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I Want to Try This: Waitrose Frozen Herbs

Thanks to my mum for being a hand model!!
I don't have any open space in my flat - no balcony, no windowsills, no garden. I'd love to have my own little patch to grow a few basic vegetables and herbs, but London living isn't very accommodating where that's concerned. My mum and nan both grow herbs and I'm so envious that they can just snip what they need for their recipes, fresh and good to go. Both of them have given me some of their homegrown cuttings and I've put them in my freezer in order to use at a later date. They're always so much more delicious than the dried stuff from the supermarkets but I can't keep nipping home everytime I fancy some fresh rosemary in my roast lamb or parsley in my fish pie.

The other day my mum spotted these frozen herbs in Waitrose and I think they could be the perfect way to get the right flavours in my cooking. There's a huge variety and they come in pretty large packets so I think it's definitely worth the investment. I spotted these while visiting my parents, but I think I'll head down to my local store and pick some of these up soon.

What do you think? Would you use frozen herbs in your cooking?

Monthly Mixtape #3

This month has been a month of musical discovery: new discoveries and rediscovering songs that I'd forgotten how much I love. Excuse me while I gush at how awesome all of these songs are, and as ever you can listen to them right from this here blog post. Aren't I helpful?

On Off On by The Cooper Temple Clause

Oh the sheer joy that coursed through me one drunken night when I got home and discovered that this wonderful, wonderful B-side was on Spotify. As a hardcore fan of The Cooper Temple Clause, I've been known to be one of those people that talks about the lesser known tracks with particular gusto, but really, honestly and truly, this song is so beautiful. 

You & Me - Flume Remix by Disclosure

A colleague told me about this song recently. He'd first heard it on the latest Lacoste advert and went hunting online to find the full length version. It's not my 'type' necessarily, but it's got a drop to it that you can't help but move to. With guest vocals from Eliza Doolittle, you'd expect this to be much more twee, but it's anything but that.

Artifice by SOHN

This song makes me want to shout as loudly as possible, 'PLEASE GOD LISTEN TO THIS SONG'. Every month I seem to find a song that I play on repeat for large chunks of the month, and April has been the month of Artifice. I've featured SOHN before on Monthly Mixtape, but this new single from his album Tremors warrants more awareness of this quality talent.

El Manana by Gorillaz

An oldie but a goodie. I didn't even realise Gorillaz had had so many singles until I found their best of on Spotify. And weirdly I knew most of the words too; they're one of those bands that have slipped into the nation's subconscious which is extremely rare and brilliantly clever. In my opinion, this is their best.

Support Your Local Bookshop!

One of the things I, and thousands of other blogs write about, is bargains. We've become a nation obsessed with finding something that we feel makes our money go furthest, and the internet facilitates that hugely. We can type any of our wants into Google, Pinterest, Amazon and the like, and find that thing that we wanted at half the price and have it delivered directly to our door within 24 hours. But what about shopping?

I'm not talking about major high street retailers, as I rarely go to a shopping mall or busy street to just browse anymore as I can't be doing with the crowds. Instead I need to remind myself of the amazing plethora of shops that are practically on my doorstep. That's one of the wonderful things about living in London: there are magical treasure troves to discover on whatever part of the city you end up in. As a person who was born and bred in Milton Keynes, this is particularly wonderful for me!

The other weekend I took my parents for a stroll in Muswell Hill, which is a mere stones throw from where I live. We were minutes into the shopping area when we saw a bookshelf outside Muswell Hill Bookshop with the word 'SALE' on it. Well obviously it would be rude NOT to look, which then led us to go inside, which then led to half an hour of browsing and sighing at all the wonderful books we wanted to buy. How I didn't come out with bags full of the things I have no idea. 

I decided to allow myself to buy just one book, in order to stay in control of my purse strings. But it was a case of whittling it down from a Beijing travel guide for my holiday in September, the awesome Letters of Note coffee table book, bargain recipes from A Girl Called Jack, and The Flavour Thesaurus. I settled for the last one as I've actually wanted it for well over a year since I spied it in a friend's flat and it's so pretty and brilliantly clever. Yes, I could get it cheaper online. But the basic pleasure of perusing the shelves and flicking through the pages is so much more enjoyable. Me and my mum even discussed how much we love the smell of a bookshop, it's deliciously musty and homely, do they pump it through the air vents to get us to buy more?!

I'm all for bargains, I'm all for convenience. But at some point soon just wander in to your local bookshop and remind yourself of what a simple and unique pleasure it is. 

Metallic Knitwear, Pussy Bow Blouse

I'm wearing:
Leather jacket - Zara
Jumper - H&M
Blouse - Mong Kok Ladies Market
Shorts - Miss Selfridge
Boots - ASOS

I bought this blouse from Mong Kok Ladies Market in Hong Kong. I struggle with shirts and blouses because I always feel a bit frumpy in them, but I bought this specifically to wear under jumpers and dresses (although it does also have some rocking shoulder pads, so maybe one day!).

On a whim, I put it on under this gold jumper from H&M. I bought this a while ago when the Michael Kors original was all the rage, and it's done me well. Because of the close fit I can wear it with everything from jeans to skirts, but this time I wore it with shorts and black tights because let's face it, Spring hasn't quite sprung yet.

I wore this outfit to Dans le Noir, the restaurant I reviewed on Tuesday where diners eat in the dark. So really, it didn't matter what I wore out! Make sure you check out what I thought, it's really an experience not to be missed.

Dans le Noir - Dining in the Dark

My friend Claire looking terrified!

Apprehensive faces!
For me, going for a meal is a luxury that I indulge I probably too frequently. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll see that I'm one of those people who will always take a photo of whatever delicious thing I'm eating that evening; I believe it deserves to be shared. That's not possible at Dans le Noir

This unassuming restaurant in Clerkenwell, London, is the world's first 'dining in the dark' concept restaurant. The entire restaurant is in pitch black, you do not know what you are eating, and you are served by visually impaired waiting staff. Sounds like a gimmick, but this place is extremely clever, thought provoking and one hell of a challenge. 

We arrived into a dimly lit room and asked which menu we would like to have: veggie, meat, seafood or surprise. My friend (who is scared of the dark!) was nervous and plumped for vegetarian, whereas I figured I should go for the full experience and chose the surprise menu. We were then introduced to our waitress for the evening, Joy. She was absolutely fantastic for the whole evening, she was friendly, helpful and made us feel completely at ease. She was happy to talk about her work and told us that she was blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. She, and the rest of the staff, had to memorise the layout of the restaurant in order to serve us throughout the evening - an incredible feat. I don't think I could navigate my own flat with my eyes closed. We lined up behind Joy, our hands on each other's shoulders and we led into the dining room. 

Now let me try and explain the darkness. It is like a void, it is unnerving and bizarre. You wait for your eyes to adjust but they never do. You close your eyes to try and tell the difference but it's impossible. You look around to get a feel for the room you're in and you can't. You try to see your hand right in front of your face and it's impossible. I've never been anywhere so dark. I'm not afraid of the dark so I thought I would be fine, but it never occurred to me that I might feel claustrophobic. As there weren't many people seated when we went in, the room was quite quiet and I felt like I was in a box. I started to panic. I couldn't get out, I couldn't see the exits, I was trapped. I called for Joy and she was there within seconds and took me back outside. I felt so stupid, but the staff told me that it's quite a regular occurrence. They explained to me that the room actually sits 60 people! In my mind it was about 20 people in a tiny room. I decided to go back in and as we went in I put my hands above my head to remind myself that there wasn't a ceiling right above me. The people sat next to us were lovely and we chatted to them throughout the evening, trying to guess what we all looked like!

We were told where our cutlery was located and taught how to pour our own tap water. It was like learning to eat all over again. I couldn't tell what edge of my knife was sharp, where the food on my plate was, if the food was on my fork, how much food was left on my plate, if the fork was anywhere near my mouth. In the end I realised I would have to use my hands. I felt and smelt everything that was in front of me to try and guess what I was eating and to figure out how much food I actually had left! By some small miracle (and with a bit of cockiness) I managed to put the rest of my dessert onto my friend's plate for her to finish and it didn't end up on the table or floor!

When we were led out (with our new friends from the table) we laughed at the weird situation of actually seeing the people we'd been talking to for well over an hour. I exclaimed that one of them had a beard! It just hadn't occurred to me; he didn't sound like he had a beard!! Being back in the lights made me feel dizzy at first and it took a few minutes to readjust. We were then shown our menus. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS ON THE SURPRISE MENU, SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!

I knew I'd had something fishy for my starter but couldn't quite figure out what it was. Turns out I'd had  crab cake, and I'm almost a little annoyed that I couldn't figure that out! My main was the biggest surprise though. I thought I'd had a big steak with potatoes and vegetables. It was in fact three different meats: springbok, ostrich and crocodile! The lack of light meant I couldn't tell them apart, and the consistency was so similar that I didn't really make the most of eating something so different. I'd guessed dessert though! We had white chocolate cheesecake and rhubarb jelly - the perfect dessert to eat with your hands!

I'd like to say a particular thank you to our wonderful waitress Joy who made the whole evening comfortable, inspiring and enjoyable - she is fantastic and you'll be very lucky if you get her for the evening!

Dans le Noir is one hell of an experience. As we left we high fived as we genuinely felt that we had come through an ordeal together, we had real elation running through us! It has to be tried to believed. Don't go for the food (although it was delicious), go for the challenge. Although quite pricey (£55 for set three course meal), remember that you're paying for the experience. There is nothing else like it in London, and that's why I fully recommend it.

Click to add a blog post for Dans Le Noir on Zomato

Rebounding Classes

This is NOT what I look like when doing Rebounding. Pic source here.
Having hit 25, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that my metabolism is not what it once was. Gone are the days where I could sit on my arse all day and eat cake more than frequently. I can manage the eating healthy bit, but I just hate exercise. I refuse to pay for a gym membership because I never have time to go and I have tried to go running, but I keep doing myself an injury because I have no idea what I'm doing. Who knew that to go for a run you don't just put one foot in front of the other?! I need stimulation and potentially a gimmick to get me moving, and I have found the best exercise class ever: Rebounding. 

Rebounding is essentially an aerobics class on a mini trampoline. It is an intense cardio workout that lasts for 45 minutes and requires balance, concentration and the ability to not care if you look stupid. Just like a normal aerobics class, you have a routine to learn that you do to the beat of loud cheesy music. The constant bouncing on the trampolines means your legs are worked to within an inch of their life, and that's never more apparent then when you then have to start doing more intense moves like squats. Stopping bouncing suddenly is a lot harder than it sounds!

My second class involved the horrific addition of dumb bells, which was an unwelcome surprise. I have absolutely no upper body strength whatsoever, so I was getting ready to run out of the class when she asked us to get them from the side of the room. But, being the stubborn cow I am, I pressed on. I've learnt that you don't have to be ashamed if you need to stop for a breather or to have a sip of water. You also don't need to be embarrassed if you turn the colour of an extremely ripe tomato because that is what 45 minutes of intense exercise does to a girl. By the end of my first class I looked like this:

Despite the fact that half way through each class I have felt like I'm going to die, I love Rebounding. It keeps my attention, is fun and different, and has the novelty factor I need to continue going regularly. If you'd like to try it, you can head down to Frame Shoreditch in London, or you can buy a trampoline and follow a class on YouTube to do it at home!

Cocktails at the Shangri La, Sydney

Sydney has one of the most recognised skylines in the world; the curves of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are the most well known tourist attractions in the city, if not the country. I was lucky enough to see these iconic structures every day as I traveled into work at the Sydney office, but the best way to see them is from above.

On the 36th floor of the Shangri La Hotel is Blu Bar, with the best views in the city and some not too shabby cocktails to boot. It's free to get up there but annoyingly you can't book a table up there, so you may have to wait for the tables with the picturesque view. In the meantime, you can wait at the bar and look over the west of Sydney instead, which isn't exactly bad. On the whole, I wasn't a huge fan of Sydney. I felt it was pretty soulless and suburban, lacking the culture and vibe I was expecting from such a metropolitan city. However, these views helped me warm to the place. As I looked over now familiar streets, I realised the city was starting to grow on me, I just had to give it a bit more time.

We managed to get a window seat overlooking the main sights just as the sun started to set, meaning we got to see Sydney transform from a beautiful Summer day into a dusky streetlight utopia and made it one of my favourite evenings in the city.

I'm wearing:
Jacket - Cotton On
Tee - Topshop
Necklace - Vintage

Banks - Koko, London

Banks is a name that only came on to my radar at the very beginning of 2014 when she featured on a Spotify playlist of 'upcoming talent'. Her song Waiting Game was unlike anything I'd heard before, and that is genuinely a very rare thing for me to say. It was dark and grimy, but also sad and even sexy thanks to Banks' sultry vocals. I was hooked and listened to it on repeat for the majority of the day.

Thanks to the wonderful Songkick app, I found out she was playing at one of my favourite London venues, Koko - however, it had already sold out by the time I could get a ticket. When she released a second date due to demand I knew I had to go; if a new artist is selling out gigs then I want to make sure I'm seeing them when tickets are actually affordable!

Banks was joined on stage by just two musicians, but she had a dominating presence, despite being so tiny. Her big voice hit all the notes promised on her recordings and her sultry wanderings around the stage kept everyone transfixed, which so important when her music is so ethereal and down tempo. My friend who came with me hadn't heard of Banks and I found it so hard to describe her beforehand. During the gig we compared her to everything from 90s dance, industrial metal, grime, RnB and early 2000s indie - I'd love to know how she is accurately described by the music press and what radio stations play her because I find her incredibly hard to pinpoint. That's probably the main reason I like her so much.

Considering Banks has a limited discography, being such a new artist, she filled an hour with already well known tracks, some of which she changed to be more acoustic, and even some covers. It was short and sweet, but I think it will be a gig that I will be able to talk about in years to come. I predict big things for Banks.

Sydney Mardi Gras

Conveniently for me aka the world's biggest fan of RuPaul's Drag Race, the southern hemisphere's biggest LGBT parade was held while I was in Sydney. Full of colour, dancing, countless innuendos and a LOT of bare skin, Mardi Gras is an essential night-out for Sydney residents of all ages. Families, friends, lovers - they all got together to line Oxford Street and up into Paddington, wave rainbow flags and high five as many men in speedos as they could. 

The people of the parade certainly didn't just stick to the planned route; they were throwing themselves into the crowd, hugging strangers and kissing frightened Japanese tourists. It was controlled insanity covered in glitter with a pretty fabulous soundtrack to back it up.

My favourite floats were the pink daleks proudly holding signs to 'Exterminate homophobia!', and the Proud Parents float, where parents of gay people held up signs to say how proud they are of their children. It was a bit of a tearjerker at times and gave me a bit of hope for humanity.

My top tips if you're planning to go down: get there early or take a milk crate to stand on so you have a good view, meet friends way beforehand before some of you get stuck on the other side of the road and the police don't let you cross, and wear something bright and colourful, you'll feel out of place if you don't embrace it!

I'm wearing:
Top - & Other Stories
Jacket - Cotton On
Necklace - Zara
Jeans - ASOS
Bag - Vintage

As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review