Fun Times at Winter Wonderland!

Last weekend we headed to Hyde Park in London for the annual Christmas fair, Winter Wonderland.

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The intention had been to go the previous day but despite it being mild weather it rained hard all day. I’m so glad we waited because the weather was lovely the following day and even though it was colder, the sun shone brightly!

When we arrived at Hyde Park the line to get into Winter Wonderland was huge, but we walked a little further down the path to a different gate, and walked right in (pro tip!)

We headed to the Bavarian Village section first, because that’s where the best food is, and I was hungry! Every year I get the same thing. German sausage, potato dumpling with gravy and hot spiced red cabbage. It took a little while to find it this time around as they’d extended the Bavarian Village section massively, but I followed my nose and found the correct stall.

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The food was yummy as always, and after eating we had a little further look around the area. I was pleased to see the inside tent still there, with live singers on stage performing Christmas hits.

I got some mulled wine too 🙂

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The village wasn’t too busy at this point but it was getting more and more packed by the minute! For some reason they felt it important to correctly sign post EVERYTHING!

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The fairground rides this year were awesome. There was a fantastic looking rollercoaster, big wheel and haunted house.

Gary grabbed some sweetcorn to munch on which looked amazing.

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We had a little look around some of the craft stalls and then headed out of Hyde Park.

We wanted to see the Christmas lights on Oxford Street and I had to nip into some of the shops. If I hadn’t already been in London I wouldn’t have dreamt of going to Oxford Street at Christmas time. It was PACKED. But I’m really glad we did. We headed to Liberty and just as we walked in a choir started singing ‘Carol of the Bells’ which is one of my favourite carols. I’m so pleased we went in when we did!

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Heading home, shattered, but happy, the sunset was awesome and it was a lovely end to a perfectly festive day!

I also vlogged this trip so make sure you check out the video, even if it’s just to see the sunset at the end!

Sarah’s Ibiza Hen, Pt 1

I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a few weeks, and that’s mainly because I’ve been preparing for being away, being away and then recovering from being away!

I’ve recently returned from Ibiza, where me and 3 of my best friends went to celebrate the engagement and impending wedding of Sarah. It was my first girly holiday and first time to Ibiza. The whole break had been planned out meticulously by Caz, who had been 7 times before and knows how to plan a holiday.

And now a warning: this post, and the ones to follow are going to have a lot of pictures in them, so if your browser can’t hack it maybe you should upgrade your browser…. it’s 2015!

So we arrived at Caz’s house after an evening of panic that my case was going to go over the weight limit which included me driving to Tash’s to pick up her suitcase scales and discovering I was, indeed, taking too many dresses, belts and shoes…..

It was about 5 minutes before the first bottle of cava was opened. Who doesn’t want to toast a holiday at 6am? We were surprised with a beautiful stretch limo, organised by fiance, Nick, complete with more wine….. Start as you mean to go on!

imageChecked in at the airport and luggage successfully weighed and allowed on the plane (phew!) we headed off for a breakfast and relax until our gate was called.

The flight was quick and uneventful, since I’m used to long haul flights it felt like we were barely flying an hour!

imageOnce off the plane, we were greeted by our driver from the airport to our first hotel, which was situated in San Antonio. Overlooking the beach front, the Marina Playa Apartment Hotel was perfect. Each room slept two (or three on a pull out sofa-bed), had kitchenette and bathroom and a beautiful view of the beach. Each balcony looked out over the pool area.

imageAfter a quick unpack and mini sunbathe by the pool, we put on our glad rags and took a walk to what would be our first meal of many in a beautiful location.

Kumharas, situated on a tiny beach, was a perfect location for us to watch our first sunset, have a drink and toast the holiday. The sangria here was beautiful and it was so relaxing to sit and watch the sun go down.

imageimageOnce the sun had gone down, we moved to the restaurant area for our dinner reservation, and true to form Caz had arranged for us to eat in their chill out area. This was a low table on a platform with cushions to sit on and draped fabric over head.

imageWhilst we ate, people shopped at the mini hippy market behind us, and danced to the music played by the DJ well into the evening. It was great for people watching and the food was lovely.

imageFairly sleepy from the early start, and the sea air, we walked back to the hotel just as flashes of lightning threatened the skies.

dDspite this we slept well. It was a big day on Day 2 – the Hen day! We dedicated a whole day to Sarah’s Hen, with secret activities and theme. Sarah came to Tash and my room, that morning, where we had decorated in a nautical theme, prepared a breakfast and dressed up complete with captain’s hats!

imageWe played music, ate and Caz provided us with a photo treasure hunt, for photos we needed to take throughout the trip. The person who completed their list would win a prize!

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This was followed by pass the parcel, with forfeits and prizes!

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We then dressed up for our first activity – lunch at Es Nautic. This was a lovely restaurant on the marina serving amazing seafood and fish.

imageimageFrom here we headed to the sunset strip and to Savanna for cocktail making. There was more drinking than making to be honest. After two glasses of cava, two strawberry daiquiris, one porn star martini and a mojito we were feeling rather merry….

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Though we did manage to get some cocktail making done, behind the bar too!

imageAfter this we headed to the marina and to a beautiful speedboat. But the skies were threatening another storm, and on the advice of our skipper we rescheduled our speed boat trip for later in the week. Having pre booked sushi on the boat for the evening we ate this on the balcony whilst the clouds rolled in. Then we got ready for the final activity of the day.

Caz wanted us to have a classy holiday but she also wanted us to visit one of the more ‘chavvy’ clubs so off to Es Paradis we went. Es Paradis was having its water party, so it went with our nautical theme.

imageimageDespite waiting until the early hours (and Caz and Sarah waited until the even earlier hours) we didn’t see the pool (pictured behind us, above) fill up.

Day 3 began with a leisurely walk to a nearby cafe and a lovely breakfast. Just what I needed.

imageWe met a lovely Spanish waiter there who looked like Drake, had never left Spain but whose accent flipped between Scottish and Liverpudlian…. it was bizarre!

From here we got ready for our next activity, which was Zoo Project. Situated in an old abandoned Zoo, people visit dressed up in feathers and snake skins, with body paint, ready to dance. With clubbing and chill out areas it promised to be exciting. The girls had all opted for body paint, whereas I’m not really a body paint kinda gal, so I made use of my Urban Decay Electric palette and painted on rainbow eyes.

imageimageLunch was at Ibiza Rocks bar. Yummy strawberry sangria and burgers. And then we headed to Zoo.

We spent most of our evening dancing, watching DJs and dancers at the seal pit, then headed to the chill out area to listen to musicians and watch more dancers and acrobats. We also got rather hungry so grabbed some outdoor BBQ which was delicious. I enjoyed it all, but I could have stayed in the chill out area for hours.

And so ended day 3! We had barely started…. stay tuned for the next part!

Fresh From the Teafields

I’m a weird tea drinker. Most of you will know I love my tea, but my habits come with some quirks. First of all, I really have to be in the mood for a cup of tea. I adore drinking it, but I usually won’t have it during the day because it relaxes me to the point where it’s all over. Secondly, I’m not a fan of green tea. I just never got over the whole ‘vegetable water’ thing. Thirdly, I can only drink my black tea with milk – I know this is wrong to some people, but that’s just how I like it. I won’t drink PG Tips, I only like Earl Grey as my every day tea of choice. Lastly I take my tea with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk and Sweet Freedom instead of sugar.

With these confessions out in the open, it’s time to get down to business. In around June a wonderful tea company called Teafields sent me a huge parcel filled with samples of their teas. I was overwhelmed. Ever since I’ve been promising them a blog review, and I feel terrible it’s taken me so long to get it done. BUT as previously said I have to be in the mood for a cuppa and I wanted to give these teas the attention they deserved. I will admit I didn’t get through all of them, as there was just one green tea that I haven’t sampled, mainly due to the fact I just don’t get on with green tea (but it’s the prettiest green tea I’ve ever seen!).

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Anyway, click on the Teafields website and you’ll see this isn’t any ordinary tea company. It screams quality. They call themselves a British (yay!) boutique tea company and this pretty much sums them up. Not only do they have an amazing selection of tea, but they’re all hand picked and within the descriptions of the teas you can find out where they’re from, the altitude they were picked from and even the temperature you should brew their teas at. AND they’re beautiful. I have to say it was a joy to shoot the teas and now I get to share them with you!

So, here goes!

Royal Breakfast

Royal English breakfast originates from Africa and India. It looks so pretty and I really enjoyed it. A smooth drink, I had mine with some eggs on toast one morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. Once brewed it was a beautiful golden colour. It has a very slight bitter edge to it (which I enjoyed!) so I had mine with some sweet freedom and a splash of coconut milk. This would be a perfect introduction to boutique teas for someone moving away from standard teabags.

Jun Chiyabari

Jun Chiyabari is exclusive to Teafields and is handpicked in the early hours of the morning in Nepal. It had a delicate flavour with earthy tones. Well worth a try, even if it’s simply for its decadence.

Jasmine Pearls

 

Jasmine Pearls are a scented green tea. Each pearl is hand rolled in China and this keeps their unique pearl shape. Brewed at 80c so as not to burn the flavour, this was the most pleasant green tea I’ve ever tasted. It was light, calming and very refreshing. Teafields also sent me a sample of their hand stitched tea bags with these pearls inside, photographed below. Look how beautiful they are, and Teafields are the first UK brand to have these teabags!

Jasmine Pearls bag

 

Imperial Gold

Imperial Gold black tea also came in these stunning little bags, and once brewed had a citrus-like edge to it. Refreshing and light, I drank this is coconut milk and Sweet Freedom. I really enjoyed this one, and it was an easy drink.

Flowery Earl Grey

The most stunning of all the teas was the beautiful Flowery Earl Grey. I almost couldn’t brew it because it was so pretty. But I pulled myself together and got on with it. It didn’t disappoint. This Sri Lankan tea brewed beautifully creating a lovely delicate earl grey which would be suitable for every day drinking, but I would just save it for special occasions 🙂 It’s too good to spoil yourself on every day!

Emperor Sencha

Empora Sencha frightened me a bit. Looking like blades of grass, I really didn’t know what to expect. This Japanese tea was brewed at 70c and created a tea with a roasted scent. The taste was fresh and refreshing and not so scary!

Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Darjeeling 2nd Flush (2nd flush meaning second harvest of the season) I’m actually drinking as I write this. It has a fresh, ‘dry’ taste which I really enjoy and has a pleasantly fragrant flavour…. BUT

Darjeeling 1st Flush…. Darjeeling 1st Flush was the winner of all the teas for me. This was an easy drink, flavourful and really took me to tea heaven. It seems I’m a darjeeling girl! Once brewed it was very very light in colour and once milk was added it was the palest tea I’d ever drunk, but it really came across with flavour and I just can’t get enough of it!

If you’re a tea fan, you should really be treating yourself to some of Teafields teas. Some of their exclusive options are on the expensive side, but the cost really does show in their flavour and quality. You could even buy some as a gift for a tea lover – it would really spoil them and they’d thank you for it. Oh and the guys at Teafields are the most friendly bunch, so hit them up on twitter @teafieldsteas.

This being my first venture into boutique teas, I’m so pleased I’ve had the opportunity to try (and photograph) these beautiful teas, and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount about their origins too.

Thank you Teafields for letting me sample your products, and sorry it’s taken me so long to share – it was worth the wait for me, I hope it was for you too!

 

Tea samples were sent to me, at no cost, for sample and review. All opinions are my own. All photographs are copyright Erin Mason Photography.

 

Baby Shower Fun Times

On Sunday afternoon the book club girls descended on the Lady Grey Tea Room in Wendover for a very special occasion. Caz is expecting her first baby on November 1st – the first book club baby! and we wanted to spoil her rotten so she was collected at pre arranged time and whisked off to the tea room, not knowing at all where she was going or what she’d be doing.

The tiny tea room serves home-made cakes, salads, sandwiches and a huge selection of teas. The largest table had been reserved for us and we arrived early to set up and Sarah decorated the table.

tearoomA beautiful location, the tea room was decked out in pure English style with a chandelier, bunting, chalk boards and cake plates. Our table was already decked out with beautiful china which it turned out was over 100 years old and belonged to the owner’s Grandmother.

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Caz arrived with beautiful neat bump and we all started to chat and catch up. We could talk for England. Non alcoholic elderflower cocktail was brought over in champagne glasses and we were able to toast the Mum to be with some fizz.

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Then the first platter of food arrived.

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Home made sausage rolls and other pastry puffs with some yellow pepper and cream cheese as a palette cleanser. We munched on these and chose which tea we wanted to drink. All the time we were there the owners were checking on us, topping up the tea pots and bringing more fizzy cordials to drink.

Next was sandwiches:

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These were amazing finger sandwiches that tasted wonderful. Crusts cut off there was egg mayonnaise, roast beef and horseradish, salmon and cream cheese, cucumber and cheese and ham with mustard.

Next we had little shot glasses of jelly layered with pannacotta:

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Yes, it’s a cheesy photo but the only one of these yummy deserts!

Then lastly there was a cake plate chock full of homemade scones (which were still warm!), pots of clotted cream and jam, cakes, profiteroles and macaron. All amazing!

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By the end we were stuffed! The tearoom was closing but the owners allowed us to stay at our table so we could give out all the pressies, while they cleaned up! Up until now most of the gifts had been under the table so Caz was a little surprised when all this emerged:

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We all wanted to spoil her so much – can you tell? We were able to spend a really relaxed time watching Caz open up the goodies and we all tried hard not to get too emotional! And then we left the tea room, after some wise words of advice from the owner who is a retired midwife.

Outside the tearoom was a little seating area which has been decked out around a tree, with bunting and dishes and it was beautiful, so we got some photos out there too.

cazMum to be with her neat little bump!

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And the obligatory group shot taken by one of the lovely Lady Grey Tearoom ladies. It was an awesome day and we spent about 4 hours in the tiniest, cutest and friendliest tea room I’ve ever visited. Everything was perfect and I couldn’t have spent it with a better group of ladies. We’re all so excited to meet baby when he or she arrives, and even if it’s a boy we’ve decided he can be an honourary book club member 🙂

Thanks to the Book Club girls for an epic day and for letting me steal your pics for this blog!

Like Sticking a Straw in a Coconut

I’m all about the hydration especially when summer comes along. Iced tea has always been a firm favourite when the weather gets hot, but it’s always in the back of my mind that I should maybe try something without caffeine.

Last year when I started running I was on the look out for a drink that was refreshing and tasty but was something other than water, post race. I’d heard a little about coconut water and when I saw Vita Coco in a store I bought one. It’s an odd taste when you first try coconut water, because for some reason you expect it to taste like coconut milk… well I did. My surprise was a positive one and I became hooked! I bought the stuff in bulk from Costco and always had a bottle in my bag to drink as soon as I’d finished a race. I don’t know why but it seemed to bring me back to myself after the running delirium that I usually suffer!

When a friend asked me what they could bring for me to eat or drink at the end of my half marathon a few months ago the only thing I asked for was Vita Coco!

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Since then they’ve brought out loads of flavours and I was lucky enough to be sent a box full of the lovely stuff to try and review so I can share with you how amazing it is. Now you’re probably thinking why Vita Coco – isn’t all coconut water the same? Well, no. I was spoiled by the fact that I chose this brand first, but will admit when out and about I have tried other brands – and other brands are just bleurgh. Some are made from concentrate and taste milky. One I tried tasted exactly like Ferrero Rocher flavoured water (really odd and not at all nice). So I stick to Vita Coco.

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Pictured are all the flavours they sent me, and I have also bought some of their new lemonade flavour myself to try.

Their coconut water is 100% natural, pasteurized goodness which means it’s suitable for pregnant ladies. It’s gluten and dairy free, kosher and is vegan approved. It’s packed full of electrolytes (which is why it’s so good after a run) and contains no fat or cholesterol. All the sugars are natural from their fruit purees and juices. All these factors make it amazing and healthy and really good post workout, but especially post run or bike, I have found.

So what were the flavours like?

Let’s start with plain original coconut water, which is really anything but plain. It’s refreshing and mildly coconutty. It’s delicious and wonderful and you just have to try it! Peach and Mango was the first flavoured carton I tried. I found it really pleasant with the fruit flavours subtle enough that neither overpowered the other. Orange was tasty, even though I don’t really like orange flavoured things it was refreshing and not too acidic. Acai and pomegranate was an odd taste that I couldn’t compare with anything for a long while. I drank it from the carton so I don’t know what colour the juice was but it tasted red and kind of grapey – after a while the only comparison I could make was cloudy honeydew melon! Pineapple was definitely my favourite of the flavoured waters. I’d tried this flavour for the very first time at my half marathon and it was amazing and refreshing. The burst of pineapple and refreshing coconut had echos of pina colada (which I love!) and was amazing on my taste buds after two and a half hours of running and warm water!

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Since then I have bought a load of cartons from Costco as they’ve just started stocking the flavours – and also the new lemonade!

I adore american lemonade so when I heard Vita Coco were bringing out their own version I was so excited. I bought a couple of cartons from Whole Foods and was really pleased with the product. It’s got a very strong lemony flavour, so not subtle like the others so you can only call it lemonade rather than coconut water with lemon. It might be slightly strong for me since I suffer with heartburn when I have very acidic foods but I will definitely try it again!

Vita Coco have made a few packaging improvements since I first started buying it, mainly the screw top on the small cartons. There used to be a foil lid that you peeled back to drink, or stuck a straw into, but now they’ve added a lid which is resealable – good idea Vita Coco! Although saying that it was very easy to gulp the whole lot down after a run!

So the verdict is – drink coconut water and make sure it’s Vita Coco – you’ll never go back!

Vita Coco provided me with some free samples to review, but I have spent lots of my own money on their product in the past and will continue to in the future, coz it’s just so darn yummy! All the opinions in this review are my own. Now go and make some opinions on their product of your own!

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Jolly Boy’s Outing

We’ve had another 3 day weekend here in old Blighty. I kinda wish they would spread the Bank Holidays out a little because it seems like we’ve just had loads of them all in one go. Fun, but the rest of the year is somewhat lacking the respite of a nice elongated weekend.

This Bank Holiday has been jam-packed. Saturday we planned in a lot of rest and relaxation. We woke up at 7 am as standard, and instead of getting up and starting our day we decided to stay in bed. It was chucking it down outside and the sound of the rain was so relaxing that we opened up the blinds and had a little snooze! Once up we did the boring food shop, but decided to go to a different supermarket and I’m glad we did since we bumped into one of my best friends and her husband, who don’t normally shop there either. It was great to see them and catch up for a few minutes before we left them to shop.

After lunch we popped out to the shopping centre to locate some hair products. I used to have funky chunky ginger highlights in my red hair and I’m missing them, so I’ve bought some stuff to re-do that look again. The old look was created courtesy of L’Oreal but the kit they made is discontinued now. I’m going to have to improvise so I’m setting aside a huge amount of time and will be teaching Gary my limited amount of knowledge on how to tint hair……. I’ll do it at the start of my holiday I think since if it goes wrong there will be time to fix it!

Saturday afternoon was a veg fest! Gary wanted to watch a couple of football matches so I saw it as a perfect opportunity to begin my Veronica Mars journey. I have just bought the boxed set with all 3 seasons and the 2014 movie in it and intend to watch these during the World Cup. It means Gary can watch the games and I really won’t mind! I might even get some reading done too. I have also just been introduced to the wonderful cross stitch patterns at Satsuma Street and I’m very tempted by them. They’re modern and the colours are wonderful!

We had a fairly early night because Sunday was a big day – a day trip to Brighton!

I drove to Gary’s parent’s home and then we headed off to Brighton in two cars. Once we’d arrived Gary and I headed off for fish and chips on the beach and then met our niece on the pier and went off to have a mooch around the shops at The Lanes.

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There were some wonderful bargains to be had and some gorgeous designer stuff too. The weather had started off a little windy and chilly but soon it was cardigans off and suncream on.

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I managed to find myself some bubble tea and drank that as we headed back to the beach where we sat and enjoyed the waves for a bit.

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Then we met up with the rest of the family and the boys and Leah had a go on a bungee thing on the beach!

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It was pretty cool, but the heat and sun started to get to the kids so we headed off towards the Sea Life centre. The rest of the family headed off for their car, but Gary and I stayed behind and decided to try to get a table for dinner. It was tricky and all the places we wanted to eat were booked up, but in the end we got the last table for non-bookers at Bella Italia. We don’t really like chain restaurants when we’re in a place surrounded with wonderful independent restaurants, but when you have no choice, you have no choice! The food was alright, and we went away un-hungry at least! Then we got the park and ride back to our car and headed home. On the way back Gary suggested we drive into London to continue the evening, but I was exhausted! There’s something about the sea air that really wears me out – but in a good way!

Today was another late riser. I managed to do some washing and then we headed out for lunch with my sister and brother-in-law. We had a lovely time with good food and chats, before coming back home. I’m now trying to schedule some blogs with Frozen on in the background, and later we’re heading over to my Mum and Dad’s for dinner and to see my sister’s kids who are having a mini holiday at Grandma and Grandad’s!

Jam packed, but it’s back to work tomorrow for just 3 days before I have Friday off as we’re going to see Katy Perry in London. What a strange week!

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Totally Vivid

Anyone who knows me will know I’m incredibly against energy drinks. I remember the first time I tasted Red Bull – it was so gross I only said I liked it to impress a boy. Since Red Bull came out others have joined them like Relentless and Monster. I know they’re not meant to be really that bad but they have horrible names, taste nasty and come in cans with neon logos. They’re probably full of colours and E numbers and so much caffeine. I just don’t want to touch them. I foresee a future where they’re banned because someone has discovered a terrible ingredient in them and we’ll be faced with a generation of dehydrated zombies walking around not knowing how to wake themselves up from their sugar and caffeine crash.

Anyway, I am always on the look out for something new and natural to drink. My regular readers know how much I love iced tea and when I was followed on twitter by a company called Vivid Drinks (@VividDrinks) I was intrigued. A new company, Vivid promotes itself as a natural, subtle caffeine boost with added matcha for a brain stimulating hit of anti oxidants. For those who have never heard of matcha, it’s a green tea leaf powder so high in nutrients it blows superfoods out of the water boasting 20 times the antioxidants of foods such as pomegranates – and 130 times the antioxidants of normal strained green tea. Yes, I’m all for health boosting, energy gaining, thirst quenching drinks – but it was the flavours that really caught my eye. So I contacted them and they agreed send me some of their drinks to try – and of course let you guys know all about it!

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The Vivid range consists of three flavours: Lime, Ginger & Honey, Grape & Elderflower and Pear & Rhubarb. I was most excited about the lime, ginger and honey flavour. Having recently discovered ginger tea I was very interested to see how a cold equivalent would compare. I also gave a couple of bottles away to see what other people thought of the flavours.

I wanted to see how these drinks would help with general thirst quenching, a perk throughout my working day and also post run/work out recovery. I wasn’t disappointed.

Lime, ginger and honey was my favourite of the three. The flavours were balanced really well but you could taste all three separately which I really liked. I loved the warmth I got from the ginger, the sweetness from the honey which added to the natural dryness of the tea. The lime added welcome acidity to the other two flavours – sadly I have drunk all of them and am suffering withdrawals…. I also gave one of these to my Mum to try. She’s a huge fan of ginger and she really liked it too. She had poured the drink out into a glass and wasn’t too keen on the colour of the drink, but to me that just shows it’s all natural stuff inside 😀 I took one of these to work and I did find it pulled me out of the post lunch fuzz I was in and right back into my spreadsheets!

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Next I tried Grape and Elderflower. I had this one straight after a run when I was boiling hot and gasping for a drink. Straight from the fridge, out of the bottle, down the throat. I’m usually a fan of a Vita Coco straight after a run but I wanted to see how Vivid did. I liked this one too. It was refreshing and tasted sweet but not over the top. I found the elderflower flavour a little strong – potentially headachey, but the grape did come through behind it. It cured my thirst well. Mum tried this one too and gave it 10/10. She loved the flavours and found them really refreshing, saying she’d love to drink it on a hot day and was much happier with the colour of this one when poured into her glass!

Pear and Rhubarb was the last one to try and I have to say I was hesitant. I don’t mind eating pears but usually find anything with pear flavour tastes like feet. I’m not a fan of rhubarb either, but I gave it a try. In fact I gave it to a friend to try before I took the plunge myself and she really liked the flavour. As a non iced tea drinker she felt the flavours were a bit washed out but could taste the individual fruits. I on the other hand, felt I could taste a whole new flavour as the two fruits merged into one. Maybe I’m not familiar with pear and rhubarb enough to taste them separately. I think it worked for me though because I really enjoyed drinking it! The labelled ingredients would have put me off buying it but having now tried it I would drink it again!

So what’s the verdict?: I love these drinks. The packaging means they’re easy to drink and carry around. I liked that the bottles are resealable, unlike Vita Coco which means post-race I have to down the whole bottle (not great for rehydrating) but with these I could sip over time. They’re obviously a healthy option from the packaging and contain information about matcha and how it can benefit you. As you’ve no doubt gathered, the lime, ginger and honey option is a total winner and I’m going to have to go on a hunt to find some more and stock up!

Vivid drinks are available from Whole Foods, As Nature Intended, Planet Organic, Booths, Selfridges, Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and WH Smith retailing at £1.85 a carton. There’s more info about the wonderful stuff that is matcha at their website. They were kind enough to provide me with a free box of yummy goodness, but my review is totally my opinion – when you try them you’ll see for yourself!

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Chill Out and Drink Tea

You guys know I’m crazy over iced tea when the weather starts to heat up. I steer away from brands like Lipton because they’re so sweet but sometimes it’s all that’s available!

On a recent trip to Tesco I found some little cartons of iced tea I’d never seen before, from a company called Hampstead Tea.

hamsteadtea

At £1.39 each I thought I’d give the Elderflower flavour a go. I popped it in the fridge and it wasn’t long before I got home from work and needed something refreshing to guzzle.

On trying the tea I was so pleasantly surprised. It was real non sweetened iced tea with a lovely refreshing and subtle elderflower taste. After tweeting about how much I loved it, Hampstead Tea asked if I would like to try the other flavours. Of course I said yes! The range, as pictured above, is Raspberry, Elderflower and Lemon Green tea.

Firstly I love the packaging. They’re super portable, resealable and when I drink from the carton I feel like I’m being a rebel and drinking milk from the fridge – I love it!

The flavours are amazing. The ingredients are all natural, organic and there are no artificial flavourings.  In fact here’s what Hampstead Tea say:

In True Hampstead style we have compromised on nothing. Our delicious iced teas use real leaf tea, for a “true brew” experience. They are fairtrade, organic, biodynamic with no artificial flavourings and low calories. Our innovative packaging is environmentally friendly.

Elderflower is my favourite because it just add a subtle sweetness. The green tea with lemon is very refreshing and the raspberry flavour has a mellow sharpness. This is the closest shop bought iced tea I have found to home-brewed iced tea, in the UK. It really is that good! Because of the cute packaging, these iced teas will definitely feature in any summer picnics I might have this year.

It’s so refreshing (geddit!) to find a company selling iced tea that isn’t pumped full of colours, flavours and sugar. It tastes healthy and is a great alternative to water – which I do get bored with believe it or not! If you’re used to Lipton then you might find the flavour a little odd at first, because true iced tea is very dry in the mouth and not sweet in the way you’ve been used to, but do persevere, and you’ll be converted! If you want to try real iced tea for the first time then start off with these little cartons. Because they have the added flavours you’ll find it’s a nice way to ease into the wonders of fresh iced tea!

I found my cartons for £1.39 at my local Tesco.

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After my initial purchase of Hampstead Iced Tea, I was asked if I would like to try the other flavours for free. This review is totally honest – don’t believe me? Go buy it and try it yourself!

Sugar and Spice and all things Nice

In 2007 G Man and I visited the Good Food Show in Birmingham and had the chance to sample the new delights that British food companies had to offer. I tried cake and ice cream, cheese and sausages. But one of the wonders I tested was a Chai Tea Latte by a company called Drink Me Chai.

The company boasted that the product was made in England and use all natural and authentic spices to create a powder which when you add water gives you a yummy spiced latte. Having never tried one of these before I was delighted to find that Spiced Chai was right up my street. I went ahead and bought a couple of tubs.

6 years later and I’m still a convert, but I’ve lately I discovered that the same product, which you could now buy in a handful of supermarkets, was available in more flavours. The kind people at Drink Me Chai sent me a tub of the Vanilla flavour to sample and share my thoughts with you guys.

Now you all know I’m very particular about my teas. Only the best! Here’s what they say about their product:

So what exactly is Drink Me Chai? A lusciously sweet, exotic blend of spices, tea and skimmed milk, it’s a different kind of hot drink – based on the original ‘latte’ invented in India more than 5,000 years ago. And because it’s 99% caffeine free, with all the antioxidant benefits of tea, it’s got that extra little virtuous edge too.

All the flavours come in lovely bright tubs, which are easily resealable and last for a good couple of years (if you can keep it that long!). You put three heaped teaspoons into a cup and pour on hot water (or half water half hot milk for a creamier taste). What I like about this product is that the powder really does mix into the water well. You don’t get a scummy ball of powder at the bottom of your cup! The spiced flavour evokes cosy Christmas scents – warm spices and log fires. The vanilla option comes across almost buttery. It’s got a sweeter flavour and I find this goes down well on chilly spring days.

CrossProcessed Photo

The powder is gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians and only 91 calories per cup if you make it with all water. My favourite fact is that it’s 99% caffeine free – we don’t all want perking up when we have a hot drink – I love to have a vanilla chai just before bed! I also like that the skimmed milk is already in there – I often really fancy a cuppa and realise my milk’s gone off – never fear, Chai Latte is here!

But wait, there’s more! Here’s the really fun part – this doesn’t just make a great hot chai latte! You can also blend it with milk and ice and make an Iced Chai Latte frappe. I’m looking forward to trying this in the summer. AND (one I can’t wait to try) you can add the powder to buttercream icing and make spiced cupcake frosting! Let me know if you’ve tried either of these!

Now you all know I’m a sucker for good social networking and Drink Me Chai is up there with the best. They’re on twitter as @Drinkmechai and frequently host give aways of their full range. With use of their hashtag #drinkmechai you can share your favourite flavours and ways to use their powders.

Having only found the vanilla and spiced options in my local supermarket, I’m now on the hunt for the rest of the range! The whole range includes Green Tea, Spiced, Fair Trade Spiced, Vanilla, Peppermint, Chocolate and Mango. I can’t wait to try the peppermint and green tea flavours in particular.

So go on a hunt in the tea and coffee ailse of your local supermarket and give Drink Me Chai a go – you won’t regret it and soon you’ll be a convert like me!

Have you tried any of these flavours? What are they like? Have you experimented with the powders and made a yummy concoction? I’d love to know, and I’m sure Drink Me Chai would love to know too!

The lovely guys at Drink Me Chai sent me a sample for free so that I could tell all you guys about their wonderful product. I haven’t been paid to review this – I’ve just been asked to give an honest opinion, which this was. Now go drink some tea!

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What’s a Traditional Christmas?

This time of the year everyone is looking for a simple shortcut to make the Christmas planning a little easier. But this year I have found it to be so easy it’s almost unreal! We had all of our Christmas presents planned and bought by the end of November. The tree went up a few days ago, and the house is decorated.

Every year I go to my Mum’s for Christmas dinner, and to help out I provide an alternative dessert for those of us who don’t like Christmas pudding. It’s a tricky job because it has to cater for various diets, allergies, tastes and be child friendly. That cuts most of the traditional options out – no booze, whipped cream, artificial colourings, dried fruit, cheesecake, spices…. the list goes on. But this year I have asked a good friend to make a cake for us. She’s starting up a business making bespoke cakes and cupcakes and having sampled her cakes before we know they’re amazing! So dessert is sorted! Gifts are sorted. Wrap and cards have been bought.

The only thing I need to work out now is what Gary and I will have for Christmas Eve dinner. Reading over my old blog entries which mention Christmas this morning, I discovered that our usual tradition was for Gary to pick me up from work on Christmas Eve, where I would have been setting up the Boxing Day sale in my shop, and for us to hot step it to McDonald’s for a festive Big Mac! This changed when I started working for my previous employers and I was off on Christmas Eve. Gary had planned for both of those years to have Christmas dinner at his parent’s house and so I wanted for us to have at least one Christmas dinner together. So I planned and cooked our very own Christmas dinner for two, which we ate on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed doing it, but this year I don’t think I’ll have the energy because now I’m back working Christmas Eve! I really don’t want to go back to a tradition of McDonald’s….. So I need a festive, comforting, quick and tasty meal which I can cobble together for us both when I get in from work. Any suggestions (crock pot is on hiatus until the new year!)?

Christmas Day, I have found since growing up, was different in my family home compared with most other families. I have discovered that the norm for families in my generation (and probably still now) is for the children to wake up early to find all of their presents stuffed into a giant sack or pillowcase at the end of their beds. They would rip open all their gifts and then start their day. The men of the house would often go down to the pub while the dinner was being cooked, arrive home for dinner (often late) and then everyone would sleep or watch tv for the rest of the day. No offence to those who do it this way, but this seems like such a waste of a long-planned day. All that preparation spoiled in just a few hours. In my family we would wake up (normally I would wake up really early and have to lie in bed until the time agreed by my Mum) then my sister and I would take our stockings into our parent’s room and when we were small enough we’d all get into their bed. Then we’d open our stockings. Right at the bottom would always be a satsuma and shiny £1 coin. We would then go downstairs and eat hot buttered croissants.

The rest of the morning was always agony for me when I was a kid, because I would sit in the living room staring at all the presents under the tree and knowing I couldn’t open any until after lunch. I would help Mum with the dinner. I even cooked the Christmas dinner one year – I must have been about 12 or 13 – because my Mum had flu.

When my sister and I were young we would put on a little Christmas show after dinner, and then as she became a teenager I would put on a show by myself and we’d sing carols. My Dad would usually take this opportunity to take a loud snoring nap….. Then we would watch the Top Of The Pops Christmas special. By this time I was usually foaming at the mouth to open presents – I mean it would have been about 4pm and I have no doubt that my little shows were concocted as a way to kill time while my Dad slept.

So by the time we had woken my Dad up and got him downstairs again it was well into the afternoon and it was up to me to be Santa. I would hand out the presents to people one by one and we’d take a really long time about it – and this time I didn’t mind. I just wanted to see everyone’s reactions to the presents I would have spent months planning and wrapping so carefully. That’s the best part.

By about 6 or 7 we  were usually all hungry again so we would set up a buffet in the dining room and we’d watch Christmas specials on the TV with plates of finger food on our laps. A perfect day.

Things have changed a little since I was a kid. Obviously me and my Sister don’t live at home any more, so there’s no stockings or climbing into Mum and Dad’s bed! Gary still has to set an acceptable time for me to wake him up…. but once we’re awake we put on our dressing gowns and go downstairs to open our presents for each other whilst sitting down by the Christmas tree. Then we have hot croissants – I like that tradition!

This year Gary is going to have Christmas dinner with me at my parent’s house so we’re going to visit his family in the morning and then go back there in the evening after dinner, presents and buffet. My sister has children now so there’s more people around the table and my paternal Grandfather comes and stays for Christmas too. It’s really good having so much family around and having children there means I’m not the only hyper Christmas freak around. We still watch Christmas Top Of The Pops (- no matter how hard they try to cancel it!) and when it comes to Christmas specials we always seem to end up watching Dr Who on Christmas evening. I’m not the biggest fan, but everyone else loves it!

So that’s my Christmas and what’s expected. I love the way we do it, the tradition, the things that have evolved and changed and the things that have stayed the same. One day when I have my own family I’m definitely going to keep these traditions. I can’t wait to make up Christmas stockings with a satsuma and a shiny coin at the toe.

For those struggling with their Christmas shopping, here’s a guide I wrote back in 2010 which might give you some ideas! Happy Christmas planning!