Category Archives: Reviews

My autumn bookshelf

What's on my autumn reading list

Do you read different books in different seasons? I know I do. When the temperature dips, I like to lose myself in a cosy, welcoming read. Something that’ll still make my brain tick, but that’ll also soothe me when I need it.

What are my favourites right now?

What's on my autumn reading list

If you want to lose yourself, try Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe. This captivating novel is the best thing I’ve read in ages. It’s the story of being a divorcée in an English village in the 1970s – all told from the perspective of nine-year-old Lizzie. It’s funny, sad and and gently though-provoking. I couldn’t put it down.

What's on my autumn reading list

In need of comfort? Discover the books of Rachael Lucas. Her romantic novels are great when you want an undemanding read, with a bit of pluck. I loved Sealed with a Kiss, and it’s mini sequel, Sealed with a Christmas Kiss. Kate runs away to work as odd-job girl on a remote Scottish island and meet a cast of charming, well-written characters. It reminds me of Katie Fforde, whose books I also love. I’m currently reading Wildflower Bay, which is proving just as good as the others. Perfect for a cosy weekend.

What's on my autumn reading list

Rediscover a classic. Autumn is the perfect time to delve into an old favourite by a classic author. It’s been a while since I re-read a Jane Austen novel, so I’ve kicked things off with a beautiful new edition of Northanger Abbey by the Folio Society. I read a lot of e-books, and when I do buy a book I want it to be really special. This beautifully illustrated edition fits the bill. Northanger Abbey is one of Austen’s less popular novels, but give it a go. It’s a knowing pastiche on the gothic romance and gallops along at great pace. The thing I love about Austen is that her books always feel timelessly fresh and vibrant. Perfect for candle-lit nights.

Northanger Abbey, Folio Society edition

If you want to laugh, try Hot Mess by Lucy Vine. I heard a podcast with Lucy and loved the concept of her debut novel. It’s billed as a new Bridget Jones for the Tinder generation. It was funny and had a pleasingly happy and satisfying ending,

Also worth a mention are the Cornish Café books by Philippa Ashley – a slightly silly modern interpretation of Poldark that kept me smiling while I was recovering from surgery. Perfect under-the-weather reading.

My love affair with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series also continues. I’ve just finished book 7 – these long historical novels aren’t to everyone’s taste. If I’m honest, they’re bit of a slog at times – but I’m so invested with the characters that I can’t turn away now.

Northanger Abbey, Folio Society edition

What have you been reading lately?

Thank you to the Folio Society for sending me a copy of Northanger Abbey to review. 

My matcha challenge

Matcha challenge

Have you heard of matcha powder?

No? I hadn’t either until Tea Pigs invited me to take part in their 14 day matcha challenge.

Matcha is basically a super-concentrated green tea powder. When you drink a cup of green tea you’re just drinking an infusion of the leaves. Matcha powder, on the other hand, is the whole tea leaf, ground to a very fine powder and much stronger. So when you dissolve it in a liquid,  you’re drinking a very strong green tea packed with antioxidants and nutrients.

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Image courtesy of Tea Pigs

I have to confess, I’ve never been a big fan of green tea – I’m a black tea lover, and I struggle with the green taste. But, this challenge appealed to me. Mostly because matcha is supposedly a bit of a wonder product.

Why is it so wonderful? It’s supposed to give you energy, lots of it. And vitality. And with the energy and vitality, comes calmness. The opposite of coffee, then. Energy and poise. That’s the claim anyway.

How did I drink mine? Tea pigs send me a brilliant starter kit with some powder, a measuring spoon and a whisk, plus a ready-made matcha drink. Their suggestion is to mix half a teaspoon of the powder with a small amount of water and drink it as a small shot.

Matcha

The powder dissolved very easily, but my goodness it was intense. A very strong, grassy taste. Doable, but not very pleasant. Unless you really like the taste of green tea.

Undeterred, I tried again the next day. This time though, I mixed a small amount in with a fruity smoothie. This worked quite well, but I found that the taste still came through very strongly, and there was a lot more to drink.

Fruit matcha smoothie

After reading a bit of advice online, I decided to try mixing the powder with milk and a little honey instead. The difference is incredible. 

Obviously, you wouldn’t normally dream of having milk with green tea, but somehow with the matcha powder it really works. It seems to neutralise the strong flavour and tone everything down a bit.

In it’s simplest form, I just whizz a little cold milk and honey with a spoonful of the powder in a small glass and down it. It’s quick, easy and pleasant.

Matcha with milk

My absolute favourite way to drink it  is to mix it into a smoothie with yogurt, fruit and oats. I blend together a little sweetened vanilla yoghurt, a handful of oats, blueberries and a touch of water in my Nutribullet. It’s delicious.

Oat, yoghurt, berry and matcha smoothie

And what about the benefits?

I like coffee, and it’s traditionally what I turn to for elevenses. For two weeks I tried matcha in the mid morning – sometimes instead of coffee, sometimes as well.

I love coffee while I’m drinking it – the smell, the comfort, the taste. But for me, it’s only really energising while I’m drinking it.

With the matcha, the energising effect came after drinking it. I can’t claim that it was dramatic, but I definitely noticed that my concentration was sharper. When writing, words flowed more easily and quickly and there was a definite feeling of calm focus. This also extended itself to more mundane things, like cooking and tidying.

Will I continue drinking it? Yes, I will, but perhaps not every day. It’s been a week since I finished my two-week challenge. Since then, some days I’ve fancied matcha, some days I haven’t.

I worry slightly that it’s probably not a great idea to drink coffee and matcha too close together –  that’s a lot of caffeine. Some mornings, I just fancy coffee more, and end up forgetting about the matcha. But other days (especially when it’s warm and the sun’s shining) a fruity, oaty hit of matcha is just perfect.

I think it comes down to what sort of pick-me-up you fancy on any given day. A warm, comforting, bowl of coffee – sipped while you work. Or, a quick hit of matcha – with zen-like properties that last longer, but are less instantly gratifying.

Have you tried matcha? What do you think?

Tea pigs matcha power is available here.

Tea pigs kindly invited me to take part in their matcha challenge but all words, thoughts and photographs (unless otherwise stated) are my own. 

Review: Jamie’s Pizzeria, Cambridge

Jamie's Pizzeria Cambridge

One of the joys of your children getting older is the increasing spontaneity and flexibility. Meals out with babies and toddlers are hard: buggies, changing bags, wet wipes, sippy cups… Actually, we still need the wet wipes, but these days with two school-age children things are getting much easier.

When we were invited along to review Jamie’s Pizzeria in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago it was the perfect opportunity to test our new-found flexibility. Usually we tend to only eat out in Cambridge at lunchtime. But to shake things up a little, we decided to go for an evening meal instead.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

We arrived in Cambridge after lunch and spend a happy few hours discovering Egyptian mummies and suits of armour in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Jamie’s Pizzeria is just a few minutes away from the museum. It’s tucked away above Jamie’s Italian in the Old Library on Wheeler Street – right opposite the Corn Exchange.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

The simple menu offers a selection of pizzas for the purist – thin and crusty with interesting toppings. There was a pasta dish on the specials board, but as you’d expect it’s really all about the pizza.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

There isn’t a children’s menu. Instead, children can choose a smaller size of pizza with some simple toppings. My boys chose a margherita pizza each – one with extra pepperoni, the other with parma ham.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

This was all just the right level of grown-up-ness for my seven year old. He relished the cool, unassuming interior – imagine an old library crossed with a canteen, but with nicer lighting.  He adores pizza and will eat it anywhere, anytime. He took it all in his stride and declared that his pizza, and the brownie which followed, were pretty much the best things ever.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

Doing different things doesn’t always pay off though. My five year old was less keen. He’s usually pretty good about eating out, but was panic-stricken by the lack of choice on the menu. He’s still at the age where he’ll take against a pizza if it comes served with a basil leaf on the top. I think he’d have done better with the children’s menu from downstairs, which has things on it like posh fish fingers. However, the fickleness of small children is not the fault of the restaurant.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

And what did James and I think? My Parma pizza was delicious, and James enjoyed his Italian sausage one very much. The shiny olives, salad and beer were also very good. I found the simplicity of the menu quite refreshing – no agonies of indecision here. The character of the old library is also still very much in evidence – although with no fear of being thrown out by tutting librarians for drinking a can of beer.

Jamie's Pizzeria, Cambridge

The staff were very friendly and accommodating, and my boys were made to feel very welcome. Jamie’s Pizzeria is a great place for a quick and affordable meal – especially if you’re having a day out in such a fine city!

Thank you to Jamie’s Pizzeria Cambridge for inviting us!

Jamie’s Italian Pizzeria, Cambridge, The Old Library, Wheeler Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QJ

Disclosure: Jamie’s Pizzeria paid for our meal, but all thoughts and photos are my own. 

My Little Creative Box

My Little Creative box

This is my last My Little Box and (true to form) it was a disappointment. I was rather excited about the creative theme and was expecting something special. Some paints? A bit of grown-up colouring? Even a packet of stickers would’ve been good.

It wasn’t to be, sadly, and the contents of the box were as baffling as ever.

My Little Creative Box

First out was a calico shopping bag – nice, but unremarkable. Another re-usable bag to shove under my stairs, whoopee. And – look! – more moisturiser and face wash. As if the five bottles I’d got from the previous boxes weren’t enough.

Best, and most thrilling of all, was the Tech Jewellery. Because every woman is just desperate to decorate her phone charger, isn’t she?

I’m sad my last box turned out to be a dud, but at least it confirmed that cancelling it was the right decision. I’m determined now to make the effort to use my £14.95 a month to actually treat myself to a few bits I really want. Some new mascara and lovely bubblebath – and definitely no moisturiser!

 

 

 

My Little Fashion Box

My Little Fashion Box

It’s time to peek inside my latest Little Box. Last month’s was a little disappointing, can this one do better? First out, as usual, was a print:

My Little Fashion Box

Next, I was thrilled to find a scarf designed by American Vintage. How wonderful is this packaging?

My Little Fashion Box

In the beauty bag this month were nail decals, a lip cream, La Roche-Posay BB cream and some Kerastase blowdrying cream.

My Little Fashion Box

I’ll definitely try the blow-drying gel as I really like Kerastase products. I’m little scared by the claim that it’s a voluptuous volumising gel with a strong hold – my thick hair certainly doesn’t need any extra volume. It’s already being a bit more voluptuous than I’d like since my new haircut!

My Little Fashion Box

I also like the look of the La Roche-Posay BB cream. I might give this a go as a day-cream as I’ve been impressed with their other products. It’s ‘subtle mineral pigments oh-so-delicately melt into your skin to illuminate your complexion without being too obvious’. Sounds good as my skin is looking a bit dry and dull at the moment. It’s basically tinted moisturiser, right?

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The lip cream is a bright raspberry shade. To be honest, it’s a bit too bright for me (again) and the creamy texture was really difficult to apply without it smearing everywhere. Here’s a rather stern photo of me wearing the lipstick and the scarf:

My Little Fashion Box

The best bit of the box is definitely the scarf, which is really soft and drapes well. I love scarfs and this is a great one to add to my collection!

All in all, it’s not a bad box.

Do you have a favourite subscription box? 

My skincare routine

My skincare routine - Liz Earle, La Roche Posay and Clarins

I love reading these posts on other people’s blogs and thought it was time to share my own. I’ve followed the same basic routine for a long time – cleanse with a face wash, tone and then moisturise.

For the last few years I have been using Liz Earle products almost exclusively. They’re simple, smell nice, and do what they claim to do. They used to be quite hard to get hold of, but you can now buy them easily online, or in John Lewis.

I’m a bit obsessive and meticulous when it comes to my skincare – here’s my routine, which I repeat morning and evening without fail:

1. Cleanse with Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser (£14). I’ve used various different hot cloth cleaners over the years and this is my favourite. Hot cloth cleanser basically means rubbing a cleansing balm onto your skin and washing it off with a hot muslin cloth (or flannel). You’re cleansing, then gently exfoliating. If you buy a starter pack of Liz Earle products, you’ll get a few of these cloths with it, but you can buy them separately. They do feel nicer than ordinary flannels. The cleanser is creamy and has a really evocative eucalyptus scent. I have combination skin – oily and dry – and I find this cleanser manages to strike the perfect balance. My feels clean and fresh after using it, but never tight or dry. You only need to use a pea sized amount each time – a bottle generally lasts me for about two months, sometimes more.

Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish

2. After cleansing, tone with Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic (£14.50). Swiping this over my face with a cotton pad is wonderfully soothing and calming. It’s supposed to soothe and brighten your skin. It certainly feels lovely and fresh – it’s not an astringent, and never creates any harsh, burning sensations (which I have felt with toners in the past). It contains Aloe Vera, Calendula, Rose Geranium and cucumber – and smells amazing. Each bottle lasts a long time – about three months for me. Once a week I also follow my hot cloth cleanser with the Liz Earle Gentle Face Exfoliator (£15.75).

Liz Earle Skin Tonic

3. After toning I used to just moisturise, but I have recently added an extra step and have started using a serum. About six month’s ago my skin started to become more congested than usual – with lots of blackheads and blemishes. I’d read about La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo (£15.50) on various blogs and decided to give it a go. It claims to unclog pores, refine skin texture and reduce marks and blemishes. It’s a thinnish serum which I apply at bedtime over my T-zone. I only use a tiny amount as a little goes a long way. I’ve been using it for about 4 months now and I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my skin. My pores still seem a bit clogged, but I now hardly ever get any horrible, large spots (previously I’d be getting several each week). I’m also using much less concealer than I was a few months ago and my skin tone seems more even. The blackheads are still a bit of a problem, but the improvement is significant enough for me to be sticking with this clever little product.

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4. After applying the above serum, I use Liz Earle Skin Repair Moisturiser (£20.25). It’s quite rich, so I apply it quite sparingly in the summertime and a little more generously in winter. I used to use special night creams and day creams, but now I just use a few dabs of this morning and evening. Like all Liz Earle products, it has a fresh, botanical scent which is so different from other moisturisers. A pot of this really does last for ages, I only buy it a couple of times a year.

Liz Earle Skin Repair Mosturiser

5. In the summertime I also try and use a facial sun block – I’m a bit fussy about this as I can’t stand using normal suncream on my face. My absolute favourite is Clarins UV Plus (£32). It’s a light lotion which really does offer great protection.

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Recently I have also tried La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL (£16.50) which is ok, and very light feeling, but not quite as amazing as the Clarins one.

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So that’s me and my skincare regime. I realise that some of the products seem expensive, but they really are fantastic value for money. Once you get over the initial outlay of buying everything for the first time, it doesn’t feel too bad. They also rarely run out at the same time, so I find myself only buying one product at a time, which feels a lot more affordable.

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, then I think that Boots’ Cucumber Cleansing Lotion (£1.50) is really good – especially if you use it with a hot cloth. There are also toner, moisturisers and scrubs in the same range. I also think Simple Kind to Skin Purifying Lotion (£3.29) is a pretty good cleansing option. I forgot to pack my cleanser for my summer holiday in deepest Wales and a bottle of this from a tiny chemist got me through the week.

What are your favourite skin care products? I’d love to know what I’m missing out on! 

My Little Gypset Box

My Little Gypset Box

Let me introduce you to the My Little Gypset Box. Yes, that’s right the Gypset Box. I’m guessing they mean Jet-set crossed with gypsy? Or maybe something was lost in translation. Wouldn’t My Little Boho Box have sounded better? But maybe no one’s described anything as boho since 2005.

This box makes me feel old and slightly grumpy. In preparation for this post I googled Gypset to what it’s actually supposed to mean. According to Urban Dictionary:

Gypset Style explores the unconventional, wanderlust lives of these high-low cultural nomads and the bohemian enclaves they inhabit, as well as their counterculture forbears, such as the Victorian explorers, the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, and the hippies.

So there you are then. I’ll bear it all in mind when I’m on the school-run later.

My Little Gypset Box

The best bits of this month’s box were the cosmetics. There’s a delightful Bergamot and Pear body milk from Korres, a lip and cheek stain by So Susan and a light bronzer by My Little Beauty.   The hair ties are also really unexpectedly good. They’re made from really silky, stretchy jersey  and work really well with my thick hair. True to the packet’s claims, I do actually have one my wrist now which I’ll probably use later.

My Little Gypset Box

I really like the lip stain – which is a bright berry red.  I tried it on my cheeks but it was too much for me – a bit Aunt Sally from Worzel Gummidge. Definitely not the Gypset look, I feel. I like the effect on my lips though. The bronzer is quite nice too, although I couldn’t find a decent brush to apply it with. I seem to remember a small person stealing it a while ago to clean mud off a toy tractor. Or maybe it was when they were playing archaeologists. Anyway, I’ve got both on in this picture, although I’d had to scrub most of the stain off my cheeks…

My Little Gypset box - So Susan lip stain

Last out of the bag is this little Antik Batik drawstring bag…

My Little Gypset Box: Antik Batik bag

I’m not loving it, I’m afraid. It reminds me too much of the little ethnic one with mirrors sewn on that I used to carry round in about 1993. Maybe it’ll be handy for a school costume one day? The magazine (more of a leaflet really) also gives you a tutorial for a hair braid – argh, also something I had in the early nineties! Clearly what all the Gypset are wearing though.

Aside from making me feel boring and stuffy, I did quite like the contents of this month’s box. Shame I didn’t like the bag though as this was clearly supposed to be the star item. This is my fourth box. I’ll give it another two months then think again.

If you’d like to subscribe to My Little Box, then it’s £14.95 a month including postage.

My Little Road Trip Box

My Little Road Trip Box

It’s that time of the month again when a little box of French loveliness falls through my letterbox…this month the theme was travel.

My Little Road Trip Box

First out of the box was a lovely little print – I am getting quite a collection of these now and need to find somewhere to put them! Next out was this interesting box…

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Inside it was a useful little travel wallet. A bit plastic-y, but very cute.

My Little Road Trip Box

My Little Road Trip Box

Continuing the travel theme, there was also a special little notebook and pen by Bic. The notebook is designed to be written in, and then posted off instead of a postcard. The pen is a new two-in-one biro and stylus – perfect for writing your postcard one minute, and using as a stylus on your phone screen the next. Great for when you have sticky sun-creamy fingers I suppose! I may pass it on to the boys to use on drawing apps on the iPad.

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Seeing what’s inside the little drawstring bag is always my favourite bit!

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I was particularly pleased to find some Essie nail varnish in a lovely orange shade. I’ve never had any before, so I can’t wait to try it (when I can be bothered to get the nail varnish remover out…I’m so lazy).

Also lovely was the tube of Summer Sorbet. It’s an after-sun cream which has an instant cooling effect. It’s very nice, although the smell reminds me of those weird ‘Cupcake Dolls’ I remember people having when I was a child. Which lessens the sophistication somewhat.

There was also a bottle of ‘Wonder Water’- otherwise known as Micellar cleansing water. It’s supposed to be a gentle, soothing way to remove make-up. It has reached my radar before now, but I’ve never been tempted to use it as I’m a bit fussy/anal about not deviating from my normal skincare routine. I don’t really wear much make-up in the summer, but I will try this next time I wear some mascara. James read the ingredients and says it’s basically watered-down liquid soap – but don’t let that put you off! This will probably be the one thing I give away…

Last out was a slightly random packet of gold temporary tattoos. Applying them will keep me and the boys amused for about 3 minutes of the summer holidays! Maybe we’ll get the ukulele out and have a pretend festival in the Fens.

My Little Box is a subscription box which costs £14.95 a month (including postage). 

My Little Road Trip box

 

Review: My Little French Riviera Box

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Last month I reviewed my first My Little Box. I was a little disappointed as the contents were mainly L’Occitane samples, which I love but are already very familiar. For me, the real selling point of these subscription boxes is the element of surprise. Life can be a bit dull in the Fens and a little dose of unexpected French chic is just what I need each month.

I’m delighted to report that my second box, the French Riviera Box, is so much better than last month’s! Yet again, the box is beautiful and substantial in itself. I need to think of a good use for all the empty boxes – craft supplies, perhaps?

Here’s what greeted me when I opened the lid…

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Next out was a little box containing these adorable sunglasses designed by Sarah Lavoine. I must admit, I’ve never heard of Sarah Lavoine, but she is the featured designer for this box and there is an interview with her in the little magazine.

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And here’s this month’s little calico bag full of goodies…

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Nail varnish by Sarah Lavoine, Kerastase blow-drying milk and a body scrub. I am thrilled with all these products and the varnish is already on my toes! They are decent sizes too.

The last thing out of the box are these little pots, which are designed for the bathroom. They’re quite sweet and I’m sure I’ll find a use for them – although they’re probably the weakest element of an otherwise excellent box.

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So, all in all, I’m delighted with this month’s box and can’t wait to receive the next one! If you’re interested in signing up, it’s £11 a month, plus £3.95 postage – not cheap, but it felt worth it this time.

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