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Oldfashioned Landscapes

February 12, 2017

Regular readers must have already noticed my love for Polaroid photographs. I like their subtle colours that can very quickly somehow transform normal bright images so that they are turned into old memories. I’d say that Polaroid effect gives the minus twenty years feel; anything it touches becomes oldfashioned and reminds me of my childhood. And everything was better back then…

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We’ve just had a wonderfully sunny weekend. The weather was so nice that I didn’t mind walking several kilometers along the coast! It was cold, but also very exciting, as everything reminded me of summer that will sooner or later visit our shores.

Here are a few of the perfect moments; they were so good that they could have easily happened in my childhood.

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Insta(nt) Theraphy (or #Artists to Follow on Instagram)

February 6, 2017

February might be the shortest month of the year, but it’s also the most frustrating one. On the one hand it’s nearly spring (in the last few days I’ve seen so many photographs of snowdrops and daffodils that it would be hard to convince me any different) yet on the other – it’s still too cold to believe we’ve seen the worst of this winter (by the way, over here it’s getting colder by the minute; the temperature’s supposed to drop to at least -10C tonight…).

Well, while we are getting anxious, still waiting for the first signs of spring, one can do a few things: the obvious activity would be to enjoy winter (I got my skates out last Saturday) and the one that would calm one’s nerves – to look for colours somewhere other than outdoors. When bleak landscapes pull your saddest strings (happens more often than you’d think) grab your phone and head for Instagram.

I’m not a social media freak (I’m actually rebelling against Facebook), yet I haven’t failed to notice how much social media sites have changed our lives. For e.g. blogging; my blog has become an online diary where I register pretty things, meet interesting like minded people and learn new stuff every time I decide to cover a topic I’m not that familiar with. Before we continue a little deviation – you should see the list of social networking websites! If you ever felt bored or lonely joining some of them could easily guarantee disappearing time and endless virtual friendships. But lets get back to Instagram – a photo and video sharing site. I’d say it’s relatively safe in terms of loosing precious hours of the day, of course if you don’t follow too many users…

Anyway, if you decide to instagram, here’s who I recommend to follow:

@rachel_grant_art

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@erinspencerart

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@vanessabowmanartist

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@_charlotte_hardy_

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@tkjustinng

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I love their work and I find these people very inspiring. Their photo feeds can always make one’s day brighter, so if you already are on Instagram press that “Follow” button.

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P.S. You can find me on Instagram here: @decorartuk. Please let me know where I can find YOU 🙂

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“Catching” Birds

January 17, 2017

The most important question these days is – why didn’t we have so much snow for Christmas? It’s so pretty over here! Unbelievably pretty, yet cold. It has snowed for two days solid and now everything is covered in heaps of fluffy stuff – it seems winter has finally decided to show its real face…

Our garden is under a thick white blanket. The snow is so thick that I’m worried some of the branches might break. The dog has lost all of his toys (we should find them in spring) and is scared of the new shapes that have emerged over the weekend. As the landscape has changed so drastically I’m trying to look after our wildlife a bit more. Imagine if you were a tiny bird, where would you look for seeds or crumbs?

The good news is… we have a new bird feeder (bigger and cozier). And I have a personal bird feeding partner.

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I know this is crazy, but my bird feeding partner is one of our cats – Moses. He’s a big green eyed boy. I find him extremely attractive, but I’m sure the birds would think he’s a monster. Now going back to the title that I chose for this post – “Catching” Birds, I think I need to tell you that the cat doesn’t catch birds. He just walks round the house with me and then returns to his warm cellar. I’m the bird catcher.

The catching process is painless and remote. I do this looking out of our kitchen window…

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At the moment our garden guests are mostly tits and sparrows, but I hope to “catch” someone more exotic soon. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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ScandiKitchen: Fika and Hygge

January 8, 2017

Any ideas what the words fika and hygge mean? I’ll give you a clue: one word has something to do with coziness in winter and the other one – something with extremely tasty breaks. Yet as I’m not a specialist in Scandinavian languages or culture I will tell you more about these two words while we browse a lovely new book – ScandiKitchen: Fika and Hygge by Bronte Aurell.

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As you can already see this is a cookbook. And the best thing about it is… It’s full of wonderful desserts! By the way, keep reading if you’d love to have a go at making a special Banana Cake which isn’t “like all the others”; at the end of this post you will find its recipe. But first of all lets find out more about Scandikitchen and its owners.

Scandikitchen is actually a cafe and a grocery shop in London’s West End. It was “born out of pure homesickness and a need to find a space where people could meet for a fika – a cup of coffee and a bite of something sweet to eat”. The owners Bronte and Jonas Aurell come from Denmark and Sweden, so their shop is full off food that can only be found in these countries and their cafe menu lists traditional Scandinavian buns, cakes and little pastries. It’s a wonderful place where “anyone can feel a sense of hygge, a state of content coziness with friends where nothing else seems to matter”.

Sadly I haven’t been to Scandikitchen, but it is one of the places I’d love to go to when I’m in London next. Meanwhile I’m really glad I have their book. Short dark winter days are perfect for drinking hot coffee and sneaking in desserts (I’ll worry about the extra kilos later…). Thinking about it, in the next few days I might bake Real Cinnamon Buns and Danish Pastry Kringle… hmm… Blondie with Lavender and Lemon sounds good as well! No need to be jealous, I can guarantee you’d also find what to make as this book offers plenty of lovely recipes for cookies and biscuits, traybakes, little fancy cakes, celebration cakes and even breads.

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You might not be a keen baker, but I’d still recommend this book, especially if you’d like to know more about Scandinavian culture. Reading it you will find out what English word Danish hygge might be related to and that there actually are a few different kinds of fika, also you’ll be introduced to the most important Scandinavian winter celebrations – Sankta Lucia and jul (Christmas), oh, and seven kinds of biscuits and even a cookbook that you would find in every Swedish household.

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And here’s the promised recipe for That Banana Cake. I’m sure you’ll love it! (SERVES 8–10)

You will need:

3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
125 g butter, softened
300 g caster sugar
3 eggs
200 g plain flour or cake flour
50 g cornflour
1/2 teaspoon salt
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar OR extract OR use the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
250 g Greek yogurt, OR natural yogurt OR 250ml filmjölk

ICING:
125 g butter, softened
125 g cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar OR extract OR use the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lime
300 g icing sugar, sifted
chopped pecan nuts, to decorate

a 23-cm springform round cake pan, greased and lined with baking parchment

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Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas 4.
Blend the bananas with the lemon juice in a food processor to a purée and set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer (or using a hand-held electric whisk) until very smooth, light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with each addition.
Sift the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and then fold into the batter. Add the banana purée, bit by bit, and fold in. Then gently fold in the yogurt or soured milk until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake in the preheated oven for around 50–55 minutes or until golden brown and springy to the touch. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. The baking time with this cake varies depending on the size of the bananas that have gone in, so keep checking.
Turn out the cake and leave to cool on a wire rack. It must be completely cool before adding the topping, so ideally make it several hours in advance.
For the icing, whisk together the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, lime juice and icing sugar for several minutes until very smooth and creamy. If it becomes too soft then chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before use.
Spread the icing generously onto the cooled cake and decorate with a small handful of chopped pecan nuts.

Let me know how quickly this cake disappeared in your house!

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Taken from ScandiKitchen: Fika & Hygge by Brontë Aurell, published by Ryland Peters & Small. Photography by Peter Cassidy © Ryland Peters & Small.

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Only 75% or 10 Good Books

January 3, 2017

While everyone else is looking forward to what 2017 is going to bring them and keep thinking of their New Year’s resolutions, I’m looking back. (Yes, I’ve always been a weirdo!) I don’t think I achieved much in 2016, although some before and after pictures would tell a different story. The problem is that I always have loads of goals, probably too many, so there’s no way everything could be achieved in just one year. (It seems I’ll have to be patient and persistent once again.) But… there’s one goal that I’m always able to keep in my mind and try really hard to achieve it – it’s reading as many books as possible.

I started keeping track of my read books in 2015. (I do this on Goodreads.) The aim was too read 50 that year and I did it. In the begining of 2016 I raised the stakes and said that the magic number would be 60.  Hmm… I read 45 books and sadly that’s only 75% of what had been planned. But on the other hand that’s 13831 pages – not too bad when you look at it this way, right?

Some more facts:  the shortest read book was only 44 pages long – A Christmas Tree by Charles Dickens (this was right before Christmas, when I was still hoping to reach my reading goal this year) and the longest one – 530 pages! But they were read with an extreme gusto and this book is certainly my number one in the top ten books that were read last year.

Anyway, keen readers, if you are ready, here’s my top 10.

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  1. All the Light We Cannon See by Anthony Doerrbestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. It so beautifully written that I wanted to read it in one go and at the same time to savour every sentence, every chapter for as long as possible.
  2. The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque – probably the best love story ever told! Heartbreaking record of the worst mistakes in history and crimes to humanity. It is a harrowing tale of bravery and butchery, daring and death, in which the price of love is beyond measure and the legacy of evil is infinite.

  3. A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray – it’s a story of one Mormon family and their massive loss. Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.”

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  4. The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom – is it possible to get a phone call from your loved one who is dead? Apparently it is. Intriguing and consoling, it is a page-turner that will touch your soul.
  5. Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles – a good book to start your New Year with. “The main character of the book wakes up on New Year’s Day and is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing more than passive verbs and un-italicized moments, but… an unexpected visitor slips into his Barcelona apartment and refuses to leave.” It’s a beautiful love story that teaches to look for happiness in little things.

  6. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier – it is a realistic historical novel set in the final decade of the 18th century England. “As in her previous novels, Chevalier mixes historical characters and her own creations; among the real people vividly portrayed here are circus pioneer Philip Astley and radical poet/engraver William Blake.”

  7. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – this author is my last year’s find. She’s Turkish, yet she writes about Armenian genocide, now that’s an unexpected fact. Full of vigorous, unforgettable female characters, The Bastard of Istanbul is a bold, powerful tale that will confirm Shafak as a rising star of international fiction.
  8. The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak – before you start reading this book get yourself a pretty notebook as you’ll be able to fill it with wise and timeless lessons, or rules, that offer insight into an ancient philosophy based on the unity of all people and religions, and the presence of love in each and every one of us”. This is a novel with two parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century Middle East.

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  9. Slade House by David Mitchell – in just a few sentences? Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.” A great ghost story.

  10. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee  – Set in post-apartheid South Africa, J. M. Coetzee’s searing novel tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University.” Sounds pretty simple, right? Yet everything is much more complicated. I’d say this book is schocking, stiring up all kinds of emotions.

Happy 2017!

Read more, learn more and always stay focused.

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My Winter’s Story

December 29, 2016

I wish I could tell you a pretty winter’s story…

It should be decorated with loads of fluffy white snow: slowly landing on the ground, covering up dull colours that autumn has left behind…Imagine looking out out of your window and seeing the first snowflakes arrive – a gentle wave engulfing meadows and forests.

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If you went outside, frost would bite your nose! So I’m sure you’d be willing to hear my story while sitting by a roaring log fire. Drinking hot wine? Induging in sweet pies? It’s up to you how you decide to spend your perfect winter’s day.

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I guess some would simply enjoy the unusually white scenery – cheeks pressed to the cool and damp glass, eyes wide open, trying to guess how deep the snow can get before it gets dark.

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Others would probably worry about the wildlife. (I know I would.)

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Unfriendly temperatures and empty fields and gardens can turn one’s life upside down. (I saw a fox the other day, running past our house. It seemed at a loss, as if not knowing where to look for its warm den or something tasty to put in its grumbling stomach. Sadly I couldn’t offer a cosy bed, as all are already taken.)

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Have you noticed how right before Christmas, when it gets colder our hearts tend to go the other way – they melt? It’s easy to make us happy, anything can put a smile on our faces and we seem to be grateful we have each other. I love this phenomenon. It just would be great if we could stay like this all year round.

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This wasn’t a story, just a few random thoughts. Why? I dreamt of a perfect Christmas and I was going to weave my photographs into a lovely winter’s tale, but it’s not going to happen. Sadly it’s been an extremely wet December… Rainy days and muddy lawns damaged my festive mood a tad, so you can probably tell that I’m still waiting for that white miracle. The magic time, that smells of greenery and cinnamon, came and went, everything happened too quickly… but I can promise you that even longing for proper cold winter’s days I’m still keeping my heart warm.

(These photos were taken a month ago and I hope that there will be many more – come on, January!)

English Houses

December 8, 2016

What comes to your mind when you hear this phrase – English Houses? I think of big old buildings somewhere in the country, pretty secret gardens, cosy rooms with huge fire places and colourful spaces that resemble cabinets of curiosity. I don’t think I was far off – Ben Pentreath’s wonderful new book English Houses is full of such inspirational homes.

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Featuring interiors from city apartments to country manor houses this book illustrates the classic English style. Unique architecture, old and brand new interiors, lots of colours and textures – pure inspiration!

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From the very first pages I fell in love with the author’s rooftop flat in Bloomsbury. Ben Pentreath is an expert in architecture and interior design, no wonder his home is so rich in objects that straight away draw ones attention (like the framed map of John Rocque’s ‘Plan of the Cities of London, Westminster and Southwark’ in the photograph above). “Shifting collection of vibrant cushions” and heaps of blooms, adored by Ben’s husband Charlie, make this flat spring to life with colour and I’m certainly not a black and white person.

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If you think this is just another book about interiors, you are wrong. Ben says that “this is a book about houses, but more than that, it is a book about people”. In his opinion “perfectly decorated room without people to occupy it, love it, and live in it is meaningless”. I coudn’t agree more! (This bright kitchen in the photograph above belongs to Lulu Lytle. She owns a shop Soane Britain that sells furniture, fabric, wallpaper and lighting – all of it made in Britain. Do you like the Owl Lantern hanging above the table? I think it’s brilliant. Apparently it’s made entirely by hand by skilled Sheffield silversmiths and you can order it from Lulu’s shop.)

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Oh, that “curious alchemy of putting together rooms”… Ben says that architecture is easier as you can tell precisely for e.g. “the correct thickness of a glazing bar”, yet “good decoration is a matter of opinion”. Well, flicking through this book you’ll be able to pick what YOU like the most. (I was truly inspired by Trematon Castle or the home of garden designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman (photograph above – one of their rooms), as the author has noticed it “fizzes with energy and fireworks”.)

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I love the fact that English Houses isn’t only about indoors. In this book you’ll find quite a few lush gardens and extremely green country landscapes. You can pick some ideas for your vegetable patch and flower beds and even for a cosy conservatory!

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Well, you might not like English style, you might find it too busy and too cluttered, but I think you would still enjoy a journey to this big island that has so many hidden treasures – splendid castles and manor houses. Ben Pentreath will be your perfect guide. And as there’s nothing plain and simple here, be prepared for an extremely interesting trip!

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English Houses by Ben Pentreath, published by Ryland Peters & Small. Photography by Jan Baldwin © Ryland Peters & Small