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Wednesday 30 April 2014

Beauty products that look as good in your bathroom as they do on you

We've all been lured in by the packaging of a pretty beauty product, only to find it's terrible on the skin. But there are some brands that take both design and efficacy very seriously, and the result is products that look beautiful and luxurious on your dressing table, but also do what they're supposed to. Here are some of my favourite brands to turn to for beauty treats that you'll want to show off and use up!

There's no shortage of pretty perfume bottles in the world, but so often said pretty bottle disguises a truly disgusting, synthetic scent. Not so with heritage brand Penhaligon's, where the focus is on classic blends and timeless fragrances that just happen to come in the prettiest vintage-style bottles. Whether you like true florals like rose and bluebell, or something more exotic and woody, there is a perfume for you. Obviously the Domestic Sluttery scent of choice is Juniper Sling, aka the Gin Perfume.

You have to respect a brand that can make a bottle of nail polish remover covetable, and that's exactly what Paul & Joe has done (that's it, top right). Cutesy boudoir is the name of the game for the French label, which is probably most famous for its cat-shaped lipsticks and limited edition printed packaging. The good news? The products are actually very high quality too. Trust me, I've had cat on my face multiple times.

Some of the best beauty brands in the business were launched by makeup artists (Bobbi Brown, anyone?) and the latest is one of the most highly anticipated and gorgeous ever. Charlotte Tilbury excels at making the most of your natural beauty, with a range that starts with skincare (her Magic Cream is already legendary) and then includes glow-inducers, sexy taupe shadows and killer lipsticks. But the real sell is how glamorous everything looks. Who knew an eyelash curler could look so much better in rose gold?

If you prefer your bathroom to resemble a French chemist rather than a girly boudoir, L'Occitane is the place to go. So many people only know this brand for its hand creams, but I actually don't rate them and think the real gems are elsewhere. One friend always stocks her bathroom with the lavender liquid soap, and I can't wait to use it when I visit. My favourites come from the incredible Immortelle skincare range, which comes packaged in cool yellow and blue glass jars and bottles, and will make your skin look amazing. The Divine cream is exactly that!

Finally, you can pretend you run a victorian apothecary when you start shopping for skincare at Aesop. The Aussie brand is all about combining nature and science, with a heavy focus on anti-oxidant ingredients. The branding is instantly recognisable, and though it was actually designed to be simple so it wouldn't detract from the products themselves, it's become cult with minimalists worldwide. The shops are a joy to behold, the complete antithesis of a crowded, busy beauty hall. The products themselves are meticulously concocted, smell incredible and do what they're supposed to do.

Top Ten Tasty Things on Toast

Toast really is the best thing since sliced bread. Pop a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster and a few minutes later you've got the base for a rather brilliant supper. The world of things to put on toast is endless and we've got our favourite recipes for you.

Beans! You can't contemplate any other recipe until we've dealt with the obvious. Our Boston baked beans are a departure from the usual tinned stuff, one you'll be glad you made.

No, we couldn't forget cheese on toast either. Welsh Rarebit is the perfect blend of cheese, mustard and ale spread on toast and grilled until bubbling and delicious. Yup, I'm hungry now, too!

Devilled mushrooms on toast works wonders on a hungover stomach. The spice will wake you up, the mushrooms will fill you up and the toast will stroke your forehead in the loving way only carbs can. For a smoother, less spicy dose of mushrooms, spread some mushroom pate on your toast instead.

Of course, toast makes a handy breakfast, too. If you prefer your toast with butter, try switching to chocolate butter for a very special start to the day. Our Earl Grey milk jam is another simply genius spread for toast (one slice will never be enough). If you'd rather have strawberry jam or lime curd, we've got that covered.

It's not a top ten recipe round up until we've shared a cocktail with you. You might think that we'd struggle to find one with toast, but you'd be wrong! The Breakfast Martini is here to save the day.

Still hungry? Check out more of our top ten recipe posts!

That's So Fetch: A Mean Girls Birthday Cake

"I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy."
Crying Girl ("she doesn't even go here!"), Mean Girls

The day has finally arrived, fangirls and fanboys: Mean Girls turns 10 years old today, and I'm excited. So excited, in fact, that I have made a special cake to celebrate. 

When I first started thinking about making a Mean Girls birthday cake, I knew it had to fulfil certain very important criteria:

1) It had to involve pink, and a lot of it. After all, it's a Wednesday. (I couldn't resist including the whole scene here for giggles.)

2) The aforementioned rainbow should be hidden inside.

3) It had to be totally fetch. Because I'm still trying to make fetch happen.

I think I've ticked all the boxes with this six-layer cake. I will be forever indebted to BBC Good Food, who had already worked out the frightfully boring domestic science part by making an impressive rainbow cake - I followed their cake measurements to avoid tears. I swooped in with the much more interesting Domestic Sluttery part of the proceedings, and made my secret rainbow varying shades of pink (we can call it ombré if you want to be fancy), and used a suitably pink-sounding, pink-tasting flavour combo of raspberry, rose and vanilla. I made the icing as per their guidelines, but I won't tell if you use pre-bought buttercream icing. You'll probably need three tubs of Betty Crocker or similar to ice and layer the whole cake. 

This would, of course, make a lovely cake for anyone's birthday, mean girl or otherwise, in particular fellow pink-lover Bagpuss (12th February, and he'll be 41). It looks impressive, and although the list of steps below is lengthy, it's pretty straightforward. It's just making six cakes, and it's more about patience than skill.

Mean Girls Cake (serves everyone who can sit with us)
Preparation time: 1 hour
Baking time: 1 hour
Assembly and decorating time: 30 minutes
You will need:
For every two layers of cake (you'll need three times these ingredients for a six-layer cake like mine)
  • 125g unsalted butter ("is butter a carb?"), plus a little extra to grease your cake tins
  • 225g plain flour
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 level tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp flavouring (I made two layers with raspberry extract, two with rose water, and two with vanilla extract)
  • Pink food colouring (Wilton's are good, and I used a combination of their Rose and Pink shades)
For the icing (whole cake)
  • 3 x 250g tubs of mascarpone
  • 1 tsp flavouring (I used raspberry extract; the norm would be vanilla)
  • 350g icing sugar
To decorate
  • Pink sprinkles of your choice (I used pink sugar and tiny pink chocolate hearts)
  • Pink writing icing (Mine is Dr Oetker's Glitter Writing Gel in neon pink, and was - unusually for icing pens - wonderfully easy to actually write with)
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease two 20cm/8in cake tins, and line the bottoms with baking paper.
  2. We're working in batches of two layers at a time, otherwise there won't be space in the oven. Mix the cake ingredients, minus the food colouring, in a food mixer (remember - if you're making a three-flavour cake like mine, each batch of two layers will need a different flavour). A quick blitz is fine - a smooth batter is what we're after. 
  3. Weigh the wet mixture, then remove exactly half into a separate bowl. For reference, my total weight was 606g, so I ended up with two bowls of 303g each. Note down your particular figure, as you'll need to remember it for the next batch.  
  4. It's colouring time! Be restrained with the food dye - that old suck-a-lemon warning about how you can add more, but you can't take any away is true. I used a skewer to add a minuscule amount at a time, stirring well before deciding if I needed to add more. I found it easiest to make the darkest layer in this batch first, because that way I got used to the food colouring and its quirks, and it didn't really matter if I added too much while I experimented.
  5. Pour the batters into the two cake tins - making sure to get them nice and level, and to use every drop of mixture - and bake in the centre of the oven (same shelf) for 15-20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their tins to cool a little, then turn out onto a wire rack while you get on with the rest.
  7. Grease and line your tins again, then repeat steps 2-5, using a different flavouring if that's what you've decided, and of course making the sponges different shades of pink. I may have consulted a Dulux colour card, but I quite soon abandoned that in favour of winging it. Also, when you weigh your mixture in order to half it, make sure the total weight is the same(ish) as it was for the first batch.  
  9. Go through steps 2-5 for a final time. Now you should have six thin sponges in all the shades of pink, ranging from palest pink to OOFT-WHOA pink. 
  10. When all the sponges are fully cooled, it's time to assemble and ice. Make the icing by whisking the mascarpone and flavouring extract until smooth (about half a minute using an electric whisk). Fold in the icing sugar bit-by-bit, using a spatula to gently mix it.
  11. Put a small dollop of icing in the centre of your cake stand. Place the darkest cake layer on top of this, then add a layer of icing on top. Right to the edges, please, and don't scrimp - I used two tablespoons per layer. Smooth it out using a spatula, and place the next darkest layer on top. Repeat until you've got the palest cake on the very top.
    The crumb layer
  12. Quickly and roughly cover the whole cake with a thin layer of icing. This is the crumb layer, so called because it picks up any loose crumbs and means your final layer will be blemish-free.
  13. Now cover the cake with the rest of the icing. At this point, you'll probably be looking in the bowl and LITERALLY SHOUTING, "This is never going cover the whole cake, Laura!". It will. I promise. Slap it on and smooth it around the sides, top, edges, and not forgetting that really hard-to-get-to bit right around the base.
  14. NOW DECORATE. Sprinkles, quotes, whatever you like, just make it pink. I went for "so fetch" because it really is, isn't it? I was going to go for "On Wednesdays we eat pink", and then I was completely creeped out by that sentence. 
  15. You've made a six-layer, raspberry, rose and vanilla rainbow cake! How many slices should you have right away? 4 for you, Glen Coco! You go, Glen Coco! 

I learned a few things along the way:
  • Cut out all six pieces of baking paper for the bottoms of the tins when you do the first two. You will thank me when you're not searching for the scissors part way through your second batch of sponges.
  • Take time levelling off your layers in their tins before you bake them. I was a little gung-ho, and with a bit more care my cakes would have been more even. That said, who gives a damn? It still looks brilliant and tastes amazing. If you're a stickler for the details, though, this is a step you'll want to take a little longer over.
  • The sponges will bake very true to the "raw" colour, so bear this in mind when you're adding your colouring. However, don't be disheartened when two or more look a bit samey straight out of the oven - the spongier inside will show the nuances when you slice through.
  • Don't fret about the icing. Slop it on and whoosh it about if you want. When you try to be too neat, another bit goes awry, and you drive yourself demented smoothing icing - plus, horror-of-horrors, it could split if it's overworked. When in doubt, add a heap of sprinkles to cover an imperfection. No-one will look at your icing once you've cut into the pink rainbow delights within.
  • Normally I'm the world's biggest advocate of eating a little bit of batter here and there while you prepare your cake. In this instance, however, we want the sponges to be the same size, so eating half the mix before it's even in the oven isn't an option here. The same goes for the icing, as you really will need it all. There will be plenty to eat once it's finished. 

Design Porn: Vintage Novel Clutch Bags


Lovely bag, lovely bag...

Argh! It's a book bag!
A bag that's a book!
I mean - it's novel!
Or a novel.
Oh God, I need a lie down.

I've very rudely been keeping these wonderful clutch bags from my friends at The Literary Gift Company to myself (they're not actually my friends. I would just like to be friends with them. Can you imagine what their home must look like? I die.)

These bags come with two straps - one shoulder, one short - so you can have your beautiful bag however you like. Even the lining is printed to look like book pages, and they have The End printed on the back. SWOON. They're designed by Disaster Designs who I LOVE.

One for your punctual friend: beautiful faded red leather effect - it's actually PVC - on A Timely Engagement.

Stunning font on A Forbidden Love ... although suddenly The End is feeling a bit abrupt. What if it stopped being forbidden? What if everything worked out brilliantly? What if? Oh, sod it. Keep your sexy intrigue, and flaunt it on the end of your arm.

Beyond The Garden of Eden bag
Feeling dreamy? Why not. Take Robert Coward's hand and let him and take you away from it all. Cornwall, apparently.
Erm...I don't want to play favourites, but this beautiful! Gorgeous! Stunning! Paradise at last Found clutch bag is clearly my favourite. The lilac-grey cover! Those wonderful floral illustrations taking me straight back to Cicely M Barker and her army of Flower Fairies. Completely dreamy and utterly beautiful.

Or maybe it's this one. Look at the lovely brass fittings on the corners of Lost in the Apothecary! Plus more flowers. Plus more gorgeous red. Gah.

Each of these lovely bags is £36. Job done. Happy days. The End.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Shop in the Spotlight: The Shop of Interest

My little internet jaunt started with jewellery Kirsty Fraser. I really love her walnut honeycomb necklaces and noticed that she sells her work in The Shop of Interest in Glasgow. It seems that she's in very good company there, TSOI's online shop is packed full of brilliant designers.

This Beetle purse is £10 and it's by Craig Fellows. I love it because I'm quite easily distracted and will forget I bought a purse with bugs on. It'll make me jump every time I get it out of my bag. That'll be great fun.

I'm going to be wondering for a while about why this necklace is called 'lemon incest', but I do really like it. This design is by Alice Bosc and it's £24. Wear over a shirt, like most of my favourite jewellery it looks a bit stabby.

I do love a fancy pants bird. Let's be honest, peacocks are pretentious buggers and that's why we love them. Let's invite them over for a cuppa. This Alice Shields mug is £12.

There used to be a chap who rode a penny farthing around Greenwich (yes, it's fully as wanky as it sounds). I haven't seen him recently, maybe he's got a puncture. Might buy this Penny farthing tea towel as a memento.

This fox fabric brooch is adorable. I'm not sure how he'll hold up in the rain, but I like him so much. He's £7.50. I also like this sleepy owl brooch. I'm all a bit Animals of Farthing Wood today.

I have no idea how to be a ghost (first step: acquire white bed sheet?), I need this guide, obviously. It's only £4. There's so much more stuff of interest in The Shop of Interest. This is just a snippet so go nose about and spend your money on interesting things.

Dairy Free: Grapefruit & Coconut Cake

This here is what I like to think of as a mid-week cake: easy to eat in slices, good in a tin, and perfect with cups of tea. The coconut tempers the sweetness in this cake, and the grapefruit lends a few welcome bursts of unusual citrus flavour. There's no dairy or lactose in this recipe, and if you'd like to make it gluten free, you can easily substitute the flour with one of our amazing gluten free flour mixes.

Dairy Free Grapefruit & Coconut Cake
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 30-35 minutes
You will need:

For the cake:
  • Coconut oil, for greasing
  • 175g coconut milk (don't shake the tin before use)
  • 150g caster sugar 
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten 
  • 175g self-raising flour 
  • 3 heaped tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 grapefruit, zest and juice
For the topping:
  • 3 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • juice of 1/2 grapefruit
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
Make it!
The cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with coconut oil. 
  2. Without shaking it, open the tin of coconut milk. The thick, coconut cream should be on the top. 
  3. Spoon into a large mixing bowl, along with the caster sugar, and beat together. 
  4. Add half the egg, along with a tablespoon of the flour and beat again. Repeat with the rest of the egg.  
  5. Gently fold in the remaining flour until there are no streaks remaining. 
  6. Stir in the coconut and grapefruit juice and zest.
  7. Spoon into the prepared tin. 
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. 
  9. Cool in the tin. 
The topping:
  1. Mix the coconut and icing sugar together in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Place the grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, along with 1 tbsp sugar. Bring to a simmer until reduced slightly.
  3. Whilst the cake is still warm, poke holes in it with a skewer. Drizzle over the grapefruit syrup. 
  4. Sprinkle over the coconut and icing sugar. Decorate with a little more coconut if you like.

The UK's Best Boutique Hostels

Anyone who has spent any time travelling with a backpack will know that there are hostels and there are hostels. The term can encompass the very best of friendly and fun accommodation, or nights of noisy, dirty and sleepless hell. However, it can now mean a whole load more, as there's a growing movement of hostels that are borrowing some of the good looks and charm more associated with boutique hotels. It's a trend that's actually bigger outside the UK, but we're catching up. These stays offer a budget stay that doesn't mean you have to totally abandon your style at the reception desk.

Let's start in London, because god knows budget accommodation is useful here. King's Cross' Generator hostel (part of a chain of eight around Europe) has just been given a multi-million pound facelift. The result includes communal areas where you can play spot the designer furniture and bright street art inspired pieces on the walls. Ah, and a double decker bus parked in the bar that doubles as a DJ booth. With different floors themed around famous Brit characters such as Austin Powers and Ali G, you know this isn't a place for wallflowers.

Nearby is Clink 78, set in the stunning surrounds of a converted courthouse with a rich history: Charles Dickens worked in the building and The Clash were put on trial here for shooting a pigeon - an event now remembered through the magnificent name of the hostel's Clashbar. You can book a stay in one of the original English Heritage-listed prison cells, or there's the calmer female-only 'birds nest' rooms in the quieter part of the hostel. Prices for a dorm bed start at £12 a night.

Safestay is located in south London's Elephant and Castle. The area has something of an unlovely reputation so this makes this find all the more unexpected. Housed in an 18th century building, it now provides guests with enviable facilities such as a heated gardens, as well as thoughtful touches such as reading lights and curtains for privacy on each dorm bed. Prices for those start at £18, or £66 for a double room.

Moving out of London, head up to Liverpool to sample the delights of Hoax. Larger-than-average beds and en-suite facilities, regardless of whether you are in a dorm or a double, help lift this above the usual hostel standard. There's plenty to keep you entertained too - the photo above shows Hopskotch, the cool downstairs bar and cafe, and there's a live performance space in the basement too.

Visitors to York have a choice of boutique hostel accommodation, depending on your design preferences. The Fort definitely goes for a contemporary street art-influenced look, with each room decorated by different design graduate...

... while the Ace Hotel is housed within a Georgian building and is all high-ceilings and ornate details agogo. Dorm beds are available from £16.

Vagabonds in Belfast receives a huge amount of love in online reviews. Perhaps it's because they provide their guests with free breakfast and tea and coffee. Or perhaps because it's got a really nice fresh and modern feel. Doubles start at £13, while £40 will get you a double room such as the one above.

If you want to get away from it all, go off grid at Bivouac, part of the Swinton Estate in the Yorkshire Dales. Built and run on strict eco credentials, the accommodation illustrates a stylish use of recycling and reuse. Shacks and yurts are available, or grab one (or all) of the twelve beds available in the bunk barn for £22.50 each.

And for more retreating into the great outdoors in style, I'm rather taken by these camping pods at Grinton Lodge in Richmond, North Yorkshire. It's one of the YHA hostels that has been given a makeover in recent years - check out the refurbished section on their website for more. And while they might not have street art or a DJ booths on site, they do have some amazing buildings to explore. Just take a look at Beverley Friary or the Elizabethan splendour of Wilderhope Manor for starters.

Have you staying in a brilliant hostel in the UK? Let us know in the comments. And check out our boutique hotel map for more inspiration. 

Sluttishly Savoury: Bacon Buttered Homemade Crumpets

Baking things like bread often fills me with dread – bread baking dread. You've got to wait for the yeast to come to life, then knead it, then wait for the oven, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait and usually it comes out not resembling bread, but a small hard stone. Crumpets, on the other hand, are much more straightforward. They aren't baked, but cooked on the top stove, meaning they don't take too long to cook and they don't need to be kneaded.

In fact the most difficult thing about making crumpets is deciding what to have on them. Bacon butter with maple syrup is, simply, the one.

Crumpets with Bacon Butter (makes 9)
Preparation Time: 45 mins inc. resting time 
Cooking Time: 8 mins
  • 130g strong white bread flour
  • 130g plain flour
  • 10g dried instant yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 260ml warm milk
  • 110ml warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
For the bacon butter:
  • 3 rashers of streaky bacon, diced 
  • 125g butter
Make it!

For the crumpets:
  1. Combine both flours and the yeast in a large bowl.
  2. Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk and pour into the flour. Beat the hell out of the batter for a few minutes until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place (or in the oven's lowest setting) for 20 mins.
  3. Mix the bicarb and salt in the warm water and beat into the rested batter. You should end up with batter that is the consistency of double cream (add more warm water if you need to). 
  4. Cover and leave for another 20 mins. Your batter should be frothy and bubbly after resting. 
  5. To cook, heat a small non stick pan or a large pan with cookie cutter or metal rings and add a little sunflower oil and get the pan nice and hot. Ladle in the mix and cook for about 8 minutes on one side only. Bubbles should rise to the surface. 
  6. Rest them on a tea-towel to cool, then stick in the toaster when you're ready to devour them. 
For the bacon butter:
  1. Fry the bacon until crispy, then leave to cool.
  2. Blitz the butter and bacon together in a food processor until it's all blended. You can use it straight away on the crumpets. Wrap the remaining in cling-film and keep it in the fridge, ready to use on the multitude of things benefitting from bacon butter: pasta, greens, risotto etc...

Monday 28 April 2014

Excellent Women: Wendy Bevan

Portrait by Martina Scorcucchi

I juggle a number of different jobs - I write as a journalist, but also as a copywriter and editor; I've just started to work as a producer and I used to be a stylist. And I don't think I'm alone, I have many friends who are keen to try lots of things. After all, we only get one life, why spend it doing just one job if there's more than one thing that interests you? My excellent woman this week is Wendy Bevan, one of a new breed of artists who are thriving on a similar approach to life.

All the following images are by Wendy Bevan

It was Wendy's photography that I first came across and I instantly fell in love with her use of analogue film, as well as the wonderful models and stylists she works with. She's done shoots for Vogue Italia and countless other fashion bibles, has photographed legends like Tilda Swinton and Debbie Harry and she's about to exhibit a collection of self portraits, shot on her signature polaroid camera. 

But this is only one of Wendy's talents; the forthcoming exhibition is an audio visual experience set to music composed by Wendy. Oh yes, she happens to also be a brilliant composer, talented musician, show-stopping singer and prolific actress. To call her multi-talented is something of an understatement- you can read my full review of the recent show she put on, but in short it was the most inspirational live music event I've been to in years. Wendy wasn't just singing, she'd created a persona that came alive with a combination of her wonderful acting talents and her haunting voice. She's also sung and performed with the inimitable Punchdrunk, most recently in their New York production Sleep No More. 

I'm a huge fan of some of the short films Wendy has made too - 'Reaching for the moon' is one of my favourites.

"Films inspire me, theres a very visual side to music and I aim to create a world found within the space between image and sound."

On being asked about working in so many different media, Wendy explains,

"I treat all of them as one. They all come from the same place, but are different strands of my voice as an artist. It's how I choose to platform them that is vital in their integrity."

What can we expect from her new exhibition, Slow Light at London's The Cob Gallery from 8th to 31st May?

"Slow Light is a combination of new photographic work and music, choreographed and curated using projections and space. As an installation it aims to be an immersive experience for the audience."

And why the fondness for analogue film in a digital age?

"Because I understand how I can express myself this way. Digital doesn't answer my questions."

If only all 'selfies' were this beautiful.

You can buy Wendy's work online here.
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