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You've seen it. Socks worn with sandals is happening as a women's fashion trend right now. In fact it's been happening for a while, but recent events have caused a stir. We have become somewhat accustomed to seeing cute socks worn with heels adorning the ankles and feet of the fashion crowd for several seasons now but socks worn with a flat sandal (as seen on the Band of Outsiders runaway last autumn, among others)? Whaaaaaaat? So what I want to know and what I'm sure you're wondering is, is this sartorial or are they taking the proverbial?

In 2013 British retailer Debenhams polled it's customers to uncover what is the perceived greatest fashion faux-pas of all time and yes you guessed it, the great British public voted for socks with sandals as the ultimate fashion blunder. It's been no-go for decades. Why then are we continuing to see this dorky trend repeated? What message is being sent? Are we to believe this is now ok? Or is it that one has to have a certain insouciance to pull off the look? Or perhaps the simple action of casting off accepted style and embracing something universally unacceptable is all that's necessary. Honestly I don't know, but while we're figuring it out let's all pop on our oversized bermuda shorts, belted high at the waist naturally, tuck our t-shirts in and go bird watching FFS.

The thing of it is... I rather like it. I won't lie to you, I've always had an air of dork about me. At boarding school I chose to watch Air Wolf over watching rugby and at university I often wore thermal socks under my Birkenstocks to pop out to the corner shop (it was cold up north). My idiosyncrasies amused my friends. The thing is I wouldn't have dreamed that it was making a statement; it was just me being me, doing what I wanted to do. So now I think maybe that's the point. I think fashion is finally giving us the go ahead to just be ourselves. Fashion loves controversy. So what if it's fugly. Do you want to wear socks with sandals? Well go ahead, if that's you, be you. I'll bring the tea and hold your binoculars. 


Socks & Sandals

You've seen it. Socks worn with sandals is happening as a women's fashion trend right now. In fact it's been happening for a w...
Friday, 28 February 2014
Following on from the big garden clear out last weekend, today I edited my wardrobe for spring. For some reason I find this so much harder than the autumn edit. Maybe it's the association with spring cleaning or the concept of starting over in spring but somehow it feels as though the wardrobe purge needs to be thorough; which is brutal because not only have I lovingly hand picked each and every item in my wardrobe I also remember when I've worn them, with whom and for what purpose. The clothes hold memories, a tactile diary of my life. It can be difficult to choose what to let go.
So I start with woolens. Separating them into light and heavy knits. Focusing on the heavy knits anything I didn't wear this winter goes. It's a simple fact that once you stop wearing something it's a rare occurrence that you will start wearing it again with any regularity, so bite the bullet. The light knits I barely edit, anything badly creased will go to the dry cleaners to be freshened up. Of the remaining woolens the heavy knits are packed away until autumn while the light knits I fold and stack in the cupboard organised by colour.
Moving on to tops I take out anything with a stain that won't budge (check white shirts in particular), anything with a hole in it as well as anything that hasn't been worn in a year. These I separate these into 'bin', 'charity' and 'sell' piles. The remainder are reorganised in the wardrobe by colour. Then it's time to move onto dresses, skirts and trousers. The same rules apply but I also take out anything older than three years to be scrutinized, if it doesn't fit with my current style I pack it away or sell it depending on how attached I am to a particular piece.
I expect some Bella & Bear readers will be wondering, why go to all the effort? Well there are three excellent reasons why. The first is that once all the winter clothes are packed away and the wheat is separated from the chaff, there is extra space in the closet for new season pieces to be introduced. The second is that by reviewing what you have it becomes easier to identify what you need. Lastly, come autumn you can unpack the stored items and to find pieces you already own. Take my leather oxblood mid-length pencil skirt for example. It's from Oasis and I bought it circa 2000/2001. It spent over seven years in storage (I just couldn't part with it) to be revived in autumn 2012. I love finding new ways to work old pieces. It was an instant refresh for the wardrobe and it felt wonderful to rediscover an old friend.

Spring overhaul: The Wardrobe Edit

Thursday, 27 February 2014
Hurray it's nearly March! Days are starting to feel longer and I am getting ready to throw myself into spring both in the garden and in my wardrobe. Regular readers of Bella & Bear will find no surprise in this; I see an intrinsic link between fashion and gardening. The seasons, the changing colours and textures, for me it is a simple analogy and at this time of year that means there are two LARGE overhauls that must take place. The greenhouse and my winter wardrobe have to be purged of unnecessary detritus in preparation for the seasonal change.

 So, this weekend I tackled the greenhouse. No matter how clean and tidy I leave it in November by February it's become a dumping ground and needs a top-to-bottom sort out. Snails and creepy crawlies are lurking under tables, but it's the pests I can't see that really prompt me to act before seed sowing begins in earnest. Red spider mite will over winter in the tiniest crack and fungal spores are ready to colonise fresh damp compost, plus cleaning moss, algae and grime from the glass panes provides optimal light conditions for growing.


Sadly a quick scrub down with soap and water is not going to cut it. This is a big job. You can buy specialist greenhouse cleaning products but a water and hydrogen peroxide solution will work effectively and is benign to users and the environment.

First things first, empty the greenhouse. If you expect frost and can't finish the job in a day be sure to protect any tender plants in an outbuilding or at the very least cover them with hessian or bubble wrap. Sweep the interior to remove any debris for destruction. Don't add this to the compost as it could be harbouring disease, pests or fungal spores. Next clean the structure with a disinfectant solution as mentioned previously. Then clean the glazing inside and out making sure to remove gently any shade paint from the previous season. Replace any broken or damaged panes, air vents or draught excluders.

Wearing gloves clear the gutters and any down pipes of leaves and other detritus. Fitting the top of the down pipe with a mesh top will help prevent leaves getting stuck next autumn. Once all this is done I like to use a pressure washer (on a low setting) to give the entire greenhouse a really good drench, this also helps to blast any last little bits of dirt trapped in hard to reach corners.

Throw out any old compost or use it as mulch on the garden. Thoroughly wash any pots or trays you intend to sow seeds or propagate plants in with a mild disinfectant. After you've done all that you deserve a cup of tea and at least two biscuits, but the best news is... you are ready to start sowing seeds, which if you're a gardener is as exciting as the new season ready-to-wear collections hitting the racks.

*In the interest of safety please do not lean on your greenhouse, instead use long handled tools to reach hard to reach areas.

Spring Overhaul: The Greenhouse

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Belt by ASOS c/o
Jacket by J.Crew
Blue check shirt by Anthropologie (similar here)
Mint check shirt by Old Navy (in red)
Necklace by Accessorize
Shoes by River Island
Mini satchel by Topshop
Rings are from a pop-up shop nr. Chelsea Market, NY

Three weeks ago I was thrilled to be accepted as an ASOS Insider and as a welcome gift the lovely Tara at ASOS sent me this awesome holographic belt and a 3D dinosaur cookie-cutter to make a Cookiesaurus with Bella & Bear. Thank you ASOS x

This half-term has flown by. Our week in Devon was the perfect countryside get away for Bella & Bear. We took long morning walks through frosty, waterlogged woods by a river that steamed in the early sunlight. The riverbanks were dotted with the first snowdrops growing in sandy silt from the floods the week before; the whole landscape took on an iridescent quality much like my holographic belt. You can see the pictures on instagram here. The chill in the air has been encouraging me to layer my shirts but the welcome sunshine means we're just a peep toe away from sandal weather, in the meantime I think I'll pop a pair of slouchy cream woolen socks under these sandals before I head out.

Oooh, ASOS has just launched a VIP program called ASOS Premier too. When you join you'll get unlimited next-day delivery, free returns collection, early access to sales, exclusive sales and a free magazine 10 times a year. If you'd like to check it out follow this link.

Iridescence

Monday, 24 February 2014
Sweet peas or 'Lathyrus odoratus' to use it's latin name are possibly my favourite cut flower; I think homegrown English roses give them a run for their money but other than that I can't think of a plant that is so simple to cultivate annually, that gives such a delightful display of colour and scent and is a perfect cut flower.

Image borrowed from Crocus.co.uk featuring the pastel sweat pea collection

If you enjoyed the rainbow bright, pastel and sorbet shades floating down the Chanel catwalk last autumn for the SS14 shows sweet peas may be the flower for you. Think about these beautiful clothes for a moment, now imagine they are scratch n sniff with the most delicious scent imaginable and you will have an idea of what it's like to walk past sweet peas in full-bloom on a warm summer day.


If this is something you would like to experience now is the time to take action. Sweet peas are from the same family of plants as regular peas (don't eat the seeds though, they are toxic when ingested in quantity) and they have similar requirements. They fix nitrogen into the soil, which is a great thing for companion planting as it helps to enrich and fertilise the soil, although I would point out that this occurs from nodules on the roots of the plant after it dies. 

Sweet peas have long fibrous roots so they should be sown in deeper pots (9cm are perfect) than most other flower seeds. Garden centers sell root trainer pots or sowing trays for this purpose but you can achieve the same results using the cardboard inside of a loo paper roll. Not only is this method cost effective it also has the advantage that the germinated seedling can be planted out without disturbing the delicate roots.

Image borrowed from Crocus.co.uk

A lot of gardeners swear that keeping the seeds in the fridge for a few weeks then soaking them overnight prior to sowing will help improve germination rates. I've never done this and in my experience as long as the seeds are fresh and well watered after sowing the germination rate remains excellent.

Here are some simple steps to follow:

1) Prepare a deep seed tray with well drained seedling compost (do not use soil from the garden, it's not sterile).
2) With a dibber, or the end of a pencil make a hole about 1cm deep in each pot or module in the seed tray.
3) Sow one seed in each hole.
4) Cover the seeds with compost.
5) Water the seeds in well, allow to drain and place a polythene bag over the tray (this regulates moisture levels).
6) Keep at a temperature of about 15ºC (59ºF) until germination occurs, then remove the polythene bag.
7) When the seedlings have two true leaves move them to a well ventilated coldframe making sure to protect them from heavy frosts.
8) Plant out the seedlings in good well drained garden soil in April after the last frost.
9) Pinch out the growing tip once the plants reach 10cm high, this encourages bushy growth and more flowers.
10) Protect the young plants from slugs and support with pea sticks or similar as they grow.
11) Pick the flowers regularly to encourage new blooms. Deadhead any spent flowers.

Sweet peas give a lot as a plant so they need regular feeding and watering to maximise cropping potential. Spray for any pests, such as aphids and diseases such as powdery mildew. You can purchase good quality sweet pea seeds from any reputable garden center, the only decision you may struggle with is which colour(s) to choose.

Cut flower series: growing sweet peas from seed

Thursday, 20 February 2014
This Monday saw quintessential British brand M&S debut at London Fashion Week. There was no loud catwalk show though; instead lucky editors, celebs, stylists and bloggers were invited to view the Best of British collection over breakfast at Somerset House as models lounged on an artfully simple set. How very lovely and relaxed.


Best of British is a heritage-based label now in it's third season. All the fabrics, materials and manufacturing are sourced in the UK, in fact the design studio is in Shoreditch. The collection has been developed in collaboration with the British Fashion Council's positive fashion initiative, for which M&S is now the lead partner. The goals of the positive fashion initiative are to celebrate British fashion, nuture home-grown talent and promote sustainability.

The AW14 collection features some enviable coats and I can guarantee the ice blue duffel coat (pictured above) is the IT coat of next season and will be sold out within hours of going online in August this year. As for the white brogues; take another look at the picture above, in particular the models' feet... do you see them? They are outstanding wear with everything shoes and are already sold out online in all sizes except 3 and 4 (restock them pleeeeeeease).
In another exciting turn of events M&S has launched a new website platform (replacing the Amazon platform they've used since 2007) to coincide with their LFW debut. It's been three years in the making and honestly, it's marvelous. The product pictures are 50% larger than previously shown, they feature zoom, catwalk and model shots as well as 360º video imagery. The new site also incorporates an editorial hub called Style & Living where you can read editor's picks, see outfit ideas and browse current trends; it is a delightful retail experience.

It's clear M&S is a British brand on the up and if you want a piece of them you're going to have to be quick. The SS14 Best of British collection is available online and in stores now, I recommend the fuschia silk blouse and cream leather A-line skirt, to be worn with the brogues that are already sold out of course. I hope you don't miss out.


Woah! This is M&S, but not as you know it.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014
My favourite London boutique has just shared some extremely exciting news with me… They will be featuring Danish designer Kokoon in their SS/14 collection. This is exciting on two levels; firstly the clothes are divine being made of the highest quality silk that has been cut oh so perfectly that it drapes elegantly and effortlessly as you wear it. Secondly, at the time of going to press Feather & Stitch will be the only boutique in the UK to stock this scandi-cool brand. So there's almost no chance of experiencing S.O.N. (same outfit nightmare) wearing Kokoon.

Based in Copenhagen, Kokoon was launched in 2008 by Nanna Søbirk with the ethos of being timeless rather than in fashion (music to my ears). Designed to be cross-seasonal, Kokoon's collection is elegant, wonderfully feminine and yet simple to style into a masculine inspired look to emulate the 'woman in menswear' trend currently achieving front row appeal with editors and fashion bloggers at London Fashion Week.

I love the June blouse and the Luella dress but it's the Betty jumpsuit in monochrome leopard print that will be the workhorse of my wardrobe this summer. It will pair brilliantly with courts for a ladylike look (as shown) or to embrace the menswear look wear it with casual slip-ons or metallic brogues. A well cut blazer or jacket will elevate the look to suitable day or work wear then for cooler days throw on a chunky, oversized sweater to work the jumpsuit as cropped trousers. Sublime.

The Kokoon collection will be available in limited quantities online and in the Feather & Stitch boutique from today. Race you to it ladies.

Feather & Stitch scoop a UK first for SS/14 with Danish designer Kokoon

Saturday, 15 February 2014

This is such a simple idea for dinner parties or a weekend lunch when you want a full flavour meal with little to no effort. I find it easier to bake a brie this size in the dish I'm going to serve it in because when it's warm the gooey goodness inside can leak out. If you are serving smaller individual bries you can bake them on a baking tray and then use a fish slice to move them onto individual plates to serve.

I like to make a cross in the top of the brie, peel back the skin a little and put a dollop of cranberry jam in the middle; it will melt and infuse with the cheese as it bakes. Pulling the rind up also gives it a little more crunch.

Preheat your oven to 175ºC (350ºF) and bake for 10 minutes for individual rounds. For a larger round of brie bake for a little longer, up to 30 minutes should be perfect. Serve with lots of crunchy French stick and extra cranberry sauce. I like to include a green salad with a light red wine vinaigrette on the table, it has a wonderfully refreshing bite after all the cheese and if you fancy a tipple try a light Pinot Noir, it will bring out the buttery taste of the brie.

Baked Brie with Cranberry

Friday, 14 February 2014

Sweater by Zoe Karssen
Skirt by J.Crew
Clutch by Topshop (love this one)
Trenchcoat by Topshop
Courts by Carvela
Sunglasses by Marc by Marc Jacobs
Necklace by River Island (seems to be sold out)
Bangle by Stella & Dot
Link bracelet is vintage

Well here we are again. Happy Valentines everyone.

Did you know that the day is given it's name from a Saint? There are several mythologies surrounding the existence of Saint Valentine but the general gist is that he went against the orders of the authority of his time and helped people to marry. For his trouble he was executed most foully in Rome, apparently on February 14th.

Enjoying the romance so far?

In actual fact we owe the romantic overtones of the modern valentine's day to Chaucer; certainly by the time Shakespeare penned his tragic maiden Ophelia (she rued the day she gave it gave it up on valentines) February 14th had become synonymous with love and sex.

Now, I rather like the idea of taking time to celebrate the significant other (S.O.) in your life. You go through a lot together and you deserve to recognise and pay homage to that; but I do feel that like many of today's 'holidays' it has become overly commercial and somewhat cartoon-like in it's representation. Let's face it, for a lot of men V-day is the emotional equivalent of trapping their private parts in a zipper… it's uncomfortable and they'd rather avoid it. There's the pressure of the gift, getting the restaurant right, not drinking too much for fear of performance issues and eeeek finding something meaningful to say about love in a card… it's a lot of expectation.

I guess what I'm trying to say very ineloquently is that however you choose to celebrate valentine's day I hope it is authenticate to you and while I may not be quite ready to throw myself full-throttle at the most romantic day of the year, it's charms are not lost on me. Oh and ladies do you know about March 14th? (Just google it). If your S.O. does fall short this year, I think you'll know the appropriate action to take. So I guess... wear pink and get some!

For Valentine

I've been working on this recipe recently trying to get the quantities just right, the shells have a delicate mint flavour while the chocolate ganache is intensely rich. I recommend serving them with coffee at the end of a meal or between courses as a sweet palate cleanser.

You will need:

For the shells: 
2 large eggs
60g ground almonds
110g confectioners' sugar (icing sugar)
20g castor sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Green food colouring

For the dark chocolate ganache:
60g of dark chocolate
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons whipping cream

This part is really important. Separate the egg whites from the yolk and keep them in the fridge for up to 24 hours. After 12 hours you can start to make macaroons. I can't tell you exactly why resting the egg whites makes better macaroons but it does so… there you go. Bring the egg whites to room temperature before continuing. You can buy egg whites at your local store if this is more convenient for you.

Preheat your oven to 150ºC (300ºF).
Put the confectioners' sugar and ground almonds into a blender and grind them into a fine powder. Strain this mixture through a sieve onto a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes. Don't try and push the mix that doesn't go through the sieve through with a spoon, just discard it. Allow it to cool.

Beat the egg whites in a bowl until they start to form soft peaks, using an electric hand whisk speeds this process considerably. When the peaks start to stiffen gradually add the castor sugar continuing to beat the egg whites constantly. Add a few drops of the green food colouring, some bakers suggest using a gel colour as it's less likely to destabilize the egg whites at this stage. I haven't had a problem with this as I only add two to three drops of food colouring at most.

Sieve the cooled sugar and almond mix onto the now green, stiff egg whites and gently fold it in. Using a silicone spatula gently work the mix in a figure of eight motion until it is smooth. When you pipe the mix onto a prepared baking tray any peaks should sink so each shell is flat. If the peaks do not sink you need to work the mixture more until the consistency is smoother. Be careful not to overwork it though as this will knock all the air out of the egg whites and the macaroon shells will not rise.

Pipe circles of the mixture onto a baking tray prepared with parchment paper. Try to keep the circles as uniform as possible and leave at least 1cm between the shells as they will spread slightly. Now gently but firmly tap the baking tray on a flat surface to release any air bubbles. Failing to do this can lead to total macaroon failure.

Allow the macaroons to rest for at least an hour or until a crust has formed over the top, then bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Keep an eye on your macaroons after the 10 minute mark, they can go from perfect to disaster ever so quickly. Allow the macaroons to cool before attempting to lift them from the baking tray. If they won't separate from the parchment paper trickle a little water between the tray and the paper (not the paper and the macaroons). Use a thin icing spatula to lift them off if necessary.

Make the chocolate ganache the same way as in this recipe for milk chocolate and vanilla macaroons substituting dark chocolate for milk chocolate and omitting the vanilla seeds.

Create a bain marie, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it slowly. Add the butter allow it to melt while gently stirring the mixture, then add the cream continuing to stir. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before chilling the ganache in the fridge.

Spread or pipe the ganache over half the shells and sandwich with a matching top. Chill for 1 hour before serving. Enjoy...

Minty After Dinner Macaroons

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Click a link to shop the look
Leather trench by Topshop (old, find similar here)
Jeans* by Cabi (I love this pair too)
Blouse by Pyrus from Feather & Stitch
Shoes by Carvela (sold out, I recommend these as an alternative)
Aviators by Rayban
Jewelry by Forever21 & Accessorize (both sold out, links are for alternatives)
Bag is a vintage find

Camouflage clothes are now an oxymoron; consider their original purpose as a defensive tool for soldiers engaged in combat. In 2014 a woman wearing camouflage trousers (who is not a soldier) is not trying to blend in, she is making a statement and it's a bold one. 

I remember the first time camouflage made fashion headlines in the 1990's. There was a distinctly subversive grunge feel to the look, it felt like a two-fingered salute to the prevailing authority of the time. This time round the camouflage look is much more polished, it's gone glam. Michael Kors, Carven and Christopher Kane featured camouflage prints in their catwalk shows last autumn and it's been a strong trend throughout A/W13 showing no signs of losing popularity as we move into S/S14. It is interesting to note that designers and some high street brands have moved away from traditional colours and embraced pink and blue (among other hues) to create camouflage inspired prints with massive visual impact, clearly the antithesis of the original intent behind camouflage clothing. So the message is clear, if you want to stand out from the crowd get your camouflage on.

With thanks to my wonderful friend who gifted these jeans to me xxx

Hiding in plain sight

Monday, 10 February 2014

Jacket by J.Crew
Tee by Joules
Denim by Hilfiger (destroyed by me, not the brand)
Pumps by J.Crew
Bracelet by Lulu Frost
Watch by Michael Kors
Crockery from Waitrose/ John Lewis

We've had sooooooo much rain and dull weather recently, so when I awoke to a beautiful morning of sunshine last week I had to go outside and be part of it. Being able to use the garden was great for Bella & Bear too. They love jumping in the puddles and running around on the squelchy grass. I managed about 45 minutes before the chill drove me back indoors to be enveloped by the warm central heating.

Easy like Sunday morning

Sunday, 9 February 2014
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