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A Tempting Tradition Twist on Pumpkin Perfection

The oversees caffeine giant strikes again with an American twist on a festive tradition.

Ahhh STARBUCKS™, you are sometimes so wonderful…

For weeks now my blog reader has been full of Americans bombarding me with pumpkins. Treats of all kinds have been appearing because of Thanksgiving and Halloween (links at the bottom to some of them!) but mainy they’ve been boasting about the latest PUMPKIN flavoured creation to be adapted to coffee or iced treat and, I can officially announce… that splendour has officially been shared with the UK as of 29th!! Yaaaaay!!

But that’s not all!

So curious was I and impatient to experience this bizarre wonder for myself, I took it as a personal challenge to acquire it the day the offer appeared in my Facebook feed – Friday 28th. On this mission I recruited one enthusiastic compatriot, one reluctant companion and two students with nothing better to do. One of whom was lost on the way there. A fleet of four it was to be.

And I succeeded! 😀 Though the offer was technically not due to start til Saturday 29th September, I took the initiative and… just asked nicely, actually. ^.^ The guy behind the counter looked impressed I even knew about it so…

I give you, one of the UK’s first ever STARBUCKS™ served PUMPKIN SPICED LATTE‘s!

they spelt my name wrong on the personalised cup… 😦

Should be ‘Gemma’ not ‘Jemma’ but I’ll let it slide… this time… 😛

This thing was so exclusive in the UK when I asked for it that their website hasn’t even updated to include it on their menu yet! (link at the top of the page!)

The offer is exclusive to lattes, which is a bit disappointing as I know the pumpkin flavour  is available across the full range of coffees in America. The only variation seems to be if you want whipped cream or not, as well as only being available for a month. That would be because it’s a Halloween promotion and all that…

Onto the taste test.

I’m not an expert on pumpkins, to the point where I actually have no idea what they taste like . 😀 But I can tell you this. It. Is. TASTY. It’s so good! So good, in fact, that far from tolerating the addition of milk in my coffee to experience this phenomenon, I actually enjoyed it. So good, I almost bought another one! Usually I hate milky coffee as it gives me headaches. Specialty lattes are often bearable because there is another flavour to dominate, but damn this was so good!

The flavouring was a little bit spicy, not like chili, more like ginger or cinnamon, and when added to the light, whipped cream it gave the coffee a sweetness I really never thought it would. I expected something heavier and something either very bitter, more akin to a headily scented, dense tasting coffee you might be served from a questionable looking, festive vendor, in a styrofoam cup, or something very mild and savoury; like a non-citrus cheesecake in coffee form with an almost tea-like consistency… if that’s even possible 😀 That thought might have been the product of having seen pumpkin flavoured goodies in the plastic, clear cups chilled drinks are served in. Never did I expect just how sweet it would be! The foam was light, the texture smooth, the aroma light and wafting. Delicious.

I would say that, taste wise, this is something of a girly drink, but I would highly recommend this particular speciality drink to everyone. Even if it doesn’t get you in a Halloween mood (something this sweet and scrumptious could never incite fear into anyone bar the lactose intolerant… nor can it celebrate the dead…) it will certainly give you a festive buzz. I personally hate Christmas, (see here!) but that’s what it tastes like!

I recently purchased a candied ginger body butter from The Body Shop and it was a good thing I hadn’t been wearing it when I drained that mug – I’d have morphed into a little Christmas elf, perhaps sporting a jaunty witches hat, right there on the spot! 😀

some pumpkin treats for you all!! STARBUCKS America full pumpkin range!! nutella swirled pumpkin pie, mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffins (no i’m not joking, that’s what they’re called) fudge brownie cupcakes with pumpkin cream cheese frosting (phew, what a title!) skinny pumpkin cheesecake brownie  SIMPLE pumpkin cake  a PSL,  a modified PSL  a “top 10 list”

credits have to go to: Sally’s Baking Addiction, (who I have a mild bakers crush on!! :D) Caffeinated and Random, (whose loving rants about her other half make me LOL), Sweet Little Thang

Follow me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/gemc200 , I hang out there occasionally 🙂

SSDD

Taxing Top Earners For Being Too Rich and the Poor for Not Being Poor Enough

So you’ve spent your entire life building up a company, working your way from the very bottom wrung til you’re in the position you currently preside in, top dog, King/Queen of the Company. You don’t work for a bank, you drive a sports car because you can and sure, you’re mansion has a maid, but you need one for while you’re tending to the horses.

Well, says the government, seeing as your property is worth quite a bit more than the average British home and you’ve spent your entire life working to be able to afford such luxuries, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to give a little more of that back… in taxes…

Liberal Democrat Logo

It is not difficult to see why the proposed Lib Dem “Mansion Tax” is not being best received. Business Secretary Vince Cable said on Monday 24th at the Lib Dem Party Conference of the tax that:

“It terrifies the Tory backwoodsman but it is popular and right. The super rich can’t move their chateaux to Monaco or Switzerland so let’s get on with it and tax them here.”

Vince Cable, Business Secretary

Consider his implication here; not only are politicians across the board happy to be taxed on properties they most likely bought as they could get a ridiculously good deal on them from not being taxed, he was outright stating that members of the public found this appealing as well. One thinks he might need to get out of the office, because it seems more likely that these “supporters” are in fact also known as “imaginary friends”.

Benefits and taxes. Bored already? Not surprising! But it’s an issue of extreme contention in the UK right now because of the extremely erratic handling of it we’ve seen here since the coalition take-over. They whole system is under immediate review, but there is very much a tug-of-war situation between the Torys and Lib Dems as each side fights for maintain their own parties integrity, solve the real problems at hand, as well as pander to the favour of the public in efforts to keep voters.

One of the long term plans of the government to cut public spending is to “refine” the welfare and benefits system by £10B – in other words, they want to catch out all those cheats that are continually slipping through their nets with utterly ridiculous claims that are somehow legitimate due to legal loop holes that need closing. However, they also plan to raise foreign aid by £12B. How on earth do they think these kinds of numbers balance!? On what planet do those sums make sense? I would say a few quid could be saved in sacking whoever is producing that kind of arithmetic anomaly.

To make these cuts they have decided upon two courses of action – tax top earners to the point where a doctor might as well be making the same as a brick layer, and catch the cretins who are quite simply, at it.

At least they have realised that the real fraudsters are not people who claim disability or incapacity benefit for an illness that some people (usually a vast minority of sufferers) are able to hold down work with. They have finally come to the oh-so-astonishing realisation that it is the families who claim things such as, “We simply must have this £34,000 worth of benefits per year, because there is just no other accommodation suitable for our three kids in the area that is affordable and, of course, it would be just cruel to ask them to share a bedroom, I mean, they are each and entire year apart in age, and they all have their little friends at school and they’re ever so close to them… yes they are only five and six and the little four year old – bless her- hasn’t started yet but see, they’re just so rooted in this are of middle-class suburbia…”

True story, by the way – neither parent in that household had worked in several years and both had claimed some form of incapacity benefit for a period of that time (funnily enough, it was long enough for them to not have to go out and find a job and instead claim job seekers allowance over that period… hm. Funny that, eh?) So while their neighbours were working 40-50 hour weeks and struggling to pay the mortgage that accompanies rural England and the 2.4 kids lifestyle, they were luxuriating in… utter luxury.

Lawyers are now claiming that the same private schools that were once the utopia of our countries great thinkers and legal minds are now out with even their reach. Considering barristers are amongst our countries top earners it would not be silly to find this concerning.

For example, with fees of over £20,000, only 6% of the population are thought to be able to legitimately be able to afford all boys private domain Harrows School and only 7% of children in the UK now attend a fee paying educational facility.

Harrow School

Yet, despite this irrefutable information, as well as statistics showing over a 30% decrease in private school enrolment from the past 20 years and more than 54% of current entrants now coming from millionaire families, the government still feels that an appropriate way to crack down on the benefit fraudsters is to tax the top earners.

I am in no way in favour of those who play the corporate game at the expense of the grafting public, but when those big earners become the ones who also suffer, perhaps after decades of building personal wealth through genuine hard study, that is when we should begin to see an issue of balance.

Because there is a pool of money does not necessarily mean the government should be dipping into it; this seems to be something they do not quite seem to be grasping. Especially when it comes to the fact that it is not actually their money to be slicking their palms with.

 

SSDD

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August Rush (Movie Review)

This little musically themed flick was something that I had heard about repeatedly from friends and critics over the past few years. I had never had the chance to see it til I eventually just borrowed it from one of them. Here be what I thought.

August Rush is the story of a boy who grows up in care with a keen sense of musicality, despite never once touching a musical instrument. That is, until he moves to New York.

Now I know what you’re thinking:

!Now this is a story all about how, my life got flipped turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, let me tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air.”

But no, for our little August it did not quite happen that way. However, it is true that he did discover he had a rare, integral ability when it came to music, an innate, natural capacity to play instruments and compose, hereditary skills apparently gained from his parents.

The reasons for him growing up in care help form the foundations of the movie. The pivotal themes surround a torn family, personal discovery and re-discovery and music, as a means of healing, of life and of joy.

We follow not only August but his mother and father as they embark on their own personal journeys. They traverse parallel paths, riddled with obstacles, battling with blind faith in the worth of what might be at the end. They seem to contain a knowledge somehow that the loved ones they once lost will be there if they can only reach that grand finale.

The trials encountered by these people constitute one of the most genuinely touching movies I think I have ever seen, with moments so poignant and beautiful that their sweetness evokes the closest thing to a little heartbreak as I have ever experienced from a film.

A gorgeous soundtrack featuring Jonathon Rhys Myers, who plays Augusts father, carries the Fairytale in New York theme. Rhys Myers features several times throughout and imoresses with a suitably husky and mature voice, befitting of his rough around the edges, desperately romantic Irish musician character. One cannot help but instantly fall for that lopsided grin and guitar combination – an Irish musician? Really? If you can resist then you have a will of iron!

As for August himself, a young Freddie Highmore was perfectly cast as the bambi eyed, pure-as-fresh-fallen-snow was the perfect cast. Portrayed with both a convincing naivety towards the darker inner natures of people as well as a powerful will to survive, we see the realisation of a brilliant childs dream. Yet the focus of his tribulations lie in beautiful, temporal things rather than outright survival; music, family, love. These needs are a reflection of August as a pure and immaterial youth.

This movie will do something to your soul. Whether it re-affirms your faith that there are still people capable of living simple lives and taking pleasure from the immaterial; whether it brings  solace in the understanding that families can find each other, regardless of time or distance; or even that music really can burrow a route to a freedom you believed you had lost, may only be decided by you.

Watch this, at some point. Suitable for men, women, kids, hell, even the dog might enjoy ot! (my cat purred through the entire thing, if that helps at all)

9 1/2 out of 10

 

SSDD

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The Mysterious Case of the Marshmallow Stealing Pets…

One of the cutest things you could ever see is a fluffy bunny playing Fluffy Bunny… with fluffy bunnies.

This enlightening thought is brought to you after hearing that there has been a spate of marshmallow thefts from sweet toothed pets. 😀

When I read the headline on the Huffington Post twitter feed, that was my immediate reaction; how great a thing would that be!? For those of you who don’t know by the way, (though you really should, no childhood sleepover is ever going to be a truly valuable recollection if at least one of them is not tainted by that sickly feeling one gets when stuffed to the ears with marshmallows…) Fluffy Bunny is a game where, one by one, each participant puts a marshmallow in their mouth and says “Fluffy Bunny“, adding one every time without chewing, making the process gradually more difficult. The only rule is that you cannot swallow or chew them one they are in there (surprisingly easy to do once they have plugged your jaw so much can’t chew anyway, even if you wanted to) and the winner is the last fair attempt made.

The result is almost always that someone projectiles a mildly soggy, kinda fluffy mess onto a clean carpet to a mixture of “eeeeews” and “hahahahahahas”.

Anyway, the though gave me a bit of a laugh considering I have actually seen a bunny eating a marshmallow and it is indeed as adorable as it sounds.

The best example I have seen of an animal devouring a sweet treat it probably shouldn’t be though has to be from a time I went to London with a couple of friends. We were chillin’ in the Park, having just walked down the Mall and taken the obligatory tourist shots of the Palace. It was a beautiful day, sun warm on our unaclimatised Scottish faces and early morning strollers out in force. However, they weren’t the only ones out in their dozens; there was what can only be called a legion of squirrels!!

They were bold little buggers as well, coming right up to us. A few hemmed us in as if they too knew, just like Spanish street vendors, they could sense it – tourists!

I think it was the lure of sweets that brought one such hungry creature up to me. We were sitting on a bench when it scampered near me. Oooooh, i thought, look at that – a cute little squirrel. Then it got a little closer. And closer. And then- ohmijeezus that thing is on my knee! Wtf, that thing is actually sitting on my knee, what the hell do I do!!??!?

So we did the only thing we could think to do – started trying to feed it Bacon Rashers.

I think it might have been a vegetarian though because it rejected those efforts. It kept scraping at my hand though, with it’s disturbingly humanistic little paws! Then we realised what it was after. Apparently, good folk, squirrels are of a more refined character, and prefer their snacks in the form of Minstrels.

That’s right, I have sat in London, squirrel (who we affectionately named Viv) on lap, watching as it chowed down on a Minstrel, clutching it adorably in two paws and even licking off the chocolate when it melted onto then near the end. We gave Viv a carry out, she took two with her.

I wasn not such a fan a few days later when a peculiar rash appeared on the back of my hand. I called it squaids… (squirrel = aids = squaids. Obviously…)

SSDD

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Value of a Second Hand Book

People who look through the dirt encrusted window of a second hand bookshop and see nothing but a dark, musty cellar of a room, full of aging tombs nobody wants; you are deluded. Those who peep, nervously through the highly polished window of a second hand book shop and see an immaculate and expansive, scholarly scene of mahogany shelving, displaying perfect yet ultimately unwanted volumes; you are being deceived.

Those people who pick up the books from any of these shelves and see them for their true worth; you are the reason they were written.

Second hand book shops are places few venture anymore, yet that is fine. Their owners probably do not even want patrons. They are too busy appreciating their collection to deal with some other inquisitive bibliophile. For a hardened linguistic appreciator, the grime in the windows, the dank and seemingly dull interior is all a facade, designed purposefully as an illusion to deter custom. The same can be said for the intimidating clinical cleanliness of that shop that feigns upper class authority and reverence in its pristine exterior. These are the brutally dedicated who hold literacy at the very heart of their soul and wish nothing but to harbour their collection as close to its spiritual home as possible. For a customer to interfere and  remove one of those hard found books would be like removing a child from an adoptive parent; they did not always have them, but after a long wait and a heart-wrenching search for the most fitting one, they found that perfect companion, the companion that you will not steal away from them once again.

At least, that is how I like to imagine them. The most determined guardians of literature, even more-so than a librarian of hawk-eyed order and organisation.

To read a good book from years past is something very special. Just because a book is second hand does not negate its value – if anything it only increases the tenderness with which the story should be re-discovered.

Finding a ragged gem in the dusty folds of an old bookshelf is something that gives a reader a buzz, knowing that in your hands you hold something with the potential to contain magic in it’s grimy pages. For an enthusiast, those grains are not the mark of disuse and lack of worth, that broken spine and tatty edge not a tell-tale reminder of a tale no longer relevant or valued; they are the signals that fairy dust is contained within and that such wonder as can be read on those pages, have been seen many times. Those imperfect edges are the consequence of repeated page thumbing, as the adventure is re-lived over and over again.

There is a copy, for example, of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, that can be found tucked snugly on the shelf of a friend of mine. That  particular edition has passed through the care of three generations of women in that family, handed down as an heirloom as valuable as any diamond ring or bone china tea set. The spine is worn thread bare, dust seems to miraculously spring from it at every touch and there is a smell… Yet every one of those blotchy, worn smooth pages has been studied and adored a thousand times. And that is what makes it worth the sneezing.

Part of the allure of an old book or a second hand book is the state that one might find it in. Think; it is one of the few occasions that the level of outward distress shown by a damaged cover can in fact be indicative of its inherent value, having been handled and used to such lengths that it is falling apart. That is one of the many benefits of the written word; it may be printed, written, scrawled in sand, but so long as it is set in letters that can be understood, their meaning never changes, and so their sentiment can never be lost.

In a modern world that places so much unnecessary value on appearance flashy imagery and gimmicks to cover up the pyrite that hides in the reality, a well-read book is something to be treasured. There is something comforting in the rough and yellowing pages of a novel long forgotten, penned by a name no memory lives to remember. It is not only the story the reader brings back to life, it is the hand that wrote it and the heart that breathed life in it to begin with.

SSDD

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Christmas!? C’mon People, It’s Only September!

 

I was walking through the centre of a very busy shopping mall yesterday and had to do a double-take – was the heat from all the people getting to me or was I trippin’!?

Santa??

No, I though, it’s not that crowded and actually I’m quite cold.

But Santa?!

No, I told myself, there is no way on earth I could be trippin’, not unless the cigarette being puffed by that busker I passed outside was one of those “suspicious” cigs…

… but but but but but- BUT SANTA!!

It was then that I had to finally accept. Proudly declaring his presence from one of those stalls in the middle of a mall walkway was a giant sack, shaped like that bearded devil Father Christmas.

My stomach lurched. You see it once, and then the signs start popping up everywhere, A few boxes of cards here, the odd plastic tree there, baubles of various colours on shelves previously occupied by sunglasses.

Not to come across as all Scrooge-like on you just yet, but I’m no great fan of Christmas and I’ve never made any secret of that. But you see, Christmas and I have an understanding. And that understanding is that I suffer through its overwhelming presence over the end of the year; then it buggers off for 10 months (I let it have November as well as December so people can, y’know, bask in the Christmas spirit and whatnot, I’m not a total meanie).

But you see, this year, Christmas seems to be under new management, and clearly that management has not been informed of its place – primarily, not in my line of sight for another three months at least!

And it is only just the beginning of September, who is to say that stall hasn’t been there for weeks! I wouldn’t know, I’ve not been there for a while! The traitor!

So I’m putting it to you here and now; do you, or do you not feel that even the most hardened cracker-pulling, turkey munching, snow-loving, reindeer petting, Santa worshipping disciple of the Christmas spirit, should be having a difficult time stomaching this level of devotion to a single, solitary day, that won’t be happening for another 4 months?

Not only that, there are other events to revel in that require sufficient shop decorating space to be called a “holiday” before (dreaded) December 25th. Halloween and bonfire night for a start. What are they going to do with the dear old Santa socks and unnecessary greetings cards when they come around, put them back in storage?

Well I say yes they should because that’s where they belong for now!

Ok, rant over, with the potential for more closer to the appropriate time for them. Ya hear that Elves, that’s what you should be giving the little girls and boys, a calendar, and while you’re at it, ask the Boss Man for one for yourselves so that no-one gets confused.

 

SSDD – oh no I’m sorry, apparently it should be “Merry Christmas” already!

Buying Wine Is Surprisingly Difficult…

Don’t laugh at me for being an uncouth youth but… wine is a baffling concept to me!

So I’m going to share a kinda funny story with you about a recent outing I made, inspired by a post by Caffeinated and Random. Read hers, it sounds far more successful than mine to be honest. But do stick around to find out if I eventually got my grape juice! 😉

I seriously struggled to buy a bottle of wine the other day. You might think that it would be easy in a supermarket – they have aisles dedicated to the stuff! And not just wine; to make the selection of all you alcoholic beverages an easier experience they have handily sub-categorised everything.

I can only think this is out of pity more than kindness; it’s a though they think drunks can only navigate their way to the bottom of a bottle, not to the actual bottle itself. But on the other hand, why pass up the opportunity to fleece said boozy individuals by arranging the wares in an aesthetically pleasing order? And let’s be honest, you can tell a lot from the section a person is shopping in.

The Magners my friend bought as an “investment”…

For example, a middle-aged man bulk buying Tennant’s is either having the lads over to watch the footie or praying 2-crates-for-£12 contains enough units to let you mentally escape your domineering wifey! (to be sure which breed you are observing, have a sneaky look-see – if the whiskers are graying you are likely looking at the latter.)

If you are one of those more exotic souls trooping the spirits aisle you are either a student looking for pre-drinks/cocktail ingredients/a cheeky wee something to get you through your Friday lecture – or a bit lonely… and maybe have been for a while if a bottle of rose isn’t enough to perk you up anymore…

There you go! Wine, again! Like an adult alternative to the eternally relished correctional institution known as tea! We turn to it for everything: friends are coming round – better crack open a bottle if wine; hot date on the horizon – put a nice wee bottle of wine in the fridge; you’re boyfriend broke up with you? – bring on the wine-loaded bitch-fest!; you’re mother-in-law is coming round – quick, chug the rest of that bottle from last night while pretending to check the casserole…

So many socially acceptable situations, so many socially encouraged situations.

So why the bloody hell do they make it so hard to choose one!!?

Leaving early and returning late(ish), disgruntled and tired began to wear on my parents a little after an entire summer – and no, not because I’m a teenager and they had enough of my inconsiderate comings and goings… well… ok so it was a little bit that, but mainly because I was working! I had begun to adopt a syndrome I do not know the official term of, but for the purposes of this story we might call teenwhingeitis. The remedy for this, I thought; that’s right, gift thy ear-ached parents with fermented grape juice!

Whoa, too much choice, guys, seriously, chill out, they’re just grapes for goodnessake…

But faced with a wall of disconcertingly similar bottles, I suddenly felt less like the classy so-and-so bringing home a sophisticated tipple and more of some 12-year-old Curious George like character who had wandered too far from her mummy and was suddenly drowning in uncertainty.

It’s ridiculous. I’m 19, I am more than used to buying booze by this late stage in my life. But that might have been the problem. I am used to buying booze. Wine seems an altogether classier state of affairs. Somehow the glimmer of I’m-too-good-for-you-tonight-WKD wears off a bit when you’re looking at the “Special Offer” plonk.

All I had to go on was mum likes white, dad likes red, neither likes rose and I am only going to buy one bottle. Great.

I get that different grapes are grown in different countries and that it makes sense for them to have different flavours. But. As I read another tan label claiming to contain a nectar that was simultaneously sweet, fruity, lemony, with a hint of  bold asparagus and gentle daisy, undertones or basil and overtones of Sicilian desert, I couldn’t help feeling like all those convoluted terms were designed purely to confuse the living daylights out of me. It made me a little irritated. Those buggers were doing this on purpose, I thought. Didn’t they realise I was trying to do something nice, I thought. They must think me some kind of teenage delinquent who wouldn’t understand all their fancy pants description, devoid of buzz words and pressed more full of jargon than the tinted bottles they were wrapped around, I thought! (they were right, but I wasn’t about to admit that…) Must be Torries, I thought.

But never fear, the story has a happy ending. I knew what to do – defy the buggers! So I looked at the prices, picked a shelf that all seemed reasonable and pointed, swirling my finger – if it worked in Stephen Kings Dreamcatcher, then it was good enough for me! The only rule of this game was, stop when you recognise anything it says on any label. Along the line my finger went and then stopped almost immediately – Jacobs Creek. Possibly the most universally known wine in the world.

Gotcha! Cheers!

The fruits of my labour!

SSDD