Finding my “Impossible To Find Necessity” – Part One

After writing this post here, and continuing to do a lot more research and contacting companies to find out more, I decided that the first company I would try was The Leather Satchel Co.

This company really appealed to me because of the excellent customer service reviews, and the possibility of huge customisation – I really wanted a unique bag. Not to mention that this company also make the Original Filofax (I am now the proud owner of an A5 in patent black, which will be reviewed over the next few days). What’s not to love – you could have a matching bag and Filofax!

I sent off for some leather samples, which arrived about 18 hours after I emailed my choices. To me, this was excellent customer service, and the person I was first in email was extremely friendly. You can view their colour choice here, but nothing compares to viewing them, feeling them (I found some had a different texture) and putting swatches together to decide on colour combinations.

Here are the colour swatches I ordered:

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The image quality here is really poor – no matter what I did I couldn’t get them to photograph in their true light. I suggest that if you are interested in purchasing from this company, you ask for some swatches. I believe that this service is currently free, although I definitely wouldn’t begrudge paying postage costs.

I knew, before receiving the colour samples, that I’d want a two-colour design, rather than just the use of one colour all over. The question was which colours!

Before receiving the leather samples, I was pretty much set on having neutral brown colours. I wanted something classic, and wearable. Something that would go with everything. Although I was tempted by the green, particularly seeing this blog post here. All that changed when I saw one particular colour! I completely and utterly fell in love with the Patent Oxblood Red, satchels in which you can see on the company’s Facebook page, and on blog posts here, here and here. I decided to pair this with a non-patent leather, as I thought the buckles would be easier (having received my bag, I believe this to be true), and after tossing between the darkest brown (top left) and black (top right) I went for the black.

 

Then there was the question of the other customisations I would require. This company became my favourite due to the huge amount of choice they have available – you can buy a truly bespoke bag. If you look at this page of their website, you can see how flexible they are. AND if you speak to them direct, they can do even more. Looking on their Facebook page they have created some amazingly unique bags.

I went for this two-tone colour pattern, with the first colour being the Oxblood, and the second being the Black. I added a black handle, which from reading reviews seemed a necessity, and a black strap. Thinking practically (for once) I realised I’d need a shoulder pad, so decided on one in Oxblood (unfortunately, this detail was misread, and I ended up with one in black, rather than what I stated) as this would make carrying the bag for comfortable. Size-wise, I know I carry a LOT so went for a 15″ Tallboy satchel, with an extended gusset of an extra 33%. This makes for a very tall, wide and bulky bag, with plenty of space! I went for traditional buckles (nice and secure, plus they probably allow a little more space for tall items), and a standard length shoulder strap. On reflection, I probably should have asked for one shorter than standard, but with it on the shortest length it is just about right.

 

Having decided on my bag specifications, I was then stuck. I couldn’t afford the bag, and my birthday isn’t until December (just as a hint for all you readers…). I was content, however, to struggle through with my current bag and wait until I could persuade someone to treat me. But then Keith from the company got in touch and, amazingly, offered me a bag to review. A bag completely to my specifications, with the added bonus of embossing. To say I was shocked is an understatement, and I was also incredibly grateful. And a little nervous – I certainly hope my writing and photos shows off this bag to its best. So, I sent off my specifications, and waited. My bag is now here, and it’s virtually perfect. But that’s another blog post! I will be a doing a review of the delivery, packaging, and first impressions of my bag shortly, along with posts in a few months time as to how my bag is lasting. Because after-all, the main reason for reviewing it on this blog is to see how long it lasts with use at school, college or university. For now, I’m going to sit and stare and stroke and sniff my beautiful leather satchel. And if you want a sneak peak at it, look at my Facebook page!

 

I have become an affiliate with The Leather Satchel Co. Currently there is no referral code due to is being shared outside of this site, but I will update with more info in the first few months of 2015.

Please note, I haven’t done this for my own personal gain – I wanted to truly see whether it is worth spending the money on a bag, to see if it will last, and to work out the best specifications for a student. All opinions on the company will be 100% honest, and I will be happy to answer any specific questions from readers.

Making Halls into a Home

This post is again one I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. It follows on from here, where I talk about essentials for taking to university. I will continue to update that post, and probably do a less bulked up version, something easy to print out and take to the shops.  Here, I will show you pictures of my room in halls, how I organised it, what my essentials were, and what my tips are.

This blog post has been inspired by similar ones written by Apt Pupil (a blog I’d forgotten about until now!) and Rachel at Handbags and Cupcakes (which is quickly becoming a favourite). Thanks girls – your rooms look great by the way!

I got lucky with my university halls accommodation. I chose the cheapest available (and yep, it still exceeded my loan) for financial reasons, and was prepared to live in a box for nine months. I really wasn’t expecting it to be nice, big, comfortable or even very sturdy. But I was very, very wrong! Firstly, I ended up in a massive room, easily twice the size of my room at home, and much bigger than friends in the same halls. Secondly, the painting matched the colour scheme that I’d already decided on before university (so everything I’d bought matched…well apart from the hideous curtains and carpet!). Thirdly, it has recently been refurbished, and so the desk, shelves, drawers and bed were new, and completely functional. And my desk was hugeeee…it’s the thing I will miss most!

The next few photos were taken as I was unpacking, all the way back in September:

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As you can see, I had a LOT of stuff. To the extent that when we packed up the car, we had to make my mum and sister take the train. And daddy had to up-size his car when they came to pick me up last week. In my defence, he wanted a bigger car anyway…

I had pre-decided on a colour scheme of pink and green, mainly as those were the folders I had left from A-Level. I found two perfect duvet covers in Tesco (I really recommend them – cheap enough to throw away at the end of the year, but sturdy enough to last the fate of washing washed by the inexperienced!). I bought “velvet” cushions from H&M. These were about £5, but considering I had to buy the fillers they turned out quite expensive. I also bought extra pillowcases (plain ones) and pillows cheaply, as I love making a fort for myself to sleep in. My bed was also extra long (and those who know me will immediately say that that is completely unnecessary for me!) so I liked the cushions to make it look more like a normal size.

I bought everything to match, even the pop-up washing basket you can see in the photos, an extra waste-paper basket, and desk stationary (such as hole punch, stapler, tape dispenser, pen holder etc). One thing I really, really recommend is purchasing an additional lamp – the ones provided are often very, very bright, and I like a nice soft light to have on before bed, as it helps me to chill out. I bought mine from Tesco. I used my parents club-card vouchers, in a double-worth event, so ended up getting a lot of items very cheaply (i.e. I think we paid £1.50 for £50 worth of stuff). I bought one similar to this, but in green. I also recommend, particularly if you expect to have partners staying often (my boyfriend came around twice a term for a weekend), getting a double quilt for a single bed, or an extra blanket. I bought a fleece style throw, which I loved – it was definitely a necessity as my boy tends to steal the covers!

Now, onto the littler stuff, which made my room my home for the nine months I was there. Here’s a few pictures of my shelves, taken just before I started packing last week.

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As you can see from the first picture, I kept all of my cooking stuff in my room. My housemates weren’t the cleanest (that’s another blog post) and after a bought of food poisoning early on in the first term, everything stayed upstairs. With the amount of space I had, it wasn’t an issue, and next year I’m living with three other wonderful girls who I know I won’t have the same problem with.

After realising that I needed to store EVERYTHING in my room, I bought lots of jars, one of which you can see in the first photo filled with rice. These are lovely, pretty jars, and were extremely cheap at 99p each, from the local 99p Store. I was so proud of these bargains, and I know I’ll use this for years to come. The pink pot was a plant pot I painted myself, as I couldn’t find anything else big enough to hold my excessive (but totally necessary  – and I DID use them all) amount of cooking utensils. Almost all of my utensils came from Aldi, with  few silicone ones from a more expensive range stocked in department stores (all I can say is thank goodness for staff discount!). I also have a shop local in my home town which sells discounted branded home items, and this serves to occasionally fuel my addiction to Le Creuset kitchenwear. I love it! It lasts for such a long time, takes everything I throw at it, and is the perfect size – the only dish I currently have is wonderful for a single serving of pasta bake, or lasagne. I’d love more, but my student budget won’t allow it! *sad face*

Also in the top photo is my wonderful vintage-style alarm clock, also from Tesco. They’re currently selling similar versions like this one, but be warned; their ring is VERY loud. I have my knives, which I bought ridiculously cheaply in Switzerland last year. I can’t remember how much they cost, but it was so little I had to go and buy more chocolate to spend the rest of my currency before coming home. I also keep a little “ladies” Swiss army knife handy – it has a file, knife, and scissors, as well as tweezers and toothpick, and is wonderful for going into the handbag for dealing with clothes snagging and broken nails. You may wonder what the dog ornaments are – they are actually Cath Kidston Salt and Pepper pots which my parents bought for my birthday, as the brown one is the spitting image of my adored dog at home. That also explains the cushion on my chair in earlier posts – that also looks very much like him.

The second shelf was just above where I sat on my desk, so that mainly housed textbooks and stationary items. And a teapot, with a spout so dreadful it was impossible to use to make tea. I’m currently thinking of what it can store, as I don’t really want to throw it away! By the way, if anyone is studying maths at university, I highly reccomend the Schaum’s Outlines series of maths books – they are excellent. I have about 10 currently, and will be buying more. So helpful, with lots of worked examples! Also on this shelf are my two favourite perfumes – A Scent by Issey Miyake and the orginal Paul Smith woman. I desperately want See by Chloe this summer, but we’ll see if the budget allows it!

Also filling my room was storage in the way of lots of stackable boxes. Mine were actually from ASDA, but they are a pretty generic product that’s available just about everywhere. In these, I kept shoes, spare refills of pens and paper, toiletries, items of food I didn’t need at the time, belts, and just about anything I didn’t want cluttering up my room – they were also invaluable for packing up my room at the end of the year (and I hate the sound of cardboard boxes, it sets my teeth on edge) so I’d definitely suggest investing in some.

I bought over-door hooks, like these, which were another item that proved invaluable. I could hang my bulky coats on these, saving precious wardrobe space, and I also invested in some hanging cosmetic bags, which provided a cute way of storing everyday items – cleanser, toner etc. These were also great for hanging towels on after showering to let them dry – saved having to get my giant airer (which I hardly used) out and up.

One of my biggest points, however, is to make sure you have photographs. I’ll freely admit that most of mine are of my boyfriend and dog (although a talking point when university friends first came into my room was a prom photo – me in a fireman’s lift by eight guys) but they make me feel so much at home. One of my favourite sentimental objects was an I.O.U that my boyfriend gave me just after we started university, for our second anniversary of being together. I pinned it on the board in front of my desk, and it gave me an instant boost everytime I saw it:

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My top tips for making the most of your university halls are:

  • Try and co-ordinate everything
  • Don’t take too much (check it all fits in the car!)
  • Buy useful storage options, such as hooks and boxes
  • Be organised – have set places for everything. For instance I kept a space to the left of where I sat at my desk just for my Filofax. You have to be able to know where to find everything quickly.
  • Buy nick-nacks and homey things
  • Use photographs

If you liked this post, I suggest reading this and this.

I Should Have Been A Student In The Eighties

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m obsessively and unhelpfully organised. I say unhelpfully; when plans change for reasons beyond my control, it kind-of upsets me, and definitely stresses me out! Tonight I’m going to blog all about one of the ways I stay organised – my Filofax.

Filofax’s were really popular way before I was born, in the Eighties. I love the Eighties, I wish I was my age (too close to 20 for my liking!) in that decade. Everything just seems so much simpler, the music was better (I’ve been addicted to Bon Jovi for many years now) and it wasn’t seen as odd to carry a Filofax. I get a few funny looks when I full out my Filofax, and I think that’s a shame. Just imagine how many less people would miss deadlines if they actually wrote them down! That said, I think they are beginning to become more popular. I’ve seen a few around and about, particularly on trains, and I even see a girl on Loughborough University campus jogging with one a few days back…

Back in the “good old days” a sign of popularity was whether your Filofax was stuffed full or not. Nowadays, people are being a lot more creative. If you look on any of Philofaxy’s ‘Web Finds’ post you’ll find many links to other blogs showing their Filofax set ups, complete with bright colours, stickers, washi tape etc. They’re not limited to diaries and business-card-holds – you can buy and make so many different types of inserts, and they’re completely versatile.  I currently use mine as a complete organiser, and here it is…

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I have a Personal sized Vintage Pink Malden. I agonised for weeks about which Filofax I wanted (it was a gift from my parents in reward for my A-level results). I knew I wanted a Personal sized one (for those who are wondering about sizes, have a look here). Basically, these are roughly the same size as the academic diaries given out yearly by many schools, they aren’t too bulky, but nor are they too small (being a very awkward left-hander, I was conscious I’d struggle to write in anything smaller).

After going and touching them up in Paperchase, Rymans, and pretty much anywhere I could get my hands on them, much to the embarrassment of my other half, I finally decided that I definitely wanted a leather organiser. They’re just softer, and more luxurious. Because lets face it, if you’re a student being offered luxury, grab it with both hands and make the most of it! If you’re just starting out on the ‘getting organised’ route and are not sure you’d use a Filofax, I’d suggest getting a non-leather one, or even an alternative brand, as they are very pricey. After much more stroking and leather smelling, I fell in love with the softness, floppiness and luxury feel of the Maldens. It is such a strokeable (yes I sit and stroke my Filofax…) leather, and it smells so lovely too! I then had to decide about colour. I was deeply tempted by the Ochre colour, but in the end the girliness inside me won. Vintage Pink it was. The colour is ridiculously hard to photograph, I’ve seen nothing which has managed it, but I’m hoping the following photo shows it off reasonably well:

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I apologise for the quality of all of these photographs – my university accommodation attracts a lot of sunlight in the evening, and I also wanted to use as much natural light as possible as I often find colours distort under artificial light.

Inside my Malden there is a lot of pockets and card slots – perfect for someone who likes to stay as organised as me. I keep all of my bank, and loyalty cards inside, as well as ID and stamps. Anything I might need in fact! The zipped pocket holds spare change, and emergency £5, and a memory stick.

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Although you can’t really tell from my photos, the fifth ring down is misaligned. Not hugely, but enough to make my pages catch and be annoying. I’m not too sure what to do about it though!

Skipping to the back of my Filofax now. Built in there are two large pockets, and a pen loop at the back. The top (horizontal opening) pocket is one that is used a lot. It is the perfect size for my passport, and also houses a pen and usually a Filofax holepunch. It is very significant that the pocket houses the pen – the pen loop on my Malden is actually fully closed up – if you push a pen through it can’t go through as there is an ‘end’ to the loop. This is clearly a fault, but as you can’t get hold of these Filofaxes anymore, its a problem I again don’t know how to address! The pen I use is a black Pilot Frixion – one of those erasable ones. I use these all the time, apart from for coursework and exams. I love them, they don’t smudge from my (dodgy leftie) handwriting, don’t bleed through, and last a reasonably long time. Well about a week, but I do use them a lot. Next year I hope to use some of the coloured ones to make my Filofax a little bit more organised, but I couldn’t fit them in the budget for this year. The holepunch I have is a WHSmiths branded one. Its fiddly and difficult to use  –  I’m definitely in the market for a more sturdy one, preferably one that punches A5 filofaxes too. Any ideas?

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To up the storage in my Filofax, I make good use of the card holder inserts that came included, and I also bought two zip pocket inserts from Paperchase. I use the extra card holders for business cards, and cards I don’t use as often as the ones in the front. Inside the zip-pockets goes receipts, and vouchers. You can see a Golden Ticket in the following picture – this is the voucher I received from my other half for Christmas, and entitled us to an afternoon of Chocolate making at a shop in Loughborough (review to follow I think!). I also keep some painkillers in my Filofax, just for sudden migraines.

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So, now you’ve explored the actual physical features of my Filofax, it’s time to take you inside and show you how I use it.

I use it mainly as a diary/organiser. For this, at the moment, I am still using the original inserts that came with the Filofax – week to view. This doesn’t work particularly well for me. At the start of the academic year, I was really organised and colour-coded everything. As is very clear from the photos, I got bored of this, and instead it now contains a lot of scribbles, and a lot less writing. I’ll definitely aim to use it a little more next year – hopefully with some more suitable inserts. The best I’ve seen are on Philofaxy, but I don’t have a good enough printer so I’d be looking for someone to print and send them to me for a bit of payment – not sure who to approach about that, definitely something to look into over the summer! I ideally want  something a little like the undated planners, but with only half a page per day, and less note-taking space.

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As you can see, my Filofax definitely got more bare as the year went on, and I think the main reason for that is the setup just wasn’t right for me – definitely need to change my planner style!

Next is an insert which does get a lot of use – a horizontal year planner. I got mine from WHSmiths, as I prefer the layout and font. Plus its cheaper, particularly as there’s no shipping costs. I use this to record term dates, deadlines, exams, breaks, boyfriend visits, holidays, rent payments, pay-days, work commitments. I have to be intelligent in how I note things in, as the space is very small. I also use the back (note spaces separated by month) to jot down train times relating to that month.

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I then also have a ‘weekly’ section in my Filofax. This is homemade, using a Philofaxy template, and involves a physical copy of my university timetable. This year I used a bright pink paper, I’m going to tone it down a bit next year!

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I love this layout, as it shows when my free periods are, when I’m busy at the weekend, work commitments (which change weekly due to my wonderfully flexible job), visits to the boyfriend, lecture venues, and just about everything. I don’t include deadlines though. I’m not sure whether I will continue this for next year, though, as my lecture timings get more complicated (so there’s won’t be enough timeslots), and my university does have a very good system and so my timetable is synced seamlessly onto my phone calender. I will look for another type of weekly planner though. Or maybe a monthly one. I just feel something a bit more detailed than my yearly one would be a good idea.

A quick note about dividers. I still use the ones that came with the Filofax (the lovely cotton cream ones), although the A-Z ones are currently hiding in a drawer somewhere. I don’t use them in any particular way – their headings don’t match up to the contents, but I know where things are. I may cover them with a nice cream or plain-ish pattern over summer, and just use them unlabelled.

I then have a Finance section. At the beginning of the year, I used Filofax’s standard finance inserts, but it got very confusing. Plus to look at my sorry empty balance was getting a little depressing. So I gave up and just relied on my internet banking. I do however keep a note of what I’m spending any physical cash on, as I find otherwise I’d spend it here, there and everywhere.

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I keep a section full of To Do List inserts. These are from Paperchase, and I really, really, really dislike the border – I’ll definitely splash out on nicer ones for next year as they really annoy me, and the paper feels so cheap and scratchy. But they do the job I suppose. (the following shows a typical fortnightly shop for me).

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Finally, I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite things about the Filofax brand. If you register your Filofax, and put it’s unique code on a sheet which comes with every Filofax, then if you lose it, and if someone finds it, they can contact Filofax with this code, it will be returned to you and they will receive a free gift. I recommend every Filofax owner registers theirs, as I know I’d be devastated if I lost mine!

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I’ve had my Filofax for around 9 months now, and its hardly worn at all. There’s the few issues (rings and pen loop) that I have pointed out, and it also arrived with a dent on the front. But you can rarely get hold of these now, so I’m prepared to put up with it. I really do love it – the perfect way to look smart, but a little pretty, unique and slightly vintage-y, and stay organised.

And so that’s my Filofax. And one of the reasons why I should have been a student in the eighties. That and my hair would have fitted in a little bit better than it does now!

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If you liked this blog post, feel free to check out this, and this.

Baking: Citrus Drizzle Cupcakes

I came out of a two-and-a-half hour exam earlier. Knowing I had another (4 hour!) exam on Monday, what did I do? Put my head down and revise? Drown my sorrows in alcohol? No, I turned to baking.

 

I’ll be completely honest with you, I have no choice but to bake at the moment. For one thing, both the making, the eating and the giving away to friends is a great stress reliever. But the main reason is that it’s coming to the end of the year and I have a LOT of food to get through.

I currently have just under a kilogram of flour, lots of various different sugars, and a selection of flavourings. Last week I made brownies (not as successful, so they don’t get a blog post – my halls oven is failing rapidly). This week I wanted something fresher, to reflect what I thought was sunnier weather – again something that is also failing rapidly. I knew I had a bottle of lime juice and a bottle of lemon juice to use up. I recommend always having some lemon juice – I love it. Over pancakes, as a simple salad dressing, or over fish fingers (hey I’m a student!) it’s really useful at perking things up. Lime juice is less of a necessity. I only have it because of my addition to Mexican food, which I have street-food restaurant Wahaca to blame for. I make refried beans a lot of the exam period, and they always benefit from a splash of lime juice. But anyways, lots of lime juice to use up.

I decided to make citrus cupcakes. I have a cupcake ‘recipe’ I use, that I’ve used for years, that I don’t know where it came from, and that I usually flavour with vanilla. I decided to use that, but ditch the vanilla in favour of a citrus mix. I then swapped out my usual buttercream  icing for a drizzle type concoction. It seemed to work. I definitely over cooked the cupcakes, but I had enough mixture left over for a ‘cake’ in my Le Cruset baking dish. This isn’t so dry, and is much better – so keep an eye on these little cakes, especially if you have a dodgy student oven.

 

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Citrus Drizzle Cupcakes

Here’s the recipe. It made 12 cupcakes and a reasonable size cake – I’d guess you’d get at least 18 cupcakes out of it. Note that in the picture one is missing. Someone had to sample it didn’t they…

Ingredients;

  • Oil (vegetable) – 6 tablespoons
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup of sugar – I used standard granulated for this
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (or just use 1.5 cups of self raising flour)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Lemon and Lime juice – good splashes of both, preferably to taste though I take no responsibility for any illness from eating raw cake mixture (it’s not a good idea, but just about everyone I know does it)
  • For the drizzle – more splashes of lemon/lime juice, and granulated sugar, just enough so it stops dissolving and feels grainy

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Beat together the oil, sugar, and the salt, until fully mixed.
  3. Add the eggs gradually, the mix should go light in colour, and reasonably fluffy.
  4. Sift together (I’ll admit I didn’t do this – due to lack of a sieve) the flour and baking powder. Add this to the mixture, alternating between a cup of flour and some milk. Mix until you have a smooth batter.
  5. Stir through the lemon/lime juice – again, use your own judgement as to how much.
  6. Add to muffin cases in a tin (fill about 2/3 full) and bake for 15-18 mins, probably towards the shorter end of the cooking time.
  7. While they’re cooking, prepare the drizzle mix as specified in the ingredients.
  8. As soon as they’re out, spoon the drizzle mixture oven. Let cool, and eat! Simple as that!

Student Organisation (with a few mini product reviews)

This post has been in my drafts for a long, long time. I kept meaning to come back and add how things have lasted over time, but just didn’t have the motivation. So now, when I should be revising for my exams next week, I’m doing it. Perfect procrastination!

I’m going to concentrate here on the organisation of the learning part of being a student – how I take lecture notes, work independently, stay on track of things and all little bits like that. What I’m not going to take about is the format of my notes, and how I revise. I think that’s something that is very individual to the subject being studied, and I’m not sure many of you will want to read all about how I learn maths – maybe that’s a post for another day!

 

Organisation is something very important to me – many will call me obsessively organised, and yes, if something is out of place, it will stress me out. One of my key priorities is to have subjects/tasks/stuff differentiated and separated into sections.

The way I do this within my university work is through (lots of) folders and (even more) dividers. For my first year, I have gone with a colour scheme of pink and green – this goes for my whole room (and I was very happy to arrive at university and find I’d been allocated a green room, completely by fluke). So I have pink folders, and green folders. All of these I actually saved after condensing my notes down at the end of sixth form, but if any of you are interested they are all from WHSmiths. Cheap(ish) and readily available. They get based quite easily, but mine generally stay in my room so I’m not too worried about that.
Pink and green folders. Because of the way my course is split, I do Pure Maths modules, and Applied Maths modules (the interesting ones!). Because of this, I’ve split my folders up – pink for the applied, green for the pure. Some of my folders are not ringbinders, but lever arch, and these bigger ones hold bigger modules, ie the 30 credit ones.

I then use dividers to split modules into topics. Usually this is quite easy, in that at the start lecturers told us what topics were coming up. Its not so easy when they just present you with a stream of knowledge, and I’m expected to organise it myself. Potential lecturers/teachers, take note of that!  Because I put a lot of things into plastic wallets, normal dividers don’t come out wide enough. You can buy extra-wide ones, but they are expensive. Instead I cut slots in plastic wallets, and put dividers in those. Works just as well.
So, that’s my main folders discussed.

I then have another ringbinder – a more expensive plastic one this time, again with my widened dividers in. I carry this around with me, with each division devoted to a module. I aim to keep at least one spare plastic wallet per module in there at all times, and some extra paper. This keeps my ‘current’ lecture notes organised, and allows me to slot new things in whenever.

I usually file the stuff in this folder away into the main folders either at the end of each topic, or when it is getting very full and heavy. I confess I usually leave it too late, so it tends to take much longer than it should!

I also keep in this folder two of an item that has become incredibly useful over this last year.  It’s going to be difficult for me to explain these, without sounding like a total idiot, so have a look here. I find them invaluable for throwing in things I will need quickly (I don’t need to take the folder out of my bag to retrieve things from these), and for keeping things in when I inevitably run out of plastic pockets. I actually bought mine from the university’s stationary shop, and paid considerably more than on Amazon, I know I’ll be ordering from there next time!

 

I then carry around the usual pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, calculator etc. I actually use a make-up bag as I couldn’t find a pencil case I liked in September, however I do now I have a smaller case from Wilkinsons for days my bag is really heavy. Such is my obsessiveness about being organised, I also have an exam pencil case – an extra large clear plastic one, in which a spare calculator lives, and some never used before pencils. Sad I know!

A quick notes about the pens I use. I have been using Pilot Frixion erasable pens since the start of university, and I really do love them. They erase reasonably well (not perfectly, particularly on low quality paper), are quick drying (a huge necessity for a leftie!) and last a while considering a write a lot! A box of 12 pens lasts me just over a 12 week term, at £17 a box. So they are pricey, but for me they are worth it.

For paper, I buy refill packs from Rymans – they’re cheaper (with student discount) than WHSmiths, a better quality paper and they always seem to have narrow-ruled in stock. I have to use narrow ruled!

That is my absolutely essentials, for carrying around a normal day at university. Now if only I could find a bag that would comfortably fit those (and lunch and a textbook) in I’d be happy!

 

For keeping track of timings of lectures, deadlines, exams, and all other activities, I use a combination of things that work for me. Everyone is different, so don’t assume this works for you!

I obviously make use of my smartphone, a Samsung. In my case, my university timetable has synced to my calendar, with all information about lectures. I keep an alarm on set for an hour before the beginning of each to give me enough warning. I also put exams and deadlines on here. I try to keep my work schedule on here too, particularly as I work flexible and so difficult-to-remember hours.

I then have an A3 wall planner. I bought mine from Rymans, as it was the only A3 one I could fine – other sizes were just too big! I record on here term dates, exams and deadlines, visits to/from my boyfriend, and important financial dates such as payday and rent day. I cross of days with a big black marker – this helps me easily see when I need to do what, and how long it is before I get hugs!

The most important part of my organisation is, however, something any older readers may recognise from the eighties. Yes, I have a beloved Filofax. This was not bought on a student budget (although some models are more easily affordable) and was in fact a treat for my A-level results. I chose a Vintage Pink Personal Malden, which retailed at around £75. I paid £41 for it on Amazon, and got a bargain, especially as second hand versions of this model are currently selling still for it’s retail price. My Filofax contains everything about my life – important medical information, diary (which EVERYTHING goes into, including minor to-do’s such as exercises from lectures), shopping lists, timetables, careers notes, finance recording, cards (credit, store, etc) that I don’t use too often, spare money (I advise to always keep a spare £10 somewhere!), university passwords, shopping vouchers, year planner. Literally everything. It’s currently stuffed to the brim and in need of a sort out. I’m definitely glad I paid a little bit extra for a leather filofax, it lies flat (a problem I have heard about affecting some of the cheaper brands), is lovely and soft, smells wonderful, and will last a long, long time! I am also still in love with the colour. It’s a lovely, romantic, dusky pink – girly, but professional too. Definitely something that will last in terms of style.

(I’ve recently noticed that Filofax have been producing a new range, called the original, which is produced by the Leather Satchel Company, who I talked about in a previous post. I could get a bag matching a (new) Filofax! Ah, if money were no object…)

At some point in the near future I plan to publish (another half-written) article fully reviewing my Filofax, or at least a more in depth discussion of how I use it. Until then, look at Philofaxy for inspiration about how others use them!

I believe that I have discussed the main points about my organisation, for now at least. I aim to blog more (i.e. procrastinate more) over the next few months, particularly as those a year younger than me will be preparing to head to university and I want to help them as much as possible. Bye for now!

Battle of the (Own) Brands

Let’s face it, students have to watch their pennies. Or in my case, watch their pennies leave their pockets as quickly as they’ve made it there (damn Canterbury rents being so expensive they swallow up my entire loan, and more…). So I thought I’d do a post on good-for-the-pocket-and-the-mouth food buys. And maybe some household and cosmetic items too.

So here it is, my cost-saving guide to shopping!

First of all, my first point is to always check the clearance shelves. You can normally find things that you would have considered out of your budget there – like two plaice fish fillets (fresh fish is SO good for you) for £1.20 as apposed to nearly £6. Okay, still not the cheapest meal option. But perhaps having a ‘treat’ meal on your shopping day will keep you satisfied with cheaper items.

I would also advocate looking in ‘cheap’ shops. Aldi is my favourite, along with Poundland, simply because I can easily get items from them.

My parents bring me my favourite from Aldi, seeing as the one here is unhelpfully located in terms of bus stops. I love their own-brand cereal and instant hot chocolate. Their branded bread tends to be far cheaper than other shops too. And according to my parents, their meat is the best quality they’ve had in the last few months. I’m unable to vouch for this, having not tried it.

Poundland is great for things like cereal bars, branded cereal (because who doesn’t like Chocolate Minibix…), and crisps.

I’m now going to completely contradict myself. PLEASE don’t avoid shops deemed as ‘expensive.’ And by that I mean Waitrose and M&S. They can have some seriously good buys, and in some cases work out cheaper than Tesco.

Who knows the much-longed-for Tesco deal of 3-for-£10 meats, mix and match? Its on for a couple of months, spread about throughout the year, or it is as far as I’ve noticed. Well Waitrose does the same deal. But it’s on permanently  And the choice is much greater. You can buy turkey breasts (healthier than chicken, unfortunately out of stock this weekend), and various cuts of meat. There is more weight in the mince and chicken included (550g mince as opposed to 500g). This weekend I purchased two packs of mince, and one of mini chicken breast fillets; this has made two portions of chicken/mushroom casserole (along with two portions of the sauce for pasta), two portions of chicken curry (two portions of the sauce made into vegetable curry), four portions of chilli, three cottage pies, and four portions of bolognese. I personally find some of their vegetables bigger and cheaper than Tesco too, though do check before buying – I notably saved money on the cabbage from Waitrose, and it was far nicer than Tesco! I also must mention that Waitrose do the best dried noodles ever!

M&S is less useful, and I mainly use it for their tomato-free curry paste (the Tandoori is lovely, the Balti is yet to be tried!). However, their Dine In For £10 is excellent, and is the monthly treat when my man comes to visit!

Now…(Own) Brand Winners!

Garlic Bread

Tesco Value (30-something pence a loaf, serves 3) is lovely, cooks great, not too strong, not bland, not greasy or dry – its a winner! Just avoid ASDAs equivilant…

Naan Bread

I must confess I have only tried Tesco’s, but it is very yummy. Their standard ones are the right size for a single portion, the garlic and coriander flavour is just enough, and they are 6 for £1 and freeze really well.

Yoghurt

For individual pots, ASDA is great. I like their 6x125g pots of low fat vanilla/toffee for £1. They do packs of 4 for a £1 too, with slightly more variety in flavour. For bigger pots, I like Tesco’s lemon, as it has just the right amount of bitterness.

Chocolate Mousse

Tesco is the clear winner here, at 24p for four value mousse, that are absolutely yummy. They’re also great frozen!

Scampi

I recently ‘risked’ some Tesco Value Scampi Bites, at £1.25 for two portions. I say risked, as cheap seafood scares me. However, despite oozing some dubious looking liquid during cooking, and having to be turned regularly to prevent going soggy, these were surprisingly nice, and definitely worth buying – I won’t bother with more expensive stuff until I can afford it! That said, if you don’t need to cut pennies too much, go for more expensive versions.

Southern Fried Chicken

Aldi and Tesco’s (both frozen) is very good, as is Waitrose (also frozen, and considerably more expensive).

Pies

Now, nothing beats a Pukka pie. Especially as they’re tomato free. Most other supermarket deep-filled ones are, so I tend to buy (when I’m not treating myself) the shallow puff pastry ones. They’re usually priced at around 2 for £1.10, and whilst they aren’t full of meat, they’re okayish. The chicken ones tend to be far nicer than the steak.

Squash

I love ASDA’s Lemon and Lime double concentrate. Be warned it is very strong, and tastes very nice with vodka. ASDA’s Blackcurrant high juice is another favourite and has been for several years – I don’t drink normal Ribena, only this.

Curry Sauce (Korma)

As I am allergic to tomatoes, I only have a few options here. Tesco Finest Royal Korma sauce has a very, very odd texture – it tastes floury. It is also very expensive! ASDA normal brand Korma is a bigger jar, smells amazing, and tastes okay. It is a little bland, but I tend to marinate my chicken in Mark’s and Spencer’s tandoori paste, which helps. As does adding onions, peppers and chillies. Yes it perhaps bumps the price up a little, but it also bulks it out, so the meat goes further – bulking out meals is something I really, really suggest when cooking on a budget.

Cream Cheese

Bit of an odd one. Philadelphia is lovely, lovely, lovely, and you can honestly tell the difference. But at 1/4 of the price, Tesco’s value version isn’t too bad, just buy the full fat!

Cookies

The best packet of cookies I have ever, ever bought is from Aldi. They are around 30-45p a packet for 20 cookies, and honestly taste far superior to Maryland. They stand up well to dunking into drinks too….

Hair Styling Product

One for the girls. If you have curly hair, humidity is a nightmare, and causes a lot of frizz (and tears). Boots Curl Creme (it is pink) is the only thing that helps me. Apply to wet/damp hair. Only use a tiny tiny bit and rub in between your hands first, so it goes white. It’s very, very cheap and lasts for ages. I have about 5 tubs as a few years ago there was a discontinuation scare.

Hot Chocolate

ALDI for the win! Their big tubs of hot chocolate are £1.09, as opposed to a more general price of £2+, and it does taste very nice. However their individual sachets are really not pleasant, and for here I reccomend Options, which are very pricey. I only buy sachets for taking to work, so it’s not too much of an issue, but definitely wouldn’t ‘live’ off Options hot chocolate as I do the Aldi stuff.

Washing-up Liquid

I personally would never, ever buy Value range washing up liquid, there’s something so sad about getting so little bubbles in the bowl. However, ASDA’s own Lemon washing up liquid is my current favourite. Very bubbly, cuts through grease well, and smells gorgeous (although coming from a family where citrus products are banned, maybe I’m just addicted to the scent!).

Tea Bags

I love Yorkshire tea. It’s my absolute favourite. I can’t afford it. Even after my student loan comes in, I know perfectly well that if I buy it I’ll drink a huge pack in a week, and that’s just too expensive. So I stick to Tesco’s standard brand, or Aldi’s. They are stronger though, so brew for less time.

Cheese

Please, please don’t waste your money buying cheaper stuff. It is awful, and really doesn’t taste nice. More expensive cheese really is the only thing to go, and thats why I save it for a treat (or when the parents pay for shopping!). If you eat a lot of meals that include cheese in the cooking, buy a packet of ready grated parmesan, provides cheesy flavour for a much lower price!

Things to AVOID

  • ASDA Smart Price Garlic Bread – just horribly strong tasting, but not strongly of garlic!
  • Own-Brand White Lasagne sauce – I’ve never found anything close to Dolmio!
  • Own-Brand Chocolate – it’s alright to cook with, but not for eating.
  • ALDI flour- makes Toad in the Hole soggy and watery, and makes pancakes sticky.
  • ASDA Smart Price chocolate mousse – so bitter its inedible!
  • Own brand pesto – bleurgh!
  • Value branded washing up liquid – no bubbles!

The Impossible-To-Find Necessity

You would think a bag is a pretty simple thing to find. I mean, virtually every shop will sell some kind of bags.

As a typical girl, I do love my bags, and freely admit to having quite a few. My lovely (and rather expensive) Hidesign Eton Leather Workbag  (available now from John Lewis, I bought it at a local saddler’s several years ago considerably cheaper than it is now advertised) was bought for sixth form. I do love this bag, I really do. Its stylish, simple, and most important good quality. But it isn’t quite big enough. Sure, it sits a folder in, but then not a lot else. For the moment it’s been relegated to my laptop bag. For this bag in the closest colours to the one I have, look here.

I also have an excellent-quality-for-the-price purple shopper. It was from Pepe Jeans around six years ago, has travelled to numerous countries, and acted as a school bag for many academic terms. It sadly took it’s last holiday last summer, where its zips gave up on a train somewhere between Zurich and Interlaken. I am looking into the replacement of the zips, but at a quoted cost of £40 to do so, I’m wondering whether it might be a good idea to indulge myself and look for a new bag.

(of course, I do have several “pretty” bags…my Zara bowler bag, lovely, unfortunately doesn’t fit A4…my fake LV, in lavender purple, which I went to great lengths to haggle to a good price in a shop off Side’s main high street…my over-sized Henry Holland clutch, bought purely (obviously) because I needed something to take to a wedding/prom and house my diabetic boyfriend’s insulin stuff…)

Anyway, I promise this post is student and university related!

For years, I have really struggled to find a stylish, elegant, decent-quality bag that will comfortably fit at least one A4 folder, along with pencil case, lunch, and maybe some textbooks. I really don’t think this is too much to ask.

The solution I am currently relying on is a felt-style black beaded bag, bought by my Nan many years ago and never used. It fits all my stuff in (just) but it has has a popper fastening, which doesn’t do anywhere near up when ‘full.’ So it’s not particularly secure, it’s hideously uncomfy on my shoulders, and yep, it’s falling apart after just seven months of use.

I’ve tried the satchel style bags from River Island back in my sixth form days. The strap broke, landing the bag in the middle of a very busy road, after two days.

I’ve tried rucksacks, cheap and pricey. One, I really don’t like the traditional hiking style ones (and the fashionable ones aren’t nearly big or strong enough) and, two, it’s just really impractical to use if you’re out shopping and want to grab your purse. Plus, I want something timeless and stylish.

At the moment, I’m currently searching for some kind of bag to use as my university bag for at least my second year, and hopefully beyond. It’s seeming impossible.

I found a close contender on a stall at Fosse Park. It was huge, compartmented, and made of strong PU leather. It was very lovely to look at, and I would have loved it. I opened it up and the flap hid a zip two-inches less wide than the bag. No A4 folder would fit. Damn.

I spent a whole day (even I don’t do whole-shopping-days!) looking for bags in Leicester last week. John Lewis, House of Fraser, Debenhams, TK MAXX, Primark, M&S, BHS. You name it, I looked there. The closest I found was this but it just didn’t seem strong enough.

So, at the moment, I’ve turned to the internet, and searching through word of house to find a bag big enough, strong enough, stylish enough, timeless enough, and just nice enough to justify the price tag….

I’ve looked at the Cambridge Satchel Company. I just adore the style of these, but I just can’t stand the feel. The leather is just too stiff, too inflexible, and they’re also getting a little too mainstream. I want something a little different, but still in the classic leather colours (preferably dark brown or tan).

I’ve looked at Zatchels, a slightly different alternative. Their executive style in brown would be perfect for me, but I just can’t justify the price tag. *sigh* £185, or £195 is just way out of my budget right now. If I can hang on until December, with my birthday and Christmas, then this would be a serious contender. Yet I can’t see my current bag lasting until next academic year, yet alone several months into it.

This weekend I saw an advert at my boyfriend’s university halls  from Chivote. I was really intrigued by this company, so I suggest you check them out!

Then, I found a company which has quickly become my favourite – The Leather Satchel Company here looks an excellent and slightly cheaper alternative, especially with the huge amount of customisation. And they are the original company offering satchels – which the Cambridge company is NOT despite what the majority of people believe.

I had thought, up until this weekend, that these companies were pretty much the ones I was going to be limited to. They are, after all, ones I’ve had recommended in terms of quality and customer service, and I’m pretty sure, almost, that they’d be big enough. But I’m not 100% sure enough to pay out that amount of money (and hey, my student loan doesn’t turn up til next week…).

To anyone who knows anything about bags; here is a list of what I want/need from a bag, so if you have any product or brand recommendations, please comment, or tweet me!

  • Leather, or leather style-plastic
  • Ideally a nice natural neutral colour – brown, tan or red
  • Big enough to fit A4 folder PLUS other items
  • Big enough for 15.6″ laptop (but not completely necessary as my current Hidesign does this well)
  • Ideally with compartments to separate stuff out
  • Outside pockets for easier access to essential items
  • Proper fastening – zip or buckle
  • Strong
  • Extremely long-lasting
  • Comfortable
  • Classically styled

I’m hoping that’s not to hard an ask…I guess the proof will be if I find a suitable bag in the next few months!

Baking: Banana Nutella Oat Muffins

I’ve been looking for recipes I can bake which will do for an on-the-run breakfast, or quick but filling snack, when I go to lectures. My second-term timetable is pretty evil; 9am starts four days out of five, and 5pm finishes most days. This means making things ahead is a must for me (my freezer is currently stuffed full of meals – another blog post!). Now, last week I bought some bananas, thinking I would eat them. I always get cravings for bananas, but never eat them. I tend to want them at ridiculous times (who gets up at 3am just to have a banana?!) and so they just go overripe. As these ones did. However, I’m now a student. I can’t afford to throw away food. I quickly went through what was in my cupboards, did a bit of googling, and decided to adapt The Londoner’s recipe (found here) to make them a bit more substantial. Basically I made it, threw in some oats, and reduced the nutella slightly. Here’s what I did, and what I ended up with:

Banana Nutella Oaty Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 230g flour (I used plain, and added 3-4 teaspoons of baking powder and a splash of milk)
  • 150g sugar (I’d reduced this down next time, probably to 120g, maybe 100g)
  • 2 tablespoons porridge oats (could add more – I will be)
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 115g melted butter (I used salted)
  • 2 eggs (I used medium sized ones)
  • 2 tablespoons of nutella

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Peel, break up and then mash the bananas straight into your mixing bowl. Don’t worry too much about lumps.
  3. Melt the butter, and add to the bananas. Let it cool for a bit if its a little warm, or you’ll scramble the eggs.
  4. Break the eggs, beat lightly and add to the bowl. Mix everything together briefly.
  5. Add the flour (and baking powder if you’re using plain flour) and sugar, and mix until everything is just combined. It will look a bit like sick – don’t worry, it definitely shouldn’t be smooth! 
  6. Mix in the porridge oats – it will look even more like sick now!
  7. Prep a muffin tin by putting in paper cases. You could use the posh silicon ones, but that’s too much washing up for me!
  8. Add one tablespoon of the mixture to each case.
  9. Melt down your nutella slightly. Add a bit (around a teaspoon, definitely a good dollop) to each case.
  10. Top the nutella with around another tablespoon of the muffin mixture.
  11. Get a teaspoon and turn it upside down, and use the handle to swirl the muffins, making a marbled pattern with the batter and the nutella.
  12. Put the tray in the oven, cook for just over 20 minutes (mine took 22).
  13. Bowl licking time – the nutella one can’t just be washed of course, needs to be as clean as possible beforehand! 
  14. Let cool until you can handle them, eat warm if possible. 

 

I thought these were really good. I would maybe want them more substantial. Next time I will reduce the sugar, add at least double the amount of oats (and probably a little more baking powder), and maybe add some chopped nuts. There’s another version of this recipe which uses no flour and no butter (but does add low fat yoghurt) which I fancy trying, but that means digging my blender out of the cupboard. This recipe took about 15 minutes to mix up (rushing up and downstairs locating ingredients), and then 22 minutes to cool, and comes in at a reasonable 205 calories per muffin (the mix made 14 muffins). Alongside an apple, I reckon they could be a decent breakfast for days I wake up too late to make porridge. They’re definitely a good snack for a long weekend-day of maths!

These are amazingly quick to make, and a great fuel for the mind – I’ve made them lots during the exam term as they’re great to make when you need a break, and great to eat when you need cheering up!

Restaurant Review: Dinner at Zizzi Market Harborough

Italian restaurants are, surprisingly, some of my favourite. I say surprisingly because I’m actually severely allergic to a key Italian ingredient. Trust me, a tomato allergy is very limiting. However despite this being a key ingredient, it is easy to avoid in Italian cooking. Either dishes have tomatoes or they don’t. None of this ambiguity you find in other types of cooking (the amount of British stews and pies containing tomato puree really annoys me!).

Out of Italian chain restaurants, both ASK and Zizzi are close to being my favourite. ASK has the slight edge in that they don’t practise excessive use of herbs. Pizza Express doesn’t even come close. Anyway, I visited Zizzi in Market Harborough last Thursday for my sister’s birthday;

 

To start, we shared a ‘large’ portion of calamari, and some garlic bread.

I love love love calamari. The best I’ve ever had is either the baby squid at ASK (although seeing them whole is a little off-putting) or the spicy squid at Jamie’s Italian in Brighton. Zizzi’s was also very very good; served so piping hot it burnt, very very crispy, and with a creamy dip that had a good lemony kick.

The garlic bread at Zizzi is also very good, soft, buttery, and garlicky without that dreadful aftertaste.

 

For mains, I chose the Penne della Casa. Other mains on the table were Rigatoni con Pollo e Funghi, Sofia Rustica Pizza, Zizzi Fish Stew, and the Pork Belly.

My main was delicious, although not without faults. The chicken was beautifully soft and flavoursome, the spinach perfectly cooked, the cheese wonderfully goeey and stringy. The sauce was very nice, although far too thin. The biggest let down was the bacon; it was extremely fatty, and didn’t taste of anything. It was also a very off-putting highlighter pink colour.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t try the other pasta dish, the pizza or the fish stew. The other pasta dish was apparently let down by the extreme use of rosemary. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the other dishes, they were both wolfed down by the male members of our party.

The Pork Belly was the source of my food envy. Described as “crisp slow-roast belly of pork on spring greens sautéed in garlic butter” it was a huge piece of meat, served on top of a massive portion of green vegetables. No starchy-carby sides were provided, although they were not needed. The pork was seasoned beautifully, and cooked to absolute perfection. It was falling apart, yet still tender, succulent, and had wonderfully chewy and crispy edges. The greens still had a good bite to them, and were lovely and garlicky. This is definitely the dish I will order next time!

 

We didn’t order desert, and instead ate birthday cake. However due to a big delay in our mains arriving (there were multiple Christmas parties taking place) we were given a free bottle of Prosecco which went down very nicely.

The food was a little over-seasoned, but the staff wonderfully. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

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Restaurant Review: Wined and Dined at ABode Canterbury

Now, this post is going to be slightly odd seeing as it’s on a student blog. Decent food (and I mean amazingly good food!) is wayyyy out of my budget, but for my birthday my lovely boyfriend treated me to an rather posh meal at quite an exclusive restaurant; certainly one of the best I’ve eaten in.

Before I start gushing about the food, a little complaint about my age. Nineteen sounds so old! I’m 20 next year, and in just 13 days I’ll have to say “I’m 21 next year” if asked that question. Just as long as, with the help of Loreal, my hair remains blonde, I’m happy.

Right, food.

I was lucky enough to be taken to ABode in Canterbury, a Michelin accredited restaurant in the city centre run by Michael Caines (the chef, not the actor). It is definitely up there with some of the best meals I have eaten; only one other strikes me as being memorable throughout my lifetime. Unfortunately due to restaurant rules I was unable to take photographs of the food, so I’ll just do my best to describe it.

We were warmly, if rather oddly welcomed. It was assumed when we arrived that we weren’t diners, despite our smart dress. I guess they don’t see many of their clientele being students! There was also a confusion with the booking, and as a result the menu we requested was unavailable.

We were seated quickly, and presented with a basket of fresh bread and butter. There were three types of bread; a white with sea salt; a brown with honey; and a sun-dried tomato. I tried the white and the brown, being unable to try the third (although apparently it was good). As this was the first bread I’d had in a good couple of months, I wasn’t in a fit state to take any of it in. It was very, very nice bread.. We made our food choice over the bread, choosing from the set lunch menu.

For me, my starter was probably the highlight of my meal, despite the eyelash it came adorned with. It was a pan-fried fillet of mackerel, served with potato salad and salsa verde. The mackerel was fried to perfection, beautiful crispy skin (no soggy bits at all!) beautifully flavoured, wonderfully salty and almost sweet flesh, and nearly all of the bones removed. I was cautious about the potato salad, but this was nothing like the pot you buy in Waitrose in the summer. This was a three tier tower of tiny diced potatoes, very al dente, with pickled vegetables. I enjoyed the pickled ‘something’ – a flat and very thin disk, which was crispy and well flavoured. I enjoyed the onions, and even the tiny mini-florets of pickled cauliflower. But despite my enjoyment of radishes in other dishes, I really disliked these. Maybe that was me. The entire dish was perfectly balanced, and I really enjoyed it.

My boyfriend’s starter was also very well received. He ordered cauliflower soup nervously; neither of us enjoys that particular vegetable. He was even more nervous when presented with a bowl of, admittedly quite nice looking, cauliflower florets. No soup to be seen. Disaster was averted when it was poured in via a jug at the table. This soup was some of the best soup I’ve eaten. I actually enjoy the taste of cauliflower, it’s the texture that spooks me. Soup is clearly the remedy for that, and I may consider buying it and making some soup next term. The cauliflower ‘croutons’ aside, I’d have happily eaten this.

 

The mains came perhaps a little too swiftly after the starters. But again, I’m being demanding and picky.

My boyfriend fell in love with his dish; pork fillet, with various vegetables, apple sauce, and some kind of jus. It certainly looked pretty, but I personally wasn’t a fan. However, I really dislike fruit in my main course; cranberry sauce with my turkey (and I don’t eat turkey more often that every five or so years) is my limit. For me, this dish was too sweet, but everyone else I witnessed eating it seemed to think differently to me.

My dish was very very close to the standard of my starter, and I really enjoyed it. I had ordered Wild Mushroom Risotto, with a Nutmeg and Parmesan Foam. The risotto was perfectly seasoned, both creamy and light, and the rice was cooked nicely. I would have perhaps liked more mushrooms, or perhaps more mushroom flavour, but I make my own risotto very strongly flavoured, so this is more personal taste. I had always thoughts foams a bit pointless; surely its just a bit air-like, and surely it would get cold quickly. I was wrong. This added a perfect strong flavour, and sort of melted into the risotto, making it even more creamy and luxurious. I would definitely order this dish again! However, one thing let it down; the garnish of cress felt like something a pub-restaurant would add, and for me its bitter flavour spoilt what was otherwise my dream dish.

 

We were left alone for a considerable time before ordering desert, for which I was grateful. We ordered two deserts, with an agreement to halve each. The first was a lemon tart, with raspberry coulis, lemon peel and various other adornments. For me this was a little cloying, but I had fallen in love with our other desert. The second was a white chocolate mousse on hazelnut biscuit with more raspberry coulis. I found this more delicately flavoured, with enough texture to keep it interesting.

 

Having read though my post, it actually doesn’t sound like I am praising the restaurant much – which is not the impression I want to give! In fact, it was by far ahead of many meals I have previously eaten, and definitely on my list to visit again. It was an amazing birthday treat for which I am extremely thankful, and I enjoyed the food immensely. Cress and eyelash aside. And hopefully, I’ll be taken back there again, or to other amazing restaurants (hint hint!)

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