Playing catch up

Before I start feeling inexplicably guilty for not writing anything non-work related forever, let me start by saying hi. How’ve you been? I hope that those of you who do ocassionally find themselves on my blog haven’t missed me too much – in fact I’m pretty sure that the majority of you follow me on Twitter and are subjected to my word vomit on a daily basis. If you fall into either (or both) of those categories, then THANK YOU.

As I’ve been gone for a while, I figured I’d launch my new look blog with a little catch up.

February 2014

Back in February I spammed everyone who follows me on Instagram with photos from Hakkasan, where Charlie and I had our first ‘Dim Sum Sunday’ experience. We opted for the Signature menu (hello additional champagne and cocktails) and sat back as 6 equally beautiful and delicious courses were delivered to us. But February wasn’t all elegance – I also reverted back to my teenage years and went to see Taking Back Sunday at KOKO with some great friends and ended up in Burger King. So swings and roundabouts.

March 2014

March was particularly busy as Mum and I went to see Yoncé and Charlie and I celebrated our anniversary early. We like to go out and do something together rather than buying gifts we don’t really need, so I took him to see Book of Mormon and he treated me to dinner at Soho’s NOPI afterwards, which we both enjoyed, but felt lacked something in comparison to Ottolenghi in Islington. I also got to spend time with one of my dearest friends Elizabeth at the Martin Creed exhibition, where we giggled at fart boxes and danced around in a room filled with balloons.

April 2014

In April I went to Chatsworth House for the first time in years with my family. As beautiful as the house is, I could just as easily spend all day exploring the gardens. Back in London, I went to see one of my favourite bands Brand New at Troxy for the first time EVER. Don’t ask me why or how, but I’d never gotten around to seeing them before and I wasn’t about to miss them again. The gig was everything I had hoped for, although if you ever find yourself at Troxy you might want to drink a lot of water: it’s a stunning venue but the air con was non existent and I saw at least 5 girls hit the deck before Brand New even hit the stage.

I also took a trip to Leeds for the weekend to visit the girls I lived with at University and had THE BEST time. I’ve only been to Leeds on a handful of occasions but each time I’ve fallen more in love – does anyone else feel the same way? Like all great weekends away, my mini break revolved experiencing some of the best food and drink Leeds had to offer, including…

Leeds 2014

Red’s True Barbecue

As tempted as I was to try their infamous donut burger (yes, you read that correctly) I opted for a giant helping of the best pulled meat nachos I’ve ever had. If you like your meat with extra meat, GO. IMMEDIATELY.

The Alchemist

After stuffing my face at Red’s, I was in the mood for a strong beverage. My resident Leeds girl Zoe took me to The Alchemist, where you’ll find smoking cocktails, colour changing cocktails, glittering cocktails…my cocktail ‘A Night at the Movies’ even included popcorn!

The Botanist

Before I left Leeds, I got the chance to sample The Botanist’s deli style menu, which is perfectly suited to an afternoon of nibbles and drinks. The hanging kebabs looked delicious, the cocktails were great (despite slightly slow service) and the staff were extremely friendly.

May 2014

May was a blur of adventure, fun and excitement. Charlie and I went to Lisbon to stay with one of my oldest friends and had an amazing time. I wish we could have stayed for the whole month, but we had to get back to London for Charlie’s birthday surprise: Les Mis. I managed to hold it together until the interval but after One Day More, I basically cried throughout the entire second act. Towards the end of May, the nerves set in as I got ready to be photographed by Rankin! I joined 10 others who had also entered Hunger Magazine’s Selfie competition at the studio for a surreal afternoon of posing – Rankin even jumped in for a couple of fun photos. You can see the full winners shoot here and if you visit Hunger’s Tumblr, you’ll even see me in GIF form…

Rankin shoot

In June I discovered a handful of new pubs in the area thanks to Streatham Food Festival, which I only regretted slightly as I joined the inspirational Curvy Kate ladies for a photo shoot to promote their awesome new strapless bra – keep your eyes pealed for more news soon and look out for the Ultimate Uplift campaign…

June 2014

June was also the time for new tattoos. I’d wanted to get a tattooed by the immensely talented Rebecca Vincent at The Circle for a while, so when she announced a charity day for Sensory Leeds, I emailed her immediately. Now I have a beautiful tattoo AND I can feel good about the money going to such an important non-profit organisation. You might have seen my pinecone on Instagram recently as I’ve been documenting my #100happydays – I’m almost at the half way point and haven’t given up yet!

Homemade Tea cakes

I’d been eyeing up the teacakes in my Peyton and Byrne British Baking book for a while, but admittedly I was nervous about baking them; before last week I’d never made my own marshmallow and I’d heard plenty of horror stories about getting it wrong! Thankfully I had nothing to worry about –  the recipe is really easy to follow and the results are mouthwatering. The most difficult part is piping the marshmallow, but with a little practise, you’ll soon perfect your technique. The best tip I can give you is to put your piping bag in a pint glass, roll the sides over the glass edge and scoop the marshmallow in slowly with a tablespoon (that way you won’t end up covering yourself/the bag/the kitchen in marshmallow like I did the first time around…)

The original recipe also includes 1 tbsp of double cream in the biscuit base, but personally I don’t feel it adds anything to the taste or texture. Next time I’d love to try these with a layer of jam; I might even adapt the recipe to make homemade Wagon Wheels in the future.

Peyton and Byrne teacakes

The biscuit base:

  • 110g plain flour
  • 60g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (save the whites for the filling)
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

The marshmallow filling:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp and 1 tsp of golden syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

The chocolate topping:

  • 250g of good quality milk chocolate (or dark if you prefer)


Make it!

  • Preheat the oven to 180/gas mark 4. Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper and set to one side.
  • Grab a bowl and sift together the flour, baking powder bicarb of soda and salt.
  • In a separate, larger bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and mix well, then add in the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  • Scoop the dough into 12 balls and roll gently in your hands before placing them onto a prepared tray. I found that the mixture doesn’t spread too far, so you may want to push down gently on the tops to prevent a biscuit mound and give yourself a flatter surface to pipe onto.
  • Bake for around 10 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
  • Whilst the biscuits are cooling, you can move onto the marshmallow filling. Put all the ingredients into a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of boiling water. Whisk continuously by hand for 10-15 minutes (ouch) until all the sugar has dissolved and mixture becomes frothy and slightly opaque.
  • Remove the bowl from the heat and using a handheld mixer, whisk until you have the consistency of meringue. Once the mixture is white and holds its shape, it’s ready to pipe!
  • Pipe generous amounts of marshmallow on top of each biscuit. Don’t worry about creating perfect shapes – after all, you’re going to smother it in chocolate anyway.
  • Once the marshmallow has set (I found half an hour in a cool area was plenty of time) you can get to melting your chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. When the chocolate is ready, remove from the heat and leave to sit without stirring for 7-10 minutes.
  • Place a wire rack over a tray lined with baking paper, line up your teacakes and start spooning the melted chocolate over the marshmallow. The best method is to drop the chocolate directly over the top and assist carefully with a teaspoon to ensure full coverage.
  • Leave to set and then enjoy! Ideally the teacakes should be eaten on the same day as making and no mater than the following day.

28 before 28

In previous years, I’ve written ‘Life Lists‘ as opposed to resolutions in preparation for the year ahead – writing down things I’d like to achieve every day, every week, in 6 months time and by the end of the year. From small things like improving my eating habits, to bigger moments like moving to London, this method worked for me because it always focused on what I wanted to accomplish; I never denied myself of anything and I never pressured myself into completing it.

For 2014 I thought I’d change the game up and challenge myself to a 28 before 28 list – a list that will hopefully make my life that little bit more awesome and maybe even improve the lives of those around me. Do we share any goals this year? Let me know in the comments below!

1. Discover a handful of new favourite restaurants
2. Travel somewhere new
3. Get another tattoo (or two…)
4. Take advantage of the theatres on my doorstep
5. Visit my home girl in Lisbon
6. Ride horses with Charlie
7. Go to more gigs
8. Make a scrapbook
9. Balance a healthy mind with a healthy body
10. Learn to knit
11. Learn how to make the perfect chicken gyoza
12. Sleep somewhere magical
13. Take a dance class
14. Make a substantial start on my savings
15. Bake as often as possible
16. Volunteer
17. Take a road trip to Scotland
18. Develop a skin routine (and stick to it!)
19. Spend more time with my family
20. Write, write, write
21. Enter more competitions
22. Cook something new
23. Host a dinner party
24. Explore London
25. Perform more random acts of kindness
26. Do the clear out to end all clear outs
27. Be inspired by Pinterest and craft more in ‘real life’
28. Spend less, wear more

Nutella Cheesecake

If you’ve never attempted a cheesecake before, this is a really simple no-bake recipe that guarantees tasty results! Nigella’s Nutella cheesecake is a great go-to dessert that will be welcomed not only by your dinner guests, but by you; it’s perfect for those wintery days when you want something indulgent but you’re too tired to create a masterpiece.

DSC_0228

You’ll need:

  • 250g digestive biscuits
  • 75g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 400g Nutella
  • 100g hazelnuts
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 500g cream cheese


Make it!

  • Put the digestives, butter and a tablespoon of Nutella into a food processor and blitz until incorporated. Add 25g of hazelnuts and repeat until you have a damp, sand like texture.
  • Press evenly into the bottom of a 23cm springform tin to create the base and pop in the fridge to chill.
  • Beat the cream cheese and icing sugar together, then add all (yes all!) of the Nutella. Continue to beat until smooth.
  • Take your base out of the fridge and pour the mix over the top, spreading out with a spatula as you go.
  • Chop the remaining hazelnuts and scatter across the top, then place in the fridge for +4 hours (if you can wait, overnight is best).

Curvy Kate: Daisy Chain & Starlet Petrol review

For ladies who’re blessed with a fuller bust, Curvy Kate is like all your Christmases and Birthday’s rolled into one. Ok, so sometimes having more-than-a-handful feels more like a curse than a blessing (especially when it comes to shopping for lingerie) but once in a blue moon you’ll come across a brand that just gets it. Offering a collection of D – K cup lingerie, Curvy Kate’s whole ethos revolves around making curvy girls feel good about their figure as well as providing those who need a little extra support and lift with beautiful underwear that fits AND flatters.

Back in July I was lucky enough to be invited to Curvy Kate’s blogger event – thanks to the lovely Gemma – to view the AW13 collection and play bra bingo with some gorgeous half naked women (read more about the event and see the photos here) where I also won a competition and a lingerie set from the new collection! I opted for the Daisy Chain after seeing Star In A Bra winner Lotte Williams wearing it on the catwalk – isn’t it lovely?

Curvy Kate Daisy Chain bra

This pretty plunge bra is supportive without feeling constrictive, and although it’s quite saucy in style (hello sheer top) it makes a great every day bra too. The daisy cut out embroidery is cute without being My-Little-Pony-cute, and thanks to the adjustable straps/laminated lower cups combination, you’ll get plenty of projection. My top draw is a no thong zone thank you very much, so I chose the matching briefs, which are true to size and feature a nice ample band at the side. Whilst I’m not quite ready to share my body with the Internet, I did flash the beautiful George of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust fame my Daisy Chain clad boobs over Twitter…

After falling in love with the Daisy Chain, I was thrilled to be given the chance to try a second set from the AW13 collection, the Starlet Petrol, which my bra obsessed friend Becky refers to as ‘the mermaid rack’. I LOVE the dual colour way, the star drop details and the diamond overlay on the moulded cups, which appears on the front panel of the briefs too. The Starlet gives a more rounded shape than the Daisy Chain (making it a great alternative to a boring t-shirt bra) and the briefs are super soft – if you’re a fan of high waisted underwear, then trust me: you need these in your life! Of the two, I think the Starlet is my favourite – which do you prefer?

Curvy Kate Starlet in Petrol bra
Curvy Kate Starlet Petrol set

Trips & Tips: New York

So you’re off to New York. You’ve got your flights sorted and a list as long as your arm of all the typical tourist spots (and an even longer one for those “off the beaten track” places that friends have recommended), but you’re not sure where to stay, where to start, or what order to do them in. These are just a few tips that were passed onto me before my NYC adventure, plus a few I discovered for myself along the way.

Stay with Airbnb
I couldn’t recommend Airbnb any higher – I even wrote a review about it over at The High Tea Cast which you should totally read.

Get a New York Pass
If you’re heading to the big apple for 5 days or more, this is for you. It’s a great way to save money and get free entry attractions and/or queue jump at certain hot spots. The only downside is that you have to use it on consecutive days, but if you want to make your dollars go further and cram in as much as possible, it’s worth it.

Hire a bicycle
When you’ve been doing that slow ‘museum walk’ combined with looking up in awe all day, then trust me; every part of your body going to ache, particularly your lower back. Midway through our trip we hired a bicycle for the day from Blazing Saddles and it was the best thing we could have done! It gave us chance to really see the city in a new way (we picked ours up from the pier and rode up the Manhattan greenway to Central Park) PLUS you get a free 24 hour hire with your New York Pass (another example of how awesome the pass is).

Bike hire in New York

Network
Twitter is a fantastic resource for travelling – I stumbled across some great bars and restaurants by simply asking around. Think about it: most of us use Twitter every day for catching up with news stories and for recipe ideas etc, so why not utilise your ‘hive mind’ for tips on places to stay, eat and do stuff? If you’re already following someone who’s already been to New York (or even better, lives there) then chances are you’re going to enjoy what they recommend – otherwise you wouldn’t be following them.

Eat whatever you want
You’re on holiday. You’re staying in a city where every flavour imaginable is on your doorstep. I’m not saying eat yourself into a food coma (which I totally did, but hey, we’re all different) but if you’re on a diet, give yourself a break. Check out some of my favourite spots here!

Walk The High Line
The High Line is a disused freight rail that has been transformed into an aerial park, running along Manhattan’s West Side and ending in the Meat Packing District. It’s a beautiful and unique walk with benches along the way should you need to rest (or take in the view), a sun deck, and some great food vendors too!

The High Line in New York

Top of the Rock VS The Empire State Building
The trouble with the Empire State is that when you’re at the top of it, you can’t see it! The best advice I can give you is to visit the Rockefeller Center during the day – it’s less crowded, plus you’ll get a clearer view of New York – and go to The Empire State Building at night. As the last lift is at 1:15am, Charlie and I decided to go for dinner and drinks first – when we arrived around midnight we couldn’t believe our luck as we walked straight through! No 4 hour queues, no school trips, no screaming children, and a breath taking nightscape; yes, visiting one of the worlds busiest Observatory’s out of peak tourist hours definitely had it’s perks.

Top of the Rock in New York
Top of the rock view, New York
Empire State view at night
Empire State Building view

Harbour Cruise
I’m not a big boat fan, but somehow Charlie managed to convince me we should add a Circle Line River Cruise to our list and I’m so glad he did! We opted for the ‘romantic’ 2 hour sunset trip around the island which is timed to perfection – it was light on the way out, the sun went down as we reached Lady Liberty, and it was pitch black by the time we reached the pier. Perfect.

P.S Yet another freebie with your NYC Pass!

Circle Line River Cruise
New York river cruise

Ten Lovely Things: Eating & drinking in New York

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed the few (hundred) photos of New York recently. Charlie and I spent just over a week in the big apple, and, to coincide with all of the usual tourist attractions, we made a seriously long list of places we wanted to eat in/drink at along the way. Isn’t that what being on holiday is all about?

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to hit every spot, however, there were a few stand out places that I wanted to share with those who might be planning a trip to NYC, or those of you who’re lucky enough to live right around the corner from the following awesome restaurants and drinking holes. Enjoy!

Best food in New York
 
Artichoke

If you’re visiting New York, you have to eat a slice of pizza – it’s basically the law. Artichoke is a straight up independent pizzeria that deals in excellent slices for less than $5.

The Standard Grill
This beautiful bistro situated inside a boutique hotel is the perfect place for dinner – especially if you’ve worked up an appetite walking The High Line, which runs underneath the belly of The Standard. Popular with the Meatpacking District/Chelsea crowd, you’ll be met with excellent service, strong cocktails, and the best duck bolognese ever.

KATZ’S Delicatessen
Famous for it’s huge sandwiches (and Meg Ryan’s fake orgasms), Katz’s deli is THE place to go for a lunch you’ll never forget. You won’t be faking anything when you sink your teeth into one of their huge pastrami on rye sandwiches – Charlie and I had to split it as we couldn’t handle one each!

Lanterns Keep
Lanterns Keep is a wonderful gem of a cocktail bar, tucked away inside the Iroquois hotel. The secret salon is open when the lantern on the exterior of the building is lit and delivers everything a girl could want; excellent service, the best cocktails, and attractive staff.

P.S Let the barman suggest a drink for you, you won’t regret it.

Beauty & Essex
A slightly more expensive eatery that’s well worth the hype. I heard about Beauty & Essex through Dawn Porter on Twitter and after doing some research (and drooling over hundreds of tweets of recommendation) we decided to give it a whirl. Situated on the Lower East Side, you’ll enter into this dark and stylish restaurant through a real pawnshop, be handed champagne in the Ladies, and feast on small plates of everything from lobster tacos and bone marrow, to bacon and tomato soup dumplings.

Balthazar
In the lead up to our trip, a couple of friends grabbed me by the shoulders and said “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE TO GO TO BALTHAZAR”, and it didn’t disappoint. Charlie and I went here for our anniversary dinner and throughly enjoyed ourselves as we tucked into beautifully cooked French cuisine and worked our way through the extensive wine list. If you can’t afford a trip to New York just yet, you can find Balthazar in London now too!

Big Gay Ice Cream Shop
A glittering unicorn muriel painted on the wall, She-Ra defending the Universe on a shelf near by, and an ice cream called ‘the salty pimp’. Do you need any other excuse to visit Big Gay Ice Cream?

Death & Company
Impossible to find at first, this cocktail lounge turned out to be just a 3 minute walk from our apartment! Death & Co is a dark-as-hell exclusive bar with a no reservation policy. As you step inside, you’ll see why they don’t accept groups large than 7 (it’s small, narrow and almost pitch black) but if you can secure a seat at the bar, the cocktails will soon knock you off it.

Bareburger
In our experience, the service wasn’t as great as we’d heard (however the place was rammed and our waitress was fairly new to the job) but the flavoursome food was definitely worth the wait! Check out Bareburger‘s super cool website and you’ll soon be transfixed by their mouth watering organic burgers.

McSorley’s Old Ale House
McSorley’s was the last ‘men only’ pubs (it only started admitting women in 1970) and is, according to local legend, the oldest watering hole in New York. E.E. Cummings apparently drank “the ale which never lets you grow old”, and there’s even a photo of Abraham Lincoln drinking at the bar! There’s also sawdust on the floor, newspaper cut outs, bottle caps and photos covering the walls, and you’ll only find 2 drinks on the menu; light or dark beer. This snug ale house doesn’t have a website (!) but you can read more about it here.

Passion For Fashion: Part Two

Do you remember last year when I entered Money Supermarkets blogger competition to win £1000 to spend on the ultimate wardrobe update? Well, it’s back! There are less categories this time around, but the process is the same; create a Casual, Party and Holiday outfit for under £200 in the hope that you might inspire a reader, a stranger, or the brand new judging panel *waves*.

CASUAL

My last casual outfit was a typical everyday outfit for me consisting of jeans, a Breton striped top, classic trench and tote bag with trainers. This time I opted for something from the other side of my wardrobe; the one brimming with dresses and cardigans! (seriously, I’m a sucker for a good cardigan). I built this look around the dress – a gorgeous drop waisted number from the recent Celia Birtwell for Uniqlo collection – teaming it with a cardigan in my favourite colour, grey. I actually already own this dress but I’m already thinking of buying it in another colour as it’s so comfortable and flattering, not to mention a bargain at £29.99! I added a pair of sturdy but stylish ankle boots that will last through to next season and a pretty oversized bag to carry all the crap I tote around with me during the day, finishing off the look with subtle jewellery and a rich purple nail polish.

*GEEK SIDE NOTE
If the TARDIS turned up on my doorstep, this is probably what I’d be wearing to run around the universe with the Doctor, so I guess you could call it my companion outfit…

casual outfit

BEACH/HOLIDAY
I’m going on holiday in a few weeks time, although unfortunately I won’t be anywhere near a beach! I say unfortunately as ASOS have some amazing swimwear this season which I’ve been drooling over for a while now. My holiday look is inspired by the Sixties and Seventies style seen across the SS13 catwalks; these round framed glasses teamed with that high waisted bikini (which goes up to a 34FF by the way!) would look amazing with a slick of pink lipstick and a beachy beehive…

I wanted to create an outfit that could go from beach to bar, so I included a beautiful blue jersey dress (which would fit easily in the large metallic tote bag without creasing too much), a sleek pair of white sandals and a pretty charm necklace.

 

budget holiday outfit

ASOS High Waisted Bikini Pant £16
ASOS Print Fuller Bust Halter Bikini Top £16
French Connection Jersey Maxi Dress £48
Topshop Hermione Geek Sandals £22
& Other Stories Lipstick in Ninon Pink £12
Sam Ubhi Charm Necklace £35
ASOS Tortoiseshell Round Sunglasses £10
TOTAL = £159 (£41 left over for ice creams and duty free)

PARTY
My last outfit may not be particularly daring or typically ‘dressy’, but then I’m not really the type of girl to party in tight dresses and sky high platforms – this look is very true to my own style with a few trend pieces throw in.

This Prada-esque skirt from Topshop keeps making its way into my shopping basket – I LOVE IT – and to me, it’s the perfect swishy skirt for dancing. As it is so bold I’ve dressed it down with a loose fitting tee (tucked in at the waist of course) and added a statement necklace to balance out the outfit. To finish off the look, I threw in some wonderful pointed cats eye sunglasses (only £12!) along with an on-trend metallic clutch and classic heels from Zara, who I can always rely on for stylish shoes on a budget.

budget party outfit
 H&M Jersey Top £7.99
Zara Metallic Clutch Bag £19.99
ASOS Pretty Tough Necklace £50
Zara Leather Sandals £39.99
TOTAL = £177.97 (£22.03 left over for a cocktail or two…)

I hope you like my outfit picks – if you want to see more, Money Supermarket have created Pinterest boards full of inspirational entries, or you can search for the hashtag #PassionForFashion2 on Twitter. Good luck to everyone who’s entered!

Ways To Wear Challenge: The Little Black Dress

My lovely friend Gemma Cartwright (the extremely talented woman behind Catwalk Queen and Big Girls Browse) recently decided to put together her own outfit challenge, and I jumped at the chance to do something I haven’t done in a while – a fashion related post.

Although I write about shopping and fashion for a living, I’ve never classed myself as a ‘fashion blogger’ – yes I have occasionally shared photos of the outfits I’ve worn, but quite frankly my wardrobe is in dire need of updating and I tend to wear the same things over and over and over again. Inspired by Gemma, I figured it was time to step outside of my comfort zone and focus on what I wear rather than what’s on the red carpet, so without further ado, here’s my first entry into the Ways To Wear Challenge!

Ways To Wear a little black dress

Even though 90% of my clothing consists of dark clothing, I actually have a surprising low number of black dresses. I decided to go for a sheer boxy dress that I got from Topshop forever ago – I’ve never worn it in the day before as I always thought it was too ‘office’, but, determined to try something new, I threw a grey cardigan over it for a more laid back look. I didn’t want to break it up with a waisted belt because for me, the details of the dress are enough. The vertical stitching travels down the front panel add another dimension to it – stopping it from being a boring old bib – and there are tiny buttons down the back. The hem is gathered slightly at the sides too, providing a subtle cocoon effect.

I teamed the dress with black tights, black ankle boots and kept the accessories to a minimum; a black briefcase style handbag and a gold hare necklace. Not wanting the outfit to consist purely of dark colours, I added a slick of my favourite red lipstick for a pop of colour. Et voila!

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