Monday, 23 December 2013

Stocking fillers: £10 and under

Ay ay ay! You've left your Christmas stocking shopping until last thing and spent all your money on yourself? Snap. But if you're looking for a few last minute bargain items to top-up someone's stocking, then look no further.

One thing on your side is that in some shops, the sale has started so you might just get more than you bargained for. Good luck.

Top row, left to right
Silk & cotton eyemask, £5.99 Zara Home; Conran bergamot & cedar scented candle, £7.50 Marks & Spencer; Mavala mini colour nail varnish, £4.50 Boots; Leather card holder in cracked metallic, £8 ASOS.

Middle row, left to right
Roger & Gallet Fleur d'Osmanthus Miel de Douche Moussant, £9.50 Marks & SpencerRose milk chocolate by Rococo, £1.30 Bloomsbury; Gold lacquer tray, £7.50 Marks & Spencer; Bronze encrusted statement necklace, £10 River Island; Toiletry bag, £4.75 Marks & Spencer.

Bottom row, left to right
Revlon Super Lustrous lipstick in Love That Red, £7.49 Boots; Ecote pencil case in pink and silver, £10 Urban Outfitters; Autograph opaque tights with cashmere, £9.50 Marks & Spencer.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas cooking

We're cooking Christmas Dinner this year, and whilst I am massively in favour of employing a few foolproof cheats to make things easier, there are other tried and testing dishes that I'm cooking from scratch, and are easy to make in advance. Here's my lowdown.

{red cabbage, using this recipe}

{tastes even better after freezing}

The cauliflower cheese below is a good one to make and keep in the freezer to whip out on Boxing Day when you're not feeling inclined to do any more cooking. It's a Hairy Bikers recipe, but I also add an onion, use half-fat creme fraiche instead of double cream, and use any old cheese where it asks for Gruyère. Oh and I just use normal breadcrumbs on top.

{cauliflower cheese with bacon & mushrooms, from this recipe}

{cranberry sauce - so easy to make, just three ingredients}

{will keep for a week in the fridge}

{served in my new T.G. Green dish}
The other recipe which I've just tried out as a good veggie option, is this kale & mushroom lasagne - another good one to make in advance and freeze, as it tastes so much better one reheated. It's a nit fiddly the first time you make it, but becomes easier once you've been through the process a couple of times. That's what I'll be whipping up this weekend.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The never-ending project

{the finished result}

I've had this old white chest for ages, storing some of my handbags, and the intention ever since I bought it has been to recover the top.

{the before shot}

I've had it over seven years, perhaps more, so this has been a long time in the anticipation, but finally I've done it and am feeling pretty smug. I am not the most skilful at these type of projects, not really having the patience to think things through, so I instead plunge in and hope for the best. But this is something which doesn't really require much skill, and if you get stuck there are loads of free tutorials online to give you a helping hand.

{tools of the trade}

I did do an upholstery course a few years ago, the proper sort with horsehair and tacks, and whilst the horsehair hasn't been revisited since, I do prefer to use a hammer and tacks rather than a staple gun, as I think it gives me more control, I'm used to using them and it lasts longer too. But a staple gun will just as easily do the job.

{hinges removed}

I removed the lid from the chest, and also unscrewed the hinges, choosing to cover the whole lid, and then reattaching the hinges by screwing through the fabric once the lid had been recovered.

{I got the foam cut to size at the local fabric shop, for £10)

I cut my fabric to size, making sure I had enough to grip the fabric so I could really stretch it around the lid.

{a layer of wadding}

I also used a layer of wadding between the fabric and the foam - this gives the fabric something to  glide over when you're smoothing and stretching it as tight as possible to cover the lid. I initially put a tack into each side of the lid to hold the fabric and wadding in place.

{many tacks make light work}

I then went around stretching the fabric as tightly as a could over the lid, lightly hammering in tacks all the way round to hold it in place.

Just a note on your choice of fabric - anything with lines, like the fabric I used, can be a little more tricky as you need to make sure that your lines are staying straight when you're covering your lid. A fabric with a random pattern is an easier one to pick if this is your first go at recovering something.

{on the finishing straight}

Once I was happy that I'd got the fabric tight enough over the lid, I went round again, removing each tack, folding the fabric under at the end so that there was no raw edge on show, and then hammering the tack in properly, down to the wood. So effectively, I put every tack in twice. I think if you're more skilful with a hammer and tacks you could probably get away with just hammering them in properly first time.

Compared to how it looked at the start, I think it looks so much better with the top covered, almost like a completely different piece of furniture. The fabric is some that I had lying around after I recovered our dining chairs, and I thought it would suit this project, avoiding the overly twee Cath Kidston look which has been plaguing us for years now. 

So for a total of £11.50, the project is complete, as I already had the tacks and the fabric. Well done me.

p.s. I think a good staple gun could make some with crafty tendancies an excellent stocking filler.

Monday, 9 December 2013

End of week round-up

So after my earlier post this week which looked at the big skirt, I had a little day trip in London, where I clapped eyes on the most perfect big skirt of all, in Anthropologie. It's not on their website, but it is there in the flesh in store, and here it is in all its glory.

{skirt from Anthropologie}

And a trip to the much lauded newly opened J.Crew was in order, where I was enchanted by the decorations - the gold balloons and the window streamers. I feel a Christmas craft session coming on.

{balloons at J.Crew}

{streamers at J.Crew}

Other highlights of the day included lunch at Comptoir Libanais, plus fabric shopping on the Goldhawk Road, where I scored this very pleasing neon ribbon.

{lunch at Comptoir Libanais}

{pink neon ribbon}

And from the other end of the high street, I popped into everyone's favourite shop Wilkinson's, where I found this make your own cracker kit for the £3, complete with paper hats and jokes. 2013 has been an excellent year for "free with magazine" miniature gifts and my stash will be put to good use inside these crackers, tied up with my newly purchased neon ribbon. I'll add name labels and Christmas messages with my label maker.

{make your own Christmas crackers}

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Christmas list 2013

Right, that's enough with showing you all suggestions of what to buy for him, for her and for the home, it's now time to share with you my own Christmas longings.

As ever, the list is embarrassing long, which perhaps reflects the frugal few months I've been having lately which has acted as fertilisation time for the list to flourish. A couple of new tops to spruce up my wardrobe, some Christmas baubles for myself, some items to update the house and my usual hankering after some leather accessories have all made the cut. Plus the ubiquitous Christmas "smellies".

Top row, left to right
Detox bath oil, £20 Elemental Herbology; Metallic zip top clutch, £36 Topshop; Grey Gardens DVD £10.46; Maisie jewel statement collar necklace, £22 Accessorize; iPhone case, £20 Alphabet Bags; Hammered gold ring, £30 V&A.

Second row, left to right
Sahara 28mm coin drops, £65 Daisy London; T-shirt with lace details, £19.99 Zara; Wallet & card holder, £69.90 Uterque; Effortless flat shoes, £39.95 Moda in Pelle; Tom Frost postcards with envelopes, £6.95 One Brown Cow; Contrast sleeve jumper, £45 Cos.

Third row, left to right
Tall stripe tee, £16 Topshop; Clear Jupiter table lamp, £28 BHS; Santal 33 fragrance by Le Labo, £105 Liberty; Dancer riding boots, £78 Topshop; Fabulous Face Oil, £40 Aesop (their Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm is also brilliant); White cuckoo clock, £49.95 Muji; Converse All Star High Warm, £70 Size.

Bottom row
Zig Zag runner, £30 Urban Outfitters.

I wish me a Merry Christmas.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Outfit Inspiration: Liberty Ross & Natalie Portman

{Liberty Ross & Natalie Portman}

I loved these outfits on Liberty Ross and Natalie Portman when I saw them earlier this year, and I think we could take a leaf or two out of their book when it comes to finding outfits for the festive season. What I like most about this look is that it leaves room for some knitwear on the top half, whilst the bottom half injects a whole load of glamour, but still with plenty of scope for a pair of thick tights underneath (plus Natalie Portman's skirt looks a little "wipe-clean" which will come in handy if you spill your gravy / trifle / cranberry sauce).

It's a sensible but dressy combination, which is even more wearable if you take the skirt length up to somewhere around the knee, but be careful to still maintain the fullness of the skirt to give you that swooshy sensation. If you go for a plain skirt, pair it with a bold statement necklace to up the ante, otherwise, let the pattern make the impact for you. And its versatility has been well documented by the street style crowd.

Even better, you've probably already got this look lurking somewhere in your wardrobe, especially amongst those less versatile full-skirted dresses which are more one-wear wonders, which just require you to slip a jumper over the top to transform it into a whole new outfit.

But for those of you who are unable to rustle up something from the depths of your cupboards, and if you want to flash the cash, no-one is doing this look better than Tibi and their paint splatter skirts. For those of us on a budget, here are a few more purse-friendly examples of what's out there at the moment.  It's worth investing a little more than usual as a skirt like this will see you through the summer, with a plain t-shirt or silk vest. 

Top row, left to right
Bassey jacquard pleat skirt, £155 L.K.Bennett; Leopard wool jacquard skirt, £125 Karen Millen; Cerys pleat detail a-line skirt, £145 L.K.Bennett; Heavy crepe full skirt, £60 Topshop; Rochelle ribbon flared skirt, £150 French Connection.

Middle row, left to right
Rita skirt, £125 Coast; Aminta jacquard snake print skirt, £175 L.K.Bennett; Oil painting printed skirt, £129 Ted Baker; Diamond print pleated skirt, £105 House of Fraser; Collection gilded Paisley skirt, £158 J.Crew.

Bottom row, left to right
Dark red jacquard midi skirt, £40 River Island; Ivy smudge print skirt, £145 Whistles; Black animal print midi skater skirt, £35 River Island; Weekend by MaxMara abstract animal print skirt, £176 John Lewis; Leticia optic floral print pleat skirt, £175 L.K.Bennett.

If you're looking for some knitwear to go with, then try these styles from H&M& Other StoriesCosUniqlo and H&M again.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Stocking fillers: for her

Right, move over gifts for men and for the home, it's time to get to the fun stuff. Here's my stocking fillers: for her guide and for those of your really stuck for ideas, you might also want to read last year's.

Top row, right to left
+ Taupe silk short, £39.99 Zara Home (20% off + free shipping today only)
+ Faux-pearl earrings, £12 & Other Stories
+ Dogeared 'letter' charm, £14.95 Bloomsbury & Co
+ Lip colour, £12 & Other Stories (Melton Sunset and Baft Pink are particularly excellent)
+ Knitted hat, £7.99 H&M
+ Medium notebook, £20 Liberty

Second row, right to left
+ Purple Betsy Liberty print shower cap, £20 Liberty
+ Double layered cashmere gloves, £29 & Other Stories
+ Gatimu ring, £20 Made
+ Clinique Superbalm lip treatment £11.70 John Lewis (currently on price match)
+ Clutch bag in sequin check, £30 ASOS (although it was a toss up with this one)

Third row, right to left
+ Leather shoulder bag, £34.99 H&M
+ Leather coin purse, £16 Topshop
+ Small floral tray, £19.99 Zara Home (20% off + free shipping today only)
+ Limited edition golden monogram mug, £8 Anthropologie
+ Kate Moss paper doll set, £5.50 alexandalexa (also available in Debbie HarryDavid Bowie or Ryan Gosling - something for everyone)
+ Ally Capellino card holder, £27.50 Bloomsbury & Co

Fourth row, right to left
+Empire collar statement necklace, £19 Accessorize
+ Calligrapher canape plate, £8 Anthropologie
+ Make up bag in Clementina Liberty print, £14.95 Poppy Valentine
+ Under Cover neon pink iPad case, £30 Bloomsbury & Co
+ Wool tights, £15 Cos (these are 270 denier - totally winter proof)

And I could go on, adding a new scarf, some cashmere socks, a new diary, hand cream or a bottle of perfume... but I've run out of space. Soz.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Stocking fillers: for the home

I hadn't planned on writing a Home gift guide this year, but as the number of home related items started getting longer and longer in my "for her" and "for him" lists, it became a necessity. Part of the problem this year has been H&M, and the amazing range of really affordable and irresistible items in their home range this year. If you're planning on an H&M Christmas and you haven't signed up to their e-newsletter, do it before you order and you'll get a 25% off discount code.

Top row, left to right
+ Hand knit tea cosy by Chi Chi Moi, £25 Not On The Highstreet
+ Celtic/Tibet rug, £25 National Trust
+ 'Bordfolk' egg cups, £11.95 Nook
+ Normann Copenhagen wine pourer, £18 Bodie and Fou
+ Star napkin, £1.99 H&M
+ Uno, £6.99 ToysRUs

Second row, left to right
+ Ceramic dish, £3.99 H&M (would make a lovely change plate, or also try this one)
+ David Bowie tea towel, £10 Bold & Noble
+ Brass two hole pencil sharpener, £6 Nook
+ Rabbit candle stick, £4.99 H&M
+ Spanish Marcona almonds, £5.75 Fortnum & Mason
+ Mushroom measuring spoons, £20 Anthropologie

Third row, left to right
+ Garrick slippers by Just Sheepskin, £48 John Lewis (currently on price match) or a ladies alternative here
+ Wooden tray, £7.99 H&M
+ Honeycomb decorations, £8.95 Nook
+ Squirrel salt & pepper shaker, £7.99 H&M

Fourth row, left to right
+ Wall calendar, £27 Bold & Noble
+ Glass jar, £3.95 Nook + Radox muscle soak, £1.05 Boots (l love this stuff, think it's massively underrated)
+ Candle stick holder, £6.99 H&M
+ Paper napkins, £1.50 H&M
+ Tray, £6.99 H&M

So I had to stop before the list got too long (I'm told Santa doesn't do greedy), and that was before I'd had the chance to add some of my other ideas such as a scented candle, a coffee-table book, some new glassware or mugs or some lovely coffee. Have a cosy Christmas.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Stocking fillers: for him

It's taken me a while to do this Christmas gift guide this year, mainly because after I re-read last year's, I felt that I'd done such a comprehensive job (if I do say so myself) that there wasn't much more to add. But then after a little internet research, I really got into the swing of things and came up with some new ideas, with a  little help from Popeye.

I think the secret to a good stocking is to buy slightly more luxurious versions of everyday items that your recipient already uses. A posh shower gel, notebook or water bottle can really add a little boost to someone's day, especially when it's something they use often.

Top row, left to right
+ Prospector Co Wormwood Absinthium Hand Cream, £11.50 Fable + Folly (although this old favourite is also a trusty option)
+ Chup Genser socks, £25 Fable + Folly (these Japanese-made socks are really up Popeye's street, although trusty Pantherlla do some trust less expensive styles, all made in England, here and here)
+ Scottie stocking holder, £36 Anthropologie (although I thought this could be more useful as a handy resting place for anyone who constantly misplaces keys, ID lanyards - you get the picture)
+ Eva Solo water bottle with orange strap £20 Habitat (use code EM25 for 25% off online from 7pm 27 November)
+ Black and grey multi-striped viscose scarf, £14.99 Tie Rack (enter SALE50 at the checkout to get 50% off)
+ Bear Grylls Grandfather knife, £23.99 Blades and Bows
+ Rock the Shack: Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-outs, £28.78 Waterstones Marketplace*

Second row, left to right
+ Royal Giraffe notelets, £16.95 Heals
+ Pine reviving bath milk, £10.95 Weleda (apparently this is excellent aprés-ski)
+ Computer or laptop brush, £10.95 Nook
+ Bones EP by Josh Record, £1.99 iTunes
+ Rhodiarama pocket line webnotebook, £8.95 The Paperie

Third row left to right
+ Blot blue patterned mug, £7 Habitat (use code EM25 for 25% off online from 7pm 27 November)
+ Canton organic chai tea, £6 Canton Tea Co
+ KeepCup, from £8.60 KeepCup Store
+ Clutch pencil, £5 Nook
+ Lego bag tag, £3.99 Tesco
+ Matches, £5.50 Fable + Folly

Fourth row, left to right
+ Herringbone room shoes, £10.95 Muji
+ Sumo champion skittles, £9.95 Muji
+ Noctua bottle opener, £26 Anthropologie
+ Nova Scotia Fisherman Sea Kelp Lipbalm, £5.50 Roullier White
+ Blodwen ticking wash bag, £12.50 Nook

There are still plenty of other items still not on here, such as something for the drinks cabinet, a few edible items and perhaps some techie gadgets thrown in for good measure. So I hope this helps to give you a little inspiration, and don't forget, there's less than four weeks to go...

*You may find some of the products I've suggested cheaper on Amazon, but I'm trying to avoid using Amazon for any of the items in my gift guides, after them having rather a dubious time of late. But each to their own, so go forth and shop.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

This is dynamo

Whilst I am guilty of getting nostalgic for the days of our youth, when penny sweets were still a penny and cassette players which automatically turned over to the other side were a technological wonder, there is one thing that 2013 has improved upon, and that is the Dynamo label maker.

Remember the black and red plastic hand-held machines which printed out any message you liked in white embossed lettering on black tape? Well, in 2013 we've gone NEON and things are a lot more fun. I am a fan of making things more personalised and individual, so this gadget is right up my street.

{my MoTEX label maker}

There's a choice of colour in machine and in tape, and whereas they're not as cheap as I thought, once you've stocked up you're set to go for many labels to come. I got mine from a shop in Winchester, but the Etsy shop OHMYBUY has an excellent selection. And also let's not forget that this would make a very brilliant stocking filler, perhaps with a set of blank notecards to start creating some bespoke thank you notes?

Here a list of where I've put my labels to use so far:
+ general greetings cards and Christmas cards
+ gift tags
+ my make-up drawers
+ my jewellery drawers
+ my re-purposed or blank shoe boxes
+ as labels of glass jars of homemade chutneys and also on spice jars
+ in the study, on magazine files and box files

That's money well spent.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

This year's parka

I am pleased to announce that I am now the proud owner of a winter parka. Well, actually, I won't be until Christmas Day, but still, the thought that it has been locked-down and is firmly in Popeye's grasp is a warming one.

Despite all my research last year searching for the perfect parka, I didn't actually seal the deal. But the Casual Bobby Parka by Whistles (now also available in navy) didn't take long to win me over this year. And to top it all, they had me agonising between it and the Jourdan Waxy Parka, which my mum went for, and is excellent.

{Whistles parkas}

Left to right
Bobby casual parka, £160 Whistles Jourdan waxy parka, £165 by Whistles from Atterley Road and House of Fraser (or this Boden version is a good alternative)

So needless to say, there was much research that went into this year's choice, and I thought it only fair to share that with you. I've tried to include some budget options, but it's really a case of getting what you pay for with a Parka. Have a look below and see what you think.

Top row, left to right
Khaki trim parka, £75 Next; Levina parka by Parka London, £235 ASOS; Borg lined clean parka, £100 Topshop; Zip hood parka, £285 Comptoire des Contonniers; Winter Parka II, £265 Toast.

Bottom row, left to right
Carlotta jacket, £70 Monki; Parka with fur collar and suede details, £445 The Kooples; Clean parka, £100 Warehouse;  Washed drop waist parka, £75 ASOS; Detachable faux fur parka by Warehouse, £90 ASOS.

So some of the prices above are higher than my normal range, but because I think you wear a parka so much, it's worth the investment, making your price per wear work out a bargain (or that's what you can tell yourself).

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Season staples

With all the discount vouchers that are flying around for GAP at the moment, I thought I'd do a little round-up of what's in stock. The stock on their website compared to what's in their shops is always quite different, so it's always worth popping in rather than just browsing online. 

Although GAP seem to be making more and more of their clothes from materials like polyester and acrylic, there are still some good quality items on the shelves if you do some stringent label checking. Here's what I like - especially those all important new Christmas pyjamas.

Top row, left to right
Side-zip v-neck tee, £16.95; Luxlight crew pullover, £24.95 (also in navy and ivory); Classic trench, £59.95; Merino crew pullover, £39.95 (also in grey and black); Polka-dot pullover, £29.95.

Middle row, left to right
Pleated leather mini skirt, £149.95; Leather envelope clutch, £24.95.

Bottom row, left to right
Printed poplin PJ set, £29.95; Bow-neck top, £34.95; Wool car coat, £99.95; Metallic shrunken sweatshirt, £29.95; 1969 sexy boyfriend cords, £44.95.

And a few of my favourites below which I found in the Bath store:

{eeny meeny miny mo}

{a classic leopard print clutch}

{a zip-up leather pouch - available in a choice of colours}

Monday, 4 November 2013


Houndstooth (also known as dogtooth) is another one of those trends which resurfaces every autumn. It's heralded with a new wave of enthusiasm, like the pattern has not seen seen daylight for years, when in reality it comes around every year with dependable regularity.

So the good news is that it's something which can be invested in, and you can be sure you'll get your money's worth for years to come. I've never bought into the trend, but after finding this skirt in the charity shop, I realised that its of the moment monochrome tie-in, and the ease with which it will complement pretty much any other item of clothing means it works hard for a place in your wardrobe.

{houndstooth pleated skirt}

Here's a selection of what's out there on the high street. Pair with denim for play, or a shirt or smart t-shirt for work: there's an approach for everyone.

Top row, left to right
Pencil houndstooth dress, £44.99 Mango; Giants houndstooth coat, £499 Jaeger; Letty top, £99 Hobbs and Letty trousers, £119 Hobbs: Houndstooth check dress, £39.99 Zara; Giant houndstooth cocoon coat by Jaeger, £399 John Lewis.

Bottom row, left to right
Houndstooth coat, £109 Zara; Houndstooth suit skirt, £29.99 Mango; M&S Collection houndstooth checked long skirt, £39.50 M&S; Karmen skirt, £55 Oasis.

Friday, 1 November 2013

My current clear skin regime

I've been using the routine described below for a couple of months now after seeing some initially impressive results. I wanted to carry it on consistently for a while before I starting extolling its virtues to you, so that if and when I did, I could do it with total confidence.

After years of battling with never-perfect (sometimes terrible) skin, putting my faith and salary into seemingly "miracle products" which occasionally made improvements but more often didn't, I am almost amazed to be able to feel like I've finally settled into a routine that works.

As someone who is as equally concerned with anti-agening as anti-blemish, I feel like the regime below takes care of both these factors, as part of a routine which is fairly streamlined and simple, and not too pricey.

The four main components which I think have made the most difference in terms of clearer skin are the REN toner, Cetaphil cleanser, Effaclar Duo and Clarisonic, and I would urge any of you who are struggling with blemishes to consider these products, with the Effaclar Duo being my absolute top pick. I would even go so far as to give this the over-used and over-promised "miracle" label. It probably deserves its own individual post, but I'll just slot it in here for now.

{morning routine}

Top row, left to right (in order of use)
REN Clarifying Toning Lotion, £18 REN (don't forget your 20% discount code, valid until 7th November 2013)
- this toner exfoliates as it tones using natural acids (lactic, citric, tartaric and glycolic), removing dead skin and unclogging pores which means less congestion, clearer and brighter skin. It is also antimicrobial which means it kills bacteria lingering on the skin and will therefore reduce any future breakouts. Although this product does contact some alcohol, I don't find it drying at all.

Clinique Repair Wear Laser Focus Wrinkle Correcting Eye Cream, £30 Boots
- there are several eye creams out there which I think do a good job, but I am currently favouring this one because a pot of this lasts so much longer than many other eye creams I've tried, which makes it  good value for money. It keeps my eye area moisturised without being greasy, so any fine lines look diminished and it makes a good base for my under-eye concealer.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo, £13 Boots
- this product delivers immediate results which is continues to consistently deliver. I use it like a serum, but I believe you can use it as a moisturiser alone. I definitely need to use a separate moisturiser on top. You can use it morning and night, and I did this at first which really delivers results, but I now use it only first thing, as it can be a little drying applying it twice a day. Its approach is two pronged: targeting individual blemishes and unblocking pores.
It targets blemishes using the ingredients niacinamide and piroctone olamine which purify the skin and prevent the blemish for developing into a full-blown breakout. It unblocked pores by removing dead skin cells, using a combination of LHA (a derivative of salicylic acid) and Linoleic acid, an omega-6 essential fatty acid also known as vitamin F.
So there's a lot of science, with great results, and what's even more pleasing is the price. And look out for the regular money off and 3 for 2 offers on this brand at Boots.

Bottom row, left to right (in order of use)
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum, £65 John Lewis (this limited edition version is in support of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation)
- I've reviewed this product before on this blog, it's a classic. I don't use it ever morning (and yes, you can use it in the morning as well as the night), just when my skin feels like it needs some extra moisture.

Origins Plantscriptions Oil Free Face Cream SPF25, £46 John Lewis
- after trying lots of different moisturisers, this is closest to my quest for perfection. With a good SPF of 25 and the right level of delivering moisture without any grease or shine, this makes a good base for makeup. In terms of its anti-ageing benefits, it improves the appearance of lines and wrinkes by strengthening the structural fibres in your skin, and includes, fibrilllin, collagen and elastin to plump up the skin. It boosts the renewal of skin calls making them act younger for longer. So far so good. Interesting, I don't usually go for the oil-free version of a moisturiser but I tried the standard version to start with and it was far to greasy and heavy for my skin, so try a sample first. And if you're after a brand which (like REN) is paraben, mineral oil and synthetic free, then Origins is a good brand for you.

Just a few words about my morning routine - the biggest difference here is that I don't cleanse my face in the morning. It's important not to over cleanse the skin, and this can be a culprit in why your skin is intolerant or over sensitive. So when I have a shower in the morning I just rinse my face with water - but if you suffer with dry skin you should try to avoid contact with water.

{evening routine}

Top row, left to right (in order of use)
Bioderma Sensibio H2O - Solution Micellaire, £9.99
- this is a great makeup remover, and I always use it to remove makeup before then using a separate cleanser. I've mentioned it on this blog before. It has minute drops of oil suspended in the water, which gives it real power when it comes to deep-cleansing and makeup removal, whilst maintaing the balance of the skin. 

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, £8.99 Boots
- the most quick and effective cleanser I've used in ages. Removes all traces of makeup and grime, and leaves you skin feeling neutral, natural and absolutely not irritated. Many cleansers over cleanse the face, but this makes sure that your natural protective oils and emollients are left intact. Very comforting.

Clarisonic Mia 2 Cleansing Brush, £125 Space.NK
- it's been an interesting few months with my Clarisonic, which maybe deserves its own separate post, so to summarise: after the first few days my skin was initially amazing, followed by a full-on 'purge' (which I'd read about so I was expecting it), followed by a period of the best skin I've ever had and I was its biggest fan. Then things started getting worse, so I changed the brush, and went from using it twice a day to just once a day, and things are now going well. I've seen better results with this brush more quickly and painlessly than with Roaccutane. Be wary of the No.7 or Olay versions - yes they are cheaper, and may achieve some results, but they do not use sonic waves.

REN Clarifying Toning Lotion (as above)

Bottom row, left to right (in order of use)
Clinique Repair Wear Laser Focus Wrinkle Correcting Eye Cream (as above)

Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum (as above)

Clarins Face Treatment Oil - Blue Orchid, £30 John Lewis (or the Botanics alternative, depending on how frugal I'm feeling)
- I love this product which really improves my skin. I've already reviewed it on my blog here, and it really suits my dehydrated skin. It contains Rosewood, Patchouli and Blue Orchid to add radiance to the skin and improve skin tone. And Hazelnut oil works to combat moisture loss and the appearance of any new fine lines.

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Serum, £14.95 Boots
- I realised a few years ago that glycolic acid helps control my blemishes. I'll use this if I think I'm suffering with a few blocked pores, because the corkscrew action of this acid really works to unblock them. The plus side of this product is that it also works on fine and lines and wrinkles, and so works to improve overall skin texture.

Just a note about my evening routine - if I've not been wearing make up that day, I'll skip the Bioderma. And I never use the Night Repair Serum, Blue Orchid Oil and Glycolic Fix Serum one after the other. I'll usually just use the Blue Orchid Oil, but if I'm feeling a little dry, I'll use the Night Repair Serum before the oil. And if I'm feeling a little congested, I'll use just the Glycolic Fix Serum.

So, that turned into quite the epic blog post - hope you're still with me? I just feel like, after being on an eternal quest through the vast world of the skincare industry, I've finally struck gold, and I wanted to share that with you in case you're still looking for solutions. I'll do another post soon on supplementary products I sometimes use such as face masks and spot treatments. Hope somethings here works for you.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A neutral bag

I've been reliant on a large, neutral leather handbag for years as a wardrobe staple, and it was only recently I had to say goodbye to a Zara cream leather bag which had served me well for almost the years.

The main draw with a bag like this is its versatility - it has the ability to go with any outfit any time. I mean, there's a possibility I could even go as far as saying that it's practically the only day bag you'll ever need, but that could put me in an awkward position if you ever came round and viewed my handbag stash. If there could be one drawback, it's the need to look after it, cleaning it a little more regularly and protecting it with a leather cream. See the Russell & Bromley website for more tips on looking after your handbag.

{Gouache in Fukuoka}

So when we were on holiday in Japan, staying in Fukuoka, we came across this lovely, lovely shop called Gouache which I spent hours in, and ended up buying this handbag, which has hardly left my shoulder since.

{cream handbag with adjustable strap}

The beauty of this bag is that the strap is adjustable, so I can have it short and sling it on my shoulder, or lengthen it and wear it across the body. And it has three internal pockets which means I'm not scrabbling at the bottom of it to find my purse / keys / phone.

Here are some of the high street options around at the moment.

Top row, left to right
Duffy zip satchel, £250 Whistles; Bowling bag, £109 Zara; Leather doctor's bag, £60 Dorothy Perkins.

Bottom row, left to right
Leather shopper with zips, £69.99 Zara; Brook hobo bag, £150 Whistles; Leather shopper, £60 Dorothy Perkins.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Polka-dot pumpkin

Ever since I was amazed by a colleague's Tinkerbell pumpkin, my eyes were opened to the array of pumpkin carving possibilities which didn't involve a big gurning toothy grin. The thing, my patience is as lacking as my artistic abilities, and so I came up with the idea of a polka-dot pumpkin. It's foolproof, with absolutely no skill involved, just a good apple corer. I've also seen some good results using a thick nail or skewer on a smaller pumpkin, making lots of little tiny holes.

{polka-dot pumpkin}

If you're interested in trying something more adventurous, there are loads of stencils available online. Some of them look, er... tricky (things you'll need: hot knife, hand saw...) so good luck with that.

{Tink, looking lovely as ever. Instructions here, stencil here.}

And then because I had all my scooped out pumpkin leftover, I tried to make I soup. Except most of the recipes I could find asked you to roast two halves of a pumpkin rather than just the flesh. And lots of them involved adding a lot of cream, which I didn't want to do. So I took elements from a few recipes and went off piste - not something I ever usually attempt.

{sautéing onions}

{pumpkin soup}

But it tasted lovely so in case you're interested, here's how I made the soup:

1. Saute one large onion in some butter.

2. Add in your scooped out pumpkin, and cook along with the onions.

3. Add 2 fat cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and some garam masala - I think I used about 1 heaped teaspoon, but just go by taste.

4. After about 10 minutes, add enough stock (I used chicken stock, but vegetable stock would be fine) to cover the vegetables well, and leave for about 25 minutes.

5. Add more seasoning according to taste, and then blend when the soup has cooled down slightly.

6. If you'd like to go one step further, there are various things you can top the soup with, such as sautéed mushrooms, a dollop of creme fraiche or some toasted pumpkin seeds.