Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Hanging planters

The kitchen is one of my favourite places in our home - I love cooking and see the kitchen as a really important social space. We're lucky enough to have a really lovely kitchen in our rented place; its big enough to fit a dining table which we eat at most nights, and is bright and fresh. For me, the perfect kitchen is one that is enjoyable to cook in but also nice to look at and a space you want to spend time in. I love cooking with fresh herbs, and am always after ways to grow and store them which is both practical and attractive. I think I've found the perfect answer!

I spotted these on the Ikea app last week and am trying to find the first date in my diary where I can get down to my local store (Southampton or Croydon, we're bang inbetween the two!) and pick a couple up. Great if you're short on space - these can hang from the ceiling in the kitchen and are stackable to allow for maximum use of space. Of course, these aren't just perfect for hanging herbs. I love the idea of these in my sitting room for that 'outside inside' feel!

The circular planters are a real bargain at just £8 each. I would place potted herbs into the planters in the plastic pots to allow for drainage into the planter - you don't want to drown them. They unhook easily for watering or snipping, so simple. They also have a rectangular planter in the same style. 

What do you think?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Slimming World: an introduction

I've mentioned Slimming World several times in the past few months both on here and on my twitter and instagram and have had several people asking me a) how it works and b) how it's worked for me. I guess I've felt a little intimidated at the thought of writing a post about it - it's not the easiest diet to explain - and I've wanted to wait a while to see how it really works for me. I feel like after 4 months of following Slimming World I'm in a good place to talk about it on here. 

Before I start I just want to state the obvious - diets work differently for different people. Obviously. That said, knowing lots of people who have following Slimming World (Kat and my Mum included) I have only really heard good things. It's not pretending to be a clean or super-healthy diet, but it does promise to help you shift some lbs. And for me it's done just that!

I guess to start with I should put my 'stats' out there and be completely honest in how much weight I've lost. I started SW in early January (new year, new start) and although I didn't weigh myself on the day I started, I know just after Christmas I was a couple of pounds off 11 stone. My heaviest weight, and not one which flattered me. Lost of people say "you don't look like you weigh that much" yada yada yada... but I felt it. Size 12 jeans were becoming too tight and my stomach wobbled when I ran up the stairs. Attractive, I know. After weighing in last Wednesday I am now at 9st 12lbs. I have lost a stone! Despite going to the gym more and starting running more recently I am 100% sure my weight loss is down to SW. As they say, its 80% good diet and 20% exercise. I'm now buying size 10 jeans and as well as feeling a huge difference, I'm starting to see it. Hurrah!

So, how does it work? I follow the Extra Easy plan and it's pretty straight forward. 
1. You can eat as many free foods as you want. Free foods include most fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, pulses, grains, rice, pasta, potatoes, noodles, eggs and fat-free dairy (and some other bits). Yeh, it's amazing. I've not felt hungry once whilst doing slimming world. 
2. Now alongside your Free Foods you also get a Healthy Extra A choice and a Healthy Extra B choice each day. You should choose one of each to maintain a balanced diet. HexA's are milk and cheese. Usually, I choose 350ml of skimmed milk to have in a coffee (coffee itself is free). 350ml is actually quite a lot of milk so I usually split it over two coffees throughout the day. The quantities vary depending on product/fat content. HexB's are fibre - bread, cereal, cereal bars, crispbreads, dried/cooked fruits, nuts and seeds and oils. You can see a comprehensive list of HexA's and B's here
3. As well as all of this you are allowed up to 15 syns a day. This is really everything else and each product is given a syn value - 2 finger KitKats are 5.5 syns for instance. The syn values are stated in info guides, you can also search in the App... or I just Google it. There's loads of info on the internet, just beware that syn values can change so you're best off using the App or SW guide. Syns allow you to have the things you fancy without feeling guilty!

That sounds a little confusing, I know, but once you get your head round it it's super straightforward to follow. 

To help I have an idea of what you can eat, this is my typical food day.
Breakfast - fat-free natural yoghurt (free), raspberries (free), and Special K granola (30g, HexB). 
Lunch - pasta (free), tuna (free), tablespoon low-fat mayo (1 syn). Or home made soup (free, ensuring you use no oil), or a jacket potato (free) with beans (free) and grated cheese (approx 5 syns or used as HexA)
Dinner - salmon (free) with Tilda Mushroom rice (3 syns for whole pack) with spinach (free) and tenderstem broccoli. Or my favourite goulash recipe with spaghetti (free if use no oil). Basically I have adapted all my 'regular' meals to be SW-friendly, either free or minimal syns. 
Snacks - they vary, but can include... 2 finger kit kat (5.5 syns), Muller Light toffee yoghurt (free), fruit (free), coffee (free, plus HexA milk and sugar is 1 syn per tsp).
Good, huh?

For me, it just works. I'm incredibly greedy and don't do well with denying myself yummy things! For SW to work though, you have to stick to it. I've been a bit rubbish in that most weekends I fall off-plan and indulge a little. That said, I've still lost a stone... if I'd stuck to it I imagine my loss would have been even greater. I find it harder in the holidays and easier when I'm at work and can get into a routine. So I'm still going, and hoping to lose another stone by the summer. I want to be body confident and happy in my own skin - so far so good!

Next time: my go-to SW shopping list items, what I love about SW and why it works for me, my favourite SW-friendly recipes and another update on my weight loss. Watch this space!


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

summer lysting

Ah, Spring, how I've missed you! In the winter months I try to kid myself into believing I like the cosy, chilly evenings and extra layers... but as soon as the weather hits mid-teens, I realise how I am just longing for summer. I'm the one who is hunting down that beer garden table in the sun, that last spot of sunshine in the garden and that sun lounger in the position directly in the sun's rays. When in Bali several years ago I heard myself saying "excuse me, can you please move the umbrella... it's getting in the way of my tan". Yeh, wow. 

So this slightly-warm weather is really making me happy. Like, really happy. Sadly this year we aren't going on a summer holiday - that means a whole five weeks off work, in the UK. Now I know I shouldn't moan, teacher holidays really are the best thing ever, but c'mon, I need that sun! So for now I'm hoping the weather here continues to warm and the mercury continues to rise. 

I'm starting to think about SS15 style - so far I'm digging espadrilles, stripes (obvs), mixing textures, and a hint of yellow. As much as I love the Stella espadrilles, I think Soludos are more suited to my budget! I've been adding my key summer pieces to my latest Lyst; I love being able to view all my favourite brands in one place. 

For those of you who don't know about Lyst yet (where have you been?) it's a site that allows you to browse everything from highstreet to designer, and everything in between, making your own lysts of coveted items along the way. Great for people like me who love to list (it's the teacher...) and get completely overwhelmed with the 'new in' sections on various websites. I don't have the time or the inclination to browse twelve different sites looking for the perfect sandals - Lyst has it all in once place and is super easy to navigate. Just few clicks and you can have a pretty swoon-worthy collection of pieces!

Do you lyst?

*this post is in collaboration with Lyst


Monday, 20 April 2015

bookworm #33

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

This year has been a bit of a fail reading-wise. I've been super busy at work, meaning by the time I hit the hay I am asleep in minutes - no joke. I can guarantee that most nights when I turn my bedside light off and put head to pillow I will be asleep in about 90 seconds! As a result, I've just not been reading as much as I'd like to. I started the year with Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and just couldn't get into it, shortly followed by Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami which again failed to entice me. I enjoyed Norwegian Wood, but just found nothing was really happening - I have a short attention span and need a meaty storyline! Apologies Murukami fans, I know there are many out there!

After having Case Histories on my bookshelf for years, I thought I had better give it a go. Case Histories tells the story of Jackson Brodie - an ex police inspector turned private investigator - and the various cases he's working on. One, the story of the Land sisters whose younger sister Olivia mysteriously disappeared when they were children. Two, solicitor Theo Wyre's determined hunt for his beloved daughter's killer. And finally, Michelle who killed her husband (with an axe, very Lizzie Borden) seemingly in a case of post-natal depression. The book seamlessly weaves between these stories and the various characters. 

Despite taking a while to get into, I enjoyed it. The problem is I've been reading little and not-very-often, making it hard to remember characters and story lines. The joy of Atkinson's novels is the number of different characters in each novel - which for me have been hard to remember and absorb given I've been reading so little. These books are the sort of thing you want to read on a sunlounger in Greece in a couple of days; gripping, fast paced and packed with intricately described characters. Saying that, once I got to the last quarter of the book I was flying through, totally gripped with each individual (and interlinked) story. I've heard similar reviews of Life After Life - maybe I'll give it another go over the summer when I have more time to read. 


Wednesday, 15 April 2015


Well, hello there. It's been a little while since I did a style post, but what better time than when I'm wearing three of my favourite new items. 

Shirt New Look
Boots Duo*
Sunglasses Urban Outfitters

When it comes to footwear it's always one of two options - boots or sandals. In the winter months I absolutely live in boots and have a rather healthy (embarrassing) collection of 10+ boots that I wear regularly. It's become a bit of a joke when people come to our house and see all my boots lined up on the chest in our hallway - cue the 'do you have enough boots?' comments! My latest addition are these navy suede beauties - a small heel, super comfy and something a little different to regular black, it's love. 

These pictures have reminded me just how blimmin' pale I am! I look like an extra from Twilight... honestly, if I were to start shimmering I wouldn't be surprised. Get those sunshine rays on me stat!


Monday, 13 April 2015

rose tomato

When it comes to fragrance, I'm pretty fussy. I think years of my Dad's nagging reminders that natural fragrances are far more appealing has left me moving away from overwhelming scents and seeking out fresher tones. He would often mock my love for Dior's Pure Poison in my teenage years - I can remember the smell to this day and it just reminds me of Ikon nightclub. Stay classy, Lizzie. Today I favour more natural scents; woody, herby or floral fragrances are my go-to, especially when it comes to home fragrance. 

Joules Rose Tomato Scented Candle*
Joules Cottage Herb Body Lotion*
Joules Cottage Herb Body Wash*

I'll put my hands up and confess that I jumped at the chance to try these new Joules home fragrances! Joules are known for being quintessentially British; starting life in a farm office, twenty-five years later you can find them on countless UK highstreets offering the Best of British. I knew their toiletries would be perfect for me, and how right I was. 

I absolutely love the Rose Tomato scent, a combination of rose, tomato leaf, jasmine, bergamot, coriander and basil. It just works! Expect something fresh and entirely different from any other candle you've had the joy of burning before. The Cottage Herb scent is equally as delicious and unique; a mix of fresh garden herbs, fennel and citrus. I have to be careful when using body moisturisers as I have very sensitive skin (mostly on my legs, which are prone to rashes) and as a rule try to avoid any scented lotions. I've been using this body lotion for just over a week every evening before bed and have been so impressed with its intensely moisturising feel - my legs were so dry! - and how it hasn't had any adverse effects on my sensitive pins. A complete winner for me, I can see myself buying this when it runs out. 

It's an A* from me, Joules! You can take the teacher out of the classroom...


Thursday, 9 April 2015

wild turkey

One of my go-to mid-week meals has always been pasta with meatballs and a jarred sauce. That was until I started Slimming World and I discovered the jarred sauce I was using came in at 15 syns... ouch. In an attempt to rectify this and make something SW-friendly, this little concoction formed! Slightly Asian-flavoured, the ginger, coriander and soy sauce make the turkey taste so much more interesting and it really works. I buy my turkey mince from Lidl - it's under two quid a pack. 

For the meatballs (makes 12)
450g lean turkey mince
Handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 inch squeeze ginger paste 
1 egg yolk

For the tomato sauce
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed 
2 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1 vegetable stock cube

2 spring onions (sliced horizontally) to serve

Start by throwing all the meatball ingredients into a bowl and mix with your hands. So satisfying! Form into twelve balls using your hands. Put a non-stick frying pan on the heat with a few sprays of Fry Light and when hot, place your meatballs in to seal. Turn every couple of minutes and when sealed all over, pop into a non-stick baking tray and cook on about 180c for about 20 minutes. A couple of minutes before the end throw in the spring onions to the baking tray to soften slightly. 

For the sauce, fry (in Fry Light) the diced onion on a medium heat for a few minutes before adding the garlic and tomato purée and keep frying for a couple of minutes. When the onions are soft, add the tinned tomatoes and then refill the tin with water and stir through. Add the chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, sugar, stock cube and spinach balls and simmer away on a low heat for 30 minutes or so. If it gets too thick, add some more water. You want it to be thick when serving, so make sure you cook it down thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Tip: make a load of the meatballs and sauce and freeze (separately) for mid-week ease. 

Slimming World - syn values
Completely free! Make sure you use lean Turkey mince (around 5% fat if possible, but I settle for approx 7% turkey mince from Lidl) and Fry Light instead of oil. Granted, the ginger paste contains a little oil... but preparing ginger yourself if such a faff, I'll take this any day. Let's not be pedantic! 


Sunday, 5 April 2015


Nothing says Easter like burgers, right?
Aah, burgers. I am a complete burger fiend, so when I heard Byron was opening in my local Camberley I did a little squeal with excitement. Last week Rich and I were lucky enough to be able to go along and see what they have to offer... and we left so full we felt we'd never eat again. The sign of a good meal! 

We started by selecting a couple of beers from their pretty extensive craft beer menu - I went for a Camden Hells and Rich for their Byron lager. The Byron lager in particular impressed us both; fruity and delicious. With our beers we nibbled on nachos with cheese, jalapeños and hugely generous helpings of guacamole, sour cream and salsa. 

Then for the main event. Alongside my B-Rex burger and Rich's Le Smokey, we filled up on home made skin-on chips, courgette fries and the obligatory mac and cheese. Our waiter helpfully recommended the ranch dressing to accompany our courgette fries which was an excellent shout! Crunchy, deep fried courgette strips dunked in a fresh, creamy sauce - perfection. 

Don't worry, I'm coming back to the burgers. Cooked medium-rare (just how I like it), my B-Rex burger included an onion ring, streaky bacon, jalapeños, barbecue sauce... and the rest. Super succulent, flavoursome and punchy. Rich's Le Smokey also didn't fail to deliver - he was particularly bowled over by the crispy fried onions. 

God, I'm salivating just thinking about it! 

We were really impressed with Camberley's new Byron - the manager was so welcoming and talked through the menu with us, making excellent suggestions. We had a table booked for 7pm and when we arrived just before seven, the restaurant was packed and had a great buzz. 

Oh blimey, I almost forgot about pudding! After what felt like a culinary assault on our stomachs, we were fit to burst by this point. After very little persuading on either part, we decided to share a caramel and honeycomb blondie. Like a brownie but made with white chocolate (duhhh) it really was the cherry on the top of the cake. 

Byron can be found in The Atrium, Camberley, as well as in forty-nine other UK locations, and more to come! Get yourself down there immediately - you won't be disappointed. A must for all burger lovers. 

NB - meal for purpose of review, all views my own

Friday, 3 April 2015

all i can

Where did my life go? It's always around this time of year the teacher-me takes over and I lose my work-life balance. But I'm not going to harp on about that. Today marks the start of seventeen days off work, and I intend to enjoy it. When I return the marking will hit me and that'll be another few weeks wiped out, so I plan on making sure these next couple of weeks count. 

1. Getting back to blogging. I've got some tasty recipe ideas bubbling away in my mind, I'm looking forward to cooking for pleasure again! First on the list are some (SW friendly) turkey, ginger and soy meatballs. Watch this space.

2. Reading. It's a sad time when you are hitting the hay every night so exhausted that you can't even manage to read a page of your book! I'm still going with Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it again, and then onto a couple of Philippa Gregory reads I've picked up. My mum has also lent me 'The Girl with all the Gifts'; I've heard good things. 

3. Developing my Slimming World recipe bank. I have managed to adapt lots of my regular 'go-to' recipes SW friendly, but I want more! I seem to be craving curries a lot at the moment, so I want to try making some dhal and working on my spice repertoire. I saw a delish-looking Dale Pinnock recipe for a saag dhal with tandoori salmon. It shot to the top of my 'must make' list immediately! Once you get your head round how SW works, it's so easy to adapt recipes to fit the plan. 

4. Joining my local running club. Starting this coming Wednesday - I'm strangely excited! Totally inspired by those who run marathons and get to exercise in the fresh air, I want to give it a go. Oh, and I appear to have entered myself for a couple of 10k runs this summer so I'd better get practising!

5. Becoming politics-literate. Is that a thing? I have started a one-man campaign at work telling the young people I teach that not knowing about politics isn't attractive, endearing or cute, it's just boring. It's my 'don't be boring' campaign! Although I have a healthy interest in the election and a good idea of my own values and beliefs, I want more. The Leaders Debate last night was infuriating and fascinating in equal measures. I was most impressed with Nicola Sturgeon - gwan girl - and I thought Farage's anti-HIV tirade was excellent in securing him the 'I-shouldn't-be-here-I-am-a-complete-farce' hat. 

That's all my slightly tired brain can muster at the moment, but I think it's a fairly comprehensive list! For now? I need eggs and another coffee, stat. 
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