Sunday, 10 December 2017

How To Give Better Gifts + A Giveaway Worth over €150 (ft. Urban Decay, Urban Outfitters, Primark and more)

Giving gifts can be tricky. I know a lot of people who hate it and genuinely buckle under the pressure of it. I've seen it damage relationships.

But that's not how things should be.

Gifting is one of my great joys in life. I love spending time, thinking and focusing on people I care about, one by one, and trying to find something that they will love. I don't always spend a lot of money and I don't always buy something at all. Hell, I don't even always get it entirely right but I do think that my gifts, generally, show people that I know them well and that I really thought about and considered them.

As so many struggle with finding the right thing, I thought I'd share some of my tips for getting better gifts, rather than giving specific gift ideas that might not apply at all.

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1. Think about the person

I know, I know. This seems so obvious, right? But I don't mean think about them like: "Oh, she's a woman. All women like perfume, right?" (NOTE: Perfume/cologne is never a good idea unless you know the person's favourite scent) or "He likes Star Wars, I'll buy him this Chewbacca mug" (NOTE II: If someone is really a fanatic and they don't have a house full of mugs, this is, actually, a good idea. See below for more discussion on these two examples).

When I say "think about them", I mean think about conversations you've had. Think about things they've said they really wanted or things they keep meaning to get for themselves or little indulgences they can't justify. For example, my friend once bought me a fancy candle for my birthday and I was really touched by it. He'd been around when his girlfriend (my BFF) and I had been discussing our love for the candles and how we couldn't buy them regularly because they were too damn expensive and, when he was buying her one as a treat, he picked one up for me as well. Similarly, I've been talking about buying a hair curler for years, but never got around to it. This year, my sister bought me one for my birthday as a surprise and I was genuinely delighted when I opened it.


2. Do some recon

If you can't think of anything from conversations you've had, can't remember any childhood game they've mentioned or book they keep saying they want to read, go find out. Subtly probe for info or merely pay more attention when you hang out. Or ask people close to them who might know. I always check in with the aforementioned friend when buying for my bestie to make sure she doesn't have things or isn't getting them from someone else. Make use of your sources!


3. Practical gifts aren't boring

Remember the example about the perfume? It's a dangerous gift if you don't know what the person likes but, if you happen to know their favourite one and that they might be running out soon, it is a super useful and thoughtful gift! Similarly, if someone has been complaining that someone in work nicked their mug and you know that they love Chewie, get them that mug!

Practical gifts aren't boring. It is so nice to receive a pricey skincare item that you always repurchase or a new kettle if yours is dying slowly. It means the person pays attention to you, your life and woes, and it saves you having to do it! However, know your audience. You don't want to be one of those cliches that gives someone a vacuum and ends up out on their arse outside on Christmas day. Conversely, if someone has always wanted a Dyson (pricey feckers) and loves to vacuum, it might be the perfect gift. It always depends on the person!


4. Time is the best gift

I always say that getting things isn't always necessary. A voucher to go to the spa together or afternoon tea or the cinema or a gig is a lovely gift. It can be customised to their interests - if they're a foodie, have been dying for the release of a new film, love a band, need a day to relax etc - and it ensures that you get one-on-one, quality time together. Basically, it's two gifts in one!


5. Be sincere (+ always accompany gifts with hand-written notes)

Some of the best things that I have given and received have been the notes that came with things (extra points if they're handmade as well as handwritten). Loving words mean a lot and can be things of great comfort to have around for lonely nights or hard days. Shiny baubles don't do the same for us.

If you're really trying your best, that comes across to most people. Just really consider the person that you are giving a gift to, try and get them something they'd really like, and you'll be alright. It doesn't have to be big or expensive. Wrap it nicely, accompany it with heartfelt words and tell them that they matter to you...


Speaking of which, you guys really matter to me! And I wanted to do a giveaway to thank y'all for reading my stuff throughout the year. Normally, I do "12 Days of Giftmas" or "5 Golden Gifts" with multiple giveaways but my November this year was crazy and those things involve a lot of work. I usually liaise with brands for weeks and weeks and email back and forth loads in advance to organise it. And then there's the photographing, writing and promoting each of those posts and the running and regulating of each of the giveaways. I'm sorry for not being organised enough to do all of that this year but I didn't want to do nothing either. So, instead, I have this one giveaway but it's a good 'un!


Worth over €150, it includes:
A €50 Primark Voucher
A Clarins Beautiful Lip Essentials Gift Set
A Madison Makeup Contour Palette
An Urban Outfitters baseball cap (similar here)
An Urban Decay All Nighter Long Lasting Makeup Setting Spray
A Pixi Hydrating Milky Mist
A Sleek Brow Kit (in the shade Light)
A Flormar Long Wearing Lipgloss (in the shade Backstage)
A mini Sumita Eye-liner Pencil (in the shade Black)
A pair of Pieces faux pearl stud earrings
A pair of Kurt Cobain style oval sunglasses (similar here)
A travel-size bottle of Oil Arganic dry oil from Tan Organic


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To win all of this, simply leave a comment on any of the social media posts promoting this article (Instagram & Facebook) before the 24th of December 2017. The winner will be chosen at random and notified on the 25th of December 2017 and the prize will be sent out shortly thereafter. Sadly, this is giveaway will only open to readers based in mind, so keep this in mind before entering. Good luck and happy holidays!

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Thursday, 30 November 2017

Recent Beauty Revelations: Excellent Makeup And Skincare Products From re:p, 3CE, Eminence and more...

In recent months, I have tried less new products than I used to. I grew wearisome of changing up my skincare routine and worried it was not for the better so I stuck, largely, to old favourites and, as for makeup, I've largely forgone all eye products (shadows, liners and mascara) except for the dressiest of occasions. As a result, I haven't discovered lots of new things but the products that I have deigned to try have largely been successes. I went into using many of these items, expecting to love them and they proved me right. Firm new favourites have been acquired. Serious discoveries. And here they blow.

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Eminence's Blueberry Soy Exfoliating Cleanser

A few months back, I was contacted by the PR team that represents Eminence in Ireland and the Anne McDevitt Laser & Skin Clinic and sent this product. Interested in it and the clinic, I reached back out to them and interviewed one of their skincare experts to ask some important questions about taking care of your skin and common misconceptions about it. At the time, I had only been using this cleanser for a few days but was already in love and now, having finished it and having nearly cried when I realised that I had finished it, I can say that it was true love, indeed. First of all, it smells like the yogurts I are as a kid and doesn't taste half bad either. Not that I was snacking on it but, unavoidably, when washing my face with it, some got in my mouth. When I joked about it tasting good to the girls at the clinic, they laughed and agreed and said that it is a bonus that it is natural enough not to do you any harm if accidentally ingested.

This is an exceptionally gentle but effective cleanser. The overall texture of my skin vastly improved while using it and I'm really missing it now. Once I use my current exfoliator, I'm going right back to it. While this, alone, (the effectiveness) sells the product, I have to say that the pump packaging is an added bonus that makes it easy and sanitary to use and was just the cherry on top of an excellent product.

re:p Organic Cotton Treatment Toning Pad

Speaking of handy, this toner is exactly that. It comes in single-use pad form and is easily swiped across the face. No prepping a cotton pad yourself with a bottle of toner, just grab one and you're a-go! When you have many steps in a skincare routine, as I do, these few saved seconds really matter, though they may seem unimportant.

While this isn't the cheapest toner in the world (it varies where you buy it but it'll set you back around 40 quid), it is great at getting rid of that tightness after cleansing really, really quickly. Plus, my skin has always reacted happily to it, even when the heating started to be turned on in Autumn and the skin on my eyelids got really sensitive for a while, as always happens. Additionally, it is one of the few cruelty-free skincare brands, which means it is now one of my few avenues to get that advanced South Korean skincare tech!

The Sumita Centre Stage Mascara and Eye Pencil

Sumita launched a while ago but, as I mentioned, I wear eye makeup very infequently these days so I never dug into the samples I was given at the party. That is, until around a month ago, and I was really pleasantly surprised. The launch featured a topless dude painted gold and the mascara is one of those kinds with fibres so I didn't think we were going to mesh, aesthetically or spiritually. However, I shouldn't have judged a book by its cover as the products are not as basic and not me as I had assumed. The mascara actually can be used for a really pretty, fluttery, subtle effect. No doubt, you could build it into something more dramatic and ostentatious but, as is, it is merely pretty. It's exactly what I, personally, want from mascara. Apparently, it has a growth serum in it, too, but I don't use it on a daily basis so I can't report on that!

The eye pencil, meanwhile, is the first I've used in ages and I was blown away by how soft and creamy it is! It blends like a dream, is easy to work with and doesn't skip or drag over the eyelid at all. It's pretty much converted me back from pen liners.

Bottega Verde's Rossetto Liquido Tenuta Estrema in Red Kiss

Speaking of blending like a dream, this liquid lip from Bottega Verde does just that! Bought on my family holiday to Tuscany in September, it has been a firm favourite since and pretty much the only thing I use on my lips now. Applied directly, it is a vampy true red shade and applied and blended out as a gradient lip, it is a pretty rosy shade. I'm obsessed.

3CE x Maison Kitsune Blush in Ginger Pink 

And speaking of obsessed, if that Bottega Verde lipstick has been my one and only go-to lip product, this is my truest blush love. I've been unfailingly loyal since I got my hands on it. Again, a rare cruelty-free South Korean brand and a stunning collab, this was a must for me because of the shade: basically, the pretty pink colour that kids' faces turn after they run around outside. It's beyond pretty and exactly what I had been looking for for months.

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The starred products were given to me as press samples. However, I was not paid to review them and all opinions are my own.


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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Primark SS18 - 90s Mickey Mouse Club Meets Uber-Cool Asian Streetstyle

A couple weeks ago, I woke to a frosty Monday morning. Although delayed, the cold had finally descended and I finally had to start wearing jumpers and closing my window at night. Funnily enough, it was that same day that Primark was having their SS18 press day and I walked from the cold outside into a brightly-coloured, very summery, DJ'ed lunchtime showing (with my favourite blogging pal, Emma of Ol' Green Eyes - so nice to have an event wingwoman on the reg now!).

Interestingly, I noticed, quite quickly, that their summer trends included some rather autumnal shades and plenty of jumpers and coats. The latter makes sense for dressing for Irish summers but the former reflects something I have noticed of late. Florals abound this AW and, while that over-used The Devil Wears Prada quote laments about how florals for Spring is nothing new, the predominance of them for the colder months is unusual. It seems that, as with this embracing of a pattern type so deeply associated with one season during another, this use of shades normally relegated to Autumn during SS18 reflects a desire to mix things up and question fashion "rules". In a fashion climate where "good taste" is often up for debate, this minor breaking of rules seems like a natural trickle-down progression and I, for one, rather like it.

The collection presented five different trends; Club Mix, Castaway, Mono Remix, Asian Wonderland and Midnight Cowboy. Club Mix is a 90s inspired selection of cutesy, brightly coloured pieces that look alot like what I would have been dressed in as a kid and what you would have seen on the Mickey Mouse Club.

Castaway, meanwhile, takes its influence from nautical sources with cute rope details, stripes, frayed edges and more and presents a cute yet rather sophisticated take on those marine looks that often reappear around that time of year. These are the pieces that look far more expensive than they are.

Mono Remix presents monochromatic 80s power-dressing and a continuation of those glamorous looks that we've been seeing all over as of late.

Asian Wonderland finally names an influence I've been remarking on at the Primark events for seasons now: Asian Streetstyle. Cool and funky, this was the rail that Emma labelled as the "Colette rail" and I couldn't agree more. Think cool Miu Miu-esque slides, cross-body bags, little check skirts, primary colours, ribbon details and a mix of pretty and streetwear vibes: i.e. perfection in a rail.

With Midnight Cowboy, it is another case of being exactly what it says on the tin: fringing, denim, cowboy shirts and more mixed with mismatched florals, oversized sleeves and a delicate dance between masculine and feminine.

Primark presented a more edited version of things this time around with great attention paid to more luxurious accessories and the stories behind the trends. As a result, the vision we got for their SS18 is clear and very cool. Best of all, you won't even have to wait that long as pieces begin to drop from December through to April. Right now I'm enjoying playing with layers but it looks like next season is going to be fun too.

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Sunday, 12 November 2017

A-Z of Beauty: Acids

Acids: everyone seems to be talking about them and skincare brands are churning them out faster than ever but what are they, what are they for and are they as scary as they sound?

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In fact, you're probably more familiar with acids in skincare than you are even aware of. They are often key ingredients in targeting specific purposes and issues in one's skincare routine; like Salicylic Acid, which is used in treating breakouts and, most likely, serves as a throwback to one's teen years. The reason only certain acids ring familiar is that the likes of acne-prone teens often have to consult medical professionals in order to deal with their skin concerns and they are usually prescribed more medical and scientific-sounding products. They're not adults with their own expendable income, looking to better themselves in a general sense but people dependent on parents and doctors to find products that will really work and target a specific issue. Until recently, these same buzzwords were not sold to adults in the same way. Instead, a lifestyle, a sense of luxury or the overall product was the sales pitch.

Now, however, as more people become more educated about skincare and information becomes more readily available, customers are a little more savvy and a lot more interested in more scientific-sounding products. They are no longer unsexy and unappealing but, rather, potential secret ingredients that promise to really fix everything and make us baby-soft and blemishless again.

So, who are these acids and what do they want from us what can they do for us?

Salicylic Acid

Starting with our old pal, Salicylic acid, this is an acid that has many benefits including being anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne, and exfoliating. It comes in all sorts of forms - from face washes to treatment creams to peels - and is suitable for people with oily and acne prone skin but can also be an option for people with normal/dry skin who have the occasional break out.

Glycolic Acid

Another familiar name is glycolic acid, which really seems to pop up everywhere nowadays, famously in Pixi's line of products. It is an alpha hydroxy acid that is derived from sugarcane and is a very small molecule that gently dissolves dead skin. This makes it a much more gentle option than an exfoliating scrubs (the devil!) and is key in achieving smoother, less textured skin but can also help with lightening dark spots and reducing fine lines.

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid, meanwhile, is another exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid but is even gentler and has a moisturising element that makes it more suitable for people with sensitive skin who want the same benefits of glycolic acid but might not react well to it.

Hyaluronic Acid

Even though the name might bring images of burning or removing, acids are not merely used to exfoliate. Hyaluronic acid has become a bit of a buzzword in the serum world lately and this is because it actually binds moisture to the skin. It is humectant, meaning it helps the skin attract and retain moisture, which is why it is a step that is often in addition to your moisturiser, as it tries to permeate the skin further and really moisturise beyond the surface. It really is an invaluable ingredient in your routine, pretty much regardless of your skin type, as a result. Keep in mind, however, that not all hyaluronic acid products are made equal, as explained far better than I ever could by the lovely Liah Yoo in this video.

Ascorbic Acid

For brightening the skin and fighting hyperpigmentation, ascorbic acid - also known as vitamin C - is your pal! It is an antioxidant that reduces fine lines and fights free-radicals and is pretty much suitable to all skin types and desirable to anyone who wants brighter, happier skin, overall.

Retinoic acid

Retinoic acid, often referred to a retinoids, is your new best friend. It can help minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, increase the skin’s thickness and elasticity, slow collagen degradation, reverse sun damage and lighten brown spots caused by sun exposure! Sounds good right? However, if you are using retinoids MAKE SURE TO WEAR SUNSCREEN THE NEXT DAY. You should be doing this, anyway, no matter who you are or how much sun you get (unless it's, literally, none) but while retinoids do great things they can make your skin susceptible to sun damage. Don't avoid them for this reason but be prepared for it.

Of course, no ingredient is actually a magic fix and can't rid you of serious skin damage or deep wrinkles - medical or cosmetic procedures are the only things that can do that and, even then, have their limitations. However, employing acids in your skincare routine in your 20s and 30s will have an incredible effect in the long term.

There are many more acids and many more becoming trendy all the time. This is, in no way, an exhaustive list. However, if you are just getting into skincare and taking it more seriously, this is a good intro to the topic. Good luck on your skincare journey, I know how frustrating and confusing it can be but when you see results, it very much feels worth all that head scratching.

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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Traditional Irish Hallowe'en Barmbrack Recipe With My Mammy! (@fitzwithfood)

I never liked brack growing up. Similarly to Christmas cake, I didn't get why I'd choose a cake with fruit in it. It didn't make sense.

My palate has changed wildly in the last few years, though. I rarely order dessert out and don't crave sweets in the same way anymore. I love spicy food now and I'm always up for trying new things. And, somehow, in the midst of all this, brack slid into my preferences. I can't tell you when or why or how but I suddenly started ordering it over rich, chocolatey cakes whenever it was (rarely) on a menu in a cafe. This year, in particular, I've had a real thing for it and was dismayed at how few places were serving it; it's a staple traditional Autumn food in Ireland!

The options in supermarkets weren't much better: all unwieldy, big, cheap, packaged things with little soul. I wanted something fresh and homemade but it clearly wasn't going to happen. So, I suggested my mother and I finally do our collab and make our own brack (with her invaluable know-how) and show others how to do the same.

Mammy is a wonderful cook and baker, in particular. She always has been but she has only really indulged it in the past year or two, since my siblings graduated and she has had more emotional and physical space to focus on herself. At my encouragement, she started an Instagram profile to record her adventures in food, cooking and baking and it has become a passion project. Seeing her finally do something for herself and something she is so good at and interested in has been a joy and I had been wanting to collaborate beyond tagging her in things for a while now.

This weekend, we finally got to it. Here is our recipe for the perfect, loaf-style barmbrack - a traditional fruit-based Irish cake or sweet bread that is served around Hallowe'en and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. Traditionally, different objects are placed inside and the person who gets a slice with that object would have the corresponding fortune (a pea for those who would not marry that year, a stick for an unhappy marriage, a cloth for poverty or bad luck, a coin for good fortune or wealth and a ring for those who would get married within the year) but we weren't interesting in that (slightly unsanitary) tradition. We were interested in the taste.

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Ingredients:

225g of Self Raising Flour
350g of Dried Fruit Mix
300ml of cold Tea
125g of Golden Caster Sugar
1 Egg, beaten
A good pinch of Mixed Spice



Method:

1. Place a couple of tea bags in a mixing bowl, pour boiling water on top and brew for a few minutes. Then, remove the tea bags and allow the tea to cool.

2. Next, add the fruit mix, cover and leave to soak in the tea over night. Ignore the silly questions from your father and younger brother and tell them to leave the bowl alone. Hopefully, they will comply.

3. The next day, preheat the oven to 170°C. Add the sugar, egg, flour and mixed spice to the bowl with the fruit mix and mix well.

4. Grease and line a cake tin and pour in the mixture.

5. Cook for an hour until risen and firm to the touch. Be sure to listen to your mammy and not open the oven repeatedly throughout, as you are naturally prone to doing. Only check once, about halfway through the hour, if the tops are burning. If so, place some greaseproof paper on top to stop the situation from worsening.

6. Take out of the oven, cool on a wire rack and wait a while, until that cake has fully set and mostly cooled, before cutting. This will be hard as it smells so good. 

7. Serve slathered in Irish butter (don't be shy, worry about your heart later), with a nice cup of tea and don't let the banshee get you!


Thanks to my lovely mammy for helping me out with satisfying my desperate need for a good brack and collabing. It mostly involved us baking all day and laughing, which is the best kind of collab. Give her a follow at @fitzwithfood, it'll make her happy and it'll satisfy your food porn needs for a while.

Happy Hallowe'en, y'all! x


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