30 December 2014

Sencha at Waterloo Tea Gardens – Cardiff

Nothing will replace my desire for a strong cup of coffee in the morning, but there are times when I am in the mood for something a bit more refreshing, clarifying... soothing. I got into herbal teas a few years ago while at university. Having never understood the hype over regular black tea, I was surprised that I actually loved all other kinds. There's something so relaxing about drinking tea, and finding a cafe that offers a whole range of flavours was lovely. There are only so many coffee shops a girl can take.

I visited Waterloo Tea Gardens in Cardiff with my brother and his girlfriend one Saturday before a day of shopping, eating and work's Christmas party. We walked into an inviting, open space with the friendliest staff, and were seated at one of the 'sharing tables'. 

I'm not sure about this style of dining, particularly when drinking tea or coffee connotes relaxation – and to me, that doesn't involve sitting with strangers. But it wasn't a huge issue – there was more than enough space and it didn't feel like the people sitting with us were actually with us.

The menu offered seemingly hundreds of options, but my eyes went straight to the Japanese greens. Having heard numerous rave reviews about matcha - the health benefits being the main appeal - I told the waiter that was what I wanted, very willing indeed to pay £5 for a single pot. But he quickly warned me that matcha tastes like crushed paracetomal. I found his honesty charming, especially when he recommended I try the slightly cheaper sencha.

While we waited, my brother, Craig, got his sketchbook out and I couldn't help but take a few photos of his bizarre drawings. He's a strange creature, but very creative, and he has a YouTube channel which you should check out if you have a few minutes. If he wasn't my brother I might find him mildly more amusing than I already do.

It wasn't long before our drinks arrived, with different coloured hourglasses for different brewing times. Of course I had to order something to eat, and toast was just what I fancied. Two thick doorstop slices of soft white bread arrived, toasted to golden perfection and served with a generous helping of unsalted butter (it's generally better, but I do prefer Lurpak slightly salted). I asked if I could have some jam to go with it, to which the waiter happily obliged (seriously, very nice staff).

Although I love my hot drinks hot, the fact that my sencha was verging on warm didn't bother me so much. The taste – and colour – more than made up for its cooler temperature. It was honestly the nicest cup of green tea I have ever tried and I'm sure I could have drank another pot immediately after I had drained the first. 

Have you ever seen such vibrant green tea? It was so delicious – sweet, and not at all bitter like many green teas are – and served in a fantastic grey teapot and cup with a cute saucer (although I'm not sure what that was for).

Visiting Waterloo Tea Gardens reignited my love for tea and gave me that warm feeling of wanting to buy lots of new infusions, tea pots, strainers and cups and hide away in a little cottage with a stack of books, with just a crackling fire and an animal – dog, cat or rabbit – to keep me company, as winter wind whips its way through the day and night outside. Isn't that what everyone dreams of once in a while?


22 December 2014

Last Minute Gift Guide: Beauty

I've noticed that working 40 hour weeks makes life go by a lot quicker, and the festive season is no exception. Christmas is only a couple of days away and it's a bittersweet feeling – it means the end of Christmas parties, Christmas films and Christmas jumpers, AND I have only managed to have one Christmas snuggle day! But let's just enjoy it all while it lasts. It is, after all, the best time of year.

Thankfully, I have all my gifts sorted, and admittedly, I did most of it online (so organised, so boring) but if you're still scrambling around for gift ideas, here are my suggestions for the lovely lady in your life (or, you know, you, because you have to get yourself a Christmas present too).

1. Lancome Hypnose Lovely Eyes Mascara Gift Set - £22.50*
I am a huge fan of Lancome, thanks to the impeccable taste of my mum who has been purchasing the original Hypnose mascara for as long as I can remember. Just last Christmas she gave me the original Hypnose mascara gift set and it soon became my every-day mascara.
The difference with this one is that it creates the look of doll eyes, and that is my absolute favourite look. For the same price of the mascara on its own you get a black kohl pencil and bottle of make up remover too, so it's a pretty neat deal.
House of Fraser currently have three different sets for dramatic eyes, glamorous eyes or lovely eyes (my fave) and any one would make a gorgeous gift for your best friend, mum or girlfriend.

2. The Body Shop Aloe Protective Restoring Mask - £13
In recent years I have fallen in love with The Body Shop products, and their face masks in particular. I have blemish-prone skin and my go-to mask is the tea tree one, but for a fail safe gift, the Aloe Protective Restoring Mask would be my go-to. As it's suitable for sensitive skin, it is, therefore, in my mind, suitable for all skin types, and all girls love a pamper.

3. Bourjois Colour Boost Set - £16
I've got a couple of these colour boost lip crayons and I can't praise them enough. They're highly pigmented, glossy lip balms that are intensely hydrating and long lasting. Bourjois is a fantastic high street make up brand that I keep going back to because of the quality of their products. I actually bought this set on ASOS a while ago and used the three lip crayons as individual gifts. You can, of course, buy these individually in any Boots or Superdrug store.

4. Topshop Floral Make Up Bag - £10
I bought this make up bag for my friend Rhi's birthday back in October and I'm tempted to buy it again for someone else. It's a fantastic make up bag - roomy, waterproof (make up proof? You know what I mean) and the pattern is gorgeous.

5. Real Rechniques Core Collection - £21.99
I know it seems ridiculous that in this day and age there are some poor souls out there who don't own this make up brush set, but they do, I know – my best friend is one of them. These are undeniably the best budget make up brushes out there and I still use every single one of the brushes in this set, having owned them for the best part of two years. The quality has not faltered and for the price you really can't beat this set – it's the ultimate beauty gift this Christmas.

9 December 2014

Winter's Dreams

Do you have a favourite time of day? I'm into mornings at the moment. As hard as it is to pull myself away from my bed, eyes barely able to fully open, and constantly yawning for the first half hour, once I'm awake for the day, it's fantastic.

Cold, crisp late mornings. On each one, the sun seems to be on a long-winded rise, slowly sitting at eye level, putting drivers in danger but wanderers, like me, in a state of contemplation and appreciation.

Through skinny stalks of nearly naked trees it kisses the day awake. It's a gentle stroke of warmth on my skin, and it unsticks the frosty blades of grass on which I walk.

Do you have a favourite time of year? I am more aware in winter - when it's quiet, and clear. I have the space to take it all in. No other season feels more nostalgic, beautiful – like home.

We walked through a park in Glasgow – I don't know which one – and I felt far away from my little doll's house life in Wales. I thought, I want to be in one of those buildings. I told you these things make me feel inspired, like there's something hurting in my chest that I need to get rid of by planning my dream life.

Perhaps a house one day, or even just a flat, if I could afford to. I'd love to spend Christmas day in one of those homes, I said to Sarah, looking into the wide windows of spacious apartments, furnished with enormous armchairs and bookshelves, and blessed with the view of the green and gold park.

Why is it so hard to do these things, though? Make a decision, believe that it's right, and just do it. Step out of the moment of the winter morning and do what you wanted to do when you felt most alive. And if it's not right, then never mind. It should be that simple, shouldn't it? What is stopping us?
To live among such beauty would do wonders for the mind, I'm sure of it – I had a taste of it that day.


2 December 2014

Patty & Bun – James St, London

Back in July I tasted my first true burger. By true I mean what I have been looking for my whole life. Shake Shack had an out of this world offering – juicy beef patty, melted cheese – not too strong – fresh salad and special sauce all squished between a soft, shiny brioche bun. It was gone in minutes and my views on burgers were changed forever.

I'm not one to go to the same place more than once (you bloggers know how it is), so when Bethan and I went to London last month I suggested Patty & Bun. I had heard great things from a number of people and blogs, and although I wasn't feeling very well I couldn't say no to another one of these special burgers I had recently discovered.

We went to the James St restaurant which is just off Oxford Street, so it was quite busy and there was a short wait but we were made to feel very welcome by the server (don't think he told us his name, but he made fun of Bethan's).

Once inside we got to have a proper look around what was the tiniest burger joint I have ever seen. Patty & Bun is pretty big in the burger scene and yet it has managed to maintain its unique, independent-style feel, which I'd be happy to accept for the lack of space.

We were served promptly and we both ordered the same thing – two 'Ari Gold' cheeseburgers, two cokes and a portion of rosemary salt chips to share. Although the food came quickly, we were given an extra portion of chips which we hadn't asked for and they had left the bacon out of my burger, but this was fixed in no time – the staff were lovely.
I couldn't eat the whole thing but what I did eat was just incredible. I don't think I've ever described a burger as tender, but that's what this one was. They serve them pink which means you know it's good beef, and all the toppings made it even more special. I wish I had been feeling myself because I just know I would have enjoyed it all even more. I'll be going back for sure, but until then I'll just drool over the photos and the online menu...

22 November 2014

I missed you, but I'm back

My oh my, I have been gone a while, haven't I? I remember swearing to myself when I started this blog that I'd stick to my three-posts-a-week schedule no matter what, but you know, life has a tendency to have a shuffle things around every now and again and if blogging isn't your full time job, it may just take a back seat while you get other things in order.

As a sort of re-introduction, I thought I'd let you know where I've been, you know, just in case you've missed me as much as I've missed you. I haven't taken many proper photographs on my camera, but here's what I've been up to, in a series of snaps taken from my Instagram feed.

http://photos-c.ak.instagram.com/hphotos-ak-xaf1/10723851_267019106755506_1505538064_n.jpgAbout a month ago I made myself the nicest lunch before going to work for a late shift. I was so pleased with my little assembly of healthy foods! It's so satisfying having so much fruit and veg in one meal... Just me? Pictured: Orange juice, peppers and mushrooms cooked in a little butter, sliced avocado with balsamic glaze, rye bread, homemade coleslaw and a dollop of houmous.

http://photos-e.ak.instagram.com/hphotos-ak-xfp1/891390_595749080536980_44203245_n.jpg Wild Friday night in: Out came the bunny onesie, and I officially called it onesie weather. 


I started to feel really unwell and it was such bad timing because it was the ten year friendship anniversary of me and my best friend Bethan. We had booked a trip to London to see The Lion King and although I felt like death I couldn't miss it – and I'm so glad I didn't, it was incredible. Possibly the best West End show I have seen to date – a must see.

http://photos-h.ak.instagram.com/hphotos-ak-xpa1/10748102_872048419474463_1710907939_n.jpgBack home from London and I spent my Halloween wrapped up in a blanket watching Lost in Translation. It's one of my favourite films. I've seen it twice – I have to be in a particularly melancholy mood to watch it. It makes me want to go to Japan and also to be Scarlett Johansson.


Do you ever get cravings when you're not very well? About a week into my bug (it felt like it was never going to end) I wanted nothing else but cinnamon grahams. These sweet crispy squares kept me going in the long despondent days spent aching on the living room sofa.



In a way, I enjoy the pressure of exams, and I think I prefer them to coursework. I love the learning and remembering of facts and theories and dates, and then getting an answer right when tested. But doing this when feeling poorly was difficult. The exams (NCTJ media law and public affairs) have been and gone now (praise the Lord) so I can finally relax in the hope that I've passed.

http://photos-a.ak.instagram.com/hphotos-ak-xpa1/925598_1519507195002528_568103269_n.jpgPopped into Tesco before work yesterday and discovered this beauteous pot of decadence. Yes, that is Maltesers chocolate spread you see, and it is exactly what you think – a Maltesers Teasers bar, in chocolate spread form. Out of this world delicious, and the texture – just spot on.

http://photos-d.ak.instagram.com/hphotos-ak-xpa1/10808828_1501901783421907_51118493_n.jpgFinally feeling like a normal human being again, this morning I was able to enjoy an indulgent weekend breakfast. Today I whipped up a batch of pancakes, blueberry syrup and served them with sliced banana and a cup of freshly brewed coffee. 

I can safely say I am feeling 100% myself again and I have never been more happy to see the back end of a horribly long and dull virus. Not sure I'll be so quick to jump on the 'I love autumn/winter' bandwagon now, but seeing as it's nearly Christmas I certainly won't say no to a cosy jumper, snuggle Sunday or hot chocolate.

What have you been up to in the past month? I have a HUGE amount of blogs to catch up on and so much I want to share with you, too. Stick around?


1 November 2014

Strawberry Dream Cake

Long time no blog! I've been a poorly thing this week, and I feel as if I'm not 100% here so all my commitments have gone out the window while I try and get myself back to normal. Before I began to feel a million miles away, however, I made this cake which I wanted to tell you about because it was one of my favourite creations ever (with the help of my sister, Sarah).

It's pretty simple, and only lovers of the strawberry creams in Quality Street will fully appreciate a cake like this, but I am most definitely one of them, and my friend Drew is too. It was his birthday a couple of weeks ago so I decided to make him a cake version of his favourite sweet - the strawberry dream.

I baked a chocolate cake from a recipe in a Sainsbury's book I have – can someone please tell me why it's so difficult to find a simple recipe for a chocolate cake online?!

Once cooled, I sandwiched the two sponges together with a thick layer of strawberry jam. I got this jam from Aldi and it's really good – it has lots of strawberries and seeds in it and because it's 50% fruit it's not too sweet or jelly-like.

For the icing I made a simple ganache (cream, brown sugar and dark chocolate) and spread it all over the top of the cake. If I was any good at presentation, I would have covered the sides of the cake, too.

To finish, I topped the cake with all the strawberry creams in one of the boxes of fruit cremes I bought - they're two for £4 in Tesco which is bad news for me as I'm addicted to them. Except for the lemon ones of course (who thought they would be a good idea?)

You see, pretty easy and pretty cool. I think chocolate and fruit work so well together, especially berries. Will you have a go at making a strawberry dream cake? Quality Street fruit cremes are back but only for Christmas! I'm gonna have to stock up...


20 October 2014

Best Friends Catch Up at Jamie's Italian - Cheltenham

Jamie's Italian never disappoints, and although it's been around for quite a while now, I wanted to share with you my most recent visit to the Cheltenham restaurant because it was so good.
Sometimes, a plate of pasta can fix a world of problems. And sharing a chocolate brownie with your best friend – well, it can't be beat.

A refurbished court house, the upper area of the restaurant has all the original furniture, and Bethan and I were seated in the snug jury box. We were enclosed and seated side by side, it felt very cosy albeit a little strange, but it was fantastic. A visit is highly recommended even if it's just for the aesthetic – it would make a great place for a first date.

It has become quite the norm for me to order 'nibbles', or starters, when I go out to eat. I guess when I was a student I couldn't afford to order whatever I wanted on the menu, but now I have that luxury and it just makes the whole experience so much nicer. I have become obsessed with olives in the past year and I knew we had to get some to snack on before our main meal.

And of course polenta chips. Have you tried these? They are out-of-this-world delicious. Crispy, buttery fried cubes of polenta sprinkled with parmesan, salt and rosemary. I could eat bowl after bowl of these things.

Not long after we finished our yummy starters our mains arrived. Bethan ordered the prawn linguini and I had the penne pomodoro. I was feeling a bit plain that day as I hadn't been very well so wanted to ease back into foods. This was so delicious! Although simple, the tomato sauce was full of flavour and the pasta cooked to al dente perfection. I loved the presentation of a spoon filled with herby breadcrumbs, and although a little more cheese would have been nice, I was satisfied with my dish.

We were pretty stuffed but couldn't resist pudding. Bethan swore by the chocolate brownie (she had in fact been to the very same restaurant the weekend before) and it certainly didn't disappoint. Served with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream (drool), chocolate sauce and amaretti popcorn it was one of the best desserts I have had in a restaurant in a long time. The brownie actually tasted familiar, and then I realised it's because it must be the same recipe as the one I use at home – seeing as it's a Jamie recipe. Trust me when I say his are the best brownies in the world.

As with most other restaurants on the high street at the moment, Jamie's had a Christmas card advertising their menu for the festive season. I've already committed to the work Christmas party elsewhere but I can't help but want to go somewhere with a group of friends too. Is that something people do? If so, Jamie's is a high contender... Those polenta chips, oh my.

Me and my best friend don't live in the same town anymore, and although we're not too far away from each other, meeting up after a few weeks, or even months, is one of life's great pleasures. We always pick up from where we left off, and both buzzing to fill each other in with the news of our lives brings such a thrill. After our meal I had the pleasure of meeting Bethan's new boyfriend, but that's a story for another day.
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