A Residence Blog

Travel and adventure taking, memory and home making, parenting and play shaking, never faking, tales of family life.

A Residence Blog

Travel and adventure taking, memory and home making, parenting and play shaking, never faking, tales of family life.

The Perfect Situation: Afternoon Tea Offer


A very British ritual, I absolutely love tea and cake served on the kind of plates and china tea cups my Grandma once had. I missed a good friend’s 40th birthday party so we met for tea and cake to celebrate. The Coffee and Walnut cake was incredible. But i also love a Victoria Sponge, a Bakewell tart or a Lemon cake.

I was always a little sad not to have any of my Grandma’s china after she died, but there is also a part of me that thinks we should move with the times. I’ve picked out some of my Wayfair favourites, all modern takes on vintage afternoon tea. Basically anything by Ulster Weavers is beautiful, unusual and guaranteed to become a talking point, once you get past the cake of course!

Follow Penny’s board Afternoon Tea on Pinterest.

Champagne Afternoon Tea Offer

The Cavendish Hotel was a great base after a busy day sightseeing in London, do read more about the decor in the lounge and our experience of staying as a family. A Residence readers can book champagne afternoon tea in the amazing lounge for only £20, normally £30. A perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of shopping around Picadilly Circus, or to enjoy a break from sightseeing this summer. Just quote A Residence on booking, call 0207 930 2111 or tweet @Cavendish_Hotel and @AResidence.

What do you like for afternoon tea?

House Fantasy: La vita e’ bella


Penny Italy tablecloths

I love Italy, I’ve been to Tuscany, Bologna, Genoa, Venice, Rome, Verona, Lake Garda, Sicily, Milan, Italians always make style and taste appear effortless. So for this week’s house fantasy I went to the wise and wonderful Mari for some input on all things Italian. She lived in Italy for over 20 years and still has family living there. She blogs about here life at Mari’s world and also writes a joint blog Folgaria News with her grown up daughter who lives in Italy.

Mari and I met at a blogging event, and have got to know each other better by climbing Snowdon together and being Panasonic Ambassadors, she even gave me an ironing lesson. We randomly found our caravans next door but one at Camp Bestival, clearly the world wants us to hang out more.

I was intrigued to read that Italy taught Mari ‘that food is the focus of the family, it brings everyone together and is a moment where stories are told, where bonds are strengthened and where laughter happens’ so I was curious to find out what she keeps of Italy in her UK home. Over to Mari:


Mari raising her glass at a wine tasting, she is also a Lindemann’s wine ambassador.

My home is littered with lots of Italian things as it’s such a huge part of my life but when I nailed it down to a few products I came up with:

Tablecloths – because Italy is such an ‘eat together’ nation, where the family sit down and enjoy food together for long periods of time. The table takes on an important part of these regular meetings and one thing that always goes on is a table cloth, even the garden table for eating ‘Al fresco’  - that’s Italian by the way ;) Even garden tables have the oilcloths on them.

Penny Italy art

Art. Wherever you go in Italy you will find lots and lots of art, museums, churches, walls and family homes too. I used to love visiting my friend’s houses so I could see their art and ask where they’d got it, some were inherited, some bought on a holiday and some done by themselves.

Penny Italy whistle from Puglia

Italian Art with a romantic story

Ceramics – yes this piece is broken, it’s been hit by balloons, and a flying fairy so it’s a bit worse for wear these days but I hope to go back one day and replace it. This beautiful object is a whistle, you blow through the top. It has a story as they were traditionally made by a boy to give to his sweetheart as a sign of his undying love and engagement. Isn’t that sweet? I also have LOTS of bowls and platters from Italy, beautifully coloured.

Penny Italy moka and coffee cups

Lastly EVERYONE knows how important coffee is to an Italian and when you visit someone’s home they will make a moka and serve the coffee in these little espresso cups.

Thank you Mari!

I love the simplicity, the beauty and the colour of Italian homewares, and that they are built to do their job while looking good.

Wayfair have a gorgeous collection of Italian Style Dining table and kitchen ware. From ice cream and expresso makers to ravioli tins and pasta makers, you can really embrace all the amazing things Italy has to offer. Or if you prefer some simpler touches, how about a tablecloth, this is by Woven Magic, a parmesan grater, a bread basket, an oil can drizzler, Alessi heart shaped ice cream spoons, and a Moka Expresso maker?

Italian Style dining

Do you have any Italian influences in your home? What would your Italian house fantasy involve?

Easy Campfire and Fire Pit Cooking Ideas

fire pit cooking

There’s already a bit of a chill setting into Summer; I am typing this in a jumper. I wanted to master some fire pit cooking to extend our Summer in the garden and to recreate our camping adventures at home.  Fire pit cooking brings a bit of the wild to the garden and best of all, it’s great fun.

I love this particular fire pit we’ve been reviewing, from Wayfair, because it has a shelf above to let you cook things above the heat, the best things to cook are  the things you can wrap up and forget about while you chat or play. That’s the beauty of a campfire or fire pit cooking, compared to slaving over a BBQ. Its’s still great grub too, with a bit of practice I can see my tinfoil parcels getting much more gourmet!


Here are a few simple and satisfying dishes I would recommend for fire pit cooking:


Jacket potatoes – wrap them in foil and stick them in the fire to roast, perfect with some butter and/or grated cheese, maybe chilli once Autumn sets in.

Sausages – wrap them up in foil, pop them on the shelf and let them sizzle. Add some herbs if you are feeling adventurous.

Mushrooms – Wrap in foil parcels, with a splash of oil and some thyme or other herbs from the garden.

Halloumi – I baked mine in tinfoil, but you could also stick it on a skewer above the flames to give it that perfect browned finish.

Baked chocolate bananas – Slice down the the long side of a banana and stick chocolate into the banana then bake in tinfoil. Bliss.

S’mores – biscuity, chocolately marshmallowness, how did I not find these sooner in life? You can find out how we did that here.


how to make s'mores



What do you like to put on a campfire?


Firepits come in all shapes and sizes and even include gel fire pits. Wayfair have dining, cocktail and coffee sized tables with fire pits as well as a simple free standing fire bowl.

The one above is the Wayfair Harlin Small Firepit £149.99. See the full range of fire pits here.

Responsible Rockpooling and Crabbing with Colin the Crab

colin the crab

Ah rockpooling, the stuff of proper childhood Summer holidays. We loved this little book from Gone Crabbing, the Norfolk and Suffolk based company who create British seaside inspired gifts and clothing. I will leave the address below, in case you are visiting!

At this time of year so many kids are rock pooling, so doing so responsibly is an important message to communicate.

The book is a hardback pop up, but the level of text was enough to engage both my 5 and 7 year old, and the story and pop ups made them really take notice and empathise with Colin’s need to stay with his friends, so a perfect book for all ages.

colin the crab responsible rock pooling

We also love Gone Crabbing’s hoodies and t shirts featuring Colin and friends, and reviewed them here and here, so do have a look at them in action by clicking on the links!

A lovely story which teaches kids to respect the creatures they meet at the seaside, one for every summer holiday suitcase I would say.  You can order here.

colin the crab 3

The quirky mug was also welcomed into our collection and the Totally Clawsome lettuce soap smells very crisp and fresh!

Check out this fab and funny and humane How to Go Crabbing Guide

Happy rockpooling!

Gone Crabbing

Do check out the shops if you are in Norfolk or Suffolk! Any rockpooling tips? Mine is this beach. here!

Gone Crabbing, 7 Dalegate Market, Burnham Deepdale, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE31 8FB phone: 01485 211111

Gone Crabbing, 64 High Street, Southwold, Suffolk, IP18 6DN phone: 01502 722400

How to Katch Up without the whole world seeing


Sometimes you want to take photos of people and not share them with the whole world. If you blog then you have to be a bit creative with it. I came up with a few ideas over a weekend away with my best girlfriends from Uni, they are amazing, beautiful women, but not all keen to be all over the internet. I totally respect that, being mysterious has its allure as you will see.


This was an incredible weekend, I would go so far as to say a retreat, we met at a cottage in Cambridgeshire, with amazing food, drink and company and we didn’t leave once, it was an amazing catch up – we talked and listened, we laughed, cried, hugged, celebrated births and birthdays, commiserated over losses, danced, shared tips, set goals, we put the the world to rights.


I returned a new woman, but more on that in another post, and more of the cottage itself in another post, instead I want to focus on Katch Up. It’s a way to share photos without the whole world seeing. It’s simple to join, it creates a pretty timeline, which I love as it is really Pinteresty.  We stayed in a beautiful cottage which wouldn’t look out of place on Pinterest!

There are all my arty shots, but below that are all my portraits of my stunning friends which I can look back on in years to come. We’ve been friends for nearly 20 years and meeting yearly like this for at least five.

Katch Up

Katch Up

I love that I managed to capture them making Pimms with a tea cup measure!

Now I can add simply add their emails in Katch Up from my email account and easily share all the shots with them. Katch Up is also a really nice way to keep an online scrapbook of my memories. It’s so easy and intuitive to use. So I think even my Dad will like it. More on using it to share my Brother’s wedding shots in another post.

I love the arty shots, I love the glimpses, but I want to see my friends smiley faces too, which is where Katch Up comes in. We have already shared a few pics in our What’s App group, another great way to stay connected, but I think my huge collection of over 100 snaps would take too long to share on What’s App!

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 10.41.59

I will leave you with some more shots which I think will make you wish you could see more, of this amazing house and our amazing weekend.

The first thing I saw when I woke up in my perfect cottage bedroom, after a cup of tea and putting the world to rights with my roomy A, was more of the girls having breakfast in the sun.


Later I spied these two chatting from another tea lit window…



And I woke up from my post Pimms and afternoon tea Saturday siesta to hear giggling and people gathering for a BBQ under the trees.



It’s nice to have managed to share some memories really quickly and easily.  And for the recipients to know they can keep going back to them on Katch Up.

Some little windows into my weekend. This is the first time we have got together in the school summer holidays, it made a world of difference to me. Hope you are having a lovely holiday and managing a bit of me time.


Katch Up Giveaway and Premium Membership Offer

I would love you to be able to try Katch Up, it’s free. If you sign up now you could win a family holiday to Martinhal resort Portugal with flights from Monarch, an iPad or a Canon EOS 1200D Camera!


This code unlocks 50% off Premium Membership and can be entered upon registration, or in your account settings if you are already a member of the KatchUp family.

Current and new users should enter the code now. Premium Memberships will be ready by the end of August. Until then users can still upload photos and videos, taking advantage of the huge 1GB of storage available to them for free. Once we have KatchUp Premium up and running, you’ll automatically get an email from our team letting them know they’re ready to upgrade to Premium.

Postcards from London – with the London Pass

city cruises in london


The first weekend of the holidays we set off to London to review the London Pass. I wrote a detailed post about how that pass works here. In a nutshell the advantages are you can save money if you visit at least 3 attractions in a day, you can also be a VIP and skip the queues as there is no need to buy tickets on the day. If you like you can add travel to your pass.

We stayed at The Cavendish Hotel, which was a short walk from so many sights. We decided to walk from the hotel on Jermyn Street, behind Picaddilly Circus, via Trafalgar Square, to pick up our first attraction: City Cruises.

These air conditioned boats are a perfect way to see the city with children, it was a scorching day so we really appreciated skipping the queue with our passes. We saw so many amazing landmarks while sipping a cool drink in the lounge. We watched the bridges sail above our heads, discovered which one was London Bridge, and much to the kids relief could see that it wasn’t falling down.

london bridge


We learnt many interesting facts from the commentary, including that women in the second world war built Waterloo Bridge. Our next stop, the Tower of London soon came into sight.

tower of london

My kids at 5 and 7 loved the idea that the jewels were hidden in the tower, that really captured their imagination. My son was so busy plotting and scheming dramatic plans to steal them that he barely registered the queue. There is a lot to explore, more than we had time for before lunch!

steal the crown jewels

We crossed Tower bridge, but you could take in the exhibition which the pass covers. We were too hungry so we had lunch at Strada before taking in HMS Belfast. I will admit I wasn’t keen on this beforehand, but it was fascinating and a great opportunity to talk about war and peace with the kids. Here my daughter waves a finger at the waxwork postmaster for making her jump!

hms belfast


Then it was time to take our City Cruise back to Westminster. But not before we got to see Tower Bridge open. It was wonderful to be on an air conditioned boat and this time to watch the South bank, which was full of neon colour and festivities swing past.

city cruises london

Is the London Pass worthwhile? It really depends what you want to visit and over how long. Not all attractions are covered, but the main ones are.

I am not sure we saved much money on our one day pass, but we did avoid queues, and with the heat and summer crowds that was good. It was a very hot day and my kids are 5 and 7, so we left sightseeing to return to the hotel at 4pm, adults would have probably fitted more in!

A two day pass for an adult is £68, for a child it is £49. So £234 for a family of four for the weekend. You could easily get your money back, by taking a river tour, visiting the Tower, bobbing into Westminster Abbey on day one and chilling out at London Zoo on day two. You would benefit from the lack of queuing and ticket buying on the days too.

I think the savings would really come into their own with a 3 day London Pass (£81/£56) or 6 day pass, (£108/£76).


Champagne Afternoon Tea Offer

The Cavendish Hotel was a great base after a busy day sightseeing, do read more about the decor in the lounge and the experience of staying as a family. A Residence readers can book champagne afternoon tea in the amazing lounge for only £20, normally £30. A perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of shopping around Picadilly Circus, or to enjoy a break from sightseeing this summer. Just quote A Residence on booking, call 0207 930 2111 or tweet @Cavendish_Hotel and @AResidence.

Days Go By and still I think of you

greek mezze

Corfu, a place Mr A and I visited before kids, and somewhere we have fond memories of. For a long time, a screen saver of the sunset of a beautiful bar we scooted to, overlooking the sea and surrounded by olive trees, was what kept me smiling through tough days as a teacher. Since then I have met a handful of other people who also know of this incredible place and I always vowed to go back.

 A new survey carried by ICE found that majority of people choose their holiday purely based on the food available at the destination. I don’t know about you, but I am with them.

It was there I most remember eating the best Greek salad. Dirty Vegas, Days Go By was playing…I think you need it as a soundtrack to reading this post:

You are still a whisper on my lips 
A feeling at my fingertips 
That’s pulling at my skin

I feasted on Greek salad every day in Corfu, and I could still eat it every day. I love its freshness –  the saltiness of the olives and the creaminess of the feta, mixed with the sweetness of tomatoes and the crispness of cucumber and green pepper. A sprinkle of oregano, a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of vinegar. It really is the perfect taste and texture combo. I leave the red onions out, but traditionally they are there.

I love the easiness of Greek food, I was going to give you a recipe, but you don’t need one, really, just throw it all together. I love a Greek mezze too, pitta, hummus, tzaki, proper picky food, perfect for a hot day.

greek salad

You We swam through the Channel of Love in Sidari , which legend has it, will ensure you stay in love forever. We just celebrated 16 years together.

‘Days Go By and still I think of you.’

Right now I am feeling pretty harassed, I have post festival blues, the house is a sea of half unpacked cases after our trips to London and Camp Bestival. However, the cases are shortly to be repacked and we will be heading off to Corfu for a week. It seemed an apt place to take the kids to see.

‘Days when I couldn’t live my live without you’.

Corfu, my family, Greek salad and mezze. Bring it on! This one I made for me and my Dad and the kids after a morning’s gardening.

a greek feast

We have some Greek influences in our home, including this Alexander bust, and these jugs found in a charity shop. I am planning some more, do check out my Pinterest board.

Follow Penny’s board Greek Style Ideas on Pinterest.

My Entry in the ICS blogger challenge.

Summer picks – in need of inspiration?

nectar summer picks

How lovely are these summer fun ideas? I especially love the sunset walk. I don’t know about you, but I have a Nectar card I gain points from petrol and from food shopping, but I often to forget to check on the points on it. Now could be a great time to do just that, especially if you or your wallet are struggling this summer holiday.

To help parents keep the kids entertained this summer and save them money in the process, Nectar has launched the Nectar Summer Picks website, a brand new resource designed to help families make the very most of the holidays. The aim is to get families away from screens and gadgets and into the great British summer, it’s packed with creative activity ideas and days out that won’t cost the earth.  Nectar Summer Picks has the summer sorted – whatever the weather.

Don’t forget that, between the 23rd July and the 12th of August 2014, your Nectar points could be worth double, triple or more when exchanged for Double Up & More vouchers to spend on fun-filled days out this summer.

What are you waiting for? Do visit the Nectar Summer Picks website and let me know how you get on, I hope you save some money and get some inspiration.

Collaborative post.

From track to sofa, our retired greyhound


Max, our retired greyhound, is too big to sleep on our bed, but he tries. He’s allowed to jump on in the morning for a snuggle and if Mr A is away for a night he doesn’t think twice about nicking his place.

He’s been with us since November and has slipped into a happy daytime routine, after a quick walk he spends his days moving from sofa to sofa, I pop down from my office to find him on a different sofa each time. Often, he lies on my office floor, his gentle mumblings a sign that he is dreaming.

I often wonder what he is dreaming about. From time to time we are reminded he is was a top class athlete. He likes to chase tennis balls and the speed at which he accelerates after them is incredible. We don’t let him off the lead much, greyhounds are trained to chase and can reach 40mph, so you need to be sure they won’t knock anyone flying or go after a squirrel. But, we are beginning to let him run on an enclosed space near by, and its a joy to see his ‘zoomies’.

Max has been with us over six months now and he feels like part of the family. I didn’t really click at the time, but he came into our lives as my youngest went to school. Apparently its a common phenomenon. Perhaps that is why sometimes my youngest has to be reminded not to annoy him, although he’s learning rapidly about pet ownership and Max is endlessly patient with the kids. You can tell Max loves the fuss and having the kids lie next to him, and being a kid himself too.

Max won 20 of his 60 races as a racing greyhound, when I Google him by his name as a racing hound it’s fascinating, and to me it is important that I understand his background. Last night we walked past a cheering crowd at a sports tournament and immediately his ears pricked up and his whole body became excited and alert, did the sound take him back?

We were also warned to be careful when opening the boot, in case he mistook it for the trap opening, but he’s not made a run for it yet. He’s also mastered stairs, it took a bit of persuading him to slow down, to stop him skidding, but he draws a complete blank at stiles still.

My thoughts on greyhound racing have developed too, I’ve chatted to many people on both sides of the fence. I’ve heard amazing stories of the lengths owners and trainers go to, to look after their dogs. I’ve had some wonderful advice and support from trainers in forums. I imagine Max has been trained and cared for incredibly well, his behaviour is brilliant, he is healthy with a glossy coat, and has made having my first dog quite literally a walk in the park.

Of course, any sport that is dependent on gambling is open to abuse, our dog sitter showed us a photo of the state her now beautiful greyhound was in when she adopted him when he didn’t take to racing. There is also the issue of what happens after racing. There are an awful lot of dogs in the care of Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust where we met Max, who have finished their racing career and are looking for homes. As well trained pedigrees, well known for being gentle and obedient, retired Greyhounds make truly excellent pets.

retired greyhound

Why Camp Bestival is like a fine wine

Knackered Mother's Wine Club at Camp Bestival

We’re back from reviewing our third incredible Camp Bestival. Previously at Camp Bestival I have enjoyed a beer or two in a paper cup while watching acts at the main stage, or a Pimms in the Bollywood cocktail bar. Unlike the festivals of my youth, where alcohol featured high on the agenda, camping, kids and fun packed days mean that a drink is a one or two off indulgence to top a great day. So, if I am going to drink, I would like it to be a really special one.

I think Camp Bestival made some great additions on that front this year, in fact the whole festival is like a great wine, it gets better with age – so many wonderful new things on all fronts as I will cover in other posts.  Camp Bestival is so much more than bands and kids activities, and there is stuff for grown ups too, like a spa, massage tents, a literary institute with inspiring speakers and amazing food. Today I thought I would focus on drink.


Just because you are in a field, doesn’t mean you can’t have a really good glass of wine, or a really inspiring cocktail. The jam jar bar, with its caravans serving wine and cocktails was a beautiful space.


I was also lucky enough to go along to Helen’s Knackered Mother’s Wine Club Wine Tasting, while Mr A took the kids to the Lego tent. Helen is a great presenter, full of fun and of course very knowledgeable about wine. Earlier in the day she had spoken in The Guardian Literary institute tent, alongside other authors, DJs and journalists.


Her book Knackered Mother’s Wine Club in the words of India Knight ‘doesn’t just simplify wine, it simplifies life.’ And India loves it, and I have just ordered it.


We got cracking with tasting Prosecco, Helen taught us to smell and taste wine properly, suddenly my mouth was flooded with flavours and I was desperately rooting round my brain to put a name on whatever it was my nostrils were experiencing, pomegranate, passion fruit, cucumber?  I guess if you don’t exercise those thought processes very much they are a little slow.

The audience had lots a great questions, including Annie from Mannkesjur - just in case you don’t recognise her under the greasepaint – the theme this year was Circus, in case you were wondering…

The conversation started to flow and opinions started to form, here is Louise from My Gorgeous Boys and Mari.


I learnt early on I prefer Prosecco to Champagne, it’s lighter. Brilliant news for my pocket! Helen had some great tips on where to find the best of both, look out for Asda’s Prosecco which is often on special offer, and the champagne we tasted was made by the same vineyard who make very well known champagnes, but at a much lower price. So Helen’s book is going to save you money too.


It was lovely to spy some old blogging friends under the table, literally, not alcoholically speaking. Mummy Barrow (I know, she is a little disguised here) was in her element, with a jam jar cocktail AND a fine rose. Rose is not for me, but it went down well with rose drinkers.

It was wonderful to see Vanessa from HPMCQ so at ease in a field camping – she’s vowed to go again too! Vanessa is probably also looking so happy because she is drinking what I think was the best wine of the tasting, I shall reveal all shortly.

Mari’s ears pricked up at the sound of Italian wine.


Helen dealt beautifully with an increasingly chatty crowd, including her biggest heckler, her mum, who you can see in the white dress here.


She took a ‘break’ from serving 50 mums to photobomb my picture of Mari and Louise.


I made a new friend, Lisa has a lovely creative business, called Compass Creativity, she makes personalised wall art using maps and jigsaw pieces, lovely idea for a present, especially for special occasions and anniversaries. Speaking of which, Mr A and I celebrated 16 years together on Friday, at our favourite anniversary place, Camp Bestival! In case you are wondering, the yellow scarf is the finger knitting I did in the knitting tent.


I think we were tasting Old Bush Vine Grenache here, a bit potent for me, who is not a huge fan of red, but Lisa enjoyed it.

But I was really surprised by this red, it is a fortified dessert wine and Helen served it to us with a square of dark chocolate. It was like eating the most sublime cherry chocolate pudding, in fact I would happily forgo chocolate cake to eat and drink this combo instead! It would be great to wow guests after dinner.

seriously plummy grand reserve maury dessert wine

My overall favourite, the one I will always go for, a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. My nose clearly thought so too and immediately flooded with the names for all I could smell, grass, bonfire, flint, earth – maybe being in a field next to the food tent helped.

Sauvignon is a popular wine, there are lots of poor imitations, so perhaps why it can be so hit and miss. I am going to look out for this one.

While I was being a knackered mother, my husband and children enjoyed the Lego tent. The kids played happily into the evening at a table in the jam jar bar with their Lego, while Mr A and I sampled the wares from the feast collective food tent, where Helen’s choice of wines were also available to buy – more on that incredible foodie paradise coming very soon – Helen did warn us wine wakes up the taste buds!

Kids Activities

I’ve just shared 20 things my kids loved and learned over on parentshaped, do go over and find out more about the amazing kids’ activities.

Vita Coco for Alcohol free refreshment

My kids enjoyed the Vita Coco Kids Beach at Camp Bestival. Vita Coco, as you would imagine, is made with coconut, which makes it lower sugar than juice. Its also full of protein and incredibly refreshing. I was pleased to discover my kids really loved it. It’s also for grown ups, Mocha was my favourite, a real summer pick me up!

Tickets for 2015

Early Bird tickets for Camp Bestival 2015 go on sale Friday 8th August 2014, and there is a payment plan, so catch them while you can! I will leave you with some video evidence of all the fun from 2012, why we first fell in love with Camp Bestival in 2012, what we loved in 2013 and a packing list.

I may have to treat myself to some new wine glasses now I am home, I am loving these ones, by Sagaform at Wayfair.

Disclosure – we were given tickets to the festival in return for preview and review and live coverage – in other words, I worked hard to party hard.

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