Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Quick Christmas Beauty Fixes

So, how are you feeling ahead of Christmas? Twinkly, bright-eyed and radiant for the festivities? Rested, full of energy and not in the least bit sniffly? Oh, come on! It's party season, which, as we all know, is that wonderfully opportune time in which your skin decides to do weird things, your hair - thanks to a winning combination of cold winds and central heating - wouldn't look out of place in the school nativity crib - and you'll be nursing an unpleasant cold. You may even have what feels like the onset of flu. It's simply the law that the week of the office party, or whichever other big Christmas event you're attending, you will possibly look and feel the worst you've felt all year.

However, there are a few short cuts to making yourself feel at least a little better about your outward appearance this time of year. I can't help with the feeling coldy bit, though I do find that drinking copious amounts of water and Pukka Tea's Detox blend helps, along with liberal imbibing of vitamin C and paracetamol. So head colds and racking coughs aside, these might help:

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate

I'm a big fan of oils throughout the year but they really come into their own in the winter, when central heating sucks the very lifeblood from your skin, making it dry and dull. I actually can't stand central heating - it seems to cause me all manner of ills. But hey, we live in the UK so what are you going to do. This oil is one to gift yourself as a pre-Christmas treat and then buy your groceries at Lidl for a few weeks as it's expensive. 

But a little goes a long way and it makes you look somehow fresher and less blotchy on waking up in the morning. It sinks in really nicely and won't give you spots if you're that way inclined. Plus it's scented with a sleep-inducing, all natural fragrance that smells divine.

Rapid White Tooth Whitening Strips

I read somewhere that nothing gives away your age more than having yellow teeth. My teeth are in pretty good shape - one of my proudest achievements is reaching middle age without a single filling - but a penchant for tea and red wine have left their mark. Thankfully there is a safe and convenient way to give your teeth a little dazzle without having to lose several thousand pounds at the dentist in the shape of these whitening strips which you can buy in Boots. 

I gave them a go a few weeks back and they definitely made a difference. You apply the strips morning and night for a week and they self dissolve - not the nicest sensation in the world, but a small price to pay for visibly whiter teeth after seven days. You just have to rinse out the residue then you're good to go - the whole process takes around 7 minutes. You can repeat after a month if all that tea and wine has started to take its toll again. 

Buy here

Charles Worthington Instant Root Concealer

Of course you haven't managed to fit in a hair appointment before Christmas - this is because you're busy working/ferrying children around/Christmas shopping/making things for the school fair/being ill/etc., etc. Also, it costs a lot to get hair cuts and colours these days - that £80 seems a bit indulgent on top of all the other stuff to shell out for. Which is why root touch up spray is a such a helpful invention. 

On noticing a few greys peeking through the other day I decided to give this a go and it was absolutely fine, totally doing what is says on the tin. You simply brush the powder where your hair needs it and it stays put until you wash it out. At £14.99 it's lot cheaper than a trip to the salon.

Buy here

Benefit Dew The Hoola

"You looked washed out, have you been ill?"...yes, thanks for noticing, I have had a cold for the past two weeks and haven't seen sunshine for some time, as it happens. Sound familiar? Then this product might help you restore some colour to your cheeks. I got a sample of this with a magazine and it's very helpful for faking a glow when you feel like poop and your mother helpfully reminds you that you look like it, too. I mix it in with moisturiser to ensure a subtle glow rather than Trump-esque hue. 

Buy here

Glam Crystals Dazzling Gel Liner

If all else fails, glitter is the only way. I bought this in a bit of a hurry from Boots the other day and have been thrilled with it - it's £2.99 and it's bloomin' great. Unlike most glitter products which tend to end up looking a complete mess on me, this is an easy to apply gel liner which totally stays in place so you can do the glitter thing with sophistication. Can't recommend this one highly enough.

Buy here


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sampling Deep South Cooking and Cocktails With Absurd Bird

Chicken: it's either bloody lovely or downright horrible, right? A perfectly roasted chicken, a rich coq au vin, or a crispy rotisserie chicken, served with a side order of fries...they're all on my 'things to eat to make you feel happy list'. But have you noticed that some chicken you buy to cook yourself, or indeed ordered out at a restaurant, often fails to hit the spot?

On a mission to discover the best chicken in the west (and to find out what I might be doing wrong when I cook it myself) I headed over to Bath last week to hear from people who really know their stuff when it comes to poultry. Turns out they also know a thing or two about cocktails too, which was another reason to make the train trip for an evening of chicken enlightenment with the lovely folk from Absurd Bird.

Absurd Bird will be bringing a taste of the Deep South to Bath when it opens its doors on the 14th December, promising diners the chance to sample beautifully prepared and cooked chicken as well as unusual side dishes inspired by this vibrant corner of America, mixed in with a dose of London-style street food inspo. Arriving in the thriving Little SouthGate quarter of the city, Bath joins a small chain that includes branches in Soho, Spitalfields and Exeter.

To give local press and bloggers a flavour of what's to come, the team held a cookery and cocktail demonstration at kitchen showroom Hobson's Choice last week. Having never been to a cookery demo before I was looking forward to getting some insider knowledge and inspiration from the restaurant's head chef and mixologist...and, being a generally hungry person, the chance to get stuck into some of Absurd Bird's signature dishes. 

The evening started as my Tuesday evenings rarely do - with a glass of 'Kentucky Barn Dance' in my hand, a delicious cocktail served in a kilner jar that felt very decadent for a school night. It was a bit of a shame it was school night, to be honest, as Nicole, our drinks adviser for the evening, was on hand to shake up cocktails on demand using some enticing ingredients that aren't, perhaps, the most conducive to getting up for work the next morning.

Step forward Absurd Bird's very own variety of Moonshine, a potent little number that comes in at 41% alcohol - yeah, you read that right! Obviously best used as a mixer, you don't need a lot of this stuff to feel its effects, but Nicole's expert mixing made the drinks I tried slip down a treat. 

Suitably relaxed for our demonstration, it was over to Head Chef Andrew Hazel to share the background story of Absurd Bird and talk us through some key dishes from the menu. We learnt to spatchcock a kitchen - not as tricky as you might think - and how the restaurant only uses the highest quality, locally sourced chicken in its dishes which is slow grown and brined to ensure the meat is moist and packed full of flavour. On sampling an absolutely spectacular 'Dirty Bun' - fried chicken, spicy mayo and pickle, served in a Bao Bun - you could tell those chickens had had a good life. This dish was a real highlight of the evening for me.

Also on offer was a selection of mouthwatering chicken wings - if these are your favourite bit of the bird, the restaurant caters to your desires with a dedicated 'Wingshack' section of the menu, including Smoked Garlic Parmesan and Lemon Wings and Crispy Fried Buttermilk Wings. We also got to sample a supreme mac 'n' cheese, topped with Absurd Bird's signature Cheetos topping - one to be enjoyed without thinking about the calories, but totally in keeping with the restaurant's ethos of injecting a bit of fun and absurdity into dining out. I loved it though good manners kept me from hogging the whole sharing plate for myself. 

We also got the opportunity to sample some of the restaurant's imaginative side dishes - light-as-a-feather Jalapeno Cheese Biscuits (a deceptive name - these babies are more like cheese scones) which so impressed my guest that she made up her own batch the very next day. I was more taken with the spinach and artichoke dip, served with fried tortilla crisps, a really unusual way to get your fix of leafy greens. 

Talking of healthy stuff, you can probably tell from the choices I've described so far that this sort of cuisine doesn't really give two hoots for careful, restrained eating - it's all about deep frying, robust sauces and marinades, creamy dips and butter-coated corn on the cob. I mean, when a restaurant serves its Sweet Potato Bake with toasted marshmallows, you really need to leave any thoughts of calorie counting and carb excluding at the door. Absurd Bird is about abandoning yourself to food that's fun, exuberant and life affirming. It's about taking things a little less seriously and enjoying that extra cocktail. That said, there are lighter options on the menu too - the Greenish Plates should satisfy any healthy urges you might have. 

But if you're in the mood to experience the full Absurd Bird vibe, you'd be mad not to treat yourself to dessert. We were served a carb-tastic share 'n' tare Dipsy Cake (essentially a southern-infused take on a brioche) served with a trio of dipping sauces. 

And then there are the cocktails. Absurd Bird knows a thing or two about them as its extensive drinks menu demonstrates. We might have been drinking ours in a very smart, high-tech kitchen showroom but my Mississippi Mud Pie did a good job of mentally transporting me to a hot and steamy corner of Louisiana. As I said, it was a shame the cocktails were flowing freely on a school night, though we did get given a cute little bottle of Moonshine to make up our own concoctions at home.

Despite holding back on the booze, we left our first experience of Absurd Bird with a warm glow and slight feeling of jealousy that the people of Bath will have such a fun and feel-good place to hang out at on their doorstep. So please come to Bristol, Absurd Bird - we need good chicken, moonshine-laced cocktails, crisp-topped mac 'n' cheese and marshmallows with our sweet potatoes, too! 

To find out more about Absurd Bird, visit the website here. The Bath branch opens on 14th December at 20 St Lawrence Street, BA1 1AN

With many thanks to Absurd Bird and Attention Media who invited me to a private pre-launch event.

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