Monday, 8 February 2016

Practical Valentine’s Day gift ideas for him, her, and all budgets

Practical Valentine's Day gift ideas for him, her, and all budgets


Practical Valentine’s Day gift ideas for him, her, and all budgets 

Yes, that time of year has come round again, when you might be waiting in anticipation as to what your other half will gift you, and thinking what you could bestow in return.  It’s always a tricky conundrum, especially in my case, after three years of marriage.  I’m not sure whether to get a card, something small, or forget the whole thing.   

One thing I have learnt though, is that useful, practical gifts are much better recieved than grand gestures.  Case in point - one anniversary I spent a rather handsome sum on cufflinks with a Big Ben working clock. They've been worn about a handful of times, mainly saved for weddings. Whereas if I buy Mr something that he'll actually use, like moisturisers, I know it'll be better recieved. 

So this Valentine's Day, in an attempt to buck the trend of grand gestures, my gift guide is on the rather practical side.  So enjoy my Valentine's Day gift guide for him, her, and all budgets (note, if anything on the 'her' section catches your eye, be sure to keep this page open when your other half is around, there is no bigger hint).        

Practical Valentine’s gift ideas for him and all budgets

Palmers Coconut Oil Formula body lotion for dry skin

Palmers Coconut Oil body lotion (£3.99) 

If you're really stuck for ideas this Valentine's Day, why not give the gift of soft skin. Most men are neglectful in this area, so it's a useful budget gift. And worst case, if he doesn't use it, you can make the most of it and boast good skin.    

Gilette Fusion shaver with flex ball

Braun Series 3 wet or dry shaver for Valentine's Day

Fuzz busters - Gillette Fusion Pro-Shield (£12) and Braun Series 3 wet and dry shaver (£139.99)  

One thing I’ve learnt is that the world is divided into two types of men – men that shave, and men that trim. With the trend for the hipster beard has meant that facial fluff is out of control, thankfully there are still some among mankind that to still like to keep themselves relatively clean-cut.
If your Mr is a shaver, how about this Gillette Fusion Pro Shield shaver, which has a Flexball to get around the tricky contours of the face, and at £12, it’s a snip (no pun intended) and falls nicely into the budget category.  

My husband sits on the trim side of things, so this Braun Wet and dry shaver with a long hair trim attachment is ideal, plus it’s super practical as you can use it in the shower, with foam, water or just dry. All this fancy-pants functionality doesn’t come cheap though, as it retails at £139.99.  So it’s the perfect gift if your man is serious about his grooming, plus, being Braun, it’s built to last.  

Practical Valentine’s Day gift ideas for her and all budgets

Bath oil from Nelson's Arnicare - Valentine's gift idea

Nelson’s Arnicare Bath and Massage balm (£8.55)
This multitasking oil can be used in the bath, as a massage balm or as a body oil. The balm smells of lavender goodness, and contains arnica extract, evening primrose oil and sweet almond oil.  It’s the perfect de-stress and is much nicer than those sports injury medicinal balms out there. Also, as I leant massage as a couple’s Valentine’s Day review, this is the perfect balm to practice with.

A bottle of Olverum Bath Oil

Olverum Bath Oil (£23.50 for 125ml, £36.95 for 200ml)    

Keeping with the oils theme, Olverum bath oil can be a luxurious gift for ‘me’ times.  The oil is highly concentrated and contains 10 pure essential oils.  It is said to be a great stress reliever and helps aid sleep. Like Nelson’s Arnicare, Olverum can also be used to ease aching or sore muscles.  And with its unisex scent, he’ll probably be using it too.   

Revlon 2-in-1 hairbrush and hairdryer

Revlon Perfectionist 2 in 1 dryer (£39.99) 

This is the stuff of blow-drying dreams, I was super excited when I received this Revlon 2 in 1 dryer in the post.  It’s apparently the upgrade from a tangle teaser, and is a hairbrush, hairdryer and styler in one. With a soft paddle brush, 3 heat speed settings and Ionic (read: gives you shine) technology, this might just be the hair saviour I am looking for. I have spent years trying (and failing) to do at-home blow dries, as I just can’t operate a hairbrush and a hairdryer at the same time.  So I can’t wait to ty this out.  If you’re as much a blow drying novice as me, this is worth a look.   

Filofax organiser - a practical gift for Valentine's Day for her

Filofax personal organiser (approx. £50)

OK, so I threw in one of my wish list items which might be a bit too practical for some. But since starting my own business, a Filofax has been on my wish-list.  Not just because they’re so pretty, but I realised that the old fashioned diary is a great way of keeping abreast of your commitments when technology i.e. phone calendars, let you down.  I found this out the hard way, when I missed a vital Monday meeting after a weekend away, and my phone only reminded me about it 15 minutes before the event.

This personal-sized organiser is great as I can take it with me on the weekends, and without sounding pretentious, the buffalo skin finish in beautiful, and the refillable inserts mean it’s an investment, rather than a cost.

And if all else fails…  
A box of Milk Tray

Milk Tray (£8.49 for 360g, £12.99 for 530g) 

All because the lady loves Milk Tray.   This is a gift that you can both enjoy, not just because it’s delicious, but a box of chocolates is so much more presentable an gift-appropriate than those jumbo round tins of Quality Street and Roses that you see stacked up in the supermarket. Buy them for your personal bingeing, but for gifting, keep it classy.       


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Valentine's Day day-to-evening makeup tutorial

Valentine's Day day-to-evening makeup tutorial

Purple and gold Valentine's Day makeup tutorial Youtube

Real time purple and gold eye makeup tutorial


And for the full Valentine's Day makeup base...

Two new videos for you! As a homage to Valentine's Day, I've created a Valentine's Day day-to-evening makeup tutorial which can take you from office to date night without much fuss. 

The eyes are purple and matte, which is much easier to wear in the day than a sparkly or shimmery shade, or a smokey eye.  The lips are a pink-brown, using my makeup mixing technique. 
To avoid boring you to death, I've split the tutorial into two vidoes, one focussing on just the eyes, while the other takes on the full face.      

Do let me know your thoughts, and don't forget to subscribe!

Valentine's Day day to evening makeup tutorial with purple eyes

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Easy chicken and vegetable casserole recipe

easy chicken and vegetable casserole recipe

So the other night I really craved some hearty, warm food. I've been fighting a cold, but also trying to watch what I eat (my vain attempt at a 2016 detox).

My hubby's also on his health kick and opting for chicken in the evening. Ordinarily I'd make a curry, but that would lead to a plateful of rice, and that's more carbs than I need.  

So I decided to go for a super easy chicken and vegetable casserole recipe, that was easier to make than I expected. It's all in one dish and has minimal prep. So if you want a winter warmer, try this recipe.

Recipe for easy chicken and vegetable casserole 

Ingredients for easy chicken and vegetable casserole

1 baby chicken cut into small pieces 
4 medium sized potatoes, cut into thick slices
3 tbsp plain flour
1 chicken stock cube
2 medium onions, cut into quarters
A handful of button mushrooms, halved
1 cup of frozen peas
1 tbsp whole grain mustard 
Some herbs, e.g. tarragon, thyme
Pinch of pepper 

Method for easy chicken and vegetable casserole

In a wide non-stick pan, fry the chicken pieces until slightly browned 
Stir in the flour and the stock cube 
Stir in the herbs
Pour in some boiling water to half cover the chicken
Add in the potatoes and carrots
Simmer for about 15 minutes
Add in the mushrooms and peas
Simmer for another 10 minutes   
While the chicken is simmering, stir in the spoon of mustard
Cook for a further five minutes until cooked.

Easy chicken and vegetable casserole - done!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Chaophraya Thai restaurant review, Birmingham

Chaophraya restaurant review, Birmingham

Chaophraya Thai restaurant review, Birmingham   

So we recently spent a weekend in Birmingham so of course it was an opportunity to try out a restaurant outside of London. Having had a week of bland, easy food, following a weekend of curry, I really wanted to treat my palette to something different. And that's where Chaophraya restaurant, a Thai place, came in. 
Now I've heard good things about the Manchester branch of Chaophraya restaurant, and had been to its sister version, Chao Baby in the Trafford Centre (you can read that review here). 

Chaophraya is situated in Birmingham's main shopping centre, the Bullring. So it's a super convenient location for shopping, but a bit of a pain to drive to, as city centre parking is painful and sparse. 

The actual location is tucked near the foodie area, with Jamie's Italian and Nandos as neighbours, so it's in good company. But it's important to note that Chaophraya doesn't have many branches - I think they're currently in Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, so it's not a full-on chain. 

The chicken and lamb is halal, so we had good food options. And here's what we had:

Steamed dumplings 

Steamed dumplings at Chaophraya restaurant, Birmingham

The steamed dumplings were tasty little bites and the salty soy dip was on point.

Tom yum soup

Tom yum soup at Chaophraya restaurant, Birmingham

One of my favourite soups. This tom yum didn't disappoint. The prawns were meaty and succulent, the the soup wasn't too watery nor too creamy. 

My only niggle would be that there wasn't much of it, but maybe that's because I'm used to the big buckets of Tom yum soup served up in Thailand, which I enjoyed daily whilst there. 

Lamb Massoman 

The lamb massoman had really good quality succulent cuts of lamb, and I loved the potatoes and chickpeas that went with it. 

I would say though perhaps it was a little too creamy, and we could have done with half the amount of coconut milk they used.  I would say it's definitely a dish for sharing, as eating it alone would be too much.   

Overall though Chaophraya restaurant was a good dining experience, and I would go there again.

Chaophraya restaurant in a nutshell       

Price - around £5 for starters, £8 for soups, and £10 for mains.
Halal - chicken and lamb is halal.
Great if... You want a quality Thai dining experience in a city centre.
Not so great if... You prefer quantity over quality. Chaophraya dishes are tasty, but not plentiful.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Cairo and the pyramids of Giza – a bucket list must see

Cairo and the Great pyramids of Giza excursion

The pyramids of Giza being held from the tip

The pyramids of Giza - seeing really is believing 

I wrote this blog post in October, after I had visited Sharm el Sheikh, Cairo and the pyramids of Giza.  I was going to post it straight away, but two weeks later a plane crashed leaving Sharm el Sheikh, and I didn't want my account of Cairo to be lost in the mix of bad news.  So here it is...                     
So I recently made the trip to Cairo, as seeing the pyramids of Giza - the last wonder of the world - was a must do on the bucket list. 

My husband and I were actually holidaying in Sharm el Sheikh, as we wanted a relaxing beach break. However, since we were in Egypt, it seemed a shame not to take in the pyramids of Giza. However, like many people, I had my reservations. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was of concern, as the revolution happened in 2011, protests have since died down, and there was no particular terrorism threat in the region.   

However, the combination of the assumed political unrest and the odd reports of terror threats in North Africa in general made me uneasy. It also didn't help that if you look online, there were often warnings on the government travel advice website. While Cairo was deemed safe to travel, it seemed every area around it, particularly Sinai, was not.   

I wasn't alone in this worry - when I told family and friends we were holidaying in Egypt, it was met with a pause, following questions of whether it was safe. This reservation was echoed by all, as Egypt has seen its tourism plummet since the revolution. Four years on, tourism is one third of what it was pre-2011.

Of course, as with many foreign destinations, caution is key. However a sprinkle of common sense also helps. For example, the terror alert in London is as high as that of Tunisia, the site of a recent terror attack. However, that doesn't stop me getting on the tube along with every other Londoner. The same applies with any travel... planes are safer than driving up the motorway, pick pocketing is something to look out for, and as for terror attacks... sadly we just don't know if and when they'll happen. 

So after reading a few reassuring posts on Trip Advisor, as well as closely monitoring reports on Cairo, I decided that the pyramids of Giza were worth a visit. I booked an excursion from Sharm el Sheikh, and was pleased to see that many people had the same idea (it did cross my mind that we might be the only tourists going). We were picked up from our hotel, which was one of many pick up stops en route to the airport.   

The Pyramids of Giza excursion

When we arrived in Sharm El Sheikh airport, our driver gathered us with another group of people, mostly British, who were also visiting Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza. We all took the one hour flight together and were pleased to see our English speaking tour guide on the other side. A woman named Zainab was our guide for the day. Her English was perfect, she'd been doing tours for fourteen years and really put us at ease. Whilst on the crazy busy journey from Cairo airport to Giza (the driving in Cairo is the only hazard I’d warn of), Zainab talked us through the recent history of Cairo, including the recent revolution. It was interesting to get a local perspective on the issue, rather than the select sound-bytes we're shown in the media. 

The museum of Egypt, in Cairo

Our first stop was the museum, which showcased an actual mummy, as well as some tombs and ancient artefacts. I was disappointed to see that there wasn't anything related to Cleopatra, but I was informed by Zainab that she was actually of Greek origin and reigned much later than the most famous ruler, King Tutankhamun (it would have been wise to read up a bit more beforehand).  Instead we were regaled with stories of Queen Nefertiti and the boy king. Photos weren't permitted in the museum, but we were allowed to take some exterior shots. Our tour guide Zainab made sure we had enough time alone to explore the museum, whilst also giving a guided tour at the beginning.  

Unlike some other holiday excursions such as our trip to the Sahara desert in Morocco, where we were faced with costs for 'extras', there were no hidden surprises on the Pyramids day out. Of course, like any good tour, we were taken to shops - a government-run papyrus shop, a perfumery and a cotton store respectively.  But there was no hard sell. In fact, Zainab did well to warn us about the tips we may need to give if we let people take our photo, and the general etiquette when haggling. 

A boat trip across the river Nile in Egypt

After the museum, we were taken by boat across the river Nile to a restaurant overlooking the river. It was pretty surreal to be enjoying a sumptuous riverside buffet (the best meal we'd in fact had on the entire trip), overlooking the fabled river Nile.  

The largest pyramid in Cairo is the last wonder of the world

The largest of the three pyramids of Giza

After this, our next stop was the main event, the pyramids of Giza themselves. The three pyramids were a sight to take in. The sheer size and magnitude really does need to be appreciated in person, as no picture can really serve justice, though I did try my best with some candid snaps.  

We were warned beforehand by Zainab about the aggressive vendors trying to flog their souvenirs, though of course she was erring on the side of caution as they were no worse than any other country I've visited in Asia or Africa. We bought a few bits and pieces from the many men selling miniature pyramids, sphinx, magnets, and the like. The good news for tourists is that due to the drop in business, salesmen are prepared to sell their wares for next to nothing, so it's hard not to buy anything in a bid to support their economy. 

Also duly heeded advice was about the fake 'security' men pretending to be officials asking to see our ticket, Zainab warned us about this too, and just as well as we were approached by one such man trying his luck once we arrived.

As the pyramids of Giza are quite far apart, we were driven to each one, with enough time for photo opportunities.  

We were even able to go inside the tomb, with the smaller pyramid free to enter, and the larger one coming with an entrance fee.  I entered the smaller one, as most people advised that there is nothing to see inside the tomb, and it’s too hot and humid to stay inside for long.  

The advice was correct.  We had to stoop our way down some narrow makeshift stairs to enter the pyramid.  Inside, it was hot, sticky, and claustrophobic.  In fact it kind of blew my expectation, as I thought that the pyramid would be huge inside.  So I would advise anyone visiting the pyramids of Giza to just stick to seeing the inside of the smaller free tomb.     

Overall the view of the pyramids was breath-taking, and it’s amazing that such a feat of architecture took place so many years ago.            

The Sphinx  

the great Sphinx, lions body with a man's head

The Sphinx of Giza and the auditorium

There was one final sight to see in our trip to Cairo, and that was the Sphinx.  I’ve grown up seeing pictures of the Sphinx, but nothing compared to seeing it in real life.  Sitting proudly in the desert, the mythical creature with a lion’s body and human head is an amazing sight.  This was the one part of the desert however, that has been slightly over commercialised.  Audiences were invited to sit in front of the Sphinx in a cinema-style outdoor auditorium, while a light show takes place in the evening. However, it is totally understandable that a struggling economy would do what it can to bring in extra revenue.
And that takes me to my final point. The vast majority of people in Egypt are poor, but lovely, friendly and welcoming.  I felt safe throughout my whole excursion, and any reservations I had were quashed once in Cairo.

Tourism was a huge source of income for the country.  But with recent events, that looks to be damaged even further.  The real victims of course of all of this are the men on the street who sell pyramids, who are now touting to a much smaller audience.

Of course people will now be even more reluctant to visit Cairo.  I was just the same, which is why I’m glad I went when I did, as I got to see the last wonder of the world.  I can only hope that things in Cairo and the rest of Egypt get better for the sake of the locals, as well as those of us who haven’t yet experienced the amazing pyramids of Giza.