Saturday, 20 December 2014

5 Blog Resolutions for 2015

Source: one | two | three

I am a little obsessed with photos of other people’s desks, especially those of people who work at home or have a little office space in their house. There’s something so pleasing about this little area set up to encourage creativity and productiveness. Plus, there’s stationery. Everyone loves stationery.

One of my resolutions for next year is to get better organised and part of that is to – hopefully – have a little work space in my new home for working on my blog and other projects. In fact, a lot of my resolutions are blog related – as much as it’s always going to be something I do in my spare time, I’m always trying to be a little better at it. So here are my blogging resolutions:

1. Keep working on improving my photography.
I really think I’ve improved a lot in the last year, but I look at my pinned recipes in comparison with others and I can see I’ve still got a way to go.

2. Get more organised
I have a spreadsheet for my blog, which helps me work out a schedule for posts and keep track of any collaborations or commitments. But I’d really like to get an awesome to-do list for my wall, like this one below (I've seen them on Etsy). And notebooks. All the notebooks.

Source: one | two

3. Find ways to work better
I'm really happy with my web hosting package - I use 34sp web hosting, who allow you to pay monthly so it's only like £4 a month, which I love. I've been using them for years and have never had any issues. Also, I have storage space on there too so all my photos are in one place. I'm starting to back up my photos online though using Flickr, which is an epic project, but gives me serious peace of mind when I worry about my computer spontaneously combusting.

4. Keep branching out
I’m really happy that I posted more recipes this year, and in fact I’m pretty content with my once fashion blog being more of a food blog these days. It fits more. But I enjoy not being pigeonholed into one category, and part of that may be returning to outfit posts next year on a more frequent basis. And other topics!

5. Connect more
I have become really slack at reading and commenting on other blogs. I click the odd link from Twitter or Instagram that intrigues me, but I never sit down any more and have a good catch-up session. The community is such an integral part of blogging, and was such a huge part of growing my blog audience in the early days, that I don’t want to neglect it now.

How about you? Do you have any resolutions for your blog in the new year?

Source: one | two | three

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry. I was recently invited to spend the night in Scarborough at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, and planned a fun-filled weekend for Matt and myself. We even went up a day early and stayed in a budget hotel so we could make the most of it. Oh, we had plans to spend the Friday in York, exploring the city, going round the Christmas market and having a lovely dinner. We’d even done some major research on eateries, including having a look at the recommendations on Quandoo for the best places to eat in the North of England. Then we were going to spend the weekend having a walk on the Yorkshire Moors near our hotel, before coming back to a bottle of fizz and a lavish dinner.

Sounds great, right? But sadly it wasn’t quite to be. We got to York about lunchtime on Friday as planned, but almost immediately after lunch I realised that I’d gone from ‘feeling a bit off’ as I had all morning to full on ill. We were back at our budget hotel by about 4pm, and I spent the evening in bed. But we did manage to see the back of the Christmas market before I had to go back to the car, so that’s something…

Luckily I felt much better on Saturday, so we headed to Scarborough. Ox Pasture Hall is so cosy and comfortable that it made feeling a bit poorly seem not so bad – because why would you want to leave your hotel room when it looks like this?

Oh, that bath. I spent a good two hours in that bath on Saturday afternoon, refilling the hot water and enjoying not having to do anything. And that bed! I don’t think I’ve ever been in one so comfortable. I could have happily stayed in it all day on Sunday.

We started our stay with afternoon tea on Saturday afternoon. It was SO good. The sandwiches were pretty simple – cheese, cucumber and beef – but that was fine because the desserts were so plentiful and incredible that we struggled to finish them. The scones were still warm, which always means top marks in my book – and all the extra cakes were amazing. Lemon cheesecake, chocolate tart and pistachio slice - YUM. This is where I found out that Matt had never had afternoon tea before, and felt a bit bad for all the men out there who assume it’s a girls’ only deal. Cake and tea is equal opportunities!

Several hours later (after that ridiculous bath I mentioned) we came back for dinner. There’s a reason why Ox Pasture Hall has two rosettes for culinary excellence for their food, because it was amazing – beautifully presented, with super attentive service.

To start we had a sample of their butternut squash soup. It may not sound exciting but it was one of the best soups I’d ever had – so hearty and flavourful. Next course, I had chicken roulade, Matt had duck parfait which were both excellent. And then another little extra, a palate cleanser of passionfruit and frozen whisky shot. God this was good. I never realised how well passionfruit goes with whisky before. SO well.

For mains (yep, we still had room) I had beef brisket with mash, Matt had lamb shank. These were amazing, and also huge. Often you get little portions in fancy restaurants, so I approved of my hearty stack of buttery mash. The beef was so well cooked, too – it just fell apart when I prodded it. Afterwards, we shared the raspberry crème brulee and a cheeseboard. The crème brulee was warm, which is quite rare I think, but it had such a lovely flavour. (I didn’t have much room for the cheeseboard after that, but Matt stepped up)

In the morning, we had a fantastic breakfast – a full English for Matt and poached eggs and mushrooms for me – and then had a little wander around the hotel before checking out. It really is beautiful. The views from our suite were breathtaking – I only wish I’d felt a little more up to exploring while we were there.

This really is a beautiful hotel in a stunning location. We were struck at how well we were treated while we were there – the staff couldn’t do enough for us. There was a wedding going on while we were there too, and apart from a few glimpses of wedding guests (including an adorable little girl singing Let It Go by herself in the courtyard) we didn’t hear a peep, which I was really impressed with, as I assumed we’d be very aware of the guests.

Honestly, I really want to go back and explore it properly, and am seriously thinking about booking a weekend there next year. I think it would be amazing in the summer – the hotel even offer picnics for you to take out with you, so now I’m fantasising about a wander on the Yorkshire moors with a fabulous picnic in my hamper. Sounds pretty great, right?

Thank you so much for the stay – we’ll be back!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Gift wrapping a la Pinterest

I’ve written about my secret tips on Christmas wrapping before, such as buying plain, shiny paper that you can use all year round and adding loads of ribbon to everything so people are distracted from the badly wrapped bits.

This year, I decided to go full-on Pinterest and wrap my gifts in brown paper with stripy string. It’s ridiculously trendy at the moment – stylish Instagram queens like Liv and Carrie are all over this look – and I can see why. It’s simple but festive, trendy but traditional. I always hear Julie Andrews singing ‘brown paper packages, tied up with string…’ as I wrap my gifts, because, um, that’s what they are.

The other reason I went this route though, was cost. These materials are so much cheaper than any other giftwrap (and brown paper’s always a useful thing to have in the house for posting ebay sales, covering textbooks, etc). It may be a little late for this but if you're a last-minuter, here's where I got my wrapping material:

10 metres of red & white string = £2.49 (free shipping)
I wasn’t sure 10m would go that far, so I bought 20m, and it seems plenty. I think you can get it even cheaper – it’s basically butcher’s string, so available in lots of places in bulk.

25 metres of brown paper = £3.49 (plus £1 shipping)
There’s tons and tons here. It comes in a neat little roll and is nice and thick which is great - I thought for that cost it might be the paper thin stuff.

50 x red luggage tags = £1.49 (plus 99p shipping)
I always buy these for Christmas as they last and last, and 50 tags should see me through pretty much everyone. They’re nice and chunky, easy to write on and – most importantly – match everything else.

If you want, you can add other funky things (I did consider buying real, fabric ribbon instead) but I like the simplicity of this look – especially because it’s so purse friendly!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

How to build a Gingerbread House (and what not to do)

So I shared some photos of my gingerbread masterpiece (ahem) the other day, but I thought I’d do a how to, too. My gingerbread house wasn't perfect, but I felt it was charming in its own way. And, hopefully, if you're making one for the first time this year, I can help you avoid any potential problems.

You can download gingerbread templates online – previously, I’ve used this one and I found this one on Pinterest – but it’s just as easy to design your own. The best way to do it is to mock it up in card first. I wanted mine to be a little different, and I liked the idea of it being slightly narrower at the bottom than the top. You might struggle to go too stylised as the gingerbread has to be able to stand up, but it’s all about trial and error.

And while I’m on the subject of trial and error, if you make your own template make sure you make the roof wider than the house. It needs to overlap the house structure on all sides – I originally made mine the same width and the house couldn’t support it. I had to make a new roof. Fun times! So I was originally going to put up my template for download, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it! Also, making a cut out for the window weakened the structure, and it was really flimsy. So don't do that.

I use this one from BBC Good Food, and it’s easy peasy. I recommend making the gingerbread a good few hours before you plan to decorate so it completely cools – the best way to do it is over a couple of days so you can allow time for all the decorations to set, too. I popped my pieces in the fridge to set, which sped up the process massively.

250g butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
7 tbsp golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger

Royal Icing:
2 egg whites
500g icing sugar

1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a tiny splash of water.
2. Cut out the template (see below to download). Put a sheet of baking paper on your work surface and roll about one quarter of the dough to the thickness of two £1 coins. Cut out one of the sections, then slide the gingerbread, still on its baking paper, onto a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, re-rolling the trimmings, until you have two side walls, a front and back wall and two roof panels. Any leftover dough can be cut into Christmas trees or gingerbread men, if you like.
3. Leave until completely cooled.
4. For the royal icing, put the egg whites in a large bowl, sift in the icing sugar, then stir to make a thick, smooth icing.

Royal icing
Chocolate fingers
Oodles of sweets
Edible silver balls
Candy canes

1. If you are doing lots of decoration, you may find it easier to decorate before assembling the house – that way at least gravity is on your side!
2. Spoon your royal icing into a piping bag with a small or medium nozzle, and decorate as desired, using the royal icing as glue to stick sweets and other pieces to the gingerbread.
3. Leave to set for a couple of hours or pop in the fridge for 30 - 60 minutes.
4. When all the pieces are set, you can assemble. Switch your piping nozzle for a medium or large one and pipe generous snakes of icing along the wall edges, one by one to join them together.
5. If you have one, use a small bowl to support the walls from the inside, then allow to dry, ideally for a few hours or in the fridge.
6. Once your house is dry, remove the supports and fix the roof panels on. The angle is steep so you may need to hold these on firmly for a few mins until the icing starts to dry. Dry completely, ideally overnight (I so recommend in the fridge). If you have anything you can put underneath the roof to hold it up, all the better (all my jars were a little too wide)
7. Once it’s all set, transfer carefully to the presenting dish you’re using (I recommend a tray or chopping board covered in foil) and pipe royal icing along the base of the house to secure it in place.
8. Finish decorating your tableau – make a gumdrop path, a chocolate finger fence, add gingerbread men or gingerbread trees (or both) and finish with a dusting of icing sugar.
9. Your gingerbread house will be edible for about a week, but will last much longer.

Enjoy! It probably took a lot of blood, sweat and tears (mine did - that roof problem seemed like the end of the world about 10pm on Sunday night) but isn’t it worth it in the end? Plus, you get to eat loads of sweets when you're making it!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

If I were a rich girl...

Sometimes it’s fun to imagine what you’d request for Christmas if you were surrounded by millionaires. Generous millionaires. I’m not, nor am I one, so I would never seriously expect any of this stuff. But if someone who loved me won the lottery all of a sudden, I wouldn’t say no...

Kitchen Aid
They’re so expensive, and I feel that they can’t truly be worth the money... and yet everyone I know who has one loves it, and they’re so attractive and glossy. It kind of annoys me that I want one so much.

All the Orla Kiely dresses
It’s really not on that Orla Kiely makes dresses that are so exactly my taste and so far from my budget.
one | two | three

An awesome present would be someone to change my bedding every single day. It is pretty much my least favourite job ever but then it's so worth it when you get into a freshly made bed with cool, perfectly smooth sheets. So yes. I would like someone to take care of my opulent furnishings. It would basically be like a hotel, but more comfortable - I might even get some hotel bed runners and oodles of cushions to really complete the feel. And room service, 24/7. Obvs.

Mulberry Handbag
Such a blogger cliché but I do completely buy into the brand. They are way, way, way too much money for what they are, but also they’re beautiful quality and would last forever. I totally want one.

While I’m not quite after a diamond ring just yet (although these diamond rings are so beautiful), a girl can never turn down diamonds, can she? I like to think that if I was super rich, I’d be dripping in them. Just because I COULD.

Yeah, can I have a castle please? Any of these will do nicely (sidenote: a fun exercise is to put an unlimited budget into Rightmove and search ‘High to Low’. Although sometimes that can be depressing when you consider your real life budget...)

Basically I just want to spend my life dressed like Kaylee going to the ball.

Private Jet
I would accept first class, as long as I got to go EVERYWHERE. Travelling is absolutely what I’d do if I won the lottery for real.

I’m actually kind of amused that this post started out with practical but pricey things and then quickly progressed to castles and private jets. I’m not sure I’d be the most responsible rich person...

PS – This is a total wish fulfilment post and obviously if I was really super rich I’d give massive amounts of my money to charity, and almost definitely not spend it all irresponsibly on diamonds.


Monday, 8 December 2014

Gingerbread Christmas Cards

I used to always do a Christmassy illustration and send it out as my Christmas card. It was fun, and always really well received (I usually posted about it here, too) but lately time has not been my friend and I’ve not done it for the last year or two. I do still really like the personal touch though and often think that it would be nice to send out a more individual card… but, you know, there’s that whole time thing again.

So step in, Postsnap! Postsnap is an app that turns your photos into postcards and greetings cards, and they asked me if I’d try it out. I was sent out to buy props, and it didn’t take me long to think of what to purchase…

I love, love, love gingerbread houses. I’ve only made one once, and it went ok, although I didn’t realise that you’re best to decorate it before assembling it, and my roof had a massive gap in it as it didn’t want to stay together. It wasn’t a failure (and it looked fine once I covered it in sweets) but it wasn’t as good as I could do, I felt. This time, I allowed myself a lot more time, and that’s really the key. I made the gingerbread a couple of days beforehand on Friday night, then did the decorations on Sunday morning, then assembled on Sunday evening. I’m going to do a full post on how I made it later in the week, and there were a few pitfalls along the way, but for now, I just want to show it off. I was going for scruffy, yet charming. I delivered, right?

I chose my favourite photo and did a bit of tweaking on my phone, mostly on the Postsnap app, but I used PicFX a little too for the light textures. Here's the final photo:

And here's my final card! You can customise much of the text including colours and fonts, and choose from various different designs. You can even personalise and send them out from the app, although I chose not to so I could have them all delivered to my house and I could send them out myself.

They cost £3 each, but you get discounts the more you buy:

1 cards for £3
2-4 cards for £2.50
5-9 cards for £2
10-29 cards for £1.20
30-49 cards for £1
50+ cards for 80p

I'm really pleased with them - they're personal, they came quickly and they look great.

Disclaimer: Postsnap sent me some money for ingredients and supplied me with 50 free credits to buy cards with. But I really rate this app! The cards look great and it was so easy to use. I’ll definitely be using it again.