Monday, 31 December 2012

Retrospective: Looking Back On 2012

It is around this time of the year retrospectives are commonplace, and I thought I'd write a post to add my own to the pile. I thought it would be nice for me to look back on the incredible year I have just had (I started it walking through the Kentish Countryside on a village walk with my best friend, and I'm finishing it in my Los Angeles apartment, a completely different world away), and to link back to some of my favourite and landmark posts from this year for some of my newer readers to peruse, that they might have missed! 
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January

1. While I did one or two mini features before, my vist to The Natural Kitchen on Marylebone High Street became my first ever 'Places To Eat In London' feature which went Bon to become my most popular, and my favourite blog feature. | 2. This brunch trip to Tom's Deli on Westborne Grove in Notting Hill started off my mission to eat in every restaurant lining the fashionable street. | 3. I attended culinary school with Oral B which was the most incredible experience. | 4. The first outfit post featuring my then new Hobbs handbag which readers have come to recognise me by in the street in Central London - apparently the bag is why they know for sure it is me! | 5. The first photo shoot for Pilgrims Nook Holiday Cottage, my family's business I do the PR and marketing for. We opened in April! | 6. The first of many, many weekends wandering the lovely and fashionable streets of Notting Hill.

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February


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May

1. I planted up some beautiful flower pots which were in full bloom all Summer (this is a DIY post!) | 2. I had my first experience of Brazilian Barbecue (something that was to be repeated at home many times over the Summer) at Cabana at Westfield, Stratford City. | 3. We had some beautifully hot days in London in May, and I visited Somerset House for the first time when the London Fashion Week tent was not up! | 4. My favourite brand collaboration from 2012 was with French designer resale site Vestiaire Collective here I got my hands on and styled this beautiful See by Chloe bag I had been coveting since I street styled it at London Fashion Week earlier in the year. | 5. I attended the iFabbo Conference on my last day living in London and got some great blogging tips. | 6. The first outing of I think my favourite Summer dress I have ever owned.

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June

1. I discovered what has to be one of the most stunning views in Europe, Cap Frehel on the Cote de Amour in Brittany, Northern France. | 2. I posted my first recipe from my French kitchen (I have a home there), my favourite dish to cook with my Daddy, Hot King Prawns in Garlic Butter we make copious amounts of every time we're in France. | 3. Even though I had known I was moving to California since December of 2011, and I knew my destination was Los Angeles since April, I finally announced that I would be moving to Los Angeles in September. | 4. I featured one of my favourite restaurants to eat in in Northern France, Le Cancalaise. | 5. In England we celebrated a beautiful Queens Diamond Jubilee weekend and I put together a special post and photo shoot in celebration at Pilgrims Nook Holiday Cottages. | 6. I had the most incredible evening of seafood tapas in Whitstable  at Williams & Brown.

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I hope everyone had an as amazing 2012 as I did, and here is to 2013 and Have a great evening ringing in the New Year tonight! I have a feeling 2013 is going to be another amazing year; I have so many projects coming up, and I'm moving back to England at the beginning of the Summer, most likely in June (for those of you who have been asking), and I'm moving back to London at the end of August/ beginning of September.

Friday, 28 December 2012

New Years Day Brunch: Smoked Salmon Latkes served with a Lemon & Caper Soured Cream

I was standing in front of the Smoked Salmon selection in the supermarket when I came up with this special brunch recipe idea. I had not had smoked salmon in ages, and even though I used to eat it all year round, it always screams the holidays to me as my mother and I usually treat ourselves to some special cured smoked salmon, rather than our usual plain version. However, before I put the packet in my basket, I wanted to do something special with it rather than eat it with bagels and cream cheese, or put it in scrambled eggs. This is when the cogs started turning in my mind and this special New Years Day Brunch dish was born: Smoked Salmon Latkes serves with a Lemon and Caper Soured Cream. (A rather decadent hangover breakfast!)
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A Latke is a traditional Jewish potato pancake, which while in England is more the type of thing you'd find in a Kosher deli or restaurant, is almost as common place on brunch menus here in America as a Hash Brown, which I would call the closest English equivalent to the Latke. On New Years morning I'd serve a plateful of these with either mimosas (Bucks Fizz if we're still translating this into British traditions) or Bloody Marys (I love Emily Schuman's Bloody Mary bar if you're catering for a crowd), virgin or not. The recipe below serves two (eight griddle cakes), so multiply the values by every two people you're cooking for, and keep your oven on a low heat (use the warming oven if you're cooking on an Aga) to keep the Latkes warm while you cook.
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For the Latkes:

  • 1 Small White Onion
  • 2 Small Garlic Cloves
  • 1 Large Baking Potato
  • Sea Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 40g (1.4 oz) Plain Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 3 Slices Smoked Salmon
  • Extra Light Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil, for frying

For the Soured Cream:

  • 100g (4oz) Soured Cream
  • 1/2 tbsp Capers
  • 1/2 a Lemon
  • Dill or Chives 

First make the soured cream and store it in the fridge until you're ready to serve. If there are just a couple of you, you can serve it with the Latkes, sprinkling a little extra dill or chives on top of each stack. In these photos, I have actually used finely chopped green tops of spring onions. There are so many ingredients missing from the supermarket at the moment, you can tell that it is around Christmas time! Chop the capers as small as you can get them and add to the cream. Do the same with about a tablespoon full of chopped dill or chives (which one you use is up to personal taste. Dill will give a more complex flavour and bring out the taste of the salmon more, the chives will be more oniony and pungent. Also, it is up to what is left in the supermarket by the time you get there!) Stir well, and squeeze in lemon juice to taste.  
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For the Latkes, finely chop the onions and garlic. Heat a little bit of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and gently fry the onions and the garlic until the onions have softened and are very slightly golden. Remove from the pan and set aside. Peel the potato and grate on the largest blade section of your grater. Set aside in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. This will help draw the excess moisture of of the potato. If you don't know why this is, you clearly were not paying attention during science lessons at school, and if I can retain that much from a science class, anyone can. In a large bowl beat the eggs, then whisk in the flour, the baking powder and a pinch of salt. Stir in the onion and garlic mixture. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the grated potato in small handfuls over the sink, and add to the mixture. Slice the smoked salmon into small strips, about twice the size of the potato gratings, and stir into the mixture too. 

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in the saucepan over a medium to low heat. Spoon about a heaped tablespoon full of Latke mixture into the pan, flattening slightly into a fritter with the back of the spoon. Gently fry for a minute or two until the edges of the Latke become slightly golden brown. Flip, and brown the other side until the colouring is even on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm until you are ready to serve. 


I hope you enjoy this extra special New Years Day recipe; it has to certainly be one of my all time favourites I have featured on Rachel Phipps since I started doing recipes (I'm working on a 2012 retrospective post and this just helps me see how far my food photography has come!) - and I can promise you so many more I've been working on for the blog in the New Year! 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

5 Quick Canapé Ideas For New Years Eve

While those of you hosting New Years Eve parties this year will no doubt already have your menus planned, if you happen to be staying in with friends or family, it might be nice to make a few special nibbles to serve alongside the champagne as the clock strikes midnight. While last year I spend New Years Eve with my best friend Kathryn and some of our friends at Alberry's in Canterbury, an amazing underground wine bar, usually (and sometimes with Kathy staying over too) I spend New Years Eve with my parents, drinking champagne and nibbling on goodies while we watch Big Ben and the annual fireworks ring in the New Year. As I am in Los Angeles this year and don't really have anyone but myself to make festive canapés for, I thought instead I'd gather together a few ideas for what you could whip together for your friends and family to enjoy!
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The key to a good Christmas or New year canapé is for it to not only taste great, but for it to look pretty and seasonal too. I love all the red and green in these Cranberry Brie Bites, as well as the flavours combination being bang on and festive too. However, what I love best about this recipe is the pretty frosting on the berries!
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While this recipe is a bit more lavish rather than quick, if you've got the time and resources, I think my telling you that this is from Katie Quinn Davis' blog What Katie Ate will be enough to make you realise that it will be worth the effort. Anyway, all the flavours sound perfect, and quail is such a sweet, special and delicate game bird that if you're going to treat yourself to it sometime, it might as well be at Christmas! 
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While I don't actually like cheese, for some reason I like my mothers cheese straws (I don't think she puts much in them), and to me they are a New Years Eve staple. For people who actually like the yellow stuff, however, I think these star shaped baked cheddar crackers would make the perfect, easy to  make accompaniment to the obligatory glass of champagne you will do doubt be quaffing on Monday night. 
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Ever since I fell in love with fried zucchini pieces (my all time favourites are the Courgette Fries at Byron Burger) I have thought that they are the perfect accompaniment to everything. This version is also super healthy, in case you wanted to start the New Year as you mean to go on, healthy eating wise! 
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Finally I thought I'd include one of the first recipes off of this blog (my photography has improved somewhat since then, but in my defence I was nursing a burnt arm making these at the time, one year on I still have the cooking scar!) from my Christmas Eve post last year, these super quick, super easy and super delicious Honey & Mustard Cocktail Sausages. If you click through to the post, you can also take a peek at what my usual traditional Christmas tree looks like, as this year is the only year I'm not having one to take new photos of!


All you need now is a bottle (or three) of champagne. Remember if you are in any doubt, here is a link to my article from earlier this year on How To Open A Bottle of Champagne

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Shopping List: New Year, New Shoes

As the world did not actually end last week, we in fact only have 5 days left of 2012. As it is Boxing Day today (I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas yesterday), while with the dawn of the internet so many of the sales have already started, today is the traditional start of the post Christmas 'January' sales, and as I mentioned in my post on building a 'Sale Hit List', it is time to start thinking about maybe investing in pieces that you'll really need for the year to come, while they are at conveniently reduced prices. For example, I always look for womens boots in the sales, as I usually manage to total and completely wear out the pair I buy at the beginning of Autumn every year before the rainy season is really over.
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Photo by Hung C.Tran

There is also something really nice that comes with a new pair of shoes (in spite of the whole nightmare of wearing the things in); that lovely idea of new beginnings that you have, from trying on the pairs in the shop (we walk around in store in shoe to see if they will be suitable for our needs in a way we'd never actually walk around in them in real life, the whole process actually is total madness, but I have no idea how I'd improve it!), to getting home to unwrap your new purchase that still has its pretty, unblemished soles and wonderful new leather smell from its mountain of tissue paper. Really, another way you could have saved money this year would have been to buy a new pair of shoes for yourself before you wrapped any presents; you could have used the excess tissue paper instead of having to buy wrapping paper! But anyway, the shoes are brand new, just for you. 

Aside from looking for boots, you should try and look for other practical styles like court shoes, shoes in neutral colours, or plain sandals left over in the sales from Summer (in the UK anyway, you'll be able to break them out again in a few months, the middle of May, maybe?), and as tempting as it seems, I will repeat the advice I gave in my first sales post on party dresses, but for sparkly and glittery party shoes. They may be pretty, they may be beautiful but unless you know you are in store and have a New Years Eve party to wear them to, or if you are shopping online you know for sure they'll both fit and arrive on time for the party, there is no point buying party shoes at the beginning of the year when party season is over. It is simply smart spending! 


Will you be treating yourself to a brand new pair of shoes for 2013? Or is there a particular pair you're hoping to turn up in your size in the sales?

This is a sponsored post. To read my policy on sponsored posts, please click here.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Places To Eat In Los Angeles: Georgetown Cupcake

I always love a good cupcake bakery, and in the newly opened Beverly Hills branch of D.C. bakery Georgetown Cupcake I think I have found my LA favourite cupcake destination (my favourite cupcake bakery in London is the Primrose Bakery in Primrose Hill). For my American readers who watch TLC, it is also the cupcakery connected to the show DC Cupcakes, and for my Angeleno readers who have not already swung by the store it knocks Sprinkles out of the water, and is around the corner from the Beverly Center, so you really must do so soon! There are also Georgetown Cupcake branches in New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Bethesda.
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While I was taking photos of the store I realised that I would have to return many, many times; there were just so many delicious looking flavours on offer that I had no idea how to choose one, so naturally I'd have to find time to swing by and sample some more the next time I was in that part of Beverly Hills.
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The whole store is light and beautiful; perfect for a spot of afternoon tea with your girlfriends; but my favourite part were the beautiful pink flower arrangements that were on each table. Can I have these all over my apartment please? I felt like I was sitting enjoying my cake with a Pinterest board on my table!
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After a lot of indecision, I went for their award winning Chocolate Ganache cupcake, which as I swung by in the week before Christmas, was prettily and suitably adorned with a pretty blue sugar snowflake. Now, from the first bite until I had polished it off, I knew that this was one of the best cupcakes I have ever tasted from a cupcake bakery in my entirely life. It was the perfect size; not too big (I'm looking at you Hummingbird Bakery) and not too small, it was just right. There was the perfect amount of ganache so you got the lovely, rich and silky flavour without it being overwhelming, but not too little that you feel short changed. One of the biggest issues I have with mass produced bakery cupcakes, however is that the sponge ends up a bit dry, but this chocolate sponge was deliciously rich and moist. I'll shut up now, but it really was the perfect cupcake.
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Finally, this Inatagram shot I took of their bedazzled Kitchen Aid mixer behind the counter was so popular I could not help but include it. They have one in every store apparently  and I think it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Georgetown Cupcake's brand. Also, as I have not already mentioned it, everyone who works in the Beverly Hills branch is very lovely, and totally up for a chat about their amazing cakes!


Where is your all time favourite cupcake bakery located, and what is your favourite flavour? Is it something festive you can only get at certain times of the year, or something classic you can't help but choosing every time?

Friday, 21 December 2012

Weekly Love: Week 124

Just like the moment I walked out of the cinema after seeing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part Two, and I realised that now the Harry Potter franchise was truly over, while I was watching the Gossip Girl retrospective they showed on The CW before the last ever episode aired, I realised the end of Gossip Girl meant the end of my Teens. I remember watching the Pilot sitting on my bed at boarding school, aged about 13 or 14, and sitting watching the last ever episode in my first ever apartment really was a milestone. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone who has not seen it yet, but it is a strange feeling knowing if Chuck and Blair finally end up together, if Serena ever finds true love, and most importantly, who Gossip Girl has been all along! 
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1. The beautiful flower arrangements at the new Los Angeles branch of Georgetown Cupcake. | 2. The super sparkly and super awesome bedazzled Kitchen Aid behind the counter at Georgetown Cupcake. Apparently they have one in every branch! | 3. Marvelling at the size of vegetables here; in America, everything comes super sized! | 4. We enjoy festive glitter glue projects in our apartment! | 5. Treating myself to a Jamba Juice to get me through finals week. | 6. Watching old Shakespeare adaptations from the 1930's by way of study aids.




Housekeeping wise, I want to announce that my best friend Kathryn, rather than just being The Glossy Guide's London Editor-At-Large, now writes the blog with me full time so it is our beauty blog now! We now have a joint Twitter account for The Glossy Guide you can follow at @theglossyguide for our updates, and be sure to 'Like' The Glossy Guide's new Facebook Page!

Also, in case you missed them, and you're still struggling with a few days to go as to what to buy your friends and family for Christmas, I wanted to direct you towards my holiday gift guides for The Bookworm, The Total Foodie, The Londoner, The Globetrotter and my round up of the best Holiday Beauty Gift Sets




Finally, as I have some time over the holidays I've been able to sit down and read for pleasure, not just for class, and a few days ago I finished The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien which I have reviewed over at Judging Covers, which I really recommend if you're into historical fiction. It is out next year, so something to add to your Amazon wish list!


What have you been enjoying this week, and what festivities have you got planned over the next few days? I already have Michael Buble's Christmas album playing on repeat, and I am stupidly excited to watch Love Actually again on Christmas Eve - it is my personal tradition to watch it every year! 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Currently Reading: Blogger Edition #4

It has been a while, so I thought I'd treat you all to another edition of my 'Currently Reading: Blogger Edition' posts that give you all a little glimpse into what blogs I've been reading and enjoying recently. There is a real mix here; from blogs I've been reading for years but never really shared, to Los Angeles based blogs that give me more to get excited about in my new home, and British and European blogs that I turn to when I need a little hit of what home is like. If your looking for previous editions, you can  read them here: #1, #2 & #3
IMG_3328 1. Natasha at Girl In The Lens

I have been reading Natasha's blog since about last Spring, and I love her basic but chic outfits (that is real blogger fashion, what we can realistically wear every day, and I applaud it). She also shares the best look books and editorials she stumbles across where I find some amazing new brands, and her boyfriends outfit photo skills are unsurpassable  Also, she has a young adult book coming out next year - how exciting is that!
silver 2. Rumi at Fashion Toast

I know Rumi Neeley's world famous blog is 'the' generic fashion blog to read, and while I would like it if she wrote a bit more, her photos are unique, her aesthetic clean and consistant, and her blog just has that special something that keeps me, along with the rest of the online world totally and inconceivably hooked. 
TheEverygirl_JoyTheBakerCareer_5 3. Joy at Joy The Baker
Image via The Everygirl

I think Joy's hillariously funny blog has to be one of my all time favourite food blogs, and I love listening to the wonderfully funny podcast she puts together with Tracy from Shutterbean every week. I actually had the pleasure of meeting her the other week, and she is just as funny and lovely in person as she comes across online. Also, did I mention that everything I have cooked so far from her cookbook has been delicious?
P8282128 4. Laetita at Mademoiselle Robot

I think Laetia's blog was one of the first I came across, but she has really upped her game in the last 6 months. I love her creative outfit posts and brand collaborations. She's also a Londoner, which is part of my missing home junkie habit with my blog reading at the moment, but my favourite posts of hers are from the inside of hotels, most recently here in Los Angeles, and in Paris where I really want to visit again! 

If I had to only wear clothes out of one other bloggers wardrobe for the rest of my life, I'd choose Sarah Vickers wardrobe, the girl behind one of my new favourite blogs, Classy Girls Wear Pearls. Her personal style is chic, preppy, elegant  and her boyfriend (founder of Kiel James Patrick) takes flawless photos. Her blog is like a constant lifestyle catalogue, and I want everything she wears. I have also started using her blog as a mental J.Crew shopping list. I like knowing how the clothes in their factory store look like on!
manhattan5 6. Julia at Sincerely, Jules

I think I must have mentioned how much I enjoy Jules' Los Angeles based blog, she always makes me think of sunshine. However, now that I am living here too I find her blog is brilliant for ideas for what to wear. Where in England, you can guess pretty much what will be a weather suitable outfit by just knowing what month it is, here it can be swelteringly hot in the morning, and rather chilly in the afternoons - I have not found getting dressed in the morning so stressful since I finished boarding school where I had a uniform!
1 7. Aimee at Song Of Style

Aimee's blog is another one of my Los Angeles wardrobe saviours. Her style is a little less casual (most of the time!) than Julia's, and she gives me a lovely image of the polished person I wish I was at the moment - my everyday style has become so much more casual than it was in England; all people tend to wear on the UCLA campus are work out clothes and UCLA hoodies and tees; I have compromised with jeans, plain long sleeve tees and a zip up UCLA Bruins hoodie. Sunglasses are also a perquisite living here! 
Geek-glasses-and-blue-coat 8. Becky at Life Style Flash

Becky has amazing style, and lots of her brand favourites are a lot like my own (hello Hobbs!). Also, she shoots her outfit photos around London, so her shoots always have a hint of nostalgia to them too. She is also lovely in person and very fun to hang with at blogger events!
luella&june 9. Bradley at Luella & June

The best thing about Texas based Bradley's beautiful blog is not her crisp outfits or her lovely end of the week posts, but her fantastic wish list collages. I don't know how she manages to make things so pretty, and so aesthetic, but I think I want every single thing she has ever features. Her blog design is also pretty perfect.
IMG_7224-00210. Hanne at Beautylovin

Hanne's blog is a recent find one mine, a beauty blog written between Paris and Oslo in her native Norway, with a lovely mixture of lifestyle posts mixed in. She's a model with very good taste in beauty products (lots of mid to high end European brands like I favour), but I love her food posts, and little life updates.


What blogs have you been enjoying recently? I always love finding new sites to obsess over, so it would be great if you could leave me some links and recommendations in the comments section! 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Win A Pair Of Special ghd Holiday Edition Hair Straighteners

I have never been a fan of straightening my own hair (the one time I had it done I kept pulling at it, and frowning myself every time I saw a mirror until I eventually jumped in the shower and finally put it right the moment I got home), but going to a boarding school and living with up to 60 other girls at a time, I still managed to build up some appreciation for, and skills with a good pair of hair straighteners. From listening to everyone compare models when they were getting ready in the mornings, to helping my friends straighten their hair when they were in a rush, I know that flat irons from ghd are among the best straighteners out there (my hair stylish also swears by them), so when the team at Best British Bloggers offered me a pair to giveaway on my blog in anticipation of their launching a US version of their site, Best US Bloggers, I knew I could not say no.
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They are offering one of my readers the chance to win one of their Limited Edition Christmas Metallics Collection irons, which come in in either this lovely ruby red (which is what I would choose if I were entering, or I used hair straighteners!) or this rather fetching metallic silver pair, seen below. 
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Unfortunately, this giveaway is only open to US and Canada residents, but I have another giveaway coming up in January that is open worldwide, so stay tuned for that! The competition will run until the end of New Years Eve, and I have used Rafflecopter (below) to collect your entries. It is all pretty basic; all you need to do is both follow myself and ghd America on Twitter, comment on this post with which colour you'd choose if you were to win, and to follow this blog either via Bloglovin' or Google Friend Connect - good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 17 December 2012

Get Prepared For The Sales: How To Build A Sales Hitlist

We've all been there. You find something on the sale wrack that is just your size and because it has such an incredible reduction you snap it up on the spot, but the it hangs in the back of your wardrobe unworn, or you only slip it on once or twice before it gets abandoned. The reason for this is because of the amazing saving, you were tricked into buying something you would not have purchased if it were full price, and therefore not something that you really want or need. As we don't have Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the UK (okay, we're starting to, but not really because we don't celebrate Thanksgiving), I used my first ever experience of these two savings days to test a theory on sales shopping which I've found really worked to stop me spending money on things I did not really want or need, no matter what the savings. You need to make a sales hit list.
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Blair Waldorf, my all time favourite television character shops in Paris at the opening of Season 4. I chose this photo for this post in celebration of tonights last ever episode of Gossip Girl - I think it is safe to say we'll all miss the exploits of our favourite Upper East Siders as well as their covetable wardrobes. Long live Queen B.

First, you need to make a list of all your favourite stores. Not places that you've heard will have good bargins, but places you shop regularly  that stock things that are your style, will fit in with other things in your wardrobe and you know what your sizes are there and what their clothes tend to look like on your body type.

Next, once you've worked out where you will be looking, you need to focus your attentions in two areas. The first of things, things you know you need or your wardrobe is in need of. For me, this would be, for example a well tailored navy blazer. Something I don't already have, but I know that practically I will wear a lot, I don't own something similar to and is in a colour that will suit the majority of my other clothes. Your other focus should be on things that you particularly want, but still not forgetting that they should be things that will go with your other clothes, and that you also have cause to wear. For example, as Christmas will be over (and you need to check how quickly things will be able to be shipped to you if you're shopping online in time for New Years Eve), unless you can get the items to you by New Years Eve, or you have an upcoming party to go to you already know about, there will be not point in snapping up party dresses in the sales when you know that you'll have nowhere to wear them to. For me, this would be a long sleeved sequinned top in J.Crew I've got my eye on; not something I think I would wear here in Los Angeles, but I can see myself wearing a lot when I return to England.

Once you have items in mind, either by their description or specific things you have already spied in store, you should think practically about the quality of the item and the amount of wear you'll think you'll get out of it, and work out how much you'd be willing to, and you can afford to spend on each item; don't be afraid to make a list and stick to it. This will make sure that you're sure about any sale purchases you might make, and that you don't over spend, or buy something that is not good value for money. My favourite formula to use is cost per wear, meaning that you divide the price between how much you see yourself wearing it. If you wear a £60 top only 3 times, you'll be paying £20 for the privilege each time, but if you wear a £200 pair of boots for a couple of months a year, for a few years in a row you're getting a much better price. 

Finally, while I do like shopping for sale items in store where I can try them on, beware of extra savings you might make online; make sure you're subscribed to the mailing lists and social media pages of your favourite brands so you're always aware of last minute flash discount codes that might help you knock even more off of the already discounted January prices!


What are your shopping tactics when you tackle the January sales each year? I'd love to hear some of your tips!


This is a sponsored post. To read my policy on 
sponsored posts, please click here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

50 Ways To Enjoy A Solitary Christmas

I have a confession to make. My best friend was horrified when I admitted it. This year, for the first time every I'm spending the Christmas period by myself, in my empty Los Angeles apartment. Flights back to the UK are expensive and I'd be working all Christmas at the holiday cottages if I were to fly back, and I have a few projects I want the peace and quiet when I don't have anything else in the world to do. When I started to rationalise it, I realised while I was still worried about being lonely so far away from the Christmasses I'd grown up with at my parents house in the crisp Kentish countryside, there were a few upsides to having the season to myself. Is it bad that the first thing that popped into my head was that I could cook myself whatever I wanted? I absolutely loathe roast dinner, and therefore Christmas dinner!
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Photo by Tracey Ayton

With this impending solitude during what is usually my favourite time of year, with none of my usual culinary and tree decorating traditions to uphold, I started to think up what I could do to keep myself festively occupied during the downtime - I can't work all the time! As I doubt I'm the only one out there spending the day by myself, I thought I'd put together a handy guide of 50 ways to enjoy a solitary Christmas!

  • Treat yourself to a few Philosophy festive shower gels to get you into the Christmas spirit, or to take long luxurious baths in. They have some great scents such as Gingerbread, Candy Cane and Egg Nog this year. 
  • Make your own Christmas decorations. Not only is this a great afternoon craft project, but you will reap the festive benefits until the end of the season! Personally, I am going to make one of my DIY Tissue Paper Tassel Garlands in red, purple and gold. 
  • Make a list of all your favourite Christmas films, rent them on DVD or on iTunes, or borrow them from friends and watch one every evening. Love Actually and The Nightmare before Christmas anyone?
  • Craft the perfect Mulled Wine recipe. 
  • Read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I usually don't like his writing, but this tale is so festive - I went to a reading of it one December and it has to be one of my best Christmas memories of my teens. 
  • Make a sales hit list. Loads of things being reduced on Boxing Day, sometimes by lunchtime on Christmas Day can tempt you into buying stuff you don't need just because it looks like a good bargain. Spend some time online making a list of only the things you really want or need, so you can sale shop with focus and not go in blind. 
  • If you don't want to be by yourself on the day itself, go volunteer at a shelter or a soup kitchen on Christmas Day and help spread the festive cheer.
  • Buy, rent or borrow a complete DVD box set of a TV Show you never saw but regret not getting into and have a marathon with it over the holidays. I think I'm going to watch either the whole of Breaking Bad or Rome this Christmas. 
  • Take something from your usual Christmas indulgence traditions and indulge yourself. My parents and I usually share a big festive themed box of Hotel Chocolate truffles; this year I'm going to treat myself to a box and not have to fight over who gets the most popular flavours! 
  • Find somewhere festive to go on Christmas Eve like a Christmas market to soak up some of the festive atmosphere and enjoy a nice hot cup of mulled wine from a street vendor. 
  • Re-watch all of your favourite Christmas specials from some of your favourite TV shows. Personally, the original Chrismukkah episode of The O.C and last years Downton Abbey Christmas special are going to be on my watch list. 
  • Treat yourself to some nice loungewear. At least on days like Christmas day when all the shops are shut, you'll be holed up at home, and you'll be surprised how much of a diference some cute and cosy pyjamas will make. I want these plaid pyjama bottoms from the J.Crew Factory Store.
  • Bake something festive like mince pies, gingerbread of festive iced sugar cookies. It does not matter that you've made a big batch for just one person, you can take the leftovers to a shelter. 
  • Set yourself a challenge. I absolutely adore marshmallows, but I've never tried making them before. Joy The Baker has a great and festive peppermint marshmallow recipe in her cookbook, which I'm setting myself the challenge of making! 
  • Read your favourite blog from start to finish, from their very first post. 
  • Get ahead. I know it is not ideal to study over Christmas, but think how much free time you'll have when you are not alone at home if you getting everything you need to do for January done way ahead of your deadlines.
  • Take the time to write handwritten letters to your long distance friends and elderly family members.
  • Do an epic jigsaw puzzle, imagine the sense of accomplishment when you finish a 5,000 piece!
  • Bake a batch of my Orange & Festive Spice Biscuits
  • Spend an afternoon Youtubing your favourite comedians. My favourites to search for are Jack Whitehall and Michael McIntyre. I promise you'll find yourself doubled over!
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This reminds me of a British Christmas. Photo by John Hackston.

  • Read the years bestsellers list. Either for Kindle, iPad, from the library or treat yourself to a pile of paperbacks. Every book that was supped to be great in 2012, and you never had the time to read. 
  • Make and decorate a gingerbread house. It is Christmas, so it does not matter if you eat it all by yourself!
  • Treat yourself to an adult Lego structure and build it. My childhood Lego memories may be of building Hogwarts castle out of Lego, but you can get some pretty intricate sets where you can build things like London's Tower Bridge
  • Start a blog. If you don't already write one, Christmas when you have time on your hands is the perfect time to start one - I think starting this site has to be sone of the most rewarding things I've ever done.
  • Break out the nail art pens and glitter nail polish and brush up on your nail art skills by practising drawing delicate snowflakes and tiny snowmen on your digits. 
  • Make a handmade Christmas wreath for your door. Even if you're alone for the holidays, other people in your street or in your building will still be able to enjoy it!
  • Read all of the Harry Potter books. 
  • Learn to knit. Who knows, you could be making everyone scarfs or jumpers by next year!
  • Make paper snowflakes, especially if you live somewhere like Los Angeles like I do, and you won't be seeing any actual snow. I used to sit in class doing this in December when I was still at school all the time! 
  • Buy some festive scented candles to fill your home with holiday scents. Yes, I am still lusting after this pine tree Diptyque candle.
  • If you live somewhere populated, take a walk or a drive around and admire the Christmas lights other people have decorated the front of their houses with - without incurring the electricity bill!
  • Also if you live in the big city, take a stroll to admire all of the Christmas windows in your favourite designer stores or big department stores. Jealous of people who can do this in NYC!
  • However, if you live in the countryside, get up early, wrap up warm, grab your camera and head outside. Lucky if you have fresh snow, but even not things in the countryside look so crisp and magical covered with frost, and it is so silent - perfect for a refreshing wake up walk!
  • Watch A Muppets Christmas Carol.
  • Go see a film on Christmas Day. I'm planning on going to see The Hobbit!
  • Update your iPod with music from 2012 you forgot to download, and clear out old tunes you always skip when you're playing it on shuffle. 
  • Google some homemade face mask recipes and have a pampering session.
  • Sort out your closet and donate clothes you don't wear anymore to charity.
  • Read a biography of someone you really admire, or find amusing. I read great books on David Cameron, and Michael McIntyre's biography last year. 
  • Make a list of places you've always wanted to travel to, and plan your next Summer holiday.
  • Sort through your magazine collection.
  • If you have any snow outside your home, go practice your snow sculpting skills. 
  • Sort through your Google or Bloglovin reader, and clean out all the blogs and websites you don't really read or pay attention to anymore, or have stopped updating.
  • If you are not already on Pinterest, sign up. If you already are, put together a festive board to help get your into the holiday spirit. 
  • Put a Christmas photo as the wallpaper on your laptop and your phone so you get hit with a little festive spirit every time you go online or check the time. 
  • Send your Facebook friends and email contacts messages with cute photos of animals in Christmas hats.
  • Make an effort with breakfast. Usually, we're always pressed for time in the mornings, so we never get a chance to have a Full English or American Pancakes on a weekday.
  • Make a Christmas playlist on Spotify and dance around listening to it. Not that I have ever done that before or anything as silly as that..! 
  • Re-read your favourite book in a nice hot bubble bath. Preferably with a Lush festive bubble bar, bath bomb or bath melt. I love ones with cinnamon in! 
  • Hide little sweets or candies around the place for you to forget about, then get pleasantly surprised when you stumble across them sometime in 2013.


I'd love to hear your suggestions if you have any ideas, either in the comments section or via Twitter!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

10 Things I Miss About Living In London

As much as I really do love living in Los Angeles, and as much as I went on that I much preferred living in the countryside to living in London, I have found that there are some things about living in the city I really do miss, which I will be looking forward to getting back to next year. I think it is hard to appreciate the things the city has to offer until you are in another city, they you realise just how amazing London really is!
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1. Sunday Brunch in Notting Hill

My favourite, all time Sunday morning activity is rolling out of bed, getting dressed up in something still casual, but a little smarter than usual weekend wear (this usually meant bright lipstick and statement jewellery) and heading over to Notting Hill for brunch with one of my girlfriends somewhere like Granger & Co., Tom's Deli or Ottolenghi's (what I would not do for one of their salads right now..!) There are some awesome looking brunch places in my neighbourhood I'm planning on trying, but nothing will ever beat Sunday morning brunches in Notting Hill for me.

2. London Is A Walking City

In London if you don't want to take a bus, hop on the tube or flag a taxi, you can still walk to so many places. In Los Angeles, walking wise everything is so spread about you are confined to certain neighbourhoods. 
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3. The London Underground

Yes, you did just read that correctly. I did just say that I missed the London Underground. If anyone ever, ever again hears me complaining about the rush on the Central Line, all the stairs vs. the stupidly long and crowded elevator wait at Covent Garden Station or about having to top up my Oyster Card again, please shoot me or tell me to shut the hell up. The city of Los Angeles was built for the car. Public transportation, therefore, was an afterthought and it is disjointed, unorganised, slow and illogical to use. 


4. The Selfridges Food Hall


Don't get me wrong, I love all the department stores like Nordstrom here in America, but I think the thing I love most about British department stores, especially my all time favourite Selfridges, is that they have food halls. Nothing beats wandering around, filling their iconic yellow bags with gourmet food, and by god I miss it.


5. The Evening Standard

I promise I'll shut up about the LA public transport system in a minute, but another thing about those buses? Yes, you can look out the window which you can't do on the underground, but entertainment wise, the best you can do is your iPod or iPhone, or the screens playing stupidly complicated mathematical problems for commuters to grapple with during their journey. Maths. I'm not even kidding. Thankfully, I've downloaded the free London Evening Standard app onto my iPhone so I can still read it in transit, but it is simply not the same as getting a free paper handed to you as you walk into the station to pass the time on the tube, with news relevant to you as a London dweller (it actually has quite a good politics sections!) 
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The Lumberjack Breakfast at The Diner in Soho

6. The Diner

It may seem silly that while I am in America one of the food places I miss most is American themed, but I really miss eating at The Diner. It may be my Britishness, my overly Europhile tastebuds or that I'm a total food snob about food quality, but I much prefer The Diner food to actual American diner food. And they have amazing cocktails at The Diner. And I missed out on this years Halloween themed menu.


7. Simply Walking Across The Street

As I mentioned in my first column from Los Angeles for The High Tea Cast, jaywalking is illegal in Los Angeles, and I have actually seen a cop on a motorcycle pull over and fine someone for crossing the street when the little man was not white to indicate they could go. Londoners, think for a moment how long it would take you to go about your day if you could only cross the roads at the crossings. Okay, at Oxford Circus if you tried to cross like that you might very well get hit by a double decker bus, but a few meters up the road, crossing between the Argyll Street exit of Oxford Circus tube station and Topshop? No longer a possibility...


8. Beautiful Old Buildings

While London does not have quite as much to offer as my beautiful little hometown of Canterbury does in this department, but now living on the West Coast of America where something that is 100 years old, is considered old, I miss London's beautiful old streets, Ancient buildings and stunning old architecture. Things are simply not just the same when something is made to look old, rather than actually being old.
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9. Going Out For Cocktails

This point has a lot to do with the drinking age in America, as well as the American attitude to bars. I really miss going out to places like Circus for cocktails with my friends either before or after dinner, which is something I simply can't do here, because as I am not old enough to drink alcohol  I'm not even allowed into the bar to drink a soft drink, something which in most bars in London I could.


10. London At Night

I think it was seeking some of the sky shots of London at night when I went to see Skyfall the other week that really reminded me of this one. I think I had forgotten how beautiful things like Big Ben and the London Eye are lit up at night, and how beautiful everything is on streets like Oxford Street and Regents Street when all the Christmas lights are up, Somerset House. Los Angeles is beautiful at night when you're somewhere you can enjoy the view like a hotel rooftop, but not a beautiful and magical as London, any time of the year.  


Londoners, (I know from checking my analytics my biggest reader base is in the City of London), what is your favourite things about your city?