25 before 25 update #1

Here's my first update on my 25 before 25 challenge!

1) Go to Iceland and see the Northern Lights. 
(Okay, this is cheating as I'm actually going in October - I can't wait!)

Done! We did this in October. I can honestly say they were beautiful, and it was made even more memorable by James proposing!

11) Pass all my ACA exams 

Part way done! I got my results for the professional stage also whilst we were in Iceland - I smashed them all (I didn't think I would - I broke my finger doing a total wipeout course the day before, oops! - all healed now!) so now I am officially part ACA qualified - only 3 left and time to complete!

15) Kick the coffee habit (counting this if I keep it up for more than a few months)

Done! I now haven't had caffeinated coffee since May, and I'm feeling better for it - I know it's only a small one, but I never thought I'd be able to do it!

22) Read 50 new books 
(I know this isn't many, but I don't have enough time in my life!)

On track! I'm now 4 months into my challenge (1/9th) and I've read 9 books, so I'm definitely on track to do it at the moment! Review/summary posts can be found by looking at the book tag.

23) Restart my jewellery hobby/Etsy shop

Almost done! It's not in a place I'm 100% happy with, and I need to update some descriptions, but I've made some sales so I'm part of the way to my goal - just need to find some more time to tweak it. My Etsy, Tumble and Rose, can be found here.

Are you currently working on any goals? I'd love to hear about your progress!  Drop me a tweet!

The Humans - Matt Haig

This is the fourth book I have read out of fifty on my new found reading mission (see 25 before 25 for info) and I can honestly say, it was nothing like I expected.

I picked up this book in Waterstones a few months ago and read the blurb. From it, I assumed it was something to do with amnesia and maybe a sort of funny detective type book. I was very very wrong.

I didn't get it at the time, but came across it in Amazon's 3 paperbacks for £10 (I don't want to say how much I've spent, but I now have a pile of 'to read' books staring at me from across my printer.) I forced myself to get it as an attempt to span out away from the 'Gone Girl' esque books I have been attracted to of late and was a bit apprehensive, so didn't skip it to the top of the pile or anything.

I had to go on an away training course in Birmingham so I took it with me to through the 4 hour rail replacement journey and to keep me occupied during down time in the hotel. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down, as can be seen by the above photo which was taken at 7am on a Monday morning in a hotel bed. 

I say I couldn't put it down, but in truth it took me a while to warm up to, but I've only ever abandoned one book in my life, so I wasn't about to start a trend with this.This is one of those books that you slowly grow to love without realising, and after I had finished I realised it was perhaps one of the most inspiring books I have read.

I don't want to spoil it too much, but this is a book about, aliens, love, prime numbers, murder, Oxbridge, a dog with arthritis, and what it means to be human. I honestly couldn't recommend this book enough - sure it's no easy read, but it is definitely worth it, and having read the author's bio in the back, Matt Haig's other book, Reasons to Stay Alive has made it into my shopping basket.

Have you read this book? What are you reading at the moment?

Iceland - Reykjavik and random thoughts

First things first, I apologise for the very photo heavy posts, but Iceland is so so beautiful - I have three posts on Iceland, and none of them will be easy on your internet connection, sorry!

I also have so much to say, so these posts may turn very ramble-y...

Here are some photos from our first and last two days in Iceland - over the eight days we were there, we flew into Keflavik (Reykjavik), traveled along the south coast, visiting Vik and Hofn, and then backed on ourselves back to Keflavik. These photos are from around the city - around three hundred thousand people live in Iceland - most in the capital city! I'm not going to give you a full commentary, as I think it is something you should experience yourself, but I will say it was the best week of my life.

Above is me on Skólavörðustígur in Reykjavik - a bit further up I found a craft shop which sells lava beads - I jumped at the chance to make my own since the ones in the shops can be thousands of Krona. I actually first read about it on the I Heart Reykjavik blog, and didn't think I'd find it, but turns out I was staying in the next street! Fate!

These are the beautiful Ambassade apartments that we stayed in - home goals! They honestly deserve all the five star reviews they have on TripAdvisor!

This is inside the Handknitting Association of Iceland store, so so cute! The only problem is these jumpers are around 30 000 ISK (about £150) so I didn't get one - I did however get a throw for the bedroom!

Apparently during the recession there was a resurgence of knitting in Iceland - you see these jumpers in pretty much all the shops!

Icelandic houses are very cute on the outside - all in bright colours and they all seem to be made out of corrugated iron. Icelandic design really is growing on me. I noticed three things that all of the places we stayed had in common:
- They were all extremely warm, with no obvious reason as to why.
- They all had wifi, even in the remotest place - Iceland is very connected!
- They all had extremely good blackout curtains - this is for the summer when Iceland only has one hour of night!
- They all had plug sockets and hairdryers in the bathroom - obviously unlike us Brits, Icelanders can be trusted not to electrocute themselves.

This is the Harpa concert hall. Can you imagine how beautiful it would be with light shining through it?

I had visions of a snuggling up against a fire in my woolies with a warming coffee. Alas my Nordic fantasy didn't come true - we discovered two chain coffee shops - Kaffitar and Te and Kaffi, neither of which made my feel like I was in a ski lodge, I was very impressed that matcha lattes were widely on offer though.

There's so much amazing street art in Reykjavik - this is just one of a few I loved - check out my Instagram for more.

Have you ever been to Iceland? Do you plan to? Tweet me and I'll talk to you for hours about it!

Northern Lights Cookies

Rather lovely snap of the Northern Lights that James got on holiday.

Okay, I'm admitting that I've given up on the bake off series until next year - the vol au vents proved too inconvenient to make, and I was weeks behind.

I got back from Iceland on Sunday (it was AMAZING, but more on that later) and decided to make some Northern Lights inspired cookies to take in to work. I wasn't sure how they'd work out, but they turned out pretty well!

I used a basic biscuit/shortbread recipe and a star cookie cutter, along with black fondant and the vast majority of the blue and green edible glitters available at Hobbycraft.

- side note - make sure you use lots of flour to roll your dough, and lots of icing sugar to roll your fondant, else you'll be left with a sticky sticky mess...

So, make your dough, bake your cookies and roll out your fondant. I found the best way to get the sugar and glitter to stick is to make a glue out of icing sugar and water and run it over the top of the cookie and icing with a pastry brush.

These are how mine turned out - what do you think? They went down pretty well at work! (The non iced one was for someone who doesn't like icing)


The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

Book number three in my reading quest (See #22) is another Gone Girl-esque book. I think I heard somewhere that this is being made into a film with Emily Blunt, but we shall see.

I picked this one up in ASDA after seeing it literally everywhere but it is fairly cheap on Amazon at the moment. I don't usually get hardbacks but I got it when it had just come out so I didn't have a choice. Ironically it actually took me months to read it due to exams and lending it to various people in the mean time - just proves how good it is though eh?

I took a bit of a weird journey on this one with the main character - this book is very good in that it doesn't reveal too much at once and keeps you guessing till the end and because of this, flips your views quite a few times.

It is told mainly through the perspective of Rachel, but also through the eye of a girl who seems to have it all, and the girl that Rachel's husband left her for - as the story develops, it becomes clear how all three women are linked and when one of them is murdered suspicion turns on everyone. It is quite in keeping with the Gone Girl genre which has become so popular (murder mystery?) and is in a similar format as it is told through different perspectives.

I won't say anything more as it will ruin it, but it is definitely worth a read - the fact it has a film deal hows just how popular it is! I will definitely go and see it in the cinema when it comes out.

Have you read this, or Gone Girl? What did you think?

Bake Off Week 5 - Alternative Week

I've finally caught up with Week 5 of Bake Off! (we'll pretend it hasn't finished...)

Week 5 was a bit of a hard one as it was free from - in my experience, free from stuff generally tastes a bit icky so I wasn't massively pumped for this week.

I must admit, I strayed from the brief a bit and went for brownies - these didn't appear in the show, but they are free from nonetheless. I used the Hemsley and Hemsley BB Brownie recipe, and even bought myself a shiny new food processor to whizz up the mixture.

All I can say about this is that these were the most expensive brownies I have ever made in my life. All the ingredients came to about £15 I think, but I did opt for coconut oil which bumped up the price.

Once you've got the recipe, they're pretty straight forward so I don't have any in between photos, but below are the finished results. They tasted pretty good -  a chocolate-y coconut-y mixture, but I think I'll stick to normal brownies unless I am entertaining coeliacs due to the price.

Have you got the Hemsley and Hemsley book? Did you watch bake off?

I Let You Go - Clare Mackintosh

This is the second book I have read in my quest to hit fifty new books before 25 (see 25 before 25). I picked it up as Amazon recommended it to me due to my Gone Girl obsession, and I can see that this book would appeal to readers that liked it due to the fact that the format is very very similar - it takes place from two perspectives, and there is a paradigm shift in the middle that splits the book into two halves.

I couldn't put this down. and actually started and finished it in one day on the train to and from Brighton. It is very well written and I didn't find myself hoping the pace would pick up or slow down, nor was there too much or too little embellishing,

I don't really know what to say about this book without giving it away apart from it keeps you guessing and just as you think you have something sussed, it flips the status quo on the head. There are a couple of surprises and one right near then end which could have been developed slightly more, but overall I really do this is a very good book if you're into this genre. In short, it is about a hit and run of a little boy on the way home from school, and the effect it has on those involved.

The characters are well written, there are some heartbreaking moments and some moments that make you question whether certain people like that could actually exist - it hits some quite sensitive topics, such a domestic abuse, murder, child death amongst others, so it isn't going to be for everyone.

It's not a book I will read over and over again as I feel books like this lose their appeal once you know the twist, but it's definitely worth a read at lest once.

Have you read 'I Let You Go'? Do you like this genre?

Bake Off Week 4 - Dessert Week

I know we are way way past Week 4 of Bake Off (since it finished on Wednesday *sob*) but I got a bit caught up with work and haven't had time to post about my attempts at the various challenges, so I'm going to continue until the end, to let a little bit of Bake Off live on...

In Week 4 they had to do desserts - including a 'Spanish Windtorte', but I decided this would be far too complicated to so I edited the challenge a bit for my blog and decided to make meringues. I also decided I'd try and be clever and make strawberry flavoured pink ones - to varying success.

I used this recipe from Nigella Lawson. All of the ingredients were nice and simple, yay!
This however is where the simplicity stops.

The biggest issue I encountered was getting the egg whites right. You have to whisk them until they form 'soft peaks' and don't fall out of the bowl when tipped. This took forever and only worked on my 3rd attempt as I'd tried to be fancy and put the food colour and flavour in  before - this made it far too liquid-y so it didn't work - this idea was abandoned to get the below.

My next brainwave was to mix the wet colouring and flavours into the sugar so that it mixed in when the sugar went in - this worked far better and I felt rather smug.


These were the meringues before I put them in the oven. There isn't a picture of them post oven as they lost their shine and weren't as pretty. Meringues are definitely something I'll need to practise some more.

Next week (5) is Alternative week, and I've made free from gluten, lactose and sugar brownies.

Have you ever made meringues? What's the hardest thing you've baked?

Crafting with Hillary's Blinds in Brighton

I'm a little bit late to the party posting this, but I just thought I would show you some of the pictures from the craft event I went to with Hillary's Blinds in Brighton.

It was organised to use the Hillary's blinds Jewel fabric in the creation of jewellery boxes and fascinators - not what I usually make but it was super fun & I got to use a glue gun!

It was held in Marwoods Coffee Shop in Brighton, which provide the perfect eclectic backdrop to our afternoon - crafting whilst scoffing tea and muffins - what more could I want?

It also put me in the mind for redecoration! I'm now making plans on how to move my bedroom around to give it a fresh lease of life as I'm here for another year at least!

 Have you ever used fabric from Hillarys? Have you been to Brighton?

The Wrong Knickers - Bryony Gordon

Kicking off the first of my target 50 books (see 25 before 25) is The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon.

I won't pretend that I'd heard of Bryony Gordon before, or even the book before I bought it, but I can say that I don't regret it for a single minute. I picked it up in Asda pretty cheap - it reminded me of Bridget Jones cover-wise (mainly because the review was 'the next Bridget Jones'...) and I thought it would be an easy/fun read to throw me into my new found reading obsession.

I was right. This book is hilarious and extremely easy to read (both mentally and physically - the content is hilarious  & the book itself is quite short with larger than average text.)

The book serves as a memoir from Bryony's twenties and I can honestly say that I found it so relatable, having just discovered the mess that being twenty something can be myself. I immediately gave it to my sister after I had finished reading, who in turn passed it onto our mum - it's proven to be a winner amongst the girls in my family.

I don't want to go into the content too much, but what I will say is that I think every twenty something girl will should read this - you'll finish it realising that nothing is as bad as you think & that everything is going to be O.K! We all go through the same stuff, even if we don't realise it!

Have you read this? Which other books do you think I should read?