A Strong Coffee

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Are Purple Bricks Any Good? My Thoughts About Online Estate Agents.

If you are thinking about moving house this year you may be wondering whether Purple Bricks are any good. Or any online estate agent come to that matter. If like me, you don't trust an estate agent as far as you could throw them, then the appeal of essentially selling your house online, is tempting.

Photo Credit: Jamie Whiffen from Unsplash

I am basing this post on Purple Bricks as that was the online company we chose to use last May. The concept is simple. You pay the estate agent to take photographs of your house and put them on Right Move. It is an upfront cost that you won't get back. You can pay extra if you would like the estate agent to do the viewings. Once your house is online then people that want to view can book an appointment with you through the website.

I would say that the valuation with Purple Bricks was realistic. They weren't trying to add on 25K like some of the standard agents that we had to value our property. The photographs were OK but not amazing. We chose to do the viewings ourself. One of the biggest problems we faced was that there were a lot of people wanting to view the house who weren't in a position to buy. This is annoying at the best of times but when you are trying to keep a family house "viewing ready" it is really hard. We had a big influx of viewings in the first few weeks and then a steady flow for the next month.

The fact that viewings can be whenever is convenient can be a good thing. However, you will find that some people will book a viewing at 10pm Friday evening, wanting to come the following morning. If you try and rearrange they often aren't interested which means they often aren't serious buyers in the first place.

We then had an offer which we accepted. Your estate agent with help with negotiating a price if you ask them to. All in all the process was simple and if the sale had gone through we could have saved thousands.

Unfortunately Brexit then happened. Our buyers lost their first time buyer. The chain broke. And the climate changed a lot. We put the house back on with Purple Bricks at the end of August. We had a couple of viewings from people that weren't in a position to buy and that was it. Tumbleweed. Whilst Purple Bricks had been fine to list with when the housing market was moving, it wasn't the right place for us post Brexit.

We eventually moved to a standard estate agent and although it was quiet, they did get people in a position to buy through the door and we are now SSTC again. Fingers crossed that this time it all goes through.

So would I recommend Purple Bricks? It's a hard one. If the housing market is moving, if your house is in reasonable condition and if you don't mind losing the fee then I guess it is worth a go. You could save thousands. However, if you want to sell quickly and if the housing market is slow then it is probably best not to.

Have you sold with an online estate agent? Would you recommend them?
Family Fever

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Red Velvet Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting For Valentine's Day

These red velvet cupcakes are the perfect Valentine's Day treat if you are like me and don't like buying presents but do like an excuse to eat cake.

red velvet cupcake with a bite taken out of it

These cupcakes are actually gluten free as I have been trying out the Free From Fairy Plain Flour. I gave them to the boys and they just exclaimed how nice they were, so clearly don't taste any different to normal.

adding frosting to red velvet cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 6 cupcakes

For the cupcakes
  • 40g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • Red food gel (I actually used Colour splash raspberry colour)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 oz plain flour (I used Free From Fairy Plain Flour)
  • 1 dessert spoon of cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp milk

For the frosting
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 75g cream cheese
  • To decorate I used some heart sprinkles and freeze dried strawberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. 
  2. Mix all the cake ingredients together. Add enough food colouring to give a nice red colour. The mixture will be lighter if you use a food mixer rather than doing it by hand.
  3. Divide the mixture between 6 cupcake cases.
  4. Bake until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool before adding the frosting.
  5. To make the cream cheese frosting mix the icing sugar, butter and cream cheese together using an electric whisk.
  6. Pipe this onto each cupcake and add freeze dried strawberries and heart sprinkles on top.
red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Perfect for the love of your life this Valentine's Day or as a special treat any day!
Do you do anything special for Valentine's Day?

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Red velvet cupcakes with cheese cream frosting. Using gluten free flour and topped with freeze dried strawberries and strawberry hearts

Hijacked By Twins

 Linked to #bakeoftheweek

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Lava Flow Cocktails - A Pina Colada with a twist

With the cold and wintry weather this past week, I have been reminiscing about sipping a lava flow cocktail at the base of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. I have had a look online at the various recipes and decided to make one similar to which I was served. Essentially it is a pina colada with strawberry at the bottom which flows up the glass giving a lava effect.

lava flow cocktail

Here is a picture of me enjoying one in the sun at the bottom of Arenal Volcano. Often the strawberry part at the bottom is the bit where the alcohol is so a bit of a mix when drinking it is a good idea.

I decided to make mine using frozen fruits as then I didn't need to use ice. I also made these at 10am on a Saturday morning so missed out the rum. This did, however, mean middle man could enjoy them with me and he was very happy with the taste. I think he also liked the tiny umbrellas! 

Lava Flow Cocktails (Or Mocktails)

Serves 2 large glasses

  • 1 cup of frozen strawberries
  • 1tbsp grenadine syrup
  • coconut milk
  • 1 cup frozen pineapple
  • pineapple juice
  • Bacardi rum if making cocktails
  1. Add 1 cup of frozen strawberries, 1tbsp grenadine syrup, 1/2 cup of coconut milk and two shots of rum (optional) to a blender and mix until smooth. 
  2. Pour this into the bottom of two tall glasses.
  3. Wash out the blender and add 1 cup of frozen pineapple, 2 cups of coconut milk and two cups of pineapple juice.
  4. Blend until smooth and pour on top of the strawberries.
  5. Sit back, relax and dream of warm climates and fun in the sun.

Do you have a favourite cocktail from your travels?

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These lava flow cocktails are a pina colada with strawberries at the bottom of the glass that rises up the cocktail/mocktail

Monday, 9 January 2017

Butternut Squash and Parma Ham Squeak From The Body Bible

This butternut squash and parma ham squeak is the first recipe I have tried from The Body Bible from Clean Eating Alice. I saw the book on offer in Sainsbury's and liked the idea that the recipes are simple and easy to prepare. One of the hardest things I find about healthy eating is the preparation time, so simple recipes are key for me.

Butternut Squash and Parma Ham Squeak From The Body Bible
Excuse the not so great photo, but it was my lunch and I really just wanted to eat it!
I will write a full review of the book once I have tried some more of the recipes but after trying this for lunch, I am keen to try some more.

The key to the book is firstly it is not a diet, it is a lifestyle change. Secondly, use coconut oil to cook with. And finally, that you should enjoy what you eat. I am all for that! There are also some exercises at the end of the book which are recommended you do alongside the recipes. This isn't for me, but I am pretty sure that following it alongside the recipes would give you some great results.

I made a couple of tiny tweaks to the recipe to fit the ingredients I had. To be honest I would have used frozen butternut squash if it had been in stock as I find preparing them extremely time consuming. I also couldn't work out from the recipe whether the parma ham was meant to be in the squeak or not. (I think that for photographic purposes it wasn't as it looked prettier but the recipe suggested it was.) I therefore went with my instinct and put it in. I also made the odd tweak to fit the ingredients I had. As it has quite a delicate flavour, I think it would also work well on top of the squeak, uncooked, rather than in it. Here is the recipe I made which I made above.

Butternut Squash and Parma Ham Squeak Adapted From The Body Bible

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 a small red chilli
  • 3 slices of Parma ham
  • 2 eggs
  • Coconut oil
  1. Peel and chop a butternut squash into cubes. Place in a microwave steamer for 15 mins with a tablespoon of water.
  2. Chop a small red onion and half a red chilli. Fry these along with the parma ham in a small amount of coconut oil.
  3. Mash the butternut squash and add in the onions, chilli and ham.
  4. Fry this mixture in a small amount of coconut oil.
  5. Top with 2 fried eggs. (There are two in this, but one broke and is underneath!)

This recipe is listed as a breakfast, brunch or lunch idea. Personally I only think I could manage a meal like this for breakfast at the weekend and it is more of a lunch idea for me. I am really excited to try some more of the clean eating ideas. If you are interested in buying the book, it is currently £7.49 in Sainsbury's and can also be found on Amazon. Have you tried clean eating recipes? Are there any other books you would recommend?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

4 Ingredient Raspberry Brulee

This 4 ingredient raspberry brulee is so easy to make and tastes delicious. It is great for a dinner party as it can be made in advance and my boys love it.

I guess you could pop them under a really hot grill if you don't own a blow torch. However, I really like my blow torch and as well as being great at caramelizing sugar on a brulee, they are also great for lighting sparklers. (If there are any Chemistry teachers out there then also good for lighting the Thermit reaction!)

I used frozen raspberries in this recipe, as that is what I had in the freezer at the time. I also like it using mixed summer fruits.

Raspberry Brulee

  • 1 packet of frozen raspberries (350g)
  • golden caster sugar
  • 300ml greek yoghurt
  • 300ml double cream
  1. Heat the raspberries in a pan and add a heaped tablespoon of golden caster sugar to sweeten. 
  2. Divide the raspberries between 6 ramekins.
  3. Whisk the double cream and fold in the Greek yoghurt.
  4. Spoon this on top of the raspberries and then use a knife to make 
  5. Sprinkle each dessert with golden caster sugar and use the blow torch to caramelize. You can also use demerara sugar instead which gives even more of a crunch. If you spray a fine mist of water over the top before blow torching it can help melt the sugar.
  6. Allow to cool and the sugar to harden before serving.

What is your go to dinner party dessert?

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4 ingredient raspberry brulee, and easy to make and delcious dessert that can be made in advanced. Using a blow torch to caramalise the sugar to make a crunchy top

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year Goals For Blogging And For Me

Well a belated Happy New Year! I didn't even manage to make it to midnight on New Years Eve, but had fun with friends. Don't worry they had left it wasn't just me snoring on the sofa whilst they partied around me. I was very impressed that the boys managed the mannequin challenge and being the responsible adults that we are, we hid in the conservatory talking whilst the kids played and wrecked the rest of the house. I tried to take a family photo in the morning and this was the best I could get. There is a reason that I have moved to being a more food orientated blog!

family photo
Surely it must be easier to photo food than these three boys!?!
When it comes to resolutions I have given up with hard targets as I tend to fail. Instead I have set myself some vague directions which can be easily achieved to varying levels.

My Goals

1. Continue going to the gym and try and make healthier choices. 

The gym is really important to me. For my sanity more than anything. I worked out years ago that I had to do classes as I have no self discipline in the actual gym itself. My aim is to make it three times a week to a class. When it comes to eating, I just need to stop the snacks. I am a big picker. I have managed to stop before and I need to try and do it again.

2. Think about me more.

I am a typical Mum. For the last 9 years I have put myself behind 3 and often 4 other people. I need to make more time for me and not feel guilty about it.

3. Less social media between 3-7pm

This is a hard one for a blogger who works from home! You really can miss out on opportunities if you are offline for a few hours. However, getting a work/life balance is far more important. So I will aim to be online less at these times. Of course, if I am stuck in the park whilst the boys are playing and there is no one to talk to, I reserve the right to have a peek.

Blogging Goals

1. Improve my photography

I actually cringe at my old photos. Physically cringe. I know that improving my photography is important so that is top of my list. The lovely Nicky from Kitchen Sanctuary recommended an online book from Pinch Of Yum. I have bought this and also booked on a photography session with a local photographer. Hopefully, you will see a difference in my photographs in the coming weeks.

raspberry creme brulee
This is my latest food photo. If it whets your appetite then it will be up on the blog tomorrow.

2. Vlogging

Two years ago I said I would start vlogging. Whilst I have a you tube channel, I really need to post more regularly. I am going to aim for once a week. If you have any ideas of vlogs you would like to see, please let me know in the comments!

3. Make an effort to meet other bloggers

Last year I decided that I needed to meet more bloggers. It is actually really great being surrounded by other people that get blogging and vlogging. I went to a number of blogging conferences last year and got something out of each one. Mumsnet was the most inspiring for me and I am hoping to go again next year.

So there are my goals. All achievable. I hope. What are your goals for 2017?

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Goodbye 2016. You Have Been A Year.

Well it is New Years Eve and time to reflect on the year gone by. It has been an odd one. The first half seemed to be waiting/dreading for that all (un)important  40th Birthday. I didn't do anything special and it was all a bit of a disappointment if I am honest. I had kind of been planning to be sipping cocktails on a beach. But as we were (notice the past tense) also due to be moving I ended up crabbing in Hamble! I enjoyed crabbing though! I also booked a short stay at Alton Towers which couldn't have been better.

Then came Brexit. I won't lie that it felt like the dementors were circling overhead. I am still disappointed by the decision. I just think the positives about staying in the EU weren't focused on. When there's an election and your party loses, you get over it. Give it 4 years and the country can vote again. Change their minds. Not with this. I hope I am wrong, but I can't see it panning out well. I guess it will make an interesting history lesson one day.

My husband changed jobs and had some gardening leave which was actually quite nice. There was a fear that he would be under my feet and we would argue all the time. But we had a relaxed time and actually spent some time together. One of the downsides of no family nearby means no going out either (unless you want to pay out for a babysitter.) So we had some daytime dates instead. It was nice.

In the summer we had the most amazing trip to Costa Rica. I can highly recommend it as a destination. One of my favourite places I have visited. It was there that we found out our house sale had fallen through. Not the best news to get when on vacation and in a different time zone, but hey a couple of cocktails let me give less of one!

drinking a cocktail

Then Sept-Dec has gone by in a blink on an eye. Life on fast forward. My sister married the love of her life and the boys got to be 3 cute page boys. Little man started school which was just the thing that he and I needed. He was more than ready to go and has settled in like a dream.

Talking of dreams, I am still half hoping that Trump becoming president is a nightmare and I will wake up soon. I have never really understood US politics, and don't claim to know a thing. I just know that he should at the very least stay off Twitter!

December was full of Christmas plays and parties and I am not sure how I managed to be in the right place at the right time.

We went to see Santa in Lapland which quite frankly I was more excited about than the boys. It was a long day that was beautiful, but it also highlighted that I am getting old. Do you know how dangerous snow and ice is!?!

a reindeer sleigh in lapland

Blog wise, I have split the blog into two. I am still not sure if that was a good thing to do, but I hope it is. Whilst I have loved writing about my boys, they are getting bigger. When big man's photo was stolen from a post and made into a meme, it opened my eyes as to how my actions can backfire on them. Our travels will be recorded on A Strong Coffee To Go and here is for my musings and recipes.

And now New Year is upon us. As always my biggest wish for my family and friends for 2017 is that of good health. I am pleased to say that we have finally sold our house again, so I think it is fair to say we *should* be moving next year. So Goodbye 2016. You have been a year. Not bad. Just a year. Now if time could not rush by quite as fast in 2017 that would help.

Happy New Year to my family, friends and followers. May 2017 be a year to remember for the right reasons. May it be a good one. xx