Saturday, 31 August 2013

Summer 2013: Holiday Style

Now summer is reaching an end, I thought I’d look back at some of my favourite holiday outfits. I love summer and as soon as it ends, I’m already thinking about the next. It’s time to say goodbye to some of my fave items and gorgeous summer colours for another year; next stop: winter blues.
Hat – Forever21 *** Sunglasses – Jimmy Choo ***
Maxi dress – Boohoo *** Bag – ClaireaBella *** Sandals – Linzi
Beach chic
I bought the hat and dress earlier in the season when I was heading to Madrid. Both were perfect for that everyday city style I was hoping to reproduce. The maxi isn’t heavy at all and despite being black, didn’t really absorb the heat of the sun either. When I’m heading to the beach, I always tend to go for maxis or kaftans as they’re easiest to remove – there’s nothing worse than having to mess around with loads of clothes and getting sand everywhere! As you can tell from my photos, blog posts and tweets, I absolutely love my ClaireaBella bag!
Blouse – Rare *** Shorts – H&M ***
Wedges – Matalan *** Bangles – Boohoo
Summer nights
This rust chiffon blouse was an absolute steal in the Rare sale – reduced from £35 to a fiver! As soon as I saw it (and the price, of course), I knew I had to have it – it’s beautiful! I particularly like the lace detailing on the collar and the asymmetric length which is different. Because of the sheer material, I have to wear a top underneath but at the same time, it’s a good colour for the autumnal months too. I’m already considering teaming it with a skirt and wearing it to work.
Vest top – Primark *** Skirt – Forever21 ***
Necklace & bangle – Asos *** Sandals – Barratts
Hitting Playa del Albir
I’m really into contrasting colours and so many of my dresses have bright coloured bodies combined with black skirts. To fit in with summer colours, I decided to reverse this and team my aqua/mint high-waisted skirt with a plain white vest top. Those glad-sads have served me well – I’ve had them since Sixth Form, so at least six years! A simple outfit for a lovely night beachside with a jug or two of sangria.
Dress – Missguided *** Bangles – Lipsy
The last supper
Another dress I’ve had for years but barely worn, this number was from Missguided before it became so popular! The last time I wore it was back at uni so it’s been a good few years. Because of the print (which I think is gorge), it doesn’t need jazzing up too much, so I put a couple of bangles on. This set from Lipsy go well with the colours in the dress and the cream one also has a rose print embossed. I also love the shoulder pad/detail which turns it from being a plain jersey dress into being something a bit special. The bodycon style unfortunately means it doesn’t look good with a food baby – and I had plenty of those in Spain!
What are you going to miss most from summer?

Friday, 30 August 2013

Restaurant review: L’Alfas del Pi & Albir

A bit later than planned (hello new job), but I recently came back from a family holiday – we stayed in L’Alfas del Pi, in the province of Alicante. Here are a few of my favourite places we ate at – all are well worth checking out if you’re holidaying!

Perfect for typically Spanish cuisine:
Restaurant Tacasa – La Ferreira, 36, 03580, L’Alfas del Pi
Don’t let the location of this place put you off: situated on the main road, there may be traffic and noise but it didn’t interrupt us too much. The outside seating area is just beautiful, with plenty of lighting for the evening, awning to shade and a gorgeous water feature in the middle. The service and food more than make up for the location.

We ate here three times and every meal was very good. Plenty of choice including meat and fish options, as well as paella and arròs a banda (typical of the Valencian region). Even better is the barbecue, which is lit some evenings, depending on how busy the restaurant is – meaning you can have your steak (or fish) properly flame-grilled and to perfection.
I had the steak twice – once on the grill and once on the barbecue – and I have to say, I definitely preferred it a la barbacoa. I like my steak cooked al punto (translated: at once) and it was excellent. The baked potato in foil was also a lovely accompaniment (served with chips when grilled).
My dad and brother shared a lobster arròs a banda, sampling a really local food. The rice is saucier than a paella and almost like a stew, with potatoes accompanying the rice. If you’re after fresh, local cuisine, then look no further! These dishes serve a minimum of two, so you have to find someone willing to share – but you won’t be disappointed. They’re certainly substantial as well.
Pick of the starters has to be the garlic prawns (gambas al ajillo) – possibly the best I’ve ever had. The garlic wasn’t at all overwhelming and where it had sweated down, was sweet-tasting and could even be ate from the bowl. It infused the oil perfectly, which was great for mopping up with bread! Such a simple dish, but well executed – I think I’d have been happy with that and a salad! I couldn’t imagine it tasting this good at home.
The desserts are all homemade as well and contain so many Spanish favourites including flan, arroz con leche (rice pudding) and tarta de almendras (almond tart). As my Twitter followers know (and possibly some of my readers too!), I absolutely love flan and when I’m in Spain, I have to have it as much as possible. I had the flan all three times we ate at Tacasa and it was just divine – I don’t think this picture does it justice: sweet and syrupy, eggy with a hint of nutmeg. Brilliant.
Everything was really reasonably priced and the restaurant and ambience are perfect for family meals, no matter what size group. The staff speak a number of languages between them, although we always tried to converse in Spanish (they secretly knew we were English). The chupitos at the end of the meal were also a welcomed touch (limoncello for me)!
Ranked #42 of 105 in L’Alfas del Pi on Trip Advisor

Perfect for something different
Restaurante Indonesia – Carrer de Pau Casals, 7, 13581, Albir
We came across this little gem via Trip Advisor and although we’d read reviews, being an Indonesian cuisine virgin, I didn’t know what to expect. I love Thai food and envisaged it’d be fairly similar but I still wasn’t sure where it’d rank. Now I just want to return to Restaurante Indonesia!
Host and owner Lona is a character, but very passionate about her cooking (which she does from scratch almost singlehandedly) and her business (which is almost out of place amongst the other restaurants in Albir).
Like I say, we’d never eaten Indonesian before (although my auntie had, years ago) and the menu to the untrained eye was somewhat daunting. We opted for the rice bowl option and at a set price, you get to sample a bit of everything – so perfect for newbies! At just under €22 a head, unfortunately we couldn’t do justice to the amount of food received, which was a shame.
The first course consisted of two types of satay skewers, a variety of rice (white, brown and yellow), noodles and tray of accompaniments (unfortunately, I don’t remember what any of them were). It was a lovely mix of flavours and textures, but I’d say to save the rice for the main course – we ate most of ours. A deep-fried banana was also served, which may seem a bit random, but it almost cleansed the palette ready for the main course.
The main course consisted of a selection of curries – each ranging in heat, with a number of herbs and spices used. Again, this was perfect for us and there was something to please everyone. Most of the curries were chicken or pork, but we also sampled beef, green bean and some kind of egg dish (which I didn’t touch).My favourite was the soy chicken: mild and sweet, it was almost like a teriyaki with a sticky sauce. I also have to mention the ‘Christmas’ curry which was presented to us last and was magnificent! Lona explained well what each dish was and some even came with a little anecdote – it was refreshing to see someone so pleased with the cooking and willing to talk to diners as well.
Surrounded by so many other eateries offering European food, pizza or catering for the less-cultured traveller, Indonesia was a real delight and if I’m ever in Albir again, I’ll be heading straight there. Wow.
Ranked #2 of 47 in Albir on Trip Advisor

Perfect for a drink and tapas
Cerveceria La Solana – Calle Constitucion, 45, 03100, Jijona
One afternoon we planned an excursion to the Museo de turron (a museum and factory dedicated to the popular sweet that is turron). Situated in the small and old fashioned town of Jijona, amongst the mountains and Moorish architecture, we made a slight detour to grab some lunch. The only bar open in the whole of town, La Solana was well hidden, away from the main square and boasting a market next door. Looking for a light bite, we were well fed and at an excellent cost.
The chalkboard boasted a number of hot options, while the cold offerings were on display so you could see what you’re eating. No trip to Spain is complete without a round (or two) of tapas, with a beer (or in my case, tinto de verano).
We opted for Ensalada Rusa (Russian salad), which is basically a glorified potato salad with added extras including: tuna, egg and vegetables (carrots, peas and green beans). It’s incredibly popular in tapas bars and can even be found in supermarkets. We also went for something hot and had pinchos morunos (cubed meat on a skewer, like a kebab), in this case pork. Another one of my favourites, these two were just enough between the five of us, although I wouldn’t have said no to some calamari!
Everything in Spain seems so much cheaper than rip-off Britain: we ordered five pinchos, a large ration of Russian salad and a round of drinks for under £20! La Solana can best be described as a typical Spanish bar, full of locals. Places like that, I think, are great for getting a flavour of Spain and Spanish life.

Monday, 26 August 2013

August’s book: Sugar & Spice

Sugar & Spice is the third and final book in Lauren Conrad’s LA Candy series – and like the two previous titles, is full of shocks, surprises and drama.
Season Two of Pop TV’s hit reality show LA Candy is in full-swing and we pick up from where previously left off: Jane and Madison still aren’t talking, Scarlett is dating former crew member Liam and it appears Jane and Scarlett’s friendship is back on track – but things will soon change for all the girls.
In Sweet Little Lies (book two), Madison was being blackmailed by an unknown source; having hired a private investigator, it is revealed this mysterious source is her sister! As we’ve been led to believe, Madison isn’t who she says she is and family secrets are soon let out of the bag – particularly after a few drinks and in front of an audience! Of course, the truth always comes out and she deserves it for the way she treated Jane. Expect fireworks as everything is revealed at a celebrity party!
Meanwhile, Jane’s love life receives blow after blow – does she want Jesse and can she even change him from his drunken ways? Braden always seems to be at the back of her mind but he’s now moved away to make it as an actor. Childhood sweetheart Caleb is back on the scene but is it love or is she just comfortable in his company? Will it even be possible for them to give it another go after before?
Gaby seems to be her same usual self, until she gets her own publicist. Too wrapped up in Hollywood’s view of perfection, she certainly receives more attention and air time, but it’s no good thing! And talking of which, what happens when Madison’s sister hooks up with an unlikely source?
The real twist in the tale comes when Jane finds Trevor’s notebook – full of his plans for the series. Sparks will fly when the protagonist realises fame isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and reality involves some kind of manipulation. Does this spell the end of LA Candy and what will happen to the foursome next?
An excellent finale and possibly my favourite in the trilogy, LC has a wonderful writing style that keeps you captivated and thoroughly involved in the characters’ lives. As a former star of reality TV herself, Lauren knows the ins and outs of the celeb scene and is no stranger to what goes on when the cameras aren’t rolling. An easy read, but a brilliant one nonetheless. I thoroughly recommend the trilogy.

Next up – The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Friday, 2 August 2013

Restaurant Review: Thai Orchid

Where we ate:
Thai Orchid, South Street, Brentwood
We’ve been going to the Thai Orchid for years and it never disappoints. Situated in the backstreet of South Street, off Brentwood high street, it isn’t the easiest place to find by any means. In fact, its location must be a problem, because I’ve never seen it busy. Despite booking a table (as we always do, although clearly you don’t need to), we were one of four tables in use throughout the Friday evening service. Obviously being this quiet, service is never a problem, but you have to wonder how it’s still going – the restaurant and surrounding area always seems a ghost town! The decor is very dated though and I don’t think it’s ever been refurbed since our first visit over a decade ago!
What we drank:
Mum and dad began with a Singha and Cobra, respectively. While my brother was on the coca cola and I shared the house white wine with my parents
My parents asked for a bottle of Frascati, but they didn’t have any. However, the waitress was quick to push the house wine (£11.50 a bottle, which to me sounds expensive for what it is) – a French white, which was more sweet than dry. I enjoyed it as I’m not a fan of overly dry, acidic wines, but my dad (who’s a bit of a wine buff) wasn’t impressed.
What we ate:
My brother and I always share the mixed platter for two, because of the variety. From the succulent chicken satay and crispy aromatic chicken wings to the crunchy spring roll and the giant plump wontons – it’s a great way to begin the meal. The platter is served with four dipping sauces: satay, chilli and two clear sauces (we still have no idea what they are, but they’re very nice!) which are a lovely accompaniment.
We always have a second course before we continue with the main meal. The Yum Woonsen salad is a definite palette cleanser and although it’s not to my taste, we order it every time and it’s my dad’s favourite thing from the menu. It’s basically a cold salad of vermicelli noodles with chicken and shrimp, spring onion, carrots and plenty of chilli. It’s really refreshing but too spicy for me.
The main dishes we chose were:
·         Phad Kai Kaw-Pod-On (chicken stir-fried with baby corn)
·         Gang Paa with beef (a hot jungle curry with vegetables)
·         Prawn Phad Thai
·         Thai fragrant rice
I love my Thai curries fragrant and coconutty, so I would defitnitely recommend the Kang curries as they all contain coconut milk. If you too love a creamy curry, I wouldn’t recommend the Gang Paa, as the heat is drier and therefore a lot stronger! The rice soaked up the sauce nicely, but it certainly packed a punch. The beef was lovely and not all tough – I even had seconds of the Gang Paa.
Being a family of four, four dishes were just enough, particularly after the starters. If you don’t order enough, you can always ask for more throughout the course of the evening and it isn’t a problem.
My only gripe from the evening would be at the end when we ordered desserts and coffees. My mum and dad ordered a French coffee each and after about 10 or 15 minutes, the waiter came back to the table and said they didn’t have any. When my dad asked what spirits they had, he replied with brandy – which is what he originally asked for.
In all it was a lovely meal and I couldn’t fault the food at all – it was amazing! It’s a shame the atmosphere is always so lacklustre but I’ve never known it to be lively. Thai Orchid also run a lunchtime menu at £5 per head and I’m keen to see what that’s like and how middle of the day service compares to a weekend evening!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

July’s book (2): Sweet Little Lies

Sweet Little Lies is the second book in Lauren Conrad’s LA Candy trilogy and it picks up from where we left off in the previous title. Madison and Jane are in Cabo at her ‘parents’ condo, following the tabloid scandal involving the central character.
Jane is still realising reality TV and stardom isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and as you’d expect from novel one, there’s plenty of drama involved! Sweet Little Lies is just that – sometimes those people you think are the sweetest, are the snide ones spreading rumours. As the saying goes: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Jane is naive to think running away will solve all her problems, as well as confiding in someone other than her best friend Scarlett. I mean would you trust someone you met through recording a show, someone you’ve not known for very long and your friend doesn’t trust?
Book two is all about strained relationships, something we’ve come to expect as a viewer watching a reality TV show; after all it’s all about rating and drama sells. From Scarlett and Jane who drift apart after arguing about Madison one too many times, to the point of living apart. Will they make up before the trilogy’s finale and in time for season two of LA Candy? To Jane and Jesse, whose on/off status is more confusing than Madison’s relationship status! Jane’s frailties are exposed when she is with Jesse, maybe he’s just too wild and OTT for her? Will she ever find happiness again? And talking of relationships, what will happen to Scarlett, who never falls in love? She fell for someone she shouldn’t and it could have huge implications on both her and his reputation and involvement in the show. Lastly, Jane and Madison – their fall-out was like a ticking time bomb and eventually the truth comes out in situations! Madison seriously betrayed her and damaged Jane’s reputation in a huge way – will she ever be able to forgive her BFFC? Will Madison get her wish of being the show’s number one and will the truth come out about her?
I loved that about Sweet Little Lies – before we weren’t too sure about Madison but book two revealed all. We recently found out that her parents bought her the flat for LA Candy and they also had a home in Cabo, but were shocked to find out, both actually belonged to a man. A married man. With a wife and children. I love that she has that secret, which obviously the girls and more importantly POP TV don’t know about. I’m also secretly hoping that all is revealed so she knows how Jane felt and it’d be interesting to see how that unfolds in book three, if it does come out. Is Diego up for more snooping?
I felt a lot more emotionally involved in this book as well. Having read the previous title so quickly, I felt as though I was part of the LA Candy group and at times, wanting to give Jane a shake and tell her to get a grip! Some of the writing was very graphic, particularly the violent scenes involving a drunken Jesse – while part of me felt sorry for the novel’s heroine, I was also annoyed she was portrayed as so weak, never doing the right thing. She’s a people pleaser, always quick to put others before her own happiness – but it never seems to work out for the best. I’m hoping from Sugar and Spice that she’ll learn from her lessons and hardships and we see a new Jane, one that’s not walked over so much.
There’s never a dull moment in Sweet Little Lies and while it’s not really left on a cliff-hanger, I’m still really intrigued to see what will happen to all four girls and can’t wait to pick up book three.

Next book – Sugar and Spice, by Lauren Conrad

Oh, and you can read about book one, LA Candy, here