Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Free Food

Now that title got your attention, didn't it?

Recently, I've been trying to eat much more healthily than before. I've always had a pretty good diet, but getting bored during the day and sitting about a meter from the biscuit tin at work has led to some pretty poor food choices.

Back in my first year at university, a whole group of us started to get Graze boxes (who, by the way, haven't asked me to write this). If you don't know, if you sign up for Graze boxes you get lots of healthy snacks in the post. Let's be honest- having food delivered to your door is always great fun, but more often than not it's pretty bad for you. Pizza, Chinese food... it's all a bit rubbish isn't it?

So Graze came massively in handy when I couldn't be bothered to shop, but needed easy, healthy snacks to take to the library with me. And now I'm working, and like post more than any normal person does, I decided to start getting the boxes again.

Basically, you sign up with your email address, and have a big hunt through their list of yummy snacks, ticking whether you love, like, want to try, or want to bin the snacks. The people at Graze then have a look through your choices and send you a box of four snacks either once a week or once a fortnight (it's your choice) based on what you've said you like, love, or want to try. All of the snacks have a health benefit- either they are low calorie, one of your five a day, are high in fibre, yadda yadda yadda. OK, some of them are high in sugar, and some involve chocolate, but everything in moderation, right?

I have never been disappointed in a Graze box. It's also massively fun to have a surprise parcel of snacks delivered to you. This week, I got popcorn, some little breadsticks and dip, "White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake" (dried fruit, white chocolate, and nuts), and "Apple Cosmo", which was a mix of dried fruit. The popcorn was an amazing post-work snack, and this morning I put the apple cosmo bits into my porridge. 

Honestly, I can't rave enough about Graze boxes. At £3.89 a box, they might be a bit expensive, but they are SO convenient- it's so easy to just grab a box and chuck it in your bag for later. And OK, I'm trying not to snack as much at the moment. But it's better to snack on healthy things rather than biscuits.

If you want a free box of food- and you can literally cancel straight after the free one, unlike a lot of other "free" things- you can sign up here- and if you use the code 78ZXBDY you can get a box for FREEEE! An in return for telling you, I get one half price. Everyone's a winner!!

As I said- Graze have nothing to do with me writing this post. I just like them.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Cornwall: It's Good For The Soul

I'm a Devon girl at heart.

Porthcurnow Beach....
I may have been born in The North (Manchester's north, right?), but I am 100% a southerner. And particularly, I'm a Devonshire lass- even if I was told on the same night that I sound like I'm from "somewhere posh and well spoken" or "the South-East- are you from Surrey?". I am patriotic about my cream teas (we aren't going there again), and I absolutely love where I live. But sometimes, a little change of scenery is a good thing. And it turns out that Cornwall is good for the soul.

Thumbs up if you like the South West!

Last Thursday, I road-tripped down to meet a few friends in St Ives. L lives there, and after my incredibly clever medic friends J, B, and C had finished their exams on Monday, they headed down to camp for a few days before heading home for their summer break. I could only take a couple of days off work, so arranged to join them for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning.

It was such a perfect few days. On Thursday, we swam in the crystal clear sea at Porthcurnow Beach, ate ice cream looking at St Michael's Mount in Marazion (then did yoga, much to the amusement of the passers-by), ate fish and chips on the beach in Hayle, and then headed out for a night out in Redruth- which was one of the funniest experiences I've had in a long time.

St Michael's Mount

After a few hours sleep, Friday started with a very lazy morning. We then popped in to see L's sister and her beautiful little boy, whose favourite word is "YAY!" before driving to Porthtowan for cake with a sea view.

Porthtowan Beach
A quick wander down the beach and we headed back to Lidl to stock up on supplies for a perfect BBQ on Carbis Bay beach- where we got papped by Pirate FM (a local radio station, the picture is on their Facebook page if you want to get really stalker-y). We finished the night with s'mores and multiple attempts at group jumping pictures using a self timer.

Carbis Bay

This is the closest we got to us all being in the air at the same time...

Saturday morning we had to be up bright and early as the girls has places to be, and we were out of the campsite by 7:20am. So on my way back to Devon, I headed into Padstow  for a couple of hours before heading home to crash- there's definitely something to be said for getting there before 9am. No trouble parking at all. And it's easy to get pictures of bunting without tourists' heads in them.

So a busy but absolutely perfect few days. Trust me- if you head down to West Cornwall, go to any and all of the places I've just mentioned and you'll have a marvellous time. I miss it already.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Happiness Is... (vol.26)

I can't believe I've been blogging for six months!!

I love writing these happiness posts. Like Lisette's Thankful Thursday posts, they really make me think about the little things. Which is particularly helpful on a Sunday afternoon when your lemon meringue pie gets ruined by lack of an effective electric whisk to actually make the meringue. In the grand scheme of things I know that just a baked lemon tart isn't the end of the world, but my goodness it felt like it at the time.

So without further ado, this week happiness is...

I have a slight sandals tan on the foot at the top of the picture. Do you see it?!

... sand between your toes. Because is there anything better, really? Certainly not when the sand is as soft as this was.

... dancing. Particularly dancing like a lunatic with amazing friends on a stage in a half-empty club to Blurred Lines on a Thursday night. We realised that all bar one of us would never see any of the people in the cub every again so took the idea of "dancing like nobody's watching" to a whole new level. I haven't laughed as much on a night out in ages.

... sweet peas. A neighbour brought this little bunch around for Mama CupAndSaucer as a thank you for trying to rescue their son from a tricky situation. They're such pretty flowers- I can't stop looking at them. Suddenly I know which flowers I'll be having if I ever get married!

... friends saying lovely things when you're feeling a bit crappy. I feel a bit less body confident than normal at the moment, and being criticised for eating a chocolate muffin at work on Tuesday upset me more than it should have. But when I mentioned this to a close friend whilst wearing a bikini, she looked at me and said "Alice, you look so good at the moment. Seriously, you look more womanly than you did. I don't like you too skinny!" which made me feel far more confident than I did before. There's nothing like knowing that something thinks you look great, even if you don't feel it.

... Royal Baby memorabilia. I'm sorry, I know most people are probably sick to death of things coming up about Prince George, but I'm so excited still, and fully intend on soaking up as much of the excitement as possible for as long as possible. I've already bought the M&S Royal Baby biscuit tin, and I'm totally buying this Emma Bridgewater mug after payday tomorrow. (Payday tomorrow is a bonus happy thing. It's felt like ages since the last one!!)

What's making you happy this week? 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Thailand: Pai

Oh I've been a bit lax with these Thailand posts haven't I!?

It's only because my friend O, who went to Thailand two days after I came back, is coming home tomorrow that made me think about how I hadn't posted on the rest of my trip since my post on Chiang Mai. Whoops.

This is the main street in Pai. After dark, a market sets up all along here.

We arrived in Thailand on the Sunday, and had two nights in Chiang Mai booked. We'd heard great things about Pai, so after our first two nights were up, we decided to head up there.

Pai is a small town in the very north of Thailand. The easiest way to get there is to get a bus from Chiang Mai, which costs 150 baht (about £3-4) and takes 3-4 hours, depending on how much of a maverick your bus driver is. It's actually only 136km between Chiang Mai and Pai, but you're going up (or down) a mountain road which has 762 bends- hence why it takes so long to get there. 

We stayed at the Pai River Villa, which we booked in advance- though it's really easy to just rock up and find somewhere to stay, as Pai is a bit of a traveller haven. We loved where we stayed- they were beautiful wooden bungalows (on stilts), with gorgeous veranda-y/ balcony-ish things at the front. However, when we arrived back from supper on the first night, we opened the bathroom door and found cockroaches in the bathroom. In the morning, we asked to move to a bungalow which began with S- these are double rooms (a opposed to D, which was a twin), without air con (but with a fan), but have mozzie nets over all of the windows, which the D rooms didn't have. We were a lot happier after that.

The first afternoon we were in Pai we arranged some bits and pieces for our next few days- namely elephant riding with Thom's Elephant Camp and yoga with Mam Yoga.

I'd seriously recommend Thom's Elephant Camp. We were taken on two hour trek, up into the mountains and back down to a river where the elephants seemed to think it was entertaining to throw you off their backs into a fairly shallow river and squirt you (it was pretty entertaining actually). We had lunch included in our trip, and after eating were taken on a bamboo raft down the river which was so relaxing and so peaceful. I would seriously recommend this if you find yourself in Pai.

Mama, who runs Mam Yoga, is hilarious. She's something like 70 and  has been teaching yoga in Pai for about 40 years. She's absolutely mental- for example, she spent a good while talking to us about how if you did headstands every day you wouldn't get wrinkles and wouldn't have to wear a bra at 70. Crazy. We paid for a whole day's yoga but this was actually a bit of a cheek- we did an hour and a half in the morning, and another hour in the afternoon. If you go, say you're an intermediate even if you're a beginner- the morning session is with intermediate/ advanced people, and even I could keep up.

Yes, that's me doing a headstand.

In Pai we also had some pretty cracking massages. Seriously, you can walk into pretty much any massage place here and know that it's going to be good. Word of warning though- if you have an oil massage, it's entirely possible that they'll massage your boobs. Which was a shock for us.

Friday, 26 July 2013

A Blogger Book Club

Do you remember, way back when, I was involved in a book swap organised by Jenny?

Well, because there were a few issues with the swap, Jenny sadly decided not to run it again. But instead she came up with something even better and asked me to help her with it. I was hugely flattered, and of course said yes straight away. Because who wouldn't want to co-host a book club?!

The idea is that we will choose a book to read, have a month or so to read it, then on a set day one of the members will host the chat on their blog. For this to work, everyone involved will need to subscribe to the comments and then there will be a chat!!!

So this is where you come in. At the moment, we're just trying to get an idea of who would be interested, and for suggestions of something great to read. We're looking for something around or under 500 pages (so we all have enough time to read it!), which isn't wildly expensive, and also available on Kindles (and other e-readers for that matter). Ideally, this will also be something quite new (though not in hard back please, I absolutely hate the things) and/ or underhyped, so as many people as possible can experience the book for the first time all together (aww, isn't that vomit inducing?)

Found here
Once we've had some suggestions, Jen and I will choose the book and make an announcement telling you all to go forth and purchase said literary delight. Then in October, either Jen or I will host the chat on our blog.

Simple really!! If you'd like to take part, drop a comment below so we can get an idea of numbers- and book suggestions are very welcome!! And make sure you're following Jen and me on Twitter for any ad-hoc announcements.

This is going to be fun! 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bucket Listing

I've actually somewhat gone off tag posts in the last little while, but then Rebecca tagged me in one of the latest Money Supermarket competitions, and I just couldn't say no.

This one is all about your Bucket List- the things you'd love to do before you "kick the bucket", in less than sentimental terms. Basically, everyone involved writes about two things they'd love to tick off their bucket list- one budget item, and one more extravagant one. You can read the full rules here

I've got a pretty constant list in my head of the things I'd like to do in the time I have left. As the song goes "there's more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done". But like most people, I can be pretty poor at actually doing them- always deciding I haven't got the time, or it's too expensive, or a bit of a silly thing to do. But this has really got me thinking about two of them.

with good friends
From here
So first up, my budget bucket list entry would be host a dinner party for all of my lovely university friends. OK- so this may not be completely budget (food and vino costs a fair bit these days), but in comparison to a lot of the other things I want to do, it's a smaller one. We used to do supper all together a lot at uni- and I really miss just chilling out with them all over some good food and wine. We'd sit in the garden with fairy lights and citronella candles dotted around, eat boeuf bourgignon and moelleux au chocolat, and generally catch up. The only thing stopping this at the moment is the fact that we're all scattered to the winds a bit these days, and getting everyone in the same place at the same time is pretty tricky, but it would be so amazing to get everyone together again. Soon, promise!

Paris ~ Patisserie
This is the dream. From here
I actually had a much easier time thinking up something expensive on my bucket list. Typical Alice (I'm known at home for my slightly expensive taste. I'm not that bad though, promise!).
If money were no object, without a doubt the first thing I would do would be to enrol in patisserie school in France. Either Le Cordon Bleu or Ferrandi. I'd live in Paris, cycle around on a bicycle pretending to be Rachel Khoo, improve my French, and just generally love life. Seriously- this is the only thing in my mind when I play the lottery (which I only do when there's a super ridiculous jackpot on the Euromillions- is it just me that does that?). So yes- the only thing stopping me from doing this at the moment is funds. Boo, money sucks doesn't it!?

It probably says a lot about me that both of these relate to food, doesn't it?

I'm tagging JennyLeona, and Annie, but quick- the competition closes on 3rd August!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Woman Has Baby- Where Were You?

If you've been in outer space for the last few days (though I'm astronauts even know. Howard Wolowitz had a phone), a rather important baby was born on Monday. And Charlotte of Charlotte's Web asked me where I was, and what I was doing when this person had this baby.

The front cover of Private Eye
Being a little more specific, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to Prince Cambridge at 4:24pm on Monday 22nd July, weighing 8lb 6oz (which seems a lot). Enormous congratulations to her, William, and the entire Royal Family.

I'm an enormous Royal Family fan. I appreciate that not everyone is (and if you aren't, you probably aren't even reading this- why have you got this far?), but personally I absolutely love them- I think they're one of the best things about Great Britain, and I love their quirky Britishness. Including Prince Philip's hilarious lack of political correctness- apparently, he once said to a woman in a wheelchair at a garden party at the Palace "Well, at least you get to sit down through all of this!". No jokes.

So oddly enough, since the announcement of the pregnancy in December I have been pretty excited. Mama CupAndSaucer started guessing baby names at the Royal Wedding, and this only stepped up after the official announcement. I've read everything on the BBC about the pregnancy, cooed over her beautiful pregnancy clothes and marveled how she still managed to look perfect, and as July drew closer, my blood pressure rose to a point where I'm sure my doctor actually thought there was a problem when she measured it on Saturday. 

From here

By this week, every time someone tweeted the word "Baby" my heart jumped and I was sure it was about to be announced. So when Chris Evans announced that Catherine was in labour at 7:45 on Monday morning, I screamed in my car for a good ten minues and banged the steering wheel so much it's felt a bit loose since. I was actually pretty amazed that they actually announced the labour- I thought the first we'd hear would be when she'd actually popped, but it seems the Royal Family like increasing the traffic to the BBC News site, and giving everyone an excuse to be on Twitter all day. Which is exactly what I did.

At 4:24pm on Monday, I was getting ready to leave work. I tend to work 8:15am- 4:30pm because I'm a morning person, and I'm allowed to do this. So at 4:24pm, I was wearing a pencil skirt and sleeveless floral blouse, retying my hair into a tighter bun for the drive home, and probably trying to make myself look busy for another five minutes without actually starting anything new. In fact, I think I was adding dates for 2014 into the work calendar- which seems a long way off, given that I don't know what I'll be doing next Tuesday. 

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital with their new baby boy on 23 July 2013
From here

After my usual hour-and-a-quarter commute, including a stop for petrol, I grabbed a mug of tea and parked myself on the sofa until 6:55pm when Mama CupAndSaucer text to let me know she was on her way and I prepped a supper of fajitas. After eating we settled back on the sofa, changed channels momentarily at 8:15pm, and switched back at 8:28pm- literally moments before they announced the birth. We both shrieked in shock that it was a boy- I was certain it was a girl and was holding out for a new Princess Alice- and launched straight back into name discussions. I think we need a new hobby.

And last night, when they emerged from St Mary's, I was in the same place on the sofa, clutching another mug of tea and squealing with glee at how perfect and happy they looked. I was particularly delighted by William's choice of words- rather than "We're getting to know him", Wills went with "We're having a chance to catch up". I like to picture William, Kate, and the Prince with mugs of tea and chocolate digestives discussing the differences between the womb and the Real World.

From here. I'm sure if I can find them on the website, I'll have one of these by next week.
Since, I've rewritten the words to "Oh, What A Circus" from Evita so it's about the birth of the baby, not the death of Eva Peron. (If you want, I'll sing it for you. Or write the words down). And now I'm just excited about the inevitable commemorative Emma Bridgewater mug, and Marks & Spencer's biscuit tin.

What were you doing when the baby was born?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Recently, I've been lucky enough to receive some lovely blog-love from Jenny and Rosie. Having these two lovely ladies, whose blogs I adore, noticing this little corner of the internet made me rather happy, oddly enough.

From here
Then we were talking about what blog growth meant to the individual blogger in Sunday night's #lbloggers, and I said how much my page views jumped since these two lovely ladies had mentioned me. There was general agreement that this was a pretty lovely thing to do for other bloggers- so today, I thought I'd give you a little run down of some of my favourite bloggers. Some are bigger, some are smaller, but you might not know about some of them- so here are my top tips of blogs you might love.

Rachael, of Made Up of Little Things- I love Rachael. She's a little bit more grown up than me (house building, dog owning, pregnant being...) and is generally brilliant. Her and her partner are expecting a new baby (which I'm almost as excited about as I was about the new Royal Baby), and Pregnant Rachael on Twitter is hilarious. Her blog is also brilliantly awesome. Don't let her scary sounding pregnancy complications put you off (either reading it, or having children).

Meg of Meg-Made. Meg's blog is seriously underloved- go and have a look and be awed by her amazing talent at making things look beautiful, and amazing fudge that will send you into a sugar coma, and general amazingness. She also has a beautiful one-year-old, M, and there will be a fight between her gorgeous baby M and Lauren's daughter Viola over who will marry Prince Charming Cambridge.

See what I mean about amazing fudge? This is Meg's picture, and you can find the recipe here.
Jenny of Sunny Sweet Pea- because I love her far too much for someone I haven't met, and she was kind enough to feature me as a blogger of the month. Say what?! I've decided we're going to meet soon for tea and cake somewhere between Devon and Norwich. Also, we're starting a new little project together soon too, stay posted for more information!

Bella of How Does It Feel To...- because her blog is so insightful- there's so often something there to make me think. She's very wise for a 21-year-old you know, and just writes some amazing things. She'll go far, this one, I'm predicting it now!!

Sophie of The Littlest Things- I've been reading this blog for a couple of years now, and still love it just as much now as I did when I first found it. Sophie is an Aussie in London (like Meg, actually!), and her pictures are beautiful, and she just got engaged which is VERY EXCITING!

Jess from Love and London- because her and Tom's struggle to be together just made me melt. Without ruining the fun, she came from the States to be with him, got detained and put back on a plane to the US, and... you'll have to go to her blog to find out the rest.

From here

Emma of Highland Fling and I are slightly scarily similar. We both studied history at university, both appear to have similar outlooks on life, and both live in... oh wait, no, she's up in Scotland and I'm down in the South West. Genuinely though, I think if we both met we'd be incredibly awkward turtles at first and then get on marvellously. Go and look at her blog for beautiful clothes and her amazing hair.

MegFee- I don't think I can properly express in words how much I love this blog. It was one I found a couple of years ago, and have read every week since. Meg writes so beautifully, and takes wonderful pictures of New York, and just makes me think that it's OK to be young, and single, and still figuring it all out. She has also written some amazing posts on food, health, and body image which I think you should all go and read.

(via The Design Chaser: Interior Styling | Bedside Lamps)
From here
And I think that's quite enough for you all to be getting on with, even though I have thousands more I could be writing about. Go forth! Love them! Comment! 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Happiness Is... (vol.25)

I love the sunshine, don't get me wrong. But is anyone else getting a bit... bored of it?!

I know that's pretty much sacrilege, and I would like to reiterate that I absolutely love the sun- but one of my favourite things about living in the UK is the diversity of our weather. And in the same way I get bored when it's rainy or snowy for too long, I get bored when it's sunny for too long.

But anyway. The sun does make me happy. And this week, happiness is...

... days where lunch consists of ice cream, and supper is a barbeque. Because I think far too much about what I eat- I don't obsess over it, but it isn't massively far off, not going to lie- days where I just don't are fun. 

In Salcombe. From here
... bunting. It's just so festive isn't it? And I mean festive in the true sense of the word- that is to say, pertaining to festivities- not as in Christmassy. We're MONTHS from that still, don't start on it yet.

... Royal Baby name guessing. Mama and I have been discussing this since the Royal Wedding, and I personally find it so much fun. They all have so many names!! Current bets are "Alexandra Victoria Diana Elizabeth" (as her full name) if it's a girl, and "George Edward William Arthur" if it's a boy. Then again, I also threw Rose into the mix yesterday afternoon- you know, like an English (or of course British) rose. Princess Rose. Queen Rose. How beautiful (if unlikely) is that!?
(Sorry to everyone who is sick to death of talk of the Royal Baby. I FOR ONE AM EXCITED)

... Saturdays spent lying in the sun. I decamped into the back garden on Saturday with my throw, cushions, and book. I managed to plough a lot further through A Feast for Crows (and am enjoying it far more now) and ended up burning the backs of my legs because I only put suncream on my upper half, but it was still lovely.

... improving. I'm trying to run twice a week at the moment- I am feeling the need to get in shape, now we're about to finish our summer- and managed to go from 12 minute miles to 10:45 minute miles between my Wednesday and Sunday runs. I'd like to get back down to under 10 minute miles next week. The feeling of getting better at something is brilliant.

What's making you happy this week?

Orange and Almond Loaf Cake

In the warm weather, I really haven't felt like baking.

Of course, I made Mama CupAndSaucer birthday cupcakes the week I got back, but other than that I've had no desire to bake. The idea of being in a kitchen when there's sunshine to be soaked up is not a fun one. 

In addition to this, when I was making the buttercream for the birthday cupcakes, my beloved electric hand whisk, which has been in use for as long as I can remember, gave up the ghost. It was a sad sad day, and something I think I can only get over by saving up for and buying a KitchenAid. It's a hardship, having to buy something I've pined for for years, but I'm sure I'll cope.

But until that day, I'll have to return to making things by hand (unless I cave and buy a cheapy hand whisk to tide me over). And when making this yesterday, I remembered what a simple pleasure that is. Beating the crap out of a bowl of butter and sugar and eggs is a lovely way to take out any frustration that's developed as a result of burning the backs of your legs, and really works your triceps.

This was originally a Hummingbird Bakery recipe, but as Tarek Malouf would probably have my guts for garters for daring to make something by hand, I adapted it. I also took the word "yoghurt" out of the title of the bake because a) the amount is so small as to possibly be deemed unnecessary and b) I used creme fraiche anyway. I also omitted the baking powder by accident and it still rose- hence why there isn't any in my recipe below.

You Will Need
A loaf tin (lined with baking paper), an oven, a big bowl, scales, a spatula

190g butter
190g caster sugar
The finely grated zest of an orange
3 eggs
60g ground almonds
190g plain flour
A tablespoon of creme fraiche
A handful of flaked almonds

What To Do
Start by making sure your butter is really soft, particularly if you're making this by hand. Beat it for a little while by itself, then cream with the sugar. Beat in the orange zest. Add your eggs one by one, mixing super well after each addition to prevent the mixture from curdling (I think this is what curdling is- when the mixture isn't properly emulsified). After the last addition, keep beating until it feels like your arm is about to fall off. Then beat a bit more.
Fold in your ground almonds and plain flour in two lots- this will make sure it's all properly incorporated. Beat in your creme fraiche (gently), and pour into your lined loaf tin. Sprinkle a handful of flaked almonds over the top, and bake at 170C for about 50 minutes- though if it isn't cooked through at this point, put it back in for another five to ten minutes.

Enjoy in the sunshine with a cup of tea.