Monday, 10 November 2014

Preen Line S/S15

As much as I'm completely over-excited about Christmas, 45 days to go in case you were wondering; I'm already thinking about Spring.  Mostly because I'll no longer be the size of a small island but also because we'll be able to get our hands on Preen Line's new collection.  A complete vision of miss-matched Moroccan tile prints and colours. Heaven in a midi dress. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Happy Halloween

The Cubs have had a thing for pumpkins for as long as I can remember.  No idea why, but the bigger and the more orange they are, the better.   In a dream world they would fill the house with them all year round.  
This year, to my absolute joy, they announced orange was out and they would like green ones instead.  Imagine my joy! The rejoicing was short lived however when I was informed it was due to them all being transformed into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Lit up with neon, oh so tasteful, glow sticks. Not then, for the rather chic table display I was already envisaging.

These photos are taken from my book, Inspire, which I thought I'd share in case you have an overload of pumpkins that you don't know what do to with. Don't throw them away just yet - get out some paint and get crafty.  If you want an extra sparkle, sprinkle over some extra fine glitter when the paint's still wet.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Skincare Miracle

Someone up there absolutely does not want me to sleep at the moment.  If it's not the smallest Cub or DC (Devil Child) as he's now known, screaming at me five times a night, it's Alice the small dog  being sick or barking at imaginary intruders at the end of my bed.  Yesterday, it was a wasp.  In my bed, under the duvet, stinging me.  At 5am.  In the winter.  A wasp.  What have I have done to deserve this continuous torture I'm not sure.  But to whom I've upset, I am truly sorry and repent of all my sins.  

So, naturally it goes without saying that I'm looking pretty ropey.  Very pregnant - or just very fat if you ask the Cubs  - and very sleep deprived.   And it's October.  No one looks good in October.  Too much drizzle and too many hot to cold temperature changes.  The perfect recipe for skincare disaster if there ever was one. 

But, there is always a silver lining and this time it comes in the form of a small brown tube.  Inside this tube is a miraculous 10-in-1 beauty balm. (Talk about multi-tasking). It's a super-charged BB cream that in one fell swoop illuminates, protects, anti-ages, smoothes and basically, just makes you a lot prettier.  As well as the immediate effect though it has also seemingly improved the general state of my skin after only about a week of using it.  Definitely my new hero product. I'm already doing that slightly crazed thing of worrying about what  I'll do in the case of it being discontinued...

Monday, 6 October 2014

Heading for Hibernation

I'm secretly quite thrilled that it's getting all cold and wintry.  All I really want to do right now is hibernate.  I'm getting bigger by the day and I want to hide away, wrapped up warm, eating a lot of really-bad-for-you comfort food.  Thank God for Jamie Oliver.  He's just brought out a new and very wondrous book called 'Comfort Food'.  The clue to the contents is in the title. Inside there are pages and pages of the most comforting, slightly lard-infused yet delicious looking creations that I  cannot wait to start making.  I'm most looking forward to the 'Lobster Mac and Cheese'.  Being pregnant though, I'm not supposed to be eating shellfish and at 895 calories per serving it's probably not a bad thing.  So for now, it's sadly going to have to wait.

But what I can eat however, is cake.  And this Chocolate Celebration Cake is where I'm going to start with my new hibernating lifestyle. I'm celebrating my hibernation.

For the sponge:
250 g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
150 g quality dark chocolate (70%)
2 tablespoons olive oil
300 g caster sugar
6 large free-range eggs
150 g self-raising flour
4 tablespoons quality cocoa powder

For the chocolate rice layer:
300 g quality dark chocolate (70%), plus extra to serve
1 large knob of butter
1 splash of double cream
100 g puffed rice cereal

For the nougat frosting:
2 large free-range egg whites
3 tablespoons runny honey
200 g caster sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon orange blossom , or rose water, or natural pink food colouring (all optional)

"Every household needs a blooming good chocolate cake in their repertoire, whether it's just for the hell of maintaining your chocolate quota or, of course, for those special occasions where you need a freshly baked cake, or need to arrive somewhere with a showstopper in hand. Regardless, this chocolate celebration cake will reset everyone's expectations of what a chocolate cake should be – it's delicious, it has incredible texture, it looks absolutely amazing, and it's a pleasure to make and watch people enjoying.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Grease a deep 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line the base and sides with a double layer of greaseproof paper. 
For the sponge, smash up the chocolate and melt in a large heatproof bowl with the butter, oil and sugar over a pan of gently simmering water until smooth and glossy. 
Remove the bowl from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes, then, using an electric hand whisk at high speed, one-by-one beat in the eggs until combined. 
Sift in the flour and cocoa with a good pinch of sea salt and beat for a short while until just combined. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for around 50 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out ever so slightly gooey (the top of the cake will rise up and crack slightly, but don't worry, it'll end up covered by all your lovely toppings). 

Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Place on a cake stand, use a long knife to carefully slice the sponge into 3 equal rounds and remove the top two sponges to separate plates.  

For your mega-crispy chocolatey rice layer, smash up the chocolate and melt with the butter and cream in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water until smooth and glossy. 
Leave to cool for 5 minutes (to avoid soggy cereal!), then stir in the puffed rice until evenly coated. Divide the mixture onto the 3 cooled sponge layers and spread out evenly across the tops, going right to the edges.

To make the nougat frosting, place the egg whites in a heatproof bowl with the honey, sugar, cream of tartar, a good pinch of salt and a splash of water. 
Place over a pan of gently simmering water, turn up the heat and, with an electric hand whisk, beat for 6 to 7 minutes or until it starts to form peaks. 
Remove the bowl from the heat, add the vanilla extract, orange blossom or rose water and a dot of food colouring (if using), then carry on beating the mixture until thick. Leave to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then evenly top each sponge and stack them up nicely. 
To finish the cake off, use a large knife to shave some extra chocolate, then sprinkle it over the top (scroll down for a video to show you how to do this). 
Add your candles or sparklers, get them lit and indulge in chocolate celebration cake heaven."

For more info and to watch video tutorials on how to to the tricky bits have a look here.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Having a baby? Part 2

So, as promised, here is part two;  My guide to all things I  think that you'll want and need when your small cherub finally arrives.  
Baby shops see pregnant women as giant pound signs.  The  dream opportunity to try and sell every single baby related product that has ever hit the market.  I'm sure they have a competition going on  over who can sell the most crap to the most the gullible pregnant person.  This list is for very early days - I'm not thinking as far forward as weaning and high chairs, more the first few weeks.

A pram.   I'm embarrassed to say we were lured into a Bugaboo Cameleon that cost more than my first car.  To be fair, she's lasted very well and is in just as good condition now as when she first arrived.  As great as I think she is though, I don't think you need to spend this much to get one that's just as good.

  Whether you live in the town or country will make a big difference as to what you go for.  My city dwelling friends love the light weight, compactness of the Baby Jogger City Mini 4 wheeler and vitally, you can pick it up in one easy move.  Perfect for chucking in the back of a car/taxi/bus at the same time as balancing bags, dog, coffee and baby.  I swear you need a degree in engineering to operate some buggies but there's no struggle with this one. ALevels or not.  

Baby Jogger City Mini 4 Wheeler

If you're after a Bugaboo -I was obsessed with having one- they've just bought out the new Bee3 which is meant to be a 'nifty little urban number'.  I haven't come into contact with it myself so can't comment on it's ease of use.  As far as prams go though, it looks pretty swanky. 
For Country life, I'd suggest a chunky three wheeler.  Phil and Ted's Navigator seems to make a lot of people happy as again does  Baby Jogger's 3 wheeler version.  

car seat.  The hospital won't let you leave without one.  Ours is a Maxicosi that works with the Bugaboo too. And has definitely stood the test of time.

Maxi Cosi car seat

Cot.  If space allows, go for a cot-bed rather than just a cot.  A cot-bed can be extended into a proper bed and you'll have it until they're about five.  It's a no-brainer and most good companies do them.  The bigger Cub's came from a mega-chic French company called Laurette in Paris.  I've said it before but we really were completely clueless and this was the other area where we paid way, way more than we should have done.  But shipping from the UK alone cost hundreds, it looked great and at the time we had no comparisons.

A Laurette sensation.  Really wanted this one.

 In the UK, I'd head for Mamas and Papas or The Little White Company.  The former do a chic grey range called 'Harbour' which would be a perfect choice if you didn't know what you were having and/or wanted something other than white.  

Harbour range from Mamas & Papas

You'll also need a mattress, they rarely come with the actual cot.  Just make sure you get the right measurements.  Ours came from Amazon each time.

Moses Basket.  I was so excited about the moses basket when we first started shopping. God knows why.  They don't last for long so feel slightly like a waste of time but do make earlier days easier.  This is something you really could borrow from a friend - but do buy your own mattress. We were given a spotty white one from Nursery Window that was so visionary it hung out in his bedroom for years.  Cant wait to get her out again in a few months.

Nursery Window spotty voile moses basket.  You don't need the pillow.

Linen.  Baby lists will tell you to buy about ten sheets - we've managed, happily, with 2 fitted moses basket sheets and 3 flat cot bed sheets since day one.

Swaddle.  We were given one of these when the biggest Cub arrived and I didn't have the first idea what to do with it.  And it was brown. Not my best present.  However, one of the nurses in the hospital showed me what do to with it and we quickly became firm friends. Me and the swaddle; not the nurse. I'd be hysterical when it had to go in the wash, adamant that he wouldn't sleep without it.  They thankfully now come in lots of pretty colours so you don't have to dress your baby up as a giant poo.   Merino Kids is the brand you want.

Merino Kids swaddle

If you use a swaddle, you won't use a sleeping bag at the same time.  This comes later, when they've outgrown the swaddle.  Aden and Anais and the Little White Company have ultra soft ones with great designs.

Blankets.  Sleeping bags make life easier but you will still want blankets too.  Think about the traditional cotton cellular ones as well as a warmer wool/cashmere one.  I'm quite obsessed with my cream christening blanket There's something rather old fashioned and comforting about it.  And it's not just for christenings.  Though it is cream so not high on the practicality scale but it looks pretty if you want to pretend you're in a mother & baby advert. Sleeping bags are sized by ages, like with the clothes, I'd avoid getting a new born size.

Changing Table. You don't need, need one but it will make your life a lot easier.  Of course you can change your baby on the floor/bed/kitchen table if you want but make sure you have a chiropractor on speed dial.  If you're going to get one, I'd advise getting one with closed cupboards.  I've done open and closed and having no doors makes it look like a bomb's gone off 24/7. I like Mamas & Papa's Harbour range.

This is the one we got from Laurette.  Proper dream.

Changing Mat.  Just make sure it's wipe proof.  We were given a heavenly towelling one covered in bunnies that I just had to wash every five minutes. 

Baby Monitor. There are now so many different options that the thought of choosing a new one slightly panics me.  Technical items are definitely Chaz's department but all I will say is that we survived for five years without a video one.  They cost a fortune and I think have the potential to turn you into some sort of sleep deprived stalker.  Tomy always worked well for us both here and in France.  Quite worth going into a shop and talking to them about this one as some work better than others with thicker walls/long distance etc.

sheepskin.  For me, it's an essential.  They regulate their temperature and keep them from over heating.  I'm convinced that they sleep better lying on these.  The Cubs still sleep on theirs now.

Sleep suits.  A matter of personal taste but I go to John Lewis or Mothercare for the white basics and then the White Company for prettier and more special ones.  When buying basics I'd go for a multipack of sleep suits - the button up ones with feet, long arms and legs, a multipack of long sleeve vests and same again with sleeveless vests.   And unless you know your baby is teeny tiny, I'd buy age 0-3 months rather than newborn.

Little White Company sleep suit

New born nappies.  I like Pampers.

Baby wipes.  Get on Amazon - you'll save £££.  Again I like Pampers.
Cotton wool.  They advise you to only use cotton wool and water for the first few weeks and not wipes.
Sudocrem.  Go large.
E45.  As above.
Kamilosan nipple cream.
Breast pads.
A baby thermometer.  Splash out and go electric.  
Calpol.  Although not allowed until 3 months.
Nail scissors.  You won't believe how fast they grow.

Steriliser.  Real boring one but you will need one at some stage, even if you intend to breastfeed.  I've managed to blow up about four -always remember to add the water- but think that Avent does the best.  Unless you're using Tommee Tippee bottles and then I'd go for the same name steriliser.

Baby Bottles.  Getting the bigger Cub to drink from bottles nearly killed me.  I tried every single bottle on the market.  £200 later and he eventually decided that Tommee Tippee bottles would suffice.  Again, a matter of personal choice - your baby's, not yours - but Avent, Medela and TT are all very popular.  

Bottle brush.

Cotton/washable bibs.
Baby formula.  Good to have just in case. We've always used Aptamil.

Breast Pump.  You can hire heavy duty, hospital standard ones but if you want to buy your own, both Medela and Avent are good.  Just make sure it's electric and not manual. 

Baby carrier.  These are great when they're very tiny unless you're a weight lifter which means you'll be able to hang out with them strapped to you for much longer. I get about two months, max, out of them.  
This is a real goodie to borrow from a friend if you can.  If not,  Baby Bjorn are good or if you've got a lot of cash to burn, Bill Amberg makes a seriously chic, sheepskin-lined one.  

The Bill Amberg mega-bucks papoose

Baby bouncer.  You can get seriously swanky ones of these but my best has always been one from Mothercare that costs £14.99.  It's wafer-light so you can pick it up and plonk it down next to you wherever you are.  But you might want to wear sunglasses to look at it.  It's not the most tasteful/visionary of creations.

I know there will be a few things that I've forgotten but my own baby brain has taken over so I apologise if I've left off something major.  I'll add them to the list as they come to me.  
Below is a list of my favourite places to shop all things baby.

Nursery Window. 
Zara Home for baby clothes is the best kept secret ever. 
Sue Hill.  Heavenly handmade baby knits.  You can find them in Nursery Window.
Mamas & Papas.
Little White Company.
H&M - for affordable, organic cotton baby grows.
JoJo Maman Bebe.  V good for waterproofs.