Category Archives: Holidays

ghosts in trees

Ready for Halloween

Are you ready for Halloween?  We have been ready since last year’s Halloween.  We live in a part of North London that takes Halloween seriously.

front doro

Enter if you dare!

Decorating the house is always fun.  Living in a rental flat, glue tack is my new best friend. It seems I have a massive spider infestation!

spider web decor

spider infestation

This year we are lucky enough to have a giant tree in front of our house that we can hang ghosts from.

ghosts in trees

Ghosts to welcome you!

I am only doing a limited bit of trick or treating with the children and we are having a small party at our flat.  We have had a lot of fun making the decorations and hanging them up.  There was a lot of creative use of gauze cloth, paper chains, and plastic table clothes.  We’ve carved our pumpkin, blown up balloons and filled a piñata.  This afternoon will be spent making zombie faced cupcakes and skeleton cookies.  (After all, the sugar from the candy isn’t going to be enough!).

I’m also going to do a Haunted House treasure search in our flat.  With the lights turned off and dusk so early nowadays, the flat is pretty dark.  Each twin will lead their team to find four mason jars hidden throughout the house.  I’ve got a couple of parents signed up to be the obligatory scary monsters jumping out of closets. I’m also giving each team a flashlight and one iTouch so that they can video the whole thing.  Our own version of The Blair Witch Project – I wonder how it’ll turn out!  In my experience, just the darkness and random screams of others is enough to spook children.  I’ll let you know how it goes – assuming we don’t have any child that truly goes into hysterics and we need to call the whole thing off.

Hope you have a fun Halloween!

savoury dishes

Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St. James

Anyone ready for Christmas?  Of course not – I would be worried if you were.  I am, however, always ready for a good afternoon tea. Decadence, after all, knows no season.  I was delighted, therefore, to be invited to the London Bloggers Tea  organised by Selena at Oh, The Places We Shall Go at the newly opened Conrad St. James Hotel for a preview of their Christmas Afternoon Tea.

decor

Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St. James is served at Emmeline’s Lounge named after Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading 19th century women’s right activist who was instrumental in getting women the right to vote.  Ironically, Emmeline Pankhurst like many of the suffragettes of the time would endure hunger strikes in order to get the political establishment to listen to their cause.  I expect if Emmeline Pankhurst had been offered an Emmeline’s Christmas Tea she would have been sorely tempted.

Emmeline’s has a modern, sophisticated vibe which is neither achingly hip nor stuffy traditional.  The contemporary pieces played on a harp provide a friendly ambience.

For true decadence, the afternoon tea is served in 2 courses – savoury and sweet – together with your choice of tea as well as champagne.  The savoury morsels included a brussel sprout and goat’s cheese mousse, venison pastry, turkey balloting and cranberry sauce.  Of the sandwiches, my absolute favourite was beetroot and spinach which I found surprising because usually I despise beetroot.  To top it off, there was also Christmas spiced orange and cranberry scones – yum!!

savoury dishes

I was pretty full after the savoury bites but the sweet dishes were just so tempting.  The sweets were arranged in a charming Christmas scene which came with a triangular cloche covering dusted with edible snow.  They included a winter berry Christmas tree (with a brownie tree trunk!), snowflake macaroons, a white forest yule log and, of course, more edible snow.

Christmas Scene

I loved the mini meringue snowmen who just looked silly and happy.  How could you not get into the Christmas spirit with these charming faces?!

happy snowman

Let it snow!

The Conrad St. James Christmas Tea will be served from November 24th until Christmas itself. Conveniently located right across from the St. James’ tube stop, the Conrad St. James is right near many of London’s iconic tourist destinations (Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey etc.).  If you are visiting London in December, this Christmas Afternoon Tea would be the perfect refresher after a spot of sightseeing.  Christmas Afternoon Tea is £37 (£45 with free-flowing Laurent-Perrier champagne).

Easter Message

Happy Easter!

Easter Message

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend!  I’ll be back with a new post on Wednesday!

eggs hanging from tree

Hunting for Chocolate

In the U.S., easter egg hunts are everywhere in the run-up to Easter.  The tradition starts at the top with the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn.  This year’s Easter Egg Roll is the 136th year of the event and will take place on April 21st.  Involving more than 30,000 people, tickets are highly prized.

We usually participate in at least 2 egg hunts which is great for my chocolate-obsessed children (sadly not the White House one!) .

eggs hanging from tree

eggs hanging from tree

One of the farms near my family’s home in Pennsylvania always has an Easter event with egg hunts, photos with the Easter Bunny etc.

In case candy and chocolate in plastic eggs isn’t enough of a sugar high, we get funnel cakes.  They are deep fried batter with powdered sugar on top and you get them at fairs and carnivals.

funnel cake

funnel cake

 

Nothing says American like calorie-laden, deep-fried, sugared dough! It’s so rich even the children can only take a couple of bites before they have had enough.

We always do a family egg hunt on our lawn too.  Each person is assigned a specific colour egg and then another person hides a pre-determined amount of eggs.  It’s always amusing to come up with creative ways to hide eggs!

Invariably someone can not find all their eggs and whoever hid it can’t remember where they put it.  Usually it gets found sometime in the summer when it gets caught in the lawn mower.

counting eggs

counting eggs

Egg hunts are our Easter family tradition.  They are not particularly healthy, intellectual or sophisticated.  We do have fun and that’s all that matters!  What Easter traditions do you have?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Leprechaun

Irish For A Day

We had glorious weather here in London yesterday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.  London’s Trafalgar Square celebrations are in its 13th year.  They were instituted by former Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2002.  Previously, there was only a parade.  The first such parade was in 1958 and coincided with a Mass held at Westminster Cathedral.  This year’s parade took a 1.5 mile route through Central London and passing by Trafalgar Square itself.

St. Patrick's Day Stage

The theme this year was World of Dance.  The central stage had some adorable children Irish Dancing and there was a side stage with more Irish Dancing performers.  The Riverdance troupe also performed on the main stage.

Irish Dancing

Every year over 100,000 people show up for the celebrations.  Here are photos of some of the revellers.  Surprisingly I didn’t see any green beer.  (Is that a New York St. Patricks’ Day thing?)

Also, unlike the New York celebrations I remember, there are a lot more families with children at this event.  Granted, it was still early afternoon when we went to the London celebrations but the New York Fifth Avenue Parade is a lot more crowded.

child

The stands surrounding Trafalgar Square had lots of Irish and Ireland-related products such as Irish food (black pudding, cheeses, Guinness!), sports teams and tourist information.

I wonder what the blue rooster thought of the day.  He had a perfect view of the proceedings.

rooster

St. Patrick’s Day is actually today – March 17th.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

nail polish cake

A Pyjama Party The Easy Way

There are lots of nice things about having twins (especially now that they are older!) but, birthday weekend, is not one of them.  We either have to have their parties together or back-to-back to avoid hurt feelings and accusations of favouritism.  I’m usually exhausted by the end of the weekend!

pennant decor

home made pennants

We decided that we could not have a joint party this year after last year’s fiasco when the boys and girls decided to start a food fight.  This year my son had a bowling party at a nearby bowling alley and my daughter had a pyjama party at home.

flower decor

decoration

My daughter really wanted a slumber party but we had to reach a compromise.  Mr. N was not enthusiastic about babysitting a bunch of over-excited and sugar-ridden little girls overnight.  So, we made it an afternoon pyjama party so that we didn’t have to have 9 girls around all night for an actual sleepover!

party decor

party decor

We made the pennants and a lot of the decorations were from the Christmas clearance at Graham and Green, a home store in Primrose Hill which also has a great outlet section on their website.

butterfly mask

butterfly mask

We arranged for the party guests to have manicures, temporary tattoos and hair braiding.  All very civilised – right after they played some party games and beat each other up with a pillow fight.

My daughter really wanted a smash cake after having seen them at family and friends’ parties.  Lauren, my friend who owns Smashing Cakes, made a nail polish shaped cake which was a big hit! Believe it or not, this cake is made entirely of delicious chocolate and not a piece was left over after the party!

I found these Nail Polish Party Treats while browsing Pinterest and adapted the recipe.  I used food colouring spray on giant marshmallows as instructed.  We, however, don’t have tootsie rolls readily available in London and I was also wary about sticking a toothpick in candy with overexcited little girls popping them in their mouth.  So, I just cut up some black liquorice sticks and poked a hole in the marshmallows and stuck them in.  The liquorice bottle tops probably would have stood straighter with the toothpicks.  After seeing the girls devour them, though, I’m glad I went with the safer option.

Here’s a video I made with one of the new toys that I’ve discovered in the App Store.  This app, Qwiki, makes a short video out of your still/video photos.

party bags

party bags

Overall, this party was actually pretty cheap.  My friend’s teenager and her school friends helped out with the hair and nail polish.  The decoration was pretty DIY – pennants, balloons and lots of girly stuff we had around the house.  We spent money on a beautiful smash cake but, birthday cake (and good chocolate) are dear to my heart.

If any of you have any ideas for next year’s birthday parties, I’d love to hear them!  After all, next year’s birthday always rolls around faster than you expect.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2014!

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

2014 Happy New Year Greeting Card, Zahlen, Katapult

 
thanksgiving dinner

What Are You Thankful For?

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the USA!  My favourite holiday because Thanksgiving just involves food, lots of it.  No presents, no decorating trees,  no Secret Santas etc.  Just the simple joy of overeating.

thanksgiving dinner

We celebrate Thanksgiving the traditional way with turkey and all the fixings.  I also make my children (and guests) think about what they are particularly thankful for this year.  My son had the best answer in my opinion – he is thankful for hugs and kisses – how sweet!  We’ve got plenty of hugs and kisses to go around!

As for me, I am thankful for

  • my family, of course.  I love being a mother and am grateful that I got to be one.  The road was long and difficult but we feel blessed with our two children.  We had a new baby niece born into our family who is a cutie.  Our dog is now 11 and seems to be doing well.  He’s gotten crotchety but otherwise remains the same.
  • my friends who are as ever good for a laugh or a cry, as needed.  I’ve started a new venture with one of my friends which involves travel and has us really excited.  Details to be unveiled soon I promise!
  • my blog (yes!).  I’ve met some very cool people through it, and learned loads.  I get to write about all the things that interest me – home, garden, food, travel, and shopping.  BTW, Mr. N is very happy we did not move house this year — he is thankful that my blog occupies my free time.

thanksgiving_collage

What are you thankful for?

val d'isere

Family Skiing Holidays for the Non-skiiers

I think the skiing holiday tribe can be separated into three groups – the die-hard skier, the reluctant skier and the non-skier who goes along for the company.  I am definitely in the ski-so-long-as-its-not-too-hard category.  Mr. N, however, absolutely loves skiing and he wants our children to be good skiers.  Our compromise is that I will put on an enthusiastic facade in front of the children but will sneak way after morning skiing.

Let’s check out some family ski resorts which have good lessons for the children, excellent ski areas and other activities for non-skiers and half-hearted skiers.

Val d’Isere, France

Val d’Isère is an excellent choice for skiers and non-skiers.  The town has numerous restaurants, spas and shops for the adults.  For children, there is also a town ice rink, a town pool complex and a sledding hill.  Most of the restaurants are accessible for non-skiers.

Ski Schools – Oxygene and Progression have excellent English-speaking teachers for children.  Oxygene even has a program where they will take your children to ski school in the morning and the afternoon and also provide lunch.

We have been to Val d’Isere with the children and Scott Dunn twice now.  We liked it so much we are now going back for a third time in February.  Why mess with a good thing?!

val d'isere

La Clusasz, France

The resort contains restaurants, spas, an aqua-centre with indoor and outdoor pools and an ice rink.  You can also explore the mountains by snow shoe, cross country ski or horse and carriage.  The really brave can paraglide in the mountains.

snow shoeing

In-town activities include arts and crafts classes, a cinema and a ski museum.  The weekly market sells local specialities such as sausages, cheese and liqueur.

The beautiful medieval town of Annecy is only 30 minutes away.  The non-skiers in your group can jump on a bus and go into the city to eat, shop and sight-see.

Are, Sweden

You can try snowmobiling, dog- and reindeer-sledding, snowshoeing, as well as windsurfing and ice-fishing on the lake.  It has the longest zip-line park in Europe.  You can visit a farm that breeds reindeer and moose. Other excursions include taking a trip to a frozen waterfall or ice hotel.  You can also enjoy Sweden’s famous hot tub and sauna culture.

Arebjornen has lots of wide blue trails for children.  The staff speak excellent English.

husky sled-dogs

Crested Butte, USA

Crested Butte, in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, is very child-friendly.  For young skiers, the resort has a winding kids trails in the Painter Boy area. There is also a ski-through bear cave and US Forest Service lodge,  In town, the resort’s main street Elk Avenue is charming.  There is a gold-mining building for interactive and educational play.

Fon non-skiers, there are sleigh rides, dog sleds and snow cat driving.  You can go ice fishing at Blue Mesa Reservoir and horse-back riding in the snow. The resort’s Adventure Park features a tubing hill, rock climbing, bungee trampolines and mini-golf.  There is also guided zipline tour with 5 ziplines.  There are guided backcountry snowshoe tours.  Relax at the 11000 square foot Elevation Spa.  Cultural entertainment includes a local theatre, performing arts center and children’s museum.

And, did I mention the skiing??

Breckenridge, Colorado

This former gold-mining town has lots of facilities, including a swimming pool, cinema, shops and even an art gallery.  With over 200 stores on the main street, you can shop to your hearts content.  If the altitude gets to you, there is an oxygen bar where you can have coffee and a side of oxygen.

The ski area is huge: four interconnected mountains offer a total of 2,000 skiable acres. Snow-boarders also love it for its specialist park and half-pipe.

Non-skiing activities include snow-shoeing and snow-mobiling, as well as hot-air balloon flights, dog-sled rides and gold mine visits. Compared to other North American resorts Breckenridge is pretty lively, containing a good selection of bars and over 75 restaurants.

If you’re travelling with children, you should take the charming sleigh ride through miles of snowy forest in one of the red, handcrafted sleighs belonging to Breckenridge Sleigh Rides located a little ways outside of the main town.  This area also has a fun tubing hill.

The ski school is excellent and very gentle with the children.

NB:  Some of our party had serious altitude sickness at this resort.  One child was given an oxygen tank for use in the hotel for the duration of the week by the local clinic.

Park City, Utah

This ski area is composed of Deer Valley, The Canyons, and Park City.  The terrain is good for every level of skier (including members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Olympic team, who train at Park City). The bustling Old West town is good for restaurants, galleries, and shopping. The Kimball Art Center is a gallery space and site for classes and workshops in photography, ceramics, and more.  The historic Egyptian Theatre shows local theatre. Every January, the town is inundated with visitors to Sundance. For outdoor pursuits, there’s winter fly-fishing, dogsledding, or even bobsledding on the 2002 Winter Olympic track.

Kitzbühel, Austria

Kitzbühel, located in the Austrian Tyrol region, dates back to the 14th century.   It’s origins as a medieval market town is still apparent.  For the non-skiers there are walking trails, sleigh rides and ice skating.  The Aquarena is a swimming, spa and fitness center which also has a children’s pool and 2 water slides.   Non-strenous activities include shopping, restaurants and people-watching.  It’s also close to Innsbruck and Salzburg for daytrips.

ski slope in austria

Cortina d’Empezzo, Italy

This resort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a former Olympic host city, has plenty for both skiers and non-skiers.

Bobsleigh, snowrafting, ice-climbing, zip-wiring, sleigh rides, snowshoeing, shopping, lunching and people-watching.

You can try the K-Track, a special kit that can transform any mountain bike into a snowbike. Cortina has multiple schools that teach novices how to “snowkite”, or use the K-track, during their visit.

Cortina has lots of culture, regularly scheduled sporting events and excellent restaurants.  For example, in December, visitors can experience the city’s traditional European Christmas Market, complete with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. In January, the city hosts the Nordic Skiing World Cup and the Women’s Alpine Ski World Cup.  Also in January, there is Ice Art, the International Festival of Snow Sculpture, where artists transform huge blocks of ice into sculptures.

Banff, British Columbia, Canada

Banff is excellent for skiers with three areas, Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise.

lake louise

Banff has all the infrastructure of a mountain town such as good restaurants, shopping and a cinema.  For non-skiers, you can explore the mountains by ice-walking, snow-shoeing or hiking trails.  An easier alternative would be a gondola ride.  You know which one I’d pick!

You can take a wildlife safari to see elk, wolves, coyote and the occasional cougar in Banff National Park. Or, just relax and soak in the natural hot springs.  Calgary is just 90 minutes away by car if you miss the big city.

coyote in the snow

Hope you have gotten some good ideas for skiing for the family!

golf course cake

Smashing Cakes

Have you heard of smash cakes?  They are hollow chocolate cakes that you smash with a hammer and the inside contains further goodies, such as small chocolates, gifts or toys.  It’s effectively a pinata cake.

Smash cakes have grown quite popular in the United States for first birthday parties in the last year. Instead of the hollow chocolate cakes, they are just small cakes served to the child for them alone.  I used large cupcakes for my children.

 

The child can do what they want with the cake – it’s all good!  Usually it’s their first taste of cake and they can’t believe their luck.  My children were close to ecstasy with their first birthday cake.  Needless to say, everyone else got served from another cake that didn’t have large finger holes and the icing licked off!

pinterest

photo: pinterest

I personally think smash cakes are better appreciated by older children and adults.  So much more fun than just cutting a slice of cake.

For my mother-in-law’s birthday, we ordered a  smash cake for her.  My friend, Lauren at Smashing Cakes makes smash cakes in chocolate for parties.  She comes from a family of South African chocolatiers and I’ve got to say the chocolate was delicious.  We ordered the smash cake in the shape of a golf course since my in-laws are into their golf.  The inside contained more chocolates and a small jewellery box containing a ring from the grandchildren.

 

smashcake (Enhanced) from Shobha George on Vimeo.

As you can see, the smash cake itself was very pretty and my mother-in-law was a bit reluctant to break it into pieces.  She got into the swing of it pretty quickly though!

golf course cake

Smashing Cakes does lots of other types of cakes, as shown below and on their website.

We finished off the chocolate pieces of the cake during the course of the weekend.  Unlike other cakes we had, we didn’t have lots of left over cake that just got thrown away.

Smashing Cakes only delivers smash cakes around North London.  They are too fragile to send via courier or postal service elsewhere. Your cake might wound up smashed before the celebration even began!

The cake was such a success that my children both want smash cakes for their birthday.