Entries in Christmas (47)


Gingerbread House Party with a little help from IKEA


It is Gingerbread house party time - one of my favourite days of the year.  We gather together - friends & family,  from baby to oldie - and we build gingerbread houses.  If youhaven't tried it yeat, I urge you to get started.

Head to Ikea to get a flatback gingerbread house kit, bring your people around your table and get creative.

 You need lots of coloured sweeties - jellys, chocolates, cola bottles, jelly teddies, chocolate fingers - the more sweets, edible sparkles and sprinkles you have the better.  Who knew that icecream waffers could become solar panels or jelly beans could become a choir singing outside the house.

The icing is easy - although its not recommended to eat it as it has raw eggs in it.  Use a mixer with a paddle beater to get air into the mixture, do not make your icing in a blender as it will not get to the required consistency.

You need lots of icing bags and spatulas to get the icing into the bag.  I find disposible bags the easiest to use.  

To make the icing - 

Icing: Stir 250 g icing sugar, 1 egg white and 5 ml lemon juice/vinegar to a smooth, quite thick paste. Apply with a piping bag (can be made out of parchment paper).

A choir of gummy bears singing carols outside the gingerbread house.


Folks get very competitive! Suddenly everyone wants to make the best house possible.

Look at how two brothers get creative differently.

 Children are so creative and making gingerbread houses is a time for them to be free, messy, wild and just enjoy going for it.

THere's such a sense of pride with the houses.

 There is a real sense of joy.  Ikea has packaged what the Swedes know about bringing people together, getting cosy, staying warm, and having fun together by building gingerbread houses.  Get yourself to Ikea and stock up on the houses then get your gang together between now and December 31 to build gingerbread houses.

Sean our judge gave prizes out to everyone who took part - at Christmas everyone is a winner.

Get your Gingerbread houses at Ikea, plan a get together and have fun enjoying your initate creativity.

Send us some of your Gingerbread House pictures, and we will share them.

Happy Christmas, 

That's it for now ...


Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable



Christmas Cheese, Port and Presents from Marks and Spencer

 Cheese and Christmas have two words ever been more synonymous.  This is the time of year to really enjoy rich and creamy cheeses.  Marks and Spencer as always have a wonderful selection.  I particularly like their Christmas gift box with an Apricot, Ginger and Sage chutney, some nutty crackers and four very good cheeses.  

 To this I added Cashel Blue, my favourite blue Irish Cheese - one that always satisfies whether a wedge on a cracker or a piece melting on the top of a steak.  It is smooth, creamy and rich.  

Cashel Blue is made at Beechmount a 200 acre farm in County Tipperary from grass-fed milk, it is a pure and perfect cheese.  And, has been one of Ireland's favourites for over 30 years.

The Marks and Spencer selection of cheeses include a Double Glouster, Gould's mature cheddar, a Shropshire Blacksticks blue and Raven's oak goat's cheese.

I serve my cheeses on a simple Donegal slate plate.


 This Cranberry, golden raisin, clementine and brandy stilton is sweet and smooth, a favourite with those who like their cheeses a little sweeter.

 It works well with the crunchy seeded crackers and a blob of apricot, sage and ginger chutney.

 Cheese Boards are instant meals or snacks.  Serve with chutney, lots of crackers and some smooth things to drink.

 Port and Cheese - that phrase brings back so many memories for me from my days in the little grey toon of St Andrews.  

Grahams "The Tawny" is a perfect present for a porter lover or one to serve with cheese.  It is light in colour with a warming rich flavour.  This deep, golden-amber port haa rich bouquet of orange peel, cinnamon and dried fruits, particularly raisins, prunes and figs. The palate fruity, with cherry flavours and a long, clean finish.


 I especially like its presentation box this is one for Uncle's, Papa's and Daddy's.  It is also great with Christmas Pudding at the end of Christmas Dinner.

 Marks and Spencer Rare Cream Sherry is a bit like drinking mince pies - sweet rich and luscious.  Aged in the unique Solera systems of old oak barrels, it is transformed into a wonderfully complex nutty fortified wine, which is blended with a little Pedro Ximez to add rich, raisin sweetness and luscious body.

 Santa in our house likes sweet sherry and mince pies - what does your santa like to nibble and drink when he visits to leave presents?

 Marks and Spencer all butter mince pies are moist and juicy with plump fruit in the filling, and a light, golden pastry casing.  Oh they are so good, when I was tasting Dad popped in and he said, 'I just keep eating these mince pies they are so tasty.'  A sure sign of success.

 Tea and Toast - is there any better comfort food.  I kid you not, tea and toast seems to cure all ills.  As Storm Barbara batters against my window the driving rain and pounding rain are making great swell for surfers which I can watch from my window.  I am snuggling down to tea and toast.  And, it is an idea for an original Christmas present - fresh baked bread from the artisan range at Marks and Spencer.  I choose Irish Wheatnen and the Pecan and Cranberry loaf, wrap them in a tea towel to allow the bread to breathe and give with some Irish Country Butter and Marks and Spencer sparkling prosecco apricot jam and runny Spanish honey with slices of orange.



 With a love for everything sparkly this conserve makes me think of warmer summer days because of its bright apricot flavour.


 Orange blossom honey from Spain is a realy treat, the thin pieces of orange peel bring a depth of flavour.


 A biscuit from a tin and a cup of tea, right there is another cure for ills.  There's not much a cup of tea and a biscuit can't help.  For 2017 get yourself a selection of teas from Marks and Spencer and this fabulous robin shortbread biscuit tin.  It will brighten the most deary January days.  And while you're at it buy one for friends as well - a great present for bird lovers, next door neighbours and friends in need of something comforting.

 Cranberry and dark chocolate jaffa cakes ... just lovely with a good cup of tea.

 While your buying your Christmas pudding buy two or three more and hand them into shelters or churches that are packing hampers, or have a food bank.  There are more food banks than ever before inthe UK and they really need us to supply them with great products.

This Marks and Spencer Australian Shiraz from the Limestone South Coast is a great one for sipping or giving. A rich Aussie Shiraz packed full of autumnal fruit flavours of apple and pear, and blackberry.  There are warm spicy pepper aromas over a voluptuous yet surprisingly elegant palate.  

I really love this Marks and Spencer Silver Frond vibrant dry Sauvignon that is bursting with ripe gooseberry flavours.  A herbal aromamatic nose with undertones of luscious fresh lime and crushed nettle palate, it is fun and sparkly perfect to liven up any Christmas dinner. It is from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, an area of sun-kissed vineyards set among pristine lakes, rivers and hills – a haven for the Sauvignon Blanc grape to grow. M&S winemaker Jeneve Williams made this wine with local winemaker Andrew Blake of Giesen, sourcing grapes from a number of prime vineyards to really show off the quality and clarity of the region’s fruit.  Grape Variety: 99% Sauvignon Blanc, 1% Pinot Gris

This Marks and Spencer Christmas cake is spicy,  with rich fruit flavours, brandy-laced and royal-iced with sparkling poinsettas.  It is a masterpiece for your table.  

 Matured for eight months, it is filled with port-soaked Vostizza currants that are grown in the mountains in the Aeghion region of Greece, in a microclimate and rich soil that help give them a distinct flavour, while the flame raisins are dried from extra sweet and juicy red grapes.  

 Serve it with a good cup of tea or a glass of Grahams Tawny Port.


Merry Christmas my friends, may your day be full of joy and laughter.

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable 


Virtually Instant Fondue

I like to keep things in the pantry and fridge at this time of year that allow me to put together a wonderful meal with ease.  Christmas is a time when people come calling or if you are anything like me you invite people 'come back to ours' after any event you are at - a carol service, closing time at the bar or a bracing walk on the beach.  Having people in my home seated around my table is one of my favourite things year in year out.  I will never tire of cooking for others.

At this for many the most wonderful time of year a simple Christmas Cheese Fondue is a delight.  You can make one from scratch using the fantastic Marks and Spencer range of cheeses or you can make a virtually instant one using this soft French Le Bon Grivois cheese from Marks and Spencer.  I have never known anyone to turn down fondue.

Make a light cross on the top of the cheese then bake in a hot oven, about 220' for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and gooey.

Serve with slices of crusty Northern Irish wheaten bread cut into fingers.  The sweet moist crumb of the bread with the running bubbling cheese.

Le Bon Grivois is a soft round cheese, made of raw milk, and it has a washed rind which is washed every couple of days with salt water. It is matured for three weeks on wooden spruce boards. Soft and unctuous without being too sharp, I love its taste with the nutty wheaten bread.

I always have a pot of soup ready to feed people at Christmas this year it is leek and potato.  I serve it with pieces of crispy black bacon scattered over the top.  Serve a bowl of soup with this Marks and Spencer Le Bon Grivois fondue and you have a delicious hearty and quick meal.

And of course  - with bread and cheese a glass of chilled Sauvigon Blanc always goes down a treat.  This Seaglass Californian sauvigon blanc from Marks and Spencer is fresh and its lemony sharpness cuts through the cheese.

Merry Christmas, that's it for now ...




Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Favourite Christmas Cheeses from Marks and Spencer

The three ladies were debating the merits of turkey curry, versus turkey stew for a Christmas Day evening party for 16 people.  The coment I kept hearing was 'I don't want to do much cooking. It is Christmas day, after all.'

I was absolutely exhasuted just listening to this conversation that seemed to go back and forth, without actually finding a resolution.

Trying to keep quiet at times like this is not my forte, especially when I have solutions that are elegant and easy; and involve lots of lovely cheese from Marks and Spencer.

These peppery breaded camembert when cooked until the insides are molten and bubbly ooze soft sweet cheese, that goes well with a cranberry port sauce.  They make an elegant starter, or a side dish; or even relaxed kitchen supper.  I serve mine with a chopped spinach salad, and Marks and Spencer red and black pepper mixed nuts.  The crunchy bite of the nut making a comfortable juxtaposition against the hot slippery cheese.

Cheeseboards are as verstile as they are stylish.  They can work for a wide range of occasions and feed lots of people well at once.  I always prefer a cheese plate at parties to dishes of canapes.  It is filling, works well for boys who always complain about the lack of proper food at a drinks party.  I have yet to hear boys or men complain when offered cheese.  This Marks and Spencer slate plate comes with four cheese from local British and French suppliers.  

I serve it with grapes and Marks and Spencer red black pepper nuts.  If you have to bring a well rounded cheeseboard with interesting cheeses - a mix of smoked Leicester, mature cheddar, camembert and a blacksticks blue.

When I travel I always take note of ideas and whys and ways with food, I think will come in handy at a later date.  Such as a cheese board served in cubes of cheese.  I first tried this at an Art Gallery in Oakville, just outside Toronto.  Several types of cheese had been cut into cubes and then served with cocktail sticks for people to help themselves with a range of chutneys, crackers and little pieces of meat. 

A genuis idea that I quickly adopted to great success - because when you serve cheese like this, you have a) an idea how much you need to serve roughly 4-7 cubes per person, b) it is easy for the guest to help themselves to some cheese, without having to cut it, getting the knife stuck or leaving the plate looking messy.

It is always good to leave the cheese plate looking lovely for the person who comes behind you.  

Another way to serve cheese, is melted and oozing.  Bake camenbert is one of my favourite ways to serve this particular type of cheese, and it makes an instant fondue.  I even have a ittle camenbert bowl to bake the cheese in.  The Marks and Spencer French Camenbert is silkly smooth and perfectly ripe at the moment.  If you don't have a dish you can bake it in a small roasting tin with a foil lid.  

To prepare for baking unwrap the cheese, then pierce some holes in the top grate with a microplane grater a clove of garlic over the top, press into the cheese.  Then add a couple of teaspoons of white wine.  Bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and really runny.

Serve with a range of unsalted nuts and crackers, or Marks and Spencer cheese crisp bites.  I particularly like the rosemary and pistachio ones.

 Whenever you have to serve lots of people I always think it is a good idea to opt for an indoors table picnic.  Plates laden with cheeses, pate, parnsip crisps,nuts,chutneys and black grapes. 

 Serve these with a range of Marks and Spencer crackers or sliced bakery breads.


 Marks and Spencer cheese and biscuits or crackers, with a bottle of something fruity always make a welcome hostess present or actual Christmas present.

 I love giving these waxed shaped cheddars which come in a range of flavours like balsamic pickled onion, cranberry and blueberry.  The cheese is tangy and sour with a rounding sweet note on the palate.  Cheese for Americans who don;t like flavoursome cheeses, this is not.


 Do you love mulled wine?  I do enjoy it but I have a confusion to make, I don't love it.  I find it too full bodied and heavy when heated.  And, unless it is well made it is usually rocket fuel as opposed to drinkable glugg.  Enter Marks and Spencer Rose wine - for any of you who preper a lighter mull this rose is absolutely delightful.  Ripe, fruity sweet but not sugary, zingy without being sour.  It refreshes and cleanses the palate.

 There is nothing like a glass of port at Christmas - whether you drink it and eat cheese at the same time is up to you.  There are lots of schools of thought on this, I suggest you do what your tastebuds enjoy.

Mix this fruity beauty with blood-orange juice, some clementine juice and Marks and Spencer citrus-flavoured vodka and fresh lime juice to make a punch - serve it in a bowl with big glass cups.  Or pour into champage, or over chocolate ice cream, or simply sip slowly.

A bottle of red wine is always a welcome present.  Marks and Spencer have a really good range of wines on the High Street.  Such as this Grenache shiraz mourvèdre from Australia.  The Marananga Dam Grenache Shiraz Mourvédre has a vintage of 2012 and is a wonderfully rich, spicy red with heart-warming flavours of ripe plums, mocha and black pepper.  For this exclusive blend, renowned winemaker David Powell used fruit from 50 year old vines, blending rich Grenache with peppery Shiraz and savoury Mouvedre. He then matured the wine for 18 months in French oak barrels for added complexity

Merry Christmas everyone,

That's it for now ...



Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable




Drinks to snuggle with

How are you feeling?

Do you ask yourself that much?  Especially at this time of year when life seems to take on a speed of its own.  Our legs turn like wheels on a car speeding downhill and not really looking like it is going to stop. Christmas is many things, but there are also many things about it that just aren't good for us.  They are far from healthy.  That is why I think it is essential to chose to take some time out, have a snuggle.  Cuddle a loved one, read a book.  Lie by the fire doing nothing at all, stroke the dog.  None of these things require something to sip, but they are all better with a refreshing drink.

This Christmas week take some time out to chillax, to just be.  To come in from the cold, enjoy the lights and wrap your hands around a warm or cool glass of something soothing.  Whatever you are looking for alcoholic or not, Marks and Spencer have something delicious on offer.  If you are having a drink then something to nibble from a lovely tin is a great match.  

Marks and Spencer Robin tailed shortbread tins are filled with rounds of Scottish shortbread that is crisp, buttery and morish.  The tin is very pretty and would work well for those long Christmas car journeys that we all embark on.  My Great Aunt and Uncle used to always keep a tin of Marks and Spencer short bread in the car.  Their reasoning - you never know when you might need something to nibble.

Marks and Spencer Mulled punch is a non-alcoholic alternative to Mulled wine, it is smooth and rich.  I warm it on the Aga with a cinnamon stick, a crushed green cardamon pod, some cranberries and slices of orange. Marks and Spencer Mulled Punch which is made in Co Tipperary in Ireland has been appearing on my table every Christmas for several years.  It is the perfect warming drink to serve guests who come in out of the cold, its mix is subtle not overpowering, mixing orange, cinnamon, apple and cloves.  It can be served warm or cold, and topped up with alcohol should that be your tipple - rum, and a mild Irish Whiskey are great places to start.

I like to serve the punch warm with pieces of Marks and Spencer shortbread.  I might even break the shortbread into pieces and dip it into the punch.

Marks and Spencer have a range of creamy alcohol drinks all made in Northern Ireland, just around the corner from me.  The Salt and Sparkle favourites are Honeycomb Cream and Chocolate Yule Log Cream.  The Chocolate Yule Log Cream is a blend of alcohol, fresh dairy cream and chocolate flavouring.  Serve with lots of ice, as usual we mean at least a glass full, to really allow the tantalising flavours of cream and chocolate to shine through.  This is a great drink to sip while watching a film, snuggling with a loved one in bed, or at the end of dinner instead of pudding.  


However, if you want to double up the chocolate experience, look no further than the Mark and Spencer Chocolate Christmas Yule Log. It is rather decadent and divine. An airlight chocolate mosit springy sponge, with thick, buttery chocolate icing.  It has a great deep sweet chocolate taste and it is light enough to serve at the end of dinner as dessert.  Bring one of these out at the end of Christmas dinner if Plum pudding is your bag and enjoy.

And, for those of  you that just want to drink coffee.  Really good coffee, these bright red packets of Christmas Coffee from Marks and Spencer.  This is the coffee that makes the stresses and strains of the season just ease away.  So chose to stop just for a moment and relax and chat over a cup of rich, silky smooth coffee.  Marks and Spencer Christmas Coffee is rich, chocolately and very warming, it makes a great base for an Irish coffee with a twist - instead of whiskey, make the coffee using Marks and Spencer Yule Log Cream. 


Whatever you are drinking this Christmas - I hope you have a JOYFUL time.

Merry Christmas,

That's it for now ...


Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable



Christmas one of my favourite times of year.  The season when we can bring people together to be jolly. It's a mandatory part of the Holidays, didn't you know?  Having fun, choosing joy, laughing and of course, building Gingerbread Houses.

Each year we host a #GingerbreadHouseParty were around our table young and old, babe and Grandparent, Mums, Dads, and Aunties gather to turn Ikea's flatpack Gingerbread Houses into creations of fun and beauty.

Sugar, gingerbread, sweets, sweets and more sweets.  What could possibly happen but fun and laughter?  I love having people round my table whether we are creating or eating together, the secret is bringing them around the table and chosing to have fun.  To say, sure there will be a big mess, but nothing that everyone can't tidy up, and the mess, is always worth the fun, because messes aren't remembered.  Great times with flatpack Gingerbread Houses from Ikea are.


It never fails to amaze me how each person with the same basic ingredients a flat pack gingerbread house, icing, sweeties and lots of sprinkles, can create houses of such colour and fun.  All different, all made with love and care, all asking us to engage for a while with our creative.  Our innate creativity.

The smiles and giggles from the children as well as the adults cause me to smile, time and time again, when I look at the photographs and remember how much job everyone had together.

Making gingerbread houses is serious business - its sticky, funny and entertaining.  This is real life at Christmas and it is good.

People together laughing.  Proud of what they created.  Sharing moments of joy.

Feeling excited about what has been built from the ground up.


Having a sense of achievement when the houses are completed - this is my masterpiece.  Look what I made, a gingerbread house.

Placing everyone's houses together creates a Gingerbread House Village.

Sprinkles and candy, sugar and snacks - can there ever be enough glitter?




Christmas is a time for joy and laughter, and sweet memories everafter.  I'd love to encourage you all my lovely readers to build a gingerbread house this year, and tweet/instagram the pictures.  I would just love to see your creations.

Memories are all the tiny moments of our life.  The times we chose to get together and huddle, to create and made room for fun.  These gingerbread houses all win prizes because they are all innate expressions of creativity.  We are not after perfect instagram moments of life, because those moments are curated and exaggarerated, they aren't real.  We are after fun and joy.  Choosing Christmas as a time to come together, to spend time with one and other, and of course to eat a little bit of sugar, not a lot, a little.

Ikea have a great range of sweets from pick n mix, to chocolates, jelly strings to snowmen marshmallows.  To have a gingerbread house party, gather sweets, lots of little colourful sweets, some flat pack gingerbread houses, make some icing, bring in the candy canes, and build your house, then decorate with sweets.

Go on - create a Gingerbread Village - have a Gingerbread House Party with a little help from Ikea.

Can't wait to see your gingerbread houses - #gingerbreadhouseparty

That's it for now,


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


Sloe Gin

We'd meet on Rose Lane.  She would already be coming out the door as I would arrive.  Cashmere scarf and beanie hat trailing behind her.  Although smaller than me, her stride was quicker.  It didn't take long to get to the bar.  We were there for our ritual, 'last orders'.  That one drink before bed, and a bit of chatter between friends after an evening of hitting the books.  Her reading up on art history, me examining the creation of the modern Middle East.  Our noses clear and heads free, the books were away until the early call of study the next morning.  

We would take it in turns to order a drink - usually only one, as we arrived about 10 minutes before last orders. Although if someone bought us another one we would drink it.  Or if an after party was mentioned we usually went.  In front of the fire, without a fireplace, in one of the most minimalist buildings in Scotland she sipped white wine, I allowed the syrupy smoothness of sloe gin to slip down.  My love affair with last order drinks has long since gone, but my love for sloe gin has remained.

This year a freezer power cut meant my hand picked sloes had to be thrown away before the gin could be made, so I was looking for alternatives.  Luckily for me Marks and Spencer have a very drinkable Sloe Gin, made in France, on their shelves.

Marks and Spencer sloe gin is infused with sloes, juniper, coriander, lemon & orange peel, angelica, orris root and fennel seeds. 

I like to serve sloe gin without mixer, over ice, with a sprig of rosemary, and a slice of clementine studded with a clove.  It is the drink of friends, one to be shared with laughter in front of a glowing peat fire.  

When you serve drinks it is always important to have good nibbles, luckily Marks and Spencer have a great range of those as well.  The Parsnip, pancetta and maple chips have just the right amount of salty sweetness. Buy two or three bags as it won't take long to eat them.

Or if you are looking for something sweet, serve them with these handmade mince pies which are made in Magherafelt in Northern Ireland especially for Marks and Spencer.  These are without doubt the best Mince pies in the world ever ever ever ever EVER.  You just won't find a better one for sale.  I love the mini one's they look elegant and are the right size to eat more than one and not feel guilty when you do.  Marks and Spencer support of local producers in Ireland is very important to us at Salt and Sparkle.

How do you like to drink your Christmas gin?  This sloe gin from Marks and Spencer makes a heady addition to a glass of prosecco, or champers.

This Gin makes a welcome hostess gift, and is just that little bit chicer than a bottle of wine.

Merry Christmas

That's it for now ...


Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable