Saturday, 17 September 2011

interior inspiration: royal victoria hotel, pisa

These images are from the beautiful Royal Victoria Hotel, where I stayed in Italy last month. It's beautiful -quiet, right by the river, and full of antiques. It's a huge building with high ceilings, marble floors, big windows with wooden shutters and leaves hanging outside, and gorgeous art on the walls. These photos hardly do it justice, but suffice it to say it's one of the most beautiful buildings I've been to, and certainly that I've stayed in.

There's been a building there since the 10th century, being developed into a hotel in 1837 - so it's fair to say there's a fair amount of history!
One of the best things about the hotel is that, aside from the bedroom, you also have free use of the hotel's many communal rooms; and, when we were there, hardly anyone else seemed to know about or use them! We particularly loved the drawing room, above in the photos, with a balcony looking out over the river - the perfect place to sit and read, or write at one of the desks or on the old typewriter - and the quaint little piano room at the back of the hotel.

Is there anything much more inspiring than writing in such beautiful surroundings? I don't think there really is - I certainly came back planning a novel set in a gorgeous old Pisan building...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

banoffee pie / recipe corner

Mm, banoffee pie - don't you just love it? I've gone a bit crazy for it recently and so thought I'd share my banoffee pie recipe with you. It's a bit embarrassing, but up until a few months ago I always thought that banoffee pie was banana and coffee - which I hate - and which meant that I never even tried it. When I found a recipe and saw that instead of coffee, the magic ingredient was toffee, I knew I had to make it... and I'm glad I did! It's delicious (even if I do say so myself)!

Want to have a go at making it? Here's my easy recipe - and do let me know how you get on with it if you have a go!

To make banoffee pie, you'll need...

  • 300g / 10oz butter

  • 250g / 8oz digestive biscuits

  • 175g / 6oz caster sugar

  • 425g / 14oz can condensed milk

  • 2 bananas

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 150ml (1/4 pint) whipping cream

  • 25g / 1oz dark chocolate, grated

And here's how you go about making the pie...

1. Start by making the crumb case. Weigh out the digestive biscuits and crush them with a rolling pin to make them into crumbs. Next, melt 125g / 4oz butter in a saucepan and stir in the crumbs.

2. Press the crumbs into the base of a 20cm (8 inch) round flan tin, and put it in the fridge until it firms - roughly for about an hour.

3. Next, the filling. Put the rest of the butter and the caster sugar in a saucepan and heat it gently, stirring it, until the butter's melted. Stir in the condensed milk and bring it to the boil; then let it simmer for around 10 minutes until the mixture's a deep caramel colour.

4. Pour the caramel into the basea and leave it to cool, then chill until it's set.

5. Slice the bananas and toss them in the lemon juice. Put a quarter of the bananas aside for decorating the pie, and spread the rest over the filling.

6. Whip the cream and spread it over the top; then decorate with the rest of the bananas and sprinkle with chocolate.

And you're done! Cut a slice of the pie, tuck in, and enjoy...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Mock Turtle

Lovely readers, let me introduce you to my favourite tearoom. Regular browsers of this blog will know that I love my tea, and with that of course my tearooms, and go to a lot - and so my favourite one has to be pretty special. Well, the vintage-inspired Mock Turtle in Brighton really is.

Why? Here's a whole list of reasons...

  • Its location. It's in Brighton - my favourite quirky town and my old home for three wonderful university years - and two minutes away from the sea, so it's perfect for popping into before or after a trip to the beach. It's also near The Lanes, so perfectly positioned for a bit of vintage shopping around tea time too.

  • The colour scheme. Blue walls, dark wooden tables, blue and white china - it's a mix of seaside and vintage which works perfectly.

  • The tea. Lovely teasets and delicious loose leaf tea, and each teapot also comes with another jug full of hot water (and you can ask for more, still, if you want), so you don't have to worry about spending more money ordering another pot of tea if you want to have more than a few cups.

  • The cakes. There's a huge selection, from the traditionals like lemon and Victoria Sponge to the more unusual - think banana cake, apple and chocolate, and carrot and ginger. And they're all lovely and light.

  • The price - a pot of tea and a cake will set you back about £4, which really isn't too bad at all.

  • The atmosphere - finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Mock Turtle has a lovely, relaxed vibe to it; somewhere where you feel like you could sit all afternoon and completely switch off.

If you're ever in Brighton, do pay it a visit.

Where's your favourite place to get tea?

Sunday, 4 September 2011



It's lavender season in England; early Autumn is when they harvest the fields of sheaves and dry, distill and do a myriad of other clever things to them to make the lovely scented oils, incense sticks, soaps, sachets and so on.
I talk about London a lot, but I actually live a little outside the city, in Surrey. My home town, Carshalton, is relatively famous (at least, in the lavender industry) for growing the stuff - we have fields and fields of lavender here, and there's even a rather monstrous statue of some lavender sheaves in the town centre. (That may seem an odd choice of statue, and it is, but in actual fact, that's really Carshalton's only claim to fame - apart from having a well that Anne Boleyn was said to have stopped at once on her way to London, and being the birthplace of Bradley from S Club 7. Yep.)

One of my favourite summer Sunday afternoon pasttimes is walking in the lavender fields - they're planted in December and generally flower from July to late August, when they get harvested. This year, it's quite late - they're not harvesting until next weekend, the second weekend of September - and so I went for one last little walk in the fields.

Have you ever been walking in lavender fields? If so, you'll be able to understand me when I say I can't describe the smell. We're most probably all familiar with the scent of lavender, but when you're laying in fields surrounded by it, it's overwhelming - and gorgeous! It's so calming just to go for a slow wander or lie in the gaps between the rows in the afternoon with a good book.

If you're after some lavender products, may I suggest having a look at Mayfield Lavender's online shop - they're my most local lavender fields and their products are all local, organic and really, really lovely. 

Friday, 2 September 2011

friday fives / just a minute: september

These images felt quite autumnal to me, and so apt for the beginning of September - the beginning of autumn, already.

5 photos come this week from the amazing photographer Anna Amphigorously.

And it's that time again - here's Just a Minute for  September...

This month, I am...

Reading... The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell, Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon van der Booy and Caitlin Moran's fantastic How to be a Woman.

Buying... silly amounts of dresses (I blame the bad shopping infleunce of my friend Lauren!)

Listening... to Ed Sheeran. I think I may be a little in love with his music.

Watching... can I say nothing? I hardly have time for TV at the moment!

Loving... exciting thoughts about the future...

Planning... fun weekends with friends :)

Do you want to join in with Just a Minute? I found this on Daydream Lily's blog via August Street, and it's a lovely little monthly activity. Feel free to join in - and make sure to send me a link if you do, so I can see what you're up to at the moment!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

left my heart in Lucca

The beautiful medieval walled Italian town of Lucca - now one of my favourite places. On holiday in Italy last week, we decided to take a train inland from Pisa to Lucca - we'd heard good things about the town, and heard it was a little 'undiscovered' and less touristy, but really didn't know any more than that.

It's amazing; I can't put it much simpler than that. We loved it. We liked it so much that we went back a few times over the week, to wander round and soak the place up, try to commit it to memory. We had dinner there on the last night, sitting in a beautiful square, pondering on what a lovely holiday we'd had - and partly because we'd been lucky enough to find Lucca.

Why did we love it so much? Here's a brief guide to Lucca - hopefully it'll inspire you to visit, too...

Lucca was initially a Roman city - an important trading town - so its streets are uniformly laid out in squares and blocks, making it easy to navigate if you know where you're going, or pretty much like a maze to navigate if you're not used to the town, and don't have a map (which we didn't).
There are still many heavy influences from Roman history; Lucca has natural thermal springs, and there are still "Bagni Comunali" (communal baths) in the walls of the town itself, with lots of spas just outside the town, in the mountains.

Lucca is quiet and peaceful; imposing medieval walls enclose the whole city, which means that there are relatively few cars and vans inside Lucca itself; it feels a bit like a secret, and makes it easy to walk around at your leisure. The walls themselves are huge; there are even parks on top of them, which you can relax in, looking at the mountains in the distance, before venturing down into the city.

Inside the city, the buildings are beautiful; very typically Tuscan, with large imposing churches, cute cobbled squares and small rivers with fountains.

The main square is in the shape of the old Roman amphitheatre; now updated and lined with medieval buildings and rather more modern restaurants, the square has a unique elliptical shape and is lovely to gaze at and wander round; there are also some beautiful shops in the aptly named Piazza di Amfiteatro.

Markets - every Italian town has them, but in Lucca they're more than just your local fruit and veg stalls. Our favourite was the antiques market, selling anything from old books to furniture to old classical guitars and jewellery. Spreading over a few cobbled squares, it's great to wander around...

And for those of you who are after a bit of culture and music while you're away, Lucca is the perfect town. There are chic cheese and wine bars in squares, museums of contemporary art, and an abundance of music - there's a concert of some kind almost every night, either in a church or outside in a square for everyone to hear.

Lucca, as you can probably tell from this post, really swept us away; it's a beautiful place, and well worth a visit if you're ever in Tuscany. Tempted to go? ;)

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