Review / The Vegan Kind Box TVK27

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

This is going to be my last review of The Vegan Kind's boxes for a little while!  I made the decision last month to unsubscribe for a bit to save some money for other things, but I forgot to cancel my subscription before my January box went out.  Oops!  So, TVK27 will be the last one I post about for the next few months.

Last month's box was a hard act to follow, and I must say, although I love receiving these boxes this one was probably the only one that I was a little bit disappointed about.  Some of the products were amazing, but others just weren't to my tastes or weren't up to scratch compared to what I usually expect from TVK.

The recipe in TVK27 is a nice, warming bean soup recipe, although it's the kind of thing I'd think anyone who knows their way around a kitchen doesn't really need a recipe for as it's quite basic!  The charity of the month is Veganuary, the global campaign to get people to try going vegan in January while providing information and practical support about veganism and transitioning to veganism.  They also provided a handy leaflet about it since, well, it is Veganuary this month.

On to the items!

Snact Apple & Raspberry Fruit Jerky (20g, RRP £1.00) was one of a few things this month that I didn't think was that amazing.  It was pretty tasty and I love the flavour of apple and raspberry, but fruit chews or jerky are not really something I ever want, and I never find that it really satisfies me much as a snack.  That said, the ethos behind Snact is one I can definitely get behind, because they only use produce that for whatever reason - too big, small, ugly looking - would be discarded instead of put up for sale to make their snacks.  So, on top of counting towards one of your five-a-day, these also help to reduce some of the astronomical food 'waste' that ends up in the bin every year - not bad!  

I was also disappointed to find the Pineapple flavoured Provamel Organic Rice Milk Coconut Drink (200ml, RRP 80p) not because I don't like or want to try drinks like this (I do!), but because I don't really like pineapple flavoured things!  Considering the other options were plain coconut or chocolate, this is one product that could've gone quite a bit better as far as my taste buds were concerned.  You can use these in smoothies, cooking, desserts and you can drink them hot or cold - I can imagine the plain coconut one being super refreshing chilled on a hot day.  This one was okay, sickly pineapple flavour aside, and I'd love to try the other flavours but I don't think I'll be repurchasing this specific one any time soon.

The first thing that I actually tried were the Soffle's Rosemary & Thyme Pitta Chips (60g, RRP £1.20) and I was really, really impressed with these!  They were extremely flavoursome and the texture was something I'd never really had in a crisp-type snack before - who'd have thought roasted, seasoned pitta bread would make great crisps?  They were incredibly moreish and the Other Half and I demolished the whole pack with lunch pretty quickly.  I'd definitely buy these again; I ate mine with some home made hummus and I bet they'd taste great with a beer to go with them too.

I tried the Squirrel Sisters Delicious Snack Bars Cacao Brownie (40g, RRP £2.49) as a pudding one evening after admiring the adorable name and pretty packaging.  The actual product was pretty nice, but wasn't quite what I expected.  The name implied it was a brownie, but it was more along the lines of a little energy-bite than a luscious chocolatey brownie, and it's actually a couple of little bars rather than one big brownie too.  The taste was good and I do enjoy a good healthy, cacao-based treat but I feel like calling these a brownie was a bit deceptive!  Plus, at £2.49 that means you pay nearly £1.25 per pinky-finger-sized bar which, although the product itself is obviously high quality and made with great ingredients, is a bit much for me.  I've said similar things in previous reviews; I love little energy bites and healthy bars, but they're often way to expensive for me to justify buying them on a regular basis.

The next product though, oh wow.  I'd heard about Vego bars before, so I was really excited to see this Mini Vego Chocolate Bar (65g, RRP £2.00) in my box and it did not disappoint!  I wasn't really sure what to expect but, in a nutshell, it's basically a bar of Nutella with real hazelnuts in it and it's easily my new favourite chocolate bar now.  And this is apparently a mini bar?  How big are the normal sized ones?!  My non-vegan other half loved this too and I'd highly recommend anyone who loves chocolate and/or Nutella-flavoured things give these a go.

Since it's Veganuary, TVK included another nice rubber bracelet in the spirit of the month in the form of the Veganuary Wristband (RRP £2.99).  The bands come in a few colours on the Veganuary website but TVK picked the vibrant green specifically for this box, and it's chunkier and much brighter than the TVK wristband I received in another month's box.  Much the same as the other one, I probably won't get much use out of this since I don't wear wristbands, but it's a cool little vegan statement nonetheless.

I was excited to see something by Dr. Organic this month, but I my heart sank a little bit again when I realised that it was a hand and nail cream.  The Dr. Organic Organic Olive Oil Hand & Nail Cream (125ml, RRP £6.49) is a repairing hand cream designed to moisturise and protect your hands and strengthen your nails, which is a pretty spot on product to have on you at this time of the year - I'm just not much of a hand cream person.  That said, I have actually really been enjoying using it.  It's thick, non-greasy and absorbs quickly, leaving my hands feel much softer and more nourished.  I may not have ever thought to buy something like this myself, but I've been pleasantly surprised and would now happily recommend it to someone else!

The last product this month is the Teen VGN Recipe Book (RRP £1.50) and although it's great that this supports a non-profit that supports young vegans, as someone who is already a pretty accomplished cook it's kind of lost on me.  Some of the recipes look really interesting and I'd like to try, but others are very basic and many can be found online on the author's blogs anyway, so I wouldn't particularly want to pay money for the book myself.  I can see why it might be a great addition to the box for other people who don't live in their kitchens, and it does give links to a few great vegan cheese alternatives, for example, but it's just not really for me.  I would've rather seen another chocolate bar or bag of crisps for the same price, personally.

That just about wraps it up for this month's review!  I'll really miss getting my monthly subscription boxes but I'm sure time will fly and I'll be signing up again in no time.  In the mean time, I'll just have to live vicariously through everyone else and lurk on other bloggers' reviews.

What did you think of this month's box?

A Week of Vegan Meals

Sunday, 24 January 2016

One of the most common misconceptions of veganism is probably that you’re super limited in what you can eat, that you eat only the same things all of the time, that you only eat grass, etc. etc.  The reality couldn’t be further from the truth – you only need to peruse a couple of vegan food blogs to see that!  But, not all of us are foodies who can devote lots of time to food preparation and not all of us can afford 100% fresh ingredients for every single day of the week.  I don’t know about you, but I found veganism a little bit daunting at first because of the amount of mainly raw food vegan bloggers and Instagrammers with their colourful meals and the time they spent preparing their own vegan parmesan and a week’s worth of rainbow smoothies.

I’ve been wanting to blog about what I eat for a while now, and I thought what better time to blog about vegan meals than Veganuary?  If you don’t already know, Veganuary is an initiative to get more people to try going vegan for the month of January; this year as many as a whopping 20,000 people have taken the pledge which is pretty huge considering less than half that decided to do it last year.  The month is nearly over, but for people who are struggling or who are thinking about continuing to eat vegan after January has ended, I’m hoping that my meals will be at best a bit of food inspiration, or at least a reminder that no, you don’t have to eat really exciting, healthy meals all the time to eat vegan!

Before I dive into the food, I’ll tell you a little bit about my lifestyle and taste in food in general to get an idea of why I cook what I do.  I work full time Monday to Friday, so not only do I lack time and energy in the evenings to prepare really extensive or exciting dinner menus, I also eat my breakfast at work because I have to get up so early (and eating as soon as I get up makes me feel sick).  So, as well as either myself or my Other Half cooking dinner each weekday night, I also have to prepare my breakfast and lunch in advance too.  Most of the time, my lunch will be leftovers from one or two nights before, and we always try to cook enough that there’s some spare for at least one of my lunches.  During the weekend though, I have a lot more time to play around with food and do things that require more time or more preparation, and this tends to be when I eat the most interesting meals.

I’m also one of those people who will eat basically anything!  I’m not a fussy eater in the slightest – in fact, most of the food that I was picky about is off the table as a vegan now anyway (tinned tuna and mayo for example, yuck).  So, I eat a variety of different things and mix everything up quite often.  I love curries (although none feature in this post) and I love lentils, beans and pulses.  But, I also love store-bought vegan mince, bread, sausages, rice, pasta and other ‘less healthy’ vegan food options.  Whatever it is, I’ll probably love it and gobble it up in no time.

I haven’t recorded or written about my snacks throughout the week, partly because I don’t snack too much and partly because I couldn’t be bothered (oops) but if this is something you would be interested in then let me know!

With that said, let’s get cracking on the meals I at last week…

Breakfast – French Toast with Golden Syrup
Since I don’t have the time during the week to have nice breakfasts, I usually have at least one day at the weekend every now and again where I cook something indulgent – usually this is pancakes, but this time I thought I’d try French toast since we had some white bread in for a change.  This is a simple recipe made by coating the bread in a mixture of non-dairy milk, a bit of flour, brown sugar and spices, frying it off until crispy and then slathering in the syrup of your choosing.  It takes less than 15 minutes to whip up and is just as tasty as a non-vegan version.

Lunch – Flatbread with Hummus and Pitta Chips
This one is a prime example of when I use the weekends to prepare more interesting meals – both the hummus and the flatbread here are homemade!  The flatbreads are super simple; I used to make them with just flour and water, but this is just as easy with a bit of oil and non-dairy milk as well as water.  There’s a bunch of different recipes of flatbreads out there, so have a look around and find one that works for you.  For these, all you have to do is roll them out and then fry them in a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes on each side.

The hummus you need a food processor for, but if you have you just whack in a tin of chickpeas, some olive oil, a spoonful of tahini, salt, pepper and lemon juice and you have a delicious, homemade hummus.  I sprinkled mine with paprika and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  I don’t use much oil or tahini in mine because I like the more chunky texture, but most recipes call for way more than I actually use.  This way, it’s much healthier though and way cheaper than buying it from the shops!

The pitta chips were delicious and from my The Vegan Kind box this month – I’ll be writing a bit more about them in my review of January’s box.

Dinner – Spaghetti Bolognese
Bolognese sauces used to be a go-to of mine but I hadn’t done them in a while, and this was my first go of doing one in our slow cooker.  All you need is vegan mince, a variety of vegetables, a tin of tomatoes and some tomato puree and passata, a splash of red wine and/or red wine vinegar and whatever herbs and seasonings you like.  I like to add a little bit of marmite for an extra level of savouriness.  We had ours with whole wheat spaghetti and a glass of nice red wine!

Breakfast – Chocolatey Cereal
#notsohealthyvegan.  This is that Star Wars cereal my mum gave me for Christmas – it’s tasty, easy, chocolatey and vegan!

Lunch – Spiced Porridge with Nuts and Seeds
Sometimes I don’t always eat a savoury meal for lunch and just have a second breakfast instead.  This was one of those days!  The porridge base was Tesco’s Bircher Muesli base, which it says to use for a kind of overnight oats-type dish but I just heat it up and it achieves the same effect.  I then added stevia sweetener, allspice, cinnamon and nuts to it with (obviously) some soya milk.

Dinner – Flatbread topped with Bean and Tofu Salad
Using up the rest of the flatbreads from the day before, I made a quick salad out of black turtle beans fried with some smoked paprika and chilli, and some tofu fried off in the same spices.  The salad is lettuce, red onion, tomato, grated carrot and cucumber, but you could add whatever you wanted to it.  I always forget how nice grated carrot is in sandwiches and carrots are dirt cheap so it’s great value for money, too.

Breakfast – Sweet Potato Porridge
And so we enter the working the week!  My breakfasts are always some kind of fruit with either oats, granola or muesli, served as a hot oatmeal or just eaten cold with soya milk or yoghurt.  This time, I had hot bircher muesli and used up the rest of an old sweet potato that I roasted and turned into a purée, plus flax seeds and a bit of stevia to sweeten it further.  This was incredibly delicious and so filling I didn’t even really need my lunch, but I’m greedy so I ate it anyway.

Lunch – Bean and Tofu Salad
This lunch was just the leftovers from the night before, minus the bread.  The salad, beans and tofu made a really light but filling, tasty meal.

Dinner – Bolognese with Pasta Shells
We used up almost all of the rest of the Bolognese sauce, but used shells instead of spaghetti this time.  Sometimes when we do big batches of food we’ll freeze it, other times we’ll just eat all of it up throughout the week.  Either way, cooking in bulk saves a lot of money and time.

Breakfast – Summer Berry Oats with Vanilla Yoghurt
A simple cold breakfast using frozen summer berries (frozen berries are a huge money saver for breakfasts and smoothies), with some rolled oats, flax seeds, nuts, raisins and some (not pictured because it was in my work fridge) vanilla Alpro yoghurt.  Alpro yoghurt is easily the best non-dairy yoghurt I’ve tried so far and the vanilla version is delicious.  I especially recommend buying lots of it when it’s on offer, because unlike dairy yoghurt, non-dairy yoghurt can last for a couple of months in the fridge.

Lunch – Pasta Bolognese
Leftover pasta from the night before!

Dinner – Vegetable Soup with Butter Beans and Tofu
Sometimes the Other Half and I will eat different meals since he’s an omnivore and I’m not, and this is an example of something really quick that doesn’t take much preparation or thinking about that I can throw together while he’s preparing his food.  It’s basically just carrots, celery, onion, kale and frozen peas and sweetcorn cooked in a vegetable stock with some butter beans and leftover tofu that needed using up, but on a cold winter night it’s not only healthy but very warm and comforting.


Breakfast – Summer Berry Oats with Vanilla Yoghurt
Yes, again.  I’m a normal human who sometimes eats the same meals several times in one week.

Lunch – Vegetable Soup with Butter Beans and Tofu
Leftover soup from the night before.

Dinner – Cajun Roasted Vegetables
Although they take a while, roasted vegetables are another great dinner because they’re just so easy.  If we have enough time in the evenings, all we do is chop up a bunch of veg, pop them in the oven with some oil and seasoning and then just leave them for about forty minutes and then bam, dinner.  This one was made up of onion, sweet potato, parsnip, carrot, half of a leftover yellow pepper and some chickpeas mixed with salt and some Cajun spices.  Although buying fresh vegetables all the time can be expensive and you need a lot of them to fill you up, sweet potatoes and root vegetables are still really nutritious, affordable and are great roasted with some nice spices.

Breakfast – Peanut Butter and Banana Porridge
We got bananas in, so on Thursday I had a banana-based porridge with bircher muesli, flax seeds and a spoonful of peanut butter for extra flavour.

Lunch – Vegetable Soup with Butter Beans and Tofu
Yes, again.  This is the last of it though, promise.

Dinner – Sausages with Brown Rice and Boiled Veg
I’m still disappointed that the Tesco vegetarian sausages I used to eat weren’t vegan, but these Linda McCartney ones are good enough!  I think these are the rosemary and red onion ones, and they taste basically like stuffing which is pretty okay with me.  For veg, we used up the last of our carrots along with some frozen peas and broad beans, served with a side of brown rice.

Breakfast – Spiced Walnut and Banana Porridge
Another banana in my breakfast, this time with some walnuts, cinnamon and allspice for a tasty, festive porridge, again with the Tesco bircher muesli.

Lunch – Brown Rice with a Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwich
Yep, you read that right.  I’m not that bothered about my lunches at work, so when I’m tired or have run out of food, I totally just eat rice or peanut butter sandwiches.  We had some rice leftover from the night before, but not enough for a meal’s worth, so I just sprinked it with hot sauce and then had half of a PB&J sandwich to get me through the rest of my Friday.

Dinner – Pizza
Finishing the week off with a bang is one of my favourites – vegan pizza!  I prefer to just have a cheeseless pizza rather than use a vegan cheese substitute, and for a quick last-minute pizza I use one of the Napolina bases that are vegan and last in your cupboard for ages (and can also be frozen).  Usually I use a home made sauce, but this time I had a bit of a jar of sauce leftover from when I had to bring my own food for a New Year’s Eve party (yes it was a while ago…) so I used that mixed with a bit of tomato passata.  This one also features my favourite topping: red onions, capers, olives, artichoke and fresh tomato with a sprinkle of chilli and oregano.  Done in under 20 minutes, and way healthier than a cheese-covered frozen pizza.

And that’s it – a week of vegan meals.  As you can see, I’ve been pretty honest and I like to think pretty realistic compared to some of the meal sharing posts and blogs you see around.  I don’t have an Instagram diet, I don’t have super interesting things every evening and I duplicate meals and eat leftovers a lot, but I do still eat balanced, healthy and generally affordable meals.  You can be a healthy vegan with a diverse diet without it being really healthy, raw or exciting all the time!  I hope you found this interesting, entertaining and/or in some way helpful!  If you have any meal-related tips, tricks or ideas you’d like to share, let me know in the comments.

You don't have to make a weight loss New Year's Resolution

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

With the start of the New Year comes the onslaught of resolutions, goals and the idea that you need to change being hammered into you again and again and again.  Following the holiday indulgence, usually the first thing that you’re expected to pledge yourself to is a new diet and weight loss to make up for actually enjoying yourself (how dare you?) and to transform into a brand new, thinner you for (now) 2016.

Well, you don’t need to be smaller or lighter to be better, and despite what everyone else says or is doing, you don’t need to change for the New Year.

The New Year’s resolutions always get everyone hyped up into a panic, and with the resolution comes the slow but steady march of the fitness posts and diet articles and recipes for low carb low fat low enjoyment healthy foods to mould your apparently too tubby body into the svelte and skinny one you were always supposed to have.  There’s nothing wrong with eating healthier and joining a gym – especially after weeks spent eating and drinking more than is really advised – but it isn’t a requirement just because we’ve ticked over from one year into another, nor is it a requirement full stop.  It’s easy to get sucked into it when anyone and everyone is all advertising the same mind-set of ditch the mince pies and wine and hit the treadmill and salads, but there are other healthy goals you can set yourself beyond just eating only spiralized vegetables for every meal and squeezing into a smaller pair of jeans.

It isn’t the same for everyone, but generally speaking, people don’t always stick to weight loss or diet-related New Year’s resolutions.  I joined the gym last January not as part of a resolution, but just because I knew I wouldn’t have time to go often enough during December so opted to save my money for another month.  There was a surge of new members and, a couple of months later, it had trickled back to just a few regulars again and I expect it’ll be the same this year.  Others might start eating super healthy for the first few weeks, but fall back into the same old habits later.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all – there’s no point sticking with a gym membership or a fad diet if you don’t enjoy it or it isn’t making you happy (it doesn’t make you a failure!) – but there is a problem with the massive amounts of guilt that you’re inevitably made to feel if you dont meet your targets.  It might be healthy for your body to try and commit to these goals and drop a few pounds and eat a few celery sticks, but that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for your mind, and you should absolutely never sacrifice the latter in favour of the former.  Rather than forcing yourself to do what everyone else is doing and what is expected of you, why not try first to just be comfortable in your own skin?

Eat healthy and exercise by all means because it’s obviously good for you most of the time, but don’t forget that you don’t need to slim down and tone up or start eating nothing but raw veggies in 2016.  Contrary to popular belief, you’re actually perfect as you are and you’re deserving of all the love and respect that the world has to offer without you performing this same song and dance every January.  Other people tend to applaud drastic weight loss as this difficult, praise-worthy act of strength and sure, it’s hard as hell and takes a lot of strength and devotion!  But what a lot of those folks don’t realise, is that loving yourself as you are – without attempting to change yourself physically, to remove the aspects of yourself you’ve been told are ‘wrong’ or unattractive – takes much more strength and devotion and is much more of an uphill battle. 

It’s a long, hard slog towards loving and accepting your body for what it is, but it’s a goal far more worth pursuing than toning up or losing a few pounds and it’s one that has the potential to completely alter your outlook on life and increase your happiness and contentment tenfold.  Rather than standing in front of the mirror and deciding on all of the things you’re going to try to change in 2016, point out the things you already like and the things you want to like more.  Force yourself to see the cuteness or quirkiness or sexiness in bits about yourself that you normally don’t like – for an example, my thighs are fat and my belly folds, but they’re all soft and squishy and nice to touch and hug!  Surround yourself with body positive mantras and people that remind you that you’re beautiful and that you’re loved, and ditch the people that make you feel anything less than the majestic and magnificent creature you are.  Don’t forget to tell yourself that you’re beautiful too. 

Whether or not you drop a dress size has no weight whatsoever on you as a person.  There aren’t really ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods – eating something that makes you happy doesn’t make you ‘naughty’ and you’re no less of a moral or worthwhile person for choosing to keep eating pizza or donuts or skipping a few gym sessions every week.  Your body is not part of your character; it isn’t who you are, it’s just a brilliant vessel that allows you to be you in all of your perfect imperfection.

If you have chosen to pursue some health or weight related New Year’s resolutions, then remember that you’re allowed to relax or to take days off, and you’re allowed to treat yourself.  Don’t believe those people that say that you shouldn’t ‘reward’ yourself for a good work out every now and again with some chips or a dessert.  Don’t believe people who say you should be losing x amount of weight in y amount of days.  Don’t push yourself beyond the limits that your body sets you – listen to it, if it hurts then contrary to what everyone seems to say, that isn’t a ‘good’ thing, it’s your body telling you that you need take it a little easier.  Most importantly, be kind to yourself.  Never feel guilty for not working out ‘enough’ or not dropping ‘enough’ weight, not running fast enough or lifting heavy enough.  Resolutions can be a fun way to challenge yourself and focus yourself on achieving a particular goal, but they’re not the be all and end all and it’s not to end of the world if you do or don’t meet them.

Ditch the magazines and zone out of all of the New Year’s diet talk – at the end of 2016, whether you’re slimmer or bigger or fitter or less fit or you’re still exactly the same as you were when the year started, you’re still a wonderful human and you’re still perfect just as you are.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

2016 Hopes & Goals

Monday, 11 January 2016

2015 was a bit of a blah year for me.  I don’t really usually think much about years as they go by and I’m not one of these people that approaches New Year’s Eve thinking ‘yes, this next year is going to be my year’ but there were a lot of things about 2015 that sucked for me.  There were a lot of good things too, of course, but ultimately it didn’t really leave me with any lasting happy feelings.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I don’t mind thinking a little bit about what I want to achieve in the next twelve months, or what kind of vibe I want my year to have.  Honestly, I think most resolutions are just a waste of time anyway, and it’s so easy to set yourself up to fail.  Saying ‘I’m going to eat only healthy meals every day’ is going to make you feel guilty and awful and not want to bother anymore the second you have to buy a gross sandwich for lunch at work or Friday takeout in the second week of January.  But, saying something like ‘I’m going to start working on eating healthier, more balanced meals more often’ is a much more achievable goal that won’t leave you resenting yourself when you don’t tick that box every single day!

So, in the spirit of things, here are a few of the goals I’m hoping to accomplish in 2016.

I’ve been taking lessons for over a year now, slowed down by working full time and not sorting my theory test before starting to take practical lessons.  I’ve failed it a few times now basically down to bad luck and wrong-place-wrong-time situations and it’s beyond frustrating when I know that I’m a safe, capable driver, but let 2016 be the year that I finally get my full license.

I’ve been in my current job for over a year now too, and it was fine for a while, but more recently as work piles up I find myself frustrated that I’m paid a pretty rubbish wage to do the same work as people who are paid more than me, and the circumstances in my place of work are generally a pain anyway.  I really want to be earning more so that we can have a bit more disposable income to enjoy ourselves, so I’m on the hunt for a new job in 2016.  Luckily since I already have a stable job there’s no pressure and no rush, but I don’t think it’s doing my mental health any favours most days so I just want to be doing something new as soon as I can.

2015 was the year I became pescatarian, vegetarian and then vegan, so 2016 will be the year I keep developing my repertoire of vegan meal ideas!  I might start sharing more recipes and general cooking tips and tricks, but I’m still trying to figure out how best to do recipes and take food photos given that I’m not a food blogger and I don’t even follow other peoples’ recipes properly, let alone my own.

I didn’t really restart my blog with many expectations, but I’ve been blown away by the number of followers and the amount of support that I’ve had.  I never expected to ever be contacted by brands or anything like that either, but I have and the whole thing is still pretty damn weird to me!  My main goal with my blog is to keep searching for my own voice and my own style of photography.  I think I’m slowly getting there and finding what direction I want to take the blog, and I’m already planning a bit of a redesign of my various graphics so we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve had an Instagram for years now and I’ve always used it on and off.  I’ve had an iPod touch for most of that time, which has forced me to only post instantaneously from home or else after interesting things have happened.  It’s easy to forget to ever post photos I’ve taken, and the picture quality is never the best.  Luckily for me though, I got a hand-me-down iPhone 4 for Christmas and once I get it up and running, I’m going to start trying to use IG more regularly.  Rest-assured though that it will be a shitty Instagram without a theme or aesthetic because I can’t be bothered with all of this ‘grow your IG followers by doing this and this and this and never doing this!’ etc. nonsense – I’ll post what I want, when I want and if people don’t like it then whatevs.

Kind of a no-brainer for me, but I want to keep bettering my makeup skills and keep working on my photography, too.  This is all the more important this year because I'm going to two weddings, one of which I'm doing both the photography and makeup for, and the other I'm doing just the makeup for.  Eek, no pressure???

The Other Half and I haven’t exactly loved living in Surrey since we moved here – we only came here for his job, not because we thought it’d be a great place to live.  We don’t find the cities or people as nice, and it’s all so expensive that we can’t afford to do anything fun, we’re pouring all of our money into rent and we’ll probably never be able to afford a house here.  We were talking after Christmas and New Year’s and came to the conclusion that we’re both aiming to move back up North before the end of 2016.  We don’t know where or when or what he’ll be doing for work, but here’s hoping we’ll be in a nice little house or flat in Yorkshire or something again someday.
It’d be nice if I did all of these things by the end of the year, but it isn’t the end of the world if I don’t.  It’s just good to set yourself some goals every now and again and step back and look at what you want to actually achieve, whether it’s for the New Year or not.

What are you hoping to do this year?

What I got for Christmas: Star Wars Edition

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

With the new film out and stores going into merchandise overdrive, I knew I was going to be getting some Star Wars bits and pieces for Christmas and I wasn't disappointed!  So, I thought I'd do a little haul post to share some of what I got.

My mum gave me the bulk of the things, including many of the silly little things like the foam soap, cereal and kitchen towels (which are apparently from Poundland but appear to be legit Lucasfilm/Disney merch!).  Apart from my t-shirts I bought myself earlier in the year, can you believe those new coasters and the little key fobs are the first The Force Awakens items I own?  I expected to have collected a mountain of crap by now...

The Year by Year Visual Chronicle book is actually about the films' development and production from what science fiction was like before Star Wars, up to 2012 and the Clone Wars animated series.  There are lots of snippets of news, toy releases, old posters, how it was produced and advertised and what was going on in the world when each movie was released.  I'm expecting it to be a really interesting read and really nostalgic once I get to the prequel years that I grew up with.

The other book gem was given to me by Claire and I literally sat there for about ten minutes after opening it trying to find everything on the first few pages!  As well as obviously finding Chewbacca, you also have to look for Han, the Millennium Falcon and the Old Trilogy bounty hunters on every page and there are lots of other little bits and pieces to spot, like a little BB-8 on the first page and a wampa on Hoth.

I was lucky enough to be given an iPhone 4 as a hand-me-down from Chris's dad when he and his mum upgraded to iPhone 6s, so Chris jumped at the chance to get me a cute little Boba Fett case to go with it.  And my mum read my mind and got me the snazzy Death Star worktop saver!

Not pictured is another air freshener shaped like Darth Vader and a reusable shopping bag from Tesco that for some reason exists (and that I spotted on Christmas Eve and nearly ran to grab myself!), just because at the time of writing this I'm still away from home and struggling to keep all of our gifts tidy and together.

I didn't specifically ask for anything Star Wars-related so I'm pretty thrilled with what I got and I'm already eyeing up plenty of things that I want to buy for myself.  It's extremely difficult to resist just getting loads of 12 - 18 inch figurines... so we'll see what my collection looks like in another year, eh?

Month in Review / December 2015

Sunday, 3 January 2016

After the difficulties I had in October and November, I was really hoping that December would be a little bit more positive, and thankfully it didn't disappoint!  Although not everything has quite gone to plan, this month has been a much better month and I'm feeling much better and more hopeful as we edge closer and closer to the new year.

I applied and interviewed for a new job, and although I didn't get offered it in the end, the interviewers said that they were impressed and interested in me for similar upcoming positions, which was nice to hear.  I had a bit of a shaky time with my anxiety this month after being unable to attend a work away day because of it, but my mental health affecting my job so badly for the first time gave me the push I needed to get in touch with a therapist.  People in Surrey have access to online therapy, so I now have an appointment with a therapist for online cognitive behavioural therapy and that's hugely comforting and a step forward.

Other than that personal victory, it's Christmas time!  We spent a lot of time travelling - we had Christmas day at the Other Half's, then went to visit his grandmother and then onto my mum's place on Boxing Day for a few days, then back to the OH's family, then further up north for New Year's Eve, back down again and finally back home yesterday!  Needless to say, we'll be happy to not be driving for a while.

Post of the month: I'm exactly like other girls.

Films & TV...
  • We started watching the Amazon only series Mr. Robot last month and finished it this month - it's a really fantastic show and one I would definitely recommend if you have Amazon Prime.  In a nutshell, it's about a hacker who suffers from various mental illnesses and wants to change the world and save it from the inequality of capitalist monopolies.
  • Christmas movies galore!  We covered the newish animated A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey first, then How About You? (which took me most of the film to realise the lead actress was Peggy Carter!), Miracle on 34th Street and The Santa Clause.  Followed closely by The Grinch and The Muppets Christmas Carol once we got to the OH's parent's house.
  • Also an Amazon exclusive, we've been ploughing through The Man in the High Castle after seeing it advertised for quite a while.  Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, it's about an alternate universe in which the Nazis and Japanese won World War 2, and the mysterious ways the resistance is trying to fight them.  Another really, really impressive exclusive show!
  • We completed our run of the old Star Wars movies with Return of the Jedi, and... I saw The Force Awakens and basically spent the next two days not really knowing what to do with myself because wow.  I'm planning a full post about it soon when everything's died down a bit and everyone is more comfortable discussing possible spoilers (although I will still label spoilers), but for now let's just say there were a few moments where the little girl in me was close to sobbing with joy.
  • I'm a huge fan of Starz programs (Spartacus and Black Sails are two of my favourite shows and I loved Outlander too) so when I saw Flesh and Bone on Prime I thought I'd give that a go too.  I'm only part of the way through it now but it's as dark and at times graphic and controversial as I've come to expect from their shows and I'm not sure I enjoy it as much as the others.  It's about a company of ballerinas in New York and a girl who flees her abusive family to dance with them - if you like dark, gritty, realistic dramas you might find it worth a watch.
Edible things...
  • I experimented a little bit and made Christmas sugar cookies.  I used a vegan recipe and substituted banana for the egg replacer which in that particular recipe was apple sauce, and it was nice but tasted just a bit too banana-y, and the texture turned out a bit more cake-like than I'd planned.
  • I made vegan mince pies, both using shop bought filo pastry for crispy little mince pie parcels, and I made my own short crust pastry.
  • I enjoyed an incredible Christmas dinner with the Other Half's family, including my very own mushroom and truffle oil wellington as a main.
  • I made my own incredible Christmas pie for everyone to enjoy with me over the holidays!  I wanted to do something a bit non-traditional but full of Christmas flavour, so I made a mulled cranberry and apple crumble pie and it went down a treat.  I'll definitely be sharing the recipe at some point because I just made everything up off the top of my head and have never seen anything like it before - I'm pretty damn chuffed with myself!
Worth a read or watch...
  • If you're a Star Wars fan, you might have heard the expected rants and tirades about how Rey is too strong and talented a female character, and therefore must be a Mary Sue.  This article (incidentally on The Mary Sue) sums up my feelings perfectly and links to a longer, equally as well-written article too.  (Possible spoiler alert!)
  • In the same vein, this post on The Mary Sue describes The Force Awakens perfectly again for me: this Star Wars is mine.  (Possible spoiler alert!)
  • I never enjoyed being forced to hug and kiss relatives or friends of relatives when I was a child; now that I'm older I understand that it's a violation of childrens' boundaries and really wish that adults wouldn't force their kids to touch people against their will.
  • I love learning about words and concepts that exist in other cultures but not my own, and this article on 7 cultural concepts that don't exist in the US (and also the UK, though it doesn't specify this) is great.
  • Fans of The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy will already know what it feels like to have a favourite female character excluded from merchandise, but The Force Awakens has also suffered some serious sexist toy marketing.  It's bad enough to exclude Black Widow as a member of the Avengers and Gamora as a Guardian, but excluding the literal main character of The Force Awakens from many toy sets?  Christ...
If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful day and if not, I hope you had a fabulous December and that everyone had a happy New Year!  What did you get up to this holiday season?

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