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Wednesday 31 October 2012

Luscious Lingerie: Black Lace

One of the most annoying things about Hallowe'en is the throng of sexy fancy dress outfits making their way down the high street. It's like an Ann Summers flashmob. I'm all for dressing in a sexy outift, but red spandex around your arse cheeks is very rarely sexy. After my little black dress piece yesterday, I thought I should write about a few bits and bobs you can wear underneath your outfit. One place black lace always works is on lingerie. Not to be seen in public, of course.

Oooh, I do like this black lace set by Miss Crofton. It's one of the cheaper sets from If You Please - £56 for the set. 

This lace bodysuit is a great way to make simple jersey underwear a little more interesting. It's £26 from Asos.

It's tiny, lace things like this that make me want to give all of my hard-earned cash to Gilda & Pearl. these are £59 from Glamourous Amourous.

I wish I could afford anything from Fleur of England. I'd snap up everything if I could, starting with this lace short set.

New Look lingerie always looks fantastic,and this black bra is just £12.99.

Sluttery Travels: England's Most Haunted Hotels

I don't know if I believe in ghosts. I'm really not sure. I'm a skeptic, but I'm a skeptic who really, really wants to see a ghost. However, I do know that I like historical buildings and creepy places. I once spent the night in a haunted plague pit - I ain't afraid of no ghosts. Unsurprisingly, England is full of haunted hotels. Here's a whole bunch that are as pretty as they are terrifying.

The Old Bell in Wiltshire looks like the kind of place that I'd love to stay regardless of paranormal activity (apropos of not very much, that was a crap film). The Old Bell gets brilliant reviews, and the interior is gorgeous (double rooms are around £120 per night). They're more keen to tell you about the gorgeous gardens, rather than highlight that east part of the hotel is built on the courtyard of the abbey next door and apparently there are several sarcophagi buried deep under the hotel. Look out for The Grey Lady, should you decide to pay them a visit.

Alton Station in Staffordshire apparently has more than a few mentions of a station master ghost in its logbook. There's even a black cat, who apparently haunts the building (in a nice way, cats are friendly) and the reports of a little girl ghost, who was killed by a train. A little girl ghost would scare the bejeezus out of me, but if you fancy staying here it's about £370 for four nights through Landmark Trust.

We've actually been to what's said to be the most haunted Inn in England - The Mermaid in Rye. Sel and I visited on our Sussex Week road trip. No ghosts were seen, but we only popped in for a drink. It's a lovely pub, but its reputation and setting makes it expensive at around £220 a night for a double room.

I confess, I haven't actually read Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn, but I really want to stay in the Cornish inn that it's based on. The Jamaica Inn is in Launceston and was used as a coaching inn. But, due it its location it became renowned as a smuggling inn. Spooky activity is widely reported by guests. They've only got four hotel rooms, but they're reasonably priced at around £105 per night.

Apparently Ettington Park has been awarded 'most haunted hotel' by the AA, which I find pretty hilarious. I can just picture ghosts running around being more spooky when there's an inspection on. The most commonly seen ghost is a women in a white gown who floats (walks? roams? glides?) around the corridors before disappearing into nothing. Awesome. Rooms are around £125 through Handpicked Hotels.

Astley Castle in Warwickshire is a very unusual building. It dates back to the 1200s, and has been restored as fully as possible by The Landmark Trust, despite a fire in the building in 1978. The Castle used to be the home of Lady Grey and is said to be haunted by her father - Henry Grey. He'd gone into hiding at Astley Castle during the revolt against Queen Mary. He was actually captured and beheaded in 1554 and his head was found in a church near the Tower of London in 1849. The restoration of the castle might be controversial to some - the building now has a lift - but it's one of the most historically important building in the country. If you'd like to stay here, grab eight friends and split the cost of £1700 for three nights. But not until August 2013 - it's all booked up until then.

Want more haunted hotels? The haunted inn listings on English Inns is packed with them and Haunted Rooms has lots of spooky places to visit. Don't go on your own.

Sluttishly Sweet: Day of the Dead Macarons

Until last night, I’d never made macarons before, and I’d read a fair few horror stories that made me believe I might not be capable. Would they crack? Would my ‘feet’ be up to scratch? How long should I perform the fabled ‘macaronage’? But I really wanted to have a go, so I gathered my ingredients, crossed my fingers, and took the plunge.

Fear not, readers! Making the macaron shells was actually pretty painless. I followed Jill Colonna’s excellent – and foolproof – basic macaron recipe from her book, Mad About Macarons. Here’s Jill’s wonderfully straightforward recipe, with some of my tips and tricks added in for good measure…

Basic macarons (makes about 80 normal-sized shells)

You’ll need:
  • 150ml egg whites (you’ll probably need 4 large eggs)
  • 270g icing sugar
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 100g caster sugar
Make it!

    No idea why there's only three at the end
  1. Before you start, cut enough parchment paper to fit on your baking trays. You’ll need it to lie absolutely flat (no curled corners), and each tray needs TWO sheets. Use the bottom sheets to draw 3cm diameter circles, spaced about 2cm apart. I just drew round a two-pence piece using a black Sharpie. Lay another sheet of plain parchment over the top. The circles should shine through, and you can use them as your guide to get evenly-sized macaron shells. 
  2. Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds into a large bowl. 
  3. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites, adding in the caster sugar gradually until you’ve got a soft-peaked meringue consistency. Use an electric whisk or you’ll lose an arm.
  4. Add the beaten egg whites to the dry ingredients and mix well. No need for gradual folding here – go for it.
  5. It’s time for macaronage. You can use a pastry scraper for this, or just use muscle power and your spatula. Go hell for leather, pushing down on the mixture back and forth. A bowl with a relatively flat bottom is obviously a bonus here. Macaronage shouldn’t last more than five minutes (thank god, it’s hard work!) – stop when the mixture forms a smooth ribbon when you lift the spatula or scraper out of the bowl. As a general rule, your arm will feel like its capable of throwing a shot put further than Jessica Ennis.
  6. Using a piping bag and small round nozzle, pipe your macaron mixture onto the parchment. Once you’ve finished, drop your baking tray on to the work surface twice to bang out the air bubbles. 
  7. I was sceptical at this point
  8. Leave the macaron discs to set for at least half an hour. Remember to heat your oven to 160°C (325°F) while you’re waiting. I’d recommend having a cup of tea, but humidity will bugger up your macarons (French patisserie chefs won’t even run a tap while making macarons), so pour yourself a gin and tonic instead. The shells will feel hard to the touch when they’re ready to go in the oven. 
  9. You’ll need to bake one tray at a time, in the centre of the oven, but they only take 10 minutes so it’s no great hardship. Check on them after 8 minutes, and gently touch the top of one shell. If it wobbles, cook for a further 2-4 minutes. 
  10. Once they’re done, gently slide the parchment off the tray and on to a wire cooling rack.
  11. Repeat until all your tray-loads are baked.
The end result? No cracks, nice ‘feet’, no faffing about with boiling hot sugar syrup – I’ve definitely found my go-to macaron recipe here.

In the spirit of Day of the Dead, I set about turning them into Mexican sugar skulls. Out came a selection of icing pens and some cake sprinkles, and off I went. Designing the skulls was all kinds of happy – you’ll see from the photo that they’re far from perfect, but they are fun and colourful. There are infinite sugar skull patterns and colours you can play about with.

Quite sinister
I then filled and assembled my macarons (obviously the underside shells are just plain white). I used a teaspoon of good quality shop-bought seedless raspberry jam for the filling, but I might attempt a ganache next time. I just spooned some on and sandwiched my shells together, but you could pipe it on for extra neatness.

If I were to do this again, I’d try to shape my macaron shells like skulls. However, I’ll be eating them (all) tomorrow to celebrate Day of the Dead, and feeling pretty damned pleased with my first attempt at macarons!

Wallpaper Wednesday: Hallowe'en Edition

It's not easy to find spooky wallpapers - after all, you want them to look good all year 'round, not just until your scary film marathon has finished (I'm going for both Descent films, Arachnophobia and The Omen, and apparently no sleep whatsoever). Here's a roundup of the very best creepy wallpapers.

Barbara Hulanicki is the go-to creepy wallpaper lady (that couldn't be more of a compliment). Her skulls wallpaper design is completely gorgeous and not badly priced at £60 a roll.

Let's not forget about her Diablo design. Thumbs up to creepy crows. It's the only time I've ever approved of flocked wallpaper.

And Maleficent! This design is fabulous. Who wouldn't want evil Disney queens on their walls? You can buy all of those designs from Graham & Brown.

This just looks like leaves, doesn't it? But leaves aren't scary, Sian! This is rubbish! But look closely, look at all of the creepy bugs. Creepy it might be, but I'm struggling to work out exactly what room it would work in. It's by Charlotte Rose Harris and it's £75 a roll from Wall Library.

That's not the only creepy bug wallpaper around. How about Dupenny's Irrational Fear wallpaper? And Barneby Gates have bugs hidden in their pretty butterfly wallpaper as well.

Emma Molony's Beastly Chronicles wallpaper uses creepy stories as its inspiration. It's not quite hide-behind-the-pillow scary, but it's a beautiful design. I especially like depiction of the Storyteller chasing the little horribly good girl.

More skulls! This time from Meg Mathews (yes, that one). It's £89 a roll, but unfortunately, these are now only available in store in Liberty.

Some people might not find tiny balancing chairs creepy, but they really are. There's something a little bit haunted house about this Barneby Gates chairs wallpaper. If you're absolutely fine with that you're batshit crazy then you can buy this from Rockett St George for £78 a roll. But I won't be coming over for my tea.

Elli Popp's Skeletons in the Closet wallpaper is creepy, no two ways about it. Unless you think the bones of a dismembered body just floating about your walls is entirely normal? No? Good. You can buy this design from Garrendenny Lane for £199 a roll. The paper from Melissa Bracconnier that I featured yesterday is similar.

Lastly, here's a creepy offering from Glasgow's favourite design duo Timourous Beasties. Bugs, birds, iguanas, and erm... pineapples. I love it. Sadly, the price is as scary as the design - it's £66 a metre. But this design will probably last a lot longer than the Hallowe'en candy that you bought for trick or treaters but secretly plan on eating yourself.

Sluttishly Snug: Zara Kimono Style Knitted Coat

I could kiss Zara for coming up with this knitted coat. It's like a cardigan but heavier weight so you could wear it as a coat. Whatever it is, it's a stylish way for me to keep warm at my desk and not worry about looking like a bag lady if I have to deal with other people.

The contrast collar looks a bit like a scarf and provides a body lengthening focal point so you look taller. Brilliant. I wouldn't necessarily wear cropped trousers with it though. All I do know is though that Zara is five minutes from my office and I need it today. £69.99 for something to keep me stylish and warm isn't bad at all.

Design Porn: Magpie Belle

When I was a kid, I used to collect antique postcards (did anyone else have strange collections?) The postcards had oil paintings of Flamenco dancers, with the dresses all embroidered in silk. They were luscious. Magpie Belle's designs remind me of them, with a modern twist.

This is my favourite design. It's called Aristotle and it's from the Le Frocks range (there's also Birds and Astro, but they didn't impress me as much).

Designer Claire borrows things that she finds in everyday life, just like a magpie. Then she dresses her pretty ladies in them.

Yes, that girl in the fabulous skirt has a cat on her head.

I love the ice cream colours of this skirt. Actually, I would like to find a skirt like this in real life.

This is Pascal, looking all French and beautiful.

The embellished prints are all around £70 and very pretty indeed. There's something a little spooky about the beautiful women in all their stolen finery.

Halloween Roundup

Halloween Hoorays! It's finally here: the day all that maniacal witch cackling and zombie face gurning you've been bottling up all year can finally come bubbling out in all our slightly batshit bonkers glory.

We're guessing you've got your fancy dress suitably fancified already, but what about everything else? Never fear (well, do, otherwise Halloween is no fun) - we have a roundup of everything you could possibly need for the most ghoulishly glamourous time.

The food

Hands up who hasn't made Sara's bat biscuits yet? Ten points from Gryffindor. Bat-shaped food is my favourite thing ever, closely followed by adorable gingerdead skeletons. If you prefer slightly soppier Halloween eats, Tesco do these dinosaur cutters for £4.50 (I just want them all year round).

Caleigh has been her usual gluten-free genius self and created pumpkin ice cream and if you're wondering what else to do with your lantern's innards we've got a list of our top ten pumpkin recipes. Caleigh also found these adorable bat ice cream and cake decorations from John Lewis. Are we allowed to eat them straight out of the jar? Silly question.

If you're too busy face-painting to bake spooky treats, you can pop into Hotel Chocolat and grab a Boo Box of freaky-shaped chocolates to munch, as well as a chocolate skull and the charming Count Nibblia to sink your teeth into. River Island also do gruesome black vampire mints for only two quid - quite frankly, I just want them so I can keep the tin.

The booze

We have halloween cocktails a-plenty for you to choose from: a chocolate-orangey Count Dra-Kahlua is perfect between bouts of apple bobbing, we've found. You can also hold a glass of Elizabeth's fiery Vodka Nightmare in one hand while using the other to squeeze the nearest available person/cushion during a scary film - that's multi-tasking at its best.

Warm your post-trick-or-treating bones with a Pumpkin Martini, or feel both grossed out and tipsy with Hazel's amazing eyeball jellies.

The home

Alright, we've probably all got some of that pumpkin confetti, window-sticker spiderwebs and black and orange balloons thing going on (there's nothing wrong with some tacky halloween decorations, I say), but there's plenty more out there and it doesn't have to be pricey: I'm slightly in love with Poundland for bringing me a skull and bone ice cube tray for just a quid.

M&S are also spooking it up with bat string lights for a fiver, or Matalan's bat tealights are perfect to light up eery corners while you tell ghost stories. If I've got time to get to John Lewis I'm shamelessly tempted by the spider's web candelabra for £12, and Halloween is the perfect time to treat myself to this  slightly ridiculous black cat kitchen timer from Tesco for £10.99.

The freakish fashion

We've brought you Lilly Von Pink for all your face-painting needs, but if the idea of a costume doesn't tickle your fancy there's plenty of other ways to get into monster mode in a more subtle way. For those wanting to keep snug, Frances found us Dorothy Perkins cat socks (among other catty goodness), and New Look have a - wait for it - PURPLE BAT ONESIE! It's £22.99 but that's money well spent in my books, plus it gives you ample room to do all the tricky bits of the Thriller dance.

The animal face tees we mentioned this week are horrific enough, but if they're your thing you can halloweenify the idea with this black cat tee from Topshop for a crisp twenty.

In fact, Topshop's entire Halloween range is enough to make you look fierce in more way than one: I'm torn between the ridiculous glow in the dark cobweb leggings (£22) and the so-weird-they're-actually-quite-pretty skull arch drop earrings (£8.50).

Other attractive Halloween shinies come from River Island in the form of this bug brooch for £7, and New Look's very odd (and very cheap) £2.99 eyeball earrings.

Sian has already shown us some sexy black dresses that would suit the occasion, but I've fallen back in love with Miss Selfridge thanks to this uber-sexy red devore velvet maxi-skirt for £35. Ideal for slinking and swooshing.

I'm pretty sure someone needs to make it Halloween more often.

Update! We've had some late entries! Check out our creepy wallpaper finds (Maleficent wallpaper!), black lace lingerie (to be worn under your outfit at all times, no Slutty Nurse outfits thank you) and some of the most haunted hotels in England.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Dream Dress: Five Little Black Dresses

My Hallowe'en outfits tend to be 'a nice dress with some stupid accessories'. I have all of these great ideas when I get an invite Facebook notification, but then I'm inevitably running about/hungover/in need of a nap in the afternoon and two hours late for the party so I cobble something together at the last minute. The result will usually involve a little black dress, but that's true of most of my outfits.

Sneaky leopard print. Just like Frances likes sneaky black cats, I like any opportunity to sneak leopard print into my outfit. This is from Oasis, it's £60 and she's hot. Wear with cat ears and suddenly your fancy dress outfit is sorted.

I really like the detailing on this black shift dress. It's a little bit 'I work for a secret space organisation' and that's always a good thing. It's from Joy and it's £65. You probably need some sort of space age eyewear to rock a last minute costume. And yes to those shoes, wherever they might be from.

There's no denying that black lace is a little bit of a Hallowe'en cliche, but the shape of this dress means you can get away with it. The hard work is done for you - just opt for dark red lips and excellent hair and you're sorted. This is £48 from Topshop.

Blimmin 'eck, not only is this pencil dress sex on a stick, it's got pockets! In this case, I'm thinking witchy spells and potions is a good idea (to go with your witches hat, obviously). It's £38 from ASOS.

Does this count as a little black dress? It's half little, the long bits are sheer, they don't count. The sequins carry on 'round the back and she looks excellent. You don't need anything with this, it's too fabulous as it is. It's £75 from Warehouse and it's my absolute favourite.

The best thing? Once you're done with witches hats, bats and black cats, you can probably wear all of these with sparkly tights and be sorted for Christmas parties.

Sluttery by Post: Kopi Coffee Club

I feel like I'm running on caffeine at the moment (well, that and caramel Tunnock's bars). I can only blame my sleepiness on my decision to watch every single episode of Alias again. There are probably better things to be doing at 2am than being amazed by the CIA's total reliance on Jennifer Garner in a shit wig.

When I'm really tired, I switch from tea to coffee. Tea soothes me, but when I'm feeling like a zombie, it won't wake me up. Good coffee will do the trick. I've already got excited about the coffee postal service Bean & Ground, but every single coffee-lover I know is going nuts for Kopi - 'coffee's best kept secret'.

It's as simple as you'd expect: you pick which plan you'd like, (three, six or twelve months) and Kopi send you a coffee package. While Bean & Ground will send you three little bags, Kopi send you one 250g bag (along with the usual tasting notes and information about what you're drinking). The three month subscription works out at £8.45 a month, which is very reasonably but you can purchase individual bags from buy from Kopi if you fancy testing them out before you commit to a monthly package.

I promise not to drink three cups before bedtime and stay up watching more Alias.

Sluttishly Boozy: Eyeball Jellies

So tomorrow night is traditionally a night of feasting and drinking (yay!) to celebrate the end of harvest and start of Winter, so let's embrace all of the above and add a bit of ghoulish fun to the mix with these potent jelly shots. These fiendish bad boys will both gross you out a bit AND make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I had intended on just using vanilla vodka for the booze factor in these but it turned out I had already drunk most of it so I raided my homemade damson gin and added that in also. You can use all vodka, all gin, all rum or a mixture of everything depending on your mood, just stick to the basic 300ml spirit (Mwahahaha...see what I did there? I'm all kinds of Halloween pun hilarity) to 100ml water (for a really potent jelly shot) or reduce to 200ml booze - 200ml water combo for something a little less hardcore! I used individual cupcake  silicon moulds for this as it makes popping out the set jellies really easy.

You'll need: (makes 7 cupcake moulds sized jelly shots)
  • 135g pack strawberry jelly cubes (I used Hartley's)
  • 100ml cold water
  • 200ml vanilla vodka
  • 100ml damson gin
  • 50ml lychee syrup (from the can)
  • 7 canned lychees
  • 7 blueberries
Make it!
  1. Firstly make your jelly by dividing your jelly block into cubes and popping them in a bowl with the water. Microwave on full for 1 minute then stir in your alcohol and lychee syrup.
  2. Pour your jelly mix into the moulds so it is 3/4 full.
  3. Put a blueberry into each lychee and carefully place a lychee into each mould, blueberry up. Put them in the fridge to set then when ready carefully slide a knife around the edge and turn out the set jellies.
These babies will be sure to get your festivities going with a swing, in fact I'm pretty sure that my parents must have been a little drunk when they thought that this was indeed an excellent trick or treating outfit for me back in 1985...
Forget Sabrina the Teenage Witch, meet Hazel the Bin Bag Wearing Turnip Holding Witch (yes I'm also holding what appears to be a bag of onions, we really didn't have much money back then).

How much do we care about where our food comes from?

Knowing where our food comes from has been a bit of A Thing for a while now. TV chefs are keen for us to know where our food comes from. Hugh wants everything grown with his own blood sweat and tears, Jamie won't eat a meal out in public until he's written a petition and pestered the Prime Minister about it and Gordon insists that his kids name their Christmas turkey before he kills it, which doesn't sound at all festive.

We get it. We should care where our food comes from.

These days you can't go to a gastropub without reading a dossier-like menu telling you the source of every single ingredient and all have our own priorities when it comes to food. Caleigh has to be very careful about her ingredients and double check each one to ensure they're gluten free. Elizabeth isn't vegetarian but she tends to avoid beef because her boyfriend is Hindu but while Sara might be fine with bacon on someone else's plate (and in her biscuits), she'd rather it wasn't on her own thank you very much. And Hazel is all for foraging and sourcing her own food. As for the rest of us, we want the tastiest ingredients we can afford. No matter how our lifestyles change, that's always true.

But it's not always realistic to forage (it rains, for a start). It's not always financially viable to buy the fanciest chicken in Waitrose. It's not always convenient to go to the local farmers' market and buy ingredients to make your own quince jelly. Sometimes, you're going to have a massive craving for Birdseye Chicken Dippers, and no amount of homecooked food will quash that.

Just because we should care what we're putting on our plates, doesn't necessarily mean that we do. It doesn't mean that we have the time to. Sure, we can argue that it's just as easy to whip up a stir fry as it is to go and buy a takeaway, but we don't always want to. And sometimes, buying a frozen pizza from a supermarket is the only option. It may be packed full of rubbish, but we've been working late and we're tired and Eastenders is starting soon.

Perhaps most of us are conscientiousness about their dinner as long as it's convenient. Hands up who's bought chicken that isn't free range when pay day is miles off? Do we always ask about ingredients when we're in a restaurant? It's easy to buy free range eggs and forget about the rest, we've done our bit without really having to think about it. And while we know that people want to be more ethical and aware about their food choices, price does come into it. Ethical, locally produced food is usually more expensive. If our lifestyle doesn't allow us to make those choices, then we're conflicted.

So how do we reach a happy medium? Should supermarkets make it easier (and more affordable) for us to think about what we're eating? Is it down to us as consumers to seek out more information? What part does food journalism play? Sometimes it all gets a little 'middle class shopper in Whole Foods' and it's clear to us that a much larger demographic care about what's on the end of their forks.

So if we do care where are food comes from, what challenges are we facing and what do we about it?

Black cats for Halloween (or any day)

I want to share a secret with you. *whisper* I'm not hugely into Halloween. I'm more about Bonfire Night - bring on the Parkin and the fireworks please. If I have to make one concession to the ridiculous occasion, it might be to wear something black cat related about my person (not a very big concession admittedly, I'm quite into cats all year round).

Now, black cats - do you think of them of good luck? Or bad luck? I'm firmly of the former option: if a cute black cat crosses my path and I get to have a sneaky stroke I'd consider myself very lucky indeed. These socks from Dorothy Perkins definitely are playing up on the spooky thing but are available for a very non-scary £2.25.

Here's another thing you could wear as an alternative halloween outfit. Or if you just like cats. Or if you need to tell the time. Urban Outfitters are selling this cat face watch for £26. Be warned: its subtlety may be lost on trick or treaters.

More sneaky small cats, this time in the form of a ring from Lazy Oaf. It's also available in white and yours for £16.

The kitty cat print on this Feline Karma dress is too cute to resist, though typical Anthropologie pricing means that I might have to (it's £118). The print is by the very talented Leah Goren, who has plenty more cats in her Etsy store, including a gorgeous version of this dress for kids.

Come tomorrow evening, in my dream world, I'd be stepping out on the town in a pair of Charlotte Olympia kitty flats. In reality, I'll be more than happy to be cosying on down in these Topshop cat slippers. Only £14, I think they're the cat's whiskers AND the cat's pyjamas. They probably won't be leaving my feet until 5 November.
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