29 December 2013

Being Human - New Year's Resolutions

December is a jam packed month. I love it. There is so much going on and it's always the most exciting time of year for me. There are now two days left of 2013 (what) and now that Christmas is done with, it's time to reflect on the year past and prepare for the new one coming.

Every year I buy myself a new diary and write a list of new year's resolutions in the crisp first page, but this year I have made a start in one of my old journals because I am feeling super organised. I start my new job a week tomorrow(!) and I want everything to go smoothly right from the start.

My new years resolutions are always the same: drink more water, eat more fruit and veg, do more exercise, read more, write more. This used to concern me - I shouldn't have to write these at the start of every year, should I? Surely after one year of keeping these resolutions I should be able to move on and not write them down again, year after year? But then I thought, I am never done with being fit and healthy. I am never done with reading and writing. These things mean a lot to me in my life. We always have room for improvement, and new years resolutions are important because they reaffirm that we are human beings with the drive and need inside of us to get better and achieve things, even if we never reach these goals.
I see a lot of people on the internet going on about how New Year's resolutions are pointless. A new year shouldn't mean a new start - it's the same day as every other day. But it's not, really, is it? 1st January marks the start of a new year, and the opportunity to start afresh. As human beings we like that; we like to be given that chance, whether we see it through or not.

I remember browsing the shops last January and seeing a whole host of exercise DVDs on offer. Everyone knows after a few weeks of over indulging we try and get into a permanent routine of being fit and healthy, but it doesn't usually last. It made me laugh back then, but I'm considering getting one myself this year as I have avoided going out running for a good two months now. 

The funny thing is, when it comes to making resolutions and keeping them, the enjoyable part is actually thinking of them and writing them down. Preparing for them. Getting that gym membership, going shopping for new trainers and a sports bra, writing this post, even. Sometimes, none of it comes to anything, but that's just human nature. Nothing changes remarkably when the clock strikes midnight on 31st December every year, but symbolically it does, and that's exciting - that is why we celebrate it every year.

January is a pretty depressing month. Thankfully, this one coming will mark the arrival of my sister's first baby and I am so excited. I hope the joy he/she brings will override the inevitable gloom that January usually brings, and I'll be even more determined to get better at reading, writing and looking after my body. What are your new year's resolutions?

24 December 2013

That Christmas Feeling

I realised something at the weekend. For it to truly feel like Christmas all that was needed was a fully decorated Christmas tree in the living room. After that, memories of past Christmasses, the excitement, anticipation and festive feeling - it was all there.

Having spent the last two months at work singing along to all the classic Christmas songs and dressing up as a reindeer and gingerbread lady on a few occasions, as well as sampling every single Christmas drink on the menu, you'd think I'd be in the Christmas spirit by now. Even spending 1st December in true Christmas snuggle Sunday fashion, it wasn't until Saturday that I felt Christmas was well and truly upon us. 

The Christmas tree makes it. A new one every year dressed in decorations from our Christmas box - old and new - there are lots of memories in there that conjure up that Christmas feeling each year.

A lot of the decorations on our tree are even older than me. I remember when I was about five, I was decorating the tree with these baubles, helping my mum tie the ribbon through each one, and onto the branches of the tree. Memories like that are what make us think Christmas feels like something. Christmas feels like that; like a memory we have from a past Christmas. 

I think I am going to watch Meet Me in St Louis today. Judy Garland's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is probably my favourite Christmas song and is so apt this year.

Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you have a lovely day wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

22 December 2013

Loving: Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara
Good old Myspace; remember the days when the number of picture comments (pc4pc???) determined how popular and, essentially, add-worthy you were? Yep, side fringes that were a seemingly timeless hairstyle and selfies (before they were named selfies) all originated from us Myspace kids. It really was a place for friends, and relationship statuses that were just as important back in 2006 as they are today...

Now that Facebook has well and truly established its ruling over all the social media sites, Myspace has kind of fizzled into an embarrassing record that's been playing a bit too long, and a big part of me wishes it would just give up already and accept defeat. However, I still maintain that it was the one and only back in the days of angsty teenage romances. I used to love designing my layout and learning HTML, posting those quizzes via the bulletin board that no one ever read, and logging in to find I had new messages, comments, picture comments AND friend requests.

But I digress. The reason why I am reflecting on my teenage years which were for a large part, admittedly, spent on such social networking sites, is because Myspace is where I discovered Tegan and Sara, my favourite musical artists.

It was through a girl's profile song that I found the band that captured and held my attention for the next six years. The sound of Nineteen was like nothing I had ever heard before, and every time I listen to it, it feels like the first time.

I was fifteen and had recently been diagnosed with Crohn's disease. There was something about this song. Something about Tegan and Sara; I had to listen to more, so I downloaded as much of their music as I could find and popped it onto my iPod. My mum and I were driving to Birmingham that weekend to pick up my sister for the Christmas holidays, and for the hour and a half car journey I listened to about twenty different tracks, loving every single one of them.

My taste in music has changed a fair bit over the years, but my love for Tegan and Sara has remained constant. They have always been number one for me. I can't put my finger on what it is that doesn't get tired. Perhaps it is their somewhat nonsensical but refreshingly honest lyrics and unique melodies, but as they have recently changed to suit a wider, more varied audience, their music has become a little more generic and plain which I do find disappointing. I definitely prefer their older work, but people change and develop and they will go where they will go.

Last year, when I found out that Tegan and Sara would be supporting The Killers on their UK tour, I had to get tickets. I was ecstatic when I did. I played their music every day before I went to see them, and even tracked down the set list they would be playing so I could listen to each song in order, imagining seeing them live for the first time. A few weeks later, I found out they were doing their own tour - and of course I had to get tickets for that too. My then boyfriend accompanied me on both trips and took all of the photos above while I stood and stared at the two best female artists of all time.

When something you have dreamed about for so long actually happens, you don't know how to react. Everything was brilliant. I nearly cried when they played Nineteen - the song that had started this love back in 2007. Five years on and I was listening to and watching two of the most talented female artists perform for me. It was surreal.

Even though T&S cannot be seen in this photo, I love the memory of how excited I was.
I still look back on the two nights that I saw Tegan and Sara perform live with a great happiness and excitement. Live music is always invigorating, inspiring and uplifting, but when it's from a band you have admired for so long and for such personal reasons, it touches something much deeper within you. I still listen to their songs, enjoying the things I know from the past and the new things I am learning. They are like a jigsaw puzzle that may never be complete, and that is what I love about them the most.

19 December 2013

Breakfast at Carluccio's - Cardiff

I had my first taste of Carluccio's breakfast two years ago, around Christmas time, and it has since remained my number one spot for eating out for breakfast. The pastries are sweet and fresh, the bacon is crisp, the eggs have just the right amount of wobble and the bread - well, I could write a whole post about the bread. We paid under £10 each which included a drink, and depending on what you order your bill could come to under a fiver.

If you have never been to Carluccio's for breakfast - or any meal - you are missing out. Save up your pennies, find your nearest branch and make a trip out of it. Eat at all the Italian bread your stomach will allow. Then, enjoy browsing the sweet and savoury treats available to buy in the shop. It is generally an amazing experience, just to visit the place. The one in Cardiff is located underneath the library in the city centre, and on Tuesday I went with my friends Rich and Rhi for breakfast before embarking on a day of last minute Christmas shopping in the Welsh capital. 

When you walk into a restaurant and the first thing you see is this, you know you're in for a treat. We were too hungry to stop and browse so we decided to eat first.

I knew what I was having even before looking at the menu; pancetta (posh bacon) and eggs on Italian toast. Rhi chose the same and Rich the breakfast bread tin which would have been my second choice.

Shortly after our food was brought to us, our drinks arrived along with an extra egg on a separate plate for me; apparently the chef had only given me one egg - I hadn't even noticed.

Little lonesome egg on such a large plate. Best orange juice, by the way. Sweet, tart and fresh. Yum.

I am always tempted to buy a panettone from Carluccio's, but at nearly £17 I don't think I can justify it. They look so so good, though. You can get the traditional fruit one or a chocolate one - I would be happy with either.

Rhi picked up a few gifts from the festive display of treats but I was in the mood for browsing, and tasting...

These chocolate dipped bread sticks were stunning. The slight saltiness of the bread added a wonderful depth to the chocolate and I was impressed by the idea of combining foods you might eat before and after your main meal. Again, I would have loved to have bought some but at £10.95 a packet, I resisted.

Before we left, I took a few photos of things I particularly liked the look of:

Chocolate coins - perfect for stockings. It is so worth buying good quality chocolate coins - no one likes cheap chocolate.

On a hot day a can of San Pellegrino hits the spot. There's something about the packaging and design that I love, too. Italians get it so right, you know?

These lemon tarts looked like they might have tasted like actual heaven - so yellow and creamy looking - but after an indulgent breakfast we had had enough to eat and were ready to make our way to the shops. It was such a busy day and although I got a few great items for Christmas, I can safely say I will never be going Christmas shopping the week before ever again.

Have you ever been to Carluccio's? The waiter took the menus away before I had a chance to take a photo but there were so many delicious things to choose from - you can check them out here. Carluccio's is amazing for lunch and tea, too. I have fond memories of trips to London with my parents and going to eat at a bustling branch in the heart of the city. It is a restaurant I will always be glad to go to, but especially for breakfast. Are you hungry yet?

16 December 2013

Christmas Quinoa Granola

I made granola just one time before now. I got it all wrong. Some bits were soft, some bits were burnt - nothing like what my sister had made. Definitely nothing like what Tesco had made. I decided that I just couldn't make granola and gave up. That was it. Until now.

This week I was inspecting the array of cereals on the breakfast table, you know, as you do. Since I have been cutting out extra sugar from my diet in the lead up to Christmas, I was inspired to try again at granola - and make one without any added sugar. Isn't it annoying when something potentially healthy AND delicious is laden with so much crap? I was impressed to see the only sweet addition to Dorset Cereal's honey granola was, well, honey. The ingredients listed were things I could find in the kitchen anyway, so I thought I'd have another go. Thus began my extensive research on the world wide web for the best granola recipes. What would make the perfect 'healthier' granola - and Christmas granola at that? This time I was determined to succeed.

Do I really need to explain what I mean by Christmas granola? When I was making this I was taken back to Christmas school holidays, watching my mum make mince tarts and Christmas pudding in the kitchen, listening to radio four while I watched TV. The kitchen filled with a warm scent of spice; of home, like the comfort of fresh logs on a fire and soft socks warming your feet.

When baked and covered in honey and spiced deliciousness the nuts add a truly exceptional flavour and texture to the granola.

Why I picked almonds and brazil nuts: 
  1. Almonds are great for skin, hair and nails. Tick, tick, tick. 
  2. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium which is a mineral that maintains a good mood and helps prevents depression. It's also one of those nuts that all the celebrities eat because it's so great, apparently.
  3. They were the only nuts I could find in the house. 

I added quinoa because, well, this recipe said to. And I thought, yes. Oh yes. I love quinoa, and I love granola - the two together are sure to be a match made in heaven. Turns out quinoa baked in the oven is just as nice, if not nicer than quinoa cooked in water. It is crunchy and seed like, and there's something satisfying about that kind of texture. Not to mention how bloomin' good it is for you; a protein that contains all nine of the essential amino acids as well as being packed with iron and other essentials - what's not to love?

Just be sure to rinse the quinoa before use. It has a bit of a weird bitter taste to it otherwise.

Recipe for Christmas Quinoa Granola - adaptation of Ali's Quinoa Granola recipe from Gimme Some Oven

  • 1 cup of jumbo oats
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked quinoa
  • 3 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 tbsp nut butter of your choice - I used hazelnut butter.
  • 1/4 cup of slivered or roughly chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup of roughly chopped brazil nuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Handful of chopped dried apricots
  • Handful of raisins


1. First, put your oven on at 175°C.

2. Combine oats, quinoa and nuts in a large bowl.

3. Add the spices, nut butter and honey and combine until everything is mixed nice and evenly.

4. Spread the mixture out onto a lined baking tray and pop into the oven for ten minutes. Take the granola out of the oven and stir it around a bit, then pop back into the oven for another ten minutes.

5. It should look nice and brown when it's done. Now let it cool. Try not to eat it all before the fruit is added. I know it's hard.

6. When the granola is cool, add the fruit and put into a container. Give it a good shake (or stir) so everyone gets a bit of everything. Mm mmm.

I'm not one to count calories, but I am keen on cutting down my sugar intake and experimenting with healthier foods like nuts and quinoa. I served this Christmas quinoa granola with some plain set yoghurt and it was dee-licious. I'm pretty proud of myself for finally not ruining a batch of granola. And I can graze on this without feeling like I'm eating spoonful after spoonful of sugar. Yum.

Will you have a go at this recipe? Let me know in the comment box below or tweet me @hello_flower - and send a photo if you do make it!

14 December 2013

The Best Non-Festive Christmas Films

Isn't Christmas the most nostalgic time of year? Memories of past Christmasses seem to serve better feelings than the actual events, and the phrase 'It doesn't feel like Christmas' crops up all too often for my liking. Christmas is what you make it - it isn't the same every year, but I think that's what makes it so special. I find it fascinating how in love so many people are with this time of year. It is around now that I think about all the Christmasses stowed away in my memory. From the most magical, loved up Christmas in 2011, to all my childhood Christmasses in Dover, and angst filled teenage years spent in the yellow house I am back in now with my parents, the good always outweighs the bad and my love for this time of year never diminishes.

One thing remains constant every year, and that is The Radio Times Christmas edition. As soon as it comes out, my mum buys a copy and it makes its way around the house. Each of us exclaim at what films are showing this year, and the excitement has not faded over the years. When I was little, I used to record my favourites on video for a later date. Below are the four non-Christmas films I remember being my favourites at Christmas. Funnily enough, I still love them all today, and make a habit of watching them every year at Christmas time to relive childhood memories, because nostalgia is fantastic. Going back to another time, another place, another person. Relishing in memories is one of the greatest pleasures we have in life.


Uncle Buck is one of my dad's favourite films and we watch it every year. It's always better watching a film like this with someone else, rather than on your own. It is utterly ridiculous - kidnapping evil boyfriends in the back of his car, making giant pancakes for breakfast, John Candy is fantastically hilarious and every time I watch it I am saddened that he is no longer around.

Matilda (1996)

Matilda has been my favourite film of all time from the day I saw it at the cinema, aged just four. Seemingly every year after that it was on TV and every year I taped it... and every year it got taped over and I was devastated. Fortunately, one year my Uncle Andrew gave it to me on video and then while at University I bought it on DVD. Unfortunately I have since lost both... I am awful. I keep meaning to buy another copy of this fantastic film as it is rare that I see it on TV anymore, and it always reminds me of watching it at Christmas time. The soundtrack, Mara Wilson, Miss Honey, Bruce Bogtrotter's cake scene all bring timeless entertainment and joy. I know a lot of people think the musical is great - and I agree - but the film is so much better.

Beethoven (1992)
Beethoven's 2nd (1993)

Beethoven and Beethoven's 2nd are kind of brilliant in how awful they are. They serve a dose of my childhood when I, for some reason, loved these two films and, like Matilda, had to tape them every year. I bought them on DVD last summer and of course they were no where near as good as I remembered, but for a lazy snuggle Sunday these make for great easy watching and make me want a puppy really really bad.

Are there any staple non-Christmas Christmas films you just have to watch every year? I love how every year creates new memories for future Christmasses, and films play such a big part in that.
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