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My Christmas Chocolate Treats

Divine chocolateWe love chocolate. Not the sweet, cloying stuff you can buy in big bars, made using all kinds of ingredients and added chemicals.

Oh no. We love dark, dark chocolate often referred to by is percentage cocoa solids. One such is the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Orange. Suitable for vegetarians and carrying the Kosher mark, it is available in Sainsburys nationwide and online £1.69.

Divine chocolate is only made with the best Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a coopertive of smallholder farmers in Ghana. Many of you will know all about Divine chocolate, but have you noticed the brand new Christmas gift boxes – dark chocolate disks with mint, and dark chocolate with raspberry.Divine gift sets

The raspberry taste is really fantastic, the aroma is enticing and the taste confirms your wise decision to eat it!

All the chocolate is free from artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings.

Available from Waitrose, Booths, Liberty of London and Oxfam. RRP £4.50

Divine Chocolate barsThe other Divine chocolate allowed in the house – not much is because we just eat it until it has gone and then we feel rather guilty – is the 70% Dark Chocolate Covered Salted Fudge. This is a serious grown-up fudge, you experience a mouthful of delightful textures and tastes. Like no other fudge we have ever come across, we will have a secret stock … Only offered to those who really appreciate unusual, top quality confectionary!

Read all about the Divine range on their website where you will find recipes for cooking with chocolate … They have a shop on line as well.

Val Reynolds, Editor

The Best of Christmas Spirits

A little of what you fancy does you good, with the emphasis on little, we were intrigued with the Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Pack. This little box contains tangy aromatic bitters with hints to cinnamon, cardamom, anise and cloves, gingerbread aromas perfectly suited to drinks based on spirits like Whisky, Rum, Brancy and Tequila. We made up several cocktails Manhattan Cocktail, Dry Martini Coctail, Brandy Cocktail, Bloody Mary and Old Fashioned Cocktail. All went down a treat with no particular favourite emerging … After trying all five! It was fun making up these wellknown cocktails and kept us entertained for an evening. These bitters come in a neat metal container, ideal if you want to make and enjoy your own cocktails when away without paying what are sometimes extortionate prices. Unusual liqueurs are also available to liven up things: Apricot Liqueur, Pimento Dram, Violet Liqueur for instance and of course Sloe Gin with tonic. Have you ever tried Sloe Gin with champagne? Do try it, lovely on a hot summer’s afternoon. More information and cocktail recipes on the website.

We also came across Abelha Organic Cachaça, a very unusual spirit made from fresh sugar cane with no pesticides nor artificial fertilisers, fermented with natural yeasts, and aged in native ash barrels. Find out more about this most unusual spirit from Brazil on

While on the subject of the unusual, we have been trying Harveys Bristol Cream served over ice with a slice of orange. Rather good, and then, for the purpose of making sure Aunt Aggie is fully catered for, we have tried drizzling Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez 30 y.o. over creamy vanilla ice cream. This is just fantastic. With any luck you might have some over for Boxing Day … Although we have the suspicion that it won’t last. It was absolutely fab. Do try some. There are more suggestions and cocktail tips on the Harveys website

And finally we tried a Funkin Mixer – Strawberry Woo Woo with a shot of vodka. This was so well received we had to fight off the staff. One swig and they were hooked! We had to promise to get some for our office get together on Friday. When we found the order line we were hard pressed to choose which ones, in the end we chose a Party Pack so everyone will be happy – especially on Friday.

Wishing you good fun with your Festive Spirits!

Val Reynolds Brown


Puppy Problems Solved 6: Winnie learns about children

Winnie listening to Claire

Winnie listening to Claire

Winnie’s Woes – written from Winnie’s point of view

This is a nice walk, I’ve never been this way before. It was nice to be able to walk straight here from our house, it’s quite a long way but I like lots of exercise.

Where’s Claire – oh there she is. I’d better not wander off too far

Oh wait, is that people over there?  I’ll just charge over and take a look.

Hello hello!  I’m Winnie, I love people. Would you like to say hello to me? Look, I’m doing my cutest face! Read more »


We love our woodburning stove

Woodburning stove

Woodburning stove

Having a wood burning stove has made the difference between a warmish room to a toasty one. We have been using oak offcuts from a local wood yard which are excellent, but as we get older we have begun to wonder whether we should install a gas fire – not less expensive but cleaner and immediate.

However, we heard of wood briquettes that are light to handle, come packaged ready to burn, sourced from virgin timber and have no additives of any kind included within the manufacturing process. All positive so far.

We tried them and they do light easily, are suitable for our multi fuel stove, open fireplaces and even log burners. They produce little ash, are low in moisture and give a very intense heat. Each briquette weighs about 1.6/7 kg. We were very impressed. We intend to stock up for next year just as soon as our woodstore becomes empty.

Have a look at their website for more interesting information and what other users have to say

We found this interesting rhyme that gives the burning characteristics of different firewoods:

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year;
Chestnut only good, they say
If for long it’s laid away
Make a fire of Elder tree
Death within your house shall be
But Ash new or Ash old
Is fit for Queen with crown of gold

Birch and Fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread
Elmwood burns like churchyard mould –
E’en the very flames are cold
But Ash green or Ash brown
Is fit for Queen with golden crown

Poplar gives a bitter smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense-like perfume
Oaken logs, if dry and old
Keep away the winter’s cold
But Ash wet or Ash dry
A King shall warm his slippers by

Published in The Times, March 1929

Val Reynolds, Editor


Christmas Shopping Expeditions – Favourite Revival Stops!

Oxford Street, London

Oxford Street, London

Shopping for Christmas presents is exhausting* and shopping in London is even worse! So we always make it a rule to go somewhere super for lunch, or failing that, afternoon tea.

On our first Christmas shopping this year we decided on Wagamama in Lexington Street for lunch.

Why? Well we knew they had a new season’s menu and it was close to our favourite shopping areas – Oxford Circus and Soho. Also the food is consistently good according to my companion, who knew from experience Wagamama always gives great value for money and an authentic menu.

As it was the first time visit for me I relied on my companion to guide me through the menu which was overwhelming in length and range. However with the helpful glossary and my companion’s guidance things became somewhat clearer.

From the new season’s menu I chose apple and lime pork ribs, Yasai gyoza – five deep fried vegetable dumplings with sweet ginger soy dipping sauce as sides, and Teriyaki chicken donburi – grilled juicy chicken glazed with orange, teriyaki sauce, sticky white rice, with thinly sliced carrots, pea shoots, spring onions and sesame seeds as my main course.

We asked for a glass of wine to go with our meal and the New Zealand Yealands Estate sauvignon blanc was an excellent choice. We shared a very very nice white chocolate and ginger cheesecake, but not the plum wine! Deceptively light with a scented, floral sweet taste it was very alcoholic!

You will find menus for each Wagamama restaurant  on the Wagamama website. First find the restaurant you would like to visit and then find the current menu available. As a possible guide to a newcomer the most popular main dish is chicken, rice, curry, Yaki soba, Sides: chicken gozo and chilli squids.

Wagamama seating

Wagamama seating

I liked the clean, streamlined seating arrangement where you feel part of a large table – which takes 24 – but it is so arranged that there is a gap beween each six, so you are well separated, no feeling of being cramped. A bench under the table for coats, bags etc adds to the clean uncluttered decorative style. Being rather short I would have liked a bar to rest my feet on, but that’s a minor point. Image

As the restaurant filled up, it was a Tuesday lunchtime, the noise level rose bouncing off the walls and ceiling. I wondered how easy it would be to reduce the level of noise with noise absorbing ceiling and wall decorations.

*We heard of some recent research by The Sanctuary Spa into the nation’s festive shopping habits that showed the average Brit will walk more than a marathon whilst looking for gifts for loved ones with an average of 30 miles covered per Christmas shopper.

Phew, I’m sure we didn’t walk that far but our next shopping outing was in the Victoria area, too far away to drop by The Sanctuary Spa, although I heard they have some lovely gifts on offer, so we plumped for the Caxton Grill and Bar at St Ermin’s Hotel to have some much needed rest and restorative nibbles.

Why? The bar has a certain romance of espionage and mystery … It was the haunt of the Cambridge Five spies, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. Now just reopened after a massive restoration and redesign it is a beautiful, relaxing and calm oasis to retreat to.

We did have a glass a champagne to start us off – only to distract us from our aching feet and insipient headaches you understand, followed by some heavenly canapes, some beautiful savoury sandwiches, and something divine named Fish and Chip – a piece of fish and one thick chip, cooked as one in batter. Oh dear, my mouth is watering at the memory.

Fish and Chip, Caxton Grill & Bar

Fish and Chip, Caxton Grill & Bar

Suitably refreshed, the loos were top notch, we left on a high, resolving to go for lunch sometime very, very soon or even Afternoon Tea in the Library

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Tear Aid – a lifeline for harassed parents

This product is a bit like turkish delight, full of promise and seemingly a godsend for parents with children when urgent reliable repairs to equipment, toys and ‘stuff’ are needed. Probably most useful during the summer months when kids are outdoors using playthings, now is a good time to stock up.

Tear-Aid is a transparent, water- and airtight patch which can instantly and permanently repair tears or holes in paddling pools, lilos, sun shades and even bicycle inner tubes. Between them they can fix tears in almost anything – from tents to beach toys to space hoppers! The patches are quick and easy to use – simply cut to size, peel and stick with no glue or mess.  Each repair can last for years, saving you money on costly replacements and keeping the kids entertained all through the summer.

There are two types available – an all-purpose fabric patch and another designed specifically for vinyl products. Tear Aid patches are made from exceptionally tough, matt, abrasion resistant material that resists punctures and tearing.  It is designed to provide a strength to a variety of surfaces such as canvas, leather, rubber, nylon, most plastics, paints, aluminium, stainless steel, fibreglass, polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl and vinyl coated.

Tear Aid type A (fabrics) and Tear Aid type B (vinyls) provide a simple and easy method of patching holes and tears as well as an excellent protective film solution.

An ideal stocking/tree present.

For more information or to buy, visit call sales on 01889 270 663.

Katie Goodshaw, harassed parent and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine


Great Railway Maps of the World

A colourful and beautifully realised book that details different railway maps, past and present, from around the world.  The scale of the reproductions limits the use of the book as a reference work – some of the maps can only be interpreted with high magnification – but its true worth lies in its artistic presentation of the varying styles adopted in mapping railway systems.

The accompanying text is clear and comfortingly non-specialist, and the book is enriched by the inclusion of advertising poster images commissioned by railway companies.

The book also tries to show in several cases how railway systems have shrunk – USA and the United Kingdom being familiar examples – and also how developing countries have grown their networks.  The book uses these as examples only, for its aim is not to provide a comprehensive history of the railways of the world.   What it does do, in its 138 pages, is to show how the functional railway could make striking use of art and design in proclaiming its identity and in marketing its services.

Author: Mark Ovenden      Publisher: Particular Books        ISBN: 978 1 84614 392 5

Reviewed by Les Tucker, contributing author
Les enjoyed a teaching career in Further and Higher Education, moving from English to leading a Drama and Performing Arts Department. He studied Spanish History at University and still lists History as one of his main interests. He has never stopped being a trainspotter and wears his anorak with pride. His other sources of pleasure, if not profit, are the Turf, the British brewing industry and experimental theatre. Les is a scriptwriter and drama examiner. He describes himself as an omnivore where books are concerned.

A history of the World in 100 Objects

Oh yes, this is dip in reading for at least a year!  With 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger it would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history.

The BBC wanted a series of talks about historical objects that previous civilisations have left behind them, often accidentally, as prisms through which we can explore past worlds and the lives of the men and women who lived in them. They collaborated with the British Museum and the chosen range of objects is enormous. Those talks were broadcast on Radio 4 and are still available via the web where you will also find a list of the objects, access to the programmes and other related and relevant information. Each day shows a different object.

In the book Neil MacGregor shows us the significance of each object, how a stone pillar tells us about a great Indian emperor preaching tolerance to his people, how Spanish pieces of eight tell us about the beginning of a global currency, or how an early Victorian tea set tells us about the impact of empire.

Polished stone axe made from jadeite quarried in the Italian Alps found in Canterbury © Trustees of the British Museum

Polished stone axe made from jadeite quarried in the Italian Alps found in Canterbury © Trustees of the British Museum

Each immerses you the reader in a past civilisation accompanied by an exceptionally well informed guide.

This is truly a feast of information, well written, easy to assimilate and most memorable.

It is a family book too, not just for dad. I’m sure many a pupil will find the book a very good source of reference. It is a triumph of planning and dissemination.

Reviewed by Bob Beaney, social observer and guest contributor


Great Gifts – Garden Tools

Christmas is a good time to make reference to those gifts you would really like to receive! Here are some Fiskar gardening tools we have tried this year and recommend highly.

Fiskars X17 Splitting/Felling Axe  £59.99

600 mm long this is a beautifully made axe, well balanced, a nice weight and with a hand stop at the end – important for a good, accurate swing. The shaft itself has an anti-shock soft grip. The shaft is fibreglass with a good feel and easily cleaned. The blade is mortised into a tenon joint in the fibre glass shaft. The blade itself is double hardened and has an excellent safety cover with a carrying handle, or can be hung from a loop passed through to the eyelet at the end of the shaft. The fibreglass design eliminates the weakness of the older style hickory-shafted axes, where the blades becoming loose have the obvious danger of flying heads.

Fiskars X5 Trekking/Camping Axe  £39.99

A light fibreglass shafted hand-axe, ideal for chopping firewood – wish I had the use of one of these when I was in the Scouts! It will do well for chopping brushwood in the garden too. Light, it is easily kept in the back pack. Comes with a neat safety cover and is easily hung up using the loophole at the end.

Fiskars Patio Broom £19.99

This broom head is absolutely excellent. The bristles are tough enough to get out weeds from between our paving slabs and does an excellent job when collecting leaves. With its QuikFit handle which you can use for other tools, it means less space is taken up in the shed and few handles to trip over! Be sure to choose the right length of handle/shaft £18.99  for you, there are several to choose from. It might be best to buy at a garden centre than on the web.

Fiskars Trowel £8.99

Fiskars Trowel £8.99

I was intrigued by the novel appearance of this trowel, and then sceptical.  Familiar only with the metal variety, I felt sure that the lack of a metal cutting edge doomed it to failure, but I was pleasantly surprised. It performed very well in the extremely dry soil of my garden this summer, and has continued to be perfectly satisfactory so far this autumn, but due to the continuing lack of serious rainfall I haven’t been able to test it in genuinely wet, heavy soil.

Perversely, one of its good points is also a weakness. It weighs almost nothing, which has led me to forget its presence several times and throw it into the compost heap. I think it would benefit from being produced in a brighter colour as at the moment it’s only too easy to lose if it’s lying on the ground, or in a heap of weeds. (A red ribbon fed through the hanging hole would work (Ed)).

So, it’s Fiskars for us this year and for some of our friends in 2012!

Reviewed by John Reynolds, Katie Longland & Janet Hamer, contributing authors


Indoor Kitchen Waste Composter using Bokashi Bran

Bokashi bran

Bokashi bran

Who would have thought a handful of bran added to kitchen waste would provide a drain cleaning fluid/a high nutrient feed for plants – and a starter for some excellent compost.

Of course any old bran won’t have the same effect. It has to be Bokashi, a bran based material prepared with mixed culture of naturally occurring friendly micro-organisms. The waste then ferments, allowing it to be safely composted.

Wiggly Wigglers sells a bucket designed to work with the Bokashi bran. They will also regularly supply a 1 kg pack of bran that will last 3-4 months.

Bokashi bran multi order logo

Bokashi bran multi order logo

We have tried this composting system and found it worked well, so much so we have bought another bucket to allow a couple of weeks for a full up bucket to mature while a second one starts to fill up.

The bucket is easy to lift and carry, we keep ours in a kitchen cupboard and once filled we take it in the garage for a couple of weeks to mature and then into the compost bins where it will decompose rapidly. Once the compost bins are full we will dig the Bokashi fermented waste into the garden where it would also decompose rapidly, releasing large quantities of soil boosting probiotic micro-organisms which nourish the soil naturally.

Bokashi bucket in our kitchen cupboard

Bokashi bucket in our kitchen cupboard

Is it all good? Well, we did find assembling the tap device rather tricky but after a bit of a fiddle we managed it.

The tap could be longer so it could hang over a work surface to collect the fluid that builds up over time into a bigger container that the little cup provided. This fluid is the super stuff that can be used as a drain cleaner or more often used as a high nutrient plant food. In the summer we put oursinto one of the water butts where a leaky hose fed the front garden … It made an amazing difference.

Our front garden plants loved the Bokashi fluid

We like the ease of use, the small space it takes up, having it in the kitchen where we can top it up without any bother and the absence of any smell and amazingly it takes everything bio-degradable including bones, meat, and fish skins!

Available direct from Wiggly Wigglers

Have you seen the Wiggly Wigglers Christmas catalogue?  We love the apple corer and peeler – 15 seconds an apple! More

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