Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ham in Cherry Coke - a winner for Xmas and New Year

We are a committed family pork eaters and at Christmas our home cooked ham is something of a centre piece.

This is a favourite recipe adapted from a Nigella one - she serves hers as a main course meat and doesn't put the cherry jam on the outside.

What you need is a large piece of boiling ham, a 2 litre bottle of cherry coke, cloves and cherry jam, preferably with pieces of cherry in it.

First put your ham in a large saucepan then cover completely with cherry coke. Bring to boil then simmer for around 2 hours (or for however long is recommended on the packaging for cooking with this method. Remove from cherry coke and put into a roasting tin then stud with cloves and cover the top evenly with cherry jam. Roast in the oven on about 180 degrees for around half an hour.


Serve either hot or cold. The cherry coke and jam doesn't make the ham taste of cherries but does make it gloriously sweet and extra delicious!
My friend Keith has done a variation on this using ham hock for a more everyday meal over at Reluctant House Dad.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Last Night's Christmas Party at Archer Street...

Why haven't I come across this fantastic cocktail bar before? Down Archer Street in frankly a not quite so nice part of Soho, Archer Street the bar is a cut above in terms of service and atmosphere. Okay so it was December 22nd which was one of the last evenings for office outings but I can imagine that this is pretty much the same on a Friday night throughout the year.



There is an upstairs (where we sat) and a downstairs bar area which is slightly more laid-back with more private nooks and crannies. Upstairs the bar was humming but we had reserved a space for the Handpicked Media and Beautyandthedirt teams. The cocktail list is fine although not cheap - cocktails start at £10.50... but you do get a complementary cheeseboard with crackers which is a really nice touch and soaks up the alcohol. Shorts are around £8.50.



What makes this place stand out is the attentive service and the music. The DJ played at just the right level to not drown out conversation completely but enough to encourage a good old-fashioned sing along. Every so often a member of the waiting staff would be miked up and sing a number live - and they really were good! Obviously trained performers they worked the crowd and made for a fab party atmosphere.



I left early, around midnight so missed the evenings end when there was dancing on the tables with the staff (or so I'm told) - disgraceful!

All images from Squaremeal.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Vichy LiftActiv Serum 10 - gentle and paraben free


Early last year Vichy Laboratories introduced Vichy LiftActive Derm Source, a brand-new breakthrough anti-ageing range to target deep into the skin's layers to help rejuvenate skin so it looks plumped-up, really smooth and luminous. Latest addition to the range is Vichy LiftActiv Serum 10 Youth Enhancing Serum.

Rhamnose is the secret ingredient and is a sugar derivative of plant origin which gives a long-lasting lifting effect and works on wrinkles. 10% of LiftActiv Serum 10 is this ingredient which is twice the concentration found in the day and night creams. Along with Vichy Thermal Spa Water which is laden with soothing and regenerating minerals, skin is plumped up and hydrated with hyaluronic acid - all going towards producing a product that helps make skin look younger yet is perfect for sensitive skins.



It has performed brilliantly in clinical trials with proven anti-wrinkle effect, is tolerant to even the most sensitive skins and is very light in texture so easily absorbed. Use morning and evening on thoroughly cleansed skin and, as with most serums, it can be used under your moisturiser.

Currently Vichy LiftActive Serum 10 Youth Enhancing Serum is £29.50 for 30ml and only available through Boots in the UK.


This is a sponsored post.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Folksy.com - modern British craft

Once upon a time I was an art student with a passion for textiles and even now I can't resist hand-made products that have that folk-art feel. I have recently discovered Folksy.com which showcases the best of British craft. If the word craft immediately puts you in mind of crocheted 'lady' toilet-roll holders and lace mats then think again - these are about as far removed from that as you can get.

Loving this jewellery with an angel (£16) that will last way beyond Christmas.


And this i-pad sleeve in soft leather for £50.


Cup-cakes come as candle-holders for £13.


As you can see this is far from the usual crafty items but are made in the UK with the most remote supplier being Alison Moore Designs in the Orkney Islands. Buy British and support local crafts people!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Stowells Light saves you calories and alcohol (and tastes good too).

It's a scary thought but the average woman will eat around 4,000 calories on Christmas Day alone. Add to that all the office parties, informal pre-Christmas drinks with friends, family gatherings between Christmas and New Year and the fact that we all have bowls of chocolates and nibbles in the house and it's easy to see why the pounds will creep on.

Alcohol is one of the easiest ways of piling on pounds - and one of the most enjoyable. Let's face it even the most difficult of family get together's all mellow once everyone has had a glass of wine. Now I'm not advocating binge drinking at the office party, or being slightly too mellow to cook the turkey, but the fact is we all drink more than we normally would over the festive period as it is as part of Christmas as decorated trees and Christmas crackers (well it is in our house anyway). And because of the calories in alcohol it all goes to contribute to your calorie intake.

Now those clever people at Stowells have come up with a new addition to the 'lighter' wines on offer and you really won't be disappointed. Stowells have been wine merchants for over 130 years so know what people like when it comes to drinking wine. So they've been very careful to ensure that losing calories and alcohol doesn't mean losing quality or taste. 


The Stowells Light Shiraz Rose version  is soft pink, and you can really taste the flavours of raspberry, cherry and strawberry coming through. It isn't overly sweet and still has a dry edge to it. Personally I think it would be the perfect accompaniment to mince pies or as a pre-lunch drink. I love rose with ice so will be drinking it in the summer too....

The Stowells Light White wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (my two favourite white wines if I'm honest) and is balanced with again a touch of sweetness. You really can taste the melon, pear and apricot undertones in this wine and will be perfect for serving throughout the festive period. 

So what does it mean in terms of calories and alcohol content? The great news is that each glass is just 60 calories (now that's a small glass ladies, sorry) which makes it 30 per cent less calorific than your average glass of wine. There is less than one unit of alcohol per 125ml as it is just 5.5 per cent proof, compare that with my normal wine which is around 13 per cent! All this means this wine is not just for Christmas - I will be serving it throughout the year from girlie get together's to family barbecues in the garden.

Stowells Light is available from all ASDA stores nationwide for RRP £5.49. 

Please don't spoil your Christmas or anyone else's by drinking sensibly and being aware of how much you are drinking even if it is lower alcohol wine.

This is a sponsored post but I tested the wine (yes thoroughly I might add) and thought it made a refreshing and flavoursome change!






Thursday, 15 December 2011

I made a Christmas wreath....

And I am so proud of myself. Thanks to the lovely ladies at Designer Fragrances who invited us along to a Christmas wreath making session at the world reknowned Jane Packer School yesterday I now have a fresh wreath to proudly display on my door. Okay so we didn't make the fresh fir wreath itself but we did decorate it and that's definitely something to be proud of. I felt like I'd stumbled into a posh edition of the Generation Game and Brucie was about to appear at any moment but it was a lovely interruption to the day...

The inspiration according to Jane Packer....

My box of decorating bits and pieces.

Just to prove that I actually did this, this is my hand.

Ta-da! The finished article.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dr Lewinn's Renunail, for hands that do dishes

I'd like to think it's purely the fault of the central heating at this time of year, but really my nails are in a pretty poor state because of sheer neglect. I never wear gloves for cooking, washing up, cleaning... the list is endless. I also spend my life at a computer keyboard which really doesn't help. So my nails are thin and weak and don't just break when they get to a certain length, they shatter!

Determined to do something about this so I can have lovely hands (well as lovely as possible) for Christmas and New Year I got myself a bottle of Dr Lewinn's Renunail nail strengthener. This treatment protects your nails from things like harsh detergents and soaps which dry out nails and therefore is a real boon in the battle against flaking, peeling and chipping.

The full treatment is 25 days but after a week I saw a difference for just a couple of minutes a day and am still living in hope that my nails will be near on perfect by Christmas.

It's easy to use. Day one you apply two coats avoiding the cuticle area, then you apply a fresh coat for the next 5 days. On the 7th day you remove with nail varnish remover and repeat the process again until the full 25 days are up. You do have to let your nails rest for 1-2 weeks between each 25 day cycle and they do recommend using Renunail Nourishing Oil into cuticles when each application is dry. I used a different oil and it seemed to do the trick.

Renunail is £17.50 for 30ml. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Why I don't like themed Christmas trees....

Don't worry. This isn't a 'bah humbug, I hate Christmas' post. In fact I love Christmas and all that goes with it. I was a bit concerned with them turning the Christmas lights on so early this year as I feared we would all suffer rather quickly from Christmas fatigue. But so far, so good. I'm not fatigued just a bit worried that I haven't done anywhere near all my Christmas shopping and I've only a couple of weeks to go... but that's another story.

No, this is simply that I really don't like themed Christmas tree decorations. Two women on the tube the other evening were discussing Christmas and the decorations they were going to put up this weekend. One woman was going to pull out the same box that she has every year from the back of the wardrobe. The other raised an eyebrow and exclaimed 'Oh no! I like to do a different theme each year - this year I'm thinking of oranges and purples!'

This made me feel quite sad and also took me back to my time on a home interest magazine when in July we were all shooting Christmas room sets complete with roaring log fires, festive displays of Christmas cards on shelves and that all important Christmas tree. And each year we had to have a different 'theme'. One year it was blue and white not dissimilar to this one....


Another year it was all white backgrounds (white sofas, white painted floors) and multi-coloured Christmas decks.... not dissimilar to this.


And these do look great in a magazine or as a shop display, but the spirit of Christmas is not just about who can be the most up-to-date in terms of decorations, but those little family traditions that are done and indulged in year after year and will be long remembered after we are gone. One of the most important for me is the decorating of the Christmas tree using the decorations that have been amassed over the years. Now I know they are a hotch potch of design styles and colours. Some were made by the girls when they were children. Some were chosen by them years ago (much to our disgust I have to admit). But it's the fact that each year we gather as a family and decorate the tree with the same, much loved baubles that really kicks off the holiday season for us all.

As I am writing this the rest of the family are putting up the finishing touches to the tree and hallway. A suitable Christmas cd is playing and it's all beginning to feel just like Christmas. Let me share some of our baubles and decorations that come out every year and although they will mean absolutely nothing to you, mean a lot to me...

Rudolph painted about 11 years ago...

A Rococo Angel finds a home next to a Medieval inspired house imp, some glass berries and  a decidedly  Nordic  baboushca

I'm not sure what she is dressed as but we like her...

A completely over-the-top angel for the tree

Little metal Santa

Our tree - we avoid tinsel though why we worry about overkill I have no idea!

My Grandma had these glass birds on her tree when I was a child - they were real 1950's numbers and this is a modern day replica
Merry Christmas Everyone!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Clark's Originals Winter Boots...

Clark's Originals boots for striding out….

They’ve arrived! A short while ago I did a roundup of the Spring/Summer collection from Clarks Originals but these are from the A/W range and are on the shelves now. I wanted a pair of ankle boots with a small heel – not no heel, just small and I wanted them in brown as a step-change to my ubiquitous black. So these fitted the bill perfectly. They have a nice soft sole so are great for hard London pavements and are just the right height for wearing all day.


They are currently in the Clark's Originals sale half price online so what are you waiting for....

So here they are!





The leather is soft but not too thin – another important factor for winter boots I always think, and they should last through to next winter too as they aren’t too ‘on trend’ to be out of trend by Winter 2012. Now I know they say you shouldn’t wear anything that you wore ‘the first time around’ but really? If a style is good, it’s good….

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Another TKMaxx haul...


Christmas shopping has taken on a whole new slant since I discovered the joys of TKMaxxshopping. Okay it isn’t exactly a joy, far too much rummaging for the average luxury shopper, but if you have time to browse it’s amazing what you can find.

And here is my latest purchase. I have never been a designer bag lady – they tend to be too big and way too expensive anyway. I also commute on London Underground with a laptop bag and everything but the kitchen sink, so need something that is secure and perfect to keep my really valuable things safe. Hence it needs to be long enough to go across my body. Highly un-chic, highly practical.


Up until recently I had a black bag bought in a sale which was serviceable but extremely boring. So *drum-roll please* I am glad to say that I have upped the anti a bit on the bag front with this natty little Patrick Cox number which was 70% off the original price. They had it in black but this grey which is almost lilac (let’s call it Dove for argument’s sake) goes with everything and I simply fell in love with the lining.
It has internal pockets for the safe keeping of keys, phone and credit cards but is large enough to take my Kindle and make-up. I simply love it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Keeping Up With BeautyandtheDirt latest video

Each week at BATD we take a mo' to look at some of our favourite products that we've been trialling and wearing. Here is last week's...



My daughter (one of my sternest critics) thinks I don't look at the camera enough - so I really will try to do this next time, but it might be a bit hard without looking a bit too intense... We'll see!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Kate Bush's New Album 50 Words for Snow

Kate Bush 2011


I always was a Kate Bush fan - she had a similar look to me as a young woman and kind of mad the frizzy hair and soulful eyes acceptable when everyone else was going for a more New Romantic glam. Not really a hippy, definitely not a New Romantic, Kate Bush was a performer who sang songs like no-one else and wrote them all herself. She was the original 'Florence and the Machine' really. And then she disappeared into the life of a reclusive and was not really heard from in the mainstream, for 17 years, and her last live performance was in 1979.

Until this year that is, with the launch of Director's Cut which came out to critical acclaim in May and her brand new album, 50 Words for Snow.


The voice is more mellow - she is after all 53. The album is full of myths and stories - she creates worlds that are 'other worldly' but are still  relevant to very human emotions and feelings. The stories are simple - we do all hanker after the simple these days. Her arrangements are lovely and moody. I loved the album, Hounds of Love, back in the '80's' and this has a similar feel - haunting, melancholy, beautiful.
Here is a sneak preview...





Saturday, 3 December 2011

Black and Blum - slick and simple home design

I've been searching the internet for Xmas pressie ideas and have come across a nifty little design company who are now being found in everywhere from John Lewis to small and independent home shops across the country. Black and Blum are based in London but are an Anglo-Swiss partnership who believe that design should be functional but also have a soul. I think they've succeeded and it's nice to see others apart from the ubiquitous Alessi making a mark....

Here is their take on what makes a Black and Blum product...

And here is their fab dishrack

Thursday, 1 December 2011

China Doll Boutique - cute and affordable fashion

We recently had our first blogger conference at Handpicked Media (Handpicked Media Gets Social) which was a huge success - first of anything is always hard as you never quite know how things will go. And even with the best of planning things can go awry on the day - more of that in a couple of days when we get all the pictures and videos back in the office.

Anyway as with all conferences we wanted to have a good display from a variety of sponsors and also to be able to give away a great goody-bag. One of our display and goody-bag people was China Doll Boutique which is a new and small vintage inspired fashion outlet which sells on-line through their own website and through ASOS. I obviously went and checked out the website and although the things are way too young for me there was lots of inspiration for my daughters for Christmas.

 They also have their own blog and are on Twitter @chinadolldiary. Nhuc Tran is the powerhouse behind the brand so follow her on Twitter and check out her latest collection... they are a small, young company and deserve all our support!
Alexis semi sheer skirt £30
Chiffon flower pendant £15

Cream spot netted skirt £38
Oversized chunky Navajo cardigan £44
Pleated dress £44

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