Monday, 29 June 2015

Fab at Fifty (Quid)

A few weeks ago I received an email - "How fab can you look for £50?". I love a challenge like this, especially because at my core I'm actually really tight. Everything I buy is umm-ed and ahh-ed over profusely, I shop almost exclusively in Aldi and I get very upset if we run out of milk and have to buy it from the Spar next door (it's 50p more expensive!).

But while I love a bargain, ThinkMoney's challenge was to create a whole outfit for £50, which is no mean feat. I was given £50 worth of Love2Shop vouchers, which I could use at a variety of high street stores, but only instore and not online, and don't include my usual bargain meccas of Primark and H&M. I was going to have to really think about this.

It's once in a blue moon that I actually purchase clothes from physical shops, and even less frequently that I do so without consulting the website first. These days I'm not much of an impulse buyer. Most of my shopping is planned ahead from gaps I perceive in my wardrobe - spending hours browsing online or consulting Shopstyle. I can't remember the last time I just bought something without thinking ahead!

As it happened, I was going home last Saturday because my Mum was going to dye my hair for me (don't worry if you can't see any difference, that was completely the point) and she fancied a look around the shops first, so at the last minute before leaving the flat I grabbed the vouchers. I'm so glad I did.

It took me less than ten minutes in Debenhams to fall in love with this skirt. It was £20 in the sale, but I'm being extra-careful with money this month after having a little breakdown at the end of May (and as I said, I'm good with money!) so I knew I couldn't justify it. But then I remembered the vouchers! At £20, I had £30 left for the rest of the outfit. It was game on.

One element of the outfit I'd been worried about blowing my budget on was the shoes. I knew I wanted to create a daytime outfit so I only needed a pair of little ballet flats, but even at the cheap end of the scale they can be £20. As we walked through Debenhams my Mum said "you need some pale blue flats", and I'm not kidding you, the second I turned around I laid eyes on the shoes. £15! I was now onto £35, with £15 remaining for a top.

I decided I wanted a yellow top, and my Mum found one straight away, but at £18 it was just out of budget. We even went to the counter and got the girl to scan everything just in case anything was secretly reduced, but no, we were over budget. Then we stumbled over a display of simple jersey tops, and there was a yellow one - £8! With £7 left to spare we found a necklace and after a quick trip to the changing room we were done! We got to the counter, where the same girl who helped us earlier said "that's fifty pounds exactly"! So here's what we came up with...
Everything Debenhams with vouchers c/o ThinkMoney

Just for proof!
I was so happy with what we came up with. I wasn't sure about the tshirt at first because the skirt is slightly too big (they didn't have a smaller size and the opportunity was just too good to miss) so I would have preferred a looser top so it didn't draw attention to the waist of the skirt, but to be honest, I don't think you can tell! I'm really happy with this outfit, especially because I can definitely wear each of these items again. I've been wearing the necklace absolutely loads, the shoes and top will be perfect for summer and I cannot wait to wear this skirt in the autumn/winter.
I was hoping to get this post up last week but I've actually been ill for the last few days! I was off work sick last Monday due to feeling incredibly nauseated and fatigued and spent the whole morning in bed. I felt better on Tuesday and went into work but started with a cough. By Thursday I thought I was feeling better, but then Friday my sore throat and cough just got worse, and by Saturday the cough had gone straight on my chest and I had a horrible, wheezy cough. I'm not too proud to admit that I had a huge cry on Saturday morning when Phil told me it probably wasn't a good idea to go to Parkrun. At my Parkrun they have pacers on the last run of the month, and I was chasing another PB (even though I only got one the week before last - 27:47, which still seems insane to me considering three months ago I was working on getting under 30 minutes) but I knew deep down it would have been a bad idea, and it's a good job I didn't go! On Saturday we went to the theatre with my parents, Phil's parents and his sister, and after dinner Phil's Dad said to me "are you getting better or worse?" and I think that was the moment I realised I was actually getting worse!
I woke up yesterday with a throaty cough like I smoked 40 a day and no voice! I had to cancel all my plans for the day and ending up sleeping and on the sofa all day. I definitely didn't manage the 10 mile run I had planned! I'm feeling better today and I'm glad I pushed myself to work (even though I worked from home - I didn't want to infect everyone in the office/put makeup on) but choir is out for tonight cause I still can't speak properly, let alone sing!
So I'm home tonight feeling sorry for myself as Phil has just gone to his parents for the night as he's off to Wimbledon tomorrow! The only good thing about being ill is that I've had plenty of time to read (I read two books last Monday, finished one yesterday and am hoping to finish another tonight), but I'm hoping to have an early night tonight so I can try to go for a run tomorrow.
Hope you had a lovely weekend!

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


Everyone loves my Dad. No, seriously, everyone loves my Dad. As the oldest boy in a family of eight he's (nearly everyone's) big brother. My uni friends do impressions of him because they think he's hilarious. I've never hear of anyone who doesn't like him, and if I did I'd know it was their issue.
If you had a look through my call log my Dad is probably the last person I called. He's the person I call the most. Even when we lived together he was always the first person I called at the end of the day. We call each other "mate" and we answer the phone with "yo." 
Dad is the person I call when I need ressurance, when I need advice. He's almost embarrassingly proud of me, always telling me how well I'm doing when I feel like I'm going nowhere. We might not agree on everything, but he's the one I go to to "put the world to rights."
My Dad is where I get my love of gummy sweets. Even now, at 25, if we have to pop to the shop for milk or bread or a drink, there's always a pound going for a bag of Haribo, which we've usually eaten before we get home.
He's also responsible for my love of country music. For my love of Jackson Browne and James Taylor. There are dozens of songs that remind me of my Dad, and barely a week goes by without him playing me a song on his iPad that he wants me to hear. We have so many songs that I already have our Father-daughter dance picked out for my wedding, and some songs that remind me of my Dad I can't even listen to because they make me cry so much.
My Dad taught me to drive. Forcing me to go out for an hour every night when I was 18 in the little red Corsa he bought me. Which I then crashed and wrote off. Ironically on Father's Day.
My Dad is the funniest person I know. Whenever one of us hears a joke or a funny story, we'll call with other one with "here's one for you." He loves funny Youtube videos and old Irish jokes. 
My Dad is where I get my penny-pinching from, and my love of fish fingers and baked beans. He's the reason I tell people "I'm a total Daddy's girl." I'm 25 but I'm still his little girl and I always will be. He's my superhero. And my blog's biggest fan.
When I asked my Dad what he wanted for Father's Day he said "Save your money. I just to see you." Now while that is a relief in one respect (my Dad is impossible to buy for because he basically hates spending money), I knew I had to get him something.
So we came up with a compromise.  I'd received an email from Mainline Menswear about a Pint of Thanks for Dad and thought this would be perfect. They asked me to choose Dad's favourite brand (I called him to ask) and his size and they would send him a selection of goodies for Father's Day.
Dad chose Lyle and Scott, and here's what came in his pint glass:
L-r: Pint glass, Lyle and Scott tshirt, Smints, Shaving cream and post-shaving balm, Lyle and Scott keyring, Lyle and Scott socks (all c/o Mainline Menswear)
And as you can see, Dad was pretty happy with his presents!
He even wore his tshirt for the rest of the day!
And of course, he got what he wanted for Father's Day too. I went home both Saturday and Sunday, and he drove me back to the flat on Saturday night so we could put the world to rights. Over a bag of Haribo, of course.
I love you, Dad!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Nailbox review

I've always loved the idea of subscription boxes.
I'm the kind of person who LOVES surprises and loves anticipation. I'll eat the part of the meal I'm looking forward to last. When it's my birthday I ask "which ones do I know about?" and open them first so I can savour the excitement of a surprise. Similarly, when it's someone else's birthday I give them an "order" to open their presents so the one I'm most excited about is last.
So as you can imagine, the idea of a subscription box is pretty exciting to me.
The only problem is that the majority of the ones I've come across have been beauty boxes, and I'm quite boring and predictable when it comes to beauty. I don't need 5 more mascaras or two new blushers, plus I always wonder whether things would match my skin tone (do they do surveys or something? They must do, right?). I also hate the idea of not getting fullsize products because I know what I'm like and I'll fall in love with something and I'll want it RIGHT NOW because I know I'll never be able to bring myself to use up the whole small one.
Anyway, I digress.

One thing I can never have enough of is nail polishes.
Ask anyone who lived with me at uni - I used to have dozens. Maybe almost 100.
I had every shade of pink, blue, red, yellow (remember when everyone used to do ombre nails and added various degrees of white to their existing colours? I genuinely just had enough colours to own five slightly different shades of blue. Okay, ten.), and often came home with a new polish only to find I already had it.
However when I went to America in 2012 I started biting my nails again and stopped painting them completely. It was also during a period of flux and moving and I ended up losing my entire nail polish collection somewhere during all the moving (I'm convinced they are all sadly dried up in a bag somewhere at my parents'). But last year (almost a year to the day) I had acrylic nails put on for the first time and managed to finally, FINALLY break my life-long nail biting habit.
So I started to rebuild my collection.
This time it was only two or three reds. Maybe only one yellow. Five shades of pink. 
As I mentioned in my last nail post, I have a bit of a nightmare with my nails and can't keep polish on for more than a day, so it felt redundant to spend loads of money on polishes and loads of time painting my nails, only to have to redo them again the next day.
As a result I have quite a sorry collection of nail polishes.
But despite rarely painting my nails, I love having them done. I always feel so pretty when I have my nails done, especially now I actually have nails and not just little stubs.

So when Nailbox got in touch a few weeks ago, I was so excited to find out a nail polish subscription box existed. And they're all full sized polishes! They contain brands such as Essie and OPI, and each box contains a selection of polishes and tools. So from £13.50 a month (or £15 for a one-off subscription) you can be getting at least four times that in products.

I received the May subscription box which contained:
Elegant touch cuticle pusher
ORLY Fiery Orange
Rimmel Lucky Lilac
Essie Status Symbol
Nicole by OPI Alex by the Books

I was really impressed with the selection, especially as I've never owned a cuticle pusher and also because, with perhaps the exception of Fiery Orange, these are the exact kind of colours I would choose if I was buying nail polish.

Naturally, I went straight in for the bright pink...
(I apologise - I am terrible at painting my nails!)
This was two coats with a base coat (Essie first base) and top coat (Sally Hansen) of Essie Status Symbol. I haven't tried the other colours yet, but I am so excited to try that lovely mint green! If you want to see swatches of the other colours you can find them at Nail Lacquer.

Overall, I was really impressed with Nailbox, so much so that I really, really want a subscription! It's the kind of thing I would love to receive as a gift, and it's perfect for someone who is a regular nail polish buyer because you get so many products for the price! Right now I would definitely sign up if I didn't think Phil would kill me for ending up with 48 new nail polishes over the course of a year...

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Life after the Lakes

Things have been pretty chilled around here since we got back from the Lake District, and that's been exactly what we've both needed. We've both been pretty frazzled lately, and absolutely desperate for a few days away. We spent the four days we were in the Lakes not planning, not rushing, not panicking, not fretting. Just sitting in beer gardens and reading, going on walks, taking trips to other little villages, exploring and playing board games. It was absolutely perfect. And thankfully, that chilled feeling seems to be prevailing. Hence why I haven't blogged in nearly two weeks. Of course I'm still been meal planning and cooking and doing the washing and food shopping and complaining about responsibilities, but I've only had one (maybe two..) meltdowns this week.
Sometimes it's nice not to plan. On the afternoon of the first day we arrived in the Lakes, we were sat in a beer garden. I was engrossed in my book, drinking a cider and Phil was reading a magazine. The sun was shining and for once, I felt completely at ease. Usually, even on holiday I'm 100 miles an hour. Planning all the things I want to do, rushing around, hurrying everyone up, insatiably bored. But on that Thursday afternoon Phil said to me, "what we are doing tonight?" and I said "I don't know, I haven't thought about it." And I think that was a first. For once, I was just living in the moment. Enjoying the sunshine, my book, the break, the company. For once I wasn't rushing ahead to what might be coming next.
Phil and I have watched a film after work nearly every day this week, something we rarely do purely because I always have too much to do. I didn't do the weekend's washing til Tuesday and didn't put it away til Saturday. I didn't blog. I didn't do half the things I had wanted to do, and moved everything down on my to-do list. And for once, it was nice. Yesterday we went to parkrun, and after the food shop and some cleaning, we didn't need to leave the house for a few more hours. So I relaxed. I settled down upstairs and labelled my recipe books, something I'd wanted to do for ages. I made a curry for us to come home to the cinema to, but I enjoyed the process instead of stressing about always needing to cook. Today I got up when my body woke me up at 6.15am, and went out for an 8 mile run at 7am. I put the slow cooker on, I did some washing. I did everything on my to-do list by 11am. So we wandered into town to see what was happening for Manchester Day. There was no pressure. No desperate need to see or do anything. We came back home and we're both quietly doing our own thing. I might read my book. I might look through my recipe books. We might watch some TV together. We might not. 
I'm realising that I don't have to do everything, at least not right now. Some things can wait. Sometimes watching a film together is more important than cleaning the living room. Sometimes you should get mac and cheese balls from a food stall even when you've got a chilli going in your slow cooker. Sometimes you need to not worry about money or wasting time or being organised quite so much. Sometimes you just need to live.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Florals and Boucle

It was only when I went to edit these photos that I realised they are really wonky. Sorry about that!
Anyway, how was your weekend? Ours was busy, as always. On Friday we went to the wedding of one of Phil's colleagues. I wore this:
Honest truth, I really, really wanted to buy something new. I love buying beautiful dresses for things like weddings. Those kinds of dresses that are £60, £70, £80 that you know you'll only wear once but that you just have to have. I had at least five in my ASOS "saved for later" basket, but I knew I didn't need them. As much as I tried to justify it, I really didn't need a new dress.
Case in point, I bought this dress about two years ago. I don't think I wore it the whole of last year. It's so beautiful, but I never have a reason to wear it. Because as soon as a wedding comes up I convince myself I need something new, and I really really don't. 
Anyway, this is what I wore. I struggled to find a jacket, which always seems to happen to me at weddings. Even though we were only going to the evening, a black leather jacket seemed too casual, a blazer seemed too "workwear", and after trying on two other jackets (mint boucle jacket, lemon yellow leather jacket), I decided to give my little pink boucle jacket a go. It was perfect! I paired it with my comfiest nude heels (M&S is the place for comfy heels, ladies!) and this nude bag I got for my birthday and I was very glad I didn't buy anything new.
The wedding was great fun, even though I didn't know many people. I raided the sweet buffet and danced until my feet hurt (I said comfy, I didn't say magic). On Saturday one of my best friends, Ellen, came up to visit and I took her to lunch at new-to-me veggie hangout, Earth Cafe, bought boring grown-up stuff (seriously, my shopping list was a new kettle and lightbulbs - how things have changed!) and had a coffee in Ziferblat. It was so lovely to see her and show her the flat because we don't see each other often, but it's always reassuring to see my uni friends and find everything is exactly the same between us, even if it's been months since we saw each other last.
But it was a quick turn around straight to my friend Kris' 30th, so by Sunday I was well and truly ready for a relax. I laid in til after 9am (that's late for me!), went for a 7 mile run and after running some errands (food shopping, washing, cleaning), we settled down with two bags of Maoam and crossed two films off my list (Jurassic Park 3 and Fargo). For dinner I made my first meal of my promise to cook from my recipe books and made Anna Jones' Spinach Dhal with roasted sweet potatoes from A Modern Way to Eat and we watched The Office. It was exactly what I needed, and I need to spend more Sundays like that!
dress - Oasis
jacket - River Island
necklace - Topshop
bag - H&M
heels - M&S
As you can probably imagine from how busy I am.... all the time, I am well and truly ready for a break. Phil and I are off to the Lake District for a few days on Thursday and I cannot wait. I'm just ready to get away and not have to deal with grown up stuff. At the moment I'm suffering from what I call "grown-up fatigue", which means I just want to have a break from responsibilities! And I know it's hugely first world problems when I'm complaining about putting the washing away and needing to clean the oven and that I'm tired of washing up and I know that. But it's been a long time since I had to look after myself and there's just a lot to do! I've not planned anything to do for us while we're away (well, I have found the nearest parkrun but a leopard can't change her spots and all), and all I want to do it go for some nice walks, have some nice food and play board games.
I hope you've had a lovely weekend!

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A girl and her cookbooks - A love story

We all have our vices...
Yes. I'm addicted to buying recipe books.
*hangs head in shame*
This isn't even all of them. These are just my favourites. There are at least 10 still at my parents. And I found one of two more after I took this photo. OH and one of them is Phil's. But I bought it for him. And we live together. So it's basically mine now.
The worst part is I don't even use them all.
I get so so so so excited to buy them. Or ask for them for birthdays. Or beg for them.
And when they arrive I read through them like novels. 
I leave them on the coffee table. I leaf through them while I'm lounging on the sofa.
I write a list of my favourite recipes for my "Things I want to cook" note.
And then I take them upstairs and put them on the shelf.
And go back to Pinterest and the thousands of food blogs I read.
There are a few books here I haven't even cooked from yet.

It's not like I don't cook. I cook almost every day. Sometimes twice, or three times a day at the weekend (sometimes even more than that). 
But as I mentioned in my last post, I cook from food blogs. From Pinterest. From the goldmine that is BBC Good Food.
I make excuses.
Too many complicated ingredients. I can't buy that in Aldi. Pine nuts are too expensive.
That will take too long. Phil doesn't like sweetcorn. I don't have room for more jars of spices.

This post is two-fold.
One, to shame me and my book buying habit. Fuelled by nearly preordering Anna Jones' new cookbook despite having only made one recipe from A Modern Way To Eat, which I only bought three weeks ago.
And the other is to inspire me. To inspire me by all the wonderful, gorgeous books that I already have.
And to set myself a challenge.

I have to make something from one of my physical books once a week.
That's not to say I can't cook from Pinterest and food blogs the other 20 meals of the week.
But at least one meal per week has to come from one of the books I already have.

Maybe I'll blog about it. Maybe I won't.
I'm sure you'll see some of the results, and disasters, on Instagram at least.

To get started, I picked out a few favourite cookbooks. Then a few more. Then just a few more that I'd forgotten about.
Then realised that more than half of my books were favourites. Never mind. Moving on.

Then I got out my notebook. And started to work through each book.
In just the first three that I went through there were 26 new-to-me recipes I wanted to make straight away (I didn't write down anything I'd already made). And that's only from 3 books! And I have 32!

I'm sure there will be meltdowns. There will be tears. There will undoubtedly be tantrums in Tesco and disappointment in Aldi.

But maybe if I stick to this I can feel better about my piles of recipe books.
Or at least, you know, not feel guilty when I undoubtedly pre-order Anna Jones' new book...

Monday, 25 May 2015

Sweet potato breakfast noodle bowl with kale, avocado and fried egg

Confession time - I'm obsessed with food blogs. I barely read any fashion blogs anymore, but my reader is absolutely stuffed with food blogs. I read them on Feedly on my phone, then when I think I want to save a recipe I open it up in Safari, to eventually be pinned to Pinterest when I run out of browser windows (seriously I have like 20+ windows open at a time). And then alongside Pinterest I have a note in my phone called "Things I want to cook" where I co-ordinate everything I, erm, want to cook.
If you follow me on Instagram you'll know that I cook a LOT. I cook dinner from scratch at least 5 or 6 times a week, as well as food prepping on a Sunday, and my favourite meal of the week - Saturday, post-parkrun breakfast. I would love to post more recipes on my blog but the reality is I'm not actually very creative when it comes to cooking. The truth is, I'm too scared of doing it wrong. I'm scared I don't know which flavours go together, which textures work, and as a result I am a slave to my dozens of cookbooks and the aforementioned food blogs.
A few weeks ago though, Monkey Nutrition asked me to review something on their site, and I picked some coconut oil. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you'll know that coconut oil is kind of a big deal in the food world. I won't go into the details of why it is a better choice to cook with, but you can read all about it here. Anyway, I had a bit of a problem - I wanted to use it to make something unique for my blog, but as I said, I'm not a very creative cook.
But one of the few meals I do tend to play around with is my Saturday brunch. Phil and I usually go to parkrun, then head to Aldi and get home about 10.30am. By this time I'm starving, but I want something both quick and nutritious after my run. As we've just done a big food shop by this point I have plenty of options of what to make!
On Saturday I knew I wanted sweet potato noodles and I had a vague idea of what I wanted, but couldn't find a recipe online that perfectly satisfied my craving. So for a change, I made something up! It was so delicious that I decided to make it again on Sunday after my 6 mile run and this time used my coconut oil!
If you've never cooked with coconut oil before, I will warn you that it does, unsurprisingly, taste like coconut. This particular brand was quite strong, so this is something to bear in mind. I personally love coconut in savoury cooking, but don't like it in sweet cooking. I loved using it for this breakfast dish, but when I made brownies with the oil I could taste the coconut coming through. So for me I'll be prioritising it for savoury cooking - which is most of my cooking anyway!
Now a reminder. I am not a food blogger. I didn't weigh anything and I didn't measure my spices. I know, I know, that's really annoying for you. But it does mean you can tailor things to your taste. I also used mushrooms, kale and peppers here, but swap for the your vegetables of choice.
Also, I'm really nervous to post this - I don't know how food bloggers do it!

Sweet potato breakfast noodle bowl with kale, avocado and fried egg

Serves 1

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or oil of choice)
1/2 medium sweet potato, spiralized (using the blade with the smallest triangles)
3-4 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pepper, sliced
1-2 handfuls of kale, washed
Nutritional yeast
Chilli flakes
Garlic powder
1 egg

To serve: 1/2 avocado, salsa

1. Heat a frying pan onto a medium heat with one tablespoon of the coconut oil
2. Add the sweet potato noodles and cook, stirring often, until soft - about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don't stick!
3. Add your mushrooms, peppers and kale. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, chilli flakes and garlic powder to your taste (I used about 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, about 1/4 teaspoon of chilli flakes and about a teaspoon of garlic powder).
4. Get a second, smaller pan going on a high heat and after about a minute, add the rest of the coconut oil. After a few minutes give the oil a swirl around the pan and when it's smoking, add the egg.
5. Cook the egg until it's to your liking (I give mine a good 4 or 5 minutes because I like it super crispy. I had a bit of a nightmare here and my yolk split, but let's just ignore that).
6. Put the veg and noodles in a bowl, top with your egg and add avocado and salsa. Take a photo of your avocado because you have had some brown avocado nightmares recently and you can't believe it looks so perfect.
7. Serve and enjoy!
I would love to do more recipe posts but I just don't feel confident in my ability to create recipes myself - but I could definitely post recipes that I've tried from other blogs or books. Although I'm paranoid enough about keeping my kitchen clean!

Let me know if you give this a try!

Charlotte x