Croxteth Hall Greenhouse

I’ve been to Croxteth Hall a few years ago and I remembered being impressed by the house and the walled garden. It has the mushroom house and interesting shaped fruit trees for a bigger yield. The greenhouse seemed less exciting at that time. A couple of days before Easter I saw on BBC News that a very rare and beautiful flower is housed at Croxteth Hall greenhouse. We went to see it on Saturday, it is really beautiful and unusual.

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The flower is called Green Jade Vine for its colour. There are only a few flowers like this in the UK, at Kew, at Eden Project and in two botanical gardens in Scotland at Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Jade Vine is a member of the pea and bean family. The plant grows wild in the Philippines, but it’s threatened due to loss of habitat. The stems are scrambling up other tropical rainforest species to reach the light and they can be as long as 20 metres. The staff at Croxteth explained to us how the flower is pollinated by bats, as they are attracted by the nectar its flowers produce.

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The stems have a purple colour that looks interesting too and the plant is quite big and long.

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My Easter

My husband, the dog and I had a pretty interesting Easter this year. I am always keen to make lots of different things to eat, lots of desserts. I made Romanian dishes that are made for Easter, British traditional foods and even Dutch, I have to blame Mary Berry for that one.

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These are one of my favourite things at Easter, dyed eggs. Well, the ones I made this year aren’t technically dyed, but it’s the same thing and I think they look amazing. After taking this picture, I put them in my new basket on a bed of green paper. I found this Faberge designs in a Polish shop and I was eager to try something else after the less than perfect hand-decorated eggs I’ve made last year.

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On Friday I went to a couple of farms to search for white eggs to dye. I didn’t take any pictures as I already blogged about them (so I don’t have a Farm of the Month this month). Hubby was busy in the morning and after shopping I was too tired (and I have a cold too), so I didn’t manage to cook anything. I made everything on Saturday, with a short break to go to see the Green Jade Vine at Croxteth Hall.

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I baked a bread and hubby and I also made Easter men, the Dutch traditional food Mary Berry mentioned in her Easter Feast TV show. I made a girl, with a star anise fascinator and a big cranberry smile. Hubby made a man with a cinnamon hair and socks with his football ready for a match. It was so much fun to make the Easter man, most definitely we’ll make them again.

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10 Good things

1. New Sofa! The new sofa is finally here, after ordering it at the end of December. I’m happy with it, it’s exactly as I wanted it to be and it’s very comfy. The last sofa we had we got it from a friend after we moved in an unfurnished house. We had to buy everything and we ran out of funds. After a little over one year we moved into our home. With renovating, we ran out of funds again. A new sofa was not as important as carpeting the whole house, painting and all those other “small” things like new kitchen, new bathroom. So we had the sofa for close to three years, instead of a few months as we planned.
Another reason we’ve waited so much for a new sofa was that we wanted a white faux leather sofa. There isn’t one on the market and there aren’t many faux leather either, regardless of the colour. We found two black ones that looked great, but it can’t be further to white than that. We nearly bought one of them. Last Autumn we saw one we liked at SCS, with grey and ivory and it was what we were looking for. Our living room is white with grey, so it was a perfect match. I’m happy we’ve waited for so long, it’s what I wanted. Picture on instagram, I will make a post about the living room now that I have a new sofa.

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2. Easter gift swap. After the excitement with the Secret Santa, this Easter I signed up for a Blogger Easter Gift Swap. The lovely Bronagh send me these amazing gifts. I love dark chocolate, it’s my favourite and the basket is great for Easter. I was so excited to see it. I’m going to dye eggs and put them in this basket. It’s a Romanian tradition.

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3. Walks in the forest. Even a short walk in the forest makes me happy. Hearing the birds, seeing flowers, other walkers that are enjoying the silence and the beauty of the nature. It’s so relaxing.

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4. Egg-bath bombs. I got egg-bath bombs for Easter. I loved the way they smell so much that I bought as gifts too. I found them at a farm I’m going to from time to time, they have lovely livestock as pets (goats, pony, donkey, a sheep). I also got a very good face cream from there, handmade locally, exactly what I’m looking for.

5. Very British Problems. This show is so funny. If you missed it, I think it’s available On Demand. It’s a 3 episodes series on Channel 4.

6. Loft. The loft was completed a couple of weeks ago and I have a lot more storage space, it’s incredible. It was a hassle to make it as it had insulation and we had to add a little bit more where it wasn’t as fluffed as it should have been. Now I can store so many things in the loft and we don’t need a shed anymore. We were wondering if we should get a shed or not, but it would have taken from the outside space when we have the loft and we can use it entirely. It’s so much better, even though it was quite expensive to get the work done and it took a week or so to be finished.

7. Matcha. I’ve been baking with matcha from the day I got it and I love it. I’ve made biscuits, scones, fruit loaf, cheesecake. It looks green, I love the taste and it inspired me.

8. Getting ready for Easter. After I finish writing this post, I’m making the list with the things I have to buy for my Easter menu. I want to make dyed eggs, Simnel cake and hot cross buns, a cozonac (a sort of a fruit loaf), a vegetarian Spring terrine. I still have to decide on a few things to do, like mains.

9. New F1 season. The qualifying session started great, but it was disappointing in the end. I loved the start with Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen overtaking at least one Mercedes. Sadly the race finished with an 1-2 for Mercedes. Vettel was on the 3rd place after a bad decision not to change the tires during the red flag. Alonso had a spectacular crash, but he was fine. It was scary to see the car like that.
Verstappen was amazing, as usual. He managed to overtake a few cars, but he was stuck behind his teammate after Torro Rosso made a stupid mistake at pit stop. His outbreak on the radio showed passion, I loved that. Palmer was fab, another British driver with great skills. Nothing much about the winners, they changed the tires when they had to and they were lucky enough for the tires to last until the end of the race. I really hope things will change in the coming races, the others seem more eager to win than the Mercedes team.

10. Smart dog. Having a smart dog is usually great, although the fact that he is able to learn by looking at us can be an issue sometimes. For example he knows if we are talking about him even if we don’t say his name. That leads to excitement before actually getting ready for walkies.
But this makes him so much fun to have around. Yesterday we were busy downstairs when I heard strange noises from the bedroom. Festus was in our bedroom, with a bag of toys, having fun. I asked hubby if he moved the bag from the spare bedroom and he didn’t. So, Festus saw the spare bedroom door open, he went in and took the bag with toys (a canvas bag). I usually don’t let him in the spare bedroom because it’s where we work when we’re not at the laptop and he would only get in our way. He carried the bag in our bedroom, where we all sleep, and took a toy out of the bag. He removed the label (obviously he can’t play with the label still on) and started to chew it. It’s a shame we don’t have a camera hidden in the house to see what he is up to.

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These are my 10 good things and an additional mention of the 7 flavours I got from Cake International.

What made you happy these days?

Cocktail Masterclass at Black Dog Ballroom

I was invited to Cocktail Masterclass at Black Dog Ballroom in Manchester. The Black Dog Ballroom group is launching new cocktail masterclasses with different themes. It sounded great and I was eager to attend the event. It took place on the rooftop terrace bar at Black Dog Ballroom NWS.

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Black Dog Ballroom NWS is their second location. It’s quite big with a basement bar and club, a diner with a pool room and this lovely rooftop terrace. In the summer there is an outside space for BBQ.

The first masterclass I attended is called Boardwalk. Its theme is the Prohibition era. It was interesting to hear about the story of the cocktails.

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Here I’m making White Lady. It had more steps than I’ve imagined and the shaking is not that easy either. It’s so much fun, I loved it.

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Hobby Crafts and Cake International

Last weekend my husband and I left the car at home, got on the train and went to Birmingham. While I was busy at Hobby Craft and Cake International, he went to see a photography show. It was great, I had all the time in the world to see everything I was interested in. I think he would have been interested in a few things himself, although he is more keen on DIY than crafts.
The shows were organized by ICHF Events and there are many crafts and cake events all over the UK, in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Exeter, at the NEC, Birmingham and other locations.

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I started with Hobby Crafts and I saw these wonderful costumes. They are from Far from the Madding Crowd, a movie made after the novel by Thomas Hardy. I read recently Life’s Little Ironies, short stories by Thomas Hardy and I loved it. Now I’m eager to see the movie.

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At the show there are lots and lots of stands with fabrics, they are so many and diverse. I don’t have a sewing machine because I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to learn how to make things. My mother used to sew and I loved watching her as a child.

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Blogging for free

I love cooking, walking the dog, gardening, but nobody would expect me to bake them a cake, walk their dog or plant some flower bulbs in their garden for free. So why other people and, unfortunately, brands would expect me and other bloggers to work for free?

I visit trade and retail shows with work, I also attend conferences and seminars. At one of the last seminars I’ve been to, the topic was about working with bloggers. Of course I found that one even more interesting, as I’m a blogger too and I do work with brands.

The seminar was held by a shop owner and a blogger. I’m not going to disclose their names, because that is not important. I just want to talk about the ideas that were discussed at the seminar.

The blogger told us how important blogging is, with numbers and details. She talked about social media and how bloggers give a different perspective on a service/product because they are real people who use the product. After her, the shop owner started to talk about how beneficial was for her to collaborate with bloggers. Everything seemed ok until she was asked about the conversion rate. She mentioned a small number and then she said that bloggers are really great because they work for free. I was stunned when I heard this. The seminar was aimed at shops and brands that sell expensive items, so this approach was surprising.

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Blogging is a hobby for me and I enjoy it a lot, but, even so, why should I work for free. I don’t talk about charities, product reviews or events. In this article, I’m talking about posts. For the last year I’ve received a lot of requests from brands and I have to admit that most of them I had to turn down because they weren’t suitable for my blog or, sometimes, because some of the brands had no budget.

Bloggers will know this, but my readers that aren’t bloggers might not know that we receive emails with incredible requests. One of my “favourite” was a request from a big brand that was expecting me to drive to one of their locations, take pictures and an interview, write a post and promote it on social media. Requests to write a long post, with a deadline, add links to their website on a topic which they are choosing and I should do that because they think that my readers will find the topic interesting.

Again I fail to see why I should do all this for free. It takes time to write the post, to process the photos in Photoshop, to make it SEO friendly and to promote it. Beside my time, everything I use for the blog costs money (laptop, Photoshop, camera, props if they are needed). The domain and hosting are an additional expense too. I’m not too bothered about that. Every hobby has its own expenses, for climbing you need special equipment, to go karting you need money for the cars and so on. But I wouldn’t want that business to take advantage because I’m doing it for fun and not for profit.

I asked other bloggers why they would work for free and their answers were fascinating. I selected only a few and, maybe, in some situations, I would do the same.

“I’ve posted for free on very small emerging brands to give them a leg up. But if it’s a massive corporation, I always get a bit offended knowing they turn over shed loads in profit.”

“I would be happy to promote a brand for free in order to establish a connection with brands , in the hope it would lead to better things. If I truly liked the brand or believed in a cause .”

“When I first started blogging I ran free advertising for small independent brands. This included a post about the brand and a button on my site for a month. As a new blogger at the time, this allowed me to make my first business contacts, and proved very valuable. Some even sent their products as a thank you, although that was never expected. Only once did a brand take advantage, I put so much work into a post about them, it was one of my best at that point, and they offered samples but wanted a delivery fee. This was a year ago and it still annoys me haha!”

“When I have an ongoing relationship with a PR/SEO and they’re desperate. I usually have a few gratis spots per quarter. I don’t mind. If they ordinarily pay me well or have lots of clients I’m keen to work with, you’ll often find a little charity goes a long way.”

Are you a blogger? Do you work for free? If you are not a blogger, please tell me what you think.

What’s cooking #2

Last month I was so busy with work that I didn’t have lots of time to spend in the kitchen, so I posted only my recipe of homemade popcorn. This month I cooked a lot and I tried lots of new and exciting things, so I’m so keen to write this post.

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The most exciting thing was trying my new pasta making machine. I loved it. It’s so easy to use and the pasta is so much better than the shop bought one. I’ve made sweet ravioli and the mushroom pasta that is in the next picture and lasagna. I can’t wait to try new types of dough, with semolina, basil, parsley, sundried tomatoes and spinach. I will try new shapes too. It’s so much fun to make pasta.

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The fresh spaghetti I’ve made with mushrooms and white sauce.

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