January 23, 2015

8 Things to Love About January

Aside from filling the house with as much heat as possible and reducing my attire to thick, fluffy socks and multiple layers underneath a permanently attached dressing gown in the evenings, there are a few a other things that make dreary January a little more delightful. The optimistic determination needed to fulfil New Years resolutions keeps my mind focused on what I want, and the chilly weather makes candles, a warm bubble bath and hours devoted to literary works an entirely guilt-free necessity. There's also the added bonus of shunning the cocktails, late nights and expensive bar tabs for a whole month and realising how lovely it is to wake up early on a sunday morning with a clear mind, relaxed muscles and an intact bank balance. Despite the lack of glitter and fairy lights, January can actually be a very productive and healthy month and a time to heal and cleanse yourself after the festive season, leaving you feeling wonderful on the inside and on the outside. 
1. Fresh blooms
When the decorations have been taken down, it can leave your house feeling a little bare, and the garden isn't too colourful either. Through out January I try to keep several vases topped up with flowers, which instantly brightens up the room and brings spring a little closer. Flowers don't have to cost the earth either, supermarkets regularly reduce the price of perfectly beautiful blooms at the end of the day, simply because one or two are starting to go over. I bought these pink roses four days ago, from Waitrose at the reduced price of 45p. With a little bit of pruning and a beautiful vase, they make light work of those 'January blues'. 
2. Be the healthiest you can be!
After Christmas, my body feels as though its thoroughly been pushed to it's unhealthiest state. The alcohol, the food and the abandonment of all forms of exercise contributes to a sluggish and tired physical being. It can also be difficult to break such habits, but with the help of news years resolutions, I feel optimistic about enjoying a healthier year. I purchased this Diet Doodle Diary, to help me keep track of what I'm eating and the exercise I do. It's the prettiest diet related book I've ever seen, and features pages to stick progress photos, advice about eating healthy food and motivational quotes throughout. January is not only the perfect time to ease yourself into making healthier choices in terms of food and fitness, but many people bid farewell to cigarettes and alcohol too.
 3. Slendertoxtea*
I'm a big believer that a cup of tea will solve every emotional dilemma, so even better if it can be beneficial for your body too. Slendertoxtea is a herbal brew that detoxes, cleanses and aids weight loss all by simply enjoy a cup of tea! I'm lucky enough to be able to try the full 14 day teatox day and night programme, and I tried my first cup today. The taste was quite surprising, and was not dissimilar to the normal tea I drink, making it easy to enjoy. I can't yet comment on the effects, but I will be posting a full review soon about my progress with it. I am looking forward to the results! 

4. Culinary Bravery 
Cooking and baking are still very new hobbies of mine, and it's only been in the last year I've developed the knowledge and confidence to adapt or create my own recipes, throw together unusual ingredients and whip up something delicious in a short space of time. When I open the fridge and see the rememnents of ingredients, I can usually come up with a way to use it all up in a meal, which I consider a mark of progress in terms of culinary confidence (I could barely fry an egg before university). That being said, I still want to learn as much as I can and develop my knife skills, presentation and knowledge of  basic dishes. Rainy days make the best kitchen days, so soups, chutneys (Seville orange and whisky marmalade post coming soon!) and homemade breads are the subject of creation at my house. Baking, however is being kept to a minimum for the time being, so that I can keep January as healthy as possible. But come february, I've got a baking to do list the length of my arm!
5. Step up your Beauty Regime
The cold, blistering weather doesn't do much for anyones complexion, so January warrants a little more 'me' time. Shea butter, coconut oil and vitamin E are your best friends this season, and moisturising on a regular basis is essential in combating dry, flaky, splitting skin and lips. 

It has been a permeant fixture in my handbag this month, not only providing me with nourished, velvety hands but also a delightful floral fragrance. A faultless winter must have for staying moisturised.

B. Energised gently tends to your eyes, ridding them of dark circles and puffiness. The cream contains caffeine, allantoin and live yeast cell extracts which awaken, cool and brighten tired eyes. This product is designed for those in their 20's, focusing on nourishing a clear and vibrant, youthful complexion whilst containing anti-aging ingredients for a head start. The range also caters for other age groups, and best of all everything is free from animal testing. I've always been quite sceptical about these acclaimed, miracle eye creams but the indoor stuffy heating of the winter months can leave my eyes looking quite puffy. Not to mention the remaining effects of the party season. But I have been using this for just over a week and I can already see a difference. My eyes look much more healthier and the dark circles which are always more visible when my skin is at its lightest are beginning to subside. 

It's an oldie but a goodie, and something I wear all year round regardless of the weather. I'm not a fan of slathering my lips in anything sticky or heavy, so I've grown to love this lip balm that features both long lasting moisture and a delicate, dewy pearl shine. Out of all the lip balms I've tried, this feels the most gentle on my lips and even in the winter I only have to apply it a few times a day. 

This innovative face mask cloth created by the Timeless Truth International Cosmetology Organisation contains a layer of Moso bamboo charcoal extract that has been created at a temperature of around 800°C. The result being an exceptional deep cleanse that instantly brightens, smooths, firms and hydrates the skin. It is perfect for those with congested skin who perhaps live in areas with high pollution levels such as a city, and for those who have abandoned their skin regime for some time. 

I had the pleasure of using this mask this afternoon and the entire process took me by surprise. It's evident from the ingredients and the results that this certainly isn't your usual face mask and it felt a little strange applying a cloth to my skin. Once you've got it aligned in place it sat well throughout the 20 minutes I had it on. It felt incredibly cooling on my skin and instantly sent me into a state of relaxation, albeit some residue from the cloth dripping down my neck. After spending the entire duration resisting the urge to drift off into dream world, I removed the mask and massaged in the remaining liquid. It has been a few hours since, and my skin feels incredible. In the past I've found face masks to be a bit of a novelty; just a strawberry scented cream to apply during a girly night that effects your hair line more than your skin. After using the Charcoal Detox mask my skin feels noticeably softer, hydrated and thoroughly cleansed. I can see it becoming quite addictive, and at the price of £4.95 per cloth, it is definitely affordable.
6. Stay creative 
After the glittery madness of Christmas, it's easy to succumb to the warmth of the sofa and you may find yourself questioning the possibility of human hibernation. Being creative is probably fairly low down on peoples to-do lists, but for me, it's my favourite way to keep myself occupied and productive until the summer and a surefire way to get myself out of any rut. Whether it's through art, sewing, graphic design, writing, crafting, creating and planning, I love to have a creative project on the go. Photography, styling, journalism and creative consulting take up both my work and leisure time but with January being such a quiet month, I'm able to let my creativity loose. I am looking forward to introducing you all to my magazine Fifi later this month and other projects that I have been working on.

7. Getting organised
January is the perfect time to get your affairs in order. Christmas is over, and apart from the odd birthday Easter is a fair few months away. Whether it's organising your paper work, finally sending off an overdue letter or spring cleaning the house, it's a great time to clear your mind, your to-do list and your surroundings ready for the year ahead.

8. Reading the classics
One of my new years resolutions is to read a book a week. It's definitely a tad ambituous for someone who likes to read, absorb and visualise every word on the page, but I'm going to try anyhow. I absolutely love literature, but last year my reading list was dominated by dissertation research, and I swapped my bed time novels for essay writing and quarter-life crisis panicking. This year, I have the time to get back into reading, and I am determined to focus on the classics that I've missed so far. Currently, I'm working my way through the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, at a far quicker pace than I'm used to, but still taking time to visualise Benedict Cumberbatch of course. Other books on my list include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1984 and Animal Farm both by George Orwell,  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. If there's one must-do to get you through January, it has to be getting stuck into a really good book. 

What lovely things have you been doing to make January a fabulous month?
Find me else where (:

January 16, 2015

Beautiful Christmas Presents Unwrapped

You may have noticed in my past blog posts that my family and I originally decided against present giving, and instead spent time and money on special family moments instead. However, my mum surprised my sister and I by still treating us at Christmas! Here I take a look at all the lovely things I received this year.

Culinary Treasures 
Baking, cooking and entertaining are fast becoming my greatest passions, so not only do I appreciate every culinary gift I receive, but it gets put to good use right away! And as my collection grows, and I invade cupboard after cupboard in the kitchen, I feel a huge sense of pride that I am equipped to create whatever food creation I desire. I am a big cheese lover so when my sister gave me a luxury Cheese knife set and the most stunning Cynthia Rowley marble cheese board with silver edges, I was over the moon! My mum topped it off with two luxury cheeses called Epoisses, and Petit Pont L'eveque, which just so happen to be two of the smelliest, strongest and most flavoursome cheeses in the world. They were absolutely delicious! To help my cheese board pairings I also received The Flavour Thesaurus, which is on course to become my bible. It may appear to be a novelty, but the Diary Maid butter pat maker will add the most charming finish to any tea party, allowing me to cut butter into a pretty flower shape. It's all in the detail after all! Also perfect for tea parties is my Lisbeth Dahl heart shaped tea infuser. I drink a lot of tea, even by English standards, but I've only ever used teabags. It was upon realising that the distinctly fragrant cups of earl grey I enjoyed at tea shops were nearly all made with a tea infuser, and so I requested one to try myself. I've been using it everyday since Christmas and my tea has been notably more flavoursome; the tea bags have been pushed to the back of the shelf! No tea party will be complete with out some cakes, so I am immensely grateful for a set of icing nozzles. Despite baking whenever I get the chance, I have never owned a cake slice. I've wanted one for a long time, so my Grandparents bought me the most beautiful cake slice with a bow and ribbon handle that will be something I will use for years and year to come.

Dinner with Mr Darcy
It's when I unwrap presents such as the ones above that I know my family has a faultless understanding of my personal style. Blushing pinks and sparkling details infused with playful elegance without a doubt puts a smile on my face. You may recognise Dinner with Mr Darcy from my Valentines day wish list last year, which also grabbed my mums attention and prompted her to get me it for Christmas. Brownie points for Mother! Dinner with Mr Darcy is the most charming cookbook filled with fanciful recipes inspired by the works of Jane Austen. It most certainly calls for a Pride & Prejudice tea party! To accompany such entertaining my mum got me a set of four beautiful, vintage liqueur glasses, each a mesmerising, iridescent colour. My grandparents gave me a a stunningly intricate glass cocktail stirrer topped with a spectacular christmas tree, which will no doubt become a familiar sight during the festive periods to come! Another gift was based upon a personal joke in my family, but it's a truly stunning joke none the less; an ornate, silver tape measure. Mum prepared me for the glitz of the year ahead with vintage gold, evening gloves and some beautiful gold and pearl earrings. To complete the array of sparkling presents, I unwrapped a little pink bird which was adorned with glittering details. When all the table dancing and glass clinking is finished, I can relax with my new heavenly scented bluebell candle, and experience ultimate indulgence with Cafe De Bain's Raspberry & Rose softening Shower Creme. The raspberry macaroon   packaging is enough to whisk my imagination to Paris and back and the scent is just as whimsical.

B. Beautiful 
There are several reasons why I swear by Superdrugs B. Skincare and makeup range. One being that the products are of exceptional quality and at prices that even my bank account approves of. Then theres it's sleek design and packaging that gives the impression it cost a little bit more, whilst providing a fundamental element that so many high-street beauty products lack; it doesn't self destruct in your handbag. The skincare range comprises of four stages, each designed for particular age groups, with stage one providing gentle anti-aging and revitalising products for those in their 20s! But my final, and quite possibly my favourite reason behind my ever-expanding collection is that the entire B. range is cruelty free and is bunny-logo certified! For Christmas my mum treated me to several products from their range, providing me with all the tools I need to scrub, cleanse and nourish my skin to radiantly, smooth tip-top condition. I will be posting reviews over the coming months about each item, many of which I've never tried before. I may be slightly overexcited about what each product will reveal. The cannot wait to try B. Refined Exfoliating CleanserB. Energised Eye CreamB. Rescued Energising BalmB. Revealed Glycolic Cleansing peelB. Pure Micellar WaterB. Nourished Night Serum  and the B. Ready Day Cream 

I also got given some Max Factor products to enhance my eyes. The first being the Masterpiece Transform mascara and the second being the Masterpiece Glide & Define Eye Liner, both amazing products. 

Something Sweet
What would Christmas be without obscene amounts of chocolate to devour in-between all the other chocolate? I think we could have half a cadburys shop in our living room and my mum would still fill our stockings up with foiled chocolates, the obligatory santa claus and a sharing pack of Maltesers that you don't actually want to share. Despite my current January diet making up for such sugary traditions, I wouldn't have it any other way. This year particular favourites included chocolate brussel sprouts, Disney Frozen chocolate bars, hot chocolate stirrers and an edible £50 note. My Grandparents put together a lovely handmade stocking for me filled with not only presents but a traditional orange. My boyfriends parents sent over some treats from Australia, one of which was a bag of Karamello Koalas, which are similar to the freddo frogs we have in the UK! Two particular presents that got me grinning from ear to ear were bottles of Baileys Chocolat Luxe (pure heaven) and Amarula. If you haven't tried the latter, it's an african cream liquor made from the fruit of the marula tree. It's a personal favourite that won't last long!

Home Comforts
Earlier this year, my sister and I posed the question of why we've never had new pyjamas at Christmas to my mum. Many of our friends consider it a tradition in their family, and so in jest this year my mum decided to buy us both - for the first time ever - a pair of Christmas pyjamas. We also got to snuggle up in the quite possibly the softest dressing gown I've ever come across. Another present was this lovely addition to my bedroom; a vintage, fabric pin board to hold precious photos and keepsakes.

The Bakers Dream
It's something I've wanted for years, but was one of those luxuries I didn't think I'd have for many, many years. When my boyfriend handed me a present half the size of me, wrapped up in princess wrapping paper, I hadn't the foggiest what it could possibly be. When I unwrapped it, excitement and happiness rushed through me as I jumped around like a child. I now have my very own Kitchen mixer, and a brilliant one at that. It's already been put to good use (Coca-cola cake anyone?) and I've got an ever-growing list of cake recipes I want to try. Plus, I owe my boyfriend ALOT of cakes!

Once again, I feel truly spoilt by all the lovely things I've received from my family and my boyfriend. To me the most touching thing is that the people around me know me so well, my style and my passions. I feel incredibly lucky!
Find me else where (:

January 07, 2015

Christmas festivities - Presents, Homemade Crackers, Nibble Platters and all the trimmings!

Christmas 2014 has been a truly joyous one and I hope you all had a fabulous time as well! For me the festivities started just before December and it is only in the last few days I have had some moments to myself - and not nursing a hangover - to reflect, photograph and write about my Christmas. Christmas was particularly exciting in my household, because for the first time in several years we were hosting it. I took on the role of table settings, decorations and homemade crackers which meant most of December saw me crafting, planning and organising. Despite the added pressure, it was a truly wonderful Christmas, and we all felt a great sense of pride that our family enjoyed it as much as we did.

The Countdown Begins
During my spare time, I volunteer at my local charity shop so sorting through the endless boxes of donated christmas decorations and filling the shop with sparkling dresses meant I was covered in glitter remnants before I had even bought my advent calendar. Watching the decorations fly off the shelves and going home to happy customers was as enjoyable as opening up a mysterious box like the one pictured above.
You're never to old for a chocolate advent calendar. 
I started testing out some Christmas lunch variations back in September, freezing whatever I could in preparation. Some things were deemed too ambitious and contemporary for a traditional Christmas lunch whilst other slight changes went down a treat. This lunch I made for my boyfriend in the lead up to Christmas day allowed me to test a few things out. And hey, he's still alive!

Dec the Halls!
In my house we believe that if you're going to decorate the tree, you've got to do it right. That means Christmas carols playing in the background and an endless supply of mulled wine. We have three trees to decorate, one for the living room, another snowy woodland tree that sits in front of the window and a third that twinkles in my bedroom. Then, we just go a bit overboard with the rest of the house (: We have only recently moved so getting out the decorations and assigning them to new areas of the house was great fun.
When the lights work!
This is my bedroom tree in front of my fireplace. It's small but pretty and I chose blush, purple and blue decorations for it. The glass chandelier drops looked particularly lovely twinkling in front of the fairy lights.
A festive message hanging on the kitchen door.
Gold stars, shimmering acorns and a precious photo of our darling Coco last year at Christmas. Words cannot describe how much she was missed this year. 
The downstairs tree - gold, plum and green were the colours this year and it certainly looked beautiful.
This was my favourite decoration of the year, which I purchased from a charity shop for a couple of pounds. Its such an unusual tree decoration but the colours, raw silk fabric and intricate bead detailing make it a beautiful piece.
The Nibble Platter
We laid out nibbles in the form of chocolates and nuts for relatives to snack on whilst lunch was being prepared. We also had little trivia games and puzzles out around the room for the guests to keep themselves entertained, but they weren't needed at all! 
Chocolates, nuts and ferro roches are a must have for the Christmas nibble platter but I also added some Christmas chocolate medallions that I made the night before. To make the sugared cranberries, I simply coated them in maple syrup before rolling them around in granulated sugar and serving them in a champagne saucer. I just felt so christmassy every time I saw them on the table.
The Gift of Giving
This is the third year I've wrapped up presents with rustic, vintage paper and decorations. Last year I used vintage music paper and silky red ribbon, but this year I decided to go for something even more traditional. I honestly think brown paper packaging tied up with string is strangely underrated. It provides a neutral palette to add colours and decorations, and has such a charming, old-fashioned element to it. I had been collecting various charms, bells and foliage to adorn the presents months in advance and these are some of the gifts I gave to loved ones. For leafy decorations, I went to places like Hobbycraft where they stocked wreath making supplies such as jewelled berries and gold pine cones which I attached to the paper with string. The hand painted wooden heart tag is actually a tree decoration from a pack of 20, and each one makes a pretty addition to wrapping.
My sister Zoe is a big fan of cookie dough, brownies and Oreos so as part of her present I bought the necessary ingredients to make 'Slutty Brownies' which is the devilishly irresistible creation of Kevin and Amanda. I wrote out the recipe, tied it all up together and presented it to my sister who nearly hyperventilated at the prospect of baking the worlds most sinful treat!
 As always, I made my own cards this year and took a great deal of inspiration from Pinterest. With so much to do in time for Christmas, I decided on these extremely simple and easy cards to create. My boyfriend loved his fingerprint reindeer card, the button decorations suited my sister perfectly and the christmas door card was for my mum.
Christmas Morning
You may recall in a past blog post that my family and I agreed not to do presents this year, and instead we channeled our money and time into something far more special; family days. Over the course of December, we devoured numerous cheese boards, had game nights, movie nights, meals out, cocktails, explored Christmas markets in various cities and spent as much time as we could together creating unforgettable memories. Come Christmas morning, my sister and I weren't expecting anything underneath the tree, so when we came down stairs to this we were like a pair of children. My mum being the sweetheart that she is, couldn't resist spoiling us again. 
Opening my presents in my gorgeous silk robe from Anne Wiggins London which is the epitome of luxury, and Chase in her Christmas attire too! 
 Mum chose traditional wrapping paper with tartan boxes and velvet red ribbon, which looked so pretty.
Chase was busy trying to find her present, and was surprised with a stocking full of treats. 
In the evening, we all opened up our presents with the rest of the family. I was immediately given the role of present distributer which proved a poor decision by all when I disappeared every 5 minutes to refill my glass with mulled wine.

Setting the Table
The colour scheme for the table setting was rustic gold, cream and blush with hints of silver. Mum arranged a basket of velvet cream flowers and crystallised branches on top of the cabinet and hung the most charming East of India 'Merry Christmas' bunting from the beams. Shabby chic plates and cutlery were laid out on top of a beautiful antique table cloth, with a candelabra in the centre. Everything came together beautifully!
Homemade Crackers
It's always been something I've wanted to do, but with the mad rush of Christmas I've never even come close to finding time to making my own crackers. I've always begrudged paying £40 for a set of crackers that contain, at the very best, a pocket mirror or a bottle opener. We all shout out what popped out onto our laps and make jokes about the irony of certain items (I've ended up with a lipstick holder a worrying number of times). But the novelty soon wears off, and the cracker contents is left on the table and quickly forgotten about. So, I figured, why not fill the crackers with really special items this year. Things that will be enjoyed much like the presents under the tree.

I set myself a budget for the contents, visited craft stores and Paperchase to find the perfect shades of blush and gold tissue paper and began crafting. I bought a 'make your own cracker kit' from Waitrose which included jokes, hats, snappers and the card that forms the cracker itself. Despite assembling one cracker, ribbons and all, and realising I'd left out the contents, it was a surprisingly simple process. The Waitrose cracker was pretty enough, but I wrapped it up in the tissue paper, wrote out a little tag and tied it up with ribbons. 

The crackers also acted as name place cards and looked beautiful on the table. They were enjoyed by everyone and the gifts were a welcomed surprise!
Here are some of the items included in the crackers; jewellery, hand cream, eyeshadows and miniature bottles of alcohol such as a whiskey for the men. So that I could enjoy cracker pulling as well, my sister and mum secretly put some earrings in mine which put a big smile on my face. Along with a gold hat, and the obligatory joke each cracker also included brussel sprout chocolates! These were definitely not crackers that you yanked at across a table full of food, so instead everyone carefully pulled theirs. Although an explosion of sequinned stars may not have been the best idea.
My Grandad, who is the most notorious former head boy in the family received this badge, which considering it came from his Grand daughters, is truly a badge of honour. 

The Greatest Feast of the Year
Our Christmas dinners are rather traditional with a giant roast turkey and as many trimmings as we can fit on the table. It's greedy and obscene and I look forward to it all year. 
With two vegetarians in the family, I experimented a little with the potatoes to ensure they were just as crispy without using goose fat. I found that giving them a good shake before roasting them and pouring over melted butter (the full fat, sinful kind) several times whilst roasting on a high heat worked a charm! I glazed the parsnips and carrot twigs in maple syrup instead of honey this year too, because I much preferred the warmer tones of the maple over the sickly sweet honey. Another triumph were the sage, chestnut and apple sausage meat balls that I made back in September. The recipe for those can be found in Annie Bell's 'Gorgeous Christmas'. Believe me when I say, they are heavenly. I've already frozen another batch ready for up and coming sunday lunches!
Cheeseboard's galore! 
Alongside the Christmas pudding and my sisters yule log, I made this chocolate orange and marmalade cake topped with broken Terry's chocolate orange that I coloured in a shimmering gold. It's the third time I've made this cake, and its still one of my favourites. The recipe can be found in the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, and I will be posting it on my blog in the future. My mum ridiculously provided seven different types of cream to go with the desserts, and my Grandma made a trifle, Christmas cake, chocolate mousse and a lemon tart for the evenings buffet. Afterwards, we all crashed out on the sofa, vowing not to eat another bite. We all failed.

Christmas is and always will be my favourite time of the year and this post sums up why; family, love, friends, parties, food, champagne, chocolates, crafting, decorations, carols, glitter, giving and appreciating. It is the most wonderful time of the year!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year!
Find me else where (: