In the post-Christmas haze of January life, it’s easy to succumb to those New Year blues, especially when it comes to food and drink. After such indulgence over Christmas, you’re stuck between disappointment and guilt, and actually, it’s enough to make your head spin if you think about it too much…
Here are three of my new favourite products to buck up the first month of 2014. They offer just the right combined levels of health and yum to keep you smiling and moving.
I’m salivating just thinking about Alma de Cuba coffee. Strong, rich and fragrant are each an understatement in terms of how awesome their blends of fresh bean really are. If you’re a casual coffee drinker, Alma de Cuba is enough to turn you into an aficionado. If coffee already makes up an important part of your day, prepare to enjoy this coffee like you’ve never enjoyed a drink before. You need this coffee in your life. Order here.
Crostini by Crosta & Mollica
Crosta & Mollica is a brand taking the world by storm, and popping up in more and more shops across the nation. For good reason. Their exquisite flavours of Italy make the perfect snack, starter, treat or meal staple. Their Crostini are divine little crispy bread treats. Grab yourself some at Waitrose now.
Fairtrade, ethical and delicious, the latest range from Liberation Nuts is just as delectable and appealing as the work the company does. Their seasonal bags of mixed nuts and mixed nuts with dried fruit at the perfect tasty yet healthy snack to help you in your journey away from the beers, mince pies and chocolate feasts of Christmas. Om nom nom. Find out more about Liberation Foods here.
When British wintertime comes, island hopping somewhere warm and beautiful is the stuff office daydreams are made of. While consider up in thermal jumpers and patterned bed socks, I've been gazing off into the distance and thinking about the Canary Islands, which have quickly jumped to the top of my travel 'to do' list for 2014.
As well as gorgeous sunny weather paired with 22 degree heat, the Canary Islands are a pretty unique find. In December and January, their vibrant beaches become adorned with towering and sculptures, some of them measuring up to four metres in height. At Christmas time, majestic, enormous and impressive nativity scenes are displayed in the sand, most of them created by acclaimed sculptors from all over the world.
Personally, the intrigue of the sand sculptures is appeal enough for me to want to hop on a plane immediately, but there's lots more on offer too. There's all the usual ample travellers' offerings to take advantage of: amazing gastronomy, a unique island culture, and breathtaking views.
Setting the islands apart is a loyalty to the environment, interesting especially for ecotourism aficionados. Four national parks, world heritage zones and biosphere reserves combine to make this a formidable destination for those stunned by nature and preservation at their best.
Check out all this and much more in the dazzling video below, which showcases this paradise in visual form.
Christmas in the Canary Islands? What a dream that would be. Just close your eyes and imagine this for a moment: sipping cocktails in a beach, napping during the afternoon in the comfort of a hammock, and enjoying the culinary treats of the island. It would certainly make for a very different holiday season, but certainly a great one.
Gooey, nutty, fruity and chocolately…chocolate tiffin is surely the ultimate naughty treat. Here’s my take on the no-bake classic. Beware though – the first piece you nibble easily turns to the second until one more becomes the whole tray. Oops!
This succulent chocolate cake is based on a recipe I picked up during my stint living in America. My lovely neighbour Barbara was an amazing baker, always willing to share and exchange kitchen tips! This quick-fire recipe whips up an incredibly moist cake that goes perfectly with a generous helping of double cream…
8oz plain flour
12.5oz caster sugar
3oz cocoa powder
1.5 oz baking powder
9fl oz milk
4.5 oz vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
9fl oz boiling water
Preheat your oven 180C/Gas mark 4.
Grease a 10 inch cake tin. I like the ones with the false bottoms – they make the job of retrieving your cake after baking that much easier.
Leaving aside the boiling water for a moment, combine all the other ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Using a wooden spoon or electric whisk beat the mixture until smooth.
Add the boiling water slowly and continue to mix until smooth once again. The mix should be a runny but quite thick.
Pour into the tin and bake for 25-35 mins or until a skewer comes out of the middle clean.
After cooling, pop it onto a plate, slice and serve with vanilla ice cream or custard with lashings of cream. Yum!
Diabetics don’t have it easy. Not being able to eat sugar, chocolate, biscuits or other delicious sweet treats is a really tough challenge. Here’s a sugar-free Victoria sponge recipe dedicated to any diabetic readers out there…you deserve some ‘yum’ too!
One 7 inch cake will give you eight slices.
150g/5oz self raising flour
8 tbsp granulated Splenda
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp dried skimmed milk powder
2 tbsp ground rice
2 eggs beaten
7 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp skimmed milk mixed with 6 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
Sugar-free jam and whipped cream for filling
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/Gas mark 4.
Line the bases of two 7inch cake tins and grease the sides with vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder.
Stir in the Splenda, the ground rice and the dried milk.
Add the eggs, oil, milk with water, vanilla extract and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon or electric mixer. The mixture should drop off the spoon, if not, add more water.
Spread into the two tins, level the tops with a spoon or knife then bake your cake for around 25 minutes.
Allow to cool then turn out onto a wire rack.
Once cooled, spread whipped cream onto the bottom of one half and strawberry jam onto the bottom of the other, then sandwich together.
While cleansing your skin is beneficial, using a refining cleanser, preferably an oil free facial exfoliator, will not only remove makeup, dirt and grime but also exfoliate your skin, removing dead skin cells, bringing new life to your once dull complexion, and reduce the signs of aging, leaving you with visibly healthier looking, vibrant skin.
Along with the immediate visual rewards of exfoliation, the elimination of dead skin cells speeds up the skin’s restoration process, encouraging smoother, healthier looking skin. In addition, along with the anti-aging benefits that include a reduction of fine line and wrinkles, an oil free facial exfoliator will help reduce discolouration. Exfoliating will also help moisturiser penetrate deeper into your skin allowing for dewier, younger looking complexion; this is also the case when it comes to sunscreen and makeup; by regularly exfoliating your makeup will go on much smoother and your sunscreen as well which will enable it to better protect your skin from the sun’s aging UV rays.
A good oil free facial exfoliator will also help reduce blackhead and acne breakouts. Acne prone skin sheds more skin cells than normal skin types; unfortunately the cells don’t fall away and end up sticking to the skin, clogging hair follicles and pores, producing excess oil which ultimately leads to blemishes.
A good example of a great exfoliator cleanser would be vbeauté’s Rub Off Gentle Facial Exfoliator, a gel cream cleanser that features exfoliation beads in an extremely gentle cleansing agent extracted from coconut. The tiny exfoliating beads won’t tear your skin; only slough away the dulling dead skin cells, leaving you with beautiful, perfectly smooth skin that will help you experience the maximum results of your skincare regimen. vbeauté’s oil free facial exfoliator also contains Rosemary extract which minimises large pores and helps control excess facial oil. Developed without fragrance, it’s a great choice for all skin types and is the perfect option for anyone wanting to address hyper-pigmentation issues, fine lines and wrinkles.
I've been hearing a huge amount about South America recently, particularly since starting my writing MA. There are a good few characters from the United States enrolled on the course, and between them they've travelled extensively around the continent. I've not had the chance to visit even one South American country yet, but with each conversation, my desire to visit this tantalising land is heightened more and more.
Which country has battled its way towards the top of my list, I hear you ask? That would be Chile. Bordering Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and the Drake Passage, it looks like the perfect country to start in for the ultimate South American adventure.
And, incidentally, Chile's tourism board has just launched an initiative promoting its adventure, nature and wildlife offerings. Believe me, it certainly has a lot to offer. After watching the video below, I'm sure you'll be as tantalised as I am by the prospect of a trip there.
Wild expectations, indeed. The Chileinitiative has so much appeal to adventurous travellers. The idea of getting right out of my comfort zone and exploring such pristine landscapes in Chile is a welcome one.
The video is shot beautifully, though in a country of such organic diversity and unspoiled locations, I suppose it would be difficult to shoot it badly. I love the concept of Renéon travelling back to his roots in his native homeland after living abroad – it’s an innovative and relatable idea. I’m looking forward to watching the next instalment of his adventures.
This is a Sponsored Post written by Lauren Razavi and funded by Chile Travel.
If you were to ask me what I thought epitomizes masculinity – what conjures thoughts of rugged, manly men – the answer is quite simple: the quintessential cowboy.
Not only could he fearlessly wield a handgun while riding his steed with reckless abandon, but he had a strong, silent air about him that could make every pair of bloomers at the saloon drop, too. Cowboys were the perfect balance between honour and rebellion; quenching every girls’ thirst for a bad boy while still knowing when to tip his hat and call you “ma’am”. Think: the Marlboro man or Clint Eastwood in his heyday. No girl in her right mind would kick them out of bed.
Yes, much of the cowboy era has gone the way side but more than just his swagger has transcended the old west.
Although I highly recommend leaving the chaps out of the equation (with the exception of a few kinky special occasions, of course), it’s incredibly easy for men to maintain this effortless masculinity in their day-to-day attire. Whether he’s sporting his worn and washed favourites on a Sunday morning coffee run, or a slim-fit deep indigo pair with a sport coat for a night on the town, the right pair of denim always adds the suave of Charlton Heston.
But, jeans aren’t the only way a guy can work denim into his look and still have that in-the-moment feel. With today’s coloured trouser trend and secondary material options like chinos, it’s easy to pair off a denim button-up. This incredibly laid-back look is one of my favourites; worn open with a V-neck (not too low, please) and your sleeves rolled (thick, relaxed cuffs just about the elbows to show off those forearms!) you really can’t go wrong. For the more fashion-forward guys, wear your washed denim button-up with a darker wash or black jean à la David Beckham or Yeezus. If it’s a more preppy look you’re after, wear a button-down chambray shirt (I’ll save you the Google search, boys. Chambray is that denim-looking material with the linen finish… you’re welcome.) with your trousers and a blazer in place of a baby blue or white collared shirt.
There’s just something about a guy who knows how to rock denim and channel his inner cowboy that exudes manliness. He’s a scent of spiced leather and a little bourbon on the breath away from being the rough and tumble man dreams are made of.
At least, this is the type of guy who wouldn’t have to convince me to ride off into the sunset…
Over the summer, the 21-year-old daughter of some family friends got engaged. I found this absolutely shocking. Somebody just a little younger than me was in pursuit of an old-fashioned, arbitrary ideal: marriage. A few months later, it was announced that this girl and her fiancé were going to buy a house together, and were looking at mortgages. I found this absolutely mind-boggling.
You see, this young lady has never lived away from her parental home, let alone with her newly-acquired fiancé. I wasn’t sure whether to admire her for being so ballsy or beg her not to do it when I heard. Nevertheless, it all seems to be going ahead – but it’s left me with questions. The one that I’m going to tackle in this blogpost is the question of mortgages – do young people want them these days, and should we want them?
archer10 (Dennis) / Flickr
So, first off: in principle, I am against the idea of getting a mortgage. To me, the notion screams of unquestioned traditions and laying down roots that prevent you from being free. It’s fair to say that I’m not planning to pick up the mortgage calculator quite yet. But perhaps I’m being closed minded in my assessment of the good ol’ mortgage. After all, there’s a reason they’ve lasted so long, and that Britain is one of few countries still intent on owning property.
My first problem with the idea of a mortgage is losing my freedom to travel because I’m suddenly ‘committed’ to one place. But I may well be worrying unnecessarily.
Take my friend Ed, for example. Ed is genuinely one of the most free-spirited gentlemen I know. He’s had a mortgage for the past twenty years, and it hasn’t stopped him travelling the world by bicycle or living elsewhere from time to time. He got a mortgage at a good time for mortgages, so take note potential mortgagers: when good schemes become available, do take advantage. My understanding of it is that more recently he got pretty good at arranging sublets and the suchlike while he was away – a viable option for absolutely anyone who owns property and wants the freedom to jet off and explore the world.
The second issue I have is the sheer cost of a mortgage. Some months I do fine with money and can have a treat or two – other times, I struggle to pay rent and eat. What can I do if I’m worried I won’t have the money to pay the mortgage that month?
My next example are my friends Polly and Ben, who are married and have a mortgage. They’re also musicians who find themselves out on tour a lot. So, in order to go on music tours but not lose out massively on their mortgage, they let their house to a tenant and stay elsewhere when they’re back in their hometown. Circumstances made this easy since Polly runs a pub with a flat above it, but still, getting a mortgage doesn’t mean these guys are restricted from doing what they want to do because of the financials.
401(K) 2013 / Flickr
There are obvious positives too. With buying a house comes the security of always having a roof over your head – something comforting if you’re a person who really values the feeling of home and having somewhere to return to.
There’s also the argument that homes are very good investments, which is generally true: property holds its value, and if you own (or through a mortgage, partially own) a home and need access to money, homes tend to retain a lot of value in the longer term and can be sold at any time.
Finally, if you’re in a serious relationship, there’s something to be said for buying property together. Part of a long-term relationship and shared life-building expedition is building a home together, and whether that’s a suitcase of a 4-bed semi-detached just outside of town, property – and a shared mortgage – can be a really important part of that.
I still don’t know if a mortgage is ever going to be for me personally, but I can definitely see the value in getting one under certain circumstances. Let’s wait and see what the government has to say about Help to Buy schemes this week and then perhaps reassess…
I watch a lot of films. I think telling stories on screen is one of the most engaging, astounding and beautiful ways to learn about something or find inspiration or experience the feeling of being understood. If it’s done well, of course. I can’t say I was that blown away by the legendary mess that is 2003′s The Room – a film so dire you can’t even seem to buy it on Amazon anymore, new or secondhand.
Over the course of last weekend, when I came back from Italy with what’s officially referred to as the Italian lurgy (or should that be lergy?), I took the opportunity to indulge in some film-watching.
Before Midnight (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy)
There are very few characters created in any art form that compel fans to follow them for eighteen years. In this instance, I don’t mean eighteen years in the space of one two-hour movie either; I mean eighteen long real-time years between when you meet the characters and their story concludes. That’s quite a feat for any actor, actress, writer or direct to add to their CV.
The ‘Before’ trilogy follows Celine and Jesse, a young couple who meet on a train in 1995. Romance blossoms and they spend a night walking around Vienna together, believing this will be their only encounter. Nine years later, Jesse has written a book about their night together and Celine appears at his Paris book-signing. They spend the day walking around Paris and talking – the film ends with Jesse sitting in Celine’s apartment, about to miss his plane back to the US.
Fast forward nine more years to the present day, and Before Midnight concludes the eighteen-year tale of true love. The third and final instalment in the trilogy, like the other two films, is exceptionally well-written and boasts incredibly acting from both Delpy and Hawke. With more of a bittersweet message than the previous two stories, Celine and Jesse are having some relationship issues in a film that tells us love isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t diminish it.
Friends had mentioned Weekend to me, but it took me a long old time to finally sit down and watch it. Boy, am I glad that I did. This beautifully-crafted modern love story is British independent film at its very best. Two guys living in Nottingham, England meet at a nightclub and spend a weekend together, talking about life and falling in love. It’s a simple premise, but executed perfectly. You wouldn’t even know it was created on a low budget. The characters are incredible and it’s not a surprise to learn it picked up much critical acclaim at the film festivals when it was released.
As well as using Nottingham as a gorgeous backdrop to the story, there’s a travel element to the story which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever fallen in love quickly before they’re meant to leave a place.