Thursday, 21 May 2020

The Amazon wishlist items I opened on my birthday

This year's birthday was bit of a different one (as touched upon here). The best possible gift would have been to see friends and family, but alas the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown cruelly shut that down. I mostly had cheques and vouchers this year which will come in useful for pending building works (once we can start the build...) I didn't want anyone to risk going to the post office or post box on my behalf, so set up an Amazon wish list this year which friends and family kindly ordered from. Some gifts are delayed due to lockdown snail mail so here's a small selection of what I opened on my birthday...

Drink Tea, Read Books, Be Happy tee

Slogan tee

Can we please talk about how cute this tee is? I love a slogan tee and I love crisp, white t-shirts, so this ticked all my boxes! I have the small which is the smallest size they do, but at a glance, it does look quite big and like it will be more of a relaxed fit. Also available in other colours like black, pink, blue and grey (seriously tempted to order more in other colours!)

Clinique products

Clinique products

Fun fact: I've never tried any Clinique products before, but have always wanted to try products from their moisturizing range, so am pretty excited to try these out! My skin has been extra dry since lockdown (excessive hand washing no doubt the culprit here) so these moisturising products couldn't have come at a better time! I will do a separate review post on these products as Clinique isn't cheap and I don't know about you, but I'm interested to see if they're worth the money!

Clinique redness solutions
Clinique moisture surge overnight mask
Clinique dramatically different moisturizing lotion
Bumper pack of Aero bubbles

Aero Bubbles

Aero Bubbles (the originals not the mint ones, blergh) are my absolute favourites. I could easily get through an entire sharing bag to myself so it takes some real restraint ;) I see the mint ones EVERYWHERE - in cinemas and at the shops - but rarely the plain ones. This bumper pack of - I kid you not - EIGHT BAGS will keep me going for a while. Maybe ;)

Busy B weekly planner

Busy B meal planner

I have been using these planners for years and they are an absolute godsend when it comes to planning meals for the week ahead. One side has a seven day meal planner, the other, a shopping list. It also comes with cutesy fridge magnets so you can tear off the current week and stick it on the fridge along with your shopping list. This French feel Breton stripe planner is my favourite but they also have in several other designs here.

Just saying aloe

How cute is this pot plant?! I've always wanted an aloe plant for the kitchen as I watch a lot of cookery shows and I've seen how aloe plants can help with burns. All you do is a snap off a piece of the plant and use the gel to help soothe your burn.

The kit comes with pot, aloe plant, compost discs and googly eyes. All you need to do is re-hydrate the compost discs in water for 2 hours minimum or ideally overnight. These little discs soon expanded and once done, I cut them free of their netting and crumbled them into the pot, introducing the aloe plant. If you're bad with plants, this is a fairly hardy variety and only needs watering once a week (or so the accompanying manual tells me!).

Hotel Chocolat hot chocolate


Hotel Chocolat is one of my favourite places in town to go for a hot chocolate (it's just sad that you don't see many of their cafes around!) so I was interested to see if this product compared (especially at a rather pricey £9 price point!). Inside the pack are the most divine smelling chocolate flakes which you stir into hot milk (dairy or dairy-free, the choice is yours!). And yes, I can confirm that the at home version of their hot chocolate is every bit as special! I have the Hotel Chocolat classic hot chocolate but they also have other varieties like chilli chocolate (not my cup of tea!) and salted caramel.

Sweary cook book

What the f should I make for dinner?

The most hilarious cook book I've ever laid my eyes on! Open the book to a recipe and if you don't like any of the ingredients (or the meal itself), the book repeatedly uses the f word and will refer you to another page later in the book. I tried it out on Mr Curiouser and Curiouser and the book swore at him and referred him away to a basic chicken soup recipe! You can find more excerpts of the book here.

Carbonara recipe

Gardening treats

My lockdown gardening endeavours meant lots of things were gardening orientated this year! From catnip to grow for the cats, a garden kneeler to ease my yoga punished knees, and get this - a fig tree! Fresh figs are one of my favourite things. I just love them with mozzarella and prosciutto, either simply on the plate with freshly baked bread, or on pizza.

Grow your own catnip

Fig reed diffuser

Wax Lyrical exotic fig reed diffuser

I have always loved candles (and still do!) but lately I've been OBSESSED with reed diffusers (which I think I made pretty clear here ha). I love how they can change up the feel of a room when you introduce a new scent. I love citrus fresh scents in the bathroom and kitchen, and something a little spicier and more unisex in the study. Fig is another fresh scent that I love which lends itself well to candles and reed diffusers. I cannot wait to open this up and get this bad boy started!

Links to everything are above in case there's anything you've seen that you would like to add to your own Amazon wishlist!

Which items are your favourites?

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Monday, 18 May 2020

Lockdown diary // dealing with anxiety and trying to find home delivery slots

How has life changed?

Life has obviously changed, but in other ways, life hasn't changed at all. Mr Curiouser and Curiouser usually works from home four days a week and now he works all five days from home (so hardly a big change for him!). We have always been happy pottering around the garden, cooking together, sorting bits around the house and huddling under blankets watching episodes and movies. So being enforced to stay at home isn't a big deal for us compared to couples who go out lots or take lots of holidays who will have more of an adjustment at this time. I just feel so lucky that we live together and have each other. But like I spoke about here, there are aspects of 'before' that you suddenly feel all the more grateful for.

Home delivery slots are like gold dust

The shift we have been finding difficult is getting our hands on supplies. At one stage we weren't able to get a home delivery for love nor money. At the start (before the #stayhome enforcement) we would stay close to home, picking up supplies from the local shops. When it all ramped up, we collectively agreed not to go out as it wasn't worth the risk. Then there was a surge of crime of opportunity with local muggings and house robberies (just disgusting), and 'delightful' groups of teenagers spitting on people ("now you're infected!"). So understandably we have zero desire to step outside for the foreseeable future. But if supplies ever ran out, we'd of course have to reassess that.

This has been easier said than done. All home delivery slots were snapped up. Certain supermarkets weren't accepting new customers and would boot you off the site if you tried to sign up. Others were prioritising the vulnerable and NHS (this I applaud and can't get mad at).

After a few sleepless nights, we were up early one morning and by stroke of luck, managed to find a home delivery slot FOR THE VERY NEXT DAY (how we managed this, I still don't know). It was the biggest (well, most expensive) shop we've ever done as we couldn't guarantee when we would next be able to get food. Only six items couldn't be delivered and we had 16 substitutions - so overall we were really impressed with our first ever Asda home delivery.

The earliest home delivery we could get after that was for a month later which came from Tesco and was even better (everything delivered and only 6 substitutions). I'm not confident how we will be looking this time next month, but I'm currently planning three weeks of meals at a time (largely thanks to this spreadsheet) so I'm prepared if we have a wait ahead of us!

Being resourceful

Amid the fear of running out of food, I have been saving scraps and seeds from fruit and vegetables and putting a few garlic cloves and potatoes aside, which fingers crossed I can grow more from. Fresh herbs from the garden have gone into meals (rosemary roast potatoes being a highlight) and I have also been ransacking the cupboards and finding out of date ingredients which are still perfectly fine. The out of date baked beans and ginger cake were both full of sugar, so perfectly preserved. I also found a TGI Fridays sriracha rub which expired in 2018 (ha). It used to be orange / red in colour and had clumped together into a sad looking grey colour. I scooped the contents out into a pestle and mortar, crushed it into a fine power and revived it back to its original colour (plus it smelt the same as it did before which is always a good sign!). I added a dash of olive oil and salt to made a marinade and added steaks which bathed in the mixture for a few hours. It was the highlight meal of the week (and still super spicy despite being years old!).

Panic (but not at the disco)

Around the time the lockdown enforcement occurred, I needed the post office and walked alone to our nearest one, only to find it was closed and not advertised as so online. I was panicked enough about going outside, so discovering I had gone outside for nothing, was frustrating. Particularly as the people I passed had no concept of social distancing.

I came back home, paid for online postage, walked down the road to the post box, and legged it back. Whilst I was quick and kept my distance from other people, the panic I experienced wasn't worth it. I came back and my head was pounding, my chest tight, and I found it hard to breathe. All classic signs of a panic attack. But naturally, I was fearing the worst at this point.

So whilst the prospect of potentially not being able to get a food delivery next month terrifies me, I know that going outside terrifies me more! I am already a hypochondriac and worrier by nature, but I fear once this is all over that I will be a fully fledged agoraphobic!

#BeKind

Nestled amongst the negativity on social media and tales of d**kery of some people, it's been lovely hearing about communities and families coming together (even if in different households). I received a call from my family one day saying they had managed to score a home delivery and was there anything I needed. I didn't want to take advantage so only asked for a few things that we couldn't get in our shop. My family stopped by the following day to drop a bag off at our door, plus collect the one I'd left for them (I didn't have much to offer them, but gave them fresh herbs from the garden, wine, books and magazines). Considering I'd only asked for a couple of things, I was blown away when I brought this bag inside:

Lockdown care package

I'd almost forgotten what fresh fruit looked like! It was a very emotional moment. Not just because of their generosity, but also the sadness of having to wave from the window and not be able to hug them or make contact. My Mum had even made a lemon drizzle cake and brought that round. She even apologised afterwards saying she took it out of the oven and it was under so she put it back into the oven and that was a mistake as it's now black around the edges. But that's the amazing woman she is. Always thoughtful and always thinking of other people.

How are you lovely lot doing?

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The reality of a birthday during lockdown

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that my birthday would be in the midst of lockdown. I naively thought that the lockdown measures would lift in April or something, and kept my fingers tightly crossed. Suddenly cocktails, dining out and catching up with friends was out of the question. I couldn't get a grocery home delivery near to my birthday so that ruled out cakes, decorations and the ingredients for my afternoon tea idea. The reality is I don't have access to gold balloons displaying my age, or huge gold letters spelling out HAPPY BIRTHDAY (so you won't find any of that sh*t on my Instagram). I don't have banners or bunting or fancy cake toppers or cupcakes. The only telling that it was my birthday was birthday cards coming through the post (now all stuck on the wall as a glorified wall mural like we did last Christmas with our Christmas cards) and a sh*t ton of deliveries. And with that, a diary of a birthday during lockdown...


MORNING (AND BREAKFAST)

Lately I've got myself into a morning routine of yoga to gradually ease myself into the day and then more strenuous exercise to fully wake up. It's my birthday so I feel I can be exempt from exercising on today of all days ;)

Mr Curiouser and Curiouser is working today, but I am not. He offered to take the day off but is there any point taking holiday during lockdown? It's not like we can go anywhere. I'm not worried as we know we can make an awesome day of it until lockdown eases and things start to re-open again.

My husband surprises me with a scroll and it turns out to be a love letter which he has done in the form of a poem (this guy is smooth AF and always has been!). He was sneaking about the night before, printing, and running up and down the stairs so it all makes sense now! He takes my hand and leads me downstairs where he has prepared pancakes for breakfast.

He makes the best pancakes!

Maltesers chocolate spread is always a winner!

We have two pancakes each and share the last one (that's love right there!). Very happy and in a mini pancake coma (poma?), I then start opening some of my birthday cards and gifts. Friends and family have been very kindly ordering from my Amazon wishlist so it's a bit of a mystery knowing who sent what and it turns it into a guessing game.

Mr C & C starts work at 9 and I take some time getting ready. Today I decide to wear one of my favourite Oliver Bonas skirts with a black cropped tee and a spritz of my wedding fragrance. I also ditch my glasses - which I've been wearing for the last two months - and dig out the contact lenses again. It feels so good wearing them again.

It's a fairly slow morning. I reply to birthday messages, take some calls, discover some lovely messages from blogger friends, watch Catfish, but mostly do some writing.

LUNCH

Mr Curiouser and Curiouser asks what I'd like for lunch and I really fancy something crunchy with ketchup. I love, love, love chicken dippers, chicken nuggets, chicken goujons and the like, but we don't have any in the house. We do however have fish fingers which really hit the spot. Over lunch we watch one of my favourite shows and tuck into biscuits afterwards (standard).

AFTERNOON

As the day goes on, the realisation of having a birthday in lockdown kicks in. It's a weird feeling. I keep getting reminders on social media about how I was celebrating my birthday last year and on previous years. I see the pictures taken with friends. I see pictures of this wonderful plant based afternoon tea I went to with my sister last year. Whilst it sucks being stuck inside, I know it's the right thing to do.

With Mr Curiouser and Curiouser back at his desk it does feel a little lonely, but I count myself lucky that we live together and have each other. I cannot begin to imagine how people on their own during lockdown must be feeling. That afternoon friends and family call me to see how I am doing and with that the afternoon flies.

On my birthday I usually chance a lottery entry and this year is no different. The jackpot today is 42 million but to be honest, I'd be perfectly happy with two zeros let alone a six zero number (every little helps!).

I receive an email with a voucher for my birthday and with that I discover a John Lewis voucher I received for my birthday 2 years ago which has a life of ... 2 years. I can't recall using it and panic. Cue a panicked online shopping session to see if I can spend it still. As luck may have it, the voucher is still active and I get on it ASAP.

DINNER

Dinner is a bit of an interesting one as I ordered a birthday meal (and pud) in our last shop but both went out of stock and couldn't be delivered. As luck may have it, I find some scallops buried deep in our freezer which I bought especially for Christmas and somehow forgot about. The main course is another case of digging about in the freezer, but to be honest, I'd be perfectly happy with a chicken kiev (breaded chicken again for the win!) or a pizza.

Tesco has imposed an item limit on their online shops so we didn't have any wine for a while (we instead prioritised the essentials). My husband raised a valid point recently: Order a box of wine and it will count as three bottles of wine but at the same time it will only register as only one item... GENIUS. So in our last shop we ordered some random box of red wine which we didn't have high hopes for, but it's actually pretty decent which is lucky considering we now have three litres of the stuff. For dessert it's a slice of the chocolate birthday cake Mr Curiouser and Curiouser baked for me (a cake meets brownie hybrid with tons of dark chocolate). It's HEAVENLY. Especially when heated (which is what we do).

You can't beat a chocolate cake!

EVENING

A quick, early dinner means a good long evening. Later on we watch one of my favourite French films (which luckily Mr C & C likes too!) with wine and blankets. Later still I have a video call with my family. The last big call we did was over Easter so it's lovely to be all together again. I hazard a guess at who ordered what from Amazon and some how guess all of them correctly! I'm not sure how, but we end up talking for an hour and a half and it's now pitch black outside.

Whilst I couldn't have predicted a birthday like this, I feel like we made the best of it and although simple, it didn't make it any less special. It just goes to show that it's not things that make a day special, it's the people in your life.

First image: twinsfisch on Unsplash 
All other images my own!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

10 happy things that are bringing me joy during lockdown

Celebrating a new baby during lockdown

Well, that got your attention didn't it!! No, I'm not pregnant or about to give birth any time soon. I'm in fact referring to one of my best friends who recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl. She had a really difficult pregnancy and at one time there was a terrifying 'it could be you or the baby' scenario so words cannot express how relieved I am that both mother and daughter are healthy and doing well. She is the definition of a miracle baby and a fighter just like her awesome Mum.

Unearthing old video games and playing them again

Sure, not all of them are going to work with the latest computer operating systems - but you don't know unless you try, right? And the gamble has already paid off with some of our old PC games. Admittedly we couldn't play anything on the old wii for a while as we discovered that a cat had chewed through the lead to the sensor bar (typical) however we found the part on Amazon so we were soon playing Guitar Hero and Mario Kart again!

Re-watching classic movies

One weekend we polished off all the Matrix films and the nostalgia brings SUCH JOY. Now we're planning on re-watching all the Back to The Future movies and I low key want to re-watch some of the older Men In Black movies as we watched the new 2019 Men in Black reboot lately and NOT A FAN. Sometimes you just can't improve on a classic!*

* the exception to the rule being the Jurassic Park films which are all class

The little plant that could

I surprised my Nan on her birthday last year and gave her an orchid (her favourite). I bought one for myself at the same time (I love the pink ones as seen here and here). Every time I speak to her on the phone she's raving about this plant and how much it's grown and the number of flowers it's had. My plant in comparison is not a grower and is certainly not a shower (ha). That is until recently. Suddenly three pink orchid flowers have opened up and they are much bigger than the original flowers on the plant - so I guess I can count that as a win!

Pink orchid in grey bedroom with black furniture

Saving leftover seeds and egg cartons

I've been planting a whole host of things (taken from our food scraps) in leftover egg cartons which under normal circumstances (pre lockdown) would have gone straight into the recycling box. I've been considering growing my own fruit and vegetables for the longest time but this pandemic has given me the kick up the bum I needed!

Looking out at the garden and seeing everything in full bloom

First came the daffodils. Then came huge heads of tulips in red, yellow and orange. Shortly after bluebells and forget-me-nots followed. Now we have foxgloves emerging. Suddenly our garden is as colourful as all the rainbows displayed in windows celebrating the NHS and our carers <3

Yellow tulips and other curiosities

Waving to my family from the window 

... and exchanging supplies on the doorstep. My Mum really outdid herself. Around that time, we hadn't been able to get any supplies or a home delivery slot  (whereas they had) and when asked what we needed, I just asked for the bare minimum. Things like toilet roll, yeast, hand soap and flour. Because if I can make bread and pizza dough, I'm set. My Mum turned up with bars of chocolate, lentils, sliced bread, fruit and get this - a home baked lemon drizzle cake. I was so emotional afterwards because of their kindness (and the frustration of not being able to get closer). I did a bag for them too but didn't have much to offer them (low supplies). Just things like books, magazines and wine (sounds like a cracking night in)

Essentials food box home delivery

Embracing a more natural look

I've hung up the straighteners and have been avoiding all heated hair care products and my hair is the best it's ever been. It's been naturally drying into the most perfect curls which look like I've spent hours with a curling iron (I haven't). My hair suddenly has great volume and glossiness as I'm no longer stripping it of moisture or its natural oils. It sounds silly but it feels like my hair is rewarding me for being kinder to it!

Writing to my heart's content and feeling inspired 

I wrote about how the struggle is real with blogging and working here but lately I've had a massive wave of inspiration and I've found myself jotting down ideas for future blog posts as well as ideas for books that I am working on. I managed to write 5,000 words for a book in the space of two days and sent it to a publisher with a proposal - so here's hoping! I love writing and whilst I'm not sure I'm any good at it, I find it hugely therapeutic - particularly at a time like this.

Unapologetically making time for myself

I have a whole other blog post on this going live soon where I touch upon the initial pressure I felt at the start of lockdown to busy and better myself. Because it felt like that was what everyone else was doing and that I should too. I busied myself with decluttering the house, getting the washing out on the line, cleaning, etc, and felt guilty whenever I sat down or stopped for a few minutes. What I've come to realise is that our mental health and wellbeing is key at this time where many of us are feeling isolated and alone. I've now got myself into the habit of taking some time out each day to do something that brings me joy. Things like sitting with a candle and magazine, reading books, doing some yoga, writing, and colouring.

Rainbow tribute in progress dedicated to our hardworking NHS healthcare workers and carers

As a result, I'm a lot less jittery and anxious, and I'm actually sleeping now (and longer!)

Have you found any silver linings to lockdown so far?

Monday, 20 April 2020

The spreadsheet that is helping me keep sane (and helping reduce food waste)

Now is as important a time as any to not buy more food than necessary and not to waste food. I have always prided myself on using every last scrap of food, but the added pressures of covid-19 and not knowing what ingredients I can get or when I can next get a home delivery slot, means that I am working extra hard to make food supplies stretch and work that little bit harder.

As lucky as I am to have a fridge and a freezer, I am not blessed with space, so cannot fit much in either of them. Whenever I get a food shop, I don't want to go crazy and deprive others of supplies, and the fact that I cannot store much is great in that aspect as it really helps me rein back and carefully consider what I do (and don't) need.

Working from home

The current strategy that has been working for me is keeping fresh ingredients in the fridge (or in some cases, the cupboard) and aiming to cook / eat everything by its use by date to reduce the need for freezing. Because frankly my freezer is tiny and I just don't have the space. And to keep tabs on use by dates, say hello to my geeky spreadsheet that is helping keep me sane

Food expiry dates spreadsheet - Curiouser and Curiouser

As you can see, I list out my ingredients, where they are currently stored, and their expiry dates. I've noticed that many stores have stopped putting expiry dates on vegetables (hence the * in my spreadsheet) which I think is great as many people swear by end dates and bin food when in reality, veg lasts a lot longer than you think it does! (the items marked in red are still perfectly fine)

I have conditional formatting and sorting on the end dates, meaning it's listed in date order. Items within their final week are colour coded (light orange) and the gradient darkens as they get nearer to their best before (red). Doing this allows me to assess which items need prioritising first, and helps me to plan meals. I really recommend planning meals in advance as that way when you do a shop, it will prevent random ingredients that don't belong together, and food waste.

Example food planner based on this spreadsheet method

DAY ONE

Ingredients expiring: pork steaks, various veg
Meal plan: cut the pork into strips - stir-fry with the veg and spices (fajitas)
______________________________________________________________________________

DAY TWO

Ingredients expiring: beef pieces, various veg
Meal plan: slow cook with carrots, onions, mushrooms, bacon and red wine (beef bourguignon)
______________________________________________________________________________

DAY THREE

Ingredients expiring: beef mince
Meal plan: combine with remaining veg and add tinned tomatoes and spices (chilli con carne)
______________________________________________________________________________

DAY FOUR

Ingredients expiring: chicken, various veg
Meal plan: slow cook with tomatoes and herbs (Italian chicken) - serve with crispy potatoes
______________________________________________________________________________

DAY FIVE

Ingredients expiring: cauliflower
Meal plan: cauliflower curry (here) using tinned tomatoes, nuts, chickpeas, coconut milk and spices
______________________________________________________________________________

DAY SIX

Ingredients expiring: cauliflower, sausages, potatoes
Meal plan: use the last of the potatoes for bangers and mash - serve with spiced grilled cauliflower
______________________________________________________________________________

DAY SEVEN

Ingredients expiring: last remaining veg
Meal plan: I alternate between veggie curries, homemade pizzas and vegetarian pasta bakes
______________________________________________________________________________

As soon as I use an ingredient that has been flagged up in the spreadsheet, I change "used - no" to "used - yes" and the filter in place means the ingredient in question is filtered out of sight. Another option I have under "used" is "frozen" - so if I don't have the necessary other cupboard basics to form a particular meal - or when I cook in bulk and have leftovers - I will pop it into the freezer and mark it as frozen (which the spreadsheet also filters out of view).

This may sound like a long winded method, but it's helped me be a lot more organised at this uncertain time, helps reduce food waste, and it means I can go through 2-3 weeks before needing another shop, which is great as it means that I am not depriving the elderly, healthcare workers and others in need of food or those highly sought after home delivery slots.

Have you changed the way you shop and think about food?

Friday, 27 March 2020

11 positive things about this whole experience which will help make us better people

Urgh, where do I start? You low key want to watch the news but you also kind of don't because it's all doom and gloom and you are guaranteed zero news on anything other than the coronavirus. As surreal a situation we find ourselves in right now, it's important to remember that we are all in this together and to keep the faith where possible. I write to you today to try and spread some positivity at this challenging time. Today's topic: How will this uncertain time help better us as people?

Good vibes only

It will make us appreciate more


We take things for granted like going to the shops, seeing people and having access to household essentials like toilet roll and pasta. You will never look at a toilet roll in the same way ever again. I like to think that everyone is full of respect for healthcare workers anyway, but this whole situation will make everyone appreciate these hardworking doctors and nurses - who put their lives on the line every single day - even more.

It will make us more creative and imaginative in the kitchen

I can usually guarantee getting all the ingredients I need and I know what I'm going to cook all seven days of the week. The pandemic has thrown this into disarray for many of us. You can't get your usual ingredients. The shelves in the shops are empty. You can't get a home delivery slot. So at this time it's all about scouring your cupboards, fridge and freezer and being creative. I mentioned here and here how I helped calm my anxiety by taking inventory for everything I had in the fridge, cupboard and freezer so I know what random ingredients I have to cobble up meals with. I also have a spreadsheet with expiry dates to ensure zero food waste. It's all about being organised with a sprinkling of imagination.

It will make us check in with other people more

Normal life is busy, busy, busy and when you reach out to people by text / Whatsapp / social media etc, you don't always hear back. I'm good at reaching out and checking in, but I'm rubbish with the frequency I do it. This whole experience has made me worry about absolutely everyone and I've reached out to friends in other countries as well as here, and I've been in touch with my own family a whole lot more, especially as they are classed as high risk. The other day one of my best friends and I spoke on the phone which we haven't done that in the longest time (we usually just message each other and meet when we can). It was really lovely to talk and it's something I'm set on maintaining. If you haven't heard from someone in a while, I urge you to reach out to them and see how they are doing. You will make their day.

It will make us take better care of ourselves

Washing your hands after using the toilet, handling raw meat, touching bins and etc, and regular cleaning of surfaces at home should be common sense and a given, but sadly it's not to some people. Imagine doing these things and then putting your fingers near your face or worse in your mouth (blergh). This is exactly how bacteria and viruses spread. Whilst I have always been OCD about washing my hands, I have a terrible habit of biting at my nails or the skin around my nails. I've had to be really tough on myself to get out of the habit of putting my hands near my mouth. Hopefully this pandemic will help people be more mindful of their hygiene and / or habits. Including reducing the number of people who travel into work to 'solider on' when they're sick. There is nothing more important than your health and the health of those around you.

It will bring us together

There is a war time feel to this whole situation (just thankfully without the bombs) and however bad it feels, remember we are all in this together. Spare a thought to the vulnerable like the elderly and help out where you can. Get involved in your community (whilst adhering to social distancing of course) and reach out to your neighbours and help each other out. My heart has been warmed with stories of families sharing their supplies with others. Kindness costs nothing. And remember not to buy more than you need or stockpile so that no one is deprived.

It will help us appreciate quality time with the family even more

Not all families eat meals together. With many now working from home, former absent members of the family will be around more and able to join in with meal times for a greater sense of togetherness. As we're going to be spending more time with each other, turn the TV off and talk more. Watch less TV and bring out the board games and jigsaw puzzles. Play charades. There are so many ways that you can enjoy quality time together without needing going to go out or spend money. I've seen so many creative examples from home-schooled children on social media lately. And for those of us separated from our families and living in different households, it will make us appreciate future family gatherings in a whole new light.

It will help us appreciate our homes more

We are after all going to be spending a lot more time at home from now on. With an age of constantly needing to go places, see people, post the countries we've visited and things we've done on social media, we suddenly find ourselves enforced to stay home and not travel. With all the uncertainty and worry out there, we will appreciate our homes a lot more as a safe haven to be. Spending more time in your home than you normally would may help you realise that you actually like being at home and it may be a lifestyle change you make when this all blows over. If you find yourself spending a lot of time in one room (say you really get into cooking), it may encourage you to invest money into a home improvement / reno project rather than that second holiday you think you need. Investing money into your home will add value to your property and your quality of life.

It could change the way people and businesses work

With lots of people working from home for the foreseeable future, this could help companies that frown on working on home in normal circumstances, be more amenable to the idea in the future. Viruses are so easy to contract on the daily commute or from planes after business travel or a holiday. The more workers work from home, the less chance a virus will spread to other people in the workplace and multiply. Instead it will keep it confined to the household it started in and reduce risks of an outbreak. An agreed number of days working from home a week will not only help motivate individuals, but could bring about less annual sick days. I don't know about you, but I feel more rested when I don't have to commute all five days of the week. Also this pandemic could transform how shops and businesses operate - particularly the supermarkets - with more investment in people and resources to help fulfil the increased demand in online shopping.

It will help us take better care of the environment

Forget airborne viruses for just one second. Here in the UK we have had the most glorious weather since people have stopped commuting and have started working from home. Days of non stop sunshine and clear skies is unheard of here in the UK. It's a novelty. The fact that there is less pollution from air travel (less flights), factories (many in lock down) and commuting (cars being used less and no one taking the train into work any more) can't be a coincidence. As cabin fever inducing as staying home can be, you can't deny the good this will do the environment.

It will help us be more prepared in the future

This whole experience has taught me a lot and hopefully this is something we can all learn from. For me personally this has given me the drive to grow my own fruit and veg so I can be more independent in the future. Because if you can't get food and your supplies are running low, how do you survive? As a society, I hope this gives the government a kick up the backside to consider future strategies. At a time where isolation is essential, all stores should be closed. We need to have more of a focus on online food shopping with increased investment in people to meet demand. However such an arrangement is not ideal for individuals like the elderly who may not necessarily be connected online. During a pandemic, we almost need war time rations so we avoid the risk of people overbuying and depriving others. In an ideal situation, each household should be supplied with a weekly aid box. It will take into consideration the number of people - and their ages and health conditions - in each household and provide them with sanitary care, essentials like bread and milk, and healthy, nutritious ingredients like fresh fruit and veg. This will enable families to maintain a healthy diet and will ensure that everyone is on a level playing field.

It will make future cold and flu feel like a walk in the park

It will give us a sense of perspective and however crappy we feel from the common cold or regular flu in the future, we will have a new found appreciation that at least it's treatable and that we are fortunate to have the ability to soldier on and recover from it.

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Money diary // Coronavirus edition


MONDAY

I'm working from home so it's a no spend day. I find myself drinking a lot more water than I would in the office and I don't feel the need to snack. There is leftover chilli from the weekend which makes a fabulous lunch.
____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

TUESDAY

I have a Tesco delivery booked for today (note: this was before the latest madness where delivery slots are like gold dust!). I have a £10 off voucher that requires a minimum spend which is quite a bit more money that I'd usually spend on just a two person household, however there are lots of heavier things I want to buy that I'd struggle to carry back from the shops.

As you'd come to expect, things like toilet roll and pasta are out of stock online.

The shop arrives and lots of it is missing. Luckily the £10 voucher is still being honoured so I'm spending less overall AND still getting £10 off.
____________________

Tesco shop - £54.00
____________________

TOTAL
£54.00
____________________

WEDNESDAY

It's sod's law that a lot of my clothes have suddenly decided that now is the time to give up on life. I have three pairs of jeans and a pair of knickers, all of which cannot be saved with a needle and thread (not that I can currently locate said needle and thread). I ordered replacement jeans from Topshop last week but I keep getting apology emails from Toppers about delays so gawd knows when they will arrive.

The novelty of being at home is wearing off already. I miss seeing people. Whatsapp just isn't the same as an IRL conversation. My mum pops over for a cup of tea and to drop off presents for the soon-to-be birthday boy (note: this was before the current social distancing measures were in place). 

____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

THURSDAY

Today is Mr Curiouser and Curiouser's birthday. This time last year we were in the Maldives, but this year - even before everything escalated to how it is now - we both collectively agreed not to make any travel plans.

He has a free day off from work for his birthday (a company perk) and is adamant that he doesn't want a fuss or anything in particular for his birthday. He just doesn't want to be out in public at the current time, or for me to spend a lot of money given the uncertainty ahead of us all these next few months.

Birthday boy decides he would like to visit the green space near to where we live and go for a walk given that we've been stuck at home so much lately. It's a lovely sunny day so we only need light layers. He wears his new super soft grey knitwear I bought him recently (which I'm secretly a little jealous of).

Once there, we opt for the longest walking route which is over two hours long. This route has a bit of everything. Woods. Two separate expanses of water. Wildlife. Bridges. Farmland. Fields. Steep uphill climbs. It's impossible to be tired or bored because there is so much to look at.


We see one or two dog walkers but mostly don't see another soul. We very quickly realise that not many people choose the long route as we encounter what we now call the fairytale meadow which has dappled sunlight filtering through the trees, a carpet of daffodils and super green grass that is largely untouched. It's magical.


We are out all morning and I offer birthday boy a pub lunch on the way back (again, before social distancing was in place), however he asks if I'd be happy to make my chilli linguine (a different one to this one here), a personal favourite of his. We have all the ingredients for it already as I was planning on making it next week.

His only other request for the day is that there are a couple of films he'd like to watch. Given that the day has been zero cost so far (he's a cheap date!), I look them up on Amazon Prime with the view to renting / buying. However some further research shows that both films are on NOW TV and it's actually better value to buy a monthly film pass as there's the benefit of having access to many more films. I am a little reluctant to spend any money with NOW TV due to my annoyance with them before here, but as luck may have it, as I haven't used my account in a while, I have access to a free 7 day trial which I immediately snap up. We watch one of his chosen films over lunch and then the other later that evening.

At the time of writing this post, our 7 day trial is coming to an end and we have made good use of it! These are just a few of the things we have watched: Us, Rabid, Escape Plan 3, Hobbs & Shaw, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, the latest Escape Room movie and tons of horrors and thrillers.

Another zero cost birthday treat centres about my aptitude in the art of full body massage. Birthdays can usually be super spendy but this year proved that money isn't the key. We had a zero spend day and my husband was raving about how well rested he felt to his co-workers the next day.

____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

FRIDAY

Not all of our online shop arrived and we are running low on food. Social media and the news stress how hard restaurants and local takeaways have been hit, so we reach out to our local takeaway in support. We pay online so no cash has to exchange hands, and the delivery is left on our door step, so all parties are happy. We'd usually eat more than we did that night, but we make a conscious effort to eat less so we have leftover food for other days. Especially as we can't guarantee that we will get another online food shop, or find anything left in the shops.
___________________

Takeaway - £20.00
____________________

TOTAL
£20.00
____________________

SATURDAY

Due to missing items from our online shop, there a few things we need from the shops (note: this was before the social distancing measures were in place and we haven't been out since).

We head out super early but the shelves in Asda are already empty. We can't get everything we need - or much at all really - so we improvise and get out as quickly as we can. We see plenty of face masks, but the sight of a man in what looks like a full on gas mask is surreal.

Aldi is a lot better stocked - they even have pasta and toilet rolls - but their meat section is lacking. Our usual basket turns into two baskets as we buy more than we usually would. I mentally prepare myself for a really expensive visit, but Aldi as ever constantly amazes me on sheer value for money. Everything came to just over £30 which I'm still really chuffed about. Comparatively we didn't get much in Asda so the £18.30 spend there didn't sit well with me.

That night we plan on making a roasted Mediterranean vegetable filo pie which we've made before and is great for leftovers. However life has a funny sense of humour. When popping the veg into the oven to roast, the door of our oven gives up and will no longer close. We discover that if the oven door isn't sealed - i.e. shut completely - the oven just won't cooperate. It's a huge blow because tonight's meal relies on an oven, as does the roast dinner we'd planned for tomorrow.

As luck may have it, we have a tiny grill which is separate to the oven. We use this to roast the vegetables but it does take ages compared to normal. We then construct the filo pie and thankfully there is just enough room in the grill to cook it. It turns into a late dinner, but we are thankful that our ingredients didn't go to waste.

____________________

Aldi - £30.20
Asda - £18.30
____________________

TOTAL
£48.50
____________________

SUNDAY

I have been sneezing loads and all sorts of thoughts are going through my head. Fortunately it's only hayfever and I start myself on a daily dose of Piriteze which thankfully stems the sniffing and sneezing.

We stay home today - and have continued to since then - and look into getting the latch on the oven fixed, but quotes range from £80 upwards. Plus there is no one actually available to come out given the current climate. We find the replacement part on Amazon for just £10 and after watching some YouTube walk-throughs, are considering to give it a go ourselves. If we can sort it great, if we can't then we will still be in the same situation anyway (sans oven).

Dinner is a challenge considering we were originally planning on a roast dinner. Seeing as we cannot fit a roast in the tiny top oven, we change our plans. Going through the cupboards, I find I have all the ingredients for homemade pulled pork and defrost burger buns that I have in the freezer. It's quite a large joint of meat and we are determined not to have any food waste, so we portion off a separate cut which we cook off and save for a stir-fry next week, and strip off the fat which we crisp up for homemade crackling.  For the main event, we create a marinate for the pork and put all the ingredients into my favourite piece of kitchen kit, the slow cooker. It takes six hours all in all and it tastes insanely good.
____________________

TOTAL
£0.00
____________________

TOTAL FOR THE WEEK
£122.50
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We are living in funny times. Our weekly grocery spend rocketed compared to normal. Admittedly we would have spent less in Asda and Aldi - or not needed to go at all - had our online shop delivered everything we asked for. I usually pride myself on my ability to plan meals in advance and sniff out bargains, however when the shops are empty and you can't get an online shop for love nor money, this presents challenges. Particularly when you lose the ability to cook oven meals.

This week was a real wake up call for me and if we're in this situation for the long run  - which I fear we will be - I want to be better prepared. There is no need to stock pile and buy things in excess depriving others - it's all about buying enough for your household, making savvy choices, and cooking in bulk for lower cost per head plus tasty leftovers to serve you on other days of the week.

Following this shock to the system, I emptied the fridge, freezer and cupboards, laid everything out, and made lists of what we physically had in the house. I then compiled another list, sussing out what we could cook with what we have. It turns out we are good for 14 more days of meals  - and I can probably cobble together more if I get really creative - which has done wonders for calming my anxiety. For now.

I hope you are all doing ok despite the madness we currently find ourselves in!

MY PREVIOUS MONEY SAVING DIARIES
The money diary of a London blogger

First image - source Unsplash
All other images my own

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Future plans for our living room // a living room mood board

A slightly different approach to my hallway mood board as unlike the hallway, the living room transformation is already under way! Gone is the scabby blue carpet that had seen better days. And don't get me started on the magnolia walls...

WHAT WE HAVE DONE SO FAR

Our idea of a deep blue statement wall escalated as we loved the colour so much. We used Dulux's Teal Tension (as seen here) which is a dead ringer for the Farrow & Ball navy ones in low light, and when used on all walls, creates a cosy, cocooning feel. Contrary to popular belief, going dark didn't make the room feel smaller - it actually made the room look longer and the ceilings look higher as it blurs the corners of the room and casts the eye up.

We ripped up the carpet - no nice floorboards underneath sadly - and laid our own flooring. It's a lovely warm colour which pairs beautifully with the dark blue walls. I love the character of the knots in the wood and how every floor board is different.

We swapped out the musty smelling curtains for these ones from Dunelm and also bought the matching cushions. The metallic thread gives it a luxe feel - in fact one of my best friends call us the Mandarin Oriental whenever she comes round!

FUTURE PLANS FOR THE LIVING ROOM

Future plans for our living room // a living room mood board

Window 
- although I am relieved to have replaced the shabby curtains with lovely Gatsby inspired fabric, the ultimate dream is to have white shutters or blinds like these in the future for a sleek and fuss-free look.

Home library - as much as I love our dark walls, the walls in this house are dodgy as. Most of them aren't straight and the walls in the lounge are bumpy making any future prospects of wallpaper a hard no. The dark walls help disguise the imperfections, but in the future I'd love to have fitted bookcases / shelving to provide much needed storage and to camouflage the TV, wires, and perfectly imperfect walls. Something a little like these ones here that I have been pinning. My goal being to create a home library to house our many books with the shelving all painted dark blue to make each title stand out (as they quite rightly deserve to) and a print like this one here. Bespoke bookcases can be expensive (especially if you enlist a carpenter) so I'm considering an IKEA hack using IKEA products like this (or a ready painted blue unit like this) to get the look for less.

Fireplace - we don't have a chimney breast in our lounge so can't have an actual functional fireplace, but I'd love to give the room a focus point. I very nearly scored a fireplace here but sadly it wasn't meant to be. This is the sort of style I'm on the hunt for (a white fireplace surround with brushed silver detailing on the cast iron).

Lighting - something that drives me mad about this room is the fact that there is not one, but two light fittings. One in the centre of the room (fine), the other in the far right hand corner (BUT WHY). This weirdly positioned light fitting sat above the previous owner's TV and it annoys the hell out of me. So I really can't wait to get it taken out and plastered over. As for the other (central) light, it's dated and I'd love something a little more modern. Either a chandelier or something in gold or copper like this sputnik light here.

Home bar - we have an unused corner of the room which I'd love to transform into a reading nook and bar area with a statement chair (my eye is currently on this one). If we can get built in storage (see "home library" above), I like the idea of having dedicated space on the shelving for a drinks tray, drinks and glassware and also a gold circular bar cart to match our Gatsby themed living room.

Cushions - I'd love to add a few more cushions onto our DFS sofas (aren't these beautiful?) and get some cushion covers so I can mix up the display for different times of the year.

Storage baskets - we have a surplus of blankets (all dedicated to movie nights and box set marathons) and it would be great to tidy them away into baskets like these when we have guests over.

Plants - I'd love to add some tropical plants to our lounge like tall palms and ferns as seen here. We do have cats who chew on absolutely everything so sometimes I wonder if artificial is the play here!

Statement wall - I really can't decide what to do with the wall behind the sofa. It's a blank canvas and I flit between wanting a gallery wall of framed art and quotes from somewhere like Desenio, Juniqe or Fy, or keeping it simple with one large piece of art or a mirror like this. Another part of me is considering a picture ledge like these so I can chop and change the artwork I have on display, whilst incorporating plenty of plants.

Rug - as lovely as the flooring is, it can get a little cold under-foot compared to the carpet that was there before. I purchased a teal trellis print rug which was great when it was new, but now it's showing signs of age. I'd love to get a blue patterned rug with a deeper pile so it's more luxurious under foot and lasts a bit longer. I love Moroccan tiles and prints so this rug here has my name on it!

Which items are your favourites?

Friday, 28 February 2020

AD | Chilli and prawn linguine recipe with Schwartz

Our house (well its inhabitants) loves food but naturally, with some foods you can agree to disagree. My husband loves pepperoni pizza whereas I can't stand meat on pizza. He loves spicy foods whereas I have always struggled with spice. Fast forward some years and my husband is now equally as enthused with veggie pizza as I am. And me? I am getting braver and braver with spice.

Previously I was removing chilli from recipes and instead having chopped chilli / chilli flakes on the side so my poor husband didn't miss out on my behalf. Nowadays I find myself craving the addictive nature of spice and even pouring more and more of our household staple - chilli flakes - onto my plate to give food that is lacking that extra something.

With spices like crushed chillies, I like to keep the meal itself quite simple so the chilli has a chance to sing. Prawn and chilli linguine is always a dish that goes down well in our household. It doesn't need too many ingredients, it's easy to clean up from (largely a one pot meal), it's simple to rustle up and doesn't take long.

Schwartz chilli flakes * 

CHILLI AND PRAWN LINGUINE

INGREDIENTS
  • 300g linguine
  • x2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • Tomato puree (optional)
  • Sugar (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Schwartz chilli flakes * 
  • 225g pre-cooked prawns (larger / king prawns will offer a meatier taste)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Small handful of parsley, chopped
  • Seasoning 

METHOD

1. Start the sauce first. The key to a fantastic sauce is giving it time to reduce and develop a wonderful rich flavour. Start by frying off the onion (I like mine golden and just 'caught' for extra depth of flavour)

2. Add the garlic, it won't need long (approx 2 mins or it will burn). Up to you if you crush or chop your garlic (in Italian dishes I love bigger pieces of garlic so chopped is my preference!)

3) Add the chopped tomatoes and the chilli flakes. Leave the sauce to reduce for 10-15 minutes

4) Do an initial tasting of the sauce. If not tomatoey enough, add a dollop of tomato puree. If too tart, you can counteract this by adding sugar (do a teaspoon at a time though!). Add more chilli flakes if you feel it needs it. Season to your liking (I find a generous sprinkling of salt really helps bring out the flavours!)

5) Start cooking your linguine (we used fresh pasta which only takes 4 minutes, but most dried versions take 10-12 minutes)

6) Prawns can over cook really easily (especially already cooked ones) so it's important to get the sauce as far along as possible beforehand as the prawns won't take long. Once you are happy with your sauce, add the prawns (they will only take a minute or two to warm, but will take longer if raw) and the chopped parsley.

7) Do a final taste test of the sauce which will now incorporate the flavour of the prawns. Again, add extra seasoning, chilli etc if you feel it needs it

8) Once you are happy with the sauce and the pasta has cooked, drain the pasta. You can either mix the pasta into your sauce to generously coat it (what I do), or dish it up separately and ladle the sauce on top. Don't forget to take salt, pepper and the chilli flakes to the table with you! 

Schwartz crushed chillies
Chilli and prawn linguine

We really like this meal as it largely uses ingredients we already have in the house (I usually only have to pick up prawns and parsley) and it's low in fat so good and healthy.

And to quote my husband:
"If I ordered arrabbiata in a restaurant and this turned up, I'd be very happy!"
"You know what? This would be just as nice without the prawns"
And for his latter comment, I'd have to agree. A plain tomato, garlic and chilli pasta sauce may sound basic and boring, but using the Schwartz chilli flakes, it would be anything but! The beauty of the sauce is that it's full of flavour so would be great with seafood, meat, vegetarian substitutes or as is. For a cheaper / vegetarian version, omit the prawns (something we plan on doing next time!). Whether you use seafood, meat or keep it vegetarian, the sauce does require some patience while it simmers down, but trust me, it's worth it!


 * Schwartz have sent me the crushed chillies for review, but all views are my own