Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Adventing with Marks & Spencer's Ultimate Beauty Advent Calendar

For the past few years I've been experimenting with alternative Advent Calendars. I've had Ciaté nail polish advents and challenged myself to use each one each day (that was tough!), I had the Yankee Candle house calendar last year and was left underwhelmed (it's definitely a case of the bigger the better quality where Yankee is concerned). And bar that one year where I was seduced by a Thorntons "The Snowman" calendar I've successfully managed to avoid chocolate! Well done me. 

So why Marks & Spencer's? 
Well at £25 it was one of the cheapest on the market and I am all about the bargains. Yes you had to spend £25 to get it down from the original £200 sticker price but I already had a payday date with some of the newly stocked Pixi products so it was a no brainer to stick this in my basket at the same time. My friend Katrina from shared the deal and I was instantly sold. It's also one of the few affordable sets available where I would buy or have bought nearly all of the contents separately and am a fan of the brands. Deals like The Body Shop are great but do I really need 20 odd products I would never ever use? Not really, although I would turn it down as a gift! This one made sense. 

What's in it? 
I tried really hard to resist taking a peek at the products inside but it was an acne emergency that forced me to look at them just incase there was a miracle spot cream inside. There wasn't but there was pretty much every other type of beauty product in there. With multiple lipsticks and mascaras, various soaps, balms, masques, repair therapies, and nourishing creams it has everything to make you feel a wee bit special. 

I shall leave you with a list of the products inside as there really isn't a definitive list available online and I know how fussy I am when choosing these things. I want to know that I'm going to enjoy at least 80% of what's inside. 

Pur Minerals Volume Vixen Mascara Mini
Stila Lip Glaze
Autograph Ultra Shine Twist-up Lip Colour
Diego Della Palma The Lipstick n.46
Leighton Denny Renovate Nail Repair Therapy
Morgan Taylor Nail Varnish
Roger & Gallet Fleur De Figuier Hand & Nail Balm
Crabtree & Evelyn La Source Moisturising Soap
L'Occitane Verbena Shower Gel
Cowshed Grumpy Cow Body Lotion
Mio Liquid Yoga Resorative Bath Soak
Rituals Zensation Organic Rice Milk & Cherry Blossom Foaming Shower Gel
Butt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream
Rodial Dragon's Blood Sculpting Gel
Filorga Time-Filler (how mysterious does this sound?!?)
PIXI Glow Tonic
Neal's Yard Frankincense Nourishing Cream
Pure Super Grape Day Cream
REN Flash Rinse 1 Minute Facial
Rosie For Autograph Nuit Parfum Eau De Parfum
Philip Kingsley Geranium and Neroli Elasticizer
Swell Ultimate Volume Masque
Josh Wood Full Bodied Shampoo
Percy & Reed Volumising No Oil Oil

This item is sold out online however there was tonnes in stock in stores so I'd get in there. You have only a few days we can open our first box!! 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

My night out at Belfast Cookery School

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a massive foodie. If you turned on my tv right now it would automatically open on The Food Network. My Pinterest is heavily decorated with recipes, Food Gawker in my go to for inspiration in finding new blogs and new recipes to fit a theme, and if I ever go to America I will be googling the nearest Triple D restaurant I can find.

So you can imagine I was delighted when my friend Sarah from The Sarah Story won two spaces on a night at Belfast Cookery School and invited me! I was doubly excited as it was my birthday week and it gave us a chance to celebrate!

I've walked down Castle Street a thousand times and never noticed this little door before. We met at the Castle Street entrance out the back of Mourne Seafood and headed up the three flights of stairs (I am not a stairs person) to find ourselves in our kitchen for the evening. Each bench, built for two, was fully kitted out with everything we needed and thanks to the hard working Commis chefs they were mysteriously cleared and restocked between each course!

Thanks to Chef Stephen I am now of the opinion that every meal should begin with dessert. Or at least the preparation of it. The theme of the evening was a Dinner Party so much like you would see on Come Dine With Me it was all about putting in the hard work early on and relaxing towards the end. We began our Sticky Toffee Pudding experience with a demonstration and then off we pottered to our stations. Chef Stephen was amazing at putting us ease and explained everything in such a way that whether you were a novice cook or a keen enthusiast (let's face it, none of us were pros) you were kept entertained and relaxed. 

Here you see Sarah starting to cream the sugar and the butter for the puddings. This was before we realised you were supposed to put it in the big bowl first. We learned quickly. 

In between each course we got a wee wine break and to enjoy our food (dessert was still eaten last though). You could hear the hustle of Mourne's Oyster Bar downstairs and it had the real sense of a bustling Friday night. 

Here Chef Stephen demonstrates our seafood starter. I was worried about this one because I've been having some issues my diet and randomly getting sick from foods I've eaten for years but I thought for the sake of this evening I would throw caution to the wind and ignore my triggers. Luckily, beyond a bit of onion and garlic, there weren't too many involved!

I'm also now obsessed with Sea Bream. That was the most delicious little critter I've ever eaten and I wish I could get it every week. 

I kinda overdid it with the watercress in the citrus salad. I really like watercress. 

Sarah takes her fish prep very seriously. 

Seriously how good do they look?! We got top marks in the class for colour on both this and the main course's Chicken which is an accolade I shall boast about for years. 

See what I mean about the colour? We rocked our main course and I was extremely chuffed with my newfound ability to trim a chicken bone. 

Sarah's expertly crumbed croquettes which were actually humongous!

Now here's a nice demo of the difference between our creations and the chefs. I wonder if you can guess which is which? I won't be winning any Michelin stars for presentation any time soon and again I really went to town with that watercress. 

Sarah also takes her cake very seriously. 

A fine way to end the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed our night at The Cookery School and would recommend to anyone looking for something different to do on a night out. We were cooking with other pairs/couple but there was also a large group of eight on a work night out. I wish my boss would treat me to that! 

Prices run between £40 - £60 per class with varying themes and, given that not only do you get to eat everything you make but you're also learning life skills, it's worth every penny.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Nip + Fab Dragon's Blood Fix review and a turning 30 update

It was as I turned 29, just over a year ago, that I became skin care obsessed. I'm told that it's a normal stage in the run up to turning 30. I was exfoliating, moisturising, seruming, cleansing, oiling like a beast (not in that order obviously). Acids became my best friend. I fell for anything that claimed Glycolic/Salicylic/Hyaluronic properties. I didn't delve into the Retinols thankfully my problems aren't that severe!

Over the course of the year I discovered that the horrible dry flakey scaley mess that was my face could be cured. Yes I will always have "Dry Skin" but combatting it became easier. Finding the right products helped. Exfoliating was key!

I fell for the Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix range, in particular their acid exfoliating pads. Rather than simply rubbing a load of hard micro beads across my face and irritating the skin, my skin was renewed through the use of these little acidic potions and I could finally enjoy both wearing and not wearing makeup with confidence. 

So with my love of acids, my love of Nip + Fab, and the dreaded 30 having passed without incident it was about time  I found a new obsession right? Absolutely not! I have finally listened to all the advice I've been given since turning 13; Your skin care is vital. 

Thankfully my friends know me well and one of my birthday presents was this new Dragon's Blood range from Nip + Fab. I've noticed that blood seems to be a trendy word in the cosmetic world recently (I am also trialing a new liquid mineral Foundation called Young Blood). It makes sense. Blood is our life essence. What would we be without blood? Very hungry vampires that's what. 

So what is it? Well rather than Glycolic acid the Dragon's Blood range features both Salicylic and Hyaluronic (think Indeed Labs Hydraluron) acid. It also contains Witch Hazel, extracts from a plant called Celosia (Velvet Flower) which is an edible plant that is eaten through Africa and India and described as a "leafy green" similar to spinach, and of course Dragon's Blood (from the Croton Lechleri Tree) known in South America as the Sangre De Grado and is actually a natural latex produced by the tree in the form of a thick red sap and used in healing throughout the ages. It just all sounds good for you, doesn't it? 

The aim of the range is to moisturise and plump the skin. Anyone who's ever met knows that I have no issues looking "plump" but it does make my skin look very fresh and I can vouch for the moisturising effects. The mask for me is more like an every day moisturiser. This is how dry I am that I can use most moisture masks daily without worry or fear over hydrating, although I haven't combined it with the serum yet. That feels like overkill. The cleansing pads are great for a quick swipe in the morning and whilst I obvsiously wouldn't use them for removing a full face of makeup they are quite good at removing eye makeup without leaving any residue. 

It's safe to say I like this range and I love this brand (do I sound like I'm being paid to say this? I wish I was being paid to say this!) Their latest range is based all around super hip "super food" Kale and I have to say I'm intrigued. I've seen studies around kale that suggest that when eaten the only thing it's really good for is your eyesight so I'm thoroughly intrigued as to what skincare properties it has!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

LUSH bath time with Sparkly Pumpkin and Cinders

I shall call this my Cinderella bath experience. A gloomy start with a magical finish involving a transforming gold pumpkin! I didn't start this post with a fairytale theme in mind but gosh now that I've noticed it I'm going to have to stick to it aren't I? Rude not to!

It's rare that a lush bath bomb disappoints but it is with sadness in my heart that I report that Cinders is not your friend. This pretty little orange cinnamon bomb went off with a rather weak fizzle. Maybe I just got a dodgy batch?

The day was saved by Sparkly Pumpkin. A citrusy bubble bar rather than a bomb I basically had to start over in order to truly let the bubbles shine. But shine they did and bath time was saved. A happy ending for all and Cinderella finally got to go the ball!

Friday, 16 October 2015

NI Coffee Fest: a well stewed analysis

It's been a few weeks since the inaugural Coffee Festival in Belfast and like a good cup of joe I've had time to steep and mull it over. 

There were some good elements and some not so good elements, as with all festivals that are starting out. The Sunday crowd was abound with rumours of horrific Saturday queues and disorganisation. We saw none of that although it makes me worry that next year everyone is just going to show up Sunday instead and expect it to be the "good" day. 

My choice picks of the day were, unsurpringly, the food vendors rather than the coffee vendors. Doughzy Donuts  and Neary Nogs were there offering their sweet goodies. I've bumped into these guys at a fair few festivals now and they always bring in a crowd. New (to me) vendor was Indie Fude, an online store for all things Irish and Artisan. It has your Bacon Jams, your chilli oils, all the preserves and home made syrups you can think of. They even have a Chocolate Fudge Fondue which just sounds filthy gorgeous. 

The lads from Broughgammon Farm were delightful as always. I love their Goat but this time we branched out into a Veal Burger and it was yummy. Next year I'm hoping it'll be a coffee crusted burger because hey, it is a coffee festival after all! 

Speaking of coffee themed offerings the guys from The Bearded Candle Co. were showing off their new range in its new fancy jars. I'm determined to get my hands on a Turf candle. Determined! 

Beverage-wise I'm a bit of a coffee heathen. I like my coffee sweet enough to melt the teeth so I avoided the potential judgement of the purist coffee shops and their exceedingly "Hip" distillation methods and opted for a tea from Sukí. Note to self: stick with the Peppermint or the Belfast Brew. Chocolate flavoured tea is not something you will enjoy. Lotus flower tea from S.D. Bell's, however, is something you absolutely need in your life. Immediately. 

All in all I had a lovely day at the festival. Will I rush back? That remains to be seen but I wouldn't say no. I have just one suggestion for the organisers, you need to streamline your coffee competitions to reduce wastage. I saw about 3 litres wasted in a very short time and felt a little bit sad as each Latté met its demise in the bucket of doom. I would've quite liked a latté as I watched. 

Keep an eye out for the next NI Coffee Fest and check out the vendors I've mentioned at the links below. Trust me they're worth your time.