Blog

Finding Joy in January

Why the bad rap’s totally unjustified…
Finding Joy in January - The Cardiff Cwtch

Hey look at us; who would have thought? Not me! Because the fact of the matter is that anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve got a long history of ripping on January. Historically, I’ve hated it. I’ve called it the worst month of the year, the most depressing month of the year, and if there’d ever been a petition to bin January then my signature would have been right at the top. I mean, let’s be honest; at face value, there’s not a lot to like. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, there’s all that new year/new you pressure, all the Christmas fashion’s on the floor in the sale section, and – let’s be honest – the bank account’s always in a state of recovery this time of year.

So I was more than a little bit surprised when the other day (in the middle of cleaning my bathroom – that’s when all the big thinking in my life happens, clearly) that so far, I’ve actually really enjoyed January. Even though, I haven’t really done much. I haven’t booked any holidays, I haven’t eaten out (other than a massive fry up round the local garden centre cafe), I hadn’t even hit the Sales until last week. I’ve just been quietly doing the things I enjoy – like cooking, writing, walking – and since Sunny decided to relax the crazy hours he was working before Christmas, we’ve had more time to piss around on the PlayStation and goof around with Bungle. There have been zero plans made, zero events attended… and zero expectations.

And that’s the trick to it, I think. Zero expectations.

The trouble with January is that there’s a huge amount of pressure to blast out the other side of Christmas and into the new year at a hundred miles an hour. It’s all about movement – about setting goals, making plans, booking holidays, and this year I just didn’t bother with any of that! Not intentionally, I might add; the truth is that it was a busy Christmas and I was absolutely knackered come January 1st. I needed a break – a couple of weeks just to breathe – to slip back into a routine. I didn’t want to throw myself at a hundred miles an hour into anything other than my baggiest jumper, the left over Christmas chocolates and season one of The Witcher. Normally I’d have slapped my own wrist after a couple of days and had a bit of a word with myself, but this year I decided to just allow that slight pause and not expect too much out of January – and I tell you what, it’s been the best thing I’ve done for myself in a while.

Finding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff Cwtch

The only slightly “January” thing I have done is that I’ve started documenting on my phone – through my camera roll and in my notes – the little things that I’m grateful for every day. Small things, like late breakfasts on the weekend, frosty mornings walking Bungle in the field, a bargain Sezane shirt dupe for £5, home improvements and playing board games with my family. I knowwwwww – whenever I’ve seen people mention Gratitude Journals in the past my eyes have rolled so far back into my head that I could see my own brain. But after a heavy 2019 the only thing I’ve been craving for 2020 is more of the little things I enjoy – and writing them down and taking pictures of them just serves to remind me what those things are. That way I can make time for more of them – which is exactly what I’ve been doing so far this January. No big plans, no expectations, just small moments of gratitude for the things I love. 🙂

Finding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff CwtchFinding Joy in January - The Cardiff Cwtch

Have a great weekend everyone! 🙂

Vegetarian Ramen with Grilled Sweetcorn

…for all the hopeless (flu-infected) ramen-tics out there…

Tell you what, I might as well paint a massive red “X” on my front door to ward off all potential visitors, because the winter lurgy finally came a-knocking last week. Sunny became a walking fountain of mucus first, and then – even though for a while it looked like I was going to dodge it – I got that tell-tale scratching feeling at the back of my throat and knew I was doomed. I’m currently writing this bundled up in my dressing gown, ponging of Olbas Oil and chained to a box of tissues. Breathing through your nose is such an underrated luxury. I miss it.

There’s nothing quite like a massive bowl of ramen when you’re sick, is there? I mean, any and all soups are pretty good when you’re a walking plague victim, but ramen – for me anyway – is the ultimate winner, and I’ll tell you why. All soups are warm and comforting, but ramen goes one step further. It’s full of healthy fresh greens (which you can pick and choose), it’s packed full of flavour (enough to get through to those flu-muffled taste buds), the noodles are filling (so you feel like you’ve actually eaten more than just a bowl of hot water), I defy anyone not to smile at the sight of a perfectly gooey soft boiled egg floating in front of them… and the added chilli garnish will do wonders for a blocked nose.

Now, normally I’d either cart myself down to Wagamama for a bowl of their Shirodashi Ramen (YAS), or pick up a one of the Blue Dragon Ramen Kits, but last week before my cold spiralled out of control and I was still more or less functioning – I felt like making some from scratch. Anyway, I came across a picture of a ramen bowl with grilled corn in it and I was intrigued. I’d never thought of putting sweet corn in a bowl of ramen before, but tell you what – it was a game changer. The sweetness, the crunch, the buttery charred bits… oof. It was exactly what my noodle bowl had been missing all this time. Added to the mushrooms, spring onions, cabbage and obligatory soft boiled egg, it was a winner. 🙂

Vegetarian Ramen with Grilled Sweetcorn

Serves 2
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp garlic paste
  • 2 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp yellow miso paste
  • 600ml water
  • 500ml good quality vegetable stock
  • handful of spring onions, sliced
  • 1 large corn cob
  • handful of shittake mushrooms
  • handful of sliced red cabbage (throw it in as late as possible otherwise it’ll turn your broth blue!)
  • two dried noodle nests (or enough for two)
  • 2 soft boiled eggs
  • handful of Ito Togarashi or chilli flakes to serve
Method
  1. Warm up your wok or a deep pot on a medium heat, then add the sesame oil. Next create the base for your broth by throwing in and stirring together the mirin, rice wine, soy sauce and miso paste, as well as the garlic and ginger pastes.
  2. Next add the vegetable stock (the better the quality, the better the broth!) and water. Throw in your shittake mushrooms and half of your spring onions. Bring the broth up to the boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover and then leave to simmer for at least half an hour.
  3. In the meantime, slice up your garnishes (that’s the rest of the spring onions and the cabbage) and prepare your corn cob. Slather the corn cob in butter, then wrap it in foil and cook it in the oven at 200°C for 20 minutes. Once cooked, slice into strips.
  4. Check the packet instructions for the noodles – usually you’ll add them to the broth about 10 minutes before you’re ready to eat.
  5. To serve up, first use some tongs to take out the noodles at pop them in the bottom of the bowl. Then ladle the broth over the top. Lastly, garnish with your fresh spring onions, cabbage, corn, soft boiled egg and chilli.
  6. Slurp away!

Have a great week! 🍜🍜🍜

Best of the Decade: Beauty and Skincare

…and all the products I’m taking into the next
Best of the Decade: Beauty and Skincare - The Cardiff Cwtch

Tell you what, I couldn’t quite get my head around how long a decade is or what that the passage of that chunk of time actually feels like until I sat down to write this post. Just looking at the contents of my makeup bag now compared to what they looked like ten years ago really drummed home just how much time has passed, and how much my habits have changed during it. How much I’ve changed! Or haven’t, in some case. You know me, I rarely dish out blog posts about beauty and skincare for the very simple reason that I don’t really shake up my stash all that often; I’d make for a very boring beauty blogger because I stick with the same tried and true products year in, year out – which may be the case now, but it definitely wasn’t ten years ago.

At the start of the decade I was 24 and had just moved to London with my then boyfriend, now husband. I was still clinging desperately on to my long (very split-ended) hair, had finally surfaced out of those horrendous teen acne years, and – seeing as I was finally in a steady job – found that I had a little bit more money to finally dip my toes into high end beauty rather than just cheap out down the Number 17 aisle (sorry Boots!). The problem was, I had absolutely no clue what was right for my skin or my hair – and as for makeup? Well, let’s just say that my forays into that were experimental at best. When I think about how much I spent on poorly-thought out beauty purchases during those ten years, I honestly want to weep. I crammed the tiny bathroom cupboard in my tiny London flat full of products that I very rarely repurchased or even finished. Yeesh.

So, heading into the next decade the biggest lesson I’m taking with me is that I really don’t need a lot of products. I have my favourites that work, and I’ll stick with them until they don’t work. Some of those favourites are high end, and some are drug store and that’s absolutely fine with me – the truth is that there are some products I feel that I need to or am willing to spend a little bit more on, and then there are some that I can totally cheap out on and then enjoy more takeaways as a result. 🙂

…Oh, and I need to drink more water. Lots of water.

Best Makeup Products of the decade - The Cardiff Cwtch

Makeup

The biggest change when it comes to slap over the past ten years is that I’ve gone from a massive tub of makeup, to one tiny makeup bag. It’s brilliant! Streamlining my kit means no more rummaging first thing in the morning, and less waste. It does also mean that I’m incredibly selective now about which products make it into that kit – and I’m willing to spend a little bit more on the ones I can’t live without like foundation, eyeliner, lipstick and eye shadow. I don’t tend to do a lot with my face these days – I go with pretty much the same look every day (dewy base and contour, eye shadow, winged liner, mascara, eyebrows, done!) and so I’ve managed to really streamline my makeup bag – especially over the past couple of years.

IT Cosmetics CC Cream

I could never seem to make up my mind when it came to foundations. In 2010 I’d just stepped into my twenties and out of my late teen acne phase and was very nervous about picking the right foundation for my skin. I tried so many – Benefit’s You Rebel (sadly, no longer with us – RIP) was my go-to for a while (I LOVED the scent of it, but its coverage was weak sauce), as was Bobbi Brown’s BB Cream – until Bourjois introduced their Healthy Mix Foundation. It was cheap, it smelled great and worked like magic on my sensitive, slightly red skin. I still love it, and still tend to use it on days where I don’t feel like I need a full face of makeup. But there’s a tragic end to this tale because in case you haven’t heard, Bourjois are actually pulling out of the UK market which seems absolutely crazy; it’s been my and many others’ favourite drugstore brand for a long, long time (I remember saving up to buy one their mascaras when I was 13!). Luckily for me, earlier this year I finally got my hands on the IT Cosmetics CC Cream and it’s a winner; the fair shade is a brilliant colour match to my skin, it evens out any redness, and the included Factor 50 SPF is definitely not to be sniffed at. Good shiz.

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Eyeliner

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about my face in the past ten years (other than the hairline wrinkles) it’s my winged liner – but it’s absolutely mad to think that I started the decade in a totally monogamous relationship with Bourjois’ Ultra Black Clubbing Liner. I’m amazed, they actually still make it! It was cheap, it survived a day of work with only minor fading (and plenty a night out) and even though you needed a very steady hand to apply it using that ultra fine, tiny brush, as far as I was concerned, there was no other liner in my life.

Then one day the romance just dried up, for no other reason than I had little bit more money in my pocket and fancied a change. I think it may have ultimately been something to do with the brush; I realised that it was taking too long to layer up in the morning before work, which meant that it could take a bit longer to dry (if I had a quid for all the mornings that poorly-timed sneeze ruined the whole job…). So I decided to give felt liners a go and – after hearing good things about Stila’s Stay All Day Liner– I haven’t used anything else since. It’s the one (for now, at least) – the formula’s great; it’s ultra black, sticks all day (it can even hold up through a Marley and Me tear test finale) and dries quickly. The fine felt tip not only minimizes the amount of product being used (every pen I’ve had seems to last forever), but it also holds its shape for months (no limp tips here 😉 ) – which is so important when it comes to getting a good, clean flick.

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base

No surprises here; I started off the decade utterly clueless when it came to primers. I was also very skeptical of layering up products under my makeup having spent most of the previous decade suffering from severe acne. But, I did dabble and try a few when my skin stopped being a nightmare. I was a big fan of Benefit’s Dr Feelgood for a while (and it’s still bashing around, blimey!) – but I really didn’t enjoy the pad applicator. Then – tipped off by a friend with beautiful skin – I moved on to Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm for a few years… until I decided – sadly – that it was far too small a tube, for far too much hard-earned cash.

I quit primers for a while after that, and then earlier this year I went to a Beauty Masterclass with Bobbi Brown and tried their Vitamin Enriched Face Base. Oh boy, this stuff’s good. A very pricey pot of perfection, but perfection none the less – and a small pea sized blob goes a very long way. It’s got a light, grapefruit scent and a moose-like texture that smooths onto the skin like a dream. Packed with Vitamin C and Shea Butter, it’s moisturizing but soaks in quickly and creates the perfect, smooth and healthy base. I absolutely love it, and my skin seems to love it too – it always seems to be better behaved when I treat it to a splodge of the stuff.

Best skincare products of the decade - The Cardiff Cwtch

Skincare

My current skincare list is a total mash-up of the best of both high-end and drug-store beauty – a mash-up of my former and current self. As I’ve already mentioned I suffered terribly with acne during my teens (so much so that I was put on the pill to sort it), and even though I started off the last decade with clear skin, I was definitely still stuck in a “I’m scared to put too much on my face and clog my pores!” mindset. Now firmly into my thirties, I think I’ve got a pretty good arsenal of products that my skin seems to love – some old favourites, some new discoveries – and the next challenge going forward for the new decade for me is to get my head around anti-aging products and successfully slip a few hard-hitters into my routine (I wrote a whole post about My Anti-Aging Starter Kit if you’re interested).

Kiehls Midnight Recovery Concentrate

Oh, my beloved. I can’t imagine the day that this miracle bottle doesn’t hold pride of place on my nightstand. I don’t feel the need to use it every night, but on bad skin days and late nights it’s my go to for a little bit of midnight magic – and I wake up with practically a new face!

Nivea Daily Rich Moisturising Cream

I’ve tried plenty of expensive moisturizers – I was a huge fan of the Kiehls Ultra Facial Cream for a while, as well as the Clarins Hydra Essential (until it caused a cataclysmic breakout) but, d’you what? None of them do the job that my cheap as chips Nivea Daily Essentials Rich Moisturising Cream does. I can slap the stuff on like butter without worrying about breaking the bank and my thrifty skin drinks it up like a Friday night G&T.

Elemis Gentle Rose Exfoliator

What a shift on this one. I started the decade using the Simple Exfoliating Scrub, then moved on to the Kiehls Epidermal Re-Texturising Micro-Dermabrasion Cream – but recently moved away from it because I was worried it was a little too harsh on my skin for weekly use during winter. These days I’m reaching for the Elemis Gentle Rose Exfoliator – it’s kinder to my skin, still does the job I need it to do (even in winter) and it smells divine. I’ve only dipped my toes into Elemis’ products over the past year or so, but so far everything I’ve tried, I’ve absolutely loved (particularly their Peptide4 Thousand Flower Mask).

The Body Shop’s Chamomile Balm

I’ve come along way in terms of makeup removal solutions – especially considering I started the decade using just soap and water. Oh the shame! My poor skin! And my poor towels! Nowadays I don’t have quite as much to scrub away, but taking off my makeup has gone from a chore to – let’s face it – one of my favourite bits of the day… along with removing my bra. The turning point came a few years ago when I tried the Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm. I loved how it just seemed to melt the makeup off my skin without any major scrubbing or faffing around with makeup pads. Along with the hot muslin cloths I had with the Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish Pack that really open up my pores, I felt like I found a routine I could really get on board with. However, these days I much prefer the Body Shop Chamomile Balm – it’s much cheaper and does exactly the same job as the Clinique one.

Origins Clear Improvement Charcoal Mask

Another one for my breakout kit. I went through an Origins phase about five years ago, and this is the only product that’s stuck around. It’s the only face mask I use to really get in and clean out my pores. Dries up existing spots and prevents future ones. Banging.

Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Multi Purpose Oil

Back in the day I was all about the Body Shop Body Butter range, but now I’ve moved on to oils. I’m down to the last couple of drops of my Nuxe Body Oil and I will absolutely be picking up another. I know the scent isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love the ease of this stuff – you just spritz, swipe and go, and it leave the skin with a fine gloss. You can also pour a little into your both water, spritz it onto your hair brush… it’s a swiss army oil. (?!) Decadent stuff.

Chloe Eau d’Roses

I’m not a big perfume wearer – as you’ll see, because I started the decade out wearing a combination of JLo’s Glow (…ah, the smell of that stuff takes me back to some places, man!) and SJP’s Lovely. Oh wow. But then, I caught a whiff of Chloe Eau de Roses and never went back. It’s shriekingly expensive stuff, but if I had to pick just one scent to wear for the rest of my life, this would be it.

Best haircare products of the decade - The Cardiff Cwtch

Hair

Just as with skincare, I’ve learned that when it comes to my hair – it’s best to keep things as simple as possible and not to keep trying new (and expensive) products in the hope of some miracle cure. At the start of the last decade my hair was in terrible shape. Years of heat styling, over washing and a move to London (and it’s horrendous hard water) really took its toll, and it took a long, hard slog to get it back into shape. Now, it’s as good as it’s ever going to get – and I mean that in the best possible way. I’ve learned that my thin and fragile hair and scalp just can’t take an overload of product (it just makes it look flat, and makes it break) – so I keep things simple. If you’re interested in reading about my hair journey then I wrote a post all about How I Got My Hair Back.

Garnier Ultimate Blends Oat Shampoo and Conditioner

So, I started the decade out a loud and proud Herbal Essences fan… and then my hair had a meltdown. Hoping for a quick fix, I threw a lot of cash at expensive hair care products and shampoos (I was using the Rahua Range at one point – pricey stuff – and it was bloody useless!). Nowadays, I know what my hair can and can’t handle, and that less is definitely more. I’ve been using the Garnier Ultimate Blends Oat Combo for sensitive scalp for a few years now and my hair seems to be happy with it. It’s gentle and… yup, cheap. (…It’s so gentle that my husband sometimes steals the conditioner for his beard.)

Toni & Guy Heat Protection Mist

After my hair meltdown days, I never go without a heat protector before using my curlers, and this Tony & Guy one is my favourite. It smells gorgeous (as does the whole Tony & Guy range of products) and works a treat. It also comes in a travel sized version – helpful!

L’Oriel Conditioning Mousse

My hair is limp, it needs lift – but it’s a bit of a Catch 22 because if I use too much mousse, then it falls flat under the weight and can also dry out my hair. Luckily, L’Oreal brought out a conditioning mousse that isn’t too heavy, and it works really well for me – especially given the added moisture boost.

So, what beauty products stuck with you through past decade? Which ones are you happy to leave behind? Let me know your favourites in the comments – especially your mascara recommendations! I’m still on the hunt!

*This post contains affiliate links; to find out more about what that means, click here.

London Fog Cake

…a moist Earl Grey enriched sponge with creamy vanilla sponge –
London Fog Cake - The Cardiff Cwtch

Tell you what, my 2020 so far has been bloody spectacular (…are you picking up on the sarcastic subtext of that statement?). Firstly, a new year dog walk around the block with my mother-in-law resulted in a five hour wait in A&E after Bungle bolted and dragged her up a hill by the wrist. Not a day after the house emptied and a bit of normality resumed, Sunny went down with the flu. And a day after that, the other hairy bloke in my life caught bog-eye from shoving his face in too many butts (…I’m talking about Bungle, in case that wasn’t obvious). Then yesterday, the council oh so kindly informed me that pulling into a bus lay-by to drop your husband off for his Christmas Party is not cool and will result in a £75 fine. Awesome.

It’s been a howler so far, and so I shouldn’t really have been surprised that my first bake of the year turned out to be howler too. I’ve made plenty of cakes in my time – enough to be honestly surprised when one goes tits up – but the science behind it all still kind of eludes me – it is all just chemistry after all. All the basic ingredients need to be there and need to be balanced in a very specific way before you even get around to adding flavours and fillings. For example if you put too much structure-building flour into a cake, then it’s going to be dry. And sugar is responsible for more than just its sweet taste; sugar plays a huge part in the soft, spongy texture of cakes due to the way sugar crystals trap little pockets of air. Too little sugar and your cake’s not going to have a soft texture. Aaaand, if you put too much liquid into a cake – which I found out when I tried to make this London Fog Cake – then your cake’s going to be heavy and dense and is probs gonna end up going straight in the bin. I knew I’d put too much liquid in it as soon as it came out of the oven – but hindsight’s 2020, innit? (Badump tshhhh.)

London Fog Cake - The Cardiff Cwtch - January Baking - January Cakes

Anyway, I managed to turn this baking fail into a baking win by making it my mission to read up a bit into the science behind good cakes, and now – hopefully – none of my future cake experiments will end up in the bin. I went back to the drawing board, and I have to say, my second attempt was much, much better. Pretty damn good, in fact.

If you’ve never heard of London Fog before (Just a heads-up, I’m not talking about the weather in London…), it’s basically just an Earl Grey Latte. Lovely bergamot-infused black tea made with frothy, hot milk. The perfect drink for glum (and sometimes foggy) January days. This cake is essentially the drink in cake form – a black tea-enriched sponge, with a creamy, vanilla-flavoured frosting.

London Fog Cake - The Cardiff Cwtch - Tea-Enriched Sponge - Easy Tea Cakes

London Fog Cake

Ingredients
  • 3 Earl Grey teabags
  • 75ml boiling hot water
  • 3 large eggs, whisked
  • 175g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour, sifted

For the buttercream icing:

  • 400g icing sugar
  • 200g butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
London Fog Cake - The Cardiff Cwtch - Earl Grey Latte Cake

Method
  1. First things first, make some tea! Empty the contents of the teabags into a cup, then pour on the 75ml of boiling hot water. Leave to steep, then cool.
  2. Set your oven to 170°C and grease a small, loose-bottomed cake tin.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Pour in the eggs, then stir to combine.
  4. Pour in the flour and tea mixture, alternating between the two. Stir to make a soft batter.
  5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, then leave to cool. Meanwhile make the buttercream by whipping together the icing sugar, butter and vanilla bean paste.
  6. Decorate the surface of the cake, then scoff (…with tea 🙂).
London Fog Cake - The Cardiff Cwtch - Earl Grey Enriched Cake

Have a lovely week! How’s 2020 treating you so far? 💓

Goodbye 2019

Hello 2020!

DSC_0155

A whole new decade, can you believe it? I usually love putting together these end of year posts and taking a moment to look back on all my favourite photographs and blog posts from the past year – but this year, I’m really struggling to put into words how I feel about saying goodbye to 2019.  The truth is that this year has been a tough one – under the surface anyway – and a few personal disappointments took a good chunk out of it for me. If I’m being completely and totally honest with you, I cannot be happier to see the back of 2019!  GOOD RIDDANCE! However, you take the good with the bad, right? And there have been plenty of amazing moments along the way – from visiting the puffins on Skomer Island (finally!), to jetting off to Florida again – my home away from home (including that incredible balcony bathtub)!  There have been some amazing events and opportunities, and of course, lots of time spent with my favourite people.  And dog!  I mean, what would I do without Bungle? 🙂

You can’t win ’em all, right? And this year I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot – about a lot!  Enough to take me through into a new decade with a whole new mindset and drive (…even though, when you really think about it – a whole new decade starts every single year in January anyway!).  Bring it on, 2020!

DSC_0564Snapshots from Tenby / Dinbych y Pysgoddsc_0328-1dsc_00081dsc_0445dsc_0501DSC_0844DSC_0010DSC_0122Processed with VSCO with a5 presetdsc_0059dsc_0111dsc_0088

Blwydden Newydd Dda, pawb! (Happy New Year, everyone!) Thank you so, so much for following along with my adventures (and misadventures!) in the kitchen and beyond in 2019! All the very best for you and your families 2020 – and for the brand new decade and beyond! Let’s make it the best yet! ✨