Spinach and tomato pie

This year D and I have been eating a lot less meat. There were several reasons for this but the best thing to come of it (apart from feeling so much better) was the opportunity to try a whole host of new recipes.

Considering D is not really much of a vegetable eater he actually enjoyed this recipe. Alongside having a great many health benefits, spinach is one of the most versatile vegetables. This is also a pretty easy thing to put together after work and packs a punch in terms of fruit and vegetable portions.

To make a pie to serve 4 you will need:

1 pack of lighter puff pastry

2 eggs

450g frozen spinach

50g Parmesan cheese

200g garlic and chive soft cheese (the lighter option)

Salt and pepper

Herbs de provence

4 large tomatoes cut into segments

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 onion, diced

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly fry the onion and garlic on a medium heat until soft. Add the spinach, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper and fry until the spinach has cooked down. Once the spinach is cooked; add the cream cheese, Parmesan and egg. Reduce the heat and make sure the cheese and egg is distributed through the mixture.

Place the spinach in a pie dish and top with the (rolled out) pastry. Glaze with the egg. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

This pie also makes excellent leftovers or vegetarian picnic food.

The Florida Road Trip

The Florida Road Trip

Oh Florida you stole my heart! Our final leg of the trip was preceded by a rather disastrous flight to Jacksonville from Washington DC, but we had a wonderful time in Florida.

We started in Northern Florida at the beaches of Jacksonville and St Augustine, enjoying relaxing on the white sand and swimming in the sea. We followed our day at the beach with seafood dinner at Red Lobster. I’m still dreaming about the dinner we had there.

Other the next couple of days we visited two natural springs. On my birthday we had a wonderful time at the Devil’s Den snorkelling in a fossil cave. The following day we swam, kayaked and ate delicious barbeque food at Manatee Springs. It was great to see the wildlife, but we were both pretty wary of the large snake on the steps to the water.

Following our adventures in Northern Florida we headed to Orlando. I’ll be honest, I wanted to love Orlando but I didn’t. We had a good time there, but it was so much busier and more commercial than Northern Florida. It didn’t really help that I got the worst cold and one of the days I was too ill to do what we had planned.

In terms of the Orlando parks we both loved Islands of Adventure. We somehow managed to go on a day where we didn’t have to queue for anything and we managed to walk straight onto all of the rides. The dream day at any theme park! Be aware though, we both got absolutely soaked on the water rides, down to wringing out our underwear! We also went to Typhoon Lagoon at Disneyland and had a relaxing day at the water park.

On our final day we visited Magic Kingdom. There were some elements to Disney’s Magic Kingdom that I loved – the Castle, the shows and attractions. However, it made me realise I am not really one for crowds and the queues were insane. If I were to go back to Disney I would probably pick one of the other parks to visit – I know its the big one to visit but it was a bit much in the heat for D who isn’t really a Disney fan.

All in all we loved Florida. For those interested we upgraded our hire car to a minivan for the extra space and for the ease of it. (Thank you D for driving!) We stayed in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Palatka, Ocala and Orlando. I wouldn’t recommend driving too much in Orlando; we actually returned our car in Orlando and used the hotel shuttles, the bus services and Ubers.

I know the main draw for a lot of visitors to Florida is the parks but we both really felt that if we had gone straight to Orlando we would have missed out on some really special experiences. Although theme parks are fun, swimming in springs in the sun and walking across beautiful beaches felt pretty once in a lifetime and was exactly what we needed at the time in life that we visited. It gave us the chance to just enjoy being engaged and let life happen for a while.

Also, a final thought for the last of my America posts. Buying premium economy tickets for our flight home was possibly the best £70 per ticket I’ve ever spent.

Shenandoah

After more than a week of city breaks we were so ready for some time outdoors and we couldn’t have picked a better location than Shenandoah National Park. Situated in Virginia, we were both blown away with the scale of it and its beauty.

We had picked up a hire car in Washington DC and headed for the park, only stopping for walking snacks at Walmart. We stayed in a cabin at Skylands, one of the resorts in the National Park. The whole park had a lovely relaxed feeling and we spent a lot of time recharging our batteries outdoors.

We climbed Stony Mountain and did several waterfall walks further up the Skyline drive. The best thing we did, however, was going horse riding on part of the Appalachian trail. No pictures exist of this event, but poor D was at the back with the slowest horse. If you’re new to horse riding rest assured we are pretty inexperienced riders and it was not a problem.  It was incredible cool to be experiencing something relatively new to us in such a scenic place and I’m glad we took the opportunity to do it.

We were both sad to leave such a tranquil place, in a way it was when we first started feeling like we were on holiday after such a busy few days. For any people from outside the USA looking to travel in the USA I would totally recommend taking time out to visit one of the spectacular National parks.

 

Smoothie Ideas

Smoothie Ideas

D and I are on a bit of a health kick at the moment and when we are eating healthier I tend to have smoothies a lot for breakfast. I broke my blender making smoothies and now I have a shiny new smoothie maker. I know they’re notorious for being sugary but you can make them less so but adding spinach and using fresh fruit instead of using ready made smoothies. Also in my defence I find that eating fruit earlier on in the day prevents me from craving sweet things made from refined sugars later in the day and it puts me in a happier, more energetic mood and my skin looks better. Generally we try and eat mostly vegetarian and pescatarian meals now so maybe it just fits in with these meals?

I nearly always thicken my smoothies by adding a banana. I also add oats or a nut butter to make it filling enough to see me through until lunch. Then I will add frozen fruit such as mango, blueberries or raspberries or the frozen fruit mixes designed to make smoothies with (like the banana and strawberry mix). Sometimes I use up fruit that isn’t quite at is best (minimise food waste when you can) and I also like to add frozen spinach. It is packed with all sort of nutrients and also because it has anti inflammatory properties so I find it really helpful with stomach pain or aching muscles. I switch between making smoothies with unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk or sometimes normal milk depending on what I have in. (Sometimes I have coconut water too).

I don’t think there is much of a recipe for what is essentially squashed fruit whizzed up in a blender, these are just some ideas to inspire. Maybe I’m just obsessed with fruit?

Self Care is important

Self Care is important

“Self care” always seems a very millennial term to me. My mum often ends phone calls telling me to “look after yourself” and I think for me this isn’t about living extravagantly or being greedy with food or possessions. It’s more being kind to yourself, taking care of yourself even when things feel bleak and not going to extremes to make yourself feel better.

Caring for oneself might not be flashy, it might not give you the best social media following or Instagrammable moments 24/7 but it can keep you going when things get tough or when you’re feeling burnt out.

Here are some things that always help me when life starts getting on top of me (for whatever reason):

1. Have a bath. If you’re like me and your wonderful family and friends buy you a lot of bath stuff for Christmas or birthdays keep a stash to feel like a treat. There’s nothing like using something lovely smelling to lift your mood.

2. Soul food. There’s nothing like cooking the sort of thing you used to be fed when you were growing up to make you feel a bit better. If you’re really struggling with life even a bowl of kids cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals and soup is cheap and filling (souper).

3. Take one thing off your list. In my job I write lists to help me to remember what I have to do and I encourage the people of my team to keep lists. I advise you, if you’re feeling truly overwhelmed with everything you expect to get done be realistic. Are you really going to have time for everything? You don’t have to be superwoman. Take something of your list to ease the pressure if it’s not an urgent task.

4. Sort out your socks. This is a silly one but tidying and cleaning helps you feel in control (this from a messy person!) and I realized just this weekend but actually wearing matching socks helps with the overall feeling of taking some pride in your appearance.

5. Spend time with loved ones. When life gets hard it is so easy to withdraw but I promise you company will help. Even if you’re sitting drinking tea at your friends house or playing games with your siblings. Don’t doubt the magic of spending time with people where you can just be yourself.

6. Get outside. See some nature. Get some fresh air. Blow those cobwebs away. Simple.

7. If you have a pet there is literally nothing nicer than them coming up to you and nuzzling you. I know not everyone is an animal person but if you are you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

Be kind to yourself ladies and gentlemen.

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Healthy Eating on a Budget

This post is a long time coming and I am surprised I have not written it sooner, especially given its a bit part of my weekly food shopping mantra. Healthy eating has an often unfair reputation as being expensive. It can be but then again I think its pretty expensive if you regularly eat takeaways or buy ready meals. Although from the outset cooking from scratch can feel expensive, once you have your store cupboard ingredients you’re pretty much good to go.

I am aware most people who like cooking are pretty good at these, but this post is for those wanting to change their lifestyle but feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Your freezer is your friend. I’ve been surprised by the frozen vegetables you can buy now (I keep thinking of growing up in the 90s when it was peas, carrots and corn). Frozen fish and fruit is also really useful to have in as it means you only have to defrost what you need and it tends to be cheaper to buy.
  2. You don’t have to completely steer clear of food trends but be aware  that it does make your food shop more expensive. Be realistic. Can you justify spending the money on something you might not like, especially if you are prone to buying something, trying it once and then ignoring it while it takes up valuable cupboard space.
  3. Look at your protein alternatives and embrace vegetarian and vegan food. Quorn is our new household favourite. (Can I just say here the people who make Quorn should take a bow, it has improved so much). Not only is it generally lower in fat, it works out as less expensive too. Think about having beans and pulses and adding nuts or eggs to stir fries.
  4. Get your dried fruit from the baking aisle. Seriously, its cheaper buying the bigger packs from here than getting it from the fruit aisle.
  5. Buy your fruit and veg by weight where you can. Again, this stops you spending more than you need on vegetable that you might not finish and not only does it reduce food waste but you spend less.
  6. Plan your meals. Whether this is a vague plan of what you’ll eat or more detailed. Being aware of what you will eat on what night prevents you from buying more than necessary.
  7. Buy yourself some snacks. There will be some days where its just too long between meals. If you buy yourself stuff that you like it’ll prevent you overeating as you’ll feel satisfied. Plus buying more at once can work out cheaper unless you eat an entire multipack of crisps in one sitting (and that my friend is a lot of salt).
  8. Try new recipes. How are you going to enjoy your new healthy lifestyle if you don’t embrace the magic of variety?

Have you got any tips to enjoy healthy eating on a budget?

New Years Day – Small Changes

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.