May Favourites 2018

Everyone else seems to do these, so I figured why not join in? Now I’ve started being paid, I can actually afford the occasional treat again. So here’s a little ramble about some of my favourite new things from this month!

Plus, I’ve even included my favourite recipe from this month. You’ll want to stick around for it. It’s a work of culinary and nutritious genius.

Beauty

I’m hardly an expert when it comes to beauty products, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them.

This month’s big beauty event for me was… Aldi’s Special Buy section from a couple of weeks ago. Yes, Aldi. As in, discount supermarket. I couldn’t resist the bargainous Mystery Aisle, and was lucky enough to get hold of the. Lacura Naturals eyeshadow palette and the Lacura CC Cream.

Considering they came from a supermarket at a rather fabulous price, they’re both amazing. The Lacura Naturals eyeshadow palette is a direct dupe of Urban Decay, and while (as you’d probably expect) it’s not quite as pigmented as the original, and there’s quite a lot of fallout, it still has some gorgeous, shimmery colours in both nude and smokey shades, perfect for everyday looks. The colour blends nicely and lasts all day, though I’d probably want to reapply if I was in the middle of a sweaty night out.

The Lacura CC Cream was a true find, and I hope they bring it back in another Mystery Aisle special so I can stock up on more. It only takes a tiny amount to get a decent coverage that blends effortlessly, and gives my skin a flawless finish for the entire day. I barely need to use concealer with it, and definitely not a full foundation – maybe a dusting of highlighter on the top, but that’s it. The first time I used it, I wasn’t sure, as I put far too much on and my skin felt oddly claggy. But just putting a tiny blob of it was enough to look pleasantly dewy, while letting my skin breathe. It also has a handy factor 15 SPF, which is useful, even though I use a factor 30 moisturiser underneath.

One nice thing to know about the Lacura beauty range: Aldi has pledged that all of its own-brand cosmetics and skincare are all certified cruelty-free. So good to hear from a budget brand.

Lacura Naturals eyeshadow palette £5.99

Lacura CC Cream £2.99

Both currently sold out online but hopefully will be back in another Special Buy season soon!

Books

I’m still working through my Goodreads Challenge – halfway through now! Just ahead of schedule, marvellously. I’ve managed to finish five books this month, and I’m writing a whole post about how the challenge is going, so I’ve just picked a couple to recommend in brief.

My absolute favourite this month was The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by the genius that is Philip Pullman. I know, I know, it’s been out for months and as someone who claims to be a huge Pullman fan, I should have read it the second it came out. Problem was, I knew as soon as I saw the synopsis of La Belle Sauvage, I would need to set aside plenty of time to read it in one go because I would not be able to put it down.

I was right. Absolutely gripping, La Belle Sauvage provides a richly thought-out background to Lyra Belaqua, the protagonist of the His Dark Materials trilogy. She’s only a baby in this book, which gives valuable insight into her beginnings – and into the backstories of several key characters. The new characters introduced are compelling, as are the typically Pullman-esque themes of religion, innocence, and no little fantastoc whimsy, and I’m dying for the next Book of Dust.

My other favourite book from this month is right at the opposite end of the literary spectrum – Leah On the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli’s sequel to Simon Vs the Homo-Sapiens Agenda (the film of which, renamed Love, Simon, was recently released in cinemas). Simon’s story was wrapped up pretty nearly in the previous book, so this story focuses on Leah Burke, one of his best friends.

Leah is a fabulous character – bitter, sarcastic, and a Tumblr fangirl. She’s eighteen, the daughter of a young single mother, and about to graduate high school: making a hell of a lot of choices into the bargain. It was an easy read – you can guess the ending from a few chapters in – but it didn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of reading it. Reading it as an adult (not necessarily its YA target audience) I found it a refreshing view into current social media-obsessed kids (not that I can talk), packed with pop culture references but recognisable enough that I could see the odd glimpse of my own teenage self peeping through.

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The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman £14.99

Leah on the Offbeat – Becky Albertalli £5.99

Motherhood

Parenting North East

As you’ll all be aware by now, I’m big on babywearing. Well, I should probably call it toddlerwearing now, I think Teddy is a bit big to be a baby in the truest sense of the word (he’ll always be my baby, obviously, he just happens to be a bloody huge one). We’re quite content with our Connecta for the moment, but a) I know Ted will grow out of it soon and b) there are many one-sized carriers I feel I’ve missed out on. So I’m greatly enjoying sling libraries at the moment, and one of them is my number one favourite ‘motherhood’-related thing this month.

My new local! Parenting North East has its HQ just up the road from me in Newcastle, and is open for a few hours every day throughout the week for their sling library service – or for a friendly chat and a brew, or the opportunity to fling Ted in the direction of their trainset and actually sit down for five minutes. They’re so welcoming, staffed by lovely volunteers, and they run workshops and events too.

This month I hired a toddler-sized Lenny Lamb buckle carrier – with our long day out in London using All The Public Transport, I figured it would be nice for Ted to have a little more space, a slightly more snuggly carrier to cuddle up in. It did the job marvellously, and I actually did some front-carrying for the first time in ages, because the lumbar support was perfect for me. Also, this was the only hooded carrier we’ve tried where Ted didn’t absolutely hate the hood!

When I dropped in to return the carrier, I couldn’t help but spy another Lenny Lamb on the shelf: a gorgeous blue ring sling. I’ve been using a ring sling on and off since Ted was a few months old, but it’s only a cheap one, made of not the best fabric. This Lenny Lamb one is beautifully soft and snuggly, very well made and long enough to have plenty of room to play with. Of course I had to snap it up for a few weeks, and I actually managed to do a back carry with it – something I’ve never successfully achieved with our own ring sling!

I look forward to seeing what catches my eye next time I drop in…

Parenting North East is located at Arch 21, Forth Goods Yard, off Forth Road, Newcastle NE1 3PG. Open Mon-Fri 10-2, 10-8 most Tuesdays

Recipe

Oh yeah, I cook stuff. Believe it or not, I might be a big tubby tubber, but I eat pretty well, and feed my family to a decent standard.

Well, I feed them anyway.

It might not be #cleaneating or even particularly nice to look at (that’s why there are no pictures this month because what I’m recommending looks a bit like slop) but my cooking is yummy, it’s nutritious, and it’s cheap.

Easy Fish Pie

This is a recipe I adapted from the BBC, to be gluten-free and a bit more flavourful. And a bit more… cheaty.

ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT, I HOLD MY HANDS UP.

I use…

Frozen mashed potato.

There, I said it. I know you’re probably clutching your metaphorical pearls right now. But despite my lifelong love affair with the humble potato, I can’t mash it for shit. So I use Sainsburys finest frozen mash instead and you know what? It tastes lovely.

The reason I’m putting this recipe in my monthly favourites is that Ted has been on-and-off fussy eating for a few months now. If it looks like a vegetable, he’s not a fan. Or if it looks like meat. Or potato. Or fish, unless in the form of a finger. There’s been a lot of vegetable-stealth going on with my cooking recently.

But when I made this, vegetables blatant and on display, Ted sat quietly in his chair and ate a bowlful, no protests, no trying to spoon it into his father’s face as a gesture of goodwill. No, he sat and ate it, with a spoon. This is an achievement in itself as he’d much rather use his fingers. Could my child be actually… civilised?

It might have been a fluke, but I’m proud and sharing anyway.

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This picture is from BBC Good Food, where I originally got this recipe and adapted it. Mine didn’t look quite like this. But it tasted amazing!

Ingredients:

1 pack frozen fish pie mix, defrosted

1 pack frozen mashed potato, microwaved into mashed potato goodness

Handful frozen peas

Handful sweetcorn

50g cornflour

50g butter

400ml milk

1 small onion, finely chopped

Generous handful of grated cheese, two if you’re not on some terrible diet
Method:

Take a small saucepan and a wooden spoon. Give them to your child to play with so they stay out of your way.

Take another small saucepan and melt the butter with the onion over a medium heat. Add the cornflour and stir until everything is a gooey-looking paste.

Stir in the milk a bit at a time to make a white sauce. It’ll look lumpy, so stir violently while swearing and playing with the heat. Remember just before the sauce burns that the onion doesn’t melt, so there’s bound to be lumps.

Note that your child has got bored of his saucepan and has pulled his tiny armchair into the kitchen so he can sit and laugh at you in comfort.

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Teddy demonstrating this step, making himself comfortable.

Take the sauce off the heat and stir in most of the cheese. Try not to eat too much of it. Try not to drop any into the mouth of your child, who is waiting at your feet with his mouth open like a baby bird waiting for cheese.

Tip the defrosted fish and vegetables into the sauce and mix it up. Transfer to a dish of some sort – I find a lasagne dish that came free with some Dolmio is the perfect size.

Spread your beautifully smooth microwaved potato on top, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Swear a bit because you forgot to preheat the oven. Preheat the oven and thank a deity you don’t believe in that your oven is a quick one.

Bake at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the potato has started to go a bit brown.

Ta dah! Fish pie!

How I haven’t been commissioned to write a cookbook yet, I have no idea.

Cheekily nicked and simplified from this already very simple recipe at BBC Good Food

Coffee Shops

You all know I’m a coffee shop writer. Whenever I get a bit of time to myself, I race to the nearest emporium of caffeine and park myself for several hours, my laptop in front of me and a bucket or two of coffee to keep me going.

Where I live, Darlington, is a bit rubbish for coffee shops.

Long gone are the halcyon days of living in Manchester and having the glorious Northern Quarter at my fingertips, quirky, hipster coffee shops stretching as far as the eye can see. Luckily,now I work on the railway, I have a pass to get wherever I want to go on the East Coast Mainline, so I’ve been able to go a bit further afield.

I barely need to mention my new official haunt: Dreambakes, in Doncaster. I did a whole review of it a couple of weeks ago, if you’d like to check it out. Just a little note to remind you that it’s a lovely place with the best coffee I’ve tasted in a long time, excellent food, and plug sockets aplenty. It’s definitely my favourite new coffee shop of the month, most certainly.

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I mean, look at that flat white.

But I’m going to give a well-deserved second place to The Elephant House in Edinburgh. Yes, it’s two hours away by train, but I had to make a pilgrimage.

The Elephant House is well-known as the café where a certain JK Rowling wrote large parts of the first few Harry Potter books. In other words, it’s hallowed ground for nerds like me. I had a coffee and a jacket potato, and both were lovely. It’s very touristy, nowadays, even selling tacky souvenirs, but I still couldn’t help but be a little moved by sitting in the same room where such fabulous writing came to be. I’d heartily recommend it to any true Potter nerd who wants to go back to where it all began.

It’s quite dimly lit and cosy, somehow managing to retain a close and friendly atmosphere despite the chattering tourists. There is, obviously, quirky elephant decor everywhere, as well as a sizeable cabinet featuring some drool-worthy Potter memories. First edition signed Philosopher’s Stone, anyone? Oh, it was beautiful. There’s no WiFi, which could be a blessing or a curse, but I found rather nice, as it meant I could concentrate on reading my book and having a scribble in my notebook without being tempted by too many distractions.

The graffiti in the toilet is simply amazing, too.

Dreambakes is open 9-5, Monday-Saturday, and is located at 3 Priory House, Priory Walk, Doncaster DN1 1TS

The Elephant House is open seven days a week, early until late – check the website for more details. It’s located at 21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EN

Well then. Those are all the favourite things I can think about for this month, without going into true rambling territory and not shutting up until mid-June. I hope you enjoyed hearing my merry ramblings, and I’ll be back again next month with some more!

One thought on “May Favourites 2018

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