Events, treatments, activities all get featured here, in the lifestyle section.

clueQuest’s Revenge of the Sheep Review & Giveaway!

There’s always something going on in London – whether it’s a new restaurant opening, or an art exhibition – it’s what makes it so great to live here.

clueQuest10clueQuest - Islandbell ReviewAnd yet I’m often stumped for things to do that don’t just revolve around eating out, or going for a drink.

Which is why I absolutely love the Escape Room trend going on at the moment. I’ve tried a couple in London now, and always have such a blast – as a massive fan of mystery/thriller films, the thought of having to get myself out of a room by following clues is more than a little exciting.

clueQuest - Islandbell ReviewclueQuest - Islandbell ReviewSo I was super happy when the team at clueQuest got in touch to say they had a top secret mission for me at their Kings Cross HQ – and even more excited when I found out that my teammates/fellow agents were Katy, Jasiminne, Natasha, Emma and Amanda.

clueQuest - Islandbell ReviewFor those of you who don’t know what an escape room experience entails, it involves being shut in a mysterious room for an hour – and having to make your way out before the clock ends by figuring out the clues. No phones, no 50/50 – just yourself (and your teammates, of course!)

DSC06903clueQuest1clueQuest - Islandbell ReviewNow I don’t want to give too much away (that will totally spoil the fun!) but the challenge we did, The Revenge of the Sheep, revolves around you working to save the world from the evil Professor Blacksheep and his SheepMutator. It’s by far the most high-tech escape room I’ve done so far, and is such a fun way to spend an evening!

It’s also a great way to break the ice with people you don’t know particularly well – you can be sure there won’t be any awkward silences when you’re racing against the clock. I’d met most of the girls from events before, but you learn a lot about a person when you’re stuck in a room with them for an hour (like the fact that Jasiminne eats Heinz soup for breakfast!)

clueQuest - Islandbell ReviewIntrigued? The lovely folks over at clueQuest are offering one UK reader the chance to take a team to try it out!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have you ever tried an escape room experience? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram!

*This post was created in collaboration with clueQuest – all views my own!

Hello, 2016!

It’s the start of a new year, and in a way, I really can’t believe it. 2015 was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The first part of the year was spent dealing with loss – I was constantly stressed or upset, but it actually ended up being incredibly positive. I threw myself into new challenges, like this blog, and into my new job, which I absolutely love – and the last few months have been some of the happiest I’ve had.

Crickets EdibleI’m really, really excited for 2016. I never do new year’s resolutions, as I never stick to them, but I thought I’d write some down for this year. When I was in Cambodia, I ended up trying crickets – something which I never thought I’d ever do, given that I’m not the biggest fan of insects – but you know what? They were absolutely delicious. They had the texture of pork crackling and were seasoned amazingly, and I couldn’t stop myself, they were that good. It was such a nice surprise, and it made me want to try more new things. I want to look back on this post next year and see how far I’ve managed to come along!

Crickets EdibleBe Healthier

I can do better at this. I want to eat more vegetables and do more exercise – just a little bit more. This is achievable, right? Not being able to schedule things in advance became a massive problem for me in the first part of last year, and I’m hoping to be better at making time to make healthier choices (like going to the gym, and packing my own lunch) in 2016.

Crickets EdibleSave Money

I need to save a bit more. It’s always challenging, as I’ve got family all over the place, and I will always prioritise spending the airfare and seeing them over saving – I need to get the balance right.

CricketsBlog More

I’m always so jealous of people that seem to be able to blog consistently while still having a full-time job. I want to be blogging a lot more in 2016.

Say No More

This might seem a bit odd on this list but last year I said ‘yes’ to absolutely everything. Parts of it were fun – but then there were some weeks where I was at a blogger event every night, for something totally irrelevant. I need to start taking a step back and stop saying ‘yes’ to every single invite I get.

How about you? Do you have any new years resolutions this year? Be sure to comment below! 

Christmas with John Lewis

We are two weeks into December and I am feeling the heat.

That might have something to do with the fact that I’m currently writing this up from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where it is currently 30 degrees! While I am having the most awesome time swimming, relaxing and going for massages, I’m not feeling particularly festive right this second.

John Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsHowever, this wasn’t the case two weeks ago when I headed down to The Proud Archivist, to celebrate with the reigning champions of all things Christmas, John Lewis!

John Lewis has always been a firm favourite in my family – our go-to for birthday gifts, anniversary presents, and the Oxford Street cafe is a frequent meeting point when we’re in town.

John Lewis Christmas: NutcrackerWhen it comes to Christmas, John Lewis seem to kill it, every year. The fact that the release of their Christmas ads every year is now (basically) a sacred tradition really tells you something about how they have nailed Christmas.

I was so stoked to get the invite to their Christmas event, particularly as I knew I’d be missing all the usual Christmassy treats this year, due to the heat. Mulled wine in 30 degree heat? I’d rather a sangria, thank you very much.

John Lewis Christmas: Wrapping, Decorations, NutcrackerJohn Lewis Christmas: Mulled WineLuckily, the John Lewis team had me covered on the mulled wine front – in shot form!

I had high expectations for the event, and they were definitely met – the team had decorated the room amazingly (check out the giant nutcracker!). I was definitely feeling extremely festive, with all the edible Christmas treats, holiday tunes and all the free-flowing prosecco!

The evening was filled with crafting. The other bloggers made some seriously amazing things, and I was extremely envious of their skills! I can’t say I’m particularly skilled in that area, but I gave it a good go – and I was really happy with my Christmas wreath, which is proudly hung on the door to my flat.

John Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsJohn Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsJohn Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsWe then had a little gift wrapping masterclass. There, I discovered glue dots –  where have they been all my life? That’s where I’ve been going wrong all along, messing about with tape all these years (always too long, too short, or  stuck to something else). You know those annoying people who always give beautifully wrapped gifts? Yeah. THEY USE GLUE DOTS. Do it – it’s the future!

John Lewis Christmas: Gift WrappingJohn Lewis Christmas: Gift WrappingJohn Lewis Christmas: Gift WrappingSome of the others made some really beautiful place settings, and it was just such a nice evening – lovely canapes, great company, and such a festive Christmas vibe!

John Lewis Christmas: CraftsJohn Lewis Christmas: CraftsJohn Lewis Christmas: Crafts and Gift WrappingJohn Lewis Christmas: WshThe whole event really got me excited about crafting, too – I even made my own hand-sewn Christmas decorations with one of their Christmas sewing kits, and it looks amazing! It’s really got me excited, and I’ve now added their sewing machine to my Christmas wishlist. Fingers crossed!

John Lewis Christmas: NutcrackerAs a social media manager, I couldn’t possibly write this post without mentioning the utter legend that has the @JohnLewis handle on Twitter. He’s made a seriously unfortunate coincidence and is really great about it – and he even redirects tweets to the official Twitter handle, too. Legend!

Many thanks to the John Lewis team for having me – I had such a great time, and it’s got me SO excited for Christmas!

Did you like the John Lewis ad this year? Have you done any Christmas crafting? Let me know by commenting below, or let me knowon TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

The Ultimate Christmas Gift Guide & Giveaway!

It’s December! We’ve made it! In 10 days I’ll be jetting off for a hot Christmas in Cambodia, and I can hardly wait. Christmas is my favourite holiday by far – food, gifts, family – what more could you want?

Highgrove Christmas DecorationThere’s a part of me that’s going to miss the fires and the lovely mulled wine – but I’m even more excited to spend Christmas with my family! I’ll also be flying from Cambodia to Tokyo to visit my Japanese family on the 27th, so I’ll be away from London for quite some time.

My favourite part of Christmas is gift giving. I absolutely love the feeling you get when you have bought something absolutely perfect for someone – I just can’t wait for them to open it!

Highgrove Christmas DecorationI like to think that for most of the people in my life, I’ve sussed out what they like (or at least I hope so). I’ve recently gotten more into getting experiences, or days out as gifts – a couple of years ago I got my boyfriend dinner at Dans Le Noir for his birthday, and last year for Christmas he got me some amazing classes at Leith’s, which I absolutely loved. Experiences are great, especially if you have a tiny flat like me – and I think they are perfect for the people in your life that are impossible to shop for!

When Red Letter Days got in touch to share their Christmas Quiz I was really excited, as it’s such a great fit! This interactive quiz is a great way to figure out what experience you should get someone. I tried it out with my boyfriend in mind, and they recommended a Craft Beer Tour – which actually sounds right up his street!

You can try the quiz out for yourself, and see what they’d recommend as a gift. I also tried the quiz out with my dad in mind – and they suggested that he’d like a luncheon with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at The Savoy, which seems pretty accurate. Unfortunately it’s not something you can get through Red Letter Days, but you can get a 3-course lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Restaurant at the Savoy. Handy!

You can try the quiz out for yourself – make sure you let me know what they recommend!

As a massive thank you for being amazing subscribers, I wanted to give away a 7-course Tapas meal with cocktails for two at the H10 London Waterloo Hotel. Just check out the view!*

London H10 Waterloo HotelDon’t worry if you don’t fancy facing the chill on the rooftop bar, as the experience is valid until the 6th of November next year. I’d personally save it for the summer, and have tapas, wine and cocktails with a view of Battersea Power Station, The Shard, London Eye and BT Tower. Perfect!

Highgrove Christmas DecorationAll you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter and take the quiz! Simple. Once the competition is over, I’ll send over the voucher in an email – the competition will be running until the 15th of December, which might make it the perfect Christmas present for the impossible person to buy for in your life.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Have you sorted all your Christmas gifts out yet? Have you ever gifted an experience? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

*Photo taken from booking.com

I was gifted the experience by Red Letter Days, but all opinions are my own.

What I’ve Learned About Food Photography

I’m the first person to admit that I am not an expert in food photography, but I’d like to think that over the past year I’ve learned a few tips and tricks which have made my food photos a lot better than they used to be.

LiterEATure Series: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Rose and Pistachio Turkish Delight
When the fantastic team at Joe Blogs, along with Currys invited me along to a photography workshop at the Nikon School I was really excited. I own a Nikon DS3300, and wanted to learn a couple of tips from the experts!

Pulled Pork Nachos, Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee As all their events are, the evening was a great way to catch up with friends, discover a few tricks and, of course, take hundreds of photos of food.

Jack Daniels Ice Cream, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeCurry's Food Photography
I won’t go in depth about how to use a DSLR, or about aperture/ISO, but I do want to share five things I’ve learned about food photography so far – and one that I learned from the workshop! So without further ado….

Curry's Food PhotographyCurry's Food Photography: Erin from Islandbell
1) Keep it natural

In my experience, nothing beats natural lighting – or at least, nothing affordable. If you can, take your food photos during the day.

Curry's Food Photography: Figs
2) Invest in the best

For the best photos, you need the right tools. There’s very little point in spending time setting up, and dishing up something beautifully if you are going to take it on your camera phone. While there are some amazing phone cameras out there, for amazing and high quality photos you just have to invest in a good camera, and some lenses. When I’m not using my Nikon, I usually carry around my Sony RX1oo II in my handbag, and I swear by it – it’s amazing in low lighting and takes beautiful shots. The quality of the shots has dramatically changed. At the Nikon workshop I was struggling to get the look I wanted until I borrowed one of their 60mm macro lenses – and I fell in love. I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist – fingers crossed for Christmas!

Curry's Food Photography: Fruit CakeCurry's Food Photography: Fruit CakeCurry's Food Photography: Kiwi
3) Know when to close the deal – and when to back away

For certain dishes, you should go in for the closeup. I’ve generally found anything with cheese on it (like nachos) you should go in close. This rule doesn’t apply to things like meat, or fish – anything with bone in it, really. Something about seeing those things in detail are quite unappealing, generally.

Curry's Food Photography: Fruit Cake
4) Post-production

I used to whack my photos up, completely untouched by editing software. Talk about amateur hour. A few seconds spent adjusting colours, brightness, exposure and contrast makes a world of difference – taking a photo from a 5 to a solid 10.

5) Take as many shots as you can

Almost every single time I take photos, I always end up using the ones I take as an afterthought. I find I take a few, think I’ve nailed it, but the difference from taking a look on your camera screen to your laptop is huge! Take another version of a photo than you think is necessary – it might just be the best. Of course, people might slowly stop inviting you to dinner as a result, but who needs people like that in their lives anyway. I’ve definitely done you a favour.

My favourite tip from the Nikon workshop was about adjusting the white balance on the camera. HOW did I not know about this before? By manually adjusting the white balance on your camera when you’re in a dark place, the camera will then readjust all the colours around it based on your latest reading.

Like this photo below – the first, being very blue, to the second shot. All I did was adjust the white balance – and it’s made such a difference!

Curry's Food Photography: PeppersCurry's Food Photography: Peppers
My photos of these berries went from looking odd, and distinctly yellow, to this. Amazing!

Curry's Food PhotographyCurry's Food Photography: Berries
A massive thank you to the Joe Blogs team for having me – it was such an informative evening! I was invited to attend the event, but all opinions are my own.

What are some of your favourite food photography tips? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!