Monday, 23 December 2013

Boozy Brandy Cupcakes by Cuppies 'n' Cream




Here is a festive recipe from Natalie who writes the popular blog, Cuppies 'n' Cream, where you can follow her baking and decorating experiences. Natalie writes:-

These cupcakes are a great alternative to mince pies - sweet, indulgent and delicious. Perfect for handing around to family and friends over the festive period.

After baking numerous Christmas fruit cakes I had some left over fruit that had been soaking in Brandy and I was just waiting for an excuse to use it up. My boyfriend's Dad paid us a surprise visit at the weekend so I quickly whipped up a batch of these for him to take back home with him.

Boozy Brandy cupcakes are actually one of my favourite cupcakes as they are so full of flavour making them super indulgent and special. These cupcakes are incredibly tender and moist, one of the most delicious cupcakes I have made so far; they are so good that a simpler icing could be used with great results – or no icing at all, which is how my little boy likes them. He doesn't like traditional fruit cake but he did love these, so they are attractive to adults and little ones.


PREPARATION

Your fruit will need to be soaked for at least 12 hours - but the longer you can soak the better
This recipe will yield 18 cupcakes so line your cupcake tins ready
Preheat your oven to 155 degrees C. (Fan assisted)

INGREDIENTS

50g sultanas / 50g raisins / 80g currants / 20g glacier cherries (halved) / 20g mixed peel
Left in an air-tight container with 100ml of Brandy poured over

190g unsalted butter
190 dark brown soft sugar
3 Large free range eggs
200g self raising flour
20g ground almonds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp of mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of orange extract
1 tbsp of golden syrup

METHOD

1. Cream your butter and sugar until fluffy the add your eggs one at a time.

2. In a separate bowl weigh out & sift your dry ingredients.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients folding in until all combined.

4. Add your vanilla & orange extract.
5. Now add your pre-soaked fruit into the mixture stirring in, but taking care not to over mix.

6. Using an ice-cream scoop (for consistency) fill the cases one large scoop each.

7. Bake for 24 minutes.

8. Remove from your oven and transfer to a cooling tray.

For the icing

250g of unsalted 'real' butter
500g of icing sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of Brandy
1 tsp of orange extract

I literally throw all my buttercream ingredients in the mixer bowl and whizz up together until pale and smooth then using a piping bag and nozzle, pipe on your cupcakes. I also sprinkled with a tiny bit of cinnamon and drizzled with golden syrup. They are totally delicious! The orange really compliments the Brandy and the fruit. For an alternative idea you could even add some cranberries or white chocolate to the buttercream.

For more recipes, visit cuppiesncream.wordpress.com and to find out about ordering cupcakes from Cuppies 'n' Cream, visit www.cuppiesncream.co.uk. You can also follow Natalie on Twitter @CuppiesnCream and on Facebook.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

10 Festive Tips for Dressing Your Home This Christmas


Sherry Roberts is the brains behind The Longest Stay, the first interactive online ‘click and buy' interiors magazine. Working alongside a team of international stylists, Sherry scours the globe finding designer home accessories, gifts and designer furniture that are rare and beautiful. Here Sherry gives her top tips on decorating your home for Christmas.

I am not one to veer away from red and gold during the festive season, but on this occasion I would go all white and make your décor stand out with hints of colour.

Why go white? It’s perfect for creating a spacious environment, but adding those bits of colour is crucial to keep it looking warm and welcoming. Also, everyone loves a ‘white Christmas’; personally I have a soft spot for Santa’s white beard and a big white snowman.

Keeping your décor chic and luxurious can be tricky, but following these simple tips can achieve the perfect look…

1. Add a fresh white wreath decorated with white beads in your bathroom or in a place less expected than your front door.


2. Spray your tree with snow, but don't do it heavily!


3. Use white or silver ornaments and surround them with clear lights.


4. Add delicate snowflakes and icicles to your tree.


5. Place garlands crafted out of beautiful silver or white ribbon on your tree. This is a wonderful way to make it eye-catching to all your guests.


6. Decorate your white winter wonderland with red berries to bring a touch of colour.


7. Dine with white plates and use serviettes embossed with gold, silver or choose a deep red silk napkin.


8.Use white candles with a touch of gold. The aromas in the house say it all, so if you aren't cooking something delightful, then light a candle with a scent for the season.


9. Place a white snow faux fox fur on your sofa to bring out that cosy, warm and welcoming feeling


10. If you decide to use anything old, make sure it doesn't look like it has been sitting in a wrapper for a year. Toss it and start over, better to have quality than quantity.

For more information, visit www.thelongeststay.com.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Recipe for Christmas Pudding Fudge from Buttermilk Confections

Tracy McDonnell Goad is a director of Buttermilk Confections, a fudge manufacturer which she runs with her husband David. The business has been family-run for decades from Cornwall and celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. Here, Tracy shares the family’s recipe for Christmas Pudding Fudge which makes a lovely festive treat. It’s incredibly easy to make and should only take twenty minutes before being left to set.


She said: “Everyone loves fudge and our Christmas pudding flavour is a huge seller at this time of year. However, you can bring a bit of Cornwall into your home with this recipe which fills the kitchen with a gorgeous festive aroma. We recommend making several batches as gifts for friends who deserve a decadent treat over Christmas.The finished product looks fabulous when presented in either a Kilner jar or a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon around the top.”

INGREDIENTS

Oil, for greasing
300 ml milk
350 g caster sugar
100 g unsalted butter
3tbsp brandy
60g raisins
10g mixed spice
(orange, optional)

METHOD

1. Grease an 18cm square cake tin with the oil.

2. Put the milk, sugar and butter in a heavy-based saucepan. At Buttermilk Confections, we use traditional copper pans as they spread the heat evenly.  Heat the mixture slowly, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.

3. Bring to the boil and boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring all the time.

4. When the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (115°C on a sugar thermometer), remove from the heat. Then stir in the raisins, brandy and mixed spice. (The zest of a half of an orange can be added at this stage for a little extra kick.)

5. Beat the mixture with a spoon for a few minutes until a grain starts to form and it starts to thicken. Once the shine has disappeared the fudge is ready to pour.

6. Pour into the prepared tin and leave to set at room temperature.  Don't place in the fridge as the fudge will go sticky.

7. Break up by hand and store in an air tight1 container for up to a week (if you can refrain from eating it for that long!).

Buttermilk Confections produces a wide range of flavours and all of its award-winning fudge is still made by hand in copper pans to a traditional recipe at its factory in Wadebridge.The fudge is sold online at www.buttermilkconfections.co.uk as well as through the company's two shops in Padstow and Port Isaac. (The latter’s shop front may look familiar as it also doubles on occasion as the set for Mrs Tishell’s Pharmacy in ITV’s popular Doc Martin series). Its latest venture is Fudgey Fridays which is a monthly subscription service delivering a box of fudge to a work colleague or a loved one’s door.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Good Web Guide's Favourite Blogs


This week we've turned the tables and the GWG team has chosen some favourite blogs.

Alice's Favourites

Lucy Will Show You - Attention to detail? Check? Insightful reviews on all manner of upmarket hotels and restaurants? Check. A veritable smorgasbord of uber chic design fodder. Check. Visuals to die for - check.


Me and My Big Mouth  - Just quite simply the best literary blog I know; discerning reviews, fascinating trivia and there's even the odd comment on apps. For those of a literary persuasion Scott Pack's opinions are extremely welcome.


I Know this Great Little Place - A recent find, excellent restaurant reviews, with an added bonus on the more underground pop ups and speakeasies of the capital - I just read this review of the new pop up The Wandering Chef at Maison des Artistes and have booked, so now you'll know exactly where to find me.
(Funnily enough a couple of our guest editors have chosenthis blog in the past, Kirsty Hathaway of Beach Tomato and Kally Ellis of McQueens, the florists.)


Arabella's Favourites

"It's difficult to choose a favourite blog and I'm always veering towards the foodie ones.  Smitten Kitchen has been a long time favourite, it's my kind of cooking. Gorgeous photography, easy to follow recipes from the New York based Deb Perelman. A favourite blog that I have enjoyed in the past has been Charlie and Caroline Gladstone's blog, which has introduced me to new music on more than one occasion. It hasn't been updated for a while though.


Christina's Favourite

Scarfolk Council - Scarfolk is a very realistic, completely made up Northern English town stuck in the 70s. The blog, run by screenwriter Richard Littler, consists of illustrations that are almost too real - there's tourist information (about Scarfolk's best suicide spot), postcards (featuring the town's popular "baby marinade sun oil") and educational posters ("Never go with strange children"). Out of all the blogs I read, this is definitely the weirdest.


Emily's Favourite

Hyperbole and a Half  - Funny, insightful, deadpan, sad and utterly brilliant, out of all the blogs I've ever read, this is the most original and compelling. It is authored by Allie, whose character is revealed, not by a trite 'About' blurb (where she has instead drawn a unicorn), but by the sharp observation and cadence of her writing and her wonderfully charismatic cartoons. Her recent post on depression (explaining her 18 month absence from the blog) provides a unique insight into this debilitating condition and her battle to fight through it.


Nick's Favourite

The Moz Blog - This stared life as a SEO blog but has now metamorphosed into a wider remit with postings covering many aspects of webtech from social strategy to technical development and beyond. A must for anyone building or running an online business.


Teri's Favourite

My Favourite blog of all time which I read weekly is Cupcakes and Cashmere.  Emily Schuman, the lady behind the blog is an American who blogs about food, interior design, beauty and of course my own passion fashion. The photography on her site is amazing and her blog celebrates the little things in life - my guilty pleasure!



Thursday, 28 November 2013

Behind The Scenes at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, South London



Working behind the scenes at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in South London, we get to open boxes containing artefacts that may not have been seen for years. These glimpses into the stored collections can be an almost magical experience at times, invoking a variety of reactions, from curiosity to disgust, to pure joy.

For a long time this was something we longed to share with a wider audience but did not have an outlet to do so. Happily, now that the heritage sector is increasingly embracing social media, we can share that experience beyond our own four walls, and our stored collections are increasingly available to a wider audience.

We set up our Tumblr account, In the Horniman, in 2012, as part of our Collections People Stories project, a three year physical review of our anthropological collections. So far we have highlighted 500 objects on Tumblr, and attracted nearly 20,000 followers.



Anyone in our team of reviewers, conservators and curators can contribute to Tumblr, and our criteria for posting an object is basically anything that makes us, for whatever reason, say ‘wow’. If something has made an impression on us, then it is likely to appeal to others.

We typically post an image of the object – we’re taking photographs for documentation purposes as part of our project – with a little text about what it is, where it’s from and its uses. Occasionally we ask people reading the blog to tell us more or suggest their own interpretation of an object.

It’s great being able to post and straight away see others share in our enthusiasm through likes and reposts. It can turn what could be an ordinary day at work, into a day to remember.

Some of us working on the project are big animal lovers so objects that look like or are made of animals tend to feature often. Last week we posted a buffalo foetus bag and a walrus bladder bucket. These are the kind of unusual and wonderful items that deserve to be seen by everyone!

We also post things that happen in the store that help give an insight into our daily work. Recently we posted the photography and remedial conservation of our Egyptian mummies.


We have had lots of lovely messages from people, saying how much they love the museum and are enjoying seeing inside the store. The most popular post so far was about a beautiful, intricate helmet from a Chinese theatrical costume, which attracted 325 ‘notes’ in response (see image at top of article).

This sharing of collections, knowledge and the reactions and discussions they bring about, is something I am sure that Mr Horniman would have approved of and encouraged. The collections, after all, belong to all of us, left to the people by Frederick Horniman to be enjoyed by all.

Laura Cronin is Collections Assistant at Horniman Museum and Gardens. For more information, visit www.horniman.ac.uk. For Tumblr, visit In the Horniman and Twitter, follow @HornimanWalrus

Photo credits: Horniman Museum and Gardens

Friday, 22 November 2013

Staying Healthy During The Party Season by James Haskell, Professional Rugby Player



Wearing my professional rugby player’s hat, I would suggest it’s actually not that hard to stay healthy during the up-coming party season. However, I am acutely aware that being and indeed staying healthy and fit is part of my job; the fact we have to continue to play over Christmas is also a big contributing factor!

So while I appreciate most of you will be reaching out for a sugary treat or flagon of ale, I’ll be trying my best stay on water and a high protein diet. No doubt for most of you that sounds hideously boring and extremely dull. So instead of standing in my ivory tower preaching, I am going to give you some top tips to try and help you stay in the best possible shape whilst enjoying yourself.

The key foundation is to get your base day-to-day diet right. Achieve this and there is no problem in indulging and eating the foods you want providing the meals you have the rest of the time are good and healthy. Try as a firm rule to stay away from processed foods; high sugar and salt content meals as well as white carbs. For example white bread and white pasta.

Sadly most of the Christmas and New Year treats you want will contain sugar and other rubbish, so you’ll get your fix from these. Try to have a lot of vegetables with every meal. The more colours you can have on your plate the better it is. You can’t overdose on vegetables, so please don’t panic! This should give you a good hit of vitamins and nutrients, as late nights and big drinking sessions can run you down and lead to illness. Every meal should have a good source of protein as well. Please don’t fill-up on potatoes and starches, as that will only have you head-in-hands when you look in the mirror in the New Year.

Good hydration is absolutely key. All those office parties, Christmas drinks and drunken sessions are going to mean you consume a lot of alcohol. So before you stumble into bed, try and take on some water, which should reduce your hangover to some degree.

The morning after the night before is going to be pivotal in getting you back into some reasonable shape. So drinking lots of water and electrolytes will help you along the way. It can be as simple as putting a little bit of salt in some water, or my favourite trick is to take a sachet of Dioralyte, if I ever find myself hung-over. A good sign of whether you are hydrated again is if your urine runs clear. Bright yellow and you are most probably dehydrated.

What you drink has a great effect on the number of calories you consume; how you will feel the next day; the state of your body weight and so forth.  If you normally put on a bit of festive padding over Xmas then it might be a good thing to watch. I would say try to avoid drinking loads of carb-heavy drinks, although I appreciate we all need to let our hair down.

Try and think about avoiding really sugary mixers or the dreaded Alchopops. If you want to have a drink have a trusty Vodka, fresh lime and soda - it's the drink of champions. It won’t make you want to die the next day. If you like drinking, then try to enjoy more high-end alcohol like pure agave tequila, as following this, the less likely you are to have impurities or rubbish. Cranberry juice is another good mixer to have if you don’t fancy the lime and soda approach.

Try to make sure you set some realistic training targets during this period. It’s often a really busy time for everyone and feeling bloated and hangover, you are less likely to want to train. So instead of saying you are going to do a one hour training session, why not set yourself, some basic and readily achievable fifteen minutes sessions of some circuit training with some cardio work thrown in. Making sure you get a sweat on and some calories burnt!

Try to maintain your current level of fitness, or use this party period as a time to actually get off the sofa and do some exercise. Walking the dog, or going for jog with some mates. By doing this I find a blow out and party feels way better and guilt-free once you have done the work. If you do the crime, you need to do the time.

You can always look to boost your health by taking on some supplements. I would recommend taking Vitamin D, as this can help with recovery! We would normally get this from the sun, but seeing it during the party period sadly a few rays are few and far between. I would also suggest taking some Omega 3 (EPA) fish oils which most people are deficient in. Omega 3 helps in growth and repair, as studies have shown it can be a factor in helping prevent disease.

You should add Virgin Coconut oil to your diet to help with immune boosting. It’s a great saturated fat that your body needs, and is full of MCTs to provide energy. It is very high in Lauric Acid and Monolaurin, which help support the immune system, killing bacteria and pathogens, which makes it ideal for people suffering from any digestive complaint. I suggest using to cook with, or have with a cup of coffee to boost your day.


Finally, sleep and good quality is also key to trying to remain healthy during this period. It sounds simple but if you know you have a big night planned or a party, then try and make sure you get a good night's sleep pre the event and then post, try and get your recovery in. Having an afternoon nap, if you can do it, will help you stay fresh. Try and do no longer than an hour.

Remember, if you push your body you need to make sure you equally push the recovery. 

If you want to try coconut oil, please visit James's website, www.jhbodyfire.com and look out for Tagaloa extra virgin organic coconut oil.

James Haskell is a professional rugby player, who plays for London Wasps. To find out more, visit www.jameshaskell.com and follow him on Twitter @jameshaskell and Facebook.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Using Legal Documents To Your Financial Advantage by Mark Edwards at Rocket Lawyer



Mark Edwards is General Manager at Rocket Lawyer, the online legal service providing businesses and families with easy-to-use legal documents and affordable access to specialist lawyers. In this article, Mark shares some ideas for raising some extra cash.

We know the feeling. Money is tight and time is sparse but there’s only so much we can squeeze out of our income, so we have to turn to more innovative ways of making a bit of extra cash, especially in the run up to Christmas when budgets are even tighter. One such way is to use legal documents to our financial advantage and here are our top tips on how you can do it yourself.

Rent out your car parking space

Renting out your parking space can be a good way of raising some extra cash. You can advertise your parking space for free on Gumtree, or there are websites that will manage the advertising and rental for you for a price. It's best to put things in writing from the start by creating a car parking licence so that everyone is clear on where they stand. The licence helps you to formalise the arrangement and be sure of getting the space back when you want to and it covers everything from the fee to your and the licensee’s responsibilities and indemnity for all claims arising from the use of the space.

Take in a lodger

If you have a spare bedroom, take advantage of the government’s ‘Rent a Room’ scheme which allows you to earn £4,250 a year tax-free. As long as you get the details right, a lodger can be a tax efficient way to raise some extra cash and give yourself a bit of company. Again, there are websites for advertising rooms, such as Spareroom.co.uk. A lodger agreement covers the rent, deposit and responsibilities on each side, as well as ensuring you can easily get the room back or have a lodger leave when you need to.

Turn your spare room into an office

If you work from home or operate through a limited company, you can formalise the arrangement by creating a home office space contract for yourself, so you can claim back the overheads in running the business for tax purposes. Such contracts cover the fee payable for the space, the rights given to the user as well as termination details so you can get your space or room back when you need it.

Rent your property as a holiday home

If you’re going to be away from home for a while, why not rent out your home for the duration you’ll be away? Not only will you be earning a bit of extra money, it also means your house won’t be sitting empty – ideal burglar bait. Make sure you have a holiday letting agreement in place beforehand though to protect yourself as well as your tenant. This agreement makes it simpler and quicker to remove guests who refuse to leave or cause damage to your property. It also lays out payment terms and highlights both your obligations and your guest’s rights.


All the aforementioned documents can be created on Rocket Lawyer. Should further guidance be needed, you can connect with an On Call lawyer who will be able to help. Your first document is free but there is also a three day free trial in which you can create as many documents as you wish. Membership thereafter costs £25 per month and includes unlimited legal documents, 30 minute free consultations with lawyers and up to 33% off additional legal fees.

For more information, visit  Rocket Lawyer and for news and updates, please visit Rocket Lawyer's blog at blog.rocketlawyer.co.uk.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Q&A with SW Foodie, Lydia Wilkinson



Home is…SW London, Parsons Green in a little 1 bed we renovated last year, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else, I love it!

What made me start blogging... I wanted to document my cooking as a means of keeping a food diary, as I don’t often use recipes. I then combined restaurants into this and it took off from there. I find it strangely therapeutic and a good wind down from work...



Have I always been into cooking… Yes, as far as I remember! Cooking and eating out has always been a big part of my life. I was brought up eating weekday suppers and Sunday lunch together as a family and making time to be together. This is something I hope to carry on should I have my own family as I think it’s important to catch up and relax with each other with the television off.

Most memorable restaurant… I have been lucky in that my other half (Mr D) is hugely foodie. So we’ve had some gorgeous evenings out. L’Enclume in Cartmel is the one place that sticks out by a country mile for every aspect: wine, food and atmosphere. It is very, very, special. In London: Duck and Waffle for its dramatic backdrop of our vibrant, pretty city and innovative brunch menu.

Earliest food memory… I have always loved Asian foods and in particular Chinese. When I was about five years old my Aunt was astounded as I requested two portions of crispy seaweed and ate it all myself… unsurprisingly I felt rather sick afterwards. However I still love the stuff!!

Best food memory… My Mamma (grandma) eating lobster for the first time at her 80th birthday and having the same views as I do exclaiming, ‘I’m not sure what the fuss is about.’

Favourite blog… I have several. However the ones I regularly follow are The London Foodie, his style of writing and pictures always make me want to go to where he has been. The Londoner, who can’t love Rosie’s joie de vivre and fabulous photos?! And last but not least Hollow legs, some incredible home cooked Asian dishes and also well documents restaurant reviews.

Favourite chef… A toughie, I have 3… Tom Kerridge for his Michelin starred pub grub. Simon Rogan for his delicious foraged finds and incomparable dishes and Adam Byatt, how Clapham’s Trinity hasn’t got a star is beyond me.

Food heaven… Chillies, I cannot and will not live without them. I haven’t them on almost everything. A chilli ramen is my ideal winter warmer.

Food hell… Cooked fruit. I cannot stand the stuff. Whether this has stemmed from school and soggy puds- it gives me the heebie geebies… sadly thus meaning I miss out on a good old crumble.

Favourite local restaurant… We are so lucky in that there’s an abundance of fantastic restaurants right on my door step on the Fulham Road. One that I go back to constantly is Claude’s Kitchen which is also above one of my favourite bars, Amuse Bouche. Claude serves up exceptional locally sourced food with flare and finesse. Constantly busy, a great atmosphere and the staff always have a smile on their face.

On the hit list… So many places, I keep a list on my hard drive and tick them off as I go along. The only problem is this is added to on a daily basis. But I am mostly looking forward to Pollen Street Social for my father’s birthday next month – the dessert bar is fantastic. I am desperate to get a table at Sushi Tetsu and also to visit Pescheria Mattiucci in Notting Hill, it looks so cute!

Other hobbies… Interiors, we’ve been in our pad just over a year now and I’m itching to get onto another project already!

Lydia Wilkinson lives in Fulham; she loves family, food, friends and shopping. Lydia's blog, www.swfoodies.com  gives a 'small insight into her foodie life, recipes, restaurants and hunger enhancing pics.' Follow Lydia on Facebook and Twitter @aSWfoodie.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Cuppies 'n' Cream Halloween Cupcakes



Welcome to Cuppies ‘n’ Cream, my home-based cupcake company.  I’m Natalie and this is my blog, a place to keep track of my baking and decorating experiences. I’ve been baking professionally since 2011 and I got the cupcake bug after baking some cupcakes for a friend’s daughter. I am completely self-taught and have developed my skills by experimenting and creating lots of new flavours and combinations along the way.

My blog is a place to explore recipes, decorating techniques, tutorials, and also includes my visits to ‘cupcakeries’ (Is that a word? I don’t know, but I like it). You’ll find ideas for cupcakes, cakes, and hopefully (in the not too distant future), I’ll add brownies and cookies too. One more thing to add is that I hate artificial flavourings and extracts. All my recipes use the ‘real-thing’ in the ingredients. I love the taste of fresh ingredients and my favourites are lemons and raspberries. Oh, and I always try to source locally if possible too.

Cupcakes for Halloween


So, enough about me…I’d now like to share a recipe for some yummy Halloween cupcakes.  What ingredients could I possibly use that would remind me of this fun occasion?  It has to pumpkins! My son will also be happy as he can do the usual carving of a spooky face at the same time – waste not, want not!  And to me, nothing says autumn like pumpkins do. So as Fright Night is drawing in and guys and ghouls will be gathering for tricks and treats, why not hand your friends and family a Pumpkin and Cinnamon cupcake – you can also try to convince them they are indulging in a healthy snack too.

With these Pumpkin and Cinnamon Cupcakes, you will have natural orange cupcakes that are infused with the real flavour and goodness of the pumpkin. Made with such distinctive ingredients the cupcakes are moist inside, bursting with flavour and are complemented with a kick of cinnamon. The cream cheese buttercream just melts in your mouth with its silky smooth taste. This recipe will bake 18 large cupcakes.

Ingredients

120g of plain flour
120g of self raising flour
200g of light brown sugar
3/4 tsp. of baking powder
3/4 tsp. of bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. of mixed spice
1 tsp. of cinnamon
250g of fresh pumpkin
20g of fresh grated ginger
2 medium eggs
120ml of buttermilk
5 tbsp. of vegetable oil

Method

1. Pre-heat your oven to 155 degrees C and line your cupcake tray with your cases.

2. Cube your pumpkin, boil and when soft mash up with a fork, draining out any excess water. It is important to do this step first so your pumpkin has time to cool. I also add some of the mushy insides of the pumpkin as the flavour is really strong. Don't worry if you get any seeds in either as you can pick these out when mashing.

3. Add all your dry ingredients in one large bowl.

4. Add your wet ingredients in a separate smaller bowl, including your grated fresh ginger.

5. Combine all ingredients together folding in gently.

6. Add your pureed pumpkin and then spoon into your cases filling about 3/4 of the way.

7. Bake for 25 minutes.

8. I like to keep my cream cheese buttercream quite simple. I don’t feel it needs much else, but for a little something extra you could try sprinkling some cinnamon, ginger or a squeeze of lemon juice.

These cupcakes can be eaten as a little treat (my preference) or they can be the perfect dessert to any lunch or evening dinner. I do hope that you have enjoyed reading this and that you'll give my recipe a try.

For more recipes, visit cuppiesncream.wordpress.com and to find out about ordering cupcakes from Cuppies 'n' Cream, visit www.cuppiesncream.co.uk. You can also follow Natalie on Twitter @CuppiesnCream and on Facebook.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A Day in the Life of The Beauty Shortlist by Fiona Klonarides



It would be more interesting to say "no two days are the same" at The Beauty Shortlist, but most days, the main theme a lot of us share applies, which is "How do you squeeze sixteen hours worth of work into the limited hours of one day?"

Blogging is a lot more time-consuming than people imagine. The minutes tick by while you fiddle with resizing photos or a back-end glitch and I really respect the bloggers who post daily - that's a big commitment. I travel a lot and work full time as a freelance journalist too, so I've had to become brutal about time management which goes against my personality. Given the chance I could quite easily spend the day Googling recipes for spicy Moroccan-style hummus and five-seed flatbread, watching Eric Lanlard baking his incredible cakes and looking for a run-down house to renovate on a Greek Island, so I had to come up with some strict working-from-home rules. Because I work from home people keep appearing for cups of tea or calling for a catch-up chat when I have deadlines dangling from both ears.


Taming The Email Dragon is the biggest challenge probably for a lot of us; I  learned a few tips from Simon Tyler, author of The Simple Way. Emails devour my time like hyenas, so now, instead of floating along in a sea of emails and reacting to each one that floats in, I try to: a) only check email 2-3 times a day; b) unsubscribe from almost all of the updates/newsletters I thought were a good idea/interesting/essential but which I can live without - they're concentration diluters and time drainers; and c) I make an effort to deal with each email immediately - respond, file, delete, etc.  Despite being a beauty journalist, I get a surprising number of press releases about things like new electrical appliances or Scottish dancing festivals.

I never had a real game plan for The Beauty Shortlist.  I just wanted to offer a beauty edit for consumers with honest reviews. And I love giving newer brands a look in - it's hard to cut through and make your way onto the radar.  Filtering out the great from the good, bad and also-rans in the beauty world. The blog has grown organically but not without a very hard slog and two highlights have been meeting Kate Shapland and Jo Malone, both of whom are exceptional at what they do.

It makes my heart sing when people take a chance on a product or brand The Beauty Shortlist recommended and they Tweet me to say thanks for the recommendation, they've fallen in love with it. Trust and credibility are key.

You have to take your hat off to beauty entrepreneurs these days; new beauty brands seem to be launching like fireworks and it's a very crowded space out there. If you think too much about what lies ahead - how to make your brand stand out, how to nail media coverage, what's the best strategy re. social media channels, what do you spend your budget on, and when, how are you going to last the journey financially (especially if you have no backing and are a one woman or man band?) - it can feel quite daunting. Having said that, passion is a high octane fuel and creativity, originality and integrity are good co-drivers for the road ahead.

For this year's Beauty Shortlist Awards, we tested 142 brands and 408 products across a long list of categories. The Awards are always completely exhausting but I love every minute. You get a real eagle-eye view of the current beauty market, where brands go right, where they go wrong.

This year's winners included top aromatherapist Michelle Roques-O'Neil's new calming, energising bath and body brand Therapie, www.roquesoneil.com, one of my all time desert island brands. I also like Abahna London a lot, www.abahna.co.uk, they're launching their fifth signature blend this month and I've heard their White Grapefruit & May Chang Bath Foam was spotted in a bathroom at Buckingham Palace.


Ila Spa's skincare, ila-spa.com, is also out of this world. I'm an Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo addict but my signature scent is Pomelo, the first fragrance launched by Jo Malone's new brand Jo Loves, www.joloves.com, a couple of years ago. Jo has somehow bottled the bliss of a summer holiday in the Med and it's the most commented on fragrance I've ever worn - it's extraordinary how many women (and men!) love it.


As far as recommending skincare brands, I think Weleda, Dr Hauschka, Elemis, Balance Me and Neal's Yard Remedies are all doing things right - the last three are model examples of "Best of British Beauty". And one of the most exciting newcomers in a long time is 001 Skincare, www.doublezeroone.com, which is definitely one to watch.  It's a beauty-full world and I feel really lucky to be part of it.

Fiona Klonarides is a freelance beauty, health and travel journalist; she founded her award-winning blog The Beauty Shortlist in 2009. Follow Fiona on Twitter @BeautyShortlist and Facebook. The Beauty Shortlist featured in the Top 10 Beauty Blogs (No. 2, UK) - Cision/Social Media Ranking, February 2013 and Fionas as Top 25 Personalities, Natural Beauty Yearbook 2013.

Friday, 27 September 2013

How Blogging Drives My Business By Chiara from Hoobynoo World



Hoobynoo World is a place filled with happy, bouncy characters, all illustrated by myself with accompanying character profiles written by my husband, a children’s author. Before I started this business I was a freelance graphic and web designer. The business is just over a year old and running it from home, the biggest challenge is getting yourself out there and found by the general public. Like most small small businesses, I don't have a huge marketing budget so I did a lot of research on how to market myself effectively and for little cost.

The answer to that was quite simply, blogging!

Aside from the obvious benefit of creating posts to promote your product/service when you blog, you create more opportunities for you to appear in Google and be found in search. But blogging is so much more than a search engine tool, it allows you to connect with your customers and your audience, it puts a personal face on your company or brand and builds trust between you and the consumer.

In order to create variety and keep readers coming back to your blog, it's very important not to just use your blog as a sales tool but to provide valuable content that offers advice or 'How Tos' or provide valuable information that would be relevant to your readers.


I will often write fashion posts as this is relevant to the products I sell, focusing on new trends or collections. I also offer advice on social media at a basic level as it is something I have had to learn myself over the years.

As I am very involved with the handmade community, I will post trips to craft fairs, and craft tutorials. This provides a variety of content that will appeal to a wider audience bringing more people to my blog and then to my website. The other benefit of blogging, is guest posting, such as this one I am writing which provides links to my website which is good for my Google rank and SEO.

I also welcome other bloggers to guest post on my blog as this provides a wider range of interesting content for my readers and offers a different perspective. I look for bloggers who are an expert in a particular field and will offer real value to my blog and its readers.

The blogging community itself is huge, which offers other opportunities for you to connect with other like minded people. There are blogging conferences, Twitter hashtag groups and many bloggers will use Blog Buttons or a Blogroll to promote other bloggers.

The other way that your blog can help to drive your business is through advertising, many of the well established blogs feature paid advertising from large companies, this is a fantastic way to create an additional revenue stream for very little work.

So with a little effort you could create an amazing marketing tool for yourself simply by adding a blog to your website or creating a free one. Results will not happen overnight but it is much more likely to give you a return on your investment than say a full page spread in a magazine.

Chiara Stone is a designer and owner of Hoobynooworld.co.uk, where you'll find these  funky acrylic fashion jewellery, phone covers, handmade accessories, wall stickers and much more.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth this September with National Cupcake Week by Jessica Aleisha Dodds



Since 2008, the cupcake phenomenon, in the UK, has grown like a well risen sponge, taking over most confectionery and baked treats as the most fashionable and sort after edible fancy. With the likes of Magnolia bakery in New York launching in 1996, it took a while for UK market to catch up, but in recent years the cupcake has gone beyond all cup-cases of the imagination, with flavours, toppings and edible art.

Cupcakes, in my opinion, have become so popular due to the selfish streak in society, not wanting to share the deliciousness of cake. In all elements of cookery, customers thoroughly enjoy portioned parcels and the cupcake is no exception. There is something convenient and cute about a cupcake, with it being well-contained, easy to transport and suitably portioned.

Once a simple treat for kids, cupcakes have now become a sophisticated, yet fun alternative to the traditional slice of cake. The rise in demand supported the birth of businesses, all over the UK, selling these easy, crafted treats and for the cake artists among us, the boundaries of the simple cupcake were being stretched. Challenging new flavours replicating sweets, such as rhubarb and custard, tantilised children and adults tastebuds alike and with artistic detail, beautiful bouquets, wedding towers and edible art collections were created. With a history of larger cakes being the best canvas for edible art, the cupcake was able to offer a miniaturised version of these grand works of artistry; a singular portion of cake offering all the excitement, design and flair of a whole cake, but in a tiny format.


The cupcake has become an easy versatile tool to fit all occasions. A whole market has been established to cater for the demand, with Perspex towers, cupcake cases, sprinkles and for the more creative, cupcake parties have been born. People, such as Ming Makes Cupcakes have even dedicated blogs to the desirable delicacy. National Cupcake Week, from 16th – 22nd September, is a celebration of the last five years of incredible cupcake creations, from the simple and tasty to the most artistic, but debate has opened about what the new and upcoming craze will be.

Many speculative comments have been made; regarding the future of the cupcake, yet there is belief that due to its adaptability, the cupcake will survive. One opposing argument suggested that the cake pop will eventually take over the mass market, yet due to being smaller, more expensive and complicated to make, I doubt any success will overlook the cupcake’s reign. The Great British Bake Off is further supporting the baking boom in Britain and supermarkets, bakers and chefs alike are releasing specialist books on cupcakes and decorations. Locally, bakers are trialing new combinations, such as crownies, brownies and cake, and others are experimenting with pastry, following BBC Good Food’s prediction that miniature choux buns, were the next best treat to tickle our fancy.


One thing for sure, however, is that this week plenty of cupcakes WILL be eaten. I for one will be indulging in a carefully crafted cupcake or two and even through talk of new trends, the cupcake is still a highly popular, deliciously delectable treat. So what flavour will you choose?

Keep up to date with Jessica Aleisha Dodds and her blog, Red Velvet Baking by visiting www.redvelvetbaking.blogspot.com. You can also follow Red Velvet Baking on Twitter @RedVelvetBaking, Facebook and Instagram.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Five Blogging Lessons from Helen Yuet Ling Pang, Food and Travel Blogger



A few years ago I had a successful food blog, World Foodie Guide, which I maintained for two years then stopped updating just months after being shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers New Media award in 2009. I made the decision one afternoon on a subway train in Tokyo. After two weeks of travelling in Japan, I was exhausted and didn't even want to blog about it. My last three posts, about the Japan trip, were truly a struggle to write. I then announced my 'retirement' from the world of food blogging.

Now I'm back with my new blog On The Frog. I'm older and hopefully a little wiser too. And I’d like to share a few lessons that I've learnt from blogging, taking a long break and finally coming back to it.


1. Be clear about why you blog 

There are numerous reasons for starting and maintaining a blog. It could be a creative and enjoyable outlet where you share your thoughts and tips with others, or perhaps you hope to turn professional and develop a second career, so your blog is a potential means of making money, directly or indirectly. With both blogs, my intention has never been to make money, so I've always turned down advertising and sponsorship requests. And once you know why you blog, you'll know whether or not to accept freebies. I learnt from my old blog that it's near on impossible to be completely honest and objective when reviewing a PR-organised restaurant visit. Accepting freebies can really affect the credibility of a blog, so tread carefully and always make it clear if you haven't paid for something yourself.

2. Choose a subject you're passionate about

Choose a subject you're truly passionate about, otherwise sustaining a blog in the long term will be difficult. Readers can tell from your writing whether you care about the subject or not. I chose food for my first blog because I've always loved it. My parents owned restaurants their entire lives and so the enjoyment of food is a big part of my life too. I also liked sharing my restaurant tips with friends and that's why I started blogging. When I realised I wasn't enjoying restaurant reviewing quite as much, I tried to switch the focus of my blog to travel, my other great passion. That didn't work out either because I was simply couldn't keep going at the intense pace that I'd set myself. Although travel is now the subject of my new blog On The Frog ('on the frog' is Cockney rhyming slang for on the road), I've learnt to pace myself and I'm enjoying blogging again.

3. Pace yourself 

Blogging is tough anyway, as you have to do everything yourself. I pushed myself far too hard with World Foodie Guide and set myself a punishing schedule of three substantial posts every week. By the time I realised I couldn't do it anymore, even just slowing down wasn't an option anymore. My husband had complained a lot about being sidelined, and since I’ve stopped restaurant reviewing, we've had more time to spend together again. So take it easy with your blogging. It should be fun and not take up too much of your time. With my new blog, I now write when I feel like I have something to say.

4. Keep up with technology

Blogging has changed considerably since I first started in late 2007. Returning to blogging a few months ago, I found that even Wordpress had changed dramatically. I initially struggled to perform even basic tasks on my blog. However, it didn't take too long to brush up on these skills and now I think I've mastered most things I need to know. Otherwise, I have a technology guru husband. I also continued using Twitter over the years and love Instagram for its simplicity and ease of use. These days, people share information and tips over a wide variety of social media platforms, so blog commenting has reduced noticeably and appreciation of a post is now indicated by tweets and Facebook likes. I also recently created a free iPhone app, beautifully designed by Everplaces, which is a guide to the best of traditional London.

5. Be prepared to accept criticism as well as praise

This is really important to bear in mind. Just because you think your blog is the bee's knees and that your opinions are deep and meaningful doesn't mean that everyone else will agree with you. That's just life. Everyone has an opinion and with the development of social media, a voice. Share your thoughts, defend your standpoint and accept the views of others, whether you agree with them or not. And don't take blogging too seriously!

Food and travel blogger, Helen Yuet Ling Pang from OnTheFrog.com has recently released her own iPhone app, On The Frog to London, a guide with 50 tips for discovering some good old British traditions alive and well in modern London.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Top 5 Tips For Getting Your Blog Seen by Jessica Hodkinson



Blogging is one of the most talked about activities that takes place online and the option to blog has given budding writers a chance to share their thoughts and knowledge with others in an open space. So how does it all start?  Well, you take an idea and then apply your passion for writing or photography and select a platform like Wordpress, Blogger or Tumbler to publish on.

I started PR Company two years ago as a project when I was learning about digital PR and SEO. The blog was almost used as a working diary to start with and then I began writing about topical subjects that others could relate to. Someone told me about a little thing called page rank which Google uses to determine the importance of your site and typically link to pages that have the highest keyword density.

PR Company now has a page rank of 4 which makes it credible in the SEO world and I get a lot of great feedback about the blog.  I then decided to start a new project and as I have a lot of knowledge about retail/fashion, I decided to home in on a niche and select something that would be appealing to the Mummy blogging world. Harper7Style.com was born! Harper Beckham is already a little mini fashionista and appears in national press on a frequent basis. Therefore I thought this blog would have great potential now and later on in life when she becomes as big as her Mother, Victoria Beckham.

Even though blogs may look great, getting the word out there in a cluttered blogosphere can prove to be challenging.

Here are a few tips when it comes to marketing your own blog!

1. Guest Post
A good way of getting the word out there about your own blog is to guest post on others that publish content that covers the same topics as yours. It takes a bit of effort as you will need to approach editors and pitch a good topic with appeal to their readers. Most guest posts include an author name and a link back to the author’s blog.

2. Twitter, Facebook, Google+
This is an obvious one but plugging your blog on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ is a very straight forward option which provides instant results and hopefully directs traffic to your blog. Using the correct hashtags like #socialmedia, #PR, #fbloggers will also enable your post to be picked up by people searching for these topics.

3. Comment on other blogs
Commenting on other blogs and leaving a link to your own blog is an option that will enable you to tell others about your work and it will also assist with SEO efforts which means your blog could quite possibly rank higher. However be cautious as this can also look quite spammy if overdone or comments are placed on irrelevant blogs. You need to make the comment worthy as leaving a comment about ‘Fish and chips’ on a beauty blog about skin care just wouldn’t work and it would probably get deleted.

4. Get involved with conversations on websites that have high authority
This takes a little more effort but networking and getting involved with debates on websites that carry authority like the Guardian Online, will give you the chance to plug your blog and get it out in front of a large audience. Here is an example of something I took part In: Working in Fashion PR: ask the experts.

High end links like this are also very valuable in an SEO strategy.

5. Word of Mouth
A very obvious method but one that can be just as effective,  speaking to people and telling them to go online and take a look at your work. If they like what they see, they may follow you and spread the word to others.

For more information on Jessica Hodkinson and PR Company, visit prcompany.org.uk. Jessica works as  Senior PR and Marketing Exec for Daniel Footwear. Jessica recently won a competition with Nokia and will be reporting at Social Media week in Mumbai.You can follow Jessica on Twitter @onlineprpixie and @harper7style.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Esther Smith Blogs About Food At Pretty In Peckham



It took me a while to come round to the idea of blogging - especially about food. I was afraid, at first, of falling into the many, now infamous, traits that food bloggers can succumb to. Classic examples spring to mind: the endless, agonized, strife to capture the perfect shot of that timeless Coq au Vin - so much so, that it ends up going cold. The constant Instagram shots of the grocery basket, emphasizing the exquisite shadow a  potato is casting over an ever svelte and interesting carrot. Never before has supermarket veg been made to look so glamourous and alluring.

To be honest, it was all a bit much for me: I wrote blogging off as a superficial, self indulgent pursuit. But then something changed. In my last year of University, my three flatmates and I decided to make a communal cooking rota. We assigned each other a different day of the week on which to cook the evening meal for everyone in the house. The bar was set by our first meal of pancetta wrapped salmon, served with crushed minty potatoes. And, after that, it just kept on rising. Before we knew it, we were enjoying a seven day week of fine dining, and still spending less than we had done when we were cooking for ourselves.

As Monday’s halloumi and chorizo burgers gave way to Tuesday’s flash steak salad and Wednesday’s tarte tatin, I realised that this was something that needed documentation. I was unsatisfied by just telling people about our dinner time delicacies - I wanted it recorded, loud and proud, in writing. And so, to the wordpress blog I went, swallowing my pride, and joining the army of wordy, foodie fanatics. My blog, ‘Matesplates’, was born and  every evening meal, recipe and the occasional restaurant excursion was recorded. Once the blogging started, it didn’t stop. I loved having my own online space to write, and it felt good when my followers and viewing numbers grew.

When I left University, I didn’t think twice about creating another food blog, and luckily, I’ve moved to a place where the foodie scene is exciting and diverse. My new blog, Pretty in Peckham, aims to show the best bits of SE15’s food scene. Whilst it’s true that Peckham’s gentrification has encouraged a wealth of great new eateries, my blog is also eager to show that there was, and still is, great food available from the authentic, African, Iranian and Afghani orientated market stalls and shops.

For a flavour of Peckham’s menu, I’ve chosen my top five foodie hits in the area:

Rye Lane Mangoes


It may sound extreme, but if you’ve never had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into an Alphonso mango, you haven’t lived yet. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve enjoyed life at it’s very best, until you’ve tasted the sweet, succulent, honey tasting flesh of these humble looking fruits. These golden nuggets of goodness are widely available on many a market stall on Rye Lane. There’s no point just buying one - grab a box and ride the highway to heaven.  Rye Lane, SE15

The Begging Bowl


Probably the best Thai food in London, with warm, friendly service and chefs who really know what they’re doing. The restaurant doesn’t take bookings and is, unsurprisingly, always busy, so get there early for Thai street food delights. Try the raw marinated salmon salad, the Dorset crab topped beatle leaves and the hot and salty stir-fry pork belly. Wash down with a lemongrass Martini or a pineapple margarita and finish with a spice cooling rambutan granita. 168 Bellenden Road, SE15 4BW.

Persepolis 

It may look unremarkable from the outside, but this bazaar-come-Persian-emporium contains a far reaching treasure trove of delectable produce. Crowd pleasers, such as Turkish delight and baklava hold their own, as well as more specified products such as pomegranate molasses and barberries. They even have their own recipe book, Persia in Peckham, which includes dishes such as Khoresht-e-Rivas (rhubarb stew) and for the brave, Caleh-pah-cheh (lamb’s head and feet). 28-30 Peckham High Street, SE15 5DT.  

Dates from Khans


Dates are not the only thing worth buying here, but with such an extensive shop floor, it’s a good place to start. At £2.49 for a large box of sweet and sticky, delicious and nutritious dried fruit, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal. Khan’s is also a great place to stock up your spice cupboard essentials.  135 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST.

Flock and Herd

Bellenden Road, aka ‘posh Peckham’, ticks all the boxes for signs of recent gentrification. A delicatessen? Check. A gastropub? Of course. What about a posh grocery store? You betcha. The best of the influx is probably Flock and Herd, a butchery selling fresh meat and Charlie Shaw’s highly acclaimed, award winning sausages.  And, with a butcher by day and ballet dancer by night on the premises, this place has got personality too. 155 Bellenden Road, SE15 4DH.

To find out more about Esther Smith and her food blog, visit www.prettyinpeckham.wordpress.com.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

How Hartley Botanic Built its Blog




Company blogs have been around now for many years. Ten years ago, when most businesses still got much of their work through Yellow Pages, to have a blog for your company was something new. It was something different. Today however, you can go online and within seconds, you’ll be able to find even the smallest company with a regularly updated blog.

When my company, Hartley Botanic, started its articles back in May 2005, we managed to catch the tail end of the surge for companies expressing their opinions, offers and business information to their users. Looking back, we had just one blog a month, which in the days of the mid-noughties, was perfectly acceptable.

It didn’t take long to realise, looking at the traffic we received just by posting articles on ‘buying your first garden equipment’ and ‘what to grow in June’, that having a business blog not only got us the search traffic that we wanted, but also the money that we needed. We are quite thankful to the fact that from the beginning, we wrote blogs that were interesting, helpful and educational to our audience, helping us quickly build a readership that remains with us to this day.

It is interesting, when you read other company blogs, that many of them still only write about ‘special offers’ and ‘discounts’. Not only are these terms of little interest to most people, but they are also seldom found entered into search engines.

It didn’t take long however, before we realised that we had to add something a little bit more special to our articles. At first we thought about competitions, but we quickly realised that people flocked to our pages not for the aforementioned special offers, but for help, advice and knowledge.

Before long, we began to add special writers to our pages. Regionally reputed gardeners that were known throughout their districts, giving expert and accurate information to budding gardeners. As expected, this considerably improved our readership, as our blog and company were able to expand to considerable heights. From there we added more, until the point where we were able to offer celebrity gardeners and horticulturalists special bi-monthly places within our pages. Today we have:

Lia Leendertz
Bob Flowerdew
Matthew Biggs
Jean Vernon
John Walker

Each and every one of our celebrity writers are able to add something different to their own sections of the blog. John Walker for example, writes regularly on renewable gardening, and Lia Leendertz writes about organic gardening, two areas that are not only popular today, but shall be even more popular tomorrow as the world becomes increasingly interested in health and the environment.

All in all, our blog has helped us grow into what we are as a company today, but challenges still lay ahead. Soon, it is expected that video blogs will become standard and from there, who knows.

Perhaps in ten years we shall have smell ‘o’ blogs. But I hope not.

For more information on Hartely Botanic and its award winning greenhouses and glasshouses, visit www.hartley-botanic.co.uk and for its blog, visit www.hartley-botanic.co.uk/gardening-tips.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Overseas Property Investment - 7 Things To Get Right by Louise Reynolds



Louise Reynolds is an independent, UK-based agent who helps people buy holiday homes and investment property in Europe, more easily and safely than they can on their own. Here she shares some top tips on how potential holiday home owners or investors, can buy overseas property with confidence.

Language

Language barriers are often seen as a hindrance when conducting a property transaction abroad, however it doesn’t need to be a show-stopper. With nifty tools like Google Translate around, the general gist of words can be worked out. Although it has to be said, it is never advisable to use free web tools such as this for important legal documents. It is best to get a competent bilingual lawyer, who is versed in the local laws, so that all formal legal contracts protect your interests.

Culture and Local Practices

There are often soft issues, like the in-country culture and communication which get overlooked.  In Spain for example, it has not been unheard of in the past, to find a lawyer working for more than one person involved in a property transaction, so it is important to establish if there are any potential causes of conflict.

Raising Finance Overseas

Getting a mortgage in the UK can be challenging owing to tight underwriting criteria. Around the world things have tightened for borrowers. In Spain, banks are now far more cautious and buyers need to take care that they have sufficient personal funds, should a bank valuation of the property to be purchased, gets revised down at the last minute, so they are not left high and dry. In countries like Poland, investors are likely to be asked to provide more credit information e.g. credit reference reports, which would normally be done automatically by UK banks.

Buying Process

A significant difference between the UK purchasing process and many in Europe, is the need to go before a Notary (a specially licensed lawyer) to sign the preliminary and final contract or agreement, or provide Power of Attorney to someone to go on your behalf. In the UK contract exchange and completion can occur without the buyer having to be present, as long as all the necessary documentation has been properly signed and witnessed.

Property Buying Costs

Costs related to the purchasing process can also differ significantly from buying in the UK. Whilst stamp duty tends to be higher in the UK, the overall conveyancing costs are cheaper, generally speaking. So in the UK, property buying costs may represent up to 7% of the value of the property bought (including 3% stamp duty on properties up to £500,000), this could be between 5-12%, or more abroad.

What’s In A Finish?

Build finish standards differ. In Spain construction methods are not always the same as in the UK, so it is important to check the build and finish quality you are getting. Elsewhere in Poland or Bulgaria, apartments can be finished to “black standard”, which means the building is plastered, but may not be supplied with flooring, kitchen or bathroom. So check you are getting “white finish”, more like a “move-in finish” or you might end up with having to pay more than you have bargained for.

Property Ladder

Getting on the property ladder overseas can be a lot easier than in the UK, with prices starting at £50,000 for studio apartments in cities, such as Istanbul, Turkey. This can help the “generation rent” or the BARBie trend that has been talked about (Buy Abroad Rent in Britain), as a viable alternative to buying in the UK for first-time buyers, who are increasingly being squeezed out of the market.

Understanding the idiosyncrasies of buying overseas property, or at least working with someone who does, can help ease the process, so that there are no unnecessary surprises.

Louise Reynolds is an independent, UK-based agent who helps people buy holiday homes and investment property in Europe, more easily and safely than they can on their own. As a Member of the AIPP, Property Venture, Louise’s company, has been vetted, approved and voluntarily commits to the Professional Code of Conduct. Visit www.property-venture.com.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Genesis of My Blog: From Thought to Fruition By Sarah Brownlee



In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Blog, and the Word was Blog. From the ashes of this great phenomenon known as Blogging exploded thousands of human creatures called Bloggers, all scattering to find their place on the new virtual planet known as the Internet. One of these little creatures who managed to find a tiny realm somewhere in the vast corner of this world was me (alias Skye Spitfire) and so began my humble kingdom, Outside the Box!

Like all creations, Outside the Box has had its fair share of ups and downs, but it continues to grow, expanding its empire wherever possible. Often, as I sit back and look upon my domain, I enjoy reports from my messengers, which inform me how OTB has simultaneously entertained, intrigued, affronted and inspired; successfully written missions have invited applause or sometimes downright offended others; rival blogging kingdoms have launched attacks or sought an alliance. But whatever the outcome of each blog post, I am happy to say that every single one has been the result of my own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and it is with pleasure that I reminisce on that fateful day last summer when I decided to execute the idea of sharing my thoughts with the world wide web, all thanks to that humorously controversial dating website, Plenty of Fish.

For those oblivious to this site, Plenty of Fish is one of those dating websites used by millions of users throughout the world. You set up a profile, upload a picture and BAM! The man/woman of your dreams messages you, you exchange pleasantries, meet for coffee and, next thing you know, you’re married with kids and living happily ever after. Of course, in reality, after the ‘uploading-your-picture’ part, the rest is completely false for the majority of users. Having spent the best part of three years on and off this website (the first year fruitlessly searching for someone and being at the brunt of shameless users and their outrageous messages, the second year researching other people’s ‘horror’ stories, and the third subconsciously collecting information that helped me analyse the site) I thought it might be quite entertaining to write about what I had discovered.

But how to do it? Submit an article for a magazine? Who would take it? Write about it on my Facebook page? That would limit my audience. That’s when the idea of blogging came to me. I had always enjoyed writing. I had also always enjoyed voicing my opinions (much to the consternation of those around me); above all, I enjoyed having a readership, and what better way to gain readership than having access to millions of readers throughout the world? So I googled ‘blogging websites’, signed up with Wordpress, wrote some 2000 words entitled, ‘The Truth about Plenty of Fish’ and uploaded the file. The response it received was astounding: comments trickled in, some roaring with approval, others bleating with indignation; a steady stream of hits and followers appeared on a daily basis; the article was quoted in YouTube videos, review websites and various web forums. This blog post also kickstarted my career as a Freelance Writer, where I now work professionally as a Blogger, Content Writer, SEO Specialist, Ghostwriter and Artist Statement Writer. Who would have guessed that a personal review of a dating website could lead to such productive avenues?

As time went on, I followed it up with a diverse collection of blog posts, never limiting myself to one category, but writing about anything that took my interest or a particular experience I might have had. These included posts on the challenges society faces in conventional issues; a disparaging article concerning the sloppy performance of the England football team in 2012 (this post also went viral, with a hit count of 666 on its first day – an ominous number if ever there was one!). There was a post dedicated to my beloved Jack Russell’s untimely passing due to a malignant tumour; reviews of the website, Gumtree, and that remarkable, under-rated role-playing game, Suikoden, also followed. More recently, I wrote about the horrifying, tragic murder of the soldier in Woolwich, which resonated with a number of people and was shared globally on Facebook and Twitter.

Anything that strikes a chord with me is something I will write about and this is what I feel to be the very essence of my writing. I have never been formally trained or educated on how to write; there is merely a love of writing and a desire to share my thoughts with others, not through the bonus of financial gain or positive reviews, but through an aspiration to make myself heard. In an increasingly materialistic world, I am fortunate to be able to indulge in what drives me passionately, rather than profitably; I would urge anyone with a love of writing to do the same, for if you are passionate enough, driven enough and dedicated enough, you will find that writing is one empire you can expand beyond horizons you would never have dreamed of.

In professional terms, one aspect of writing that has required some research is SEO: Search Engine Optimization, which allows your article to be brought to the attention of search engines. Of course, it’s always important to remember how writing for personal pleasure should always take precedence for the ardent writer; it is imperative to frequently update your own personal blog if you embark on a professional voyage that doesn’t coincide with your own individual appetite. After all, you don’t want your whole view of writing to become dulled by writing for a toilet roll company, especially when getting hyped up about toilet rolls proves to be an impossible feat – even the most steadfast writer would soon wilt under having to write 15 SEO articles a month on ‘The Benefits of BogRolls Toilet Rolls’. Whether for yourself or for a company, below I have included the three SEO tips that I believe to be most effective and I hope they will assist you on your very own journey into the world of blogging – so put on your thinking crown, remember to always stay true to yourself and get writing!

1. Use Keywords! SEO articles rely heavily on keywords: for example, if someone is searching for ‘Fun events London’ be sure to include this phrase somewhere in the article, several times. Be careful not to write it out too many times though and make sure it flows with the writing; otherwise it will put the reader off!

2. Connect With The Reader! It may sound obvious, but this is crucial for SEO writing. The readers aren’t stupid; they will be able to tell if there is a mechanical feel to your writing – such as littering keywords all over the place without any substance. Write your article with the same energy as you would if you were sitting with a friend and talking to them over a cup of tea – the result is much more personal and, therefore, effective.

3. Break It Up! Break up your article into paragraphs, along with catchy sub-headings for each one. This makes it easier to read and gives it a more interesting structure. Readers will be engaged, not just via content, but through presentation.

Sarah Brownlee is a freelance journalist and blogger. To read Sarah's blog, visit Outside The Box