Sunday, 15 January 2017

RECIPE: EASY MUSHROOM CURRY . . .

Last weekend myself and the fella went out for dinner to Ashoka West End . . . a restaurant I would whole-heartedly recommend if you happen to be in the west end of Glasgow and have a hankering for a curry. Anyway, I have been trying to cut down on my meat intake of late so I decided to go for a paneer starter followed by the mushroom bhaji curry. It was absolutely delicious, and even the fella had a taste and decided he would probably be ordering that next time we visited the restaurant.

And it got me thinking, why had I never tried to make a curry using mushrooms as the main ingredient before? So, this week, I decided to give it a go.

And for a first attempt, it was pretty damn delicious. So I have decided to share the recipe, cos I'm nice like that.



*****What you need*****

***Approximately 250g mushrooms, chopped into smaller pieces
***1 small red onion,  diced
***Half a red pepper, sliced (to be honest you can use more red pepper if you want, I only had half of one left though!)
***2-3 cloves of garlic
***A tablespoon of olive oil
***200ml passata
***1 tsp coriander
***1 tsp cumin
***1 tsp turmeric
***1-2 tsps. hot chilli powder (or more if you are an absolute spice fiend)
***Sprinkling of chilli flakes
***1/2 tsp bouillion powder


*****Let's get cooking!*****

1) Add your olive oil to a frying pan and heat it up before throwing in the mushrooms and fry them for a couple of minutes
2) Add in the onion and garlic and continue to fry for a few more minutes before adding in the red pepper
3) Add the passata and bouillion, you can also add a bit of water if you feel the mixture needs loosened at all.
4) Get those spices added and let it all simmer together for another ten minutes or so.
5) Serve up with rice and stuff it in your mouth.

Nice and easy to make, and totally delicious, pinky promise. And another good choice if you don't eat meat or are taking part in Veganuary. There's no crap in it, packed full of veg, and it's low fat and low calorie. How can you resist?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

SNOW CHANCE . . .

It snowed today.

I'm sure a lot of you are aware of this, as I don't believe the snowfall was restricted to the central belt of Scotland.

What you might not be aware of, however, is the fact that I am quite definitely not a fan of snow.


It looks pretty, yes, and don't get me wrong, I am more than happy to drive through a snow covered scene and snap away with my phone's camera, or look out at it from the comfort of my own home. And when I was a child, I loved snow. Let's face it. I think most of us as kids (and possibly still now) equate snow with Christmas, and most of us love Christmas so it has good memories for me as a child.

But as an adult, the impracticalities of snow are unavoidable.

Snow days were excellent as a child when you discovered that school was cancelled. (One memorable time, myself and my sister watched the film "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" four times in one day. That was an excellent day.)

As an adult, it's not that easy. You can't hide away from the world, and avoid going outside . . . except to make a snowman and have a fun snowball fight, obviously. You still have to at least try to get to the office, try not to fall flat on your arse on a patch of black ice you didn't see coming, try to get supplies to keep you alive in case everyone panic-buys the entire supermarket.

The snow only looks pretty for a day or two, then it ices over or turns to slush, and leaves you longing for a heavy rainfall just to wash it all away.

And kids gravitate towards it like magnets so they can form angry snowballs to throw hard at strangers for no apparent reason other than it's there, and they maybe have rage issues. And you're not really meant to return the favour. I don't think it's not allowed, per se, but I believe it's frowned upon.

And it's cold!!!

I can understand why people like snow, why people are excited about it, I really can. But I just can't get on board with it.

Snow sucks.

That being said, myself and the fella are heading up north for a long weekend next week . . . and if we got snowed in to the cottage we're staying in when we're up there, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

But that's mainly because it gives me an excuse to not leave the house for days and drink wine in my PJs, so it's not really about the snow . . .


Are you a snow fan?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

RECIPE: SPICY SWEET POTATO & COCONUT SOUP . . .

Happy new year everyone! Hope 2017 has been good to you so far.

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm going to assume that most who have been overindulging over the festive period have now turned to their  January health kick. I walked into Sainsburys the other day and the first thing I came across was a massive display of every "new year new you" cliché you could ever imagine - tons of random fitness paraphernalia, a plethora of healthy eating books and a myriad of water/protein shake bottles, you know the type of thing I mean.

I, of course, laughed to myself cynically at the very idea before continuing on my way to the other side of the shop to buy my healthy groceries . . . because, y'know, "NEW YEAR NEW ME"!

Anyway, I went home and did a bit of food prepping, because most of the time that's literally the only thing that will stop me from popping down the road from my office for a portion of "half chips and half macaroni cheese" - boy, that is one delicious discovery I regret happening across. And I cooked up a batch of my favourite soup of the moment - spicy sweet potato and coconut.



It's really quite delicious, but also really simple and very healthy, containing all good things. Probably the most important thing for me though is that it is really bloody easy to make. For some reason, even after I started getting much better at cooking, I was scared to make soup. And most of the time, even once I did start trying, it would end up looking like sludge. And, really, who wants to eat something that looks like sludge?

Luckily, this soup does not look like sludge. Phew.

So shall we begin?

*****What you need*****

***420g sweet potato, chopped into chunks (I don't bother peeling them, as far as I'm concerned they're fine au natural)
***50g red pepper, chopped
***50g red onion, chopped
***2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
***70g red lentils
***1 vegetable stock cube
***Salt and pepper to taste
***Spices of your choice (I opt for a sprinkling of chilli flakes, a small amount of hot chilli powder and a smattering of cayenne pepper)
***Cold water (to cover)
***Coconut milk (I use light, use normal if you like!) - half of a normal sized tin
***Dessicated coconut, a tablespoon or two


*****Let's get cooking!******

1)Throw your sweet potato into a big pot and make sure all those chunks are covered in water. Turn your hob on and start boiling these up.

2)Add the other veg, lentils, stock cube, seasoning and spices and then keep cooking the contents of the pan until the sweet potato goes pretty soft. I would give it about half an hour, but it really depends on your kitchen equipment. You don't need to babysit the pot, just check on it occasionally to make sure it's not out of control or anything.

3)Once this is boiled, turn down the heat and mix in the coconut milk and dessicated coconut. Leave to cool a bit.

4)Time to get blending. I use a stick blender cos it's the easiest option and I'm lazy. I like to blend my soup until it's pretty smooth - it's up to you how far you go with it though. I also tend to add a bit more spice before I start blending.



The result is a delicious creamy coconutty soup with a bit of a kick. This recipe made three fairly large portions to take into work for lunch in a flask for a couple of days - I imagine if you were making it as a starter for a meal you could probably stretch it to four small bowls.

It's healthy, it's dairy-free, vegetarian, I believe it's also even vegan-friendly (so could be a great choice if you are doing Veganuary this year or just looking to cut down on your meat intake!). I have just plugged the ingredients into MyFitnessPal and it works out at just under 300 calories for one of my large servings, so it's a good and filling lunch but you'll still have plenty of calories left to spare for other meals if you keep track of such things.

Just try it . . . okay?

Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 . . . THE YEAR THAT KEPT ON TAKING.

Rarely do I get to the end of a year and not have much positive to say about it. Even 2008, which was for me probably one of the worst years in my life, was actually a great year ultimately. Although I have always described myself as a pessimist, I feel I'm actually underselling myself a bit. I'm actually a far more positive person than I give myself credit for, and have turned rubbish times into good on many an occasion.

And 2016, for me personally, was not ultimately a bad year. I had three amazing holidays abroad for a start. Not including the Big Irish Road Trip and watching one of my best friends get married while on it. I had many amazing meals out, great times with friends and family. I felt accomplished and appreciated in my work. I didn't lose any weight, which was my main issue, but all in all 2016 was a good year for me.

But . . .. what 2016 has had, which I have never really experienced before, is an extreme amount of loss. For all of us as a nation.




It does seem like we lost a lot of icons in 2016.

By the time it hit February of this year, there were already a significant amount of celebrity deaths. Within the first few months of the year, I actually started composing a blog post about some of the people who had already gone, some people who had been a big part of my life growing up or had just cast an impression on me that I hadn't maybe realised at the time. I gave up on it. I couldn't put it into words properly. Looking back now, if I'd decided to leave that post until the end of the year, it would probably be dissertation length.

So over the year, as more and more icons from my youth passed on, often unexpectedly, myself and the fella discussed it and wondered if 2016 was actually The Year of Death as it seemed, or if in fact it was just that as we get older it's inevitable that more of the famous folk who were in our lives growing up are leaving us. It seemed logical, yes. But at the same time, it does feel like there was more tragedy this year than others.

(And I'm not even going to go into Trump getting voted into power. That's a whole other ball game.)

Anyway, last week we finished up work early thanks to it being the last day in the office before Christmas. And, in the pub, we all spoke about 2016 and the amount of celebrities who had died, and agreed (somewhat morbidly) that there had to be another big death before the end of the year. I actually said I thought there would be two. 2016 had been that much of a shitter in that respect.

That was the 23rd December.

Since then we've had Rick Parfitt, George Michael, Liz Smith, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds pass on.  In six days. I'm sure I'm missing other significant people who we've lost in that period of time too.

This does not seem like a normal year to me. To me 2016 is the year that just kept on taking.

I've noticed people on social media say that we haven't lost any more people this year than we have any other year. I saw someone on twitter say they couldn't wait until 2017 so people would see that people were still dying and 2016 had been no different from every other year. And, like I said previously, we even thought ourselves that perhaps it was just to do with our age that it seemed more prevalent now than any other year.

I genuinely though do feel for definite now that 2016 has been different from previous years.

But I hope it is a one-off in that respect. I hope 2017 is better, I hope we don't lose as many icons.

Most of all though, if 2016 has taught us anything, it should be to appreciate those around us while we still have them.

Whether it's family, friends, or even the celebrities we grew up with who we almost think of as part of the family because they've been in our lives for so long.

Let's make sure they know how much they are loved.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

P'S FAVOURITE 2016 SCOTTISH OVERNIGHTERS. . .

I've mentioned on many an occasion that I do love a wee overnighter, staying in a hotel, or a bed and breakfast, or basically just anywhere that isn't my flat or my boyfriend's house makes me feel really happy. And at this time of year, when post-Christmas comedown is starting to take hold, it's nice to have a wee overnight stay or ten to look forward to . . . so I'm already looking at options.

Me and the fella both got each other a hotel stay voucher deal (both were, weirdly, for hotels not too far away from one another - but we do have an odd seemingly psychic connection in that respect), I also have a £50 voucher to buy a 5pm deal, so that's inevitably going to be another hotel deal which will be purchased using that . . . and it's the fella's birthday in January so we're planning something for that too. So already plenty to look forward to - just got to get it all booked!



Anyway, this post isn't meant to be about what's coming up - I just wanted to do a wee look back at some of my favourite overnight stays of this year in various parts of Scotland... maybe it will provide someone else with some inspiration, as well as perhaps highlight some hotels or areas you've not considered visiting!

1. The Auld Cairn, Cairnryan


It's a room with a view . . . but do you even need a view when the inside is this pretty???


Now, I'll be honest, there ain't much to do in Cairnryan - its main claim to fame is that you can get the ferry to Northern Ireland from there. So this is how we happened upon this particular B&B, as we were looking for a place to rest our heads in advance of an early ferry crossing. But when we discovered the reasonably priced room (£60/night) was not only massive and had a loch view, but it also had a four poster bed and a roll-top bath, how could we resist? Just make sure you bring supplies! It was an absolutely gorgeous room though.


2. Goldberry Cottage B&B, Ardgartan


Loch Long; definitely in my top five (lists of lochs that is!) . . .

I'm a sucker for a loch view and Loch Long is a loch which really does give good view. For our three year anniversary, we booked a wee overnight trip to Goldberry Cottage, and it really was lovely there. The room was lovely, and the owners so friendly. There was also a breakfast menu which you could order from the night before - and breakfast was served with a beautiful view of the loch. Arrochar, which is at the top of Loch Long and has a number of pubs, is about a 2 mile walk away . . . and yes, we attempted that walk, which took us around 40 minutes. On the way back though, it was pitch black - there are no street lights apart from lights from passing cars. Now that was quite an adventure!


3. Anchor Hotel Tarbert


View of Tarbert castle. Where I fell on my arse. Not that I'm still going out about it . . .
Now I've spoken about this hotel earlier on in the year so I'll not rave about it again. But I'd definitely recommend a wee jaunt over the Rest and be Thankful and on to the lovely Tarbert - and this hotel is definitely worth a wee stay. You can even stay on the barge across the road!



4. The Inveraray Inn


And . . . breathe!



One week during the summer we were both having a particularly bad week (I can't even remember why now) so the fella decided to book a wee overnight stay to look forward to that weekend. We decided on Inveraray. Now, this place is worth the trip just to see it appear in front of you as you drive along the side of Loch Fyne (also a beautiful loch). And yes, the Inveraray Inn is a wee bit dated, but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. I had a lovely Saturday there. We watched Murray win a match at Wimbledon on the tv in the pub, and then had a lovely view from our room of not only the loch, but also a wedding which was going on in a marquee across the road. One of my favourite memories was us sitting next to the window listening to the wedding band singing "Caledonia" while we drank wine and stared out over the beautiful loch. What a perfect end to an evening. (Cheesy, I know but . . . deal with it.)


Did you get any wee overnight stays squeezed in anywhere in 2016? I'd love your recommendations - even if they weren't stays in Scotland!

Monday, 26 December 2016

DISCOVERIES I MADE IN 2016 . . .

Did we all have a good Christmas? I certainly did, and I hope you all did too!

Now, last week I sat down and wrote and scheduled four posts in one evening, and was very proud of myself - this was going to be the start of the new organised me, I had decided. I would use the next couple of days to write a few more posts, and then that way I would always be ahead of myself and never be struggling to get posts published.

Hmmm. That didn't really happen. The last post, my best-of post, went live on Christmas eve and it's now boxing day and I am now thinking "shit. I'm back to square one." Ah well, it was a good idea while it lasted. Hopefully I can learn and grow and all that crap.



Anyhoo, today I'm going to talk about some of the discoveries I made in 2016. Now, I'm no Isaac Newton or Marie Curie, and none of these discoveries are anything new - they are just new to me! So let's get going, shall we?


BUFFER
I discovered Buffer at the start of this year and I have never looked back. I use it to make sure I have links to my posts scheduled to pop up on my twitter - whenever I can be bothered anyway! I love how handy it is, I love that you can attach a photo (or several) to the post, and I love that you can see the level of engagement with the tweet too. It's definitely helped me up my blogging game a bit - although I wouldn't be surprised if I've lost a couple of twitter followers because of it.


ANKLE BOOTS
How did I only discover ankle boots this year? I'm not really sure, to be honest. I've pretty much just lived in ballet pumps or the occasional longer-length boot for the past few years. But this year I bought a lovely pair of ankle boots off asos and I never looked back. I've bought a few pairs since (my sparkly heeled blue pair from Primark are definitely my favourite) and am now always looking out for new pairs. I find the heeled versions of boots easier to walk in than heeled shoes too - they don't hurt my ankles as much. And they make my legs look good. Really there's no downsides!


HIGHLIGHTER
I bought a Sleek highlighter palette last month and I'm in absolute love with it. Okay, I haven't quite got the hang of it yet and sometimes leave the house looking like I'm a five year old who's broken into the glitter but I do love the effect it gives when done properly. I probably just need to watch some more youtube tutorials first . . .


BURRATA
Why did no one tell me about Burrata? I've only actually tried it once, in Paesano, but I can't stop thinking about it and wondering when I'll get my next fix. If you have never tried it, it's basically a combo of mozzarella and cream. And it is everything.


MENORCA
We visited the Balearic island of Menorca this year - I have to admit our choice of destination was more motivated by our lack of money and we got a fabulous deal with this particular holiday. I had never been before, but I found it an absolutely lovely little island, and would definitely like to return one day.

PHONTO
Another thing I started doing with my blog this year was adding more pictures to it, including a title picture. I love Phonto because it's really easy to just upload a pic into the app and then play about with text over the image. Nice and simple - and I am definitely a fan of anything that helps my blog but is very straightforward!

DRY SHAMPOO
I've never really used or *got* dry shampoo prior to this year - in fact, it's only actually in the last month or so that it's been something I've used often. But with it being harder to get up in the morning when it's dark and cold, I have often regretted my decision to put off washing my hair the night before when I've hit the snooze button a few times too many. So I am now a convert. Although it's probably made me even lazier . . . Oh well.

ARRAN
Near the start of the year, I posted a wishlist of places I wanted to visit in Scotland; and as fate would have it, a few months later we got the opportunity to rent out a cottage over in Arran for a couple of days in May - so I got to tick one of the destinations on my list off. I really did love it there - it has been described as "Scotland in miniature"and I could certainly see why. Also, it's always nice being separated from the rest of the country by water - it makes it feel like you're further away than you actually are! I'd definitely recommend a wee trip over to the island if you have a chance.

SHIRT DRESSES
I am loving these at the moment - in fact I may have just snapped up another two in the boohoo sale earlier today. And I'm always trawling clothes sites searching for more. I've not got a problem...

COYO
Now, if it wasn't for the fact this is pretty expensive (at least by my standards), I'd be eating a lot more of this coconut yogurt. Not only is it dairy free and vegan, it's also absolutely delicious. Who says healthy has to be boring!

So that's my discoveries of 2016 . . .What did you discover this year?

Saturday, 24 December 2016

P'S 2016 IN BLOG POSTS . . .

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

I genuinely struggle with the fact it's been exactly a year since I posted my Scotland the Beautiful post about Glen Etive . . . I feel life passes by in a flash at the best of times but 2016 has definitely been one of the fastest!

I have definitely got more I want to say about 2016 and I hope I will have time to do so before the year ends (but given how time keeps slipping by who knows if I will) but, in the meantime, I thought I'd do somewhat of a lazy post and compile a sort of "best of" (in my opinion) of the posts that I published in 2016.


I call it "lazy"... in reality it will probably take me longer to put this together than a post I'm writing from scratch and as I type I'm almost already regretting it. But . . . for me 2016 was the year I properly "found" blogging again, and so I want to highlight some of my own favourite posts from this period of my life. So let's get going, and I hope you will join me on my journey!


"A picture of your sister's kitten you posted gets more likes than any selfie you have ever posted of yourself. That's not a kick in the teeth at all. "
There's a whole world of first world problems to be found on Instagram . . . in this post I document mine!


"Even yesterday, I came across one from five years ago where I'd wrote "Well, that's it over then :-(" . . . when I clicked on the comments it turned out I'd actually been sad because Andy Murray had been beaten in the Australian Open. But I had to make it sound like it was something I had been personally affected by until someone actually asked me if I was okay. What an utter fudbucket I was."
The Facebook Memories feature gives a lot of brilliant memories . . . but it can also be pretty cringeworthy. I told you why I was a complete Facebook drama queen right here.


"The minute someone says "oh, you won't believe what happens in season 3 of -inserttvprogrammehere-" I suddenly find myself fighting the urge to go and look it up online... and quickly give in to said urge. "
Back in February, I posted about why I like spoilers. Is that weird? I don't care. Don't worry though - I made it clear that I do not tell people the spoilers. I am not an arse like that.


"Simple carbs just aren't as aesthetically pleasing as fruit  and vegetables and rainbow colours . . . however they taste far far better than they photograph. ;-)"
Social media has made it easy for us to create a different life for ourselves. Sometimes even by accident. I posted about the social media myths about me right here..


"It's like Eyelash Russian Roulette every bloody time."
False eyelashes and me: a memoir of sorts.


"This is probably the Facebook sin that winds me up the most. If you're not sure what I mean . . . have you ever posted a status update, or witnessed someone else doing so, only for someone else to comment on it and make it all about them? It's one-upping at its finest, but annoying as fuck. Did you break your arm? Well they broke both their arms and a leg TWENTY YEARS AGO and are going to tell you all about it on YOUR status update about your broken arm! Or they've just actually got a paper cut but, trust me, it's MUCH more serious than what you're going through."
I also blogged about behaviours I hate on Facebook. It's here - I already have a sequel planned so look out for that in the new year!


"When you remember recording your favourite songs off the top 40 on a cassette recorder, Betamax vs VHS wars . . . and you still refer to recording programmes on your Tivo or Sky+ as "taping."
I was 37 this year. But back when I was a youngster of (ahem!) 36 I posted a blog about the things that made me feel old. There was a lot of 'em.  I really would not be surprised if there is a sequel to that too . . . I just don't even want to think about that yet!


"Is it an opinion piece, a list? Is it meant to be funny, or serious? How do I start it? Do I have enough thoughts on the particular subject to actually produce more than a paragraph? The pressure gets to me and I end up with two lines in a saved draft in my blogger account and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It is actually ridiculous how many half-finished post ideas I have."
As I posted more this year than I had in a good few years, some of the downsides to blogging became more apparent to me . . . so I thought a post about those was definitely in order. Find it here.


"You frequently quote from it. (My personal favourite "It's a moo point. It's like a cow's opinion. It doesn't matter. It's moo." can surprisingly be inserted into a lot of conversations.) "
Hands down, "Friends" is my favourite programme in the world, even though I've watched every episode five thousand times. Here I blogged about how you know if you are also a Friends addict.


"Oh my God, the food itself is enough to make me immediately want to return. Baked feta is the absolute bomb (boyfriend bought two packs of feta in Tesco as soon as we got home so we could recreate that dish asap!); or how about sausage stuffed with feta and garlic? Sausage in a spicy tomato sauce? Moussaka? Kleftiko? Sofrito? "
I visited the Greek island of Corfu for the third year in a row this year. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I talked about that back in May.


"On one recent walk, the fella threatened to start a Tumblr about the things I come out with when I'm on one of these very trying walks. I'm pretty sure they are normal things for people to say though. You want some examples??? I have a few . . ."
The truth behind some of my instagram pics of me being "active" was revealed in this particular post in June.


"The holiday don't start until there's a picture of me on Facebook (at the very least!) waving a glass of wine at the airport - no matter the time of day"
There are certain things you simply must do on social media when you are on holiday. Here is my tongue-in-cheek guide.



I hope you remember some of these or  had time to click on some of the links if you haven't popped by before . . . or simply enjoyed the little excerpts I have included from them all. And I hope you all have a fabulous Christmas eve and day.

Merry Christmas!!! :-)



Friday, 23 December 2016

THE GIFT OF GIVING: 2016 EDITION . . .

In previous years, I have (when I remembered to do so!) had a brief trawl through some of my favourite gift-giving websites to see what ridiculous (in my opinion) presents I could find. Presents I personally probably wouldn't thank you for. Well, I would thank you, because 1) I'm polite and 2) I'd be grateful that you thought of me but . . . I might not be all that enthralled with the thought.



So what are we looking at this year? Let's dive in, shall we?

ONE . . .First up, we have this "Calm the F*ck Down Tea" from Firebox.


Not to be completely ungrateful, but . . . at £9.99 you could buy me 1 and a half bottles of half decent wine and I'd probably be quite a lot calmer. Or, if I'm trying to be a bit less of a booze-head, I'd genuinely settle for some Twinings...I've never tried  that salted caramel green tea one as it's never bloody on offer but it's still a damn sight cheaper than this tea! ;-)

TWO . . . I may not be a scientist, but I feel I can safely say, without proof, that this anti-sarcasm breath spray  from Find Me A Gift really really works...

*sprays some*

Oh wait . . . I was totally wrong! What an amazing gift!


THREE . . . Want to thoroughly deflate someone? These balloons may help.



I'm actually feeling a bit upset just looking at them so they do get the job done I guess. I just wouldn't particularly want them as a stocking filler.

FOUR . . . From I Want One of Those, we have a grow-your-own-Christmas-tree box in with the gift ideas. Is it only me who sees the flaw in this?


By the time I get my gift, Christmas will be nearly over.... I no longer have the need for a Christmas tree. Oh, and it takes 18 months to sprout into a full tree so I am not going to have it for next Christmas either. Oh well...


FIVE . . . I'm pretty sure this one would go down really well as a gift in your office Secret Santa.



Maybe not.

So that's a wrap (pun most definitely not intended) for this year; join us again next year (if I remember) for another round-up of some gifts I really would not thank you for. As always, this is intended to be a very much tongue-in-cheek post, the links have been included if you actually are considering buying any of these for your friends or yourself.

But . . . please don't buy any of these for me,. You have been warned.

Check out here, here and here for previous editions of The Gift of Giving. I'll be honest; there's probably a better choice of ridiculous gifts in the old versions. I miss the past. :-(


Thursday, 22 December 2016

ON SECRET SANTA . . .

I'm not taking part in any form of Secret Santa this year and I can't decide if I'm disappointed or relieved about this.

It's quite the conundrum. Let me elaborate...



You see, like most people, I love presents. I like giving them, and I really like receiving them. (Sorry, I have to be honest about it.) So if Secret Santa in the workplace is a way for me to gain an extra present then of course I'm going to be happy about it. (I'm not so keen on it if it is going to take away the opportunity for extra presents . . . I know some people do it within their families for example.)

And I'm ridiculously easy to buy for. I love most things. Jewelery, wine, make-up, wine, toiletries, , books, DVDs, wine, silly little trinkets, chocolate, wine. Have I said wine a lot? Weird. But I have rarely had a bad Secret Santa experience as the one receiving the gift. I've had lovely necklaces, bubble bath, chocolate, even perfume. I've done pretty damn well thanks to Secret Santa, thank you very much!

I know a lot of people haven't done so well though!

I once witnessed someone getting given a ten pound note as a present (the limit for the present was ten pounds so that wasn't really a challenge) when I know that the unlucky recipient of that particular tenner had rushed out an hour prior to the giving part of the challenge to try and find something interesting for THEIR recipient for a tenner. Now, I'm not saying a tenner isn't a good present, but it's not really entering into the spirit of things, is it?

I heard a rumour that someone I know once had no idea what to get as a secret santa gift so ended up buying a trowel. Not sure how one reaches that decision but each to their own I suppose! (And I really hope it was a bit prettier than the trowel I made very badly in Craft & Design class back in high school...  For example, a pretty Cath Kidston one could be nice. Even though I don't have garden but I'm sure I could do something decorative with it...)

But that's the thing about Secret Santa. It's all well and good if you choose someone who is really easy to buy for, or you know really well, or you were actually really really hoping you would pick as you had the absolute best idea for them. But if you get someone you don't know very well, trying to pick them a present is a bit more of a challenge. Especially when you have a price limit to stick to.

And what if you get someone really fussy? Once again I've been very lucky with this and usually get someone easy to buy for. But there's always time for that to change.

So while Secret Santa is something I will always be keen to be involved in if the option is there . . . I guess there's always a part of me that is relieved when the option is taken away from me. So this year I can breathe a sigh of relief and know I've actually got all my Christmas shopping done (in less than a week, btw!) without stressing that the person I'm buying my Secret Santa present for is actually going to hate whatever I've chosen. Phew!


Do you have any Secret Santa funny/horror stories? I'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

HOW TO GIFT VOUCHER DEALS . . .

I don't know about you guys, but sometimes the perfect present for someone strikes me instantly, and other times I just struggle so much to actually try to even imagine what someone might like as a present that they don't already have. Most of the time, it's the latter. Which makes me sad as (like most people, I'm sure) I get a great deal of pleasure out of finding someone their dream present. Or a semblance of it anyway!

Recently over the past year or so, I've been finding that the ever-increasing popularity of voucher/deal websites like itison and groupon have really helped me with finding a good present. I've came to the conclusion that if I'm struggling to find someone a lovely present, how about a lovely meal or experience instead? I myself love having a couple of outstanding voucher deals for a restaurant or hotel or other type of adventure, ready to book up at any time!

That being said, it doesn't really have the same instant grab of a beautifully wrapped present, does it? (Who am I even kidding here, my presents look like they've been wrapped by a five year old .. .  polar bear but a girl can dream, right?) So I wanted to share how I try to make a voucher deal seem just as attractive as a regular present . . . without having something physically big to wrap.


So first up . . . choose your poison. (By poison, I mean voucher deal. In case that wasn't clear.)

I tend to use three websites. The aforementioned itison and groupon, as well as 5pm.co.uk I prefer the latter myself, but it is pretty Scottish-oriented so might not be for you!

 I try to look out for an interesting experience that someone could have first of all - say something like a loch cruise, or perhaps a tour of somewhere like a distillery/brewery.

There are usually tons of options available online! You may struggle to choose at times. I know I do

Or if I'm looking to get them a restaurant deal, I try to look for something other than a straightforward meal. So perhaps a cheeseboard, for example, or an afternoon tea with a twist. Or even just a restaurant where they wouldn't normally just book up to go themselves. (But nothing too outlandish, unless they're one of those "I'll try anything" types!)

In terms of hotel deals, I like to look for deals where I think they'll get a lot of bang for their buck (wee extras like a dinner as well as bed and breakfast, or prosecco on arrival) or perhaps a hotel in a town I know they've always talked about visiting.

Buy the deal. Print the voucher.

***Important point here. Make sure you have access to a printer if you want to print the voucher. You can email it, obviously, but that possibly renders the rest of this post pretty irrelevant.***


One of this year's presents for a family member. (I really hope they don't read this blog.)

Now, at this point, I like to make sure that I have gathered together the details of the deal, because while the more legal part of the small print tends to be on the voucher, sometimes the more fun info isn't there. Like the actual fab details of what the deal gets you, more info about the hotel, or the menu you'll be choosing your meal from . . . things like that. But this information is usually on the same page of the deal information itself when you're ordering, so I think it's nice to add it!

What I do is copy and paste the information over into a Microsoft Word document (if there's a picture of some sort I'll paste that over too) and print the document out, to add to the voucher itself. It means when they open their present, they will have all the relevant information about their deal, so they can see the full picture and realise just how awesome you are... oops! By that, I mean how awesome the present is!

It's all about dem details.


Now for the fun bit!

Well, this is the fun bit as far as I'm concerned.

You grab an envelope and make your own customised packaging for the voucher and its accompanying information. I really do love this part. Now, I'm not particularly talented at art (and that's not false modesty, I'm really not. I won a drawing competition when I was 8 but I still draw like an 8 year old 29 years later so let's just say my talent has really not progressed.) BUT I do like doodling, particularly doing bubble lettering. So I tend to write the name of the person the deal is for on the front of the envelope in big letters, colour it in, add some random festive (or relevant at least) graphics and then top it all off with lots of . . . nail polish! Particularly glittery stuff. I have some nail polish that I've never worn, but it has adorned many of my "gift envelopes".



Last year's effort for the fella. The contents? A hotel deal for Tarbert.


Let the envelope dry. Stick the paperwork in the envelope. Seal. Give.

Job done.

You're welcome. *curtseys*


Do you like a good voucher deal? Have you bought any this year as presents?


Friday, 16 December 2016

P'S TOP PICKS: CHRISTMAS MOVIES

I'm quite enjoying my "P's Top Picks" posts right now . . . mainly because I feel like I have truly excellent taste and you all should be made extremely aware of this. (Just kiddin'. Mostly.)  Anyhoo, I couldn't decide whether or not I wanted to go with another restaurant themed or hotel themed one, or a Christmas movie themed one . . . but when it comes down to it we only have another week or so to watch all of the Christmas movies so it was a no-brainer really!



I love a Christmas movie. Even a horrendously cheesy made-for-TV one. (I have watched a few of those in the last couple of weeks and I am not ashamed.) I'd even go as far as to say that Christmas-themed movies are probably one of my favourite things about Christmas.

So what ones will I/have I been watching so far this year? As Craig David would say, let me fill you in . . .

Home Alone 1 & 2
Come on, the Home Alone films have to be watched this time of year. Only the first two, mind. The other ones in the franchise are a pile of crap.

Die Hard
I know there's a saying about Die Hard that goes something like "there's two kinds of people in this world; those who think Die Hard is a Christmas movie; and those who are wrong." Yes, it's a film that just happens to be set at Christmas and, no, you can't really call a film about a bunch of people being held hostage in a skyscraper a jolly Christmas jape. BUT . . . it's on my must-view list this year. (And I say that as someone who only watched it for the first time on boxing day last year and has watched it about ten times since. Call me a convert.)

Love Actually
I won't go into how much I love this film any further - I covered it off in my post last week. But nothing really makes me feel more festive than that first watch of Love Actually in the run-up to Christmas. Fact.

Scrooged
I actually love pretty much any version of A Christmas Carol at Christmas. But Scrooged has to be my favourite. A modern twist on the old Dickens classic and it has Bill Murray in it. Need I say more? Except for "where did I put the bloody dvd, I need to watch it stat.". . .

The Family Stone
I'm a big fan of this film, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker playing an uptight character who couldn't be further removed from the iconic Carrie Bradshaw - when she goes to spend Christmas with her boyfriend's family, she couldn't be more out of her depth and the awkwardness is tangible - but I find the rather dysfunctional family Stone so real and it's nice to watch her learning and growing against a Christmassy backdrop.

Bad Santa
I remember going to a cinema to see this with an ex and being absolutely mortified at how loud he was laughing at this. But it is funny. Very funny. But still ultimately with a nice message. Somewhere. Underneath all of the crude. And Billy Bob Thornton is the perfect Bad Santa. I'm not even sure he was playing a part.

Miracle on 34th Street
I have to admit I've never watched the original. But the 90s version, with Elizabeth Perkins and the late great Richard Attenborough, is just lovely. I'm a believer.

The Snowman and the Snow Dog
I know this is a short film so I'm cheating a bit with this one. But ever since the first year I watched it, I feel no Christmas is proper without it. It properly makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and run the total gamut of emotions from sad to happy and back again.


What's on your "must watch Christmas film list" this year?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

IT'LL BE ALRIGHT ON THE NIGHT?!?

I really enjoy getting ready for a night out.

I like to set aside loads of time to get myself all prepped up... ideally I want a good few hours to do it. During the week, I struggle to get out of bed and thanks to my addiction to the snooze button I tend to have to get my make-up and hair done in a hurry, which I hate. I like actually having the time to spend on myself, actually getting my look the way I want it.

In some ways, I probably prefer the getting-ready-for-the-night-out part more than the actual night out bit. Just me?



However, I do always find that however well-prepared I am, there is a tendency for it to descend into chaos at the last minute, leaving me in a sweaty panic wondering what the hell went wrong.

There has been many a time I have left myself so much time to get ready, allowed myself time not only to have a leisurely bath, but also to have time to jump in a shower, wash and blow-dry my hair, paint my face like I think I'm a fecking work of art . . . only to discover that last twenty minutes something goes wrong . . .


  • Hair was perfectly blow-dried? Well, it's about to go frizzy in my suddenly-way-too-warm flat, and my straighteners are proving futile.

  • Or I decide that today would be a great day to curl my hair with straighteners. Oh no. That never ends well and even if you try and fail to curl your hair with straighteners, it's virtually impossible to get straight again without starting over.

  • The false eyelash incident. I've spoke about this before - when my eye-make-up looks absolutely great for a change and then one badly applied false eyelash messes up everything!

  • A last minute clothing crisis. Even if I had my outfit planned down to the tiniest detail, I suddenly take against the entire outfit and know I will never feel comfortable with it on. And so I end up trying on five different dresses, getting sweatier and sweatier as time ticks away . . . only to end up in the original outfit, hating it with a passion.

  • OR I decided to wear tights because I really couldn't be arsed fitting in leg-shaving and fake tanning in amongst the other pampering sessions . . . and then the only pair of tights I can find have a massive ladder in them.

  • I chip a nail and try to fix the polish... only to get to the next part of the getting-ready process and discovering I need that nail for something... and smudging it!

  • Getting mascara in my hair. I'm too blonde for that shit.



Sometimes I think I really shouldn't be allowed to leave the house.




Other times I actually sometimes get through the getting-ready-process, get out of the house feeling relatively calm, and actually scrub up alright (see above example).


Those times seem few and far between though . . .


Tell me I'm not alone here!  Have I missed any last minute getting-ready-disasters? Please feel free to share!

Friday, 9 December 2016

WHY LOVE ACTUALLY *ACTUALLY* ISN'T SHIT . . .

The other night, after pole fitness class (and cocktails and Mexican food with the sis because, y'know, balance!), I settled down on the fella's sofa with a bottle of chenin blanc, and was utterly delighted to discover that Love Actually was on the telly.



















Love Actually is one of my favourite films. I have always had an unashamed love of rom-coms, and I've been a massive Richard Curtis fan since Four Weddings & A Funeral, and ever since I saw Love Actually at the cinema back in 2003/2004, I've never got tired of watching it.

But, every bloody year, the "why Love Actually is shit" lists appear and, while I might agree with a few of the points (nothing is perfect, after all!), it annoys me how it seems to be considered cooler to hate it than love it. Don't get me wrong, I don't particularly give a crap about whether I'm cool or not, I'm going to love the film no matter what anyone says. But I love it and it kinda feels a bit like when people attack the film, they're attacking me, because it's just a film that I get.

So why do you love it? I hear you ask. (Okay, I'm hearing things, as there's no-one else in this room as I type. But I've got to start somewhere, right?) For me, Love Actually is the perfect rom-com and here's why . . .

The multitude of characters and storylines makes a refreshing change from a film focussed on just a few main characters. Let's face it, the characters aren't all going to appeal to everyone, so I like the fact that it jumps between the different stories and we get to know lots of different people. And if there is someone you don't like . . . you don't have to put up with them for long!

Some of the relationships in each of the storylines are just lovely. Take the bond between Daniel and Sam, a stepfather and stepson who have just lost the link bonding them together, Daniel's wife and Sam's mother. I love their little storyline, with them both trying to get over her death, while Sam falls in love for the first time. Okay, yes, he's a little overdramatic about the whole falling in love thing . . . but  I'm pretty sure I can remember feeling that ridiculously OTT about a crush back when I was that age too. It feels real. (Daniel ending up with Claudia Schiffer at the end . . . maybe not so realistic.)

I want to punch Harry for his flirtation with the allegedly attractive Mia (and don't even get me started on his office conversations with Laura Linney's character Sarah, which I'm fairly sure would end with a trip to HR were they to take place between a boss and his employee in real life) but my heart broke for his wife Karen as she broke down in secret upon discovering the truth then pasted on a smile for the sake of everyone else. I've never been a massive Emma Thomson fan (sorry) but I think she is one of the standout performances in this film.

And, speaking of standouts, let's not forget Billy Mack, the jaded faded rockstar played by Bill Nighy who is releasing a Christmas version of "Love Is All Around".  What a legend. Every one of his on-screen moments is brilliant!

I love that nearly everyone gets a happy ending. (Sorry, should really have had a spoiler alert for this entire post.) I wish Sarah and Karl could have got a happy ending (he could have been a bit more understanding of her situation to be fair!), rather than delusional Colin who found he actually WAS attractive to all American women as he said all along.  (What am eejit.) I like the unlikely but sweet pairing of the Prime minister with Martine McCutcheon. And the fact that the creepy  President of United States is brilliantly played by Billy Bob.

I love Jamie and Aurelia's storyline and the fact they learned each other's languages "just in cases". And the naked couple who found love. And Andrew Lincoln secretly pining over his best friend's girl. (Andy, darlin', you can pine over me anytime.)

I love the fact that love IS actually all around in the film. Just like they say at the beginning of the film.

And, on top of everything else, it really is one of the most perfect Christmas films. And has helped me feel a wee bit more Christmassy this year. So when it comes to Love Actually, I will NEVER BE joining the hate camp.

How about you?


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

P'S GUIDE TO THE 5:2 DIET . . . PART ONE!

So I mentioned in one of my posts recently that I had decided to revisit the 5:2 diet. After months - nay, years! - of dieting unsuccessfully, I decided that the 5:2 was probably the easiest to stick to. Mainly because of the whole only having to be mega-strict for those 2 days of every week.

I'm onto my third week again but I feel like it's easier (mostly) this time. I lost three pounds the first week and only maintained the second . . . but I was out for dinner and drinks for all of the other nights I wasn't doing the fast days on that second week so not actually putting on any weight was probably a big bonus!



So anyway I thought I'd share the way I am doing 5:2 this time around.

1) I put off eating as long as I can on a fast day.  I doubt I could last until evening even with a massive effort but I can last until lunchtime.

2) I'm being prepared. Even if I haven't made a lunch in advance, I will buy a soup the night before - pop it in the microwave the following morning, stick it in a flask... lunch is served.

3) I try to aim for 150 calories, less if possible, for a fast day lunch - this is why soup is ideal. Salad is also pretty good - but soup is much easier to eat in my opinion!

4) I try to make the most of my dinner with a lot of low cal vegetables - most of the time this means I can add in a little bit of the things I enjoy on non-fast days . . . like cheese or crème fraiche.

5) If this also means I can add in a little bit of chocolate within my 500 calorie allowance as a before-bed treat, then I'm going to make sure I can do that. 

6) I find if I can make it until dinnertime, I can usually keep going on a fast day. Yesterday I was so close to giving up between lunch and dinnertime because I was just soooo hungry. But if you can hold out and eat your low calorie healthy dinner .. . . you find you're actually okay. And by that point it's nearly the end of the day and you can last a few more hours until bedtime.

7) Last time I was using ready meals for my low calorie dinners. This time I am cooking my own from scratch. I had thought originally cooking my own fast day dinner would make it harder. Surprisingly, if anything, it makes it easier. Cooking seems to focus me. And make me appreciate my food more!

Whether this makes a difference or not,  I don't know. But I definitely am finding it easier this time around and, although I think I will definitely have to break while I'm off work at Christmas (I find it easier to fast while at work), I do think I will continue following this diet for a while . . . and if I can stick to my above rules, I feel I will be able to stick to it.

I have some great recipes I've found so far, as well as books and other resources . . . if you follow me on instagram, you may already have saw some of these. But, if not, I will share these in a part two very soon.

Have you ever tried the 5:2 diet?



Saturday, 3 December 2016

P'S TOP PICKS: FUNNY YOUTUBE CLIPS!

I have to admit I don't really use youtube a lot apart from to watch music videos . . . and that's mainly because I have freeview and the few music channels I had on that have just vanished into the ether somewhere. But very occasionally I am made aware of a funny clip on there . . . so I thought I would take this opportunity to share a few of my favourite finds.




First up, we have this: while I'm sure most of us who post on Instagram and other social media are being pretty straightforward about our lives and/or just posting certain sides of it, as is our right (as you know if you've been reading my blog for any period of time, I certainly do this myself!), this clip looks at the way Instagram can be used to give a completely different impression of "reality" . . . and I think it's pretty hilarious!




Absolutely love this - and it makes me kinda glad I'm not really sure how to do a complicated "contour". (Or a simple one, really, for that matter . . .)




This is sooooo "me" it's not even funny. (But it is also funny.)



If People were aps... a wee bit longer but worth a watch! SketchSHE (who also did the Instagram vs Reality vid I started this post with) are a hilarious trio.

So there we have it. I hope one of these clips has cheered up your day, and please feel free to share links to anything that's cheered you up in the comments section! I do love a comment!

Friday, 2 December 2016

THE TRIALS OF CITY CENTRE WORKING . . .

So a month ago, my office moved from just outside Glasgow city centre to right into the heart of the city centre. The new office is only about a 20 minute walk from the old one, but the difference is pretty massive. We have lockers to put our belongings in at the end of the night, we have a fabulous view, it's a lot fancier than what we are used to . . . Even the lift system has been stressing me out so much that I have ended up on the wrong floor on several occasions and have now resorted to walking up four flights of stairs and trying not to collapse when I reach my destination, just because it's easier than dealing with the lift.

But the biggest change for me has been working back in the city centre. Back in the early days of me working, I often worked in the centre in a variety of different jobs. But I have worked in the same area now for 11 years, and I'd kinda forgotten what it was like. So here's my run-down of what stresses me out about city centre working life . . .










OTHER PEOPLE
There are too many people other than me in the city centre. As you might know about me, I suffer from bad pavement rage. Trying to get from A to B without pushing someone over is a struggle for me. There are too many people trying to walk through me, stopping in front of me without warning, conducting horrendously loud conversations with each other directly in my ear . . . that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Okay, we're less than a month from Christmas so town is obviously a bit busier than it usually is. But I can't see my pavement rage abating any time soon.


THE PROXIMITY OF THE SHOPS
I rarely went to the shops when I was in the old office . . . mainly because 1) the aforementioned pavement rage and 2) it was too much hassle to walk into the centre on lunch or after work, and try and shop in a hurry. Now the shops, ALL OF THE SHOPS, are on my doorstep. The temptation!!! Wait - it gets worse. Because Primark is about a TWO MINUTE WALK from my office. How am I going to be able to resist the lure of cheap ballet pumps and pretty pyjamas? I ended up buying a pair of ankle boots with sparkly heels on my second day in the new office!!! That's how long I managed to avoid the Primark visit. This is not going to be good for my pursestrings, is it?

Look how sparkly!!!



THE HOT CHOCOLATE HABIT
I am in the early stages of what is bound to become a full-blown hot chocolate addiction, due to the fella insisting on popping into coffee shops in the morning, and me not being able to resist all of the interesting flavours on offer at the moment. Toasted marshmallow flavour from Costa? Yes please. Salted caramel hot chocolate from Nero? You had me at "salted caramel." And why yes, I would LOVE cream with both of those, how did you know?!? This is not going to be good for my budget or my waistline . . .


LUNCHTIME OPTIONS
In our old office, our lunchtime options were the following: a sort of coffee shop/café (without any seats) in the basement of our building, the vending machine, a snack van, a convenience store that usually was low on stock of anything you might actually want, and three restaurants which were a ten minute walk away. The only other option was to walk into the city centre. Now we are SURROUNDED by places to eat, restaurants, bars, takeaways. I've finally got to try and Paesano pizza (and discovered the absolute JOY that is burrata - how did I get to 37 without discovering this?), ate chips and cheese sitting on a bench in Buchanan Galleries, stuffed my face with goodies from both nearby Christmas markets . . . oh, and there's a Greggs the Bakers right next to the office. I suppose at least I'm getting exercise when I walk to and from the latest place I'm going to buy fattening food from! Now, where to have lunch today . . .?


Paesano pizza rocks my workd . . . and check out that burrata!

PUBLIC TRANSPORT
We've been experimenting with public transport, as the office is a bit further of a walk from my flat, and the parking in the city centre is not cheap. The first day I took the train, it was amazing - from my flat door, to my office desk, in 25 minutes. The next time we got the train, it was not so fun - we were all squashed in like sardines, and that mere five minutes on the train was just hellish. Then we tried to get the bus from the fella's and, although we have regularly got the bus into town from there for drinks and dinner at the weekend, this time it was late, packed, and stopped at probably every bus stop on the 9 mile journey. By the time we got off the bus, an hour and a half after leaving the house, I definitely deserved that salted caramel hot chocolate . . .


So, I guess my issues are mainly fairly superficial and silly ones . . .  really I just need to try to control my pavement rage, and dial up my willpower button. Unfortunately I am easily irritated and I have feck all willpower so it will be an interesting ride, that's for sure. Ultimately, I guess it's good being back in the city centre . . . but it's probably going to take me a while longer to get used to!