2014: a year of two halves

Life all too often feels like a bit of a game, doesn’t it? You’ll win some days, lose others and sometimes just cut your losses and call it a draw.

A freezing farewell to 2014 on Dunstable Downs

Freezing

I’ll never forget waking up on January 15th 2014. It was like coming off the back of an insane all nighter and then being run over repeatedly by a rubbish truck that still did its infuriating and painful beeping, beeping, beeping. It unfortunately marked the start of several empty, anxious months that followed. Grief, finally setting in but being ignored for too long as plates kept spinning, spinning, spinning. But there’s only so long those plates will keep spinning and you finally cave and acknowledge you can do anything just not everything.

Anything

And it was from that moment that life suddenly went off the scale awesome again. A period of self-imposed recovery supported by acupuncture, a weekly shift at a local coffee shop, a better idea of what my priorities really were and the opportunity to fall back in love with life again.

It’s been a year of meeting so many new people and getting to know others far better. A real chance to establish ourselves in the new place we now so affectionately call home, being back in an office that I genuinely love going to every morning; a supportive boss, fun colleagues but a part time post that leaves plenty of room for my studies.

But the studies have extended beyond the classroom and others have taught me so much – photography, cake baking, bread making, lessons in life that didn’t feature on the curriculum. The list of things to work through in 2015 will continue (sewing, gravy making, basic plumbing) but for now I’m sat here feeling ever so lucky for the opportunities this year has brought with it. Setting up lunch clubs, being invited to speak at events in the Welsh capital, restaurant reviews, cycle to work schemes and all the things in life that come for free like soaking up the sunshine (didn’t we have just the best summer?!), filling my lungs with the freshest of air.

I’m the first to acknowledge and agree that we are, absolutely, only as strong as those around us. The support lovely human beings offer one another is unrivalled. To friends of nearly twenty five years, five months and strangers for five minutes that tell you on an ‘off’ day you’re actually rather lovely, I thank you all.

But to three very special people…

[Little] Sis

Sis

Three years my junior, twenty life years my senior. For every (sensible!) decision you’ve helped both Andy and I to make this year. For every ‘pull yourself together’, ‘oh for goodness sake just have the glass of wine’, ‘no, get to bed, slow down!’ etc etc Whats App message that has come my way I am very, very grateful. Year on year I’d give you my last Lindt chocolate Santa – at least until the bunnies come out at Easter.

Papa Walters

Peg

For every deep belly laugh you’ve unintentionally provided. For all the blissful ignorance you live in, for every lunch tab you pick up, for every time you offer your genuine help. For every social media update you’ve so unwittingly been part of – I’m sure the rest of my readers are equally grateful. Mothership sure did pick a good one.

To the incredible man I married

Roomy

The one I never listen to, the one that so admirably supports my many hair brain schemes. For every cold dinner you’ve eaten on the back of much Instagram faffing, for every steaming mug of coffee you’ve brought to my bleary-eyed bedside Monday to Friday. For bearing with me, especially through that less than positive start to the year.

And here’s to you *raises glass of the bubbliest of bubbly* my wonderful readers. You’ve stuck with me, you’ve grown with me, you’ve kept me going. For that I’ll commit to bringing you plenty more cheer in 2015 and confirmation that it’s ok to eat cake (mindfully, of course). As you sit down to think about your resolutions for 2015 go steady and remember, you can do anything but not everything.

Here’s to all of you xxx

Cheers

A change is as good as a rest – especially at Christmas

Christmas morning 2014

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There’s a lot to be said for traditions that pass down through generations and Christmas traditions mean something to each of us. As a family we’ve always had a pretty straightforward December 25th that followed a very similar, lovely patten. Wake up, open the sacks that Santa has left (we were never a stocking family), wolf down a handful of chocolate money followed by a bacon bap, hair wash, posh togs, turkey in, out to family friends for a festive tipple then back home, into our ‘slobs’ for an afternoon of feasting.

Last Christmas was the first without Mothership and whilst we were all properly dreading it (the first of anything, no matter how significant or otherwise, always hurts most), it turned out rather splendidly. But this was all far more luck than judgement.

It was about September, after our summer family holiday, that I started thinking about Christmas and my next allocation of annual leave. How would it pan out this year? Would the beautiful fluke of a Christmas free of too much heart ache kindly repeat itself? It felt like too much to leave to chance. Continue reading

Behold the Brussels sprout!

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Photo credit: Not On The High Street 

When the lovely folks at Foodies 100 asked me to write a guide to a healthy (ish – no one likes a kill joy, eh?) Christmas there was no doubt that dear Brussels sprouts would feature.

These fellas are the unsung heroes of the festive season. I’m a huge fan of them roasted in coconut oil with a bit of chopped bacon. Cruciferous vegetables of the cabbage family contain glucosinolates; important phytonutrients for our health because they are the chemical starting points for a variety of cancer-protective substances. Latest research shows Brussels contain more of this brilliance than the green leafy poster child that is kale. But declaring your love of kale is as cool as it is to turn your nose up at the humble Brussels and push him round your Christmas dinner plate. Especially if you’re my little (28 and 3/4 year old) sister who wrote:

“I HATE BRUSSELS SPROUTS. Always have and always will.”

It’s like an annual war of attrition tradition she’s determined to uphold. Even now, at nearly 30, we negotiate with her desperately to allow just one to grace her plate. It’s always left untouched.

When I attended a recent Ocado kids’ tasting panel there were no sprouts put through their paces but it was rather fascinating to understand more about the likes and dislikes of little people – take Lola who I met, featured in the vid, who will “Never, ever eat a tomato”. Strong words – despite devouring the tomato (don’t tell her) pasta sauce ;-)

So I set out to prove my now not so little sister is the weird one in this sprout hating madness by hunting out some sprout supporters… Continue reading

Meeting Hemsley + Hemsley

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(Photo: Nicholas Hooper for Hemsley + Hemsley)

I can’t remember when I first came across the Hemsley + Hemsley sisters’ column for Vogue but what I do remember distinctly is rolling my eyes. “Here we go again.” I thought. “Former model Jasmine presents smoothies and salads and not a lot else.” *sigh* But something kept me reading. And I’m glad that it did. The Hemsley sisters, Melissa and Jasmine, succeeded in bringing something to pro size zero Vogue that had never been entertained before – a celebration of fats. And stews. And wholesome, hearty fare; all woven between the lines of green juices and clear broths.

The column for Vogue translated into a book deal and “The Art of Eating Well” was born. It is without doubt the most beautiful and useful book I’ve bought in a very long time. I am unfortunately that person that collects recipe books – so much of my cooking is a bit of this, a bit of that, all thrown together in the hope of winging it to the dinner table! Recipe books? They’re all about the pictures, right? In just a week of owning ‘The Art of Eating Well’ I’d already made butternut squash puddings, broccoli slaw and the infamous black bean brownies.

As someone that spent nearly a decade in PR and more recently turned her hand to retrain to be a nutritional therapist, I’ve watched the Hemsley sisters in awe. They’ve graced multiple pages of national newspapers, have made gorgeous videos for high street retailers, have an insanely covetable tableware collection and a wardrobe of outfits I’d love to borrow at the weekend. But the best bit? They’re nice. Like really nice.

Told you they were lovely… Melissa panders to my selfie request!

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Last Wednesday night I went along to a Winter Warmers tasting evening with the Hemsley sisters at The College of Naturopathic Medicine. That’s how I got to know how lovely this pair truly is. It was smiles a-go-go from the outset. It was informed, off the cuff discussion (which has admittedly been delivered at length this summer at a series of high profile literary festivals). It was open, honest and fun. There’s something rather endearing and refreshing about a former, still very beautiful, model talking about poo, counting the number of times you wipe after doing so and the glamorous past time that is tongue scraping. Melissa spent nearly an hour right before the event foraging for organic carrots in central London. Jasmine brought Daal in a Thermos that she took back home to have for dinner. They live very busy lives but they still make time for the important things – especially meal times.

Melissa and Jasmine emphasise giving the right amount of time to enjoying your food. Chew it properly. Savour it. Stop being so seduced by the rustling plastic packets of ‘grab and go’. Take your time. It doesn’t need to be fancy but enjoy it. Warming one pots can often feel more nourishing than cool salads or smoothies; whilst they have their place, they’re no winter warmers. Treat breakfast just like any other meal – Mama Hemsley is a fan of fish first thing apparently. Take small steps to bigger improvements with kids – a sneaky floret of broccoli here, a refined sugar free Frozen birthday cake there.

I understand there’s another event like this being run in February and it’s well worth finding out more.

Do you have a foodie idol? It’s safe to say Melissa and Jasmine have quickly become mine.

The Q&A Meme

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As one of life’s over sharers it’s always really fun to take part in a meme – especially when Sally tags you in it. If you don’t know Sally or read her blog just click that link and appreciate her ridiculously awesome kid in a rather epic jumper. It’ll start your day off just right.

It’s a Q&A meme. I’ve seven questions to answer so I best crack on.

1. What’s the last really evil thought you had

Oh c’mon, you all know me by now… I’m nice – nearly all of the time. Yet 5% of the time, every single day, I think evil thoughts. We live on a really busy main road and park in a side street just off it. Every morning we need to turn right out of this quiet little dead end into the madness and against the traffic of the main road. You’d be amazed at the number of people that don’t let us out. But then some kind soul will. Karma is watching all those horrid folks and with every car that doesn’t flash their lights to let us across, I wish them the very worst day ahead. Shocking, I know!

2. When did you last donate to charity and why?

Ooooooh, poignant Ms Whittle with all this Band Aid-bashing and Sainsbury’s Christmas ad cynicism doing the rounds. I tend to donate as and when. As someone who’s been supported to fundraise insane amounts of cash for Pancreatic Cancer UK in exchange for some marathon-running madness, my charity donations are often determined by those completing all manner of challenges at a given time. But most recently it was more well, I don’t know what it was, close to home? It was a donation to a hospice at the end of the funeral service of a family friend. That was a difficult day – and not just for me.

3. What’s the naughtiest thing you did at school and did you get caught?

I got put up a year at primary school but then held back and forced to repeat a year when I was thought too young to start Junior school. I kept “finding” stuff. I’d go home with calculators, pencil cases, you name it. I returned it all – except a packet of Burger Bites.

4. What’s your guilty pleasure?

I have two equally guilty pleasures and their combination is a painfully ironic one. Any time anyone ever goes to the US I politely ask them to bring back a Crest Whitening Strips kit and the biggest bag of Reese’s Miniature Peanut Butter Cups they can find. And this happens annually (at least)! And this is me, a girl well aware that a) digestion begins in the mouth, bleach severely interrupts that process; b) sugar rots your teeth and c) I am someone else’s trip to the US closer to needing falsies by my 40th!

5. Do you believe in ghosts?

Spirits, yes. Ghosts, no.

6. What’s the lamest Christmas present you ever received?

Year before last I got a mini nutmeg grater + nutmeg. I rolled my eyes, tossed it aside but somehow it survived our big move to Wales. I started using it but it was so hideously small I grated more fingernail than nutmeg. I didn’t learn. But then thankfully an Ocado recommendation for grated nutmeg was presented to me and my destroyed talons are but a thing of the past!

7. If you could live in any city in the world, for one year, where would it be?

I’ve taken a little while to respond to this meme and it’s this question I’ve probably thought about most. I love the idea of Scandinavia, The Netherlands, the south of France. But I’d most love to give San Francisco a go. A clean eating paradise for me, close enough to Hollywood for him. It would be a chance for us both to truly explore our passions. We’ve both been separately, but never together. I certainly feel I have unfinished In-N-Out business to close.

Right, I’m tagging Sasha, Trine and Sara.

Ooooooh, and now for your questions…

1. What do you want most from 2015?

2. What was it that made you cry most recently?

3. Peanut or almond butter? Discuss

4. How would you describe me to someone that doesn’t know me?

5. Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter?

6. Your glass is half full of what?

7. If you had the opportunity to give one person a piece of your mind without any consequences / repercussions, who would it be…?

Why is bread bad for me?

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For now I’m asking you, not telling you – why is bread bad for me? If you ask Google it’ll give you 169, 000, 000 reasons in just 0.35 seconds.

To summarise it’s generally thought:

  • Bread is bad – especially if made out of wheat
  • Gluten is the devil
  • It’ll make you fat
  • It’s low in essential nutrients
  • Bread is full of sugar

When I first started out on my Paleo pilgrimage I avoided the stuff like the plague. And if I dared to so brazenly let my hand dip into the bread basket at a restaurant I felt I should spend the next week in a confession booth.

The best bit about my nutritional therapy studies means I’ve started to question so many of my own foodie choices to help others shape their own. I’m increasingly subscribing to The School of Sensible (and delicious!) and am forever determined to get first hand insights from the experts. And that’s where my visit to The One Mile Bakery comes in.

The bakery is run by Elisabeth Mahoney, a journalist, home cook and baker inspired by the way her mother cooked: daily and seasonally in her tiny kitchen with an emphasis on simple, nurturing and nourishing food. The One Mile Bakery delivers handmade bread, soups and preserves within a one-mile radius of its kitchen in Cardiff. Treats are delivered by bike. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear I was a little bit in love with Elisabeth after an evening in her company at The Introduction to Baking Bread. Continue reading