How to Spend… April

My Instagram feed is filled with blossom and blue skies, the showers are pouring, Starbucks have floral cups and it’s light past 5pm – it can only be April!

Easter came and went far too early this year. One minute we were taking down the Christmas decorations, and the next the clocks had gone forward and the Easter bunny had been. I normally don’t take too much notice of Easter, but I was a bit disappointed to not enjoy it more this year (although chocolate eggs and a long weekend will never go unappreciated). I’ll be spending this month consuming the vast quantities of chocolate the Easter bunny oh so kindly sent my way and dreaming of the May bank holiday weekends. Happy April everyone!

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*Have a ‘colour only’ rule: The shops are bringing out their summer clothes and the urge to spend gets greater every day. I have really noticed lately how stuck in a rut I can get with my clothing – black, grey or white (with a hint of navy for good measure) is about as exciting as it gets. Zara may be a beautiful masterclass in monochrome minimalism, but the sun is out and we need to leave those bleak colours behind. From now on, I’m only buying colour (I’ll also be buying white because I just can’t part with it…), and I think you should give it a go as well.

*Spring clean your desk: I’ve never been that enthused by spring cleaning. Cleaning is dull enough, why must we do more just because it’s spring? However, I’ve recently moved offices and was forced to clean out my desk. I’m now at a beautiful new desk with only the bare essentials cluttering it, and my goodness does it make you feel productive! Suddenly everything has a ‘place’, it’s a lovely place to be and just gleams. So rather than dusting, hoovering and scrubbing your house from top to bottom – just start with your desk. And if that’s all you get around to doing, then that’s more than enough.

*Make evening plans: Now it is actually light in the evenings, making plans is so much more fun. Start investigating roof top bars (perhaps preempting summer a little, but just wrap up warm), go for evening runs or just take a walk. We’re finally done with the winter hibernation, so round up the troops and have fun!

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Recent Purchases

I’ve accidentally been a bit spendy recently. Not necessarily an enormous shopping spree, but just a book here, a blanket there and a couple of clothing items… before you know it you’ve amassed a nice amount of new “stuff”.

I love shopping full stop, but seeing all of the spring/summer items arriving is just so exciting. Some colour! At last! I’ve made a new rule for myself (which one of these items does break but there you go) – I am only allowed to buy colour. I’m counting white as a colour because I love to wear white in the summertime (quickest way to look tanned), but grey and black are out. Summer is coming and we don’t need any bleak colours bringing us down.

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*Topshop blouse and skirt: So I fell into Topshop and accidentally bought some clothes – what’s new? I am so in love with this diamond pintuck lace blouse, I only ever really wear white in the summer, so to have a new white piece really makes it feel as though winter is at an end. It is perfect for spring because it’s not quite as warm as a jumper, but the long sleeves and high neck protect you from those unexpected breezy days. This Boucle A-line skirt is admittedly a bit more wintery, but at just £26 I thought it was a pretty good price for Topshop, and it’s perfect for when it’s still a little chilly outside.

*Books: I have been quite strict with my Kindle-only rule recently, but I had to get these two in hard copy. This Wind in the Willows is part of Penguin Threads, a collection of gorgeous paperbacks. There are all kinds of classics to choose from in these beautiful covers, from Black Beauty to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Wildflower by Drew Barrymore has been doing the rounds on social media recently and that was what drew me in, as I’m not a particular Drew Barrymore fan. I’ve just turned the last page and loved it – but you’ll have to wait for next month’s reading list to find out more…

*Oliver Bonas throw: Isn’t this throw just so beautiful and colourful? It feels safe with the grey and white base and I love the pop of neon. It’s such a fun thing to have on your bed in the summer, and it’s not too thick and heavy so you won’t expire beneath it. Oliver Bonas is one of my favourite shops to browse in anyway, but only recently have I noticed the homeware. The cushions and throws in their collection are really fun and colourful – they’re all on my wish list!

*NYC haul: Tiarnan went to New York last month, and I sent him with a (rather extensive) shopping list. He came back with the Bath & Body Works three wick candle in Watermelon Lemonade which I absolutely love. Oh why can we not have Bath & Body Works in the UK?! He also bought me the Victoria’s Secret Mayfair Pyjamas, which is still the classic shirt and trouser set – but in a lighter material. Perfect as we are going into summer, now it just needs to get a bit warmer…

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.

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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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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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…

How to Spend… February

Can anyone else feel that sense of spring in the air? Temperatures are still pretty low, but the days are getting longer, brighter clothes are starting to pop up in the shops and there are even some daffodils blooming. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to wear something other than a jumper and jeans. And there’s plenty to be getting on with until spring fully arrives. With pancakes to be eaten on Shrove Tuesday, cards to be sent on Valentine’s Day and a whole extra day on the 29th – have a great month!

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*Buy yourself freshly cut flowers: You don’t need a Valentine to have flowers in your house this month. Treat yourself! There’s just something so uplifting about having flowers around, they give a sense of life when the weather is still bleak outside. And, when you’re buying flowers for yourself, you can pick your favourites. Skip the clichéd (and extortionate) red roses for some daffodils to remind you that spring is on it’s way.

*Rethink your resolutions: Now is about the time that the New Year’s resolutions become a distant memory. If they are too hard don’t admit defeat, just alter them. Perhaps going to the gym every day was unrealistic, so change it to every other day. If that is what it takes to keep you on track and doing something positive then it’s a good thing, not a failure. Or, perhaps they are a little too easy, so with that confidence the first month has given you – amp them up!

*Create a new bedtime routine: January tends to be a bit crazy, adjusting back into work after the Christmas break, but we’re firmly back in those routines now. With the peace of Christmas (and the large food babies) it was easy to drift off to sleep, but with the worries of work, emails buzzing around our heads and plans forming for the following day, it can be harder to get some proper sleep. Spend some time creating a new bedtime routine to make sure you get to sleep when you need to. Turn off all those electrical devices (resist the temptation to check Instagram before bed!) and have a bath, read a book or make a cup of tea. A proper night’s sleep makes the world of difference the following day.

*Take something up for Lent: Ah, Lent. Just as we’re halfheartedly trying to keep our resolutions on track, we throw Lent into the mix. I always find that giving something up is quite a negative attitude. Telling yourself you can’t have something is guaranteed to make you want that one thing. So, rather than giving up chocolate, take up having fruit instead. You can still have chocolate when you really want it, but you’ll probably find yourself eating a lot less of it. Instead of giving up alcohol, take up making mocktails. Take up running, cooking or even an earlier bedtime. This kind of positive attitude to achieving something will make those 40 days and 40 nights fly past!