Sunday, 22 February 2015

Romantic Getaway - Wales, Cardiff and beyond.

For romantic breaks I think Cardiff is pretty hard to beat. It's the perfect base to explore South Wales, our castles, beautiful coastline and National Parks. We have our own patron Saint of lovers, St Dwynwen and on romantic breaks you can cosy up in front of a roaring fire in a country cottage, relax in a spa hotel in the city or enjoy the style of our boutique hotels & B&B's in Brecon.

MSC Cruises have asked me to chose the place that I think is the most romantic in the world and I hope my post makes you consider a visit to Wales. You can forget your overpriced Paris and crowded Rome, I love Wales and it has everything you need for a wonderfully loved-up break.  

First up on my list of reasons that Cardiff is a great base for a romantic break is Wales’ abandoned abbeys and castles. Their graceful decay inspired great artists and poets such as Turner, William Wordsworth and Dylan Thomas. Tintern is the most famous of Wales’ beautiful medieval ruins. Its setting in the Wye Valley is simply breathtaking, and its soaring Gothic arches are close enough to the road, river and footpaths to be viewed from many different angles. It's one of my favourite places to visit and is pretty close to the border so if you've from the South West it wont take you long to get there at all. Don't forget to visit Cardiff Castle, the fairytale Castell Coch and the huge Caerphilly Castle all of which are really close to Cardiff city centre or short train ride away.


With mountains and moorland, standing stones and castles and waterfalls, the Brecon Beacons National Park has plenty to offer people looking for a romatic break. If being in the great outdoors isn't your things you can explore some characterful towns, pubs, farmers markets and Michelin-starred restaurants.


There are plenty of places in the Brecon Beacons to go for a lovely drive and spots where you can park up and admire the views like the one below. It's under an hour drive from Cardiff. If you're up for something more active you can climb Pen y Fan which is the highest peak in the south of the UK and there are splendid views from the top.


You can also take an historic steam train ride in Brecon like I did last year.


If you want some sea air and an ice cream you can visit the newly restored Penarth Pier which is only 15 minutes away from Cardiff. You can walk along the pier, watch the Yacht Club members sail out at sea and you get fantastic views over the Bristol Channel.


Just a little further away from Cardiff is the picturesque Nash Point, a place that Martyn and I like to visit. Nash Point is the perfect spot to sit back with someone you care for and watch the sun set.


I'm really excited for my next trip here in Wales. I've picked a week in a converted train carriage on the coast of West Wales. I've already started writing my list of things to pack and I've picked up some Welsh treats which are going to be part of my lovely Welsh food hamper that I'm taking away with me.


Do you think Wales is particularly romantic place? What would you have chosen as your ultimate romantic destination?

Gemma
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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Fluffy American pancake recipe

You can't go wrong with the classic crêpe served with lemon and sugar but I fancied doing something a little different for pancake day this year. These fluffy and light American style ones are a firm favourite in my house but we keep them for special occasions. I wish I could eat a huge stack of pancakes for breakfast everyday but I don't think my body could cope with the obscene amount of maple syrup I pour on the top of mine.

If you want to try making these yourself just follow the simple instructions below.


You will need:


1 tablespoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 large eggs (beaten)
30 grams butter (melted and cooled)
300 ml milk
225 grams plain flour
butter for frying

Super straightforward method:


  • Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and caster sugar into a large bowl.

  • Pour the milk, eggs and butter into the flour mixture and, using a whisk, beat until you have a smooth batter. If it's lumpy keep on whisking it. It will seem really thick but that's what we're looking for. Let the batter stand for a few minutes.

  • Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. When it's melted, add a ladle of batter. I add two/three because my pan is big and it means I can cook a few at the same time.  Wait until the top of the pancake begins to bubble, then turn it over and cook until both sides are golden brown and the pancake has risen to about 1cm (½in) thick.

  • Repeat until all the batter is used up. You can keep the pancakes warm in a low oven, but they taste best fresh out the pan. Once I had roughly used half of my batter I tipped in a tub of M&S Belgian Chocolate chunks so I had some plain pancakes and some with gooey chocolate in the middle.

Serve with lashings of whatever takes your fancy and enjoy. I topped mine with strawberries and flaked almonds and Martyn had chocolate chip pancakes with chocolate sauce. These would be great for a weekend breakfast treat served with maple syrup and crispy bacon


 I hope I've inspired you to try something new. What type of pancakes will you be having tonight?

Gemma
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Monday, 16 February 2015

My mini record collection


Why buy records? There are plenty of answers to this question, but most people opt for records because of the joy of analog sound or a love of the aesthetics of a vinyl record. I've always liked to support the artist and buy their work and much prefer to have a physical thing rather than a downloaded track.

I used to listen to my mums collection of records as a child, lots of Motown, reggae and bands like The Police and The Boomtown Rats. I had a few record of my own which had Disney songs on that are so scratched now, five year old Gemma did not look after her records. My mums Motown records (which now live with me) are also a bit scratched but I love them all the same.

I didn't really start my own collection until I went to university and my mum bought me a little turntable which plugged into my Hi-Fi for my halls of residence room. I would buy a single every week, mainly from whatever Indie band I liked that week like Maximo Park and The Futureheads.

I've started to look back and fill the gaps in my collection now. I've slowly started purchasing classics like Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie. I'm also a fan of 60s girl groups like the Shangri Las and The Shirelles so they are starting to feature heavily in my collection too.



Some artists feature more that others like the Manic Street Preachers. I would definitely like to own everything they released at some point. Most of these were picked up on eBay, I wait for them to not release and album for a while and the prices drop. They are touring now so interest in them is high which means prices are a bit steep for me.


I was formerly a bit obsessed with Morrissey and had loads of his records and those of The Smiths. All my records were on the floor in my bedroom and when Sookie was a puppy she chewed loads and mainly my lovely pristine Smiths ones with all the original posters. I had a little cry (how pathetic) but you can't be angry with her with that cute little face for long. 



Lots of my other favourite bands feature too so there's lots of Suede, Bowie, The Maccabees, New Order and The Cure but there's always room for some Taylor Swfit. Not going to lie, 1989 was totally my album of 2014. My record collection definitely isn't about investing and making money and it's not about being cool. I buy what I like, pick things up for cheap in charity shops or support the new artists that I like by buying their music.


I've only got around 80 records and some are still at my mums house so they don't take up too much room at the moment. Martyn has got loads and his take up most of our IKEA kallax storage unit. You can see some of his records below. Lots of Nirvana, Hot Water Music stuff and bands like Descendents.


If you want to start collecting, it's important to remember to never stack your records. Always store them standing up vertically in a dry and cool place. When you stack records, you run the risk of the vinyl warping, which will distort the sound. If a record warps, it cannot be fixed.

Do you still buy music? Do you know any good record shops I should check out in the UK?

Gemma
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Thursday, 12 February 2015

(Very late) 2015 Goals

I didn't make any New Years Resolutions in January because I wanted them to be considered and well thought out rather than a snap decision on January 1st. How many times have we all said that we will be healthier, happier and fitter in the New Year without any real thought of how we will achieve it all?
I've had some time to think "Where do I want to be in 12 months?" and I think I've come up with some do-able things which I can definitely make happen.

1. Explore more of Wales by foot and bike
Photo of the Brecon Beacons in Wales

I climbed Pen y Fan last year, cycled around West Wales and went on walks in the woods in Usk with my friends along with lots of other walks .I really want to continue this more in 2015 and see more of my lovely country whilst getting some fresh air and good exercise. Martyn bought me a rather nice red bike for my birthday last year and I've definitely not got enough use out of it so if I'm aiming to go on one long bike ride a month and use my bike for some short rides in the evening after work.

2. Cook more from scratch

I'm not a ready meal kind of girl and I make all the meals in my house but I'd like to vary things a bit more and eat a more 'clean' diet. I've become a bit too reliant on a handful of trusty recipes and I'd like to try one new recipe a week. I treated myself to a Good Food subscription for inspiration. My partner likes to eat a lot of meat and things like pies and sausages but I'm hoping I can come up with a few lean dishes which we will both enjoy.

3. Start juicing again

My skin never look as good as it did for the few weeks I tried juicing last year. I didn't do any faddy detox juice diets but by replacing just one meal a day with a juice or adding it to my breakfast my skin glowed and my vegetable intake doubled.

4. Take a relaxing break

I tend to go on city breaks, weekends away with friends and cram as much in as I can which doesn't leave me very relaxed on my return to work. I've booked a week off work in March to relax on the coast in West Wales in front of a log fire and just sit and read books. I rarely get time to just sit back and I don't get to share many days with my partner because he works nights and weekends in retail whilst I'm in 10-6. I'm really looking forward to unwinding, not being surrounded by technology and it just being the two of us. I think relaxing and getting away from it all can really benefit your well being and health so it's a good excise to book lots of breaks away.

Did you set any goals for this year? How are you getting on with them?

*Legal & General asked me to share my 2015 health goals

Gemma
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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Outfit post - New Look Denim

Jacket: Topshop - Scarf: eBay - Shoes: Leather Converse - Jumper: H&M - Jeans: c/o New Look

Glamarous back alley photos, you can take the girl out of the Valleys...

I'M WEARING JEANS, do NOT be alarmed. I have to admit these took some getting used to. As a fully payed up member of the Dresses and Skirts Only Club (fictional ;) ) I feel like I'm betraying the dress sisterhood but these jeans are super comfortable and they got the Martyn seal of approval after I did a little spin around in them. I'll never turn my back on my beloved dresses but jeans definitely keep your legs warmer than 40 denier tights so I'll be wearing these a lot whilst the temperatures are close to zero. I like to think the ripped jeans compliment my really rock and roll image. I mean, it doesn't get much more rock and roll than a library assistant who likes to bake and dance to Taylor Swift, right?

I wore this on the weekend when Martyn took me for a long Sunday drive up to the Brecon Beacons (you can see some photos here) to admire the views and have a mini in-car picnic and I shocked everyone in work last week by wearing trousers for the first time in four years. I've only really paired them with a classic stripey top and comfortable trainers so far but I'm looking forward to trying out some different looks with jeans.

As someone who only owns one pair of jeans I need your advice, what should I wear these with next?

Gemma
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Ladies Day

Cheltenham Ladies Day is famous for the dress code of women sporting fancy hats and dresses so picking something to wear for the day can be a little daunting. Try to relax though because what’s not to love about getting dressed up, sipping on a glass of champagne and enjoying the atmosphere of a live horse race?


The event takes place on the 11th of March this year and we all know that the British weather can be rather unpredictable at that time of year so you need to strike the balance between standing out so you win one of the fashion awards and staying warm and dry. With fabulous Best Dressed prizes on offer you might want to think about what you're wearing and put some real effort into it. 

Whilst there is a lot of emphasis on fashion at the big race meetings such as Royal Ascot,  dress codes are generally more relaxed at other venues like Cheltenham so you can wear something a bit more fun. Officials can be strict about entry to anyone not suitably dressed. At Royal Ascot strapless, halter or spaghetti-strap dresses are banned!
Many women go for extremely dressy hats and matching outfits, think WAG gone mad but the best dressed are often understated.  What you wear really depends on what you’ll be getting involved in. If you're more interested in spending the day at Cheltenham watching the races and placing some bets then you could chose classy outfits with tweed or a smart suit, covered with warm (faux) fur coats if you don’t want to catch a cold on the day or spend the whole day shivering.  

I've been asked me to put a little outfit together for a day at the races and this is my selection:



Dress: Ted Baker - Shoes: New Look - Coat: ASOS - Bag: Whistles

I've gone for nice Spring like pastels and items you can wear again, not just to the races. This outfit would work equally as well for a wedding or date. 

The dress has a lovely bold print which will help you stand out and you could add some nude tight to keep warm or a little slip underneath.

I chose a bag big enough for you purse, phone and make up and this gorgeous Whistles one is effortlessly chic  If you're walking around on grass all day you wont want super high heels that will get stuck in the ground so I've gone for a mid heel in patent so you can also wipe the mud off these ones. They are a total bargain at under £20. 

I adore this coat, it's perfect to keep you warm all day when your out watching the races and you can take it off and wear a little cardigan if you're sitting in the hospitality area.

Are you going to Ladies Day? If you fancy a flutter at
cheltenham ladies find out the very latest betting odds at Willhill.com. How do you decide which horses to place a bet on? I have to admit I don't always chose them for their form, I might chose the prettiest horse ;)

Have you ever been for a day at the races?  Would you choose delicate dresses, or tweed?

*post written in collaboration with Hubert Douglas

Gemma
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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Easy peasy no-bake Bailey's and chocolate cheesecake

This Baileys no-bake cheesecake makes an impressive dessert when you’re entertaining friends and it's sooo easy to make. You don't need many ingredients and there's no baking involved. But beware, each slice contains about 650 calories so don't eat half of it then go to Weight Watchers and weigh in because you will put a pound on like I did. Ooops. Make sure you have lots of people to share this with because you will keep on going back for more.


You will need:

100g butter
250g digestive biscuits, crushed
600g cream cheese
25ml Baileys
100ml icing sugar
300ml double cream, whipped
100g grated chocolate
cocoa powder, to dust



Method:

Melt the butter in a pan and add the crushed digestive biscuits. I put mine in a sealed bag and had fun bashing them with a rolling pin. Mix well until the biscuits have absorbed all the butter.



Remove from the heat and press into the bottom of a springform tin. Place in the fridge and allow to set for an hour.



Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Lightly whip the cream cheese then beat in the Baileys and icing sugar. Fold in the whipped cream and grated chocolate. When smooth, spoon evenly onto the biscuit base. I rushed this step a bit, make sure you really pack the biscuit in tightly because my base fell apart a little when I cut in to it. 






Refrigerate and allow to set for a couple of hours. Once set, remove and dust with cocoa powder before serving. This cake definitely tasted better the next day and well chilled so be patient. 

Gemma
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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

M&S SS15 collection


 W O M E N S W E A R
S P R I N G   S U M M E R ‘1 5  C O L L E C T I O N S


Spring Summer 15 sees Marks & Spencer continue on its style journey; championing the contemporary and celebrating the classic through a refined and confident representation of the new season. Simplicity and pared back styling define the tone of the Spring Summer 15 collections, as the seasons key trends are elegantly presented through a considered edit.The collection has a real 70's vibe which is a trend seen on the catwalk from the likes of House of Holland, Tommy Hilfiger and Prada, I'm really looking forward to seeing more if it arrive in store.

Red magazine’s editor-in-chief, Sarah Bailey chose some of her favourite items from the new collection if you want to take a look head over here but I've shared some of my top picks below.

I N T O  T H E  B L U E 
Elevating the casual; denim and enriched blues are sartorially explored, as the neutral is redefined for a fresh and feminine aesthetic.
AUTOGRAPH JACKET £75, AUTOGRAPH TOP £35, AUTOGRAPH SHORT £45, BAG £29.50 


U N I F O R M I T Y
Confident and refined with a sleek utlity edge; a tonal pallette punctuated by monochrome details illustrate the simplicity of the linear.

AUTOGRAPH DRESS £49.50, SHOE £79, BAG £35







S U M M E R  O F  L O V EA fusion of relaxed tailoring and subtle florals sees a sultry retro revivial that champions tactile suedes and sunset hues; embodying the spirit of the era.
LIMITED EDITION JACKET £45, LIMITED EDITION TOP £25, LIMITED EDITION SKIRT £45,
BAG £29.50 & SHOE £55






T H E  O R I E N T
An Eastern sensibility informs this modern silhouette as ornamental prints and sculpted separates are elegantly constructed.
AUTOGRAPH JACKET, TOP & TROUSER, NECKLACE & SHOE






M O D E R N  R O M A N C E
A romantic narrative veers from the dramatic to the flirtatious; as heavy lace meets peek-a-boo sheers, in a vivid feminine collision.
PER UNA SPEZIALE DRESS £99



Products will be arriving online and in store from February onward.


Gemma
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