A Merry Little Christmas

  
Christmas card from my mother & a selection of giftcards.

The inevitable Christmas 'haul' post; I do, typically, dig my heels in about this kind of thing, but I really enjoyed scanning through some of the Christmas posts (read: being nosey and peeking at other people's presents) on my reading list, so I figured I'd get involved this year, and share a couple of my favourite gifts from the day.
 
The two favourites; HP Deathly Hallows necklace from Sawyer & Scout, and Viktor & Rolf's 'Flowerbomb'.

So incredibly grateful for everything I was given this year, particularly the two presents pictured above - I had yet to see a Deathly Hallows necklace that I liked before stumbling across this piece online, and am now completely in love with at least 90% of the goodies Sawyer & Scout have to offer, and the Viktor & Rolf perfume is something I've been not-so-subtly hinting about since about mid-August, so I was incredibly lucky to receive both - and gift cards to justify my likely new year splurging were, of course, the cherry on top.
The perfect end to Christmas day; hot chocolate and tonnes of mini-marshmallows in front of the tree.
Anyway, I won't bore you with too much photo-spam this holiday season (is that a sigh of relief I hear?),  but I hope you all had as lovely a Christmas as I did, however you spent it, and are recovering from serious food-hangovers as best you can.
What were your favourite (material) gifts, this season?
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All the Small Things

This week's had its ups and downs, like most; my first university fire drill seemed like a pretty interesting start to the week, up until the moment I dropped my iPhone (as I'm sure you can tell from the picture, I'm in need of a new screen - can anyone recommend a drop-in repair place in either Canterbury or London?); I finally finished 'One Day', which I had a love/hate relationship with, and started 'Looking for Alaska', which, so far, isn't quite living up to the expectations I'd had for it.
After spending far too much time studying this week (working at university, who'd have thought?), it soon picked up as my flatmates and I shared our first ever joint tequila night on Friday, shots downed whilst reminiscing over Dib Dab lollies and listening to some old-school R'n'B - No Scrubs, anyone?
By Sunday, mass lethargy had, of course, kicked in, and following a disgruntled search through my flatmates' veggie student cookbook and some serious drooling over Domino's pizza menu, we caved in and had a serious girls' night in, two huge pizzas between the three of us, and four tubs of Ben & Jerry's - some of which are still calling to me from my freezer as I type, a serious test of willpower!
The sad thing is, I hadn't even had anything to drink when that last photo was taken - I am just genuinely that naturally unphotogenic!
What's your guilty pleasure when you've had 'one of those weeks'? Food, like me? A good book? Tequila?
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Changing Spots


Leopard-Print Skater Dress - Topshop, £28; Suedette Boots - H&M, £30; Leather Satchel - River Island, £70; Heart-Shaped Pendant - Forever 21, £6.It's officially impossible to take an even semi-decent outfit post in my university accommodation.

I haven't been shopping since I moved to university, not proper, full-on, clothes shopping. Something about the daunting budget and the sudden expenses of 'reading week' and the many events going on in and around town (and the odd slightly impromptu concert weekend in London) have made splurging on clothes a little more difficult, as of late.
Needless to say, I snapped, this dress being one of the many slightly reckless purchases from a weekend of clothing-centric behaviour.
I was having withdrawals, okay?
You'll be seeing most of the latest purchases around in the next couple of weeks (as part of my self-induced resolution to start posting more outfit photographs), I'm sure.

In other news...I got Florence + the Machine tickets in the pre-sale this morning (as those following my twitter will already know)! I saw her when she was touring 'Lungs' in 2009 (back before Dog Days was played everywhere, and she's amazing live, so I'm pretty excited! Is anyone else going to see her in March?

Feel free to follow me on: Chictopia & Lookbook!
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Cookies and Cream

I got really, really lucky with my university flatmates.
Don't get me wrong, some of them make me want to scream, and one or two have, on occasion, been known to test my faith in humanity, but two of them, in particular, are probably the best friends I could have ever hope to make at uni.
One of the aspects of this new friendship I love most is, naturally, their ability, and appreciation, for baking (because, in case you hadn't noticed, it's a hobby I indulge far too much).
This weekend I made Cookies and Cream 'bark' - essentially a 'home-made' (not sure I can technically call it that as my role was predominantly assembling the thing) bar, with layers of milk and white chocolate, and crushed oreo pieces.
It's good, and I'd recommend you all make some, seeing how easy it is - my one suggestion would be to add a little dark chocolate to the mix (perhaps between the white chocolate and second layer of milk), because it can be a little sickly otherwise.
Cookies and Cream Bark:
  • 400g milk cooking/baking chocolate (not to be confused with covering chocolate, of course)
  • 200g white cooking chocolate
  • 154g (1 package) of Oreo cookies
  1. Line a baking tray with a layer of greaseproof paper. Crush the entire pack of Oreo cookies into a bowl (I just used my hands, but depending on how fine you want the chunks to be, you could always use a rolling pin etc). 
  2. Melt 200g of the milk chocolate in a bowl suspended over a pan of hot water (personally, I never use the microwave because I think it effects the taste of the chocolate, but you can do this if you prefer).
    Once melted, pour the chocolate onto the lined baking tray, spreading as evenly as possible - it doesn't have to be terribly neat, just try and get it as wide/long as you can. Crumble over a third of the crushed Oreos, and place the tray in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Whilst the first layer is setting in the freezer, melt all the white chocolate in the same way you did the milk.
    Once the first layer has set, remove the tray from the freezer and pour the white chocolate over the top; you'll have to work quite quickly so as not to melt the first layer with the warm white chocolate, so neatness isn't a concern, just try and spread it as much as possible, then add another third of the Oreo cookies to the top of this layer. Put back in the freezer for another 10-15 minutes.
  4. Melt the remaining milk chocolate, and, once the white layer has set, repeat the process of pouring/spreading the freshly melted chocolate. Sprinkle on the remaining Oreos, and return the tray to the freezer for another 15 minutes.
  5. Once completely set, grab another layer of baking parchment, and place over the top of the chocolate; holding the edges of both layers of greaseproof paper for grip, flip the entire thing upside down, and hit the underside with a rolling pin, saucepan, or any other heavy object available, so the entire thing smashes into shards.
    Once you're happy with the size of these pieces, you can sample your new-found bark-making skills, and store any leftovers in a container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
This is definitely my new go-to recipe when I need something sweet and made-for-sharing ASAP; what are your 'emergency treat' bakes?
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Settling In

I have been at university for exactly nine days, and, so far, they have been nine pretty amazing days; it's been a pretty emotional roller coaster, plenty of unnecessary tears, lots of laughing, far too much alcohol, and some serious flatmate-bonding (with the odd dose of over-sharing).
I didn't get my internet up until yesterday (apparently my gorgeous new MacBook Air wasn't quite good enough for my university's special network requirements, and I had to order a cable for it), so there's been a disgusting lack of posting for the past week and a half (why does it always feel so much longer in the Blogosphere?), but I'm sure I'll be up to my usual frequency now that we've all settled down a little and actually have to start learning.
I was the first in my flat of eight students to contract the dreaded 'Fresher's Flu', which I have ungraciously passed on to at least three other people, but we've all soldiered on quite well, considering; the fact that I've made my way through an entire pack of Lemsip tablets in about three days probably helps matters.
The above pictures are all from my new room - unsurprisingly, the fairy lights were the first thing to be unpacked, and one of my noticeboards is already packed with photos from home!
I'm actually dreading the first wave of homesickness, which hasn't quite hit me yet, but my mother's visiting next weekend so it'll probably be pure devastation when she leaves and I may well be inconsolable, who knows?

I hope everyone else who made the move either last week, like me, or the weekend that just passed, is settling in as well as I am to their new lives away from home, and that you're not all missing your hometowns too much.

To everyone who's 'been there, done that' - how did you cope with homesickness when you first left home? How did you cope with Fresher's Flu? And, most importantly, how on earth did you keep yourself awake during lectures after a serious night out?
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Ultimate Brownies & Giveaway Winner!

I swore to myself I wouldn't allow myself to end up in a frantic rush in the lead-up to my imminent move to university, but making preparations before results day almost seemed like tempting fate - meaning, inevitably, that the past few days have been a completely manic rush.
My days aren't permitting me an awful lot of 'blogging time'; they currently comprise of shopping (I have never, in my life, felt as pathetically helpless as I did upon stumbling into the kitchen/dining department of John Lewis for what my mother referred to as 'essentials' - as if I knew what was essential in a student flat!), list-making (lists of 'things I need to buy', 'things I need to pack', 'clothes I need', 'applications to complete/check-up on', etc), having various disputes and mix-ups with both the accommodation department at my university and student finance, texting/emailing/calling various friends for advice (they've all been saints for putting up with me!), attempting to find my new flatmates etc on Facebook/YouGo, and, more often than not, falling asleep over various post-it notes/notebooks at an unnatural hour.
Today, however, was a family day - and given that my family is at least 90% Greek, family days generally include food. Now, given how busy I've been of late, my dessert making duties (are mine the only family that assign various culinary roles for get togethers?) were neglected slightly, and I decided to kill two birds with one stone in providing entertainment for my young cousins by getting them involved; lacking inspiration (and time to go to the supermarket), we headed to Tesco Express, and upon seeing the Betty Crocker mixes in the 'baking' section, I remembered the recipe for Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie & Oreo Brownie Bars I'd seen online, and decided I couldn't much go wrong with an Oreo/brownie/cookie mix. 
Notice how the Oreos have been opened here - the downside to baking with anyone under the age of twelve.
Of course, being me, I cheated and got a pre-made cookie mix, too; I wish I hadn't, though, because I'd never tried Betty Crocker cookie mix before, but it is not pleasant, in my opinion - at least, not as good as actual homemade cookies.
Anyway, after pressing the made up cookie dough into the base of my (abnormally large) brownie tray, I lay double-stuff Oreos over the top (of course, my sticky-fingered co-bakers had managed to successfully sneak several Oreos out of the pack by then, so there weren't enough to ensure even coverage, meaning I had to improvise a little and break up a couple to sprinkle in the middle. 
Brownie mix soon followed (although, again, my cousins had several suspiciously large spoonfuls of the batter, too, meaning it didn't spread as well as it could have over the Oreos). Still, I'm told licking the bowl isn't as fun when most of the mix has been scraped out. 
The mix went in the oven on 190ÂșC (I think that's gas mark 4/5?) for 30 mins, if you're interested in trying them out for yourself! 
Given the 'family' nature of the meal, I felt a little guilty at providing such an immature dessert, so I grabbed some coffee ice cream for anyone who didn't feel like getting partially melted brownie or Oreo crumbs all over themselves. The kiddies made short work of the chocolate fudge frosting.

And now onto the best part of the post: announcing the winner of my Sigma giveaway! The goodies are about to head off on their way to the lovely Emma, one of my long-term tumblr followers (and recent Bloglovin' followers) - here's hoping she likes them!

This has been a bit of a mishmash of a post, I'm afraid, but I've got some better stuff coming up in the next couple of days, promise! 
So, do you have any go-to, default, last minute dessert recipes? Or better yet, a sure-fire way to entertain young relatives? 
& on a side-note, wishing lots of luck to anyone else who's getting ready for the big move to university in the next couple of weeks!
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Cracking Under Pressure...

I've been feeling a little stressed, lately. Waiting for exam results, getting ready for (hopefully!) heading to university in September, and everything that might entail, combined with some rather unfortunate family drama has really taken it out of me.
 Of course, being...well, me, there's only one innate reaction I have, when feeling overwhelmed; I bake.
Now, I'm certainly not pretending to be anything but an amateur in the kitchen, but it's a hobby I've harboured for as long as I can remember, and it's a passion I've felt an overwhelming need to indulge in recent weeks.

Upon meeting with friends last week, a look of alarm quickly spread amongst them; concern, even, at the sight of my contribution to the get-together - two large packages of various homemade treats  - 'we know you're cracking up when the mixing bowls come out', mumbled A- through a mouthful of oatmeal cookie (because, no matter their concern about my personal state, they are always grateful for the homebaked goodies).
Of course, the moment I saw the name of these cookies - 'Chocolate Crackles' - I laughed, A-'s words springing instantly to mind, and I knew I just had to make them.
Plus, visually, these cookies are incredible.
Personally, I thought they were...okay. Definitely not an unpleasant taste, don't get me wrong - and I definitely think it's a personal thing, because everyone who tried one thought they were delicious - personally, I'm not a huge fan of pure chocolate in general, but that's just me, I guess!
Mind you, it could just be that, with the sheer amount of preparation these cookies entailed, I was expecting something...more.
Definitely the kind of cookie you make to impress. Or, you know, take some quite nice photos (something the poor light in my kitchen wouldn't permit a great deal of).

What about you guys? Which hobbies or past-times do you indulge when you're feeling the pressures of everyday life? Are you a bit of an amateur baker, or is there another way to soothe yourself when you're feeling overwhelmed?
Recipe after the jump, if you're interested in whipping up a batch!

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Birthday Treats

My birthday was actually on Monday (the 25th), but seeing as I haven't actually made any posts as a nineteen year old as of yet, I figured I'd just share a couple of photos, until I recover enough from the events of the past few days (I'm quite convinced I've contracted some form of  'post birthday flu') to put together a slightly more cohesive post!
 
There are three All Star Lanes locations in London (I attended the Holborn branch), all of which have three aspects; as the name would suggest, they all center around bowling lanes - I'm not actually much of a fan of bowling, so they've never much appealed to me, but each location also contains a 50s-style diner and bar. Upon searching for a fun, laid-back location for my (rather extensive!) birthday meal, I was told the bowling wasn't actually a necessary component, so it seemed the perfect solution, and I'd definitely recommend them to anyone looking for a fun night out in London, special occassion or not!

I didn't get too many photos from the evening (and the ones that I do have are far from flattering, as you're about to see!), as I had some family in attendence as well as my friends, and it turns out 12-year-old cousins aren't the most reliable photographers, but I couldn't refuse them the oppurtunity to mess around with my camera a little!
 



I'd also like to take the chance to thank everyone who sent me emails/tweets & left messages on my tumblr wishing me a happy birthday, it's lovely that so many of you took the time to do so!
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Forever 21's London Launch Party

 
Ever since Forever 21 launched their Birmingham store late last year, I have been eagerly awaiting a London branch (in all honesty, before the location of the London branch was confirmed, I was genuinely considering saving up to head to the Bullring for a major shopping spree); and, thanks to the lovely Sandra of 5inchandup, on Wednesday evening, I was given the oppurtunity to attend the London launch party!
With Bip Ling on the decks (and fronting the launch campaign), fortune tellers, a very well-stocked teepee bar, roller girls, catering by the 'Meat Wagon' food truck (plus a lovely selection of old-fashioned pick-n-mix), and manicures by Wah! Nails, it definitely shaped up to be a great night, and I don't think the well-loved American brand could have done a better job establishing themselves on the London scene.
And then came the holographic catwalk show; by far one of the best representations I could have imagined of the brands' image, compiled into a few snappy minutes of high-tech 3D fashion which left everyone (in the viewing I attended, at least) in complete awe. Jewellery samples and accessories galore were piled into beach huts on a custom-made replica of the Santa Monica pier, giving anyone unfortunate fashionistas who hadn't yet been exposed to the retailer's products a great insight into their brand's image.

Forever 21 opens at 360 Oxford Street (opposite Bond Street tube station) on Wednesday 27th July; head over to Forever 21's EU Facebook page for more details and pictures from the launch!
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