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Thursday 31 January 2013

Valentine's Day Cards that don't completely suck

Looking for a Valentine's card that doesn't have love hearts and teddy bears and cuteness and twee vomiting out of it? Yeah, me too. Here are my favourites.

Wait, hang on. I'm doing this Valentine's day thing all wrong, aren't I? But I really really do love this David Shrigley card. It's ironic, OK? It's £2.90 from Polite cards.

Awww, this one made my tummy flip a little bit. That's so romantic, in a very British way. That's totally how I want my romance. This ambivalent card is £2.50 from Miso Funky. I'm never ambivalent about that website. Love it.

Usually I run away from all personalised cards, as thought they're riddled with some sort of Funky Pigeon plague. But this one? This can stay. It's £2.05 from Paperbird.

Dancing foxes make for very lovely Valentine's cards. V&A, you're so sweet. But your lack of apostrophe is going to bug the hell outta me.

Another fox! But this foxy card chap is so dapper, it's impossible to ignore him. He's £3.75 from Papermash. I like his monocle.


But a zombie apocalypse? Nah, that's not scary. That's sweet. Zombie love will cost you £2.

Binary love is so damn sexy.

Sluttishly Dairy Free: Coconut Oil

Yesterday, I spent the day chomping my way through table after table, filled with freefrom goodies. No, I wasn't binge eating, I was a judge for the FreeFrom Food Awards 2013! One of the many great things about judging countless freefrom products is that I always find a gem, something I had never heard of before that really rocks my world. This year, it's coconut oil.

Some of you lovely readers have been asking for more dairy free recipes and I've been on the lookout for some exciting dairy free ingredients to substitute the usual, dairy filled, ingredients in my baking. Enter stage left, coconut oil. While the nutritionists raved about the health benefits, I was excited about the buttery texture of it. You can spread this on crackers, use it for cooking, add it to smoothies and even cream it with sugar to make a cake. Leave your jar in the fridge and it'll be like hard butter, leave it in the warm kitchen and it'll be runny and you can pour it into your roasting tin. It is extremely resistant to heat, so it won't burn like olive oil and it has a very subtle coconutty flavour that won't overpower the rest of your ingredients.

It's pricey, around £10 for 500ml, so I'll probably go bankrupt using it in everything. Fortunately, Lucy Bee Coconut Oil is 20% off over at Natural Health so it's only £7.96 for 500ml at the moment. I'll be stocking up!

Hooray for Hip Flasks

You really cannot beat a good hip flask - they're pretty, they make you look a bit like a pirate and they're FULL OF BOOZE. Perfect for festivals, travelling, or awkward family occasions.

My quest for a good'un has led me through mires of cheesy slogans, odd shapes and boring designs, but I think I've found some winners.

First up, the legendary Wild and Wolf make some really good ones. One of my absolute faves is this world map hip flask for £19.95: I would take it to far-away places and use it to plot my adventures whilst tipsy. 

Ted Baker's stag hip flask is all atmospheric and eery. You could drink from it at a picnic on some windswept moors and its contents would warm you up - pretty and functional. It's £25 from The Hollies Farm Shop.

Wild and Wolf also had a hand in designing the Wanderlust hip flask. I don't really know where to start in listing all of the awesome: stripes, flowers, zebras, flamingoes and a parrot! I can even see a cheeky giraffe in the top corner. Although I'm not sure this would be appropriate drinking-material for a trip to the zoo. It's £20 from Amara.

Lastly, but oh so very not least are my chums at Urban Outfitters. We've featured their hip flasks before but oh boy is this camera hip flask tremendous. A sneaky little hip flask in disguise, and really very pretty to boot -  that faux-leather and neck strap are just charming. It's £20.

Etsy Pick: SketchInc

One of the downsides to playing about on Pinterest is discovering gorgeous things and then realising that they're a) sold out b) actually linking to an advert for erectile dysfunction or c) from a seller on the other side of the world and shipping is too expensive. Pinterest is basically the modern day version of flicking through the Argos catalogue as a kid. It shows you loads of wonderful things that you just can't have.

Aaaah, the Laminated Book of Dreams. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes! It turns out that despite my discovering them on Pinterest, SketchInc are in the UK! (Thank you, Holly Becker.) All of their gorgeous harlequin jewellery is up for grabs with very reasonable postage. This little gold-faced bear will perch on your shoulder for £11.50 and £1.50 postage.

Now here's the thing I like with Etsy sellers. If you buy more than one piece, the postage gets cheaper. So I've decided that I'd like this harlequin bunny as well. Postage for him would be 90p. I'm saving money but buying him (shut up, yes I am).

Actually, move over, bunny. I need a harlequin fox with a gold-tipped tail! Gimme. He's handsome, isn't he?

You can even get the little guys in a pretty gift box for the same price - it's just the postage that's a little pricier. SketchInc are going on my favourites list, these brooches are gorgeous.

Sluttishly Sweet: Peanut Butter Ice Cream Truffle Balls

I've been known to demolish an entire jar of peanut butter in one sitting using nothing but a stick of celery as a spoon. I can't get enough of the crunchy good stuff and that's why it's mostly banned from my kitchen, until now.

This recipe actually started out being for regular truffles but I got impatient and tried one whilst it was still frozen and accidentally made the BEST ICE CREAM BALLS EVER. I love happy cooking accidents, it's actual scientific fact (probably) that most genius recipes are created when either really drunk (these usually involve random booze concoctions/sandwich combos/takeaway food + unlikely cupboard ingredient) or by not paying attention to a recipe and ending up with something far far better.

What's your awesome culinary accident?

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Truffle Balls (makes about 16 balls)
You'll need:
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 200g crunchy peanut butter
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • chopped nuts to sprinkle (optional)
Make it!
  1. Put your cream cheese and icing sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth then beat in your peanut butter (try not to do as I did and eat most of the mixture at this stage).
  2. Spoon your mixture into a bowl and pop in the fridge for 20 minutes just to firm up enough to be able to roll into balls. Once firm-ish roll into balls and place them on a sheet of greaseproof paper.
  3. Put the balls into the freezer for a a couple of hours.
  4. Melt the chocolate then using 2 forks roll each ball in the melted chocolate and put on greaseproof paper to set. and sprinkle with the chopped nuts if you're using them. At this point you can just leave them at room temperature to become fabulous peanut butter truffles OR pop them back in the freezer to make the most brilliantly easy ice cream balls! Just take them out of the freezer about 10 minutes before serving so they just soften a tiny bit.

Post a Pigeon and Other Magical Mailings

It's January. My letterbox is full of bills. Here are some things I'd rather were in my letterbox:
1. A letter from a friend
2. A present
3. A party invite
4. A pigeon

While the first three things on the list may be flights of fancy, the pigeon - I'm very pleased to say - is not. In a move that puts the coo into cool, The Letter Writer's Alliance, an United States organisation devoted to keeping the art of letter writing alive, have created a special carrier pigeon service. For $30 you get your very own (plastic) pigeon, message forms and stamps. Think of a lucky recipient, pop in into the postbox and away it goes.

In the States, you don't even have to bother with any further form of packaging: it's just the pigeon, the stamps and the postbox you need to get your message out. (New York-based Tina from Swissmiss, where I heard about this birdy brilliance, wrote that her postman simply walked in with her pigeon post sat on his shoulder). They do sell the kit internationally as well, for an extra $33. However, it does come with the warning that you might have to pack the pigeon into a box, or resort to hand delivery to get it through your own country's postal system. Does the British postal service accept unaccompanied pigeons? Can anybody confirm?

The Letter Writers Alliance site is packed full of other inventive bits of postal fun to encourage you to scribble away, such as pneumatic post kits or the intriguing sounding moth mail, which comes in a different colour depending on what phase the moon is in when you order your set. Become a member of the alliance for $5 and you can use the beautiful Letter Writers Alliance headed paper with pride, and buy other exclusive bits of stationery too. Exclusive stationery and the chance to get pigeons in the post (Really, I'd be happy with just a few letters...)? Sign me up.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Plus size solutions: adding sleeves

When we asked for your thoughts on plus size fashion in the UK last week, one thing that came up quite a lot was the fact items are often just scaled up from the smaller sizes, with no thought to how this will work on a fuller figure. Sleeveless dresses were a big concern. While some plus size women have the confidence to wear them and look amazing,  many more feel better with their arms covered, or need more coverage to hide their bra. It's much harder than it should be to find lovely dresses with sleeves, and given that it's currently freezing cold, it's completely impractical to prance about without some kind of arm coverage, no matter how gorgeous the dress is. Yes, even this one (£60 at Simply Be, up to size 32).

But let's face it, most plus size knitwear is not exactly stylish. The plethora of chunky boyfriend cardis and waterfall tunics just hide half your dress. So I have hunted down a few more creative solutions: add-on sleeves that will give you the warmth or coverage you crave without hiding you dress, something which is probably useful for more than just our plus size friends!

First up is Mary Portas and Charnos 'Armery' (from £7). Mary designed these tights for your arms as part of her 'mature woman' fashion collection for House of Fraser. They're basically a shrug made of tights, with the added bonus of shapewear-like sucking-in power, if you like that sort of thing. They only come in two sizes, but due to the stretchiness, should fit most body shapes.

Wingz take this concept one step further, coming down under your bra to ensure the sleeves don't fall down or move. They were designed with plus sizes in mind, with most styles going up to a size 28. There are Wingz for all occasions, from daywear to party, from about £15. If you don't like fitted sleeves, there are plenty of floaty kimono styles like the ones pictures, and they even make bridal Wingz!

M&S are the latest to get in on the act with their 'Flatter Me' (ugh) cupless armwear (£22.50) a similar concept to Wingz. It's been a big seller - they stock up to size 22 but the website is almost out - but there is also a bodysuit for a few quid more in the same style that's available in all sizes. I love a bodysuit under a dress anyway - it hides undies lines and gives a nice smooth finish.

Finally, for those who want even more coverage, or don't like the idea of a restrictive garment under their bra, there's always the good old shrug. Yours Clothing has a good cheap basic (£16) in loads of colours up to a size 32, and it isn't too frumpy or shapeless. My tip is to size up and fasten it with a vintage brooch to cleverly hide a neckline that reveals too much!

Design Porn: Daniel Heath

Not content with showing you one exciting wallpaper design today, I've decided to share Daniel Heath's work with you as well. He draws by hand and creates bold designs that work on a whole different range of surfaces. I'd like them all to work on the surfaces in my flat, if that's not asking too much?

This bird wallpaper looks really lovely from a distance, but close up you can see that they're taxidermy birds - pinned and stuffed to the wall. That's erm... pleasant. I do love a wallpaper that looks like one thing but is actually another. (Hey there House of Mischief, you cheeky things).

That's enough wallpaper for one day! Instead, let's have a look at some gorgeous mirrors. Mr. Peacock isn't included. That's actually because a lot of the mirrors have been specially commissioned. They're around £350.

The detail on them is absolutely gorgeous. I like that they're made using antique mirrors, but that Heath's work takes them a step further than just standard 'upcycling'. The designs can be found on furniture as well - how gorgeous is this mirror table?

Circus cushions! Absolutely perfect circus cushions that at £75 each I wouldn't let the kitten anywhere near them. Daniel Heath's work is really special. It's not affordable as an everyday purchase, but it's got a unique something that I can't stop staring at.

Magisso Cake Server

One of the best and worst things about making cake is cutting it up afterwards if you are in the unfortunate position of having to share and not just sticking you face into it. It's the best because you get to share the fruits of your labour but also the worst because unless you get out rulers and protractors, someone is always going to complain (even if they keep it to themselves) that someone else got a bigger piece. That's why you need one of Magisso's cake servers.
It's a stylish bit of magic that will make afternoon tea and, perhaps more importantly, birthday parties a lot fairer and civilised. It also helps that there's an instructional video. I am a sucker for these things which is why I'm not allowed to watch the shopping channels when I get home from the pub in case I buy stuff.

Wallpaper Wednesday: Penguin Library

If there's a wallpaper more perfect for my imaginary library, then I haven't seen it. Penguin's collaboration with Osborne & Little is the best book-inspired wallpaper I've seen. Even nicer than Anthropologie's.

But there is something I'm a little concerned about (no, not just the £65 price tag). Is it possible that Penguin merchandise is becoming a little ubiquitous? With a design heritage that dates back to 1935, it feels almost a little churlish to suggest that, but their designs are being stamped all over everything. I worry that my beloved Penguin books might well be going in the same direction as Keep Calm and Carry On.

We've got three Penguin mugs in DS HQ (which I can dry with Penguin tea towels) and I love my Penguin postcards (I could write on them with penguin pencils). I can wrap my gifts (probably a Penguin tie) with Penguin wrapping paper while sitting in a Penguin deck chair. Oh looks, there's a Penguin boardgame as well! It's all becoming a little much.

It's entirely possible that this wallpaper will date much quicker than the books, even though at first glance I think it's lovely. Although I still think it would be the perfect paper to line bookcases with.

Sluttery by Post: Deluxebite

If there's one indulgence I cannot ever contemplate giving up, it's good food. The problem is, over the festive period I ate entirely too much of it - chocolates and cheese and puddings and OH NO now all my clothes are so tight they leave marks on me like some terrible form of clothes abuse.

And yet I cannot halt my greed for gourmet, regardless of my so far disastrous January Guilt diet. Then the nice folks at Deluxebite offered to send me their January box - aka The Detox Box - of delicious, natural, artisan foods. Oh, sweet heaven.

So how does Deluxebite work? They send you a fantastic monthly box of 5 gourmet and artisan food samples for you to include in meals or munch as snacks. You can choose your subscription length, but a one-off box is £20. Sounds good, but it gets better: they're also super-kind - for every box bought they donate one meal to a foodbank to help hungry families in the UK.

It's not always just healthy stuff - each month has a different theme, for example their December "Christmas Indulgence" box contained tutti frutti jam and PEANUT BUTTER PIE (I am hyperventilating.)

So what detox treats did I get with my naughty but nice January box?

I started with the Black Label coffee. Smooth, nutty, and an excuse to show off my cafetiere at work and deign to share my treasure with only the most appreciative coffee-drinkers like some ego-maniacal coffee queen. It was fun.

Then came Kiwi and Apple Crisps - thinly-sliced, air-dried pieces of fruit that made for a nice smug snack to nibble on during my lunch while everyone around me had guilt pangs with every handful of their Hula Hoops. Okay, so they're not as nice as Hula Hoops, but they do have a moreish tangy taste and a satisfying crunch.

Third up, I used the sugar-free chutney. The one I got sent was caramelised onion flavour (result!) and was the most delicious ever addition to my boring ham sandwich. I can think of about a squillion tasty uses for this that - most importantly - do away with the need to caramelise onions when I'm feeling lazy, so it will be staying a store-cupboard staple for a while to come.

Butternut Squash Relish sounds as scrumptious as it is: I tried it with some blue cheese and wine as the deluxebite guys suggested and it took my cheese-lust to a whole new level - adding warmth, smooth texture and tons of flavour. I'm also looking forward to adding it to soups and stews, but - as you can probably tell - I've been too lazy to do that this month.

Lastly, and maybe even best, I sampled the venison chorizo. Never have two words made me so salivatingly-delirious. I have only had a teeny bite so far (a truly wonderful moment) but tomorrow I am putting it in a hearty and healthy butterbean, cider and thyme stew.

So, is it worth the £20? That depends. If - like this month - you really enjoy all five ingredients when you wouldn't necessarily have thought to try them before, then I think it's really worthwhile. But delicious though the ingredients were, I'm not sure their actual value is worthy of spending twenty quid a month.

That said, it introduced me to exciting new foods with zero effort required, and that's something I'd find hard to resist - just probably not every month.

My box has certainly helped make January a much tastier month than I'd expected.

Sluttishly Sweet: Mille Crêpes No-bake Cake

Two days ago, I found out about the wonder that is Mille Crêpes Cake. Anyone who knew about this cake before now and neglected to mention it to me - friends, family, casual acquaintances, and the entirety of the French nation - is henceforth sacked from my life. Reason for dismissal? Withholding important cake information. Perverting the course of cakely justice, if you will.  

Martha Stewart, on the other hand, is welcome for tea whenever she likes. Because Martha bothered to tell me about it. It takes something like this to find out who your real friends are. 

This French no-bake cake is translated as 'a thousand crêpes', mais calme-toi because it seems that we are cooking in a tiny little happy maths-challenged bubble where 1,000 = 20. In simple terms, it's a stack of crêpes with crème pâtissière sandwiched between each layer. But it's so much more than that. It's... life affirming

As a token of my gratitude to Martha, I have completely bypassed her recipe, because on closer inspection I thought it sounded a bit rubbish (It looked lovely, though, Martha. Kiss kiss. Get those tax returns done now). Instead, I've gone for my usual crêpe recipe, and a standard crème pâtissière, to which I've added lavender and lemon. May I remind you all here that crème pâtissière is GLORIFIED CUSTARD, and therefore I declare myself officially in the running for the SPOON OF GLORY in this month's Just Desserts club. Let me at it.*

I won't lie to you: there's an element of faff to this recipe, mainly because you have to prepare the crêpe batter and crème pâtissière in advance, so that they can chill. After that though, it's a doddle. Yes, you have to make 20 crêpes, but there's a certain therapeutic element to that.

Flavour the cream as you wish - anything goes. I chose lemon and lavender because they're ace partners in crime, and I wanted to dye the cream lurid shades of lilac and yellow. This would be just as delicious with no added flavourings at all.

*Whaddya mean I'm not allowed to win the spoon?! Outrage. 

Mille Crêpes No-bake Cake (serves a hell of a lot of people)

You'll need:

For the crêpes
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 720ml whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 185g plain flour
  • 85g caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying 
For the crème pâtissière
  • 480 ml whole milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (or one pod, sliced lengthways and seeds scraped out)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 40g cornflour
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • A dusting of icing sugar
For the assembly
  • 480ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • Flavourings of your choice - I used lemon extract and lavender extract
  • Food colourings of your choice - I used yellow and lilac
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp warm water
  • Things to garnish your cake - I used culinary lavender and the zest of one lemon
Make it!

The crêpe batter:
  1. Heat the butter in a small saucepan until nut brown. Meanwhile, beat together the eggs, sugar, flour, and salt. 
  2. Slowly pour in the milk and melted butter and continue beating until smooth.
  3. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least five hours, preferably overnight.
The crème pâtissière:
  1. Heat the milk in a saucepan until it just boils. Remove from the heat, and add the vanilla extract or vanilla seeds and pod. Set aside for five minutes to cool slightly. 
  2. Either in a large saucepan or a mixer, whisk together the egg yolks, cornflour, and sugar. Pour the warm milk in gradually, whisking constantly.
  3. If you're using a mixer, transfer the mixture to a saucepan. Bring to a boil over a high heat, whisking ALMIGHTILY until all of a sudden, the liquid becomes an almost gelatinous. STOP beating and turn off the heat.
  4. Press the crème pâtissière through a sieve using a wooden spoon. This will catch the lumps and *gasp* any bits of cooked egg that may have mistakenly happened. BOAK.
  5. Plunge the bowl into a larger bowl filled with cold water. Stir the crème pâtissière for about a minute, then add the butter and stir some more until it's incorporated into the mixture.
  6. Sprinkle the surface of your amazing crème pâtissière with icing sugar to prevent it forming a custardy skin. Cover and stick in the fridge to chill for as long as the crêpe batter.
A few hours later...
  1. Make the crêpes! Allow the batter to reach room temperature. Swab a little vegetable oil over the surface of a crêpe pan or smallish, flattish frying pan (I used a 10" crêpe pan from Ikea). Over a medium heat, pour in 3-4 tablespoons of batter and swirl around until the surface of the pan is covered. 
  2. Cook until the bottom of the crêpe starts to turn golden brown. Flip and cook for a further 10-15 seconds on the other side. 
  3. Place on a piece of parchment paper and REPEAT x 20.
  4. Now whip the double cream and sugar and fold it into the crème pâtissière, along with any flavourings and colourings you want to use. 
  5. Once the crêpes have cooled, place one on a plate and use an icing spatula to spread a thin layer of crème pâtissière all over the surface. Cover with another crêpe and repeat the process until you have finished your stack. Place your most handsome crêpe on top.
  6. I made a glacé icing to finish my cake, simply mixing icing sugar with warm water and stirring until smooth. I also added a little yellow food colouring and lemon extract, because pourquoi pas?
  7. Sprinkle any garnishes you want to use all over the cake, and chill for at least two hours.
  8. Use a very sharp knife to slice and serve, to preserve your layers of cream within.
  9. Holy crêpe! You've made a Mille Crêpes Cake!

What have we been reading this month?

Need a little reading inspiration after you bought all of those Albatross bookmarks yesterday? Curious about what we've had our noses in this month? Here's a little look at the books that kicked off 2013 for us.

Sian: I've been flitting between novels and non-fiction this month. My mind is being blown by Steve Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From. It's such a simple book that's making me look at everything in a very different way. It's strange being consciously aware of how ideas form as you're scribbling in a notebook. But too much non-fiction makes me an insomniac so I've put that to one side to get stuck into Great Expectations  I've never read it before and I was lucky to get one of the gorgeous Drop Cap editions. It's bright orange! Loving the book so far. Mrs Havisham is fabulous.

Next on the reading list? Dan Rhodes' new short story collection Marry Me and after two people who have never met telling me how brilliant it is, I'm after a copy of Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookshop.

Frances: I've just devoured Peter Høeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, perfect for these icy times. It starts off with a young boy's suspicious death from a Copenhagen rooftop. So far, so Scandi thriller. But it expands into much more than that, and the storyline pulls in geometry, politics, meteorology and everything else besides. If that makes it sound dry, it's far from it. Høeg is one of the most sensual writers I've ever read, whether he's talking about ice, cooking eggs and, yes, a few sex scenes that made me a enjoyably hot and flustered on a very cold day.

I'm moving to sunnier climes for my next book as I'm extremely overexcited about my holiday to Cuba in a few weeks. I'm going to dig out Oscar Hijuelos's The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the story of two musicians who move from Havana to New York in 1949 to get me in the mood.

Laura V: This month I've been getting a bit lost in Cecelia Ahern's If You Could See Me Now. Pleasantly bizarre in plot, it's rather good to curl up with on cold nights and is cleverer than your average 'Chick Lit' (whoever came up with that phrase should have a word with themselves, but that's a whole other topic). I can't wait to get to the end of it - this is something I cannot help but find with all of her books.

I've also been doing unladylike guffaws to Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart, who seems to write as animatedly and hilariously as she talks, and in a completely identical tone - something I find charming and rather addictive. Encouraging us to be delightfully silly, it's a book I think everyone should read.

Lastly, I've reread the ever-brilliant The Age of Absurdity. A non-fiction fave of mine, it compiles philosophical teaching from throughout the millennia concerning what it is to be happy, and how we can or cannot get there. A great lesson in perspective, and basically chilling the hell out. A must-read, especially in January.

Hazel: I was given Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II for Christmas which has entries for almost every day of the year. I started on January 1st and read each day's recipe as I'm making my morning coffee so I always start my day with a little food inspiration. It's beautifully written and the simplicity of his recipes always instills a sense of calm in me. Today's recipe is "Marmalade chocolate chip ice cream", sounds like a winner to me!

In my bag I carry a copy of Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman, which if I had my way would be on the national curriculum reading list. I'm probably the last woman I know to finally get around to reading it but it I keep it in there for the rare opportunities I get to go for a coffee and read for an hour. It's brilliantly funny and articulates the vast majority of my feminist views in such a way that makes me want to stand on my chair in the cafe, clutch my chest and shout "O Captain my Caitlin", but I haven't... yet.

Laura H: As a general rule, I usually try to read books before I watch TV or movie versions of them, yes even Dickens, although ploughing through Bleak House before the BBC adaptation was a challenge. Since the film is due out in February, I decided to finally give David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas a try. (He's not the comedian by the way, that must get annoying for them both) I honestly don't know why it took me so long to pick it up - seeing as it's been a bestseller forever - other than it always seemed a bit incomprehensible. I'm not normally one to believe in hype about something, but... I can't argue with this hype. It's a remarkable book, half pastiche and half epic journey that will linger with you long, long after you finish it.

Other than that, I'm also wading into classical waters and journeying to the centre of the earth with a beautiful Leatherbound Classics edition of Jules Verne: Seven Novels. Look at that beast. It's a sight for sore, e-reader weary eyes and perfect for a stormy, winters night, especially if you happen to have a fireplace, a brandy and a Victorian library to hand.

Sara: I got Cats Are Weird, an observational comic book by Jeffrey Brown, from my Domestic Sluttery Secret Santa. It's affectionate and funny, and captures just how strange and stupid cats can be. I'm trying to use it as a reference book to encourage my cat to go outside (she's not keen).

I'm also reading 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, a brilliant book that debunks some of the myths of capitalism. It's broken into bite-sized, accessible chapters called things like "The washing machine has changed more lives than the internet". Recommended if you're trying to make sense of this world but don't know where to start.

Caleigh: I've been reading three books this month. I started J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy months ago and I'm still making my way through it slowly. It's a great read, but it's not a page-turner. The story is utterly heartbreaking at times and the narrative is character driven, so I feel like I need to devote some quality time to properly get into it. I re-read Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages, by Tom Holt because it's such a silly, funny story and I'll never get bored of his books.

I dip in and out of Nigel Slater's Eating for England, anytime I have to get on a train, plane or bus, and every time I find myself in a doctor's waiting room. It's a series of short essays on different aspects of British food and traditions and it's an easy read thanks to Slater's conversational writing style and I learn something every time I read it. He's my food writing hero and I'm smitten by anything he writes.

I have just bought Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe, about the behind-the-scenes goings on at Marvel. As a massive Spider-Man, Avengers and X-Men geek, I can't wait to get to get stuck in!

What books did you start the new year with? Share you favourites with us!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Shop in the Spotlight: Large Cup Lingerie

When we asked you about plus size fashion last week, you weren't short of an opinion or three! But as well as the disappointment on UK fashion brands and the plus size ranges available on the high street, we also got some brilliant recommendations from the people who are getting it right. One of those was Large Cup Lingerie (thanks Lolly!) Today I'm raiding their sale. That Freya bra is £16.50, the matching thong just £6.50. Oh yes, Large Cup Lingerie. I think I'm going to like you.

This Parfait bra is such a lovely shape (even if I'm not a fan of white trims on black underwear, they have a habit of shining through black clothing), it's £17.

Oooh, hello sexy lace bra. Actually, I think the silk camisole is even sexier but they've uploaded a horrible photo. Still, both are in the sale and up for grabs on the cheap.

This Freya Monet bra might be my favourite. It was clearly everyone else's favourite as well - it might be £8.40 but it's only available in a 30D. Damn.

There's so much good stuff! I can't you show you everything that's lovely, (but this longline bra is now £25.60.) Sizes on the site go from 28-40 back sizes and D to K cups, which is fantastic if you need a large cup and a small back size. I'm impressed. And since they offer free delivery and returns, it would be really rude not to treat yourself to some new (large) smalls.

Sunnyside Egg Shaper

Move over Heston Blumenthal. I'm a bit bored of your foodie experiments (seriously, no one cares that much about a giant ice cream), especially now I can create my own food silliness at home. Nice work, Avihai Shurin. This is fabulous. (As is the rest of Avihai's work - seriously, go and take a look.)

Just crack your egg into the round section of the Sunnyside mould, and watch as the yolk stays put and the clouds fill with the white, making your eggs quite literally sunnyside up.

And then serve your egg with a radish bicycle, of course. No, don't do that. That's just for photography purposes, serve it on toast with a mountain of bacon. Yes, you can put a radish bicycle on your bacon mountain if you really must. Jeez.

Avihai is actually based in Israel and I can't find a UK stockist for his designs. But the Sunnyside egg shaper is available from Monkey Business for the bargain price of $12, with $4 for UK shipping - that's about a tenner for the most perfect eggs you'll ever make.

Thanks to Ellen Munro for the tip off on Twitter. Got something ace to share with us? Do! Do it right away!

Design Porn: Logical Art

If I'm going to tell you about a 4GB memory stick that costs nearly fifty quid, there has to be something pretty damn slick about it. Enter stage left, Logical Art.

Empty Memory is a range of beautiful USB sticks. Pretentiousness aside (the transparent section is a metaphor for the empty memory on the stick that you're going to fill with wishes and dreams, OBVIOUSLY), they're really blimmin' gorgeous.

They're like little structures, making your documents look swish in meetings. Even if you're crap at creating Powerpoint presentations, no one will notice if you just subtly wave one of these in their faces (I've also found that a badger slide helps).

They're finished in rhodium and rose gold and they're definitely a bit of a talking point. I'd just love if they had more memory for their price (c'mon Logical Art - that's the cheap bit), because if they did I'd be forking out for one quite happily.
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