Letting Go Of What Was Supposed To Be

D and I met when I was 14 and he was 15. He was older and cooler and two years ahead of me at school. I took GCSE music in a bid to impress him (daft idea) and we quickly became pretty inseparable.

He asked me to be his girlfriend in April 2003, when he had just turned 16 and that was the beginning of the last fifteen years. In 2007 we went to university in Leeds and in a damp and draughty back to back terrace we made our first home together. In 2011, in the week before we came home from Leeds, we bought an antique diamond ring and managed to keep it a secret from everyone until D proposed on a clifftop over a year later. We had an engagement shoot in that spot a few weeks later, and swiftly went into full time wedding planning.

Little did we know that the planning would be somewhat interrupted. In 2013 we bought our first house. We'd fallen in love with it and somehow managed to completely miss that it needed a huge amount of work doing to it. We spent the next year, and rather a lot of money, completely overhauling it and ended up with a beautiful, very stylish, teeny-tiny home that wasn't big enough for a normal sized sofa but which we were so proud of.

In 2015, 12 years after we first got together, we finally got married and as much as I know it's the worlds most often used cliché, it really was the best day of our lives. I said in my vows that on that day, we became part of the same team, and we had a pretty clear vision of the next move for our little alliance...

I remember asking D when he was about 17, 'You do want to have kids one day, don't you?' and can still see the look of fear in his eyes as he tried to work out what the right answer was! I'm pretty sure at that point he said 'yes' just to make sure I didn't break up with him, but over the last decade we've moved on from discussing names and cooing over tiny clothes. We've imagined Christmas morning, discussed our thoughts on schooling, dreamt about teaching a little tribe about life and generally planning for our lives as parents.

Just a few weeks after we got back from our honeymoon we put our tiny cottage on the market and sold it in less than 48 hours. After an incredibly long and stressful few months of arguing with the land registry and spending half our waking hours on the phone to the solicitors we moved into our current home. It has three bedrooms and a downstairs toilet, a safe back garden and double doors into the living room that we immediately pictured throwing open on that fantasy Christmas morning. We'd bought our family home, team Nickerson-Smith HQ, and all that was missing were the final members.

We'd decided when we were planning our wedding that we'd start trying for a baby the January after we got married. When January 2016 arrived and I didn't fall pregnant straight away we remained excited, optimistic. My Mum had fallen pregnant with both me and my sister in the first few months of trying and I was sure I would too. We started talking names, looking at nursery decor, even buying the odd tiny item of clothing. I bought D a mug with the words 'The Adventure Begins" emblazoned on the side and imagined handing him a coffee with a grin on my face and watching comprehension dawn.

But then six months went by. Then nine months. In September 2016 one of my best friends had her baby girl and it hit home then that whole human lives had been created in the time we'd been trying to make one of our own.

It was around this point the we started to feel a bit panicky, and that I started to feel emotions I hadn't expected to associate with starting a family. Guilt, fear, resentment, even jealously. It's the most horrible feeling when you realise your first reaction to a family member announcing they're pregnant isn't joy, but to burst into tears because you wish it was you. Of course the joy and happiness is there, but it's accompanied by a bitter side note of 'it should be us by now.' I think I'll write in more depth about this as it's been something I've really struggled with. D has continually tried to remind me that we don't know everyone's stories, and as more and more people around me (both in person and those I follow online) seemed to be announcing they were pregnant, I've tried really hard to remember that not everyone shares their story and they might have gone though the same torment as us before sharing their joy. That's part of why I'm so keen to talk about our journey. Every time I've mentioned it briefly on social media I get messages from people saying 'us too' and while sharing is a completely individual decision, I think we'd all feel less alone if more people who felt able to talked about it.

I've been through numerous cycles of thought about changes I can make; I've given up caffeine and drunk green smoothies, cut back on red meat and spent £30 a month on the best fertility supplements I could find. I've practiced fertility yoga, carried crystals in my pocket, used a fertility monitor and hounded D the minute he got through the doors because 'the egg is showing today and we only have 12 hours before we've missed this month'.  On the other hand I've also somewhat hit the self destruct button, thought 'f**k it, it's not working anyway so I'm going to drink all the coffee and wine I like and see if that works because celery and water clearly doesn't!'

Of course, none of this made any difference, and in February 2017 we decided to start investigating. My first round of blood tests came back fine and it appeared I was ovulating normally. The doctor told us that 80% of fertile couples will conceive in the first year and that of the 20% that don't, half of those will conceive in the second year. He told us that in his experience, once couples start looking into why it's not happening, the reassurance that everything seems to be fine is enough to take away the stress that was preventing them falling pregnant. I went away feeling sure that it would happen soon - what were the chances of us being in that 10% that don't manage to fall pregnant in the second year...

We carried on trying for another nine months, all the time getting more and more certain that there must be something going on with one or both of us that was preventing us from becoming parents. We started decorating the smallest bedroom in the hope it might instill some positivity, and every so often I'd get out the little collection of tiny clothes and blankets we'd accumulated and hope it wasn't all pointless.

Then, in November last year, we got the results back from another round of tests and discovered that we were indeed in that 10%. There's a reason is hasn't happened for us and without intervention there's no chance at all of me falling pregnant naturally. It's been bizarre to realise that all the stressing and worrying and day counting and supplements and laying upside down would never have made any difference.

I'm still not sure it's really sunk in. We have our first appointment with the fertility team next week, and after that we'll being the process of IVF.  I feel like we've suddenly become part of a whole new community, and while it's a relief that we don't have to 'try' any more, it's going to take a while to come to terms with the fact that our journey to become parents now will be largely a medical process.

Mostly we're hopeful, a bit of us is even a little excited. Meanwhile a lot of us is terrified and there's definitely still a bit of us both grieving for the way we thought it was supposed to be.

But theres no point dwelling on that. This is the way it will be and as usual, we'll meet each new challenge together.

The Future of The Salted Tail

Well hello there, it's been a while. I like to give myself a few weeks away from the internet and (any particularly considered) social media generally over Christmas and it always feels really good to miss writing and to be excited to get back into it again.

Something has changed this time though. When I left my job at a special needs school nearly 18 months ago, I set about trying to monetise The Salted Tail. I had visions of waking up early and being at my computer by nine, writing four posts a week, photographing tutorials and recipes and working with brands. Somehow though, it's just not gone that way. I never expected it to be easy, and I certainly didn't expect it to happen overnight, but what I did expect was to love doing it. The truth is that, for a lot of the time, I haven't loved it at all.

You see, the blog that I have constructed and the way I feel about creating content for it aren't the same. I wanted a place that was all about sharing joy...and that's not the overriding emotion I've been experiencing this past few months...

I feel guilty when I make something and don't take photos, and I've found myself feeling cross about not sharing something when someone else then shares a similar idea.

I've felt frustrated because I generally feel most inspired to make things in the evening, when the light is non existent and taking photos for a tutorial would be pointless. So I end up not making anything at all because by the morning when the light is better I'm not in the right space for creating anymore. I've ended up making less since I left my old job than I did while I was there, and that wasn't the idea at all.

Mostly I've felt an overriding pressure to make it pay. For some reason when I read Big Magic by Liz Gilbert (which if you haven't read you must post-haste) as much I shouted "YES" over and over, for some reason there were a few bits that I just thought didn't apply to me, and not trying to make my work make money was one of them. When I left my last job and announced "I'm going to be a blogger" I immediately felt like I wasn't doing it properly if I wasn't making money from it, and that was always going to be a disaster. Liz explains it better than I ever could:

"I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. I’ve seen artists drive themselves broke and crazy because of this insistence that they are not legitimate creators unless they can exclusively live off their creativity. And when their creativity fails them (meaning: doesn’t pay the rent), they descend into resentment, anxiety, or even bankruptcy. Worst of all, they often quit creating at all."

Guilt, frustration and pressure aren't exactly what I was hoping for. 

Also, I've been thinking a lot recently about why I started all this in the first place. It wasn't about teaching anyone anything, it wasn't about working with brands and it definitely wasn't about trying to figure out who my audience were and not sharing something I was passionate about because my imaginary audience wouldn't be interested in it. It was about documenting our life, quick posts about how much I'd enjoyed a meal we'd made, or a place we'd visited. Book reviews and boot sale finds and whatever else I fancied. It was a record of my life, and not an influence on it which it's definitely become.  

I spoke to D about this before Christmas and it was such a relief to remove the pressure from the situation. We went to a makers market shortly after and he said he could see the difference in me already. I wasn't looking at the work and wondering how I could fashion it into a post, and I wasn't forcing myself into introducing myself as blogger while reeling inside because I secretly can't bear the word

So, as for where things go from this point, I'm not going to be giving myself, or any of you any expectations.  The posts I enjoy writing the most are the ones I'll be writing, and I'll be doing it for me. I'm taking away the stress about numbers and followers and all that nonsense that's really quite unhealthy. I mentioned my state of mind over on Instagram briefly and so many people agreed with me that I'm guessing I'm not the only one feeling less than in love with the internet - and you know what, even if I am, thats fine too! 

There might be some noticeable changes, or there might not be and this whole post might have been completely unnecessary - we'll see.

But I'm doing me again. No apologies.  

Christmas Gift Guide Volume Three : Experiences Not Things

It seems the Christmas build up is well and truly underway and it's time to start stepping things up with the Christmas Gift Guides.

This third guide focuses on experiences rather than material things which, lets face it, it's all too easy to get hung up on at this time of year. We've all panic bought more gifts because it doesn't feel like we've done enough, and I've already had to be reminded that it doesn't matter if I've spent different amounts of money on friends children if they both love the things I've chosen for them.

I love a gift that extends beyond Christmas day, that gives the recipient something to look forward to, something to make or learn and, more importantly, facilitates the making of memories rather than clutter!

Some of the things I've listed here, such as workshops or nights away are ideas rather then specific items as they depend on your location, but I've mentioned some of my favourites too! Also, some of the prices I've listed are very much 'ish' depending on where you get things from and again, where in the country you live!

I hope it inspires you to buy a few less things and a few more things-to-do...

Outdoor Hot Chocolate Kit - £40ish

This can be done really inexpensively but is a gift I would really love to receive! A hot chocolate on the beach (or the park/woods/riverbank/garden etc etc) on a crisp winters day is such a treat, and would definitely brighten up a dull January or February day. Grab a nice jute or hessian bag for life (you could of course choose a more expensive receptacle for your bits and bobs, a nice cool bag or rucksack would be lovely, but a hessian bag for life is cheap and will do the job!) and fill it with the following:

- Camping Stove (unless you know the recipient has one) - Approximately £15
- Flask (or glass bottle) for milk - Less than £5 at Ikea or similar
- Milk pan (optional) - I've found these anywhere from £6 for a basic one to £30 for this lovely one from the Hambledon. Obviously everyone has a pan they could use so you could leave this out, but I think it's nice to have a special one for taking out and about, and enamel is nice and light. We have this one and we use it all the time A spout is also very useful!
- Enamel Mugs - super cheap and indestructible. Falcon are my favourite but I've spotted them in the pound shop recently.
- Jar of hot chocolate mix - I really don't think you can beat Jamie Olivers Epic Hot Chocolate recipe, and a big jar would add about £5 to the cost of the whole gift
- Marshmallows, sprinkles, and if you're feeling extra generous maybe some miniature spirits too, I'm rather partial to an amaretto hot chocolate myself!

All in, this could be done for around £40 - not half bad for a gift for the whole family which can be used again and again!

Festival Tickets - £350ish for a family of four

I've spoken at length about my love for The Good Life Experience so obviously I'm going to recommend you buy tickets to that, but I'm aware there are other good ones around the country too and I've heard excellent things about Camp Bestival, and Just So Festival. How exciting to unwrap a gift will give the recipient something to look forward to throughout those cold winter months before Spring arrives. Expensive, yes, but so much more worthwhile than a mountain of plastic or another device.  

Cookery School Experience - £variable

Do you have someone on your gift list who would love to be more confident in the kitchen? Or, do you know someone who is already excellent but has always wanted to learn a specific skill? There are hundreds of cookery schools throughout the country and many run day classes as well as courses spread out over a few weeks. Before I started working there part time, I spent the day leaning to make macarons with Macarons and More and it was so much fun (plus everyone got homemade treats as presents for the next year so this definitely benefits you as the gift giver too!) 

Some other options that look amazing (and which I would totally love to receive, just incase Santa happens to be reading this) are:

Rick Steins Cookery School - As you would imagine, a celebration of fish.
River Cottage Cookery School - So much to choose from, from baking to fishing (this is top of my bucket list)
Hunter Gather Cook - specialising in foraging, game and cooking over fire. Oh, and its in a tree house! 
Hobbs House Bakery - Obviously lots of baking, but also BBQ, butchery and pie making!

(above image from macaronsandmore.com)

Recipe Book and Equipment or Ingredients - £20+

Sticking with the food theme, a recipe book is something of a Christmas gift stalwart. You can make it even more of an experience (and encourage the recipient to actually use it) by pairing it with a piece of kitchen equipment used frequently in the book, or maybe specialist ingredients needed for some of the recipes. For instance (I've linked to a few of my favourite books):

Italian + pasta machine
Bread + proving basket  
Wild Baking + fire pit (sounds extravagant but ours was only £30)
Baking + natural food colourings
Meat + Thermometer
Comfort Food + Casserole Dish
Healthier Choices + Suitable seeds/grains
Healthier Baking Choices + A sugar alternative such as rice malt
Hot Chocolate + Cocoa and Marshmallows

You get the idea!

Katie and Kirstie of The Workbench have been teaching ring making workshops for over three years, and have recently launched their at-home-workshop box containing everything you need to make a wax version of your dream ring. You then send it off to be cast and it comes back to you all res-life and shiny. Doesn't that sound like the best fun!  

Fort Kit £10+

This is such a fun idea for children and families and while you can buy fort kits that are already put together, I think it would be great fun to choose all the bits and bobs yourself. The options are pretty endless for things you can include, but the obvious starting points are:

- Blankets and flat sheets (Ikea usually have them for about £3, and charity shops would be an even better option)
- Battery Operated Fairy Lights
- Pegs

But to make it really fun you could also add:

- Stick on hooks (for when you run out of places to peg your blankets to!)
- Curtain rings with clips (attach the clips to your blankets, and hook the rings on your adhesive hooks)
- Bunting
- A custom banner to hang outside (I like this one)

I could go on, but I think you get the gist! Pack everything into a tote bag and get set to invited to play!


I've got lots more ideas for this one so keep checking back for more updates! I really hope you're finding these guides useful - let me know if theres something you'd like to see!


Christmas Gift Guide Volume Two : Make it Yourself

I am definitely guilty of planning to make too many Christmas presents then ending up in an absolute flap three days before because I haven't finished them. This year's plan is to get everything bought by December the 1st, then everything made in the first two weeks of December so when we get the tree up and start decorating the house everything is done! 

On that note, today I'm sharing some ideas for gifts you can make yourself. Some are super simple and others are a little more time consuming, but hopefully it's early enough and if you do want to make some presents this year you'll have plenty of time to get everything finished! 

I'll be adding more ideas to all the gift guides throughout November and December so keep checking back if you're enjoying them. I've added a tab to the menu bar above where you'll be able to find them all! 

My parents seem to get given two or three plants for Christmas every year, poinsettias or hyacinths that are picked up in the supermarket, last five minutes, and (in the case of hyacinths) smell bloomin' awful!

You can buy much more stylish (and longer lasting) cacti and succulents for a few pounds, and repotted into a homemade planter they can become something really special. I love this woven planter tutorial from Teri at The Lovely Drawer, and she has several other planter tutorials on her blog too, like this hanging one, and this painted rope one.

Baked Goods in Tins

It's always lovely to get something homemade, and you cant go far wrong with a tin of homemade goodies. The set of three in the image above are from Ikea are only £6, and you can usually find similarly priced ones in supermarkets, or Tiger were pretty good for tins last year too. However if you put a little more money and thought behind it the container can also double up as an extra present.

These personalised jars are a little pricey, but I think they're beautiful. A quick search on eBay will uncover an array of vintage Quality Street tins for a bit of festive nostalgia, or this set of Orla Keily tins could prove quite good value as they can be split to give as several gifts.

If you have children to buy for but like to steer clear of things that will become additions to the plastic mountain, making a gift is perfect. There's nothing better than seeing someone really loving and using something you've made for them and handmade things are sure to become firm favourites. I made a farmyard version of this little backpack last year and was SO pleased to see it still being used at a recent family gathering. If you can sew straight lines, you can definitely make this and I've split the tutorial into three with really clear visual instructions - I'd love to see what you come up with if you decide to make one yourself.  

This recipe is a bit of a Christmas tradition in our house. We've been making it since we were at uni and it never fails to go down well, it's not too spicy, but not sickeningly sweet like some chilli sauces and you can vary the heat too depending on how hot your chillies are. It's really really simple to make and looks really festive tied up with twine and a pretty tag. Package it up with some nice crackers and strong pecorino for extra brownie points!  

It's all too easy to fall back on bath and body gift sets at Christmas, and while it's always nice to get some nice bits you wouldn't necessarily buy for yourself, you can quickly end up inundated with too many body lotions. This lavender sugar scrub is a bit different, really easy to make and feels luxurious, especially when it's used as part of a foot soak ritual. If you click through to the recipe I've also added a downloadable gift tag with instructions for the ultimate at home pedicure that you can add to the jar. You could make it really special by adding some nice socks and perhaps some lavender tea or chocolate treats for the recipient to enjoy while they're treating themselves to a post-Christmas-pedicure.  

Remembrance Sunday: Grandad's Evacuation Story

My Grandad is in his eighties now, and is beginning to struggle more and more with his day to day memory. A subject that still prompts his memories to flood back to him, even more than seventy years later, is remembering his childhood. He was evacuated from his home in Lowestoft in 1940, sent up to Derbyshire on the train to escape the dangers of the second world war, with a little packed lunch and a label round his neck.

I thought that today, on Remembrance Sunday, I would share a little of his story with you. Over to you, Grandad....

"Being a young boy when World War II was declared, it was quite new to see workmen lifting sacks with sand off the north beach and filling lorries with those sacks, then watching them lay bags around the town hall and other buildings, but all seemed quiet and no changes apart from an aircraft now and then, I know that school was carrying on as usual.

This was until I ran home with a form for my parents to sign, I did not read it but other lads said it was an outing by train. As in those days we never travelled, or had even been on a train, I thought it would be good. My brother Alan arrived home with his form for our parents, and he was told it was to live with other people. My parents told us we would not be going as they did not want to lose us, but a few days later I think they had been talked to about dangers, and they said we could travel but only if we were together and lived together. 

It seemed to me the day of evacuation soon arrived, I had just reached my birthday of 8 years and 1 month. I was to report to class with my small bag containing water, a stick of barley sugar, a sandwich, and a comic. Most of the class were present, mostly with parents. My mother had another child by this time, now six months, but another mother tied my label round my neck and told me to hold her daughters hand, “look after her” she said. I did not have much of an education dealing with girls, but I held her hand while we moved from the classroom down to the railway lines. Outside the station I was still holding her hand and trying to find my brother, as the teachers said we would be together. 

On the other side of the road, mothers and some fathers were waving to us and some of the ladies were crying. Then we were told to move into the station in a line, we all moved in pairs onto the platform and then onto the train. I still held hands with the girl and we sat next to each other, no teacher or anyone told us how long we will be on the train, whether it be an hour or whenever, so I did not work out when to eat the sandwich I had in my bag, or even the barley sugar.

We were told to sit. I recall our carriage was very quiet, occasionally some child pointed out types of animals in the fields, then everything went quiet again. I do remember that on one occasion the train stopped at a station for ladies to come and pass us drinks between, but I cannot remember if it was water, milk, or lemonade, but the train was soon on the move again. 

We arrived in Derbyshire, I think about 2pm, I cannot name the station but we had to board a coach for a few miles to a school in Scarcliffe where we had to sit on the grass and were given sandwiches and a drink. This is where my little companion and I were separated for some reason. There were several small coaches outside the school and, with lists in their hands, teachers pointed out to us which coach to board, then after a short distance we were told to leave the bus. After this we had to line up in fours with the children from another coach. We were then told we were going to ‘parade’ and march to the school in the village, Bramley Vale, Derbyshire. It was only 300 yards away, and we must show people how smart we were. 

At the front of my column two boys from Wilde School carried our banner ‘John Wilde School, Lowestoft’. The two streets to the Bramley Vale School I noticed were covered in adults from the villages, some applauding, and some ladies crying which I admit on the day I could not understand. We were shown into classrooms and told to sit at the desks, I sat wondering why my brother was not with me.

After a short while, ladies from nearby were taking children when they were called out, after a short time I was almost alone, and I admit I was on the verge of tears being alone. I know I have read many letters similar to the above, and the writer nearly always quotes he was the last getting a home. In my case, looking around, I saw one lady waiting in the classroom. I later learned she was one of the first to arrive, to pick up two boys, preferably brothers, and that the organiser said “You had better take him, he is the last.” The lady had come over to the desk and said “You come with me my duck.”

There have been many thoughts over the organisation. One idea is that Alan should have travelled with John Wilde School, or that the lady in next door had asked for one boy to play with her son, but had got two brothers instead. I assure you that I got the best of the mix up. 

I have been told many times in my life that I am a lucky person and everything must go my way. I cannot agree with everything they quote but in my evacuation to this lady, I must have been one of the luckiest school boys who left lowestoft in June 1940. The lady who took me home was Mrs May Holmes, and she lived only 7 houses from the school. Her husband was Mr Reg Holmes and he was home having finished his day down the coal mine. I clearly remember them asking my name, to which I replied “Terry Smith Miss”. They had laid me on the sofa, and I fell asleep right away, I think I slept around two hours. They then told me their names, but straight away I called them Aunty and Uncle. ‘Aunty’ lasted all the 4 years, 3 months I was evacuated, but ‘Uncle’ soon changed to ‘Nunk’. Aunty always said ‘Terry’ but Nunk always called me ‘Bloz. 

Aunty and Nunk loved children, but I later learned they could not have their own. When I awoke on that day on the sofa Nunk said “How about a walk, I have to see someone?” Aunty suggested I was tired but I said I wanted to go with ‘Uncle’, and from that day I knew, at my small age, that I had been lucky"


From the stories he tells, my Grandad certainly was lucky. From new clothes and trips out, to being given his own little allotment and taught to grow vegetables, he tells stories of a really wonderful four years in Derbyshire. He stayed in touch with Aunty and Nunk for the rest of their lives, and I know he will be forever grateful for the safe home-from-home they gave him. While he was away, his family home was indeed bombed; the bedroom his shared with his brother was destroyed and his own grandparents were killed. Thank goodness that, despite their initial misgivings, my great grandparents decided to send their children away - I can't quite get my head around the idea that if they hadn't, my life wouldn't have existed at all. 

And that's the whole point of this day - to acknowledge and honour the hundreds of thousands of people who have made our country, and our families the way they are today: those who fought, who defended, who did things they never imagined possible and certainly didn't sign up for, and who had to live forever with the horror of the things they saw. Those who operated radios and broke codes and flew planes, who filled the roles of the men and boys sent to war, who welcomed children into their homes to keep them safe, who gave their lives for the sake of future generations, and of course for all those men and women who continue to do so...

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them." 

Christmas Gift Guide Volume One : For The Food Lover

Now, I'm very aware that some of you may be thinking that it's far too early to be considering Christmas given that there's still 54 days to go until the big day. However, I for one am very prone to ending up feeling stressed and flappy in December about how much I've got left to do, not really enjoying the build up at all and then ending up absolutely exhausted on Christmas day itself.

It's daft really isn't it; buying presents is the best fun, we all love making our houses look extra sparkly and Christmas dinner is really just a roast with extra vegetables - yet somehow we seem to get ourselves in an absolute tizz about the whole thing which is often over quicker than blinking.

With that in mind, for the last couple of years we've tried to get all our Christmas shopping done before the first of December so we can then enjoy decorating the house, planning all the food and watching Elf and The Holiday multiple times with one less thing to think about.

To hopefully make that process a little easier for everyone, I've put together a series of Christmas Gift Guides which will be posted throughout November. I've tried to steer away from aiming them at Mums or Grandads or Brothers or whoever and instead focussed on the interests of the people in our lives we need to buy gifts for. Hopefully there's something for everyone, and for a range of budgets too.

So first up, we have a roundup of gift ideas for food lovers...

This is something we came across on our recent trip to Stockholm, and I think it's the epitome of beautiful and useful combined. There is a small version for grating at the table, and a larger kitchen version for grating into dishes. I love how simple the design is and how it brings a real sense of occasion to seasoning your food. I think it would be perfect for someone who takes pride in the way their kitchen looks or loves setting a table to entertain. There's also a raw liquorice version if the recipient is that way inclined - which I am...liquorice hot chocolate anyone? 

D bought me a Cocoa Runners subscription for my birthday back in September and I can't tell you how exciting it is to have a box of the worlds best chocolate drop through your letterbox. These are not your average bars of corner shop crap, but the most exquisitely flavoured (and packaged) bars of really complex and distinctive chocolate. If you know someone who is into wine or coffee tasting, this would be an excellent choice. 

Every foodie loves a cheese board right? With this kit they'll be able to make 10 different varieties of cheese at home. I love that this gives total control over what type of milk is used and exactly how each one tastes. The kit comes with everything you need (except milk of course!) plus a recipe book, and enough ingredients for 40 batches of deliciousness!  

I have a LOT of recipe books. Like, 300 a lot. However, I don't always cook from them, and more often than not we just make things up as we go along, or base a meal on a recipe but change it around according to what we have in the fridge.  The Flavour Thesaurus looks like it would be so useful on those days when you can't decide what to eat, or when you know you fancy something cheesy but can't quite work out what else you want and you're not a student anymore so eating a single foodstuff and calling it a meal isn't ok. It's divided up into chapters based on the type of flavour, and has 99 foods listed along with pairings for each and over 200 recipe suggestions. Plus, who doesn't love a good book for Christmas.

The Raw Chocolate Pie Company are based in Cornwall and are a longstanding favourite of mine. Their Cacao Nib grinder is used all the time in our house, and is perfect for adding a really intense chocolate flavour to sweet dishes, some of our favourites being crumble topping, porridge and ice cream sundaes, but also for adding a really interesting depth to chillies and stews. I think it would make the perfect interesting stocking-filler-chocolate-alternative for a food lover. 


That brings us to the end of volume one. I hope it's got you thinking about your gift lists and maybe started to spark some ideas. Say tuned throughout November for more gift giving ideas, including guides for new parents, coffee lover, bearded ones and those annoying people who seem to have everything! 

Seeing Out Summer with The Good Life Experience

At the beginning of September, Pedlars very kindly invited myself and D back to The Good Life Experience, a three day festival held on the Hawarden Estate in North Wales that has very quickly become my favourite weekend of the year. 

It was founded by four friends; Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, Cerys Matthews and her husband Steve Abbott. Four years ago they set about creating a festival that reflected the common desire to return to a simpler way of life, the kind of life our parents and grandparents lived where good times didn't depend on money and excess, where we made things and grew things and past times didn't revolve around high resolution screens, but around each other. The festival is a celebration of food, music, books and crafts people - all the good things in life. 

We arrived to find the same glorious blue sky that greeted us last year, but a week of rain the the lead up to the weekend also meant a great deal of mud - and it was all the more fun for it! We put up our tent to the sound of music in the distance and I could hardly contain my excitement. I felt as though I'd come home when we arrived last year, and knowing what to expect made me even more eager to get in and immerse myself in the joy of it all once more.

Yet again, the only negative I can draw from the whole weekend is that you could do with a time-turner; there's so much happening that you couldn't possibly see everything, and choosing which things to miss is such a tough decision to make.

We perused the line-up with some lunch from Claw who we discovered last year and were hoping would be back again. They serve a whole host of crab and seafood goodness, and we went for the crab on fries which is a rather inspired combination.    

We decided first to see Micheal Rosen. I'd been wondering which bit of the weekend would make me cry this year, and it turns out this was it. 

Micheal Rosen is of course famous for 'We're Going on A Bear Hunt' and he saved this performance till the very end. Before that though, he took us on an animated and completely hilarious journey through his childhood, all the time looking just like the Quentin Blake illustration of himself. We heard about his inability to hear the word 'bedtime,' how heading to the bathroom meant it was time to muck about and felt his Dad's fury after finding the top of the toothpaste buried inside his shaving soap. His explanation? Pirates, of course.  

It was really quite overwhelming to watch the command he had over his audience - children and adults alike were repeating his lines back to him, and gasping with horror when his mum discovered his midnight chocolate cake feast. Such a wonderful poet and performer, and we both feel quite honoured to have watched, with tears rolling down our cheeks, him doing his thing. 

Next it was over to the Campfire cooking stage for something else that I found rather overwhelming. As you might remember from my recent post about podcasts, I've recently fallen in love with Harry Eastwood and her ethos on meat. 

Listening to her talking about honouring and savouring each piece of meat you eat was completely inspiring and cemented our feelings about lessening the quantity and upping the quality of the meat we choose to eat. I had one of those joyous moments where I want to jump up and down and bestow thanks on a person for articulating the jumble of feelings that reside in my head. Also, by following the simple tips gleaned from her talk we've since cooked the best steak we've ever had! 

Just look at my happy little face! It's mostly because of Harry and her demo, a little bit because of the table of foraged mushrooms next to me, and quite a lot because of the lavender soda and spiced rum I'm clutching. I spotted the Lurvill's Delight stand at about 300 paces - lavender and rum are two of my most favourite flavours, and they combined to make the most beautiful (and refined sugar free) riff on a 'dark and stormy' - I may have had more than one. 

Both Makers Row and The Marketplace were bigger and better than last year, with some of the most talented craftspeople sharing their skills and the most incredible wares for sale. D had an excellent time selecting a new beard oil from Old Faithful and I spent a considerable time stroking some beautiful knitted baby clothes from Mabli. Most of the purveyors are local and it's a real celebration of Welsh makers! 

We didn't manage to get booked into any workshops this year, but watching people creating things with their hands, sometimes for the first time, was marvellous. Parents and children made screen prints together, arrows were sharpened and leather punched. This isn't craft in the toilet roll and sticky back plastic sense, this is crafting in the true sense of the word, making something real and tangible using your hands. I love to think that for some of the children, and maybe some of their parents, that this weekend might unearth a passion that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  

The festival site takes on a whole new magic as the sun goes down. The camp fires are lit, and the music turned up. Children get wrapped up a little bit more, eyes wide with the delight of a late night and a hot chocolate and 'yes you can have one more marshmallow' or they're tucked in to wagons adorned with fairy lights to sleep while the rest of the family carry on the party.

We headed back to the campfire cooking stage for Tom Herbert's book launch which was absolutely inspired! After chatting to Tom, and getting a copy of his new book Do Wild Baking - Food Fire and Good Times signed with the dedication 'Bake Together Forever' we hung it up over the camp fire to 'cold smoke,' to infuse it with the wonderful smell of the smouldering fire.

It's well known that the sense of smell evokes a stronger emotional response than any of the other four, and flicking through the smokey pages immediately transports me back to that night, full of inspiration and memory and the reminder to get outdoors and cook.

As we sat huddled around the smouldering fire, drinking beer, inhaling the scent of smoke now tucked within the pages, watching muddy dogs fighting over beef bones and scraps from the days cooking, I had felt the exact same sense of belonging as last year. There's something tribal about it, a sense of camaraderie and shared joy that makes everyone feel like instant friends. 

On Sunday morning, after a breakfast of bacon and fried duck egg sandwiches, I challenged D to a coffee-off. Allpress coffee were teaching people how to make espresso based coffees, and ever the competitors we decided to show off a bit!  

We decided diplomatically that mine looked better, but D's tasted better - so as ever we make a pretty good team. 

We then headed to a talk with Harry Eastwood and Felicity Cloake, guardian columnist and author of four recipe books. They both have such a passion for food, and a fascinating way with words which made their talk utterly compelling. From cycling round France and inhaling the bread basket to a comparison between the compulsive nature of both Mills and Boon novels and a bag of Wotzits, the two of them together sparked an idea in me that perhaps food might play a bigger part in my life than I ever imagined.  

Next up - just to add to the layers of delicious overwhelm now piling up on top of me we headed back to the campfire to watch Gill Meller (long standing fantasy love interest of mine) cook Mussels Eclade - or, mussels cooked with fire. The plan was to arrange the mussels, opening down, on a large piece of wood, cover them with pine needles, set the needles on fire and have the heat and smoke cook the seafood to perfection. However - the lovingly collected pine needles had somehow gone astray, so hay was employed instead and the result was wonderful, sweet, juicy and perfectly smokey mussels.

It was with very heavy hearts that we packed up the tent and headed home. I can't fully express how being here makes me feel. I think I said last year that walking into The Good Life Experience was like looking at the inside of my head laid out infront of me and that was completely true again this year. If you could give physicality to the emotion of joy - then this weekend nails it, and I haven't even mentioned that everywhere you look there's a dog to make friends with too.

It's something really really special - every single moment of it is so felicitous that it all feels like such a celebration. Every person, whether they're a chef or a maker is so passionate about what they do that you can help but be infected by that same passion too. What I find so wonderful is that everything is aimed at adults and children alike, and the utter joy of making something with your hands can be seen everywhere, from children who have never felt so proud, to adults who had forgotten what that feeling is like.

So, as we all fully embrace Autumn and say goodbye to summer for another year, lets raise a glass and chant: Here's to campfires, here's to rum, here's to finding a double pronged marshmallow stick and singeing your pigtails. Here's to setting up a make believe sweetcorn stand, here's to muddy dogs and muddy pyjamas. Here's to steak, to smoke and to going on a bear hunt. Here's to making it with your hands, to rolling down hills and getting drunk on fresh air. Here's to hiding the top of the toothpaste, here's to infusing books with memories and toasting them with ale. Here's to wellies, here's to family, here's to yoga and fire and music and baking and passion and mussels and stories and crying because you love it... 

Here's to The Good Life.