My 2016 Year in Review

I think that the general consensus is that 2016 will go down as one of the worst years in history. Between the vote for Brexit and the election of Trump, we're going into 2017 with a lot of uncertainty and, in many cases, fear.

But, that being said, I think it's also important for us to reflect upon all of the positive things that have happened this year. Whether it's personal accomplishments or random acts of kindness from strangers, I think we all need to remind ourselves that there still is some good left in this world. That's exactly why I'm going to take this post to reflect on a few things in my life from 2016 that have left me with a smile on my face as this year comes to a close.

Travel // This past year I've visited New York City, Vermont, Venice, Martha's Vineyard, Spain, and Dublin, with a few trips to London sprinkled in between. I've been so lucky to be able to see so much of the world and have so many memories (and photos!) to look back on. I'm hoping that 2017 will be a year filled with even more travel- starting with a trip to Marrakech in February!

Running my first half-marathon // While running in general tends to bring me loads of happiness, I have truly never been more happy than when I was running my half-marathon in October. From the bagpipers at every mile, to the incredible support from the crowds, to the sweet soreness of my legs when I finished, it was a truly a positive experience all around. I think I might just have to sign up for another in the near future!

Redesigning My Blog // I am so happy/pleased/relieved to have had my blog redesigned by Serena! She did a perfect job listening to what I wanted and bringing it to life! I am absolutely terrible at design- I know what I want things to look like in my head, but always have trouble executing it. Redesigning my blog also motivated me to professionalize the blog a bit more, and helped me gain confidence in marketing myself.

Cooking and Hosting // This year I really challenged myself in my cooking, from trying out new recipes like homemade onion rings, to perfecting old favorites like chocolate swiss roll. I also took more time to host friends for dinners this year, and learned a lot from cooking for big groups of people. I'm hoping I'll have a lot more cooking-related blog posts coming up in 2017!

New Blog Opportunities // For me, the blog has never been (and will never be) about any sort of monetary perks I can gain from it. But I've been so lucky that I've been offered so many amazing opportunities this year that a.) Perfectly fit with my "brand" and b.) Make me excited to blog about something I truly love. From reviewing Badger and Co. to paying the Raj a visit, I've been able to add a few more places to my list of recommendations for friends visiting Edinburgh!

Thinking about my future // As I continue with my third year of uni, I've become more in tune with what I want in life and how I can make it happen. A lot has changed since I entered university, and I'm ready to try new things, go to new places, and seek out opportunities I never thought I would be interested in. I've become more confident in the skills that I have, and have focused on my ambition to drive me forward in whatever I choose to do. I know that at 20 years old, you're not supposed to have it all figured out, but this past year has helped me to figure things out a bit more.

I can't wait to see what the next year brings! And hopefully I'll be ringing it in with a glass of bubbly... (or two).


Borough Market, London: A Foodie's Heaven

For me, the holidays are all about one thing: food. Sure, the presents are quite nice, and the glittery decorations certainly put a spirited spring in my step every year, but the prospect of delicious, home-cooked food far outweighs any other aspect of the festive season. The best part is, it really is one of the only times of the year where families take the time to cook a meal (no matter how simple or elaborate) and sit down together over food. 

I feel like nowadays, we are far too disconnected from what makes up our plates. Even for a fairly experienced home cook like me, I feel that I don't look at where my food is coming from as often as I should (as a student, I just tend to go for the cheapest price!). But a visit to a food market always reminds me that I feel so much better about what I'm eating when I know who produced it, where it comes from, and how it got there. 

This past weekend when I was in London, I had a chance to visit a market which I had been dying to go to for ages. Borough Market, conveniently located just off of the London Bridge tube station, takes local, sustainable, and mindful food shopping to a new level, with dozens of stands featuring all sorts of food products that each tell their own story.   

Weave your way through the stands- which look extra festive this time of year- and forget about the boredom-inducing hours you've spent scanning the same shelves at Tesco for weeks on end. Here, you'll find an interactive food experience that is truly a feast for the eyes. 

As a true cheese lover, this was my heaven. Nibbling on cheese I had never even heard of before, I was rendered speechless by a few of the samples.

But what's most important about any food market is its commitment to transparency. At Borough Market, small farmers are favored over the big box companies. You can be certain your cheese is in good hands with people like this!   

The produce itself is a masterpiece in its own right. These fresh tomatoes were as pretty as a painting, and were just asking for their portrait. 

You can even do a round of Christmas shopping at the market, best suited for the passionate foodie in your life of course! While olive oil might not seem like the flashiest gifts, a bottle of the good stuff is sure to be greatly appreciated by all the home cooks on your list. Stop by the Olive Oil Company to pick up your bottle. Or, just endlessly swirl bits of bread in the tasty olive oil samples. 

The hardest part is choosing when to stop browsing and just commit to a stall. Or you could just have a nibble at each one! I’m convinced you can salvage the contents of an entire meal from the free samples that the vendors dish out. Some might be laying out for you to grab at your own discretion, while other vendors are keen to lure you in by handing you a sample as you pass by.

After making sure I had thoroughly examined the contents of each stall, I was still torn between a few favorite dishes. Should I grab a box of pad thai from the stand that seemed to have the longest queue? Or would I be persuaded by the warm smells of the nearby soul food? Always the more decisive one, Ben took the lead on deciding our fate: pie and mash from Pieminister.

While pie and mash might seem a tad boring when you’re surrounded by stands selling all manner of cuisines from around the world, the prospect of a truly British lunch won out. But hear me out- these pies are by no means ones to look over. With a range of around 10 to 15 different types of pie, you really are spoiled for choice! It was another tough decision on a day full of gastronomic dilemmas, but my passion for chorizo made the choice a bit easier.

The Matador pie, filled to the brim with steak, chorizo, butterbeans, and green olives, was the perfect fusion between traditional British fare and bright Mediterranean flavors. With game pies being one of his go-tos, Ben chose the Santa Deer, which boasted a hefty portion of venison and smoked bacon with a red wine sauce. Whichever pie you choose, though, the flaky crust is truly the star of the show. Whether you decide to cut into it with a fork and knife, or tackle it hands-on, you’re in for a real lunchtime treat.

I think it’s also important to mention the incredible value of the pies at Pieminister. With each pie on its own costing £4 and a side of mash going for £1, you’re able to have your fill for a mere fiver.  A drizzling of gravy will cost an extra 50p if you’re feeling really fancy, but it’s not totally necessary as the pies are plenty moist as is. 

To wash down these rich pies, we headed to a place we had spotted earlier, New Forest Cider for, you guessed it, a warm cup of mulled cider. Mulled wine has long been the star of many Christmas meals, but mulled cider is currently having a moment. Hop on the trendy train and let this mix of fruity cider, strong liquor, and aromatic spices warm you right to your core.  

We also had a browse of their extensive cider collection. I'll take one of each please!

And there's me, happy as a clam because I know I'm supporting small, local, sustainable, businesses. Whether it's a venue as big as Borough Market, or just a simple farmers market set up in your local park, take this festive period to support your local food suppliers. It's truly the best thing you can do for your economy, your environment, and yourself. Plus, it's a whole lotta fun! 


A Savvy Student's Guide to Time Management

"Time Management" is one of those skills that your teachers try to lecture you about at a young age- but of course we all ignored their advice. After all, with weekly assignments, tour schedules were pretty much written out for us. Once you get to university, though, there's no one their to tell you at what point you need to write an essay plan, on what day you should start studying, or how to juggle this all while keeping on top of your laundry and cooking for yourself. It's no easy feat, and I think we all struggle with time management from time to time in adulthood. 

I just finished up my end of term assignments- that is, three 4,000 word essays all due within less than two weeks. Talk about a lovely run-up to Christmas, huh? Don't get me wrong, I'd be miserable all through the holidays if I had to study for exams after Christmas like students down in England. But the holiday season is significantly less fun at university than it was back in school. 

Anyway, these three assignments absolutely had to get done on time. And even with some heavy planning from the outset, it all came down to those final three weeks where it was really a heads-down situation. It's safe to say that all my essays were written with minimal stress and maximum efficiency- plus, I didn't end up in a panicked scramble by the end of it! 

After two and half years at a fairly demanding uni, I think I've finally cracked the code to time management. And today I thought I'd share my top tips to become a master at time management.     

Know where you work best // I'm one of those weird people who does not like the library. Whenever I walk into the library, I can see the stress on everyones faces- whether it's someone who looks bleary eyed, or someone who's teary eyed. I just don't need those kind of negative vibes in my life. So I avoid it. I work better in my flat where there's tea and fuzzy socks and snacks to keep me happy. Find out what works for you (or may what doesn't work) and use it to your advantage.  

Set Daily Goals // I would not have made any progress without setting daily goals. I absolutely lived and died by my word count goals. While we would all like to leisurely write an essay or study for an exam, there's a point where you just need to force yourself to put pen to paper. Without daily goals, you'll just flounder around wondering what exactly what you're meant to do. 

Exercise, even if you feel pressed for time // I went for a four mile run almost every single morning of the period that I was working on my essays. Losing that hour or two to run, do pilates, and shower didn't take away from my essay writing at all; I actually think it made my afternoons of writing more efficient because I had gotten my blood pumping. Whether it's a walk, a run, or just some stretching, you'll feel better (and less like a potato) if you make time for movement during intense study periods. 

Use your friends // Whether it's someone to work side by side with, or someone who you send over your essay to for proofreading and comments, your classmates can be your best resource. They know the material you're looking at, and they'll be open to your ranting. But if you're more the type of person who likes to go at it alone, then that's okay too! 

Know when to walk away // If you walk away with anything from this post, let it be this piece of advice. Staring at your computer screen isn't the same thing as doing work. If it just isn't working out that day, then let it go. Come back to it later. There's no use wasting your time in the library if you'd be much better off getting some much needed sleep. You'll find your groove later, I promise. 

Now that I've given you unsolicited advice, you can master those end of term exams and essays! Oh, and you can also be jealous of me for already being finished (but hey, we all deserve a break!) 


Less Thinking, More Drinking: Top Tips for Holiday Gifts

Buying the perfect gift is truly an art form. From the planning, to the searching, to that "ah hah" moment you have when you find something that perfectly suits the person you have in mind, shopping for gifts is truly a joy.

But sometimes, when perfectionism and lack of time get in the way, finding that perfect gift can be a real challenge. It's especially hard when you're a student who has looming essay deadlines preventing you from brainstorming gift ideas or heading to the shops.

I have a fairly large family, with three brothers who all have different interests, a dad who doesn't seem to want anything, and a mom who would love to have anything from the Williams Sonoma catalogue. Add in two grandparents who really appreciate anything, a boyfriend with a distinct taste in fashion, and friends who expect some classically British treats from abroad and you've got one stressed out girl who just wants to please everyone. But I've handled it all in years past, and I'll be able to handle it this year. And today I'm prepared to share with you my top tips for buying the best gifts for your loved ones.

If they drop a hint, write it down // Around the holidays, everyone seems to be weaving their wishlist into everyday conversations. Maybe your mom keeps complaining that her baking pans are rusty, or your boyfriend is going on about how his nicest sweater has a hole in it. Even if you're keen to surprise someone with something totally unexpected, you should still take note of what they really want as a backup plan.

Make a list (check it twice) // This ensures that you don't miss out on anyone! It doesn't have to be a definitive list of exactly what you're going to buy everyone. Instead, try brainstorming what type of things each person may like, what new interests they've acquired over the past year, or even what you might buy if money were no object. If anything, it helps to keep ideas flowing and makes you feel a bit productive.

Scour the stores; order online // I find that most people are always loyal to one camp or the other when it comes to shopping. Some people are Black Friday fanatics while others are Cyber Monday masters. Whatever method you choose for your shopping, I'll let you in on my personal favorite way to get the most out your shopping. It may seem time consuming, but I always head to the stores for inspiration first, and then check online to see if I can get a better price somewhere else. Having a visual for what stores have to offer is the best way to figure out what you might want to keep your eye on. You can't do that online! But if the price seems steep? Check out the deals online- they're usually much better.

Keep returns in mind, and don't take it personally // We all jokingly call my dad "the returner." Not because he's ungrateful, but because he always says that he doesn't need anything. For that reason, I've always been extra careful about making sure everything I buy has a sound return policy (and I attach the gift receipt to the gift!). And don't get too upset if someone doesn't like your gift (or already has it). It's the thought that counts!

Personal gifts are always the best gifts // Whether that means it's that pair of sunglasses they've wanted for ages, a monogrammed item that it truly theirs, or a photo album which brings back memories of your adventures together, the best gifts always come from the heart. A box of chocolates or fuzzy socks might do the trick, but if you really want to make someones heart sing, always go into shopping with them in mind.

Happy gift hunting, and start checking off that list!

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