Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween Recipes: Voodoo Doll Cookies & Fruity Ghosts

 
The aim: Tim Burton style cookies on Pinterest
Matt and I celebrated our Halloween yesterday as we knew we wouldn't have the time to today! I really wanted to dress up, but seeing as we didn't have anywhere to go, I settled for a Halloween themed baking day- much to Matt's delight!! He's never keen when it comes to doing hands-on activities like this but to my dismay it actually turned out he was better than me at rolling the dough and creating the finishing touches!
I spotted these awesome Voodoo doll cookies on Pinterest earlier this week and thought we definitely needed to have a go at them, especially as we both like Tim Burton movies and they are pretty Burton-esque. Also, I'm not the most talented in the kitchen but these looked simple enough to do (and yummy with all that icing), plus I had a gingerbread man cutter handy from last Christmas.
 
 
For the cookies you need:
 
4 oz butter, softened (& a bit for greasing!)
2 oz caster sugar
4 oz plain flour (we used gluten free as Matt is a coeliac and they came out just as good!)
Coloured icing tubes
Jelly heart sweets (which we actually forgot, so sadly we had to make do with the red icing)
 
If you want to flavour them to be actual gingerbread men, then you'll also need 1 teaspoon of ground ginger.
 
It said this makes about 15, but we only managed to get 10 out of our dough!
 
 
 
Equipment:
 
Scales
Mixing bowl
Spatula or wooden spoon to mix
Rolling pin
A gingerbread man cutter
Baking paper
Oven tray
 
1. Weigh out all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 160 degrees, or gas mark 3. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until any lumps disappear. Gradually add the sifted flour (and ginger) and knead lightly with your hands to form a dough.
 
2. Put the dough onto a pre-sprinkled-with-flour surface. Make sure the dough is smooth, then roll it out with the rolling pin to about 5mm or 1/4 of an inch thick. Cut the dough into your voodoo dolls with the gingerbread man cutter. You may need to re-roll the dough several times to include all the trimmings!
 
3. Grease a piece of baking paper with butter and place on baking tray. Place all your voodoo dolls carefully onto the paper (you may need more than one tray as you need to leave space around them for expansion!) Bake the dolls in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.
 
4. Leave the dolls to cool on a wire rack or separate plate for about 20-30 minutes. You don't want that icing to melt!
 
5. Now for the decorating! We loosely copied the Tim Burton ones, but obviously they didn't come out as good! I think they would have looked much better with darker coloured icing! This is a selection of our best cookies- Matt thinks his are best (his are the top two) and I probably have to agree that they are neater :(. I went a bit crazy with the icing!
 
 
The second treat we made were these adorable fruity ghosts, aka strawberries dipped in white chocolate!
 
 
For the ghosts you need:
 
A bar of white chocolate (about 120g)- we use Milky Bar every time!
A punnet of strawberries, washed and dried (we used about 20 with this 120g bar)
A tube of black icing
 
Equipment:
 
 A heatproof bowl
A saucepan
Baking paper
A large plate or tray
The fridge!!
 
1. Wash your strawberries and leave them to dry on a clean tea towel. Line a tray or large plate with baking paper.
 
2. Break the chocolate into squares and place in a heatproof bowl set above (not in- trust me, I did do this once and the result was scary) simmering water. Stir the chocolate occasionally with a wooden spoon, until melted. This should take about 5 minutes. Then remove from heat.      
 
3. Holding each strawberry by the stem, dip into the melted chocolate, and twirl around until it is as covered as you would like. Hover the strawberry over the bowl to let the excess chocolate drip off. Place each coated strawberry on the baking paper.
 
4. Refrigerate for about half an hour or until the chocolate is completely firm. Beware that leaving them in the fridge for over an hour may cause condensation drops to collect on the chocolate coat.

 5. Using black icing, pipe two eyes and a mouth onto each strawberry to create your ghosts!
 
(We found this quite fiddly! It may be better to use icing that is slightly set in the tube and not brand new so that it sticks better to the chocolate!)
 
After we'd made our goodies we carved our pumpkins, and then it was time to relax (or not) with one of the scariest films ever; the 70's classic, Halloween by John Carpenter. I think this is pretty terrifying, especially for an old movie. Matt certainly jumped, a lot - but that was the first time he'd seen it whereas I knew what was coming! We had great fun making our spooky treats, though it did actually take us around three hours to create both, so set aside your afternoon and get your bake on. I'd love to know what you think of our baking and please share the links to your delicious Halloween goodies in the comments box!
 
 
Our pumpkins! Mine's the owl, Matt's is Jack from the Nightmare Before Christmas!
Which one do you think is best? What will you be carving into your pumpkin?
xo

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Winter Wardrobe Tips: Scarlet, Bralets and Wool

Fall trends are recycled year after year, yet I still manage to end up clearing out then refilling my wardrobe when it comes to September. I think it's because every season I seem to find and hook onto a particular image that I want to emulate, whether I spot it on a stranger's Pinterest or on a celebrity. I really feel I used to overthink the way I dressed, whereas now for me it is all about comfortable chic. My absolute winter staple is a go-to, never-fail sweater; one that will go with jeans, skirts, shorts and over dresses. It's got to be the perfect length, texture, thickness and fit. Of course, I have more than one sweater - they are in fact overcrowding my wardrobe - but I am forever on the hunt for a new one that will take over from my previous loyal friends as my safety blanket on dull days.
    This is my overall advice for knitwear. If you're going to wear a knit over a crisp white shirt a la Fleur De Force, it's got to be that little bit cropped, or the shirt gets swamped. Likewise, it can work the other way round. I like to layer cropped peter pan blouses underneath full-length or even extra length jumpers so that their collars peek out and create that super cute layering look but I don't get too hot. If you want to make a jumper that little bit more dressy, go for an off the shoulder or a cut-out back sweater. I have a really heavy-weight black sweater from ASOS (it's so oversized, I had to get it in a UK size 4 instead of my usual 8/10) with a ribbon tie back which sort of ruches down to the bum, and though it's like the thickest thing ever, to show a bit of back makes it almost going 'out out' worthy! You could also add a neutral or black lace bralet underneath these sorts of jumpers for a touch of (dark) romance. Sometimes woollen jumpers can look a bit overpowering; keep an eye out for soft silhouettes and hints of ladylike detailing, such as the tiny eyelets on Jennifer Lawrence's red and cream knit below, to take away from any masculinity. 

Jen in Vogue UK's December 2012 Issue
Topshop Deco Lace Bralet, £25
   Speaking of red, a fab and festive way to add vibrancy to the catwalk-inspired khaki, camel and coal shades that I presume may be dominating your closet as they are mine, is to embrace the generosity of this colour. You've got a choice of scarlet, burgundy, wine, crimson, vermilion...the list goes on. One thing to remember is that this pillar-box hue is no longer designated merely for Postman Pat, pre-school art class, or Halloween. It's not a colour to be afraid of, or associate with those girls excelling in the confidence stakes. I recently dared to buy this bold red Primark skirt, not sure of whether I would actually wear it, or whether it would make me look like a bit of a bimbo paired with my blonde hair, but the truth is- I adore it. I wanted to start wearing this skirt every day because of the pop it gave to my otherwise sombre colour palette and my mood.

My Little Red Skirt- worn with simple black velvet boots, a staple channelled by Olivia Palermo below


If there's one thing I've learnt so far this season, it's that red is timeless; not to be over-worn, but oh-so-good when done simply. Take it from Sophia- a slick of Monroe-esque lippy, a peep of cerise around her jacket neckline and her "look at me!" bag perfectly compliment the darker maroon in her trousers, without drawing away from the elegance of her attire.
 
   As for outerwear, there's been so many beautiful coats to choose from in the shops, right from when they hit the rails back in August, but I do think that with a coat simplicity is key and it's okay to revert to a traditional, safe hue like camel, beige or cream. My coat for instance, also by Primark - their stuff has just been so on point, it's no wonder probably 3/4 of my fall wardrobe contains their label- is a no-brainer to throw on over almost everything. The only thing is to really watch out for spillages when consuming wintery treats like Starbucks lattes...
 
 
 
 
I love this coat; it's made of an almost fluffy, ridiculously soft but not itchy material and it's also a good length for me, being 5"3. It is a tad oversized but that just makes you feel all the more snuggly. Deep pockets are always good too- I think the coat's boyfriend fit looks even nicer when my hands are sort of lounging in them! I was pretty chuffed when I found this picture of Emma Watson in an identical coat to mine! One of my key combinations at the moment is to wear this coat with my leopard print scarf- I think it looks classic yet a bit adventurous at the same time as it's another of those prints a lot of people are wary of. All I'll say is, do not go for the whole leopard-spotted anorak-y thing aka doing a Pat Butcher (EastEnders). Search for subtle little accessories, like utilising a purse, clutch or a pocket patch on a jumper as your dose of leopard spot- ASOS also have some cuteee hair ribbons like this alice band, which will only set you back like the price of two good coffees. :) 
 
ASOS Leopard Alice Band with Ribbon Tie, £8
 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Pretty Little Deer & Snuggly Otters



  So today me and Matt ventured to somewhere new... well, it was new to him, but a place I've been before many times as a kid!! We put our woolliest jumpers on, packed up my very autumnal, tartan rucksack (which I'd been dying to use again, after waiting all spring!!) with a picnic and drove to Wildwood, of Herne Bay in Kent. Wildwood is a British wild park and conservation charity, set in forty acres of stunning, natural and ancient woodland. Like other conservation parks, Wildwood sets out to home the woodland wildlife that commonly suffer from traumas like habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, disease and persecution.
 All the enclosures were more than spacious and very well kept, completely in keeping with each of the species' natural environments. It definitely doesn't feel like you're walking around a zoo there, but an actual living and breathing forest. I feel there's nothing for show there - for instance, there were numerous enclosures being constructed or improved even further, and animals weren't in the public eye if they weren't fit to be - today a new pair of endangered birds were deliberately set back from the public track due to their shyness. The staff seem incredibly hands-on and in the job for their love for and best interest of the animals. In a nutshell, there's plenty to see, including badgers, beavers, otters, these super-cute, weasel-like fluffy mammals called pine martens, elk, deer, wild horses, hedgehogs, owls, reindeer (which obviously got me worked up with Christmas excitement!! They were called Holly and Ivy) red foxes and wolves. The wolves were a highlight for me as you see them so rarely. The ones at Wildwood were born to a wolf pack but had to be rescued by humans when their den became flooded. They were then hand-reared and brought to the park so have had a lot of contact with people. They did seem interested in us as we went by their enclosure, and their waggy tails did really remind me of my own pup!

Our other favourite part of our day was seeing these two otters curled up together in their underground house. The condition of the otter as a species is that they are endangered, however their populations are fortunately recovering. Otters actually almost reached extinction from absorbing a poisonous weed killer named DDT, from the animals they ate. I'm thankful that they are increasing in number again even if slowly, as they are such an intriguing, charming little mammal. I told my boyfriend this as we were looking at them: that when I was younger and had my traditonal girl's doll's house, I had beautiful pretend otters inhabiting it instead of dolls! So my infatuation clearly stemmed from a young age! Sorry, a bit of childhood reminiscing here, but the pretend otters were so cute; they were fuzzy and so soft just like these real ones look!


Although I don't necessarily agree with cages; like I said before, the park overall is so peaceful and pure and you have to think that these species would be utterly extinct if it wasn't for the effort such conservation workers put in. Our ticket entry price reflected a 10% voluntary donation and even though that's not much, I feel happy that we were able to add to maintaining the lovely lives of all the animals there today! I've been thinking about adopting an animal for a while now. I know a lot of people take the view that one sponsorship won't do that much good but my outlook is that it's absolutely better than sitting helplessly and putting up with the regular ill treatment of animals all over the world. I've previously been looking into adopting an elephant or a tiger with the WWF and I'm seriously considering it, though seeing the variety of innocent and characterful mammals and birds today has made that decision a bit more difficult. I think I just need to do some research and make a choice!
On a lighter note I think the weather is finally making its mind up and turning brrrrrr-cold. My woolliest jumper didn't turn out quite thick enough - the perfect excuse for a caramel hot chocolate though.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Double Plaid, Fedora, Outside Armchair and Pup!!


 
 
 
 
 
 

What I'm wearing: Primark plaid skirt £8, Primark heeled & cut-out buckle boots £15 (fairly high but super comfy!), Primark embellished neck grey sweater £14, Zara blanket plaid scarf in khaki £19.99, Primark black bow detail fedora £8. A bit (or a lot) of a Primark day!!

Quick outfit of the day post from me! My first proper OOTD in fact. Though it's really windy today (my room is in the loft and my windows always rattle like they're about to fall out!) I felt like some air so I popped into the garden with Gen. All the flowers are more or less gone now, though there are still a few buds on a rose we planted this summer for my nan, which made me happy! I included a snap of this armchair that Mum's just moved into our gazebo from the dining room because I think it's such a cool idea to have an armchair outside! She moved it out as she think's it's tatty but I love it for that reason! Obviously you'll need to wrap up well but if you have a slightly sheltered space to put a chair like ours in, it's another way to make sure you get to experience outside in winter. I'm looking forward to filling up my flask with hot chocolate, digging out my gloves and heading out with a book or even my camera to capture the delights of the season. You could even make up a festive themed picnic to eat out- the possibilities are endless!
I find this weather quite difficult to dress in as the temperature is so up and down, but this Zara scarf is an absolute winner in my eyes as it unfolds to basically become a blanket. If it's not quite coat weather I can just put this on and know I'll be cosy! I love to add a bit of embellishment to everyday layers (note from Vogue: incorporating a piece of the shard into your wardrobe is in) which is what drew me to this collared knit! This plaid skirt is another amazingly versatile piece- I wear it to work with a white shirt and brogues for a smart look, and if I'm chilling at home like today, I can throw a jumper over or tuck it into a simple grey tee with woolly tights. As for this hat, let's just say it's been a life saver on bad hair days!! Plus it goes with everything. A big thumbs up for Primark's fall range so far!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Reader's Corner: Wonder by R.J Palacio

 
With my job comes a lot of time spent in the school library- some obligatory, but most voluntary! I just find the library such a calming place, plus it's so nice to see kids with their heads in real paper books, and not to see them going square-eyed staring at electronics! I've recently picked out a few teen novels to read as I'm involved in a junior reading group and I've started jotting some ideas here and there for my own first teen book. Then I discovered this GEM of a story by R J Palacio.
  Wonder undeniably lives up to its title. It’s wonderful in terms of its array of realistic, independent and thought-provoking characters, its simplistic, modern style with a Salinger edge- it's heavy in colloquial yet intimate dialogue- and in the journey of its protagonist, Auggie Pullman.
   Auggie is a not-so ordinary ten year old boy who does ordinary things. In his words- he 'eats ice-cream, rides his bike, plays ball and has an Xbox'. He’s a Star Wars fanatic, something uncommon in ten year old boys. He has a nuclear family of four, plus their beloved dog Daisy, a childhood teddy bear named Baboo, which he hides in the closet, and a natural instinct to fit in.
   Except, as the novel’s front cover points out in italics: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out”. Auggie stands out as an extraordinary child as he was born with a facial deformity, defined in the book as a craniofacial difference. He is considered a medical wonder for his unique, mysterious condition, has had 27 operations, and undergoes regular tests and trials which form part of his everyday life. Arguably the book's introduction, where Auggie in first person tries to justify he is ordinary by listing these ordinary things he does, sets an expectation and a question in the mind of the reader, that of what exactly is ordinary? This essence of the book is returned to again and again as we join Auggie on his way through fifth grade, challenging and moving the reader in so many ways.


As a creative writer, I find it so inspiring that this whole 312 page novel stemmed from a five minute experience Palacio had at a local ice-cream parlour with her two young sons. She told The Telegraph in 2012 that during this trip in New York, her family encountered a girl with what she now knows to be Treacher-Collins syndrome, a rare hereditary condition that affects the facial features yet leaves the child completely normal in every other way. Palacio panicked as she didn't know how her children would react and so she grabbed them and left, though it broke her heart to see the girl's mum's reaction. She describes this scene almost autobiographically in the novel.



The main characters in Wonder
At least some of us will pass extraordinary people every day and react on a whim; out of curiosity, out of discomfort,  guilt, like Palacio did in this case. That reaction will shortly be pushed to the back of our minds, that person forgotten about soon after. The extraordinary person will never forget such reactions, those split seconds. With Wonder, Palacio candidly and poignantly encourages us to think twice about passing judgment on others, sending out the universal message that we are not dissimilar inside as humans, despite our exteriors.


Me with the book cover!
   Palacio tells in the attribution at the back of her book how many readers tell her that by the end of the book they have forgotten Auggie's craniofacial difference. It's true that while I read, I totally lost myself in the story of a group of ten and eleven year old kids having fun, falling out then worrying about who they would sit with in the cafeteria; then spectacularly making up, getting into trouble for minor things such as peeing in a bush and acting as school children do at that age group. It just so happens that amongst these kids is a hero, Auggie, the force which everything revolves around; but for his brilliant personality not his deformity. Saying that, Palacio slips in constant reminders of the hardship suffered by children like Auggie. This book contains the cruellest school scene I have ever, ever read, in the chapter 'The Bleeding Scream' and I genuinely found it hard to read. Almost exactly in the centre of the book, Palacio gives us an alternative narration, a series of letters and emails in which we learn of a parent's sickening view towards Auggie- an abrupt reminder of the undertone of the novel, that of extreme prejudice. Another highlight of the novel is a section told by Auggie's sister's boyfriend Justin, who is described to have 'tics'. Justin is clearly different, as symbolised by the format of his train of thought- all lowercase letters and lacking in punctuation. Justin is a character who has a big impact on Auggie just as Auggie has a big impact on him, yet he also mixes with others. Justin is clearly an extension of Palacio's no-judgement message.
Palacio perfectly combines a weight of poignancy with an equal weight of humour and a lifestyle to empathise with, from clear depictions of family traumas that resonated with me as very close to home, to scenes of pure love. From reading this it is clear that we are meant to discover or remember that everyone is on life's journey together and we must help each other along the way. A book with so much charm, quirky little details, beautiful imagery and a main character you wish you could befriend- a must-read though don't forget the tissues.


A quote featured in Wonder


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Back to blogging...

Dear lovely bloggers and followers,

Long time no see! I have had a busy (to say the absolute least!) year, in which I have achieved a first class in my Creative Writing degree from Roehampton (big yay), moved back home to my lovely house in the Kent countryside (my favourite place on the planet, there truly is no place like home), officially joined the adult working world, and very recently, started up an Etsy shop- something I've been dreaming of for a long, long time.

The mischievous pup taking up all my time!!
Although I have gone down a new pathway into education, and I am loving my new journey, I miss blogging about H&M's latest collab, what J-Law's wearing or my love of tartan. The truth is, there will always be near to nothing nicer than settling down with a copy of Vogue, Harper's or these days, Country Living, as I'm really into homewares! A sign I'm definitely growing up. While a few years ago I would have spent all my spare money on pieces for my wardrobe, now an impressive chunk of the results of my retail therapy goes on scented candles and bits and bobs for my bedroom.
I really want to incorporate my interest in interiors - which has stemmed from my Mum, who I genuinely think has the best taste in countryside shabby chic- in my blog now. I also want to eventually add a baking section, a bunch of book reviews and just fill you in generally on what's going on where I live! Because it's a special place!

Pretty goodies over at my Etsy shop!
For now, please head to https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/PatriciaMaryVintage and check out my new (set up last weekend!) vintage shop, where I'm currently selling gorgeous retro cosmetics, a Gatsby-esque purse with French roots, a funky winter shoulder bag and a dose of old-school Vogue. I've loved searching for items to fill my new little project and have some exciting new pieces lined up too...
My shop is named after my late nan and so it means a lot to me just to have work to do on something in her memory. I hope you enjoy browsing the teeny bits of history I've uncovered.

Until next time!

Izzy
xxx