24/12/12 - The Eating House at the Derbyshire Craft Centre

I am a terrible blogger.  Please forgive me for my lack of commitment (blame long work days, desperately trying to catch up with everyone I haven't seen for months and pretending to do uni work whilst actually devouring the first two series of Downton Abbey), and accept this little cafe review as a token of my apology.

My grandparents live in Chesterfield, Derbyshire and over my twenty years of travelling backwards and forwards to visit them, I have become very accustomed to the route.  To this day, I couldn't name half of the places we go through on the journey, but there are certain places that I recognise every time we pass by them.  The Derbyshire Craft Centre is one of them.  It's a really lovely little shop selling all sorts of knick-knacks - from greetings cards and books, to local preserves and toiletries - and located at Calver Bridge, near Baslow and ten miles north of Matlock Bath, in the heart of the Peak District (all location information taken from tourist information websites...as I said, I don't really know where it is!)  If you ever find yourself in the area, I recommend going and having a look; I always find something cute that I want to buy, and this time I was greatly tempted by some adorable Christmas decorations.  Maybe next year!  Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of the actual shop, but I did get some of the main focus of this post: The Eating House.

While the cafe in the craft centre isn't huge, it is definitely worth trying to squeeze a table.  The food is much more interesting than your typical coffee shop fare of toasties and various paninis, and the selection of cakes is extensive and delicious.  We used to eat here regularly when visiting my grandparents, but in more recent years we've waited until we got there to have lunch.  So this was the first time we've stopped en route in around five years.  And it was just as good as I remembered!  I apologise for the dodgy iPod photos - I hadn't been expecting to blog on this trip, so I didn't bring my camera.

Before we could tuck into all those amazing cakes, we had to start with something savoury.  I was really impressed by the range of vegetarian options, and my pescetarian family were happy tucking into a seafood sharing platter which I have to admit, looked very tasty!  I went for baked Camembert which came with some lovely warm crusty bread, red onion marmalade and a side salad.  My only qualm with this meal was the sheer amount of celery they included - a fact very easily overlooked when confronted with a beautiful gooey mass of cheese!  It was absolutely delicious; the bread was lovely and you got just the right amount for a perfect cheese:onion:bread ratio (something which is very easy to get wrong, in my opinion).  Needless to say, this went down very well, considering the fact that I basically scraped the inside of the cheese box clean with my fork!

And then it was dessert time!  After much deliberation, we each chose a different cake to sample and then the customary passing of forkfuls of food commenced.  They were all really impressive.  I had the almond cake and I have to say, it was wonderful - really light and creamy, with just the right amount of nutty flavour.  The fruit on the side was a nice touch, and the red currants added an extra tangy bite which was perfect for the rest of the sweet dish.

Clockwise from top left: white chocolate and red currant brownie, 
cranberry and mincemeat tart, raspberry and coconut tart, 
and Austrian almond cake.

I definitely recommend a look into the Derbyshire Craft Centre, even if you don't have chance to stop for lunch.  It's the perfect place for a little browse, followed by coffee and a cake.  They don't have an official website but if you give it a cheeky Google, you'll be able to find directions and more.  If you have any food recommendations, whack them down in the comments - I'm always eager to try new places!

And I hope all my beautiful readers have an absolutely wonderful festive reason, whatever it is you're doing!  I'm really looking forward to having a few relaxing, family-centric days - probably away from the Internet (shock horror).  I intend to eat my weight in roast potatoes and seasonal chocolate, watch endless amounts of festive TV, and just enjoy a little breather before wedding madness begins.  As of today, we're looking at five days and counting...so I'd better not eat too much, or I won't squeeze into my bridesmaid dress!

I'll be blogging more consistently in the New Year, so it's goodbye for now.  See you in 2013!

11/12/12 - So here it is...Merry Christmas!

It's that time of year again but in the life of a third year university student, Christmas isn't quite as magical as it used to be when I was little.  This year, it means deadlines, spending a lot of money I can't afford, and working as much as I can to compensate for spending so much.  The freezing weather and little bit of snow we've had is less fun when you're paying for your own bills and can't afford to put the heating on.  Also, as my cousin is getting married a few days after Christmas, this festive season is going to be pretty hectic.  But this week, I've been making the most of having handed in my essays and having a little bit of time before my Christmas full of research essays and long shifts begins.  

First, we had our little house Christmas - Secret Santa presents and Dominoes takeaway, finished off with mulled wine and watching The Holiday.  Absolutely perfect.  I love my housemates to bits.

It can be hard to feel festive in a student house, so I 'invested' in some Christmas bedding!  Not only does it look fun, it's really warm and cosy as well.  Primark have done themselves proud.

It's also a time for catching up with people.  Even though we see each other every week (and more recently, with our showcase rehearsals, practically every day), the Performing Arts exec committee went for one last coffee of 2012.  It was also quite a big deal as Anna, our treasurer and musical director, is leaving us next semester to do a placement in Leeds...she will be greatly missed!

Chocolate orange hot chocolate and a warm brownie - heaven!

This coffee happened the day after our society Christmas meal; it was really nice to get everyone together and eat some delicious food before hitting Piper, a local club, in full festive gear!

Oh, and I dyed my hair darker!

And then tomorrow, I'm heading home.  It's really strange to think that I've had my last Christmas at university - this time next year, who knows where I'll be and what I'll be doing?  But I'm not going to dwell on that!  I'm going to head home to get spoiled by my lovely family (unless the novelty wears off and they get fed up of me), catch up with all my friends that I haven't seen for months, and eat my weight in mince pies.

What are your plans this Christmas?  I hope you all have a wonderful festive season, no matter what you're doing.

05/12/12 - TAG: My Beauty Firsts

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Now, I know I'm not specifically a beauty blogger, but I was tagged by the wonderful Lauren (definitely check out her blog, it's brilliant) and couldn't resist.  This tag originally existed on YouTube (created by Lily Pebbles and Anna of 'Vivianna Does Makeup'), but was converted to blog format by Laura.  I'm suuuuuper busy with university at the moment but this was a nice easy post to write, so I feel like I'm still in the swing of this blogging thing.  A lovely procrastination tool.  Here we go...

1. What is your earliest beauty memory?
Mine is probably wearing the stunning combination of obscene amounts of orange foundation, blue eyeshadow and red lipstick for dancing shows and amateur musical theatre performances.  This started from a young age and it wasn't until I was about fifteen or sixteen that I learned how to tone it down and still look human under the stage lights.

I tried to find a photo of this monstrosity of a make-up look and was 'unfortunately' unable.  Shame.

2. What was your first beauty purchase?
The earliest I can remember is a Collection 2000 Dazzle Dust in what I believe is (after a cheeky Google) the shade Sugarplum.  I don't know why I thought pink glittery eyeshadow was a good look, but apparently I did.

3. When did you first wear make-up?
Other than for stage shows, I remember getting my mum to help me apply an eyeshadow that I believe came off the front of 'Girl Talk' magazine for a Year 5 disco.  I can only imagine how wonderful I looked.

4. What was your first beauty disaster?
Emo eyeliner.  For sure.  I look back at photos from my MySpace (that's how long ago it was) and wonder why I was ever allowed to leave the house with so much black kohl pencil on my waterline.

5. Who was your first beauty crush?
I can't honestly say that I have an answer to this question.  I have no recollection of who this could possibly be.

6. What was your first brand crush?
Probably Barry M, Miss Sporty or Collection 2000 - cheap and cheerful, that was my young teenage make-up bag.  Since then, I have moved onto bigger and better things, although I do have a few old favourites that I love, particularly for the small price tag.
7. What's your longest standing beauty love?
I would say either Rimmel London Exaggerate eye liner (I really like the applicator) or Collection 2000 pressed powder - I use the lightest shade in winter and it looks a bit like super pale Hallowe'en make-up, but it's very cheap so I don't even mind when it smashes in my bag...which often happens.

And that's all folks!  I would like to tag; Emma, Charlie and Jemma - they all have amazing blogs, so check them out while you're there.  And anyone else reading this, feel free to complete it yourself and link me up!

28/11/12 - Boux Avenue, the stuff dreams are made of

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I am a huge fan of underwear.  It's something everyone needs and will always need, so I don't see why you wouldn't make sure you have invested in a nice matching set for every occasion...and in every colour.  Knowing that you're wearing a pretty pair of knickers or a really good bra can make your day even when everything else is going wrong.  However, I hate shopping for underwear.  Sizes can be different everywhere you go, and unhelpful sales assistants are able to make something that is quite a difficult thing already one hundred times worse.  And so much of the affordable underwear on the high street today is just hideously tacky.  But never fear!  The answer to your underwear woes is here, and I was invited to the press preview before the opening of my local branch this Tuesday.  I recommend you all visit your nearest Boux Avenue.

My lovely friend Laura pointed me in the direction of another lovely Laura from Fluorescent PR who enabled Emma and I to pop along to the brand new Boux Avenue store in the St Stephens shopping centre in Hull for the opening.  It is probably the most beautiful shop I've ever been in - really stunning with the lingerie displayed above labelled drawers holding all the stock.  The nightwear is absolutely adorable, and the beauty and home fragrance products are gorgeous.

But the real pièce de résistance is the changing rooms.  Not only are they decadently decorated, they have an intercom system which allows you to speak to a sales assistant without leaving the cubicle and three lighting options (day, dusk and night) so you can see how your new underwear will look in all situations.  This is so much better than most shops; no more clutching your top across your chest as you stick your head out of the door, desperately searching for someone to help you, before sobbing in a corner at how hideous the unforgiving lighting makes you look.

After a free fitting from a really lovely woman called Billie who very helpfully explained all the elements that goes into finding the right bra (something that will definitely come in handy for future reference), I was tempted into making a couple of very minor purchases.  It was a bit of a treat, but with the 10% student discount and other in-store deals, it didn't come out as expensive as it could have done.

We were also given really lovely gift-bags containing; white chiffon hand cream, rose petal lip balm, white chiffon drawer sachet, powdered tissues, USB stick and a £10 gift card!

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful experience and I'm really glad we got in there early before the official opening...once Theo Paphitis opened the doors properly at 1pm, it was apparently absolutely heaving!  

If there's a branch near you, I recommend you go as soon as you can!  Where is your favourite place to by underwear?

24/11/12 - Theatre review: 'London' by Simon Stephens

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This Thursday, I took myself off to Manchester for the second time in a week.  This time, I was flying solo and really enjoyed wandering the city.  Browsing in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, lusting over things that cost more than my rubbish laptop is worth, sampling my first ever Taco Bell - it was a lovely day.  And then at half past two, I took myself over to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the reason that I was here in the first place; Simon Stephens' 'London' in the intimate Studio theatre.

Cast member Abby Ford discusses Simon Stephens' London

I am a huge fan of Simon Stephens and the way he writes, so when I saw this performance come up on the theatre's website, I booked the ticket without a second thought.  I didn't mind going to the theatre on my own as I was just so excited about the prospect of seeing this production.  I missed the screening of his adaptation of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for the National Theatre, so it was nice to actually get to see some of his work onstage.

'London' is made up of two monologues, roughly thirty minutes each, and the whole thing runs at almost an hour in length with no interval.  The first half, T5, requires the audience to wear headphones which take you inside the head of the woman (Abby Ford) who begins lying on a bed.  As the audience settle in their seats, we listen to the sound of her breathing and as the performance begins properly, a mixture of live and recorded sound make for an interesting experience.  Both pieces deal with the ideas of love and loss in very different ways, as well as the experience of modern London life; in T5, it is something stifling to be escaped.

Between the two monologues, the setting of an airport hotel room is deconstructed and the house lights brought up, stripping back the stage to allow Cary Crankson to take us on the journey of his character, Alex.  The illumination of the audience along with the informal, chatty delivery really draws you into the story.

The second half, Sea Wall, is one of my favourite pieces of drama.  The half hour monologue, which was originally written for performance at the Bush Theatre in 2008, has been adapted into a short film starring BAFTA nominated Andrew Scott (best known as Moriarty in the BBC's ground-breaking Sherlock) which I had seen previous to this stage production and was the thing that inspired me to get the ticket.  I seriously recommend everyone go and check it out here, particularly if you won't get chance to see this touring production.  It is absolutely breath-taking - I won't spoil the plot for you, as I found watching it knowing what was going to happen was a very different experience than having the story unfurl before you.

In my opinion, Simon Stephens' writing has a way of perfectly capturing the inner workings of the human mind - the use of flashback and the disconnected thought processes can be initially confusing, but the stories slowly piece themselves together in the most wonderful way.  His use of language is always stunning and it's so easy to get totally lost within the mind of the characters on stage.  The way he writes is so impressive and I know a lot of people have found Sea Wall to be one of the most moving pieces of writing they've come across.  As someone who has always toyed with the idea of being a professional writer, it would be my dream for my writing to effect even one person in the way Simon Stephens has inspired so many.

Did any of you get to see this recent production?  If so, let me know in the comments!

18/11/12 - The year was 1847...

So this Saturday just gone, despite the mounds of work I have to do and all the deadlines I have creeping up on me, I spent a wonderful day in Manchester seeing my parents and my brother.  It's been far too long since I've seen them other than on a Skype screen so I was super excited to have some quality family time.  Also, my brother and I had booked theatre tickets way back in January, so we'd been waiting for this weekend for rather a long time.

I hopped off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, a station I feel like I've spent an awful lot of time in over the past year or so, to be whisked straight away to my favourite place in the city to eat - 1847.

This little vegetarian bistro (so named as it was the year in which the Vegetarian Society was established in the UK) is located on Mosley Street, a stone's throw away from the train station and the main shopping centre.  The best word I can use for this place is...select.  It has a fairly small dining area, so I would recommend booking if you intend on visiting at a weekend or in an evening - it's always best to know you're guaranteed a table!  

The menu isn't massive, but it changes seasonally and all the ingredients are locally sourced. The food is always beautifully presented, full of flavour and a lot of the time, really interesting combinations of ingredients.  If I could have the chef from this bistro come and cook at my house every day, I would be a very happy (and very fat!) girl.  Although the portions don't look huge - as is to be expected from a sixteen-year-old boy, my younger brother polished them off very quickly, practically licking the plate - the three courses I ate filled me right up.  And being full of good food is so much more pleasant than being full of rubbish junk food.

Sorry for the awful quality of my iPod camera!
To start, I had roasted balsamic sprouts with honey and toasted almond flakes which was served on a bed of some form of pea puree with a honey vinaigrette dressing (I'm afraid I can't remember the exact description)  and rocket salad.  I'm not a massive fan of sprouts - for years, I've had an agreement with my parents that I will eat one a year on Christmas Day and that is all I can manage - so I don't really know what enticed me to this starter, but I really enjoyed it.  Maybe I'm maturing.

Next, I ordered battered tofu with hand-cut chips and fresh peas.  Last time I visited 1847, I had the same thing but with halloumi and I have to say, there wasn't much to choose - both dishes were very tasty.  The tofu was moist, the batter light and crispy and the chips...oh, the chips.  I can be very easily sold on a place if they do good chips and 1847 didn't disappoint.

As a big fan of trying lots of different kinds of food, a trait I share with the rest of my family, meals with us can turn everything into a taster menu, with fork- and spoonfuls of various dishes being passed backwards and forwards.  By not duplicating orders, we managed to cover most of the menu.  I will say that after tasting four different meals, I would recommend the wild mushroom and spinach strudel that my dad had - absolutely delicious.  And even Josh, who admitted that mushrooms and spinach are "two of his three least favourite vegetables", enjoyed it.

Time for dessert.  I had chestnut and chocolate torte with a reduced mulled wine sauce and it was divine.  The chocolate was rich, but offset by the chestnuts, it wasn't too sickly or overwhelming, and the mulled wine sauce was to die for.  Indulgent, decadent and festive, what more could anyone want?

For food like this, you would expect a very hefty price-tag.  Now, it can work out a little pricey and I definitely couldn't afford it on a student budget, much as I would like to.  However, as a treat, it's 100% worth it, and they do all kind of deals (£10 for a main course and a glass of wine, and the £15 taster menu in an evening which I would seriously recommend) and their Christmas bookings seem very reasonably priced.  You can find their website here and I would highly recommend trying it if you get chance, whether you're vegetarian or not.

Have you been to 1847?  If so, what did you think?  Feel free to leave any other restaurant recommendations in the comments, regardless of where you are in the country!

Square Meal

10/11/12 - Ed Sheeran "strums on my heart-strings like he was a Grade 8"

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I am an absolute sucker for singer-songwriters and boys with guitars, which explains my love for Ed Sheeran.  His music is beautiful, his lyrics equally heart-wrenching and hilarious, and his talent seems to know no bounds.  Armed only with his acoustic guitar, a couple of microphones and a loop pedal, he takes every venue by storm.  Wednesday was the second time I've had the pleasure to be in one of his audiences and I have to say, I loved it just as much as the first time. 

It wasn't surprising to see that the average age of the crowd was probably about 16 and the queue was huge - I even heard some kids discussing how their friends had taken the day off school to stake out good places early on.  I can see why Ed's music appeals to the teenage demographic - his romantic lyrics are enough to melt any girl in her tracks.  However, it may have come as a bit of a surprise for some of the girls, and definitely for the parents who accompanied them, to listen to some of Ed's other songs.  While it's easy to write him off as your typical singer-songwriter for doe-eyed girls, many of his songs have more mature content concerning drinking, drug abuse, miscarriage and heartbreak.  Personally, I think it's part of why he's so popular.  With his easy combination of acoustic soul, pop, reggae and hip-hop, his songs may speak straight to the hearts of every idealistic girl out there but they're also gritty, realistic and down-to-earth portrayals of modern life.  

Ed is honestly one of the best and most charismatic performers I've seen live.  He has such an amazing energy and develops a rapport with the audience almost from the moment he walks on stage.  Between songs, he chats easily and makes little jokes without them ever seeming awkward or overdone.  One thing I will say is; don't go to an Ed Sheeran gig if you're not big on audience participation.  There is a lot of singing (which I wholeheartedly approve of) and throughout the course of his set, we were Ed's 'gospel choir', and he even had the two halves of the audience harmonising with each other.

Some might find it hard to imagine his acoustic album translating into a live spectacular, but that's the only word I can use for it.  Particularly his huge hit, 'You Need Me Man, I Don't Need You', which he performed as the first song of his encore was totally mental.  Like, totally.  The rapid-fire lyrics, the insane looped backing track and the energy of the crowd all added up to an incredible experience.  Everyone was dancing and trying to rap along with the song and just generally loving life.  

Other highlights -for me, at least - were my absolute favourite song from Ed's album, 'Goldrush', a cover of Nina Simone's 'Be My Husband' (with a lot of audience singing and clapping) and the wonderful 'Wayfaring Stranger'.  For those who don't know it, it's a gorgeous folk song and Ed somehow managed to get the whole huge room so quiet that he was able to sing the end of the song acapella and with no mic.  I don't know about the people nearer the back, but I could still hear perfectly and it was a magical moment.

I am not ashamed to say that I may have shed a tear or two throughout the evening; there are certain of Ed's songs then really mean a lot to me for various reasons and lyrics that get me choked up every time I hear them.  There's always one.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to embed the video I wanted to, but if you're interested in seeing snippets of the actual concert that I was at, click on THIS LINK.  I highly recommend you 

If you're an Ed Sheeran fan, then you probably know that the music video for his new single 'Give Me Love' went live on last night.  If not, I'll embed the video below or go to this link.  Personally, I think it's stunning.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Ed's just got back from supporting Snow Patrol around some of their US tour dates and will be opening for Taylor Swift on her 2013 tour of the States.  If anyone would like to provide me with tickets for that, plus flights and somewhere to stay, I would be most grateful!

04/11/12 - Happy Hallowe'en!

So Hallowe'en, one of my favourite days of the year, has come and gone.  Honestly, I just love any excuse to get dressed up!  This year, we decided that rather than going out in the cold, wet winter evening - not good for keeping your costumes pristine - and spending lots of money in a very busy club, we'd have a house party.  And we went all out.  Our decorations started going up a week before actual Hallowe'en and the only thing missing was carved pumpkins.  This is the first year in my entire life that I haven't had a pumpkin on Hallowe'en and it made me really sad, but we left it too late to get any and by Tuesday, not a single place had one!  Not even rubbish little ones.  So that was a disappointment.

But anyway, we decorated the house, stocked up on alcohol and sweets - essential for any Hallowe'en soiree - and donned our costumes!

If the state of our house the next morning and everyone's hangovers were anything to go by, it was a pretty good party!  I mean, I assume it was.  To be honest, by the time all our guests arrived, the hosts were all a little more tipsy than we should have been...aah student life.

How did you spend Hallowe'en?  And what did you dress up as?  I love hearing about other people's costume ideas!