" Charlotte's Cupcake Corner: 2016

Saturday, 17 December 2016

What's this madness? 10 degrees the week before Christmas

Yes it IS the 17th of December, so it shouldn't really be 11 degrees outside but it is. Not that I'm complaining, I hate the cold weather and the heating in my kitchen is broken at the moment so I hope the mild weather carries on a bit longer. The only problem is I don't think it feels as if Christmas is only a week away, there's hardly been any frost let alone snow...

Anyway, I'm sure Winter will hit us in its own time and I'll be hoping to fast forward directly to Spring! I've had quite a few new tulip bulbs planted out. We have a resident squirrel who at first I was quite fond of. However I'm sure he has something to do with the fact that less than half of the bulbs ever show up, so I'm less keen on the little pest now! We'll be keeping a keen eye on one set of tulip bulbs though...

We received a very special delivery of some Miffy tulip bulbs. The character Miffy is the famous white bunny who is the subject of a huge series of childrens story books, written by Dick Bruna 60 years ago. The author himself is from the Netherlands hence the connection with tulips! 
Apparently this perfect Miffy "red" has taken 15 years of cross-fertilisation & patient cultivation to develop. They are hoping to have the variety widely available for sale in 2017/18, so we're lucky to have some this early, as only 2500 exist. 
We chose a Sunday morning to plant them up in a safe pot which we can keep  an eye on. My youngest still loves gardening. She learnt to love picking peas from her Grandad and was amazed when a blueberry bush we bought last year actually GREW fruit - so was I!

Little one loves the fact that the instructions featured Miffy explaining what to do! 

Some of these special bulbs have been planted in the famous Kerkenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. The gardens are open in 2017 from 23rd March to 21st May. A trip to them has been on my dream travel list for a couple of years, ever since watching a feature by Rachel de Thame. I didn't know until recently, that there is also a Miffy garden within the park! Not sure I'll get there next year, so maybe I should plan ahead for 2018 - it doesn't look like the Miffy fan is going to outgrow her obsession anytime soon 😀


Thursday, 8 December 2016

Twice As Nice Bakery

Having followed this 100% bakery on Twitter for ages, I finally got round to making a special trip to visit them.

The cafĂ© is situated in Newcastle-under-Lyme so it's almost an hour away from Ashbourne but it was worth it. Twice as nice has a small grocery store, even stocking Coori pasta, Voakes pies as found in Selfridges.  There's a wide range of take out food and the cafĂ© has two small tables so you choose to eat in. 

My special guest was the youngest gluten-freer in our family and she chose a cheese sandwich.

 I had a goats cheese, grated carrot salad and peppers sandwich. Both were desktop made on a small loaf of very tasty bread. The flour used for the bread contains millet flour, which I've not used before. 

I then went for a vanilla doughnut, it was SO airy, it seemed to melt in my mouth. I wish they came in giant sizes as I honestly think I could eat about five of them! 

We selected a chocolate and stout cake, and a brownie to take home and they were delicious too. Laura has developed all the recipes herself and has won several awards over the past year. I noticed that many of the menu items were also dairy free and some were vegan too. 

I got a bit lost trying to find the cafĂ© so we didn't have very long to enjoy the surroundings but I'd say it was a perfect spot if you need a safe gluten-free lunch and ideal place to order freshly baked bread and grab an afternoon treat. 


Saturday, 27 August 2016

Perhaps the perfect holiday...

The one time that being coeliac bothers me the most is when planning and going on holiday. This year is the first time I've had to factor in travelling with a gluten-free child too. Previously, I've always taken a few snack bars for me in case of extended trips out, but this time I took a whole heap of Glutenfree food so that there was little chance of her feeling left out. I took some Doves Flour and xanthum gum to make pancakes a couple of times, Scahr chocolix bars & chocolate fingers to pack as treats if cafés had no gf desserts, a packet of Natures Path O's cereal, Prewetts chocolate biscuits, Pink Panther wafer biscuits, Delicious Alchemy brownie mix, Sweet Pea Pantry flapjack mix, Grass Roots Bakery bread roll mix, Venchii chocolate spread and Meridian Peanut Butter and I packed toaster bags! I'm not exactly known for packing light but even I have to admit that I thought I'd gone a bit OTT! Bet I'm not alone though, sure there are other parents of kids with allergies who do the same...?

So now you're probably wondering how I managed to fit in any clothes or other holiday essentials? Well, we were taking our car, which despite being a large 4x4, it was jam packed! Our destination was Jersey. I've been curious about Jersey for years and very excited to discover the island. 

Previously, the definition of luxury on holiday might have been about the stunning sea-view, or a super special hotel with butler service, maybe a safari where the host fills quails eggs with bath oil. This time, luxury means a little playground right outside a self-catering apartment, an English speaking kids channel on TV, a kids bedroom that stays dark in the morning & a pool within throwing distance. All of this courtesy of Les Ormes. A spacious apartment, not particularly stylish but all the mod-cons including a washer-dryer. This meant that I could sun worship as soon as I woke up, kids could play instantly & hubbie could relax until he was ready to join us. They have lots of extra activities that you can book as well as an indoor pool, a FunZone indoor play area, and sports clinic on site. I managed to book into a last minute Pilates lesson with Sonja which felt great. 

The other benefit of travelling to Jersey with gluten-free travellers is that just up the road there was a Waitrose and a Marks & Spencer. Perfect for stocking up on gluten-free bread, quiche, beer etc. Also just up the road we found a farm shop that had a considerable gf range including products from a nearby gf bakery. 

Now don't get me wrong, one of the pleasures of being on holiday is discovering new foods and eating out & Jersey restaurants were fantastic. Here are a few highlights;

Seafish Café, St Aubin
A fantastic upmarket fish and chip restaurant with a wealth of other seafood options and the warmest welcome. Typical fish and chips was available Gluten-free & in mini portions. My favourite was the asparagus & crab starter, closely followed by a red mullet, chorizo, butter bean special 

The teeny harbour at Rozel Bay is a beautiful spot. Our girls loved dipping their toes in the sea after dinner and we made a return trip to build sandcastles on the beach the following day. It's a great small beach for families as there's a little stone wall at the side where you can pop your bags and keep them sand-free. 

As well as The Navigator which is open for lunch and dinner, there's a cafe called The Hungry Man & Rozel's tea-room which looks unimposing from outside but has a lovely sun terrace and a huge selection of gluten-free food. 

Navigator, Rozel Bay 
Caramelised fig with the starter was a nice touch & my sea bass dish was really delicious.

Rozel Bay tea room

Gluten-free scones, a sausage & egg sandwich and a brownie were quickly devoured here after an early start for a stunning boat ride. 

Portlet Bay Café

Think this little bay was my absolute favourite. You have to park at the top near a pub and walk down 130 steps. Walk along the beach a short while and you'll see a wooden building that houses a pizza cafe. Usually they have Glutenfree pizza bases, but not suitable for coeliacs due to cross-contamination. I knew this in advance and was expecting to order a salad, but was relying on the pizza option for our gluten sensitive child. They had run out. I thought we were going to have to climb the 130 steps straight away and it was boiling. We ordered a drink to cool down & then I asked if little one could have a little pick and mix plate of various pizza toppings and salad bits & bobs. She was SO good about not getting a pizza and we had a lovely evening. We watched the kids walk down to the beach after they'd finished eating and joined them for a play before catching the sunset. 

El Tico

Driving along the west coast, we were running a bit late for lunch when we drove straight past this place. We decided to turn around and I'm so glad we did. El Tico is beach side cafĂ©, the ceiling is decorated with surfboards, there's loads of outdoor seating, and a very varied menu. Little one chose grilled chicken and chips and I had a huge and really tasty salad. The rest of the family had desserts whilst I sipped a large glass of super chilled wine - perfect pit stop. 

We did plenty of self-catered breakfasts and lunches and the occasional evening meal if the kids seemed too tired. Jersey has a fabulous selection of family friendly restaurants and we found them all to be very approachable in terms of allergies. We treated ourselves to a couple of very special eating out experiences for our last couple of days on the island. 

Mark Jordan At The Beach 

This is right on the beach although our table was by the entrance so we didn't really appreciate the view on this occasion. This didn't matter though as we ate the most delicious food of our whole trip & one of my favourite desserts ever! 
I enjoyed an ox tongue and scallops with minted peas starter, a perfectly cooked pink lamb, tomato, garlic and onion dish with dauphinoise potatoes and then fantastic desserts. Mine was a soufflĂ© with passion fruit ice-cream, perfect!  The service here was exemplary and makes me wish we'd made time to experience The Atlantic Hotel - maybe next time!

Longueville Manor 

After experiencing the most relaxing spa session ever - I actually felt my body momentarily drop off asleep during a facial and why i didn't give into it rather than snap back awake, I'll never know - the family joined me at Longueville Manor Hotel. We had pre-ordered afternoon tea, specifying that we needed gluten-free. The hotel which has 30 rooms appeared smaller than I'd imagined. The grounds were so peaceful and calming. There is a tranquil garden, tennis courts, a huge kitchen garden and a lovely, small swimming pool, with comfortable sun loungers in various corners. 

There's also a lake with a tree swing that our girls adored! As well as a small climbing frame with a slide hidden amongst trees. If I were visiting without children, I am sure the attentive service and private feel to this hotel would be my first choice. I'm not sure that the atmosphere is best for allowing children to let their hair down and enjoy being kids. In fairness, the hotel's brochure describes making children feel very welcome, they can even stay for free, with babysitting to dedicated menus, from interconnecting rooms to kid's DVDs, they do their utmost to make younger guests feel at home, but I heard parents telling kids to shhhhh - which I do enough of at home! Anyway back to the afternoon tea...knowing that our youngest wouldn't eat the grown-up sandwiches she enjoyed a plain choice. We all thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon tea, the Glutenfree scones were delicious, the jam they were served with was a superior quality choice. I loved the fact that the gf version was very similar to their regular tea with only one little pastry substituted. Chocolate pavĂ©, raspberry macaron, summer berries macaron & a panecotta cake. A very special occasion indeed. 

I loved the seaside cottages around Jersey that reminded me of Cornish fishing villages as well as the gorgeous homes that reminded me of mini French chateaux! Place names such as Bonne Nuit, house names such as Le Bon Coin, Le petit chatelet.

Jersey gardeners LOVE hydrangeas, they are everywhere! They're used alongside roads instead of hedges, used on grassy verges, in every colour you could imagine. 
(Photo https://www.lamarewineestate.com )

Little roadside honesty boxes with stalls selling garden flowers, jersey royals, free range eggs, chutney and veggies were very common. 

If you decide to visit Jersey, I'd highly recommend booking a Seafari trip before you travel. Our girls said this was their favourite activity and I have to agree with them. A fantastic & exciting way to see the coast. 

Le Mare Wine Estate & chocolate room, the small Jersey Lavender farm, Durrell wildlife park with a baby bear and Gorillas were our other highlights. We also enjoyed a pony trek with Le Claire Riding School which was a lovely way to spend an hour. There are so many other tourist attractions though that I think we'll have make a return visit. 


We had fantastic weather, stayed on GMT which keeps life simple with kids! We all enjoyed the French influence, fantastic food, gorgeous scenery and sunsets and made some really special family memories. Now, if anyone would like to invite us back we'll be with you in a jiffy! 

Thanks Jersey! 

Other practical info; 
- If you choose to travel by ferry, Condor ferries offer soup & jacket potatoes as gluten-free options 
- Our satnav didn't work in Jersey, cue initial panic over using an actual map! However, excellent 3G/4G coverage so google maps to the rescue
- many of the cafĂ©s and restaurants featured are small, you would be best to book in advance 

PS let me know if you follow in our footsteps?! X


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Peak National Park - a glorious dog walk

“Gateway to Heaven”

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Well, I'm setting off from Ashbourne which describes itself as the Gateway to Dovedale. If it's summer season the town adorns itself with 8 miles of bunting which looks fantastic. Several town centre pubs & cafĂ©s are doggy-friendly notably The George & Dragon who offer dog treats & The Flower CafĂ© who welcome pooches inside & newly opened Artisan CafĂ© who promise a gluten-free friendly menu. This morning, I've promised Mansell, our black lab, a great walk as the sun has just appeared. Dovedale promises dramatic limestone ravine scenery, impressive rock outcrops, rare wild flowers and tranquility, let's see…

We start at the Dovedale car park which is in Staffordshire. There is a toilet block & a refreshment shack that has plenty of choice. (The ice creams here have no gluten containing ingredients.)

As soon as you set off, you can hear the soothing sound of the water flowing past from the river Dove - I'm immediately relaxed. Once he's over his initial craziness, I let him off the lead. The advice here is that dogs must be “under close control” so he ambles off along the path in front of me & has direct access to the shallow river water.

Near the start of the walk is a National Trust kiosk. The volunteer was very knowledgable; he showed me a book full of dog walks in the Peak District, various maps & guide sheets, gave me a free dog lead too.  He told me that he keeps wondering if he ought to retire but each time a family says “see you next year”, it makes him think twice!

You'll soon arrive at the famous Stepping Stones across the river. Our dog loves racing across these & bouncing about in the river afterwards.  Look out for fossils clearly visible under your feet.  Once across you could choose to climb up Thorpe Cloud – the triangular shaped hill – fantastic views await you if you do.  This is a very popular spot for picnics. If you have children with you, bravery & mountaineering certificates are available from the kiosk!

We continued to follow the river, seeing “two little ducks” and ducklings along the way. Look out for dippers, white fronted birds the size of a thrush who bob up and down on branches over the river. Swallows were swooping over our heads. I didn't spot one but the river is home to brown trout. The terrain becomes a bit rockier & then the steps up to Lovers Leap hit you: 120 up and 59 down - or thereabouts! No sign of the heartbroken woman but a great outlook once you reach the top. 

Further along, look high up on the hillside on your right and you'll see Reynard’s Cave, I nearly missed it but saw someone dashing through the natural rock arch to the cave behind it. Also look out for the money tree trunk lying next to the path.
Spot the fallen tree trunks that lie right across the river and you'll soon arrive at the boardwalk, which helps you get through the narrowest part of the dale, known as the Straits. The landscape either side, with its dramatic limestone rock faces known as Pickering Tor, really makes you feel like you’re escaping…

Ilam Rock if often used by climbers, I spotted a brave, lone rock-climber. You can access a footbridge to get a closer inspection of the rock finger. A little further along are Dove Holes; two awesome shallow caves with large open access, our dog was excited to rush in exploring. A little grey wagtail was singing its heart out into the cave which sounded beautiful. 

The landscape opens up a little now & you'll be treated to flora & fauna. I spotted a large skipper butterfly landing on a wood cranesbill and lambs all over the vast hills. We then arrived at Viators Bridge, Milldale. A tiny hamlet with toilet facilities, a cute “hole-in-the-wall” shop called Polly’s; selling pasties, soup, cake, drinks, ice-creams as well as plasters  & hay-fever relief! Not much in the way of gluten-free snacks but the lady said she tried gluten-free cakes but they didn't sell very well. I’d packed a ball, so I sat down by the duck pond and Mansell had the time of his life jumping in to retrieve his ball several times over. 

Take a short stroll around Milldale and admire the dry stone walls, the limestone cottages, their gardens & vegetable patches. Set off up the steep hill just past Polly’s. This part of the walk is less traveled. Due to the ascent you may well start with an “eyes down” approach, but stop to turn around and see how far you've climbed, on a clear day the view will reward you. Unfortunately, we got caught in a shower, but we were entertained by a Goldfinch family flitting across the path just steps ahead of us and chirping merrily. 

I spotted a glimpse of the church and knew we'd soon be arriving at Alstonfield. I admired the wildflower meadow in St Peter’s churchyard, with 13 wildflowers, including Oxlips brought by a Vicar in the 1830s. I got a fright as a man suddenly appeared round the corner. Turns out Friday is clock-winding-day & on a fine day he’s rewarded with extensive views from the top of the church. Stroll further admiring the beautiful homes & gardens until you reach the village green & The George pub – with 3 pretty outside areas, a quarry tiled bar, welcoming log fire & a watering bowl waiting for your four legged friend. Emily recommended a glass of picpoul de pinet for me, you could have one of their hand-pumped real ales. I think Mansell is looking at my glass wondering why I didn't order the venison burger that just caught his eye! Well, after such an easy to navigate & stunning walk with the perfect companion, a little treat was in order...

If you have a little more time, then I would highly recommend exploring a little further to Tissington - featured in the recent series of “Britain’s Best Villages”. Bassetwood Farm and tea-room is idyllic, be sure to visit Edward & Vintage sweet shop where little doggie Neddie will welcome you in. There's a traditional Butchers shop and a little doggie tells me that The Bluebell Inn are often very generous with offcuts of ham! 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

***NEW*** bottersnikes and gumbles on CBBC

What an exciting Saturday morning we had this weekend. We were invited along to the launch of a brand new CBBC kids TV programme; Bottersnikes and Gumbles. 

Bottersnikes & Gumbles - the award-winning kids’ CGI animation show - premieres on CBBC on 25 July 2016, airing at 6pm every week day. 

The series brings to screen the much-loved 1970s classic children’s books by Australian author S.A. Wakefield and illustrated by Desmond Digby.

Each episode features the charming adventures of the loveable Gumbles as they endure timeless battles against the evil Bottersnikes in a forgotten valley of abandoned junk.

Harry Potter star and BAFTA winning Miriam Margolyes voices ‘Weathersnike’, one of the nasty Bottersnikes – whilst fellow Harry Potter and Hollyoaks actor, Jeff Rawle, voices Happi, a wise old Gumble.

Proving this is no ordinary CGI show, Bottersnikes & Gumbles has already picked up this year’s Pulcinella Award for Best Kids TV Series at the prestigious international animation festival ‘Cartoons on the Bay’ in Venice.

My youngest loved the two episodes that we got to watch. The stories are set in a far away forgotten valley, heaped with long abandoned junk, a timeless battle rages between good and evil… and also between squashy and scaly, happy and grumpy, clever and wily… cute and plain old ugly. This is the land of Bottersnikes and Gumbles.

We were treated to two funny episodes that saw all the kids giggling and clapping. The children were then invited to play various games. They were given some colouring to do and encouraged to display their creations on an animation machine. They all got some tattoos and masks too. 

We chatted to the actors after refreshments and found out that they recorded their voices well over a year ago. Unlike some animated films, the process for this film involved the actors recording together so Jeff Rawle said it had a great team atmosphere. I passed on a compliment from a friend to Kathryn Drysdale who plays Bounce & Merri and we talked about the audition process for various roles and how looking younger than your age can sometimes go against you for certain roles.

We sat down to natter with Akiya Henry who plays Willi & Jolli. (She's on the left in the stripy dress) As well as major theatre roles, Akiya is also in the exciting animation Bing Bunny for Cbeebies and Titty Walker in Swallows and Amazons. Several kids had already had a sneaky chuckle at her character's name being Willi so we decided she'd be a favourite character for the "rude factor" alone! Akiya confirmed that they were provided with a little character synopsis prior to the recording so she could imagine the characteristics Willi would display. I saw her chatting to a young boy earlier and when his Mother explained that this *lady* spoke the words uttered by Willi he recoiled at the thought and hid behind his Mum!  He had assumed that Willi was a boy gumble, so the actor must be a man. Not so - Akiya said she liked the character being hard to define in terms of gender - how relevant to today. When quizzed about how to select the right voice in terms of pitch, Akiya explained that as Willi's character breakdown paints a picture of Willi-gumble always looking up to Tink, she effected her voice to adopt a Tink-inflection. She said this was easy when spending time in the studio with Jason Callender who plays Tink. Jason also plays Dexter Harris on the 4 O’clockclub, aired on CBBC.

My daughter is about to step onto a big stage at the grand age of 5 years old - we've been persevering with drama club in order to help her overcome her shyness. Her question was how could she be more brave; Akiya confessed that when she was young, she was very shy indeed. Her top tip for children is when you're about to perform, think about where would be your favourite place to be performing your lines.  Akiya told us that sometimes she imagines she's in a fairy tale and she's in a big castle and is just saying her lines to her friends. Hope that will help with the massive stage fright I'm predicting on Saturday! 

Before we parted, I told Akiya that I couldn't let her go without addressing the kids TV programme that seems to have amassed a cult following: Bing Bunny. Akiya plays Amma and I asked her, did she realise how massively popular it had become, and just how "into it" parents were?! There are various threads of Mumsnet and even between my friends on Twitter, the intricacies from various episodes and questions that adult viewers told me to ask, had me giggling away! Why one character can't keep trousers on, why when Bing pee'd his pants that became "it's a Bing thing". I told her that Mums & Dads wondered who Bings parents were, and how come he never calls anyone Mummy or Daddy? Well the answer is that in a child's world, they see a "responsible adult". In fact as we chatted, we realised that some little ones may well spend more time with a grandparent, nursery nurse or other carer than with Mum or Dad. 

As we left, we were given a goodie bag which included a revised copy of the Bottersnikes and Gumbles story, which we've already raced through two chapters of. 

Roll on July 25th though, as I have a rather impatient little girl who keeps telling me she wants to watch Buttersnikes and Gumbles! Hope your little ones enjoy the new show. I'd love to hear what they think x


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Gluten free offerings at Hack Wood Farm

Happy New Year Everyone!

Think I just can just about get away with saying that still. I'll be honest, I do not seem to fair well over New Year...but slightly longer days already and a bit of sunshine today, so all is well. Hope you're off to a decent start yourself.

I have driven past a sign for Hack Wood farm shop countless times, but have always been en route to somewhere, until today... 

Forgiving the pot hole drive (they're waiting to have it resurfaced) and after the crazy amount of rain recently, the parking was very muddy. No matter.
The initial approach it doesn't look like there'll be much to see, but just around the corner is a great courtyard, must be lovely in summer.

Great range of fresh vegetables and fruit outside 
Then you open an in imposing stable door and you're in for a surprise! A considerable butchers counter is waiting for you.
Complete with Glutenfree sausages (usually) and a range of Glutenfree pies by Voakes 

The rest of the farm shop has a few Glutenfree products including a local range of flavoured chocolate buttons by www.bittersweetchocolates.co.uk 

...and biscuits and traybake style cakes 
Nice to see a free from gluten biscuit range made with butter and no vegetable oils 

They also stock Thornleys GF sauce mixes which I haven't seen in other local
Farm shops.
They have two types of Doves Farm GF flour, but do not stock any gluten free bread 
Then if you look around the corner, there's a huge space dedicated to a cafe area. Some great signs of coeliacs being catered for judging by the menus. 

And a special deal for the over 60's and ginger aficionados are even catered for 😉

Even four legged friends are catered for! 

I spoke to the lady who made the GF chocolate brownie and she reassured me that clean equipment is used and hands washed etc so they seemed aware of cross contamination risk. My only point of hesitation would be the gluten packed cakes being right next to the brownies and them not being covered or protected from accidental crumbs - not sure what you think about that? Also, whether a separate serving slice would be used or not? If you are a coeliac, then it would be safer to have it protected from other baked goods.

There were little wrapped biscuits available too 
I came home with a great selection of foods and would love to go back for a return visit and enjoy the menu in the cafĂ©. They even have a leaflet describing a 3mile circular walk from the farm shop...maybe once the threat of snow has disappeared. 

So spread the word, a great farm shop, the origins of which go back more than 200 years. Certainly adapting to modern times, thank you for catering for coeliacs.