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I saw a version of this on Twitter a few weeks ago as I was blogging my white chocolate with rose water & goji berry bark and I knew it would be an instant hit with Bella & Bear. They love anything chocolatey, who doesn't right? I've made it twice since, once with milk chocolate which I found quite sweet so for the second try I used half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate to give the flavour more depth. Eating it is a wonderfully smooth, velvet like sensation with rich chocolate notes punctuated by crunch.

You will need:
150g good quality milk chocolate
150g good quality dark chocolate
3/4 pack of Oreo cookies (crushed)

Prepare a baking tray with baking parchment. Crush the Oreo cookies in a sandwich bag with a wooden spoon.

Chop up the chocolate into small pieces and melt them on a low heat in a bain marie. When the chocolate has fully melted gently pour it onto the baking sheet.

Using a spatula or knife (at room temperature) spread the chocolate evenly over the baking parchment, sprinkle the crushed Oreo cookie chunks over the top of the chocolate and press them in lightly. Transfer to the fridge for 30 minutes. When the bark is set you can chop it or break it up into pieces. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

I added a little sea salt over the top of the crushed cookies before allowing it to set, it doesn't need it I just love sweet and salty treats.

Crushed Oreo Chocolate Bark

I saw a version of this on Twitter a few weeks ago as I was blogging my white chocolate with rose water & goji berry bark and I knew ...
Sunday, 29 June 2014
Well I'm officially in summer mode now. I know this to be true because when I open the closet first thing in the morning I don't automatically default to jeans, even if I don't end up wearing jeans in colder seasons they are always where my eye first lands. Where as for the last three weeks I have been eyeing skirts, floaty shorts and (gasp) flimsy summer dresses.

The skirt I'm wearing here is from Whistles, I've styled it before on Bella & Bear here. I bought it over three, possibly four years ago but it still feels fresh to me. I think this is down to the highly saturated colour and length. A lot of stylists will tell you to steer clear of wearing mid-length skirts with flat shoes and if you are petite of stature it really is a judgement call, but having a 'flat' option increases the wearability of a skirt like this exponentially. The danger is you will be channelling Granny or a nurse from a Carry-On film. While this caveat has merit if the skirt in question is tweed, wool or a heavy cotton I think that with something this bright and summery anything goes sister! Try it out with a pair of Hi-Tops from Converse or some Vans for a real street style look, I've chosen punched out white leather slip-ons from Kurt Geiger. They are SO comfortable, quite possibly the most comfortable shoes I've bought this summer (unusually I had to size down for them to fit too).

If you're wondering where my usual statement necklace is, well sometimes less is more. 

Skirt by Whistles (similar here)
Top by Zara (on sale)
Shoes by Kurt Geiger (on sale)
Watch by Bell & Ross
Sunglasses by Ray Ban

Carry-On Nurse!

Friday, 27 June 2014
Being a single parent means I always have one eye on what's coming in and what's going out money wise. I'm sure this is true of most couples too, but unlike a couple I don't have the security of another person's salary to buffer me if I overspend. Now, back in January I made two new year resolutions; the first was to make a roast lunch every Sunday, the second was to end the year in a stronger financial position. To this end I am usually enjoying leftover chicken on a Monday but more importantly over the first six months of 2014 I have been steadily taking control of my finances, in particular my spending. It's easier than you think. There are so many resources available to help you make better financial decisions. It's an admin heavy task yet thoroughly worthwhile and yields rewarding changes for the better. 

For most people the largest monthly outgoing is the mortgage or rent. With the Bank of England indicating that interest rates will rise by the end of the year now is the time to act by locking yourself into a great deal for the next two to five years. Even if your term isn't due for renewal it's worth taking a look at what's available now as some lenders will keep an offer open for up to six months particularly if you have an excellent credit rating. It makes you a safer bet.

If you rent and don't want to move to get a better deal it's worth contacting your landlord. Good tenants are like gold dust to a landlord. Suggest a lower monthly rent for a longer term, or negotiate against future rent rises. A £30 saving a month is £360 a year in your pocket. It guarantees an income for the landlord and promises them no lost months through having an empty property while looking for new tenants. Hey, it doesn't hurt to ask.

After my energy supplier's shock and awe tactics last winter (they didn't bill me for eight months then slammed me with a four figure bill) I determined to switch as soon as the bill was paid. I joined Ovo in April, a new kid on the block to the UK energy market. I'm paying a fixed monthly amount AND when my account is in credit they pay me interest. Yes I will say that again. They pay me interest. Excuse me while I skip around my kitchen.

By paying off your credit card balance every month you will save £100's per annum. If you cannot pay off the balance in full every month apply for a 0% interest card for balance transfers. Then most importantly CUT UP THE OLD CARD(s) and close the account(s). It's all too easy to get yourself in a pickle with credit cards and while it's fun spending, it's not so fun paying it back plus interest.

By having all your debt in one place and paying a fixed monthly amount it is far easier to budget and avoid overspending in the future. Consider a low cost loan from your bank or other reputable lender. You will save £100's in interest and be more confident about your overall financial position.

When remortgaging many people consider consolidating their existing debt into the mortgage. While this may seem like a good idea when rates are low it's important to bear in mind that you will pay interest on this amount for the life of the loan, which over time could easily be more than applying for a fixed rate loan from a bank. More importantly a fixed loan doesn't have to be secured against your home.

The cost of insuring cars, your home & contents and holidays soon adds up. When shopping for insurance use any no claims bonus you have built up to negotiate the best deal possible. Some insurance policies have holiday insurance included, but then again so do some bank accounts. Read your policy so you don't end up paying for this twice.

Do you really need a new phone? Switching to a SIM only account is a great idea if your current phone is in good working order. 

This is one of the biggest money sucks I can think of. Not only are you paying monthly for something you don't own but at the end of the lease you have to pay even more to keep the car or enter into a new lease for something you will not own. Buying a good quality second hand small car in one of the lowest emission categories will save money on fuel, road tax, insurance and even better there no monthly lease payments. Banks often have a small loan category for borrowing to buy a car, repayments are usually cheaper than the lease repayments and you will own the thing you're paying for meaning you can sell it when or if you need to.

Did you hear the one about the woman who has a pay-as-you-go gym membership and never goes? Chances are, unless you're going to the gym three times a week every week your gym membership is going to waste. At £50 a month that's £600 a year! There's been an upturn in the number of social outdoor exercise classes available recently. The beauty of these is that not only will you meet people (and make new friends) who will encourage you to go more often but that without the large overhead costs these exercise classes are often very competitively priced and can be tailored to the group that day.

This is one I still have to do. I love my TV supplier but they have me over a barrel; I'm also paying for the landline and internet data package with the same company. I've done some research and I could be saving over £40 a month by shopping around. It's a no brainer.

Fuel costs soon add up. If you know of a colleague or friend doing the same or a similar journey to you every day talk to them about car pooling. Not only will this keep your fuel costs down, but your mileage too, adding to the resale value of your car. Having a lower annual mileage can also bring your car insurance costs right down.

If your pantry is full of supermarket brand 'finest' products you are a victim of a canny marketing ploy. Have you done a taste test? Have you compared ingredients? Who is to say which product is finest? Of course if you want to eat organic food you will already have accepted that it will cost you more, but even within organic produce there is a large difference in price vs availability. Try going to your local farmers market and speak to the growers. They may be willing to do a deal on the veg you want for a weekly guaranteed price. Even better a lot of the produce will be seasonal giving you variety across the year.

Bulk buying and using coupons is a great way to cut costs on essentials, just don't get suckered into buying more than you need.

I use a domestic cleaning service twice a month. I love those ladies and their bleachy clean smell. I used to do it all myself but I've chosen to prioritize my sanity and spending time with Bella & Bear over a perfectly clean home vs a small fee. It's a good decision for us. I also used to get my car cleaned once a month when I was grocery shopping. Now I bring out the hose and a bucket and we make it a family activity. The kids LOVE helping! We get rather wet.

From September 2014 in the UK all school children will be entitled to a free hot lunch. I think this is marvelous and I will be taking advantage of this for both of my children from the get go. Bella is a picky eater but I know when she's hungry she will sit and eat what's in front of her especially if her peers are digging in too.

What to do with the savings?

Ahh, now here is where I have traditionally excelled... spending! But I am turning over a new leaf and now that my outgoings are under control I'm going to do my utmost to embrace these options instead:

If you're comfortably meeting a higher monthly payment on your mortgage, when you switch to a lower interest rate keep the repayments the same. Not only does this significantly reduce the capital sum you owe, it also reduces the length of the loan and consequently the time you are paying interest on the capital you've borrowed. In short you will pay off your mortgage faster and it will cost you less.

If you are remortgaging and need the saving to meet other obligations it's still a good idea to overpay when you can, but it may be more prudent for you to save up first and make a one-off payment with reserves at the end of the financial year. That way you will still have access to your money if you need it suddenly, an important distinction because you can't get overpayments back from the mortgage lender.

Regular saving is the best way to future proof your finances. Once you have your debt, and spending under control take advantage of your tax free saving allowance. It's not much, currently £5,940 in real money or £11,880 in stocks and shares. You can open a new one every year and from July 1st you are allowed to top up your old cash ISA to £15,000.

Cash ISA's are simply a savings account that you don't pay tax on. To put that another way say you earn £100 interest on the money you've saved in a cash ISA you keep 100% of the interest, you keep £100 and the tax man can't have any of it. A regular savings account works differently, if you earn £100 interest on the money you've saved you may only receive £80 because the tax man has come along and taken a bite, the amount you keep will be even less if you are a higher-rate tax payer, possibly only £60 of the £100 interest your money earned you. Huh. 

It's worth pointing out that your money is not locked away in a cash ISA unless you choose that option.  You can access it whenever you like if that's how you want to operate your account. 

If you want more information on how to make the most of your money, or financial advice in general I recommend the MoneySavingExpert as a great place to start (I'm not affiliated with the site, it's just a brilliant and comprehensive guide).

Wishing you all a prosperous (or just financially stable) 2014!

Save £1000 in a day

Tuesday, 24 June 2014
When I moved back into my London home last year I decided to redecorate the entire house (in a week) to make it my space, as opposed to our old space. Not sure what to say about that except that when an idea takes hold of me I am highly motivated to complete the task. It felt important and right to change the decor post separation, it helped me with the process of moving back but also with moving on. A year on I'm really happy with choices I made, except in the master bedroom where I chose a very pale blue light striped wallpaper for the wall behind the headboard. It looks fine, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it and it tones in perfectly with the glass doors of the double wardrobe; it's just uninspiring and frankly a bit bland. The thing is, I don't do bland. Life is too short for bland food, bland friends, bland chat, bland clothes and bland decor. Life is beautiful and inspiring and our homes should be a reflection of this.

Last week's post about how to use colour and wallpaper to reflect light in the darkest corners of a house was the catalyst for research into acceptable, more interesting alternatives. I'm still mulling over the choices but I think I'm settling on either the jade Seraille wallpaper (I love the pure saturated hue fading into a dreamy pale pastel and I think it will look A-mazing with an ikat inspired material I have in mind for the blinds.) or the Tatami Stripe. What do you think?

(available in 8 colour ways)
(available in 3 colour ways)
(available in 10 colour ways)
(available in 8 colour ways)
(available in 6 colour ways)

The Bedroom Strip

Monday, 23 June 2014
Dungarees, overalls, whatever you like to call them I think we can all agree that they are a blasted nuisance when you have to go to the bathroom. So. Many. Buttons. I just wanna gooooooooo. My inner voice regresses to that of a potty training three year old when I'm wearing dungarees. It's even more problematic if I'm out and have enjoyed a few drinks; leaving things until the last minute can result in this grown woman doing the potty dance in the queue for her local pub loo. You know the one I mean... hop, shuffle, cross, clench, repeat. Cringe. The solution is obvious. Poppers or velcro on the leg seams. Good for babies, male strippers and grown ass women who really gotta go. What could possibly go wrong? The last thing I have to say about this look is for God's sake, keep the braces OUT of the bowl.

Dungarees by ASOS (sold out, similar here and here)
T-shirt (old, this one is great)
Sweater by Ann Taylor (old, similar here)
Clutch by J.Crew (old, similar here)
Jewelery (old)

Second Childhood

Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Modern houses are designed to allow natural light to pour in through the clever placing of windows and  often by the use of glass within the architecture itself. However, if like me you live in a more traditional home there are bound to be areas where natural light is in scant supply. This is particularly relevant if you've extended your home. The good news is that dark corners and gloomy corridors needn't be a problem, in fact with a thoughtful approach that potentially dreary area can become the focal point of a room adding drama and the all important wow factor.

This is the back wall in our family room, the white freestanding cupboard is chock full of Bella & Bear's toys. Following an extension in 2007 the nearest natural light source to this wall is 24ft (7.3m) away (I just measured it). This could easily be a dark, dingy part of the house but by using bright clean colours punctuated with strong accents the space is lifted and never feels dull, grey or cold.

When faced with a design issue where the main problem is a lack of light many people will choose to paint the whole room white. While this will address the problem (white walls bounce light off each other and reflect it back into the room) the darkest wall and corners will always appear slightly grey and well it's a little uninteresting. Repeating the use of an accent colour(s) in furnishings and art will lift the look but can leave the room feeling like it's dotted with colour rather than being a coherent whole. The simplest solution, in my opinion is to opt for wallpaper, or if your budget doesn't stretch that far a painted feature wall like blogger Kaelah from The Clueless Girl's Guide has done here and Mandi from Making Nice in the Midwest has done here.

Here are a few quick pointers that will help you to get it right first time:
Dark wallpaper with a small print will make a space appear darker and smaller. Great for creating intimate drama but potentially claustrophobic.

Large, oversized designs such as botanical prints create an optical illusion whereby the walls appear bigger.

Wallpaper with a light metallic sheen will reflect more light than a matt wallpaper.

Choosing a brighter more saturated colour for the darkest wall will lift a room, but be careful about using a bright colour in a corridor or hallway as it can leave the space feeling more enclosed.

Painting the ceiling white and decorating walls in a darker or brighter hue has the effect of lifting the ceiling, a great trick for rooms with low ceilings.

Avoid light coloured wallpaper in kitchens, they quickly discolour.

Once you've found the right wallpaper, or paint for your room don't forget that the simplest way to address the problem of lack of light in a room is to simply add more light. Carefully placed accent lamps and wall mounted sconces will complete the project and highlight your beautiful bright home.

Reflecting Light - choosing wallpaper for a dark space

Tuesday, 17 June 2014
I've decided that Christmas isn't the only time of year you should be able to snap and guzzle a little chocolate bark. So, recently I've been dreaming of ways to make over this winter favourite and by golly I think I've cracked it! Sweet white chocolate is infused with fragrant rose water and topped with chewy goji berries for a deliciously delicate summer treat. 

You will need:
300g of good quality white chocolate
100g pack of goji berries
1tsp of rose water

Prepare a baking tray with baking parchment.

Chop up the chocolate into small pieces and melt them on a low heat in a bain marie. When the chocolate has fully melted add 1/2tsp of rose water and stir it in. If the chocolate looks like it may be seizing up (becoming lumpy and thick instead of smooth and satin like) do not add any more rose water and quickly, but gently pour it onto the baking sheet. If the chocolate remains smooth after adding the first 1/2tsp of rose water add another 1/2tsp and stir before gently pouring it onto the baking sheet.

I've noticed that the higher quality chocolate tends to seize more readily than chocolate with a lower chocolate content, but it's a fine line between taste and workability which is why I suggest adding the rose water in stages.

Using a spatula or knife (at room temperature) spread the chocolate evenly over the baking parchment, top with the goji berries and press them into the chocolate lightly. Transfer to the fridge for 30 minutes. When the bark is set you can chop it or break it up into pieces. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Presented in a cute box I think this makes a wonderful homemade thank you gift for a neighbour or friend.

Rose Water & Goji Berry Bark

Monday, 16 June 2014
Last month I was pleased as punch to see one of my favourite style mavens (Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific) wearing a dress I had purchased only a week before. There's nothing quite like having your personal style choices reinforced by those you admire... insert smug grin here.

 The moment I saw this ASOS dress I knew it had to come and live at my house. The spaghetti straps, the monochrome pleats, the perfect length hitting just below the knee, the way the material moved. Everything about it screamed Winner-Winner-Chicken-Dinner! This is one of the reasons why I love, love, LOVE the ASOS catwalk videos; being able to see how a piece moves and sits when it's in motion is invaluable and boosts my confidence when buying.

This dress is going to be on repeat this summer. I'll wear it with an open knit v-neck white sweater for cooler evenings, a 3/4 length sleeve light weight denim jacket for BBQs and with these elevated black sandals for a more relaxed, comfy feel on days out with Bella & Bear. Belting it at the waist is a great way to change the look quickly and to accentuate your waist if you're unsure about letting the material hang from your frame... Either way it has a killer swishy appeal.

Hat (picked up at the Blenheim Palace visitors shop this summer)
Jewelery (all old)

I wanna be like BEE

Friday, 13 June 2014

Cult online fashion retailer Boohoo wants to play with you this summer and when you join in the fun you could win a once in a lifetime holiday for yourself and a friend... Interested? Why then read on.

All you need to do is capture your summer experiences, upload the pic to Twitter or Instagram and use the hashtag #experienceeverything. Then nominate a friend to enter too. Couldn't. Be. Simpler!!

So whether you're chalking your hair and heading to a festival, hanging out with your minor monsters on an epic day out, beach hopping or just shooting the breeze with friends at your favourite haunt, get creative and show everyone how you experience everything.

#Experience Everything with Boohoo this summer

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Like any design led pursuit personal style grows over time and shifts with what's en vogue, so it is with gardening. Enter The Chelsea Flower Show. If Chelsea were a fashion week it would be NY, London, Paris and Milan all rolled into one glorious spectacle. It's a firework display of horticultural perfection and design genius. Visitors gasp in awe and in some cases quietly snub their disapproval as the vista unfolds around them, but the one thing that everyone has in common is the desire to be inspired by those at the peak of their profession.

The show gardens this year were magnificent, almost without exception. There was also a remarkable coherence with regard to the planting schemes. A similar use of colour flowed from one garden to the next and all used foliage and texture to great advantage. Of course I have favourites, which this year are The Telegraph Garden designed by Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz and A Garden for First Touch at St. George's designed by Patrick Collins.

The Telegraph Garden is a formal garden that reinterprets classic Italian and English style for the modern era. I love how the sculpture within the garden is mirrored in the planting. The lightly clipped hedge and pleached trees frame the boundary as well as adding height and structure. The shape of the chairs is fluid, curved like the topiary while the buxus (box balls) could almost be mistaken for ottomans. The linear nature of the garden is echoed in the perfect rectangular lawn. All of this textural form with it's architectural structure could leave the garden feeling stuffy and rigid but the thoughtful planting scheme softens the edges and brings colour and movement to the fore. The jewel coloured hues of euphorbia, iris, alchemilla mollis and gladiolus shine out from the borders while fennel and arching grasses sway and rustle in the wind.
The Telegraph Garden designed by Tommaso del Buono and Paul Gazerwitz

For anyone who gardens on a slope 'A Garden for First Touch with St. George's' shows how effective terracing can be. The lush planting and informal steps reminded me of the hillside landscape in Vietnam, as viewed from a distance. With space in cities and towns at an absolute premium vertical planting is becoming ever more popular and with it you turn even a tiny basement courtyard into a dense green oasis. Terracing a plot also has the advantage of improving drainage on boggy ground or soil depth on thin chalk allowing for a greater range of planting options as shown in the pictures below where hosta and flag iris (both plants that thrive in damp conditions) are growing in the water and on the margins of the stream. Where as only a few meters away on the opposite side of the steps purple spires of salvia grow with thyme and grasses which will only thrive on free draining soil.
A Garden for First Touch at St. George's

For more information about any of the show gardens at RHS Chelsea 2014 please visit the RHS website

The Greatest Flower Show on Earth - The Design

Friday, 6 June 2014
Uh-Mazing!! For 24 hours only sign up to Anthropology and get 15% off everything in store and online. By signing up to the Anthro loyalty scheme you'll also receive an automatic birthday discount in your birthday month as well as advance notice of sales and special promotions. Well that's an easy decision then... I'm IN!

Happy Anthro Day!!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

You know when people say something they've eaten was 'better than sex' and you try the same thing and then feel a bit sorry for them? Not so here. These scones made my toes curl and my eyes shoot to the back of my head in two seconds flat...  I'm just thankful I was alone when I tried one because it's not polite to show your sex face over afternoon tea.

You will need:
225g (8oz) of self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
55g (2oz) butter (cold and cubed)
30g (1oz) castor sugar (omit if you prefer)
150ml milk (1/4 pint) plus a little more to glaze

150ml whipping cream

1 jar of caramel

Preheat the over to 220ºC & flour a baking sheet.

In a large bowl sieve the flour and salt together. Add the butter and pinch it and the flour together with your fingers until it forms a breadcrumb like texture. The mix will be quite dry. 

If you're going to add the castor sugar, mix it in now. Throw in a handful of butterscotch flakes and fudge chunks (I used approximately 1/3 of a 100g tube of each) and stir in until evenly distributed.

Make a well in the centre of the mix and pour the milk into the well. Stir this into the flour mix with a palette knife until it is an even dough.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead it gently. Then push or roll it out to a depth of 2.5cm. Using a small round pastry cutter, cut out your scones and place them onto the baking sheet about 10cm apart. Brush them lightly with milk before baking in the top of the oven for 20 to 25minutes until they are golden brown.

While the scones are baking whip the cream and vanilla until it is thick and smooth, keep it cool until ready to serve. Of course you can serve these with clotted cream if you prefer.

Allow the scones to cool on a wire rack or serve immediately. They will keep in an airtight container for up to four days or you can freeze them for up to a month (remember to allow them to defrost completely before serving).

Butterscotch & Fudge Scones (with Vanilla Whipped Cream & Caramel)

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