Tuesday 31 January 2012

How will I know if I win a competition on Twitter?

If you are new to comping on Twitter, especially if you have already experienced the confusion of Facebook, you may be worried about how you will find out whether you have won a competition on Twitter.

One or two people have told me that they try to read every single tweet they have missed while they are away from Twitter, in case they've missed an announcement that they have won.

The good news is that this isn't necessary. When a promoter chooses their winner, they will contact them either by mentioning them in a tweet or sending them a direct message. It's always a good idea to follow somebody who is running a competition, even if they don't actually say that you have to, because they can't send you a direct message if you aren't following them.

So how do you know you have won?

Well, to check to see if you have been mentioned in a tweet, go to your twitter page  and look at the top of your column of tweets, to the second tab along, where it will show your user name. For instance my tab is labelled @janesgrapevine. If you click on that, you will see a list of all the tweets sent to you or mentioning your name. If you can see all sorts of other stuff jumbled in among them, click the "show mentions only" box on the top right and you will only see tweets with your name in - then you can scan down the list for anything saying you are a winner.

To see if you have been sent a Direct Message, click on "Messages" right at the very top of the screen.

It's a good idea to check both of these every time you visit Twitter, but if you are still worried you might miss something, you can set Twitter to send you an email every time somebody mentions you or sends you a Direct Message. To do this, click on the little arrowhead to the very right of your name at the top of your Twitter page and choose Settings. Then choose "Notifications" and tick the boxes  next to "Email me when I'm sent a direct message" and "I'm sent a reply or mentioned". Finally click on "Save" and you can relax, knowing that you'll never miss a winning notification.

What happens when I win?

When you win, the promoter will need to know where to send your prize. It isn't a good idea, from a personal security point of view, for you to send them your address  in a tweet, so they will either give you an email address to send your details to, or tweet you a link to a form to fill in on a website, or ask you to send your details in a Direct Message.

They don't always realise that they need to be following you in order for you to Direct Message them, but a polite tweet to them asking them to follow you so that you can send it almost always does the trick. If they are being a bit dozy and not checking their incoming tweets, click on their user name to take you to their own Twitter page where there should be a link to their website. Use the "Contact Us" page on the site to send them a message, remembering to include your Twitter name so they can confirm that it is you.

And just to brighten this  up, here is a photo of a beautiful bunch of orchids I won yesterday.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Twice the prize!

A few weeks ago, I spotted a tiebreaker competition on the Facebook page of Jack's Male Grooming. There was a lovely prize - £250 worth of men's grooming products for the person you nominated. And I thought of a really good slogan (although sadly I've forgotten what  it was now - Christmas rather got in the way of things!). The trouble is, my husband really isn't keen on scrubs, gels, potions and moisturisers, but I knew my friend Kevin would appreciate the prize, so I nominated him.

I was really excited to hear that I had won - as many of you will agree, winning a treat for yourself is wonderful but winning a treat for someone else is even better! They wanted to do a prize presentation, with some of the girls from Jack's shop, so we agreed to meet in Kevin's central London office on Friday afternoon.

The girls duly arrived, not with one box of male grooming products but with TWO! To my complete surprise, there was a complete set of products for me too. Each box included a selection of hair, body and skin care prodicts and £70 of vouchers to spend in the salon.

What a lovely prize - and twice the prize I'd thought it was going to be!

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Three Little Words

A couple  of days ago, some of you may have  seen tweets from me asking you to tweet the three words that sprang to mind when you saw a tweet from me. I was very relieved that not one of you said "Not her again!"

These are the replies I got

Very useful information!
My friend Jane.
new comp great!
Specsavers subscription justified!
Has she won?
Comps, cards, advice
helpful, informative and wise
yay witty comps
Helpful, friendly, fun!
Yippeeee comp ta
information competition advice
sideways, forward, honest
informative comping information
competitions, freebies, happy :)

Thanks very much to everyone who joined in - and now my head has subsided to its normal size after being swollen by all those lovely comments, I'll explain what it is all about.

I am currently taking part in the 30 Day Twitter Challenge by Nikki Pilkington and that day's task was to use the three word question to  find out whether what your followers associate with your tweets is  actually what you are trying to put across. I'm glad to say I seem to be giving you all the right idea about me!

Tuesday 24 January 2012

"Somebody's retweeted my competition entry!"

Lots of compers get upset if somebody retweets their competition entry, fearing that it means they will be disqualified, so I'm going to take a look at what happens when you retweet something.

Let's say there are two compers, Alice and Barbara, who are both entering a competition run by Company. (See what I did there - I can call them A, B and C now!)

C  Tweets "RT to win this smashing prize"

A sees the tweet and retweets it.

B sees A's retweet but instead of going to C's timeline and retweeting the original tweet, they retweet A's retweet.

Who sees what?

Well, if A used the RT button, her entry will show up in her timeline with C's avatar and  two arrows underneath, along with a note "retweeted by A". If B also hits the retweet button, it will also show up in her own timeline, also with C's avatar, and with the note "retweeted by B".   When C looks at their tweet to see who has retweeted it, both will show up. Both have entered the competition, A will probably never know that B has retweeted the tweet and all is well. 

If A used the retweet button but B would rather enter by copying and pasting, she can copy the text of C's  tweet into a new tweet. Once again A won't be affected. However B must be very careful of something - she MUST remember that as well as the text of the tweet, she needs to start the tweet with RT @C and then paste in the text - otherwise not only will C not see her entry, but new compers on Twitter who see B's tweet might think that B is running the competition and try to enter by retweeting it themselves!

If A has used the "old style" copy-and-paste way of retweeting, and B also copies and pastes her tweet, remembering to include the full text of the tweet including the part that says RT @C, then again all is well and A is unaffected.

Where it gets messy is when A has done a copy-and-paste  tweet but B uses the retweet button. It will then show up in A's timeline as a tweet of hers that has been retweeted,  and in B's timeline as a retweet of A's tweet.

In C's activity column it will show up as "RT @A RT @C RT to win this smashing prize" if it shows up at all so if C sees it at all, they won't see that B has entered, only that A has done so. That's because B, by using the retweet button, has told Twitter that it is A's message she is retweeting and not C's. 

The message C sees won't be an exact retweet of their original tweet, so they may not count it as an entry to their competition, but if they do they will count it as a second entry for A and poor old B won't have entered at all.  B's "entry" will have gone to A instead.

Picture it this way, if you are a comper who likes to do postcard entries from magazines. If A passed on her copy of C's magazine to you and you wanted to enter a competition in it, you wouldn't post your postcard to A would you? Well, retweeting A's tweet is the same as doing that!

So going back to the problem "Will we both be disqualified?" the answer is "probably not".

Most competitions on Twitter  don't limit you to one entry per person. Those that do limit you will almost always allow your first entry even if somebody retweets it.  However if somebody has retweeted your entry and you don't like the fact that they have done so, go back to your own message, the one they retweeted, and delete it. Their retweet will disappear too. Then all you need to do is tweet it again!

The moral of all this is that in certain cases it is OK to retweet another comper's entry, but to be absolutely certain that you are entered you need to go to the promoter's timeline and tweet from there. 

Happy (re) tweeting!

Monday 23 January 2012

Follow the instructions - or you won't win!

Follow the instructions - or you won't win! It sounds  obvious doesn't it? When you enter a competition, you need to follow the instructions so that you are entered into the draw, or your entry goes in front of the judges. But are you sure you always do what is asked of you?

Take my own monthly competition, for instance. Every month, around 1 in 4 entries are disqualified because the entrants didn't read the instructions. They put the wrong answer in the answer box, or sometimes no answer at all, or they enter 10 times within  the space of a few minutes (incidentally, if you enter twice at different times, I presume you've simply forgotten that you've already done that month's entry, so your entry still counts)

Promoters and bloggers I talk to come back over and over again with figures of 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 disqualifications, for lots of different reasons. Here are some I have heard of recently:

Trying to enter after the competition has closed.

In a postal comp, forgetting to put your name and address on the entry form or postcard.

Not having the correct proof of purchase for a postal comp or one that needs a text or online entry with a code.

Entering with several different email addresses within the space of a few minutes. Most websites CAN tell that you are the same person, even if you think they can't!

Filling in the Rafflecopter form that is used on many blog competitions now by simply clicking "I did this" for every option, when you haven't performed the task or given the details of your like/follow/sign up/tweet in the space provided. If you are deliberately doing this to save time, thinking you will get away with it, I've got bad news  for you - you've already wasted a LOT of time! Because Rafflecopter collects all the information you give so that the blogger checking the results can see at a glance whether you have done what you were supposed to.

Ignoring the Rafflecopter form, where there is one,  and just making your entries as blog comments. A blogger using Rafflecopter will have a list of entries compiled by the service, and if you don't use the form, you won't be on the list.

Commenting on a blog to  say "I have followed you with Twitter/Google Friend Connect/Email" when you haven't done. Every blogger will double check when they draw a winner and if you haven't done what you say you have, you simply won't win.

Commenting on a blog or Facebook page - but saying the wrong thing.  You might be asked to tell them something like your favourite  song, describe a book, a place or a recipe, or answer a question. If, instead, you write something along the lines of "Lovely prize, please enter me" then you just don't stands a chance.

Trying to enter by making a comment when there is a form to fill in. This happens quite often on Facebook pages where the competition is being run through an app,  and websites with entry forms where there is also a comments facility. The winner will be chosen from entries submitted on the form and the promoter probably won't even see the comments made by would-be entrants.

I'm sure some bloggers and Facebook page owners who read this will think of other ways entrants fail to get into the hat, so please comment or contact me if you would like to suggest anything to add to the list.

And compers, every time you enter a competition, remember that you don't want to be one of the "1 in 4".  Take a little time to read the instructions properly and do exactly as you are asked,  and then relax knowing that up to a quarter of those you are competing against won't bother to do the same!

For more tips on how to be a careful comper and make sure every entry counts, see the Loquax blog where there's even a handy poster to remind you how to enter Facebook competitions.

Saturday 21 January 2012

When is a competition not a competition?

This morning I was intrigued to log in to Twitter and see that the top trending topic was #WinFootyTickets even though I'd not heard of any such competition on Twitter. I know I sometimes miss things, but surely I would have heard about one that had so many entries it was the most popular topic in the world? (Well....the world according to Twitter anyway!)

So I clicked on the hashtag to take a closer look. What I saw was thousands and thousands of people all saying who they would like to win tickets to see, or why they would like to see them. None of them had included a promoter of any kind in their tweet, just their message and the hashtag #WinFootyTickets. Some had started to argue amongst themselves about which teams you could win tickets for, or whether the word "footy" in the hashtag was correct or should be replaced with "football" but not one of them seemed to know or care who was running the competition,  what the prizes actually were, when the competition closed or any of the info we compers would want before entering.

Eventually my search took me to the Barclays Football Twitter feed, where they have a tweet advertising the competition that is running at their cashpoints and on their website, with Premiership tickets to be won every 90 minutes. If you are a Grape Vine reader, you will see it listed in the Long Running Comps section every month, and I'm sure most compers already know about it. If it is news to you, you can enter here and it is free to enter.

So why is it trending on Twitter and why do so many people think they have entered? Well, the Barclays Football tweet is a promoted one, which means that they have paid Twitter to pin it to the top of lots of relevant Twitter searches, so that if somebody goes to look for tweets about, say, football, it will be at the top of the list, and it will stay at the top. The tweet itself reads:

Barclays Football
Try and win Barclays Premier League tickets, click please RT
As a comper, you can probably see right away that you need to click on the link to reach the competition, but today lots of non-compers must have seen that tweet and not realised it, thinking they could enter on Twitter.  Once they started tweeting about it, the hashtag will have started to appear more and more often until it hit the Trending Topic list, so now people are logging in to Twitter, seeing the hashtag appear in their Trending Topics list and tweeting about it straight away. They don't really know what competition they think they are entering, and the result is that they aren't entering any competition at all - a comp that is not a comp! The moral of the story is "Look before you Tweet">
Never mind, it's keeping them all busy while we compers head over to the Barclays website  and enter for real! Good luck everybody!

Thursday 19 January 2012

Hand made Thursday - more cards

This year I made two New Year's Resolutions

1. To declutter the house
2. to make at least two cards a week instead of spending my crafting time shopping for new stash

If I can clear the mountains of stash, I'll have achieved both resolutions!

My first move was to go through my huge pile of craft mags. I set aside the ones I  return to for inspiration over and over again as I know I will never part with them. Then I made another, smallish, pile of those that have just one project in them that I want to either recreate or base an idea  of my own on. The  remaining mags were parcelled up and posted to a lady I have just "met" online who makes cards to sell to raise funds for charity.

I recently bought a set of music themed stamps, featuring Beethoven (if anyone ever sees a stamp with Mozart on it, please let me know!)  so one of my first makes of the year used this set and was based on a design in Making Cards magazine.

Then I moved on to a set of Stampin' Up stamps I bought from Amy at CraftyThINKer  and tackled my own interpretation of a card featured on her blog but originally created by Jade at Jaded Crafter

Thank you for the inspiration, ladies!
The crafting and decluttering goes on - I've neglected my stamps for too long and i'm loveing getting back into stamping again. And if I make more cards than I can use, I know that hand made cards for RAF personnel serving overseas to send to family back home are always welcome at OBWS

I am joining in Hadmade Thursday on White Lily Green

Inspire Me Beautiful

Tuesday 17 January 2012

If it wasn't for comping......

If it wasn't for comping I wouldn't be blogging!

If it wasn't for comping, I wouldn't be producing my own comping magazine.

If it wasn't for comping, I wouldn't have learned all the computer, internet and Twitter tips that I share.

If it wasn't for comping, I wouldn't have
  • had a trip round the world
  • visited the Great Barrier Reef
  • taken tea on a balcony overlooking the Himalayas
  • stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon
  • stroked the nose of a real live whale, in the wild
  • drunk champagne that costs £150 a bottle
  • cooked with chef Atul Kochar, in his Michelin starred kitchen
  • appeared on The Good Food Show Christmas Quiz on TV
  • avoided the traffic jams at the British Grand Prix by arriving and leaving in a helicopter
  • spent a New Year weekend in a country house filled with friends
  • had trackside seats when a World sprinting record was broken
  • been able to shower family members with goodies and even holidays, that I could never have given them otherwise
But more importantly, if it wasn't for comping, I wouldn't have gotto know all the wonderful friends I have made through the hobby, some of them now real "in-the-flesh" friends  and some of them still virtual ones.

What would YOU not have done if it wasn't for comping?

Tuesday 10 January 2012


Consumer finance experts Moneymagpie.com, in association with daily deals site Dealtastic, are giving away five fabulous NutriHeat hairdryers to help you beat the January gloom!

Recommended by Trevor Sorbie, NutriHeat features three heat settings, two speed settings and a classy real leather handle. In addition, its curl creator will give you glossy, moisturised and well-defined waves. NutriHeat’s mighty 1800w power output makes it one of the speediest hairdryers available, so it’s the perfect accessory for those with busy lives who care about their hair.

To be in with a chance of winning this indispensable accessory, worth £59.99, simply visit Moneymagpie’s Facebook page and tell them your top budget beauty tip. The best five chosen will win this great prize.

Monday 9 January 2012

Oh, Fat Duck!

Some time ago I won dinner for two at Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin starred restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray. I decided to save the meal up as a birthday treat for my husband Mark, so we went there on the weekend of his birthday in March.  The prize consisted of the famous tasting menu, with specially selected wines to match each course.

When the taxi stopped outside a row of terraced cottages, we had to ask the driver where the restaurant was – it turned out to be one of the cottages, opening directly on to the street with hardly anything other than a small brass plaque to show that it wasn’t just a private home.

Inside, the restaurant was small too – probably only seating 50 people at the most, but with a very calm and stylish atmosphere. There was no bar or seating area – we were taken straight to our table and offered champagne from the “champagne trolley” but we decided instead to start with the sherry that was to accompany the first stage of the meal, a lovely crisp Manzanilla that went beautifully with the olives that were waiting for us on the table.

The tasting menu started with a palate cleanser of Nitro green tea and lime mousse. A trolley came to the table with a steaming bowl of liquid nitrogen on it, and an egg white and green tea mixture was squirted into it from a contraption a bit like a squirty cream dispenser. The little ball of iced meringue that formed was dusted with lime zest and had to be eaten in one mouthful, while lime oil was sprayed into the air in front of us. It was like eating a mouthful of cold, fresh mountain air!

Next came a plate with two tiny squares of jelly, one red and one orange. The waiter told us one was beetroot and the other orange, and we should eat the orange one first. So of course we duly started with the orange coloured one, and were surprised to find it tasted of beetroot.  It had been made from golden beetroot and the second deliciously tangy jelly from blood oranges – the first of many confusing experiences for our taste buds.

The next course was a single rock oyster, with a little passionfruit jelly in the shell, stylishly presented on a black wooden block with a sprig of lavender. I’m trying hard to learn to love oysters, but I still think they feel like snot, and I’m afraid the passion fruit jelly just emphasised that texture for me. My husband doesn’t eat any fish or shellfish, so his dish was a mixture of Puy lentils and mint on a peach jelly – I think I would have preferred that!

Then we moved on to ice cream – mustard ice cream! It was served with a sauce of red cabbage gazpacho. The quantities were tiny – about a heaped teaspoonful of ice cream and a tablespoonful of gazpacho, but the flavours so intense it was if they had taken a normal full sized portion and condensed it into a thimbleful.

Another odd experience followed – a rectangular basket of moss was brought to the table with two little plastic boxes nestling on top. We were given a box each and instructed to take out of the box a thin film and allow it to dissolve on our tongues. It was oak-moss flavoured, and while it was dissolving, something (more liquid nitrogen, I think) was poured over the basket of moss so that moss scented smoke spilled over the table and wafted around us. Immediately, we were given a tiny finger of toast to eat, topped with an oak moss and truffle mixture and slices of the tiniest radish I have ever seen.  On the same plate was our next dish, an interesting swivelling cup filled with layers (starting from the bottom) of pea purée, quail jelly, langoustine cream (beetroot cream for Mark) and a tiny scoop of parfait of foie gras. I found every one of the layers delicious but I have to say I didn’t think they went well together, apart from the pea purée which worked with all the other layers.

Phew! With all the pre-dinner nibbles out of the way, and our half-bottle of sherry finished, it was time to start the meal, so the bread basket arrived with some of the creamiest, most delicious butter I have ever tasted – I wonder whether they have found a way to concentrate the flavour of that too?

Our first “real” course was the famous snail porridge. We had been expecting something grey and slimy, rather like Chinese congee, so were pleasantly surprised to find the oats had been made into something the texture of risotto, bright green with parsley, with the snails – not at all tough or chewy – nestling on top and a topping of very finely shredded, intensely flavoured dried ham and delicate shavings of fennel. It was served with a French red vin de pays – the wine waiter was excellent, very knowledgeable yet able to talk about the wines in real English  rather than “winespeak”.

Next came roast foie gras. It was served with tiny dice of an almond jelly, a bitter cherry sauce and a chamomile flavoured froth with a bitter cherry in it, and accompanied by a New Zealand Gewurztraminer. The foie gras had been poached very slowly – one of Blumenthal’s signature cooking techniques – which left it very light and tender, and the bitterness of the cherries and slight sweetness of the wine made this an amazing combination and one of the high spots of the meal, despite our objections to the production methods of foie gras (I think I’m going to have to do the foodie equivalent of carbon offsetting now) and the fact that Mark had never enjoyed it when he had tried it before.

Then there was a sardine on toast sorbet for me,  served with a slice of dried mackerel and a salad of shredded seaweed. My husband was given a velouté soup with black truffles. Sake was served with this course. I’m afraid I really didn’t like the sorbet and mackerel at all – the smell and taste were too strong, reminding me of the dried fish shops that I used to avoid in Chinese markets when I lived in the far East. But the waiter cleared my unfinished dish away with a cheerful “Thank you for trying it.”

Salmon, again slow cooked, wrapped in a liquorice jelly, was my next course. There were two pieces of roast artichoke on the plate, and the rest of it was spectacularly decorated with tiny dots of olive oil and tiny individual cells of pink grapefruit. It was a work of art both on the plate and in the mouth. Mark’s non-fish dish was slow roasted belly pork  on a bed of Savoy cabbage  with truffled macaroni. A Portuguese red wine, very smooth and deeply flavoured, was served with this – I think it went better with the pork than the salmon.

The main course came next – a lamb cutlet, again slowly cooked, so it was meltingly tender. The waiter said it was sealed in a plastic bag, then poached in a warm water bath – just a boil-in-a-bag meal then! The onion and thyme purée and roast shallot perfectly complemented the meltingly tender meat, as did the Valpolicella served with it.

Before moving on to the desserts, we were served a cup of tea to refresh our palates. But it was no ordinary cup of tea – at one side of the cup, the tea was scalding hot and at the other it was ice cold. It created the most peculiar sensation in the mouth – and stranger still, the hot and cold sides stayed hot and cold for the whole time it took to drink the tea, rather than mixing together as they ought to have done.

At this stage we were offered cheese as an optional extra. We had drooled over the sight and smell of the cheese trolley visiting other tables, with a vast selection of cheeses all offered at the peak of perfection,  but despite the tiny portions we were already beginning to feel pretty full so decided to stick with the set menu.

Tiny, tiny individual ice cream cornets were brought to us next. Still in a bit of a mental whirl over the tea, I can’t remember what the first flavour of ice cream was, but there were two layers in the cornet and the second was a wonderfully intense fresh ginger ice cream. I could have happily devoured a whole bowl of it.

Then we were brought miniature sherbet fountains. Just like a small version of the yellow ones we all enjoyed as kids, except instead of a liquorice stick to eat it with, there was a hollowed out twig of Douglas Fir. This helped to prepare us for the pine-resin flavour of the mango and fir purée which accompanied the first dessert, a bavarios of lychee and mango. On the same plate there was a tiny scoop of blackcurrant sorbet, which once again seemed to have all the flavour of a much larger helping condensed into it. This explosion of flavour was perfectly complemented by the Austrian Riesling Eiswein that accompanied it.

Having had our sherbet fountains, another nostalgic sweetie appeared – a lollipop. But this one was a wafer thin sheet of a crunchy carrot and orange tuile.  At the same time we were given what looked like a fruit pastille, but was another beetroot jelly, this time a sweet one.

To our surprise (if anything could surprise us by now) a waiter then said to us, “Good morning – it’s time for breakfast!” and placed cereal bowls in front of us containing what looked like individual packets of breakfast cereal, and a jug of milk between us. The contents of the packets certainly looked like tiny cornflakes – but they were actually little flakes of dried parsnip, and the ‘milk’ was also made from parsnip. A very unexpected – and utterly delicious – treat.

Then a waitress wheeled up a trolley with an old fashioned copper chafing dish on it. She said she was going to give us our cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs. First she placed plates in front of us with a hot, sticky piece of French Toast and a paper thin rasher of bacon on them (Mark’s plate had “Happy Birthday” painted around the rim in cocoa dust) , then she cracked an egg into the chafing dish to scramble it – but instead of lighting the burner under the dish, she poured a jugful of liquid nitrogen into the pan and scrambled the egg in the icy fumes. I don’t know how it happened, but it produced perfect light, fluffy scrambled egg – but ice cold! Served with our bacon and French toast, it was a perfect ending to a meal that had been a series of surprises from beginning to end, and went beautifully with the rich, sweet sticky Australian Rutherglen Muscat wine that came with it.

Finally as we sipped the last of our wine we were brought a plate of whisky wine gums, flavoured with a strong, smoky single malt, and 10p-sized tartlets filled with violet jelly, and some chocolate truffles, served inside a cocoa pod.  By the time we got up to leave, we had spent almost four hours eating and drinking, and yet didn’t feel overstuffed or bloated, and didn’t have a trace of indigestion (although we were a bit wobbly on our feet after all that sherry and wine).

We saw the bill that The Times was footing - £465 for the two of us (this was five years ago - I expect it is even more now) . Was it worth it? It is a lot of money for a meal out, but this was so much more than a meal out – it was entertainment, theatre, education, involvement, an exploration of the effects of the senses on eating, and such a workout for the tastebuds we fully expected them to ache the next day.

One thing that particularly impressed me was the quality of the staff – with such an international reputation,  they get customers from all over the world and we heard waiters chatting to customers in at least three languages. The staff were also very knowledgeable and could answer every question we asked about the dishes. One waiter explained to us that every few weeks each waiter is expected to leave his front-of-house duties and spend a week working with the chefs in the kitchen, so they know exactly how each dish is prepared.

I’d been a little worried that the other customers would all be members of the ‘glitterati’, dripping with diamonds and designer frocks, but in fact apart from one small party who looked like footballers and their WAGs (one of whom proposed to his girlfriend –and was accepted – during the course of the meal….. aaaah…..) they all seemed to be ordinary people who had gone along to try out the ultimate foodie experience – and they all seemed to be as delighted with it as we were.

Saturday 7 January 2012

A cookery holiday in Tuscany

I've been digging around in my files, trying to inspire myself by reading about past prizes, and I came across this account I wrote  ten years  ago, after a trip to Tuscany that I won in a recipe competition run  by Merchant Gourmet foods.

The kind of surprise I like - turning up to find that I am to spend a week living in a working winery with an unlimited supply of the product! That's how my prize trip to Tuscany started.

 There were 7 of us on the cookery course - six Americans and me. We started with a guided tour of the vineyard and a look at the newly harvested grapes being turned into Chianti, then tasted a selection of the wines with nibbles made using the olive oil and honey also produced at the Palazzo. By the time we had had glasses of all seven wines (and grappa) we had become firm friends.

Dinner followed soon after - seven courses with more wine! We rolled back to our rooms at the end of the evening.

The following days followed a pattern - excursions during the day to local hilltop towns and food and wine producers, then a cookery class starting late in the afternoon, during which we made some of the many dishes we were served at dinner. The trips were fascinating; the cookery lessons lively and entertaining, and they removed a lot of the mystery from dishes I had previously thought very complicated. We were a lucky group in that we all had a great rapport which made everything (especially the wine) flow very freely. The chef and his translator made a great double act - they have recently recorded a programme for American television. I wish I could see it.

The weather was glorious, except for one day. The Tuscan countryside looked beautiful. The trips took us to all sorts of places, including a very memorable meal in an extremely expensive restaurant one day, and a peasant meal in an olive pressing factory the next - both so splendid it was impossible to say which was the better of the two.

The final day had no cooking class - we spent the day in Siena while the chef prepared a final feast for us. And what a feast! Another seven course blowout. For the first time, the dishes were from all over Italy instead of just from Tuscany. And in honour of the fact that two of our party were serious wine buffs, the owner of the Palazzo had raided his personal cellar for two bottles of the estate's own Chianti Reserva 1966. It was a treat and an honour to taste such an exclusive wine.

It would take too long to describe everything - the lovely Palazzo, its beautiful setting, the 17 cats, all the places we visited, the great characters among both the  staff and the other guests, but I had a wonderful time, never for a moment felt uncomfortable about having gone alone and am just hoping to win the chance to go back next year!

Thursday 5 January 2012

A competition my crafty friends will love!

As Grape Vine went in the post yesterday, today I felt justified in giving myself a day off working on it. As as you know, when I'm not working on GV, or entering competitions myself, I'm to be found cooking or crafting. Today I finally got all my craft things back out from where they had been stored over Christmas, and played with my new musical themed set of stamps. Here's the result:

Next I have some cute owl stamps to play with, which I'll be colouring in with my favourite pens - Promarkers. The  range of colours is quite amazing, and because they blend so well the total number of colours you can get is quite literally infinite. I've got quite a few already, but as all crafters know, you can never have too many and I have a wishlist of colours tucked into my box of pens. I'm on the lookout for lots more shades of green and brown at the moment.

So I was delighted to hear that Always with a Heart and Handy Hippo  are running a competition to win 20 pens of your choice from the range.

To read about the competition and enter for yourself, pop over to the Always with a Heart blog but hurry! The competition closes  on January 8th. If you're not lucky, you can buy Promarkers and many other craft goodies at Handy Hippo. And I've just spotted that they have a super deal on Nestabilities so I may be adding to my collection.

In the meantime, I have rather a lot of ink to scrub off my fingers!

Tuesday 3 January 2012

What will this year bring?

Happy New Year everyone.

It's January 3rd, so I'm sure some of you have already broken your resolutions - especially if they involved healthy eating, because with the gale blowing outside as I'm writing this and the rain lashing against the window, comfort food isn't a luxury, it's a NECESSITY. So go on, eat that bar of chocolate, I've given you permission!

Did you make any comping resolutions? Is there anything you really want to win this year? I still haven't won tickets to the Olympic Games, so they are high on my wish list. I once won tickets to the opening ceremony of the World Athletics Championships, when they were held in Seville, and then later won tickets to the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, when they were in Manchester, so it would be perfect if I could win tickets to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.

Next on my win-shopping list is an iPad. I gave in and bought one for myself this year, but since I started to use it, I have had so many envious looks from my husband that I'm trying to win one for him.  The iPad displays photographs beautifully, and if you have ever seen the wonderful photography on his blog, Mark's Veg Plot you'll  see how invaluable it would be to him. Here is one of his photos - of the very apt "Grape Vine" cheese plate I won in the recent Waitrose competition.

......and another photo of it after being filled.....

As well as big prizes (cash, a holiday and a car would be lovely!) I'm also trying to win lots of baby things, as my second grandchild is due in April, and craft goodies as I've promised myself  I'm not going to buy any this year. I made the "craft ban" resolution last year, and won lots - but even so I didn't manage to keep it for very long. And if I'm lucky enough to win tickets to the "Make It" show in Farnborough next month, I can see my willpower crumbling even faster this year.

My other non-comping resolutions are to make two Christmas cards a week all through the year,which will help to use up some of the card and paper I overspent on last year, and to declutter the house. We're half way through the first week already and I haven't started yet, so maybe I shouldn't be sitting here typing, surrounded by clutter!