READING LIST: a birthday book club

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

I think books make the most thoughtful gifts. Choosing a book for a friend has so many different messages - it could be an author you know they love, your favourite novel, words that got you through a difficult time or the book that is so sidesplittingly funny you just want everyone you know to read it.

My brother has a lot of stuff, so for his birthday last year I wanted to get him a subscription gift that would arrive every month without taking up too much space in his flat. I found a few gift subscription websites online offering monthly deliveries of things like coffee, chocolate and books, but they seemed expensive for something that I had the time to research and put together myself. Plus, by hand-picking my own books, I could be sure my brother would like them. On the day of his birthday I gave him Where Chefs Eat with a note tucked inside that he would get a new book at the beginning of every month for the next 6 months. Then I went onto Amazon and searched for books and authors I knew he liked and trawled the 'customers who bought this also bought this' section to find some ideas. He loved it (I think!) and it was fun to discuss each month what he thought of the book I'd chosen.

The best thing is that you can completely tailor the books to the recipient or the occasion and it's great if you're a bit strapped for cash as you can spread the cost across a few months. Here's a few suggestions to create your own book club gift.

  • Choose a theme, like 'books for foodies' or 'The Classics'
  • Get the same books for yourself and have a monthly coffee date to discuss
  • Your bestie's getting married? This one is perfect
  • Why not include a candle and nibbles for a night in with a good read
  • It works for all ages - don't you think it would be exciting for little ones?
  • If in doubt, here are the 100 greatest novels of all time (apparently)

p.s. Make sure you choose books that will fit through a letterbox - it's not a treat if the recipient has to go and pick it up from the depot!


Monday, 28 April 2014
At the end of last week, my boyfriend and I packed up the car and headed down to Cornwall for a long weekend. We were really lucky with two full days of sunshine, followed by a day of lashing rain (perfect for eating biscuits under the duvet, watching Game of Thrones). I wish I could have captured beautiful images like the ones I shared in my post on Friday, but I snapped a few pictures on my iPhone to share - it was so bright outside that I couldn't even see the screen, let alone focus, but I'm glad I just about captured that turquoise water!

We arrived on Thursday to glorious sunshine and climbed down the craggy rocks to get a closer look at the sea.

Warm sand between my toes isn't something I'm used to experiencing in England, but the soft yellow sand at Crantock Beach is the real deal. We took a long walk down the beach and admired all the dogs dancing in the surf (Labrador! Jack Russell! New Foundland!).

These (unedited!) pictures don't do the Bedruthan Steps any justice, but the water is as turquoise as the Caribbean! I think the steps refers to the rocky outposts that line the coast, like a staircase for giants, but we also found a perilous staircase leading right down to the beach below. It looks idyllic, but the sea was incredibly rough - I wouldn't like to get any closer!

After working up an appetite, we called in at The Scarlet Hotel for a birthday afternoon tea. Excuse my smug face - I was ready to dive in! Can you see the big ice cream scoop of clotted cream? I practically had to be rolled back out to the car.

It rained all day on Saturday, but it was nice to curl up inside and listen to the wind hurl itself against the windows. The sea looked so rough, but there were actually surfers out there - probably ideal conditions for them!

We arrived back last night feeling refreshed and glad to be home, especially with our sweet bunny who was sorely missed, but thoroughly spoiled by my mum all weekend.

Pop into The Scarlet for a hot chocolate on the terrace and an amazing view over Mawgan Porth. Make use of their carpark and follow the hotel's private path down to the beach to watch the surfers.
Walk the Carnewas cliff path for a closer look at Bedruthan Steps. The staircase down to the beach is open (except in bad weather) from November to February.
Visit Crantock Beach for beautiful golden sand dunes and cross the Gannel Estuary for a cream tea with a view at the Fern Pit cafe.
Love dogs? Most of the beaches in North Cornwall welcome dogs and Watergate Bay is a big favourite - have breakfast at The Beach Hut or lunch upstairs at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen.
Spend the afternoon in Padstow, a charming harbour town with lots of cafes and restaurants.
For an unbeatable view, Lewinnic Lodge sits right on the coast's edge and the sea view rooms are a luxurious treat for special occasions.


Friday, 25 April 2014
I'm in Cornwall right now, celebrating my 25th birthday with a nice long weekend away. My parents just bought a flat on the North Cornish coast and I found all these stunning pictures earlier in the week that are all about an hour's drive from Crantock. Can you believe this is Britain? Cornwall, I think I'm going to like you.

{images via pinterest: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7}

READING LIST: the debuts

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

This month’s books have two things in common. The first is that they are both debut novels; I’ll let you figure the second thing out for yourself ;)

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – no doubt you’ll have heard about this book already, otherwise it’s quite possible you’re living under a rock. Starting life as a screenplay, it is just a lovely thing to read right now. The author puts himself in the mindset of an autistic genetics professor and perfectly captures his thought process as he searches for a woman to make his wife. The humour is laugh-out-loud funny, yet surprisingly subtle, and Professor Don Tillman is a modern hero in every sense of the word. Have you read it? Let’s discuss!

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead – a stunning debut that details the complexities of family, the book is set on the New England island of Waskeke, where the Van Meter family have gathered to celebrate the marriage of their daughter Daphne. What ensues is anything but idyllic, as the father of the bride experiences a midlife crisis and the most pivotal moment of his daughter’s life – good one, Winn! I love a good family drama, and this one manages to be both hilarious and sharply observant. 

COOKBOOK CHALLENGE: hugh fearnley-whittingstall's plums, crumble, ice cream

Monday, 21 April 2014
I picked up Hugh's Three Good Things on offer in WH Smith's because of the lovely pictures and emphasis on simple recipes, lovingly put together to showcase three key ingredients. Alluring recipes such as 'ham, squash, marmalade' and 'polenta, beans, kale' are easy to prepare with a highlight on seasonal ingredients and will make you think differently about the components of your meal. I hadn't made anything from the book, despite everything looking delicious, so it was the perfect candidate for the Cookbook Challenge. For a cosy day working from home, I made 'plums, crumble, ice cream' as an indulgent afternoon treat. Plums aren't in season, but I picked up a punnet from Tesco to 'ripen at home' and we forgot to eat them and they were starting to get mushy. This recipe honestly took less than 10 minutes to knock up, so it's going straight on my list of last-minute puds as it serves as a perfect base for any stone fruit or, really, any fruit that takes well to cooking (bananas and Nutella, perhaps? YUM).

Serves 4

For the crumble
225g plain flour
A pinch of fine sea salt
200g cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
150g granulated or demerara sugar
100g medium oatmeal, ground almonds or porridge oats

For the fruit
30g butter, softened
8 large plums
2 tbsp soft brown sugar or honey
4-8 star anise (optional)

To serve
4 generous scoops of vanilla ice cream

[Recipe abridged, but with all the relevant details] For the crumble, which you can make ahead, preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and rub together with your fingertips until you have a crumbly dough. Squeeze the mixture to form clumps, then crumble on to a large baking tray and spread evenly. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway, until golden and crisp. Cool and keep in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the fruit, heat to 190C/Gas 5 and butter a roasting dish. Halve the plums and remove the stone. Put them, cut side up, in the dish, dot with the remaining butter and sprinkle with the sugar or honey. Scatter star anise, if using. Bake for 20-30 minutes until bubbling and juicy.

Any leftover plums (ha!) would be delicious the next morning with natural yoghurt and some of the crumble sprinkled on top. However, I'd like to add that while a pudding that is mainly composed of fruit may appear virtuous, it is only masquerading as such. Especially if you find it impossible to keep going back to the cupboard for a nibble on the leftover crumble which may seem healthy, but essentially equals eating a whole packet of biscuits, so heads up on that one (spoonfuls of crumble do taste delicious along with a cup of tea, though, I must add...)


Friday, 18 April 2014

Days off in this household were made for breakfast. I usually eat my weekday breakfasts at my desk when I get to work - somehow, when I eat before I leave home, I'm ravenous for more by the time 9:30 rolls around! Scrambled eggs and avocado toast are my usual breakfast of choice, but this morning I decided to mix up the formula a little bit, swapping toast for a tortilla and adding a sprinkle of coriander, a handful of cheese and a dash of tangy hot sauce to make one pretty tasty breakfast burrito. Heads up! I think I might have found my new favourite breakfast.

This weekend is for house admin - hoovering and dirty dishes, finally throwing out the dead plants on my balcony (oops) and sorting through the mountains of things we have that still don't really have a designated space in our home. Hopefully we'll find a new flatmate this weekend, too, plus I'll be spending time at my brother's new house, which is right around the corner from mine, and heading to my parents' house for our annual Easter egg hunt.

I'm planning an exciting new series for Friday posts and I can't wait to sort out the nuts and bolts of it this weekend. If you're a blogger and you'd like to be involved, write me a comment and I'll get back to you. After seeing a big boost in page views this week after both Freya and Siobhan mentioned me in their blog posts, I'm amazed to think there might be some new people taking note of this little space on the internet, so if you're interested, let me know! Happy Easter, friends!

p.s. isn't hayfever a total party pooper?


Wednesday, 16 April 2014
Last month when I was hanging my new Jeremy Miranda print, my boyfriend and I discovered a little problem. Normally I just eyeball the wall, whack a nail in and Bob's your uncle, but after D witnessed one such occasion where I had to prise out the nail and reposition it three times, he insisted on taking over and that's when we discovered a problem. How high are you meant to hang your pictures? Any gallery experts out there? I feel like small paintings with lots of detail deserve a captive audience who can get up close and personal, but this poses a problem when one of those viewers is 5'1 and the other is 5'11. I found this interesting discussion on the topic, but I'd love to hear more opinions!


Monday, 14 April 2014
For three years during uni, I worked in a tea room. Every morning we would freshly bake rounds of scones, fluffy Victoria sponges and fat wedges of chocolate cake. All of the recipes were beautifully simple and whipped up in a matter of minutes. I've carried this ethos with me, since before then, that a cake should be baked with love, and the rest will come together itself. My dad shares this mindset, over the years extolling the virtues of my simple sponges and, when they came out flat like pancakes, reminding me 'that's just the way I like them!'. I like to think it's been a while since I made a flat cake and so it seemed fitting for his birthday yesterday that a simple cake, baked with love, would be what he would get. I flicked through a cookbook in the hope of finding something just a little bit fancier for a special day, but in the end, a classic lemon cake was 'just right' for the occasion.

I can make this cake with my eyes closed and even though it comes together in less than 15 minutes, those 15 minutes are utterly relaxing in that way that things are when you are utterly confident in what you are doing. No quibbles about the butter being too soft or not quite enough flour left in the half-empty packet at the back of the cupboard. Such is my familiarity, the recipe can be adjusted in a heartbeat because, oh no! we only have 2 eggs or someone's swiped half the butter for a round of Saturday morning toast. And so, as sure as the combination of sugar, eggs, butter and flour will create the comforting cuddle of a cushion of soft sponge, so will my dad respond with love for the daughter who bakes him the world's easiest cake, even if it comes out a little burnt around the edges.

To make, cream 175g of caster sugar with 175g of softened butter. Add 175g (see the pattern here) of self-raising flour and three eggs. Beat together until smooth and pour into a buttered cake tin. Pop in an oven pre-heated to 180C and bake until the top is just starting to turn golden and a skewer or knife comes out clean from the centre. Small, thin sponges for Victoria sponge should take about 15 minutes, depending on your oven, but I should think a 'normal' cake would need 40 minutes. I flavoured my dad's 62nd birthday cake with the zest of a couple lemons and stuffed it with buttery lemon curd and pillowy clotted cream. To make a moist and sticky lemon drizzle (my boyfriend's favourite), turn out the finished cake onto a plate while still warm, poke lots of holes with a fork and then slowly spoon over the juice of a few lemons mixed with a couple tablespoons of caster sugar. Allow the cake to drink in the syrup and serve immediately - also lovely when cooled, if you can wait that long.

Like all cakes made with love, this one's a little scruffy, but I know my dad will love it like he has loved all the ones before it.

I've added this cake to my frugal recipes tag because it is so cheap to make, literally less than £2, and makes the perfect 'waiting for payday' indulgence or a warm, fuzzy treat for friends.


Friday, 11 April 2014

How is it not only April, but the 11th of April, to be precise? I feel like this year is running away from me! This weekend we’re celebrating my dad’s birthday (I'm going to make a tart), the following weekend is Easter, the weekend after that we're heading to Cornwall for my 25th birthday and then it will be MAY?!

Tomorrow, I’m planning to take stock of what I’ve achieved so far this year in terms of the goals I set myself in January and tick off a few assignments I’ve let slide from my sub-editing course. This year has already been filled with moments that are crazy, sad, reflective and joyful and to be honest, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed. I’m planning to lay low in May and give myself a little R&R. Does anyone else feel like 2014 has a mind of its own?

Anyway, it's time to dust off the week and celebrate two days of doing nothing. But first, it's Friday! And this Friday brings a fun catch-up dinner with new friends. Enjoy! {image}

DIY DEBATE: painted chairs

Wednesday, 9 April 2014
I recently inherited a set of 4 dining chairs from my Granny - they're beautifully made and nice and compact for our small eating space, but they're very 'wooden'. I'm not a fan of lots of mismatched wood tones, and with our solid kitchen counters and distressed schoolhouse table that we have, I think it would just be overkill. I've seen so many painted versions around and I love the idea of a pretty DIY makeover.

The two-tone effect is really fun and would still keep some of the integrity of the wood. I have also been toying with the idea of just painting the middle set of dowels on the back. That's my chair in its natural state, by the way. At first I thought it would be irreverent to paint my Granny's furniture, but then I remembered that the pastel blue chairs we currently have were painted by her, over the bright yellow that my Great Granny had chosen before! {top (via), right}

I'm loving the idea of dipped legs - what do you think? {left, right}

Now I'm wondering if we should paint the whole set one colour, or have them mismatched. I'd love to hear what you guys like best? Watch this space! {top left, top right, bottom right}

TURNING JAPANESE: the fruit + veg challenge

Monday, 7 April 2014
So when I was reading about the news that we should all be eating more fruit and veg (which is kind of a no-brainer, but scientists have revealed it can make you live longer...assuming you also cut out binge drinking and smoking et al) I saw a tweet that said the Japanese guideline is 13 portions of veg and 4 of fruit! I could quite easily get through 7 portions a day but 17? That sounds like a challenge! And so I tried it.

The Haul: The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that there are only 3 portions of fruit here as I miscounted. I squeeze a whole lime into some warm water to make up for it. I've also just realised I forgot to include the black beans I had for lunch, which actually means I stuffed myself with 14 veggies.

The Breakfast: A handful of spinach, strawberries and a banana whizzed up with some almond milk.

The Lunch: This one defeated me! It's one thing to eat 6 types of vegetables at lunch time but quite another thing altogether to be able to polish off all 6 servings. I made the salad from a portion each of tomato, sweetcorn, cucumber and black beans but there's only half of the salad on my plate and I couldn't manage the rest of it. This one's for people who say vegetables don't make you full!

The Snacks: As well as a couple of celery sticks with peanut butter (if you haven't tried this before, you're missing out) and two satsumas, I scarfed these radishes with olive oil and Maldon salt.

The Dinner: I stir-fried all of these tasty greens with brown basmati rice and a bit of soy, fish sauce, lime and sugar.

The Verdict: I am stuffed! I thought I could do this really easily, but the quantity of 17 portions of fruit and vegetables is probably more than all of the food I would eat on a regular day. I was surprised that the day turned out to not only be totally vegetarian, but would also have been completely vegan had it not been for the fish sauce! If a big juicy steak had presented itself, I think I would have been much too full to do it justice.

This way of eating is also not as expensive as the naysayers would have you believe. All of the fruit and veg in the first picture was only a fraction of what I got in my weekly shop, which cost £35 (including delivery charge) and included a couple of portions of meat and eggs as well. With a bit of forward thinking, my boyfriend and I ate all of the meals above, plus two nights of meatballs (one with spaghetti, one baked with eggs), quesadillas with salsa and gooey, cheesy omelettes - all knocked out with a (normal amount) of vegetables.


Friday, 4 April 2014

Did you see the news this week that experts are now suggesting 7 portions of fruit and veg can prolong your lifespan. Uh, no kidding, right? But when most adults are not eating the recommended 5 daily portions, it would be unreasonable and irresponsible for the government to make 7 portions the official daily guideline. I’m such a big advocate that you get back what you put in (in all parts of life), but food is such a game changer – from boosting your mood and energy levels to improving your skin and hair, a little patience will reward you in a few weeks’ time. I like to think I eat a healthy diet and I regularly exceed my recommended dose of the good stuff, but this weekend I’ve set myself a little challenge to go that extra mile and I’ll be posting about it next week, so stay tuned! {image}

Here’s a couple healthy posts from around the web this week:
The brownies I’ll be making this weekend, if I can just get my hands on some raw cacao #middleclassproblems
Food photography tips if you don't have expensive kit
A deliciously fresh-looking green dip 
Vegan milkshakes – who’s down? 
Have you tried these everyday recipes for the busy home cook 


Wednesday, 2 April 2014
I discovered the whimsical wonders of London-based design company, Sian Zeng, via this Design*Sponge interview and was immediately smitten. Creating a range of eccentric home accessories and wallpapers inspired by fairy tale narratives, the star of the collection is the magnetic wallpaper which sees a landscape of cactuses taken over by magnetic dinosaurs and helicopters that can roam the walls. Hilary Duff just decorated her baby son's nursery with the magnetic wallpaper and Sian's unique products are quickly garnering more and more press - I think she's onto the next big thing! A few weeks ago I popped by the studio in Deptford to have a closer look.