Wednesday 31 December 2014

5 Great Brunch Ideas for New Year's Day

In between painting my nails and sorting my hair out for this evening, I’ve been thinking hard about what I want to eat tomorrow. It’s probably the most hungover day of the year, and so a good brunch is a must. Well – depending on how bad your hangover is – I wish you the ability to be able to eat tomorrow! Presuming you can, here are my top 5 brunch recipes. They’re easy, tasty, and will sort you right out for an arduous afternoon of watching bad movies and eating brown food and various dips.

Dip & Share Eggs
These Moroccan-esque eggs have been around for years, but I am a fan of The Londoner’s recipe. It’s very easy, and a great way to use up leftovers. I find that I usually have most of the ingredients on hand anyway. It’s super filling, and not too terrible for you either. We usually serve it straight from the frying pan, with warm baguettes that we buy part-baked. You will get tomato splatters on your pyjama top, but don’t worry about that. No one’s looking.

Chorizo Scrambled Eggs
This is a great recipe for if you’re feeling a little poisoned. Eggs will give you protein, chorizo will give you salt (I always want salty food when I’m hungover) and flavour, avocados are generally amazing for you and popping it all on a wrap stops it seeming too heavy. It’s not really a healthy brunch at all, but it’s much better for you than a greasy fry up, so hooray for that.

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
This is a fantastic hungover brunch recipe, as you can do all the hard work the day before. Then, the next day, you just need to stagger out of bed, pop this in the oven and spend rest of the morning picking at them from under a duvet on the sofa. Sounds pretty ace to me.

Eggs Benedict
It’s an oldy but a goody! I'm sure you know the recipe, but this one's pretty good. Did you know you can make poached eggs in advance, too? Undercook them slightly, just pop them into cold water and put them, covered, in the fridge. To heat, pop them in a pan of boiling water and allow to heat through for a minute or so. The yolk will even stay gooey – it’s like magic! I like them on lightly toasted muffins with a some great quality ham and a drizzle of hollandaise sauce. I also like them over homemade guacamole with a drizzle of sweet chilli, which isn’t really Eggs Benedict at all, but it sure does taste good.

Breakfast Burrito Bites
These are a bit different, but perfect if you’re feeding an army on New Year’s Day. You can make them ahead and freeze them, or just do all the prep ahead and on the morning just pop on the egg mixture and cheese and pop them in the oven. If you’re like me, and want to eat everything in sight when you’re hangover, these are perfect for you as the recipe makes 12 bites and no one is going to tell if you eat them all.

Alternatively, you can do what my friends and I did a few years ago and get on the phone to the local pizza place! Even less effort... sounds good to me...

Tuesday 30 December 2014

New Year's Eve Cocktails

Ah, that blissful post-Christmas period. Thanks to an inordinate supply of party food and leftovers, it's been days since I felt truly hungry and even longer since I was entirely sober. I love this time of the year. It's all about eating and drinking to excess, and no one can say anything about it, because it's just a last hurrah before January when all you're allowed is kale and water. Mmmm.

And on that note... fancy a cocktail?

Tuesday 23 December 2014

What's in my handbag?

I always find that the contents of my handbag vary by the time of year. In the Summer, there’s usually about three pairs of sunglasses (and an umbrella). In Autumn and Spring, there’s always an emergency hat in case of terrible weather. And in Winter – well, it’s all about the layers.

Debenhams sent me this lovely Oasis bag recently and it’s barely left my arm. It’s the perfect size for Christmas shopping as it’s so big – no chance of losing tiny jewellery packages and makeup through a hole in a plastic bag! I speak, sadly, from experience. I've just been using it a lot as a general carry-all though, it makes an excellent overnight bag, too.


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.


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.

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.


Saturday 6 December 2014

Four Cheese BBQ Pulled Pork Mac'n'Cheese

Sometimes I get food obsessions into my head. I’ll think about them for ages and ages, and eventually I’ll stand up and scream ‘I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE! I HAVE TO MAKE THIS!’

And then I do.

One such obsession was pulled pork mac’n’cheese. The last-but-one time we made pulled pork, we talked about doing this with the leftovers, but then time and whatnot intervened and it didn’t happen. So then the LAST time we made pulled pork, I was like ‘Right, this lot is going in the freezer and then will be reborn as mac’n’cheese. Reborn!’ It ended up being a Friday night dinner, which was the perfect excuse to make it incredibly rich and decadent. This is not a healthy dinner, my friends. But it is incredible.

Thursday 4 December 2014

The Christmassiest Weekend

I always find that in late November and all of December, my diary looks insane. I hardly have any free time, and so it was nice this week to have a rare weekend with no plans. We celebrated by having the Christmassiest weekend possible, starting on Friday night with a cosy evening of making gingerbread, accompanied by super rich homemade mac’n’cheese and red wine, Then on Saturday we went into London for the day...

We started out at the V&A as they had kindly sent me tickets to see the Horst exhibition. I don’t have any photos to share with you as we weren’t allowed to take them in the exhibit, but I really recommend a trip (tickets are only £10 each). Horst was an influential photographer from the 30s to the 90s, and worked a lot with Vogue. The exhibition shows the different stages of his career – from fashion (including some amazing dresses) to stage and screen (including photos of Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford to name a few) to surrealism (including some collaborations with Dali). It was so interesting to see how his career evolved and all the different influences that affected it. It’s also a pretty large exhibition – we were probably in there for an hour – with loads of photographs, plus some of his cameras, sketchbooks and films of his work. I loved it. I'm thinking about buying a print or poster for my new flat next year too.

Next, we headed across town to Spitalfields as we were starving and obsessed with trying out the Hawksmoor Christmas menu. This is only available in Spitalfields Bar, which is next door to the main Hawksmoor restaurant. I was worried it was going to be busy as we couldn’t book, but we needn’t have worried – we were the first ones in there at 12ish, but once we left it had filled up significantly. I’d not been before but it’s such a cool bar – it has a grimy, hidden aesthetic but it’s actually super comfortable (and clean!). Oh, and the food… wow.

The Christmas nuggets are minced turkey and pigs-in-blankets, wrapped around a four cheese sauce with the consistency of melty camembert and then deep fried. They’re amazing. The cheese is gooey and great quality (nothing like that bright yellow plastic American stuff), they’re the stuff of dreams, basically.

And the burger. Ohhh, the burger. One of those ones you have to use a knife and a fork on almost instantly because it’s so huge. I’m just going to C&P their description: “A juicy slab of buttermilk fried turkey topped with a sausage stuffing patty made from Ginger Pig Tamworth pork, along with crispy smoked bacon, sprout tops, spiced cranberry ketchup, a cheeky slice of Ogleshield cheese (not very Christmassy, but a burger without cheese is a sad thing indeed) and turkey gravy for you to French Dip the whole thing in.” It was incredible. Run, don’t walk – it’s only around until the end of December!

We then headed to the Christmas market on the Southbank. It was ridiculously busy, but also very festive and lovely with cool things like a man blowing a flaming tuba and sand sculptures. We popped into the Rekorderlig Winter Cider lodge for a hot cider – I was invited to the launch party but sadly couldn’t make it, so I’m glad I got to try it. I will also be stocking up on their winter cider because it’s so very tasty – it’s not just your usual hot alcoholic apple juice, it’s got tastes of vanilla and oranges too. Yum.

All the food stalls at the Southbank market seemed to have ridiculous queues, so we wandered back a little into the food market behind the Royal Festival Hall which had much more acceptable crowds. I was a little sad I was still so full from my burger because I wanted everything! I did make an exception for a crepe, though – because who can turn down a gooey Nutella and peanut butter combo? NOBODY. Except Matt, who got Nutella and banana, because he actually prefers other things to peanut butter. Weirdo.

After a quick cocktail in Thirst, we then headed home for some quality sofa time.

On Sunday, we headed into Yateley to meet Laura and her gorgeous baby. I was really impressed by our roast at the White Lion – if you live in the area, the meat is good quality, there are loads of veg and they give you extra gravy without you asking. All ticks in my book!

We then headed home to do a bit of Christmas prep. I lit up some Yankee Candles which they sent me recently (the Candy Cane Lane one is sooo yummy) and had a play with the crafting kit they sent too. I must confess the artful lighting is to hide how terrible my candy cane star was – there was quite a bit of snappage from my clumsy fingers. But in the dark, lit by fairy lights, it’s not too bad! And my angel wings came out ok.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to build a gingerbread house… more on that at a later date, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. At least I had leftover mac’n’cheese to see me through…

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Where I've Eaten Lately

Because my Instagram is mostly food these days, it’s quite nice to do a round-up post. I live in a small – but fairly popular – town and lately there seems to be lots of awesome little independents about, so it’s nice to give them a bit of a shout out. I haven’t actually eaten out that much recently though – we’ve been cooking more and more (let’s face it, it’s so much cheaper) and so going through my latest Instagrams, I was quite surprised to see that there wasn’t much on there!


Saturday 29 November 2014

Slow Cooker Lemon & Garlic Chicken

My slow cooker obsession continues apace. At the moment, we’re still borrowing Matt’s housemate’s every few weekends, but I keep thinking about when we have our own place next year (and our own slow cooker – that’s a given). I’m going to use it for everything. There’s always be piles of shredded chicken for salads and sandwiches and plenty of pulled pork around to add into other things. Pulled pork mac ‘n’ cheese, I’m coming for you. We’ll make stews, soups, sauces, bread… it’ll be fabulous.

Slow cooking fits nicely with my love of batch cooking, but it’s even better in a lot of ways because it’s much less effort. I love that we can throw a few ingredients in it before bed and wake up to a ready-to-eat meal. It often doesn’t need any oil, and can be more economic too – for instance, when we do a chicken recipe like the honey garlic one I posted a while back, every last bit of meat falls off the bone.


Thursday 27 November 2014

Just another Christmas Gift Guide...

Buying Christmas presents is actually one of my favourite things. I fill in my little spreadsheet (shut up, it’s not sad) and then flex my plastic and watch in excitement as packages arrive through the door. Then I get to wrap them and label them and give them out – it’s pretty much the best thing ever. And then I get presents too! Which I always kind of forget about, so it’s a total bonus.

Now I know you’ve seen a thousand gift guides already… but here’s another one, because I like writing gift guides, and maybe this is actually the only blog you read. But there are good ideas in here too!

I normally get my Dad books, or failing that jumpers. I think I might have stretched to new shirts last year. But I’m actually considering pushing the boat out and getting slippers this year – I KNOW. Creative. But these slippers from Crockett & Jones are super nice and look very comfy, and that works for me.

Navy Slippers

I used to find Mum so hard to buy for, but then I realised that she is pretty terrible at buying nice things for herself (she’s not bad at it, she just doesn’t do it) so it’s nice to get her jewellery or makeup or accessories. Scarves are always an excellent bet for Mums (and Grandmas, Aunts and in-laws) – how pretty is this one from House of Fraser? The good thing with scarves is that it’s totally acceptable to have a million, so buy them every year!

one | two | three | four

Small People
I quite like giving out things-to-do to my nieces and nephews. It keeps them entertained and allows the rest of the family to crack open the amaretto! My two nieces and three nephews range in age from 2 to 11 so there’s quite a lot of scope there, but here are a few of my favourite bits from Dotcomgiftshop:

Pretty Owls | Tea Set | Make Your Own T-Rex | Disguise | Rocket Playhouse

I know exactly what I’m getting my sister, but I can’t possibly put that here because I know she reads my blog! I’ve bought her boots for the last couple of years though (sorry Becky, not this year) – here are a few pairs I think she’d like. Or failing that, I like them…

one | two | three | four

I actually just tend to get presents for my brother’s kids rather than him, but I spotted the first of these books on his shelf recently. I noticed it as I’d actually just bought it as a gift for my Granny’s birthday, and now my Dad is reading it and raving about it. I haven’t actually read it myself! But books are always an excellent present, and the great thing with buying someone the first in a series is that you can buy the later books in the series as presents the next year!

one | two | three

Yeah, you guessed it – more books. I can totally spoil it here, as she doesn’t have the internet. I always buy Granny books. Even though she’s 98, she’s as sharp as a tack, and I love having awesome literature conversations with her. For her birthday, I got her the first in this series too on Ashleigh’s recommendation, and I know she really enjoyed it - so I’ve bought books 2 and 3. Easy peasy!

one | two | three

He also reads this blog, so I can’t tell you what I’ve actually got him (but it’s so good! I really want to!) but I’ve been scouring the emails from Not On The Highstreet and Etsy for inspiration and there’s LOADS. I also got him this book for his birthday a few months back, which is a great idea if you want your boyfriend to make you some booze. And I’m pretty sure you do. And he got me this book for MY birthday... and we have had more brunch since...

one | two

Best Friend
I don’t want to spoil things, but I have been spending lots of time looking at the gifts page on ASOS. So much cuteness! Excellent for Secret Santas, too:

one | two | three | four | five

How about you? Found any awesome websites I should be looking at?


Thursday 20 November 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful #13

I'm a little sad that I got out of the habit of doing these posts. Putting them together really does cheer me up, and you guys have always said they do the same. Plus, it's an excuse to look at amazing food, nice clothes and pretty things. What's not to love?

Here are 7 things (for 7 days) for you to enjoy. I can't guarantee that number 3 will happen, but come on - it's England. We're pretty much guaranteed it, right?

Festive Baking
Maybe it's a bit early, maybe it is, but I'm already planning some amazing festive cooking. This is my latest obsession - it's a WREATH MADE OF FUDGE. I BLOODY KNOW. And it looks really easy, sort of like a Rocky Road with fudge instead of chocolate. Daaaamn.

I am so desperate for a good pamper at the moment. I haven't had my hair cut since July and it's impossible to do anything with, but I'm stubbornly holding out for a special occasion to really maximise that blowdry. We're heading up North in a couple of weeks, so I might track down a hairdressers in Manchester – there’s lots to choose from here!

Rainy Days
What's happened to me? I used to loathe the rain, and while I'm still not too fond of it when I get stuck in it without a brolly, there's something so comforting about listening to it outside whilst snuggled up in the warm. But I'm also becoming a fan of a good puddle splash - if I'm decked out in my trusty kagoul and wellies, then I'm a happy sausage. I need some new wellies though, and these cute ones from Butterfly Twists look like they'll fit my awkward calves, too!

Present Buying
God, I love buying presents. I love receiving them too, but that part is almost an afterthought for me at Christmas - it's the purchasing and hunting that I adore. I recently discovered George Pragnell which sells stunning antique and period jewellery, they have some lovely pieces that I know the ladies in my life would like... including me!

Getting Away
Have you seen the Eurostar sale? £59 return! I am so tempted to book a minibreak for February to Paris... for less than it costs to get to Scotland, it's got to be worth it, right?

A Good Book
I'm rediscovering my love of reading at the moment and it's pretty awesome. I just finished Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater and adored it. It's the third in the Raven Quartet - please read them. You'll be happy you did.

Amy Poehler
This is why I love Amy Poehler:

And this:

And this is her author's photo for her book:

She's incredible.

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