Monday, September 25, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 39

I've been absolutely exhausted again this past week, falling asleep in the evenings and getting very little done after work - you may have noticed I'm blogging a lot less these days, and it's not because I'm spending the time instead preparing for the baby - I'm generally asleep!

I haven't had - or wanted to have - a social life for several weeks now though I do really want to see my friends, so I'm glad that I'm finally getting together with one of my bridesmaids this week. Though our night out was postponed from last week which means I've actually got plans for three evenings out of five this week,  - I don't know how I'm going to manage and how tired I will be by the last one, which is a big one - a national awards ceremony at the Dorchester Hotel in London's Park Lane, where my team at work is shortlisted for two awards! And I'm the one representing us at the awards so had better stay awake.....

On top of that we are away at the weekend as well for my dad's birthday - at least it means I won't have to do a lot of cooking this week! So here's this week's meal plan:

NB I keep not having what I planned for breakfast as I tend to not make it the night before and just grab a pot of cereal to eat at my desk... if I have more time I need to remember I also have yogurt, fruit and porridge!
As I'm out a lot this week I'm not going to plan anything special for lunches either and will probably just make a sandwich quickly.

Monday
out with friends

Tuesday - working from home as I have an ante-natal appointment
 chicken schnitzel with katsu spices (from Waitrose) with creamy pasta

Wednesday
 frozen pizza - needs to be quick so we can get to the AGM of our residents' association

Thursday
fishcake for me, chicken kiev or similar for him

Friday
 At the Institute of Internal Communications awards at the Dorchester - where my team is shortlisted for two awards

Saturday
Breakfast probably having a lie-in!
Lunch bacon/sausage sandwich
Dinner with my family

Sunday
Breakfast With my family
Lunch With my family
Dinner Something easy from the freezer

Share your meal plan - join in the blog hop!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Christmas Cookie Recipe Christmas Cards

I went into my craft room (aka the spare bedroom) earlier today to quickly make a 'new home' card for my brother-in-law and his family, and got rather side-tracked and ended up making a dozen Christmas cards - and not actually making the new home card at all!
I came across some free printables I'd downloaded and printed out a long time (I think literally a couple of years) ago. Each sheet had three tall thin rectangles containing a recipe for Christmas cookies - I really like baking so I thought this would be a great thing to put on Christmas cards. They would work on the front, back or even inside cards!
I had some tall thin card blanks that were just the right size so I decided to put these on the front of the cards for a slightly more unusual - and hopefully useful - Christmas card.


The recipes were the right width but shorter than the height of the card so I had a gap at the top and bottom. As the recipes had red borders, I cut out strips from a small piece of Christmas wrapping paper I'd put in my card making stash and stuck that along the top and the bottom. Finally I used small die cut greetings on either the top or the bottom of each card.

I will have to think carefully about who to send these cards to and pick people who I think might actually bake the cookies!
 
I'm sharing this with DK Kard Kreations for a 'never been used before' theme as I've had a few of these sheets in my Christmas card box for ages and never used them.
I'm also sending it to Christmas Card Challenges and Crafty Hazelnut's Christmas Challenge where the theme is 'anything goes as long as it's Christmas'.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Caramel Cupcakes with a Hidden Centre


 I’m a bit of a mad cat lady (and proud) even though I only have one cat. So when I saw the local cat rescue was having an open day, I definitely wanted to go. It’s a private rescue run by one amazing lady out of her house – she finds fosterers and new homes for rescued kitties and also keeps several herself, including ones who are too traumatised to be rehomed elsewhere after they are rescued. The first time I went there, for a bric-a-brac sale she was doing to raise money, she told me she had 11 cats currently living there!
 
This time, as well as stalls selling everything from cat toys to CDs, a raffle and tombola and various cats wandering around, there were refreshments and I’d offered to bring some cakes. I really wanted to decorate cupcakes to look like cats, along the lines of the ones in Hello, Cupcake, but just knew I wouldn’t have time for fiddling around.
 
I decided instead to make something I thought would have mass appeal – and have the added benefit of using up an open tin of Carnation caramel in the fridge. Caramel cupcakes are easy and always popular, especially when they had a hidden centre.
 
I used a simple, fairly basic cupcake recipe for the cake itself, using brown sugar as well as caster sugar to give a more caramel flavour, but to let the caramel flavour really be driven by the hidden centre and the icing. Here’s what I did
 
Caramel cupcakes – an original recipe by Caroline Makes
 
For the cupcakes (makes about 12)
150g butter or margarine, softened
75g caster sugar
75g light brown sugar
2 eggs
150g self-raising flour
 
For the filling:
397g tin Carnation Caramel
 
For the buttercream:
The rest of the Carnation Caramel
150g butter or marg, softened
300g icing sugar
 
Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

 
 
Cream the butter and both the sugars then beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour, and spoon into the cupcake cases.
 
Bake the cupcakes in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and spongy to the touch, but test with a skewer to make sure they are not raw in the middle.


 

 
Allow the cupcakes to cool, first in the tin then on a baking rack.
 
 
When the cakes have cooled, use a teaspoon to remove a small piece from the centre of each cupcake, setting the piece you have removed to one side. Place half a teaspoon (or more depending on the size of the hole you have made) of Carnation Caramel into the hole in the cupcake and replace the piece you have removed on top. It won’t sit flat and will be slightly higher than the top of the cake.

 
To make the buttercream, sift the icing sugar over the butter or marg and gently cream together. Add a few spoonfuls of the Carnation Caramel to taste, making sure the buttercream doesn’t become runny as you will need to be able to pipe it.
 
Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle or your favourite nozzle, fill with buttercream and pipe swirls onto the top of each cupcake. I decorated mine with silver chocolate balls though in retrospect they would have looked better with gold!

 
Either way they seemed to go down well at the cat rescue open day, and I came home with a box of notelets I’d bought, a teddy bear I’d won in a teddy tombola (where every ticket won a cuddly toy) and a Wet Wet Wet CD from 1992 I won in another tombola!

I'm sharing these with Treat Petite, hosted by Kat the Baking Explorer.
 
 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Naked Dough Cookie Dough, Old Street, London

 
When I was a bit younger I often used to drag my husband to new and unusual places in London, like a pop-up ice rink at Christmas, or the ice bar, where you are given furry capes to wear and drink from glasses made of ice. We haven’t done that sort of thing in ages as we are more likely to just go out to dinner or the cinema these days, but when I read about a pop-up cookie dough café I really wanted to try it.
 
My husband loves that sort of thing and it wasn’t far from where we both work, within the underpass at Old Street tube station. Called Naked Dough, the pop-up has now been extended until the end of 2017 and it’s well worth a visit if you are in the area – be aware though that if you are coming here just for this, it’s basically a takeaway dessert place.
 
 
 
 

Naked Dough serves raw cookie dough, but crucially it’s made without eggs so there is no risk of salmonella from eating it raw. They also have a vegan version which sounds really nice – cookie monster, stuffed with Oreos. You can have your dough in a cone or tub, and eat in or take away – and even take it home and keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks (if you can manage not to eat it for that long!).

Their flavours include Cookie Monster (Oreos),  Unicorn Food (marshmallows and sprinkles) and Nak-Ed Sheeran (salted caramel and honeycomb) plus more. You can combine flavours so my husband had Cookie Monster and I had the other two I just mentioned.


Yes, it's tooth-achingly sweet and after eating a tub I wished I'd been sharing it with someone else - I don't think we ended up having any dinner that night - but it was really good. Like when you're baking cookies and want to eat all the raw dough, but know you shouldn't - only better! I'd love to know the recipe and how they get the taste and texture just right - and it's made me want to experiment with cookies if not cookie dough. Salted caramel and honeycomb sounds pretty good to me whether it's baked or raw!

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 38

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Restaurant review: The Lamb at Hindon, Wiltshire

As part of our wedding anniversary weekend in Wiltshire, I'd booked dinner on the Sunday night at a country pub. I used Trip Advisor to find a few in the vicinity of our hotel and then looked at websites to check menus – some pubs will only do a roast dinner on a Sunday, which would be perfect for me, but not so good for my husband!
 
I chose the Lamb at Hindon which turned out to be a great choice. Hindon is a small village with the Lamb at one end; we drove straight past it before we realised, continued through the village thinking we would find somewhere to park but all the spaces were full, so turned around and managed to get a space in the Lamb’s own car park as someone was leaving! We realised later the pub actually has two car parks on either side of the road, but my husband didn’t fancy trying to manoeuvre his Aston Martin into the smaller one immediately adjacent to the pub.
 
What we originally thought was a park across the road from the pub is actually their pub gardens, with wooden tables where you can drink or even eat – we saw staff carrying food from the pub across the road. It was a lovely evening in June and we were tempted to sit outside but there wasn’t much space and we thought we would be more comfortable inside.

 
 
Despite the sunny evening I really fancied a roast dinner, so that’s what I had! The Lamb is a Young’s pub so I was expecting the food to be good quality; there was also plenty on the menu for my husband. It was a shame we couldn’t have the ‘cote du boeuf’ menu – you get beef with roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, greens, cauliflower cheese and gravy, or beef with triple cooked chips, tomatoes, mushrooms and a peppercorn sauce. Along with a sharing board starter (either meat or seafood) and a cheeseboard to finish, the menu has to be pre-ordered for a menu of six people.
 
So instead I had the roast 21-day aged Aberdeen Angus rump beef with a giant Yorkshire pudding and veg, which was really good; we were too full for dessert.
 
 
I was a little amused when the cocktail I ordered came in a sort of carved tiki cup – it seemed rather out of place in a Wiltshire village, particularly a pub that offers a specific ‘shoot lunch menu’, presumably to follow a morning of grouse shooting!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 37

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: The Beckford Arms, Fonthill Gifford - Take 2


I reviewed the Beckford Arms  last year and don't normally review the same place twice but I had a unique experience last time as I stayed there the night before and the night of my wedding. My husband and I went back for our first anniversary and had a much more normal experience so I thought I'd share.

We had booked a two night stay in the same lodge as last year, which is away from the main building - about a 5 minute drive or 15 minute walk. It was great having exactly the same accommodation though of course my husband didn't see much of it last time as he stayed elsewhere before our wedding at the Larmer Tree Gardens and we got back very late on our wedding night and had to leave early the next morning.


The décor in the lodge hadn't changed at all and it was lovely seeing it differently - last time it was full of people and I was remembering the make up lady was there, our dresses were hanging there, and I got ready and came downstairs.... this time it was just the two of us and we made ourselves right at home, sitting outside for a while in the sunshine - it didn't appear as if there was anyone in the other lodge when we arrived, though the next morning their car was parked right across the front of the lodge, totally spoiling the view, and not in the parking area around the side!

 
We'd booked dinner in the Beckford Arms that night and since it was such a sunny day (late June) they had tables on the terrace as well as in the garden and a barbecue in the top part of the garden. We didn't fancy the barbecue as there were so many other tempting things on the menu; I had a whole grilled fish with potatoes, broccoli and watercress, accompanied by a glass of rose wine, which was delicious. To follow, I had what I think was peanut butter cheesecake - unfortunately I didn't write down at the time what it was and have already forgotten!



You have the option of having breakfast items provided to cook in your lodge or eating in the main hotel; since we were staying two nights we decided to do both. On the first morning, our wedding anniversary, we didn't want to go out right away so I cooked the sausages and bacon (we left the mushrooms, tomato and black pudding), cut up the fresh loaf of bread and poured the orange juice for a lovely home cooked breakfast.



The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel and I ordered Nutella pancakes. The pancakes were light and fluffy but only had a thin coating of Nutella spread between them - I would have liked more chocolate!

We had a lovely stay and it was fun finding our message in the guest book from last year where I'd written we had stayed here for our wedding night and were already thinking of coming back for our first anniversary - and to be able to add a new message saying that we did!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

American MidWest Chocolate Cream Pie


My parents came to stay over the bank holiday weekend which was perfect timing for my husband and I to share our news in person. We had my husband's parents over for lunch and told them all at the same time; for that reason I didn't want to be cooking anything where I would have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen!

I made enchiladas for lunch which I was able to prepare that morning then just put in the oven, and my mum and I made dessert the night before.

My husband loves all things chocolate, and doesn't particularly like many other kinds of dessert, so I simply googled chocolate desserts, and came across a website of Mid-West American desserts. My mother in law is a frequent visitor to the US and loves the South, so I thought she might enjoy a dessert from the Mid-West - particularly this one!

It's a chocolate cream pie with a chocolate crust, a custardy chocolate filling and cream on top. The recipe is here on MidWestLiving.com.


I would say this was easy to make but really I have to say it looked easy to make, as my mum did most of it! She made the crust, rolled it out and put it in the tin; you part bake it lined with foil, then remove the foil and finish baking.


The filling takes a bit more effort - you have to be careful not to boil the milk, whisk together the other ingredients and mix it with some of the milk then the rest of the milk. You need to have your chocolate and butter ready to pour the hot mixture over the top and then time it while you stir.

 
After that it's pretty simple -pour the filling into the pie crust and refrigerate overnight. To serve, top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of chocolate - I was going to grate some chocolate but forgot in all the excitement of our baby news and ended up serving this as it was!



 
I'm sharing this with the We Should Cocoa chocolate baking blog challenge hosted by Choclette at Tin and Thyme and with CookBlogShare hosted by Everyday Healthy Recipes.




Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Something else I made....

This blog is all about things I've made - food, drink, cake, crafts - so here is something else I've made that I want to share with you all....


My husband and I are having a baby! He or she is due in March - one reason I haven't been blogging much lately is because I've been exhausted, falling asleep after dinner and even having naps during the day sometimes. Apparently you do get very tired in the first trimester and then get a lot more energy in the next three months, I hope so!

So you can expect to see more blog posts around eating healthily in pregnancy, and cooking food for babies (though that will be some way off!) and possibly even some baby related product reviews - but I'm still going to be blogging about eating out, recipes and cake decorating!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

London to Brighton Rally and the Codfather, Brighton

My husband and I took part in the London to Brighton rally for the second time this year - the classic car rally is probably more famous but there is also a version for sports cars and kit cars. For the uninitiated a kit car is one where people assemble a vehicle from components - they often resemble other more expensive cars.

We had lovely weather for it, unlike last time, and also managed not to get lost, unlike last time. You don't end up driving in a convoy - occasionally there are a couple of other cars on the rally in front or behind but for most of the journey it was just us enjoying each other's company and the pretty route we drove through.

We stopped at the Rural Life Centre near Farnham in Surrey - they always plan a sightseeing stop on the route of the rally though I think the previous time's visit to Saint Hill Manor, the former home of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard - which is apparently now owned by Tom Cruise! That was fascinating and much more interesting than seeing some old farm equipment, but never mind.

Finishing the rally in Brighton we met up with a friend but first needed to get something to eat for lunch. We were hungry and didn't want to venture far from where the cars were all parked up on display, and as it was a lovely sunny day, why would we want to go anywhere other than the seafront, and eat anything other than fish and chips?

 
The Codfather was nearby, not too busy and had an amusing name and lots of appealing dishes on the menu. My husband had burger and chips and while I was tempted by fish (in batter, that is) I really fancied something else on the menu - a salad with prawns and smoked salmon. I wasn't sure how filling it would be so had a plate of sweet potato fries on the side, which turned out to be quite large. It was delicious - surprisingly good actually for what looked like a cheap and cheerful seafront café.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 36

I was away on holiday last week - five days in Majorca with two friends which was nice and relaxing though quite cloudy weather so not as hot as I was expecting! I got back in the early hours of Sunday morning and was so tired on Sunday I ended up not going to the shops and only doing my meal plan in the evening! Still I've put a bit of effort into planning healthy meals for the coming week.

snacks this week
houmous and carrot sticks
fruit
nuts
crackers with soft cheese
cheese

Monday
Breakfast yogurt
Lunch nothing in the house after holiday so will have to get something at work
Dinner spaghetti carbonara

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt and fruit with scotch pancakes
Lunch carrot and coriander soup with cheese and crackers
Dinner salmon with broccoli and sweet potato mash

Wednesday - working from home
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple puree
Lunch sardines on toast
Dinner slow cooker chicken risotto for me, chicken chargrills and mashed potato for him

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt and fruit with scotch pancakes
Lunch leftover chicken risotto
Dinner apple and lamb mince with cous cous

Friday
Breakfast yogurt and fruit with scotch pancakes
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner burger and chips

Saturday
Breakfast crumpet with peanut butter
Lunch sardines on toast for me, beans on toast for him
Dinner chicken korma and rice

Sunday
Breakfast porridge with cinnamon and apple puree
Lunch bacon sandwich for him, either sausage sandwich or cheese on toast for me
Dinner roast chicken

Join in the blog hop!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Scrabble Letter Cookie Cutters and Biscuits

 
These scrabble cookie cutters are a fun way to send a message to a loved one or decorate a cake. I got a set for my birthday this year – they come in a sturdy metal tin and are the same size as actual scrabble letters. Made of plastic, they let you cut out a square of dough with one side, then turn the cutter over and use the letter to imprint in the dough.
 

Since you use these to stamp the letters and don’t actually use the letters in the oven to shape the cookies, it means you can make as many of the same letter as you like, and bake them all at once.
 
You could also use these to stamp letters into fondant but personally I’d prefer to do that with standard letters rather than ones with scrabble numbers on them, unless the cake was specifically for someone who liked scrabble.
 
 
As cookies though, these are really fun – I baked some for a friend’s birthday (actually the same friend who had given me the kit) and jumbled up the letters into a box and got her to work out what the message spelled. It didn’t take her long to figure out it said Happy Birthday and her name!
 
A standard sugar cookie recipe is probably best for this, which you could also flavour with something like lemon, but to mimic scrabble letters you want the cookies to be quite pale. I actually used a vegan recipe I found online as I knew a vegan friend would be there as well and I wanted her to be able to eat them too but as we’d actually been out for afternoon tea, these cookies didn’t get eaten until another time!
 
These are available for sale on loads of websites including Amazon.
 
 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 34

Monday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch vegetable soup and wholemeal roll
Dinner chicken pie and mashed potato for him, harissa-spiced mackerel with cumin potato hash for me

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner peppered beef grillsteak, chips and beans for him; rest of mackerel for me (I have to defrost two pieces at once)

Wednesday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch chicken soup and a wholemeal roll
Dinner out - going to a sci-fi exhibition at the Barbican

Thursday
Breakfast porridge
Lunch tuna sandwich
Dinner chicken chargrills and mashed potato for him, lamb grillsteak and roast potatoes for me - or butternut squash enchiladas

Friday
Breakfast yogurt or porridge if time
Lunch  sandwich
Dinner my parents will be here - my husband has requested burgers and chips

Saturday
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch out
Dinner roast chicken portions as I've got several to use up in the freezer, with roast potatoes or chips if there's not enough time for roast potatoes, depending on when we get home. Dessert is something I've had in the freezer for a while.

Sunday
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch with the in-laws so cooking for six people, one of whom is vegetarian: chicken/ butternut squash enchiladas and potato wedges. For dessert I will make chocolate cream pie.
Dinner as we will have had a big meal at lunch, I will do a light dinner of toasted cheese sandwiches and/or crumpets

Monday - including in this week's meal plan as it's a bank holiday and my parents are still here
Breakfast toast or yogurt
Lunch - relatively early as we are then going out: full English or equivalent (eg sausage, bacon, hash browns, eggs etc) or sausage/bacon sandwich if preferred
Dinner - something fairly quick as we won't be back home til late afternoon: I'm thinking I will buy a big tray of lasagne and if my husband wants he can have carbonara as he never wants the same thing as me!

Join in the blog hop!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

D'lish Donut Shopkins Birthday Cake


Do you know what Shopkins are? If you have children then you might… if like me you are yet to become a parent then you can be excused for having absolutely no idea!
 
I’ve written before about the fantastic charity Free Cakes for Kids – I made a Rapunzel cake for a girl staying with her mum at a women’s shelter who otherwise wouldn’t have had a birthday cake.
 
Another request came through from the same group that I decided to volunteer for, for a child who would like a Shopkins cake, even though I didn’t know what that was. Shopkins turned out to be a collection of characters based on items you find in the supermarket – everything from cakes to fruit to a loaf of bread, bottle of bubble bath and even clothes and shoes. They have names like Suzie Sundaw, Mandy Candy and Angie Ankle Boot.
 
I browsed the website for a while until I was able to find a character I thought I could easily incorporate into a cake and remembered I had a giant doughnut cake mould I bought in the sale ages ago and had never used. There is a Shopkins character called D’lish Donut that looks like a pink iced ring doughnut with sprinkles (and of course arms, legs and a face) which I thought would be perfect.

 
The mould comes in two pieces - simply grease them and fill with cake mix.

 
I used a standard Victoria sponge cake recipe for this cake – as it was for a child, I wanted to avoid strong flavours or making it too rich and thought that the icing would be sugary enough!
 
 
 
 I filled the cake with jam and buttercream – the cake mould worked perfectly, turning out the bake cake into a perfect ring doughnut shape.
 
 
 
It wasn’t too hard to decorate – I decided water icing with pink food colouring might be too runny and not look very neat so I coloured some white roll-out fondant, cut it into a  circle large enough to go over the cake and cut a space in the middle. The arms and legs are also made of fondant, and I used some tiny plunger cutters to cut out diamonds from pink, blue and yellow fondant, and stuck them with a dab of water on top to look like sprinkles.
 
The eyes took a couple of attempts and my husband actually ended up helping with these! We made four circles of diminishing size in white, blue, black and white, and layered them to make the eyes. I then used black fondant to make a nose and some eyelashes and pink fondant for the mouth.
 
 
I put the cake onto a silver board and at the last minute decided to spell out the little girl’s name with leftover icing. I had a lovely email afterwards from the charity co-ordinator saying she had been really pleased with her cake – it was fun for me to make a cake for a child and to copy a cartoon character as I don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that (my neice is 8 months old so too young for cake) – and of course I was able to do something good and help a charity that hopefully made a difference and helped that little girl have a happy birthday.
 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Houghton Lodge and Gardens, Stockbridge, Hampshire

On a sunny day Houghton Lodge and Gardens in Stockbridge, Hampshire, is a beautiful place for afternoon tea, a wedding reception or simply a stroll around the gardens. It has an orangery, a manor house, various sections of gardens, a river running through the bottom and – this is the best part – a field with alpacas.
 

 

My husband and I considered Houghton Lodge as a wedding venue as it was in the right area and we were quite taken by the idea of the above – a former work colleague of mine got married in the church in the village and had his reception at Houghton Lodge in a marquee by the river and the photos looked lovely.
 
 
 
However, when we came to look around the venue and ask questions, we were rather underwhelmed about actually having it for our wedding. The orangery by the entrance and the attached conservatory looked to me like a garden centre café – albeit a nice one. As we didn’t want to get married in church, the only option for enough guests at Houghton Lodge was to hold the ceremony itself in the orangery, a long rectangular room that forms an L-shape with the conservatory.
 
What put me off was that we were told if we did this and hired the orangery for the ceremony, the conservatory would remain open to the public as the owners didn’t want to close the entire place for a wedding. That meant there would be complete strangers sitting literally just behind our guests watching our wedding which I thought was very strange! Admittedly this was nearly two years ago and perhaps things have changed so if you are considering getting married here then you should get in touch with the wedding coordinator and find out what they can offer.
 
 
The reason I mention this, though, despite it being two years ago is that I went back a couple of months ago for a friend’s birthday. She had chosen Houghton Lodge for afternoon tea, having never been here before and not realising I’d considered it as a wedding venue- I was looking forward to visiting and seeing the alpacas again.
 
As my husband and I arrived, I joked to him that we might find that there was a wedding happening while we had our afternoon tea – and there was! As we paid for entry to the gardens, the lady on the till told us there was a wedding party arriving in an hour and that part of the gardens would be shut but we could still access the rest of the grounds. It was actually a wedding reception so they wouldn’t be having a ceremony here and we had a table in the orangery set up for us to have afternoon tea, so I didn’t think we would be in the way.
 
I had a quick look around the top part of the gardens, which I think is the walled kitchen gardens, then went to sit inside and waited for my friends. There was a door from the orangery directly into the garden so I figured when they arrived we would go outside and enjoy the grounds.
 
I also tried out my macro lens after doing a macro photography lesson recently.
 
 
 
 
However, when the wedding party arrived this door was locked, meaning we had to stay in the orangery (watching the bride through the windows which must have been a little odd for her) and then if we wanted to go out, walk around the outside and down into the other gardens, which in my opinion aren’t anywhere near as pretty. In fact we headed towards the river and saw a marquee being set up for the reception and thought perhaps we shouldn’t walk through that part either, so went the other way and down to the alpacas instead. 
 
 
 
By the time some of my friends arrived the wedding party was already here, meaning they paid full price for entrance to the gardens on arrival only to find they couldn’t actually go into all of the gardens. It was also surprising that the cost of afternoon tea didn’t include entry into the gardens and we’d had to pay for that separately.
 
 
The afternoon tea itself was nice though nothing that special, and my friend had pre-ordered a vegan afternoon tea for one of our party which the caterers had completely forgotten about, and the only vegan item on the menu they could offer her was a vegetable soup.
 
 
We had a selection of sandwiches that were nice but fairly basic – ham, cucumber, cheese and smoked salmon followed by scones with cream and jam, and two or three types of cake – what I think was a lemon and pistachio savarin (a small ring-shaped cake) with icing, mini Victoria sponges and I think something else I can’t remember. I was a little underwhelmed, I suppose having had some amazing afternoon teas before, but it was nice enough (aside from the lack of promised vegan option).
 
 
 
 
 
You can spend quite a lot of time here exploring the gardens and walking by the riverside, and there are things to look out for around the gardens that would be fun for children (such as a dragon and a topiary peacock) but in my opinion it was a shame both for visitors that they can be charged admission then told parts of the garden are closed for a wedding, and also for the wedding party who have to put up with random members of the public walking around and watching them. Some people wouldn’t mind that as you can’t always expect exclusive hire of your wedding venue especially if you are in a hotel but given the size of the gardens I am surprised that they don’t just close them to the public, or at the very least warn people when they book afternoon tea that there is also a wedding booked.