Thursday, 18 September 2014

Healthy snack round-up 2: Emily Fruit Crisps, iQ Chocolate, Kallo rice cake thins and Vithit.

The elephantine among you may recall I wrote this healthy snack round-up a few months ago. (Just to be clear, the elephant reference was because elephants never forget, I was not in fact assuming you're all the size of elephants.)

And because I love discovering new foodie products, am often sent samples to review, and my previous post went down so nicely, I thought I'd pop out another similar one.

I get really excited upon hearing about new foods and drinks that promise to taste divine and help us all be a bit healthier, and I imagine I'm not alone. But before you go out and part with your hard-earned cash (slash student loan), I thought it might be useful to read an honest review or two first.

So, let's crack on with it, shall we?

1. iQ Superfood Chocolate

Um, say whaaaaat!? Chocolate? That's good for you? HOW CAN THIS BE!?

iQ have recently launched two new bars in addition to their existing range of superfood chocolate bars, all of which boast over 20 validated health benefits. They sounded amazing, so I was thrilled to be kindly sent the BeautiQ and YogiQ bars to try.

My initial reaction was that the packaging and branding is simply delightful... Pretty cute, don'tcha think?

But let's get down to the taste, shall we?

I'll be honest, iQ Chocolate is no Dairy Milk. They're not sweet, but I did like the subtle gingeryness of the YogiQ and the little crunchy bits of the BeautiQ. Both bars are slightly bitter and extremely rich.

The bars are a good size but you probably wouldn't eat a whole one in one sitting (this coming from the girl who could happily chomp through a family-size bar of Galaxy in one go) - iQ Chocolate is just too rich.

They're not actually low-cal either, but if you consider that you'd probably eat less than you would of normal chocolate, you consume fewer calories.

My mum and sister tried the bars and here's what they had to say (which I found rather amusing):

Holly: "If you think of it as like a vegetable, it's alright."

Mum: "It's nearly as many calories as a Mars bar!"
Me: "Yeah but a Mars bar isn't guilt-free."
Mum: "I'd rather be guilty."

So no glowing endorsements from the Hosie ladies, I'm afraid. My opinion? I like the bars, but unfortunately I'm just not sure they'll be curing my milk chocolate cravings any time soon. Maybe I could slowly wean myself off normal choc and on to iQ though... Watch this space.

iQ Chocolate bars cost £2.49 each RRP.

2. Emily Fruit Crisps

These, my dears, are so very tasty. They were somehow much better than I expected - having tried a fair few dried fruit variants it takes something special to wow me. (How ridiculous do I sound?)

Emily Fruit Crisps are just fruit and a little oil and they're unlike anything I'd had before. There's also a really sweet story behind the name...

The fruit crisps have a unique airy texture, are full of fruity flavour and really are somehow like crisps. But sweet.

I always thought I'd prefer chewy soft dried fruit but actually loved the crunch of Emily Fruit Crisps. You also get a nice sizeable bag for really rather few calories - 133 for the pineapple, for example.

If there's one negative, for me it's that some of the pieces were a bit small in the pineapple, more like crumbs, but that was less a problem with the apple and banana. It's hard to pick a favourite, I'll be honest!

3. Kallo Chocolate Rice Cake Thins.

Rice cakes. Not exactly exciting are they? However, the new chocolatey jazzed-up versions are a significant improvement on the rice cakes you know and hate, mes amis.

Kallo sent me a lovely box-full of their latest chocolate rice cake thins "for a feel good tea break." I like the sound of that, thought I.

First up, I tried the dark chocolate with orange and my initial reaction was, well, this is a bit weird.

A few bites later, however, I decided actually this is really rather nice. Jolly tasty, in fact.

They have a really enjoyable crispness and a lovely flavour.

The milk chocolate with caramel rice cake thins, however, were less flavoursome, but still nice. And at around 60 calories per rice cake thin, they're pretty low-cal for their size. I'm a fan!

4. VitHit Immunitea

I'll be honest with you, my first thought on receiving this bottle was "Wow, it's so pink!" And y'all know I love pink.

VitHit make a range of healthy drinks, and having sampled the Immunitea I'm really keen to try the rest.

They say: "This is a delicious blend of Dragonfruit and yuzu fruit blended with black tea and a host of vitamins and minerals.  Containing 100% RDA of 7 vitamins plus Zinc and Vitamin C, Immunitea is the perfect blend for everyday protection."

I say: "It's delicious! And pink! And low-cal!"

And in that sense, what more could a gal want? Oh, health benefits, you say? Well sure. That's just the cherry on top of the, um, bottle of VitHit.

So, lovely people, what are you keen to try? Have you already eaten /drunk anything I've tried and do you agree with me? Let me know!

All the above products were kindly sent to me to try free of charge, but as always, my opinion is entirely honest.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sunday lunch at The Olive Branch gastropub, Clipsham, Rutland

My family has been going to The Olive Branch for years. Or, as I like to call it, the Ob.

We don’t go often, maybe once every six months or so, but it’s our fave when we have something to celebrate or simply the family all together.

And so a couple of weekends ago with me finally home from Brussels, Holly back from Exeter and Jamie popping back from London for the weekend, it was the perfect opportunity to go to the Ob for a family Sunday lunch. It was also sort of a joint birthday lunch for Jamie and me (a few weeks late for him, a few early for me.)

Considering we’ve been visiting and loving the Ob for so long, it seems strange that I’ve never blogged about it. So, let’s remedy that now, shall we?

There’s nothing better than a British pub, and a pub lunch on a Sunday is the one.

The Olive Branch, however, is much more than your standard pub. It’s a gastropub, I’ll have you know. Yeah. Snazzy.

I’d been really looking forward to this lunch for ages, so when I realised I wasn’t going to have shifted my tummy bug in time I was not best pleased. Pretty gutted, actually.

Still, not one to miss out on a family outing, I dragged myself off the bathroom floor, put on a pretty dress and decided to go along as official lunch photographer, even if I couldn’t eat much. Taking pictures would at least give me something to do instead of simply drooling over everyone else’s food

Much to my delight (genuinely), Mama decided we should take a Hosie family selfie before leaving. Voilà:

The Oscars selfie has nothing on us, right?

One car journey through the pretty Leicestershire and Rutland countryside later and we had arrived.

It was an uncharacteristically summery September afternoon, and as nice as it would have been to eat outside, we went inside to soak up the charming atmosphere.

Drinks were served by the friendly bar staff – I pushed the boat out with a rather scrumptious cordial, and enviously eyed up the strawberry Champagne cocktail being enjoyed by the Madre. Damn you, illness.

To be fair it was top notch cordial
And then we sat down at our table. The Ob is all ‘rustic country pub’ in style, and I can tell you it’s particularly cosy in the winter with the roaring fires.

The fam perused the menus, I perused the fellow diners.

Orders were placed and we were swiftly brought a little loaf of fresh, warm, seedy bread and the Ob’s signature olive butter.

It turns out Dad had had a little word with the staff and alerted them to the fact that we were having a celebratory meal, so they kindly gave us a little special treatment.

Hello, amuse-bouche (“it is amusing”)! I am reliably told this was delicious.

Then, starters (I haven’t taken a picture of everything but just a few to give you a taste, a flavour, if you will):

These scallops were apparently really good, and doesn't the corn look divine? Mum had a leek and potato soup which I totally would have had too, although she said it was a leeeeettle too peppery for her liking.

Main course time!

Bon appetit to me.
Seriously though, the chips are amazing. And I figured you're meant to eat plain carbs when you have a funny tummy, right?

They're thick, hand-cut, lightly-salted, super fluffy inside and then triple-fried for insane crispness on the outside. Seriously sensational. 

And while I nibbled on chips, the famalam got stuck into their more nutritionally-balanced meals.

A big ole roast for Dad.^

Duck for Mum.^

And duck for the Shrimp too, albeit with her choice of sides (because the Ob staff are very kind and accommodating like that.)^

Jamie obviously had something too. I must've been too busy eating chips to take a picture of his.

Not only were all the dishes super tasty, as per usual, you can always rely on the Ob for fantastic presentation too, and I do think that does really make a difference. 

Everything went down a treat, as always. And then it was on to pudding! (AKA the best part of every meal and the part that was going to kill me most considering I couldn't really eat.)

There I was, wanting to eat everything, unable to eat anything. Woe was me.

But I decided yolo and ordered a mini plain stick toffee pudding without ice cream. Living life on the edge right there.

Before that arrived though, the Ob had another little treat in-store for us...

Cucumber and watermelon sorbet. Now I'll be honest, the sound of that didn't do much for me, but I did try a little bit and I can tell you it was seriously delicious. Sweet, soothing and super refreshing. Just what you need before hitting the stodge again, am I right?

Enter: sticky toffee pudding.

The Shrimp had a normal-sized one, so the above is hers. I've had it before and can tell you it's a real winner. Especially with the creamy vanilla ice cream.

Brother had the berry Bakewell^, which I kid you not, looked and sounded amazing. Apparently it tasted it too (*sob*). Another time, eh?

And just as the coffees were being sipped and we thought the meal was over, the Ob brought out one final surprise for the birthday boy and girl...

A little selection of petits fours each! How nice is that? Were I not ill I probably would've done a "Joey doesn't share food" and been tempted to scoff my whole dish, but it was a team effort. There were insanely fluffy marshmallows, super rich chocolate truffles, ginger biscuits, apple jelly squares, nutty truffles and pistachio biscuits. 

Do you like my pistache? (See what I did there? Eh, eh?)

It was a lovely surprise and even though I couldn't eat much it was really appreciated.

I usually leave the Ob feeling like I need to be rolled home, so it was a new experience for me the other weekend. Although I couldn't enjoy much of the food, I still had a lovely time as it's such a great place and so much fun to be with the whole fam - I feel we all get on and slot together best when we're all five together. You've gotta love families, eh?

And now I have a good excuse to go back to the Ob as soon as I can!

The Olive Branch can be found on Main Street, Clipsham, Rutland, LE15 7SH

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

REVIEW: Wish Want Wear designer dress hire

Whether it's flats or cars, apparently no-one can afford to actually own anything these days. People talk about the "sharing economy", which makes us all sound very generous, doesn't it? In reality I think we're all just poor but hey, let's take the former.

And fashion is most definitely not immune to this trend (if you'll pardon the pun.)

Enter: Wish Want Wear.

While by no means the only designer dress hire website in the UK, Wish Want Wear is certainly one of the leaders. So, when their marketing team contacted me asking if I might like to review the website and try out a dress from the Student Style collection, and knowing I had a good friend's black tie 21st coming up, I pounced at the chance. (Thanks, guys!)

Wish Want Wear was launched three years ago and stocks both famous and little-known designers including Temperley London, Sass & Bide, M Missoni and Just Cavalli. As well as dresses, they also have accessories from the likes of Mawi and Erickson Beamon. (And I adore Erickson Beamon - so spaaarrrkkkly *eyes glaze over*)

The idea is simple: when you can't afford to buy designer, you should have the opportunity to rent it. Apparently the founders came up with the idea when they were cash-strapped students, and girls, I feel your pain.

There are tons of gorgeous dresses on the website, as well as coats, jackets, jumpsuits, jewellery and clutches... But it's mainly about the dresses.

I also really like the friendly tone of the site - there are stylists available should you wish to live-chat online (but luckily I had my sister at the end of a facebook message to help me make my decision instead.)

Reviews and photos from previous renters are also encouraged on Wish Want Wear, which I found really useful.

From browsing the site, it seems dresses generally start at around £45 for four days' rental, going up to a few dresses costing over £200. If you want to rent your dress for eight days, that costs more.

The dress I chose is this one:

Keira Gown
Although I obvs did not look as good as this fine lady.
The Keira gown by Nicole Miller. She's an American designer, and while may not be massively well-known, the dress would've cost a whopping £675 to buy! There's no way in hell I could afford that, that's for sure.

Wish Want Wear understand that each dress is very important to the renter, and I was provided with loads of updates on my delivery as it made its way towards me - that was really good. On the morning of delivery day I was also told the hour in which it'd arrive which was great. It did indeed arrive then too.

So, what did I think of my dress?

Well, I loved it!

It made me feel super slinky and glamorous, and I was even told I looked like a Bond Girl, which was rather nice to hear indeed. There's a cheeky little slit at the front too which you may not be able to see... Useful when it came to tearing up the dancefloor as my girlfriends and I inevitably did.

I may be 5'9" but even I needed my highest of heels for this baby. I see now there's a "Tall" sticker on the website, but I'm fairly certain that wasn't there when I initially ordered the dress. Luckily I am tall then because obviously you can't take up the hem of a dress you're renting.

You can, however, still have a great night without worrying. Minor stains or marks are covered, and each dress is thoroughly dry-cleaned afterwards. Phew.

I loved the back of my dress and the subtle fishtail, and I got a lot of compliments on it at the party. The low back and plunging front, however, did mean that I needed to get a special bra - an M&S strapless and backless one did the trick perfectly. I also decided to safety pin the front of my dress so it wasn't quite so low and revealing, but for some ladies I'm sure it'd be fine.

The night was spent dancing and mingling and I had a wonderful time in my dress.

You may be thinking how lucky I am that it was the right size...

Well, Wish Want Wear do this awesome thing where you can order a back-up size for free. how good is that? Because obviously if the dress arrives the day before your event and doesn't fit, well, you're in a bit of trouble.

On a similar note though, I was rather worried the shape of the dress just wouldn't suit me - you never really know until you try something on, do you? Luckily it did (I think/hope!).

After you've worn your dress you simply pop it back into the box it came in, stick on the provided label and drop it off at the post office for free. Simples! Initial delivery, however, is less free. As in costs £6.95.

Speaking of money, I have to say £100 is a lot of money for a student, and that's what renting my dress for four days would cost. Most of Wish Want Wear's dresses are rentals for the sort of prices I'd usually spend buying a dress, so to spend that amount on a dress to wear just once seems like a lot to me. Were I to sped £40 on a dress in Topshop I'd at least get multiple wears out of it.

However, renting a dress from Wish Want Wear for a special occasion is undoubtedly a nice way to add that extra touch or treat someone else. There's nothing like getting glammed up in a snazzy dress to make a gal feel a million bucks!

All in all I'm really impressed with Wish Want Wear. Customer service was great, I loved my dress and I think it's a brilliant idea.

What do you think?

Monday, 8 September 2014

A mother-daughter spa day at Ragdale Hall

Before I get into the post I just want to apologise for not having blogged for nearly a week - I've been really rather sick and for some reason my body has decided to recover at a glacial pace which does not thrill me in the slightest. I seem to be getting there though so am FINALLY able to write this post. There's been so much I've been wanting to write, mes amis!

I'd never been to a spa before - sure, I'd had the occasional manicure, always a treat - but the idea of going on a proper spa day had long appealed and never appeared. Walking round in fluffy white robes, being pampered, relaxing... Who wouldn't love that?

So, I was absolutely thrilled when, months ago last Christmas, I unwrapped a voucher for a spa day at the famously luxurious "health hydro and thermal spa", Ragdale Hall. Wahooooo! White robe, I'm comin' for ya! thought I.

Except what with the ol' year abroad and all, it took me rather a while to actually do so. However, Mama and I eventually settled on a date that would suit both of us, and we booked ourselves in.

After a long, fun but exhausting and stressful year of working, travelling and living abroad, the prospect of a spa day just a couple of days after coming home was simply perfect.

Conveniently, Ragdale isn't far from where we live, so we can get a good day of spa-ing spa-age spa-ness(?) without either having to get up at ludicrous o'clock or pay to stay a night. That said, staying the night at Ragdale sounds and looks totally lush. Just sayin'.

I was booked in for a Luxury Refresh and Revive Day and mum on the Ragdale Experience Day - she wasn't fussed about having treatments, but they were a real, well, treat, for this spa newbie.


Surrounded by peaceful Leicestershire countryside, Ragdale looks like a castle. The interior of the reception room is in charming country house style, and we were quickly checked in and shown through to the Garden Room Bar.

Here, we were offered tea and coffee and were left with some information. To be honest, we thought we were left for a little too long - we wanted to make the most of our day and time was ticking away! But we were eventually attended to.

We were told what time my treatment would be and when we were booked in for lunch, and given a map and fitness class timetable, as well as our robes.

It turns out that unless you're on the luxury day, robes aren't actually included (tragic), but would have to be hired for £3.50. Oh, and luckily we'd brought our own little slipper mules to wear - don't forget flip-flops or something similar if you go yourself!

Inside Ragdale

The interior of the whole spa is beautiful - there are both modern and classic areas, yet somehow they work well together. Most of the spa is airy and bright, and the atmosphere is wonderfully peaceful and relaxed.

There are designated silent areas, workout studios, a gym, various changing rooms (beautifully decorated, might I add), lounges, a "mind gym", pavilion, and of course, the pools, thermal spa and treatment areas.

There are also beautiful grounds which would have been lovely to explore, had we had more time.

Ragdale is quite big, but not too big that you feel lost. And although it was apparently fully-booked the day we visited (months in advance too!) it didn't seem busy.

There are various shops (a gift shop, beauty shop, fitness shop etc) as well as cafes and bars, but instead of paying with cash should you want to buy anything, each guest is given a personal account number to which they can charge purchases. A good system, I thought.

All around Ragdale there were enticing-looking chairs and the latest magazines, just calling out for you to sit down and chill out.

The gym

Once mum and I had made our plan for the day, we got cracking! And first up, we went to the gym.

It's well-equipped and has TVs on the walls, floor-to-ceiling windows round half the room and a water fountain. We had a relatively brief sesh but it was good to get the heart-rate going, particularly having not had access to a gym all year.

Fitness classes

The reason we had only a brief gym sesh was that we wanted to head to an exercise class: Ballroom Blitz!

There are tons of different workout classes on over the week, with a different timetable each day, which sort of makes me want to stay for a while to try them all.

At Ragdale you can choose from well-known classes like pilates, aerobics and Zumba, to slightly more intriguing and unusual ones like Magical Musicals, Drums Alive and fitness yoga.

Unfortunately I didn't get to try anywhere near as many as I'd have liked to but I really enjoyed Ballroom Blitz. It wasn't hard choreography-wise (actually, that may just be my opinion having a fair amount of dance experience), but it was fun and still got us all sweating.

Spa treatments

Straight from Ballroom Blitz I had to waltz my way over to the beauty reception because it was treatment time for me! I was booked in for a 50-minute Blissful Face and Back Therapy and jolly looking forward to it, even though I wasn't entirely sure what it would entail.

A lovely lady called Danielle (who also turned out to be 21 but had far more beautiful skin than me) led me into a very relaxed, dim treatment room, and we sat down to have a brief chat about my skin and back concerns so she could then tailor my treatment appropriately.

We started with the massage so I wouldn't smush my freshly facialed face, and, listening to classic spa relaxation tunes, I drifted off into peaceful land. The back massage was totally blissful and went by far too quickly, and then over I rolled for my facial.

To be honest I haven't a clue what Danielle was putting on my face - hot things, cold things, creamy things, exfoliating things - but it was so therapeutic.

Once my treatment was over, Danielle gave me a "prescription" with her product recommendations which, conveniently, were available in the Ragdale shop. I don't doubt the lovely products would improve my skin, but alas I wasn't quite feeling flush enough to splash out.

Although I may not have left with noticeably more radiant, glowing skin as one would like to imagine, I massively enjoyed my treatments. It's not cheap to have them but my goodness, are they lovely.

I left feeling wonderfully serene and pampered. Just ready for lunch then!


The prospect of a healthy buffet lunch held as much appeal for me as everything else involved in my spa day.

In a large country house style dining room, mum and I were shown to our table and sat down. In our dressing gowns. Amongst various other tables of ladies. In their dressing gowns. It's kind of hilarious to be in an apparently posh restaurant in a fluffy white robe but also rather good fun.

The three course lunch begins with still or sparkling water and bread rolls - gently warmed, I honestly think mine was one of the best bread rolls of my life. We were even allowed butter. It must've been low-fat.

One waiter amongst many took our starter order (there was a choice of two), and we were swiftly served - tomato soup for me and salmon on rye bread for the mothership. Very tasty indeed.

And then it was time to hit the buffet. There was so much choice I don't - and didn't - even know where to start: an amazing salad bar, tagine, jacket potatoes (yes, carbs are allowed!), lean meats, fish, casserole, pasta salad, sauces... It's safe to say we filled our plates. All in the guilt-free knowledge that a) it was healthy, and b) we were exercising lots that day.

There was then an option to have a hot pudding, but the orange sponge didn't really take my fancy. However, the cool pudding buffet was more than enough - there were lots of mini puddings like mango parfait, apple custard crumbley pots, jellies, fruit compotes, yoghurts, dried fruit, coulis, pieces of fruit and even more that I can't remember. I may have had three. But they were tiny, honest.

After eating up all that, we were unsurprisingly far too full to do much, so happily retired to the Verandah Bar for our complimentary post-lunch tea or coffee.

Super comfortable, we reclined on the sofas, sipping our drinks, flicking through magazines and laughing our heads off trying to recreate model poses. Too full to manage the hula class we'd originally planned, we simply relaxed.

The pools and thermal spa

Finally having sufficiently digested, Mama and I squeezed into our swimming cozzies and made our way to the pools for a relaxing bob around. Let's face it, we were never going to be swimming hardcore lengths, were we?

There are actually three indoor pools at Ragdale - one exercise pool (with legit pool workout machines) where water workout classes take place, the main pool, and the thermal spa which starts inside FROM WHICH YOU CAN SWIM INTO AN OUTDOOR POOL! Seriously. There's also another outdoor pool I think, but I don't think that was open.

The main pool in itself is great. It's really big, wonderfully warm, with a really cool waterfall you can sit under, have a shoulder massage and pretend you're somewhere tropical. It also has jets for foot and back massages too. Oh, and there's a jacuzzi.

The thermal spa, however, is really something else.

Around the pool there are all these tiny little rooms called things like the "Candle Pool", "Colourflow Cave" and "Volcanic Salt Bath". Certain rooms are designated silent for ultimate relaxation.

While some of the rooms are essentially saunas and steam rooms with added relaxation music and nice fragrances (not that that's not lovely), I reeeaaally was wowed by others. The Candle Pool, in particular, was amazing. It's like being in a massive bath, surrounded by candles, in water that changes colour. Seriously cool.

I also loved the Cave Shower which recreated the experience of being in a thunder storm (but with hot water) - so much fun!

It was awesome to make our way round all these interesting little parts of the thermal spa - there's so much to do, it's wonderful.

The pool in the thermal spa is also great - it's not huge so not designed for swimming, but it's awesome that you can swim from the inside to the outside. And it's seriously warm too. Amazing.

Exercise pool classes

It's not just studio-based workout classes at Ragdale either, oh no. While they're usually asociated with larger old ladies at leisure centres (and sure, there were a few of them bobbing around and doing their thing at Ragdale), Mama and I decided to take the opportunity to try a Cardio Splash class.

Not only was the class fun, but it was great to try something new. Considering it was the end of the day, a pool workout class was ideal as we didn't break a sweat. Afterwards, however, I was more than ready for the final part of our day...

Afternoon tea

There's something about swimming which always leaves me peckish, yes, despite the epic lunch.

Once more wrapped up in our robes, we plonked ourselves on to the sofas in the cosy Verandah lounge and were served our tea, sparkling Pinot Noir and three tiers of treats. I was surprised by just how many different things to munch there were, and there was a great selection.

Instead of just classic finger sandwiches, for example, our savoury layer consisted of mini quiches, tomato-topped bruschetta, salmon-wraps and, well, sandwiches.

Layer two was little sponge cakes topped with utterly scrumptious icing and raspberries, and mini strawberry-topped lemon tarts and chocolate brownies.

And the top layer was scones and macarons. (I missed scones so much on my year abroad!) Deeee-lish!

Considering Ragdale is, in fact, not an establishment which specialises in afternoon tea, it was wonderful. The perfect end to our day.

And had we not had the afternoon tea as part of our lovely upgrade, we certainly would've been treating ourselves to a slice of one of these babies...

They must all be low-fat, right?

The parsnip and maple cake looked particularly divine so I guess I'll just have to go back to try it out!

I absolutely loved my day at Ragdale Hall - it was relaxing, extremely enjoyable and very special.

In exchange for a review, Ragdale Hall kindly upgraded my standard Refresh and Revive Day to a Luxury one, and added robes and afternoon tea to mum's Experience Day. Many thanks to Ragdale, and as ever, this post is my honest opinion.