Mask of Magnaminty

June 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Beauty, Beauty Bloggers, Beauty Review | 6 Comments
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No longer do I have teenage angst, but I certainly still have teenage skin, an oily nose and bespotted chin and chest being its main facets. And let’s face it, Touche Éclat may deal with shadows, but covering zits not only looks stupid, but also makes it harder to get rid of said zits.

So, as you might imagine, I am often on the lookout for the next miracle product to rid my skin of its breakouts. And since Lush returned to Canterbury, I have also spent many a Sunday inhaling the unique, migraine-encouraging aromas of its products. Now I love Lush, but apart from its delicious Honey I Washed the Kids soap, I haven’t been too impressed with its products. I really admire what they do, of course, but I haven’t been wowed by a shampoo or foot lotion or whatever. That is, my friends, until I discovered the almighty Mask of Magnaminty. Behold its magnificence:

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I’ve been using Magnaminty for nine days now, and I’ve never been so impressed with a skincare product. I have hardly any spots on my face, and my chest is completely clear too. Even without using moisturiser afterwards, the mask leaves my skin smooth, and the peppermint oil has the effect of about twelve coffees, making me feel more awake than I ever have before.

So very well done, Lush. You have made this distinctly non-adolescent very pleased indeed that her skin has finally shed its teenage angst.

Pasta La Vista!

June 1, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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I’ve bored you with my bizarre pasta omelettes on a previous occasion, but hey, we all need reminding from time to time about weird eating experiences.

It’s simple: snip up your fridge-cold leftover pasta (tagliatelle on this occasion for me) using scissors, à la Nigella, mix it with eggs (say 1 per 25g pasta) and season (add dried/ fresh herbs if you wish). The lower the heat level you use, and the slower you cook your omelette, the better the result.

I also had a hankering last night for a sort of sophisticated mushy peas, the sort of consistency Hugh Fearnley Poshboy might call ‘smashed’. So I grabbed my stash out the freezer (everyone should always have frozen peas), boiled them up, mashed them slightly and mixed them with grated cheese. Nursery food at its finest.

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Coconut Mushroom Cake

April 1, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Baking, cake, cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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I saw the light in Marks & Spencer. A beauteous bag of coconut mushrooms spoke to me, and what they said was good. And what they said was, ‘Lady, you will make a coconut cake, and anoint the top of this coconut cake with us, the sweets of heaven’.

So yeah, I bought the bag of coconut mushrooms, ate half of them and saved the rest to put on top of my cake. I used this recipe, but I didn’t bother with the lime syrup and I substituted an 8 inch round cake tin for the ring tin. Once the cake was cool, I slit it in half using a bread knife and spread raspberry jam on the base. I made a simple water icing by mixing icing sugar and water ( I didn’t bother measuring out the icing sugar, but I should have used more to make a thicker icing). As my icing was much thinner than I wanted, after securing the coconut mushrooms to the top with a bit of jam, I sifted icing sugar over the top.

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Ireland, March 2013

March 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Posted in books, food, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Restaurant review, travel, Waterstones | Leave a comment
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Ireland: land of leprechauns, Guinness, potatoes and poetry. Well, yes, but, as any Father Ted fans will know, ‘Der’s more to Ireland dan dis’.

The main purpose of my trip was to meet my great nephew, Jamie, who was born in Co Louth in January. However, I also wanted to see more of the North, as having been to Dublin seven times, I was getting slightly bored of it (sorry, Dubbers).

Originally, as I cherish my time alone, I was going independently, but my dad came with me in the end (I’m nearly thirty, but he still worries). We hired a car at the airport and stayed at the rather expensive Bewley’s Hotel, five minutes from the airport. It was nice, but frankly not worth the money.

The next day, we set off about ten for Drogheda, a rather boring town which, nonetheless, has the historically significant River Boyne flowing through it, named, of course, after the battle. Its saving grace has to be its proximity to Newgrance, the Irish Stonehenge, if you like, and a surprisingly nice shopping centre (within which lies a rather lovely Waterstones).

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After I met the lovely chap above, Dad and I made our way to Belfast. After checking into the IBIS Castle St (more central and better value than Bewley’s), Dad chilled in our room and I made my way into the town, where I looked up the newly refitted Waterstones on Fountain St and was interviewed by BBC Radio Belfast.

That night, having been recommended Home on Donegall Sq for a good meal, but not being able to get in (always a good sign), we went to Coco on Linenhall St instead. The decor was fabulous – my favourite piece of art depicted a cigarette packet with the words, ‘Religion can seriously harm you and others around you’. Usefully, the food was even better: Dad had beetroot risotto and I had chicken liver parfait to start, then we both had shoulder of lamb, which was divine.

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After breakfast on Tuesday, we drove to the Giant’s Causeway. It was freezing at the very north of the country, but worth it to see the amazing stones, which really are hexagonal. The visitors’ centre, rebuilt and redesigned in 2012, was impressive too. Dad enjoyed seafood chowder and I wolfed down soda bread pizza.

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Back in Belfast, after an afternoon of reading, we headed to Salt Bistro in the Cathedral Quarter. Unfortunately, my meal was disappointing: the bread served was unsuited to my tapenade and hummus starter, and my thai vegetable curry also contained mussels and prawns, which the waitress suggested I had ordered.

On Wednesday morning, after a delicious breakfast of berry and cinnamon scones and sweetened cream in Avoca on Arthur St, we headed south again. Dad fancied seafood in Howth, but as time was getting on, we headed through Dublin Bay to Dalkey. Again, our food was pretty ordinary, but not a bad end to another lovely stay in Ireland.

So, do I prefer Belfast or Dublin? It’s got to be Belfast!

Sick Lady Soup

March 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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On Tuesday, I was sick. Every time I moved, I felt like the oldest person in the world. I spent the entire day under a yellow cellular blanket watching Bergerac.

Until, that is, I needed nourishment. The sort of nourishment which can only come from soup. There’s nothing quite like the warming spiciness of an Asian broth when you’re besieged by flu. However, as I a) failed to find my fail-safe Nigella recipe and b) had no pak choi or noodles, I decided to invent my very own Sick Lady Soup.

The following recipe is just a rough guide. Hey, I’m not going to dictate what goes in your own Sick Soup. Let your tastebuds and fridge, feeble as they may be, decide.

2 x stock cubes, vegetable or chicken
Ginger, either fresh and grated or powdered, to taste
Salt and pepper
Mushrooms, whichever variety you like, chopped
4 x fat spring onions or 2 pak choi heads, chopped
Spaghetti or noodles
Lime juice

1) Place stock cubes in a medium-sized saucepan. Pour over boiling water until pan is half full.
2) Add salt and pepper, then grated ginger. Stir.
3) Add mushrooms. Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes.
4) Add spring onions.
5) Chop 1cm-sized lengths of spaghetti into your pan, of add quick cook noodles. Cook for another five minutes.
6) Pour soup into a bowl. Squeeze in some lime juice.
6) Eat soup, preferably whilst watching Bergerac.

If You Can’t Sleep, Learn Something

March 5, 2013 at 1:40 am | Posted in cooking, food, History, insomnia, internet, Ireland, Maps, Northern Ireland, Recipe | Leave a comment
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So. I can’t sleep. A fairly common problem for me, exacerbated by flu, a child with an unpredictable sleeping pattern and an overactive mind. So I decided that instead of aimlessly tweeting, I might take advantage of my insomnia and learn something. This is what I have learned:

1) The six counties of Northern Ireland;
2) The largest county of the Republic of Ireland;
3) The perceived difference between a Loyalist and a Unionist;
4) When the Act of Union was;
5) The 10 best Irish history books;
6) The 10 best Irish novels;
7) The recipe for an authentic spaghetti bolognese.

So, food & history: these are the things which keep me awake at night.

Frugal February: Post No 2

February 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Baking, cooking, family, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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Today, children, I made, in my humble opinion, an almighty apple crumble.

As a child, my mother used to make the most fantastic rhubarb crumble: the rhubarb was just the right side of sour and the topping was caramelised and crunchy.

However, rhubarb is not a fruit to eat raw (although I must declare a penchant for sucking on those deliciously sour stalks of goodness), and thus, unless one intends on cooking with it, it is not a foodstuff one would have in the house by chance. It is not a frequenter of fruit bowls.

So, why did I decide to make this apple crumble? Well, in the spirit of limiting food waste, instead of throwing away the browning apple segments which Jude refused, I decided I would actually use them. And, as luck would have it, I had all the ingredients I needed.

I’ve adapted a recipe from Annie Bell’s Gorgeous Desserts. The original recipe uses apricots, but I used apples for reasons I’ve already explained.

4 apples, whatever variety you like (I used Coxs and no sugar), peeled, cored and diced
160g unsalted butter
150g golden syrup
150g rolled oats
1/2 tsp sea salt
Tbsp light muscovado sugar

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees/Gas Mark 4.
2) Melt golden syrup, salt and 150g butter in a pan on a medium heat. Stir in oats.
3) Put apples in a medium-sized dish (although I used a cake tin lined with baking paper, so you can improvise) and dot remaining butter around the dish.
4) Place oat mixture over apples. Scatter over muscovado sugar. Cook for 30 minutes.

And that’s it. I ate this for breakfast and later on cold from the fridge.

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Frugal February: Post No. 1

February 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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I’m not the most amazing person in the world when it comes to food wastage. Indeed, I’m ashamed to say that, just last week, I threw half a loaf of bread away. So I’ve started February determined to cut down on what I throw away, and finally to dip into the seemingly endless supplies which my sister Jools left me when she moved to Australia. Don’t worry, it was only a couple of months ago…..

It being February, and its best before date being Jan 2013 (I always think that one can exercise a little common sense with best before dates), I decided to start with this:

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An easy recipe, obviously, and not one to inspire the most exciting of blogposts, but what I love about pancake batter mixes is that it makes everything so EASY. And it’s CHEAP! Hooray for ease and cheapness! Plus, pancakes are so versatile. You can have them for breakfast or pudding, and pop in some fruit to help you or your offspring reach that five a day target. Or you can stuff them with some delicious cheese and ham, as I once ate one in Amsterdam, and have them for dinner. Who doesn’t like pancakes?

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As you can see, I’m a bit cack-handed when it comes to crêpes, and the end result is fairly doughy and more like an American flabby pancake than a delicate Parisian crêpe. But Jude had no complaints:

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So go forth and flip, fellow pancake lovers. And let me know what your favourite fillings are. Here is mine, adorned with that old classic, lemon and sugar:

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The Perils of the Internet

January 9, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Posted in internet, love, men, relationships | 3 Comments
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Ah, the Internet (or t’internet, if you’re feeling affected). It’s revolutionised our lives, allowing us to browse shoes, men & car insurance deals effortlessly. It was J D Salinger’s dream, surely? For with the internet, one need never leave the house: just buy your food and friends online (don’t forget your vitamin D tablets).

But, and I concede that this is not an original point, I fear that poor old E M Forster, beloathéd of A Level English students everywhere, would have a (quietly British) fit. Only connect? Only disconnect, more like. Because the internet has reduced us to window shoppers, browsers of the browser; there is no need to pay up or or fully commit to anything, whether it be a pasta bake or a person. Not only have we been reduced, but our emotions and actions have also: we can like, follow and unfollow, block and unblock in seconds.

Internet relationships are unique, and I have been intrigued by them ever since I read The Powerbook by the wonderful Jeanette Winterson, surely a prescient novel given the fact that one in five people now meet online I have tried online dating, and I am trying it now, but mostly, I am bored by it all. I know that many have found love online, and good luck to them, but it is such a cutthroat process: it’s so easy to scroll through hundreds of people and not be interested, as though they were merely a pair of shoes. Don’t like the photo? Ignore the person. Simple.

I left Facebook because people have started to use it as a ranting forum, and I am considering leaving Twitter because dirty messages and declarations of love from strangers don’t really do it for me, thanks very much. For the internet is an enabler, like alcohol: it can make us too impulsive for our own good.

Please Tell Me You’ve Heard of Stalin?

August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Posted in History, men, relationships, Teaching | 4 Comments
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My friend Tania and I used to perform something called the Nietzsche Test when on a first date. Basically, if you hadn’t heard of the great Nihilist, we weren’t interested. Well, it looks as if I’m going to have to rename it the Stalin Test.

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Have you seen this man? (Last spotted circa 1999 in a GCSE textbook, I imagine.) Not in the flesh, obviously, but you know who he is, don’t you? Because, dear reader, there are people out there who have NO IDEA. The conversation which follows illustrates this fact:

Ignorant Man: I saw you walking towards the beach and thought you were going skinny dipping! Guffaws.  An embarrassing silence ensues.

Ignorant Man: So, what do you do then?

Me: I work in a bookshop.

Ignorant Man: And what’s your five year plan?

Me: I’m not Stalin.

Ignorant Man: Who’s Stalin?

Me: You know, Stalin? Stalin the DICTATOR?

Shaking my head in disgust, I stumble off into the sunset to drink onion-flavoured gin. You don’t even want to know what that tastes like.

How has this happened? How are there people out there who can name every Big Brother contestant ever but have never heard of a 20th century dictator responsible for millions of deaths? Yes, I had a brilliant History teacher whose method of demonstrating Blitzkrieg I have never forgotten (after explaining its characteristics, he asked us to use a board pen to show what it would have looked like: kinetic, visual & aural learning simultaneously, PGCE students). Stalin’s Five Year Plan didn’t exactly thrill me, but I would be appalled if I had no idea who he was.

We are becoming stupider by the day.

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