2017 – The year of Ultra Violet

Wow, I can’t believe I’m writing my 2017 review post, already. Where has this year gone? How is Violet nearly a year old? Time has flown by, even more so since having Violet, it seems once you have a baby your life goes in double time. It’s just crazy, but this year has been amazing. Maybe one of the best of my life, it’s certainly been life changing and different to say the least! I’m not sure I remember life without having a baby, what did I do with all that sleep, all that spare time? So, I really wanted to write my annual review so I can capture the memories before they start to fade – it seems my memory doesn’t seem to be as good since having a baby either!

If you fancy a quick jaunt back in time, here are my posts from 2015 (where we bought a house and travelled a LOT!) & 2014 (a year of new beginnings). It seems in 2016 I was too fat and pregnant to remember to write my post. Oops.

JANUARY

In January this year I was 8 months pregnant, so with only a few weeks left of pregnancy I was feeling gigantic, waddling about and as soon as my maternity leave started, I started nesting like a crazy thing too. The freedom of maternity leave was a pretty exciting prospect, I kicked off the first week with coffee with friends, scrapbooking and even a massage at The Grand hotel in Brighton. Shame the rest of maternity leave hasn’t been so luxurious!

We also had our baby shower, which was so lovely. Surrounded by my very favourite people, we drunk tea and ate cake, whilst playing silly games whilst excitedly talking about our new arrival.

FEBRUARY

February was spent getting ready for ‘Baby Peaches’ arrival, putting up the Snuzpod, washing baby clothes, hypnobirthing lessons, NCT classes and such until, on the 24th February….

Violet was born at 02:54, weighing a dainty 6lb 2oz! You can read our full birth story here (things didn’t really go to plan, but do they ever?). From this moment our lives turned upside down and we were parents. We were in hospital for a week with Violet as she had jaundice which was a tiring and difficult time, it’s so horrible watching such a tiny, helpless baby so poorly.

Luckily, she recovered well and we were able to finally go home, taking us into…

MARCH

After the flurry of visitors following Violet’s birth, March looked a lot like this – lots of sitting on the sofa with our new baby, watching box sets as she endlessly cluster fed and fed (and FED). I thought I may never leave the house again. We did however get into town to get Violet registered and celebrated with Afternoon Tea at the Harbour Hotel, which was lovely but our first jaunt into town with a baby was rather daunting, I remember she wouldn’t stop crying and we practically ran through the streets in a panic to find somewhere to sit down and feed her. Thank goodness we are calmer now, those new parent nerves were severe, but we soon relaxed into it all!

APRIL

In April, we had our first family photoshoot, which I’m so glad we did as the photos are beautiful! I started to gain a bit more confidence as a new Mum, taking trips out for coffee with friends on the bus and into Brighton and feeling a bit more like ‘me’ again!

MAY

In May, well and truly on our feet as parents, we did lots of lovely things. We took Violet for her first ever visit to London, we spent the day at the Tower of London and finished with Mexican food at Wahaca, we even made a little video of the day which you can watch here (Violet looks SO small).

I had an amazing Afternoon Tea at The Salt Room with my good friend Andrea and well needed glass of champagne!

We also started Water babies lessons, which we still do now and is one of Violet’s very favourite activities. It’s the highlight of our week, although it took her a while to get used to the water when she was this small!

JUNE

June was a quiet month, Violet practiced her rolling skills at home doing lots of tummy time and eventually mastered rolling from her front to back! For ages she couldn’t roll the other way and would get so frustrated. During this month she also started to ‘chatter’ to herself in a mirror and would spend ages just sitting looking at herself, babbling away. At the very end of the month, Violet tried her first solids, starting with some baby porridge.

JULY

In July, Violet went on her very first holiday! We went to France to visit some of my relatives that live near Bordeaux. It was a lovely trip, but looking back it was a bit too hot for Violet and it was pretty stressful travelling with a baby so young as we drove over 7 hours (broken up into sections) but we did it!

AUGUST

August was a month of fun family days out, we visited the farm, went for Afternoon Tea at Patisserie Valerie and we went to the circus, which I thought Violet would be a bit small for but she LOVED it. Violet also started her weaning journey properly, although the below pictures are not a great example of that!

SEPTEMBER

September was all about the blog events! I went to quite a few, my favourites being the Jo Malone event to celebrate their new English Oak Fragrance and heading up to London with some of my favourite girls to the Ecover Fragrance launch – this photo of Lauren and I sniffing the fabric softener just never stops amusing me!

V also turned 40, so we had a lovely Spa day at the Brighton Harbour Hotel followed by Afternoon Tea at Terre a Terre, which has got to be my favourite restaurant in Brighton!

OCTOBER

Christmas festivities begin early this year with an amazing Secret Santa present of a Kenwood K-Mix! I can’t actually bake so I challenged myself to learn to bake and get busy in the kitchen, actually surprising myself as my first chocolate cake was not that bad, if I do say so myself! So my new years resolution in 2018 is to continue teaching myself to bake and try and to try few more complicated recipes!

Violet and I worked on a really awesome campaign with American Express (which you can see in full here & here). We headed out into town with a photographer (the amazing Kitty Wheeler Shaw, who did our family shoot) and celebrated all things small business in Brighton. It was one of my favourite blog projects so far and I got some lovely photos of us to keep too.

We also had a lovely family day at The SeaLife Centre and Violet LOVED all of the colours, fish and sea creatures!

NOVEMBER

November was a mixed month – usually my favourite of the year as it’s my birthday, but sadly this year my Nan passed away on the day of my 32nd birthday. She was 97 so had an amazing, long, happy life but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier. We still tried to get on with my birthday as I know my Nan would have wanted that, but it didn’t quite feel the same and was a really sad time.

To take our minds from things, we had a weekend away in Odiham which was nice to have a break away from it all and a family day out at Drusillas too.

DECEMBER

December has of course been ALL about Violet’s first Christmas. We put the tree up (which she is fascinated by!) and decorations all round the house. This is the first year in 4 years we’ve gone all out on the decorations so we really went to town for Violet. The weather has been cold and miserable, so we’ve spent lots of days in watching Christmas movies and hibernating.

Violet’s first Christmas was such a lovely day – just a great day of quality time at home with family, lots of food and a LOT of presents (for Violet, not for us!). She was very spoiled by all our close friends and family, lucky girl.

So, that was our year! If you’ve written a post like this, please do leave your link as I’d love to read it, plus you can link up your post over on Lauren’s blog too:

Scrapbook Blog

HAPPY NEW YEAR – BEST WISHES FOR 2018 😘

 

Giggling Squid Christmas Menu 2017

It’s that time of year again, time to sample Brighton’s festive food offerings, starting with a favourite restaurant of mine, Giggling Squid. I love the idea of Thai Food for Christmas as it’s just something different – certainly not a whiff of turkey and stuffing here! Their Christmas Menu came out on 13th November so we headed down to the Hove restaurant to give it a whirl. The Christmas Menu is at both lunch and evening times and is a three-course set menu priced at £20.95 at lunchtime or £29.95 in the evening, this also comes with a glass of prosecco.

Last year we tried the Christmas Menu at the Brighton Giggling Squid but as this year we were with Violet, the Hove branch is so much more accessible for pushchairs as it’s all on one level! Plus eating out at lunchtime is so much easier these days too. How times change! The restaurant has natural rustic feel which is authentically Thai, it was actually really busy when we arrived I managed to snap the above photo right at the end of our meal at a rare quiet moment.

When we arrived there seem to be quite a bit of confusion over the menu, the staff did not seem to know much about the Christmas menu as it had only just launched so excuse some of the dishes are not from the ‘official’ Christmas menu, this can be seen online here.

Of course, all good Thai meals should start with a giant bowl of prawn crackers. The best part? V is allergic to shellfish so can’t have any! Win.

For starters, I had the Thai Grilled Aubergine which on the menu says it comes with a fresh, tangy chilli sauce, that should read ‘seriously spicy!’ sauce, even the waiter who was Thai himself said he struggled to eat this one. I so actually love spicy foods though – but it did put me to my limits!

V went for the Corn Fritters with Sweet Chilli Sauce, a firm favourite of ours. Deliciously Thai, something I would usually always order myself.

Our main courses actually arrived at the same time as starters, V going for the classic Pad Thai with tofu – which was delicious (I wanted to steal it all, basically I had food envy most of this meal)

I went for the Cashew Nut Stir Fry with rice – which sadly, I thought was pretty bland and certainly not special enough for Christmas lunch.

Onto the deserts, the Christmas offers sound rather delicious, with options such as Prosecco and Muddled Berry Cheesecake, Honeycomb Semi-Freddo with Thai-spiced Star fruit. However, sadly these options weren’t available on our visit, so we chose the Mango & Passionfruit Cheesecake and the Warm Molten Chocolate Cake.

Sadly, as lovely as the deserts were both of them were still frozen in the centre, plus the ‘Warm’ Chocolate cake was actually served cold, so it was a massive disappointment – especially as they actually look really good and the flavours were perfect. I loved how the Chocolate cake was spiced with a hint of chilli, if it was warm it would have been divine!

We finished up with some coffees, served with a mint chocolate which is always a lovely touch.

All in all, another meal that was a disappointment at Giggling Squid. It’s such a shame as I actually really love the restaurant, but both times we’ve tried the Christmas menu, it’s fallen flat on it’s face. Maybe I’m just expecting a bit more, when you pay for a Christmas set menu, you expect a touch of sparkle, something special, don’t you? This is very standard food I’d expect on a normal lunchtime.

This hasn’t put me off going to the Giggling Squid though, honestly they do great food and I think their ‘normal’ menu and Thai tapas is delicious, so if you visit, I’d stick to what they do best!

Click here to read my review of the Giggling Squid Christmas menu 2016 

The Shop Small Guide – Brighton

Sponsored post in association with American Express®

Oh beautiful Brighton! A city that I have lived in since I was just 18 years old and although I moved away a couple of times, it just kept drawing me back. There is no place quite like it. One of the most colourful, diverse and vibrant cities in the UK – there is always something new to surprise me around every corner.

One of the things I love the most about Brighton is the shopping, especially going to the one-of-a-kind North Laine and The Lanes areas of town to explore some of the smaller, independent shops that the city boasts. The amount of small shops in Brighton is vast, plus the selection we have is so unique too. If you need anything from vintage clothing to an inflatable flamingo – you’ll find it here and more!

This Saturday is Small Business Saturday, a day when people across the country are encouraged to get out and support local small businesses. So, with my love of shopping in my hometown and supporting local businesses, I recently teamed up with American Express to show you how I like to shop small in Brighton not just on Small Business Saturday but all year round. To help inspire you to explore new areas, I have put together my favourite routes through the cobbled lanes of Brighton – visiting wonderful small shops, exquisite restaurants, and taking in some of the beautiful sights you can see along the way in my vibrant and colourful hometown.

BRIGHTON PIER

No trip to Brighton is complete without a trip to Brighton’s iconic Pier. A brisk stroll is the perfect way to start your day, with an ice cream in hand, whatever the weather. Try your luck on the grabber machines or brave the rollercoaster rides. Take a look back at Brighton’s beautiful skyline and get a glimpse of the city before you head out to the shops.

CHOCCYWOCCYDOODAH

Choccywoccydoodah is quintessentially Brighton, an internationally famous chocolatier and cake shop creating the most outstanding, creative chocolate and cakes you’ve ever seen. The window display is something to be marvelled at, a tourist attraction in itself. There is a cafe upstairs in ‘the secret room’ that serves one of the best hot chocolates in town. My top recommendation would be their layered chocolate bar, which is so thick you have to break it with a knife!

42 JUICE

Brighton’s 100% Organic and Raw Juice Bar 42 Juice is the perfect pitstop to rejuvenate and hydrate. They serve the freshest ingredients that pack a nutritious punch to boost your health and wellbeing. The bright and airy space is ideal for watching the world go by and an absolute Instagram dream. The “I am GLOWING” smoothie is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted and I could literally feel the goodness flowing through my system.

PAVILION GARDENS

The Royal Pavilion is an exotic palace in the centre of Brighton with a colourful history. Built as a seaside palace for King George IV, it’s certainly unique in its architecture – seamlessly mixing regency grandeur with Far Eastern styles from India and China. The Pavilion Gardens is a tranquil hideaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. The perfect spot for a picnic, you can take a few moments under a tree to relax and unwind away from it all. Beautifully maintained throughout the year, the garden hosts the same plants as it would have done in the 1820’s. The Pavilion Gardens is the perfect spot to catch local musicians and amateur dramatic performances too

CHILLI PICKLE

Chilli Pickle is a nationally acclaimed Indian restaurant, passionate about Indian culture, local produce and traditional methods. Their unique take on dishes stand out from anything I’ve ever tried before – it’s got to be one of the best Indian restaurants in Brighton! You have got to try their Grand Thali for lunch, washed down with a mango lassi – my favourite!

LITTLE BEACH BOUTIQUE

Brighton is bursting at the seams with talented creatives, and the little beach boutique is one of the best places to shop locally sourced gifts and handmade items! The shop has a real eclectic mix of items, from handmade jewellery, to children’s slippers – there is something for everyone. The owner Suzanne also creates stunning glassware with a Brighton theme too. I picked up a gorgeous Violet coloured glass coaster with the outline of The Pavilion for my bedside table, it’s so pretty!

BLUEBIRD TEA CO

This has got to be one the best tea shops in the UK! People come from far and wide to try their amazing blends. Stocking every flavour you’ve ever thought of; this shop has something for everyone with super knowledgeable tea ‘mixologists’ who have all the information you need too. For the perfect warming winter drink, try the Spiced Pumpkin Pie tea, it’s one of their best.

NOLA BOUTIQUE

Nola Boutique is the perfect place to pick up designer womenswear at affordable prices. With chic and stylish décor, it’s an instagrammers dream. My top purchase here would be a cable knit hat or this gorgeous grey sweatshirt with gold feathers – just in time for winter!

LAVENDER ROOM

Lavender Room is one of the most elegant, stylish shops in the North Laine – stocking beautiful products for you or the home, with a carefully selected eclectic mix of products it just oozes Brighton style and character. I’d highly recommend the locally made anti-stress essential oil candles, they smell just divine!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of my favourite small shops in Brighton. If this has inspired you, visit amexshopsmall.co.uk to find out where you can support small businesses in your area throughout the year and get some further ideas for your Christmas shopping.

What’s more, if you’re an American Express Cardmember you will be rewarded for supporting your local high street with the Shop Small offer. When you spend £10 or more in a single transaction using your registered American Express Card at a participating small business during the campaign period (2-17 December 2017) you will receive a £5 statement credit. There is no limit to the number of participating businesses you can receive your £5 statement credit from – however, you can only claim it once at each small business. Terms apply.

But the Shop Small offer is just one way that American Express can make every day more rewarding. The range of Cards from American Express are packed with ways to reward you for your purchases*; from Membership Rewards® points that can be used to treat yourself to virtually anything to discounts at top restaurants and hotels, money back on everyday purchases, or collecting frequent flyer miles* – check out the American Express website for more information.

Days Out: SeaLife Centre Brighton at Halloween!

Oh, I do love a trip to the SeaLife Centre Brighton! We’ve been meaning to take Violet for a couple of months now although had been holding on as we wanted to take her once we knew she’d actually be interested in the fish and have a bit more of an understanding on what is going on so we could all enjoy the experience.

I think we timed it just right as now Violet is just about to turn 8 months (I know, WHAT!) and she absolutely loves animals of all kinds. From previous trips to the farm we’ve seen that she is clearly watching the animals as her eyes will follow them around their enclosures – so we knew she’d just love the SeaLife Centre. She had never seen fish like this before, so it was going to be a real treat!

Also, this October, Sea Life Brighton has a spooky Halloween theme going on in the ‘Fear Forest’ which is the rainforest section – with decorations, scary creatures (and handling sessions of creatures like hissing cockroaches and african land snails!), a ‘Yucky Dip’ and face painting so we thought it would be fun added extra to check that out too!

From the moment we stepped through the doors, Violet was just mesmerised by the beautiful aquariums, lights and colours. In fact in the first picture, she is literally trying to break out of my arms to get back to the fish tanks as she was just in awe. I just thought maybe she liked the lights but holding her up to each tank, you could see she would be staring intently at the creatures inside, her little mind visibly taking it all in. She also loved the bright rainbow colours of the Victorian Arcade, although who doesn’t! It’s so pretty in there.

We headed into the Fear Forest, where some Halloween decorations have added to the experience – although I have to say the decorations were a little on the sparse side for what I was expecting, but we didn’t come for the Halloween bits really and Violet was too mesmerised by the aquariums to really notice any other bits of decoration. I’m sure the Halloween activities would be fun for slightly older children though!

My favourite part of the SeaLife Centre (and I’m sure Violet’s too!) was the Ocean Tunnel –  with giant sea turtles, sharks, rays and tropical fish there is so much to see!  We spent quite a while in here, watching the ginormous turtle gliding so close over our heads, so close you could almost reach out and touch it.

We’ve always enjoyed going to the SeaLife Centre and have been a few times now, but this was our first trip as a family and honestly, it makes all the difference! It was such a lovely feeling watching Violet’s face as she stared in astonishment at the creatures, squeaking and kicking her legs in excitement as they came closer to her! There was so much for her to see, even at the tender age of (almost) 8 months she was taking it all in and I know when we come back when she’s a little older, she’ll love getting involved with the activities like face painting, animal handling and treasure hunts too, so this is a place we can keep returning to over time too.

I’d highly recommend a trip if you are looking for something to do this Half Term, plus kids in Halloween costumes will receive free entry too!

Sea Life Brighton is open from 10 am every day apart from Christmas Day. Visitors can save up to 40% by booking in advance online. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.visitsealife.com/brighton or call 01273 604234.

Review: Afternoon Tea at Patisserie Valerie Brighton

I do love an Afternoon Tea – There is something decadent about working through the layers whilst copious cups of tea and wiling away an afternoon. So, a couple of weekends ago we headed down to the newly opened Patisserie Valerie in Brighton. I always think of London when I see Patisserie Valerie, so knowing I have one close to home now is too exciting (or dangerous!). Funny enough, I actually did a brunch review last year, when this property was Baker & Spice, so when we turned up looking for the new Patisserie Valerie I had no idea they’d taken over that very spot. Thinking back, I don’t think Baker & Spice ever really took to Brighton, seeing as we are overwhelmed with great brunch cafes already so I can’t say I am surprised. I think with Patisserie Valerie, being an established and well-known chain will have more of a chance of survival in an oversaturated area as it is.

The venue is ideal for Brighton’s changeable weather, with indoor and outdoor seating plus a suntrap conservatory.  It was a sunny day so we sat in the bright and airy conservatory area to watch the world go by, but also have a little bit of privacy with a baby who’s newfound love is to bang her hands on the table, scream for no reason and grab everything in sight!

The Afternoon Tea itself is one of the best value for money in Brighton – at only £25 for two it’s very reasonably priced, many places charge this per person! I was eager to see if it would live up to it’s competitors, or if the quality would be reflected in the lower price.

The Patisserie Valerie Afternoon Tea includes:a selection of finger sandwiches, mini quiches, scones with jam & clotted cream all topped off with a selection of mini cakes and accompanied by a refillable pot of tea. You can also add a glass of Prosecco for an extra £5. As we are both Vegetarian, we asked for the veggie option. I was completely impressed that we were also advised which cakes contained gelatine and given options to replace them as this is often overlooked as a vegetarian. One of the cakes we couldn’t have so they gave us a full-sized Apple Tart in it’s place!

Needing an extra caffeine boost with a baby who just wants to sit up, crawl, look at everything, touch everything we ordered coffee’s instead of tea which they were able to swap with no extra charge.

The first course – the savoury layer was fine for a vegetarian option and did the trick for a quick lunch, but I wouldn’t say they were the most interesting sandwiches I’ve ever eaten!  They were tasty and fresh but the fillings were quite basic, fillings such as egg mayo, cheese, humous – I think they could have been a little more inventive on this front, maybe the meat sandwiches are more interesting. One of our sandwiches just had some spinach leaves in with a slick of mustard – an interesting combo, I skipped that one.

I wasn’t too disappointed in the savoury course, in my heart-of-hearts I’m just there for the cakes. I just like to act like I’m eating something sensible by entertaining the savoury course. As soon as we were done I was more than excited to move on up a layer, to the traditional scones with clotted cream and jam.

The scones were clearly freshly made and baked to perfection – with a generous serving of clotted cream and as many pots of Bonne Maman jam as we could manage.

Lastly, onto the cakes section – my favourite and I think this was the best part of the whole experience. Eclairs, Victoria Sponge, chocolate gateaux and a carrot cake were on our selection – plus we had our full sized apple tart on the side (where we replaced one of the cakes for containing gelatine). By this point we were getting rather full so we did our best but most of them came home in a little box with us to enjoy later. The staff were helpful in boxing them up for us and gave us a nicely wrappy ‘doggy bag’ as we left!

One of my only criticisms of the experience was not anything to do with the food, but I thought the restaurant itself wasn’t great for accessibility. To use the toilets there is a flight of stairs and to get to the baby change there are two flights of stairs! I negotiated my way down the stairs with a wiggly baby and change bag and it wasn’t the safest of options and I think someone who hasn’t had a baby had obviously thought that was a good place for the change table!

All in all, I thought our Afternoon Tea experience was rather lovely, especially for the price of £25 for two people. I wouldn’t say it was the most elaborate I’ve ever had but for the price it was delicious and well worth a visit. If you are looking for something really special or unique there are lots of other places in Brighton like The Salt Room, Terre a Terre or The Grand, but those all come with a different price tag so really they shouldn’t be compared! A lovely experience all round that can’t really be faulted for the price tag – give it a go!

If you are looking for Afternoon Tea in Brighton, see my reviews on:

The Salt Room

The Harbour Hotel