Saturday, 27 February 2016

Romance & Love For Beginners: Moving On

Something strange happened a few weeks ago.

I saw one of my ex boyfriends (He Who Shall Not Be Named the II - HWSNBN II* see below for context) for the first time in almost a year and for the first time my stomach didn't hit the floor and I didn't want to cry

Seeing him a few weeks ago and not having the same old intense reaction is important because let's flashback to February 13th 2015

I was in a card shop buying a Valentine's Day card for my best friend (Galentine's Day obviously). I was standing behind a rack of Moleskine diaries and I heard a familiar voice. I popped my head around the diaries and saw the back of HWSNBN the II's head as he was in the queue to pay for a card. I knew it was him in an instant. I recognised him from the back of his head and his old rucksack that he still used. We hadn't spoken in the 7 months since he'd broken up with me so suddenly, let alone been in the same room as each other. I still wasn't over our break up, I'd been reeling from it pretty much since the day it happened. I'd constantly had 'what ifs' in my mind - what if we hadn't broken up, what if he cared about me as much as I cared about him? He was constantly on my mind.

So standing behind the diary stand hidden from his view, I knew I had two options: 1) Hide behind the Moleskines and wait for it all to be over or 2) Bite the bullet and go speak to him.

My brain was screaming 'STAY WHERE YOU ARE DON'T DO IT' but my stupid little heart was shouting 'GO SPEAK TO HIM'. It was a split second decision and before I knew it I went up to him, put my hand on his arm and went "Hey!" The second I touched him I knew it was the worst decision I could have made. He looked at me with panic in his eyes, clutching a Valentine's Day card for his new girlfriend. We both knew what the other one was thinking: that last year we were the ones spending Valentine's Day together and now he was with someone else.

We exchanged the most awkward small talk, lasting about 2 minutes, whilst he paid. He then said goodbye. I paid for my friend's card and left the shop sobbing all the way home, not understanding how seven months later I was still so heartbroken about it and how I couldn't let him go.

So fast forward to February 2016.

I was sat on a bench waiting for a friend scrolling through Instagram and for some reason I happened to look up and there he was.

He didn't see me but like last year I knew it was him the second I looked up, even one year later. I recognised him from his side profile, his coat and how he walked. Mercifully he was alone, didn't see me and there was no sign of any Valentine's merchandise with him.

I watched him walk away and remember thinking "I wish...". I never finished the thought.

It made me wonder how strange life can be. If I hadn't looked up in that second I would have been none the wiser that HWSNBN II - my first real love, had walked past me. It was also interesting to me that I couldn't finish my thought. When I have previously seen him it made my stomach curdle and I always thought "I wish we were still together".

So 1 year and 6 months since he broke my heart I think I can say that I've finally let go of him. 

It happened slowly, so slowly in fact that I didn't even realise it until I saw him again. I still have so many memories of him that I can see as clearly as if they're film clips, but I don't find myself longing to have him back in my life. My heart isn't broken anymore, it's a little bit bashed, bruised and reluctant to get back in the swing of things but seeing him and not feeling that sad desperation was reassuring.

Life does go on, and even the people who hurt you the most will fade out of your heart. They won't fade out entirely but they will leave enough space to make room for something new. 

It does just take time, even if that's the hardest bit to accept.

*Some context: HWSNBN II and I dated for almost 11 months from the end of 2013. I was head over heels in love with him and the happiest I had ever been - he was my first true love. But alas that turned out to be a little one-sided. One morning in August 2014 he pulled a Joe Jonas on me and broke up with me on the phone. It broke me and I was a mess for what felt like the longest time. I saw him a few times following the break up and it was horrendous.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Nina Eats - Shake Shack

Does Cardiff need another burger restaurant I hear you ask? Probably not but as far as I'm concerned it's good to have as many options as possible. Burgers are my go to when it comes to eating out and I love that we have so much choice in Cardiff now.

Shake Shack opened it's doors in Cardiff in December 2015, making it's Wales debut. It's also the first Shake Shack venture in the UK outside of London. Anything London can do, we can do (better).

It's interesting to read that Shake Shack started as a tiny hot dog cart in Madison Square Gardens in 2001. I remember reading about people queueing up around the block to get a taste, so keen to play catch up some friends and I got to visit Shake Shack and see if the hype lived up to expectations.

As with most burger places the menu was pretty comprehensible. You have a choice of hot dogs or burgers, including one vegetarian burger option. Prices start at £5.50 and with most burgers you have the option of 'doubling up'. 

There are plenty of drink choices too. We all tried different milkshakes (£5.25), I went for peanut butter and it was like drinking a Reeses peanut cup. The milkshakes cost almost as much than the basic ShackBurger (£5.50) so in the interest of money and calorie saving I wouldn't always go for the milkshake but it certainly was tasty. 

Ordering your meal is straight forward, as you would expect. You simply place your order at the till, receive a buzzer and take your seat eagerly waiting for the buzzer to star flashing. Then you go and collect it from the kitchen and get stuck in.

Fiona went for the Shack-ago Dog (£5.25), Ruth went for the SmokeShack (£7.50) and I went for the classic ShackMeister burger (£6.50) which came with ale marinated shallots, and all of us ordered a side of fries with cheese sauce (£4).

I'm just going to say it, I really really enjoyed the burger. The portion size was perfect. I managed to eat every single bite but didn't quite feel like I was going to pass out (that came around the dessert stage). The patty was tasty and well cooked, the bun held it's shape perfectly so there were no embarrassing spillages, the shallots and ShackSauce added interesting flavours and textures. A burger lives and dies by the accompanying chips in my mind. The cheese fries were probably some of the best I've had. My only niggle is that I hate having to pay extra for chips but when they are this tasty I can get over it.

We also got to tuck into the Concretes which are custard ice cream desserts. It doesn't sound appealing but they certainly tasted amazing. 5% of the sales from the Welsh Cake Jam are donated to the homeless charity Wallich. Further to their community efforts, the beef for the burgers is grass fed on Irish and British pastures and not flown in from across the world (cough Burger and Lobster cough).

You can mix up your own concretes if you're feeling up to it but our burger coma had kicked in at this point so we just happily shared them out amongst each other.

What I enjoyed about ShackShake was that you still get that 'hot dog cart' feeling. You burger comes in a little paper wrapper and the chips in a little cardboard tray. It's fast, fuss free and tasty. Just how it should be. 

Is it price worthy? Yes and no. The burgers are well priced and tasty, it's annoying that chips are extra but I'd happily do without the milkshake. It's not quite as price effective as my one of my all time favourites - The Grazing Shed, but Shake Shack is still cheaper (and better) than Five Guys. Would I go again? Yes and yes again. The location in St David's is great as you get to people watch and post food coma you can shop yourself silly in the new H&M homeware section so everyone is a winner.

Thank you for having us Shake Shack, I'll be back before you know it!

NB: I was invited to eat at Shake Shack by St David's but all opinions and thoughts are my own

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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Alone Time

So despite living alone I struggle with finding that perfect 'alone time' feeling. 

I think it's mostly to down to the fact that I'm still trying to find that perfect work life balance and during the week I'm normally too exhausted to try and find some me time which is actually a little sad.

This weekend I wanted to make sure that I spent some time outside of the house relaxing and doing something a little different. I try and reserve my Sunday's as sofa days so it seemed a shame to waste Saturday by sitting on the couch as well. A day at the museum and a delicious brunch seemed like a cheap and fun way to get out of the house.

The weather has been grim in Cardiff recently, Saturday was no exception and I was battling with an umbrella all day. But in the end I forced myself out of the house and squelched my way to the Cardiff National Museum.

As expected because of the free entry it was quite busy. A lot of families were there with their children. Thankfully most of these people gravitated towards the exhibitions about the geology of the earth and archeology discoveries.

I had my eye set on the Ivor Davies exhibition. Sadly it was strictly no photos so you'll have to go and see that for yourself. I really enjoyed parts of the exhibition  others less so but it's great seeing some truly amazing Welsh art all under one roof.

Some Monet's 

There was a beautiful Augustus John exhibition which I enjoyed more than the Ivor Davies collection. The Augustus John collection features paintings that he never managed to complete or that were partly completed. The way the paintings were curated was wonderful as well as how they were displayed.

Even though art can be so hit and miss for me, I really enjoy going to museums alone. I always do it in London when I stay for longer than a day. My mum and I used to go to museums a lot when I was little, it's probably some of the best education you can get when you're younger. Plus when you're older it's a great place to people watch and you don't feel lonely. 

I rounded my solo day off with a visit to The Early Bird which is fast becoming one of my favourite places in Cardiff.  Having already tried their Hulk Smash (avocado on toast with poached egg) I thought it was time to try their brioche french toast with bacon. I never want to eat anything else for the rest of my life, highly recommended if you're in the area!

I tried to wait out the rain with my coffee and F. Scott Fitzgerald but the weather had other ideas. In the end I managed to swim back home and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

Alone time is so important to me, it gives me some time to rebalance myself and focus on the week ahead. I'm going to try and actively go out by myself. A holiday alone is the next step I think! Any suggestions?

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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

V Day

Sound the klaxon, Valentine's Day is fast approaching!

I'm not going to lie, Valentine's Day is not my favourite holiday on first appearance. But after careful consideration and after looking at endless rows of chocolate, there is something pretty sweet about getting the chance to build a little hamper together for a loved one.

St David's Cardiff gave me the chance to work together with Tiger and John Lewis to create a little Valentine's Day hamper. As I'm currently riding solo I thought this was the chance to create a pack for what will be my Galentine's Day weekend.

Matching socks, photo frame, marshmallows, almond dragées, I <3 You chocolates and heart tea lights - all Tiger | Charbonnel et Walker truffles and Hotel Chocolat Valentine's Goody Bag - John Lewis

Valentine's Day doesn't only have to be about about being with your boyfriend or girlfriend. In fact as far as I'm concerned spending it with your best friends is the way to go. My friends are a constant source of laughs and so I like to give them back a little. What better way to start the weekend of love then with lots and lots of chocolate and novelty gifts?

I like to pride myself on my brunch abilities so hosting a Galentine's Day brunch with the contents of the hamper is most certainly on the cards again this year. 

Heart straws, napkins and heart cake picks - Tiger | Slate heart coasters and heart slate place mats and champagne - John Lewis

All you need for a successful valentine's brunch is some flowers, patience and the perfect pancake recipe. 

To make my beautifully simple staple pancakes, you will need a silicone heart shaped egg ring and the following:
  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp caster sugar (optional as the caramel sauce is sugary)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175ml milk
  • M&S salted caramel sauce 
1) Sift your flour and baking powder into a bowl with the optional sugar (I skip this ingredient as I don't like the pancakes to be too sweet).

2) On low heat pre heat a non stick dying pan.

3) Add in your eggs and milk to your dry ingredients whisking it all together so that there are no lumps and everything is a smooth batter. You might need to add a little more milk depending on how you get on.

4) Once the pan is hot place your egg ring in the centre and gently spoon two to three spoonfuls of the mixture into the ring making sure the mixture is spread evenly.

5) Cook for 2-3 minutes until the mixture begins to bubble a little before flipping and cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Set aside on a plate in a pre heated oven to keep the pancakes warm.  Repeat until you run out of mixture.

To make the pancake stacks simply stack them, spreading the top of each pancake with a little (or a lot) of the caramel sauce. Skewer with a cake pick to keep it all together. I also made a quick homemade raspberry coulis (raspberries and honey - into a blender and done) to balance out the sweetness of the caramel. Garnish with fresh fruit and serve with iced coffee and chilled champagne for dessert. 


Everyone is happy and you look like Nigella Lawson. Win win.

Let me know if you end up loving this recipe as much as I do. Especially let me know if you've used it to woo someone, I'd love to know if this humble little recipe is the start of something wonderful!

If you are also riding solo like myself for the big V Day, just remember that your friends will always love you and that on the 15th chocolate will be half price. It could always be worse!

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