Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Healthy(ish) Brownie Recipe

I do love me a good slice of brownie and ever since I discovered this recipe from Healthy Food Guide it has been pretty high on my list of things to bake. Not only is it super easy to throw together, the recipe doesn't contain any butter so is a little bit better for you than your standard recipe. Bonus, it's pretty much foolproof to make, if like me you end up substituting ingredients all the time.

Rather than use walnuts like the recipe states this time I used mixed berries, but I will say - keep the berry proportions to half a cup as I've been overly generous in the past and the recipe turns into more of a mushy pudding than a brownie that is able to be eaten with your hands. Either way it is still blimmin' delicious and the apple puree gives it a nice flavour that is sweet without being too sickly.

1 cup unsweetened apple puree or sauce
1/3 cup cocoa
3/4 cup self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar (I like to use brown or raw caster sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
3/4 cups walnuts (or 1/2 cup mixed berries)

Step 1: Preheat your oven to 175 degrees and lightly spray or line a 20cm x 20cm baking dish.

Step 2: Place puree into a medium sized bowl. Sift in your cocoa, flour and baking soda. Add sugar and salt. Mix until just combined. Throw in the chocolate chips, walnuts or berries and gently fold into the mixture.

Step 3: Transfer mixture into a baking dish and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Step 4: Allow to cool for 10 minutes before dusting with icing sugar and slicing. Enjoy!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I am a serial re-reader of books. Sometimes I feel like revisiting a novel that I know makes me smile or feel something for the characters long after  have stopped reading and for that reason I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog for the second time. This is such a charming and yet unexpected book. The first time I was reading it I thought I knew exactly how it was going to end and then the ending completely suprised me.

Renee is the concierge of a very wealthy Parisian apartment building and from the outside she is probably like any other concierege - 'tolerable' rather than likeable, she introduces herself as old and fat and the owner of an oversized cat who likes to take long naps on embroidered cushions. Or at least, Renee has lived her life convincing her neighbours that she is like any other concierge.

But beneath her cover she is a lover of art and history, knowledgable about many ideas than any of her well-to-do neighbours. 12-year-old Paloma lives in Renee's apartment building. She is a precocious, highly intelligent child and on her 13th birthday she plans to set fire to the apartment building and commit suicide. When one of the inhabitants of number 7 Rue de Grenelle passes away the new owner, a Japanese businessman moves in. His friendship will change both their lives forever.

The book is told in chapter's alternating between Renee and Palomas lives throughout the story. What I loved most about this book is that yes, it is a cute story of unlikely friendship but reading Renee an Palomas thoughts, they really are people who see the world for all that it is. I love Paloma's witty take on the dull people her family associates with and the fact that Renee is always trying to hide her passion for arts and culture from the residents. Paloma is entertaining with her chapters detailing her profound thoughts - usually involving the stupidity of those around her.

Witty and intelligent, the Elegance of the Hedgehog is heartwarming and yet an unpredictable read. Have you read it?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Favourites Bookshelf

It's about time I did a round up of my favourite books . Choosing a favourite book is such a toughie as I find, like music, it really depends what kind of mood I am in and whether I feel like reading something to inspire, entertain or get lost into. I chose this selection of books because they are all titles that I can re-read multiple times and I still feel the same sense of emotion on the tenth read as I did on the first.

Bridget Jones' Diary. Bridget Jones never ceases to make me laugh. I absolutely love reading this book and in general it's the type of thing you can read to make you feel better about your own foibles.

Harry Potter 1-7. I adore all of the Harry Potter books and have read the whole series multiple times. I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite of the series. As well as obviously being a cracking good read I love the banter between Harry and Ron, and that Harry goes through the moody teenage years just like any other kid.

One Flew Over The Cukoo's Nest. This is one of the books from my Dad's collection that I just love to re-read. McMurphy, a tough drinking rebelious gambler treats his stint in a mental institution like a prolonged holiday. But his rebellion against Nurse Ratched turns into a dangerous game. Nurse Ratched has to be one of my most hated characters of all time and this book is at turns funny, shocking and sad.

Catch-22. I remember the first time I read Catch-22 and just being utterly perplexed at the entire plot. It's the kind of book that every time I read it again I pick something else up that I never quite got before. Yossarian, a WW2 bombadier is constantly coming up with schemes to get him out of flying more missions before he gets himself killed. Fans of dark humour will love this book.

To Kill A Mockingbird. Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird has to be one of my favourite characters of all time. There is such a complex range of emotions that this book brings out and despite it's heavy topic of justice in the segregated south Scout's character adds an element of humour and childhood innocence to the story.

High Fidelity. Even though I was only a child in the 90s this book has a real sense of nostalgia to it that only books about music can. Whe record store owner and music-obsessed Rob is left by his girlfriend he is left re-evaluating his life and past failed relationships. Rob is a seriously flawed and ultimately an anti-hero character. He's not even a nice guy and yet with the backdrop of great 90s music and a great sense of humour this book never fails to disappoint. A must read for anyone who loves a good laugh and doesn't take books to seriously or has a thing for 90s music.

Girl with a Pearl Earring. I have a deep love for historical fiction novels, mainly because I'm a history nerd at heart. I think the fact that Girl with a Pearl Earring is based upon such a famous real life painting the story has a realistic element to it that I can really get into. I love the way that Tracy Chevalier brings to life the relationship between artist and muse.

Have you read any of these titles? I'd love to know what are your favourite books!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Moreish Organic Skincare Review

You know that dreaded moment when multiple skincare products run out at the same time, and an online order that costs an arm and a leg is just something you don't want to do? This time rather than waiting I decided to opt for something I could pick up from the pharmacy that wouldn't cost me half my pay check but would still deliver results.

My usual mooch around the aisles of Priceline lead me to discover a new brand to me: Moreish skincare and let me tell you it ticks a lot of the boxes. Organic, natural skincare at a reasonable price. I picked up the Moreish Cream Cleanser, Exfoliator and Clay Mask to add to my stash and have been using them in conjunction with my usual moisturisers and serums.

First impressions: The Cream Cleanser smells amazing, kind of citrus-like but not in a synthetic way and it feels really gentle and leaves my skin feeling soft afterward. I've actually never used an exfoliator before but this one is so gentle. The exfoliating beads are very small and feel like tiny granules of sand as I buff it into my skin. The Clay Mask smells the same as the cleanser and after applying and washing it off my face my skin feels soft after use.

Week 1: Since using the Clay Mask the right side of my face has broken out in blemishes majorly. I literally have about eight pimples that have come to the surface and there are more blemishes that look like they want to rear their heads.

Week 2:  The blemishes have cleared as quickly as they appeared (about 2-3 days). I've been using the Clay Mask once a week and the exfoliator 2-3 times a week. Skin is clearer this week and the texture of my skin is smoother than usual.

Week 3: This last week I've only been wearing tinted moisturiser and concealer as my skin has been pretty good. I definately find that im getting smaller breakouts and less large spots that exist under the skin for a long time.

Verdict: Overall I have noticed the difference using an exfoliator and clay mask has made to my skin. Blemishes seem to appear and heal a lot quicker than before and my skin's texture is smoother in general. I think if you already use an exfoliator and clay mask and they work for you then these products aren't going to make much of a difference but if you are looking for an affordable, organic skincare brand Moreish certainly deliver on clean and fresh feeling skin.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Authors to Note: Joanne Harris

A few years ago now, a little book by the name of Chocolat was released and set the world alight for Joanne Harris. Chocolat would have to be my standout pick of her work but there is also plenty more on offer from this author who made us fall in love with chocolate and gave the world the gift that was Johnny Depp playing Roux in the film version. (If you are wondering I think the while the film is brilliant the book is even better.) If you haven't read Chocolat - a new visitor to a small French town Vianne Rocher causes a stir when she opens a chocolate shop in the town during the lead up to lent. It's a beautifully written story that mixes magic realism with drool worthy confectionary descriptions.

Five Quarters of the Orange, Blackberry Wine, Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes (also known as The Girl with No Shadow, it's the follow up to Chocolat) are all standouts. A lot of Harris' books are set in small villages in France and being half French half English herself, perhaps that is where her love of food comes from.

Defintely books to check out if like me you love reading about food. Harris has the ability to weave a touching story around the lives of her idyllic villagers all the while having you hungering for something to eat.

Have you read any of Joanne Harris' books?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

Books on business have never really been my thing. I remember at my old job my boss sent around an email containing the 'top 100 business books of all time'. The only one I had read was Dr Seuss' 'Oh The Places You Go,' which I'm pretty sure was only included to show that the editors had a sense of humour.

If, like me, you've never considered reading the likes of Warren Buffet then perhaps #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso is more your jam. I think what drew me to this book in the first instance, apart from the fact that it has been pretty popular on the blogosphere, is that it is essentially a business book for young women written by a young woman, and one who has had to figure out a hella lot of the business world on her own.

For those of you who are unfimilair - Sophia Amoruso is the CEO and Creative Director of Nasty Gal, an online e-retailer worth about $28million. With no college degree or experience in running a business she built Nasty Gal from an eBay store into a multi million dollar business in about seven years, all without borrowing a dime. Yeah, so she's kinda worth listening to.

Business on her own terms is really where Sophia Amoruso shines, and more than anything #Girlboss is a testiment to being successful in your own way. I've never had dreams of being a business owner yet I still found the majority of what Amoruso talks about inspiring. With gems like 'You are not a special snowflake' and 'Money looks better in the bank than on your feet,' Sophia's advice is grounded in the real world.

At under 250 pages (and its big type) this is not a very big book yet its filled with bite sized snippets of Sophia's journey and advice that she has picked up along the way. I think this is the type of book ill be picking up again and again to read through anytime I feel like I need a bit of a pep talk from someone who has a lot of sound advice to offer.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Beauty & Skincare Wishlist

I am partial to making wishlists on any and all types of online shopping retailers so I thought I would do a roundup of beauty and skincare goodies that have been on my radar as of late. They are all products I've never used before so if you have let me know if you would recommend them!

Stila Blusher. I have the shades Peony and Lilium on my wishlist on Beauty Bay just waiting for the day when I have some spare cash to make them mine. I've not got any cream blushers in my makeup bag so this is a new type of blusher I'm interested in trying out.

Moreish Cleanser. I have been looking for an organic skincare brand that delivers results but isn't as expensive as the likes of Antipodes. Moreish are available at Priceline pharmacies so they are definitely on my list of easy accessible skincare to try out very soon.

Philosophy Cinnamon Buns Shower Gel. With Christmas steadily edging closer this shower gel would make a sweet gift. I love the smell of cinnamon and it's a nice scent to use in summer as well as winter.

NARS Creamy Concealer. Nars are one of my favourite make up brands, their products are such good quality and they have so many covet worthy items. I know concealers aren't the most exciting thing in the world but Im yet to find a pharmacy brand concealer that actually works well at concealing.

NARS Lipstick in Shiap. Every time Youtuber Alix from I Covet Thee wears this lipstick in one of her videos I always find myself reading through the description bar to find out what it is. A punchy berry colour perfect for summer, Shiap is such a flattering 'notice me' shade.

Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel. Another cleanser (but hey, you always know they are going to get used) on the list has to be the much raved about Oskia cleansing gel.

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder. These beautiful highlighting powders have been raved about on many a beauty blog. The main thing that has put me off buying them (apart from the rather high pricetag attached to Hourglass products) is that many people have commented on getting the shades colour matched to your skin tone. Without a Mecca near me it's probably not going to happen but I still this powder is wishlist worthy if only to look at.

REN Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask. I'm all about adding radiance boosting products to my skincare regime. My skin can be a touch sensitive so this is a product I would probably approach with caution but I think masks used occasionally can make a big difference to the overall appearance of your skin.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Bedside Table Stack #2

In my last 'Bedside Table Stack' post I said that I rarely have a collection of books waiting to go but apparently I've gone and done it again. Currently my bedside table hoarding of books, looks a little something like this;

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso. I loved this book, it took all of about two days to read but is stuffed with all the stuff you want to know and none of the crap you don't. I will have a proper review of this up next week I think but Sophie Amoruso's story is nothing if not inspiring, and proof that hard work and a good idea is all it takes to succeed.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. I'm not entirely sure why I picked this up as from the outset the story sounds a tad morose but I do like to mix things up a little. The Shock of the Fall introduces us to Matthew, who is mentally ill. Matthew recalls the death of his brother Simon, a death he thinks he is responsible for and struggles to come to terms with.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. A retelling of Pride of Prejudice from the servant's perspective. This is a really intriguing book to me, it has had a few positive reviews so I'm excited to see what all the fuss is about. Usually I'm not down for 'Pride and Prejudice' reimaginings as they can sometimes read a little, well I'm not sure if desperate is the right word? But imagining the stark contrast of life below stairs is an altogether different take.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. This was on the bestseller list about a year ago and my mum mentioned it as a cute read the other day so I thought I would pick it up. Harold Fry lives a very routine life until one day he receives a letter from a dear friend of his who is in the hospice. On writing his reply to his friend Harold starts his urgent journey to deliver his letter in person some six hundred kilometres away on foot.

So there you go! Hopefully there will be full book reviews coming up around these parts over the next few months. I'd love to know, what are you reading at the moment?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Have You Read These Authors?

I'm always on the lookout for new authors to explore. There's nothing better than discovering a great book and knowing there is plenty more on offer from the author who wrote it. Here are some authors new to me who I am excited about getting into over the next few months and hope their offerings are as good as they sound!

John Green
I don't read a lot of Young Adult fiction, mainly because im in my mid twenties so just never really think to explore it much but this genre has just exploded in recent years with top-quality writing. The Fault in Our Stars is an obvious one to have on my must-read list but I'm also looking forward to reading Looking for Alaska.

Rainbow Rowell
First of all with a name like Rainbow Rowell it kind of makes me happy just thinking that someone with that moniker is writing books. Fangirl has been on my to-read list for yonks, but an author that also dabbles in books for adults as well as YA really intrigues me. Landline, Attachments and Eleanor and Park all appeal.

Jonas Jonasson
Jonas' quirky story lines and standout titles have become a hit in his native Sweden and I do love an unusual storyline. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared and The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden are titles to check out.

Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty's latest book Big Little Lies is something I have been wanting to read for a while but added to that is her books The Husband's Secret and What Alice Forgot are family-drama type books that sound really engaging and thought provoking.

If you have any recommendations of authors who have a few great titles to check out I'd love to know!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

New November Book Releases

It's November, which means it's time to talk about the new release books being published this month. I've rounded up some popular titles to get you inspired for the month to come. This November bookshelf includes time travel, the debut novel from a YouTube sensation and a couple of historical novels thrown in for good measure.

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes. The latest offerings from one of my favourite easy to read authors. Stella Sweeney has an ordinary life, working for her sister in a beauty salon and is married with kids. An ordinary life that no-one would be interested in stealing. But Stella's life is about to undergo a chain of events that will change everything. 

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. Whether or not you're a fan of the Youtube sensation, Zoe's debut novel is due to be released this month and it's already topping the charts for record pre-sales figures. A cute story about about the life of a girl online who is trying to cope with her newfound fame and keeping her identity a secret.

What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen. Late 19th Century Chicago and Marshall Field has made his fortune in the retail business and wins the heart of socialite Delia Spencer. As the Great Fire rips through Chicago, seventeen-year-old Delia watches as the flames destroy Chicago. Delia's world is about to change. As Marshall rebuilds his store after the great fire into an opulent deparment store, the likes of which the world has never seen before, Delia and Marshall will face tougher challenges than just what the fire can throw at them.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton. Ben Elton is one of those authors I've heard so much about but never gotten around to reading anything by him. I love the premise of this book - if you had one chance to change history, where would you go, what would you do, who would you kill? That's the question facing Hugh Stanton. It's 1914 and Europe is on the outbreak of war and Stanton must prevent history from happening.

The Italian Wife by Kate Furnivall. A tragic encounter with an orphaned girl leaves Isabella Berotti forced to protect the young girl and pry open the secrets of her own past to protect her. Set in Mussolin's Italy Isabella is about to discover some secrets are dangerous to discover. 

The Reluctant Elf by Michele Gorman. A cute story about single-mum and undomestic goddess Lottie, who steps in to help save her Aunt Kate's Bed & Breakfast. With Kate in hosptial, Lottie and her seven-year-old daughter must deal with a picky hotel reviewer and his dysfunctional family who are coming to stay over Christmas. Without the rating only he can bestow, Aunt Kate will lose her livelihood.

What new release books are you anticipating this November?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

The story of Frog Music takes us to San Francisco in the scorching hot summer of 1876. Smallpox has ripped through the city where we are introduced to  Blanche Beunon, a French burlesque dance who dances her way into mens' hearts and pockets at the House of Mirrors. On an ordinary walk home from her night dancing Blanche is bowled down by a woman dressed in men's clothing riding a Pennyfarthing and so begins the start of Blanche and Jenny's unusual friendship.

Jenny is a rebel dressed in men's clothes and a free spirit with no home of her own to lay her head. Jenny talks as she pleases but her free-thinking ways soon have Blanche questioning the life that Arthur and her have set up in San Francisco

The book opens on the night of Jenny's murder. Fleeing from Blanche's lover Arthur, a former circus performer and his companion Ernest, Jenny and Blanche have taken refuge in a railroad saloon when Jenny is murdered. Throughout the course of the book Blanche tries to piece together the murder, convinced that her ex-lover is responsible.

Donoghue brings the boom town era of San Francisco to life in vibrant colour but it is her creation of Jenny and Blanche as characters that is the stand out in this book. Blanche and Jenny are both written in such a way that despite not finding either of them the most warm or likeable characters, I can sure as imagine them both as real people.

For me the first half of this book was a little bit stagnant, I read on enjoying the scenes and general commotion that Jenny (told in backstory) causes in Blanche's life but it wasn't until I was a good halfway through the book that I found the plot really started to draw me in and Blanche's fighting spirit gave me something to root for.

As Blanche beings to dig deeper into the past of her murdered friend she soon starts to discover the she never really knew her friend Jenny. Blanche is a resilient woman and a strong character to boot who holds her own throughout the novel. Donoghue's set out to recreate not only a captivating time in history but her own take on true-life murder will leave you feeling suprised and satisfied. I even think Blanche could do with another book on the next chapter of her life.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reds For Spring/Summer

One month into Spring and I've been craving something a little more punchy than the usual pastels and soft pinks that get whipped out at this time of year. Enter my picks of two vibrant reds for lips and nails to get excited about - Essie's 'Really Red' nail lacquer and L'Oreal Color Riche lipstick in '115 Rouge Coral.' Both are pretty true reds neither being overly orange or pinky in tone, which I think makes them the perfect bright reds for warmer weather.

I've never tried a L'Oreal lipstick before but the pigmentation is actually pretty good with those one - managing to stay on through both dinner and drinks without coming off. It is a little bit smudgy though and doesn't dry down onto the lips. For those looking for a moisturising lipstick this is pretty much your man right here - the formula is not drying at all and just feels quite nice on the lips once applied. For dry lips its actually really nourishing although I'm thinking a touch of lip liner wouldn't go astray to help keep things in place.

I've always thought of true reds colours as being quite an old fashioned choice on nails but the Essie Really Red has a vibrancy to it that makes it stand out from its counterparts.Its really opaque with only one coat really needed (but two for luck). By day four things are getting a little chippy and I'm going to need a re-do but I think that's more down to the fact that my Essie Topcoat isn't the best.

Both these shades are so pretty and vibrant that even if you're not entering into the summer months they would add a nice pop of colour for the autumn/winter months leading up to Christmas! What are your favourite reds of the moment?
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