Hong Shao Rou [Red Braised Pork]

Firstly, let’s just explore the fact that caramel is TERRIFYING. Like, actual anxiety-inducing terrifying. Hot sugar is volatile, dangerous and unpredictable.

However,  trust me when I say this dish is completely worth 15 or so minutes of abject terror. It combines sweet and salty flavours in a syrupy sauce with aromatic spices and tender fall-apart meat.

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Ingredients

  • Pork belly cut into cubes (about 500-600g)
  • 2 tablespoons of any oil of your choosing, I used vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese shaoxing wine
  • Stick of cinnamon
  • Bunch of spring onions
  • 3cm cube ginger
  • 2 x star anise
  • A whole red chilli
  • 175ml dark soy sauce,
  • splash of light soy sauce

How do I do it?

  1. Heat water in a heavy-based pan. Add some of the spring onions and a tiny bit of ginger along with the meat in order to blanch it and remove impurities. After about ten minutes remove the meat and place it on absorbent kitchen paper to dry off. Drain and dry the pan to use in the next phase.
  2. Heat the oil and sugar over a low heat until the sugar begins to become caramel. Once the sugar is dissolved, throw in the pork and turn the heat up a bit. Be careful as sugar catches very quickly and ruins pans.
  3. Turn the heat down and add all of the other ingredients and some water, around 200ml. Cover and let simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally and topping up the water if need be.
  4. Uncover the pot and cook for about a further 20 minutes, letting the sauce reduce and become syrupy and glossy.
  5. Serve (maybe with sprinkled spring onions on, I don’t because I don’t like spring onions) and rice.
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Dermaplaning

 

 

s-l640Dermaplaning is a skin care process which removes fine vellus ‘peach fuzz’ hair and dead skin cells from your face using a sterile blade not dissimilar to a mini version of a traditional straight razor.

You can go to a beautician for a professional dermaplaning treatment, but they can be costly. I saw online that you could DIY it and as such decided to try it out, ordering a pack of four ‘tinkle razors’ for under £2.00 on Amazon.

When I first saw them I will admit I was frightened. With a mix of curiosity and apprehension I headed to the bathroom to try them.  I did not expect them to be as easy to use as they were.

I settled down in the bath and wet my face, rubbing into it a foaming face wash- I used a Lancome one, but have since used Liz Earle’s ‘Cleanse and Polish’ which worked a treat too. Then you gingerly take the blade and swipe it in upward motions. It is completely painless, and although my nerves were frazzled I was no worse off for the ordeal. I do my cheeks and forehead as I find that because I wear a lot of powder foundation, the tiny tiny fine hairs can become more obvious underneath it.

Afterwards my face was ridiculously soft, like baby skin. I used toner and moisturised and my foundation went on the next day like a dream. I now do this about once a month and would really recommend this as an addition to anyone’s beauty regime.

10/10

 

Dior Air Flash Review

diorYou know those canisters of spray paint used for childhood mischief, painting figurines, or colouring dings  on cars that have seen far better days? That but it’s for your face.

The product can be used as a stand alone foundation or on top of another foundation ‘to make it look airbrushed’… I decided in the name of science and in the hope of speeding up my make-up routine, to give it a bash. It retails in most department stores for £34.00 so is on the higher end of the cosmetic spectrum.

First Impressions:

As is standard with Dior, the packaging was very sleek and stylish. The canister itself seems generous, holding 70ml as opposed to the standard 30ml foundation size. I’m not sure how this translates in terms of the difference between aerosol and liquid.

Use:

Insofar as ‘user friendliness’ I suspect it’s much easier to spray it onto a buffing brush and then apply onto your face in circular motions- but where is the fun in that? I sprayed it onto my face as though my face was a beaten up Vauxhall Nova. Good coverage; too good in fact. I covered my face, neck (no foundation lines- bonus!) torso, and hair in a liberal shade of pale. For the ten seconds it took me to apply, yes, it was fantastic and only needed to be blended a bit around my eyes and nose… But it was a right bugger to meticulously remove from my hair, ears, etc.

Overall:

I think if sprayed onto your face you lose a lot of product which is possibly why it is larger than a standard foundation.  It has good coverage,sat really well, and remained nice all day even in wind and rain as my other Dior foundations do, and was pretty much the same price. It’s a good product and not just for the novelty of it being a spray. On balance, I’d rather stick with normal liquid foundation as it turns out to be less effort but I shall keep this to use to ‘finish’ other foundations to give them an airbrushed glow.

7/10

 

Dior Air Flash Review

You know those canisters of spray paint used for childhood mischief, painting figurines, or colouring dings  on cars that have seen far better days? That but it’s for your face.

The product can be used as a stand alone foundation or on top of another foundation ‘to make it look airbrushed’… I decided in the name of science and in the hope of speeding up my make-up routine, to give it a bash. It retails in most department stores for £34.00 so is on the higher end of the cosmetic spectrum.

First Impressions:

As is standard with Dior, the packaging was very sleek and stylish. The canister itself seems generous, holding 70ml as opposed to the standard 30ml foundation size. I’m not sure how this translates in terms of the difference between aerosol and liquid.

Use:

Insofar as ‘user friendliness’ I suspect it’s much easier to spray it onto a buffing brush and then apply onto your face in circular motions- but where is the fun in that? I sprayed it onto my face as though my face was a beaten up Vauxhall Nova. Good coverage; too good in fact. I covered my face, neck (no foundation lines- bonus!) torso, and hair in a liberal shade of pale. For the ten seconds it took me to apply, yes, it was fantastic and only needed to be blended a bit around my eyes and nose… But it was a right bugger to meticulously remove from my hair, ears, etc.

Overall:

I think if sprayed onto your face you lose a lot of product which is possibly why it is larger than a standard foundation.  It has good coverage,sat really well, and remained nice all day even in wind and rain as my other Dior foundations do, and was pretty much the same price. It’s a good product and not just for the novelty of it being a spray. On balance, I’d rather stick with normal liquid foundation as it turns out to be less effort but I shall keep this to use to ‘finish’ other foundations to give them an airbrushed glow.

7/10

 

Anxiety

The first step of getting better is admitting you have a problem and so here goes: I have anxiety. Not your general nervousness about interviews or social occasions, but a general anxiety disorder. My body thinks I am in danger randomly and reacts as such, it’s evolution, it’s primitive, it’s…deeply irritating. You see, there’s nothing scary about buying potatoes or getting the train, but my body wants to run, my pulse quickens, I sweat and feel like I will either be sick or faint.  Quite basically, the adrenaline cup overfloweth and dumps adrenaline in my blood at random, causing these episodes.

Mental health issues are still taboo: we are told not to talk about them for fear of being seen as ‘crazy’ or people thinking we are fragile or unreliable. There’s a way to go to beat the taboo, and I found admitting that I suffered from anxiety very hard out of fear of how others react and because I didn’t want to admit that I was not infallible.  Realistically- I know I should have sought help years ago, before it got so bad.

I came back from Amsterdam on 19th November. I stood in Schipol Airport waiting to board the plane and I felt like I was going to faint. My heart got fast and I got teary. In retrospect I know that this was my first ever panic attack but at the time I felt severely unwell and like I was stopping breathing or my heart was packing in. This was put down to being overtired and having not really got over the hand foot and mouth virus I had very severely just two weeks earlier.

The next day I went to work and felt like I couldn’t breathe on the train and I kept looking for exits, convinced I was very poorly and wouldn’t survive the journey. I went to work and started having chest pains. ‘Just exhaustion’ is what I told myself… I’d got back to Gatwick late and gone to work the next day. I took the following day off work because I had been sick and the chest pains got worse, and unable to get an appointment with my GP, I called NHS 111 to check I was not having what I worst feared- a heart attack. After asking me a list of questions that lasted forever, and seeking information from a real doctor, the 111 call handler told me that my symptoms didn’t sound cardiac, and that she thought it was anxiety. I was obviously still breathing because I could talk to her clearly.

The pains and ‘can’t breathe’ feelings continued constantly for another week and I wasn’t eating or sleeping, so I got a GP appointment. The GP said that she thought it was anxiety after a very brief prod of my abdomen and listening to my chest and heart. She said that anxiety causes acid reflux and prescribed me some tablets for that and referred me to therapy. A week later I still felt exactly the same, constantly feeling like I was going to fall severely ill. My dad took me to hospital where I spent 45 minutes with a marvellous doctor who did many tests- I was healthy. Blood pressure a bit on the high side, but unlikely to drop dead. This is when I had to come to terms with there not being a physical problem but one in my head. I think in many ways I would have preferred a physical problem. That seems more fixable than realising that your very essence and the thing at the core of who you are and what you stand for, your brain, is broken.

I found this hard. How could my head be broken? Although I’ve been exposed to friends and family members with mental health problems (my family has a history of alcoholics- hence I am wary about touching alcohol) it was something that happened to ‘them’ and not me. I was the resilient one. I could give out great advice and crack on with life when things were going drastically wrong for me. I should have realised I was not as strong as I thought I was two years previously, but too stubborn, it took running myself into the ground to come to terms with my own fragility and vulnerability. I’m from a family that is dysfunctional in many ways but wonderful in many others, we don’t do emotion.

I suspect some people are just born a little bit broken. My earliest memory is my grandfather dying and me being taken out of my reception class to the head teacher’s office by a lady with kind eyes. I thought I was in trouble because that’s where naughty children went and was inconsolable but they were nice and let me draw in the corner of the room until my mother could collect me. Other early memories include becoming obsessed with drinking water to ‘flush out’ my body and sadly remarking to my mother from my car seat at no older than five that I had fat thighs. When I was eleven I tried to cut my wrists on the gate post at home and wrote a suicide note, and I occasionally self harmed and starved myself in my teens. This doesn’t mean to say my childhood was bad because it wasn’t. I can just see how I could and did go on to develop an anxiety disorder.

I’ve recently started therapy and things are beginning to make sense: the physical feelings I get are real, but they’re my body reacting to a threat that isn’t there. The chest pains are acid reflux or pain from my muscles always being tense. I’m always on high alert ready to run or fight. My reluctance to go to parties and get drunk like other 25 year olds is because I don’t like a lack of control, in any aspect of my life and irrational fears about becoming an alcoholic like there have been several in my family. I have trust issues and need reassurance. It’s very weird to think that suddenly you can go from being superhuman strong to quietly vulnerable… But that is just the way it is.

I’m not one for sharing deeply personal things, but the taboo needs to end. I’m not crazy or a risk to anyone or myself; I just needed to take care of myself and didn’t and crashed. It can happen to anyone and nobody should feel alone or unsupported.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings, and hope it is a good year for me. I’ve learnt it’s ok to be not ok, and it’s fine to say no to things.

Anyone affected by these issues please feel free to contact me, or check out Mind.

 

 

 

 

Toffee Apples

 

 

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It’s Autumn and in the shops are the sickly-sweet red toffee apples. A sticky, cellophane-wrapped Bonfire Night treat for many, but retailing often north of £1.00 a piece, are they worth it?

This simple, fast, recipe makes the perfect toffee apples, for about £0.25p a piece using mainly store cupboard ingredients.

Sadly, I cannot offer an answer as to how the ones from the shop or carnivals are red, one assumes food colouring but to be honest that doesn’t add much.

Although not healthy by any stretch of the imagination, these are vegetarian, vegan, gluten and nut free. They would make nice presents wrapped in cellophane and ribbon and last up to four days.

Ingredients:

  • 400g golden caster sugar
  • 100ml cold water
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 6-8 Granny Smith or Russett apples
  • tiny bit of apple cider vinegar (less than a teaspoon)
  • Lollipop sticks

 

Method:

  1.  Place a heavy-bottomed pan on a medium heat, add the sugar and water and stir occasionally- this will take about 7/8 minutes.
  2. Whilst the sugar and water is cooking, blanch the apples in water from the kettle. When the waxy coating on the apple appears to have gone remove them from the water, twist out the stalk and put a lollipop stick in the stalk end of each apple
  3. Stir in the vinegar and golden syrup to the sugar mixture in the pan.
  4. Leave to thicken, stirring occasionally.
  5. Carefully pour the toffee over the apples and place them on greaseproof paper that is also slightly oiled to set.

If lollipop sticks are an issue, the caramel mixture can be added to chopped apples to make a nice base for an apple pie.  Another tasty trick is coating peeled bananas in toffee and allowing them to set as the base for a retro but non-traditional banana split.

 

Kylie Cosmetics Koko Kollection review

After some scepticism about the cost including imports tax and postage, I finally bit the bullet. I’m not a Kardashian/Jenner devotee, and as such purely bought this because I had seen Kylie Jenner’s lipsticks being regarded highly in reviews.

Let’s discuss the price point first- A lip kit, single, posted to be would have worked out at nearly £40, so it was a better option to get the entire Koko Kollection for which I paid £55. The collection does not come with lip liners, but I own plenty of lip liners in similar shades anyway so I do not feel overly hard done by.


First impressions:

After steeling myself for the price tag, I was surprised at how quickly it came. It was well packed and not damaged. The box that houses the collection is pretty and sparkly (can’t complain) and displays the products nicely.


Swatches: 

The shades are called Bunny, Baby Girl, Doll and Sugar Plum.  Sugar Plum is a gloss and the rest are matte.


Formula:

The formula seems to be good; the matte lipsticks aren’t too drying (obviously apply a lip balm underneath) and the gloss isn’t too sticky.

Longevity: 

I did an experiment and swatched all four shades on my hand before bed. When I woke up none of the matte colours had smudged or budged. Understandably, the gloss had been wiped away. I had a bath in the morning and despite scrubbing my hand the swatches would not budge- I had to scrub again with make-up remover to get rid of them. These are VERY long lasting and transfer-proof lipsticks.

 

Conclusion:

These are very good lipsticks, but the availability is low as there is no official UK stockist. I would pay good money for them, but I think when the postage and taxes are added they are a little too pricey and hard to obtain. There are plenty of easily available lipsticks in the UK that do as good a job for the fraction of the price- such as the Morphe liquid lipsticks.

I think it was worth getting one collection, perhaps just so I could try them and admire their beauty. I don’t think I will be adding more Kylie lipsticks to my collection until they come to the UK, if they indeed are at all.

8/10. Would be a ten if they were easier to obtain and more cost effective.

Making blackcurrant cordial/ Picking your own fruit

It’s typically British to see an overcast, slightly rainy day and yearn to go outside. I am lucky in that where I live I am nestled between the Home Counties’ finest coastline and countryside, each no more than ten minutes from my house.

I had seen a recipe for making your own version of Ribena, a rich blackcurrant cordial and decided that I fancied giving it a bash.  I went and picked my own fruit at Roundstone Pick Your Own (https://www.roundstonefarm.co.uk/) as this is where I used to enjoy going so much as a child, it’s nostalgic, cheap, and beautiful with acre upon acre of crops. If you are not able to walk far there is a tractor that drops you off in each field should you require it- meaning that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy picking their own food.

It must be said there is something enormously cathartic about picking your own fruit- it is gratifyingly hard and enormously satisfying, and I suspect, fresher than the supermarkets’ offerings, although perhaps ever so slightly more pricey.

Recipe:

  • 500g Blackcurrants
  • 200g White sugar
  • The juice of half a lemon

Instructions:

Whack all of the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and leave until there is ample juice and the fruit squishes. This should take approximately ten minutes. After this sieve, and put the fluid aside to cool in a sterilised bottle. For a bonus, you can make a crumble with the leftover fruity mush- I just added apple to make it sweeter.

Video because I don’t take myself seriously.

De’Lanci Glitter Palette Review

De’lanci is a relatively new online brand of cosmetics, I noted them when I saw excellent reviews on a ‘dupe’ of the well-known Morphe 350 palette around Christmas time.

This palette retails on Amazon here for £23.99.

 

First Impressions

As the order is fulfilled by Amazon, it was well packed in Amazon’s signature card packaging.

The palette is in a sparkly gold cardboard casing housed snugly within a sparkly gold cardboard slip. These were pleasant, but when the palette is nearing the price of some higher end palettes, I would have hoped perhaps for metal or plastic as I worry about how well this palette would survive in a suitcase or if I accidentally spill a drink on it- perhaps the cardboard would get wet and tear. I have resolved to be careful with it, but it is thick cardboard and as such does feel quite sturdy and the simple glitter finish looks sleek and very aesthetically pleasing.

Colour Payoff

Obviously, with buying online, one cannot test the product and as such buying it was a gamble. I am, however, very glad that I did. The glitters are quite chunky and knit together nicely to avoid being ‘gappy’. I think that with a base eye shadow under they can be patted on to get the desired effect. As the glitter is self-adhesive it requires no glue, and thus, no mess, hurrah!

There is some fallout, but that is to be expected with any glitter product. Overall the product stays well.

There is a good range of colours within the palette, although some of the lighter shades do not provide as much in the way of pigment, they are buildable and the darker and brighter colours go on fabulously with a finger or a brush.

Conclusion

I rate this 8/10. It is a great palette and I am glad I took a chance on it and would recommend it. I think the packaging could perhaps do with a bit of improvement to make it look more high end for its price, or perhaps the price could go down a little bit. This is a very minor criticism though, as the formula is what matters and that is spot on.

 

 

Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask Review

The Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask has been sweeping the internet and is everywhere on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram. It it can be purchased from Amazon here for £3.99.

I was sceptical, as with most cheap Chinese beauty products from the internet, I wanted it for the novelty factor but did not have much hope of it being high quality or particularly usable.

First Impressions

It took about three weeks from ordering to arrival but this was as expected. The packaging looked good quality, as with many things like this the instructions on it were in badly translated Chinese and as such were basically impossible to follow. The premise of it is the same as any other face mask- you make sure you have a clean face and apply the product and then wait approximately fifteen minutes before washing it off.

The smell is nice; fresh, like green tea. It is a weird texture, as opposed to being thick and super viscous and ‘heavy’ like traditional clay masks, it has a thick almost jelly texture.

Use

I put the product on, it spread nicely and felt refreshingly cool on the skin. There was no irritation. After about a minute it started bubbling on my face, which felt so interesting and tingly. I really liked this feeling. It was fun to watch in the mirror as the bubbles kept growing on my face, leading me to look like the moon from The Mighty Boosh.

After fifteen minutes I patted down the bubbles on my face, popping them, then massaged in and rinsed off the product with water.

My skin felt nice and soft after using it, but no more soft than a 99p packet face mask from Superdrug would have made it feel.

I wouldn’t say this is a wonder product, but if taken on face value- a large pot of decent face mask with the fun novelty bubbling factor, I was very impressed.

10/10