The Crazy Kitchen: December 2013

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Friday, 27 December 2013

Family Christmas and Boxing Day Soup

It's been a busy couple of weeks and just when I thought I was over my illness I was struck down again, right before we visited London for a few days. I dosed myself up and braved the wind and rain and we had a fabulous weekend sightseeing, shopping, watching a show and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere.

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It was then off to the local garden centre for a Christmas Eve breakfast with the big fella, before an afternoon with family.

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Checking on Santa's location

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We then had a manic Christmas day swamped in wrapping paper and presents, and the men folk spent hours building Playmobil (and napping) whilst the women prepared veg drank fizz in the kitchen.

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We enjoyed a great Christmas day with family and friends, laughing at terrible cracker jokes and random secret Santa gifts.

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As usual, I cooked far too much food, meaning that there was plenty left over for Boxing Day Soup. Unfortunately I felt too ill on Boxing Day to go anywhere near the kitchen so instead we enjoyed it earlier today. Once again the soup turned out better than I could've expected and it went perfectly with home baked Focaccia.

Boxing Day Soup

Boxing Day Soup

Christmas dinner leftovers, including :

4 bird roast
Roast potatoes / parsnips
  • Add everything to a large pan or slow cooker
  • Add a couple of pints of stock and bring to the boil
  • Simmer for around half an hour if using a pan
  • Blend until smooth using a stick blender
  • Add extra stock/water/milk and season to taste

Simple yet so tasty....

Boxing Day SoupBoxing Day SoupBoxing Day Soup

I hope everyone had a great let's bring on New Years Eve!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Make Ahead Holiday Cookies

It's that time of the year again when we buy gifts for our children's teachers. We've given all sorts of gifts in the past but I usually like to give edible ones. Often the support staff get forgotten, or parents can't afford to give more than one gift. We have some great support staff at our Primary school, and many that I've known for years, so I decided to make them all some cookies.

This recipe is one that I've been using for a while, with variations on the basic recipe. I made three varieties this time and as each batch makes quite a few cookies I decided to freeze some at the dough ball stage. They can then be taken out of the freezer, left to defrost, and then baked whenever you want freshly baked cookies without any of the hassle of making them.

Make Ahead Holiday Cookies

Make Ahead Holiday Cookies 
115g Butter, softened
230g Caster sugar
35g Golden syrup
1 Egg
230g Self Raising Flour
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • Beat the butter and sugar together
  • Mix in the golden syrup & egg
  • Stir the flour and bicarbonate of soda together and add to the butter/sugar mixture
  • Roll mixture into small balls (approx tbsp) and place on a greased baking sheet, spaced well apart
  • Bake in a preheated 170 C oven for approx 10-12 minutes, until golden brown
  • Cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack
  • Store in an airtight container
Lemon & Ginger
Add 1.5tsp of ground ginger and zest of 1 lemon with the flour

Cinnamon Raisin
Add 1.5 tsp of cinnamon with the flour and stir in 100g of raisins (or sultanas) before forming mixture into balls

Substitute 30g of flour for 25g of cocoa powder

I boxed up a few of each cookies ready for all the staff at school...

Make Ahead Holiday Cookies
Make Ahead Holiday Cookies Make Ahead Holiday Cookies
ready for the freezer

Gourmet Tonight Sauces {review}

Although I like to try and cook meals from scratch every night, in reality it's not always possible, and we do, on occasion, eat beans on toast, jacket spuds and beans and fishfingers from a packet. Once a week I usually make a curry from a jar (shock & horror that a food blogger makes curry from a jar!) so when I was asked if I wanted to receive a hamper of goodies including a jar of a new sauce from the 'Tonight' range of sauces I was more than happy, especially this week when there is so much going on.

Gourmet Tonight

Inside the hamper was a cooking pot, some gorgeous Rocha John Rocha serving bowls, a jar of Gourmet Tonight tomato, red wine & smoked paprika sauce, some fresh ingredients and a lovely bottle of wine (hmmm no wine in the picture, who nicked my wine?)

The recipe for Gourmet Andalucian Lamb Casserole called for 450g of diced lamb, of which I had none so decided to substitute with chicken instead, otherwise we wouldn't be able to try it out until after Christmas.

All I did was add the chicken, chopped onion, chopped red pepper and jar of sauce to the lidded cooking pot and placed it in a 190C oven for around an hour, as easy as that.

Gourmet Tonight

Served with Rosemary and Garlic roasted new potatoes it was delicious, and a big hit with the family too.

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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Easy Appetisers

Sometimes you have unexpected or last minute guests drop in over the Christmas period and it's always nice to offer them a little something to eat as well as a drink.

Here are a couple of suggestions that are nice and easy based on a couple of items that I received to review.

Firstly I received some pastry cases from Pidy and used the spoons to hold some cheese and chilli jam - a nice way to offer your cheeseboard.

Cheese and chutney spoons

I then received some sausages from Heck and simply cut each into four with a pair of scissors and roasted them in the oven for 30 minutes and served with a sweet pepper sauce and cocktail sticks.

Easy Appetisers

The sweet pepper sauce was also very easy to make and can be made in advance and stored in the fridge (in a very fetching Tala glass jar!).

Sweet Pepper Sauce

Sweet peppers
garlic cloves, unpealed
cherry tomatoes
fresh rosemary
large glug of Olive oil

  • Add everything to a large roasting tin and roast in the oven for around 30 minutes until tender
  • Squeeze the garlic from the skin & discard the skin
  • Add everything to a blender and blend until smooth

sweet red pepper sauce

More about Pidy

Pidy UK have recently launched a selection of their deliciously famous canapés for the retail market, the range contains a combination of their most unique and interesting shaped pastry vol-au-vents. All the products are made with their award winning pastry recipe that the Pidy family initially created in their little patisserie shop in Ypres, Belgium back in 1952.
The new retail range includes their award winning Duobelle range and Spoonettes range. Others in range consist of the dainty Mini Cocktail range, the pretty Flower Cuppy’s, the interestingly shaped Fishka’s, the square shaped puff pastry Mini Carrés and the classic round puff pastry vol au vents Zakouskis. The canapé range is easy to store, very versatile to use and are perfect for any occasion from pre barbecue nibbles to tea time treats or delicious paired with a glass of wine. The pastry products can be filled with a number of fillings from cream, fruit and ice cream to savoury sauces, vegetables and seafood. The possibilities are endless. 
Pidy have a wide range of retail pastry products that are available through Pidy UK or through fine food retail distributors such as Hider Foods. Pidy manufacture a huge variety of products, including a specialist range of ready to fill pastries that cater for every event or occasion.
Thanks to food PR agency CLIP Creative and PR for the samples.

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More about Heck
The company is made up of the Keebles who are a family of farmers and sausage enthusiasts,  and they have a range of 8 different premium sausage varieties (from traditional 97% pork, to more unique chicken sausage and square sausages!). Several of the varieties are also gluten-free.
Flavours : The Family Favourite, Superior Skinless, Chicken Italia, Heck 97%, French Black Pudding, Plump Pork & Apple, Fair & Square, Smoky Chorizo Style.

More about Tala
Tala, originating from Taylor and Law, has been associated with baking and icing for over 100 years - since 1899.
They still proudly own catalogues ranging from the 1920's up until today, containing products which are still made in the same way; lovely, English manufacturing.
Traditional methods are used to manufacture most of their products. This involves production by hand, by a small team of skilled people behind the high quality of each product.
A priority of Tala has always been to create products that are built to last. Take an icing nozzle manufactured in the 1920's, and it will still fit an icing syringe made today. So they couldn't be more honest when they say you are using products that your mothers and grandmothers have always used

Debenhams Secret Santa

I was so excited when I was asked to join in with the Debenhams Secret Santa recently. The rules were that we choose gifts for our chosen Santee from the Toys & Gifts department up to the value of £80. I have chatted to my Santee a few times and popped over to her blog on occasion but I didn't really know what she was into, so I spent one evening stalking her blog, catching up on old posts and finding more out about herself and her family.

I then chose my gifts, which took quite a while as there are so many great things on the Debenhams website and whilst I was there I made myself a little wish list too. Here are a few items that I spotted on my shopping trip....

Debenhams wish list

After I sent my list over I panicked a little, had I played it too safe with my gifts? Will my Santee hate them? This challenge was a lot harder than I expected, but fun all the same. I would love to share my gift choices but then my Santee would know who bought them so for now my lips are sealed.... 

Thankfully when her gifts arrived she loved them! 

Then I waited eagerly for the exciting part for me, the arrival of my gifts.

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I was thrilled to open some gorgeous gifts, they are so me! A Rocha John Rocha cheese dome and bread board which will come in very handy over Christmas as well as being props for foodie photos. Along with these also came a lovely turquoise floral scarf to brighten up my winter wardrobe (which consists mainly of jeans & black so it needs brightening up).

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Thank you Secret Santa and Debenhams!

I really have no idea who bought my gifts but I'm guessing that it is someone that is into food too, and the reason that I've gone for this person is that I know they already own one of the items I received. If you want to see who I'm guessing then click here.

I was sent the gifts above as part of the Secret Santa challenge

Monday, 16 December 2013

Santa Hat Cupcakes

It's the first of two Christmas parties at school tomorrow and for this one we've been asked to bring in cakes or biscuits. The next one is easy as it's our turn to take crisps, nice and easy.

I was all out of chocolate so I was going to make some simple vanilla cakes in festive cases with sprinkles on top but earlier in the day caught sight of some Santa hat cupcakes whilst browsing online. They didn't look too difficult so decided to give them a go. There are lots of versions of Santa hat cupcakes on Pinterest, including some with strawberries that look great.

Santa Hat Cupcakes

To ice these cakes it's just a case of making some buttercream (or you could buy some ready made vanilla buttercream), and mixing approx 2/3 with red food colouring - I used gel colouring but it was more of a deep pink than the bright red that I had in mind.

I used disposable icing bags and snipped the end off, piping a ring in the white icing and then squeezing the red on top, tapering upwards, and then finishing off with a blob of white.

Santa Hat Cupcakes

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Win an Esta Romi Christmas Hamper worth £150

I think I've just about finished all of my Christmas shopping now, with a week of wrapping ahead I intend to have Christmas wrapped up by Friday so I can enjoy a few relaxing days before the chaos of Christmas day descends.

If you haven't quite finished buying gifts then this prize may be of interest to you. I have a hamper from Esta Romi to give away, filled with luxury gifts. It would make a great gift, or you could have an extravagant Christmas and keep it for yourself.
Win an Esta Romi Christmas Hamper
This Gift Set Contains: 

I particularly like the set of Little London baubles, how cute are they!

To be in with a chance of winning you need to complete the rafflecopter form below. Please make sure that you read all instructions clearly.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was compensated for hosting this giveaway

Mint Chocolate Christmas Pudding Rocky Road

Whether you call it Rocky Road, Fridge Cake or maybe even Tiffin, there is no denying that it is good. You can add whatever ingredients you like to the mix, and also whatever you have in the cupboards, which is what I did here.

After seeing this Malteser Rocky Road Christmas Pudding I was dying to give it a go myself and thought it would be a perfect way to use my Wilton ball cake pan, but you could use a pudding basin.

It doesn't have the neatest of finish but a length of ribbon tied around the middle disguises that a little. The proof, they say, is in the pudding and nobody really notices the rough edges once it's sliced as everyone is drooling as they wait to get their hands on a piece.

MInt Chocolate Christmas Pudding Rocky Road

Mint Chocolate Christmas Pudding Rocky Road

550g Chocolate - I used a mix of milk & plain (reserve a little to glue the halves together)
100g glacé cherries
125g Cadbury chocolate fingers, chopped
75g mini marshmallows
100g sultanas
100g Cadbury snow bites (the shells add a crunch)
1 box of After Eight Collection mint chocolates
140g white chocolate

  • Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water (or use a microwave)
  • Line the 2 pans - you can use clingfilm but I find a piece of slightly damp scrunched up baking paper works much better as it doesn't get brittle in the freezer
  • Stir in the cherries, fingers, marshmallows, sultanas, snow bites and the After Eight Collection (reserving the white ones)
  • Divide mixture between the two pans
  • Place in the fridge for around 15 minutes, or until completely set
  • Turn out and use a little of the reserved melted chocolate to glue the halves together
  • Return to the freezer whilst you melt the white chocolate (including the white After Eight leaves)
  • Allow the white chocolate to cool a little otherwise it will just run straight down the sides of the pudding
  • Spoon the white chocolate on to the top of the pudding, one spoonful at a time, allowing each spoonful to firm up slightly before spooning the next on.
  • The chocolate will slowly start to drip down the sides of the pudding, once you have enough topping then return to the freezer for a few minutes

MInt Chocolate Christmas Pudding Rocky Road

I used some leftover white chocolate to make Santa pops.

Chocolate Santa PopsMInt Chocolate Christmas Pudding Rocky Road MInt Chocolate Christmas Pudding Rocky Road

I was sent some After Eight chocolates to use in a recipe, the recipe is my own

Cuisine R-Evolution Molecular Gastronomy Kit {review}

Science was not one of my strong subjects at school, although I did like the practicals involving bunsen burners and magnesium ribbon.

I thought that the Cuisine R-Evolution Molecular Gastronomy Kit on Find me a Gift looked very Heston Blumenthal and couldn't wait to try it out.

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Within the smartly packaged kit are all the tools and sachets needed to make foams and caviar type pearls out of your everyday foods.

I tried a couple of experiments using some Blackcurrant & Elderflower Pimms and attempted 'Gelification' and 'Spherification' to produce some fruity pearls to add to Christmas drinks.

This process involves mixing your chosen liquid with Agar Agar and bringing to a boil. Droplets are then dripped into cold oil to produce gel pearls. Once they have been rinsed that can be eaten or added to drinks. I popped a few into some sparkling apple juice for that little kick. I made a few more and drained them & have stored them in the fridge in a small jar ready for the Christmas Prosecco.

This process involves mixing your chosen liquid with Sodium Alginate and then dropping into water mixed with Calcium Lactate. I attempted to make spaghetti but it didn't quite work, however I did end up with a juicy pearl of Blackcurrant Pimms, which again I added to a glass of sparkling apple juice.

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This is going to be so much fun. I have yet to try out the Emulsification to produce foams, and reverse spherification to produce large spheres of liquid that explode in your mouth.

The kit would be great for budding Heston's as well as those interested in the science behind the processes.

The kit is priced at £45.99 and would make a great gift.

I was sent the set for the purpose of this review. I was also sent some Tala small glass jars for review

Friday, 13 December 2013

Mini Christmas Pudding Cheesecakes

After the success of my Christmas Pudding Cheesecake that I made for a Selfridges blogger competition I decided to rustle up some quick mini cheesecakes. These are perfect to make quickly if unexpected guests turn up, although they are nicer if the mixture is left overnight to allow the flavours to infuse.

To be honest they're not really Christmas Pudding Cheesecakes as there is no christmas pudding in them, instead I used home-made chocolate mincemeat. Whether you use shop bought or make your own I would recommend that you warm it up to melt the suet as nobody wants raw suet in their cheesecake!

Mini Christmas Pudding Cheesecakes - makes 8

300g Full at cream cheese
300ml Double cream
300g Mincemeat (warmed through to melt the suet and then cooled)
8 Digestive biscuits

  • Beat the cream cheese and cream together until smooth
  • Beat in the mincemeat until well combined
  • Line 8 holes of a muffin pan with clingfilm
  • Fill the holes with the cheesecake mixture and place in the fridge to firm up 
  • To serve turn out the cheesecake onto a digestive biscuit
Mini Christmas Pudding Cheesecakes

Aldi Port & Wensleydale

I'm a little bit partial to Port, its one of those drinks that you get offered at the elderly relatives houses around Christmas. Maybe I'm turning into one of those elderly relatives now as we usually have a bottle in the cupboard at Christmas ready for guests.

I'm also partial to a little cheese, especially around Christmas time. This afternoon I received a lovely little package of a bottle of Aldi Fletcher's Ruby Port and a small truckle of Wensleydale with Cranberries, one of my favourite Christmas cheeses.

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There was no point hanging around and I enjoyed the cheese with a little tipple of Port and a few grapes, a perfect pairing....

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Now, I'm no cheese or wine connoisseur but both of these were lovely and they went perfectly together.

The Fletchers Fine Ruby Port is priced at £6.29

I received the Port and cheese for the purpose of this review

Christmas Jumper Day #SaveTheChildren #XmasJumperDay

Did you know that today, Friday 13th December, is Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day.

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All over the country people are donning their festive knits in schools and places of work to raise money for Save the Children.

My place of work is sitting at home, on my own, but it hasn't stopped me from wearing my very fetching number from Sainsbury's.

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If you're working from home too then come & join in the Twitter party from 1-2pm, following the hashtag #Xmasjumperday as well as @savechildrenuk. Get your jumper on and grab a mince pie and a glass of sherry & join in the festive cheer.....

Make sure you text TEAMTHINLYS to 70050 to donate your £1 or you can donate here, and don't forget to share your Christmas Jumper selfie using #Xmasjumperday

Unfortunately my kids haven't got Christmas Jumper Day at their schools today but they popped theirs on for a couple of photos last night...

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and as you can see we make great use of our jumpers as we all wore them last year too...

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I can't wait to see everybody else in their jumpers!

For lots more info about #Xmasjumperday and Save the Children go & have a read of the wonderful Thinly Spread blog, written by the inspirational Chris.... (her family are wearing some great jumpers too!)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Getting Ahead for Christmas - Roast Parsnips & Parsnip Mash

After making the roast spuds for Christmas dinner earlier in the week I cracked on with the parsnips yesterday.

I started with around 1.2kg of parsnips. Peeled, topped & tailed I used the fat end for roasting and the skinny end in a mash to avoid those burnt thin pieces of parsnip.

Again I part boiled them and roasted for around 30 - 40 minutes in Trex vegetable fat, then once cooled I added them to a disposable foil tray to go in the freezer. These trays from Asda are great as I can fit 2 on each shelf and therefore 8 in the oven at one time - plenty of space for all the roasties, stuffing and pigs in blankets for the 10 of us.

Roast Parsnips & Parsnip Mash

Parsnip & Butternut Squash Mash

Butternut squash
2 small onions
2 garlic cloves
salt & pepper
dried rosemary
large knob of butter

  • Add the peeled parsnips, squash, onion & garlic to a pan of water
  • Bring to the boil and simmer until tender, then drain
  • Add the salt & pepper, rosemary & butter & mash or blend with a stick blender

I added the mash to another disposable foil tray, covered with clingfilm and froze. On Christmas day I'll sprinkle over some breadcrumbs and reheat in the oven.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Leerdammer Toastie Challenge

You've got to love a toastie, there are so many fillings you can add, either sweet or savoury. I remember when we got our first toasted sandwich maker in the early 80's and my brother made me a surprise filling. I was expecting savoury but it was cornflakes and golden syrup! Not great when you're expecting to bite into cheese..

I can't say that I have ever tried that filling again, it definitely wasn't my cup of tea. If I have a toastie it has to be with cheese.

When Leerdammer sent me a package of goodies for a toastie challenge I knew that the first one on the menu would have to be my ultimate favourite cheese, chilli, mango chutney and banana. yes it may sound like a strange combination but it works and it works well.

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Next up was a simple seasonal toastie of cheese and cranberry sauce. Fruit and cheese is a great combo and in a toastie it all melts together, mmmmm.

Among the ingredients I was sent in the package was a lovely Chorizo sausage, some mushrooms and Tabasco sauce. I fried the chorizo and mushroom for a few minutes before adding a few dashes of Tabasco and adding to the sandwich with a slice of Leerdammer.

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Leerdammer Toastie is a mild and creamy cheese sliced perfectly to fit into your toastie and is priced at £1.75 from major supermarkets for a pack of 6 slices.

I was sent samples of Leerdammer toastie along with a toasted sandwich maker and a few ingredients to use in this challenge

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Getting Ahead for Christmas - Roast Potatoes & Stuffing Balls

I've finally got some antibiotics from the doctor and I'm slowly starting to feel a little more human. Today I've started to get prepared for Christmas day and over the next few days will be preparing as much as I can in advance of the day itself to give me more chance to spend time with the family on Christmas Eve and Christmas day rather than in the kitchen.

I always find that there never seems to be enough space in the oven on Christmas day so pre-cooking some of the food frees up a bit of space as it means that everything needs less time to cook.

We always have chestnut stuffing from M&S but I also like to serve some sage & onion stuffing for the more fussy guests. I've made up a packet of sage & onion stuffing, rolled into balls & pre-baked them. They have now been frozen on disposable foil trays ready for popping in the oven for a few minutes before serving.

I also have 2 large trays of roast potatoes ready to go straight in the oven, with no part boiling or basting necessary - I just add a little butter to the tin as they're cooking (who's worried about extra calories on Christmas day!).

Roast Potatoes - plenty for 10 guests

2.5kg King Edward potatoes, peeled
2 large spoonfuls of Trex (or your favourite lard or goose fat)

  • Cut the potatoes into 1.5-2" pieces 
  • Add to a large pan of water
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Drain well
  • Heat the fat in 2 large baking tins in a 220C oven
  • Add the potatoes and baste in the melted fat
  • Roast for approx 40 minutes until crisp & golden - don't overdo them as they will brown more when they're heated again
  • Allow to cool and add to 2 disposable foil trays before wrapping in clingfilm and freezing
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Getting Crafty with Shloer

Last week I travelled down to the lovely spa town of Cheltenham and spent the afternoon with a few other bloggers doing a spot of crafting in a gorgeous country hotel. It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon, chatting and sewing buttons whilst drinking fizz.

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This fizz was of the non alcoholic variety (although you wouldn't really have known). Shloer have added two brand new bottles of alcohol free bubbly to their range - Celebration White Bubbly and Celebration Pink Fizz, both complete with a popping cork! I wish it had been around during the new year celebrations of 2008 when I was 6 months pregnant and drinking sparkling water! If I was driving I would definitely choose this as an alternative drink to sparkling wine as I wouldn't feel as though I was missing out on having something special to drink.  

The two bottles retail for £2.99 each and can be found in most supermarkets.

Back to the crafting...

Some lovely ladies from The Makery came along with lots of fabric and pretties and set us up to make a heart cushion.

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I was very pleased with my result which is now hanging on the door at home..

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and what better way to end the day than with tea and cake....

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My expenses were covered to enable me to attend this event and I received a goody bag


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