Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: July



Hopefully I'll manage to sneak in this entry just before the link-up closes for this month's Cookery Calendar Challenge. I am somewhat short on pictures, not because I didn't take some, but because I could not find a way to make the dishes appear photogenic and I was wary that my photography might do a disservice to the recipes!

This month I used a new recipe book that The Husband bought for me. It is the recipe book that goes with Eat Well For Less, a television programme that we sometimes watch. I commented that it would be interesting to see some of the recipes they use, and The Husband proved himself to be a better listener than I sometimes give him credit for and got it for me.

Overall, I found this book really impressive. It is a very different style of book to the beautiful Rick Stein one I loved a few months ago, far more functional and practical, but a lot of thought has gone into how it is written. There is a lot of basic information at the start, and then some of the recipes have clever adaptations, such as making three different meals out of one base recipe. Additionally, it has a full meal planner for two weeks at the back, which includes plans for using leftovers of certain dishes, and a full shopping list to go along side them. I feel like it's a genuinely useful book, really accessible, and would be great for anyone who wants to improve their confidence with cooking in a structured way.

As a result, some of the recipes are incredibly basic, so much as I liked the sound of the chicken and pesto pasta, I didn't follow the recipe for this challenge as it was as simple as it sounds. The recipes I did choose though were all really successful, though as with other books, I was surprised that the curry dishes didn't include more vegetables, particularly for recipes that are supposed to be healthier where possible.

First up was Chicken Tikka Masala. Other than the lack of vegetables, it was a really simple, tasty dish.There was a little bit of marinating involved, but all of the ingredients were ones I already had in, and it made for a really enjoyable meal.

The Husband picked Chickpea and Sweetcorn Burgers, which were an amazing success. I didn't have bread rolls when I made them, so used wraps instead, and served them with some sweet potato fries, and they were brilliant. I was surprised that The Husband had picked them to begin with, but even more surprised by how much he raved about them, though I was inclined to agree with him. The flavour was great, and they were reminiscent of falafel, though far more successful than last time I tried to make it. The recipe also included a lovely salsa which was a nice addition, and I would like to try these again very soon!

Finally I made the Chicken Dhansak, which was a good dish for using the lentils sitting in the cupboard, and was also a really enjoyable way to cook chicken thighs, which I don't usually enjoy. Having made rather a huge amount as an attempt at batch cooking, I didn't end up eating it that night. However (and this gives you an insight into the lack of organisation in my freezer), I lifted out what I thought was chilli for tonight's dinner, only to find upon defrosting that it was in fact this dish. So I am able to report back and let you know that it was another really lovely meal, the honey adding a hint of sweetness and the chicken having become really tender.

Overall I was really pleased with the recipes I made from this book, and there are plenty more that I would like to try. Do head over to Penny's page to see what else people have been cooking this month, meanwhile I will go and pick out a book for August!


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

first things first

The first of August.

The first year of parenthood is almost complete. I can't even fathom how we are here already! I am officially already back at work, although I'm actually using up annual leave before I return in September. So this is my final full month at home with T, and in these next few weeks he will have his Christening, his first birthday and his first taster sessions at nursery.

So many firsts ahead, but there were also plenty to be had in July. We had our first night away without T, who was beautifully behaved for his grandparents and barely noticed our absence. We, of course, spent the majority of our trip talking about him and looking at pictures of him and generally being the stereotypical parents away from their baby for the first night.

This last few weeks have also included our first real experience of a poorly baby. Nothing major, thankfully, but there have been high temperatures, and rashes, and copious amounts of coughing and snottiness. It has been more than a little worrying but he is absolutely back to full fitness now and as he gets over closer to taking his first steps he clambers about the house at increasing speed wreaking havoc at all times.

This weekend also brought another first for that beautiful dog in the picture. After eight weeks of training my lovely Millie passed her Kennel Club Bronze Award on Sunday. The examiner even commented on how exceptional her recall was for a beagle and I practically exploded with pride. She has definitely had her life turned upside down since T has arrived and has taken to it all with her typical good nature and so it was such a lovely moment for the two of us to have achieved something together and to be able to make such a huge fuss of her, putting her centre of attention for a little while.

I don't know how this blog will go in the coming months, I feel like each time I come to these posts it is the first time I have written in weeks, but the fact that I am still here tapping away means that I still plan to keep trying to stick with it in some guise or another.

I'm looking forward to August, even if it holds a few lasts as well as lots of firsts. I think back to this time last year and the waiting, and am so grateful for where we are today. Hoping you all have some lovely summer plans for the month ahead.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: June

Based on how well used the other books in the series are, I bought the latest book in the Hairy Bikers' healthy eating series as soon as I realised it had been released. The latest one is The Hairy Dieters Go Veggie and, as the title might give away, it is a vegetarian cookbook. I was excited to try this, especially as I've been gradually increasing the amount of meat-free cooking I do, but I really struggled to find two recipes I actually wanted to make.

Firstly, it is one of those irritating books where the list of ingredients include a "sub-recipe". For example, I was going to make a chestnut and mushroom pie until I realised that the already long list of ingredients included a portion of potato pastry. This is one of their healthy adaptations which involves making pastry from potatoes to reduce the calories, but it also added more steps and ingredients, as did the inclusion of mushroom stock, which was another sub-recipe listed at the back of the book. More than in other books, I also found that this one included some unusual ingredients that weren't readily available. Mushroom ketchup, for example, and Kashmiri chilli powder, both of which proved elusive when I did an online shop. 




So I wasn't particularly hopeful about the recipes I picked, as they felt like the best of a very limited bunch, and The Husband's face looked less than enthralled at the idea of a veggie tea when he got home from work. However, the Sweet Potato Saag Aloo was absolutely delicious. It even prompted The Husband to admit that he had enjoyed it more than he was expecting to, and I found it really simple to make. The sauce felt a little thin as I served it up but it was fine, and this was well-flavoured, hearty dish that we would have again.





The next dish was curried pumpkin fritters with coriander dipping sauce. I substituted the pumpkin for butternut squash, which was suggested in the recipe, and doubled up on the ingredient quantities. I expected The Husband would want something else after, but they were nice enough to be considered a meal in themselves. Again the flavours were really impressive, and the recipe was really simple and a definite success. T also enjoyed trying these, and the leftovers stored in the fridge and were handy for his meals, and my lunch over the following few days. I'm glad I doubled the quantity up, both because there was more than enough squash, and because it made a lovely meal.

So, overall, I don't know where I am at with this book. I've been really impressed by the recipes I tried but I'm still struggling to find many dishes that don't require obsscure ingredients or sneaky additional recipes, which means I don't feel particularly tempted to try many of the others. It's been a real contrast to last month's book when I couldn't stop making dishes from it, and still have some I want to try.

I'm not sure what book I shall delve in to next, but I shall definitely be joining in again next month. In the meantime, do check out the challenge on Penny's page, and see what other people have been making too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

first things first



The first of July.

I'm feeling good about July. June was not a great month, there were plenty of great moments, but overall it was, what I believe is formally known as a bit of a flop. Right at the start of the month we met a friend for breakfast, and the waitress put the teapot down right in front of T, who promptly grabbed it before we could and scalded his hand. I'm only grateful that he only managed to slosh a little out of the spout rather than tip the whole thing over himself, and that autopilot kicked in and I got him to the toilets and under cold water almost as soon as I registered it was happening. He is absolutely fine now, and the blister has disappeared entirely, with no scarring, but much of the month was filled with bandages, dressings, appointments, worry, and a huge cloud of parental guilt. Add in my first visit back to work, which went brilliantly, but was hanging over me until it happened, lots of other niggles, including the most obnoxious cold-caller I have ever spoken to, and it made for a tense month over all.

However, today is a new month, and things are feeling much brighter already. This morning our beginners' running club did their first 5k of non-stop running, and as we rounded the corner to the finish, the rest of the club who had set off on their usual run ahead of us, were stood applauding us home. It was such a lovely, happy moment, and having for so long thought of running as a solo activity, I am thoroughly enjoying seeing it as a social sport.

July is my mum's birthday, and our wedding anniversary, and this will be our first as parents, and her first as a gran. We have a week away with T planned for our anniversary, followed by a night away just the two of us, our first time away from T overnight! 

July is also, officially, my first weeks back at work, as my 12 months of maternity leave comes to an end (how time has flown!). I am very lucky because I accrue my annual leave and bank holiday entitlement, and so I now take that in one block, which means although I will happily start to get paid again, I won't be going back to work physically until September, which I can still pretend is ages away yet.

This week will bring with it a trip out with a new friend, the first time we will have made the jump from chatting at various baby groups to actually socialising just the two of us (and babies too!), and also my first trip to the second of two book groups I have joined at the library. After a visit from a friend from work on Friday, catching up for the first time in months, I'll also be seeing another old work friend for her birthday tomorrow, and so its the first time in a while I've been feeling rather sociable.

So yes, July is feeling good, today there was ice-cream, and the park, and The Husband tidied while I was running so the spare bedrooms suddenly look like bedrooms rather than storage rooms for the first time since T was born. Tonight there has been Dr Who, and now a movie night, with our furry girl snuggled between us.

Wishing you all a very happy July.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: May

For this month's Cookery Calendar Challenge I browsed the library for a recipe book, and the prospect of the Bank Holiday Weekend ahead drew my eye to Rick Stein's Long Weekends. It wasn't until I saw it while out shopping this week that I realised it was a new release, and though I don't own any Rick Stein books, I absolutely loved this book, both in terms of style and content. I found so many delicious recipes that I extended the loan just so that I could get chance to try a few more, and I loved the fact that it was almost part travel journal, based, as it is, around different trips to Europe. There is even a section at the back recommending places to visit in different cities, and the photography is beautiful.





There were lots of pasta dishes that I wanted to try, and there were two that I still have bookmarked. I opted for Farfalle with Peas and Pancetta, as farfalle is The Husband's favourite type of pasta, and though I loved getting out the pasta machine and was reminded how simple homemade pasta is to make, I soon regretted not opting for dish with a simpler pasta shape! The bows were very fiddly to make, and I was close to giving up and just doing a few for show. Instead, The Husband made the sauce, while I carried on shaping, and T sat in his highchair watching with what I can only assume was bemusement. The final result was lovely, and I was glad to have had a go, in future though I think my home-made pasta will likely be tagliatelle!




If arancini is ever on the menu, The Husband will order it, so I had to make Arancini Salsiccia when I saw it in the book. I found myself making saffron risotto at half eight in the morning while T had his breakfast, and then the rest came together in various stages over the day. I served them with some garlic greens, and they were absolutely delicious. The sausagemeat with fennel was a beautiful flavour, and they made a brilliant, filling meal. They initially seemed quite labour intensive from reading the recipe, but each component was relatively simple and they were well worth the effort.




I also made a Kima Bougasta, described as a Crisp Pork and Beef Pie with Onions, Red Peppers and Oregano. It was pretty much that simple, and I must admit when I saw the minimal ingredients I thought it might possibly be a little bland but it was a rich, flavoursome, filo-topped pie. All of the ingredients were ones I usually have in, so this is definitely one I will be trying again. Not the most picturesque dish, admittedly, but it didn't last very long!




I branched out into a dessert this month, too, and made Filo Pastries with Vanilla Cream, almost like a baklava with a creme patissiere filling. Making the filo triangles was another labour intensive process, and although the flavours were great, I wouldn't be tempted to make these again any time soon as they took a long time. It was good to work with filo, and to see how the triangles puffed up in the oven and then expanded as they were piped with the filling, and they were a lot more successful than I expected. They also got rave reviews from my parents who received some to serve when they had friends round for dinner, so it felt like the effort was well appreciated!




I'm sure I've used some online recipes at some point this month, but I can't remember any at all after running through all of those! I was really impressed with this book, a great mixture of simple and more complex dishes, from a range of countries, and every single one of them a complete success. I have just purchased the Hairy Bikers' latest book, which is a vegetarian one, so I may well use that for next month, unless another library book catches my eye. To see what other people have been making, visit Penny's blog using the button below, where she hosts the monthly link up.


Monday, May 29, 2017

home

We are back from a lovely week away with family. A large group of us rented a cottage in Wales, for birthday celebrations. After any trip I always find myself looking forward to travelling home, to returning to my own bed, a kitchen where I know where to find everything, unpacking the suitcase and getting back to normality. This time, though, there was not the same anticipation. While we were away the sense of escapism was heightened by there being limited internet access. Which meant that when I went to bed last Monday night and saw the alert on The Husband's phone about an explosion at a concert in Manchester I couldn't get online to find more information, so I drifted off to sleep assuming, hoping really, that it was a malfunction with the lighting, or pyrotechnics. Waking to the news on Tuesday was devastating, made all the more surreal by the fact that we were shut off from the world, both physically and electronically, tucked away in the Welsh countryside.



We watched the news, watched the vigils, the days had an undercurrent that had not been there before, but with young children to entertain there was not much time to sit and absorb what was happening. And so it was only on our journey home that I felt myself becoming increasingly reflective, as we drew ever closer to a part of the country that was reeling, the reality seemed to intensify, particularly as we were overtaken by a bomb disposal vehicle, sirens blaring, on the motorway. Arriving to the free local paper on the doormat, filled with news of those that were there, those that helped, those that were injured, rather than the usual, more mundane stories of everyday life. Arrests being made in towns that I know, towns that are very near, fear and shock filling social media feeds. There was no normality to return to.



Manchester is my home city. I was born there, forever grateful to a hospital and the team within it that saved two lives during my mum's pregnancy. I lived there when I was first born, and again as a student, moving into halls just moments away from that very same hospital. I graduated in Manchester, twice, and on the second occasion it was also where The Husband proposed. My love of theatre was cultivated there, some of my closest friendships started in those streets, I have memories, such fond memories, round so many corners. I have worked in both the inner city and its suburbs, and it is the place I probably know my way around most confidently, having walked so many of its roads over so many years. Which makes it all the more gut-wrenching to see those familiar streets of home filled with sirens, with screaming, and then with silence, on the continuous footage that filled the screens on Tuesday. I always find coverage of these atrocities unbearable, it isn't worse this time because it is nearer, but it is somehow all the more vivid when the horrendous events take place on streets where your own memories overlap with the images being shown.



My first concert was in that arena, I have been picked up outside that building after countless gigs, emerging into the night with giddiness, on a wave of excitement, making memories with friends, running to a parent waiting exactly where they said they would be, ready to hear about songs and spectacles, and safely deliver us home. I have rushed with The Husband down those very steps, through that same foyer, to catch the last train home, singing favourite choruses with hoarse voices. That station has punctuated my commute, that cathedral a favourite spot, those shops the place I have wandered on lazy Saturdays, or dashed through in a lunch-hour. It isn't that I didn't ever think it would happen here, I think I always worried that it would, indeed it has before. It's more that now it has, again, I don't know how to reconcile the imagery from this week with that which went before.




I don't usually write about these things, I usually to some degree close my eyes to it until the initial overwhelm has passed, mostly I think because I feel helpless, and to try and not let that turn into panic and fear. But somehow, seeing those streets, my streets, I find that I have words I want to say. I love that city, and the horror of the news was tempered with the sense of civic pride in the place and the people that make it what it is. Seeing the crowds, at vigils, at walks, at services, and then yesterday at the run, a run where my best friend, and her sister and brother-in-law, a family that is practically my own, took part, adds more images, so many life-affirming moments filling those same streets, reclaiming them, turning them back into a place where the best kinds of memories are made.





It can feel crass to focus on positives when there are families who have lost loved ones so senselessly, inappropriately optimistic to talk about not giving in to fear or to division when people have been killed. There is grief and shock, and  a sudden, deep rooted unease too. The city may speak of unbreakable spirit but, for some, hearts and homes have been irreparably splintered by what has taken place. In the face of such terror, though, as well as a sense of mass defiance, there was kindness. In the wake of one act of evil, were an immeasurable number of acts borne out of love, out of the best of humanity. It doesn't take away from the significance of what has taken place, or the devastation, yet at the same time it manages to outweigh it. 



I cannot claim that I will remain steadfast, I know I will be more fearful when I next visit the city. Tonight we go to watch a comedy gig at a venue in Manchester, although not in the city centre. Tomorrow my husband leaves for work, taking the train, for the first time since our holiday. I am scared. When my friends were running yesterday I tracked their every step on an app, willing them around that course, making sure I knew exactly where they were, cheering them on, yes, but also because watching the little markers move gave a reassurance that I needed.


This is not an isolated incident, and it is not the only place to suffer in this way. The news is filled daily with such atrocities all over the world. It is no worse because it happened here, and I know that it shouldn't be the case that we are more shocked, more outraged, more moved, when the lives lost are closer to home. Undeniably though, seeing a bomb disposal van on a local motorway, seeing the headlines in a local newspaper, seeing the streets of home cordoned off, and patrolled with armed police, brings it to the forefront, makes it seem more real than pictures on a screen. I see my darling boy sleeping, laughing, exploring life with such gusto, such fearlessness, and would do anything to protect him. I hate the idea of him going out into this world, where things like this can happen. Yet I know the idea of him not seeing the world is worse, because then he would never see the incredible sights or meet the amazing people it has to offer.


And that is what I have to remember, the overwhelming wave of good, the endless kindness of strangers, the quiet determination of people who walked into their city the next morning when trains were not running, the chorus of voices that chose to sing together rather than shout at one another. It has always, to me, been an iconic city, with a mood, a culture, an identity all of its own. The response to the events has been incredible, but also, somehow, completely normal for such a special place, and for the special people who call it home. I love Manchester.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

nine months


Today T turned nine months old. He has been in this world for almost as long as I carried him, though not quite, staying put, as he did, for as long as possible. Now he is here though, he has made himself just as at home, and just as comfortable in our world, becoming our world in the process.

As you can see from the photo above, he is now the proud owner of six teeth, with another two just about making their appearance.  His eyes are a mystery, varying from a deep blue to a slate grey depending on the light. We thought he had lots of hair when he was born, but looking back at pictures now we realise how much it has grown. He has a floppy fringe, and a little curl at the nape of his neck, almost a pony tail, that could probably do with a trim but we can't quite bring ourselves to cut it. His hair lies very straight, and neat, often looking like it has been brushed to one side, except for when he has been cuddled up with me and I can't resist the urge to stroke it into spikes!

It is so interesting to me to read how he was just three months ago, and realise how far he has come. He is now eating everything in sight, and after those few weeks where he seemed to be showing no interest at all, the joy of him enjoying food still hasn't worn off. He is far more adventurous than his dad, enjoying a whole variety of fruit, vegetables and fish that The Husband doesn't touch, loves to drink water, and has a slightly frustrating habit of dropping (or flinging with great glee) something that he has tired of onto the floor. I am trying to curb this by saying a vaguely firm "No" when it happens, which he responds to with a bright-eyed giggle that is rather infectious, making my attempts at admonishment someone ineffective as I laugh right back in return.

Perhaps an even greater change is that fact that we have gone from having no pattern to our days to having a very definite structure that seems to be suiting us well. When sleep seemed to be particularly elusive, something that seemed to keep coming up whenever I read anything was about a consistent routine and regular naps. I decided it had to be worth a try and it has occurred to me since that perhaps my little boy is more like me than I had realised, and relishes a structure and predictability to his days just as I do. After a few days of settling him to sleep at around the same time each day, he suddenly started to do it without any input from me, and now I find that each morning and afternoon, given the opportunity, he drifts off himself quite contentedly, seemingly very much his mother's son. He won't go to sleep easily in his cot, but in his pram, the car, or my arms he can drop off almost immediately, like clockwork. 

He now sleeps better at night too, whether because of the routine, or because he is eating better, or because his teething and general snottiness have abated a little, I'm not sure, but I love that he has settled into his own rhythm and seems so content with it. His interest in the world around him still takes precedence though, and he will fight sleep with every inch of his being if there is fun to be had, often dropping straight off after a sing at the library, or a splash in the swimming pool, but only when he knows all the interesting stuff has finished. I also must admit that I still take pleasure in sitting each evening, for much longer than I need to, holding him before I put him to bed. I will never tire of the feeling of his head against my shoulder, his palms splayed across my skin, occasionally gripping gently as though checking I am still there, as he drifts into a deep sleep. It is complete bliss to hold him, fresh from his bath, slightly damp hair and the gentlest of snores, watching the occasional smile play across his face and hoping he is having happy dreams, knowing he is safe in my arms.

He is a happy boy, gloriously happy. He usually wakes with a smile, and quite often of a morning will sit chatting to himself until we go in to see him. His noise of choice is babababa, but he also hums, squeals and blows raspberries as the mood takes him. Mama and Dada have not yet made an appearance, but he has quite animated conversations at times, and I can't wait to able to understand him and listen to what he has to say. He can now crawl at a lightning pace, and in the past week or so has been able to pull himself up onto his feet if there is something particularly tempting on the sofa that he would like to help himself to. His favourite things are phones and remote controls, though I am increasingly trying to keep those out of view, the dvd player, fireplace and oven, which are proving more difficult to hide! I find myself seeking out more play sessions out of the house, where I know we can go and spend a few hours in a relatively baby-proofed environment.

He doesn't really have a favourite toy. Millie will always capture his attention, and she is coping very well with the frequent ear grabbing and hair pulling that his new found mobility is bringing. He likes to bang things, and play with whatever toy I have just started putting away. A tower of any sort will be rapidly knocked down, and throwing anything up and down with sound effects is guaranteed to elicit raucous laughter for as long as the game continues. He is drawn to noise and screens, but also enjoys twanging the doorstop in our bedroom, and is definitely a fan of books, playing with them at length. I've quickly learnt that babies have board books for a reason, with one or two paper pages becoming the casualty of his over-enthusiastic scrunching.

He loves to watch the light when the car door opens, and still loves songs, now joining in with clapping his hands against mine with surprisingly accurate timing. Whenever he gets excited he waves his arms and kicks his legs, especially each morning as we head to the kitchen to see Millie for the first time that day, and he is a big fan of waving hello and goodbye, loving to be held up at the window so he can bang on the glass as anyone leaves. He has just recently started to interact more confidently with other babies, rather than just watching intently whenever we are in a group. His preferred method of introduction seems to be to nuzzle his forehead against someone else's, and I sit trying not to interfere in his first forays into making friends, whilst also trying to gently stop him grabbing hair, cheeks, and eyes, once his head rub has been accepted! 

His close family are the lucky recipients of his biggest smiles, he lights up when someone he knows walks into a room, particularly his daddy or his great-grandad, and though he has occasionally started to wobble his bottom lip when I try to stop him doing something he is determined to do, he is easily distracted from his imminent tears, and in general is incredibly good-natured. I feel like he makes motherhood incredibly easy, he is such wonderful company, and makes me feel like he thinks the same of me. I have laughed more in these last nine months than I can ever remember, and although his mobility brings an increasing fear of danger (for me, definitely not for him!) I am also in awe as I watch him grow and develop. 

He has even more of a personality now, and he seems to be a fun-loving, determined, adventure-seeking, happy boy who loves his family so whole-heartedly, and with such joy. I hope he knows we love him just the same way, and have felt so unbelievably lucky to share our lives with him, every single day of the last nine months.



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

wonderful wednesday #11


Hello, I hope you are having a good week. Thank you for popping by for another round of Wonderful Wednesday-ness.  There are lots of happy little moments to reflect on this week, and yet again, I am frantically typing this during nap time, so I will crack straight on!

Join the Club: After doing the muddy 5k with me recently, my mum's neighbour's daughter, who also happens to be a good friend that I have grown up with over the years, invited me to join a running club with her. It is a beginners' club, doing a couch to 5k programme, and we went along for our first session on Saturday morning, with another one due tonight. It was great to go and be part of a group, and nice to feel like we have gone from friends through our parents, to being friends who socialise together (or exercise together!) of our own accord. It was also good to feel like the starting weeks of the couch to 5k are actually quite comfortable now, and realise that I have progressed from my first forays into running all those years ago.

Watermelon: I bought watermelon fingers for T to try, and as with any food he eats, most of it ends up on the floor. Millie tends to do a good job of hoovering it up after meal times, but if there is ever a new food I always check to make sure it's dog friendly, especially something like watermelon that might have hidden pips in. I googled "dog watermelon" and got rather more than I expected, when the images appeared under the search bar. See here, you won't be disappointed. 

Camera Time: Slowly but surely I am catching back up with the year with my camera project, after falling quite far behind. Once I got over the shame of posting homework that was two months late, I've really enjoyed getting back into playing with pictures, and have been gradually getting a bit more efficient with my editing/uploading process to, which always helps.

30 Second Mess: I am that unfortunate mix of someone who likes tidiness and organisation, but who also finds it easy to make a mess just by walking into a room. Often I would call or msn (remember those days) The Husband when we were both at our different universities, bemoaning the chaos that was my bedroom, and he would always describe it as a 30 second mess. It was always much, much worse than that, but he took the approach of spend 30 seconds and one bit will be tidied up, and then another 30 seconds, and so on. It has always stuck with me, and last night after a busy few days, the house was feeling a bit cluttered and so after T went to sleep we did a dash around the house. He did the hoovering with his headphones on while I sorted the bins and the recycling (I shall resist the urge to make satirical comments about boy and girl jobs), we got the dishes done, the washing sorted, and did a quick tidy round. It was so good to wake up this morning to a cleaner house, and has started today off in a positive way.

Calligraphy: Having splashed out on lots of new stationery with my earnings from my sugar challenge I have been enjoying doodling with my calligraphy pens. I even got a calligraphy book from the library and have been having a play with some of the projects in that, mostly though I'm just relishing the fact that I can spend 10 minutes being creative without having to make a huge mess (see above!) and that I can dip in and out easily without it feeling like a huge endeavour. 

Celebrations: It has been my stepdad's birthday this week, so we have had a few gatherings to celebrate, and we have big family celebrations planned later this week for my auntie's birthday too. It is lovely to spend time with my family, and now we have T, it adds extra joy too. 

So that is all from me this week, but if you would like to read some of the other wonderful posts:

Sally is the originator of the idea, you can search for #wonderfulwednesday and these lovely folks all post too: JoHelenMichelleSarahKateCatSamEl , KerriMimmiMartinaIsabelle. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

word of the week









You might have seen this recent post where I casually dropped in about having not eaten sugar for 60 days. As anyone who visits this blog regularly, or follows my instagram feed, will know, that isn't quite as casual as I made it sound, having a penchant, as I do, for all things sweet. This is quite a lengthy post, as I wanted to write this out so that I could reflect on my experience, now that I'm just over a week since I finished, so apologies for all of the words (particularly if you're visiting from word of the week, as I realise this is much longer than usual!)

I consider myself well-informed about nutrition, I usually cook meals from scratch, enjoy a varied diet, and understand how to read food labels. I know that most sauces, cereals, and yoghurts will have added sugar (particularly those labelled low-fat) and so I deliberately buy the least processed versions, or just make my own. I also disgaree with the idea that adding honey, or maple syrup is better than adding sugar and have been disappointed in the past by sugar-free cookbooks (Davina I'm looking at you) where every recipe seems to include a boatload of syrup instead. I even limit how much fruit juice I drink because it provides more sugar, and much less nutritional benefit, than eating the whole fruit.

So what was the problem? I was great at looking for hidden sugars, great at trying to avoid things that had been unexpectedly sweetened. Unfortunately, my issue is when it comes to the not-so-hidden sugars, the things that are quite obviously supposed to have sugar in, the chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sweets, and yes even those syrups and honey. While I would be sure not to be caught out by surreptitious sugar, I didn't have the same reservations for food that I knew was packed full of the stuff, and whether I was baking my own or buying it off the shelves, I couldn't leave it alone.

I've always had a sweet tooth, and food, particularly sweet food has always had an emotional element. Bad day, have a biscuit, good day, have some chocolate, celebration, eat cake, trip out, not a treat without an ice cream. Food has been so ingrained into every aspect of life, for me it is an incredibly social thing, and I tended to experience most events and emotions with a side order of sugar. I have long-joked that I have a pudding-shelf, by which I meant that however full I was, I always had room for dessert. Not only that, but I would very often say, at the end of a meal, that I "needed" something sweet. This has always been fascinating to The Husband, who enjoys chocolate and biscuits too, but with a completely different attitude to me. While he loves eating out, and going for celebratory meals, he eats when he is hungry, he doesn't crave sweetness for its own sake, and though he can chomp through a packet of biscuits while watching a film, he can also leave well alone for weeks at a time.

For me, I've never had the willpower. If I know there is something sweet in the house, I didn't need much excuse to raid the cupboard. Being home on maternity leave had brought it to a head somewhat, a couple of biscuits with each cup of tea (having to eat everything one-handed was an added justification), a few more if he went down for a sleep, a few more if it had been a tough hour. Even though I have been doing more walking than I have in years, often five or six miles a day, as well as regular runs, I knew my snacking was incredibly unhealthy. Additionally, now T was starting to eat meals with us, it was feeling particularly hypocritical to be tucking into to sugar-laden snacks while knowing I wouldn't dream of serving him the foods that I was relying on to get through the day.




I always tend to have an all-or-nothing approach to things, and this was no different. I initially thought about giving up chocolate for lent, until I realised we had got my Grandad an afternoon tea and a chocolate making workshop which was on Ash Wednesday, so that scuppered my plans a little! Instead I started on the Thursday and decided to extend it to 60 days. I ruled out everything sweet, with the exception of whole fruit, but even then I ruled out having it as dessert, as I wanted to be sure I was addressing the habit of needing something sweet after a meal. I accepted that naturally occurring sugars such as fruit sugars and milk sugars were fine as long as I didn't start cooking or pureeing the fruit, to make some kind of dessert or sweet smoothie. Honeys and syrups were a no go, and I also ruled out crisps and popcorn so that I wouldn't turn to a different snack, as well as alcohol, fruit juice, and flavoured coffees and hot chocolate.

My only exceptions were pre-bought savoury foods, such as breads, pizzas or curries, and my cereal, which is low in sugar but not without added sugar. As I said, I try and pick better options of these kind of items anyway, and I knew that for me, this wasn't the problem I was trying to address. After a discussion with The Husband we also agreed to an incentive, of a small amount of money for each day I succeeded. to treat myself with at the end. However The Husband also cleverly suggested that if I were to lapse, he would receive any of my earnings to that point!! I did a chart, resplendent with clip-art, stuck it up in the kitchen, and diligently set about marking off each day.

And do you know what, I did it. And I really didn't struggle. I think once I knew it was off the cards it just flicked a switch, and I could happily open the cupboards that had anything off-limits in without so much as a craving. What I found hardest was when I was poorly and I wanted builders tea with sugar, and mugs of honey and lemon. Otherwise, I went on quite happily. I did find that I became less hungry during the day, running round with T meant that if I couldn't raid the biscuit cupboard I'd quite often just grab toast or oatcakes. I also felt like I ate well, there were still trips out for fish and chips, cheese scones at the garden centre, cooked breakfasts at Ikea with my mum and T, pizza nights, the cookery calendar challenge. I still enjoyed food, and cooking, and even baked a cake for a friend without licking the spoon! I could also enjoy the pleasure of sitting and getting to drink a hot cup of coffee in it's own right rather than just using the drink as a receptacle for biscuit dunking.

The thing that has stuck with me most, is that we had a lot of celebrations during the 60 days. Easter, Mother's Day, our family holiday, a night out with The Husband for dinner and a film, trips out with my parents and countless movie nights at home. None of them felt any less special, or any less enjoyable through lack of sweet treats, and it was so refreshing to realise that having a good time isn't contingent on having a "treat" to eat. Similarly, there were plenty of sleepness nights, rough days, and low moments, and with the exception of missing my cold remedies, it was liberating to find that these moments passed just as quickly without inhaling a handful, or three, of hobnobs (the chocolate variety), I actually felt generally better because I didn't have the sugar induced highs and lows to go along with them.




So it has now been just over a week since I finished the challenge, and what has happened since? I have treated myself to some beautiful new calligraphy equipment, pens, watercolours, ink, and a light box, and also a nutribullet with my earnings! I have also started a new challenge, having enjoyed the sense of achievement and the positive changes it brought. But the big question is about the sugar. Health wise, I didn't notice much difference. I lost weight over the 60 days, which wasn't the reason I did it, but wasn't a surprise when I knew how many snacks I would be cutting out, and it finally took me to my pre-pregnancy weight which felt like a good goal to reach. Interestingly, although I wouldn't have said I noticed any changes during the 60 days, since I've reintroduced sugar, my skin and stomach seem to be flaring up, but only a little.  I haven't continued to exclude it entirely, for all I don't think too much sugar is good, I also think that ruling anything out completely (unless for health reasons) is not the route to a happy life. I genuinely feel though, that I have changed my relationship with it. We have a cupboard full of Easter eggs, and I have been able to have a taste, and wrap the rest up and put it back, which is a completely new for me. I have also avoided having anything during the day, unless I've been out for a trip somewhere.

In the last day or so I became aware that I was tempted to reach for the chocolate because I was tired, or the pile of washing up looked daunting, or just because I felt like a pick-me-up. I was able to reign it in though, and when I do have something sweet I feel like I able to savour it in small amounts, even the biscuit served with a coffee in a cafe tastes much sweeter and I enjoy it all the more for that. Do I consider it a success? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Without hesitation. However, I hope that I don't get to the point where I need to. I hope I can continue to eat sweet foods occasionally, like today where I went out and enjoyed a meringue with my Grandad, without suddenly needing to raid the cupboard mindlessly.  I wouldn't ever want to live completely without a pudding now and then, I love my food too much to never be able to sample a dessert menu! But I also feel like I have dissociated sugar from being a reward, and an emotional crutch. Food will always be part of celebrations for me, I love cooking, baking and sharing food with those I love, or eating out as part of a special occasion. It will always bring me joy, but now I look forward to making memories that don't all centre around eating, and look forward to knowing I can handle bad days and low moments in a healthier way.





Thank you for reading all of that, if you made it to the end! I'll be back soon to tell you about my next challenge, as I've realised it might be more reader-friendly to do it smaller chunks! Do let me know what your thoughts are, are you the proud owner of a pudding-shelf? Here's to good food, happy celebrations, and a sweet life, with and without added sugar!



The Reading Residence

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

wonderful wednesday #10



It's time for another look at some loveliness from the past week, and it's been a great one.

Marvellous Millie: That gorgeous little hound turns 4 years old today. We have celebrated with sunbathing in the garden and a trip to the park for a meet up with my friends, their children, and most crucially their dog who is Millie's playmate of old. They had a happy reunion, and I'm sure there will be treats for tea later too. She's such a wonderful companion, and has coped so well with the turmoil of a baby brother in the house. All she ever wants is company and cuddles (food obviously goes without saying), and I do enjoy the fact that now T has a more predictable bed time, we can have a couple of hours curled up with her just like the good old days.

Sunshine: It has been glorious here, although that has made me realise that I urgently need to purchase some suncream in order to be a responsible parent. The weather makes such a difference though, I've been walking T everywhere, and it feels so good to get out and about.

Cooking: The book I chose for this month's Cookery Calendar Challenge is proving to be a real success, I've already made three recipes from it and am planning a few more before I have to return it to the library! Everything I've made has turned out really well, and it has felt really good to be in the kitchen and making some more unusual dishes.

Getting Muddy: I took part in a Race for Life Pretty Muddy event over the weekend. I signed up on a whim, and then completely forgot about it. I was chatting with my mum's neighbour about starting going running with her daughter, we have grown up together over the years, and our two families are incredibly close. I suddenly realised the race was this weekend, got in touch to see if she fancied joining me, and three days later we found ourselves scrambling through cargo nets, bouncing on space hoppers, sliding down inflatables, and crawling through mud, mud and more mud, in the glorious sunshine. It was brilliant fun, all the better for having company, and felt like a real achievement. My family all came along to cheer us round (and take some brilliant pictures), and we are already thinking about doing a 10k one in June. My legs have been aching, and I've bruises everywhere, but I still get a huge grin whenever I think about it.

Impromptu Visits: The Husband's best friend from uni got in touch out of the blue to see if we were around. He lives a long distance away but happened to be in the area this weekend, so once I had managed to de-mud myself, we went for Sunday dinner followed by milkshakes, then had good chats over coffee at home. It was lovely to see him, really good for him to spend time with T, and it was also one of those occasions where we realised how happy we are where we live. It was so nice to be able to walk two minutes and have lots of options for things to do, yet also to be able to retreat back to home after and sit in the peaceful sunshine. A lovely weekend all round.

I think that's plenty of wonderfulness for this Wednesday, I feel like I could go on and on, I haven't mentioned photography, or stationery, or free gifts from fabulous companies, but instead, go and read some of the other wonderful posts:

Sally is the originator of the idea, you can search for #wonderfulwednesday and these lovely folks all post too: JoHelenMichelleSarahKateCatSamEl , KerriMimmiMartinaIsabelle. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

wonderful wednesday #9


I hope May is treating you well so far, it's time for another round up of some of the loveliness that's been going on round here:

The Breakfast Club: I met up with some close friends for breakfast in Manchester and it was lovely to see them and put the world to rights. As with last week, I'm finding that the early starts that come with parenthood are finally suiting me, and I was home just after 12 feeling like I still had most of the day left, while already having spent a good few hours in good company.

Impending Middle Age: My friends and I were reflecting on how life has changed since we were at university together, over 12 years ago. One friend was off to look at bathrooms that afternoon, while I was relishing in having no weekend plans. I did then manage to outdo her in the grown-up Saturday afternoon activity stakes by visiting a garden centre, and as I told them, taking an active interest in a rack of fleeces and waterproof jackets. There then ensued a conversation about the necessity of a good fleece and the joys of potential national trust membership. At least I am in good company!

Gardening: Just to further fit the stereotype, we returned from the garden centre and spent a happy hour in the garden. The Husband did some weeding, and I planted up our hanging baskets with plug plants we had ordered online. I also added some basil to my much-adored new herb pot, but this is my second attempt at planting a basil plant in amongst all of the other herbs, and it is looking like it may have failed again. 

Running: After a month's absence I have finally been back out on a few runs. The longer it goes the less inclined I am to start again, convinced that I will have lost any progress made, but actually, my pace has remained quite consistent with where I was at previously, and it has been rather enjoyable to get out for a quick burst of activity in the sunshine.

Library Love: I have always had a thing about libraries, my mum used to take me regularly when I was younger, at at University, I always felt most studious if I took myself over the library and holed up there. I love libraries, the peace, the sense of endless books to be read, and in the case of the university libraries I have visited the history within the walls. Having dropped out of using the library since starting work, yet reading more than ever in recent years, I have now rediscovered my love for them through T. I started by taking him to a session of songs and a story, which is twice a week at our local library. It is a brilliant activity, free, half an hour, and is one of the things we have done most consistently since he has been born. It was first attempt at any kind of baby group, and helped me build my confidence as a new parent venturing into the terrifying world of interacting with other parents! Since then, I have started to realise what a wealth of things I have been missing out on, and last weekend came home with a new recipe book and a DVD on loan. My favourite thing, though, is that it is the same library my mum used to take me to, and although it has changed in many ways, the layout, and the bright, welcoming children's room where we got to the class is the same one I used to spend hours in as a little girl. I love the fact that history is repeating in the nicest way.

f you would like to visit some of the others (highly recommended) then Sally is the originator of the idea, you can search for #wonderfulwednesday and these lovely folks all post too: JoHelenMichelleSarahKateCatSamEl , KerriMimmiMartinaIsabelle. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

first things first



The first of May.

I love it when the first day of a month is a Monday, it just feels like everything is nicely lined up, but when the first day of the month is a Bank Holiday Monday, well hurrah, that's an added bonus, with the promise of an extra day as a family, and a shorter countdown until the weekend.

The first morning waking up after a sleep in fresh bedding, with a day stretching ahead, and no real plans.

The first day today, when I can indulge my sweet tooth, after sixty days without sugar (or crisps, or alcohol). More on that in another post, but I'm intrigued to see whether chocolate will hold the same appeal now, I feel like perhaps I have beaten the craving, but I'll see how the next few days go!

Unfortunately, while my diet has improved drastically, I haven't kept up with the running. Having taken a week off when I got poorly, it stretched on into two, and then three weeks, and now it is over a month since I have had the trainers on. Last night I ventured out on my first run, just a mini one, determined to get fit for the 10k I have planned in a few months time. It wasn't horrendous, and I've been walking 3-4 miles regularly taking T out and about to the park and the library, so I'm hoping that has helped. After my sister-in-law ran the London Marathon this year, I casually suggested to The Husband that we could look at doing one together, maybe in October. I might be mad, I don't think there is anything casual about a marathon, but we have both wanted to do one for a while, and I wonder if signing up might be the prompt we need. The Husband has started looking at running watches today, so I'm wondering if I may have tempted him. Watch this space!

This month also brings with it our first family holiday with our extended family. My cousin and his family, and my aunt and uncle are joining us, my parents and my grandad for a week in a holiday rental property. It seems to have come around quite quickly, and I am very excited, especially as the property has a swimming pool, games room, and cinema room. T might be a little young for table tennis or movie nights, but he loves swimming and I can't wait to be able to take him for a splash each day!

Saturday was the first time I had a girly meet up with my close uni friends since T has been born. Once they got over the shock of me, queen of the all-nighter and steadfast night owl suggesting meeting at 9am (oh motherhood, thou hast changed me), we arranged to have breakfast in Manchester. It was a beautifully sunny day, I made it to the train in plenty of time, had a glorious few hours catching up, and was home before T woke from his nap ready for his next feed. It felt like everything went to plan, and it is still a revelation for me to be able to go out for a few hours and not worry that he might be hungry, particularly as he was never great a taking a bottle. It was a long leisurely breakfast (much to the chagrin of the staff I think, as the place was packed!) and a brilliant catch up. 

Finally, on the train home, I started the first few pages of Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. I haven't read her previous books though I had obviously heard of Eat Pray Love, but had read about this one a few times. It kept appearing in magazines, and I kept thinking it sounded interesting, and then I read a blog which referenced it, that I now can't for the life of me find (if it was you please tell me as I have hunted for it, and would love to link it back). I decided on a whim to buy it, and I'm glad I did. I did rather too many embarrassing snorts of laughter on the train, and the words have been popping up in my head, making me itch to pick it up and carry it on. It reminded me that the joy of being creative, in whatever guise that takes, is enough reason to carry on writing here, to carry on dusting off the calligraphy pens, to carry on trying to catch up with my camera projects. Not through a desire for comments, or approval, or popularity, but just through the joy that it brings me, the small pleasure I find, and so here I am.

Wishing you all a wonderful May, whether it be full of firsts, or enjoyable familiarity. 



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: April

I gave The Husband the choice for this month's book, and he went for the other James Martin book I have "borrowed" from my mum, My Kitchen. Although I was a little reluctant at first, having used a James Martin book for the challenge last month too, I remembered cooking some recipes from this book when I took part last year, and finding lots in there that appealed, so I let the choice stand! I like that this book is arranged seasonally, so I went with summer recipes again, and having realised, thanks to Christina, that it was perfectly acceptable to cook more than two recipes (it would never have occurred to me otherwise, being such a stickler for following rules resolutely!), I actually made three this month, as so many were tempting.



The first dish is the one I cooked most recently, and although I did make it, and did take pictures, I have alas not found a way to make koftas look in anyway photogenic or appetising on the plate, so I thought I would give you a glimpse of the book, and the much more successful photography within. These were simple to make, and were a nice alternative use for mince, that I would definitely try again. I did find this recipe a bit bland, but that may be because I used chopped fresh fennel rather than ground fennel, and some subsequent internet searching suggests that this may have resulted in a much milder flavour. I found they took a lot longer to cook through than the recipe suggested, though perhaps I made them thicker as I didn't mould them around skewers, just into small sausage shapes. I served them with pitta, homemade tzatziki, and the corn. I think the recipe is quite small in terms of portion sizes, it definitely needed the additional accompaniments to make a meal, but as one dish for a barbecue, which I guess was the intention, it would be a definite success.




The next dish was lemon and rosemary lamb with tahini aubergines, Again, I think it was designed as a barbeque dish, and so I added some garlic crushed potatoes to make it into a full meal. We don't usually eat lamb, I find it quite a fatty meat, and it can be expensive for small cuts, but I do enjoy the flavour and will often order it when eating out. The flavour of the lamb was beautiful, though again, it required longer cooking times than the book suggested, but this was likely due to our cutlets being quite thickly cut, as I bought a rack of lamb and carved them from that. The aubergines were a little overpowered by the lemon I thought, and the specially bought tahini paste got a little lost (any tahini suggestions welcome!). I will forever love this dish though, as it was the first time The Husband had tried aubergine, one of my favourite vegetables, that he has resisted up until now. T also tucked into a piece with gusto! Alas, I wouldn't say it was aubergine at its best, but I have bought another one, in the hope that an aubergine parmigiana might be an acceptable offering!




The first dish I made from the book was by far the most successful, despite inauspicious beginnings. Having bought all of the ingredients, the night when I had planned to make the tomato, basil and mozzarella pizza came round, and I was absolutely not feeling in the mood for making dough. I persisted though, and am so glad I did, it was declared an outright success by my pizza fiend of a husband, and I know for a fact we will be making this regularly. We eat pizza pretty often, it is such a quick meal, and with salad and sweet potato wedges it is a staple of our weekly meal plans, but I know shop bought pizza is not the healthiest option usually. This was so much better, and tasted so much more flavoursome, that I shall be rustling them up again very soon.

Next month, I will be using Rick Stein's Long Weekend, which I took out from the library on Friday as it sounded particularly apt as I browsed the shelves with T. I expect this might be another month where I make more than two recipes as just a quick flick through has revealed loads I want to try! I have made a few dishes from the internet this month too, and a particular success was the cauliflower pizzaiola, which used up a few ingredients that were languishing in the fridge, and provided a hearty meat free meal too.

The Cookery Calendar Challenge is the wonderful creation of Penny at The Homemade Heart, do use the button below to check out the other bloggers taking part and see what recipe books people have been dusting off this month.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

wonderful wednesday #8


I'm back with a wonderful Wednesday round up after a few weeks away, and trying to rattle this out while the baby naps so we shall see how far we get. I'm not sure why I've been absent from this space, there has been plenty of wonderful around these parts, and even though I haven't been writing about it, I do think having done just a few of these posts has already made me better at spotting the good stuff as it happens!

Early Mornings: Yes. I, the lifelong night owl have gone over to the dark side (should that be light side), and rather than fight the baby-inflicted early starts, have learnt to relish them. Sunday found us wandering through the park with the dog and the baby at half eight in the morning, admittedly when I suggested getting out and going for a walk, The Husband's first response was "do you mean [insert incredulous tone] before breakfast?", but even he agreed after we got back, and breakfast was being consumed, that it had been a good idea. Admittedly, early starts are all the easier after some sleep, which brings me nicely to....

Sleep: Not exactly sure how it happened, or how long it will last, so while I can I'm celebrating the fact that at the moment T seems to be enjoying sleeping overnight. It has made such a difference, from really struggling a few months ago with lack of sleep, and him not really eating, we now have a baby who eats anything and sleeps well. I know all of these things are likely temporary, and I know how hard it feels when those things aren't happening, so I'm not bragging, just celebrating my own little victories when they come around!

Television: We've never really been into tv in a big way, with the exception of Bake Off in my case, but we seem to have found a few programmes at the moment that we really enjoy. Line of Duty, which is usually in the realm of the too dark and grim for my liking, has got me hooked this season, after half listening while The Husband watched the last series. We've also been enjoying Masterchef, but my goodness, how much of a time commitment is that programme?? Just when I've caught up there's another three episodes waiting to be watched.

Sunshine: So it's still absolutely freezing, as I discovered at dog class with Millie on Monday, when my hands actually wouldn't move when I came to drive home, and there are still occasional downpours, which I experienced on the walk to the library on Monday, managing to get rained on and then dried off in the same half a mile walk (Monday was not a great weather day it seems!). But, despite all of that, more often than not I'm waking up to bright blue skies, and sunshine, and that just makes life cheerier. It makes it more tempting to leave the house, and it's generally good for the soul.

Work: Well, not actual doing of work, but getting in touch with my supevisors, and starting to make small steps to having plans for my return. Happily it is a long way off still, but it felt good to make contact, and being reassured that I hadn't been completely forgotten. I also took T to my old workplace on Friday, (I will be starting a different placement when I return) and it was lovely to see my boss there who I get on brilliantly with, and for her to get cuddles with T.

So, I'm quitting while I'm ahead as there are definitely sounds of a baby starting to stir, if you want even more wonderfulness,  then Sally is the originator of the idea, you can search for #wonderfulwednesday and these lovely folks all post too:
 JoHelenMichelleSarahKateCatSamEl , KerriMimmiMartinaIsabelle.