Thursday, 31 December 2015

ringing out twenty-fifteen

This time of year seems to be the time to reflect; wishes, hopes, dreams... successes, failures... relationships, jobs, plans...

Yeh, it's a toughie. 

I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time 'reflecting' on those things that went really badly less well, which aside from being pretty self-destructive is more often than not completely futile. We all like to see this time of year as the time for change; being a better person, doing things better and living a better life. Even at a humble twenty-eight years old, I know this is wishful thinking. That's not to say there's anything wrong with striving to be 'the best version of you' (most over-used phrase at NY?), but I can't help but think it's setting yourself up for a fall. 

Let me clarify. 

Rather than setting a whole load of resolutions I know I can't stick to...
eat more healthily, lose weight, read more, have a better work-life balance, do more exercise, be happy...
...I want to live in the moment. Yeh, I know, social media makes that really difficult! I found myself the other night in bed and 1am, aimlessly refreshing various apps. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest. Repeat. I don't know about you, but I do this quite a lot. And I hate it. 
I want to live in the moment. I do enjoy taking (and sharing) photos, but I don't want to just be that person. When we're travelling later this year, I want to experience it all. Yes, I also want to take some amazing snaps which I'll be able to look back on and remember, but I don't want to be living through my lens. 

Hardly clarity... hey?

Don't be hard on yourself, give yourself a break, enjoy life. Take a step back, take a step forward. Try something new, do what you know and love. Do what makes you happy. Push yourself. Take it easy. It's a world of contradictions. 

This quite probably sounds like the ramblings of a mad woman! I don't really know what I'm trying to say or if I've even reached any sort of conclusion, but twenty-sixteen - let's do this. 

Monday, 28 December 2015

bookclub #8

Welcome back to the final instalment in the Blogger Bookclub series of 2015. This time the book was my choice, and I went for something I'd seen a few times in the 'thriller' section of my local Oxfam Books. 

#8: The Book of You by Claire Kendal

The Book of You tells the story of Clarissa, who lives and works in Bath and becomes increasingly concerned about her colleague Rafe's behaviour towards her. After being persuaded to attend an event celebrating his new book, Clarissa ends up spending the night with Rafe... although has very little memory of the event. This begins what is a truly scary story - stalking, harassment, fear and kidnap. 

This book really reminded me of Into The Darkest Corner, which I really loved. Although this didn't quite have the same terrifying edge to it, it's an excellent account of a victim of stalking. The book is written in two ways; some chapters documenting Clarissa's everyday life and thoughts, and other chapters are her diary account of Rafe's behaviour. You see, Clarissa must collect as much evidence as possible before taking her case to the police - who would believe her otherwise?

What really got me about this story was Clarissa's reluctance to go to the police until she had 'enough' evidence. By about halfway through the book I was screaming "this is enough! Go!". But you can completely see her fear; that she wont be taken seriously and would be dismissed as mad. This is only compounded by the treatment of the victim in the trial she is sitting as jury in - the victim-blaming and undermining of her account is terrifying. 

The characterisation was excellent; Rafe really freaked me out, and I really did think "what will he do next" after each attack or visit. Unhinged.

I really enjoyed The Book of You - have you read it?

Don't forget to check out LornaLeanne and Charli's thoughts.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

christmas for food lovers

What tops my Christmas list, I hear you ask? Well, this year it's rucksacks, micro towels and sleeping bag liners... yes, Asia I'm coming for you! This is obviously out of the ordinary, however, and most years my Christmas list looks more like the above. What I love most? Cooking... and all things related!

Christmas gift ideas for food lovers.

One of the best presents I was bought last year was a subscription to Delicious Magazine. Twelve issues of mouth-watering recipes and gorgeous photography, it's super inspirational and the perfect Sunday afternoon read. On that note, I also love the idea of a curry subscription - three months of Friday night curry spices delivered to your door? Indian, Caribbean, Sri Lankan and Thai (to name a few) spices measured to fit a specially tailored recipe. Delish. 

Jamie always comes up trumps, right? I love his 30 and 15 Minute Meals books, and of course Comfort Food... what dreams are made of. His recipes are easy to follow and live up to expectation. I loved watching his Everyday Superfood series and the book would make a welcome addition to any bookshelf. 

Equipment. Tools. Gadgets. You can never have enough. Tell me I'm wrong!
If, like me, you love blending spices to make curries from scratch (it's really not that difficult, I promise, and is so worth it) then a pestle and mortar is an essential. Marble, yes please. A cheese baker is another one of those things that seems unessential... until you want to bake your Camembert for maximum festive vibes and you aint got nothin'. We're already two baked cheese sessions into December. Want something a little more indulgent - this is the recipe for you. I love this wooden board from H&M (TK Maxx and Homesense also do a huge range), perfect for cheese and festive nibbles. 

I am always looking for cheats to use in the kitchen, and this chocolate fondant kit takes all the stress out of making those perfect melt in the middle puddings. I love the idea of playing around with the fillings; salted caramel, boozy chocolate...

My top tip? Wear a pinny. I don't cook without donning my trusty apron - apart from the obvious practical advantage it makes me feel chef-fy. I'm sure it makes the food taste better...

Twenty-fifteen was the year I learnt to love coffee. And after trying coffee from one of these Bodum Coffee Makers I knew it had to be my next must-buy. Completely affordable (this one is only twenty quid) and retro beautiful, it's a winner. 

And finally, if you fancy making some edible Christmas gifts, I've got just the ticket. Try these scrumptious fudge-y, tiffin-y squares or these delish chocolate dipped honeycomb shards or these perfectly festive indulgent choccie brownies. Wrap in a greaseproof paper parcel tied with gold ribbon, and give the gift of food to those you love. 

In case you missed them, here are the links for all the products pictured:
Delicious Magazine SubscriptonBodum Coffee MakerJamie's Everyday SuperfoodFriday Night Curry SubscriptionH&M ApronLakeland Camembert BakerLakeland Fondant KitH&M Wooden BoardDunelm Marble Pestle and Mortar.

Monday, 30 November 2015

bookclub #7

This past couple of months has been a good one for reading! I always see a dip in the number of books I read when I go back to work after the summer break - the early morning and busy days render me pretty useless by 9pm. This year, however, I've made a conscious effort to make time to properly wind down before going to sleep; going to bed a little earlier so I can get a good few chapters in. And it's paid off! This is the seventh book I've read since going back to work after the summer break. It also happens to be book number seven of the Blogger Bookclub series.

#7: Techbitch by Jo Piazza and Lucy Sykes 

I feel a little embarrassed to be reading a book with such a naff title... let alone to admitting it on the internet! Techbitch follows Imogen Tate, magazine editor extraordinaire, and her return to the fast-paced world of fashion after time out following treatment for breast cancer. When arriving back in the offices of Glossy magazine she finds life as she knows it is no more. Glossy magazine is now and her former assistant Eve has taken control of the reins. Techbitch tells a story of technology replacing human potential, the bitchy world of fashion, and ageism in its worst form. 

You want me to be entirely honest? I hated this book at first. It is full of contemporary references - to the point that it felt like this was a game of 'how many references to popular culture can we cram into each chapter'. I found this completely cringe-worthy and embarrassing to read. In fact, my boyfriend read this over my shoulder one evening and stated "what the f**k are you reading?!". In addition to this, it is (at least in places) very poorly written, making it at times hard to follow.

That said, I persevered and did find it easy to read. I warmed to Imogen's character and really despised Eve - the characterisation was good in that sense. The blatant ageism and disregard for Imogen really enraged me! It was fairly predictable, but an easy, fairly amusing read none-the-less. I haven't really read something quite so chick-lit-y for a long time, so this was a change for me. If you've read and enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada (or other reads by Weisberger, I quite liked Chasing Harry Winston many years ago!) then this might be the book for you. 

Don't forget to check out Lorna, Leanne and Charli's thoughts.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

SE Asia: why there?

In case you missed it, last week I shared the exciting news that in February my boyfriend and I are going travelling for six months! Yup, six months of exploring SE Asia and all it has to offer. Excited is a bit of an understatement I guess - we're counting down the days already.

Last time I briefly explained the reasoning for our trip. Essentially, it's a case of if not now, when? 

This trip has been a long time coming; we decided on Christmas Eve 2014 and have spent all of 2015 saving, planning... and building excitement! So I guess this post is about how we've gone about organising our trip and the things we still have left to decide on. I'm hoping others who have travelled the countries we're planning on visiting will be able to pass on some hints and tips - as well as maybe giving others that nudge to consider a big trip. 

Both Rich (boyfriend) and I have visited Asia before. We went to Malaysia together two summers ago and packed KL, the Perhentian islands (my second time), Penang and Langkawi into a two week trip. Previously I spent a month in Malaysia and Indonesia with Kat, again visiting the Perhentian islands (heaven on earth), KL, Bali and the Gili Islands. Rich has also visited various Thai islands with his friends - so we feel we've had a good taste of what Asia has to offer already. 

You may be thinking - why are you going back? Spread your wings! And we thought exactly the same. We initially planned on spending the six months in South America, but after looking into it some more we realised our hearts lie in Asia. All our travels have done so far is whet our appetite - we want to see more! So this time we will be skipping most of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Thai party islands and instead seeing more of what Asia has up it's sleeve. 

We've decided on the following as definites:
Philippines - likely splitting our time between Palawan and Boracay
Malaysia - returning to Penang as we loved it before and didn't get to see enough
Thailand - Krabi, Phi Phi and then moving up to Chaing Mai and Pai
Myanmar/Burma - Yangon and Inle lake
Vietnam - Hanoi and all the way down the coast to Ho Chi Minh
Cambodia - Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville

All we've done so far? Booked our flight out there and a return, coming back in August. We're flying to the Philippines to start and coming back from Bangkok. The rest we will be (largely) figuring out when we're there! 

I'd love to hear from anyone who has visited SE Asia and any of the places we're planning on seeing - or any others we've missed out and must see! Any feedback would be gratefully received.


Monday, 16 November 2015

bookworm #42

Back in early 2013 I read Gone Girl, and completely loved it's messed up, entirely gripping plot. The film also didn't disappoint - in my eyes at least. So when I heard they were making another of Flynn's novels into a film, and subsequently seeing the trailer on social media I knew it would top my 'to read' pile. 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters were killed when she was a child; she managed to escape. Her brother Ben was charged with their murder, partly due to Libby's testimony, and is serving a life sentence in prison. Fast forward twenty-five years and Libby is down and out, skint and pretty miserable. She is approached by someone who says he can get her money - if she helps The Kill Club investigate the murders and potentially reveal Ben's innocence. Reluctant at first, Libby soon finds information that challenges everything she thought she once knew. Her world unravels and she is sucked into a mystery she would have preferred to keep buried. 

I really enjoyed this book! It was gripping from the off, with sub-plots and twists at every corner. It was quite a long read - a bit like Gone Girl it could probably have done with fewer pages, but that said it didn't feel onerous.

I'd love to see how the film compares but it doesn't look like it was released in the UK... if anyone has any info on this I'd love to know where I can find it!


Friday, 13 November 2015

if not now, when?

This post has been a long time coming. Eleven months, in fact!

Last Christmas Rich and I made a big decision - that in 2016 we would leave reality behind us, pack our bags and travel.

Idealistic? Perhaps. Selfish? Perhaps.

And after almost a year of hard saving and life planning, it's on! In February - a mere three months time - we'll be leaving life as we know it behind and boarding a plane bound for SE Asia for six months of exploring.

Philippines - Thailand - Myanmar - Cambodia - Vietnam... and the rest!

This is a pretty big deal for us; we're leaving our home (we rent in Farnham, Surrey) and jobs, putting our things in storage and leaving reality behind. I've been lucky enough to be given a sabbatical from my teaching job, so will be coming back to my job in August. This really sealed the deal for us - when I asked, I didn't expect them to say yes! Call it a sign, fate, whatever... it was clearly meant to be.

For me, life feels pretty hectic. I'm twenty-eight, a busy teacher in the hamster wheel of life which seems to be relentless. But right now, we have no ties. No mortgage, no babies. For us it is the perfect time to spread our wings and finally do what we've always fantasised about - put life on hold for six months and explore.

If not now, when?


Monday, 9 November 2015

smoked haddock risotto

A risotto isn't exactly a quick and easy dinner; it requires attention and a little bit of love. That said, don't write it off as a mid-week meal. This recipe is straightforward and really packs a punch flavour-wise. I started off with this recipe but adapted, tweaked and altered to make this. This will serve two hungry people. 

You will need
1 finely diced onion
1 teaspoon medium curry powder
150g risotto rice
700ml vegetable stock
1 handful frozen peas
2 smoked haddock fillets
1 handful cooked and peeled king prawns
1 handful chopped parsley
1 tablespoon mascarpone/quark
2 eggs, poached
1 lemon

Start by cooking the haddock according to packet instructions; I buy and cook from frozen in the oven in a little foil packet for about 20 minutes. 

Fry the onion on a medium heat, once softened add the curry powder and combine. Add the rice and ensure it is well combined and coated in the onions and curry powder. Add the stock a glug at a time; slow and steady really wins the race here! Don't throw the liquid all in at once - take it easy, bit by bit. Taste every so often to check when it's cooked. You may not need to use all the stock, or may need a little more. 

When you add the last glug of stock, throw in the frozen peas and leave to cook until the last of the liquid is absorbed. Now add the quark or mascarpone, prawns, parsley and flake in the haddock (and any fishy cooking juices).

Serve with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle more parsley and top with a runny poached egg. Delicious. 

Slimming World - syn values
Use fat free quark instead of mascarpone and this dish is syn free! 


Friday, 6 November 2015

bookworm #41

So last month I joined a 'real life' bookclub! As well as being a part of an online bloggers bookclub, I now attend a monthly bookclub with a few local ladies. It was started by a work colleague who also lives in Farnham, and earlier this week we had our first book chat. The Children Act was my choice, and was a real hit!

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Children Act is a novel centring around Fiona, a high-court judge, who has to make some pretty difficult moral and ethical decisions over other people's lives. A pair of Siamese twins who will both die if remain adjoined, but one may survive if a risky operation is performed. Two Jewish girls whose parents have very different ideas about the sort of education they should receive; an orthodox Jewish school or a secular school. A seventeen year old Jehovah Witness who requires a blood transfusion to fight the leukaemia which will otherwise kill him, but is refusing on religious grounds. 

There was a clear debate running through this story; religion vs. rationality. I found this really interesting, right up my street! As you'd expect from a McEwan novel, it is intelligent, well-researched and thorough. That said, it's not heavy-going. It's a good length, has short chapters and is gripping from the get-go. It's definitely one of those books that will get you thinking - what would you have done?

My next read: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.


Sunday, 1 November 2015

a simple chicken ramen

I did it! I made ramen! To me, this is comfort in a bowl. Chicken, noodles, perfectly boiled, runny eggs. I'd heard horror stories of ramen gone wrong and how it can take days to perfect those deep ramen flavours... so I was a little apprehensive to get started. 

A simple chicken ramen recipe.

After lots of pinning and recipe hunting, I found this seemingly straightforward recipe - too good to be true? Nope! Perfect, rameny loveliness. I've tweaked and made UK ingredients and measurement friendly. This makes enough ramen for two hungry folk. 

You will need
2 chicken breasts
3 tsp garlic paste (here)
2 tsp ginger paste (here)
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin 
(a sweetened rice wine, find it in most large supermarkets)
1 litre chicken stock
(I used two knorr chicken stock pots in boiling water)
1 handful dried shitake mushrooms
(soak these in boiling water for 20 minutes in preparation)
2 eggs
1 handful spring onions
100g dried noodles
(I used these from the world food aisle, perfect!)
Coriander to serve

Start by frying the chicken in a non-stick pan to seal and brown the outside. A few minutes on each side is plenty, or until golden. Place in a tin foil parcel and cook in the oven for a further 15 minutes or until cooked through. You can add any chicken juices into your jug of chicken stock!

In a large saucepan, fry the garlic and ginger paste on a low heat before adding the soy sauce and mirin - stir to combine. Add the stock and bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the dried, soaked mushrooms and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes. You may need to season to taste, however if you've used a dark soy sauce like I did, you probably wont need to. A light, lower salt soy sauce might be better to use in this. 

Whilst this is simmering, make your soft-boiled eggs! Bring a pan of water to the boil and then add the eggs carefully. I don't keep my eggs in the fridge, so they are at room temperature. Set a timer for 6 minutes. Once the time is up, remove from the boiling water and put into a bowl of iced water. This stops the cooking process. Leave in the icy water for 5 minutes before peeling and slicing lengthways. 

In the water you used to boil the eggs, cook your noodles. Follow packet instructions - usually 4-5 minutes. 

Assembly time. Pour the broth into two bowls then place the noodles, chicken breast (sliced), eggs and top with the spring onions (sliced) and a sprinkling of coriander. Season with black pepper and enjoy!

Slimming World - syn values
Mirin, 2 syns per tablespoon


Friday, 30 October 2015

baking basics: banana bread

Everyone needs a list of go-to, no-fuss bakes. For those occasions when cake is necessary (when is it not?) but you don't have the time or inclination to slave over the next GBBO showstopper. 

Banana bread. 

Moist, simple, a crowd-pleaser. I've tried heaps of different recipes, but always find myself going back to my original. I've no idea where I got this recipe from so can't credit, I've been using it for years!

225g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
100g butter
175g caster sugar
300g peeled bananas
3 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix together the flour and bicarb of soda, before adding the butter and mixing until you have breadcrumbs. Add the sugar. Mash the bananas in a separate bowl then whisk in the eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Fold into the flour mixture and pour into a lined loaf tin. Bake for approx 45 minutes on 180c (or 160c fan), or until golden. 

Tips for the perfect banana loaf

The riper your bananas, the better. If they're still a bit green, pop them in the oven on a medium heat for 20 minutes - they'll go a shiny black colour, don't panic! Leave to cool before mashing. 

Use a tin liner. No-one has time to cut parchment to size. I buy these which are a complete lifesaver.

Add chunks of chocolate for banana bread with a twist! Add them at the last stage before baking for a slightly indulgent loaf. Chopped walnuts are also a great addition. 

Check out how my banana bread fared on Instagram...


Monday, 26 October 2015

bookclub #6

Welcome to part six of the Bloggers Bookclub! This instalment sees me doing something completely new to me; reading a book on my Hudl tablet. Yes, nothing ground breaking but something different for me. I installed the Kindle app (it's free!) and rather apprehensively started my first ever e-book. The verdict? I liked it! I was contemplating buying a Kindle, so when I discovered the app could just be used on my existing tablet I was chuffed.

#6: The Letter by Kathryn Hughes 

The Letter tells the story of Tina, who finds a mysterious letter in the jacket pocket of a charity shop suit. Said letter was written by Billy in the 1940s but never posted, and Tina is desperate to trace Billy and the intended recipient. 

This is another book which hops back and forwards in time; the story being divided between the 1940s and 1970s. In the 1940s we hear of Billy and Chrissie who fall madly in love but whose relationship is scorned by Chrissie's father. In the 'present' day (1970s) we hear of Tina and her turbulent marriage to abusive Rick, alongside her quest to find Billy and Chrissie. 

Did I enjoy it? Yes. It was an easy read which I whizzed through pretty quickly. It had real similarities with Philomena by Martin Sixsmith which was interesting, but if I'm honest I felt I'd read it before. The ending was a disappointment; pretty unimpressive - it felt like it fizzled out once the mystery had been solved. It wasn't necessarily a gripping, unique read but I enjoyed it none-the-less.

Don't forget to check out Lorna, Leanne and Charli's thoughts.

Friday, 23 October 2015

spiced carrot and red lentil soup

It's October, it's autumn... it's time for soup. 

Twenty-fifteen has been the year I learnt to love lentils. Check out the alliteration on that! My first lentil love came in the form of tarka dahl; an Indian takeaway just isn't complete without a good scoop of this on the side. Who am I kidding, I can just eat a whole bowl of dahl on it's own! I also love this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall chicken thigh and lentil recipe - a great mid-week one pot dinner which amps up the comfort factor.

Spiced carrot and red lentil soup.

So as the mercury drops and those summer salads fail to hit the spot, I'm turning to homemade soups for lunch. Do as I do and make a big batch on a Sunday which will set you up for the week. This recipe made 4 good portions. 

I used this BBC Good Food recipe which ticks all the boxes - easy to make, simple ingredients, a slight kick to it, low fat but filling. Perfection. Top with a drizzle of natural yogurt and serve with a naan bread. 

Slimming World - syn values
Olive oil, 2 tbsp - 12 syns. Skip it, it's not necessary to use olive oil in this recipe. 
Skimmed milk, 125ml - 2 (ish) syns, but divided over 4-5 portions this is minimal and of course can be included as part of your HEXA. 
Natural yogurt, free.
Naan bread, mini - approx 7 syns.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

smoky paprika crockpot

Sausages. Mmm. Sausages. 

When I heard there was a new sausage brand in town that boasts a range including gluten free, dairy free and low fat I knew they were for me. The lovely folk at Heck Food sent me a big box of them to try, and needless to say I got stuck in straight away. 

Smoky paprika chicken sausage crockpot.

You will need
Heck smoky paprika chicken sausages*
Tin chopped tomatoes
Red onion
Dijon mustard
Chicken stock cube
Red peppers
Tin baked beans
Spring onions

Start by slicing your onion and frying in a large saucepan with a few sprays of Fry Light. Add garlic (I use a teaspoon of garlic paste) and fry until the onions are softened. 

The messy bit: de-skin the sausages, halve and roll into balls. Fry in a non-stick pan until browned and sealed. Add to the onion and garlic saucepan and carefully toss around to combine. In the non-stick pan fry the spring onions for a couple of minutes and put to one side. 

Add the chopped tomatoes, a handful of chopped fresh basil, a heaped teaspoon of dijon mustard and crumble over a stock cube. Slice the red peppers thinly and throw in. Simmer for 5 minutes before adding the beans and cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes, before putting into an oven-proof dish and baking for 20 minutes on around 180c. 

Serve with the spring onions on oven-baked jacket potatoes and a side salad for the perfect autumnal dinner!

Slimming World - syn values
Heck smoky paprika chicken sausages, 0.5 syns (2 sausages)


Monday, 19 October 2015

spring forward, fall back

Public service announcement! The clocks go back this coming Sunday (25th October) meaning sunrise and sunset will be an hour earlier. 

Spring forward, fall back. 

You know the drill, brighter mornings again... at least for a little while, and darker evenings. I remember as a kid knowing it was winter when Neighbours was on and it was dark outside. The end of daylight saving means a few things to me; finishing teaching at 4.30pm and it's almost dark outside, being fooled by the initial lighter mornings only soon to realise you leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark, and finally... the festive season is coming!

Every year I say it; I love summer, but as soon as Autumn comes round I'm ready for Santa. 

The lighter... then darker... mornings can throw up a whole load of sleep problems for me. I need a good 8-9 hours each night and in the past have really suffered when I've not had this. Back when I first started teaching I would be lesson planning til 11pm and getting up at 6am; my 45 minute drive to work would be a real struggle and I would often have to try and stop myself from drifting off behind the wheel. 

So what do I do to ensure I get a good night's sleep?

1. Routine. I now go to bed around 9.30pm on school nights. Sad, but necessary. It means I can read my book and wind down and am usually fast asleep by 10pm. It's no party, but it works for me!

2. Exercise. 3-4 days a week I either run or work out at the gym. This ensures I keep fit, healthy and well, but also means I am ready for bed each night. There's nothing worse than restless, fitful sleep - exercise means I am able to sleep well and deeply. 

3. Bed. I love my bed! The mattress is perfect (firm) and when I stay in other beds I can really struggle to get a good night's sleep. The soft mattress at my parent's house gives me such a bad back and keeps me awake. Figure out what works for you and it's worth paying the extra ££ for something that you find comfortable. is offering up to 35% off mattresses at the moment. Likewise, bedding makes a huge difference. Our cosy winter duvet is back on and I'm sleeping better than ever! I love brushed cotton sheets for that sleeping-on-clouds feel. 

4. Alarms. Using a dawn-simulating alarm clock can really help counter that dark morning struggle. The gradual light increase helps stimulate hormones that help us feel awake and energised - they really do work, I promise!

What are your top sleep tips?

*this post is in collaboration with Victoria Plum

Friday, 16 October 2015

bookworm #40

I first heard about this book when browsing Richard and Judy bookclub titles - always a good starting point if you're stuck on what to read next! Before We Met was a part of their Summer 2014 list, and when I saw it for a pound in my local charity shop I snapped it up.

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

Before We Met is a story about Hannah Reilly - she marries Mark after a whirlwind romance and all is great. Until he doesn't come home one day. Hannah's world starts to unwind and she no longer knows what's true and what's been a lie. 

Despite this taking a while to get going (after the initial 'what's happened?' moment, the pace slows), I enjoyed this read. I love a mystery; I'm a nosy person and my desire to know what happened to Mark was pretty fierce! There were so many twists and turns it kept me on my toes, and aside from a slow few chapters in the middle, I found it to be a pacey read... if a little unbelievable! Yes, I know suspending belief and logic is sometimes both necessary and enjoyable, but there were parts of this story I struggled to get to grips with. Reviews had sold it as the new Gone Girl, and while I don't think it was quite that, it was a decent length (not overly long), had largely believable characters and enough mystery to keep me and my short attention span hooked. 

Have you read Before We Met?


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

exploring Windsor and Eton

Saturdays are made for exploring. 

This one just gone we hopped in the car and headed to Windsor - lunch, exploring. And we did just that. We parked in Alexandra Gardens (on recommendation, it's a pound an hour) and walked through the park and along the Thames up to the castle. The castle itself is huge - you can't miss it - and is located right in amongst the pubs, restaurants and shops. Unfortunately it costs the best part of twenty quid to get in! We're on a budget, so we had to admire it from the outside and watched wedding guests (imagine getting married in Windsor castle), tourists and locals weave in and out of the hubbub. That said, your ticket to Winsdor castle lasts for a full 12 months - we didn't see ourselves going back in the next year but if you do, it is good value for money. 

Aside from the castle, we mooched round streets and side streets, admiring the history and architecture. We stopped for a drink at The Duchess of Cambridge - a traditional pub with gorgeous interiors and a cosy charm. We wanted to eat there but it was so busy we weren't able to get a table, so instead ate at The Real Greek which was delicious! We ate all the mezze whilst hiding behind stacks of plates... in fact we ate a total of eight dishes, all for under thirty pounds. If you like Greek food, I would 100% recommend. 

After exploring Windsor we headed over the bridge to Eton for more beautiful scenes. We saw the college, found some cute gift shops and generally enjoyed wandering through the typically British streets. Well worth going over the bridge for!

Can you recommend any other must-see British towns or cities?

Striped jumper Laura Ashley
Denim dress Primark
Trainers Nike 
Bag Mango
Scarf Zara


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

saving money in the supermarket

When it comes to food shopping I think I've got it covered. I've figured out where's best to buy what, what items give the best value for money and importantly how to cook tasty, healthy meals without breaking the bank. That said, it's taken me a while. When I first started uni I took the typical student response to the fear of food shopping alone - buying a combination of (overly) expensive branded products and inexpensive smart-price which lacked quality and substance. I lived off spaghetti bolognese for the first term which whilst this isn't the worst thing that could have happened, I lacked imagination and quickly became bored. Whether you're a student or not, saving money doesn't have to be about buying smart price, freezing the same meal in batches and having beans on toast on every other occasion!

Here are my five best money saving tips for food shopping.

1. Shop around. This does require a little patience and time, but can be done very easily... and quickly once you get into a routine. There are certain shops I go to for certain things - usually Lidl/Aldi, Sainsburys and Asda.

I go to Lidl or Aldi for my main weekly shop; meat, veg (Aldi is much better than Lidl for veg I find), fruit, dairy, lunchbox snacks, bread, etc. We don't spend a fortune on this and if I know what I need to get this takes under 30 minutes.

There are some items I can't pick up in Lidl/Aldi however, so either on another day or on my way home I go via Sainsburys to pick up the rest - branded products, the granola I like, frozen shortcuts (see 4) and some of the things I need to buy that are specifically low fat etc; these can be hard to find in Lidl/Aldi. This might be an extra 20 minutes hassle, but over the last year since I've been doing this I have saved at least £10-£15 on my weekly shop - that adds up!

If you want to really save the pennies, doing a monthly Asda online shop is a great idea. I find Asda to be the cheapest for branded items, and their own brand products are also (often) cheaper than Sainsburys etc. We do this for things such as loo roll, tins of beans/chopped tomatoes etc, cereal/cereal bars, yogurt (you get 10 Muller Lights for £3 at Asda rather than 6 for £3 in Sainsburys!)... the things that have a longer shelf life. If we do this, it usually cuts out the need to do the 'top up' shop at Sainsburys after Lidl/Aldi.

2. Think about the meat you buy. I very rarely buy chicken breast these days - we much prefer filleted chicken thighs. They're cheaper, you get more for your money and they are so much tastier. One of our favourite mid-week meals is coriander chicken which is perfect with thigh meat. Similarly, turkey mince makes a great change to beef mince; cheaper, leaner. These turkey meatballs are quick and easy - and a bit of a spin on shop bought! If you're making a slow-cooked casserole or goulash then buy cheaper cuts of beef - if it's cooking for hours it'll have plenty of time to tenderise. You wont taste the difference and it'll save you £££.

3. Make a big batch, but switch it up. I'll make a big batch of bolognese mince (mince with onions, chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, dijon mustard, a glug of wine) and then freeze in portions. When it comes to eating, you can create some variety. For chilli, thaw and heat through with a tin of kidney or cannellini beans and a couple of teaspoons of chilli powder. For burritos, pour over a packet of burrito spice mix. For stuffed peppers, pour the bolognese into semi-cooked peppers and top with cheese.

4. Use shortcuts. A while back I started a Kitchen Shortcuts series, which included ideas like freezing herbs to reduce waste, using flavour pastes like coriander, garlic and ginger paste which save buying fresh each time, and finally looking at preserved items like lemons and peppers. I use all of these shortcuts to this day, but have one more excellent shortcut to help save money - frozen vegetables. I routinely buy frozen chopped onions, frozen spinach, frozen chopped peppers, frozen Mediterranean veg, frozen chopped chillis - all of which you can buy (usually as a multibuy offer) from Sainsburys and other supermarkets. This not only saves a whole heap of time, but also saves buying things fresh which you think you won't use all of or wont keep stocked in your cupboards. Remember, even Delia said it was ok to cheat!

5. Plan your meals. I know, snooze. But by spending 10 minutes at the start of each week planning what meals you'll have each night (remember, account for any nights you're out etc) you'll be able to save time food shopping and save money by ensuring you're buying what you need rather than what you think you need! If I go food shopping without a list, even with the best of intentions I can often come back with a whole load of lovely bits and pieces... but maybe nothing to make 5 decent meals with. Plan before hand, check ingredients, check your cupboards and make a note of what you'll need. This means you wont keep buying things you already have in the cupboard - saving money and space.

We have a few go-to dishes we eat almost every week/fortnight which makes planning a lot easier. Check out this post I put together a while back which has a list of easy mid-week meals I know you'll love. We also love these noodles, this chicken curry and this low fat carbonara.

So - nothing too radical here, but some of the ways I save money each week on food shopping. No beans on toast 5x a week and shopping in the reduced section, but meals you can enjoy without worrying about breaking the bank!

*this post is written in collaboration with TSB - all words my own
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