Month: April 2015

Earning my stripes

I’m not really a stripy person, although my recent purchases would say otherwise!

I decided I liked the idea of monochrome stripes in my new casual work wardrobe (which still doesn’t come naturally to me at all), to wear with turned up fitted jeans and heels.

Rather than dipping my toe in to see how I liked it, I went stripe crazy!

Black and grey (£5.59 – 30% off), cream and black (£6.69), blue and pale beige (£7.79) – all from H&M current stock.

Grey stripe top Black and white stripe top Blue stripe top

I also got these skinnies from New Look sale (reduced to just £9).

Stripe skinny £9

We stayed at a hotel earlier this year which had the most amazing striped carpet. I quite fancy introducing some monochrome stripes into our home (although I’m sure the husband will veto it).

How great are these looks?

Stripe wallpaper Stripe chair 2 Stripe carpet

Stripe wallpaper 2  Stripe cushion Stripe chair

Malaga – way more than just an airport

My travel retrospective yesterday got me thinking about past travels and city breaks.

I love getting away for a weekend. Short breaks concentrate your efforts in terms of seeing everything and doing stuff. Whilst not the most relaxing of times, I always feel fulfilled and satisfied by just how much I’ve managed to do. No time for having a lie in or an afternoon nap. It’s all about cramming it all in.

Quite often a city break for us can stem from seeing a cheap flight and investigating whether the destination is worth visiting. Which is how we ended up in Malaga 5 years ago.

For most Malaga is a gateway to the Costas. Brits who have holiday homes in Spain flock to the airport, or through the airport, from the beginning of the sunny season through til the end. Families on their two week escape looking for sea, sun and sand will land at the airport and be whisked away by tour operator coaches to their coastal destination of choice. But there is so much more to Malaga.

I don’t recall what made me look into it as a destination in itself, but I was so glad I did. Husband wasn’t convinced but I implored him to trust me. In mid April, flying out on a Thursday, flights were still reasonable and we got a basic but modern, adequate and well situated IBIS hotel at a steal. The actual trip cost us around £100 each for two nights.

First things first…Malaga is very Spanish. Which seems a case of stating the bleeding obvious, but it’s true. Because it’s not a tourist destination there is no “need” for everyone to speak English. As a result (and refreshingly so) Spanish is the first language. There is a need to communicate via pigeon English and pointing at menus when ordering food. Shops don’t have English signs. There’s a real feel of being in Spain, despite the influx of Brits through the vicinity on a daily basis.

Malaga, for me, has it all. The climate (it was 25 degrees in the day and around 15 degrees at night, and that was end of April), the food (bars and cafes serving authentic tapas, and tiny backstreet alley restaurants delivering the best paella ever for about 10 euros), the architecture (white washed buildings, cathedrals and a castle in the hills) and the sea (it’s on the coast. Who knew?!)

Oh, and when we arrived, they’d had a film festival in the city, so there was a red carpet running through the pedestrian area. And not to welcome us, as I thought might be the case.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking,

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Malaga is all about timing. Due to it’s popularity for reaching coastal destinations flights can actually be prohibitively expensive in summer. But time it right early or late in the season, with a mid week flight, and it’s well worth a visit.

The French Coast – a look back and a peek forward

2 weeks today I’ll be on a plane to France, hurrah! Invariably it will be wet and dull in the UK, in true bank holiday style, so I’m making the most of it by jetting off for 3 days in Nice, on the French Riviera.

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Living in land locked Birmingham, it’s always good to get to the coast, especially when it’s as stunning as this. The Cote d’Azur has a micro climate and 200-250 days of sunshine each year, so I’m hopeful that early May will be warm and pleasant, and I might even get to dip my toes in that stunning blue sea.

As well as a stunning coastline, Nice has beautiful architecture, lots of greenery and a colourful Old Town that I’m looking forward to wandering around.

Nice port

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Nice cathedral

Nice old town

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It’s 5 and a half years since I was last on the French Coast. We went to Marseille for a our first wedding anniversary, and totally fell in love with it. Just 6 hours door to door, from home via Birmingham airport, it’s a gem of a place and we immediately declared it our weekend bolthole when we fancied getting away. Unfortunately Ryanair had other ideas and cancelled the route soon afterwards so we haven’t been back since, but I would definitely return.

Here are some snaps.

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Flashback Friday – the hair edition

I had a dream last night that I decided to have some last minute highlights prior to going to a wedding. The hairdresser asked how much I wanted cut off my hair and I insisted on just the slightest of trims. But she cut my shortest layer to around 1 inch all over the top of my head.

Thank god it was just a dream!

My hair has been on my mind (figuratively as well as literally) for the past few days. Following my brain meanderings a couple of weeks ago, I’m kind of at the “let it grow” stage; probably influenced by a quick straw poll of friends and family (weak minded, easily influenced, indecisive wench that I am) where the general consensus was it looks better long. Swines. Of course I could buck the trend. But I’m not really sure myself. So I’m going to try a lob (snigger). Long bob, not anything rude.

Strangely, this morning, I’d been wondering how to inject some life into my barnet during this dull in between stage; concluding that dark red might be the way to go. Coincidentally I then exchanged some texts with my mobile hairdresser friend who I mentioned previously, who I found out reads my blog (“Hi Cookie!”) and, without prompting, she suggested going back to red.

I haven’t been red for around 3 years. Because my natural colour is pretty dark, I can’t go bright bright red without bleach (a step too far for an amateur hairdresser like me), but I reached a pleasing hue with regular dye. It’s a faff to keep up and white towels are a no no, and I ended up going back to dark/black as red lacked shine, but I’m craving a change.

So, here’s my Flashback Friday gallery. I may be harking back to some of the hair colours because I look so young. I’m very partial to the blond streaked front, but I was a decade younger then. It’s the face I’m craving, as much as the hair!

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FB_IMG_1429265578203 Red

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Obviously the much shorter length will make a difference this time around. So watch this space!

A quick and simple mid week stir fry

There can be a lot of snobbery in cooking – leaving you feeling like you have to use multiple ingredients, spend ages preparing and then use a combination of baking, roasting, blending, fancy presentation and magazine quality photography to display it at its best.

As mentioned previously, I’m a healthy cook, mainly due to guilt about high calorie ingredients. Couple that with time constraints during the working week and anything that makes my life easier while enabling us to eat well is very welcome.

I usually make a stir fry once a week; often on a Monday as all the healthy veg help us to recover from the excesses of the weekend. Today I went for the super quick option, using a pre-packed bag of veg (2 of your 5 a day per half bag). I used to use stir fry sauces for flavour, but they’re full of sugar and empty calories so these days I stick to flavoured oil and soy sauce (not too much, due to high salt content)

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I also used the convenient option of dried seasoning.

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To start, a splash of Chinese stirfry oil heated in a wok, and veg (a mix of Chinese leaf, beansprouts, carrot, sweetcorn and a bit of red pepper)

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I bulked it up with some extra mushrooms and more red pepper.

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Splashed in soy sauce and sprinkled in spices. Fresh chillies work well, but I forgot to buy them this week, so crushed were a fine alternative. I also added dried garlic pepper – a mix of black pepper and garlic granules – which is a new find for me, because, to be honest, I couldnt be bothered with prepping fresh garlic!

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To mix it up, instead of the usual salmon or chicken, I used prawns and mussels. The prawns were frozen, defrosted before use, and the mussels were fresh and already pre-shelled. Both low fat and excellent forms of protein, as well as quick to heat through and flavoursome with the mix of vegetables and spices.

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Ensure the seafood is heated through, add some more chilli and garlic pepper for a kick, and it’s ready to be eaten. I added a sprinkle of sesame seeds for texture and flavour.

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From prep to plate in less than 15 minutes – what’s not to like?!

Twit of the Day award…

…goes to the order packers at H&M who, instead of packing my (admittedly very large, but mainly because of their blinkin’ bloomin’ sizing) order into multiple manageable boxes, sent me this:

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Which is so big, it did this:

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The cardboard handles broke as I tried to lift it, so I don’t know how the courier managed to lug it up the stairs without splitting it further.

Or how he’ll get it back down.

Come on H&M, where’s your common sense?!

Bar review – One Trick Pony Club, Moseley Birmingham

Moseley is a suburb just outside of Birmingham with lots of restaurants and bars. Its always been fairly bohemian and cool, and has plenty of individual retailers, standalone coffee houses and eclectic cuisines. Unfortunately, on Friday and Saturday nights it can attract the pub crawl crowd due to the proliferation of bars in a small area, but outside of those times it has a lovely laid back atmosphere and plenty to choose from on the food and drink front.

I’m not sure where the time has gone, but 3 whole weeks ago today, on the first day of my redundancy, we popped out with the intention of having a late lunch.

One Trick Pony Club is the newest addition to Moseley. Previously O’Neills, it used to attract the football and cheap beer crowd but its had a superb makeover and is now home to Ruby Jeans Diner food. The interior is fab; lots of wood and exposed brick and industrial features and great lighting.

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We accidentally stumbled into the opening night back in January where the proprietors were offering free food and drink (what’s not to like about that?!) My husband was especially excited about the arrival of One Trick Pony Club as their menu comprises mainly burgers (his fave), with some unusual combinations (monster munch and emmental cheese anyone?) as well as a build your own option. And we have also eaten there on one other occasion, to further test the quality. Sad to say, it didn’t live up to the hype. Too much bread, not enough meat was our first comment. Burgers were overcooked and not juicy enough, They didn’t taste like the gourmet offering we had expected (and should have been served for the price). And so we haven’t eaten there since.

But it’s a great bar for drinks. And so we settled into the comfy sofas at the front of the bar, and had some drinks. And then some more drinks. And we looked at the menu, willing ourselves to like it because we were cosy and happy. But it just didn’t tick the boxes. The alternatives of fried chicken, ribs or mac ‘n’ cheese – all good American diner offerings – weren’t what we desired. So we ordered some nachos which would tide us over whilst we decided where else to eat.

Well. There are two nacho options – one at £5.75 (standard) and one at £9.25 (grande, loaded with chilli). For an extra £3.50 purely for chilli you’d expect a whole heap of it, right? And loads of nachos? Wrong! We were served a piddly little basket with maybe two spoonfuls of chilli. Poor show.

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This is a cool looking bar with great décor and some unusual features (the lighting is especially well done) but it massively lets itself down on food offerings, and at £11.25 for a pint and large glass of wine, it’s pretty pricy for drinks too.

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Not willing to write the place off (because we love Moseley) and wanting something sweet after Sunday lunch yesterday, we popped in for dessert. OMG! Salted caramel chocolate cheesecake. If you look closely you can see the sea salt sprinkled on the top. The dollop of whipped cream was smooth and the drizzled chocolate sauce was sweet. The cheesecake. Well. Words fail me.

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Suffice to say I will return for the cheesecake alone. And a cheeky drink, of course.

Dresscode: Casual

I start my new job tomorrow. And I have a problem.

Actually, I have multiple problems. I’ve been out of work for 3 weeks. That in itself is a huge change of pace. I’ve kept a routine and made sure I’ve been getting up early (although the odd afternoon nap may have crept in). But I’ve been eating when it suits me, doing what I want, reading blogs, reading books, sitting in the sun, planting my balcony boxes, visiting family. All stuff that will come to an abrupt end tomorrow.

Another problem is the travelling. My old job was a commute of 8 miles total per day. My new job is a 60 mile round trip. That means a complete change of morning routine, leaving home earlier, and getting home later. Couple that with the fact that husband has also changed jobs recently, working closer to home, and that means we will clash. He’ll be at home getting ready when I am. That has never happened, in the whole of our 10 year relationship. I foresee arguments!

And food! In my old job I was able to pop home for lunch. Working 30 miles away makes that absolutely impossible, so I’ll also have to factor in making and taking food with me.

As well as the usual “will I be what they expect?”, “will I be good at the job?”, “will I fit in?”, “where are the toilets?”, “how do I change the photocopier paper?” worries.

First world problems or what?!

Anyway, back to THE PROBLEM.

What to wear?????

Being vain and shallow and pathetically self conscious (in a good way, obvs), clothes are a massive part of being me and being confident. But I’ve been thrown a curve ball. My new workplace has a casual dresscode. WHAT??? I’ve never worked anywhere with a casual dresscode. I can’t crossover my work and non-work wardrobes. They have to stay separate. If I wear work shoes out of work it messes with my head. I can’t use a non work bag for work. I’ll have none of this “make your clothes work hard for you”. I don’t want double the wear for my money, I want to compartmentalise my life. Work clothes for work. Casual clothes for outside of work.

Of course, as has been pointed out to me, I don’t have to conform. But being the new girl (I use the term girl loosely; birth certificate says otherwise) is enough to set me apart, without turning up in my usual work attire of towering heels and dresses.

I’ve reached the conclusion that flat shoes are one of the differences between smart and casual. I’ve never EVER worn flat shoes for work. Apart from on casual days (the irony). And I can’t do ballet flats. As much as I like them on other people, they just make my feet look like boats (they’re not, they’re feet). I’m only a size 6, but they look wide and long and just weird. Plus I’m very much back into pointed shoes at the moment. But even before then, ick. Also, I’m slightly smaller than a 6, actually. I step out of most court shoes. So straps are generally a must for me to keep shoes on my feet.

These from Matalan fit the bill perfectly for me. Pointed, with ankle straps, and reduced to just £8 per pair.

Red flats Black flats

I’ve actually been wearing the black pair during my time off this week. Which defeats the object of work vs non work wardrobe. I like that they show a bit of toe cleavage (I know that’s a no-no for some people, but I’m a fan).

Usually I would have bought these for casual wear. And I like them for that purpose. But obviously, because of my own rules, I now have to make that decision between work or non-work.  Or get over my own own rules.

While I realise these have heels, I think these boots bridge the smart casual gap (I’m not sure I can do full on casual all the time, and I need to keep my calf muscles in practice so can’t wear flats all the time). £25.

Beige boots

And the other key to dress down is basic tops that I can add jewellery and scarves to for interest (grey £8 / khaki £7)

Grey pocket t-shirt Khaki top

And I suppose jeans will have to feature. This goes against everything I’ve ever known. This may be my one concession to keeping work and casual separate. ‘Cos jeans are just jeans.

I’ll be repurposing existing work clothes in a different way – crepe shift dresses with chunky biker boots, jersey midi skirts with flat sandals.

So what will I wear tomorrow? I have no bloody idea! And I’m trying to put off thinking about it until I really have to. Because that’s when the real world kicks in. Eek.

Digbeth Dining Club – Pietanic and Big Daddies Diner reviews

Digbeth Dining Club (DDC) has been running for over 2 years, and continues to go from strength to strength, winning Best Street Food Event awards for two years in a row. It’s a very simple concept – bringing a collection of street food vendors together on a weekly basis to offer good quality, stripped back tasty nosh. And tasty it is! For some reason I’ve only ever been 3 times, which is quite ridiculous considering it’s pretty much on my doorstep, but I intend for that to change this year, for sure.

DDC is hosted at Spotlight, a large warehouse space bar with a DJ, comfy sofas and picnic tables inside. Drinks are reasonably priced and the bar was both well stocked and well staffed.

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I have to be honest that last night’s vendors didn’t really ding my dong compared to some of the other regulars, but it was my last night of “holiday” as I start my new job next week, and some friends were planning to be there, so I thought I’d make the best of it. How wrong I was to be reticent. The food was fabulous.

Starting with Pietanic.

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The Pietanic van is a retro cream and brown affair with their name painted across the side. They’re fully self sufficient and serve via a hatch in the side of the van. I went for Chicken and Chorizo, which was served hot from a foil container that resembled a deep pudding pot more than a shallow pie. There was a choice of either mash and gravy – an obvious pie accompaniment – or potato salad. With the weather doing a great summer impression I went for the latter, and what a choice it was. Skin on crushed potatoes, fresh and flavoursome. The whole lot was sprinkled with crispy fried onions.

The star of the show, as you’d expect, was the pie. Just delicious. Pies can sometimes be too much pastry and not enough filling, but this was the perfect combination. The outer was less of a crust and more of a soft doughy protective case around it’s precious contents of tender chicken, meaty chorizo and sweet spicy tomato sauce.

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My husband may or may not* have had a second one to take home with him at the end of the night.

*He did.

The beauty of street food events is eating more than one cuisine. Second choice for the night was Big Daddies Diner. Specialising in hotdogs, they had a choice of around 8 different types – from a basic dog right up to fully loaded varieties. I’m not a huge hot dog fan, but the beauties I was seeing people holding meant there’s no way I couldn’t try one for myself.

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I went for the Edna – 2 dogs in a soft bun, loaded with chilli and cheese. Yum.

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Husband chose a Turbo Pete – topped with pulled pork and red slaw. His opinion was also yum.

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Big Daddies Diner uses a combination of pork and beef dogs that are cooked right in front of your eyes. They’re thick, succulent and juicy. I was definitely converted. The chilli and cheese on mine were perfect bed fellows, although it did necessitate eating with a fork due to the sheer size! Big Daddies Diner was definitely the most popular vendor of the night, with queues of up to 30 people at a time running back across the car park. Was it justified? Hell yeah!

Its testament to the popularity of all the vendors that all of them were displaying sold out signs across at least one of their dishes by the time we left at 9.30.

DDC is open every Friday night from 5.30pm, as well as the last Saturday of every month. The key is to get there early and wear your Joey Thanksgiving pants!

Joey pants

I’m eating out again tonight – I fear for my waistline!

This little piggy went to market

Specifically the Birmingham Rag Market.

This has been in my life for as long as I can remember. As a kid, going into town on the train with my Mom to purchase fabric for curtains (she was a keen seamstress), as a teenager buying clubbing clothes from some of the independent traders, and into my 20s buying antique and vintage jewellery from 2 kooky old ladies.

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I haven’t been to the market for quite a while. It’s rare I shop in real life any more! And the only chance I get to go into town is on Saturdays and Sundays – the market is closed on Sundays and Saturday are just hellish – why would you?!

Anyway, I digress. The rag market is still a hive of tatt and treasures. Hats, masks, bargain branded make up, fancy dress, sparkly jewellery, cheap shoes, patterned tights, bright coloured fabrics, vintage clothes and mobile phone accessories sit alongside each other seamlessly.

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There’s always a gem to be had if you’re patient. I wasn’t in the market (geddit!) for anything, but the key is having an open mind.

So, what did I score?

Some costume jewellery – £1 each!

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The red one looks like a jewelled fruit depending which way you wear it, and the “pearl” one has a petty diamante trim. I can’t get a good close up of the black one, but it has marcasite effect hearts on the side.

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I spotted a rail of 70s looking leather and suede jackets on one of the vintage stalls. I’ve wanted a 70s tan jacket for a while, and never found the right one. This looked like it might fit the bill.

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But it was ever so slightly too small and wouldn’t fasten. 70s women were a lot smaller(and I’m not the waif I once was…) Despite the stall owner telling me I could have it for £15 (a tenner discount from the marked up price of £25) I decided not to impulse buy.

However, after thinking about it all day (and seeking the husband’s opinion via the medium of picture message) I decided to go for it. After all, who wears their jackets “done up” anyway?

Here it is; a total bargain and a great shape/colour combo.

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And I’m pretty happy with myself!

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Time for some street food now; review to follow. Happy Friday!