Lifestyle: A Lazy Weekend

At the beginning of the month it worked out that, between boyfriend visits, I had a whole two weekends to myself. Considering the last weekend I had to myself was in mid-November it was absolute bliss to completely relax. I love that despite being in a long distance relationship me and W can still see plenty of each other (we’re making the most of it until September!), but it was so lovely to have time to myself. Time where I’m not stressing about work, getting dinner etc, time just to sit and do as I pleased.

 photo 2015-01-04 15.30.47_zpsvezsh3fa.jpg photo 47e5802c-e5ba-4d87-bc53-318aa387807e_zpslrr7dulz.jpgI took some time to sit and read cookbooks. Not make anything from them, just read them. It might seem strange to some, but it’s a pastime I’ve always loved. Both of these books are from GBBO contestants, and both are favourites on my shelf. Simple recipes, amazing photographs, and a chatty style. I also made time to sit and reflect on the last few days in my One Line A Day journal. I’ve been loving doing this, and having time to myself meant I could read back on the previous weeks. It’s clear I’m becoming more positive whilst using it!

 photo 2015-02-22 15.31.06_zpshptin7na.jpgAnd of course, no relaxing read would be complete without cookies*. These are made with fair-trade products, but whatever they are made from they are damn delicious! My favourite were the stem ginger, perfect with a hot chocolate.

 photo 2015-02-07 09.26.33_zpsaiad9gki.jpgA pamper session was also on the cards, including one of my favourite new products. The B Glycolic Acid Peel Cleanser is more of a mask treatment, and it sloughs away dead skin to reveal a wonderful glow. I find it makes my skin a little sensitive, so it’s reserved for once a week only, but it’s definitely made a drastic improvement on how my foundation applies.

 photo 2015-01-24 11.59.31_zpsici62gs8.jpgI also went on a little browse round the shops, proving to be a fatal mistake. I discovered Topshop now make bras in my size, and pretty ones at that. I could have bought the whole range…it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so enamoured with my underwear drawer!

And that’s my relaxing weekend, though it maybe didn’t leave me as relaxed as this guy was clearly feeling…
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How do you make sure your weekends are relaxing? What are you up to this weekend?

Baking: Red Velvet Brownie Cake

This was just meant to be a Red Velvet cake, but it came out dense, fudge-y and very Brownie like – so it’s a Brownie cake. To be honest it’s not even particularly red (damn cheap food colouring!) so you could leave the ‘red’ part out and just make a delicious brownie cake…

 photo 2015-02-15 18.57.57_zpsx80zmvsh.jpgI found this recipe particularly easy to make up – no idea why as I’m usually a bit more cautious with baked goods. At dinner time I can happily throw in this, add a bit of that, and feel confident knowing that it won’t be (too) disgusting. To be honest baking scares me in that it is more of an exact science. But I managed this, it worked well, and whilst I won’t use red food colouring in it again, it makes a damn delicious cake. The frosting was pretty yummy too – fresher than normal buttercream, but still sweet and indulgent. The sugar hearts were my nod to Valentine’s – there’s absolutely no need for them, but even I’m impressed with how pretty my Valentine’s cake looks!

 photo 10582b09-fc4f-4818-b215-4f4a02023e21_zpsfqncljjf.jpgIngredients

  • 150g very soft butter
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used Nielsen-Massey)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50ml yoghurt
  • Red food colouring (if you want a red cake!)
  • 150g self-raising flour (I used Allinson Flour)
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • A splash of milk
  • For the icing: 100g very soft butter, 200g cream cheese, 500g icing sugar, and a drop of vanilla extract

 photo 2015-02-15 12.25.36_zpsjxwsrd0x.jpgBeat the butter until light, then add the sugar and vanilla extract. Keep beating until light and fluffy – I find beating the butter on it’s own first makes this a lot easier. Beat in the eggs a bit at a time.

Mix the food colouring with the yoghurt, and beat this into the cake mixture. Stir the flour in gradually, followed by the cocoa powder.

Pour into two (lined and greased – thanks W!) deep sandwich tins and bake at 175C for about 30 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.

 photo 2015-02-15 12.33.02_zps1uoxbnoq.jpgWhilst the cake is cooling, make the icing. Beat the butter until light, then beat in the cream cheese. It’s really, really, really important to beat the butter first – I didn’t, and hence had little buttery lumps throughout the icing. Gradually beat in the icing sugar, and then the vanilla extract. Keep beating until frosting-like…then use it to sandwich your cooled cakes together, and decorate the top and sides.

 photo 11d0e8cc-2ba9-4c94-a3b3-c2d514170a19_zpssieyvtvv.jpgAdd heart-shaped sprinkles if you wish! Then cut a big slab, make a cuppa, snuggle under a blanket, grab a book and enjoy. And remember, for a post-Valentine’s treat, there’s the Hungry House’s promotion currently running, whereby any takeaway order placed on hungryhouse of £15 or more will bag you a movie or TV show from CinemaNow. Me and W treated ourselves last friday (thanks Hungry House!) to a delicious curry followed by The Sex Tape – a hilarious and light-hearted film.

 photo e733a07c-c1cc-4a37-8509-ca73c94fe2d1_zpshmin50nm.jpgDisclaimer: I was provided with some baking goods as part of the Baking Mad campaign, which I genuinely used in this recipe. All opinions are my own, as always, and no money exchanged hands. 

Have your ever made a Red Velvet cake? Baked anything recently? I’m on the lookout for healthier bakes so send me links!

Lifestyle: My Budget & Money Tips

You may or may not have been an article featuring me in the news last week. I must say, it took me a little by surprise as I gave the interview to a PR agent months ago! Of course, the papers don’t exactly print the whole truth (and the headline is ridiculous!) so I thought I’d post a little something about my budget, how I try and stick to it, and why I try and cut spending.
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My budget is a lot lower than people assume.

I receive the minimum maintenance loan and my university town is one of the most expensive outside of London. Case in point: my room this year (commutable distance to London, and extremely nice) is costing me the same amount in rent as my student house was last year. Which was roughly the same as halls. I get a small amount of regular money from my grandparents (£10 a week – and the reason I get this is long, complicated and emotional, and not down to financial reasons), and my parents do as much as they can – lending me money for unexpected expenses and doing a big food shop at the start of term. I travel to see my boyfriend around once a month which costs between £30 and £60 on trains depending on where we are based. This all equates to my food budget being a strict £25 a fortnight, and my going out budget to be zero.

I do shop using vouchers.

My main point in my interview was that I don’t believe anyone should buy something without a quick google to see if there’s a discount..

Finances were a huge worry for me pre-university.

I very much have a tuition and maintenance loan. I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to university without this, and an academic scholarship that I worked damn hard to get. My criteria for choosing a university (after the course) was that accommodation was affordable (I was in the cheapest available) and the level of scholarship given.

 photo 752aab2f-38b8-48ec-b1a4-4ea766f2f691_zpsa76d96f2.jpg

I am currently on a (well) paid placement for a year.

Hence the more ‘extravagant’ lifestyle posts that have featured over the last few months. I’m saving hard each month too, but have given myself a small budget to enjoy myself and see more of the country whilst I can. It’s also only in the last few months I’ve been able to really bump up my savings account again.

Even though I am earning a very good wage this year I’m still budgeting hard – I’ve upped by weekly food shop budget to between £15 and £20, mainly in a bid to gain more spices etc, and eat a wider variety. I’m generally spending close to £10 a week most weeks, with this upping to £20 when W comes to stay (he doesn’t appreciate more veggie-based meals!).

I’m also allowing myself a few more treats – buying Yorkshire tea instead of Aldi’s own, treating myself to a lipstick a month.

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Sticking to a budget is hard.

A few times recently I’ve had cravings for things that my budget just doesn’t allow for. Steak. I’ve love a good steak, but I just can’t justify the price – so this Asian Steak Salad using cheaper frying steaks is ideal. I’ve been craving Ben & Jerry’s lately, but I’ve discovered Sainsbury’s own brand of ice cream is pretty darn good – the salted caramel peanutty one is particularly divine.

And the shop for 6p thing is a huge exaggeration – and not what I stated. Nor what the press release stated either (because I approved it).

As a huge amount of people guessed, it was through clubcard points that had been saved up, and then used during the bonus exchange period. I highly recommend saving up points for big spends, rather than just little things like a chocolate bar. I find that stores actually send you better vouchers when you build things up – I quite often get 100 points for £5 spend from Boots for example. I do look for yellow-stickered items, but this is completely unrelated to the supposed “shop for 6p”.
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So, my top tips for sticking to a budget?

  • Know what your budget is, and be clear about it.
  • Don’t deprive yourself too much – if you are craving something, look for cheaper versions. I appreciate this may be impossible for some if your budget is really tight, but for students it’s generally fine.
  • Learn to cook – it’s far cheaper than ready meals in the long run. It might be more expensive first as you stock up ingredients, but the cost will level out.
  • Keep track of spending – I’ll be doing a post soon on how I do this.
  • I avoid carrying cash as I will spend it easier. If I happen to have cash (from unavoidable taxi journeys) I’ll immediately throw it in a jar or unused purse. The pennies mount up quicker than you’d think – in one term last year I saved nearly £50.

I hope this straightened up any questions arising from the article! Do you live on a tight budget? What are you top budgeting tips?

Beauty: Monday Morning Makeup

I find I need a bit of extra help from my makeup on Monday mornings. I don’t tend to sleep well on Sunday nights, after the boyfriend-goodbyes, the travelling, the unpacking, my mind simply won’t relax. So when my alarm goes off it definitely shows. My skin looks dull, under-eye cirles more grey, and I just look tired. Even a relaxing weekend makes me look as though I’ve been burning the candle at both ends!

 photo 5332d970-d7bb-4bd7-96f3-d84dc01f9c66_zpsbqasbzzs.jpgI’ve manage to get into a good makeup routine that is super-quick and super easy, that polishes me up to a work-appropriate look. Yet whilst it makes me look awake, look an awful lot better, it doesn’t look too “done.” I don’t look like I’ve made a huge effort, like I’m trying to hide the weekend damage. It all looks pretty natural, which is perfect for work. And I don’t need to worry about it sliding off my face mid-morning; all of these products will stick around for the entire day.

 photo 96fb4b47-c6c5-4b09-a736-200e68216cfe_zpsr6iyhamk.jpgFirst up, the eyes. This is where tiredness shows on me the most. I take down puffy eyes immediately with this roll-on eye ‘cream’ from Botanics. It’s amazingly refreshing and awakening, but I wouldn’t use it as my only eye-cream as it isn’t hugely moisturising. Every night (and immediately after I wake up) my under-eye area is moisturised with a teeny dot of Boots Vit E eyecream, which is the best I’ve found so far. A pat of 17’s Stay Time Concealer (the only liquid one I’ve found pale enough for me), finished with a swipe of MUA’s Pro-base Concealer Pencil hides my under-eye circles without showing up any dryness or wrinkles (at 21 I already have wrinkles thanks to last year’s operation!). I find that applies carefully in light layers this combination never looks cakey, but is pretty much full-coverage. Blending in a small amount of Rimmel foundation (again, the only shade pale enough – even Nars is too dark!) out from the centre of my face evens out my skin tone, without piling too much on. On top of an illuminating moisturising (Garnier is my top choice, and has been for nearly two years) this will keep my skin looking glowing and awake, but again not piled in product.

 photo 59a63f53-bd2b-4430-a545-3262aa811358_zpsd6edwg3q.jpgOnto more “makeup-y” bits now, and I recently discovered a shade of matte eyeshadow from Max Factor that is a perfect match to my skin tone. A wash of this over the lid evens out any unevenness, and adds a teeny bit of definitely. The formulation is pretty good too, I’ll be checking more of the range out soon before bringing a full review! Decent mascara is a must for me, and I’ve loved Bourjois’s One Seconde offering since it was realised. I previously just relied on Natural Collection (cheap and very cheerful!) but the brush and flake-free formula means this is a winner. A final sweep of a nude eyeliner neutralises any redness on my waterline, and I look as awake as is possible for pre-7am!

 photo 48603381-67fc-43ba-9007-744efa36ecd5_zpsk7np0s1m.jpgAdding a bit of colour back to my face is crucial, but on Monday’s I tend to avoid adding too much. I don’t want to appear like I am trying to hard to look awake, so go with slightly more neutral colours than I do for the rest of the week. A well-blended sweep of Nars Douceur (love the colour, not overly convinced the formula is anything special) adds definitely to my cheekbones, whilst MAC Plumful offers some subtle colour to my lips. Whilst not the longest lasting lipstick, this will definitely hang around until a lunch-time top up. A splash of fragrance and I’m ready to head out of the door and face the day.

At least I look more awake, even if I’m not exactly feeling it! How do you make yourself seem more awake on a Monday morning? What are your everyday staples?

University: Where Does The Money Go

Another little item from the ‘Un-Urgent’ folder, another I found quite interesting. This discusses how students actually buy better quality food/items that their parents give them credit for, but as a result they are running out of money quicker.

unii003I know this is half true – I definitely but better food than people would think students eat! Two types of cabbage (at least) reside in my fridge, and I have eaten two ready meals since September 2012. I also don’t drink nearly as much alcohol as the norm, definitely handy for saving money! Here’s the results of the survey;

Top supermarket items parents assume their kids prioritise:
1.     Alcohol
2.     Bread
3.     Milk
4.     Toiletries

But what students are actually buying: 
1.     Meat
2.     Pasta
3.     Cheese
4.     Eggs

Unfortunately, these groceries don’t always come cheap with students admitting that after their budget has blown, a whopping 65% have gone hungry at least once because of poor money management. A third of these students would consider skipping meals altogether just to make their money last.

To be honest, I virtually completely disagree with the last part – I’m not convinced that just eating healthily and avoiding alcohol blows the budget. But I guess this press release is only showing one side of the story!

It got me thinking though, about what do I prioritise? Definitely train fare, as not seeing W makes for a miserable me. After that (and rent obvs!) I’d probably go for decent vegetables, decent bread, pies, pasta, milk, cheese, eggs etc…I like decent quality (free range etc) food if I can help it. But I don’t ever consider going hungry because of budget, I might just eat a little less variety!

This has definitely got my mind going about how we prioritise spending. What are your priorities?

Lifestyle: An Ice-Cream Date

I love ice-cream, and I love date nights. Something that combines the two is pretty much my idea of perfection. Back when we were still at sixth form, me and W would quite often head out for a cheapy meal after I finished work on a Saturday. We’d always decline desert, and instead head to the cinema. Or, specifically, to the Ben & Jerry’s counter. Something about ice cream just finishes a night off perfectly, and there’s nothing more romantic than arguing over flavour combination and fighting over the last spoonful…! Whilst we were away in Oxford we discovered my dream place, and I’m gutted I didn’t know about it that first night. One trip just wasn’t enough…

 photo 2015-01-31 21.13.20_zpsxkqbhiwd.jpgG&D’s is justttt outsite the city centre, and is open 8am until…midnight. Yep, midnight! I so wish there were more places like this, relaxed, no alcohol, and open late. Perfect for chatting away, working on that bit of coursework or just relaxing. I’d be in there all the time if there was one local to me! They sell a huge variety of ice-creams (and also bagels and pizzas too, which smelt yummy!) and ice-cream related deserts, and all at pretty reasonable prices.

 photo 2015-01-31 21.13.00_zps4fk5wjdz.jpg photo 2015-01-31 21.12.35_zpsz2akpp5f.jpgI went for a couple of scoops of their chocolate ice cream (their Reese’s Pieces had just sold out) with Peanut M&Ms and hot fudge sauce. A hugely generous portion, the sauce was rich and smooth. But the ice cream! It was delicious. Chocolate but light, full flavoured but not sickly. Honestly one of the best I’ve had (and I kept a notebook scoring chocolate ice cream between the ages of 7 and 10!).

 photo 2015-01-31 21.28.46_zpsopvcga8z.jpgWill enjoyed a Cookie Monster Sandwich – two cookies of his choice (one chocolate, one Daim bar) surrounding a scoop of icecream. He agrees about the quality of the chocolate! And for one of the first times I saw a dessert defeat him…with half a cookie to go. We had already gorged on Byron that night though!

If you fancy what is in my mind the perfect at-home date, Hungry House are currently running a promotion whereby any takeaway order placed on hungryhouse of £15 or more will bag you a free movie or TV show from CinemaNow. Yummy food and free entertainment, what’s not to love?!

What was the last date you went on? Anndddd…what’s the best ice cream you’ve ever had?