Sunday, 31 August 2014

The urge to shop

I don't seem to be buying clothes at all much lately, but with a holiday coming up next week and Autumn/Winter on the horizon, (my absolute favourite sartorial season) I'm getting the urge back to get back into the changing room. I just seem to be wearing the same five dresses on rotation lately, and it's getting more than a little dull. That said, I'm still trying to save money, so I may need to find another method to raise the funds to buy this little lot. I'm thinking of trying my luck on online bingo - I know quite a few people who've won a fair bit this way, it's got to be worth a shot, surely?

There are some really nice pieces on House of Fraser at the moment - I've just spent about an hour looking through their website! I love this quirky top, even though I look terrrrrible in yellow:

This is much more my style - I'm tempted to order it now in the hope it'll come before we fly to Florence on Thursday. It's so summery!

I love these Mjus chunky ankle boots that I saw Abby post about a little while ago. Sadly they haven't been available in my size in forever - just one little pair of size sixes, pleeease?

I like co-ords... on other people. But if I ever was going to wear one, aside from laying off the burgers for a little, I think it would have to be one like this:

I'm sure it's too early to think about coats - but I'm also sure that I say that every August. I WANT THIS ONE.

Urge to shop rising... rising... What are you lusting over lately?


Friday, 29 August 2014

Holiday planning: Florence

I always get to the point just before I've planned a holiday where I suddenly realise that - oh god, it's SOON. And then I start panicking and looking up stuff to do, because god forbid I'll end up having a terrible meal, right?

We're off to Florence next Thursday, and so I've been hard at work compiling a list of places to go, things to do and restaurants to eat at. So many restaurants. I'm not leaving Italy without having excellent pasta and pizza, incredible sandwiches, garlicky tomato bruschetta, the famed Florentine Steak and all the street food I can manage. Arancini in my belly oh yes please. And gelato upon gelato upon gelato. And lashings of red wine.

Top 8 Lists of Top Things To Do
As much for my reference, and hopefully for yours, I'm compiled a list of all the best articles I've found online:

1. 11 completely free things to do in Florence
Although this list is dated February 2012, most of it seems pretty in date. There's a good list of all the markets in Florence, plus a link to a free walking tour - we should probably get some culture in, after all.

2. Top 10 restaurants in Florence
I'm keen on a lot of the items on this list, as it covers a variety of meals (rather than just, say, pizza) and a few bits of insider knowledge. Ever since reading it, I've been obsessed with trying blueberry steak at Acqua al Due!

3. Top 10 romantic things to do in Florence
I know, right, eyeroll. But I am going away with Matt, and we are probably going to be sickening and coupley at some point or another. I like the sound of the Boboli Gardens!

4. Top 10 Cheap Eats
Going through TripAdvisor, it seems like an expensive meal out in Florence for two people costs around 100 Euros including wine - that's about £80, which really isn't too bad to me... but maybe I'm jaded by London life! It's not hard to find places where you'll pay half that though, and this list is full of some great recommendations. I really want to go to Il Teatro del Sale!

5. Time Out's Top 20 things to do
I can't get enough of a good list! Time Out's recommendations are usually pretty good - I love the idea of the aperitivo. Buffets 4eva.

6. The best places for brunch in Florence
I got distracted looking up brunches, as I'm incredibly obsessed with brunch at the moment, but I've actually talked myself out it a little. Brunch isn't really a Florence thing, and if I want to have an American style breakfast, there are plenty of places back in England I can visit. Might as well take advantage of the light breakfast at our B&B and then skip straight to lunch. With wine!

7. Best Pizzerias in Florence
Well, you can't go to Italy without pizza, can you?

8. Best Ice Cream parlours in Florence
See also gelato. I've been to a couple on this list - Vivoli is great!

Food Places To Try
1. All'Antico Vinaio - awesome cheap sandwiches, apparently, and number one on TripAdvisor!

2. Acqua Al 2 - they had me at blueberry steak

3. Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco - glowing reviews

4. Il Vinaino - we went here back in 2012 - amazing steak!

5. Alla Vecchia Bettola - unlimited Chianti for 5 euros... and apparently the food is really good too!

6. Enoteca Boccadama - comes highly recommended from a friend, and I suspect we went there in 2012 too

7. Trattoria al Trebbio - another recommended one - great reviews!

My Own Recommendations
Oh, and not to forget looking at my own posts - this will be my third trip to Florence, I went in 2011 and again in 2012 for a day trip. I posted some top tips back in February, before we'd even thought about booking a holiday (it was actually a full month before Matt and I started dating) but it's good to see some reminders - the pizza at Toto's really was incredible. The bag I posted about in 2011 is still going strong - I can't wait to hit up the leather markets again and get something new! We'll probably pop to Pisa on the way home - there's not really much there apart from the tower but it's worth seeing, and as we're flying from there, it's pretty convenient.

Have you been to Florence before? I'd love more recommendations, if you have any!

Living healthily

One of the reasons I haven't done many outfit posts this year is because I've succumbed to the happy diet. I'm sure many of you will know what I mean, especially if you remember what it's like to start a new relationship - contented eating with someone you love is the best kind of eating, surely? The downside, though, is that I have a wardrobe full of dresses that won't quite do up, which for someone who loves dresses as much as I do, is pretty much devastating.

Since I started making healthy choices a few weeks ago, the weight is slowly but surely coming back off. I'm still a little way off where I'd like to be, but I know that I'll get there, and I'd rather get there by being good to my body than doing anything crazy like starving myself or cutting out entire food groups. I've been in sad situations before when I've been desperate to lose weight and have resorted to drastic measures and it's never, never good.

I don't know anyone who's lost weight and kept it off with meal substitutes or diet pills, but I see a lot of people who try them. Diet pills, in particular, scare me a little. I don't like the idea of putting something like that in my body. Every time I look in my spam folder (especially the one for my blog email - the joys of putting your email address on a website, people) there are tons of emails offering me free diet pill trials. And if they're not in my email, they're advertised on my Facebook sidebar. Actually, they're not free at all - customer comments on show the Super Ketone Plus ‘free’ trial is anything but free. If you sign up, you'll then be enrolled into an auto-billing scheme where they're charged up to £100 a month, and it's hard to get out of it. The Guardian posted about it recently.

If you do want to lose weight, here are my tried and tested tips for losing weight while still treating yourself right:

1. Eat fresh
Cooking your own mealls from scratch wherever possible makes a huge difference, and it also means that you're in complete control of what you're eating. I succumb to ready meals now and then, but I'm wary of eating a lot of them because they're generally full of preservatives and lots of salt.

2. Make promises you can keep
Be realistic. You're not going to go to the gym every single day for the rest of your life, and it's not a good idea to either. You'll do yourself an injury, for one thing. If you aim to exercise three times a week, that's much more sustainable and you'll be able to keep it up for longer.

3. Eat enough
If you eat less than 1000 calories a day, you will indeed lose weight. But that's not sustainable - you will fall spectacularly off the wagon and find it hard to get back on. It's also not good for you. The recommended daily amount of calories for a woman is 2000, and so if you're aiming to lose weight you should be trying to eat between 1200-1500 calories a day. There are various fasts and cleansing things you can try - juice fasts, etc - but what you'll find is that they all recommend you should do them for a week or two and no longer. That's because you shouldn't keep them up.

Honestly though, it's not hard. It's just about balance - eat right, keep active and don't deprive yourself of everything. Last year, I was losing weight and still eating all my favourite things like cheese and chocolate, because I kept it balanced. And I feel sure that if I just remember my own tips and get that balance back, I'll get back to where I was. There are lots of healthy recipes at Where Are My Knees, too!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sweet-talkin', sugar coated candy man

I've had boxes of retro sweets sent to me before as a gift but I've always been a bit disappointed - they never include my favourites! But I still said yes when I was offered to review a box by Sweet Memory Lane, and I was so glad I did. Rather than sending a big box or jar of wrapped up sweeties, they sent cute little paper bags full of all my favourites - including snowies, my absolute favourite. Why do those little circles of white chocolate and hundreds and thousands taste so good?

As well as their shop in Ashby, there's a huge selection on their website so if you're having a sweet craving you can get it delivered right to your door. And if you want to show someone some lovin', you can send them a hamper like this one. They also sell a bunch of speciality sweets like sugar free ones, gluten free, vegetarian etc. But I must confess, I don't really care about that. I care about ordering a kilogram of giant snowies.

Now, don't give me those judgement eyes. I laid out all these sweeties and took some pictures and MAYBE a few of them found their way into my sticky little mitts but I promise I shared the rest. Scout's honour.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Where I've Eaten Lately

I'm trying to eat less burgers at the moment, so as a way to make me feel better about that, I'm ogling my instagrams (foodstagrams, if you will) and reminiscing about awesome burgers of the past. I like these posts, because I often want to share info about great places that I've eaten, but don't always have the time to write a full on blog post about it. So, like my last foodstagrams post, I'm going to share some of my favourite recent meals with them. Go! Seek them out! You will not be sorry.

Pudding Platter - The King's Arms, Berkhamsted
We went here back in May, but I haven't stopped thinking about this! We actually met some friends for a drink, but when we got there they were just finishing up lunch and considering pudding, and that got us considering pudding too. The pudding platter involves chocolate brownie, salted caramel ice cream, vanilla panna cotta and - oh yeah - those are nutella stuffed donuts. We shared it. I wish we hadn't. I wanted more of everything. And I still do. They're opening a branch of this gastropub in St Albans soon, so this platter will be dangerously close. I'm going to have to have it again... and soon.

Chateaubriand & Cocktails - Sophie's Steakhouse, Covent Garden
Matt took me here as a birthday treat, and boy, was it ever. Even though it's right next to Byron, I'd never noticed it before so it was a really nice surprise. When we walked in, we were given free salami and I got a free birthday cocktail (tip: wear birthday badges at all times). We shared a to-die-for chateaubriand steak, with sides of mac 'n' cheese and fries. Oh god, it was so good. Not the cheapest place in the world but somewhere I will definitely be going back to. I love, love, LOVE steak but it's often disappointing - overcooked, underseasoned steak is not my thing. This was perfect - I made a point of trying it without any sauce and the flavour was incredible.

Burger - The Horn, St Albans
Anyone who's spent any time in St Albans will probably know The Horn - it's a pretty decent little pub, known for live music, but was always somewhat on the grubby side. They've cleaned it up recently though, and invested a bit more in the menu. We won the quiz here a little while back, and were only given a week to use our bar tab so we popped back for dinner before the next quiz (which we came third in). I was really impressed by the food! The burger was yummy, with REAL cheese - not that crappy cheese sauce stuff - and the chips were to die for.

Pretty Much Everything - Wahaca, Islington
So there's this place? Called Wahaca? It's like, Mexican street food? But in small portions? So you can try lots? Ohhh, you've heard of it. Ha, I know most of you have - but if you haven't, or if you just haven't made it yet, go there! I love it so. I'm here for the taquitos, the steak and cheese tacos and the chorizo and cheese quesadillas. And the sweet potato wedges. And the margaritas. FLIPPING NOM.

Big Fat Greek - Relish, St Albans
I discovered Relish Burgers a couple of weeks ago by chance - it's next to the Alban Arena theatre, in a spot that's always been a little cafe. We tried it out the very next day, and I was really impressed. They have a really decent menu, with some unusual burger combos as well as the classics. There's a good selection of sides, and they do hard and soft milkshakes - the peanut butter one is amazing, but I'm going to need to try the boozy peanut butter and jelly one at some point.

Lamb Shank - The Greek, Hemel Hempstead
The staff in this restaurant are so lovely and the food is amazing. Huge portions, little prices! The meze isn't the best I've had, but the lamb shank was really, really good. Super tender, super flavourful and enormous. That red wine gravy and mash was epic.

Hot Dog (all the way) - Five Guys, Birmingham
I went to Five Guys in Virginia about 6 years ago, and really don't remember much about it except that they gave us free monkey nuts. Since then, it's hit the UK - and the monkey nuts have come too (they're symbolic of the fact that the fries are cooked in peanut oil). I tried out the branch in the Bullring with Sarah and Gem, and it was really good. The hot dog was very messy - I used about 40 napkins - but so very tasty, and I loved that it was fine to pile on the toppings. The cajun fries were also excellent, although your breath will be garlic central afterwards (just a word of warning).

The Cheese Room Experience - Vivat Bacchus, Farringdon
This was yet another birthday treat c/o Matt - the boy did good. Steak AND cheese? Yeah, he knows me pretty well. The Cheese Room is a refrigerated room with lots and lots and lots of cheese and the staff are happy to let you try as much of it as you want (and oh, we did). Once we'd sampled a few, we chose our favourite 5 and they turned them into an awesome cheeseboard for us, along with the perfect accompaniments - brie and blueberry jam? DAAAAAMN. I'm dying to go back (although I might not share the cheeseboard this time...)

The Meating Room Burger - The Meating Room, St Albans
This is a new burger place in St Albans, and unlike Relish, they have a super simple menu. I quite like this though - they're focusing on good, classic burgers and they're doing them damn well. Those are rosemary dusted chips and there's a salted caramel milkshake on the menu, yeah, you can see why I like it. The service was super fast and super friendly, but it's quite tucked away, so if you're in the area, pay them a visit.

Brazilian Fiesta Chicken Pizza - Domino's Event
I got invited to a party by Domino's a little while back to launch their Brazilian range. The World Cup may be over, but the pizzas are still there - and they were really good. JUST spicy enough and I loved the creamy drizzle and I'm really trying to convince myself that I still want something healthy for dinner and not Domino's because god this pizza was good.

What's the best thing you've eaten lately?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Candy Kingdom

It was my birthday a few weeks ago, and Matt organised a ridiculously awesome day out in London to celebrate. In a stroke of luck though, I was invited to a blogging event in the evening which I was allowed to bring him along to (he's doing quite well out of this whole blog thing lately) and I'm so glad we went. Spun Candy have partnered with Candy Crush to bring out a range of themed sweeties, and they invited a group of bloggers to make candy in their Covent Garden store.

They started off showing us how to dye sugar, shape it and mould it into sweeties and then they let us get a bit creative. We learned to make roses, candy canes (check out the monstrous one Matt made!) and lollipops, and it was really interesting to see how it gets done. There's only a small team in Spun of two people, but they make everything there themselves - pop in, if you ever want to see a demonstration!

You can see more information on Spun's collaboration with Candy Crush here.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Slow Cooked Honey & Garlic Chicken

Do you know anyone with a slow cooker? If you do, I’m sure you’re used to them singing its praises – oh, it’s changed their life! Oh, it’s just so easy! Oh, they don’t know how they got along without it!

I’m going to drop some knowledge now, so prepare yourselves accordingly – they’re right. They’re totally right. Slow cookers are AMAZING. I actually don’t have one, but Matt’s housemate does and we’ve kind of claimed it for our own (we’ll give it back, promise!). We first tried it out with pulled pork a couple of months ago – remember that awesome Dr Pepper and Jack Daniel’s recipe? I sure do *hungry face* We made the pulled pork a second time for a party, but decided to try and do a chicken recipe too for those people who don’t eat pork. And I am here to tell you it was an epic success. And also to tell you the recipe!

This was so easy. We based it on this recipe but tweaked it quite a lot – we substituted a few things, used a whole chicken instead of chicken pieces and upped the quantities. We’ve made it twice now and everyone raves about it. It’s sweet, spicy and actually pretty good for you – there’s not a drop of oil in this baby! It’s lovely on rice, but we usually just pop it in soft baps with a few lettuce leaves. It also makes loads - a good 10 portions!

Slow Cooked Honey & Garlic Chicken
1 whole chicken (we used a large one)
340g honey
150ml soy sauce
60ml hoisin sauce
50ml sweet chilli sauce
Half a bulb of garlic, crushed
1 onion, diced
1 stock cube, dissolved in a pint of boiling water
2 tablespoons cornflour
Sliced spring onions, for garnish (optional)
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

1. In a big bowl, add all your ingredients except for the cornflour and stir to combine

2. Put your chicken in your slow cooker then pour the ingredients over it

3. Cover the slow cooker and cook it on low for 8-10 hours (we left it overnight)

4. When it’s done, remove the chicken from the slow cooker. You may find that it falls apart upon removal – slow cooking makes the meat ridiculously tender. That’s fine though, just get the meat out piece by piece, and start removing the bones (you can set these aside for soup if you’re feeling creative, or just throw them away). I recommend using a slotted spoon for this bit.

5. Put the chicken in a shallow dish like a lasagne dish, and shred it into smaller pieces (you can check for bones while you do this)

6. Pour the remaining juices into a saucepan through a sieve. Meanwhile, in a small jug or bowl, add a few drops of water to your cornflour to make a paste and stir together. If it’s too thick, add more water, if it’s too runny, add more cornflour. When it’s roughly the consistency of PVA glue, add to your saucepan of chicken juices and stir.

7. Bring the saucepan to a boil and let it reduce slightly – only needs a couple of minutes at full boil before it’s done, and keep stirring in case it burns. If it still seems too runny, add more cornflour and water (mix the cornflour into the water first, or it’ll go lumpy).

8. Pour the sauce over the chicken, tossing with forks to combine. You can leave this to cool and reheat in the oven later, or serve immediately with sliced spring onions and sesame seeds. The sesame seeds don’t add an awful lot in terms of flavour and texture, but they look nice.

Yum, this was SO good. Next up in our slow cooker adventures has definitely got to be some lamb or beef. I want me some brisket!