Thursday, 18 December 2014

Festive bread-making



It's the first day of the school holidays and we're getting down to business with a bit of festive bread-making. What's so festive about bread, I hear you ask? Not much, really, so we go all out with Christmas tree shaped bread with pine needles snipped into the dough in the way you'd do with hedgehog bread.

The boys got stuck in while I stood well back, not wanting to get my new ASOS Christmas jumper covered in flour. And they did a fine job, even making these neat little dinner rolls to have with our soup!

We always use the same recipe - Nigel Slater's easy white loaf from Appetite. Give it a go this holiday.

Ingredients

1 kg white bread flour
14g instant dried yeast
20g salt
700 ml water

1. Tip the flour, yeast and the salt into a big wide bowl. Pour in almost all the water and mix it to a sticky dough. Keep mixing adding a bit more flour or water until you have a dough that is soft and springy and still slightly sticky to touch.
2. Generously dust the working surface, turn the dough out on to the surface and start kneading. Knead the dough for 10 minutes or so. If you are getting tired that means you are kneading too hard. There is no need for that, just knead it nicely until it gets lighter and springy.
3. Put the dough back into bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave somewhere warm to raise. It will take about 1 hour or so.
4. Preheat the oven to the highest setting, 250C/gas mark 9.
5. Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto a work surface, scraping out the dough that stuck to the bowl. Give it another short session of kneading. Shape into your rolls, place onto a floured baking sheet and dust generously with flour. Cover with a clean tea towel and let it double in size once again.
6. Place the rolls into the oven to bake for 10 minutes. In 10 minutes turn the heat down to 220C/gas mark 7 and bake for another 10 minutes or until cooked - rolls should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on a wire rack.

Thanks to ASOS for sending me a lovely jumper.
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Let it go



There was a time when I used to be a bit precious about The Tree. It had to be the bushiest, biggest, most Christmasy tree I could find. Then, decorating it, white lights only. Pretty, co-ordinated decorations. Nothing too gaudy or clashing.

And then I had kids.

This year, the boys decorated our tree. (Kindly sent to us by Pines and Needles, this lovely Nordman Fir shouldn't drop its needles which is a blessing.) They went nuts with the decorations, putting everything they could find on there, including their own homemade cardboard alien decos.

I confess to a small amount of rearrangement once they were in bed, mainly to ensure this year's new arrivals - the most exquisite handmade ceramic decorations from iamsjm* and a burnished wooden letter 'L' from Anthropologie icon- were safely up high.

But other than that? It feels like the year when I have to park my expectations and let it go.
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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Bloggers Foot: A reflexology review and giveaway



Pity the poor feet of the blogger. Always being photographed in different shoes, different locations. Instagrammed to within an inch of their little toes. Being centre stage can take its toll on the condition of the blogger’s feet, making it extra important to keep heels buffed and toes polished at all times - you never know when those Saltwater sandals will need to make an appearance.

But how do you keep feet happy and healthy? I’ve tried reflexology once before, when pregnant and feeling particularly sorry for myself. It was a relaxing experience, but any kind of sitting down at that stage in the game - even a trip to the dentist - felt like the biggest treat imaginable. Last month I was offered a reflexology treatment from Bristol-based reflexologist, Victoria Davidson of Green Orchid Therapies, and there was no way I was going to say no.

Slotted between my yoga class and my shrink on what I named Chakra Tuesday, the session was a hugely calming hour in what had been a frenzied week. I arrived at The Practice Rooms in Clifton Village, where Victoria introduced herself and made me feel at home in the large, peaceful room. Candles were burning, music played quietly in the background, and the air was perfumed with essential oils.

After a chat about my general health, I hopped up onto the bed where Victoria offered me a warm lavender wrap for my neck. Victoria then cleansed my weary feet with tea tree oil, and began the treatment. Using a reflexology wax made from vitamin E, beeswax and olive oil, Victoria’s technique involves a rhythmic sweeping motion across the foot and toes, resulting in serious relaxation. I tried so hard to keep awake but, deeply calm, I nodded off for a minute or two.

The pressure on the feet was just right - I like a firm massage at the best of times - and there were a couple of moments when I realised these feet of mine had not had any attention whatsoever in years, indicated by the twinges I felt as they came back to life under Victoria’s soothing strokes. The session passed quickly (always the sign of a blooming good treatment) and I was sorry to reach the end.

If you’d like a similar treatment from Victoria, you’re in luck - I am giving away two Green Orchid Therapies reflexology treatments. Just complete your details below to be in with a chance of winning. Winners must be able to travel to Bristol for their treatment, or can give as a gift certificate - the perfect Christmas present.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

OFFER: If you'd like to book a reflexology treatment with Victoria of Green Orchid Therapies, just mention Oyster & Pearl for £5 off your treatment.


Thanks to Victoria for my free treatment. All words, thoughts and images are my own.
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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

New Year's Eve: an Anthropologie giveaway



Long gone are the days of going out for New Year's Eve. Forget expensive nights spent drunk on pricey booze and expectation - instead, we batten the hatches, hunker down, and make our own fun at home.

Let's get into our pyjamas while the sun is setting, light candles that smell of mulling spices. Bake cakes and cookies to snack on in front of a roaring fire. A midnight feast - the best midnight of the year - all cwtched up together in one big bed, reading chapters of classic stories aloud and making up our own with hand puppets. Hot chocolate for the kids, a dark and stormy for the grown ups.

We have everything we need.

GIVEAWAY: Oyster & Pearl has teamed up with Anthropologie to offer one reader a £50 gift card. Just head over to their site to vote for staying in or going out, then enter your details below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Monday, 8 December 2014

Five reads for December


Nancy Mitford, photographed by Cecil Beaton


1. Christmas Pudding

For years, I have adored the Mitfords for their eccentric aristocratic lifestyle, their beauty, and their wit. But, far from being a superficial affection, the things I love most about them are their intelligence and talent. Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climateand The Pursuit of Loveare old favourites, so much so that I packed them in my hospital bag when going in to have my second child - picture me serenely reading as the contractions came and went, without so much as a glimmer of pain showing across my bespectacled face. (That did not happen, by the way. What on earth was I thinking?)

But I have yet to read Christmas Pudding. Recommended by a friend, this is - surely - the perfect festive read.

2. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

This book was a birthday present last week. The kind giver told me that a flick through the pages in the bookshop reminded him of my writing. What a lovely thing to say! Fascinating to see your work through someone else's eyes.

3. The Flavour Thesaurus

What if flavours were like words? What if you could unpick them, use the theory of each component part to make an edible sentence no one has ever come up with before? This book is the perfect gift for anyone wanting to broaden their culinary horizons or those who like to invent. I used it loads when developing the recipes for my book.

4. They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life

I have always loved that Larkin poem. And I'm a big fan of Oliver James's column in the Guardian, too. This book is such an illuminator; not designed to make family strife worse, instead James gives fascinating examples of various scenarios illustrated by stories of people in the public eye. Particularly interesting is the case study of Woody Allen. The implications of this book are a little frightening, though, and I have been thinking hard about my own kids and their upbringing. Painful but necessary.

5. The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

Oh em gee! A cookbook by the lover of Gertrude Stein, describing meals in Paris in the 1920s with Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso? It's like Midnight in Paris brought to life. How did I not know about this?

What are you reading at the mo?


Contains affiliate links

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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Wishlist: Gifts for her (me)



It's my birthday next week. Not a biggie, but a birthday all the same. I disapprove of Christmas beginning before the birthday is out the way, but the older I get the more I realise it's impossible to hold back the festive tidal wave until I've decided I'm ready.

Much as I love surprises, my family has a tradition of asking for and adhering to wishlists. And so here is mine. I imagine it may also serve as inspiration for Christmas gifts for ladies of a similar age who appreciate the finer things in life - and we all have those, right?

Left to right:
1. Hexagon hoop earrings, £44
2. Hand knit hat, £22.78
3. Fair Isle mittens, £18.95
4. Violet Blonde perfume, £50
5. Vintage style brooch, £19.95
6. Glass and brass jewellery boxes, from £20
7. Multi jacquard scarf, £25.99
8. Honeycomb throw, £59.99
9. Turntable, £100
10. Bicycle bell, £15.95
11. Snowflake socks, £6


More wishlist inspiration over on this Pinterest board.

What do you want for Christmas this year?




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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Recipe: Vegetarian Pad Thai



Thailand: home of tropical beaches, temples and totally delicious food. From hot green curry to street food, I'm pretty partial to a Thai meal. In this house, we are all about the noodles. Nine times out of ten when we go out to eat it's for noodles, and my very favourite is Pad Thai. I often convince myself we have to go out or get takeaway as it's just not possible to make a decent Pad Thai at home, but turns out that's not true.

The following is adapted from a Ken Hom recipe, and is just the right combination of hot, sweet, sour and salty - the classic Thai flavours.

Vegetarian Pad Thai - serves 2-4

Ingredients:
225g/8oz flat dried rice noodles
50g/2oz shallots
100g/4oz onions
3 spring onions
3 fresh red chillies
2 tbsp groundnut oil
3 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp light soy sauce
salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
225g/8oz fresh bean sprouts
handful fresh coriander sprigs
4 tbsp coarsely chopped roasted peanuts for garnish

1. Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Drain.
2. Peel and slice the shallots and onion. Chop the spring onions into 2cm chunks. Seed and finely chop the chillies.
3. Heat a wok and add the oil. When it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the shallots, onion, spring onions, chillies and garlic, and stir-fry for one minute.
4. Add the rice noodles, soy sauce, rice wine, lime juice, soy sauce, pepper, sugar and vegetarian oyster sauce, and continue to stir-fry for two minutes, combining the ingredients well.
5. Add the bean sprouts and continue to stir-fry for four minutes.
6. Finally, add the coriander and stir-fry briskly for 30 seconds.
7. Divide between plates and sprinkle with the peanuts to serve.

Although it's somewhere I've always wanted to go, I have never visited Thailand. The food is a massive draw, obviously, as are the beaches, markets and beautiful scenery. And the thought of warm weather right now is particularly appealing. First Choice fly tourists to this amazing foodie destination - it's top of my list.

Thanks to First Choice for helping to bring you this post.
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Monday, 24 November 2014

Advent calendars for adults



Why should the kids have all the fun? With a December birthday, one of my favourite childhood memories was getting to open my advent calendar AND my birthday presents, all on the same day. Last year I made the kids this DIY advent calendar, and even the cat had her own from the vet. But it's been years since I had my own advent calendar.

This year, the kids have been sent an enormous box of Christmas confectionary to be drip-fed throughout the month, and I think this might be the year I treat myself to one. With so many to choose from it can be a tricky decision, but I've managed to get it down to this shortlist of four.

Clockwise, from top left:
1. Carluccio's chocolate calendar, £11.95
2. Masters of Malt Botanicals ginvent calendar, £124.95
3. Moomin advent calendar, around £30 (including postage)
4. Liberty beauty advent calendar, £149

Clearly I don't have hundreds to spend on whimsical trinkets, and the Moomins would be nicked by the kids, so it'll probably be the Carluccio's number for me.

Do you have a grown-up advent calendar? Or is it strictly kids-only round yours?
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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Wreath-making in November






Christmas isn’t usually allowed to start until after my birthday, which falls at the beginning of December. But some rules are meant to be broken, especially when beauty, bloggers and breakfast are involved.

Lori of Wild and Grizzly organised the most charming of mornings, held at the Mockingbird Cafe in Bristol. It’s a very beautiful new space - all scrubbed tables, industrial lighting, vintage knick-knacks and vases of flowers. Plus, they played Dolly Parton and Elvis which makes them officially my kinda people. Sun shone through the big glass windows as we drank coffee, ate amazing buttermilk biscuits with egg and bacon, and got to work putting together our Christmas wreaths, supplied by Laura Ashley.

I’m so happy with my wreath. I chose to stick with just a few of my favourite bits and pieces - pine cones, glittered acorns, red berries and a plume of white and brown feathers.

It’s always a pleasure to get together with fellow bloggers and their sweet kiddos. Seven of us chatted and gossiped, laughed and wreathed (is that a verb?). My fellow makers were Lori of Wild and Grizzly, Fritha of Tigerlilly Quinn, Adele of Circus Queen, Jessica of Along Came Cherry, Laura of Cardboard Cities, and Laura of Side Street Style.

I may have to revisit my no-Christmas-until-December rule after all - since the wreath-making, I have succumbed to my first mince pie of the year. It’s all downhill from here.
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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Lady pirate boots: an update


Remember these? They're the lady pirate boots I was banging on about a few weeks back. Well, in a slightly obsessive fashion, I tracked them down. They were sold in Anthropologie icona few seasons back, and are by a brand called Holding Horses. Eventually, I found a pair on eBay.com, located in America, and the owner agreed to ship them to me. Excitement overload!

The most beautiful piratical footwear set sail across the ocean, arriving at my door last week. Turns out lady pirates have small feet - these turned out to be a size 6. My treacherous feet are a size 7. Excitement overboard.

Enough with the dubious seafaring nonsense. The point of this post is that I now have a pair of the lovely boots pictured above FOR SALE! Drop me a line if you think your feet would be a good match and I can send pics galore.

I also have a pair of replacement boots - these ones pictured below, from Esprit. I'm sure we will set sail on adventures a-plenty, me and these rugged lovelies.









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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Five reads for November




1. Swamplandia!

Female wrestlers fighting alligators? Hell yeah! This book is something else - 'in the Florida Everglades, gator-park Swamplandia! is in trouble. Its star performer, the great beauty and champion alligator-wrestler Hilola Bigtree, has succumbed to cancer, and Ava, her resourceful but terrified 13-year-old daughter, is left in charge with her two siblings. But Ava's sister has embarked on a romantic relationship with a ghost, her brother has defected to a rival theme park, and her father is AWOL.'

Peculiar subject matter meets exquisite writing.

2. Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies

After reading this piece by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, I wanted more. Be Awesome is one of those books I wish I'd read when I was younger. Much of it isn't new, but I like the way she writes and it's a very easy read. Sometimes that's all I need.

3. Life After Life

I forget who recommended this book to me, but I have no doubt it was one of my most well-read and learned friends. I love the premise of Life After Life: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

All the questions!

4. The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project is 'one person’s year-long attempt to discover what leads to true contentment. Drawing at once on cutting-edge science, classical philosophy, and real-world applicability, Gretchen Rubin has written an engaging, eminently relatable chronicle of transformation.' I do love a bit of thorough research, although I'm slightly concerned this might be a bit on the New Age side for me. We'll see.

5. Imperfect Home

A new book by Mark and Sally Bailey, owners of one of my all-time favourite shops (and just in time for my birthday!). The subject is one close to my heart - I really dig the way they leave visible the layers, history and imperfection that most people would decorate over. And I pretty much love everything they do, so this book has me yearning for a return visit to their beautiful store.

What are your November reads?
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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

My favourite room



Back in the summer, I wrote for a piece for the home issue of Lionheart magazine. Super duper editor Hels also asked me about my favourite room in the house, and I picked the bathroom.

I have a real thing for bathrooms that don't have any of that seashell, blue water-themed jazz - just a simple and serene space that just so happens to have a bath and a loo and a basin etc. Recently, Viakal challenged me to make it even more relaxing by sending over a hamper of luxury goodies. It worked.

Gone are the greying flannels and towels, replaced with fluffy white ones from The White Company. Banished is the scrappy bar of soap; instead we're washing hands with the most delicious hand wash from Diptyque, made with lavender honey, rosemary and lemon oil. And, for a final touch of luxury, a Diptyque Baies scented candle. I'm keeping that one for baths taken alone with the door firmly locked, small people fast asleep. The biggest luxury of them all.




Thanks to Viakal for the hamper. 
Contains affiliate links.
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Monday, 10 November 2014

On boundaries and taking care of tender hearts

Boundaries - self protection, therapy, psychotherapy


Take care of this tender heart of mine...

There are times when putting yourself first sounds like the selfish option. Or maybe it's the impractical option, or the just plain impossible option. When I met up with my friend Sam for lunch a few weeks back, she made it clear that she looks after her tender heart (her beautiful words). If she doesn't, who will? It's a good question, one that made me rethink.

We talked a lot about boundaries. In therapy speak, boundaries refer to the limits placed on the relationship between you and your therapist (eg you meet at a specified time and place) and specific boundaries placed on the communications that take place, so you aren't treating your therapist as you would a friend. In real life, it applies just the same. Boundaries refer to any aspect of our interactions with others, including our relationship with ourselves and our environment. It's about self-protection.

Trouble is, redefining those boundaries disrupts the status quo. My therapist uses the metaphor of a dance in which you know the steps and everyone in your life does, too. Changing your steps means you tread on people's feet, or they on yours. Things get uncomfortable, painful even.

Uncomfortable but necessary. Boundaries reflect our core values, our respect for ourselves and our need for safety and protection. They include being able to say no and mean it, or saying yes and meaning it. It's about separateness. It's about privacy.

It got me thinking about where I am in my life right now, and how to apply the idea of boundaries and self-protection as gracefully as possible without resulting in too many broken toes. You'll find no definitive answers here (nor, I suspect, in your own life, not really) but here's what I've learnt so far.

Children


My darlings. Since becoming a single parent, my relationship with my two sons has grown, as has my heart. (Three sizes, perhaps, like The Grinch.) A single parent of either gender has to be everything to their children, right there and then in the moment. But the closeness that brings is worth the pressure. I take the French approach - they have a lot of freedom but there are certain, non-negotiables where I clamp down, hard.

We talk openly and honestly about their lives, their fears, their dreams. If they ask a question, I answer it as honestly as I can, applying my own adult boundaries to their child world where necessary. I give them privacy so they know they are respected and loved as individuals because of (and despite) whoever they choose to be. I'm not saying I get it right all the time, I'm learning as much as they are. But it feels healthy. We have space. We face things head on, we don't look away. It's unbelievably hard at times, but unbelievably rewarding.

Work


The one I find hardest. I have gone from a secure, part-time job to full-time freelance, and it's terrifying and wonderful in equal measure. Only now, I'm the breadwinner, the only one responsible for paying this extortionate rent and all the bills and managing my tax and accounts and setting expectations for what the kids can and cannot have for treat day or Christmas or just because Mummmmmmmm, I realllllllly want it.

If the work comes my way, I have to make room for it. If I'm unwell, I have to soldier on. The buck stops here and there aint no amount of boundaries that can come before earning a crust. Without it, everything crumbles. So I have to be kind to myself and apply what boundaries I can. Get early nights. Eat good, nourishing food that gives me strength and energy. Take the vits. In theory, anyway.

Friendships


The past year has made me seriously reconsider my definition of friendship. Turns out, when the chips are down you do really know who your friends are, and it's definitely not always the ones you thought. If you asked how many close friends I had this time last year, my answer would've been in the tens, possibly the twenties. My life was so settled: I'd been married for ten years to a man I'd known since school, we lived in a beautiful home with our two wonderful children. I was part of a very tight community, whose support was felt most keenly when the kids were babies. The women I regularly bumped into on the school run were my friends. I set up a branch of the Women's Institute. I was part of a much cherished book group. I fought a campaign to get more local school places.. These component parts were pieces of a jigsaw that fitted together so neatly to form my world. Fast forward 12 months and that jigsaw looks like something you'd find left, unsold, at the end of a rainy car boot sale. Incomplete and broken.

Some of these friendships broke because the decision to change the course of my life was unacceptable to those people. Some, I suspect, just didn't know how to respond. Some losses were the result of an unspoken custody battle. Casualties of war.

But the ones that remained are so precious to me it's untrue. The women who were there for me on Easter Sunday when I cried for three hours straight, believing everyone else was happy and I was alone in my pain and sorrow. The ones who carried on texting, kept asking how I was doing even though they knew the answer might be hard to handle, might require energy that they didn't have. The ones who didn't judge. The ones who offered no advice, no words, just their presence and love. The ones I've never even met before but whom I know well through the blogging world.

And the ugly truth of it? Before this happened to me, I was probably one of the former. I'm not sure how I'd have responded if this were happening to a friend, their actions bringing shadows and darkness into my perfectly light world. I can't honestly say I'd definitely have been there for them. But I damn well would be now.

I've had to move away from the ones who can't be there, both geographically and emotionally. Blinkers on, I focus on the things that matter - my priorities: the kids, work, keeping a steady ship for my immediate family, my loved ones, the people who showed up and extended their hand and held mine. My boundaries are firmly established here.

Relationships


My relationships with my family - my parents and my brother - have been rocked so hard by the past year, and boundary issues have really been in sharp relief. Our old dance is dead. But a new one is forming, and it is - I believe - a healthier, more respectful one. There is work to be done but we are willing.

Determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, my new relationship - fragile and young and intense - is defined by communication. I have no desire to be with someone who cannot hold my tender heart in his hands and take care of it as well as I can myself. If something is wrong, I am not going to not say it for fear of him loving me less. Strong boundaries in this kind of relationship are perhaps the most necessary of all. A manifesto for a different kind of relationship includes never bottling it up, always being kind, putting the kids first, cherishing each other, whatever the future may bring. One for regular review.

Home


Never before have four walls and a roof been so important to me. Making this house into a home took energy and love, but it has been so worth it. The time it took to make rooms that make me happy when I'm there, working alone, were a necessary investment. They offer comfort and warmth and security to my kids, preventing us from setting adrift. When I don't feel up to being in company, my home is the perfect sanctuary. While I haven't exactly strung garlic around the door, I decide who gets invited in. Actually, I think this has swung a little too far in the other direction, and I've been craving more company in the evenings. There are meals with friends planned, sitting around that table with good food and music and laughter.

Home. A home for tender hearts.



I'm really aware this is quite a different, difficult kind of post for this blog, and would normally invite comments at this point. Instead, I'll just say this: engage if it speaks to you, move on if it doesn't. Apply your own boundaries if you need to. 

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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Written without my glasses: Beryl Reid's creme brûlée recipe


When I was a very small child, my parents made a bit of extra cash letting out the spare room to actors who were in the city for short spells with Bristol Old Vic - it was something a lot of Bristolians did and still do. One memorable guest was Beryl Reid, an English actress well known for her role as Grandma Mole in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, who must've stayed with us in the early 1980s. According to my parents, Beryl was not happy about the noise my younger brother and I used to make when we woke up, as her life as an actor meant for late nights and late mornings. But she did enjoy eating (and almost certainly drinking) with us from time to time.

My parents are immensely outgoing and love nothing better than an impromptu dinner guest, and I can imagine that playing host to up-and-coming actors was irresistible to them. A fantastic cook, my dad has countless books stuffed with hastily-scribbled recipes documenting his favourite meals of the time, and it was among these I came across the recipe for Beryl's creme brulee.

Scrawled on her own headed notepaper, Beryl has crossed out her name, instead giving the recipe the caveat 'Written without my glasses'. Despite this, the recipe begins well - quantities look ok, the writing is just about legible. Beryl does not pull any punches: she expects the reader to know how to make an egg custard, and writes in a heavily abbreviated fashion. However, around half-way down the page things get a little indecipherable - her hand becomes looser, the instructions more vague. It doesn't instill a cook with the kind of hand-holding security we've come to expect from recipe books today. To bring things up-to-date I've played around with the recipe, filled in the gaps and tested for myself, and have come up with the following fail-safe tribute.

Beryl's Brulee
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1/2 pt (284ml) double cream
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
4 level tbsp caster sugar
4 tbsp demerara sugar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2.
2. Pour the cream into a heavy bottomed pan and set over a medium heat.
3. Whisk the egg yolks together with the caster sugar in a roomy, heatproof bowl, combining well.
4. When the cream has reached a steady simmer, add the vanilla extract.
5. Pour the cream onto the egg/sugar mixture, stirring all the time.
6. Place two ramekins into a large, deep oven tray, and pour half the custard mixture into each.
7. Pour hot water into the oven tray to create a bain marie (water bath) - the water should come half way up the ramekins.
8. Carefully place the tray into the centre of the oven, and cook for 30-35 minutes.
9. Remove the tray from the oven, and the ramekins from the water. Place in the fridge until completely cool.
10. Just before you wish to serve the brulees, switch on the grill. Sprinkle the brulee tops with the demerara sugar, making sure you cover the surface evenly and the sugar goes right to the edge of the dish.
11. Finish the tops under a grill (the Reid way), or with a culinary blowtorch (the modern way) - either way be careful the sugar doesn't burn. As Beryl says, you want a finish that's 'brown, even and shiny'.

I like to serve these dusted with icing sugar and with a few berries on the plate, but pudding purists may like an unadulterated creme brulee. The fun part is cracking through that caramelised top, so all that's really needed is a sharp spoon and a hearty appetite.
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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Lady pirate boots



Oh, there are some horrible shoes out there! I've been trawling for a new pair of boots and have come across some remarkably nasty ones. Why is it that when you're actively looking for a specific pair you can't find them?

The boots of my dreams are ankle boots.

They are devoid of buckles and zips and laces, and yet they have character; they have lived a little.

The leather is good, soft leather.

They have a hint of the cowboy or the biker about them without being a caricature or a costume.

They pull straight on, the toe is not too pointed, and the heel is low.

I think they could be described as lady pirate boots.

Have you seen my boots? Please tell me where they are. I miss them.




These ones I've pinned come close but aren't quite right. The search continues...
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Friday, 3 October 2014

Five reads for October

Sali Hughes and her sons
Photograph by Thomas Butler for The Guardian

1. Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion

From the age of about 19, I've worn the same make up - black, cat-eye eyeliner - accompanied by varying degrees of face/eyelash coverage. As I've got older, I've just upped the quantities and now wear the full face of make up I wore on my wedding day as my day-to-day look. I have no idea if this is a good thing or not. Sali Hughes knows, and I'm deferring to her from now on with her new book. She recommended a glorious Chanel eyeshadow on her Instagram a while back, and I proper fell in love.

2. Middlesex

Book group time again. Looking forward to reading this story of 'Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations. Growing up in 70s Michigan, Calliope’s special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.'
It won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, dontcha know?

3. Vegetarian

My friend Alice swears by her Alice Hart book, and I've only just discovered this one dedicated to all things green and glorious. And Skye Gyngell, she of Petersham Nurseries, has contributed! What could be better?

4. The Priory

I've always been a little bit enchanted by the idea of Persephone Books - a publisher dedicated to reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. Cor, yeah. Hubs went to the capital a few weeks back and went in on my behalf. He requested the best/most popular title and came home with this one. The reviews are almost universally great. Can't wait.

5. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

'Here is the story of what it was like to be a girl at the height of punk: the sex, the drugs, the guys, the tours, the hard lessons learnt and those not considered. From Madonna to Lady Gaga, fashion to feminism, Viv Albertine has influenced a range of exceptional artists. Here, before and beyond the break-up of The Slits in 1982, is the full story of a life lived unscripted, with foolishness, bravery and great emotional honesty.'

Can't NOT read it.

What are you reading at the mo?

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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A micro break in beautiful Bath






Mini breaks are all well and good, but have you ever been on a micro break? Don't worry if you haven't as I've just made up the phrase. Couldn't think of a better way to describe spending a few hours away from home without travelling too far.

Last month, we took our first micro break: to Bath. It's just a few miles from Bristol, and a city in which I work a day a week. Ben came to meet me after work and we headed straight to The Roman Baths Kitchen for supper. It's always a treat to spend some time together without small people interrupting or asking for things, and we enjoyed a three-course meal and some actual conversation. Unheard of.

Our meal was part of a Twilight Tour of the Roman Baths, and so after our meal we crossed over the square to the Baths, where we uncovered the history of the ancient building by torchlight. Exciting! My parents tell a story of years ago when they swam in the sacred waters of the Roman Baths. Rather them than me - the baths were somewhat green, but the tour was fascinating and we learned so much.

To top off a glorious evening, we spent the night at the MGallery Francis Hotel which was one of the loveliest hotels I've seen in a very long time. We stayed in a Feature Room - individually designed, and not at all as traditional as the hotel's exterior might suggest. Instead, think four-poster beds styled with Welsh blankets, Regency tables and chairs topped with a fancy coffee machine in your room, black-and-white tiled bathrooms with an enormous shower. And the bed itself was sublimely comfortable, like a big old fluffy marshmallow. Heaven.

And the breakfast? Well, I do love a hotel breakfast and this one was pretty cool. Smoothie shots and mini pastries, homemade yoghurt with granola and fruit, and plenty of coffee. Both of us had to be back at work first thing, so we headed back to Bristol. It really was a whistle-stop, just-over-12-hours, micro break. Totally worth every second.


Disclosure: We were given a night's stay at the Francis Hotel and pass to the Themae Bath Spa as part of this post. All views and opinions are my own.  
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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Thank you for the days



Twenty years ago, on 24 September 1994, I met two women who would become two of my very best friends.

Picture it: me and my school mucker, all obsessed with Britpop and writing a fanzine and thinking we were the absolute bomb (god, we were insufferable 17-year-olds). Off we went to Gloucester to see our favourite band du jour - Shed Seven (yeah, I know) - LYING to our parents about where we were staying although we had no idea but we just HAD to see Rick Witter in action so it was a kind of justifiable lie, right? Ahem.

I think we'd had some rather inappropriate notion that we might just hang out with the band, perhaps hitch a ride on their tour bus, and that would be completely fine. Thankfully, for everyone concerned, the band were heading somewhere far, far away that night, which left us in a bit of a pickle. My friend and I had spotted four cool looking girls who were next to us at the front, and we asked them whether they knew anywhere we could stay.

This is the bit I can never get over.

All four were staying at one house in Cheltenham and were being picked up by a long-suffering mum. Hannah - of house, car and parent - offered to ask her mum if we could go back too. Remarkably, she agreed. So kind! Six of us bundled into the car (laps, no seat belts) and drove back to the house, where we stayed up all night chatting and laughing. After that, we became pen pals. After that, we became pals.

My two best friends, Claire and Abi. We have travelled and holidayed together, both as carefree whippersnappers and as tired parents. We have festivalled, we have Londoned, we have danced. A lot. We saw in the millennium together, fell in bramble bushes. They were my bridesmaids. They have supported me and loved me and pulled me up when I was being, frankly, a bit of a dick. They have made me laugh like no one before or since. They are always there. Always. Despite never having lived in the same city, I am closer to them in spirit, outlook and sense of humour than almost anyone else I have ever met.

Who'd have thought a chance meeting in the most absurd of circumstances could have changed my life forever?

Thank you for the days, you two. All 7305 of them.

..................................

What would you say to your younger self?

I was asked this question by Legal & General, who are kindly supplying one Google Nexus 7 16GB Wi-Fi tablet as a prize to one Oyster & Pearl reader.

With all of the above in mind, I would say:
Take a chance. Do stupid things if you must. Don't always rely on the kindness of strangers but, if it comes along, properly appreciate it. People really are the greatest fun.
(Incidentally, when I mentioned this post to Abi she said that she would tell her younger self to wear hot pants. You see why I love her.)

To enter the giveaway, login with your Facebook account or name and email address and follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. Increase your chances of winning the giveaway by:
Tweeting about the giveaway (2 points/entries)
Commenting on the blog post (2 points/entries)
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Following lottie_storey on Twitter (1 point/entry)

You have until 12am on Sunday 12 October 2014 to enter. Good luck!


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Sunday, 21 September 2014

38/52



These two.

This moment has come around so fast. In retrospect. It's always the way, isn't it? The days are long but the years are short.

Both my children are now school-age, and we're processing what that means. No big realisation has hit me (yet) that those baby days are long gone. No tears have been shed. No nostalgic outpouring of regret or sorrow or even relief. It is what it is - two boys, both in varying degrees of shabby school uniform, skip down the road to school with their book bags, accepting of what this now means to them individually, together, and to the four of us as a family.

The cobbled-together childcare arrangements are on hold until the school holidays and routine is resumed. It feels good.

Yesterday, faced with a full 12 hours of solo parenting, we piled into the car and headed to the cinema for The Boxtrolls, followed by a (shh) happy meal, a run about, then a trip to the Affordable Art Fair, and finally supper at Wagamama. Mainly, the kids were super sweet and kind to each other (and to me), and a good day was had. If this is what the weekends bring, this school lark can stay.

Joining in with Jodi's 52 project
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