Me and my Olympus go to Cornwall

After spending weeks and weeks trying to pick a holiday destination for June, me and Craig finally settled on staying in the UK and having a low-key relaxing break to Cornwall, a place neither of us has been since childhood and which deserves to be fully explored! We found a cute cozy cottage for two, which was full of books and board games and had a lovely suntrap courtyard, located right on the harbour of the tiny friendly fishing village of St Mawes on the Roseland Peninsula.

Olympus pen e-pl7

The weather was a little mixed, ranging from gorgeous sun to full-blown storms, but I really enjoyed our lovely break full of coastal walks, cream teas, coffee and pastries at the harbour, eating freshly caught fish with a glass of wine, reading on hidden beaches and taking boat trips (rather than driving) to the local city for a spot of lunch and shopping.

It was a lovely picturesque place and I loved capturing Cornwall’s pretty pastel cottages and seaside settings with my Olympus Pen E-Pl7 (which is officially the first holiday it’s been on!), so you’re getting a picture-heavy post today!

Brunch in St Mawes

Pink cottage

Cornwall cottage

St Mawes view

Cornwall beach

The sea in Cornwall

Secluded Cornwall beach

Hidden beach, Cornwall

Cute beach in Cornwall

Catch of the Day

Vintage gas pumps

St Mawes castle

St Just church

Now I’m looking forward to discovering more lovely parts of Cornwall.

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What I did for my 32nd birthday

It was birthday at the weekend and even though I’m making my way through my early 30s faster than I’d like, I had a lovely time celebrating with friends and family. I had two birthday gatherings, both involving cake, wine and games. Last weekend with my friends at Home Sweet Home in Manchester (by the way, if you’re ever looking for a piece of delicious cake that is as big as your head, make your way there!), and then with my family on my actual birthday.

Birthday party

Birthday board games

Home Sweet Home Manchester

A weekend birthday is the best sort, because it means you actually get time to play with your presents! I enjoyed a few hours trying out some new calligraphy pens, as well as embracing my geeky side with the extended edition DVDs of The Hobbit trilogy and this cute second hand Tolkien book.

Calligraphy brush pens

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

And me and Craig also managed to fit in a night away in a country hotel – The Huntsman Inn in the hills above Holmsfirth. As part of their Dine and Duvet package we ate a hefty 3-courses of amazing food, and enjoyed romantic prosecco and strawberries in our gorgeous room. We stayed in their Suite, and just how pretty is the décor?! Even though the weather wasn’t the greatest, it was so lovely to see the rolling hills and lambs right outside our window.

And how better to spend a birthday than eating drinking and enjoying the things you love.

The Huntsman Inn, Holmsfirth

The Huntsman Inn stay

Holmsfirth hills

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NYC-inspired dining at The Pen and Pencil

Manchester’s Mad Men-inspired bar The Pen and Pencil has a new evening menu, and last week I went along to check it out. I’ve never actually been before, but I’ve heard a lot about this place and as soon as I walked in I could see why it has become so popular. It has a great laid-back vibe and cool industrial Manhattan decor with bare brick walls and exposed metalwork. We got a great seat on a long low table with comfy wide cushioned benches, but there are also nice bright window seats and cozy booths. And the creative advertising agency theme (inspired by Mad Men) can be seen with the retro adverts on the walls, and it works really well with its location in the Northern Quarter.

The Pen and Pencil, Manchester

 

It’s a bar with a great cocktail menu, so I made sure I got to try one as soon as I arrived and I went for The Long Pink Stick which was pretty and pink (as the name would suggest). Made with gin, elderflower cordial, raspberry syrup, and Fentimans Rose Lemonade, it was extremely refreshing on a hot day.

The Long Pink Stick gin cocktail

I’ve checked out the daytime menu a few times because I work in the area, and it sounds pretty exciting. It is New York themed and covers off both brunch, with steak and eggs; avocados and pancakes; and lunch, with burgers and sandwiches. However I’d gone along to try out the new Supper menu (served after 5pm), which has small plates to share like tapas or large plates. There were around 12 options for each plate size, and even though that’s not too much choice I did still have a dilemma over what to go for. The NYC-inspired menu includes some classics – burgers; the “Buns of Anarchy” sliders (with a choice of fillings);steak and ribs, plus some quirkier options – Seafood Ceviche; Harissa Aubergine and Lobster Bisque.

In the end I went for a classic – New York Strip Steak. It came chargrilled to my liking and served with amazing skin-on-fries, a portobello mushroom and cherry tomatoes. I had a choice of sauces and went for peppercorn, which was delicious and creamy, and I was grateful to receive a generous portion so that I could dunk my fries in it. I thought this was a great steak dish – very tasty and quite reasonable at £13.50.

New York strip steak, Manchester

New York strip steak, Manchester NQ

And Craig also went for a classic – the half rack of sticky ribs. As you can see, this was quite massive, and I thought for £7.50 this was excellent value. You’d hardly need a full rack! Again there was a choice of sauces (he went for BBQ Cola) and it was served with skin-on-fries and fresh apple mustard slaw. His verdict? The meat was soft and tender, literally falling of the bone; the sauce was tasty; and special mention goes to the amazing slaw!

Half rack of sticky ribs with cola sauce

Half rack of sticky ribs with cola sauce, Manchester

Overall I think this is a great venue for after-work drinks and food, and I would definitely like to come along to try their brunch as well. I can see why it has become popular and I hear it gets very busy at the weekend, but I preferred it nice and quiet as it was during our visit. I also think they should seriously consider putting together a dessert menu, because I would definitely have been up for that!

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What I’ve been reading in 2016

“The more you read the more things you know” – Dr Seuss

Book reviews 2016

I’ve made it my mission to read a lot more in 2016, and it’s going pretty well so far with 8 books under my belt since January. Here’s what I thought of each of them, in order of best to worst…

The one I loved:

  • The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

Being a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, it’s surprising that this book has been on my bookcase for years without me ever managing to read it. In fact I’d tried to start it a few times but just couldn’t get into it. This time I was determined though, and even though it still took me a while to get into it (it has a very slow start), it really paid off. By the time I got to the end I loved this book! Not only is it epic, engrossing and memorable, it also adds so much background information to everything I know about Middle Earth. It’s the story of the history of that world, from its creation story to the epic adventures of the first elves and men. I’ll certainly never watch the film trilogies in the same way again and it has even inspired me to reread the Lord of the Rings, which I’m sure I’ll get around to at some point this year.

The ones I quite enjoyed:

  • The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

I enjoyed this book and managed to read the whole thing in 2 days because it’s just so gripping. But I have to say, I didn’t love it. The problem is that its full of unlikeable characters and grim situations, and I just don’t think it was my thing. The train travelling to and from London on hot summer days sounds like it could be the setting for something pleasant or inspiring, but it’s not that sort of book at all. Every character had rather a depressing story and I wasn’t really rooting for any of them. But I will say that it was a well-written and exciting mystery, and definitely one to read if that’s your sort of thing.

  • The One Plus One, JoJo Moyes

I really enjoyed my first JoJo Moyes book, although I found it slow moving at first. It’s the story of positive-thinking independent single mother Jess, her gifted young daughter and her awkward teenage stepson, and a car journey they make across the UK with the reluctant help of Ed, who has his own problems to deal with. I found Jess’s chaotic life situation quite annoying at first, but the story of the gradually developing relationships between all the characters was actually really well written and believable and not too predictable or cheesy. In general it was better than most chick lit out there.

  • Not Without You, Harriet Evans

If I had to pick one chick lit author as my favourite, it would be Harriet Evans who wrote my favourite book of this type – A Hopeless Romantic. None of her other books have ever matched it but I live in hope that she will write one that I like as much one day. Not Without You is slightly different because romance is of secondary importance to the plot. Instead it tells two parallel stories about fifties actress Eve becoming a glamorous movie star during the golden age of Hollywood; and current day A-list move star Sophie. I loved the glamorous settings and insider viewpoints of the movie industry. Both characters were very likeable and down-to-earth, and I found it a very engaging read as both of their stories started to intertwine.

  • Prima Donna, Karen Swan

After loving one of Karen Swan’s books once (review) I have tried reading some of her others, but pretty much every time I have been disappointed. I had very high hopes for this one, the story of a glamorous and sassy ballerina and a powerful man trying to pin her down. I enjoyed the ballet aspect of the story as well as the glamorous settings and quite a few of the characters, who were more interesting than you usually get in chick lit. But her writing style can be quite annoying, and as with all Karen Swan’s books, I found it very predictable.

  • A Place for Us, Harriet Evans

Another Harriet Evans book, but this time a family saga with each chapter told from the perspective of a different member of the family. It was a nice story full of interesting characters and settings and plenty of hidden family secrets. I enjoyed the read, but I think some of the story lines were better than others and I’d have preferred to read more about those than have a bit of everybodys’.

The also-rans:

  • Foreign Fruit, Jojo Moyes

I decided to read this after enjoying the One plus One, but I didn’t realise that this was one of JoJo Moyes’ first books and she has improved a lot with experience. It wasn’t in the same league as her more recent ones. It’s a story of lost love and a shabby English seaside town told in two parts, the past and the present. In theory it could have been lovely to read, but I found it a bit disappointing and dull.

  • The Summer without You, Karen Swan

Another predictable Karen Swan romance. I thought this one would get me in the holiday mood because its about British girl Rowena spending the summer at the elite US beach resort The Hamptons when her long-term boyfriend goes travelling without her for six months. Instead it just really annoyed me because it was so predictable and there wasn’t even any chemistry between Rowena and the guy she is supposed to be reluctantly falling for. There was a “mystery” element to it, which I suppose kept it all moving along, but overall it wasn’t that enjoyable to read.

I’m happy to say that none of the books have been truly awful though! And although a lot of my 2016 reads so far fell into the “chick lit” category, I have a lot more variety planned for my next batch of books. What have you been reading, and do you have any recommendations?

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Ready, pedi, go!

Summer sandals weather is here, and what better way to celebrate the sun than giving your feet a treat to get them looking their finest. Last weekend I booked in for a last minute pedicure at Spa Satori, which is my favourite spa in Manchester city centre. It’s tucked away in a peaceful corner of the Northern Quarter, and always feels luxuriously tranquil in there. I have been a few times for massages and for a pre-holiday shellac manicure but this was my first experience of a pedicure there, and I decided to give my feet a real summer treat with their Aroma Spa Pedicure.

Spa Satori Aroma Pedicure

The Aroma Spa Pedicure was a more indulgent treatment than the salon’s basic preen and polish pedicure, and started off with a relaxing rose petal foot soak before my feet were preened and my nails filed and prepped. The next stage was the most enjoyable – the pampering aromatherapy foot massage (I can’t get enough of foot massages, I think they might be my favourite thing), and of course the pedicure was finished off with a pretty nail polish. As a treatment it was so relaxing, and it was definitely worth upgrading to the aroma pedicure for that indulgent foot massage!

Pedicure Manchester

As I mentioned my booking was made at the last minute when the sun decided to show its face unexpectedly, and I used the Treatwell app to do it. If you aren’t aware, Treatwell is the new name for Wahanda, and if you aren’t aware of Wahanda or Treatwell then you should definitely check it out! Treatwell is an amazing online beauty booking service with 8000 spas and salons on their books and access to all their up-to-date booking details. This means you can find loads of last minute appointments in your area at any time, and even get them at reduced prices if they are off-peak or very last minute. You can also read reviews from other customers who have visited the salons to help you find the best one in your area. I use the Treatwell app on my phone whenever I fancy a last minute treat! And as a result I am now ready to ditch my boots and show off my feet in sandals.

Spa treatment c/o Treatwell

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Sunday brunch in Manchester

Brunch is quite possibly my favourite meal of the day. It’s not just because brunch food is the best food (and it really is!), it’s also because it’s the perfect time of day. Not so early that you’ve just rolled out of bed, yet still early enough to have the rest of the day ahead of you! Last weekend I enjoyed a boozy brunch date with my sister at All Bar One on King Street, which turned out to be the perfect spot in Manchester at 10am on a sunny Sunday. Considering it’s in central Manchester it’s such a peaceful location, and at brunch time it’s quiet enough that you may even be able to grab a table in All Bar One’s outdoor terrace. And then afterwards you are perfectly located to enjoy a leisurely stroll and a spot of shopping on King Street.

Brunch at All Bar One Manchester

The brunch menu at All Bar One covers everything from hot food to granola and pancakes, and of course includes avocado, which no self-respecting brunch menu can be without right now. We started off with some brunch cocktails (because, as the menu says “a brunch without a cocktail is just a sad, late breakfast”). I went for the deliciously orange Breakfast Martini, made from vodka, orange liqueur, peach schnapps, marmalade and orange juice, and my sister (who is pregnant but didn’t want to miss out) chose a refreshing virgin Mojito.

Breakfast Martini - All Bar One

Eggs Benedict - All Bar One

To be honest, the only downside to brunch is the choice you have to make – do you go for savoury classics, or something sweet and indulgent like French Toast or pancakes? On this occasion I went for a brunch classic – Eggs Benedict, and added the optional half sliced avocado. And I have to say I was impressed! The poached eggs and lemon hollandaise were delicious, and I really loved the toasted omega-3 seed sprinkle, which I’ve never seen as an accompaniment to this dish before and thought it was really tasty.

My sister went more rustic, with the Smoked Bacon Roll, which was served with sour cream and chilli tomato jam, and she added the optional extra – pan fried potato hash. As you can see this was an impressive looking brunch as well!

Rustic Bacon Sub - All Bar One

Brunch c/o All Bar One.

Overall it was a lovely relaxed Sunday morning where we enjoyed a tasty brunch as well as some rare Manchester sunshine. What do you reckon? Is brunch the greatest meal of the day?

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Getting crafty with Paperchase’s crafting workshops

As if Paperchase wasn’t already exciting enough (gotta to love that stationery), they have now launched a series of crafting workshops in their 3 flagship stores in Manchester, Glasgow and London. “Project Craft” focuses on 6 key crafting themes, but actually there are various different workshops to choose from within these theme areas:

  • Scrapbooking
  • Paper flowers (choice of floral crowns or wreaths)
  • Pom poms
  • Card making (choice of lino printing, die cutting or foiling)
  • Kids crafts (choice of animal masks or crowns)
  • Stationery (choice of personalised notebooks or magazine files)

Paperchase craft workshops Manchester

I’m really getting back into crafting at the moment, so it’s really exciting that the big Manchester store is one of the 3 chosen to launch Project Craft, and I went down to sample their Scrapbooking workshop. The workshop is designed for beginners (as all of them will be), and is about presenting your personal memories (photos, tickets, maps etc that you bring along from home) in a beautiful way using a scrapbook provided on the day and all sorts of crafting supplies.

scrapbooking workshop Manchester

And I really enjoyed the workshop. Even though I’m not a crafting beginner it was great to pick up tips on page layouts and embellishment techniques, and be inspired with creative ideas just from being there with the experts and other crafters, as well as having access to so many supplies. It was great to try out all the different paper cutters, stamps, printed materials, inks and embellishments that are sold in-store, because it gives you a better idea of what you like using without having to buy it first. I ended creating a few pages on the day, and have since carried on working on my scrapbook at home because I enjoyed it so much.

Paperchase scrapbooking workshop Manchester

Paperchase Manchester scrapbooking workshop

Scrapbooking

Scrapbook pages

If you love crafting and you love Paperchase products, you should definitely get along to one of their workshops. Ticket prices range from £10-£20 depending on the session and this includes all your crafting materials. You’ll have a lovely, sociable time crafting, and (hopefully) have something nice to take home at the end of it.

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Restaurant review: Australasia, Manchester

I’ve heard a lot about Manchester’s iconic Australian and South East Asian restaurant and cocktail bar ever since it opened in 2011. And as I’d only ever heard good things but never got around to trying it myself, I was very excited to receive an Australasia gift card last year as a Christmas present. So a couple of weeks ago we finally went along to experience it.

Australasia Manchester

The restaurant itself is lovely. It really suits its chic Spinningfields location underneath the Armani store, accessed through a glass pyramid (which is the only part of the restaurant you can see from the street). And although it is all underground it felt surprisingly bright and spacious thanks to the lovely holiday-ish décor. Everything is in shades of white and neutral, with some of the outdoors brought indoors through bare wooden branches. In terms of seating there are secluded booths, comfy sofa seats and tables with a great view into the kitchen at the back.

Australasia Manchester restaurant

The menu at first glance is a bit daunting. However, once you know that you can dine tapas-style with a selection of small dishes to share, or traditional-style with a large dish as a main course, it makes more sense. We weren’t adventurous enough to “go native” with the smaller dishes, but for information this part of the menu includes a large selection of sushi and sashimi, as well as hot dishes from the grill. I think it would be easy to rack up quite a large bill this way as they recommend 3-4 dishes per person, but they also have a lunchtime offer of 3 dishes for £16; or 4 for £21. There is a much smaller selection of dishes available on the lunch menu but it would be a great chance to be experimental for a lower price.

But as I say, we decided to go for individual main courses instead. I went for the crispy suckling pork belly with a pineapple curry and ordered it with a side of sticky coconut rice, which came excitingly wrapped up in a lotus leaf. This was a very delicious dish, with large tender cubes of pork served in the tasty curry sauce. Craig went for the old faithful premium fillet steak, which was huge, and he ordered it with a portion of their seasoned rough cut chips, which I happily shared and thought were pretty amazing!

Australasia pork belly

Australasia coconut rice

Australasia sticky coconut rice

The portion sizes of both mains and side dishes were much more generous than I expected, and I was actually full from just this one course. We wouldn’t have needed a dessert at all, but not only had I heard great things about the desserts at Australasia, the descriptions on the menu were just too enticing.

I went for the Chocolate dome with peanut, salted caramel and blackberries, which actually proved to be a bit of a spectacular event. When the chocolate dome is brought to the table, a mini teapot full of hot salted caramel is then poured over the top, melting it open in front of you. Both desserts (Craig had the kaffir lime brûlée with pineapple sorbet) were beautiful to look at, and full of small tasty details. (They say that the dessert kitchen at Australasia is an exciting place!)

Australasia chocolate dome

Australasia lime brulee

Overall I thought the lovely setting, the dining experience and the delicious food were all worth the hype, and the size of the portions as well as quality of the food were worth the money. It’s a really stylish and unique restaurant, with a nice laid-back holiday vibe, but as it’s pretty expensive I think its one I’d recommend for special occasions.

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Luminous skin with Illamasqua Radiance Veil

Radiance Veil is the third “veil” (or primer) from my favourite makeup brand Illamasqua. Hydra Veil was about hydration, Matte Veil was about creating a matte base, and now Radiance Veil is there to give skin a dewy glow to dull complexions. It’s made with fine shimmer particles which shine through foundation to create a luminous effect, and as dewy-looking skin is my favourite look I decided to try Radiance Veil as my first Illamasqua primer.

Illamasqua Radiance Veil primer

I initially started using it as an all-over primer (after skincare and before foundation) by applying it with a brush all over the face until fully absorbed. As it is illuminating I found it useful to follow Illamasqua’s advice to focus on the highest points of the face – the forehead, nose and cheekbones. As the product shines through foundation this gives a really nice highlighting effect, and I find that although the product is made with very fine shimmer particles, you end up with a pearly sheen rather than a glittery finish, which I really like.

Illamasqua Radiance Veil

Radiance veil

I’ve also been using it more recently as a highlighter as much as a primer, and have applied it on top of my foundation along my cheek and brow bones for a nice luminous sheen. This is a really great replacement for the Benefit High Beam that I used to love, before I decided to go cruelty free with all my cosmetics. As you can see from the lower skin swatch, it is quite a thick pink-toned cream, but when applied and full absorbed the result is actually a light golden glow (you can just about see this on my hand, in the area above the lower swatch).

Overall I really like this product and I will happily use it as both primer and highlighter. As I only need to use very small amounts to get the desired effect I think this 30ml pot for £32 will last me ages and will be very good value. I’d also consider giving the Hydra Veil a try, at certain times of year when my skin needs extra hydration.

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14 ways to get ready for summer

Remember that glorious sunshine last week? Well it’s a sign that summer is well on its way (just ignore the fact that it actually snowed yesterday!) In fact, in my head it’s here already and to get in the mood (whilst the weather sorts itself out) I’ve been preparing for it in all sorts of ways. Here’s how you can get in the mood for summer.

How to get ready for summer

  1. Spring clean. Get your home ready for the new season with a deep clean. And take this opportunity to clear out the kitchen cupboards ready for new seasonal ingredients, to change the bedding for something lighter, and to add spring finishing touches, such as fresh flowers, to every room.
  2. Wardrobe swap. It’s time to put away those chunky knits and thick wool coats for another year. I love having a full wardrobe switch around every season and rediscovering my summer wardrobe staples that I’d buried away!
  3. Clean your windows. Get ready to let that sunshine in!
  4. SPF skincare. Make sure your skincare has an SPF. My everyday moisturiser already has SPF 15, but I’ll probably increase that for the summer months. When I go on holiday I’ll be upping it even further with Soap and Glory’s SPF50 Sunshield Superfluid!
  5. Buy some new swimwear. Nothing makes me feel more summery than browsing the new swimwear collections. And that’s before I even have a holiday destination picked out.
  6. Get a pedicure. Nobody wants to be caught out with an unexpected heat wave and unprepared feet that aren’t ready for sandals. Time to paint those toenails!
  7. Get your garden ready. Trim the lawn; pull the weeds out of your flower beds; dig out and clean up your outdoor furniture and garden lighting; and maybe pick up a citronella candle; all whilst dreaming about the amazing garden parties you’ll be having on balmy summer evenings.
  8. … and dust off your BBQ. Do you have one? Do you know where it is or even remember how they work? Stock up on BBQ coals now so that you’re all ready for that first warm evening of summer.
  9. Plan a holiday. The classic way to feel summery, because although the sun may not be shining here, you can still plan a trip to somewhere sunny to get you in the mood!
  10. Exfoliate. Freshen up your skin by exfoliating to get rid of dry winter skin cells. This is great prep for when it’s time to get a summer tan, and gentle exfoliation a couple of times a week will help you keep a nice summery glow. I’ve just invested in Rub rub rub, Lush’s sea salt shower scrub.
  11. Get some summer food Pinspiration. Pinterest is the place to go for summer dining inspiration – think rainbow salads, ice cream-based desserts, amazing popsicles, refreshing summer fizz cocktails, and while you’re at it, how about some garden party decor ideas?
  12. Buy a summer beach read. You don’t have to wait until you’re actually on a sun lounger to enjoy a sizzling summer read. Don’t feel guilty – just enjoy the summer cheese-fest.
  13. Adjust your thermostat. It will be warmer soon – it really will! So you might as well starting saving on your energy bills.
  14. Rethink the contents of your freezer. Essentials include ice cubes, ice lollies and maybe some frozen summer fruits for smoothies. Oh, and maybe something for that unplanned BBQ you’ll be having on the first warm evening of summer!

Have you started any summer preparations yet?

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