Gifts For Me, I Mean Her: The British Edition

I bloody love being British.

I’m very proud of our country and the lovely lives we are able to have here: the NHS, our schooling system, the British companies I work for and with, the epic brilliance that is our capital city of London, the beauty of our countryside. Despite thinking I was always a bit wanderlust-y I can say with certainty that there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather live. Crap weather, imperfect politics and all.

As I get older I find I like to do lots more British things. I’ve just been on a weekend break to the Lake District for example (with my wellies and my wax jacket!), and you could not pay any money to part me from my weekly stroll around my favourite British supermarket (Waitrose) with a cup of English Breakfast and the Times in my trolley. I’m taking Elfie out for her first afternoon tea next weekend and I really enjoy a jolly old moan (I also enjoy saying ‘jolly old…’).

I’m so British you can call me sodding Mary Poppins. Though I don’t have her patience with small people, unfortunately.

So this year I’ve decided to go very patriotic in my approach to Christmas shopping. I’ve decided (weirdly, maybe) that all presents I buy for friends and family will be from British companies. Why? I DON’T KNOW. But here’s my very British rundown of stocking fillers for women (clue: some of you might need a bigger stocking):

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1. My very favourite wax jacket is from my very favourite British countryside company, Joules. But because I can’t afford one of their lovely jackets for everyone (sorry) their bath and body sets are a very acceptable replacements. My favourite is this Blooming Brilliant Weekend Bag at £45, which is not only choc full with treats but is a re-usable tote bag too.

2. If you have any new mothers in your life – STOP! Don’t look any further for a gift for them than the lovely hand-crafted jewellery company Epanoui. I love how everything Hannah produces is specially made by her just down the road from me and I can personally vouch for how gorgeous her pieces are. If I’d just had a baby I’d love nothing more than one of Epanoui’s Heritage Name necklaces (£65). Really stunning.

3. Epanoui again, but this time to their range of linen scarves. Nothing says class like a lovely scarf (really!) and my favourite is the Amelie at £49.

4. If you really really love someone, have a think about splashing out on a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper for them. I bought the Grosvenor (£100) for my parents last Christmas and, despite shedding its straw-like filling all over the carpet, it was very happily received.

5. For something a little different, how about personalised nail varnishes? Enail are a new company who print your own label on your own choice of nail varnish colours (£19.95) before delivering them to the recipient. I love this idea – watch out for a giveaway from them soon.

6. There aren’t many lovelier things than receiving flowers, and with Bloom and Wild‘s subscriptions you can gift someone with a whole year’s worth! Their packages start at £50 for three bunches.

Thanks to Joules for working with MTT!

Shoe Shopping For Kids With Dr. Martens

IMG_1888We love shoes in our house. I love them because, well, I just do. Flats, heels boots… I’ll take ‘em all. Elfie loves shoes as sparkly as she can get; pink monstrosities that I always vowed I’d never buy a daughter of mine until I was won over by the sensibilities of Clarks. Damn you, Clarks. Hux loves shoes, but mostly mine or Elfie’s shoes, his particular favourite being a pair of tartan wellies with bows on.

We’re an interesting bunch when it comes to our footwear.


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So a few weeks ago when Dr. Martens invited us in to their Milton Keynes store we were really excited. Time dedicated to looking for new shoes for my feet loving twosome? Perfect!

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I haven’t been that aware of the DM brand in the last few years. Back at school they were THE shoe to have and when I worked at Vice the cooler, more punky creatives would wear them. I was excited to check out how they’d evolved over the last few years and to see what their kids’ range was like.

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So off we went to the store in Milton Keynes!

The shop itself was lovely. There was no pumping music and overwhelming customer service a la Office, just plush carpets, a vintage sofa and quietly welcoming staff. Speaking of whom, the lady who served us was fantastic with the kids; Elfie is always ever so well behaved but in such an exciting situation Hux has a tendency to be a little more, shall we say, spirited. They took it in their stride and didn’t seem to mind my little terror – and the lollies certainly helped!

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Elfie was overjoyed at the prospect of choosing her own shoes and headed straight for the Mary Janes. We tried on a couple of pairs before she decided on the patent version, and very pleased she is with them too! I love to see her tastes develop as she gets older and am all kinds of chuffed that she gets as excited about shoes as I do ;) These ones are comfy and look great, and will be perfect for when she starts school in September.

Hux was slightly more frenetic when it came to trying on shoes so together we quickly chose a pair of boots. Now, I don’t often go ga-ga over kids shoes (far too sensible for that) but these are just GORGEOUS. They are so incredibly cute and really do turn him into a proper wee man. Happy sigh – I love them.

IMG_1910 IMG_1908 IMG_1906We left Dr. Martens having had a really lovely shopping experience, and treated the well-behaved (well, 50% of them were) babies to a Pizza Express lunch. The least said about that the better; just know that Hux came home with butter in his hair that evening.

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Thank you so much to Dr. Martens in Milton Keynes for treating my two to a new pair of shoes and for showing us a thoroughly wonderful shoe shopping experience! We will definitely be back.

Dr. Martens, 91 Silbury Blvd, Milton Keynes MK9 3AG

For 10% off at the Milton Keynes store just show this blog post to the sales assistant – happy shopping!

 

 

Terms and Conditions

For 10% off at Dr. Martens Milton Keynes store – show this blog post in-store on a smart phone or print out. Discount is valid until 21/8/14 and cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer or discount. Discount is at the discretion of the store manager.

#MorrisonsMums and a Paleo Shepherd’s Pie

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Last week we did our supermarket shopping a little bit differently; thanks to the lovely ladies at BritMums I was sent £80 to be a #MorrisonsMum and do my weekly shop at my local Morrisons. Morrisons have recently cut the prices on thousands of their products, they say not temporary reductions but new everyday low prices on things we buy every week. They claim we’ll notice the difference with every shop so I was really keen to test their claims.

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For the last year I’ve been a fully paid-up member of the Waitrose Wankers club. Eating fresh and, where possible, organic produce is so important for me and I’ve always enjoyed the selection and quality of the food on offer at Waitrose. I seem to spend so much time at the supermarket (I do one big shop a month and 1-2 little ones a week) so it’s important to me that the experience is as easy and as stress-free as possible. But shopping at Waitrose does mean that I spend a lot of money on my groceries. I try to balance this by having a finely-tuned meal plan each week so we waste minimal food and because there’s only three of us we rarely buy expensive cuts of meat. I was interested to see how a shop at Morrisons would compare with my old faithful Waitrose.

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So how was the shopping experience? It was actually pretty good. There was a great selection of vegetables and I loved browsing up and down market street looking at them all. Even my old favourite Waitrose doesn’t sell samphire! I also loved all the flowers on offer which were at great prices; I’m a big fan of having cut flowers in my home and at £5 for two bunches they were great value for money.

The herbs were magnificent and put Waitrose’s to shame – I picked up a huge bunch of parsley and a living coriander – but there was no mint left.

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There were a couple of other things I found either weren’t sold or were sold out though this might have been because of the time I was shopping (Bank Holiday Monday afternoon, not ideal). I couldn’t find any ready-ripened avocados, coconut milk, kale or pomegranate seeds (for this recipe), total middle class problems, right?

Morrison’s is a big supermarket. I usually buy a mixture of own-brand and branded products but at times I was quite overwhelmed at the range of produce on offer. There were loads of different brands, so many different options with whichever product you might like to buy. I like their ethos of having an in-store butcher and made use of that with a lovely piece of pork belly and organic chicken legs. I also picked up a packet of beef mince (full price) but when I got home realised it expired the next day so had to bung it in the freezer – my bad, should have checked the date, but still slightly disappointing.

One thing I’ve always loved about Morrisons is the selection of freshly baked products they have at the bakery. I stayed away from the puddings this time (thanks Paleo) but the pies looked incredible. I picked up a couple of pizzas which were great value and put together at the deli in-store and the kids really enjoyed these for dinner this week.

My big shop using the list above (including a couple of bottles of wine) came to a grand total of £100.25 which I was pretty pleased with. It felt like I’d done a very decent-sized shop and I was certain a similar load at Waitrose would be at least £20 more expensive. In the interests of research I logged on to MySupermarket and inputted all items on my receipt to see; surprisingly I was wrong and Morrison’s was cheaper by £13.37. A small amount I thought, though if you spent this much each fortnight (as I do) that’s a saving of £320.88 a year. Not insignificant!

Morrison’s challenged me to create a bank holiday meal with their produce and blog about it, so here goes. This is a real favourite in our house – Paleo Shepherd’s Pie. It has a sweet potato topping which I much prefer to normal potato; the sweetness is fantastic with the lamb and it’s much less stodgy. I sneak extra peas into the pie for the kids and serve mine with a big salad. It’s delicious, warming and healthy! Yum. It’s also fantastic value with the products I bought from Morrisons – it serves four and comes in at £1.65 a head.

Paleo Shepherd's Pie

 

4.0 from 1 reviews
Paleo Shepherd's Pie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 small sweet potatoes
  • 25g butter
  • 1 lamb stock cube
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 100g frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Sprinkle of cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. Start by finely chopping your onion and frying over a medium heat until it starts to soften. Add your garlic cloves (finely chopped) and cook for another 5 minutes.
  2. In goes the lamb - cook until nicely browned all over.
  3. Add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, lamb stock cube and water. Mix well and leave to simmer over a low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, peel and cube your sweet potatoes. Add them to a saucepan and cover with cold water. Cook on a high heat for around 15 minutes, or until soft.
  5. When the potatoes are done remove from the heat and drain well. Add the 25g butter and a pinch of salt and pepper and mash until smooth. Put to one side.
  6. When the lamb is fully cooked add the tsp of honey and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Add the frozen peas and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  7. Pop the lamb in a large baking dish and spread the potato over, using a fork to get lots of lovely ridges that will crisp up. Sprinkle a handful of cheddar cheese over the top.
  8. Cook at 190 degrees C for 25 minutes, or until all lovely and golden brown on top.

 

So am I a Morrisons convert? I have to say the cost savings are impressive. I noticed the difference in prices as I was browsing the fresh produce and I definitely saved on nappies and loo roll. I’ll be back to buy these and some other storecupboard staples but for my little shops I’ll probably still nip down the road to Waitrose. With the free newspaper, free tea, the fact their staff know my kids names and the quiet middle class shopping experience… I’m just a bit too attached to a supermarket, aren’t I?!

Thank-you Morrisons and Britmums for sending us shopping vouchers :) 

Springtime At The School Gates

Hi More than Toast readers! I’m Katie and Alice has very kindly allowed me to write this post for you. With each passing season it seems fashion rules relax even further, meaning you can wear the same pieces for work and play – and from season to season – if you choose them carefully. Thanks for having me!

I know we’re all still in our thickest winter woollies, but it’s never too early to start planning next season’s wardrobe, particularly when you can pick up some of spring and summer’s key trends now. For me, my wardrobe has to be pretty multifunctional – cosy enough to walk the kids to school in the morning, smart enough if I’m going into the office or comfy enough to wear if I’m working from the kitchen table at home. And while pieces that tick all those boxes can be tricky to find, I’ve already got my eye on a few…

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Subtly sheer

Sheer fabrics were another big trend on the 2014 runways. And because sheer pieces are bang-on-trend most seasons, vintage boutiques and sites are a great place to pick up blouses that are true multi-taskers. This polka dot blouse from Rokit looks very Stella McCartney but at a fraction of the price. I’ll be wearing with leather look skinnies and ballet flats for a gorgeous off duty look or tucked into black trousers for work.

New season flats

While fashion and practicality don’t always go hand-in-hand, when it comes to footwear, it was all about the flat during New York Fashion Week’s spring summer 2014 show. There were Helmut Lang’s white mesh slip ons, Peter Som’s psychedelic brogues and Oscar de la Renta’s floral pumps. These flats from Heels.com take in many of next season’s trends with their white, lasercut styling. I’m going to be wearing mine with wide-legged or cropped straight legged trousers or to give a bit of an edge to a girly floral tea dress.

The classic trench

When it comes to spring cover ups, you simply can’t go wrong with a classic trench coat. It’s a wardrobe staple that you’ll wear and wear, which transcends seasons and years. Burberry’s spring summer 2014 runway show, as always, showcased the most stunning trench coats. This time round, the designer most famous for iconic cover ups sent models down the catwalks wearing beautiful pastel hues including lilacs, minty greens and sky blues. But, given that I end up spending more on my little ones clothes than mine these days, my budget doesn’t quite stretch to Burberry. Instead, I’ve been scouring the high street and I love the gorgeous soft khaki version from La Redoute. It has stunning peplum detailing on the back meaning you can wear over everything from workwear to a LBD or just with a pair of jeans for the school run.

The statement necklace

A key look for many seasons, the statement necklace is showing no signs of falling out of favour. It’s one of my favourite go tos when I’m rushing around fitting in the 9-5 with doing the school run. By wearing a pair of black skinny trousers and a white t-shirt with my parka and high tops to take the kids to nursery and school, I can add low heels, my necklace and blazer for a work look which is smart enough for meetings with the boss. This Marni necklace is stunning. It’s pricey but would work with everything. I’d wear over t-shirts, under the collar of a crisp white shirt or to liven up my little black dress.

The slouchy trouser

We’ve been squeezing ourselves into skinny jeans for seasons now. And, while a great pair of skinnies, particularly a high-waisted pair, can be super flattering, it’s great to see a slouchier silhouette appearing. I’ll be wearing mine like the models in the Karen Walker show, turned up and teamed with brogues, a cropped sweater and a blazer. This pair by Serbian designer Roksanda Ilincic combines this season’s checks with next season’s slouchiness – the perfect transitional piece.

A Christmas Girly Day Out

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I realised something the other day when I was scanning through iPhoto. Since I separated from my ex-husband at the beginning of the year I have barely taken any photographs with my DSLR. It’s all been Instagram, VSCO cam-filtered pictures that are all vintage-y and trendy.

I can’t quite work out why that is. There were a couple of issues with the autofocus (which I think I’ve fixed now, wooh) but it’s gotten so bad that I think I’ve almost forgotten how to use the darned thing. I had a very frustrating time last week when I was trying to snap the kitchen for your viewing pleasure – I love my new kitchen – and I kept getting the exposure horribly wrong. But me and the DSLR, we worked out our differences right before I threw it out the window and resorted to my iPhone and the lens will live to see another day.

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(Actually, camera buffs: I’m using a 5 year old Canon EOS 400d with this lens but it’s really quite limiting. Should I get another lens or a more portable camera? I’ve always loved the look of the Olympus PENs… a gal can dream)

So one of my New Years Resolutions this year will be to cart my camera around with me. There’s no excuse not to: my handbag is always of epic proportions thanks to all the Playdoh and Peppa memorabilia I seem to need on my person at all times. Where I go, the Canon goes.

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And so it came with me one lovely lunchtime last week. My friend Bryony and I made a date to take our eldest girls out to lunch and for an afternoon’s shop. It’s very rare I will spend time with Elfie, just her and me. Hux and I have a real double act thing going on thanks to Elfie’s 5 mornings at pre-school, but not me and E. So to take her on such a special day out was a real treat, and something both of us enjoyed.

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We started our trip the way all shopping trips should begin, with Prosecco, pizza and flirting with the young handsome Pizza Express waiter. The girls (Elfie and Frankie not Bryony and me) stuck stickers onto their children’s menu while B and I gossiped about boys, friends and the internet. Bryony put me to shame by ordering a superfood salad and I ate three quarters of a pork belly and apple sauce pizza. It was as good as it sounds.

(Another sidenote: Pizza Express have this festive menu at the moment and not only does it start with Prosecco but it ends with Limoncello. If you are a busy mum looking for a relaxing lunch you could do much worse than to imbibe some Christmas spirits with your pizza ;) Please drink responsibly etc etc).

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When we were done we took off to Claire’s, who had kindly sent us a voucher so we could start teaching our kids all about consumerism ;) In all seriousness, I don’t often take Elfie shopping for things just for her, for special treat times; toys and things she needs are saved for birthdays and Christmases, and anything in between is usually bought by me over the internet. So with the exception of good old Waitrose cakes she doesn’t really experience many things being bought for her.

It was really liberating to hand our girls shopping baskets and tell them to choose some treats. I have had some pretty good  experiences through this blog but seeing how happy that made Frankie and Elfie is up there with the best of them. Both the girls were so excited that they were able to choose presents for themselves; smiles and shrieks all round.

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I think one of the reasons Frankie and Elfie get along so well is that they’re both quite girly girls. I’ve always been really careful to buy gender-neutral toys, to not dress Elfie in pink and to let her be her own person. But still she gravitates towards the glitter, the tiaras, the Hello Kitty. Frankie is fairly similar (girlfriend has an enviable handbag collection by the way) so I think Claire’s was kind of like heaven for both of them.

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A good half an hour later and we were done, with two bags brimming with girl toys. Inexplicably, both girls had selected One Direction pens alongside necklaces, bracelets and of course the toddler favourite of the matching tiara and wand. Or in Elfie’s case, non-matching. She would not hear me when I tried to tell her that pairing gold and silver was a bit of a faux pas.

On the way out to the car we took the girls to see the Christmas decorations in the main hall of the shopping centre. I love them so much, my mum used to bring me to look at the lights and see Father Christmas every year there when I was younger so it’s such a pleasure to do the same with my little girl. Bryony and I had a ride on the carousel with our little princesses and then it was off home to show off (and reluctantly share) our loot with Hux.

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The day made me realise how important it is to make time for your children, not just together but as individuals. I got so much out of the afternoon we spent together and I think she did too: she really enjoyed the one on one mummy attention, free of the errand running and domesticity that our days are usually filled with.

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Thank-you Claire’s, not just for treating us and our girls but for making me think a bit harder about the relationship I have with Elfie and for giving us that special afternoon together. And thank-you Tescos clubcard points for my meal at Pizza Express ;) Buying restaurant vouchers with my points makes me feel slightly less angry at the cost of petrol and loo roll.

Getting dressed: Winter Jumpers

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It’s taken 28 years, but I think I’m finally at a place where I feel happy with the clothes in my wardrobe. I know what I like, I know what I feel comfortable in and I know what (I think) looks good. I try to steer away from reverting to my ‘mumiform’ (more on that here) and I really have Gap to thank for sorting all my basics out in their sales. I love the Gap sale more than anything.

My current obsession is jumpers. I throw on my jeans or trusty Gap skinny pants or jeans, a nice jumper and my leather jacket. A pair of boots or my favourite trainers and boom, I’m done. My absolute favourite jumper is anything in grey marl: at last count I had five and I will keep going until I am bored of grey marl (I’ll never get bored of grey marl). Grey marl grey marl grey marl!

A recent discovery of mine is the boutique Feather and Stitch in Richmond and online (see the interview I did with founder Fiona Sanderson over at Mama). Up at the top I’m modelling their Des Petits Hauts Kirsh top: it’s all fleecy on the inside and so cosy. Here are my current favourite sweaters from their collection:

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From top left: 360 Jack Sweater, £215. Des Petits Hauts Gunter Sweater, £108. Des Petits Hauts Azia Sweater, £99. 360 Jules Sweater, £189.60 (Father Christmas, if you’re reading, this is the one). 

And some from the high street:

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Grey Sweater, £9.99, H&M. Boatneck Sweater, £22.99, Gap. Sweater with pearls, £35.99, Zara. Skull Sweater, £7.99, Gap.