Monday, 31 January 2011

New Project Inspiration

Eeeeeeeeeeeee do you ever see something which gets you one hundred and ten percent excited?

I've been wanting to join a class at Just Sew in Brighton for ages now, and I've needed a project so I can bite the bullet and just go (I'm a little scared of not really knowing what to do in new situations).

I've been thinking about making a new tablecloth for the round table in the living room (because Matt dropped a candle and burnt a hole in it) but after I saw this apron, I have now decided that this will take priority. Which is impressive, really, because I only saw it an hour ago. My mind can be made up like that! *clicks fingers*

(image via cherrymenlove)

It's BEAUTIFUL! Cherry, Cherry, Cherry - how do you do it?

I have been 'wowed' at an alarming rate this past year, and most of it is because of this lovely lady. I often see her posts and then have an overwhelming urge to copy her do something similar myself.

If I ever meet anyone who likes crafts and other homely things, I point them in Cherry's direction. She's such an inspiration and I love seeing how her life is turning into everything I've always dreamt of.

So this will definitely be the next sewing project I embark on. All I need now is to find myself some material that will do it justice!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sausages, Mash & Chili Burst Tomatoes

Every now and then, we need a good old plate of comfort food. Especially in winter where the cold is just outside the door. We want to feel warm and cosy and curl up in front of the TV with a good film and something to munch on.

'Bangers and Mash' - a firm British favourite. And it's good, of course it's good, but it's just sausage and potato. It needs something more. Gravy - too common. Beans - too student. Burst cherry tomatoes with dried chili and garlic - that's more like it!

It's all the comfort of the traditional meal with all the flavour of something more fancy. Plus it's only 3 ingredients and bits from the store cupboard - which also makes it incredibly cheap.

Debbie & Andrew's sausages are the best sausages I have ever come across in a supermarket. 98% pork shoulder from British farms, zero rusk so it's perfect for all those avoiding gluten, and so little fat that none seeps out whilst cooking. Ah-may-zing.

So whilst your potatoes are softening, and the sausages are cooking, heat a little oil in a small frying pan, add a clove of crushed garlic and a teaspoon of dried chili flakes, then follow with a small packet of cherry tomatoes (or more of you're cooking for more - this serves 2 generously) and let them sit there for 15 minutes, or until they start to burst and bubble in their own juices. You may want to give them a bit of a prod to make them burst if you start to get impatient (as I always do).

The chili takes away most of the sweetness of the tomatoes, and it makes a beautiful sauce as it swims in the tomato juice. Plus, it adds a teeny tiny bit of goodness to an otherwise meat and carb filled plate.

I served this to a friend who came to stay for the weekend and she loved it. Simple enough to put together whilst spending as little time in the kitchen as possible, and different enough to impress a guest.

Absolute winner.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A Paper Pleated Flower

I took yesterday afternoon off work and spent my time cleaning up and doing a big food shop. These are normally things I do on a Saturday so this morning I woke up with nothing to do!

I had a wonderful extra long lie in, and sat in bed flicking through blogs and looking for something to do with my day, and I came across a blog I had never read before - dirt cheap decor - and a valentines banner that was utterly gorgeous.

Now ideally, I would make one exactly the same as hers because it was too pretty not to, but unfortunately I didn't have any paper remotely similar to what she had and I wanted to use up paper I did have. So I got up out of bed and had a rummage through paper at my craft nook and found something pink.

Unfortunately, I'm not hosting anything to do with Valentines and it's sad to say I can't really decorate for a holiday that I'm not hosting. Mainly because Matthew would probably tut at the amount of pink banners and love hearts surrounding the place, and because it seems a bit pointless to put all that time and effort into Valentines when I could be baking instead. But the banner was too pretty not to make! So I compromised with myself. And set off to make a single pleated flower instead. This way I'd be happy that I made something, Matt wouldn't sigh in disbelief when he came home from work, and I would have enough time in the afternoon to make some Chocolate Fudge cookies and Chocolate Florentines.

So after half an hour of folding, gluing and listening to Vernon Kay on Radio 1 I ended up with this!

Pretty cute, isn't it? It's hanging in the window in the living room (which also resulted in me cleaning it thoroughly and finding out how to open it for the first time in 9 months - it's an old victorian-style pull window) and the light just shines through it! My one little piece of Valentine decor.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

I’m probably 98% happy, maybe 2% jealous.

Yesterday I had some wonderful news. One of my dearest friends is getting married!! Her fiancĂ©, Jeremy, is currently serving in the British Army and has just come back from months away in Afghanistan. I’m so happy that the two of them will be able to spend more time together when they’re husband and wife as she’s utterly miserable when he’s away.

He wants to wear his No 1. Dress so their wedding will no doubt have a military feel and I have been asked to send any inspiration that I find her way. I can see some wedding crafts coming on very soon and I’m very excited about it.

And it will also mean a visit to Cornwall later in the year! I met Beth at University and she lives far far away. 8-hours-on-the-train far away and it’s been almost 2 years since I last saw her because of the distance and travel costs. So I will have to get saving to a) be able to get there for the big day and b) get them a mega gift.

I am really, really looking forward to this.

And did any of you get the ‘Friends’ reference in the title? No? Okay, well she did - and that's why we're good friends. And because when we're together - we end up taking pictures like this:

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Craft Inspiration Online

There are a few websites I read on a daily basis. Young House Love is one of them. Cherry Menlove is another. Cherry Menlove was one of the first blogs I started to read back in 2007 when I was searching the web for ideas on how to decorate my giant notice board. I absolutely adored it. I've seen it grow from a little blog into a beautiful website and for the past year it's been the first thing I look at as soon as I get on my lunch break.

I found Young House Love whilst reading another blog. There was a link to a corkboard vase tutorial and as soon as I clicked it I knew it was going to be a blog I'd read very frequently. I love it even more now that they've moved house again, and before their latest move I found myself going right back to the beginning of the blog to see their first home transform.

That's the thing I love about blogs like that. The way the reader becomes hooked on the writers. They become people you feel as though you've known your whole life, and you trust what they tell you. I love that.

But even though I have my must-read blogs, I have other blogs that I have on my Google Reader that I flick to every now and again. Remodelaholic is definitely one of my favourites. From seeing crafts and renovations that seem so impressive that I wouldn't even attempt, to projects that impress me so much they make me want to have a go myself.

And that is exactly what prompted this blog today. I have just seen a desk that absolutely took my breath away... I need to have one in my life.

It's beautiful. It's imaginative. It's personal. It transforms a hideous piece of furniture into something gorgeous and it just the type of thing that people need to be doing. Down with the terrible cheap flat-pack pieces of furniture that appear in almost every single home. All it costs is time and effort to have something original and guaranteed to impress.

Unfortuantely I do not have the room to add something like this into my flat.. but I very well might do it on a smaller scale... (Sorry Matt).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Spa Deal Treat For Me and My Bessie

I was searching wishing myself away to another country for a while and whilst I was there - I saw an amazing offer. A 75 minute massage session for £25! In London - so not too far away, and in the middle of where me and my bessie live (she lives in Ascot) so I thought it would be a nice treat for us both to book in, have a good ol' little pamper sesh and go for a few drinks in London Town.

I hadn't gone in search of this. I just happened upon it. Which is why I think it was the best bargain ever. Sure, I wouldn't have spent that money had I not gone - but in a way there is something nice about getting a deal for a whopping 80%(!!!) off that made me feel quite pleased with myself.

Plus, I get to treat my very deserving best friend to a nice day (on Friday she worked a 19 hour shift at a hotel - my idea of torture) for £200 less than what it would of cost to go without this deal. I don't care if it's not amazing - in fact, if it's awful we'll have a good giggle about it - but it means I get to spend a full day with my bestest ever friend and have a really girlie time.

Another deal is currently on this week so all you UK ladies need to head on over there and grab yourself a treat!

(But don't tell your bessie just how much of a steal it was - just tell her you love her and think she deserves it)

Monday, 24 January 2011

...Or Anything Else That Is Pleasant To Drink (Out Of)

Does anyone have any weird… quirks? You know, like not being able to get out of bed unless the alarm shows a time of an even number? Or only eating one colour of M&Ms at a time?

I have a few quirks. I have to take a bite out of my food before I sit down to properly eat it. And my personnel files at work are colour co-ordinated with a colour I think suits the person.

But my biggest quirk of all (I think) is my feeling about glasses and mugs.

I cannot, absolutely cannot, drink wine from anything other than a wine glass. Look at me – my friend once made me try it a few years ago and the look on my face really shows the discomfort.

I also cannot drink from pint glasses. They are far too masculine for my liking and I shan’t be seen with one. Cosmopolitans must be served in a martini glass (or a champagne coupe if there is no other alternative) and I feel quite uncomfortable whenever I see water, juice, or any cold beverage being drunk from a mug. Eugh – get it away from me now! (I’m shuddering just thinking about it).

This must be why I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about the type of mugs I have in my kitchen. Plain white. Nothing fancy – but nothing too hideous. If anything, you should have plain white mugs in the kitchen. They’re a staple. A nice cheap staple that won’t necessarily have you flooding with compliments, but won’t give the impression that it came with last year’s Easter Egg.

If you can indulge, however – then do. I’m just starting to embark on my mug collection (and by ‘starting’ I mean that I have one). My mother gave me a beautiful mug for Christmas. Cream and etched with gold lettering; “Thursday’s child has far to go”. My sister loved pointing out that “Monday’s child is fair of face” means that she’s prettier than me, but I let that slide.

It’s so beautiful that it makes me look down on my other mugs. My boring old white mugs. I need mugs that look pretty! Ones that can be admired by the drinker and look happy in my tea cupboard. Mugs that make me want to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea on a Saturday morning as I bask in the early sunlight that enters my livingroom.

I think I know what I’ll be searching the internet for in the near future…

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Fortnum & Mason Champagne & Chocolate Box

If I could recommend anything in the world, I would recommend working for a small company.

Before, during and after University, I worked for Starbucks. It was a okay job - good if the people I worked with were nice, and I had the chance to transfer to the Hove store when I moved to Brighton - a major bonus when it came to proving to my landlords that I would have a job when I arrived. But after a while, it got tiring. My manager had it in for me and made me feel useless. I was 23 and I had a degree yet I was told I wasn't even good enough to be a supervisor for a coffee chain because I was a 'perfectionist'. So needless to say my self confidence hit an all time low.

A few months later, however, I got another job. This time with a small firm in the heart of Brighton. I had already done this kind of work before and it all came naturally to me. I was praised for my quick learning and my ability to organise and for the first time in a long time, I felt better about myself again.

I realised quickly that the main problem with large companies was the 'middle management' - the managers who had no real input into the company and were constantly having to deal with complaints from their managers about the performance of those at the very bottom - even though these managers in 'higher places' knew nothing about being on the floor and made all their decisions based on 'reports'.

Now I work directly with the owners of the company, and they make all the decisions. They can recognise my personal achievements and determine the level of responsibility I have. Since before Christmas, I have been planning a team building day and Thursday was that day. I put my life, soul, and a lot of hours into this and it finally paid off. The day was a massive success and I was so knackered proud of myself by the end of it.

But despite organising almost everything for the day - I did not expect to be given a little present at the end of it! My very first year of working with this company has been amazing and I've enjoyed every minute of it - which really is enough of a gift in itself, but I was given this wonderfully beautiful thing!

Look at it! Gorgeous!

The bosses did very well in picking out this. Fortnum & Mason is just up my street - for someone who has no money, I do pride myself on my incredibly expensive taste (even if I don't have the ability to buy it for myself!)

Not only does it contain some delicious champagne and champagne chocolates, but the box is utterly divine. Once I have merrily consumed the contents that box shall be transformed into some form of craft box. It's too beautiful to be thrown away, but equally too beautiful to be hidden away in a cupboard for fear of keeping it in less-than-perfect condition. It's longing to be kept out on display to remind me of my achievements and, of course, to be admired by anyone and everyone who sees it.

The champagne must be drank on some occasion. Possibly Valentines Day. And no doubt I'll enjoy the chocolates at the same time.

So I would like to thank the bosses. The best bosses in the world. I promise I will not leave you.

A Cheap and Healthy Sunday Dinner

Occasionally I get a recipe that I adore. Courgette Carbonara is definitely one of them. Salmon with brown rice and baby veg is another. And these are meals I probably cook every other week. Not every week, as that gets a bit boring, but every other weeks means I'm sure I get a meal I really like, and also means I get the spend other evenings trying new things.

But I'm a bit choosy picky fussy particular about the quality of the food that I eat. I do not like junk food, but I cannot afford organic. Matt needs his carbs, but I am now gluten-free. So when I find something that's healthy, filling and cheap - it's by all means going to be a winner. Providing it tastes good, of course.

I first tried Nigella's Praised Chicken recipe back when Nigella Kitchen first aired in September and I got the book for my birthday back in September. It was okay. But it ticked all the right boxes so I had to stick with it.

This week, however, I cracked it. I'll be the first to admit that I had to leave out some of the ingredients because I just couldn't justify it. No wine is going into my food (I prefer to drink it) and it said I could use dried herbs - so I did - but they just didn't do it for me. I also do not own garlic oil and I am certainly not going to go out and buy it especially for this dish so I just didn't bother. And as you would expect when you don't follow a recipe correctly it turned out just okay.

So this time, I added some minced garlic (thanks to the amazing Garlic Twist that my mother bought me for Christmas) to the oil before adding the chicken. I also added a bay leaf and used some fresh herbs that I had recently bought, not used all of, and chucked them in the freezer. The fresh parsley to garnish was also a really good touch and something I will do again.

This result was much much better than my previous efforts. Matt really enjoyed it, as did I, and I had enough chicken and celery leftover to create a chicken salad thanks to a handful of salad leaves and a dollop of greek yoghurt! The chicken literally falls off the bones with this recipe and you seem to get so much more out of it than when you roast it - totally worth it for the sake of crispy skin!

A cheap, healthy Sunday dinner with enough leftovers to make a chicken salad, chicken soup or some chicken fried rice for the following day. Yum.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Updating a Rented Bathroom

Bathrooms are funny rooms in rented properties. They're always a bit rubbish - and it's pretty hard to imagine updating a bathroom without being able to rip it all out and put in a new one.

We have 2 bathrooms. One loo, and one actual bathroom with a bath in it. They're both alright but not amazing - so I've had to update them a little.

The bathroom with a bath in it is still currently being updated. Remember when I mentioned how it helps being nice to your landlord? There is no cabinet in that bathroom and it is driving me crazy! It also has a shower screen which I'm not getting on very well with (the shower is way too powerful so the shower screen doesn't actually keep water off the floor) so after a few more kind words, I'm getting them both sorted (yay!) although I am forking out for the cabinet myself - I thought it only fair as I have been asking for a lot lately.

But for now, the loo has been updated.

This is what it looked like before. Okay, but nothing really that nice.

It's so plain! White and plain and boring. I can't change the wall colour or the suite. But I can change the mirror and add a few much needed accessories. So behold, it's transformation!

A vase of artificial flowers means they can survive the lack of natural light, and also keep forever so I don't have to keep replacing them. The picture in the frame is the same paper I used in the bedroom frames on the shelf so as I had it leftover, it was free! And the mirror? Well, that mirror is my favourite. Half price in the sale at Argos, so it cost me £20! It adds a touch of glamour and hides some of those ghastly tiles behind the sink!

Overall, I don't think it's bad for a rented bathroom. Especially as I feel I've updated it a lot with not very much. I'm rather happy with the result.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Chocolate Florentines Recipe

Possibly one of the easiest things to make! Tastes delicious, and makes quite a lot. They also last a fair while, so a good treat to have in the fridge in case you have visitors! (like you really need an excuse)

You will need:
50g margarine
100g soft brown sugar
1 egg
55g desiccated coconut
100g chopped nuts
70g chopped glace cherries
70g sultanas
300g plain chocolate cake covering
(this is more ideal than chocolate, as it doesn’t set as hard – making it super easy to cut into squares)

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C. Line a tray with foil (mine is a deep rectangular roasting tray, which is slightly larger than an A4 piece of paper – I don’t know the exact measurements) and break up your chocolate cake covering into pieces. Spread evenly around the tin and place in the oven for a few minutes until it melts. Of course, you can melt the chocolate over a pan of boiling water – but this is so much easier and makes for less washing up.

While the chocolate is melting, beat together the margarine and sugar, then add the egg and beat again.

By this time the chocolate should be melted. Spread it around the base of the tin with the back of a spoon to create a thin layer of chocolate. Pop the tray into the freezer for 5 minutes or so to let the chocolate set.

Meanwhile, add the nuts, cherries, coconut and sultanas to the sugar, marg and egg mixture and combine. Take the cold tin of chocolate out of the freezer and cover it with the topping. Spread it thinly over the top – mine really was thin – almost to the point where I thought I needed more mixture, but I didn’t. Phew!

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until slightly golden on the top. You might need a little longer if your tray is smaller and the mixture thicker.

Once cooked, remove and set in either the fridge or freezer. Then tip out and cut into squares!

These are super cheap, quick and easy to make. And the best thing about them is that once you’ve bought the ingredients, you could easily make another 2-3 batches with everything you have in stock! (Clearly a great thing if you need to whip up something fast with no time to go to the shops! So buy extra packets of cake covering – at 62p for 300g it’s a third of the price of the really cheap value chocolate!)

Another thing I like about Florentines is that they’re naturally gluten-free so there is no substitution of flour. This, I think, is the best way to cook gluten free as there is no compromise. Half an hour (ish) to whip up a treat? Beauty.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Things I Want to Achieve in 2011

image via embroiderbee

So as my main resolution of sorts is to think positively all the time and not worry about things (but whilst also being sensible) I decided not to do ‘resolutions’, and to do ‘things I want to achieve’ instead.

Resolutions always tend to be broken. “I must to this, this, this, and this every day” is a little exhausting, so instead I’d like to have a list of things I would like to have accomplished by the end of the year.

I would like to…
Make a spring wreath
Perfect a few gluten-free baking recipes
Make a table cloth
Fix and extend my dreadlocks
Finish at least 3 cross-stitch patterns
Make a cross-stitch cushion (preferably one of these)
Have a really fancy homemade picnic on the beach
Make marmalade and strawberry jam
Sell one of my homemade things to at least one person
Make something out of my homemade home book
Finish off the craft nook
Make a pin cushion
Read all the books from Richard & Judy’s 2011 Book Club
Have lots of pictures of 2011 to look back on
Put up photos in photo frames in the hall
Make Cherry Menlove’s winter scarf
Create Christmas decoupage baubles
Start my Christmas crafts in October
Finally get my ears pierced again
Have my beautiful car back in my possession (instead of in my parent’s garage)

Ooooh I'm looking forward to this!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A New Year of Positive Thoughts


This Christmas I bought Matthew a book - The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. He's always been fascinated by business and entrepreneurs and a lot of autobiographies that he read seemed to mention this practice.

The power of positive thinking appears to be hugely powerful and he was interested to learn more about it. And as he read through the book, we began chatting about how lucky we are at the moment. Sure, we've not got a lot of cash - but we've got a great home and we're not in debt. Good things happen to us when we want them to, and the one time things began to spiral out of control was when we both weren't feeling too positive and letting every negative thing get to us.

Since then, we've moved into a beauiful apartment. Our careers are really starting to take off and despite our very tight income, we've not been tempted by shopping more than we need to.

It's funny how I never imagined myself living a 'poor' life, and I haven't. Even with barely any disposable income. I guess it's just down to my sheer determination to not give the impression that I haven't got a lot, that I live a life that's not obviously financially challenged.

When I allow myself to daze off into dreams about the future, I see a beautiful home and a happy life. I shall not think of anything else. My dreams will one day become a reality because I believe they will be so.

I'm not a religious person, but I do know that two of my favourite friends are and they are happier than any other friends of mine. They both have great jobs, a wonderful marriage and they have just bought their first home. Now whether that's because they believed they would be looked after, or have just had a positive outlook on life, they have done what other people my age can only wish for.

For me and Matt, we have faith in the power of attraction, or "everything is meant to be" as I like to call it. I am happy - but I am also willing to work for my happiness instead of believing that someone else owes it to me.

My New Year Resolution this year is to believe in good things to come. 2011 shall be full of happy things.
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