The Differin diaries
When we last spoke, I was about to try Differin, a prescription retinoid cream, in a last-ditch attempt to get my acne under control. If unsuccessful, the next step would be to ask for referral to a dermatologist. Differin is available on prescription from the NHS, but I ordered mine through the Boots online acne clinic. There was a short survey, and you have to give the details of your GP in order for checks to be carried out. It is more expensive than a normal prescription (£24) but within a couple of days I had the Differin ready to start using.
Two months in, I think I am starting to notice a difference. It's definitely a marathon not a sprint! I still have spots, I won't deny that. But there are definitely fewer of them - particularly on my cheeks. (Those spots are the reason that I haven't worn blusher in over 2 years). There are still stubborn, sometimes cystic, spots on my jawline and the very top of my neck. I think that this is likely to be down to me touching the skin there too often - since trying to stop touching my face, I often rest my hands under my chin etc - so this is something that I need to stop.
I have also started using a vitamin C serum in the mornings, recommended by some of my favourite beauty bloggers (Caroline Hirons and Nadine Baggot in particular) as well as the skincare group that I am in on Facebook. The one that I ordered is from Garden of Wisdom (available at Victoria Health) and cost £10. It's had pretty rave reviews and was reasonably priced, so worth a shot.
The plan now is to continue using Differin, adding in a niacinamide serum in the evenings after it, and keep up the vitamin C in the mornings. A lot of people with acne (myself included) make the mistake of using super drying products to try to clear up spots, which can leave you with flaky skin elsewhere. I am making more of an effort to keep my skin really hydrated. (This is important as Differin can make your skin more sensitive/dry). After a couple more months of my new routine, I will report back, but for now I'm feeling positive about my skin for the first time in a long time.
Classic Guacamole recipe
How many times have I been tagged on Facebook and Instagram in avocado related recipes/memes/songs? Way too many to count! (If you haven't sung along with Dr Jean you're missing out). It may be very basic and millennial of me, but I do love an av. (I have a pair of avocado toast pyjamas and some avocado bedding... #SorryNotSorry). I do know that it's not the most environmentally friendly choice due to food miles etc, but I don't buy them very often which means that when I do it's definitely a treat.
This week an email popped up at work announcing a guacamole contest, with avocados to be provided. Yes, we take our food (and competitions) very seriously! I decided to play it safe and make a classic guacamole, hoping to score extra points for my retro avocado green serving bowls. There were a whopping 18 different guacamoles in total, ranging from smooth to chunky and basic to rather extravagant. Here is how I made mine:
2 ripe avocados
1/2 small red onion
10 plum tomatoes
1tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic paste
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
Small handful coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the avocado and cut into small chunks. Place in a large bowl.
Finely chop the red onion and plum tomatoes, and add to the avocado.
Squeeze in lime juice and add the apple cider vinegar and garlic.
Finely chop the coriander (I use scissors) and add in, along with chilli flakes.
Roughly mix everything together rather than mashing, to get a nice chunky guacamole.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
I think this is best eaten straight away, but if preparing in advance, cover with clingfilm (or a reusable silicone cover to be more environmentally friendly) and store in the fridge.
Spoiler alert, I sadly didn't win! There was some stiff competition, and lots of unusual combinations which I have never tried before. Some of the guacs that I particularly enjoyed were:
There were also a few flavours that I didn't try due to them containing dairy/meat, but the ones with feta and bacon also went down a treat amongst my collegues.
So basically, guacamole isn't just for fajitas! There are so many different ways to have it. But if you do fancy a classic, give my recipe a go. Try adding to Mexican inspired meals or having as a snack with tortilla chips and vegetable sticks. Happy dipping!
The joys of adult acne
If I could change one thing about my appearance, what would it be? Without a doubt, my skin. Adult acne has become the bane of my life over the past few years and despite it being classed as 'mild' (and thankfully not cystic) it is incredibly frustrating.
I didn't always have bad skin. It wasn't until the age of 17 that I started to get quite spotty (although looking back, those forehead and chin spots were nothing compared to those which came to grace my cheeks and jawline years later). I went on the combined pill and my spots cleared up completely, bar the odd break-out here and there. Lovely.
Fast-forward to the age of about 25. At a pill check, I told the nurse about the migraines that I had been suffering with, including ones that affect my vision. Immediately, I was taken off the combined pill due to the increased risk of stroke/blood clots, and put onto the mini pill. For the first few months, I didn't notice any changes. Then the spots started to appear. I switched to the implant (a different form of progesterone) and was prescribed Duac (an antibiotic cream with benzyl peroxide). The Duac cleared my skin immediately, but unfortunately the effects were short-lived, and a couple of weeks later it no longer seemed to be working.
I buckled down on my skincare, determined that I could make things better with a good routine. Caroline Hirons became (and still is) my go-to for all things skincare (if you haven't heard of her, look her up).
However, the spots persisted. I went back to see the doctor, who was lovely, and thankfully very understanding. I came away with a prescription for Doxycycline (an antibiotic). A six month course completely cleared my skin - hooray! About 6 weeks after the course ended however, the acne came creeping back. At first, just a few spots here and there which I could absolutely cope with. But soon it was back with a vengeance. Now, I can't just go on antibiotics for the rest of my life, and the doctor probably wouldn't be keen to prescribe that. So what else could I try?
Next up was blue light therapy. I bought a mask from Amazon and started using the blue light mode for 20 minutes every evening. I think perhaps this did help my skin a little bit, although the effect was not dramatic enough for me to keep this routine up. More recently I had a series of facial treatments at a salon, including microneedling, light acid peels, blue light therapy and dermaplaning. I certainly enjoyed the experience, and my skin did clear a little. However, the effects were not long-lasting (perhaps this is something that I would need to keep up more regularly, budget permitting). A few days after my final treatment, my skin was the clearest it has been in over a year, but a few days later, yet again, the spots returned.
Back to square one. The next thing to try is Differin, an anti-acne retinoid cream. As well as getting it from your GP, you can order online through the Boots acne clinic, which is what I have done. I don't want to get my hopes up too much, but I am going to trial it for the suggested 3 months and see if I notice a difference. Fingers crossed...
I am a self-confessed book worm, and although I don't have a huge amount of time for reading during a normal working week, holiday is when I can power through a few choice reads. I decided to take a bit of a selection away with me this year for my beach/poolside reading in Sardinia.
This was my slightly nerdy reading choice. As a Biologist with an interest in Genetics and Evolution, this book caught my eye. It's all about Cephlapods, with a particular focus on the Octopus and Giant Cuttlefish. The book explores how the mind evolved in these creatures, and how/why they became so intelligent. As well as Biology I studied both Psychology and Philosophy at A level, and found these subjects prominent in the book which was really interesting. I certainly had to concentrate a bit more whilst reading this but it was nonetheless enjoyable, and I don't think you need a science degree to be able to understand it. I found the book well written, easy to follow and something refreshingly different from the usual holiday reading.
Little Fires Everywhere
I saw this book recommended a few times in magazines and on Instagram, so picked it up from Amazon ready for my holiday. Set in a quiet town but full of interesting characters, there were lots of story lines intertwined, and I couldn't put it down. I found it easy to read, but it was well written and thought-provoking. The ending left me slightly wanting more. I would definitely recommend giving this a go.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
I absolutely LOVED this book. Like, read it in two days loved it. Exploring the theme of loneliness in today's society, it somehow managed to be sad, witty and heartwarming all at the same time. I felt all the feelings! It's hard to explain why this was so good, but please read it, because it's great. I've heard that Reese Witherspoon has the rights to the film for this, so I am interested to see what develops on that front. This is Gail Honeyman's debut novel, and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for more from her.
The F Word
This book has been in my reading pile for a while. Lily is one of my favourite bloggers - she's very real and honest, super stylish but also down to earth and fun. This book is all about modern female friendships, the different types of friends that we have and the roles they play in our lives. I found myself nodding along to so many parts of this book! It was really nice how relatable the subject matter was, and I think that a lot of the advice was good. I found this book really easy to read. It's certainly not a novel, but I didn't need it to be a particularly sophisticated piece of writing, and enjoyed it for what it was. I did find the chapter order slightly incoherent, with no real flow between subjects, however I could deal with it. A fun, pool-side read that doesn't require too much concentration.
Already I have been home from holiday for two weeks and not read anything apart from Women's Health, but I want to make an effort to read more! I say that I don't have time but really I think I could schedule in a little bit each day, instead of scrolling through my phone. Next on the list to read is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I picked up in a charity shop recently. I think I would like to read at least a book every month. As a fast reader I shouldn't find this too difficult (I hope). Watch this space...
I wanted to bake something to share with my colleagues to mark my four year work anniversary this week. Eventually I settled on rocky road, which would be quick to make and hopefully taste great! I headed to the supermarket to get my ingredients, and ended up going for a fairly non-traditional mix of ingredients. I'm not great at sticking to recipes and often make swaps, but in this case I had to make adjustments because of what I could (or couldn't) find in Tesco. No vegan marshmallows was the first issue. Then I thought of toffee popcorn, but again, no vegan versions available. Normal sweet popcorn might have gone soggy so that was a no-go. So I went for the standard 'accidentally vegan' Oreos as my biscuit base. Peanut butter and Oreos is a classic combo, as is peanut butter and banana so there was my theme - sorted! These went down very well, and this is an easy, no-bake recipe that I will definitely be making again.
2x 180g bars dark chocolate (I used Bournville)
2 tbsp coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the tin.
4 tbsp peanut butter (I used Pip and Nut Crunchy Maple Peanut Butter)
2 packets original Oreos
1 1/2 cups banana chips (I used Whitworths)
Grease and line a tin (8 or 9 inch square ideally) with coconut oil and greaseproof paper.
Break up the chocolate bars and melt in a large bowl over a pan of hot water.
Add the coconut oil and stir until melted.
Take the bowl off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, gently break up the Oreos. Try to keep the pieces chunky rather than completely crushing everything.
Stir in the peanut butter, banana chips and crushed Oreos, until everything is well coated in chocolate.
Pour the mixture into your lined tin and refrigerate overnight.
Once set, cut into small pieces and serve. This can be served at room temperature if you are planning on diving in straight away, or in the fridge to stop it melting too much before you are ready to eat it.
Now that the sunny weather seems to have returned, all I want to do is eat summer food. This super quick and easy veg and cous cous is fresh, healthy and has a bit of a kick. This would be nice as a side salad at a barbeque or part of a mezze type dinner, but to be perfectly honest I just put it in a bowl and eat it in one sitting. Because it's such a simple recipe this would be very easy to scale up if you have more mouths to feed.
1/2 courgette, sliced into thin rounds
1/2 aubergine, sliced into thin rounds
1 red pepper, cut into thick slices
Olive oil for frying
100g couscous (I used wholemeal)
For the dressing:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/4 tsp dried mixed herbs
Black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp water
Lightly brush the veg with oil and griddle or grill on a high heat. It's all about the char lines!
Meanwhile, cook the couscous to packet instructions. I used vegetable stock for extra flavour (half a stock cube is plenty for this amount of couscous).
Mix together the dressing ingredients,
Let everything cool slightly, then toss it all together in a large bowl.
This is nice eaten whilst still a little warm, or straight from the fridge if you are storing for another day.
I recently spent a long weekend in Porto with friends. As you can see, it was beyond beautiful:
We spent time at the beach and in the city, walking over 25km in two days. We also got the perks of being shown around by a local - seeing all the sights, eating great local/traditional food and learning about the city . Places of interest included:
Speaking of tiles, I became a bit obsessed with them on this trip. Buildings are covered in them! There were so many shades of blue and a mix of traditional patterns, subway tiles and full on historical scenes (as seen at the station).
There was also graffiti all around the city, in lots of different styles. In a way it reminded me of Bristol, a place very close to my heart. Below were some of our favourites. They ranged from cartoon to super realistic and some pieces were on such a huge scale they took up whole sides of buildings.
Food and drink
There was rather a lot of this! Obviously, you can't go to Porto and not sample some Port. We went on a tour and tasting at Calem, one of the many Port producers in Portugal. The grapes are grown in vineyards up the Douro river, and from photographs the area looks absolutely beautiful. Perhaps on the next visit we will take a trip up the river to see the vineyards and try some more Port!
We were lucky to be staying with our friend Maria and her mum, who fed us very well indeed! For breakfast we feasted on fresh bread, local jams, pastries, fruit and yoghurt. Sunday lunch was chicken stew (I had a tasty mix of vegetables with garlic and curry powder) with more of that delicious rice, plus salad and bread. This was followed by not one but two homemade desserts. No wonder I had such a good nap on the plane home!!
All in all in was a brilliant weekend with good food and good friends - I couldn't have asked for more.
I just spent a lovely weekend in Bath with my friend Megan. Despite going to uni in nearby Bristol, I haven't been to Bath much apart from for netball matches so it was nice to get to know the city a little better. Plus, after a super busy first quarter at work, a girly weekend was exactly what I needed. So I took a half day on Friday and hopped on the train.
We stayed in an Air BnB about half an hour's walk from the city centre, called the Garden Lodge. It was absolutely adorable! Super cosy, very stylishly decorated and the host Claire was so friendly and helpful. We both agreed that we would definitely stay there again.
What did we do?
The main reason we were visiting was to go to the spa. Having not booked any treatments, we did queue for quite a while to get in, but it was definitely worth it. It's £40 for 2 hours, but you're allowed an extra half an hour to account for changing at the beginning and end, plus any time you spend in the café doesn't count towards your limit. This was my first spa experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! There were two thermal baths, steam rooms, an infrared sauna, funky showers with different lights/smells/sounds and a 'celestial relaxation room,' where I definitely could have fallen asleep! My favourite part was probably the rooftop pool, with a beautiful view over Bath. We also popped to the café about half way through our time to drink peppermint tea in our robes. Afterwards we were so sleepy and relaxed, I almost felt like I was floating.
Apart from that, we mooched around Bath, seeing the sights and browsing the shops. Oh, and eating... a LOT of eating. We are both big foodies so finding cool places to eat is something we try to do wherever we go! Here are the places we ate, all of which I would 100% recommend.
On our first night we went for Pizza, after googling places that would cater for vegan (me) and gluten free (Megan). This hit the nail on the head! With loads of different base options (multigrain, hemp, seaweed, turmeric, gluten free) and a nice vegan cheese, we were in business. The pizzas were incredibly tasty, and we went home to our Air BnB full and sleepy.
Green Rocket Cafe
Saturday brunch was at this cute little vegetarian cafe on Pierrepont Street. I went for the 'Breakfast of Champions' which included garlic mushrooms with greens, lentils, scrambled tofu, homemade baked beans and avocado, plus some very tasty sourdough toast. It was super filling and delicious, and set me up well for the day (it's a hard life spending hours in the spa!)
After leaving the spa we headed straight to Society Café for a cheeky bit of cake. This hipster spot has two locations in Bath and can also be found in Oxford and Bristol. There were loads of vegan and gluten free options. I had banana and peanut butter cake and an almond milk dark hot chocolate, both of which were delicious.
King William Pub
This was an accidental dinner venue as there were no tables available at the place we had first intended to go to. It's a cosy little pub, and we sat downstairs in the bar area. The staff were all really friendly and fun, and the food was very tasty. They talked us through the menu, were flexible in terms of changing things up to meet dietary requirements and knew the wine list inside out. We both went for the black bean burger, and I then had a trio of sorbets for pudding. They were the best sorbets I have ever eaten, not icy at all but smooth and packed full of flavour.
Beyond the Kale
Possibly the most #wellness brunch I have ever eaten. We each had an acai smoothie bowl, then shared some pancakes topped with fruit and coconut yoghurt. Absolutely incredible (plus great for a clichéd Instagram brunch pic). We also drank kombucha made by a local company, which is certainly an acquired taste but I quite enjoyed the tang!
We didn't do a huge amount of shopping, but popped into anywhere that caught our eye. Most of these are chains but Bath is also full of independent shops so I would definitely explore those further next time. These were the shops we liked the most:
Full of jewellery, homeware and gifts. Plenty of millennial-friendly tropical prints and flamingo paraphernalia as well as some great scented candles.
French Grey Interiors
A lovely little gift shop. More jewellery, candles and general knick knacks plus a good range of cards, gift wrap and some beautiful cushions and rugs. I may have treated myself to an avocado keyring...and i'm not even sorry.
Topping and Company Booksellers
A cute little book shop which was absolutely filled to the rafters! They even have the wooden sliding ladders to reach the higher shelves. We weren't too impressed at the amount of plastic wrapping on a lot of the books, but the shop had a cosy vibe and you could easily while away an hour in there drinking free coffee and browsing the shelves.
Window shopping only here due to the prices, but Anthropologie is full of so many beautiful things, and was a good way to pass some time. I wanted to buy most of the homeware but managed to be good, and left empty-handed!
Magalleria - full of niche and beautiful magazines that I had never heard of! Most of them looked more like fancy coffee table books, and subject matter was unusual and varied. A little bit pretentious, but interesting to look at!
What to do next time
We by no means exhausted the list of things to do in Bath. On the agenda for next time are the Roman Baths and Pump Room for a bit of history and some afternoon tea, Bath Abbey and the Jane Austen museum. There are also plenty more great brunch spots to be found I'm sure. I will definitely be visiting again.
As someone who is obsessed with both pasta and pesto, this recipe is something that I end up making a lot. It's super quick and easy, and you can basically chuck in any veg that you want. The chilli and lemon gives it quite a fresh taste, so it's perfect spring food...if spring ever arrives I would very much appreciate it! This makes enough for 2 servings.
1 tbsp oil of choice (I use rapeseed)
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 large red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Small bunch spring onions, finely chopped
1 orange pepper, diced
Half a large courgette, grated
Large handful frozen peas
2 - 3 tbsp green pesto
Rocket, to serve
Cook the orzo to packet instructions.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan.
Add the pepper, spring onion, chilli and garlic and cook for 3-5 minutes until starting to soften.
Add the grated courgette and frozen peas, cook for a further couple of minutes until the peas have defrosted.
Drain the orzo and stir into the veg. Add pesto, cook through for 2 minutes until everything is hot.
Add a splash of lemon juice and a generous grind of black pepper, then serve topped with rocket.
Spaghetti Bolognese is a bit underrated, isn't it? It's not something that I ever used to choose in a restaurant when I was a meat eater, but there's no denying the classic tomato and pasta combo! I can't promise that this recipe is particularly similar to the original, but it's a very tasty vegan version which I am currently scoffing whilst sat in my dressing gown, nursing a cold. With cheese on top, obviously. It's still cold outside, which is a good excuse (as though you need one) for eating all the pasta. I make this in an oven proof casserole dish so that I can transfer straight from the hob to the oven for slow cooking. If you don't have one you could do the whole thing in a saucepan, just put a lid on and simmer on a low heat. This makes a generous amount - I have enough for a few dinners and lunches, so it would definitely be enough to feed four for a main meal.
2 tbsp oil of choice (I use rapeseed oil)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 small aubergine, cut into cubes (about 1cm square or smaller)
2 heaped tsp crushed garlic/garlic puree
1 tin plum tomatoes, roughly chopped (I stick some clean kitchen scissors in the tin to do this)
2 tbsp tomato puree
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
250g red lentils, rinsed
6 tbsp green lentils, rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
500ml vegetable stock
Black pepper to taste
If using the oven, pre-heat to 190C.
Heat the oil in a large pan or casserole dish and fry the carrot and onion on a medium heat for 5 minutes, until starting to soften.
Turn the heat down slightly. Add the aubergine and garlic, fry for 2 minutes.
Stir through the rinsed lentils and add the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes and ketchup.
Add the dried herbs (including bay leaves) and black pepper, then stir in the vegetable stock.
Slow cook in the oven or on the hob for 45 minutes to one hour, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft.
Serve with spaghetti and a sprinkle of cheese (I grate some Violife original block on top).