5 ways to avoid Christmas costing a fortune

So it’s 01 December on Monday. How did that happen? This year seems to have gone so quickly. With Christmas likely looming large in all of your thoughts, chances are you’re probably thinking that it’s going to be really expensive. Well it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. After years of battling with huge, depressing credit card bills in January that take me months to pay off, I’ve learned that Christmas is only as expensive as you want to make it. So here are my five tips to avoiding Christmas costing you a fortune.

1. Decide who you are going to buy for – It’s the season of goodwill and with that it’s tempting to buy presents for everyone. But if you don’t want Christmas to cost an arm and a leg, you need to be realistic about who to buy gifts for. My friends and I decided rather than buy each other presents, we would go for a pre-Christmas cocktail. It costs much less and is a really nice thing to do.

2. Set a budget and stick to it – Think really carefully about what you can afford. From that, set a figure that will cover all of your Christmas presents and won’t result in you spending more than what your bank balance will allow.

3. Start a spreadsheet – Now that you know who you are buying for and what you’re going to spend, make yourself a spreadsheet. This will help you to stick to your budget. I do my Christmas spreadsheet on Google Docs, so it keeps me on track wherever I go.

4. Take advantage of deals – So many retailers have deals on at this time of year. Black Friday is the most obvious one, but look out for other retailer discounts. And depending on your budget, it will allow you to get your loved ones a little bit more. I don’t alter my budget to factor deals in, but it does mean I can get my friends and family more with my money.

5. Consider making homemade gifts – If money is a real issue, homemade gifts always go down really well. I made these truffles earlier on this year and once they were boxed up, they looked really impressive and were totally gift worthy. Candles, biscuits and chutneys are also relatively inexpensive to make.

I hope you find these tips useful – they certainly help to save me a little money. Do you have any tips for keeping Christmas spending more manageable?

Posted in Christmas | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Afternoon tea at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Afternoon tea is such a lovely thing to do. I love the entirely civilised nature of eating crustless sandwiches and devouring one-too-many cakes over endless pots of tea and glasses of fizz.

Last Saturday, I was invited to sample afternoon tea at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Never one to turn down the chance to spend the afternoon in this most British of ways, my friend and I indulged in a truly impressive afternoon tea.

Served in the Snug of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s café, we were very impressed not just by the selection presented to us, but by the quality of the food we ate. The sandwich platter included sandwiches filled with parma ham, which is a far cry from the run of the mill ham option. There was also mini goat’s cheese and caramelised onion tarts and espresso cups filled with broccoli and Stilton soup. It was a great start to the afternoon.

We then moved onto the cake tower, and wow what a cake tower it was. There was so much on offer, from lemon possets and pink macarons to millionaire’s shortbread, empire biscuits, brownies and freshly baked scones, served with cream and a homemade winter fruit compote.

I would thoroughly recommend afternoon tea at the portrait gallery. The Snug is quiet and cosy, the staff are friendly and attentive and the food was utterly delicious. I can’t wait to go back!

Disclosure: I was invited to review afternoon tea at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Posted in Afternoon tea, Cakes, Edinburgh, Reviews | Tagged , , | 24 Comments

Chocolate and hazelnut cake

I really do love chocolate. White or dark, cake or biscuit, if there’s a choice, I will always pick the chocolate one. So when Sainsbury’s set me a challenge to make something with leftover chocolate for their Christmas campaign, I was brimming with ideas and the cake you see in these pictures won out.

This chocolate and hazelnut cake is a traditional Italian recipe. It’s not a moist and gooey sort of chocolate cake, it’s got a much nuttier consistency and we all know how well chocolate and hazelnuts go together. I will warn you in advance, if you do make this cake, if you’re anything like this I’m pretty sure you’ll find it impossible to have just one slice.

To make this cake you’ll need:

  • 200g of plain flour
  • 250g of icing sugar, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 200g of softened unsalted butter
  • 150g chopped hazelnuts
  • 150g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 35g of cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp of Nutella
  • 5 free range eggs, separated
1. Preheat the oven to 180c and grease and line a 26cm cake tin.

2. In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter and then add one egg yolk at a time, and beat the mixture well after the addition of each yolk.

3. Add the flour, cocoa powder, chocolate, hazelnuts and Nutella to the sugar, butter and egg yolk mixture. Combine until all the ingredients are mixed together.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Now, fold the egg whites into the rest of the cake mixture. Once combined, pour into the cake tin and bake for 40 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for five minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack. Finally, once the cake has cooled completely, dust with icing sugar before serving.

You can serve this cake on its own, with a side of cream or some fruit coulis. However you choose to serve it, it’s guaranteed to taste delicious.

What’s your favourite kind of chocolate cake?

Posted in Cakes, Chocolate, Christmas, Nutella | 20 Comments

Let the light in

I’ve been talking a lot about home improvements recently. With Christmas just around the corner, I’m trying to do as much as I can to get the house looking at its best before guests come to stay. The style of property I live in – a traditional tenement – means that I need to be careful how I present it. We have original floorboards, cast iron fireplaces and sash windows from the late 1800s, which are all very expensive to replace, so we need to get creative when upgrading them.

Recently, we’ve done a lot of work on our windows. Replacing them with new sash windows was far from budget friendly and so we sanded and stripped them, primed them and painted them – inside and out – which is quite a task when you live on the third floor.

Now the essential maintenance is out of the way, I’m looking to dress them. I thought about curtains, but the windows are late 18th-century and the sort that you can walk right into and admire the surround. So I decided on blinds so that they don’t obstruct any of the window surround and so far, the nicest ones I’ve found were from VELUX Blinds and John Lewis, who both have lovely ranges, with a lot of choice.

I’ve set up a Pinterest board with some of my favourite blinds – let me know which ones you think are the nicest. And tell me, are you a blinds or a curtain person? Or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Image credit: Pinterest

Posted in Homes and interiors | 13 Comments

Vegetarian stuffed aubergines

I am completely obsessed with aubergines, in what ever shape, manner or form they come in. Recently, I’ve taken to stuffing them and if you’re also a fan of stuffed aubergines, you’ll love my recipe for AO at Home. The filling is made from puy lentils, vegetables and beans and is perfect for catering to any vegetarians you have in your life.

Do you like aubergines? How do you cook them?

Posted in AO at Home, Aubergines, Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 17 Comments