Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Organising a Baby Shower

I’ve been doing a bit of blog admin recently, and realised I have numerous folders full of photos I’ve taken for blog posts, which I’ve never actually got round to writing. Whether it’s been that my health has got in the way or I had too much work on at Uni, they’ve just been left sitting there, which to me feels like a real shame (especially as I put so much time and energy into taking the photos in the first place!) So, as well as my goal to start uploading more new posts to my blog now that I’ve finished university, I also plan to dig some photos out of the archives and finally get my posts written to go alongside them. I’ll only share posts that are still relevant today (I don’t think there’s much point in me writing about a ‘new’ product launch that came out three years ago!) so hopefully you will still find my archive posts useful and interesting. And don’t worry – I also have plenty of new blog post ideas in mind, so I plan to do a nice mixture of old and new.

Today’s post that I want to share with you comes from photos I took about a year ago when my sister-in-law was still pregnant (can you believe ‘little’ Noah is now almost one!) Most of my friends and family know how much I enjoy planning and organising a good party, so when I was given the opportunity to arrange Lisa’s Baby Shower, I was over the moon! Pinterest soon became my best friend – I spent every spare minute I could find browsing pins for all sorts of Baby Shower related things (you can check out my Baby Shower board here) and things gradually started coming together. Obviously everyone’s tastes are different, so what we came up with may not be to everyone’s liking. But I thought I would share some of the things we did to make it a special day in case you’re just starting out with your planning and are feeling a little bit overwhelmed! 

Apart from sorting out the location (we booked a cosy room in a local church) the first thing I had to do was come up with some sort of theme for the party. We didn’t know baby’s gender at the time, so we wanted something neutral yet colourful and fun. Richard and Lisa had just had a beautiful mural of an elephant painted in the nursery, and so the idea of an elephant theme began. We complemented this with pastel rainbow shades to bring some colour to the event. Before we went any further, I wanted to check with Lisa if there was anything she either really wanted us to include or absolutely did not want to happen on the day. Luckily for me, she was fairly happy for us to go ahead with our own ideas, so it was able to be a nice surprise for her when she arrived on the day. The one thing Lisa did have a say over was the invite list – she sent over names and contact details so we could send out the invitations to the right people.

After a lot of planning and one or two minor breakdowns (!) things came together perfectly on the day. I was lucky to have a lot of help from my other sister-in-law, Emma, and my Mum, which made life so much easier. When it came to decorating the venue, there was only so much we could do to transform a slightly dated church hall into a room fit for a baby shower. But I think we did a pretty good job! The main part of the decoration was a range of different balloons. We found some rainbow pastel balloons, which we blew up and hung on the door so that our guests knew where the party was happening. We also found a couple of adorable foil balloons – one with an elephant in a bath and a giant baby, which we took to a local balloon shop to be filled with helium. Lastly, we found some latex rainbow balloons, which matched the elephant on the foil balloon. These were also filled with helium and placed up the length of the hallway entrance to the room. 

Above the door, we hung some beautiful personalised bunting, which we discovered on Amazon at a really reasonable price. Emma and I had also made Lisa a nappy cake (our first attempt at making one – we were really pleased with the result!), which we sat on a table just by the door. When Lisa came into the building, you could tell what a lovely surprise it all was and she seemed really pleased with all the little touches.

We had decided to base the party around an afternoon tea (because everyone loves tea, scones and cakes right?!) so we set out tables and chairs, and then covered the tables with pretty cloths to try and make it feel less like a church hall! We managed to gather together some beautiful tea sets between us, which looked perfect sat on the tables next to the lovely IKEA lanterns. Around the room we also hung lots of vintage-style bunting and fairy lights to try and make it feel as much like a cosy tearoom as possible. 

As well as the tea and cake, we also wanted to include a variety of activities to keep everyone entertained. This is where Pinterest came in very handy – I got so much inspiration browsing through pins from other people’s baby showers! The first game we played was ‘Pin the Dummy on the baby’, which seemed to bring out rather a lot of cheating behaviour! In the end, we concluded that players shouldn’t have the opportunity to feel the board too much before sticking the dummy on, as we ended up with a lot of dummies very close to the baby’s mouth! 

There were also some quieter activities that people could do as and when they fancied it. One of these was called ‘Baby’s First Alphabet Book.’ It was basically a pile of white card, with each piece having “A is for..,” “B is for…” and so on written at the top. The idea being, that each person at the baby shower would draw and colour in a picture (or two!) that matched the letter of the alphabet on the card. Once they were all completed, the pile could be joined together to make an alphabet book for the new baby (and a lovely keepsake for the Mum-to-Be). For another game, we had a couple of baby bottles filled with sweets (counted out by my Mum!) Everyone then had to place their guesses for how many sweets were in each bottle and write them on the chart against their name. The person whose guess was the closest would win the bottle (and the sweets!) to take home.

I always think photos are a brilliant way to create lasting memories, but I know it can sometimes feel a bit awkward when you’re in a larger group and you don’t necessarily know everyone. So we decided to have a photo booth corner with some cute new baby related props to encourage everyone to take some funny photos. These pictures could then be shared with Lisa, meaning she can then print them out and make a keepsake album or add them to her pregnancy/baby book. 

I don’t think you can have a baby shower without asking everyone to dig out a baby photo or two! We decided that, for another game, we would ask people to guess which baby photo matched to each guest. So, before the party, I contacted everyone and asked them to send me over an old photo of themselves. I then arranged these on pieces of card and make some little forms that each guest could fill in. It was so much fun looking through all the photos (some more embarrassing than others!) and trying to guess who was who. It definitely helped to break the ice a bit too. 

Another guessing game was to ask everyone to make their predictions about the new baby – I always think it’s fun to see what sorts of things people go for, and I know it’s quite interesting for the Mum and Dad-to-be to look through once baby has arrived to see if anyone was correct! Again, I just put together some paper forms so guests could record their predictions for date and time of birth, weight, length, hair colour, eye colour, gender and name suggestions. Some of these were easier to guess than others – for example, none of us really knew how long a typical baby was!

I was really conscious of making sure that Lisa had some keepsakes from her special day, and I found these beautiful cloud-shaped advice cards, which I thought would be nice for her to look through after the party. On Pinterest I also came across a lovely ‘Wishes for Baby’ printable and again, thought this would be a nice keepsake for the Mum-to-be. 

Our final two games definitely brought with them the most laughs! Firstly, we did a blindfolded nappy changing game. We split into two teams and the winners were the fastest team to all change a nappy blindfolded. We had some rather interesting nappies, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't have lasted long on a real baby!

For the other game we covered a selection of baby food jars with numbers, and then everyone had to guess what flavour/meal each one was by smelling and tasting each jar in turn. Eating baby food isn’t something any of us had ever really done before, so it was interesting to say the least! All I can say is, some tasted a lot nicer than others did! 

We did a bring and share with the food to take the pressure off us providing everything. We ended up with a yummy selection of sweet and savoury foods, and there was plenty to go around. My sister-in-law, Emma, made some delicious cupcakes and we found these cloud toppers to match the cloud-shaped advice cards. They looked brilliant cascading down the cake stand, popping out against the rainbow sprinkles. We also found some grey and yellow elephant confetti to decorate the table with.

One of my favourite parts of the baby shower d├ęcor was the amazing cake my friend Mel, from The Cake Revolution made. She’s made a few cakes for me over the last few years, so I knew I could count on her to do something perfect for such a special occasion. I sent her over a few photos of cakes I’d found online that I quite liked, all including elephants in one way or another, and she worked her magic making this beautiful Mother and Baby elephant cake. It tasted delicious too!

I couldn’t believe how quickly the party went, and it was soon time for everyone to start heading home. Before everybody left, I asked them to leave Lisa (and Richard!) a message in this beautiful guest book so that they had something special to look back on in years to come. We also had a little basket of favours for people to take home. After lots of browsing through favour ideas on Pinterest, I decided to buy a box of fruit teas in individual envelopes and tie a ‘Baby is Brewing’ tag onto each one. They looked great and received a lot of compliments from guests as they took one home with them. 

Despite the organisation being a little stressful at times, I was so pleased with how it all turned out and was happy to see Lisa and her friends enjoying it all. Hopefully it left her with lots of happy memories before the new arrival. And I hope this post might have offered you some ideas and inspiration if you’re planning your own baby shower sometime soon.

What do you think of all the decorations and games that we came up with for Lisa’s baby shower? Are you planning a baby shower soon?

Monday, 1 October 2018

Tea Travels - Afternoon Tea at Pennyhill Park

Long time no see! I seem to have neglected my blog recently and I’m not sure why. Well, I am in a way – my health has been pretty rubbish, we had a family holiday to Disneyland Paris and a lot of my time has been taken up with medical appointments. But I also think I just seemed to lose my way a bit when it came to writing. I’ve loved creating videos for my YouTube channel but my brain just hasn’t been able to get itself in the right place for putting words together to make something coherent. Perhaps I just needed a bit of a break after university finishing – life has definitely been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last few months! But I think I’ll talk about that more in a separate post. Because today, I’m here to introduce you to a brand new series on my blog, which I’ve decided to call ‘Tea Travels.’ 

Calling it a new series is possibly a little misleading, as I’ve shared a few posts over the years from afternoon teas I’ve tried. But I’ve decided to actually give the posts a name now, perhaps in the hope it will encourage me to try more afternoon teas to tell you about! For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved going out for afternoon tea. It’s not always easy when you have chronic illnesses that affect your digestive system, but it’s become a bit of a ‘thing’ that my Mum and I can do together, and I just love the whole experience. Arriving at some place fancy (or not so fancy!), the excitement when the tea stand is brought to your table and the fun of trying all the different sandwiches, scones and yummy cakes. For something that is so ‘typical’ (i.e. sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea) it’s great to see how many different ways places manage to find to present it. I’ve tried a lot of afternoon teas over the years, but no two have ever been the same.

Last month, my Mum and I headed down the road (quite literally – we don’t live far from there!) to Pennyhill Park to check out their take on afternoon tea. I’d bought my Mum a voucher for her birthday back in February, but we had decided to wait until the summer to enjoy it. I’ve actually had afternoon tea at Pennyhill Park once before – a number of years ago with a friend, and had really enjoyed it then, so I knew my Mum would love it. Plus we didn’t have the stress of having to travel up to London and back, which is always a plus! 

It was a lovely warm sunny day as we made our way over to Bagshot, Surrey. Driving up the winding driveway towards the hotel, you get that excitement and anticipation of what you’re going to see, even as someone who has been there once before. I can imagine it would be a beautiful setting for a wedding. We followed the signs for disabled parking, which took us to the front of the hotel. Unfortunately, they only seemed to have one disabled space (which was taken), so we ended up having to drive over to the main car park. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but the only way to get to the hotel was down an extremely steep slope – too dangerous for attempting in my wheelchair (I could see myself slipping and being tipped out – not a good start to a relaxing afternoon!) So I ended up having to walk, which was far from ideal. Thankfully there were several benches placed along the way, so I had to keep stopping to have a rest, but it’s a shame there didn’t appear to be a bit more space for those with disabilities. 

Despite the initial difficult start, the rest of our afternoon was fantastic. As we arrived in reception, we were directed down a beautiful corridor towards the restaurant where afternoon tea is served. A huge chandelier hung by a grand staircase, and as light from the window streamed through and bounced off the glass, it created a scattering of rainbows across the stone floor. It truly was magical and I’d love to explore more of the hotel one day. We were seated by a window overlooking the outdoor swimming pool by a friendly waitress and given our tea menus to peruse and decide on the tea we wanted to try first.

After a lot of deliberation, I chose a Flowering Osmanthus tea and my Mum went for the Pennyhill Park blend. When my tea was brought out, I was advised to leave it for a few minutes but to watch the pot carefully. Intrigued, my Mum and I kept an eye on the green plant-like object in the bottom of the teapot as it began to fall open, revealing an orange flower in the centre. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it! Once it had fully opened, I poured myself a cup and gave it a try. It had an incredibly delicate, but beautifully floral and slightly fruity taste – a perfect accompaniment to the more rich flavours of afternoon tea.

Then came the excitement, as our lovely waitress brought out our tea stand, minus the scones. We started with the sandwiches:
·     Roast chicken, sweetcorn and bacon mayonnaise on White bread
·     Oak smoked salmon with dill cream cheese on Beetroot bread
·     Cave aged gruyere cheese with homemade red onion chutney on Onion bread
·     Egg mayonnaise with watercress on Multi Grain bread

I’m not normally a sandwich person, but there’s something about finger sandwiches that just makes them so darn tasty! My favourite type of sandwich tends to be smoked salmon, but actually, both my Mum and I really loved the cheese with onion chutney – the cheese was so smooth and the chutney so sweet – we ended up having another round of sandwiches because we couldn’t stop at just one! 

As well as the standard afternoon tea sandwiches, I found out that Pennyhill Park could also cater for a whole range of dietary requirement. They have specially made sandwiches for diets including gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy free and pescatarian, so there really is something for everyone. 

As we finished our sandwiches, our waitress brought out a plate of warm freshly baked scones, clotted cream and strawberry preserve. There were two scones each – one plain and one fruit. Scones can sometimes be quite stodgy, large and filling, but these were the perfect size, light and fluffy. And the strawberry preserve was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before – I’m sure it was homemade but if not, I might have to ask them where they buy it! 

We were given a small shot glass containing a lemon parfait with elderflower sorbet to cleanse our palette between courses, which I don’t think I’ve ever been offered at an afternoon tea before. It was so fresh and zingy – I particularly loved the sorbet, especially with it being a warm day.

At this point, we were asked if we would like some more tea, so I decided to try a different one. This time I went for a berry tea, which had more of a strong flavour, so I’m glad I went for the more delicate one to begin with. The patisserie chef also came to our table to talk us through the cake selection, which I think was a really nice touch. She was able to talk in detail about each individual cake and answer any of our questions. The cakes looked beautiful on the top tier of our cake stand and it was difficult to decide which one to try first! They included:
·     Raspberry Tonka Chocolate Opera Cake
·     Red Fruit Ruby Chocolate Tart
·     Roasted Peach, Milk Chocolate and Almond Whipped Ganache Choux Pastry with gold leaf on top
·     Apricot and Pistachio Macaron

As we were there celebrating my Mum’s (belated) birthday, they even put a little chocolate candle in one of the choux buns, which I thought was such a lovely thoughtful touch. The cakes were all amazing, but my favourite had to be the macaron (I’m slightly obsessed with macarons in general!) I love pistachio flavour and the apricot complemented it so well – I could easily have eaten more! The Opera cake was also delicious and it was quite interesting to try the Fruit tart, as it had been made using ruby chocolate, which has only been around since last year. It was developed and created by Barry Callebaut, who first had the idea in 2004, but didn’t create it until September 2017. Apparently it is made from a naturally occurring ruby cocoa bean, but the way it’s made is being kept top secret at the moment. Still, you can’t go wrong with pink chocolate!

After our waitress had boxed up the remaining cakes that we couldn’t eat to take home and finish later, my Mum and I headed outside to explore the grounds a bit. Pennyhill Park hotel and spa is set in 123 acres of Surrey countryside with tended flower bed, mature trees (one Cedar tree is 600 years old!), topiary, decorative ponds and a waterfall. It really is a beautiful place to spend time relaxing. When I last went for afternoon tea, we were able to sit outside by one of the ponds, but I’m not sure if they’re still doing this. You can see for miles across the treetops of Surrey and on a sunny day it is really nice to just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. Can you imagine the wedding photos you could take here?! 

The spa also looks insane – we could only see the outdoor part, but the deep blue of the pool contrasted with the white parasols and loungers just reminded me of being on holiday. There was even a little bar by the pool serving cocktails and other refreshments – I can only imagine how luxurious it is inside. I said to my Mum that one day, I would treat myself to a spa weekend there so I can explore more of the hotel, see what the spa has to offer and sample some more delicious meals in the restaurant!

All too soon it was time for us to burst the relaxing bubble we were in and head back home. As we passed a couple of fancy sports cars by the entrance (couldn’t these spaces be for disabled guests?!) and headed back up the steep slope, with plenty of rest breaks along the way, we vowed to go back again soon. The afternoon tea menu is changed seasonally, so you could visit several times across a year and enjoy a different selection of foods every time. And based on how delicious our afternoon tea was this time, I think we will definitely be making a return visit in the not too distant future.

You can read about some of the other afternoon teas I’ve tried too:
·     Peggy Porschen
·     The Ritz

Are you an afternoon tea lover? Where are your favourite places to go? Perhaps I can add them to my list!