Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Stay focused and extra sparkly

A month or so ago, as 2015 drew to a close, I did what everyone else does and reflected on what I'd like to achieve over the next year. Having just got back from my travels, my next immediate aim was to get a job and move to London (exciting progress has been made on that front, but I'll tell you all about it in another post).
"I've finished uni, swanned around an exotic part of the world, 2016 will be the year I become a proper adult," I said to myself.

I decided that in 2016 I would wear heels, lipstick and eye-shadow IN THE DAYTIME *gasp* (the fact that I was kindly given the Urban Decay Naked 3 eye palette for Christmas is massively helping me keep up with that last one as I am in LOVE with it!)

This year, I'll overhaul my style and dress like a grown-up - I'll gradually replace my sequinned jumpers and bright patterned dresses with sleek, chic blouses and jackets in grey, black, white and beige. I will look sophisticated.

Yeah, or not.

My downfall came just a few days into January courtesy of a certain bright turquoise glittery wallet in the Kate Spade sale (where else?). Behold, the Glitter Bug Stacy:
You guuuuuys, it was 50% off and I had been needing a new wallet and JUST LOOK HOW SPARKLY!!!
For sure, it was pretty embarrassing when my card was declined upon attempting to purchase said beautiful wallet but thanks to the wonder that is mobile banking (who needs savings?), the beauty was mine within moments.

I felt it was the perfect complement to the pink Glitter Bug Slim Bee purse I'd also received for Christmas:
And look you guys! This one's still in the sale online! GO GO GO!
Have I ever mentioned turquoise and pink (and glitter) are my favourite colours? Well they are.
Kate Spade also do this range of glittery deliciousness in gold, but unfortunately I didn't quite manage to get my hands on any of them.

I actually looked at the Glitter Bug range online before Christmas and contemplated adding a little summin' summin' to my Christmas list, ya know, just to help the old man out (I made a Google Doc, natch). But I decided against it, as I thought all the glitter would fall off before long. Don'tcha hate it when that happens!?

HOW-EV-ERRRRR, it turns out that the marvellous people at Kate Spade have actually solved this problem before it could even materialise. What you don't see in pictures is that all the glitter is covered in a clear patent layer so it's smooth as a (shiny) baby's bottom. 

Both my wristlet/purse and wallet have Kate Spade's beautiful 'quick and curious' lining and they're practical too.

Inside the wallet there are tons of card slots, a zip pocket both inside and out for change and whatnot, and sections for receipts and cash. I actually really like the zip around the wallet too as it means you can't just keep stuffing more and more bits and bobs in there, as I had a habit of doing. A loyalty card from the cute diner in Paris I went to four years ago? Sorry, you don't make the cut anymore.

Whilst I may not use the wristlet/purse as much as the wallet, it's still useful. I can fit my phone, lipgloss and cards inside so if you're good at packing light on an evening out, this could be the one (and you'll still have your hands free for Champagne and canapés!) 

However on a day-to-day basis I'll probably keep mine inside my handbag. Isn't it annoying when bags don't have inside pockets and you can never find small essentials like keys or lip balm when you need them? I don't think locating this pink sparkly beaut will be too much of a problem.
These Kate Spade beauties bring smiles to people's faces. Every time I get my wallet out to pay for something, it catches someone's eye. The cashier at Le Pain Quotidien complimented me on it, we discussed how it went with her sparkly nails and both of our moods were boosted.

So I've decided there is no reason why I can't be bright and sparkly and grown-up and sophisticated. If you ask me, adult life could do with a bit more sparkle. Don't you agree?

Monday, 25 January 2016

11 reasons for going travelling with a tour group

For the majority of my trip through South-East Asia, I was travelling with a tour group run by G Adventures, and I could not recommend it more (no-one's paid me to say that, honest!)

Although guided tour groups may be associated with retired folk on Saga cruises, a lot of young people - particularly solo travellers - go adventuring with tour groups these days. Contiki is a big one, but there are tons of companies. I booked mine through STA Travel who work with a bunch of tour companies, including G Adventures.

As a 23-year-old girl heading off to Asia for the first time by herself, it was absolutely perfect for me.

Some people turn their noses up at tour groups, but I think they're wrong. Sure, you may lose a smidge of spontaneity, but you gain so much. It's just so much fun and so easy! Here's what I mean:

1. It's hassle-free before and during, thus also a timesaver. 

You can just recline like Buddha here
With my trip, the accommodation in each place and travel from place-to-place was all organised for me. And that's the stressful part of travelling, am I right? On travel days, all I had to do was dump my backpack in the back of a minibus and relax or follow my guide through an airport or train station. Simples!

2. It's targeted to your budget.

G Adventures offer trips at various different levels of luxury (or basic-ness!) so you know that the places you'll be taken to will fit your budget.

3. You know each place you stay will be decent. 

Alas we did not stay here as I was on a budget tour, but some day I plan to.
We've all heard accommodation horror stories from travellers who've backpacked through Asia, but by travelling with a tour group, you now you won't be taken anywhere too horrendous.

4. You're taken to all the best places. 
If I'd had to research everywhere I wanted to go in advance, I'd never have gone! Having run their tours for yeeeaaars, G Adventures know which places you're going to want to visit and how long to spend in each.

5. You're taken to places you wouldn't have thought to visit. 
Had I been travelling by myself, I'd never have spent nights in the Sumatran jungle but I am SO glad I did! My trip was ace as we went to all the tourist sights you want to tick off your list, but then also loads of places that were genuinely off the beaten track where we didn't see any other white people for days.

6. You're free to do as you please in each place.

Day on the beach with a coconut? OKAY THEN!

Although travel from place-to-place is organised and the itinerary is fixed, you can do whatever you want in each destination.

7. You get ideas of what to do from fellow travellers and your guide.

The amazing Indian restaurant we found thanks to Alice's guidebook

In each place we stopped, our guide gave us recommendations of what was actually worth seeing and doing, which was great. The other guys on the tour also suggested things that I hadn't heard of which was fab too.

8. You get the best of travelling alone and travelling with friends.
Want to spend some time by yourself? Off you pop. Fancy a big group dinner? You've got chums!

9. You make new friends.
No doubt about it, I have made friends for life, and I know I'm going to meet up with some of my new travel pals again. My group changed throughout the trip and although the majority of us were in our early 20s, our ages ranged from 18 to late 30s and we came from all over the world (but mainly the UK!). Even though I probably won't keep in touch with everyone, it was great to meet like-minded people - we were mostly young solo female travellers - and always have people to do things with. I know a lot of people meet up with friends from their tour group further into their travels, which is lovely. We had a ball!

10. Your guide keeps you safe.

Our fearless leader

As well as having a great group of people, our guide, Masha, was fantastic. She was so knowledgeable and warned us of any scams and the like, ensuring we didn't get ripped off or into trouble.

11. Your guide is there to answer all your questions. 
And I had a lot of questions. From asking where she'd recommend for dinner to random cultural curiosities, Masha knew the answer to everything. I learnt so much from her. What's that plant? Why do women work more than men? Is this safe to eat? She always had the answers.

Although travelling with a tour group may not be right for everyone, it was perfect for me, particularly for my first big exotic trip by myself. DO IT! I wanna go again!

Have you ever been travelling with a tour group? Or would you?

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

An incredible tea-tasting at Piacha, London

“We should meet for coffee!” “New coffee shop opens!” “Look at all these exciting types of coffee!”

*raises eyebrow*

Coffee does not excite me. I do not drink coffee. Blergh.

Tea, on the other hand. Now we’re talking.

So when London tea bar and shop Piacha invited me in to sample some of their delicious brews, I was unsurprisingly keen.

I’d presumed it’d be a case of “choose a cuppa, take a snap, drink up and ta-rah.” But no. I was treated to a full-on tea-tasting with Piacha’s founder, Pia, which was a delight.

I’m not sure I’ve ever drunk so much tea in the space of two hours (and I do drink a hell of a lot of tea.)

You guys, I loved it.
Never in my life have I seen let alone tried such a diverse range of teas and such interesting flavours! Just you wait.
On a pretty street in Islington (I walked past both a gluten-free bakery and a sugar-free one on said road, you get the idea), Piacha was the perfect spot for some post-shopping recuperation as the sun went down - it was only 4pm, but this is January. Ya feel me.

One of the things I most loved about Piacha is the fact that they’re open till 9pm. It always bugs me when cafes close at like 4pm, because let’s be real here: tea and cake time is any time of day, am I right?

The tea bar has a trendy relaxed vibe - think exposed brick walls, orange armchairs and jazz playing in the background. No one is rushed to finish their tea or leave, but left to relax and take their time whilst sipping delicious mugs of freshly-brewed tea. It's not the cosiest of places, but I liked the ambiance.
Pia told me that before starting Piacha a year or so ago she was actually a technology lawyer! I love that she's had such a career turnaround.

I was welcomed into Piacha before being introduced to the many many teas on offer - I’m so grateful I was allowed to try a range as there’s no way I could’ve picked just one! I sniffed the different tea leaf blends and chatted to Pia about my tastes in tea and we eventually decided on a selection to try.
And it's not just tea on offer - there are of course other drinks (though why you'd choose one of them I do not know), sandwiches (complete with tea herbs!) and baked goods from a nearby bakery.

First up in my tasting was the milky oolong tea and apple green tea.
I loved both of these. The milky oolong was delicate, lightly sweet and scored a solid 9/10 with me.

The apple green tea was delicious and you could really taste the cinnamon - I scored it a fat 9.5/10! And I have to add that it went down a treat with an apple muffin, bursting with chunky pieces of fruit. Yum.

Next up: camomile citrus tea with a herbs and houmous sandwich.
The lavender really came through in this brew but I have to be honest it wasn't really my cup of tea. Literally. (6/10). The sandwich was nice enough but nothing to write home about to be honest.

Coming up next was the tea I'd been most looking forward to: rooibos rhubarb fudge, and chocolate cinnamon rooibos (yes, really.)
And do you know what? I think I actually preferred the chocolate cinnamon to the rhubarb fudge! The former smelled incredible and actually tasted more chocolatey than I'd expected upon taking a whiff - it's up there with the apple green tea on 9.5/10.

The rhubarb was still lovely and very rhubarby, scoring a highly respectable 8/10, so still yummy despite perhaps not quite living up to my hopes. Can we get a round of applause for rhubarb fudge? Good work.

We finished my tea journey with black teas: vanilla early grey and black cherry, with a little chocolate brownie bite:
The black cherry was reeeaaally yummy and particularly great with milk (9/10) and the vanilla earl grey was lovely - the citrus and bergamot of normal early grey was less strong, which I liked (7/10).

And despite feeling pretty gosh darn full by this point, Pia insisted I try one of their ice tea smoothies, and I chose earl grey peach.
I thought the peach and early grey flavours complemented each other perfectly - you could really taste both and it wasn't too sweet. The smoothie was delightfully refreshing and unlike anything I've ever had before.

All my teas at home seem super boring now.

And of course, mes amis, these are just my opinions. Tea's a personal thing, ya know? And there are so many more flavours to try at Piacha! I thoroughly recommend a visit. Which flavours take your fancy?

Thanks to Piacha for inviting me in for a tea-tasting but as always these are my honest opinions.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

RECIPE: Healthy homemade Nutella

I’m going to be completely honest with you guys from the off and tell you three things:

1. This ain’t the cheapest recipe in the world.
2. It takes a bit of time to make.
3. It doesn’t taste the same as Nutella.

Now allow me to address the aforementioned concerns:

1. Medjool dates are expensive, this I know. Coconut oil ain’t the cheapest things in the world either, nor are hazelnuts. However once in a while you’ve got to #treatyoself. And when treating yourself, is it not ideal to do so with something that’s actually going to nourish your body as well as being delicious!? I think the answer is a resounding yes there.

2. I say "a bit of time" because my recipes are usually half an hour jobbies. Give yourself a couple of hours, clear out the kitchen, pop on some tunes and have an awesome therapeutic bit of time to yourself.

3. It may not taste the same as everyone’s favourite childhood spread but it’s still insanely delicious, just different.
I’m pretty sure every health blogger on this here inter-web has their own recipe for homemade chocolate hazelnut spread. Healthy Nutella, if you will.

With my recipe, I took inspiration from them all, combining aspects of various recipes. Et voilà! My own take on healthy Nutella. Because the internet really needs another. Ahem.
At the end of the day, I’ve made this a few times now and seriously love it so I figured why not share it with you all.

It’s a lot nuttier than legit Nutella but I absolutely love the super hazelnutty flavour. And unless you have a super powerful blender, it won’t be as smooth either, but that doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, you could leave it less-blended and call it chunky Nutella, much like chunky peanut butter. Mama Hosie actually prefers the texture of mine: “less cloy-y” were her choice words.

Much like real Nutella, mine is the type of thing you can just eat with a spoon straight from the jar. And you know you’re onto something good when that happens. But mine is a lot more filling, that's for sure.
However if you do resist scoffing the lot as it is, this is one versatile spread: try blending into milkshake, stir some into your porridge, dollop onto pancakes, slather onto banana chunks or apple slices, or simply spread onto bread.

I heartily recommend this:
I simply blended one cup of cold almond milk, one frozen ripe banana and two tablespoons of healthy Nutella and then drizzled with Choc Shot for an extra chocolate boost. It was so so good.
It’s also exceedingly tasty when warmed and used as a dip for strawberries or any other fruit you may have lying around.

I get so excited when I make something so tasty that is also genuinely nourishing and super good for you! Can this really be sugar-free and vegan!? Why, yes. Yes it can.

The only ingredients are hazelnuts, medjool dates, raw cacao powder, coconut oil and almond milk, and they’re all packed with goodness. I’m not going to lecture you on the health benefits of each now because we have more important things to do (ie make Nutella) but Google is always there if you’re interested.
And don’t forget that you ideally need to roast and soak some shiz a few hours in advance otherwise your blender ain’t gonna be a happy bunny.

Also, if you can find blanched hazelnuts, use them and save yourself a hell of a lot of time. I already had one packet of blanched this time, but then Co-op only had unblanched so I had to use half and half. Damn you, Co-op.
De-skinning the unblanched nuts can be a slightly time-consuming job (even if you use this awesome technique Natasha Corrett of Honestly Healthy recommends), so save yourself the hassle if you can.

This recipe makes a large jar-full (my blender said around 600ml), but that’s if you’re eating a fair bit as you go. I presume you’re just like me and will do too. Yolo.
Hope you love it, gang!


1 mug pitted medjool dates
1 mug (200g) hazelnuts, ideally blanched
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
4-6 tbsp raw cacao powder, to taste
1-2 mugs unsweetened almond milk


1. Preheat the oven to 190C. In a mug, cover the dates with warm water and leave to soak for at least an hour. Tip the hazelnuts into a baking tray and roast for 8-10 minutes, until the blanched ones are turning golden and the skins on the unbalanced ones are cracking.
2. If using blanched nuts, pour them into a bowl and cover with 1 mug almond milk. If using unblanched, you need to skin them first - I recommend Natasha Corrett’s technique: grab a big handful of the nuts, place your other hand on top and move them in small circles so the nuts grind against each other. Don’t worry if you don’t remove every bit of skin though. Some nuts are very stubborn and if you’re impatient like me you’ll eventually just make do with what you’ve got. Again, soak the hazelnuts in 1 mug almond milk for an hour or more.
3. Once your nuts and dates have been soaking and softening for at least an hour, you can crack on. Drain the dates and put them in a blender with the coconut oil, cacao powder and a sizeable splash of milk. Blend until smooth, stopping to mix and add more almond milk as necessary.

4. Add the hazelnuts and their soaking milk and blend blend blend! Make sure to taste it as you go and add more cacao powder or almond milk as you like. My blender is pretty rubbish so I have to stop and mix literally every 2-3 seconds, but keep going and you’ll eventually have a deliciously smooth spread. Persistence is key.
5. Spoon into a big jar and leave to cool fully before putting the lid on. And that’s it! Nutritious and delicious homemade Nutella. Yum!
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