Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Smiles of the week: Sally Cinnamon, you're my world

Whoever came up with the idea of Bank Holidays really was a genius. When I was younger I never appreciated them particularly- it was just another day but with a lot more crowds and less frequent public transport. Now I'm a grown up working person, having a free day off and still getting paid for it is the BEST feeling in the world, especially because lots of other lovely people are off too so its the perfect excuse for lots of extra fun. Or lots of extra time to recover from a two day hangover as may be a more appropriate description of my extra day off! 

Since the weekend lasted an extra day, I decided this post could wait until Tuesday after realising in last week's post that daydreaming about the fun of the previous seven days was a great way to brighten up my first day back at work. That in itself makes me smile as this week's first day back at work is practically the middle of the week anyway. I LOVE FOUR DAY WEEKS (apologies to those of you that don't get Bank Holidays off... you're probably ready to hit me right now...). 

Anyway, here we go with a couple of my highlights from the last week. 

Spending a few hours with my Dad after work last Wednesday. We went to an out of town shopping centre to escape the rain and he even let me drag him around the shops without a single complaint whilst I tried on approximately 618 pairs of jeans. 

Realising that my Dad spent the entire trip humming Daft Punk's Get Lucky. What. A. Legend.

Nattering away for an entire evening to one of my oldest friends who I somehow hadn't spoken to properly since March. 

Wearing a proper summer dress, eating the BEST sorbet and accidentally falling asleep down by the canal in the sunshine. 

Having two of the women from work shouting lots of rude words across the office in response to a particularly nasty phone call I'd just had to endure. Nothing like a 50 something year old shouting "WHAT A BEEPING HORRIBLE BEEP BEEP" to bring your mood back up!

Spending an evening soaking up the remaining rays of sunshine at a beer festival. I'm not sure how we'd decided a beer festival was a good idea as we don't like beer, especially as they'd already run out of the nice ciders before we'd arrived so we had to endure some interesting flavours before moving onto pale ale. Despite hating all of the drinks, we spent the entire time laughing hysterically and it was a really good way to spend a summery evening.

Surviving two nights out in a row (just about). Exactly why extra days off are sometimes necessary!

Listening to a little old welsh lady on the train to Manchester giving the person on the other end of the phone instructions about the knobs and flaps on something in her house. I'm not sure how it was only my friend and I who were having trouble keeping our giggles quiet. Mature as always.

Making plans for the weeks ahead. Mostly looking forward to an upcoming trip to Birmingham for a visit to Cadbury World (I've never been before and am FAR TOO EXCITED) followed by a bit of dancing and merriment. I've heard good things about Birmingham's nightlife so I've got a feeling it could be a very, very good weekend.

Hope you've all enjoyed the last week and the sunshine (shame its disappeared already though...)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

I had a photo where John Lennon may have stood

After our trip to the Palm House a few weeks ago (yes it has taken me THAT long to write this...) we drove past John Lennon's childhood home. This then turned into a bit of a whistlestop Beatles tour around the area, where we were racing to get pictures of each landmark before the Magical Mystery Tour bus and a few Beatles tour taxis caught us up with their crowds of camera-wielding tourists jostling to pose in front of Penny Lane and Ringo's house. 

I think the thing I love most about visiting some of these well known Beatles sights is the sheer volume of graffiti declaring visitors' love for the band. There's more and more of it every time I visit, and I'm sure most of the people who write messages or their names weren't even born when the Beatles were at their peak. It astounds me how one band can be so influential and still attract such an incredible following decades after they stopped making music. I really can't imagine the same happening in 40 years time with any bands that are in the charts today, however popular they might be right now. And judging by the amount of people jumping off the tour bus outside Lennon's childhood home, Beatlemania doesn't look like its set to end any time soon. 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Smiles of the week: Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?

When I first started these weekly smiles posts I fully intended them to be written on a Sunday evening as a little round up of the good things that had happened in my life that week. Apparently I'm incapable of sticking to this (despite the fact that I spent most of last night eating olives from the comfort of my bed... wild lifestyle right there), but actually my laziness has one advantage when I end up putting these posts together on a Monday. Like most of the working population, I am not a fan of Mondays, never have been, never will be. Thinking about the good bits of the previous week on a dreary Monday is the perfect remedy for the start of the week blues, giving a glimmer of hope that things always get better and more exciting as the week goes on.

Here's a few bits and bobs from the last week that I spent the day daydreaming about from my desk.

Experiencing the wonder that is The Great Gatsby. Hands down one of the best films I've seen in years. It was an absolute visual feast, had an incredible soundtrack (which despite being completely unrelated to the 1920's setting was absolutely perfect for the film, and it portrayed the story and the characters PERFECTLY. What. A. Film.

Experiencing the wonder that is The Great Gatsby with a jug of pimms from a squishy purple sofa. We ventured to the new Everyman cinema in Leeds Trinity to test it out and it turned out to be the absolute perfect setting to watch such a decadent film.

Experiencing the wonder that is The Great Gatsby after a bloody delicious pizza and slab of sticky toffee pudding in the cinema's pizzeria.

Taking a trip to York on Saturday for a little adventure with two of my favourites. We'd not made any real plans for the day as we'd crossed our fingers for sunny skies so we could sit in a pub by the river for the afternoon. Naturally the English weather didn't agree with us so we spent half of the day hiding from the rain.

Luckily for us, hiding in the rain turned into a trip to York's Chocolate Story. I've been before but was in no way going to turn down another trip there and was very giddy to discover that we could make a whopping great chocolate lollipop each.

Going out for food and a few quiet drinks on Saturday night and not getting in until 3.30am.

Realising that one of the bars we were in seemed to have a strict facial hair dress code for all men. Everywhere we turned we were surrounded by hipster beards, Charlie deemed the beardy folk as having a 'beardiform'. At the time this was the funniest/cleverest thing in the world. It may have just been the rum talking.

Being high fived repeatedly by a bunch of middle-aged, balding men. We think they'd just discovered what a high five was and thought that using it as a greeting made them really hip hop and happening to us young 'uns.

Spending most of my Sunday wrapped up in a duvet. I've not had a proper lie in for ages so it was very well deserved (and very much needed after the night before).

(I'm really not a fan of Lana usually but this song was just 100% right for the film!)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

She takes my time and I don't mind

You may have seen me mention earlier in the week that I'd had a stroke of madness and decided to enter a cupcake competition. I've been a regular at the Iron Cupcake competition since it started a few years ago but have always seen my role as one of the judges more than as a baker. I'm definitely quite talented at eating cake, not many people can munch through a selection of entries as quickly  skilfully as I can. And yet, despite knowing where my real talents lie, I somehow convinced myself that this was going to be the month I'd bake lots of cupcakes fit to be scrutinised by a hoard hungry people with score cards. 

I didn't win the competition, there were far too many amazing entries as always (sneak a peek at the rest of the entries here), but I'm more proud of myself for actually challenging myself to bake for an audience other than my office at work (who quite frankly will eat anything I put in front of them!). Plus being a baker meant I saved myself from the usual Sunday evening sugar induced coma I tend to experience after the competition. I'd like to say I'd turned over a new leaf and was becoming a healthy little bean, but then I'd be lying about what happened to the leftover back-up cakes I'd made in case my first set went wrong...

So, my efforts for the competition were Cookie Dough cupcakes. I'm one of those people that enjoys eating raw mixture just as much as I love the end product, so if you're anything like me this cake is the absolute best of both worlds as a hefty chunk of uncooked cookie dough is hiding inside each cupcake. The basic recipe was from Making Cupcakes with Lola and, not that I'm one to blow my own trumpet or anything, they tasted bloomin' amazing!

Cookie dough cupcakes
makes 12 (although I doubled the recipe and it made 28... the mixture goes a long way!)

for the cookie dough and cookies for decoration:
4 tablespoons butter
100g light brown sugar
150g plain flour
6 tablespoons condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons of chocolate chunks/chips

for the cake mixture
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
180g butter
175g light brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 tbsp milk
60g of chocolate chunks/chips (I used chopped up bars of milk chocolate because I'm not a big fan of chocolate chips, plus I decided the chunks looked more authentic!)

for the cookie flavoured icing
175g butter
150g light brown sugar
150g icing sugar
50g plain flour
3 tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

(You're best off starting with the cookie dough as this needs to sit in the fridge for an hour after making)

Combine the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the flour, condensed milk and vanilla extract and beat until the mixture is smooth and combined. 

Once you've done this, add the chocolate chips/chunks and mix them into the dough.

Form into 12 balls (pictured below) and 12 small, flat cookie shapes for the cookie toppings. 

Bake the small cookies in the oven at 180C for about 5 minutes/ until they're just starting to go brown around the edges. 

Place the balls of cookie dough in the fridge for an hour or so whilst you make the cakes.

For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 180C. 
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Once you've got a fluffy mixture, add the eggs and beat well. 
Sift about a third of the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and mix well. Add about 1/3 of the milk and mix well. Repeat this until all of the milk and dry ingredients have been added and mixed together. 

Once this is done, add in the chocolate chips.

Divide the mixture between your cake cases and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until springy to touch.

When your cupcakes have had time to fully cool, using a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle and fill each cupcake with a ball of the cookie dough mixture.

Whilst you're waiting patiently for your cupcakes to cool, make the cookie flavoured icing. 

Cream butter and brown sugar together then add in the icing sugar until it has formed a smooth mixture. 

Beat in the flour and salt, then add the milk and vanilla extract and mix until smooth.

Spoon the icing into a piping bag and pipe onto the cupcakes.

Top each of your cakes with one of the cookies you made earlier. 

Apparently its World Baking Day today, so if you're feeling like rising to the occasion, these would be a perfect way to spend your Sunday! 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Throw me in the landfill, don't think about the consequences

I've said it before and I'll say it again- I always feel like an absolute 'nana taking pictures with a self timer. 

I've been wanting to get myself back into the swing of things with outfit posts as I used to do them fairly regularly but I think the only way I'll be happier with the results is if I get out into the big wide world and enlist one of my friends to take my pictures outside for me (volunteers welcome please!). Far more interesting to look at than the back of my door. At least my novelty Spector calendar makes these pictures at least slightly more entertaining for now.

Anyway, enough of me moaning about how uninspired I am by my pictures, I put myself through some serious self timer pain to inform you all that I am well and truly on the pinafore bandwagon. For £20, I decided that this pinny was the perfect way to trial out whether I was really ready to take fashion inspiration from my six year old self again (I've since ended up buying one of the Topshop denim pinafores already- it seems I quite enjoy dressing like a small child). As much as I love this one from River Island, I'm on my second version of it already as I exchanged the first one because it had gone insanely bobbly after just a few wears- it hadn't even been through the washing machine yet! So far, this one has been worn twice and it seems to be holding out ok... fingers crossed the material will stay that way because it'll make me too sad if it happens again. River Island, please don't make an overgrown child cry; it won't be pretty.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Smiles of the week: Ain't it strange how the other half live

One little downside of last week's bank holiday was that this morning I spent a good few seconds when my (second) alarm clock went off convinced that today couldn't possibly be a working day- weekends are three days long, right? Cue me jumping out of bed in a crazy panic when I realised I was sadly mistaken. 

Despite my confusion about how long normal weekends actually are, I certainly wasn't complaining about last week's shorter working week- work absolutely flew by and as I was still on a massive music high after Live at Leeds I was in a pretty good mood all week. Here's a few of the little things that have added to my post bank holiday good mood this week

- Going to work with bare legs on Tuesday. Granted it started raining about 10 minutes after I got to work and I spent the day dreading going back outside but still, the weather must be on the way up if I could survive walking to work without longing for my 60 denier tights back!

- A text from Mama T sent from their jollies in Portugal laughing at my Dad for forgetting to pack his underwear. The morning that they were due to leave for the airport, Papa T still hadn't packed but he'd refused help; he was adamant that he'd get it all done. I'd put serious money on him begging my Mum to do his packing for him next time they go anywhere.

- After work cocktails and burritos with work. We've all been under a lot of pressure lately for one reason or another so Happy Hour was just what the Doctor ordered.

- Having a catch-up with one of my bestests in Manchester. We tried every burger place in The Northern Quarter and struggled to get in anywhere (our plans to go to my favefavefave Almost Famous fell apart as soon as we were greeted by the bouncer outside with a HUGE waiting list). We ended up in a place called Simple and were pretty excited to see that the burgers were named after Superheroes. Mine was an Ironman, and my god it was flipping incredible (and I'm a girl who knows her burgers so that's high praise from me!).

- Spending our burger-filled night laughing about the idiotic and embarrassing moments in our lives... there were plenty of moments just in that one evening. I did a nice job of somehow dribbling half of my drink down my menu and dress just as the waiter was taking our burger orders. Smooooth.

- Spending most of the weekend putting my heart and soul into baking for the Iron Cupcake competition. I've been going along as an eater since the competition began about three years ago and finally plucked up the courage to actually enter myself! I didn't win or anything, the standards are so high and I'm pretty amateur, but I'm just proud of myself for actually putting the effort in and entering!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

If Diane Young won't change your mind

Clever old me took my camera back to Merseyside with me the weekend before last. Not so clever old me left my memory card in Leeds. Whoops. Luckily my Dad is well equipped for this sort of Kaz-mishap (after he'd got so frustrated after I'd repeatedly forgotten to charge my camera battery before leaving the house for day trips that he decided the only sensible option would be to buy me a spare one...) and lent me one of his memory cards. What a hero. The downside of this was that he didn't get around to sending me the pictures for a week or so, but it was a nice surprise to have these beauties land in my inbox when I'd long forgotten to nag him about them.

Anyway, enough stories about my lack of brain cells. These pictures are from a trip to The Palm House at Sefton Park in Liverpool. I'd only ever been here once before when I was about 12, but suggested it as an ideal little stop off on our travels around the city as I remembered it as being lovely and warm inside and full of beautiful colours. Everything that the outside world wasn't on that day so I figured it was exactly what we needed. Liverpool seemed to have a really terrible habit in the past of neglecting or closing down its historic and beautiful sights, the Palm House included, but luckily some bright spark saw a bit of sense and decided to restore this place to its former glory.

(little bit too obsessed with this song at the moment...)

Monday, 6 May 2013

Smiles of the week: We're up all night to get lucky

Well done Britain, you really did bank holiday weather perfectly. After months and months of wondering whether the sun would ever rear its head again, it timed its first real appearance absolutely perfectly. I spent most of my bank holiday Monday sitting in various parts of Leeds just staring at the sky, then most of the evening staring at the clock just across the river from my balcony in disbelief at the 20C temperature it was displaying. I was beginning to forget that temperatures like that actually existed.

The main highlight of my week (and possibly my year so far) was Live at Leeds which I talked about in my last post but even without that it was a pretty decent week. Here's a few highlights for you nosy people out there.

-Booking tickets to see Bastille in October. It may be months away but that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to be a little bit over-excited already

-Finding a new pair of sunglasses that don't make me look like I should be holding a white stick or a guide dog.

-Last week's episode of New Girl. Normally Halloween episodes of American shows can be a bit terrible but this one was brilliant. Although I'm starting to get a bit distressed by Jess and Nick still not getting together.

-Being a good person and getting one of those 'healthy' pizzas from Pizza Express. It made a nice change having the salad in the middle and still managed to fill me up- winner.

-Having a hysterical night out which involved my friend's boyfriend wearing a giant poster for a club night as a dress when we took a brief trip to the night's rival venue.

-Actually having a brilliant time in the queues for Live at Leeds and time between bands because of the hilarious company I had.

-Sitting in a beer garden before The Vaccines. Briefly. Then after being offended by the lack of ANY cider and the insane prices for all other summery drinks ending up sitting in a basement bar drinking cheap bottles of Kopparberg. We may have missed a few hours of sunshine but at least we gained some decent drinks. Plus we avoided bankrupting ourselves in the name of alfresco drinking.

-Getting into bed on Sunday night after two nights out, another attempted night out, hours of queuing, walking miles and miles between venues and jumping around to lots of bands. My legs had had enough and were incredibly appreciative that they had finally earned some time off.

I wanna get lovesick with you

I love bank holiday weekends. Especially this one as living in Leeds meant that I could spend the weekend surrounded by lots of my favourite bands at Live at Leeds festival. Buying a wristband for the Saturday gets you into all of the main music venues in the city centre where an endless list of bands are playing throughout the day. I went last year and saw more bands than you can shake a stick at, this year we didn't manage to see quite so much, partially due to not waking up until lunchtime (we were really sensible and went on a pretty heavy night out the night before...) but also because both The 1975 and The Pigeon Detectives attracted  huge queues that I don't think the organisers had quite anticipated which meant that there was a massive backlog of people who were forced to queue for miles to get into the venues for the acts that were later on in the day. Inevitably we ended up stuck in all of these queues since all of the bands that we wanted to see were inevitably playing at those venues later in the day. 

But really, its quality over quantity at these things (at least that's what we had to force ourselves to believe during our hour long wait to get into The Cockpit) and the acts we did manage to see put on a brilliant show. We managed to catch Backyards who are a great little band that we went along to support because one of my friends is good friends with the drummer plus they're a really talented bunch, Tribes (who I've seen about four times now but still really love the energy they have on stage every single time), Swim Deep (singing along to their songs after our horrendous Cockpit queuing experience was exactly what I needed) and Peace. Peace were the absolute highlight of the day, I've loved them for ages and have been dying to see them live after missing out on seeing them at a tiny little venue in Leeds way back in October and they completely exceeded my expectations. They're still a pretty new band, their album hasn't been out for long at all but they've really exploded in popularity lately and so the venue was absolutely rammed with fans singing back every word of every song. Plus, they snuck in a cheeky few lines of Daft Punk's Get Lucky (which forces me to dance like a loony every time I hear it!) and sent the entire room crazy. Perfection. There's no way they'll be playing a venue as small as Cockpit again from now on, they're destined for far bigger things! 

After another night out and a much needed Nando's to recover, we discovered that The Pigeon Detectives were playing a free set in the tiny Made in Leeds shop in Leeds Trinity. After missing out on seeing them the day before we decided that the chance to see them playing in a really tiny venue would more than make up for being caught out by the enormous crowd. Somehow we ended up on the front row, close enough to see the beads of sweat dripping off the lead singer's hair...sometimes being so close has its downfalls...

To top off our weekend, we had tickets to see The Vaccines playing in Millennium Square in Leeds so after our little encounter with The Pigeon Detectives (and a stop off for a few bottles of cider and a slice of cake) we headed into the arena. The sun was shining and there was a great atmosphere because of it, it felt like we were at a real festival but with less mud and more buildings around us. The Vaccines were bloody incredible. I didn't think I liked their second album quite as much as the first but seeing them playing all the songs live completely changed my opinion and made me love some of the newer songs just as much as the first. If you ever get a chance to see them live then go, go go- they know exactly how to make the crowd have the best time watching.

My photos aren't exactly the best I've ever taken, I was mostly relying on my phone as there was no way my SLR was being let loose in the thick of the crowds I'd been stood in, but also because I was too busy singing until I lost my voice to be bothered about watching the whole show through my camera lens. In fact, it gets on my nerves when people do that at gigs... just enjoy the show and focus on the music rather than missing out on a good boogie for the sake of a few pictures.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Just keep following the heartlines on your hand

source: Pinterest

Today I'm going to tell you a little story about an encounter I had last week that I've been replaying in my mind ever since.

I was in the main entrance of the hospital for a scheduled tiffin meeting with my colleague and on my way back from the cash machine I wandered past a man with a charity bucket who looked absolutely thrilled to pieces at the sight of me walking towards him with a £10 note in my hand. This man is there day in, day out collecting money and I must admit I've never given him any money before (I'd like to feebly blame this on the fact that I'm usually tearing through the doors of the hospital in a mad rush and also the sorry emptiness of my purse 99% of the time). But this time I felt terrible when I walked straight past him to the end of the Costa queue just a few steps away from him. After putting the world of oncology Learning Mentors to rights, we ended up staring at the little old man with his bright green bucket until guilt got the better of us and we decided to empty the change out of our purses and donate it to the charity bucket. 

The man wasn't even looking at us when we threw our money into the collection, but all of a sudden he sprang to life and gave us the biggest beaming smile I think I've ever seen. That was thanks enough for our little good deed of the day, but he was so thrilled about our donations that he ended up asking us all about what we did and telling us what a great job we were doing. My friend then turned to him and exclaimed that really it was him that was doing the good job really as he's stood there day after day raising money for the Children's Hospital as it takes some serious commitment to volunteer so much time to the hospital.  

He then explained to us that he'd started volunteering when he was 81 just after his wife had died. He felt as though he needed something meaningful to fill his days with now that he had nobody to spend his time with and so decided that fundraising would be an ideal way to give something back to other people and to have an excuse to get out and about every day. Two years on and he's raised over £50,000 and he's determined to double that figure.

Its so incredibly rare to see that level of commitment from anybody, let alone from an 83 year old man who spends his days holding a bucket whilst tonnes of people pass him by without a second glance. He's just happy when those occasional kind-hearted passers by decide to pause for a moment and give him a few pence as he gets to have a bit of a chat and get that little bit closer to reaching his fundraising goal. He was adamant that he wasn't doing anything special or difficult by bucket shaking, he just saw it as a good way to spend his time and stop himself from feeling lonely.

Now that is what life is all about. Making the most out of any situation, turning a tragedy into a positive experience and making every moment of life count in whatever way we can. Its no wonder I've been thinking about this short encounter so much, the man was such a massive inspiration- he's already lived his whole life but still chose to dedicate the rest of his life to helping a good cause. I'm not saying we should all go out, give up our day jobs and bucket shake for the rest of our lives, but I think its a great reminder that life is for living and that we should do whatever we can to make our days as meaningful and valuable as we can.

Heartlines- Florence and The Machine