November Favourites 

November welcome in the cold, and with it, a big old cold for me! Not to worry – we should embrace what life throws at us, right? If life gives you a cold, enjoy your warm bed, scarves, soup and plenty of cups of tea.

  
I was thinking of running separate beauty and lifestyle favourites posts but I’m not a fan of scrambling around to force favourites which aren’t necessarily favourites just to fill up a post. So the combined post was born…

So, in no particular order, here we go…

 

1. Maybelline Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser

I’ve been using this for about 5 or 6 weeks now. I can’t comment on its ability to erase pores, as it’s so darn dark in the morning that it’s impossible to tell. However, I really love the formula of this primer. It’s velvety soft, without being powdery, and as it’s quite thick and siliconey it really does feel like you’re giving your make up a good thick base, whereas creamy primers can sometimes feel a bit thin and toothless. 

However, because it is thicker, it isn’t very easy to spread as far so I feel like I’ve been using more product meaning it’ll be used up more quickly and be poorer value for money than a sheerer primer. On the other hand, it is in a tube so it’s going to be easier to squeeze out the last traces than would be the case with a pump. Overall, a great everyday base; even better if there’s a deal on!

  
2. Vaseline Lip Therapy (Cocoa Butter)

This is more of an essential than it is a favourite. I always have at least one of these kicking around, and I have real trouble getting through a winter workday without one of these in my handbag. I’ve actually gone out to pick up a new one at lunch time before, it’s just that necessary (I should really keep one in my drawer….).

Anyway, like many, I really suffer with dry skin when the weather gets cold and the heating comes on. Particularly when it comes to my lips and eyes. I primarily larger this onto my lips throughout the day, and it’s the only product which has ever worked for me in terms of coming even close to being in any way moisture repairing. Some people hate petroleum jelly due to it being so greasy, but that seems to be necessary for me!

I have very sensitive skin and some really odd allergies, so I’m quite fussy about moisturising products. In terms of the scent, I prefer the cocoa butter or the crême brûlée (although I think it was limited edition) as I had an allergic reaction to the rose and I find the original and aloe vera to smell crude oily and a bit unpleasant – the cocoa butter makes it feel a but more like a lovely girly product. 

When my skin in general is really dry, I also use this to help give it a boost, anywhere I have set patches such as my undereyes, eyelids and elbows, as it’s much better for rescuing skin than an ordinary moisturiser, and can also be used sparingly just before you apply your make-up to give your dry areas a fighting chance.

  
3. MaxFactor Creme Puff Blush in Gorgeous Berries 

I mentioned this blusher in my recent Superdrug haul, as I picked it up as a deeper berry shade for the winter – farewell pretty, peachy pinks! It is a beautiful colour which goes into the skin as the darker of the two shades in the pan. It’s pretty matte, as far as I can tell, so it’s perfect for an everyday autumn/winter look. 

However, it is a drugstore brand blush, so it was always going to fall a little flat for me as I’ve used Benefit blush for years, and have recently fallen for a MAC Mineralize product so the quality is a little disappointing. It goes onto the cheek in a very pigmented but uneven way, but seems to buff off rather than in, meaning that you end up with only a slight flush at times. It doesn’t seem to have much longevity either, and you definitely need a mirror to apply it. I’ll keep playing around with it though as I may just be using the wekmg brushes. The Real Techniques Blush Brush is too soft for buffing but a Kabuki is perhaps too harsh. The colour is too beautiful to give up on!

  
4. Bicycle Jumper from Gap

I bought this jumper at an outlet sale towards the end of summer. It’s the perfect smart casual weekend jumper, layered over a shirt. It’s great quality snd was an absolute steal. I don’t think you can buy this particular one anymore, but there are lots of similarly shaped jumpers in the sale, which I’ve linked above. 

  

5. Miss KG Spitfire Tan Boots 

I’ve finally had to concede that my favourite River Island pixie boots are letting in water. My Nana bought me some great Moda in Pelle ankle boots last Christmas, but they have a 4 inch heel and I was in dire need of something comfortable, warm and waterproof for a trip to Newcastle at the start of this month. 

Solution found after about 5 minutes on the Debenhams website. A £68 impulse buy but really they’re cracking value. They are smart, comfortable, cushiony in the inside, with a hardwearing sole and they’re waterproof, with the uppers made from beautiful tan nubuck. I wore them all weekend (including standing up at a gig for about 5 hours) without breaking them in, but with no pain. Very lucky find!

  

6. Twinings Lady Grey Teabags 

Lighter and fresher than my old favourite Earl Grey (although I’m pretty sure Twinings changed the formula for their Earl Grey a couple of years ago and I’m not quite over that yet), so I’ve switched to this guy. A godsend in the cold evenings, and all day when I was ill. 

  

7. Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles Strawberry & Blackcurrant

Fruit Pastilles, only better!

  

8. Revival by Stephen King 

I’ve been a Stephen King fan for as long as I can remember. His writing is perfection, his plots have me hooked, and every story is totally different. I’m still reading this one actually, but it’s a good’un, and I would highly recommend it if you like a thriller. It’s supernatural but I’m not sure I would call it a horror. Not yet at least! Almost looking forward to the 75 minute train journey tomorrow morning just to have plenty of time with this bad boy. 

9. Live Music and New Adventures

I’ve told you already that I had a great weekend with Mr Brooker at the beginning of the month, seeing some really great bands (Truckstop Honeymoon, Beans on Toast, Will Varley, Skinny Lister and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls) all of whom are represented by Xtra Mile Recordings (apart from Truckstop) who I’ve linked above. 

It was the first time I’d spent a weekend in Newcastle and it was pretty eye-opening! Even though the weather was miserable and I got a bit grumpy thinking we might miss our train and then again re the start of the gig because we couldn’t get a table for supper, I really had a great time. Just not enough down time with Mr B for my liking!  

10. How to get Away with Murder 

A great new drama on Netflix with some great twists and turns. I was a bit disappointed with where they went with the season finale, but I’ll reserve judgement for the next season!  

That’s us for another month! What are your favourites this month?

Tartar Sauce

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It would be churlish not to use the mayonnaise I made to form the base of another sauce with it! Tartar sauce is not exactly complicated, the biggest thing is having things in the cupboard to knock it up, then balancing the flavours. Essentially, the capers provide the salt and the gherkins provide the sour. The shallot provides a bit of texture  as well as a bit of tartness. The quantities are purely based on how you want it to taste and the texture/consistency you want. The only way to get it right is to try it. It probably wants to be kept on the sour side to complement the fish it is being served with. Egg is sometimes used but generally speaking, I would say that there is enough texture and flavour without needing to put it in, there is also the egg flavour from the yolk in the mayonnaise.

Notes

In terms of quantities, I would start with equal measures of everything and then add to taste.

The pickling juice from the gherkins makes an excellent thinner if you need it.

Ingredients 

Makes as much as the amount of mayonnaise you use!

Mayonnaise

Capers

Shallots

Gherkins

Optional

Parsley

Chives

Mustard

IMG_1929

 

Method

  1. Chop the ingredients that require it to the size you want for the texture, I tried to get things as fine as possible. If you want it really smooth you could put them in a food processor.
  2. Tip everything into the mayonnaise and stir.
  3. Check the flavour and see if you need to add anything to it.IMG_1940

Tikka Masala Paste

It started snowing this morning so I decided it was the perfect day to make a curry. I’m made chicken tikka masala many times, many ways, but today, I thought things should be done properly, entirely from scratch. 

  
So the starting point is a great tikka masala paste. I’ll share the recipe as to how to turn this into a full-blown curry later this week, because that recipe can also be made with a ready-made from the supermarket curry paste, if that makes sense. As well as a proper curry, though, this makes a great marinade for chicken or prawns, loosened up with Greek yoghurt and a teaspoon of lemon juice. 

  
You will need:

4 cloves garlic 

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped into 4 pieces

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp smoked paprika 

2 tsp garam masala 

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander 

1 tsp chilli flakes (if you prefer, you could use 1 or 2 fresh chillis)

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp tomato purée 

1 tbsp ground almonds (I used flaked because I had some open) – if you’re allergic to nuts you can obviously leave these out! Use dessicated coconut instead o

  
You will also need a mini-chopper or a good heavy pestle and mortar. I have a Brevie stick blender which also came with a chopper attachment as well as a blender attachment so I just used the chopper to save my muscles.   
1. Put the garlic (peeled) and ginger into the chopper or mortar (yes, I just looked that up! The mortar is the bowl and the pestle is the grindy thing). Add in all the dried spices, then the oil and tomato purée. Finally, add the almonds. 

  
2. Carefully bash or blitz everything together. It can be pretty stubborn to start with, but be patient. If it stops turning at any point, you may have to open it up and move it all about with a spoon a couple of times before it will be completely smooth. Don’t worry if you don’t get all of the almonds completely ground; they’ll add a nice texture later. 

  
Spoon out into a bowl or jar. If you’re making it ahead of time, you might want to add a little groundnut oil, cover and put in the fridge. This should be enough to make a curry for 4, but you’ll have leftovers if you’re cooking for 2. 

  
Let me know how you get on!

The 5 Best….Christmas Party Essentials (Collab.)

I’m so excited about this post. It all started a week ago, and here I am putting together my first ever collaboration post. It’s all thanks to Beautyandthelook for getting us all together, so thanks Siobhan! She basically gave a shout-out to anyone who fancied joining in and she was kind enough to include me. 

We’ve had some great Twitter chats as well; it’s been a pleasure to (virtually) meet you girls and discover your lovely blogs.  Anyway, we’re all posting right now on the same theme: top 5 Christmas party essentials, with office parties just around the corner. I’ve linked all of their blogs at the end of my post, so please check them out; it’ll be so interesting seeing everyone’s take on the same theme. And then there’s the glitter…..

  

 1. Metallic/Sparkly Nail Polish 

  

I always seem to find myself planning for Christmas parties at the last minute. I ordered some dresses online on Thursday in the hope that at least one of them will do, as I did last year, and the year before. So much stress. Anyway, once you have your clothes, shoes and accessories sorted, my first bit of game time preparation is to spend time filing and painting my nails. I’m one of those people who never leaves enough time then either chips their polish or falls asleep when it’s still tacky and wakes up with dents. 

Anyway, a glitter or metallic nail polish is essential for a Christmas party in my opinion! As I dont know what I’ll be wearing yet, I thought I’d share my favourite polish from last winter, which is the Barry M Aquarium Collection Nail Paint in Persian, which is a beautiful irradescent purple/bronze, which turns more bronzey if you add a clear top coat. It gives you a really beautiful metallic sheen which moves with the light. Perfect for a party!

  

2. Your Best Deodorant 

This is sort of self-explanatory, but I think deodorant/anti-perspirant is an under-reviewed area of beauty. I suppose it does tend to be cheap enough to warrant buying without research, but even if your wallet doesn’t feel the pain of a bad product, I reckon the embarrassment factor of being let down by your deodorant should really warrant a bit of research!

In my experience, office parties tend to either start straight from work, or give you a short amount of time to get ready before go time. My employer’s head office is in Edinburgh, so we all get shipped through there for the Christmas party. Normally we get to finish work at about 3 to meet the taxi to leave at about 5. I only live 10 minutes away from the office now, so I have the luxury of going home to shower and change, but I’ve had many experiences of fighting with the other girls for time in the loo to change, straighten my hair and reapply my makeup. In those cases, you need your deodorant to hold up all day as well as all night.

 

This one is my favourite, the Soft & Gentle 48 Hour Protection Anti-Perspirant Deodorant. I’ve used this for years and years. I’ve just noticed that it also has an anti-white mark formula, which may have been added somewhere along the lines after Sure started pushing their white and black situation. Anyway, I love this deodorant. I always pick up the Wild Rose and Vanilla scent, but I think there are around 4 to choose from. This gives me good day-long protection with a really natural scent. It doesn’t feel too powdery and it doesn’t really smell like a deodorant. It’s a big win in my book, and essential to keep you feeling and smelling fresh until you crawl home in the small hours. 

3. The Perfect Blusher 

The obvious inclusion in this post would be the perfect sparkly eye shadow. I’m going to be controversial and miss that out of my top 5, as I don’t necessarily think it is an essential for everyone. Depending on your look and what you’ll be wearing, you might feel more comfortable keeping your eyelids subtle and neutral. Provided you line your eyes well and choose a bombshell of a mascara, the shadow isn’t all that important.

What us essential, however, is a good blusher to give you a healthy, just in from the cold flush about the cheeks. Blusher is also a great product for dialling up your make-up from daytime functional to party time glamorous. 
  

This MAC Mineralise blush in Petal Power is just beautiful. It’s the perfect peachy pink, plus it has the most beautiful goldy shinmer to dial it up for Christmas, meaning you don’t necessarily need to highlight as well (although I’m pretty sure I will). 

4. Good Mascara

So even if you haven’t gone all out on the glittery shadow, you really need a bit of drama about the eyes for your Christmas party. This is a slight cheat, as I’m including 2 products here as one item, but given they’re both from L’Oreal, the price of 2 is still less than a lot of single high end mascaras. 

The two I recommend are L’Oreal Telescopic and L’Oreal Voluminous, both in extra black. Day-to-day, I’ve been using the voluminous on its own, for a great daytime look which gives plenty of frame to your eyes. However, trust me, the Telescopic really makes all the difference when you want to take it up a notch. It’s unbelievable at adding length to your top lashes, I was sold the first time I tried it, but it does leave them looking pretty leggy, so the voluminous is great for plumping them out. Use a couple of coats of each on your top lashes, but go slowly if you don’t like clumping. I haven’t been using the Telescopic on my lower lashes though, as I already have pretty long lower lashes and that would just be bizarre! 

 

The only problem here is that apparently the Telescopic has been replaced by the Telescopic Falsh Lash Effect, so we’ll have to see how that goes down when it’s time to replace this one.

5. Make-up Setting Spray 

Now what’s the point in spending all that time perfecting your make-up if it’s going to wear off by the time you get your Christmas dinner? That’s where setting-spray comes in. Use this one by MakeUp Forever if you’d like (but it’s £18 for the full-size) but Urban Decay has a couple of great ones as well. They are both pretty pricey though so I’m trialing the new MUA Pro-Base Fixing Mist (£5) today. Fingers crossed it holds!   

So there we have it! My 5 best Christmas Party Essentials. Hopefully you’ve got the bug now and will enjoy reading my fellow collaborators’ posts as well! Have a great Christmas party! 

Read these ones now!

https://beautyandthelooksite.wordpress.com/

https://manikui.wordpress.com/

https://karmabeauty87.wordpress.com/

http://jenniwren7.wordpress.com/

https://jessinthecrowd.wordpress.com/

https://thefreshwabisabi.wordpress.com/

https://bunniesblanketsandbandanas.wordpress.com/

https://50shadesofvanity.wordpress.com/

https://paigealiciabeauty.wordpress.com/

https://jessicaelizabiz.wordpress.com/

Unfortunately, Becca-Louise wasn’t able to get her post up for reasons outwith her control, but please check out her blog anyway!

https://beccaalouise.wordpress.com/

Basic Mayonnaise

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I thought it was time for a classic. Although it could be considered a cooking building block. Mayonnaise is a foundation to so many things like Marie Rose and Tartar Sauce. Don’t worry, I’ll get to those soon It has to be good because it is enormously calorific! While it is so easy just to dollop some Hellmann’s onto things, it has nowhere near the depth of flavour you can expect from home made stuff.

Now in the interests of full disclosure, I have never made mayonnaise before so it was a sharp learning curve! I messed up the first go because I tried to cut down the quantity to one egg’s worth (I’m on a quest to lose weight and don’t want too much of the stuff kicking about). I now have a very tired forearm and a ramekin full for my troubles. I ordered a Kenwood stand mixer and I would imagine doing mayonnaise in one of those would be significantly less tedious! Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will be allowed to open it before Xmas…even if I paid for it.

Notes 

  • It is worth putting the bowl on a wet tea towel because you have to go hands free when adding the oil and it becomes a pain as it starts to thicken.
  • A number of recipes I looked at seemed to disagree on when the vinegar went in, some said put all in half way, some said do it a drop at a time so I mixed the vinegar into the oil at half time and it worked well. It also keeps the thickness a bit more consistent.

Ingredients 

IMG_1909

To make a large ramekin full

2 Egg yolks

300ml of oil I found that olive oil overpowers it and turns it into the olive oil show so mixed 50/50 olive/rape.

1 teaspoon Mustard powder This is key to help the emulsification process and doesn’t really flavour it too heavily.

1 tablespoon of White wine vinegar Possibly a splash more to taste

A squeeze of lemon

Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Put the egg yolks in a bowl with the mustard powder and a little salt and whisk until the eggs are well beaten.IMG_1917
  2. Slowly start pouring the oil into the egg. There seem to be a lot of horror stories about this and some say a drop at a time, I would say I did a dash at a time and it seemed to work ok. Sorry, there were no photos here, my hands were full! you are looking to start feeling the mixture emulsifying (thickening) almost immediately after you start adding the oil.
  3. Once you have about half of the oil in, mix the white wine vinegar into the oil and then start pouring in again – you can pick up the pace a bit but don’t go mad, maybe little splashes.
  4. Now it is time to put a squeeze of lemon and grind of pepper and salt. and a last stir.

Now you can let your forearms relax

Given that mayonnaise is almost an ingredient, there will be a top 10 best uses coming up soon so get your suggestions in guys!

Frisky Chicken Fricassée 

I indulged myself when I made this on Sunday, I have to admit. I was feeling pretty lousy, so a luxurious few hours in the kitchen (not just making this, don’t worry!) was just what I needed. I could have made this more quickly, but I really enjoyed the calm preparation. There are so few ingredients but it’s packed full of flavour, and it can be served in so many different ways. A perfect winter warmer. 

  
If you don’t like chicken thighs, you could absolutely make this with chicken, either baked in foil in the oven for about 20 minutes and then dressed with the sauce, or sautéed in large pieces for around 10-15 minutes. Personally, I think the slower cook works better. The thigh meat is more tender, and cooking it on the bone adds lots of natural flavour. 

If you don’t like brandy, you could use white wine, but honestly the strong alcohol flavour cooks out either way so you don’t really taste it, but it definitely improves the sauce.

  
You will need:

1 pack chicken thighs – I bought 8 with their skins on and bones in for £3 and this made 3 meals for me (or your preferred chicken cut)

3 rashers smoked bacon 

3 cloves garlic

1 punnet chestnut mushrooms 

50ml brandy 

100ml chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh 

Good crack of black pepper 

  
1. Trim off any excess skin and fat from the underside of the chicken thighs. I find it easiest to do this with a clean pair of scissors. 

2. Add a little oil to a large saucepan/casserole pot/sauteé pan (whichever you have or prefer; I used my big non-stick soup pot) and put onto a high heat. Once the oil is nice and hot, add the chicken thighs, skin down, and leave in until the skins are nice and crisp, then turn over. I did this in batches of 4 to try to keep the moisture in the pot down to make sure the skins can brief nicely. Flip over each piece to brown on the bottom. 

  
Once you’ve done the first batch, set aside on a plate. They will be cooked through later so don’t worry too much about that. I then dried off the pot a little, carefully, using a piece of kitchen towel held by my kitchen tongs. This helps to get rid of any excess fat and water. Then repeat with the second batch and set aside on the plate. 

  

3. Chop, crush or grate the garlic then slice the mushrooms. Remove the fat from the bacon then chop it up into nice even small pieces. I know I’m breaking a hygiene rule by cutting raw meat and vegetables on he same board but they’re about to go to the same place! 

  
4. Brown the bacon in the pot you used to brown the chicken, then throw in the brandy and garlic, and turn down to medium. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side up, and add the herbs and bay leaves.   

 5. Leave the heat at medium, and carefully add in the chicken stock. This should just simmer away at the bottom of the pot, otherwise you’ll risk the skin going soggy. 
  
6. After about 20 minutes of simmering, add the mushrooms, trying to keep them down in between the chicken pieces so they can’t throw out too much water into the chicken. Add in batches if this is easier. Cook for another 20 minutes, adding a little more stock if it starts to go dry. 

7. Check the chicken is nicely cooked through and serve! If you’re using chicken breasts, these can be gently browned on both sides as for the chicken pieces at stage 2, although it will take less time if you use skinless breasts (or skinless and boneless thighs!), then make the sauce and let it simmer away to itself for around 20 minutes before adding the chicken for the last 10 – 15 minutes so it can cook but won’t dry out. 

Serving suggestions!

Because I’m trying to eat healthy, I actually decided to skin and bone my chicken after going to the effort of browning the skin (like I say, I was in the mood for cooking!). It doesn’t look as pretty but it’s much easier to eat. Traditionally, I think you would just serve up a couple of thighs per person with some if the sauce and perhaps some potatoes and vegetables. 

  
The first night, I added a couple of ladles of this deliciousness to some cooked penne, added a spoonful of crew fresh and mixed together, before serving it with broccoli.

  
The next night, I plumped for brown rice. And broccoli. 

  
Last night, I served it up again with some wholewheat spaghetti and broccoli (this is what happens when you live alone) and I honestly enjoyed it equally each night. I’ll definitely make this again! 

Double Superdrug Haul

Superdrug has had a pre-Christmas 3 for 2 on all cosmetics for the last couple of weeks. And I’ve tried so hard to be good…yet failed….a little. I went in to restock my Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer and a new blusher but of course they had sold out! So I just had to buy some new things instead…and then go back again the next day (and I still haven’t managed to get my hands on that concealer!).

  
I can’t give you a first impression of a few of these products yet, as I’ve been feeling under the weather and just haven’t found the time or energy to try them (Rimmel Glam’Eyes Professional Liquid LinerMUA Pro-Base Fixing Mist or “Wave Creating Sea Foam“) but I figured I might as well share in case any of you have tried them and have any thoughts.

I’m slightly scared to try the fixing spray or Sea Foam on a working day because I like to get ready in the morning, fix everything in place, then not touch anything until I get home (unless I have a client meeting) so I don’t want to risk losing longevity on my face, or ridiculously bad hair for the time being. And I don’t wear liquid eyeliner to work. 

      

My MaxFactor Colour Adapt foundation is my true love. I’m sure I’ve told you this before, but I just love how velvety it feels on my skin. Whilst it can look quite orange on your cleansing wipe at the end of the day, I’ve never noticed it looking orangey on my skin. I use Creamy Ivory, being a pale Scottish girl, and have always felt it to be a good match.

My only criticism is that the way it is packaged makes it very hard to shake up, so you inevitably get left with a thick, dryish paste as you get near the end. When that happens, I just mix in some heavy moisturiser or primer to sheer it out a little. 
  The eye is immediately drawn to this little beauty, again by MaxFactor. It’s called Creme Puff Blush and the colour is called 30 Gorgeous Berries. It looks like it’s trying to be a MAC Mineralise blush, but it is nevertheless beautiful. I picked this up because I was looking for a deeper berry shade for the Autumn and Winter. 
  
Whilst the colouring of this doesn’t disappoint, it’s definitely not as long lasting as higher end blushets, and it doesn’t really offer that gilded sheen you get from MAC. It’s a good budget option if you’re happy to reapply throughout the day. 

    
On that note, it applies as though it is really pigmented when I put it on with my Real Techniques Blush Brush, and it’s very hard to blend out with such a soft brush, so I tend to use my Lottie Kabuki to buff it in. 

I picked up a Collection Illuminating Touch because they had the colour I wanted and figured it would tide me over. I don’t normally like these click through brush style concealers, and I’m still not convinced, however the product inside is acceptable as long as you dab it on with your finger after squidging it onto your face. It does seem a little sheerer than the normal tube, which it probably needs to be for this packaging, so I probably won’t buy this again once I get my hands on the real deal (plus a spare). 

  
The final item I’ve actually been testing regularly is the L’Oreal Lumi Magique Primer Pure Light. To be honest, I’m not getting much from it, and don’t think it justifies it’s full-price price tag of £9.99. 
  It looks really glowy when you pump it onto your hand, but it just doesn’t seem to be doing anything for me once it’s made it onto my face. I’ve tried it both as a pure primer and mixed into my foundation and I don’t feel it’s giving me the dewy glow I was after. Has anyone else had any success with this guy?

That’s all from me today – let’s see if any of these make it into next month’s favourites!

Feed-a-Cold Chicken Soup

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve been feeling pretty under the weather lately with that change in weather cold which seems to do the rounds this time every year. First it was a sore throat, then a sniffle, then the pathetic shivers and shakes, and now a super-fun cough which wakes me up in the night. A day and a half off work and in bed and I’m still feeling pretty miserable. Especially when getting out of bed when it’s 4 degrees outside and it’s Monday and time to get ready for work….

Not to worry, help is at hand! Nothing helps you feel better than a big bowl of homemade soup. This is the traditional chicken, with just enough cheats to make it doable when you’re feeling at your worst. 

  
You will need:

2 onions

1 leek

4 carrots

1 clove garlic 

10-12 new potatoes 

2.5 litres of stock, I used 3 Knorr stock cubes and plenty of water because who had time to make their own when they’re ill?

2 tsp parsley 

A grating of nutmeg

1 tsp thyme 

Good pinch salt 

A few cracks of black pepper 

Leftover roast chicken, chopped or shredded

  
1. Chop the onions and throw them into a soup pot which has a little of your favourite oil heating in it – medium heat. 

  
2. Repeat with the leek, and give everything a good mix. 

  
3. Chop the carrots and add in, before grating in the garlic. Make sure the heat isn’t so high that the onions are browning because that will burn your garlic. 

  
4. Let the vegetables sautée for around 10 minutes before adding the stock, herbs and nutmeg. 

  
5. Peel the potatoes and chop into bite-sized chunks. This is a hearty, chunky soup. Add them to the soup so far, put the lid on, and allow to simmer for around 20 minutes. 

  
6. Season, taste, and add in the chicken.

  
7. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes, then test the seasoning and check the vegetables are nicely cooked. 

  
Please, please remember that this soup contains cooked chicken, so be really careful to really heat the soup through if you’re reheating it later. 

  
Otherwise, enjoy! And feel better!

The 5 Best …Websites for Starting Your Christmas Shopping 

Here we are again. Galloping towards the end of November, but we’ve barely started our Christmas shopping. We’ve taken a few rambles around the local shops: Boots offers the same old FCUK and Nando’s gift sets, M&S wants you to give your grandad another mug to remind him he’s “Head Gardener”, and a scarf for, well, every female relative you know, just isn’t going to cut it this year.

  
Ok, ok, before you tell me off, I know that shopping local is great. It’s the best. But let’s not get into Perth local politics. In fact, I’ll be buying a fair amount from good local businesses, but we’ll get into that nearer the time. Just now, though, help is at hand. With a little bit of time, organisation and a sufficient number of postage days before The Big Day, you can really break the back of your Christmas shop in a relatively short amount of time. It won’t even do that much harm to your credit card if you start now during the Black Friday sales.

  

1
. John Lewis

Try to block the terrible Christmas advert from your mind for a moment. I mean, they have put some pretty good ones out in the past. John Lewis is great. It really is. It can be pricey, but not obnoxiously so, so it offers a good range of ideas to suit pretty much every demographic. Even boys. 

  
Their website is really helpful too, with lots of “gift by recipient” categorisation to help you navigate the options available without visiting every department, as well as allowing you to sub- search by budget. So if you want to spend under £30 on your granny, John Lewis has you covered. Genius. 

  
Another thing they do pretty well every year is their selection of hampers. I hear you groaning in boredom already. But hear me out. We hate hampers because every hamper we’ve had has been filled with rubbish no one wants to eat or drink, right? What if you could find a hamper that doesn’t break the bank, that gives someone a load of their favourite things all neatly packaged together and which might just let you get away with a sneaky 1-4-2 couples’ present (smaller price tag than 2 presents, and less time spent shopping)? I told you to trust me!

John Lewis offer hampers ranging in price from £15 to £500 (like you would…) as well as make your own hamper boxes, baskets and trays, if you wanted a more personal touch, so they’re worth a look (especially that Chocolate Cube….).  My biggest criticism is that all of them are Christmas themed. Ok, it is a Christmas present, but (think about it John Lewis) who really needs brandy butter and a mini Christmas pudding on December 25th? (Unless you’ve given them a spoiler not to go out and buy one or they’ve burnt the main guy or whatever) That’s why we hate hampers!

2. The Book People

There’s not as much to say about these guys, except I’m not entirely sure how the manage their crazily low prices. As a bookworm and lover of language, I think books make wonderful presents. I’m not a zealot, so I do get that you can take a person to the pages but you can’t make them read, but you can probably find a book on this site for about 80% of people. They do kids’ books, cookbooks, craft books, humorous books etc etc etc. 

  
There’s a bit of nostalgia for me with The Book People because I remember my Mum buying me books from them when I was a kid in the days when their reps would bring books to offices to sell. Weirdly they’ve just started doing that again. Anyway they had a catalogue at that time and have now moved online so I’ve had a great time rediscovering them over the last few years. The best thing they offer, in my opinion, is their collections. 

  
Basically, they offer collections by the same author, for example, the Harlan Coven collection of 10 of his novels for £10, or themed collections (I have the Penguin “Banned Books” collection, for example, whereby the books are sold as a collection for a fraction of the price they would be bought separately. Great, great presents. 

  

3. Not on the High Street

People seem to have mixed feelings about this one; they love its quirkiness or they’re put off by its gimmicks. I have to say I’m somewhere in the middle. The original idea behind this website, as I understand it, is to bring professional small scale producers to the mass market, in a more organised fashion than Etsy can manage. However, the message is getting lost a bit with all sorts of mass-produced gimmicks finding their way onto the site, I mean, who actually wants to receive chocolate Brussels sprouts, let alone pay a tenner for them?! 

  
  Still, I do think this website has its place, you just have to be savvy and be careful that you’re happy to pay the price their asking, especially as the base price can really ramp up when you add personalisation, gift wrapping, postage etc. There are some really lovely unique gifts on offer and it’s a great place to get ideas. I bought a lovely (in my opinion!) business card holder for Mr Brooker from this site, engraved with one of his favourite song lyrics. It was reasonably priced and the turnaround time was spectacular. Have a browse!

  
4. Feelunique.com

This website hasn’t been on my radar for very long, but they offer some really nice beauty brands, as well as their own beauty advent calendar which gives you 12 little gifts for £30. 

  
Although a lot of what they have to offer is on the pricier main present side of the scale, they have some great little stocking fillers which are a little bit different from the usual socks and chocolate orange. 

Even though you may hate gifting “bath stuff” to those friends and relatives you need to find a gift for about whom you know very little, this site offers you all sorts of lovely gift sets people might actually want and use.

5. Debenhams

Trusty old Debenhams has a load of good deals on just now; I saved £7 on a jumper I was planning to buy for my Dad anyway yesterday. So get in there before Friday’s over!

  
Debenhams is a middle of the road alternative to John Lewis, offering everything from slippers to food gifts, as well as the customary Christmas socks and gadgets. You can tick off lots of people at the sane tine with this one, especially your Mum and Granny. 

I hope this has been helpful! Let me know if you have any go to Christmas shopping websites. 

 Sunday Chat

I just wanted to have a little catch up with all you lovely people to touch base about life in general and to say thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. 

  
If you’ve read my “After my Exams”post, you’ll know that studying for professional qualifications after work has taken up a lot of my free time. But now I’m finished, and I’m taking a well-earned break, and that leaves me free to dedicate more time and energy to a lot of things, but particularly my blog. Just this morning I’ve decided to sort out my Twitter account and start using it again, as well as trying really hard to get better at scheduling my posts, although I’m not entirely sure sticking to the same upload days is necessary (I’m not a YouTube sensation after all). 

I’m also going to take some time to consider hosting outside of Word Press, as well as thinking about how to make the leap to YouTube eventually. 

  
On Saturday, I’ll be taking part in my very first collaborative post, which I’m really excited about. It was spearheaded by a lovely lady, Siobhan, who has a fantastic beauty blog, Beautyandthelook and who basically out herself out there with a shout out to anyone who fancied joining in. So on Saturday, Siobhan, myself, Jennifer, Becca-Louise, Karen and BunniesBlanketsandBandanas will each be blogging about our top 5 Christmas party essentials – it’s really exciting for me to be part of, if for no other reason that it’s put me in touch with some lovely bloggers who have great blogs. That will be dropping at 6pm on Saturday 28th November if you’re interested. 

  
I’ve had a bit of a mixed bag this week after having an amazing long weekend with Mr Brooker, seeing two great bands (Truckstop Honeymoon and Beans on Toast) at the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh after last Friday night, and then  Will Varley, Skinny Lister and Frank Turner at Newcastle uni on Saturday night before having some quality time being spoiled rotten by my wonderful husband-to-be.

  
Then it was back to work with a heavy heart and a scratch throat, only for that to develop into a horrid cold, then a cough, meaning I’ve been off work Thursday afternoon and Friday. I’m starting to feel a bit better now thankfully, however that’s been replaced by my right eye having a horrific allergic reaction to my parents’ central heating. All of that and a dozen lectures from my Mum about being “too thin”. 

This is something I want to take some time to address because it’s an issue that affects a lot of people, throughout the ages. I’ve always been chubby, curvy, whatever you want to call it. A UK size 12 on the bottom and a 14 on top, which might seem great to plenty of you until you add in the fact that I’m under 5′ 2″. I love food, you know that, of course, and yet I’ve never quite been 100% happy with my body. I loved having a decent cleavage, but I hated the cellulite on my thighs, my seemingly immovable muffin top and bingo wings, and I have been making numerous attempts with varying degrees of effort over the years to get into better shape.

  
I’m asthmatic, so exercise has always been a difficult concept for me, but I got into regular workouts when I moved into my own place last February. Davina’s workout DVDs were hard, but ultimately fruitless, although I suppose I shifted a few pounds by lightening my lunches a little and making breakfast bars for work. It was Jillian Michaels‘ 30 Day Shred which finally got my muscles to take shape and burned off some of that fat. After repeating that for a few months I was starting to get a lot happier about how I looked but also about how I felt. So I stepped up the healthy eating. 

I’m not going to call it a diet, because it’s not. It’s just a better way of eating. It’s not  even that super-healthy. I’ve swapped white rice and pasta for whole grain, stopped snacking on biscuits at work although they still sometimes sneak in, cut down on bread and increased the number of fruits and vegetables I eat. It’s not Paleo or clean eating or anything like that. It’s just being a bit more careful about what I stuff in my pie hole. I have a full fat yoghurt for breakfast every weekday, fruit to snack, then a homemade soup or salad for lunch, followed by more fruit. When I get home at night, I work out (I’m now doing Blogilates, which has kept up and built upon Jillian’s hard work, without there being too much off-putting cardio) and spend some time making a healthy supper of the type you see on my blog. I eat good portions. At bed time, I have a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. If I bake, I’ll eat cake. If I’m eating out, as long as it’s not too often, I’ll eat pizza, pasta, bread, pudding and I’ll have wine.

 
I’m not hungry all the time and I’m not too thin. I’ve dropped down to a 10 on the bottom and a 12 on the top and people keep telling me how great I look. And I feel a whole lot better about the idea of prancing about in a wedding dress next May. I’m not trying to show-off here, I’m just trying to work-out when it became ok to tell someone they’re too thin, but still it’s rude to tell someone they’re too fat. I mean, it’s not like I’m Cheryl Cole.
  
Anyway, I’m off to put my glasses on and cook until I feel a whole lot better, before tucking into some fresh fruit and then a cup of coffee and one of my Nana’s cupcakes. Hope I didn’t bore you too much!