2018-04-22 17.22.10…a rose still wouldn’t taste as sweet as it smells. Though its natural flavour is too distinctive to be mistaken for anything else, it is actually very subtle. Not so when these crimson blooms have been made into syrup, as I recently discovered!

Now that the days are getting warmer, I’ve been putting my blender to good use by making us loads of refreshing smoothies. However, the Rose Green Tea I made the other week reminded me of a fragrant ice-cold beverage I used to enjoy as a child growing up in the tropics. It is commonly known as Bandung in the Malay Archipelago, possibly a variant of the popular Rose Milk brought over by Indian immigrants generations ago.

Summer lovin’ had me a blast
Summer lovin’ happened so fast

Aside from being a fab summer drink, the colour alone is enough to set off my mental playlist so it repeats the Grease soundtrack over and over again, with particular emphasis on the above verse so I now can’t get rid of that earworm. Perhaps they ought to re-name this milkshake The Pink Lady!

2018-05-06 17.50.50There are many variations of Bandung, but it is essentially a mixture of rose syrup, milk, cold water and ice. Be forewarned: unless you have a super sweet tooth, go easy on the syrup as it is incredibly saccharine. Some recipes call for condensed milk, but I would personally not recommend it. Evaporated milk is a better option, or the regular stuff you’d put in your tea. Unsweetened dairy alternatives will also work.

You could try making your own rose syrup, but I’m saving my supply of petals for other projects, so I turned to good old eBay and bought myself a bottle of Natco‘s. All ingredients went into my trusty blender, and pretty soon I had myself a frosty and frothy (frosthy? 😀 ) pink concoction served with edible gold sprinkles and of course…a cocktail umbrella, because no sunny day is complete without that!

2018-05-06 19.22.34My love affair with rose as an ingredient continues, and has extended from culinary endeavours to skincare. I have a few plans in mind and would ideally prefer to use rose essential oil in my beauty products, but it is very very dear, and with good reason. The purest rose otto requires tens of thousands of roses to be distilled just to fill a mere 5ml bottle. It is, however, considered worth the expense because of the benefits to both mind and body. My previous blog post doesn’t even begin to touch on the merits of this botanical wonder.

A cheaper alternative would be to buy a blend, and supplement it with homemade rose-infused oil. The latter is easy enough to achieve. There are a few different methods, but I believe the ‘sunlight version’ yields the quickest result. All you’d need is one part crushed or bruised dried rose petals to one part carrier oil. Grapeseed oil is fine, but sweet almond, jojoba, and even olive oil will also do. If you choose to replace the dried petals with fresh ones, ensure they are from organic roses (so no chemicals have been sprayed on them) but still be wary of mould forming due to moisture content.

Place both ingredients in a clean jar and give it a good swirl to make sure the petals are all submerged. It is absolutely crucial that your chosen vessel did not recently contain anything pungent. Otherwise, you’d be making the mistake I did with my first batch of rose oil. The jar in question had Country French sauce in it a few weeks prior, and it initially seemed like a long soak and a few hot washes did get rid of the smell. Oh, how I was mistaken…The end-result of my rosy enterprise had to be binned because garlic is nobody’s idea of perfume!

Get a pot of water on the boil whilst filling the jar. Once it’s bubbling, turn the flames off and sit the jar in the hot water. The heat will help to release the rose scent into the oil. When the water’s cooled down, move the jar to a location that gets lots of sunlight and let the infusion process continue for at least another 24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more potent it will be. I left mine to sit on the window sill for a week before straining it.

2018-05-07 17.09.46 2018-05-07 17.10.13
Another piece of advice: have some coffee filters ready, or empty teabags. Depending on how well you crushed your rose petals, there may be some tiny bits in your oil that a muslin or cheesecloth may not catch. If so, you’ll be glad to have these little paper sieves at your disposal. Give the petals a proper squeeze during this procedure to extract every last drop.

2018-05-07 18.34.03The final step would be to decant the oil into a dark bottle to preserve it. Your rose infusion is now ready to be used neat, or in another beauty recipe. Concentrated in a receptacle (regardless of jar, bowl or bottle), it might give off an odd earthy aroma, somewhat akin to wine. Like me, you might wonder if something’s gone horribly awry. Though I can’t quite fathom the cause, I’ve found that it isn’t one for concern. When applied to skin, the oil did exactly as expected, which was to leave me smelling of roses. 🙂 ❤

2018-04-15 14.33.40As jam is typically made from fruit, some argue it would be more accurate to call this a spread, or even custard because it contains egg. This is an ongoing debate that stems from confusion over the correct classification of coconuts. In botanical terms, coconuts do fall in the fruit category. Somewhat of a misnomer, ‘coconut’ is technically defined as a fibrous one-seeded drupe, putting it in the same league as plums and apricots.

To us Asians, the name of this breakfast condiment has never been a matter of contention since we just refer to it as kaya (or srikaya). However, there are quite a few variations (including a green one) depending on how it is made, so we may not always agree on which version is best!

I am a complete novice when it comes to making jam, so to keep things simple, I opted for a fast and easy recipe that only makes a small amount. Basically, I cheated. 😀

Please note that the end product of this method will only approximate the taste of the genuine article. It’s great for those living in countries where this coconut jam is not readily available, but want a quick fix to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Making authentic kaya requires a great deal of kungfu (not martial arts…there is more than one definition!), slaving over a double boiler, and involving at least an hour (sometimes more) of stirring. Kaya usually requires eggs, but this particular approach omits the whites and uses only the yolks. True, your jam will not thicken up quite as well, but there will also be less lumps to break up, which reduces the need for all that arm action.

Some day, I will attempt to make kaya the proper way, but for now…this will do.



INGREDIENTS:

200ml Coconut Milk*
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 tbsp Gula Melaka** – Grated
4 Pandan Leaves*** – Knotted
4 Egg Yolks

2018-04-15 12.48.09METHOD:

Mixture A – Gently heat the coconut milk, sugar, gula melaka, and pandan leaves in a pot (no need for a double boiler). Turn off cooker once it starts to simmer.

Mixture B – Stir egg yolks, and slowly add in half of Mixture A.

Return pot with the remainder of Mixture A to heat (not too high), and gradually pour in all of Mixture B, stirring all the while.

2018-04-15 12.54.12 2018-04-15 13.11.35
Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the jam begins to coat the sides of your pot.

Add more sugar if preferred. If not, remove pandan leaves and transfer the jam to a jar.

Leave kaya to cool entirely before putting the lid on, and ensure it is airtight. Refrigerate and consume within one week.

*Although it is better to use fresh coconut milk, this is next to impossible to get hold of in most Western countries. However, it is ok to use tinned coconut milk.

**Gula melaka aka coconut (not date) palm sugar can be found in most Asian stores. It is also possible to buy it online. I actually got mine from an eBay seller.

***Another challenging item to acquire, though I did manage to purchase mine from Amazon. The trouble is not only are pandan leaves generally sold in large quantities, they also have a short shelf life and don’t last long in the fridge. I’d advise rolling up individual leaves in some baking paper, putting them in a bag, and freezing the lot.

With enough of these leaves to last me the next six months, I’ve now lined up quite a number of recipes to keep me busy experimenting in my lab kitchen. Pandan flavour is sometimes dubbed the Asian equivalent of vanilla, but I don’t quite agree with that analogy since it is a major ingredient in many savoury dishes from Asian cuisine, such as the Pandan Chicken I made awhile back (served with a prawn and vegetable stir-fry).

20228556_10155381175750856_7038454441550405045_nI was thinking of making it again, but would be happier if I could avoid any deep frying since that activity is almost guaranteed to cover most of our downstairs in a thin film of grease. Then I remembered a childhood favourite of mine – Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: Paper-Wrapped Chicken). It’s a Cantonese variant of Pandan Chicken and best of all, it can be done in the oven! Ji Bao Gai is absolutely scrummy and won’t be difficult to make, so I can’t wait to try it out, but that’s a project for another day. 🙂

2018-04-08 18.46.53…nothing good comes without a price, no pain no gain, take the good with the bad – I’m sure you’ve heard them all before, but I learnt something new this weekend. Despite the aphorism, not all roses have thorns!

I know little about horticulture and the same goes for my husband David, so our garden is pretty much a disgrace, being left to grow wild 99% of the time. The 1% that we devote to it consists of hacking away weeds or branches that prevent us from getting from front door to car door. We are definitely people more suited to enjoying beautiful landscapes than creating or maintaining them!

I am, however, far from oblivious of the plant life in our garden, and have always admired the massive bright blooms on a bush next to our driveway, particularly this time of year. More than once, David has speculated that they are roses (though he admitted to being stumped by their thornless disposition), and each time, I have expressed scepticism because (as you can see from the top image) they look nothing like conventional roses, except when they are budding (as per the photo below).

2018-04-15 14.02.14On Sunday, I was finally spurred to settle it once and for all by way of Google, and it turns out David might actually be right! Sigh! #CuetheEyeRoll

We appear to be the proud (if somewhat lackadaisical) caretakers of the Rosa Gallica Officinalis, otherwise known as the Red Rose of Lancaster, one of the eponymous emblems from medieval England’s Wars of the Roses and official county flower of Lancashire, thus making perfect sense that it should be flourishing on our little patch here in this part of the country. Doh! I could be forgiven for my ignorance, but Blackpool-born-and-bred David should have known better…tsk tsk! 😀

This damask of ancient pedigree is, when you take into account our neglect, fortunately hardy and will grow in most conditions. As mentioned previously, it has the unique honour of being among the few roses that bear little or no thorns…somewhat ironic given its place in a long history of bloodshed.

Sometimes also known as the Apothecary’s Rose, it earned that nomenclature by becoming a popular ingredient in many medicinal and cosmetic products. Various varieties of roses are today still widely used in food, perfume and skincare, including homemade preparations. The beautiful crimson blossoms in my garden have inspired me to adopt a rose theme in many of my recent ideas, and I began by experimenting with my favourite hot beverage – tea!

Full of vitamin C and antioxidants, rose tea has a reputation for having wonderful healing and restorative properties that can help slow down the signs of ageing whilst boosting immunity. It is considered to be anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, making it highly effective in treating a number of skin conditions, such as acne. Although the probiotic claim seems rather doubtful to me, roses are often listed as a part of many detox and weight-loss teas.

Edible rose petals or rose hips can be easily purchased if you haven’t got a rose bush (or if like me, you simply don’t fancy plundering too much of your own garden), and a few supermarkets even stock them. The price and quality can vary, so some shopping around may be required before you find a suitable supplier.

2018-04-15-19-24-541I’m generally pretty adventurous (especially when it comes to food) but as described above, rose tea is detoxifying, and working as a mild laxative is one of the ways it purges your body of impurities. This is great if you’re not…erm…regular, but those making this for the first time may want to keep quantities small (perhaps start with half a teaspoon) by combining the dried rose petals (lightly crushed or bruised to release the scent…I use a mortar and pestle) with something more familiar, like black or green tea. I picked the latter as I felt the light and delicate flavour of green tea would better complement the floral element of this brew.

2018-04-15-20-44-58If you’re concerned the scent of rose petals will be so overpowering that it would be like drinking perfume, worry not! Its natural fragrance is incredibly more subtle than I expected, and taste-wise this blend is more like green tea with only a very slight hint of rose. Some people like to add a bit of honey, but unless it’s black (which I take very strong, sweet and creamy), I prefer my tea unsullied.

It’s up to you how long the teabag should be left to steep…I actually didn’t remove mine as I was hoping for a more intense aroma. There’s simply no better way to enjoy a steaming hot cuppa than taking time to smell the roses.

2018-03-18-20-34-465done
The vernal equinox took place a week ago, and marking this astronomical occasion was the usual Google Doodle, which led a couple of my colleagues to remark: “I’m sure the first day of spring has already been and gone!”

They’re not wrong…Meteorologically speaking, it did. As explained by our Met Office, there are (just to confuse us) two dates – one determined by temperature, and the other by our planet’s position. Regardless of how you prefer to split up the seasons, the weather is definitely warming up, and despite freak snow flurries not long ago, daffodils here have finally gotten the memo. I actually noticed a few tentatively poking out of the ground on the way home from work last weekend, so yay! At last!

Sunny days beckon – time to banish that winter pallor and prep your skin for summery outfits by putting the radiance back in it. What better way to celebrate this period of regeneration than with natural homemade skincare?

Rounding up the ingredients to make your own body wash is relatively simple. They are available at many online stores or marketplaces. You’ll also most likely be able to buy them at your local health store on the high street.

2018-03-17 16.28.11 2018-03-25-22-42-591done
Three key elements are required – castile soap, raw honey, and coconut oil. You can then add your own choice of essential oils, depending on what your skin needs and/or fragrance you like. For my body wash, I have used grapefruit and rosemary. As a prelude to the recipe, I thought I’d touch briefly on the benefits of all these items:

CASTILE SOAP
Sourced from the Spanish region it was named after, this cleanser is made from olive oil, and its use can be traced back to Queen Cleopatra. Besides being kind to the environment, it is also not animal-based, which should please vegans and vegetarians. Although gentle and safe enough for sensitive skins (including those who suffer from eczema etc.), castile soap does clean very effectively without drying your skin. It can also fight acne since it possesses antibacterial properties.

RAW HONEY
The most natural and least processed form of honey is best for this endeavour since you’ll want to make the most of its skin-saving qualities. This is a staple ingredient when it comes to DIY beauty. Unpasteurised (aka raw) honey is full of anti-ageing antioxidants that can bring a glow to your complexion. It is antibacterial and clarifying as well, thus helping to unclog pores, whilst healing and soothing your skin at the same time.

COCONUT OIL
I am never without several jars of this tropical wonder because it is such a great all-rounder. Not only can you cook and bake with coconut oil, but it can also work miracles on your skin and hair. Particularly with regards to the latter, coconut oil has rescued me from more than a few tangly snags and frizzy disasters. This oil is an excellent moisturiser, and has the ability to penetrate far down into the skin to repair collagen layers. It is hypoallergenic and locks in moisture, creating a physical barrier against all sorts of harmful agents – such as pollution, harsh UV rays, and free radicals. Being both antibacterial and antifungal makes this oil an ideal deep cleanser and make-up remover (eyes included). Since it literally melts in my hands, I would normally apply coconut oil (solid at room temperature) straight from the jar. However, to make this body wash, you’d have to liquify it using the double-boiler method.

GRAPEFRUIT ESSENTIAL OIL
Just the smell of this oil alone is a good reason to add it to your beauty regime. It is a fabulous energiser and stress buster. Due to its lymphatic stimulant and diuretic traits, grapefruit oil is often listed as an ingredient in cellulite-busting and firming creams. A robust circulation booster, it can also dilate blood vessels and relieve inflammation. Combine with a carrier oil (such as coconut) and you have a nourishing salve that wards off toxins and builds skin immunity.

ROSEMARY ESSENTIAL OIL
As a natural deodoriser, this will keep odours at bay. The same characteristic, plus the limonene and camphor it contains, also repels insects, especially mosquitoes. Rosemary oil is an anti-inflammatory which aids healing, and even reduces puffiness. Rich in nutrients, it’s been described as an efficient combatant of sun damage and age spots, with fatty acids that can aid in tightening skin. Being an astringent means rosemary oil can act as a toner when mixed with a carrier. Add to that its muscle-relaxant capabilities, and you have another versatile must-have for DIY skincare.

2018-03-18-19-13-534doneGRAPEFRUIT & ROSEMARY BODY WASH
Moving on to the how-to part of this post, it goes without saying that you’re going to need a bottle (preferably pump) to decant the body wash once you’ve made it, along with a bowl, spoon, and the following:

100ml Melted Coconut Oil
100ml Raw Honey
225ml Castile Soap
20-25 Drops Essential Oil

2018-03-17 18.02.03 2018-03-17 18.07.51
First, put the coconut oil and honey in a bowl. Give the mixture a bit of a stir, but don’t worry too much if it doesn’t come together.

Next, add all the castile soap gradually, stirring gently as you do so.

Last to go in is the essential oil…It can be just one type, or you could create a blend (like what I did with grapefruit and rosemary).

There are no hard and fast rules here. The advantage of a homemade beauty product is the wherewithal to customise it to your taste and requirements, so feel free to experiment. 🙂 If it’s your first time dabbling in aromatherapy, my advice is to start off with small amounts of oil. Some are considerably more potent than others, and you don’t want to end up with a potion that’s too overpowering!

Once all the ingredients have been combined, pour the concoction into a bottle, and that’s it…all there is to making your own body wash at home! The only thing that remains is to stick a label on. I didn’t have any waterproof ones appropriate for bathroom storage, so I just used old-fashioned DYMO (or rather, MoTEX) labels. I love that retro look; they even come in quite handy when decorating gift boxes.

2018-03-17 16.31.23 2017-09-19 23.27.28
You can tell from my photos that the various elements of the body wash do separate eventually, but it only requires a little swirl or shake prior to using. Although it doesn’t lather much, this body wash will still leave you feeling thoroughly cleansed. My hubby David isn’t too keen on the fatty smell of castile soap, but all I can detect is a faint whiff of the medicinal which I do not mind. I did expect the fragrance to be stronger, but it was surprisingly mild. Perhaps more drops of grapefruit oil is called for…

2018-03-18-20-49-57done 2018-03-18-20-55-51done
To complete this body pampering set, I also made a matching sugar scrub. It is more suitably used as a treatment, rather than a stand-alone cleanser. Natural scrubs generally need a bit of a stir beforehand, and this is no different. As with all aromatherapy bath and shower products that are oil-based, take care not to slip when using them. Your shower floor or bathtub may even need a quick swipe with a soapy sponge after you are done.

The grapefruit and rosemary infusion gives off a lovely fruity and fresh scent (slightly minty), as can be expected from a citrus and herb combo. I was initially concerned that the sugar would dissolve too quickly in the wet, but I needn’t have worried as the crystals more or less kept their form throughout, and some even had to be jetted into the plughole before I got out of the tub. As an exfoliant, this body scrub beats any other I have ever bought and, together with the body wash, works superbly well in keeping my skin soft and smooth.

So pleased with the success of this “no poo” equivalent to body care that I am now considering this sugar scrub as another DIY Spa Kit to add to my Etsy store, which will soon be re-opening. I have a few other ideas as well, so be sure to keep a lookout for new products coming out later this year by subscribing to my blog. TIA! 😀

29416430_188733358522561_6383110640751345664_nEaster is fast approaching, which means that Lent will soon be over. Although I’m not Christian, I have in the past given up something for this occasion. It’s a good time to challenge yourself as you’ll probably get loads of support from many others who are doing the same…I guess there’s nothing like companions in misery! 😀

Jokes aside, setting myself goals and then meeting them always fills me with positive energy. Plus, it’s kind of like giving yourself a second chance if you failed at keeping your new year’s resolution! I once abstained from all food with sugar and high FODMAPs. My body did feel the benefits after the 40 days, but I’m not about to martyr myself on the detox pyre again in a hurry! It’s not all about sacrifice though…you can choose to start a new habit (like exercising more regularly), or pick up a new skill (theremin lessons anyone?). The important thing is to better yourself (and possibly even help those around you) through incremental changes in your lifestyle. 🙂

This year, I am trying to create less waste, and hope that this will eventually become second nature. It’s true I’m not doing very well at the moment, so I’ve decided to take baby steps by focusing mainly on food for now. This does tie in quite nicely with Lent since you are traditionally meant to use up what provisions you have before the fasting period begins. Also, I have been hoarding loads of empty tubs and jars which should be doing a lot more than just sitting in a cupboard!

Previously, we’d find ourselves chucking away fruit that have gone off (or over-ripened) at the end of every week. Well, no more! I now try to use it all up by making smoothies, or pancakes. However, it’s a bit difficult to do that when you’ve only got one or two items on the verge of expiry, like the couple of lonesome bananas turning black on our kitchen worktop last Sunday. Though still perfectly edible, no one seemed keen on eating them.

19055155_10155234474365856_6692917612276566672_oQuite by coincidence, Jack Monroe recently blogged a recipe for Blushing Berry Banana Bread, and since I always have a supply of frozen blueberries for the Blueberry Oat Bars (pic above) I regularly make for breakfast, I thought…why not?!

I have followed Monroe’s recipe closely, with a couple of small tweaks. My loaf is less pink as I only had blueberries, and because I like my cakes to be quite buttery, I allowed myself one small indulgence by replacing the oil with melted butter. It does of course cost a little more, but if it’s within your means, your taste buds will thank you for it.

2018-03-18 15.57.46 2018-03-18 16.03.32
As mentioned in the original recipe, not all ovens are created equal, and ours is definitely not like the others, since only two gas marks work – one and nine. Baking in our household typically involves faffing about with the oven knob, and re-positioning manoeuvres from one shelf to another before hitting the Goldilocks zone.

29089638_352836771874600_706105186241740800_nLuckily, yummy treats are not beyond our faulty ancient appliance! The Banana Berry Loaf was a success, and emerged from the oven as a kind of cross between bread and cake. We had it freshly baked with some vanilla ice-cream from Aldi…Mmmmm, yesss! 😛

2018-03-11 00.28.40This is what I like to call my budget basket! 😀 It’s perfect for those times when you are stuck for ideas, and have a bit of a cash flow problem. That’s how we found ourselves this Mother’s Day. Fortunately (piggybank-wise), my mum is in Singapore where this occasion isn’t celebrated until May, so for the time-being, we only had to take care of one present.

The gift you see in the photo above is actually for my mother-in-law. She’s the sort of person who likes a simple quiet life, with no particular hobbies or interests (apart from cats), which makes her a pretty tricky recipient. We often buy her feline-related paraphernalia, but wanted to get her something different this time.

Posh nosh is always a great fallback…There aren’t many of us who will say no to yummy treats! They don’t necessarily cost a lot either. The little hamper I put together actually came to less than £15 in total, and could have been cheaper had I not decided to shop in Booths. Well, I wanted it to be special, so it was worth the few extra quid. 🙂

2018-03-10 22.05.54The basket was a bargain from a pound shop, but if you can’t find one that’s suitable, you could cut up a cardboard box and stick some nice wrapping paper on the outside of it. Apart from the card (in colours to match), I didn’t buy anything else because I already owned most of the necessary materials to put this gift basket together. As you can see below, I’ll not be experiencing a shortage of patterned cellophane anytime soon!

Untitled-1 2018-03-11 20.46.31
I also have a collection of artificial flowers I keep as props and decoration. However, you can embellish with something else if you haven’t any of those. Be inventive! I think shaped bath bombs or candles can look pretty as well, or possibly mini plush toys and beads. To cushion the items in the basket, I filled it with some leftover packaging from parcels I’d received, and paper from my shredder.

The whole endeavour was fairly quick and easy, but would have taken me a bit longer had hubby David not lent a hand when it came to taping the cellophane down. I’m really rubbish with dates and suck at time management, so this really isn’t bad for a last minute job (even if I do say so myself)! It’s a trait that must run in the family, because my daughter Zhouyi admitted she was similarly pushed for time and only got my present yesterday!

2018-03-11 11.57.01-1 2018-03-11 11.58.47-2
She does know me well though…Her gifts are always the most adorablest! And that card did make me chuckle. 😀

I hope there’s much joy going round this Mothering Sunday, and that you’re having a lovely time with your mum whether or not you follow the UK tradition!

2018-02-17 23.24.52With all these parcels arriving for me every week, it really does seem like Christmas hasn’t already been and gone…It even snowed earlier today (not my video)! There was only a light smattering on the ground, but it’s not often we get winter flurries on the Fylde Coast so perhaps Navidad has stayed a little longer to sprinkle some joy before the spring showers arrive. 😀

As usual, I got a load of complimentary gifts through the post. February’s loot of freebies was a bit of a mixed bag – a combination of beauty products, food (not just for me, but for my fur baby as well), and even jewellery. Here’s a brief round-up of brands I received goodies from:

Some of them were samples, but a few were full-sized products sent to me in return for a review, or only the cost of delivery. In cases such as the latter, I would advise doing a bit of research to find out how the amount of postage compares to the retail value of the item.

2018-02-17 23.37.01 2018-02-17 23.37.56
The Purina stuff took a little while to arrive, but I couldn’t help feeling a little excited to finally receive them, because…well…cats. 🙂 I am sure my fussy feline would agree! She’s a very picky eater, but loves most crunchy nibbles and Lick-e-Lix so these new additions to her menu will probably be most welcome…Fingers crossed!

I’m also quite excited about trying out the products from Skin Chemists as I’ve heard a lot of good things about how bee venom can benefit skin. Its effectiveness is (apparently) similar to snake venom (another popular ingredient at the moment) but I never got round to testing that because a lot of the well-recommended brands are pretty expensive. Actually, Skin Chemists isn’t cheap either, the bee venom moisturiser you see in the above pic costs over £40 in most stores (though you can get it much cheaper on eBay), so I wasn’t about to turn them down when they emailed to ask if I’d be interested in posting a review if I got it for free.

2018-02-17 23.39.05 2018-02-17 23.34.46
Although I’m not generally too fussed about perfumes, Penhaligon’s fragrance profiling nearly changed my mind. I say “nearly” because all of this store’s aromatic merchandise comes with a hefty price tag, which is a bit of a disappointment to me as the chosen scents – Luna and Lothair – were exquisite, layered, and definitely to my taste.

The necklace was a lucky find as I’d been looking for something similar when I came across a facebook advert for it a few months back. I presume it was leftover stock Save Our Oceans needed to get rid of, because all I had to pay was shipping. All in all, a bargain!



4
 6
Just a quick mention of the next two Boxcitement deliveries I received – the January and February boxes. I would have blogged about them sooner, but so sorry I haven’t really had a chance to due to illness.

 

 

As I’ve started to amass quite a collection, I have set up a gallery with photos of each mystery item from every month. Feel free to browse through them on Google Photos if you’re interested in subscribing to Boxcitement’s service, and would like an idea of what you’d be signing up for.

2018-02-27 23.41.51 2018-03-03 22.18.43
So far this year, I have loved everything they sent me, particularly the weekly planner pad, monthly goal checklist, and birdcage necklace. Some of the contents, though lovely and unique, aren’t really to my taste and are more my daughter Zhouyi’s style (like the wraparound bracelet above), so I gave them to her. Between the both of us, nothing in these boxes ever get the thumbs down.

2018-02-17 22.37.29 2018-02-18 18.33.58
My only gripe is the chains supplied with the necklaces…they’d match the quaint look of the pendants far better if they were burnished brass rather than silver. I’ve got some of my own pseudo-antique chains and jump rings, so I swapped them as soon as I could, and look what a difference it’s made.

Icy storms and ill health notwithstanding, we’ve not had a terrible winter. What’s life without a hiccup or two? I’m certainly not complaining about all the treats that have come my way! Despite that, I wish spring would hurry up and get here, because it’s chilly up in my lofty lair, and I’ve had enough of filling up hot water bottles!

2017-12-15 00.51.39Apologies for this belated review as I actually started this trial more than a month ago. Sadly, being really ill took its toll and interrupted my new Your Good Skin routine. For weeks, I struggled to get out of bed, and sometimes couldn’t even stand up long enough to have a shower (let alone keep up with a beauty regime!). What’s more frustrating – I was only a few days away from completing the challenge! Be that as it may, I reckon I did do it long enough to find out if the above products work well on my skin. To be absolutely certain, I resumed use of them (for another week or so) as soon as I felt better.

You can read my first impressions of Your Good Skin here, but just to recap, I was sent the following full-sized freebies in return for a review:

• Balancing Skin Concentrate
• Pore Minimizing Tonic
• Oil-Lifting Make-Up Remover Wipes
• Instant Dryness Rescue Balm

As I wasn’t supplied with a cleanser or moisturiser to complete the set, I used some of the Boots points I had accumulated over the years to get the following two items:

• Nourishing Hot Cloth Cleanser
• ProVitamin Overnight Cream

2017-12-15 00.54.26This 28-Day Challenge puts the spotlight on the Balancing Skin Concentrate as it was launched only quite recently. However, it is best used in conjunction with other Your Good Skin products.



STEP 1 – NOURISHING HOT CLOTH CLEANSER

2017-12-15 00.57.47
I think I may have previously blogged that I’m not particularly keen on wipe-off cleansers, but I chose this to complement the other Your Good Skin items because I was worried the toner I received, in addition to a face wash, would be too drying. As expected, I did not get that tight feeling on my face after using this cleanser. The cream is quite thick and goes a bit paste-like when applied to dry skin (as per instructions) which means it does not glide on smoothly. As a cloth cleanser doesn’t usually foam up, I had to use more product than one that rinses off. There’s not much of a fragrance, and as far as I could tell, the cleansing was thorough as the toner-soaked cotton pad did not pick up any dirt or residue after this. It’s probably best to mention that my typical mode is makeup-free, so I am not sure how efficient this would be for someone who regularly uses cosmetics.



STEP 2 – PORE MINIMIZING TONIC

2017-12-15 01.20.33Again, not something I am in the habit of using as my regular face wash gets splashed off with cool water anyway. In spite of that, I do feel that this works brilliantly with the Hot Cloth Cleanser and Balancing Skin Concentrate. Although the shrinking effect on my pores was only temporary (this is true for all astringent toners no matter the spiel), they did seem less congested, and there was a light fresh sensation on my face after applying this. It can feel a little warm and tingly at first, but that’s most likely down to the ingredients getting to work, and the Pore Minimizing Tonic is otherwise quite gentle. The only criticism I have of this particular product is the smell…It is a little sickly, but fortunately, it doesn’t last and isn’t overpowering, so this is just a minor complaint.



STEP 3 – BALANCING SKIN CONCENTRATE

2017-12-15 01.05.02
This serum is the main feature of this challenge and is meant to restore natural balance and “improve the 5 key signs of visibly healthy skin”. The trouble is, I can’t actually figure out if the Balancing Skin Concentrate on its own would have made any difference as I did not use it in isolation. Yes, my skin did look a little less dull immediately after application, and felt softer as well, but those results could also be attributed to the cleanser and toner. (I will come to the moisturiser in a moment.) This is why I mentioned earlier that these three – cleanser, toner and serum – perform well in unison.

I found this concentrate easy to apply…A couple of pumps (as per recommendation) is enough to cover all my face, and it absorbs quickly into the skin. The fragrance is also quite pleasant. I am not really convinced that it regulates oil though. The parts of my face that tend to shine continue to radiate…less “like a diamond” and more like greasy pan after a fry-up. 😀 At first I thought it was the Overnight Cream doing it, so I experimented with a more lightweight moisturiser for a few days. Sadly, it did not produce a different result.



STEP 4 – PROVITAMIN OVERNIGHT CREAM

2017-12-15 00.56.16There is a day-time moisturiser available from Your Good Skin that comes with SPF 30, but because I prefer to use my own HG sunscreen, I got the night-time one instead. The consistency of the Overnight Cream is thick and rather rich (I assume the Anti-Oxidant Day Cream is less so). It doesn’t spread on skin very well, leaving a tacky film that takes quite awhile to absorb. To be fair, it is meant to be applied before bedtime, and has kept my combination skin fairly hydrated. The shine factor is (unsurprisingly) high, but I don’t mind that since my sunscreen has mattifying properties (for those times when I am out and about), and at night…well…I’m going to sleep anyway, so who cares what I look like, right?



OIL-LIFTING MAKE-UP REMOVER WIPES

2017-12-15 01.17.49Since I rarely wear makeup, I did not have much of an opportunity to use this apart from the one occasion when I tested the Marc Jacobs Beauty Matte Highliner from my first VoxBox. On that day, I had a full face on so I could take some nice photos to show off my new eye crayons. These wipes managed to rid my skin of most makeup except for what I had on my eyelids, but I suspect the problem lies in the Highliner which is heavily pigmented. I’d say these wipes are about average, and not much better or worse than others I’ve tried, including the really cheap ones from pound shops. Besides, I always follow up with a proper cleanser, and would never rely on makeup remover alone so that I can wake up the next day with pores as gunk-free as possible!



INSTANT DRYNESS RESCUE BALM

2017-12-15 01.00.32
Skin needs a bit of extra help during the winter months, so this came in handy a few times during the challenge. Nonetheless, claims that it provides instant relief and remains effective for 12 hours is a bit of an exaggeration. I often get scaly patches on my face when the weather turns cold, and dabbing this cream on affected areas did soothe it somewhat. It’s a good job the bottle is travel-sized, and doesn’t take up much room in my handbag, because I had to keep applying it quite a few times throughout the day. Whilst the Rescue Balm did keep some of the flakiness at bay, it never quite eliminated the problem. Eventually, I had to switch to the Aurelia moisturisers left over from a previous review, and that soon put my dry skin woes to an end.



OVERALL VERDICT

28 day challengeSo sorry for the slight blurriness of the final photo. I didn’t notice the low quality of it until a few hours later. The lighting was also poorer because it wasn’t as sunny that day, so this before-after comparison is probably not the most accurate! 😀

All images were taken within an hour after application. To demonstrate what I mean about how the Balancing Concentrate doesn’t do much to keep the shine under control, I took the last picture before putting on my mattifying sunscreen. It’s pretty obvious there is quite a contrast between that and the other two.

Contrary to what can be seen in the photos, my skin actually had the same colouring and tone (including blotchiness) on all days. I’m not sure why it had a pinker cast in the first two. I’m no expert, but according to my photographer hubby David, it might be to do with my phone’s white balance.

In all honesty, I was not completely wowed by my Your Good Skin experience because, to the eye, there didn’t appear to be any significant changes from start to finish. If I had to rate it out of five stars, I’d give it three…Not exactly holy grail material. Still, don’t let this put you off trying anything from this collection. I would recommend it for the following reasons:

These products are decent all-rounders. Granted, they do not perform miracles, but they were satisfactory in generally keeping my skin in good condition. Considering how ill I was during the challenge (and during the height of winter too!), I’d have expected my complexion to be far worse, but was pleasantly surprised that its health was maintained (as advertised).

Being more middle-aged than millennial, I am of course worried about the impact of ageing. However, I suffered from severe acne in my younger days, and though I did finally overcome it, I can never shake off the paranoia whenever a breakout occurs. I’ll admit I got the odd spot whilst using Your Good Skin. Nothing to lose sleep over…And it was probably down to hormones, what with it being my time of the month. I doubt any lotions and potions can put a stop to that! My skin is on the sensitive side, so not having to deal with any huge angry ‘eruptions’ on my face is a big plus!

If you’re looking for something to address specific issues (such as wrinkles, scars, age spots, etc), you’ll find more success in other products specially dedicated to those concerns, or possibly more invasive procedures (like laser, peeling, or derma-rolling, etc). That said, Your Good Skin does have a wide selection of skincare, so there’s a chance one or two items in the range could boost your existing treatments.

Would I buy any of them? The Pore Minimizing Tonic gets a definite “yes” from me, and it’s a “maybe” for the Nourishing Hot Cloth Cleanser and Balancing Skin Concentrate (mainly because I am currently using something else I like). Everything from the Your Good Skin range is very affordable, and that’s one of its biggest draws. Majority of the products are under ten pounds, and some even less than a fiver. With all of them being such good value for money, I think this brand is worth a punt at least.

Photo 28-01-2018, 20 43 28Most of January saw me in very ill health, and to make matters worse, what I had was contagious, and soon my entire household was poorly. However, I seemed to have been hit the hardest…Even when everyone else was getting better, I was still bedridden. Not being in a position to get anything done, my shop had to be closed temporarily. After (finally!) being prescribed two strong doses of antibiotics, the worst is now over. Though not quite fully recovered, I am starting to get my life back on track again.

First thing on the agenda has been to make sure our meals at home are healthy again. We were all feeling so sick we couldn’t keep food down, and if I’m honest, my appetite still isn’t what it used to be. Since none of us had been eating right, I decided we needed nourishment from some homemade ABC Soup.

Right now, you’re probably picturing Alphabet Soup in your mind, the one with letter-shaped pasta swimming around in a tomato broth…unless you’re from Singapore or Malaysia of course. Most Asians will probably know I am referring to a Nonya classic. However, the origin of this soup’s name isn’t as clear to us as its contents. The soup’s hearty and nutrient-rich ingredients have given rise to a popular conjecture: ABC refers to vitamins – A in the carrots and corn, B in meat and potatoes, and C in the tomatoes.

I personally prefer a simpler explanation – this soup is as easy to make as ABC, and indeed it is! You literally chuck all the meat and veg in a pot, boil, then leave to simmer. Search for a recipe and you will find many variations out there. You can modify this soup as you like, but the core components remain the same:

• Meat
• Onion
• Garlic Cloves
• Carrots
• Corn
• Tomatoes
• Potatoes
• Water

It doesn’t matter whether you use chicken or pork, but it is best to use meat on the bone as a lot of the flavour will come from that. I used pork ribs this time, but have previously made this soup with chicken drumsticks and thighs. This next step isn’t essential, but I usually like to marinade the meat in some rice wine, white pepper and light soy sauce.

Forgive me for not including exact quantities…I am more familiar with the agak-agak style of cooking, an approach which is quite common in Peranakan culture. Instead of painstakingly measuring out what is needed, we cook based on gut feeling that’s very much tied to an understanding of how each ingredient works with others. Granted there is a lot of trial-and-error involved, but there’s not much that can go wrong with this soup.

Once the meat (and marinade, if so desired) is in the pot, add the carrots and potatoes (peeled and chopped into chunks), followed by the corn (cut into smaller sections), onions (cut into wedges), tomatoes (cut into wedges), and garlic cloves (peeled and crushed). Pour in just enough water to cover everything (but don’t overfill the pot), boil and simmer for a few hours. The longer you cook it, the tastier it will be. A slow cooker would be best for this, though not strictly necessary. An hour before serving (another optional step), season to taste with salt and pepper.

My recent adaptation of ABC Soup that you can see in the photo above has had a few additional items thrown in – Turnips, Goji Berries, and Spring Onions. We normally polish this off with rice and fried egg (sunny side up), but this time, I made so much soup in our humongous slow cooker that we had enough leftover for lunch the next day…Great as a base for instant noodles!!! 😀

2017-12-31 20.47.36 2018-01-07 20.47.11
Before my constitution failed me, I went through a phase of craving mussels, and if I had my way, we’d have had it every night for dinner! Well, seafood is good for you! 😀 Luckily for everyone else, I only had the opportunity to make two mussel-inspired dishes. One was a pasta dish with Grilled Asparagus and Mussels in Creamy White Wine Sauce, and the other was Spicy Steamed Mussels with Ginger and Garlic, which was paired with Spam and Onion Omelette. All turned out as nomalicious as I hoped they would be. 🙂

2018-01-07 21.08.06Just a few days ago, the thought of anything sweet would have made me reach for the vomit bucket, but not long after the Christmas break, I attempted a recipe for Coffee and Ricotta Shots with Chocolate Shavings and Biscuit Base. David and Zhouyi loved it, but I felt I could have done better…possibly because I was aware of the mistakes I’d made. The coffee wasn’t strong enough, and I used icing sugar instead of castor as I’d run out of the latter. When I have a little more time on my hands, I’ll have another go at perfecting it. In the meantime, I’ve got a home to put in order…I don’t know…out of action for a few weeks, and now everything’s in such a mess! 😛

27500985_10155903714310856_4956690107225114775_oLess than a month after my very first VoxBox was delivered, I also received a mystery box of free goodies from Triyit. As mentioned previously, this product discovery club is still in pre-launch phase, which means initial campaigns won’t be very big, so I was well-chuffed to be have been selected.

 

Unlike the VoxBox, I was not told of the contents beforehand, though I did have a suspicion it would be health-related, and I was proven right when a hefty box arrived at my house. As with most full-sized complimentary items, brands expect something in return. It’s not usually much…often just a review and/or exposure on social media.

2018-02-04 20.45.28 27788379_10155903714305856_6875913661854095208_o
The Triyit box came with a campaign booklet that had a set of instructions for each product – little jobs which would lead to earning points towards another collection of freebies. Everything was very straightforward: snap a photo, then share it on any (or all) of the big platforms (Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter) using the relevant hashtags…All stuff I would have done anyway.



MOMA INSTANT PORRIDGE POT – PLAIN WITH NO SUGAR

26871530_148806922589499_3981026257771954176_n
The first product I tried was a little pot of instant porridge from MOMA Foods. Oats are very kind to the tummy, and because of this, my favourite choice for breakfast. I prefer to cook my porridge (with lactose-free milk) in the microwave but, for the sake of convenience, have in the past tried Quaker’s Porridge Pots when out and about.

What makes MOMA’s gluten-free porridge different from most conventional instant porridge is the type of oats they use. They are wholegrain, with a generous helping of jumbo oats, therefore making them less processed and higher in fibre. MOMA’s blend of oats has a lower glycaemic index, and will keep you full for longer, making it a far healthier option than most brands.

The only other ingredient is low-fat milk powder, so all you need to do is add hot water and stir it thoroughly. Although MOMA does sell an interesting variety of flavours, the plain and sugar-free porridge leaves you free to improvise by mixing in fruit, nuts, or syrup (maple for me please). The texture of this porridge does take some getting used to as it’s quite gummy and chunky…definitely not as creamy as the porridge I normally have at home. That said, it would be pretty handy to have one of MOMA’s pots around when you’re on the go (or at work, like me in this instance). As you can see, it’s not very big, but it was certainly very filling and when lunchtime came round, I found I wasn’t hungry in the slightest!



LOVE CORN ROASTED SNACK – SMOKED BBQ

27878135_365661947235858_3985098939035549696_nMidnight snacks are a bad habit of mine. Actually, it doesn’t have to be midnight. I am often munching on something at bedtime. However, it is mostly junk food…sometimes chunks of cheese or salami, and even chicken drumsticks. It’s worse when on holiday in Singapore as my mum and I would drive around looking for food stalls (loads open late there), eventually consuming a heavy supper before slipping into a food coma at 2am!

The night (or should I say ‘morning’?!) I tried Love Corn‘s snack was probably the first time (in a long long while) I had something healthy past 9pm. It’s really yummy, moreish, and (being low-cal, high-fibre, vegan, gluten-free etc.) also completely guilt-free, making it great for those times when one is feeling peckish, even if it is at silly o’clock!



EAT REAL LENTIL CHIPS – SEA SALT

26872369_287173421810594_781205253507776512_n
I never buy ready-salted crisps, so I was a little sceptical when I opened the bag of Eat Real‘s Sea Salt Lentil Crisps Chips. Since it was Friday night (Netflix & Nom!), I made sure my more exotic-flavoured crisps (such as Wasabi Ginger, and Lobster Firecracker) and pork scratchings were on standby…just in case. I’m pleased to say I needn’t have bothered because the Lentil Chips were a treat and I soon scoffed the lot. Although they only had sea salt on them, the natural flavour of the lentils came through, making the chips quite tasty. I think I actually prefer them to the ordinary spud variety, and of course these will be much better for your body. They’ve even got a crunchier texture!

Other natural snacks by Eat Real are also available, and whilst I can’t list all the stores that stock them, I have previously spotted in Morrisons their Quinoa Chips which I will be adding to my next shopping list.



GET NOURISHED ICED COFFEE – HAZELNUT & CACAO MOCHA

26872777_250020888871740_8509164283139981312_n
Although I often cannot do without my morning latte, I have to admit I predominantly get my caffeine fix from leaves rather than beans. However, when I do drink coffee, I like it extremely creamy and loaded with sugar. This Iced Coffee from Get Nourished only ticks the box for the former, but (for obvious reasons) not the latter. It does have a very strong taste, and (as expected) smells a lot like Nutella (not that I mind). To be honest, I wasn’t totally keen on this beverage. Yet, I was convinced that coffee-lovers would actually enjoy it, so I decided to get the opinion of a true connoisseur – my husband David…And guess what?! He gave it a thumbs-up! 😀

I suspect David’s conclusion was based mainly on flavour alone, but there are a lot of other benefits to drinks from Get Nourished. Like the brand name implies, their coffees are highly nutritious and ideal for those with a fitness regime that requires lots of energy and protein. Plus, they are also gluten-free and lactose-free. As an added bonus, Get Nourished will donate 1% of sales to The Kinetic Foundation, a charity that aims to improve Sport Education for kids.



THE BERRY COMPANY SUPERBERRIES – PURPLE JUICE DRINK

27575024_290912414771271_1744569750895198208_n
I thought I’d save the best for last, because this drink is easily my favourite item in the Triyit box. If you love Ribena, but not so much a fan of the sugar that’s in it, and can’t quite stand drinking the ‘light’ version due to the saccharine taste of aspartame, this vegan drink from The Berry Company might convert you. Even my 17-year-old daughter Zhouyi, who drinks Ribena by the gallon, was impressed.

The Superberries Purple Juice is super refreshing, super light, and super delish. The Berry Company have got the fruity flavour and sweetness level just right, and it’s all down to the natural ingredients they use. There are no artificial additives in it, and as per the other products reviewed on this post, also free from gluten, fat, and GMOs.

Sadly, Purple Juice is not yet available in most supermarkets, and the one litre carton retails for over £2. This might change over time since it’s still a fairly new product. Until then, it’ll have to remain an occasional treat each time I visit my local Holland & Barrett.



Free gifts are always fun to review, and the Triyit box was particularly enjoyable…probably due to being filled with multiple goodies. It felt like it was Christmas all over again! Hopefully, this (and VoxBox) is only the beginning, with many more to follow. As they say, good things come in threes. Well, I’m keeping my fingers crossed it doesn’t just stop there!