Posted in Baking

Making easy all butter shortbread

I have always loved shortbread. It was a firm favourite of my Grandmas, I can remember it always being on offer at her house. Shortbread biscuits can be baked all year but I love to bake them at Christmas in particular. My cousin Sarah is an amazing baker so I have to confess this recipe is not my own but let me tell you these are the most perfect all butter shortbread I’m about to share with you.

You will need:

  • 340g plain flour
  • 60g sieved icing sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground rice
  • 263g butter
    Sprinkling of caster sugar

Start by preheating the oven to 160c. Weigh out all the dry ingredients, cut up the butter and rub it in until a soft dough is formed.

Next role out the dough ready to cut out biscuit shapes (simple shapes are far easier as detailed ones are harder to get out the cutters!)

I was excited to find a baking stamp in my cutter box that I had forgotten I ever bought! I stamped some and left others plain to decorate later. Once they are all cut out place them on greaseproof baking paper and pop in the oven for about 15-18 minutes.

Please note: Do not overcook, as soon as they are starting to brown (even if only a couple!) remove from the oven.

If you are leaving them plain sprinkle with caster sugar as soon as they come out of the oven (the heat makes it stick) I put sugar on the stamped ones. I left them all to cool before I further decorated the others.

I wanted to use icing sugar to decorate the others as I had some little Christnas embellishments to add too. It’s important to make sure the icing sugars not too runny or it will drip off the edges. The easiest way is to put the biscuit face down to cover the surface and then you can use a knife to further spread it if necessary.

The icing took a while to dry fully so be careful if not to put them on top of each other. The finished results were eye pleasing and yummy! I will definitely be baking them again… I might try adding choc chips instead of decorating next time.

Have you made anything yummy in the run up to Christmas? I would love to hear!

Rachael 🙂 x

Posted in Christmas Activites

Christmas Inspiration at Bents Home and Garden

If you were ever short of Christmas inspiration there is a garden centre in Cheshire that is absolutely killing it. Bents Home and Garden are well known for going that extra mile when it comes to Christmas. With Santa’s arrival around the beginning of November officially opening the festive period, people come from far and wide to marvel at the beautiful Christmas displays throughout November and December.

On Friday night we decided to go and have a little look and much to my surprise it wasn’t overly busy. I think it’s getting to the point now where people have done the majority of decoration buying. But this is more than your average garden centre selling trees and decorations. It almost an experience and I thought it would be lovely to share this with you through photos below.

Upon entry you are greeted with the big man himself – a delight for children.

Outside this house it’s snowed and the children are having fun in this winter scene. I love the topsy turvy snowman!

Unicorns have been all the rage this year and this little whimsical scene gives a nod to all things make believe and magical.

Check out the VW camper van parked up in this rustic log cabin scene (note the reg plate… great the attention to detail!)

A beautiful simplistic Christmassy living room… great of you don’t have kids, ha ha!

Dining in style here with a classic red and gold theme. I love the wreath hanging over the stags head.

Obviously the whole point of these scenes is to inspire you. I think pretty much everything you see is available to purchase – the decorations, dinnerware and soft furnishings.

Moving on to the Christmas trees now and I all I can say is WOW. Several colour themed trees are on display in the store, alongside them of course are the decorations beautifully displayed for purchase.

First up is ‘rural retreat’ and I absolutely adore this one! Not your average festive tree but still a head turner. Look at the birds perched on the branches at the top!

This one called ‘so magical’ takes on just that theme with unicorns, rabbits, fairies and pink and white colours.

‘Snow much fun’ would be one your children love! It had skating reindeer and plenty of snowmen hiding amongst its branches.

For a more extravagant tree theme this ‘festive fusion’ would add colour to your living room and is definitely a head turner.

These were just my favourite four trees there were indeed quite a few more to marvel at.

Worth a mention too are the miniature model villages and moving trains. They are also available to buy, although I think you would need lots of room to make a scene like this at home!

The traditional fairgrounds are so cute! I could stand and watch the moving rides for ages. They were always a favourite of my sons when he was younger.

We spent over two hours wandering round and also had something to eat. I purchased the most amazing thing though… scentsicles! For those of you who have a fake tree for ease and less mess but adore the smell of a real tree these are what you need…

You hide the little scented sticks in the branches of your Christmas tree and your home will be filled with lovely waft of a real one!

Are you all set for Christmas now? I think I’m just about there. I’m getting really excited… seven sleeps eek! Wishing you a Happy Holidays everyone!

Rachael x

Posted in Christmas Activites

Christmas Wreath Making

Making my own Christmas wreath has been on the list of things I want to do for a long time. At weekend I finally got myself on a wreath making afternoon and now proudly hanging on my door is a home made wreath.

Whilst I could of had a go at home going on a course was nice as it definitely gets you in that Christmas spirit. Woolly Willow Creations ran my course… if your in Cheshire I could definitely recommend them. They supplied everything you needed, super friendly tuition, Christmas music and refreshments. It was £20 which was very competitively priced in comparison to other wreath courses I sourced.

The afternoon began with a clear demonstration. We were to make our wreaths in two parts… building up the greenery and then embellishing.

You see on the tables here moss rings which we started with for ease. However you could get your own wreath ring and build up adding the moss as you go securing with reel wire.

One of the benefits of coming on a course is everything is supplied (not to mention the mega mess wreath making creates… not having to clean up is an added bonus!) The right greenery can be tricky to find and quite expensive to buy. But here’s a list of what to look out for –

  • Ivy
  • Holly
  • Conifer
  • Hebe
  • Spruce
  • Cedar
  • Eleagnus
  • Yew
  • Cornush twigs
  • Just make sure whatever you use it’s ever green. Once the demonstration was over we set to on our own wreaths. First off you use some stubb wire to create a ring to hang your wreath eventually.
  • With the ring in place this will be the top of your wreath. Adding foliage to it will now build it up. Choose a good mixed selection to create what you call a unit. It’s several of these that cover round your ring eventually.

    Secure the reel wire to your moss ring and then hold the unit in position. Wrap around the reel wire twice to secure the unit to the wreath… you must pull it tight. It is essentially this technique you use all the way around. Each time you place the next unit overlapping the last to hide your wire work.

    It was easy to build it up. The thing that took longest was selecting which foliage would go in each unit.

    Once you think your wreath is complete hold it up as you may have areas now as full. But this is no problem… you simply use the stub wire to make an anchor and and then wrap it around the bunch of foliage you want to add in. Poke the wire into the area of the wreath that’s lacking.

    The second demonstration showed us how to embellish our wreath. This is where you can get creative! Again using the stubb wire you can attach embellishments such as baubles, berry’s, pine cones, dried fruit, dog wood sticks and bows.

    I wanted quiet a traditional looking one so I added a more rustic style bow, pine cones, berries and cedar wood sticks which are a lovely red colour.

    A few tweaks here and there and we were finished! It was lovely to see although we all started out with the same stuff everybody’s wreaths came out different.

    I was pretty pleased with how mine turned out, I think maybe it could of see a little more embellishments though. The whole afternoon was really lovely and I will definitely be doing a wreath next year. I might even attempt drying some fruit to add. It got me thinking though that maybe I could do an Easter one next!

    Why not have a go at wreath making? I’m obviously no expert but I thought this post may help to guide you a bit and inspire you.

    Rachael 🙂 x

    Woolly Willow creations do many other crafty courses, go check them out here –

    Posted in Christmas Activites

    How to Elf on the Shelf like a Master!

    When my son was 4 years old I came across this wonderful Christmas idea where in December an elf arrives at your house to watch your children for the month… I don’t need to fully explain elf on the shelf here… if you are reading this post chances are you are looking for inspiration and thinking why the hell did I start this?!!

    I consider myself as an elf master. What gives me that right? Well… I was elf on the shelving much before it became a mainstream thing in the UK. When I started nobody on my Facebook knew what it was. Sure enough though people loved the posts about our elf Alfie causing mayhem in the run up to Christmas. My son was literally bursting with excitement every December morning.

    Now I can be a bit of perfectionist with things so no half hearted elf effort was going on in my house! In total I completed 5 years of elf magic – that’s some serious planning! However when my son this year uttered the words I know about Santa my heart broke a little as much for the end of Alfie as it did for this. Out the other side of this I thought I would tell you guys some of my favourite ideas and what I consider the best way to elf on the shelf without loosing your mind!!

    My son was Five when I first heard about this so we only started it then (silently breathing a sigh of relief). I know many who are starting at three! That’s seven years planning guys… but I get that you want in and are excited! At three your kid has no idea or concept of time. Do yourself a favour and have him arrive on the 15th – that applies to until they start school and of course then you won’t get away with this as others in the class will be chatting about theirs.

    Only move him the first year… make it a game of ‘find the elf’. Don’t over complicate things when at such a young age they can’t fully appreciate your efforts.

    Year two… have him move but only do good things. This is where my confusion came in with elf on the shelf… this little dude comes to watch your behaviour and report back to Santa yet the little s*** is causing absolute carnage! Ha ha! Talk about double standards!

    Year three onwards (age five) I think then is the time to up your game. Your child is older and will appreciate the naughty behaviour and be shocked by it. But again don’t max out your ideas… save the best ones until a few years in.

    Now I know some people have like a full on calendar planned but sometimes life gets in the way and the idea you had for a particular night is no longer practical. So I kept a list of ideas in my phone instead. I did ‘elf’ shopping towards the end of November and picked up any bits I then needed along the way.

    Now I will share 30 of my favourite elf ideas I did along the way. I also asked my son which he remembers best and of course it’s the ones where he was extra naughty, ha ha!

    1. Think about your elf’s arrival! I think the year we did North Pole breakfast was a favourite.

    2. Simple ideas like this with photos are great! Also you could use a white board marker or simply turn pictures upside down.

    3. Feeding the ducks… definitely one younger children will like.

    3. Did you know elves only drink green elf milk?! Food colouring is obviously your friend here. My son looked for ages to find him this morning!

    4. I took too long getting the decorations out so Alfie did it for us creating a right mess! (I must be mad!)

    5. Have your elf make breakfast… if you don’t mind cleaning the mess ha ha! My son loved this one!

    6. When your elf wants to be on top of the tree and takes the fairy hostage!

    7. Elf olympics – bringing snow from the North Pole and check out his knitted scarf!

    8. Elves only bath in marshmallows ha ha!

    9. I’m sure school loved me this day… I swapped my sons whole lunch for chocolate stuff and marshmallows! When I arrived at school to collect him that day practically the whole class ran at me to tell me about this ha ha!

    10. I have hair extensions so I cut the old ones and when I heard my son stirring that morning quickly arranged myself like this. Let me tell you he was shocked!! I think he was scared for Alfie but he also found it hilarious… I threatened to send the elf home! Ha ha!

    11. With I’m a celeb always on at this time of year and my son liking to watch it I had to take advantage of this!

    12. Curtesy of Halloween stuff stored in the loft, Alfie finds himself in a spin!

    13. One for every year – something baking related. This was my sons favourite I think, decorating a gingerbread house. But we also did mince pies, cookies etc.

    14. When your elf gets into your make up and draws you a picture! (Old make up used of course!)

    15. Could this be the ultimate elf trick? Changing the bed to Christmas bedding whilst they are sleeping!

    16. My son adored this one! It took him ages to find him hidden in the Christmas tree!

    17. Would only recommend if your going to decorate anyway! However I had the intention but it stayed like this almost a year! Ha ha!

    18. Caught by the Lego superhero’s one night!

    19. Face painting whilst asleep always raised laughs in the morning!

    20. Quite a simple one but one he loved non the less! The sign said ‘I flew your mums car to Lapland last night to show all your toys where I live, we didn’t make it back in time before the magic ran out!’ I also parked the car erratically on the drive/half on the grass!

    21. Pick and mix shop… luckily he did listen to Alfie and only took a few to school!

    22. Banister sledging on candy canes!

    23. When your elf doesn’t make it back in time!

    24. Elf washing disaster! (I used bubble bath, made them in the sink and then moved to the floor)

    25. When your kids not keen on showering your elf comes to the rescue by filling it with balloons (warning – don’t be deceived this took almost 2 hours and approximately 75 balloons)

    26. Shrinking the cookies to elf size! Good for younger ones.

    27. When your elf cuts up your mums top in the laundry!

    28. Alfie plays Star Wars and bring cinema tickets to the movie! Your elf can do good too if your little one is behaving!

    29. The year Alfie took Lex home to see Santa! Look at his face! A surprise trip to Santa is always a winner… we were lucky to be able to do Lapland that year.

    30. When you want a night off! Ha ha! Seriously though this one is great of behaviour isn’t good. The getting up rule was not before 6am… he got up at 5am!!

    So there we have it… I hope this has inspired you! Our elf Alfie had his own page on Facebook too… I will post the link below if you want to check out what else he did. I’m no longer posting to the page as sadly the magic is over for us but the page is live for ideas. I’m going to follow this post up with another one on the perfect end to elf on the shelf.

    Now I’m out the other side do I think it was worth it? Absolutely… yes it’s a commitment but your kids faces each morning… well that’s just priceless! These little elves will make the run up to your Christmas so magical, your kids will love you for it. When my son found out one of the first things he said was ‘oh wow mummy, you did all that? I can’t believe it! Thank you!’ I know he will forever remember our Alfie’s antics with a warm heart and a smile.

    Happy elfing guys… remember it doesn’t last forever!

    Rachael 🙂 x

    Link –

    Posted in Christmas Activites

    Visiting York at Christmas time…

    York is up there with my favourite cities I have visited in Britain. Take a walk along the walls, soak in views of the minster and explore the shambles. Shopping is plentiful and tea rooms are everywhere. I have to confess I’m not a massive city lover but York is a pretty city with cobbled streets and amazing architecture – the oldest building dating back to as far as 1350!

    However I had never been at Christmas time so this weekend (the last weekend in November) we ventured there to take in the city once again and get in the festive spirit around the Christmas Markets.

    In York I have a go to hotel… it’s up there with my favourite hotels ever! If you are going to York and want a bit of luxury the only hotel to stay is the Grand Hotel and Spa. It’s a grand Edwardian railway hotel and very deserving of it’s five stars – the only hotel to boast such in Yorkshire. The whole hotel is very grand as per its name, Edwardian features are kept but blended effortlessly with more contemporary colours. The corridors alone are wider than I’ve seen in any hotel, the ceilings are high and the stone staircase magnificent. I was pleased to see on arrival that their Christmas decorations were up instantly putting me in the festive mood.

    As we arrived late afternoon we wanted to make a quick exit to go exploring but not before seeing our room. We were staying in a classic double room which as expected was gorgeous but definitely worth a mention here is the double shower in the bathroom and heated floor – bliss. The Christmas decorations in the hotel were beautifully done.

    Recently hearing about Evil Eye lounge which hit the Guinness world records for having the most gins available for sale (if you want numbers approximately 1028!) whist in York it would be crime not to check it out. We had to queue outside maybe 15 minutes however if you just wanted to go in the shop you could walk in.

    Inside it’s just a quirky laid back bar complete with sticky tables and menus ha ha! If your after a sophisticated affair this isn’t it but all the same worth a little stop off. It’s more of a cocktail bar but does offer plenty of options. I settled on a ‘gin and sonic’ and the other half on orange gin and tonic.

    Next stop was the St Nicholas fair Christmas markets. Apparently they are easy to find but we did a fair bit of wandering ha ha! Once stumbling on them they were everything you would expect from Christmas markets. Little chalets with twinkling fairy lights line the streets selling your usual christmas wears, jewllery and gifts. Plenty of goodies are available to eat and of course your mulled wine. They were busy but show me a Christmas market that’s not! (This was taken the next morning as I forgot to take one at night!)

    I really enjoyed browsing the little stalls and admiring hand crafted items, some people are so talented. We came away with amazing cheeses, different flavoured tonics, a Christmas tree decoration and some cool peaky blinder coasters.

    A few mulled wines later (with an extra shot of brandy!) we started to head back to the hotel stopping off for two drinks in other bars along the way. If drinking is your thing you won’t be disappointed in York! Back in the Grands bar called 1906 it was nice to be out the cold and in an intimate plush setting. More gin and tonics followed but the rhubarb gin with elderflower tonic was the best! It’s not cheap in the Grand – £30 for two doubles but service was impeccable and the lovely setting made the prices worth it.

    Now no visit to York is complete without a visit to the Shambles. So we swerved breakfast at the Grand as we had a lie in (I can say though from a previous visit it’s very nice but £20 per person it’s pricey) breakfast in a quaint little cafe up the road did the trick.

    The Shambles are amazing to see… made even more famous after being revealed as J.K Rowlings inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the likeness is easy to see. Dating back to medieval times the street was once full of Butchers shops. Despite visiting the shambles several times I learned this time that the quaint looking timber frame buildings actually were built close set to protect the meat hanging outside from direct sunlight. Outside the shop windows (the shambles is now a street of shops) you can still see the meat hooks.

    It was raining and soooo busy so we headed back to the Grand to enjoy the spa. As a self confessed spa addict I will tell you although nice the spa in the Grand is nothing special. It compromises of a pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and relaxation lounge. Of course an array of treatments are on offer and a bonus is Espa is the brand of choice (Espa is my favourite).

    It’s £15 per person just to use the Spa facilities and they give you a gown, slippers and towel. We had an hour or so hanging out there and yeah it’s nice but it’s just lacking a few things for me like no room to relax properly by the pool, no experience showers and no drinks in the relaxation room – nobody came and offered to get us one either. You don’t really want to come out and wander down the corridor to quench your thirst when relaxing. For a five star hotel it’s just not quite up to par for me.

    Is it worth a visit? Yeah if you want a little relaxation and it would probably be enhanced by adding treatments (I already had a massage and facial booked back home by my regular go to beauty people so gave it a miss with the expense of Christmas looming too!) but I would not recommend it as a spa break, it’s merely a supplement to an amazing hotel.

    All in all we had ourselves a lovely little weekend break away and did it get me in the Christmas spirit? It certainly helped. Have you visited York at Christmas time?

    Rachael 🙂 x

    Posted in Christmas Activites

    Making a Simple Advent Calendar…

    A couple of weeks ago I decided to make an advent calendar this year for my son. He’s 10 years old and has just asked the dreaded ‘Santa’ question. Keen to still make the run up to Christmas a special time for him I started thinking of ideas.

    I decided to go for a fairly simple design as it’s the first one I have attempted. The thing that appealed most to me was being able to fill it with his favourite treats. I considered little envelopes and then decided pillow boxes would be better to fit stuff in so opted for those. I thought the best way to do it was to fasten them to some kind of board.

    Hobby Craft is my first stop when doing a project like this. Whilst in there I decided that a notice board would make a good base. It eliminated the need for decorating as it looked nice as it was. I picked up a glue gun for only £2 – essential for this project. Some little wooden numbers and decided to also add my sons name too. I went to the works (cheaper shop for craft supplies) to get ribbon, washi tape and embellishments.

    Most the stuff I used can be seen above but here’s a list of what you need:

    • 40 x 60 cm notice board
    • Glue gun and glue sticks
    • Ribbon – at least 2m to do the edge
    • Wooden numbers
    • Christmas embellishments
    • Washi tape
    • Pillow boxes
    • Scissors
    • Name letters
    • PVA glue
    • Glitter
    • Treats or tiny toys

    The glue gun is your friend in this project! I have to laugh because although I have always loved crafting a hot glue gun I was never allowed. Today at 35 years old I am nursing a blister on my finger from using it! Not a bad one but still my mum was right to not give me one ha ha!

    Start by edging your advent calendar in ribbon. Use the glue gun to put blobs along the edge and stick the ribbon down and cut to size.

    Next make up your pillow boxes by folding in the ends. Arrange them on your board so you can see how they look… you should have five rows of five. Once arranged on the board look at your embellishments. I chose a total of seven different ones. This gave me enough so none were next to each other in any direction.

    Use your glue gun to attach your embellishments and ribbon. Make sure you think about where your numbers are going at this point. Then glue the bottom of the boxes too.

    Once all your boxes are assembled check your happy with the order on the board. At this point you can switch them round if your not.

    Once satisfied it’s time to attach your numbers. Using the glue gun I put mine in the top left corner.

    Now you are ready to put in the treats. I thought when I came up with this idea that I would fit little toys in too but it was very difficult to find anything. The beauty of this project is you can fill it with your child’s favourite sweets and chocolate and of course some more Christmas themed treats.

    Someone also suggested Lego men so I bought a set of 8 of these for £10 off eBay. I thought it would be nice to mix it up. They fit perfectly and came part unassembled in little packets which I liked.

    So now it’s time to fill your boxes. Larger items like the freddo I only put one in but things like the maoms I put in four or five.

    Once filled it’s time to attach the boxes. I did worry if they would hold but given the things in them are light they did. Just put a line of glue down the centre of the back of each one and press into place.

    I then stuck on the numbers into the corner of each box alternating between red and white for effect.

    Finally it was time to do the letters to finish off the top of the board. First I tried painting them but the paint wasn’t strong enough and the card showed through. I decided glitter was the way to go keeping with the sparkly theme of the ribbon. I used PVA glue to coat the letters and then just simply sprinkled the glitter all over.

    Finally I attached the letters to the board – again with the glue gun and added some little bells in the top corners to fill the gaps. It’s important to leave your board flat for at least an hour whilst everything dries and sets properly.

    So here is the finished product…

    The only thing I don’t like is the ‘L’ is larger but I wanted a capital and it just came bigger! I’m made up with it and I’m sure my son will love it too, I can’t wait to give it to him. Start to finish it was probably a 2 hour project. It was easy and enjoyable!

    Have you ever made an advent calendar? How did it turn out? Let me know if you give this one a go in the comments 🙂

    Rachael x