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!

How to make the perfect Simnel Cake

simnel cake

Follow our step by step guide to create the perfect Simnel Cake, ideal for Mothers Day and Easter.

Ingredients

For the almond paste

  • 250g/9oz caster sugar
  • 250g/9oz ground almonds
  • 2 free-range beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp almond essence

For the cake

  • 175g/6oz butter or margarine
  • 175g/6oz soft brown sugar
  • 3 free-range beaten eggs
  • 175g/6oz plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 350g/12oz mixed raisins, currants and sultanas
  • 55g/2oz chopped mixed peel
  • 1/2 grated lemon zest
  • 1-2 tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 free-range beaten egg for glazing

Method

  1. For the almond paste, place the sugar and ground almonds in a bowl. Add enough beaten egg and mix to a fairly soft consistency.

  2. Add the almond essence and knead for one minute until the paste is smooth and pliable.

  3. Roll out a third of the almond paste to make a circle 18cm/7in in diameter and reserve the remainder for the cake topping.

  4. Preheat oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1. Grease and line a 18cm/7in cake tin.

  5. For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well incorporated and then sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice (if using) a little at a time. Finally, add the mixed dried fruit, peel and grated lemon zest and stir into the mixture.

  6. Put half the mixture into a greased and lined 18cm/7in cake tin. Smooth the top and cover with the circle of almond paste. Add the rest of the cake mixture and smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise. Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours. Test by inserting a skewer in the middle – if it comes out clean, it is ready. Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.

  7. Brush the top of the cooled cake with the apricot jam. Divide the remainder of the almond paste in half; roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake with one half and form 11 small balls with the other half.

  8. Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge. Brush the cake topping with a little beaten egg.

  9. Preheat the grill to high. Place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1-2 minutes, or until the top of the marzipan begins to brown. Alternatively, lightly heat the cake topping using a cook’s blow torch, until the marzipan is golden-brown.

Recipe courtesy of BBC Food.

What should you buy for Mothers’ Day?

mothers day

Mothers’ Day is such a special day, to show Mum how much she’s valued and appreciated, but have you ever wondered where Mother’s Day came from?

Mothers Day (or Mothering Sunday as it sometimes known in the UK) is celebrated all over the world, but at different times of the year and like many traditions began with a religious purpose. Held on the fourth Sunday in Lent, the day was originally a day to honour and give thanks to the Virgin Mary and with the spread of Christianity in the 16th century, celebrations increased and put Mothering Sunday firmly on the map. However by 1935 the popularity of this special day had started to decrease and was celebrated less and less until WWII.

American & Canadian troops felt a desperate need to give thanks to their Mother’s whilst away at war and the British and other European troops soon followed suit, since then Mothers’ Day has become one of the most celebrated holidays making it one of the biggest days for flowers and cards.

But what if you fancy giving something a little different, or your dear ole Mum suffers from hay fever! It is often the most thoughtful gifts that are treasured like adding a photograph of a happy memory to a sentimental frame or why not gift our gorgeous duck family, with Mum fondly admiring her two small ducklings, it is very appropriate for this time of year and will be treasured for years to come.

Or if you fancy being a little creative then traditionally Simnel Cake was given on Mothering Sunday. Simnel cakes are made of two rich fruit cakes that are sandwiched together with almond paste and decorated with eleven marzipan balls on the top representing the eleven disciples (excluding Judas). It tastes absolutely delicious and I’m sure Mum will share 🙂

Tune in next week for my favourite Simnel cake recipe and get baking! If you haven’t got time for Mothers’ Day don’t worry Simnel cake is great for Easter too:-)

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Who was St Valentine?

valentines dayEvery year we show our nearest and dearest how much they mean to us but why do we do this? Don’t get me wrong it’s great to receive a dozen red roses on the 14th of February (and a box of chocolates!) but have you ever wondered where it all started?

Apparently the saint himself is a bit of a mystery. Early stories suggest Valentine wasn’t the god of love or a gigolo but merely a Roman priest in the third century. The ruling emperor of that era decided that men without wives and children made the best soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men, this upset Valentine greatly and he continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Unfortunately his actions were discovered and Emperor Claudius II ordered Valentine to be sentenced to death.

Whilst imprisoned he fell in love with a young girl, rumour has it that this was a jailers daughter who visited him whilst he was incarcerated and just before his death he wrote her a farewell letter signed ‘From your Valentine’ and so the first ‘valentine’ greeting was sent.

The UK now sends over 1 billion valentines cards every year, with women purchasing approximately 85% of all cards. With retail sales of around £978m the commercial side of Valentines day has rapidly increased over the last three centuries making it the second most commercially celebrated day after Christmas.

But how do you go the extra mile and show your other half the meaning of true love? With the personal touch of course!

Why not print off your favourite photo and place it in a simple frame, or simply say it in words with one of our romantic wall plaques.

All in all, if you’re not sure what to give your significant other this year, just make sure you reach out and give them a great big hug on the 14th February and show them you care, although if you want your day to run smoothly I seriously suggest you take a peek at our gifts for Valentines!

Happy Valentines x