Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A foodies haven at the NEC : What to expect at the BBC Good Food show

We all have our local food markets, specialist shops and bakeries in some form to frequent but what if you want to browse it all under one roof at the same time? That's where shows like BBC's Good Food show come in, bringing a wide range of home grown food and drink businesses together for one heck of an event.

Funnily enough, Heck is actually the name of one the traders attending this year's Good food summer show, they're a gluten free sausage company with a rather tasty selection of meats. That's just part of the variety that you can find at the show, gluten free meats, delicious cakes, home brewed sloe gin and even hand crafted spices are on show. Essentially it's a chance for foodies to go a little crazy sampling from companies they may not find near them, whilst also having a bit of a shop from their favourites.

This was my first time at the Good food show and despite doing my research online it was still a bit of an experience, as a first hand, first timers account I've decided to put together a bit of a guide for what to expect and what to do when you visit the show, a bit of a first hand account and advice to make the most of your day at the show.

So what to do first? Before you even leave the house consider the best time to go first, I arrived at 11am and boy was it packed, much more so than when I left mid afternoon. In order to beat the queues to get in and the rush around the show I'd advise on visiting either first thing after the doors open (around 9:30-10am) or later in the day (around 2pm) for a much more relaxed entrance to the show. Lunch time does get hectic, the queues around the hot food stalls could have formed a conga line.. so you may want to come prepared with a snack. You'll also want to pack a hand fan and a bottle of water (yes, even for a winter show) as the NEC does get rather toasty even at the coldest of times of the year, and as much as you want to wear those pretty heels, wear flats, it's a long walk from the train station entrance to the show.

Now with that preparation done you should be all set for the show, even arriving at a quieter time of the day the show itself will still be busy inside, that's a given any time of the day, but don't let the crowds rush you though, the main aisles will be the busiest, but smaller more specialist areas of the show; like the 'Great taste market' will be much easier to browse. Take your time no matter where you start to really browse the aisles you'll be surprised what stalls you'll find next to each other, or what offers you may find. Try the samples that take your fancy and make a note of any stalls to come back to for purchases on the way out, especially for heavier items like boozy tipples.

Some of the stalls that took my fancy weren't where I expected so it pays to have a long, paced walk around. Don't forget to take time to have a sit, now this is my only major failing with the show, there was a distinct lack of seating around the show.

Good food magazine subscribers do have a rather swish fenced off area for seating, alongside the small on show cafe, but beyond that there was only floor space to perch up on inside the show itself, so you may want to venture outside to the hall entrance where you'll find benches within the NEC to sit. This could however have been a one off for this show so it may not happen regularly but it's best to be prepared and know what to expect just in case.

Of course, it's not just about shopping, don't forget to take in a demonstration or two at one of the stages, you'll find these listed in the show guide (available free across the show) alongside the main shows in the super theatre throughout the day. It will get busy around all of these but you can easily flit back and forth between stages within the show.

When your starting to get ready to head off don't forget to pop back to stalls for those purchases, you'll be surprised how much bag space all those tasty bottles, cakes and treats will take up. Some visitors did come pre armed with trolleys, which if you do expect to go mad is an idea but make sure it's a nice compact one for space.

Above all else, make the most of the day, I found some rather delicious treats at the show and came back with a guide book full of notes to visit online for those who I didn't manage to get back to. It's a chance to sample food and drink and find some new favourites.

There's always a Good Food show lined up whatever time of the year, visit their site for future dates including the Bakes & Cakes show in October.www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com

Interested in what I found? Find my rather cake focused review over at my sister site, Cake porn.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The makings of a cult classic : Mansun's "Six"

It was an album that stood apart from its counterparts at the time, an album that pushed boundaries and experimented with song formats going down in history as one of the most remarkable albums of it's time, not bad for a bunch of lads from Chester.. Mansun's "Six" has become a thing of legend, a cult album that has one might say aged remarkably well like a fine wine, laced with lashings of lsd...

"Six" is like a window into the band's souls at the time of it's creation, an album that's surrounded by myths about it's creation, is it the sound of a band having a nervous breakdown, tense about creating the big follow up album, or is it an album with no choruses until the penultimate track? I'm damned if I know but it's certainly a piece of musical perfection. An album that name checks as many references as it makes and one which helped to change the musical landscape, it's an album that to be fully appreciated you have to listen to in full otherwise you'll miss the plot completely.

As a malleable 15 year old that album was a welcome change at a time when britpop's corpse had long been dragged out and left to wilt away in a flurry of glitter, the opening bars of the title track "Six" were the start of a musical experience that you simply couldn't describe in logical words but it's one that I've been constantly re-visiting ever since. Tracks skip, segments are disjointed and played with in a way that's part prog, part musicial experiment. "Cancer" for instance stands out as one of the albums most remarkable tracks, pieced together from several separate tracks to form one staggering juggernaut from guitar solos to tranquil piano notes, but it works remarkably well.

What "Six" has done for fans is as remarkable as what Manic street preachers have done over their career, introducing fans to a world of culture, you'll find an overwhelming sea of pop culture references littered throughout the album from A.A Milne to the Rolling Stone's Brian Jones and The prisoner, a lot of the references don't come across so easily upon first listen but after the 1000th or so go at it you'll even find that you pick up on something that completely went over your head all those times before.. It's helped to introduce fans to a vast world of culture in a way that others have only touched upon. Besides where else would you find Tom Baker reading out segments from Brian Jones autobiography over an operatic back track..

It's certainly stood the test of time, but even more remarkably it hasn't aged, it's one of those albums that you listen to today as if it was only just released, the craftsmanship (and some might say strain) that went into piecing it together has helped to create an ageless piece of work, you really can't describe it in logical words but it's one of those albums that you can't imagine being without and you certainly can't find an equivalent to it out in the charts today.

Whilst Mansun as a band no longer exist you can still wallow in musicial splendor and nostalgia, as well as keeping up with Paul Draper's current career producing for other bands at facebook.com/Mansun & twitter.com/mansunband

Sunday, 26 June 2016

A spot of tipple : Long island iced tea

This will without a doubt be the best damn tea you've ever had, deceptively delicious and delightfully refreshing, you'd almost swear that there was barely any boozy content in this drink.

 20ml Gin
 20ml White rum
 20ml Tequila
 20ml Vodka
 20ml Triple sec
 20ml Simple syrup
 20ml Lemon juice

Place ice cubes into your shaker, add the gin, rum, tequila, vodka, triple sec, lemon juice & simple syrup (for a recipe see my Ramos fizz cocktail) and shake well.

Pour into a highball glass and top up with cola. Then garnish with a slice of lemon.

Best drunk: why, straight away of course!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Tea tasting notes : Dragonfly Earl Grey Rooibos

Who'd have thought it, a natural blend Rooibos tea that tastes like the classic Earl Grey. A refreshingly different take on the traditional tea that still retains the signature flavours but with a caffeine free boost.

As a ritualistic tea drinker taking in a healthier, caffeine free tea is something that I really should be doing more often to balance out all that tea drinking, so a Rooibos blend certainly ticks all the healthy boxes. If you've never tried one before Rooibos, or Red Bush tea as it's sometimes referred to, is taken from the leaves of the Rooibos plant, generally grown in South Africa. Much like your traditional tea the leaves are oxidized giving them their distinguished reddish brown tinge which also helps to enhance the flavour. It's gently hydrating and low in tannin, being caffeine free it's certainly a healthier brew. An acquired taste, if you've never had one before it's best to go in gently and try a flavoured blend so this Earl grey blend is a great brew to start on.

This Earl grey blend takes the traditional flavour of bergamot and orange and blends them with the Rooibos leaf, described as "Zesty fresh citrus aroma, slightly dry, with a rounded and balanced orange rind flavour". A tea bag blend that we've tried both brewed in a cup and in a tea pot, this blend is best brewed for no more than a minute.

The difference with Rooibos to traditional tea is that it has a stronger taste so you don't want to leave in too long or you'll be left with a rather bitter tasting cuppa. You can add a dash of milk though to this brew or take it with a slice of lemon dependant on your personal preference.

It's a surprisingly refreshing blend with a pleasantly smooth texture and a fragrant bergamot essence that's delighfully sweet. Not as dry as a traditional Earl grey blend and certainly lighter.

Rooibos is an acquired taste so it may take a while to get used to this blend, but you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

tea cup
Tea leaf image: www.adagio.com

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Even vintage frames can find a new lease of a life for us bespectacled vintage darlings!

Have you ever found the perfect vintage frame and sighed to yourself thinking shame I can't get these made up with my prescription lenses, well the truth is actually you can! It's not as complicated a process as you'd imagine and you could soon be wearing those pretty horn rimmed frames everyday.

Vintage aficionados often find ourselves purring over vintage glasses, whilst it is even easier than before to find reproduction glasses made to look like the real thing there are sometimes when you find the perfect frame at a fair or shop that you just simply have to own, frames that torment you as you walk past whispering 'buy me!' and just look perfect when you try them on (even if you do have to squint face first into a mirror to admire them..).

I must admit that up until very recently I thought having a pair of vintage frames 're-glazed' with your own prescription lenses was an impossible task but truth be told it's actually easier than you'd imagine and most often than not a very possible task to complete.

Fitting new lenses to an old frame can be a bit of a complex task it all boils down to the strength of your prescription, is it quite low, for instance only +1.50, or is it quite high, for instance -7.00, the stronger the prescription the more complex the process becomes but for those of you with quite a low prescription it's an incredibly simple task. The issue with a stronger prescription of course is that the lens becomes thicker the higher up the prescription goes, you can thin the lens down to make it fit more comfortably into the frame but for very strong prescriptions this can on some occasions be a bit more complicated to master.

But for most prescriptions it's a rather straightforward process, thankfully thanks to sites like I need spex & Glasses direct this can be done in a jiffy. All you need is your pair of chosen frames, a previous glasses order and prescription to hand.

Choose what you wear them for; is it just to read or all the time (i.e distance); and enter your prescription details from your latest eye test. Next you'll insert your pupil distance from a previous glasses order, you can always cheekily ask your opticians for this, then add the additional extras you want to your order such as thinner lenses if you have a slightly high prescription (anything over +/-5.00 is considered to be high). Then simply post your frames off and they'll do all the fitting work for you, within a matter of days you'll have your perfect vintage glasses.

If you'd prefer to do this at your opticians you can easily take your chosen frame in with you and they'll go through the leg work of measurements and ordering for you, whilst going through the process with you.

To feed your vintage habit you may want to pay a visit to sites like I need spexDead mens spex and Roope vintage who all sell vintage frames to order, it's best to check the price prior to ordering as not all specs include prescription lenses.

Bottom images: Dead mens spex

A spot of tipple : Ramos fizz

A delicious classic that's been tempting the taste buds for many a year, not for the faint hearted this decadent cocktail makes for refreshingly different drink. This goes particularly well with Martin Miller's Westbourne strength gin, it's subtle peach undertones are brought out with the orange blossom water, you could choose to replace this with peach liqueur for a different taste.

 50ml Martin Miller's Westbourne strength gin
 10ml lemon juice
 10ml lime juice
 20ml simple syrup
 20ml cream
 dash orange blossom water
 soda to top

Prior to mixing your cocktail make the syrup, you need two simple ingredients for this, water and sugar, you need 2 parts sugar to 1 part water to make this. Bring the water to the boil in a pan then dissolve the sugar in the water and stir. Once the sugar is dissolved remove the pan from the heat, allow it to cool then bottle your mixture.

Place cubed ice cubes into your shaker, add the gin, lime and lemon juices, syrup, cream and orange blossom water and shake well.

Strain into a hi-ball glass then top up with soda.

Best drunk: this refreshing tipple is perfect for a laid back evening drink, something decadent to rustle up for yourself on the weekend.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Celebrating a decadent 20 years, the ever triumphant My Life Story

Quite simply put My Life Story are by far one of the most decadent and outlandish bands you'll find, a whimsical array of orchestral pop that has to be experienced. Imagine a full blown orchestra turned around on itself into a sultry little thing that enthralls you instantly, they certainly were a wonderfully unique experience when they emerged in the nineties to ruffle up the music industry in a flurry of foxy horns and seductive violins.

A rather unique experience musically, My Life Story were a glorious orchestral delight abundant with strings, horns and drums that pieced together the unique musical vision of front man Jake Shillingford who made the orchestra sexy again. Their 'Sex and violins' tag line made a witty take on their music as they trussed forth into the charts, their debut album "Mornington Crescent" is a wonderful little entrance to their music full of witty quips and sassy tones.

Granted it was their second album "The golden mile" which thrust them into the limelight at the height of britpop, their orchestral pop was a refreshing change to the laddish sounds in the charts earning them a remarkable five top forty hits with each single released from the album from the gloriously decadent "12 reasons why" to "Strumpet" which certainly put them in high demand.

What they did for the orchestra was certainly a wonderful thing, in their first two albums they managed to create grandiose, whimsical and entrancing music that more than caught your attention. After hitting a musical high with their grand orchestra they turned things down a notch for their third album "Joined up talking" with more of a laid back electronic, guitar driven sound, still the witty notes and whimsical joy that made their music so enjoyable were present.

After hitting so many highs they quietly parted ways in 2000, news of their reformation for a string of one off shows in 2006 was certainly welcome and ever since they've been putting on one off shows for the past few years proving that there is still plenty of interest, so when news broke of their 20th anniversary tour it was more than welcomed. Unlike their previous one off shows their latest tour takes them beyond the confides of London taking to a generous handful of UK cities with their stripped down band. If ever there was anything that you were to do this winter make sure that you head along to one of their shows and overdress, indulge and let the orchestral experience take you back, just don't take their 'sex and violins' tag line too literally...

You can find out more and view their winter tour dates atwww.mylifestory.uk.com

Images: Checkmate

Originally posted on www.tweedandtea.co.uk in 2014.

Dutch fruit cake with lashings of gin

Who said that fruit cake had to be plain?! This cake brings a touch of sweetness with a delightful kick courtesy of a pinch of tipple.. Perfect for pudding or an extravagant evening snack, we even believe it could class as lunch if you have a large enough helping, so why not tuck in. This cake uses icing sugar in place of your usual caster sugar to give it a sweeter taste which lets the fruity flavours come through.

  100g raisins
  100g mixed peel
  100g glace cherries
  50ml Martin Miller's Westbourne strength gin
 125g butter
  125g icing sugar
  3 eggs
  1 tsp vanilla essence
  125g self raising flour
  1 tsp baking powder

Pre soak the raisins 2 hours prior to baking this recipe in the gin, this will let the raisins infuse the intoxicating gin aromas. After pre soaking drain the raisins, to do this drain the gin off into a bowl and save aside for later.

Pre heat oven to 170c/160c fan, line a large cake tin or bundt tin.

Sift the icing sugar with the butter and beat until light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time and beat, don't worry if it looks curdled at this stage.

Add in the vanilla essence and 1/2 of the flour and fold to combine. Add the remaining flour with the fruits and mix well.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle half of the drained gin over the cake, leave it to cool for 15 minutes.

Remove the cake from the tin and place it on a wire rack, sprinkle the remaining gin over the cake then brush with apricot jam and leave it to cool.

Best eaten: this cake will keep well for 3-4 days in an airtight container, but it's so light and delicious that it won't survive that long...

Adapted from SBS.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Classic hair styling : The Bettie Page fringe

When it comes to vintage inspired fringes you can't beat the classic Bettie Page styled fringe, her iconic signature U shaped fringe has almost become a trademark. Legend has it that she was told she had a high forehead and was advised to cut herself a fringe to disguise it. That fringe has certainly gone down in history and gone on to adorn many a barnet over the decades.

The Bettie Page fringe is one of those styles that's often re-created however it's sadly one which most hairdressers can't seem to get right, how many times have you asked a hairdresser to create the style and been given a confused look, it's one of those styles that as iconic as it is some hairdresser's just can't get it right.

It's a style that admittedly is best tried yourself, unless you are lucky enough to be London bound where you can find a handful of outstanding rockabilly and vintage hairdressers who can re-create the style with ease. It will take time to master the art of the Bettie fringe but once you've mastered the technique you needn't go to the hairdressers for a fringe trim again!

It's not as nerve racking as you'd imagine to create the classic Bettie fringe, you need a few essentials tools, a steady hand and your ready to go. You'll need a few basic essentials to get started:

 Fine tooth comb
 Good quality hairdressing scissors, try places like Superdrug and Wilkos for an affordable pair
 Hair clips

For those of you already with a fringe this will be a walk in the park, if your going all the way and braving snipping off those long locks to create a fringe you will find this a little more tasking, follow each step carefully and always make sure that your happy with where your snipping before you get scissor happy.

For those without a fringe to start, use your comb and section off the amount of hair that you want to be your fringe-paying careful attention to symmetry as you do so, make sure that your happy with the section you've separated off.

Keep the rest of your hair back with hair clips so as to avoid it getting in your way as you work. Make sure hair is combed flat and is completely dry since wet hair will have a tendency to draw up and leave you with a shorter fringe than you want.

Cut the hair straight across at first, using your eyebrows as a guide to start, and again, keeping in mind that you will probably be nipping them under, which will make them appear even shorter.

For those of you already with a fringe this is where you'll be stepping into the tutorial, starting at the centre point of your fringe this is where your fringe will be at it's longest in terms of length, imagine how far up your want your U shape to go, do you want it to sweep up dramatically at the sides or do you want a more subtle curve to your fringe? Think of the shaping you want and how much you want to take off to create it.

Start to cut from the centre towards the first side, don't rush it, take it slowly and snip each section to shape one snip at a time, you'll want to make the fringe curve upwards towards the sides so snip a little more off as you gradually work your way towards the sides, take time to examine your handiwork and make sure that you are happy with the length your going to cut off before you make that snip, hair of course grows back if you do make mistakes the first few times creating this fringe, so don't worry if it's not short enough or too short those first few goes.

Once you've cut one side, cut up to the other side to match, again taking time to ensure that your happy with the length being cut with each snip. Now stand back and examine your handy work, comb through the fringe to check for any stray strands that got away and even these out, gentle snips will take care of this.

To style a set of straighteners can add that extra bounce to the fringe, or blow dry to style with a round brush. The first few times will be a case of 'practice makes perfect' but you'll find that you can create it with ease over time, it's also a great way to save on trips to the hairdresser and it enables you to create your fringe as you like.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A very vintage day out in Nottingham

A pretty city that's rich in history, Nottingham is the perfect stop off for a vintage day out. With an abundance of shops across the city, it's cobbled streets and pretty scenery make for a rather pleasant experience and you really will be spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping vintage!

Located in the East Midlands, this city is home to many a vintage shop and delightful tea room. It's tram laden streets will take you on a whistle stop tour around the city, and you may be pleasantly surprised with what you'll find.

For vintage shopping you really can't beat the choice in Nottingham, this city is full of vintage shops to the point that you almost won't know where to start! An easy stop off however is Hopkinson's on Station street, just across the road from the train station, so you really won't need to go far to find this emporium of vintage finds. With three floors of vintage and antique sellers there's plenty to see. Nearby there's London boots on Castle Boulevard if you just adore rockabilly attire, with a vast selection of clothing including a few vintage finds in store.

From there the rest of the city's vintage shops are located to the east side of the city centre, you'll find plenty of shops to browse amongst the winding streets. Over on Pelham street you'll find Wild clothing which has two floors of vintage finds, mostly 60's - 80's era items with a mixture in stock. Alongside Braderie which stocks a variety of vintage and new attire.

Then over to Trinity walk where you'll find Vintage to a tea, a delightful find that's full of vintage attire, accessories and homewares from the 1930's - 1970's (Update 2016 - Vintage to a tea has now unfortunately closed). Up from there a visit to Baklash will unveil more vintage finds with a mixture of vintage and new attire in stock.

Daphne's handbag on Mansfield road is another gem to visit, with a vast selection of clothing, accessories and homewares to browse.

Just further up if you fancy more modern vintage inspired attire pay a visit to Frock on Forest road east, then heading out of the city there's also Celia's vintage clothing which is worth a visit for some wonderful hidden gems.

After all that walking you'll need a good sit down, Nottingham has plenty of delightful tea rooms to visit across the city, one which you'll certainly need to pop into is White rabbit teahouse on Hounds gate, a quaint little tea room that serves up plenty of home made cakes and tea. Alongside Homemade on Pelham street with a tasty selection of treats.

Annies burger shack on Broadway serves up tasty burgers and hot dogs if you fancy something with more of a retro, 50's feel to it. If you prefer a spot of tipple you may want to visit Tilt, the city's only blues bar or their sister venue The pelican, a jazz club and bar. The glee club holds burlesque nights to tickle your fancy including bi-monthly Dr Sketchy's classes.

Nottingham certainly has plenty to do, on any weekend you could find a vintage fair popping up alongside plenty of boutiques to visit alongside it's vintage shops. Simply take an exploratory walk around the city and see what you can find.

Images: Hopkinson & Vintage to a tea

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The perfect gin with Martin Miller's

I've been experimenting with gin, a delightfully refreshing tipple with a clean, smooth and creamy texture, adored by many and it goes rather well with a generous lashing of tonic.. Of course any gin connoisseur wants to sample the best that they can get their hands on and I've been getting my cheeky taste buds around a bit of Martin Millers gin, one of the best independent gin's on the market.

Famed for their unique blend, Martin Millers gin was born out of love, obsession and some degree of madness, well we can all certainly attest to that at the best of times! A wonderfully refreshing gin, their original 80 proof blend certainly struck a cord with the great gin tasting public and it was from there that their Westbourne strength gin soon followed, and it's that delightful blend that I've been lucky to get my mitts on.

The title alone conjures up images of a decadent gin parlour housed in the elegant Portobello area, as for the gin itself, it takes inspiration from the original 80 proof blend with the same classic palette of botanical herbs but a higher 90 proof that certainly brings out the delightful flavours and makes it's perfect for cocktails, and well that's something that I'm rather fond of.

Your classic botanicals are brought into the blend; Juniper, Angelica, Liquorice root, Cassia Bark.. and they help to bring together the unique taste. The stronger alcohol content brings out these herbs in particular the juniper giving it a richer, spicier feel whilst still maintaining a soft and smooth finish.

As this blend is so perfect for cocktails I've been busy concocting and experimenting with some delightful flavours, subtle notes of peach and lemon come out with each different drink making for a delightfully refreshing taste. You'll be able to find some of my favourite cocktails here over the upcoming weeks that I've concocted with this blend.

But it's not just cocktails, your traditional g & t also benefits from this blend for perhaps one of the most refreshing gin and tonics you'll ever have, served straight with a lemon tonic it brings out a delightfully sweet taste in the gin.

Gin connoisseurs will simply adore this blend, whether served straight, in a cocktail or a g & t it's taste is certainly one that appeals to the palette and makes for a refreshingly different experience.

NB: For this post, I received this gin from Martin Millers to try out a few tasty conocotions for the site, as posted on www.tweedandtea.co.uk. This by no means reflects my option of their gin, it's in fact become my go to choice of gin since trying their tipple for numbers recipes you'll find on this site!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Put your nylons to the test : the best seamed stockings and tights

When you imagine vintage inspired hosiery your mind immediately go towards seamed stockings, the humble stocking certainly grew in popularity during the post World War II years and it's that iconic seamed "fully fashioned" style that we go to today.

There certainly is something glamorous about seamed nylons that add a touch of allure to an outfit, the humble seamed stocking has certainly grown in popularity over recent years with various takes on the iconic style and an abundance of choices to go for, so how do you choose which brand to wear? I've saved you the leg work (pardon the pun) and tested out a range of styles available.

Seamed stockings
When it comes to seamed stockings you really are spoilt for choice, every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to have their own take on the seamed stocking these days it's almost hard to know just where to start, of course the immediate choice that springs to mind is vintage lingerie purveyors What Katie Did.

What Katie Did have become infamous for their signature seams taking inspiration from vintage hosiery to create a modern day take on the iconic style. With plenty of styles to choose from their classic 15 denier seamed stockings are hard to beat, as long lasting as they are wonderfully comfortable, their range of shades are also outstanding giving you a choice of shades to suit all, more than worth stretching out for.

A little pricier than the WKD option, Kiss Me Deadly's fully fashion stockings by Cervin are certainly something special. A sleek glossy stocking with a slender fit and the iconic keyhole loop, if you fancy something extra special they are worth it.

Of course we all need a budget option for those of us with tighter purse strings Silky's Scarlet seamer stockings certainly have the look. A comfortable fit with a slightly silky appearance compared to the former pairs, if you fancy a pair for day to day wear or as a handy spare they certainly do the trick without blowing the budget.

And for something different Gio's Contrast seamed stockings are a little gorgeous, with a sheer finish in a wonderfully contrasting black and red.

Of course there are plenty of other takes on the humble seamed stockings out there from the classic Pamela Mann Jive stockings to Aristoc's lace topped hold up's and what if you don't fancy stockings? There's always the alternative of seamed tights.

Seamed tights
For those of us who prefer a bit more warmth during the colder months a pair of seamed tights are certainly handy to keep around. Compared to their stocking counterpart it can be harder to find a pair of seamed tights with only a handful of brands out there at the moment, What Katie Did have of course got the humble classic spot on with their Retro seamed tights, as equally durable and glamorous as their stockings and of course available in a wide range of shades.

Pamela Mann's Jive tights are a wonderful alternative, incredibly comfortable and durable, a little less costlier than the WKD option and available in some wonderful contrasting styles including a fetching black and fushcia.

Silky also offer a create tight version of their seamed stockings, as equally silky as their stockings and an incredibly comfortable fit, not as broad on the sizing as their former choices though, petite and tall ladies may find their one size 'medium' fits all option a little difficult to work around.

When it comes to seamed tights there is little choice to go between, but with many manufacturers starting to turn towards a tights option there is hope yet.

Images: What Katie Did & Tights please

Earl grey macarons with white chocolate and gin buttercream

For those lazy spring days when don't feel like doing much, indulge in a lavish macaron that you'll certainly want extra helpings of. Flavoured with a delicious white chocolate buttercream that's complemented with the addition of gin for a truly lovely taste.

  45g egg whites (approx 1 large egg or 2 small eggs)
  2.5 tbsp sugar
  45g Ground almonds
  75g icing sugar
  blue food colouring (if desired)
  earl grey tea bag (if desired)
Makes 10 macarons (20 shells)

For the buttercream filling
  40g white chocolate
  40g butter
  150g icing sugar
  2-3 tbsp Martin Miller's Westbourne strength gin

Sift the ground almonds twice to ensure any clumps are removed, then sift again with the icing sugar. If you'd like to add a touch of earl grey to your macarons cut open a tea bag and add to the mixture, if you have a loose leaf blend grind it down first with a pestle and mortar.

Whisk the egg whites until foamy then add in the sugar and whisk until peaks start to form, add in the food colouring then whisk until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg whites into the almond mixture, the mixture should have a ribbon-like consistency. Line baking trays with baking paper then start to pipe or spoon (whichever method you prefer) the mixture into discs on the paper.

Leave these to rest for 30 minutes then pre-heat your oven to 120c/100c fan/gas mark 1 and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Leave them to rest on the baking trays for 5-10 minutes then carefully remove them from the baking paper and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Whilst they cool prepare the buttercream, melt the chocolate down first then set it aside. Beat together the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy, add in the chocolate and beat. Pour in a little gin to loosen the mixture and beat to a soft, smooth consistency, add more gin if you feel it needs it.

To put your macarons together spoon the buttercream mixture onto one shell, smoothing it over, then place another shell on top and voila! You have a complete macaron! Continue this with the rest of the shells.

Best eaten: You can of course eat these straight away if you wish but they do tend to taste better when left to set for 24 hours, place the macarons in an airtight container in the fridge, this allows them to set and lets the shell infuse the buttercream flavours for a tasty macaron.

Recipe adapted from Siawase days

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tea tasting notes : Teapig's Chai

You can't beat a good cup of chai, it's a heart warming, spicy brew that's an instant pick me up, it's a bit of a favourite.. A brew that's become more popular as we've developed a taste for more exquisite blends so it's one that you can guarantee to find quite easily. Teapig's take on the blend has certainly been causing a stir so I decided to give it a try.

Did you know that Chai is actually used to describe tea in many parts of the world? So it's no wonder it's name has been taken up to describe this spicy rich blend. Most chai blends are comprised of black tea, herbs and spices; namely ginger, cardamom and cinnamon, which gives this brew it's famous taste and spicy kick. There's naturally a few varying additional ingredients with each blend to add to the flavour from fennel to black pepper and aniseed, creating each unique take on the blend, the Teapig's blend of Chai features an addition of clove and cassia which add's to their Chai blend.

The Teapig's chai comes in their signature branded box, containing 15 silk pyramid tea bags, a little less than you may be used to with other tea brands but they certainly prove to be quality over quantity.

Described as "A gutsy Assam tea and an exotic mix of whole spices for a true taste of India." with a recommended brewing time of over 3 minutes to allow the brew to infuse. I tried this both brewed in a cup and a pot, this tea certainly tastes sweeter the longer you leave it to brew, I found it was actually rather nice to leave the tea bag stewing in the cup, allowing the flavours to fully infuse.

As for the taste it's a rather sweet yet spicy brew, aromatic and heady with a lovely cinnamon note, it tastes well both with and without milk and if you fancy trying something different it makes for a delicious chai latte with some frothy hot milk (yes like a home made version of a certain chain store drink..). I certainly recommend leaving it to brew for as long as possible to truly enjoy this blend. Whilst it may be a little pricier than other blends it's worth it for a lovely treat.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A lovely little Welsh find : Homeward Bound Collections

Tucked away amongst the Clywdian range in Rhewl is a lovely little find, one that's full of vintage treasures, home wares and treats that will certainly tempt you inside. Homeward Bound Collections is a rather unique little shop with it's own adjoining tea room that certainly makes for a delightful vintage trip.

You wouldn't expect to find a haven of such vintage loveliness in such a picturesque location, surrounded by beautiful rolling Welsh hills just on the edge of Ruthin. Homeward Bound Collections is a rather unique venture, housed alongside an old railway station which has been converted into a lovely house. The shop itself is housed inside an old barn just located off the main road from Ruthin so it makes for a great stop off to visit.

As you enter the shop you'll be greeted with lots of delightful vintage finds, a book swap shelf stands at the entrance with a selection of vintage furnishings to tempt, from there it's a treasure trove of finds with plenty of vintage and up-cycled furnishings throughout the shop amongst kitchenalia, vintage inspired bake wares, gifts and even local produce to tempt. The mixture throughout certainly keeps it interesting and makes for a lovely browse as you really don't know what you'll find, it could be a kitsch 1960's dining chair or a lovely painted wall rack that greets you.

They certainly know their vintage wares, and that fondness for vintage can be found in their adjoining tea room, The Sugar Plum Tearoom, which is decorated with vintage furnishings, wall hangings and pretty tablewares, dare I say it, I even saw a pretty doily or two on the tables! Making for a rather delightful experience overall.

From the tea rooms you can sit back and relax admiring the picturesque view of the Clywdian range as you sip on a cuppa from a delightful vintage tea set. Their tea room is full of home made bakes, local produce and tasty seasonal offerings making for a perfect stop off.

It's certainly a quaint find, a lovely little stop off alongside the busy A525, a drive through Ruthin then up towards Denby will bring you nearby, turn off for Llandyrnog and you won't be far at all. If your driving through North Wales it's certainly worth a bit of a detour to stop off for a brew and a shop.

Visit Homeward Bound Collections at The Old Station, Rhewl, Ruthin, LL15 1TN. Open 7 days a week, alternatively you can browse their latest items online at www.homewardbound.com

Images: Homeward Bound Collection

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Tea tasting notes : Twining's Russian caravan tea

An intriguing blend of tea, one which I'd not come across before but the name stirs up whimsical and exotic imagery alongside a curiosity to the tastes within. Twining's Russian caravan tea sits happily amongst their vast range of black tea's in a delightfully dark blue packaging that merely hints to the wonders you'll taste within.

This Russian caravan blend is a combination of Oolong and Keemun tea's which together create a unique taste. As always with Twining's teas there's a wonderful history behind this blend, made for the Russian market it took several months for this tea to make it's journey from the heartland provinces of the south east and the southern coast of China right the way into Russia. According to the story the blend went through different tropical and cold climates on it's journey causing it to start to condition. Along the way the bundles of tea were very often left around the traders' camp-fires overnight. The overwhelming smoke coming from the damp logs would be sucked in by the tea, giving it a very delicate, camp-fire, smoky aroma evident in some of the texture and taste as well. The process today that goes into creating and distributing this tea is of course very different but the technique used to create this blend aims to bring the flavours from the original blends journey together.

As for the tea itself it is a loose leaf blend with each box containing 125g of tea, you can certainly make a lot of cuppa's from that. Described as "a black, wiry tea which produces a black, amber liquor. It's easy on the palate and makes a lovely breakfast tea - a wake up call and treat for the taste buds." Of course as this was a loose leaf blend I've tried it both brewed in a pot and in a tea strainer for a single cup brew, best brewed for 3 minutes to allow it to diffuse, left for too long it can become a little too smokey a taste. Naturally being a black tea a dash of milk add's to the teas unique flavour.

It has a delightful heavy scent with a light aromatic taste, it doesn't leave a bitter after taste and it goes down rather smoothly. It has an almost sweet taste to it, not too strong but you certainly can drink it without the addition of sugar.

Certainly an intriguing blend, one which we admittedly hadn't come across before, it's great for an afternoon brew when you need a refreshing pick me up.

Monday, 13 June 2016

A brief look at the hand fan : an elegant way to stay cool in the summer

What better to adorn during those hot summer days than a dainty hand fan, by far one of the most lady like images you'd associate with, the hand fan has been keeping many a dame and darling cool on those long hot summer days, but where did our favourite summer accessory come from? And how did we come to use it?

The origin of the hand fan is uncertain, as to when our ancestors first came up with this inventive and yet simplistic contraption is unknown but thanks to artistic representations of this object, we know that fans were used by Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. The oldest known representation in Egypt dates back to around 3000 B.C which can be seen at the Asmolean Museum of Oxford placed in the head of a ceremonial hammer. Egyptian fans were big, fixed, and semicircular shaped, made with feathers and with long handles. Their function was double: blowing air and scaring away insects.

However as time passed by, fans become an ornamental object with a distinctive meaning. The distinctive folding fan which we know today was thought to have originated in the Orient between the 7th and 10th Centuries, and it was there they first became a part of daily life.

Fans became an art in Asia by the 1500's when the first European ships reached the orient bringing the artistic fans back with them which certainly caused a trend throughout Europe with Parisian fans becoming in fashion. With fashionable and artistic fans being made, for instance the guard sticks and ribs were made of carved wood or ivory and were covered with silk, hand-painted paper, lace or other delicate materials.

During the 19th century fans were even used as a means of communicating with the opposite sex, the language of fans evolved enabling women to express themselves at a time when they were often refrained from doing so. For instance touching the fan to their right cheek as a response of 'yes'.

The history of the hand fan is certainly far richer than imagined with many types developing throughout history, however the humble hand fan as we know it today is far more recent. Today hand fans are used more as a useful accessory to keep cool during the summer days, as opposed to the fashionable hand fans adorned in the 16th century, the folded hand fan is one we commonly associate with today.

Hand fans today are often made of paper, plastic, wood and fabrics, you can find a selection of various styles to choose from but for something that looks a little more traditional whether it's more of an Asian or European style you prefer I've selected a few to take your fancy.

Muji have a wonderful selection of hand fans both online and in store, this simple coloured fan is a traditional folded fan that will certainly look fetching.

Miss Bamboo also have these rather pretty paper fans that are as effective as they are darling.

If you prefer something a little more traditional Bow and Crossbones have these simple yet striking wooden fans alongside some rather elegant silk fans if you fancy something a little more eye catching.

The hand fan is certainly a handy essential for the summer and with such a rich history you can feel a little more cultural as you waft your fan against the breeze this summer.

Images: Flickr commons