Thursday 27 February 2014

12 Month Baking Challenge: February - Hot Water Pastry Gala Pie

So - for February's challenge I decided to make a Gala Pie using hot water crust pastry - I've been desperate to try making this pastry for ages, and last weekend when visiting our favourite local farm shop to buy sausages (the best sausages you've ever eaten!) I was inspired to try this new bake. 

Summerhill is a local farm shop we use in Cardington, Bedfordshire - we discovered this shop around 3 months ago when out and about on a family day out. I love a good farm shop, and like to support local food producers and when I saw that their sausages had won multiple awards I thought we'd give them a go. We've never looked back and now drive especially to stock up the fridge and freezer with their scrummy sausages. 

Summerhill Farm Shop, Cardington, Bedfordshire

Beautiful fresh produce right on our doorstep

Double award winning sausages & Our free pork pie

In January Summerhill gave out vouchers to claim a free pork pie when you shop with them in February - so when we went last weekend we redeemed our voucher, and had a pork pie picnic on a country walk around Willen Lake in Milton Keynes. The pork pie was amazing - beautifully spiced and seasoned, with crispy rich pastry - and while eating it I thought how much I wanted to try making my own pork pie. 

yummy pork pie picnic at Willen Lake

So I bought loads of sausages: some for dinners, and 3 big fat sausages (300g) for my gala pie. I originally saw this recipe on Paul Hollywod's Pies & Puds TV series, and it appealed to me as although using hot water crust pastry you don't have to funnel jelly into your pie - which makes the process so much easier than a conventional jellied pie. This is a great first time recipe for someone who has never worked with hot water crust pastry or made a pork pie before. 

This week my lovely mum and auntie came to stay with us for a few days - so I took the opportunity of having guests to help us eat it, and someone to watch Bert while I spend a couple of hours in the kitchen, and I got on with the new baking challenge. 

Bert with his lovely (Great!) Auntie Sandra (left) and Nanny Seaside (right) - the perfect babysitters while mummy bakes yummies in the kitchen! :-)

I found the recipe for the pie here on the BBC website

Raised Pork and Egg (Gala) Pie

For the filling
  • 300g/10½oz good-quality sausages, such as Lincolnshire, skins removed
  • 300g/10½oz pork mince
  • 150g/5½oz cooked ham hock, cut into roughly 1.5cm/½in pieces
  • 2 banana shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
  • salt and white pepper
For the hot water crust pastry
  • 450g/1lb plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 100g/3½oz strong white flour
  • 75g/2½oz unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1cm/½in cubes
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 100g/3½oz lard, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 free-range egg yolk, beaten

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Grease a 1kg/2lb 4oz loaf tin (measuring about 10x20cm/4x8in across the base) with lard, then cut one long strip of baking parchment, the width of the tin, and place it in the tin so that there’s an overhang of parchment at each end, which will help you remove the pie later.
  2. First make the filling. Put all the ingredients, except the hard-boiled eggs, into a large bowl and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Mix together thoroughly using your hands. Cook a little nugget of the mixture in a frying pan and taste it to check the seasoning. Add more seasoning, as necessary, to the remaining filling. Put the mixture in the fridge while you make the pastry.
  3. To make the pastry, combine the flours in a bowl, add the butter and rub in lightly with your fingertips. Heat 200ml/7fl oz water, the salt and lard in a saucepan until just boiling. Pour the mixture onto the flour and mix together with a spoon. Once cool enough to handle, tip onto a floured surface and knead into a smooth dough.
  4. Working as quickly as you can (the pastry will become more crumbly as it cools), roll out two-thirds of the pastry and use it to line the prepared tin, leaving any excess hanging over the edges.
  5. Press half of the meat filling into the pastry-lined tin. Take a thin slice off the top and bottom of each boiled egg (this helps them sit next to each other and makes slicing the pie easier), then place the eggs lengthways down the middle of the pie. Add the remaining meat filling and pat it down.

  6. Brush the overhanging pastry edge with egg yolk. Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid and place over the pie. Pinch the pastry edges together to seal and trim the edges neatly. Make three steam holes in the top of the pie and brush with more egg yolk.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and bake for a further hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
  8. To remove the pie, turn the tin on its side and use the parchment paper to slide out the pie. Serve in thick slices.

    my pie before I filled it with the rest of the pork filling 

    the gala pie fresh out of the oven

    a nice generous slice of pie! It looks very pink because of the ham - but had been cooked for 1 hour 30 minutes and was well and truly cooked through! 

    Our 'nursery' dinner - Homemade Gala Pie served with wedges (made with our Tefal Actifry), and beans. 

    The leftovers! On the recipe it says that the pie serves 8 people - but we made it serve 7 so as we could eat a generous slices as a lovely treat! 

    You really don't want to know the calories - but I'll tell you anyway...please keep in mind that this is a treat food, and not something you would eat every week!

    Per slice (if pie serves 8) 593 calories. 

    It is truly worth every single naughty calorie and is a really lovely enjoyable bake! I would definitely make hot water crust pastry again - in fact I will be looking out for some recipes using this pastry now as it was fun and quite simple to make. If anyone has any great recipes using this pastry please give me a shout :-) 

    I hope you all have a lovely weekend planned-we're nearly there… 

    Hubby and I are off to Brighton for the weekend for some more grown up time - we're claiming our second competition prize with Thistle Hotels - I can't wait! Watch this space for a blog post all about it! 

    Happy baking for those of you who hit the kitchen this weekend and I'll look forward to sharing March's baking challenge with you next month! 

    Bye for now! 

    Mrs B


Monday 24 February 2014

A Modern Parenting Problem...

For those of my readers who aren’t parents I’m sorry for this parent-focussed rant – I’m sure everyone with or without children can relate however, and I’d truly love to hear any feedback and your points of view.

I am a new mummy to Bert who is now 6 months old – the last 6 months have been absolutely amazing – the best months of my life – but also incredibly hard – as anyone whose ever been responsible most of the time for a baby will tell you: parenting is hard work.

I’m incredibly lucky that I have a strong network of support around me – my wonderful husband, parents, in laws and lots of fellow mummy friends who all live reasonably locally. I know I can call on them for help and advice, and I regularly do. Without that network of support I would have found being a new mum completely over-whelming, and would no doubt be cowering in a dark room right now. They have all individually given me really useful advice, taken Bert off my hands for an hour so I can get things done, or go out for some ‘me’ time, and have offered a listening ear when I’ve been over-whelmed or concerned about a parenting-related issue. They haven’t judged me for asking for help, they haven’t laughed at my questions, or pointed any accusing fingers – they have just quietly supported and encouraged me. And six months into this parenting malarkey I feel happy, confident and content in my role as Mum, largely because of them.

What has shocked me in this new journey I’m on is the flip side of all the support I’ve been given: unfortunately I have also played witness to some incredibly harsh and unsupportive behaviour.

The first strand in this bow is what I like to call Comparative Parenting – those parents who just LOVE to compare their friend’s child to their own. “Oh your baby isn’t sitting up yet? Mine did that MONTHS ago!” Those sorts of comparisons are largely unhelpful and only fuel a parent’s angst and paranoia – is my baby abnormal? Am I doing something wrong? I am lucky that my career history is in childcare and teaching – I am confident enough to know when I should or shouldn’t worry about my son’s development – but there are lots of parents out there without that experience who will largely base their knowledge on what their friends and acquaintances tell them. In my opinion pointing that “my baby is better than your baby” finger is just damaging and petty – trust me when I say that EVERY SINGLE baby is different and will develop at its own rate. Some will walk really early, some won’t say a word until they’re 2, others will sleep through from day one, and some might not sleep through until their first birthday or beyond. Children are so vastly different that there is really little point in comparing them – if you ask any parent with more than one child they’ll tell you how remarkably different each baby has been compared to the other.

The Comparative Parenting doesn’t just stop at a baby’s development though – oh no – it spans into equipment and toys too! I have a friend who has recently experienced this first hand while shopping in a well-known department store. Happily pushing her newborn son out of a lift in his pushchair she was faced with another mother and pram waiting to enter the lift – the mother looks her pushchair up and down and says “oh, you have that buggy: that was our budget option” cue wide open mouth from my friend in shock, as the woman wheels her buggy away into the lift. Strike me down – I was so appalled at this rude woman’s audacity – who was she to comment on what pushchair my friend did or did not choose to buy for her baby? Let alone to make a sniping comment about the cost! Why must it be a competition? Are some mother’s so insecure that they think good parenting is all about how much money you spend on a pushchair?

My gripe with some fellow parents doesn’t end there unfortunately. My next complaint stems from my online experience through my blog and social media profiles; and the reactions I have encountered from some parents. Unlike the real everyday world where people interact face to face and (hopefully!) think before they speak, I have found that the internet/blogging world can be entirely different. Let me say now that this rant is not about the majority of people I have encountered through the blogging/internet world, but a small minority who are ruining it for the rest of us. People are braver on the internet, without that face-to-face interaction I have found some parents to be rude, harsh, and incredibly judgmental about my parenting choices.

I recently wrote a post on my blog in association with Pampers about using reliable nappies so that your baby has a comfortable night’s sleep without needing a nappy change. The post aimed to give parents some gentle advice on how to encourage your baby to sleep well and settle at night. I conveyed some general advice from a baby sleep expert called Jo Tantum, who has worked in the field for many years and has lots of great common-sensical tips for new parents. The advice wasn’t radical; it was your run-of-the-mill kind of stuff – make sure they’re well fed, bathed, and not over-stimulated before you try to put them to bed, ensure the room is dark, the right temperature and Jo explained how you shouldn’t jump up to your child as soon as they wake, that you should “give them a moment” to settle themselves back to sleep. Upon posting this article on the blog I was met with a barrage of unhelpful and highly judgmental comments from other mums.

These parents told me that I should be worried about my child as he sleeps so well, that there is clearly something ‘wrong’ with him, they have suggested I should be co-sleeping, they have accused me of practicing controlled crying (which, I haven’t – not that there would be a problem even if I had) – all of these judgments are based purely on this one article, most of which was written by Jo Tantum, not myself. What was most apparent to me after witnessing this response is how quick these parents are to attack instead of support their fellow parents.

Whatever happened to female solidarity? Whatever happened to compassion, open mindedness, and accepting that your own opinion and views aren’t the only opinions and views out there? If there is one message I am desperate to scream from the rooftops it is that parenting is hard, tiring, challenging and amazing all at the same time: and if we can give each other a break, as fellow parents, we should. Any way you deem best to bring up your children be it co-sleeping, puree weaning, baby led weaning, attachment parenting, or ‘this is just the way I do it’ parenting – who am I to say if it is wrong or right? All I can say is ‘this is what works for me/my family’. I don’t want to judge anyone else because everybody’s children, lifestyles, needs and priorities are different. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa.

I am a strong woman and I am confident in my own abilities as a parent, and as a functioning adult in the world. I am hugely proud of my baby son, and also proud of my mummy friends who are each doing their absolute best to bring up their children to be decent, polite and intelligent members of society. What worries me about parents ‘out there’ on the internet judging and accusing, is what happens if their hate is aimed at someone not quite as confident as me? Someone who is doubting their own abilities, who is feeling low and vulnerable, someone who is highly impressionable and might be hugely affected by these nasty comments telling them that they’re doing a bad job? Parenting forums are full of such comments, attacking parents for their choices, and telling them the ‘right’ way to do it. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘my way or the highway’…aren’t we courageous enough to say ‘wow, it’s cool that you’re doing that and it is working for you’ or ‘congratulations on having a baby that sleeps through the night’ – do we really have to be bitter and accusatory? Is it jealousy? Are these parents happy and confident in their parenting abilities? If you ask me, anyone spouting that much bitterness and anger can’t possibly feel balanced and in control of their situations.

If you co-sleep, practice controlled crying, advocate baby led weaning, or attachment parenting – whatever works for you, I’m truly happy for you, and glad you’ve found a system that works. If you use no specific system or guideline (like me) and that works then that’s equally cool. If you breast feed then I’m really happy for you that you’ve managed it, and if you don’t breast feed then I won’t judge you for that. I didn’t breast feed Bert – he was severely tongue-tied as a newborn and we just couldn’t get the hang of it. My son was hungry and I was exhausted from three days of no sleep and a horrendous labour; so we embraced formula feeding and put the breast debacle behind us. We moved on confidently knowing that we made the right choice for our situation. I have been judged since that decision, and will confidently say “I did the best thing I could manage for my son” I did also what was best for me, for my own mental wellbeing and ultimately my happiness.

Why is my happiness important you may ask? Well, it is my firm belief that happy parents equal a happy baby. If a child is bought into a happy home, full of love, with parents who are relaxed, confident in their abilities and surrounded by supportive and non-judgmental family and friends, then I’m pretty sure the baby will feed off of that environment and so to be a relaxed and happy individual. If for the sake of your own happiness it means that you decide to switch to formula feeding instead of breast because breast-feeding is making you miserable then do it. If making up powdered formula is stressing you out, use the ready made, and be happy that you’ve found a way to eradicate that stress. If the thought of giving your child finger food from six months (baby led weaning) frightens you, then use purees – and don’t apologise for that choice – be confident that you’ve made the choice that is best for your day-to-day happiness as a family.

Friends of mine have also been on the receiving end of judgments based on their career choices in relation to parenting. For me it is simple. If you choose to and can afford to be a stay-at-home mum then that is so cool, I support your choice and am sure your kids will enjoy having you at home. If you decide to go back to work because you love your career, good for you, I’m happy that you have a job you love, and I know that you won’t have made that decision lightly. It’s a big deal to leave your kids and go back to work. If you have had to return to work for financial reasons, then I sympathise, and I can only imagine how hard it is to go to work every day when you’d rather be at home with your kids. Don’t worry, your kids will be fine, and you’re doing a grand job! If you are a part time stay-at-home-mum and part time worker I have ultimate respect for you, it must be hectic, but good for you for being able to get a balance. Can you see my point? Every choice is the right choice for each individual.

I don’t think it’s hard to support each other, to show understanding, compassion, and to listen to alternative points of view. I may not ultimately agree with your methods of parenting, but I’m not you, I’m me, and our situations might be completely different. Then again, they might not be, but either way - good on you for being a parent and giving it your best shot!

When talking all of this over with my husband who is also a blogger ( he explained how his experience as a new Dad in the blogging/internet realm has been vastly different to mine. The dads he has spoken to and been in contact with via his blog, Facebook, Twitter and parenting forums have been ultimately supportive, good humoured, and relaxed in their responses. They have shared their experiences, laughed at their failures, and offered useful advice to each other without the rude and judgmental undertones. So is this hostility just a mum-thing? Have the dads got it right, and is it female competition that’s causing this negativity I’ve encountered? I wish I had the answers. All I do know is we could do with taking a leaf out of the dads’ book – if we can support and encourage each other without constant comparison, if we can listen without judgment, share ideas, and explore a variety of methods when it comes to parenting then surely we would all be better off?

Did our grandmothers suffer this same pressure to conform, to join a ‘trend’ in parenting and see no other methods of bringing up a child as acceptable? Did they feel pressured to go to baby yoga, baby massage, swimming for babies, signing for babies, do the housework, cook the tea, hold down a job and be a good wife simultaneously? I don’t think they did.

They confidently bought up their children, cooked, made their clothes and ‘kept house’ without the added pressure of all of those other things. Yes, the world just isn’t like that any more, I hear you. But I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that women of today have a pretty raw deal – we can’t have our cake and eat it, I know, and maybe we are eating humble pie after fighting for our freedom and choice for so many years. But cutting each other a little slack while we carve our way through the difficult task of being all things to everyone wouldn’t do any harm, surely?

In the words of the recent SMA Baby milk advert – to all mothers, whatever your choices: “You’re doing great!”

Mrs Bishop


Friday 21 February 2014

Canvas Design UK review & *GIVEAWAY*

Today I am reviewing a canvas from Canvas Design UK . For those who have been to my house you'll know I'm BIG on photos. I have them all over my house - in picture pockets on my doors, in frames all over the house, and I have many printed canvases all over the place. I have also given personal photo canvases away as gifts in the past: pictures of Bert to his Grandparents, and pictures of my friend's beloved cats on canvases for her 60th birthday. 

Over the years I've tried out various different canvas printing companies - and I can honestly say the canvas I have just received from Canvas Design UK is the best quality one yet!

Mine measures 18"x26" and is printed onto really thick great quality canvas on a solid (and thicker than my others) wooden frame. The photo I used came just from my iPhone camera, and I was so pleased with the print quality - it is so sharp considering its size, and original quality of the image! I will definitely be using this website for any future canvas orders I make. 

Here it is:

my happy smiley boy! 

And here it is as part of my expanding canvas wall…

theres just a small gap left for another little canvas…I'd best get ordering! 

I can't believe how much my baby has grown already…he'll be 6 MONTHS tomorrow! Eeek! 

The lovely people at Canvas Design UK have given me a special discount code to share with you which entitles you to 15% off of their marvellous canvases - also, delivery is free! Double win!

Use code : BLOG15 

Happy canvas shopping lovelies! 

I am also running a competition with Canvas Design UK - see below for details...

The Prize:
WIN your choice of photo on any size Canvas from 6x6 to 40x40 inches
(UK entrants only)
Please use the Rafflecopter below to enter!

Disclaimer: I was sent a free canvas for the purpose of this review - as always though my opinions and photos are my own. 

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Our Valentines Weekend in Kensington

Wow! What a lucky girl I am, and what a fabby weekend we've just had. For those of you who know me personally you'll know I love to enter competitions - I'm a real day dreamer, so seeing the possibilities of winning lovely things and then imagining it is always great fun for me - I've done it my whole life - when I will little I'd sit with the Argos catalogue for HOURS imagining all the things I'd buy if I had X amount of money. 

So you can imagine how excited I've been to have an amazing winning streak recently - I've won a whole host of things from a Hotel Chocolat Dream Hamper, to an inflatable toddler bed! I also won two of Thistle hotels recent competitions - and we claimed our first prize at the weekend. We were entitled to a one night stay at their Thistle Kensington Gardens hotel in a superior suite with view of the park, a bottle of prosecco in our room, breakfast and a £50 voucher for Westfield Shopping centre just down the road! :-)

After we checked into the hotel room and jumped on the enormous bed…

… we headed to Selfridges on Oxford Street as hubby had never been there before, and we're both a big fan of Mr Selfridge on a Sunday night - so we thought it would be cool to have a wander round. I forgot how much I love it in there - I was like a kid in a sweet shop - soooooo many pretty things I wanted to buy! 

look at these stunning Kitchen Aid Artisan mixers - I feel so lucky to already own one of these in cream - beautiful - look at all the pretty colours - I especially loved the copper ones right at the top! 

Oooooh how I ooed and ahhed at these copper pans! They were like £200-£400 per pan!!!!

As per usual and in true magpie style I'm drawn to anything that sparkles - so pretty! 

I cannot explain to you how much I want this bed - it's neat, it's timeless, it's comfortable - it would mean I could snuggle up with hubby and watch Breaking Bad in bed, without craning my neck to see the TV! AND its a neat/tidy/organisational freaks dream - press a button and the TV disappears. No dusty screen or unsightly wires! Woop woop... (one day!)

Then I squealed when I saw this amazing kids bed! Uncle Rob or Cosham if you're reading this…I'd love you to build one for Bert ;-) 

And how fun are these cupcake and ice-cream beanbags in the kids section? Adorbs! 

I love a bit of knitting/crotchet work - and I though all of these were super cute in the toys department! 

Then I went to the opticians dept and fell in love with these Polo by Ralph Lauren frames - you'll have to excuse the wonky eye and stupid pout - can I pull off these glasses? Or are they too cool for school??

Cupcake heaven in the Selfridges Food Hall

Peony heaven at the Selfridges Flower Market - stunning stunning blooms! 

After going back to the hotel to get ready - drinking Prosecco in the bath, and eating half a box of GuyLian chocolates with hubby we set off for dinner at The Rib Room in Knightsbridge. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough - the food was exquisite, and service second-to-none. We felt thoroughly spoiled and munched our way through….

Homemade bread and salted butter with a beautiful Peach Bellini cocktail, followed by…



Orkney Scallops with lightly spiced butternut squash compote, chargrilled spring onions and lime caramel


Roasted loin of monkfish with cheek & octopus curry, spiced cauliflower puree and toasted almond sauce


Banana soufflĂ© with banana and caramel ice cream, and a banana caramel crisp. 



Pheasant and celeriac veloute with a game sausage roll and bread sauce


Free range Cotswold chicken with a smoked chicken leg, celeriac ravioli, baby artichokes and truffle sauce


Manjari Chocolate moelleux with a Dulcey chocolate centre, salted caramel with milk ice cream. 

After devouring all that we were sent some amazing chocolate truffles with our coffees….

And some to take home as a gift! 

WOW - What a meal - hubby and I both agreed that it would rank in our top 5 meals ever eaten (and we've been lucky enough to eat at a couple of Heston Bluemthal and Gordon Ramsay's restaurants in the past) - if you can get there you won't be disappointed. 

Following our meal we met my lovely cousin for a quick drink in Soho before heading back to the hotel room…

Sunday morning was greeted with the most amazing sunny weather - this is the view I woke up to - just wow! 

Kensington Gardens from our hotel window on Sunday morning…stunning! 

Instead of going for a run around Kensington Gardens I decided to eat this …

Hahahahahahahaha - I'm not even remotely sorry - it was worth every single calorie! 

Breakfast was followed by a lovely long walk around all the shops at Westfield Shopping Centre at Shepherd's Bush - what a lovely place to go shopping! If only we had thousands of pounds to spend on all the glorious things we saw (Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Anthropologie, Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston..I was in HEAVEN) 

The main items I had my eyes on were …

This quirky little teapot jumper from Cath Kidston £65

This stunning Rose Gold Michael Kors watch £229

These quilted riding boots from Monsoon £65

Unfortuntely we don't have a spare £360 lying around, so instead we headed to our favourite Mexican restaurant Wahaca and used our voucher to buy lunch - which ended in me devouring these beauties…

Mexican Churros and Chocolate! Yum!

And hubby with his ice cream and beer…

Wow-wee we could barely walk after all that eating etc! We headed home soon after and I couldn't wait to cuddle my little monkey Bert as I'd missed him so much leaving him over night with my mum (thanks mum!) - luckily he was a really good boy, and so I feel really happy and proud of myself for leaving him for a bit - it definitely was amazing to have some grown up time with the hubster all to myself! 

Silliness with the hubby on the way home! 

So silly, so much fun! Love him! 

And I got throughly spoiled with a gorgeous surprise gift from him on Valentines Day itself - this stunning Spineless Classics print of Beauty & The Beast, my favourite ever Disney movie! Every word of the original text is printed behind a gorgeous image of the Beast holding the rose from the story. Gorgeous! And I got a box of my favourite ever chocolates (GuyLian seashells, for those who are wondering, hehe) - the boy did good! 

This is the gift I made for hubby using Hama beads….Tetris inspired fridge magnets - haha - he loved them! Just something silly for him. 

So, the moral of the story is…enter competitions guys! People do win all the time, and we've had a FABULOUS weekend away which cost us hardly anything. 

I'm off to enter some more competitions! 

Hope you all had an amazing Valentines! 


Mrs B