Saturday, 30 May 2015

Review: Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.100

I don’t write a huge number of fragrance reviews as I think that scent is so personal. Smells are the strongest conjurers of memories and certain scents can immediately transport you back in time. My favourite scent of all time is roses as my mum fed me with rose jam as a baby so it has always been a deeply comforting and calming scent. However, every now and then I come across a perfume that I am compelled to write about as I think it is so universally appealing. Liz Earle’s Botanical Essence No.100 is exactly that! I have been obsessed with it from the first inhale and I just can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be enamoured with it! A quick look through all the glowing reviews on the website quickly reconfirmed this!
It is described as a fresh floral fragrance and while it is slightly sweet it is also very breezy and uplifting. For me it evokes light, fresh Summer days as it is floral, yet not too heady or old-fashioned. It is described as the joy of entering a British florist’s shop and is a contemporary celebration of some of the most precious ingredients you will find on a perfumer’s palette. Over 89% derived from natural ingredients, blossoming notes of Damask rose, orange flower and Indian jasmine are gently entwined by the subtle sensuality of cypress, sandalwood and Bourbon vanilla, finished with the light, transcendent clarity of mandarin and bergamot.

Originally created as a limited edition in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show, Botanical Essence No.100 returns by popular demand to feature as a permanent addition in the Liz Earle fine fragrance collection and I couldn’t be happier as it has quickly become one of my all-time favourites!

The full list of notes making up this wonderful perfume are:

· Clove leaf – for its spice
· Damask rose – floral (and my absolute favourite)
· Geranium – uplifting and in perfect harmony with rose
· Ylang ylang – floral and sweet
· Vetiver – floral yet woody
· Orange flower water – always beautiful
· Bergamot – fresh and zesty
· Cyperus – woody
· Mandarin– sweet and floral
· Indian Jasmine – sensual and romantic
· Sandalwood – woody and calming

Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.100 retails for £49 here.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Health: Reusing Plastic Water Bottles? Why I Switched to Glass...

One of the health mantras hailed as the cure of all ailments is drinking plenty of water. We hear this advice over and over from health experts to celebrities bestowing their tips for glowing skin. Personally, I have always been someone who drinks a lot of water and while I try to be conscious of waste I have to admit that I often buy bottles of water while I am on the go. I know that these are bad for the environment so I do try to reuse them whenever I can and often keep them on my desk at work and refill a few times a day. However, after 2 rounds of stomach flu followed by a cold all within one month I was determined to do a little overhaul of my habits, as something was definitely not right!

As my husband is a doctor he is usually very dismissive of my (albeit non life threatening) ailments, but even he agreed that being ill so often given the fact I eat well, exercise and generally try to look after myself was not normal. As I read science at university we often discuss new articles at home so when he mentioned some studies on plastic water bottles it prompted me to think that I had really been trying to drink even more water to flush all the toxins out after being sick for most of the month. So I decided to have a quick look to see if any of this could be contributing…

First off I have to mention that there have been a number of hoax stories floating around the internet about water bottles giving you cancer, but these have no scientific basis – as summarised on the Cancer ResearchUK website.

There has been some concern regarding Bisphenol A (BPA) in bottles made of polycarbonate as it has been linked to numerous health problems. There is disagreement regarding BPA’s safety as some studies have shown correlation of higher levels of BPA and miscarriages, but this does not necessarily show causation. If you've noticed the little arrows stamped on plastic items with numbers inside, the number to look for here is 7. Although not all plastics labelled "7" contain BPA, it's still a good identifier, as are the letters "PC." Either way, I would prefer not to take the chance, especially as it’s easy to make the switch to naturally BPA free glass!

Other than the plastic itself I found out that bacteria multiply super fast in plastic water bottles, especially as their shapes (narrow spouts) make them hard to clean effectively. This isn’t necessarily because of the plastic, but as most water bottles are designed for single use their shape tends to make them perfect for bacteria to grow quickly.

I have therefore decided to switch to glass water bottles and have recently purchased an Apana glass bottle with a silicone mesh (from Tk Maxx ) that works perfectly! It looks great, is super easy to clean and holds a lot of water so I can stay safely hydrated. Let’s hope it helps!

What are your thoughts on plastics? Are you conscious of reusing plastic water bottles? I would love to hear you thoughts on this topic!!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Review: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum

7 years after its first launch No7’s Protect & Perfect Serum has been reformulated to make it even more effective! Targeted at the first signs of ageing (20-35 age range) it promises to give you younger looking, more radiant skin in just 2 weeks. As you all know I always take my time testing out products and therefore don’t post as quickly following launch (or as often as other blogs) because I really want to use each product thoroughly before giving you my opinion!
I was sent the new No7 Protect & Perfect Serum as I was impressed by all the positive reviews on the website and wanted to see how this serum would work on my (late 20-something) skin. As well as targeting fine lines with Matrixyl 3000 Plus and peptides I was interested to see how it would function in helping to repair and protect my skin with its antioxidant complex, while keeping away blemishes using salicylic acid.

After two weeks of use I have to say that I haven’t noticed a huge amount of difference in my skin yet, but I can see that it looks smoother and more even toned. I also think that it has done a good job of keeping my skin clear as I had a few breakouts when I started using it and these have cleared up a little faster than usual! I have enjoyed using the serum as it has a light, gel like texture that feels comfortable on the skin. I like the fact it’s so light as my skin does tend to get oily throughout the day and this serum doesn’t leave any oily residue behind. I will definitely continue using it and will be sure to let you know if I see any dramatic changes!

The No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum can be purchased for £24.95 on the Boots website here (and they are currently running a 3 for 2 promotion across their skincare and bodycare range too)!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Wedding: Designing Your Cake (and eating it too)!

One of the most enjoyable parts of planning my wedding was undoubtedly designing our cake! There are three kinds of people in this world - those who don’t really get excited about cake, those who don’t even like cake (and may instead choose a ‘wedding cake’ made up of different types of cheese or pork pies *gasp*), or those (like me) who get giddy at the mere mention of cake, butter cream, frosting.. mmm!
As most of our wedding was pretty classic the cake was something that I wanted to get really creative with and make a unique feature. My idea was that cutting the cake would symbolise the end of the formal/ traditional part of the day and the beginning of the party! With all the speeches done everyone could relax and really have fun!! 
I consulted with a number of different cake designers to hear their ideas, taste the cakes (of course!) and get quotes for what I had envisaged. I think it is really important if you want an individual cake (rather than choosing a set cake from a portfolio) to meet with the designers and see their style. I was looking for someone who could create a showstopper, but in a sophisticated way that would be in keeping with the rest of our wedding. As well as making the cake itself I also wanted someone to design and put together a whole sweet table with cupcakes, cookies and other treats to make it a feature of the evening. 
The designers I met with were all fantastic in their own ways. There are so many amazing wedding bakeries in London that I thought it would be helpful to put together a mini-guide based on my experience:

Peggy Porschen – world famous, golden standard of wedding cakes! Stunning, classic cake designs, but definitely on the high end of the budget. Lots of designs to choose from, but customisation is expensive. Their sugar flowers are the best I have ever seen! 

Cakes by Krishanthi – lovely range of designs with lots of creative techniques used. Mid range and flexible with pricing, especially for cakes with less detail. 

Rosalind Miller – beautiful, unique designs to fit different themes. Mid to high end pricing depending on the level of customisation.

Little Venice Cake Company – breathtaking, grand designs, huge variety and experience. If your budget allows they can do anything! They also do great chocolate cakes!

Maisie Fantaisie – absolutely lovely! Cakes are on the more classic side, but all details are beautiful and intricate. Pricing at mid-level and lots of customisation available. 
While many of these designers had great ideas when I met Ceri of Olofson Design I immediately knew that I wanted her to make the cake for our wedding! Apart from being incredibly lovely Ceri is so creative, talented, hardworking and an absolute perfectionist. She understood exactly what I was asking for and described it to me a thousand times better than I could have ever put it myself. She designs every cake bespoke by working closely with the bride and groom to create something individual and completely unique. I remember when we first met she said she would feel bad ever copying a cake (or creating a catalogue of designs for brides to pick from in the way many other brands do) as it would feel like giving away a part of that couple. We had so much fun during the design process and Ceri was such a pleasure to work with as she is so genuinely passionate about cakes. Rather than giving me a precise quote she asked what my budget was and what I wanted and designed the cake and all the little extras to fit within it, which was a huge relief. After I had shown Ceri a heap of photos that had inspired me with accents of Rococo, Marie Antoinette, Faberge, English rose gardens and colour schemes she put together a special pinterest board with her ideas for the cake. 

I was so excited to see that many common themes were emerging and Ceri had used the multitude of images I had collected in such a clever way. She had even picked out details from our venue that would be mirrored in the cake such as the filigree from one of the rooms in Syon House (above). We added to this with a monogram that I had designed for use in our stationary and photobooth picture motifs. The last piece of the puzzle was to use a Faberge egg on a nest of fresh flowers instead of a traditional cake topper. She even made the egg as a mini replica of the Faberge eggs we gave to our guests as favours! Adorable!
Before seeing the first design of the cake I was so nervous as I had such high hopes, but the second Ceri gave me her beautiful watercolour drawing I was absolutely astounded at how well everything had come together and how she had incorporated so many aspects of our wedding into such a beautiful design. 
While Ceri is very much design orientated I can't forget to mention that she is an incredible baker and her flavour combinations are phenomenal. We had such a hard time choosing from all the delectable options on offer, but finally decided on:

- Madagascan vanilla cake with berry preserve and vanilla buttercream
- Vanilla chocolate marble with caramel buttercream and chocolate ganache
- Rose with raspberry buttercream and lemon curd
- Traditional fruit cake

We also had red velvet and white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes.

For the Anges de Sucre macarons we chose: Pistache Vera, Damask Rose, Raspberry Ripple, Cheeky Cazzamella and Fruit of the Orchid.
It took us almost a year to put everything together, but we had so much fun doing it! From my constant surfing on ebay for the perfect candy jars, bespoke sweetie bags and cupcake stands to the delicate Anges de Sucre macarons and gold dipped apples, which we had made as a compliment to the cake. Seeing the cake and full dessert table on the wedding day was definitely one of the highlights for me and undoubtedly worth all the effort.
Despite being 5 tiers high I can honestly say our guests loved how amazing the cake tasted (as well as how it looked). In fact, it had all disappeared in half an hour so I sadly only got to try one piece. After cutting the cake I went to get changed and twenty minutes later the cake (and the cupcakes etc.) was all but gone! I am so glad we saved the top tier and am very much looking forward to enjoying it on our anniversary in just over a month!!

If you are looking to have a showstopper of a cake at your wedding, or are simply bored of traditional cakes and want something quirky and unique I really recommend that you check out Ceri’s website. She is honestly the loveliest person and so immensely talented. She is always enthusiastic and happy to give her advice. Even when I couldn’t decide on the napkins (and emailed her far too much) she never once lost patience and always replied quickly with her expert opinion.

Ceri’s designs range from the super girly (like our cake) to really innovative art deco and gritty urban designs. She has so many techniques and styles at her disposal that I really do dare you to imagine something she can’t create!


Friday, 22 May 2015

Review: Ojon Rare Blend Tamer Wand

With the constantly unpredictable weather we have been having good hair days have been few and far between. Whether due to static, wind or humidity my hair has definitely been a challenge! I normally like to use as little product as I can on my hair, but having recently discovered the Ojon Rare Blend Tamer Wand I have been so impressed that it has immediately become a handbag essential.
This handy little frizz fix is perfect for on the go to smooth flyaways, baby hairs and split ends. With it's spooly it distributes just the right amount of product to secure the hair without leaving it feeling oily or too stiff. I also love the fact that it applies so quickly and effortlessly with the applicator, keeping your hand clean, so you don't have to fuss about with oils, serums or sprays.
The Ojon Rare Blend Tamer Wand can be purchased for £12.50 here.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Travel: Venice

I had dreamed of visiting Venice for such a long time so after a stressful few months I decided that we deserved a little treat and booked a long bank holiday weekend as an early birthday present for the hubby! As we had a BA companion voucher that we hadn't had a chance to use (and my weekly Friday 7pm conference call prevented us from flying in the evening) we ended up taking the earliest Saturday morning flight from City airport so we could have 2 full days in Venice before returning on Monday afternoon.
(The bridge of Sighs.. looks nothing like the bridge I walked over every day in Cambridge!)
I found a lovely apartment on airbnb that was owned by a local architect (you can check it out here).
It was really quirky and modern with innovative use of space; just perfect for our needs. I would definitely recommend this option as it is much more affordable than local hotels and gave us more privacy. We took full advantage of all the amenities in the kitchen... as well as the pull up bar after all those carbs!
There is so much to see in Venice so we spent our first day walking around Piazza San Marco, exploring the Basilica, Doge's Palace, the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge, while finding lots of hidden gems!
 Inside St Mark's
 We had the best time exploring through all the lovely little streets. There is something to see around every corner!
On the second day we took a boat around a couple of the nearby islands. We explored Murano and learned all about the traditional glass making techniques. 
In the evening I had booked us a lovely table at Alle Corone, a wonderful restaurant near the Grand Canal. The food was amazing and the service made it even more special! We decided to take a boat back to our apartment. There is definitely nothing more romantic than seeing Venice at night!
 Rialto Bridge
 The Casino
We had such a wonderful time and I would love to return and explore some more soon! 


Monday, 18 May 2015

Home: Dining

Over the past year I have definitely been experiencing home envy when looking through countless Pinterest and Instagram posts of cosy living rooms and glossy kitchens. As I always need a project on the go I decided that rather than feeling restless (and in lieu of having the opportunity to move) I redesigned our living and dining area to make it a little more modern. I previously featured snippets of this in my post here, but today I wanted to look closer at our dining table as it is (finally!) almost complete.

With a grey, blush pink and white palette in mind I wanted a sleek dining area that was stylish, but comfortable. Having picked out the Bramante extendable grey lacquer table from Made I paired it with two different styles of grey upholstered button chairs that fitted well with our new Chesterfield sofas.
As I was trying to keep to a tight budget it has taken a while for all the pieces to come together as many were purchased from various sale sites such as Achica and Casafina, which have beautiful stock, but long waiting times that can be frustrating. In fact, I am still waiting for our white and grey marble salt and pepper mills (to match the placemats I made using glass mats and vinyl contact paper), which I ordered over 2 months ago!
I adore fresh flowers and knew that I wanted a large square vase to be the centrepiece of my table. I always try to buy flowers when we have people over… and often buy them just for myself as they make any space look instantly more welcoming. I ordered this cube vase on Amazon (here) which was amazing value, but in hindsight I do wish I had purchased a slightly smaller one. This arrangement was made using one bunch of pink and 2 bunches of white roses and took me over half an hour to put together… not even mentioning the number of thorns I had to dodge while arranging them into a dome!

The cutlery and glasses are both from Villeroy and Boch, which I love for their amazing quality. We chose the La Divina glassware range (currently on sale here!!) for our wedding list and have received lots of compliments on them, especially the ridiculously large red wine glasses! They can be very dangerous…
To add a little bit of texture I added some grey and cream patterned napkins and ceramic napkin rings to our set. These were both from Zara Home, which also have amazing sales and are perfect for picking up little finishing touches such as unusual door handles or linens. To add a little extra colour I completed our settings with some vintage pink and silver candlestick holders, which I found on Etsy.

I hope you guys enjoy these little home posts as I have really loved seeing inspiration on so many different blogs and wanted to post a little of my own to show that you can get Pinterest worthy living spaces on a budget if you are willing to invest a little time!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

OOTD: Meeting Christian Louboutin

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by the fabulous Christian Louboutin as part of the Vogue festival. Christian is an amazing character with real vivacity and passion for life. He is incredibly charming, inspiring and his energy is just infectious! I would definitely recommend meeting him or attending any of his talks if you get the opportunity to do so as he is just wonderful and gave me all the more reason (as if I needed any more) to love the brand that he built through his talent and hard work.

Since my Saturday mornings are usually spent at the gym this was a rare chance for me to dress up so I decided to try something a little different! A little nod to the festival theme, despite being set in central London in the rain...
I paired a heavily beaded sheer tunic/ dress from Karen Millen (worn with a slip underneath) with some grey suede boots from Russell & Bromley. Sadly I couldn't wear any of my Louboutins as it was raining and I just couldn't bear to ruin any of my precious pairs! As beautiful as they are they do need a lot care!

I have had these R&B boots for years and honestly they are the most comfortable pair I have ever owned. Despite being suede they have lasted really well. I was running about in these from 10am till late, which I very rarely do in heels! I am currently lusting after their over the knee version as they have a very similar structure and look absolutely amazing! I need to start saving!


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Wedding: Choosing Your Photographer

One of the most important aspects of organising my wedding was definitely making sure we had as many memories as possible of our big day! I am the kind of person who gets nervous and anxious easily; my mind starts to race and I become super self conscious. I know that when this happens I find it very difficult to recall what is going on around me and don't tend to remember a great deal. The wedding day is certainly one that triggers anxiety in even the most relaxed bride and it just goes by in a whirl! I therefore wanted to make sure that we documented our wedding thoroughly to look back on and remember the happiest day of our lives. I really wanted every moment to be captured and to have a variety of couple, family and general/reportage style photos, as well as a record of all the little details I had worked so hard on to make our day special!

I was determined to find the right photographer who would be versatile and who could capture all our special moments without being intrusive! After months of extensive searching and looking through numerous websites and portfolios nothing felt quite right. Most photographers had a style that was either very soft, where the photos looked overly casual or very posed and impactful, but lacking the general ambience and emotion of the day. That is until we came across Balance Photography at a wedding show. The photographs in their booth were breath-taking! Many of them had a lot of drama, while others perfectly captured raw emotion. There was a great mix of staged and posed photographs, as well as more natural behind the scenes observations. Another thing that stood out was their really inventive ways of organising group shots to make them fun and interesting. The fact that Balance Photography were a lovely married couple themselves immediately put them at the top of our list.
We met them a month later to discuss the style of our wedding, the photos we wanted, our venue and to generally get to know each other. We then had a little engagement shoot about 3 months before our wedding, which was part of the package. I would very much recommend doing this as it not only gives you some fun photos (that you can maybe use for invites or save the dates), but also allows you to practice a few poses in front of the camera and for your photographer to understand how you interact as a couple and what you feel comfortable with. My husband definitely benefited from this as he built confidence in front of the camera and felt much more natural after getting to know Oliver.
On the day I think having two photographers was a huge advantage and I would really recommend having more than one if you are able to fit it into your budget. On the morning of the wedding Rachel came to my house, where I was getting ready, to take some bridal party photos, while Oliver was at the church snapping away the groomsmen and guests arriving. As we had different venues for the church ceremony, drinks and the reception it was great to have them be able to cover everything so we didn't miss a minute! However, even in a small wedding or with one location having two photographers gives you a much better range of images. For example, as I was walking down the aisle Rachel took all the photos of my bridesmaids and myself with my mother from the back - capturing the back of our dresses, veil and the decorations leading into the church. Oliver was at the front of the church, capturing Luke's reactions as he saw me coming down the aisle, the church scenery from the front and my mother giving my hand to Luke and lifting my veil etc. One photographer would not have been able to capture these special moments and I am so grateful to Oliver and Rachel for working as such a seamless team!
 (Just to illustrate this is the same moment taken by Rachel from the back and Oliver from the front)

Oliver and Rachel are the loveliest couple. They are super friendly, warm and fun to be around and all our guests absolutely adored them! They fitted in so well and made everyone feel really comfortable, which you can definitely tell from the images as there are no awkward poses. As well as knowing what aspects of the wedding day to capture they also have great vision and skill when it came to editing the photographs. Rachel worked so hard in making sure that each image was cleaned up perfectly. We didn't want any heavy airbrushing, but the simplest little touches, such as removing a bridesmaids' scattered shoes in the corner of a photo or even editing out a videographer in the background makes everything look just that little bit more polished!
(In this photo the videographer was standing in front of me, but has been airbrushed out!)

If you are looking for photographers for your wedding, or indeed any special occasion, I would urge you to check out the Balance Photography website. Rachel and Oliver are so lovely, fun to work with, talented and enthusiastic. We really can't say enough good things about them!!
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