A new coat

I’ve been steering clear of the sales in the last week or two, as sadly it’s been a bumper month with both car insurance and gym membership renewals up.

But two things I genuinely do need are a new black coat and leather bag. I still haven’t found a bag I like (picky? me…?) but last night I did stumble upon a gorgeous black coat that fulfils my very specific brief, the Katy Fur Collar Coat from Oasis. I seem to be a proper sucker for fake fur at the moment – if you’re a tactile person, it just feels so lovely and comforting.

This set me back £45 – which for a black coat I’m very happy with – as long as the quality is decent when it arrives, it’s work as a brilliant cost-per-wear ratio!

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All the Way to Winchester

At Christmas, our friends moved down to Winchester, in the south of England – and let’s face it, it would have been down right rude not to go down and visit them, wouldn’t it?

It turns out Winchester is not only super handy for the airport and very picturesque, but it’s also a foodies paradise.

We flew down early doors on Saturday morning, and post-run (for them, not me – I enjoyed a quiet house, a cup of tea and my friend’s latest edition of Ideal Home magazine…) we headed to Côte for brunch. I had a hard time deciding between the chive scrambled eggs, and the crepe complet, but plumped for the crepe. And my oh my, this was a good choice! The crepe itself was light as a feather, with lovely bacon and fried eggs – there was also a delicious creamy, cheesey layer which we couldn’t quite decide on – maybe crème fraiche, or a little bechamel? Either way, this was delicious, and I could quite happily have scoffed two.

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After brunch, we went for a wander around Winchester, which is just the perfect place for some post-brunch shopping – a great choice of shops in really characterful buildings (on a side note, I do love it when stores have to choose sympathetic store fronts and signage, rather than sticking up some neon monstrosity), and lovely cafes and pubs. We stopped off for a cheeky glass of Prosecco in Green’s Bar, had another mini wander and popped in to the Mucky Duck for some more brief refreshments. I do feel the need to point out we didn’t wobble home! We left the gents in the pub to ‘finish their pint’ (in reality the cheeky boys ordered another after we left!) and took a detour into the Coop for snacks on the way home. The next couple of hours we did some serious vegging to work up an appetite for dinner…

Our hosts had so many dinner options they were keen to try, we ended up booking one place for starters and then on somewhere else for main. Starters were tapas at El Sabio. Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of this, but it’s fare to say we probably over did it for starters…particularly when our friend added a panic tortilla to the mix! We had all the usual suspects – patatas bravas, manchego, prawn skewers. It was all very fresh and tasty, and would have quite happily tried more dishes if we weren’t off somewhere else for the main course.

Catch of the day at The Green Man, Winchester

Catch of the day at The Green Man, Winchester

Following starters we strolled – waddled – on to The Green Man for mains. We did need a bit of a reprieve so took our time and had a few drinks before ordering dinner. Our host’s sister had recently had her wedding reception here, and I can totally understand why – I loved it. The decor was gorgeous and it was so cosy I could equally see sitting by the fireplace reading the paper and having brunch, as us having drinks and dinner. The men shared a main course, and I shared with our friend Jo. We had the catch of the day, trout with sautéed potato and spring vegetables. This was so simple, perfectly executed and utterly delicious. In spite of being stuffed, I could quite happily have eaten the whole damn lot. The boys shared a good burger, which sadly I didn’t get a photo of.

It’s fair to say, we absolutely loved Green Man, and I’m fairly sure if we lived in Winchester, it would be our favourite local.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend Winchester if you’re looking for a relaxed weekend break, especially if you like long walks in nice scenery, great restaurants and nice bars to sup a drink or two. I’m always looking for UK break ideas, so please leave recommendations in the comment!

 

Wardrobe Update

Perusing Twitter the other day, I was rather too excited to see Oasis were having a sale – the last few times I’d ordered from Oasis, I hadn’t been completely bowled over by the quality, in comparison to items from French Connection and & Other Stories. I’d felt a big different in the finish and fabric of pieces, however they are at different price points on the high street and they did have a few items I fancied ordering for a closer look at…

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On the whole, I think the theme is clear – neutrals, neutrals, neutrals. I’m in the process of trying to make my wardrobe less crammed with stuff and more ‘capsule’. I’ve also become obsessed with black, grey and white with the odd bit of animal print to add some interest. I think the tops could be dressed up for work, or worn casually with jeans or a leather mini skirt for a more casual weekend outfit.

I really love the taupey-grey colours that are in at the moment – I think they’re just that little bit more chic that standard grey or black but are still neutral enough to work with almost anything. I also love the pop of bright pink in the striped top, and I think makes it looks more expensive that it is – always a good thing when working to a tight budget!

Have any sale bargains caught your eye lately?

The Body Shop Bouncy Sleep Mask

I wandered into the Body Shop recently, and ended up picking a few bits and pieces, rather enabled by a very nice and helpful store assistant.

The Bouncy Sleep Mask is a new release from the Body Shop, as part of their Drops of Youth range, and I was pretty curious to check this out as I’d heard about the unusual texture.

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The Bouncy Sleep Mask is apparently enriched with ‘Edelweiss stem cells’ (whatever they are!). It’s designed to be used in the evening and left on overnight – though I’d say ‘mask’ is a bit of a misnomer – it’s really a gel night moisturiser. The texture is certainly worth discussion – it is reminiscent of silly putty and very siliconey feeling (dimethicone is fourth on the list of ingredients, so not altogether surprising)  – it took me a couple of uses to get a feel for how much product to use. You get a mini scooper to use, and for once, I’d say this is actually worth keeping, to scoop an amount of product before smoothing on with your fingers – it’s a struggle to actually pick up any with bare fingers because of the consistency. You also need far less than you’d initially think – being a ‘mask’ you think of slathering on a thick helping, but really you need at most a pea-sized amount to cover your whole face and neck.

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I haven’t been using this long enough to get a real feel for the results but I do like it so far – it feels nice, light and refreshing on the skin which is a big plus for me as I’m not a fan of sleeping in rich products, and my skin did feel more hydrated in the morning. The smell is also nice and fresh, again, perfect for evening. I also have anecdotal evidence from a friend who has been suffering with really dehydrated skin that this has made a tangible difference with just a few uses.

The very kind sales assistant also gave me a sample pot of the Drops of Youth Concentrate, which I really liked – it  had the same very fresh and light feeling, and it might be my next Body Shop purchase once I’ve finished my favourite REN Radiance Serum.

If you’ve tried the Bouncy Sleep Mask, do let me know what you think in the comments – I feel like this might be a bit of a love/hate one…

Skincare Haul: REN

My local Wholefoods did their second ever 25% off promotion across their facial skincare last weekend – if ever I needed an excuse to stock up, this was it.

I’ve been a big fan of REN for a couple of years now – their chemical-free products seems to suit my skin so well, are fantastic quality, smell delicious and aren’t over the top expensive. I previously talked about a couple of their Radiance Renewal Products in my Skincare Favourites 2014 post here.

I’m now on to my third bottle of their Radiance Renewal Serum – I first tried this during Wholefoods last promotion, and quickly developed an abiding love for this stuff. It was one of the first products I tried where I felt I could see a real, tangible difference in my skin. I tended to put this on in the evening, and the next day there was denying that my skin was brighter, more evenly toned and smoother as well. REN products also features natural extracts and are free from nasties such as parabens, mineral oil and sulfates which people are increasingly avoiding. In this case, the serum has a lot of goodies, but the ones that caught my eye were vitamin C from Ascorbyl Lipovector regulate skin pigmentation to reduce age spots and correct skin tone and hyaluronic Acid (a real goodie for hydration). As an aside, big props to the guys at REN for having a full ingredients list for each product on their website.

I was also fairly happy with the price – as serums go, £35 (and then a following 25% off) made it pretty damn reasonable in my eyes.

I also picked up their Flash Rinse One Minute Facial, Clarimatte Clarifying Toner and Clarimatte Invisible Pores Detox Mask. I’ve heard really good things about the Flash Rinse in particular, and I’m always keen for products which promise results in that amount of time! I’ve heard less about the Clarimatte line, but from the description (reduce pore size, control oil and leave skin smooth and clean) they sound right up my street and will hopefully help tackle some of the issues I’ve got on my t-zone.

I’ve also read that the Clarimatte mask can be used on the evening following the Radiance Renewal Mask for optimum results, and seeing as I already have this in my stash, I’m looking forward to trying this combination out.

I’m really excited to try the new pieces I picked up, to see if they match up to both my previous experiences of REN and the reviews online – I’ll keep you posted!

I’ll take the high road…

At the end of holidays, we decided to take a day trip somewhere, get a little movement about ourselves, some fresh air and a change of scenery.

We decided to go a little further north from where we are, and visit Loch Lomond. We stopped off for lunch at the lovely Lomond Shores, and then on to Luss for an exceptionally bracing walk. I’ve added a few shots from our day trip below…

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2014 Favourites: Part Three, Skincare

We’re now on to Part Three of my 2014 favourites, looking at the best skincare items of the year. I have three top pics, plus a couple of honourable mentions.

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Cleanser

La Roche Posay Physiological Cleansing Gel

I started using this in late 2013, and I wasn’t mad keen paying over £10 for a face wash (although this is positively thrifty compared to some of the high end offerings in vogue right now). I really like the cooling gel texture of this, and it does a fantastic job of breaking down make up as well.

I would say this has a very slight medicinal scent, but I don’t mind that – I’m not keen on overly scented face products on my quite sensitive skin. One aspect I really do like of this cleanser is how thick it is – it really adheres to the face, helping to break down make up, and not sliding right off (a real boon if you ever wash your face in the shower as well). It leaves my skin well cleansed, make up free and feeling soft and fresh – what more could you ask from a cleanser?

Serum

REN Radiance Perfection Serum

Last year, my local Wholefoods had a phenomenal discount on their skincare ranges and I went slightly nuts, mostly for REN stuff but also some Melvita as well. This serum was undoubtedly the most successful purchase, and I’m already on my second bottle.

It’s my first serum, and I can truly see a massive difference the morning after I put this stuff on. It seems to really even up my skin tone and make my skin glow. The smell is nice, and not too strong – it’s smells a bit honey-like to me, but that might an unconscious association because of the yellow/ orange packaging. This serum is around £35, so not super cheap but not overly expensive as serums go either.

I really enjoy the texture of this – it feels very light and refreshing, and sinks in really quickly without any oily feeling.

One of the main ingredients in the serum is vitamin c, which I believe is good for evening skin tone, and that is one area I definitely see a big difference in when I’ve used this the evening before. I tend to have a bit of redness going on, on my very fair skin especially if I have any healing spots and this makes a bit difference in unifying my skin tone and bringing down the red tones.

In terms of storage, I’d suggest keeping this in a drawer or the original box, as the product is preservative free and I don’t think the clear glass bottle will keep it at it’s most effective.

Face masks

I haven’t been using masks religiously this year, but I have picked up two that I do enjoy using, and seem to make a tangible different to my skin – they are the REN Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask , and the cult GlamGlow YouthMud. Both exfoliate the skin without irritation, and leave me with a right brightness and glow – I’d say both are especially good the night before a big event.

Lipbalm/ treatment

Lanolips Ointment

I have been having major problems with my lips lately – they have been stinging and burning, and cracked at the corners, which is not a good look. Even my beloved Nuxe Reve de Miel wasn’t able to sort them out – after a while I gave in and threw some cash at this Lanolips Ointment, without much hope it (or anything) would help.

Lanolips has gained a real cult following since it launched in 2009, and is made from medical grade lanolin, vitamin e oil and 100% natural fruit extract in the scented versions. I’m not specifically in to all natural or organic products but I have to say, it is a nice feeling to use something so natural on my skin. It is also very, very firm when cool – I suggest popping it on to the radiator for a few seconds before squeezing out the product.

This ointment has made a massive difference – my lips aren’t stinging and cracked any more and the corners are actually starting to heal. My skin can be a little reactive, so this natural multi-use balm is a fantastic standby for ragged cuticles, dry and flaky elbows, sore lips and so on. I also like that it’s packaged in a squeezy tube – it feels so much more hygienic than the pots of balm you need to stick your fingers in. An all round great skincare buy.

2015…

In 2015, I want to continue taking better care of my skin as I move into my thirties (sob…) so I’ll be on the lookout for quality products which can help balance my combination skin and leave it looking smoother and more glowing. I also want to improve my knowlkedge of skincare, so that I can make more informed choices.

One product I do have lined up to try is the La Roche Posay Serozinc, another cult goody. I’ve heard so much about this over the last few years, and am keen to try now it’s being stocked by Escentual.

Let me know below if you have any recommendations in the comments below.

2014 Favourites – Part Two: Perfume

Welcome to Part Two of my 2014 Favourites series – this time, it’s perfumes turn. My two favourites this year have been Elie Saab Le Parfum and Miller Harris, L’air de Rien.

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These, without a doubt, have been my two favourite fragrances of the year, and the ones I have reached for above all others.

Elie Saab was the first fragarance from Lebanese designer Elie Saab, and was designed by renowned perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. It has jasmine at it’s heart, with a base of cedar, patchouli and rose honey accord. To me, the jasmine is the most prominent note, and is one of my all time favourites, so this suits me happily. I think it’s both day and evening appropriate (I just scoosh it on a bit heavier in the evening), so a great one to carry a mini of in my handbag.

L’air de Rien is, to my nose, quite an unusual scent and feels very grown up and just a little bit sexy, and is the one I go for if I want something a little different – less fresh, and more overtly sexy. The back story to this scent is that sixties singer Jane Birkin was the muse and the final perfume was inspired by her favourite smells – “father’s pipe, floor polish, empty chest of drawers, old forgotten houses”. These scent memories were translated into notes of oak moss, neroli, musk and vanilla. Katie Puckrik memorably describes the scent as halitosis, bleach and mothballs, on her first impression but I’m happy say these aren’t what strike my nose on first sniff. This, perhaps the most out of the Miller Harris fragrance library, has gained a really cult following, and one that’s well deserved in my opinion.

In 2015, I’m hoping to get my hands on two scents I’ve long sniffed (and dowsed myself in, when in a store that carry them…) – Gucci Oud and Tom Ford Jasmine Rouge, though sadly, I may need to re-mortgage to afford either.

Let me know of any perfumes you think might be up my street, in the comments section below!

2014 Favourites – Part One: Tea

I simply cannot believe that is nearly 2014 over – looking back, I don’t feel I’ve achieved as many concrete goals this year but in spite of this, I do feel I’ve really moved forward and discovered plenty of beauty favourites, food favourites and general lifestyle favourites.

I started to draft up a post that was quickly becoming a book, so I’ve split it into a few separate posts – Part One is below. I hope you enjoy it, and do let me know your favourite finds of the year in the comments below!

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I am a major tea jenny, and have have two firm favourites for this year – one old fav, and one new discovery – they are Empress Grey from Marks and Spencer, and Jasmine Rose from Waitrose.

Empress Grey has long been a favourite of mine – well, let’s face it, it’s not just any tea… – I’ve long been a fan of the classic Earl Grey as my parents were big tea drinkers and tended to stray away from the usual English Breakfast, going for Earl Grey, Lady Grey, the intensely smoky Lapsang Souchong and so on, and Empress Grey is a new, vibrant, twist on this old classic.

It has a really refreshing, citrus flavour and is very clean tasting, featuring both orange and lemon oils. To my palate, it tastes far more expensive than it is (it’s around £2 for a box of 50 tea bags). For me, it would be heresy to add milk to this – I like to enjoy it pretty hot and neat, out of my favourite House of Rym cup and saucer. It makes me feel rather more sophisticated than I am for a few minutes.

The Rose and Jasmine tea is a new find of mine, but has quickly found second place in my favourites teas. This has a base of green tea, rather than black, which I am really enjoying at the moment and it has visible jasmine blossoms and rose buds. It has a gentle taste and isn’t too bitter, but is very flavoursome – one of my pet hates is tea that tastes of nothing more than hot water. This tea is lovely quality with very large leaves held in fine muslin bags, although at 19 per bag it is a bit more expensive than the Empress Grey but certainly not up there with the most high-end teas on the market.

No doubt my tea journey will continue in 2015, and I’ll be adding more favourites as we go – if there’s anything you think I should try, do let me know in the comments!

Dinner with Jacqueline O’Donnell and Miele

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At the start of December, we took a trip through to Edinburgh (on a side note, isn’t Edinburgh looking fabulous?) for a rather interesting concept dinner – have you ever had to engage in some light aerobics as a precursor to your starter? No? Me neither!

The chef for the evening was Jacqueline O’Donnell of The Sisters Restaurant, and the aim of the game was to showcase Miele’s new steam oven – all held in the lovely surroundings of Mark Greenway’s restaurant in Edinburgh.

The audience was a mix of bloggers and foodie business types – it was lovely to meet them all, including Leila from Leil’Apetit and Iain and Kate from Citylicious.

Asmentioned, the evening kicked off with some aerobics and pilates style moves – this was a great icebreaker although I don’t think quite burned the suggested 500 calories suggested, which was to balance out the calories from the meal – in theory making it ‘calorie-neutral’.

Jak was an engaging and knowledgeable host – she spoke of using the convection combi steam model at home in detail, showcasing how it can be used in a residential setting and also talked us through the prep of each course.

I think it’s important to note that the whole menu was designed very much to demonstrate a concept – which to my mind it did very successfully – and would not necessarily be a meal one would replicate at home 100% faithfully – some courses may have benefited from a spot of butter or cream or a drizzle of olive oil.

For me, the high points were the first dish of steamed purple broccoli with cured salmon and almonds – I loved the flavour and texture combinations of this dish, and I think they really showcased the fantastic Scottish ingredients.

The venison served with wild berries was cooked to absolute perfection, just a little pink and unbelievably tender – the contrast of delicate meat and tart berries was wonderful.

I have to say, I think the menu Jak designed really showcased the ovens to their full potential and seeing them in action there were many facets of these ovens which I absolutely loved – their sleek modernism, the cleanlinesses, the health and flavour retention factors – sadly, owning one remains a touch of reach for me at the moment as they retail from £1190 for the basic built in model. One to keep in mind for when we move to the forever house, I think…

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Steamed purple broccoli with cured salmon and almonds – 90 calories.

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Steamed beetroot with broad beans rocket and puy lentils – 80 calories

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Prawn stuffed lemon sole with herb butter sauce – 135 calories 

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Wild Highland venison loin with Scotch brambles – 85 calories 

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Steamed rhubarb and pineapple with coconut ice cream – 95 calories

(N.B. Apologies for the photo quality here – major rookie blogging error, forgetting to charge the DSLR – we had to make do with camera phones with dying batteries. Will do better the next time!)

With thanks to Jacquline O’Donnell, Miele, Stonehouse Media and Mark Greenaway.