Smell the Roses

Sometimes, with photography, I cannot pinpoint what it is about an image that captivates me. I know that it is the creativity behind Pol Úbeda Hervàs’s images that excites me, and the unexpected use of colour and light that made Hana Haley‘s work stand out; but I don’t know what it is that makes me come back to, time and again, the stunning natural still life images produced by New York photographer Alice Gao.

Possibly it’s something about the interplay of light and shadow, which creates an ambiguously dark yet beautiful mood? Perhaps it’s simply the composition, something to do with how she places her objects? There’s also the question of colour, which Gao uses artistically and subtly, particularly in images which are flooded with darkness, leaving only a few snatches of vivid colour to attract the eye.  My point is, I’m really not sure what it is I love about these photographs, but love them I do. It was her recent ‘Rose Study’ which particularly inspired me to write about her, but there is a whole treasure trove of gorgeous imagery (they’re not all still life photos, either) available in the archives of her personal blog, which you can see here, or in her online portfolio.

Gao is known in the industry for her unique food and lifestyle shots, but it’s definitely these studies on natural objects which I like the most. She’s also big on Instagram (as any up and coming photographer is these days, really!).

Here are my picks of her best photographs -maybe you can shed some light on what it is that makes them so lovely?

Do you have a favourite? I think mine has to be the top one, pale pink roses on a white backdrop, with just a glimpse of the dark green leaves. Make sure you check out her blog for more from Alice Gao, one of my new personal favourites in the photography scene.

Have a great day! xx

Image credits: here.

Spicy and Sweet

Here is a little something about me: I am an unabashed lover of short-cuts in the kitchen. I don’t really see the problem with jars of pre-made pasta sauces, with ready meals and microwave dinners, with sachets of Cup-a-Soup powder awaiting hot water. When you’re short on time, or don’t know how (read: can’t be bothered) to make something from scratch, they’re absolute life-savers. But there is one thing I will never succumb to: hot chocolate short cuts.

While friends and family expound the benefits (both in time and taste, apparently) of hot chocolate powder mixed with milk or water in the microwave, I really don’t see the appeal. Since discovering a recipe for hot chocolate made from scratch which is, in my humble opinion, both delicious and super-simple, I just don’t see the point. While the ingredients for this Chilli Hot Chocolate treat may come to slightly more than a sachet of Cadbury Options at the supermarket, they’re all pretty much store cupboard ingredients anyway.

What makes this recipe stand out from all other hot chocolates (home-made, pre-mixed and café-bought) is the surprisingly tasty spicy kick the chilli gives the drink, perfectly accenting the creaminess of the chocolate. My recipe doesn’t include the usual pinch of salt which hot chocolate recipes often call for, simply because I think it’s completely unnecessary; I also don’t think it matters one bit what kind of chocolate you use for this. Other recipes call for 70% cocoa, or brands such as Green & Blacks, I like the taste of this with either milk or dark (I once added a few squares of leftover white chocolate, with a surprisingly sweet outcome), and refuse to pay more than 50p for a bar of chocolate I will be melting. Save the Green & Blacks for another time, ladies and gents!

You can, 0f course, leave the chilli out if it doesn’t float your boat, but I think it’s far better left in. Here’s the recipe for my go-to winter-warmer, perfect for broken hearts, movie nights, sleepovers, 11am pick-me-ups …. you name it!

For one large mug, you will need:

- 200 ml milk

- 100ml single cream

- 100g milk or dark chocolate (broken into small chunks)

- 1 red chilli pepper (sliced in half and de-seeded)

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and heat gently, not allowing to boil. Add the two halves of sliced chilli and the chocolate. Stir gently on a low heat, until the chocolate has completely melted. Use a spoon to remove the two halves of chilli from the pan. Whisk the hot chocolate vigorously to create a nice froth, then pour carefully into a mug.

While I think this is the perfect hot chocolate, you may choose to add some whipped cream or marshmallows to the top of this delicious treat for the ultimate in saccharine luxury. Best served hot and fresh, accompanied by a rom-com featuring Colin Firth.

Of course, there are a million and one different ways to flavour your hot chocolate; this recipe uses chilli pepper for a spicy and sweet outcome, but you could just as easily substitute cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, ginger, hazelnut, brandy, Baileys…. the options are endless!

I hope you all enjoy trying this recipe out, remember to stay safe in the kitchen, and let me know how you get on! xx

Picture source here.

The Cute Shoot

It would be fair to say I am really rather late in getting on the bandwagon when it comes to this post. I don’t know how they managed to slip my attention last year, but I’ve only just cast my eyes over the photos from the Free People Summer 2K12 catalogue, and (man, oh man) are they lovely.

This is one seriously cute photo shoot we’re talking about here, featuring the ever-gorgeous Karlie Kloss, an array of New York City themed props and backdrops, bunches of fresh flowers, puppies out for a walk  - oh, and the boho-indie-chic summer collection from Free People, obviously. Take a look at my favourites below, or see the Free People website for more of their shoots (and of course, their current collection).

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I don’t know which is my favourite; it’s a toss-up between the sheer white dotted dress/denim vest combination in the first picture, and the red floppy hat/endless legs combination in the sixth. You can see more of the original images and other collections here.

What do you all think? Do you have a favourite?

Book Therapy

An unavoidable element of life as a student are the dreaded end-of-semester exams. I’m now in  the thick of it here in Italy and struggling to find the motivation. My banker definitely won’t approve, but I find doing a spot of online shopping is one way to relieve the tension and stress of constant revision, and give me something to look forward to; though my shopping bags are (for once) not full to the brim with fashion and beauty buys. Perhaps it’s the constant pressing need to read Elizabethan tragedies and American poetry for my exam next week, or maybe I’m just giving in to my inner book-worm (I am a Literature student, after all), but I’ve been going crazy on Amazon for some new, lighter reading material.

People often criticize my reading choices when I’m off-duty as an English Lit student, but I believe balance is key to everyone’s personal library. For every tome of Shakespeare and Donne and Webster I buy (and believe me, I buy rather a lot of them), I see no issue with grabbing the latest Sophie Kinsella novel to compensate. I was rather impressed with the sheer variety of reads in my most recent Amazon bag, and felt it was worth sharing with my lovely readers (that’s you then!). Thank God for the bundle of Amazon gift vouchers I received this Christmas, or there’s no way this order would be happening!

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There you have it! The new contents of my library (arriving anywhere from 8 days to 3 weeks time) feature chick-lit, memoir, celebrity autobiography, dystopian teen fiction, young adult fiction, thriller writing, romance, and the much-anticipated-though-I-accept-I-am-very-late-in-buying latest work by the Harry Potter author. PHEW. That is one long list. I cannot wait for exams to be over, so I can start these lovely reads…..

Until they all arrive (which will be a while, there’s no way I’m forking out for first class postage for this lot) I need something to keep me motivated and positive. Listening to these babies during revision has really been doing the trick:

What’s your way of staying positive and motivated when you have deadlines or exams to work towards? Fingers crossed I’m not the only one who indulges in a spot of retail therapy! X

Ombre Obsession

It was THE hair colouring trend of 2012, the next-big-thing in subtle nail art, and the best fashion translation from high end designer to high street stores. I am of course talking about the ombre obsession which has swept the nation (not to mention Pinterest) and looks to be here to stay.

I must confess, I came this close to colouring my hair to fit the trend; it’s far more subtle and elegant than a standard dip-dye, but with a similar general look and appeal – why have just one colour in your hair/on your nails/on your jeans, when you could have two? The reason I didn’t take the plunge in the end came down to my student budget, but I’m living vicariously through stars such as Lauren Conrad, Whitney Port, Drew Barrymore and Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who have all achieved seriously high levels of hair envy from me. Whitney Port, in particular, actually.

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The ombre nail trend was a surprising one for me; with the popularity and prevalence of more wacky and (let’s be honest) tacky nail art in 2012, I was surprised such a subtle look for fingernails would take off. Of course, the beauty of this colour-fade trend is that you can make it as subtle or in-your-face as you want – from individual nail ombre effects to colour fade across all ten fingers, the trend proved easy-to-master, completely wearable, and surprisingly professional (a more appropriate nail trend to take to work than the studs, beads, animal prints and general sparkle that other nail art fanatics were wearing).

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It was in the post-Christmas sales that I stumbled across my favourite example of the ombre trend; I am now the proud owner of a light-to-dark-grey ombre thick knitted cardigan from Topshop, an absolute bargain at just £20 reduced from £45 in the new Leeds Topshop. Perfect with an all-black outfit, with plain jeans and a t-shirt, or layered over my favourite LBD,  when I want both style and warmth, it’s my new favourite thing. In the world. Ever. (I’ll try and get a decent picture of it to post at some point, it’s not available online any more but still worth looking instore!). There are a million ways to incorporate ombre into your wardrobe – jeans, jumpers, rompers, shirts, tights…. the list is endless.

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That’s not to say the ombre trend is only available purchased direct from the high street – this great tutorial by one of my favourite fashion and beauty gurus, Dulce Candy, shows you how to dye any shirt in this style at home, and then suggests a great way to style it with white denim.

Which do you like best? Have you seen the ombre trend put to use in a way which I haven’t noticed? x

Images all sourced from my Pinterest.

Just Glovely

I am a terrible packer. I am incredibly jealous of those people who have their suitcases and bags ready to go days before they travel, their boarding passes printed, their liquids all in bottles smaller than 100ml and collected in a clear plastic bag. I have no idea how to become as organised as these people (I visualise them all as Monica from Friends) and honestly, I salute them. My idea of packing is haphazardly throwing everything from my wardrobe and bathroom into a suitcase and then sitting on it as I force the zip to close, while I mutter a mantra to myself: I will make it fit, I will make it fit, I will make it fit (…which it never does).

In my flurried and chaotic packing a week or so ago for my return to Venice, Italy (I still get such a rush whenever I mention that I LIVE IN VENICE) I forgot a few crucial items – my toothbrush, one of my textbooks, my childhood teddy Moosey (sob sob) and, finally, a pair of gloves. The gloves are not perhaps an essential item, but the temperature in Northern Italy is not so mild at this time of year as I would like, and my hands are really starting to suffer (#firstworldproblem). Luckily for me, Italian leather gloves are super-easy to find out here, even if they cost me a pretty penny! While I have my sights set on a gorgeous burgundy pair I’ve spied around the Rialto market area of Venice, I couldn’t stop myself from looking online at a few pairs available around the British High Street. Let me tell you, I am sorely tempted….

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1. Mango          2. John Lewis          3. Aspinal of London          4. River Island          5. Etsy          6. Topshop

7. River Island          8. John Lewis          9. Miss Selfridge          10. Jasper Conran          11. Dents          12. Southcombe

My favourites have got to be either the creamy suede bow  pair by River Island, or Mango’s burgundy bow pair – and in the post-Christmas sales, they’re bound to be cheaper than the real Italian leather ones I can buy here in Venice (justifying purchases in this way is very dangerous for me …).

Which ones do you like best? x

Pale and Interesting

The fashion choices for the Golden Globes red carpet are always worth looking at – not so ‘haute-couture’ as the Oscars, but definitely more elegant than the MTV Awards, the Golden Globes allow stars to showcase exquisite gowns and bring new (and old) designers and trends to the forefront. This year, aside from a lot of red and a lot of thigh-high splits, the red carpet was dominated by pale nude shades. Feminine hues of baby pink, cream and blush were popular among many, including Hayden Panettiere, Anne Hathaway and Megan Fox. Here’s a few of my favourites….

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Inspired by this year’s onslaught of pale and interesting dresses, here’s my pick of the best nude pieces of the moment. Personal favourite? The creamy white sheer maxi dress with embellishment at the waist (top right), an absolute steal at just £59 from Miss Selfridge (I really do love the British High Street).

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Top Left: Alice and Olivia     Top Middle: Topshop     Top Right: Miss Selfridge

Middle Left: Red Valentino     Middle Middle: Burberry Prorsum     Middle Right: Miss Selfridge Petite

Bottom Left: Lanvin     Bottom Middle: Lanvin     Bottom Right: Lanvin

What’s your favourite trend from the red carpet this year? 

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