31 October 2013

Halloween Special - Black Swan Make Up

I don't tend to 'celebrate' Halloween but I couldn't resist trying out this look and sharing it with you all in time for the festivities. It was surprisingly easy to achieve and although nowhere near as precise or impressive as Natalie Portman's, it is a great alternative to the boring witch, ghost, skeleton... I've never been into all that. Last year I dressed up as a lion - something I am actually scared of (and also mystified by and absolutely adore).
Ahh, my last Halloween night out at uni. I won't be going out this year, I just wanted to share this look with you to inspire you to dress up as something a bit more interesting than a zombie.

Face - Stargazer liquid foundation in White. Stargazer pressed powder in White.

Eyes - Lancome kohl pencil eyeliner in Black, Snazaroo face paint in Black, Barry M Dazzle Dust in Kingfisher, Maybelline Color Tattoo in Eternal Silver, Lancome Hypnose mascara in Black. Bobbi Brown fine eyeliner brush used to achieve the feathery strokes. 

Lips - Laura Mercier Satin Lip Colour in Sangria and a dab of Snazaroo face paint in Black. 

Have you got your costume sorted for Halloween? If you're still stuck for ideas, check out Sam's tutorials over at A Model in London - she has been posting some fantastic looks recently, my favourite being the pop art character. 

30 October 2013

Battle of the Nut Butters

If you hadn't already guessed, I am OBSESSED with peanut butter. Don't scoff. Nut butters are important, okay? I eat the stuff every day. It tastes great and is really good for you, especially if you don't eat meat. Recently, my love for peanut butter has gotten a bit out of hand... I went to Hereford a couple of weekends ago and decided to buy every nut butter I could find - most of which were peanut butter as they are my favourite, but a couple of new ones I had never tried before. 
Adding to the ones back in the kitchen cupboard at home, I had, in total, 8 nut butters. I decided a collection that large called for a blog post in which I tell you all which is the best - because, I have indeed finished a few of these pots already. Not ashamed.

There are a few things that come into play when deciding which nut butter is the best:
  1. Sugar content
  2. Price
  3. Taste 
I try to look for the nut butters that don't have added sugar in their ingredients list. I love the sugary peanut butters like Skippy and Jif, but I don't eat them anywhere near as often. I love peanut butter, and because I pair it with jam, nutella or sliced banana I don't need any extra sugar. Interestingly enough, the amount of sugar in each nut butter doesn't vary too much, which baffles me when some list sugar as an ingredient and some don't!

Anyway, let's get on with the important stuff - the nut butters.

Tastiest: Sunpat Smooth no added sugar peanut spread.

Slightly runny so it needs a stir before eating. It has the perfect balance of the natural sweetness in the peanuts with the added salt and pairs amazingly well with Bonne Maman raspberry conserve. This is probably my favourite 'no added sugar' peanut butter. It tastes exactly how peanut butter should in my opinion, and explains why it's nearly all gone.

Ingredients: Roasted Peanuts (94%), Vegetable Oils (Palm Oil, Peanut Oil 2.0%) Sea Salt. Total peanut ingredients (96%).
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 123, saturated fat: 2g, sugar: 0.68g, protein: 5g, salt: 0.24g
Price: £1.79

Cheapest: Whole Foods Salted Peanut Butter.

I got this peanut butter a few weeks ago when I went to Cheltenham Whole Foodst. I have to make a pot every time I go - it tastes better when you make it yourself ;) It is very nutty, and more sweet than salty - natural sugar in the nuts as no added sugar - goes well with sliced bananas. 

Ingredients: Peanuts, vegetable oil, salt allergens, contains nuts.
Nutrition per 20g: Unknown
Price: £1.44

Highest Saturated Fat Content: Waitrose organic Thick & Crunchy peanut butter.

This peanut butter has a good balance of sweet and salty - although not quite as good as the Sun Pat. The texture is thick and can be difficult to spread but it is crunchy and delicious. The only problem with this pot is that it is small and I finish it too quickly. Tastes good with jam, banana or nutella. 

Ingredients: Peanuts (95%), palm oil, sea salt (approved non-organic ingredient).
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 130, protein: 6.2g, sugar: 0.7g, saturated fat: 2.4g, salt: 0.1g.
Price: £1.99

Lowest Sugar Content: Waitrose Organic Smooth & Spreadable peanut butter.

I'll eat this, but it's not my favourite, despite it having the least amount of sugar out of the eight. It is smooth but a little 'gacky' (did I just make up a word?) It does however, have a good colour and taste, and goes best with jam. Unfortunately not as many peanuts as the crunchy variety.
Ingredients: Peanuts (92%), palm oil, sea salt (approved non-organic ingredient).
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 127, protein: 5.5g, sugar: 0.66g, saturated fat: 2.4g, salt: 0.01g.
Price: £1.99

Highest sugar content:  Skippy Extra Crunchy peanut butter.

It means super crunch - seriously - this is the best crunchy peanut butter I have ever tasted. An absolutely fantastic texture, so good - i put just a smidge of apricot jam with this because it is quite a sweet spread, and i would prefer to have this with a banana but we didn't have any. Good job, Skippy.

Ingredients: Roasted peanut (90%), sugar, hydrogenated palm fruit oil, salt, peanut oil.
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 123, protein: 4.4g, sugar: 2g, saturated fat: 1.5g, salt: 0.01g.
Price: About £2.50

Lowest Calories: Meridian Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter - No salt, 100% nuts.

This peanut butter is 100% ground whole peanuts and nothing else. This is what I'd eat if I was really trying to be healthy. Because it is just ground nuts, the 'crunchy' bits are smaller than what you might find in a regular crunchy peanut butter, but there are more of them, and the consistency of the butter is runny - you have to stir the natural oils back into the spread when opening but that's fine. It tastes sweet and nutty, great tasting, natural and healthy. Best with a banana for a super healthy snack.

Ingredients: Organic roastes peanuts. Whole skin on (100%).
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 119, saturated fat: 1.6g, sugar: 1.2g, protein: 6g, salt: 0.0g. 
Price: About £3
Highest Calories: Meridian Crunchy Hazelnut Butter - No salt, 100% nuts.

Don't think you'll be digging into something sweet like nutella with this hazelnut butter - it is a lot nuttier, and a lot less sweet, but with a shaving of dark chocolate it will taste fantastic. An acquired taste. Texture similar to the meridian crunchy peanut butter.

Ingredients: Roasted Hazelnuts (100%). Produce of more than one country.
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 138, saturated fat: 1g, sugar: 1g, protein: 3g, 0.0g salt.
Price: About £3

Something a Bit Different: Meridian Organic Smooth Cashew Butter - No salt, 100% nuts.

I have always thought cashew nuts to taste quite similar to peanuts, but tasting it in butter form changed my mind. This cashew butter tastes a lot milder than the peanut butters. It is very creamy and pale and is great if you're not keen on peanut butter but still want to try a nut butter of some sort. 
Nutrition per 20g: Calories: 126, saturated fat: 2g, sugar: 1g, protein: 4g, 0.0g salt.
Ingredients: Organic Roasted Cashew Nuts (100%).
Price: About £3.

Which nut butter would you go for? Do you have any special recommendations? I think I need to finish all of these before I buy any more, my family are starting to worry about me, but my love for nut butters just cannot be denied... Sigh.

28 October 2013

Downton Abbey - That Controversial Rape Scene

I am a bit late to the party here. I only started watching Downton Abbey about a month ago when I was long in the rut of unemployment and had bored my DVD collection to death. I have just about caught up with the rest of the world, and although it is mildly boring, plain and typically ITV, one episode - one scene, in fact - had such an impact on me (and apparently a lot of other people) that I felt the need to address my view on it here, and question, why did it cause so much outrage?

When my heart starts racing with desperation for one character to be saved and another to be convicted, I know I am watching good drama. Although horrific, Downton certainly delivered in this particular episode, and had people gasping in shock at the heartbreaking ending. I am talking about the scene in which Anna - lovely, sweet, kind and friendly Anna - gets raped by a visiting servant at Downton Abbey, Lord Gillingham's valet, Mr Green.


First of all, I have to say Joanne Froggatt's acting was impeccable. She delivered a believable, frightening performance and I commend her highly for that.

Downton Abbey is an easy viewing, light relief period drama, but, that being said, it should be praised for its attempt at depicting a horrific act that, yes, happened even in the 1920s. I believe popular programmes like Downton have every right to portray such scenes and - even if this is not their aim - raise awareness of the terrible crime that is rape. Even in today's society it is a subject tip-toed around and as we all know, is for some awful reason still often blamed on the victim.

There was nothing sensationalist about the scene. The delivery, admittedly, took me by surprise. It was entirely unexpected, even though my family had been discussing it around the dinner table a few weeks previously. However, I think this only added to the terror of the attack which is what one might expect in a real life account.

The scene was merged with snapshot scenes of what was happening upstairs, and although it was apparent that a sexual attack was taking place, it was implicitly shot and directed quite tastefully compared to some representations of rape I have seen in television and film previously.


Why is a rape scene still 'controversial'? According to the Telegraph, the episode drew in more than 200 official complaints, which seems unjustified when there was a warning before the episode was aired that there were scenes that viewers may find upsetting. It also startles me that it should draw in so many complaints, when other violent scenes in the programme have gone unscathed.

What does controversial mean these days? We seem to be stuck in a terrible rut of over-used story lines and, although disturbing, it is refreshing to see something different - yet real - in an otherwise quite boring and meaningless TV programme. The rape scene was not glamourised at all. It was quick. It made its point and then moved onto the heart of the story; the emotional and physical after effects of the victim.

At least it got people talking. At least it raised awareness, and I don't care if it was a ploy to draw in more viewers. I say, well done if that was the idea. Downton Abbey - so well known for its soft and fluffy Sunday evening viewing - made a strong and powerful portrayal of a crime that has terrible effects on its victims emotions and relationships, and if it raises awareness, we might be one step closer to stopping rapists and helping rape victims in our society.

26 October 2013

Snuggle Sundays

Sometimes, all you need is a day off from life. It's hard being you - you know it's true. Life is too busy. Forget all your worries, forget your usual routine and have a snuggle day. Have it on Sunday and you'll be relaxed and ready for the coming week. I am posting this today so you can reschedule any plans you may have made for tomorrow and make time for a snuggle day instead ;)

Sunday used to be my most hated day of the week - back when Monday mornings meant school, work and following a routine for the next five days. Thankfully, I am o-v-a-h education, and Sundays are now my favourite day of the week. I renamed them Snuggle Sundays when I started university and soon enough that justified staying in bed ALL DAY, staying in either your pyjamas, severely comfortable loungewear or a onesie ALL DAY, ordering pizza from your bed, and only getting up to go to the toilet or answer the door for the pizza guy.

Me & my friend Cloey enjoying pink milk in our onesies
Now that I have finished uni, my Snuggle Sundays are a bit more civilised; I actually get out of bed and set foot into the outside world, but afternoons and evenings are always reserved for a good ol' snuggle. 

Note: snuggling does not necessarily require two people. I have been spending my snuggle days pretty much alone for the past two months and they are just as excellent. Just be sure to stock up on the blankets, chocolate and trashy DVDs.

 The best snuggle buddy you could ever ask for.
The best Snuggle Sundays involve a nap, yummy food, and then a nice bath before bed. I'm not suggesting do this every Sunday. Actually, what am I saying. Of course I am. Yep. One day - or half day - a week reserved for snuggling. It's the best way to chill out. Try it and thank me later.

For the ultimate Snuggle Sunday, you will need:
  • Snuggle buddy (optional)
  • Onesie/pyjamas/loungewear
  • Blanket
  • Bed/Sofa
  • Food of your choice - I recommend pizza or a roast
  • Snacks of your choice - I usually go for chocolate, or milk and cookies. Mmm.
 What you won't need:
  • Make up
  • A shower
  • Energy   
Sleep til three. Don't get dressed. Don't brush your teeth. Or do, if you want. Put on your favourite party dress. Go to church. Do whatever you want!

24 October 2013

The Great British Bake Off Finale Party

As most of you will know, Tuesday marked the final episode of The Great British Bake Off and to celebrate, my mum decided to host a party. She invited some of her friends over and we all baked something to share. Unfortunately, the one opportunity I got to showcase my baking skills turned into a massive flop when my custard tarts came out like custard puddles - they were shallow, slightly sloggy and down right embarrassing, but it was all good fun and according to our very polite guests, they tasted good!

According to Paul Hollywood, putting the tray into some cold water will save any overcooked, failed attempt at custard tarts.


Fortunately, there were a lot of other sweet treats laid out on the kitchen table that looked far more delectable. 

Strawberry and cream fruit scones made by Linda.

 Chocolate chip cookies made by Sarah, an Ed Kimber recipe (winner from series one of GBBO).

Saffron and coffee Opera cake made by my mum, inspired by Ruby's saffron and praline Opera cake.

Cinnamon roll cake made by Sarah - to.die.for.

But before we scoffed the lot, we sat in the living room to watch the final episode of this year's Bake Off.  

I didn't really want Frances to win... I thought Kimberly would, but my favourite from the start was Ruby. I bet all of their bakes taste amazing though, and it's just a TV programme. 

If you haven't already, check out Ruby's article which was published just after the final was broadcast. She is an exquisite writer and her blog is exceptional too.

Then it was time for tea and cake. I had been at an intense interview that day and this was just what I needed.


Sarah tucking into some Opera cake. Yummay.

The Opera cake was AH-MAZIN. I had three slices. I did. I had three slices. Just look at those layers. My mum's the best.

So pretty! And tasty. A cake filled with creamy, chocolatey, luxurious coffee and praline goodness.

This was the only photo I managed to get where my mum was in the shot (the blondie wearing the grey dress) and I had to put it up because she did such a fab job of hosting the party. I have tried to convince her to go on next year's bake off but she is completely resistant.

We were all VERY full by the end of the evening but the guests couldn't go home without some doggy bags filled with the leftover goodies. 

I love any excuse to make and eat cake, and the Great British Bake Off finale party was such a cute idea. My mum hosted one last year but I was living in Cheltenham then so this was my first. They are becoming somewhat of a tradition now, and I'm looking forward to next year's already.

Were you as hooked on GBBO as I was? Do you think the right baker won?

22 October 2013

Defeating Depression


If you have ever experienced depression - however serious and to whatever extent - you will know what a cripplingly painful and indescribably lonely illness it is. There is a difference between feeling down in the dumps and having depression. If it lasts a long time, and you feel like you can't cope, then none of these expressions should be tolerated:

"Just snap out of it."
"Everyone gets sad." 
"Cheer up." 
"It's not the end of the world." 
"Other people have it much worse than you." 

All of these display ignorance, and it needs to stop. A lot of people mistake mental illnesses to mean that the person in question is a "psycho" or "crazy" and, due to the negative connotations of these words, they steer well clear of people who have been diagnosed with depression because of the stigma attached - purely because of our ignorance and fear of the complex and varied illness that has been avoided for too long.

In our society we are not very well educated on the subject matter, despite it affecting 1 in 4 of us. Rates of depression are increasing in the UK, and although there are a number of reasons to suggest why, it is important that those who are lucky enough never to experience it first hand understand and educate themselves if they ever have to support someone who does go through a mental illness.

"I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I'd cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full."
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.

Depression and anxiety are words that have become desensitised in recent years. People say they are depressed if they aren't having a good day, if it's raining, they've spent their pay cheque already, and sometimes it's difficult for us to differentiate between what is real depression and what is just having a bad day.

It is also important to remember that there are physical aspects to suffering with depression, too: 

  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Digestive problems including queasiness, nausea, diarrhea and chronic constipation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Change in appetite or weight* 

Having been a part of an online community since the age of twelve, I have noticed an increasing trend in how 'cool' it is to have a mental illness. Perhaps, if there were more emphasis on the physical aspects of depression in the media, then it would reflect a more accurate picture of what it is like to have a mental illness.

Unlike in Twilight: New Moon, we don't all have an immortal vampire for a boyfriend who is the cause and cure for our issues. I can't deny that I absolutely love the soundtrack in this film, though.
A film that inspired me to write this post was Girl, Interrupted. Although it portrays mental illness in a rather extreme light, the protagonist, Susanna is actually, seemingly relatively normal. A frightening concept for the viewer, especially when we learn that she swallowed a bottle of aspirin to "try and make the shit stop." The film explores how everyone is human, and we are all capable and vulnerable of experiencing mental illness. I have come to realise that we all weigh somewhere on the spectrum, and it is constantly changing. We may be in one place for a long time and then suddenly move up or down, depending on where we are in our lives and what we are going through.


"Crazy isn't being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It's you or me amplified. If you ever told a lie and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child forever."
- Girl, Interrupted.

We shouldn't be afraid of other people, when we could, so easily, be going through what they are, too. We are all of the same species. We are all unique, but at the same time, we are all vulnerable to the same afflictions. It could so easily be you, your friend, your sister, your mum, or dad, who suffers with depression.

Before I experienced it myself, my idea of the terror, fear, loneliness and darkness that is depression was so far off the mark that I felt I had to write this post to stress how serious it is to those who are as naive as I was. I would not wish the racing thoughts, guilt, panic attacks and constant worrying on anyone, but I want to urge people to learn more about it. It gets worse before it gets better, but when you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel it is the most glorious greeting of happiness that you just want to shout to the whole world about it.

If you are suffering from a mental illness, you shouldn't feel embarrassed or afraid to talk about it. It shouldn't be something people are put off by. It shouldn't set you apart from other "normal" people. It shouldn't put you in the box of "psycho" or "freak." Those boxes do not exist. While mental illnesses have names, they do not define you as a person. You will always be you, not whatever you have been diagnosed with. But this way of thinking needs to be affirmed by everyone.

Depression is not a bad mood that you can just snap out of. It does not always have an obvious cause, or root. It does not mean you are going to be depressed forever, or that you are going "crazy." Sometimes, it happens due to stressful events, breakdown in relationships or major changes in one's life, and sometimes it happens for seemingly no reason at all.

What it does mean is that you are human, and that you are alive. You are never alone, no matter how isolated you feel, trapped by the evil thoughts in your head.

Here are a few things I have found that help allay some of the distress in depression and anxiety:

  • It always helps to talk. 
  • Run a bath, relax, focus on your breathing.
  • Meditate.
  • Pray.
  • Write it down.
  • Exercise - go for a walk. Get out of the house. A change of scenery will help, too.
  • Diet - oily fish, brazil nuts, dark chocolate and plenty of fruit and vegetables always help boost my mood.
  • Spend time with friends and family. No matter how much you want to stay inside, on your own, it is so important to carry on with the things you enjoy.  

And, if you need medication to help you get back on track with your life, mentally, then there is nothing wrong with that either. Depression has very real, physical side effects which need to be addressed. Taking medication for your mental illness is as normal and important as it is when taking medication for an upset stomach, throat infection - or any other physical problems.

Just remember, however lonely you feel, you are never alone.


*Source: 9 Physical Symptoms of Depression

20 October 2013

Make Up For Problem Skin


I have never had perfect skin, and it's one of those things I long for. I honestly think that if you have good skin, you can do anything with your face. If you have a clear base, you can create stunning looks with make up - but when your is tainted with spots and scars from spots, it's not that simple and a little more effort needs to be put in.

After five or so years of trying out various high street and high end make up products, I have finally found a routine that conceals and covers up my imperfections, and makes me feel as confident and happy wearing this minimalistic look.

Some people say if you have bad skin you shouldn't wear make up at all as it only worsens the problem, but I don't think this is necessarily true. If you cleanse your face properly twice a day and take your make up off before you go to bed, use a good skin care routine and treatment for your spots, then there is no reason why you shouldn't use make up to cover up your insecurities during the day. 

The key is not to cake it on, however, as this can sometimes amplify imperfections and make them look worse. 

I warn you now, before and after shots are coming up.

My skin is usually quite dry in the winter time, but for the past six months or so it has become quite oily to combination, causing me to break out a lot more. If I were to go out looking like this - and I have done - I wouldn't feel at my best.

This is me with my basic make up on. I would be happy to bump into anyone looking like this. It's funny how make up can make a difference to how we feel on the inside.

I am not a skincare or make up expert, and I have yet to find a miracle product for my skin but what I do use helps enormously and gives me the confidence boost I need.


Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish, toner, moisturiser, eye cream and Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate.

I LOVE the Liz Earle skin care - it smells amazing, feels amazing, and since I started using it, it has made my skin feel a lot smoother. It has not reduced my spots, but it has definitely improved the overall texture of my skin, as has Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate. If I am having a particularly bad skin day I will put some Sudocrem on at bedtime, and by morning it has usually calmed down considerably.

Make up

Revlon Colorstay for oily/combination skin with Real Techniques buffing brush. Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer Kit in Porcelain. Collection Lasting Perfection concealer in Fair.

Rimmel stay matte powder in Translucent with Real Techniques powder brush and Bobbi Brown eye blender brush. 

Natural Collection blush in Peach Melba with Bobbi Brown blush brush.

Max Factor Masterpiece Max mascara, No 7 Amazing Eyes pencil in Brown, Real Techniques brow brush and Caudalie lip conditioner.

Using the right tools is crucial when applying make up to problem skin. I have never had better results than when I started to use good quality make up brushes. Foundation glides on and blends better, and powder sits nicely on the skin without making any of my imperfections stand out.

Top Tips
  • Less is more - start with a little and build up if necessary. 
  • Clean your make up brushes once a week with baby shampoo or a soap like Dove/Simple.
  • Take your make up off before bed and have a regular skin care routine.
  • Drink lots of water
  • Have a few days a week without make up.
Are you lucky enough to have normal, spot-free skin? What are your top tips for those who are unfortunate enough to suffer with it? And are there any miracle products out there that actually work?!
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