Thursday, 26 December 2013

My favourite Christmas pressie - Mexican folk art

I know I said I wasn't going to blog but I just had to share my favourite pressie this year. Not that I am not hugely appreciative of my other presents (far from it) but this is special and means I now have a collection! If two of anything makes a collection of course - but I am now spurred on to collect more Mexican art!

This is from my husband who got it from House of Guadalupe in London's Camden Market. They are not all about kitsch but feature some 14 artists from Mexico where you can buy decorated skulls, shrines (like the one above), and even wrestling masks!

If you can't get down to Camden then go to their online shop and indulge your inner Mexican....

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Merry Christmas everyone!

and a very Happy New Year! I am taking a break until the New Year. Too many mince pies and sausage rolls to make and a cake to ice!

I hope you will all have the most fantastic of time wherever you are and that 2014 is a good year for all. For many it's been tough - I think this is the case for all of us, I have certainly found things very challenging. So I am hopeful that things will improve and that 2014 will be, above all, a happy one!

much love to all my readers xxx

here is my tree!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

How to make dried orange slices for Christmas

Dried orange slices bring a homely, old-fashioned touch to your Christmas decorations and are just so easy to do! I came across this recipe on Red Ted Art  which tends to be aimed at children's craft but in reality has some great ideas for all of us whatever our age! Anyway first off you slice up your oranges to about 1cm wide slices.

Next you put them directly onto the wire rack in your pre-heated oven (I set mine to about 120 degrees). 

You then need to cook them for 2-3 hours turning regularly and checking that they don't burn. They won't be completely dry but will dry out once they have cooled and been hung out. Then simply use them around the house for a festive feel.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas help from Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow - I really do love her style and attitude to life. She always comes across as down-to-earth and seems to have very real empathy with her fans. She also is obviously focused on her family and marriage but still manages to come across as every inch a star! She is also Ambassador for BOSS JOUR Pour Femme and has shared her love for the festive season by talking all things Christmas including the food, those special gifts and her own styling tips.

A Christmas Q and A with Gwyneth Paltrow 

How far in advance do you start your Christmas shopping?
I generally start my Christmas shopping at least 2 months before. I like to get things personalized and my gifts usually require some advance time. I’m definitely a planner.

Do you rope anyone in to help you – are you a solo shopper or do you do it as an activity with friends?
I’m a solo shopper; I don’t rope my friends into it. I spend a lot of time searching for things on the internet.

You said you like to personalize your presents – is that getting things engraved on them?
Yes, I think it’s really nice that when someone opens a present it has something personal. Last year I gave everyone these beautiful handmade cutting boards, everyone in the family’s name was engraved on one side. I’ve done ceramic plates, jewellery with initials. It takes it from being a normal present to being something that’s actually really special and requires a lot of thought and planning.

Who your hardest friend or family member to shop for?
I think men are really hard to shop for, much harder than women. Probably my husband, my brother, my husband’s brothers – they’re usually the hardest.

What kind of Christmas Day rituals do you have as a family?
Our Christmas rituals are pretty much the same every year; it’s basically trying to keep the children in bed until at least 7am! Father Christmas always leaves a stocking at the end of their bed, which is great because then they wake up and they have lots of little bits to unwrap. Then they wake us up and they just go to town on the present opening. I do a lot of the cooking before Christmas but then I usually spend a lot of Christmas cooking too. All the smells, all of the mulled wine, all of the trimmings for the turkey. We like to have all the family around. A very traditional Christmas.

Christmas often gets a bit hectic. How do you manage the madness at Christmas?
I have a master list of presents and people that I need to get presents for – work presents, kid presents, godchildren, friends. I start thinking about it a few months in advance and then I see on this master list what I got them last year and the year before. I also send Christmas cards, so it takes some preparation but I think it’s such a nice, warm time of year, and it’s so nice to give gifts. I really enjoy it.

Fragrance makes a great gift at Christmas. How would you go about picking a fragrance?
I think it’s nice to buy a fragrance that they’ve never tried, or buy them their favourite. It’s a luxury gift, it’s personal and it’s always wonderful to get perfume. I think it’s a nice time to try something new. But for people who are really married to their scent it’s also a really good time to give them that.

You said you like to do all the cooking at Christmas. Do you get your kids involved?
My kids are very involved in the kitchen with me, especially my son. He loves to cook and he’s very engaged when we do it – he has a lot of patience for it, it’s very cute. He helps me measure and he cracks eggs perfectly, he’s very good.
Do you start the Christmas festivities early?
Not too early. Normally we go to America for Christmas so we really wait and do it all there. It’s really just the week before that I make the house all full of Christmas decorations.

So you have Christmas in the sunshine?
It depends where we are, sometimes we have Christmas in London and sometimes we have Christmas in New York. We like a wintery Christmas.

What’s your fondest memory from Christmas growing up?
I remember being probably about four years old and coming down and my presents were so tall, they were taller than I was. It was this incredible moment where Santa Claus had brought me all of these presents and it was the most astounding thing to have a mountain of presents that was taller than myself.

Do you have turkey and all the trimmings?
Christmas dinner is very traditional – turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie.

Do you throw Christmas parties for your friends or do you do things in the run up to Christmas with your girlfriends?
This year we did have a Christmas party, we were in Los Angeles the week before Christmas and we had a really nice Christmas party. We sang carols, but that was the first Christmas party we’ve had that was a pre-Christmas entertaining thing. But it was fun, maybe it could become a tradition.

What’s your go-to Christmas outfit if you’re going out to a party?
I always feel like I end up wearing something black. I have a number of black jumpsuits that are always very easy because then you don’t have to think about much else.

In England people get really dressed up on Christmas Day. Do you do this?
We get dressed up for Christmas Day. It’s not a tuxedo or anything but just a little bit nicer.

Is there a beauty look that you like for Christmas, like a red lip, or do you keep it quite neutral?
I always think it’s a good idea to have a red lip at Christmas but I’m not very good at doing that so I usually just end up looking very natural.

You mentioned that you like to send traditional cards – are you someone who prefers that over the popular e-card?

I definitely send my Christmas cards as a physical paper card, not as an e-card. I think I’m more traditional and prefer a paper card more often than not.

She has really inspired me to get organised now rather than later and I although my Christmas party will be in North London rather than LA I am as excited about Christmas as she obviously is! I also love a new fragrance for Christmas and know one or two people who would simply love a bottle of Boss Jour Pour Femme and I may even treat them to an extra specia gift set from Boots

Sponsored Post

Thursday, 12 December 2013

To Russia with Love - fighting homophobia with humour

Russian dolls featuring five gay British icons are a brilliant way of raising funds and awareness of the harsh treatment of the Russian LGBT community by the Russian authorities. Creative agency Mother and The Kaleidoscope Trust are sticking two fingers up at homophobia in Russia this Christmas and will be auctioning the seven limited edition, hand-painted Russian nesting dolls to raise money for The Kaleidoscope Trust at To Russia With Love between 13th-22nd December. The trust works tirelessly with the Russian gay community and over Christmas Mother will deliver a set of dolls to the Russian Embassy in London and The Kremlin as an act of solidarity with the gay community in Russia. Bidding starts this Friday 13th December at so if you fancy owning one (aren't they simply fabulous) then get bidding.

The dolls represent Elton John, George Michael, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and Tom Daly.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Passionate Purples rock at Smashbox 2014

Wowser! Purple is one of my most favourite make-up colours so I just had to share the new collection from Smashbox for 2014. This Be Legendary Lipstick is in Vivid Violet and provides rich colour while being extra creamy so really protecting your lips (£15). The Always Sharp Waterproof Kohl Liner in Violette is waterproof and glides on smoothly - it also self-sharpens every time you twist the cap off which is really clever (£16). Alternatively you could use the Jet Set Waterproof Eye Liner in Deep Purple (£16) which will add real drama as the gel-based formula has both long lasting and striking results. And finally there's the Eye Shadow Trio in Digital (£21) which is also richly pigmented. All three shades can be mixed or worn singly depending on your mood!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Incredible Clouds and Sunset photograph

This picture was taken last night when we were on the motorway between Sheffield and Leeds. The sunset was like no other I have ever seen and spread like a fireball to cover the sky all around us - it didn't matter what direction you looked in. I haven't used a filter on this picture at all - this is exactly what I saw and I wanted to share it as it is just so very extraordinary. Almost apocalyptic. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Heal's Spring/Summer 2014 preview

I simply love being a party to what's coming up in the next season. When everyone else is fighting their way through crowds of Christmas shoppers, we get to see what will be in the shops for the Spring when the days will be lighter for longer and the skies will hopefully be bluer. Heal's is a shop I love to browse whatever the season, and even if I can't afford much I certainly take great inspiration for my own home. Here are some of the things we can look forward to for 2014.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas - commission an original portrait

Grace Aza-Selinger is an artist who, working out of her Bermondsey studio, is fast getting a reputation for her landscapes. However her talents don't stop there - her pencil drawings are fine too and would make a really lovely Christmas present for new mothers and grandparents (to think of just a couple).

And they're not expensive either especially as she has an offer on at the moment. For this month Grace is offering a 25% discount and her pencil on paper portraits start at £50. Contact her on for further details.

Grace can work either from life or from a photograph (much easier with babies) so contact her quickly to get something extra special organised before Christmas.

More Christmas Gift Ideas
Periodic Table Prints for sports fans
Handknitted Accessories from Peopletree
Commission a sketch of your home
Extra-ordinary Cocktails Kit
Whisky Stones

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas - 'On a Sixpence' Periodic Table based Prints

This is Spurs as a periodic table with appearances and goals being shown for each player.

I recently went to a local artist's gift fair - we have so many talented people locally and this was a brilliant showcase. Amidst the beautiful paintings, stained glass, textiles and jewellery was On a Sixpence who make framed and unframed prints all based on the Periodic Table. Now when I say the Periodic Table forget Iron and Magnesium and the like and think about those things you have a passion for (Spurs, The Grand Prix and the like) and think of their most notable events and people all put into a periodic table. Not only do they make great gifts for fans but provide hours of entertainment working out all the symbols. I was assured that they come with a cheat sheet...

The owner of On a Sixpence says 'I love sport, films, numbers and good design. This is my first attempt to consolidate my interests. After some positive feedback from friends and family, I have decided to make my work available to the World!' Well that's what he says on his website anyway.
Each image is finished as a Limited Edition of Gilcee prints on fine art paper and can be customised to the buyer's wishes. They can also be made to any size. Prints are £60 unframed and £90 framed making them a brilliant gift for those difficult to buy people. Order today.

More Christmas Gift Ideas
Handknitted Accessories from Peopletree
Commission a sketch of your home
Extra-ordinary Cocktails Kit
Whisky Stones

Monday, 2 December 2013

Introducing Gourmesso coffee capsules for your Nespresso machine

I have written in the past about how much love I have for my Nespresso which was a birthday present. Well that love has not gone away but it is an extravagance and the coffee pods are not as cheap as buying fresh ground coffee for your coffee pot. Gourmesso must have read my review as they contacted me to tell me all about their alternative pods which you can use in your Nespresso machine without mishap for around 30% less.

Gourmesso Espresso use only the best Arabic and Robusta coffee beans and each capsule is packed in an air tight proof pack so all the flavour it kept in as well as the sealed Nespresso pods. I am always on the look out for a way to save a bit of money so I gave them a try and I must admit I cannot taste the difference!

They don't have quite the selection but they do have flavoured coffees - I particularly liked the vanilla and will definitely be restocking those in particular. I was a little hesitant about using them in my machine but they went in (and came out) with absolutely no problem - so when they say they fit the machines then they really do. They have a list of those they don't so check out the Gourmesso website before ordering just to be sure.

The coffees are labelled by intensity and come in packs of 10 with prices ranging from £2.10 - £2.50 for a pack. You also don't have to pay for shipping within the UK which is an absolute bargain in my book!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Introducing Quantum to the 007 fragrance range for Christmas

Well we all need a little James Bond in our lives surely? These James Bond 007 fragrances are really lovely and the range which now totals three has something for both day and night and will suit all age ranges too - so could be a solution to those tricky to buy for men in your life. I particularly liked Quantum.

First off is Signature James Bond 007 which has ever popular Vetyver and lavender undertones. It also has a hint of citrus which keeps it fresh and for Christmas comes in a limited addition gold bottle making it an extra special gift for under the tree.

Second in the range is Ocean Royale, an energising fragrance perfect for daytime which has bergamot, lime and anise making it fresh and vibrant. This comes in an ocean inspired blue bottle and packaging.

The new fragrance to hit the shelves this Christmas is Quantum. Grown up and recalling the signature of Vespa Martini in it's Juniper berry top notes, this fragrance gives both a citrus hit while having the age old appeal of leather. Violet Leaf enhances the overall fragrance and the bottle is a steel grey with red trimming for a timeless classic look and feel.

Gift-sets for all three fragrances come with an Eau de Toilette and shower gel for extra value for money (from £20). Fragrance prices vary on size from £20 - £42. The Gold Limited Edition is £32. Available nationwide now!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Clarks Shoes Spring/Summer 2014 preview warms us up nicely

Again in the topsy-turvey world of fashion PR it's Spring (when the rest of London is shivering) and they are tasked with recreating a peaceful summer's afternoon with a picnic by a lake in mid-November. The Clarks shoes PRs are pretty good at thi,s so I found myself by a lake sipping a freshly made fruit smoothie and munching a summer sandwich with the new collection for Spring/Summer dotted around flower beds and bowers. I particularly liked the mad-cap colour from designer Orla Keily - though the designs are maybe a bit too retro for me (you know the saying, if you've already worn it in the past it's best to steer clear).

Really didn't want to go back into the ice blast that was Covent Garden I can tell you - could have stayed all day!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lunch at The Fleece, Addingham, West Yorkshire

You would think that after 24 hours of doing little but eating we wouldn't be able to fit in another meal. But I am made of heartier stuff - even for a 'southerner' and our final stop for lunch at The Fleece, also in Addingham, was a memorable one. We did walk off our hearty breakfast and with the cold wind coming in off the rolling hills needed some hearty nourishment and a warm Yorkshire welcome. Which we got, in spadefuls.

The Fleece has 'Yorkshire grub, done proper'. They also serve fantastic beers and wines to go alongside the great cooking with local ingredients. They've used their imagination in terms of the little extras..... and are careful to include the best of the regions produce on their menus.

I was delighted to see freshly made pork crackling as an accompaniment to drinks was on the menu too - this is about as far removed from pork scratchings than you are likely to find anywhere!

Freshly made pork crackling
For a starter I chose a Yorkshire blue cheese (which was subtle and creamy), poached pear, candied hazelnuts and young leaf salad for £6.50. The pear was the perfect foil for the cheese and nuts and the whole ensemble looked as good as it tasted! It is so good to see local produce being showcased in this way - if only they sold the cheese next door in the deli I'd have been an even happier woman!

Yorkshire blue cheese and pear salad.
My partner opted for a hot smoked salmon fishcake with a tomatoe and chive beurre blanc which he assured me was equally delicious and then it was on to the serious business of the main course. I had heard great things at the The Gray Ox, Liversedge, about a dish using 'woof' which I hadn't been able to order as it was no longer on their menu. But here it was and I felt that I couldn't miss the opportunity to eat my first taste of 'woof' as I knew that it wouldn't be a disappointment! Woof (or Atlantic Wolf Fish) is a large, white flaked fish not dissimilar to cod in either texture or taste. Slightly stronger if anything the fillet had been rubbed with cumin and served with curried mussels and a crayfish potato cake - all found in local waters off the coast of the UK. The sauce was creamy and not overpowering so I could still taste both the woof and the mussels which were delicious. I am not a fan of huge mussels - these were the perfect size, not so small as to be insignificant and not to large to be unappealing - just right in fact!
My partner opted for the Pig on a Plate which was pork fillet in parma ham, braised cheek, twice cooked pork belly, black pudding apple puree and mashed potatoes - again he said that the pork fell apart it was so tender and the sauce was more like a perfect gravy.

Pig on a Plate

Woof cooked in a curry sauce with mussels and crayfish potato cake
I had already tried out the dessert menu at both The Craven Heifer and The Gray Ox and had been so impressed by the Yorkshire blue cheese salad that I decided to delve further into the local cheeses with a cheese platter to finish whereas my partner couldn't resist the ice-cream which is local too (his selection was vanilla and a nutmeg flavoured scoop).

All in all we were very impressed with the lunch at The Fleece Inn. They have opened a shop next door which sells hot coffee and things to take away. As I said I think they are missing a trick not selling things like the local cheeses as I would have filled my car, but the sausage roll which I did buy was devoured warm later in the day and was overflowing with filling and flavour - a real triumph!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Wright Whisky Company, Skipton, Yorkshire

I have been to Skipton in Yorkshire three times. And all three times I have been there for one reason and one reason only - The Wright Whisky Company shop. That is not to say that Skipton doesn't have other delights to offer. It's a pretty Georgian market town which is worth a wander in itself, but we are always drawn by a force greater than visiting what is essentially just another high-street to this amazing shop that always has something we have never seen before. Whether you are a die-hard whisky fan or simply like a good bottle of wine that's a little out of the ordinary then it's worth a visit. We bought a few bottles to both drink and give as Christmas presents so left very happy with our purchases.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dinner, B&B at The Craven Heifer, Yorkshire

After lunch at The Gray Ox we spent the afternoon in Leeds then headed North/West by about 17 miles to Addingham near Ilkley where we were to sample dinner, bed and breakfast at The Craven Heifer. This family run inn has rooms, each one decorated in a distinctive style to pay homage to famous Yorkshire folk. There's the De Havilland, so named after pilot Amy Johnson's Gipsy Moth, which has wings above the bed and is very 'cockpit' inspired. I particularly loved the dressing-table which was like a glass control centre. There's also the The Heathcliff for romantics and our room, The Perry Green with it's roll-top bath at the foot of the bed in an environment that will inspire art lovers everywhere having been inspired by Yorkshire sculptor, Henry Moore.

The Perry Green bedroom

We arrived as it was turning dark. The crackling fire in the corner of the dining room warmed the whole ground floor and as you stepped in from the cold you were welcomed by the informality of the bar area. But once you look closely you can see that this property has had a large amount of time, thought and money lavished on it. Small touches; magazine racks in the hallways, suggested walks behind the bar, all go that little bit further to ensure the perfect stay - whatever the dales weather decides to throw at you.

The Craven Heifer is on the edge of some simply beautiful scenery and places to visit. Bolton Abbey and Skipton are just up the road and you have the beautiful countryside and many, many walks in some breathtaking countryside on your doorstep. One night is just not enough here as it is the perfect base, but if you're looking for a bolt hole to simply disappear for the weekend then look no further. You will find this a convivial, welcoming and quiet place to simply be.

We crashed in our lovely room for an hour on a bed that was extremely comfortable before going down for dinner which was served in the cosy dining room.  Here the best of British dining gets a showcase and the chef and team try their hardest to only use local, seasonal ingredients.

Best of British dining is showcased and the chef at The Craven Heifer endeavours to use only the very best local seasonal ingredients. There is an a la carte menu from which to choose and a few extra surprises like the mussel foam amuse bouche which was served before the starter and after the freshly made bread rolls, the white flavoured with Yorkshire blue cheese and mustard and the brown with Black Sheep beer all served with salted butter.

My starter consisted of a tightly rolled beef and oyster pie containing beef, oyster cream, smoked parsnip puree and wild mushrooms. This was light and crisp and not too rich - I would have loved it as a main course but it would have been too much.

Beef and Oyster Pie

Yorkshire Blue cheese and English Mustard brown and Black Sheep beer white bread rolls

Amuse Bouche

Then things started to get serious. Apologies for the fact that this photo is slightly blurred, the food was nothing if not delicious! For my main course I had what they referred to as 'Liver and Onions' but was in fact a Goosnargh duck breast served with sauted foie gras, onion puree, confit shallots, potato terrine and pickled onions. This was a grand design of flavours and textures which on paper shouldn't really work. But in reality it does. The duck was soft and tender and not at all fatty, the foie gras complemented it perfectly and the pickled onions were an inspired addition.

The Liver and Onions that weren't.
My partner chose the butter roasted Waterford Farm aged sirloin of beef which was served alongside braised cheek, a garlic snail (not to his taste but at least he gave it a try), hazelnut pesto and sage roasted British beets. Again a quirky but nevertheless inspired combination of ingredients that worked extremely well together. The beef was slightly overdone for medium rare but the flavour made up for this all the same.

Again was there ever going to be room for dessert? Of course there was! It had to be the beetroot cake with walnuts, sweet crowdie goats curd, beetroot marshmallow and beetroot sherbet. Yes I bet you didn't know you can flavour sherbet with beetroot and it's not a bad thing to be doing either! Soft and warm the beetroot and walnut cake was a winter warmer that melted in the mouth. My partner chose the apple pie and custard which was an apple parfait with a praline crumble, cherry curd and vanilla ice-cream, so even this traditional classic had got a complete new look and taste.

Beetroot Cake

We didn't have room for coffee or anything else after this gastronomical feast but went to bed sated and happy. The next morning was gloomy and raining but the weather wasn't on our minds as we were looking forward to the cooked breakfast. Breakfast at The Craven Heifer is a very welcome and generous affair. I really couldn't take advantage of the full spread (fresh fruit salad, cereals etc) but was told by my husband that the muesli (which is made on the premises) was the best he has ever eaten (and he has eaten rather a lot over the years). We both opted for the full English with black pudding, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomato and generous amounts of toast to butter. All in all a breakfast to set you up whatever the Yorkshire weather and send you on your way....

 The Craven Heifer, Main Street, Addingham, West Yorkshire, LS29 0PL.

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