Monday, 30 September 2013

Autumn playlist:

Source: here

I love autumn, for all the same reasons that everybody else does, really.  The weather gets cool enough for a woolly jumper now and again, but it's not too cold yet, and the sun still pokes its head out occasionally.  Trees turn golden, and the leaves are deliciously crunchy.  Tea, coffee and hot chocolate all feel warming and festive, and amazing comfort food is back on the menu.

Any autumn walk needs a fitting playlist, so here's my soundtrack to the season so far:

1. I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light by Brand New

2. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

3. Manana by Desaparecidos

4. Make It To Me by Manchester Orchestra featuring Grouplove

5. Jesus Christ by Brand New

6. 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins

7. No Cigarettes by Withered Hand

The feel of the majority of Brand New's music just screams autumn and winter to me, hence two of their songs making it onto my list!  Do you have any songs to add?  Let me know!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Inferior Book Group #1:

Hello everybody, and welcome to the first meeting of the official Inferior Book Group!  I mentioned in my last post that I'd come up with a plan to encourage myself to finish more than one book every five months or so, which is my shameful current record, and this is it.  I love to read and am always surprised at how much I enjoy reading when I find the time, but unfortunately it's come low on my list of priorities over the last few years.  

The idea behind this new monthly series of blog posts is to set myself a deadline for finishing a book (one per month) so that I am forced to make time for reading.  Hopefully it will also spark some conversation here on Inferior Design, if any of you have read, are reading or choose to pick up one of my chosen reads and join me - just like a real book group!  Although I'll mostly be reading and writing about fictional novels, I will probably throw some non-fiction and biographies or autobiographies into the mix too, as I like to read a variety of books.  I have loads to get through, as I still buy books fairly regularly even when I have no time to read them!

This month's review is on Bill Bryson's European travel memoir, Neither Here nor There from 1991.  Embarrassingly, I started this book while we were in Paris back in April, and have only just finished it, but that's doesn't mean it's a long or boring read whatsoever!  Bill Bryson kind of feels like a long lost family member to me, as my Dad and sister (who are both dedicated and sickeningly fast readers) have read and re-read all of his work countless times, and relayed the best parts to me over and over again.

Although I've read extracts here and there in the past, and really enjoyed his autobiography (The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) this is the first time I've properly attacked Bill's intimidatingly large back catalogue.  Even then, Neither Here nor There is only number two in the travel memoir series, so I've still got a long way to go!  In my opinion, he is an extremely funny writer, and his subtle comedic style appeals greatly to my own sense of humour.  There are quite a few stand up comedians who can't even make me crack a smile, but Bill Bryson's static words, printed onto a piece of paper over a decade after they were thought up had me snorting horrifically with laughter to myself on the train.  His usually self deprecating jokes are simultaneously hilarious and endearing, and he'll happily recount his own cringeworthy actions and encounters in foreign countries purely for the reader's enjoyment.

Source: here

Neither Here nor There is Bryson's first person account of a lone trip across Europe, which mirrors a previous holiday he had taken fifteen years or so before with a high school friend.  He compares the two separate experiences throughout, often returning to a destination in search of a hotel or bar that he has fond memories of.  Spoiler: he rarely finds them again.  This is travel writing like you've never seen it before, with refreshing human honesty and humour injected into the usual reviews of museums and restaurants.

If you're not a travel aficionado, don't automatically assume that Neither Here nor There isn't for you.  It's perfect for everyone, and I'll tell you why.  Firstly, if you are not travelling, have no holidays planned and are feeling a bit miffed about it, the book is the perfect portal to escape through and feel like you are seeing the world.  You can accompany Bill through countless countries, and be secretly glad that you aren't really there when he can't find any open restaurants, or has all of his traveller's cheques stolen.  

Secondly, if you are travelling (like I was when I started reading) you may find comfort in the fact that even accomplished traveller, Bill Bryson, can feel just as lost and confused abroad as you do.  I found his observations on Parisians and Paris in general to be spot on, even twelve years before our trip, and reading about his bad experiences made it easier to laugh off my own awkward encounters with waiters and public transport staff.

Finally, if you've never had a thirst for travel, this book might just sway you towards giving it a go.  If you live in the UK, the rest of Europe is just on our doorstep, waiting to be explored.  So what are you waiting for?

This time next month, I will be reviewing my beloved Danny Wallace's first work of fiction, Charlotte Street.  Feel free to read along with me, and we can compare notes!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Resolutions review #3:

It's that time again!  We're nine months into 2013 and it won't be long before we're all making new resolutions for a brand new year.

You can read my original resolutions post here, review number one here and review number two here.  (But I'll forgive you if you don't.  Who really has time for all that?)

Source: here

1. Write:
A couple of months ago, I briefly mentioned in a post that I had started doing some freelance writing.  It's been going quite well, and I've been writing about two or three online articles per week!  It can be quite time consuming, but it's also helped me to get back into the swing of working to deadlines (useful for going back to uni!) and reminded me not to procrastinate too much when I need to get work done.

2. Read:
Oh, the shame!  I'm still working my way through Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson, which I started reading while we were in Paris in April...  I am very nearly finished it though, and I have a blog related idea to encourage me (and the rest of you, hopefully!) to read at least one book per month, which I'll post about very soon.  Very mysterious, I know.

3. Blog:
As the modern philosopher, Bridget Jones, said: 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.'  Although I haven't given up on blogging by any means, my blog has begun to suffer a little since I started freelance writing.  Because I enjoy blogging so much, I consider it to be more of a hobby than a job, and therefore I've started putting my 'work' ahead of it, which isn't good!  I'll be making more of a conscious effort to make time for blogging, and to plan ahead from now on.  Hopefully I will also be heading to another blogger event in the near future, which is exciting!  Of course, you guys will be the first to hear about it.

4. Decorate:
I haven't done well with decorating the flat in the last few months, which is a bit ridiculous considering it's meant to be the main focus of Inferior Design!  I have lots of projects I want to get on with, I just haven't been able to find the time lately.  The temptation to watch Netflix on the sofa has obviously been too strong on my days off!  Hopefully I'll be able to motivate myself to get more done - we still have boxes from when we moved in sitting in the spare room!  My aim (as it was last year) is to have the flat sorted out before Christmas.  Only three months to go!

5. Save:
I am about to become a penniless student again, so saving is high on my list of priorities right now.  Craig and I have been making an effort to eat a healthier diet, and also to plan our meals better, which has already been saving us both quite a bit of cash!  Although I'm not a reckless spender, and no longer allow myself to go on Primark binges like I used to, I will now have to start keeping an eye on the pennies in a way I never have before.  I'm assuming that the run up to Christmas will be tough, but I hope to give myself a budget and stick to it.  You'd better all be prepared to pretend if I decide to make handmade Christmas presents!

6. Travel:
It's unlikely that I'll be doing any international travelling this year, but I do have a trip to Bristol (with Craig and my sister) arranged for November to visit some old family friends.  Craig and I are also hoping to start planning a trip to the US very soon, although that will involve some serious saving!  In the meantime, I'm living vicariously through Margaret, who blogs over at Roaring Twenties and is currently on the trip of a lifetime, travelling around Asia for three months!  You can see her amazing travel photos on her Instagram (her username is @exxploring) and imagine you're there too, just like I'm doing on this rainy Edinburgh morning.

7. Waste less time:
I think I'm doing better with this resolution these days.  I am still totally addicted to the internet, and to all my social networking apps, there's no denying it.  Craig will literally try to prise my phone from my hands now and again, when he thinks I'm getting too obsessed.  However, I'm also managing to meet deadlines with my articles and to (mostly) maintain my blog.  The next challenge will be adding the pressures of uni work into the mix, but my hours at work will be significantly lower, so it all evens out.  The task that always ends up on the back burner is housework, but it always gets done eventually.  Usually in the fifteen minutes before someone is coming to stay!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Normal service will resume shortly:

Source: here

It's not really a coincidence that the week I disappeared from the blogosphere was the week Grand Theft Auto V was released.  As I mentioned in my birthday treat post, my main birthday present from Craig was a pre-ordered copy of GTA V, which arrived in the post on Tuesday 17th.  I've already been teased mercilessly by friends and colleagues for being 'such a boy' when it comes to this game, but the series has a special place in my heart.  It's also a lot of fun to play, regardless of your skill or ability!

However, although I've dedicated a good couple of nights to the fictional Los Santos and its inhabitants, that isn't all I've been doing.  Another big distraction has been my new electric piano (above), which I've been deliberating over for years now, and finally decided to buy.  I'm so glad I did!  It's amazing to be able to play piano again, as I haven't really had the chance since finishing high school, and both Craig and I have been getting lots of use out of it already.

We also had a visit from some dear family friends (below) and had great fun showing them around Edinburgh and having them to stay.  There may also have been some rather loud piano/guitar sing songs late at night.  Whoops, sorry neighbours!  Somewhere during that weekend I contracted a cold, and have been suffering (but soldiering on!) ever since.  Give me sympathy.

Finally, I've been working my last few full time days at my job before I become a scrounging student again!  I'm very excited, but also extremely nervous.  My induction is on Thursday, so wish me luck!

So here ends my list of excuses as to why I haven't been blogging recently.  I have a few posts in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Birthday treats:

I got some lovely gifts for my birthday last week, including a few awesome homeware pieces.   Clearly my family and friends have been reading my posts and know me well!

These cushions were made by a lovely lady who runs a small business from home in Arran called Sugar & Spice.  My parents picked them up for me at a craft fair, and the guitar print is adorable!  They fit perfectly in our guitar-stuffed flat, and they aren't too girly for Craig either.

Mr Fox is a sand filled doorstop that I fell in love with when he appeared in the window of a local shop, and Craig bought for me.  (I know he is also available online!)  He's almost too cute to actually use as a doorstop, so his new home hasn't quite been decided yet.

The beautiful jug vase and flowers (which featured in my recent Instagram update, and are still going strong!) were a gift from my friend Emily, who also made me an amazing and delicious birthday cake.  You can have a nosey at it here, it's stunning!

My lovely Mum and Dad also gave me the Some Like It Hot coaster, which is actually an original piece of film stock from the movie.  It's one of my all time favourite films, and I'm actually starting to build up a little collection of memorabilia from it!

As well as taking me out for a tasty dinner, filling me with frozen margaritas and fuelling my Paperchase addiction with a voucher, my sister, also gifted me this Le Creuset wine cooler.  There's nothing worse than waiting for your wine to cool down in the fridge (apart than drinking warm wine, that is) and this beauty lives in the freezer and cools your bottle while you drink it.  Owning a wine cooler makes me feel like a proper grown up, and I love the bright orange colour!

My friend Ruaridh is quite the camera connoisseur, and he found me this Fujifilm Instax 100 (originally sold in 1999) and loads of film.  It's the same idea as a Polaroid, where the photos are developed instantly, and we had great fun with it at my party.  I've always admired Ruaridh's own Instax, so I was chuffed to receive my own!

My main present from Craig was a pre-order of the video game Grand Theft Auto V, which will be released on 17th September.  I had a choice between perfume and GTA V, and I barely even had to think about it!  Such a girly girl, I know.  Craig hand made me this 'voucher' for the game which entitles me to this 'life consuming' birthday present.  I was so impressed with the voucher - he did so well considering we don't even have a printer!  I'm also really looking forward to receiving my copy of the game!  So long, social life.

Source: here

I got so many birthday wishes and amazing gifts from my friends and family, I feel so lucky and spoiled!  I also received several vouchers and cards (even some handmade ones!) which I'm looking forward to spending.  To everybody who got in touch or gave me something for my birthday, thank you, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and generosity.  You're the best!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

What's my age again?

Source: here

Last Saturday I turned the grand old age of 23, but - don't worry - I managed to spread my birthday celebrations out for a good week before that.  I kicked things off with a 'pizza and cocktail' party at our flat, which basically involved a lot of tacky decorations (my favourite!) and some very good friends.  I was even treated to a stunning, personalised birthday cake, made by my very talented sister from another mister, Emily.  And, yes, it tasted just as good as it looked!

After some recovery time, I was ready for a family birthday meal and birthday cake number two, hand made by my lovely Mum.  My parents also treated me to some fantastic early gifts, since they were heading off on holiday the next day.

Next on the agenda was a brief road trip up to Aberdeen to see one of Craig's friends from school.  Before hitting the town for a few drinks, we managed to fit in a trip to nearby Stonehaven for award winning fish and chips at The Bay, as well as a visit to the grounds of Dunnottar Castle as the sun was starting to set.  The next day, we also discovered the beautiful beach at Balmedie Country Park and (literally) stumbled upon a huge desert crater full of sand.  It was breathtaking, and almost like being on another planet!  I can't take credit for the photo of it, though, as I've shamelessly stolen it from Andrew.

A few nights later, as a very generous birthday treat, my dear sister took me out to a surprise dinner in Edinburgh.  It turned out to be a Mexican feast at the hidden gem, Tex Mex II, on Thistle Street.  I'd never been before, but both the food and frozen margaritas were to die for!  The restaurant is so tiny and tucked away that you might have trouble spotting it, but definitely make sure to book a table if you decide to visit.  The number of people turned away at the door while we were there was crazy!

Finally, the 7th rolled around and we reached my actual birthday.  I decided that I wanted to spend my first day as a grown up 23 year old at Edinburgh Zoo, playing with penguins and pandas.  Craig blew up 30 balloons in my honour (he says his lungs and fingers are sore now), made me a nice breakfast and I opened some cards and presents from my lovely friends and family before we headed out to the zoo.  In the end, the pandas didn't come out to play, but my favourite part was probably the penguin parade, which I caught on film, so you can pretend you were there too!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Instagram #14:

1. Drinking Aperol spritzes (eurgh) at the Spiegel Terrace with Olivia  2. Meeting Scroobius Pip after his Fringe show!  3. A delicious new Crabbies flavour

4. Sensible gig attire, no pretty dresses and stilettos here...  5. Cheery Marianne!  6. The suitcase bar at Pilgrim just off the Cowgate 

7. Thoughtful Marianne (at Lovecrumbs)  8. A very foggy day  9. The floor of the ladies toilets at Steak, which is made entirely of one pence pieces

10. A spontaneous TK Maxx haul  11. A crazy little wookie dog in the Michael Kors catalogue  12. We visited Electric Brae!

13. Taking self indulgent selfies before my birthday party  14. Beautiful flowers (and jug!) for my birthday, from Emily   15. A delicious birthday cake, home made by my wee Mum

16. Frozen margaritas modelled by Helen  17. Birthday balloons and cards  18. Hanging out with a panda pal at the zoo

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Best burgers (Edinburgh edition):

My 100th Inferior Design blog post is dedicated to something very special and close to my heart: the burger.  When my sister and I were younger, my parents always used to make fun of us for going to different restaurants all around the world and ordering... a cheeseburger.  What they didn't realise is that - as all good scientists do - we were simply using the cheeseburger as a control in our big burger experiment in order to properly judge the food quality between establishments.  Or maybe we just really liked eating cheeseburgers.

Source: here

Either way, I do really like eating burgers, and finding new places to eat them.  Along with Craig and our friend Steven, I'm on the hunt for the best burger I can get my hands on, and Edinburgh has a few strong contenders.

Bar Kohl, 54 George IV Bridge
Source: here

I walked past Bar Kohl approximately forty thousand times before I finally decided to go in for lunch one day.  It's in a really central location, very close to the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket, and I've eaten there before gigs at the nearby Liquid Rooms a couple of times.  
There are a few other food options on the menu here, but - just as they should be - burgers are the main focus.  Most recently, I've had the New Jersey chicken burger for a change, and very much enjoyed it, but I've been known to go for the Kohl and the good old Cheeseburger in the past.  There are beef, chicken, lamb and even salmon burgers in their repertoire, as well as more than one vegetarian option (something that some burger joints fail at miserably). 

Although some of my friends have found the portion sizes of Bar Kohl's sides a little stingy, in general I would say that the burgers are pretty good value for money.  The other upside to Bar Kohl is their extensive cocktail menu, which has something for everyone.  They have plenty of seating, play good music and the staff have always been very friendly when I've visited.  Horrifyingly, however, they don't have a dessert menu!  Hopefully that won't put you off popping in for a burger, though.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, 137 George Street
Source: here
Gourmet Burger Kitchen is the only chain restaurant that made it on to my best burger list, and for good reason.  If I'm honest, the first time I visited the Edinburgh branch after a recommendation from a friend, I was a little underwhelmed.  I remember the portions being small, the food being lukewarm by the time it got to us, and the bill being quite high at the end.  That being said, I've been back on several occasions since then and was pleasantly surprised at how much the quality of the food had improved.

On the very west end of George Street, Edinburgh's Gourmet Burger Kitchen is easy to get to if you are shopping on Princes Street, and quite roomy despite its deceptively tiny exterior.  A creature of habit, I usually order the Blue Cheese burger (essentially the grown up take on the default cheeseburger of my childhood) but there is a reasonably large menu to choose from.  Again, there are fish and vegetarian options on offer, as well as some more exotic meats.

Fries and other sides must be ordered and paid for separately, which I always think is a bit of a cheat.  Who wants a burger without chips?  Drinks are also a little expensive, but these are the perils of choosing to eat at a chain.  The actual burgers themselves are not extortionate in comparison to the others on this list, and they don't taste mass produced, which is a must for a really good burger.

City Cafe, 19 Blair Street
Source: here
Although City Cafe is usually my go to choice for hungover breakfasts (which I highly recommend, by the way) their extensive menu also includes burgers.  They don't have as many to choose from as some other restaurants, but not only does this make it easier to decide, it also gives you a higher chance of receiving an expertly cooked burger.

The last burger I sampled at City Cafe was the California, which was hands down the messiest thing I've ever tried to eat in my life.  There was guacamole everywhere.  Maybe I should have attempted to be civilised and used a knife and fork, but where's the fun in that?  According to the menu, everything about your burger is home made, even down to the bun.  I can't remember the fries clearly enough to comment, but they are included in the price of your burger which is always a plus.

City Cafe is decked out like a 1950s diner, and the place is definitely worth a visit, even just for a milkshake and a look around.  It's just off the Royal Mile or the Cowgate, depending on which direction you're coming from!

The Cambridge Bar, 20 Young Street
Source: here
The Cambridge Bar is a little off the beaten track, but easy to find if you know where you're going.  Tucked just behind the west end of George Street, the bar and restaurant is a hidden gem.  Disguised as a bit of an old man pub, it's actually home to some of the tastiest burgers Edinburgh has to offer, and unfortunately it isn't a secret.  If you want to guarantee yourself a table, make sure to book in advance, even on a week day!

The Cambridge's burgers are getting on the expensive side, especially as they don't come with any sides, but taste and quality are definitely worth the extra cash.  Their Blue (cheese) burger was a little too strong even for me on my last visit, but I have previously enjoyed the MOS (mushrooms, onions and swiss cheese), and they even do a Breakfast burger with a fried egg! 

The bar serves Thistly Cross cider, which is an excellent burger accompaniment, and I can also recommend their peanut butter and banana milkshake.  The Cambridge always has a great atmosphere, and is a cosy place to try one of Edinburgh's best quality burgers!

The Holyrood 9A, 9A Holyrood Road
Source: here
I'd heard that Holyrood 9A did a great burger long before I actually made it there, and I'm pleased to say that it lived up to the hype.  Unsurprisingly located on Holyrood Road, the restaurant and pub isn't far from the centre of town, and is easy to find.

Staying true to myself, I went for their Cheese burger (which comes with Swiss) and upgraded from standard fries to the sweet potato version.  Everything was delicious, and the sweet potato fries were a good decision, as Craig's string fries were nothing to write home about.  This was easily the tastiest burger I've had in a long time, and at the moment it definitely takes the crown for Edinburgh's best!