Thursday, 30 June 2011

Honestly Healthy lunches from Selfridges

We're never short of a delivery of food every now and again in the office and with all that sitting around on our bottoms at computers all day and snacking on the goodies that arrive by courier ain't great for the beach figure. So a delivery of delicious meals to promote a new and incredibly healthy range to hit the shelves in Selfridges was a really welcome delivery indeed.

Honestly Healthy provides fresh and balanced take-away foods that have been put together by organic chef Natasha Corbett and nutritional therapist Vicki Edgson. 

Honestly Healthy’s delicious, nourishing meals come fresh from the kitchen every day and are brimming in alkalizing ingredients that balance the energy-sapping components of the typically acidic Western diet. So our bodies can easily digest the food with ingredients that speed up the metabolism, clear out the system and generally make us feel much more healthy.

Chilled Salads.
As you can see from the pictures, each salad contains a mix of some of the healthiest ingredients on the planet and main ingredients to be found are bok choy, broccoli, chick peas, red peppers, fennel, tofu and pearl barley are all staples. And the prices are not bad at £3.50 - perfect for an affordable lunch.
But they don't just stop there - Honestly Healthy have also produced a range of tasty at-home meal mixes to aid your diet - all you have to do is add water and simmer. The range includes a muesli, a quinoa and lentil mix which is delicious with salad or on its own, a bean and fig tagine for a taste of Morocco, a spiced pearl barley risotto and a simple yet spicy dhal. Although I didn't try these if they are as good as the takeaway salads then I may need to stock up from Selfridges Food Hall in Oxford Street.

For further information visit their website Honestly Healthy.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Barbie of the Day - I shouldn't have favourites but...

Working for a collective of bloggers I know I shouldn't have favourites - everyone who comes on board comes on board because of their merits and before this turns into a plug for Handpicked Media and you all click away I would like to say that yes, there are certain blogs that I visit because on a personal and private level they give me an enormous amount of pleasure.

One such blog is Barbie of the Day purely because it's genius mixed with a bit of British bonkers. I had Sindy as a child - Barbie was far too brash and American (and probably too expensive as well) and I think my parents were really into their 'buying British' kick as early as the sixties. So Barbie didn't really feature in my consciousness as a child really. But boy did I love my Sindy - favourite outfit that I can remember? A mock leopard coat and black knee-length boots and... well that's all I can remember actually so my Sindy probably grew up to be a right little madam (in all senses of the word).
Sindy 1960's - what's not to love?

Anyway back to Barbie of the Day. This blog is written - or should I say, written, photographed and all the clothes are made by a Yorkshire boy who has the enviable lifestyle of living in the South of France. Here Barbie and Ken frolic and live out their A-list lives in the sunshine and wear the most fantastic outfits. These are some of my favourites...

To quote 'Clean, crisp and fresh. Nope, not the picnic, but today’s BOTD beach chic. We’re keeping cool and taking Halloween for a stroll around the cap. A touch of sparkle brightens up our simple tennis whites and a handsome hunk is the perfect finishing touch.' What's not to love....

But Barbie does Diva too...
'Beyoncé has arrived at Glastonbury with her flunkies in tow. Big gay stylist, big gay bouncer and big gay personal trainer/dog walker. Who run the world?'
But my favourites are those outfits shot on location that really conjure up that A-list lifestyle and working it on the Cap D'Azur...
'There is no such thing as a day off at BOTD Towers so it must be an off day. Never mind. Whatever is to be thrown at us this week, at least we will be looking great. Two minutes of peace by the pool before the madness begins.'

Barbie of the Day makes me smile, keeps me on my toes fashion-wise and is a daily dose of glamour and glitz - put her in your favourites or follow her on Twitter for the perfect antidote to working days in London.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

My summer Sunday lunch - straight from the Mediterranean

Obviously living in a North London suburb which has a very large Greek Cypriot community has rubbed off on me because when I want to make something delicious at the weekend I often turn to Greek dishes that bring rich flavours yet are simple to make.

I had the in-laws coming to lunch and as the weather forecast was set for extemely hot I decided to cook a Stifado on Saturday so that the flavours really came out over-night in the fridge. Stifado is a rich beef stew cooked with onions, red wine, red wine vinegar and spices. It's found throughout Cyprus and on the menu of nearly all our local Greek restaurants as is a traditional staple. Here is my recipe...

Beef Stifado for 6-7 people

1.5kilos of braising or stewing steak
1kilo of small onions or ordinary onions cut into largish slices
Olive oil for frying
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
200ml red wine
1 teaspoon sugar
2 bay leaves

Fry the chunks of beef in batches to brown all over. Fry the onions separately and remove for later. Replace all in a heavy casserole and add garlic and vinegar - bring to boil. Add all the other ingredients except the onions and add water so that the juices cover the meat. Cook in a low oven for two hours at least. Add the onions and cook for a further half an hour. Towards the end remove the lid of the casserole so the sauce reduces down and becomes rich and thick.

As you can see from the picture I served this with Cyprus potatoes roasted, roasted red pepper and onion which had been tossed in olive oil and fennel seeds, a green salad with lettuce fresh from the garden, assorted olives from our local Turkish deli, bread and pickled garlic. Nothing was left over!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Nail Artistry - an evening with Boots No.7 and Jamie Nunn

My nails have never been my most attractive feature. They get to a decent length and then they split, crack and shatter at the slightest knock. They only really look good when painted but this seems to weaken them further. I envy those with almond shaped tapering nails topping long and slender digits. Mine are short and stubby and my hands are ridiculously small for the rest of me preventing me from a career as concert pianist (well that's my excuse anyway).

So a Handpicked Media event with Boots No.7 and nail artist Jamie Nunn wasn't ever really going to light my fire and I went really to show support and see our lovely beauty bloggers in action. How silly was I!
Image: The Beauty Button

The ladies at the PR agency had everything covered - and it didn't matter that my nails looked like I'd been relandscaping my garden with my bare hands because they provided us with nifty things known as 'nail-wheels' to work with. These plastic nails were the perfect place to get creative with the 20 new Staycolour polishes they have launched. The pink fizz flowed and the food replaced supper - particularly fantastic were the Lollipop cakes in the seasons colours - check out Molly Bakes cakes on Twitter @mollybakes.
Image: The Beauty Button

Jamie is a celebrity nail artist - how you get to be one of those I have no idea but boy does he know his stuff. Within minutes he had us stippling, marbling and creating beautiful suede effects. Growing in confidence we moved on to add jewels and hand-drawn designs, in my case a rather boring stripe but the others got really creative. Jamie is currently creating designs for the next Lady Gaga video - here are some of his prototypes - not particularly practical for the office but I loved all that Swarovski crystal!
Image: The Beauty Button

Here are some of the techniques as shown by Jamie for those of you who want to have a go. Obviously we were using Boots No.7 products but you can create the same with your own box of nail tricks.

Plaid effect

This simple technique is striking and perfect for the more daring. It works particularly well with bright opaque colours. For a different effect try with more than two colours or change the angle of the lines.
What you’ll need
No7 Stay Perfect Nail Colours in Me Me Me and Crave Me
No7 So Smooth Base Coat
No7 Stay Perfect Top Coat
Nail art striping brush
Step by steps
1. Apply a thin coat of No7 So Smooth Base Coat
2. Once the base coat has dried, apply two coats of No7 Stay Perfect in Me Me Me! ensuring you let the first coat dry before applying the second
3. When dry, apply a small amount of Crave Me onto the striper brush. 
4. Using the striping brush paint diagonal stripes in the same direction across the nail from base to tip . As you get more confident with the striping brush you can decrease the space between the lines for a more intricate and detailed effect
5.Repeat step 4 but in the opposite direction creating a 'criss cross' effect
6. Slick on a coat of No7 Stay Perfect Top Coat for a high shine finish

Antique Marble

Antique Marble
This simple yet effective technique gives your manicure a vintage style glamour and can be varied depending on the colour combinations used. Metallic shades work particularly well as the second colour to be applied with the sponge
What you’ll need
No7 Stay Perfect Nail Colours in Singing The Blues and Hot To Trot
No7 So Smooth Base Coat
No7 Stay Perfect Top Coat
Clean make up sponge
 Step by steps
1. Apply a thin coat of No7 So Smooth Base Coat
2. Once the base coat has dried, apply two coats of No7 Stay Perfect in Sing The Blues ensuring you let the first coat dry before applying the second
3. When dry, using a clean dry make up sponge brush a small amount of Hot To Trot onto the sponge.  Dab onto the nail going from the corner of the free edge towards the cuticle creating a marbled effect
4. Paint a second coat of Hot To Trot to give a faded antique effect
5. Slick on a coat of No7 Stay Perfect Top Coat for a high shine finish

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Melissa Nathan Award - helping families in crisis

This year was the fifth of this award and I know we are inundated with awards these days but this is one that is definitely close to my heart. In 2006 novelist Melissa Nathan died of breast cancer leaving her lovely husband Andrew and small child Sammy. She was hugely talented and after her death it transpired that she had been quietly working to raise funds for families in crisis. Her parents and Andrew decided to carry on this work in the form of the Melissa Nathan Foundation.

Author Melissa Nathan

The Awards held in London's Cafe de Paris, were set up five years ago to champion funny female-targeted writing as well as to promote the foundation. Because of the enormous affection held for both Melissa and Andrew the judging panel is pretty awesome and has been the same for the full five years. Once again Jo Brand, Joanna Trollope, Sophie Kinsella, Morwenna Banks and Liza Tarbuck have got together along with Waitrose book buyer Freya Wright and this years award sponsor Andrew Cleaves (MD of National Express Coaches) to read all seven finalist books.

The shortlist was Foursome by Jane FallonGetting Over Mr Right by Chrissie ManbyMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen SimonsonObstacles to Young Love by David NobbsPerfect Proposal by Katie Fforde and Sweet Temptation by Lucy Diamond. You may have read one or more of these - I must confess I haven't, but will definitely be checking out the overall winner, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Each judge gave a brief overview of one of the finalists, Jo Brand gave us a fabulous and filthy 20 minutes of stand-up and the drinks and food was plentiful. The star of the event however was the promotion of The Writer's Club which is on sale with all proceeds going to the foundation to help families in crisis. Melissa's friends who are writers have all contributed plus there is a story by her nine-year-old son Sammy and an unpublished play, The Big C, by Melissa written while she was undergoing treatment. If you see this in the shops please buy a copy - you will be helping a worthwhile charity details of which are here.

The focus of this charitable foundation is to support families in crisis such as those split up by poverty with parents going away to earn a living, families divided by war, families with very ill members, those in poverty, those who have suffered  financial hardship because of crime, and anyone else who needs their help. A little goes a long way to make life for these families more bearable.

When she was alive Melissa Nathan provided laughs through her novels which include The Nanny which is one of my favourites, even though she's no longer here the laughter continues through her awards - a really fitting tribute to a very special woman.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Why I love my Kindle!

I have noticed recently there have been lots of conversations on Twitter about the pros and cons of Kindle and electronic readers in general. Is this the death of books as we know and consume them? Or is it just another way of accessing reading material over and above ink on paper?

I must admit that I am a long-term lover of books. I may spend my life online but books were my first love and my bulging book-shelves are testament to this. And this is where the problem lies, because although I like to think I have a library of well-loved pieces of literature, what I in fact have is shelf upon shelf of yellowing paperbacks which when they are not standing the test of time in terms of their ageing fabric, have dated beyond  help in terms of their content. I know I wouldn't like to live in a house with no books - it is a way of judging someone when you enter their home as to whether they are going to be 'your sort of person' which is pretty terrible when you think of it. There is a comfort to being surrounded by literary classics which you have loved and had an effect on your life and thinking but if we are absolutely honest with ourselves these probably account for around 20% of our books. The rest are made up of disposable entertainment - very much of it's time and dating quicker than I am. 

Okay so I have some great hardback reference books (but even these date) and some timeless classics. Would I chuck out the Shakespeare, Dickens or even the Peter Ackroyd or Sebastian Faulks? No probably not. But last years Dan Brown read on the beach and smeared with suntan lotion? Or all that chick lit that helped my journey on the Piccadilly Line? Does it really warrant display and careful archiving. I think not.

A few years ago we had a clear out. Five boxes of paperbacks went to the local Red Cross Bookshop. And have I missed just one of them? No. And this is where the wonderful Kindle has become my favourite piece of kit. I can browse the bookshop from the comfort of my armchair and I can download chapters to test run the book and see if I like it first. I can carry around in my handbag more books than I will have time to read in the rest of my lifetime and there is nothing to stop me from going out and buying the hard-copy version if it's one I think should grace my bookshelves. I'm discovering more writers because of this and it's costing me much less to do so. I can download the classics for next to nothing and my handbag (and consequently my back) is not suffering because of overload. I simply love my Kindle and believe that every English Lit or Drama student should have one to hand. 

And what am I reading at the moment? The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Before that I read a G K Chesterton because I had never read anything by him before and they were raving about him on the radio. So you see, I read wider and because it's EXACTLY the same as reading from the page I've forgotten that there's a difference really...

Has anyone else bought a Kindle? What are you reading? I'm always on the lookout for recommendations...

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Ageing Process and why I can live with it (I think)

I seem to be spending an awful lot of time celebrating other people's significant birthdays recently. I have been to no fewer than five 50th birthday parties in the last two months alone but I suppose it's just reflective of our time of life.

It doesn't seem to be more than a couple of years since we had a run on weddings and new babies. Now we are getting to know new partners and celebrating those babies getting university places, careers or simply just growing up. So the 40th and 50th birthday party is just another rite of passage. But to my mind there is something extra special about these 50th parties. Every single one of them has been for someone I have known since my 20's and although some have been with people I hardly ever see - and in one case haven't seen for at least ten years, the important thing is we can get together and it's as if nothing has changed, because we are basically the same people inside. A bit baggier, a bit more prone to hangovers that last days rather than hours and a bit more careworn, we are still able to have a good time and forget our cares to celebrate that, damn it all, we've made it this far!

I am still in denial that one day I will also hit the big 5-0 and plan to keep the words of Anita Brookner uppermost in my mind...
'She was a handsome woman of forty-five and remained so for many years.'

But I do find it almost impossible to guess the ages of people these days. Not just because everyone seems to have had work done but because it's impossible to pigeon-hole just by age. I feel that surgery often has the adverse effect as it's a sign that you're ageing and fighting it - think Melanie Griffiths or Donatella Versace 

- a walking advert for NOT indulging in the knife. On the other hand, there are those that are enviable in their surgically enhanced youthful looks - who wouldn't want to look like Demi Moore at her age? And what is her age anyway - she looks about 25!
It all leaves me more than a little bit confused. A secret little bit of me wants to remain forever youthful looking and yet I'm happy to sneer at those who have paid out a small fortune for surgery and botox to look far worse for it. I won't ever do it and chase my younger self with Pilates and Zumba sessions instead. I party hard when I get the chance but am happiest in a pair of flat pumps over high heels. I spend a fortune on blending in my grey hair which is still long - won't be cutting that into a middle-aged bob quite yet, thanks very much - but won't be shelling out for capped teeth or whitening (well not quite yet anyway). I don't consider myself vain but I probably am. And I AM ageing whether I like it or not... it's just a matter of time.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Dear Daddy... on Father's Day

My lovely old Dad died in 2007 from a stroke which could have been avoided but he decided he would rather take his chances and go back to his flat in the place he was born, than hang around in the UK and get treatment (to which he was more than entitled having worked for the NHS for 30 years) and let nature take it's course. He was 80 and had spent the majority of his life in the UK but it was still too early to say goodbye, especially with him being thousands of miles away in a country that was challenging to say the least.

In 1961 he came to a country where he didn't speak much of the language and at the age of 35 because he was in love. This was never an easy option - and it never became an easy life for him. He had an old- fashioned work ethic (like so many Eastern Europeans who are now working here) and an old-fashioned outlook to most things from loud music on the TV and men who didn't wear hats (for years he was never seen without one and raised it to every woman he met on the street) to the fact that you had a job for life and didn't make waves by going for promotion or retraining or looking for more money of course. He married a schoolteacher of exceptional intellect and because of this he deferred to her in almost everything which made for an easy life in one way, but was hard in terms of his feelings of self-worth and confidence.

Looking back his flashes of bad-temper which turned into depression and sulks which could go on for days, were probably partly caused by his feelings of impotence and insignificance. Because my sister and I were brought up by a bright, forward-thinking, sensible English mother, our father was someone we at best tolerated and at worst ignored for most of our formative years. It was only after we grew up that we realised that he was only human and his quirks and eccentricities, which had embarrassed the hell out of us as young adults, were endearing and something to be celebrated.

So here is a list of why I really loved my Dad and why I miss him to bits....

He loved us - sometimes it manifested itself in shouting and losing it completely but he did really really love us.
He tried his best - he worked all the hours God sent in a thankless menial job even working Christmas day to pay his bit towards Christmas.
He drove us mad about his stories of his childhood - if we heard once how he ate with a wooden spoon and bowl when he was growing up then we heard it a thousand times...
He didn't have airs and graces - I now realise that I was lucky to have a father who was eternally grateful for his lot rather than never feeling like he had quite succeeded enough. Having a home in London and two daughters who he could be proud of was enough.
He diced with death on more than one ocassion. No he wasn't a hero... He wrote off cars with silly accidents (thankfully none of them life threatening to either him or anyone else). He survived a brick falling from the roof and twice electrocuted himself in the same way so that the sparks few and so did he. He thought he was dying on a flight  but it was an over-tight money belt. If he thought he was having a heart-attack he would hold up a hand-mirror to check he was still breathing - this eventually caused Mum to tell say 'I will tell you when you're having a heart attack Vladimir!' All these exploits went down in family folk lore and make me smile to this day.
He never learnt to speak English properly which always provided a laugh for the rest of us.
The pig was his fish.
No-one, and I mean no-one, was as proud a grandfather as he was of Nadia, Lily, Jerome and Irina.

He was my Dad and for us girls that is pretty special.

So here's to you Daddy on Father's Day. It took a day in the calendar to make me write down a tiny piece of what you meant to me, but there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of you and Mum and realise that I was a very lucky little girl who turned into a pretty well-grounded adult because of the mix of both of you.

Here's to my Dad and good Dad's everywhere...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Summer Party Shoes

Well it's possibly going to be raining until, ooh well early September when the schools go back, so we have to be realistic about layering to combat every combination of weather that can and will hit us in a 24 hour period.

But there is one thing we don't have to compromise on.... shoes! You just need to be walking from car to door - and better make it as short a trip as possible.

I have picked my favourites for the season which can take you through 'til Christmas and either complement or follow the colour blocking theme that is so big this year.

1. Girder Carvela heels from Kurt Geiger £130 skyscraper that aren't as bad as they look as the wedge is pretty high too...
Loving the deep blue and the suede that will look as good with a pair of hareem pants as they will jeans or a party frock.

2. Serenity French Connection suede wedge also from Kurt Geiger and at a cool £100 they are a very good buy.
 I love wedges like these - they are still slim and sexy but because you aren't balanced on a thin heel you can wear and walk for hours... I have a black pair of leather ones and have worn them for about four years - we can't bear to be parted!

3. OMG it's another pair. This time they are in glorious gold leather and I WANT THEM NOW! Karen Millen has a lot to answer for in terms of doing subtle sex on the high-street, and these are as sexy as they come.

And for a mere £200 (ok so not so mere then) they will last a good few seasons. They are limited addition so check them out before they walk off line....
4. Colour block away with pink and red from Top Shop. Again you should be looking to dress these up or down and match them with cerise and black for max impact.

Glee Top Shop shoe for £46 puts a smile on your face and a little less on the plastic...

5. Who can resist a pair of Mary Jane's - especially when they are as gorgeous as these! I am loving ASOS at the moment because if you search a little you can always find something that updates your wardrobe without being just that bit too young...
This Suzie pair from ASOS has a patent heel and comes in at a cool £45.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Recycle and you could help the rainforest

I don't normally just pass on information that I get via a press release but this is such a good idea we should all know about it and get involved.

Baka, Cameroon

Every year an area of rainforest the size of England and Wales is cut down and local people left homeless. This is catastrophic and in terms of the CO2 emissions has a more detrimental effect than all of the world's planes, trains and cars put together, plus the animals and plants of the forest suffer, some being driven to extinction.  So although the tropical rainforest isn't exactly on our doorstep we are all affected by it's loss. The Rainforest Foundation has tackled deforestation locally and globally since 1989 and they work tirelessly to help local communities and indigenous peoples to protect more than 100,000 square kilometres of rainforest.  The Rainforest Foundation have now partnered with Netcycler, a free internet service which allows you to swap and giveaway unwanted items and is launching in the UK for the first time.  

Madagascar devastation

Netcycler is hoping people will sign up and get involved with swapping that feels like shopping. By creating matches between offers and wishes, all people need to do is list what they want to get rid of and what they would like in return. People can also donate the purchase price obtained from goods through Netcycler to the Rainforest Foundation UK and in so doing, help to protect the rainforests of the world from further destruction. This partnership will not only help raise funds for the Rainforest Foundation UK, but also promotes the re-use of secondhand goods and the reduction of waste. What could be easier or more fun? I shall be going through my wardrobe this weekend...

Watch the video of all the work The Rainforest Foundation does...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Mascaras I've tried ...

Last week brought another launch (I know, I know) to promote the new advert for the Revlon Grow Luscious Plumping Mascara which I have been using for the past week and must say I really like. In fact one of my daughter's actually said I looked nice for absolutely no reason, so it must have been the mascara mustn't it?
This mascara has a thickening formula and a tapered brush which meant I could easily apply it to the tiniest lashes so I have to say my lashes did look extra thick and separated. The blurb tells us that the ingredients includes a lash enhancing formula which helps with lash natural growth to strengthen lashes - which I must admit I do need as my lashes are much thinner now than they were when I was younger *sob*. I have noticed that although this is a thick mascara (you put on at least two coats for full effect) it didn't clump, an effect I absolutely hate and it didn't flake either. So I reckon this is an absolute classic in the making for £9.99 - but I'll have to replace it when it goes on sale in August 2011 in either Superdrug or Boots nationwide so you'll have to wait until then too if you don't want to order it online...

In the meantime it got me thinking about my other favourite mascaras which deliver a great effect, don't clump and last for ages making them great value for money. I have been told that Barbara Daly's mascara, which used to be a staple of my make-up bag is used by models because it's so good. And I did have one which I loved but can I get another? No, I can't find one for sale anywhere so please bring it back Tesco! Given it's mysterious disappearance, a mascara that has the same effect and is a light daytime mascara that has a great streamlined brush and gives a more natural look than the Revlon newbie is the Clinique High-Lengths Mascara which I bought to replace my Barbara Daly one. It was much more expensive at £15 but has lasted ages and I love the effect. When you're older I think it's  important during the day to wear a mascara which isn't too glam to avoid the 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' effect, and this one gives great coverage, defines eyes perfectly and the brush, although looking a bit space age, is easy to use and works effectively.

In terms of a daytime mascara that doesn't clump or flake and gives great definition you'd be hard-pressed to not like the Boots No.7 Intense Volume Mascara which comes with the added benefit of being hypo-allergenic so should be good for even the most sensitive eyes. There are a few colours to choose from (though obviously I always go for black) and I find that, once again, it's a great everyday mascara that stays in one place all day long and defines eyelashes making them look long and lovely. I'm not the only one who loves this product either - the reviews on the website were full of praise.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Paula Begoun, The Cosmetic's Cop, comes to London!

Author of 'Don't Go To The Cosmetic's Counter Without Me' and founder of Paula's Choice, Paula Begoun made a flying visit to London this week to promote her brand and meet Handpicked Media bloggers and journalists from all the leading publications. We gathered in the Sofitel in London's Mayfair and found her to be warm, friendly and incredibly forthright in her views.

Paula has been reviewing and researching beauty products since 1984 and her book is over 1000 pages and is into it's 8th edition - no mean feat in itself. She believes that the cosmetics industry is a 'jungle of products' and having someone like her dedicating their life to sifting, qualifying, explaining and reviewing all the major, and some minor, brands is a very real help to avoid making expensive mistakes and getting a skincare and make-up regime right. Skincare products are evaluated by analyzing the ingredient list and comparing these to the claims made by each product - and this is where things become controversial, as you can well imagine. So if a moisturiser claims to hydrate the skin it should contain the correct ingredients to do just that - it's pretty simple really if you think about it, and that is where Paula's attention to detail really comes in.

As you can imagine with 25 years of researching products and a strong and passionate personality to boot, Paula had us all enthralled for a full 90 minutes (she was only planning to talk for about 25 and is incredibly a little shy around people). She has a way of immediately drawing you in and arresting your attention and obviously cares about what she does. Born out of a teenage acne and eczema problem which she had had since a small child, her formative years were spend in dermatologist surgeries with little success and it was only when she subsequently went to work in a beauty department of a department store (from which she was also fired due to disagreeing with their take on things) that she really started to look at the ingredients in skincare and make-up products. Although she is persuasive and thoroughly believes in her investigation and opinion I didn't agree with everything she said - it was just wonderful to spend time with someone who is so very passionate and knowledgable. For example,she is anti to the point of extreme in terms of the use of fragrance in skincare, which she sees as an irritant - which I am sure it is - but I see that there are so many other benefits to having a nice fragrance to a product that if my skin still looks good I will continue to use a product with fragrance in. But there was a lot to be taken from her talk that made perfect sense and here are a few nuggets of her wisdom...

1. Avoid skincare in pots - they go off and quickly lose efficacy when opened. Tubes and pumps are far better as they keep the product away from air and light.
2. Use an spf at all times - not just on the beach. Sunlight is damaging, we all know that, so why wouldn't you? Also, in terms of sunscreen on the beach, be wary of claims that sunscreens are waterproof - the only one's that really work are water-resistant or very water-resistant. All others should be reapplied after swimming.
3. Look out for anti-oxidants in products - these work far better than any of the so called 'new' and exciting finds that cosmetic companies are often 'discovering'. She is very cynical about the 'miracle' ingredients that come out each season and believes that they are marketing hype above efficacy in a lot of cases.
4. Speciality creams like those produced for the eye, chest or neck are not different from those on the face. According to Paula there is no research showing that they require different ingredients so buying them is totally unnecessary.

Her book is a huge tome but her rating system is simple to follow giving ratings that go from the excellent in terms of them working and being value for money to poor which basically means don't buy. I admire that she will stick her neck out often making her unpopular with beauty brands - and as I said I don't agree with everything she had to say but it has made me want to question my purchases and stop before I buy the expensive over the cheap just because they are expensive and therefore, to my mind, better. A live version of her book can be found at and her best-selling range of products can be found at Paula's Choice. Or buy the book and dip into an encyclopedia of beauty. Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me is on Amazon, £14.08.

And if you want to see her yourself, here are her thoughts on Eye Creams and other things....

Monday, 13 June 2011

Top five handbags for Summer 2011

I am happy that the designer handbag with designer price tag is less of an obsession these days. In fact I haven't seen the likes of Coleen Rooney or Victoria Beckham gracing the pages of a weekly fashion mag clutching (or being dragged down by - let's face it) an over-sized bag whose price-tag would pay about six months of my mortgage, for quite a while now.
Victoria Beckham and Hermes bag  Photo

When we are in full recession mode and job safety is a worry for most in the country, a new and expensive handbag is a bit embarrassing really and I, for one, would feel a bit silly lusting after a handbag in the way that I would have done only a couple of years back. Women and handbags (and shoes) have a strange relationship. I was fascinated by a programme the other week which highlighted the almost primeval draw that we have towards expensive accessories. They wired a woman up to a machine to study her brainwaves as she was shown images of bags, some expensive and some cheap. Her brain activity went wild when she was presented with an expensive designer leather bag, and was dormant when shown the cheap high-street alternative. So does this say we are all doomed to desiring those things we cannot afford even when all around us is unstable and bleak? Are we to resort to aversion therapy with electric shocks to accompany the photographs of the well-made and desirable? I hope not. I hope to see our salvation in the high-street so to kick-start another week of doom and gloom headlines and sudden summer downpours, I give you five of my favourite and most affordable handbags that are roomy enough to carry all my summer clobber (like an umbrella and extra pair of thermals) yet make a bit of a statement for under £100... So you see, recession or no recession I still can't resist a new bag....

Faux crocodile tote bag by Betty Jackson for  Designers at Debenhams, £96

Principles by Ben de Lisi navy, beige and cream  bag  £28 from Designers at Debenhams

Messenger bags are big this summer, this beige  version is just £24.99 from River Island

A soft red leather satchel with tan trim comes in at an affordable £95 from Top Shop

Gloriously shiny and bang on the money in terms of  colour and shape, this  Per Una  shopper is a perfect buy for £28.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Florence and Florence - pre-owned and pre-loved collectables and gifts...

Twitter is a wonderful place to find new businesses and get inspiration. The ladies from Florence and Florence started following me last week so I checked out their website which proved to be full of simple little gems that really tempted me. It was only because I don't actually need any vintage cutlery or maps that I didn't get buying but I will definitely be back when I need to buy a present for an awkward person...

Here are my favourites of what's on offer now...

Who can resist this Bond cocktail set - including some cocktail inspiration for £48?

Or this gorgeous little tea set in fine white bone china for £49?

Woods Ware cream jug £9.50
Noton suitcase £45

This little creamer reminded me of all my Great-Aunt's and Sunday tea - I always wondered what happened to all their well-loved china and I'd like to think they ended up being loved all over again...

And who could resist this worn but beautiful suitcase - the black plastic one's favoured today just don't have the same style somehow...

Florence and Florence look out for pre-loved items and breath new life into them. The choice is fairly limited but I have added them to my favourites and will keep checking in occasionally to see what's been added. 


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Stila is well and truly back for Summer 2011

We've missed Stila from our beauty counters and we're glad it's back. We don't know why it went away but will look forward to it being here in the UK forever. The launch held on Thursday in London's Soho gave inspiration and showed that this brand can still lead the way in terms of items you will want to grab and replace when you've  used it all up.

Stila One Step is just one such product range. The bronzer on the left of the picture comes out as a light gel which makes skin look glowing without obviously being coloured - this is going to be a make-up bag staple I can tell! Skins look so much healthier not just a brown shade because it also improves skintone and smooths out wrinkles. It's oil free so was quickly absorbed into the skin and I have to say after testing it 'on-the-spot' at the launch, and only on the back of my hand, I was pretty much sold. At £24 this is a steal and is available from July 2011 in Boots Beauty Stores and at

It was good to see the range of iconic Stila lipglosses still going strong with even more colours in the range (see above picture).

And the same goes for the glorious and well-pigmented eye-shadows which are always bang on trend and give great coverage.

A few of the new Stila colours that will really enhance our beauty bags now their finally back!

Keep your eyes peeled for other additions to the Stila Spring/Summer collection like the amazingly rich Sparkle Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner which comes in an amazing 8 colours and gives a thick line of gloss and glitter for just £14 a pop. Welcome back Stila - why ever did you go away?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Marks & Spencer Beauty and Fashion for Summer 2011

It's been a frantically busy week for launches and press events it's hard to know whether we are in high summer or the depths of winter - and the Christmas invitations are starting to arrive already.

Wednesday night saw us all turning up for a Handpicked Media exclusive blogger evening at Marks & Spencer to see their high summer beauty ranges. They held it in their press room so it meant we also got to see their Autumn/Winter and some high summer fashion thrown in too.

Picture from Handpicked Media

So here is what caught my eye on the evening.

Summer brights and blocks of colour take centre stage in every high-street shop window.Inspired by the Spring/Summer 2011 catwalks, the collections are bold and bright and marked the end of a long and more subdued winter.

Photo: Myfashionlife
 Marks & Spencer fashion for Summer 2011 contains a fab range of grab-and-go dresses and separates that you'll want to quite literally grab and go with for your summer wardrobe. Dresses cover a multitude of sins and are easy to wear with little flat sandals and a tan of course.

And talking of tans I am in love already with the Tess Daly Daly Spa range exclusive to M&S which is easy to use, smells nice (which is always a bonus especially when it's covering an area) and which leaves skin looking glowing and gorgeous and can help with orange-peel skin and other trouble areas. The collection has been carefully thought out to cover all those treatments we would like on a daily basis from a local spa leading up to a holiday. Prices start from £6 for the super-hydrating hand cream.

Next on my list was the summer 2011 make-up range which has gone for burnished gold and bronzes with complementing brights to either enhance a tan or make you feel like you've got one. Everyone agreed that the colour  palettes were really good quality with deep pigments and lush colours. Check these out.

Essential Colours Liquid Eyeliner range, a bargain £3.5 each - these gave nice thick, deep lines

Essential Colours Nail Varnishes, a bargain £3 each

Golden Goddess Holiday Palette £7.50

This Perfection Eye-Shadow Quad in Bronze will take you right through to Autumn/Winter for £12
I won't be going on holiday without this amazingly good value  Get Set... Go  bag and bottle set for just £7.50.  With so many airlines getting tough on baggage weight this makes perfect sense.

So at trip to the Beauty counter at Marks & Spencer is both affordable and essential this year! And the preview we got of Autumn/Winter has made me look forward to some wonderful shapes in dresses and warm woolies - watch this space!

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