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My Easy Three Bean Chilli Recipe

14.6.18

vegan three bean chilli recipe inspo food kitchen ideas kirstie pickering blogger blog blogging instagram flatlay healthy
I love planning my week of meals the weekend before - it really makes me feel like I have my shiz together, you know?! Batch cooking is an easy way of making sure you have good meals to hand all week, be it if you need a speedy meal to reheat or if you're trying to keep on track with healthier eating. 

Since going pescatarian last year, I've been keen to try out meat-free options of some of my favourite meals. Chilli is one of my favourite meals, be it with grated cheese and rice for dinner or simply with a dollop of natural yoghurt for lunch. Here's my cheap and easy three bean chilli recipe - you can't go wrong!

Ingredients
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 peppers
1 red onion
Half of a tube of tomato puree - around 5 heaped tablespoons
3 tins of the beans of your choice - I went for chick peas, butter beans and cannellini beans
4 teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons of paprika
Lots of salt and pepper

Method
1. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the diced onion. Fry unless softened
2. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, peppers, cumin, paprika and salt and pepper and simmer for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick to the pan. Taste to make sure it's to your liking - you may want more spice!
3. Drain the three tins of beans and add to the pan to cook for another five minutes. And voila - that's it!

This is a seriously easy meal to whip up on a Sunday and enjoy for a week of lunches or dinners - I would say this makes four hearty dinners portions or five smaller lunches. Serve with rice, plus grated cheese or natural yoghurt. This also freezes really well, so is a great back up dinner for when you don't have time to cook from scratch! Delicious.

The Book Club: #WhatKirstieReads Part 1

18.4.18

#whatkirstiereads bookstagram book books blogger review eleanor oliphant is completely fine gail honeyman lullaby leila slimani inside vogue alexandra shulman flatlay blog kirstie pickering

I bloody love reading - always have, always will. Since as far back as I can remember, I've pored over books on a daily basis, getting sucked into the stories as if they are my own life, forgetting everything else around me. Reading is the perfect escapism from everyday woes, particularly the screen culture that we're now so accustomed to. I dread to think how many times a day I look at a screen - for eight hours at work, my phone, iPad, TV - it's pretty grim. 

The first 'proper' book I remember reading - like many children born in the early nineties I'm sure - was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I received the book, along with its sequel Chamber of Secrets, as a Christmas gift from my lovely grandad. I remember thinking the cover looked a bit weird and old fashioned, but was excited to crack on as soon as I heard it was about witches and wizards. Little did I know that that Christmas gift would begin a lifelong love for that speccy wizard and, indeed, reading.

The best thing about blogging is that I could write whatever I want here. Once a space for purely beauty content, then expanding to a bit of fashion (thank god that was brief) and baking, I would now categorise my website as a lifestyle site. As reading is a big part of my day to day life, I'm going to start regular book club posts, reviewing the latest novels I've been digging into. For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you will have seen I've posted a few photos of books using the #WhatKirstieReads hashtag, and I want to expand on that here! 


Here are the three books I've devoured most recently.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I saw this book doing the rounds online and decided to pick it up on a whim in the supermarket while doing a food shop. I knew nothing about it and, with hindsight, I think that made me enjoy it all the more. Sometimes if you have a preconceived idea of a book, it can spoil your perception as you get stuck in!
This book is just sensational, and easily the best book I've read in years. The story follows Eleanor, who lives alone and is very strict with her daily routine. She doesn't let anyone ruin her routine, and doesn't see why she should. The tale evolves into a story of loneliness, friendship, and mental health. 

At first I found Eleanor - as a narrator - frustrating and unlikeable, but I soon adored her. Meticulous though she may be, you'll soon warm to her much like Sheldon in Big Bang Theory. I won't say anymore because I want you to read it knowing as little as possible, but let's just say I read this in four days, picking it up at every spare minute I had, and I was gutted when I finished. Such a triumph for a debut novel!

Lullaby by Leila Slimani
This is not a light read. The first line - 'The baby is dead' - was a bit of a giveaway. The book begins at the aftermath of the murder of two young children by their nanny, with the following chapters flashing back to when the parents first decided to hire childcare and the story that followed. 

This is another page turner and as a fairly thin book, a quick one to finish if you're a fast reader like me. I liked the structure of this book - knowing that the nanny would commit the crime from the offset make me second guess every action she made throughout the book. I wish there was a bit more of a 'punch' to the ending, though. By that, I mean that we never really find out why she did it, leaving the reader to make their own assumptions. Some people like this kind of novel, but I prefer to be presented with a lists of facts to wrap things up! Despite this, I would still recommend Lullaby.

Inside Vogue: My Diary of Vogue's 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman
I can't remember ever wanting to be anything other than a journalist and writer (not including playing the role of Hermione Granger, of course, which I still resent Emma Watson for). I used to constantly pore over magazines, spending an obscene amount of money on monthly glossies from a young age. Watching The Devil Wears Prada filled me excitement rather than the dread that so many others did, and I couldn't wait to one day be Andy Sachs.

While my dreams of reaching dizzying magazine heights never came to fruition, I'm still intrigued by what goes on behind closed doors at some on the biggest publications. This diary by British Vogue's then-editor offers a glimpse into the madness, the opulence and the intricacy that goes into pulling the magazine together. 

I'm enjoying reading about how Shulman coerced Kate Middleton into being a cover star, and learning more about how tight the purse strings are at Vogue - she even notes how it makes her wince to see how little the most junior members of staff earned, while dropping tens of thousands of pounds on a photoshoot (doh). There are some toe curling comments that are very Daily Mail-esque, but these are also contrasted by her more nurturing side throughout the book. 

I haven't finished this book yet (it's not a beefy book, but the font is smaller than average so it takes a while to get through), but I'm far enough in to make a judgement - I think this would mainly appeal to those who work or aspire to work in the media or publishing industry. Expect some very frank opinions (even about well known celebrities) and a proper insight into how a magazine operates.


What are you reading at the moment? Do you have any recommendations? 

A Beginner's Guide to Glossier

5.4.18

glossier you generation g pure bounce serum milky jelly cleanser emily weiss into the gloss review kirstie pickering beauty makeup skincare blog blogger blogger instagram flatlay balm dotcom
While simply muttering Glossier will earn you an all-knowing nod of approval from beauty geeks, many may not have heard of the brand that isn't actually sold in UK stores. Glossier is a beauty brand founded by Emily Weiss, creator of all-things-beauty website Into The Gloss and ex-The City cast member (remember, when Whitney Port moved to New York post Teen Vogue/Lauren Conrad days?)

Up and coming brands will always try to rally up hype around its launch, and rightly so - how else are they going to get money in the till? Fancy Instagram accounts and social media influencer endorsement are popular methods with varying levels of success. Glossier didn't need either. Somehow - and honestly I don't know how with such immediacy - everyone wanted a slice of the Glossier pie. The padded pink pouches your goods are delivered in, the stickers, the 'Glossier girls' on Instagram who look just like you and I - we all bought into it immediately.

The success Glossier has achieved in such a short amount of time is incomparable. Aside from great products (more of that in a mo), I credit this to on-point marketing. The brains behind Glossier know exactly who their target market is - girls and women (and men too, I'm sure) who want a straightforward skincare routine and makeup products they can rely on, products that do what they say on the tin and do it well.

There's no sense of superiority that can come across with high-end brands either; portrayed via the brand's Instagram stories, they all seem like twenty and thirty-something women who love their job and aren't afraid to laugh at themselves. Tutorials and product plugs are also there, of course, but you feel part of the brand rather than simply a customer. They have seriously nailed it. 

And with that, commeth my reviews - pictured above are all of the Glossier products I have hoarded since it started deliveries to the UK back in October of last year. Ain't they pretty? Let's run through my favourites...

Milky Jelly Cleanser - easily my favourite Glossier offering. Thick and almost sticky in consistency, this cleanser leaves your skin feeling clean and tight without causing dryness. After washing my face in the evening, I would apply the brand's Super Bounce serum (not pictured because I just finished my fourth bottle) to amp up the moisture and leave my skin feeling plump and hydrated. 

Generation G sheer matte lipsticks - I have the shades Like (the pink) and Zip (the orange red). I always keep these in my handbag because they're a fail-safe for perking up my tired face. The shade Like is slightly darker than a typical 'your lips but better' tone, while I find Zip much more pigmented and like to dab on and blend with my finger. Two great different shades to keep to hand.

Glossier You fragrance - my boyfriend got me this for Christmas, the sweet angel that he is. This is easily one of my favourite scents of all time and I really agree with the description of it smelling different on each person. For me, it is fresh in scent and slightly floral, lingering all day. I like the glass packaging and the indentation for your thumb to aid grip - it's the little things. I will definitely repurchase!

Solution - this is marketed as an exfoliant skin perfector for daily use, but I wouldn't quite agree on this for all skin types. I would recommend daily use for those with very oily skin and, for everyone else, perhaps twice a week. Applied to a cotton pad and swept across the face, this is great for tackling oily T-zones and stubborn under-the-skin spots. I have combination skin and use it on oilier days or around my hairline when I've been exercising a lot and tend to get sweat-induced spots. My friend said she uses this on her bum post-spin classes when she can't get to a shower straight away - it has helped tackle spots she often found cropping up! If that ain't evidence of its pore unclogging capabilities, I don't know what is!

So there we have it - my beginner's guide to Glossier. Emily Weiss is one badass businesswoman and proof that you can turn an idea and passion into a massive worldwide success with a little research and passion. What a hero. Can I be a Glossier girl?

How To Plan A Multi-Stop Holiday

1.4.18


usa america california los angeles rodeo drive beverly hills travelling holiday tips road trip kirstie pickering blog blogger travel instagram inspo inspiration
Picking a holiday destination is easy, but finding the right accommodation in the best location can be the difference between a perfect and nightmare break. Add multiple stops and connecting transportation into the equation and booooooom, there blows your mind and enthusiasm!

It doesn't have to be stressful, though. In February, my partner and I embarked on our first multi-stop holiday in California. I was fortunate enough to fly to LA for a work event in nearby Long Beach, so we decided my boyfriend would join me in the US after my three days of work were complete, and I'd meet him at the airport. They were the certainties... but then what? The state of California is almost double the size of the UK, which really puts things into perspective!

Planning your perfect multi-stop trip doesn't have to be stressful and you don't have to do it with a tour operator - although this can take some of the burden away, there's a chance you will go to some places you aren't that interested in or only stop briefly at destinations you're really keen on. Here are some of my top tips for planning a successful and seamless trip all by yourself.

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1. Budget. It's easy to get carried away with what you want to do and see, but what can you actually afford? We decided on our maximum budget, and then broke it down into accommodation, daily spends such as food and drink, and excursions. For us, we budgeted around $150 per night for 12 nights of accommodation, which covered more expensive city centre hotels and then cheaper Airbnbs. 

If you're planning a trip to California, be aware that eating out is expensive and taxes are high - for this reason, we were keen to have self catering facilities in some of our accommodation to keep costs down. I really enjoy shopping in supermarkets abroad too (anyone else?!)

2. What to do? Make a list of places of interest and use Google Maps to create a personalised map to pinpoint them all (our San Francisco map is below). This helps you physically see where these places cluster together and if they're worth a pitstop on your journey. We knew we only had 12 nights (I say 'only' - I know 12 nights is a lot, but California is huge!) so had to eliminate some places for others where there was more to do. Using this method, we decided on LA, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Yosemite. 

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3. Where to stay? Airbnb or hotel? These are your main two options and both offer pros and cons. We decided on a mixture of both to suit our needs and budget, and were really pleased with how it all worked out (especially our sensational Airbnb for Yosemite - more on that in a blog post coming soon!) 

Focus on areas where there is lots you want to do, and go from there. Check the average hotel nightly cost vs Airbnb price, and whether they suit your needs. Do you have a night flight on the day you leave? In that case, a hotel may work out most beneficial as you can keep your luggage in their hold when you check out, while Airbnbs rarely offer this service. Lugging your huge suitcase around all day can be a pain in the butt - I speak from experience! 

Trip Advisor is your best friend, of course, and don't immediately write off hotels that are three stars and below - if you have a packed itinerary, you're unlikely to spend lots of time in the hotel and a clean environment with a bed could be all you need. The reviews will tell all!

4. Logistics. Have you booked a return flight from the same airport you arrived at? Is there a certain event happening on a specific date that you can't miss? Planning the order of your trip and the connecting transport is important early on because accommodation is more likely to get booked up quickly on bank holiday weekends, for example, or travel costs could be higher on certain dates. I faltered here slightly - we planned our long drive back to LA on President's Day, a bank holiday in the US. In the UK, bank holidays = major traffic so I panicked, but luckily it's quite the opposite in the US - everyone stays at home!

Our itinerary was: 3 nights in LA --> taxi to Santa Monica --> 2 nights in Santa Monica --> flight to San Francisco from LAX --> 3 nights in San Francisco --> drive to Bass Lake (Yosemite) --> 3 nights in Bass Lake --> driving day across to the coast and down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara --> 1 night in Santa Barbara --> drive to LAX and drop off car --> flight home. 

We divvied up our time based on things to do that we found online and recommendations from friends. We could've done two nights in LA, but added an extra night because I knew my boyfriend would be jet lagged. In San Francisco, we could've easily spent a whole week there with hindsight - there's so much to do, it's a brilliant city. I hope to return one day! 

We knew we wanted to drive along the famous west coast but with time restraints, it made much more sense to fly from LAX to San Francisco (and it was much cheaper - about £40 for a one way flight with Virgin America). It's almost impossible to navigate Yosemite without a car, so we knew picking up a rental car in San Francisco, driving to Yosemite and returning it before we flew home meant we could still experience the beautiful coastal highway, albeit not it in its entirety. I have no regrets - it all worked out so well!

5. Book ahead. Some excursions are world-famous, so will get booked up months in advance. It's worth checking this out on online forums and Trip Advisor to ensure you don't miss out. This was certainly the case for us with Alcatraz - trips to the island book up months in advance, so I was relieved I booked our tickets back in November!
 

I'm going to be doing more posts about our trip in coming months, so I hope you like this sort of content - I love travelling more than anything, and hope to do much more in years to come! Follow me on Instagram @kirstiepickering for more photos of my adventures!

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Yosemite National Park - blog post coming soon!

The No Bake Mini Egg Cake Recipe

30.3.18

easter baking mini eggs chicks no bake cake good friday easter sunday bank holiday easy kirstie pickering blog instagram flatlay chocolate digestive biscuits
easter baking mini eggs chicks no bake cake good friday easter sunday bank holiday easy kirstie pickering blog instagram flatlay chocolate digestive biscuits

Easter: the bank holiday consisting of four days off work where it's okay to just sit, eat chocolate and you don't have to buy anyone presents. What's not to like?

With next-to-no plans on this rainy long weekend and plenty of time on my hands, I wanted to get back in the kitchen experimenting. One of my favourite Easter treats are mini eggs - what do they put in them to make them so addictive?! - so I wanted to incorporate them into my baking. These are delicious, really easy and just need to be popped in the fridge!

Ingredients:
200g digestive biscuits
150g milk chocolate
150g dark chocolate
150g golden syrup
100g butter
3 bags of mini eggs (about 270g)

1. Put the digestives in a bowl and smash them into small pieces using a rolling pin. Cut up the mini eggs into halves and smaller pieces and add three-quarters of the eggs to the digestives.
2. Break up all of the chocolate and place it in a saucepan with the golden syrup and butter. Melt the mixture on a low heat, stirring consistently so it doesn't burn.
3. When it's all melted into a smooth chocolate sauce, pour it over the mini eggs and biscuit mixture and stir so everything is covered in chocolate. 
4. Line a deep tray with clingfilm, and pour in the mixture. You want to push the mixture together rather that spreading it across the whole tray, so you get deeper cakes!
5. Sprinkle the remaining chopped mini eggs over the top and pop in the fridge for at least three hours. Cut as desired!

Be sure to tag me on Instagram @kirstiepickering if you give these a go!

International Women's Day: A Thank You

8.3.18

international women's day 2018 #pressforprogress #iwd2018 me too #metoo equality women gender kirstie pickering blog blogger editorial opinion oped
I'm 11 years old and it's the weekend before I start secondary school. Mum has brought me into town with the promise of a new pencil case and as much stationery as I can fit in it. We leave the car park and stop off in a convenience store en route to the high street. I'm wearing a denim skirt, a white tshirt and a Britney Spears tote bag. Mum peruses the magazines and I wander down the next aisle in search of snacks. I feel a man watching me, and I focus on picking a chocolate bar. Mum and dad have always said to ignore strangers so that's what I'll do, I think to myself. I pick up a Caramac. I feel someone stood nearby. I look up. It's the man. He's stood close behind me and his hands are brushing up and down my arms. He asks if I'd like to come for a walk. My mum appears around the corner, rushes forwards and yanks me out of the shop by the hand. I note that she forgot to buy a magazine. I don't understand what just happened but I can see mum is upset. I hope I haven't done anything wrong.

I'm 23 years old and it's my Christmas party. Everyone is drunk, but I don't fancy it and have stopped at a couple of glasses of fizz. My male colleague, who I consider a friend, keeps trying to make me drink. No thanks, I insist, I'm not in the mood. He gets more and more drunk, and comments on how my breasts look in my dress. I freeze. The whole table laughs. 'Oh him, he's so drunk!' they say. I feel uncomfortable, but laugh along too so it isn't awkward. Later, when the party has progressed from sitting around tables to hovering, he comes over and tells me how out of all of the girls in the office, he'd like to sleep with me most. He thinks I would be an animal in bed, and would happily leave the party early to take me home to have a threesome with his wife. We don't have to tell anyone else either, he promises. My heart is hammering. I get up to leave, and he puts a hand on my thigh. Another male colleague comes over to diffuse the situation, and we all laugh about it. I leave the party without saying bye to anyone, staring at every male passerby with unease en route to the train station. I cry with relief when my partner meets me at the other end. I'm home before 8pm.

                                   -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To the mum who brought up her two daughters alone from ages 15 and 11, to the sister who has overcome troubled relationships and made a career for herself when everyone doubted her. To the friend who held me through heartbreak, even though she said he was an idiot for years, and the housemate who bought me pizza and happily talked about the same problems, over and over again. To the friend who has come to terms with her rape and is fiercely fighting for equality, to the pal who has to be a mum to her mum. 

To the colleagues who put a smile on my face when I want to cry in the toilets, to the buddy who posts me a card just to remind me it's going to be okay. To the lecturer who taught me how to be assertive yet kind, professional yet approachable, and to the podcast duo who embrace vulnerability, ooze intellect and encapsulate the inner workings of my mind all in a one-hour weekly recording. To the friend who got the promotion when everyone told her she wouldn't, to the three girls who told me they liked my jacket all in one day. To the mother-in-law who puts everyone before herself, and to the best friend who would pick up the phone at 3am if I called. Thank you.

These women are the women who made me who I am today, and I am so proud and happy to know them. Here's to women deciding who touches their body, and calling out unacceptable behaviour without fear or hesitation. Here's to championing equality, celebrating talent regardless of gender, and supporting each other no matter what. 

Happy International Women's Day, my heroes xxx

The Lisbon Travel Guide

17.1.18

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Lisbon is one of those cities that at least one person in every friendship circle has visited. The tell-tale patterned tiles on the roofs, floors and walls, the mustard yellow tram, the pasteis de nata (aka the elixir of life) - all signs of a classic trip to the Portuguese capital.

The city is picture perfect, and a little more research into what it has to offer meant Lisbon has been on my travel hit list for years. My boyfriend and I decided to make it our summer holiday last year, and booked six nights in an Airbnb in the Sao Bento district. Lisbon is a big city, so it's important to do your research before booking a spot to stay and working out what sort of vibe you're going for. Alfama, for example, is on the eastern side of Lisbon and is quieter and more residential while Belem, on the west side of the city, boasts vast green spaces and clean cut architecture. Everything in between is a maze of alley-thin winding roads and hills that should come with a health warning in any temperature over 30 degrees (I speak from experience!)

Our apartment in Sao Bento was centrally placed, and was perfect for our holiday plans. We wanted to explore every part of the diverse city, and were lucky enough to have six days to do it. I have no idea how people cram a visit to Lisbon in a long weekend - there were still things we didn't get round to doing!

Day trips
As I've said, Lisbon is a huge city that takes around 45 minutes to drive from one side to the other, so it's important to plan your days.


Bairro Alto and Alfama
We started this day exploring the centre of the city called Bairro Alto, which is mainly filled with the shops you would find in most European cities, bars and tourist trap restaurants. The locals love their sardines, and there are entire shops filled with tins of the little slimy things! I very much doubt the natives would stock up in these tourist spots at €8 a tin, but the colourful interiors and staff wearing fish hats (and hating their lives along the way) are worth a visit. 

Also smack bang in the middle of Bairro Alto is the Santa Justa Elevator. It is quite simply a lift built within a gothic tower, and is used as a easy means of transport between the higher level Baixa district and Bairro Alto. Despite, really being just a lift, its roof is an amazing viewing platform across the entire city. You can see orange roof tiles for miles and is particularly stunning on a clear day. Access to the roof and a one way trip in the lift costs just a few euros, and despite being an obvious tourist trap, is worth it.

We then decided to make our way to Alfama Castle, which is atop an insanely steep hill. As the heat was almost 40 degrees, we jumped in a taxi like the lazy tourists we are and were on our way. Our non-English speaking taxi driver simply drove us around the corner for a three minute journey and then asked for five euros before abandoning us. We found the whole thing hilarious, and was the prime example of silly Brits abroad!

In the end we were glad about our little detour because it gave us the opportunity to explore the quiet side of Alfama. We wandered around the maze-like streets of the district, some of which were so narrow we had to walk single file. People around us were hanging out their washing and children were playing in the roads, much like any other residential street. Although a steep walk, I would definitely recommend making your journey to the castle on foot - you would miss so much in a car!

Although not much of a history buff, I loved the castle - Castelo de Sao Jorge. It was another breathtaking viewpoint, with never ending landscapes and photo opportunities. We were there late afternoon and it wasn't too busy, but I imagine it can be hectic in prime times. Entry into the castle was €12 apiece which, again, is worth it just for the view.

The view from the elevator rooftop with the castle in the distance!

The view from the castle grounds 


 


Belem
Home to the first ever pasteis de nata (custard tart) shop, Belem is a very different vibe to Alfama. With endless open space and immaculate streets, it couldn't be more different to Alfama. We started our day by getting a taxi from our Airbnb to air centre LX Factory, which was just a short ten minute drive from the city centre heading towards Belem. LX Factory is a hidden gem that I discovered on Instagram, and I'm so glad I did. As alternative as Shoreditch but with a cultural twist, this renovated factory beneath the famous bridge boasts restaurants, cute cafes, art, book stores and graffiti galore. It really is picture perfect and a perfect place to stop off en route to Belem.

We watched from LX Factory to Belem, which took around 45 minutes. It's nice to travel around vast cities on foot to experience the different neighbourhoods, and naturally we picked up multiple lime Calippos along the way (why don't they sell those beauties in the UK?!) Once in centre of Belem, we stopped by Pasteis de Belem – the first ever custard tart shop – which was predictably rammed with tourists. We got there just after a coach had arrived so it was heaving, and one woman ordered 50 tarts!

We then wandered a few minutes up the hill to the Tropical Botanical Garden, or Jardim Botanico Tropical. Entry is just a few euros and it's so worth it - we spent around an hour wandering around the the huge palm trees, ponds and plants from far and wide.

From there we walked towards the river to see the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a huge white monument, and then along to the famous Belem Tower. I wasn't fussed about going inside, which was lucky because the queue was absolutely huge. By the time we reached the tower it was around 3pm, so it's worth noting an early start if you want to venture inside!

LX Factory
 
 
 
 


Sintra
A quick Google of Sintra will make it self explanatory as to why it was near the top of my list of places to go when in Lisbon. Sintra is at the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and is a 40 minute train journey from Rossio Station in the Baixa district. My top tip would be to get an early train to beat the rush at the other end, when all the tourist spots open at 10am.

Upon arrival in Sintra, we weren't really sure how to go about it. Despite lots of research, I didn't love the idea of jumping on one of the tourist coaches lurking by the station - they looked so out of places against the beautiful surroundings, and I wanted to explore more on foot. Instead, we walked the residential roads up to the Palace of Sintra, where we grabbed some breakfast and made an action plan. We then jumped into a motorised rickshaw, which took us all the way up the near-vertical hill to Pena Palace. The rickshaw was SO fun and only cost around €10. I would strongly recommend against walking between palaces - it's a long way, the roads are steep and there are no paths.

Pena Palace is stunning, but trust us to go there on a cloudy day! Views were blocked by thick fluffy clouds, but you still can't help but be impressed with the palace itself. Its bright yellow exterior, beautiful tiled walls and sheer majestic presence atop the hill was brilliant. It gets really busy, so be prepared to fight for a table to eat your lunch and feel like you're on a school trip shuffling around the palace interiors.

After, we headed (via another rickshaw) to Quinta da Regaleira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The estate is worth a visit purely for its gardens - we didn't even go inside the mansion. The grounds are stunning. Waterfalls, underground mazes and greenery galore, it was truly beautiful and highly recommended. Don't miss The Initiation Well!

 
Pena Palace
Welcome to my crib!
Quinta da Regaleira waterfall

The Initiation Well 


Sintra town

 Other places to note
Despite Lisbon being a waterfront city on the river, beaches aren't far away. We caught a train from Cais do Sodre station to Cascais, a coastal resort town to the west of Lisbon. Train run every half an hour, but get to the station early - the queues are crazy! We had a beach day at Cascais, which wasn't too busy for a hot day in June. We explored the town before heading back to Lisbon, and it's filled with trinket shops, bars and restaurants. Sit by the harbour with a drink to soak up the atmosphere - it's beautiful.

Aside from the tourist hotspot that is the Time Out Market, my top food recommendation has to be Pistola y Corazon, a Mexican joint not far from the market. One of the best travel tips someone has ever given me is if the locals are queueing up for a restaurant, you know it's good, and this couldn't be more true in this instance. I still think about the tacos and we went back twice!

On our last night, we enjoyed rooftop drinks at a bar called Noobai. We drank white Sangria (who knew that was a thing) and enjoyed the amazing view of the bridge and city beneath us. It was the perfect way to end a lovely (but sweaty!) week away!

I loved Lisbon and would happily go back in a heartbeat. This is probably the longest blog post I;ve ever written but I hope the detail has given you some pointers to start planning your trip to the Portuguese capital! Happy holidays!


Lisbon Main Square


Cascais



Noobai

 

The Hearty Macaroni Cheese Recipe

13.9.17

kirstie pickering food recipe macaroni cheese autumn meals dinner lunch mac n cheese top tipcs food inspo pasta

The jumpers are slowly emerging from the dusty depths of the wardrobe, we're all starting to (guiltily) pop the heating on for a few hours in the evening, and every other photo on Instagram is of a Starbucks pumpkin spiced latte - it must be autumn! This season is my favourite. I love nothing more than wrapping up in a big coat, woolly hat and boots, going for a long walk in the crispy leaves in temperatures that you can see your breath in, and ending up in a pub for lunch by the fireplace. Yes x 100000!

With the arrival of colder weather disappears my cravings for salads and BBQs, replaced instead with soups and comforting hot meals. When the temperature dipped for the first time last weekend, I fancied a bellyful of hot gooey grub and here we are; my macaroni cheese recipe. Mac n cheese is one of my boyfriend's favourite meals and he said it was the best he's ever had - high praise indeed! This recipe makes four hearty portions and it's best eaten on the day.

Ingredients:
350g macaroni
4 tablespoons of butter 
1 tablespoon garlic granules 
1 teaspoon of English mustard (optional)
5 tablespoons of plain flour
500ml milk
250g cheddar cheese
100g parmesan
2 slices of bread (preferably the crusts)
Black pepper to season

1. Preheat the oven at 180C. Break the bread into small pieces and scatter across a baking tray. Melt two tablespoons of the butter, pour over the bread and toss using your hands. Pop in the oven for 6 minutes and once crispy, put to one side.
2. Boil the macaroni for around 8 minutes, drain, and set to one side.
3. Put the other two tablespoons of butter, garlic granules and mustard (if using) into a saucepan on the hob and stir until melted. Add two tablespoons of plain flour, and gradually add the milk while whisking. Then add the remaining three tablespoons of flour slowly - add seasoning as desired! I used black pepper here, but I'm keen to try paprika another time!
4. Whisk the mixture until it becoming a sauce-like consistency - this can take a while, usually around 5-7 minutes, but keep the hob on a low heat and don't be tempted to whack it up - be patient!
5. Once thickened, take the sauce off the hob and add both types of cheese, grated. Combine thoroughly and then add the macaroni.
6. Transfer into a large ovenproof dish and sprinkle over extra cheese as desired, plus the breadcrumbs. Pop in the oven on the bottom shelf for 20 minutes and voila! Serve with green veggies or if you're really serious about bulking for the winter months, garlic bread. Yum!

My Tips To Finding The Perfect House Share

9.3.17

house househare spare room renting top tips housemates gumtree advert kirstie pickering surrey south london
House shares: the in-between renting option for those who need to get out of their parents' hair but can't quite stretch to their own place. I was a snob to house shares after uni, promising myself I'd never have to live with strangers again now I was out in the real world with a real full time job. How innocent I was!

The fact remains that despite having a paid full-time job straight out of uni, life is pretty bloody expensive and at 22 years old, just a year after graduating, I was never going to be able to afford my own place. I got myself a new job in London and needed to move out of my Dad's place in Hampshire, so I knew a house share was my best bet.

To state the obvious, London is really expensive. I looked at eight rooms before lumping for one in East Surrey, but most I viewed were in south London and were priced at around £800 for a damp, old box room - absolute robbery. Although I live further out from the city, I pay £525 a month for a double room, bills included, with a garden and brand new furnishings.

Things to consider

1. What do you want. I knew I wanted to be near a train station, in a house with at least one other female and preferably in a modern building. I realised how important the latter was to me after viewing some absolute horror old houses that hadn't been looked after and were smelly, mouldy and generally unpleasant.

2. Do your research. I knew next to nothing about south London when I began my hunt, with my knowledge extending to Clapham being 'quite cool but expensive'. It makes me smile thinking about it now, but I really didn't have a clue what I was doing!

I knew I wanted to live south of the river because my new job was based near London Bridge and I knew people around the south London/East Surrey area. I then looked at what areas I could afford, which places were nice near the train stations and what deposits were being asked for. Some want two months rent upfront plus a deposit AND admin fees - that's completely unreasonable and I couldn't afford it anyway.

I used SpareRoom.com to hunt for house shares, but other options include Gumtree and RightMove. I think SpareRoom and RightMove are the safest ways to meet with landlords, as they need to be a registered landlord before advertising (Gumtree just seems a bit shady to me).

3. Meet your housemates. This is absolutely essential. In one of the places I viewed, the live-in landlord showed me around and he was an absolute creep. Three other females lived there and he said he insisted on doing their washing because he was a good landlord, and then winked at me. He was about 5ft tall and probably weighed the same as an infant so I knew I could take him on, but that's not really the good start you want!

I actually only met one of my housemates before agreeing to move in, and he seemed okay at the time. He ended up being a bit of a weirdo, but it was the eighth house I'd looked at, I was going to be homeless in three weeks and everything was brand new in the room I was to be renting, so I just went with it. If I did it all again, I would insist on meeting everyone before signing on the dotted line.

4. Know that it's not easy. It's been almost two years since I moved into my house share and lots of people have come and gone in that time, meaning I'm the longest standing tenant. 

Currently, we're two girls and two guys and everyone gets along, but at worst it was unbearable. We only recently saw the back of an alcoholic who, one night, came into my room as I slept. I woke up and he was just stood in the middle of my room in the dark. He was a drunken arsehole, to put it bluntly. This leads me to...

5. Be assertive. When you're reading through your contract, flag up anything of concern to your landlord. We don't have locks on our doors because of something to do with insurance, and I wasn't even allowed to have one fitted after that guy came into my room. If something like that is important to you, before you sign the contract is the time to bring it up. There may be some things you aren't willing to compromise on, but you have no grounds for argument with your landlord once that contract is signed.

Similar to this is how precious you are about your possessions. If you are funny about people using your things (plates, iron, milk), make that clear early on. It's hard to break people's habits once they've got used to how things are, but if you make it clear from the start what you're willing to share and what you're not, it'll make life much easier in the long run. 

6. Check the contract. Aside from what I mentioned above, looking at your get-out clauses is really important. Despite great first impressions, you may not enjoy living in your house after giving it a good go and it's reassuring to have a clause that enables you to get out before a whole year's tenancy. Most house shares offer a six-month break clause in the first year, meaning you can move out after six months and still get your full deposit back. 

7. Remember it's not forever. Few people envisage their living situation in their twenties or thirties to be in a house share. Like I mentioned at the start, look at it as an in-between arrangement while you get on your feet or arrange other plans. I'm planning on moving in with my boyfriend when my tenancy runs out in the summer, and if anything every annoys me now I think to myself just a few more months to go!

You need the patience of a saint to never get annoyed living in a house share, because the bottom line of it is that you're a group of people who don't know each other living under one roof - it's highly unlikely you're not going to annoy each other at some point. But you might also make lifelong friends who you'll stay in touch with in years to come - and you might even move in with a good cook!

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