Wanderlust and Envy: BBQ, Boules and Butchery at Chateau Lou Casteou

Monday, 21 July 2014

Having spent an evening slicing and dicing salmon at Jamie Oliver's Recipease*, I've decided cooking is something I should do more of. Learning skills, such as descaling fish or how to spatchcock a chicken, is only ever going to be a good thing.

So, in my quest to find another great cooking excursion, I stumbled upon celebrity chef and former I'm a Celeb contestant Rosemary Shrager, who is hosting a gastronomic break at Chateau Lou Casteou in France. Also the star of Ladette to Lady, I literally shouted OH IT'S HER when I found out, which made everything way, way more amazing. Located in the glorious Cote D’Azur, South of France, this isn't just one evening's worth of food and fun, it's an entire week.

The getaway held mid-October, which costs £5,600 for two, includes a six night stay in the French castle, daily cookery classes, food and wine pairing and you even get that chance to try your hand at butchery which can be enjoyed over a roasting hot barbecue. Definitely one for foodies, the week includes olive grove tours, lots of champers, views over St Tropez and quaint market town trips.

Certainly not in my price bracket, this is firmly in the Envy category for me.

Have you ever been on a foodie holiday? Let us know below!

*Read all about it folks, read all about it!

Interested? Read on...

Wanderlust and Envy: Song Saa, Cambodia's first private island resort

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

South East Asia, as I'm sure most of you will know, will always hold a special place in my heart. The people, the culture, the heat and the rain... it's just a wonderful part of the planet I hope to explore more in the next few years.

Song Saa has recently popped up on my radar. Based on the Buddhist tradition of metta bhavana or loving kindness, it's Cambodia's first private island resort. Featuring just 27 luxury villas, the two private islands Koh Ouen and Koh Bong have been developed with conservation in mind. Even the spa uses products which benefit the local communities.

The Song Saa Foundation promotes sustainable development and community wellbeing throughout the Koh Rong Archipelago, on land, in the sea and with its people. Their aim is to improve the lives of local villagers by through health and education services, and by protecting the local environments. Even if guests are set on not leaving their room, the resort works with Pack for a Purpose which encourages travellers to use spare luggage space to bring over much needed school supplies for the local children.

It's a gorgeous place with sustainability at its core. Complimentary yoga mornings, in-room cinema experiences and traditional Khmer cuisine mix with buffalo cart expeditions to local villages and trips around the rainforest to learn about the economy. And we just love that.

For more information: Song Saa, Cambodia
Interested? Read on...

Here's how to: make PR people work for your blog and avoid getting blacklisted

Monday, 14 July 2014

I wrote this post for a different blog, but seeing as it's out of circulation, and after seeing Bess' post, I thought I'd repost this here, with a few more details thrown in.

PR is all about getting exposure for a brand. So, this can mean winning a double-page spread in a national newspaper, or creating an experiential event that gets people talking. For me when I first wrote this, it was about national press to raise a brand's image. Right now, it's all about local press to drive sales.

Some PRs manage multiple clients in agencies. Some are in-house. I am the latter. The client tells me what they want from public relations. They give me a budget for samples. They also give me a budget for full products which only go out to The Big Journalists. Everything, from every press release to every sample is approved by them. If they say yes, I steam ahead. If they say no I'll fight my case, but the ultimate decision rests on them. I have measurements to think about, also known as How I Can Prove I've Been Doing My Job. I have targets to reach. If I fail at these consistently I won't have a job.

PR is portrayed as glamorous, full of champers and air kisses. It's not. It's high stress sales with creativity and ALL THE IDEAS thrown in. It's tight deadlines with a helluva lot of expectation. There's just never enough time. And the champers is needed just to wind down after a high pressure day.

Each blogger has value. Erica and I used to host #mybchat before life got in the way, and it was mainly full of bloggers asking for tips of getting along well with PRs. And it got me thinking. When I have a product to send out, invites to give away or just some fun news to share, I know the value bloggers have.

How do we find your blog? There are the old favourites, bloggers who have been around the block since LiveJournal. We read these to keep up to date with trends and see what our competitors are doing. And then we see comments left by other bloggers and check out their blogs as we know they're active in the community. We use twitter lists, Bloglovin and all manner of paid for agencies. Be active on the blogging scene and you'll get noticed.

So. Here are my five tips for getting PRs to notice your blog, and bagging a few press invites along the way. Oh, and the big one, how to stay on side and avoid the blacklist.

Don't be a catalogue

It's really, really easy to tell when a blogger's in it for the freebies. And endless beauty product reviews get a bit dull. How will my product stand out from all the others who smear lipstick over the backs of their hands or do the flamingo pose? Answer: it won't. A blog with personality and heart will really make all the difference.

Every sample I send to a blogger means a different blogger missing out. So although we're not paying for content, we still have to budget and allocate to the best and brightest out there.

Say I send over a press release, and you're interested. Pitch to me. Instead of writing up your experience with xyz moisturiser, make it a bit more of a feature. Maybe give it to boy to review. Or tie it in to a post about your night out. Be creative, show us what you've got and let me tell my client why we should invest in you.

There's nothing better than sending my client a blogger's pitch who really gets it.

OMG speling n grammer mattaz LOL

I won't consider ever approaching a blogger with grammatical errors and typos. The worst is apostrophe abuse. Idea's. Moisturiser's. PR's. Too/to. Women/woman. It's really not that difficult to get your head around and, especially if you want to write for a living, it's something that needs attention and care. We're not talking the odd typo here. I'm not that much of a pedant, lord knows how many posts I've speed edited after reading an inexcusable typo. But it's a proven fact spelling errors cheapen a product and drive away sales, so even if a readership is high, I'd give it a miss.

I'm not going to call anyone out on it, of course not. But I do have bloggers on my radar who make far too many errors on a far too regular basis for me to even consider working with. Snobbish maybe. But if I'm thinking that on a fairly small-scale brand, you can be sure high end PRs think the same.

It's not always about numbers, it's about engaging with people (and even then it's still about numbers)

Blogs with high readership are obviously the first port of call, as they'll reach far more people really quickly. I can't help that my client wants someone with 250,000 followers on twitter to promote their product. Sorry. It doesn't mean the blogger's better than you. In all honesty some high ranking bloggers I've never understood their popularity.

A blog with only a few hundred followers, but over thirty or forty comments on each post means that people are engaged and more likely to value what the blogger's writing about - their blog is more than just a static site, it's a living breathing conversation. So always keep people engaged as much as possible. Write about what your readers love, and trust me, your readers don't love reviews after reviews. A survey I carried out for this site showed readers were desperate for more features and less reviews. So guess what we did? We turned down the invitations and started thinking of ideas.

Ask your trusted readers what they love. And what they hate. Take all criticism on board and you'll come out on top.

Network with other bloggers and create solid friendships so I know when you write about something, your blogging pals will be talking about it too.

New blogger? It takes time. If you've only been blogging two months, have a following of a mere handful and post sporadically I can't work with you.


Who do you know?

Twitter's great for this. Are you a beauty blogger? Get to know beauty PRs. Are you more into events and going out? Follow a few experiential agencies. Obviously there's a level of harassment that you'd want to be aware of, but talk to them. Try and figure out who's behind the account, as often companies are limited to what they can and can't say from it. Say hello. Email them with your media pack, and with ideas for a few features that tie in with their client, and see what they say. Work with them on a small project, perhaps requesting images and actually posting content, before asking for all the freebs.

Be friendly, don't overly promote your blog and keep an eye out on their clients, new wins and contracts ending. Don't just slap up a press release verbatim. The Daily Mail are flipping awful at doing this and it's so dull.

Again, network at events when you can. You never know who you'll meet. If they don't know you exist, how will they ever contact you?

And now for a rant: Dont get all bitchy because PRs don't personalise. Lose the entitlement because if actual journalists don't care, you really shouldn't either.

Ah, the topic I so passive aggressively tweet about so very often. Entitlement.

You know how many bloggers I have on my press lists? 300. 300 bloggers of all shapes and sizes, of varying ages, of different genres. All of whom I know have value to me and my client in some form or another and are a damn fine writer to boot. I've read their blog at some point and thought 'yeah, you're awesome, on the list for xyz'. I have another list dedicated to women's interest magazines and papers. And male interest. Health, beauty and medical too. Newspapers, online, magazines... lists upon lists of names for each release.

So guess what little old me, in a one woman team, isn't going to do? I'm not going to spend a week emailing each blogger individually waxing lyrical about how great their blog is for the sake of pleasantries with no guarantee it's going to be worth it. What if I spend an hour reading a blog, crafting a pitch and the blogger doesn't reply?

x 300.

You see this?

You see where we rank? After the Daily Mail, who just went with the press release with a few extra images, and ShortList who used it as a small feature. We got the same information. The Daily Mail didn't get a personalised email. Neither did ShortList. Neither did I. And yet a blogger deserves one because...?

I think the main problem comes from bloggers having no idea what a press release is.

It's this. This release has no value to this magazine. But all press releases look similar. They're sent via a mass emailer by the hundreds and thousands. There's no indication of my name, even an opening greeting. But you bet your ass if music was what I was about I'd be emailing Red Bull back for more details and building that relationship.

I'd be crazy to think that OMG no name *bin* was a valid reason for burning that contact to the ground. I don't get all stressed that WE DON'T DO MUSIC WHY HAVE YOU APPROACHED ME. Have you ever considered sometimes agencies have more than one client? Or that someone has moved from one agency to another and taken her oh so valuable black book with her?


Oh I'll still read their blog, I'll even like them as a person.

But if a blogger cant appreciate my job, set by my client, my deadlines, set by my client, my press releases, approved by my client, and my strategy, created with my client, if they can't understand the absolute stress of creating a story from nothing, of chasing leads all day, of clients demanding results, of there only being 24 hours in a day in which to do this while sleeping for five of those hours, and of the sheer damn unreliability of bloggers, then I don't see that person as a viable business partnership. Ignore the release, fine. But whine about your name not being on it and OMG HAS THE PR EVEN READ MY BLOG?!!!11!?!, in my eyes at least, you're unprofessional.

Can you believe I once sent out a release, hand written and personalised to around thirty of the most up and coming blogs of 2000-whenever. I addressed them by name, read their last few posts, did a bit of background research and tailored the experience to them. It took an age.

The invitation was for a night of free drink and fun. A bar tab in the hundreds spent in each venue, taxis to all the hottest bars in London, private tables with bottles of Cristal waiting for them with a hotel stay thrown in if they missed the last tube. Spared no expense.

There I was standing at the bar with my colleague. Ten minutes passed. She wasn't there. Half an hour. An hour. I'm still waiting years later. What a damn waste of my time. All that effort I put in for her not to show meant another blogger down the list missed out.

How many of you would have passed up that invitation just because you weren't flattered by the PR first, or your invite wasn't addressed to you by name? Seriously. The bigger bloggers know not to get all hot and bothered by this because they view PRs as we do them: there are thousands of you, and if you can't offer me something, someone else will.

Blogging is a hobby. And as that's the case I take a chance on every blogger I collaborate with. So of course I'm going to hedge my bets and approach more than one at a time - whether that's for a review, samples, an event or a release. I can't afford for a blogger to promise the world and give nothing back. It happens on a monthly basis and makes me look like a damn fool every time. I can't afford for bloggers to mail back a week later showing interest, my deadline has already passed.

Because for the blogger it's a hobby.

For me it's my neck on the line.

So sometimes it means offering samples to get an idea of how much interest there is, then allocating according to budget. Yes to some, no to others. Annoying I know, I've been there myself trying to arrange a review at a great venue, only to get a 'sorry, someone bigger wants to come along so we'll have to miss it this time'. I hate it. But I understand. A client has a budget, and we need to stick to it. It's nothing personal, just business.

If you get a press release, even a mass-emailed one, take the opportunity from the PR who views you as valuable and use it to form a working relationship so they can start getting to know you as a reliable blogger.

There is an exception. For paid opportunities PRs should know the pitch which means knowing a blogger's brand, what they represent and how the partnership will be mutually beneficial. There is an element of 'I love your site, let's work together Blogger Name' for long term projects, such as brand ambassadors, advertising campaigns where a blogger is used to promote, or feature series. But as a general rule, even if you see a 'Hello Your Name', it's a trick.

Also you can moan if you get a Dear Blogger email, those are pretty lame.

So feel grateful that I think your blog has value even if I have sent an opportunity to you in a mass email. And I'll feel grateful when you reply, and when you turn up, and when you actually write about the thing I sent you months ago. Stick with me, and I'll give you the world. But you have to keep your end of the bargain too. A relationship needs to be built and proved before you'll get a personalised email from me. I've offered my hand. You can spit on it, or you can shake it. Your choice.

So, these are my tips and my rant. Do you agree? Do you not? Do you care? Do I?
Interested? Read on...

Is travelling in your handwriting?

Friday, 11 July 2014

I have a feeling a love of travelling and exploring in your blood. If you're a travel-fiend, you'll baulk at the idea of a mortgage and traditional lifestyle of 9-5, home by 6, with dinner on the table at 7 and reality telly until bed.

You'll love the thought of discovering a brand new secret hotspot, free from package tourists and the monotony resorts bring.

You'll love the feeling of the unknown, and probably have turned up at an airport or train station desperate to buy a ticket to somewhere, anywhere, to see what adventures lie ahead.

You'll see the sea and be transported back to That Time When. You'll get wind of a scent that'll take you back to a beach-side cookery school where you learnt to make local food by a local.

You'll come back home, and realise that your home can be anywhere. Sure, you have the familiarity of your culture. But there's so much more to see and to do.


So, we decided to put this to the test. Can travelling be in someone's blood, the love of the unknown be as much a part of them as their hair colour? Or is it something we develop?

Graphology, or the study and analysis of handwriting, is used as a means to pick out certain personality traits and assess character. So, it can be used to tell how introverted or extroverted someone is. Are they confident in social situations or do they shy away from them?

Two travel bloggers, and one lifestyle blogger sent their handwriting samples over to Emma Bache,  a graphologist who often writes for The Times, to see whether they had a natural affinity for travel.


Around the world in 80 pairs of shoes

This writer shows many traits of independence, self confidence and a need to conquer her environment. Her writing is disconnected, quite slowly written and for the most part regular in size and spacing. She has a controlled and practical approach to life and would rather choose to be on her own than caught up in compromising her ideals for others.

Travel is important to the writer because she is hungry for new experiences and sees foreign adventures as a logical way to self improvement and fun and it satisfies her observant and febrile mind. Happy to travel alone or amongst a group of close friends she can be decisive and spontaneous but not a reckless risk taker. She is torn between the love of new experience whether it be a safari, camping out under the stars or horse riding in South America but also the intensity of exploring a new City.

She is unlikely to be drawn to a lazy fortnight on a beach as she can be restless and easily bored. The writer has a strong sense of proportion and form so a holiday that involves architectural sites such as Roman ruins would be of interest. Whatever holiday she takes it is likely that at least part of the time she would choose to unwind by getting away from her busy life and spending some time on her own to discover her inner peace.


A Rosie Outlook

This second sample of handwriting at first glance appears to be in stark contrast to the first as the script is larger, more crowded and more vertically written.

The writer is most definitely a people person and would enjoy all activities that entail being with groups. She is communicative and extrovert and gains most from travelling with companions. She loves to express her feelings and is likely to be a keen record keeper during her holidays whether through avid photography or writing.

Her reactions and thoughts can be erratic and she is easily bored therefore likely to opt for multi sensory vacations, taking in several locations on one trip. She seeks all types of fun and pleasure and is certainly open to interesting ideas and suggestions. A deep capacity for enjoyment, she will make the most of any situation even when she is far from the lap of luxury.

Despite possessing a strong willpower and at times stubborn streak, she comes into her own during an emergency. Her outward persona of party animal masks good leadership ability and a cool head in a crisis.


Er, six out of ten

This writer is often in a dilemma when it comes to travel and holidays because she is both practical and realistic but also yearns for experiences that indulge her fantasy world. Her writing is vertical and legible but the balloon like loops on her tall letters suggest that she has an active imagination and so holidays are likely to be well planned and interesting journeys.

There is a great sense of humour and a desire to entertain as well as be entertained so it is likely to be important for her to undertake group holidays and in fact she may enjoy a theme based vacation.

The writer prefers change and variety to routine and so is unlikely to have the same holiday destination each year. She enjoys preparation and is a good organiser and would be meticulous when planning a trip.

She talks of childhood holidays and the long and deep swinging loops on her 'g's and 'y's suggest strong links to the mother figure and holidays are likely to evoke memories. Holidays may be expensive because there are indications that she enjoys materialism and a certain amount of luxury even when away from home!

Interesting results. While Rosie is clearly a blogger through and through, recording everyday life and daily adventures through the lens or her keyboard it's obvious travelling is an intrinsic part of Kelly's life, as she seeks new experiences. I can vouch for having an active imagination and needing a change every now and then, and who doesn't like a little bit of luxury! Unbelievably, my mother is the Italian one who would take the lead on childhood holidays, so it's amazing that's possible to detect in my handwriting.

All in all, it's been such a fun way to find those characteristics that makes travellers tick. Whether we're all the same or all different, who knows. But one thing's for sure, we all love an adventure!
Interested? Read on...

Here's how to: make the most of a London engagement shoot even if you're really nervous

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Ah weddings. Where once our grandparents would tie the knot in their local church wearing classic suit and tie, followed by a get-all-your-friends-to-bring-the-food buffet, now they're really complicated and tiring and expensive and oh let's just elope. Planning has been last-minute for a load of different reasons, so it's safe to say we're feeling a bit blah about cake toppers and form filling at the moment.

For many reasons, getting married on a far-flung beach in Bali isn't a possibility. And although The Wedding will be an extremely intimate shindig in Edinburgh (with me, the groom and family staying in luxurious The Glasshouse, which we totally fell in love with when we reviewed a few months back) we're very much of the 'it's just one day' brigade. Because it's true. It's the years and decades after that really matter.

So, surely if we're not all that fussed about the Big Day, we shouldn't have bothered with an engagement shoot, right?

Wrong. DW and I are spontaneous people, and wanted something a bit different for our invitations and save the dates and thank you cards and all the other things guests want when they're invited to a wedding. An engagement shoot, to us, is a great reminder of where we first met (Euston) and something to show our families in the future. See kids, we were young once!

So what happens on an engagement shoot? What should you wear on an engagement shoot? How should you prepare? And who should be shooting you (not literally unless you're into that)?

The 'togs

Obviously, without them there is no shoot. It's more important than the vintage lace dress you picked up in a Shoreditch retro shop or even where you want to have your photos. We chose Jacob and Pauline, an-uber stylish couple with bags of experience behind them in fashion, editorial and wedding photography. Ok ok, so we've worked together quite a bit over the last year and I immediately knew I wanted them to be involved from the offset. But that's exactly the point. Choose someone you trust.

The location

Being such lousy decision makers, we toyed between heading to Richmond for the afternoon and popping into The Cricketers for a quick gin and tonic, or going to London Zoo and Regent's Park which is a really special place for us. The park won, and although the Zoo didn't work out Jacob and Pauline chose some amazing spots for us to set the scene.

The clothes

Nothing white, nothing black. As J&P have some amazing fashion photography experience, we sent over three outfits that we liked and they picked the best ones. We were asked to wear something that we feel would represent us, and granted, although we were using our photos on our stationery so needed something a bit ore formal, we decided on a mid-length ASOS print dress and DW's maroon suit.

What happens on an engagement shoot then?

We met the photographers in Camden and walked over to the park, taking about the shoot and getting an idea of the day ahead. It was a gorgeous, if muggy and hot day.

The engagement shoot started with a few staged shots. You know the ones, holding hands facing the camera, no smiles. I'll admit, I found it a massive struggle at first. There we were in one of the busiest parks in one of the busiest cities in the world, with hundred of people staring at you while our two photographers got snap happy. London is notorious for people minding their own business. It's the entire fabric of our culture (when was the last time a non-mental person willingly spoke to you on the Tube, huh? Exactly.) But on an engagement shoot, everyone got involved.

After a curious little squirrel wanted to get in the frame, we really found this helped us to relax. Jacob would point us in the next direction, literally, and Pauline would be off shooting from a secret hiding place. They were exactly like stealth photographers, and at one point we felt we were totally alone.

After about ten minutes, it just felt like a walk in the park for us. We did exactly what we normally do. Yes, movements were a bit slower. But the laughter was genuine, the hand holding was genuine, we were genuine. We walked to one end of Regent's park, then back around and to one of our favourite little pubs, The Princess.

Cocktails in hand, we finished the shoot and then said our goodbyes, nervously anticipating the results.

Seven days later...

Jacob called up and gave us our special link and password, and we had a look. I was nervous. It was obvious I struggled to pose in front of the camera so I had no idea what to expect. As you can see, they didn't manage to do a bad job with what they had in front of them. We even got the squirrel shots! We're thrilled with what Jacob and Pauline have done.

If you're wondering whether it's worth having an engagement shoot before the wedding, I would have to say it depends. If you're both natural posers with no hesitation in front of the camera you'll find it a breeze. If, like me, you're a little nervous, it's a great test run for the big day. Plus, it gives us a lovely little memento to cherish for the years to come.


Choose a place that means something to you. If you're in London there are loads of famous sights and gorgeous little side streets. Avoid big open spaces though, as it'll mean fairly dull shots.

If your photographer doesn't have fashion experience, book a personal shopping session and let your stylist know what you're shopping for. You'll want something flattering from all angles.

Check your photographer's credentials. We had two for the price of one, which means the shoot was captured from all angles in both Jacob and Pauline's signature styles.

Interested? Read on...

Alaskan Salmon cooking class at Recipease

Wednesday, 9 July 2014
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Following on from the super-popular Alaskan Seafood pop up over in Pimlico last week, Erica and I were invited for an evening cookery class at Jamie Oliver's Recipease over in Notting Hill. It also turns out Manasi from inher30s was there, which, if Erica and I weren't too busy nattering about blogging and interviews and speaking to Australians, it would have been lovely to have met her. Sorry Manasi!

Recipease is situated a two minute walk from Notting Hill Gate, with bright neon lights showing the way. Called a food and kitchen shop I suppose the name is quite eponymous. We were seated on the top floor, in the middle of which is a kitchen prep area and little work stations for about 12 people to comfortably wield knives and sprinkle fennel pollen without banging elbows. Ordinarily the place puts on cooking classes ranging from Mexican street food to knife skills, all held in a country kitchen style venue.

The class started with canap├ęs (too late to partake) and a much needed glass of white after battling rush hour tube. Jose Suoto, fellow kinda-Peterborian and the chef for the night, introduced himself and the reason why we were there. Seafood's god a bad rap recently. From polluting the oceans to overfishing, it's no secret humans done bad. But with thousands of lakes and waterways in Alaska, it's possible to source fish in a really sustainable and ethical way. As someone who loved a good bit of barbecued fish, it's good to know they has this in hand.

After the brief, Jose showed us the difference between smoked fish, cooked and uncooked. And then we were put to task, making a salmon tartare with balsamic glaze and topped with caviar, followed by super simple baked wild Alaska salmon with fennel and lemon.

It's at this point we give a massive thanks to Antonia, who was there to cheer Erica and I on. Even though our cooking skills were something to be truly ashamed of considering we used the wrong knives to skin the fish and then chopped lemon on the meat chopping board. It was all kinds of health and safety gone wrong but she was brilliant.

The fish was prepped and placed in the oven while we diced and sliced up the salmon tartare with a balsamic glaze and little plate embellishments. I think we actually did quite a good job. When we sat down at the table to eat and chat, the food was wolfed down.

It was a really great night, and it's good to be able to prepare and cook a meal from scratch, and so easily. So, with the warmer weather rolling in, I'll have no excuse not to fire up the grill now.

Thanks to Jose, Antonia and the guys and girls at Alaskan Seafood for having us!

Baked or BBQ wild Alaska salmon with wild fennel pollen, chives, virgin olive oil and lemon

4 portions


1 side wild Alaska salmon
Wild American fennel pollen
Chives, chopped
40ml virgin olive oil
1 lemon


1) Descale salmon
2) Place salmon on tray skin side down and sprinkle with fennel pollen
3) Take a sheet of foil and lay shiny side up
4) Add a little olive oil and place the salmon onto the foil
5) Season salmon, add chopped chives and lay a line of thinly sliced lemon on top
6) Bring sides of foil up to meet in the middle and fold up ends
7) Place fish onto BBQ or in oven for 8 to 10 minutes
8) Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving

Interested? Read on...