Achoo! Flu-Season Survival Kit

Of all the things Sunny could have brought back from his trip to London last week – flowers, a slice of Franco Manca pizza, a copy of the Evening Standard – a simmering, snotty head cold was not exactly what I was hoping for.  As soon as he stepped through the front door and mentioned he was feeling “rough” I knew we were doomed, and two days later there might as well have been a bright red cross painted on the front door.

I love Autumn, but I can definitely do without the occasional snot-swimming sesh (so can everyone around me; I’ve been told that I’m a pain in the ass when I’m sick).  So when it does happen, I always make sure my Flu-Season Survival Kit is ready to go.

Olbas Oil

I wear this stuff like Chanel No 5 during the winter; it’s one of my favourite smells even when I’m not sick (…and I’m well aware that that’s a bit weird).  I douse the collar of my fluffiest jumper with it, sprinkle it all over my pillow and bed sheets and breathe in.  Even better I found a bottle of Olbas Oil bubble bath a few weeks ago – it was almost worth catching a cold just to give it a go! 🙂

My Bed

Ahhhh.  I spent a whole week in bed last year when I caught the flu, and despite getting a bit fed up of not being able to get up and get on with my life I WAS SO COMFY.  It’s my favourite place in the whole world.

Hot Water Bottle

Sunny bought me this mini hot water bottle for my birthday a few years ago and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it.  The best thing is that it’s small enough to wear inside a jumper and snuggle with in bed.  My top tip is to only fill the bottle three quarters of the way full and then let out the excess air resting on top – that way it stays warmer for longer.  (Also… snuggling with a fluffy dog will also have the same effect 😉 )

Satsumas and OJ

Time to overdose on Vitamin C!  As soon as I get that fuzzy head feeling ahead of a cold, I pick up a couple of packs of satsumas and start scoffing.

Soft Tissues

There’s nothing worse than having a sore, red nose after a cold or the flu from using cheap tissues (…or loo roll…).  True, they’re a bit more expensive, but they definitely help.

Soup

It’s a cliche for a reason; chicken noodle soup is what I always reach for when I’m feeling a bit under the weather.  My brother and I LOVE the cheapo Knorr Chicken Noodle Soup sachets, which he claims are a miracle hangover cure.

Honey over Lozenges

I’m not a huge fan of throat sweets, especially the ones that numb everything.  Honey’s got anti-bacterial properties, so a spoonful – either in a mug of hot water or straight from the spoon – can help soothe a sore throat.

Caffeine-Free Medicine

It’s understandable why, but a lot of the cold and flu medication you can buy has added caffeine to keep you wired enough to power through a cold.  That’s great, but personally, I’d rather get some rest and sleep it off!  I’m always stocking up on tablets that don’t have caffeine that you can take right before going to bed.

“Stop milking it!  Get up!”

Entertainment

Box sets, books, magazines… I always make sure I’ve got enough to keep me entertained within arm’s reach, so I don’t have to keep getting up and can just focus on resting.  Back to back episodes of Friends always make me feel better.

Thankfully, I think my cold’s in retreat now, but I really hope I don’t get a follow-up round in a month!  What must-have items are in your Flu Season Survival Kit? 

Salted Caramel Macarons

It’s National Dessert Day tomorrow (*shrugs* apparently… When’s National Naming Days Day, I wonder?), not that I need any excuse to scoff sweet things, of course – especially around this time of year.  I’m already on to my second pack of Fiendish Fancies, and today I decided to make some Halloween-ish Macarons.  I’ve made them a couple of times before and they’re a bit fiddily, but there are a few short cuts you can take to make the job a little easier (like buying butter cream rather than making it yourself, shh!).  I mean, alright, they’re not going to win any awards or put Ladurée out of business, but they taste good – and that’s all that matters, right?

Salted Caramel Macarons

Ingredients

  • 125g icing sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 90g egg whites
  • 110g caster sugar
  • A couple of drops of orange food colouring
  • Pre-made Buttercream icing
  • Salted Caramel Flavoring (yep, you can buy it!)
  • Melted chocolate to decorate
  1. Whisk together the caster sugar and egg whites to form stiff white peaks, then add the food colouring.
  2. Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds into the mixture, then fold in.
  3. To get a perfect coin shape use a piping bag and nozzle, but you can do just as good a job with a pointed spoon and a steady hand.  Pipe out onto a lined baking tray, then leave to rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Bake at 160° for about 10 minutes.
  5. Sandwich with your flavoured buttercream, drizzle with chocolate, then scoff!

I’m going to carve up my pale pumpkin this weekend (although it’s meant to be really hot here in Wales – very un-Halloween like!).  Have a lovely weekend everyone! 🙂

How to keep cut Flowers looking fresh

I’ve said it plenty of times before, but fresh flowers are one of my favourite simple pleasures.  I love buying them, I love arranging them and there are a few spots in my house that just look really bare without a bright bunch of flowers sitting there (I know, first world problems, right?).  They’re just one of those things that never fail to put a smile on my face, especially during the dreary winter months… until they start wilting, that is!  😦

Since I buy a lot of flowers (Sunny’s always complaining that he never gets to buy me any because I’m always getting in there first), I’ve learned a few tips and tricks over the years on how to get them to last a little longer – most of which are dead easy!

Always remove all leaves below the water line

Make sure its only the stems that are submerged; you don’t want leaves slowly mulching in the bottom of the vase and making the water dirty (clean water = happy flowers!).  I always strip the stems completely and leave only a few leaves near the head.

Always trim the stems at a 45°  angle

Never ever just dump your flowers into the water before trimming off the bottom inch of the stems!  After cutting, bacteria makes its way in through the bottom of the stem, so you’re going to want to get rid of it.  Not only that, but cutting at angle creates a larger surface area for water absorption, as well as allowing the stems to sort of tip toe on the bottom of the vase which means better access to water.  And always trim the stems with super sharp scissors (pruning shears are better) to avoid splitting the stem.

Sear the cut stems in warm water

If any of the flowers are looking a bit limp then drop the stems into boiling water for about 30 seconds (a nice trick to bring them back to life!).  It’s also a good idea to trim off your stems under warm running water to prevent air from travelling up the stem.

Always use flower food

Using flower food doesn’t only feed the flowers, but it keeps the water free of bacteria.  Most bouquets come with a little sachet filled with flower food these days – but you can also easily make your own!  A little bit of lemonade will do the trick, but you can also use vinegar, aspirin, lemon juice or even a small bit of bleach.  Or make them a special cocktail of a few drops of vodka and one teaspoon of sugar!

Use Hairspray!

A bit of hairspray’s not only good to keep your ‘do in place, but also helps keep your flowers looking their best.  Stand back and spray a little under the petals and leaves to protect your arrangement.

Keep your flowers away from heat sources (and fruit?)

It should be obvious, but don’t put your vase next to the TV, in direct sunlight or next to a radiator.  Heat will evaporate the water and make the flowers wilt.  Keep them cool, but not cold.  Also – and this is a weird one – don’t put them near your fruit bowl!  As fruit ripens, it releases a particular type of gas that can actually poison cut flowers.

Last but not least, change the water every 2 days

If the water goes cloudy, that means it’s full of bacteria which can clog the stems and decrease the amount of water the flowers can drink.  So, every two days make sure at the very least that you’re changing the water, and – even better – chopping another inch off the bottom of the stems to prevent them clogging.

Have you got any old tips and tricks for keeping flowers fresh?  Have a great week everyone!  🙂

6 Home Interiors Hacks

I can’t believe we’ve been in our house for a year and a half!  Mostly because there are still a couple of boxes gathering dust in the spare room… oops.  And we’re still making changes; last month we tiled the kitchen and painted one of the lounge walls, just the other day we put a picture up on the landing and this weekend we’re popping to Homebase to check out some wallpaper for the bedroom.  If there’s anything I’ve learned about decorating houses (house… singular, this is our first!) it’s that it takes time.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – I mean, sometimes it can take a while to decide how you really want things to look.

We’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve learned a hell of a lot along the way – including some handy tips, tricks and hacks that we’ll take along with us next time we move (…which hopefully won’t be any time too soon!)  🙂

1. Consider buying your flooring online rather than in a package from a retailer.

One of the first nasty shocks we had when we looked at getting carpets and hard flooring done was how crazy expensive it can be!  We’d never had to buy our own flooring before and so we did what most people do; we went to carpet retailers and those big name department stores that’ll offer the whole package (measuring, ordering, fitting), because we didn’t think there was an alternative.  The quotes we were getting for carpets upstairs and luxury laminate downstairs were IN-SANE, and the truth is (which my parents recently found out), the service and finish aren’t always the best you’re going to get.  Sometimes it’s better to break up that expensive package and arrange things for yourself.

Because we’d had that big retailer (let’s just call him Jonathan Lewison *wink*) come out and measure up to give us their crazy quote, we’d come away with the exact measurements of each room and the quantities of flooring we were going to need.  With that info, we tracked down the carpet and the laminate we’d been eyeing up online for a much, much cheaper price, bought it, and arranged for it to be delivered to the house (luckily we had a garage where we could store the enormous rolls!). We shopped around locally for a professional fitter who could lay the flooring for us, and he did a much better job than Jonathan Lewison’s busy contractors.  Honestly, it was amazing how much we saved, just by ordering things ourselves online – and it wasn’t even that difficult to arrange.  It pays to think outside the box sometimes!

2. Take your time

I can’t say this enough.  No matter how many Pinterest boards you’ve got stocked full of interiors inspo, and no matter how many ideas and plans you’ve got buzzing around in your head, it’s worth actually living in a room for a while before you whip the paintbrushes out or even start filling it with furniture.  Seriously.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to wait a while before you decorate or buy pictures because what looks good in your head might not work in real life, or what you want to change now might be something you regret in a couple of months.  You might realise you need a very specific piece of furniture (We need storage there instead of a chair, we need a silver lamp instead of a gold one…).  It took us about nine months to put a single picture up, purely because we didn’t really know what we wanted and where to put it.  And after living in our kitchen for a year and suffering terrible oil splashes on the walls around the hob, we realised that tiles were needed and started to shop around.  🙂

It also pays to think and plan ahead.  I was downright stubborn about the fact that I wanted hard floor everywhere downstairs because I knew it was going to be a bugger to constantly keep carpet clean in the most heavily trodden areas of our new home, but also because we had plans to get a dog.  Oh how right I was!  I honestly can’t imagine how we would have coped cleaning up after Bungle if I’d given in and gotten carpets instead.  Phew!

3. Command Strips are Stud Walling Saviours

If you’ve lived in a house with stud walling then you’ll know that putting pictures up with rawl plugs can be a risky business (in our London flat we left behind walls that were pock-marked with hanging disasters…!).  But now there are amazing things called command strips.  They’re basically just little strips with a sort of heavy-duty velcro on one side, and glue – that enables you to hang things on the wall without hammers, plugs and screws – on the other.  When you change your mind and want to remove them you just peel them off and they don’t leave residue or marks.  They.  Are.  AMAZING.  We pretty much created our lounge gallery wall using only command strips, and so far nothing has dropped down on our heads – so that’s a thumbs up!  🙂

4. Pick and choose when to DIY-it and when to get help – and when to save and when to spend.

We’ve all had DIY disasters and know our limits when it comes to decorating jobs around the house – so it’s important I think to know when to cut corners and when get help.  My Dad is a perfectionist when it comes to painting, is handy with a drill and has suffered enough minor shocks over the years to know what not to do when it comes to electrics.  Plumbing, however, is something he won’t touch.  It’s always helpful to get a few recommendations from friends and family of handymen and tradesmen you can rely on when you reach your DIY limit (we’ve been really lucky, and have met some people we’ll be keeping in the address book for a long time!).  Sometimes it’s worth spending a little extra to dodge a disaster!

Similarly, know when to spend and when to save.  Curtains – for example – can cost an absolute fortune.  We had our lounge ones made to measure (because we wanted thick, floor to ceiling ones), but saved money by fitting them ourselves and buying cheaper eyelet ones for the windows upstairs.  Lighting is something that can also be expensive – especially if you go for light fittings.  We saved money by shopping around for fancy lampshades instead.

Call this an addendum to point two, but it really does pay to take your time and shop around for the perfect piece, rather than throw money away on something that “will do for now”.

5. Homesense and TK Maxx for Candles, Cushions, Rugs and Pictures

I snort at anyone who spends over six quid on a candle.  Honestly?  Just go to Homesense – they’ve got a tonne of them for a fraction of the price.  Along with TK Maxx (they’re the same thing really) it’s quite possibly my favourite shop on the planet when it comes to quirky, unique pieces for the home.  Some of my favourite pictures came from there (the Pineapple and the Elephant in our gallery wall), as well as some of my favourite ornaments and candles.

6. Choosing substance doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on style.

Sometimes it’s worth waiting a while for the right piece of furniture that not only looks good, but suits its purpose well.  There are so many bits of furniture that we waited to buy because we had very specific criteria that it needed to meet.  Like our kitchen table; we knew exactly what we wanted it to look like, but it had to extend to seat 8, that was a deal breaker.  We knew we wanted a coffee table in the lounge, but it had to have a glass top and a wooden frame that matched the legs for our sofa (we had to wait a year to find that and pounced on it when we did track it down!).  We needed a TV table, but it had to have tonnes of storage (….remember the age of the DVD?  We’ve got about a hundred…), and I was absolutely adamant that our bed had to be a nice soft grey colour, and be an Ottoman so we could store stuff underneath (I drove Sunny mad trying to track that one down…!).

What are your favourite home interiors hacks?  🙂

September Favourites

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Happy October!  Hope you’ve had a great start to Autumn and you’re one of those people – like me! – who lives for the colder months of the year.  I’m already stomping around in boots and jumpers and loving life!  Autumn’s honestly my favourite time of the year, so I’m happier for the cooler weather, jumpers, scarves and rainy Sundays spent indoors.  Anyway, time for another monthly favourites roundup 🙂

Food

If you haven’t eaten your weight in apple and blackberry crumble yet, then what have you been doing all September?  It’s hot custard season, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  This month I made Bramble Bars with the blackberries I collected in the field near my house, and I also made this Apple Crumble Loaf Cake.


Fashion

I think I spend more on clothes during the onset of Autumn than I do during any other season.  There’s just something exciting about wintery clothes, and this year without that Indian Summer to keep us on our toes it’s been knits and boots ever since September came knocking.  I added this Joyeux T-Shirt to my already towering pile of slogan and band tees, and picked up a couple of new, cosy jumpers.

TV

There’s been so much to watch this September that I’m going to struggle to fit them all in.  First things first though; HAVE YOU BEEN WATCHING DOCTOR FOSTER?  I was completely obsessed with the first season, but had no idea there was going to be a follow up until I turned on the TV and there it was.  If you’ve never heard of it; during Season One, Doctor Gemma Foster finds out that her husband has been having an affair and that all her friends and neighbours knew about it.  And so she schemes to bring him down.  Season Two picks up two years later when her husband moves back to town and intends to get even.  On a similar thread is ITV’s Liar which has kind of served as a pick-me-up in between Doctor Foster episodes.  Other tele-visuals I have been enjoying this month are the second season of Victoria and obviously Great British Bake-Off (even if it’s not quite the same without Bezza).

Cardiff

Barker Tea House wins my September Cardiff Spot; it’s the perfect place to hole up with a hot a drink and a book when the weather is cold.  I can’t recommend the place enough, nor their hot chocolates – particularly the coconut one. 🙂

Online

Whatever your opinion about the Playboy Empire and Hugh Hefner’s values – I think everyone would agree that his death last week marked the end of an era.  I watched the Amazon Documentary all about Playboy not that long ago, which was really interesting – but more recently, I enjoyed reading this article by Stylist Magazine asking whether Hugh Hefner was the feminist icon he claimed to be.  In the BlogosphereJas wrote a couple of really of interesting blog posts about Instagram (everyone’s favourite love to hate app!); 5 Things you need to know about Instagram Stories for anyone who wants to pick up some tips and tricks, and another one about Hashtags with some really handy hashtag clouds.

How was your September?  What are you looking forward to this October? 🙂