Almond Macaroons

These are so easy to make and so delicious.  They go great with a nice cup of good coffee.

125g finely ground almonds

150g caster sugar

1 egg white (medium egg)

Almond Extract 

Icing Sugar to dust

Almonds to decorate

Pre heat the oven 180C and line a tray with baking paper.

Start off by blitzing the ground almonds in a food processor to ensure they are extra fine.  This gives the macaroons a better texture.  Once this is done, add the almonds to a bowl along with the sugar and combine.  Next add the egg white and a few drops of almond extract and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture has come together to form a dough-like consistency.

Roll the dough into 10 balls and place on the baking tray, making sure to leave 3 or 4cm between each one as they will spread when baking.  Flatten each ball slightly and lightly dampen with water using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle each one with a little icing sugar and top with an almond.

Place in the oven and cook for around 12 minutes.  Keep an eye on the macaroons while they are baking to ensure they don’t go too brown.  They should still be light in colour once baked.

Leave to cool slightly then enjoy.  These go great with coffee and can be stored in an airtight container for about a week.

Our Honeymoon

When planning our honeymoon, we really couldn’t decide if we wanted to visit somewhere hot, with a nice pool, a beach and cocktails, or if we should go for a city break with plenty of sight-seeing. So we decided to do both.

We booked to go to New York City but decided we would wait until December as we wanted to see it in all its festive glory, just like in the movies.  So when we decided to look for a sunny honeymoon for right after the wedding, there was one clear choice for both of us.

Back in 2014 we visited Croatia for the first time.  Kolocep Island to be exact.  This beautiful, tranquil island was in a perfect location just a short boat ride from the stunning Dubrovnik Old Town.  We both absolutely fell in love with the place so we decided it would be perfect to visit again for our Honeymoon.

Kolocep is a trafficless island with less than 200 inhabitants.  Kalamota Island Resort is the only resort on the island and is situated right on the main beach with stunning views across the bay.  The resort is small but perfectly formed.  The rooms are fresh and bright with views of the bay or the gardens.  We requested a sea view room which was perfect and meant if we wanted to go back to our room on an evening we could still watch and hear the entertainment from our balcony while enjoying a bottle of wine.

There is a buffet restaurant which serves the most amazing range of food I’ve ever had at an all inclusive resort.  There is so much selection and every day is different so you get to try all sorts of delicious dishes. There are also two a la carte restaurants.  One is situated by the main hotel restaurant and entertainment area and has great views over the bay, the other, the Culinarium, is a short walk from the hotel and is perfect for watching the sunset.  Here you can also enjoy a food and wine paring night which I would highly recommend.  The local delicacies are exquisite and the served some of the best wines I had ever tasted.

The real star of the island, however, is Villa Ruza.  This beautiful 1930s villa was built on the edge of Donje Celo bay, overlooking the water with a great view of the other islands (stunning at sunset). It has the most beautiful terrace which leads down to the main restaurant which is just the most tranquil setting for a romantic dinner.  It is also available for weddings and I couldn’t think of a more beautiful setting.  All the seafood on the island is caught fresh and they really know their stuff.  I never knew how much I loved seafood until I visited Croatia.

The staff at Villa Ruza always go the extra mile, bringing us homemade bread and appetisers while we perused the menu.  They are also great at recommending a good wine to match your food choice and always treat us to a cocktail or two after dinner.

There is so much to do while visiting the island, there are a number of walks you can take to the various churches and beaches or you can take to the sea and do a spot of snorkelling or kayaking.

There are several boats that take you to the mainland or the neighbouring islands.  We took a day trip to the island of Lopud which is slightly more populated than Kolocep with a bustling ferry port and several bars, restaurants, markets and even an ice cream parlour/bakery.  We stopped at one of the beach front seafood restaurants for a glass of wine and a spot of lunch.  The sea bass and the risotto were to die for.  I could definitely get used to island life!  We also stumbled across a quaint little park tucked away just off the main promenade, it was beautiful and quiet and such a nice little surprise when we were exploring.

The real star of the the show was Dubrovnik Old Town.  From the moment you step inside the walls of this amazing place you are totally blown away by how beautiful everything is.  For somewhere so busy and bustling it has such a relaxed, laid back vibe.

There are so many amazing restaurants and cafes to choose from, you could stay for  month and still not have time to try them all.  Even the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants tucked away down the back streets are fantastic. One evening we decided to just pick a restaurant at random and found one called Azur which would have been easy to miss as it was tucked away in a narrow street and just looked like a kitchen with some tables outside. I was a little bit worried that we might be disappointed but how wrong I was.  We had two beautiful courses each and the menu choice was so different. It just goes to show there are hidden gems around every corner here.

  One of my absolute favourite restaurants in the Old Town was Above 5, a small rooftop restaurant above a gorgeous boutique hotel that overlooks the entire old town.  It is so romantic with great food and a fab cocktail menu and is perfect for dinner at sunset but make sure to book in advance as it fills up quickly.

Wherever you go in the old town you will find somewhere to eat or drink.  From traditional, local dishes to sushi, tapas or wine bars, there is something for everyone.  I strongly recommend spending an evening in the Old Town.  The atmosphere is just wonderful and there are plenty of places to sit out with a glass of wine and watch live music.  If you get a chance, definitely check out the Troubadour Jazz Cafe, they have some great acts on an evening and it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine or two and watch the world go by.

Croatia is definitely an absolute gem that I would recommend to anyone.  We would definitely go back a third time to sample even more of the incredible places it has to offer.  It has the perfect combination of quiet islands, bustling towns and brilliant nightlife.  What more could you want?

Block & Bottle

by Sian Colman  
The North East is being well and truly spoilt with so many local businesses and pop-ups appearing! It is a very good time to be in this little part of the world. The beer world has exploded with new bars and breweries in the area, and on a sunny day all you want to do is sip a cold one and throw some sausages on the BBQ. Luckily you don’t have to go far to do both! Block and Bottle have set up a shop within the bridges corner of the Gateshead Arches. It stocks meat and beer. What more could you ask for in life?!
I’ve been pestering James to visit this place for a little while now since eyeing them up on Twitter. We’re all about craft beers! So When I saw there was a new place, pretty much on our doorstep, we were filled with delight. The seed had been planted so James had to come too.
We parked at Tesco’s car park and walked down the hill, it’s a 5 minute walk down the bank. First impressions are always good, and it was lovely to be greeted by the friendly faces of Steven and Kate, the owners and masterminds behind everything.
As you walk in, the first thing I personally gravitate to is the meat. It’s just all so fresh and local. I’m very much about supporting local business and local produce so I’m glad I’ve got somewhere close where I can do both. They have everything from steak to sausage, it’s a meat lovers delight. You turn around and you’re greeted by fridges of beer. From IPA to Stouts they stock a wide range from local brewers like Wylam to many of the popular ones like Tiny Rebel. They also serve off tap, providing a growler filling services, or just a cheeky pint whilst you eye the meat up.
If you haven’t paid them a visit yet get yourself down. A lot of local North East beer is showcased here, and selection varies with new stock coming in constantly. This time round we treated ourselves to some spicy pork breakfast sausages, black pudding and 3 half litre growlers filled. Check out their twitter for their most up-to-date happenings!

Our Home

I can’t quite believe it, but last Saturday was the first anniversary of us moving into our home in Cleadon.  It seems like two minutes ago that we put our old house up for sale and started the hunt for our ‘forever’ home.  One lunch time at work I was scrolling through Rightmove when I saw a house that had just come on the market which was in our price range and in the exact location we wanted to be in, right next to all of my family.  It seemed too good to be true.

We immediately set up a viewing and went round after work.  The owner walked us round and we couldn’t believe our luck, it was perfect for us. We could both see this being our family home and we couldn’t wait to put an offer in.  It was a tense few weeks as we had to wait for our house in Newcastle to sell but eventually it did and our dream home became a reality.

At first Grant and I differed in what we wanted in a house.  I wanted a fixer upper and Grant wanted a new build we could move straight into.  We ended up meeting half way and buying a 70 year old house which needed a few little fixes here and there but in the main was ready to move in.  I couldn’t wait to get started on putting our stamp on things.

Our first job was the living and dining room which, while perfectly nice, was magnolia throughout…that had to go!

Before

We decided to go for a more modern feel with grey/blue walls and added warmth with various wood pieces to match the fireplace (one of my favourite features of the house and something we didn’t have in our first home together).  It took ages to decide on a dining table that we both liked.  I wanted something more traditional and Grant wanted modern.  We eventually managed to find one that combined modern with retro that we both loved and it goes perfectly in our dining room.   I did, however, lose out on the great sofa debate.  I wanted to go for style over comfort but Grant, being practical as usual, convinced me that comfort was more important. I will admit, they are extremely comfortable.

After

Next, we moved onto the conservatory.  We both love this space and spend a lot of time out there with the patio doors wide open, usually doing the Waitrose Weekend crossword like the rock and roll couple we are! The only down side was that it was custard yellow when we moved in.  One week when Grant was away I decided to paint it to keep myself busy and make it feel more tranquil. I chose a colour which was very similar to the one we had used in the living room to continue the theme straight through.  We then added a comfy seating area (Grant’s favourite spot to play guitar) and a small dining table and chairs so we can eat with a lovely view of the garden.

This is such a relaxing space all year round, and looked beautiful when lit up with a little Christmas tree on our first Christmas in the house.

The garden is such a lovely space and didn’t really need much doing to it.  It came with a fantastic pizza oven and BBQ which I was very excited about.  We have neatened up the boarders and added some of our own plants but the main thing we have done in the garden is give the shed and planters a revamp.  The old shed was dark brown and was a bit boring and in need of a little pick me up.  We found a beautiful blue/green shade to revamp it and it changed the entire look of the garden.

When it came to decorating our bedroom, we decided to go with white.  White walls, white bedding, white curtains, white accessories.  I love how bright it looks when the sun shines through the window on a morning.  Especially on the weekends when we get to have a little lie in. When the previous owners of the house extended the upstairs, they converted the box room into a walk in wardrobe which is accessible from our bedroom.  This is a great little space with plenty of room for clothes, shoes and handbags and even has a dressing table.  It means we didn’t have to fill the bedroom up with a big wardrobe and so were left with more space.  The White Company are my favourite for bedding and accessories.  They add a little luxury to the room and I think everyone should have a little luxury in the bedroom!

Before

After

Our latest decorating project, and definitely the most difficult, was one of our spare rooms.  I wanted to make it into a guest room for when our friends and family want to come to stay.  Again, I wanted to make it bright and airy and decided to combine duck egg blue with white to make the room fresh and clean.

 

Originally the room was white, pink and floral and while there’s nothing wrong with that it wasn’t really to our taste.  The great thing about this room is that is has a huge built in wardrobe which fits in perfectly and gives us loads of storage space.  I thought it would be an easy job to decorate, just take the paper off, give the walls underneath a sand and a clean and repaint it….not so simple.

When we started taking the paper off we discovered every wall in the room was painted bright red.  It was like something out of a horror film!  I half expected to find creepy writing telling us to get out of the house! We also found that some of the walls needed to be plastered or skimmed at the very least.  Luckily, once all of this was done we were able to crack on with the painting and decorating.  It’s amazing what a coat of paint (or 5) and a few soft furnishings can do to a room.  I think this is our greatest achievement to date in this house and I m thrilled with how it looks now.  I have added a few little touches like The White Company hand lotions and candles and little pictures and flowers to make it feel more homely for our guests.  

I think we’ve achieved a lot in 12 months of living here and I couldn’t be happier.  We still have a way to go though.  Next on our list is the hall, stairs, landing and downstairs loo, but we have decided to hire a professional for this.  After that we are going to redecorate the kitchen ready for hosting our guests at Christmas.  All we have to do after that is the study (currently a bit of a dumping ground for things we are yet to unpack or find a home for) and Grant’s music room which at the moment is bright pink as it was the bedroom of the previous owner’s young daughter! Luckily our bathroom was installed just before we moved in and is brand new, complete with jacuzzi bath and built in shower TV! However, I’m not a fan of modern and I’m planning in my head (and on Pinterest) to redo the bathroom once everything else is finished and make it a bit more traditional…I just haven’t told Grant yet!!