31 March 2014

Healthy Coconut Milkshake

Waitrose is so bad for me. Last week I discovered coconut milk. I love coconut, and I'm trying to cut down on my dairy intake because it reacts badly with my skin, so when I saw this I was like, YES, I'm getting that.

I think milk alternatives take some getting used to. Having drunk cows' milk for the first 21 years of my life, it was very strange the first time I tried almond milk, but I'm all for learning to love healthy things, like when I was little and first introduced to vegetables, and fruit – which I now love. And coconut milk is actually great. I'm so pleased with the huge range of milk alternatives available these days.

Why coconut milk is so good:

  • Tastes good
  • Naturally low in fat and has zero animal fat
  • Only naturally occurring sugars in this drink
  • Lactose free so easy to digest :)
  • It's a source of vitamin B12 which is good for when you're feeling lethargic and run down
  • Free from colours

The first thing I used my new found love for was a milkshake – a simple, two ingredient milkshake full of good stuff and no added sugar.

Enter my favourite fruit in the whole entire world – the banananana!

All you have to do is pour a glass of coconut milk (or almond milk/cows' milk – whatever milk you want) into a blender with your banana and whizz it up with a bit of crushed ice.

Just a chilled Saturday afternoon, you know. 

Straws to make it extra milkshake-y. Use half a banana or add more milk if you like it a bit thinner. I'm not at all a fan of the coconut water that's in fashion at the moment, but this coconut milk actually tastes like coconut and it's very refreshing.

You can adapt this 'recipe' however you like. I might add a teaspoon of cocoa powder next time to make a chocolate version. I seriously love this milk substitute and it probably wins over almond milk, even. It has such a refreshing, coconutty taste and I think it will be a great fridge staple for the summer months. Think you'll give this a go? Let me know your suggestions for even more exotic coconut milkshakes/smoothies/cocktails @hello_flower on Twitter or in the comment box below :)

30 March 2014

Word of the Week

The way I keep a record of my favourite words isn't very organised. I have a stash of post it notes stuffed in my diary from the week which I take home from work every Friday. At some point, I decide which is my favourite – which I should share with you, and then dispose of the rubbish.

But I like post it notes. I like the messiness of it. It makes me feel like a proper journalist, being all messy and unorganised.

I don't remember where I saw this word – illustrious. I have it written down, but nothing else. I like the way it reminds me of other good words like illuminate and illustrative and lustrous. Bright, optimistic words. Shimmering, silvery-pearl like words. Words that the sun shines on. Words that are only said with smiles. 

What a thing to be. Illustrious. As with most of my favourite words, illustrious sounds excellent when said aloud. Does anyone else share such a strong love for certain words?

28 March 2014

Baking With Sweet Freedom

This week has been quite a tough one at work. On the weekend I was in the mood to bake some things to get me through the long hours ahead, and as I have given up refined sugar for lent, I needed a reliable sugar substitute to use. So, when browsing some of the blogs I follow, I was prompted by a few of the recipes on Gemsmaquillage to try out Sweet Freedom – an all natural sugar free syrup.

Sugar free syrups usually ring alarm bells in my head. I think of chemicals and weird things that aren't any better for me than actual sugar. But Sweet Freedom is made from 100% fruit, and I was pleased to see there were only three ingredients listed: apples, grapes & carob.

It tastes just like normal syrup, but with a fruity sweetness, and I like it. I made Joy the Baker's browned butter blueberry muffins and these 5 ingredient granola bars (replacing the sugar and honey with Sweet Freedom) and they both turned out really well.

The muffins were especially good. I really couldn't tell they had been made with a sugar substitute. They were just as soft, fluffy and flavoursome as regular muffins and I will definitely be making them again.

At £2.99 a bottle, Sweet Freedom isn't as cheap or long lasting as a bag of sugar, and I think I'll reserve it for a topping for my pancakes or porridge in future. However, considering it's all natural and impossible to taste the difference in baked goods, it's definitely a repurchase for me, and I'd recommend it to anyone trying to cut down on refined sugar who still wants a sweet treat with their morning (or afternoon) coffee. Have you tried Sweet Freedom before? What are your go to sugar substitutes in baking? You can find out more about Sweet Freedom here.

26 March 2014

Smell My Hair – Lush American Cream

I've become quite obsessed with nice smelling hair. No one wants bad smelling hair, but I'm really into proper, nice smelling hair. Hair that actually smells yummy, almost like it's perfumed, infused with a really lovely scent. So I went on the hunt for the perfect product to give my hair a long lasting sweet scent that didn't just smell like... hair product. There's only so much herbal essences a girl can take.


Enter Lush's American Cream hair conditioner. A friend recommended this to me as the best conditioner ever. She said it made her hair smell amazing for five days! I wanted some of this magical hair conditioner, so when I went to Cardiff on the weekend I popped into the Lush store to smell it in real life and decide whether it was worth the £9 price tag.

One of the shop assistants saw me eyeing up the bottle and came over to talk to me about it. She told me how it's not like most conditioners which feel all soft and slippery when you apply it in the shower. Apparently, that stuff is full of plastic which fills the hair, without really conditioning it. 

The American Cream conditioner, however, is made with fresh ingredients and there are no funny plastic things in there – meaning the conditioner has a very different feel to it when applied to the hair, because instead of filling the hair, it coats each strand, and when you dry your hair you can feel a real difference in the texture and quality. And, as I was to find out, the smell. Safe to say I had no hesitation in buying a bottle.

You can't really tell by a photo how well a conditioner works, but the ends of my hair are quite dry and really need a good quality conditioner to, well, condition them. I've been a bit gross, and made this product stand the test of time. I washed my hair on Saturday morning – it is now Wednesday evening and the smell of this conditioner has only just started to fade. Four days is pretty good going, considering most hair products lose their scent in under a day. 

The smell of this conditioner is so luxurious, although not quite strawberry vanilla milkshake like it claims. It's more like a rich vanilla with something else I can't put my finger on. Still, it's worth going into Lush to have a sniff for yourself, and if you can bear it, part with £8.95 for a 250ml bottle – but I can honestly say this is the best smelling hair product I have ever tried, and so impressed by how long it lasts. I can't stop smelling my hair... and making other people smell it too :) You can find out more about Lush's American Cream conditioner here.

24 March 2014

My Weekend Breakfast

I love my weekend breakfasts. They're lazy, loved, warm and filling. I don't mind spending a few hours in the kitchen on the weekend in my pyjamas, hair still in yesterday's ponytail and drinking an entire cafetiere of coffee all to myself after devouring a stack of homemade pancakes. It's just one of life's greatest pleasures for me, and sometimes, eating out for breakfast is even better, even if it is at my local Wetherspoons. My friend Rich was back from uni for the weekend so we met for a catch up over breakfast at spoons.

Seeing as I've given up refined sugar for lent (I know) I went for a bacon and sausage roll. You get what you pay for at spoons, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I am a huuuuuge fan of Naked smoothies, and was quite surprised that they had them on offer. They didn't sell my favourite – the green machine – but the blue machine is still lush and full of good stuff to start the day the right way.

If I could, I would eat breakfast for breakfast, lunch and tea. It would last all day, every day. I'm already looking forward to this Saturday's breakfast, whatever it may be.
It's safe to say, I don't care for counting calories, especially not at the weekend :) What's your favourite kind of breakfast?

23 March 2014

The Best Chinese in Town: Kong's – Abergavenny

You know, there is such a Chinese restaurant that won't leave you feeling like you're dead after you eat too much overcooked chicken, sloppy noodles and dry fried rice. I know, until about a year ago I had come to the same conclusion as many others that they just don't exist – that all Chinese takeaways/buffets/restaurants are the same overpriced under-portioned rubbish.

But there is such a thing as fresh and tasty Chinese food – there is! And it's at Kong's in Abergavenny.

After church today, Sarah suggested we go for lunch at Kong's because they do a Sunday deal – an all you can eat buffet for £9.90 per person (£5.90 for children under 9). I had only had Kong's takeaway before so I was looking forward to seeing what their buffet would be like. 
It's just round the corner from church, in the centre of Abergavenny and our friends Drew and Katie came along too which was lovely.

The way the Sunday buffet menu works at Kong's is, you order what you want and they bring it to you – restaurant style. The rule is, you can't waste any food or you have to pay full price for it, and that's fair enough, but it's difficult to leave anything at Kong's anyway. Everything is delicious, and the portions are just the right size too.

We had about three rounds of starters of mandarin spare ribs, thai style chicken satay on skewers, mini vegetable samosa, prawn crackers, chicken balls and fried crab claws. It was incredible.

Then, we moved onto mains – sweet and sour chicken cantonese style, twice cooked pork and king prawn schezuan with egg fried rice and chips. Sooooooo good. Not too greasy, not too salty or sweet, not too... blergh. You know how takeaway food can sometimes make you feel like you will never be able to do anything ever again, after eating it? Well, Kong's doesn't make you feel like that and I'm glad for it – especially today, because I have a lot of things I need to do which, unfortunately, don't involve napping :(

I don't know if they use less MSG or something, but the food definitely tastes a lot fresher and nicer than any other Chinese I have had before. It's the only one I'll go to now, and if you haven't ordered from there yet, you really ought to. It's great value for money, the meat is cooked to perfection and they give you free prawn crackers! Do you have a favourite Chinese restaurant/takeaway/buffet?

21 March 2014

Word of the Week

This week went by as fast as any other, and I really think that can only mean one thing – I am enjoying life. 

It was my mum's Birthday on Wednesday and all the family came round for a lovely meal cooked by my dad. I took a day off lent and indulged in three puddings and had fun playing with baby OH. She is growing and changing so much! If you haven't read my post on becoming an auntie, you can check it out here.

Despite the excitement of a Birthday and lots of hard work this week, it wasn't difficult to decide on my word of the week. Halcyon is a word I wish I used more often. It's stunningly unique and has such a common meaning, I wonder why I don't see or hear it more than once every now and then.

Halcyon, halcyon, halcyon. It sounds mystical, almost royal. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like the perfect name for a baby boy. Maybe I'll add it to my list.

20 March 2014

Why Do We Love Piercings?

When I was little I wanted my ears pierced so badly. I was in the car with my oldest sister, Sarah, going home from the jewellers. She had just had her ears pierced.

"When can I get my ears pierced?" I asked.
"When you're thirteen," my mum replied. She was driving and Sarah was admiring the gold balls studded in her pink ears. I counted on my fingers nine years until I was old enough.
"But that's ages away!" I said. I thought about it some more. "Did it hurt?" I asked Sarah.
"No," she said. I was sure she was lying. 

I loved stick on earrings. I loved clip on earrings. I especially loved magnetic earrings, until they flew straight off my ears one windy morning. But I still had so many years to wait to get the real thing.

But in hindsight, I'm glad my parents made to wait. I mentioned in the post Inspiration: Parents that I felt it helped me gain respect for my body, and I maintain that. If I ever have children I will instill the same rules in them. It made me a little more careful, and contrary to popular belief, I say that's a good thing. It's important we are careful. These are our bodies and we should look after them.

I had my heart set on a tragus piercing from fourteen, and on my 18th Birthday I went to Blue Banana in Cardiff and got it done. I still love it, four years later, and often contemplate getting other piercings. In fact, last weekend I got my right ear lobe pierced, but it took me a good few years to finally do it. But why do we do it?

For me, piercings are for the ears only. I guess all the other possible places for piercings – my nose, tongue, belly button – are areas of my body that I am not confident showing off. My ears – I don't mind them so much. They're a little funny looking, odd in shape, definitely not symmetrical (but my face isn't either) but they're ok. So why not accessorize them with jewellery, to make them sparkle and look a bit prettier? If it's that simple, then so be it. Maybe I just like to make myself look nice, but who doesn't?

My dad once joked that the more piercings you want just shows a desire to be loved. In a way, I suppose that theory relates to every time you buy a new dress, pair of shoes, a bag, make up... It makes you feel like you look better, like someone will notice, and think of you, and pay you attention, when the chances of anyone else noticing aren't as high as we might think. I don't think it's an entirely conscious thing, but maybe there is some truth in it.

But does that matter? Do we even want people to notice? When it comes to piercings, I really don't think we do it for anyone else. Maybe with clothes – we dress to impress, sometimes... But piercings are a little more permanent. Not as permanent as tattoos (and that's another topic entirely which I'll come to another time) but they are holes we put in our bodies that weren't there when we were born. Is that disrespectful to the bodies that God gave us to look after? Or is it a new mark, one that we choose to place on our bodies for self-esteem and confidence in yourself? Why do we love piercings so much?

Let me know what you think in the comment box below, or tweet me @hello_flower 

I'm still trying to figure this one out, and find out why I think I'll continue to get my ears pierced until there's no space left – by which point I'm sure I will have overdone it, and want to take them all out.

17 March 2014

Happy Bold Lips – Sleek Matte Me

I once read a blog that promised an instant mood lift upon applying a bright lipstick. I didn't believe the person who wrote it. But the next time I braved a bold lip, I found myself really smiling. Yesterday the sun was shining and I was doubly happy, wearing this bright red lipstick. It's nice when things as small as the weather and a lipstick can brighten up your day. Even more so when they both stick around all day.

I'm not exaggerating. Sleek's Matte Me does not budge. Try eating a sandwich, having a few drinks – it stays on, I promise. It actually takes make up remover and a few cotton wool pads to get it off, and I don't see why it should be any other way. Why aren't all lip products like this?

It looks like a lipgloss and has the colour of a lipstick – but don't worry, it's nothing like the Rimmel Apocalips (which are a tad overrated in my opinion). Sleek's Matte Me is a lip cream – a liquid lip stain. I got the shade Rioja Red – a gorgeous bright red, perfect for both day and night and, of course, when the sun comes out.

Ultimate precision is required upon application, and a steady hand won't go amiss – this stuff is pigmented like paint. It dries in an instant, but if it smudges even a little bit, you end up with a rather sore looking mouth. I would suggest applying a lip balm beforehand, letting it sink in for a few minutes, and then apply the lip cream, as it is very drying. I guess that's to be expected with a 'matte' lip product, but it's worth mentioning if you prefer lipstains that are moisturising (perhaps Revlon's Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stains?)

Sleek's Matte Me in Rioja Red is the number one red lip product for me. I have never come across any other lipstick that stays on as long as this, and I am so impressed, especially considering it cost £4.99. There are five other colours available in this formula and you can check out the range here. What lifts your mood?

16 March 2014

Inspiration: Parents

Do you know Flora? She is at the top of my reading list and I find myself checking her page to see if she has posted anything new, almost every day. Her writing is eloquent and concise, honest and soothing to read. She is one of those people I would just love to be real life friends with – she always has something interesting to share. 

It was Flora who tagged me in this inspiration series – an idea she came up with for a series of posts on the people who inspire you, and shape you as the person you are and the person you are becoming. It took me a few weeks to think about what I would write for my first post in the series, but it was my parents who I kept coming back to.

My parents are, and always have been, the people who inspire and shape me into the person I am, and the person I am becoming. Whether I like it or not, when I am in a bit of a pickle, I always find myself thinking, what would my mum or dad do? Sometimes I wish I didn't do it, but it's always been that way, I don't think it can be changed. My parents are my number one source of reassurance. I'll be a proper grown up when I can no longer go to them for advice on mundane things like, how to tell if my food is cooked, or how to get a stain out of a white top.

Mum gave birth to me! Imagine that. Must've been awful. Has made me a Birthday cake every year, since I was born. Told me it would be OK every time a boy broke my heart, and she was right. Always lovely to be around. Makes the best food.

Dad carried me on his shoulders on summer days when I was small and tubby and had short hair. Looked after me when I was sick at night. Drove me to and from the hospital, and helped me walk, to and from appointments in the lead up to my diagnosis of Crohn's disease.

My parents dragged me to church every Sunday for the first eighteen years of my life. After that it was up to me, and for a few years I ditched it, just because I could, because it was easier to turn my back on all that. But they were there when I decided to come back, no questions asked.

My parents didn't let me get my ears pierced until I was thirteen, and after that, I had to wait until I was eighteen to have any other piercings. I wasn't allowed to dye my hair until I was fifteen. I wasn't allowed to wear make up to school. I wasn't allowed a padded bra until I earned my own money. I wasn't allowed boys round to sleepover. All of that inspired me to treat my body with respect – like a temple.

There's a reason why we have parents. Mine are my guide to life. Who do you have to fall back on? My mum and dad have been married for over thirty years. That inspires me to do the same. What else is there, but to build a family and carry on that feeling of safety, belonging and love? 

14 March 2014

On Becoming an Auntie

Something really exciting happened in January. My big sister had a baby! Her first baby, and my first niece. On Sunday 19th January, Olivia Mae Howells was born, and a new life came into the world.

After a long Sunday spent anxiously waiting for the phone to ring, I woke up at about 1am to my mum's squeals and ran out of my room to the stairs to hear the news that Emily had had a GIRL. A beautiful little fair haired, dark eyed girl. I couldn't wait to meet her. I couldn't wait to see my sister. How had she done that – given birth? I couldn't get my head round it. I still can't.

Olivia is a little person. She has doll like finger nails, delicate nails and the softest ears. Her chin is like a button mushroom, and her lips are big and juicy. She is so small.

The first time I held her I felt like I was holding a baby made of the finest china, the thinnest glass. She was less than a day old. I had been to work and shown my friends the few photos my sister had sent since Olivia had been born, and the office was filled with excitement at this new arrival of life – one that would affect and shape many others.

Have you ever thought about this – how incredible it is to witness the start of a new life? It's so special, knowing that you were there when someone was born. Waiting for the phone call. Knowing it was happening, waiting for the news. Seeing them the next day, with their new parents(!) Seeing a new life grow, for the rest of your life.

One day Olivia will talk, go to school, brush her hair, clean her teeth, play with Barbies in the bath, have sleepovers with her best friend, have a Birthday party and cry when she doesn't get the present she wished for, lose a tooth, fall off her bike, run a race, sit exams, fall in love, decide on her dream, choose a way to live... But what's most exciting, is the eight week old, totally dependent baby who can just about hold her head up and smile when she chooses to – learning the very basics of adapting to life outside of the womb – will, one day, know my name. Her Auntie Nomes. That's me.

13 March 2014

Thankful Thursday

Good things have happened this week. Last night I went to sleep content. The days fly by when you're happy, and these days are gone before I know it. Weekends come back around like they never left.

An opportunity came up at work this week for me to write for one of the magazines we publish. This means I get to review my favourite cafes and restaurants in Monmouthshire and have it published with my name next to it and everything. I am so excited and thankful, and I can't wait to see my work in print.

People who brighten my day with a smile, or even just their presence. When I find myself looking forward to seeing them, it makes me thankful to know such wonderful people, and excited to get to know them even more.

Looking after soft, cuddly, fluffy kittens. Although I can't have one of my own, I am thankful to know a few, and be able to see them on a regular basis. Pets are so lovely.

What are you thankful for today?

12 March 2014

Loving: Milk & Cookies

What can cure a broken heart, a bad day, a falling out, ANYthing bad, better than a glass of milk and a cookie (or two)? 

This pair can solve a lot of problems together. They're pretty powerful like that. Ice cold milk and warm, fresh cookies. It's one of those great gifts God gave us to really, truly love.

Chew, sip, munch, swallow, all in the mouth of a happy, ok, sad or content person. Things feel a little lighter then.

Is there anything better? Let me know what you think. I have found my one and only. Nothing will ever compare to the comfort in milk and cookies in bed, watching a trashy (or educational) TV programme. In this case, Grey's Anatomy, a show I have started to watch out of sheer desperation (although I am actually enjoying it) as I am now caught up on all the episodes of Girls (woe of the week – why can't I write like Lena Dunham?)

Milk and cookies should be enjoyed alone, in the crunchy noise of your mind where you can hear control the chomp of your teeth on the cookie and cringe at the clank against the glass of milk. It takes total dedication and awareness to fully enjoy and appreciate it, to make it last – the whole experience.

So, get your jammies on, whip up a batch of cookies (or chuck some Marylands in the microwave for thirty seconds, I won't tell) and enjoy some good old fashioned comfort food. 

I used Joy the Baker's recipe for these cookies (I omitted the nuts). If you haven't discovered her blog yet, go and look at it right now! Some of the best recipes EVER are on her site, and she has a book too. It's very good.

10 March 2014

Cafe at All Saints – Hereford

Have you ever been to Hereford? When I moved to Wales almost ten years ago(!) my Mum took me shopping there to revamp my wardrobe. I was twelve, had just joined a much bigger, mixed sex school and all of a sudden realised I hated my pink Reebok trainers and pale blue flared jeans. I wanted tight dark jeans and 'skate shoes'. Aren't you glad we don't live in 2004 anymore.

After three years spent studying and living in Cheltenham, I declined to visit Hereford as much as I did when it was just a thirty minute drive away. But now I am living back in Abergavenny, and I find myself taking a trip to Hereford more often than ever. It's such a pretty city, and a lovely place to go for some quiet Saturday shopping when the rush and scale of Cardiff is just too much effort. Plus, there are some lovely little cafes right in the centre of Hereford.

I have been to Cafe at All Saints a few times now, and I thought it was about time I shared it with you. It is one of my favourite places to go for lunch. The food is always delicious, fresh and interesting, and the setting – in a beautiful church – makes you feel like you're eating your lunch at home, with friends. There are no lurking waiters or waitresses, no cramped spaces. It is light and atmospheric.

So it's one of those cafes where you have to queue up and get your food – canteen style. Not my chosen way of doing things but the quality of food and service makes up for it. The staff have got the system nailed and, in a way, it makes it feel a little more homemade.

Sandwiches are also on the menu, and they are made to order, so if you're ordering one of them, you get to take one of these colourful spoons back to your table.

I was impressed by this. Most places offer tap water but it's not often that filtered water is available.

Additional seating is available upstairs, but because we had Olivia in the pram, we stayed downstairs. It was busy, as always, but we got a good table with plenty of space.

I had the butternut squash, sage, ricotta and parmesan quiche with a leafy salad and mustard dressing. Emily had the same but a carrot and cumin kind of salad, and my Mum went for the parsnip, cheddar and rosemary soup with a cheese scone.

I tried a bit of Emily's salad, and I had never tasted anything like it. I love unique flavours in salads, and this one certainly delivered. If you want to try something a bit different, this is the one to go for. It tasted sweet, sour and spicy all at the same time.

The quiche was perfect. I wouldn't usually choose this, but my mum convinced me, telling me how good it is. She wasn't wrong. It was sweet and creamy, thanks to the butternut squash, but the cheese gave it enough saltiness, and I had a fat splodge of HP sauce on my plate to smear each forkful in as well. 

Mum's soup was good, as was the cheese scone – but obviously nowhere near as good as the ones she makes at home.

After we had eaten I went back up to queue for coffee. It was hot and set me up just right for the next hour or so of browsing the shops. I could explore Hereford all day, and eat in each and every cafe and coffee shop. There are so many that I would like to visit, but one at a time, one visit at a time.

What do you think? Are you tempted to go to Hereford? It's a small city, but quaint and worth a visit for all the independent shops and cafes, especially Cafe at All Saints. I can't wait to go again! Find out more here.
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