Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom - Talking Ben Elf toy Review

Little Man has new best friend. His name is Ben. And he is an Elf.
"Squeeze Ben's hand to hear him say five fun phrases, including 'Elves are very good at finding things!'. Made from soft and cuddly fabrics, he is ideal to hug and hold."

Well, our Ben Elf preferred to have his tummy squeezed and the five phrases are just what you'd expect Ben Elf to say "Hello, my name is Ben and I am an Elf!". Little Man was a little disappointed that he couldn't have an actual conversation after the introductions were done but once he got over that he has happily allowed Ben Elf to tag along on all his adventures and made a space in his new bed between Bagwuss and green rabbit for Ben to snuggle down at night which is about as good a recommendation as you can get! Talking Ben Elf would make a smashing stocking pressie for any budding Elf!

A whole range of Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom toys, including the Talking Ben Elf Toy (rrp £12.99) are available from all good retailers.

If you (or your little people) love Ben & Holly as much as Little Man why not visit their fab new website and dedicated facebook page for news, reviews, fun and games.

Thank you to Entertainment One who kindly sent Little Man a Talking Ben Elf to review.

Monday, November 28, 2011

#HandmadeChristmas - An Apology

Life has a way of taking over, have you noticed that?

Despite all my plans and ideas for a whole series of Handmade Christmas posts, we are less than four weeks away from the BIG DAY and... well... time is running out.

It's not that the ideas went away more a case of being pushed to one side while I was forced to concentrate on more important stuff like working out how the hell we are going to keep both shops open now we are a staff member down and all our friends/family/nice people who help out are either ill or have other commitments. It doesn't help that while much of the retail sector is building up for the Christmas rush this is traditionally the time of year our business tends to wind down a little as all the fair weather bikers pack up their gear for the winter...

I have been ill for best part of three weeks too, and last week Little Man was struck down and spent 3 days in a semi-zombie state on the sofa, temperature going up and down like a yo-yo and with barely enough energy to keep his eyes open.
Evidently he was not considered serious enough for a home-visit from the doctor so I had to bundle him up, fish out the long unused pushchair and take him down to surgery in the cold and dark only to be told there was very little to be done and to continue giving him Calpol every 4 hours.

A week of sleepless nights compounded by worry about the business, our finances and family stuff has left me feeling drained and exhausted.

So this post is mainly an apology that the promises of Handmade Christmas posts I had planned will not be happening now - I will not be making my own mincemeat because we simply cannot afford the ingredients (although I still hope to have a go at fudge...)
I have been asked by MENCAP to create a tutorial for their Christmas Make with Me campaign which I am more than happy to do but the tutorials I had hoped to share with you here will have to wait until next year. I will, however be posting a list of fab tutorials that I have found around the inter web for you to have a go at and I still hope to highlight some great handmade decorations available to buy for those of you who have neither the time nor the inclination to create your own.

As life continues to do it's damnedest to butt in and spoil my plans I will be taking a little step back from the blog. I am determined that no matter how stressful and depressing our situation may seem at the moment, we will have a wonderful, Handmade Christmas to remember.
I hope you all do too! xx

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday - sales start here...

Today is Black Friday - the day when, in the States at least, the festive shopping frenzy begins in earnest with many stores opening their doors as early as 4am with some juicy discounts in a bid to capture the gift market right from the start. It would seem the trend is beginning to take hold here too with many of our big names offering discounts for the day (which will probably stretch into the week and then, before we know it the Boxing Day Sales...)

The day is called Black Friday because the boost to income allegedly sees retailers begin to turn a profit, or 'go into the black' but the origins of the term can be traced back to Philadelphia where it was used to describe the unusually heavy traffic on the day after Thanksgiving.  This year some US stores have opened even earlier than usual sparking a backlash of 'anti-Back Friday' sentiment as employees are forced to give up several hours of sleep or family time at Thanksgiving...

Well, I don't have any employees (unless you count the Little Man helping me find the lost sticky tape when parcel wrapping....) so the only person getting up early this morning was me (completely involuntarily, I might add) and the beauty of a virtual shop is that is can be open 24 hours a day with no-one to staff it!

So here is my contribution to the Black Friday frenzy...

A very special, ONE DAY ONLY order code that gets you 25% off everything on my website! Just visit my little corner of the interweb, browse handmade goodies to your hearts content, then enter BLACKFRIDAY at the checkout and the discount is yours! International shipping is now available too - so you can bag yourself some HandmadeChristmas charm wherever you are, without having to fight your way through crowds of bargain hunters.

Happy Shopping peeps xx

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

#HandmadeChristmas - Vivi Gade Paper Baubles

So, how many of you have tried the Paper Stars yet? Want to have a go at some lovely paper baubles to match? Of course you do!!

Vivi Gade Paper Baubles

Amongst the little bundle of goodies Creativity Direct sent me was a pack of pre-cut strips to make these fabulous decorations.

You will need a set of Vivi Gade die-cut paper strips and possibly a fittings kit (although if you are a jewellery maker too it's possible you will  already have the beads, crimps and wire in your stash). You will also need a pair of chain nose pliers and side cutters for the wire.

First sort through the paper strips to get the colour/pattern combos you want - I did some single pattern ones and some mixing two patterns. You may find you have some odd ones left over. Use these to make your first bauble - just to get the technique right.

I used a large wool sewing needle to enlarge the pre-punched holes either end of the paper strips as they were little more than pin pricks before assembling the baubles following the tutorial

It states at the end of the tutorial that 'unfolding' the baubles takes a little practice. I would certainly agree with this - just pay attention to the shaped bits at the top and bottom and make sure they overlap as they should and they work fine. Also make sure you pull the wire tight before squeezing the crimps and don't leave the wire between the top and bottom (ie the inside of the bauble) too long or your bauble won't keep it's shape.

The theory is quite simple but these are actually quite fiddly to put together. A little experience with beading and using pliers (I used to make jewellery) definitely came in handy and, unlike the stars, which are just folded paper, a couple of extra tools are required to put these together.
But they are definitely worth it! The finished baubles look absolutely stunning and will certainly add an unusual touch to my tree this year.

The best thing about them is I will be able to close them up and store them away for next year too!

Creativity Direct provided the materials for me to have a go at this project but all words and pictures are my own

More adventures in black and white...

Some time back I did a Gallery post on the theme of Black & White. I said then how much I love black and white photographs, how the absence of colour just emphasises the detail within the picture, forcing you to look at the image in a different way.

You may think that autumn, with all it's fiery glory would not be the best time to focus on black and white. I mean surely all that fabulous colour in the trees against crisp blue skies wold make for such stunning images why would you want to drain the colour away?

When we went for a stroll along the canal at my mums the other week I flicked the B&W button, took the colour away and let the shapes, the patterns, the light and the shadows speak for themselves...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

One Ingredient Challenge - Carrots

I was recently introduced to the excellent blog Working London Mummy. It's packed with lots of lovely foodie posts including some great children-friendly recipes. This month she has opened up her 'One Ingredient' challenge to the blogisphere, inviting us to come up with a recipe focusing on the chosen ingredient...

This month's 'One Ingredient' is.... Carrots

Me and the Little Man are big fans of carrots, raw and cooked, grated in sandwiches, dipped in hummus, as a base for soups and casseroles and as side with everything from fish pie to Sunday roast. Little Man has even requested that we grow some in the garden next year (although I do hope he is not expecting them  to sing to him like the ones n Mr Bloom's Nursery...)
But one of the best things you can do with carrots is use them to make cake!

Even better - we used them to make muffins! With less sugar and fat than traditional Carrot Cake you can almost pass them off as  'health food' ;-)

Muffins are dead simple to make and really take no time at all to prepare and homemade ones are a million times better than shop bought!

Scrummy Spicey Carrot Muffins 
(makes 10-12 large muffins)

Pre-heat the oven to 190c/gas5 and prepare your muffin tin

Mix the following 'dry' ingredients together in a large bowl:
10oz/280g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2tsp ground cinnamon

Mix the following 'wet' ingredients together in another large bowl:
12oz/340g finely grated carrots (I process mine in the 'chopper' attachment of my Braun stick blender)
1 egg, beaten
4-6tbs milk or water
2tbsp runny honey
4oz sugar (caster or soft brown sugar is fine)
1tsp vanilla essense
3 fl oz/90ml vegetable oil

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Add a handful of chopped walnuts and/or raisins at the last stir if you want (optional but tasty).
Spoon the mix into prepared muffin tin and bake for approx 20mins - until the tops spring back when pressed.

These are gorgeous just as they are or you can add a simple cream cheese frosting when cool - 1 heaped tbsp cream cheese to 2oz/55g icing sugar and a dash of vanilla essence beaten together until smooth. This makes enough frosting for 6 muffins. I usually freeze the other half of the batch (without frosting). You can take them out of the freezer when you need them and just give them about 30 seconds in the microwave or 10 mins in a warm oven to defrost and warm through.

So there you have it - a tasty, nutritious, quick recipe using carrots that even a sworn carrot-hater can't help but enjoy... (just don't tell them what the secret ingredient is!)

If you like these why not try my Courgette and Cocoa muffins for more 'hidden vegetable' yumminess?

Do you have a carrot based recipe you want to share? Why not hop along to Working London Mummy's blog and join in the 'One Ingredient' challenge...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hotel Chocolat - Christmas Chocolate Giveaway

Recently Hotel Chocolat put a call out for bloggers to review chocolates from their Christmas Gifts and Stocking Fillers ranges. Naturally, I replied. I mean, who wouldn't?
When I got an email saying I had been picked I may have danced around the room a little bit....

As a former Chocolate Tasting Club member, I have already experienced their extremely special, artisan created chocolates first hand. Beautiful to look at, almost orgasmic to eat (yes, they are that good!) I eagerly looked forward to my monthly selection box. These days I have to settle for the 'Best of the Best' yearly selection. But it's a little treat well worth waiting for....

I was sent the fab Christmas H box selection to munch...*cough* review and wasted no time getting to work!

Thirteen individual chocolates, bringing together the flavours of Christmas - cinnamon and spice, gingerbread, and mulled wine all get a nod (Happily there was no sign of brussel sprouts anywhere! ) . Creamy truffles, smooth pralines and silky caramel all feature.
A handy 'menu' is included to tell you a little about each chocolate and help you decide which one to go for first...

House Praline

First up for me was the House Praline - a lovely thick milk chocolate shell with the HC logo stamped on the top filled with super smooth, mellow praline. Would go down a treat a cup of proper coffee...

That was followed swiftly by the Gingerbread Truffle (scrummy smooth truffle centre with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Quite intense flavour - smokey, almost bitter... I LOVED it!),  Star Anise (white truffle with the consistency of soft caramel. Distinctive liquorice flavour with just a hint of alcohol) and one of my all time favourites - Salted Soft Caramel (I would, quite honestly, be happy with just a box full of those...)

Sea Salt & Caramel Bauble

There are several chocolates in the selection containing alcohol (which gives you a really good excuse to keep this selection well away from the kiddiwinks!) You can almost taste the bubbles in the Champagne Truffle (which, incidentally, is definitely my preferred way of ingesting the bubbly stuff!) but for a real kick the Rum Truffle - generously laced with premium Saint Lucian golden rum - will blow your socks off. Or make you sit back and smile for a bit at the very least...

My favourite? One chocolate in the box that really encapsulated the whole flavour of Christmas for me is named, simply,  Mulled Wine. All those traditional Christmas flavours - cinnamon, orange and clove with a generous measure of ruby red port all wrapped up in a milk chocolate shell.... mmmmmmm Christmas Chocolate Heaven.

There really is something for everyone in this selection.

But, trust me, you won't want to share!

Now I bet you are all drooling... so here's the best bit. Hotel Chocolat are giving away a Christmas H Box to one of you lucky readers!

To enter all you have to do is tell me what your ultimate Christmas chocolate would be. Do you go nuts for praline? Or crazy for caramel? Love a bit of alcohol or just a simple truffle?   Just leave me a comment below, along with a means of getting in touch (Twitter ID or register your email address when commenting).

For an extra chance at winning you can do one (or all) of the following:
  • Follow this blog using GFC and comment to say you have done so
  • Like the Tales from Mount Pleasant Facebook page and comment to say you have done so
  • Tweet 'I want to WINscrummy Christmas chocolate from @HotelChocolat and @ForestFlower23 http://bit.ly/tKusZo  '
This giveaway runs until midnight on Saturday 19th November. Any entries received after that will not be counted. Winner will be drawn at random and announced on this blog, Twitter and Facebook. If the winner has not got in touch with their details within 7 days the prize will be redrawn.
Competition open to UK residents only.

Don't forget, if you want to keep up to date with news and offers, you can follow @HotelChocolat on Twitter and like their Facebook page

Good Luck x

Update 22/11/11 This competition is now closed! 
Congratulations to the winner.....

Lorraine Cooper (aka @meedja)

Thanks to everyone for taking part and revealing your ultimate Christmas chocolate!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

#HandmadeChristmas - Paper Stars

You know how much I love Scandinavian interiors. I love the clean lines, the fresh colours, the light, the innovative use of space - it is something for me to aspire to (although I really need to de-clutter...). I am particularly inspired by Scandinavian folk art so when I discovered creativitydirect.co.uk earlier this year I was in crafting heaven!!
Their brilliant website (and accompanying HUGE paper catalogue) is just packed to the gills with gorgeous papers, stickers, trimmings, fabrics, ribbons, beads, buttons, paints and items to decorate that, if you are a bit of a 'butterfly crafter' (ie: you flit from craft to craft) you will be hard pressed to know where to start!!
Very helpfully Creativity Direct have included a big 'IDEAS' section on their website giving detailed tutorials on all manner of crafty makes from papercrafts to art, from sewing and knitting to jewellery. They even have 'seasonal crafts' sections covering Christmas and Easter. Each tutorial consists of clear photographs showing each stage of making, downloadable templates if needed and useful ingredients lists with links to the items on their website, making shopping for your crafty bits a lot easier.
Creativity Direct sent me a few of their gorgeous items so I could have a go at a couple of their lovely Christmas tutorials.

First up...

Folded Paper Stars

I received a pack of Vivi Gade paper strips from the gorgeous Copenhagen range - red and cream strips, polka dots and damask type patterns - right up my street.
The tutorial was very clear and easy to follow, although I did find getting the turn of paper for the 3D effect a bit tricky to start with!
It is very important that you set the four paper strips up correctly to begin with and make sure your folds all go in the right direction!
The first star took me about 15 mins to make but once I got the hang of it they took no time at all!!

Completed stars can be piled up in a bowl as they are or attach some cotton (just punch through one of the flat points with a sharp needle and thread the cotton through) and hang them on your tree or make a lovely star mobile.  

 If you leave one side flat and trim the paper off neatly they also make really special gift toppers - just attach to your parcel with some double sided tape or glue pads.

The Weaving Paper Strips come in several different colourways and pack sizes and are available from creativitydirect.co.uk . The pack I used costs £4.50 and contained enough strips to make 5 large stars and  8 small ones. I think they are gorgeous and I can't wait to adorn my tree with them in December!

In the next Handmade Christmas post I will be having a go at some unusual paper baubles...

Creativity Direct provided the materials for me to have a go at this project but words and pictures are all my own.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

#HandmadeChristmas - what's it all about?

Now we have Halloween out of the way and we are properly into November I guess I can start talking about Christmas without getting too many dirty looks and dark mutterings in my general direction...

If, like me, you are getting fed up with the whole crazy commercialism that surrounds the festive season you may want to join the ever growing trend that recognises the unique value of handmade gifts, decorations and food.

These days it is possible to do your entire Christmas shop from ONE supermarket - from the food to the drink; presents for everyone from baby to Granny. Cards, trees, decorations and even the outfit you are going to wear for the Christmas party.

But why would you want to do that? Really?

Now I'm not suggesting for one second you fore go the supermarket completely (although I would say that doing your food shop online two weeks before and booking a home delivery to arrive couple of days before Christmas is definitely preferable to fighting over the last frozen turkey with 15 other desperate shoppers...)* but certainly consider creating a few homemade touches to your celebrations to create a really memorable Christmas.

From gorgeous paper star and bauble decorations to homemade mince pies made with your own mincemeat, to highlighting some great British designer/makers for fabulous gifts you can pretty much guarantee you won't find on the supermarket shelves.

In my first post, tomorrow, I will be showing you how to make some gorgeous star decorations just by folding strips of paper.

Later on I will be trying some homemade sweeties, which make a really good present, and the above mentioned mince pies. I hope to show you some gift ideas to make yourself  and highlight some great tutorials across the web, plus some picks from the many talented online sellers from sites like Folksy, Etsy, Gift Wrapped and Gorgeous, Not on the High Street and the newly set up SHHIMUK promoting independent sellers who, like me, are going-it-alone and running their own online emporium!

Last year I set up the successful Handmade Christmas page on Facebook and encouraged designer/makers to use the #handmadechristmas hashtag on Twitter when advertising their wares. All the relevant blog post will be posted on both Facebook and Twitter.

If you want make sure you don't miss a thing why not follow this blog with GFC or subscribe by clicking on the 'posts' button at the top of the right hand column?

*thats a whole other blog post.... I might write it one day!

Going Live...

Well after a month of planning, typing, photographing, uploading, tweaking, more tweaking, testing and fine tuning my brand new website has finally GONE LIVE!!!

Please go and have a nose about and tell me what you think!

I had my first sale within 15 mins of launching but I would love some more. As an added incentive all you lovely blog readers can add the code BLOG20 at the checkout for a 20% discount on your order total (excluding P&P)*

Currently my my complete Rustic Country Collection is available - including scrummy, festive Christmas Spice scented options - and gorgeous felt and gingham Christmas Star decorations. I am hoping to add more christmassy things very soon - stockings, garlands, bunting, decorations. Just perfect for a Handmade Christmas!

I am really please with how it has turned out and how easy it was to do. The create.net package as very user friendly and gives you a professional looking shop in no time at all, and you even get a month free trial to build your website and assess how well you get on with the package before you have to start paying. Can't ask for more than that!! 

*discount code valid until 14th November 2011
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