Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I assume you all did most of your celebrating over the weekend seeing as Halloween awkwardly falls on a Tuesday this year!

We didn’t celebrate this year as much as we normally do – we are all packed up and ready to move house! We were hoping to be moved out well in advance of Halloween but unfortunately everything (including all my Halloween decor!) is still packed away in boxes eagerly awaiting our moving date….

I found it really depressing that we couldn’t decorate or throw a big party like we normally do every year, but I still had a great time having a small Halloween celebration with my Mum and Sister’s over the weekend!

We carved pumpkins and made apple tea light candles which was really messy but good fun! I made a puking pumpkin which Mum wasn’t very happy with!! Sorry Mum!

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We then watched Hocus Pocus! What a brilliant family Halloween film!

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Whilst we were watching Hocus Locus we toasted marshmallows! Yes, indoors! I bought us this amazing toasting marshmallow kit from the Naked Marshmallow Company! I’m not going to talk too much about it or post too many photos because I think a separate blog is in order for this brilliant kit! Watch this space….

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I also did my yearly goody bags for family and friends and treated myself to some fantastic Halloween treats!

The Pumpkin and Frankenstein goody bags were from good old Marks and Spencer’s! They were also in the three for two offer! Bonus!

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Our family love Yankee Candles so it would have been wrong not to include some lovely autumnal scents in this years goody bags! The scents I used this year were Crackling Wood Fire, Autumn Night and Fireside Treats! Perfect to light on a cold, wet autumnal evening! The Autumn Night one is burning away on the hall shelf as I write this.

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I used good old Marks and Spencer’s again for the Goody Bag sweets – check out these Percy Pumpkins, Freaky Frogs, Zombie Owls and Scary Spiders!

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For the adult recipients I thought these Crystal Skull Vodkas were brilliant! You can get them in several places but the cheapest place I found them were from the Drink Shop as they were in the sale!

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The vodka is made by Dan Ackroyd and contains no additives, sugar, or citrus oils – the emphasis on this product is its purity. Was I sold by this? Not really – I literally bought them because they are in an amazing skull bottle which is perfect for Halloween!

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These little guys have been in our Halloween gift bags for as long as I can remember!

Plus I also found these great chocolate lollipops from Marks and Spencer’s (again on the three for two offer).

I got these amazing cake pops and other treats from Popadoodledo! They were so well made and so tasty I think I will do a separate blog on this brilliant company too! I can’t wait for her Christmas range to come out!

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Check out these white chocolate fingers with white chocolate “blood dip”! Brilliant!

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and these little guys, believe it or not, are mini Oreos covered in white chocolate!

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I also treated myself to these extra special treats from The Whimsical Cake Company through Not On The High Street, aren’t they stunning? Almost too good too eat…. almost.

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Some lucky people had some extra special chocolate from Hotel Chocolat because they will only eat dark chocolate (you know who you are!)

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I especially loved this Hotel Chocolat Yumpkin! Tasty dark chocolate and vegan friendly!

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How cute are these tiddly little dark chocolate vampires??

Plus some lucky recipients also got some Halloween themed Lush Cosmetics products! You can read more about these in my “A Lush Halloween” blog which was published on Sunday!

So as you can see we were all a little bit spoilt over the Halloween weekend! Sort of makes up for not being able to decorate the house properly and have a big party, but not quite!

We should be in our new house for next Halloween so I’ll have to push the boat out on next years party instead! I’m thinking something along the lines of this amazing house I found on Pinterest

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Not sure we would get many lovely Trick or Treaters though!

 

Halloween in the Evans’ house!

Wow I really love the autumnal season! Yes the days get cooler but you still have the occasional bright sunny day with that fresh autumnal breeze, ideal for going for long walks with the dogs, and the best part of autumn of course, has to be Halloween!

Now I don’t ever need an excuse to have a party and to celebrate with friends and family, so needless to say, Halloween is always a big event in the Evans’ household! The celebrations usually continue over the entire Halloween weekend, with the first event being a good old trip to the cinema on the Friday evening of Halloween weekend to watch the latest scary horror film! Past films include Insidious and Paranormal Activity – several evenings of no sleep and jumping at every sound the house makes usually follow this!

On the Saturday of Halloween weekend I spend the day decorating the house with all the spooky decs! I have a LOT because every year I come across more decorations I like and I just can’t resist adding them to my collection!

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The real focus of the decorating is the dinner table! Sometimes I host three course dinner parties and other years I just set the table up with buffet food so people can help themselves if we have a lot of party guests!

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Every year I also make up goody bags for family and party guests – these boxes I came across on eBay are brilliant! I bought a load in orange and black and just printed off some spooky pictures, add the persons name and they are ready to be filled with sweets and treats!

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Aside from sweets, I also buy other bits and pieces to go with the goody bags, such as these brilliant spooky balloons (99p each from Clinton Cards) and these great orange flowers complete with Scary witch (from Morrisons).

You can read about what appeared in this years goody bags in my Happy Halloween blog which is being published on Tuesday! I can’t give the game away before everyone has had theirs and ruin the surprise!

If we are having guests over for Halloween parties we usually insist on them wearing Halloween outfits! Some of the outfits we’ve seen over the years have been absolutely amazing! So much time, effort and money has gone into them – so most years I will award a trophy to the best dressed guest! Check out some of these scary characters!

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To keep the guests entertained we usually do a few games and activities – we tried apple bobbing one year – it didn’t end well so we scrapped that! Yearly activities usually now include pumpkin carving and the standard party drinking games!

After our normal yearly Halloween parties, most of the day after is spent clearing up and rescuing the earrings out of the toilet and trying to get the red wine out of the curtains (yes – really!!) but we usually put aside some time to finish off our Halloween weekend with something spooky such as a visit to Frightmare. Frightmare takes place a few miles away and has become so popular over the last few years that the tickets sell out within hours for some of the most popular dates! Each year is a different theme and each ticket gets you entry to five different attractions including the Haunted Hayride, Séance, the Offering, and Caged!

I highly recommend getting tickets if you can – it’s a brilliant event which is really well planned and of course is absolutely terrifying! If you are a bit nervous and think you might not be able to take part in the full experience, they also offer Slightmare, which is a toned down version of the main event!

Have a great Halloween weekend everyone!!!

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Halloween Eats!

Hooray! It’s finally Halloween weekend! I’ve got some great things planned for this weekend but it wouldn’t be a real Halloween celebration without my favourite Halloween recipes I make year after year!

Ghost Cakes

All you need for these is your normal cupcake recipe (vanilla, chocolate, whatever you fancy) and a set of dariole moulds (usually sold in a set of six). Dariole moulds are quite difficult to get hold of in everyday shops, so try somewhere like eBay or Lakeland.

Make sure the dariole moulds are greased and lined and fill to about two-thirds full to allow the cakes space to rise. Once the cakes are cooked, allow them to cool and then carefully remove from the moulds (you might need to cut a bit off the base so that the cakes can stand upright) then all you need to do is roll out some pre-made royal icing and fold it over the top of the cakes so that it looks ghost-like! Add two raisins or dots of black icing for the eyes and voila!

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Welsh-rarebit Ghosts

These are so easy!

Just buy yourself a ghost-shaped cookie cutter and cut ghost shapes out of any type of bread. In a saucepan add 225g of strong cheddar cheese, 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 2 teaspoons of plain flour and cook over a low heat until melted. At this point you can even add a couple of tablespoons of your favourite beer if you like! Stir the ingredients until they become paste-like.

Toast the one side of the bread, then spread the rarebit over the non-toasted side and brown off under the grill. Only down-side to these are they do need eating straight away after they have been served, but they go down brilliantly as a drunken party goers midnight snack! Delicious!

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Chocolate Frogs

Easy-peasy! Buy the mould from Ebay, choose what chocolate you want to turn into frogs (I use dark chocolate, milk chocolate and cookies and cream chocolate), melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave (do 30 seconds then stir and repeat until all the chocolate is melted) and then pour into the moulds and leave to set.

Hint: do these a couple of days in advance a few at a time, don’t rush them and don’t put them into the fridge to get them to set – changing the temperature too quickly will make the chocolate go white and although it doesn’t do you any harm to eat, it doesn’t look very appetising and your frogs will look mouldy!

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Shattered Glass Cupcakes

These are really popular at my parties, people always comment at how great they look!

Take your normal cupcake recipe, again any flavour you like, and make the cupcakes as normal. When you go to ice the cakes, use a plain vanilla buttercream or cream cheese as these look the most effective.

A couple of hours before the guests are due to arrive, begin making the shattered glass. The glass needs to be made last minute as when it is left on the cakes for long periods of time, the glass begins to melt and doesn’t look anywhere near as effective. The recipe for making the glass is basically the same as for making caramel, you just don’t leave it cooking as long so the liquid stays clear.

Put 275g of granulated sugar and 175ml of water in a small saucepan with high sides and bring to the boil whilst stirring to make sure all the sugar has dissolved (keep kids well away from this!). Reduce the heat to medium/high and leave to cook until the mixture starts to go golden brown around the edges. This can take a while – around 15 to 20 minutes but keep an eye on it at all times! As soon as this happens, remove the mixture from the heat and pour onto a rimmed baking sheet, tilting the baking sheet slightly as you pour so it spreads evenly and makes a thin layer. Be REALLY careful at this stage – this mixture is incredibly hot!!

Let the mixture cool so it hardens (around 30 minutes). Once the mixture has set, twist the baking sheet slightly and hit the mixture with a rolling pin to crack it like glass (again be careful, these shards can be as sharp as glass) and start adding the shards to the cupcakes.

To finish off, drizzle a blood like mixture over the top of the cupcakes (I make runny icing using royal icing sugar, water and red food colouring, but you can also use jam or cherry preserves etc – I even found pre-made red runny icing in the supermarket last year).

Serve up the cupcakes straight away and watch jaws drop! Oh and teeth break if they don’t go steady on the hardened sugar!

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Mummy Hotdogs

Love these! I could eat the whole lot!

Again so simple to make! Buy a tin of hotdogs, buy a pre-made pack of croissant dough, unroll the dough and cut into thin slices to use as the “bandages”, wrap the dough around the hotdogs to look like mummys and put them in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts going golden brown and the hotdogs are cooked. For the eyes, add two dots of mustard! Really tasty!

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Rice Krispie Pumpkins

I’ve only made these once and they didn’t turn out quite as expected (I didn’t use enough orange food colouring!) but again they are very easy to make and are quite effective! Make up your normal batch of Rice Krispie cakes, add orange food colouring, shape into a ball shape and decorate the eyes, nose, mouth and stalks with black and green ready rolled icing.

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Witches Fingers

There are a couple of recipes for Witches Fingers on the internet – both sweet (Almond Witches Fingers) and savoury (Cheesy Witches Fingers). Both are really effective and very tasty!

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Almond Witches Fingers

Peanut Butter Eyeballs

These are quite easy to make but take bloody ages to decorate so be warned!!! I took a batch of them into work for my work colleagues a couple of years ago and they went down really well though! The recipe does make a lot, which is probably why they take so long to decorate! Find the recipe here.
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I hope this has given you some ideas of some easy but effective Halloween treats! I’m off to start working my way through the bowl of sweets we put aside for the trick or treaters!

Have a great Halloween weekend!

A fly-by trip to Florence

We visited Florence as part of our grand tour of Italy and to be honest it was the place I was looking forward to visiting least, as I was really excited about finally getting to visit Rome and Venice. It turns out I was completely blown away by this beautiful place and it ended up being my favourite out of all the places we visited in Italy during our trip!

We did a walking tour of the centre of Florence with a local guide who was brilliant – he really enjoyed talking to us about his amazing city and was so knowledgeable. Our walking tour around Florence included stops at these wonderful places:

The Church of Santa Croce

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The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the burial place of some of the most famous Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, and it is therefore also known as the “Temple of the Italian Glories.”

The construction of the current church, to replace an older building, started on 12 May 1294. The Basilica became popular with Florentines and it became common practice for greatly honoured Florentines to be buried or commemorated there. As time progressed, space was also given to other notable Italians from elsewhere. For 500 years, monuments were erected in the church including those to:

  • Leonardo Bruni (15th-century chancellor of the Republic, scholar and historian)
  • Dante (buried in Ravenna)
  • Galileo Galilei
  • Giovanni Gentile (20th-century philosopher)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli by Innocenzo Spinazzi
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The tomb of Galileo
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The tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci

You can read more details about the Church of Santa Croce here.

Outside the Church of Santa Croce you will find the statue of Dante. Dante was a major Italian poet of the late Middle Ages and the statue was erected in 1865 to celebrate the 600 anniversary of his birth. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. 

You can read more about Dante and his work Divine Comedy here and here.

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Dante Museum

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The Casa di Dante is a three floor museum which shows the life and works of the great Italian poet. The original building was rebuilt in the first decade of the twentieth century right where the family homes once stood and where in 1265 Dante was born.

The First Floor covers the life of Dante and medieval Florence, the Second Floor continues with the life of Dante and his exile and the Third Floor covers the Divine Comedy, including original editions of this amazing work.

It’s a very interesting museum, and the entrance fee is only €4 per person!

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)

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I will always remember the first moment I saw Florence Cathedral and Bell Tower. We had walked through the winding streets of Florence with our local tour guide learning about the city’s history when we turned a corner and walked into an open area with this beautiful building right in front of us with the sun beaming down on it. I remember gasping aloud and turning to my Mum who was a few paces behind me and saying “oh my god!” She looked at me for a second and then walked forward into the view of the cathedral and then said exactly the same thing! The Duomo Cathedral and Bell Tower along with the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona are probably the most breath taking buildings I have encountered on my travels!

The camera I had with me for this trip was rubbish but believe me, I think even photographs taken with a top of the range camera would not do this building justice! It has to be seen to be believed!

The exterior of the Cathedral is covered with marble bands in various shades of green and pink and bordered by white. These marble bands had to repeat the already existing bands on the walls of the earlier adjacent baptistery the Battistero di San Giovanni and Giotto’s Bell Tower.

The Cathedral was the location of the murder of Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici. He was assassinated on Sunday, 26 April 1478 by Francesco de’ Pazzi and Bernardo Baroncelli as part of the Pazzi conspiracy (a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to displace the de’ Medici family as rulers of Renaissance Florence).

Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower)

Giotto’s Campanile is a free-standing Bell Tower that stands next to the Cathedral and the Baptistry of St. John. The structure is square with 14.45 metre sides and it is 84.7 metres tall. You can read more about the Bell Tower here.

The Dome

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The Cathedral’s dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to have the dome painted with a representation of The Last Judgment. This huge piece of work (3,600 metres² of painted surface) was started in 1568 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari and wouldn’t finish until 1579. 

The Baptistry (Battistero di San Giovanni)

The Florence Baptistry (also known as the Baptistry of Saint John), is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128. The baptistry is an octagon shape, which was a common shape for baptistries since early Christian times. The number eight is a symbol of regeneration in Christianity, signifying the six days of creation, the Day of Rest, and a day of re-creation through the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of incredible bronze doors! The east doors were dubbed by Michelangelo the “Gates of Paradise.” These doors consist of 28 panels, with the twenty top panels depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The eight lower panels depict the eight virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence. They are really beautiful but you can only get so close due to the gates – I’m sure up close the detail on them would be all the more incredible.

Dante and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptised in this baptistry.

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The Academia Museum (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze)

The Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is an art museum which is most well known for being the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. The Academia has housed the original sculpture since 1873. It also holds other sculptures by Michelangelo and a collection of Renaissance paintings.

I really wanted to visit the museum but we were very rushed for time and the queues to the museum were very long so we didn’t get the chance to visit. The museum itself is very vast and so we would have needed a good few hours to get round and see everything inside. Very disappointing but a good reason to go back again one day!

There were, however, some great statues outside the museum which we thoroughly enjoyed looking at, including a replica of the statue of David, and the Fountains of Neptune.

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Replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David
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The Fountains of Neptune

Florence is such a beautiful place full of fascinating history and is definitely somewhere I would love to re-visit to spend more time here. You could spend days just visiting the fantastic museums and even more time absorbing all the wonderful culture and friendly and relaxed atmosphere! It is worth going just to see the incredible Cathedral and Bell Tower, if Florence is not already on your bucket list then I highly recommend adding it – and placing it somewhere near the top!