Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Chinese New Year: History and Traditions

The Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is the biggest event in Chinese culture. It occurs on the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar and runs right through to the 15th day of the first month. This 15th day is known as the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the New Year celebrations.

This year, the date falls on Thursday the 19th of February. And this year, it’s the year of the goat!

year of the goat

Origins
The traditional Chinese New Year celebrations are said to have arisen from ancient folk takes which tell of a mythical, lion-like creature that terrorised and preyed on Chinese villagers. The Chinese referred to this beast as Nian, which translates as ‘Year’ in English. It was said that a wise village elder informed the villagers that Nian was scared of loud noises and the colour red. So the villagers banged drums and hung red cut-outs on their doors, and Nian was defeated. The anniversary of this date is known as ‘Passing of the Nian’ and is synonymous with the Chinese New Year.

Animals
The Chinese zodiac is a repeating 12 year cycle, with a different animal to represent each year. Last year was the year of the horse, this year will be the goat, and next year will be the monkey. The order of the cycle never changes and each animal is said to represent different human attributes. For example, if you were born in a year of the snake, you’re allegedly a meticulous planner, but egotistical too. Whereas if you were born in a year of the rooster, then apparently you’re a great leader, but also quite jealous.

The 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in order are:

12 signs of the chinese zodiac

Traditions
The Chinese New Year often sees mass migration of people within China, all travelling back to their home town to celebrate with their families. On New Year’s Eve, many families cleanse their home to remove ill fortune, and make room for good luck and prosperity in the coming year.

In line with ‘Passing of the Nian’, people let off firecrackers, bang drums and decorate their doors and streets in red. Children are also given red envelopes with money inside. In recent times, the younger generations have steered away from the traditional celebrations, and choose to spend the period by simply relaxing and enjoying a break from work and the stress of modern life.

Great Ideas for a Chinese New Year Celebration
Light up a Chinese lantern…
chinese lantern

Cook up some Oriental food…
oriental food bamboo steamer

Get dressed up in Far-East inspired fashion…
Animal print kimono Floral Kimono Long Floral Kimono


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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Pancake Day: Origins, Recipes and More!

Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, is the one day of the year devoted to eating pancakes and other fatty foods. It always falls on the Tuesday before the start of Lent, and is celebrated in different ways across the world.

Pancakes

Celebrations

In the UK, Canada, Australia and Ireland, people choose to eat crepe-style pancakes for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. And certain villages, including Olney in Buckinghamshire, put on Pancake Day events, such as their famous pancake race.

Olney Pancake Race

In parts of the US and many Catholic countries, such as Brazil, Pancake Day is referred to as Mardi Gras, which translates to Fat Tuesday. These celebrations are much bigger than in other countries, and involve street processions, fancy dress and food stalls.

Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras

As for Scandinavia and many eastern European countries, they choose to eat their own special pastries. In Finland, the day is called Laskiainen, and they celebrate by sledging and eating a popular Finnish treat called laskiaispulla, which is a sweet bread filled with cream, jam and almond paste.

laskiaispulla

Origins of Pancake Day

As Lent was (and still is in many places) a period of fasting, prayer and good behaviour, people needed a way to get rid of the fatty foods in their homes before the season started. And what better way to get rid of all the sugar, eggs, milk and lard in your home than by making pancakes? Much plainer foods were traditionally eaten in the period of Lent, so Pancake Day offered an excuse to indulge in fatty foods before the heathy eating started.

In Slavic culture, before the Christian era began, the Slavs believed that the change of seasons from winter to spring was a battle between Jarilo (the God of vegetation and springtime) and the spirits of the cold and darkness. To help Jarilo, the Slavs made pancakes as they symbolised the sun. And when they ate the pancakes, they believed they received power and light from the sun.

Our Favourite Pancake Day Recipes

Traditional Pancakes (taken from BBC Good Food)

Ingredients
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1tbsp sunflower oil or vegetable oil, plus more for frying
  • Pinch of salt
Method
  1. Blending in the flour: Put the flour and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the middle, then pour in about 50ml milk and 1 tbsp oil. Start whisking from the centre, gradually drawing the flour into the eggs, milk and oil. Once all the flour is incorporated, beat until you have a smooth, thick paste. Add a little more milk if it is too stiff to beat.
  2. Finishing the batter: Add a good splash of milk and whisk to loosen the thick batter. While still whisking, pour in a steady stream of the remaining milk. Continue pouring and whisking until you have a batter that is the consistency of slightly thick single cream. Traditionally, people would say to now leave the batter for 30 mins, to allow the starch in the flour to swell, but there’s no need.
  3. Getting the right thickness: Heat the pan over a moderate heat, then wipe it with oiled kitchen paper. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilting the pan to move the mixture around for a thin and even layer. Quickly pour any excess batter into a jug, return the pan to the heat, then leave to cook, undisturbed, for about 30 secs. Pour the excess batter from the jug back into the mixing bowl. If the pan is the right temperature, the pancake should turn golden underneath after about 30 secs and will be ready to turn.
  4. Flipping pancakes: Hold the pan handle, ease a fish slice under the pancake, then quickly lift and flip it over. Make sure the pancake is lying flat against base of the pan with no folds, then cook for another 30 secs before turning out onto a warm plate. Continue with the rest of the batter, serving them as you cook or stack onto a plate. You can freeze the pancakes for 1 month, wrapped in cling film or make them up to a day ahead.

American Blueberry Pancakes (taken from BBC Good Food)

Ingredients
  • 200g Self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 300ml milk
  • Knob of butter
  • 150g pack blueberries
  • Sunflower oil or a little butter for cooking
  • Golden or maple syrup
Method
  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Beat the egg with the milk, make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the milk to make a thick smooth batter. Beat in the melted butter, and gently stir in half the blueberries.
  2. Heat a teaspoon of oil or small knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Drop a large tablespoonful of the batter per pancake into the pan to make pancakes about 7.5cm across. Make three or four pancakes at a time. Cook for about 3 minutes over a medium heat until small bubbles appear on the surface of each pancake, then turn and cook another 2-3 minutes until golden. Cover with kitchen paper to keep warm while you use up the rest of the batter. Serve with golden syrup and the rest of the blueberries.

And for something a bit crazier…

Chocolate Praline Pancake Cake (taken from BBC Good Food)

  • 1x classic pancake recipe (see above)
  • Sunflower oil, for greasing
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g blanched almonds
  • ½ tsp sea salt flakes
  • For the chocolate sauce
  • 250g dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 175ml whole milk
  • 125ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp brandy or dark rum
  • 50g light muscovado sugar
  • whipped cream, to serve
Method
  1. Prepare pancakes following a classic recipe (see above).
  2. Lightly brush a baking sheet with sunflower oil. Tip the caster sugar into a medium-size saucepan, add 2-3 tbsp of water and set the pan over a low-medium heat to allow the sugar to slowly dissolve into the water. Bring to the boil and continue to cook until the syrup becomes amber-coloured caramel.
  3. Working quickly, tip the blanched almonds and salt into the pan and continue to cook for 30 secs-1 min until the caramel turns deep amber and the almonds are toasted. Tip the praline onto the oiled baking sheet and leave until completely cold and hardened. Break the praline into chunks and whizz in the food processor until coarsely chopped.
  4. To make the chocolate sauce, combine all the ingredients in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth and silky. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
  5. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Lay one pancake in the bottom of a 20cm springform tin and spread over 1 tbsp of chocolate sauce. Scatter with chopped praline and top with another pancake. Continue in this manner until you have used all 12 pancakes, topping the stack with a pancake.
  6. Cover the tin with foil and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for around 20 mins or until hot through. Gently warm the remaining chocolate sauce, cut the cake into wedges and serve scattered with the remaining praline chocolate sauce, and a bowl of lightly whipped cream alongside.

Cookware

Have you been inspired to get creative in the kitchen? Then take a look at some of our fantastic Food Mixers, cookware products, and baking sets perfect for creating cakes, biscuits, pancakes and more!

Food Mixers Cookware Sets Baking Sets

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Friday, 13 February 2015

The Fear So Fearsome It Has Two Long Names

Friggatriskaidekaphobia and Paraskavedekatriaphobia is the irrational fear of Friday the 13th (the date not necessarily the film). If you suffer from this it may be advisable to go into hibernation for the rest of 2015 as today is the first of 3 Friday the 13th's this year, there will be one in March and one in November too!

Where did the fear of Friday the 13th come from?
According to folklorists, there’s no written evidence that Friday the 13th was considered unlucky before the 19th century.

Literature
The earliest known documented reference in English appears to be in Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on Friday 13th.

Gioachino Rossini

Superstition regarding Friday also comes from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, published in the 14th Century, where Friday is considered a day of misfortune and ill luck.

Middle Ages
Friday has always had a bad reputation, in Middle Ages people would not marry or even set out on a journey on a Friday.

Numerology
In numerology the number 13 is seen as irregular, whereas the number 12 is regarded as a number of completeness. This is likely due to the fact that there are 12 months of the year, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus, 12 Descendants of Muhammad Imams, among many incidences of the pattern historically.

Religion
There are also some links between Christianity and either Fridays or the number 13th. Friday was supposedly the day on which Eve ate the forbidden fruit and also the day that Jesus was also said to have been crucified.

It is considered incredibly bad luck to have 13 people sitting at a table for dinner, which supposedly is due to the fact that Judas Iscariot was by tradition the 13th person to be seated to dine at the Last Supper.

Hollywood?
In modern times the film industry has helped to keep the fear of Friday the 13th alive with the film franchise Friday the 13th, and this year on Friday March the 13th Paramount are reported to be releasing the latest entry of the long running Friday the 13th franchise, which not only is being released on Friday the 13th, but will be Jason Voorhees's 13th big screen appearance! Will this help to reinforce the fear of Friday 13th...?

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th facts..

  • The British Medical Journal writes that there is a significant increase in traffic-related accidents when the date is Friday the 13th. compared hospital admissions for traffic accidents on a Friday the 13th with those on a Friday the 6th near London. Despite a lower traffic volume on the 13th than on the 6th, admissions for traffic accident victims increased 52 percent on the 13th. After conducting the study, the author recommended that people stay at home if possible.
  • Each year there is at least one Friday the 13th, but no more than 3.
  • The longest period of time that can occur without a Friday the 13th is fourteen months.
  • There are 13 steps to the gallows, 13 knots in a hangman’s noose, and the guillotine blade falls 13 ft.
  • Many hospitals have no room 13, and most airports don’t have a Gate 13. Hotels often do not have a floor 13.
  • Only two of the UK's 14 best restaurants have a table 13, most simply skipping from 12 to 14.
  • 2015 has 3 Fridays that fall on the thirteenth
  • On streets in Florence houses numbered between 12 and 14 are addressed as 12 ½ not 13
  • In Spanish speaking countries it is not Friday 13th but Tuesday 13th that is considered a day of bad luck
  • Just remember though, In ancient Chinese civilisations the number 13 is regarded as lucky!

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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

How To Keep The Kids Entertained Without Spending A Fortune

The first half of the spring term is nearly over and while the kids might be looking forward to some free time, for parents it can feel like the longest week ever, especially when you can't guarantee good weather.

We've devised a fantastic list of how to keep the kids entertained without spending a fortune:

Things to do during half term

  • Hold a bake off - You can have fun baking biscuits, cakes, crumbles whatever you like. if you have older children you could always split them into two team! On your marks, get set, bake!
  • Snowtime - if it snows, go sledging, build snowmen, go for snow walks, make snow angels. Don't forget to take your camera with you to capture these magical moments.
  • Cinema - Many cinemas hold special viewings for children during the holidays, advertising 'half term deals' often parents get to go free too. Check out your local cinemas website for up to date information.
  • Go to the park - Parks tend to have lots of things, climbing frames and playgrounds for both younger and older children, scenic walks, animal sanctuarys, trees to climb. You can take your football and bikes, as a lot of parks have introduced mountain bike trails, as well as having lots of low level paths to cycle on for those who want to ride on the flat.
  • Search for free events and offers in your local area - these will be listed on your local council website e.g Visitlancashire.com as an example. Zoo's often offer reduced or free entry out of season, and many museums hold special events over the school holidays, many of which are free.
  • Get crafty at home - Potato stamping is a great thing to do with really little children. You can pick up blank canvases quite cheaply, and could get them to paint directly onto them and then hang them in their rooms when they are dry.
  • Board Games - If it's particularly nasty weather outside why not get all the board games out and have a board game marathon, or if you have a chess board you could teach the kid's how to play chess, once they've learned how to play they'll be hooked!
  • Swim for free - Many councils offer free swimming for children during the half term holidays, parents can either join in or have a well deserved break in the leisure centre cafe :-)
  • Lots of English Heritage and National Trust sites are free to enter  - they often have activities for the kids too. Have a fun filled day out exploring ruins, gardens, castles and more.
  • Build a den - This is fun both indoors and outdoors, in good weather head to the woods (with a responsible adult) collect sticks and broken branches and create a den. if the weather is poor why not pull out the dining chairs, drape towels and bed sheets over and you've (the kids have) got a nice little den to play in for the afternoon.
  • Collect Blackberries - There are still some wild fruits about, grab some buckets and head out, the kids can have a race to see who can collect the most. When you've got your bucket full of blackberries why not head home and make a blackberry pie. We've found a great recipe for blackberry pie from allrecipes.com
  • Upcycle something - If you've got an old lampshade or some furniture in the loft or under the stairs why not let the kids re-decorate them, see how creative the kids can be with paint, stickers and more.


If you're taking advantage of lower holiday prices in winter and are heading off for some winter sun or just planning ahead for summer we have a great range of suitcases and travel accessories to suit your needs.

Personalised Luggage Strap ABS Children's Suitcases 3-Piece Luggage Set Digital Luggage Scale

Looking for some craft kits for the kids to keep them entertained over the holidays take a look at our fantastic range at 24ce.co.uk

Super Loop Cupcakes And Cookies Sweet Candies Craft Shamballa Fire Jewellery

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