Friday, 13 November 2020

Money diary // building works and life without a kitchen

MONDAY

Building works have started after months of waiting. The main annoyance is that because our charming neighbours got party wall surveyors involved, the foundations of the build have had to be changed which meant we lost our kitchen immediately rather than later down the line. I wouldn't recommend living without a kitchen to anyone. I really miss having an oven. It means things like pies are out of the question. Which is ludricious during the autumn winter months, if you ask me.

Sure, I could buy ready meals and takeaways during this time, but I really want to limit doing this. Ready meals can be full of salt and sugar, plus I question the nutritional value of say the Hearty Food Co. range at Tesco which costs a tiny 69p. How much meat is that spaghetti bolognese actually going to contain?! And takeaways can really add up. As much as I love pizza, I'd much rather make my own as takeaway pizza is extortionate and is it just me, but are they getting more and more stingy with toppings? If I pay for toppings, I want toppings damnit!

So for the last month or so, we made use of our kitchen whilst we had it, and made meals in bulk which went straight into the freezer. This gives us easy meals, saves a bit of money and unlike ready meals, we know exactly what went into each meal. A fully extensive list of what we made:

  • x8 portions of lentil ragu
  • x6 portions of veggie lasagne
  • x2 portions of veggie bolognese
  • x6 portions of cottage pie
  • x6 portions of gnocchi bake

... and then we ran out of space in our freezer! It won't last us for the entire 3-4 months, but it's a start.

We also cooked up a cauliflower curry and a potato and black eyed bean stew which we had to keep in the fridge because the freezer wasn't having it. Other than that, we also have leftover stirfry and leftover fish stew. Organised much?

We have some of the black eyed bean stew today for lunch. It doesn't taste anywhere near as good as my Mum's even though I followed the recipe. But nothing that some seasoning can't fix. For dinner we have the leftover beef stir fry with rice. 

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TOTAL
£0.00
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TUESDAY

Today the back of the house has come off and the house is starting to feel draughty. I find an old tin of ratatouille which is best before August 2020 but I find that tins last forever. It's a cold day so the soup-like consistency works a treat for lunch, although saying that, the ratatouille is nowhere near as good as the homemade one I attempted here. I serve with cous cous which may become one of our staples because all you need is a kettle. 

The only expense I had today was my monthly phone bill. Just £6 with GiffGaff (sign up here and receive free £5 credit when you activate your SIM). The beauty of being based at home for most of this year has been that I haven't used any data and constantly connect to the home wifi. And rather than making phone calls, I'm mostly using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and all manner of vid tech, all through my laptop rather than my phone. These changes have allowed me to slash my phone bill to the cheapest possible monthly tarif. 

Cauliflower curry for dinner. The recipe has spinach in it but we're all out of spinach so this time we use the cauliflower leaves instead and it's a revelation. Never throw out your cauliflower leaves - they're the best bit! The disadvantage of cooking in the lounge is the smell. Now the whole room smells of curry. 

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GiffGaff - £6.00
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TOTAL
£6.00
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WEDNESDAY

We have leftover fish stew for lunch with our own home grown tomatoes and if you thought the curry smell last night was bad... Come evening I've lit an autumnal apple and cinnamon candle to drive the smell away. Or mask it at least. 

Later we have gnocchi bake for dinner. Obviously the cheese isn't crispy because of the freezing process, but all the flavours are still there. I'd usually use mozzarella but I was all out so I used extra mature cheddar instead and it added so much more flavour. Definitely a keeper. 

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TOTAL
£0.00
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THURSDAY

We order an extension lead for our makeshift kitchen and a shelving unit as everything we need to cook with is currently in a sea of boxes and it's not an ideal arrangement. The shelving unit will be a makeshift larder for now and later moved to the office. We were always planning on ordering a shelving unit for the office, but it means it gets an added use now.

We have the last of the potato and black eyed bean stew for lunch. And with that, our fridge is looking decidedly empty. For dinner it's a game of freezer lottery and we end up having cottage pie. 

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Extension lead - £13.99
Shelving unit - £52.26
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TOTAL
£66.25
____________________

FRIDAY

I get paid weekly and wake up to find the money in my account. It feels like more money leaves your account than goes in during building works so this is a nice change!

Today the shelving and extension lead arrive. Our hallway is now 50% fridge freezer and 50% cardboard boxes. 

We both have a defrosted roll from the freezer for lunch today with the last of our sandwich meat as we're both working through lunch today so it's a grab and go affair. For dinner it's another day of freezer lottery (veggie lasagne this time).

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TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

SATURDAY

Our next shop is coming next week and we're getting really low on supplies. We use the last of our bread from the freezer for toasted cheese sandwiches and watch a scary movie over lunch. Because it'd be criminal not to on Halloween!

Today we build the shelving unit and it makes a world of difference. Now we can physically see all our plates and cups and ingredients. No more guessing which box contains the herbs and spices! 

We have a little table top hob for these next few months as we didn't want to be eating microwave meals for 3 months. Tonight is our first experiment with it so have something super lazy just so we can test that it's working. We heat up a Pataks curry sauce and add white fish and serve with naan bread. Simple but does the job.

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TOTAL
£0.00
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SUNDAY

Feeling a little more confident with the hob, we attempt an omelette for breakfast using black olives and extra mature cheddar cheese. We're out of milk and bread so we're having to be a little more creative with our breakfasts until we get our next shop. Eggs are a blessing at times like these. 

As we're out of bread, we have cheese and biscuits for lunch. I alternate between sundried tomato & balsamic chutney and a mild chilli chutney, both of which I find in the back of the fridge and are still well within date (expiry 2021).

For dinner we brave the portable hob again and try our first properly from scratch meal (fajitas). I have frozen peppers in the freezer from when Tesco made a mistake with an order, so it gives me an excuse to use those up finally, and I defrost some wraps I have in the freezer. The meal works a treat and we portion off some of our homemade spice mix to use next week for tacos.

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TOTAL
£0.00
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TOTAL FOR THE WEEK
£72.25
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A big part of saving lately has been:

  • planning meals in advance and bulk cooking
  • avoiding takeaways and over-priced ready meals
  • rummaging through cupboards and the freezer for veg and pulses to bulk out meals
  • striving for zero waste and using everything up before buying new
  • being based at home resulting in a reduced phone bill and zero commuting costs


Writing it all out like this does make the little things hit home. If you decide to give this money diary a go yourself - or have any money saving tips - do let me know in the comments below!


MY PREVIOUS MONEY SAVING DIARIES


Photo by Janine Meuche on Unsplash

Monday, 2 November 2020

Money diary // home-grown vegetables and a largely vegetarian week

MONDAY

One of my biggest annoyances is food waste. People who buy more food than they need. People who bin uneaten food when leftovers can form other meals. A large basis of my meal planning revolves around use of my zero waste spreadsheet where I examine what has expired or is expiring soon. My spreadsheet flags sweet potato, spinach and butternut squash. As the spinach is still in good condition and hasn't wilted too much, I decide this would be a good basis for a vegetarian salad. I find some lentils in the cupboard and we always have a variety of cheeses in the fridge, so locate some feta cheese. I chop the sweet potato and butternut squash into cubes and roast for 45 minutes, turning them often. Once cooked I stir these into the raw spinach, feta cheese and cooked lentils and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Simple but delicious!

Butternut squash, sweet potato, lentil and feta salad
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TOTAL
£0.00
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TUESDAY

I love ratatouille but I've never made my own before which is criminal now I've learnt how easy it is! We had an accumulation of home-grown produce which screamed ratatouille. Tomatoes from our garden and a huge rounded courgette from my parent's garden. Our pepper plant, although growing, only has little miniature peppers on it at the moment, so I had to use shop bought peppers for now. I roasted the vegetables in olive oil and oregano for almost a hour, regularly turning. I then pan fried some garlic, added tinned tomatoes and incorporated the cooked veg and heated through. It's a relatively low effort meal but also cheap and healthy! 

Roasted mediterranean vegetables

Ratatouille from scratch!
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TOTAL
£0.00
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WEDNESDAY

As we prepare for building works to start, the initial plan was to have the extension built up with the knock through being relatively last minute so we could keep use of our kitchen. Due to party wall difficulties and nightmare neighbours, the foundations for our extension have had to be tweaked and with that, it means that the old and new floors will have to be done in one - meaning we will lose access to a kitchen right from the start. This has been a massive blow as this means we will be entering the colder months without a kitchen. As of now, I am starting to make and freeze meals ready like lasagne, bolognese, pies and curries that can easily be defrosted and warmed through in the microwave. 

I've been incredily behaved with clothes shopping this year as I don't fancy the faff with returns. I try to talk myself out of most things and then only proceed if it's a 'safe' buy (in other words guaranteed to fit). One thing I've been obsessing over lately is a beautiful autumnal mustard coloured sweater from Tu at Sainsburys. It was only £18 which is pretty good going considering that a similar item at ASOS or Topshop would set you back £30+. I resisted, telling myself I didn't need it. Then one day it was on sale and I knew how gutted I would be if I logged on the next day and it was gone. So I took a gamble and the sizing is perfect. It's slouchy, comfortable and an absolute dream to work from home in. 

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Knitwear - £13.50
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TOTAL
£13.50
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THURSDAY

My money diary I did in association with The Nottingham has gone live and you can read this here. I really recommend writing a money diary yourself, even if it's in a notebook and kept private. I find that writing it all down helps rein me in. Mind you, being home so much since the COVID-19 outbreak has really helped with expenditure as I'm no longer doing the commute and am avoiding the usual temptations.

Tonight we have bolognese with courgetti using courgettes grown from our own garden. It's so much ligher than spaghetti and a great way to get more of your five-a-day.

Courgetti using our home-grown courgettes

The size of this courgette!!
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TOTAL
£0.00
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FRIDAY

I've started at a new job lately and come 5.30pm I don't have the enthusiasm to cook anything too complicated which is where the slow cooker has come into its own. As we are facing a future without an oven once the building works start, I have grabbed a large sharing pizza from Tesco. I usually buy a cheaper pizza from Tesco but as it's our last home cooked pizza for some months, I choose one from the Finest range. It's still a lot cheaper than Pizza Hut or Dominos. We wouldn't usually buy sides but they currently have a meal deal where you can get pesto flatbread thrown in for not much more. Even though the pizza is vegetarian and minimalist, it's packed with flavour. In all honesty, I probably wouldn't bother with the flatbread again - garlic bread for the win! With that we have a movie night and watch Enola Holmes on Netflix (recommend!)

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Pizza meal deal - £5.00
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TOTAL
£5.00
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SATURDAY

I see a recipe in an interiors magazine for frittata muffins which sound amazing. I don't have any spring greens or peas like the suggested recipe, but you can use any vegetables in a recipe like this. I don't have a whole lot of veg left as we are due a shop next week, so I use spinach and mushrooms which I cook up with garlic in a pan. I then mix in a bowl with 4 eggs and some grated cheddar cheese. I pour into a greased muffin tin and bake. It takes a lot longer than the recipe says it will, so I watch it like a hawk and prod with a metal skewer until I'm happy it's cooked through. And the result? SO SO GOOD. Perfect for picnics, breakfast and lunch boxes.

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TOTAL
£0.00
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SUNDAY

The clearing of the kitchen and prep work for the extension has officially begun. And with that, we've started ordering bits and pieces to help us survive in a world without a kitchen and more specifically a sink, dishwasher and oven. For now we've ordered a washing up bowl and a drying rack. My partner is all about Joseph Joseph so ordered this washing up bowl (yes my eyes are watering too). I was adament I didn't want some white plastic coated monstrosity for the drying rack and found this copper drying up rack which is supposedly anti-rust. 

"Do we need a copper drying up rack?", my partner asks.

"Do we need a £36 washing up bowl?" I fire back at him

And with that, nothing more was said about the copper drying up rack.

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Washing up bowl - £36.00
Drying rack - £15.99
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TOTAL
£51.99
____________________

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK
£70.49
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It's been weird seeing my outgoings shrink, but then again, I guess it makes sense. I no longer have commuting costs or naughty station purchases like breakfast or hot drinks. I'm spending a lot less on clothes than I usually would. It's become an occasional treat once every few months. Some days I feel down and in need a little pick me up, but I'm trying to get out of this mindset. I've been growing my own veg this year and you can really taste the difference, particularly with the ratatouille this week. Still not sure how I feel about the washing up bowl purchase, but one word comes to mind. Ouch.

Writing it all out like this does make the little things hit home. If you decide to give this money diary a go yourself - or have any money saving tips - do let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 23 October 2020

6 quick and easy ways to transform your kitchen

 AD | This is a sponsored post but all opinions are my own.

We are spending more time at home than ever before, and for many of us, the more we are at home, the more certain rooms begin to bug us. Cue the onset of questions. Why has this room not been decorated yet? Why did the previous home owner think that magnolia was a good idea? How have I lived with [insert grotty feature here] for so long? 

Now is as good a time as any to assess what you have to work with, the funds you have at your disposal, and how you want to transform your surroundings. But for the sake of this piece, we're going to focus on the kitchen and six little things that will make the world of difference.

Scandi kitchen

Give your splashback a makeover

Does the splashback behind your cooker and sink look dated? Or have you inherited a style that isn't practical or very 'you'? Changing your splashback is one of the quickest and easiest ways of making an impact. Cover unsightly wall tiles with tile decals (also known as tile stickers) or alternatively paint them with tile paint to give them a new lease of life. For dark or north facing rooms, paint in a lighter colour like a bright white which will help bounce the light around. If you currently have tiles with white grout lines, update with a more practical colour like black or dark grey using grout paint or a grout pen.

Find your light

If your kitchen is north facing or doesn't have a skylight, roof lantern, or bifold doors, you may find that light is in short supply. For a less gloomy room to cook in, look at decorating in light shades like bright whites or soft greys and come up with a lighting scheme. A good kitchen lighting scheme is all about layering with different lighting for different zones. Spot lights are tried and tested and work in all manner of kitchens. Target lighting in specific food prep zones like strip lighting under kitchen wall cabinets and pendant lights which can add extra interest to a kitchen island. Be sure to look at models with LED bulbs which are more efficient and can be 80% cheaper to run.

Treat yourself to new kitchen accessories

Something as little as a new tap can help transform the look of any kitchen. Why not switch out a limescale covered tap that has seen better days for a highly coveted gold tap or black tap which are all over social media right now. Whilst some models can cost a pretty penny, try looking at IKEA or eBay for more budget friendly options as updating your kitchen doesn't have to be expensive. In a similar vein, stock up on new accessories like fun tea towelsoven gloves and tea and coffee containers. A simple change of accessories can inject a splash of colour, or bring a luxe element if you incorporate gold or copper accessories.

Give your kitchen units a face lift

This is another one of the easiest ways to make an impact. Prime and paint your kitchen units or else use chalk paint for an instant new look (do check this with your landlord first if you are renting!). Another way of achieving this is by covering your kitchen doors with vinyl, washi tape, or removable wallpaper. This being ideal for renters as you can always peel these off when you move out. Another quick and easy way of updating your kitchen units is by replacing your cupboard handles. Try cup handles for a classic and timeless look synonymous with shaker kitchens. Or maybe en vogue gold handles if you fancy something a little more modern.

Sticky back plastic is your friend

If your worktops have seen better days but you don't feel comfortable having someone come and replace them at this time (and I wouldn't blame you), try a temporary fix in the form of vinyl or sticky back plastic. If you like marble worktops, it's an easy way to achieve the look for less. Sticky back plastic is one of my hero products. I used for a marble table here which I'm currently sitting at and using as a desk while I'm working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next I want to spray paint the legs gold (spray paint being another great quick kitchen hack!)

Get patterned floor tiles for a fraction of the price

If your flooring doesn't bring you joy or is a pain to clean, it's time to act. Update drab floor tiles with a tile stencil kit. The best way of achieving a good finish is dabbing paint onto the stencil with a sponge and layering the colour on gradually rather than using a paint roller or paint brush. Or for a quicker fix, try using peel and stick floor tile decals. There are tons of pretty patterned floor tile designs out there at the moment which can help take any kitchen flooring from drab to fab.

Have you made any changes to your kitchen since COVID-19?

This post contains affiliate links. While we earn a small commission for products purchased through these links, it doesn’t change the price you pay in any way, nor will it cost you to click through to view any of these items. Affiliate links help keep Curiouser and Curiouser running so we can continue to bring you free content. Thank you for your continued support

Image credit: Christian Mackie on Unsplash

Monday, 12 October 2020

How to maintain a better work-life balance when working from home

Working from home can be a double edged sword. Sure, you no longer have the commute or need to set your alarm at stupid o'clock any more, but it can also be really lonely. Whilst you can still chat away to your heart's content on Whatsapp or Slack with your colleagues, it's just not the same as being face-to-face. Working from home once or twice a week can be respite from the commute, but for an extended period of time like it has been with the COVID-19 outbreak, it can be increasingly hard. You miss work lunches. You miss Fridays in the pub. There are so many things you want to see and do, but are advised not to. You are home so much that the work-life balance is starting to blur around the edges and you no longer have that separation or discipline. So how do you get out of a funk like this? Try following these simple pointers to help promote a healthy work-life balance when working from home.

Tips for a better work-life balance when working from home

Designate a specific working zone

Whilst it may be tempting to take your laptop into the main living area with the TV on in the background, don't do it. Go hole yourself away in a separate room where you usually wouldn't be. At the end of the working day, remove work emails and alerts from your phone (if applicable), close the doors on the space you worked in, and walk away. This is now your time.

Come up with a plan for co-working arrangements

If you live with a partner, friends or family, what happens if you only have one home office space? Should you both work in the same room? Everybody works differently so it's best to talk this through with your partner / friends / family and be honest wth each other. Here we have a study with a long desk which is perfect for two people working alongside each other, however due to the nature of my partner's work (noisy and on video call constantly), it just wouldn't work. For me to perform at my best, I have to put myself in another room, on another floor. If you have children and they have gone back to school, plan a rota of who is picking up from school on which days and if pre-school, come up with a rota for childcare so you can avoid video call interruptions of this scale and hilarity.  

Don't forget to take breaks

I've heard so many stories of people forgetting to take lunch breaks when they work from home, or only grabbing a quick bite to eat. It can be so easy to lose track of time when you are deep in a task. Look after yourself and have a proper nutritional lunch and give yourself the full hour. Besides lunch, get up every so often to walk around and grab some water or a cup of tea. Stay hydrated and keep your body and mind active. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been stuck on something, had a break and a quick walk away from my desk, and then the solution has come to me instantly.  

Do your hours - nothing more, nothing less

This kind of falls in-line with the previous point. Yes, have breaks and a full hour for lunch, but at the same time, don't abuse the system and take an extended lunch break because 'no one can see me'. Whilst a longer lunch is heavenly, it can make it harder to get back into the swing of things, resulting in less motivation and productivity. At the same time, don't overdo it at home or do more hours than you are paid. I am incredibly guilty of this and have been known to start work at 8-something rather than 9.30am and then work past 5.30pm in the past. Finish on time and avoid working late into the night so you get the time you are entitled to in order to unwind properly before starting all over again the next day.

Make sure you have the right access

Nothing sucks more than working from home and discovering that you don't have the right access / permissions / equipment. This in itself will set you back. Make sure you have everything in place ready ahead of working from home.

Get dressed

Whilst it's incredibly tempting to stay in your pyjamas all day, avoid doing this to better your work-life balance. The act of getting dressed sets you up ready for the day and puts you in the right mindset. When the working day is over, go and get changed. Change into either looser, more comfortable clothing like joggers, or your pyjamas. This will help reinforce a sense of routine that work is done for the day and now it's you time.

Get up at a reasonable time

Whilst it's tempting to leave the alarm off completely or set it just before your official start time, don't do it. Logging onto work when you've just woken up isn't the one. If something complex comes in first thing that requires serious attention, imagine the headache that will come your way if you're not ready. When I work from home I usually allow myself an extra hour in bed - so my alarm is set for 7am rather than 6am - as I no longer have the commute. It is so important to have enough time to wake up fully and for much needed you time. Other than the essentials of showering and getting dressed, make sure you give yourself some quality time. Read the newspaper. Sit down and have a proper breakfast. Do a sudoku or morning yoga. Go for a run. Whatever you choose to do, get yourself into a routine and in no time at all, it will come naturally to you.

Try and get outside if you can

This stems from my point earlier about how sometimes taking a break and going for a walk can sometimes encourage new ideas. You don't even have to go far. Go down the road or around the corner. Spend some time in the garden (if you have one). Fresh air can be so invigorating and always perks me up if I'm having a bad mental health day.

The chair you use is so important

Don't let a poor chair be the cause of an early onset of back problems. If you are going to be working from home a lot (particularly with the COVID-19 outbreak), it's wise to invest in a decent chair. We have one decent work-from-home chair in the office which my partner uses, but if I'm home I find myself hopping about from chair to chair as the dining room chairs are only comfortable for so long. If you feel an ache in your back, act on it quickly and don't just 'put up with it'. Change your location and try another chair. Use extra cushions to support your back. If budget allows, order yourself an ergonomic chair or executive chair with padding and a fully supported back (I recently ordered myself this one and it's an absolute dream!). Some companies have a working from home allowance and can provision you with a chair and desk (or budget for them), so it's definitely worth asking around.

Give your day some structure

Start each day with a quick brainstorm of what needs to be done that day and create youself a To Do list. There is nothing more satisfying than ticking things off a To Do list (or is that just me?). Plus if your boss is checking up on you making sure you are actually working, you can come back with a whole host of things you've completed and be smug as. When you approach the end of your working day, if there is anything outstanding or to be rolled over to the next day, note it all down. This is beneficial in two ways. First, it's a weight off your mind and allows you to fully switch off that evening and not think about work. Secondly it means you have the makings of tomorrow's to do list already forming itself (WIN).

Do you have a good work-life balance when working from home?

This post contains an affiliate link. While we earn a small commission for products purchased through this link, it doesn’t change the price you pay in any way, nor will it cost you to click through to view any item. Affiliate links help keep Curiouser and Curiouser running so we can continue to bring you free content. Thank you for continuing to support Curiouser and Curiouser

Image credit: Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Friday, 2 October 2020

How to take better food pictures with #TheFoodieBag

This post contains a gifted item

If you can start eating a plate of food without documenting it first, I applaud you. I have long given up the hope of ever eating a hot meal. So why do we do it? Food is first and foremost functional. We need it for nutritional purposes and to, well, survive. However sometimes a pretty plate of food is worth documenting. That one photo can serve as a reminder of a special event, a perfect date or a memorable holiday. We share snaps of our baking successes and on some occasions, our food is so aesthetically pleasing, it's bordering on art and worth being immortalised in a photograph.

Taking a truly special food picture is an art. I see professional food bloggers with all the right kit, regularly invited to the swankiest joints, sharing dark, out of focus food pictures where the colour levels are all wrong. Then comparatively I see influencers with smaller follower counts - or your average Joe - who use a mobile phone and get it spot on. My point being that taking a great photo is well within your reach and easily achievable with just a few small pointers.

Frame your shot

It's all about the background. Whilst we are not all blessed to have marble worktops, the key is having a work surface with colour variation or a bit of texture to add interest. A concrete look surface always works well with food photography and can add an industrial feel. Or for a more luxe look, opt for a marble effect surface paired with gold utensils. To get a high end look surface for a fraction of the price, try backdrops like these which are perfect for food photography. My simple vegan aubergine and chickpea stew looked a whole lot more exciting when I tried it against the different backgrounds.

Vegan aubergine and chickpea stew
Vegan aubergine and chickpea stew

For a fully authentic magazine style food shot, frame your dish with crumbs, a smattering of herbs or a lovingly torn French baguette. But don't overdo it. You want the shot to look homely, not messy (and not excessively staged!)

Get the lighting right

Natural light always works best, but at this time of year, good light can be hard to come by which is where you may need assistance in the form of a lighting kit. Circle lights can help in the winter months but beware, as artifical light is no match for natural light and can cause glare and over-saturated images. To help control the lighting your photo receives - whether natural or artifical - consider using a reflector and diffuser like this 5 in 1 one here to eliminate shadows and glare.

Edit with caution

Sometimes the perfect photograph requires some editing work, especially if you are not blessed with natural light. Increasing the contrast levels can add richness to your image, and low light can be remedied. Edit with caution though, as many professional food bloggers make the mistake of over-saturating their images, leading to the colour of natural food products appearing, well, unnatural. 

Experiment with angles

Flat lays are always effective in food photography, but playing with angles can add interest. See what a difference it makes below. The bird's eye view looks a little flat, whereas shooting from an angle makes the dish look multi-dimensional (what of course it is!). Re-shooting the flat lay with a slight angle rather than from above makes the toasted pinenuts in the recipe look more 3D.

Food flat lay
Example of a flat lay

Playing with angles
Experiment with angles

Food photography flat lay
The ingredients in this flat lay look a little more 3D as it's not shot directly over head 

Give your food a face lift

Examine your plate and how colourful it is. Is it a fairly beige meal? Or is it all mostly one colour? In food magazines the most captivating recipes we want to try ourselves are colourful and attractive. Greenery always works wonders and can help bring food alive - so top your meal with fresh chopped parsley, chives or your herb of choice. Other options include cheese and chopped chilli - anything that adds colour and interest. Puncture the yolk of your poached egg in a brunch shot for an image that leaves your audience salivating. Wipe up any other spills and add cutlery to give it that ready to eat feel.

Listen to the experts

I am by no means an expert and if you check out my Instagram, I'm sure I have commited a multitude of sins when it comes to food photography. That being said, life is full of lessons and food photography is something that takes time and practice. If you want expert advice on how to improve your work, check out these polaroid style notelets, each depicting a picture of a delicious plate of food and on the reverse side, tips and tricks. Admittedly some of the advice is common sense, but I have learned a lot and I'm really pleased with how some of my recent food shots have turned out.


If you are a budding food blogger or just enjoy taking food photos and want to up your game, check out #TheFoodieBag (also known as the Instagram Bag) here which has everything you need to get started. The kit is just £39.95 including P&P & VAT and contains the following:

  • a HUGE tote bag (perfect for lugging your kit around!) with zip fastening and internal mesh dividers and pockets
  • A 15-inch 5 in 1 pop up lighting reflector and diffuser
  • 4 backdrops (marble, grey concrete, green-grey hybrid and rust-look)
  • 8 beautiful postcards with extra tips and tricks for getting the perfect shot

I've had a lot of fun experimenting with the different backdrops - although admittedly this has made me cringe over some of my past food photography!

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* This post features #TheFoodieBag from The Cotton Bag Company which was sent to me in exchange for a review. As ever all views (and love of food photography!) are my own. 


Friday, 25 September 2020

7 ways how to have a productive writing day

This post contains a gifted item

Whether you blog, are writing the next big thing, or work in editorial, some days the words come less easily than others. One day you find you can easily knock out 1,000 words of a morning, the next you find yourself staring at your screen, willing the words to come to you. Writing is a craft that requires a lot of discipline, but sometimes that motivation can be hard to come by. So what can you do to help keep the words flowing?

Start the day right

If you wake up all groggy and half asleep and start writing straight away, the words won't come to you naturally. Make sure you find the time to put some fuel in the tank with a nutritious breakfast, a cup of tea or coffee, and a big glass of water. 

Light exercise can work wonders

By no means tire yourself out or your writing could fall lacklustre. Do some light exercise like a quick morning jog or bike ride, or my favourite, morning yoga. I find this eases me into the day but at the same time gets my heart racing and blood pumping around the body (great for the brain).

Identify how you write best

For me personally, my best ideas come when I physically write in a notebook. I don't know if it's something about looping those letters in joined up writing to bring a sense continunity to the words which help them to keep on coming. It just works. I find myself getting lost in a story a lot more when I write by hand. But each to their own. Your stream of consciouness may be better aligned with typing on a keyboard. Also have a think about which time of the day you write best. The mornings work best for me so I make sure I am up good and and early and get the bulk of any writing done then, leaving the afternoons for editing and reviewing (and image sourcing if for a blog post).

Invest in a shiny new notebook

Nothing motivates me more than a brand new notebook, especially an aesthetically pleasing one with a witty or inspirational quote. A new notebook to me symbolises a fresh start. A new story. A new beginning. 

My brain has too many tabs open
Old English Company too many tabs open

Get the room temperature right

If you feel too hot or too cold, you could be prone to fidget and have bouts of restlessness. Much like the importance of getting your bedroom temperature right for a good night's sleep, make sure your working envirionment is equally comfortable. On stifling hot days, invest in a fan or sit outside and be at one with nature. 

Find a workspace free from distractions

Much like the previous point, carve out a comfortable work zone but one that is also free from distractions. Don't work in front of the TV or around anything that could cause distraction. If you work from home, do you have a good work-life balance? If not, consider leaving the house to achieve that balance so at the end of the day, you can come back home and switch off. If you have a summer house or garden studio you can use, this would be a great writer's haven with guaranteed privacy. Libraries offer hushed tones and are another peaceful sanctuary. Otherwise if you are comfortable around other people and aren't easily distracted, consider a co-working space.

Don't push yourself too hard

Know your limits. If the words aren't flowing and you've tried making subtle changes to your routine and these aren't working, don't force it. Give yourself a break and have some time away from your desk or screen. I usually find that I get a whole new wave of inspiration once I step away from the problem and mull it over in my mind for a little while. Giving yourself this time is important for the development of new and existing ideas. 

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* This post features this lovely notebook from Old English Company and like all their other notebooks, comes in pink, grey, white or black. They also stock homeware, stationary, greeting cards and much more! This notebook was sent to me in exchange for a review and all views are my own. 

For 15% off your next purchase at Old English Company, use the code OESPECBR15 here

Old English Company notebook

Friday, 11 September 2020

9 things to be mindful of on travel deals sites

You know the drill. An email pings into your inbox from one of the many travel deals sites you are signed up to with a thumbnail of a paradise island with palm trees and crystal clear waters. Said email seductively trying to entice you into a trip to the Maldives because it's 50% off. But is this 'deal' all it's cracked up to be?

Disclaimer: I have nothing agaist travel deals sites like these (I myself are signed up to Secret Escapes, Voyage Prive and Groupon), but rather than immediately losing your head because you've always wanted to go to [insert country here] and it's super cheap and you'd be stupid not to, exercise caution. Why? I'm about to tell you why.

Maldives hanging chair

Remember 50% off is still 50% on

It's an inherent fact of life: We love a bargain. Why buy something full priced when you can get the same thing for less? But you have to remember that whilst 50% off sounds like a great deal, if in the greater scheme of things it's a more expensive holiday, you could actually be spending more overall. Take discounts with a pinch of salt. Is it a destination or hotel that you would consider going to ordinarily if it wasn't on offer? And remember, 50% off is still 50% on.

Is that 'deal' as much of a deal as you think?

Deals sites like these are generally able to offer promotions due to the power of buying in bulk. As long as they get enough people interested in the deal and meet demand and sell it, they aren't out of pocket and can still make their money. My advice? Research. Look around. If you find a hotel you like the look of, go to the actual hotel website and check how expensive the hotel is normally. I remember clicking on a holiday offer where I was told it was 40-something % off however when I consulted the hotel's website and checked their usual rate, the travel deal was in fact only offering 17% off their normal rate. So yes, still a saving, but not as big as they were claiming. One that doesn't justify me getting all riled up and hitting that book button like it's going out of style. If you find a hotel you like, don't take that price as a final offer. Do your research and use travel and hotel comparison sites to find the best price out there.

The room pictured may not be the room you get

You've been there. You've been drawn in by an image of an over water villa. In reality these may just be example thumbnails to lure you to the holiday listing. Scroll down the page and study the rooms offered in the deal. For deals on holiday destinations like the Maldives, they usually offer you the cheaper and lowest grade room. Likely on land, not water (sorry). If it sounds too good to be too true, it probably is.

Maldives over water bungalow

Read the small print

You find an incredible deal for a sunshine holiday and it's 400-and-something in your given currency for 7 days and your cursor is hovering over that book button. STOP RIGHT THERE. Scroll down and read the small print first. Check the board basis. Countless times have I been caught out by something that sounds incredible but in reality is bed only or bed and breakfast. For a trip to Europe that's not a deal breaker as such, but if you're looking further afield at caribbean destinations where your hotel is the only one for miles (or the only hotel full stop), then some sort of food is a must. Some hotels will offer upgrade options where you can pay slightly more for a nicer room or better board, but not always. This depends on the hotel. Do some digging and double check if the offer includes food, flights and transfers and what seasons / months / days of the week are valid. Out of season is generally cheaper, but can have terrible weather, so that could be how the price is so low.

Beware of hidden costs

It's worth double checking about any hidden extra costs. A holiday deal may claim it includes dinner, but in the small print it may say that dinner is only provided for one night. So you'd have to be mindful that you'd need to pay for dinner for the majority of your stay. Some destinations have city tax. And some holidays may throw in a free diving trip, but said diving trip may require you to pay for the equipment hire. You'd be surprised how many hidden extras there are. 

You book a holiday but it's no longer there

Booking through sites like Groupon, Wowcher and the like, they act as the middleman, so this is more like a voucher or credit towards a holiday and isn't an actual booking. Then it's up to us the consumer to contact the hotel / travel site we are using and quote the unique voucher code we received. 

I've read several case studies where people have booked a trip on sites like these, contacted the travel provider, and said travel provider have told them the trip to x at the advertised price has now sold out. Some are palmed off with a lower spec hotel or travel package. Others are given something more expensive so end up having to shell out more. You may not be happy and want your money back. Which is when you are told that your voucher is non refundable and non transferable.

Sites like these have some lovely sunshine breaks abroad, but it's definitely worth bearing the above in mind. I'd personally be more inclined to book up a domestic trip with them as in the event of a booking changing or no longer being available, I'd be a little more confident finding an alternative in a country I am more familar with. But that's completely up to you. Just ensure that you are ATOL or ABTA protected.

Maldives holidays

Watch out for scam travel sites

There are lots of travel deals sites. Take your pick. But beware. There are scammers out there who create fake websites, fake listings and fake social media accounts drawing people to holiday deals and competitions. Scam sites like these can promote accomodation and holiday packages that don't exist, or sell fake airline tickets. Before booking, always check out the website in question. Google it for reviews and stories of other people who have booked through them. Make sure they are ATOL and / or ABTA approved. Avoid paying through bank transfer or cash. Always try to pay by credit card where transactions can be easier to cancel or block. And remember, if in doubt or if the deal looks too good to be true, don't proceed.

Don't be pressured by the countdown timer

You know the one. The countdown that is sat in the sidebar, counting the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until this once-in-a-lifetime deal expires. I remember frantically getting wound up by it when I found a holiday that was about to expire and I was hurriedly trying to suss out the deal and if it was something I wanted to persue. Anything with a countdown is stressful. Don't let it consume you. When deciding whether you want to book or not, think about how you'd feel if you logged on too late one day and the deal had gone. Would you feel sad and like you'd royally missed out?

Some deals are repeat offenders

Other than the pressure from the countdown timer, another stress point is being told that this is a one time deal and this is your last chance. Not true. I use sites like Secret Escapes and I've seen the same destination pop up several times before. Just because it's expiring in 2 hours time, doesn't mean it won't be back again at some later date. It's always better to wait, do the research, and be better prepared, so if it comes back around again, you can have more confidence booking (or not booking!).

All images are my own. Please credit me and link back to this article if used.

Friday, 4 September 2020

7 ways how to get your home Halloween ready

Create a welcoming entrance hall

Autumn being the season of warm colours like burnt oranges, rusts and reds will help any entrance hall or hallway come alive. Many us decorate our homes with Christmas wreaths, so why not consider an autumn wreath for your front door? The colours of this autumnal wreath are so warming and pleasing to the eye. In similar fashion, string up garlands of autumnal leaves to run up your staircase or over your fireplace, and welcome your visitors with the ever popular Hello Pumpkin door mat, guaranteed to be a frequent sight on your Instagram feed again this year.

Bring the taste of the season into your home

One of the most wonderful things about this season are the magic words: Pumpkin Spice. For a warming taste of autumn, stock up on autumnal themed limited editions like pumpkin spice gin, pumpkin spice chocolate liquor (I've tried the standard Mozart chocolate liquor and can confirm it is divine) and pumpkin spice syrup to give your coffees and hot chocolates an added je ne sais quoi. 

Come up with a table setting 

Laying the table for Halloween doesn't have to mean spider webs and plastic spiders. It really depends on you as a household. If you have young children, you may want to inject some fun and decorate the space together. Otherwise you could always focus on more of an autumnal theme with a pumpkin centrepiece. Decorate with cutesy, miniature, real pumpkins or go artifical for longevity so you can use your pumpkins again year after year. These white pumpkins would suit monochrome, farmhouse or country style decor, or if you fancy something a little glitzier, how about these rose gold light up pumpkins? You can still make a nod to the season by simply changing the colours of your candles to something like these black candlesticks which have great impact. And for pumpkin soup season, why not invest in some cute pumpkin bowls? Whilst many come in traditional 'pumpkin orange', if you fancy something a little more muted, how about this white ceramic pumpkin bowl with lid?

Update your soft furnishings

Soft furnishings are one of the easiest ways to help transform a space. It's always good to have an excuse to buy more cushions! Alternatively you can seek out cushion covers that will enable you to keep your same cushions, but give them a seasonal refresh. Once autumn is over, cushion covers are easy to fold and put away as they don't require much in the way of storage space. If you're feeling crafty and are good with a needle and thread, why not source some autumnal fabric and make your own cushion covers? I just love this pumpkin spice latte fabric

Give your bedding a refresh

Alas the Matalan pumpkin duvet cover of dreams has sold out, but there are plenty of other good ones out there. This set is just as lovely as the Matalan one. Alternatively if you and your family prefer the monochrome look, how about a black and white design like this one? If soft pastels are more your thing, these are a little harder to find as everything is so orange at this time of the year, however I located two examples (above). Isn't this pumpkin spice and everything nice set adorable? 

Create a cosy atmosphere

When the temperatures start to plummet and the leaves begin their metamorphosis, it's the perfect time to watch Halloween movie favourites (Hocus Pocus anyone?) with a cosy throw, hot chocolate in an autumn ready mug and a soft lighting scheme. For ultimate cosy vibes, you can't go wrong with fairy lights and a pumpkin spice candle

Just have fun with it!

If cobwebs and spiders aren't your thing, there are plenty of alternatives out there that you can hang on your walls. If you have a bar cart or a designated drinks area, this Drink Up Witches banner may be up your street. Or if you want to play more towards an autumn theme rather than Halloween, opt for a farmhouse style sign with a wooden frame like this one. Wall art like this can easily be propped against a wall and doesn't necessarily need fixing to the wall (perfect for if you are renting!). Same story with this crow print which doesn't just have to be for Halloween, and would be perfect all year round on any gallery wall. If birds don't freak you out, these ravens can easily be dotted around your home. At the top of the stairs. On the fireplace. In the bookshelves. Above a wardrobe or kitchen cupboard. The possibilities are endless! If you have children, they can help you place them, otherwise why not have a family game of find the ravens? 

Which items are your favourites?

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Friday, 7 August 2020

Why you will never take skirting boards for granted ever again

AD | This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own

"Why do we have skirting boards?" Mr Curiouser and Curiouser asks me one day. "Do we even need them?" Admittedly I am rarely ready for what comes out of his mouth and this was no different. But to be honest, I've never questioned skirting boards (also known as baseboards, mopboards and trim) before. Whether you live in an older property, a new build or a flat, they all tend to come with skirting boards. Skirting boards just exist. But do we need them?

Skirting boards are assumed to have come about in the 1800's during the Victorian era, as these were the earliest use cases on record. Damp proofing had not yet been established so skirting boards were there to prevent rising damp on the walls as well as to protect walls from bumps and knocks, and to reduce draughts as Victorian homes weren't as well insulated as our modern day counterparts. While some classic features like dado rails and picture rails have been phased out of some homes - and not added to new ones - the humble skirting board is still a prevalent feature today.

So with that, some of the many reasons why you should cherish your skirting boards.

They protect your home

Skirting boards protect the wall from any knocks and bumps from pets, the vaccum cleaner, children's toys and if like me, exercise equipment has somehow accumulated in your home. Skirting boards also protect the wall from moisture (say you spring a leak, the house floods, or you have an accident prone family / pets) by forming a physical barrier, and some types even have moisture resistant capabilities which make them the perfect candidate for bathrooms or alongside floors that require frequent mopping.

They are practical

They create a neat join between wall and floor. Skirting boards also seal off any gaps where pet fur, dust, and the like may otherwise gather. A good quality Bullnose skirting board is rounded in design meaning there is nowhere for dust to hide and is easy to clean. They also have the added bonus of hiding any imperfections you may have lower down on the wall like a bad paint job or exposed plaster. 

They look great painted 

Whatever the colour, skirting boards can give nice clean lines. I'm a big fan of dark interiors and a white skirting board can look crisp against a dark wall. I have in fact opted for white in many of the rooms here. In the lounge to lift the dark inky blue walls and wood flooring. In the office to frame the sumptious brinjal walls. And in the bedroom to contrast against the cocooning grey walls. Skirting boards can also give the illusion of high ceilings in rooms with low ceilings if you paint the skirting board the same colour as the walls. 


Skirting boards also have great longevity in that you can always paint them another colour in the future if you fancy a refresh. Interiors are becoming braver and braver in this regard with an influx of coloured skirting boards. Pink skirting boards are having a moment, as are pastel shades like soft blues and greens. 


Dark skirting boards are also very much en vogue. Navy blue skirting boards look incredible with navy stairs and railings against a white or soft grey wall. As do black and grey skirting boards.


They add character

Particularly if you have nice ornate ones. Taller skirting boards can add grandeur to a room. Our ancestors installed these to give the impression they were wealthier than they actually were. Last but not least, skirting boards can look really smart against a statement wallpaper. Especially if you pick out an accent colour from your wallpaper and paint the trim to match. 


So there you have it. Skirting boards exist for practical reasons but can also bring fun, colour, drama or grandeur into your home. It all depends on the type of skirting board, and how you paint them. Writing this feature has me yearning to pick up a paint brush and run riot in the hallway. The only stumbling block is deciding between pastel skirting boards and a matching staircase, or going to the dark side with black or navy blue skirting boards for a monochrome look. Thoughts?

All images Pinterest (original source unknown). If any of these images are yours, please reach out to me so I can fully credit you!