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During the colder months when my cottage is toasty warm from the central heating I just love to make (and eat) fresh bread. For some reason I never really feel like making loaves in the Summer and favour flat breads and pittas but when it's chilly outside filling my home with the smell of baking  bread is my favourite thing to do, plus it makes my husband very very happy as he is a true bread fiend! 

I always seem to make olive oil enriched breads and this is no exception - it's basically my favourite foccacia recipe baked into a loaf with added layers of deliciousness that make it a meal in its own right. Because it's a soft and slightly sticky dough it can seem a bit of a faff to stretch it out to make the three layers but it's honestly worth it and feel free to experiment with your fillings, I'm a bit addicted to the smoked shredded beetroot that Tesco have started selling so I always use that, also because it removes the need for me to grate the 'troots myself which I hate doing. The subtle vinegariness also works wonderfully with the creamy soft cheese and my husband loves to eat the finished loaf with wafer thin slices of parma ham. I like it as is served as part of a picking board with olives and marinated veg like artichoke hearts and roasted pepper slices, a big bunch of fresh fresh basil leaves and a selection of salamis and cured meats.


Beetroot and Cream Cheese Bread
Makes one large loaf

Ingredients
420ml warm water (not hot or boiling)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (I use Saf Levure)
1 tbsp sugar
600g plain flour
1 tbsp salt
120ml olive oil
150g grated cooked beetroot with the juice squeezed out (I use this smoked shredded stuff)
150g cream cheese at room temperature
1 tsp garlic granules
black pepper

Method
I use my stand mixer to make bread but there's no reason you can't do it by hand.  Put your warm water into a bowl and add the year and sugar, then set aside for ten minutes for the yeast to activate - you'll know it has because it will start to foam. If you're yeast doesn't start to foam after ten minutes it likely means that it is old and so you need a new tub.

While the yeast is activating mix the flour and salt and make a well in the middle, then when the yeasty water is nice and foamy add it to the flour along with the olive oil and mix until combined. Now turn up the speed on your mixer (if using one) and knead the dough for 5-6 minutes until its soft and smooth.

Lightly oil another bowl then form your dough into a ball and drop into the oiled bowl, turning over so both sides have an oily coating. Cover the bowl with cling and place somewhere warm to rise until it has doubled in size - the warmer the place you put it the quicker it will rise. Near the end of your rising time put the cream cheese into a small bowl and stir in the garlic granules and a few grinds of black pepper, then pop to one side and oil your loaf tin - mine is 12" x 4.5" in size.

Gently punch down the risen dough and divide into three. Put a third of the dough into your oiled tin and press out with your finger tips top cover the base of the tin, then spoon over half of the cream cheese and spread it over the dough and finish by evenly sprinkling over half the grated beetroot. Stretch out another third of the dough a little and put on into the tin, again spreading out to the edges of the tin and repeat the cream cheese spreading and beetroot sprinkling before covering with the final third of the dough. Cover with cling film and put back in a warm spot to rise for another hour while preheating your oven to 220 C / gas 7.

When the prepared loaf has rested and risen for another hour take off the cling film and drizzle a little more olive oil over the top along with a sprinkle of sea salt flakes, then bake in the preheated oven or 30-40 minutes until golden on top and cooked all the way through. It will sound a hollowish when you tap the underside, although not as hollow as a plain loaf as it has the baked in filling.

Allow to cool and serve in thick slices, drizzling with a little olive oil and sprinkling with chopped chives if you so desire.


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Blue Monday is nearly upon us, what is apparently the most depressing day of the year. As someone who suffers from clinical depression I can't really comment on the truth in this and some say it's a PR stunt, but even if so we can use it for good if we take it as an opportunity to properly address our stress levels, workload, social life and more and hopefully recognise and acknowledge that we all need a break every now and again. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get annoyed by the chirping of duvet days and self care days being the cure for depression because that just isn't true, but I can't deny that when I'm feeling run down and 'sad' a day or evening where I can push work completely out of my mind is a great tonic.

I've put together a little list of some of the things that I consider to be my cosy time treats, the kind of goodies that either I don't have very often or that just seem special and fill me with a feeling of warmth and joy. Granted mine may be very different to yours, so why not make a list of the things that you would include in your perfect cosy day at home?

CANDLES


After meeting some of the Aromatize team at a conference last year they've become my favourite place to grab candles, wax melts and essential oils to burn at home. I'm a very scent oriented person (my perfume collection testifies to this) and so making my home smell comfy and luxurious is really important when I want to relax. Here are three of my current favourites:


BATHING TREATS


I'm definitely a shower girl most of the time, but I do believe that reading in the bath by candlelight is one of life's pleasures. Whether you'll be enjoying a glass of vino or a hot chocolate while in the tub, a lovely smelling soak that makes your skin super soft is a must and these are some of my faves:


READING MATERIAL


Is there anything more world transporting and relaxing than reading a good book? My fictional tastes are pretty much entirely for stories set pre-1960, in particular anything that is wonderfully descriptive about the fashions, foods and differing cultural norms of those times. The odd biography will also grace my bookshelf but I confess that my largest collection is of cookbooks which I love to snuggle in with and read like most people would a story - Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater's books are fabulous for this as they talk so nostalgically about food and how it is more than just fuel. Three of my top picks are as follows:


DELICIOUSNESS

Obviously from this little selection you can tell that I am very in tune with my sweet tooth, but honestly another of my favourite homebody meals is a big selection platter of delicious nibbles. Cured meats, pickled veggies, cheeses, breads, fruit - a real mix to be picked at while watching a film or flicking through a favourite magazine. If you too like a bit of the sweet stuff though, you can't go wrong with these beauties:


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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.

Divisive as they are, to be honest I was pretty neutral on the subject of brussel sprouts until one Christmas I challenged myself to cook them in a way that my husband Pete would like. I decided to just treat them like I would a cabbage and so I shredded them up with the slicing disk in my food processor, although now I quite enjoy cutting them into slices by hand - weird I know but I find it kind of relaxing as they have a satisfying texture that's nicer to slice than a carrot or my most hated veggies to chop, a butternut squash or a celeriac. Am I rambling? I'm definitely rambling. 

Anyway... my foolproof way of cooking any type of cabbage to create the most delicious side dish is to shred it, fry it with a small sliced onion, a few rashers of bacon and some garlic n a mix of oil and butter, season with salt and pepper and a good few splashes of Hendersons Relish (or Worcester sauce) and then stir through a splash of cream right before serving. The most important thing is to let the mix fry for a good few minutes without letting it scorch so it sort of caramelises together as it deepens the flavour and makes that all important layer of burnished tastiness on the bottom of the pan that the Hendo's will pick up when its added. Without fail I make this for every Christmas dinner because I don't want a family riot on my hands, but I think it's too good for just one day out of the year so like to whip it up regularly throughout sprout season.

This year I had a had some of this magical mixture left even after several leftover sandwiches and dinners but was craving something a little less stodgy, so the thought came to me to add it to a broth to create a soup. It just so happened that when I was putting this together and wishing I had some parmesan to throw over the top I spotted a bag of teeny dried cheese tortellini I had grabbed at my wonderful local Italian shop Vincenzo Pasquale so I threw a few handfuls into the broth too to add that important cheesy element that I felt it was missing. Feel free to add a drizzle of cream when serving if you wish, I do!


Brussel Sprout and Tortellini Soup
Serves 2

Ingredients
small knob of butter and a few drops of olive oil for frying
2-3 rashers bacon, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly diced
large clove of garlic, crushed
300g brussel sprouts, sliced
1 tbsp Hendersons Relish or Worcestershire Sauce
750ml good chicken or vegetable stock
100g mini tortellini or cappaletti
2 tbsp double cream
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Method
Fry the bacon in the oil and butter until crisp, then add the onion and garlic and fry for a few more minutes until they've started to soften. Now add the shredded sprouts and stir well, letting it all fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes stirring every now and again. 
The sprouts will have wilted down some, so now splash in the Henderson's or Worcester sauce with a few tablespoons of the stock and clamp on a lid, leaving it to cook down for another minute or so before giving it another good stir making sure you scrape as much of the richness from the bottom of the pan as possible.
Pour in the rest of the stock and bring to a gentle rolling boil, then add your pasta and cook as directed - dried will take longer than the vacuum packed kind. When the pasta is done spoon the soup into two bowls and sprinkle over the spring onions for a fresh zing, then drizzle over the cream if you're using it.

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This has become a quick and filling lunch for us and I'll be sad when sprout season is over. Do let me know what you think if you give it a try yourself!

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As much as I believe in the power of saying no to something that will make you feel uncomfortable, there are occasions where pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can result in great things and one area where I love to push the bar is with clothes. I spent a really long time in my early twenties only thinking that there were only a handful of clothing combos that suited me and so I stuck to them rigidly, never even trying on a piece that differed even slightly in cut. There was no way you'd ever get me in trousers and oversized things that didn't emphasise my waistline were a big no no. I can't remember what it was that made me give myself a talking to and get away from my uniform of flared dresses and cardigans but the feeling of having a whole other wardrobe full of styles opened up to me was wonderful and I've never looked back.

This look kindly sent to me by JD Williams to me celebrates breaking those mental rules that we impose on ourselves and I absolutely adore it, plus the fact that it is comfortable as hell makes it even better. Being comfortable when out of my comfort zone, ha!

While this Faux Fur Ribbed Tunic Jumper (£39.00*) is typical of an aesthetic that I love with its simple style and decadent detailing in the faux fur cuffs, the high neck and oversized shape which would previously have been no-no's for me are now more things to love! A high neck always seems to shout chic to me ad the relaxed style with the luxurious statement cuffs oozes glamour and gives a really luxe feel. 

It's safe to say that these Dark Green Meghan Cigarette Trousers (£35.00*) have been a real game changer for me and made me want to fill my shelves with more smart casual pieces. It was the gorgeous deep green colour that initially drew me in but I've always been a fan of an ankle grazer length trouser, always thinking that it wouldn't work for me and make me look stumpy. Although I can't say that they make me look any taller after trying them on I actually adore the shorter length, especially with a flat shoe like a brogue or a trainer. Unfortunately this particular style of snake print leisure shoe has sold out now, but these snakey slip ons are very similar and also on sale, hoorah! The trousers themselves are made from a non-iron stretch fabric and have a hidden stretch waistband that makes them comfortable even when sat down without making them look like a jogger bottom - very clever I feel. 

Are there any styles that you never try because they push you out of your comfort zone? Why not give them a chance this season, you might end up adding to your uniform!









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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.

As much as I love living in the countryside with it's peaceful greenery I adore a bustling city too. I'm not sure if I could live in one after so long in a tiny village that doesn't even have a shop, but spending a day exploring a city finding little independent shops, wandering around galleries and making pitstops at lovely cafes is one of my favourite things to do when I have some time off.

Birmingham is a city that I have a soft spot for because I've been there so often ever since I was a little girl. My dad was born there so we often went on shopping adventures and to have an amazing balti dinner. It's changed a lot since those days but I still think it's a brilliant place to spend a day or two, so in this post I'm sharing with you some of my favourite spots in the city. If you fancy spending some time there too you can find some great Birmingham hotels here.





I like to start my day out in the city with a bit of am aesthetic treat so my first stop is often a gallery or a museum. I'm a huge fan of the pre-raphaelites so Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a favourite of mine with it's galleries dedicated to this decadent style of painting. They also have regularly changing exhibitions and some other great permanent collections like The Staffordshire Hoard and some stunning areas celebrating the city's cultural heritage. You can also treat yourself to tea and cake in the Edwardian Tearoom.

Some other culture spots in the city that I love are:







Every explorer needs a sugar hit to keep them going and there's no better to place to get this than Medicine which just happens to be moments from the museum. It's a gorgeous place with baked goods artistically arranged at the top of the stairs which then opens out into a bright and airy gallery space and dining area. Do yourself a favour and grab a cronut and a coffee and take a few minutes to yourself to recharge, then if you're like me grab another treat to take home with you!

Some more of my fave eating and drinking spots are:

The Button Factory - anything off the robata grill is a banger
The Lost and Found - one of six locations in the UK, my favourite dish is the poppyseed battered hake with spiced chips
The Wilderness - I've not actually been here myself yet but everything I hear is very very good!
Gaijin Sushi - Super fresh sushi in a teeny location just like Japanese sushi bars
Opus - The most amazing fish dishes and more from two Brummie babes






I love bringing a few goodies home from my adventures and I'm a self confessed shop-a-holic so I had to recommend a few great places to spend your hard earned cash. I'm a red wine lover but I don't drink vino on the regular, I like to have it as an occasional treat and get something really good. Wine shops can be pretty intimidating places but Loki Wine is the opposite - the team are always really friendly and love sharing their wealth of knowledge to help you find the perfect bottle. The city centre location also has an impressive spirit selection and a beautiful upstairs floor where you can enjoy wine by the glass or join in on a class to further your booze knowledge. 

Some more places where I like to spend my pocket money are:

Swordfish Records - An institution that my dad has been taking me to all my life
Liquor Store - Great quality clothing and homewares with a hidden speakeasy bar in the basement
Kin Home - I basically want all of the ceramics and glassware in this lovely shop!
The Custard Factory - You can't visit Brum without heading to this gem full of shops, cafes and bars
The Electric Cinema - Why not take in a movie at the UK's oldest working cinema while you're here? I love coming to the Electric for special showings of both new and old cult classic films.
The Bullring - Yes it's chain shops but they have a great selection including more high end offerings and in a modern, spacious setting. They even have the only Morphe location other than London for you make up fans like me.


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*This is a collaborative post - the spending money for this day out was gifted by Hotels.Com but all inclusions were chosen by me and all opinions are my own and 100% honest as always. For more information head to my disclaimer page.

Unsurprisingly I'm not into the whole fad diets for the New Year situation, I appreciate the bounty of Christmas and sharing lovely times with my friends and family far too much to be told it's a guilty pleasure that must be atoned for in January. After the rich foods of the festive season I do usually gravitate towards fresh vegetables and fruit in the following weeks, but food is such an enjoyable part of life especially when shared with friends that I like to carry those good times into the new year too.

If you're anything like me you still have quite a few of those Christmas treats left in the cupboard that need using up, so I thought I'd share one of my favourite ways to turn a lonely little panettone into a gorgeous dinner party dessert.

This is a very slightly adapted version of Nigella's Italian Christmas Pudding Cake and since introducing it to my husband last year I'm sure it will be a regular request from now on! You'll notice that some of my quantities vary to Nigella's but that was really due to what was in my kitchen and we loved the result so much that I thought I'd give you my adulterated version instead. 

The change was also partly due to frugality as I couldn't justify spending twenty quid on some marron glaces and sadly don't keep a stock of them in my larder. I replaced them with Daim Bar Dairy Milk because I wanted to keep the caramelly crunch of the chestnuts but also because I wanted to add chocolate, so maybe we can call this the trailer trash version!


Panettone Pudding Cake
Serves 12-16

Ingredients

1 x 750g panettone
2 x large eggs at room temperature
75 grams of golden caster sugar
500g tub of mascarpone at room temperature
250ml double cream at room temperature
100ml marsala (optional but very yummy)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 x bar of Daim Dairy Milk, roughly chopped (or another 150g choccy bar of your choice)
100g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Method

Using a bread knife cut your panettone into slices around 1.5cm thick. Take a springform or loose bottom cake tin (mine was 12 inch in size) and press some of the panettone slices into the bottom of the tin, ripping up bits as you need to make sure it is covered and there are no gaps of tin showing through then set aside - you're doing three layers like this so try and use about a third of the slices.

Whisk together the two eggs and the caster sugar for a good few minutes until you have a pale fluffy mixture that has increased in volume, then carefully whisk in the double cream, vanilla, mascarpone and marsala. I say carefully because if you go too fast you'll get covered in it!

When everything is combined into a gorgeous dreamy cream take out about a cupful and put it in the fridge - this is going to be the topping but this goes on just before serving. Now tumble the chopped chocolate and three quarters of the chopped pistachios into the remaining mixture and fold them together.

It's time to assemble to spoon half of your mixture into the cake tin on top of the panettone base and smooth it down with a palette knife. Pop over this another layer of fruit studded panettone and then smooth over that the remaining creamy chocolate nut mixture.Lay over your final blanket of panettone slices, then wrap up well in cling film and pop into the fridge until it's time to serve. I usually make this the day before the dinner party but you could do it up to two days in advance.

When it's time for pudding unwrap the cake and gently remove it from the tin. It's hard to get it off the bottom tin so I just leave it on it and pop that on to another prettier serving plate, just be careful you don't forget it's there when you're cutting it up. Grab the reserved cup of the cream mixture and spread it over the top of the cake before sprinkling over the remaining chopped pistachio nuts. I also add a dusting of edible metallic gold dust because I'm extra like that and I greatly encourage you do the same, but please don't feel you have to as it's gorgeous as is. Serve to your impressed guests and gain some friends for life.


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Well it's a new year my darlings and you may have noticed a few changes around here, most obviously that this website has had a spruce up and a layout and logo change for 2019! You may also spot a bit of a content change from now on as I'm making this my year of intention which sounds vomit inducing and naff to the utmost, but what I mean is that I'm going to be taking things slower, being more organised, putting my all into everything I do so that I only produce content that I'm proud of and reflects exactly what I want it to and that I'm going to stop comparing myself, my life and my work to other people's. To be honest I've always created content that I love myself and it's obvious that my style is my own and has never followed the typical blogger cliches but I know that I've been guilty of putting work into the world that I knew could have been better just because I felt I needed to be posting more and that not only means imagery and words that are rushed and not to the standard I want to hold myself to but also not as good as my lovely followers deserve.

New Years is a time when we all get very reflective and quite rightly so take a more selfish look at the world and what we want to change and improve for ourselves and that's no bad thing as long as it's done with good intentions. This year however I want to improve my life by helping to improve other people's too. I want to be here to help others embrace their individuality, welcome self love into their lives and realise the things that they should really prioritise to make their lives feel more positive, fulfilling and happy so please do watch this space and follow my social media channels to see some YOU focussed content coming very soon.

It seemed only right to start the year with a truly marvelous piece of clothing. It really isn't often that long established companies with a rich history in creating stunning garments offers pieces to the plus size market, let alone the same pieces that they offer in smaller sizes. It's even less often that this company is one that produces premium quality, luxurious and fabulously fitting garments. This is why I knew that this Orietta Embroidery Dress (£238.00 currently on sale from £340.00*) by Gina Bacconi had to be the piece to kick off 2019.

I highly recommend that before browsing their beautiful ranges you click here to have a read of the company history because it's so fascinating and impressive - hello creators of the bandages dress and the Spice Girls 'Official Spice Gear'! It just so happens to be laid out in a lovely pictoral time line with some stunning photos dating all the way back to the company's inception back in 1913.

But let's talk about the dress. I love a nice bit of embroidery and I love even more the feeling of decadence and delight that an entirely embroidered piece gives, but let's face it over the last few years of the embroidery craze we've seen some pretty poor quality stuff and it shows. If you've seen lovingly created vintage pieces, artisinal work or wandered through designer boutiques eyeing up stunning premium pieces you know that cheap embroidery just doesn't compare. It never conveys the richness of colour, the dimension or the drama and just gets lost as a throw away detail. This dress is in no way something that blends into the background. With it's dramatic palette of pistachio greens and delicate pinks contrasting against a midnight black base it can't fail to grab attention and emit elegance and femininity. A time honoured style with a full skirt, fitted bodice and three quarter sleeves with ruffled cuffs it is classic and refined with a modernity brought in by the sheer yolk and sleeves and the dreamy colour palette.

As you can imagine there is some weight to the dress due to the amount of rich embroidery, but it doesn't weigh you down and holds a beautiful shape while being soft and comfortable against the skin. It fits me like a glove, feeling perfectly draped when standing or sitting and is at a lovely length that allows for the wearing of anti chafing shorts if required but also works with lots of different show types be they flats, heeled sandals, court shoes or ankle boots. This is a dress that I will treasure and wear for many years to come, a dress for the ages one might say.










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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.