I’ve got a bit of an Amazon addiction at the best of times. Now the site has come up trumps again, with what has to be the perfect present for anyone born in the Seventies or Eighties…
Penguin are publishing a boxed set of 100 postcards, each printed with the cover of one of their iconic Ladybird books. Think titles such as ‘The Party’, ‘Peter & Jane’, ‘The Zoo’ and my favourite, ‘Things to Make’.
Whether you want to frame them, make a border for a child’s room with them, use them as birthday cards, help Royal Mail survive by posting them, or simply give them as a gift (if you can bear to part with them!), I reckon it’d be rude not to buy some.
The postcards are published next Thursday (6th October) rrp £14.99; but you can pre-order them now at http://www.amazon.co.uk for £10.55. Be quick – I reckon they’ll be a sell-out!
Looking for an unusual present?
New graphic and textile designer Virginia Armstrong’s Roddy&Ginger range of retro, Scandi and folk-inspired homewares are a little bit different to the usual stuff you’ll find on the high street.
I love the quirky cushions, £26; tea towels, £10; canvas tote bags, £10; aprons, £20; and screen prints, from £25. And, if I had an open fireplace like the one below, I’d definitely make a feature of it with it with logpile wallpaper, £52 a roll (it’s also available in beige and mustard yellow).
The full range is available at http://www.roddyandginger.co.uk
No longer just the place for paint and tools, B&Q has got some seriously great home finds this Autumn.
Taking a trip there the other day (I’m having my bathroom done so seem to be living in DIY shops at the moment!), I spotted these brilliant flexitub storage baskets. You can use them as washing baskets; for carrying stuff in the garden; for storing bathroom bits, bags, belts, shoes, magazines, toys, craft stuff; or even as a handy way to take random junk up and down stairs.
They come in green, pink, blue and red and cost just £7.50 each from B&Q stores or http://www.diy.com.
How cute are these little Scandi stickers?
Available in squirrel, owl or elephant designs, and in a range of colours, each one is 13cm x 13cm – the perfect size for sprucing up boring square white tiles. They also work well on walls and cupboards.
The best bit? If you ever get bored of them, the manufacturers claim you can remove them easily, without making a mark or stripping paint off your wall.
I’m planning to have a little row of squirrels marching along the splashback behind my bathroom sink (no, I haven’t told my husband this yet…!)
They cost £3.75 each, from http://www.hunkydoryhome.co.uk
One of my favourite ways to get inspiration for decorating a room is to visit http://www.wallpaperdirect.co.uk and look for their newest designs. They’ve got a really easy-to-use search facility that lets you hunt for specific colours or words (eg: trees, Scandi) or types of patterns (eg: floral, geometric). You can order samples too – the first two are free, and then they’re 60p each after that, including P&P. Rolls themselves cost £5 upwards.
But you don’t have to just use wallpaper for walls – I’ve used it to line drawers of an Ikea chest (paste it to the base of your drawers before you assemble them for the neatest finish, see below) and now I’m on the hunt for something to paper the inside of a boring hall cupboard with.
I adore all things Japanese, so I’ve fallen in love with this gorgeous new design, called Kokeshi, which comes in blue or red. Sadly though, it’s one of the most expensive on the site at £83 a roll (eek!), so I may have to lower my sights a little. Cute though, isn’t it?
Want to jazz up your walls quickly and cheaply? Canvas wall art or ready-framed prints seem to be either ridiculously expensive, or look obviously mass-produced. But not the new range of pictures from Next…
This pleasingly retro Tea For Two canvas would go well in any kitchen or dining area; while the London Names printed canvas (below) copies those bus blinds that are everywhere, and which usually cost upwards of £150.
Prefer something framed? This Life Is Good print comes in a classy oak frame and would look brilliant above a door or propped up casually on a mantlepiece.
The canvases are just £15, and the framed print is £20, all from http://www.next.co.uk. Bargain!
There are lots of gorgeous tea towels out there, but this one, £8.75 from http://www.berryred.co.uk is extra handy. Designed by quirky British graphic artist Stuart Gardiner, it’s a calendar showing when different fruits and vegetables are in season.
It makes the perfect present for anyone who loves cooking or gardening, and is obviously easy to post!
Plus, it’s made in pleasingly rustic-looking organic cotton, which as well as helping the environment, makes it extra-efficient at absorbing water (which is, after all, what tea towels are supposed to do!)
For Stuart’s other designs, or to buy this design as an apron or mug, visit http://www.stuartgardiner.co.uk
Apparently it’s ‘National Cupcake Week’ this week. I’ve also become obsessed with The Great British Bake Off on BBC2, at 8pm on Tuesday nights. So, I decided there was no better time to do some baking myself.
However, cupcakes, with all their decorative icing and fancy flavours can be tricky to make. That’s why I attempted their much easier baby sister, the fairy cake, using a simple all-in-one recipe from uber cook Mary Berry (who appears on TGBBO).
All-in-all, a batch of 18 took just half an hour to make from start to finish (including washing up!), and tasted so good I had to make a second batch. The recipe is below – if you manage to make some, email me your pics!
For the cakes:
4oz (100g) soft margarine
4oz (100g caster sugar
4oz (100g) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the buttercream icing:
6oz (175g) butter, softened
12oz (350g) icing sugar, sifted
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place 18 paper cake cases in bun tins.
2. Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and beat well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Half-fill the paper cases with the mixture.
3. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15-20 minutes until the cakes are well-risen and golden brown. Lift them out of the bun tins and cool on a wire rack.
4. To make the icing, beat the butter and icing sugar until well-blended.
5. Cut a slice from the top of each cake and cut this slice in half. Pipe (or dollop with a teaspoon!) a swirl of buttercream into the centre of each cake and place the half slices of cake into the buttercream at angles, to resemble wings. Dust with icing sugar to finish.
The problem with ‘to do’ lists is that you always end up losing them (or is that just me?). Not any more. I’m tidying my study and investing in this fantastic new set of four wipe-clean Writeboards, £24.99 from http://www.tch.net, to keep myself organised.
Designed to look like lined, ruled and chequered exercise book pages, they work well in a group of four or hung in a line, and come with a handy black wipe-off marker.
They’re much classier than a pinboard, and are far more likely to remind you to do stuff than a scrappy ‘to do’ list on the back of an old till receipt floating around at the bottom of your handbag (or again, is that just me..?!)
‘Statement’ lamps used to cost a bomb, so it’s no wonder that at just £35, this matte black Bunny Lamp from Next (www.next.co.uk) is flying – or should that be hopping – off the shelves at the moment. He’ll go with almost any colour scheme, and looks like something straight out of the pages of Elle Deco.
Prefer white to black? You can’t go wrong with this amazing designer-style china Tea Cups Lamp (below), also from Next. At £50, it’s a wee bit more expensive than the bunny, but I guarantee your visitors will think it cost hundreds more.
Why is it you can never find a plaster when you need one? And why are plasters so boring-looking?
Now http://www.dotcomgiftshop.com have come up with the answer – handy little tins you’ll be proud to display on a shelf, filled with decorated plasters that’ll put a smile on your face even if you’ve just sliced your finger off.
Okay, so that’s going a bit far, but they do look mega cute. And they make great presents.
They’re available in woodland animal, circus parade, vintage paisley, spaceboy, strongman or skulls designs (I love the retro circus animals, below, best) and cost £3.95 per tin.
This week, I’ve decided to be healthy. Sadly, I haven’t got enough willpower to cut down on the chocolate biscuits, so I’ve invested in a WaterBobble instead.
Made from recycled kind-to-the-environment PET plastic, it contains a brightly coloured carbon filter, that removes ‘organic contaminants’ (nasty stuff like chlorine) from ordinary tap water, and also supposedly makes it taste and smell better.
It comes in three sizes, which you can use between 150-500 times before you need to buy a new filter. Most importantly, it comes in pink, black, green, blue, purple, yellow and red (I’ve gone for a small green one that fits in a handbag), and it looks far swankier than an old, reused bottle of Volvic with the label peeling off.
Bobbles are available from Oliver Bonas (www.oliverbonas.com) for £8.95 (small), £10 (med) and £12.95 (lge); and also from John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Amazon.co.uk, House of Fraser and Boots. To find out more, visit http://www.waterbobble.co.uk
My dad is the king of jam. For my wedding, he made 110 tiny jars of worcesterberry and gooseberry jam for every guest, and is still getting repeat orders. So, when I went to visit him last weekend, we spent the day trampling round the hedgerows collecting blackberries. It’s surprisingly rewarding when you come home with a huge tub of fruit that would cost you around £40 in a supermarket.
Now I’m going to try my hand at making my own blackberry jam. But while making it is easy (I’ve put a recipe below for anyone who fancies having a go), the really fun part is making the jars look pretty! So, I’m going to treat myself to this gorgeous jam making set, £9.95 from http://www.Dotcomgiftshop.com. It contains four vintage-style glass jam jars with polka dot lids; four stick labels, lid covers, string ties and a little recipe book.
1kg caster sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1. Combine the blackberries, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a big saucepan.
2. Bring to a rolling boil and stir regularly, for 15-20 minutes until the fruit looks squishy.
3. Sterilise your jars by pouring boiling water into them, then emptying it out.
4. Wait till the jam has cooled slightly, then pour it into the jars and seal.
5. Once you’ve started eating the jam, store it in the fridge.
Nic nacs. Yes, they’re pointless, but they do make your home look that much more homely. Picture frames and vases look nice on shelves, but what you really need are some quirky little bits and pieces to scatter amongst them.
At the moment, I’m a bit obsessed with those old printer’s letter blocks you can pick up in junk stores. You can spell out names; words that suit the room they’re in (‘couch potato’ for the living room?); or even go for punctuation marks (a collection of different sized ‘&’ signs grouped together looks particularly cool).
Only thing is, they can be expensive, and sadly not everyone has the time to go mooching around junk shops every weekend. So… cheat.
Dunelm Mill (www.dunelm-mill.com) have just introduced three new sets of printers blocks, spelling ‘Home’ in red or white; and ‘Love’ in white, for just £2.99 a set. Bargain! Want to personalise yours? Opt for the white set, and paint each letter (not the wooden block) a different bright colour.
Picture the scene. You’ve got your mate(s) round for lunch, they ask for the salt, and you whip out this little beauty. Your guests will go crazy!
Well, okay, I’m getting carried away. But at the very least, they’ll compliment you on your condiments.
With a friendly-looking egg-shaped salt shaker, pepper pot, two mini bottles for oil and vinegar, a toothpick holder and a little tub for mustard/ketchup/chutney all grouped together neatly in a white china egg tray, tableware doesn’t get much cuter than this.
At £34.95 from http://www.dwell.co.uk, it’s not particularly cheap, but it still costs way less than similar designer sets. It also means you can bin all those mismatched bottles and pots and show off your incredibly good taste at the same time. And that’s got to be worth shelling out a little eggs-tra for.