The Dinner Party

2.9.15

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I think it's a sign I'm getting old: I would much rather stay in with some good food, wine and company than go out on a Saturday night. Usually my nights in consist of Netflix and maybe a takeaway if I'm lucky, but a few weekends ago I upped my staying in game and hosted a dinner party. I've been wanting to do this for ages but (as with most things in life these days) never quite got round to it, so when Argos got in touch challenging me to throw a dinner party for my friends, I thought it was the perfect excuse to finally do it. My dinner party was loosely based on a "Welcome to Edinburgh" theme as my pal Lauren has recently moved here so I thought it would be a great chance to welcome her to the city, as well as having a good ol' catch up with some of my other blogging pals. The whole thing went pretty well (I think) and was relatively stress free, so if you fancy hosting your own dinner party soon here's what we got up to along with some of my top tips.

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Planning
After deciding on a date for my dinner party, I had about a week and a half to pull it all together. My first stop was, obviously, Pinterest for a nice big dose of inspiration. Once I knew what I wanted to cook, I wrote a huge shopping list to make sure I didn't forget anything - especially as I was doing my shopping in a few different places. To stick with the Edinburgh theme, I wanted to use seasonal ingredients from local producers so I got my fruit and vegetables from Dig-In Bruntsfield and bread, cheese and other bits from the Edinburgh Farmers' Market. Planning also included working out where everyone was going to sit, cleaning the flat and making sure I had enough glasses and plates for everyone. Don't forget to check silly little things like having enough cutlery or a big enough dish for the oven etc. as those are the things you'll go to use last minute and then realise you don't have!

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Decor
I didn't want to go too over the top with decor and themes, so just went for a simple summery table using bits and pieces I already had (apart from the table runners which were a new purchase I couldn't resist from H&M Home!). Somewhere on Pinterest I saw the idea of using washi tape as a napkin ring, so I dug out some gold striped washi tape, a little piece of string and a sprig of rosemary to make simple napkin decorations. My table is quite small and could only seat four people, so I utilised my big coffee table for the other three guests and decorated it with the same table runner, candles and flower arrangements to make it all match. To save on space, I didn't want big floral centrepieces so instead opted for lovely little bunches of wildflowers (well, they were actually bought from a shop but you know, they look wild!) and arranged them myself in wee milk bottles and empty jam jars. I got separate bunches of lisianthus, lavender and baby's breath and managed to make five separate arrangements out of them!

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Food & Drink
I love antipasti platters and they're pretty simple to put together, so that seemed like an easy choice for the starter. I put together some melon, parma ham and mozzarella skewers, platters of salami, proscuitto and cheese, some salad and of course plenty of fresh bread from the farmers' market with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. As this didn't involve any cooking, I could do all the prep before the dinner party started which definitely made life easier. For the main course I wasn't so sure what to make so headed to Pinterest for some ideas. In the end I opted for honey & mustard chicken with parmesan roasted potatoes and chargrilled asparagus. The recipes I used were based on this one and this one, but I did a test run of this a few days before so I could make some tweaks to the ingredients and double check all the timings and temperatures etc. I thought this recipe would go really well with some chargrilled asparagus, which is in season during the summer, so I picked up a couple of bunches at Dig-In. Finally, for dessert I decided to make creme brulee and pavlova - for creme brulee you need loads of egg yolks and for pavlova you need loads of egg whites, so why not make both?! Both of these could be made the night before so I didn't have to spend much time in the kitchen during the party. All I had to do was torch the creme brulees with a mini blowtorch (I think I may have over-torched them a tiny bit) and add the cream and fruit to the pavlova, then serve.

Drinks wise, I served some failsafe white wine throughout the meal but for a welcome drink I decided to go for something a little more exciting and made a strawberry gin smash cocktail. Scottish strawberries are in season at this time of year too, so it was the perfect light, summery drink to kick things off. To make a pitcher (serves 4 - I may have had to refill this a couple of times!) you'll need 6 measures of gin, the juice of 1 lime, a couple of handfuls of sliced strawberries, 10-12 mint leaves, and then top it up with ice and lemonade. Give it a quick stir and then serve in a tumbler, preferably with a cute paper straw!

So, all in all, it was a great evening and a lovely way to catch up with my friends which (for me anyway!) didn't even involve leaving the house. Fancy throwing your own dinner party? Check out this handy blog post from Argos with lots of tips and tricks, and if you fancy winning a bundle of cute Heart of House kitchenware all you need to do is share your dinner party photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ArgosDinnerParty - good luck! What would your ideal dinner party include?

Gillian x

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This post was written in association with Argos, but all opinions are my own.
Competition Terms & Conditions:
To enter the above competition, entrants must share a photograph from their dinner party on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ArgosDinnerParty. Each entrant must also send their entry, along with their name and contact details to argos.competitions@gmail.com. 1. No purchase necessary. 2. Only one entry per person. 3. The prize draw is open to all UK residents, over 18 years of age, except employees of Home Retail Group. 4. The prize is as follows: a bundle of kitchenware goods from Heart of House. 5. To enter the prize draw you will be asked to provide your name and contact details. 6. The information you provide here will be safeguarded under the Data Protection Act and controlled by Home Retail Group. 7. The prize draw ends at midday on Wednesday 30th September 2015. 8. The winner will be notified via email or telephone by Argos or their agency within 14 days of the closing date. 9. The winning entry will be selected by an independent judge and the judge’s decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into. 10. Entrants must use their own, unique photograph, and entering the competition confirms that they agree to this. 11. No cash alternatives will be substituted for the prize. The promoter reserves the right to offer alternative items/activities of a greater or equivalent value should unforeseen circumstances require it. 12. Use of a false name or address will disqualify any applicant from receiving the prize. 13. The winner may be required to participate in post-event publicity arranged by or on behalf of the promoter. 14. Promoted by Argos Distributors Limited, 489-499 Avebury Boulevard, Saxon Gate West, Milton Keynes, MK9 2NW. 15. Details of the winner can be found by contacting NetBooster, Suite 1A Gateway Business Centre, Unit 1 Barncoose, Gateway Park, Redruth, Cornwall TR15 3RQ, UK Telephone +44 2078029500. Email: argos.team@netbooster.com. 16. If the prize is not claimed within 28 days, we reserve the right to withdraw.

Outfit: Classic Stripes

27.8.15

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Top: Joy
Jeans: New Look
Necklace: H&M
Bag: Oasis at House of Fraser*
Sunglasses: Rayban*
Shoes: Lotta from Stockholm

A rare spell of sunshine this weekend called for a day of exploring the neighbourhood, eating cupcakes and - shock horror - wearing open toed sandals! Seriously though, I think this is the first time this summer I've worn something other than ankle boots or ballet pumps. Not that I'm complaining, I can't wait for autumn... sorry summer fans. I'm currently trying to downsize my wardrobe so I have less stuff (but actually wear most of it), and this is one of those classic outfits which will always be a staple in my wardrobe. You really can't go wrong with a navy Breton striped top and a pair of skinny jeans, can you? This particular striped top is from Joy and, although it seems to be sold out at the moment, they also have a red version which is equally nice. I know this because Laura has the red one; we are apparently the sort of weirdos who wear matching clothes now, HIYA.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a good black handbag for everyday use? I've been searching for mooooonths for one which is big but not too big, has plenty of zippy pockets and compartments, is simple but not too boring and can fit all my essentials in it (which often includes my laptop and camera). Well, Oasis have done it! Their Terri tote bag is perfect. There are so many compartments (yesssss) and plenty of room for all my stuff, but it still looks quite nice and compact for daily use. House of Fraser have a great selection of tote bags with lots of sizes, shapes and colours - but I knew as soon as I saw Terri she was the one for me!

With the wardrobe streamlining, I've discovered that the only colours I really wear are black, navy, grey and red. I'm all about the red accessories, like these clogs by Lotta from Stockholm. Aren't they lovely? I've had them for a couple of years but sadly haven't worn them all that much because the weather here is usually terrible. I'm quite tempted to get one of the closed toe Highwood pairs to wear with tights in the autumn.

What are your classic staple outfits?

Gillian x

Home Comforts

23.8.15

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August is always a busy month. There's the Fringe, of course, which seems to take up every spare evening and weekend. Then there's all the inevitable holidays, days out in the sun, birthday celebrations, after-work visits to beer gardens... you know how it is. As much as I love being busy with new things to do - cider in hand and some friends to catch up with - sometimes it's nice just to take a day off and spend some time by yourself. Curling up in a little cosy corner (because, let's face it, this summer has been more like autumn when it comes to the weather) with a book is one of my favourite ways to take a break from it all.

I'm slightly obsessed with blankets. Almost all visible surfaces in the living room are draped with blankets, so when The Tartan Blanket Co kindly offered to send me a new one for the collection I couldn't say no. I went for the Jacob Tartan Wool Blanket* which fits in perfectly with the neutral-yet-homely sort of theme we've got going on in the flat. The blanket is lovely and soft and perfectly cosy, ideal for snuggling up in front of the TV, or with your favourite book in your favourite chair. It's a bit of a bargain too at only £30 for a huge multi-purpose blanket which can be used as a throw, a picnic blanket, a bedspread or whatever else you fancy. Top it all off with a map cushion from John Lewis and what more could you need?

I don't read books nearly as much as I'd like to, mostly thanks to always being distracted by some Youtube videos to watch or a new blog post to read or the latest Netflix addition to binge. But, I love reading so lately I've been making more of an effort to switch off the computer and pick up a book instead. I've just finished Love Letters of the Great War which was just as beautiful and heartbreaking as you'd imagine. Ever since writing my master's dissertation on the First World War, I've been a little obsessed with the subject and a lot of the novels and books I've read over the last couple of years relate to it in some way. This collection of letters was beautifully put together and kind of made me wish I was back digging through the archives again... time for a PhD?! I've also been reading 365 Stories by James Robertson, a quirky little collection of short stories. Each story is 365 words long, and there's a story for each and every 365 days of the year. Another book which I'd wholeheartedly recommend is Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things which might just be my favourite novel of all time. The writing is enchanting and poetic and just, ughhhh, go read it!

What's your favourite way to spend a quiet afternoon at home?

Gillian x