Wishlist: For her (me)

Not going to pretend there's much of the need or the read on this list. Instead, it's unashamedly WANT! with a few wears thrown in for good measure, both for Christmas but also for my birthday next week. It's been a hard year and a girl could use a few treats. I'm not going to apologise.

1. Print / 2. Jersey yarn / 3. Cable wristwarmers / 4. Necklace / 5. Tinted moisturiser / 6. Bobble hat / 7. Coat / 8. Boots / 9. Jumper / 10. Cushions / 11. Casserole dish / 12. Clutch bag

Any of that lot tickle your fancy? Or have you a hankering for something else?

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Christmas ritual: The gingerbread house

decorated Christmas gingerbread house sweets
Image source

*Shhhh....* Last weekend it was stir-up Sunday, the traditional Christmas cake-baking day, which passed me by. But I've already bought a few bits and bobs for Christmas. Well, it is a month today!

As well as a few tree decorations, I've bought one of my favourite festive essentials - the gingerbread house. Every year the kids get to decorate one of the pre-baked, ready-to-assemble IKEA houses with icing and retro sweets.

Despite wanting a classically beautiful gingerbread house like this one:

decorated icing Christmas gingerbread house sweets
Image source

Or these (actually, I think they might be candles):

iced decorated Christmas gingerbread house sweets
Image source

... the result is always a bright and brash Pollock-splattered iced extravaganza, all available surfaces covered in colourful sweets.

One year we managed to get over £8 of pick and mix onto two houses, although there *might* have been a few eaten over the course of the construction.

decorated Christmas gingerbread house sweets
Image source

And, there's often a moment where a gable end begins to crumble, causing some Kevin McCloud style consternation about whether we're ever going to get through the build intact. But, just like Grand Designs, it all works out okay in the end.

Will it last until the big day? Course not. Do I care? Course not!

Food: Riverford Guest Chef Recipe box

Riverford recipe box anna jones guest chef

Sometimes it seems like not a blog post goes by without me mentioning Anna Jones. Yes, yes, I'm a fangirl and all that, but for good reason. She's just the bomb when it comes to vegetarian/vegan food with enormous flavours.

Riverford recipe box anna jones guest chef

Riverford Organic Farms got in touch with me to ask if I'd like to review one of their veg boxes recently, and when I spotted that Anna was one of their guest chefs I had to say yes. Recipe boxes are such a thing these days, and one I'm in two minds about. On one hand, I find it all a bit prescriptive and it often seems quite expensive, but on the other, it's such an easy way to eat good, real food and to try meals you might not necessarily have chosen yourself.

Riverford recipe box anna jones guest chef

When my Anna Jones box arrived it felt a little like Christmas - all brown packaging and twine, it felt like a treat to open (I'm like this with post anyway, but big boxes? YES). All the ingredients for three meals (each serves two people) were contained within, carefully packaged to ensure they arrived safe and sound. Even the spices were measured out into tiny pots, making me feel like a Blue Peter presenter (always a dream!). Three recipe cards explained how to make each one, and for the AJ box were a combination of recipes from both her books - A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook.

Riverford recipe box anna jones guest chef

While I've eaten quite a few recipes from both books, this box contained recipes I had yet to try - Beetroot Curry with Spiked Cottage Cheese, Warm Kale, Tomato and Coconut Salad with Quinoa, and Sweet Potato and Puy Lentil Pie.

Riverford recipe box anna jones guest chef

First up was the Beetroot Curry. There is nothing more appealing to me than an unusual curry, and this one featured the flavours of south India - curry leaves, black mustard seeds and coconut. My friend Lara came over to eat with me and we were both kinda bowled over by the taste and the beautiful jewel colours of the pinky purple curry. Utterly delicious! And I've since made it again.

Next, we tried the Sweet Potato and Puy Lentil Pie. This is just my cup of tea - warming and wintry, a dish that is hearty and comforting but doesn't leave you collapsed on the sofa too full to move.

And finally the Warm Kale, Tomato and Coconut Salad. This was my least favourite dish of the three, as I wasn't convinced by the combination of flavours and textures. But I think that's more about my personal taste rather than the recipe itself or the raw ingredients.

With everything weighed and measured and ready to go, the recipe box made cooking these three dishes an absolute breeze. All the fruit and veg were such lovely quality it was a pleasure to cook with such fresh, quality ingredients. My only quibble would be the layout of the double-sided recipe cards - they weren't particularly intuitive which didn't make it easy to follow. I ended up finding the recipes in my books and following from there.

Riverford recipe box anna jones guest chef

Have you ever tried a recipe box before? What are your thoughts? Do you like a prescriptive way of cooking or are you more free-form? Let me know in the comments.

Riverford sent a recipe box for the purpose of this review but all thoughts and images are my own.

Interiors: Houseology and a new Anglepoise lamp

houseology anglepoise lamp review

Anglepoise lamps have been around since 1932 but remain an absolute design classic. That familiar shape combined with precision engineering results in one of the most perfect designs of the 20th century. No wonder they feature all over the place, from the Pixar ident to Royal Mail stamps celebrating the best of British.

When Houseology kindly asked if I'd like to review one, I jumped at the chance. To me, Anglepoise lamps are iconic - as much of a classic as Penguin books or the Mini. That's not to say they are old school. The thing about classic design is that it works with most interior styles, from polished modern to vintage industrial looks.

houseology anglepoise lamp review

I decided to put my black Anglepoise 1227 Table Lamp to use in my favourite reading nook. In one alcove of the dining room I have three shelves filled with my cookery books, and an armchair under the window in which to sit and read. (Yes, I am one of those foodie geeks who like to read recipe books!) The lamp is perfect here, and its infinite angles and bends mean I can get the light just right, whether I'm sitting upright or slouched down. The 1227 Table Lamp recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and here it sits alongside a photograph of my grandparents on their wedding day, Boxing Day 1938. I love the synchronicity of these two beautiful items from the same era placed together in 2015.

houseology anglepoise lamp review

Also shown is a print by Dee Dee Cheriel, a particularly lovely wooden fruit crate, and a neon pink wire fruit bowl from Tiger, showing that the Anglepoise 1227 Table Lamp is a pretty versatile light.

houseology anglepoise lamp review

Houseology recently launched their AW15 lookbook and there are some beautiful looks here. Below, I've picked out my three favourite festive images.

Ever seen How to Marry a Millionaire? This look reminds me a little of the lodge in Maine Betty Grable visits. Love those sheepskins!

 As Christmas dinner tables go, this is one I'd love to sit down at for a roast with all the trimmings.

I adore the geometric pattern on this crockery, and the understated frostiness of it all.

Which do you like best? Are you a fan of classic design? Do you share my love of reading recipe books?

Oh, and Houseology has put together a few tips on wintery lighting - go see!

Anglepoise lamp c/o Houseology.
All words are my own.

Hand cream: a minor obsession

For years I have been obsessed with hand cream. The infatuation began when I was in my early twenties, working on a website with a very glamorous producer called Anna. She always had a tube or jar of hand cream on her desk, and used to apply it periodically throughout the day. Anna had beautiful hands and nails. It didn’t take long to realise the two were related.

Around that time I started to have regular manicures and my nails were immaculate. It seems laughable now that I had the money, the time, and the inclination to keep them so groomed - today, my nails are very rough and ready, uneven lengths and often with chipped polish. There just isn’t time for anything else.

But there is time for hand cream. Turns out this might be something of a universal obsession, one my new neighbour Bethie shares. The thing about hand cream is that it offers a quick little burst of luxury at any time - before bed, after washing up, on the go - a ritual for psychologically bringing you back to yourself, a little reminder to care for yourself. I like to keep a travel tube in my bag as it’s a pretty effective way to immediately improve your personal space on smelly trains or anywhere that feels less than sanitary.

Here are my favourite hand creams:
1. & Other Stories Fig Fiction hand lotion, £7. I wrote about the figgy wonder of the Stories range last year, and my affection for it goes on. Hand soap and lotion sit on the shelf above the kitchen sink as my reward for washing up.
2. Dove Pro Age Nourishment hand cream, £3-4 from any chemist or supermarket. Bethie's tip, it's thick and creamy with that trademark Dove scent.
3. Dr Hauschka Hydrating hand cream, £13. This one is a mild, all-natural cream with a herbal fragrance. Dr H is a long-term like here at O&P.
4. Jurlique Rose Hand Cream, from £13. The one that began the obsession. Anna introduced me to Jurlique, an Australian brand, all that time ago. If you want true, natural rose fragrance, this is the one for you.
5. REN Citrus Prebiotic hand cream, £18. Ren is one of my favourite skincare brands, producing quality products without parabens or other nasties. This hand cream has quite a strong, lemony fragrance but leaves paws so soft.

Hoping for snow

A desire path is a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall. Desire paths emerge as routes where existing ways take a circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent.

The image of a user-created path, in seeming defiance of authority, across the earth between the concrete, has captured the imagination of many as a metaphor.

Desire paths sometimes cut through sensitive habitats and off-limit areas. They provide an indicator to park management of activity concentration, although they are taken for a multitude of reasons by path-goers at different times. Techniques to block the creation of desire paths including fences, dense vegetation, or signage; however, hikers still penetrate these barriers.

In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible. People naturally choose desire paths, clearly marked by their footprints, which can be then used to guide the formation of new paths.

Travel: A wanderlust inspired by my parents

One of the defining characteristics of my childhood, and therefore biggest memories of my parents, is of a family obsession with travel. My dad was self-employed and made sure he never worked in the school holidays - lucky us, this meant we were free to head to that year's destination of choice.

There were weeks spent in Tuscany, where we befriended another family and us kids were horrified/delighted to hear about a drunken skinny dip resulting in one of the parents getting stuck inside a rubber ring. That made for an interesting breakfast the next day.

Or the time we got horribly sunburnt in Malaysia, completely unaware that such an overcast day was actually so potent. There were countless drives down through France after long, lumpy ferry journeys overnight, or the time a car caught fire on the sleeper TGV somewhere on the outskirts of Paris.

The big holidays included two years when we spent a month in America each summer. We swapped houses with families from Boston and San Francisco, and New Mexico and Seattle. I couldn't have been luckier, seeing so much of the world before even hitting adulthood.

These two are hungry for new sights and experiences. I'm glad that they're spending their retirement following their hearts and discovering the new. As well as regular trips to France and Greece, they recently spent a month in Bali, Australia and New Zealand, and are as into those house swaps now as they were years ago, peppered with an Airbnb or two.

I wonder where they'll venture next. A Caribbean cruise, perhaps – they’re big film fans so I can imagine them heading off to explore the Pirates of the Caribbean route to escape from the UK weather. Cuba appeals to their love of music and colour and excitement, so they’d be well placed to enjoy the white sand beaches of Playa Paraiso. Or, somewhere colder, a trip to the frozen north for the opportunity to see the Northern Lights, and the whales across the Article Circle and Northway, which would appeal to my mum’s love of wildlife.

Or somewhere really off the beaten track. Who knows? Nothing would surprise me.

Recipes: Six ways with squash and pumpkins

six squash and pumpkin recipes
Pretty pumpkins and gourds outside a Copenhagen florist

Remember how I whinged on about autumn in this Greek salad recipe post and in this Aperol Spritz recipe post? One of the ways in which I persuade myself it's not all bad is to buy silly squash and gourds to lump onto the mantelpiece in an effort to brighten up the house. But today kinda feels like the Twelfth Night of Halloween and it's time to clear the decks.

With three beautifully gnarly pumpkins loitering on the worktop, I tried to remember whether the greengrocer sign specified decorative or whether they could be eaten. I took to Google. Luckily, this winter squash identifier from Epicurious has solved the mystery.

six squash and pumpkin recipes
Winter squash identifier

So mine - all edible - are:
3. The squat and sweet Red Kabocha
4. The mellow Carnival
8. A much greener version of the bumpy, lumpy Blue Hubbard (I think).

Oh, and I stoopidly bought a butternut on Friday, forgetting that I have plenty of pumpkin to be getting on with. But what to do with them?

Recipe one

The Red Kabocha has already been dealt with, as it was beginning to develop a bit of bloom. Freestyling a bit, I quartered it, scraped out the seeds and lay each chunk skin-side down. Into the little vessels I place a clove of garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes and some salt, along with a small blob of coconut oil, and roasted in the oven for 20 minutes or so. This roasted, spiced squash is going to form the basis of today's lunch - seven seed sourdough toast, squashed roast squash, a drizzle of tahini and a sprinkling of parsley.

Recipe two

Anna Jones, author of two of my favourite cook books, has a brilliant recipe for Roasted Coconut, Lime and Tamarind Curry, which calls for a butternut, acorn or kabocha squash. I made it last week with a pumpkin donated to me by a neighbour from his allotment, and it was fabulous. Recipe note - the 500g coconut is a typo and should be 50g!

Recipe three

This is one from my book, The Mount Athos Diet - Spaghetti with Leeks and Butternut Squash. It serves 4.

You will need:
1 large butternut squash, peeled and roughly chopped
200g wholewheat or spelt spaghetti
olive oil
1 medium leek, white part only, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
5 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
30g Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Boil a large pan of water and add the butternut squash chunks. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon (reserving the pan and water for cooking the spaghetti) and place in a bowl. Add the pasta to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions. Blend the squash using a hand-held stick blender or mash with a potato masher until it is a puree. Add a little olive oil to a large pan and set over a medium heat. Add the leeks and crushed garlic and saute until soft and beginning to brown. Add the squash puree together with the sage and parmesan, then season with salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thick, use a little of the pasta water to thin it down. Once cooked, add the drained spaghetti to the sauce and stir well. Serve with a little more parmesan if you like.

Recipe four

Risotto is one of my favourite dishes ever and I've probably made squash risotto with sage more than any other kind. Here's Martha Stewart's recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto.

Recipe five

Denis Cotter's Cafe Paradiso in Cork is one of those places that goes down in vegetarian folklore. I've never had the pleasure of visiting the restaurant myself, but have cooked many a beautiful dish from one of his books. This Squash, Potato and Cashew Roti sounds pretty immense.

Recipe six

Moroccan Chickpea and Squash Stew is a dish I cook probably as much as any other - it's warming, sweet and comforting.

Do any of these tickle your fancy? Or have I missed a really obvious squash classic? What do you do with yours?

Read more recipes from Oyster and Pearl if you fancy some culinary inspiration.

Top 10 tips to help you take the perfect travel selfies

Selfies may look simple, but there’s an art to getting these images right. Here are 10 travel selfie tips to bear in mind when you point and press.

1) Think about the background

Always pay attention to what’s in the background. For example, on some city breaks to rome, be sure to capture impressive sights like the Colosseum, the only difficulty you'll have is deciding where to go next.

2) Be brave

Anyone can capture a cheesy grin on their camera. To make your travel selfies stand out, be adventurous and take snaps in unusual and daring situations

3) Take group photos

Get plenty of snaps of the people you meet on your holidays too. Nothing beats a perfectly posed group selfie.

4) Experiment with different angles

Try taking pictures from different angles too. This is a simple way to mix up your shots.

5) Look out for street art

Keep your eyes peeled for street art on your trip. This can make for interesting backgrounds.

6) Don’t take the same shot twice

Selfies should be spontaneous, so never take the same shot twice.

7) Think about flash

Don’t forget to switch your flash on if it’s dark.

8) Take advantage of the late afternoon sun

Make the most of the soft light conditions in the late afternoon.

9) Tell the story of your adventure

Use your camera to tell the story of your trip from start to finish.

10) Have fun!

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun!
As long as you follow advice like this, you should succeed in taking the perfect travel selfies.

In association with expedia.co.uk

Never run out with HP PLUS Win a printer and year's supply of ink!

Words are my world. I've always wanted to write - always. When my book came out last year it was a total dream come true. And now I'm working on my second, but that won't see the light of day for a while yet.

Being invited to contribute to a children's book was a chance that came out of the blue. The email was a little cryptic, mentioning illustrators and chapters and imagination, but there it was in black and white. An invitation for me and the kids to think up ideas for a beautiful story for kids wasn't one we could turn down. We said YES.

Harrison & Hugo's Imaginary Zoo is a collaborative book by illustrator Tom Percival along with eight other collaborators. It's packed with colourful characters and tells the tale of two friends who go on an adventure. The theme to the story is never letting your imagination run out which ties in with the HP service 'instant ink'. The service works by automatically ordering you new ink online when it senses your printer is about to run out of HP ink cartridges, it also can make buying printer cartridges a lot cheaper too by opting for different plans according to your needs. Find out more about the HP Instant Ink service and see how the book is coming along here.

Each week another page will be added and you can keep up with the story by following the hashtag #neverrunout.

It was such a treat designing our spread. My littlest boy, T, is notoriously obsessed with bats and all things spooky. We couldn't resist including this bat in our spread - we're both enchanted with the rainbow trail he leaves as he flies. Isn't it beautiful?

We're so happy to have been asked to take part in such a fun and interesting campaign, and can't wait to get our hands on a copy of the finished book.

And that's not all! HP are also giving one lucky reader a HP Envy 5644 All-in-One Inkjet Printer plus a year's supply of ink. All you need to do is enter the rafflecopter below and good luck!

in association with HP

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sleeeeeeep: A mattress review (part one)

Leesa mattress review

Leesa mattress review

Sleeping is one of my most favourite hobbies. I've always been a world-class napper, excellent at lie ins, and I'm one of those infuriating people who can nod off the second I hit the pillow. My FitBit tells me how long it takes me to fall asleep - a quick look at the app this morning shows it takes between three and nine minutes. I'm surprised it's that long.

Leesa is an American company that launched in the UK in July this year. Offering just one mattress (the best quality premium mattress possible at an affordable price - from £390) in varying sizes makes for a quick and simple online purchase, and the guarantee - 'if you’re not sleeping better on a Leesa within 100 nights, we can donate your mattress to a local charity and provide a full refund' - takes the stress out of this big purchase.

And we should be sleeping better, as the mattress has three layers (12 cm core support, 5cm contouring foam, 5cm cooling foam), which offers all the benefits of a memory foam mattress, without the disadvantages of “sleeping hot” and the “sinking feeling”.

What's brilliant is that the mattress arrives, just a few days after ordering, in an unfeasibly small box. It's vacuum packed, essentially, meaning it's easy to transport or store while still packaged. But once you break the seal it expands to a standard super kingsize (in our case) mattress. Have a look at this timelapse of ours springing into life:

It's a little early to tell just how good this mattress is. First impressions are that it envelops your body, giving you a warm, soft hug when you climb in. I tend to favour a firmer bed, but this one isn't all squidgy and soft, instead it yields initially but remains supportive at its core.

Leesa mattress review

Come back in one week for a full review. Meanwhile, here's where to shop the look:
Mattress / Bed / Bed linen / Grey blanket / Coloured blanket / Sheepskin / Bedside tables

And if you want to try one of your own, buy a Leesa mattress with a £50 discount.

Leesa mattress review

How do you sleep? Do you like a soft or firm mattress? What would your dream bedroom be like?

In association with Leesa, who supplied our mattress for review.
All words and thoughts are my own.
Thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible

Recipe: A Greek salad (for an Indian summer)

Greek salad recipe from The Mount Athos Diet

Usually, with the arrival of autumn, my little heart is like a leaf withering on the tree then falling, pathetically, to the ground, only to be stomped on by a woolly'n'welly wearing passerby. Not this year. This year, autumn has triumphed. It's warm and it's blue and it's bright - well done, autumn, you've successfully held my hand through and out the other side, heart intact. Heart full, in fact.

Much as I love the hearty meals called for in colder months, this gentle transition of September and October has seen lighter (even summery) meals, still finding a place on my table.

One such treat is Greek salad. This is one of those classics that - done badly - can be truly, maddeningly sub-standard. Shop-bought Greek salads... well, prepare to be disappointed. And it's quite unnecessary as this is one of the easiest of speedy suppers to throw together with just a few fresh ingredients.
Greek salad recipe from The Mount Athos Diet

Greek Salad

A classic Greek salad, this version has a little less of the usual quantity of dressing. Serve with crusty bread. 

Serves 4

2 large tomatoes
1 medium cucumber, peeled
120g feta cheese
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced into fine rings
10 Kalamata olives
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
pinch of dried oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice each tomato into eight wedges. Slice the cucumber lengthways before chopping each half into thin slices. Use a fork to break up the cheese into bite-sized chunks. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives and cheese. In a small cup, combine the oil, vinegar, oregano and salt and pepper. Whisk the dressing before pouring over the salad. Serve immediately.

Greek salad recipe from The Mount Athos Diet

This recipe is taken from my book, The Mount Athos Diet. Get hold of a copy here.

And I was thrilled to receive some Cole + Mason products from John Lewis, which have been brilliant in this recipe. Firstly, the spice carousel with its 16 jars of herbs and spices is pretty much all anyone needs in the kitchen. I absolutely love the salt and pepper mills, which have a brilliant switch that alters the coarseness of each. And finally, an oil and vinegar mister is an ace way to add dressing and flavour to salads without coating too heavily.

Five reads for October

Nigella Lawson by Mario Testino, Vogue

Whoops. The last time I wrote a Five reads post was back in June. Still, that's given me plenty of time to unearth new gems, hasn't it?

Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food

Not exactly breaking news, I know. She's been all over the press with this new book, but that's not a good enough reason not to feature Simply Nigella this month (I can think of very few reasons, if I'm honest). Instead, here is a list of all the things I bloody love about Nigella:

:: She used to write a beauty column for Vogue. One tip that I've never forgotten is that she would always prioritise groomed brows over any other make up. She's so right.
:: Her 'disgust' for clean eating (on the basis it suggests other kinds of eating are 'dirty'). Nige is all about balance.
:: The way she writes. She believes recipe writing is a form of autobiography in miniature. Never has a food writer inspired me so much.
:: Those brilliantly knowing TV shows. Just having her on in the background is as soothing as stirring risotto.
:: The books. For me, in particular, How to Eat and How To Be A Domestic Goddess (my copy is signed!).
:: The fact she is 55 and looks so damned peachy and hot, especially in those wiggle dresses.

I think I'd better stop now.

My Brilliant Friend

When recommendations pop up all over the place for the same book, you know you have to pay attention. Elena Ferrante is a mysterious Italian novelist - apparently no one knows who she really is - whose books have spread through word of mouth. Good job, really, as she refuses to do any promotion of her work, supposedly saying 'I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.'

Brave stuff. But it seems to have worked...

F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way

Another recommendation, this book is said to have inspired a major life change in a friend-of-a-friend. The writing style is a little trendy new age but I'm enjoying the messages (only a third of the way through so far). Love the sound of the retreats the author and his wife run in Italy, and you can do a 'how F**k It are you?' quiz over on their website.

The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopaedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust

Every so often a book comes along that could've been written just for you. This is one such tome. If you've seen the Word of the day posts extolling my love of unusual words, you'll get it right away. And these ones are *just* about human emotions? Phwoar. Sold.

A Modern Way to Cook

Book-ending October's Five reads are recipe books, I know, but they work together so well. Two brilliant, female cooks sharing their love of delicious but balanced food, two gloriously evocative writers laughing in the face of the fine line between healthy eating and taste. Anna Jones is a marvel - so many of her dishes have become such favourites (try the avocado spaghetti or dal with sweet potatoes in A Modern Way to Eat, and the white bean burritos or the quinoa or the buddha bowls or the green herb omelette in this book). My friend Lara and I went to see her do a demo in Bath a few months back. We concluded that Anna Jones must have some kind of dealing with the dark arts of cookery so explosive are her flavour combinations, so nourishing is her choice of ingredients.

What are you reading at the mo? Let me know...


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