Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies


I made these tasty babies, as a treat for some nice people in my life. They might just be the easiest cookies to make, ever, and taste deliciously buttery.

Ingredients
5oz self-raising flour
4oz butter
2oz caster sugar
Handful dark chocolate chips
Handful chopped hazelnuts (you can leave these out if you prefer and just have chocolate chip cookies)


Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180c/350f, and grease two baking trays.
Rub the butter into the rest of the ingredients, until the mixture resembles a fine crumb.
Roll the dough into small balls approximately 1" in diameter, and place on the baking trays about 2" apart (they will expand quite a lot in the oven). Flatten the cookies slightly with the back of a fork or spoon.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 10-12 minutes, until pale gold. Or, leave them in to go a little darker - I prefer them like this, they taste almost caramelised whereas when they're paler they taste like a crunchy version of shortbread.
Leave to cool on a wire rack, then enjoy!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Two Books Down..

... And a ridiculous amount still to go! I haven't ploughed through as many books as I wanted to with this resolution; although I'm disappointed with the number of books still left in my pile, I'm just going to continue reading as much as I can once I go back to work, and hopefully I should be able to get through them in a reasonable time.


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I am ashamed to admit that, other than A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations is the first Dickens novel I've ever read. I know a few people who really do not like him and I think I must have just been put off by their opinions, which is a shame because I now wish I'd read something of his a lot sooner.

I loved this novel. I love Dickens' writing style and turns of phrase, and the idiosyncratic names he gives to his characters are phonetically quirky and entertaining. The story itself was a good read, full of drama, good times and bad times; I realise now there is a good reason for this book being a classic!



Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
Another classic that I really enjoyed. I have to admit, I was put off by the size of the book as it's a pretty hefty tome (although my edition did have lots of appendices and notes), so I decided to get it out of the way before I went back to work, knowing it would take me even longer after that.

The novel really drew me in, and all of the characters were very engaging even if they were not all likeable. I liked the way the novel poked fun at society of the time; and the fact that it seemed not to be judging Becky Sharp in as moralistic a manner as other books of the time might have, but more watching her evil scheming with one amused eyebrow raised. The book dragged a little towards the end, but I think that was more my own impatience to find out what happened to all of the characters. For the most part, it didn't feel as long as it actually was, and I managed to get through it with enthusiasm. In fact, the only downside with the book being so long was that, immersed for so long in the language of that period, I now find myself thinking in old-fashioned speech patterns - I have the same problem when I read Jane Austen novels too...




I still have 9 books left on my list to get through; the list itself has changed slightly from the one shown in my initial post (linked above). I found a few books on my parents' shelves I wanted to add, and I'm giving up on A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth because it's just too, too massive. Also (idiot admission coming up) I realised there's no point in starting War and Peace, because the stupid girl (me) who bought it at the carboot sale failed to realise the spine clearly says "Part 1".. And I don't have Part 2. I did wonder why it was so small, I guess I just thought the print was super-tiny...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Modcloth Wishlist

Modcloth first appeared on my radar back in 2009. They had a dress that I was lusting after to wear to my sister's wedding; alas, it was so popular it sold out before my payday, and they never got it back in stock. Ever since then I've kept browsing their website, and they've consistently had some fantastic clothes, accessories and homeware. They have a quirky, lighthearted and girly look, with witty, punny names for their items which add a humorous touch.

I've decided that this year is the year I'm going to buy something from Modcloth. I don't really like buying things online at the best of times, but the shipping costs from the US have put me off even more. Until now. I just can't bear to be without something from their shop. I love their branding, the whole style of the shop and the way they support little-known designers to showcase pieces.

I've compiled a little list of possible items that I may splash out on in the next couple of months. The only trouble is, I can't decide what I want - I've bought so many clothes over the last couple of months, there is very little I actually need (and my definition of need is quite loose!). Should I buy something quirky and unusual that is signature Modcloth, even if I don't wear it much - or something a little more 'normal' so that I get more wear out of it?









Thursday, 26 January 2012

nice things....

...That perk me up and make life a little brighter.

Like purple shimmery nail polish to catch my eye with its sparkliness (and for once I've managed to make it look neat!)....

...Adding ridiculously girly sparkly stickers to my phone to make me smile whenever I see it...

....Living within driving distance of views like this

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

playing around...

In another attempt to educate myself, today I have been playing around with vector graphics software. I have never used any program like this before, my skills included Paint and that was about it. I've kind of shied away from anything else previously, mostly because any graphics software always looks so complicated and I've not had any major need or desire to learn to use it.

I am using Inkscape; it's an open source program that, from what I've read, holds its own against professional software such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. Best of all, it's free!

I can never learn a skill arbitrarily - there has to be an end result in sight for me. So I tried to find a tutorial to draw something, that wasn't too difficult for my total-noob credentials. I followed this tutorial for a Japanese kokeshi doll, as shown below. It's quite long (took me a few hours, though that did include some major dawdling such as painting my nails), but really easy to understand and I think I've grasped a few of the basics now.


Unfortunately, I haven't yet figured out a way to upload the images to the blog in their original .svg state, so this has been converted to a .png with the disappointing but unsurprising result of it looking all pixelly. :(

Despite my having 'cheated' by following a tutorial, I'm chuffed that I've been able to make this little doll without too much difficulty. For anybody that's thinking of having a go with software like this, bite the bullet - it's a lot less scary than it looks!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Portraits

I have now returned from visiting various family members in the south of the country, and a wonderful time I have had too. Nothing particularly exciting happened, which is good; I enjoyed simply catching up with people.

While in Wiltshire, my cousin and I collaborated to create some pretty photos. She is a fantastic photographer (though I will freely admit I am quite biased!), and I offered myself for her to practice shooting with her new lens and other equipment. You can visit her blog here for more technical specs that I don't totally understand, as well as more awesome photographs that don't have me in them.

This was actually a pretty big deal for me. I spent years of my life disliking being in front of a camera - literally running away from it most of the time. The only time I could bear having a photograph taken of me was if I was sat on a horse at the time. I think it just took me a terribly long time to get over the feeling-awkward-about-my-body stage of puberty. I've got over this for the most part (as evidenced by my outfit pictures), but I still feel pretty awkward in front of a camera operated by someone else. However, this being my year of reinvention, saying yes more often and all sorts of other ultra-positive manifestations of self-love (sorry, been reading too many self-help blogs...) I decided to bite the bullet, step out of my comfort zone and make the suggestion. 

Apart from anything else, it's just really nice to have such great-looking photos of my pretty dress. :) I may look to work with other photography people I know to get some more photos, so stay tuned!

No more words, here are some pictures






Dress: Primark (originally - bought second-hand) // Jacket: New Look

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Guest post over at Skipping School

I have written a guest post for one of Kate's awesome blogs, about my experience of home education - check it out below!

http://skipping-school.com/?p=805

I am away visiting family at the moment, normal posting will resume next week.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

an ode to Primark (yes really)

I'm not ashamed to admit I like Primark. It actually is awesome, you just have to see past the mess and the crowds and not go for the obvious choices that 95% of Britain's teenagers will be wearing. 

I like it because it gives me a chance to play around with trends without having to commit to a more expensive purchase. In fact, I think it's safe to say that my style would not have evolved as much as it has over the last four or five years, had I not lived or worked near a Primark. They have such fast-changing stock, virtually every trend of the season will feature in their stores at some point. This has led to my personal motto, 'if you want something, eventually it will be in Primark for half the price' - this has come true on most occasions. 

Okay, the quality isn't always that great (I wouldn't touch their bras with a bargepole), but it's not bad; I treat their items with the same care I would a more expensive garment, and I'm not afraid of getting my sewing machine out to mend something if it needs it. I certainly don't subscribe to the fast-fashion, wear-it-once-then-throw-it brigade.

I hadn't been near a Primark for well over a month, which is quite a long time for me; not just because I work only 5 minutes' away from one, but also because they can have things in that sell out after a day or so. I ventured out to one today, though, seeing as I've been feeling a bit stronger. I came out with quite a haul, and there were quite a few more bits and bobs that I wanted but I had to budget.



I love this dress. It fits perfectly, and has a nice kicky, swingy skirt. I'm planning a night out for when I get my bandage/shoe off, and this might be one of the contenders...


...Or this might be. It has a kind of threadbare effect to it so I will need to wear a vest underneath it, but it's so colourful (more so than in the above photo) and pretty I might wear this on my night out, with a bodycon skirt.


This navy crop top is so cute. It actually looked pretty good layed over the red dress above; I've yet to figure out how to wear it with other things I own. Having an evening of just trying on clothes is no fun when I have to hobble everywhere!



Another cute top. As much as I like it, I can see me not wearing this until spring/summer because of its vest-yness. Still, I will do my best, because the reason for buying this was because I want to wear more skirts and tops - it's so easy just to throw a dress on, that's pretty much my uniform.


Three AWESOME scarves. I couldn't resist any of them, Primark do so many pretty scarves I had to restrain myself at three. The spotty one and the anchor one are a satiny material, and the right size to wear as headbands. The starry one is larger, and made of a lovely snuggly fabric.


This kewl horse belt. Did I *really* need another belt with a horse on it? Well, I did need a black elastic-waist belt, the fact that it had a horse on it was just a bonus. And it was £1.



A few plain vest tops to layer under things, and a pretty ring with a rose on it.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Book List Continued..

Another two books to tick off the list this week. I will admit I am a bit behind, considering I only have three weeks before I go back to work; I'm not happy about it, but one of the books has been so annoying it's taken me ages to get through it.



An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul
I quite liked this, though not on the same scale as the previous two books from my list. His descriptions of India are very evocative, and I liked the honesty of his struggle to reconcile his heritage with the country in front of him. It was a little difficult at times, mostly when he was writing about politics; though I guess that's more my problem than the author's as I do struggle to read about politics and stay awake sometimes. 



The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was the annoying one. It's easily the worst book (in my opinion) that I've read for a long time, and if it wasn't on the list I would have shoved it back to languish on the shelf for another three years. As it is, the one good thing that's come out of this is that I can get rid of it now and never have to look at it again.

The narrative reads like a dream; but with none of the crazy fantastical things that happen in dreams, only the strange malleability that makes events seem fluid and constantly changeable, with the supporting characters acting strangely and illogically. For that reason alone, I found the book extremely annoying; if I wanted to experience a boring dream I would turn the light off and go to sleep. Another thing I found annoying was the protagonist’s lack of drive; he was always swept along by other events or characters, seemingly content to go along with what was happening and only occasionally showing mild annoyance if his plans were disrupted or he was inconvenienced. He wasn't a very likeable character at all. 

I am aware the book has received extremely mixed reviews, and despite the above I can certainly appreciate why some people consider it to be a great work of art; it is extremely innovative. I guess I just like my literature escapes from reality to follow the usual conventions. The ending was a complete anti-climax; in fact, very little happened throughout the book at all in terms of action or even an underlying message. I suppose for me, it felt like a really boring Alice in Wonderland.

Hopefully the next books I read will be more enjoyable than The Unconsoled. I'm quite disappointed I didn't like it, because I loved Never Let Me Go so much. Oh well, onwards and upwards!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Return of Topshop


I do try to be hip, trendy and down with the kids. I really do. But over the last couple of years, I have been getting worried. Topshop, that superstar hip and happening compass of cool, has held no appeal for me. Honestly, sometimes I’ve looked at the things they’ve had in the last couple of years and genuinely wondered about the sanity of the people who bought certain items. Am I getting too old for it? What hope is there for me, if I can’t find anything I like in Topshop? I was considering switching its space in my bookmarks folder for Marks & Spencer instead (just going with the stereotype here).

But relief, sweet relief! I’ve been browsing the new season stock, and I’m quite impressed. For the first time in what seems like years, there are several wearable pieces, with realistic skirt lengths and not-too-out-there prints and designs. There is a definite feminine streak running through the collection, and I’m seriously thinking about buying a few pieces from there over the next few months. The prices can still be ridiculous (thirty-something quid for a simple blouse? I know I’m a cheapskate, but personally I don’t think the quality matches that price), but overall I’m quite impressed. I have compiled a little pictorial of my favourite pieces below; I’m now trying to whittle it down even further, as I don’t think my budget can stretch to everything somehow!  


Left-right from top:

50's Full Spot Skirt, £32 (I only want this because Zooey Deschanel wore a similar one in an episode of New Girl...)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

nice things

♥ this cardigan. It's comfy, slouchy, pink and sparkly. I got it from Primark a few months ago, and I adore it. I feel super-cosy in it, and it's my failsafe go-to option whenever I can't be bothered getting dressed properly (which happens more often than I like to admit, with me being off work currently), paired with leggings and a plain vest top. 


♥ sloe gin. I made a huge batch of this for the first time last year, to give to people as Christmas gifts. I totally forgot to take any pictures before the bottles were packed off to their various recipients, but I am pleased to report it tasted utterly yummy; I made so much there was plenty left over for me too! I followed this recipe; it's quite simple even though you have to make it ages in advance, and it tasted lovely served nice and cold with some tonic. If I can get hold of some sloe berries this autumn I will probably make some again, though I might add more fruit to the above recipe as I feel it could have done with a bit more fruitiness.



♥ my new red hair. Okay, it's not so new, it's 11 days old now, but this is a big deal to me guys. Five or six years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought of me dying my hair any colour; it was all about 'loving your natural beauty and hair colour' etc etc. Somewhere along the line, though, my feelings changed and I got off my high horse (I've probably found other high horses to climb on since then though), deciding that in the great scheme of things dyeing one's hair was hardly in the plain disturbing realms of labiaplasty. I still tred cautiously though, and played it safe with blonde highlights. Until my break-up/super-life-makeover happened, and then of course dyeing my hair bright pink seemed like a logical step to take. Fortunately I have a permanent sensible voice in the back of my head that I nearly always listen to, so I didn't go down the bright pink route (but only because I didn't want to faff around with bleach....) - but instead, here I am with red hair! I love it so much, I actually wish I'd taken the plunge sooner.



♥ my new tattoo. I am aware I dedicated a whole post to it already, but seriously, it's so awesome one post alone can't describe the scale of how fantastic it is and how much I love it. No really. It's amazing. In the interests of avoiding complete and total repetitiveness, I have at least shared a newer picture of it. The colours have faded slightly and it looks and feels more 'part of me' than it did at first. It's starting to look a bit scaly at the top, and I reckon in the next day or two it will start scabbing over. Lovely....

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

An Afternoon in Haworth + What I Wore

A brief drive out to Haworth today, birthplace of the Bronte sisters and the setting for all my Wuthering Heights-esque fantasies. I'm pretty sure I would be shot for admitting this as a relative local (I live 5 miles away), but for all its touristy clich├ęd-ness, I do actually like Haworth a lot. It's super-pretty, has gorgeous wild countryside all around, and has plenty of cute little shops - and, of course, a sense of history. 

I took both my digital camera and my Diana with me, photography poseur that I am, with the intention of wandering down the main street and taking some pictures. Unfortunately, the heavens decided to open the minute I stepped out of my car, and Haworth itself was practically dead, and only a handful of shops were open. Who knew that Haworthians (I just made that term up) have Christmas holidays that last until the 13th of January? So, I only took a few small snapshots on my phone in the end.

 
A fantastic second-hand bookshop crammed with books on all sorts of categories. This shop would have been absolute agony for me, on my no-book-buying kick, but I didn't have any money on me anyway so temptation was removed, thankfully. Though they did have a beautiful encyclopedia on horses from the 1950's which was beautiful, and I'm tempted to go back and get it - I've decided I'm allowed to buy non-fiction still!

On to a cafe for hot chocolate with a book from my reading list (The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro); pretty items in the only vintage shop that was open; the main street in Haworth.



striped body: George at Asda // cardigan: H&M // belt: Next // skirt: Boohoo // bag: H&M // right shoe: can't remember! A cheap and tacky shoe shop I think

I wore this belt for the first time today, which I feel a bit bad about because it was a birthday present from my parents and I'd wanted to make use of it sooner than I have. As I mentioned when I got it, I wasn't quite sure how to wear it; it's so precious I wanted an outfit to show it off. Don't think I quite managed it here but it's a start. I think I need to maybe wear one plain colour with it, for example a plain black dress. I just don't like wearing plain colours!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Got Ink? (Or, A Story of Permanence)

On Friday I did something I've been planning on doing for several months, and got tattooed. Two, to be precise. I know that, despite their increasing prevalence in mainstream society, many people are quite averse to tattoos, sometimes only because of the pain of having them done. Others are reluctant because of the permanence of the image and they hesitate to make such a commitment. 

 My latest tattoo, taken straight after it being finished. My arm is shiny because the tattooist covered it in Vaseline, I do not gleam like that naturally!

I, on the other hand, adore them. Don't get me wrong, I don't like all tattoos indiscriminately, nor do I like them for the sake of it being 'unconventional' or because it looks 'hard'. No, for me I admire the beauty in tattoos; what could be more beautiful than having a work of art on your own body, to carry with you wherever you go at all times? Yes, it's a work of art that can't be removed (most of the time), but it's a commitment I, at least, am prepared to make. We can never know whether what we do now will be regretted by our future selves, but on balance I think I'd rather make the jump for something beautiful now and risk getting bored of it, than look back on the past and wish I'd been brave enough.

While I can't speak from a huge amount of experience, having only had my first tattoo done in 2009, I do think that the reason behind the individual tattoo can be a factor in whether you tire of the tattoo or not. Both of my tattoos were done to mark different points of my life; not necessarily in celebration or mourning, but simply to acknowledge a change and to act as a pin against that part of the drawing board of my life. When I look at the first tattoo I had done, I am reminded of the things I was doing and thinking at that time, the changes I was going through and the meaning the image in particular had for me.

None of my tattoos (well, except a really teeny-tiny one I've just had done) have been done on a whim, and the images themselves had been pondered over and doodled for some time - with my first one, there was a period of two years between the initial sketch and actually getting it done! So I have had plenty of time to think about how much I want the tattoo, how it will look, and where I will have  it.

the teeny-tiny tattoo, on the back of my neck. Excuse the blurriness, it really is rather tiny.

Of course, it does also help to have an extremely experienced and talented tattoo artist! I would never have a tattoo done by someone I didn't trust nor have faith in the quality of their work. It's also important to go to someone with whom you feel able to discuss any tweaks or minor changes you want to the image. I think the process is a little similar to having your haircut, but on a larger scale; you're putting your trust in a (usually) complete stranger to make a potentially-quite-severe alteration to your physical exterior, and if that person is not approachable or not listening to your suggestions, then it might be better to find someone else who does.


My first tattoo; picture taken a few hours after having it done, in June 2009

Unfortunately, you can love an image all you want, there's no getting away from the fact that having a tattoo will 100% definitely HURT. How much it hurts depends on your individual tolerance/pain threshold, and I guess how good you are at distracting yourself from it. I find the black outline to be less painful than any colouring in/shading; I would say it actually feels very similar to epilating your legs, for anyone out there who is bothered enough (me included!) to have done such a thing. It's also quite an easy kind of pain to distract yourself from; for example, by focusing on your breathing, making light conversation (if the tattooist isn't concentrating too hard!), or finding something nice to look at in the vicinity. I have even found that it actually feels less painful when I can actually watch the tattoo being done - but that's just me, and I already know I'm quite weird so don't blame me if that particular tip doesn't work for you.

I thought that the tattoo I've just had done would sate my appetite, and the pain immediately afterwards did that job quite well. Now it's starting to heal though, there are little thoughts and voices in the back of my mind...... So, the questions now are, what to have next, and where?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

weekend wish list

Today is my mother's 60th birthday party. I'm making up for my lack of New Year celebrations, and going all out on the dressing-up front. I've picked out a pretty dress and some sparkly shoes to wear, and for once I might actually make an effort with my make-up too; flicky black eyeliner and red lipstick! In the meantime, I've collated some pretty things I'm coveting at the moment.



I do love my notebooks, and I also love matryoshka. What could be better than this matryoshka journal?




another excellent combination; peach and sparkles. love this belt!




This dress is divine. One day, one day soon I will get over myself and buy something (anything!) from Modcloth; damn the international shipping costs!



These shoes are darling, I love the colour.





 I'm keeping half an eye open for a leather/leather-look, smart-yet-quirky bag as most of mine are pretty scruffy. This Accessorize bag fits the bill quite nicely; I may have to keep more than half an eye on it...