Finding work for idle hands: making, baking and more.

Amy Butler for Boden? July 30, 2011

Filed under: Fashion,Shopping — lauravw @ 1:16 pm

This week my new Boden dress arrived, and I’m very pleased with it – I wore it the very next day. All day I kept thinking that the print looked familiar, that it reminded me of something.

Exhibit A: a bag that was made for me several years ago by my friend Megan (of Not Martha), using an Amy Butler pattern.

I was pretty sure it was made from an Amy Butler print, but I couldn’t find it on the Amy Butler website. I emailed Megan to check, and she confirmed she had used Amy Butler fabric to make the bag.

Exhibit B: my new dress, from Boden.

The fabric the dress is made from uses the same print as the bag, though it has been scaled up a little bit, and recoloured. You can get a much better look at this on Boden’s website.

I’m fascinated to think that a print like this can be doing the rounds for so many years, before turning up as a dress. Megan thinks that in the past, this print has been used on dresses for sale at US chain Target too. It must be strange to work as a textile designer, not knowing what form your fabrics are going to take once they are released into the wild. Jessica from How About Orange notes on her blog when she’s seen one of her fabrics being used in a magazine, or for sale as part of a finished product, and I really like to read about it.

I’m also interested to know more about how prints are bought and licensed – I have a skirt that is in the same print as a top of of my colleagues has. The two garments are from very different shops, and the fabric used for used is different too (one’s a lightweight cotton, the other is a heavy, velvety fabric). The colours used contrast greatly – which is another thing that gets me thinking, about how a designer creates something but then someone down the line chooses to recolour it or alter the scale. So I think I have some research to do…



DIY cereal July 19, 2011

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 8:43 pm

On Saturday I had another go at the granola I made a couple of years ago (has it really been that long?). It was a day of heavy rain showers, and so staying in the kitchen for the afternoon was really the best thing to do.

Of course, I didn’t have all the ingredients, and so I had to make a mad dash to the shops to get a couple of them, with some very dark clouds hovering over my head as I scurried along. I made it safely back though, and set to work.

Making your own cereal might sound like a fiddly, time-consuming thing to do, but it’s really not. It’s mostly just mixing stuff in a bowl, and then baking it. And then the next morning, when you sit down to a breakfast of home-made cereal, you can feel very smug about the whole endeavour.

The recipe I used is still the one from the Big Book of Vegetarian, but I’ve made a couple of tweaks to suit my own tastes (not a fan of cinnamon these days – though I used to wolf down cinnamon toast cereal as a teenager), so here’s my adapted recipe in case you’ve got the time or inclination to have a go at making your own cereal. (I think this is particularly worthwhile if you have visitors coming to stay and want to impress them!).

Vanilla and Almond Granola

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup pecan nuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup soft light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (which, my mother will be very pleased to hear, I grated using the nutmeg grater she bought me)
  • 1/3 cup sunflower oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a big bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, almonds, brown sugar, salt and nutmeg.

Pour the oil into a pan, and heat it gently with the maple syrup and granulated sugar. Bring it to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour it into your mixing bowl of dry ingredients, and mix everything together. Distribute the mixture across two baking trays (you’ll want the kind that has a lip to it, otherwise you’ll end up with oats all over your oven floor).

In an oven heated to 150 degrees C (I think that’s 300 degrees F for anyone in the US), bake it all for around 30 minutes – it should darken a little in colour while it bakes. The book says to stir it occasionally while it cooks – I think this is to stop it forming into one big mass; the stirring breaks it up into bite-size chunks.

Once it’s cooled, you can transfer it to a storage jar, where it will keep fresh for a couple of weeks. Top tip: while you leave it on the worktop to cool, shut your cat out of the kitchen.


Sun up July 18, 2011

Filed under: Cosmetics — lauravw @ 2:35 pm

Sali Hughes’ column in the Guardian the other day was one I’ll be making use of: beauty bargains under £10. The comments people have left underneath are also interesting, highlighting products I’ve never heard of, alongside old classics.

Nearly all the products I use sit comfortably within the under £10 category, but there are a few things I don’t mind paying more for. One is sunscreen: I am very pale (people have been known to think I am wearing white socks on days when I am barefoot), and burn easily, so I am always wearing some sort of sun protection. I have tried quite a few over the years, with varying success.

The summer before last, I was on some medication that both made me more sensitive to the sun AND made my skin somewhat intolerant of sunscreens. That was a tricky time, and meant I had to dress in such a way that hardly any of my skin was exposed. On hot days I looked foolish, covered head to toe in layers of clothes. And I still got burned.

The video accompanying Sali’s recent column on sunscreen discusses the different ways sunscreens are formulated, and how certain products can cause certain people’s eyes to water when applied. This sounded very familiar to me, so I’m looking into the products Sali suggested – a Neal’s Yard sunblock, and a Liz Earle one. And recently I have been using a powder sunscreen, with pretty good results. It’s by Bare Escentuals, and I’ve found it to be very useful for topping up the sun protection on my face during the day. I’ve also used it on my neck, which has been very handy as I used to use a cream based sunscreen there, and then found that my jewellery would stick to it, and there would be stains around the neckline of my clothes. So having a powder-based version has been a huge improvement for me in that regard!

I’ve found only one downside so far: the powder is faintly tinted, but is almost invisible while you’re applying it. This means I’m always a little bit unsure as to whether I’ve applied enough, and to all the places that need protecting. But as long as I take my time while applying it, it’s fine. Definitely something I would buy again.

And speaking of sunscreen, the clever people at Information is Beautiful have put together a visual interpretion of the current advice on when to apply it, how much to apply, and how long you’re protected for. Clever stuff.

But of course all of this is purely academic on a day like today, where the clouds overhead are a very dark shade of grey, and the rain just keeps coming.


Looking back July 12, 2011

Filed under: Travel — lauravw @ 6:57 pm

We got back from holiday last Tuesday night, exactly a week ago, but it feels like it was a long time ago that I was walking through the Swiss countryside.

It was a successful trip: we based ourselves in one town, and travelled by trains, boats, and buses each day as we explored the
region. We’ve been before, so there were old haunts to revisit, and new places to become acquainted with. We went up into the mountains, walked through vineyards, and alongside lakes. And we even walked alongside a lake that was up in the mountains, which was a new one for me.

This photo shows the town we stayed in, and we paddled in this lake – it was icy cold. Any plans for swimming in it were quickly ditched!

There’s no avoiding the fact that Switzerland is an expensive place. We bought an all-inclusive transport pass, which meant we could get on buses, boats, and trains without having to buy a ticket. We had a tight budget for the rest of our expenses – breakfast was provided at our hotel, so we just had to buy lunch and dinner each day. For the former, we usually stocked up on picnic-style food from the many excellent supermarkets that are dotted around the place. For the latter, we usually went to a restaurant and had a main course only – typically costing at least £15, before you even factor in drinks. The budget did not stretch far enough to include a pudding! (And bear in mind we’re both vegetarian – menu prices for dishes featuring meat and fish were even higher.)

But don’t worry: we bought plenty of chocolate from the supermarket, and treated ourselves to ice creams when we were out and about. We worked our way through many of the Kinder products that are on sale over there too – most of them filled with creamy goodness and stored in the refrigerated section of shops. I also sampled the meringue in Meiringen, where meringue was invented – I can report back that it was worth the investment!

I kept track of our travelling. We used:

  • 5 boats
  • 27 trains
  • 5 buses
  • 2 cable cars

I have uploaded a selection of my photos now, and you’re welcome to take a look. I’m already thinking about where we can go next time we go back to Switzerland – I’d better start saving up.


And a decaf for me July 11, 2011

Filed under: Food — lauravw @ 8:38 pm

Did I ever tell you about the time they made me give up caffeine?

It was last October. I’d had a stressful time at work and been put on medication to straighten things out. “Take more exercise,” the doctor said, “and avoid caffeine.” It sounded easy enough: I’ve never been someone who consumes much caffeine. I didn’t even start drinking hot drinks until I was in my twenties, so until then my intake of caffeine came from chocolate and Coke. At most, I was having three cups of tea a day, but usually only one or two.

So I got myself some decaffeinated tea bags, and thought that would be the end of it. And then began one of the worst headaches of my life. I get frequent migraines, so I have plenty of experience in this area, and this one was rough. Normal painkillers had no effect, and then I realised my usual migraine medicine had caffeine in it, so that was off the list. The headache lasted for around three days, but eventually it faded away.

And ever since then, I’ve been (mostly) on the decaffeinated stuff. At home I have decaf tea, but I have never for a minute contemplated giving up chocolate, so I prefer to believe there’s not much caffeine in it… Sometimes I fall off the wagon: if we’re visiting people and I’m offered tea, I prefer not to make a fuss. And if I’m having bourbon, I like it with Coke. Real Coke, the full fat kind that has real sugar and real caffeine in it.

What I have eventually started to miss is variety: there’s not much on offer in the decaffeinated tea world. Even jasmine tea has caffeine in, and I’m not a fan of the fruity teas (they smell so nice! they taste nothing like they smell!). I found some decaffeinated English breakfast tea which is very nice, but I have not yet found any black vanilla tea, something I used to really enjoy.

At the hotel we stayed at in Switzerland, they had a selection of teas on offer each morning, and most days I had a little peek at them, but then reluctantly opened up my little container of brought-from-home tea bags, and had one of those instead. More than once though, I had their black vanilla tea, and it was lovely. So on the last morning, I tucked one of those tea bags inside my little tupperware container, and brought it home. It’s now living in the same jar as all my regular decaf tea, and that has brought about a revelation: all of my tea now tastes of vanilla! Why didn’t I think of this before? I’m going to start a new jar, and fill it with decaffeinated tea and vanilla pods, and then sit around drinking vanilla tea all day long.


Loss of Habitat July 10, 2011

Filed under: Interiors,Shopping — lauravw @ 9:59 am

In which I whine about a very middle class problem: the closing down of Habitat’s network of UK stores.

I’ve had a couple of weeks now to get used to the fact that Habitat is on the way out. And this week, when my mother said she would be going to the Nottingham shop for a final visit, I asked if I could accompany her.

She’s shopped at Habitat for years. Decades. She told me that when they opened the York branch, she was invited to the opening party. The Nottingham store was filled with signs saying ‘everything must go’ and the like, and it was a sad sight. It was also very busy – we all love a bargain. I don’t think I’ve seen so many members of staff on duty there before either – all of whom will be losing their jobs once the stock has been sold.

In my own home, I’ve got all kinds of stuff from Habitat. Very little in the way of furniture – I’ve always aspired to own some of their furniture, but hadn’t reached that point yet. (Though I do have a pink coffee table from there, which belonged to my parents and dates back to the 1980s. The fact that I’ve just said it’s pink makes it sound a bit dodgy, but really, it’s very nice. Honest.) The kitchen is full of their designs though – plates, mugs, tea towels, aprons, glasses, trays, storage jars, chopping boards… About six years ago I saved up and bought a whole set of Habitat china – plates, bowls, side plates, pasta bowls – and I still love the design as much as I did when I bought them. (I know it was six years ago because I paid for it using money I earned working to process and count votes at the 2005 general election!)

So I will be sad to see those doors close, and wonder what will take its place? In terms of a competitor, I suppose shoppers will drift to Dwell, John Lewis and M&S, but I don’t think there’s anything out there offering the same quality of design under one roof. In London there is Heal’s and the Conran Shop, but out in the sticks shops like that are thin on the ground.

By the way, thic photo is of our little cat, Daisy, sitting on a Habitat bag – she loves paper bags, and has played in Habitat bags since she was a kitten. I’m not convinced she’s realised yet how the closure of Habitat is going to affect her.


Home July 6, 2011

Filed under: Travel — lauravw @ 2:16 pm

Last night we flew home from Switzerland, where we’ve spent the past week on holiday.

It was strange, after spending a week in the Alps, to fly home to a country that is for the most part flat – I have been walking up and down hills non-stop for the past seven days, but the little town I live in is mostly hill-free.

We’ve had a wonderful time, but as ever, it’s great to be home. And particularly to be reunited with Daisy, who was shipped off to a cattery for the duration of our holiday.

Great to be back in my own bed, with my own pillows and a kitchen full of familiar food (as vegetarians, we don’t fare so well in Switzerland – I’ve had all the pizza and pasta and cheese I can face for this week). Of course I did bring back more than my fair share of Swiss chocolate, which I shall be enjoying over the days and weeks to come (I even brought some dark chocolate back to make brownies with).

I took more than 500 photos, so I’m now faced with the daunting task of organising and uploading them, and eventually making some sort of album. But all of that can wait.

This picture shows a covered bridge in the city of Thun. I love how the water roaring underneath it is so crystal clear. It flows out into the lake we stayed on – Lake Thun (known in Swiss-German as the Thunersee), where the water is so clear that you can see your feet when you paddle in it. Which of course we did.