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Friday, 28 November 2014

How to Style your Christmas

OK, so the Yanks have had their Thanksgiving fun. Now it’s our turn. With Christmas on the doorstep, isn’t it time you started thinking about (Norwegian) sprucing up your home? I've put together a few ideas to give your neighbours a run for their money in the yuletide style stakes.

Step away from the keyboard and pull out a pen and one of these bad boys this year. With just enough of a homemade feel to them, your friends and family will really think you care (when actually you can be spending your time on the really important stuff – catching up on MasterChef). Crafty Christmas cards are just the ticket for your nearest and dearest – get yours at  

Cute little bags full of I don’t know what, but they certainly look festively fetching. Grab a couple of bags and tie on some cinnamon sticks and berries (and a wooden spoon if you’re feeling really generous) to make any gift merry. Gorgeous. 

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Not sure if this is actually Christmas, or just summer in Alaska but I’m loving the reindeer cushions in this pale winter grey. Add to the Inuit look with a couple of large fisherman lanterns and a throw. Log cabin and snow optional. 

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If you’re having hoards of guests over, the likelihood is you’ll all be fighting over your favourite blanket when it comes time to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Buy a couple of extras and pop them in a basket like this ready so you don’t have to give yours up. Then all you’ll need to worry about is wrestling for a spot on the sofa…

Sick of too much glitz and glitter at Christmas these days? Me too. I’m all for a traditional look. These delightfully delicate origami stars by Justine Hand are the perfect nod to just that, and they’re even made from discarded vintage books. If that doesn’t make you feel romantic, I don’t know what will. Plus they’re only $10 for three from here.
Got some new faces at the table this year? Then why not make everyone a sweet little placeholder ‘card’? They’re really easy to make, all you’ll need is a few pinecones, some tags and a can of spray glitter. Ok, I know I said before that I like traditional… but this glitter is ok. Just keep it tasteful people.
Really can’t be arsed to make them? You can get yours to order here

If you do end up making those bags and have a few cinnamon sticks left over, why not use some tied with twine to jazz up your linen? If that’s too much trouble, a sprig of rosemary also looks great plonked on a more rustic napkin (unless you’re more of a kitchen roll person, in which case Sainsbury’s do a rather fancy range). 

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We all know you’ll be up ‘till midnight wrapping the damn presents, and you may run out of ribbon. It happens, trust me.  If it does, don’t worry, grab some parcel string and brown paper and go for the recycled chic look instead. Newspaper also looks surprisingly good too, so no need to run to 24 hour Tesco in your slippers.

These folks have had a great idea if you’re broke (it also looks pretty stunning too). Save a bundle on decorations and pop down to your local fruit and veg shop instead. Pick up a grapefruit, some pears and a couple of big oranges for a few quid, then slice them and slowly dry them out in a low oven. Cover them in PVA glue, and let them dry until they’re shiny and stiff. Hang them from the tree, the stairs, or even Grandma’s ears while she’s sleeping. Wherever you put them, they’ll look fab. 
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And finally, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without shitloads of lights. Candles, tealights, fairylights, neon Santas (if you must)… whatever you like, make sure there’s light.

You can pick up this pretty mesh table runner and candle set here.

Happy sprucing! 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Egon Schiele

Haunting, fragile, uncomfortable, defiant. Schiele’s nudes each have their own character and mood. He does like a good vagina or two, so it’s not for the faint hearted. Kate and I went to have a look at the weekend at the Radical Nude collection at The Courtauld Gallery. (No cameras allowed unfortunately so you’ll have to make do with pictures from the internet).

His subjects namely being sex and the body, his work is extremely varied. Some seem feeble and gentle with pale and washed out colours, the tentative almost apologetic lines, even the submissive poses of his subjects. Crouched, hunched, hidden beneath cloth, they seem to be receding from the page. Others are seductive, pornographic, aggressive even. Pushed out chests, spread legs, prominent genitals all make them difficult to take in – it seems Schiele was a randy young man a bit obsessed with lady bits (there are a lot of muffs), but he was also rule changing in how the human form is presented. Schiele’s work pushes us to feel rather than just observe.
This first image is of his sister. She’s strong, lean, thoughtful and composed. She’s comfortable in her skin and not at all sexual in my mind, despite having lost her top. 

In contrast, he paints the second woman as vulnerable and girlish, with no hair on her vagina she seems young, but sexual with her long post coital hair flowing down her back. 

The third is provocative. Her tilted head is suggestive and her red hair and fiery nipples make her confident and forward. I can feel his lust for her, despite her being quite ugly. Her vacant expression suggests she’s done it all before and to Schiele perhaps just a body from which to get his kicks. 

This piece is perhaps the most intense for me in terms of emotion. Her aggressive and defensive body language keeps us out and contempt oozes out of every pore. Whether she actually looked like this, or if Schiele was painting his perception of her is another matter. I can’t imagine why she’d sit for him if she hated it that much… 

The last is like a little doll. She’s a sad, a child-like figure with a weak, watery disposition (oddly except for her lips and nipples). Maybe she was dying of the influenza that killed him, or maybe he just saw her that way. In any case, she’s no curvaceous goddess reclining on a chaise longue. 

We only stayed for half an hour or so, the bulbous labia and sexually charged poses were too much for us. Pop along yourself to the The Courtauld gallery next to Somerset House. The exhibition is showing until the 18th of January next year.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

5:2 - 3 month mark

So, three months (99 days) on this plan, and I'm 11lb down. It's been slow, but it's been easy (mostly). The very fact that I'm still on it shows this is a sustainable, long term thing. My desire to eat unhealthy food on my 5 normal days is diminishing too, oddly (not my desire for white wine, unfortunately). I've found myself drawn to Slimming World meals on Instagram this week (it's amazing how many 'likes' a poached egg and spinach can get!) and I'm finding it to be a great source of inspiration for meals. A lot of people ask what you can/should eat on the 5:2, so thought I'd share some of my meals. Warning: there will be a lot of avocado. 
Bacon is always a cracking way to break a fast. I do love bacon. Lately I've been grilling it more instead of frying, but still with lashings of brown sauce. 

Poached eggs, avocado and tomatoes on wholemeal bread. Another fast breaker and good for a hangover (although I don't drink on fast days). 

Leon do the most amazing salads, and a new branch has just opened up on Tottenham Court Road. This particular gem is Lamb Kofte, slow cooked with chilli, garlic and cumin. Piled on top is a load of hummus, cabbage pickle and pomegranate seeds with a superfood salad. Delish. 

Not the most attractive of dishes, but I have to say Sainsbury's microwave meals are a lifesaver on fast days. This is the mushroom risotto, with extra rocket. Each meal is around 300 - 350 calories and they're perfect for an evening meal with around 200 cals for lunch. Technically you're supposed to only have 500 cals on a fast day, but some days I do stretch it a little if I need to. 

More poached eggs and avocado, this time with bacon... I've learned this is apparently 'yolk porn'. 

This is a fast day meal. A fillet of salmon with soy and garlic, poached mushrooms and salad comes to about 275 cals. I would probably have had a pot of Diet Chef cous cous for lunch (250 cals). 

Inspired by Slimming World, this lovely salad has prawns, pasta, feta cheese, olives, avocado (of course) and a teaspoon of green pesto. Ideal to prepare the night before and take to work (I'm crawling to pay day so packed lunches are a must right now). 

On Saturday I met my sister at Somerset House to have a look at the Egon Schiele exhibiton. Having spent a good twenty minutes being cultural (translation: laughing at the big muffs) we popped to Pizza Express for lunch. We both had amazing salads and shared a lovely bruschetta to start.  The salads weren't that healthy - lots of creamy dressing and cheese... but still amazing. 

Of course there have been more meals in between - a few pieces of toast here and there, the odd yoghurt, and even a couple of Big Macs (I'm not even sorry). But overall I'm eating better on my 'feast' days than I did at first, and my arse is definitely looking smaller. Roll on next Summer when I may be ready to share some transformation pics.

Monday, 17 November 2014

5 Signs I'm Getting Old

I realised something dreadful this weekend. I think I might be getting old. Not quite old old, but definitely a far cry from the perkiness of my uni days. They’re only little things, tiny really… but when you add them all up I fear my early twenties are fast coming to an end. Granted I’m not quite ready to set up camp in B&Q just yet, but it’s a slippery slope to old fartdom.

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I discovered I hate clubs. A fun little bar for a bit of dancing? Absolutely. But when Friday night’s drinks down the pub took a turn for the more upbeat it turns out I’m a bit of a bore. After a boozy meal with my sister I decided I was not yet ready to throw in the towel. I gatecrashed Tomasz’s evening and turned up for more gin fuelled fun at the pub. Come 1 o’clock I was in the mood for dancing so herded everyone into a cab and down to Fabric in Farringdon. I’d been trying to get there for ages and eventually my time had come, but the bubble surely burst after one of us was told to ‘have a coffee’ to sober up (since when do you have to be sober to get into a club? Surely that’s the point to be pissed when you go in?)
Then I got my sachet of pasta ‘n’ sauce taken off me (a remnant from lunch, but what a waste!) and my £300 camera was taken too  for ‘safe keeping’. Naturally I was pretty pissed off. After being frisked a little more, trying to navigate the winding corridors of endless queues and ‘atmospheric’ smoke, coughing up the exorbitant entry fee and getting bashed and bumped by the usual crowd of drunk fuelled tossers, I couldn’t have felt less like partying.  I was worrying about my camera, we kept losing straggling sheep from our herd and the bar tender chirpily told me it’s a £15 minimum spend for a drink. Marvellous. The music was also crap. At 18 when 4am came around I was still full of beans and devastated when the night had to come to an end. Eight years on I couldn’t wait for my bed, and the thing that got me most hyped up? The Uber home was only £15.

The second moment I felt my age was this morning on the tube. Monday mornings are always shite but today it was not the usual armpits and nostril hair of the smelly commuters or even the sheets of freezing rain that got my goat. It wasn’t the crawling progress of the train coupled with the inane and pointless announcements of the train driver telling us we were ‘experiencing delays’. Nope, today it was a young couple smooching next to the escalator. Fair enough a farewell hug and a kiss, but is it really necessary to stick your tongue down each other’s throats when most of us haven’t had our morning brew? Please, let’s keep it clean people – Monday commuters alert.

It’s no longer acceptable to wear any pants which are not akin to something Bridget Jones would be proud of. I gave up on thongs a long time ago, but now even the lacy pretty pants feel like scratchy hell. Now it’s ‘bigger the better’ and I’m only a little bit embarrassed by it.

The fact that I have only £100 left in the bank to last me 2 weeks before pay day no longer feels like a funny challenge. It’s just sad and led to me giving myself a good talking to about lack of budgeting and irresponsible behaviour. Fair enough, I had a great time, but having to explain to my kids a few years down the line that Mum spent their lunch money on a bottle of wine or a burrito isn’t going to fly.

I can no longer watch America’s Next top Model without gagging. I used to tune into Tyra Banks religiously when I was younger, sobbing that I wasn't as emaciated as the poor victims of Miss Jay’s criticism. It could be personal growth, but actually I've just traded in for Housewives of Beverley Hills instead…

On reflection, these changes are definitely for the better. Drinking with friends where you can actually have a conversation is always more favourable than attempting sign language while having beer tipped down your back, and public displays of affection are no less special when they’re kept conservative. As long as the nights with friends and the moments of intimacy are still there, I suppose the way it happens is just a change of style. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

This Week's Love List

This week I can’t get enough avocado. For those who know me, you’ll know I’m a bit obsessed anyway, but this week I seem to want to include it for practically every meal (apart from the fasting days!) Everything tastes better with its rich, velvety butteryness. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll see it has made quite a few appearances, but I am finding myself drawn to all recipes with them in, and even day dreaming about them in meetings. Surely this isn’t normal?
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Lauren Talbot at Glow reckons it  might be because it’s winter and my body is craving that nutrient dense ‘good’ fat that avocado provides. Or that I’m doing so much exercise I need to replenish my stores (nope, that can’t be it…). Could it be the ol’ hormones, my lady cycle, or perhaps the pill causing this? No idea frankly, but avocados just feel good for me when I eat them, and any advice which tells me to cut them out will be instantly ignored. They’re full of flavour when they’re ripe, they’re soft and easy to eat, colourful, vibrant and not to mention their vitamin content is insane. I may be able to cut them out twice a week for my 5:2, but for the rest of the time they’re fair game.

This picture caught my eye this week. Rich woodland mushrooms, gently sautéed in butter with a touch of brandy all piled on some delicious fresh bread. It reminds me of big forests and log cabins and a large man named Hans (for some reason). Perhaps I have some Germanic roots I didn’t know about… or perhaps I’m just hungry and like mushrooms styled on a scrubbed wooden board and some hessian. I’m a sucker for food porn and food blogger Nagi gets it just right. 

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When my mum came to stay she brought with her a tin of Virginia amaretti biscuits. Soft little crumbly bites with the nostalgic taste of marzipan. They’re sweet, romantic and ever so slightly Christmassy, so they’ve made it onto the list. I’ve eaten the whole tin this week (trust me, it was romantic, I think Tomasz only got one). I may even be tempted to make some of my own using this lovely recipe, although it may be slightly dangerous and I doubt many would make it through the night.

With cocktail and party season nearly upon us (although with our family, that’s generally all year round), I’m looking for some interesting ideas for a tasty beverage. The extremely talented author of Local Milk has snuffed out something interesting and I’m taking notes; sage and ginger prosecco cocktails. I love the spicy warming flavour of ginger, but I’ve not tried it with sage so I’ve got to give it a whirl. Admittedly it’s a bit twatty and something you’d get served in a welly or a plant pot if you were in Brixton, but if we don’t overdo it, it could be rather splendid. I love her dark and atmospheric photos too – have a look at her blog if you get a sec.

Now these are just so cute I couldn't resist. Totally useless, but it’s all in the name of Christmas. This super crafty lady shows you how to make your own. The reindeer mug may be overkill. 

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Last on the love list is Poland. I'm having a bit of a Polish moment right now. I have started having weekly lessons and listening to Audible (also on the list!!) to get an hour of listening in every day on my commute into work. We'll be spending Christmas with Tomasz's family this year, so I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into the traditions. I've been warned there's a lot of church, and even a fairly grewsome tradition of keeping a fish in the bath before you give him a bash on the head and eat him... but I'm also hoping for snow, fairylights, markets and some good vodka naturally! It should make the fish bashing more palatable... 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Eat 17

Eat 17 is one of the smarter restaurants in Walthamstow village, with its sleek modern interior and food just edging on the side of pretentious. (It’s ok though, it’s on the good side). The service is great, and the menu is changed frequently enough that there’s always something new to try. It gets busy at the weekends, so book in advance. If you live nearby, go on a week day so you’re more likely to get a table. 

Fuelled with a couple of bottles of a lovely light, dry Pinot Grigio we made our way through some of their tasty offerings. Crispy fishcakes with creamy remoulade topped with succulent local leaves for Dad to start, a fresh crab and avocado salad for me, and some hot chicken wings for Tomasz. The pictures of the wings didn’t come out too well (Tomasz was hungry so I was under too much pressure!)
We also added a little nibbly plate with bruscetta, marscapone and Eat 17’s homemade award winning Bacon Jam. Sounds odd, but it’s really special. Sort of like a sweet red onion chutney slathered on a Boxing Day ham. They sell it next door at the Spar and it’s definitely worth squirreling away a pot if you can. 

My main course was fairly epic. Pink and juicy duck, scored and seared to crisp perfection, with a glossy gravy, caramalised red cabbage and creamy dauphinoise potatoes. It was beautiful. Dad had the fish of the day; cod with Moroccan spices and giant cous cous and for Tomasz a gormet burger, with melted cheese and a basket of chips. Now, the chips… twice fried, crunchy and golden and pillowy soft inside. These chips were mega. They were so delicious we may have stolen most of them off him, and had to order another basket… just maybe.

Now, stuffed as we were, Dad wanted a pudding. He is a sucker for crumble (apparently his evil wife never makes it for him) so I felt I should keep him company. While he drowned that crispy sugary crumb and spiced fruit with cream, I nibbled on Blue Montana, a lovely strong Sussex brie and some sharp and crumbly Westcombe cheddar. They came with little black biscuits instead of bread mercifully, I don’t think I could have had bread as well. 

Swimming in Pinot and full of cheese we ambled back home to rest our fat little bellies. 

Eat 17’s website is here. They also have a Hackney branch. If you're in that area of London pay them a visit and let me know if it's as good as its cousin. 

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