Crafting the Perfect Care Package


Thanks to the Internet, it is now possible and even common for a person to have friends dotted all over the globe. I'm very grateful that blogging has connected me with some amazing people from the UK and beyond, but it is sad that I don't get to see some of my blogging pals as much as I'd like. Having long-distance friendships can also be hard when one of your close mates is going through a rough patch and because you're so far away, there's not much you can do to help. However, today I'm here to show you just what you can do for you faraway friends! The wonderful Kate and I have clubbed together to craft the perfect care package for our good friend Hels, who is currently juggling a full time job, caring for her son Dougie, running a successful blog, AND arranging a wedding! Phew! Kate and I are seriously in awe of Hels's neverending energy, kindness, and commitment. We thought she deserved a treat, so keep scrolling to find out what we sent to her!

๐Ÿ“š Tea & a Book ☕️


Regular readers of my blog will know that I featured Sarah Knight's The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fuck in a recent post where I detailed My Blogging Fuck Budget, and because I found this book so inspiring and thought provoking, I knew I had to send it to Hels! One of the quotes from the book that most stood out to me was "You're part of your family too, so your happiness also matters!" I thought that Hels could also benefit from these pearls of wisdom because she never fails to put everyone else above herself and is one of the most selfless people I know. I really believe that she deserves to take her own happiness into account way more, and I hope that reading this book will inspire her to do so.

To accompany the book, I included a selection of teas for Hels to enjoy as she is reading! Twinings' Salted Caramel Green Tea sounds like heaven in a cup to me, and I'm sure that Hels will find something here that she likes! Now I just need to find a way to send her the time she'll need to actually sit down and enjoy a cuppa, which may prove slightly trickier...

✨ Cosiness & Cuteness ๐Ÿ’ฉ


Next up come a couple of fun things from my lovely friend Ellis Wooley's newly revamped online shop - Pastel Elixir! I know that Hels is a huge fan of Ellis's gorgeous design work, so I just had to include some goodies from her shop in this care package. Both of the items that I picked out were badges: one has the adorable Poonicorn design (get it?) and the other is an equally cute Elephant! If you're reading this post to gain inspiration for creating a care package of your own, supporting a small online business is a great thing to do when deciding which items to include. Not only will you be guaranteeing a unique gift for the recipient of your package, but you'll also be making a huge difference to a small seller!

A blackhead remover might be thought of as a bit of a rude gift for a friend, right? Well, I'm hoping that Hels will forgive me! A little while ago, Hels, Kate, and I collaborated on our first blog post together, all about busting beauty fads! We all talked about trying a blackhead mask but none of us never actually got round to doing it, so I picked up this little beauty for Hels to try out - I'm eager to hear her thoughts on it! I think that little gifts like this which reference things you and your friend have talked about or done together are a really lovely touch!

Last but by no means least, a comfy prezzie in the form of a pair of fuzzy socks will always be appreciated! I actually have a pair of fluffy socks exactly the same as these ones (shout out to my friend Beth for gifting them to me!) so when I saw them in Primark, I just had to pick up a pair for Hels too! Twinningggg!

 ๐Ÿ’ฆ Pamper Time ๐Ÿ›€

 

The crowning glory of any care package has to be some new skincare products! There's nothing like a new range of smellies to tempt you into having a self-care evening! The lovely people at Palmer's provided me with some goodies to try out myself, and a couple to send to Hels as well. I trialled the 24-Hour Moisture body lotion which promised to pamper and smooth your skin, and it certainly delivered! The coconut oil formula meant that the lotion smelled DIVINE and left a lasting, but not overpowering scent on your skin. My skin felt touchably soft and silky, and the product sunk in quickly, leaving no annoying, sticky residue. As for the body cream, the texture of this truly was thick and luxurious, perfect if you're feeling a little bit decadent! I'm also confident that Hels will love the hydrating and rejuvenating body oil - the ideal addition to any skincare routine. Palmer's is also a company with an ethos I can really get behind: as well as being 100% cruelty free, the coconut oil from all of their products is ethically and sustainably sourced. So, if you're looking to put together a care package for one of your pals, I highly recommend picking up a few of Palmer's gorgeous products!


And there you have it - my top tips for crafting a gorgeous care package that anybody would love! My friend Kate who also contributed to Hels' care package has also written a post about the products she included, so look out for her post over on Finding Kate!

Over to you: What would you include in your perfect care package? Who in your life most deserves a treat? Share in the comments below!

Until next time,

A x

*This post contains affiliate links. The Palmer's products were sent to me for free in exchange for a review.

Pizza Masterclass at Franco Manca


Thursday is officially the new Friday! Well, it definitely was for me last week as I was invited to attend a press event, celebrating the opening of Oxford's very own branch of Franco Manca - home of the sourdough pizza specialists! Anyone who frequents Oxford city centre will know that if George Street is short of anything, it sure isn't Italian restaurants. You can snag a pizza at Bella Italia, Zizzis, Ask Italian, or Pizza Hut, to name but a few. Therefore, a new pizza joint in this area has to do something pretty special in order to stand out. Thankfully, that's exactly what Franco Manca has to offer! Keep reading to find out exactly why I'll be recommending this scrumptious stop-off!


Our evening started on a very good note - a warm welcome from Franco Manca staff was followed by an Aperol spritz cocktail, a delicious concoction of prosecco, soda water, and Aperol apรฉritif. Cocktail in hand, I seized the opportunity to whizz around the pizzeria to take a few snaps before the other journos and bloggers arrived! The pared-back decor which is common to all Franco Manca pizzerias gives the Oxford branch a stylish, contemporary, yet authentic feel. The wood cladding used for the walls, the caged lightbulbs hanging down, and the exposed metalwork on the ceiling produces a really unique and modern look, yet the place is still very welcoming.


My favourite aspect of the pizzeria was the fact that the kitchen was located in an open corner of the restaurant, including the wood-burning pizza oven, brightly decorated with a mosaic of patterned tiles. You could watch the team of chefs at work, freshly preparing your pizza, which I really loved! Having the chefs and serving team working away right before your eyes created a really bustling vibe in the whole dining area. The pizzeria was packed during our visit, with queues lining up outside the door, ready for a Franco Manca feast, and this lively atmosphere made the evening even more enjoyable!

 

Now, on to what you've really been dying to hear about - the food! Once seated, we were served up a wide selection of treats from the Franco Manca menu to sample. For the carnivorous members of our group, there was a sharer platter of cured meat, including wild pig fennel salami! My friend Ben, who came along as my +1, assured me that the meat was of high quality and tasted divine, leaving me to try the vegetarian starter, Burrata Pugliese, which the serving team ruslted up especially for me! This dish comprised a sphere of deliciously soft mozzerella, filled with rich, milky cream. Slicing into this tempting ball of goodness and mopping up the velvety cream with the sourdough slice and accompanying fresh tomatoes and peppery rocket leaves was a truly mouthwatering experience! A must-have for any fellow cheese-lovers!


For the main event, Franco Manca's unique sourdough pizza took centre stage! I tucked in to item No.3 from their menu, a delicious thin-based pizza, topped with courgette, basil, mozzerella, and buffalo ricotta. Again, the meat-eaters among us shared a tomato, mozzerella, and cured organic chorizo pizza. Both smelled absolutely amazing and the taste didn't disappoint! The crusts were crunchy on the outside yet soft and fluffy on the inside, the perfect combination. No garlic dip was needed to liven up these crusty bites! Just enough topping was placed on the pizza to give fantastic flavours without overloading it. On viewing Franco Manca's menu, you may think that there are relatively few options, compared to your standard Italian restaurant menu, and while this may be true, the chefs here do what they do incredibly well. There are daily specials to supplement the regular menu, and there was definitely enough choice to satisfy vegetarians and omnivores alike.

 

After our meal, the treats didn't stop there! Each of the attendees was lucky enough to be given the chance to craft their very own Franco Manca pizza, courtesy of the fantastic kitchen team! We started by being given a masterclass on how the dough is made. The sourdough used for the base is a special slow-rising variety, which is left to rise for a minimum of 20 hours before cooking! The same careful attention goes into all of Franco Manca's ingredients, including specially selecting their cheeses, the majority of which come from UK producers. I was taken through the process of stretching out the dough, spreading on the tomato base, adding toppings of my choice, and even firing the pizza! The sourdough pizzas are placed in the wood-fired oven for just 45 seconds, being adjusted by the masterchef with the paddle to ensure a uniform firing across the surface. I was so impressed by the quick and smooth process in the kitchen!


Another highlight of the evening was getting the opportunity to sample the wines from Franco Manca's extensive selection. The pizzeria's wine expert was on hand to explain the intricacies of the wine list and give us an overview of the organic Italian vineyards from which the grapes are sourced. I'm a big red wine lover, so I was delighted to have the chance to try the Lambrusco Emilia from the Grasparossa di Castelvetro region, a sparkling red with full-bodied taste. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Sicilian white wine offered - I'm not normally a fan of white wines as I find them too dry, but this was delicious! You can imagine my delight when we were presented with our goodie bags to take home at the end of the event, and I found not one but TWO bottles of my favourite sparkling red inside, as well as some Italian hard cheese, pates, and cured meats! I'm excited to start cooking with them all!

So, would I recommend a visit to Franco Manca next time you're in Oxford? Absolutely! I had a wonderful evening and I'll definitely be back. Previously, Zizzi had been my go-to for delicious pizza but now, I'll be at Franco Manca every time! A huge thank you goes out to the fantastic team at Franco Manca for making us all feel so welcome and for providing a real insight into the ethos behind the pizzeria. 

Where is your favourite Italian eatery? Please share in the comments below!

Until next time,

A x

*I was invited along to the Franco Manca press event free of charge

On Being Unfashionable


Hi, my name is Abbey and I am unfashionable. You heard me. Carrie Bradshaw would look aghast at my outfit combinations. Miranda Priestly would throw me out of her office in precisely 5 seconds flat. And as for Blair Waldorf, we'll not even go there. I've never been that keyed up with what's "on trend", nor have my adult years brought about any desire to follow fashion. Nevertheless, I'm here today with an outfit post with my middle finger firmly (yet metaphorically) raised towards the fashion world and to show you that you needn't give a single fuck either. Let's get started!


I love reading fashion blogs. Amy and Sophie are just two of my favourites. These gals always seem to be abreast of the latest trends, incorporating them with ease into their effortlessly gorgeous wardrobes. I really admire both of these flawless women, as well as everyone else who can maintain a fashion-focused blog, but I feel like if I were buying into what's "trendy", I wouldn't be staying true to myself. I'd just be purchasing items for the sake of a blog post, rather than because I actually like them. For example:

They look amazing on some people, but fishnets and jeans aren't really me!
I like embroidery but not enough to actually make a purchase.
And as for fluffy sliders? Ick. 

I just don't see the point in investing in all of these fashionable pieces when just a few months down the line, something new will be "in" and every one of us will have forgotten about what was big for SS17. Honestly, I'd rather just wait for the things I actually like to come into style again. I've always loved off-shoulder tops, I have a couple from Boohoo that I bought about 3 years ago that I wear on the regular because I think they're really flattering on me, so the fact that they were stylish this summer is great because shops are actually stocking something I like! However, the fact that they'll be "out" again in no time at all won't stop me wearing the things I love.

 
Dress: Eucalyptus (similar)
Blazer: Jack Wills (similar)
Shoes: Irregular Choice (similar)




Instead, I would describe my style as classic. I'd like to think of myself as a timeless dresser; I favour tea dresses, like the gorgeous polka-dot number I was wearing on my jaunt around Norwich's Chapelfield Gardens. It's dainty, classy, and feels very ME. Paired with a smart blazer and these funky Irregular Choice shoes, I couldn't feel more confident in this outfit! I didn't feel at all awkward or self conscious when I was having these photos taken. So yeah, while I probably am quite unfashionable by 2017 standards, I'm happy with how I look. And I think that's pretty important, don't you?


A massive shoutout and THANK YOU goes to the wonderful Tony, who shot these images for me in Norwich's Chapelfield Gardens. As well as running his own blog, Tony is a committee member for the University of East Anglia's Blog Society, and a student journalist. Tony interviewed me for a couple of features, which will be going live very soon! I'm very grateful to him for inviting me to come and chat to him, for taking these lovely shots, and for generally being an absolute gem.

Do you class yourself as "fashionable"? Why / why not? Is following fashion something that matters to you? Leave a comment down below and let me know!

Until next time,

A x

*This post contains affiliate links

A Girly Getaway: Cambridge

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I have a confession to make. I admit it, I'm guilty. I've cheated on my long-time lover with their bitter rival. And guess what? I don't feel the slightest bit bad about it. That's right - despite being an Oxford University student for the past four years, I've crossed over to the dark side, changed my Boat Race affiliation, and visited Cambridge. *gasp* My sister and I booked a mini-break to the historic East Anglian city at the start of September for some well deserved pampering and relaxation before heading back to our respective universities. Our base for a couple of nights was the Quy Mill Hotel & Spa, a characterful establishment located just 5 miles from the city centre. After being impressed by the gorgeous historic setting and comfortable appearance of the guest rooms on the Quy Mill's website, we were confident that the hotel would provide a luxurious experience - keep reading to find out about our stay!

 ๐Ÿก The Hotel ๐Ÿก

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The Quy Mill Hotel was a delightful mix of historic and modern. The charming main house, where the reception, restaurant, bar, and meeting rooms are located, dates back to the 1830's. The waterwheel which gives the hotel its name can still be seen if you take a few steps down toward the riverbank. It was originally used for milling flour, and was still functioning until the 1940's. The majority of the hotel's bedrooms, as well as the spa and gym, were to be found in the courtyard at the back of the house in several converted barn buildings. This meant that although the hotel was very busy when we arrived (we even had to park in the overflow carpark!), it still had a tranquil feel because the guests were so spread out. As we were looking for a peaceful and relaxing break, this was something that we really appreciated! The hotel also had lots of little nooks and crannies to explore - we especially enjoyed wandering around the waterwheel where we met some beautiful swans caring for their cygnets!

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 ๐ŸŒ… Accommodation ๐ŸŒƒ

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Just seconds away from the main house, we located our Superior Twin room in one of the converted barns and we were overjoyed to discover that our room came complete with a private patio, a lounge area, and (most importantly!) a heavenly jacuzzi spa bath! The room was clean, comfortable and well equipped with all of the expected amenities: a hairdryer, a safe, and free wifi. There was also a generous selection of luxury teas, coffees, and biscuits. We were pleased to find that fruit teas were provided, which was a bonus for me and my sister as neither of us are big fans of milky tea! The room was spacious and attractively decorated with a yellow and purple colour scheme running throughout. Rustic features such as the original ceiling beams were sympathetically incorporated into the room without losing the chic, modern feel.

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๐Ÿน Food ๐Ÿด

No hotel stay is complete without sampling the restaurant menu! On our first night, we were tired out from our drive down to Cambridge, so we opted for room service. We both ordered a Veggie Burger: chickpea and vegetable burger topped with halloumi, served in a semi-broiche bun with hand-cut chips, crispy onion rings, and Quy Mill's own tomato ketchup. Our meal arrived within 15 minutes of us picking up the phone to place the order, which was very impressive! The portion size was ENORMOUS and my sister and I both struggled to clear our plates. At £16.50 each plus a tray charge of £5, the burger was pricey but we certainly didn't need to order dessert! 

Breakfast also provided us with an opportunity to see what the Quy Mill's kitchen had to offer. On both mornings of our stay, we found a plentiful selection on the continental buffet, ranging from home-baked bread, pain au chocolat and muffins to cereals, cheeses, local yoghurts and fresh fruit. Hot breakfast options also came in abundance, all of which were cooked to order, which is fantastic as your food can be tailored to your exact requirements and is guaranteed to be piping hot! We opted for scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for our breakfasts. The eggs were very tasty and the perfect texture. We didn't have a lot of luck with our toast - on the first day it was badly burned and on the second day it was cold but we could easily make more ourselves, so this wasn't too much trouble! The breakfast staff were friendly and gracefully accommodated our requests to be served soy milk with our hot drinks.

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๐Ÿ’†๐Ÿป Spa Facilities๐Ÿ’ง

Finally, a trip to the Quy Mill's Imagine Spa, just footsteps from our room, was definitely in order! The 12m swimming pool provided plenty of space to do a few laps before jumping into the hot tub to relax! Entry to the spa, gym, sauna, and steam room was included with our room rate, although additional treatments could also be purchased. I really enjoyed the steam room as it provided the perfect opportunity to sweat everything out! All of the facilities, including the changing rooms, were pristine, as was the sunny conservatory located just off the poolside, which was a lovely place to recline and read a book in the sunshine between hot tub sessions. The gym, which we just had to try out after stuffing our faces at breakfast, also had a large variety of equipment. Each of the treadmills, crosstrainers, and bicycles had its own individual TV screen, so you could plug in your headphones and try to forget that you're exercising, which is always advantageous! 

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In the interests of providing a balanced review, I do have to mention a couple of little niggles that we experienced during our stay. When we arrived, the plughole in our bath was clogged up with quite a lot of hair, which meant that the shower was very slow to drain. This would be easily fixed with a bit of attention from the housekeeping team, however! Also, on our second day, we decided we wanted to sample the hotel's afternoon tea selection so phoned the reception to enquire about what time service ended. We were told that we could come down at any point before 5.30pm for afternoon tea. However, when we attempted to order afternoon tea in the restaurant at 5.10pm, we were told that service stopped at 5.00pm. Despite asking whether the chef could make us something anyway, on account of us being given the wrong information by reception, we were turned away. We chose to order a pizza delivery instead, but we were a little disappointed about the mix up. Nevertheless, my sister and I had a fantastic stay at the Quy Mill and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a Cambridge getaway! The hotel was perfectly located for exploring the city, as the Newmarket Park and Ride station was only a mile down the road.

It truly was a pleasure to have a couple of days away with my sister. I've mentioned on my blog previously that my sister and I haven't always been as close as I'd like, and this little break together has gone a long way to changing that. We had a lot of really interesting conversations, laughed a lot, and reminisced over a few childhood memories. Our short time in Cambridge together will be something I'll be able to look back on and smile. Here's hoping we'll be able to go on another trip in the near future!

Have you ever been to Cambridge? If so, are there any sights you'd recommend that I see on my next visit to the city? Please let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

A x

*We were provided with a complimentary upgrade to a Superior room and free breakfast in exchange for an honest review

Four-Legged Family*


Whether you're doolally for dogs, crazy for cats, or fanatical about fish, if you live in England like me, you're part of a nation of animal lovers! In 2016, it was estimated that 40% of UK households include a pet, meaning that in Britain alone, we have approximately 57 million companion animals. My animal loving credentials have been well established on my blog, through my fundraising efforts for an animal charity on my birthday, and my animal ownership advice post during National Pet Month. As someone who feels more maternal towards her dogs than she does toward any human baby, I can certainly attest to the fact that pets are part of the family!

When your pet is happy, their joy is infectious!
When they're lively and playful, it really lifts your energy.
When they're at the door to greet you, you feel welcomed and loved!
When a pet passes away, you grieve for them as you would for any family member.

Pets are not only fantastic companions but they do so much for us as well: mind, body, and soul! I see this for myself every time my Dad and I take my Nana's terrier, Suzie, to see her in her care home. Due to an unfortunate bout of ill health which occurred three years ago, my Nana is now partially paralysed, is unable to walk, and her cognitive capacity is hindered, meaning that she requires 24 hour care in a nursing home. Although she spends a lot of her time in pain, nothing brings a bigger smile to her face than when Suzie leaps through her door and into her chair, ready to smother her in sloppy kisses! My Nana will happily sit and talk to Suzie for hours, and she loves seeing videos of Suzie playing with the other dogs in the garden at home. Visits from Suzie really are therapy for my Nana and that one little dog brings more happiness than she can ever know!


I'm by no means the only person to have experienced the incredible gifts that animals can give us. To prove my point, I asked my trusty Twitter followers to share their thoughts on how their pets have touched their lives. I was completely overwhelmed by the huge number of touching responses that I received! To name but a few, Debra shared with me how her rescue kitten Bear helps her fight off loneliness when her boyfriend is away serving in the Navy. Izzy told me about how her cat is a real stress reliever, helping her to fight the symptoms of anxiety. Kat says that her dogs have helped her mental and physical health, encouraging her to confront her chronic pain head on and take them out for the five mile walks they love!

Here are just a few of the other amazing stories of the power that our pets have to make our lives better:

Now, since it's clear that our animals do so much for us without even realising it, it's only right that we take care of them as best we can: giving them plenty of love, exercise, entertainment and (of course) food. However, how much thought do you put into what you feed your pet? I had a really shocking moment a few months ago when reading an article about dog chews. I always used to purchase rawhide dog chews as a treat for my puppers because I believed them to be a healthy option. Imagine my horror when I discovered that many rawhide dog chews actually contain GLUE!! I couldn't believe it - you wouldn't give Fido a Pritt Stick for dinner, would you? Without realising it, I'd been doing the equivalent.


I've learned the hard way that checking labels on the products you feed your pets is absolutely essential. Yet even the labels themselves can be misleading. Research by Data Label has revealed that ingredients that are not necessarily made with fresh or ethically sourced ingredients can sound as if they are, through a bit of creative marketing on the part of the manufacturers. The term "Meat Meal", for example, which seems inoffensive enough and regularly appears on food labels, actually refers to mushed up fatty tissues, entrails, and bones of animals which are not fit for human consumption. Yuck. Not exactly the high quality ingredient that you might hope to be serving up to Rover. Data Label are now calling for clearer labels on pet food so that owners really know what they're feeding their pet and can make informed choices in the supermarket. This is something that I fully support. Pets really are part of the family and we should put just as much consideration into their diets as we would our own.

Do you have a pet? Please tell me all about the effect they've had on your life in the comments below, stories of animal companionship really warm my heart!

Until next time,

A x

*This is a collaborative post
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