Thursday, 31 January 2013

Everyone loves a good questionnaire... tag, you're it!

Earlier this week, Liz tagged me in her Tag You're It! post. When I realised it involved me filling in a questionnaire about myself, I was pretty excited. I used to love filling these things in when I was younger and haven't done one for years. I'm new to the whole blogging scene so I haven't actually tagged anyone, but feel free to answer the questions I was set if you want to! Here goes...

The rules:Answer the 11 questions set.
Mention the blog who tagged you.

Here are my questions from Liz:

What really irritates you?
Lots of things... I'm not very tolerant sometimes! My top three pet peeves are probably bad grammar and punctuation, bad drivers and attention seekers.

What have you done that's made you feel really proud?
I think the proudest I've ever been of myself was when I got my 3 As in my A Levels which meant I could go to Cardiff University to study English Literature. I was genuinely worried that I wasn't going to get the grades, even though I'd worked my socks off. 

What's your favourite flavour of crisps?
This is a difficult one... I LOVE CRISPS. I'll say good old Salt and Vinegar. 

Snog, marry, push off a cliff: Ross, Chandler, Joey.
Hmm... I love all three, but I think Ross would be the most annoying if I was friends with him, even though I do really love his character. So I'd have to push Ross off a cliff, snog Joey and marry Chandler. 

Cats or dogs?
Dogs. Cats are easier to look after, but I love the way dogs are so loyal and always so pleased to see you even if you've only been gone for five minutes. 

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Radioactive, McFly

Have you ever been on TV?
I was on a few S4C programmes when I was younger, nothing major. Is there actually anything major on S4C these days? I've also been shown on TV in various rugby matches over the years... the most embarrassing was when there was a big close up of me crying when Cardiff played their last game at the Arms Park (before moving back again last year). They'd just made a big speech about Rhys Williams, Jamie Robinson and Nicky Robinson having to retire/leave the club, of course I was crying! 

Which four fictional characters would you like to go to the pub with?
Little Cousin Scampy, The Beast, Ron Weasley and Dougal from Father Ted. What an interesting crew we'd be. 

If you won £20,000, what would you spend it on?
If I was being responsible, a deposit for a house. Otherwise, I'd buy some kind of tablet (probably not an iPad though), all the Disney DVDs I need, a Superdry coat, a new car (I love mine but he's slowly dying and costing me a fortune), and laser eye surgery. 

If you could make one food completely fat and calorie free, which food would you choose?

Tell me about a time when you laughed so hard that you could hardly breathe.
Most work nights out, mostly as a result of Jen, Montgomery Clift or both... You kind of have to be there though, so I won't try to explain why! Also many occasions in uni, again too many to mention. Cop out answer, I know.

Go on, you answer them too!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Chilli bean con carne

I've been trying to widen my cooking horizons, so tonight I cooked chilli con carne properly for the first time. I used a recipe from this amazing book I had from my Secret Santa at work... my love of baked beans is a bit of a running joke in the office.

Here are the ingredients I used:

500g minced beef
70g chorizo (my own addition!)
One tin of baked beans
One tin of chopped tomatoes
1 onion
1 pepper (again, the recipe didn't include this but I have an insatiable love for peppers)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 teaspoon of chilli powder
2 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs
Lots of Fry Lite!

The recipe also tells you to use 2 red chillies, but I didn't this time as I haven't used chillies before and didn't want to accidentally make the food too spicy. I don't mind a bit of spice, but I do like to be able to taste my food rather than it burning all my taste buds off. 

It was very simple to make, which is always helpful. I cooked the mince first, then added the chorizo, onions, peppers and garlic. After heating those for about 5 minutes, I added the tomato puree, herbs and chilli powder, then added the beans and tomatoes last of all. 

Using baked beans instead of kidney beans was definitely a good variation, and I think it actually improves the taste of the sauce. And chorizo makes everything taste better, obviously.

What shall I cook next?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Girly post #1... the wonder of Soap & Glory!

My first beauty post just had to focus on Soap & Glory. My friends introduced it to me last year, and I've been madly in love ever since. Here's a selection of some of my Soap & Glory products:

Their products range from shower gels, body butters, moisturisers and face washes to make up, perfume, body sprays and cleansing wipes. I'm yet to sample a product I haven't liked! Soap & Glory products are fairly expensive compared to supermarkets' own brands or brands such as Radox, but they're usually available on a 3 for 2 basis  in Boots. They also occasionally have great discounts on their gift sets which could save you lots of ££s. I don't believe in spending unnecessary amounts of money on products just for the sake of the brand, but I do believe it's worth spending a bit extra on Soap & Glory products because they're that good.

Here are my top 5 Soap & Glory products:

Smoothie Star - This moisturising body milk genuinely tastes good enough to eat. It rubs in very easily and doesn't leave your skin feeling greasy. Best of all, it leaves you smelling beautiful for ages!

Flake Away - This body scrub is lovely and grainy, and leaves your skin feeling soft and totally moisturised after your shower. It's a great exfoliator, and smells amazing.

Peaches & Clean - This is the best face wash I've ever used. It smells peachy (obviously) and gives a nice cooling sensation. I especially like using this face wash after wearing make up all day as it's a great cleanser.

Sugar Crush - This is another amazing body scrub. It smells sweeter than Flake Away and isn't quite as grainy, so I like to use this one when I'm more concerned about smelling nice than about exfoliating.

Hand Food - The best hand cream in the world, ever. It makes your hands feeling soft and supple, doesn't leave you feeling greasy and smells delightful. An essential ingredient for your handbag! I've already converted both my parents into using it, and hopefully I'll convert some of you too. 

Can anyone recommend any other products I haven't got in my collection? What's your favourite Soap & Glory product?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Restaurant review: Pizza Express

I go to Pizza Express pretty often, and only ever have good things to say about it. I usually go the St David's 2 restaurant, but last weekend I went to the one on High Street instead as there was a huge queue outside the other one. That's the problem with the food court at St David's 2... a lovely selection of restaurants, but they're nearly always full with a 45 minute wait for a table. If you've met me, you'll know that I'm not good at waiting for my food. Anyway, Pizza Express came to the rescue on Saturday evening.

We were seated within five minutes, and the waiters were very friendly as usual. We didn't order starters on this occasion, as we've learnt our lesson from previous visits. Don't waste valuable space on a generic starter when their pizza is so good! It can also be quite an expensive meal if you order starters as well as mains. I ordered a Giardiniera Classic Pizza, which consists of artichokes, mushrooms, red peppers, santos tomatoes, leeks, olives, garlic oil, and a tomato and pesto base. I asked for it without olives, because I positively can't stand the things.

Looks amazing, right? It was.

We did have to wait about 30 minutes for our food, but that was understandable as the restaurant was very busy. When it arrived, it was well worth the wait. We both cleared our plates, and were predictably too full for dessert. 

The only negative thing about the visit was that we had to wait about 15 minutes for the bill after asking for it, and we were in a hurry to get to the cinema to see Lincoln. An annoyance, but it certainly wouldn't put me off going again. 

I'm now going to write a positive restaurant review on Trip Advisor... I have become obsessed with Trip Advisor. 

What are other people's opinions on Pizza Express? 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

5 songs which remind me of my teenage years

I actually got in to music a lot later than normal people, seeing as I always had my head buried in a book. However, once I did start getting interested in music, I bought some amazing (in my opinion) singles. I still own most of these singles on my iTunes, and they've become synonymous with my teenage years and the various experiences I went through, good and bad. Let's be honest, you have a lot of bad experiences when you're a teenager which always seem a lot worse at the time. Here are the top 5... I've also included the YouTube links so that you can have the pleasure of watching the videos after all these years. You lucky, lucky people.

Back for Good, Take That
I used to play this song over and over again before I'd even had the pleasure of going through a break up... naturally I played it even more when that first joyous event took place. I might have been less angsty if I'd realised that there was worse to come in my early 20s. Ah well, you live and learn, as they say. I've now seen Take That live twice, and can confirm that they are amazing. No, I don't include Robbie Williams in that judgement.

Bring it all Back, S Club 7
I used to watch Miami 7 religiously in the 90s, and was a little bit obsessed with S Club 7. I still own every album they ever released and listen to them regularly... I especially enjoy singing along to their songs enthusiastically when I'm driving. Bring it all Back was a particular favourite because it made me feel better about being bullied, but S Club Party and Reach are close contenders. Don't stop, never give up!

Better Best Forgotten, Steps
I never actually owned a Steps album when I was a teenager, but I used to 'borrow' my sister's all the time. Don't worry, I own them all now, I found a beautiful box set of all their albums in the HMV sale. Again, very difficult to choose a favourite but I think it has to be Better Best Forgotten... Again, it helped me through a lot of teenage angst, or at least I thought it did at the time. Being a teenager is horrible, isn't it?

If I Let You Go, Westlife
I definitely fancied most of Westlife when I was a teenager, on a shallow note... I did like their songs too though. I got to see them live a few years ago, and they were actually really good and put on a brilliant show. Continuing with the angsty theme, I used to play this song mournfully when I was too shy to tell a boy I liked them (which was all the time). Ugh, remember those days? When you had to tell your friend you liked someone, then they told that someone's friend, then they told that someone, who then reported back to their friend, who reported back to your friend, who reported back to you? I really hope that didn't just happen in my school.

Rollercoaster, B*Witched
This song is amazing... I wore out my cassette back in the day because I listened to it so much. Whatever happened to B*Witched anyway? I heard a rumour that they're getting back together... PLEASE LET IT BE TRUE.

So there are my top 5 songs from my teenage years, which I'm not going to pretend I don't still listen to. Other people love some of these too, right?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Top 10 films

I thought I'd write a blog about my top ten films, which is actually harder than it sounds. First of all, I had to actually decide what my top ten films are, which is difficult when I've seen more films in the last two years than you could shake a stick at. I also have some firm favourites from my childhood which just had to be included. However, after doing some brainstorming, I think I've come up with a definitive list. These aren't in any particular order, it was hard enough to choose a top ten let alone deciding on a specific order of preference. Don't worry, they're not all Disney films. I also didn't include any of the Harry Potter films, because I couldn't choose a favourite and I'd like to write a separate blog post on those one day. Here's the list, with very short descriptions about why I chose these particular films...

1. About a Boy
Absolutely love this film. I can actually recite most of the dialogue because I've seen it so many times. I don't usually like the characters Hugh Grant plays, but he does a brilliant job in this film. 10/10!

2. Home Alone
I don't think anything needs to be said about the calibre of Home Alone... everyone loves Home Alone, right?

3. The Lion King
A Disney classic with brilliant songs. Hakuna Matata!

4. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days
A nice typical chick flick, which is actually hilarious. Don't be put off by the fact that it's a chick flick, you might actually enjoy it.

5. High School Musical
Cheeeeeeeeese! Love it.

6. Carnage
I saw this in the cinema about a year ago and pre ordered it straight away. A lot of people didn't enjoy it at all and thought it was plain weird, but I think it's very clever and extremely funny. Kate Winslet is actually brilliant in it, which isn't a sentence I say very often.

7. The Truman Show
I'm not usually a fan of  Jim Carrey, but he's fantastic in this film. I love the whole concept of it, and the way the truth is revealed slowly throughout the film before hitting you fully at the end. Such a sad film in many ways.

8. Nativity
A lovely heart warming film which makes you laugh and cry in equal measures. Martin Freeman is great (as usual), but the very lovable Mr Poppy steals the show!

9. Invictus
Invictus is a very poignant film, and I always have goosebumps throughout. You don't need to be a rugby fan to enjoy this film, but it certainly contributes towards the goosebumps if you are! Morgan Freeman is immense as Mandela, and Matt Damon makes a great Francois Pienaar.

10. Remember Me
I cried buckets when I watched this in the cinema... you might not be a fan of Robert Pattinson (I'm not), but he really brings something extra to this film. Shocking in parts and desperately sad in others, you'll definitely need your tissues for this one.

I know none of these films are particularly profound, but I could watch them all over and over again without getting tired of them. What are your favourite films?

Friday, 25 January 2013


I've decided to be a lot more adventurous with my cooking in 2013, which is why I baked cupcakes and chocolate chip shortbread earlier this month. However, I also need to cook more adventurous main meals... I currently live on beans on toast, poached eggs on toast, pasta and pesto, and various sauces out of jars. This week, I decided to cook fajitas for the first time.

Here's what I used:

340g of diced turkey breast (I used turkey because it's cheaper than chicken, and needed it to be diced because I can't actually stand the thought of cutting raw meat myself)
100g of chorizo (BEST MEAT EVER)
1 onion
2 peppers
2 cloves of garlic
1 packet of Asda's own Fajita Seasoning Mix (49p - bargain!)
1 packet of wraps
A lot of Fry Lite (the seasoning mix stuck to the bottom of the wok if you didn't spray plenty of Fry Lite at it)

I basically just chopped it all up, shoved it in the wok and mixed it up... not the most difficult meal to cook. I cooked the turkey well (probably too well) before putting anything else in, due to my meat paranoia

I can confirm that the wraps were very delicious, and I had enough left over to take to work for lunch the next day. I think everyone was pretty shocked to see a variation on the old beans and toast/pasta and pesto theme. Yummers!

I think my next creation might be chilli con carne with a twist... watch this space. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

New baby :)

One of my best friends has recently had a beautiful baby boy, and I had the pleasure of visiting him this week. I bought this Disney set of clothing for him... actually the cutest outfit I've seen for a while.

I think I should count myself lucky that I haven't got any babies, as I'd spend an absolute fortune on cute clothing for them and might actually run out of money for important things like, you know, food. 

Short blog post tonight, I know. Coursework got in the way. Apologies. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

12 best bits of 2012

I'm feeling nostalgic, so I thought I'd write a post about the 12 things I enjoyed most in 2012. Unfortunately I haven't got photographs to go with all these events, as I really didn't take enough photos last year. Apart from when I went to Florida, where I took over a thousand photos. It just had to be done... see item 5. Anyway, here are my best bits of 2012! I've written them in chronological order, because that's just the kind of thing I do.

1. New Year's Day
I'm not usually a fan of new year, but last New Year's Day was really lovely. I'd hosted a party at my house the night before which was actually a bit stressful, so it was nice to be able to relax the day after (once we'd finished tidying). Five of us went into town and did some shopping, then went to the cinema to see Hugo. I'd definitely recommend this film if you haven't seen it, it's only £5 at the moment. We then went back to my house, put our pyjamas on and watched some TV. It might not sound like the most exciting day, but it was nice and relaxing... even if it did rain a lot.

2. Matthew's first birthday
It was my nephew's first birthday last January, so we all travelled to Southampton for a little party. He opened all his presents and mostly got excited about paper and boxes, then we went to the Harvester for lunch. I absolutely love the Harvester, so it was an excellent choice. I bought Matthew a very cute teddy from the Bear Factory, and he had loads of clothes, toys, puzzles and other things babies are fond of from other people. Seeing his lovely smile all day put everyone else in a good mood, so it was a cheery day all round.

3. England 12 Wales 19
Winning the Grand Slam was obviously going to be included in my 'best bits of 2012', but my favourite game from last year's campaign was England v Wales. My boyfriend and I watched the game in The Rummer Tavern in Cardiff city centre, and the atmosphere was brilliant. The pub was full of a mixture of Welsh and English fans and there were no idiots in there, which is always nice. I was being pessimistic towards the end as I thought the game would end in a draw or that we'd lose at the last minute, then Scott Williams made everyone's day (well, every Welsh person's day) by scoring a try with 5 minutes left on the clock. I jumped up and down, everyone else jumped up and down, drinks were spilt, people's toes got stood on, but no one cared because WE BEAT ENGLAND. This win clinched our 20th Triple Crown and made me a very happy bunny. 

4. Cocktail night
A group of us from work went for cocktails in Ten Feet Tall one Friday night last March and had a hilarious night. We must have sampled every cocktail on the menu between us and managed to collectively spend £180. There were 9 of us, so that's not as extravagant as it sounds. The cocktails were 'buy one get one free' though, so we must have drunk an awful lot between us. My stomach muscles were genuinely hurting from laughing so hard, and Montgomery Clift got mentioned a lot. You had to be there to know why that was so funny. Work nights out are always brilliant!

5. Florida
I went to Florida with my boyfriend in April last year, and it was AMAZING. I have quite honestly never been anywhere like it. We stayed in Disney's Coronado Springs, and went to ten theme parks altogether over the two weeks (Six Disney World parks, two Universal parks, Sea World and Busch Gardens). It might sound cheesy, but it really is a magical place. I truly felt as if I was in a lovely childlike bubble for the whole fortnight. We ate in some amazing restaurants and saw three spectacular night shows, as well as a few parades and animal shows. I can't describe it all as I'll be here for ever and I won't do it justice, but it really was the best holiday I've ever had. You're never too grown up for this kind of holiday! Oh, and I ate loads but didn't put on weight because we did so much walking. Win win!

6. My birthday
I had a lovely birthday weekend last year, and my birthday actually fell on a bank holiday thanks to the Queen's Jubilee. Thanks, Queenie. My three friends came to stay for the weekend, and we ate lots of food and wore house trousers a lot. Standard. We went to Red Hot World Buffet and Nando's (not on the same night, we're not that bad), and ate a lot of Rocky Road and Strawberry Cheesecake (thanks Liz and Neil!). I spent my actual birthday with Neil and we went to Caffe Nero, shopping, cinema and Balti Cuisine. The food theme continues, obviously. So a tremendous weekend/day was had by all! 

7. Week in West Wales, with exciting news!
I always spend a week in my parents' house in West Wales at the end of August, and last year was no exception. It's a chance to relax, spend time with my parents, go for nice walks in the countryside and catch up with old friends. It also provides an opportunity to go to the best Home Bargains store I've ever been to in my life. Seriously, it's huge. Last year's visit to West Wales was made especially exciting by the fact that one of my best friends told me she was expecting a baby while we were out having the traditional Indian meal we always have when I go back home. This obviously made me very excited and made my trip home an even nicer occasion. 

8. New flat
I moved to my new flat last August. It's the first time I've lived by myself, and I'm really enjoying it. I'd been house sharing for 8 years, and I think you just get to the point where you want your own space. It's a lovely flat in a convenient area, and I have a designated parking space for the first time ever. Goodbye, parking permits! I think the kitchen is my favourite room... obviously this photo was taken before I'd moved in properly, it's a bit fuller than that now. It's still that clean though, I'm a clean freak.  

9. Edinburgh
Neil and I went to Edinburgh twice last year. It's such a vibrant city with so much to see, I don't think I'll ever get tired of it. I've now been five times, and counting. We ate a lot of food (obviously), saw all the landmarks and had some lovely scenic walks. The October trip was probably my favourite, mostly because we found Greyfriars Bobby's statue which I hadn't seen for years. I love Greyfriars Bobby. I'm pretty sure we'll visit Edinburgh again in the near future as it's a nice place to go for a few days or even a long weekend. Let me know if you need any hotel or restaurant recommendations!

10. Work Christmas lunch 
We all went out to lunch as an organisation just before Christmas to the Promised Land on Windsor Place. I'd finished work for Christmas the day before, so it was a great way to spend my first day of annual leave. I particularly enjoyed the scotch eggs at the buffet... I think I ate about four. After lunch, three of us went to the cinema to see Nativity 2. Brilliant film, just as good as the first film in my opinion. I then finished my Christmas shopping in town, then went home to wrap Christmas presents and to watch Home Alone. Perfect Christmassy day!

11. Fake Christmas 
As I always spend Christmas at home with my parents, Neil and I had our own 'fake Christmas' the weekend before actual Christmas. This is not to be confused with the other Fake Christmas, which took place after actual Christmas, just to confuse you. Neil bought me some fantastic presents including an iPod Nano, a giant Pluto, Disney DVDs and a starry dressing gown. We had Domino's pizza, spent some time in Penarth and in town, and just generally felt all Christmassy. Fake Christmasses are the way forward!

12. Christmas 
I could never write a blog post about my favourite events of 2012 without including actual Christmas. I love Christmas more than any normal person should, and it is without a doubt my favourite time of the year. I enjoy the whole build up to it, and feel like a big child throughout the whole thing. I also get to eat a lot, which seems to be a constant theme throughout my blog... hmm. My brother and I still get up early on Christmas Day to open our stockings, and still get just as excited as we did when we were little when we see all the presents under the tree. I had a Kindle for Christmas from my parents, so this actually made my day and ensured that I read loads over the Christmas break. My sister, brother in law and nephew came to stay on Christmas Day, so we were all together for most of the big day. Matthew understood a bit more this year, and it was so nice to see him getting excited about all his presents and eating his own little Christmas dinner. We watched loads of Christmas films together, and I can confirm that Matthew's favourite was Ratatouille. I LOVE CHRISTMAS. 

So there you have it, my best bits of 2012! To conclude... I ate a lot.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sundays were made for walking

I love a good walk. My boyfriend and I always try to make time for a walk around Penarth on a Sunday afternoon... partly to walk off some of the copious amounts of food we've eaten over the weekend, partly to get some fresh air and partly to look at posh houses I wish I lived in. Last Sunday was no exception, despite the freezing temperatures and slippery bits of snow which were still hanging around suspiciously waiting to catch me out. None of them have succeeded (yet). Here are some photos from our walk:

Totally wasn't ready for this photo to be taken, which is why I'm pulling a silly face. Please note, I'm wearing my new jeans from Sunday's post

I was actually ready for this one, but am still pulling a silly face. I like to call this my 'photo face'. When will I learn to smile for photos without looking ridiculous?

I want this house.

And this one.

Where do other people like to go for their walks? And do other people have a 'photo face' which makes them look ridiculous, or is it really just me?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Restaurant review: Balti Cuisine

Balti Cuisine has to be one of my favourite restaurants in the world, ever. It's on Woodville Road in Cathays, right in the middle of Student Land. I wasn't even a massive curry fan when my friends introduced me to the restaurant and always used to stick to Chicken Tikka Masala just to be safe, but it's always been a firm favourite. The service is always spectacular, and the same group of people have been working there since I discovered it 6 or 7 years ago. They're attentive to each individual customer's needs, and are always really friendly. When 16 of us booked a table there for my birthday a few years ago, the manager gave us all a free shot of sambuca before we left! I don't like sambuca, but the thought was there.

The prices are very reasonable, and they offer student discount. Considering the locality in which they operate, this was a very sensible marketing decision! They also offer an amazing 25% when you order food to take away. Myself and my boyfriend have actually driven to Cathays from Penarth when we've fancied a takeaway, even though there are plenty of local places we could have gone to. It's that good. I've introduced quite a few people to this restaurant, and they've all agreed that the food is scrumdiddlyumptious and that the restaurant has a very pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Definitely the best Indian restaurant I've been to Cardiff... possibly the best Indian restaurant I've been to anywhere. I definitely miss living within walking distance of Balti Cuisine. Please try it out if you're looking for a new Indian restaurant to sample, you won't be disappointed!

The menu offers all the traditional favourites you'd expect, as well as a few lesser known dishes and specialities

These panes are situated at various points throughout the restaurant... I think they're so pretty!

My favourite... Vegetable Dopiaza!

Balti Cuisine's pilau rice is among the best I've ever tasted... no exaggeration

No visit to an Indian restaurant (or any restaurant, in fact) is complete without an after dinner mint!

Go on, go to Balti Cuisine next weekend. You know you want to. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snow and shopping

A useful tip for you... If you want to visit Bridgend's Designer Outlet (McArthur Glen) when it's quiet, you need to go when South Wales has experienced a bit of snow. We decided to drive there yesterday, and the roads and the outlet itself were beautifully quiet. I actually went there with some specific purchases in mind... a new pair of jeans and a hat. Miraculously, I came away with a new pair of jeans and a hat. That almost never happens to me, especially when it comes to buying jeans. My phobia of buying jeans deserves a whole blog post of its own, so I won't go into that right now. I needed to restrain myself from buying everything in O'Neill seeing as they had a massive sale, but I managed to restrict myself to just buying the hat. £4.95 down from £20... bargain. I'm sure you'll agree.

Ta dahhh! I don't look good in hats, but I don't care. It's cold, and might be even colder when I go to New York.

Even though I'm not the biggest fan of snow, the roads and surrounding areas did look very picturesque. When we got to the outlet, the staff had done a brilliant job of shifting snow in the car park, and in the outlet itself. I was taking photos as if I'd never seen snow before... I blame my new year resolution to take more photographs. Here are some of my favourites:

The A4232! Don't panic, I wasn't actually driving, just photographing incessantly. 

Another bit of the A4232...

Trees outside the outlet. Looks like a Christmas card!

Piles of snow in the car park

Piles of snow in the actual walkways...

MASSIVE pile of snow. I like piles of snow, can you tell? As long as they're not in my way. 

More snow in the car park... I think these photos are interesting, ok?

A summing up of my weekend purchases... aforementioned jeans and hat, as well as some Disney pyjamas from Asda which I didn't really need. 

I am aware that a lot of these posts aren't actually filled with very interesting information (or interesting photos, for that matter). However, I like finding a use for my photos, and I find blogging quite therapeutic, even if I'm just blogging about what I've been up to. So more similar posts to follow... sorry, peeps.  

Saturday, 19 January 2013

My staple 42p meal!

Ironically, although I really love food, I hate spending money on it. I don't mind spending money when I'm eating out, probably because I'm paying for the experience as well as the food, but I really begrudge paying a lot for my weekly/monthly shop. If I'm not buying meat and don't include eating out, I can usually manage to spend about £30 on my food for the month. Yes, I mean month, not week. My shopping list usually consists of pasta, rice, beans, potatoes, pesto, onions, peppers, garlic, bread, yoghurt, apples, noodles, eggs, curry sauce, stir fry sauce and cereal. I know... Carb Central. It's ok, I go to the gym a lot so I do burn off some of the many carbohydrates I insist on eating. All these items usually cost me £15 to £20, depending on which offers I can find, then I spend £10 to £15 per month on topping up on the things I use most regularly. I do occasionally spoil myself and buy some chorizo, but you can buy that very cheaply in Aldi and it lasts for ages as I don't eat much meat. So... £30 a month is achievable! Only if you live by yourself, obviously. Which, incidentally, I do.

My favourite budget meal is probably pasta and pesto. I usually make this once a week, probably even more often when I'm having a particularly tight month. If you want to make a simple meal which won't cost you much, this is exactly what you're looking for. I always make enough for three portions, so that I can take some to work for lunch on a couple of days. Here's what I use to make three portions, and how much each item costs:

Two thirds of a bag of Tesco Value Pasta (20p)
A quarter of a jar of pesto (25p - you can usually find a jar on offer for £1)
Two onions (15p - it's cheaper to buy individual onions than to buy the packets)
Two peppers (60p - cheaper to buy a big bag of Tesco Value peppers than to buy the packets of 3)
Two cloves of garlic (7p - I find it's cheaper to buy garlic granules in a pot, and they last longer)

This all amounts to £1.27. Then I divide the cost by three as I usually get three meals out of it, which makes each portion 42p! Some people would probably be able to make it last for four meals... I make myself big portions, as you can see from the picture below. Again, don't judge me, I go to the gym. Honestly.

It might look bland, but it really does taste good. And pretty healthy too, as you don't need to use much pesto. One tip... I bought reduced fat pesto last time I went shopping to try to be healthier, but it really doesn't taste as good as the real thing.

Has anyone got any other tips for budget meals? I would like to broaden my cooking horizons, without breaking the bank!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow day...

I'm sure there was a time when I used to like snow, but now I positively can't stand it. It just creates absolute havoc whether we get 1 inch or 10 inches, and for some reason the whole country has to grind to a halt. It also means I can't get to work, because I won't risk driving when I know how many bad drivers there are on the roads who don't take any notice of driving conditions. I would happily walk to work when I lived in Cathays and it was only 2 miles away, but 3.2 miles just seems a bit too far to trek in my wellies.

Also, the snow gets all slushy, slippery and horrible when people have tramped through it hundreds of times... then, to make things worse, it freezes. During the snowy winter of 2010/11, I fell on my backside three times. The most embarrassing time was when I fell on Albany Road in front of what felt like hundreds of people. Snapping 'I'm fine!' at a few people who tried to help me up is not my proudest moment... I was of the impression that people should have conveniently pretended they hadn't seen anything to decrease my embarrassment slightly.

However, I will concede that the snow makes things look very pretty, so here are a few photos from today's walk. I wore wellies and took baby steps to avoid any embarrassing falls. Thankfully, I got to the shops and back safely without any bruises or broken hips.

All wrapped up ready for my walk!

Doesn't look like much snow in this photo...

I've never seen the road this quiet!

Plenty of people managed to get to Asda then... make note of the slushy car park!

What did everyone else get up to today? 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Tea or coffee? No thanks.

This blog post focuses on the rather boring topic of my hatred of tea and coffee and my love for hot chocolate. I'm definitely no Shakespeare.

I always feel like such a child when someone offers me tea or coffee. 'No thanks, can I just have some water please?' That's my standard response, right there. I've tasted each one once, and hated them both. I also don't like the idea of being reliant on caffeine and needing a cup of coffee in the morning before I can function. However, I do love a good hot chocolate and it would be amazing if it was a social convention to offer people hot chocolate as well as tea and coffee. Why isn't it? I would honestly love to know.

I don't even buy fancy/posh hot chocolate. Give me a pot of Options, or even a sachet, and I'll be happy. Current favourite flavours include Dreamy Caramel and Outrageous Orange. AND they're low in calories and fat. Win!

I also love buying novelty mugs for my hot chocolate. Here's the latest purchase, half price in the Disney store:

Perfect for a disgruntled evening!

Anyone else not a fan of tea and coffee? Or is really just me?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

First attempt at making cupcakes

After the success of the chocolate chip shortbread, I decided to make some cupcakes with buttercream icing. These were also pretty easy - spreading the buttercream icing onto the cupcakes was the hardest part, in my humble opinion.

I used this recipe from the Channel 4 food website to make my cupcakes, and this recipe from the BBC food website to make the buttercream icing.

The ingredients I used to make the cupcakes and the icing

12 cupcakes, fresh out of the oven

The finished product! 

I used sugar strands and jelly diamonds to decorate the cupcakes. They're a bit messy but not bad for a first attempt. Next time I think I'll try normal icing with some food colouring, just to mix it up a bit!

Just to clarify, seeing as I posted yesterday about my weight loss, I didn't eat all the shortbread and cupcakes myself!

So Baking Adventure Number Two was a success... what shall I make next?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The gym DOES work!

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I go to the gym regularly (and moan about it just as regularly). Sometimes the gym can be daunting if you don't see immediate results, and I do tend to get downhearted if I don't lose any weight for a while, even though I've been eating healthily and going to the gym nearly every week night. It can just seem like a load of wasted work if there are no tangible improvements. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with my gym! I always feel good after I've gone, but get so frustrated when nothing seems to change.

I've been going to the gym for about 7 years on and off, but have only been going really regularly for the last 12 months. I've also made a big effort in the last 12 months to eat more healthily and to snack less. I am a normal weight so don't need to lose much, but there's always room for improvement. I've also been focusing more on toning up and getting fitter, rather than just getting obsessed with losing pounds. I do still obsess over losing pounds sometimes... I think everyone does at some point.

Anyway, over the last year, I've lost a stone and gone down a clothes size. I've also been measuring myself every two months or so (upper arm, waist, hips, etc) and discovered last week that I've lost 26 inches in total from various measurements since this time last year! This made me very happy, and proved that relying on the weighing scales to monitor your progress isn't always reliable, and definitely isn't satisfying. It also proves that it's ok to eat rubbish sometimes as long as it's all in moderation. And I do love my food!

So going to the gym really does work... that'll certainly give me more motivation to carry on with my routine over the next 12 months.

Now pass me (a small piece of) chocolate!

Monday, 14 January 2013

My introduction to baking - Chocolate Chip Shortbread!

Don't be too shocked, but last week was the first time I've actually attempted to try my hand at baking. Before that, I hadn't even used an oven for about 2 years. I've been meaning to try it for ages, and this Christmas present from Edwina (read Edwina's food blog here) gave me the encouragement I needed:

I decided to start with something simple - Chocolate Chip Shortbread! If you're new to baking, this is a really easy recipe to start with, and it tastes amazing too. Here are the ingredients:

250g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
250g plain flour
125g cornflour
50g chunky chocolate chips

And here are the instructions!

- Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F / Gas Mark 3
- Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (if you're doing this with your hands, I advise you to take your rings off... I didn't, and took me ages to clean them!
- Sift the flour and cornflour on to the butter and mix until you have a smooth dough
- Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the dough and knead in until it's evenly distributed
- Roll out a sheet of clingfilm, tip the dough on to it, then form the dough into a fat sausage. Wrap it up tightly, and leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Here's my (not totally rounded) dough:

- After an hour, remove the roll of dough from the clingfilm and slice into rounds. 
- Place the rounds on baking trays lined with baking paper, and bake for about 30 minutes until they are pale golden
- Take them out of the oven and leave them to cool! Here is the finished result:

Simples. I did find that the chocolate chips were quite hard and not particularly chocolatey, so next time I won't be using them as plain shortbread will be just as good. As you can see, the biscuits aren't totally round, but I didn't mind as I like my shortbread to be a bit rugged and rustic!

So there you have it, my first baking adventure. Keep an eye on my blog to see what I tried next...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Best wedding speech ever?

McFly are my favourite band in the whole world. I've seen them live 7 times, queued for hours to meet them at a signing in HMV, own all their albums, know random facts about all the members, and absolutely adore them. Much to my disappointment, two members of the band got married recently, and the other two probably won't be too far behind.

Tom Fletcher, main singer and guitarist, published the video of his wedding speech this week. Definitely the best wedding speech I've ever listened to! I would never usually watch a YouTube link which is 15 minutes long, but I've already watched this three times. Apparently, so have other people... it's regularly featured on YouTube's homepage. Obviously it's a plus that it's made of McFly songs, but I love the lyrics and emotion too. He's managed to achieve just the right balance between being cheesy, heartfelt and funny. He's also very honest and isn't afraid to admit that public speaking makes him nervous, in spite of frequently singing in front of massive audiences. Here's the video:

Surely even the most cynical person in the world will appreciate this? Even if they don't like McFly? Happy to be proved wrong... let me know what you think!

Oh, and you should follow Tom on Twitter. He's brilliant.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Strivers v Skivers?

I watched a news article on welfare reform a few days ago and was angered by the suggestion that Britain is a nation of ‘strivers v skivers’, where people who work have difficult lives and people on benefits don’t work and are pampered. Do people genuinely think the divide is that simple? Of course, it could be argued that the UK Government are feeding this ideology with their drastic welfare cuts. Their logic is that being in work needs to be more beneficial than being on benefits. This would be a fair assumption, if there were enough jobs to go around. However, there is a definite shortage of jobs in the UK, not to mention the fact that a lot of people on benefits actually already have jobs. Through no fault of their own, some are on a low income which can’t support them and their families, which is why they also need to rely on benefits to feed and clothe themselves and their children. 

I’m aware that a very small minority of benefit claimants play the system in order to get the maximum benefit from it. However, this truly is a very small minority. Is it really fair to tar everyone with the same brush as a result of a few irresponsible individuals?  Is it fair to stigmatise everyone on benefits just because you happen to know one person who is playing the system? The majority of claimants would actually prefer not to be on benefits and work extra hard to try to overcome this stigma, which is much easier said than done when it’s so ingrained in society with such a prevalent ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture.

I may not be on benefits myself, but I claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance for a short period after I finished university while I was searching for a job. Did that make me a scrounger? I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of people in the UK have been in receipt of some kind of welfare benefit at some point during their lives, whether it was EMA, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Disability Living Allowance, Child Benefit... the list goes on. So are all these people scroungers, or just people who needed some extra help at a particular point during their lives? 

Although some welfare changes have already been implemented, the biggest hit so far will come in April when the under occupancy charges come into force. This charge is grossly unfair and will affect the most vulnerable families. People might have to move from their homes, possibly to a different area altogether, if they can’t afford to take the Housing Benefit cut. All this because they’ve got more bedrooms than the UK Government thinks they need. Again, a lot of people affected by this rule are already in work and are working the maximum number of hours allocated to them. 40,000 households will be affected, and this is just in Wales alone. Worryingly, the UK Government have no idea what kind of drastic effect this will have on communities as they won't be experiencing the effects first-hand.

So... strivers v skivers? It’s really not that simple.  

Friday, 11 January 2013

Book Review: A hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared

No spoilers, promise!

I recently finished reading 'A hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared' by Jonas Jonasson. The title might seem a bit long winded, but it's one of the best books I've ever read. Allan Karlsson is the novel's protagonist, as featured in the title, and the reader instantly warms to him and his candid way of expressing himself. The narrative is partly set in the present, where it follows Allan's adventures after he climbs out of the window of his nursing home, and partly set in the past as a means of describing Allan's life so far. As Allan is one hundred years old, the narrative of the past spans a number of important events over the last century such as the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, and the reign of numerous American presidents and British Prime Ministers. Allan happens to play a significant part in all these key events, and his involvement is described with great detail and humour.

From Allan's humble beginnings in Sweden with barely any education, he meets some incredible people and travels halfway across the world in his quest to find adventure. He gets into numerous scrapes, including some very serious ones involving major political figures, and always manages to escape with his life intact as a result of his wit and intelligence. Allan's characterisation is extremely vivid, as is the characterisation of Herbert Einstein, Allan's loyal friend. The author successfully creates a vast array of characters, both past and present, without confusing the reader.

The novel juxtaposes the criminal underworld with Allan's supposed innocence, although he has unwittingly committed many crimes of his own over the years and commits more after he climbs out of his window as a hundred-year-old man. His candid way of describing these mishaps provides many laugh-out-loud moments for the reader and builds on his already effective characterisation. Although he has actually had a lot of influence over major world events, he still continues to be the doddery hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window in his slippers in the eyes of the reader. Although the adventures in the novel sometimes border on the surreal and the ridiculous, the reader is compelled to keep reading in order to find out what other situations Allan will find himself in. At no point does the narrative become too far-fetched to follow coherently. The reader imagines that anything is possible where Allan Karlsson is concerned, which was surely the author's intention.

This is a humorous, heart warming and inspirational novel which will grip your imagination from start to finish. Here are the links to the book on Amazon:

Kindle edition

Paperback edition

Has anyone else read this book? Let me know what you thought!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Disney's animated classics

As you probably already know, I am a big Disney fan. One of the most frustrating things about moving away from videos to DVDs was the fact that I'd collected lots of Disney videos over the years, which are now defunct and have had to be thrown away. Since visiting Disney World in Florida last April, my love for all things Disney has been revitalised and I'm trying to collect some of the DVDs of my favourite films. Unfortunately, some are proving to be very difficult to get hold of as a result of a clever marketing ploy by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Films are now kept in the 'Disney Vault' and are re released every few years as new Diamond or Platinum editions, or other relevant anniversaries. Once these copies have run out, no more are made available until the next scheduled release from the Vault. I can see why Disney use this technique as they know there will always be demand for their films and that people will usually pay a premium price for them, even more so when they're limited in this way, but it's very frustrating when I can't get hold of some of my favourite films.

I've compiled a list below of the 53 animated classics, and made a note of which ones I have, which ones I want, and which ones I'm not too bothered about. The ones in bold are the ones I REALLY want! This is more for my own reference than for anyone else's interest, but if anyone does have any ideas about where I could find some of these sought after DVDs, feedback would be much appreciated.

These are just Disney's animated classics and don't include the Pixar films... I might write a separate blog post on those at some point as they deserve their own post!

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - Want
2. Pinocchio - Got
3. Fantasia - Got
4. Dumbo - Got
5. Bambi - Got
6. Saludos Amigos - Indifferent
7. The Three Caballeros - Indifferent
8. Make Mine Music - Indifferent
9. Fun and Fancy Free - Indifferent
10. Melody Time - Indifferent
11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad - Indifferent
12. Cinderella - Got
13. Alice in Wonderland - Got
14. Peter Pan - Got
15. Lady in the Tramp - Got
16. Sleeping Beauty - Want
17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians - Got
18. The Sword in the Stone - Want
19. The Jungle Book - Got
20. The Aristocats - Got
21. Robin Hood - Got
22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Want
23. The Rescuers - Want
24. The Fox and the Hound - Got
25. The Black Cauldron - Indifferent
26. The Great Mouse Detective - Got
27. Oliver & Company - Got
28. The Little Mermaid - Got
29. The Rescuers Down Under - Got
30. Beauty and the Beast - Got
31. Aladdin - Got
32. The Lion King - Got
33. Pocahontas - Got
34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Got
35. Hercules - Want
36. Mulan - Got
37. Tarzan - Got
38. Fantasia 2000 - Indifferent
39. Dinasour - Indifferent
40. The Emperor's New Groove - Indifferent
41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Indifferent
42. Lilo & Stitch - Want
43. Treasure Planet - Indifferent
44. Brother Bear - Want
45. Home on the Range - Indifferent
46. Chicken Little - Got
47. Meet the Robinsons - Indifferent
48. Bolt - Want
49. The Princess and the Frog - Got
50. Tangled - Got
51. Winnie the Pooh - Want
52. Wreck-it Ralph - Got
53. Frozen - not released yet

At this point, it's worth mentioning Disney Movie Rewards. You'll get a Disney Movie Rewards leaflet in the inside front cover of all Disney DVDs (this includes Pixar films and films which aren't included in the animated classics above), and the leaflet has a special unique code. When you enter this code onto the Disney Movie Rewards site, along with selected characters from the barcode on the back of the DVD, you collect points which can then be redeemed for free DVDs. I've claimed 6 free DVDs so far - Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Aristocats, Oliver & Company, Monsters Inc and Pocahontas. There is a wide range of DVDs on offer, so it's definitely worth a look if you're looking to add to your Disney collection.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to buy me any of the DVDs I haven't got from the list above, please feel free.