Thursday, 26 February 2015

Choosing the right door for your home

We're in the midst of making a few changes to our home: decorating the living room and one of the bedrooms; finishing off a few neglected DIY jobs; and generally getting the house looking a bit smarter ready for when it goes back on the market next year.  Some of the internal doors have seen better days, so they are on the list of things to be updated, and this guest post explains how changing a door can have a big impact on the look of a room.

Whether you’ve just moved home, are in the middle of a huge renovation or just fancy a change of theme in one particular room, changing or refinishing your doors can completely update the overall look and feel of a room. On the opposite end of the scale, having a door which does not fit the décor can leave a room feeling inconsistent and out of odds.

What to consider when choosing a new door

Internal doors do not have to be as sturdy as external doors as they do not face as much weathering. They are usually made of a timber frame, with either real wood or foil veneers. Real wood veneered doors have a very thin layer of wood bonded onto the timber frame to replicate the look and feel of a solid oak door, at a more affordable option. Foil veneered doors are even more affordable, as they use a synthetic foil which replicates the look of real wood. There is also the option for moulded doors – these are made from moulded wood fibre to replicate the look of a wood panelled door, however are not built upon a timber frame. Instead, they are made with different core types to provide different weights. A heavier weighted core acts as a great sound buffer, but may not be practical for doors which are used frequently.

There are several styles of internal doors to choose from – flush, panelled and glazed. Flush doors
have a smooth surface so are great for contemporary, sleek rooms. Glazed doors incorporate, or are made up of, glass panels and are perfect for opening up small dark rooms and for providing continuation between two rooms, such as a kitchen and dining room. Panelled doors can come with various numbers of panels embossed into the surface, creating a more traditional look, and would suit both modern, traditional and rustic home interiors.

When it comes to the door frame, there’s a choice of traditional swing, sliding doors, double doors and folding doors. Traditional swing doors are the easiest option when simply replacing a door rather than going through a full renovation, and the frame can be stripped and painted to match your new door. Sliding doors and folding doors are great for small spaces as they do not require room for outswing, and they also add a contemporary chic feel to a room so suit modern and sleek décor. Double doors are a great option for large spaces as they break up blank walls and bring light and depth to a room.


Colour is generally one of the easier things to take into consideration, due to the existing or intended colour themes. White doors look great with minimalist interiors made up of whites, blacks and neutrals, however also look great providing a stark contrast against brighter colours. 

Dark wooden doors, similar to mahogany colours, work well with grandeur décor and darker furnishings, however can be too much for small spaces so ensure there’s enough light and space in the room. Natural wood doors tend to fit with most décor, but looks particularly at home with natural earth based colours and rustic, shabby chic themes. Cream doors also work in place of wood doors for a rustic interior, and can replace white doors when a room is overly white and clinical to add warmth.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A one-pot recipe ~ chicken jambalaya

Chicken jambalaya

I love a one-pot recipe - if I could get away with it I'd make all our meals in one pot, imagine the amount of washing up you'd save.

I'm also a fan of easy recipes, and this one couldn't be any easier for a mid-week meal, so a one-pot, easy-to-make recipe - what's not to love?

Chicken Jambalaya
Serves 3-4

1 tbsp olive oil
2 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 red pepper cut into chunks
75g of chorizo, cut into slices
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
250g long grain rice
Can of chopped tomatoes
350ml chicken stock
Ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan with a lid and brown the chicken for 5-8 mins. Remove and set aside on a plate. Tip in the onion and cook for 3-4 mins until soft. Then add the pepper, garlic, chorizo and Cajun seasoning, and cook for a further 5 mins.

Stir the chicken back in with the rice, add the tomatoes and the stock. Cover and simmer for 20-25 mins until the rice is tender.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley, season with black pepper, serve immediately.

For this recipe, I used the Schwartz ground black pepper, which we were sent along with spices and a recipe book.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Run free, sweet girl

Tess (Russanda Lark) 2004 -2015

Yesterday we said our final goodbyes to our beautiful greyhound Tess.

We adopted her in 2009 not long after she had been retired from her successful racing career (racing name: Russanda Lark) and from day one she was pretty much the perfect dog for us: loyal, calm, house-trained and just a lovely, gentle soul.

She quickly became one of the family, and we loved her.

She loved her comfy bed, and her cuddly monkey, and tummy rubs and bacon snozzles, and she was thoroughly and completely spoiled.  We had over 5 happy years with her before she started showing signs of old age at the end of last year, and her health grew steadily worse over the last few weeks. After spending several days in the care of the vet, she came home last night for what I thought would be her final 24 hours with us.

Sadly, in the early hours it was obvious that she couldn't continue and we returned to the vet who helped her on her final journey.

She was such a sweet, gentle soul, and we'll miss her so much.

Run free, sweet Tessie, all is well x

The last battle poem

Tess and Tall Daughter

Monday, 26 January 2015

Easy breakfast smoothie recipes

I don't know about you but I find January a really difficult month. It's the darkest, longest, coldest month of the year and a bit of an anti-climax after Christmas.  It's also a good time for making new year resolutions, and one of those for us has been to eat more healthily. After over-indulging in December we started the year feeling bloated, sluggish and generally meh.

So, one of the best things I've bought recently is our smoothie maker.  It's one of those where you make the smoothie in the plastic cup that you drink it from, so cuts down on the washing up which is always a good thing, and it means we can knock up a breakfast smoothie in a matter of minutes.

It's an easy way to get a couple of portions of our essential 5-a-day, and we use a variety of fruits and vegetables. Buying lots of fruit can be costly, but we've found that by keeping frozen or freeze dried fruits in the freezer (read more information here) we have a steady supply of berries which can be expensive if bought separately, and it makes the drinks nice and cold without using ice.

We didn't follow any recipes at first, and basically just chucked in a load of different fruits so it's been a bit of trial and error, but here's our favourites so far.

Berry smoothie
1 banana
cup of Frozen or freeze dried berries
half a cup of low-fat natural yoghurt
cup of skimmed milk
a squeeze of honey

We use a small cup to measure, although you can just adjust the ingredients according to taste. Break banana into pieces, put everything in and blend until smooth. It couldn't be easier.

Raspberry and pomegranate smoothie
100g raspberries
1 banana
125g low-fat natural yoghurt
300ml pomegranate juice

Put everything into the smoothie maker/blender and blitz until smooth. Drink, enjoy and feel virtuous!

You can find plenty of other recipes here.

After just a few weeks of drinking smoothies every morning we're already feeling the benefits - more energy, clearer skin and just feeling generally better.

Have you made any resolutions to be healthier? How are you getting on?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Is pet insurance really worth it?

Tess the greyhound

If you own a dog one of things you have to think about is whether or not to take out pet insurance.

When we adopted Tess back in 2009 I decided to pay for pet insurance to cover any vets' bills for illness, accident and so on.  On her 10th birthday last year (because dog's have birthdays too!) I got a letter from the insurance company to say that - after steadily increasing in price each year - the premium was increasing by 100%. jumping from £24 to £49 a month.

I made a phone call to ask why the increase was so much higher, and they said that as Tess was now classed as an older dog the new premium reflected the likelihood of higher and more frequent vet bills from then on.  I suppose that makes sense, an older dog is going to need more medical attention, but I wondered if it was worth keeping her insured. I mean, it's an expensive do and you may never need to use it.

I spoke to a few fellow dog owners and some had their dogs insured and others didn't.  The ones who didn't have it thought it was worth taking their chances, and were going to cover any unexpected bills on either on their credit card or were saving a small amount each month in a separate bank account to cover the costs.  I considered doing that, but thought I might be tempted to 'dip in' to that pot of money if I was a bit short one month.  So I decided to shop around and asked for dog insurance recommendations on Twitter.

I got a couple of quotes - although some companies don't even bother to quote for dogs over the age of 8 - and luckily I found one who not only insure older dogs but the premiums were £25: it's still a lot of money, but much more palatable than the previously quoted £49.

A word of warning though, and I only found this out last week, if you change your insurance it's unlikely to pay for treatments of any illness or condition that pre-dates the new insurance cover.   The annoying thing is that the insurance company might not tell you about that little loophole - sure it'll be in the small print, etc. but don't assume that you're covered.

So in our case any costs relating to Tessie's arthritis isn't covered by our new insurance because she's had it for years.

As it's turned out, we've practically lived at the vets' for the past few weeks as Tess has been very poorly, and as of yesterday the costs were standing at £947.00 and as she's still receiving treatments that sum will continue to rise. Yikes. The good news (if you can call it that) is that it's for a condition Tess hasn't previously had, so the insurance will cover it. In our case, it was definitely worth sticking with the insurance option.

If you have a dog, do you have insurance? If not, how to plan to cover the vet's bills?

Written in collaboration with Argos Pet Insurance.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Film reviews: Birdman, Taken 3, American Sniper, 20 Feet from Stardom

I treated myself to an Unlimited cinema ticket this month, so I've been to the cinema more times than usual. Here are my reviews of the films I've watched so far.


If there's a more original film out at the moment, I haven't seen it. Birdman is unlike any film I've seen before and I mean that in a good way. 

You're never quite sure where you are with it, as it slips between dream-like sequences (flying over and through the streets of New York) and claustrophic, intense scenes in the back-stage world of the theatre.

The previously underrated Michael Keaton is perfectly cast as Riggan Thompson, a faded Hollywood star of superhero films, who invests everything in a Broadway play.  Edward Norton is great as the cock-sure method actor who only shows doubts about his real life, and brings a bit of menace to the film. I don't know why but I always find him a bit scary.

The stunning cinematography and beautiful musical score are a sensory treat, and the ensemble cast including Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, are all excellent.  

I'm not sure I fully understood what was going on sometimes to be honest, but I liked that it was so different from the normal Hollywood film, and I was still thinking about it days afterwards.

Nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Film, Best Actor (Michael Keaton) and Best Director.  

Taken 3

Everything you would expect is in the third installment of the Taken franchise. There are car chases, there are shoot-outs, there's Liam Neeson escaping from impossible situations and threatening to kill people in that low gravelly voice. It's all there, so if that's what you like then grab your popcorn and watch it.

It isn't as good as the first Taken film, but isn't as bad as Taken 2, which was diabolically bad.  Some of the dialogue is awful, the acting pretty corny at the beginning of the film, and the plot has more holes in it than a string vest, but if you enjoyed the first two Taken films, you'll enjoy this one.

After watching it I half-jokingly said on Twitter that if they make a fourth film it should be called Taken the Mickey because, try as I might, I just couldn't suspend my disbelief when 62-year-old Liam Neeson - bless him - was being chased through the streets of LA, running, climbing and jumping over walls. 

It's a successful formula and it sticks to it, but please, Liam, for the love of God, no more.

American Sniper

I made a snap decision to watch this at the cinema based purely on the fact it's directed by Clint Eastwood.  I've enjoyed many of the films he's directed in the past, so I reckoned I'd like this one and I did.  

I wasn't familiar with the story of the real-life Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) whose autobiography the film is based on.  He is credited with being the most deadly sniper in the US forces, with at least 160 confirmed 'kills' during his four tours of Iraq, earning the nickname 'Legend'. 

Watching it purely as a action-packed war film I found it engrossing, nail-biting stuff which considering I don't usually enjoy war films was a surprise. There were a couple of times when the gung-ho patriotism and the simplistic reference for America's presence in Iraq jarred slightly, but I thought the human story of how the brutality of war and its psychological aftermath impacted on Kyle's family life and those of his brothers in arms quite moving.  

However, my enjoyment of the film leaves me feeling conflicted. In the days following, I read review after review criticising how it heightens prejudice towards the Middle East, and fails to address the political background to the US presence in Iraq, amongst other things. Kyle's success as a sniper also meant he became a poster boy for the gun lobby in America, and achieved something of a celebrity status when he returned home.

I'm left wondering why other films such as Platoon, The Hurt Locker, Full Metal Jacket, The Deerhunter, and Black Hawk Down didn't come in for the same kind of politically-based criticism, and I don't have any answers. 

Nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Film and Best Director.

20 Feet from Stardom

20 feet from stardom
This Oscar-nominated documentary is a fascinating look into the difference between being a successful 'background singer' and a fully fledged star, and both the frustrations and plaudits that come with it.

For some, like Darlene Love, they successfully made that short walk from the back to the foreground to become stars in their own right; but there were others like Merry Clayton who tried and failed to achieve the same success.

Lisa Fischer,  a powerhouse singer who features through the film, is considered by her peers to be 'the empress' of background singers.  Her vocal range and versatility means she's in demand from the likes The Rolling Stones, Sting and Tina Turner, but she seems to eschew stardom in favour of a more mellow life.  "I don't want to have to deal with being recognised in the street" she says, and appears to mean it.

20 Feet from Stardom has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and I really hope it wins. I watched it on Netflix and loved it. In fact I enjoyed it so much I watched it twice. 

Have you watched any of the films? What did you think? And which films do you recommend?

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Apple and walnut muffins

Apple and walnut muffins

What do you do if you fancy doing a bit of baking and have some walnuts and a couple of Bramley apples going spare?  You make apple and walnut muffins, and surely the apple goes towards your 5-a-day?

Makes 12
350g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small cubes
200g self-raising flour
110g light brown muscovado sugar
110g caster sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
100g chopped walnuts
225ml sunflower oil
3 medium eggs

Heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Line a 12-hole muffin tin.

Put the chopped apple into a pan with a splash of water and simmer for 5 minutes on a low heat until just starting to soften.  Leave to cool.

Put the flour, sugars, baking powder, spices and nuts into a large bowl and give a quick stir around to mix everything.  Make a well in the middle. 

Beat together the eggs and the oil and pour into the dry ingredients along with the cooked apple. Mix together to combine.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases leaving some room for the mixture to expand. Bake for 25-30 minutes until risen, golden and delicious.  Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea.