Mixtape: March

31.3.15


March Mixtape · via Spotify

I didn't quite get round to making a February playlist (I'm blaming the fact that February is a short month, but more likely it's because I'm lazy) so this is a little mix of everything I've been listening to over the last couple of months.

Jose Gonzalez used to be a firm favourite of mine when I was around 15, so I was very glad to see a new album from him which lives up to expectations. This also inspired me to relisten to some other bands from my teenage years like Bloc Party and Green Day (remember when Green Day actually used to be quite good?).

Also gotta give a little shoutout to Lissie's cover of Metallica's Nothing Else Matters. I heard it on an advert the other day and I kind of love it. The original version used to be another favourite from back in the day!

The Cure · Six Different Ways
Hozier · Jackie and Wilson
The Avett Brothers · Live and Die
Foo Fighters · February Stars
Bloc Party · Banquet
Green Day · 86
Jose Gonzalez · Every Age
Lucky Jim · You Stole My Heart Away
The Smiths · Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
Lissie · Nothing Else Matters
Listen to "March" here.

What have you been listening to this month?

Gillian x

Edinburgh Zoo: What's On

30.3.15

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Edinburgh Zoo is a firm favourite for summer days out in the capital. It's world-famous for its pandas and the penguin parade, and there are plenty of other animals to see too - my favourites being the squirrel monkeys and the meerkats. But there's much more to Edinburgh Zoo than just being a place for family outings to learn about the animals; I recently headed along for an evening hosted by Lime Venue Portfolio at the zoo to find out what else is on offer this spring and summer.

Did you know you can host your own events and functions at the zoo? You can have your wedding at the grand Mansion House, have your birthday party amongst the animals or, as we tried out the other night, you can hold a corporate event in the Budongo Trail. Organised by Lime Venue Portfolio and with activities from BlueSky, we spent the evening sampling themed food and drink to celebrate Dinosaurs Return (more on this in a minute) - Proseccosaurus cocktail, anyone, or maybe some herbivore and carnivore mac & cheese? There was some animal handling where you could get up close and personal with snakes and bugs (thankfully no spiders), or if you prefer to keep your distance you can just watch the chimps whose enclosures surround the Budongo event spaces. There were also some team building activities like an interactive treasure hunt and even cookery demonstrations. If you're looking to organise a corporate event or business meeting with a twist, Edinburgh Zoo would be the perfect place to hold it!

So, what else is on at Edinburgh Zoo? As I mentioned, our evening had a prehistoric theme because of the Dinosaurs Return exhibition which is coming to the zoo from the 3rd April. Fourteen giant animatronic dinosaurs will be roaming round a specially created "lost world" enclosure as part of the exhibit, and you'll also be able to learn lots more about the dinosaurs. But, extinct dinosaurs in a zoo? As well as being fun and something different, Dinosaurs Return aims to raise awareness of the importance of conservation and the threat of extinction which many animals face today.

This year's Zoo Nights are also dinosaur themed in honour of the new exhibition. At Zoo Nights you get after-hours access to the zoo (no children allowed!) where you can enjoy cocktails and street food whilst exploring parts of the zoo, listening to live music or comedy, getting your face painted or dancing the night away at the silent disco. This year there are also fossil digs to take part in, which sounds intriguing! I went along to Edinburgh Zoo Nights last year with Lynne, and you can see a little bit of what we got up to in my vlog. It was lots of fun, but top tip: go round and see the animals first then get involved with the activities after, as lots of the animals will go to sleep as the evening goes on! This year's Zoo Nights are on the 29th May, 5th, 19th and 29th June.

Will you be visiting Edinburgh Zoo this summer?

Gillian x

A Weekend in York

26.3.15

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Last weekend Laura and I packed our bags and headed down to York for a couple of days. We did a little bit of sightseeing, a lot of eating and drinking, and had a pretty lovely time exploring a new city. Less than three hours away from Edinburgh by train, it seemed far enough away that it felt like a proper holiday but close enough that it was easy to do in a weekend. Find out what we got up to...

Eat & Drink
Our first port of call after we got off the train was Winner Winner. Located right next to the river, this bar & grill serves up tasty American-style fayre like chicken wings, burgers, ribs and steaks. I went for the chef's speciality dish, the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, which was crispy fried chicken served with waffles and maple syrup - it was weirdly delicious and I'd definitely recommend it if you fancy trying something different! Laura ordered the Sloppy Joe and we shared a huge basket of tasty little crispy fries. As well as good food, Winner Winner also do cocktails so we had to sample a few of these too. My favourite was a toffee popcorn concoction which came served with a side of actual popcorn!
On Saturday we swithered about going to Byron, but decided we'd rather go somewhere different instead of another burger place. After a quick scan through Yelp and TripAdvisor, we settled on The Blue Bicycle and I think we made an excellent choice. Previously a brothel in a former life, it's now a picturesque little restaurant overlooking a cobbled street and the River Foss. The food here was amaaaazing. It was on the more expensive side, but not extortionate and the food was definitely worth it. Everything was cooked and presented to perfection, from my scallop and black pudding starter to the sirloin steak main served with a Yorkshire pudding (when in Rome, right?). I'm glad we ended up going here as it was the perfect "special holiday treat" kind of restaurant.
As for drinks, we had Evil Eye Lounge and the House of the Trembling Madness marked out on our to-do list but both were very busy come Saturday afternoon/evening. After a long day wandering round York we decided to just go for the first place we came across which didn't look too busy, and that happened to be Kennedy's. It was a fairly standard modern bar, but perfectly nice and we even ventured out onto the roof terrace for a cider in the sunshine. I always try to avoid chain bars or restaurants if I'm exploring a new city, but I must admit we did have a few drinks in the Postern Gate Wetherspoons because it was right next to our hotel and really cheap.
If it's a fancy afternoon tea you're after, I'd recommend The Grand Hotel. It's right next to the station, so seemed like the perfect place for a spot of afternoon tea before we caught the train home. It's a 5-star hotel so pretty fancy (we discovered trainers weren't allowed in the dining room so had to do a quick change before anyone noticed!) but it was nice and relaxing and we had probably the nicest waiter of all time. Despite not having had breakfast or lunch, we struggled to finish the afternoon tea because there were so many cakes! As well as mini sandwiches, scones and tea loaf, there were lemon cupcakes, bannoffee cream, chocolate mousse delice, and rhubarb & custard meringue cones. There were plenty of teas to choose from too, and I opted for a rhubarb one.

See & Do
Saturday morning was spent at York Castle Museum. They do a special half price "Access Ticket" for people aged 17-24, so we were able to get in for just £5 each. This was a really interesting museum which had a bit of everything in it - from a Victorian street full of shops to a "Toy Stories" exhibit which had several toys I remember from my childhood in it (I think this means I am old now). There was also a section about the swinging Sixties and a bit about birth, life and death in York throughout the ages. My favourite part was the "1914: When the World Changed" exhibit which is currently on at York Castle Museum until 2018, as the First World War is kind of my specialist subject. It took us around 3 hours to get round the whole museum (plus a quick stop in the cafe for some cake!) which meant we still had plenty of time to fit in other things in the afternoon.
Rather than doing anything specific, we decided just to have a wander round York on Saturday afternoon. We headed to The Shambles and moseyed around the little alleyways and side streets, popping into a few shops as we went. We ended up at York Minster; it was a bit late in the day to bother going inside for a tour so we just admired it from outside instead.

Stay
Laura was offered a complimentary stay for two at York Central Travelodge so obviously I tagged along! It's around a 15-20 minute walk to the train station and within easy walking distance of all the main shopping areas, tourist attractions and lots of bars and restaurants. Our room was nice and clean with comfy twin beds and an en suite bathroom with bath and shower. Hairdryers were available on request from reception, and all the usual amenities like kettle, TV, towels etc were in the room. There was wifi, but it was only free for the first 30 minutes so I didn't even bother trying to connect - I think free wifi should just be standard in this day and age, but understandable for a budget hotel and it wouldn't put me off staying here again. The only downside was the fact that breakfast wasn't a sit-down cooked breakfast but just a breakfast picnic box. We weren't told about this in advance or even when checking in, and only discovered when we went down on Saturday morning and couldn't find the dining room! As there's a Wetherspoons right next door who do cheap cooked breakfasts, if I was staying there again I'd get room only and not bother with the breakfast boxes.

Have you been to York before? What are your top things to do?

Gillian x

Recipe: Bloody Mary Steak with BBQ Potato Wedges

23.3.15

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Is there anything better than a good steak? Probably not. I don't need much of an excuse to eat a steak, but when a giftset from The Great British Butcher arrived through my letterbox it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The giftset contains all four of their popular rubs and crumbs - Bloody Mary Rub, British BBQ Rub, Lemon & Mustard Crumb and Crunchy Curry Crumb - which come in cute little vintage style shaker tins. Using all-natural ingredients, these spice mixes are full of flavour and Bloody Mary seemed like it would be the perfect accompaniment to some delicious sirloin steaks, served along with BBQ potato wedges and a roasted garlic dip.

Ingredients (Serves 2):
2 sirloin steaks
2 tbsp Great British Butcher Bloody Mary Rub*
3 medium potatoes
2 tbsp Great British Butcher BBQ Rub*
Olive oil
1 bag rocket/salad leaves
4-5 cloves roasted garlic
1 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp soured cream
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and prepare your garlic for roasting. Keeping the skin on, chop off the very top of the garlic cloves and drizzle them with olive oil on a baking tray. Roast for around 20 minutes, or until golden brown and soft in the middle.
2. Meanwhile, marinate your steaks in the Bloody Mary rub. Add the steaks to a dish along with the rub and a dash of olive oil, cover evenly with the rub and set aside. Don't put them back in the fridge as you want the steaks to be at room temperature when you cook them.
3. Prepare your potatoes by peeling them (or leave the skin on if you prefer) and chopping in half lengthways, then into quarters to make wedge shapes. Add to a pan of lightly salted water and par-boil for around 8 minutes.
4. Drain the potatoes and give them a good shake around to roughen up the edges. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the BBQ rub along with a little bit of olive oil and mix well to coat all the potatoes. Spread them evenly on a tray and cook in the oven for around 40 minutes.
5. Make the dip for the potato wedges by combining the mayonnaise, soured cream, lemon juice and Dijon mustard in a bowl. Peel and then finely chop/mash the roasted garlic and add it to the bowl, mixing well to combine all the ingredients.
6. Once your potato wedges are about 15 minutes away from being ready, cook your steak. Heat up a griddle pan until it's sizzling hot, then add your steaks - as there's already a little bit of oil on the steaks there's no need to oil the pan.
7. Depending on how you like your steak done and how thick your steaks are, cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Once cooked, remove from the pan and leave to rest for another 5 minutes.
8. Now it's time to assemble! Add your rocket to the plate (or board if we're pretending to be fancy) and dress with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and top with the rested steak. Dish up the potato wedges and drizzle with the roasted garlic dip.

And there you have it, a super easy and super delicious dinner. Because the Bloody Mary and BBQ rubs come ready mixed, this saves loads of time and means this recipe is pretty quick to make, even on a weeknight after work when you can't really be bothered cooking. The Great British Butcher mixes were really tasty and I can't wait to try the other flavours from the box!

What's your favourite way to eat steak?

Gillian x

Top 5: Things To Do in Edinburgh This Spring

18.3.15

top 5 things to do in edinburgh this spring

1. Scottish Ballet's A Streetcar Named Desire
Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicolson Street, EH8 9FT; 18-21 March, book here.
Even if you're not usually a theatre-goer, I can't recommend Scottish Ballet's productions enough. They are always stunning and manage to transport you away to another world for a couple of hours - in this case it's the deep South for a retelling of Tenessee Williams' classic play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Scottish Ballet have kindly invited me along to tonight's performance and I can't wait as I missed the tour the first time round when it was produced in 2012. It's only on in Edinburgh for a couple of nights before heading down to London and across the USA, so book your tickets quick! A collaboration between theatre & film director Nancy Meckler and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ocha, along with the expertise of the Scottish Ballet dancers and crew, it's set to be a breathtaking performance.

2. Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe
26 Hamilton Place, EH3 5AU; open daily 10.45-6.30, book here.
I'm definitely much more of a dog person, but when I heard there was a cat cafe coming to Edinburgh I couldn't resist booking myself in for a visit. A cover charge of £7 (which helps to take care of the cats) gets you one hour of play time with the cafe's resident cats. There are lots of different types of cats - my favourites being the two cheeky little Bengals - with their own personalities, so whether you fancy playing, feeding them treats or snuggling down for a little snooze, you're sure to find a cat to suit you. If you don't/can't have pets of your own, this is a great way to get an hour or two of quailty animal time. There's also food and drink available to purchase, but you'll be too busy trying to cuddle the cats to worry about a cup of tea!

3. Edinburgh International Science Festival
Various venues; 4-19 April, book here.
Edinburgh's annual Science Festival is back this April with hundreds of events for all ages, abilities and interests. Whether you're looking for serious scientific discussions, fun experiments and exhibitions, or cool activities for kids, there's something to keep everyone happy. You can browse What's On on the website to plan what you'd like to see and do. I'm particularly looking forward to the Gastrofest events which explore the science of food & drink - look out for distilling classes with Edinburgh Gin, "Dining on the Wild Side" at the Botanic Gardens, a Mad Hatter's Tea Party or the LateLab Molecular Cocktail masterclass. I'll be heading along to a little preview evening next week to find out exactly what the Science Festival has to offer this year!

4. Game Masters at the National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF; until 20 April, book here.
Game Masters has already been here for a couple of months, but there's still plenty of time to head down to Chambers Street if you haven't been yet. This unique exhibition explores the history and development of videogames, going all the way from the arcade games of the late '70s to present day apps. And the best part? You can actually play all the games! Have a dance off with Dance Central, go old school with a game of Lemmings, try a classic arcade game of Space Invaders, or lose a couple of hours of your life building some houses on The Sims. You can see a full list of all the playable games here. And after you've finished at Game Masters, don't forget to have a wander round the rest of the museum too!

5. Six Nations Rugby
Murrayfield Stadium, EH12 5PJ; 21 March.
Tickets to the final Scotland v Ireland match of this year's Six Nations tournament are sold out, but even if you won't be at Murrayfield it's still a good excuse to head to the pub and watch the match with a pint in hand. It definitely looks like Scotland will be getting the wooden spoon this year, but at least we tried! There's always a great atmosphere in Edinburgh on Six Nations weekends; if you like to be in amongst the hustle and bustle head to the Grassmarket for a busy night out with lots of other rugby fans, or if you prefer to watch the game with a bit more peace and quiet try a local bar. If you're feeling particularly daring, join the Irish fans for a pint at Malone's!

What are you looking forward to this spring in Edinburgh?

Gillian x

Sunday Summary #157

15.3.15

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1.Cocktails in Glasgow 2.Sunny afternoons 3.Dinner at Scran & Scallie 4.Afternoon tea 5.Drinks at Dragonfly 6.Spring flowers 7.New red boots 8.Pancake Day 9.Scott Monument

So, you may (or may not) have noticed it has been a little bit quiet around here lately. I was struck down with a horrible cold and pretty much didn't leave the house for about two weeks, so life mostly consisted of medicine, Strepsils, sleep, repeat. But the last week or so has been slightly more exciting, so here's a little update on what's been going on.

Last weekend my parents were down visiting, so we started off the weekend with some cocktails at Dragonfly followed by dinner at Passorn on Friday night. This seems to have become a bit of a tradition as we have to fit in a visit to these two favourite every time the parents are here! We've become such regulars at Passorn we even got a complimentary Pad Thai on the house this time - yum. If you're a fan of Thai food you definitely have to visit, I'd even go as far as to say it's the best Thai food in Edinburgh! On the Saturday we ventured down to Stockbridge to go to The Scran and Scallie. I went here for the first time a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it so thought I'd make a return visit with the family in tow. We all had a delicious roe deer dish from the specials menu, of course accompanied by some cocktails and wine. I'm not usually a huge desserts sorta person, but the vanilla & rhubarb cheesecake is ACE and was the perfect end to the meal.

Last weekend I also managed a spot of afternoon tea with Lauren who was in Edinburgh for the weekend. We headed along to Eteaket, somewhere I've been meaning to visit for literally years. We both opted for the high tea and tucked into scones, cakes and sandwiches along with our pot of tea. I'm not a tea drinker (I know, shocking) so I went for one of the fruit teas, Strawberries & Cream. It was pretty nice, but I'm still not a tea convert!

On Thursday I caught the train through to Glasgow with Laura to go to the Debenhams SS15 press evening. It was held in the Gallery of Modern Art which was a stunning venue to peruse next season's clothing and beauty offerings and watch the catwalk show. I particularly liked the H! by Henry Holland accessories (watermelon clutch bag, yes please!), the printed trousers and bright garden party dresses. If only spring would hurry up and arrive already!

What have you been up to this week?

Gillian x

Top 5: Apps to Organise Your Life

11.3.15



1. Sunrise Calendar
Free · Android · Apple
I'm a die hard Filofax fan and have been avoiding using a digital calendar for years, but then along came Sunrise and I fell in love. The interface is clean, pretty, easy to use and fairly customisable. It syncs up with your existing calendar (in my case Google, or you can also link it to iCloud or Exchange) and you can add in your Facebook or Google+ account to easily add in events, birthdays and so on. As I am a huge fan of colour coding, I've added several different categories like blue for work, green for blog, pink for social, yellow for housekeeping and purple for general life. My favourite feature in Sunrise is the little icons it adds based on the words/places in your events - CUTE - but it's also really practical too as you can set reminders, add maps and link up with your friends/colleagues' calendars. There's a desktop version too so it's super easy to use it at home, work or on the go.


2. Wunderlist
Free · Android · Apple
If you love to-do lists as much as me, you need to download Wunderlist. Create lists to your heart's content and then tick things off as you go. As well as to-do lists, I like to use Wunderlist for keeping track of films I want to watch, things I need to organise, holiday packing lists, shopping lists, wishlists and lots of other things like that. You can also make collaborative lists which is great if you need to organise something (I've used it for everything from party planning to a flatmate shopping list). I tend to use it purely as a list making app, but you can also add reminders, due dates, subtasks and detailed notes which is really useful if you're busy and have lots of tasks to get through.


3. Hashnote
Free · Android
Hashnote is one of my most recent downloads, but it's fast becoming one of my favourites. The concept is really simple but super useful: scribble down notes, add hashtags to organise by category or @ mentions to organise by person. Hashnote is my first stop when quickly noting something down, then I can go through and add the important things to my to-do list, strike off anything I've done already or add events to my calendar. The hashtags start to come in really useful if you've got lots of notes as you can quickly sort things by category and see what needs to be done, or sort by person so when you send someone an email you don't forget to add something and have to email them back 2 minutes later! The only slightly annoying thing is the adverts, but you can upgrade for a small fee if this bothers you.


4. Evernote
Free · Android · Apple
This is probably one of the most well-known organisation apps out there, but Evernote is definitely worth downloading if you don't have it already. I use this for eeeeverything. Create notebooks to keep things neat (I've got ones like Blog, Work, Shopping, Travel and General Life) and then add notes to keep track of everything you need to keep track of. Whether that's ideas for blog posts I need to write, recipes to try, work tasks I need to complete, train ticket details or boring things like a note of the type of lightbulbs I need to buy, Evernote is great. I also love the desktop version of Evernote which is particularly useful if you want to do lots of copy & pasting or need easy access to web links. This is basically like a traditional notebook but better because you can edit it as you go, add tags to keep things organised and add separate notes or notebooks so you can easily find things.


5. Google Drive
Free · Android · Apple
Google Drive isn't the most exciting app, but it certainly is very handy. It's great for being able to read your documents through your phone or tablet, but the thing I use it for most is transferring photos from my phone to my laptop (like the ones for this post!) or vice versa. Just add photos to your Google Drive app on your phone and it will sync up to the Google Drive on your computer or browser so you can share them between devices. It's certainly much easier than searching around for cables or emailing yourself photos one by one!

What are your favourite apps to keep yourself organised?

Gillian x