Before we get started, I’d just like to clarify that this post isn’t about new gardening ideas but rather, ideas for our new garden. You see, just a few weeks ago we moved into a new house primarily so we could gain a garden for our little girl to play in and us all to enjoy. I’ve also been working on a few gardening copywriting projects this year, so I’m feeling rather inspired and eager to get stuck into remodelling our small patch of land. Steve is also quite particular about what he’d like to include, so this garden plan is a mish-mash of both our ideas and hopefully will accommodate the needs and wants of the whole family.

This is how our garden looks right now. See if you can spot Alex lounging in the background and Ruby soaking up a little sun.

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Zoning the garden

As you can see, we’ve got a relatively blank space to work with. There are a few obvious things on our to-do to-do list like trimming the hedge, painting the fence and treating or potentially re-laying the moss heavy lawn. After that, we plan to zone the garden into three areas for growing fruit and veg, space for Alex to play and a very important small area for cooking, eating and entertaining. The first zone starts at the patio as we work backwards towards the fence.

The entertainment area

We love a barbecue, my parents have always thrown the best barbecues and I’ve had the pleasure of helping to cater for some of them in the past with pizzas cooked on my pizza stone and summer cocktails. I’m hoping we will be able to hold our own soon. We’ve already got a patio table and chairs that my parents gifted us, which makes a perfect spot for a sunny breakfast. Ideally, I’d like to upgrade our barbecue and invest in something like one of the small garden gazebos from this garden camping range. It would be good to have somewhere guests can dive under cover if a little drizzle comes our way or where Steve could maybe set up a pop up bar. He’s a firm believer in barbecuing whatever the weather brings and wanted an awning for the yard in our previous home so that he could barbecue in the rain!

Also on the list is some pretty lighting. There are some solar lights on the back fence, however, I’d love some colourful festoon lights or fairy lights to brighten the space. I’ve already been looking around for lights but if you have any recommendations of where to buy some, give me a holler!

The play area

It’s hard to know what to do with Alex’s play area as inevitably, what she’s into now will not necessarily be the same in a couple of years. She loves swings and we don’t have a park with them very nearby, so we’re hoping to install a small swing and slide but leave plenty of space for running around or playing with other outdoor toys like paddling pools and balls. Her Grandad has mentioned he might build her a small wooden bench and table too where she could have her lunch or do some colouring in outdoors, which I think is a lovely idea.

The growing zone

Steve and I both love cooking, so we’re very excited to have a little more space to grow our own produce. We already have a fairly good collection of potted herbs and a bay tree, which we use for flavouring food and drinks (mmm, a spring of fresh rosemary in gin is lovely). We’re hoping to put a little greenhouse in the back right corner of the garden so we can grow some fruit and veg. Where borders have previously been dug along the path, we’ve started lining them with our herb pots. We’ll re-dig the borders when we get the chance.

Welcoming wildlife

I’m feeling really lucky to finally be in our new home, it’s nothing flash but it has space enough for the four of us and has a great layout for us too. Alex is showing a real love for gardening already and has her own tool set at my parents, she’s obsessed with bird spotting. Magpies in particular (maybe she’ll be more into football than me). While we don’t plan to have a dedicated ‘wildlife’ zone in the garden, we would like to encourage wildlife into the garden. I’ve found this guide from Ulster Wildlife helpful with planning. So far, Alex and my Dad have added a bird box on the back fence and a feeder on the side fence. I’m hoping that by next year we’ll have a border of flowers to attract butterflies and bees and perhaps a little log pile somewhere at the back too.

Up until now, I’ve never been a huge garden fan but more of a garden party enthusiast. Whether it’s age or the excitement of having our own little plot of earth I’m feeling really inspired and keen to get stuck in. If you’re a keen gardener and have factored similar priorities into planning your outdoor space, I’d love to see what you’ve done – leave your links in the comments.

This post was written in collaboration with Garden & Camping

As a North Easterner, there are certain foods you miss when you leave the kingdom, products that even if successfully sourced elsewhere never seem to taste quite the same and others that you just can’t find south of Middlesbrough, ever. Even with the spread of the almighty Greggs, which is now seemingly perched on the corner of every third street in all northern towns, if you drive too far South down the A1 you can’t get a stottie for love nor money. Which is, of course, exactly why you should stock up on some of the very best things to eat that the North East has to offer when you pay us a visit. I truly believe there are native foods available round these parts that are worth booking a trip just to taste, though as a Geordie raised on homemade pease pudding and broth, I may be a little bit biased!

Recently, Haven Holidays got in touch and asked me for tips on where visitors to the region could find the best local delicacies, so in this post I’ve gathered together a few places where you can pick up some of the foods my beloved North East is best known for. If you’re visiting the Haven holiday park at Berwick or staying elsewhere in Northumberland, you’ll find some true tastes of the north by paying the establishments below a visit. And, whether if a Geordie by birth or visiting for a break, you can test your knowledge of local delicacies from this region and others in the Haven’s local delicacy quiz.

Turnbull’s, Alnwick

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You should find pease pudding plentiful when you’re out and about in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. Most sandwich shops (including the Greggs of almost every high street) will invariably have it on their menu accompanied by ham and possibly on a lovely stodgy white stottie to boot (truly a hangover saviour). You can also buy this delicious spread (made by boiling split peas with ham) at many delis and even the local supermarkets. If you’re taking a trip to the lovely market town of Alnwick (and you should because it’s a pretty place with great pubs and isn’t just about the castle that was featured in Harry Potter) you should pop into Turnbull’s on Market Street. This butchers sells lots of locally sourced meats including its very own dry cured bacon range and award-winning pies and pastries too. It also sells pease pudding to takeaway, so you can pick some up to pack in a future picnic should you choose. While you’re in town, call in at the Bari Tea Brewery for a cuppa.

Hinnies, Whitley Bay

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A sort of scone-cum-muffin Singin’ Hinnies are not so easy to come by at bakers in the North East nowadays, though they are fairly easy to make yourself. Take a trip to the coastal town of Whitley Bay though and you can enjoy them at a dining establishment that celebrates them with its name and boasts other Geordie-influenced crowd pleasers on the menu too. The Singin’ Hinnies (named after the noise they make when cooking) are served up with strawberry jam and clotted cream on the pudding menu, while you can enjoy comforting Pan Haggerty (a delicious potato bake) as part of their main course menu or enjoy pease pudding served up on one of their affordable sharing boards.

Northumberland Cheese Farm, Blagdon

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You may not yet associate the North East with cheese production but let me assure you, we do it rather well. Along with Doddingtons in the far north, which concentrates on cheese and ice cream production, the Northumberland Cheese Farm excellently demonstrates our skills in the area of dairy food production. I’m a tad biased because I used to work at the Cheese Loft, where you can sit in for a Ploughman’s or cheese scone or buy some of the farm’s cheeses to take away. My favourites are the Blagdon Blue – best described as a soft, delicious creamy blue brie type cheese and the Nettle, a cheddar that it’s impossible to eat just one small piece of (I recommend just caving in and cutting large chunks to eat with a crisp, sweet apple and a few digestive biscuits – it’s not a gourmet supper but it’s one I enjoy best).

L Robson & Sons, Craster
I was fairly young when I first tried smoked kippers for breakfast and must admit I wasn’t sold on them after the first few attempts at eating them. That said, I did always enjoy the fact that buying them from where they were made meant a trip to some really breath-taking beaches. L Robson & Sons in Craster still smoke their kippers the traditional way and you can buy them at their shop and order online so you can re-live a summer on the Northumberland coast once you’re back home. When in Rome (or Craster), visit the restaurant with views over Craster harbour.

If you’re a seafood fan (like me) The Old Boat House at Amble is another great spot on the coast to sample the wares of the North Sea and as an added bonus they also serve great bread. They’ve recently opened up The Fish Shack at the Sea Quest aimed at walkers, which we’ve not quite made it along to yet as it would be too much of a tease while I can’t eat fresh seafood. It does however seem to be a similar concept to Riley’s Fish Shack over at gorgeous Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth – so expect informal dining/streetfood. We’ll definitely be aiming to try the Shack soon .I know we’ll be heading to the Boat House to celebrate just soon as baby has landed. After 9 months of pregnancy enforced abstinence, melted brie, local lobster and a crisp glass of wine is exactly what I fancy and It’s an added bonus that Ruby the dog can come along with us too.

If you’re visiting the area and would like some local food recommendations, feel free to email foodfablesuk@gmail.com or get in touch via Twitter or Instagram.

 

 

I’m completely caffeine fuelled. Speak to me before my first black coffee of the day and you’ll be lucky if I can muster a wonky smile. In the office I have a cafetiere permanently positioned next to my computer, powering me through. At home we have a pod coffee machine that I feel so guilty about I’ve gone mad keen on recycling in a misconstrued attempt to balance its environmental impact. I also like tea. Though I drink it rarely I fondly remember leisurely Sundays spent supping a full pot and eating biscuits with my former housemate, Laura.

Tea is my hangover hero and coffee is a continual companion but despite my enthusiasm I’m a bit of an amateur when it comes to making and drinking both. I like to think I know a thing or two about cake consumption but my knowledge of the accompanying brew is still in development, something I became even more aware of on two recent trips out.

Slurping with Ringtons
Sometimes as a blogger I’m lucky enough to be invited to events that seem too good to be true. Now, right up there with Pie Night at Asda is my Christmas trip to Ringtons. We’ve always been Ringtons fans in this house, not least because my boyfriend eats two packets of their ginger snaps a week. A little while back they  ran a Christmas blogging event at their HQ in Byker and I had my first seasonal slurping experience. It looked a little something like this

Shoutout to Shivanee of Cloudinateacup who you can see trying her hand at cupping tea in the final photo, you can read her post on the event here, which includes a good run down of Ringtons’ strong regional profile as well as some fabulous photography that’s far better than my own. When it comes to blogger events I do much prefer the ones that allow you to learn, get involved and get your hands dirty, so I really should have been more willing and prepared when it came to cupping.

For the uninitiated, this is the quality control process that’s used to test tea. Laid bare without milk and sugar it’s easy to differentiate between teas of different qualities and even detect subtle differences between blends. I’m down with tea tasting, I’ve done it before during a Chinese tea ceremony. I’m not it seems down with slurping in public. I tried to be okay with it, really I did. I’ve no shame about being the first out of my seat at a buffet or even the first on the dancefloor sans alcohol but when it came to slurping, I was very self conscious. Luckily, the top tea testers at Ringtons have no such silly constraints and I was blown away by their knowledge and enthusiasm. Tea might not be my first choice but I’ve now ditched my standard teabags in favour their Darjeeling.

Cup North

My second cupping opportunity came just a few weeks later at Cup North, Manchester. This two day event is all about coffee and if you’ve got a serious interest, I suggest you add it to your calendar for 2016. For me the event conveniently coincided with a planned catch up with my fellow coffee enthusiast Nic and while I shied away from cupping in the heat of the moment (it can happen to anyone) we did enjoy talking to all the coffee producers present and purchasing some fuel for life to take away with us. There was also some seriously scientific coffee equipment in action. Here are a few snaps of the trip.

Are you more of a coffee or tea person? Have you ever tried cupping and if so, what did you make of it?

Most of my favourite things begin with a ‘c’. Firstly there’s cake, then cocktails and then the low-calorie hero that is coffee. I have a ‘But first, coffee’ print hanging in a study and a T-shirt that simply says ‘Black Coffee, Please’ for those mornings when talking is too much. I’m a bit of a coffee fangirl, truth be told. The recent ‘Coffee with Currys’ night held at Revolution Newcastle could only therefore appealed more if they gave me cake on arrival. They didn’t, but the first creamy cocktail we were presented with as we waited to take part in a coffee cocktail masterclass came pretty damn close.

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The bloggers event was held in celebration of the fabulous pairing of coffee and alcohol and aimed to show off Curry’s collection of coffee machines. You can find the recipes for the coffee cocktails we made on the night here. We do already have a coffee machine at home, which we were lucky enough to be given last Christmas, though I do wish brands were doing more to solve the problem of plastic coffee pods, I’ve heard that some companies now have recycling plans in place and it’s something I think companies like Currys could look at to reassure people and in turn boost sales.

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There were lots of local bloggers in attendance on the evening and I was particularly pleased to bump into the lovely Sarah from PlainSarahJayne who I used to work with and Chloe’s New Girl in Toon with whom I share mutual Leeds buds.

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Sarah from PlainSarahJayne enjoying her welcome cocktail

During the course of the night we all had to showcase our cocktail making talents and though I wasn’t the most skilled mixologist, I think I put in a performance that my boyfriend would be proud of – he’s usually in charge of the espresso martini making in our house.

I wasn't quite this good!

I wasn’t quite this good!

Do you have a coffee machine in your house? Are coffee and cocktails a winning combo for you? If you have any coffee cocktail recipes of your own, please feel free to share links in the comments below, we are always looking for new recipes to try out!

Drinking in my 30s is proving to be a very different affair to that of my 20s. For a start, now I no longer live in the centre of a city a night out needs to be approached with military-style planning. I’ve learnt that failure to take this approach can end in unspeakable consequences that go beyond inconvenience. Secondly, I’m getting ever so fussy about what I’m willing to drink (potentially a result of living with a pro drinks mixer). All considered, when I go out now I like it to be a bit of an event, which means my recent invite to the re-launch of the Redwood Lounge at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle was extremely welcome.

I’d never been to the Redwood Lounge before and must admit that having been to Livellos at the opposite side of the hotel, I was a little apprehensive. I needn’t have been, the Redwood Lounge has a much more relaxed and classier vibe and more importantly for my 31-year-old self, some incredibly comfortable leather sofas! On arrival we made our way to the bar and chose a cocktail from the new menu, I opted for a peach fume (beautifully smoky peach, not too sweet, not too dry) while the OH had a gin martini (he said it was well made and he does know about these things). We then sat ourselves down very comfortably to listen to the entertainment – a singer and guitar player. It’s always a pleasure to watch live music but even more so when you’re in a relaxed setting with a good cocktail in your hand.

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While watching the entertainment I spotted fellow blogger and ex colleague Sarah, who wrote about her experience of the night over on her blog Plain Sarah Jayne, she has a few more photos than I do as i again seem to have selected a spot with poor lighting (when will I learn), so I must admit I had to steal some of the Vermont’s own images for this post!

As part of the relaunch the management introduced the new menu, which includes a Gentleman’s afternoon tea. While I don’t strictly speaking think there’s any need for a his and hers (why should us ladies be deprived of pork pies and scotch eggs?) I thought it an impressive platter. My devotion to condiments is well documented, so I was pleased I had more than one relish, to um, relish.

IMG_7247I’ve heard good things about the Vermont’s other afternoon tea offerings, so it’s been added to the ever-extending ‘to eat’ list. I suspect we will make our way back for drinks first though – places like this with a pleasing cocktail menu and amenable seating arrangements that are a cut above are few and far between in the Toon. And though it’s not strictly a point for review, I can’t help but add the toilets are first class too. The Redwood Lounge is well positioned to accommodate more discerning drinkers, I just wish I didn’t have to climb so many stairs to reach it!