Edible Christmas Tree

Everyone loves a Christmas film don’t they?

But what I really look forward to is the Christmas cooking programmes. I’ve watched them all; Delia, Nigella, Jamie and Gordon – and I love them all. This year I’ve been watching Mary Berry’s Christmas Party; it’s brilliant.

And who knew there was so many ways to prepare roast potatoes?!

Anyway. Something that Nigella said in one of her Christmas specials (whilst preparing six individual poussins. As you do.), was about having people over at Christmas. She was reminiscing about her mother getting hysterical about mass catering.

“I don’t want to make myself miserable trying to keep everyone else happy. Food has to be really great to eat. But above easy on me.”

I’m with you there Nigella. We’re having people over at Christmas and I want to make tasty, yet easy to make food.

I saw an edible Christmas Tree recipe online recently and had to try it. (Honestly, any recipe with the words puff pastry, chocolate and cinnamon in it and I’m all over it).

This. Is. A. Winner.

I don’t know if I can call it a recipe, I mean it’s so easy to make! Give it a go and let me know what you think.

Here’s the recipe:

You’ll need:

2 x sheets of puff pastry

Chocolate spread

Cinnamon

Caster Sugar

100g good quality dark chocolate

1 beaten egg (for the eggwash)

Sharp knife of pizza slicer

1. Put your puff pastry on an oven tray and using your sharp knife of pizza slice cut out a Christmas Tree.

2. Lift off one of the sheets of puff pastry and put it to one side.

3. Take your chocolate spread and dollop the spread over the sheet on the oven tray. Spread it out evenly.

4. Lay the other sheet over the other and brush with egg-wash.

5. Sprinkle a good amount (about a tablespoon) of the cinnamon sugar on top.

6. Pop it into your oven for about 18 minutes.

7. Once your Christmas tree is in the oven take out your chopped chocolate. You can either heat in the microwave or over a pot of boiling water on the stove. Just make sure you don’t burn the chocolate.

8. Once out and cooled a little bit sprinkle some icing sugar on top.

9. Serve straight away

Enjoy.❤️

Love, Jess

Travel Review – Swiss Farm Henley

Travelling with kids – Camping…

I know. Why would you voluntarily put yourself, and your whole family, in a tent for the weekend?

Not only that – but you’d bring all your friends along too! (though good thing obviously!) And a dog!

We’ve been going camping since Jackson was in Reception with a few of his school friends and we always have a blast. It’s a firm favourite of ours and we always look forward to it every year.

The kids play and parents get to chill, drink wine, eat and catch up.

The Girls

We normally have a BBQ and make s’mores, (also firm favourite!) and we all and chip in and share food and snacks. It’s beautiful.

It’s completely stripped back, with all our focus firmly on our kids.

TENT

We have a fantastic bell tent that we bought from Soulpad a few years back. I can’t recommend this tent enough. It comfortably fits us all (2 adults, 3 kids and a dog), all our gear and food. It’s relatively cool in the day time and warm at night. Check out the website – I promise it’s worth every penny.

Inside our Bell Tent

This year we decided to head to Swiss Farm in Henley and boy – it was fabulous. It’s a great camp site! I completely understand the hype now. Staff are so helpful and nice from the get go at reception. We stayed in a deluxe pitch (with electrical point, park bench and water point close by) and it was well worth the extra. We had so much space! The site is very well looked after too – everything is super clean and accessible. The showers and toilets were fantastic, and easy to find. Again, really fresh and super clean.

Blue Skies

We loved the pool area. We were lucky (?) to travel here during the heat wave so the water was a welcomed break. I don’t know how well I would have coped inside the tent when the sun was blazing down on us. Buddy the dog could come to the restaurant next door to the pool and this was a life saver. It meant one of us could sit and have a coffee with the dog whilst the rest of the gang went for a swim. But it also meant that he could come with us when we went for a beautiful cooked breakfast in the morning!

The only gripe was that people were putting towels out in the morning session to save sun loungers in the pool area. I mean… Really?

Mags.

Some of the families left their towels on the sun loungers, then kept popping out for lunch and later dinner – making those sun loungers out of action in between… Anyway. I was desperate to get an umbrella for the baby and my porcelain skinned children! Next year I will bring my own umbrella.

We had dinner in the restaurant twice and it was really nice. I can really recommend a visit here if fancy a break away from the usual camping food. Order the fish and chips – it’s amazing! Followed by any of the breakfast dishes. You’ll thank me later!

Eggs Benedict. Beautiful.

The staff are so friendly and service minded. Always smiling. They can’t do enough for you. Our food order got mixed up twice, but they were quick to rectify the problem.

The Gang

Livermore Top Tips:

  1. Bring your own pool umbrella. No joke.
  2. They’re meant to operate a “one session per day system” whereby you can use the pool for one particular 2 1/2 hour session only, but this wasn’t in place when we where there so the pool was rammed. I reckon head for the early slot if you fancy a swim with little ones.
  3. Head into Henley if you fancy a change of scenery. It’s gorgeous.
  4. Check the calendar before you head here. There was some sort of music festival in Henley when we stayed and the music was SO LOUD. We didn’t sleep.
  5. There is so much for the kids to do here. Playgrounds, swings, walks through the woods, the pool. You’ll be spoiled for choice
Erika and Karen
Sunkissed.

The National Trust and the unfortunate tale of Lady Arabella Stuart

When I was little I used to subscribe to a Swedish comic series called Kamratposten. It tackled all the issues a nine year year old might face; friendships, jealousy, love, hate, and most importantly not getting Applejack for a Christmas present.

I’m still upset about that one.

In my teens I moved on to Veckorevyn. The Swedish equivalent of Teen Vouge if you like. It had lots of teen advice, interviews with Hollywood and pop stars, make up tips and shiny posters. Who doesn’t need to know what Jason Priestley and Luke Perry’s favourite breakfast cereal is?

(Seriously though. What are their favourite breakfast cereal?! I might have to find out!)

And don’t worry Petra – Luke Perry is still yours!

As an adult I’ve tried a few subscriptions – a certain popular health mag, (in the hope that I would somehow become more healthy just by reading it), a monthly cookbook club, the National Geographics, Science magazines, Mother&Baby, Snack subscriptions and more.

There is one subscription though that I would wholeheartedly recommend, and it’s a gem.

The National Trust

(https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk) describes themselves like this:

“We look after special places throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone.

…We restore them, protect them and open them up to everyone. For the Trust, conservation has always gone hand-in-hand with public access.”

We are so fortunate in this country to have so much history, so many stunning places to visit, and just being able to walk around these grand old estates and houses, learning about its past owners.

We’ve been to quite a few National Trust places and they all have their own individual charm.

There’s generally beautiful gardens and/or woods to explore, gorgeous food – often locally sourced and a gift shop. (I love a gift shop.)

It’s the perfect day out for the whole family.

When we go there’s mum and dad, grandparents, a 90-year old great granny, kids, a baby and dog. A tall order!

When we stayed in the Peak District last we visited Hardwick Hall.

Built in the late 1590’s the house and the furnishings were very impressive, but what really stuck with me was the story.

Its first owner Bess of Hardwick was an extraordinary woman. She came from humble beginnings to becoming the second wealthiest woman in the country, after Queen Elizabeth. She married four times, and seemed a remarkable woman for her times.

This is also a stark contrast to poor Lady Arbella Stuart, Bess of Hardwick’s grand daughter. Related to the Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, she was thrown into the middle of royal intrigues and was practically imprisoned at Hardwick Hall for most of her life.

Bess brought her up to be fit for the royal court. She was introduced to Queen Elizabeth who was very impressed by the girl. But when Arbella’s aunt, Mary Queen of Scots was executed she fell into Queen Elizabeth’s bad books and Bess had to keep Arabella away from all society.

As an only way out of her house arrest, Arabella fought for her right to marry a man of her own choosing.

She almost did manage to escape to France with her beloved, William Seymour, but was caught and put in the Tower where she died aged only 39.

How there’s not been a series about this house, and these remarkable women, is a mystery to me!

And we’ll need a King James and a William Seymour. I wonder if Jason Priestley and Luke Perry can do English accents?

Love, Jess

I caught the travelling bug when I was eight

Traveling with kids – the airplane edition

Our oldest is a seasoned traveller after years of commuting between Sweden and U.K.  For him, flying has become second nature and he doesn’t bat an eyelid nowadays. He always behaves in an exemplary manner. 

I’m joking obviously. 

Jackson

He’s a child.

They will always try and throw you a curve ball or eight.  You know, to keep you on you your toes. 

I remember the first time I went on a plane. I was eight years old and we were flying to London, our first holiday as a family.  

Travelling anywhere with my family was always a challenge.  You see, my parents are complete polar opposites.

Mum worries about EVERYTHING and has to be at the airport at least four hours before take off. She’ll have her bags packed at least a week in advance. 

My dad, on the other hand, well, he is never in a hurry and would probably arrive five minutes before boarding if he got his way. 

Let’s just say this is a recipe for disaster/interesting family time.

I got the travelling bug right away. 

I loved watching all the people rushing round to different destinations, the cabin crew – so sleek and professional, and feeling the plane take off into the clouds for the first time, watching Arlanda disappear 

Nowadays, the novelty of flying has worn off somewhat.

I’ve flown with many airlines to all kinds of destinations – both for work and leisure.  

I’ve had good trips and awful trips. I’ve been on long flights and short flights. I’ve missed flights and slept on an airport floor.  (Yes, really). 

Although I’ve had so many experiences with airplane travel,  some things are a constant.

I’m sure most of you will know these things already, but here’s a list of a few things we’ve picked up along the way.

Livermore’s Top Tips:

  1. People will always rush to board the plane. It doesn’t matter whether you fly short or long haul, budget or premium – we all want to get on that flight prontissimo.  You either join them or sit down and wait in protest.  Or you book first class and sail by the queue – up to you and your budget.  We’ll all end up on the same plane after all. 
  2. Boarding sequence is a weird one but generally speaking, if you have seats at the front or the very back you’ll either be boarding first and off first – or on first, off last. (Again, unless you fly Business or First Class) 
  3. Buy your snacks and food before flying. It’ll be nicer and cheaper.  Everyone does it so don’t worry about what’s etiquette. 
  4. Having said that, recently we’ve had some very meals with SAS and Tui respectively. I think airlines are upping their game! 
  5. Prepare for the unexpected. When we flew to Tenerife the cabin crew suddenly announced that we would be landing in Agadir, Morocco to drop off some crew. (I’m not kidding!) Bring extra nappies, babymilk, wipes, spare clothes and board games.
  6. Invest in a good power bank. An iPad is your best friend on long flights. You want it fully charged!
  7. I’ve said it before – headphone splitters. They will save many fights – err, I mean flights, in the future.
  8. I screen shot all the booking emails (parking, tickets, airplane lounges, car hire etc, etc) and the inside of the passport and then save into an album on my phone. That way I have all the info I need at hand in case the hard copies go awol and I don’t need to sift through numerous emails. 
  9. Most airline check ins can also be done really easily via an app.
  10. Team tag your luggage. If you’re like the majority of the population then you most likely own a black, red or navy suitcase.  (Unless you’re like me and love pink and purple coloured bags!) 
  11. We bring a refillable bottle and take through security. You can fill them up on the other side for free! 
  12. Another thing we do is to have a case for all our cables/chargers. That way, they’re all in one place and easy to access on the plane or once you’re at your destination. 

Happy Travels!

My flowery suitcase

Love, Jess

It takes a Village

This is a still from a film Brooks worked on recently called Cold Hands.

It’s written and directed by Mac Carr, shot in beautiful Falmouth, Cornwall. 

Brooks’ portrayal in the film really is stunning, and I hope you get a chance to see it. I’m a little biased, of course, but it really is a fantastic film. 

Being cast in films and TV projects means that sometimes he has to be away filming for lengths of time – either in the UK or abroad.

His jobs are often fun, sometimes crazy and intense, at times weird and unexpected. 

He can tell you all about that time he arrived in the Ukraine on a grey winter’s day to film an advert and he was picked up at the airport by a proper James Bond caricature villain. 

This man was huge. A good 2 meters and 2m wide. (Okay. No. But he was huge) 

He was standing in the arrivals foyer with a note that said Brooks in large letters. Brooks walked up to him and said cheerfully that he was Brooks. The man didn’t respond, but rather looked at him in complete silence. Then he simply gestured for Brooks to start walking. 

The James Bond villain walked him, in silence, to the car park where he gestured for Brooks to get in the back of a huge black Mercedes (- villain). 

There was a bullet proofed window between him and the driver (- villain) and the man drove him, in silence, all the way to the centre of the town to a manicure salon (er… – villain?) and then later the hotel.  (- villain).  Again, all in silence. 

Brooks rang me so many times that night. To make sure the kids and I were okay of course. 

Although we’re obviously overjoyed when he gets a job, because it’s his passion in life and he works so hard, it’s tough when he goes away, not only from a logistical point of view. 

Anyone with kids will tell you that it’s not an easy feat to look after kids on your own and three of them? 

Well, let me tell you – it’s a completely different ball game altogether. 

It’s the Big League people. 

This house runs a military camp. 

Everything is ready and set out the night before. 

The kids know the drill. When daddy is away, they must help mummy more at home.  When daddy is away, mummy turns into a drill sergeant. 

The food for the week is prepped and ready. The school bags are ready for school, their water bottles, packed lunches done, books, after school and club stuff sorted, tennis lessons, guitar and piano lessons, Taekwondo, football and swimming and Lord knows what else – all of it has to be ready and organised.  Mine and the kids’ clothes are ready and laid out ready for the week. We arrange play dates, we head to the library and go to the park after school.

Sounds fun yes, but it’s exhausting. 

If you’re on your own you don’t really get a break either. My kids have never been great sleepers and so they tend to be up a few times every night. 

I also sometimes get a bit scared. It’s a big house and I’m forever grateful for my dog’s presence – just in case. 

Gorgeous Friends

It also reminds me how lucky I am to have the best of friends.  My friends will offer to give the kids a ride to and back from school, have them over for play dates – you name it. 

Especially if you’re an immigrant like myself and my family are miles and miles away. My in laws are incredibly supportive as well, and will always help when Brooks is away. 

There’s a saying isn’t there. It takes a village and never was a truer word spoken. 

That time I kissed a Moose and a travel review.

Moose

Moose. The symbol of Sweden.

They are Majestic. Regal.

Moose are absolutely huge. It’s extremely humbling when you happen to see one up close and personal. Moose weigh up to about 700 Kg and they’re about 2 meters tall. They are MASSIVE.

They truly are the Kings of the Scandinavian Woods. (And North America!)

Growing up in the Swedish countryside, surrounded by woods, I’ve always had respect for these gentle giants. You did not want to meet one at night driving your car. The impact is the same as hitting a train at full speed.

Once when I was about 17, I was in the kitchen making a cup of tea when I suddenly got that horrible feeling… My hair at the back of my neck stood up and my blood froze.

I had that feeling like someone was watching me. I turned to the window and there it was. A huge dark shadow, staring right at me.

It was early autumn and it had already started getting darker in the evenings so initially I couldn’t really make out what the shadow was. Trust me when I say that I was PETRIFIED.

However, I soon realised it was a huge Moose cow. And she was in our garden. Eating our apples.

Having Moose appear in your garden does happen on occasion so I wasn’t too bothered by that.

But something was odd… She was acting erratically.

Eating the apples but sort of dropping them and slobbering all over place. She couldn’t walk straight.

She looked… drunk.

Moose

We called the farmer next door and he informed us that yes – she was indeed drunk. She had eaten all the over ripe apple off our trees and she was wasted.

We had no choice but to wait her out. She ate some more apples and eventually wobbled back to whence she came. I thought of offering her a strong cup of coffee, *jordgubbssaft and a couple of paracetamol to help with the hangover but decided against it.

I promise you. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen a drunk Moose.

Moose are really abundant in that part of Sweden so there are lots of Moose road signs around. Growing up, the word was that the German tourists used to steal the “Beware, Moose!” signs of the road. I’m not sure if there’s any truth in this but they sure do love a Moose Safari.

And who can blame them?!

I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed this outing to Virum Älgsafari.

Virum Moose Safari

We arrived early and I’m very happy that we did because we didn’t have to queue for the ride.

We jumped in one of the carriages, ready to meet the Moose.

The Rangers talked through the safety rules and explained not to get out of the carriage, stay seated and calm.

The Moose were all out in the paddock and they moved up to greet the tractor. They were absolutely huge up close. We’d all been given vegetables and greens to give the Moose.

The Rangers said that the Moose will give you a kiss if you lean out with a treat. There was no way in hell I was going to do this. But then when my 6 year nephew did it without hesitation I couldn’t really NOT try.

So that’s how it happened.

I kissed a Moose and I liked it.

I received a slobbery kiss from Albin the Moose and I can confirm that it was pleasant and not at all scary.

Our kids loved the ride and the whole outing in general. We had lunch near the playground and seeing the massive queues waiting for the next Safari I was really glad we’d been on the first ride.

There’s a cafe and a shop onsite too that sell the normal tourist paraphernalia. And a lot of Moose road signs – presumably for the German tourists.

Livermore’s Top Tips:

  1. Arrive early. Make sure you get on the first ride of the day. You can’t pre-book and the Safari gets really busy.
  1. Bring hand gel
  1. Bring a packed lunch. The cafe is lovely, but as with most things in Sweden, a bit pricey
  1. There’s only one customer toilet by the cafe and shop and so the queue was very long. There are toilets outside by the first barn on your left as your enter the Moose Park.
  2. Try the Zip Wire.

* Yes. It does work. (I swear by this hangover cure.)

How to make Swiss Meringue Raspberry Buttercream Icing

Söndagsbak.

It all starts off so harmoniously and zen.

You and your Child relaxed and ready to do some baking together.

Bonding time.

The Child gets to stir and mix the batter and help pour the batter into the cake tin. Most of the precious cake batter ends up on the floor and although you flinch involuntarily, you’re still pretty zen and it’s okay because, you know, it’s baking with Child time. But then halfway through, whilst stirring your Swiss meringue icing thinking why on Earth you decided to attempt a **Swiss Meringue, you realise that – No! You’re not actually that relaxed about the whole baking with Child thing and “No! you can’t pour oregano into the egg whites!!”

Still.

It was lovely to eat the cake in the end. And the icing was to die for.

Here’s the icing recipe I used:

Swiss Meringue Raspberry Buttercream

I started with my raspberry coulis. I heated the raspberries on a gentle heat in a pot until they were breaking down.

Once cooled, I ran it through the food processors and finally through a sieve to remove the pips.

Onto your icing. Your eggs should be at room temperature. Leave those bad boys out early on so they’re ready for baking time.

Whip your egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. The bowl shouldn’t touch the water. Keep whisking continuously. You need to keep going until it turns silky and smooth. The mixture will turn thinner and frothier as you go on.

A good tip is that if you rub the mixture between your fingers and if it’s grainy then KEEP GOING. (It took about 10 minutes of continuous stirring to get to this point). It’s really weird because I kept thinking it’s neeeeeeveer going to turn and then suddenly you end up with a silky and smooth texture.

The next step is important. Make sure your mixture is cool completely before you start adding your butter!

It’ll end up a runny mess otherwise – take my word for it! Ahem…

Once the mixture is cool, start whisking until stiff peaks. (Coincidentally this is a good time to reintroduce Child to the baking process. Try the old “I will flip the Meringue mixture over my head to see if it’s set.”)

Anyway. The result is amazing. The icing is so silky and luxurious!

Now you add your butter. It should be room temperature but still be able to hold its shape.

Add about a tablespoon at a time, and keep mixing.

Once I had added all my butter I mixed in the raspberry coulis, a pinch of sea salt (balance is everything right?) and stirred.

The result was absolutely fantastic! I’ll definitely be using this frosting/icing from now on. So tasty and not too sweet. Just spot on.

*Do not worry if your mixture is too runny. It’s still salvageable. I put it back into the fridge to cool down for twenty minutes and it was good to go.

**It really wasn’t that much extra work. It sounds like a palaver but it’s not. Trust me.