Red velvet cupcakes...with a twist

One positive about my dodgy leg is that I've been able to dedicate more time to some of the things that I love, but find it hard to get round to doing while working full time. This includes, of course, baking. During my final year at uni baking was a very regular occurrence in our house, with sweet treats being cooked up most evenings. I miss our late-night trips to Sainsburys in our PJ's and the midnight baking that we used to do. Even if we weren't hungry, there was always someone around to finish off the last morsel. 

Even though I'm trying to be extra careful about what I eat, it doesn't stop me from baking a few times a week. There's always someone to give it away to, so I don't have to feel too guilty! Today I made red velvet cupcakes using master baker Eric Lanlard's recipe. I actually interview Eric every month for his regular column in Homemaker, so I've been poring over his book while I've been off and testing out his ideas. 

This recipe was taken from his book Home Bake, which features a great range of gorgeous homemade recipes for simple classics and interesting adaptations. I'm very smug about my signed copy, which was my prize for winning a charity bake-off at work.

The recipe is fairly simple to follow, and uses an intriguing mix of white wine vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to create the famous rich red shade, rather than food colouring. It's all thrown into a food mixture and then topped with delicious chocolatey icing. I decorated mine with some homemade royal icing flowers and sprinkles. 

Thankfully I've got company this weekend, so I can direct some cupcakes their way, otherwise I'd find it hard to resist finishing them all off...


RECIPE: Tropical fruit smoothie

Since breaking my leg (and after the initial wallowing in mounds of gifted chocolates and sweets) I've been trying really hard to eat well and maintain a healthy weight. As I'm unable to exercise I was really concerned about piling on the pounds while my leg is out of action, so I've been pretty careful about what I'm consuming on a daily basis.

Another factor that contributed towards this new health kick was my doctor's advise to ensure a speedy recovery - eat plenty of fruit and veg. Obviously this is something we should all be doing anyway, but it's something that I've really struggled with for the last couple of years.

After coming home from V Festival in 2011, I suffered a major allergic reaction which made my entire face swell up to about three times its normal size. Not a good look. After having a blood test, I discovered that I was actually allergic to most fruit, including apples, bananas, cherries and plums. While I'm able to eat citrus fruits, anything else is pretty much off the menu, which makes healthy snacking all the more hard. 

Not eating a lot of fruit really impacted me in a big way, and it was immediately noticeable to me that I was suffering without it. I was sluggish and tired all the time, and my energy levels went through the floor. I've supplemented my diet with multivitamins since, which helped to boost my immune system and keep coughs and colds at bay.

I was really keen to follow the doctor's advice and try and chuck down as much fruit as I could, so my mum came up with the bright idea of making smoothies, so that I could quickly and easily up my intake of fruit. As a result I've become really interested in the whole idea of 'juicing' and juice detoxes, so did some research to find out how I could pack as much goodness into a smoothie as possible.

Recently, a whole plethora of famous faces have been papped with the new 'it drink' for celebrities, coconut water. Idols like Rianna, Madonna and Rachel Bilson have all been snapped sipping this new beverage, which contains natural sugars and important minerals and vitamins. It also contains more potassium than the equivalent amount of banana, which enhances the bodies ability to hydrate, making it the perfect exercise companion and hangover cure. It's also handy for me, as bananas are a big no if I want an average sized face for summer.

I picked up one of the most popular brands of coconut water from my local Holland & Barrett store, Vita Coco. It's pretty expensive, at £4.75 for a litre carton, but as I'm not spending any dollar on boozy weekends I had the cash to spare.

I then added it to a blend of my favourite fruits, for a healthy and refreshing summer drink that will get you well on the way to having your five a day. Here's the recipe, which is a very loose list of ingredients and quantities, feel free to adapt it or search on google for some of the hundreds of ideas out there!

Tropical fruit smoothie

  • 2 cups of chopped mango (about 1 medium mango)
  • 5 cups of chopped pineapple (about 1 small pineapple)
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • A handful of ice cubes
Whizz in a blender for a couple of minutes, and be transported to a tropical paradise in your own back garden, at least while the weather stays sunny!


BEAUTY REVIEW: Bourjois So Laque glossy nail enamel

Another day, another opportunity to devote all of my creative energy to my nails. Today I decided to test out another of the treats that came in my bundle of Bourjois goodies, their new So Laque glossy nail enamel

Claims: This new collection from the So Laque range features eight new shades that are enriched with vinyl for a high-shine glossy finish. The ultra-resistant formula prevents chipping and ensures that the colour lasts for up to ten days. 

I had the chance to try out 04 Amande defile, which is a cool, clean mint green shade that is perfect for spring, and 07 Coton sur ton, a soft, pale off-white hue with pinky tones. 

Verdict: Firstly, I opted for the paler shade. The polish went on easily, and gave my manicure a smooth and glossy finish, as promised. It did require three coats to completely cover the nail, but each layer dried pretty quickly so it wasn't too time-consuming. I decided to add a top coat with a Barry M glitter polish, as I'm not used to such pale and pretty shades, I needed something a bit more striking. I was really pleased with the finished result, it reminded me of a cupcake, with frosting and sprinkles. The colour on its own is a bit too plain for me, however I can imagine that it would be a pretty option for a formal occasion. 
I then tested out the mint green. I'd actually bought a similar hue recently from Barry M as I'm a big fan of this shade for the season, so I was interested to compare the two. Once again it did need a few coats to create the perfect finish, but I really liked the final result.  My nails looked really shiny and neat, not quite salon perfect but not bad for an at-home job. I didn't get any chipping on my nails for at least five days, which wasn't quite the promised ten but I was still relatively happy with how long they lasted.  

The finish on these polishes is really lovely, and definitely worth the couple of extra pounds in comparison to other high-street brands. There are only eight shades to choose from at the moment, but they do cover pretty much all the colours that are currently in style, from bright coral and bold red, to soft peach and sky blue. I'll definitely be reaching for these polishes if I want a chip-free weekend, as they do last well. I'll be excited to see if they add any brighter shades to the collection, perhaps something a bit more gothic to suit my style!


Let's go to the beach...

...or not. Today's burst of sunshine reminded us all that summer is fast approaching, and with it the inevitable battle to secure the perfect bikini body. This recurring nightmare means that rather than looking forward to sunning it up on a golden beach for a couple of weeks, many women dread the thought of baring it all by the pool.

In a survey conducted by Nivea, forty five per cent of a group of 18-60 year old women said that they felt more nervous about stripping down to swimwear than they felt baring all to a new partner for the first time. Seventy nine percent said that they would use a sarong or similar garment to cover up their bodies on the beach, even if it meant comprising the tan.

There were numerous other stats, detailing exactly which areas produced most concern, and showing the differences between age groups. It was an interesting way to pass the time for five minutes in the sun, but as I read, I couldn't help but laugh at the hypocrisy of it all.

The article clearly intended to promote a feeling of solidarity in women, as they discovered (somewhat unsurprisingly) that the plight they face every summer is shared by fellow females. However, why is it that we have these feelings of insecurity in the first place? Could it possibly be the hundreds of images of celebrities frolicking in postcard-worthy settings in minuscule bikinis that are splayed across tabloids and magazines every day? Just a thought. 

The story itself featured on the daily mail website, a guilty pleasure of mine. It's undeniably a great source of celebrity gossip, and it's the perfect way to while away twenty minutes on a lunch break without exerting any brain power. Regular readers will know that the online page feature thumbnails and snippets of stories running down the right-hand column. Alongside this particular article, I counted FIVE bikini-clad celeb pictures, and that's just in the space directly alongside the story, I scrolled down to discover even more. And, big shock, there wasn't an ounce of cellulite in sight. 

When women are pictured who do have a more conventional figure, it's usually to ridicule them for a wobbly thigh, or a hint of orange peel. This isn't news, the public have been aware of this tainted portrayal of women in the media for a few years now. And yet, we still buy into it. We still ogle over pictures of perfectly figured singers and actresses and wonder why we don't look like them. Could it be that we don't have personal chefs and trainers, and that our nine-to-five jobs get in the way of spending four hours a day at the gym? 

These statistics shouldn't be shocking, they're just another example of how damaging the media has become to our self esteem. Comparing ourselves to these aspirational celebrity figures is torture, it's something that very few 'real' women will ever achieve. Even with a healthy diet and regular exercise, we don't have the luxury of a personal photoshopper in daily life, airbrushing away our imperfections as we preen by the pool.

I don't take particular pleasure in stripping off in front of strangers, if I did I'd be supplementing my wage in a strip club (journalists earn a pittance). But I'm not going to let my petty concerns stop me from enjoying my holiday. We only live once, why spend it all in the shade wrapped in a sarong hiding behind oversized sunglasses? These days, if you do have body hangups, there's a bikini or bathing costume to help alleviate them anyway. Besides, everyone's knows a tan is slimming, and you're not going to get one of those unless you bare some skin! 



'A comedy about cancer'

Since my skiing accident, I've made a new friend. Someone I can rely on to provide me with entertainment at a moments notice, or to lift my spirits in the dead of night. We can relive old memories and past times, and discover new passions to share together. That friends name is Netflix.

After failing to fall asleep last night, I called upon my new pal to help keep me occupied during this lonely time. I didn't fancy yet another episode of the American dramas I'd become hooked on, so I settled on a film which I'd wanted to see when it was advertised a couple of years ago. 

Based upon writer Will Reiser's battle with a rare form of spinal cancer, 50/50 follows twenty-something radio producer Adam's battle against the disease. With a fifty per cent chance of overcoming the condition, Adam (Joseph Gordon -Levitt) is 'helped' in his journey to beating the illness by his well-meaning but tactless best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and his young and inexperienced therapist Dr. McKay (Anna Kendrick). 

Better known for his roles in popular comedy films like Superbad and Knocked Up, Rogen tones down his crass comic style just enough to suit the subject matter, while still retaining the level of humour needed to ensure that this film doesn't dive head first into the weepie section of Blockbuster. Gordon-Levitt's performance as the likable lead is restrained and realistic, and his calm and humorous approach to his condition is moving and quite inspirational at times. 

When Hollywood tackles subject matter like terminal illness, comedy rarely plays a big part in the production. It's therefore refreshing to find a film that doesn't make a mockery of the disease, but manages to deal with it in a moving yet comical way. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, particularly when Kyle encourages Adam to use his condition to pick up women in a nightclub, resulting in some awkward and embarrassing encounters that leave you cringing and giggling in equal measure. 

That isn't to say that the film is all fun and games. There were moments of true poignancy and sadness, which really resonated and brought more than a couple of tears to my eye. I think this contrast, the alternation between tears of laughter and of sadness are what make this film so watchable and enjoyable. It feels real, probably due in part to its basis in the writer's own real life experiences. It maintains the perfect balance of comedy and seriousness throughout, and presents a different and refreshing perspective to this taboo subject. 

I'd thoroughly recommend this film, for fans of both comedy and drama. It's also a great bromance story, played brilliantly by the two leads. If you didn't think cancer could be 
funny, this film proves that humour can be found in even the most serious situations. It's like they say: laughter is the best medicine. 


A little bird told me

Today it was revealed that the UK's first youth police and crime commissioner will not face police action over a series of racist and homophobic tweets that she sent on her personal Twitter account. 

Seventeen year old Paris Brown was forced to resign from her role after complaints were made concerning tweets she posted to her personal account before being offered the £15,000 a year job by Kent police. Many of you will be familiar with the story and of the tweets, which featured racist, homophobic and violent content. After investigating the case, Kent police have decided that while the tweets sent are deemed offensive and derogatory to certain social groups, the case does not pass the threshold for prosecution. 

Fifty complaints were made to Kent police after details of the tweets emerged, and as well as resigning, Paris has also made numerous public apologies. This is just one of many instances where social media slips have cost people more than just their pride, but their jobs too. 

Since social media became such an integral part of our everyday lives, it's developed from an outlet for our thoughts and feelings into a direct extension of our brains. Whether we're instagramming our newest Topshop purchases, tweeting our opinions on this week's TV or telling all our Facebook friends how 'hanging' we are, it's much easier to share information about yourself than it is to hide it. Nothing is sacred in the world of social networking, from the most intimate details of our heartbreaks to literally sharing what you had for breakfast to the world. 

Not surprisingly, employers have realised that to gage the full picture about potential employees, they must turn to the world of Twitter and Facebook to discover whether the CV claims match up to reality. Although I'm happily settled in a full time job, I can't help but cringe slightly at this thought. 

While my Facebook privacy settings don't allow anyone who hasn't been accepted as my friend to view any aspect of my profile, my other accounts don't maintain the same level of security. For instance, my tweets aren't locked, and anyone who is capable of using a search engine (and who is also clever enough to spell my name correctly) is sure to come across it if they look hard enough. And although I don't make a point of sending rude or abusive tweets, I don't filter my thoughts as well as I probably should. Hence the occasional foul-mouthed rant or over-opinionated babble. I've sent many an incomprehensible drunken tweet, that just seems too funny to delete the next day. I've expressed my desire to bed many a sexy celebrity, something I'm not sure a future boss would rate highly on a list of admirable qualities in an employee. 

Although there are instances of social sharing I regret or would rather forget, I don't feel the need to censor myself too harshly. For my generation, social networking has been a fundamental part of the growing up experience, and it is even more so the case for teenagers nowadays. It's a virtual journal of all our experiences, good and bad, and paints a vivid and emotive picture of our personalities. Sure, everything I've tweeted or Facebooked hasn't been totally sensible or profoundly wise, but making mistakes is a part of growing up. Teenagers were still doing the same crazy and illegal things twenty years ago, it's just that we weren't all able to read about it at the click of a button. 

So while I don't agree with Paris Brown's tweets, I can't help but think she's been judged a little harshly. She was put in a position of power, which she should have had respect for. However, the tweets in question were sent when she was between the ages of 14-16, before she was given the job. If we were all judged by employers on what we did at that age, I'm sure even some of the most powerful people in the country would have found it far harder to secure their positions. 

So for now, I'll carry on tweeting about the world as I see it. As a journalist, we're taught to present a balanced argument, but as a person, I have opinions and I'm going to continue to share them. 


BEAUTY REVIEW: Bourjois 1 SECONDE nail enamel

One bonus to having a broken leg - a distinct lack of chipped nails. The absence of general hard work and physical activity means that you can maintain a manicure for weeks, even though due to boredom I find myself changing my nails to match my outfit, just because I can. 

Thanks to my lovely pal Rachael who is a PR at Bourjois, I was able to test out a range of their new colours and polishes, starting with their 1 SECONDE nail enamel

Claims: The fan-shaped brush allows you to coat your nails in one quick stroke, perfect for on-the-go fashionistas and speedy last-minute manicures. The innovative gel formula, which is enriched with silicone, provides a salon finish with a smooth and glossy result. 

I've been obsessing over all things turquoise at the moment, so I was thrilled to see this bold blue shade in my bundle of goodies. The fresh hue is perfect for the sunny weather that's finally made an appearance  and will look great with a tan. It gives good coverage with just one coat, although I did give mine a second to intensify the shade and really make it pop. 

This striking mauve hue is another colour which is great for spring. While I'm a big fan of pastel shades, they can end up looking a bit too sweet and girly, so this more intense purple makes a welcome change. Again it requires a couple of coats to emphasise the shade, but the final result is an on-trend tone that is just the thing for the approaching warmer seasons.

Verdict: The flat style brush does exactly as advertised, and makes it easy to cover your nails with one quick stroke. It's also easier to control how much polish you load on to your brush, so you don't end up with an overload of varnish on your nail. I was also really impressed with the gel texture, which did provide a more professional finish compared to some other brands. The high-shine quality looked really great with these pretty colours, and I was impressed with how the rich texture evened out my nail beds too. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend these polishes, even if you're not a sucker for the quick application and perfect finish claims I'm sure the trendy shades will definitely appeal! 


Raise an eyebrow

I vividly remember the first time I attempted to sculpt my eyebrows. I was about thirteen, and I'd swiped my mum's tweezers out of her make up bag. After numbing my brows with ice cubes (a tip from whichever rubbish teen magazine I was addicted to at the time) I started plucking. Five minutes later and with tears streaming down my cheeks I gave up, having made no progress in my journey for perfect brows. But instead of doing the sensible thing and leaving it until a time when my face could withstand more pain, I decided to cheat. Grabbing a disposable razor from the bathroom cupboard, I once again braced myself in front of the mirror. With the aim of artfully shaping my brows, I took the first swipe...taking off half of my eyebrow in the process. 

Even with precise fringe sweeping my shameful secret was soon revealed at school, much to the amusement of my friends. I vowed never to touch my brows again, a promise that I didn't quite stick to but I haven't brought a razor within an inch of my face since. 

Until recently, thick brows were strictly reserved for scouse women and Susan Boyle. But then a certain aristocratic supermodel popped into social consciousness. Sporting a thick, full brow, Cara Delevingne has made bushy brows the new style de jour. So much so that fashion-conscious women are going under the surgeon's scalpel to mimic her trendy look, which has also been spotted on actress Keira Knightley.

Taking a strip of hair from the back of the head, surgeons transplant individual hair follicles into the eyebrows using a fine needle. The procedure takes place under local anaesthetic and costs around £3,000, PER EYEBROW!!!

I think I'll be sticking with the pencil for now thanks...


Wheely strange

So it's been three and a half weeks since my unfortunate incident on the slopes. The novelty of being at home and absent from work wore off after about...three days. Commutes and computers, photography and feature writing have been replaced by daytime TV and online shopping. God bless the person who decided that stores should flog their wares on the internet. If I wasn't able to stare at pretty clothes and plan festival outfits all day I would definitely have gone insane by now.

So far my outdoor excursions have been limited to hospital trips and the odd cheeky maccers drive through. Not quite the jam-packed social schedule that an active 22 year old is used to. So when my dear pal/temporary carer Rianna suggested an expedition to Sainsburys I jumped (not literally, of course) at the idea.

Although I'm pretty speedy on my crutches now, hobbling long distance can be pretty tiring. But I will say this - you can wave bye bye to bingo wings when you're on them. I've got rock hard muscles in my formally feeble arms now, which will definitely be a bonus when I get back to my pole lessons. Anyway, I digress. We decided to borrow a wheelchair for our supermarket sweep, mainly for the practicality but also for the giggles.

I surrendered my crutches and settled back for a joy ride courtesy of notorious speed demon Rianna. And as soon as I sat down, a noticeable change in the public's perception of me occurred. We deduced two main categories of stares: the sympathy looks and the desperately-trying-not-to-catch-my-eye quick glances. As I don't have a cast on my leg, it's pretty difficult to tell what's actually wrong with me. The combination of no obvious physical injury and a wheelchair resulted in most of the weekend food shoppers seeming to presume that I was disabled. Cue the stares.

I was either subjected to heart-wrenching looks of pity or completely blanked. I'm not sure which was worse. I guess actual concern is better than being ignored. I just couldn't believe how being in that chair transformed the way people looked at and treated me. Choosing to look over my head rather than in my eye felt like a social snub, as if I wasn't deserving of attention or capable of interaction. Like being below the normal height also meant I was below normal human contact.

It's something I've never really considered before, having never been in this situation or known anyone in it. But now I've experienced it first hand, even for such a short time, I can see why people who are permanently in chairs have campaigned for fairer, equal treatment. A broken back doesn't mean a broken mind, and while some physical tasks are impossible or much more difficult, holding a conversation isn't. It was an interesting experience, and what started as a simple shopping trip turned into a mini social experiment. I'm not sure whether I want to repeat it, but I'll make sure to share it if I do!


Getting legless in Samoens

There are a few things that are impossible to maintain while in hospital. 1) Your dignity 2) Your appearance 3) Even the most remote chance of pulling.

After a successful three days of skiing (and I rate success by the lack of non-fatal injuries sustained) my debut on the sunny slopes was coming to an end. I'd mastered the art of the snow plow and was managing to make it down a blue run without ending up buried in a snow drift, limbs tangled in a gangly heap. The last run of the day approached, with the prospect of a calorie-laden cheese-based meal and a few cheeky shots of baby Guiness on the horizon. As I neared the end and spotted my friends who had already sped down, something strange happened. I fell. That in itself wasn't strange, it had become a pretty regular and often hilarious occurrence. After flipping over a few times (subsequently landing on my face and breaking my ray bans, boo) I felt a strange sensation in my left leg. As I brought it round to try and get myself back up, I realised that it wasn't doing what I wanted. In fact, it wasn't doing anything at all. It was just kind of hanging there at the end of my knee, wobbling away in quite a merry way. It seemed that this stack had hurt more than just my pricey sunglasses.

After stifling their laughter and realising that something quite serious had happened, my friends came over to see what was up. When they spotted the bottom of my leg, facing the wrong way, they realised that my cries of 'I'VE BROKEN MY LEGGGG!!!!' weren't as exaggerated as they'd presumed.

Cue a treacherous trip back up the mountain and to the main road strapped in a gurney being tugged along by a ski-doo and an ambulance ride to the local clinic. An x-ray confirmed that I had broken both the bones in my lower left leg. Not only had I broken them, I had a displaced fracture which meant that the bones were no longer in line. Through the babbling of broken English I managed to make out the word 'surgery'. Looks like those drinks wouldn't be on the agenda that evening.

I'll spare most of the boring and gruesome details, but after coming out of surgery on Sunday evening I had three days stuck in a hospital bed with only a single French television channel for company. Oh, and the most beautiful male nurse to have ever existed. He should have been gracing the covers of magazines, not cleaning up my vomit. Sadly, this combined with the fact that I hadn't washed my hair for a good five days and hadn't a scrap of make up on my face, meant that the chances of my feelings being reciprocated were virtually impossible. At least my daydreams kept me occupied during the lonnnng days and nights spent lying in bed.

Now I'm back home and off work for the foreseeable future. So far my days have been spent curled up with Gossip Girl and The Real Housewives of Atlanta for company, and the occasional trip out to the glamorous destination of McDonalds drive through. Hence starting up this blog again, to stop my usually busy brain from disintegrating into a pile of GG quotes and Daily Mail gossip. God help me...