HEALTH: Feelgood things to do when it's cold outside

Stacia BriggsSpring hasn't sprung and the mercury is still dropping. Forget feeling blue about the weather and embrace the chilly nights with some feelgood-factor activities to warm the cockles of your heart.Stacia Briggs

Spring hasn't sprung and the mercury is still dropping. Forget feeling blue about the weather and embrace the chilly nights with some feelgood-factor activities to warm the cockles of your heart. STACIA BRIGGS reports.

How to build the perfect fire:

After a long hard day, you'd be hard pressed to find a better way of relaxing than sitting beside a roaring fire - traditional, welcoming and warming, it's impossible to feel miserable when you've stared into the heart of a fire.

Firstly, check your chimney is in good working order: if you're planning to have open fires, it needs to be checked before you light a match to ensure that it's strong enough to withstand a fire.

Once you've been given the go-ahead from a qualified chimney sweep, it's time to gather your tinder, kindling and fuel. Tinder is completely dry material that ignites with a single spark - use tree bark, wood shavings, straw, sawdust, dead pine needles or paper.

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Put a layer of tinder on the base of your fire basket and cover with a layer of coal (if using). After lighting your tinder, add kindling, which increases the fire's temperature so that it will burn less combustible materials, like logs and large pieces of wood.

Kindling must be totally dry - try using softwoods, such as cedar and pine, twigs, split wood or thick cardboard. Feed the fire with kindling until it burns brightly and the coal begins to glow.

Once the heat inside your fire is sufficient, you can add the fuel, which will burn slowly and steadily once lit and provide you with the real heat you need on a cold winter's night

For some added romance, try adding fragrance to your fire. Dry apple and orange slices in the oven and then place them in your fire to fill the air with a sweet scent; they make brilliant firestarters, so add them at the beginning of the process.

Mature pinecones, cinnamon sticks, orange or lemon peel, dried cedar branches, apple wood, a few drops of pure fragrance oils applied to logs or dried sage can also be added to the fire to scent the air. But a real favourite, particularly in Norfolk, where it grows abundantly, is dried lavender.

No fireplace of your own? Warm yourself in front of one of the fires at some of our favourite Norfolk pubs: The King's Head at Bawburgh, The Railway Tavern in Framingham Earl, The Lifeboat Inn at Thornham, The Garden House in Hales, Wayford Bridge Inn in Smallburgh and The Wildebeest Arms in Stoke Holy Cross.

Read your way to a good mood. Ten inspirational, feel-good books selected by Ben Richardson, Assistant Manager at Waterstone's Castle Street branch in Norwich:

1) This Book Will Save Your Live, AM Homes, Granta, �7.99.

2) Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia, Chris Stewart, Sort of Books, �7.99.

3) The Alchemist, Paolo Coehlo, Thorsons �7.99.

4) The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, Headline, �7.99.

5) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows , Bloomsbury �7.99.

6) It's Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong, Yellow Jersey �8.99.

7) Yes Man, Danny Wallace, Ebury �7.99.

8) The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett, Corgi �7.99.

9) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon, Red Fox �7.99.

10) Jemima J, Jane Green, Penguin �7.99.

All books are available from local branches of Waterstone's and online at

Create your own upmarket spa with homemade beauty treats and cleansing herbal teas:

Sink into a warm bath made fragrant with your own homemade beauty products, enjoy your own delicious restorative herbal teas and tisanes and scrub away the winter blues with invigorating rubs using ingredients you'll find in your kitchen.

Norfolk-based author Vivienne Bolton has long used nature's bounty to beautify. Her interest in herbs was fostered by her South African grandmother who made her own hand creams and herbal hair rinses

Make your own lavender-scented bath fizzies by melting four tablespoons of cocoa butter or coconut oil, adding six drops of lavender essential oil and then mixing with two tablespoons of cream of tartar, four tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda and two tablespoons of cornflour. The mixture will make a dough - add a little more oil if the mixture is too dry. Roll the dough to a thickness of 1cm and cut into small hearts or other shapes with a biscuit cutter. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to harden. Store in labelled glass jars. To use, place two or three fizzies in a hot bath - they will fizzle away, leaving water softened and fragrant with lavender. The cocoa butter will feed and smooth your skin.

For a homemade herbal bath, place a tablespoon of dried herbs and half a cup of fine oatmeal in a muslin bag. Toss into a running bath - the herbs will add fragrance while the oatmeal softens the water. Try rosemary for a stimulating bath, mint for a refreshing bath, thyme for when you're feeling under the weather, lavender to calm, lemon balm to raise the spirits and, of course, always consider adding

Herbal teas sipped while you soak ensure you are cleansed inside and out. Try making Lemon Verbena tea by dropping a single dried or fresh leaf in boiling water to make a refreshing drink that will lift the spirits. A teaspoon of dried mint or a few freshly picked leaves infused in boiling water and sweetened with honey or sugar can aid the digestion and soothe the soul. Ginger tea is a winter warmer: take two slices of fresh ginger, place in a cup of boiling water and sweeten with honey or sugar.

From Mother to Daughter: Traditional Housekeeping for the Modern Home by Vivienne Bolton is published by Kyle Cathie and costs �16.99.

Create the ultimate cupcake:

Fill your kitchen with the delicious smell of baking and you'll banish the winter blues in an instant. Creating the perfect cupcake is a wonderful way to while away the hours on a grey day, and you can unleash your creative side by decorating your cakes as subtly - or as extravagantly - as you like.

Caroline Jobbins, 25, who lives in Old Costessey, has been running Caroline's Cupcakes since May, when her talent as a cake baker was spotted by friends who began to commission her to bake them a batch.

Caroline's Earl Grey Cupcakes

Makes 12 regular cupcakes


125ml milk

Four Earl Grey tea bags (or any other speciality flavour tea bag)

120g unsalted butter at room temperature

220g granulated sugar

Teaspoon of almond essence (optional)

Two large eggs

120g self-raising flour

110g plain flour


Pre-heat the oven to 160C, 350F or Gas Mark 4.

Line a baking tray with 12 cupcakes cases. Warm the milk in a saucepan and place the teabags in the milk, cover and allow them to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Cream the butter and the sugar for about five minutes with an electric hand mixer until it's pale, creamy and smooth. Meanwhile, sieve the two flours in to a bowl.

Mix in half the flour, one egg and half the milk and beat well. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat.

Spoon the mixture into the cake cases, filling them about two thirds full, and bake until golden and firm, for around 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. Allow at least 10 minutes for them to cool before decorating with vanilla buttercream icing.

Make vanilla buttercream (makes enough for about 20 cupcakes) by creaming 120g of unsalted butter with 65ml of semi-skimmed milk and 250g icing sugar in a large bowl. Gradually add another 250g of icing sugar. Add vanilla extract and food colouring, if you wish. Pipe on to cakes or apply with a palette knife. Eat!

Caroline's Cupcakes can be found at or call 07769313482. Caroline is available for Valentine's Day cupcake deliveries.