Monday, 31 March 2014

Happiness Is... (vol. 60)

If I had to describe life at the moment in a couple of words, it would be "full on". In terms of work, home, family, and everything in between- there's an awful lot going on at the moment. For the most part, it's all good- seeing friends, doing well at work, catching up with family, spending time with J- but there are also some not-quite-so-great bits which we'll leave for another day, perhaps.

I like being hectic, but my god is it tiring. I thought I hadn't noticed the clocks changing yesterday, but when I was writing this I suddenly felt all out of whack and ridiculously tired. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to make it through a Monday disguised as a training day without having to nap under the table.

So. This week, happiness is...

Found here
... decaffeinated tea. Seriously. One of my favourite inventions ever- I can't drink anything caffeinated after about 6pm, or I sleep really very badly and have the most hilariously bizarre dreams. Decaf tea therefore makes me exceptionally happy.

... seeing Mama CupandSaucer and The Brothers. Yesterday, Mama CupandSaucer, my brothers and I all congregated in Exeter for the day. We drank tea, ate burgers, pottered around in the sunshine, drank more tea, chattered about wedding related things (NOT my wedding, before you get over excited) and headed back to our respective towns and cities. It was such a lovely way to spend the day, and Mama was just so happy to have the three of us in the same place at the same time. Lovely stuff.

Found here
... doing the right thing. To paraphrase Dumbledore- often in life, we have to choose between doing what is right, and what is easy. Without going into any detail whatsoever, over the last couple of weeks I've taken the easy route by just pretending certain things aren't happening, and thereby completely ignoring the right thing to do. On Saturday I finally manned up, and did what I needed to do. And while I'm not happy about it, I certainly feel lighter for having done it.

... really, hilariously frank conversations. You know, the ones that are way easier when you're driving and you actually can't look at the other person, because if you were having this conversation over the supper table it would probably be incredibly awkward? Yeah, those. Fantastic.

... seeing your hard work pay off. I've put a lot into work over the past couple of weeks, and seeing the fruits of my labour on Friday resulted in a shriek of "YAY!", running across the office, and doing a happy dance in a meeting room. Yes, really. My boss thought it was hilarious, fortunately.

What's making you happy this week?

Friday, 28 March 2014

Spiced Fruit and Nut Biscotti

I love biscotti. There's something about them that is just a little bit more grown up that a standard biscuit. A bit more refined than a cookie. A lot more glamorous than a bourbon (though let's be honest, I bloody love a good bourbon).

At a team meeting on Tuesday morning, tea and biscuits were provided, as per usual. Less usually, we were in a swanky lounge in a sports stadium, rather than a conference centre. Accordingly, the biscuits were of a much higher standard than your basic "two digestives individually wrapped" fare, and the selection included biscotti.

Because the ones at the meeting clearly contained chocoate (boo), I steered myself in the direction of the homemade ginger nuts. But could I stop thinking about biscotti? No, no I could not. And at 8:30pm on Tuesday night, I went "SOD IT, I'm making biscotti".

From original whim to being put in a tin cold, these took two hours- but that did include a trip to Sainsbugs for supplies, so don't let that put you off. Biscotti are so worth it- crunch, grown up, and they keep for ages if you can resist them. They make great Easter gifts too- I once took a kilner jar full of these to a now-ex boyfriend's parents as a gift when I went to stay one Easter, and they went down rather well indeed- and proved that they also travel well, given that getting there involved a taxi, a train, a bus, a plane, and a car journey. Yeah.

This biscotti recipe is completely customisable too- as soon as I can eat chocolate again, for instance, I'm going to make them again removing the spices and zests, and replacing the almonds and dried fruit with pistachios, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chunks. You could also soak your dried fruit in rum, or tea, if you fancied.

It's also quite fun baking something where you can see where the name came from. Biscotti comes from the Italian for "cooked twice"- which is exactly what you do here, as you'll soon see. 

Make them, make them now. And eat them with a mug of excellent tea, or excellent coffee- completely worth it.

Spiced Fruit and Nut Biscotti

100g whole almonds
2 large eggs
200g caster sugar
260g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp mixed spice
100g mixed raisins and cranberries
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat your oven to 180C

Begin by toasting your almonds briefly in a hot, dry frying pan. Keep an eye on them- this is easier when they're blanched and you can see them changing colour, but basically keep them moving around a bit until they're all hot, then tip them onto a plate and leave to cool. When cool, roughly chop.

Whisk together your eggs and sugar until well combined and pale- either by hand or with an electric whisk. Add all your other ingredients into the bowl and mix well to combine. 

Get two baking trays (or one very large one) and line with baking paper. DO NOT attempt to do this without baking paper it WILL NOT WORK. (Sorry, but it just won't)

Split your mixture into two, and on each baking tray shape half the mixture into a log shape. Bake at 180 for 20-25 minutes or until it looks quite set and a light golden brown. Then remove from the oven (leave the oven on) and put on the side to cool for five minutes, or you'll burn your fingers.

Remove the logs to a chopping board, and using a large knife (a serrated edge works best but anything is fine), slice each log into slim slices- I'd guess mine are between 0.5cm and 1cm thick. Then lie them flat on the baking tray, and pop back into the oven for another 10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool, then serve with tea or coffee. 

These keep for up to two weeks, apparently, but I've never had them for longer than three days. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


Rather more weeks ago than I'd care to remember (and the Most Disorganised Blogger Award goes to...), J and I had a little weekend in London. He had to be there for work for a few days, and we decided that the weekend before would be the perfect opportunity for a little trip to the Big Smoke.

It has sort of become a tradition of mine that if I go on a train on a Friday night, I'm allowed a pre-made gin and tonic (obviously a freshly made one would be better, but beggars can't be choosers), and a bag of M&S Belgian chocolate covered peanuts. I entertained myself on the train by finishing the i crossword in 15 minutes flat with no cheating (proud), and whiled away the journey to Paddington, where I was meeting J...

My train arrive first, so I got to stand and people watch for a while. People watching at train stations is basically my favourite thing to do- I love watching the coming and going, the swathes of people all moving toward trains, loved ones, home... it's lovely.

J arrived after about 10 minutes of waiting (it's a miracle, he was coming from Devon, where half the trainline is still either underwater, or non-existent), and we zoomed off to our hotel- with only a minor bit of getting lost, due to my impeccable sense of direction. I maintain it's his own fault for letting me be in charge of getting us there...

On Saturday morning, we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed, and I put on my housemate's dress (she basically clothed me for the weekend, bless her), and we headed for Portobello Market- J had never been, and I wanted to browse for silly homewares I don't need, and overdose on deliciousness. Which is exactly what we did, stopping first at the Hummingbird Bakery to pick up a couple of sweet treats for later in the day- and a cup of tea for there and then...

I'd put out a little shout on Twitter asking if anyone had any recommendations for places to eat, and my lovely, lovely Meg suggested Honest Burger- and boy, did she deliver... 

 J thought it was hilarious that I wanted to grab burgers, because on one of our early dates I had a massive massive freak out over how to daintily eat a burger in front of him. But when our burgers were happily placed in front of us, he knew that I'd made the best decision I could have made with this one. Seriously- if you haven't been, I very strongly suggest that you go to Honest Burger- my mouth is watering again just looking at that picture.

Tummies happily full, we headed back for a peruse around Covent Garden and a quick trip to the TKTS stand in Leicester Square for theatre tickets for the evening. We managed to score cheap tickets for Wicked, and celebrated with the cupcakes we'd bought earlier in the day- I think I I made the better choice: Black Bottom > Snickers cupcake, every time.

While wandering around Covent Garden, I nipped into Joy, and picked up the lovely dress below- apologies for the genuinely appalling picture- seriously, the dress is actually beautiful- the picture below doesn't really show much of anything, other than my standing-on-the-bed skills.

All I can really say about Wicked is that it was genuinely incredible- so much so that I didn't even think twice before booking tickets to see it again when it comes to Plymouth next January. Mama CupandSaucer and I have amazing seats for a Saturday evening performance and I am already SO excited about it.

Sunday morning dawned slightly more grey and dreary looking than Saturday, but undeterred we headed in search of brunch to formulate a plan.

We ended up in Le Pain Quotidien- I know there are endless, endless independent places for brunch in London, but to be honest, we were starving and it was actually really, really good- I am a big fan of anywhere which offers me this much cutlery for a one course meal.

I can't for the life of me remember what the thing I went for was actually called, but it left me so full I couldn't even think about food until gone 7pm that night. Which for something I ate at 11am, I was pretty impressed by. Pain au chocolat, great bread, a boiled egg, Gruyere and ham, yoghurt and granola, tea, and juice? Oh, be still my groaning stomach.

We decided that the best thing to do following our feasts was to head for a nice leisurely walk along the Thames- so we did just that, from near Victoria all the way along to the Globe- at our own pace, meandering along, just chatting away. Or rather, me having a very long rant at J which I still feel rather guilty about. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise publicly to J for being such a stroppy madam that afternoon. I'm still not 100% sure what got into me- I'm going to blame it on too much white flour. Because that's logical. I'm honestly not sure why he puts up with me sometimes...

After a long potter around the book stalls outside the National Theatre, we decided to cross the river for a little peek into St Paul's, as neither of us had been in before. I am not religious in the slightest, but I love the sensation of peace that exists inside church buildings- the air feels almost heavier inside churches, I think- full of whispered prayers, reverent sighs, hushed tones. It's lovely.

We crossed the river again for a drink with my uni friend L, who regaled us with stories of people we went to uni with who I haven't seen in yonks, and her dating antics, before dashing back to the hotel to grab our bags and head back to Paddington, where J put a sad little Alice back on a train to Cardiff. London- you're great. I'll be back again soon, I'm sure...

London new and old...

Monday, 24 March 2014

Happiness Is... (vol. 59)

I think Mondays get a bit of a bad reputation. Perhaps rather than seeing them as the devil in weekday form, we should be seeing them as a fresh start- the day to start doing all the things we've been meaning to do and never quite get around to. Not so much the healthy eating/ exercise/ being perfect stuff we all seem to always be trying to do- but maybe the things like actually making contact with the people we love?  I am incredibly guilty of waiting for other people to contact me,and then getting upset when things happen and I don't know. So really, I need to start doing something about it.

And besides- personally, I like Tuesdays an awful lot less than Monday. Tuesday seems miles from either weekend, and you can't spend half your morning having "So, how was your weekend?" conversations with you colleagues on a Tuesday.

I'm rambling. This week, happiness is...

Found here
... routine. Routine makes me a very happy bunny- I like to get up at the same time each morning, and go through certain things in the same order each day. I love my little morning routines in particular, and if they get messed up, then I can be in a foul mood for the rest of the day. But when everything goes to plan? That, my friend, is a sign that a day is going to be very good indeed.

... living room picnics. J and I gathered a load of vegetable crisps, veggie sticks, hummus, and good bread on Sunday afternoon and had a living room picnic while watching Game of Thrones. Perfect Sunday fare that put a big smile on my face, particularly after we ran around the corner to Joes' Ice-Cream Parlour for ice cream in between episodes. Yum.

... cocktails. I have come to the conclusion that I do not drink enough cocktails. what's better than a highly alcoholic beverage that tastes like juice? Let's just forget the fact that I normally pay more for one out than I would spend on a whole bottle of wine if I were drinking at home. I just wish they could all be sipped in rooftop bars in Bangkok, as the one above was. Sigh.

... winning at korfball! My team and I played two games one after the other on Sunday, and we won both! I may have been marking a girl who played in a faintly violent way, and I may have got hit smack in the face with a ball, and I may not have scored, but I had so much fun and was high on endorphins for the rest of the day. Lovely stuff.

From here
... all of you lovely lot. I adored all of your comments on yesterday's post, and just wanted to say a huge thank you to you all for being so bloody brilliant. You make it all worthwhile.

What's making you happy this week?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

300 Thoughts

Don't worry, I'm not actually going to list 300 separate thoughts here- no, these are my thoughts on the fact that recently I gained 300 followers on Bloglovin, which I am very very excited about.

I know to a lot of people that probably seems like small fry, particularly in these days where the world and her dog seems to have a blog and everyone follows everyone. But it made me happy- probably happier than it should, actually. I didn't start blogging for the numbers (does anyone? They must find it so unsatisfying) but I'm finding now, that the numbers bother me.

Recently, I've been really, really shit at reading other blogs, commenting on the few posts I do read, and generally interacting with other bloggers. As a result, my page views dipped massively, and it really, really bothered me. I had a little moan about this to J (oh he's a lucky guy...!) and he reminded me that a)  I didn't start blogging for the numbers and b) if I wasn't happy about it, maybe I needed to do something about it. He tells me to do this fairly regularly, I think it's so I don't whinge at him too often.
Found here

I'm struggling for time a lot at the moment. Since moving to Cardiff I'm working full time, looking after all aspect of being a grown up (cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc), spending time with friends, speaking to J as often as I can, playing korfball, and you know, occasionally sleeping. I'm struggling so much for time at the moment that I'm barely speaking to my mum, and I completely missed that my best friend from Devon is doing HUGE exciting things at the moment. I feel like a terrible person for not having the time to speak to people.

 All of this has also meant that blogging has had to slide slightly, and I hate that- because I love nothing more than reading other peoples' blogs, and scribbling my own thoughts down here. At the moment, when I do have a bit of time to blog I'm currently having to decide between reading and writing. If I read and comment on other blogs then that's great- but then I don't have time to write posts when people (hopefully) come back to have a peek at my blog. If I prioritise writing, then I have no time to go and comment on other posts and then my page views dip and I think "was it worth me even writing that post?". The other evening I managed to find time to do both, and it did really pay off.  

And I know this isn't unique to me- seriously, I know that everyone else has to deal with all of this too- so I guess what I'm asking is, what do you do about it? Where do your priorities lie? Where would you like my priorities to lie? I'm not sure I can commit to posting every day at the moment- I would love to, but that would mean just waffling about nothing sometimes (much as I'm doing now, I suppose), and let's be honest- no one really wants to read that.

My life is infinitely richer because of blogging. New friends, new experiences, new sport, and as a consequence of that, J. I love this whole thing that blogging has brought about, and I don 't want to lose that. 

But yes. Thank you all- all 300 (or 304, to be precise) of you who choose to follow this little corner of the internet. I really do appreciate it, and love your comments, and reading your blogs. It all makes me very happy. I just wish I could do it more.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Tea Time

I don't know about you, but to me, tea time is a very, very important part of the day. 

I am a self confessed tea addict. I genuinely can't remember the last time I went a day without a cup (perhaps in Thailand last June, but I think even then we managed to get our hands on something), and a bad cup of tea is an easy way to get into my bad books very quickly.

At university, we all used to stop whatever we were doing at 4pm and come together for tea, cake or biscuits (or both), and Radio 2. We were possibly the most middle aged, middle class students going, but it made us happy and was a great way for us all to catch up and get away from our books (or, you know, Playstations, in the case of my male housemates).

It's a tradition I'd rather like to be able to continue now, but alas, working full time means we all tend to be working away in our respective offices at 4pm- and given that these are scattered across the southern half of the United Kingdom, it would be a tall order to get us all together just for tea and biscuits.

But whenever I have an afternoon free, I resurrect this tradition. When I have nearby friends who are free, they are brought in on the action too, but more often than not this is a solo treat. And when the lovely folk at Jing Tea sent me some lovely Darjeeling 2nd Flush to try, I couldn't wait for an opportunity to treat myself to a proper tea experience. 

I boiled the kettle, popped the teabag into one of my favourite mugs, filled the prettiest jug I  could find with just enough milk, gathered a few biscuits, and settled down for a really luxurious cup of tea. All too often, I grab a cup of (often poor quality) tea while I'm on the go, and don't get the chance to properly enjoy it. Not so here. The tea was beautifully flavoured, light, refreshing, and perfect with Nigella and a few custard creams on my afternoon off.

I also shared the tea with M and M a couple of weekends ago over a Saturday brunch of pancakes, fruit, and yoghurt, and can confirm that it went down a treat at breakfast time too. Really, a proper cup of tea requires time to be paid to it- whether that's at 4pm, or at breakfast time. Just not at your desk, okay?

Just kick your shoes off, curl up, and savour the moment.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was sent this tea to review but I wasn't financially compensated for writing this. All opinions are, of course, my own.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Blogger Book Club 3: Let's Get Picking!

So, it's time for another blogger book club!

From here
As much as Jenny and I loved hosting the chats on our blogs, we felt this might not be the best format for the conversations going forward. We wanted something that would be a bit more immediate, a bit more chatty, and a bit more like a real book club. And we came up with the idea of having the chat over Skype!

We aren't necessarily thinking that this will necessarily be a video call- our thoughts were more along the lines of an old-school MSN Messenger chat, though we are open to suggestions here! 

The chat will be held at 8pm (UK time) on 20th May 2014. To find out our Skype names, you'll need to sign up to our mailing list, which you can do below!

Once you've signed up, you'll also be able to help us pick our next book! Like last time, we're running a little poll to help us decide between the following books- again, if you'd like to vote, please sign up!

Found here
The nominees are:

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I'm so excited about this chat- the books all sound great, and I'm really excited for the new format. Tea and cake will also be compulsory.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Rainbow Brights

Maybe it's the change in the seasons, but recently I seem to have been obsessing over bright colours. I mean, you only need to take a quick peek at my Instagram feed to see that I'm loving all things rainbow hued- cake, flowers, sprinkles...

It's starting to work its way through into a lot of other aspects of my life too. I'm finding myself wanting to wear colours (a problem, considering a lot of my clothes are black, white, grey, or breton striped), have brightly coloured homewares, organise my books in rainbow order, and paint my nails in every colour under the sun (though at the moment they're in Essie's Merino Cool- not exactly bright...)

I've been having a bit of a peruse of the web and have found an awful lot of things that if I has all the money in the world I would be snapping up. It's great- normally, I want things in entirely the wrong season- grey dresses in spring, pale pink in autumn, black in the middle of summer... it's a problem. But I've found rather a lot of things I would currently gladly buy- bank balance, I apologise now...


I actually bought the blue dress a couple of weekends in London- it's so pretty, is very flattering on, it has pockets (always a selling point for me), and I can see it becoming a staple in my work wardrobe for the foreseeable future. 

As always, I'm in love with everything Emma Bridgewater are producing- they have so many seriously pretty things at the moment that it's proving incredibly difficult not to just hit "checkout" and spend all of my wages there every month. My housemade and I have actually already got a pretty impressive collection though, so perhaps I should wait a while...

I've also taken to browsing Anthropologie recently- which again, is dangerous territory for my poor bank balance. I've fallen in love with this cushion, this bedding and can we just talk about this blouse for a moment? Oh so pretty!!

From here
I'm sure quite a few of these things will be winging their way to me soon- and I am very excited about this. Sigh. Will I ever learn not to just spend?!

What are you lusting after at the moment?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Happiness Is... (vol. 58)

I like taking random time off. I think it's one of the best things about being a grown up- getting to choose when you take your annual leave. There's something that feels just so delicious about not having to go to work when everyone else around you does, don't you think?

I'm currently in the middle of a nice few days off- I took Friday afternoon and Monday-Wednesday off and already I feel particularly relaxed. Even if I did get up at 6:15am this morning, just to make sure I was showered and ready to leave the house at 7am to drive "home" for a few days. Not exactly normal behaviour on a Monday off, but hey ho, such is life.

I was saying to J yesterday that it has been a long, long time since I've felt as generally content as I do now. And yes, there are some really not great things in my life at the moment- I am particularly struggling with a certain group of people, for instance- generally speaking, I have very little to complain about. I currently firmly believe that we are the only people with the power to control how we feel- being negative does not a positive life make, after all.

So on that note, this week, happiness is...

... Sunday afternoons playing board games. This weekend, M and I had a few of our university friends to stay, and we spent a rather large chunk of Sunday afternoon playing The Game of Life in our very sunny living room. It was bliss, and I managed not to lose any friends with my overly competitive nature (mostly because I spent most of the game losing). I'll count that as a success.

... unconventional roasts. My friends J and N are fantastic at thinking up slightly innovative, unconventional roasts, in the same vein as is Jamie Oliver's Empire Roast Chicken. This weekend they came to ours, and made all of us an incredible Asian-inspired roast, full of Chinese five spice roast potatoes, stir fried broccoli and pak choi, and garlicky, gingery roast chicken. Unbelievably good.

... feeling warm! Seriously, this little interlude from the rain has done me the world of good. Lying in the park on Saturday afternoon and not wearing a coat has made such a difference to how I feel. I'd love for it to continue- and after that winter, I think we deserve it, no? And the pretty sunsets we get when the weather has been lovely all day aren't something to be sniffed at either...

... getting all dressed up for suppers out. I love an excuse to get dressed up, put some make up and a pair of heels on, and go out somewhere- whether it's with J, my mum, or a group of friends. On Saturday it was the latter, and while we just went for tapas and amazing burgers at our favourite restaurant, it was so much fun to get all fancied up.

... sharing clothes. I grew up with two brothers, so have never really had much experience of sharing clothes with anyone- they tended not to like me stealing their jumpers, even. Living with M has been a revelation- I love sharing my clothes with others, and having another wardrobe to pick from is so great sometimes. It's like shopping, but without spending any money!

What's making you happy this week?