Friday 21 December 2012

Last minute gifts from The White Company

Are you dreaming of a White Company Christmas?

It's one of those stores where I could suggest somebody gets me 'anything from there'.  When I go up to London, getting off the train at St Pancras, I have a little ritual of shops I visit on the concourse, and this is always one of them.

So it was very lovely of them to send me a few Christmas gifts to show off to you.  If' you've been rather slack in the present shopping department, fear not, you can order online up until midnight tonight (Friday 21st Dec) for guaranteed delivery in time for the big day or visit the store in person this weekend.

If you still need a bit of sparkle for your tree, then these star decorations are beautiful, with a romantic, vintage feel.  I have mine hanging on the inside of the front door - who says the outside should get all the attention with lavish wreaths...

Tiny littlies are always difficult to buy gifts for, but this soft and snuggly bunny is just perfect.  Ideal for a new baby or Christening gift too.  A real keepsake toy and there's lots of other animals to choose from too.

The White Company are famed for their fragranced candles.  Effortlessly elegant and beautifully perfumed they have a gorgeous range of seasonal ones to choose from.  I was sent the 'Winter' candle fragranced with cinnamon, clove and orange wish is divinely heady.  I also adore the sound of Pomegranate and the Cassis one has got to be delicious.

And if you're STILL struggling, then no girl would be disappointed to receive something from their bath and body range.  Decadently luxurious and indulgent, choose from their range of beautifully presented gift sets.

 Wishing you a white Christmas!

Disclosure:  I was sent a selection of products to sample and review.

Homemade Candied Orange Peel

This has to be the ULTIMATE thrifty Christmas treat.  Basically, it's made out of something you'd normally throw away.

Although, what you save on ingredients you probably more than make up for in trips to the dentist.

Think not of it as giving your nearest and dearest food salvaged from the compo bin, but rather a thoughtful and tasty homemade delicacy.  You get the added bonus of making your house smell amazing while you're making them too.

You will need:

Large oranges (the nice big ones with thick skins, such as Sevilles.  This is no place for the satsuma)
70% dark bitter chocolate if you want to fancy them up

Begin by removing the skin.  The easiest way to do this and to give reasonable size pieces is to score through the skin with a sharp knife (skin part only, try not to go through the pith or the flesh).  Do this all the way round as though you are scoring segments.  Then peel the skin off.

The oranges will keep for a day or two in a sealed bag in the fridge if you're not using them straight away.

Holding a sharp knife flat, slice off as much of the white pith as you can.  Um, remember to do this away from you.  Just sayin.

Pop the orange boat skins into a saucepan with just enough water to cover them.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.  Then drain, refresh with clean cold water and repeat twice more.

After they have been cooked in this way for a total of 3 times, drain, rinse and them slice into sticks.

Into your pan, make a syrup - again enough to cover the orange slices.  Amounts will depend on how many oranges you are doing, but you need a ratio of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water.  For example, I used 4 large oranges and used half a mug of sugar and 1 mug of water.  Heat and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved then add your orange strips to the pan.

Bring to the boil then simmer for around 45 minutes, until they have turned translucent.  Don't be tempted to wack up the heat to speed things up, or, I dunno, say go and do the hoovering upstairs...KEEP AN EYE ON IT, sugar burns easily and you don't want a kitchen full of acrid smoke.  Again, just sayin.

Once they are cooked, turn off the heat and leave until they have cooled down enough to handle.

Rest them on a wire rack with a tray or greaseproof paper underneath to drain off the syrup.

Pour some caster sugar into a bowl and toss the orange slices ensuring they are covered.  Make like Ian Beale battering a nice bit of haddock.  Hmm in fact, they look a bit like goldfish, maybe next time I'll cut them fishy shape.

Pop on a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave overnight to firm up.

As a final touch - it is Christmas after all- you can dip them in chocolate.  A good quality dark chocolate is best, and choose a bitter one to off-set the sweetness.  Melt in the microwave or in a bowl over a pan of water and dip the ends of your orange strips in.

Leave to set on greaseproof paper.

Keep them in an airtight container or pop into a pretty jar for a thrifty Christmas gift. They are tangy and twangy and deliciously fabulous.  Enjoy!

How to make wooden photo cubes

Remember back in the day, when you used to trot off to the chemist and hand you roll of film in, then excitedly go back a fortnight later to collect your photos?  Then you'd proudly display them in an album, frame them for the wall or pop one in your wallet?

Nowadays family snaps are more likely to be hidden away on your hard drive or floating around the internet ether on a cloud hosting service.

Well, it's time to bring back the humble photo!  Follow my tutorial to make these gorgeous, ever so retro photo cubes.

You will need:

Selection of photos, cropped to size and then photocopied
A wooden craft block (try craft stores or online, I can recommend Craft Shapes)
DYLON Image Maker

Firstly choose your photos.  Crop them to size and print off on good quality photo paper - a photocopy is only as good as the original.  I've discovered I live not only in a one-horse-town, but also a one-photocopier-town, so black and white was the only option for me.  No matter, I really wanted a vintage feel anyway, but just so you know, this will work with colour copies too.

Trim your photocopied pictures to fit the sides of the cube.  It's easier and less fiddly if you make them smaller all round, leaving a wooden 'border'.  I've gone all fancypants instagrammy and rounded the corners too.  You could cut them to any shape though - I imagine hearts would look lovely.

For this one I'm showing you on a natural, untreated wooden block.  I also tried it on one I'd painted, which gave a different effect - a much bolder image, more solid, but I found the image didn't adhere as well and parts of it rubbed off in the later process.

A natural wooden block will give a sepia type tone to your images because the natural wood colour shows through.

Once your images are trimmed, squirt a good dollop of the DYLON Image Maker onto the printed side and spread out with a paintbrush.  Do this on a protected surface, such as a sheet of greaseproof paper.  You need a good, generous covering, so the image is barely visible through the white product.

Carefully peel up your image, pick it up and lay it onto a face of the cube.  Treat it carefully - wet paper isn't the most robust thing in the world.  Slide it into position, and then smooth down carefully.  The excess gloop with splurge out of the sides, so scoop that up on your brush to use for the next picture.  Make sure it's fully pressed down, with no lumps or air bubbles.  Wipe the surface carefully with a dry sponge or paper towel (if you have a coating of Image Maker on the back, the rubbing off process will be much harder).

Repeat on other sides.  Obviously for a cube, you can't do all six at once or it will have no way to stand and dry.  I did 3 at a time.

Leave to dry for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Then, take a clean wet sponge and dampen the paper on one cube face.  Keep wetting it until it's saturated - you'll see it change to a darker colour.  Then, with your finger rub back and forth until the paper peels away.  Lots of slow gentle rubbing is much better than fast and furious rubbing.

Err. Moving on.

I love this part of the process.  Much like old fashioned photo developing, you'll see the image magically appear before your eyes.  Wipe off the bits of paper and continue with your other sides.

Leave to dry off and you'll be left with images which have a slightly fuzzy, flocked paper feel.  Rub again with your finger (gently!) to remove the remaining paper.  You might find it better to wet your finger first.  Once all the images are clear, you can seal by rubbing a little more of the Image Maker over it, but this gives a glossy finish.  I sealed mine with a matt modge podge and am really pleased with the final result.

Let me know what you think.

Disclosure:  I have been working with DYLON throughout the year.  Please see my disclosure page for full details.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Pets at Christmas

Our dog is an integral part of our family, but now I kind of feel she should have her own Twitter profile...

According to an International Animal Welfare Charity, one in ten pets now have their own social media account.

  Social Petworking Stars

If they can run a Facebook page, surely they can write a letter to Santa? Right?

With this in mind, me and the hound sat down to peruse the GJW Titmuss website to come up with our entry to their Christmas Stocking competition where you could win your choice of gifts up to £200.

She's a high maintenance kinda girl, so here's what she chose:

A Hunter Tweed Padded coat, for all those long winter walks.  She needs to look as stylish as her mummy after all.

A super comfy new bed, with added padding and high sides to keep out the draughts and keep her snug all winter - although the look in her eye tells me she doesn't think it looks quite as comfy as the large double bed upstairs...

Every girl needs some smellies in her Christmas socking, so she's chosen this deodorising spray.  Although she visits the doggie salon, this will keep her smelling fresh in between trips.

Being a Labrador, when it comes to food more is more, so although there were lots of tasty treats to chose from, she's gone for bulk in the form of her regular dog food.  This brand is great for her health, her coat and helps keep her weight under control.

She's picked a nice new grooming brush to keep her looking slick and glossy.

And lastly, because she's going for all round good looks, something to keep her teeth clean and healthy.  She LOVES these sticks and doesn't even realise they are doing her good.

So, our basket comes to a grand total of £198.64.  What do you think?  Is she worth it?

What Ella hears: "mwa mwa mwa mwa"

We've had a long conversation about how Santa will only come if she's a good girl, and no, chewing up my leather gloves does not constitute 'good'.

Monday 17 December 2012

A helping hand this Christmas

This time of year is often one of reflection, and for me thankfulness of how fortunate we are.

Thank God, never have we struggled to feed our family or had to make the difficult decision about whether to chose to eat or put the heating on.

I'm not sure Ruby fully appreciates how lucky she is that she goes to school each morning with a tummy full of breakfast, a packed lunch and a cooked meal to come home to.  She can wander to the cupboard and help herself to a snack or open the fridge and get herself some juice.

I am painfully aware that it is not like this for everyone.  There are many people struggling in our own communities for a whole host of reasons.

Take for example 'Jane' who contacted the Bedford Food Bank recently:

"I am really struggling since coming to Bedford to escape domestic violence with my 2 daughters. I am on job seekers allowance..."

She was put in touch with one of the local managers, and they were able to provide her with an emergency food package.  After her visit, she emailed the team:

"I just wanted to say thank you to yourself and the ladies at the foodbank for helping me out today. I cried when I got back to the car. I reluctantly ask for help and this was a big thing for me. The food will last us probably a week.
Thank you so much.

Hers is not an isolated story, in fact last year food banks fed over 128,000 people and this year that number is expected to rise by 80%.

Food banks provide emergency food for 3 days - the length of time estimated for the welfare system to step in.

With the cost of living increasing month by month, rocketing fuel bills, changes to benefits and tax credits and a wage system that's struggling to keep up, there is a massive increase in the number in 'working poverty'.  According to The Trussell Trust who run our local food bank, approximately 50% of their clients come from families where at least one adult is in work.

There are referrals by school liaison officers who, following up on poor attendance have found children kept home from school because their parents can't afford their packed lunch.  There are clients who, faced with an unexpected bill or drop in their hours at work suddenly find they can't afford to put food on the table.

So, this year instead of sending toys in a shoebox like we did last, we've decided to help support our local food bank.  Yes, it's lovely for kids to get presents at Christmas, but for me, the first priority has to be that they are fed and nourished.

This will be our new Christmas tradition, making this a part of our Christmas shopping, giving us time to think of others and talk about the issues with Ruby. I'm very much looking forward to meeting the food bank team in the New Year to see how we can support them further and in a more long-term way.

Yesterday, we downloaded a shopping list and took it along to the supermarket which also acts as a collection point.  Ruby was in charge of finding suitable items, and we found it a very inspiring and practical way to give.

She learnt about what food items were suitable to give - long-life items such as tinned and dried goods - she thought about what would be healthy and nutritious, and what would be the best value so our donation stretched further.

She really enjoyed being involved, and has been full of questions ever since. It's a much more hands-on and practical way to give than chucking a few quid in a collection tin. I hope it makes her think next time she helps herself to something from the fridge.

If you feel you can add a few items to your grocery shop to donate to your local food bank please do.  The largest network of food banks is operated by the Trussell Trust, but there are others so do a Google search of 'Food Bank *your town*' and see how you can help.

Achica Christmas

You must have heard of Achica - the luxury members-only shopping site?

They have such beautiful items and amazing designer brands, so I was super-dooper excited when I managed to wangle an invite to their bloggers Christmas crafting breakfast workshop.

It was crafting heaven entering the room - piles and piles of materials and free-rein to make your own decos.

Somewhat intimidated, being next to Maggy, the crafting queen I produced a wreath for my front door with the help of the gorgeous materials provided by Festive.

Then Konesar helped up make fruit garlands with dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks.  The aroma was intoxicating, and we produced impressive looking results really easily thanks to the pre-drilled items.

Finally, I had a lovely chat with the people from Five Dollar Shake who do the most amazing personalised and hand finished greetings cards. All bespoke, we flipped through the catalogues and chatted about designs and styles.  They produced a gorgeous card for me to send to a friend, and I have to say, I'm really impressed with their service.  You can design your card online, approve it and then have it sent either direct to the recipient, or to you so you can write your own personal message in before giving it.

Ahh what a lovely way to spend a morning, and I sprinkled joy and happiness (and a fair bit of glitter) all over everyone on the Piccadilly line coming home!

You've still got time for some last minute Christmas shopping, so sign up now and see what their current offers are.  Sign up here to get a £10 voucher.

Disclosure:  I attended a craft event and received a goody bag.  All opinions expressed are my own.  this post contains an affiliate link.

Merry Magpie Monday Christmas

As I fight my way round the shops, desperately searching for things on people's Christmas lists, it occurs to me how infrequently I actually visit 'real' shops.

Shoving my way through the crowds, past all the plastic tat and mass-produced nonsense, I'm proud of my usual second-hand shopping habits.

Sitting here casting my eye around my home, I feel content and a little bit smug at my bits and pieces, sourced creatively from charity shops; jumble sales; car boots; auctions and, on occasions, snaffled from the street.

Our home is now full of things that have been scrubbed and polished, revamped and upcycled, all of which have a story to tell, a previous life and often, a former purpose.

I love that I've rescued these things, saved them from landfill and not wasted precious resources making new.

From the clothes in our wardrobe (and, now I come to think of it, the actual wardrobe), to the chairs we sit on and the plates we eat off... from the vintage decorations I'm about to put on our tree, to the wreath on the kitchen door, they have all been salvaged and re-loved.

It's been a great year for thrifting and I've thoroughly enjoyed hosting Magpie Monday each week.  I've met some wonderful kindred spirits and found some amazing new blogs.  I've oohed and ahhed at the estate sale finds of our American friends and watched with such happiness and admiration The White Approach's business take off.

I've hooked up with Chris Tea and Cakes, and had her over last weekend to pop her jumble sailing cherry.

I've had a scream with Molly; Amanda and Goriami at Britmums and I'm sure if we hadn't been so hungover we'd have managed to sneak a vintage market or two in.

I've made firm friends with the lovely Lucy, met up for illicit lunchtime chazza raids, been foraging and was honoured to go to her gaff for her birthday party.

I picked up an amazing new friend in a house clearance shop (see, you really can find ANYTHING in these places) and from not knowing her from Adam just a few months ago, we now speak almost everyday and I'm so grateful she's appeared in my life - I now count her as one of my closest friends.

So all in all, a lot to be grateful for.  You wouldn't get any of that in Debenhams would you?

I'm going to take a little break over Christmas, so the next Magpie Monday will be on the 7th January.

I want to wish all of you a very thrifty new year, I hope the charity shop gods continue to smile on you, and I hope you and your family have the 

Just to be clear - I'm wishing you 'the ultimate Christmas' - not a new dick.  Unless it's on your list of course.

Grab the badge and link up your thrifty pleasures.
Me and My Shadow

Thursday 13 December 2012

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas least in my kitchen it is.

Today we've been pottering about undertaking a Christmas challenge set by Persil and their 'warm spice' fragranced washing up liquid.

Blogger and baker extraordinaire Ruth Clemens of the Pink Whisk has collaborated and come up with a scrumptious selection of Christmas recipes.  The only tough part was choosing which one we'd make.

Actually, it wasn't too tough.  I quickly settled on making Florentines - because I LOVE them!  Forget cupcakes and macarons, florentines is where it's at, you mark my words.

They are really simple to make, you can knock up a batch quickly, and they make a wonderful homemade treat or last-minute Christmas gift.  I've packaged them as a gift using an old Pringles tube, wrapped in a vintage map, with a matching paper bow.  Nifty thrifty huh?

You can watch Ruth and her son making these delicious biscuits here, or you can look at my amateurish photos.  Rest assured, if my kitchen was as pristine as hers, I'd have been filming our efforts too.

Here's Ruth's recipe.


50g golden syrup
50g Stork Baking Liquid
50g Demerara sugar
50g plain flour
8 glace cherries, chopped
45g flaked almonds
40g mixed peel
50g sultanas
150g milk chocolate 

Oven Temperature:
160c(fan)/180c/Gas Mark 4.

Bake Time:
8-10 minutes


Preheat the oven to 160c(fan)/180c/Gas Mark 4. 

Measure out the ingredients.

Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper and place the flour, flaked almonds, mixed peel, sultanas and chopped glace cherries into a bowl and stir to mix evenly, make a well in the centre.

Add the golden syrup, demerara sugar and Stork Baking Liquid to a small pan.

Heat the pan over a gentle heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat.
Carefully pour into the dry ingredients.

Carefully mix the ingredients together.  Place spoonfuls of the mixture well-spaced apart as they will spread on the baking trays, creating 6 Florentines on each tray. (unless you're us, in which case you'll only do 5)

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden brown.  Allow to cool on the trays for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cooled melt the milk chocolate gently in the microwave or over a pan of steaming water.

Turn the florentines upside down on the work surface.  Add a teaspoon of melted chocolate and spread over the Florentine using a pastry brush or the back of the spoon.

Allow the chocolate to set and serve.

We followed the recipe pretty much as above.  However since Ruby is allergic to milk products, we used dairy-free chocolate - using 'milk' on the base and drizzled white chocolate on the tops to decorate.

My only tip would be to reshape them while still warm if they've spread out and no longer resemble a circle! you can gently push them back into shape with the backs of 2 teaspoons.

I did find them quite sweet, so when I make them next time I think I'll try reducing the sugar - the syrup, fruit and chocolate should be sweet enough.  I'd also use a good quality dark chocolate if I'm making them for myself or as gifts next time.

We had a lovely afternoon making these, and as Ruby's advent treat today was for us to do baking together, it was perfect!  The kitchen smelled all Christmassy with the toasted nuts and citrus peel in the oven.

When it came to clearing up, Ruby has her own unique way of doing things...

...and when it was time to wash up she was nowhere to be found.  But still, the aromatic aroma of spices from the Persil Warm Spice made it a pleasant enough chore, although I wouldn't have complained if someone had offered to do it for me while I put my feet up with a glass of mulled wine.

So when you're faced with the mountain of dishes on Christmas Day, do yourself a favour and lighten the load and your mood with this liquid.  If you want to try it for yourself, you'll find it on the supermarket shelves, and better still I have five bottles to give away.

To win one, just leave me a comment below and a way to contact you before midday on Tuesday 18th December 2012 (sorry, UK only) and I'll select five people at random for Persil to send a bottle to.

Disclosure: Sponsored post.

Ruth Clemens has created a range of recipes to celebrate the launch of Persil’s Limited Edition Warm Spice Washing Up Liquid. For more information and recipes visit