Thursday, 28 April 2011

Packing our bags


Tomorrow afternoon we're off for the weekend.  We'll be staying with friends in Bavaria (Germany), so I must get on with my packing this evening. Something smart, something for lounging round the house (they have such a cute place), and something for an evening out.

We'll be visiting the local Bierfest on Saturday evening. A couple of Weißbier are sure to be sampled.  And then I'm hoping for lots of freshly baked pretzels on Sunday morning. They are my favourite. I love them so much I tried making my own...didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped. So I'm looking forward to the real thing. We really like travelling to Bavaria, it's really, really pretty. Hope the weather stays nice and I get a few nice photos I can share with you.

However, in about 2.5 hours time I'm expecting the commonly heard plaintive cry from my husband. "But what shall I pack my clothes in........?! I need a weekend bag.............!" Every time we go away it's always the same story, he has no suitable bag.  Often he ends up using some pink Roxie carry-on number belonging to yours truly. So I'm thinking it's about time I did something about this. I know he's had his eye on this holdall from Marks & Spencer. It is rather splendid and smart. So should I treat him to it? Or should I wait until our wedding anniversary?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Talking about Book Bags

One little thing I have noticed while living in central Europe is the ubiquitous use of book bags! It seems that at every turn people are cycling or strolling past me with their little fabric bags. Usually they are awkwardly bulging with last night's beer bottles. People here always pay a deposit on their beer bottles and return them to receive a little money-back voucher. It thus becomes quite a part of people's daily routine, and of course drinking beer makes up a pretty big part of peoples' lives here in the Czech Republic.

Anyway, I now seem to be starting a collection of lovely book bags and I'm on the look out for more. I tend to go for slightly prettier ones than the beer soaked and stained ones in use here though! I have a couple cotton ones, both given to me by friends from Germany.  One with a picture of the Berlin Reichstag. I love using these when picking up a few bits of shopping. They make me feel terrible eco-conscious and worthy.

I also have the Penguin lovely pictured above, a great pressie given to me by the husband. I actually prefer using cotton ones, as opposed to oilcloth. Just more flexible to scrunch up inside another bag. However, I do just adore the iconic Penguin design. I love all of their range, having bought various Penguin mugs for different friends over the years. I'm loving their luggage tags too at the moment, isn't this one cute? And this one too!

image via Art Meets Matter

Monday, 25 April 2011

Inspiration for Spring


I'm just loving this look! That buttery, marigold colour skirt, and those shoes. What a lovely way to do pleats and '70s styling. It looks so effortless, which is always a good thing. I'm mentally trying to reconfigure my wardrobe to see if I come up with an outfit approximating this...

A bit too hot for tights though these days. I'm actually trying to do my Winter/Summer wardrobe changeover at the moment, along with a Wardrobe Spring Clean for good measure. Ugggh, I'm hopeless, I can never bear to part with anything. But I'm determined, this WILL be the year I fill in the gaps in my super-sized capsule wardrobe and follow style-inspirations like Alexa Chung, or Zooey Deschanel every single day (yeah, right! Who am I kidding.)

image via Wayne Tippets

Friday, 22 April 2011

Play It Again Sam


Well we know that in a certain corner of the globe wedding fever is almost upon us. Therefore, mildly in-keeping with that theme (hardly at all really) I saw this wedding invitation the other day and I just had to post in admiration of this design project. How super cool and cute! Functional, yet so lovely to look at.

The design of this invitation is right up my street. Almost 9 years ago now (I can hardly believe it's that long already!), the invitation to our wedding was a mix cd. The sleeve being the invitation, the music being a soundtrack for getting ready in the morning.

Lots of our friends thought it was cool. Something that they would keep among their music collection, a memento that they'd always have. However, that was in the days before MP3 players. I wonder how many iPods our little invitation made it on to? I know it's on mine!


image via Kelli Anderson

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Best Lunch Ever



Fresh figs were on offer in the local supermarket which prompted a simultaneous goats cheese purchase. So we had this grilled with goats cheese, drizzled in honey, with a rocket salad on the side, supplemented with some tomato bruschetta. An odd mix perhaps? But super tasty.

It was sunshine on a plate.

Actually I'm not sure if it was the Best Lunch Ever, as tomorrow I'm going to be having a Greek salad, Cretan style. However, it was pretty darn close.

images via Eric Hunt and Wizard Recipes

iPad - How do you use yours?

Recently we were given an iPad. I know, I know, we don't know we've been born, right? Well this was a very kind gift, from some friends who felt that we'd helped them out. They'd received it from work, but basically felt that they had absolutely no use for it. Knowing my husband to be a bit of a tech-freak they gave us a pristine, box-fresh, completely sealed iPad.

And so then we had the problem. What on earth will we use it for? We kept in its box it for a while, admiring the outside, while we pondered the issue. Bottom line is we really, really DON'T need this piece of kit. Husband wondered about selling it. I was adamant that we couldn't, it was a gift after all. So we kept it in its box until the day after iPad 2 was released and then we opened it.

Now bearing in mind that I am not usually a Mac user, and I hate having to download apps just to get the simplest function, here are my thoughts.
What an iPad is good for:
1) Checking email
2) Watching YouTube
3) Quick internet surfing
4) Slicing fruit - care of Fruit Ninja
5) Eating fish - care of Hungry Shark
6) Reading books via the Kindle App
And with this final one herein lies the secret that is making me quite satisfied with owning an iPad.

What an iPad is NOT good for:
1) Writing anything
2) Serious internet browsing

If you're gonna buy one then you might as well make it an iPad 2, thinner, lighter, has a camera, all in all a bit more useful, and sooooooo pretty.

But for me, as an expat living abroad with a penchant for literature, this iPad hasn't come a minute too soon. With 1-Click ordering activated on Amazon, I am downloading books at a rate of knots, and a whole world has opened up to me. However, it does feel a bit like I've just borrowed these books from the library. I am still addicted to paper copies.

So the iPad then.  It's never going to replace my library, and it's never going to replace my laptop, but it's proving jolly useful in my current set-up. What am I missing? How do you use yours?

image via Red & Rosy

Monday, 18 April 2011

Brights, Stripes and Polka Dots


I've talked before about Promod, and once again I find myself drawn to this store. Now, I must admit that I'm not keen on their website, it's not overly attractive or easy to use. Also I don't much like the way they style their models, it all looks a bit too much like a catalogue. However, I personally find the clothes work much better in real life, which is fortunate really!

Currently they have a whole host of easy to wear bright dresses, breton tops, sailor inspired items and a smattering of polka dots for good measure. The top in this picture is a personal fave, a breton stripe, with a little bicycle pattern! It's a great item, trust me (and it was on offer in the store when I went in). So French looking, really what is not to love.

Also, as a side note the leather peeptoe wedges in the picture look really great on, and would be great with summer dresses or cropped trousers. AND they are currently reduced. If I was a size 7 I would snap up a pair.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Much Ado About Nothing


Nothing much going on today. Well, except a friend of ours, who also happens to be a fifteen year old boy, walked in on me while I was on the loo. Eeeeek-a-rama! I screamed, he hollered. I don't think he's ever going to be able to look me in the eye again, poor lad.

So with all that terrible embarrassment, plus our exhaustion from speaking a foreign language all day, every day, plus the wisdom teeth that are now troubling this husband-of-mine, we both came home and had an afternoon nap. Ah, the afternoon nap, the backbone of my existence, my reason for living! I should have been born Spanish.

But the great thing about today, is this little period of time I get while husband snoozes on, (poor love, he really is tired). You know early-birds, those people who like to make everyone else feel miserable and unworthy by saying how wonderful it is to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, and how much they get done while it's all quiet? Well this is how I imagine it to be like for them. This window of stolen solitude on a Saturday afternoon, that comes round once every six months or so. I can sun myself on my not-quite roof garden, plant out my growing plants, write my blog, you get the picture. All very mundane and domesticated...but who cares.

No pictures of plants this time by the way. The clueless gardener is ashamed of her general neglect of her vegetable-dependants. Courgette plant and french beans doing ok, if a little straggly. Carrots and salad not growing at all. Then oddly, one pot of basil doing fine, and another appears to be dead. Ughhh. I'm annoyed, I thought it would all be a lot easier than this.

image via Benjipie

Thursday, 14 April 2011

For the Love of Rhubarb


Yesterday was a very exciting day. I spotted rhubarb in our local Tesco! This only ever happens once a year, so as soon as I see it, with a whoop I joyfully gather up a bundle.

Unfortunately, the staff here usually don't know what this strange fruit is (although, did you know, it is often classified as a vegetable). Last year the cashier tried to charge me by the stick. It was going to cost me approximately £25! I mean, I like rhubarb, but not that much. The situation attracted the attention of a couple of other cashiers, and the security guard; all plainly curious as to how one went about eating it.

The weather has gone a little chilly again, so therefore a rhubarb crumble seems about perfect for a cosy evening, something to lift spirits a little. I'll probably use this recipe (if I feel extra lazy and can't be bothered to pre-cook the rhubarb) or this one. Mmmmm, a taste of home.

image via haikugirl

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Ambridge Extra


Yes, that's right I am an Archers listener (I hesitate to say fan, although Radio 4 fan most definitely). The Archers has always been something fun to listen to while doing housework or cooking dinner. Since moving abroad however, I've found it has become much more a necessity to me. A mental link to the green and pleasant land or what have you.

My circle of friends appears to include many (initially closet) listeners. Afraid of the definitely not-on-trend stigma it conveys perhaps? But we listen ironically! Of course we do! A certain husband of mine though, he's another story. He "hates" it, but avidly listens from the next room, asks me to clarify bits of the story he missed. Tut tut, there's no point hiding your shame, just be honest, we're all friends here.

So yes, first there was The Archers, and then came Ambridge Extra (thrilling title, don't you think?) Did you ever think you'd hear the words "Archers" and "spin-off" in the same sentence? I certainly didn't. However, it's been about a week now since the oft-heralded Ambridge Extra arrived for our listening pleasure, and I really don't know what to think. I'm listening almost out of a sense of duty, not so much with enjoyment. It seems a bit too Hollyoaks, not really what you want when you're supposed to be following characters from Ambridge. Although, if there's more Alice and Chris that will be quite fun to listen to, I like these two characters, and they remind me of some very dear friends of mine...you know who you are! What do you make of it all? Enjoying it, or not much?

- Confused Archers listener

image copyright Iain McDonald and licensed for reuse

Saturday, 9 April 2011

I Love My Amazon Basket

I blush to think how much time I spend browsing on Amazon. However, when I lived in the UK, I spent a lot of time in bookshops, thumbing through paperbacks, seeing how many Booker or Orange-nominated authors I could squeeze out of a buy 2, get 1 free offer. It was my equation for a successful shopping experience. Time spent in TopShop / Time spent in New Look = Amount of time to spend in Waterstones = Happy Shopper.

Now unfortunately living hours and hours away from any bookshop that stocks English books, I feel like I've had my right arm cut off. So instead I while away the time on Amazon, popping things into my virtual basket. I love my Amazon basket. I squirrel things away there, keeping them for a rainy day, exaggeratedly pondering the will I buy-won't I buy question. And Amazon looks after my groaning basket of books. Like an eager little puppy, there it is reminding me about my basket every time I return.

Then in a flurry of activity, prior to having guests come out to visit us, I go into an ordering frenzy, demanding friends fill their suitcases with weighty tomes. The thicker the better, I won't even consider a book under an inch thick these days. 2 inches or more is Much Better. Gotta make my reading experience last, savour it as long as possible. It's a very sad situation being a book lover, cut off from books. So thank goodness for my Amazon basket.

Here's some of the current books in my basket:
Anatomy of a Disappearance Heard this book reviewed on Front Row I think and thought it sounded pretty good.
Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home I love both cooking from and just reading Nigellas' books. There's nothing quite like curling up with a Nigella book when you're feeling a bit low in spirits.
The Digital Photography Book If you saw my photo from my last post you will understand why I need this book, or something similar. Any recommendations folks for a good How To book?
The Handmaid's Tale Can you believe, I've never read this book?! Shocking.
The English Urban Renaissance: Culture and Society in the Provincial Town 1660-1770 (Oxford Studies in Social History)Yes, this book really is in my basket! It's been there a long time as you can imagine, perhaps because it's pricey, perhaps because it's just a complete whim. However, I do find urbanisation and the history of urbanisation, really interesting...hmmm, you're not convinced? No, neither am I.

image via mapelc

Friday, 8 April 2011

LWD



In quite a few places I've noticed people talking about the current trend of the LWD (Little White Dress), lace where possible. I feel that this somewhat validates a purchase I made in December. Many apologies for the ghastly photograph. But anyway, here is my version of the LWD, it's off-white chiffon, with a tiny black polka dot, long sleeves and a lacy collar.

And now for where I bought it. Whilst staying in Bangkok, my accommodation was about 10 minutes away from the Platinum Fashion Mall. At first glance the Mall looked a little like a scruffy indoor market, the type we're used to in the UK that sell reels of cellotape or dodgy old cassette tapes. But first impressions were thoroughly deceiving. Closer inspection yielded pure joy. I spent a very happy day here, and left clutching a plastic bag full of clothes, having spent no more than I would have done back home on one skirt from H&M. Bonkers eh? If there is a next time, I will make this place the final stop in my itinerary, and stuff my pack full of drool-worthy delights.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ich Bin Klein

Forget Paris in the spring time, Berlinis the place to go. I've been to Berlin twice, but feel like I have scarcely scratched the surface. It makes for a great city break; architecture, culture and history in spades. Beautiful parks, museums and galleries, trendy eateries, and achingly cool shopping. Plus, in comparison with places such as Paris and London, the prices are reasonable. It is easy to get around, and feels very safe. Oh take me back now!

Here's my personal "Best of Berlin":

Pergamon Museum - An historical smorgasbord, just entering made me feel terribly clever! Being able to walk on the steps of the Pergamon Altar (2nd century BC) and enter the Ishtar Gate (6th century BC, Babylon) was a real highlight.

East Side Gallery - This is what is left of Berlin wall, go and remember the past, imagine what it was like for those living behind the wall, and see the creative remains.

The Reichstag When we went it was still free to enter, you just had to queue... for ages. Now it appears you need to have a restaurant reservation or be booked into a lecture to visit, which is a real shame. However, if you do get an opportunity to go, the dome added by Norman Foster is really interesting architecturally. Otherwise it's a great building to take a look at, even if just from the outside. Very close to the Brandenburg Gate and Tiergarten too.

Tiergarten - When the sun is shining this is the place to chill out and relax.  Have a German beer in one of the beer gardens and enjoy the leafy, green heart of Berlin.

To-do list for next time includes a visit to the Bauhaus Archive, a canal trip and further exploration of the trendy Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts. I'll also have to find time to sit in the sunshine again at Dada Falafal, and eat superb, um...falafal.

image via Lololand

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Chunky Heel

Like many self-respecting girls, I've recently found myself being more drawn to the chunky shoe. The Sartorialist posted recently highlighting one girls' wonderful shoes. This post led to a spot of bother regarding the way he described her shape. This is a fray I shall not be entering, but suffice it to say the photos added grist to my mill. However, woe is me, quite such towering heels are out of my comfort zone, and the current blue shoes I own often languish in the cupboard, so I'd be looking for a more (whisper it) practical colour. Isn't practical the most boring/least stylish word in the universe? (sigh)

The enduring Zara has this offering. Excellent paired with that leather jacket already mentioned. However, in my local (not very local) Zara, these shoes weren't available, and I didn't like any of the others that they had there. Another option I came across was in Promod. A slightly cheaper compromise perhaps.  Do Promod shops even exist in the UK? Perhaps it's more of a mainland European shop. They seem to just have online ordering for the UK.  Personally, I find the website a bit off-putting, not keen on the styles they promote on the front page, but the store does have some wonderful bits.

image via Zara

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Dinner Party Pasta


How do you feel about serving pasta when you have guests for dinner? In our household Mr. B often turns his nose up at this a little bit. Being the one who usually cooks for the guests however, I've got nothing against making my life a bit easier. Thus, I introduce my new (to me) favourite pasta dish, Pasta alla Norma. It's a lovely, rich, aubergine-based dish, apparently named after an opera by Vincenzo Bellini and I think it is perfectly suited for when you have friends over, but it is so simple to make.

So for approx. 6 people:
2 aubergines, slice and put in colander, salt them and weigh them down, leave for about 1.5 hr
Olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 small carton of passata
salt and pepper
100g grated feta or balkan cheese
Pasta

The original recipe(s) require salted ricotto, but is impossible to come by. Feta does seem to work as an alternative. Obviously it is tricky to grate, but just keep going until it looks like cottage cheese. Feta is expensive here though, so I use balkan cheese.  It is very similar to feta, although not as strong a flavour. It can also be bought in a slightly drier consistency.

1) When the slices of aubergine have been left for long enough, get a little bowl of plain flour ready, and heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based pan. I don't put lots of oil in to start with, I top up as I go to try and keep the oil usage down. Then dip each slice in the flour, and fry in the hot oil, until golden on each side. The slices of aubergine will feel lovely and squidgy. Transfer the slices to a plate lined with kitchen roll.

2) Once the aubergine is ready, fry your onion and garlic on a low heat until the onion is soft and melt-y. Then add the tin of tomatoes and the carton of passata. Give it all a good stir, then add in the aubergine. You don't need to, but at this point I slice the aubergine again into half slices or quarter slices. I find it makes it more manageable on a fork with the pasta.

3) Leave the tomato sauce on a low heat, just enough to get it all bubbling a little bit. Meanwhile cook your pasta. You really, really need BIG pasta shapes for this. It makes it taste wonderful! I buy Tesco Finest Pennoni Rigate when it is on offer, and keep it in the cupboard for this meal.

4) Once the pasta is ready, stir half of the grated cheese into the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the rest on top of the served pasta.

Great with a green salad, and maybe some ciabatta. I think it's a lovely Italian feast that I enjoy sharing with good friends. Alternatively, if it's just for one or two of you, the aubergine/tomato sauce freezes well.

image via Paoletta S.

The Dichotomy of Sarah Lund


It is the last day prior to the release of the box set of The KillingIs there anything left unsaid about this series, about Sarah Lund and the jumper? Admittedly much of the comment has sprung from The Guardian, but then, for the most part I like The Guardian and agree that The Killing is something worth talking about.

So, Sarah Lund then. As the actress, Sofie Gråbøl, has pointed out, she created Lund by acting like a man, which makes for interesting viewing. We watch as her responses to situations unfold, seemingly free of emotion, focused and single-minded. For some she has become a sort of role model, Grace Dent, for one, extols her virtues. "I love Lund," says Dent, "she's the sort of better woman I dream to be." So on the one hand Lund represents an empowered, confident woman, whose sense of worth doesn't depend upon how others view her.

However, there is a flip-side. Despite respecting this character to an extent, in no way would I want to be her. Her crippled relationships are sad and uncomfortable to watch, (although in the case of her tactless mother, perhaps understandable). She is hemorrhaging people she really cares about.  By giving Lund the type of stunted relationships often associated in fiction with male characters, The Killing does a good job in challenging our stereotypes.

And lastly the jumper. It's true we all love the jumper! It's a bit ironic really, that this jumper, which started as a fashion antidote has become so completely iconic. So, who is buying the jumper (or a cheaper version perhaps)? Perhaps it's a good thing that spring is here and our jumper needs are dissolving in the sunshine.

image via Gudrun & Gudrun

What the Dickens?


That's Charles Dickens, obviously. My current challenge for myself is to read more Dickens. I suddenly realised one day that I had read zero Dickens. I was sort of shocked. So now my challenge, as and when I choose to accept it, is:

To read every novel Dickens ever wrote. 
In no particular order, over an indefinite period of time, like maybe my entire life. 

That's the theory. In practice I'm trying to always have a Dickens on the go. Something I can dip in and out of, read intensely if I want to, or put to one side for a couple of weeks, and so far so good, I've now read:
1) Bleak House - excellent
2) The Old Curiosity Shop - hmmm, the less said the better. Should count for two books I think.
3) Martin Chuzzlewit - hilarious
And I've just started Nicholas Nickleby. However, I do believe that's the last Dickens I have in the house. "Eeeek, we're out of Dickens!" people will hear me say. Rather like being out of milk, only much less of a crisis.

So, that's my latest book challenge. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Charles Dickens. Which novel is your favourite? Or are there any other well-known novelists who just seem to have passed you by? Classic or contemporary, I'm not fussy.

image via melodi2

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Perfect Leather Jacket

I know exactly what it would look like. An eau de nil colour, butter-soft leather, tailored a little like a suit jacket. In fact, if anyone comes across a jacket matching this description, please, please let me know.

Then I saw this from Zara.


Almost perfect; albeit collarless, a darker tan, a bit more casual and more expensive than I was looking for. But still a lovely jacket...it's out of stock now I think. Oh well!

Perfection never exists in reality, but only in our dreams.
- Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs

image via Zara

Sweet Little Seedlings

Last year my best laid plans went completely awry. I planned to plant a little vegetable garden. It was going to reside on my flat roof, give me a steady supply of fresh veggies, and an enormous sense of well-beingand accomplishment. However, life got in the way, and I neither bought compost, nor planted a bean.

This year therefore, I was determined. As soon as the weather started getting a little warmer (which was mid March here), I washed out some old yoghurt pots and planted up. I thought I'd start small, and build from there once I feel flushed with success. So for my friend over at Beauty Loves the Beast, here are my little seedlings:


Aren't they cute?! I look at them and squeak with excitement at least twice a day. On the right are my french beans, and on the left what will be a courgette plant. Nom, nom, nom. I love courgettes. These two little plants are about 2 weeks old. They should be going into bigger pots and start living outside in about a fortnights' time. I plan to also plant up some salad, some basil, some tomatoes, and I'm already growing a frothy mass of coriander on its way (not pictured 'cos I don't think it looks very pretty at the moment, sorry coriander).

I found the BBC's Dig In website super useful. It was these helpful chaps that sent me the seeds last year, and it seems to cater to first-time gardeners like me (read: clueless).

The New Girl



Wow, this is difficult. It feels a bit like one of those terrible team-building exercises you get at work. "Introduce yourself and tell us 15 interesting things about yourself." Or even worse, your first day at school. You don't know anyone, and you don't know how anything works or where the toilet is. In fact I remember my first day at school, sitting on those teeny-tiny chairs, at a teeny-tiny table. We made concertina caterpillars from tongues of paper, no doubt decorated in excellent "five year old imitating Jackson Pollack" fashion. However, I didn't know the rules. When I needed to ask a question I put my hand up and called out "Teacher, Teacher." I received such withering looks from the five year olds around me that I scarcely put my hand up again during the rest of my education. "You don't say Teacher, you say Miss," someone hissed at me. Phew, it was a minefield.

So here we are, another new blog, from a new girl who doesn't really know what she is doing, and will probably make lots of mistakes. So welcome, [insert curtsey here] and please read and return!

image via -bartimaeus-
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