13 Bookish Brunette Bakes: Chilli and Lime Cupcakes
Drunken shopping can yield interesting results. “Statement” hats, experimental hosiery, Bachelors Super Noodles…
Thankfully, drunken shopping can also yield some interesting AND delicious results. These cupcakes are a tribute to the joys of wandering around Selfridges Food Hall having consumed half a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Let me explain:
A friend and me had spent the afternoon watching a film at the Electric Cinema. We had gotten rather excited about their ingenious “text for wine” system. Two hours later we stumbled out onto the streets of Birmingham with an urge to drink water. In our mildly inebriated state, we decided that Selfridges Food Hall was the most obvious place to obtain water. OF COURSE!!! Once there, we spent silly amounts on fancy bottled water and had a little tipsy stroll around the place. Imagine my joy when I saw stands offering free samples of cheese and, erm, granola!
There was a chilli jam stand and the sales assistants were very persuasive. I woke up the next morning, peered into my Selfridges carrier bag and thought: “what the hell have I bought?”. It was a jar of Chilli and Vanilla Jam. For someone who still struggles with the concept of Chilli Jam, the addition of vanilla made it even harder to comprehend.
Since then I have been mulling over various ways in which to use my jar of chilli and vanilla jam. The jar suggests serving it over ice cream but, whilst I sure this is a winning combination, I don’t like ice cream (gasp). My first idea was for a sweet chilli pineapple upside down cake, which I will try soon. I eventually settled on some lime and sweet chilli cupcakes, topped with a floaty-light cream cheese and chilli frosting.
They are good – not too spicy but with enough of a kick. They are sweet but far removed from the one-dimensional sweetness of a conventional vanilla cupcake.
A few pointers: I used Jumokeh Chilli and Vanilla Jam. It is available in Selfridges Birmingham. It is great but you might struggle to get hold of it. If that’s the case, I’m sure that you could simply combine some good sweet chilli sauce with some fresh vanilla or vanilla paste. For the frosting I used Sweet Chilli Philadelphia Light. Again, you could probably make your own by combining cream cheese with a dollop of sweet chilli sauce.
For the cakes:
110g unsalted butter
225g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g self-raising flour
125g plain flour
80ml semi-skimmed milk
Juice of 1 lime
1tbsp chilli and vanilla jam
For the frosting:
175g cream cheese with sweet chilli
450g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter
Zest of 1 lime
1tsp chilli and vanilla jam
To decorate: Dried chilli flakes, lime zest and cayenne pepper
1. Pre-heat oven to 180c/gas mark 4 and line a 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a few moments between each egg
4. Mix together the two flours and combine the milk, lime juice and chilli jam in a jug
5. Add a third of the flour and mix until well combined before adding a third of the milk mixture. Add the flour and mil alternately until it has all been well incorporated
6. Place a dollop of mixture into each paper case – two-thirds fill each case
7. Bake for around 25-30mins, until golden brown and risen
8. Leave to cool on a wire rack
9. Place all of the frosting ingredients in a bowl and mix until a smooth and creamy texture is achieved
10. Smear/pipe/smooth a thick layer of frosting onto each cake, top with grated lime zest, chilli flakes or a sprinkling of cayenne pepper (depends how hot you like things!)
I know that the combination of flavours is slightly unconventional, but these are well worth a try.
08 Bookish Brunette on the Art of Wedding Dressing
I adore special occasion dressing. As soon as a wedding invite lands in the letterbox, I start what can only be described as a regime of intensive outfit planning. My theory is that modern life offers so few dressing-up opportunities that it is necessary to seize the ones that do crop up. (NOTE: No Met Gala invite this year. Again.)
I may spend most of my days sitting at my computer with unbrushed hair and wearing vests with tea stains down them, but I sure know how to bring it when it comes to Wedding Style.
Here are a few of my golden rules for wedding guest dressing:
- Avoid anything from Coast. Unless you don’t mind EVERYONE ELSE AT THE WEDDING wearing the same thing. In fact, avoid all the special occasion usual suspects and shop for items at the places where you buy clothes from anyway (unless that is JD Sports or Millets). That way you get an outfit that reflects your true style.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. The worst that could happen is that people will laugh at you in photos in twenty years time. No biggy.
- Wearing white is almost always a no-go. But that whole thing about ‘upstaging the bride’ is a load of B.S., unless you intend to wear a £1,000.00 floor length ivory gown with a tiara and veil.
- Planning ahead is crucial, as is trying everything on ahead of the big day. I once met a woman who had an ‘emergency outfit’ in case she woke up on the morning of the wedding and changed her mind. I admire that kind of thinking.
- Pashmina shawls are a tad dull. As are those cropped, crocheted bolero cardigans. Tailoring and stoles are where it is at.
As people seem to like scrolling through pictures of people wearing nice clothes, I’ve decided to assemble my wedding dressing greatest hits. The pictures aren’t ‘style blog’ pictures – I seriously cannot be arsed with all that flattering lighting and posing business. That and I have better things to do at weddings – like drinking gin and befriending the bride and groom’s grandparents (who I then persuade to buy me gin. Natch.)
And it goes a little something like this:
July 2008 – Amy and Jez
Possibly my all time favourite wedding outfit. The beaded dress was from Joy and I teamed it with massive gold hoop earrings and a messy side-bun. It felt effortless. The weather was glorious. I have many happy memories of kicking off my heels and sitting on the grass with good friends and a bottle of chilled rose.
August 2008 – Jen and Mark
OK, so maybe this is my all time favourite wedding outfit. For mine and Mark’s wedding I wore an elaborate Ian Stuart gown (seriously, check out the rose detailing at the back) with the most awesome veiled fascinator thingy-ma-jig. My Mom made the bridesmaid dresses. SKILLZ.
June 2009 – Elly and Jez (AKA. #jellywed)
This outfit was so much fun to put together. It is a draped and knotted skirt from River Island (heavily inspired by Burberry Prorsum), worn with a metallic gold vest from French Connection and a white blazer by Twenty8 Twelve. I remember feeling very glamorous and Winkleman-esque with my fringe.
October 2009 – Alison and Ad (AKA. #alpacawedding)
Another one that I adored putting together. I’d had the Topshop blazer for a while and it worked perfectly with the retro-styled Laura Ashley red dress. The hat was customised with a red floral rosette found by my Nan. Looking back, I’d maybe swap the shoe-boots for a more conventional pump, but they added a bit of edge to the look.
June 2012 – Marian and Jared
I’m quite proud that I managed to pull off this vintage number. It was from Rokit in their clearance sale and cost a mere £20. The wedding was one of those cool and chilled out affairs and this outfit felt perfect for it. This outfit taught me that eighties nostalgia, hot pink and leopard print DO work for occasion dressing, despite what the purists may tell you.
October 2012 – Laura and Graeme
If I’m feeling a bit bummed out about my appearance, I look at this photo. It is my reminder of the levels of fabulousness that I can achieve when I put my mind to it. The dress was from Label Lab at House of Fraser, the stole and necklace were from Zara and my Mom – again with her serious crafting SKILLZ, made the bag. They are out of shot here but I finished the look with some ponyskin leopard print heels by BCBG Max Azria (as teamed with the vintage pink dress in the outfit above).
Thanks to all the happy couples who invited me and Mark to share their special days and here’s to all the weddings set to come!
Also, mega-thanks to my pal and wedding partner-in-crime, Gemma for letting me use some of her photos for this post. She blogs about life as a new parent at www.gemandco.co.uk
02 Bookish Brunette’s Beauty Spot: All Time Favourites
It is rare that I’ll profess brand loyalty. I am a fickle creature who gets easily distracted by shiny new products. There are a couple of exceptions: Marmite (always Marmite, never Vegemite or supermarket own brand) and Diet Coke (always, and only in a can). But I’ve recently noticed that my beauty regime includes a few stalwarts – items that I buy time after time. I’ll try alternatives but always come back to certain products. I’ve found things that work for me – some luxurious, others more everyday. Either way, these are the products that I swear by: Body: Clinique Sparkle Skin Body Exfoliator – £17.00 Boots This is expensive but I’ve tried cheaper alternatives and always ended up disappointed. It sloughs away dry skin in seconds and smells lovely. I tend to buy it every year around May as it prepares my skin for the inevitable day when I have to ditch the opaque tights and expose my legs to the world. As a self-tan refusenik, this stuff keeps my legs pale and perfect. Honourable Mention: Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Dry Oil Fragrance: Chanel Cristalle £45.00 House of Fraser It is hard to describe what Cristalle smells like. I wear it everyday but can’t think of the right words to sum up its scent. All I know is that it is based on vetiver which gives it an almost dusty floral citrus smell. It is a tricky fragrance to pin down and that’s why I love it. The lighter Cristalle Eau Verte makes an ideal summer scent – it is fresh yet still alluringly complex. Honourable Mention: There are none that I can think of. It is Cristalle or nothing for me. Lips: Body Shop Lipscuff – £8.00 Body Shop There’s nothing like flakey lips[.....]
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22 Bookish Brunette goes to Piccolino
Piccolino Birmingham are launching their all-weather alfresco dining terrace on 25th April. To mark the launch, I was invited along for a meal by the kind people at Individual Restaurants. Here’s what I made of it… Piccolino sits to one side of a peaceful zen-inspired Oozells Square in Birmingham’s Brindley Place. It is a world away from the garish hustle and bustle of nearby Broad Street and offers something altogether more mature and refined. The first thing that struck me on approaching the restaurant was the beautiful cherry blossom that currently fills the square. A table on Piccolino’s newly opened terrace would provide a prime viewing spot for soaking up these pretty promises of spring sunshine. Once inside, things became more sultry – low lighting, dark wood, rich red leather and a well-stocked chrome and mirror bar. The welcome was warm without being overbearing. My husband and me chose to have a drink at the bar before being shown to our table – all in the name of research, obviously… I went for the Negroni. The Campari-crush that I developed on last year’s trip to Sorrento is still going strong! My husband went for a Birra Moretti. The cocktail was sheer class – the bar tender mixed it with flair and served it in a reassuringly weighty crystal tumbler. He instructed me to squeeze in a twist of orange, which I duly did. It was a subtle change that lifted the drink leagues above any other Negroni that I’ve supped in the UK. Regarding the beer, my other half tends to be a real ale drinker and therefore he always bemoans the proliferation of lagers in Italian restaurants. I see his point but I seriously can’t imagine real ale taking Italy by storm any[.....]
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10 Bookish Brunette’s Thoughts on Postgraduate Life
What follows are a few thoughts that I had after a researcher development session at university. A fellow student mentioned the ‘isolation and solitude of research’, which, to me, is like a red rag to a bull. I had a bit of a rant that went pretty much as follows: I consider it to be one of the dangerous myths fed to PhD students. People bang on about it so much that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with hundreds of lonely and miserable students telling other wide-eyed and excited new starters to beware of the loneliness of the tortured academic. Yes, research can often involve hours of sitting in a room alone. But so can being self-employed – the trick is to make it work for you. Want to talk to someone? Go and find someone, be it through Twitter or by popping to a café. Want some company? Get a dog. My little outburst prompted me to think of some tips for new or prospective PhD students (beyond ‘get a dog’). I’m now six months into my studies and have had a lot of new experiences, pains and pleasures in a concentrated period of time, as a result I reckon I’ve got some wisdom to share. I use the word ‘wisdom’ with caution – what has worked for me won’t necessarily work for others. I want share my thoughts because there are so many myths and clichés about life as a postgraduate. Some of them are there for good reason but a lot are distracting nonsense. These tips aren’t about conducting research or writing. Instead they focus on the personal side of being a PhD student. Remember though, everyone is different and every one will have different experiences – feel free to let me know what postgraduate[.....]
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11 Bookish Brunette and the Expensive Dress
See the dress pictured above? It is £625.00. Six-hundred and twenty-five pounds. That’s a lot of money. I could buy ten posh frocks from Topshop for that amount, or 3,140 chamomile tea bags. But do I really want ten posh Topshop dresses? And, quite frankly, consuming that much chamomile tea would be enough to cause a major case of the ‘tea-wees’. And I certainly don’t want that. This Victoria Beckham shift is the sort of dress that I can instantly picture myself wearing. High heels, big shades and a bit of a tan for swanky summer garden parties*, ballet flats, big shades and a oversized tote bag for an elegant lunch somewhere on the French Riviera. It is the sort of dress that doesn’t scream “HELLO! I COST A LOT OF MONEY!”. Instead, it seductively and subtly whispers “Hello, I’m classy, sexy and understatedly elegant”. When framed like that, £625.00 for a dress seems fairly sane. In Vogue terms it would be a bargain; an ‘investment piece’ for the savvy shopper or a ‘love forever’ wardrobe essential that I’d be able to pass on to my (inevitably) chic daughter. It isn’t fairly sane though, is it really? Especially when you have no invites to swanky summer garden parties and an elegant lunch on the French Riviera is likely to involve a back alley Quick Burger in one of Nice’s more ‘up and coming’ neighbourhoods. £625.00 is the sort of price that prompts a sharp intake of breath. A price that has me checking the fabric composition to ensure that the dress is woven from 24 carat gold and iridescent unicorn mane (it isn’t), a price that I know I would have to divide by AT LEAST 10 before telling my Nan how much it cost. It[.....]
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24 Bookish Brunette Grows Up
It has got to the moment in time when I need to decide what this blog is all about and what I want to achieve from it. It used to be very simple, but life (and people) change. I looked over this blog earlier and barely recognised the person that it described. My hair looks way different now for a start. Since this blog began, I’ve gone from being a wannabe writer who dabbled in essays and academia to someone who stands a chance at actually being taken seriously as an academic (pretty groovy, huh?!). This change has got me thinking about the messages that I put out there and how I need to be channeling my love of writing. On an idealistic level, I still refuse to accept that every blog should have a niche. It kills creativity and forces people into ridiculous pigeon holes. BUT, I’m becoming increasingly aware that my blog URL is on the bottom of my email signature. Do I really want professors to click on that and be faced with an 800 word emo rambling about my feelings and weaknesses? NO. I want them to click on that link and see stuff that blows their mind with sheer cleverness and insight! I want them to click and think “Woah, this lady has got her act together!”. My aim is to do this whilst still writing things that my friends and family will enjoy. There will be a bit more focus and far fewer mild expletives/allcaps/multiple exclamation marks/bad puns/pictures of donkeys. This is probably the last post that I’ll write in this upfront, casual and chatty style. Where next? I’m not quite sure. I’m going to mull it over for a while and make sure that whatever step I[.....]
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