Tuesday, 29 March 2016

February's Degusta Box: Review

For those frequent readers that read my blog on a regular basis, you'll know the drill with Degustabox*, however for those that don't - imagine a beauty box, but instead of beauty products, you receive a stash of food every month that's usually worth over £20. What's even better, I can give you a code at check-out to receive a box for just £6! Stay tuned til the end of this post..

February was a good 'un for me. That has nothing to do with the sweet and savoury treats that were included, honest.

The box included 2 pots of Hartleys jelly (RRP 50p each). I always grab a stash of these when I'm dieting - I find them a really good (but healthy!) sweet treat. Me and my niece had a picnic at the weekend (an indoors one, mind!) and we both had a pot of this jelly - its as sweet and wobbly as I remember! Within the box also came 2 pots of fruit & jelly, again, perfect for a lunchtime treat.

There's always one product that's not going to be for everyone in any box, and for me, this was the 'Nothing But' packs of freeze dried fruit and veg. I've never been a fan of these dried fruits, I just dislike the taste and texture, and think fruit and veg should be ate fresh at all times! Sorry DB!

These Mr Kipling slices are very handy and convenient. Having 4 in a pack for £1.49 is great - almost 1 a day for every day at work. I was a little apprehensive about the flavour ('Cranberry and Orange'), however they were surprisingly nice. I popped them in my bag when we went away for the weekend a few weeks ago. A nice little on-the-go treat.

Beloved date bars (59p each) - If I'm completely honest, these are still sat in my cupboard. I think its the date aspect of it that's putting me off eating them, as I dislike dates. I really do need to try these out though!

J20 (£2.49). Any soft drink in a glass bottle is good enough for me, and these didn't disappoint. These were again, brought along with me for our weekend away, and we enjoyed them whilst kicking back on the sofa in our hotel room. Slightly carbonated, but not too gassy with a lovely fruity kick. I love J20's and tend to opt for this when I'm out.

Sarsons Vinegar (70p) - Well, what can I say about a bottle of vinegar? Apart from this being a limited edition one that features Fish n Chip characters, I cannot distinguish between a good and bad vinegar, they all taste the same to me..

'Berry' VitHit juice (£1.80) - Unfortunately I didn't like this one bit. I was expecting some fruity goodness, however the taste was so bland with a strange kick, and something I really didn't enjoy.

The London Crisp Company (£2.29). Mike and I shared this huge pack when watching a film. They were thick and packed full of flavour, and so very moreish! They reminded me a little of Kettles chips, especially in texture. I definitely wouldn't hesitate in purchasing these.

Nurtibix (£3.79) - This wholegrain cereal is very similar to Weetabix, but so much more tastier! Using coconut, honey and 'the ancient grain Sorghum' gives it a much better taste and something I definitely wouldn't hesitate in buying again. I've really enjoyed having these for my breakfast!

Ritz crisp & thin (£2.19) - These were great for dipping.. They're thin in texture but great to nibble on when you want a light snack. Ritz never fails in the savoury department.

Divine caramel/Dark chocolate (£1 each). The caramel milk chocolate was probably one of my favourite products out of the whole box. Similar to Cadbury's caramel bars, but better. Not being a fan of dark chocolate, I did force myself to try this, and it wasn't as over-powering as some dark chocolate, and the caramel complimented it nicely (making it bearable to eat!). I would definitely opt for the caramel one again for a treat!

Enter the code BLDEG15 at the check out to receive a whopping £6 discount!

To find out more about Degustabox, visit them on twitter at @degustaboxUK

Let me know if you subscribe, I'd love to hear what you think!

*This box was sent to me for review, however this does not effect my opinions.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

KiteNest 100% Natural Products

A few months ago I was kindly contacted by the guys at Kitenest - A new small company that have recently set up in Lincoln, somewhere that is very close to my heart (having spent 5 yrs at university there!).

KiteNest produces products that are 100% natural, completely handmade and never tested on animals.

They kindly sent me 3 of their lip balms to try, as well as their Himalayan salt scrub.

Being presented in a cute compact tin with a range of flavours (Spearmint, Orange and Clove & Lime), the initial consistency of these lip balms took a bit of getting used to - upon first application on the lips they had an almost 'bitty' texture to them, but once massaged into the lips, this instantly disappears, and what is left is a balm that absorbs lovely into the skin, leaving your lips with a very subtle gloss finish, which is something I loved. My lips felt super soft and I noticed the staying power on these to be impressive.

The Himalayan scrub is definitely a good one for those fake tanners out there! This is definitely not a gentle scrub, with its large and abrasive particles really being able to work into the skin and remove all the dead skin cells, grime and that pesky old tan that refuses to budge. I have used it several times now and upon drying my skin feels silky soft. I slap a load of moisturiser on afterwards to really give my skin some TLC. Application wise, it is a little bit messy as the scrub is loose due to it not being combined with any other products which would usually create that binding effect, so definitely one to use in the shower as opposed to the bath.
It would be ideal to use once a week as a full body scrub, however I would not advise to use on more delicate areas such as the face as I can imagine it to be a little too harsh. This giant tub (measuring at 440ml) would definitely last a few months.

Go and give the guys a holla on Twitter - @KiteNest or on their Etsy shop.


Monday, 14 March 2016

5 hours in Amsterdam

A few months ago I was lucky enough to win a trip with P&O Ferries for a weekend away to a place of my choice (well.. to the places they sailed to!). I chose Amsterdam because I'd heard many good things about it.

Fast forward 4 months and the weekend finally came around. I took my mum with me and deliberately booked it over her birthday so it would be a nice treat for her.

We boarded the ferry in Hull and checked into our rooms. Honestly? The bedrooms were not up to much, with pull out beds from the walls, and a tiny bathroom area, and we weren't laden with any luxuries (not even a TV). I also very quickly realised that there were no English plug sockets, only European ones, and I did not think to bring an adapter. Images of straight hair and a fully charged phone disappeared instantly, and I felt like we were immediately going 'back to basics'. This obviously took a bit of getting used to and I can't say I enjoyed being in there.

Leaving Hull Docks
Forgetting the cabins, the ferry itself was fairly impressive considering its predominantly used for overnight crossings only. It consisted of a Starbucks, cinema, 2 duty-free style shops and several bars/restaurants with live entertainment. There were a few stag/hen do's happening, as well as lots of younger couples who were clearly treating this as a alcohol-fuelled weekend away. Feeling a little 'past it', we resorted to the more quieter bar on the top deck, where a live pianist played some soft music. After our drinks, we headed back to the room for an early night (this gave me a chance to catch up on my book too! Oh, the joys of getting old!).

The next morning, being awoken by an announcement over the tannoy at 630am, we made ourselves look respectable and docked at 8am in Rotterdam. Haven't not done any research, I wasn't expecting a 1.5hr coach trip to Amsterdam. Travel sick Tracey here does not cope well as a passenger in any moving vehicle, so sick bags were at the ready! After a gruesome journey, we arrived in Amsterdam at 1130am, and this stomach needed filling in order to battle that nausea and tired feeling.

Not having a clue which way to turn, we headed for the crowds (if in doubt, always follow the crowds!). We settled in this quirky little café called PastaBar. This made me a little anxious because before I head anywhere, I always always check out restaurant reviews - I always think life is too short to visit a poor restaurant with poor food. Always seek out the best! Luckily for us, I since checked it out on Tripadvisor and we were lucky as it had a 4* rating. We both had an English Breakfast whilst watching the world go by. After more mooching around the shops, we spent an hour on a canal cruise, learning about the history of Amsterdam, seeing Anne Franks house (although I never saw it!), and learning how the waterways/canals work over there.

Enjoying a cup of tea with my breakfast. Can I drink from glass mugs every day?

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

We wandered some more, accidentally stepping a few feet into the red light district, seeing a few rather rude window displays then making a swift turn-around before my mums eyes popped out of her head. Not exactly the best person to explore that kind of area with!

Cheese Museum

Cheese Museum

Clogs, clogs and more clogs!

Main Square
We ate a Nutella & Hazelnut waffle in a café, discovered a whole new street full of quirky shops and eateries only moments before we were about to head back to the coach, which was a little bit gutting. I wish we would have found this place sooner as it felt like it had a little more character to it than the other side.

Question - How do you find your bike amongst all this lot?! Pretty impressive!
Back on the coach for that dreaded 1.5hr trek back to the boat. Luckily for me I slept for pretty much the whole way, so it flew by. Boarding the boat, we had a meal at the buffet restaurant and I ate a delicious Terry's Chocolate Orange Cheesecake. Yum. We later sat in the 'Sunset Lounge' bar and watched a live singer sing some really cheesy (but good) songs. We then resorted to our rooms for our last night on the boat.

Overall, would I do another P&O ferry cruise? Probably not. To travel 12 hours on a boat with no in-bedroom luxuries, a further 1.5hrs on the coach for only 5hours in Amsterdam, to then have to repeat it all is not really worth it.

Have you ever had a weekend away with P&O ferries?

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Alice in Wonderland Themed Afternoon Tea at Richmond Tea Rooms, Manchester

If you have read my Manchester post, you will know that in mid February I visited Manchester for a few days. This trip was predominantly to see Mary Poppins (The Musical), however of course I popped a few more things on my itinerary as well, and one of these was to make sure I took a trip to Richmond Tea Rooms, an Alice in Wonderland themed cafe.
We arrived there just sly of 12 midday, and I'm glad we did because within half an hour of us arriving, this place was bustling with people, and we probably would have struggled for a seat. 

We were situated in the larger rooms of the two, which was quirkily decorated with subtle hints of Alice in Wonderland (i.e. the magic mushroom statues on the windowsills, and fairytale-esque wallpaper. It also had a cute undercover area that added even more uniqueness to the room. The decor wasn't as strong and themed as next door (I caught a glimpse and the colour scheme looked predominantly red and black, reflecting The Queen of Hearts I presume). 
Although the menu had lots to offer, both sweet and savoury snacks, as per tradition, we of course opted for the Queens Afternoon Tea, which I believe retailed at £18pp. The service was very efficient, and no sooner had we put our orders in, the mis-matched vintage teacups and saucers were arriving, and 5 minutes later, out came the afternoon tea stand. This is always the most exciting bit of any afternoon tea visit; exploring the stand and seeing what quirky cakes are on offer. I took the obligatory photos, and a kind lady who worked there offered to take a photo of both Mike and I sat at our table. I asked a few questions about the cafe and she was really informative and helpful.

The selection of sandwiches were perfect (and there were no salmon fillings, which was a refreshing change - these always get passed to Mike and he reluctantly eats them!). There were also 2 croissant style pastries, however these were filled with warm melted cheese which was really yummy and made a lovely change from just the standard 4 sandwiches that you are usually presented with in most afternoon teas. All the sandwiches were soft and fresh, and both the filling quantity and quality was perfect. 

Onto the second tier (and arguably the best tier!)... the cakes! We had battenburg, but with quite unusual colours (I've only ever seen the pale pink and yellow one before, so these bolder colours were something new). Who doesn't love a good battenburg though? Some mini macaroons were also included, which is one sweet product that I think is so over-rated, and I'm sure people just buy them because they look pretty for social media photos when a few filters are thrown over! There was also a jelly/mousse style sweet, that I really couldn't tell you the name of because I'm still trying to figure our what it was today! Either way, although it was ok, I would have rather this have been replaced by something else, maybe something with a chocolate kick? Each to their own though...
There was also a small sugared sponge type pastry? It reminded me a little of the sponge fingers that you place at the bottom of trifles at Christmas! Again, I couldn't quite figure out what this was, but it was A-Ok. 
Top tier held the biggest scones I ever did see! They came with the standard jam and clotted cream, and were so very filling. I think I had to give Mike half of mine because my stomach had given in by this point!

All-in-all, although some of the cakes were a bit of a let down, the setting, pleasant service and remaining food items made up for it. I wouldn't hesitate in re-visiting here on our next trip to Manchester. 

Have you ever visited Richmond Tea Rooms?

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel - Luxury Hotel Review

A few months ago I was contacted by the lovely people at Ox Pasture Hall asking if I would like to review their hotel. Of course if you know me, you know I jumped at this chance. Any excuse to travel!

After waiting weeks, last weekend finally came round and it was time to pack our bags and head to Scarborough. Warning - This post is picture heavy!

Not being able to check in till the standard time of 2pm, we parked up in the centre of Scarborough and headed for Mother Hubbards Fish & Chip restaurant after reading some great reviews about it. After a slight detour and a few fine words exchanged with my phone's on-foot sat nav, we spotted it nestled snuggly amongst a row of other shops. We filled our tummies with good ol' Fish & Chips then went on our merry way for a further mooch to see what Scarborough had to offer. Lots of shops, street performers and sea! Although we were out of season, I know Scarborough has a lot more to offer from previous visits (such as their famous boat trips), but I wasn't sticking around too long in that sea wind. My vision was set on that cute little country hotel I'd seen on the website, and nothing else was going to deter me!

Approximately 12 minutes later and we arrived at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel. I felt like we were thousands of miles away from where we had just been. Green hills, tree's and the gentle twittering of birds surrounded us. Who knew that we were so close to the hustle and bustle of that busy seaside resort?

We were greeted by 2 friendly faces and shown to our rooms, which was a short walk across 2 (very pretty) courtyards.

We had been given a luxury suite which was located in the far corner of the second courtyard on the 1st floor. I'm glad that we were situated here as I later realised that some of the other rooms faced into the courtyard, and being on ground floor appeared to offer little privacy. Me being a very private person I was glad that we had countryside views with no possibility of people being able to catch the odd glimpse inside!

Our room was very spacious and bright, with both the living area and bedroom offering ample room. Both had Georgian windows which looked out onto the vast open countryside and cute little duck pond. There was not a sole in sight.. bliss. It was extremely serene and tranquil. I could imagine in the summer, those windows being pushed wide open to let that countryside air in. Lovely!

Bedroom (obvs!)

Living Area

Complimentary Tea & Coffee

Both the living room and bedroom also compromised of a TV. Lots of surface space and storage was provided, as well as complimentary tea & coffee making facilities which are always greatly appreciated for those early morning risers! 2 glass water bottles were also available - it was a slight shame that there was no fridge in the room as drinking water at room temperature isn't always the best! (and I can imagine this to only get worse in the summer).

The bathroom was definitely my favourite - not only was it spacious and bright (which always makes me want to spend more time in there!) - it also had a huge walk-in shower and inviting bath with waterfall style taps.

Pinterest-worthy bathroom, right?!

After checking out our room and having a rest from the travelling, we went for a mid-afternoon stroll around the grounds. We were mooching around for over an hour and didn't bump into a sole, oh, except the sheep. So nice! (Er, not that I have anything against people, like!)

Hotel grounds

After arriving back in the warmth from our walk, that bath was being run, bubbles were being made and I was jumping in. There was something refreshing about having a bath in the peace and quiet, knowing that countryside and nature surrounded you. I felt a thousand miles away from the worries that lay at home, and I was able to lay back and forget these, if only for half an hour. Afterwards, on went the fluffy white complimentary bath robe, and I kicked back on the tan leather sofa and watched TV whilst the sun set over the hills.

That evening we took a short walk across the courtyards to The Courtyard Restaurant and indulged in some fine first class food in a lovely, almost romantic setting. The ambience was perfect.
For starters I ordered Tomato and Red Pepper soup which was so thick, creamy and flavoursome. It definitely made me want to recreate that at home!
Mike went for the Duck Liver Parfait which he said was really nice too.

Duck Liver Parfait

Tomato & Red Pepper Soup
I'm not sure if this was 'normal' service but we were presented with an unexpected dish before our starters, which was Duck Rabbit Terrine with Piccalilli. Whether this was a sample dish, or just simply as a 'filler' whilst we waited for our starters, I don't know, but it was greatly appreciated. Presentation was on point and each item complimented one another. If I was to read this on a menu it's not normally something I would opt for, however I found it really tasty.

Duck Rabbit Terrine with Piccalilli
For mains I opted for the Pink Sirloin Beef with oxtail pie, horseradish mash and braised silverskin onions. My juicy beef was cooked perfectly, and the flavours that oozed from the mash and onions complimented it very well. The oxtail pie that sat alongside the beef for me was quite unique, it was like a completely separate dish. The pastry of the pie was both crumbly and flaky, and along with the kale made a luxurious tasty meal.

Pink Sirloin beef with Oxtail Pie
Mike chose the chicken and chorizo dish that came with kale, creamy mash and pretty flowers sprinkled on top! He said it was extremely nice, and I had food envy!

Chicken & Chorizo
We both finished off with Hot Chocolate Fondant for dessert. This was a chocoholics dream. A small pot of chocolate sponge that oozed melted chocolate once the spoon was plunged in. A scoop of honeycomb ice-cream accompanied this on a bed of biscuit crumbs which was to-die-for.

Hot Chocolate Fondant
All of this food was washed down with an ice-cold bottle of Prosecco (over the course of the whole meal, mind!). After resisting the food coma, we admitted defeat and slowly made our way back to our room. We almost made a detour to the Bistro to have a quick late night tipple around the cosy log fire, but unfortunately that huge king-size bed and crisp white sheets were calling my name. Needless to safe it provided a comfy nights sleep.

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of ducks quacking from the nearby pond. Beautiful sight in a morning but I didn't realise just how noisy ducks can be.. I don't think I needed my alarm clock that morning!

Morning view from living room window

After getting ready, we made our way yet again to The Courtyard Restaurant to indulge in yet more food, this time breakfast. Both continental and full English were offered, so there was more than ample to choose from. I wasn't feeling overly hungry so I opted for a croissant accompanied with an apple juice. Although a little on the small side, this was probably up there with one of the best croissant's I had ever had (and I've ate croissant's in Paris before!). It was one of those melt-in-your-mouth pastries. Mike has a slight addiction to scrambled egg, so as well as making himself some toast and having a yogurt, he also ordered a plate of egg, which he described as 'the best scrambled egg I've ever tasted', and if Mike says that, you know it's bloody good!

Continental Breakfast
With breakfast over, it was time to pack our bags and say goodbye to this hotel. They sent us on our merry way with a complimentary bottle of water which was a simple but nice gesture. Sometimes its the small unexpected things....

I was aware that Forge Valley Woods was very close to the hotel, which I was so desperate to visit, but due to having other plans, I knew we didn't have time for this. Next time, definitely next time!

Source: Google images (Forge Valley Woods)
With the sun shining brightly over this rather mild February day, we decided to head to Whitby, which was a 30 minute drive from the hotel. I've visited Whitby as a child/teenager, but that was many moons ago, and I couldn't remember too much. Pulling up at the car park next to the harbour, I just knew this was going to be a good day. We took a walk down the narrow cobbled streets with its quirky little independent shops, and it reminded me so much of York (which is also not too far away!). Turning the corner and there lay the dreaded 199 steps, the one thing I do remember about Whitby! Surprising myself with my fitness levels, reaching the top gave some fantastic sea-views and the chance to really inhale that fresh sea air. We huddled together on a bench in St Mary's church which overlooked the vast shoreline, trying to fight off the cold sea-breeze. We then continued our walk round the grave yard, coming to Whitby Abbey, which was something on my itinerary that I wanted to do. Armed with our personal information guide (i.e. controlled speaker), we made our way around the ruins, learning about the life of monks and nuns. It was all rather interesting, a great way to spend an educated hour!

Cute little  soap shop!

Whitby Harbour


Whitby Abbey

With hunger setting in, we took a trip to Becketts coffee shop which was a little off the beaten track, but still pretty central. Oh.My.God - they did THE best 'dragon sausage' beckanini ever! So so tasty. They're renown for their huge slabs of yummy cake too (that big that I had to take half of mine home!).

Chocolate & Mint Cake - Becketts Coffee Shop

Tummies full, we wandered some more and I began to get a real feel good factor about this place. Not only did I like the contrast of quirky shops against modern chain shops, and modernised high streets against cute little cobbled streets and nooks, there was almost a relaxing atmosphere to this place too. People didn't seem to be self-absorbed about what they looked like, and it had that 'anything goes' vibe to it, unlike some cosmopolitan cities, where your face has to fit, almost. I really didn't want to leave, however we've already made a promise to revisit this place in the summer months.

Overall, I had a fantastic weekend away.. one of those that I keep thinking about. It made a change from the city breaks that we usually go for. It has definitely made me want to revisit sometime very soon!

Thank you to Ox Pasture for this opportunity. I'd definitely recommend this luxury hotel in Scarborough this year! Go take a seaside break with a twist!

*Our stay at Ox Pasture Hall along with the evening meal and breakfast was kindly provided free of charge, however as always, this does not effect my opinions of this hotel.
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