My Top 5 March Gripes

ONE

Glass ketchup bottles.
One of my most favourite things is breakfast. I especially like breakfast whilst staying in a fancy-pants hotel. But what I cannot stand (with a passion I might add) is Heinz Tomato Ketchup in a glass bottle. Ugh. They made squeezy bottles for a reason – so you could actually get some ketchup before your Full English gets stone-cold. It ends up being plain embarrassing as I see my husband who is sat opposite me wincing whilst I violently shake the bottle and make growling noises. I can see him on one hand slowly reaching to take the bottle from my grasp and on the other hand he’s ready to duck under the table should we have a ketchup explosion. It’s such hard work and not to mention soooo eighties. Please stop with this madness, Heinz. Just stop.

TWO

The Ideal Home Show.
This was my first year at Ideal Home Show and I was super excited. Needn’t of been. It was pretty boring.

THREE

Bumping into ex-boyf at the zoo.
It was a beautiful day and my husband Stuart and I wandered about aimlessly at Chester Zoo in the sunshine eating ice-cream. All was well until… we reached the giraffe area. I was taking a few photos and Stuart had wondered off. It was at that moment I saw Mr Ex. He was looking right at me. I looked right back at him aghast. Oh. My. God. OK Sonia, don’t make any sudden movements. Is that him? Maybe that’s not him. Is he…smiling at me? OK I think that’s him. So being the mature individual I am, I did a 180° turn and ran, and hid behind a big sign. Stuart walked back towards me looking confused as to why his wife is keeled over like a loon with her face pressed against the back of a ‘what giraffes eat’ sign (he’s a lucky guy).

Thankfully I didn’t see him again, but I did find myself wondering why oh why didn’t I bring my over-sized sunglasses and big floppy hat? And maybe a fake moustache and newspaper. I realised this was silly, after all we dated for five years, but that was over ten years ago and we hadn’t kept in contact. It was just sheer surprise that I acted like a complete weirdo. In hindsight, yes I should of handled it like a grown-up, a proper adulty adult. Eh, maybe next time.

FOUR

Crumbs in butter.
Gee whiz, this gets my goat. Crumbs. In. Butter. This isn’t just a March issue it’s a year-round disaster. But in March it’s particularly gruesome because I find bits of raisins from hot cross buns in there. VOM.

FIVE

Wtf to wear.
Seriously, one minute it’s lukewarm, the next it’s Storm Katie. My wardrobe brain is having a melt-down.

The Taming of the Queen

From having read a few Philippa Gregory books, I was staring to wain a little from her so this was last chance saloon. Thankfully Gregory has managed to grab my attention again with The Taming of the Queen, a story highlighting Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife Catherine Parr.

Once again the author brings to life the Tudor court, where one minute you could be in favour and the next imprisoned in the tower. I have never known much about Catherine Parr other than she outlived the King – we all know the rhyme and know she survives. But in this story it’s the journey and rollercoaster of emotions that Gregory takes us through that is the triumph.

Well written and entirely engaging we learn about Catherine Parr and how she apprehensively agreed to marry Henry VIII. She had obvious doubts due to past track record – I imagine if he had a bio on Tinder, it would leave most girls running for the hills.

Though Henry showers her with gifts, Catherine has an underlying feeling that makes her feel understandably uneasy, especially as some of the gifts belonged to his ex-wives. Catherine was divided by her duty as a wife, queen and step-mother to the king’s three children, and her forbidden love for Thomas Seymour, plus she was also the first women to be published for her work under her own name. She had a lot to juggle, but then throw in Henry’s temperament and his constant changing mind, it’s any wonder she didn’t have a breakdown. She lived on a constant knife-edge with the knowledge the smallest thing could mean her downfall. And it very nearly did…

I would have loved to have read more about Catherine’s life after Henry’s death, as I know it was pretty turbulent. Although Gregory touches on this in her author’s notes, I felt the book came to rather an abrupt stop, especially when I know there was more to be told. Despite this, I will definitely read Gregory’s next book and look forward to being transported back to the Tudor age once more.

Natio Aromatherapy

Whilst idly sauntering around a huge Tescos store, I was drawn towards the skincare isle (there’s like a magnetic force between us or something). And yes, I do mean Tescos. The one in my hometown is one of the biggest ones there is, so there’s plenty more than just bananas. The skincare section is pretty impressive with some great brands (as well as the usual Nivea, Simple etc). And that’s where I discovered Natio Aromatherapy.

Natio is an aussie brand with the slogan ‘nature nurtures best’, and boy, do they live up to it. Even after spending five minutes on their website I feel like a new person. I bought the Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser (£6.80) and the Gentle Facial Scrub (£10).

The cleanser I fell in love with straight away primarily due to the scent. It reminded me of a Thailand/Bali inspired spa I went to in Zanzibar (I know, check me out). The cleanser is mild with a neutral PH to avoid stripping your skin from the essential oils and uses plant extracts from sandalwood, shea butter, calendula, rosewood, jojoba and lemon. Yes, there’s quite a lot there, but they work together harmoniously and it’s officially the most divine thing I’ve smelt ever!

The facial scrub, has a milder scent and uses sea kelp to detoxify and rosehip for
anti-aging. It has teeny weeny beads that do not feel harsh or like my face will bleed after I’ve used it like some scrubs do (Mr Kiehl’s, I’m talking to you). I love the fact both products are so kind to the skin, but not so mild that it doesn’t make a difference.
My skin looks and feels softer and fresh – this won’t be the last time I delve into them, close my eyes and be transported to somewhere exotic.

Springwatch Soup

I love it when days get that little bit longer and you can leave the house without twenty layers of clothes on. And so, my attention also turns to lighter and greener foods – naturally. I absolutely love making homemade soups, much better than from a can, and this recipe is super quick and easy. After all, you don’t want to be stuck indoors when the sun is teasing you to come out and play!

SAJL9524

Springwatch Soup

1 bag (85g) of watercress
2 small to medium potatoes (diced)
1 clove garlic
olive oil
1 onion (diced)
1.5 pints vegetable stock

In a large saucepan heat a little olive oil and sweat of the onion until nearly translucent.

Add the potatoes and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.

Pour in the stock and simmer until the potatoes are soft.

Add the watercress, simmer for another minute (no longer, so you can keep the colour vibrant)

Using a hand-held blender, liquidise until a lovely smooth consistency.

Season to taste. I have garnished mine with salad cress, a few drops of rapeseed oil and chilli flakes.

I reckon Chris Packham would love it!

Death on the Nile

I decided to read Death on the Nile after I read the High Mountains of Portugal, as a main character from the book was a huge Agatha Christie fan. Now I must confess, I am a Christie virgin, and the closest I ever got to her was watching a few episodes of Poirot (the theme tune still haunts me) back in the early 90’s. I now completely get why her writing is so popular, I was gripped from start to finish.

Christie introduces us to all the characters wonderfully, and as you know who will get killed, you can start to suspect everyone straight away – for everyone has a motive and reason. Dun…dun….daaaaaah. Hercule Poirot is throughout the novel a smug little so and so, and would irritate me immensely if I ever met him on holiday and I’d probably end up being the first person he’d question. But to be fair, the poor guy just wanted a relaxing break to unwind and it ends up being a busman’s holiday for him, so I won’t lay into his pompardidness too much.

As the title suggests, the book is set on a Nile Cruise, it’s a shame I didn’t feel the surroundings in Egypt where given much focus or description other than a few lines here and there. It could well of been Death on the Nene.

So, to the ‘whodunnit’… the juicy bit. There are curve-balls and twists all over the place which makes the idea of actually ‘putting the book down’ an absurd idea. You have to keep reading until Poirot finally reveals the murderer and the reason.
Just scandalous dahling.
I absolutely loved this book and it will not be my last Agatha Christie for sure.

Women on Everest

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’m not going to go all Destiny’s Child on you. Question. But this post is dedicated to three quite frankly, brilliant women.

Junko Tabei

On the 16th May 1975, Junko Tabei from Japan, created history by becoming the first ever woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Despite being buried by in an avalanche 12 days earlier and being rescued by local Sherpas, she decided to carry on to reach the roof of the world.

Whilst still a child, she suffered with weak lungs and only ever grew to 4 foot and 9 inches (nearly my height!). At aged 10, Junko first became attracted to mountains after climbing Mt. Nasu with a teacher, it suited her as it wasn’t a ‘competitive sport’.

In 1992, she also became the first woman to complete the Seven Summits – the highest mountain in each of the 7 continents.

– Mt. Everest – 29,029 feet, on the border of Tibet and Nepal.
– Mt. Denali – 20,320 feet, the highest mountain peak in North America.
– Mt. Elbrus – 18,442 feet, an inactive volcano in Russia
– Mt. Aconcagua – 22,841 feet, the Andes, South America.
– Mt. Carstensz Pyramid – 16,023 feet, Indonesia
– Mt. Kilimanjaro – 15,092 feet, Tanzania, Africa.
– Mt. Vinson – 16,050 feet, Antarctica

There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to climb that mountain, no matter what other people said.” – Junko Tabei

Pasang Lhamu Sherpa

On 22nd April 1993, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa summited Mount Everest, and was the first Nepali woman to do so. Having been brought up in a mountaineering family, she spent years working with her father as a trekking guide.

During the decent of Everest, tragedy struck when severe weather conditions resulted in Pasang Lhamu Sherpa loosing her life on the South Summit.

She was the first woman awarded with the Nepal Tara (Star), the government also issued a stamp with her name and erected a statue of her in Kathmandu.

Pasang Lhamu Sherpa gate
A gate dedicated to Pasang Lhamu Sherpa at the start of the Everest Base Camp trail.

B_08_MG_8805

Chhurim Sherpa

Since Pasang Lhamu Sherpa summited, 21 other Nepalese women have climbed to the top of Everest, but 29 year old, Chhurim Sherpa broke a record by becoming the first woman to summit twice in one season.

Reaching the peak on the 12th May 2012, she set out for the summit again with a different team just a week later. Considering she had no prior summits on Everest, makes her achievement even more astounding.

The biggest problem Chhurim Sherpa admitted, was being surrounded by male sherpas.
It turns out to be very tough for women like me because there are no toilets. Five of us had to share a tent – it was a bit awkward.”

I hear ya sister.

La Vina – Manchester

I love the idea of Tapas. The little dishes, the sharing, taking your time, enjoying the company, and sipping Sangria whilst you do so. If I had the Spanish climate to go with it, I’d be in heaven, alas today I’m in a cold and grey Manchester. But  La Vina, set smack bang in the middle of bustling Deansgate, brings that little slice of the Med to me.

The dark red walls, large iron chandeliers exude a broody laid-back atmosphere, whilst the barrel dining tables brings a rustic feel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

To begin, Stuart and I shared a platter of sliced chorizo Iberico bellota, Salchichón Iberico bellota, piquillo peppers, manchego cheese, olives, ciabatta and mini chorizo bites. Simple, straightforward and delicious. This is hands downs, my kind of nibbley thing – I can do it all day, everyday – it’s how I eat. But mains awaited. I went with a light option of Croquetas de Espinacas (hand-crumbed croquettes, filled with a creamy goats’ cheese, spinach & Béchamel sauce) and Esparagos (freshly chargrilled asparagus served with a chunky olive tapenade & fresh lemon zest). Completely delish, and the right amount for me to feel stuffed (I’m really small). Stuart had New Meat Bombs (pork & gorgonzola meat bombs in a sherry jus with a truffle shot) and prawns from the specials board, all of which he devoured and loved.

IMG_2665

Of course, there will be certain members of the Tapas Police who may question the authenticity of this restaurant, but what it does have is great food, friendly service and a wonderful atmosphere, and that does it enough for me to be…. Livin La Vina Loca. (sorry).

La Vina, 105/107 Deansgate, Manchester M3 2BQ
0161 8353144

Shiseido Bio-Performance

I have never been able to stick to one moisturiser to save my life, so it’s my mission to find ‘the one’, my Mr Right of the cream world. I was excited, as I always am, to try a new fresh pot of something that may potentially be the game-changer: Enter, the Shiseido Bio-Performance Advanced Super Revitalising Cream. It seems the marketing bods at Shiseido have just discovered ‘words’ and got a bit carried away. Perhaps they want us to feel like we’re getting our moneys worth?

Firstly, let me get the scent out of the way, it’s flowery, but in old-fashioned way. I’m not a huge fan of smelling like my great-great aunt. The cream claims it is the ultimate strategy against premature ageing, and is specifically aimed at women over 30, and whilst I fall into that category, I’m not sure it worked for me.  The texture and feel is heavenly, and there is a glow after I apply it….but that’s it. I’ve been using it for a few months now and my skin does not feel revitalised by it. For me, there’s not enough… how can I put this… there’s not enough meat to it, it’s too wishy-washy and doesn’t produce the results I’d expect from Shiseido. So, we won’t be going past the first date I’m afraid.

It’s not me, it’s you.

Available from Boots online at £78.50 for 50ml.

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas

I really struggle to sit through a movie without eating some form of snacky snack, even when I read or sit at my desk at work. Actually whatever time, I like a good nibble. This does however, pose a problem regarding what grazeable product I can eat without feeling too guilty about the crap content. Rummaging around one day, pre-movie, I came across a lonely tin of chickpeas…and an oven. The rest is history. For a lighter in taste and texture option try a tin of green lentils which doesn’t take so long to cook either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas
Ingredients

1 (400g) tin of chickpeas, drained
2 tsp olive oil
salt
½ tsp paprika/cayenne pepper (or to taste)
oregano (fresh or dried)

Method

  • Heat the oven at 200C.
  • Pour the olive oil to a large roasting dish and heat up in the oven whilst it is preheating.
  • Add the drained chickpeas to the hot roasting dish.
  • Season to taste, I usually add sea-salt, cayenne pepper and oregano and mix thoroughly.
  • Pop into the oven for 40-45mins. Give the chickpeas a good shake at least once half-way through cooking and try a chickpea to see if more salt etc needs to be added.
  • When done, you’ll find the humble chickpea transformed into a beautifully crunchy and super tasty ultimate snack.
  • With this recipe you can be as creative as you like, try different herbs and spices or even use flavoured olive oil.

The world is your chickpea.

Tastebuds Tingled at Tusk

Set in the ever popular Northern Quarter in Manchester sits an African themed bar (obvs), Tusk. The intimate bar plays fab music and its interiors include zebra heads and safari hats on the wall (without being naff).

IMG_2678

But forget all that, the thing about this place is the drinks. The cocktail menu is animal based (as in animal named, not animals in the drinks).
The menu is broken down to: Pride of the Pack, which includes The Tiger, The Lion, The Sex-Panther to name a few, then onto: Flying High, The Flamingo, The Albatross etc., and finally Back on Land: The Black Mamba, The Silverback, The Squirrel Monkey, and more.

Now, I have something to tell you. This is pretty big news for me, but I may of possibly had the best cocktail I have ever had in my WHOLE LIFE. And I’ve had a few.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present The Leopard.

Described on the menu as ‘Sleek and graceful with a fiery bite, this combines chilli infused rum, coconut and guava’. Whilst, shaking his stuff, the cocktail guy stopped and asked me to have a little taste to see if it was hot enough. Yep, yep it was defiantly hot enough, I wasn’t sure how I would drink the whole thing without asking for a glass of milk. But after the first and second sip of my cocktail, I found it to be the most devilishly delightful drink I’ve had. The drink became less spicy, that or my mouth had numbed up so much, I couldn’t tell the difference and I didn’t care. If you are in need of a little warm pick-me-up, forget chicken noodle soup and head up to Tusk and try a Leopard. I dare you.