Sunday, 17 August 2014

Boost Juice Bars, Highcross Leicester

The quality and variety of retail outlets at Highcross Leicester has really gone up and up since it opened, particularly if, like me, the most important thing to you is the food and drink on offer. The latest offering, a Boost Juice Bar, will be opening TOMORROW (Monday 18th August 2014) and to celebrate they invited me over to have a sneaky peak at the new store. Not only that, but they will be giving away all their smoothies for free for one day only. That's right, all day, all free. Fabulous.

I was greeted in the store while the team were receiving their all important training and orientation. Everyone seemed genuinely warm, friendly and excited about the new adventure. The new shop is clean, bright and vibrant. The latest in a chain started in Australia, Boost aims to offer a healthy fast food option. They have created smoothies and juices that are free from preservatives and artificial flavourings.  There are now over 300 stores in 16 countries and it's pretty easy to see why. I tried the Strawberry Squeeze smoothie - apparently one of their biggest sellers in the UK. It is made from strawberries, bananas, apple juice, low fat yoghurt (called TD4 - To Die 4, with live cultures - for extra nommy bacteria) and ice. I found it to be flavourful and thick, creamy despite the relatively low fat content (1.3g per 100ml) with a great strawberry flavour, but not artificial or oversweet. In fact, I think the apple juice gives it just the right kick of sweetness to make this a really satisfying flavour. Luckily I hadn't had any breakfast, because it is super filling - just want you want for your healthy alternative option! It kept me going for a good number of hours, despite the cycle home from Highcross!

They kindly gave me a blogger pack with all kinds of interesting goodies. I got a sample of their adult bottles and kids cups, which have a cute hologram butterfly on (it's quite pink so I presume there is a 'boy' equivalent, but I shall hold back here from talking about reinforcing gender norms). I got the full menu to see the range of smoothies, fruit crushes and juices - but I was most impressed that they include the full nutritional information on the menu. You'll know about my interest in clear labelling from my earlier Campaign For Real Salad post.

Every year they use over 800 tonnes of watermelon you know.

I got a lot of information in the press pack about how much fruit they use per year, but I think that probably one fascinating fact is enough for this blog post. They use a lot of fruit.

They passed me a VIBE card - so I can be part of the Very Important Boost Enthusiasts club. This is a nice little loyalty programme which offers you your 10th drink for free as well as a special free Boost on your birthday. Can't be bad! I do like a nice loyalty scheme, because let's face it, we all like something for nothing.

Your free smoothie options for tomorrow
And as if getting your free smoothie tomorrow (yes, free, 100% no money involved, get along to Highcross on Monday 18th August!) they will also be doing their formal launch on Tuesday 19th August, where they will have some very special guests for their ribbon cutting and releasing a lot (I think 1000, but I didn't write it down - bad blogger coming out without her notebook) of balloons, and each one will have a free Boost voucher attached, so look out for dem green balloons!

So overall, I think a positive addition to Leicester. I'm hoping for friendly staff, a high quality smoothie and an extra Boost in my step. Thanks to Boost for inviting me for a sneaky peak!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

REVIEW: Walkabout Leicester

Edit: Walkabout Leicester is now closed.

We popped down to Walkabout in Leicester on Friday as earlier in the week I'd seen that they do a stonking Happy Hour offer of 50% off food and drink between 5 and 7pm. This seemed too good not to try for size, since we had a number of errands to run after work and weren't back in town until 6.30pm.

Walkabout is an Australian theme pub. Therefore they offer kangaroo on the menu and an actually surprisingly good range of Australian, New Zealand and other bottled beers as well as the usual suspects on draught. So far, so good. The staff were really friendly and helpful, giving us a great welcome in the busy bar. However, after that, I'm afraid the experience went downhill.

The decor is tired and scruffy throughout, particularly in the corridor to the toilets. It looks like it was decorated 10 years ago and then has not been maintained since. Although generally clean, everything, including furniture, bar, right down to the little trugs for sauces, has seen better days and gives a feeling a woeful neglect once you take more than a cursory glance. This means it's not the most comfortable place to enjoy a meal.

This general feel of neglect from the management continued with the availability of items. When I had popped in earlier in the week on an unrelated matter, there had been no draught drinks at all available and no mayonnaise. When I returned on Friday the draught was happily working again, but there was still no mayonnaise and also no steak. I can understand that the 50% off deal must be popular, especially on a Friday evening, but surely since they offer this on every single week day the manager responsible for ordering could be just a smidge more on the ball?

Unfortunately, it was not discovered that they were out of steak until we had ordered and paid. The Boy ordered the kangaroo burger instead, for the novelty. Little did we realise that the novelty would be playing 'Hunt the Pattie'. The burger was miniscule, overcooked and dry. Hugely disappointing all round. When I approached one of the very helpful staff members to mention the size, but also that the dish we had ordered as a replacement was actually cheaper than the one we had paid for she not only refunded the difference, but actually refunded the whole dish - which made us feel better. However, I would warn anyone against getting this on a whim for full price - at £7.95 you will be distinctly disappointed.

It wasn't all bad though. We both had the spicy, rather than normal fries, and these were delicious. Very much 'a flavour of spice' rather than 'spicy hot', I really enjoyed the flavours in these, a nice mix of sweet paprika, some cayenne and some other spices that I couldn't identify, these were packed full of taste and a much more interesting accompaniment than plain chips. We also enjoyed the salad of lettuce, melon and pomegranate seeds which added a bit of interest, but weirdly did seem to come with absolutely every dish. I'm not sure melon goes with *everything*, but maybe the Australians would disagree.

I had the Chicken Parmigiano, which I have to say offered significantly better value for money and flavour. A breaded chicken steak was topped with tomato sauce, ham and lots of melted cheese, the chicken being well cooked and not dried out, helped also by the sweet sauce and two kinds of unctious melty cheese. As chain pub food goes, it wasn't the worst. I was 100% pleased that I hadn't ordered a burger! However, I did want some mayonnaise for my chips and I couldn't have it, so that was a bit disappointing.

At 50% off, our drinks were super cheap. I had a glass of wine which I think cost about £1.60 and The Boy was drinking Fat Yak pale ale at a similar price. Absolute bargain. So all in, for the really joyously friendly staff, relatively quick service and decent drinks at bargain basement prices, I feel compelled to give Walkabout 4 out of 10 Extreme Points. I'd definitely drink there again, if I happened to be in the area during Happy Hour but I don't think we'll bother with the food or make a special effort to pop in there specifically again.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Leicester Happy Hour Directory

Welcome to Leicester's oldest and most comprehensive round up of 
Happy Hour goodness! 
Updated regularly, so you never miss out!
Last update 21/01/18

Scroll down for listings
I love the recent rise in the Happy Hour here in Leicester. It reminds me of California, a couple of hours in the early evening when drinks and food offers about, meaning a cheeky after-work drink is easier on the pocket. And after-work drinks are my favourite kind.

This is a regularly updated list. If you know of a Happy Hour I've missed or has changed, drop me a comment below and I'll add it in. Local businesses, feel free to contact me if you'd like to be included.

Check out my 'Leicester' tab above to find reviews of some of the featured bars and restaurants.

Bruxelles, High Street

Sunday - Friday, 6pm - 9pm
Saturday, 9pm - 10pm
Buy 2 large glasses of wine, get the rest of the bottle free
£1 off all pints
50p off all half pints
Money off cocktails
Double for £1 on house spirits

Broood, New Walk/King Street
All day, every day
20p off pint, 10pm off a half with CAMRA or Broood discount card

The Cookie, High Street
Every Thursday in August 2016, all night
£2 bottles
£2.80 pints
£3 spirit & mixer
Deals on chicken wings and other sharers

Cosy Club, Highcross Street

4th Best Beer Garden in Leicester!
Monday - Friday 4pm-7pm
Teatime Tipple, 2 cocktails for £9.50

Duffy's Bar, Pocklingtons Walk
Match days, 4.30pm-5.30pm
Final Score drinks offers
Present a Tigers or LCFC ticket for special drinks offers
Also offers for society members - ask at bar for details

Exchange Bar, Rutland Street
Monday - Friday, 4.30pm-7pm
Cask ale £2.80, Freedom 4 £3.20, wine from £3, Corona £2.80
Bottle of Prosecco £18, Teapot Punch £15, jam jar cocktail £4.75

Fat Cat Bar, Belvoir Street
Monday, all day
50% off food
50% off drinks from 5pm 

Firebug, Millstone Lane
Wednesday, 7pm - 4am
Cocktails from £3
Sunday - Thursday, 6pm-9pm
Friday - Saturday, midnight - 2am
Happy Hour prices on selected drinks

Foxie Browns, Highcross Street
Wednesday, half price E-shisha hire
Thursday, 5pm - 9pm, 241 Prosecco
Friday, 6pm - 9pm, 241 cocktails

The Globe, Silver Street
Monday - Friday, 5pm-7pm
£10 bottle of wine
Special prices on draught ale

James' Cafe Bistro, East Bond Street
Wednesday - Saturday Two for £12 menu
Tuesday - Saturday £10 fixed set lunch

The King's Head, Kings Street
Monday - Friday, 4pm-7pm
Pints from £2.20

The Lansdowne, London Road
Every day, 3pm-7pm
All day Wednesday 
Special price on cocktails

Manhattan34, Rutland Street

Every day, 12pm-8pm 

Marco's, Granby Street

Every day, 5pm-7pm
50% off cocktails

Marquis Wellington
Monday - Friday, 6pm-7pm
Tiger - £2.70
Foster's - £2.90
Beacon - £2.50
House wine - £10 a bottle, £3.80 a large glass, £3.00 a small glass

Mix'd Cafe Bar
Regular offers
Becks/Sol/Stella 3 for 2
5 Jaegerbombs for £10
£4 pizza with a drink
Friday and Saturday
£2 drinks - Archers, Vodka, Malibu and Bacardi and selected beers 

The Orange Tree, High Street

7th Best Beer Garden in Leicester!
Sunday -Thursday, 7pm-10pm
Special price on cocktails

The Paget Arms, Oxford Street, Loughborough
Every day 3pm-7pm
£1 off a pint of craft beer

The Parcel Yard, London Road
8th Best Beer Garden in Leicester!
Every day 3pm-7pm
£1 off a pint of craft beer

Queen of Bradgate, High Street
Joint Number 1 Beer Garden in Leicester!
Monday - Friday, 5pm-8pm
Get a large glass of wine for the price of a medium
£1 off draught beers
241 cocktails
Monday, 50% off mains, burgers and salads

Ramada Encore, Charles Street
Every day, 12pm-3pm, 5pm-8pm
25% off food OR drink

R/Bar, Granby Street 
Friday, 9pm-2am
241 on cocktails

Revolution, New Walk
50% off selected main courses

The Salmon, Butt Close Lane
Monday - Friday, 4pm-7pm
Real ale from £2.30 a pint

The Shed, Yeoman Street
Every day, 5pm-8pm
Drinks starting at £2
Thursday, all day
241 on cocktails

Spur Steak and Grill, Raw Dykes Road
Bottomless ribs and wings

Turkey Cafe, Granby Street
Every day, 5pm - 8pm
Tuesday, 5pm - 12am
Friday and Saturday, 1am - 2am
241 on cocktails

Turtle Bay, Highcross
Monday - Friday, 12pm-7pm, 10pm-close
241 on cocktails

REVIEW & COMPETITION: EQUIP+ Waterless Wash Products

Since we are in festival season, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to EQUIP, a great range of innovative products to help keep you clean and fresh wherever you are. I really love these products, they have great, bright and durable packaging, great ideas and a unique approach to taking the crud out of camping and the sweat out of safaris!

Basically, wherever you don't have ready access to soap and hot water, you can sleep an EQUIP product in your bag and stay feeling as a fresh as a daisy. I have been sent the whole range of products to try out and I confess that I have not tried the waterless wash shower cap, probably the most exciting of all the products, yet because I want to save it for my forthcoming holiday. I cannot imagine anything nicer than being able to wash my hair straight after a long haul flight to refresh and revive me! So you'll have to forgive me for holding off on reviewing this particular product until the optimum moment!

It's such a cool idea, a shower cap impregnated with both shampoo and conditioner. Just whack it on your bonce, massage for a few minutes and then towel dry and style. You can even pop it in the microwave for a couple of seconds if you prefer a hot wash. So simple, but brilliant, move over dry shampoo, this isn't a cover up job, this is a real wash. I love it and can think of a million occasions when having clean, freshly washed hair would make my life that much more enjoyable.

I did take the oversized wipes out for a test drive, and boy are they big! Lightly scented, with a faint hint of aloe vera they are pleasant to use and big and strong enough to hose yourself down all over. They dealt with the accumulation of sweaty odour from my cycle home in the sun with ease and their deodorising power kept me dry and fresh. They are totally durable for a full all over wash and still really compact in the packet so you could pop them easily into a day bag or weekend carryall to take anywhere with you.

They give a lovely clean feel and are ever so slightly moisturising so you get soft, neutral smelling skin, which is really pleasant and super easy.

I think I'll spare you an image of the protective wipes. No-one wants too much information about intimate areas or a blog post filled with white squares, so here's their lovely, simple, but well designed packaging instead. They are formulated with the anti-itch Canadian Willow Herb which gives an interesting scent and the promise of gentle cleaning. I find them to be again a convenient product which will get the most use when we're out and about. It has been a busy week at work, so not much time for that right now, but I will get to make good use of these before the summer is out.

Finally, we have the super thick wash mitts, which do exactly what they say on the tin. They come in a pack of four, and are really, really great for cleaning your back - an area that is a bit tricky with just a standard wipe. They are excellent quality, we were tempted to turn them inside out so we could both use the same one. I think that would have worked fine, but was perhaps a step too far in the ick stakes for us, however if we find ourselves in desperate times, you never know!

All in all I am super impressed with these Equip products. There is genuinely nothing I could suggest to improve them, so I would have to award 10 out of 10 Extreme Points. If only we'd had these during our three day bus journeys in South America, things would have been so much better. I think their prime usefulness will be at festivals and backpacking, but I think that parents would find plenty of applications for them too!

So, do you want to win some Equip for yourself? Just enter via the widget below! Enjoy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Hybrid Evelyn Off Shoulder Lace Skater Dress

Ring the bells! Sound the alarm! Lock up your significant other while you break out the debit card!

The Hybrid summer sale is on, and this means that we've all got the opportunity to buy something beautiful for a bargain price.

Hybrid are a relatively new brand, around since 2010 and they are making a real splash in the contemporary dress market. They offer some really unique designs with an emphasis on a flattering fit, a luxurious finish and still at a pocket-friendly price. And their sale makes them even more tempting.

My absolute favourite item in this year's summer sale is this Hybrid Evelyn Off Shoulder Lace Skater Dress. I have absolutely loved the rise of the skater dress, it is by far the most flattering style for my shape and has almost totally weaned me off my obsession with the maxi dress, both for day and evening wear. The Evelyn is a real triumph, taking the skater style to the next level of chic through Hybrid's signature attention to styling details. In this case, I adore the addition of the off-shoulder, additional straps, with their sweeping centre detailing. This really takes the skater style from okay to Oscar.

In the current sale it is now down to £44.00 - that's 60% off the original price. You can't turn your nose up at that. For something with so much character I cannot believe this price, I would expect something of this quality to be retailing well over the £150 mark, thinking about comparisons with brands of similar quality like Jaeger. In fact I would even go so far that this has the level of originality and quality of finish that I would expect from an Alexander McQueen dress, which well set you back well over a grand.

The fabric itself is beautiful too. Since beginning to learn to sew, I've become obsessed with finding beautiful textiles in all areas of my life and the contrast of the sand colour with the delicate, almost paisley leitmotif really appeals to me, especially with the block colour of the off-shoulder section which brings a stark contrast and will, shall we say, draw the attention away from problem areas (fat belly, fat belly) and bring the eye nicely to the decollatage. Speaking of flattering, of course we know that the skater dress is fab for highlighting a cinched waist and sweeping over any little bulges one might be wishing to hide away for a rainy day.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Painting stuff for the garden

I've had a cheeky day of leave today because it's summer and I'd rather use it now while I can be out in the garden. I've spent most of the afternoon painting a few little critters that The Boy picked up for me from the supermarket garden sale recently.

Yeah, they're cute, but the monochome look was a bit dull for me, and I thought they needed tarting up fit better into the garden of the Happy House, given its recent upcycling.

I thought it would take me an hour at most to paint them, with a dash of acrylic, but oh no, it took me nearer three. In fact I had to stop halfway through, at about 3pm and take the Boy for lunch as we hadn't eaten yet.

I definitely like the mushroom the most, simple but effective. The others are OK, but they are nice and bright and are a nice distraction hidden amongst the planties. All in all a fun afternoon, although I have no idea whether I need to varnish acrylic paint to weatherproof it. Time will tell on that one I guess.

Learning to sew: The paper pattern

I am attempting to use my first ever paper sewing pattern, thanks to Sew Magazine (more on that when I've finished). As part of the learning to sew experience, which you can catch up with here and here, it demonstrates to me a number of vaguely interesting points.

  • Scissors are the work of the devil. How on earth do left handed people cut out patterns accurately?
  • Getting all your pattern pieces cut out, with the paper still pinned to the front is so satisfying. Well, it might be because it reminds me of the pile of pattern pieces that my mum would have next to her machine when she used to sew when I were a nipper, but just getting that far (and being reasonably sure that I had cut all the pattern pieces out to the same dress size) was pretty awesome.
  • When you are learning to sew from a pattern for the first time, you have to look up every single thing. Seriously, the first two steps on the pattern were 'stay stitch around the neck' (What the hell's a stay stitch? And you haven't told me which parts are the neck!) and 'mark and sew the darts as indicated'. Now I know what a dart is, and I could roughly guess what you needed to do from the marks on the pattern, but I still had to google it just to make sure. I now understand why people learned to sew from someone else. Without a seasoned hand you have to look everything up - and it's only on blogs that you get realistic tips. Without the internet, I'd have sewn all the pattern pieces together into a 'flower' by now and then burned it.
  • Not having any experience means you have no idea what's coming next. Stay stitch around the neckline so it holds its shape? That was the last thing I saw coming, probably because I didn't know it existed. Now I've done steps 1 to 4, twice, for the outer and the lining, and I have no clue where it's going to go next. It's quite exciting. If you like sewing. 
You want to know what I'm making right? Well, you'll have to wait until I'm done. What did you learn when you first started sewing, any useful tips for me?

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Still learning to sew: The Pincushion

My adventures in sewing, as previewed here, have continued today. We have been sorting the house out after having the loft insulated and what was the music studio now has space for me to do crafting which is awesome and so today I have got back on my sewing machine.

I was tempted to make an effort at a decent pattern, but I realised that I only had 4 pins! After looking everywhere, I couldn't find any more so I had to ask the Boy to pick some up for me when he nipped to the shop later on and in the meantime I realised that I should do something a bit simpler. This also flagged up that I do not have a decent pin storage device, so it was time to create that most necessary of necessaries - the pin cushion.

I had a little scout round the internet, and decided to have a go at a distinctly amateur version of Celebrate Creativity's easy scrap pin cushion. It's a lovely pattern, but I think us beginners needed a few more photos and detailed instruction - I had to sew up the seams on the top and bottom when I'd sewed all the piece together which led to 'unsightly' gathers. Well, it's all part of the character of the finished piece actually so I'm not that fussed. All credit to Lisa for the pattern - thanks for sharing it.

I cut out me pieces as directed. They made a lovely flower which was tres photogenic.

Sew yer bits together. Err... yer pattern pieces. As you can see, I've had a bit of a tension issue with one of my bobbins which has plagued me all day. So I've showed you the vaguely presentable side. Remember, I'm still learning.

Leave a little gap when you sew it up, so you can turn it the right way round. Or, alternatively, the Extreme Housewifery Patent Method is to sew the whole thing up, realise what you've done, swear a bit, then upick a small area for turning.

Stuff it and then use an embroidery thread or light yarn to sew the centre, top and bottom together and then run a thread around each of the seams to create a pretty flower shape. Well, a nice blobby thing anyway. To the fab retro fabric which my mum donated to me a few years ago, I added a fab vintage covered button which I got in a 20p jar of buttons at the bootsale the other week. I had been eyeing it up and trying to think of something fabulous to use it for, but I figured I'll get so much use out of my pin cushion that this is a great way to put it somewhere I will see it loads. Ta da!

Since I was on a bit of a roll and happy with what I'd produced, I decided to 'whip up' (after about 1/2 hour further unecessary tension issues and snapped top threads) a sewing machine cover so that I can look after my kit properly. All credit and thanks for the super simple pattern at Chez Larsson - great, clear instructions.

Making the most of homegrown courgettes

Everyone who grows their own fruit and veg knows that when you grow courgettes, you inevitably end up with too many and have to think of novel ways to use them (or just give them to friends and neighbours until they get fed up of you). Our courgette season has just started off - we picked our first one earlier this week - so we're not bored of them yet, but I did find THE best way of using it ever**, so I thought I'd share it with you.

We've got two types of courgette on this year, Italian stripey ones and round ones. The first to reach a decent size was the round. Here are the instructions for a great recipe:

Grow the courgette.
Pick the courgette.

Slice the courgette.
Add butter and seasoning to the courgette.

BBQ the courgette.

Add a massive burger and bun, with cheese, avocado and chorizo to the courgette.

Mmmmmmm *drools*

**This may not be the healthiest recipe.

Upcycling Garden Ornaments

I’ve got a little obsessed with picking up bargains at boot sales and whacking them in the garden recently. It all started when we found a discarded toy dinosaur, whilst walking in the park one day. Naturally, we rehomed him and sat him next to a cactus in the pot. It made him look so cheery that the next time I had the opportunity to buy a little plastic toy at a boot sale I jumped on it, and gradually my collection of bizarre figures and toys in the garden has grown, with famous and anonymous characters alike peeping out behind vast pumpkin leaves, or enacting battle scenes down the trellis. They are still quite subtle, which I like – I don’t think people ever notice them at first, but once they do they start to see them EVERYWHERE. There is even a rubber ducky in with the aubergines out on the drive.

The natural place to take this new craze was to start creating my own custom garden ornaments. I’ve started small, but I hope effective on two little projects this week. The first was a 40p fruit bowl. 

It was a kind of bleurgh colour with stylized lemons on and had a little chip in the base. I simply masked off the top and the bottom in order to keep a little of the uneven green on the border and then sprayed the rest with a blue enamel craft paint which I bought from Wilkinsons.

The end result is a shiny, unique bowl which we would like to use as a fruit bowl in the kitchen (our old wooden one is a bit manky and hard to clean, plus I think it would make a good planter, so it’s a fair swap), however it has been commandeered by our kitties as a water bowl. Since we have had nearly three weeks of near continuous beautiful weather now, they are grateful for the addition of a seemingly endless supply of cool water in the garden, on top of the bowls that they have around the house.

The second project was a cat ornament that I got for 20p. It caught my eye because it actually has slightly more of a degree of realism than your run of the mill garden ornament. I think it was probably made for display in the home, but had been sadly mistreated – with a chipped ear and flaking paint. 
I cleaned him up, removing flaked paint with a hard brush and then attempting to smooth the edges with light sandpaper. It didn’t all come off and this has given him a slightly mottled finish which I really like. This is all part of his story, like the broken ear, which I decided not to fix, although I have a little clay I could use. I think I like that he’s already had a life to live before he came to our house. Having prepared the surface, I painted him with chalkboard paint (which is excellent stuff, I also got mine from Wilkos) and it dried off in record time in summer heat.

Now I have a lovely ornament, more weatherproof than before, though I suspect he will need bringing in when the frost comes, and I can colour him in whatever fur coat I like – I just hose him down and start again if I fancy a change. Chalkboard paint is absolutely the way forward. I love lazy summer days where we draw patterns and write messages on our painted table, or on our cat. You can also use chalk to brighten up plant pots or your patio – all completely washable, temporary, but lots of fun.
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