Saturday, December 31, 2016

Look Fantastic Advent Calendar 2016 - Worth €95?

Not Sponsored or Paid | No PR Samples | No Affiliate Links


I really wanted to buy another Beauty Advent Calendar this year after I enjoyed the one from The Body Shop last year (I reviewed that at the time here and was 100% sure I'd buy it again) - however after seeing that the contents of the mid-range one were quite similar to last year and realising that I hadn't used half of the stuff from the 2015 one, I wanted to try a different brand.

I've been a subscriber to Look Fantastic monthly beauty boxes before and have always enjoyed the contents, so I pre-ordered their calendar in mid-October. It sold out incredibly fast and I wasn't sure if I'd even made it in time, but rejoice, I got my calendar in November.

It cost almost €95 delivered to Ireland and was an absolute beast of a calendar - it comes in a sturdy white/rose gold box that can be used for storage after Christmas. All of the products included are brands that Look Fantastic sell on their website. I'll link every item under the pictures, prices are correct at time of publication.

Here's a closer look at the contents, in no particular order:

Ojon Damage Reverse Instant Restorative Hair Serum | 15ml | Full Size 50ml €14.95 | Value €4.50
Redken One United Multi-Benefit Hair Treatment | 30ml | Full Size 150ml €15.95 | Value €3.20
Moroccanoil Treatment | 25ml | Travel Size Value €16.45
Christophe Robin Regenerating Hair Mask | 50ml | Full Size 250ml €53 | Value €10.60
Wella OR Luminous Reveal Shampoo | 50ml | Full Size 1000ml €56.45 | Value €2.80

I haven't tried the majority of these products yet, but I'm most excited to try the Moroccanoil and the Ojon hair serum. Both are really decent sample sizes that will last ages. I've used Redken treatments before, and have always been happy with the brand. I really liked that there was a nice selection of hair products in the box.

Dermologica Daily Microfoliant Powder | 13g | Full Size 74g €50.95 | Value €8.95
Codage Paris Micro-peeling Mask | 15ml | Full Size 50ml €73.45 | Value €22
REN V-Cense Revitalising Night Cream | 15ml | Full Size 50ml €39.45 | Value €11.80
Pixi Glow Tonic | 15ml | Full Size 250ml €22.45 | Value €1.35
Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream | 7ml | Full Size 15ml €24.45 | Value €11.40

The Dermologica product is definitely one of the ones that received the most attention when I opened it on Snapchat - I got several messages saying it was a really good product. I didn't get to use the Pixi Glow Tonic because one of the kids spilled it, but I have had a sample before and I know it's a nice toner. I've been using the Balance Me eye cream - I don't know if it's making a difference to fine lines or dark circles, but it's a pleasant product to use (my only quibble is that it seems very perfumed - does eye cream need to smell like flowers?).

Molton Brown Pink Pepperpod Body Wash 100ml | Full Size 300ml €24.45 | Value €8.15
Rituals The Ritual of Sakura Magic Touch Body Cream 70ml | Full Size 220ml €21.45 | Value €6.80
Origins GinZing Energy-boosting Moisturizer 30ml | Full Size 50ml €26.45 | Value €15.90
Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Or 10ml | Full Size 50ml €19.95 | Value €3.99
Ole Henriksen Clean Truth Cleansing Cloths x10 | Full Size x30 €14.95 | Value €4.99

I really like Ole Henriksen - their melting cleanser is one of my favourites, so I was happy to get the cleansing cloths (essentially - they're wipes). The body cream isn't my favourite scent in the world, but it leaves skin feeling smooth. I love most Molton Brown scents and was delighted with the 100ml size, I'd have expected a smaller bottle. The Nuxe oil is a Summer product for me, so I'll be trying that in a few months' time. I like the Origins, it's similar to The Body Shop Vitamin C moisturizer (another great product). 

Ardell Wispies Lashes (free Duo Adhesive) | Full Size Value €5.45
Look Good Feel Better Eye Shading Brush | Full Size Value €8.95
Monuskin Illuminating Primer SPF 15 25ml | Full Size 50ml €36.95 | Value €18.50
Foreo Luna Play Full Size Value €35.45
Foreo Day Cleanser 15ml | Full Size 100ml €30.95 | Value €4.65
This Works Sleep Plus Deep Pillow Spray 5ml | Full Size 75ml €30.95 | Value €2.05

Ardell Demi Wispies are my favourite lashes, so to receive them was fantastic. The duo glue is the best I've come across, so that will come in handy too. The Monuskin primer was a lovely product to get - it's similar in texture to the Hourglass primer but does a similar job to MAC Strobe Cream. I haven't used the Luna Play yet - it's a facial cleanser, and it's a great idea (and an expensive product). The Day Cleanser was included with the Play. I've used This Works sprays before - I can't say I find them of huge use, but I have family members who love the brand. The eyeshadow brush is good quality, plus it's by a company who support women with cancer. 

Inika Loose Mineral Blush - Shade 'Blooming Nude' 3g | Full Size Value €25.95
Bellapierre Gel Eye Liner - Shade 'Ebony' | Full Size Value €18.45
Purminerals Impact + Mascara - Black | Full Size €23.45 | Value €11.70
NudeStix Lip & Cheek Pencil - Shade 'Mystic' | Full Size Value €29.45

Inika are a cruelty free, vegan brand. I think the shade of blush will be too dark for me, but it may work as a really nice contour colour. The gel eye liner pencil is smooth and easy to use, the mascara was just fine - nothing amazing, just a nice daytime mascara. I really like the NudeStix - I don't think I'd use this shade on my cheeks but as a lip pencil it didn't feel dry, plus it also came with a sharpener on the end. 

So - so far we're up to a value of about €293.50, even without the inclusion of the quite frankly, massive, Day 25 gift (there was a £10 voucher for the site behind this too):

Illamasqua Eye Shadow Palette | Full Size Value €41.95

This palette was exclusively designed for the Advent Calendar, it can't be purchased. The shades included (clockwise from top left) are: Servant, Tango, Terra, and Vernau. I've never owned any Illamasqua products before, so I was really excited to receive this (it's a present in itself, never mind any of the other stuff in the calendar). The shades are really pigmented and buttery smooth. 

Overall, the products in the calendar are worth almost €350, so the €95 price tag seems like a good deal. But is it? For me, definitely. I would absolutely buy this again next year - be warned, if you're interested, sign up to emails because it WILL fly off the virtual shelves again. I've gotten a chance to try a host of luxury brands, lots of skincare, hair, makeup - stuff I'd never have been able to try before. The price of the Moroccanoil, Foreo Play and Illamasqua quad cover the price of the calendar. 

It's absolutely the best beauty calendar I've come across to date. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Traditional Christmas Dinner for 5 People for Less Than €30

Not Sponsored or Paid | Not a Collaboration with any Shop | No Samples Featured |


This is for anyone who may be worried about a food budget over the next few days - you can still do traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings on a very low budget. This won't suit everyone nor will it appeal to everyone, personally I've just had enough of buying ridiculous amounts of food during Christmas week and fecking it out to the cat come Stephen's Day.

One night last week as I lay in bed thinking about the few bits I needed to get before Christmas, I wondered if it would be possible to do a full dinner on a budget.

When I say dinner, I'm talking starter, traditional main course with all the trimmings, crackers and dessert for our little family - two adults, an almost teenager, and two toddlers. I set the limit at €30, and took myself off to the shops the next day.

I headed to Tesco, Lidl and the Butchers - now in my experience most shops appear to be price matching at the minute (maybe with the exception of one or two more expensive ones) - so combine that with weekly vegetable/fruit offers and this is a fairly accessible list of ingredients. I always check prices on the Tesco website because they have current offers so I use them as an indication when I go to other shops, e.g. if I know Bird's trifle is on offer in Tesco for €2 and I find a similar product in Lidl for €1.89 - result. If I see it in another shop for €3, then I'll get it in Tesco, and so on. There are currently 39c and 49c offers at most supermarkets.

Here's what I bought:

Prices Correct at time of publication (Dec 21)

  1. Honeydew Melon - 39c (Tesco)
  2. 1kg Carrots - 39c (Tesco)
  3. 1kg Rooster Potatoes - 99c (Tesco)
  4. Brussels Sprouts - 39c (Tesco)
  5. Parsnips 500g - 39c (Tesco)
  6. Pancetta - 83c (Tesco)
  7. 32 Cocktail Sausages - 1.49 (Tesco)
  8. Streaky Rashers 150g - 1.59 (Tesco)
  9. Parma Ham - 2.37 (Lidl)
  10. Pale Ham Fillet 1kg - 4.69 (Tesco)
  11. Turkey Drumstick - 3.99 (Craft Butchers)
  12. Green Isle Roast Potatoes - 1.50 (Tesco - substitute for Tesco Finest brand for 1.19)
  13. Bisto Gravy Granules - 1.50 (Dealz)
  14. Colmans Cranberry Sauce - 1.50 (Tesco - substitute for Tesco brand for 0.69)
  15. Tesco Fresh Sage & Onion Stuffing - 1.80 (Tesco)
  16. Birds Trifle (serves 4-6) - 2.00 (Tesco)
  17. Pack of 6 Crackers - 1.50 (Dealz - these ones have festive selfie props inside)
Total: €27.31 (€26.19 with substitutions as above) / €5.46 per person 

Starter: Melon and Parma Ham

Use a melon baller or teaspoon on a Honeydew melon or cut into cubes. wrap in small slices of Parma Ham or put on cocktail sticks. Get two melons if you need them - they're only 39c at the moment. 
Cost of Starter: €2.76/ €0.86 per person.

Main Course: Turkey and Ham with All the Trimmings

Turkey: I bought a large turkey drumstick in my local Craft Butcher. I didn't have to order it. I cooked it in the slow cooker - just put it in on high, no water, for about 4 hours then turned it to low until we needed it. It came out really tender, falling off the bone, and yielded 5 decent portions with a slice or two for everyone. 

Ham: I boiled a 1kg ham twice (to remove all salt). I didn't bother roasting it but may do so at Christmas with some honey and cloves. Again, this was more than enough for dinner plus leftovers. 

Potatoes: I bought 1kg of roosters for mashing. I also bought a 700g of frozen ready-to-cook roast potatoes. 

Vegetables: Carrots, parsnips, plus brussels sprouts. I steamed the sprouts for about 12 mins and then sliced them and stir-fried them on a wok with the ready-to-use pancetta cubes. 

Stuffing: I tipped the stuffing into some tin foil, made a parcel, and threw it into the slow cooker about half an hour before I took the turkey out.

Cranberry Sauce: Loads in this jar, everyone got a tablespoon each. 

Pigs in Blankets: I wrapped the cocktail sausages in slices of streaky bacon and put them in a large roasting dish, then cooked in the oven, shaking every 10-15 mins until cooked. Then served on the side. 

Gravy: I mixed up a jug of Bisto according to instructions. 
Cost of Main Course: €21.05/€4.21 per Person 

Dessert: Trifle 

Trifle Mix: This is on offer in Tesco at the moment. All you need to add is milk, factor that in to the cost if needs be, also if you want to add tinned fruit to make it go further. You'll still come in under €30.

Christmas Crackers: These are €1.50 in Dealz and contain festive selfie props, a great idea instead of plastic rubbish.

Cost of Dessert/Crackers: €3.50/€0.70 per person

No, you won't have a heap of leftovers, but you'll have enough ham for sandwiches. I cooked most of the main course on Saturday when I had family over, just to see how it would stretch - I had a message on Snapchat saying there was no way that was enough food to feed 5 people. Unfortunately, that person was right, there wasn't enough for 5:

It fed 7 of us.

(The eagle-eyed among you will spot a tin of pasta shapes on the toddlers plates - they asked for them too so I cooked them) - I also hadn't even used the roosters, parsnips, streaky bacon or all the cocktail sausages).

Merry (Thrifty) Christmas folks, thanks for all the support this year, looking forward to the chats and bargains in 2017!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Ideas for Christmas

 Not Sponsored or Paid | Not a Collaboration | No Affiliate Links | ARCs clearly defined in accordance with Disclosure Policy available here


I thought I'd throw together a few ideas for books for Christmas.

All or most books should be available on the likes of Amazon, Book Depository, Book Station, Dubray, Eason, Kennys, Tesco, Asda - but please try to support your local Booksellers too. I'm sure if you see something here that you can't find, many would be happy to order it in for you, just ask. Personally I wouldn't order anything online from Book Depository at this point if it's for Christmas, you might be okay with Amazon Prime.

Autobiographies and Memoirs

I love a good autobiography or memoir. My four favourites this year were:


Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
This was a brilliant, dramatic story. It read like a novel, and I have heard it's even better in audio format. It's Alan's story of how making the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? lead to several discoveries about himself.

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Whether you're familiar with Leah or not, this is a really interesting look into the weird world of Scientology. It's packed with celebrity scientology gossip and gives a real insight into one of the more closed-off groups in society.

Fat Chance: My Life in Ups, Downs, and Crisp Sandwiches by Louise McSharry
2fm DJ Louise has written a heartwarming book that documents her life so far - from a fairly rocky start to her current life. She has been through a lot of downs but has maintained a great outlook on life, this was a really good read and would make a great gift.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Stephen King makes writing look effortless. He is full of tips and tricks about how to be a writer, and how to write well - this isn't a how-to guide, but it is a really interesting read about how he does things, peppered with little anecdotes about his life and relationships. I listened to this on audio and his dry, droll voice really made it a very entertaining listen.

Also Recommended:


On My Christmas List:


Adult Fiction 

My four favourite adult fiction books this year were:


All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
At this stage I can firmly say that Donal Ryan is one of my all time favourite authors. He writes rural Ireland in a way like no other - this is a novel about a married woman who has an affair with a young member of the travelling community.

Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
A guy from Cork waves his girlfriend goodbye when she goes overseas for work.........but never hears from her again. So begins a mystery and a journey to find her, it's a brilliant thriller and one I happily set an alarm for so I could finish it early one morning.

Himself by Jess Kidd
Set in Ireland in the 1950s and 1970s, this is about a small town turning on itself and letting all its secrets spill out when the arrival of a handsome stranger sets tongues wagging. It's atmospheric, it's full of dark humour, and it's hard to believe it's a debut.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
This is about a prominent Dublin Judge and his family. What happens when they suddenly find themselves in the position of needing to dispose of a body? A really brilliant crime, a brilliant thriller, and Laurence is probably one of my favourite characters of all time.

Also Recommended


On My Christmas List: 


Young Adult Fiction

So often this genre is dismissed or overlooked - give it a go, you might be surprised! Here are my four favourite YA reads this year:


The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I liked this a lot - it would make for a great introduction to feminism for teenagers. It's set in a boarding school (one of my personal favourite settings) and focuses on Frankie, a teenager who will be damned before she lets an all-male secret society be in charge.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Have you ever watched Buffy and wondered what the non-Scoobies think? Do they know all the stuff that goes on around them, do they wish they were 'chosen' too? This is written for them, by them.

Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw
A razor-sharp, witty story about a teenager who decides to draw on reality to write fan fiction after her favourite TV show is cancelled. Everything I wanted Fangirl to be.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger
I don't want to give too much away here because I went in blind - but it's essentially a story set in the modern future that poses the question: Would you give yourself up to save yourself? Loved it.

Also Recommended


On My Christmas List:


Books for Toddlers

My twins are 3 and they love books, some of their favourites are:


The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
A very funny book - with no pictures. Just pages of words that have to be read in the silliest voices possible, nonsensical words and sentences. This one takes a few pages to get really into it but it's hilarious once you let go and embrace the madness!

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
I'd pretty much recommend any Dr. Seuss book - but this one about a mischevious cat who wreaks havoc with two small children is a firm favourite. I find that the twins especially love this one because of "Thing One" and "Thing Two".

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This is a short story about a hungry caterpillar who is stocking up on food before he becomes a butterfly. It's lovely to read with toddlers, it has bright child-friendly drawings and it's fun.

Also Recommended


On Our Christmas List:

Books For Older Children (8+)

My 12 year old will pretty much read anything, but he enjoyed these a lot over the past few years:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
This is a series of books written in cartoon style. They focus on misfit Greg and his experiences with family and school.

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams
David Walliams is like a modern day Roald Dahl - he is fond of using words like boobs and bum though, so that's something to be mindful if that concerns you (for the record it doesn't concern me, I was reading Stephen King at 11 so I don't believe in censoring children - but for very young children maybe just have a quick read through yourself first and see what you think). This one is about a boy who is sent to live with his very eccentric Granny.

Moone Boy by Chris O'Dowd
Based on the popular TV series, this is the story of Martin and his imaginary friend. There's a follow up, too (The Fish Detective) which my son also enjoyed.

Also Recommended:

On Our Christmas List:

Hopefully that gives you some kind of ideas for a bookish present for someone! Remember - if in doubt, go for something you enjoyed yourself.