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Friday 30 November 2012

Shoe Porn: Kurt Geiger Art Deco Platforms

These are shoes that make all reason fly out of the window. I know they're too high for me. I know that heel is rather spindly. I know that I'll have to walk very, very slowly to the train station and at the end of the evening I'll be thirty quid poorer because I didn't put flats in my bag before I left the house and have to get a taxi home.

I don't care. I find myself staring at the screen and forgetting all of that. They're called Ardent, which is rather lovely. I like the idea of Mr Darcy ardently admiring these shoes.

The best shoes always look brilliant from the back, but I don't own a pair that look like an Art Deco building. They're fabulous. The bad news is that they're in Kurt Geiger's Carvela range and they're not exactly cheap. The fact that they're in the sale gives me hope - they were £140 (I know, but Art Deco fabulousness!) and now they're £119 with loads of sizes left. I'm pretty certain that they're going to be reduced again before Christmas and if you're lucky they'll be down to half price very soon. In the mean time, join me in staring at them and stroking your computer screen, won't you?

Not for Kids: Landscape Dinner Tray

This landscape dinner tray is absolutely meant for children. I know that, don't ruin it for me. It's just another example of children having awesome stuff that should be for adults. I'm taking a stand this time. I want a cutlery set shaped like trees and I want to drink my Sunny D out of a sun shaped cup. You can't stop me. You can mock me (and you probably should, I'm thirty now), but you can't stop me. The V&A say that this is suitable for ages 1+ which means that I'm allowed to use it.

You can even put dipping sauce in the cloud! That's quite brilliant. Children don't know the importance of dipping sauces, they'd probably try and drink their soy and sesame concoctions. This piece of culinary brilliance is clearly wasted on them.

It's £30 and it'll sit on my lap while I watch reruns of The Good Life. No children allowed.

Sluttery Sales Spy: Christmas Shopping Special

I'm feeling Christmassy! And despite my obvious can-do attitude towards selfishness and Buying All Of The Things For Myself, I actually love buying presents, and ooh, I do adore a gift guide. Today, I give to you something even better: A Bargaindiscountsales Gift Guide. This way, we can spend all the money we save on ourselves. (I just had to ruin that single moment of generosity and goodwill, didn't I?)


Floral wiggle dress, £31.50 (was £42), ASOS

Obviously, you come first. There's no way you can continue down this Christmas shopping path without buying a new frock. This lass looks surprised and a little bit pissed off at having her photograph taken, doesn't she? Let's hope she comes to terms with the concept soon, otherwise her career choice might be the source of perpetual personal distress. Poor wee poppet. Her floral ASOS dress is LOVELY, though.

Lace-panelled midi dress, £50 (was £75), Warehouse

Well, this is one way to draw attention to your star attractions. I loved this Warehouse midi dress even before I looked at the back view and discovered one of my favourite things: a line of covered buttons! You'll save £25 if you buy it now. Go forth. Don't come fifth.   


Top 5 Clothbound Classics, £52.45 (was £74.94), Penguin

Penguin is offering bundles of books for Christmas at discount prices. If you want to give your mother a gift that screams "I didn't know what to get you and I have no idea what you like to read!", go for the set labelled 'For Mum', cos y'know, once you've popped out a sprog, you miraculously start to enjoy the exact same books as EVERY OTHER woman of a maternal persuasion. SIGH and GROAN.

A better idea is this beautiful collection of five clothbound classics, specially selected by the designer of the frankly drool-worthy covers, Coralie Bickford-Smith. Equally gorgeous are these F. Scott Fitzgerald novels and short stories, also designed by Bickford-Smith - a set of seven is £73.43, reduced from £104.91. Perfect for people who are upset that The Great Gatsby film release has been delayed (that person is me).

Little Set of Bookplates, £3.50 (was £5), V&A Shop

You may think bookplates are redundant in this age of Kindles and Nooks and iPads and Miscellaneous Gadgetry. As a Kindle owner who is currently rearranging her actually thousands of real-life books into colour-coded order (advice: don't embark on this at 10pm), I can assure you that you're wrong. Because soon, someone somewhere will realise that the massive yellow-spined book I lent them three years ago is mine, and will return it to me, and I will have to rearrange the books YET AGAIN so as not to ruin my rainbow. If I'd stuck one of these V&A bookplates in it, maybe they would have given it back before now, and this particular friendship wouldn't have to END.


Sugar Stay or Sugar Go? sugar bowl by Keith Brymer Jones, £10.50 (was £14.50), Fab

We're already big fans of Keith Brymer Jones's work here at Domestic Sluttery. I am particularly fond of his punk range, especially this sugar bowl. Keith sure is putting the pun into punk! (Just FYI, I am immensely proud of that last line.) I am also very taken with this Smells Like Tea Spirit cup, which will serve as a permanent tribute to my teenage years, yearning for Krist Novoselic and his purple trousers.

Rory Dobner heart tile, £27 (was £37), Rockett St. George

I am amassing a rather large collection of tiles. When people ask me what I got for my birthday and the answer is TILES, I get a few odd looks. But I'm not talking common-or-garden B&Q tiles here, oh no. I've got Rob Ryan tiles, and these gorgeous 1970s tiles from Thrift-ola. Now, please, I would like this Rory Dobner heart tile, currently in the sale at Rockett St. George. Just the thing to rest my Smells Like Tea Spirit cup on. Wait now. This gift guide has become all about what I want, hasn't it? Oh well. 

IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: London-based Christmas shoppers in the market for delectable homewares should note that Donna Wilson is having a studio sample sale today and all weekend.


Sass & Belle stab-stitched camera case, £7 (was £10), Debenhams

How cutesy is this?! It's only £7! And looky-here - I've found the perfect thing to put in it:

DIY floral pinhole camera, £8 (was £12), Urban Outfitters

Even the most fancy photographers relish the chance to go back to basics once in a while, and you don't get more basic than a pinhole camera. This DIY one is ready to fold up into a piece of floral photographic prettiness - just add a roll of 35mm film and you're ready to snap away to your heart's content!


Pumpkin saucepan by Kitsch Kitchen, £16 (was £22.40), Fab

So, this has happened, and I for one am finding the world a richer and more fulfilling place because of it. Why aren't all my pans shaped like vegetables? If you're asking the same question (probably about your own pans, rather than mine. If I'm wrong about that, thanks for caring. I am touched) you'll be delighted to learn that you can also have a tomato and a pepper saucepan to complete the set.

Clear Hive honey set by Biodidactic, £37 (was £50), Fab

At the classier end of the Discounted Foodie Gift Spectrum, this Clear Hive set would be a beautiful addition to a cook's breakfast table. Although I can't stop looking at the photo and wondering what would happen if I overfilled it. Would the honey start dripping out of the lid? It's a risk I'm willing to take for what is ostensibly a honey-filled dreidel. Oy vey and all that.

(not the birds)

Rose gold galloping horses bracelet by Bill Skinner, £64 (was £76), Fab

Remember when Sian wrote about SMITH/GREY's 'I can't seem to get rid of the horses' range? It was only last week, so one would hope so. Well, I was beside myself with longing, I tell thee. Happily, it turns out the galloping horses motif has become A Thing, because designer Bill Skinner has cantered over to Fab and deposited this gorgeous bracelet for our shopping delight. It's a more literal interpretation than SMITH/GREY's design, but I love it just as much. 

Vera Meat spine bracelet, £35 (was £55), ASOS

I didn't realise that Vera Meat was the name of the brand, so I thought this was simply being described as a 'meat spine bracelet' which for some reason makes it sound a whole lot more sinister. Whatever it may be called, I want it on my wrist right now. Santa? Are you reading this?

Mrs Claus?



Gluten Free: Clootie Dumpling

Clootie dumpling is the sort of thing that everybody's granny has their own recipe for (and every single one is the best clootie dumpling in the world) and there are lots of elements to argue about. Should you use breadcrumbs? If so, white bread of brown bread? Treacle or golden syrup? What spices to use? Quite honestly, We'd be here until next Hogmanay if we tried to reason with each other! Given that this is a gluten free recipe, breadcrumbs were out, but Ma Broon says in her cookbook that oats can be used instead so if you tolerate them, they're a great addition. 

It's too late to make a Christmas pudding, they need time to mature, but clootie dumpling is ready to eat as soon as it's cool enough. My favourite kind of food! The name, by the way, comes from the cloot (cloth) that the dumpling is wrapped in before boiling for a good 3 hours. If you have the time, feel free to do that, but if you don't have 3 hours to play with, it'll take roughly 10 minutes in the microwave.

You'll need:

  • 200g gluten free plain flour mix
  • 135g gluten free oats, most freefrom aisles have them (if you can't find them, use GF breadcrumbs or add an extra 135g of the gluten free flour mix instead)
  • 150g gluten free suet, or freeze a block of lard (or vegetable shortening) for an hour then coarsely grate it into the flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp nutmeg, ground works but grated whole nutmeg gives the best flavour
  • ½ tsp baking powder, gluten free please
  • 300g sultanas
  • a cooking apple, grated
  • 140g soft brown sugar
  • 3 generous tbsp treacle or blackstrap molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 200-300ml milk

Make it!

  • Mix the flour, oats, suet (or grated lard) cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and baking powder together in a bowl. Add the sultanas, grated apple and sugar and combine.
  • Whisk the treacle with the egg and pour into the dry ingredients, stir well. Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time. You want a loose dough, the constancy of a thick cake batter.
  • Line a large microwavable bowl or pudding basin with cling film and pour the mixture in. Give it a good tap to remove air bubbles. Do not cover the top with the cling film!
  • Microwave for 8-12 minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave and the heftiness of the bowl. You'll know it's ready when the top is set and the dumpling feels firm but still springy to touch.
  • Leave it to cool for a while before turning out onto a plate.

If you do want to boil it, stop adding milk when you have a thick dough. Half-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to the boil. Take a large piece of butter muslin or a clean tea towel and scald it in the boiling water. Carefully(!!) lie it out flat and sprinkle the cloth with gluten free flour. Place the dough in the middle of the cloth and tie the corners together, making sure the dumpling is secure, but leaving room for expansion. Pop an upturned saucer into the bottom of the saucepan and sit the bundle dough on top. Cover and boil for 3 hours, making sure the water doesn't fall below halfway down the dumpling. When the dumpling is cooked, unwrap it and turn it out onto a plate, then dry it out in a moderate oven. (I'm rather fond of the microwaving method, myself.)

Sluttishly Savoury: Chorizo and Mushroom Tripoline

I always have pasta in my cupboard and I've recently discovered tripoline pasta which is quite a thick ribbon pasta with lovely frills down one side, it reminds me of really pretty underwear. You can buy it in Tesco for about £1.19 for 500g and it's currently my new favourite pasta shape (everyone has one of those right?).

What I love about this is you just bung all the veg in the oven then stir it into your pasta, it works with pretty much everything so just add/leave out anything you fancy and in just 25 minutes you have an ace dinner bursting with big flavours.

Chorizo and Mushroom Tripoline (serves 2)
You'll need:
  • 200g of tripoline
  • 1 stick of chorizo (about 15cm) cut into big chunks
  • 3 big portobello mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • handful semi dried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • a few black olives
  • fresh herbs, I like basil, oregano and thyme leaves 
  • drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper
  • sea salt
  • fresh chives to garnish
Make it!
  1. Preheat the even to 200 degrees/ gas mark 6.
  2. Put all your chorizo, veg, olives, garlic, chilli and herbs in a tray and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.
  3.  Roast for about 25 minutes or until all the veg is soft and starting to brown.
  4. Cook your pasta then drain and add your roasted meat and veg. 
  5. Stir well, season and serve topped with your chives.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Sites we Love: Messy Nessy Chic

The best thing about the internet is, undoubtedly, that amazing broadband vortex where one minute it's 8pm and you're looking for an article you read about an author you liked. The next you're reading about vanishing islands, anaesthetics in the 1800s and whether or not your cat really is trying to kill you. It's 2am and you had no idea your internet browsing was going to take you to that particular weird corner of the world.

I blimmin' love weird corners of the world. They're the best thing. The awesome Messy Nessy Chic likes them too. Vanessa (that's the Nessy who's both chic and messy), collates and curates all of this interesting stuff. Now I know that you can get married by a vending machine, and there's an awesome railway market in Bangkok. I really want to go to Tokyo and play with the paperback vending machine.

Messy Nessy Chic could be classed as a travel blog, or even a lifestyle blog, but I think 'awesome stuff blog' is probably a better category for it. Nessy collects all sorts from around the world and you probably don't need to go anywhere else for your next broadband vortex. Just head straight here and lose the next few hours of your life.

Top Postal Christmas Gifts

The year 2012 has been the year of getting brilliant stuff in the post. We even got involved with our very own gift service Go Postal (and we're nearly totally sold out so hurry and get buying if you want one of the last subscriptions).

If you're stuck for a Christmas present for someone special, gift subscriptions are perfect. Here are our top subscription and postal gifts from our Sluttery By Post series.

For reading...

The Willoughby Book Club. It's a tough call between Willoughby's and Mr B's Reading Year. It all depends on who you're buying for and what your budget is. And if you fancy something super special, Persephone's subscription service is another great option. Friends who get books in the post will basically love you forever.

Stack Magazines is perfect if you want to do some reading but already have a completely stacked (sorry) bookself.

For eating and cooking...

The Big Cheese Making Kit. It's hard to explain just how much we want to make our own cheese. If you don't fancy making your own cheese, get over to Farmison and they'll send you some. You'll need some bread to go with it. Hobbs House Bakery can help with that.

The Seed Pantry. This is the great option for the culinary gardener short on space (ditto Funghi Futures). If they've got a little more room to play with, The Gluttonous Gardener has some lovely options.

Crumb. Afternoon tea through your letterbox. What could be better?

Bean & Ground. We've found two coffee clubs recently. These guys or Kopi? We'll leave that choice to you.

The Spicery. Get spices and recipes so you can make perfect meals. Perfect if you know someone who used paprika once and then shunned it to the back of the cupboard.


The rest...

The Knicker Issue. There's no way that getting pretty pants in the post could fail to brighten someone's day.

Not Another Bill is hugely popular now, working with some gorgeous designers. And some of Domestic Sluttery's favourite brands appear in the new Luxe Box.

Green Gables Stationery. You'd better send us thank you notes when you get your stationery box in the post.

Little bits of leopard print

I had a bit of a whizz around Oasis last night (the Argyll branch in London got swish recently). As it turned out, I really wasn't in the mood for shopping, but I did notice that there were lots of little leopard print details about. I've never been one to shy away from full on animal print, but I like that instead of being all over, it was on cuffs and collars.

When I'm in better mood for shopping (rather than an 'I want to go home and eat pie' mood), I'm going back to try this leopard trim dress on.

It comes in red as well, but I don't think that red and leopard print are a good look for blondes. Unless I decide I want to audition for a part as a soap opera barmaid. It's £60, whichever colour you go for.

I actually prefer this leopard collar jumper in grey, but the model is making it look strange so here's the black one instead. Leopard collars are cute. This is £38, though. Maybe wait until it's in the sale.

This leopard print bag would only ever work in tan leather, anything else would look tacky. It sidesteps tacky rather splendidly, it's only £60.

Even Oasis' brollies have cute leopard touches. It's only £9.

These snaffle trim shoes are in the sale, so they're just £30. Snaffle is the best fashion word. It's like fashion by Sesame Street.

Let Her Eat Cake: Christmas Cupcakes with Brandy Buttercream

I was going to write a recipe for a Christmas Cake, but then I thought, who can be bothered to make a Christmas Cake? So, instead, I've taken lots of Christmas puddingy ingredients (brandy, dried fruit, spices) and whipped them up into these festive mouthfuls. Topped with a good covering of brandy buttercream, they make a great Chrimbo treat that isn't too much hassle to put together.

Christmas Cupcakes with Brandy Buttercream (makes 12)

You'll need:

For the cakes
  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g dark brown demerara sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 80g self raising flour
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2tsp spices cinnamon
  • 1/4tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4tsp ground nutmeg
  • 60g dried fruit
  • Brandy
For the buttercream
  • 75g butter
  • 175g icing sugar
  • 1tbsp brandy
Make them!
  • Preheat the oven to 180c / Gas 4. Line a cupcake tin with cases.
  • First, make the cakes. Soak the dried fruit in some brandy while you're making the batter (just enough to cover it).
  • Beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs.
  • Fold in the flour, almonds and spices until well combined.
  • Drain the fruit and gently fold it in.
  • Divide between the cupcake tins then bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.
  • Let the cakes cool while you make the icing.
  • Beat the butter until soft.
  • Sieve in the icing sugar and beat together for a few minutes.
  • Add the brandy to loosen the buttercream.
  • Smear it on the top of the cupcakes. Drink the rest of the brandy.

Scottish Heroes and Villans

Burke & Hare Tea Towel - £9.50
The eve of St Andrew's Day is the perfect time to tell you about some of my favourite Scots. We're a funny bunch, the Scots, fiercely proud of our own and delighted to tell everyone about it. The funny bit is, we're even quite proud of our scoundrels. Burke and Hare are perfect examples of this; they used to rob graves and sell the bodies to the university for trainee doctors to practise on. After a while, they started to by-pass the stealing bodies bit and just murdered unsuspecting people and selling those bodies instead! They were only found out when a student recognised his own fiancee on the slab. Villains, they may be, but we have a wee place in our hearts for the ingenuity of these two men.
Alexander Graham Bell Greetings Card - £2.50

Scotland has produced more than her fair share of inventors, from tarmacadam to wellie boots and steam to penicillin, we discovered it! Alexander Graham Bell is, arguably, responsible for the invention of the telephone and without him, we couldn't sneakily read Domestic Sluttery under the desk, check Facebook whilst waiting for a train, or vote for our favourite celebrity on Strictly or IACGMOOH.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Mug - £11.50
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, designer and architect, was a bit of a genius. A visit to The Hill House or House for an Art Lover will leave your breath taken and your dumb well and truly struck. Almost every middle-class home in Glasgow has some kind of nod to the great man in its decor, and for good reason.

So, whether you love my choices, or you're shouting "where are Rabbie Burns and Mary Queen of Scots?!" you should head over to Gillian Kyle's Local Heroes (& Villains) range and seek out your favourite.

Here's tae us. Wha's like us?

She's Filled With Secrets: Kate Rowland's Twin Peaks inspired brooches

I always need a TV series to help me through the winter. At the moment it's Mad Men Season Five, last year it was Twin Peaks. I'd never seen it before but once I'd watched it I started noticing little nods to it everywhere, whether it's references to cherry pie or fishes in percolators. And don't even get me started on owls.

So I gasped with delight when I saw Kate Rowland's brooches on Hannah Zakari, including the 'She's Filled With Secrets' brooch above. Fellow fans might remember this comes from one of the dwarf/black and white floored room sequences. People who don't know or care what I'm going on about still get a pretty brooch. Double win. You may have seen this on our Pinterest last week: it's not the peak of Kate Rowland's amazingness. There's more.

Here's Audrey's brogues, proving that what's stylish in the early 90s can more than pass muster in 2012.   (see also this skirt which would look a treat on Ms Horne). This brooch is £8, as is the Secrets brooch.

From Kate's Etsy store, here's some Log Lady brooches, also £8, and you could always accessorise with Log Lady earrings. I'm also a fan of the Diane brooch.

Twin Peaks references leaving you a bit cold? There are plenty more pop cultural nods in Kate's work to amuse you, ranging from Ghost World to Napoleon Dynamite.

And if you're not bored by the Twin Peaks chat, give yourself a present and have a look at Coop in all his caffeinated glory.


Wednesday 28 November 2012

Wallpaper Wednesday: The Mark on the Wall

"What if we stopped working and let the children get on with it themselves? Let's not colour them in ! Let's not finish our drawings!"

And that's how The Mark on the Wall came about. Instead of a completely finished wallpaper borders for children, they're freestyle, ready for colouring in and drawing on.

I really want to draw on all of the wallpapers. I'd play with this for hours. In all honesty, I probably wouldn't want an entire living room decorated in the paper, but I would like a strip across a wall in an office or even a downstairs loo. It's the kind of paper that you'd want to be distracted by for ten minutes while you boiled the kettle or waited for takeaway. And when friends came over for dinner they could all have a play. Maybe the takeaway delivery guy could have a scribble.

That's the thing I like about this paper. I know it's aimed at kids, I totally get that. But I want to play. I want dragons everywhere, breathing fire and making trouble. Or maybe I want wizards and magicians. Or one day I might want to draw peacocks. They'd be fun to colour in.

This could be like a fun version of a guest book. I've been to supper clubs where people have notes written all over their bathroom mirrors. It's like that, but ever-changing and a little more artistic. And also, drawing dragons and cars is really fun. I do worry that kids might then take to the rest of the walls and ruin that lovely Farrow & Ball paint, but hopefully I'll be able to resist that urge. You don't have to stay inside the lines, but you do have to stay on the wallpaper.

Want to play and draw and colour in? Even if you don't have kids? This brilliant paper is £40 from Wall Libary.

Sluttishly Easy: F*** This Thai-ish Soup

Cosy. Lazy. Claaaazy.
Warning: This is sluttishness in its truest form. L-A-Z-Y.

What is your favourite comforting short-cut supper? Mine always involve a million condiments. Remember the F*** This Spaghetti? Borne out of the fact that I was very unimpressed at being pulled away from organising my bookcase in order to cook that I went "F*** this!" and threw, well, everything into a saucepan. Delicious and super-simple!

This recipe is my store cupboard go to. I have probably the worst store cupboard of all Domestic Sluttery staff - Sara's always pulling out gorgeous dishes made of a million spices and pulses, while I suspect that Hazel could pull out a kestrel if she rummaged far enough back.

Not me though, no. Not even vaguely. I have onions, a shedload of garlic, and button mushrooms, which I would ordinarily use in a proper Thai soup, except Asda never has any free-range chicken, and I never remember to buy lemongrass. Why would you? It's violently-perfumed twigs that cause you massive alarm when you chew it thinking it's chicken.

So when I can't be bothered; when I really just want to drink a gallon of soup and vegetables, I like this dirty, simple alternative. Then I sit in front of the fire and just do not very much. Hurray.

F*** This Thai-ish Soup (Serves one, if you just sit and drink it all evening like I do)

You will need:
  • two onions, sliced
  • two cloves of garlic,  sliced
  • 1 litre chicken stock 
  • one can of button mushrooms, or 250g box actual mushrooms
  • Any veg you have in the fridge
  • ginger to taste, grated Use in moderation or very bad things happen
  • the juice of one lime Hey, I've used a lemon before. Store cupboard emergencies, people!
  • fish sauce 
Make it!

Oh come on. You need me to tell you how to make what is essentially "a load of stuff shoved in a pan?" 

  1. Heat a saucepan to a medium heat, add your onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add in your stock, your mushrooms, ginger and any veg that you would rather be a bit crunchy. Simmer and cook for about 10 minutes until you're happy with your veg.
  2. Take off the heat and add your delicious citrus juices. Add fish juice to taste - this really can't go wrong. One time I accidentally took the whole lid off a new one and accidentally shook half a bottle in. Just add more juice!
I'm not going to pretend this is haute cuisine. You'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb to pretend that. But when you need something comforting that you can just guzzle on a drip, this is my go to. 


What about you lot? What are your go-to slovenly, cheaty, comfort recipes? Tell us in the comments! And if you want some proper Thai food to cook, we've got loads of yummy stuff in the archive.

Shop in the Spotlight: Five Go Mad

The problem with featuring amazing shops in the run up to Christmas is that everyone I'm buying presents for will know where they're coming from. So my cunning plan this year is to buy everything that I write about, keep it for myself and get everyone else selection boxes from Poundland (good ones, Marvel Comic ones and a Super Mario one for Kat). Here's what I'm buying myself from Five Go Mad.

First up I'd like these bird beakers from Fliff Carr. They're £20 and I can choose what colour glaze they have on the inside.

More mugs for me! I'd like this woollen spool mug from Ella Doran. It's only 36.

Actually, I wouldn't buy this seagulls sign for me. This is the perfect gift for Frances. It'll remind her of her hometown. It's £60. Damn, this wasn't part of the plan.

Obviously I need a gift tag stamp so you all know who got you that ace selection box. It'll probably have  the Curly Wurly missing and I'm going to blame that on the cat. It's £15.

These liquorice allsort sweets aren't real, so you probably don't want this. I'll think I'll selflessly keep it for me.

Design Porn: Zeena

Remember last week I showed you cat and dog cushions? Thanks to East London based designer Zeena, I now present to you A Little Fox Called Owen.
A Little Fox Called Owen, £25
Equally as cute right? All of Zeena's work is as charming. Having studied at Chelsea School of Art, Zeena took her love of Scandinavian prints and set about making her own range of hand printed textiles.
A Cushion Called Dot, £60
All her materials are sourced in the UK which is a very lovely thing indeed. And the handmade aspect means that each item will be slightly different and therefore totally unique.
A Shopper Called Susie, £10
From cushions to totes to sticky tape, I love that Zeena's work is cute without being too twee and can see it adding a special little something to my home.
Bertie Bird Sticky Tape, £6
This bird tape will liven up any present wrapping you have to do (I'm guessing there might be some coming up!) - it'd go great with brown paper and string for a slightly less traditional wrapping theme. Sh, I love theming my gift wrap!

Zeena also has some lovely cards and lavender bags and pin cushions that would make perfect little presents.  Have a browse through her shop but try not to buy everything before I have!

Baking for Beginners: Winter Spice & Whisky Brittle Shortbread

It's St. Andrew's Day on Friday! My tartan heart will be bursting with love for my home country, and my tartan tummy will be filled with this winter-spiced shortbread. I do enjoy a St. Andy's celebration - it's close enough to Christmas that we can make things a bit really festive (plus all the whisky is on special offer in the supermarket), but it's far enough away from C-Day to be a welcome excuse to punctuate our shopping/planning/wondering where to source an ethical no-drop, Scandinavian-grown, perfectly symmetrical tree madness.

Shortbread is, obviously, the food of the gods. I will hear nothing to the contrary. Usually, I'm a traditionalist - one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour, a pinch of salt at a push. And while that does always give me an easy, delicious biscuit, I wanted to create something a bit more special this time around. So not only did I add a hefty sprinkling of warming spices to the mix, but I experimented with a whisky-tinged brittle topping. Just call me Heston.

Winter Spice & Whisky Brittle Shortbread (makes 8 petticoat tails)

You'll need:

For the shortbread
  • 130g room temperature unsalted butter
  • 130g plain flour
  • 40g semolina 
  • 55g golden caster sugar (normal caster sugar is fine; I ain't the sugar police)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • ½ tsp ground ginger (optional, because it's already in the mixed spice - I just love ginger)
For the brittle topping
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 85ml whisky (nothing fancy)
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 150°/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
  2. Beat the butter until soft. Add the caster sugar and salt and beat again.
  3. Chuck in the flour, semolina, and spices, and mix until you have a smooth dough. You can pop in an extra knob of butter if it's looking bitty. 
  4. With floured hands (preferably your own), roll the dough into a ball. If you're using a proper stoneware shortbread mould, dust it with flour and press your ball of dough evenly into it from centre to edges. If you're baking individual biscuits, pat the mixture to about 1cm thick, then cut out your shortbread shapes. Transfer them to a parchment-lined baking tray.
  5. Put your prepared dough into the fridge for 15-30 minutes. 
  6. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour. The shortbread should still be pale in colour after this time. It will feel squidgy on top - don't worry, it firms up as it cools (and do let it cool for a goodly long while before turning out/handling the biscuits, please).
  7. Once the shortbread has cooled, remove it from the mould if you're using one, and start preparing the brittle. Heat the sugar and whisky in a saucepan until it's amber-coloured and at the hard-crack stage. This should take about ten minutes at a boil - drop a little in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads (if you have a sugar thermometer, it should read 150°C/300°F when it's reached the right stage). You don't need me to tell you not to arse about with boiling syrup, but my poor, blistered finger wishes I'd given myself a strict talking-to before sticking it straight into the pan. My tongue wishes the same. NO I DIDN'T STICK MY TONGUE STRAIGHT INTO THE PAN. Jeezo. I'm not an animal. I was doing a taste-test. Prematurely, I quickly discovered. 
  8. Immediately pour the sugar syrup over the shortbread to form a glossy layer. To get my two-tone effect, I simply pooled some syrup towards the centre of my large, octagonal piece of shortbread, let it cool a little, and then poured another layer across the top. TA-DA - an ombré biscuit! If you're slicing a large biscuit, you should do this soon after you've poured your syrup to avoid cracking the brittle once it's cooled.
  9. Leave the brittle to harden atop the shortbread, overnight if you have a lot of self-control, and decorate if you so desire. Just brush the top of the shortbread with a pastry brush dipped in whisky to revive the stickiness of the brittle. I went for some festive sparkle on mine - thank your lucky stars I didn't attempt to fulfil my first whim, which was to make a tartan-effect brittle. That would have been a bloody mess (Possibly real blood. Mine).
  10. Enjoy with a wee dram or two, and toast Scotland's brilliant biscuits. 
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