Friday, 30 August 2013

Marks & Spencer's £10 Dine in for Two

I've never even considered buying food from Marks & Spencer because I've always thought it's extortionately expensive. However, my boyfriend suggested trying their £10 Dine in for Two option over the bank holiday weekend for a change. It sounded like a good deal and we fancied a night in, so we went to Marks & Spencer in Culverhouse Cross to see what we could find. I was quite excited about seeing the words 'Food Hall'... I'm easily pleased.

You can choose a main, side, dessert and drink for... you guessed it, £10! Unfortunately there wasn't a huge amount of choice on offer, but we still ended up with an appetising three course meal.




The bolognese pasta melt looked amazing, so I didn't mind that it was the only main course on offer. There were plenty of sides available (chips, onion rings, broccoli mix, salad, peas and carrots), but we decided to go for the peas and carrots so that we could pretend to be healthy. Although the chips and onion rings were extremely tempting, we didn't really need any more carbs to go with our main meal! There wasn't much choice on the dessert front either, but our Lemon Tarte au Citron slices looked fantastic so we were happy to go with those. Neither of us are big drinkers so we decided to go for two bottles of White Grape Juice rather than getting a bottle of wine. Rock and roll.

The pasta melt only took 30 minutes to heat up in the oven, and the cheese on top was beautifully crispy when it came out. The peas and carrots took a few minutes to heat up in the microwave so we served those with the pasta melt. The melt was easily big enough for three people, but we polished it off between the two of us as we eat more than the average person. Sad but true. It actually tasted like something you'd order in an Italian restaurant, so I was very impressed. They definitely weren't stingy on the bolognese mixture and the pasta was of much better quality than the Tesco Value pasta I usually eat!




We still managed to fit in our dessert after finishing the pasta melt... there's always room for dessert! I like to think it goes into a different part of your stomach whenever I need to justify eating dessert to myself. The crust tasted like super buttery shortbread and the lemon topping was scrumptious... probably because it contained 534% of my daily sugar allowance. No complaints! Again, these slices could have probably have served 3 or 4 people quite comfortably.




The white grape juice was also a great choice. It was very sweet and tasted like Schloer, but a bit sweeter and less bitter. We finished one bottle with our meal, then drank the other bottle the next day. Much more satisfying and thirst-quenching than a bottle of wine!

Has anyone else tried the £10 Dine in for Two offer when you've decided to have a night in? What food did you choose?

Monday, 26 August 2013

Restaurant review: Chimichanga

Yes that's right, I went to another chain restaurant! My boyfriend and I were wandering around the food court in St David's 2 last Saturday trying to decide what to eat after a traumatic few hours (long story!). Neither of us felt like pizza or a burger. so we decided to give Chimichanga a go as we hadn't had Mexican food for a while. We approached the restaurant at around 5pm and were seated straight away by a lovely friendly waiter. Always a good start!




Neither of us had eaten properly all day so we decided to go the whole hog and opt for starters, which is quite rare for us. It didn't take us long to decide on a starter to share, but it took me ages to decide between a burrito, chimichanga and enchilada. I know there's not a massive difference between the three but I was in an indecisive mood. I eventually decided on a chilli con carne chimichanga, seeing as I was in Chimichanga and all that. A restaurant called Burrito or Enchilada wouldn't have quite the same ring to it... I think they made the right choice.



Chimi's Combo


Our Chimi's Combo starter was immense. It came with chorizo potato skins, chicken wings in barbecue sauce, jalapeno bullets, Mexican spring rolls, chipotle chilli sauce and sour cream. I didn't eat any of the chicken wings as I don't like cutting chicken off the bone (don't ask...), but I loved the other three options. I also had the pot of sour cream all to myself which is always good. Dangerous, but good. The chorizo potato skins didn't contain as much chorizo as I would have liked, but you can never have enough chorizo. Luckily, we were still hungry after devouring the starter!



Chilli con carne chimichanga


We didn't have to wait long for our main meals. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw mine... I enjoy  a bit of good presentation! My chimichanga was sitting on a bed of spicy rice and topped with guacamole, sour cream, salsa, chives and tortilla chips. When I cut the chimichanga open, it was oozing with cheese and chilli con carne. They definitely didn't skimp on the filling, and the chilli con carne was the perfect accompaniment to the rest of the burrito. I ate the whole thing and absolutely loved it. Thankfully, they didn't put any pointless salad leaves on the side. Does anyone ever actually eat those?

I haven't always heard good reports about Chimichanga, but I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for a Mexican fix. The staff were friendly and attentive, and I do like the atmosphere in the St David's 2 food court. I cook a lot of Mexican food myself as I find it quite easy, but I wouldn't be able to reach the standard of the food above. Although the meal was fairly expensive at approximately £34 for two of us with no drinks (we both had tap water), we did have a large starter which went some way towards justifying the cost. 

Has anyone else been to Chimichanga? What did you think? 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Book review: Past Mortem, Ben Elton



Ben Elton is definitely one of my favourite authors of all time. My fascination with his books started when I read Dead Famous a few years ago after picking it up in a charity shop, and I've read another seven of his books since then. I love the way he chooses timely and controversial topics and bases his books around them in a satirical and usually humorous manner. For example, Dead Famous takes a satirical look at the UK's obsession with reality TV; Meltdown explores the life-changing issues posed by the credit crunch, bankers' greed and MPs' fraudulent expense claims; and High Society discusses the legalisation of drugs. However, Past Mortem is probably my favourite book yet by Ben Elton which is why I've decided to review it!

No spoilers :)

Past Mortem begins with a brutal murder, which introduces the reader to Detective Inspector Newson. Due to the unusual and methodical method of Bishop's murder, Newson is convinced that he has a serial killer on his hands. After further investigation, Newson finds three unsolved murders in various parts of the country which have similar characteristics such as the unusual killing method and the fact that the killer was welcomed into the victims' homes without any sign of struggle. Convinced that these murders must be connected in some way, Newson starts investigating the lives of all the victims. He encounters a similar attitude from all who knew the victims: 'I'm glad they're dead'. There seems to be a strong general consensus that the victims deserved everything that happened to them, however brutal and horrific.

In the meantime, the murderer is still on the loose and kills another five people before Newson figures out his/her identity. Newson establishes a link between the murders long before this, but still cannot fathom why the victims let the murderer in to their homes without question or suspicion. Newson has found out through his investigations that all the victims were bullies who made other people's lives a misery when they were in school and in later life. The murderer appears to be on a mission to punish bullies by killing them and using their own bullying methods against them. Newson is constantly wondering which bully will be targeted next.

The book has a few sub plots which link well with the 'victim' and 'bully' theme running throughout the book. DI Newson is in love with his subordinate, Sergeant Natasha Wilkie. Natasha herself is a victim of bullying in the form of domestic abuse, but she is in denial like so many other victims. Newson often sees the parallels between Natasha's situation and the victims of the bullies who are being murdered, but Natasha herself is either blind to this reality or chooses to ignore it. Newson gets involved with two other women during the course of the book who coincidentally become involved in the murders for very different reasons. This corroboration between the plot and numerous sub plots is very clever and makes the book even more gripping. The reader is constantly assessing whether the main characters are 'victims' or 'bullies'. Or both!

Did the bullies deserve their fate due to their past behaviour? Is murder really the only way to teach bullies a lesson and to silence them for ever? Are the people who stood by and watched the bullying just as bad as the perpetrators themselves? These are just a few of the questions posed throughout the book and they really make the reader think. I was bullied myself in school and could empathise with the bullied victims in the book on so many levels. Bullies erode your self confidence, make you dread going to school (or to wherever the bullies are) and generally make you feel worthless and helpless. They also make you feel very bitter towards the people who just stand by and watch without stepping in to help or, even worse, laugh at your treatment. However, if I was on the sidelines watching someone else being bullied, would I have stepped in? I wouldn't have dreamed of interfering when I was in school, and I'm not sure if I'd even be brave enough now. Why make yourself known to the bully and make yourself a target if they're picking on someone else? A very selfish attitude, but one which is massively prevailing and probably always will be. Does this attitude make the bystanders just as bad as the bully themselves? Past Mortem deconstructs this attitude and others in the most gruesome way and makes the reader question the reasons behind specific behaviours.

So, to sum up, Past Mortem is a fantastic book and you should definitely read it. I did guess who the murderer was halfway through the book (probably because I read so many crime books), but I still couldn't put the book down and was totally gripped from beginning to end. The book really made me think about some complex issues, including my own experiences of being a victim of bullying, and made me question a lot of accepted and prevalent attitudes which I quite often display myself. If you do read the book, let me know what you thought!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Duffy's first holiday

I visited my parents last week and decided to take Duffy the Disney Bear with me on his very first holiday. Just humour me, please. The whole aim of having a Duffy bear is to photograph him in lots of different places, so I'm not totally mad. Here are a few photos of Duffy enjoying himself in West Wales in his Lightning McQueen outfit!










Next stop - Florida!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Frantic about Florida #9

My holiday to Florida is edging ever closer, so this is my penultimate Frantic about Florida post! As you can probably guess, my excitement has now reached fever pitch and it's difficult to remain calm at times. I haven't quite started packing yet, but I have written my packing list. Eeep! 

You can read all the previous posts on the links below:

Frantic about Florida #1
Frantic about Florida #2
Frantic about Florida #3
Frantic about Florida #4
Frantic about Florida #5
Frantic about Florida #6
Frantic about Florida #7
Frantic about Florida #8


So here goes... another five things I'm looking forward to!


1. Character statues at The Magic Kingdom



So cute!


2. Hogsmeade at Universal's Islands of Adventure



You genuinely feel as if you've stepped right in to a scene from Harry Potter... 
obviously that's the aim of the whole thing


3. Pretzels


Quite possibly the best snack in the world (apart from churros)


4. Mission Space at Epcot


One of the weirdest sensations I've ever experienced, but I still
want to go back for more!


5. Gorillas in Animal Kingdom


I wanted to give him a big hug! He probably wouldn't have liked that...


Look out for the last instalment in a fortnight's time! 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Jewellery picks of the month

I own a lot of jewellery, to put it mildly. Bracelets, rings, earrings, necklaces... I love them all. I've usually got a few items to go with every outfit, and I think accessories can really brighten up whatever you're wearing. They can also dress an outfit up or down, depending on what look you're going for. I've got a few summery favourites for this month which I thought I'd share with you. All these items are either neutral colours or very colourful which means they go with almost anything. Bonus!



Bracelets from New York and Downtown Disney in Florida



Rings from Epcot in Florida. So summery!



Earrings from New Look, Claire's Accessories (about eight years old!) and Tesco


I'm can't wait to buy more jewellery when I go back to Florida in a few weeks' time. I'm planning to come back with lots of Disney earrings! Do you love jewellery? What are your favourites? 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Cardiff Bay Beach!

Yes, you did read the title correctly. There is actually a makeshift beach and associated beachy frivolities in Cardiff Bay. When I first heard about this, I thought it was the most ridiculous idea I'd ever heard. However, when I visited the 'beach' last Friday, I absolutely loved it and thought it was a great concept.




The beach and its surrounding festivities are situated in the 'dome' outside Cardiff Bay's Millennium Centre, right in the heart of Mermaid Quay and all its bars and restaurants. There's a beach with deckchairs, pool area, crazy golf, cocktail bar, ice cream hut, artificial palm trees, helter skelter and loads more. It's amazing how much they've managed to cram into the space! The area was filled with people and, miraculously, it wasn't tacky at all. Let's be honest, an idea like this could have gone terribly wrong and ended up being a tacky disaster. 

Unfortunately (and typically), the weather has deteriorated since the beach opened so it probably hasn't been as popular as it could have been. Hopefully the weather will improve again in the next few weeks so that people can make the most of it before the end of the summer holidays. 







I'm hoping to fit in another visit to Cardiff Bay Beach before I go on holiday... I might even have a cheeky cocktail next time. Has anyone visited the 'beach'? What did you think of it?

P.S. Thanks to my boyfriend for taking these photos... I still haven't got my smartphone back so couldn't take any myself! 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Sidoli's ice cream

I've made no secret of the fact that I love ice cream more than most normal people. It's just the best thing ever. Although Joe's Ice Cream and the strawberry ice cream at The Magic Kingdom remain firmly at the top of my list, I have found a new rival! We went to Bridgend's designer outlet a few weeks ago and decided to pop in to Sidoli's for an ice cream. I haven't had Sidoli's ice cream for years as it doesn't have many outlets so I was pretty excited about trying it again. We went for three scoops each (judge away), but the server was very generous so it was more like six scoops!




I went for Raspberry Ripple, vanilla with tiny chocolate pieces (I can't remember the official name...) and toffee fudge. It was like a huge lump of happiness in a tub. Amazing. 

Are there any other Sidoli's fans out there? If you haven't tried it, you need to!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Restaurant review: Ed's Easy Diner

Ed's Easy Diner has been on our list of places to eat for months, and we finally ventured there last weekend. For those of you who aren't familiar with Ed's Easy Diner, the Cardiff branch is situated in the St David's 2 food court. We went at around 4pm so it was pretty quiet and we were seated straight away. I was practically drooling as I read the menu... I wanted to try everything! I was torn between having a hot dog or a burger, but I finally settled on a Chilli Cheese Burger Combo Plate. This consisted of a chilli cheese burger (obviously), chips, onion rings and coleslaw for £10.45. I've heard amazing things about the milkshakes at Ed's Easy Diner so I was tempted to have one of those too, but I decided not to succumb to the temptation of adding even more calories to my already hefty meal.



YUM.


The food arrived quickly and I really can't fault any of it. The onion rings were just the right level of crispy, the chips were the best I've tasted for a very long time, the burger was cooked perfectly, the chilli was goooood and even the bun was toasted to perfection. I couldn't really taste the cheese on the burger but I'm not a huge fan of cheese so that was fine by me. I'm a massive ketchup fiend so I liked the fact that they put a little pot of it on my plate. Simple things! 

The atmosphere in Ed's Easy Diner is very informal and the staff were all very friendly and helpful. I like the American diner interior, and also like the fact that the kitchen is in plain view. Very authentic!

I would most definitely visit Ed's Easy Diner again and would highly recommend it to others. Our whole meal cost approximately £26 for two combo plates and two diet Cokes which makes Ed's Easy Diner one of the cheaper places in the St David's 2 food court. Just one tip... it always looks very busy in there between 6pm and 8pm, especially over the weekend, so you're probably better off visiting just before the dinner rush like we did. 

Has anyone else been to Ed's Easy Diner lately? What did you think?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Happiness is... #2

It's time for the second instalment of my 'Happiness is...' posts. If you want to know more about the background of these posts, you can read the first instalment here. Again, I've linked to previous blog posts where relevant so that you can read about what makes me happy in a bit more detail.

So here are another 25 little things which make me happy!

26. Hot chocolate with marshmallows
27. Christmas
28. Receiving a random card or letter
29. Having a Pinterest binge
30. Making chocolate brownies
31. Surprising someone I care about
32. Writing my packing list before I go on holiday
33. My extensive collection of teddies
34. Eating at The Harvester
35. Finding something amazing in the sales
36. Poached eggs on toast
37. Novelty socks
38. Not having to pay council tax in February and March
39. Receiving my new Tesco Clubcard vouchers
40. Getting good grades
41. Going to the cinema
42. Playing with Tara and Homer
43. High School Musical
44. Having a lie in
45. An overwhelming sense of relief after weeks of stress
46. Eating a churro
47. Reading the Harry Potter books
48. A clean and tidy flat
49. Watching Friends... it never gets old!
50. Meeting up with a friend I haven't seen or spoken to for months and just picking up where we left off


That was very therapeutic... what makes you happy?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Frantic about Florida #8

One month to go until I go on holiday! I'm almost tempted to count down the hours... I'm THAT excited. On that note, it's time for the eighth post in my Frantic about Florida series. You can read the previous posts on the links below:

Frantic about Florida #1
Frantic about Florida #2
Frantic about Florida #3
Frantic about Florida #4
Frantic about Florida #5
Frantic about Florida #6
Frantic about Florida #7


Here are another five things I'm super excited about...


1. The Magic Kindgom's overwhelming cheese factor 


The parades, shows and rides are massively cheesy and I love it!


2. The wave pool in Typhoon Lagoon


I stayed firmly in the shallow end but it was still a lot of fun.


3. Breakfast at Perkins'


Bacon and avocado omelette, breakfast potatoes, three buttermilk pancakes 
and an orange juice... Needless to say, I didn't manage to eat all of it. 


4. The Hulk ride at Universal's Islands of Adventure


Exhilarating!


5. 'Friendship' boat from Epcot to Hollywood Studios



Relaxing boat ride with beautiful views of some of the nicest resorts


EEEEEEEEEP! Two instalments to go... watch this space. 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Barry M's Gelly range

I've wanted to try Barry M's Gelly Hi-Shine range for months. I finally caved last weekend and bought the Greenberry colour as it looked so bright and summery.




I've read a lot of reviews about the Gelly range which say that the nail varnish is quite difficult to apply as it's thicker than normal nail varnish... they are all correct! When applying normal nail varnish, I put a minimal amount on the brush as I hate ending up with a clumpy effect. However, with the Gelly polish, you have to put a substantial amount on the brush or you end up with very streaky nails. Not a good look.

Gelly nail varnish might be a bit tricky to apply, but it's worth the effort as it looks AMAZING. It's super shiny and beautifully bright with just one coat.





These photos don't do it justice... 
the finished colour is much brighter than this!


I'm hoping the colour won't chip easily as it's thicker than the usual nail varnish I use... watch this space!

I will definitely be buying more colours in this range, and I think I'll go for one of the bright pink shades next. Any recommendations?