heifer endeavours to use only the very best local seasonal ingredients. There is an a la carte menu from which to choose and a few extra surprises like the mussel foam amuse bouche which was served before the starter and after the freshly made bread rolls, the white flavoured with Yorkshire blue cheese and mustard and the brown with Black Sheep beer all served with salted butter.

My starter consisted of a tightly rolled beef and oyster pie containing beef, oyster cream, smoked parsnip puree and wild mushrooms. This was light and crisp and not too rich - I would have loved it as a main course but it would have been too much.

Beef and Oyster Pie

Yorkshire Blue cheese and English Mustard brown and Black Sheep beer white bread rolls

Amuse Bouche

Then things started to get serious. Apologies for the fact that this photo is slightly blurred, the food was nothing if not delicious! For my main course I had what they referred to as 'Liver and Onions' but was in fact a Goosnargh duck breast served with sauted foie gras, onion puree, confit shallots, potato terrine and pickled onions. This was a grand design of flavours and textures which on paper shouldn't really work. But in reality it does. The duck was soft and tender and not at all fatty, the foie gras complemented it perfectly and the pickled onions were an inspired addition.

The Liver and Onions that weren't.
My partner chose the butter roasted Waterford Farm aged sirloin of beef which was served alongside braised cheek, a garlic snail (not to his taste but at least he gave it a try), hazelnut pesto and sage roasted British beets. Again a quirky but nevertheless inspired combination of ingredients that worked extremely well together. The beef was slightly overdone for medium rare but the flavour made up for this all the same.

Again was there ever going to be room for dessert? Of course there was! It had to be the beetroot cake with walnuts, sweet crowdie goats curd, beetroot marshmallow and beetroot sherbet. Yes I bet you didn't know you can flavour sherbet with beetroot and it's not a bad thing to be doing either! Soft and warm the beetroot and walnut cake was a winter warmer that melted in the mouth. My partner chose the apple pie and custard which was an apple parfait with a praline crumble, cherry curd and vanilla ice-cream, so even this traditional classic had got a complete new look and taste.

Beetroot Cake

We didn't have room for coffee or anything else after this gastronomical feast but went to bed sated and happy. The next morning was gloomy and raining but the weather wasn't on our minds as we were looking forward to the cooked breakfast. Breakfast at The Craven Heifer is a very welcome and generous affair. I really couldn't take advantage of the full spread (fresh fruit salad, cereals etc) but was told by my husband that the muesli (which is made on the premises) was the best he has ever eaten (and he has eaten rather a lot over the years). We both opted for the full English with black pudding, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomato and generous amounts of toast to butter. All in all a breakfast to set you up whatever the Yorkshire weather and send you on your way....

 The Craven Heifer, Main Street, Addingham, West Yorkshire, LS29 0PL.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Spring/Summer 2014 Marks and Spencer preview fashion

I know Christmas is still just on the horizon but with it turning so chilly all of a sudden it was lovely to get a sneak peak of the goodies that Marks and Spencer has in store for us for Spring/Summer 2014. The fabrics were soft and luxurious, there was an element of glamour and all the collections felt decidedly more cohesive than they have of late. White plays a large part which is great as in the summer months it can be worn by almost anyone (no matter what age) although it will be a bit of a killer on the Underground.

I am in love with all these pieces featured here.... enjoy!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Christmas Cake - ready for 'feeding' from now until Christmas

Christmas for me is all about family traditions both old and new. The start of the countdown to Christmas is, as far as I'm concerned, nothing to do with the lights going up on Oxford Street or talk about X Factor having yet another Christmas number one. For me the true start to Christmas is when I mix, measure, bake, feed and then decorate my Christmas cake. I have tried several cake recipes over the past few years but in my honest opinion my recipe of choice has to come from....

This is my original copy published and purchased in 1990 - can't quite believe that is 23 years ago when I was in my first home and preparing to have the family over for Christmas.I have flirted with Nigella and Nigel since, but for Christmas, well Delia does it every time. From her red cabbage baked with apples and spices to her mince pies she has it covered. Apparently this has been republished so get yourself a copy.

Here is her Classic Christmas Cake recipe....

You will need
450g currants, 175g sultanas and 175 raisins, 50g glace cherries rinsed and chopped, 50g candied peel chopped, 3 tbsp brandy, 225g plain flour, half teaspoon salt, quarter teaspoon grated nutmeg, half teaspoon ground mixed spice. 225g unsalted butter, 225g soft brown sugar, 4 large eggs, 50g chopped almonds, 1 dessertspoon black treacle, zest of one lemon and one orange, a 20cm round cake tin.

The night before you put all the dried fruit and mixed peel into a mixing bowl and mix in the brandy - leave for at least 12 hours.

Next day pre-heat oven to 140 degrees centigrade. Sift the flour, salt and spices into one bowl. In a separate bowl beat the eggs. Whisk the butter and sugar together then gradually add the egg to avoid curdling (but don't worry if this happens). Fold in the flour, fruit, chopped nuts and treacle and finally the grated lemon and orange zests.

Grease and line your tin with greaseproof paper and evenly spread the mixture in it.

Cover the top of the cake with a double layer circle with a small hole in the centre (about the size of a 50p). Bake the cake on the lowest shelf of the oven for - now this is where Delia and I disagree because she says 4 - 41/2 hours - I find 2 1/2 hours is fine and any longer in my oven burns it. So I suggest you set the timer for a couple of hours then after that keep checking quite frequently until a you think it's cooked through (test this by putting a knife in). Cool the cake in the tin for 30 mins, remove and place on a wire rack until cold. Then it's ready to be wrapped in double greaseproof paper and stored in a tin. I then 'feed' my cake once a week with spoons of brandy and just before Christmas I decorate it with ready rolled icing and marzipan and of course a snowman and Santa!

I love to eat Christmas cake like they do in the North of England - with either a strong Stilton or cheddar cheese - which ever cheese you prefer it should be strong enough to make your tongue itch!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Lunch at The Gray Ox, Liversedge, West Yorkshire

I married a man who is originally from Huddersfield, and although many of his family are now living further down south, we love to go up to this part of the country and smell the fresh air and walk the hillsides. Things have certainly changed in the last 20 years since I've been going up and one of the most noticeable is the variety and quality of the pubs, inns and restaurants that are now to be visited and enjoyed.

As a journalist I have been all over the world writing for a variety of publications and I still like to keep my hand in where I can. My most recent commission was for Beautyandthedirt and lucky me, I was being sent to one of my favourite parts of the country to review three establishments, The Gray Ox Inn, The Craven Heifer and The Fleece.

Grilled Isle of Skye queenie scallops, gruyere cheese, Ripon Leeks, dressed leaves, £7

First stop-off was for lunch at the award winning Gray Ox Inn which sits on a beautiful spot on the moors overlooking Huddersfield, Brighouse and the surrounding countryside, just as it has since 1709. Originally an ale house where locals would bring their own tankard for filling, The Gray Ox Inn is very much a country pub that's welcoming, cosy and yet has modern flourishes that make sure it's not to be overlooked if you're on the look out for good food and wine. The decor is all recent - lovely soft furnishings, polished floors, muted coloured woodwork, providing the perfect place to meet friends or relax after a walk.

But it was lunch that we were there to try out and we certainly weren't disappointed with what we found. Great thought has gone into a menu that is created to reflect UK classics but with a truly modern twist. The menu is varied and although the vegetarian option is limited it did look good (in this instance a couple of starters and Portobello Mushroom, Yorkshire Blue Cheese and Kale Wellington with parmentier potatoes and creamed leeks for £11).

Crispy hens egg, butternut squash puree, sauteed wild mushrooms, fine frisee salad, black truffle £6

Our starters are in the first two pictures. The perfect size, cooked to perfection and a mix of delicate flavours none of which overwhelmed the other. Mushroom with butternut squash puree perfectly complemented the hen's egg which had the lightest of batters. The small scallops in a large shell came in a gentle cheesy sauce with leeks, no self respecting leek is anything without a good cheese sauce!

Next came the main courses. I opted for twelve hour braised belly of Gloucester Old Spot pig as seen below. I can honestly say I have never had port belly like it. Usually it is done to a crisp but this, having been braised, was soft, full-flavoured and had a melt-in-the-mouth quality which really is hard to beat. The black pudding was an inspired addition as were the honey roasted parsley root (something I don't think I have ever had), and the tiny sweet-coated apple, a new spin on apple sauce to accompany the pork.
Braised belly of pork, honey roasted parsley root, baby potato fondants, sage and onion jus £15

My companion decided to pace himself and chose the buttered roast salmon fillet, warm potato and crab salad with samphire, brown shrimp & tarragon beaurre noisette. This was a healthy portion of salmon done perfectly and not at all dry. The samphire is a truly British product that is too often overlooked - especially on lunchtime menus, but it adds a unique flavour and sets of the shrimp to perfection.

Roast salmon fillet, warm potato and crab salad, samphire with beaurre noisette

It was hard to believe that we would have any room left at all for dessert but we were on a mission to test the best that The Gray Ox had to offer, and it would have been rude not to. The brownie was in fact more like a rich, gooey muffin served with Bailey's Ice Cream and a chocolate sauce. Warm, filling, darkly rich and oozing this was well worth the extra calories. Not too sweet, in fact it could have done with vanilla ice-cream instead of Bailey's, as the chocolate was overwhelming and drowned out the flavour of the ice-cream.

Warm, chocolate brownie and ice-cream, £6

Again we were surprised by the second dessert. This is as far removed from school dinner crumble and custard as you can possibly get. Again the crumble is more like a beautifully formed muffin, the custard hand-made, flavoured with a sprinkling of nutmeg and makes all the difference. The fruit here was Bramley apple & pecan - the perfect dessert for a winter's day.

Fruit crumble with proper custard, £6
If you are in the area then this is well worth a visit. There's an early-bird menu which provides excellent value, especially given the high standard of the food, from Monday-Friday 12-2 and 6-7. Two courses are £10 and 3 courses £13 although it is advisable to book in advance.

I would love to see what a Sunday lunch is like here - two courses are an unbeatable £14.

The Gray Ox Inn, 15 Hartshead Lane, Liversedge, WF15 8AL.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Eye-witness Aid Worker Account of Typhoon Haiyan en route to affected area

This needs no introduction - the shocking devastation caused over the weekend will have implications for years to come. Aid worker, Sandra Bulling, CARE International, is with CARE’s Emergency Team in the areas affected by the Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Nov. 11, 2013, 19:00 local time

“We arrived by boat at the port in Ormoc City. As soon as we stepped onto the port, we were in the middle of a disaster zone. Everything was destroyed. Tin roofing sheets were hanging off trees like wet blankets.

“All the houses along the coast are completely flattened. Everything is destroyed. Further inland, about 80 percent of the houses are roofless. About five percent of the houses are completely collapsed – these are mainly wooden houses. It seems like everyone we’ve seen has a hammer or tools in their hands, trying to repair their houses and their roofs. People are picking up poles and pieces of wood from the street. There are long queues at hardware stores, pharmacies. We waited in line for two hours to get fuel. So far the roads are okay, but it’s taking a long time to get anywhere.

“I talked to a shop owner whose shop was destroyed; he lost everything. He’s wondering how he’s going to feed his five children. I also met a little girl, who was trying to dry out her books. Her house was totally destroyed, but there she was, worried about her school books, because she wants to go to school. And it’s the only thing she has left.

“We just arrived in Jaro, a small town on the way to Tacloban. It’s dark now, so we can’t go any further. We’re staying in the police station tonight – not sure where we’ll sleep, maybe in the car, or outside. There’s an electricity pole that’s leaning dangerously over the police station, so everyone is trying to steer clear of that. Thank  you to the police for letting us use their toilets! Our plan is to go to Dulag, just south of Tacloban. Our driver just came from there, and says it’s very bad, and they need help.

“People are becoming quite desperate. Some officials just came and told us that there has been looting in the area, people trying to get rice for their families. People haven’t had food for three days, and they’re trying to feed their families. That’s why it’s so important to get food and emergency supplies in to these areas as soon as possible. In Ormoc, there was food; we could buy chicken and rice. But there were big queues at the food stalls and shops. We’re in an urban area now, and I don’t even want to think what it’s like the rural areas. We’ll start moving again at first light. I don’t think anyone is going to get any sleep tonight.”
 Visit Care International to make a donation today.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

A Lighter Shade of Pink - L'Oreal Feria Pastel Pink Toner

I wish I was younger. Putting some of the beautiful hair colours through my hair just reminds me too much of those old ladies who had a regular pink or purple rinse. This version is by L'Oreal Feria and is on my daughter who has lovely, blonde, highlighted hair. She wanted to go a really subtle pink entering the party season and for a little over £5 this was perfect. It comes in the form of a single tube of toner which smells good, takes just 15 minutes to develop and leaves hair shiny and soft, the conditioning power is so good. Apparently it last 4/5 washes so isn't even semi-permanent so you can experiment without worrying that the results will be lasting.

As her hair is highlighted and darker at the roots so it hasn't come out completely pink but has a lovely tonal effect. I am very, very, jealous.

L'Oreal Feria Pastel Toning Conditioner in Pastel Pink Panther £5.79.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Christmas Ideas - ethical hand-knits from Peopletree

In another life I would have plenty of time for hand-knitting. I would hand-knit sweaters for my nearest and dearest and I would hand-knit scarves for me (and socks, probably).

But that is for another, quieter, less pressured life. So I do get knitting envy when I see hand-knits that have obviously been produced by someone, somewhere in the world. Buying hand-knits it's important to know that they are ethically sourced, so going to someone like Peopletree (the pioneers of Fair Trade fashion) you know you won't have any problems on that account. These are going on my Christmas present list and make the perfect Christmas idea for those who also lust after knits.

Cute penguin hat, £18, Peopletree

Hand-knit socks, £22, Peopletree

Ladies Fair Isle Jumper, £125, Peopletree

Men's winter sweater, £175, Peopletree

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