Friday, 29 November 2013

Quidco... make money while you shop!

Have you heard of Quidco? A colleague recommended it to me a few years ago and, after some initial scepticism, I am now a massive advocate.

Quidco is the UK's number one cashback and voucher site with over 3.5 million members. Thousands of retailers are affiliated with Quidco which means that you get a certain percentage of cashback when you shop online with them. Some notable participating retailers are Debenhams, Play, The Body Shop and M&S. You just need to ensure that you visit the retailers' sites directly from the links provided on the Quidco site so that your purchase gets tracked. Even if the cashback rate is only 4% or so, this could still be a significant amount if you're spending a lot of money. It's also worth remembering that even the little amounts build up over time. Every little helps! Can you tell that I used to work in Tesco?

Quidco also offers voucher codes for various retailers such as 10% off your order, free delivery, and so on. This can result in huge savings, especially if the retailer in question has already discounted their items as a result of a sale. So don't forget that Quidco isn't just about cashback!

Quidco isn't just useful for your Christmas shopping. You can also buy your phone contract, home insurance, car insurance and a whole host of other household benefits via Quidco. This is where you'll receive the bulk of your cashback as there are particularly some really fantastic deals out there when it comes to insurance. I went with Hastings Direct car insurance this year purely because their cashback deal was the best one, which meant that they were the cheapest option for me in the long run. I've never sorted my phone contract via Quidco as I usually have to haggle directly with T-Mobile to get a good deal, but others have told me that the cashback deals and voucher codes for phone contracts and broadband contracts are great.

As if all this wasn't enough, you can also benefit from Quidco when you're out and about. If you register your debit and credit cards on the website, you'll get cashback on in-store purchases with participating retailers when you pay with your registered card. I've had in-store cashback from Debenhams and Halfords so far and am hoping to make more use of this benefit in 2014.

I've earned £51.97 from Quidco so far and can't wait to earn even more next year. I transferred the first £50 to my bank account when I was struggling a few months ago and it was a massive help and a relief. It's like an extra savings account! The transfer of the money from the website into your bank account is totally seamless and I've never had any problems at all with the process.

So what are you waiting for? You can click here to find out more and to sign up. I'll get some extra cashback if I refer people to Quidco (no pressure), and you in turn will get cashback if you refer your friends once you've signed up. I promise you won't regret it!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Restaurant review: The Claude

The Claude is a huge pub situated at the end of Albany Road at the very edge of Cardiff's Student Land. I'm aware that it doesn't actually qualify as a proper 'restaurant', but I had lunch there last weekend and the food rivalled a lot of restaurants I've eaten in recently. It therefore qualifies for a restaurant review!

The menu has lots of different options and deals, just like your typical pub menu, and all the choices are extremely reasonable. I decided to opt for the chicken fajitas for £5.99. Those of you who eat chicken fajitas in restaurants regularly will know that they're never this cheap! I wasn't expecting great wonders, but it was one of the healthier options on the menu.

When everyone's food started arriving at the table, we knew we were in for a treat. All the meals were huge! The fajitas came with countless strips of chicken, peppers, onions, sour cream, cheese, salsa and three large wraps. I've eaten a lot of fajitas in my time, and these were definitely better than the fajitas I've had in the Harvester and in T.G.I. Friday's. The spice they used on the chicken was amazing! I was also very happy with the large wraps provided as it's always a bit of a mission when you're trying to fit everything in to the tiny little wraps provided in T.G.I. Friday's. I finished every little bit of the fajita mix and genuinely didn't need to eat again for the whole day. 

The pub was pretty busy and rowdy while we were there as there was football on the big screens, but it was still a nice place to have a meal and a catch up. It's a very family friendly pub as well as being ideal for students and people eating out on a budget (me).

I don't visit the Albany Road area of Cardiff very often, but I'll definitely be tempted to go back to the Claude when we do visit in the future. These fantastic fajitas followed by a Joe's Ice Cream Sundae from the next street along... what more could you possibly ask for?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Restaurant review: Shampan

Shampan is a little Indian restaurant on the main high street in Cowbridge. I'd never heard of it as I never have any reason to go to Cowbridge,  but myself and Neil were invited there for food for his friend's birthday last weekend. I'm now busy wondering why I'd never heard of this place before!

The restaurant was easy to find (a 20 minute drive from Penarth), and there was plenty of parking available opposite the restaurant. We were 15 minutes early but were still seated at our table within five minutes of our arrival. The restaurant had a lovely homely atmosphere and decor. It managed to effectively combine rustic with modern and had some really unusual features like colourful patterned umbrellas hanging upside down from the ceiling... it sounds weird, but it worked.

The table was booked for 15 people, so as the restaurant is quite narrow they split our group up into 3 tables at the back of the restaurant. As soon as we sat down, we saw the leaflets which described the amazing 'Sunday Banquet'. Poppadum, dips, starter, main course, veg side, rice and naan bread for £8.50 per person. Surely it was too good to be true?

We thought there must surely be some restrictions on what starters and main courses we could order... there had to be a catch somewhere. We double checked with the waitress when she came to take our order, and she confirmed that we could order any starter, any main course and any veg side! Considering that some of the main courses are £7.50 by themselves, this is a fantastic deal. You do have to pay an extra 30p if you want a fancy naan bread rather than a plain one, but I'd be very surprised if anyone had any gripes about paying an extra 30p after partaking in such a great deal. I opted for the onion bhaji, vegetable balti, saag aloo, pilau rice and a plain naan bread. 

When all the food arrived, it really did look like a banqueting table. I apologise in advance for the poor quality of some of these photos, I didn't want to use the flash as no one else was photographing their food! Blogger problems...

Poppadum and dips... possibly my favourite part of any Indian meal!

Giant onion bhajis... 

My vegetable balti. My mouth is watering just thinking about this!

Saag Aloo

Very bright pilau rice!

The best naan bread I've ever eaten in my entire life

Midway through my main meal!

You might expect the food to be a bit ropey if you're only paying £8.50 for all those courses. Not at Shampan! Everything was cooked exquisitely and I didn't have the slightest complaint about any of the dishes. I've eaten many onion bhajis in various different places, and I can confirm that these bhajis were among the best I've tasted along with the legendary bhajis at Red Hot World Buffet. And they were MASSIVE. Moving on to the main, the vegetable balti was really delicious and unlike any balti I've tasted before. It had a very pleasant kick to it and I was gutted that I couldn't manage to eat the whole lot. It was also packed full of vegetables rather than just throwing in a few peas and half a potato. To top it all off, as I've mentioned above, the naan bread was without a doubt the best one I've ever had. I hate it when naan breads have been overcooked and have hard burnt bits everywhere, so I was very chuffed (do people still use 'chuffed'?) with this one. The Saag Aloo was also lovely, but unfortunately I couldn't eat much of it as I physically couldn't fit any more food in to my stomach. 

We all agreed around the table that the food was scrumptious and that there was actually too much food for most of us. The veg side was probably a bit unnecessary, but we all still felt the need to order one. Even though there were 15 of us and a lot of people in the other areas of the restaurant, we got served very quickly. As Neil said, it was like a conveyor belt of food. My favourite kind of conveyor belt. The staff were accommodating and were very patient while taking our massive food order. They also gave each table a separate bill rather than giving us a massive bill between the 15 of us. This made things slightly less complicated when we tried to work out the cost of everyone's drinks!

Even though I honestly felt as if I was going to burst, I couldn't resist eating the little chocolate which came with the bill. There's always room for chocolate.

Have you ever visited Shampan? Were you also bowled over by the Sunday banquet? I can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventures

I haven't blogged about Florida for a while (shock, horror), so I thought I'd write a blog post about Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure. Although these two parks are probably near the bottom of my top ten theme park list in Orlando, they're still amazing and well worth a visit.

The Universal parks are just a short drive away from Walt Disney World and are in a really beautiful setting. With the lovely views, the massive Hard Rock Cafe and the bustling City Walk, you feel as if you've stepped in to another world. I always think Hollywood must be a bit like the Universal resort area! City Walk is basically a line of shops, bars, restaurants and a huge cinema. There's always music blaring and it always gets me pumped up for the parks when I walk down the busy street.

This year, we visited Universal Studios first. Universal Studios is the original Universal theme park and has loads of brilliant rides such as Minion Mayhem (Despicable Me), Rip Ride Rock-It and The Mummy. As is my custom, I scream like a girl on these rides but absolutely love them and always want to go on again and again. Men In Black and the Simpsons ride are also a lot of fun.

We were really looking forward to going on the Transformers 3D ride this year, but unfortunately it broke down while we were in the queue! In spite of this disappointment, we did have a great time on the other rides. I would go so far as to say that Universal are the kings of simulator rides...  look no further than Minion Mayhem and the Simpsons ride for evidence of this bold statement.

Everything in Universal Studios is... BIG. An amazing amount of effort has gone into the architecture of the park and its different areas, and you just have to be impressed by the enormity of all. The Simpsons area is particularly impressive and has been improved and expanded a lot since we visited last year.

Although Universal Studios definitely has its good points, I definitely prefer Universal's Islands of Adventures. As suggested by its name, Universal's Islands of Adventures is split into various 'islands' within the park. I love the Marvel Super Hero Island, and the Islands of Adventures park is also home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! My favourite ride in the Marvel area has got to be The Hulk... I could stay on it all day. I might be sick and very bruised if I actually stayed on it all day, but I feel that it would be (almost) worth it. The Spiderman ride is a great experience, and I love all the imagery and characterisation in and around Marvel Super Hero Island. I also went on the Jurassic Park ride for the first time this year and was grateful for my Minnie Mouse poncho (wrong park, I know) when we plunged down a small waterfall.

In my (slightly biased) opinion, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the crown jewel of the Islands of Adventure and has to be seen to be believed. You'll feel as if you've walked right in to a scene from one of the books or the films, whichever you prefer. This particular 'island' is split into two main areas - Hogwarts and  Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts castle is a majestic spectacle, and the ride inside it is breathtaking. Flying with Harry, Ron and Hermione through various scenes from the books... what more could you possibly want? The Duelling Dragons rollercoasters are also fantastic, and they never have a very big queue which is always a bonus when you're trying to rush around everything in a short space of time.

I absolutely love the way Hogsmeade has been presented and the fact that you can visit (and buy from!) all the same shops as Harry, Ron and Hermione frequently visit in the books. Everything is a bit extortionate in these shops, but you should definitely save some money to treat yourself to a souvenir from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can buy Hogwarts robes, wands, Hedwig teddies, tshirts for the four houses, and so much more! You can also try Butter Beer which we actually tried this year. I'm undecided on whether I liked it or not, so I'll just have to try it again next time we go.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is currently undergoing a massive expansion and the rumours around it are very exciting... I can't wait to go back there when it's all completed!

No visit to Universal Studios is complete without having lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Universal's Hard Rock Cafe is the largest in the world and is a really magnificent building. Yes, I know it's a chain, but that doesn't stop their food from being amazing. I urge you to order their fajitas if you ever decide to pay a visit!

There are a few negative points about the Universal parks which could tarnish your experience if you let them get to you. The staff can be quite rude and abrupt which is a stark contrast to the friendly and accommodating staff in the Disney parks. The queues aren't particularly orderly so people push in on a regular basis, and the Universal parks will charge you for anything and everything. Fast passes, lockers, drink refills (even after you've paid 10 dollars for a souvenir cup)... you name it, they'll want money for it. Lastly, people are not kept particularly informed when a ride has broken down, even if they happen to be in the queue for that very ride. The Transformers fiasco I mentioned above would never have happened in a Disney park!

However, in spite of these negatives, you should definitely visit both Universal parks at least once if you're ever in the area. I think the Disney parks just set an impossibly high standard which is very difficult for other parks to live up to... difficult for any establishment to live up to, in fact! 

Which Universal park is your favourite?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Wintery things #1

I love winter! I mostly love it because it makes me feel all Christmassy, but I also love wrapping up for the cold weather in my scarf and gloves, digging out my winter outfits, drinking a lot of hot chocolate and lighting my Yankee candles. I always find that it's so much easier to find nice winter clothes than summer clothes... does anyone else agree?

I've only been blogging regularly since January, so I haven't had a chance to blog about my love for November/December until now. I thought I'd illustrate my love for winter by sharing a few photos I've taken lately of lovely wintery things. Hopefully I'll be posting a few of these posts as I take more photos, but here are the first five wintery things I've got excited about...

Christmas tree in St David's 2

Lovely hot chocolate at the Ocho Lounge in Penarth

New mittens!

Duffy's winter jumper

Winter pyjamas!

Does anyone else love winter as much as I do? Do you have any photos to share?

Friday, 15 November 2013

Christmas tag #1

I love Christmas. In fact, I think I love it a little bit more every year. I love absolutely everything about it, from buying presents to choosing an advent calendar to eating multiple Christmas dinners to lazing around in my pyjamas on Christmas Day. Nothing can quite sum up my love for Christmas!

I came across Ella's Christmas Tag last weekend so obviously I had to take part in it. HAD TO. I've numbered this post (#1) as I'm hoping I'll come across many more Christmas tags in the next few weeks. If I don't, I might just make some up. That's how much I love Christmas.

Christmas at my parents' house last year

What time of the year do you start your Christmas shopping?
I usually start in September, although I do tend to pick up little random gifts throughout the year. I have to start in September to spread it over a few pay cheques! I have 20 people to buy for this year... the number seems to increase every year.

Do you have any festive recipes for food or drink you limit solely to the Christmas season to share?
I've never cooked anything for Christmas Day as I always go back to my parents' house for it. However, this year I'm considering baking something for tea on Christmas Day. Maybe some shortbread biscuits shaped like Christmas trees? I'll keep you all updated!

Tell me how Christmas goes down in your home
My brother and I usually wake up at around 8am... this has got later over the years! Daf comes in to my room and we open our stockings together (I love this part!), then we go downstairs to see the presents under the tree. Once my parents are up and we've had some breakfast (usually chocolate from our stockings...), we settle down in front of the tree to open all the presents. After we've opened everything, we read our books/play with our new toys while the Christmas dinner simmers nicely and makes the house smell delightful. We usually eat our lovely dinner at around 2pm. After dinner, my sister and her husband arrive with my little nephew, then we open presents all over again. We then watch Christmas films, eat chocolate and have a chat throughout the evening. I love Christmas Day!

Do you have any Christmas traditions?
Daf and I always used to watch Santa Claus: The Movie on Christmas Eve but we haven't done that for a few years. We always do everything in exactly the same order on Christmas Day and have done for as long as I remember. A traditional Christmas is the best Christmas!

Do you have a favourite festive coffee?
I don't like coffee... I do like a Christmassy hot chocolate though.

What's your favourite Christmas song?
Oh I wish it could be Christmas every dayyyyyyy...

What do you do on Christmas Eve?
We go in to town as a family on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to sample the atmosphere and to do some last minute shopping (either to Carmarthen or Llanelli). My parents always go to a church service in the evening. Meanwhile, Daf and I usually watch a Christmassy film, wrap any last minute presents and eat crisps. Lots of crisps.

What's your Christmas wrapping strategy? Do you have a strategy?
I buy all my presents first then dedicate a night or two to my wrapping. I put a film on (last year my films were Home Alone 2 and Beethoven!) and get stuck in. I genuinely enjoy wrapping presents!

What's your dream gift this year?
I haven't asked for anything big this year as more than enough money is being spent on the wedding and the potential house... I'll be happy with a few DVDs and maybe some pyjamas.

Describe your Christmas tree. How tall? Real or artificial? How is it decorated?
The little 3ft tree I have in my flat is a bit pathetic as I was too tight to buy a high quality one. However, the Christmas tree in my parents' house is lovely. It's a 6 foot high artificial tree with gold and red tinsel. It has coloured lights and lots of coloured baubles and little figurines, and usually lots of Christmas crackers and chocolates too.

Do you decorate just the tree or other areas of your house e.g. windows, bannisters?
My flat is very small so I don't decorate much of it. I would make more of an effort if I actually spent Christmas there, but I always go home to my parents' house. My parents have lots of decorations spread around the house, and I especially like their fireplace decorations. I can't wait to have my own house so that I can decorate it for Christmas!

What do you wear to Christmas parties and what do you wear on Christmas day?
I usually wear a black dress to Christmas parties... black dresses are suitable for everything. On Christmas Day I wear pyjama bottoms, snuggly socks and a hoodie. I secretly wish I could wear my Christmas Day outfit more often. A lot more often. 

40 days to go!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Hollister Addison... best perfume ever?

I'm not a Hollister person. I despise the Hollister store in Cardiff as it's too dark, there are identical blonde shop assistants everywhere and there are always teenage scenesters hanging around outside. I do like some of their clothes, but they're massively overpriced for my budget. So why do I own a bottle of Hollister perfume?

Hollister clothes and accessories are much cheaper in America than they are in the UK as it's an American brand. When I went to Florida in September, I decided to go in to Hollister to see if I could find something that was decently priced. The store in Florida was a pleasant surprise... it wasn't full of intimidating identical shop assistants and wasn't totally dark!

The first thing I saw was a perfume display, so I thought I'd try a few out as I'd been looking for new perfume for months. As soon as I tried Hollister Addison, I knew I had to have it. I'm not going to attempt to describe it as I'm rubbish at deciphering what perfume actually smells like, but it's very sweet and lasts for hours. Have you ever been in to a Hollister store and been greeted by a lovely smell? I'm pretty sure that Hollister Addison is the perfume they spray around to make their stores smell nice. Google tells me that this perfume blends sun ripened peach, peony and sunshine musk. Does that actually mean anything to anyone? All you need to know is that it smells amazing.

The 60ml bottle of perfume was 40$, which is approximately £27. The same perfume is listed on Amazon for £59.95. Bargain! I usually buy perfume from the Britney Spears range which is cheaper at approximately £20 per 100ml, but the Hollister perfume has a stronger and more striking scent and lasts much longer.

I love everything about this perfume... the intoxicating scent, the understated bottle, the convenient size of the bottle and the floral detail on the bottle top.

I only use this perfume on weekends and on special occasions as I need it to last until I go back to America. There's no way that I'm paying £59.95 for a bottle in the UK, however good the perfume is!

Does anyone else use Hollister Addison? Can you recommend any other Hollister perfumes for my return trip to America (whenever that might be)?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Friday, 8 November 2013

Restaurant wishlist - the Cardiff edition

I love food... I don't think this will surprise anyone. A lot of my blog posts are either about my baking adventures, food I've eaten on holiday, or restaurant reviews. I don't usually eat out during the week as I'm always trying to be healthy as well as thrifty, but my fiancĂ© and I tend to go out for dinner on Saturday evenings. We go to a lot of chain restaurants such as Pizza Express and Nando's, but we also love some independent restaurants like Balti Cuisine and Tenkaichi.

We've got a long list of restaurants we want to visit in Cardiff in the next few months which I've posted below. We're obviously happy to add to this list if anyone has any good recommendations.

1. Viva Brazil
2. The Purple Poppadum
3. Juboraj (I've eaten here before but Neil hasn't... best chutney tray ever)
4. Toby Carvery (can't believe I've never been!)
5. Gourmet Burger Kitchen
6. Giovanni's
7. Mission Burrito
8. Cafe Citta
9. Mint and Mustard
10. Thai House

I'll post a restaurant review for each venue when we start ticking these restaurants off our list. Get ready for lots of gushing and photos of food!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Barry M's Gelly range - part 2!

I first blogged about Barry M Gelly's range in August. Back then, I only had the Greenberry nail varnish from the range. Seeing as that one was such a success, I've purchased another 4 in the last few months...

Left to right: Passionfruit, Greenberry, Grapefruit, Mango and Guava

These nail varnishes are just so bright and vibrant. I can't resist them! They also last a few days longer than normal nail polishes as long as they're applied properly. I found that they chipped very quickly if the polish was applied too thickly but looked streaky if it was applied too thinly, so I've pretty much perfected my technique now. 

It's a difficult choice, but I think the Guava polish is my favourite.

The other four colours are very summery, but Guava is more suited to autumn/winter. This means I'll be using it a lot during the next few months! 

The Grapefruit colour (right) comes a close second, and I love wearing it on alternate nails with Greenberry. This was my nail varnish combo for my recent holiday to Florida... perfect summer colours. 

I probably won't use Passionfruit and Mango as much as the other colours just because I hardly ever wear red or orange (clashing issues with my red hair). However, they're lovely bright colours which really stand out and will definitely be noticed. I like wearing these shades with an all black outfit as they create a great contrast and look even more vibrant. 

Which Gelly shade shall I buy next?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Restaurant review: Zero Degrees

I've been meaning to go to Zero Degrees on Cardiff's Westgate Street for ages. It's actually on my list of places to visit with Neil (yes, we have an actual list) as I've always heard great things about it but have never got around to going there. Everyone raves about their beer selection, but I'm not the slightest bit interested in that. Guess what I am interested in?


Liz was in Cardiff for a few days over half term, so she invited me to Zero Degrees last Wednesday evening to join her for a meal with her friends. Obviously I jumped at the chance of eating out on a week night... I was getting a bit bored of pasta and pesto

Zero Degrees have LOADS of different pizzas on their menu, and they're definitely not your standard pizza options. With exotic choices ranging from Thai Green Chicken to Salmon and Mascarpone, with a whole load of vegetarian options thrown in, you'll be totally spoilt for choice whatever your tastes. They do also have a good selection of salad, seafood and pasta on their menu, but for me it's all about the pizza. After deliberating between a few options for about ten minutes, I eventually settled on the Sweet and Spicy Italian Sausage pizza. It was one of the cheapest pizzas on the menu at £9.75... that's only partly why I chose it.

The pizzas did take a while to arrive, but my jaw nearly fell off the bottom of my face when the first batch was brought to the table. A few people had ordered the Peking Duck pizza, and it actually came with little crispy tortilla strips on the top of it. I know I'm easily pleased when it comes to food, but I thought that was pretty impressive. I started getting food envy while I looked longingly at everyone else's pizzas, then mine arrived...

WHAT A PIZZA! There was about a kilo of meat (that might be an exaggeration, I didn't stop to weigh it), chunky red and green peppers, plenty of red onions, loads of cheese and a lovely tomato base. As if the mass of toppings wasn't enough, the dough was also absolutely perfect. I was impressed that they provided a sharp knife to cut your pizza with... I hate struggling with an ordinary knife in Pizza Express. I'm always terrified that my pizza will fly off my plate when I'm ferociously trying to cut it!

As you can see, I devoured every little bit of my pizza. It was absolutely amazing, and I could have eaten it all over again after I'd finished. Yes, I was very full, but I'd have forced another one in somehow. I loved the fact that it was fully loaded with toppings, rather than just having four greasy pieces of pepperoni and a few flimsy bits of pepper. Ten out of ten! I've already decided that I'll be trying the BBQ Chicken pizza next time. There will definitely be a next time. 

Food aside, I love the effort Zero Degrees have put in to their branding. Even their glasses are branded! I always love a bit of effective branding. 

Although the pizzas and drinks did take a while to arrive, I didn't think we were waiting for an unreasonable length of time. We were busy catching up, so we were happy not to be rushed in and out. We sat on a table upstairs with a nice view of Westgate Street... in spite of the pouring rain, it was still a nice view. 

Zero Degrees isn't particularly cheap, but I thought £9.75 was a pretty good price for my pizza. I drank tap water (cheapskate) so I'm not sure how expensive the drinks are, but our final bill wasn't extortionate at all.  

Have you been to Zero Degrees? Can you recommend any of their other pizzas for me to try?