Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Goodnight Chakra

My mother in law has just rang to let us know that our dog, Chakra has just been put to sleep. She was coming up to 12 years old, so she had had a fair run. She was the first dog that I ever had, and it was a privilege to live in their housse when my mother-in-law brought little baby Chakra home for The Boy's little sister. 


Chakra was a big softie and very affectionate. She gave massive cuddles when she came and sat on you on the sofa! I loved walking her and seeing her swim in the river. I'll miss her a lot and I'm devastated that we've not seen her in so long, but that's life I guess. I have my own furry babies now, but that doesn't make me feel less sad about Chakra.




 I just wanted to mark Chakra's passing and let the world know I love her, even if she did look a bit like Splinter off the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Brayola

I got approached today by a member of the Brayola team, who wanted to know what I thought of their site. I had never heard of Brayola before, so I put the email to one side and have had a little shufty around since I got home from work. The site was described to me as 'a really cool new online bra service'. I can't decide whether I agree with this or not!

It appears that you use this site to input information about your existing bra collection, into a 'secret drawer'. This includes adding bras by brand, model number and size. Bring naturally lazy, I selected the closest thing from the existing drop down list, but I'm sure the idea is that in this beta stage everyone dutifully inputs the full info so the Brayola site gathers more data! Sorry guys...

My screenshot
You can also select whether you like bras or not. Once all this information is in 'your drawers' then you can click on your personal shop and make a selection of the type of bra you are interested in, including bustiers, convertibles and sports bras. The site then offers you a selection of bras which presumably via the use of a clever algorithm closely matches the bras you have liked, in terms of size, style and fit. It gives you an easy clickable link if you want to buy the item and shows a clear price.

Having had another read over of the site, apparently it uses the existing profiles of other women on the site to make suggestions for you. And that's it! Simple, eh? So what are my thoughts on it?

Pros:
* This is a new concept and I haven't seen anything similar to it before.
* It kind of acts like a minimal effort review site. Presumably if loads of women 'dislike' a specific bra, then it's probably pretty uncomfortable, or poorly fitting - and then it'll never get recommended. 
* They appear to use a good selection of reputable retailers - including Amazon, Bare Necessities and Victoria's Secret.
* You can filter selections by various factors, like underwire, front closure and lace.
* They have a cute, new blog.

Cons:
* At the moment, presumably because the site is in beta and quite new, you get LOADS of recommendations. I clicked demi cup after adding 4 bras to my drawer and got 156 recommendations! That's more bras than I have to browse in any shop ever. So I'm not actually having any time saved.
* You do not appear to be able to filter selections by price or retailer at the moment. There are also no indications of whether the prices quoted include P&P or if any of them are sale prices, that I noticed.
* The site is very pink, the style very shabby chic. There's nothing wrong with this necessarily, but I'm not a big shocking pink fan.
* Everything is in dollars at the moment and presumably only links to American retail sites. Which is weird, because M&S bras are on there!
* Saying you like or dislike a bra might be a bit simplistic. Is it a great design, but the straps are uncomfortable? Does it fit really well but the stitching is poor quality? There are lots of things that make a great bra...

Overall, I can see the point of this site and as it grows I can see opportunities for Brayola to partner up with their recommended retailers to offer special offers - but only on the basis that customers were still offered the best bra match for them, not offered the bras by the retailers who wanted to put the most into Brayola!! I'd be interested to see how this site developed, to see if people really started to find it a useful tool for buying the most comfortable and stylish bras for their size. Personally though, it just seems to be an additional tool that I will soon forget about. Perhaps more fool me, if I accidentally buy another poor quality or ill-fitting brassiere!

What do you think? Great new concept, or conceptually challenged?



Sunday, 19 February 2012

Jeaneology

I've been finding out a lot more than I ever knew before about the history of the Jean in recent weeks at work. I've been proof-reading the text for our next big exhibition, Suits and Saris at New Walk Museum, Leicester. This free exhibition is going to open on 31st March 2012 and is part of the Stories of the World project, a series of exhibitions running around the country for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The exhibition looks at global fashion, including fusions and cross-overs between British and South Asian styles. Given the multi-national success of the jean, it would be strange if it wasn't covered!

Levi Strauss' nineteenth century creation was originally intended to be a utilitarian piece of male work clothing, but became globally popular after being featured as a 'must have' item for women in Vogue magazine in 1935. The trend continued to gain popularity as denim became a staple of the Hollywood A list.

Denim styles came in styles and colours; acid wash, capri and boyfriend cut have all been, gone and evolved as the decades have gone by. My favourite style is by far the flared jean. In fact, this is the only style of jean I have elected to wear since I was old enough to pick my own clothes. I'll just about settle for a bootcut if I've got no other option, but not happily.


What is your favourite cut of jean? I must confess to being rather partial to the current colour blocking trend and Next's colour jeans are pretty awesome. I love their bright colours, especially the camel coloured jeans... because they are flared (a bit). In an ideal world though, I'd have the fabulous parakeet green of these Joe's Jeans, pictured, in a flare rather than a skinny. That is a colour to die for! I reckon they'd look great for Spring, especially teamed with some chunky mules and either a bright blocky blue or red top.

#SilentSunday

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Carrot and Beetroot Cake, with a Leek Quiche on the Side

I've been on my deathbed today, suffering from a severe bout of manflu. Determined not to let it get the better of me, I have been trying to engage in fun activities for that peak hour when my paracetamol has kicked in before having a three hour sit down before the next paracetamol dose.

The first bout of frenzied activity involved me finding a way to use up the last of the beetroots and carrots that The Boy dug up out of the garden yesterday, when starting to prepare the ground for the new year of growing. Of course, when faced with two good servings of fresh vegetables, there's clearly only one logical thing to make - cake. I had a look round tinterweb for people's recommendations and found that dark chocolate is supposed to go well with beetroot, so I thought I'd give that a bash. After that, it was a bit freestyle. This is mainly because a. I'm lazy and b. I'm rubbish at following recipes. Anyway, here's vaguely what happened, although I'd trust your instincts to some degree as I never really bother to measure things out... (hence why I've left the baking powder out of this recipe transcription because I ended up having too much raising agent)

Carrot, beetroot and dark chocolate cake

Ingredients
2 large carrots
6 small (or 2 large) beetroot
50g dark chocolate
160g self raising flour
120g light brown sugar
tsp cinnamon
tsp all spice
150ml veg oil
2 eggs

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180'C. Peel and roughly chop the carrots and beetroot and throw into a food processor with the dark chocolate. Blitz it down until it's quite a fine, but coarse mix. Make sure there are no big bits left.

2. Add all the oven ingredients to the food processor and then blitz until the whole thing is combined. Pour into a greased cake tin and whack in the oven for about 35-45 minutes - until a skewer comes out clean from the middle.

Simple eh? I've seen recipes where you cook and puree the beetroot, or cream the eggs and sugar, but quite frankly my method seemed a lot easier. And it worked really nicely. The cake has got a really moist, and very light spongy consistency. I was really pleased with this. I whacked together a quick buttercream icing with twice icing sugar to butter and a tsp of milk.

Since I was having the oven on anyway and my over the counter drug haze showed no signs of wearing off I thought I'd whack in a quiche for lunch as well. Quiche is a really easy meal to whip up if you've got the relevant stuff in. The pastry is just half butter to flour, combined with a little water and salt to taste. The filling for this was leeks, courgette and garlic sweated in a little butter with a few lardons for good measure. While that's cooking, whisk up the eggs with a good splash of milk and a big handful of cheese. Season, stick it all in a flan dish and stick in the oven for slightly less time that the beetroot cake. Nom.

 After lunch, a little rest and watching a crappy film with The Boy, I also got on to the garden. The parsnips and first wave of radishes have been sown out in the borders direct, but it's still a bit cold for many things. So far, I've got hazelnuts, chillis, melons, onions, leeks and a couple of other bits starting off in the nice warmth and light of the kitchen, as well as some flower seedlings for the front garden. Fingers crossed for a bumper harvest this summer and a speedy recovery this weekend.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

#SilentSunday

cat

Silent Sunday

On Yer Bike!

My annual bus ticket ran out about a week ago. I looked on the First website and discovered that since February 2011 when I bought my last ticket for £299, in their wisdom the bus company had decided to put the cost of the ticket up to an eyewatering £380. That's an exciting 27% increase in the space of one year! Naturally this made me angry, because the service you receive is awful and they have also significantly reduced the number of buses that run over the last year. Loathe to pay a lot more for a depleted service I decided to try and find an alternative.

My daily commute is only 3 miles each way, which is walkable, but it takes an hour. I wasn't happy to commit that amount of my time each day to the journey. So cycling seemed like the only viable alternative. Problem was, I didn't have a bike and neither did the Boy. I've been keeping an eye on secondhand bikes on Ebay for a while now, just in case but nothing finished close enough for us to collect or cheap enough to be worth it. I took a different tack and checked out Gumtree instead. This was much more fertile ground, and we now have accumulated three bikes for a total of £55! We're looking to fix up the third bike to sell on, to recoup some of the costs. However, I'm still happy we got a bargain, especially as two of the bikes were kindly delivered to our home!

”bike”
My sub-£20 rather nice Raleigh bike!
I have made the journey once so far, bringing the first bike home from the city centre. It's fair to say that I am not a confident cyclist, indeed my plans were scuppered this week because of the snow and ice, forcing me to buy a week ticket on the bus because I was too scared of riding in the slippery conditions. Maybe next winter I'll feel a bit braver! But that first journey was OK. I hadn't prepared for overheating on the big hill on the way home, so I had to stop at the top and remove my woolen scarf! Other than that though, the journey was cautious, but fine. It took me a whisker under 40 minutes, door to door, which is about the same as getting the bus once you account for walking to the relevant bus stops. I'm hoping that eventually I'll get this time down, perhaps to 30 minutes. Who knows, one day I might be down to 20 minutes and that will represent a significant time saving on getting the bus, as well as a cost saving!

Another bonus is that cycling home takes me past an Aldi, which is usually out of my way. They occasionally have good deals on fruit and veg, so this might end up saving us even more money (and I won't have to go to Tesco, which can only be a good thing!).

Monday, 6 February 2012

REVIEW: The City Kitchen Mexican Chipotle Chicken

As part of my ongoing apparent mission to eat my way through all the types of microwave meals in the world when we have no leftovers in the fridge for me to take to work, I tried the City Kitchen Mexican Chipotle Chicken meal for the first time today. I've not tried anything from The City Kitchen brand before, but they appealed to me because they are not your standard recipe choices. Gone are the days where the only ready meals available were lasagne and cottage pie!

”MexicanThe packaging is clearly trying to give off a sort of artisanal, international air to the cuisine - a sort of Borough Market meets your microwave. Or the office microwave in my case, since we haven't got one at home. I adore Mexican food so I was quite keen to try the Mexican Chipotle Chicken meal.

It was a very decent size and certainly a filling lunch. I was pleasantly surprised to see that after rice, chicken was the largest proportion of ingredient, which did seem unusual and a sign of a quality meal. The rice was lightly spiced and had black beans running through, while the chicken in sauce was thick and unctuous and very lightly spiced, but slightly smokey in flavour.

Overall, I enjoyed the meal but I did have a few areas for improvement. For me, as with so many other ready meals, this was way, way too sweet! I think it might be something in the flavour development process where someone thinks "it's got tomato in the sauce, therefore the sauce must be sweet" and they add more sweeteners to enhance it. It's just too much. I think I would have enjoyed the chipotle flavour much more if the sweetness weren't overpowering the overall taste - especially as the chilli was so very mild. Secondly, there were no where near enough black beans. I love em, so they should put at least twice as many in, in my opinion. When we were in Mexico, they never skimped on the black beans.

Finally, I thought that the nutritional information on the packaging was unnecessarily cramped and confusing. It was all run together in a single small paragraph and the only quantities given were per 100g - despite the meal (e.g. one serving) weighing 385g! Not the sort of thing you can easily calculate in comparison to other products. Just tell us how much fat, how many calories and how much salt and sugar there is in the entire meal, since we'll be eating the entire meal!! And if suppliers don't want to put that information on because they're worried it'll look too high and put people off, maybe they should make their meals a bit healthier! Less sugar, more black beans in this instance - not rocket science, is it?

This was definitely one of the nicer ready meals I've had recently. If I see another one reduced to 60p in Tesco I shall grab it and put it away in the freezer until the next occasion arises where I have no leftovers to take in to work for my lunch. On no account will I be spending £3.50 to buy one, because quite frankly I think if you'd pay that for a microwave meal you need your head looking at. I can get some quite seriously good food made and served to me in restaurants/pubs in town for that and if I was looking to spend £3.50 a day on lunch, then leftovers wouldn't be an issue....

7 out of 10 Extreme Points though - if you accept it's a ready meal it's a pretty good one.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Mincemeat Muffins: Jammy Muffins


”mincemeatI fancied a spot of Sunday afternoon baking today and thought it would be a good opportunity to use up some of the stuff hanging around in the cupboards. I noticed there was quite a bit of mincemeat in there, and for some unknown reason, quite a large amount of unopened jars of jam. I had a little Google around and saw some interesting recipes for mincemeat cakes and though that this is the sort of thing that would work for both the mincemeat and the jam.
”mincemeat
There was also a big pack of pearl tapioca in the cupboard which has been there for a while, but I couldn't find anything particularly interesting to do with it except for Tapioca Pudding so any ideas of what to do here would be gratefully accepted.

Anyway, on with the recipe!

Quick Muffins (makes 18 small)

Ingredients:
260g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
180ml milk
”mincemeat75g of baking fat (cheaper than anything else!) - gently melted
1 egg
85g honey
A couple of drops of vanilla extract
Approx 60g (2 big dollops!) each of jam and mincemeat.

Method:
”mincemeatSet the oven on to preheat at 190'C. Mix the milk, melted baking fat (cooled), egg, honey and vanilla together in a bowl. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix very slightly until nearly combined. Separate half of the mixture into a different bowl. Add the mincemeat to one bowl and mix lightly until marbled through. Do the same with the jam in the second bowl of mixture. Spoon into cake cases or muffin tins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Watch them though, as you can see, mine nearly caught at the back!

This mixture makes a light muffin mix, not overly sweet - which means the jam is a nice counterbalance. The mincemeat ones are quite delicately spiced. The Boy was impressed that the muffins were so light and airy. He gave them a whole 10 out of 10 Hippy Points.

#SilentSunday

”ice”

”garden”width="400"

”snow”
Silent Sunday

REVIEW: Zaggora Flares, the results

My two week challenge period of trialling Zaggora Flares has come to an end and I can assure you, the results were not what I was expecting... But I know the question you are all asking is do they work??

”zaggora”

Over the first few wears, I found my Flares to be comfortable, although sometimes a little constricting around the stomach when I was trying to get my breath back after some particularly high intensity cardio. There has been nothing better in recent sub zero temperatures than walking back from the gym with my Flares on as they have kept my legs beautifully toasty warm. As ever, the softness of the skin on my legs is now without parallel - an effect which lasts far beyond the initial period of wear.

”zaggora”I have been unable to take any proper measurements over the two week period and I will explain this below, however I have certainly noticed that my stomach is a bit tighter and more toned and my waist is certainly about 2 or 3 inches smaller than it was in post-Christmas period, which brings me back to normality. I haven't seen any noticeable change to the rest of my legs. My thighs do not appear any more toned and the rest of my legs, especially my calves, had good tone anyway and so except for the soft skin I have found no appreciable change.

I found the Flares comfortable to wear overall, but when doing a mixture of exercises on the Power Plate I noticed that I was getting a bit of sag around the knees and crotch - not a particularly flattering look! I wonder if this was because I am perhaps a bit small for the Flares, my legs may not be long enough. In summary though, the Flares were comfy and seemed to make an appreciable difference to my torso over the period of wear, but not to my legs. I really like the new waistband, which I did not have on my original HotPants. I think they are more comfortable around the top and the absence of the zip makes them easier to put on. Getting Flares off is a lot of fun as well, I've started calling it 'The Peel' and have found just pulling them off so they are entirely inside out is the most effective method that requires the minimum amount of flailing on the bedroom floor, like a landed cod.

The really disappointing thing, however, was that after about the first week of wear I noticed that the stitching around the middle of the Flares had started to come loose. There were no holes or appreciable risk of a hole appearing though, so I continued to wear them. However, after about another two wears, the stitching was all clearly pulling itself out along the main seam that sits along my bum. Being the cautious type, I did not particularly want to increase any risk of exposing my arse to the other members of my gym and so I have stopped wearing the Flares. Because they are based around being such a tight fit, a seam going seemed to me too much of a risk to take.The combination of vigorous exercise and unravelling stitching is the stuff of nightmares to me.
”zaggora”
Quite hard to get a good picture!
Naturally, this has messed with my measurements and I haven't, strictly speaking, completed the two week challenge properly. I am very surprised by the problem. I've never had any issue with the quality of Zaggora products in the past so I am working on the assumption that I just got a randomly defective pair. That's a shame, but I would be very disappointed to have paid £69.99 for them and the stitching to go this quickly.

Edit: see an update on the new replacement Flares I received here.
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