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.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Make a beeline for a-line

My mission: to find a skirt which is faithful to the classic, simple and structured a-line shape, in a great quality fabric, which can last me for years to come. I have a couple of these skirts which have been part of my wardrobe for years; a navy one from Cos and a grey one from GAP. Except the grey one has fallen foul of a indelible ink stain, and I cannot live by one perfect skirt alone.

So I have been looking for a replacement and also reinforcements for over a year now. There have been some close calls, courtesy of Cos and Jaeger, but they haven't been quite right. And then as part of the building excitement ahead of the J.Crew London launch in just over a week, I went for a cruise on the J.Crew website. And there they were, staring right back at me, like long lost friends.

{neon coral wool-silk a-line skirt, £178 J.Crew}

{also available in navy - you had me at wool-silk}

{black wool a-line skirt, £138 J.Crew}

{also available in pinot noir}

So with my black a-line skirt needs being met by the skirt in this post, I would fill my wardrobe ravine with the navy, coral and burgundy skirts above. My key requirements which they meet are as follows:
1. a-line
2. knee length, or just above the knee
3. a good fabric mix - wool, silk, cotton, or even viscose with some sort of stretch thrown in are always great options
4. a solid block of colour - I introduce patten to just my top half - keeping the bottom half plain is key to my look.

It's interesting that whilst just a few short years ago, brands such as Jaeger, Hobbs, Cos and even GAP would cater for these requirements, it's increasingly more difficult to find these markers of good quality on the high street. So it's a timely moment for J.Crew to enter the UK market with its focus on great fabric and classic designs. Roll on November 8th.

REN: clean skincare with real results

You probably all know about the REN skincare line by now. I came across this UK brand many moons ago, when I worked briefly for Space NK. The popularity of the brand seems to have increased no end since their launch in 2000, and you can now find it in most branches of M&S in their new beauty halls, which also means you can order online for free in-store collection - very handy.

To be honest, at first I didn't take much notice of the brand, instead preferring the more high-tech, science led brands instore which seemed to deliver more noticeable results. So it's taken some first-class reviews and visible results to get me to change my opinion.

Over the years, there are a few products which have worked their way up very high in my esteem, and as you can currently get 20% online, I thought I'd share them with you. If you've already turned your mind to Christmas shopping, there are a couple of products here which are my go-to gift ideas, which could not fail to please event the fussiest recipient.

{the top six}

Top row, left to right
1. No. 1 Purity Cleansing Balm, £30: after never really finding anything to rival Eve Lom's cleansing balm, REN's version came along and challenged it to the top spot. I think it's just as good as Eve Lom, leaving your skin softer and less congested. It also works out a lot cheaper.

2. Micro Polish Cleanser, £20: a great time saver, this product will cleanse and exfoliate in one quick move. It leaves your skin feel really clean, and looking smoother, thanks to the glycolic acid it contains. Leave it on your skin for an extra minute whilst you're in the shower for greater effect.

3. Guerande Salt Exfoliating Body Balm, £20: this is one of my favourite products to give as a gift. Forget all those body scrub preconceptions you have of heavy glass jars filled with over-fragranced gloop. This scrub goes on dry skin, and the salt really does a great job of exfoliating away any rough patches. And then when you get into the bath or shower, the product dissolves into a really moisturising oil. It'll get rid of any dry, flaky skin, and does a great job on the backs of the upper arms and elbows.

Bottom row, left to right
1. Resurfacing AHA Concentrate, £30: this product never fails to get results. A hat-trick of three natural acids (glycol, lactic and tartaric acids) helps your skin cell turnover to increase, revealing younger, smoother, brighter skin. The removal of all dead skin cells means that your skin is much more receptive to your usual serum, delivering more heightened results.

2. Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil, £30: this was by far the most popular REN product whilst I was at Space NK - a real crowd pleaser, especially for anyone who particularly likes rose-scented products. It's great for anyone who suffers with dry skin, as it's so moisturising, and leaves the skin lightly perfumed, without the need for further moisturisation. A real luxury bathing product.

3. Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask, £30: a mask that delivers results for all skin types. This will leave the skin looking brighter and give it a radiant look. By encouraging skin renewal, fine lines appear reduced, pores look smaller and I find it really helps to combat congestion to keep the skin looking clearer. I use this every week and wouldn't be without it.

The main draw for people when they first try REN is their "clean skincare" credentials. There's a big focus on what they won't put into their products: parabens, sulphates and mineral oil to name but a few, but click here for the full lowdown. The are also very transparent on their stance on both environmental concerns and animal testing, making them a "clean" brand in every sense of the word.

For your 20% online discount, visit and enter the code INSTYLE20.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Scrimp or save: the checked shirt

The "new trend" for checked shirts is one I'm puzzled by, mainly because I'm not sure what's new about it. Every time autumn comes around, we're told that checks, tartan or plaid (one in the same really) are what's hot, but when were they not?

So, whilst mourning the cull of a red checked shirt during a particularly vicious clear-out, I set about looking for a replacement. The version from The Kooples is my idea of perfection, closely followed by APC's, but at £120 and rising I decided to find some more purse-friendly alternatives. This shirt is an easy option when partnered with black trousers or jeans, or to dress down a knee-length full or pencil skirt.

{special mention for the addition of a statement jewel necklace - nice contrast}

Here's my selection below, but there are hundreds of budget friendly alternatives out there, and most of them are 100% cotton. Watch out for the style of button, which can make a huge difference to the overall look, as some can look very cheap. And as with all cheap cotton, your shirt may be prone to some shrinking, so handle with care.

Top row
Plaid cotton shirt by APC, £150 Net-A-Porter; Checked shirt, £120 The Kooples.

Middle row
Checked blouse, £29.99 Zara; Dark pink check shirt, £17.99 New Look; Checked shirt, £29.99 Zara.

Bottom row
Red checked shirt, £44.95 Massimo Dutti; Flannel shirt, £14.99 H&M; Black tartan long-sleeved shirt, £17.99 New Look; Checked cotton shirt, £19.99 Mango.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Show & tell

I have a few more spoils to show and tell from my last chazzing expedition. I bought the beautiful Italian silk grey Paisley scarf to make a couple of drawstring bags from.

{Paisley scarf, £2}

The way you can tell a really good quality silk scarf is if the edges are hand-finshed, like you can see in this photo.

{hand-rolled edges}

I pounced on the Liberty shawl, which was just a fiver, and is officially the start of my Christmas shopping - that's one person ticked off the list so far.

{Liberty shawl}

And the black, wool a-line skirt is a very simple, pleasing shape - just a wraparound skirt which fastens with two buttons at the waist. And it's the perfect partner to my new GAP grid jumper.

{black a-line skirt}

{simple waistband}

In line with this season's love for all things pink, this is quite the versatile number, as it looks just as good worn back-to-front with the buttons going down the back. Still in two minds as to whether to change the buttons - I do like the covered buttons, but can't help thinking that little gold buttons would change the look of this top quite nicely. What do you reckon?

{pink silk top}

And so I worked up an appetite for lunch, opting for some Homity Pie which has inspired me to attempt this recipe at home. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Scrimp or save: the grid jumper

{grid jumper - GAP version}

Despite trying not to fall for many "of the moment" fashion items, I am rather taken at the moment by the J. W. Anderson grid jumper. And when the Whistles version popped up, I knew this was a look which was being taken on board by more than me. Granted, it's cheaper than the J. W. Anderson version, and I prefer the look of it, but it has a mere 25% wool in it, compared to the corking 100% merino wool of the J. W. Anderson one.

{grid jumper - J. W. Anderson}

{grid jumper - Whistles version}

And then I found the GAP version. At 80% wool and just £29.95 (with countless discount codes flying around on the internet) I plumped for it, ordering it online and now it's arrived, the quality is great. The blue version is sold out online (but I'm told it will be back so watch this space) but the ivory alternative is also appealing.

It seems the order of the day is to pair it with a black skirt, but this looks equally good with formal black trousers, or jeans.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Matchy matchy

Post house-move, I've been having a bit of a sort out, and unearthed my stash of vintage match boxes - I like to partner a box with a candle if I'm giving it as a present to make it a little more personal. The Target and Blue Cross matches I picked up from a vintage shop in Reading (they had hundreds - call in if you're local) and the others I've pilfered from bars and restaurants. My most recent stash was from the Dean Street Town House, where they have huge bowls of Soho House matches lying around for the taking.

{vintage matches from Fanny's Antiques in Reading}

Other boxes are from our travels, to Russia, New York, the Middle East and Japan, which make a nicely personal momento from any trip.

{the Corona matches are from Baileys in Ross on Wye}

Friday, 11 October 2013

Weekly round-up

I've been a little distracted this week, and off my daily rhythm of blog posting, so here's a little round-up of things so we can all catch up.

Last weekend was spend exploring the new area we've moved to - we went for a little walk and discovered an excellent new pub. We just dipped our tow in the water with a sandwich each, but once we caught sight of the epic Sunday roasts, we knew that the Hit or Miss was going on our list as a regular haunt.

{pub lunch}

{Sunday stroll}

{down by the river}

And then Popeye came back from a trip to London with a surprise gift for me - my hopes were high when I clapped eyes on the distinctive purple Liberty bag. And in it was a bottle of Escentric Molecules 01. I'd had this perfume on my wish list for a long time, liking its very subtle and understated fragrance. I've written before on this blog about how I don't get on with strong, overpowering scent so this seemed to be the perfect solution.


We had our first visitors to the new house at the weekend, so Popeye cracked open the cheese and I baked a lemon drizzle cake - which was delicious by the way, but we troughed the lot before I remembered to take a photo. But this is the recipe - I'm no great baker but it turns out great every time, using two lemons for the zest and juice, to make it a little more lemony.

{cheese board}


And now we're jumping in the car and heading off to Devon - again! I know! Can't get enough of the place. Have a lovely weekend.

Monday, 7 October 2013

For the love of Ashburton

Whilst I was planning a forthcoming trip to Devon, I realised I've never told you about the village of Ashburton. It's a hidden gem, which doesn't often get talked about as a place to visit, but if you love food and vintage / antique shopping, then you'll love Ashburton.

Perhaps because it's also the home of the well renowned Ashburton Cookery School, there is a huge choice of places to eat in this little town. I always end up at Francolins, which always has a wide selection of homemade soup to choose from - six different flavours on our last visit. 

{Francolins, 17 West Street, Ashburton}

{Ella's Bakery, West Street - they close when they're all sold out, sometimes before midday}

Cafe Green Ginger is also a nice place to stop, especially in summer when you can sit out in their garden. No. 14 is a lovely cafe bar, open into the evening, and they serve the award winning Fish Pate from the famous Fish Deli around the corner. And Tea at Taylors is the place to go if vintage tea sets and afternoon tea are your thing.

{Tea at Taylors}

If you're there in the evening then Agaric's (recently reviewed by The Telegraph - confusingly described as being in Newton Abbot, which is definitely is not) reputation goes before it, and also has rooms. I've not stayed there but The Guardian did and praised it highly.

If you're more interested in pottering around the shops, then the town is well served with shops full of antique and vintage furniture, gifts and bric a brac. Some are expensive, and some less so. The Snug, 15 North Street - where I bought the fabric for these chairs, and the floral tea towel for this drawstring bag - is always worth and look and has some real bargains. These deckchairs in the window of Vintage Emporium won my heart on my last visit, but unfortunately the shop was closed.

{Vintage Emporium, 18 North Street}

Bathe is an exclusive fragrance and toiletries shop, which is beautifully laid out and is always nice to call in to see what their latest find is, or if you need a present for someone. And on my last visit I was pleased to discover a new vintage shop called Number 30, crammed full of clothes and accessories for both men and women, plus a few items for the home.

{a selection of products at Bathe}

{Number 30 - vintage shop on East Street}

And of course there's a couple of charity shops too, which I always pop into for a rummage.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My top TKMaxx shops

Just wanted to introduce you to my scarf triumphantly found in TKMaxx from the Kurt Geiger accessories range, reduced from £85 to £15. Now autumn is upon us, and I'm spending more time working at home, I've been channeling a Dickensian look, wearing this my desk in order to try and fight the urge to switch on the central heating. 

{angora scarf found in TKMaxx in Brighton}

And I've been pairing it with this H&M sweatshirt - one of my best working from home allies so far this autumn.

{H&M sweatshirt - not online but still in store}

And talking of TKMaxx, I recently discovered that in a town not too far away form me there is a TKMaxx so large it warrants its own cafe. Needless to say, a plan is being hatched for a visit - and of course I will report back.

And whilst we're talking all things TK, I thought I'd give my top three stores I've visited so far - and I've visited an awful lot, as part of my nomadic wanderings throughout the UK.

1. Waterlooville: for its Beauty and Home sections. This store was a great source of candles, selling Bahoma, This Works and Tocca, almost always in the red sticker section.

2. Speke, Liverpool: for its Luggage section. I found my Brics holdall here for £40.

3. Cheltenham: for its red sticker section, which has some great bargains. The shop always seems quiet, so it's a pleasant shopping experience, and the shelves and rails are consistently neat and tidy.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The bomber

I bought this knitted bomber jacket in the Jaeger sale this summer, after having my eye on it for a while.  It was during the heatwave, so it felt more than odd buying a thick knitted jacket in 30 degree heat, but the supersonic air-conditioning on the train up to London meant that it was pretty much a necessity in order to face the journey home.

{knitted & tweed bomber jacket bought in the Jaeger sale}

And although bomber jackets have been around for a while, street style photos from the SS2014 show that they're still a popular choice, which is no surprise given their flexibility. They're easy to throw on with a pair of jeans but are also a useful counter-balance to a more dressed-up outfit, especially if there's a evening dress or pencil skirt involved. And always team with heels.

Top row, left to right
Noble bomber jacket, £24 French Connection; Isabella lace jacket, £37.50 French Connection; Spiral quilt bomber, £50 Topshop; Moto indigo Varsity bomber, £45 Topshop.

Middle row, left to right
Mango quilted bomber jacket, £70 ASOS; Mango Miranda checked bomber jacket, £39.99 ASOS.

Bottom row, left to right
Tapestry jacquard bomber jacket, £59.99 Mango; French Connection bomber jacket in silk, £96 ASOS; Oriental bomber jacket by Goldie, £45 Topshop; Floral print bomber jacket, £69.99 Mango.