Instead of a monthly favourites this month, I've gone for a round-up of my plans for Halloween. The day of the dead is here again, but that doesn't mean that we can't make it healthy and mindful!

REST IN PEACE
...In the most alive sense possible! Since practicing yoga with Adriene in person (a full write up will come soon, but let's just say it was beautiful) I've been enjoying it a lot more, and even got into it with a friend at work one morning last week. For Halloween I'm going to get into the spirit with a Corpse Pose practice or perhaps prepare for a day of frights with Yoga to Calm Your Nerves.


RESCUE A PUMPKIN
Every Halloween, over 15 million edible pumpkins are binned across the UK. It's a genuinely horrifying thought as food waste is already a big issue - whether you look at it from an environmental point of view or that food bank usage is at a record high.

Thankfully, Hubbub has come to the #PumpkinRescue. Why not use your pumpkin for good after its night on the porch and cut it up and cook it? It's a simple task and also saves money, while enabling you to make a fresh, seasonal dish. Why not try my Warming Pumpkin Stew, or a Tasty Pumpkin Soup?


EAT SEASONABLY
That being said, you could also try going for some other seasonal veggies! I love the root veggies and gourds that the Autumn brings - if you want to know what's on offer, have a read of my What's in Season in October post. so how about giving one of these recipes a go?



WATCH SOMETHING MILDLY SCARY
There's scary, and then there's horror. I'm really not a horror film fan - I hate the sweaty palms, I hate the can't-look-away feeling, and I hate the haunted nightmares for nights after. In fact, horror films might be bad for your health and I'm more than happy to hide behind that study instead of admitting my wussiness...

Instead, I'm planning on a night in watching mildly scary stuff like Celebrity Haunted Hotel and Black Mirror and handing out sweets to anyone who knocks on our door. What could be better?
Warning: this blog may be more graphic than you're used to. But that's no bad thing.

It's been exactly one year and 12 days since I bought my Mooncup. (It's funny, every time I write about periods, I get braver about it. It's like learning a new word when you're a child - you read the word, try to pronounce it, learn what it means, and take a fragile step the first few times you use it in case you're wrong. For some reason, this is how I feel about periods still, even though half of us have them and all of us know about them).

So, it's been exactly one year and twelve days. That makes it around 12.5 periods, and a noticeable change of camera, since I bought the little silicone cup that sits in you-know-where. And so I thought I'd share my experiences with you so that you can make a completely rational decision on whether you want one or not.

THE GOOD
First off, the Mooncup's main selling points: it is incredibly sustainable, and incredibly cheap. Every year I would shell out roughly £10 per month on feminine hygiene products, or £120 annually. I'll never know why tampons and pads aren't considered essentials by the government in the same way that milk and eggs are, but tampon tax combined with those giant marketing budgets for ads that show some alien blue liquid soaking into a perfectly flat, non-sticky, non-irritating pad or tampon meant that I was paying quite a lot just to be a functioning woman.

The Mooncup is just £22.

This, combined with the fact that I wouldn't have to be throwing away so much stuff every month, won me over. I'd just finished reading Zero Waste Home, I had just started following Lauren Singer's blog Trash is For Tossers, and I was feeling feisty. I needed a change.

The Mooncup provided just that. It is a medical-grade silicone cup (not incredibly sustainable, but more sustainable than my other options) that comes in two sizes, one for women under 30 who have not given birth (Size B), and one for women over 30 or women who have given birth (Size A). You carry it around with you in a little cotton pouch until your crimson wave rolls into town, to which you then hurry to the loo, and fold it in one of two ways, before inserting like a tampon. Sounds easy right?

THE BAD
So, there's definitely a technique when it comes to using a Mooncup, and it's something I had to learn the hard way. When I first started using mine, it was tricky to insert, I wasn't sure if it was in properly, and at times it was uncomfortable. The panic that comes with that is probably worse than any accidents I've had, but it's enough to be off-putting, and in the beginning I would wear it along with a pad, which was cancelling out all reasons for using it.

You don't need to remove a Mooncup as often as a pad or tampon, but when you do, it's kinda messy. I prefer being at home when I take mine out, so I can give it a quick rinse before popping it back in, but that's not always possible.

On top of this, when you're finished using it for the month, you need to boil it up on the stove in a pan of water. It's really simple to clean, but it's not something I can do with my flatmate around or friends/family. Or, I can but then there's a lengthy conversation as to what I'm doing, why on earth I'm doing it, etc. etc.

THE UGLY
I remember seeing Caitlin Moran talk at Green Man Festival a few years ago, and how she somehow managed to leak out her Mooncup onto Benedict Cumberbatch's white sofa. I remember this incredible clearly as I was so startled by the imagery, and had no idea what a Mooncup or a Benedict Cumberbatch was. Now, I know her pain.

Let's be honest, if you're squeamish, you're not going to get on well with a Mooncup. You are going to get up close and personal with your period on a regular basis, and when that one fated time comes where you're in a meeting and you know you're leaking, you're going to curse the Mooncup and all the lunar deities you can think of (here's a few to start you off: Phoebe, Selene, Artemis, Hermes, Thoth...)

After 12 months, I don't really have that worry any more, and I don't wear a pad or carry spare undies around with me either. I don't mind running wearing it, wearing a skirt, or even going swimming (although white trousers are still a no-no). However, thinking back over years of using other feminine hygiene products, I know there has been emergencies with those too.

OVERALL...
I'm a fan of the Mooncup. It took me a year to post this as I've had real ups and downs with the little cup, but it's saved me a whole lot of money, a little bit of the environment, and I do feel confident wearing it knowing I'm not going to get Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). I feel closer to my body as I can gauge what's going on a little better, and I never need to run out to the shops to stock up.

If you're still unsure about going for the Mooncup at this stage, I'd recommend at least switching to an organic feminine hygiene brand such as TOTM. Made from 100% organic cotton instead of harsh chemical-laden rayon, organic cotton tampons and pads are better for the environment and also better for your body.

One final essential I would say is the Clue app. This will become your best friend over time: you log your period on its calendar, and over the months it will give you incredibly accurate predictions of when Mother Nature is going to return, as well as statistics about periods and other interesting information. Any time I wonder if I'm PMSing I look at my calendar to find out (and often it's the case...)

I hope this helps you make an informed decision about what's right for you. I also hope that you won't feel so afraid of your own period, or the pain and anxiety it brings; it's all natural, and we should be talking about it!
Stylist Live 2016
Ask A Feminist talk at Stylist Live
W Channel at Stylist Live
Vita Coco Salted Coconut Face Scrub
Helen Russell at Stylist Live

Last Saturday I spent the day in a whirlwind of Stylist joy. I was at this year's Stylist Live, an event that feels much like diving into the magazine itself. From catwalk trends to conversations with authors, broadcasters, chefs,  and more, it was an incredible pretty and practical day. Here are my favourite moments from the show, and new trends you may not have heard of yet...

ASK A FEMINIST
Feminism isn't new. Nor is it a dirty word. For some reason there is still a palpable stigma attached to the word 'feminism', and even I balk when calling myself a feminist. Earlier on this year I said that I felt like I was the first woman in my family to be offered jobs without critique of my gender, yet there is so much more we can be doing to empower women the world over.

At this talk I learnt that it's so much more difficult to see where gender differences come about, and ones that still exist in the shadows. Between the panel of Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan, Everday Sexism Project founder Laura Bates, author and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge, comedian Sara Pascoe, and presenter Gemma Cairney, the topics of consent, sex ed, sexuality, rape, and internalised misogyny. Key quotes included:

"In our society intoxicated women are shamed whereas intoxicated men are applauded."
"Women should be applauded for exploring their sexuality on the same levels as men."
"Women should be able to walk around naked and still choose who they want to have sex with."
"It's not just women who need to be fighting gender inequality, everyone can be a role model for feminism."

On the back of this, I'm making it my mission to talk about feminism more, and also support fellow women doing the same. Despite my natural hesitancy, we (men and women) shouldn't be nervous of other people declaring themselves as feminists, no matter how they express their feminism. This could be as tame as Girl Guides earning their new Breaking Barriers badge, or as wild as Miley Cyrus grinding on yet another inanimate object.

FREE-FOR-ALL
I spent the afternoon whizzing around the venue picking up little presents for myself (everyone deserves a treat or two, right?) These included two Little Ondine nail polishes, a warming sweet potato soup, Itsu Crispy Seaweed Thins, Ombar Coco Mylk, and Estée Lalonde's new book Bloom.

In-between all of this I stumbled across the Vita Coco stand and chatted with the staff there, also spotting my new salted coconut face scrub recipe being used! The full recipe is due to come out on their ideas-filled website Swear By It, and I'll let you know when my DIY is published on there too.

Resting up after this mad dash, I spent half an hour meeting other women at the event and colouring in a Stylist front cover featuring in an avocado in the mindful colouring area. I've always been a little sceptical of mindful colouring books, but something just clicked when I was there! We chatted about each others' lives while peacefully concentrating on shading in with felt tips. On the back of this, I'd love to see communal colouring cafés, or maybe I should just take up an art class?

HOW TO LIVE DANISHLY
The final foray I made on the day was with W Channel in their Life Lab. We listened to journalist and author Helen Russell talk about her move to Denmark, and learning how the cultural shift taught her how to live more mindfully. Denmark is routinely voted the world's happiest nation, and her time there (she still lives there and openly admitted it'd be hard to decide where to call home permanently) led her to adopt five new principles in her life: get hygge, address the aesthetics, prioritise your people, play do make, and share.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a frame of mind free of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming, finding pleasure from the presence of soothing and gentle things. As the newest mindful buzzword, it was interesting to see how this fit with Danish culture, such as their minimalist and functional interior design. As Helen said, it's our responsibility to work out "what we like and don't like, what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable" and prioritising these. Coming away from the chat, I'd love to read her book to find out how to apply this more to my life!



Looking for skincare that doesn't cost the earth? Quite literally, Nature + Nurture skincare is the brand for you. When they contacted me asking to collaborate, I couldn't have been more pleased; an independent beauty brand that embodies strong morals, sustainable packaging, and clean ingredients is the trifecta, the holy grail!

One thing that did strike me as pertinent is Nature + Nurture's no-go attitude towards palm oil. It's a subject that I haven't covered much when writing, other than a quick shout out now and again to Selva Beat magazine, a zine for all anti-palm-oil activists and friends of the earth to enjoy. For the uninitiated, palm oil is an extremely versatile and cheap oil that can be found in most food, sweets, and beauty products. Our reliance on palm oil has led to the deforestation and loss of biodiversity in countries such as Sumatra and Borneo, as humans burn the forests down in order to plant more palms.

Palm oil is also a nightmare to avoid, as it comes under a few different guises, but the short and sweet answer is to avoid anything with the word palm in, such as sodium palmate, as well as laur, as in sodium lauryl sulfate. For a full list of palm oil ingredients, head here.

Nature + Nurture do their best to rival skincare products that use palm oil, by finding more sustainable alternatives and using them in their all-natural, cruelty-free range. They also donate a percentage from every sale to the Orangutan Foundation, which protects these forests, the people, and the orangutans who live there.

In this minimally chic selection of skincare products from Nature + Nurture, you'll find the following:

DERMA RENEW EXFOLIATING CLEANSER £19

YOUTH PROTECT MOISTURISER £25

WRINKLE REPAIR NIGHT SERUM £27

INSTA LIFT EYE GEL £17

These four can become your new palm-oil free skincare regime, and better still, all the packaging is recyclable!

If you'd like to enter the giveaway, all you need to do is live in the UK, and follow the options in the box below. You can do as many or as little as you like - good luck!



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Autumn is definitely here now isn't it? Waking up to a chilly room is probably the hardest part of my day (I should really sleep more) so anything to ease myself into it is appreciated!

Over the last weekend, this has been a bowl of warming spelt porridge. It's been a while since I mixed up my breakfast (my usual cacao smoothie bowl is far too addictive) but with a little more time in the morning to experiment, I thought it about time to crack out the Sharpham Park spelt porridge flakes* and with it, explain the benefits of mixing up your grains from time to time.

You've probably heard somewhere that grains are bad for you, and that you ought to avoid gluten. While I'm no doctor, I'm of the opinion that mixing up your grains, legumes, pulses, and more will actually help not harm your body (unless you're a coeliac of course).

I've been enjoying spelt recently as an alternative to rice or quinoa - it's great in salads, as a side with a meal, and if you've got the flakes, an alternative to oats too! In fact, in comparison to oats, spelt porridge flakes are lower in calories and fat, but higher in fibre and equally high in iron. Essentially, they're a lighter alternative to oats, and taste great in my little recipe too!



SPELT PORRIDGE
40g Sharpham Park's Spelt Porridge Flakes
200ml plant-based milk
+
Handful of pecan nuts
Handful of raisins
Handful of raspberries, fresh or frozen
Sprinkle of ground cinnamon


  1. Weight your porridge flakes straight into a pan, and add the milk. I use soya or almond milk for this
  2. Bring the pan to the boil, then turn down and leave to simmer for six minutes, stirring every now and then
  3. Once it's thickened up, serve into a bowl, and sprinkle over your toppings. I love dried fruit, nuts, and sweet spices like cinnamon or nutmeg

This Tuesday just gone, I spent the night eating wholly organic delights. Almost like a date with Mr Organic himself, I got to meet founder Kostas and the team behind the kitchen cupboard brand over an array of healthy treats.

Straight from work I headed to Printworks Kitchen in Clerkenwell, a restaurant that serves up seasonal, local fresh produce in healthy meals (note to self, go back when in the area next!) The team at Mr Organic were there to meet me and other bloggers with their new range of products, from dried mixes of pulses and beans to their range of organic rices. As with all their products, they specialise in honest kitchen cupboard essentials, cutting out nasties such as lots of sugar in your ketchup, or BPA in your tinned foods.

I've actually been using their tinned chickpeas and beans for a long time, as the switch was easy (they're distributed in health food stores such Planet Organic, Holland & Barrett, as well as local independent shops and online at Ocado) and the price difference is minimal compared to a lot of healthier options. Next time you're shopping, look out for the black tins with smiley faces!

The food on the night was created and made by Plantbased Judy, who spent the evening behind the scenes, so a big virtual hug goes out to her - everything was delicious! We started with a bruschetta which led into possibly the best healthy buffet I've had this year: black venere rice salads, avocado pesto tagliatelle, balsamic vinegar mixed leaf salad, and my personal favourite, a super simple, super yummy, mixed beans in chilli and garlic pesto, something I'll be making as a side for myself from now on!

We chatted all together about the brand, how it was started by Costas and his Italian business partner, a tomato grower by trade and passionate foodie. Both believe that organic food should be the norm (as it was a few generations ago) and it should taste great too, something I really agree with! I may have spent the night regurgitating my dissertation on how local organic food being the best it can be, and was happy to add kitchen cupboard items into the mix too: just because it's tinned or bottled, it doesn't mean it's not fresh or healthy.

We ended the night with chocolate puff pastries made with Mr Organic's chocolate spread and it was nice to see everyone indulging in a moderate and happy way, something I've always said is just as important as eating healthier things! Now I'm looking forward to making new recipes with their products, both Plantbased July's ones from the night, and a few of my own creations. My chickpea-base pizza may need some work but when I've got it right, I'll promise to share it!

Now that the colder weather is setting in, I thought it about time to bring out the warmer items of my wardrobe. Alongside the long-lasting cable knit jumpers that I own, I've added this pretty piece: a quetzal wrap* from Kakaw Designs.

Large enough to cover my shoulders and head should I want it, and thin enough to wrap traditionally as a scarf, I've been throwing this on with my long-sleeve tops to wear in and out of the house. It was especially great when combatting a sore throat I had this month, keeping my neck warm and comfy all day long!

Kakaw Designs is an independent boutique set up in Guatemala by founder Mari. Her ethos is an interesting and culturally important one: while there are many NGO's in the country, and foreign support for these, she is aiming to showcase traditional Guatemalan designs made with quality fabrics in a business that empowers women, and respects the environment. One thing that really caught my eye when learning of Kakaw Designs is that this is not just some charity project, it's a business with integrity that is setting a new standard in its approach.

Currently Mari partners with a weaving cooperative, whose members dye and weave textiles in a traditional way, as well as other artisans that she has direct contact with. You can see all of them and their happy faces on their partners page!

As with all the clothes in my wardrobe, I really enjoy wearing this scarf with pride. It's a beautiful, traditional piece, with a great story, and functional use too. I've gone for a more minimal piece from their range (surprise surprise, I can't help my love for black clothing) but I'd recommend checking out their whole line, ranging from boots and shoes to bags, scarves, and accessories.
Two cats on a wall

To look at things positively, I've never been more mobile than I have been this year. In the last 12 months I've lived in three flats, in three boroughs, and I've shed a lot of things during every move!

What prompted this blog is a quiet weekend to myself in the flat, where I realised I finally feel at home here. It's something I've been chasing since university, and while I love the serendipity of moving around, new starts and new jobs, there really is something to be said about feeling settled. That feeling came to me on a cold Saturday morning curled up on the sofa, where I realised with a smile that I was finally home.

I often find it difficult to write about my mental wellbeing, simply because it's something intangible, and therefore hard to pin down. My mind loves matching the pace of my life, whizzing around with thoughts and fears, worries and hopes, and I still don't have a routine down (let alone meditation!) However, since moving house I've started finding new moments to reflect on my happiness and mindfulness.

When I was first preparing to move home, and getting organised with it, I learnt that instead of expanding into my last flat, I've successfully become more minimalist. I have quite a restrained but good quality wardrobe, under 10 pairs of shoes, one handbag, one satchel bag, and two evening bags. In boxing up my belongings, I got to ask myself the question "Do I need it?" for every item, and ended up dropping off 2kg of things to my local charity shop. All of these things made me realise that I was slowly evolving, honing my tastes, and sticking to my guns in buying less, choosing well, and only ever going for ethical options.

This contented feeling followed me to the new place I live now; it's a pretty, well thought-out flat, with some beautifully designed pieces such as the hand-laid recycled wooden parquet floor, and a light fitting that looks like a cloud (!) From Helen Russell's talk at Stylist Live, I now understand why these are all bringing me a little more joy - good design brings that homely feeling, as well as a clean aesthetic, and we actually clean and take pride in our home more too.

However, looking back at my old place, despite its run-down state, and the scatterbrained landlady, I have to say I also appreciate the role it has played in my life. It actually makes me smile thinking how we just adapted to its flaws, made do, and made friends with the neighbourhood cats (we called them Frank and Charlie, but never really knew their names). When we left I was thinking more "good riddance" than "goodbye", but now that I've had the time to sit back and think about it, I should be gracious that it looked after me for nine months and gave me a base in the big bustling city that is London.

So, over to you now. What are you grateful for? When was the last time you checked in with your busy little mind? This post served a purpose for me in being a space I can reflect, appreciate, and smile at the past year, so I hope a little bit of that can rub off on you too.

The last stop during my Amsterdam holiday was the Rijksmuseum. (It's taken me a little longer to post my review on it as I took far too many photos on my way around, but it's finally here!)

As the number one thing to do in the city according to TripAdvisor, we couldn't miss a visit to the Rijksmuseum (meaning National Museum in English). Located in Museumplein, or the museum district, it stands proudly across a canal with its gothic redbrick architecture and glaring I Amsterdam sign.

The whole place is extremely polished, and it's not surprising for €17 a ticket. Large airy rooms display art, sculptures, historic artifacts, and contemporary furniture, giving you more than enough to look at over a day visit.

In any city I go to, I look for cultural inspiration as a way to explore influences on the society I'm visiting, and also get a better understanding of what I'm naturally drawn to and what pushes my buttons (in both a good and a bad way). As with any National Museum, there's going to be a massive mix of globally significant pieces, but even in the Rijksmuseum you'll find Dutch-specific galleries such as their naval section, the beautiful library, and paintings by Dutch masters Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals.

One display that really shocked me was the the collection of clay face imprints displayed on the fourth floor; these depict Asian men that were discovered by European travellers. Wanting to show the differences in their facial features, they took clay casts of men by the dozen, seeming so culturally ignorant in this day and age. It shows just how far we have come as a world!

Overall, it was a really pleasant day out, and an informative one too!
Hempstory in Amsterdam
Hemp beauty products at Hempstory
Hemp clothing at Hempstory

Apart from the odd supplement, I've never really covered the subject of drugs on Curiously Conscious. Now let's get this clear, when I say drugs here, I'm talking the family-friendly version of marijuana: hemp. Not only is this legal in Amsterdam, it's legal in the UK too. It might sound shocking - Drugs on a wellness blog?! Legal in the UK?! - but this is the 'drug free' version of the plant, using it as a food without its psychoactive properties.

Still not convinced? Neither was a friend of mine, when I gave her a bar of chocolate with hemp seeds in as a present from my holiday! But you can very readily buy it: there's hemp protein, hemp milk, even a hemp Doisy + Dam chocolate bar!

So, on to possibly my favourite little discovery when in Amsterdam: Hempstory. Based on the dividing line between regular city streets and the Red Light District, even its location reveals how it flirts with the rougher aspects of the Dutch capital.

Hempstory is a boutique selling hemp-based products in all its forms, from gorgeously soft hemp clothes to pretty posters of the plant. The place is as chic as they come, with gorgeous toiletries, water bottles, a white-and-plant decor to die for (I'm obsessed, just look at my Pinterest...)

So, what's the big deal with hemp? Well, it's one of the most versatile, fastest growing plants on earth. It can be used in all sorts of ways, from fabric to food, plastic to protein. It's a complete plant-based protein and contains omegas 3 and 6, making it a perfect supplement for vegans and vegetarians, and you can use it just like whey protein.

I've actually been trying Planet Hemp's Vanilla Chai Hemp Protein* recently, and it makes for a great morning smoothie (try it with a banana and a cup of plant-based milk) or post-workout drink. Plus anything chai-flavoured and I'm all over it!

On top of that, you can get hemp oil* to fry food with, or buy straight hemp seeds* that you can add to bliss balls, salads, and smoothies.

On the sustainable side of things, hemp is a worthwhile crop, growing densely (thus saving land mass) at a fast rate, providing good yields and actually improving soil health compared to other monocultures. It also doesn't need pesticides to grow (it's a weed, get it?) and hemp paper is a better option that wood too.

Either way, Hempstory is totally worth popping into when in Amsterdam. It's pretty, clever, and showcases the plant and all its uses!

This park is a natural beauty spot on the pretty Dutch face of Amsterdam. Having read an entire guidebook to the city in excited anticipation of my holiday, I'd already bookmarked it as a good place to head on a sunny day.

Designed in the 'English style' (our parks were all the rage in the 1900s) Vondelpark welcomes over 10 million visitors every year, both Dutch and tourists. The place is full of natural features, leafy trees, and still water, making it a perfect place to stop for a picnic, or better yet to cycle through. On the days we did rent bikes in the city, this was probably the most fun place to come - it's away from the road, has lots of winding cycle routes, and bikes are actually given priority over pedestrians (which just tells you how many people cycle in the city).

Wildlife in the park is pretty similar to that in England too; with the weather on par with ours, you'll find ducks, waterhens, and herons, as well as the odd feral parrot and squirrel. I have to say I felt a little Attenborough-esque when capturing that heron perching in the water!

I always like to include a green space as a stop when I'm visiting a city, as it's usually light relief from busy attractions such as museums and shopping. Vondelpark is really well located for a stop off after the Rijksmuseum, or Van Gogh Museum (both in Museumplein) as well as a place to stroll to if you're looking to stay central to the city. I've found a lot of people visit Amsterdam on long weekends, so it's a great little extra to add to your jam-packed three or four days there.


Tucked away on a little market street is one of the nicest places I ate in Amsterdam. With great big chalk board drawings and simplistic details, Pho 91 made for a fresh, healthy treat on a rainy afternoon after cycling round the city.

I'd had the restaurant bookmarked as one of the places to go for a while; Jen had personally recommended it to me, and I'd read good things about the place online. Ash and I had spent the day cycling round the city, stopping off at De Gooyer Windmill for a picnic, and then to Vondelpark for a ride around with the locals (who knows whether they're just passing through or pedalling through the pretty English-style gardens for the fun of it) so we'd worked up quite an appetite by the time we headed over a few streets to the place.

Locking our bikes up opposite Albert Cuypmarkt, I'll admit I was a little confused where the place was located. The traders were winding down for the day (which was sad because looking at the market's website, it looks like to do a great variety of things!) and we stumbled along the roads trying to find the place. And then suddenly, a sign! A large Pho 91 sign!

We'd arrived at the place at the peculiar in-between lunch and dinner phase so it was quite empty and we were able to sit and order pretty quickly. Having looked at their menu in advance, I knew I was going for my favourite Vietnamese dish and the restaurant's namesake: pho. Usually this is a meat-based broth, but the Pho Chay they serve is a vegan alternative, replacing anything animal with tofu, shiitake mushroom, and pea pods.

When it arrived, I was really quite excited. Peppered with sliced chilli, spring onion, and a lime, I was quick to grab my chopsticks (somehow I've managed to learn how to use them, although they still feel daunting every time I pick them up) and a big spoon for the broth. I read somewhere that making a mess is seen as a compliment in some Asian cultures so I decided to get stuck in and slurp away (apologies to the waitress watching over us if this isn't true...)

The dish was filling and "as tasty as its meaty cousin" as the menu promised. I did add a few blobs of hoisin sauce as I was going, which was probably the least health part as it's quite sugary, but the rest of the food was fresh, crisp, and tasted great. I don't even dare compare my vegetarian pho recipe that I make at home every once in a while...

Ash got the vegetarian Bun Cha Gio, which was essentially fried noodles with mixed vegetables and a large, crunchy spring roll sliced into sections. It was clear that this had been made in house, and it tasted really, really good.

I think it's fair to say that Pho 91 is worth a visit if you're looking for authentic fresh and healthy Asian food when in Amsterdam (especially compared to restaurants in some of the more touristy areas), although we were quite lucky with our timing as the place had started to fill up by the time we left. There's no reservation system either, so you'll just have to head on over and see if there's a spot for you!

Walking down the street in Amsterdam
Canal in Amsterdam
Amsterdam at night

Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities. After spending a week there, I feel like I've found a home away from Paris (I'm sorry London but you just don't cut it in terms of prettiness). And boy I have so much to tell you about my time there!

Before heading to the Dutch capital, I did a lot of research, reading a pocket guidebook cover to cover and receiving a few recommendations for places to go. In truth I don't think I've been more excited about a holiday: it was the first city break my boyfriend and I have been on, and after almost a year of working solidly, a week away was so appealing.

TRAVEL
Despite being held up on our return journey, travelling to Amsterdam by train was an absolute breeze. Taking five hours from check-in to arrival, it was both mine and my boyfriend's preferred way to go. Does anyone else find flying just so jarring? At least with a train you can sit back and watch the physical world go by, as well as know it's a lot more sustainable. According to my guidebook, the Eurostar will be extending its service all the way to Amsterdam by 2017 (rather than a change at Brussels to a Thalys train), making it even easier to go.

AIRBNB
This was my first time using Airbnb and I'll be honest, while I love the sharing economy it promotes, you do have to be careful about who you go with. I had a mediocre experience, staying in a relatively cheap place that was so perfectly located, but so lacking in promised amenities. Either way, I will be using the service again, and if you'd like £25 off your first trip you can use this link here.

THE CITY
Amsterdam is quite a small city - especially if you're used to London. Navigating it is easy; if you think of Centraal Station as the most northern point, and that the canals are on a horseshoe away from it, you will pretty much always know where you are. This was a new experience for me as my sense of direction is usually pretty rubbish!

Across the five nights we were there, we didn't use public transport once. It may seem odd but everything we wanted to do was within walking distance of our apartment in Centrum, and on the days we rented bikes, we could reach everything in a 20 minute bike ride! The place really is a haven for cyclists, much like the cycle-landed Parisian streets I used to ride around, and it makes me wish I could do the same here in London. I'll need a large dose of courage if I do so, and a cycle helmet too - I'm not as trusting of traffic as the Dutch!

ATTRACTIONS
You'll have probably heard of Amsterdam as sin city; cannabis is decriminalised, and the Red Light District is one of its main attractions. While neither of these were draws for me, its open attitude compared to sex and drugs being taboos in British culture is actually something to be admired - it promotes discussion and safety measures.

Every single Dutch person we met was just lovely, conversing fluently in English and a lot of the time bringing my boyfriend and I extra things to try, such as a traditional almond cake in the first café we visited (so sweet!) We had a great time walking around the city's largest museum, the Rijksmuseum, visiting the oldest and tallest windmill in the Netherlands, De Gooyer Molen, and dabbling with local cuisine at Chipsy King, Febo, The Grasshopper, and more. I'll be writing about the healthier parts, eco supermarkets, and bike rentals in later posts so keep your eyes peeled!

NIGHTLIFE
Ignoring the dancing girls and coffeeshops, the nightlife in Amsterdam is pretty relaxed. Sipping drinks in pubs and chatting is normal, with a lot of places making exquisite drinks for a couple of euros, including milkshakes, smoothies, herbal teas, and hot chocolates. One night my boyfriend and I spent a good hour playing Glow in the Dark Crazy Golf - thank you Jen for recommending it! By midnight you'll find a lot of places winding down (although I didn't go in high season, so it may be different over the summer) which is great for me to get my beauty sleep!

Overall I had an incredible time, and will definitely be going back there for a long weekend or two. If you're planning a trip, feel free to ask me any questions you may have!