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This Week’s Nails – An Alexa Heart Dupe

Seeing as today is the last proper day of my half term break, I am in a get-stuff-done mood. I have already done a Pilates session, painted a wall, washed my hair, been to the doctors, picked up a prescription and been food shopping for the week all before midday – phew!

I keep my ear to the ground for any new and exciting beauty releases and had a good nosy at Alexa Chung’s recent offerings for Nails Inc, one of my favourite nail brands. The top coats all looked lovely but at about £15 a bottle, they aren’t cheap for a glitter topcoat.

 

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I nipped in to my local Poundland recently and noticed a dupe for the heart topcoat that is getting a lot of love at the moment. Seeing as it was only a pound, I thought I may as well give it a try and as I was about to pay I noticed a new nail varnish stand stocking ‘Jess’ products. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of this brand before but decided to pick up two shades; a fiery red (matador) and a creamy blue (swan lake).

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I tried out matador first of all. My first impressions weren’t great – the formula was very thin and patchy and I needed three coats for opacity. However, after a bit of effort, I did really like the shade and it had a nice glossy finish to it.

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Now for the hearts! This bottle contains metallic gold hearts in a red tinted gloss. Part of me through that it would be better in a clear gloss as the red did affect the gold colour of the hearts. Rather than end up with a thick layer of the coloured gloss on my nails, I dabbed the brush onto a piece of paper and picked out the hearts with some tweezers before placing them on my nails.

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The hearts were slightly raised on the nail but a few generous layers of topcoat smoothed these down and I think the finished look is quite effective.

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I was slightly less pleased with the staying power of the Jess nail varnish. It chipped dreadfully within a few days and my manicure didn’t last the week. I haven’t tried the swan lake shade yet but I am hoping it performs slightly better!

Our London Break (Warning: lots of food photos!)

Ian and I have just got home after a wonderful few days away in the big smoke. He has gone off for a run whereas I have chosen a cuppa, a catch-up of this week’s Apprentice and sorting through my photos instead! I decided to take my ‘proper’ camera up to London with me in order to practise using it for a variety of shots rather than just reaching for my iPhone. I did look like a complete tourist with it around my neck but hopefully I managed to take some better photos and I definitely feel like I have gotten to ‘know’ this camera better after shooting a variety of inside, outside and (of course!) foodie pictures!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I am one of those weirdos who wants to drag out a mini-break for as long as possible and thinks a holiday starts at the airport (or even at the hotel the night before a flight!). This trip was no different and before we even got on the train we had treated ourselves to a Bertinet Bakery (the best in Bath!) brunch and I had a new book ready to get stuck into on my Kindle.

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Upon arrival, we headed straight to our hotel in trendy Dalston, Avo Hotel. We have a good variety of friends we usually stay with in London, but for this trip we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel and I found this little boutique hotel which turned out to be cheaper than your bog-standard Travelodge and it always feels good to help the independents. We stayed in the King Top-floor Suite which we loved. It had a huge and comfortable king bed, a double sofa with good tea and coffee facilities and a fabulous bathroom with sparkly black tiles, a rainfall shower and nice Elemis products. Oh, and a view of the Gherkin! It is a family-run business and really friendly. There was always someone behind the front desk and they offered a simple but tasty breakfast too.

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After we had settled in, we hopped back on the tube and went to see the poppies at the Tower of London. I thought this was stunning and a very moving installation although be prepared for the crowds!

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Seeing as it was such a gorgeous autumnal afternoon, we decided to have a wander along the river via Borough Market and a drink with a view as the sun set.

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We also noticed several decorated buses dotted about. I hadn’t heard of this project but I do love these city-wide art installations and it was great to see the different varieties.

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That evening we were meeting our friends, Cat and Lucie, to try out a new restaurant; DF Mexico in Shoreditch. I will be writing a separate restaurant review of this soon but it was a great night with good friends and margaritas…need I say more?!

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The next morning, after a quick bite to eat at our hotel, we paid a visit to the Saatchi Gallery. There were a couple of installations I wanted to see (the ants and the oil room) which we both loved and then we wandered around the remaining rooms. I really like this gallery – there are bold and daring installations which can invoke a love/ hate reaction and you don’t feel like you need to be an ‘art expert’ to enjoy yourself. I think this may be my new favourite art gallery in London.

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Next, it was time for lunch and I had heard amazing things about Comptoir Libanais which was just around the corner from the Saatchi. Again, I will do a restaurant review soon but I really enjoyed our lunch here, from the décor to the sharing platter to the wonderful rose-mint tea and baklava.

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Unfortunately, it was a bit of a grey and drizzly afternoon so we decided to head over to the Tate Modern to shelter and soak up a bit more culture. I’m not sure if it was due to the half-term crowds but I wasn’t really feeling this visit compared to how much I loved the Saatchi Gallery. We didn’t stay too long here and instead popped back to the hotel for a warming hot chocolate and to get glammed up for our evening out.

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For an early dinner, we had booked an afternoon tea with a twist…burgers! We ate at BRGR where we had a delicious selection of mini sliders, drinks and puddings – my review is coming soon!

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Then, we walked over to the Noel Coward theatre to watch Shakespeare in Love (via Leicester Square where we tried to grab a glimpse of Matthew McConaughey at his latest premiere!). For our first wedding anniversary, where it is traditional to give a ‘paper’ gift, Ian bought me these tickets and being fans of the film, both had high hopes for the play. It did not disappoint and was actually better than I thought it would be. It had some really funny moments followed by some very poignant ones and there was a dog which easily makes it deserve its five star reviews!

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I also discovered Crème Brûlée flavour Häagen-Dazs during the interval which was a highlight for me!

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On our way home, we both had the munchies and noticed a Jamie Oliver pop-up diner selling burgers and hotdogs – perfect midnight snacks!

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Today we were pretty knackered so just enjoyed a late-morning brunch at an amazing American-style diner near our hotel, aptly named The Diner, a quick photo opportunity in front of Big Ben and my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season before catching the train back to Bath.

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Suffice to say, after such an indulgent foodie few days, my shopping basket was full of fruit and veg this afternoon to restore some much needed balance!

Beauty Review – October Birchbox

I’ve had a lovely few days with my parents. We’ve shopped non-stop and yes, I have started to make a dent in my Christmas shopping…too soon?!

My Dad and I also took over the kitchen last night and cooked an epic array of tapas dishes including scallops with bacon and honey, prawn fishcakes, calamari, cod fritters, chicken and chorizo and warm crusty bread…delicious and only a few arguments between the chefs!

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I received this month’s Birchbox a little while ago but after having a quick peek upon arrival, I’ve only just got around to having a play with the contents.

Partnered with CoppaFeel for Breast Cancer Awareness month, an issue close to my heart, I was pleased to see a focus on health and wellbeing in the accompanying literature.

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First of all, I was happy to see a pretty pink bag instead of the usual drawstring one. This is a lovely size for travelling and I will use it for our mini-break to London next week.

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And here are this month’s goodies:

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First up a moisturising lip balm from Pixi. I like this brand and it’s nice that there is a hint of colour in this balm which smells lovely and is packed with things to make your lips soft as the colder months hit us.

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Next, a KMS dry wax spray. A good brand but not a product that I think will work on my hair. Luckily, I can gift it to Ian to try!

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An interesting little product next – a cooling gel lotion to treat ingrown hairs and redness after shaving or hair removal from Shaveworks. This is not something I would seek out to buy but useful to have in the bathroom cabinet nonetheless.

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A fun little extra now in the form of this pen shaped like a lipstick. This is just a tad too girly for me so I’ve passed it on to my Mum.

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I love facial lotions and serums, basically anything that promises to add a glow and moisturise, so was pleased to see this tube of Glowing Serum by Meaningful Beauty. With Cindy Crawford’s name on the bottle, I’ll give it a go to look as good as she does at her age!

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Finally, two generous sachets of Cattier’s Pink Clay Face Mask. I have seen several pink clay products that claim to do wonders for your skin so will try this out as part of my usual Sunday routine which usually involves a long, bubble bath with a face and hair mask (if I find the time!)

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Overall, a nice little box for October. I love the face masks, Pixi balm and serum and various family members can make use of the other bits…sharing the love this month!

Recipe – Two Cottage Pies

 

Ahhhh hello half term! This very welcome time off from work couldn’t come soon enough and I have plans with friends, family and a romantic theatre break to London on the cards.

With the clocks going back this coming weekend and darker, chillier mornings, I think we can safely say the seasons are a-changing! This calls for some comfort food that makes your kitchen smell delicious and welcoming and these two cottage pie recipes certainly tick all the right boxes.

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I love a spot of batch cooking and this recipe is great for freezing or for pleasing a crowd.

I decided to make two different varieties so I didn’t get bored of having the same meal for dinner a couple of nights running. The base of the pies are the same but one is topped with a cheddar and horseradish mash and the other has a sweet potato and brie topping.

Ingredients

For the pie base:

A drizzle of olive oil

1 white onion, roughly chopped

Half a dozen carrots, peeled and chopped

A couple of rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped

A tray of good quality minced beef

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

A few bay leaves

A pinch of dried thyme

One tin of chopped tomatoes

A squirt of brown sauce or ketchup

A handful of frozen peas

For the topping:

Enough white or sweet potatoes to cover your pie

Butter

Salt and pepper

A dash of milk (or cream if you’re feeling naughty!)

Cheddar, brie or any other cheese of your choice to top

A few teaspoons of horseradish

How to make it

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C, Gas Mark 6
  • In a large pan, heat a little oil and lightly sauté the onions and carrots for 10 minutes until they have softenedcp7
  • Add the bacon and fry for another few minutes
  • Next, add the beef mince and garlic then fry until brownedcp8
  • Season well and add the bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes and sauce. If you have a bottle open, I usually add a splash of red wine too, anything to get a bit more flavour in!cp9
  • Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes while you make the mashcp10
  • In a large saucepan, boil your potatoes until soft
  • Drain well then mash with a little butter, salt and pepper and milk
  • You can add cheese or the horseradish into your mash at this stage toocp11
  • Mix your peas into the mix then in an oven proof dish (or dishes), spoon in your meat layercp12
  • Then top with your mash and sprinkle over some cheesecp13cp17
  • Pop it in the oven for about half an hour until you have a golden crust on topcp14cp18
  • Enjoy straight from the oven…I had mine with some baked beanscp2

Latest Purchases #60 – Real Techniques Brushes

rt10Hello – I’ve been away for a rainy few days residential stay with my class and have just about caught up on my sleep over the weekend!

When I started reading beauty blogs and adding to my own make-up collection I soon realised that you could spend a fortune on luxe brands but if you were applying them with cheap, poor quality tools, then you will never get that amazing finish on the face.

Today, I am sharing my absolute favourite make-up brush brand – Real Techniques. Started by a make-up artist and beauty blogger, Sam Chapman, these brushes are everywhere and raved about by professionals. I think the fact that they were created by someone who felt there was a gap in the market for something they used on a daily basis is testament to how good these are.

The Real Techniques brushes aren’t ridiculously priced but they’re not cheap either but I have found two fabulous little kits which are brilliant for those looking to start their own brush kit or try a few of the best brushes from the brand.

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First up, the face brushes. I bought his little set on Amazon for just over £13 which I thought was amazing value seeing as you get 4 full size brushes and a carry case when the individual brushes retail for over £10 each.

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These are all a pretty bronze colour and what I love about these brushes is that each one says what they are to be used for on the handle. This is great for those who maybe aren’t too confident with using a variety of brushes and a handy reminder for those who are!

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This kit includes: a detailer brush, a pointed foundation brush, a buffing brush and a contour brush.

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Next, the eye brushes. This is a similar style kit, with another travel case, but you get 5 brushes for roughly the same price, this time in a pretty lilac colour. Again, the brush handles are labelled and have a rubberized end so are easy to grip.

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This kit includes: a base shadow brush, a deluxe crease brush, an accent brush, a pixel point eyeliner brush and a brow brush.

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I love the fact that both kits contain such a good variety of brushes and that the face set is not all for foundation but blushers, bronzers and concealer as well.

The quality of these brushes are the best I have used and I reach for them every day. They are made from synthetic bristles and they wash and dry out really well with no shedding. They are also beautifully soft and smooth to use and work well with liquids and powders.

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One final point – if you love watching makeup tutorials, then on the Real Techniques website there are a number of tutorials using these brushes which show you how to get the most out of them.

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What are your favourite make-up brushes? x

 

Restaurant Review – An 8-Course Tasting Menu at The Muddy Duck

 Yes, that’s right…8 courses!

When Ian and I saw our local pub was doing a seasonal tasting menu, we signed up immediately as their food is wonderful. I was expecting 4 or 5 courses (which is still pretty extravagant) so imagine my delight when I saw we had 8 dishes lined up for us. Luckily, I had a very light lunch so was ready for a feast!

We started with cocktails by the fire to warm up then moved into the dining room for our first peek at the menu. It all sounded so tasty and completely autumnal. We were also persuaded to have the accompanying wine flight which turned the whole evening rather boozy!

To start, we had a tray of Wiltshire pork canapés. You may have seen my Friday Instagram pictures of the amazing strips of pork crackling we usually get. This platter had some mini sticks (served in the oh so trendy Mason jar), pork belly tempura sticks, three-meat pork pies and a pork fritter all served with a different dipping sauce. I love a pork pie and this black pudding, minced pork and pork terrine combination was delicious. This starter was served with a glass of crisp sparkling cider which was a perfect complement to the porky-ness and a nice twist on starting a meal with a glass of bubbly.

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Next we had what was named on the menu as an Amuse-Bouche but which was actually quite a hearty dish! We had a bowl of woody mushroom velouté with a crispy fried mushroom on top and an enormous Parmesan crisp with a generous drizzle of truffle oil. This was really rich and decadent and if I was being really picky then I may say a smaller bowl would have been better (when I think about how full I was by the end of the night!)

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Then we had a crisp glass of white to be enjoyed with our next course: a free range hens egg, sticky wings, sweetcorn and spring onion. This was a beautifully flavoured creamy chicken base with a scattering of crunchy sweetcorn. I love BBQ chicken wings and the meat just fell of the bone. For me, the best part about this dish was the perfectly cooked egg which had a lovely runny yolk that mixed with the chicken sauce perfectly. There were lots of elements to this plate, including a crunchy cheese crisp, and they worked together wonderfully.

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Another glass of white wine arrived in time for course number 4, our fish course, which looked ever so pretty. We had steamed wild sea bass, celeriac and pickled autumn vegetables. I liked the combination of the vinegary and crunchy veg with the delicate fish although the skin wasn’t crispy so I ended up giving mine to Ian.

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We moved on to a big hearty red wine next which went perfectly with our grouse, Jerusalem artichoke, pumpkins and blackberries. A really beautiful autumnal dish, this was one of my favourites of the night. I had never had grouse before but it had a lovely rich gamey flavour which the sweet blackberries complemented perfectly. There were several sauces and purees on the plate which meant every mouthful tasted different and the wine really brought out all the flavours of the dish.

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Moving onto the sweeter things now, we had a lovely refreshing palate cleanser in the form of a beetroot and champagne granita. This looked great and was just sweet enough too.

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I liked having a cheese course next – I don’t think it always needs to come at the end of a meal. We enjoyed honey truffle roasted figs, crottin de chavignon goats cheese and hazelnuts with a lovely sweet dessert wine. This was a lovely ripe cheese which worked well with the sweetened figs and the crunch of the hazelnuts.

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Pudding time now and my favourite new wine of the evening: this dessert wine was bursting with berry flavours and serving it chilled meant it wasn’t overly sweet either. We had a huge lemon and raspberry meringue for pudding. The lemon curd was amazing but I was slightly disappointed the meringue didn’t have the lovely chewy inside I love – it was more of a crumbly, crunchy texture throughout.

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By now I was getting quite full and feeling the effects of such a generous amount of wine. We had coffee and petit fours to finish the meal. I loved the homemade marshmallow pieces but the chocolate truffles were a tad too bitter for me and I was just so stuffed I really didn’t fancy anything else to eat!

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We were offered a nightcap of warmed brandy too which just about finished me off! I’m not a huge brandy connoisseur so this was probably wasted on me but it was quite nice to be left with that warm, fuzzy feeling inside when we were walking home in the cold.

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Overall, this was an incredible night out, if slightly indulgent for a Tuesday evening! The atmosphere was really relaxed, cosy and welcoming and the explanations of the food and wine flight were not all pretentious or intimidating which I know some tasting menus can be.

I think The Muddy Duck are going to be offering another tasting menu soon and I cannot recommend it enough for a wonderful evening of seasonal, local food.

(The tasting menu was £45 per person and the wine flight was £18 per person)

This Week’s Nails – Daisy Print

Despite the weather turning rather autumnal lately, I decided to do a very fresh and summery bit of nail art this week. I actually managed to do this design freehand but only on one hand I’m afraid!

I have a mini hamper of nail varnish and one colour I never wear is the bright yellow shade I own. I saw it again this week when I was trying to decide what to paint on my nails and decided the only time I think I would wear yellow would be when drawing a flower. Henceforth, the daisy design idea was born! Am I alone here…would yellow look good on nails?!

Anyway, this is the kit I used for this look:

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  • Sephora Nail Varnish in Jacuzzi
  • Missguided Nail Varnish in Misslead
  • Dotting tool
  • Thin nail art pen in white (this one is from Primark and is perfect for thin, intricate work)
  • Nails Inc Top Coat

I began with three coats of Jacuzzi as, although I love the colour, this formula isn’t great.

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Next, I dipped the end of my dotting tool into the yellow shade and made some dots on my nails.

Then , I carefully painted on the white leaves using the nail art pen.

The final layer of topcoat sealed the look and also blurred the edges slightly which was great for any ‘wobbles’ I had when applying the white!

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This is a really easy and fun nail art and one that you could easily use different colours with.

We are off out for another tasting menu tonight, at our local pub this time, so there will no doubt be a foodie review coming up soon! x

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