Tuesday, 25 February 2014

the art of gifting

To me, gifting should not just be about buying people you love the things they like, but the things they perhaps wouldn't usually buy themselves. I mean, most people might feel a little extravagant buying themselves fancy ceramic measuring spoons, a pug print tea towel, or special edition literary classics. Buying these for yourself might feel unnecessary, but who doesn't want something a little indulgent as a gift?! It can't be just me...

The above are some of the items I've found that I think would make great gifts for a whole range of people in your life. The bespoke heart map prints are such a cute idea - have them personalised to indicate where you first met, got married or were born... the list is endless. Not On The Highstreet is one of my favourites for unique gifts that help you find something really perfect - the pug print tea towel would make the perfect gift for any crazy dog lady such as myself or gent!

Anthropologie is the home of un-essential but super gift-worthy items such as these measuring spoons and this trinket dish. Keep your eyes peeled for another post in the near feature on this topic! I can think of so many people these Mr Boddington's Penguin Classics would be perfect for - not only are they classic reads, but their limited-edition style covers are so gorgeous and would make a welcome addition to anyone's bookshelf or coffee table. Again, probably not something you could justify buying yourself, but an excellent gift. 

And finally - real, proper jewellery. I am most definitely guilty of this one; I always wait for people to buy me jewellery as gifts. Be it a statement necklace, simple rings to fuel my layering obsession, or proper pearl earrings like these from Mesenso. Classic and timeless, the perfect gift as you know these will never feel dated.

I think I've got all bases covered here - for women at least. Now to have a think about gifting for men... possibly the hardest task known to woman-kind?!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

bookworm #23

The Island by Victoria Hislop

This is the second novel by Victoria Hislop that I've read - I loved The Thread (see my bookworm post here) which told the story of the Nazi occupation of Greek island Thessaloniki. The Island is of a similar tone to The Thread - this time focusing on the Greek island of Spinalonga. 

Spinlonga is an island just off Crete, and today is known as Kalydon. The novel, however, tells  the story of Spinalonga in the 1940s and 50s when it was a leper colony - in fact, Spinalonga was one of the last leper colonies in Europe, which is told in this novel. It was where lepers would go to live out their days in isolation, so as to prevent the spread of the disease. Although now we know leprosy not to be highly contagious, it was often a hugely stigmatising condition which allowed many to separate lepers from the mainstream population, for fear of contamination and spreading a disease there was no treatment for until the late 1940s.

Anyway, The Island tells the story of Alexis who is (in the modern-day) venturing to Greece to discover her mother's past. Alexis meets a friend of her mother, Fotini, who tells her all about her ancestors and how she herself is linked to Spinalonga. Just like with The Thread, Hislop is seamless in weaving together the past with the present to tell a story that will get you hooked from the off. Even the descriptions of Greek islands make you feel warm and relaxed! It's a great beach book, but also a great one to read in these miserable months to warm your heart. 

Have you read The Island? What did you think?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

loosening up

I've fallen completely head-over-heels in love with these boots! To me, they look designer, but luckily for us all are the latest offering from my firm favourite Zara. They have it all - low heel, buckle detail, super low ankle height... I think they'd look great with skinnies in this cold weather, or in the summer months with denim shorts or floaty dresses. For just under £80 they're not cheap, but for real leather and good quality I'd say totally worth it. They're up on the top of my list - for when my shopping ban is over, that is! A few more weeks...

What do you think?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


While visiting a friend a few weeks ago in London I was treated to the most yummy beef goulash - and I knew I had to get my hands on the recipe! Luckily for me it was a Hairy Bikers recipe which are really easy to get hold of online, and even more to my delight this recipe is a part of their Hairy Dieters series - joy! I've adapted this slightly, but feel free to follow the original recipe from their website.

You will need (for 4 people)
500g lean beef casserole steak
2 onions, diced
2 peppers, cut into chunks
1 tin tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp hot paprika
1 tbsp paprika
1 beef stock cube
400ml cold water
2 bay leaves
Pappardelle pasta to serve

This is really simple - start off by frying your beef in a small amount of oil, and then adding the onions once the beef is browned, and then the garlic. Cook all together for a further five minutes. 

Sprinkle over the paprika(s) and the stock cube, then add the water, tomatoes, tomato puree and bay leaves. Season with some salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Pop a lid on and transfer to the oven for about 90 minutes. 

After the initial 90 minutes, add your peppers (I cut them into nice big chunks) and put back in the oven for another 30 minutes. After this I like to finish it off on the hob for a final 30 minutes - if you keep it bubbling away (on a simmer) the remaining broth will reduce down into a gorgeous rich, thick sauce. If you think it's becoming too dry, just top up with some water. 

I served this as my friend did with big fat pappardelle pasta (so worth the extra few calories pennies) and a dollop of creme fraiche on top. The Hairy Bikers suggest sour cream, what whatever you fancy I guess - quark or natural yogurt would equally do the job.

For me, this stew is even better the second time round - after being stored in the fridge or freezer and reheated (maybe adding more water if needed) the flavour is intensified. If you can make this at the weekend it would make a really tasty and simple mid-week dinner! Cook, divide into portions and freeze. Simples.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

sweet tooth

Half term is here. Praise the lord. This weekend has been spent winding down and really just chilling out - seeing some family for dinner last night was as exciting as it got! Today we went for a walk in the sunshine through the park, ending up in town for a cuppa and slice of carrot cake. How all Sunday's should be spent! The weather was lovely for a change - clear blue skies and sunshine, although still chilly. The cold I can cope with, but the rain is just so miserable! 

Here's what I'm looking forward to this week - getting my hair cut tomorrow (shorter, please!), seeing my gorgeous nephew William, then later in the week my/Rich's niece Georgia, having my work girls round for half-term relaxation and eats, and generally catching up with people I don't get the chance to in term-time. Yesterday I joined my local gym after not renewing at my previous gym in September, and am booked in for a load of fitness classes this week - I'm strangely looking forward to getting back in to shape. Bring me the endorphins! No more cheesy, garlicky mushrooms for me. Well maybe just one more... see below, swoon! I used red Leicester this time hence the colour, but just as tasty.

Last night I finally finished reading Philomena. Wow. Such an great story - review to come. I've got four possible next reads to pick from, and would love your help. See picture below and comment or tweet me with your recommendations, I'd really appreciate your input - I just can't decide!


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

we are conquerors

There are some people who just don't need that much sleep - they can make do with a few hours and get about their daily lives with little struggle. I am not one of those people. For me, sleep keeps me sane, healthy and a fully functioning adult. Without sleep my immune system drops and I become tetchy and run down. It's as simple as that! 

We all know that lack of sleep can have real, physical effects including lack of focus, poor memory, increased blood pressure and fatigue. More seriously there are links between sleep deprivation and weight loss/gain, diabetes and depression. Scary stuff! There are lots more interesting sleep facts here if, like me, you are a fan of random trivia. Knowledge is power, my friends!

In my first couple of years of teaching a lack of sleep was a real problem; I was constantly exhausted due to late nights and not being able to switch off when I did finally get to bed. Dreaming about work, lesson plans and Marxism was fairly common place! Now I have accepted I need to be in bed before 10pm if I want to feel alive awake the following day, and alongside some other key changes I now get more sleep... and more importantly better sleep.

1. Get technology out of the bedroom - no TVs, iPhones or tablets to keep your mind buzzing away when you get under the sheets. I was always told your bedroom should be a place for sleeping, and keeping it serene and peaceful is important. I try not to faff around on my phone when I get into bed, but get tucked into a good book instead. This means my brain slowly starts to switch off and takes my mind off the mundane everyday. I have genuinely found reading a good book before bed ensures I don't stress about work as much and get good quality sleep. Check out my bookworm feature if you need some reading material inspo!

2. Make sure you have a good mattress. When I lived at home I had the softest, squidgiest mattress ever! Now, however, I can't sleep on it without getting a bad back - does that make me officially old?! We have a nice firm mattress which ensures we keep good posture but still get a good night's sleep. If you prefer something a little softer you can pick up some great mattress toppers such as these from Zen Bedrooms which can add comfort at a fraction of the price of a new mattress. 

3. I'm loving using the Anatomicals Sleep Balm* before bed to help clear my mind, naturally. Its soft lavender fragrance is a natural sleep enhancer and smells gorgeous. I've also been known to spritz my pillow with a light lavender fragrance (like this one from Boots) to help me drift off, although be careful - too much can do the opposite!

4. Change your sheets often. Yeh, I know, its a mission, but we all know there's nothing nicer than climbing into bed when the sheets are fresh and clean. I have a legit obsession with flannelette sheets - a sure fire way to ensure your bed is cosy and welcoming each night. You wanna make your bed a place you want to be - make bedtime inviting!

5. Try to establish a pattern. As I say, I try to be in bed by 10pm every night and I get up at the same time (just gone 6am) every day during the week. Obviously, figure out a time that works for you and ensures you are well-rested come the morning. The more you get into a pattern, the better your sleep will become as your body knows what it's doing.

Those are my top five tips for a good night's sleep - what are yours?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

just call me Madhur Jaffrey

Cooking your own curries from scratch has got to be one of the most satisfying things ever. I was always put off by the seemingly long list of ingredients, but once you've bought them they last for ages and enables you to create some great combinations of tastes. I can assure you shop bought curries or jarred sauces will pale in comparison! I am always surprised at how chemically supermarket curries taste and smell. With this, you know what you're getting, minus all the preservatives. As for takeaway curries, as delicious as they are they always leave me with the guilt - I'm not saying this is guilt-free, but its got to be better than the metallic dishes lined with grease you get on a Friday night!

This Balti Chicken Passanda is delicious - creamy and fragrant but with a punchy after taste from the chillis. Make sure you marinate your chicken well in advance and it's super easy from there. 

You will need (for 4 people)
4 tbsp Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
6 whole black peppercorns
2 tsp garam masala
Cinnamon stick
1 tbsp ground almonds
1 tsp garlic pulp
1 tsp ginger pulp
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
700g chicken (we use filleted thighs)
5 tbsp corn oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 green chillies, chopped
Handful coriander, chopped
120ml single cream

1. Mix yogurt, cumin seeds, cardamoms, peppercorns, garam masala, cinnamon stick, ground almonds, garlic, ginger, chilli powder and salt in a bowl and add the chicken. Leave to marinade for a long as possible - a minimum of two hours. 

2. Heat oil in a pan and fry the onions for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken mixture and stir until well blended. Cook for about 15 minutes (if using filleted thighs like us, a little longer) until the sauce thickens and the chicken is cooked through.

3. Add the green chillies and most of the coriander, and pour in the cream. Bring to the boil and serve with more coriander. I always fish out the cardamom pods and peppercorns so no-one gets a nasty surprise mid-bite.

It really is that simple - enjoy!


Sunday, 9 February 2014

we live in circles

This weekend I went to visit an old Uni friend in London - we met seven years back when living as students in Cardiff and working a part time job in retail. We went to Spitalfields Market, and popped to GBK for a quick lunch before mooching round the stalls. When living in Cardiff we bonded over our love for the GBK goats cheese burger; a big fat slab of breaded and baked goats cheese with roasted aubergine and the like. We were pretty dismayed to find the big slab of goats cheese now being a very thin slither - literally devo'd! When suitably shopped-out we headed back to her place near Clapham Common for the most delish beef goulash, plenty of vino and a very weird film (anyone seen Her with Joaquin Phoenix?!). 

I couldn't bring myself to lug my camera around all weekend, so these pictures are from my iPhone. Apologies for the quality!

This morning saw me catching up with another long-time friend, this time heading to The Breakfast Club in Battersea Rise. Naturally, I went for eggs - huevos al benny which is a delicious combination of poached eggs, chorizo, peppers, guacamole, chillis and hollandaise with a side of fried potatoes. As you can imagine, I was in brunch heaven! We only had to queue for about half an hour which didn't seem too bad. 

This week begins the countdown to half term - 5 days! I just can't wait to switch off for a week; this term has been a tough one which found me almost fainting in lessons and feeling more than exhausted. Oh the life of a teacher!


Friday, 7 February 2014

many among us

(all images Pinterest 1,2,3)

So the house hunt is on. This is the year we buy a house!... hopefully. The search for the perfect pad has definitely become an obsession - I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to it! Having been renting for coming up to a couple of years, we are starting to learn what we like and how we would like our own home to look, its so painful not being able to decorate a rented place! Through my Pinterest searches, I've discovered I like white glossy bricks in the kitchen, slate tiles under foot, flashes of gold/citron and clashing prints and fabrics. As you can see in most of these pictures, I seem to be drawn to white walls with flashes of strong colour and texture. 

In our current place we've been cautious about putting pictures and artwork up on the walls as they're so solid and we'll just have to patch it all up when we leave. As a result its not decorated as we would like, and has made me even more keen to find lovely bits and pieces to decorate the walls in our new place. I'd love something like this, or beautifully bright and colourful pieces. I've been looking around for reasonably priced impressionism originals for sale in the hope I can get something unique and gorgeous for our new place! Perhaps more within budget I've been stocking up on January sale bargains (with some additional help from Voucherbox UK) of gorgeous kitchen wares (my downfall), cushions and throws and a pretty impressive new bargain price mirror. Even on a budget, you can inject style and life into rooms with the most basic accessories - I'm particularly loving Zara and H&M's home departments for those finishing touches!

(all images Pinterest 1,2,3,4)


Thursday, 6 February 2014

rock salt

I don't know about you, but when I'm home (usually at the weekends) I really struggle with lunch. Not eating it - that part I'm fine with - but coming up with interesting ideas of what to rustle up. During the week I try my best to take lunch to work with me; usually a salad, sarnie or soup, and by the time the weekend has arrived I want something more interesting! 

Recently, these two beauties have been what I turn to - garlicky, cheesy mushrooms on toast, or avocado with chili flakes. I was inspired by Rosie's Wild Mushroom Melts for the former, and although my version isn't quite as fancy, it never fails to hit the spot. Very simply, fry mushrooms in a pan with butter and garlic, and just before serving stir in a heap of grated cheese. Oh yes. It aint gonna make you slim, but it will make you happy - that I can guarantee.

And secondly, avocado is made a million times better with chili flakes. Well, what isn't! I try not to crush/mash the avocado too much as you still want a little bite, but just smush (technical term) in a bowl and pile on toast. Crack some rock salt and pepper over the top, followed by a generous shake of chili flakes. If you have a lime to hand, a small squeeze of juice is a great addition. As both of these toppings are on the soft side, you definitely want to serve them with toast rather than bread. I like using sourdough if I can get hold it, if not a good old bloomer will do!


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

natural reaction

Buying home wares is a tricky process - creating your own, personal style can turn out being fairly costly, but just sticking to low-budget stores and items can leave your home looking a bit like a low cost hotel. When we moved into our first flat together 18 months ago, money was most definitely tight and a combination of Ikea, charity furniture shops and kind donations from friends and family helped to kit us out with most of what we need. Now, however, we are looking back at some of the items we picked up and wishing we could show a little more of our personal taste and style in our home. Ikea is most definitely the first stop for many home owners, and its easy to get swept up in the bargain price coffee tables and chests of drawers. Recently I've been looking through Ikea's online catalogue for pieces that don't cost the earth, but allow you to show some individuality at the same time. 

TRENDIG Side Table, EKBY Wall Shelves, FABRIKOR Glass Cabinet, RASKOG Kitchen Trolley, HEMNES Consol Table

I'm so in love with all of the above pieces; the green trolley would be a great way to get some extra storage space in our kitchen, and the basket-style side table would look great in a living room or bedroom. I've also become completely obsessed with TK Maxx and Home Sense for their huge range of home wares at bargain prices - particularly great for cooking utensils, bake ware and the like. I can easily spend an hour mooching round and checking out the incredible discounts on every item!

We're hoping to buy our first place this year, so money is definitely tight and we're trying to hold off on buying anything new for the time being. But I do want to have a look round local junk and charity shops, as well as some car boot sales, to see if I can find any gems. I wish I was more creative and could have a go at 'upstyling' items and making them home-worthy. Maybe this is the year for learning some new skills!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

midas touch

Seeee ya January! Thank god that's over... but we survived. This weekend was spent ushering in Feburary - drinks and dancing with friends, lazy pub lunches and a little mooch around the shops. I vowed back at the start of January not to buy any clothes until the end of February, and so far have succeeded! That does mean I've transferred by need-to-spend-money feeling on to home wares... post to come later this week! 

Highlights of the weekend? Lounging around Hannah's beautiful flat (follow her for wholefood deliciousness and some serious fitspo), super tasty eats and drinks at Turtle Bay in Southamptonseeing my pooch for a cuddle - the parents got custody when I moved out 18 months ago, and eating more great food in the form of an incredible mushroom risotto at The Weatsheaf in Farnham. Rich doesn't like mushrooms so I make a point of eating as many as I can when he's out or we eat out - I love them! I'm on the big save for a house purchase later this year, but figured if you can't have a little splurge on payday, then when can you?

Now we're off to the in-laws' house for dinner and cooing over our gorgeous niece... a perfect end to a Sunday afternoon spent marking essays! I'm also thinking of ordering the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens off Amazon tonight - what do you think? 
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