New Years Day – Small Changes

At New Year I think we can all confidently say that we are inundated with two opposing forces in both mainstream and social media. These being the concept of “New Year New You” or the alternate view of “making resolutions is pointless as you never stick to them anyway”.

While for most of us a complete lifestyle overhaul is unobtainable and daunting there are so many small steps you can do to make yourself feel better. It often seems to me that the whole wellness thing that really exploded between 2016 was difficult for us to stick to, expensive to obtain ingredients and often impractical for fitting into a family routine. Just ask me about the time I tried a kale smoothie and thought I was eating grass; or the time I tried the paleo diet and it was the best thing ever until the day I started crying because I was hormonal and desperately wanted some oven chips.

However, I am as guilty as anyone for letting myself think that means I can lose sight of healthier living altogether. I noticed my face becoming increasingly moon like in November and took myself in hand for the 6 weeks prior to Christmas. Here were my smallest changes, but I actually enjoyed the little challenges posed and I got a bit of a spring in my step.

So here are a few suggestions to help you along with a healthier year:

  1. If possible take advantage of your local parkrun. This is a fantastic event run solely by volunteers. Basically its a weekly Saturday morning 5k run. There’s runners of all abilities and its so well run and everyone is really encouraging, even when you’re just starting out. To be honest I am a terrible runner. My gait is like that of Kermit the frog, but the fresh air and actually doing the 5k gives me such a sense of achievement whenever I attend and you can see how you’re improving from your time each week. Its completely free and you can sign up here.
  2. Just try and do more active things at the weekend. Swim, go to a trampoline park, ride your bikes. D and I did a walk around Ripley today and it blew away the cobwebs away and we saw some beautiful countryside.
  3. Stop with the fizzy drinks, especially diet drinks. Full sugar fizzy drinks have so much sugar and you probably don’t really notice you’re drinking empty calories. Diet drinks seem like a sensible alternative but they’re still pretty acidic and the sweeteners can actually contribute towards you putting on weight. I have basically cut put my fizzy drink vice in favour or tea, coffee and water and I think this contributed to weight loss more than anything else and since I stopped having fizzy drinks I noticed I enjoy sweet treats way more.
  4. Identify when you eat the worst. I am a great boredom eater at the weekend and tended to snack after we did our food shop. I also always used to get to lunchtime at work and convince myself I had worked hard enough to justify caramel shortbread from the canteen. Breaking the caramel shortbread habit was straightforward enough as it because something of an ongoing gag between myself and my friends at work but the boredom eating was a challenge. We ended up food shopping at a different time of day to avoid this habit (we also saved money buying fewer sweeties).
  5.  On prepackaged food look at the traffic lights. When you’re out and want a snack this is a great way to grab a snack without it disrupting a basic healthy lifestyle.
  6. Don’t be hard on yourself all the time. Life is to be enjoyed and enjoying good food and wine with family and friends is part of this. Give yourself time to relax and stress less about what you’re eating and just enjoy being with people you care about and have a good time.

Have a happy new year.

A change of scene

You may have noticed a period of quiet, perhaps some tumbleweed blowing through my little slice of the internet. Its been far from intentional, I still enjoy cooking and finding new spots of food, but I find lately my quest for a full stomach is not as all consuming. When I first started this blog, I was almost a different person. Almost a shadow of who I am now, having just moved to a new place, starting to make friends and not really wanting to admit that my university relationship was nearly over. Not as confident to pursue hobbies and ambitions and to be honest not really knowing what I wanted.

Anyway, time heals many things and having some stability at home (thanks boyfriend! thanks parents!) and more disposable income (thank you work!) made it easier to pursue more interests. But I found I was posting less on here and I don’t want to neglect what was perhaps my first adult passion. Blogging and writing in general. I do still love writing about food, writing new recipes and taking restaurant recommendations. In some ways I actually prefer writing about food now; I feel like I found my rhythm as a writer, quick and (usually) healthy recipes for people pushed for time, with the occasional longer recipe to enjoy over a weekend. Crowd pleasing recipes when you have larger groups to entertain. Stuff I as a woman approaching 30 would want to read myself.

However, life is so much more than food. I want to wax lyrical about the books I read, about the raw elegance of music on vinyl, why you should consider taking part in a Park Run, fashion preferences. Life through the eyes of a food lover, rather than a life led entirely by food.

D and I have discussed remastering some of the older favourites and starting some sort of youtube channel based on this blog. Simple recipes to appeal to cooks of all abilities. So the food writing and learning how to cook with more skill and precision won’t really be going anywhere, I just want this venture to keep growing and developing the same way I have over the years.

Plus, you know, food always did taste better when life was lived enough to work up an appetite.

Why you should consider joining Bone Marrow Register

This is one of those posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while but I could never quite articulate my feelings on it. Even now its a struggle. But I know there are even now people fighting blood cancers and lymphatic cancers who are desperately hoping for a tissue match and realistically the more people who are eligible to join the register that do drastically improves both the quality of life and survival of patients.

I consider myself extremely fortunate, neither myself or anyone I have been close to in real life has been so poorly to require a bone marrow transplant. However, D has, and when he was interviewing Andrew McMahon in 2014 (of Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate) it made me fully appreciate how important it is to get involved when you can. Here was a man who had nearly 10 years previously received a stem cell transplant from his sister following treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and was in great health and had just become a parent. As there was somebody at the gig from the Dear Jack Foundation we both joined the register that evening.

Considering I actually did my Masters in Cancer Biology and Therapy, I am as squeamish as a lot of people can be when discussing medical treatments, needles etc. One of the questions I got asked around the time I spoke to my friends and work colleagues about this was “won’t it hurt a lot if you have to actually make a donation”. The answer is yes and no, if you have to make a peripheral donation (which is most common) it will be similar to a blood donation. The actual bone marrow transplant is done under general anaesthetic and donors typically do experience bruising and side effects. However, I think its worth rationalising by remembering I’ve probably injured myself more when I’ve been drunk and fallen off bar stools. Also, that chemotherapy itself is pretty gruelling both physically and emotionally for the patient and their families; so if it helps someone out for the rest of their life, I can probably cope with some bruises (possibly with some moaning, I might be happy to donate but I’m not a saint).

Its worth noting that whether you join the Bone Marrow Regiaster through the Dear Jack Foundation or the Anthony Nolan Trust you end up on the same register so you don’t have to do it through both charities. Its your choice who you support or whether you wish to support another charity entirely).

I know this is more serious than most of my blog posts, but this is something I feel is important and I have been thinking about how to phrase this for a while. But the bottom line you will potentially be doing something wonderful and saving a life – basically the best gift you can ever give.

Information on who is eligible to join the register.

More on why your should join

Oh and in case I was a bit too serious, here is Andrew McMahon’s new single.

 

Afternoon Tea at Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Visiting Blackpool always gives me a lot of Nostalgia. While it wasn’t somewhere my family visited as frequently, I have very specific memories of the place. Getting stuck on top of the big wheel on the pleasure beach in the pouring rain with my mum, windy games of crazy golf and going on a school trip to the tower as a very little girl. Part of the school trip involved us eating our packed lunches in the ballroom so you can understand why I jumped at the chance of reviewing their afternoon teas on here.

I brought my lovely friend Mrs E with me for this trip. As as being a fellow Yorkshire resident; she also comes from Lancashire, so she also has memories of the place. We both wholeheartedly enjoyed eating sandwiches and cake watching different couples dancing. As somebody who has never properly learned how to dance with a partner apart from the odd waltz around the living room with her father, I was impressed by the couples gliding gracefully across the dance floor. Forget Strictly, I was imagining a time when young couples met up in that very ballroom in the not too distant past.

While this wasn’t the most luxurious afternoon tea I have ever eaten, it ranks pretty highly in both taste and atmosphere. The ballroom itself is beautiful and the music from the Wurlitzer organ was very pleasant (and no, there was no rendition of “I do like to be beside the seaside). In fact, we were so distracted by the scones and tea we stropped noticing the music being quite as loud. I think its good to note that while most of the visitors were older, it is something that is lovely for all younger people too and is especially suitable for families (you can buy Slush Puppies at the bar which are a personal favourite!) For those of you who don’t know; in the Tower at Blackpool there are several attractions including the Blackpool Tower Dungeon, the Circus and the Eye at Blackpool so the Ballroom afternoon tea is an ideal place to chill out in between these and would also make a more tranquil setting for an afternoon tea for those of you considering a girls day out in Blackpool (as we were).

For those amongst you wanting finer details of the food – you could tell everything was freshly made. I don’t know what brand the tea was but we both liked it. The sandwiches were made with a pleasant variety of fillings. The scones were sultana scones and were pleasantly soft rather than crumbly. The jam provided was in those little jars and was a high quality conserve and the clotted cream was also excellent. I particularly liked the variety of little cakes (although we saved these for later as we were both too full to properly enjoy them). We had tiffin, a fruit meringue, a freshly baked miniature apple pie and a miniature cheesecake. The cheesecake was so creamy! (D’s reviews of the cakes were also very positive).

I think from this post you can tell we really did have a wonderful time and appreciate being invited to visit so much. The staff were very kind and boxed up uneaten cake for me to take home (which D enjoyed later). The only downside of the entire trip was that I happened to pick a Saturday when the weather was so horrible and stormy we were completely soaked by the time we reached the Tower. (That’s weather in the North West for you!)

For full details of Afternoon Tea and the Blackpool Tower click here.

For further details of the attractions of Blackpool Tower visit here.

We followed this visit with a trip to the Sea Life Centre and a game of crazy gold. Which I lost. Spectacularly.

Our visit to Afternoon Tea in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom was a press trip so everything was complimentary, but all views are my own. Thank you for inviting me!

Campania, Italy

As I mentioned in my previous post our trip was split between Rome and Sorrento in the South of Italy. The train network across Italy is actually really good and we actually had a lovely journey from Rome to Naples travelling first class on a very peaceful train. However, as I mentioned before the train journey from Naples to Piano di Sorrento (where we stayed) was busy and so hot I could practically feel the beads of sweat forming. I must stress though, none of the rest of our journeys on the Circumvesuviana were as crowded or as intensely warm (although their lateness caused an issue a couple of times). (Also make sure you pay for any Circumvesuviana tickets in Naples with as close to the exact change as possible. The guy in the ticket office is notorious for ripping Tourists off by giving the the incorrect change. I must stress this was not an issue in any of the other stations and the service is very inexpensive in general.

Onto the major positive – we got to visit Pompeii. Both of us had been desperate to visit the site since childhood. We were both absolutely overwhelmed by the size of it as we had underestimated this and were expecting a village rather than a city. Although it is boiling (take a lot of sun cream if visiting in the Summer) and I would urge you to remember a drink there are places to refill your bottles so you needn’t spend a fortune on staying hydrated. Anyway, it was a fascinating place and definitely a place I highly recommend visiting. Although in some ways it was sobering imagining a whole city wiped out within hours.

We also visited the main town of Sorrento and some local beaches which were so beautiful and typically Italian. Although the beach near our hotel was one where you have to pay for its use, this actually made it more secure and we felt comfortable leaving our belongings on our sun loungers while we swam in the sea.

However, one of the holiday favourites was a boat trip around Capri which stopped off at Positano. Both of which are two of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Swimming off the boat with a view of Capri was a wonderful experience. We had a few hours happily looking in all the little shops and exploring Positano. I would love to go back and spend more time in both of these places. I think that’s the thing with travel, it always gives you a thirst for more.

Fortunately, or unfortunately Piano di Sorrento absolutely ruined both of us for pizza. We discovered a pizzeria next to the station called Pizzeria All’Angolo. Popular with locals and tourists alike, we enjoyed some fantastic pizza and local wine. The waiters and the staff were all so friendly and welcoming to us and every time we have had pizza since our return we lament that it is not at this particular pizzeria. (It was also as inexpensive as it was delicious, who says you always have to pay through the nose for unforgettable dining experiences?) Although the restaurant overlooked a station car park we actually had quite a companionable time spotting local cats and giving them names. It’s the simple things in life that provide the most amusement.

All in all Italy is an unforgettable experience and I think a pretty perfect travel destination for D’s first trip abroad. However, 8 days was not nearly enough time to full explore Rome or Campania, let alone Italy as a whole.

Still, not to beat around the bush, the humidity did cause havoc with my hair and there were several days where I looked frighteningly like Hair Bear of the hair Bear Bunch. Still, it was worth it for such a wonderful holiday.

 

An ode to moving to a new place

I felt like given that it is around the time when a lot of my younger audiences are contemplating moving to a new university town and some of you might be in that horrible place between graduating and finding a job. Whether you find yourself moving to a town 10 miles up the road, or to the other side of the globe, relocating somewhere new can be daunting, especially on your own.

I am naturally shy and even as a little girl I was never one for going to something on my own. Whether it was hiding behind my parents and especially my older brother or being scared to go to a new activity; I have to admit I was pretty bad when it came to meeting new people. The first few weeks of university I was horribly homesick for my friends and family and it took me weeks to get the courage to actually get to know people. (I feel compelled to mention that the people I know from university were on the whole, wonderful, I was just scared to come out of my shell.)

However, this couldn’t continue and upon graduating from my MSc the recession actually, possibly helped. I mean, finding a decent job in my industry was pretty stressful and my confidence was pretty low because of this but in terms of lifelong confidence it helped. Between September 2010 and February 2012 I had 5 different temporary jobs in a variety of shops, offices and a research post. I also volunteered for my local hospice doing a phone based job. It was tough but the combination of having 5 different first days in a new working environment, meeting a lot of new colleagues and encountering customers forced me to talk to so many new people. Talking to people on the phone about a charity I felt strongly about stopped me being so afraid of asking for things. Then the last interview I went to in a scientific role before I gave up forever came up and I got the job and it was too far away to stay living with my (lovely) parents.

So I ended up moving to Harrogate, while its not massive I knew approximately 3 people, my Uncle, Aunt and my then 16 year old cousin. So in some ways I had a little support system already in place who fed me Sunday dinners and helped me out a lot when I didn’t know anyone else. It was still scary though the prospect of making friends. Luckily my friend ED and I started the same job in the same department on the same day and even today we are close friends. Then DC and Miss S started working and we formed a little friendship group which gradually got slightly bigger as we all got to know more people.

(This post has snowballed into a life story but bear with me). Times did get hard and it wasn’t all rosy. I spent a lot of time watching tv in my room feeling pretty lonely. I had housemates who were untidy, ones who had scary boyfriends and finally 2 girls who were plain lovely and I was very sad to leave. A long term relationship crumbled but while it was the most painful few months of my life I think it actually benefited us both in the longer term. Holding onto something that isn’t working any more, even when you still care deeply about somebody is emotionally draining, exhausting and everyone ends up hurt. The best advice I should have taken long ago from my parents was not to live in 2 places at once.

Pretty often I find myself now in situations where I think, “how did I end up having fun with you here? 2 years ago I didn’t even know you exist.” Its pretty amazing to think that if I hadn’t moved I wouldn’t have started blogging ergo wouldn’t have bonded with D over writing, I would never have had our pets or met all the people I did through D. I would never have had the opportunity to see so many bands, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start doing theatre stuff again after so many years and I certainly wouldn’t have hugged as many famous musicians.

I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that sometimes the most wonderful parts of life come from the scariest feelings of the unknown. I was lonely that first night in my first house here, I was so terrified of going on a date with D that I required a pep talk from my housemate and my poor parents got multiple tearful phone calls about people using my toothpaste, ex boyfriends and finding the initial stages of adult life difficult.

I think the best advice I can give to anybody who finds themselves in a similar position to me is to start saying yes to people. In the earliest stages of friendship go along to everything you get invited to, keep in touch with old friends, be the event planner of your friendship group from time to time. Please don’t let nerves be the reason you don’t join in with a new activity. I wholeheartedly speak from experience when I say somebody will make an effort to make you feel welcome.

Although I miss my family and friends from home a lot at times relationships with people who really matter won’t change if you take a new opportunity. If you do move for work university I think throwing yourself into somewhere new, even if you feel sick with fear makes your life so much more than just a job, or a course.

A little homeware update

I supposed this post goes slightly hand in hand with the fact that it was my birthday yesterday. Perhaps I have become a slightly more “adultier” adult? Anyway, as D was already pretty well installed into our home when I moved in, but we’re slowly making updates to little things in the decor (next stop is a new bed for us, whoopee!)

Here is a few of my favourites in case anyone is interested.

  1. Le Creuset Cast Iron Casserole Dish

Le Creuset is one of my absolute favourite places to buy cookware from. We have a few things that I have picked up over the past few months. However, this one is particularly special as I saved up vouchers I got for various work awards in order to buy this and it took me months so I was delighted to finally get this. I chose the Marseille Blue version to tone in with things we have already.

If you’re balking at the thought of paying more for one of these babies consider that my parents have Le Creuset cast iron cookware from when they were first married over 30 years ago so it’s price per use is actually decent.

2. John Lewis Croft Collection Colander

Apart from the fact that this is ridiculously pretty this probably isn’t an exciting purchase. our colander was won in a raffle by my parents and needed replacing so I picked up this one as I couldn’t resist the floral pattern. I look forward to using it.

3. Cole and Mason Spice Carousel

As a keen cook I am loving my new spice carousel. This was a wonderful belated Christmas gift from my parents on Monday. We are both pretty taken with how it looks and I am enjoying being able to season our meals without having to delve into our cupboards for herbs and/or spices. Thanks parents!

4. Various pictures from On the Wall

On the wall is an independent shop on Boar Lane in Leeds which specialises in selling vintage prints, art prints and posters from cult and anime films. We have recently updated our bedroom (and have more to go into the kitchen and bedroom) with various framed pictures. This has given our bedroom such a refresh and it feels so much more ours now. Also, taking older pictures down has made everything feel more spacious and I feel like have made a stamp on our home as a couple more now. (Next post will include the print with the t-rex on it!)

5. Chicken egg basket (and heart fruit bowl), Matalan

Matalan has some great finds in its homeware section. I was really excited to find both of these. They both cost less that £10 too which was pretty cool for something I had been angling for for a while (the fruit bowl is not pictures as mine is currently housing a few sad looking apples and kiwis). I do prefer finding home things from a variety of places as it really feels more like your own home and not a direct copy of a catalogue.

6. Rose Gold Photo Frame and Mug, New look

I can’t actually find my exact mug on the New Look website but it must be said, New Look have some fantastic home finds currently. Whether you’re decorating your first university room or casually sneaking girlier kitchenware past your boyfriend, don’t forget New Look if you want to add a few feminine touches.