London at Christmas Time

My Sister, my Mum and I visit London every December to get into the Christmas spirit and god did London put on a show this year! Everywhere was adorned with stunning oversized Christmas trees and decorations and lights – it really was breathtaking!

Here are some of the incredible sights we came across during our travels around the city;

First stop after getting off the coach was (and always will be!) Dominique Ansel’s for breakfast and some of their sweet treats! As usual they didn’t disappoint!

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The outside and inside decorations have been updated to a beautiful white theme, a stark contrast to its last theme which was Halloween/Autumnal colours.

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I had my usual turkey croque monsieur and tried this incredible chocolate Pinecone. Inside was a gingerbread flavoured mousse and biscuit base! Amazing!

I also tried Dominique Ansel’s cinnamon roll latte which had a toasted marshmallow on top and tasted incredible!

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Other Dominique Ansel treats looked pretty spectacular too!

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I also couldn’t resist buying a box of Christmas morning cereal – I can’t wait to try this!

Second stop was Peggy Porschen’s – I can’t visit London now without buying a box of their amazing cupcakes to bring home with me!

Along the road from Peggy’s was Les Senteurs – how amazing are these oversized baubles which appear outside?!

The flower shop next to Les Senteurs is called Moyses Stevens and has the most beautiful bouquet and flower arrangements I’ve seen. The ceiling is also adorned with flowers and so it is well worth a visit!

I would highly recommend a visit to Somerset House if you have the chance – they have a huge beautiful Christmas tree outside the front and if you have the time you can also go ice skating here too!

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Our next stop was Covent Garden, I can’t believe out of all the times I have visited London I have never visited here! It is a stunning place and the festive decorations were out in full force! I loved the giant mistletoe pieces which were hanging from the ceiling and the giant reindeer, giant Christmas tree and decorated car were stunning to look at too!

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We’ve walked past Fortnum and Mason so many times but have never actually ventured inside! Can you believe it?? It is like a tardis when you go inside – I can’t believe how big it is!

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Such a beautiful place with so many festive goodies on sale – how great do their cupcakes look??

Claridges currently has a lovely Christmas display outside! I love stars! I should have ventured inside though because they have a display called a love tree inside! Instagram it and you will see what I mean!

The Ivy restaurant looked beautiful….

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Oxford Street never disappoints at Christmas time!

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And neither did Harrods…

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And if you only visit one place this festive season to see the decorations, it has to be Annabel’s! I could take a million photos of this festive display and it still would not do it justice! It is incredible!

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and if all of that isn’t enough, we even came across a Christmas sheep on our travels!

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Valentine’s Day treats!

I never used to make an effort for Valentine’s Day, hubby and I always used to get each other a nice card, but I was never really sold on all of the red fluffy toys, fake red roses and red underwear! I love eating out but Valentine’s Day means all of the restaurants are absolutely jam-packed and are usually offering some sort of set menu, and I find that I don’t like the majority of food they have on offer!

So, to be honest, we usually stay at home and have a nice dinner together. My usual go to place is Marks and Spencers for their dine in for two Valentine’s Day offer for £20, which always has a nice selection of things we both like.

Last year I made a bit more of an effort and bought some lovely red roses for the dinner table, bought us a lovely three course meal and made us up a gift bag each with treats and presents in. We had a real nice time last year so I wanted to do something similar this year again.

Anyway, here are some of the lovely treats and presents which have caught my eye for this years Valentine’s Day:

Marks and Spencers chocolate heart filled with chocolate ganache and decorated with gold leaf – £3.00.

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Marks and Spencer’s chocolate hearts (4 pack) – £1.50. I thought these were lovely and really reasonably priced so I bought a few packs for my friends to put in their Valentine’s Day gifts bags!

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Marks and Spencers Pink Himalayan Salted Caramels – £6.00. I gave in and bought these for myself! I had a peek inside the box and they look really pretty! Can’t wait to try these! Let’s hope I can resist eating them all before Valentine’s Day!

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Marks and Spencers red Love You Heart – I love these little chocolate hearts – and they are only 50p each!

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Morrison’s Heart Marshmallow Biscuit lollipop – £1.00. This didn’t last long after I bought it! I loved the fluffy mallow inside!

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Dr Oetker Heart Marshmallows – £1.00. I found these in Morrison’s but I’m sure other supermarkets will sell these too – perfect for a Valentine’s hot chocolate!

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Morrison’s Valentine’s jammy heart biscuit – £1.00. Hubby scoffed this one before I had the chance to hide it!

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Morrisons gingerbread hearts – £2.00 for this bag of one big gingerbread heart and three small gingerbread hearts.

Hotel Chocolat Salted caramel hearts – £3.50 – delicious!

Hotel Chocolat Raspberry daiquiri hearts – £3.50 – I bought a few of these for friends  and family and put them in their Valentine’s gift bag.

Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate heart melts – £5.50 – got these for Mum as she only likes dark chocolate! I hope she likes them!

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Waitrose gingerbread hearts – £2.00 – these little bags of pink iced gingerbread hearts are lovely.

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And to put all these lovely sweet treats in I bought these lovely gift bags from Clinton cards for £2.50 each

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If food and sweet things aren’t really your thing – how about some nice Valentine’s themed jewellery? These are just some of the lovely items I’ve come across in the last few weeks –

Rose detail chain bracelets from ASOS – £8.00 – great for a Beauty and the Beast fan! They’ve also got matching hoop earrings and a set of five rings!

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I love these Ted Baker Crystal Heart earrings – £29.00 from ASOS!

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Or, this handy “LOVE” ring holder from Next for £6.00?

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Who knew they did Valentine’s themed handbags?? These are my favourites so far:

This heart coin purse from ASOS is only £8.00 – bargain!

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How cute is this SkinnyDip heart crossover body bag – again from ASOS and only £30.00 – I love the faux fur detail!

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If you are willing to spend a bit more on a Valentine’s themed bag then I love this red Dune heart bag for £65.00.

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And, believe it or not, Valentine’s Day SHOES!!!! I love these Mistress barely there sandals from Dune for £85.00.

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Plus I’ve spotted these gorgeous babies on Instagram and I am desperate to get my hands on a pair! They are by ALDO but for some reason they don’t stock them on their UK website????? My quest continues! They do them in red too…

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If you are having a cosy night in then what about some Valentine’s pyjamas?? There are hundreds to choose from on sites like ASOS, Very, Next, Boohoo…. the list goes on!

My absolute favourites are these Mr and Mrs Pyjama sets from Next – £22.00 for women’s and £24.00 for men’s. I’m so disappointed as I went to order these for hubby and I but they are completely sold out in the men’s sizes! Gutted! I knew I should have ordered them when I first saw them!

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And if all of this doesn’t float your boat this Valentine’s Day, I’ve reviewed the entire Lush Cosmetics Valentine’s Day range and I can assure you there is bound to be something from their collection which you will love! My blog on their Valentine’s range goes live tomorrow to mark the big day, so watch this space!

Christmas Cornflake Wreaths

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Now the kids have broken up from school for Christmas, if you are looking for a really fun, easy and cheap treat to make then this is ideal!

To make the Cornflake Wreaths you will need:

-100g soft butter

-200g mini marshmallows

-125g cornflakes

-1 teaspoon of any flavouring you would like such as vanilla or orange – my favourite is almond!

-Spinkles!

To make the wreaths –

Put a piece of greaseproof paper on a surface ready for the wreaths to set on later.

Put the hob on a low heat and melt the butter and marshmallows in a large pan. Stir continuously until the ingredients are combined.

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Take the pan off the heat and add any flavouring you want to use.

Add the cornflakes to the pan and crush them as you stir them so they are easier to shape later on, I find the smaller you crush the cornflakes the easier it is to shape them.

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Make sure all the cornflakes are covered in the marshmallow mixture.

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When the mixture has cooled down slightly, pull off a ball of mixture around the size of a golfball and flatten it on your baking paper – sounds easy right?? This is the hardest bit as it is REALLY messy! The kids will love it! Even flattening it is hard because the mixture sticks to EVERYTHING!!! Be prepared to get covered in goo!

You should end up with nine or ten wreaths after you’ve fought to flatten them onto the baking  paper.

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Once you’ve done this, use the end of a spoon to make a hole in the middle so they look “wreath-like”.

Fairly soon after you do this and before the mixture sets, you need to decorate your wreaths! Do this however you wish but I do find that red and green holly and berry decorations look really good, and I also add a few white stars on them too!!

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Finally, sprinkle on some edible glitter and leave them for an hour or so (if you can!) to allow the mixture to set and then indulge!!!

Rocky Road Christmas Bars

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My sister absolutely adores these and they are incredibly simple to make! This recipe will make you around 24 delicious squares.

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Ingredients

-125g soft butter

-300g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids)

-3 tablespoons golden syrup

-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

-200g biscuits (rich tea, digestive, amaretti, whatever you fancy!)

-100g mini marshmallows

-2 teaspoons icing sugar for dusting

-Edible glitter for dusting

-Snowflake (or other!) sprinkles

Instructions

-Firstly, melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a heavy based saucepan. When the mixture is melted, add your cinnamon and stir then scoop out about 125ml of this melted mixture and put to one side.

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-Put the biscuits into a large sandwich bag and then bash them with a rolling pin.

-Fold the biscuit pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture in the saucepan and then pour in your marshmallows.

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-Tip the mixture into a tin which had been lined with greaseproof paper. Flatten the mixture as much as you can and then pour the remaining 125g of mixture over the mixture in the tray and smooth over the top.

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-Put the mixture in the fridge for at least two hours.

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-When the mixture is completely set, take it out of the tray and cut the mixture into around 24 squares.

-Sprinkle the icing sugar, edible glitter and snowflake sprinkles over the cake bars and viola! They are ready to be devoured!

They are brilliant to put into Christmas themed cellophane bags to give away as presents, or for stocking and Christmas Eve box gifts!

Happy scoffing peeps! xx

CocoChlo’s Christmas Countdown!

Ok so it’s official! Silly season has begun! You officially won’t get any sense out of me for at least the next 25 days!

In case you haven’t already guessed – Christmas is my most favourite time of year! I look forward to it months in advance and am severely down and depressed once it is over and we move into the long dark cold month of January. I know my love for Christmas annoys people but, in my view, you need to have something to look forward to, and holidays and Christmas are the two things which give me something to look forward to throughout the year!

Christmas for me mainly centres around the fantastic traditions that myself and my family have developed over the years – after all, knowing what you have to look forward to makes you look forward to it even more!

Here are some of the Christmas traditions my family and I partake in year after year and all the other little Christmassy/wintery things which I love about this time of the year!

Advent Calendars:

Hopefully you will have seen my two blogs on how to make the two different types of Advent Calendars we have in the family. If not, you can read about these here and here.

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They take a LOT of time and effort to make but come out again and again year after year and make everyone very happy – all my family members look forward to opening their daily treats out of their Christmas Advent Calendars.

The calendars are filled during November with everyone’s favourite treats and then dropped off a few days before the beginning of December. In the past few years I have had to wrap up some of the treats (not fun! Twenty five presents times six people!), due to prying eyes and pokey fingers! And yes, all Advent Calendar recipients are adults!

Most of the days are filled with the likes of Cadbury’s chocolate mousse snowmen, Malteaser reindeers and tiny Lindt bears, and then an extra special gift awaits everyone for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (past years include baubles for the tree and personalised snow globes).

The perfect start to December!

Elf on the Shelf

Love him or hate him (hubby hates him!) Buddy will always make his annual appearance on the 1st December (apart from those days he is kidnapped and held hostage by hubby! Not joking!)

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Buddy plays a big part in helping to build the anticipation of the festive season, and often has some really good jokes and treats in store. This year Buddy has a particularly amazing surprise for the Evans’ which you can read about in Buddy’s very own blog which is being published in the next couple of days! #sorrynotsorry to all you Elf haters!

Buying our Christmas tree

We always had a real tree when we were growing up – my Mum, my two Sisters, the dog and I would walk miles to go and get one from the garden centre up the road (Mum can’t drive) and we would carry it all the way home, alternating between carrying the tree and walking the dog! When hubby and I first moved out and into our new home, I was over the top obsessed with keeping it clean and tidy and so, for fear of getting pine needles everywhere, I insisted on having a plastic tree for the first couple of years.

After a couple of years with this awful cheap plastic tree I decided enough was enough and we agreed we would buy a real tree the following Christmas. I was pleased to learn at this stage that there were a lot more trees around which didn’t drop their needles, so I was a double happy bunny!

We always get our tree the first weekend of December, which is usually around my Sisters Birthday. We usually buy it the Saturday morning and then get it home and set it up, and let the branches drop and the tree take shape for the next 24 hours.

Then on the Sunday we spend the day decorating it, listening to Christmas tunes and having hot chocolate and other Christmas themed treats! The trees usually get named at some point too….

Christmas shopping

My work organise an annual coach trip to London on the first Wednesday of December which is absolutely brilliant. The coach drops off at two places – Harrods (also ideal for visiting the Museums) and the corner of Hyde Park.

I usually go with my Sister and Mum and we’ve done all sorts during these trips – we took Mum to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland one year, and visited the Ice Bar and Ice Sculpture display, the following year we spent a couple of hours in Harrods food hall and then popped over the road and spent the rest of the day in the Natural History Museum (which we concluded you would need to spend a week in in order to see everything!) followed by a couple of years of good old retail therapy down good old Oxford Street! I always pop into Primark as well to see if I can find any last minute stocking fillers or bits to go in my Christmas Eve boxes!

The beautiful London department store windows are another one of the highlights! My two favourites are Harrods and Selfridges – the designers must spend months in advance coming up with these amazingly creative ideas! Good luck getting a photo of some of them though – they obviously attract an awful lot of people so get in there quick to catch a glimpse!

Festive Days Out

Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light, Longleat Safari Park, Prinknash Abbey, and a ride on The Polar Express – you name it we have probably been there and partaken in their Christmas-themed festivities!

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Christmas Markets

I really love Christmas markets and the family and I have been to several over the years! I don’t go to them to do my main Christmas shopping but to try the amazing food and drink and check out the brilliant arts and crafts people make – some people are so creative!

At Gloucester Quays Christmas Markets last year they opened an ice skating rink and lots of little wooden huts around the outside which served mulled wine, hot apple cider, hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts! Just what you need to get into the Christmas spirit, although I do get there very early so I can get around quickly before the crowds arrive! Some places become unbearable at peak times!

Festive Drinks – Coffees, Hot Chocolate and Eggnog!

Most days in December usually feature a trip to Starbucks, Costa or Café Nero to sample this year’s Festive coffee and hot chocolate flavours! Yes, a blog on these is to follow too! Sorry!

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Obviously hot chocolates can be consumed throughout the year but there’s something different about a Christmas hot chocolate! Perhaps it is the lack of guilt you feel when you spray on mounds of whipped cream and tip half a box of marshmallows on top!

A favourite of mine is to add a tiny bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to really make it taste like Christmas in a mug! I buy all my hot chocolates from Whittards – they are the best by far in my opinion! This years flavours I invested in are Dark Hot Chocolate, Praline White Hot Chocolate, Rocky Road Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate! Delicious!

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I am also absolutely obsessed with eggnog! Is there a more Christmassy drink than eggnog!? If Starbucks ever stopped producing their eggnog lattes I don’t know what I would do!

Monin Syrups

If you want to make your own flavoured coffees or hot chocolates, I recommend you take a look at the collection of flavours Monin Syrups have to offer – there aren’t many flavours you can’t get hold of, and every year I struggle to choose which to buy next! I finally decided on Donut, Maple Spice, Amaretto and Macaron flavours!

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Christmas Adverts

Am I the only one who cries at these flipping adverts??? Lost Snowman looking for their partner….in tears, Buster the Boxer jumping on a trampoline…..in tears, Monty the penguin – so cute (in tears), the Sainsburys WW1 truce between British and German soldiers for Christmas Day….hysterical. I really do need to stop watching them to be fair! Anyway, every year they get more and more amazing and more and more heartfelt, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them!

Choosing the Christmas menu!

By the end of October I will have picked up several copies of each supermarkets festive food catalogues! I usually pick them up from Marks and Spencers, Asda, Tescos and Morrisons so we can all look at the full range everyone has to offer!

The family all meet in late October/early November to decide what food we are going to have on the days we are all going to be together (usually Christmas Day and Boxing Day or both). Everyone in my family has different tastes so it is quite difficult to choose things which most people will like!

You can read more about what is on the Christmas menu this year in my “what’s on the menu this Christmas” blog which is published on the 23rd December, but these will give you an idea…

Christmas Jumpers

Since Christmas jumpers came back into fashion a couple of years ago (the cheesier the better it seems!) I somehow now have an array of seasonal knitwear! It would seem I am a bit addicted, as every year they bring out better and sillier designs! Hubby had a jumper last year with actual flashing lights on! Amazing!

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Visits to the Cinema

What better way to get into the seasonal spirit than by visiting the cinema to watch a Christmassy film!!! Past cinema visits have included to watch Frozen, Bad Santa, Black Christmas and Krampus (ok so a couple of them are horror films, but still Christmassy!) This year I already have my sights set on two films – Bad Mom’s Christmas and Pitch Perfect 3! Can’t wait!

If I don’t have time to get to the cinema as I am spending my free weekends wrapping up the mounds of presents, I’ll always have some classic Christmas films on in the background whilst drinking my Christmassy hot chocolate! A blog on my favourite Christmas films will follow in a few days time!

Gingerbread Making

Gingerbread Houses – I love gingerbread but only the home made stuff which is lovely and fluffy and soft – not the hard shop bought stuff that you nearly break your teeth on!

For the first few years I was buying the shop bought sets (basically it was easier because all the pieces were pre-made so I could spend more time decorating them!) but I realised after making them that they didn’t get eaten because the gingerbread was rock hard! So my mother in law bought me a cookie cutter set which meant I could make proper gingerbread and cut out the pieces I needed to make my gingerbread house!

This year I spent the afternoon making gingerbread houses with my Sister and it was absolutely brilliant! We really enjoyed ourselves and it really got us into the Christmas spirit! I hope we make it an annual event from now on!

Christmas Yankee Candles

My family and I always buy Christmas themed Yankee Candles to burn throughout the festive season and I also put one in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes for them to burn the night before the big day. Check out some of this years scents –

Nutcracker Dolls

An obsession of mine! If you are intrigued, a separate blog on these little guys is coming out in the next couple of days….

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Christmas Eve boxes

Unfortunately I am one of those annoying people who has usually bought all of the main Christmas presents and got them wrapped up before December even starts as this frees me up the time to do all of these other amazing things throughout December! I do tend to leave buying little things like stocking fillers until December though.

In December I will also start buying bits and pieces to go in everyone’s Christmas Eve boxes! Hopefully you will have read my blogs I released last year on how to make them and what you can put in them – if not you can read about them here and here.

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Last year was the first time I unveiled the Christmas Eve boxes but they were so popular and loved by everyone that I promised I would make them a regular thing. The only thing is, I went a bit mental last year with it being the first year and so everyone got a lot in their boxes in addition to their normal pressies, so this year I asked everyone what their favourite bits were and I have limited it to four or five items, and a few sweets and treats.

Now December is here I will start looking for some good surprises to sneak into people’s Christmas Eve boxes to make Christmas Eve that little bit more special! This year’s box contents will be revealed in my Christmas Eve blog so watch this space!

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Post-Christmas themed parties

The family and I are all very lucky in that we all tend to get at least a week off over the Christmas period. As we are all avid Christmas fans, once Boxing Day has come and gone and we are in the few days between Christmas and New Year, the post-Christmas blues start to set in.

To cheer us up after the main event has come and gone, and to give us something else to look forward to (and OCD organiser Chloe to organise!), I usually throw a small family themed party for my Mum, my Sisters and myself. Past themes have included Harry Potter, Frozen and The Polar Express! This year’s theme is Beauty and the Beast, so I have been scouring eBay and Primark for months and months looking for ideas and treats to go in everyone’s goody bags!

Yes it’s cheesy/corny/childish but it cheers us all up and gives us the chance to spend some time together over Christmas without the added pressure of running around to check the turkey, prepare the veg and grab someone another drink. Plus my older sister Lindsey, who has autism, really looks forward to the parties (and the opportunity to get some more presents, even after Christmas is over!) I’ll do a separate blog about this year’s party so you can see what a great time we had this year!!!

Time off

What could be better than some time off work to celebrate and then rest and re-cooperate?? By the time my Christmas leave comes around I’ve usually got huge lists of bits and pieces I want to get done during my time off! The first few days off are usually Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but after clearing up after these celebrations I always feel really down that Christmas has come and gone for another year, so I like to keep myself busy!

One of the regular tasks which appears this time of year includes sorting through mine and hubby’s wardrobes – throwing out/giving to charity the old stuff, putting aside stuff which needs repairing or dry cleaning, eBay-ing any unwanted valuable stuff and making space for the new stuff we got for Christmas or during the sales! The rest of the time hubby and I spend watching DVD’s or Netflix whilst eating the left over Christmas goodies! I’m afraid the majority of this time off is spent in my pyjamas!

Anyway, this just about wraps up my plans for December! No wonder it flies by so quickly!! And no wonder they call it the most wonderful time of the year!

Enjoy everyone!

The Naked Marshmallow Company

If you are looking for a lovely Winter treat then check out this amazing idea!

I love all the American programmes which show everyone sitting round the camp fire toasting marshmallows and making S’mores, but unfortunately, living in the UK with such unpredictable weather all year round, its a risk trying to partake in marshmallow toasting even in the Summer!

Anyway, now you can toast marshmallows all year round with this amazing Marshmallow Toasting Kit from The Naked Marshmallow Company!

The kit costs £19 and includes any two packs of their gourmet marshmallows, with each pack containing eight marshmallows.

You can choose from five different flavours – Vanilla Bean, Candy Floss, Strawberry Cream, Chocolate Orange and Salted Caramel (if you want to order additional flavours you can add more boxes at £4.25 each). They have even got a Christmas range of flavours out at the moment too, such as Gingerbread and Candy Cane!

The marshmallows are made in the UK and are made from fair-trade sugar and have no artificial colours or flavours in them.

We tried four out of the five regular flavours (no-one likes chocolate orange in our family unfortunately!) and all of them were AMAZING! I have honestly never tasted more delicious marshmallows, even those I’ve bought from food festivals and markets!

Each kit comes with eight bamboo sticks and a non-toxic, odourless, smokeless gel burner which will burn constantly for two hours. If you don’t burn it all at once you can simply pop the lid back on to extinguish the flame and then use again whenever you fancy!

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The kit also comes in a gift box with a little printed guide on “how to toast the perfect marshmallow”, so is ideal to give as a present – if you are giving as gifts you can pay an additional £2 to have the burner label personalised as well!

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My favourite flavour was the candy floss one (closely followed by the salted caramel!) but the vanilla bean and strawberry cream were favoured by other guests so the flavours obviously cater for all different tastes too!

Even better, when I placed my order, standard delivery was free! I’ve gone to checkout on several online bakeries and food websites to find that the delivery costs are extortionate, so this was a real added bonus!

The family and I really enjoyed using the kit and I would definitely buy it again, and buy it for family and friends as presents – it’s certainly something a little bit different!

Just don’t forget to put your burner on a heat-proof surface! The last thing you want is to leave burn marks on your furniture!

If you want to take the toasting marshmallows kit one stage further, you can also order their marshmallow S’more’s kit! The kit contains eight marshmallows, eight Graham Crackers, three Hershey chocolate bars and of course your gel burner, eight bamboo sticks and a guide on how to make the perfect S’more!

I’ll definitely have to try this kit next time I put an order in!

Winky Lux Lip Balms

A few months ago I came across these amazing lip balms on Instagram and I knew as soon as I saw them that I had to have them in every colour!

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Check out these Flower Balm Jelly Lip Stains by Winky Lux!

This balm stain applies on clear then reacts with your skin’s pH levels, uniquely creating the perfect shade of pink lips!

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Each Flower Balm contains a real chrysanthemum in the colour of your choice. Plus these amazing balms are coconut scented!

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So far I have found the balms with Green, Yellow and Pink flowers, but there are also Blue and Purple versions available. I’ve bought several for friends for their Birthday’s and they absolutely loved them!

You can order your Winky Lux Flower balms from Beauty Bay (£13.00 each) or I recently came across this set from ASOS where you get the Pink, Yellow and Green balms for £25.00 with a lovely free gold makeup bag – this set sells out very quickly because you save 35% on the total cost of the three balms so grab it while you can!

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