Friday 31 July 2015

Three course Swiss dinner party (onion tart, fondue and chocolate mousse) #SantanderStaycation

Now I have my own place, I'm really enjoying having people round for dinner. I love cooking - pretty sure that's established - so throwing a dinner party is the perfect opportunity to try something new. This is, actually, a big no-no for having company, according to other people, but I like to live on the wild side. Plus, it's rare that I'm going to make an exciting dessert or decadent starter when it's just Matt and I, so having people around is a good excuse! Also, all my friends are nice, so if I mess it up, I know they won't be mean if they end up with beans on toast. Hasn't happened yet!


Tuesday 28 July 2015

Review: Coori gluten or dairy free food box.

Throughout July, I've been reviewing a Coori box. It's basically a big box of edible goodies - my kind of box! The twist is that it's all catered for people with allergies and intolerances, so you can customise your box to be free from gluten, wheat, dairy, lactose, egg or MSG, with vegetarian and vegan options available too.


Sunday 26 July 2015

Recipe: Tweaked Tabbouleh with feta, bulgur wheat and chickpeas

I am constantly guilty of spending too much money on lunch. I like the idea of bringing it in, but when it comes to it... I just don't. Instead I'll cheerily spend my hard earned cash on salads, soups and sandwiches and wonder why I have nothing left in my bank account at the end of the month. It's so much worse on days that I work in London, too. The lunch options near my office are so fantastic that I think nothing of spending £8 on a salad and drink, despite knowing that if I did that every day I'd spend £160 on lunches a month. Ouch.

So I'm trying to turn over a new leaf, starting with this salad. It's actually the perfect lunch salad for me as it involves very little effort.

Friday 24 July 2015

Wishlist: summer wedges

Even though I'm someone with a lot of clothes and a lot of pairs of shoes, the older items are always the ones I wear the most. Particularly with shoes. I've recently had to throw away a couple of pairs that were falling apart, and it broke my heart a little. They weren't even expensive - both from Matalan, in fact - but there was nothing more comfortable than my narrow black peep toe wedges or my black patent Mary Janes, even though they were both around the 5 inch mark.

So suddenly, I feel like I have no nice pairs of shoes, and with wedding season on our doorstep, I need to rectify that. The dream is a smart, comfortable pair of wedges that will go with everything to replace my beloved Matalan ones... maybe a pair of these will fit the bill!


Wednesday 22 July 2015

Nailbox: monthly nail polish subscription service

I dabbled in the beauty box trend a few years ago, back when they were huge. There were lots - and I believe there are still a few around - monthly boxes full of a random selection of beauty products. I loved the idea, but as I'm not a beauty junkie, I found myself giving away most of the contents to friends and family - I can only think of a couple of products I went on to use regularly (and yes, one of them was of course the HD brow palette).

When I was asked if I wanted to give Nailbox a go though, I was a lot more enthusiastic. I may not be a beauty girl - I'm certainly not a beauty blogger - but I've always been a big nail polish fan. In an ideal world I'd definitely have perfectly polished talons every day, but even though I don't, I still take care of my nails and like to paint them whenever I get a chance.

So Nailbox sends you a random assortment of polishes every month, at a cost of £15 a month (£13.50 a month if you commit to 12 months). It's really good value, when you consider that most nail polishes cost about £10 each. Here's what I got:

Essie - Reorrrrange

Nails Inc - Colville Mews

Tanya Burr - Mischief Managed

Seche Vite topcoat

The nail polishes alone are worth around £35, and I also got a cuticle clipper. The Essie shade, Reorrrrange, is my favourite - a bright, wearable orange creme with a nice thick consistency. I don't really suit neon colours, so this is perfect as it's bright without being TOO bright. I haven't tried the other two shades yet, but I've used Seche Vite several times before and it's a great topcoat - and not cheap at £9 a bottle!

I would seriously consider signing up for Nailbox on a monthly basis - I'm really impressed with their offering so far and am looking forward to seeing what they'll be giving away next month.

Monday 20 July 2015

Books read in 2015 so far

I always aim to read more than I do. At heart, I'm still that little girl who always had her head stuck in a book - the family joke was that I didn't know my way anywhere because whenever we were in the car, I was looking at a page rather than out the window. Many years later, when I learned to drive - guess what? Turns out it wasn't a joke. I had to use a sat nav to get to my Granny's house, where she's lived my entire life.

Growing up though, meant less time between the pages and more time out in the real world. I've driven to work for the last eight years, and apparently reading at the wheel is pretty frowned upon. I actually really like driving to work, but I do sometimes think it would be nice to hop on a train instead and spend the journey reading.

This year though, I've been working in London once or twice a week, and it's given me the chance to recapture it, a little. Last year, I kept a track of the books I read on Pinterest and was on 25 by the end of the year - this year I'm on book 15, only halfway through, so I hope I'll beat last year (25 doesn't seem very many to me!). And I thought I'd summarise them here....

1. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
I'm hesitant to say too much about Grasshopper Jungle, because I think it's best to go into it with no prior knowledge, like I did. It took a chapter or so to grab me, but then I couldn't put it down. I learned after finishing it that Edgar Wright is planning on directing the movie of this, so yeah - it's going to be huge. Read it now, and then you can be smug when the movie comes out!

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
You've already read this, right? Everyone has! With the film coming out on DVD earlier this year, I wanted to read the book first, and devoured this on a train journey to Wales. It's compulsive, which isn't always a mark of quality, but this is really well written and not at all predictable. The film is a really great adaptation too (the book's author wrote the screenplay) so I massively recommend both. I figure you already know this, but if not, it's the story of a man whose wife goes missing, and how he deals with being a suspect in her disappearance. I loved it.

3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I love Amy Poehler. Everyone loves Amy Poehler. In fact, the only bad things I've heard about Amy Poehler were in this book, by Amy Poehler. It's half advice book, half autobiography, and while it maybe seems a little rushed, she's so likeable and warm that I didn't mind one bit. Plus, bonus gossip about Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation!

4. Room by Emma Donoghue
This is such an interesting book. Interesting, but did I like it? I'm not sure. It's the story of a woman who was abducted as a teenager and has been imprisoned in a room for years, along with her son Jack, who was born in the room and doesn't know any different. It's told in first person, by five-year-old Jack, and the author was inspired by the Fritzl case. It was really hard to put down, but I didn't love it, and I can't really put my finger on why. I'd recommend it though, as it's very different.

5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This is a short read, but one that will stay with you. It's been written from the point of view of someone who has locked-in syndrome, so he can't move or speak, but is completely aware of everything around him. It's a frightening affliction, but rather than focus on that, this book is positive and life-affirming. I loved it.

6. My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
This is a eBook I've had on my iPhone forever, and decided to give it a go during a boring train journey when I didn't feel like anything heavy. It was ok, with amusing moments, but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of 'Why should I care?' It's a book about Chelsea's one night stands, and while part of me kind of liked that there wasn't a message, and it wasn't preachy - at one point I did wonder if it would end with her in Alcoholics Anonymous - it just didn't really leave an impression. I'm actually struggling to remember how it ended...

7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
I wasn't sure if I was going to read this young adult book, because I thought it would make me sob as much as The Fault in our Stars did. It's a really short, quick read about Mia, who has been in a car accident and is having an out of body experience while she's in a coma fighting for her life. It's an intriguing premise, but it didn't hit me emotionally. I didn't really get why it was such a big hit, but maybe it was one of those situations where a young adult book is really aimed at the YOUNG adults. Not the 30 somethings.

8. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
My friend Jo got me this for my birthday last year, and it took me about six months to read it. I'd pick it up on holiday or a long trip, read a couple of chapters, then forget about it when I got home and read something else. It just didn't grab me. The frustrating thing is that once I actually sat down and said 'Right, I am finishing this book', it absolutely did grab me. About half way through, the plot gets seriously compelling and exciting, and I can see why this is such a classic. Stick with it, but I feel it's a holiday book - something you can read over a few days, rather than dipping in and out of. It's about Rebecca, the dead ex-wife of the narrator's new husband, and how she effects everything about her, even after she's gone.

9. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
After finishing Rebecca, I was in a classics phase so gave this a go. I've never read any Agatha Christie before, but it's clear why she's still renowned as one of our best mystery writers. This is a classic locked-room murder mystery that I've seen emulated and spoofed so many times before, but surprisingly I didn't clock whodunnit until it was just about revealed.

10. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Still in the classics phase! I decided to try Orwell out again, as I hadn't read him since school (more on that in a second). Animal Farm is a quick read - I think I finished it in an afternoon - but good, although I found the metaphors a bit heavy handed.

11. 1984 by George Orwell
I decided to stick with Orwell and read 1984 again. I read this as a 12 year old, intrigued after an assembly, and rereading it now I can't imagine that I understood anything in it at that age! I didn't remember much about the first read, actually. But I enjoyed it. It's fascinating reading it now, seeing how much of it has gone into popular culture - Big Brother, Room 101... it's a scary vision of the future, and although I felt like the second half wasn't as good as the first, it's still an incredible book that's had a huge impact.

12. September Girls by Bennett Madison
Oh, I LOVED this novel. It's about a boy's summer at the beach, first love and a little bit of magic. A perfect holiday book, but lovely to read at any time. Yes. Read it.

13. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I went on a major Diana Wynne Jones phase last year but neglected to read this one for some insane reason. I am insane, we all know it. This is a fantastic novel about quiet Sophie, who gets cursed by a witch and makes friends (well, sort of) with a wizard. It's also a pretty wonderful Studio Ghibli film, so I recommend you devour both, pronto.

14. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This is basically the new Gone Girl, and I picked it up after it seemed like everyone on my Twitter feed was posting about it. It's just as compulsive - pretty much impossible to put down actually, I started on the way to work and spent the day trying to resist the temptation to read it under my desk! It's about Rachel, who gets the same train every day and likes to watch the people in the houses that she passes - something I'm sure a lot of us do. But it all goes a bit far, and then it gets a bit strange. I won't say any more, but it's an excellent summer read.

(Yep, I know the image isn't working, I'll fix it as soon as I can)

15. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I've had this on my bookshelf for about three years, and once I finally picked it up, I couldn't believe I'd waited so long. It's SO good. I love Patrick Ness - his Chaos Walking trilogy is one of my favourite series ever and made me sob - and his follow up book, More Than This, is equally amazing. A Monster Calls is about a boy whose mother has cancer, who is visited by a monster. It's a powerful look at adolescence, grief and coming to terms with the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Read it, do.

I'm currently reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, but I think this is another Rebecca in that I've been reading it for a few months and keep picking up other books instead (I'm also halfway through rereading To Kill A Mockingbird). I've also got Wild by Cheryl Strayed to read, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt but I am always looking for recommendations - what have you read and loved this year?

Saturday 18 July 2015

Hendricks Gin Fling Garden Party, Hertfordshire

Gin keeps getting thrown my way lately, and I'm kind of ok with that. I think it's just super trendy right now, so everyone's just jumping on the gin wagon. Funny, really, when you consider how long gin's been around these parts for - since the Middle Ages, don't you know. I do love the idea of Anne Boleyn enjoying a nice G&T to take her mind off her awful husband, don't you?

Thursday 16 July 2015

Australian and UK penpal goodie box challenge

Back in the day, when us bloggers were just starting out, there seemed to be a lot more collaboration. I still remember being nominated by Ellie to receive a dress from F&F at Tesco when I'd never received any review items before, and it was so exciting. Bloggers are a pretty sociable lot, and - in my experience, at least - not that competitive. The thing is, anyone who reads blogs will rarely just stick to one, so it's always worth spreading the word to your readers about other blogs you love. Spreading the love, if you will.

These days though, there's collaboration amongst bloggers organised by brands. Most of the collectives like the Aussie Angels and Witch Flawless Friends have split up, and the only time I seem to engage with other bloggers is when I'm entering the same competition as them. It's a shame. So I was really enthusiastic about this campaign from Austravel, who wanted to match up bloggers in Australia and the UK, and help them send goodies from their homeland to each other.

I was teamed with Tiffany from Corrupting Miffy who sent me this awesome box of goodies. It includes a couple of packs of Tim Tams (like extra delicious Penguins), a cute teatowel, some gift tags, a list pad, some hand cream and Paw Paw ointment (a cult beauty item that I learned a bit about here). I've already demolished the packet of salted caramel Tim Tams - amazing!

I foolishly didn't photograph the box I sent Tiffany, but inside I put my favourite Rimmel lipstick, a lilac Barry M nailpolish (that I'm not sure will get through customs), some H by Holland nude falsies, a Topshop necklace, Jaffa Cakes, Dairy Milk, Guinness Chocolate and of course some tea.

This was a really fun campaign to take part in, and was supported by the Austravel brand, who aim to explore the differences between the UK and Oz. It makes me nostalgic for the days of pen pals - I used to have so many!


Tuesday 14 July 2015

Recipe: Moroccan lamb and butternut squash tagine (slow cooker)

When we were at Glastonbury this year, we ate really well. The food there is always incredible, but this year it just seemed better than ever. The biggest difference for me was coming home. Usually I feel a bit poisoned - you know how you feel after Christmas, when you've been eating chocolate all day, every day, only stopping for heavy, comforting meals of loveliness, washing it all down with a pint of Bailey's? That kind of feeling. This year, though, I didn't feel like that. I'd had a few more ciders than my fair share, sure, but I hadn't eaten THAT badly. I mean, I only had chips once!

My two highlights were the Buddha Bowl stall - thai curry, grains, salad and halloumi of dreams - and the Soulful Food company. Every time Matt and I walked past the stall we'd make a promise to each other that we'd go before the weekend was out, as it looked so comforting, tasty and hearty. We ended up going on a boiling hot afternoon, when most people would choose to eat anything other than warming stew, but that's just us. And it was worth it, even in the heat. We ordered a couple of options and shared them, but while the pulled pork stew was nice, the chicken and butternut squash tagine was the winner - the ideal combination of sweet and savoury. I was determined to make something similar.


Sunday 12 July 2015

The best food stalls at Glastonbury 2015

It's hard to believe that I've already been home from Glastonbury for two weeks. I spend half the year looking forward to it, after buying my tickets in October, and then it's over in a flash and back to reality. It was an amazing one this year, though. The weather was pretty great - apart from a couple of rather large downpours - and the music was just out of this world. Lionel Richie will be one of my life highlights for a long long time, I think. I also really loved Frank Turner, Belle & Sebastian, Burt Bacharach, Pharrell and of course Florence - she owned that stage.
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