Monday, 17 December 2012

DIY Christmas Giftwrap

I love browsing all the luxury giftwrap available from the likes of John Lewis and Selfridges but for the past couple of Christmases have been going low-key with brown parcel paper. I love it for various reasons:
It's cheap
 It's really good quality so is easy to wrap with and doesn't tear
 You can dress it up in many ways and with any colour theme you want
❆ It looks really classic and timeless
This year, I was inspired by this lovely idea from  I originally found it via a Pin on Pinterest and loved the idea of using doilies as gift tags.

It just so happened that I had loads of paper doilies sitting in my studio, leftovers from a long forgotten project.  Mine weren't as pretty as the ones on Robbie and Erin's blog but I still wanted to incorporate them into my wrapping as I love the way they look against the brown paper.

I decided to just use doilies as embellishment, tie them into place with raffia ribbon, and make my own gift tags.  I say 'make', but all I did was buy a huge quantity of those cheap card luggage tags you can buy from any stationery shop and punch Christmas trees into them with a paper punch.

DIY brown paper Christmas gift wrap

DIY  Christmas gift tags

DIY brown paper Christmas gift wrap

I really like the end result.  I also like that all the wrapping is totally recyclable or, if it's going to a crafty or frugal recipient, re-usable.  

For smaller items, like the little Disney rings and bracelets I bought as a stocking filler for my four year old niece, I made the doilies into a little pouch and tied them with ribbon.  I love the way these look and will be using this method again.  

DIY Doilies Christmas gift wrap

Using the same technique with lace doilies would be a brilliant way of wrapping jewellery for big girls too :-)


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Roman Holiday

Move over Paris, I think I have a new favourite city...

I was lucky (spoilt) enough to receive a trip to Rome for my birthday from my boyfriend and we got back last week.  I'd never been to Rome, or even Italy, before but it's safe to say I will be returning!  I was completely blown away by the city, the history, the friendliness of the people and, of course, all that pizza, wine and gelato.

I was really ill with flu for several days before we were due to go and I'd resigned myself to the fact I wouldn't be able to make it.  However, fortified  with Lemsips, balsam tissues, Sudafed and anti-histamines, I managed to get up at 3am to make our 6.55am flight from Manchester Airport.  Hurrah!

We stayed in a lovely little apartment/B&B right next to The Vatican, San Pietro House.  We were on the 8th floor and had stunning views from our little balcony.  The owner, Vincenzo, brought fresh croissants up to the apartment every morning which was a really nice touch.  I have to say, I could get used to breakfast in bed.

We also made friends with a few felines who lived in our complex, including this little tabby who looks grumpy but was a lovely little fella :

If you're lucky enough to go to Rome, my must-sees are:

The Colosseum

I tend to get bored fairly quickly visiting historical sights.  I start off full of good intentions but my enthusiasm soon wanes and I rapidly lose interest.  Not at The Colosseum.  It's quite simply the most spectacular place I've ever been.  I had no idea how much of the original structure is preserved as you just can't tell from photos.  The sense of history you get is just amazing and if you only manage to see one thing when you're in Rome, make it this.  If you don't get goosebumps walking into the arena, I'm afraid you probably have no soul.
One of the most famous sights in the world
Its grisly history is sobering, with estimates putting the number of people who died inside over the years as high as 500,000, but it's amazing to see how much of it still stands after being plundered for building materials for centuries.

Inside The Colosseum (look how big it is!)
Resting on some Roman rubble

I recommend you take either a guided tour or at least the audio or video guide. Apart from anything else, either of these options will allow you to skip the main queue and get inside much faster.  We chose the audio guide which was fine and really informative but the map wasn't very clear so it took a while to work out where we were supposed to start.

Glyn with his retro 1970s style audio guide

The Vatican

We didn't see the Sistine Chapel as the queues were just too big on the day we went but St Peter's Basilica is just awesome.  It takes your breath away.  Entry is free but we paid €10 to go on the one-hour guided tour and it was well worth the money.  I would have missed so much if we hadn't had a guide.

Inside St Peter's Basilica

See how teeny the people look in the distance?

I hadn't read too much about St Peter's before we went in and didn't realise Pope John Paul II's tomb was now inside. Despite being fundamentally opposed to most of the things he stood for, I did have a soft spot for him, partly I think because of how tragically sad his early years in Poland were, and partly because he reminded me a bit of my late grandad.  I totally didn't buy a kitsch Pope keyring in the giftshop for €1 though, most definitely not.*  

People praying at John Paul II's tomb

*I did, and I love it.  I got one for my Mum too even though I was mortified to be seen buying one, never mind two.

Festival of music taking place at The Vatican City

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is so well preserved that I can't quite get my head round how old it actually is.   Almost two thousand years after it was built, the dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.  The only source of light during the day is a huge whole in the centre of the 43 metre high dome so it's quite an experience to visit when it's raining as it's wide open to the elements!  

The 9 metre hole in the roof of The Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain

Lovely by day, even more lovely by dusk, this is another must-see. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will guarantee your return to Rome.  The area around the fountain is chock-full of places to eat, drink, shop and to buy delicious gelato.

The beautiful Trevi Fountain at dusk
It sure does attract the crowds...

Piazza Navona

Another spectacular piazza, this one was hosting a huge Christmas market when we were there.  It wasn't as pretty or as festive as ones I've visited in Germany or Switzerland, but we did manage to track down some mulled wine.  The vibrant streets around the square are full of inviting places to eat and drink and it's a great place to head if you're new to the city and want to soak in the atmosphere.

Piazza Navona's fountain, complete with phallic bollards

Torres Argentina Cat Sanctuary

This no-kill cat sanctuary is amazing!  Every time we went through Torre Argentina on the bus, I noticed there seemed to be dozens of cats climbing, sleeping and playing all over the Roman ruins there.  I had no idea there was an actual cat sanctuary in the ruins until our last day when we passed through the square on foot.  You can go down the steps next to the ruins into the sanctuary's offices and donate, buy cat-related souvenirs and learn about the work the centre does.  Sadly, they are threatened with closure at the moment, but I really hope they get to stay as they do amazing work and have supporters from all over the world. 

If you want to learn more about Torres Argentina, check out their website here.

Piazza dei Fiore

This was our favourite place for dinner and drinks.  It's perfect for aperitifs and people-watching and, although some of the restaurants are a little touristy, it's a great, lively area for dinner.  

The Spanish Steps

*whispers* I found it hard to get excited over the Spanish Steps; they are just steps, after all.  I know they feature in Roman Holiday and that they were actually built with French money but pretty much everything else I read about them has left my head now.  You still have to see them, though.  Just because they're so famous.  And also because you can go and look in the nearby windows of Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana et al.

I was quite taken with LV's silver wishbone display

Some more pictures of our Roman Holiday...


Have you been to Rome?  What were your highlights?  I'm hoping to go back next year so if you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!


Monday, 26 November 2012

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix In A Jar

I'm a big fan of giving and receiving Christmas gifts that can be used up, whether that's eaten, drunk, poured into a bath or spent.  Unless I know someone wants something very specific, I always try to give them something I know they will be able to use up and won't have to keep lying around the house for years to come.  Last year, I gave several friends and relatives homemade jars of cookie mix as part of their present.  They went down really, really well so I'm doing a few more this year.

After trawling the Internet for hours last year trying to find the perfect cookie-in-a-jar recipe, I ended up combining a couple and adjusting the quantities to perfectly fit the 750ml jars I had.  The recipe below will fill this size jar perfectly and you can easily increase the quantities of each ingredient by, say, 25% to fit litre jars.

Of course, you have to do a trial run of the cookies, just to make sure they're good enough to give out as gifts...that's my excuse, anyway.  I don't like 'hard' cookies, so when I sampled the recipe, I baked the cookies for 10 minutes which gave a lovely, soft chewy texture.  If you like them more crunchy, bake for a few minutes longer until they're just right for you.

Triple-Chocolate-Chip-Cookie-Mix-In-A-Jar Recipe

Fills one 750 ml jar

60g white chocolate chips
60g dark chocolate chips
60g milk chocolate chips
15g Rice Krispies 
150g plain flour
Half tsp of bicarbonate of soda
Quarter tsp of baking powder
80g dark brown soft sugar
75g caster sugar
30g porridge oats

Layer the ingredients into your jar in any order you like, but see the tip below on the brown sugar.

Attach a label to your jar with the following instructions:


Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24 small or 12 enormous cookies

1. Preheat oven to 180 C / Gas 4. 
2. In a large bowl, cream 75g of butter or margarine until light and fluffy. Mix in 1 egg and 1 additional egg yolk. Add the contents of the jar and stir until well blended.
3. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto a baking tray.
4. Bake for 10 minutes for a soft, chewy cookie, or a couple of minutes longer for a crunchier cookie. Remove from baking trays to cool on wire racks.

Tips on filling your jar

Obviously, you want the jars to look pretty but I found it a lot harder than it looks to get perfectly neat layers!  I just spooned the different ingredients into the jar and levelled them out as best I could.  

One thing I do recommend, is to mix the brown and white sugars together before adding them to the jar.  

Dark brown sugar has a tendency to harden and I read lots of comments on other cookie jar recipes from people who found they had to hack away at the brown sugar layer to get it out the jar!  Mixing the two certainly worked for me, and a jar I kept back for a couple of months was fine when I came to use it. 

Decorate your jar any way you like - I keep things simple with a length of ribbon and a customised gift tag.  Those retro style card luggage tags you can buy in stationery shops for pennies are perfect as they're big enough to write the baking instructions on!  

P.S How cute are my Santa and polar bear?  We had an almost identical Santa when I was a toddler in the 80s and I loved him. I was delighted when I saw this 2012 version in M & S and had to have him and his polar bear friend. Tacky, you say? Absolutely :-)


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cruelty-free hair!

Hello! It's been way too long since my last post but I wanted to share my latest cruelty-free finds with you.    I wrote a bit about my quest to only ever buy cruelty-free products back in May and thought it was time for an update.  And as we can't talk about cruelty-free without a gratuitous cute bunny shot, here you go:

Cruelty-free make-up and, increasingly, toiletries are fairly easy to find but I've always struggled with quality hair-care products.  Supermarket own-brand shampoos and conditioners (see Co-op and Sainsbury's own labels for super-cheap cruelty-free products) tend to be cheap and relatively low on quality.  While these are fine for 'normal' hair, my long, heat-damaged, dehydrated hair doesn't do well with these basic products.  Step in, Liz Earle

For some reason, I'd never purchased any Liz Earle products until a few months, ago.  I have to be honest and admit that this is partly because I vaguely remembered Liz as a reporter on GMTV in the 90s and I found her intensely irritating at the time.  Well, I decided it was time to forgive and forget and I finally lost my Liz Earle virginity by heading into John Lewis and purchasing this shampoo...

Liz Earle Botanical Shine Shampoo £8.50
this conditioner...
Liz Earle Botanical Shine Conditioner £8.50
and this shine treatment...
Liz Earle Botanical Shine Treatment £14
My verdict?

The shampoo = awesome.  Liz has a customer for life there. You only need to use a teeny, tiny dollop and it lathers up beautifully, leaving your hair feeling squeaky-clean and happy.

The conditioner = awesome.  Again, you don't need to use all that much compared to other brands and although it doesn't feel that 'conditioning' while you're applying it, your hair will feel lovely and soft once you've rinsed it off.  

The Shine treatment = meh.  Maybe it just wasn't a good match for my hair but this was the only product I didn't love.  It's OK, and I'd consider buying it again to use on a beach holiday, maybe, or if my hair was looking particularly dull.  I didn't actually find this did much more for my hair than the conditioner did so it wasn't worth the £14 to me.

At the cheaper end of the market, Superdrug have recently expanded their hair-care range and now offer shampoo and conditioners which are their version of Pantene Pro-V.  Pantene is made by the most definitely NOT animal-friendly Proctor and Gamble so I was pleased to try a similar product from a kinder company.

Superdrug Pro-Vitamin Conditioner £2.29

I was pleasantly surprised by this shampoo and conditioner.  It left my hair nice and soft and the scent is lovely.  Proper old-school clean hair smell!  I bought the Thermal Protect  shampoo and conditioner but they also offer 'Normal', 'Extra- Shine' and 'Volume'.  I will definitely be buying this again and thoroughly recommend it if you're on a budget as the bottles are BIG and it lasts for ages.  I also recommend it if you  want to instantly be transported back to your childhood, sitting on the sofa on a Sunday evening, smelling of shampoo and bubble bath, full from a roast dinner and waiting for You've Been Framed to come on.  Or Songs of Praise if you were more highbrow than I was.

Last, but not least, my final cruelty-free hair care find is Tara Smith.  I'd never heard of Tara but on a recent trip to the ginormous new Marks and Spencer near Cheshire Oaks on the outskirts of Chester (if you're in the north-west and haven't been yet, go. Even if you don't like M & S, just go.  It's amazing.  Even my retail-therapy-hating boyfriend loves it) I spied a display of her pretty bottles.  I was so excited when I picked up one of said bottles and it turned out her products were BUAV approved and 100% cruelty-free *squeal*.

I thought I'd just try the serum to start with, reasoning that if I liked it, I would simply HAVE to come back to the world's greatest M&S to buy up the rest of the range.  I've only used the serum twice so far and I like it very much.  A little goes a very long way and it leaves my hair looking smooth and healthy.  It feels very  rich and luxurious and not at all sticky like some serums tend to.  The bottle is pretty funky too:

Tara Smith Base Coat Serum £14
The full range includes shampoos, conditioners, styling products and some nifty little kits, each designed for a specific hair type.  I will be dropping some heavy hints and hoping to find a selection of Tara Smith goodies in my Christmas stocking this year.

Have you tried any of these products, or do you know of any other cruelty-free hair-care ranges?  If so, I'd love to hear from you, as would my parched locks :-)


Monday, 24 September 2012

What I did on my holidays

The title is a bit misleading as I didn't actually do anything at all except eat, drink, sleep and swim.  After a hectic few months of running Bluefinch Boutique as well as contracting in a demanding full-time job, I was more than ready for a fortnight of rest and relaxation and that is exactly what I got, bar several messy 5am cocktail sessions. (But I blame them on a lovely north Wales couple we were introduced to by a mutual Turkish friend. They practically MADE us stay up drinking all night.)

My boyfriend and I holidayed in Kalkan, which is on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey.  This was our 5th time there and while I never thought I'd be the sort of person to keep going back to the same place, it's so perfect and we have so many lovely friends there that it's hard not to! I thought I'd share some of my favourite holidays snaps so you can see for yourself how beautiful this part of the Turkish coast is...

Bench with a view

Kalkan boats

Don't you love those pics you take yourselves with an outstretched arm?

Cat in a bowl

Me, in a hurry to get to the beach club

Kalkan flower

Turkish lanterns outside a Kalkan shop
A fondness for cocktails requires big glasses the next morning

Mahal Beach Club, voted most romantic place in Europe

More of that Mahal romance

The view from my Mahal sun lounger

Pomegranates growing by our swimming pool

Glyn with the lovely Haldun

Kalkan sunrise

....and a Kalkan sunset

Typical (and very healthy) Turkish breakfast

I love this cat so much I didn't want to crop him into a square

Adorable dog at a beach club

Ottoman seating

Patara beach, longest beach in Europe & nature reserve

Footprints in the sand...

Ruins at Patara

Now, is it too early to book for next year....?