Monday, 30 November 2009

A cosmopolitan Christmas

Grab your towel before the Germans get the best spots! Sorry, don't mind me, I'm dreaming of a hot Christmas with a pool but it ain't going to happen! If you're curious, this is the pool annexed to our Ibis hotel in France. The pool was blissfully quiet most of the time and we found out why when we stepped inside it. Despite a temperature of 35 degrees under the French sun, the water was 19. Freezing, so like all other guests we swam very fast (dart, I forgot to pack the English Channel swimmers' grease) and left in a hurry.

Let's stop dreaming and go back to the theme. One of the tips I gave in an article about celebrations on a budget was to change the menu. Turkey can be expensive and I have read that this year retailers have underestimated the demand (Brits might be trying to save but it doesn't mean that the turkey gets it). So not sure what the prices of turkey are this Christmas and are they going to fly in foreign birds? Sorry, still thinking about the sun holiday abroad.

If you like to try a foreign menu for Christmas, click here and type Christmas in the search box. Most nationalities are represented - some alternatives might even be cheaper than your usual festive fare.

As I'm of Italian origin, I want to present to you an authentic Italian menu. The only snag is that Italian food is different from region to region. I come from Piedmont (Piemonte), which is the region attached to France. Not many Brits know it, but I only need to say four words to demonstrate that it is more popular than you think: 'white truffles' and 'Barolo wine'.

So what do Italians eat at Christmas? There is a variety of dishes as every region has its specialities but here is a summary: baccala' (salted dried cod fish cooked in sauces), smoked salmon (usually Danish or Scottish), spicy fish soup, baked pasta (quite a cheap alternative this), rosbif (yes, it's the roast beef, spelled the Italian way), pork roast, turnip soup (I kid you not), pig trotter with polenta and lentils, carpaccio (basically cured raw beef cut very finely), Russian salad, ravioli in capon broth (see below about the capon).

The equivalent of the turkey is the capon (basically a castrated chicken that has been fattened up). Many meals in the north include a starter of smoked salmon and carpaccio, fresh pasta, a roast (capon, beef, pork) and then the desserts.

The traditional dessert is Panettone (cheaper ones are available from Aldi, Lidl, etc), then there are regional variations of sweets on top such as Mont Blanc (chestnut puree and chocolate mountain with whipped cream on top), honey pastries, dried figs, candied almonds, marzipan fruits, panforte (sometimes available in delicatessen), pandolce....

And drinks? Italian 'champagne' is called spumante and there are bottles for every pockets. Forget that Asti of your student days, Asti spumante can be as good as the French stuff (but it will cost you). There are other brands of spumante, some quite pricey. I'm not sure if you can find them in the UK, though.

In Piedmont we have great red wines: Barolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Fresia, to name a few. The white wines include Cortese and Chardonnay. Malvasia and Moscato are two dessert wines on the sweet side.

So perhaps, you can replace some of the expensive dishes with cheaper Italian alternatives, although I think the wines might not be much of a bargain as good wine is never cheap.

Buon Natale (Happy Xmas).

More delicious discounts - save on presents!

Following on my Christmas on a budget theme, I have been emailed more discounts. voucher - 40 per cent off selected products

This code starts on 30.11.09 and will expire on 06.12.09 at midnight: SECRETSANTA40. It entitles you to 40% off selected products. Click here to see them. Anybody for the Jude Law collection? Or are you more of a Sean Connery type?

M&S Cheap & Cheerful Christmas
3for2 - Mix & Match Xmas Cards & Wrap

• 3for2 Lingerie Collections - online exclusive

 • Wine Club - 50% off your first case!

• 25% off French wine & up to 50% selected wine exclusives

Home & Furniture - 30% off when you buy 2 or more pieces (includes living room, dining room and bedroom furniture, beds/mattresses)

• £50 off all Collezione suits (menswear)

Buy One Get One Half Price on selected Multipack shirts

• Buy One Get One Half Price on Men's socks and underwear

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Christmas on a tight budget

Santa or Scrooge?

This year more than ever, we will have to scrimp at Christmas. I have written about leaner celebrations on other sites and publications - with titles like Cheap Christmas Cheer, Christmas on a Tight Budget and Beat the Credit Crunch: Christmas on a Budget - I am already starting to feel a bit more like Scrooge rather than Santa. But I'm not alone in my scroogehood, click here for an article on 50 ways to save money this Christmas.

Our household income has gone down and we are relying more on savings. Luckily, being a positive parent is all about giving the gift of time and attention, which are free at the moment as I haven't got that many work commitments.

I like to be active and productive so volunteering for various good causes has preserved my sanity. Before becoming a mum I had a career and skills and only using them (and my brain) can keep me away from the mental scrapyard. So I heartily recommend volunteering to those mums who want to engage their brain but need flexible timetables to accommodate child rearing. You never know, you might get a career out of it.

But back to the budget issue, I'm trying to find ways to make Christmas fun on a shoestring. This means using our old decorations, including the artificial tree and the plastic baubles. I'm sure Michela won't mind, like all toddlers she likes anything plasticy.

For presents we will be shopping around, not a novelty for us as in previous years we were careful with money for other reasons (buying a home and then going on maternity leave did hit our savings).

My great consolation is that in these tough times I am enjoying my daughter and she sees a lot of her Dad too. We have never been in favour of a too commercial Christmas anyway. Honestly, it's not sour grapes!

Obviously, we will shopping around for gifts. Prices of goods vary so much nowadays as some stores have amazing promotions to entice buyers. I have never seen as many as this year, obviously many people are not spending enough for retailers' liking.

So below are some discounts I have been emailed about, courtesy of Debenhams

Lingerie 20% off womens Jasper Conran sleepwear and robes – offer ends 24th Dec -

Womens Accessories 30% off full price Nine West footwear – offer ends 24th Dec -

30% off Totes Gloves – offer starts 26th Nov and ends 12th Dec -

30% off selected mens knitwear – offer ends 24th Dec -

25% off selected Shirts – offer starts 26th Nov and ends 24th Dec -

25% off selected Ties – offer ends 24th Dec -

£’s off selected outerwear – offer ends 24th Dec -

25% off selected designer seasonal accessories gift – offer ends 24th Dec –

Up to 50% off selected nightwear and slippers – offer ends 24th Dec -

Sports 20% off selected Womens sportswear – offer starts 26th Nov ends 24th Dec -

20% off selected kids sports clothing – offer ends 24th Dec

20% off selected Cookware – offer ends 24th Dec -


20% off selected Decorative accessories – offer ends 24th Dec -

20% off Meccano – offer ends 24th Dec -

Beauty VAT free on 500 Beauty products


Free gifts on Elizabeth Arden and Elemis, 10% off offer on YSL

Fragrance Event – either 30% or 50% off selected fragrances.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

First impressions on living in Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 19: (EMBA...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
We have been in Cambridge barely over a week and I feel at home already.

On the day of our move, the Queen visited the city to participate in the University's 800th anniversary celebrations. We missed the pageantry, all we saw were boxes and massive pieces of furniture being unloaded from two huge trucks.

Having relocated from London to Rugby and then from Rugby to Cambridge, I have lost a fair amount of friends and acquaintances. But I can recommend volunteering as a way to fit in quickly wherever you live.

Since the birth of my daughter I have been volunteering for two children’s charities: the NCT and the BfN. So as soon as I knew I was heading here, I contacted them both. Soon after my arrival, I went to an NCT meeting and a social, tomorrow I am going to a BfN drop-in for breastfeeding mums.

Today another opportunity to get involved locally arose when the organiser of the neighbourhood watch turned up, so yes, I’m going to a meeting next week.

This week I also met with an NCT member I used to know when we both lived in London and also with a mum from mumsnet. So internet forums can be handy too. And talking about the internet, there is a great local site for people living in Cambridge: Cambride Online. It has reviews and links to anything in the city.

I’m looking forward to experience all Cambridge has to offer. When I was living in Rugby, I did miss the buzz I get from living in a city, the cosmopolitan mix and the amenities. I'm not looking forward to buying our home as the property market is hard to crack here. For the moment we are renting and it's such a quiet area, despite being not too far from the centre.

Code 2ZJB8MW8R943
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Sunday, 22 November 2009

Painting the town pink

Tomorrow is National Freelancers Day. There is an event in Cambridge, but it's in the evening, making it harder for me to attend. No more painting the town red for me now that I have a dependant - more like princess pink.

Since I had Michela, I have been concentrating all my outings during the day - and the nature of the sorties has changed, too. Yes, there are some grown-up activities like shopping and doing chores but a big share of my time is spent treating my daughter to childish delights such as a trip to the library, to the swings, to a park....

Of course since we have moved to a new town, we are temporarily more homebound than usual as I don't know the place yet and there are heaps of boxes to be sorted.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel as after days of faffing, they have finally granted us the gift of broadband!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Bye, Bye Rugby

Oh the delights of moving with a toddler! Last year we moved from London to Rugby in a short time, which was quite hard as I was on my own and Michela kept interfering with the boxes I was trying to fill by taking things out, throwing in her toys...

Tomorrow is the last day before the move but the packing is going well this year as my partner is at home and we have been Freecycling stuff, taking trips to the dump, to charity shops....

We are both looking forward to our relocation to Cambridge, hoping this is the place for us. We are moving into rental so as soon as we buy we will have to shift our stuff again. Luckily there is a garage to transfer stuff that has been dumped into our Rugbeian garage awaiting a purchase. There is no way I'm opening all the boxes till we have bought a house.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Promotional codes and special offers for bargain shopping

I have added some shopping links to my blog and through this scheme I'm receiving news of promotions, which I'm keen on passing on to all savvy savers among you! Note: offers have a time limit, so I'm removing links after they have expired.

20% off everything on Mini Barratts
Just click here and use the code AMAZINGM. The code will run from 17-28 November 2009.

£5 off at Clarks
Click here and use the code BAFF£5, which expires on 23.11.2009. This code is valid on all home delivery orders. Customers must enter the code at the checkout. This offer excludes bags and purses and sale items. I had a peek and other discounts can be found on the site.

15% off at Boden
Boden is offering 15% off all dresses and jewellery, plus free delivery and returns.
This offer is valid until 30 November 2009 - just click here!

A week of killer deals at GLTC
Monday 16th November & Tuesday 17th November - click here
Free P&P* on all orders over £75 for 2 days only ends 17th November
Ts&Cs: *Free P&P worth £5.95 on online orders over £75 excluding delivery charges. This discount will be automatically applied in your basket. Offer ends midnight Tuesday 17th November 2009. Online only. Phone orders are excluded. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other GLTC catalogue, internet or product offer and is not transferable or for publication either on or offline. Offers are at GLTC’s sole discretion and are subject to variation or withdrawal without notice. Full terms & conditions are available online at

Wednesday 18th November & Thursday 19th November - click here
20% off 20 Bestsellers*, 2 days only ends 19th November
Ts&Cs: * Buy any of these products at 20% off when you spend £75 online (on anything) at This discount will then be automatically applied in your basket to our 20 bestsellers. Offer ends midnight Thursday 19th November 2009. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other GLTC catalogue, internet or product offer and is not transferable or for publication either on or offline. Offers are at GLTC’s sole discretion and are subject to variation or withdrawal without notice. Full terms & conditions are available online at

Friday 20th November to Sunday 22nd November - click here
10% off plus free P&P* – ends Sunday 22nd November
Ts&Cs: * 10% off plus free P&P worth £5.95 on online orders over £75 excluding delivery charges. This discount will then be automatically applied in your basket. Offer ends midnight Sunday 22nd November 2009. For a full list of products excluded from this promotion and more information on how offers are calculated in your basket, please go to This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other GLTC catalogue, internet or product offer and is not transferable or for publication either on or offline. Offers are at GLTC’s sole discretion and are subject to variation or withdrawal without notice. Full terms & conditions are available online at

£5 off voucher at
Use discount codes: PLANW09 or PLARBS09 for £5 off £50 spend. This offer ends on 6th December 2009 and is valid against all items. Click here.

Partywear discounts at Kaleidoscope
These discounts finish on 24th November 2009, so put your skates on!

Long Sleeved Dress - was £65 - now £45
Jersey evening dress with cutout shoulder detail and beaded motif trim.


One Shoulder Top - was £35 - now £25With a waterfall drape detail to the front and diamante' trim brooch.

Floral Print Dress - was £85 - now £60
Floaty chiffon dress with pleated detail to the front and waistband. Full swishy hemline and fully lined.

Print Dress - was £49 - now £35
Fabulous animal print dress with v-neck line and ruching to sleeves. Sash detail to front with black side buckle fastening.

Delicious discounts at Debenhams (online and in stores)
Debenhams Christmas Spectacular launches EXCLUSIVELY online today! Offering up to 25% in all departments it's the perfect opportunity to kickstart your Christmas Shopping. The Debenhams Christmas Spectacular launches throughout store as of tomorrow lasting right up until 21st November 2009.

Plus there's also FREE delivery on all orders over £80 at Debenhams until Sunday 22nd November Sunday 22nd November using the code SH38*
*Terms and Conditions offer has ended

And last but not least...

The biggest Debenhams sale of the year! Click on titles for more info...


Up to 25% Off Womens Partywear
Up TO 25% Off Shoes
30% Off Selected Radley Handbags and small leather goods

50% Off Calvin Klein Underwear
Half Price Jeff Banks Suits
20% Off Selected Underwear

Cosmetics and Fragrance

Up to 25% Off Selected Kids Partywear

20% Off Selected Kids Nightwear

Home & appliances

Up to 50% Off Cookware

Up to 50% Off Duvets and Pillows
50% Off Selected Furniture

50% Off Delonghi Espresso Machine
Half Price Breville 3 in 1 hand blender set

Presents for everybody
Best selection of gifts
Half Price Picooz Remote Control Helicopter
Half Price Pirate Ship and Treasure Island Playset
Cosmetics and fragrances

Friday, 6 November 2009


I was chuffed to get my parenting tip published in the Daily Mirror. I think more people should know about the wonder of wraps, which, unlike conventional baby carriers, really help if you suffer from backache, plus are fantastic for fussy babies, colicy babies and mums who want an alternative to a bulky pram.

When I was living in London, my Moby wrap was so useful! Our local surgery asked mums to lock prams outside for health and safety reasons (you needed a bicycle lock as there were pram thieves about), crowded shops were difficult to negotiate with a pram and public transport was not pram friendly (lots of steps and no lift in the tube and very crowded buses, with no space for a pram).

I'm sad that Michela is now too old and heavy for it, it was so handy and she fell asleep easily when carried this way.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pimm's for Christmas?

Pimm's is a traditional summer spirit, but if you still have some left in your cupboard, why not use it to make a fruit cake?

This fruit cake uses some of the Pimm's cocktail ingredients with a twist: fresh orange rind and candied orange and lemon pieces, lemon juice and mint as a garnish - you can go the whole hog by adding dried strawberries, dried apple rings and cucumber juice. This cake could make an alternative Christmas dessert if iced and topped with seasonal decorations. If you make it in advance, inject Pimm's every so often to keep it moist and store wrapped in foil.

Serves 12
2/3 cup of raisins
2/3 cup of lemon and orange candied pieces
Grated rind of one orange
1/4 cup of Pimm's
3/4 cup melted butter
3/4 white sugar
3 eggs
2 cups of plain flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180C (170C if you have a fan oven). Place raisins, candied fruit and grated rind in a bowl, give them a stir and soak them in Pimm's for 10 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, combine sugar and butter, then beat in the eggs one by one. Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon then add gradually, mixing till combined. Add the soaked fruit and rind, then mix with wooden spoon.

Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper. Pour in the mixture and smooth its surface. Bake for 1.15 minutes, check the cake and continue baking till a toothpick or skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin, then transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Next launches children's modelling competition, plus fundraising fun!

The Next Generation Children’s Competition 2009 launches on 4 November on Next's Facebook page:

Next is looking for new faces to star in a childrenswear shoot for Next Directory!

It's set to be Britain's most exciting competition for 4 to 7 year olds, offering an unbeatable opportunity for aspiring pint-sized models.

After the launch, parents and guardians can upload photographs of entrants, and family and friends can vote for them. Voting closes at noon on 25 November, when the top 100 entrants will be named. Each finalist, along with three guests, will then be invited to attend the grand final at Woburn Abbey on 21 December.

  • The chance to star in a photoshoot for Next Directory
  • Representation by the highly respected children’s model agency Urban Angels
  • A shopping spree at Next
Become a fan of Next on Facebook and they’ll alert you the minute the competition opens. On 4th November, when the competition opens, you will be able to send your entry form from Facebook. From the 5th November entries will appear in a voting gallery. The competition will be monitored 24 hours a day!


Alongside the Children’s Competition Next will also be running an event for the Make a Wish foundation. Children aged 0-16 are invited to draw a picture showing “their wish” and upload a photo of the picture to the Make a Wish event at A panel of judges at Next will choose the top 50 designs and the entrants responsible for the top designs will be asked to submit their original drawings and join in all the fun of the competition final at Woburn Abbey on 21st December, when an overall winner will be selected. The winning design will be manufactured by Next, with sales benefiting the Make-a-wish Foundation.
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Sunday, 1 November 2009

A truly horrific carnival

Yesterday was Halloween and even the staff in Sainsbury's were celebrating by wearing fancy outfits. It became soon apparent that Michela was not going to enjoy the celebrations this year when she burst into tears after a Sainsbury's employee wearing a scary clown mask said 'Boo' to her.

Undeterred I carved a tiny pumpkin and got the pumpkin candle out of the cupboard. When it got dark I placed the tiny pumpkin outside as a signal for children that they can ring the bell - which is the etiquette in our street.

I had a box of gummy sweets prepared and some chocolate biscuits - no apples this year as fery few children went for them last year and I felt sorry for the little fellow who was egged on by his dad to take the 'nice apple'.

When the bell rang I ladled sweets and chocolate biscuits into baskets and little bags. Michela got scared by the masks again and refused to come out even when a couple of girls wearing less scary outfits rang the bell. It was a pity as she enjoyed it so much last year.

Toddlers change so fast you can never predict their behaviour. Sometimes parenting can be a truly scary experience - if you like to read some horror stories, click the link below and enjoy!
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