Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Book Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

As part of my school's Junior Reading Club, I am reading a number of books shortlisted for The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2015. This is an award presented annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. Past (and more known) winners include Meg Rosoff, Anne Fine and Philip Pullman, though what I love about the scheme is that more obscure authors are often put into the spotlight.
The first book that I have read is Sarah Crossan's Apple and Rain, published in August last year. The novel focuses on a thirteen year old girl named Apple, whose life is dictated by her not having a mother. Though she is happy living with her doting and sensible Nana, Apple feels distanced from the girls in her class and finds herself wishing for something more. Until one day Apple's glamorous, wannabe actress mother shows up, with a revelation; that Apple has a secret younger sister. Apple jumps at the chance to move in with her mother and sister, yet both come with their own quirks and issues that Apple must try to help them overcome.
Apple's story, told through her eyes, shows us the value of even the most unconventional of families, and how loyalty can be found in the most unexpected of places. With her English teacher spurring her on, Apple uses poetry to express her inner self and share her fears and desires with us the reader. The novel is written simply yet eloquently where need be. It is always written sensitively, delving into the everyday life of a budding teenager dabbling in first kisses and battling for a place in the popularity stakes. I suggest the audience of this novel to be for those in the lower years of secondary school. However, I enjoyed the book very much, as a moving piece of social realism and lyrical literature combined. It lacks the depth you would find in a John Green book, echoing instead tones of Jacqueline Wilson; in fact it reminded me a lot of The Illustrated Mum. The idea of having to connect with a mother and sister who are both effectively strangers is endearing, as is the question of successful parenting that is flagged up in the book.

Let me know what you think of Apple and Rain if you manage to get hold of it!

Love, Izzy

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

You Are Cordially Invited to an Easter Tea Party....

 From top left: John Lewis Felt Carrot Garland £8 / The Easter Home Daisy Ceramic Teapot £16 // Sass & Belle Pastel Easter Egg Hunt Arrow Sign £3.45 // Oliver Bonas Canary Garden Chair £59 // Not on the High Street Fretwork Easter Egg Sign £8 // Lindsay Interiors Ceramic Rabbit Spoon £3 // Laura Ashley Easter Egg Hunt Kit £7.50 // Sass & Belle Pastel Chevron Style Bunting £10.75 // Retro Easter Stickers by The Jellybean Studio at Etsy £2.07

Thinking about it, Easter is actually extremely close behind Christmas for my favourite time of year. The sun's usually shining and it's at least mild in temperature, the daffs and tulips pop out to delight, the lambs and bunnies are skipping out and about. Not to mention everything around this season is so pretty. If you hate pastels I can see why it wouldn't be for you, but I can't soak up enough of ice-cream hues that look good enough to eat. I picked out these beautiful decorative bits and pieces above as excitement really kicked in for me tonight while I was reading Country Living magazine! I must get these ceramic bunny spoons to go in our glass milk bottles along with pretty paper straws, and this egg hunt sign would look perfect on Florence the caravan. If you're sending Easter cards to faraway loved ones, these gingham and polka dot chick and rabbit stickers will make a lovely, vintage touch.
    We've already got our Easter tree up - it's made of a blossom branch and has little hanging, decorative eggs and chicks all over it (adorable) - and I'm looking forward to testing lots of seasonal recipes, including baking hot cross buns for the first time. My Grandad will run the annual Easter egg hunt, held this year in my auntie and uncle's garden, complete with excitable cats, labradoodle, springer spaniel and pug, and Bertie the baby tortoise. I hope if the weather treats us right that we'll then have some sort of feast outside on the decking, with bunting and blooms around us. There may even be a spot of hot-tubbing! I love that Easter is another precious opportunity to come together and embrace your family and friends.

What are your Easter traditions?

Love, Izzy

Sunday, 22 March 2015

TRAVEL: Budget European City Tour With Airbnb

Our first stop: Brussels and Bruges

So I literally just booked the last lot of accommodation for mine and Matt's European city trip in July/August. We would not have been able to plan this trip without discovering the genius app Airbnb! We originally started by looking at hostels, low star hotels and general B&Bs but struggled to find places to suit us and for the right price. First observations were that Amsterdam was really, really expensive all round - the hostels were dingy and not even cheap; Paris prices weren't as bad as we'd thought but places sold out quick; some hostels in all the cities we wanted to go to were bordering on the same price as nice rental apartments we had seen. Naturally we went for a bit of luxury over proper budget accommodation. Matt said he didn't actually mind, but I argued that girls need places they can photograph for Instagram! I admit I do need pretty cushions, glasses, toiletries and flower vases and free juice and waffles... Saying that though, we have stuck to our decided budget of £500 each for ten nights accommodation, our Interrail passes and Eurostar return tickets. In fact, the final figures have come in at £492 each which is amazing as I love every one of the five places we have organised to stay in.

The Brussels apartment
Details that matter!
Den Haag
Amsterdam canal
These are all booked through Airbnb. We're starting in Brussels, staying on the fourth floor of a traditional house in the centre, near to the Grand Palais and a famous fresh produce and flea market. The apartment has a beautiful balcony and I can't wait to look over the city by day and night and hopefully spot the Atomium and other landmarks. After three nights there and a day trip to Bruges, we'll head to Amsterdam to stay in another gorgeous studio apartment, this one more contemporary. While in Amsterdam I really want to hire bikes and cycle along the canal and to all the pretty parks for Dutch picnics! Of course, we will visit the museums and sights- I'd love to visit Anne Frank's house. After another three nights in total in Amsterdam we'll travel about an hour to Den Haag, or The Hague. I've heard that this city, although close to Amsterdam, is a must see as it's slightly more quirky and hip, plus it has a gorgeous-looking beach! We're staying for just one night and hoping to spend our day sunning ourselves; it will be a nice change from walking city streets in the heat. On from there, we'll travel to Lille, staying one night in a characterful little apartment and seeing things like the Palais Beau Arts and the Musee d'Art Moderne. Our final stop will be Paris - we've wanted to go for ages now and we're doing it properly, staying right by the Sacre Coeur in the midst of lively Montmartre.
The Amsterdam studio flat
Lille apartment exterior
Pretty Amsterdam living area
The Montmartre apartment
Airbnb is so easy to browse on and book accommodation. You have to sign up and verify your ID by uploading a picture of your passport or driver's license before you can request to book anywhere, but that's the most complicated it gets. Tips would be to read each listing really carefully and make sure any questions you've got are answered before you commit; you can contact each host via the app and all conversations are saved. Take time to research the area of the accommodation you're interested in as sometimes it isn't listed as specific. We used Google maps on street-view to see exactly where we might be staying. Check the safety of the area, that it's at least near everything you want to see, the public transport access.

Honestly, the app has endless, enviable places to stay all over the world. It's so fun to browse even if you're not heading off anywhere anytime soon. Also, if any of you have been to any of the places we're visiting and have any hotspot recommendations, please let me know in the comments! 

Happy holiday hunting!

Love, Izzy

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Top Ten Pins for Foodies

Earth Day Cookies, strawberry and elderflower cake, melon & blackberry & mint salad, salted caramel milkshake.

Pinterest is the ultimate place for foodie inspiration: though I struggle to trace the actual recipes most of the time, glorious photos such as these get my cooking clock ticking. These Earth Day cookies are the most genius use of food colouring I've seen yet. This dainty cake is just the sort of thing I would want for my wedding; understated, country, cute. This fruity salad looks the absolute perfect combination for the transition into summer, and this milkshake...well, you can't beat salted caramel.

Natural coloured rainbow cake, roasted broccoli with toasted almonds, lemon & pecorino cheese.

This cake is amazing; I think these are real, pressed flowers as obviously it says natural colouring. They make what looks like a simple recipe so sweet and pretty. I adore broccoli - it's probably my favourite veggie - and I have an unhealthy obsession with cheese, so this concoction is right up my street. It looks divine, and healthy, and it's a bit of a different light lunch option!

Chocolate easter egg cake, homemade rosewater marshmallow, pistachio and seasalt brownies, penne with butternut squash, sage and pine nuts.

For easter baking inspiration, look no further! This sponge is fail-safe but characterful. I would have no idea where to start with making marshmallow, but there's plenty of tips on the web and I have fancied using rosewater in my baking for a while now. These little pink cubes would be adorable for a tea party table. Brownies are undoubtedly a classic, but the nuts and salt give them a little twist here. One of my favourite combinations ever is chocolate with seasalt. Finally, I had to squeeze in another pasta dish because italiano is the besto. Pine nuts = heaven.

I'd love to hear what foods you're crushing on, tried and tested or not!
Follow me on Pinterest @vintagebeauty92.
Love, Izzy

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sunday Stories: Mother's Day Love & Loss

Today was always going to be a strange and sad day - the first Mother's Day without my amazing nanny. The day still had to be special for Mum - I bought her this gorgeous hare cushion that she picked out. There's now a running joke in our house that whoever sits on this cushion has a hare-y bottom.... only in our family! This morning, Dad made Mum and I toasted soldiers and dippy eggs, which we ate in bed with Gen. Puppy even bought Mum a little present: a cute pocket mirror with a dog like her and the caption 'Happy Days!' on the front.

At lunchtime we went to visit my Dad's mum who's in a home now and then we picked up my Auntie and headed to one of our favourite seaside pubs to eat. I literally had the most delicious meal I think I've ever had -sea bass with dill and caper butter on a bed of crushed potatoes, and lots of fresh, crispy salad. Mum and I then shared a calorific chocolate fudge cake to finish off! Naughty! 

We visited the cemetery for the first time this afternoon to leave Nanny a beautiful plant and a card from us all. It's been seven months now and I'd been putting this off. For anyone else dealing with loss and feeling too anxious to visit loved ones in their memory, it wasn't scary at all and actually made me feel so much better. The grounds were so tranquil and well-kept and there were plenty of other people there spending time with loved ones; watering flowers and leaving balloons. It made me think how there's so much confrontation in this world but we are ultimately all laid to rest together in peace. I like thinking that Nanny has everyone else in that church ground, including her Mum and probably people she once knew. 

Happy Mother's Day to every mother and mother-to-be, whether they are here or in loving hearts. 

Love, Izzy

Sleep tight Nanny x

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Cutest Cards Ever: Two Bad Mice

These are my favourite set of cards in the world and I wanted to share them with you. Made by a company named Two Bad Mice, these beautiful quality gift cards originate in Lampeter, Wales, and currently 20-30 artists sketch the designs. These nine are all by my preferred artist, Anita Jeram. She is actually the illustrator of the much-adored, "Guess How Much I Love You" books. I can't put into words how cute these cards are! Matt's Mum actually bought me the top middle one as it reminded her of me and Gen! There's a teeny independent shop in my local town of Sandwich that has a big stand of these cards and everytime I go in I want to buy another. I could look at them all day and coo over the adorable little animals and their touching messages. It's a funny thing for these carefully adorned pieces of paper to cheer you up so much, but I genuinely feel these cards bring a little light and love into the world. I buy them over and over as tokens of appreciation. I also think they would look gorgeous framed on a sort of feature wall. That's now my aim- to collect up my very favourites to decorate mine and Matt's future (dream) cottage.

http://www.twobadmice.com/  //  http://www.anitajeram.com/

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Sunday Stories: Shortbread Buttons & Introducing Florence!

Here we are on the second Sunday of spring... and the sun came out to play! I love winter and was so disappointed that we didn't get proper snow. But I do feel happy when I'm woken by the sun lighting up my room from corner to corner. It was the perfect weather today for a brisk walk with Gen around the country lanes. All the flowers seem to be perking up too and I'm looking forward to when our garden is all fancy again. A huge highlight of the nicer weather is that we can start making the most of Florence, our caravan! This is a sneak peek of her; Mum's only just spring-cleaned her but we're hoping to add some more bits and bobs to her living area and we're planning to repaint her exterior a lovely, soft pink! She's been duck egg blue since we got her a few years ago. I found these little Observer books in Florence on the top shelves; I think they're so adorable and in amazing condition for their age. They were brought out from 1937 and reprinted up to the early 2000s but these are Mums' or Dads' so I'm guessing they have a few decades of history behind them!

Two highlights of my weekend were that Matt and I discovered this tiny farmshop in the village, where we bought two huge cooking apples to make a delicious Saturday night crumble. I'd heard about the shop but not been before so I'm excited to pop along regularly and buy fresh fruit and veggies for my juicer. Then, this afternoon I made these pretty shortbread buttons and bunnies (with a bit of help from Mum!) They are truly scrummy and I think they look so sweet. I was so pleased with the bunny cutter, picking it up at The Cupcake Cafe Shop in Margate for 50p last weekend. I got the idea for the button shapes from a recipe book this morning. It's super simple, you just use something circular (we used a bottle top) to make the smaller circle imprint, then you use a cocktail stick to create the holes. You do this to the pre-baked dough and voila!

I'm feeling really preoccupied this weekend as Matt and I have been busy planning a European trip for July/August. We're hoping to get interrail passes and go between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Koln and Luxembourg in ten days. We're in the process of finding all our accommodation and the excitement is just building so much in me that I can't get on with what I should be doing (revising for a Maths test)!

I hope you've all had fantastic weekends in the sunshine!

Love, Izzy

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Sunday Stories From by the Sea

I've had two days by the seaside this weekend and it's been so nice to breathe in that sea air, despite the wind and rain on Saturday as Matt and I trekked to Margate. Margate actually featured in Vogue a few years back for its eclectic mix of vintage shops and funky bars. It is run-down in places, but along the beach front is a strip of hidden gems. We wanted to visit a favourite cafe of ours called The Cupcake Cafe - it's particularly good as it does gluten free bread and cake for Matt - but when we got there it was absolutely packed. Instead, we wandered along the front and found a quirky looking cafe we hadn't seen before called The Harbour. We had these lovely window seats (with high, wrought iron stools) overlooking the promenade and this pretty jar of orange and pink roses. To eat, I chose a homemade beef burger with fries and salad, and Matt went for the classic ham, egg and chips. Both went down extremely well and we left for our next venture into the Turner Centre feeling full.

The Turner Contemporary is one of the UK's leading galleries, founded in 2011 to commemorate and build on the artist JMW Turner’s association with the seaside holiday town. I've wanted to go there for a while but we especially fancied it this weekend as Matt knew there was an exhibition entitled 'Self' on. The large and open upstairs gallery featured a kooky collection of self-portraiture, mixing legendary and modern representations of identity. We both found certain pieces that we were really drawn to; Matt even noted down the construction note of one piece as inspiration for his uni work. Downstairs was an intriguing little exhibit called "Blank Canvas: The Lion". Blank Canvas is actually a group that meet at the gallery and they put this collage of ideas together themselves. The point of this exhibit is to collate information about this mysterious character, Mr Lion. We were given hints to piece together the persona of Mr Lion, such as the possessions in his suitcase and his companions, as well as written wall clues like the one above. I think it's good to do something cultural once in a while, especially when we're lucky enough to have it on our doorstep. Otherwise the closest bit of artwork is really London! The view from the Turner onto the rock pools was gorgeous too.

A highlight of our Margate trip was that we discovered this amazing shop named Doggie Apparel. They sell adorable handmade collars and leads in plaid pastels, special dog treats in cute little jars, dog beds, dog canvases....everything you could want if you're a canine person. You can also bring your pup into the shop with you, though it was pretty narrow and I'm not sure Gen would fit! We saw three smaller doggies in there: a dachshund, chihuahua and a terrier, all being treated to new clothes or accessories!

Sunday followed on nicely with another seaside stroll, this time with my parents and of course, Gen. It was windy but beautiful as we walked from Walmer to Kingsdown, then stopped at the Zetland pub to quench our thirsts! We had a minor issue with Gen.... she's gained this habit of chasing bikes; she gets so excited but it happens completely out the blue, it's not every single bike. We lost her to two but she did come back, then on our return walk to the car she chased this man on his bike for literally about half a mile. It really is quite dangerous but Mum and I just couldn't shout for her to come back as we were giggling so much! She was zigzagging behind this bike and barking, tail wagging wildly. It was funny at the time as she was so animated, though it's not something we want her to be doing. We don't want her or anyone else to get hurt. She may be the cutest dog in the world but she is very disobedient and she got very told off!

This afternoon Mum and I have attempted to make mini meringues, using my Meringue Girls cookbook (our first go!). I personally think they tasted delicious (we picked almond and strawberry essence) but they did not come out quite as planned! We've decided it went downhill when we tried to make them rainbow coloured...the food colouring made them a bit soggy! We had fun making them though, despite the result! Mum ended up with mixture on her nose as usual! I know where I get my muckiness from...

Please let me know what you've been up to this weekend!

Love, Izzy