Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Progress: Garden // Spring loveliness

The weather here is amazing for this time of year - 24C tomorrow! I must say it's a treat to be staring wistfully out of this arctic-air-conditioned office at all that warm golden sunshine pouring over London. People are probably having BBQ's somewhere.

Our living room/office re-dec is almost complete. The main furniture (coffee table, tv unit, sideboard and bookcase) shutters (SHUTTERS!) and sofa are all on order so we're just waiting for those to arrive. The finishing touches - floor lamp and new rug - I'm on the lookout for. I finally did the math of what these two rooms have cost us in total and it is eye watering, but we have justified it because this is our 'forever house'. We wanted the decorating done to a good standard and I hope I've done a good job on the styling, I'm just so excited for the moment everything is finally in place and I can step back and see it complete.

We have been spending the last few weekends sorting the garden and we're really starting to enjoy our outside space now. We have a shorter garden than before but this is a more manageable size and I love how we can step out of the kitchen right onto the patio, our previous garden had a narrow side entry area which was aggressively ruled by large ugly spiders waiting in their webs, and easily overlooked by the neighbours so I didn't go out there too often, but now I potter about as much as I can.

The garage in January (terrible quality)

This weekend 

In January we had the garage re-furbished (new doors, windows and roof) as Mr. wanted a weathertight outdoor area for weekends. We've also cleared lots of bramble around the apple tree (discovered the tree must have fell at one point and was left to grow from there?!), removed a couple shrubs to open the area up, and re-arranged under the garage window. I was a little sad to get rid of all the rose bushes there because I do like roses, but the bushes are quite ugly and messy for the rest of the year. We're after a clean and easily maintained space so out went a couple spreading shrubs too. I'm excited to be enjoying gardening all of a sudden, I now know the names of most of the plants in our garden: we have three camellias, a hydrangea, a little bay tree which was planted directly under a Californian lilac so I want to move it into it's own place, two red robins (my favourites), six baby leyland trees, that wonky old apple tree and a big forsythia at the front of our house.


This weekend (fancier furniture this summer!)

Friday, 6 February 2015

Progress: Living Room/Study

On Tuesday, works began to completely redecorate our living room and study! I am so excited because we totally trust our decorator and I just know the finish is going to be amazing. He repaired a damp wall for us at our old place, but when he first visited to quote for this work he got exactly what I meant - he was even finishing my sentances. He has a small team and in both rooms he is removing built in shelves/cupboards, stripping walls/ceilings, sanding woodwork, then skimming, lining and painting.

I've been looking forward to decorating these rooms for months, but like most things, it came round so quickly in the end I was flapping about with multiple lists and tens of safari tabs and completely stressing myself out. In the end I found an old notebook I had that has four sections to it, each with little transparent pockets, so I use it to make my 'mother lists' - a section per room eventually - and then store receipts and cut out snippets of inspiration in the pockets, life saver!

I'll focus on the changing face of the living room today and save the study for another post.

Previous owners (we moved here in September):

Last week:


I've been really impressed by how clean and tidy everything is, all the floors and the few surfaces left are properly protected, the windows have privacy sheets and the hallway carpet is covered too, and I can't seem to find a spec of dust anywhere! We gave the decorator a key so we didn't need to take time off work and when we get home in the evening its fun to see what's been done each day. Before he got started we updated the plastic switches and plug sockets with brushed chrome ones and replaced the living room pendant after it decided to stop working one afternoon!

Hopefully in a couple weeks the rooms will be finished and I can take more photographs, but this project won't be fully complete until S/S - we can't buy furniture for a couple months as this is taking up most of our savings, and if we go with shutters for the windows they take up to 10 weeks to make anyway.

I almost had a full blown melt down about how to dress the windows. Blinds are too 'faffy' for bay windows, I'm a curtain girl but I don't like plastic tracks and putting a pole across the bay in this room would look awkward as there's no wall space from the ceiling, nor did I want to risk bay poles as they're not always highly reviewed. So I'm arranging to get some quotes in for shutters as they seem to be the most practical option here: they can be opened completely during the day in the same way curtains can, and close like blinds but without all the string and multiple sets we'd need. I have two worries with shutters though: 1) The expense, although they do offer cheaper MDF versions now, and 2) How they sit when open; not keen on the thought of them poking out too much from the window, but I wouldn't want them sitting against the side windows of the bay as that would prevent light from coming in.
Decisions! I'm looking forward to having a look at the options and seeing everything come together!

Zoe x

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Favourite Five || Autumnal Recipes

I'll admit, I needed a little push into Autumn this year. It's the best season by far: the orange and reds, the chilly nights and frosty mornings, the dark TV dramas of times gone by, cinnamon hot chocolate and leaves piling up around my driveway. It just felt very sudden this time round. One morning a few weeks ago I woke up at my usual time to get ready for work, and it was dark outside. Bam! Just like that, and Summer was gone.

I've spent a few evenings searching for perfect cold-weather recipes to try, snuggled under blankets with lemon-ginger tea, the cat snoozing by my side. When Hubbles is out after work I like to set up camp in the living room, turn the TV off, light a candle and settle down with some cookbooks and magazines. And Pinterest, of course.

1) Chicken with figs and grapes by Dash and Bella.
I love the increased use of fruit with usual dinner stuff this time of year. To be honest my curiosity so far in this practice hasn't been much more exotic than pineapple on pizza, but figs are a new found favourite of mine and pairing it with chicken seems like a safe way to make a subtle change.

2) Bulghar wheat, date + clementine salad from Good Food.
I have salads most days during the week for lunch so it's nice to find ways to change them up from summer to winter produce. It's refreshing anyway to take a break from all that rich, stodgy food that's around now too, I would happily make this for dinner for myself with the leftovers for lunch the next day. This has lots of flavour, texture, and could be offered as a side for dinner, in fact it would be brilliant to serve alongside some cold meat cuts and bread if you're in for buffets at parties!

3) Slow roasted marmalade pork found in Sainsburys magazine from December 2010, but also posted at 3 Clean Plates.
Usually pork finds itself lumped with apple sauce. Apple sauce is divine, but if you've got a bunch of friends/family over for Sunday dinner soon try something a little different. Just shove it in the oven and leave it be for a few hours, I would serve with mashed potato and some roasted carrots as that won't keep you in the kitchen and away from guests for too long.

4) Cranberry, butternut + sprout nachos by Half Baked Harvest.
Movie night? Leftovers sitting in the fridge? Want something more interesting than just a bowl of sad crisps for a gathering? At first I grimaced a bit at the thought of sprouts with nachos, but with brie and cranberries and butternut?! These truly sound like the best nachos ever, a perfect joining of flavours, sweet and savoury and nacho-y.

5) Incredible mulled cider by Jamie Oliver.
Confession: I'm not overly keen on mulled wine. I don't think many people are, really. People, myself included, drink it because it's 'A Thing' at this time. I think the idea of mulled wine is more enjoyable than the drink itself, it evokes images of standing in the corner of a market in the cold, laughing with friends, hands wrapped around a glass of some lovely flavoursome warm drink, cheeks pink and snow settling in your hair. In reality it's always a bit disappointing. It's just weird. A bit too acidy and burnt-spice on the throat, and no one wants to say it but we all wish we'd ordered the hot chocolate instead. But mulled cider is something different, pairing warmed adults-only apple juice with ingredients you would usually use with apples just makes more sense than putting it with wine.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Things I Love Thursday

:: via ::

The weather is finally perking up! Such lovely warm sunshine over the last couple of days. I hope it lasts for the weekend, we have lots of celebrating to do this week.

- Prison Break.

- Prison Break.

- The 5:2 diet - the scales aren't giving too much away yet but I feel lighter and more alert after a couple weeks. I find that the fasting days make me think twice about eating some things on the non-fast days too, I've been quite shocked to discover how many calories are in small quantities of things I gobble down lots of without thinking! Oh peanut butter, you cheeky devil you.

- Prison Break.

- Being invited to dinner at my best friends house for the first time! I love it when friends move into their own places so I can look at all the pretty things they get for themselves. Primark have some really gorgeous bedding sets this year and pretty fairy lights too. Next home-ware, as ever, is ridiculously beautiful this season.

- Seriously why has it taken us 8 years to watch Prison Break? Michael <3

- {The Examined Mind} by Stephen Grosz.

- A colleague telling me I am rocking it today!

- Finally booking a trip to LAS VEGAS BABY! YEAH!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Filofax || Week 19

A bit late posting for this! I wasn't feeling very well over the weekend so as you can see, I did nothing at all! Well I sat myself in front of NetFlix for two days solid. Prison Break is amazing, 8 years late to the party!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Recipe || Spring spaghetti with chicken, cream and peas

Almost every week in our house we will have carbonara one night for dinner. We love carbonara, and especially with garlic bread to wipe the sauce up with at the end. My husband seems to have the magic touch because his versions are always amazing, but one day when it was my turn to make it I almost sabotaged myself - I'd forgotten to buy bacon! THE HORROR! Dinner was surely ruined!

Or not? I remembered we had some chicken thighs in the fridge and peas in the freezer. Et VOILA! This. It doesn't quite replace carbonara, but I love it at this time of year because it's especially flavour full and the little pops of sweet peas are a wonderful change to all that creamy-ness. Sometimes (cough, when I forget to buy cream, cough) I'll squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the chicken in the pan just before the pasta is cooked to make it a little lighter and healthier. 

Ingredients - Serves 2 
200g pasta 
4/5 chicken thighs (bone/skinless) 
150ml single cream 
1 large egg
Couple handfuls frozen peas 
50g grated parmesan 
Black pepper 

- Put some water on to boil for the pasta. 
- Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into a frying pan, heat and add the chicken in strips - I just use scissors over the pan as I go. Let the chicken sit for a while to get nice and golden, then turn. Once golden both sides (7-10 minutes) smoosh around a bit but keep the heat pretty high. Add 2tsp coarse ground black pepper. 
- Meanwhile into a bowl pour the cream, add the cheese, crack the egg and a large pinch of black pepper. Fork everything together. 
-Smoosh the chicken around a bit more in the pan; the black pepper will smell awesome now. Keep the heat high and add the peas, stirring once in a while and after about 5 minutes the peas will start to look ready. Turn the heat down to medium.
-Now add the pasta to the boiling water. Spaghetti takes around 10 minutes to cook and by the time it's ready, the chicken will be super golden and the peas blistered with a super sweetness to them. 
-Drain the pasta. Add the chicken and peas and the cream mixture from the bowl. Mix everything together well in the warm pasta pan, sprinkle over a little more cheese and pepper, then serve.

:: My recipe ::

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Birds of prey experience

For my mother-in-laws birthday this year I bought her a birds of prey experience day. It was completely unplanned - hubbles and I were visiting our in-laws in January and I saw this offer via email from last minute.com. My MIL asked what I was up to with my face in my phone, so I told her about it and she said she would love to come! For some reason I didn't think she liked birds that much, so, win, because I really wanted to go too.

I booked our tickets and arranged to visit over the Easter weekend. The {Birds of Prey Centre}* is based in Bedford, an hour and half drive away from my in-laws house in Essex. On arrival we handed in our printed voucher tickets and stood with the group of people on the same experience as us - the centre also offers American Raptor and Archery days. Overall there were around 16 of us. 

A short drive in their land rovers to a nearby field and we caught sight of the beautiful birds for the first time. For our experience, the group began with the cutest little tawny owl, Pandora. Our instructor Emily explained to us about her breed and the difference between daytime/nighttime hunting owls, and then we had turns putting on the special arm gloves and Pandora flew from arm to arm for some tempting treats. She was so light and completely adorable! We moved on with owls to larger sizes and I was always surprised by how light they were for their size. Emily explained that most of an owls bulky look comes from their feathers, they are so thick and plentiful. The larger owls were tempted between us with raw chick legs - part of their natural diet - and the centre goes through thousands a week to feed all the birds.

^ Yes, I am a mess here, but focus on the birds.

^Some cool accidental action-shots from my MIL. Look at those wings!

After having fun flying the largest owl, Emily went to collect the Eagle, which we were all very excited about of course! In order to tempt him - gosh, how sad that I've forgotten this regal birds name! - we were given chick heads** to hold in our gloved hands. I tell you, the sight of an Eagle sweeping up towards you is something else! It was slightly terrifying because all I could think about was him pecking out my eyes for a snack, but also magical, he was so beautiful! He weighs 8lbs, which is a pretty hefty weight to have on the end of your arm, you can see in my picture Emily is helping me to keep my arm up. His wingspan was taller than my mother-in-law! She is a gnome though ;)

 When Mr Eagle decided he was fed up of flying around for us, Emily tied him back to his sitting post and we gathered back to where all the birds were standing. Here we were able to hold the birds at length, ask any questions we had and take as many photos as we wanted. My favourite birds were Pandora and Marvin! Pandora was just so small and sweet and Marvin loved a hug. Here's a fun fact too: contrary to the myth of owls being wise they're actually pretty stupid! Emily told us their eyeballs take up most of the room in their skulls, and with Marvin we were allowed to reach in through his feathers with our fingers to find his skull - honestly, it is tiny! They make up for in it in looks though, I'm sure you'll agree.

^Marvin! Look at that superior face.


^Levi the Chilean Blue Hawk

I think if you know anyone that might love to do this, get them booked in quick! Such a lovely way to spend part of your weekend, it's exhilarating and you learn heaps. Our experience ran from 10am-1pm and there are afternoon slots too. Take a packed lunch and some drinks with you. There is parking on site.

*To round up, I want to say a huge thank you to our instructor Emily for being so informative and attentive. If you follow me on twitter you will know I am an advocator for animal rights and it is very clear that the staff at this centre are devoted to caring and loving these birds; if I felt concerned at all about their welfare I would have left. Many of the birds have been rescued from owners that were cruel or didn't understand what a bird of these sizes needed and experience days like this enable the birds to have more freeing flight exercises and educates the visitors; both I think are very important. The BoPC staff were all enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgable. It is unfortunate that no licence is needed to own a bird like this but unless you have space for an avery, you should consider something smaller. A previous owner of one of the owls thought, after watching Harry Potter, that the travelling cages used in the films were what they could live in. He arrived at the centre in pain with joint problems and unable to fly, he is the first little owl in our pictures above, healthy after lots of help from the centre :)

**The chick parts fed to the birds are part of their natural diet and they were already dead. No more unsettling than picking up some chicken wings in your supermarket!