Friday, 28 April 2017

Sticky Chai Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

When Bluebird Tea Co sent me some of their new sticky toffee chai to try, I was intrigued. I love the spice-laden flavour of chai, but should it really be sticky?

The answer is a resounding yes. The mix of tea and spices is stirred into honey which both acts as the sweetener traditionally stirred into cups of chai, but also preserves the flavours of the ingredients, making sure that the resulting drink still has a hit of cinnamon and cardamom. And it really does taste wonderful: sweet, exotic and dreamy.

Today however, I'm not just going to share a cup of chai with you.  I'm going to go one better.  Today, I bring you a pudding infused with the flavours of this lovely brew.  It's sticky chai sticky toffee pudding.

This is a pretty quick recipe which knocks together easily: it does most of the hard work all by itself in the oven. Here's how it goes:


5 tsp sticky chai tea
500 ml boiling water
175g self-raising flour
300g dark brown muscovado sugar
1 large egg
125 ml milk
50g butter (melted)
25g butter (not melted)
vanilla extract

Baking dish large enough to hold 1.5l liquid.

First of all, brew the chai to your liking, by adding the tea to the boiling water. I let mine brew for around 15 minutes to really let the flavours develop.

While the tea is brewing, grease your baking dish and pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together 100g of the sugar with the flour.  Don't worry if the sugar is a bit clumpy; it will all work out in the end. In a large jug, beat the egg and then add the milk and melted butter. When this is combined, pour the egg, milk and butter into the flour and sugar, add a few drops of vanilla and stir it all together.  Again, the odd lump of musocvado won't be a problem.
Put the pudding mixture into the baking dish and spread it out evenly.  There won't appear to be very much at this stage, but that's all good. Next, sprinkle the remaining 200g sugar over the top of the mixture to form a deep, crumbly layer. Top this with the remaining 25g of butter, scattering it about in little chunks.
Finally, remove the chai from the water (it should be brewed nicely by now) and pour the water over the top of the ingredients
At this point, you will have made a big old mess in a dish, but this is where all the oven magic happens.  Put your dish in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  The cake mixture will cook and rise to the top, and the water, sugar and butter will bubble into perfect, darkly sticky toffee. It's like a little bit of magic.
When cooked, remove the pudding from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so before serving. And do serve it out in big dollops and smother each piece in sauce.  This is that kind of pudding.  It's great with custard too, and a good cuppa.
Possibly a friend or two if you feel like sharing, but equally as good with pyjamas, a candle or two on a dark evening and a cheerful slice of Netflix.

Do let me know if you try the recipe.  And if you decided to share...

Kisses xxx

P.S. P.S. As a tea rep for Bluebird Tea Company, I can offer you a one-use-only 20% off discount code: just enter CURIOUSTEABIRD07 when you check out. And see just how many varieties of sticky toffee you can make!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Chasing Paper Clouds

Recently I have really been inspired by the work of scrapbooker Elsie, of Hey Elsie.  You can find a link to her blog here, and she makes fabulous Youtube videos. She's a scrapbooker after my own heart, and while her style is different to mine, I find myself in agreement with a lot of her ideas and processes. She often uses white backgrounds, doesn't have a lot of fancy tools. and she creates handmade details. I like that she is willing to scrapbook slowly, instead of making the quantity of layouts she produces the main factor.  As a perpetually slow scrapper, this really resonated with me, as I like to take time over my pages and get them to be just the way I want them.
If you've got a craft knife and there's something good on telly, you've got everything you need!
And a cup of tea doesn't hurt either. Especially if it's pink and matches your mug. And your photos.
I decided to take some inspiration from Elsie's pages and I challenged myself to use cloud shapes on a layout (you can see the result here).  They're a good, neutral icon and I liked the idea of incorporating them into my design.
I also had a few clouds left over; I had made sure that I cut out plenty so that I wouldn't run out, and now I have the extra ones which can go towards another project.  I'm part way through making a pocket page to hold the other pictures of these cupcakes and add a bit more context to the story with more journaling, so the extra clouds will be very useful to tie the two pages together thematically.
I enjoyed using the clouds and I think they could easily become a go-to shape.  Over the Christmas period, I used a lot of stars, as they seem festive, but still go with any theme or topic, and so it's good to have another design I can use repeatedly as an embellishment.
The more I do it, the more I like having a set of pictures to accompany a full 12x12 page.  It means I can included all the pictures I want to without having to cram them onto a page. I like to have my photos printed and visible, and I have also found that I enjoy arranging them to work in a grid.  They often don't need much in the way of embellishment and actually, by putting them into a pocket page, they have space to breathe.
All the photos in these pictures I had printed from photo company Cheerz. I've tried a few different photo companies, but these are the ones I like best and I've stuck with them.  I personally found the image quality to be the sharpest, and I can order a large box all in one go. It's not always easy to find square prints, but these are 4x4, including the thin white border (optional, but I love it!) and since discovering Cheerz, I ordered from them a few times. So if you're looking for somewhere, I'd totally recommend them.

Kisses xxx
P.S. If there are any scrapbookers you really admire, do let me know!  It's always nice to find new inspiration.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Spring Flowers and Easter Tea

My box of tea from Bluebird Tea Company arrived in the post to coincide with the Easter holidays.  Which was pretty much perfect timing. What could be better than some time off work and lots of new teas to try while the sun shines and daffodils bob in my window?
The box was full of some really lovely and imaginative goodies.  There were hot cross bun teabags nestled into an egg, or wrapped into a carrot fit for a tea-drinking bunny.  There were samples of matcha to try (more on that another time as I have LOVED experimenting with matcha!) and a new flavour that has become an instant favourite: Carrot Cake. A rooibos tea filled with the flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg and hazlenut, vanilla and, or course, carrot. That was the first one I tore into.

The other treat in the box was a packet of Easter Egg Nest tea and it's this one I wanted to review today. It took me a while to work out what might be in this and really couldn't imagine how Easter nest tea would work.  So I brewed up a cup, and while I was waiting the required 4 minutes for the flavours to infuse, I got out the mini eggs too.  It seemed appropriate.  For breakfast.

It turns out that Easter Nest Tea is truly delicious, and it tastes of chocolate rice crispy treats. It just does! It's a black tea blended with cacao beans for chocolatey goodness, toasted rice which really comes through, marshmallows for fun, and even a dash of green tea and some sunflower petals.  The taste is surprisingly delicate, but completely wonderful.  I added a dash of milk to mine to drink it with, as that's how I usually drink all black teas, but I really would limit it to only a dash.
The resulting cuppa is subtle; chocolatey with a definite hit from the toasted rice which is what makes this tea really work for me.  But I also like that it's not too fancy. I could drink a lot of this and not be overpowered. And it's fun!
I would really recommend with a hefty helping of chocolate egg.  And if you're interested, you can find Easter Nest Tea here.

I had three mugs back to back. And I'm not even sorry.
Tea is the best.
Kisses xxx
P.S. As a tea rep for Bluebird Tea Company, I can offer you a one-use-only 20% off discount code: just enter CURIOUSTEABIRD07 when you check out. The Easter teas won't be hanging around for long so move quickly, tea fans! 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Travel Scrapbooking with Butterflies

The Easter holidays are now behind us, but I managed to squeeze in a bit of time for scrapbooking here and there and put together a page for my albums. This layout is all about a trip I took to Indonesia with friends a couple of years ago and you can read about our adventure visiting the Prambanam Temples here.

I kept the structure of this page simple with just two blocks: one for the photo and one for a title, which I decided to create as a papercut. I like to use white backgrounds to keep a sense of space, and I also find that means I can add intricate and detailed embellishment without overwhelming the design. While I have lots of photos from the trip, I used just one to be a focus of this layout, and the others will go in an accompanying divided page protector. Again, this allows me to include lots of white space on the page.

I printed my photo at around 3x4 inches, and used that as a guide for the size of the title.  I sketched out my title design and added a few flourishes, to make it a real design feature.  I used a craft knife to cut the title out of white cardstock and then mounted it on a blue patterned background.  Actually, he blue isn't a scrapbook paper at all, but half a postcard I picked up at Paperchase.  I tried a few possible options, but this one allowed the title to be read clearly.

With the photo and title prepared, that really was most of the page done! I added detail through embellishment but I like the way that the page appears clean and uncluttered.  The white space enabled me to embellish quite a bit without struggling to cram things onto the page. I stuck to tones of blue and grey as I was putting the layout together, drawing the colours from the stones in the photograph, and the bright pop of blue from the parasol.

As embellishment, I added layers behind both the photo and the title, and crowned the picture with a couple of punched tabs. I then balanced the design by including a camera beneath the title.  I love to include a camera on almost much every page I make (after all, I pretty much always include a photo), and I think they are particularly relevant to travel pages.

With all my layers in place, along with a few hand written details and ink splatters, I turned my attention to the embellishment. I used a butterfly motif in a trail across the page; butterflies seem exotic to me and it was a good fit for the subject of the layout.
The larger butterflies are cut from a sheet of patterned paper by October Afternoon, which I dug out of my stash. I fussy cut loads of them out, and most were just butterfly shapes in different patterns and shades of blue and grey.  However, a few of the butterflies were more realistic, vintage-style images and I ended up opting to use these. I liked the variety and the detail, and they toned in well with the page.
With the large butterflies in place, I added smaller butterflies in little trails, again balancing the two sides of the page.  I punched the butterflies from different patterned papers using the Martha Stewart Butterfly Punch; a classic! Wherever I could, I used little foam pads to raise the wings and add dimension, and for the smallest butterflies, I just glued down one wing and folded the other up.

This is effectively the finished page except for one omission: the journaling.  The butterfly above can actually be folded back to reveal a hidden envelope which contains the journaling.

I always like to include lots of journaling on my pages as it's the most important way for me to communicate the story and the memory.  However, lots of written journaling seemed out of place in this design, so tucking it away in an envelope is a great compromise.  I get the full extract from my travel journal documented, but I also maintain the white space of the design.

And that's my page! It took me a strangely long time to do, largely because I couldn't work out exactly where I thought the butterflies should be positioned so that they looked randomly fluttery.  But I'm also glad I took the time as I'm really happy with the result.
Does anyone else do this?

Kisses xxx

P.S. I'm going to aim to make the matching divided page protector next. It's nice to do it after I've made a layout as I can include offcuts and scraps from this one, which will tie in effectively, and I can bring in all my other pictures and the rest of my travel journal for this day!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Scrapbooking a Cosy Hot Chocolate

Today you can find me at sharing a scrapbook page inspired by a layout made by Shimelle herself.  And of course, because the festive season is upon us, it's all about the perfect Christmas hot chocolate.
I make mine in a very particular way, and last year I blogged my recipe here. I recorded the recipe and the process, not to mention my little hot chocolate photo shoot, on my blog so that I could come back and scrapbook it at some point.  Well, that time is now, and I loved diving into Shimelle's Christmas Magic collection to put together this page.

Each year I take part in Shimelle's class Journal Your Christmas, although I don't make a daily page.  I simply record memories, photos and stories each day here on my blog, and then when I do get a bit of scrapbooking time, I have plenty of material all ready to go!  This approach really works for me and I get to tell my favourite Christmas memories each year instead of trying to make a layout every day when I may not have the time. All my Christmas pages, regardless of the year go into the same album, and so I have a lovely, ever-growing festive collection.

Do you have a drinks that just taste like the seasons?
Kisses xxx
P.S. Perhaps this year I should experiment with chai lattes to see if I can perfect the perfect chocolatey Christmas chai.  YUM!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Indulgent Banana Hot Chocolate Recipe

Even though we are veering into spring, there's still a bit of a nip in the air and so I have been experimenting with the warming powers of a good hot chocolate.  Hot chocolate is worth taking your time over: it's indulgent and satisfying and luxurious, and so to elevate this tasty beverage into something even more special, I want to share my recipe for hot chocolate with banana tea syrup, inspired by Bluebird Tea Co's Banana and Peanut Butter Pancake tea.

First of all, to make the syrup you need only three simple ingredients: 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and 5 teaspoons of your favourite leaf tea.

Boil the water, and once it's reached the temperature needed, brew your tea. The Banana and Peanut Butter Pancake blend I used is a Rooibos tea which means it can be brewed at 100 degrees Celcius.  5 teaspoons is a lot for one cup of water, but to give the syrup real strength and depth of flavour, it is the right quantity.  Leave the tea to brew for around 7-8 minutes. Again, this is a longer brewing time than you'd probably want for a cuppa, but useful to let the flavour overcome the sweetness of the syrup and the flavour of the hot chocolate.

Once your tea is brewed, strain out the leaves, add your tea and the cup of sugar to a pan, and bring the mixture the boil.  Stir occasionally, and boil for just long enough to allow the sugar to dissolve.  Then remove the pan from the heat.

Allow the syrup to cool; it will be runny so don't expect it to thicken particularly. This makes it easier to add to drinks. Once the syrup is cool, keep it in an airtight jar in the fridge.  I made mine over a week ago, and it's still good!

Next: the hot chocolate.  It's always worth getting good quality hot chocolate, and fairly traded at that.  None of your sugary instant stuff thank you; remember the syrup is going to add some sweetness anyway. Make up the hot chocolate as you normally would.  I used almond milk as I like the blend with the banana (plus it's dairy free). Anyway, it was quick work to heat a couple of mugs-worth of milk in a pan and whisk in the hot chocolate. When it's ready, you can stir in 2-3 dessert spoonfuls of  syrup per person.

I added a handful of marshmallows to the bottom of two mugs and then divided the thick, creamy mixture between them.  Pouring the chocolate over the marshmallows makes them a little bit melty and fuzzy round the edges.  Finally, top with a banana chip and serve with tasty nibbles!

In my case, that's maltesers and more dried banana chips.

While I chose to make my syrup with the Banana Pancake tea, you could easily to this with any of your favourite brews, and Bluebird have a lot to choose from.  Bears Like Marmalade will give you a lovely fruity, orangey flavour, and I'm excited to try making syrup with the Chocolate Digestives tea as well.  Not to mention that classic blend of Rooibos called Nuts About You which is packed full of wonderful almondy flavour.

Kisses xxx

P.S. As a tea rep for Bluebird Tea Company, I can offer you a one-use-only 20% off discount code: just enter CURIOUSTEABIRD07 at checkout. And make sure you move quickly if you want to snaffle some of those special edition spring teas!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Red Velvet Tea from Bluebird Tea Co

Towards the end of February, I was excited to find out that I had been selected to be a Tea Rep for the truly fabulous Bluebird Tea Co. I first discovered this lovely independent company when I took part in one of their Tea Mixology workshops at their Brighton-based shop (you can read about my experience here) and since then, I have cheerfully swapped many a shiny penny for their delicious and wonderful teas. I sampled a whole range of their regular brews in their Advent Calendar (I hope they do one again this year!) and I have been merrily digging into their special edition teas whenever one takes my fancy. And if you fancy trying them too, scroll down to the end of this post for a discount code for 20% off your first order!
This particular tea is sadly no longer available (you have to jump on board pretty quickly to snap them up!) but is one of the February limited editions. It's called Red Velvet, and my goodness isn't it just! Red Velvet is a black tea but also contains cacao shells, white chocolate sprinkles, pomegranate flowers and beetroot to add flavour, and a distinctive deep red colour.  And in flavour, it really is reminiscent of the cake!  It's sweet without being sickly or overwhelming; as someone who doesn't take sugar in her tea, I definitely prefer things which aren't too saccharine.  The chocolate provides and earthiness and depth to the favour which is very appealing, and the blend really worked for me.  I would go so far as to say that it's yummy!
With an added splash of milk, the pink becomes even more pronounced; I actually really enjoyed the colour of this tea and it made me giggle! I always have a drop of milk in black teas as I like that little bit of creaminess and I think it can dull any bitterness that tea has. Not an issue with this particular blend, but I still liked it with milk anyway.
To brew a perfect cup, the guidelines are one teaspoon of tea brewed in boiling water for 4 minutes.  This gave a good strength to the cup without being overbrewed and as it's leaf tea, it won't get too strong.  Leaf tea needs longer to steep than teabags do, and by using the right amount and brewing it properly for 4 minutes, you will have a lovely rounded flavour.

Bluebird have just launched their range of spring teas, so keep an eye out for blends such as Bears Like Marmalade, Purple Rain, White Chocolate Mint and even Chocolate Digestives! Spoiler alert: the chocolate digestive tea really is amazing, and not that you ever need an excuse to have tea with biscuits, but this tea just cries out for a choccy biccy.

As a Tea Rep for Bluebird Tea Company, I can offer you a one-use-only 20% off discount code: just enter CURIOUSTEABIRD07 at checkout. And make sure you move quickly if you want to snaffle some of those special edition spring teas!
Kisses xxx
P.S. One tea that has recently come my way is a very special Sticky Chai: a wonderful blend of tea and spices in honey which is genuinely sticky. And I have exciting plans for it!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Buddhist Temples at Borobudur

It has been a completely manic couple of weeks at Curious Headquarters: I have moved to a new place, hauling my stuff across London (with the much appreciated help of friends and family), I have written school reports for 5 classes, organised and run an International-themed weekend away in my role with Girlguiding (helped along this weekend with a terrific team of leaders), held a fundraiser for our Guide unit, and also simply had to attend important gatherings with friends involving meals out, cocktails and a wonderful evening trying on and selecting my bridesmaids dress for a friend's wedding. Let's just say there have been many nights spent burning the midnight oil followed by crack-of-dawn mornings. While there's been lots to love, I'm quite glad of a little break to actually unpack, gather my thoughts and catch up on a few extra winks of sleep.

The upshot of this is that I fell of my own blog schedule for a week.  But I'd like to get it back on track this week, stealing wifi from work until I get some into the flat. Therefore I bring you a little photo story of the time I visited the temple complex of Borobudur on the Indonesian island of Java.

I visited Indonesia for a grand total of about 3 days back in 2015, but definitely managed to make the most of the time we had. In that time, it was wonderful to visit Borobudur: a Buddhist temple complex that seemed aeons old, filled with a calm and spiritual beauty that made it very easy to understand why so many people visit.

Borobudur was hidden from the world at large for much of its history. However it was brought to the attention of Sir Thomas Raffles, then British ruler of Java, in 1814.  Efforts have been made to restore and preserve the 1200 year old temple, and it retains an otherworldly atmosphere of peace and mystery. In fact, the history of Borobudur is really quite fascinating, and it was very interesting to have a Guide to share some of his knowledge.

The climb to the top is no insignificant, but it was absolutely worth the effort in the humid climate.  It was simply beautiful.

Each tier of the temple is crowned with stupa; bell-shaped stone structures containing Buddhist statues. Each Buddha is seated in the lotus position, but the hands vary slightly from area to area within the temple. The stupa give the temple an incredibly distinctive silhouette.

While we were exploring the upper levels of the temple, we were approached by a party of school girls; apparently they visit the temple looking for tourists so they can practise their English and were keen to do so on us.  We were happy to oblige, but once they had done their duty and read out the requisite English sentences on their notes of paper, they were much more interested in taking selfies with us.

It just goes to show that no matter where you are in the world, teenage girls are teenage girls.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Hopefully newly scheduled programming is now restored to Journal of Curious Things.  Although I must confess I'm definitely ready to have wifi back in my life. Only another couple of weeks to go!