Catching up on the end of 2014 and an apology for absence

First up apologies for not posting much over the last month or so. I got hit pretty badly with my SAD, and it wasn’t fair on anyone to try and post when I’d got no enthusiasm for anything. Thankfully I’m coming out of the other side of that now, so it’s time to play catchup and move forwards! So here’s a bit of what you can expect coming up!

Coming up over this month, you can expect the lowdown on the Plus Sized blogger meet-up from last month at Meadowhall, a review on Christmas Lights, TWO book reviews, which brings me up to date, and then you can expect my first clothing reviews, and something that arrived in the post for consideration today. So things certainly haven’t stopped!

I’m also preparing to move to my own domain as well soon, something I was going to look into doing for the New Year, but I got caught away from home in the snow that hit on Boxing Day and then being stuck for a week until it cleared and I was allowed out again. I’m going back to work next week as well, which I’m quite looking forwards to, but will obviously impact on my time now, but I’ve already planned for that, and hopefully you’ll hear from me two or three times a week.

I’ve also got a couple of events lined up already for this year, which seems really organised, the first of which is two weekends away, and I’ll be there with my new camera as well to catch all the action with at least one or two other blogger friends.

So there you go, the ice has been broken (quite literally) and you’ll be hearing from me again soon.

Sara x

Superphoto UK – Personalised Photo Books

I was contacted a little while ago by Superphoto, who are new to the UK, and provide a fully automated photo printing service, providing photobooks, calendars, mugs, canvases, and cards using the latest equipment (as detailed in their “About” section) and asked if I would like to review a photobook for them.

This was a bit of a no-brainer for me, as I have a lot of photos, and having had a lot of time since my accident had started to sort them out, and having a nice way to present some of them – a portfolio of sorts would be great!

Photography has been a hobby of mine for a few years now, and I’ve photographed bands (live and profile), exhibitions, and events on request, but I also really enjoy just taking my camera out with me too and capturing what I see, which are the photos that I don’t get so much of a chance to show to others. I’m currently looking at replacing the camera which was stolen when I moved back to Sheffield so keeping an eye out for a suitable replacement, but the photo capabilities of my phone were also a factor in picking it, so I always have *something* to take a snap should the moment arise! I am planning to post some on the blog as well, either with an explanation of what I was up to or it’s relevance to something else.

So, I started through selecting some photos for inclusion in my photobook – which is 24 pages, and I wanted to try and group things together. Some of the photos I included are posted throughout the post: A word of advice though, to reiterate the site – use high resolution images where possible, otherwise your pictures will end up grainy!

(C) Sara Smith

Umbrellas in Cliffords Tower, York (C) Sara Smith

(C) Sara Smith

‘Bumblebee’ – @ Geeks Unleashed, Doncaster, 2014 (C) Sara Smith

(C) Sara Smith

Bluebells in the Ponderosa, Sheffield, 2014 (C) Sara Smith

Having done that, I began to look at the site, and the first thing I would say, is that I would highly recommend watching the tutorials! The site is quite intuitive, so you can dive in and get on with it, but you will pick up some subtleties from the videos. The only downside for me with the videos is that they are silent, which actually disrupted my focus a little, so I had to watch them a couple of times – but is easily remedied by having something in the background.

The other thing I would point out straight away is that I did have some memory issues using Chrome Browser when uploading photos as well. I’d be interested to see if I switch to my big rig whether that’s still the case, but the simple answer was to switch browsers if this happens. I switched to Internet Explorer and had no problems.

(C) Sara Smith

Derwent and Ladybower Reservoirs -The Dambuster Run, August 2014 (C) Sara Smith

(C) Sara Smith

Wallflower, Dronfield 2013. (C) Sara Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you’ve selected the images and text for your front cover and back page, you get into the meat of the book, and you can really play around and customise settings here – whether it’s backgrounds, border size or how the photo is presented on the page. I found this pretty easy to do. The only thing I had trouble with was the mask effect, which just didn’t seem to want to work, but was no real detriment as I don’t think I’d have used it. I used several backgrounds and border styles as well as full page pictures so I could see how it turned out when it was finished. I’d say the whole thing probably took me an hour from start to finish, but I was being a bit of a perfectionist about it, and switched some photos out and in again.

The website is clear that once you submit your order, because of the automated systems, NO changes can be made, so do remember to check carefully! I fell slightly foul of this I realised, as I’d intended to adjust a photo that was a bit close to the edge at the beginning of the book while I was still getting used to how it worked and completely forgot about it. It’s only the border that’s messing with my OCD though, so not too bad, but do make sure you go back for a final check! Also, if you do need help, there are some really helpful humans you can contact, so don’t worry 😉

Confirmation emails arrived promptly after clicking the final submit button so I knew then that all I needed to do was wait for the book to arrive!

(C) Sara Smith

Ladybird awaits the sun – Botanical Gardens, Sheffield 2014 (C) Sara Smith

 

 

… And so a few days later, a knock on the door, and my book arrives! It was well packaged, and helpfully, I’d been tweeted to say it had been sent the day before! The first thing that I noticed was the quality. It looked good. My pictures of the book don’t do it justice, but it’s very definitely high quality printing and finishing. There’s also an option for leather and linen covers, which delightfully are no extra charge, but the standard hardback is really professional looking! Another nice touch is the barcode on the back, adding that little personalisation.

Next up is a blank page, so if you’re making it as a gift, you could happily inscribe it, or even write a descriptor of the pictures, and then into the pictures. It’s printed on high quality photo paper at 200gsm, which gives it a good feel, and also easily takes the printing on both sides without suffering at all. A couple of the pages had borders slightly cut off, but that may be me rather than anything else (I’d said I’d gotten close to the guide for cutting!) Trying out the different backgrounds and layouts means that I’ve definitely got a good idea for a cohesive book when I order another one! I’m really pleased with how the print turned out though, and having had a week and a bit to show various friends and family as I’ve seen them, they’ve all been impressed and asked where I got it from etc, so I can see these coming out and being made for birthday presents etc. I’ve enclosed a couple of pictures of the book, but they don’t do it justice, and really would say that if you’re looking for something a bit different this year, this might be that thing!

Front Cover

Playing with the layouts – this is one of the pages which came out a little skewed as I got too close to the cut mark

Using s lighter border to frame the image

Double page spread turned out really well. I spotted details on the image I’d not seen until it was enlarged!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coast to Coast Christmas Preview #c2cmoments

First up, I need to apologise for the delay in this post coming. It’s been half sat in draft form for a few days now, but between hospital appointments and having to deal with our fostered kitty being put to sleep and birthday celebrations it’s been neglected somewhat for which I apologise!

 

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to Coast to Coast over in Valley Centertainment, Sheffield for an evening surrounding a preview of their Christmas Menu and cocktails. Who can say no to that?! I knew that fellow blogger Kirstie was going as well, so knew I wouldn’t be feeling too on my lonesome, and very quickly found out some of the others coming were also friends of Kirsties, so it was already shaping up to be a good evening with new friendly faces.

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I arrived there around ten minutes before our start of 7pm, and went over to find the girls – introductions made, and we got to chatting about what the evening might hold. Shortly after this, our host for the evening came over to introduce herself and what would be happening, and bringing the first of our treats for the evening – hot cider!! Mulled cider is something I really enjoy, anyway, and the table was split down the middle over the idea, with half of us being fans and half being unsure, but as it was brought over and we all had a sip, everyone was a fan. Served in a tall latte glass the mulled cider contained a cinnamon stick, and tasted like apple pie! A hint of toffee in there as well I thought. Certainly more than I was expecting, and was great to warm us up from what was probably the first actually nippy evening of the autumn.

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Once everyone had arrived, we were gathered at the bar, after Andy, the mixologist came over and introduced himself and the format of the evening – we’d be learning about some of the drinks featuring on the Christmas Menu, whilst watching them being made and even having a go, before sitting down and sampling some of the menu, with the chef coming out to explain the ideas behind the different dishes. Cracking stuff!!

First up was a souped up bucks fizz – which in the style of the restaurant (American food), is classed as a mimosa, made with grand marnier, prosecco and orange juice. We were also shown how  to create a really stylish garnish out of orange peel, just to add that extra zing (if you pardon the pun 😉 Once we’d been shown, it was time for a willing volunteer. I would have loved to have volunteered, but was stuck in my wheelchair having had a new cast on, so was unfeasible – took plenty of notes though!)

Next on the list was egg nog – with a twist. I’d never had egg nog before, as the idea had always been a little off-putting  -something to do with my mum being a big fan of advocaat I think- so seeing how it’s made was particularly interesting. Infuse some spiced rum with raisins, removing and keeping said raisins aside, and then to some of the rum add double cream, milk, gingerbread syrup ,ice, and of course the eponymous egg, mix and shake and serve with a bit of chocolate sprinkle and said raisins, et voila!

We then had a chocolate orange martini- which was very light to the taste – using chocolate bitters amongst other things and a glass dusted with white chocolate rather than sugar was the perfect way to garnish this. Below I’ve stuck some photos of the cocktails and fellow attendees getting stuck in!

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After the excitement of the cocktails we were shown to our tables, which had been laid out for us including crackers, decorations and mini bags of Thorntons, and introduced to the chef, who explained they’d got sample plates of starters,  mains and a dessert for us to try from the upcoming  menus.

On our first plate we had goats cheese bruschetta with pesto salad, and wild mushroom risotto. The chef explained that the bruschetta could easily be adapted to taste; there were different cheeses available, or no pesto salad for example. This was really good. I’ve had some bruschetta in the past which has been hard, verging on stale and not easy to eat, but this was lovely fresh ciabatta, which was cut across by the pleasant tang of goats cheese and then brought back into unity by the salad. Lovely. The risotto equally so!!   a small bowl with lovely creamy risotto hidden under a pile of fresh rocket and leafy salad. Of all the risottos, mushroom is my favourite, but I’m quite picky about it – it’s very easy to under and overcook, so it was a delight to get it done just right.

 

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Our second plate to arrive was not what we’d class as traditional Christmas Fayre; a burger. However, the maple bacon burger was something that bit different for those fed up of the usual choices. I’ve known about the wonders of maple syrup and bacon for a while now, having been introduced to Epic Meal Time over on Youtube a while ago (those guys take bacon to the extreme!) so this was a great combo for me. The bun was a crusty white bun, and I’ll be honest here, I would personally prefer a brioche bun, but I’m aware that the extra sweetness may have pushed it over the edge there. Served with some really good fries – crispy and fluffy and one of the best ‘slaws’ I’ve had in a while, I could quite happily go for this. The burger is meaty. Not packed with other things, and well seasoned, which contrasts well against the sweet maple bacon. The chef explained that the bacon is marinated in maple syrup for 24 hours before being oven cooked, and then finished off on the grill when ready to serve. Topped off with salad and dill pickle (love ’em or hate ’em? they’re a must have for me!)

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Next up we received a more traditional dish of turkey with all the trimmings. The veg on this was done really well, and the mash is some of the best I’ve had EVER. I eat turkey all year round anyway, so this isn’t so much of a treat for me as to others, but it was very enjoyable, although I did miss my yorkshire pud (you can take a girl out of Yorkshire, even to an American bar/restaurant, but you can’t take the Yorkshire out of a girl) there were pigs in blankets to console! We were all starting to get full by now, so we pulled our crackers and put hats on whilst getting deep into conversation, as you’ll see in these pictures. I’ve also included one of my Raspberry Lynchburg (think lynchburg lemonade with raspberries) as this was really tasty too – who’d have thought bourbon and raspberry would go so well together!!

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By now we were all getting really stuffed, and were worried we would have no room for dessert, but I think everyone found some for the Oreo Cheesecake with Oreo ice cream and Chantilly Cream!! After this was one last surprise as we went back and were shown a final cocktail… which I’ll leave you with a photo of, along with the dessert. This was a thoroughly enjoyable night, which we all came away from having learned something as well as had some really nice food. I’d thoroughly recommend you go and give them a go, if not for the Christmas menu, but for the breakfast!

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November Wishlist…

November is always an odd month for me… The clocks have just gone back, so I’m struggling with the darker nights (I have mild to moderate SAD) and it always seems a relentless tirade of Christmas right from the off.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like some of Christmas, but there’s a time and a place for it, and that time is DECEMBER. I really like the 12 days of Christmas tradition personally, it gives it a bit more meaning and also a more manageable timeframe, but whenever, it should definitely be after my birthday, which also happens to be in November.

So this post, is basically my birthday wishlist I guess…. although I don’t tend to work that way – I have an Amazon wishlist, and people can look at that, or generally Steam or Amazon vouchers are great things for me… but there are a few people who like to buy things, rather than vouchers or money (especially some family members who know I’ll spend money on bills) so having had a good think, and in no particular order, here is my November wishlist.

 

1. An Aeropress coffee maker. Now, I love tea, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like a good cuppa, but I also love coffee as well, and I like proper coffee, but I can rarely be bothered to make it at home in my filter machine. I’ve heard nothing but good reviews about the Aeropress, and I think it would be a great little thing to try. It’s got some pretty awesome claims about it, but the thing that excites me the most is that I can do it straight into the cup and it’s easy to clean. Perfect for work!

2. Makeup Revolution. This is a fairly new brand to me, but after using the  Give Me Nightmares palette that was included in the #SheffieldBBloggers goodie bag on Halloween to turn me into a corpse (the picture wasn’t great unfortunately as I was at the venue, but I’ll recreate at some point) there’s a bunch of other stuff I’d like to try.

3. Amazon Vouchers. This isn’t a cop-out, although they ALWAYS come in handy, but I’m going to start felting. I tried it at a craft event last month and really enjoyed it, so I’ve bought  bunch of stuff already, but there’s some stuff that’s cheaper on Amazon, so I’d put it to that, or give a list of the equipment.

4. Something off my Steam Wishlist. Anything off there would be well received, although my eye is on the new Fable stuff in particular!

5. New camera and gear. This one isn’t something that one person would buy, but I do want to update as I really need long manual exposure for night shots, and get a light now that I’m doing more photography professionally.

6. Ikea trip. I’m not a big shopper person, (although I do have my moments) but Ikea is a weakness. I don’t even have to buy much! It’s nice to just get out and about and have a browse. I love Scandinavia in general, and am looking forwards to going back and seeing more of it, but I really love the style elements, whether it’s the traditional wooden, or more modern sleek and clean design elements.

7. Yours clothing. I LOVE Yours clothing. Being rather plus-sized it’s difficult to get cute clothes sometimes, especially with a good fit, so when Yours finally came to Meadowhall (there’d been one in the Metrocentre for a while before I moved back to Sheffield) I was so pleased. I’ve already decided that when I’m out of plaster, and able to wear tights again I will be purchasing a skirt/dress from there.

8. Mead. Mead is a weakness of mine, and I do love a good mead (it’s the Viking in me!) and there are a good few to choose from now, especially thanks to Beer Central in Sheffield Market having a decent stock of varieties. I’m looking forwards to trying the Tournament Mead and the Christmas Meads, both of which are spiced.

9. Socks. Socks are another weakness of mine. Some people cheer themselves up by buying Shoes, I do it with socks. I like Fat Face socks in particular, although there are lots of funky ones out there. Another thing I’ll be getting when the plaster comes off!

10. As I wouldn’t feel right not rounding it up to ten, I would have to go for Tea here. Something a bit unusual maybe, but I’d equally be happy with a really good Assam, or Earl Grey. I like Mango Tea, and have recently discovered white tea, which I’m quite into the idea of at the moment.

 

So there you go! x