February 2018 | Modern Mummy

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Introducing.... Mrs Jones Tea's Afternoon Tea Box

There are lots of things I'm passionate about in life, three of them being good food, supporting local, independent businesses and vintage china - and the subject of today's blog post incorporates all of the above.

Mrs Jones Tea & China Hire was launched in 2016 by Weybridge mum of two, Gemma Jones. Gemma provides afternoon tea catering and vintage china hire for weddings and other events all over London (and closer to home in Surrey) and now has an amazing Afternoon Tea Box available to purchase over on her website, just in time for Mother's Day. This means that you can still give the gift of a gorgeous afternoon tea to someone special, even if you're unable to take them out for one!

Containing a beautiful, hand selected, vintage bone china cup, saucer and tea plate set, along with homemade scones, strawberry jam, clotted cream, tea bags, heart shaped sugar cubes and pretty napkins this really is the perfect present for a tea fan or a vintage lover!

Tea for one costs £30, and tea for two is just £40. What a lovely, quirky present - I think it's absolutely perfect for Mother's Day and I'm very honoured and grateful that Gemma chose to gift me one!

Mrs Jones Tea can deliver afternoon tea boxes locally for free (within three miles of Weybridge, Surrey) on 9th and 10th March. Boxes can also be posted, or couriered, nationwide when ordered before 6th March.

FOOD // A Tuscan Culinary Masterclass with Bookings For You + the Giovannini Family

Earlier this month, Jo Mackay from luxury villa holiday specialists Bookings For You invited me to take part in an Italian culinary masterclass hosted by the Giovannini family from Volterra in Tuscany.

The Giovannini family - made up of Mum, Fabiola, Dad, Giancarlo, Son, Dario and daughter-in-law, Vera - are second and third generation pastry chefs and together they own the award winning Dolceria del Corso pastry shop in Volterra, alongside a catering business that operates throughout Italy and beyond into Germany and France and, as if that didn't keep them busy enough already, they also run an event management company from their HQ in Tuscany to boot.

Bookings For You started working with Giovannini Enterprises back in 2015, helping them to promote their stunning country residence, Country Relais and Spa Le Capanne - a completely restored villa that sleeps 22, has it's own pool and comes beautifully fitted out with vintage furniture. The estate is also a place for the Giovannini family to showcase their culinary talents and has 400 olive trees in its grounds, enabling the family to produce their own Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

In my opinion, no other cuisine in the world compares to Italian cuisine. Italians have a way of turning the simplest ingredients into the most amazing meals and I think that's down to two things: (1) the quality of the ingredients that they use, and the fact that they are always local and always seasonal and (2) they are so passionate about cooking, and spending mealtimes with the people closest to them.

Which brings me nicely onto my amazing day of cooking and feasting with Jo, the Giovanninis and some of the loveliest bloggers I ever did meet! A day that starts with a breakfast of strong, fresh, black coffee and dairy free chocolate and beetroot cake is always going to be a good one.

The regional favourites that we got to make (and eat!) included bruschetta Toscana (simple baked bread with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper) bruschetta al pomodoro (the traditional Italian dish we all know and love) and crostini con fegatini (that's chicken livers to you and me - basically the Italian version of pate).


The second course was ravioli ricotta e spinaci con pomodorini pachino e basilico (homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with a cherry tomato and basil sauce - and a dairy free version for me, which I was super grateful for!) and pici all etrusca (homemade pici pasta with a Tuscan sauce made from eggs, garlic, parsley, mint and basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and pecorino cheese - which can be left out if you're dairy free like me).

Coscio di cinghiale agli aromi con olive was certainly one way to end my month as a vegan. Giancarlo had slow roasted a huge leg of wild boar (brought over from Tuscany) when we first arrived, and four hours later it was cooked to perfection and served to us with hot black olives. Guys! I was so excited to shovel meat into my mouth (sorry vegan and veggie friends) that I didn't even take a photo. Yes you heard that right. I. Didn't. Take. A. Photo. It was SO GOOD! I might have had seconds and thirds.

I had to leave before the millefoglie crema chantilly e fruitti di bosco (traditional Italian cake with cream and berries) and tirimasu but I have it on very good authority that both were divine which, of course they were, as every single morsel that passed my lips that day was absolutely incredible.

I did, however, manage to fit in a cheeky little afternoon glass of chianti before I had to head off on the school run...


It's been ten years since I was last in Italy and it's a place that I've always wanted to travel to with the girls. When we decide to go I have 100% found the right person to get us there, and that's Jo from Bookings For You. Family means everything to Jo, and was one of the main motivations for her to set up the business back in 2011. She was pregnant with her second child and wanted to be able to work flexibly. Being able to help families plan special holidays is something she is incredibly passionate about and I know she will be able to help us organise our perfect first family trip out there. Bookings For You have more than 350 properties to choose from in Italy, France and Monaco - you can take a look at them all over on their website here.

Thanks so much to Jo and the Giovannini's for a wonderful day!

Monday, 26 February 2018

FOOD // Tips on Storing Italian Pasta

Pasta is a traditional Italian food staple that’s captured hearts and bellies all over the world. Made very simply from durum wheat flour, water and sometimes eggs, it’s also one of the most versatile and cheapest foods around. According to estimations, there are about 350 different types of Italian pasta including all-time favourites such as spaghetti, tagliatelle, fusilli and ravioli.

For convenience, we mostly buy dried pasta, though fresh pasta is also readily available from the chiller section of your supermarket. Of course, if you want the authentic taste, there’s nothing like making fresh Italian pasta yourself. The big question is: how long does pasta keep?

How to store uncooked pasta 
In terms of storage and shelf life, there’s a huge difference between fresh and dried pasta. Fresh pasta must be kept in the fridge. Whether you make your own pasta or open a shop bought packet, put any unused pasta in an airtight container and use up within a few days. The only way to extend the shelf life of fresh pasta is by storing it in the freezer.

Dry pasta, on the other hand, will keep longer than most other items in your pantry as long as you store it properly. Before use, keep the product in its original packaging and put it with the other dry foods in your kitchen cupboard. Moisture is the enemy of dried pasta – it will go mouldy within a few days.

Once the packet has been opened, it can still be kept in the cupboard – many types of Italian pasta packaging (like these at the Bag Broker) have a resealing tab to keep the freshness in. Otherwise, it might be better to transfer the contents to an airtight container for longer term storage.

What’s the shelf life? 
All food products have a ‘best before’, ‘use by’ or ‘sell by’ date, and pasta is no different. This is an indication of how long the manufacturer expects the product to be fit for use and will vouch for its safety. In the case of dried pasta, it’s usually just a rough estimate of the product’s shelf life.

The date on the packet will err on the side of caution and under normal circumstances, the shelf life of dried pasta is very long. With proper storage it can literally last a couple of years past its official expiry date. That said, the shelf life of pasta will depend on how it was made, whether it has any preservatives added and the amount of moisture retained after the drying process.

Fresh pasta is a different case altogether. Here, the date should be an accurate estimate of the real shelf life. Keep unopened packets of fresh pasta for a week or so and, once open, consume the contents within 2-4 days. Home made fresh pasta should be eaten up within 2-3 days, since no preservatives will have been added. If you want to keep fresh pasta for longer, you can keep it in the freezer for a month or two. It will still be OK to eat if you freeze it for longer, but the taste won’t be as good as when it’s fresh.

Finally, cooked pasta or a leftover pasta dish that you’ve prepared at home should be treated like any cooked dish. For food safety reasons, store any leftovers in the fridge and consume within 3 days, especially if your dish contains meat or fish, or put in the freezer once cooled to room temperature.

Has my pasta gone off? 
Food hygiene and safety are essential in protecting us from foodborne illness, and it’s always a good idea to use your senses to tell you if anything is wrong with the food you’re thinking of eating, regardless of ‘best before’ dates.

Fresh pasta ‘gone bad’ should be easy to spot. Look out for noticeable signs of discoloration or mould, a dull or slimy appearance or an unusual or unpleasant smell, and throw the pasta away if you find anything odd.

Dried pasta is unlikely to ‘go off’ in the same way as fresh pasta does, unless it is exposed to moisture. However, it does lose its taste over time, so if you have 2-year old spaghetti in the cupboard, you may wish to taste it first before committing to a full recipe.

A rare problem with long-term pasta storage – or indeed other dry cupboard staples like rice, flour or lentils - is weevil or bug infestation. It’s a disconcerting thought and highly unlikely to occur, but if you’re using pasta that’s been in the cupboard for an extended period of time, make sure you inspect the contents closely before use.


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Photography for Busy Parents - with Vicki Knights

Just before half term I was invited to take part in a photography workshop taught by Surrey based family photographer Vicki Knights.

As a blogger I'm always taking photos. I mostly use my iPhone as it's so EASY (lets face it - they take pretty decent pictures and we've always got our phones on us!) but I bought an Olympus PEN E-PL8 last year with the intention of upping my photography game a bit. The trouble was, I had no idea how to use it - until I took this course it remained firmly on auto - so I mostly just ended up leaving it at home, using it for the odd flatlay and styled shoot rather than attempting to get candid shots while I was out and about.

As much as I wanted to learn all about it's capabilities, I'm the sort of person that finds it really hard to read manuals and teach myself stuff; I need someone to physically show me what I need to do, otherwise it just doesn't sink in. It also helps to have someone on hand that I can ask questions to.

I'd contemplated booking myself in on a course a few times in the past but I have very little spare time as it is and couldn't be sure I'd be able to commit to a weekly class. So when Vicki contacted me and told me about her Photography for Busy Parents course, which takes place over just half a day, I was sold!

Vicki's classes take place all over Surrey; this one was just down the road from me at Applegarth Farm in Grayshott.

I met my fellow students in the cafe and we chatted about what we hoped to achieve over cappuccinos and lattes before making our way to the private dining cabin to get stuck in. We were greeted by gorgeous personalised place settings and Vicki had even got me dairy free treats to enjoy while the others had cake from the farm shop. Our group was only small - there were seven of us in total - and very relaxed which was the perfect environment for learning.

We talked about the composition of our photographs, how to make the most out of natural light, how to get your children to smile without them shouting CHEEEEEEEESE - then we moved on to talk about exposure, how to get that lovely blurry background in our photos and post-production editing. With all this new information fresh in our minds it was time to get outside and start snapping.

And now it's up to me to put all that I've learnt into practice! I'm going to head out to the woods with the kids this weekend and can't wait to show Vicki the images I capture. As part of the course, Vicki sets homework and you can also join her closed Facebook group to talk to and share your photographs with other students which I think is a really great idea, and a great way to continue learning.

I thought I'd finish off this post with a few tips; things that are super simple that you can take into account whether you're using your phone, a shoot-and-point or a fancy pants DSLR.

1. Be aware of your backdrop. Is it messy? Are there things in it that you don't want in your photograph?

2. If your subject is looking away from the camera, embrace it! Just make sure you leave space in the frame in the direction that they are looking to give your photo a wistful, dreamy look. The same empty space idea goes if your subject is on the move - show the space that they will be running into!

3. Always shoot in natural light. Never use a flash! You can always up the exposure using editing software later on if the image comes out a little dull. Flashes cause unnatural facial expressions and excess shadows. Take a look at the 'before' version of the first photo in this post to see what can be done to improve a photo after it has been taken.

If you're keen to learn more then I would whole-heartedly recommend one of Vicki's workshops. Not only are they incredibly informative, they're also heaps of fun and brilliant way to spend a morning!

The Photography for Busy Parents course lasts three and half hours and costs £140. You can book a spot on one of Vicki's courses via her website here. Online courses are also available.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Love + Biscuits

I don't know about you, but when I think about Valentine's Day, the first thing that pops into my mind is food. Love? Pah! Fresh coffee and pastries? Three course meals? Chocolates? Biscuits? That's more like it!

I might not have any secret admirers, but I do have some lovely friends over at Biscuiteers who were thoughtful enough to send me over a box of their deliciously quirky personalised vintage love letter biscuits for Valentine's Day.

If you've not tried Biscuiteers biscuits before, you need to know that you're MISSING OUT. Seriously. They are AMAZING. Each biscuit is completely handmade, traditionally baked and beautifully iced, and they always come perfectly presented in specially decorated boxes or tins. They have different flavours for different occasions (the Valentines collection is vanilla, yum) and something for every budget. It's become a bit of a tradition for us to give boxes to our family every Christmas and last year we got them as teacher's gifts too. They're such a lovely, thoughtful, different way to send a message to someone you care about. They even have icing cafes in Notting Hill and Battersea so if you're ever near one of them and you're feeling creative you can decorate your own (they do seriously good coffee if you're not feeling quite so creative and just fancy eating some ready made ones).

The vintage love letters tin costs £35 but prices start at just £6 for a gingerbread Romeo or Mr Darcy. The personalised lobster biscuit box is one of my favourites at a middle-of-the-range £18 - what better way to tell someone you love them than with an edible lobster biscuit?

How will you be celebrating Valentine's Day this year?

Left treating yourself or your loved one until the last minute? Fret not - Biscuiteers are offering free next day delivery when you order before 1pm tomorrow (Tuesday 13th). Enter code LASTMINLOVE for free Royal Mail next day delivery on orders of £20 or more.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Celebrating Valentine's Day at Home with Wayfair + HelloFresh

Ahh Valentine's Day.

February 14th is a bit like marmite; you either love it or you hate it.

I'm most definitely a Valentine's Day lover. I think it's really important to show the people you care about just how much they mean to you - whether that's your other half, your kids, your parents or your friends. Of course you should do this every day but once a year it's nice to go the extra mile and really spoil them (and treat yourself too). This is something we've always done as a family. Heck, you know us! Any excuse to throw a mini party and we're all over it!

This year the girls and I joined forces with Wayfair and HelloFresh to create the perfect Valentine's night in - and despite our slightly unconventional Valentine's Day set up, we really did have a wonderful time.

My love for HelloFresh is well documented on this blog - the concept of having complete recipe boxes packed full of super fresh ingredients delivered to your door is totally genius for people like me, who really do want to cook tasty, healthy meals from scratch but are slightly lacking in the skills and/or time department (both in my case).

After a long day at work, having to shop for food and make an executive decision about what to cook for dinner each night used to stress me out no end - and that's the main reason I've bought HelloFresh boxes almost every week for the past year. I also hate wasting food (see my Guide to Reducing Food Waste if this is something you're interested in). There's never any waste when it comes to HelloFresh meals; firstly because you're sent the exact amount of ingredients needed already measured out for each recipe, but also because the meals are so darn tasty no one ever leaves any.

As part of this campaign we were asked to pick out some products from the Wayfair website so that we could dress our kitchen table beautifully for a Valentine's Day feast. Wayfair is one of my favourite places to shop for homewares; not only are they really affordable, they also offer fast and free shipping and stock EVERYTHING you could possibly wish for; from big bulky pieces of furniture to the little finishing touches, like cushions and lighting.

1. Gold Viners Cutlery Set, 16 pieces - £43.99 // 2. Schott Zweifel red wine glasses, set 
of 2 - £48.99 // 3. The DRH Collection Loire DOF whiskey glasses, set of 6, blue - £29.99 // 4. The DRH Collection small heart shaped baking dish, £15.99 // 5. Fairmont & Main Vie Naturelle dinner plates, set of 4 - £29.99

Whenever I buy things for our home, I always try and pick things that are a little bit different. I'm not a fan of plain white (apart from on my walls!). For me its all about colour and texture. The textile designer William Morris once said; "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." I think these are really wise words and, as such, I like to make sure that everything in our house is both.

When it came to choosing the items for this campaign, the ones that really stood out for me were the gold cutlery (they make such a nice change to the usual stainless steel sets you get and, in actual fact, I think gold and steel look really great mixed together), the beautiful, intricately designed, chunky glass tumblers, and I especially loved the crazing on the turquoise plates.

We celebrated an early Valentine's Day by cooking the HelloFresh Lentil and Vegetable Hotpot, adapting it slightly to substitute the cheddar cheese for a vegan alternative because of my dairy intolerance. It was delicious - and I'm positive it tasted better served on beautiful stoneware plates and eaten with elegant gold knives and forks!

Wherever you are, whoever you're with and whether you celebrate it or not, I hope you all have a lovely Valentine's Day next week!

DISCLAIMER: We were sent a complimentary HelloFresh box, together with the Wayfair products used to style this shoot, for the purpose of this blog post. All words are honest and my own, and all imagery is copyright. 

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