Christmas Gift Guide #6 – For book lovers

Today is our final gift guide, brought to you by Gemma who has rounded up some unexpected gifts for book lovers… I hope you all get your shopping finished this weekend if you haven’t already! x

1.       Kate Spade dictionary Ipad cover.  This is an excellent gift for two reasons: 1, it’s Kate Spade and therefore has serious fashion cred and a chic design, and 2, it makes it look like you’re reading the dictionary.  Plus, it’s a zip-around folio style so you can store papers and cards in it easily – great if your recipient is using an Ipad on the go or for work.  Plus, it’s pretty unisex which is always good.

2.       ‘Well Read’ T-shirt.  With a statement, Zoe Karssen-esque vibe without the high price point, the other thing that makes this tee so fab is that Every Well Read t-shirt purchase provides 4 new books for First Book, a non-profit organization that provides new books to schools and reading programs for low-income families. Having ordered a few Palmer Cash t-shirts in my time, I can tell you that they wash and wear well, too.

3.       Keeping a handwritten book journal is a lovely thing to do – yes, you can keep one online with, but there’s something satisfying in seeing handwritten entries.  I think a book journal makes a particularly good present for teenagers.

4.       The perfect present for Harry Potter lovers, coffee lovers, and those who love a good pun.

5.       I know, I know, Etsy is riddled with prints of quotes and literary posters.  But I do think that this one is one of the best and would make a great gift for a partner, or even for a Christmas wedding.

6.       These candles may actually be the best book lover present ever invented.  Organic  Booklover soy wax candles in book lover fragrances like ‘Oxford Library’, ‘Bookstore’, and the one that I’m desperate to buy – ‘Butterbeer’.  I also love the quirky design aesthetic – a great present for that cool friend who’s hard to buy for.

7.        Know someone bookish who’s expecting a baby? Or maybe they’re a child at heart? Either way, these postcards make for a gorgeous gift.  As well as being great for fans of retro design, I think they’d make a fabulous frieze in a nursery.

8.        Know someone who’s a big fan of dystopian fiction? Brighten up their January with this Folio Society tote bag – strong, sturdy and just the right size for a trip to the library and perfect for literary types.

Now you’ll probably have noticed straight away that there are no actual books on this list.  Never fear though, we have big plans for Florence’s Book Club to resume in the New Year – bigger and better than ever.  If you simply can’t wait for Christmas reading recommendations, or you need insider suggestions of a good book to get a friend for Christmas, leave your question in the comments and I’ll pop back through the day with suggestions.

Happy bookish Christmas,

love, Gemma C-S

ps, if you’re my husband and reading this, I’d like to remind you that I’ve been very good this year. 😉

PPS! Other Gift Guides…
For the hard to buy for (Rebecca’s list)
For Mums everywhere
Stocking Fillers
For Home lovers
For Mini-me’s

Florence’s Book Club

Florence’s Book Club is back! Hooray!
You might have noticed that BC this month has a slightly different format.  That’s because we’ve noticed that there seems to often be a lot of book chat on twitter when something really captures our imaginations, but sometimes not the same engagement on the blog. A good read is hard to find and can often be a really personal thing! That’s why we’re asking for your recommendations – just send them in to and I’ll round them up.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

This book was given to me by a colleague who thought I might like it after I bestowed them with The Language of Flowers – a recent favourite of mine, so I was intrigued. Set in the farming bible belt of America, it focuses on the migration of the monarch butterflies who make their home on Dellarobia’s farm, thousands of miles north of their usual home in Mexico. Initially the story is a slow burner, setting the scene of the poverty and family dynamic Dellarobia is a part of. The butterflies attract attention at first from local church going miracle seekers, then from environmentalist and scientists. The second part of the book focuses on their arrival and work with the butterflies, which Dellarobia joins.

What struck me more than the characters was the over-riding theme of despair and hopelessness, both that the butterflies would survive their unusual surroundings, the significance of that situation with respect to global warming, and Dellarobia’s own limited life experience. As I write, I’m 150 pages from the end and still curious to see how it turns out.  – Rebecca

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Kate Kerrigan is an author who has had a top spot on my Amazon wishlist for a while, and had even made it onto my bookshelf, but for one reason or another was overlooked every time I chose my next book. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and read a brand new author. so Ellis Island was chosen as my next book to devour, and I am so glad that it was.

Ellis Island follows the story of Ellie and her childhood sweetheart John. When John is injured in the War of Independence, Ellie travels to America to earn the funds required to pay for an operation to allow John to walk again. When she arrives Ellie discovers that Jazz Age New York is not only a million miles away physically, the lifestyles are far removed as well.

When Ellie emigrates to America the story follows her journey and her experiences, but we continue to learn of John’s plight through his letters to Ellie.

Ellis Island is an evocative and powerful love story. In parts it actually physically warmed my heart, and at times it made it ache. I was utterly captivated by the story, I warmed to Ellie’s character instantly and hoped for her to triumph, in whatever way that might be.

Ellis Island is a story about finding your place in the world and who you are destined to share it with. I adored it, and I think you might too…

Emma – Aphrodites World

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters – A nostalgic story of a young Italian man falling in love with a wannabe Hollywood actress who appears at his small family hotel on the Cinque Terre coast, sent there by some reckless Hollywood actor/director. The books travels between 50’s Italy and today’s America as the Italian man tries to find his long lost American beauty. The book is funny, well written, bittersweet, a great read.

Push: A Novel by Sapphire – The book inspired the movie Precious. This is the story of teenager Precious Jones as she attends “special needs” English lessons to learn to read and write. Her story is nothing but abuse, neglect, violence and negativity. It is told in her own words in broken, mis-spelt English and reading the book is like having Precious sitting in front of you telling you her story. Very real, never patronizing, a real, inspiring book to which I think the film didn’t do justice at all.

A Night Without Armor: Poems by Jewel – poetry collection by the famous singer songwriter. This is not your high school poetry book by any means! contemporary, heartfelt, Jewel’s poems are a reflection on love, society, and growing up in Alaska.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed – real story of a young American woman goes on a trail on the Pacific Coast Trail as she grieves for the loss of her mom and tries to recover from a series of failed, broken relationships.

– Celine.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick
Those of you who know me or who’ve read Florence’s Book Club before will know that I am a bit obsessive when it comes to books, and also that I read a lot and often, so when a novel stands out for me, it REALLY stands out.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is the latest offering from Matthew Quick, who also wrote the critically acclaimed novel-turned-awesome-film-starring-Bradley-Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook.
Leonard Peacock made me cry as well as laugh out loud, which is a tall order.  And Mr C-S read it as well and enjoyed it, which is even more of a tall order (he tends to just re-read the books he likes, which is basically everything George Orwell ever wrote and the odd crime novel if it’s by a Scottish author.)
So, in a nutshell, Leonard Peacock is technically a YA novel and it’s about a teenager who, it’s safe to say, has a lot going on in his life and who is in desperate need of, well, something.  I could go on, but I won’t, I’m simply going to add in the blurb from the jacket which is what said to me ‘Gemma seriously read this book.’

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first, there are four people he wants to say goodbye to. Most of the time, Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye.

So readers, we hope you’ll find at least one title in here you’re keen to curl up with on a rainy afternoon.  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments and hear more suggestions!



ps.  I am going to buy A Night Without Armor: Poems for my husband.  When we were first going out he’d never even heard of Jewel.  😉


#JanuaryJoy – Read a new Book

Much like music on Florence Finds, I rely on the book posts written by Rachel, Gemma and other readers to bring new literary finds to my attention. Today Gemma is taking over and has several recommendations for you that you might like to start straight away and while away the dark evenings or make a note of for your next holiday read. In a stroke of genius, Gemma is tackling the books by genre and recommending something for each of you according to your favourite reads of 2012.

Image Credit

Well, the snow is here, so it’s the perfect time to avoid going outside completely and let books transport you to where you need to go. I know today’s #JanuaryJoy prompt is to try a new book, but I’m not interpreting that as ‘off the wall new’.  Instead, I’m hoping you’ll find a new favourite which reminds you of other books you’ve loved.  To help with this, I’ve grouped them along the lines of ‘If you like x, you might like y.’  Before I get started I’m going to warn you all that this new book guide is not show-offy, nor literary, nor highbrow.  It’s SO annoying when people get all judgey about popular fiction and use terms like ‘trashy novel’ or even ‘chick lit’.  Books are books and reading is reading, ok? So read what will bring you joy.

In my experience, everyone likes crime fiction/thrillers.  Everyone.  What differs is the type of crime fiction you like. So if you have devoured any James Patterson in the past (now he’s a one who often gets the dreaded trashy label but, there’s no denying he sells, so we must be buying his work!) or you’ve seen the poster for the latest Alex Cross film, you’ll be pleased to know that instalment 19 about the aforementioned detective came out in time for Christmas.  James Patterson also writes for kids and teens and the Maximum Ride series is likewise a gripping read.  (although it, strictly speaking, fits into the next category down) Speaking of books adapted for the screen, if you watch the TV shows Bones or Rizolli and Isles,  you may already have discovered Tess Gerritsen.  If not, she’s one to check out.  Closer to home here in the UK, there’s the duo I like to call ‘the two Peters’ – namely Peter James and Peter Robinson who have series about DI Roy Grace and DI Alan Banks respectively.  If you’re already a fan of the two Peters, I’d suggest Mark Billingham’s work.  Finally on the crime front, if you’re a fan of Kate Atkinson‘s crime novels, which are a little more ‘literary’ (even though, as I said, I’m not making those kind of judgements in this post) try these two oldies-but-goodies: Brighton Rock by Graham Green, and The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Sparks.

If you liked The Hunger Games, I’d say you’ll love Divergent, by Veronica Roth: another brilliant dystopian coming-of-age novel for teenagers with a strong female protagonist.  However due to social media etc you may already have found Divergent, and are waiting for the 3rd instalment of it,  in which case, may I suggest the Noughts and Crosses trilogy by Malorie Blackman.  A gripping story of teenagers who fall in love, set in a world where the black ‘crosses’ consider themselves superior to the white ‘noughts’ and the two are segregated, you’ll be vair pleased, I’d wager, that all 3 books in the series have been published so that you can, if you so choose, devour them all in one sitting with a packet of chocolate biscuits for company.
If, however, you’re a Hunger Games fan looking for something a little more adult, there’s a host of alternative reality Science Fiction (yes, really, the Hunger Games is Science Fiction) that probably inspired Suzanne Collins.  The world that Katniss, Gale and Peeta inhabit owes a lot to Stephen King’s Running Man and The Long Walk (Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman, but the King of horror himself.  Yes, I am openly encouraging you to buy SK and I hope that Rebecca will let me back another day to tell you all what you’re missing by not being Stephen King aficionados,  like me, but for now, I’ll stick to Running Man and The Long Walk.)

And, ok, if you just can’t bring yourself to be seen with a try Stephen King, consider The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  The Folio Society have re-issued this modern classic in a gorgeous gorgeous illustrated hardback just begging to be read and re-read and kept on display.

Game of Thrones.  Now, for starters, if you’ve watched the TV show derived from ASOIAF but haven’t read the books, (ASOIAF, by the way, stands for A Song of Ice and Fire – the name of the series) getting the first is a sure-fire winner.  Just don’t expect to get anything done for the next few the weekends.  If however, you’re like my friend Zarah-from-work’s boyfriend who apparently ‘spent 4 months in the ASOIAF tunnel, barely coming up for air’, and you’re looking for the next multi-book set, try out The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
Or, and these two suggestions are possibly more for women though obviously here at Florence Finds we don’t discriminate ;), there’s:

The Outlander series by Diana Galbaldon: Epic in the true sense of the word, this series centres around Clare Randall, an English woman who time travels from the 1950s to the 1700s in Scotland and meets a Highlander called Jamie Fraser.  My great aunt was the one who originally told me about them and I was surprised at how, ahem, racy they are 😉 but the historical detail is incredible and they are utterly gripping.  I read all 7 in December.

Barbara Erskine’s novels: Barbara Erskine writes historical tales with a splash of the supernatural and every one I’ve read I’ve been unable to put down.  More often than not featuring strong female figures from the past, (some real, some imagined, and some sillier than others) these too are big on historical detail and are perfect for reading in the bath. (Though not, obviously, if you are reading on a Kindle or Ereader.  That would be asking for trouble.)

Finally, and still in the ‘historical’ genre though in a totally different vein, The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh is a huge book in both size and scope.  Telling the story of 4 generations of family, it starts in Burma in the 1800’s and travels to India, Singapore and back, with its beautifully drawn characters playing out their lives against a backdrop of turmoil and change.

And what am I starting today? Well, I’m cracking open two new books: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Turner, which apparently is as good if not better than ASOIAF and Hunger Games, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which is a thriller.  I’ll report back shortly with how they both were.  Now it’s over to you lot… I don’t care whether you know what a Bildungsroman novel is (Nick-from-the-upstairs-flat doesn’t know, and he’s a Shakespearian scholar!) or whether your latest fav read won the Orange prize.  I do want to know which book is going to make me miss my tube stop though…

Oh, and p.s – many of the links in this post are to buying books through The Hive Network, which is a brilliant idea and allows you to buy online and collect from local independent bookstores.  I’ll be using them until Amazon start ponying up the cash for their tax bill.

We’d love to hear your recommendations for 2013 – perhaps your favourite book of last year or a Christmas gift you enjoyed and do tell us if you have tried any of Gemma’s suggestions too!


Thrifty Thursdays – Time to travel.

As you read this, Mr C-S and I are on our way to Spain.  We will be staying in a luxurious 3 bedroom city apartment, walking distance from the beach and the city centre of Valencia.  But wait, isn’t this Thrifty Thursday? Well yes it is.  And the aforementioned pad is costing us less than per night than two beds in a youth hostel, because we booked it through a home-sharing website called

With many of us tightening our belts the better to weather the recession, holidays are often the first luxury to go, which is where house swapping and home sharing sites come in. With anyone can sign up and advertise their home as available so not only does renting someone else’s place abroad guarantee you a holiday at a good price, you can even be extra thrifty and earn some cash from your empty house while you’re away!

Many people may not like the idea of having strangers staying in their place, which is something I totally understand (my own brother and his impossibly glamorous girlfriend are staying round ours while we’re away and I’ve already bombarded them with useless information including how I normally hang out our washing and which way round the cup handles should face) but whilst organising our stay in Valencia we’ve been emailing the flat’s owner who seems a lovely person, and (because loveliness will only take you so far) we’re paying upfront with a sizeable cash deposit on arrival.  We know we will leave her house in immaculate condition (mugs lined up and everything) but she has the extra safety of a lump of our cash.

So readers, has anyone used house Rented out their place to Cameron Diaz  or Kate Winslet a la The Holiday?

Do drop us a note in the comment box and let’s talk holidays!
Love, Gemma C-S

PS.  Holiday bargain alerts!

  • Travel sized Charles Worthington Takeaways sun protection range has been reduced to a mere 29 pence in Asda stores.  Not available online – snap them up if you see them!  (the leave-in conditioning spray is particularly good in my thin, frizz-prone hair)
  • Florence and Fred at Tesco have launched a new swimwear range, as well as putting a number of other items into the sale, with bikini bottoms on their website starting at 2 pounds.
  • Every year without fail (ok, so the last 3 summers that I’ve been there, but still) fashion magazines in Spain (the likes of Cosmo and Elle) have given away free Haviana flip-flops with their July issues.  That’s twenty pounds + footwear for peanuts,  (and ok, maybe you won’t be able to read the articles, but you can look at the pictures!)
  • And thrifty clothes item of the week is this dress from H and M.  Perfect to pull on over swimmers at the beach but also great for wearing on the plane with jeans and a blazer, whatever the weather!

*all images are of the actual apartment we’re staying in via  And yes, that’s our private deck you can see peeking through the window of the shot of the lounge. 🙂


Thrifty Thursdays – An introduction

Hi everyone!

After Rebecca’s big announcement yesterday about the supremely exciting and gorgeously geometric Dream. Find. Do., I have a wee bit of news to report too.  Namely, that we will be unveiling a few new types of post here on Florence Finds over the coming weeks, and one of them will my baby…

Thrifty Thursdays.

See, much as I absolutely ADORE this blog, and I boy, do I hanker after pretty much everything Rebecca features be it for her home or her wardrobe, a lot of the content is, shall we say, a bit more aspirational than available for me.  At C-S towers we’re on something of an austerity drive, which has been intensified by me not having had regular income over the last few months. Pottering around behind the scenes of Florence Finds can sometimes make me feel like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the glass of a beautiful store that I’m afraid to go into, and that’s a bit silly, because it’s definitely not the vibe we’re aiming to create here.  I know that a few of you are in the same boat, too, be it saving for house deposits, planning weddings or simply trying to put pennies away for a rainy day, not all of us have a lot of cash to splash.  On the other hand, when you are trying to live frugally, it’s really frustrating not to be able to indulge yourself from time to time, or to feel like you’re depriving yourself in every area of your life and for the love of Mike can’t you just have one new thing to wear on a night out.  Which is where Thrifty Thursdays comes in.

Image credit: Hennie Haworth

Once a fortnight I’ll be featuring DIYs, craft ideas, bargain cosmetics, recipes and more all of which can be done on little or no budget.  We’ll be looking at the usual Florence Finds areas of interest, like fashion, travel and interiors but from a slightly different, thrifty viewpoint.  I’ll be doing my best to round up lower pricepoint alternatives to Rebecca’s Fash Flash and what to wear posts and it will also be a place for us to share any discount offers or deals that come our way, and of course we hope you guys will send us submissions with your hints for living a fabulous life without breaking the bank! (Fire away to

What’s your best tip for brilliance on a budget?

Love, Gemma C-S

The Summer reading list…

Hello Findettes… Gemma here!

I’m stripping this post back to basics.  See, I read a LOT.  I’ve also just discovered that I’m a speed reader, apparently, and I normally get through five to seven books a week.  I live for fiction, and I’m not afraid to be seen on the train with a Penny Vincenzi.  However.  The first draft of this summer reading list would wallpaper our flat.  So I’ve stripped it back to five books, and five only. I’ve tried to avoid things that are getting a lot of press at the moment and instead categorise them into the five different things I’m looking for in a holiday read at the moment.  (I’ve was told I could only take five with me to Spain on holiday.)  I’m also not going to tell you too much about the plot of each – what’s the point? I hope you’ll find something here you’d like to try for yourself. Here goes!

1. “Literary fiction” which is easy to read.   Maybe you’re going on holidays this year with a scarily-well-read friend, colleague or in-law.  Maybe you are just a bit fed up with the standard of free books available on the kindle.  Whatever the case, Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman, is impossible to put down and in my humble opinion, he was robbed of the Booker prize for it.
Harri, the 11 year old protagonist, is a Ghanian immigrant living with his family on a council estate.  Moving between Harri’s adaptation to life in the UK and his small daily triumphs and tribulations and a broader perspective on modern-day gang culture, it is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.  If you’ve not already, read it now before the TV series comes out. (the BBC have commissioned an adaptation directed by Adam Smith of Skins fame.)

2. Something your boyfriend/husband/dad/brother can borrow from you: The Other Hand, by Chris Cleeve, (published in America as Little Bee) is so good, so funny, so powerful, easy to read and yet so quirky and insightful into various issues, including that of working mums, that I find it very surprising that it was written by a man.  This book will definitely spark discussions between you and whoever you’re on holiday with, so make sure you time the lending of it carefully – I finished it in one sitting and then stood over Mr C-S while he read it so that we could talk about it.  Little Bee is a young Nigerian refugee who comes to England and stays with Sarah, a magazine editor and her Batman-obsessed son Charlie.  I should warn you that it is also devastatingly sad at times, but the more beautiful for it.  Oooooooh! Alert! I have just discovered that Chris Cleave has a new book coming out in a week’s time, called Gold, which is about Olympic Speed Cyclists. If you had said to me this morning ‘Gemma C-S, what is the one topic you are most unlikely to want to read a book about while you’re on holiday?’ That’s probably what I’d have answered.  But now? Well, I’ll be outside the bookshop before it opens with sweaty palms (which isn’t actually an uncommon occurrence.)

3. Alternative reality science fiction aimed at teenagers, or, the new Hunger Games.  Ugh. How many times lately is a book hyped as the new Hunger Games?! Too often for my liking. The Chaos Walking Trilogy series, by Patrick Ness, actually came out a couple of years ago, before HG, and for my (pocket) money, is better written and just as gripping.

It too is set in a dystopian world, it too features a strong male and female protagonist, and also deals with themes of war, good and evil, redemption and gender politics. In three volumes, it follows the story of Todd Hewitt and Viola Eade whose relationship unfolds against a society in turmoil.  Oh, and it includes an incredibly loveable dog.

4. Crime fiction: Through my teen years I read crime fiction voraciously, the gorier the better. These days though I find my tolerance for American whodunnits has waned a little, and I’m more likely to enjoy something from this side of the pond.  If you’ve never read them, can I recommend Kate Atkinson’s frankly phenomenal Jackson Brodie books, but entry number four on this list actually goes to the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith.  Featuring a Scottish philosopher who occasionally dabbles as a sleuth, they are heart-warming and funny detective stories which feature flashes of razor sharp insight into the human psyche.

5. For those who were obsessed with Judy Blume as girls: Did you know Judy Blume has written for adults too? Travelling to Paris a couple of weeks ago I took Summer Sisters.  It was a good, solid, engaging read and having a ‘new Judy Blume’ to pack in my case made me beyond happy.  Following the friendship of Vix and Caitlin throughout their childhood and into their adult years, it has a distinct Jodi Picoult-esque flavour to the narrative with the authentic Blume voice which made us all devour books like Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret, and Deenie.  Also, it’s mainly set during summer holidays on Martha’s Vineyard. Perfect summer reading.

Now, as I’ve said, this is just a tiny selection of what I’ve been reading this summer.  Please leave us your suggestions of what to line up for or what to avoid!
What’s your favourite book of all time?

Gemma C-S

PS. If anyone’s interested, here’s the speed reading test I took, via Stylist Magazine.

Found: The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander.

Today’s Find, with its brightly coloured stripes, is a real ‘investment cookbook.’  The Cook’s Companion: The Complete Book of Ingredients and Recipes for the Australian Kitchen by Australian cook Stephanie Alexander, is the perfect gift because anything you could ever possibly need to know about food or cooking is in there.  When I mentioned it to Rebecca, she’d already heard of it and knew friends who had it… apparently it’s something of a cult item! We were given our copy as a wedding present, (my Great Aunt Anne actually sent ours from Australia – the package was about the size and weight of two bricks tied together) and with over 1000 pages of recipes, it covers every basic dish you can think of as well as more advanced cooking techniques and stacks of info about how to prepare various ingredients, how to match flavours, and what to cook when.

The Cook’s Companion: The Complete Book of Ingredients and Recipes for the Australian Kitchen by Stephanie Alexander

In the 6 months we’ve had ours, it’s become something of a touchstone for my cooking.  With it I’ve made the perfect white sauce for seafood, home made pizza bases and various desserts as well as using it as a reference for converting measurements and swapping herbs in recipes according to what I could find at ASDA.  Sure, I could have done all that on the internet, but a, I’m not allowed to put our laptop anywhere near water or foodstuffs, and b, it’s not as pretty.  Not to mention that the book has two ribbon bookmarks and is perfect for just browsing through for inspiration.  I think it would be a totally fantastic gift for someone moving out of home for the first time, too.  It’s not inexpensive (listed on Amazon for around the £80-£90 mark, although there are also some available second hand for less,) but it’s something which will last a lifetime.

Have you been converted to Stephanie Alexander? Or have another favourite recipe book with everything in it? Let us know!


Gemma C-S

Friday Food: Ottolenghi Barley Risotto

Happy Friday everyone!

We’ve got vegetarians coming for dinner next Thursday, and in honour of them I will be making Yotam Ottolenghi barley, tomato and garlic risotto.  This recipe is one tracked down after Mr C-S and I had been out to dinner, to a lovely restaurant, with a big group of people. Some of the guests we knew, some we didn’t.  One woman we hadn’t met before (our friends are mostly used to us) ordered a barley risotto, and barely touched it.   There it sat, looking creamy and amazing.  Mr C-S nudged me in the ribs.  I nudged him back.  Say it! He said. You say it! I said.  Finally, a waitress came and cleared the table.  Was there something wrong with your risotto? She asked.  No, said the woman, it was gorgeous, I’m just not very hungry.  Mr C-S and I watched as the waitress took it back to the kitchen.  He sighed.  All you had to say to her, he said to me in mournful tones, all you had to say, and then I could have tried it, was ‘are you going to eat that?’

A quick google the following morning turned up the following recipe on the Guardian website.  Now that I’ve made it quite a few times, I add in two small onions and am generous with the lemon zest and chilli powder, but I’d suggest sticking pretty closely to the set quantities the first time around.


3 tbsp olive oil, plus an extra trickle at the end
2 whole heads garlic, cloves separated, peeled and quartered
750g fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
200g passata
½ tsp smoky paprika
⅛ tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp picked thyme
4 strips fresh lemon zest
1½ tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
270g pearl barley, well rinsed in cold water and drained
Roughly 200ml water
20g chopped coriander leaves, plus extra to garnish
Black pepper
200g feta, crumbled roughly

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the garlic quarters for about two minutes, or until golden. Add the tomatoes, passata, paprika, chilli, thyme, lemon zest, sugar, salt, barley and a ladleful of water; stir and bring the mix to a simmer. Cook over minimal heat for 50-60 minutes, until the barley is tender but still firm to the bite. You’ll need to stir it from time to time, so it doesn’t stick to the pan, and add water occasionally, making sure there is always just enough liquid left in the pot to cook the barley. At the end of the cooking, the mix should be runny enough easily to spoon into bowls.

Once done, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the coriander and some freshly ground black pepper. Add most of the feta, stir gently so the cheese doesn’t break up too much and stays in largish chunks, taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

Spoon into serving bowls, sprinkle with the reserved feta and coriander, and drizzle over a little olive oil.

I promise that this isn’t nearly as fiddly as it may seem, and it will satisfy even the most ardent of meat lovers.  Or risotto-made-from-rice lovers, come to that.  It’s become a real healthy comfort food in our house.  What’s your best comfort food recipe? Share it with us in the comments!

Love, Gemma C-S

The Happy Birthday Hijack…

Well, greetings and salutations readers.  Rebecca isn’t expecting this post, because it’s her birthday I asked her if she thought she could bear to step away from the blog last night and not look til this morning, so that she could have a rest.  I said I’d take care of an article for the morning.  This is it – interrupting the regularly scheduled programming for a very important HAPPY BIRTHDAY announcement.


You see Findettes, as the editor of these multi-coloured pages, not only do I get the benefit of reading about Rebecca’s finds and adventures a wee bit ahead of time, I’m also in a very good position to see just how much of her heart and soul Rebecca pours into this blog.   She turns 30 today, and I know I’m not the only person who takes my metaphorical hat off to her.


I could waffle about how Rebecca is, to me, a kind of Wonder Woman, made all the better because she doesn’t pretend to be perfect or to have all the answers.  I could also tell you how she’s coped magnificently with more than her fair share of heartache and drama over the past few months.  How she deserves to be utterly celebrated today for what she’s achieved and just, well, you know, how she rolls.  But then I thought, there are 3 people who are very important in Rebecca’s life outside of FF who aren’t often involved in this blog.  Who better to wish her a heart-felt Happy Birthday than those who have made her who she is? 

Rebecca's little sister, Francesca

“For my fabulous big sister, – Happy 30th Birthday! You have achieved so much in your 30 years so far, more than some achieve in a life time! Add to those achievements being a strong, ambitious, kind and generous person – I am very proud to be your sister. I’m excited to see what the next thirty years (and thirty after that!) bring! You deserve a wonderful birthday celebration, I hope this is a good start to it! Lots of Love Francesca xx”

Rebecca's Mum

“I have loved Rebecca (as only a Mum does), from the moment she was born and I first saw her tiny face. The day she walked down the aisle and I saw the love in Pete’s eyes, I realised she was not my little girl any more but a strong beautiful woman, ready to move forward into the next phase of her life. I am so very proud of her achievements, how she does it all I don’t know! She is always there to support me through laughter and tears, she is my heartbeat and I wish her all the joy and happiness in the world for her magnificent thirties” 

Rebecca's Husband, Pete

Happy Birthday to my wonderful wife! I’m looking forward to all the wonderful things we have planned over the weekend, and can’t wait to give you your present later as think you might like it! 😉
Everyone told me that my 30’s would be more fun than my 20’s. I’ve loved the last decade with you, so roll on the next…
Love you xo” 


So, happy thirtieth Rebecca.  Thank you for being precisely who you are.

Oh, and thanks to your family for replying to my stalkerish emails 😉


Gemma C-S xx

ps. everyone’s teary now, right?


Fashion Dilemmas: Amanda’s honeymoon cruise

Yesterday while we were all dreaming of colour bright pool-sides and retro road trips across the pond, reader Amanda commented the following:

I’m just planning our honeymoon in May/June 2013…

We’re going to go on a cruise ship from the UK to New York to start off with.  I’ve just booked it and was terrified at the commitment and money.  Now I’m a gibbering wreck having seen that I apparently I will need to wear evening dress on 3 nights, cocktail dress on 2 nights and the other 2 I can be “elegant casual” (which means for men that they don’t have to wear a tie)

I have precisely nothing in my wardrobe that would meet these criteria.  Smart for me is a t-shirt and skirt.  They say with some emphasis that t-shirts are not allowed after 6pm.  And how do you pack one bag with that sort of wardrobe and hiking gear for California?  I mean this metaphorically as I don’t think there is an answer – but if anyone has one I will be pathetically grateful.

Well Amanda – we think there IS an answer, and we don’t expect you to be pathetically grateful, just send us in a report of the highlights of your trip, ok?

Rebecca and I just love putting outfit inspiration together, so readers, please send your dilemmas in to FF – who knows, it could become a regular occurrence!

The maxi dress: An affordable black tie/evening option

It is an absolute sartorial gift that the maxi dress shows no sign of going out of fashion as yet.  Instantly formal due to their length, there is a cut to suit everyone.  The dresses below all have enough ‘wow factor’ to be worn with heels (and the beauty of a maxi is you only need to take one pair of heels on holiday and wear them with more than one long dress because you don’t really see them) and layered during the day.  The lightweight maxi is also a great choice if you’re travelling in countries where you need to cover your legs, if you’re visiting temples, churches and mosques for example.

1. Green printed maxi dress from MANGO – switch the belt for a different look and use the printed belt with one of the plain dresses you’re taking, or even as a headband!

2. Black gathered maxi from ASOS – Wear with a brooch at the bust and long dangly earrings – it won’t crease and no one will know that it’s jersey! Great for wearing during the day underneath a denim jacket or even a knotted shirt (my tip for Amanda? Steal your husband-to-be’s for the latter)

3. Bias cut Maxi from Ghost – This Ghost maxi is definitely an investment piece, but its timeless cut ensures it will never go out of fashion. I mentioned this yesterday but it’s worth saying again – at the moment Ghost are dyeing a range of maxis in 16 different colours.  So there should be something to suit everyone, including Rebecca who’s allergic to black!

Midi dresses: For the cocktail and elegant casual nights

1. Butterfly print asymmetric hem dress, Warehouse – This butterfly printed midi-dress (below right) is feminine yet still has a rock star edge to it.  I think it would look great with wedge sandals in a metallic shade but you could dress it down by wearing a cardigan over it, or a fitted jersey top with a sleeve underneath it.

Butterfly print dress – H&M // Butterfly print asymmetric hem dress – Warehouse

Cocktail and day dresses:

1. Butterfly print dress (above left), H&M – A bargainous number to pad out your wardrobe options… wear with a slip to add more substance to the fabric.

2. Blue Mesh Skirt dress, COS – I am in serious danger of buying this blue number.  Serious danger.  It is incredibly chic, and would be perfect as evening and cocktail wear, yet pair it with opaque black tights and a cropped black blazer and you’ve got a smart/casual outfit with serious catwalk-led credentials.

3. Lilac Jersey Dress, COS – This lilac jersey dress is basically an oversized T-shirt- but it’s the perfect item to dress up or down.  The viscose in the jersey means it won’t cling too much, and with a ribbon belt, high heels and statement jewellery, I’d say you’d have ‘elegant casual’ nailed.

4. Mint drop waist dress, COS – I have a silk dress of a similar cut and colour, and I’ve had it 10 years… I dress it up with heels or have been known to wear it on holiday with flats and a jumper over the top.

5. Gold sequin cuff long sleeved black Dress (see below), ASOS dress – This ASOS dress can be worn as an on deck ‘cover-up’ over your swimsuit, and then worn over a slip with high heels as a cocktail dress.

To give you an idea of exactly how versatile it is, here’s a Day-to-Night respresentation Rebecca made earlier showing how you can style it to take you from sight seeing to cocktail sipping…

Dress – ASOS
Day: Sunglasses – Rayban // Bag – Accessorize // Sandals – Accessorize
Night: Clutch – Accessorize // Earrings – Accessorize // Heels – Zara

Rebecca’s tips:

  • Go neutral with your daytime accessories to find something that works with every outfit in your case. This raffia and tan leather bag dresses down a glam dress for day and won’t look out of place in a National Park over a hoodie. Similarly, take one pair of double duty flip flops that will see you from pool to sightseeing to bar. Think tan, black or metallic, whatever the majority of your wardrobe is.
  • Same goes for evening attire – find a small metallic, black or neutral clutch to work with everything and choose nude shoes – lighter for summer and they’ll work with dark colours, brights and neutrals meaning only one pair of heels required! Did I mention they lengthen your legs? 😉

Woah – I could go on but think I should stop now before I am too tempted to reach for my credit card.  I haven’t really gotten around to skirts and tops for capsule wardrobes either – next week perhaps?

So readers, do you have any suggestions for Amanda? Do leave us a comment with the link if you do!

Gemma C-S xx

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