Everest Home Improvements Giveaway: Win £100 of John Lewis shopping vouchers

Much as I love this little house we're in now, I do miss having a bit more space and being able to move between the inside and outdoors more easily. One of the best things we did in the old house was to install giant french doors between the family room and the garden - it's such a good way to link the spaces and to encourage the kids out in the fresh air.

I've always thought of french windows or patio doors as being confined to the living areas of a home, but these pics show that there's no reason why they can't work in a bedroom. In fact, it's a lovely way to make bedrooms a bit more useable in the day, and what could be more dreamy than waking up, flinging open a door and heading out into the sunshine in your pyjamas? 

Sure, you'd have to live in a bungalow, flat, or completely revamp the traditional house format, but I can definitely see the appeal in an unconventional layout if this is what's gained. There are plenty of ideas - conventional and less so - on my new Pinterest board, from traditional period windows to modern bi-fold doors, but all designed to bring in light. Head over and have a look, or browse below.

And for the chance to win £100 of John Lewis vouchers with Everest Home Improvements, leave me a comment with your top tip for brightening up your home in the summer months.

Enter below and give your answer in the comments to be in with a chance of winning. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow Everest Home Improvements on Twitter and Facebook to find out more about their windows and offers, or visit their website Everest.co.uk.
You can also request a free brochure here.

In collaboration with Everest Home Improvements.
Terms and conditions can be found on the Rafflecopter page.
Thank you for supporting the posts that make this blog possible. 

Making espadrilles: a workshop with The Makery

* I'm so behind on posts! Summer holidays and work and all kinds of busy things have kept me from this blog (not to mention some rather irritating technical issues) so please have patience with my tardiness - I WILL try harder! *

Back in June, the day after Blogtacular, The Makery invited me to a workshop at their John Lewis Oxford Street outpost. The day was an opportunity for a few of us bloggers to make a pair of espadrilles.

Esps are (along with those black flipflops with the rainbow straps) THE holiday footwear of my childhood. Each summer, my dad would take us to whatever local shop was nearest to our holiday destination and we'd rootle about in big baskets of espadrilles - kept in pairs with elastic bands and smelling, sometimes, of mothballs - for our size. Committing to a colour took time, but eventually we'd hand over our francs/pesos/drachma and trot off in our new pair. They'd begin as starchy, straight shoes, moulding over the course of the holiday to fit the unique contours of our growing feet until they felt just like slippers. But woe betide us if we fell foul of a freak rainstorm, or didn't watch our step and landed in a puddle by the pool. These babies and water are sworn enemies. Disintegration looms...

With such fond memories of the espadrille, making my own pair was an irresistible idea. Kate from The Makery sent us off to the fabric department to select our materials. It was an even more difficult decision than the village shop basket, but I went for a chevron in the end.

Then, we cut, ironed, and sewed the pieces that would become the upper section of our shoes. Once pinned into place, all that remained was to stitch upper to sole in a most therapeutic fashion (I can utterly recommend it as soothing hangover cure).

Have a look at this video to see just how easy and supremely pleasing this project can be.

Thanks so much to The Makery for inviting me along.

To make your own pair of espadrilles, head here to buy a pair of soles or join one of the workshops.

Blogtacular 2015: A photowalk adventure

A month ago, Blogtacular 2015 happened. Although I didn't take (m)any photos at the conference itself, I made up for it first thing in the morning on the photowalk.

Fifty bloggers + two photographers + enormous balloons + London landmarks = THIS crazy early morning adventure.

Props to Xanthe Berkeley for being an awesome photowalk boss and playing dead like a pro, and hello to my fellow walkees (not an exhaustive list) Melanie, Alison, Susie, Emily, Nina, Heather, Nina, Geraldine, Elisa, and more!

Plus thanks to West Elm for sponsoring this extravaganza of colour.

An Airbnb adventure in Bloomsbury, London

Travelling may be one of life’s greatest pleasures, but feeling like a traveller? Not so much. Standing on an unfamiliar street, squinting at a map, the realisation it might be time to croak out a few words of GCSE-learned language to ask a passerby for help. These are the things that make me cringe a little. I’d much rather appear effortlessly native. Who wouldn’t?

Last month, when in the capital for Blogtacular, the Mollie Makes Handmade Awards, a Team Simple Things planning meeting, and a rather exciting craft workshop (more to come on those!), we chose not to stay in a hotel. Although there are many wonderful hotels in London - more than 700 at the last count - we were staying for a long weekend and it felt like the right time to pop our Airbnb cherry.

Airbnb is an absolutely brilliant idea. Seriously. Over a million properties all across the world are up on the site allowing you to stay in a real home rather than a hotel, wherever you may be visiting. The place we chose was a boho cottage in Bloomsbury owned by Ben (I’m a sucker for alliteration; it was fate). As you can see from these pictures, it’s about as far removed from a sterile hotel as you can get.

My parents are big fans of house swaps, meaning we travelled a lot as kids and stayed in countless real homes. The thought of sleeping in someone else’s bed is not so Goldilocks to me. Just to make us feel extra welcome, Ben was there to hand over the keys, show us round his abode, give directions and recommendations for local cafes and restaurants, and he’d even stocked up the kitchen for us with basics like bread and milk (and a bottle of wine - definitely a basic in my book). After he left, we got a bit giddy exploring this delightfully decorated little cottage.

The ground floor - an open-plan kitchen/diner and living room - was comfy and cosy, books covered most walls and a turntable and stack of vinyl was left out for us to peruse. The sofa and armchair were large and squidgy, various knick knacks adorned the mantelpiece. But the most fascinating thing for me was Ben’s collection of art. Classic oil paintings were hung alongside music memorabilia and pop art prints. I loved his style.

Upstairs, the bedroom felt grand, with its heavy mustard velvet curtains, antique furniture, and doors through to the adjoining dressing room (which also has a pull down bed to allow the cottage to sleep four). A stack of old suitcases were stuffed on top of the chinois wardrobe, a dressmaker’s dummy wore a bowler hat, and a beautifully painted screen made me want to have packed an impractical nightdress and fluffy mules. Elsewhere, two tiny bathrooms were cleverly fitted into otherwise unusable spaces - up in the eaves and under the stairs.

And the neighbourhood? Well, if I were to move to London, all things being equal I’d pick Bloomsbury. The cottage was a few minutes from Kings Cross and Russell Square stations, but an easy walk from Oxford Street, Soho, or Tottenham Court Road. On the night we arrived we headed round the corner to a pub that served amazing tapas, and further down the road was a Waitrose and many other lovely shops and caffs. After the tapas, we went for a stroll to see what we could see, and stumbled on the Foundling Museum. I’ve always wanted to visit this London institution. It tells the story of the parents who left children they weren’t able to take care of, along with a trinket by which they hoped to identify them when they returned. Sadly, we didn’t manage to visit this time but I hope to go back.

By the end of the weekend we were exhausted but didn’t want to leave. The little cottage had begun to feel like home. Without an inflexible checkout time, we were able to pack at our own pace, which removed some of the stress of travelling back to Bristol. But not the sadness. Airbnb is such a reassuringly easy way to travel. I can feel plans brewing already… Here’s to adventures ahead!

You can find details of the boho Bloomsbury cottage here. This property worked out at about £195 per night for two adults. If you are new to Airbnb then you can sign up here and you will get £16 off your first booking.

We received a reduced rate through Airbnb for our stay but all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that make this blog possible. 

A summer wardrobe

The school holidays are almost upon us and we've just booked a week away - hooray! Debenhams kindly sent us a Tripp suitcase and invited us to choose some pieces from their holiday shop to go in it. Here are our picks.

There'll be daily trips to the pool and the sea, so trunks are a holiday essential. T picked two pairs: one, classic stripes and the other with a friendly shark print, while A went for these lime dinosaur trunks.

Summer calls for the most basic of footwear. Crocs are A's shoe of choice at this time of year, while I went for a pair of slim, black flip flops and T matched mine. There is nothing sweeter than a teeny, tiny pair of flip flops (the little chubby feet that go inside, perhaps), although he's still mastering the technique needed to keep them on your feet!

I am under no illusion that summer = wall-to-wall sunshine, at least not in this country. So I picked this lightweight mac.

But, to counter the practical, I also went for the most impractical shiny tote bag. There's something about going on a plane that brings out a sensibility in me that I first saw in my aunt who ALWAYS had sequins or metallics on at least one element of any outfit.

And finally, I'm a bit of a perfume junkie so I picked up a new scent for summer - this one is a heady rose fragrance.

What are your packing essentials? And what are your top summer purchases this year?

In association with Debenhams

Inspired by... / 06 Wuthering Heights

I have always judged books by their covers. See also records and, to a degree, films. As a result, my shelves are filled with beautiful but random titles. Hours spent mooching about on the internet naturally brings up the same content time and time again, and I recently noticed that there is one book that seems to have inspired illustrators and artists so much that it has multiple, gloriously designed covers available.

I didn’t do so well in my English A Level (I was busy buying records with cool sleeves - PRIORITIES) but, had I been in the other class at school, I would have read Wuthering Heights. The Kate Bush song is clearly incredible and one of my all-time favourites, so I kinda know the gist of the story but that’s where my knowledge ends.

Recently, I confessed my shameful secret to a friend. Her reply? Apparently, ’it’s one of those books you have to read as a teenager’. What?? I’m too old now? This is bad news indeed, for I would buy any one of these delightful editions for the cover alone. I hear the contents is pretty amazing, but maybe the idea of it, with its classic soundtrack alongside all this dark and magical imagery, will have to do.

Recipe: Almond pressé & Snack Happy Challenge update

almond presse orgeat spritzer recipe | Oyster and Pearl blog

I'm at the end of my Snack Happy Challenge with the Almond Board of California. After three weeks of carrying a neat little tin of almonds in my handbag (particularly useful at Blogtacular, which I'll be writing up very soon!) and eating a handful every day, I've really noticed the positive effect on my energy levels and wellbeing.  And so, I'm celebrating with a glass of this delicious fizz.

One of my most vivid memories of childhood holidays in rural France involves food and drink (n'est pas). The heat of the car on long drives would prove too much (this was long before air conditioning was commonplace) and so my brother and I would beg our parents to stop at one of the picturesque little roadside cafes found in every village we passed. The more rustic of cafes did not serve the 7-up or Orangina that we craved; instead, our options were limited and, out of necessity, we grew to love the classic citron pressé. The raw ingredients - fresh lemon juice, ice cubes, sugar and water - would arrive on a tray, ready for us to mix to our own taste. Can you imagine anything that could possibly feel more sophisticated to two rather lumpen English pre-teens? Perhaps superseded only by the Brut de Pomme (an apple drink we swore made us drunk).

Fast forward many years to the cafe at the newly opened Lido. The drinks menu was as beautiful and innovative as the Lido itself, with pineapple and mint coolers or cucumber seltzers on offer to the thirsty swimmers and spectators alike. The standout drink was an almond pressé - a sweet, lemony fizz with a marzipan seam running through it. My friend Alice and I used to go there regularly, mainly just for the almond pressé as it was so unlike any drink we'd tried before. And then the fateful day arrived - the almond pressé was taken off the menu.

Here it is, recreated using homemade almond syrup from scratch. You can also buy almond syrup - look out for Monin orgeat syrup.

almond presse orgeat spritzer recipe | Oyster and Pearl blog

First, make a lemon syrup:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Juice of eight lemons

Put the sugar and water into a pan together and heat until the sugar dissolves.
Set aside, and add the juice once the syrup mixture has cooled a little.
Pour into a bottle, seal and store in the fridge.

To make the almond syrup (or 'orgeat' as it's known in the cocktail trade):

680g almonds
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 tbsp orange flower water

Toast the almonds in a large pan over medium-high heat, tossing frequently until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the almonds, sugar and water to a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for at least 12 hours. Strain repeatedly through muslin or coffee filters until the syrup is free from almonds and discard the solids. Add the orange blossom water, transfer to a bottle and store in the fridge.

To make the almond pressé:

Fill a glass with ice cubes.
Pour over 50ml almond syrup and 75ml lemon syrup.
Top with soda water, garnish with mint leaves and slices of lemon.

Cheers! Here's to almonds :)

And, for the perfect cocktail hour snack, try this Bloody Mary almonds recipe.

almond presse orgeat spritzer recipe | Oyster and Pearl blog

Read the previous Snack Happy Challenge post and recipes here.

This is a sponsored post.

Review: Timbrell's Yard, Bradford on Avon

There is something about a train journey that fascinates small children. The excitement builds on the way to the station, luggage to be negotiated, tickets bought, and platforms located. And when the train pulls into the station… well, the thrill is just too much. The best train journeys with small children are short ones, however, as the novelty of the question ‘is this our stop?’ can wear off after a while.

Bristol to Bradford on Avon is about the perfect distance to go when outnumbered by two small, overexcited boys. At the end of the May half term week we headed to Wiltshire for a night away from the city. As we hopped off the train onto the platform we decided to follow our nose to the hotel, which turned out to be a very quick walk. Left and left again and we arrived at Timbrell’s Yard.

Open for just nine weeks, Timbrell’s Yard has the feel of a country pub that’s been there forever, the big sandstone facade standing straight and tall overlooking the river. Newness could be felt in the interior design, just modern enough to feel special, just traditional enough to feel in keeping with the picturesque country setting.

After a quick drink in the sunny outdoor garden (not a beer garden, exactly, more a sun trap with elegant tables and chairs, perfect for drinking beer), we were led to our room - 106 - up at the top of the hotel. No lift, but we’d travelled light-ish. The room was a big square double room in the spacious eaves, with a giant roll top bath by the windows. Nothing delights kids like exploring a hotel room, and so beds were duly bounced upon, ideas hatched (‘let’s watch TV while we’re in the bath!’), and sweet treats found in the form of a little jar full of boiled sweets and labelled (perhaps a little unnecessarily) ’eat me’.

The sun shone and so we took a little photo walk around Bradford on Avon. The church on the opposite side of the water to the hotel is a picture perfect country chapel and is open for visitors to have a peek. T announced ‘I think the king lives there’. Well, he is only four. Then, we passed chocolate box houses framed by roses in bloom, buildings dating from the mid-nineteenth century, and interesting shop signs. There isn’t a huge amount to entertain small kids in the town itself - they were rather mesmerised by the gold post box (painted to celebrate the town’s Olympic gold medal winner, Ed McKeever), and, although we were too late for the museum, we found boxes of decommissioned books outside the library on sale for just 30p each. The kids could not believe their luck - nine new books for £2.70? Cool!

Walking the path between the hotel and the river, under the railway bridge and across a meadow takes you to a giant playground with pretty good play equipment, where the boys threw themselves about for half an hour before our 6pm dinner reservation.

The dining room is bright and modern - bit industrial, bit modern antique - and the staff could not be friendlier. Both kids (with napkins tucked into jumpers) were treated so kindly, and ordered from the dedicated kids’ menu: sausages and chips for A, fish and chips for T. Aged nearly eight, A is perhaps too old for children’s menu portions now, and had to order an extra portion of chips to fill that growing tummy of his. Their food arrived at the same time as my starter, a delicious asparagus risotto with a crumbly nut topping that was the perfect combination of textures. Just as they were finishing their main courses, mine - chicken with an heirloom tomato salsa - arrived, and was so fresh and full of flavour, and worked well with my glass of hauntingly pale Provencal rose.

A large blackboard hung from the ceiling, visible to the kids from our table, listing the pudding options. The spectre of ice cream hanging over our meal did not disappoint. T picked two scoops of chocolate while A went for the salted caramel. I chose a puckeringly zingy lemon pudding with a sweet shortbread biscuit, accompanied with a glass of Riesling. It was perfection.

Bedtime loomed, and we all headed up to the bedroom. As predicted, bath time with telly is a hit, and we all hopped into our pyjamas and cwtched up in the giant, extraordinarily comfy bed to watch Britain’s Got Talent. Guess who fell asleep first? Certainly not T who was ice-creamed up to the max. Yep, me. But the boys soon settled down and we all slept well.

The next morning, we headed down for breakfast, back to that big-windowed dining room. Pastries from the Bertinet Bakery, juice, jam and fruit were laid out on a central table from which you can help yourself, whereas cooked breakfasts are ordered from the table. We went with both. T loved the scrambled eggs, I swooned over the silkiest vanilla yoghurt, while A wolfed down rashers of bacon, describing his meal as ‘epic’ and ‘legendary’. That’s some review.

Again, staff were super kind to the kids, treating them with so much respect and the boys loved ordering their own meals. Although not specifically a kid-friendly hotel (there is nothing on offer just for children, no toys or DVDs so you might need to take your own), the boys were made to feel so welcome. It didn’t go unnoticed.

Although heavy rain hammered down all morning, we headed home to Bristol feeling relaxed and happy. Timbrell’s Yard - we’ll be back.

In association with i-escape.
We received a complimentary stay and meals for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Recipe: Homemade almond butter & Snack Happy Challenge update

Two weeks into my 21-day Snack Happy Challenge with the Almond Board of California and I'm feeling perky. A few people have commented on how good my skin looks which I put down to the vitamin E content of the almonds, but could equally be the high levels of magnesium (which contributes to reducing tiredness and fatigue) or linoleic acid (omega 6) found in this tasty little nut.

As well as snacking on a handful of almonds each day (30g or so is about right), I've been looking for other ways to incoporate them into my meals. One very easy way to use almonds is to make them into nut butter. Really, it could not be easier - only one ingredient is required and the food processor does it all for you.

Homemade almond butter

For a large jar you will need:

450g (3 cups) almonds
Salt - optional


1. Put the almonds into the bowl of the food processor, fitted with the most deadly of blades (I think it's called an S blade).

2. Switch on the machine and watch and listen as the almonds tumble about and clatter against its plastic sides.

3. The almonds will start to break down and become sandy in texture, a little like a crumble topping.

4. Keep going, stopping only to push the mixture down the sides of the bowl if it looks as though they're being left out.

5. Before long, your almond butter will start to look less grainy and more smooth, and will clump together like a dough. Keep going, keep going!

6. The dough consistency turns into a smooth paste. At this stage, I poured a teaspoon or so of salt gradually down the funnel into the mixture. The almond butter is ready when you see it turn shiny - this is when the oils are released and the process is complete. It will feel warm to the touch, and tastes creamy and delicious.

Use as you would peanut butter, and store in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It probably won't last that long, though.

Read the previous Snack Happy Challenge post and recipes here.

This is a collaborative post.
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