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The Perfect Post-Christmas Retreat

Who can say they are not overwhelmed at this time of year by the bombardment of Christmas demands? Who can say that they would not like to take some time to step back and reflect after this busy time? At Minsteracres Retreat Centre, North East rest centre and, Christian retreat centre in Northumberland, they know everything there is to know to help you do just that. What better way to get through Christmas, then to take some time out to benefit from the peace and space at a retreat?

Minsteracres Retreat Centre is traditionally a Christian place of prayer where people come together to share the values of the resident community rooted in the Passionist tradition, and is open to lay people all year round. You can enjoy their hospitality, food and accommodation whilst there. Minsteracres historic buildings are set in a stunning 110 acre estate in the North East of England. You can choose to attend an individual or group retreat from their programme of retreats or you can be one of their team of volunteers in Northumberland.

The House itself has its origins in the 18th century when the Silvertop family, a Roman Catholic family from Stella who had gained their wealth from the coal mining industry, built a mansion and developed the estate on land bought at Minsteracres. The first section of the house was completed in the 1750’s and in 1765 they opened a Roman Catholic mission where a chaplain was appointed and a room in the house was converted into a chapel.

Within a hundred years of this, Henry Charles, a descendent of the original Silvertops built a church (1854) and added further extensions to the house. After WW1, the estate was sold as the family reduced in size. The new owners of most of the original estate were the Passionist congregation who converted the mansion into a monastery with space for 35 priests and brothers. The retreat centre was established is the 1960s.

With such a long heritage of association with Christianity, prayer and devotion, Minsteracres is a perfect environment in Northumberland were you can take time out for spiritual growth. The tranquillity of the estate lends itself to the various retreats available throughout the year for example Walking Retreats which are a day of walking seven to ten miles through the beautiful country side around Minsteracres, with time for prayer, reflection and the sharing of the beauty of creation. And Life in the Psalms days where time is taken to explore the meaning in ancient texts of the psalms which can be re-imagined so that they speak to our contemporary secular world.

So whether you are planning spend time in contemplation after Christmas in the company of those at Minsteracres, or are planning to book a retreat alone or in a group in the next year, you will find the space, solace and welcome you desire. And you can gain added fulfilment by volunteering at Minsteracres, as volunteers are the mainstay of what they do, especially in the dining room, on the estate and with weekend hospitality volunteers.  There is a core group of around 70 longstanding volunteers and you could be most welcome to join them to become part of the vibrant community at Minsteracres Christian Retreat in the North East. For more information please visit www.minsteracres.org.

Novelty Chocolate from Chocolat Lovers

Christmas is a time for giving, and a time for treating your loved ones to luxury Christmas chocolate gifts from Chocolat Lovers the ultimate online chocolate boutique. What better way to show how much you care than by giving a Christmaschocolate gift box or choosing that perfect chocolate stocking filler from the chocolate experts at chocolatlovers.co.uk. It is not too late to order now.

The range of gift items is extensive and you will find everything from the Novelty Chocolate range to luxury Boxed Chocolate gifts, there is even a range for those in your life with specialist dietary requirements who might like the Handcrafted Gluten Free Luxury chocolates box from The Little Chocolate Shop or any number of the Can sugar, Gluten and Soya free products, where possible from ethically sourced products.

Share the moment with your kids by stuffing their stockings with an Exploding Chocolate Frog; this milk chocolate frog is bursting with popping candy, apparently they taste the best if your little terror bites of the frog’s head first! For those less gruesome, how about the fun range of edible chocolate handmade toys, decorated with artistic techniques?  You can choose from a milk chocolate Teddy Bear, Toy Car or Toy train. Each comes wrapped in cellophane and has a little tag so it can hang off the tree.

For the grown-ups who like a chuckle at this time of year, you could select a couple of items from the range of chocolate tool replicas. For example the chocolate Adjustable Spanner, Pocket Knife, Club Hammer and wrench would make a fun selection for the handy-person in your life.

Chocolat Lovers’ are specialists in sourcing and supplying the best quality products, not only are they from top suppliers with specialist knowledge in creating luxury chocolates, but they look beautiful too. What can be better than receiving a present that is as luxurious in the mouth as it is to look at? Try the delicate box of 9 Hand-crafted chocolates from The Chocolate Tree – the award winning chocolates are made in small batches using fresh cream, ethically sourced, top quality ingredients and each chocolate is resting in its own little paper case for that traditional luxury appeal. Visitwww.chocolatlovers.co.uk to browse the full collection.

Spice up your kitchen: 5 Herbs and Spices your cupboards should never be without

If you’re a keen cook or baker, chances are you’ll already have discovered the delights – and the importance – of herbs and spices. Aromatic, warm and earthy, they often form an essential part of a dish, or act as subtle ‘secret ingredients’ that can’t be left out.

But what if you’re just starting out, or setting up your own kitchen for the first time? Or giving your spice shelf a revamp? Which spices should you start with? We take a look at 5 herbs and spices that should be in every kitchen cupboard, and what to do with them.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a warm, sweet spice which comes from the bark of a tree. The bark is dried and rolled up into cinnamon sticks, which can be used whole to flavour custards, stews and desserts, or ground into a powder, which is more commonly used in baking. Cinnamon is heavenly alongside apples, pears and plums; it brings a sweet, complex flavour to crumbles and stewed fruit dishes. Try adding a pinch of ground cinnamon to your pancake mix or crumble topping to give classic recipes a twist.

spice rackCumin

Although cumin is used all over the world, it is most popular in Indian cooking – India is the world’s biggest consumer of this earthy, pungent spice. Cumin is an essential spice in curries, flatbreads such as roti and naan and Indian side dishes such as samosas. Ground cumin loses its flavour quickly, so it’s better to use whole cumin seeds, which are widely available. Dry roast them lightly in a frying pan until they begin to release their spicy aroma, then grind them in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. They’ll make your kitchen smell unbelievable!

Basil

Basil is one of the most versatile and widely-used herbs in the kitchen. It goes perfectly with classic Italian ingredients such as tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese. If your kitchen is sunny, a pot of fresh basil will grow well on your windowsill during the warmer months; the rest of the year, dried basil makes for a good alternative. Try stirring a teaspoon of dried basil into chilli, or sprinkling over a Mediterranean puff-pastry tart.

Oregano

A staple in Italian and Greek cooking, oregano is a dream partner for tomatoes, lamb, aubergines and goats’ cheese. A pinch of oregano can work wonders in a tomato sauce, giving it the authentic, sun-filled flavour that characterises Mediterranean cuisine. If you’re using dried oregano in a recipe instead of fresh, you’ll need to roughly halve the quantity – dried oregano has a particularly strong (and tasty!) flavour.

Rosemary

Rosemary has made its name in Britain as a classic winter herb. It’s also one of the herbs which keeps its flavour best when dried, so you don’t need to grow your own to experience its aromatic flavour. Dried rosemary can be a bit spiky, so it needs to be crushed a little before adding to soups and stews. Try sprinkling potatoes with chopped rosemary, plenty of cracked black pepper and sea salt before roasting them, or using the sprigs whole in focaccia, an Italian oven-baked bread.

If you’re feeling inspired, and want to rush out and buy them all at once, our Cole and Mason Carousel Herb and Spice Sets come pre-filled with all these – and more! Or if your spice shelf needs organising, see our Hahn Pisa Spice Racks and coming soon the beautifully designed pre-filled Kitchenrax Wooden Space & Spice Organisers.