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The Unknown Frock

Monday, 25 February 2013

I have quite a good memory when it comes to clothes shopping, probably cos I don't do it often enough for things to blur and get mixed up in my brain. I can usually recall pretty accurately which shopping trip I bought something on, which charity shop it came from or more importantly, how much it cost.  This frock is a rare exception.  By process of elimination I now think it was from a local charity shop (possibly the weird little Animal Rescue place that has closed down now) but I have no real memory of where I bought it or when. I didn't even remember it was in the wardrobe until I came across it the other day.

And it's a funny one. It looks like crap on a hanger - just a big shapeless piece of black corduroy. It has no brand or size labels.  It has a whacking great hem (possibly taken up from something much longer). It has one pocket, not two, and that's found not on a side seam, but in a curious position closer to the middle instead.  Odd. I assume it was handmade. 

None of that really matters though, it just adds to the air of mystery. I'm very grateful to that unknown person who made it and then gave it away. It's the perfect charity shop find - fits me just right (ok, with the aid of a big belt but I think that helps jazz it up a bit) and made from such super thick, warm material that I don't want to take it off. I imagine it cost about a pound as well, so that's good! Oh how I miss that charity shop. Everything was BOGOF and they had the odd gem tucked away in the clothing rails.

Cord frock - who knows?
Gold flecked tights - Marks & Spencer
Belt - Primark
Shirt & ring - Dorothy Perkins
Shoes - c/o Matalan
Necklace - Accessorize

You know I can't resist a good wobbly, falling-over photo.

ps - apologies for the blurry photos. This is what happens when you take outfit pics at 4.30pm on a winter weekday and aren't very good at standing still.

Banana Gingerbread Loaf

Friday, 22 February 2013

I am always searching for new things to do with bananas. Oi, no sniggering at the back! I meant baking-wise. It’s a side effect of my extreme fussiness when it comes to bananas. I will only eat them if I’m in the mood and they have not a speck of brown on them. As soon as they start to ripen properly they make me want to vom. So we have a lot of brown bananas knocking around the kitchen! I still want to vom when I'm mashing them into various cakes/muffins but I can put up with it for the greater good. Cake = good.

I swear by a banana muffin recipe from a Weightwatchers recipe book but I wanted to try something a little different this time and came across this recipe for Banana Gingerbread Slices in a massive baking book I own.

4oz/115g soft light brown sugar
10oz/275g plain flour
4 tsps ground ginger
2 tsps mixed spice
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tbsps sunflower oil
2 tbsps black treacle
2 tbsps malt extract
2 eggs
4 tbsps orange juice
3 bananas
4 oz/115g raisins

The beauty of this recipe is that it takes substitutions really well and that’s a damn good thing because my baking cupboard does not contain malt extract (I left it out). Or mixed spice (I used cinnamon instead). Or indeed orange juice (we only had grapefruit juice which would not have worked in the same way!  I bunged in a bit of milk instead to get it to the normal cake consistency). I also reckon this would be lovely made with part wholemeal flour too – it doesn’t rise much in the oven.

To make it:

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the sugar, spices and bicarb.

Make a well in the centre. Add the oil, treacle, malt extract, eggs and OJ and mix together thoroughly. Mash the bananas into the mixture and stir in the raisins.

Mix well and put in your tin of choice.

The recipe calls for a baking tray but I chose to make it as a loaf cake so used my silicone loaf tin.

Bake at Gas Mark 4/180 C/350 F for about 35-40 min. It comes out looking quite gingerbready so don't worry about it looking dark.

If you use a loaf tin, give it an extra 20-30 mins so it all cooks through properly. You'll probably need to pop some foil over it partway through to avoid burning the top.

Leave it in the tin to cool for 5 mins and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Chop into chunky slices (it’s low fat, you might as well have more of it), make yourself a brew and it’ll disappear sharpish.

As with most of my favourite cake recipes, it doesn't look anything spectacular but it tastes bloody good.

Organising My Life

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

I sometimes think that my entire life is written down in one way, shape or form.  I blog. I tweet. I email incessantly.  It might be the digital age but I still like to write as well and it's an odd day when I'm not lugging around one of my 9000 notebooks. I use the notes function on my phone every now and then but let's be honest here, deleting something you've done is NOT as fun as drawing a big line through it.  All the to-do list apps seem to tick things off and that's just not right.

The bulk of my life goes in my diary. When I say diary, I mean writing-down-your-thoughts-diary, not appointment diary. I don't like to call them journals as it always seems a bit American and annoying but you know what I mean. The stack of notebooks in the above photo contains my life for the past 5 years or so.  I started writing a diary a few years before that (in the pre-blogging era) after reading a lot of autobiographies and books of diaries/letters.  It really struck me that we don't have that sense of physical documentation any more. I really don't think anyone will ever want to write an autobiography about a normal girl in Liverpool but if they did, what would they have as a document of my life? A load of scribbled notes and an overflowing email inbox?

I don't write it with any grand sense of purpose.  It's just there as a way of clearing my head at the end of the day and recording what's happened.  It's also very useful for recording what I've read that day - I'd have no chance of remembering them otherwise.  It takes up a certain chunk of time each evening but it's part of my night time routine now and life would be weird without it.

I'm fussy though.  My diaries must be A5 sized and have plain pages.  You wouldn't think they were that difficult to find but the A5 notebook market is about 98% occupied by ruled pages and I hate ruled lines for proper diary writing.  My current one is a beautiful Rob Ryan design.

When it comes to appointment-type diaries, I swear by Paperblanks. I've tried a few different designs and they're all really beautiful. One constant is the size. I struggle with A5 sized diaries for everyday life but these mini ones are big enough to write everything in, small enough to fit in my handbag and deliciously chunky to hold.

Oh work.  So chaotic at the moment that I'm running two massive A4 notebooks full of stuff to do.  The green one, as you can probably tell from the above photo, contains my daily to-do lists. The stripy one is full of slightly longer term planning type stuff. I'll get it all done one day.

For sheer kitsch value I have also this one.  It contains all my novel writing-related ideas and lots of middle of the night scrawls! Does anyone else get their best ideas when they're drifiting off to sleep?

The only thing I didn't have a special notebook for was my blog.  I'm trying to be more organised with it this year but up until a couple of weeks ago that organisation consisted of some scrappy bits of paper, vague ideas in my brain and some draft blog posts with just a title and a sentence written. Must do better.

I saw Rosie's post about personalised planners at the end of January and it spurred me into ordering one for myself.  A short while later this arrived:

The size I chose and the length of my blog name don't quite mesh, but I like the simplicity of it this way.

I chose the beautiful illustration that Sarah did for me on the front cover.

And an Instagram snap of one of my best ever charity shop moments for the back cover. I ninja swooped these Georgette Heyer hardbacks off the shelf in the Oxfam shop in Harrogate last autumn.  They were SO cheap!

A little bit of personalisation on the contact info page...

And a pretty starry header for the top of the pages, and it was done! Well, almost. I also added in a to-do list at the bottom of the other page (we have established that I love a to-do list, right?) and chose the address option for the back pages in the hopes that I might finally get round to writing them all down in the same place. 

I'm super pleased with it.


Monday, 18 February 2013

I don't usually do the whole giving-things-up-for-Lent thing. I'm not particularly religious so it doesn't seem vital to me and I already know full well that I'm capable of denying myself nice food. I did it for sodding ages when I was losing weight. The next 35 days or so won't see me giving up anything physical. Instead (and I'm trying not to sound too wanky and self-help guide here), I'm trying to give up being negative about myself.

It's hard.

For starters I'm English, therefore genetically incapable of being positive about myself without feeling immensely awkward. When it gets to annual PDR time at work I'm generally found gnashing my teeth and trying to think of inventive ways to describe what I've done over the course of the year without sounding like an egomaniac. And I am good at my job: I really am. If I was American I'd be whooping and "way to go Alex"-ing myself. But I'm not, so I don't. 

I'm quite horrible to myself a lot of the time, especially when it comes to my appearance. I take about 90 photos everytime I do an outfit post - thank goodness for the multishot setting. I am harsh when I go through them to select which ones to edit and use. I reckon if I bit the bullet and used most of the ones I discard for making me look too fat/treble-chinned/just plain weird, you probably wouldn't see what I see. You'd just see Alex wearing some clothes in front of a brick wall, looking much the same as normal . I would never read someone else's blog and think "god, she looks terrible in those photos", yet I do it to myself with 90% of the pictures I take.  

My default mode in outfit photos is always to stare at the floor and try and disguise the worst points about myself but this isn't possible when you rope in a family member to take photos and they're all "Look at the camera!" "Stop looking at the floor!" "Stop looking grumpy!" "Smile!" "Say sausages!"

So how do I word this without sounding negative? Um. I am not particularly fond of how I look in these photos.  But I do absolutely adore this new coat and it deserves to be shown off, so I shall show it off. It was quite a discovery. We used to have a Vero Moda in Liverpool but I think it's gone now.  I never shopped there much anyway so it's not a brand I tend to remember to look at online.  Equally I didn't expect to find it stocked at Spartoo: I associate them with shoes, not clothes! I came across it during an idle lunchtime browse and had to have it.

The Peter Pan collar is dead. Long live the Puritan collar!

It's such nice quality - lovely, warm material that makes it perfect for that spring weather when you don't want to bundle up in an ankle length winter coat but need something a bit more substantial than a summer jacket.  I like it when a piece of clothing makes you feel happier.

Dress - New Look via New Life
Cardi - Gap sale
Shoes - Next clearance

Here's to positivity and smiling more.

The moral of this story is that a tripod can never make you laugh like your mum can.

An Alternative Valentine

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day: big bag of bollocks.  Am I right?

I fully intend to continue the Odd Socks & Pretty Frocks tradition of scorning hearts and flowers and looking at beautiful people instead.  Join me and feast your eyes on this lot. I know they're mostly actors but this goes to prove my weakness: you shove almost anyone on a big enough screen for long enough and I'll probably think they're fit.

I'll go back to being respectable and non-ogly tomorrow, I promise.

Jai Courtney is new to my notice this year.  Can look a bit like a spud, can look unbelievably fine.

Well hello there Jeremy Renner and your ARMS.

Oh Gene Kelly. Swoon.

Step aside David Boreanz.  T.Y Thyne is my favourite man from Bones.

Excuse me whilst I have a Henry V moment...  Tom Hiddleston and Jamie Parker so close together...

There can't be one of these posts without some Henry Cavill.

Or Jake G.

I'm seriously excited about the prospect of seeing James McAvoy on stage soon. Practically on the front row!

Mark Strong. Cos bald men are sexy too...

Joe Hart.  For a certain someone who loves him.  I personally think he's a Labrador trapped in a human body but what do I know?

My footballer of choice is Danny Agger.  I adore him and all his tattoos.

My ginger of choice is always Damian Lewis. What a joy he is.

I've always had a soft spot for Matt Damon too.

Michael Weatherly. Making NCIS hotter since 2003.

Oh, Clive Owen. You should have been Bond.

Michael Fassbender. So full of testosterone he scares me a little.

I know I shouldn't like Eddie Redmayne (he's a complete skinny wretch) but I'm a sucker for freckles.

Gilmore Girls fans: you know these two are the best, don't you?

I would really love to cuddle Mark Ruffalo. That's all. Nothing saucy. Honest.

And I can't leave out my favourite woman ever. I looked like Drew when I was about 4. Shame it didn't last.