An April Reading List

This month’s reading list is filled with adventure stories and beautiful editions. They say “never judge a book by its cover” – but sometimes you just have to have that beautiful book. And they make amazing gifts. I have had more than my fair share of stunning books as presents, they sit proudly on my shelf and I love them. All hail beautiful covers, we need more of them around.

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*For a timeless story: The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame. I rarely write about a book that I haven’t actually read here on the blog, but I feel pretty safe to do so with this one. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read the classics I’ve never got round to picking up. It’s not going that well, to be honest. The Wind in the Willows seemed like a safe one to start with – I’m excited to follow the adventures of Mole, Rat, Mr Toad and Mr Badger! Also, quick note on just how beautiful this edition is. The Penguin Threads covers are made to look like a work of embroidery, with the threads running through the inside cover. There are loads of classics in the collection, so take your pick and treasure it.

*For a dark, nineteenth century New York: Church of Marvels, Leslie Parry. I have just finished this book and it is such a unique story. I picked it up thinking it would be like The Night Circus but it ended up reminding me more of Les Miserables. It follows three separate narrators – Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler who discovers an abandoned newborn baby, Odile Church, who’s twin sister Belle has disappeared following a devastating fire and Alphie, who wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum. These three lives become entwined through the events of one night, and the story gradually unravels the secrets that bring the narrators together. The plot twists and turns and keeps back the biggest surprises right until the very end. Definitely worth a read.

*For the original greats: The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm and The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Everyone should read the original fairy tales. We all know and love the Disney versions, but did you ever realise the liberties they took with the original stories? Ariel didn’t just lose her voice, she had her tongue cut out. In Snow White, the Queen is forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes. Sleeping Beauty is raped! You can understand why Disney had to exclude these elements from children’s films, but now it’s time to grow up and find out what really happened. We’re always on the search for a horrifying thriller, but really we need look no further than the original fairy tales.

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Creme Egg Rocky Road

Today I’ve got a special bonus post for Easter Monday (you lucky things!). There’s more than enough chocolate around at the moment, but this sugary creation is for all those discounted Creme Eggs. Beware though, you need a serious sweet tooth to fully enjoy this!

We followed this recipe (but skipped the faffing with the food colouring) and they turned out really well. They are super simple and quick to make, and only require a couple of hours in the fridge to firm up.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 150g butter
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 200g milk chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tbsps golden syrup
  • 180g mini Creme Eggs
  • 180g mini marshmallows
  • 150g Digestive biscuits, crushed
  • 150g white chocolate, chopped
  • 6 Creme Eggs

TO MAKE:

Melt the butter. Add the milk chocolate, dark chocolate and golden syrup and continue to mix and melt until it’s a thick consistency. Set aside to cool slightly.

Add the mini Creme Eggs, marshmallows and Digestive biscuits. Stir until everything is well coated.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment and press in the mixture firmly. Cut the Creme Eggs in half and place on top.

Melt the white chocolate and drizzle over the top. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours until firm, cut into chunks and enjoy!

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Bank Holiday Brunching: 26 Grains

It’s been a little while since I last ventured into London on the blog, but today I’m making up for it with a great recommendation.

With the bank holiday weekend happily freeing up a sunny Friday, I decided it was about time I started ticking off some of my London bucket list. Neal’s Yard is a colourful corner of Covent Garden, tightly packed with health food eateries and, of course, Neal’s Yard Remedies. It’s only small, but there’s more than enough to keep you occupied.

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For this trip though, we had to sample London’s prettiest porridge. Absolutely dominating Instagram, 26 Grains is a teeny tiny little health cafe serving wholesome, grain based dishes. Don’t be put off by the health side though, everything they serve is ridiculously delicious.

They aren’t limited to enormous bowls of steaming porridge either. As they source their fruit and veg from local producers, their menu changes seasonally. Currently they have an enormous array of porridges (sweet and savoury) as well as bircher muesli, a winter smoothie bowl and lunch bowls if you’ve already had breakfast. They aren’t preachy about health either, and will enquire whether you want almond or whole milk in your coffee (a nice touch, I thought). Definitely worth skipping the main drag of Covent Garden for.

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Sunday Tea and Cake

Sometimes on a Sunday, only tea and cake will do.

After a Saturday raceday for Tiarnan (and countryside trek in pursuit for me) the aches had set in. We couldn’t bear to stay stuck indoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon but also couldn’t quite face any serious movement. So we threw on our comfiest trainers and took a drive, in search of cake. We ended up at one of our favourite local cafes, Juliet’s.

They serve whopper slices of cake and have an enormous selection. With tea in cute, mismatched china and a little table tucked in the corner, it’s a pretty perfect way to spend the first Sunday of spring.

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Happy Sunday, everyone! Here’s to sunnier days fast approaching…

A Lushie Easter Collection

Nothing can beat a seasonal Lush collection. Of course the Christmas one reigns supreme, but while we await that time of year a little spring collection is more than enough to lure me in. Spring may have sprung (just) but the evenings are still chilly enough to warrant an OTT bubble bath. Here’s the damage from my latest visit…

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*Bunch of Carrots: My absolute favourite – so cute and colourful! These are three reusable bubble bars to be used as long as you can make them last. The Sicilian lemon oil and bergamot oil make them wonderfully citrusy and uplifting, perfect for springtime.

*Big Bang: This bubble bar is another a citrus number, with tangerine oil that supposedly tones your skin as you bathe. It also has avocado butter to soften and hydrate, so no need for moisturiser after using this one.

*Pop in the Bath: This super cute bubble bar is described as the lemon drizzle scented piece of bathing confectionery. Again, it’s citrusy (there’s a theme here) but with a slight floral edge from the orange flower absolute.

*Mangnificent:  This soap is fruity tropical cocktail heaven. It has fresh pureed mango and dried mango slices to gently exfoliate the skin as well as all kinds of citrus oils to wake you up in the morning.

*Happy Hippy shower gel: This grapefruit wash is one of their bestsellers, and again supposed to snap you into action with its citrus “wake up” scents.

*Golden Egg: Could you ever do a Lush collection without glitter? This is Easter’s sample of the stuff, in a cute, toffee-scented egg which leaves your bath water looking like molten gold. It’s also packed full of cocoa butter and olive oil to leave your skin super soft.

*Which Came First?: This is one of their monster-sized bath bombs. You can crack it open to reveal a chick and enjoy three baths out of it. The vanilla makes this one just sweet enough,  but not overpowering.

*Humpy Dumpty: The second enormous bath bomb. This one you do just chuck in, and Humpty Dumpty’s outer shell will disappear to reveal a fried egg. This one is also really refreshing with Brazilian orange oil and bergamot oil.

Surprise Oreo Cupcakes

Today I’ve got a delicious Sunday treat for you all. My sister and I have always been drawn to Oreo cupcakes when we pass the cake stands in London. There’s just something so satisfying about biscuits in cake form – it’s like two treats for the price of one!

We followed this BBC Good Food recipe and they turned out brilliantly. These cupcakes are essentially wonderfully rich and light chocolate cupcakes, with Oreo frosting and a surprise biscuit at the bottom.

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Makes: 15 cupcakes. Baking time: 20-25 minutes. 

YOU WILL NEED

FOR THE CUPCAKES:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 40 g cocoa powder
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 80g butter
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 15 Oreo biscuits

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 6 Oreo biscuits

TO MAKE

THE CUPCAKES:

Preheat the oven to 170C/160 fan. Place half an Oreo in each muffin case with the cream facing upwards.

Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and butter until combined. In a jug whisk the milk, eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually add to the mixture and mix until smooth.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

THE FROSTING:

In a bag, smash up 6 Oreos.

Mix the butter and sugar until you have buttercream. Gently fold in the Oreo crumbs.

When the cakes are cool, ice and enjoy!

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Current Skincare Picks

I have never been that into skincare. A combination of limited funds and well-behaved skin (and a certain degree of laziness) meant I was never pushed towards the skincare counters in Boots.

That seems to have all changed of late, though. My skin is still well behaved and I am still quite lazy (minimal faff skincare is what I’m all about), but with a budget that stretches slightly further my interest has finally been sparked. So today I’m going to share with you my current picks and, for those still at the minimal budget stage, I’ve also got some less pricey alternatives that have been getting me by until now…

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*Bioderma: Everyone’s heard of it, everyone knows about it, most have tried it and with good reason – the stuff is fantastic. One swipe and your make-up is gone. I wouldn’t say it’s leaps and bounds beyond the other micellar waters around though. I have Bioderma now because I was in France at Christmas and couldn’t resist popping into a pharmacy for a bottle, but I also love the Garnier and L’Oreal alternatives. If you can’t get your hands on Bioderma, those are just as great.

*Pixi Glow Tonic: I rarely exfoliate with a scrub (that counts as a skincare faff). This is a toner but the glycolic removes dead skin cells and so also exfoliates. It really does leave my skin looking less patchy and healthy, and again just with one swipe of a cotton pad.

*La Roche-Posay Serozinc: I’m not entirely sure what this does exactly, other than feel really cooling and refreshing on the skin. I love to use this after the Pixi Glow Tonic to relax everything. Tastes horrible on the lips though – watch out when spraying!

*Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream: I only use this as night because it is quite a thick moisturiser, but it leaves your skin feeling beautifully soft and amazing by morning. It works wonderfully with the Glow Tonic, leaving your skin glowing and healthy while toning down any redness.

*Garnier Pure Active: This has been my budget moisturiser for years and I still like to use it in the mornings. It leaves the skin feeling smooth and prepped for make-up and it sinks in almost instantaneously – perfect when you’re in a rush!

*Origins Clear Improvement Mask: Face masks count as faffing, but they are such a treat every so often. I absolutely love this one. It’s a charcoal mask which really focuses on ridding any dirt from your skin, and my skin feels clean, glowy, soft and amazing after using it! For a budget alternative, the Una Brennan Super Facialist range of masks are great.

*Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment: This deserves all the hype it gets. It comes in quite a shockingly small pot for the price, but you only need a tiny amount so it really does last. It’s super hydrating but sinks in quickly and feels amazing on the eye area. For a budget alternative try Simple’s Kind to Eyes Soothing Eye Balm – very cooling and super cheap.

Homemade Tropical Granola

I love granola. I love it on yoghurt, I love it on smoothie bowls and I love it straight out of the packet. Those little nutty clusters are just so satisfyingly crunchy and sweet.

The problem with granola is it’s usually absolutely filled with sugar. It also tends to be incredibly expensive. So, to crack both problems I have a delicious homemade recipe for you.

Granola is one of the simplest things to whip up, it requires only basic equipment and it’s so customisable. One of my all-time favourite granolas is Sainsbury’s tropical granola, with coconut and dried pineapple chunks (and a ridiculous amount of sugar). This is my sugar-free recreation, which tastes just as incredible! As I said though, anything goes with granola – so add and remove whatever you feel like.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 3 cups plain rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds
  • 3/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups mixed seeds
  • 2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup dried pineapple
  • Generous pinch of salt

TO MAKE:

Preheat your oven to 180C.

Place everything but the pineapple into a large mixing bowl and mix really well.

Put the mixture into a tray (with sides) lined with baking parchment.

Bake for about 30 mins (or until golden brown) while mixing every 5 mins, so it doesn’t turn into one enormous granola bar. Add the dried pineapple two minutes before you take it out of the oven.

Remove, and leave to crisp up. Enjoy when it’s super crunchy!

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How to Spend… March

February really dragged, didn’t it? The tail end of winter is always my least favourite time. Everything is grey and bleak, and it feels like a lifetime ago when we last saw some sun. But with Easter arriving early I feel as though we are suddenly fast forwarding into spring. The weather needs to get the memo (where did all this rain come from?) but there are chocolate eggs and bunnies everywhere and you can buy tulips and daffodils on every street corner.

So from celebrating Mothering Sunday right through to eating all the chocolate over the Easter bank holiday weekend, I hope you enjoy the start of spring as much as I will!

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*Spoil your mum on Mother’s Day: This year, skip the standard flowers and a card. Actually spending some time with your mum is what really counts, so take the day out especially for her this weekend. Take her out for lunch, go shopping or just stay at home and bake a cake, play board games or do a puzzle. And this doesn’t have to be exclusive for the two of you – get the whole family involved for a fun day together. Even if it isn’t Mothering Sunday where you live, no excuses… Our mums always deserve more of our time, right?

*Try yoga: As my job has got busier, my time in the gym has significantly decreased – something I’m not overly thrilled about. Now we’re past the “new year, new me” health kick, some extra motivation is needed. The secret lies in doing things that can fit easily into your routine. I’m not really one to get a sweat on before work (how many of us really are?) but yoga is such a gentle introduction to the day whilst also doing great things for your body. While it won’t burn major calories, it’ll help you feel energized and focused for the rest of the day – definitely worth hopping out of bed a little early for.

*Spend a Sunday at the farmers market: You always hear about the joys of farmers and fresh food markets, but the winter wind and rain hardly makes for an enjoyable Sunday outdoors. Now the weather is improving (supposedly), now is a great time to get down to your local one and bag some bargains. The buzzy atmosphere of a market will put the weekly supermarket run to shame, and discovering the best local honey, jam and breads (or whatever takes your fancy) will leave you desperate to return for more!

*Set up an Easter egg hunt: With the long Easter bank holiday weekend to look forward to, now’s the time to start planning with your family and friends. And you don’t need little ones to make an Easter egg hunt fun. Buy one of those cute kits with the little signs, split up into teams and get competitive! And don’t forget the obligatory rabbit ears for a ridiculous group photo…