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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

Creme Egg Cookie Cups

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My colleague showed me a picture of the most delicious looking cookies on Friday, and I couldn’t resist giving them a try. I found a recipe online, but it was on an American site and required a bit of adapting. For those wondering, it’s here:

http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/2012/03/cadbury-cream-cookie-cups.html

Mine looked a bit more ‘rustic’ than these, but they tasted yummy! Perfect for Easter, but maybe not for your diabetic aunt, these are very sweet!

Ingredients:
1 box Betty Crocker cookie mix (mine needed an egg and some vegetable oil to mix)
85g Golden Syrup
25g Butter
190g Icing sugar
1tsp Vanilla Extract
Yellow food colouring

Method:
Mix up the cookie mix as per the packet instructions (or make your own if you’re feeling adventurous!

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Put a heaped dessert spoon into each muffin tray.

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Bake in the oven according to the pack instructions.

While they’re still hot, push them down in the middle to create a cup (I used the back of an ice cream scoop to do this).

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Leave them to cool, but while they’re cooling, make up the filling. Wait until they’re quite cool to try and take them out of the tray or they’ll be too soft.

Add the syrup, butter and vanilla and mix to a paste in a mixer.

Gradually add the icing sugar in, mixing constantly. By the end, mine was still quite dry, so I added a little splash of milk to make it easier to spoon out. You may not need to do this, but see how it goes.

Split off about a quarter of the mixture and mix with the yellow food colouring.

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Add a teaspoon of the white icing to almost fill each of the cups.

Use a clean teaspoon to make a little divot in the top, and drop in half a teaspoon of the yellow.

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Leave it for about half an hour for the icing mixture to stiffen up (if you can resist for that long, Cameron couldn’t!)

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Review: Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice

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IMG_0045I think it’s no secret that I love love love this book, and as I’ve read it many times before, I won’t be reviewing the actual book. It’s a work of genius and we all know it, I’ve read it so many times that I find myself anticipating the words that are coming.

Rather than reading it again this time, I have been listening to the audio version in my car on the way to and from work. I didn’t know how I’d enjoy this, but since I know the book so well, I really enjoyed it in a different way. When you’re reading, it’s quite easy to skip over bits that you recognise from before, but listening to it means that you get the full experience all over again.

I’ve not listened to this narrator before, but she had a lovely voice. It was like being read to by my grandma which was very soothing. She didn’t do ridiculous accents for the different characters, just normal voices with a different inflection which made it very pleasant to listen to. Her voice for Mrs Bennett was spot on!

It was definitely a brilliant way to keep me entertained through all the roadworks and traffic jams on my commute, and I’m so glad that I got to experience Pride and Prejudice all over again. I might need to see what other Austen books are available as audio versions!

5/5

Review: C.S. Lewis – The Magician’s Nephew

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WP_20150324_21_35_05_ProI’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never read the Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve had the entire set of books on my shelf for as long as I can remember, and just checking the front of the book now, I can see that this edition was purchased for me more than 20 years ago, definitely the oldest book on my to-read shelf!

I seemed to remember reading this book halfway through quite a lot when I was younger, but having actually read the book now, I realise that I must only have ever read about 20 pages or so before I gave up. When I was younger, fantasy wasn’t really my thing and I don’t think I really got it, I was more into the typical girly books that were around like the sleepover club and Jacqueline Wilson.

But now I’ve read it, I’m very excited to read the rest of the series. I’ve not seen the films that have been made in the last few years, so although I know kind of the general idea of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I completely had no idea what to expect.

A couple of years ago I read Mere Christianity by Lewis, in which his faith is clearly apparent. I didn’t expect to get so much of that in the Narnia books, but the biblical connotations were quite clear. A world created in stages by a magical creature, a tree of whose fruit you’re not supposed to eat, the lion who refers to boys as ‘Sons of Adam’ and girls as ‘Daughters of Eve’. It’s hard not to see it, but unlike some Goodreads reviewers who seemed to be put off by this, I enjoyed it.

There were quite a few quotes that stood out to me, but this one stood out over the rest:

“The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”

As I said before, I can’t wait now to move on with the rest of the series. They’re not exactly long books, so it shouldn’t take me long to whizz through them!

4/5

Packwood House

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After visiting Croome and driving a bit further up the motorway, the plan was to visit Hardwick Hall, south of Sheffield. But we spent so long looking around the lovely Croome that we realised we’d get there about 15 minutes before it closed so we had to change our minds!

After a quick search on the National Trust app on my iPad (which works wonderfully offline), we settled on Packwood House instead. Very closed to Baddesley Clinton which we visited on our last holiday, it was quite lovely. Smaller than the other houses we’ve visited this week, but still large! When I was walking around, I was imagining it as somewhere Elizabeth Bennet would have lived in P&P, whereas the houses we’ve been visiting were more like Darcy’s Pemberley.

The house had a lovely lake in the garden which gave us a nice walk and some fresh air before the final leg of our journey home. A wonderful end to a wonderful holiday!

Croome

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Today was our drive back to Leeds from Bristol, and rather than break up the journey with service stations, we decided to break up the journey with a couple of National Trust properties instead. The first was Croome.

We didn’t realise until we turned up that the property was undergoing major restoration so was completely enclosed in scaffolding. But they’d put some interesting artwork on the scaffolding unlike when we visited Castle Drogo, and they still had a lot of interest inside the house, including an exhibition about shoes!

It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day, perfect for a walk along the new trail through the woods from the visitor centre and church at the top of the hill to the house at the bottom. Much better than stopping at Tamworth Services as we usually do!

On the Set of Downton Abbey

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After our trip to Chedworth Roman Villa, we drove all the way up to Snowshill to find that it was closed! So we then ended up having lunch in a lovely cafe in the middle of the Cotswolds, a goats cheese and roasted vegetable jacket potato which was scrumptious. After that, it was getting quite late in the afternoon so we decided to head back towards Bristol and thought we’d call in at Lacock Abbey on the way home.

But true to the luck we’d been having that day, we turned up 25 minutes after the last entry to the Abbey. But after walking to the gift shop, we were told that they were filming a ‘period drama’ in the village. The woman in the shop wouldn’t tell us what it was, but the security guard at the end of the road was all too happy to let us know that it was Downton Abbey.

I LOVE Downton Abbey, so I was properly made up that we might get to see some of the stars. And I wasn’t disappointed. They were filming a scene with Carson and Mrs Hughes, but we also walked past Mr Bates and Anna walked right past us too. She was so small and pretty, even wrapped up from the cold in a coat and ugg boots.

It was very exciting to watch them filming and see how many extra were needed for one scene. I can’t wait for the series to come out so we can see the scene! Check out a video at the bottom for a clip of what they were filming!

Chedworth Roman Villa

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This was a slightly longer drive away from Bristol than I had anticipated, and a lot of small narrow country roads, my idea of driving hell. But it was interesting to be walking around a place that was built about 1,700 years ago, it’s baffling to even consider how old that is. Especially when you consider that they had underfloor heating! If only! And the tiled mosaics that they’ve preserved are fantastic.

I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy this as much as walking around a lovely period house, but it was a good day out all the same. There were coach-loads of primary school children while we were there, I imagine they would love it if their history lessons are anything like ours were in Primary school.

Review: Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl

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WP_20150319_09_01_12_ProI’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I found out the film was being released, but other books kept leap-frogging it on my to-read pile, to the point where the film has been and gone and everyone has stopped talking about it and I’ve only just got around to reading it.

And now, I really really wish it hadn’t take me so long, as I bet the film was amazing on the big screen!

I would imagine if you’re reading this that you probably know the plot of the book, but if not, I don’t want to give away too much. Nick Dunne wakes up on his fifth wedding anniversary to find that his wife has disappeared, and he quickly becomes the chief suspect in her disappearance. He gives quite an honest impression and you start off thinking that there’s no way that he could have done it. But some of the things that he says and does start to make you doubt yourself and think that maybe he did it after all.

Throughout the first half of the book, interspersed with our first person account of Nick is a copy of Amy’s diary. It starts off very lovey-dovey with stories of how they first met, but she starts to get increasingly worried about Nick’s behaviour to the point where she’s convinced that he’s going to kill her.

Then BAM. Plot twist. Then BAM. Another. And BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. From this point on it’s plot twist after plot twist to the point where you might as well just give up on trying to guess how the book will end.

And talking about the ending, it was probably my least favourite conclusion to a book in quite a long time. Even if you should have given up on trying to guess what will happen, it doesn’t stop you from doing it anyway, but if you can honestly guess how the book will end, I’d be extremely surprised.

But as much as I didn’t like the ending of the book, I found the book as a whole absolutely superb. To keep me hooked like that from start to finish without me once being able to guess what was going to happen as I turned the page makes this a fantastically written book.

I would have given this book 5 stars if not for being so completely dissatisfied with the ending, so it’s a four for me.

4/5

 

Tyntesfield

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For the next trip of our holiday we decided to go to Tyntesfield. Alan had been there a few times before and loved it, but we’d never been. It was a beautiful house inside and out, and the gardens were lovely. But by far my favourite part about the entire day was the chapel. Never consecrated due to arguments with the local church, but absolutely stunning. So so beautiful and unbelievable that it was built as a family chapel, so ornate!

Once we’d walked around the house and down to the cafe and gardens at the bottom (along with a lovely cuppa and slice of cake in the cafe), Alan and Vicky took the minibus back to the car park at the top of the hill, while Cameron and I spent the next half hour with a leisurely walk back up, soaking up the sunshine, which was bright and beautiful, just like Tyntesfield.

I’d highly recommend a visit to this stunning property!

Tredegar House and Dyffryn Gardens

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As we’re on holiday at my Uncle’s house in Bristol at the moment, we’ve renewed our National Trust membership and spent yesterday on a day trip across to Wales to see some places that Alan has never seen before.

A random flip through the National Trust handbook got us Tredegar House, a lovely restoration house which was only brought into Trust ownership in 2013. They’ve got a 50 year lease on it so they are at the start of their journey to restore the house to its former glory, but it was really lovely. The woman who gave us our tour was very knowledgeable and she was happy to talk to us after the tour to answer our questions.

The house itself has had an interesting history, even being used as a Catholic girls school. There was one room with a magnificent mural on the ceiling, which was apparently almost destroyed when an air display by the Vulcan flew a little low and shook the house so much it almost cracked the plaster.

After we’d been to the house, we asked at the information centre if they had any other properties in the area, and they recommended Dyffryn Gardens, about half an hour away. They warned us that the house wasn’t as grand as Tredegar, but the gardens were lovely. And while they may have been correct about the lovely gardens, the house was still as spectacular, just in a very different style.

The only downer on the day was the fact that the weather was quite grey and miserable, but we mostly managed to avoid getting wet. We did over 7000 steps during the day though, so we all slept well last night after all the fresh air!