Why do we give gifts?

Christmas, Birthdays & Anniversaries are all times of celebration and cheer. We are at our most generous during the festive period than any other time of year. But, why do we part with our cash so easily for others during this period.

One of the main reasons we have the tradition of giving and receiving presents is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Three Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold & Myrrh.

Giving presents is a little different today to say the least!  It’s a fine balancing act of spending the right amount of money versus the perfect gift for the recipient? Research is critical to finding the correct gift at the price you can afford, a problem the Wise Men did not encounter!

Today, we give gifts for different reasons. For some, it is a way to celebrate the Christian holy day & for others, it is a special time to let family & friends know that you care & are thinking of them. Often a way to show your appreciation of their support you have received throughout the year.

St. Nicholas was probably the most famous gift giver in history, leaving wonderful presents in shoes that were left outside for children! This is the reason children today hang up stockings on Christmas Eve.

Christmas as we now know it originated from the Victorian era, with families gathering for a feast, to play games & give gifts. To give a gift was an expression of kindness & warmth especially during harder times.

Nowadays in more affluent times, Christmas is all about the gift. With Christmas adverts being shown on every channel & Santa Claus appearing in department stores the focus on buying the perfect gift has never been more important. Macy’s of New York revolutionised Christmas shopping when they stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve in 1867 encouraging shoppers to pop in for their last minute gifts.

Luckily today we have the blessing of the internet to help with Christmas shopping so you don’t need to brace the cold, you can shop to your hearts content whilst drinking your cocoa in front of the blazing fire. In fact a little bird has told me that www.prettymaison.co.uk has some great little gifts for your friends and family, definitely worth a click 😉

Happy Shopping & Merry Christmas!

A gift for you and your home!

We always have products at low prices that are perfect for the use around your home, from candle holders to dog sculptures we always have an assortment products that would fit in perfectly with your interior decor.

We want to inspire you to turn your house into a home, show your seasonal spirit with decorations and most importantly make the space yours. So we cut the prices on products throughout the year, allowing you to mix it up but never know what you may need next!

If you want ideas keep checking this blog, but if its deals you want then here’s the link you need: http://www.prettymaison.co.uk/sale

 

My favourite Autumn dish!

As the leaves turn golden brown, the cooler nights draw in and thoughts of Halloween & Bonfire Night spring to mind so does Toffee Apples, Hot Chocolate and Duck with Blackberry Sauce!

An odd combination I know but definitely one of my favourites and it’s delicious! Game season begins in September so you can replace the duck with Venison or Guinea Fowl and it works just as well. Why not swap blackberries and red wine for cherries and port at Christmas for a festive alternative to Turkey!

Ingredients – Serves 2

2 duck breasts

150g blackberries

1 tbsp caster sugar

½ shallot, finely chopped

100ml red wine

100ml chicken stock

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 4. Score the skin of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern and season. Place them skin-side down in a cold frying pan and set over a medium heat. Cook for 20 minutes, tipping excess fat out of the pan as it cooks. Meanwhile, put the blackberries in a small saucepan with the sugar and simmer for 5 minutes, crushing the berries with the back of a fork; set aside.

2. When the skin is golden and crisp, turn the breasts over and cook the flesh side for 2 minutes, then transfer to a roasting tray and place in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, wrap loosely in foil and rest for 5 minutes.

3. While the duck breasts are in the oven, spoon all but 1 tbsp fat from the pan. Set the pan over a medium-low heat and cook the shallot for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the wine and stock to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes over a high heat, until reduced and syrupy. Stir in the blackberries and any resting juices from the duck and simmer until warmed through. Slice the duck and serve with the sauce, plus some steamed Autumn green vegetables.

Enjoy x

How to choose the perfect gift this Father’s Day

fathers day

Father’s Day is a precious time to show your Dad how much you care and how grateful you are for the love and support that he has shown to you throughout the years.

Many people take time to send cards and gifts, visit if possible and spend the day with the special man in their life. Why not take your Dad out to lunch, go for a stroll in the park, a walk on the beach or simply just spend some time together.

I am sure everybody thinks they have the worlds best Dad so what better way to tell him than with a fabulous and thoughtful gift. If you have time you could try your hand at baking him a cake? You could present this in a vintage cake tin to give it the homemade edge.

If your Dad is a budding Monty Don at heart then our seed storage tins make a perfect gift, why not double up with a matching string dispenser!

The most important thing is to think about your Dad and what he would like. It’s not really that difficult, just cast your mind back and you will re-discover a whole new shopping list!

We all have precious memories of our childhood days. Mine include wrestling with Dad (I always won of course!), being buried in the sand every summer holiday, running around the local park with Dad pretending to be Rocky Balboa in training, burnt sausages at every family BBQ and shaving foam fights at Christmas!

Whatever your memories are make sure you enjoy the day with your Dad, take some time to show him you care, enjoy yourselves and create more wonderful and happy memories together.

Most of all have a happy Father’s Day x

Is Spring on the way?

Apparently according to ancient folklore the weather on Candlemas day (February 2nd) predicts whether the winter will continue or Spring is just around the corner.

If the 2nd of February is wet, cold and windy, don’t panic you’re in for a treat and Spring will follow shortly whereas if it’s mild and dry expect another month of cold and harsh conditions because winter is set to continue.

It may feel too early to be thinking about Spring but it is the perfect time for working in the greenhouse. Chrysanthemums, Geraniums and Sweet Peas are ideal to grow from seed and by early March they will start to germinate just in time for the improving light levels.

Cucumber, Tomatoes and Basil are the basis of any great Italian salad, they are simple to grow from seed and February is the best time to get them started in the greenhouse.

If you’ve missed your garden and are eager to get digging then you can sow early varieties of carrots such as Amsterdam Forcing, Broad Beans and Parsnips but you will need to keep them under cloches or in a cold frame, Shallots can also be planted out from the middle of the month and before you know it March will be here and then the work really starts!

So for this month get out in your greenhouse, sow a few seeds and enjoy the relaxed pace of gardening whilst you can!

How to make unbelievably easy mince pies.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the traditional mince pie! Crisp shortcrust pastry hiding a mouthwatering, spiced fruit filling, simply perfect for your festive gathering.

As you take the first bite memories will come flooding back, Christmas baking with Mum, making sure Santa’s little treat is ready on Christmas Eve and burning your lip on the hot mincemeat because you can’t wait for the pies to cool!

Over the years I have tried to make mince pies that taste as good as my Mum’s but somehow I’ve never quite managed it. The pastry has been too thick, too crumbly, not enough filling, too much filling, you name it and I’ve done it!

All this is now a thing of the past thanks to the easiest recipe alive. Simply follow this step by step recipe below and you too will have mince pies that taste like my Mums baked them, and Mary Berry has nothing on her!

Ingredients

  • 225g cold butter, diced
  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 280g mincemeat
  • 1 small egg
  • icing sugar, to dust
  1. To make the pastry, rub cold, diced butter into plain flour, then mix in golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Combine the pastry into a ball – don’t add liquid – and knead it briefly. The dough will be fairly firm, like shortbread dough. You can use the dough immediately, or chill for later.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C. Line 18 holes of two 12-hole patty tins, by pressing small walnut-sized balls of pastry into each hole. Spoon the mincemeat into the pies.
  3. Take slightly smaller balls of pastry than before and pat them out between your hands to make round lids, big enough to cover the pies. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges gently together to seal – you don’t need to seal them with milk or egg as they will stick on their own. (The pies may now be frozen for up to 1 month).
  4. Beat 1 small egg and brush the tops of the pies. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. To serve, lightly dust with icing sugar. They will keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container (unless you live in my house and then it’s a small Christmas miracle if they last until the morning!).

Now all you need to do is taste! Best served with a little cream whilst warm (not hot otherwise you will have the same memories I have!). Relax, pop on a Christmas movie, sit back and enjoy. Let the festive season begin x

Thank you to the BBC Good Food Guide for their unbelievable easy recipe!

Tips for Autumn Gardening

autumn gardening

Autumn has arrived! The evenings are cooler, the mornings are crisper and there’s a freshness in the air, but now is not the time to take it easy and rest on your laurels.  Autumn is one of the busiest times in the garden, it’s a time for clearing and preparing for the big freeze. Follow my top tips to get your garden ready for hibernation.

  • Tidying the greenhouse is one of those jobs that is put off until tomorrow, unfortunately tomorrow has arrived! Remove plants, sweep out any debris and disinfect.  (This will keep pests and diseases from growing throughout the winter months). I usually use hot water and Jeyes Fluid for cleaning and disinfecting and whilst you have the solution to hand clean out any pots or seed trays that you will be re-using in the Spring. Make sure you ventilate your greenhouse for a couple of days to ensure everything is thoroughly dry.
  • Once you have mastered the inside of your greenhouse it’s time to move on to the outside! Remove any shading you have used over the hotter months, clean out debris and leaves from the gutters and clean the glass thoroughly to make the most of the sunshine throughout the cooler seasons.
  • Tidy your borders! It’s time to say goodbye to the annuals and add them to the compost heap. Perennials will need to be cut back to around 5cm above ground level and the borders can then be covered with a thick layer of compost or bark chips.
  • If you have a pond or water feature make sure you are prepared for falling leaves. Decomposing leaves can turn water foul and block filters, make sure you cover with a fine mesh to avoid this.
  • Fallen leaves are perfect for making leafmould. This will add structure and organic matter to your soil and is the perfect solution for garden waste. Simply fill plastic bin bags with leaves, punch holes through the sides and sprinkle with water. Fasten the bags with string and leave for a couple of years to breakdown into a crumbly texture that can be added to your borders.
  • Now you have cleared up the leaves it’s time to have a look at the lawn. Most lawns will need moss removing, aerating and feeding. If you have any patches it’s a great time to lay new turf or sow seeds.
  • Before you take it easy and get ready to put your feet up make sure your tools are given the final once over. Sharpen secateurs and shears, wash spades and forks and treat any wooden handles with linseed oil for protection. This will ensure your tools will be ready for action in the Spring, which will be here before you know it!

How to make a Rhubarb Crumble taste of Summer!

crumble

I decided a couple of years ago to grow my own rhubarb not quite knowing how successful this would be!

I started collecting my juicy stalks at the beginning of May and they are still going strong, needless to say I have become a bit of a whiz at the ole crumble and thought I would share my recipe for you all to enjoy!

I’ve turned the traditional rhubarb crumble into a delicious summer dessert by introducing strawberries and ginger. Ginger is the perfect partner for the fruit as it adds a spice to the sweetness but you can replace this with cinnamon if you prefer. (I actually like both so have to do an eeny meeny miny mo each time I cook!).

I’ve also added oats to my topping to offer a healthier alternative to your traditional fruit crumble and give it an extra crunch. If you want to go one step further add 30g of chopped almonds too!

One of my pet hates is a soggy bottom and to stop this from happening I prefer to bake my fruit and topping separately and assemble just before serving, this ensures you will have the perfect crunch with every mouthful. It’s also a great way to store your excess fruit, simply bake your filing in bulk, freeze it in batches and when you fancy a pud simply defrost a portion, rustle up a fresh crumble topping, and voila! The perfect homemade crumble every time!

Ingredients for Crumble topping

  • 140g plain flour
  • 30g oatmeal
  • 30g jumbo oats
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 2tsp ground ginger

Ingredients for the filling

  • 50g strawberries
  • 2tsp ginger
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 100ml cold water
  • 9 sticks of juicy rhubarb

Method

  1. Preheat the oven 170°
  2. Add all of the topping ingredients (apart from oats) to a large mixing bowl and rub together using your fingertips, when the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs stir in the oats and transfer to a lined baking tray and bake for 15-20 mins until lightly golden.
  3. Whilst the topping is baking prepare the rhubarb by peeling away the skin and chop into 2cm chunks and place the rhubarb and strawberries in to a large ovenproof dish. Mix the sugar, ground ginger and water in a jug and pour over the fruit. Bake in the oven for approx 30 mins until fruit is soft.
  4. To serve, drain any excess juice away from the fruit, add the crumble topping and serve with custard, clotted cream or ice cream.
  5. Sit back & enjoy x

Are you ready for summer?

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We are famous for our British summers aren’t we? Rain, sunshine and more rain! But our keep calm and carry on attitude gets us through as will our fabulous new range of casual dining sets, perfect for eating, entertaining and watching the sun going down.

Whatever the weather the beauty of our outdoor furniture is that it can be left outside all summer long, come rain and shine. Fantastic for family get-togethers, birthday parties, romantic evening meals and leisurely breakfasts, simply re-arrange on the patio in the formation that best suits your occasion and enjoy al-fresco dining to the max.

The beauty of modern materials is that they look like a traditional design but are actually built to endure years of British summers! Our Bosham Corner Sofa Set is manufactured from polywood, a timber-styled material that is made from recycled plastic, not only it is perfect for all weathers but it is environmentally friendly and requires no maintenance either! The showerproof cushions partner the driftwood style furniture beautifully and will make any patio the envy of the Jones’!

If it’s more of a rattan furniture you prefer then why not go for a PE rattan? This really is the new kid on the block as far as outdoor furniture goes. It looks like natural rattan but is UV resistant and weatherproof and our Lolsworth Corner Sofa Set comes complete with showerproof linen-look cushions too.

With your artistic flair running free why not spruce up your patio area and add some decorative pots and containers to make it a real showpiece, big pots full of colour work well against large pieces of furniture whilst smaller pots really come into their own when dotted against walls or used as a table centrepiece.

Whatever you use to create your oasis, just remember it’s all about having somewhere to comfortably sit back, eat, entertain and watch the sun go down, with G & T in hand of course x

What to do in the garden in March?

planting potatoesYes it’s March already! As many of you will know this month is named after Mars. the Roman God of War but did you know why? Well March was considered to be the first month of spring when the Roman armies could carry on their military campaigns across Europe, without having to contend with harsh winters and therefore named it after war!

Hopefully March in our time is a little more peaceful and it’s only the gardening we have to war with! March can be an unforgiving month, but it’s best to knuckle down before the growing season begins, after all you reap what you sow (pun intended!).

If you’re struggling to decide what to plant this year, how about the humble potato? What could be more satisfying than the fresh flavour of newly dug potatoes lifted straight from your own vegetable plot? And it’s easier than you think!

Make sure you buy pre-chitted potatoes (if you haven’t already chitted them!), this simply means that they have been left out in a warm and light area to encourage sprouting. The potatoes will be ready to plant out when the shoots are around 1.5-2.5cm in length.

It’s best to plant your chitted potatoes when the soil has started to warm up, usually from mid-March onwards. Simply dig a trench 7.5-13cm deep and add a light sprinkling of fertiliser.

You should be able to harvest around four crops of potatoes using the following planting method.

Crop type time Planting distance Distance between rows Approximate harvest time
First early potatoes From mid March 30cm (12″) apart 60cm (24″) apart 10 weeks from planting
Second early potatoes From mid March 37cm (15″) apart 75cm (30″) apart 13 weeks from planting
Early maincrop potatoes From late March 45cm (18″) apart 75cm (30″) apart 15 weeks from planting
Maincrop potatoes From late March 45cm (18″) apart 75cm (30″) apart 20 weeks from planting

Make sure you handle your chitted tubers (baby potatoes) with care, gently setting them into the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, being careful not to break the shoots. Cover the potatoes lightly with soil.

After a little while shoots will appear, you will need cover each plant with a ridge of soil so that the shoots are just buried. You will need to do this at regular intervals and by the end of the season each plant will have a small mound around it about 15cm high.

You home-grown potatoes should be ready for lifting (and eating) from June onwards depending on the varieties you have chosen. Your first crop ‘Earlies’ can be lifted as soon as they’re ready which is when the plants begin to flower. Your second and maincrop varieties can be kept in the ground much longer, until September, even though the plant itself may well be looking past its best.

A great place to store your delicious potatoes is in our ‘Grown in the UK Bucket’, it not only looks fabulous on your worktop but keeps the soil in one place too!