Saturday 24 December 2016

Carluccio's has your Christmas dinner sorted

Carluccio's Christmas in July press day was one of the highlights of my year; the food, the festive atmosphere (regardless of the 28 degree heat) and the free samples ticked all the boxes - but what made the event really special was finding out the story behind each product in the Carluccio's Christmas range.

Me being the skeptic that I am, I believed that, as Carluccio's is a chain brand, it did not deliver 'proper' Italian food. 

Oh how wrong I was. 

They source their products straight from Italian producers, from the cioccolateria in the village square to the family which has been making pandolce for generations. These manufacturers are visited every year by the Carluccio's buying team, who taste everything to ensure great quality goods for their consumers. The love and passion (yes, really) that go into each piece of food sold by the company is jaw-dropping. It made me truly appreciate every mouthful - and there were quite a few. I sampled everything from melted stilton on flatbread, to the obligatory Prosecco, to a chocolate panettone that was to die for

Carluccio's Christmas collection has a food to suit every taste, and one for every part of the Christmas meal, making it so easy to gather everything you need right before the big day.

Here are a handful of the delicious foods on offer this Christmas from Carluccio's, as well as the story behind them:

F I C H I   A L   R H U M

A fig bar covered in dark chocolate - ideal for those who can't stand the overly sweet, overly manufactured taste of the regular Christmas chocolate box assortments. This features chopped Calabrian figs, candied peel and walnuts - all doused in a good helping of rum, left to rest for a day, then coated in chocolate.

P A N E T T O N E   A L L A   C R E M A   D I   P R O S E C C O

For me, being non-Italian, Panettone is a Christmas luxury, but at the same time complete necessity. Its creamy texture goes so well with a cup of tea, and this version is one not to be missed. Carluccio's Venetian producer makes a 'custard' with the locally produced Prosecco, then pipes it into the Panettone. Buy this and thank me later.

C H O C O L A T E   C O A T E D   G R I S S I N I

Unbelievably rich, these grissini sticks (like little biscuitty bread sticks) are made the old-fashioned way - with lard, not olive oil. And they're completely coated in chocolate. Yes, you do feel the fat seeping down to your thighs when you eat them, but that's what treadmills are for.

Monday 19 December 2016

Play a Game with Lipstick Queen's Stunning New Collection

It's fair to say that 2016 has been the year of the lip, with many makeup brands releasing collection upon collection of beautiful lip products in every colour imaginable. Nudes have been incredibly popular this summer, but with winter well underway nothing can stop me from donning a festive red lip - and Lipstick Queen's new Lipstick Chess collection has all the shades you'll need to achieve that glamorous vibe.

Launching in January 2017 on the Lipstick Queen website, the collection consists of six stunning hues from deep ruby red through to mocha and a medium nude. The formulas are enriched with natural oils, waxes and anti-oxidant vitamin E, and produce a hydrating matte suede effect - no dry, uncomfortable, heavy concoctions here. 

Each colour is designated to a different chess piece, which says something about the wearer:

The Ruby Red Queen who reigns supreme
The Rich Berry King who is noble
The Deep Plum Rook who is bold
The Dashing Mocha Knight who is unpredictable
The Determined Mauve Bishop who is courageous
The Subtle Nude Pawn who is loyal to what they love

Each lipstick is priced at £22.

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Sunday 18 December 2016

Bloggers vs Journos: Why can't we all get along?

If you follow any major bloggers or vloggers on Twitter, you may have seen a flurry of tweets about an article written by Francesca Hornak for The Sunday Times Style entitled '24 Hours With... A Beauty Vlogger'. Part of The ST Style's relatively new series, this installment focused on the imagined life of a beauty vlogger, and included Starbucks, fairy lights and fitness-obsessed boyfriend cliches. Needless to say, this did not go down well in the blogging community.

A full-time blogger is often met with a look of doubt, or even an eye roll from time to time, when asked his or her profession. It's 'narcissistic', it's 'not a real job', it's 'lazy', say the masses, thanks to a superficial image perpetuated by traditional media. Take Zoella, the UK's most popular lifestyle blogger, as an example: on social media, her life seems a whirlwind of fairy cakes, pugs and top knots. It would be easy to think that that's all there is to her. But, just like models, actors, artists, singers and everyone who works in the creative industry, there is far more to the blogging profession than meets the eye.

You could say the same things about journalists. I have been a journalist for over five years and, to some of my friends, my life appears exciting and glamorous: I tell them about the celebrities that attended the party I went to last weekend, the makeup that landed on my desk before it was even on the shelves, and the time I got driven around the French Riviera in a vintage Porsche. I also tell them about the immense stress of never ending deadlines, the 4.30am starts and 11pm finishes, and the pressure of being constantly on the look out for the next story - but no one ever seems to remember those bits.

It's so easy for those who do not work in the creative industries to judge those that do. Because our jobs are unlikely to involve number crunching, heavy lifting or solving world hunger, our lives are often satirised. Which is exactly what Francesca Hornak was doing when she wrote '24 Hours With... A Beauty Vlogger', which details fictional vlogger Glitterbugeroo Instagramming her new pup's poop, much to the disgust of her boyfriend. She then goes on to illustrate the vlogger filming a video with outtakes, her thoughts on a sour encounter with another vlogger at a press event, and her somewhat trivialised struggles with anxiety and trolling.

For those of you with a Times subscription (one which I refuse to pay for as The Times can't give me anything more than what I can get online for free), here's the original feature: 24 Hours With... A Beauty Vlogger.

Francesca's work has appeared in The ST, The Guardian, Marie Clare and Stylist, among other national titles. Her Sunday Times Style column, History Of The World In 100 Modern Objects, ran for two years and, although it was never one of my favourites (I'm a Camilla Long fan through and through), it provided a different perspective on the way we see the objects around us. Inevitably, the column lead to a book deal, and Francesca remains a columnist at one of the nation's favourite fashion weeklies. 

With her credentials available via a simple Google, it's clear to see that Francesca is an accomplished journalist, who has no doubt worked hard to get where she is. So why would she make fun of a group of people who are taking the same journey and trying to replicate that success? 

Lily Pebbles, London-based beauty and lifestyle vlogger, had that same question when she criticised the feature in a recent tweet:

Lily Pebbles on Twitter / @lilypebbles

A little lower down her feed, Lily said she was surprised to read this in The ST Style, having only two weeks earlier had her 'Day in the Life' feature published in the magazine.

Other bloggers joined the conversation, deeming the piece as 'insulting', 'unsupportive' and even 'horrific'. 

Well, in my humble opinion, the only thing I see here that I could possibly call 'horrific' is the laziness of this feature. Toilet humour is never clever, witty or intelligent, and there are so many ways that this, as a satirical piece, could have been improved. I mean, in no world would I, as a blogger, ever think about photographing my dog's messes. I do, however, spend five minutes adjusting the position of my fairy lights before taking a photo so that they appear as if I have just nonchalantly tossed them on my bed. I also like Starbucks, my boyfriend is obsessed with fitness, and, yes, I do mess up my vlogs. By all means, satirise that. But if I were an Editor and someone on my team pitched me this literal shit of an idea, I would question whether that writer had spent the morning gabbing over X Factor results and put this together five minutes before our meeting.

Satire (when it's well written) is something that should exist in the media. It stops us from taking ourselves too seriously, and provides entertainment for those who don't really 'get' what we do, and probably never will. It's nonsensical to expect everyone to love, respect and appreciate who you are and what you do. Hell, even Beyoncé has haters. So when a piece which criticises your work is published, do as Beyoncé does and brush it off. Write a blog post about it. Pitch a counter-argument feature to the magazine. Anything. I know, we all have insecurities, and they're not something to be taken lightly - but if everyone (not just bloggers) crumbled at every piece of criticism, we wouldn't get anywhere in life.

Conversely, it's one thing to write satire about a profession completely different from your own like, say, politicians, but should journalists really be criticising those who belong to the same industry? Who are doing exactly the same work, and are putting in exactly the same (if not more) hours? Even I got mildly annoyed when I saw Vogue's Sally Singer write, 'Note to bloggers who change head-to-toe, paid-to-wear outfits every hour: Please stop. Find another business. You are heralding the death of style.' But then I remembered that the quote came from a publication which dug its own grave by becoming the most hypocritical, backward, stuffy, elitist and downright dull fashion monthly in today's media.

Personally, I hope The Sunday Times Style doesn't take the same route. Yes, publish satire. Yes, highlight the funnier side of life. Just let Francesca Hornak know that, no matter how good a writer you are, toilet humour belongs in a toilet.

Saturday 17 December 2016

Why a fairytale wedding isn't on my bucket list

Many girls dream about a fairytale wedding from a young age, á la Monica Geller: the perfect dress, the perfect venue, and the perfect groom. I've got the perfect groom, but my version of 'perfect' when it comes to wedding aesthetics is far off from what one might expect.

My dress will not be designer, neither will it have breathtaking beading or an enviable train. Hell, it probably won't even be white; it will be a pretty, lacy midi-length dress with a delicate pleated skirt from ASOS (or similar) that will likely cost me around £80. 

My venue will be abroad in a picturesque little Italian town on the coast, in a tiny church or on the beach. And since I'm not one for the something-borrowed-etc custom, I'll skip right to the cake, which we'll spot in the window of a tiny family run bakery and ask for just a slice each to enjoy whilst sitting outside at a tiny table for two.

Best of all, we won't have any guests. It'll be just us two, plus witnesses, enjoying each other's unadulterated company before we have to return to the real world. Because that's what I really believe a wedding should be about: love. Not thousand of pounds worth of flowers, not Vera Wang couture, not a venue that will trump all your friends' wedding venues. Just love.

According Brides magazine, the average wedding in 2016 costs around £30,000. 

Let's break that down:

Wedding venue: £2,790
Reception venue: £3,919
Catering: £3,959
Photography/video: £1,046
Flowers: £638
Cake: £300
Entertainment: £773
Dress: £1,378
Shoes: £161
Stationery: £271
Headdress/veil: £138
Attendants' outfits: £436
Mother-of-the-bride outfit: £349
Groom's outfit: £439
Beauty: £301
Engagement ring: £3,037
Wedding rings: £809
Other wedding jewellery: £176
Honeymoon: £4,413

For most people my age looking to get a leg up on the property ladder, that hefty sum is more than a deposit on a house. A wedding, or your first home - which one would you prefer?

Having a tendency to be fairly sensible when it comes to money, it's safe to say that I would rather buy the house than have the wedding of the year. Think of it like this: £30k for just one day. Alright, there's the reasoning that that one day will be cherished by yourself, your husband and your families and friends for the rest of their lives. But really, it's just you and your husband (who cherishes a colleague's wedding they went to twenty years ago?). And surely it's the meaning of the ceremony you cherish, rather than the decor and wedding breakfast.

Before I attended my first wedding as a guest, I had a less cynical view. Perhaps, I thought, people spend that much money because it's a symbol of their love. Now I see that, for some more than others, it's a status symbol: a way of proving to their guests just how much they love each other. Maybe it's that one chance to show off. I know people who are content living quiet, introverted, almost confidential lives until their wedding days, then suddenly it's all glass cherub sculptures and champagne fountains. Maybe it's not just the guests that will see it; we're forgetting Facebook, Twitter and Instagram here. Weddings are a hotbed for acquiring likes. Just think of the photo ops in front of that Kardashian-esque flower-wall or the popular 'frame within a frame'.

Maybe dream weddings are an instrument for social affirmation. A way of keeping people family happy. A wedding invite to the 'most exciting wedding of the year' solidifies the relationship between the happy couple and the guest. Conversely, to receive no invite or, God forbid, to receive a reception-only invite, can only lead to a massive case of FOMO and a decade-long grudge. The dilemma: invite everyone (and watch the costs rise) or decide who you can live without.

Wedding gifts are another nightmare. Back in the day when couples got married, then moved in together, you could kill two birds with one stone by buying them a wedding AND housewarming gift. Now that couples are *gasp* living 'in sin', most wedding invites contain some sort of attempt at a lighthearted poem (see below) asking for money for the honeymoon, or even to contribute to the costs of the wedding. *Furrows brow*. So your guests are here to bail you out of debt? Another reason not to spend £30k.

With all that we have, we've been truly blessed.
Your presence and prayers are all that we request.
But if you desire to give nonetheless,
A monetary gift is one we suggest.

Now, before anyone thinks I have a problem with people who want a dream wedding - I don't. It's your day, so enjoy it as you see fit. If bridal Louboutins and Wolfgang Puck's catering services are what you see in future, and you have to save up for five years to achieve it, then that's your day. But just remember the reason why you're getting married.

Similarly, if you would rather elope without the pressure of guest lists and whose second-cousin-twice-removed will or will not get an invitation, then that's okay too - and don't let any meddling in-laws tell you otherwise.

Friday 16 December 2016

Adidas release first 3D shoe

Never has there been a time when trainers have become such an iconic piece of fashion. These shoes are the epitome of casualwear, yet have somehow seeped into high fashion and, thanks to social media influencers, particular pairs have been known to retail through secondhand sites such as Depop and eBay at over £300 (hello, Nike Air Max Desert Theas).
After reading through the many 2017 fashion trend reports that have landed in my inbox over the last week stating 'heels are making a resurgence', I thought the trainer hype was over and I could kiss goodbye to comfy feet. 
Adidas announced that it has made its 3D technology shoes, first seen on athletes during the Rio Olympics, available to the public in a limited edition release. The '3D Runner' features an engineered 3D web structure with dense zones in high force areas and less dense zones in the low force areas, allowing for the optimum level of performance. It also features a 3D printed heel counter, which is integrated into the midsole to avoid the usual process of gluing or stitching.

In August this year, we saw Team GB heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, USA swimmer Allison Schmitt and Colombian BMX cyclist Mariana Pajon, gifted a pair of the 3D Runners following their medal winning performances in Rio. Now if these amazing women can't inspire you to slip on your trainers and kickstart your New Year workout routine early, then nothing will.
A limited number of the shoes were made available on December 15th 2016 in London, New York and Tokyo. For those of you based in the UK, the shoes cost £240 and are available from the Adidas store on Oxford Street, London - that is, if the hysteria hasn't caused a riot! You'll want to get your hands on a pair of these quickly before they go out of stock, as Adidas has not announced whether it will be adding the shoes to its permanent line. However, I think it was a smart move to release these shoes as an in-store exclusive, as this then reduces the chance of sneaky bots purchasing shoes on mass and upselling them on a secondhand website.
What are your favourite trainers? Have you ever paid more than £300 for a pair?

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Thursday 15 December 2016

Semilac Semi Flash - Easy Chrome Nails

Keen-eyed beauty magpies will have spotted the chrome nail trend appearing every now and then on Instagram. If you’re not clued up about this recent development, here’s the gist: nail technicians and bloggers are using a metallic powder which, when applied using a foam-tipped eye shadow applicator, produces a truly eye-catching mirror effect on the nail. This product is not only easy to use (I got the effect right first time), but it eliminates the need for fiddly nail wraps which crease and crinkle at the slightest misapplication. 

Semilac, a brand which you may have seen me work with before (see my video here), has created its own version of this powder called ‘Semi Flash’*. Available for £8.99, this little pot of powder will last you countless applications; all you’ll need is a no-wipe gel top coat and an applicator (I found some in Superdrug for £1.89 a pack). The effect is just stunning, and whilst wearing the product on my nails I received so many compliments – so naturally I was very happy with how it looked.

To apply the product, I began with my normal gel manicure, pausing the process after curing my gel colour under a UV lamp. I then dabbed the tip of a foam applicator in the Semi Flash powder to create a thin layer, before lightly rubbing the powder in small circles onto the surface of my nail. It wasn’t long before the effect became visible. I only needed one layer for the chrome shine to become opaque and completely cover up the colour underneath, so each nail took around ten seconds to complete! To finish off, I applied a UV gel top coat and placed my hand under the nail lamp for a final cure.

As expected, some powder residue was left on the skin around my nails, but I was able to easily remove this with a cotton bud and some rubbing alcohol.

Around three days in, I noticed some small chipping around the very tips of my nails, which could have possibly been avoided with better top coat application on my part. However, overall, the powder lasted as long as my gel coat. As the gel started to peel off around the ten-day mark, the powder came off with it, so I removed the polish and left my nails to breath for a day – but I was longing to recreate the effect again, and so I applied the powder again the next day!

I used the Semilac Semi Flash on top of a light pink gel nail polish; however, as Semilac states on its website, the appearance of the powder alters when applied over a range of varying shades. I’m yet to apply this over a more vibrant colour – a metallic cherry red would look perfect for Christmas – but I will keep you updated on my Instagram when I do!

* This product was provided as a sample for review
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