Lifestyle: Getting Crafty

It’s been an aim of this academic year to make the most of not studying (it’ll be the last for a while as I’ll be doing professional exams after graduating). I wanted to concentrate on my blog, I wanted to get fit, and I really wanted to get a bit more creative.

 photo 2015-04-12 18.46.37_zpsli2gqgwg.jpgI love drawing, but find it frustrating as storing paper gets on my nerves. I wasn’t end up creasing it and my hardwork is wasted. Eurgh. I’ve been attempting to knit for nearly two years and that’s still very much a work in progress. But over the past few weeks I’ve started a few other little projects, which I thought I’d tell you all about today.

 photo 9ed7ad79-d433-47dc-a623-42f09ae6e8be_zpsep4mdl2r.jpgWho doesn’t love a bit of Cath Kidston? I’ve got to admit I love the brand and, despite thinking it’s overpriced, I do have a few bits from there. I’ve always avoid the bags, but now I can make my own! Hobbycraft (I’ve loved the store since I was a child!) sent me the Cath Kidston Sewing Book*, and I’ve fallen in love. I’ve not started a big, big project, but I’ve started creating the Sewing Kit, especially as the materials for making this are included with the book. I’ll be updating my instagram with progress on the project as and when technology allows (my phone camera has completely died, so it involved a lot of faffing with SD cards!) so make sure you are following!

 photo bc96822a-0c32-4365-9862-a43eb9f92a48_zpsijcgdzq0.jpg photo 575a161d-bace-40d4-bf9f-0cf679e348be_zpsn5nn5zi3.jpg photo 386434c5-5505-4ede-8ce7-dbbcd1968bdd_zpsbhbtzatl.jpgThe book is great as it covers a lot of the basics and, most importantly, the vast majority of projects don’t need a sewing machine! Templates for all projects are provided, and I’m hugely tempted to make a bag next. It’s even got me thinking about potentially making my own clothes, though I desperately need to improve skills before I start on that!

 photo 4683efea-524a-4f51-aa3e-26560f76bc72_zps2tggw8zd.jpgI also received a HUGE box of goodies from Sykes Cottages a few weeks ago, filled with enough crafty projects to keep me going for months. And tea. And biscuits. Because being crafty is hard work. And guys, Earl Grey & Lemon Shortbread is the best! I haven’t even gotten started on the majority of the box, but here’s the highlights.

 photo 31aaf488-e1c5-410d-9eaa-afb869a41953_zpsshn1hkht.jpgScented candles. Because everyone needs candles, and this student can’t afford to burn money. They are ridiculously easy to make, I’ve been making them in mugs, and melting the wax in the mug, using a microwave. Simples! I’ve even gone out and bought extra essential oils and wax as I’ve really enjoyed making them, can’t wait to produce them as presents for people!

 photo 9382b2bf-996e-4383-8918-99dcda0d1dc7_zpssdyyfadj.jpg photo 6cc6be45-157c-4f0c-9a15-92f6ff261fc7_zpswy0n42yx.jpgAnd covered notebooks. Kirstie Allsopp is someone I’ve always loved (I do so adore watching Escape to the Country with a cuppa). I missed a lot of her crafty series but I’ll definitely be hunting down past episodes if this kind of thing was covered. Again, all equipment was provided (including a notebook), and the instructions were so easy. I just wish I had more use for notebooks this year now!

Have you made anything recently? Are you into making little bits and pieces like these?

Recipe: Courgette Feta Fritters, and Awesome Tabasco Dressing

I have a few new favourite things to have in my fridge right now. One is courgettes. I’ve loved courgettes for a good few years, but they’ve become ‘trendy’ this year and now are featured in my meals a couple of times a week. I love making them into noodles (especially in my low-carb-onara) but this recipe is slightly naughtier. I have also developed a love of feta, but unable to shell out for it I’ve discovered Sainsbury’s Basic Salad Cheese. It’s not quite as sharp, but the texture is spot on for me. Great for cooking with! This recipe combines my current two favourites with something I’ve reintroduced to my diet…

 photo ccaf11e4-ed7a-4aa7-b69e-4e75a311fcf1_zpsbn2dpnou.jpgI was convinced Tabasco contained tomato, so I’ve shied away from it for a few years. So when I was offered the chance to develop a three-course menu around the sauce, I was cautious. Until I realised it contain three ingredients, none of which were tomatoes. Winning! This dressing is another new favourite to keep in the fridge. It’s perfect with meat, and works really well added to couscous. It’s sweet, spicy and zesty. I can see it sticking around as a favourite for a while, so I urge you to try it.

 photo 2015-04-08 20.24.18_zps59xcuag8.jpgFritter Ingredients

  • 1 large/2 medium courgettes, coarsley grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 tablespoons of flour
  • Small handful of feta, crumbled
  • Seasoning – I used some fresh mint chopped, but any herb (even dried) works well
  • Oil spray, or frying

Dressing Ingredients (makes plenty to keep in the fridge)

  • 1 roasted red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of tabasco
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 little olive oil (1/2 a teaspoon perhaps)

 photo 2015-04-08 19.27.40_zpsmvu3was9.jpgAdd a little salt to the grated courgette, toss to mix and cover firmly with kitchen towel. Leave for ten minutes then squeeze out excess liquid.

 photo 2015-04-08 19.44.44_zpstwhuvx1l.jpgAdd the rest of the fritter ingredients to the courgette and mix with a fork. This mix should be stiff and not liquidy – add extra flour if needed. Heat a little oil in a pan until very hot, and add a tablespoon of the mix. Fry for about 3 minutes, until golden and crispy, before turning and cooking the other side. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

 photo 2015-04-08 20.10.14_zpskhfczjwb.jpg photo 2015-04-08 20.11.14_zps0ivs9bqb.jpgFor the dressing, chop the pepper finely, and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Taste and adjust until it’s to your liking.

 photo 2015-04-08 20.23.56_zpsu1v9mhxg.jpgServe. I like courgette fritters to be a side (alongside lamb chops or chicken), or as the main event with some couscous. Either way, serve with the dressing as a dip and some salad. The fritters are also really good cold, and make a great lunchbox!

Disclaimer: I was sent a goodie box including sauces from Tabasco, but all opinions are my own. No money exchanged hands, and if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be blogging about it!

Are you a fan of salad-y meals? What’s your favourite salad?

Personal: Weight Loss

What feels like ages ago, I wrote this post. I wrote about making little changes to improve my lifestyle, make me feel better about myself. Last month I was overjoyed to slip into a pair of size 10 skinnies and be under 10 stone for the first time in years. But this weekend, this happened.

 photo 2015-04-12 12.23.16_zpssnthxlfm.jpgSize 8 skinny jeans. And high waisted too. I cried in the changing room. I’ve tried them on everyday since buying them, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. I’ve pictured them above against the jeans I have been wearing for a few years. And yep, that’s the true size difference. They’re both stretchy denim too, both high-waisted!

To make me even happier, these jeans were pretty much a bargain courtesy of my favorite new app, Zeek. Basically it allows you to buy and sell unwanted gift vouchers, and they let me test it over the past week. You make a small saving on the voucher you buy and they are often electronic, meaning you pay on your phone even in store. Pretty useful, especially if you receive a voucher for a store you’ll never use! And using my code 2vcbyd you’ll get £5 off your first voucher too…

 photo 09fd7913-ae36-4933-8b8e-e14f1c314ddd_zpsmeysmzow.jpgTo be honest, slimming down this much wasn’t in my goals. I wanted to feel comfortable in myself, to stop over-eating. I haven’t really ‘dieted’ excessively as such. I’ve cut down the carbs in my evening meals, I’ve made sure i’ve stopped eating when I’ve been full. I’ve exercised more. I still have curves (miraculously, I’ve not lost anything from my chest at all), but I’m healthier and fitter than I’ve been in years. I’m sleeping better, I can run from the tube to platform 18 in Victoria without still wheezing at Clapham Junction (scratch that, East Croydon!).

 photo 2015-04-11 13.54.41_zpsuegeep9l.jpgYou may wonder where the above burger fits in with a weight loss post?! Well, I’m not depriving myself. I enjoyed this treat on Brighton beach last weekend (an hour after buying said skinny jeans!), it’s from Burger Brothers and it was AMAZING. Blows Gourmet Burger Kitchen out of the water, and it’s pretty clothes to Byron standard. If it was a little thicker, cooked a little pink, it would be pretty spot on. The deal with burgers and weight loss? No fries, and no doughnuts from the pier.

 photo 5af187a2-1c5c-4133-892c-c42071c0fb25_zpszmi2uypt.jpgI’ve eaten more salad, but I’ve never enjoyed it more. I’ve upped the fat in my diet (I was advised by a gasto consultant my food was actually significantly lacking in the stuff), so salads are actually yummy. Nuts, dressing, eggs, bacon. All the kind of things that make a salad enjoyable. Spicy salad made with tabasco? Hell yes! Chilli salad with beans and cheese? A weekly staple.

 photo 00fc096e-2a13-493f-838b-c5e68add6745_zpsmg8phizh.jpgI’ve enjoyed using A Salad for All Seasons. It’s a book I was sent as part of an un-salady collaboration a few months ago (the Florette one, where I made a salmon pasta). I didn’t use it for that collaboration and wasn’t asked to make a comment about it, but it’s become one of my favourite cookbook. It’s perfect!

 photo 2015-02-08 17.08.52_zpsztvdyxqu.jpg photo 2015-01-10 20.10.13_zpsn6lc6hz5.jpgI’m not going to slip back into my old ways. I’m going to keep exercising, I still want to do a bit more toning work on my thighs. I want to improve my fitness, keep up the running and manage a 5k. I want to maintain the shape I am right now, because quite honestly, I do feel pretty damn confident. I’ll be less strict with myself, I’ll let myself have a bowl of pasta a week, but that weight is staying off!So if you’re struggling with weight loss, it is doable. I’ve gone from avoiding mirrors to being so proud of myself in less than four months.

The downsides? I’m using safety pins to make my skirts stay up. And my younger sister thinks she can steal my new clothes (though I can also have my old ones back!).

Did you make an lifestyle changes over the last few months?How have you been getting on?

Fashion: Workwear Staples on Budget

I’ve been attempting to create this post for a while, but taking the photos proved impossible. Laying the clothes out looked pretty horrendous, and outfit posts were a no-go living on my own in a tiny room. I was playing around with my camera over the weekend, snapped these on the clothes inside my wardrobe, and thought they were pretty decent. I will do outfit posts at some point though – issue being these clothes don’t actually fit that well anymore!
 photo 2015-04-12 12.30.04_zpskb7upkww.jpg

Invest in Staples

Whilst there are areas you can save money, there are areas you really should avoid scrimping. A cheap quality pair of shoes or handbag can instantly ruin a look. Plus, cheap shoes often hurt, low-cost bags often don’t last. I find my satchels are a great workbag (surprise surprise) – they look smart, are a little briefcase like, and go with everything.

That being said, I was recently sent a jacket* (something I would usually budget a little more from) from Less Than 10 Pounds and was really impressed with the quality. Thick material and well cut, it fits like a glove. The only issue is it attracts hair like nothing else, I have to carry a lint roller to work when wearing it!

Tailor to Fit

If your clothes don’t fit, I feel it just looks a little unprofessional. Which is why I’m really bothered at the minute as it takes multiple safety pins to tighten my skirts enough to fit – the downsides to weight loss!

Tailoring doesn’t have to cost a fortune – I regularly have to get skirts and dresses shortened, which usually costs about £4-£5 to have done professionally. I’m currently trying to learn to take the waist in on skirts made of lighter materials – I have about 14 skirts needing altering so would sooner give it a go myself!
 photo 2015-04-12 12.29.30_zpseroii7zl.jpg

Save on Basics

I don’t find it necessary to spend much on on items like shirts and cardigans – most of mine are from Primark or Dorothy Perkins. I find the extra £5 or so pounds spent in Dorothy Perkins does mean they last much longer (I still have ones left over from sixth form 3/4 years ago). Cardigans are also where I inject a bit of colour and seasonality into my outfit, so it’s good for them to be cheap so I can have plenty. I think I’m close to exceeding 20 now…
 photo 2015-04-12 12.30.18_zpsodmj76f7.jpg

Material Matters

I find going for a tweed or mottled material on sut skirts make it look a lot more expensive that it really is. I find completely plain black/grey/cream items to look a bit boring, but my skirts all cost less than £20, fit well, have lasted, are machine washable and look great.
 photo 2015-04-12 12.31.13_zpsqnea3tbx.jpg

Make it Personal

Add colour, add bits that reflect your style. I always wear pussy-bow blouses as I find they are much more feminine. I also only wear baggier blouses (mainly as they never need ironing…).
 photo 2015-04-12 12.29.48_zpsv7x1cuwc.jpg

Hit the Sales

Shortly after I was successful in gaining a placement year, the House of Fraser in my home town shut down. I visited on the first day of the sale, and it was hell on earth. Women were physically fighting over clothes, children in prams abandoned. There was even a knife incident on one day. However four hours later (nearly two hours were spent queuing to try on as refunds weren’t available) I emerged with nearly £800 worth of clothes for £96. I picked up some amazing shift dresses (the only thing which really still fits me), jackets, and skirts. Hitting the sales means you can afford better quality and higher-end brands than you would otherwise. I also love browsing in charity shops – my vntage Dorothy Perkins pencil skirt is one of my best finds at £5!

 photo 2015-04-12 12.29.18_zpsvhq9zdvm.jpgBuilding up a workwear wardrobe is never going to be the cheapest, but doing it gradually and following some of my tips means it can be done on a budget. Keep an eye out for more workwear posts soon.

What do you wear to work? How do you recommend buying work clothes on a budget?

University: A New Study Mentality

Weirdly, I’m really looking forward to getting back to university and studying in September. I’ve loved my year out, loved my placement, really don’t want to leave. But I’ve missed studying and learning (just as well, with a load of professional exams to do after graduation!).

 photo f4a7e3fe-c616-4e58-a3f6-1396798e8923_zpsjxsxb4xo.jpgOne of the biggest bonuses I’ve found with a placement year is that you gain a whole new perspective on yourself and how you work best. Previously I would have said I worked best in the evenings, but I now know that mornings are when I am most productive. I’ve realised I work better when I have lots to do. I need to write tasks down and tick them off (including remembering to buy milk on my way home). All these things are contributing to me being keen to getting back to university. I can’t wait to put everything I’ve learnt into practise, because I know I can improve my study skills and boost my grade up. First class honours, here we come!

 photo 1c0efb13-aaf2-469b-ae6e-0c36504b3671_zpsaxidodgg.jpg“How to be a Knowledge Ninja”* teaches better study techniques, keeping you better focused and able to achieve your best. I’ve always been sceptical about these books, but I really enjoyed this one. I especially liked the section on General Study – it looked at day-to-day learning, lectures and ‘homework’ rather than just revision. The book focusses more on learning throughout the year as opposed to revision – it’s definitely going to be utilised come September, and I’m tempted to order the original “How to be a Productivity Ninja” too.

 photo 282b43e9-89fc-47bd-9f38-637303544520_zpsmyqsxahn.jpg“Lazy Student’s Guide to Revision”* is definitely focussed on the revision side! This is one I really recommend for A-Level students, or even those doing GCSE’s (it’ll be passed over to my sister in a week or so!) as it is pretty basic, teaching simple elements of revision. It looks at identifying your ideal revision technique and how to utilise this best. Simple, but effective – perhaps one if you are studying a different subject or exam style for the first time!

 photo 2015-03-29 17.52.56_zpsw9ke4eu8.jpgThe downside to my placement year? I’ve developed even more of a reliance on the good old cup of tea. Though I have got myself a teapot to restrict visits to the kettle, and taught myself to like non-caffeine alternatives!

How do you revise best? Do you have exams this year or, like me, are you able to spend time enjoying the nice weather? I have to admit it’s been nice to sit in the sun not squinting at equations!

Lifestyle: Harry Potter Studio Tour

You might have caught a glimpse of my excitement on Good Friday, and for good reason – I was off to the Harry Potter Studio Tours with my sister. I’d booked the trip months ago for her fifteenth, timing it well to see the Hogwart’s Express, and as avid HP fans we were unbelievably thrilled to go. I even bounced on the spot a few times that morning.

 photo 2015-04-03 17.32.34_zpsgpf0aazd.jpgThis post will be pretty photo-heavy, I took a ridiculous amount of pictures!

 photo 2015-04-03 17.28.29_zpskprk6rqz.jpgThe first thing I will say is that this isn’t a family attraction. It’s really not suitable for children at-all, despite the attempts (“flying” a broomstick). If your child isn’t old enough to appreciate the films or books, they are unlikely to enjoy this day out. And it’s also pretty damn expensive, so don’t waste a ticket.

 photo 2015-04-03 15.02.56_zpsvhj8jpnj.jpgOn that note, ouch. Our day, including dinner out in Watford and train tickets, probably cost nearly £200. Admittedly I didn’t need the chocolate frog or every-flavour beans (but we got them to share), and I probably didn’t need the professional photos. But it is eyewateringly expensive, definitely on a par with theme parks. Having said that – I definitely think it’s worth splurging the cash if you are a fan of the Harry Potter world. It was utterly amazing, no attention to detail was missed, and we could have spent far longer than the three hours we did there. We only hurried through because (ta London Midland) we’d be getting rail replacement buses home and I didn’t want to be too late. A bonus for the price is that this attraction really isn’t overcrowded. Any queues are managed well, but there’s not many at all.

 photo 2015-04-03 15.05.41_zpsgx24xzh5.jpg photo 2015-04-03 15.04.05_zps4q2qshqe.jpgThe tour starts with a short cinema experience, before you head into the Great Hall. Whilst it’s kind of gutting to have the realization that the ceiling in the films isn’t real, it’s pretty cool to see all of the detail in the room (the floor is real stone) and there’s original costumes around the edge.

 photo 2015-04-03 15.09.39_zpshvbxbnrj.jpg photo 2015-04-03 15.15.47_zpskyb27i8u.jpg photo 2015-04-03 15.19.56_zpskrcrh6id.jpg photo 2015-04-03 15.23.50_zpsmllaftno.jpg photo 2015-04-03 15.29.31_zpswx9nmet5.jpg photo 2015-04-03 15.21.52_zpsbmx9rpnu.jpgThe next massive room has so much in it. The Hogwart’s gates, Hagrid’s huts, classrooms, offices, dormitories, costumes (including that dress of Hermione’s), props. I couldn’t choose my favourite bit if I tried, though I’d probably lean towards Dumbledore’s office. Even if it’s just because it proved my geekiness – I walked in and exclaimed there wasn’t a window in the film. A member of staff confirmed I was right, and said most people don’t realise that. Woop!

 photo 2015-04-03 15.44.15_zpsktg3zppg.jpg photo 2015-04-03 17.12.46_zpszmvcs8sb.jpgWe held wands, and then tried our hand at both flying the car and broomsticks. Just for the experience I said. Twenty-one pounds lighter I was in the possession of three lovely photographs. Expensive, yes. Overpriced, indeed (even more so the DVDs!). But worth it for the memories and the looks on our faces.

 photo 2015-04-03 16.12.05_zps8qpmfnnd.jpg photo 2015-04-03 16.13.44_zpsdmjnbjz7.jpgThen for my favourite bit of the whole day. Platform 9 & 3/4! I’m so glad that we didn’t miss the arrival of the train as it is stunning. Full-size engine, which actually smells real. There’s a bit too much empty space in the area though, I imagine it will be filled gradually with other exhibits. It was also good to get the classic photo on the platform!

 photo 2015-04-03 17.19.27_zpsozpoinff.jpgOnto animal-y props. My sister really enjoyed this section, and I definitely found it interesting learning about what was ‘real’ and what was computer animated. It was interesting to know that the model of the Basilisk was only created because 11/12 year-old Daniel was struggling to imagine where it was when acting – he didn’t look scared enough! I was terrified of the spider (it weight 1 tonne whilst filming, requiring 15 crewmen for operation!), and fascinated by all the drawing that went into the creating of a non-animated film.

 photo 2015-04-03 17.23.16_zpsizwgea7i.jpgAnother highlight was Diagon Alley – I wasn’t expecting it to be lifesize! It was utterly amazing and totally surreal to walk down that street – I wouldn’t mind if they opened an actual ice-cream parlour down there, or maybe a miniature bookstore! Or opened up Ollivander’s into the wand exhibit at the end?

 photo 2015-04-03 15.08.42_zps65ijqsts.jpg photo 2015-04-03 17.26.27_zpsjiud0zq9.jpg photo 2015-04-03 17.29.00_zpspknn4m2m.jpgThen the models. And wow, these were good. For someone who’s not interested in that kind of thing, even I could totally appreciate the detail in these – to the point of getting annoyed at the crowds speeding by without a second glance. They must have taken hours!

 photo 2015-04-03 17.32.34_zpsgpf0aazd.jpg photo 2015-04-03 17.38.45_zps3yf6a8rx.jpgBut then there was this. The big model. It was incredible, a full Hogwarts, to scale, with stunning attention-to-detail. It completely took our breath away, shame the lighting in the room made photography difficult!

 photo 2015-04-03 17.41.00_zpsxmh0db6d.jpgThe final bit was the wands room – all actors had their own individual wand, and they were in boxes in this room. We spent a good while hunting out our favourite actors, though failed at finding Rupert Grint’s – so we will have to go back! The tour ended in the shop (clever move), but it was SO overpriced. Like £27 for a scarf?! Hell no. I was tempted by a keyring, but we just went for the chocolate/sweets and the extra book set.

 photo 2015-04-03 15.13.58_zps9ridi3ft.jpgAnd because I loved what I was wearing so much, I have to tell you about it. I found it perfect for the day and the travelling! I wore my new jeans from New Look (black, skinny, high-waisted – and my only pair of jeans currently!), and a navy shirt*, topped with bright orange cardigan* and my new favourite – a biker jacket*. Scarf was a lovely present from W’s parents, I believe from Zara, and of course I accessorized with a Leather Satchel – this one is an 11″ in Autumn Tan, and stunning! I’m virtually never without a satchel…I was asked to pick a few items from the George @ ASDA site a few weeks ago, and I adore everything. The jacket in particular is such good quality, I’ve refreshed my work wardrobe and found my perfect LBD. Would highly recommend having a browse!
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Have you been to the Harry Potter Studio Tours? Were you a fan of the books/films? The only thing I don’t recommend is the Butter Beer – it’s not great!