Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Quick Christmas Beauty Fixes

So, how are you feeling ahead of Christmas? Twinkly, bright-eyed and radiant for the festivities? Rested, full of energy and not in the least bit sniffly? Oh, come on! It's party season, which, as we all know, is that wonderfully opportune time in which your skin decides to do weird things, your hair - thanks to a winning combination of cold winds and central heating - wouldn't look out of place in the school nativity crib - and you'll be nursing an unpleasant cold. You may even have what feels like the onset of flu. It's simply the law that the week of the office party, or whichever other big Christmas event you're attending, you will possibly look and feel the worst you've felt all year.

However, there are a few short cuts to making yourself feel at least a little better about your outward appearance this time of year. I can't help with the feeling coldy bit, though I do find that drinking copious amounts of water and Pukka Tea's Detox blend helps, along with liberal imbibing of vitamin C and paracetamol. So head colds and racking coughs aside, these might help:

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate

I'm a big fan of oils throughout the year but they really come into their own in the winter, when central heating sucks the very lifeblood from your skin, making it dry and dull. I actually can't stand central heating - it seems to cause me all manner of ills. But hey, we live in the UK so what are you going to do. This oil is one to gift yourself as a pre-Christmas treat and then buy your groceries at Lidl for a few weeks as it's expensive. 

But a little goes a long way and it makes you look somehow fresher and less blotchy on waking up in the morning. It sinks in really nicely and won't give you spots if you're that way inclined. Plus it's scented with a sleep-inducing, all natural fragrance that smells divine.

Rapid White Tooth Whitening Strips

I read somewhere that nothing gives away your age more than having yellow teeth. My teeth are in pretty good shape - one of my proudest achievements is reaching middle age without a single filling - but a penchant for tea and red wine have left their mark. Thankfully there is a safe and convenient way to give your teeth a little dazzle without having to lose several thousand pounds at the dentist in the shape of these whitening strips which you can buy in Boots. 

I gave them a go a few weeks back and they definitely made a difference. You apply the strips morning and night for a week and they self dissolve - not the nicest sensation in the world, but a small price to pay for visibly whiter teeth after seven days. You just have to rinse out the residue then you're good to go - the whole process takes around 7 minutes. You can repeat after a month if all that tea and wine has started to take its toll again. 

Buy here

Charles Worthington Instant Root Concealer

Of course you haven't managed to fit in a hair appointment before Christmas - this is because you're busy working/ferrying children around/Christmas shopping/making things for the school fair/being ill/etc., etc. Also, it costs a lot to get hair cuts and colours these days - that £80 seems a bit indulgent on top of all the other stuff to shell out for. Which is why root touch up spray is a such a helpful invention. 

On noticing a few greys peeking through the other day I decided to give this a go and it was absolutely fine, totally doing what is says on the tin. You simply brush the powder where your hair needs it and it stays put until you wash it out. At £14.99 it's lot cheaper than a trip to the salon.

Buy here

Benefit Dew The Hoola

"You looked washed out, have you been ill?"...yes, thanks for noticing, I have had a cold for the past two weeks and haven't seen sunshine for some time, as it happens. Sound familiar? Then this product might help you restore some colour to your cheeks. I got a sample of this with a magazine and it's very helpful for faking a glow when you feel like poop and your mother helpfully reminds you that you look like it, too. I mix it in with moisturiser to ensure a subtle glow rather than Trump-esque hue. 

Buy here

Glam Crystals Dazzling Gel Liner

If all else fails, glitter is the only way. I bought this in a bit of a hurry from Boots the other day and have been thrilled with it - it's £2.99 and it's bloomin' great. Unlike most glitter products which tend to end up looking a complete mess on me, this is an easy to apply gel liner which totally stays in place so you can do the glitter thing with sophistication. Can't recommend this one highly enough.

Buy here


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sampling Deep South Cooking and Cocktails With Absurd Bird

Chicken: it's either bloody lovely or downright horrible, right? A perfectly roasted chicken, a rich coq au vin, or a crispy rotisserie chicken, served with a side order of fries...they're all on my 'things to eat to make you feel happy list'. But have you noticed that some chicken you buy to cook yourself, or indeed ordered out at a restaurant, often fails to hit the spot?

On a mission to discover the best chicken in the west (and to find out what I might be doing wrong when I cook it myself) I headed over to Bath last week to hear from people who really know their stuff when it comes to poultry. Turns out they also know a thing or two about cocktails too, which was another reason to make the train trip for an evening of chicken enlightenment with the lovely folk from Absurd Bird.

Absurd Bird will be bringing a taste of the Deep South to Bath when it opens its doors on the 14th December, promising diners the chance to sample beautifully prepared and cooked chicken as well as unusual side dishes inspired by this vibrant corner of America, mixed in with a dose of London-style street food inspo. Arriving in the thriving Little SouthGate quarter of the city, Bath joins a small chain that includes branches in Soho, Spitalfields and Exeter.

To give local press and bloggers a flavour of what's to come, the team held a cookery and cocktail demonstration at kitchen showroom Hobson's Choice last week. Having never been to a cookery demo before I was looking forward to getting some insider knowledge and inspiration from the restaurant's head chef and mixologist...and, being a generally hungry person, the chance to get stuck into some of Absurd Bird's signature dishes. 

The evening started as my Tuesday evenings rarely do - with a glass of 'Kentucky Barn Dance' in my hand, a delicious cocktail served in a kilner jar that felt very decadent for a school night. It was a bit of a shame it was school night, to be honest, as Nicole, our drinks adviser for the evening, was on hand to shake up cocktails on demand using some enticing ingredients that aren't, perhaps, the most conducive to getting up for work the next morning.

Step forward Absurd Bird's very own variety of Moonshine, a potent little number that comes in at 41% alcohol - yeah, you read that right! Obviously best used as a mixer, you don't need a lot of this stuff to feel its effects, but Nicole's expert mixing made the drinks I tried slip down a treat. 

Suitably relaxed for our demonstration, it was over to Head Chef Andrew Hazel to share the background story of Absurd Bird and talk us through some key dishes from the menu. We learnt to spatchcock a kitchen - not as tricky as you might think - and how the restaurant only uses the highest quality, locally sourced chicken in its dishes which is slow grown and brined to ensure the meat is moist and packed full of flavour. On sampling an absolutely spectacular 'Dirty Bun' - fried chicken, spicy mayo and pickle, served in a Bao Bun - you could tell those chickens had had a good life. This dish was a real highlight of the evening for me.

Also on offer was a selection of mouthwatering chicken wings - if these are your favourite bit of the bird, the restaurant caters to your desires with a dedicated 'Wingshack' section of the menu, including Smoked Garlic Parmesan and Lemon Wings and Crispy Fried Buttermilk Wings. We also got to sample a supreme mac 'n' cheese, topped with Absurd Bird's signature Cheetos topping - one to be enjoyed without thinking about the calories, but totally in keeping with the restaurant's ethos of injecting a bit of fun and absurdity into dining out. I loved it though good manners kept me from hogging the whole sharing plate for myself. 

We also got the opportunity to sample some of the restaurant's imaginative side dishes - light-as-a-feather Jalapeno Cheese Biscuits (a deceptive name - these babies are more like cheese scones) which so impressed my guest that she made up her own batch the very next day. I was more taken with the spinach and artichoke dip, served with fried tortilla crisps, a really unusual way to get your fix of leafy greens. 

Talking of healthy stuff, you can probably tell from the choices I've described so far that this sort of cuisine doesn't really give two hoots for careful, restrained eating - it's all about deep frying, robust sauces and marinades, creamy dips and butter-coated corn on the cob. I mean, when a restaurant serves its Sweet Potato Bake with toasted marshmallows, you really need to leave any thoughts of calorie counting and carb excluding at the door. Absurd Bird is about abandoning yourself to food that's fun, exuberant and life affirming. It's about taking things a little less seriously and enjoying that extra cocktail. That said, there are lighter options on the menu too - the Greenish Plates should satisfy any healthy urges you might have. 

But if you're in the mood to experience the full Absurd Bird vibe, you'd be mad not to treat yourself to dessert. We were served a carb-tastic share 'n' tare Dipsy Cake (essentially a southern-infused take on a brioche) served with a trio of dipping sauces. 

And then there are the cocktails. Absurd Bird knows a thing or two about them as its extensive drinks menu demonstrates. We might have been drinking ours in a very smart, high-tech kitchen showroom but my Mississippi Mud Pie did a good job of mentally transporting me to a hot and steamy corner of Louisiana. As I said, it was a shame the cocktails were flowing freely on a school night, though we did get given a cute little bottle of Moonshine to make up our own concoctions at home.

Despite holding back on the booze, we left our first experience of Absurd Bird with a warm glow and slight feeling of jealousy that the people of Bath will have such a fun and feel-good place to hang out at on their doorstep. So please come to Bristol, Absurd Bird - we need good chicken, moonshine-laced cocktails, crisp-topped mac 'n' cheese and marshmallows with our sweet potatoes, too! 

To find out more about Absurd Bird, visit the website here. The Bath branch opens on 14th December at 20 St Lawrence Street, BA1 1AN

With many thanks to Absurd Bird and Attention Media who invited me to a private pre-launch event.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Trouble with....'Clean Eating'

What are your thoughts on 'clean eating'? Perhaps you're one of the thousands of people with a copy of the Deliciously Ella cookbook, maybe you've quit sugar and wholeheartedly embraced a way of life where chia seeds, coconut flour and quinoa are the staples of your kitchen cupboards. Or perhaps you don't really give two figs about clean eating and are getting a tad bored with everyone else that you know evangelising about its benefits every two minutes.

Wherever you stand, one thing I doubt you will be is unfamiliar with a movement which seems to have dominated culinary trends for the past few years. Clean eating - and everything that goes with it (organic food, yoga, mindfulness, etc.) - has become big business, commanding massive marketing budgets that make unawareness of the movement akin to not knowing that Trump is the President Elect. It's a way of living that has captivated millions and spawned the rise of the 'lifestyle blogger', shiny, beautiful people who, via blogs, vlogs and social media, have found a far-reaching - and extremely lucrative - platform to promote this idealistic way of life. Trouble is, after trying it out for myself, it's a lifestyle that just isn't that healthy for your mental health or achievable for about 99% of the population. 

A few years back, I was feeling pretty crappy about myself. I'd turned 40 and instantaneously became ill with a mysterious virus (just like Deliciously Ella, right? Actually the parallels end there...) that manifested itself with strange pains and debilitating headaches. But there appeared to be nothing wrong with me from a physiological point of view. I decided to cut out sugar and, within a few weeks, I started to feel better. Interestingly, the getting better coincided with my finding a fantastic new job and a degree of security entering my life after a long period of unreliable and stressful freelancing. Suddenly the headaches disappeared - "It's the giving up sugar, it worked!" I told myself, absolutely convinced that my diet prior to this had made me feel unwell.

But looking back, I can view the situation with a little more clarity, and see that a few factors were, in fact, at play. Firstly, I hadn't been eating huge amounts of sugar anyway. Yes, I had one teaspoon in my coffee and the odd biscuit but I was not by any means a big consumer of sugar; I was not putting away a Cadbury's Flake with my coffee, or loading up on Krispy Kremes. More generally, my diet was good and I followed the ethos I'd grown up with in my part Italian family: that healthy food is freshly made, colourful, comforting and life-affirming. Cutting down on sugar most certainly has its benefits, and many of us eat much more than we should. But I think a combination of lifestyle factors contribute to wellbeing, and in my case I believe the alleviation of work stress and anxiety through getting a new job was equally as useful in making me feel better as cutting down on sugar was.

So, what I'm saying is that I was generally a fit and healthy person; I was just going through some middle-aged anxieties and suffering from stress when I became poorly. And one of the worst things you can do when you have an anxious mind or are going through life challenges is to fixate on your health...

While there is without doubt some useful advice to be gleaned from the raft of clean living cookbooks out there - we should all probably be eating more veg, eliminating processed foods and being careful with sugar - there are too many flaws in them to be ignored. Firstly, and perhaps most dangerous of all, few of the authors behind these 'bibles' has the academic background to back-up their claims; in short, the books perpetuate myths that aren't cemented in clinically sound, scientifically proven advice....it would be hard not to read most without deciding to eliminate gluten from you diet, for example. Yet there's simply no reason for most of us to do so. 

My own diet - based on a Mediterranean culture of eating home-cooked, fresh food wherever possible - was not unhealthy prior to reading up about clean eating. But after digesting the advice of these purported 'experts' (despite their lack of professional accreditation) I began to closely examine my diet and demonise the things I loved - pasta, bread and builders tea, for example. I spent hours examining labels in the supermarket and even longer agonising about how on earth I was going to get my children to eat quinoa.

I swapped making one family meal for special, 'nutritionally rich' foods for the adults and more palatable options for the kids. I started to spend a small fortune on coconut flour, buckwheat and clean alternatives to sugar. Some were fine and I continue to use them (coconut oil, for example) but there were many more times when I'd spend hours labouring over an expensive recipe to find the results simply inedible. I started to resent the fact that food was becoming an immense cause of stress in our household. 

I also became cross with myself for being drawn into an illusory, glossy take on reality that had virtually no bearing on my everyday life. Seems ridiculous now but those shiny blogs and books do have a habit of making you (a 40-something, normal mum with an average income) compare yourself to a 20-something, long-legged, raw eating advocate with a big book advance and a mum who's part of the Sainsbury's empire. I'm not questioning Ella Woodward's illness, but I can't help but ponder how she just happened to start coming up with raw food recipes during her convalescence, and that her blog just happened to be picked up by a publishing house. I can't help but feel there might have been a bigger plan in place from the outset, mobilised by a privileged background and a fat Rolodex of contacts in the food industry.

Anyway, the point is that - on a practical level - living the clean lifestyle is wholly unachievable for most of us. Sure, you can take some ideas from it and they'll possibly have some benefits for your health, but trying to embrace this way of life wholeheartedly will set most people - normal people with jobs, families, bills to pay - up for a fall. And you may find yourself swapping one type of toxicity for another - it's all well and good being sugar-free but if your mind is a toxic zone weighed down with stress because you accidentally ate some Heinz Tomato soup for lunch then that surely defeats the point.

It's an unfashionable view, but my brief foray into clean living has made me see one thing with clarity - that no foods should be forbidden and that life is really too short to ferment your own sauerkraut. A restrictive, puritanical diet might look good on Instagram but if you can't take joy in food in its many forms, you'll become bored, boring and isolated. By all means find healthy alternatives and explore some aspects of clean living (raw cocoa and homemade granola won't be disappearing from my cupboards any time soon) but follow your own path to wellness.

I've found that while cutting down on sugar has helped me manage my blood sugar, mood swings and skin problems, pasta, red wine and Dairy Milk are, in fact, equally essential for my wellbeing and happiness...

For a more in-depth and excellent read on Clean Eating, read Ruby Tandoh's article 'The Unhealthy Truth Behind Wellness & Clean Eating'.


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Eating Out in Bath: Comptoir Libanais

Bath and Bristol really seem to be having a moment when it comes to exciting new restaurant openings. What with the varied offerings down at Cargo, a boxpark development by the docks in Bristol, and new places popping up in Bath's attractive Southgate shopping quarter, there's a lot of choice for foodies in this neck of the woods. And if you're big on Middle Eastern cuisine there's even more cause of celebration - a new branch of Comptoir Libanais has opened its doors within Bath's Little Southgate Quarter.

Given that I am indeed VERY big on Middle Eastern food (you can read my review of one of my favourite Bristol restaraunts, Soukitchen, here) I was next level excited to get the opportunity to sample its menu last week. When it comes to listing the food I'd want to eat for my last supper on earth, a proper, freshly made houmous and a stack of flatbreads are up there with Spaghetti alle Vongole and salted caramel ice cream. There's something so life-affirming about food from the region - I love its simplicity, colour and exotic combinations. Plus there are the pomegranates - pomegranates just make me happy.

So, being fond of this sort of stuff, I'd already visited a Comptoir Libanais in London some years back - there are several branches in the capital, as well as restaurants in Exeter and Manchester, with a branch opening in Leeds soon. But my last trip to the Marylebone branch was a mere pitstop during a busy dash around the West End, so I was excited about enjoying a more leisurely lunch this time around. 

Firstly, I must seriously big up whoever did the interior design for this place - it's just beautiful. I can see its flooring turning up in countless #ihavethisthingwithfloors posts on Instagram (guilty as charged - yes, I know how irritating those floor 'n' feet posts can be but sometimes the tiling is just too pretty.) On a grey day in November, entering the restaurant was a tonic for the soul, with its kitsch take on the souk aesthetic - think colourful fez hats pinned to walls, shelves adorned with silver tea pots and fretwork panels fitted with jewel-coloured glass.

Vibrant and warm, the surroundings made me feel more like I was drinking mint tea in a sun soaked Levantine square than dining just a stone's throw from a train station in Northern Europe. Any restaurant that has the ability to give you that holiday feeling on a Tuesday lunchtime is doing something right in my book. 

The prices are good, too - a mezze platter starter is £9.50, with individual mezze hovering around the £4, while a filling mixed grill is £13.25, with lots of other mains priced at around the £9 mark. Drinks and desserts are also reasonably priced. 

On to the food, which, like the ambiance, made me and my dining companion feel warm and happy inside. A meal that starts with a freshly poured mint tea always gets things off to a good start. I love the mint tea you get in Morocco, but it can be a little cloying. The tea at Comptoir Libanais hits the right level of sweetness, and I liked it this way - it's nice to sip on a drink safe in the knowledge that a trip to the dentist isn't a very real, imminent possibility. 

We then swiftly moved on to the cocktails - yes, how very indulgent on a Tuesday lunchtime, but when the cocktails involve exotic ingredients such as rose syrup, orange blossom and harissa, they simply have to be sampled. On the recommendation of our informed and friendly waitress, I went for the Rose and Rum Daiquiri, a sort of adult slush puppy and a frozen blend of rum, lemon juice and rose syrup.

It was a very pleasing accompaniment to our mezze starters - a deliciously thick olive oil-topped houmous, a zingy fattoush (enter the pomegranate), marinated chicken wings with a side dip of harissa and some delicious 'Batata Harra', Lebanese spiced fries with red pepper, fresh coriander, garlic & chilli - I found it hard to share these delicious morsels of starchy heaven with my dining companion but I think she was pretty happy with the portion of fresh-out-the-oven pitta breads we ordered to help mop up the houmous.

For mains, we both opted for meats from the grill - a Chicken Kofta for my friend and a Mixed Grill for me. We both enjoyed the interesting side of Vermicelli Rice that comes with all the Kofta and Shish grills. If you're not in a meaty mood, there are some delicious-sounding salads and tagines on offer, featuring the staples of this region's cuisine - aubergine, halloumi and falafel, for example. I'd like to give the Halloumi Cheese & Zaatar Man’ousha a try next time; I mean, how delicious does oven baked flat bread with halloumi cheese, wild thyme and fresh mint sound?

You'd think we couldn't possibly have had room for a dessert after our mezze and mains, but somehow we managed to accommodate a bowl of thick yoghurt, topped with honey and roasted mixed nuts, and a couple of scoops of pomegranate and orange blossom frozen yoghurt. Personally, I like the Middle Eastern approach to desserts - they're either light and refreshing, like the aforementioned yoghurts and milk puddings, or wonderfully rich and indulgent confections, like a buttery baklawa, oozing with nuts and honey. You can get both varieties at Comptoir Libanais, as well as a selection of cakes - I took home an additional treat in the shape of a pretty-as-a-picture rose and pistachio bun - it was divine.

Talking of treats to take away, you can purchase everything from traditional woven baskets to fresh pastries, and colourful tagines to gift-wrapped pistachio-studded nougat, from the on-site store. More general Middle Eastern cooking essentials can also be bought here, allowing you to explore this cuisine in your own kitchen.

There's also a children's menu, a great way to get your little ones accustomed to something a little more adventurous than pizza and chicken nuggets. A take away option is available, too.

So, if you've ever had a longing to eat your own weight in flatbread (or is that just me?!), love the fresh, summer-holiday flavours of the eastern Mediterranean or simply just like the idea of trying something a bit different, this friendly, vibrant canteen won't disappoint. Despite being only recently opened, service was swift, calm and efficient, with happy and informed staff who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the Comptoir Libanais ethos. If you're feeling that mid-autumn 'meh-ness' creeping in, I can't think of a better place to while away a lunchtime...now, where did I put those flatbreads? 

With many thanks to Comptoir Libanais Bath and Roche Communications, who kindly offered me a complimentary lunch. I have not been paid for writing this post and all opinions are my own.


Monday, 7 November 2016

A Weekend in Cambridge

In a bid to sometimes look a little closer to home for travel inspiration, I've been ticking off lots of locations in the UK on my travel bucket list. Cambridge has been languishing on the list for a while, but being somewhat awkward to get to from Bristol, it kind of got shunted down the list in favour of other, more accessible places to visit on a weekend. But we finally committed to the four hour drive and booked a break in the city for half term, spurred on by the temptation of a visit to the mythical Gloucester Services en route and the romantic notion of punting on the river Cam in the autumn sunshine.

There's a lot to be said for hauling your tired ass out of bed early on a Saturday to get a head start on the traffic and choosing your route carefully; we were on the road by 8am and opted for a traverse through the Midlands and down the other side which worked out pretty well. After a breakfast pit-stop at the aforementioned services - seriously, you HAVE to visit this place; it really is very special - we pulled up at our hotel just in time for lunch.

When it comes to budget friendly, totally adequate accommodation for a short break, I don't think you can fault a Premier Inn or Travelodge. Yes, the quality can vary and we've stayed at good ones and not so great ones over the years but when you get a good 'un they can't really be beaten for providing spacious, comfortable and convenient city break accommodation.

We stayed at the Cambridge Leisure Park hotel, located within a pleasant complex comprising shops, chain restaurants, a cinema and the Cambridge Junction music venue - I'll admit that I had a middle aged moment on realising our hotel's proximity to said establishment, but we didn't hear any noisy disturbances during our stay. But it's worth bearing in mind that due to the central location of many Travelodge/Premier Inn sites, noise can be a factor - we found this particularly true of the Travelodge in Windsor; great location but there is definitely a 'noisy' side. It's always worth requesting a quiet room when you book. 

Located about 15 minutes walk from the centre of town and with parking available across the road at discounted rates, we were able to offload our luggage and hot foot it into town with ease; there's also a frequent bus service that stops outside the hotel, taking in the train station before dropping you off in the heart of the city. 

Compact and easy to get around, we started our exploration with a wander through some of the main colleges, soaking up the inimitable vibe of this historic university town. You can certainly feel the weight of all the big brains that have found a home in the town's beautiful and atmospheric colleges. I have to say I was harbouring a hope that being immersed in academia for the weekend might up my IQ level by some form of osmosis, but I came away feeling like I really should read all those classic books I've been meaning to read one day, and finally get someone to explain the theory of relativity to me.

You can wander into many of the colleges free of charge, but be aware that on graduation days not all of the colleges are open to the public. We took a stroll through several, including Christ's, Emmanuel, Magdalene and Queen's. Some of the bigger ones, such as Trinity and Corpus Christi, charge entrance fees, plus you'll have to pay to take a look around King's College Chapel.

We also enjoyed just following our nose a bit, stumbling upon pretty Georgian terraces and picturesque squares. The area around Bridge Street makes for a pleasant wander, and we enjoyed admiring the quirky buildings around the Backs. 

No one goes to Cambridge without taking to the water at some point during their visit, but be prepared to shell out a few quid to experience the institution that is punting. We were quite shocked by the price for a 45 minute escorted tour along the river - yes, you do get to hear the history of the colleges as you glide by and you don't run the very real risk of falling in the water as you do if you're the one punting, but the price for a family of four was prohibitive for us. 

So, deftly handing the mantle of punt operator to the other half, we took on the challenge of an hour's self-guided voyage up the river. It was half the price of a tour and hugely enjoyable (well, I enjoyed it, reclining in the boat, taking in the glorious scenery; the other half's experience was perhaps not quite so relaxing.)

It's the quintessential Cambridge experience and a lovely thing to do in the sunshine, taking in highlights such as the stunning King's College, Wren Library and Bridge of Sighs...not to be missed.

Cambridge has great shops too, but we didn't really explore that side of the city, save for visits to some of the city's bookshops - don't miss Heffers if you like nothing better than spending an afternoon inhaling that lovely new book smell and generally gazing at floor to ceiling book shelves. Heffers has that particularly special vibe you get at independent-style book stores and also sells some wonderful gifts, games and other nice stuff.

As you'd expect from a university town, there are myriad options when it comes to eating out. Keeping to our budget requirements, we had brought our handy Tesco Clubcard tokens to give us two free meals out during out stay, so we were confined to the perfectly satisfactory but rather pedestrian options of Pizza Express and Cafe Rouge. You'll find all the other big restaurant chains too, as well as plenty of cute cafes and the must-visit Fitzbillies, a Cambridge institution with queues out the door and legendary Chelsea buns - we took a box away to enjoy on our drive home.

So, that's Cambridge, Hay on Wye, Harrogate and Edinburgh crossed off the UK bucket list now...but where to next? I'd love to hear your suggestions for must-see places to visit in the UK - feel free to leave me a recommendation in the comments box. 


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

More Brilliant Buys From Next

To my surprise I'm posting my second fashion post of recent months and dedicating it to Next, a shop you could easily bypass if you were looking for fashion-forward buys on a budget. But seriously, you could be missing a trick. Turns out that just as it was full of amazing buys when I last did a fashion post in the Spring, it's currently a veritable treasure trove of gorgeousness, as I found out on a shopping trip the other day. 

Ostensibly on a mission to find a new pair of boots, I found myself lured into my local Next store by an amazing dress that had 'Christmas party' written all over it...and then I found loads of other stuff I liked too, all at brilliant price points.

Here's my round-up of some great pieces you might like to check out in store...

Okay, this one is pretty spendy but things that are as beautifully embroidered as this frock don't tend to come cheap. With a whiff of the fashionistas favourite label, Needle & Thread, I'd love to have a winter wedding or some sort of other formal engagement in my diary to justify buying this beauty. 

Cute, huh? And it's just £32. Having checked out this one in store, I can vouch for the fact it feels good quality and looks as good in the flesh as it does on screen.

Are you lucky enough to be disappearing off for some winter sun anytime soon? I am not, sadly, but I'm already fantasising about next summer and wondering if it wouldn't be too previous to buy this sweet little number as a very (very) early summer purchase...I can always make more room in my wardrobe for white stuff featuring lace, embroidery or broderie anglais.

What are your feelings on green glitter? Personally I'm a fan, and therefore LOVE this pleated skirt. It's perhaps not a colour for everyone but if it suits your colouring and you're feeling brave, I say embrace the green glitter...

Saw in store, loved. The unusual colour palette and exquisite embroidery makes this piece look far more expensive than its £55. Very priddy - what do you think? 

Calling all accessories freaks! This is a LEATHER bag...for £38, with just the right amount of sparkle if you prefer to keep the Christmas glitz under control. 

You'll find similar styles all over the shops right now, but most of the ones I've seen have been a bit too 'western' for my liking. These, however, have just enough embellishment, as high a heel as I like to go and simple straps that keep them out of cowboy territory.

Glitter done with class, these make me think of Miu Miu...but without the prohibitive price tag. And blue feels a bit more modern and interesting than black. And they're £28...£28!!!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Interiors Round Up

Having inhabited my house for 12 years now, I've realised that houses are essentially never finished. We've done all the pressing big jobs we wanted to do (although, like all boring middle aged homeowners, we regularly have the 'loft conversion conversation'...isn't it super fun being a grown-up?!) but two kids later plus changing requirements and interior design tastes (it's slightly annoying when your children start having an opinion on how they want their rooms to look - I'm so not a fan of football posters) I've come to realise that you never reach a point when you can safely put away the drill or the paint or the sanding block and say, "That's it, all my DIY jobs are done now!" 

There's always something to paint. Upholstery gets tired. The wall art isn't working anymore. Everything's a bit too 'pine-y'. Walls that were once 'natural hessian' are now more 'natural grime'. Bedding that was once White Company White is more a shade of grey. In short, it's just all a bit tired and worn. 

I have therefore set myself the task of some light re-decorating to freshen up the walls, rethinking the storage situation (if anyone has a recommendation for a good, not exorbitantly priced carpenter, please let me know) and generally giving the place a bit of an update. Obviously this has necessitated lots of online browsing to find bits and bobs to update with....so, here are some of the gems I've found if you're in a similar state of interior disharmony:

Marks and Spencer Sequin Throw, £69

Looks like an authentic 'wedding blanket' from a Moroccan souk, is actually a throw from M&S. And probably costs a lot less, plus you don't have to barter for it. Every so often, M&S come up with a real interiors gem and I'm thinking of buying this to go with the (authentic) Moroccan lantern light I have in my bedroom. 

Buy here

Soho Ten Light Pendant, £200

BHS is back! Well, in a small-scale online capacity. Their lighting was always one of the main reasons I used to visit and I felt sad when this high street stalwart closed its stores. I don't really have an excuse to purchase this as a big, reclamation-style statement light is surplus to our interior requirements right now, but if you do I think this would make a fabulous addition to your living room or kitchen if functional, vintage style stuff is your bag. 

Buy here

Gold Metallic Star Bedding, £20-£50

I have bought some brilliant white bedding from Next over the years, at a fraction of the price of brands such as The White Company. Something about this caught my eye - I think it would be fab for a girl's bedroom, making a stylish alternative to all the pastels and pinks on the market. And I personally love anything with stars on it.

Buy here

Bulldog Print Cushion, £12

I mean, how could I resist this zingy cushion with none other than my eldest son's name on it?! Debenhams totally know how to do good cushions, and at a reasonable price point. I also absolutely love the ones in the Matthew Williamson collection, including this gorgeous number and this beauty.

Buy here

Wooden Side Table, £49.99

There never seems to be anywhere to put a drink down in our house so some sort of side table has been on my wish-list for a while. I took a trip to the recently opened HomeSense store at Cribbs Causeway the other day (it's everything I hoped it would be) and you couldn't move for cool side tables, from ethnic inspired wooden ones to more contemporary styles. Sadly you can't buy from HomeSense online but the homeware section on the TK Maxx website sells an edited version of similar items. I'm currently wondering about the above...

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Hello Box Light, £75

I can't decide if the moment has passed for LED light boxes but I was, nonetheless, drawn to this jaunty number from John Lewis, a cute lighting option for both young kids and teenagers. 

Buy here

Gold Cat Mug, £6

Look: a cream mug, with a gold cat on it. That's probably all you need to know. (Oh, there are also gold owl and bulldog mugs in the range.) Good old BHS, making gold cat mugs. 

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Large Copper Candle Holder, £8

Cox & Cox style, on the cheap. As I said, it's a star-based accessory, so I was always going to like this and will probably buy it to add to my Christmas star collection. I mean, it's only £8.

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Cloud Wall Light, £100

You saved a bit on your star-themed ornaments so you can justifiably buy this gorgeous wall light...particularly if you have a baby or toddler - wouldn't this look lovely in a nursery or playroom? 

Buy here

Gold Parrot Mirror, £175

Ever feel like you don't have enough exotic birds in your life? Then get yourself a piece of this mirror, which I think would be guaranteed to cheer you up each time you looked in it. It's not cheap, but mirrors don't seem to be, have you noticed? If you're going to spend a fair few quid on a mirror, this one surely stands out from the crowd.

Buy here

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