Saturday, March 03, 2018

Baby it's cold outside

{Gnocchi, tomato and mozzarella melt}

When you thought that Spring was on its way, it comes as a huge shock to wake up to minus temperatures and 'the beast from the east' who managed to dump a huge amount of snow pretty much all over the UK.  Just as I was getting my head round some lighter eating, my stomach was craving warming, bulky food that would sustain me through the bitterly cold day.  No, I didn't want crisp salads or spring veg risottos, I wanted hearty soups and warming stews, usually with a good dose of carb added in (mostly I managed to resist the carb overload).  I spent a happy few hours on a snow day evening, trawling through some cook books that I haven't looked at for a while, creating our weekly menu before heading out to shop for it all.  For more recipes that comfort the soul, have a look here and here for more inspiration, including classics such as mac n' cheese, mince and dumplings and fish and chips.

Gnocchi, tomato and mozarella melt

I'm not going to lie.  This is carb/calorie heavy and is billed as 'hangover food' but it works so well as a cold day supper and super easy to prepare.

You will need:
1 packet of gnocchi
packet of cherry tomatoes, halved
ball of mozzarella
basil leaves

- melt a tablespoon of butter and some oil in a frying pan and when frothing add the gnocchi.  Keep turning it from time to time until it turns golden and crispy on the outside
- add the tomatoes and cheese and resist the temptation to keep prodding and moving it about or your cheese will form a big gloopy lump
- tear over the basil leaves, salt and pepper and put your pan on the table and tuck right in.

Maybe it's the northerner in me, but I don't think you can beat a roast dinner when it comes to eating for comfort and pleasure.  When I was growing up meal times were family time and Sunday dinner was the icing on the week's cake.  So, perhaps I love a roast because for me, it also symbolises sharing, talking and laughing with the people I love the most.  Lamb isn't everyone's favourite roast due to it's high fat content, but when it's slow cooked for 4/5 hours, it takes on a succulent, sweet intensity that melts into your tastebuds.  Here's the recipe that I use:

 Roast lamb with flageolet beans

You will need:

whole shoulder of lamb
lamb stock cube
rosemary, finely chopped
garlic cloves, sliced into slivers
two tins of flageolet beans
chicken stock cube
small amount of double cream

- crumble the lamb stock cube with olive oil until you have a runny paste, before adding the rosemary
- prick the shoulder and insert slivers of garlic into the gashes
-spread the paste over the shoulder and put into the oven at 150 degrees c for four hours
- take the lamb out of the oven, cover with foil to rest and start on the beans to accompany the lamb
- putting the beans in a pan, crumble in the chicken stock cube and heat the beans gently
- when warm, add the cream and warm through before spritzing with a small amount of lemon juice to cut through the richness
- pull the lamb apart with two forks and serve on a large platter on top of the creamy beans

I usually serve a big pile of green veg with this - purple sprouting broccoli and green beans are a favourite in this house.

I'm not a pudding person at all, but if I am going to eat a pudding it has to be robust and filling.  Again I think of the puddings I ate as a child - and my mum wasn't a pudding cook either - but Saturdays and Sundays were for classic English puddings - castle puddings, lemon meringue pie and treacle tart were often on the menu, but the pudding I loved the most was one my paternal grandmother used to make - Eve's Pudding.  Made with bramley apples from the trees in their garden, it was the highlight of our lunches when we went for Sunday dinner, and is still a nostalgic favourite of mine now.

Food for me is all about family, sharing and love.  When someone I love is sad, I cook for them, when someone is ill, I cook for them, when someone is happy and wants to celebrate, I cook for them.  What are your go-to's when you're feeling nostalgic or want to make something delicious and warming? I'd love to hear...

Photos:  Sasha Wilkins, Friends, Food, Family

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Phone Addiction - and how I'm working to stop it

So, here's the truth, I think I may be addicted to my phone.  Here's a few scenarios - how many do you recognise? So I'm watching tv but in reality, I've also got half my attention on my emails that I'm scrolling through with one hand - what happened? Noooo, now I'm going to have to watch that TV programme again as I missed the crucial bit; 3am, can't sleep so I reach for my phone and scroll down through Instagram feeds, or peruse interiors on Pinterest and suddenly realise it's 4.30am and I haven't had nearly enough sleep; sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a friend and before I know it, phone's out and I'm scanning social media, checking my messages and scrolling through WhatsaApp.  Even worse, I look around and see couples sitting having coffee together, but they're both on their phones, not even speaking to each other.  I don't want to become that person, I really don't.  Sometimes I catch myself manically scrolling between all the social media apps and precious time has elapsed and I have absolutely NOTHING to show for it; not only that but it doesn't make me feel good!  In fact, quite the opposite.  Often it leaves me feeling that my life isn't as gorgeous or insta worthy, or my photos aren't as good, or my home isn't as glamorous, that my hair isn't as shiny as that person on stories and so it goes on.  Social Media can be such a product for good, but it needs to be carefully managed or before you know it you have a serious habit that's hard to break, a compulsion that becomes an anxiety if you don't look every few minutes.

I'm not sure I can actually remember what it's like to not check one of my devices, phone, laptop or ipad on rotation.  So, I've been mulling this over for some time and taking myself in hand in other ways to try and improve my quality of life - getting my nutrition sorted with the help of the wonderful and ever practical  May Simpkin,  taking my meditation and down time seriously with more exercise and regular slots with Calm, but how was I going to start on  decreasing my time on technology, specifically my phone and ipad?  Louise Parker, who runs her own business, The Louise Parker Method has spent the last 20 years encouraging her clients to live their best life and advocates the four pillars Think Successfully, Live Well, Eat Beautifully and Work Out Intelligently.  One of her biggest pieces of advice in the Live Well section is that we all take a 'digital detox' everyday, at least 90 minutes before bed.  This has several benefits - firstly it helps to stop the frantic scrolling, but more importantly it helps you sleep better.  Ah, my old friend sleep - where have you gone?  The science behind this is that screen-light stimulates your brain and prevents you from feeling sleepy, it's also a total time-drain.  We need more time, not less of it.  Louise Parker recommends that you shut your phone away out of sight, or even better in a different room. 

So, what steps have I taken to sort out this little addiction of mine?  Well, I went and bought myself a real old-fashioned alarm clock to start with - off Amazon and it looks like this.  I have to confess, the first morning when that alarm went off it was SO LOUD and wasn't the gentle waking I was used to with the sweet birdsong from my iphone, and then I couldn't find the off switch!  But, it was a start and I've stuck with it.  I'm not saying that I've got this sorted - baby steps, and I'm not saying that I never want to look at social media apps again, but what I do want, is to enjoy the individual accounts that I follow and love and take my inspiration and LEAVE the site.  It's not easy, my brain is conditioned to reach for the phone, to have the constant stimulation, so it's definitely a work in progress...BUT, acknowledging my dependency and taking some small steps to control my usage, I know I'll be happier and crucially, more present in the moment as it's happening. 

If you'd like some more tips on how to make some simple changes to your phone/ipad use have a look at these.  I've implemented quite a few of them and it's made a big difference. 

I'd love to hear if you have had similar thoughts and any tips for how you manage and control your app addiction?  Let me know in the comments below...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summer Bites

The weather has been inclemently hot in London over the last few weeks.  We shouldn't be complaining that's for sure, however, it's been SO hot that I for one haven't really wanted to eat much at all.  At least, not until the sun has gone down and then sitting in the cool of the garden, I start to feel peckish.  By then it's getting late and I want to eat something fast, but also delicious and cooling and so this 'recipe' if you can call it that, is perfect.  Ripe pears, sweet parma ham and gusty Roquefort - all rolled up into bite size bits... seriously good with a little balsamic glaze drizzled over (and even better with some homemade sweet potato fries!). 

How to:
  1. Cut your pear into quarters, quarter again  and then peel and core .
  2. Cut the Roquetfort into rectangles about half a cm by 3cms.
  3. Lie the Parma Ham flat and tuck into the end the Pear, Roquetfort, four Rocket leaves and finish with a good seasoning of Salt and Pepper.
  4. Roll the bundle up and place on a serving dish on a bed of Rocket.
  5. When you have completed your canapes, you could drizzle with truffle honey or balsamic glaze
That's it - enjoy!  You could even  sneak in  a very chilled glass of little Miss Sauvignon!

Photo credit: Peony Lim

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Living with Alzheimers

This post has been rolling around in my head for quite some time; It seems odd on the one hand to post it in amongst entries on makeup and other light-hearted subjects, however, it seems equally odd that I haven't posted about some of the important and life-changing events that go on in my life behind the scenes.  It's hard to write about the things that are so personal - it makes you vulnerable:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown

So I guess, I'm hoping that this blog post, will in some small way, try to shed a little light for me, for others, on the darkness that can come with a diagnosis of Alzheimers. 
The last few years have been extremely difficult.  There, it’s said and out there now.   Three years ago, in the space of several months, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and my mum with alzheimers and in the wake of these events my dad had a breakdown which ended in two 7 month hospital stays.  It hasn’t been easy for any of us.  Alzheimers sort of crept up on my family…for several years before mum’s diagnosis we noticed things that weren’t right.  Yes, she forgot things, but it was more than that; she found it hard to manage her spacial awareness, her night vision was totally skewed, she had mood swings and huge anger surges that couldn’t be explained away.  As a family we worked extremely hard to get professionals to take our concerns seriously – numerous ‘off the record’ conversations with her Dr and over and over we were told she was ‘fine’.  We were given all sorts of excuses – she was depressed, she was too busy so wasn’t concentrating and therefore wasn’t making and storing memories correctly; it was her diabetes .. and so on. 

This scenario continued for over five years.  It was only when we became so distressed about her declining working memory that they agreed to test her.  I remember the call that literally changed our family dynamic forever.  I was sitting at the kitchen table and I wasn’t even particularly worried, convinced that yet again, we would be told that it was something else or fobbed off with another excuse.  First of all Dad came on and all he said was that mum wanted to talk to me.  Mum was straightforward and direct ‘I’ve got Alzheimers Sair.  Now I know why everything is falling through the holes in my brain’.  We cried - a lot; we tried to reassure each other as a family, but the reality is, with this disease there is no ‘getting better’. Ever.  Just a decline and a loss of the person you know, a loss of their own sense of identity and a loss of their roles in their own and others’ lives.  My mum faced her diagnosis head on.  Initially she refused to let it dominate her world and her favourite phrase was ‘use it or lose it’.  She managed to live on her own with some support when Dad had his first hospital stay – but it wasn’t ideal and we worried daily about whether she was ok – was she lonely? Was she scared when she woke in the night and momentarily didn’t know where she was?  We blundered through the next few months, making adjustments, both practical and emotional.  Alarms on the doors that went off if she tried to leave the house after 9pm (difficult when she’s a smoker and likes a last cigarette before bed!); meals that were delivered and put in the freezer as she gradually lost the ability to remember the sequence to make even the most simple of things; neighbours and wider family kept an eye on her and we split our time between being with her and visiting my dad in hospital.  Living in London meant that I spent many weekends on the East Coast train line winging my way between London and the North East.  When Dad came home things went back to a sort of ‘normal’ and desperate to believe that things would be on an even keel for now, we tried to go back to our daily lives.  But Alzheimers is sneaky like that.  It lulls you into a false sense of security, as you register, that things have stayed the same; that there doesn’t seem to have been a deterioration for months, that the latest memory test score was better than the previous one.. and then… bam it’s back with a vengeance, laughing up at you with the innocent phrase ‘who are you? Do I know you?’  or ‘There’s been a gentleman here all afternoon talking to me, he’s very nice but I don’t know who he is’.  It was her husband of 53 years.  This disease is savage and relentless in its pursuit of obliteration of all that makes us human.  So, how, when faced with such devastation of the human personality, how do we even begin to find a path through the pain and start to find the positives?
The one person throughout it all who has managed to do this?  My mum.  She has refused to let it dominate her every conversation; she's learned to laugh about the memory lapses and the 'made up ' words as she now struggles to remember the real words for objects and situations.  She yearns to be back in her home, pottering in her kitchen, having a wander in the garden and free to leave the house whenever she pleases.  More recently, this yearning has transposed into frustration and sometimes anger that is heart breaking to witness. Heart breaking. We want to make it better.  We can't.  But still she struggles on - trying to live her life in the best way that she can.

Are there any upsides?  I struggle to find them, I really do; but pushed to do so, I'd say that it's made us all, family and friends, so aware that life can change on the flip of a coin.  It's made us love and appreciate each other and overlook the small niggles.  The thing that I love the most?  My mum may need the attention you give to a small child, but she now revels in experiences like a small child.  Watching her eat an ice-cream, or walk in the garden, greet her grandchildren or feel the sun on her face.  It's sheer joy.  She may have become a child, but the childlike abandon for pleasure has come with it and we could all do with learning from that.  She is a living, walking example of 'living in the moment' - it's all she has.  She can't remember the past (not even seconds before) and the future is uncertain, so the present moment has to be revelled in, savoured and rolled around like a truffle on the tongue.

So, how is it now?  She struggles to walk as her vision is drastically impaired (the neurons aren't transmitting the right messages anymore), she often can't find the right words to describe things, she 'sun-downs' (severe confusion in the evenings) every night and is often extremely distressed when she wakes in the mornings.  Dad is there throughout.  He's not well himself, with a diagnosis of Parkinsons with Lewy Body Dementia, but nothing, nothing will move him from her side; not her anger nor her confusion.  As he recently said to me 'if she's not here by my side, I don't feel right'.  That truly is 'for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health'. 

All my life my parents have been a guiding light; there for me through life's ups and downs and completely and utterly supportive of all that I have done.  They continue to be my role model, even through their own traumas.  For now it has to be enough for me to ring up in the evening and to hear my mum's voice on the phone asking me how my day has been.  I've learned to take a leaf from her book and to live in the moment, laugh along with her and share her pleasure, because the moment is all we have.

So, vulnerability?   as Paulo Coelho says,

"The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility.”  We may be vulnerable, we may be fragile, but our love is strong and it's ours to keep.