National Dahlia Collection

Back in October, my mom and I visited The National Dahlia Collection. We had no idea it was there! We were driving towards Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, and as we were nearly there, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a blaze of colour! We scooted back and we were absolutely blown away by the beauty. I took a few pictures on my iPhone, but was cursing myself for having left my camera at home. We returned a couple of days later. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking!


Ah Swoon. Swoon, Swoon, Swoon. Rarely has an abstract name been so appropriate.

My husband and I love Swoon. WE. LOVE. SWOON. So much so that we had Swoon gelato at our wedding. Simon and some of his friends went out to collect it and we served it to our guests. Here I am taking the serving of chocolate sorbetto very seriously!

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Swoon to have a sneaky taste of the new Christmas flavours, and watch the gelato being made. We also tried mango sorbet bellinis! 

After the bellinis, we tried the gelatos and sorbettos. As well as all the core flavours, we got to try the new Christmas flavours; pannetone, mince pie, and mulled wine! They were all lovely but the pannetone was AMAZING. I am not the biggest fan of pannetone usually; I love the flavour but find it too dry. But if you turn it into gelato is it suddenly my New Favourite Thing. And I have genuinely not stopped thinking about it since! I also really loved the twist on the chocolate sorbetto; it now has chilli in! I love chocolate and chilli and this sorbetto is no exception. It doesn’t matter how many times I try it, I still can’t get my head around something this creamy being vegan! It’s all down to the churn, apparently.

Here’s a picture of one of the gelato cakes. Wouldn’t this be an amazing alternative to a Christmas cake or Christmas pudding? And look at Santa; he’s a strawberry filled with gelato! All the heart eyes.
And just as we were all about to drift into a sugar coma, we got to try these amazing gelato-filled macarons.

Thank you SO much for having us, Swoon. It was such a pleasure to try the flavours, and to see gelato being made. 

Hotel du Vin Afternoon Tea

One of my favourite things to eat is afternoon tea. Along with canapés and party food, it evokes that feeling of food at childhood birthday parties; that feeling of something being a glorious treat, and having all your favourite things on one plate. When Simon and I are in London, we love to go for afternoon tea. There’s a real culture of inventive patisserie there, and no two venues do things the same way. Over the years, we’ve noticed the complexity and inventiveness going up and up. Perhaps it’s the Bake Off effect??
Bristol has lots of lovely, traditional afternoon teas, and I recently had the opportunity to try the new afternoon tea at the Hotel du Vin, along with lots of other lovely Bristol bloggers.

I’d been before with a group of friends and really enjoyed it; they catered brilliantly for one friend who needs a gluten-free meal, and also a couple of vegetarians. We were impressed and very happy.

Another reason I was looking forward to visiting is that Hotel du Vin Bristol is a special place for my husband and I. We stayed there the night before our wedding and for our wedding night too. The rooms are beautiful and calming; just what you want with hair and make up artists around, and lots of people coming and going! We stayed in the room called Dom Perignon (all of the rooms are named after drinks) which was really excellent. The staff looked after us really well, and were always friendly and helpful. 
When I visited for the new afternoon tea, I got chance to go and have a nosey around some of the other rooms and they really are all beautiful! My husband and I chose Dom Perignon (one of the Studio Suites) because we knew we’d be having lots of people in the room with us at various points in the day (not to mention my giant dress!) and needed the extra space, but if there’s just two of you, the standard rooms are great! They’re just as luxurious in terms of fixtures and fitting, just a bit smaller. 
Having been before, I was thinking I knew exactly what to expect from the afternoon tea. In many ways, I was correct; anyone with dietary requirements was well catered for, the Hotel du Vin staff were lovely and welcoming, the room we were in was beautiful and comfortable. But what I wasn’t expecting was that Hotel du Vin have significantly upped their game in terms of the inventiveness and creativity of their afternoon tea. And remember; it was already great!
I was really impressed by the spread on offer, including whimsical touches like candy floss. Who doesn’t love candy floss??

The photo at the top of the post is what you’d get as a guest, with the stand and basket. Because we were such a big group, ours was presented buffet style on beautiful boards. It shows that afternoon tea works well for big groups too; it was a great way of getting chatting to people as you got up to try a new thing. I think it would work really well for a party or mixer. 

The individual savoury plate includes a variety of breads and pastries, and the sweets are on a stand, offering endless Instagram opportunities.
My favourite savoury item was the filled croissant (a taste of many a Parisian holiday right there!) and my favourite sweet was the home-made tea cake. I’m not a huge fan of the shop bought variety, but this one was wonderful; light and decadent at the same time. I may have had two (cough cough, definitely did).

As well as the afternoon tea, we also tried some of the wonderful new cocktails. There was one that tasted just like Christmas in a glass! Two of them included buttered rum which is definitely my new favourite spirit. 
I don’t want to spoil the lovely surprises by telling you everything that’s on the menu, but you’ll get some ideas from my photo. Let me know in the comments if you go. I’d love to know what your favourites are!

Bristol Cider Shop

Ever since I moved to Bristol, there’s been something (nearly) happening in the Wapping Wharf area. For a long time I thought it would just stay a big wasteland. Or maybe become a carpark. Walking past it was never a highlight of my walk into town from my first Bristol home on North Street. The advertising on the high, boarded fence promising all sort of things for its future, but the rubble never seemed to morph into anything. I moved north of the river, and never really gave it much thought, then all of a sudden, things started to change. 

I walk much the same walk into town as I did several years ago. In the nearly-year since I moved Southville, I vaguely noticed, then observed with interest, the developments taking place at Wapping Wharf. Now it’s nearing completion, I can scarcely believe my luck that it’s so close to my house. 
One opening I’m especially happy about is a Bristol institution; Bristol Cider Shop. I love cider, and I think we’re incredibly lucky to have Bristol Cider Shop in our city. Under Pete’s guidance, I’ve tried all sorts of cider that I would never have found on my own, and realised what variety there is. As well as going in to buy cider, you can also attend tastings. I’m going to one soon and I am SO excited! I’m going to the Cheese and Cider one, which I know will be a match made in heaven. The Festive one also sounds amazing. 
On the 12th October I was lucky enough to go to the opening event, and try out some new (to me) cider. It was also the very notable event of my first mulled cider of the year! The Cider Shop’s container has a beautiful mural inside; definitely calling out to be Instagrammed. Their hashtag is #CiderAtCargo and if you have a look at it, you can see some other pictures I took on the night, and you’ll also see some from Sam. We had a lot of fun both eating and posing gingerbread men. Who knew that gingerbread men and cider was such an awesome combo?! There was also amazing cheese from The Bristol Cheesemonger (if you read my Eat. Walk. Talk. post you’ll already know what a big fan I am!), and delicious chutneys and pickles from Bishopston Preserves (which you can buy at The Bristol Cheesemonger if you’re in town). 
When you’ve popped in, let me know which cider you tried! I’ll do another post after I’ve been to the tasting and tell you all about what I had. 

Bedside Drawers Upcycle

In the spirit of economising now that I’m no longer working full time, I’ve been trying to find ways to reuse things that we already have while we redecorate the house, or to breathe new life into things that we can be given for free. Obviously there’s cost involved in terms of buying paint and so on, but it feels better value that buying new. Also, I like the idea of keeping something out of landfill, especially if all it needs is a lick of paint.

I’ve got two upcyle projects to share with you, and here’s the first!

Here is my old and tatty bedside table drawers. I forgot to take a proper ‘before’ shot, so here they are following a good scuffing up from some sandpaper. As you can see, they’re a fetching shade of 80’s orangey brown. In fact, they were considerably more orange then they appear here. If you’re going to rub down something for painting, I’d advice that you do it outside. I didn’t do this as I wanted to watch telly while it did it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the mess… Before I began painting, I added a few tacks here and there to the drawers bring them back into shape so that they sit straight. At the end of the process, I rubbed soap to the wooden runners on the inside. It’s my top tip to get them running more smoothly.

Then, I gave it several coats of paint, leaving it to dry for a couple of hours between the first coat and second, and then overnight between the second and third. I think it took about four coats in total. 
The original knobs were not beautiful, so I ordered some new ones. I love copper and white together (which you’ll see a lot of once the house is finished!) so I ordered some lovely hexagonal ones from I was very nearly swayed by these ones though. 
And Ta Da! I did almost immediately ruin the top by putting some post on top, then a a cup of tea on top of the post, thus practically welding said post to the top of the drawers. Oh dear! I managed to soak off the majority of the paper, doing no damage to the paint, luckily! I do think though, I’m not a coaster kind of person, so I’m not going to worry about the odd tea stain or bit of newsprint. Especially since I’ve got loads of paint left and I can easily freshen it up when needed. 

Eat. Walk. Talk. Bristol food tour.

I am, by nature, greedy. I have no shame in taking the last After Eight, or even the last roast potato, so being invited try out a walking tour around Bristol where you stop every few minutes to eat something? Perfect.

We met up with our guide, Brian, at Temple Meads Station for the Old Town tour. As well as the food part of the tour, there’s also the history aspect. I love a good history fact (hello National Trust Membership) and Brian was well versed in the dates and story of the Bristol icons that we passed. Even having lived here for the best part of a decade, I know there’s still so much I don’t know, so having a guided tour is fascinating, even in your home town. As well as group walks, Eat. Walk. Talk. will also do private and bespoke tours, so if there’s something in particular you want to focus on, you can do that.

Our first foodie stop is a Bristol icon in its own right; Hart’s Bakery. I’ve been a devotee of Hart’s for a long time, having tried one of Laura’s custard tarts on (I think) Gloucester Road many moons ago. She opened her bakery in one of the station arches a few years ago, and it has gone from strength to strength. As well as the superlative custard tarts, my other favourites are Saturday Bread (think sticky toffee sauce with a fluffy dough duvet and crispy, sugary top), the raisin and fennel sourdough (only available on Saturdays, makes incredible toast, and is brilliant with cheeses), sausage rolls and *jazz hands* the cinnamon buns. And lo and behold, it was the cinnamon buns that we were trying! They’re made from a croissant-like dough, and lots and lots of cinnamon. Did you ever do that challenge where you have to eat a doughnut without licking your lips or fingers? (Was that just my family?!) Well, I do that with these too. The cinnamon buns are my Train Picnic treat of choice, so I always leave time to head to Harts before I travel!

Fortified for our journey, we wended our way into town. The short distance and gentle pace mean that this tour is accessible to most, and all the stepped parts have sloped access alternatives for those less able to manage steps.

I did wonder that as someone who loves and takes advantage of Bristol’s amazing food scene, whether I would know all of the stops on the tour, but there were several places that were new to me, including one that’s on my walk into town from home. I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you who might like to take the tour, and instead I’ll just mention a couple of the other stops that I’m sure you’ll already know, and one that you might not.

One of the stops I didn’t already know was The Bristol Cheesemonger. If I’m remembering correctly, I think Rosie has done pop-ups at Hart’s Bakery in the past, and now she has a bricks and mortar shop on St Nicholas Street, so very close to St Nick’s if you’re in the area. She shared a selection of amazing local cheeses with us, including Old Demdike by local legends Homewood Cheeses. She also stocks preserves from Bishopston Preserves, another local supplier whose products I use almost daily. If you’ve not tried Danielle’s rhubarb ketchup, it’s a revelation and Rosie has some in stock at the moment (I have about 4 bottles in my cupboard; I like to stock up!) Another cheese I really loved was the Mayfield Swiss which was really full-flavoured and creamy.

In St Nick’s Market, we visited Pieminister, and tried three different pies. I forgot to write down what we tried, but there was a creamy chicken one, a beefy one (I think the Moo pie?) and the last I do know for sure was the Heidi Pie which has goats cheese, sweet potato, spinach and red onion. The Moo has been my favourite for a long time and is one that I have very fond festival memories of eating one with mash and gravy while being freezing cold and surrounded by mud. Comfort food at its best! And here you can even eat it without getting muddy!

And the other stop that I must mention (because barely a day passes where I don’t mention it anyway) is Swoon. The most apt name there has ever been. I am absolutely evangelical about Swoon. Their pistachio gelato is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, no question. My husband and I love them so much, we had Swoon as the evening pudding at our wedding. And at this stop, we tried EVERY FLAVOUR. I couldn’t quite believe my luck!

I was offered a complimentary place on the tour, but I wasn’t obliged to write a positive review; I honestly loved it! Brian was friendly and knowledgable, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the tour as a fab way to get to know Bristol a little better.

Our hashtag for the day was #BBEWT if you want to have a look at some of the other photos and posts, and discover where else we visited!

The Wedding Sessions

The Forge. Beautiful!

I love to learn new things. I wonder if it’s that my Teacher Brain loves to switch off and let my Student Brain take over? I’ve attended workshops and lectures in everything from an advanced level knitting sock pattern design workshop, to one on the representations of witchcraft in medieval drawings and then another on how to make rainbow-coloured meringues.

I always find that after I’ve attended a workshop, I’m all fired up and full of ideas. There’s something so exciting and inspiring about learning from other people. At uni, the tutorials were always my favourite part, so I think it’s an extension of that. I love listening people talk about something they have a passion for, then having conversations all together and asking questions. I know that I fall into the trap of always having the same conversations with my friends, over and over. We moan about work, or we talk about programmes we’ve watched, or we complain about money, but as important as it is to have those conversations to get things off our chests, when was the last time you had a conversation that left you feeling really inspired and motivated? I think that’s the magic of workshops; you talk about things out of your ordinary. You’re surrounded by women (and for whatever reason, it’s always been women at the workshops I’ve been to) who all have this shared interest and shared focus, and from that comes a shared energy, and a feeling of, “Yeah! I can do this!”

The slogan of today’s workshop could not have been more appropriate then; ‘Shine Brighter. Think Bigger. Be Different.’ Held by Kirsten of The Little Wedding Helper at The Forge, The Wedding Sessions is designed for people who’re in the wedding industry in some form or another, and are looking for guidance on how to grow and develop their business. The day also featured Jo from who talked to us about social media, and Helen from who talked about writing copy for websites, and gave us tips for submitting to blogs and magazines.

Now, I’m not actually in the wedding industry at the moment, but I got married very recently, and I wanted to find out whether it’s something that I can make into a career somehow. Weddings exist in a sort of parallel universe. I didn’t so much as start planning a wedding, as fall down a rabbit hole into Wedding Land. And I say this as someone who announced at seven that she wasn’t going to get married (fail), and that she was going to get a motorbike (balance problems mean that I can’t do this one, so I’m giving myself a pass) and live in Cornwall (this I have done). So weddings and being a bride were just not on my radar. I had no vision of my wedding, or of what it might look like, or what I wanted to wear, anything like that. Having been a guest at many weddings, and worked at lots as a teenage waitress, I did have a fairly strong vision of what I didn’t want. And this I suppose is my crux; if there’s me falling down the rabbit hole, looking for someone to help me make sense of it all, then there’s going to be others like me who I can help. Women for whom a wedding isn’t a magnum opus, it isn’t the pinnacle of every dream they’ve ever had, and it isn’t their chance to finally be a princess. Is there a market out there for rational, practical, logical wedding planning that isn’t about making ‘dreams come true’ as such, but is more about helping a couple to have a simple, relaxed wedding that reflects the values that are important to them every single day?

I went into the workshop without any real idea of what my wedding niche might be, but I very quickly realised that the parts I enjoy (and the strengths that I have) are in the planning and the research. I’m an ardent researcher. For every holiday, I read books and blogs and scour Instagram for tips. I make lists and timetables and plan routes. (I’m very lucky that my best friend is exactly the same as me, and that my husband is incredibly laid back and happy to follow wherever I lead us. Score!) It was interesting to hear Kirsten talk about how she’s very much not a wedding planner because it helped me to focus on the fact that that’s actually the part I enjoy the most.

Jo gave us a task to think about who our target client is; not a nebulous, ‘female, 25 – 35,’ etc etc, but to give them a name, a job, a wedding budget. I really enjoyed doing it! In my mind, it tied in with the advice throughout the day of not being afraid to be different. You wouldn’t want to work with every couple, so don’t be afraid to hold out for the ones who are right for you. I had not really considered this, but hearing it rang so true. I’ve just left one job because it wasn’t giving me joy. Why would I want to go into another that might do the same?

Helen’s input on creating effective copy was really thought provoking. I’m definitely guilty of not really considering what I’m writing. I read it back and check that it (mostly) makes sense, but I don’t plan in advance, or think about style or SEO. She’s given us some notes and I know I’ll go back to them again and again in an effort to improve.

Setting up a business, however gradually and gently you do it, is quite a scary thing to do. Talking to women who are already out there and doing it is motivational on a really profound level. The other attendees today are all doing amazing things in their respective fields and I was really humbled being around such talent! Something Kirsten mentioned, and something I definitely felt at the workshop today, is that the wedding industry is such a positive and supportive one. No one made me feel like I shouldn’t be there because I’m just a newbie!

The hashtag for the day is #theweddingsessions. Over on my Instagram, I shared some more pictures from the day, and following that tag you’ll find all the other attendees.

So if any of you are in need of a wedding planner, you know where to find me!

#CGxHoF Crown and Glory pop up!

So here’s my very first post for Yes Starling! I’ve not quite got to grips with the layout yet (it appears differently in the post to how it appears in the section where I write, how annoying is that?!) so please forgive my slight wonkiness. 

Despite layout dissatisfaction, I can certainly say that I am starting off with a BRILLIANT topic!

On Thursday I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit the Crown and Glory pop up in House of Fraser, Cabot Circus thanks to the wonderful ladies at the Bonjour, Blogger #BlogClub. 

Having recently fallen down the rabbit hole towards Wedding Land, I’ve been aware of Crown and Glory for a little while. Their collaboration with Rock n Roll Bride is the stuff of rainbowy dreams, so naturally I love it!

The only problem (!!!) I’ve had with the Crown and Glory products is that I just can’t chose between then, and so I’ve been dithering over purchases for months.

And then proving that sometimes indecision pays off, I am presented with the opportunity to design My Very Own Crown!

The process goes like this; when you arrive at the stand, you’ll be given a popcorn box to fill with whichever blooms you want on your crown. With very little persuasion, I went for the GIANT pink one, and an assortment of smaller flowers (in rainbow colours, of course). 

You then hand your box over to Sophie or Gareth, and they arrange your flowers on a tray, and check that you’re happy with the order. They then glue gun them onto your crown or hairband base, add leaves to the underneath and voila!

I can’t adequately explain just how much fun, and how exciting I found the whole process.  Every part of the process is utterly joy-filled from first seeing the beautiful stand, to choosing your flowers, to watching it being made and last but not least, to actually owning this amazing creation! 

The pop up in on for one more, day (Sunday 15th) so do your best to hurry along and get yourself one. If you can’t make it, have a look at their online shop. There’s some really dainty and subtle crowns too; perfect for wearing to a wedding, or let’s be frank, just wearing to the park and rejoicing in looking like a QUEEN!