Monday, 31 March 2014

When I was in Cambodia last month, I wanted to buy a couple of souvenirs that would remind me of my trip. I just spent the end of last year decluttering our house and getting rid of clothes I never wear, dishes that we'd cobbled together that we didn't use or particularly want and useless trinkets that have somehow made their way onto shelves, bedside tables and the tops of chests of drawers. When I used to go on holiday and ask my parents what they would like me to bring back for them, they always said nothing. Now I know why! I'm sick of dusting around bits and bobs that don't go with the look of our flat and now, whenever I go away, I try and visualise anything that I'm going to buy back at home. I'm a natural marketplace magpie and I have such a soft spot for cute little whatsits; when I was in Marrakech it was so difficult not to buy everything in sight, but all I came back with was a pretty fruit bowl which has pride of place on my kitchen windowsill and gets filled up every weekend with our weekly fruit and veg.

There were so many handicrafts and beautiful things to buy in Cambodia, but when I saw a huge pile of handwoven rugs, I knew that they would be perfect. The only problem was choosing the colours! In hindsight, I should have gone for a couple of dark ones we could use as picnic rugs, but I love the way these were the first to catch my eye and they go perfectly together (even though I have promised one to my mum - drat!). I'm not suggesting you shouldn't buy mantelpiece trinkets if that's what you like, but I think it's always useful to have an idea of where you'll put souvenirs when you get home; if you haven't got space to display them, they're probably best left as a photo on your camera! What are your favourite holiday treasures?

COOKBOOK CHALLENGE: bea's guinness & gingerbread cake

Friday, 28 March 2014
In lieu of a Friday post, here's a perfect recipe for a slow Sunday afternoon. My friend Sophie baked this recipe as muffins a couple of years ago when she lived with us. The house was filled with the wafting warmth of ginger and all 24 of them were gone within the weekend. The result is an airy sponge spiked with ginger and a hint of Guinness, but I’d never ventured to make them myself as the recipe requires many more ingredients and more time than my mixed, in the oven and ready to eat in 45 minutes lemon drizzle cake. Tea with Bea is a charming book from the founders of Bea’s of Bloomsbury, a teahouse in the heart of London, and features every mouth-watering cake you can think of, from peanut butter cheesecake and key lime pie to the thoroughly British afternoon tea scones and tropical fruit trifle. I think it's best served fresh from the oven with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, but I’ve included Bea’s instructions for golden cream cheese icing as well. 

250ml Guinness
250g molasses
1.5 tsps bicarbonate of soda
280g plain flower
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g dark brown soft sugar
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
200ml sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 170C/ gas mark 5

Put the Guinness and treacle in a tall saucepan (the next step will cause the mixture to bubble up violently and potentially overflow, so choose the largest pan you have) and bring to a boil over a high heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of soda (this part is like a science experiment!). Let stand until completely cool.

Put the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves in a bowl and stir until well blended.

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, both sugars and the grated fresh ginger. Gradually add the oil. Add the Guinness syrup and stir throughly.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the peppered cupcake cases (makes 24) or a 25cm round cake tin. Bake the cupcakes at 170C for 25-35 minutes or the cake at 160C for 45-55 minutes. When they feel springy to the touch, they’re ready to take out. I recommend it fresh out of the oven, when it's still warm, with a glass of cold milk. 

for the icing
225g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
175g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp golden syrup

Put the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat until combined and glossy. Add the icing sugar and beat until fluffy. Fold in the vanilla extract and golden syrup. The book suggests to pipe the icing, but I think I’d prefer smothering it on with a palette knife to look like the frothy head of a Guinness pint. 


Wednesday, 26 March 2014
If you like instagram, you're going to love this post! I first heard about Projecteo on the Skunk Boy blog; I ordered one straight away and it just arrived this weekend. It looks like a little toy but it's actually a teeny tiny, fully-operable projector! The projector costs $25.99 and a wheel of 8 pictures (uploaded via instagram) is $8.99 which is about £22. Once you've bought the projector, you can keep creating and purchasing individual wheels to store and share your favourite memories. I loaded mine with 8 pictures from our holiday to Thailand last year and it was so fun to show my boyfriend the slideshow under the covers (I couldn't wait for it to get dark before trying it out). Plus, shipping to the UK is free, so you can keep ordering without worrying about postage prices (scroll to the end of the post to find out how to avoid customs charges). I think they would make such sweet gifts and I can't wait to order more wheels!

Here's a code for $5 off your purchase (and a $5 credit for me, too!): FRIEND0B4C

A (long) note about customs, duties and how to avoid them
Once upon a time, I learnt the hard way about import charges when I ordered a dress from the US and was slapped with a hefty bill. Now, I always carefully check the fine print when ordering things from the States to see what hidden charges I can expect. Projecteo point out on their website that some of their UK customers were getting charged: here's how to get around it.

1. Import duty
Orders with a value of £135 and over will incur import duty, which is a percentage of the value of the product. You can work out what your charge will be using this calculator. Orders under £135 will not incur an import duty charge so if a website offers free shipping to the UK, it's worth splitting large orders into two (or more!) separate purchases, if you can.

2. VAT charges
I thought I'd bypassed any additional charges because my order was only of a $35 value, but I didn't know about VAT.  The VAT itself was only £4, which I was happy to pay, but the Royal Mail handling fee was £8, taking the charge up to £12 and half the value of the total order! Not cool. Orders with a value of over £15 will have a VAT charge added to them, which needs to be paid before they will deliver your package - the price of the Projecteo itself is just over £15, so it will be an unavoidable cost, but in the future, you can purchase 2 wheels at a time without any hidden extras. I hope that helps!


Monday, 24 March 2014
Scrambled eggs are my favourite thing to make at the weekend when I have the spare ten minutes it takes to make them perfectly (in my opinion). Unlike flash-in-the-pan fried eggs that go delightfully crispy when you crank up the heat, I give my scrambled eggs the time to cook at their own pace, which yields a beautifully creamy texture that is at once indulgent, rich and instantly comforting, like the pillowy portions you get in restaurants. I learned this recipe from an old repeat of a Gordon Ramsay Christmas special and it's never failed me. To make the perfect eggs for one: two fresh eggs, a large knob of butter and a teaspoon (or two) of cream.

Use a pan with a small surface area and keep your hob on the lowest setting throughout. Add the butter to your pan and just as it starts to foam at the edges, swirl the pan to coat the base and quickly crack the eggs straight in. Whisk with a fork and then leave them be. No matter how tempted you are, keep the heat very low and gently coax with a curved wooden spoon. Slowly they will start to cook. Watch them like a hawk and keep gently folding them in the pan. Just as they start to set, whip them off the heat and fold in the cream. Don't be alarmed if they look a little sloppy - the heat of the pan will continue to cook them. Turn the eggs out of the pan onto a slice of wholegrain toast and season with a sprinkle of sea salt and a grind of pepper. Thanks to the butter in the eggs, I don't tend to butter my toast, which actually makes this recipe only an indulgence for the time it takes, rather than the calories. Plus, the added fat from the cream will keep you full that little bit longer.


Friday, 21 March 2014
I caught a nasty stomach flu that's going round the office this week, which seems totally unfair as I already had a bout of something similar in Cambodia just over a week ago. I was relieved to hear a few other colleagues had it too, though, which means it wasn't a serious tropical disease or something!

I brought this pretty flowering tea back with me from Malaysia for my colleagues. It opens really gradually and I prodded the first one a few times to make it blossom faster, which just resulted in a leafy mess. What a pertinent reminder to slow down and allow things to develop at their own pace, which is what I will be doing this weekend. Have a good one!

#1DAY12PICS: kuala lumpur

Thursday, 20 March 2014
Michelle announced a fun new photography project this this month called #1DAY12PICS and I was so excited to take part, as I've signed up for her previous challenges but this one seemed a lot more doable for me. It fell on March 13th, which was perfect as I was still away on holiday, making for some more (hopefully) exciting pics than your average Thursday in the office. I loved how everyone interpreted the challenge differently on instagram, like Anna who posted her day in black and white, and I'm already thinking up a theme I could do for the next one in April.

10:30 – sleeping in is definitely a holiday luxury I got used to last week. First thing after waking, I grabbed a glass of water and went straight out the back to see Imbi, the new puppy. My grandma and mum found her running wild at the Imbi market carpark and brought her home. It took two baths to reveal the beautiful sandy colour of her coat. She’s used to sleeping under cars, so her regular napping spot is underneath the washing machine!

11:25 – an early lunch at my favourite noodle house, ChanMeng Kee. I requested lunch here nearly every day and by the end of the week my grandma suggested we just leave me there. 

12:50 – dropping my grandma home before heading out for a couple of errands. I've always loved this yellow wall by the drive.

13:20 – checking out Sasana Kijang, the museum of the national Bank Negara, where my mum will be having an exhibition in October. It's a government building, meaning you have to cover your shoulders (Malaysia is a Muslim country). I forgot and had to wait in the car!

14:10 – a quick stop at Central Market to check out souvenirs. I didn't buy anything, but it's always a fun place to wander around (and there's air conditioning). 

15:00 – it's such a pleasure to come home to a yellow house!

15:05 – a coconut bun is one of my favourites; sometimes breakfast and lunch get a bit muddle up around here!

15:30 – helping to prep these crazy long beans for tonight's dinner.

16:00 – time to relax a bit and read a book. I picked up a Norwegian murder mystery called 1220 at Siem Reap airport. The cover said it was a 'Scandi phenomenon' but I can't find the link on Amazon..

19:30 – I took this picture of the palm trees in the garden after dinner. It looks like sunset, but the flare is actually the neighbour's security lamp.

20:00 – sweet Imbi trying to sneak into the house.

21:00 – giving thanks for dinner in the pantry shrine.

91 MAGAZINE: issue 8

Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Hooray! The new 91 Magazine is out now! And I've contributed 2 features; one is a home tour interview with the lovely Aileen of At Home in Love and the second is an interiors feature on copper, that I styled and shot with Freya. I've been contributing to 91 Magazine for a couple of years now and the experience is so valuable. I'm a fashion copywriter by day, but I've always written for brands and writing features for a magazine helps me to figure out what my own tone of voice should be. I'm still growing and I don't think I've got it just yet, but I'm so grateful to Caroline for the opportunity to test the waters.

It was so fun to shoot at my house with Freya and so comforting to work with a friend. I'm still a beginner when it comes to styling and it's nice to feel that I can take my time without feeling like I might be scrutinised! Actually, I met Michelle for the first time in person when we got together to shoot my first feature in 2012 (!).

Issue 8 is available to buy for £2, or you can pay £7 to subscribe for the whole year. Each issue is packed with interesting home features, vintage shopping tips and doable DIY projects; I think a subscription would make a really lovely gift.

p.s. you can find my styling tips and a step-by-step guide (with template) for my hanging diamonds garland in the full feature here.

{images by Freya}

TRAVEL DIARY: the temples of angkor

Monday, 17 March 2014
Hello! I'm back from ten days away in South East Asia and SO glad to be home. I was visiting family in Kuala Lumpur, which sounds luxurious and exotic, but really it's just staying with grandparents, albeit in slightly warmer climes! Daily activities include getting up when the dog starts barking, sitting under the fan watching Chinese soap opera, lunch at my favourite hole-in-the-wall noodle house, playing with the dogs and family dinner at home. Average bedtime: 10:30pm. Number of DVDs watched: 12.

This time, though, my uncle and I went to visit my cousin in Siem Reap, where he's volunteering for an NGO. Another uncle and aunt met up with us there and we had a lovely 5 days (even though I was struck down with a dodgy tummy for the last couple days). Mostly we just ate a lot (USD1.25 for a bowl of noodles and 50 cents for a beer!), but we also spent one of the days visiting the temples. I thought I'd share a few pictures and tell you a bit about our trip, with a couple tips if you're ever planning to go (it's a long one, btw!).

We arrived at lunchtime and headed straight for our hotel, HanumanAlaya Boutique Residence, which was every little bit (and more) lovely than the Agoda website suggested. My cousin came to meet us at the hotel and we headed out for lunch at a little roadside cafe where I had the hugest fresh coconut I've ever seen, before checking out the town (v. touristy, avoid Pub Street if you don't want to feel like you're in the Costa del Sol), having a wander in the markets (some good bargains to be found if you're willing to haggle) and going back to the hotel to relax for the rest of the afternoon.

There are hundreds of temples to visit in Siem Reap, all covered under a single ticket; for us, a 1 day ticket costing $20 was enough, but there are also 3 and 7 day tickets available. If you're getting a 1 day pass, you can purchase the ticket from 5pm the day before, which allows you to go into the temple complex for sunset that evening, and be ready bright and early for the sunrise on the day. We bought our tickets and headed over for sunset - a tuktuk will drop you at the 'viewing point', not the main Angkor Wat temple. The path up is steep and there are A LOT of people at the top. The view was very hazy so we actually didn't stay up there long, and ended up going back to Angkor Wat to see the golden light reflect on the moat.

The next morning, we were up bright and early - actually, not bright at all as it was still dark - to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We got there just after 5:30, but the banks of the little pond in front of the temple were already full! Unfortunately it was a super hazy morning, so the event wasn't as spectacular as we'd hoped for.

Our hotel packed us a little breakfast box, but there are quite a few cafes where you can get coffee and fried rice as you wait for the sun to appear. If I were you, I'd take this opportunity to use the toilets first thing in the morning. On a side note, we made a couple of loo stops during the day and the facilities are catered to tourists, with a couple of flush toilets as well as traditional squat styles, all quite well maintained. I waited until lunch, when we stopped at a restaurant, to use the loo.

Early morning is the perfect time to explore the temples as the weather quickly heats up, but the interior is often cool and calm as the sun doesn't reach inside. Angkor Wat itself is such a sprawling complex, but even with all that space, it still felt a little crowded. To go into certain parts of the temple, you need to cover your knees and shoulders and I saw guards even turn away women wearing sleeveless tops who were using a scarf to cover up.

The second temple we visited was Angkor Thom. The temple sits in a huge, walled complex that used to be the ancient capital. The grounds are now planted with beautiful towering trees that lead up to the temple, which features the face of Buddha looking out at all directions.

All of the temples are undergoing major renovations and slowly, over the years, being restored to their former glory, with expert work going into both structural and artistic elements. In some temples, like Preah Khan, there are still piles of rubble everywhere, while on the bridge of Angkor Thom's South Gate, the Artisans d'Angkor are slowly replacing the menacing figureheads, breaking and ageing new sculptures to blend in with the existing pieces.

Ta Prohm temple was our last stop of the day, and the busiest! You may recognise it from the Tomb Raider movie. It would have been breathtaking if it weren't for all the Chinese tour groups lining up to take pictures under the arching tree roots. Actually, large tour groups, on the whole, spoiled the day for me and if I were to visit Siem Reap again, I would go on this Escape the Crowds tour my cousin recommended.

A day's tour cost around $100 for 5 people, though we had a minivan so it would have cost the same for 7 people as well, and less for a group of 3. We had a knowledgeable guide, though we had been to the Angkor National Museum the day before which was very informative and covered a lot of the topics that the guide told us about. I think if I had just been with my boyfriend, having the guide there all day might have been a bit awkward.

In the evenings, we ate in town a couple of nights and also ate at the hotel. The hotel food was amazing, and by European standards, inexpensive. If you eat on Pub Street, the food prices vary but you can eat a good meal with drinks for under $5 per person. The hotel mains were around $6 but the authentic, local dishes were delicious, generously sized and amazing quality, plus the atmosphere was really nice and it was a treat to just head back to the room and roll into bed.

On the second last night we went to the circus; I think it was the highlight of the trip for me! The circus is run by a local NGO, a couple of hours outside of Siem Reap, who set up a school for disadvantaged children. They provide an academic education, heavy supplemented with arts of all kinds, from painting and graphic design to circus. It's such an awesome idea and the show was so enjoyable, with lots of daring feats of acrobatics set within a story about witchcraft and accompanied by a two-man band with a modern drum kit and a traditional xylophone-style instrument. Enjoy the LOL-worthy picture of me with the performers below.

I heard that we just hit the end of the high season, and tourism starts to tail off in the beginning of April as it is just too hot to do anything. If you can stand the heat, the hotels all slash their prices and you can get a reasonable deal and one of the luxury ones; the Sofitel looked BEAUTIFUL, but you can't beat a boutique hotel like ours (with 15 rooms) for a more personal, authentic experience.


Friday, 14 March 2014
A while back (a few years, even!), I styled a feature for 91 Magazine and headed to New Covent Garden flower market with Michelle to stock up on fresh blooms. I was so intimidated to go as I didn’t know what to expect, like if the traders would mind us browsing without buying large quantities, and I couldn’t find much information on first-hand experiences online. Even though I posted this on my old blog ages ago, I still get comments on it so I thought I’d repost it here.

1. Where is it? Don’t get mixed up with Covent Garden market, because it’s not there! Get the Victoria Line or Southwest Trains into Vauxhall, and it is a sign-posted 5 minute walk just beyond the bus station. People with armfuls of flowers are also a dead giveaway.  
2. What time should I go? The market is open from 3-11am on weekdays; we got there at around 8:30am and everyone was pretty much packing up. Apart from a good selection of potted plants, there were only 3 or 4 traders still there (most probably waiting for all the public punters to make some last minute cash). If you are after variety, and especially if you want specific things, I would advise going earlier. However, as it was so empty it made it easier to ask questions and prices without getting in anyone’s way.
3. Do you have to be a florist or a trader? No! The traders didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t really know what we were doing and as it was so empty they were fairly happy to explain things for us. I would have felt very intimidated if it had been peak time and the shoppers and traders were all vying for each other’s attention. Just be firm and know what you want. 

4. Do you have to buy in bulk? The florists deal in bunches and ‘wraps’, which are generously sized and modestly priced. In hindsight, for the small amount of flowers we needed, we really didn’t need to go there. We bought a large bunch of viburnum (£5), a lovely bouquet of roses (£5), a small posy of mystery flowers (at £5 they were a mistake) and a huge wrap containing 5 bunches of small, white flowers that seem to be part of the daffodil or hyacinth family (£15). A large tray of beautiful pansies also came in at £3. It was great value for the amount of flowers we had, and could have easily made about 8-10 pretty bouquets for a total of £30, but it was far more than we needed and, in hindsight, it might have been cheaper to get the select few flowers we needed at a florist. After the shoot, I didn’t even have enough space or containers for this many flowers, but I gave them away to an elderly neighbour in need of cheering up and I think she was very grateful.
Final tip: The vendors add VAT on top of the prices - so when they tell you a bunch of flowers is a tenner, expect to pay £12.

If you aren’t shopping for an event or buying large quantities and looking to make a saving, I’d recommend going to a smaller venue like the Columbia Road flower market on Sundays: it makes for a nice day out and you will probably spend less (for fewer flowers).