Recipe: white bloomer bread

I honestly have the memory of a goldfish. I’d completely forgotten to share my bread recipe with you all and let you know the results of our little village fete a couple of weeks ago!

The fete was far better than we imagined it would be for such a small village. There were over one hundred entries and at least 5/6 in each category. We were quite proud to have taken part! The main contenders were in the popular categories as you’d expect – there were no fewer than 13 Victoria sponges. In the amateur-baker category of ‘artistic cake’, were these stunning bakes:

I loved looking at all the vegetables though – there were leeks as thick as my arms and runner beans nearly 2 feet long. It really inspired me to get growing my own vegetables once we’ve moved house – there is just nothing like fresh home-grown produce really.

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Anyway, we didn’t win the cookie nor the bread categories.

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Can you spot ours?

I was a bit annoyed as the cookies were lumped in the same category as biscuits, and biscuits placed in all three top spots despite there being several cookie entries. I think the judges were probably traditionalists and not on the cookie band-wagon.

Whilst we are of course slightly biased, the bread was definitely the most eye-catching entry and when we collected it at the end many people came up to us and said we should have won. We won The People’s Choice Award in my opinion given all the amazing comments we had!

So, if you want to make bread that looks a bit like this, follow our easy recipe below.

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You will need:

500g flour

Teaspoon of salt

Instant yeast

30g butter

320ml water

Baking time!

  1. Mix the flour, salt and yeast together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the butter and about ¾ of the water and carry on mixing together, adding the remaining water as you go. The dough should be soft and not too wet when its ready.
  3. Now cover your table with a bit of flour and start to knead the bread. I find kneading quite hard – I think you need strong arm muscles to do it properly! I find circular motions are easier and most effective, but whatever works for you. Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is malleable and smooth.
  4. Now to prove it. Place in a bowl and cover with cling film or a tea towel or anything similar. Leave it on the side for a couple of hours until the dough has nearly doubled in size (some people I know put theirs in the fridge but I don’t think that works as well). Towards the end of the prove, start to preheat your oven to 220 degrees.
  5. Put some flour on your kitchen table and place the dough on top and start to roll. BE CAREFUL – I find the harder/more I roll the less air is in the bread and it becomes more dense. This is less so if you are using proper white bread flour, but not if you are using a standard white flour. Roll into a long-ish rectangle and then divide length-ways into three sections.
  6. Those three sections will form the plait. If you don’t know how to plait, you simply place the outside strands into the middle of the other two strands, working from side to side; line up the three strands and then pull the 1st far-left strand into the middle between strands 2 and 3. Now, pull the now-3rd strand into the middle of strands 1 and 2. And repeat. Try to keep the plait fairly tight so there are not large holes. At the bottom and top simply tuck the strands together and underneath itself.Some people plait bread differently by only plaiting half way and then turning the dough over and finishing the plait. Apparently this gives the bread a bit of stability but I personally do not notice any difference in the bake. I have long hair and plait it all the time – maybe I’m a pro-plaiter!
  7. Depending on the size of your loaf you may need to prove it again for another hour. See below for an alternative to this.
  8. Next, line a tray with some baking parchment – I like to butter the tray first but I think that’s just because I can be quite clumsy! Place your bread on the tray and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 220 degrees. I like to dust some flour on top beforehand but its up to you.
  9. Then leave to cool on a rack for 10 minutes and enjoy whilst its still warm!

Whilst the dough needs proving as at step 4, I’ve found that proving the three individual strands of the plait separately works a bit better – however you need to keep them straight on a flat surface and sometimes the strands may swell more in certain places. I will leave it to you to decide!

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Yummmmmm-y.

Book club: The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Darkness started to fall and the street lamps flickered on, casting a warm hue over the damp cobbles. The smell of rain lingering in the air, mixing with hints of mulled wine and cinnamon. I walked through the door and felt the heat hit me, my bobble hat and scarf off in an instant. I started roaming the aisles and was drawn to a particular cover and title on the top shelf, just in reach of my lanky, bony teenage arms.

This is my first memory of going book shopping as a teenager. I can remember it vividly. I was out shopping in Norwich just before Christmas, with the early nights drawing in. I had stepped into my favourite bookstore – back before Ottakar’s was taken over by Waterstones. My dad would sit upstairs in the coffee shop – before it too was taken over by Costa Coffee(!) and enjoy a latte whilst reading a book. That was the beauty of Ottakar’s. You could enjoy a novel over a cuppa before you bought it – nobody was sat there worrying about spilling coffee on the pages.

The book was in the main section of the store on the top shelf, in the area where both well-known and up-and-coming authors are displayed. It had a simple cover, but I was drawn to it. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. This was years before the film with Cameron Diaz and before Jodi Picoult was really famous. I remember being intrigued by the story – full of conflict whilst all the while dealing with a deeply moral issue. I’ve ready many books covering everything from a standard murder thriller to those about troubling issues like domestic violence and abuse. I recall reading Danielle Steele’s The Long Road Home at the age of 11 which, with hindsight, probably wasn’t appropriate. That remains one of my favourite books to date though.

So I thought it was only fitting for my first review to be a Jodi Picoult novel. Its one I initially read over 10 years ago and lent to a friend, but I never got it back. Recently I felt the urge to read it again so downloaded it on my kindle. It brought back memories of kicking back on my multi-coloured bedspread as a college student, reading late into the night until my eyes strained. The plot I could associate my teenage self with; a bit of angst and the apprehension of approaching adulthood.

The Pact

A no-nonsense title that explains exactly what this book is about. Set in North America on the Eastern Coast, two teenagers are raised from birth by parents who are best friends. The story focuses on their bond, developing from friendship to love and the pressure of trying to meet their parents’, their own, and most importantly the other’s ideal of ‘perfection’. From the beginning the reader is aware that the young girl has died, a supposed suicide pact. The story then weaves through time, bringing together the two sides of the story. The flip side of the same coin. The story is primarily told from the boyfriend’s viewpoint, Chris, who is standing trial for murder. Occasionally there is the the odd recollection from the girlfriend, Emily, but this is more for explanatory reasons to help further the plot. Without Emily’s occasional input the reader would be unaware of the reason behind her desire to die; the mis-conception that having been abused as a child would make her dirty and unsuitable as a girlfriend or future wife.

Picoult’s notorious writing style – switching back and forth between then and now – really makes this story come alive. Whilst subconsciously leading the reader to question the lovers’ devotion to each other throughout, the characters tell a different story – portraying Chris and Emily’s relationship as one of closeness, desire and inevitability. A natural progression from childhood, but perhaps unwanted. And that is one of my major bug-bears about this novel.

The few, infrequent passages from Emily do not go far enough to give her depth as a character. The reader views Emily as a delicate flower, beautiful and brilliant but introverted. She is a typical teenager in many senses; worried about schoolwork and wanting to see her boyfriend as much as possible. But her dark secret is not explored; in fact, it is almost minimised. The abuse is introduced so late into the book and skirted over so quickly – perhaps that is Picoult demonstrating how a victim of abuse may recollect it, by wanting to get it out of their head as soon as possible – that it does not do the story justice. Emily doesn’t feed on the abuse; it is not all-consuming of her and the sudden desire to kill herself seems to take a large leap from the abuse 8 years prior. There is but the odd sentence of Emily reviewing her abuse, but far more about how she viewed her relationship with Chris as platonic, relishing the closeness but deeply anxious about the sexual encounters that are a natural part of any adult relationship.

Emily’s desire to die is the crux of the story, but her reason is completely unknown to the other characters. In the absence of any emotional exploration of the abuse, the reader is left to feel like Emily is selfish, focusing on her own wants and not thinking about the effect her actions have on other people, most notably Chris and her parents.

Chris is far more reliable and believable as a character. I felt as a female reader that I connected with him far more than Emily. His routine and teenage musings were normal and mundane and he struggled to deal with the expectations of his strict father. His life, like many other young adults, was unremarkable in many ways. Except his deep insatiable love for Emily, which in my humble opinion, has been confused with lust.

The mothers of Emily and Chris take the next two starring roles, and they are as alike as they are different. Chris’ mother is like the wind; she has an appetite for life that rolls through the story combining passion with motherhood and the desire to do right by her son. Her early recollections of Chris and Emily during their childhood are the building blocks for the reader; understanding how the characters are so entwined and the inseparable lives they have led. Emily’s mother, Melanie, is quiet and subdued, an anxious speck of a woman in my mind. Whilst Picoult demonstrates the grief Melanie would understandably be feeling at the death of a daughter, it is viewed from a third person, a stranger looking in, detached. Her actions in the months following Emily’s death are somewhat textbook, but neither her sadness nor her anger are given the weight they deserve. I can only recall feeling true empathy for Melanie when Picolut depicts her visting her daughter’s grave on Christmas Day, saying it is Emily’s ‘first Christmas away from home’, as if she had gone to universtiy and would be coming home one day.

The emotion that this story stirs within a reader is quite one-sided. You are rooting for Chris from the outset, hoping against hope that he will be found not-guilty whilst all along suspecting that, if you were a member of the jury, you would probably find him guilty as charged. I found myself sympathising with Chris, even though a couple of things he said and did to Emily I would not have tolerated myself. Its that balance to his character that gives him depth; after all, we are all capable of doing good and bad things.

This tale is not one of forbidden love, but expected love. Expected by the parents, but also by Chris. Picoult explores love from many angles. She winds around the passion and familiarity Chris’ parents feel for each other and contrasts it with the restrained but restless love Emily’s parents have. Both sets of parents exude a protectiveness over Chris and Emily that is admirable and raw. I felt myself smile when the parents first became aware that Chris and Emily had shared a kiss as young teenagers; you could feel their joy in thinking that the families would be inextricably linked in the future by marriage, what they had hoped from day 1. In my view, it is the parents’ overwhelming love for their child that the reader benefits from most. The lengths the parents will go to, in their own ways, to do what is right by their child, no matter what.

Picoult is an expert at tackling controversial issues, such as teen suicide. She thoroughly researches the subject matter, the investigatory procedure and the legal process in a lot of detail and meets with various other professionals to bring the story together and give it life. However, whilst well researched according to the appendices, I do not consider the emotional aspect has been sufficiently addressed as what the story makes for in a good read, it lacks in the emotional make-up from very key characters. Both Emily and Melanie could be more developed, they are, after all, the ones facing the emotional uncertainty. The story is written from Chris’ point of view, as the victim of a wrongful accusation. But it is Emily who has suffered and Emily who is dead. Her family are the ones who would be living with that loss for the rest of their lives, whilst Chris could move on. It feels distinctly flat in that sense, uncharted territory that is in desperate need of being scouted out.

The novel is undoubtedly built around the concept of Love in all of its different forms. Yet there is one other lingering feeling; it pulls the reader through the novel, sitting in your subconscious until you acknowledge it like an old friend when you eventually turn the last page. Fate. Of all the characters in the book, none are in control of their lives. And the more, perhaps surprising, realisation is that Picoult seems to promote this within her work. Her choice of words infuse the characters with spontaneity yet acceptance of what is happening to them. Sure, the story needs to be told, but there is no open challenging of the situation each character finds themselves in; no struggle nor conflict within themselves.

About

Suicide is the cause of 0.1% of all deaths in the UK (as at 2015), with female suicide rates at the highest in a decade. Yet the suicide rate for males is 3 times higher than for females, with the age group 44-59 having the highest rate. The suicide rate for under 30 year olds remains the lowest, but is gradually increasing over the years. Unfortunately, the ONS does not break the age groups down into those pre-adult hood, but it is widely acknowledged that teen suicide is an increasing problem.

If you know someone who you think may be suicidal, encourage them to speak to the Samaritans and seek as much help as possible.

Recipe: Gooey Daim Cookies

We received a small paper leaflet through the post a few weeks ago advertising for our local village fete. We like to support local activities but then realised this fete was very local and invited people to show various fruits, vegetables, flowers, crafts and bakes. It was 15p to enter a particular category and the prize money – get this – was 75p for first place and 50p for second place!

So obviously with that amount of prize money up for grabs we had to enter (!)

We scoured the various categories and eventually settled on making bread (any type) and cookies (very specifically, only 6 were to be shown). I wanted to do a slightly different take on a chocolate cookie so decided to use Daim bars as I think they have a slightly more bitter, salty taste.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Now, I should probably say that whilst I love cooking and baking I am not actually very good at it. Cake baking I find hard as I don’t really like measuring out the ingredients but I’ve quickly learnt that that is pretty key! This was also my first time making cookies and I was really worried they would just spread out on the baking tray and be too thin and burn, or be too soggy. As it was, they turned out pretty good!

I did a trial run a couple of nights before and realised that I should have left them to bake for a couple of minutes longer, as although the chocolate had started to melt, the dough was still super soft underneath.

So, lesson learnt I set about to make the second batch and they turned out lovely!

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You will need: (makes approximately 20-25 tasty, gooey cookies)

150g of butter

300g all-purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract/sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

150g light brown soft sugar

100g caster sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons of milk

5 Daim bars, chopped into small pieces

Lets bake!

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan and put to one side to cool.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and vanilla.
  3. Mix the two sugars together and add to the butter, stirring to remove any lumps. Add the egg, the egg yolk and the milk and stir until smooth.
  4. Slowly add the flour and mix, ensuring there are no lumps.
  5. Add the Daim pieces and stir through to even them out.
  6. Place in a mixing bowl and cover with cling film and place it in the fridge for a few hours.
  7. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees and grease a baking tray, covering with baking paper.
  8. Form the dough into rough balls (trust me, mine weren’t balls but more like odd-shaped blobs!) and place on the baking tray, about 2 inches apart.
  9. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. I found that setting a timer for 7 minutes and then monitoring it minute by minute helped. Although you want the Daim bars to be gooey, you also the cookies to have a lovely golden colour to them so try not to take them out too early. About 9 minutes is perfect depending on your oven.

Enjoy!!

I was up at 7am this morning finishing off the bake so that they would be fresh for the fete today. Then Sam said that presentation was likely to add points, so I couldn’t possibly just put them on a plate! After a bit of panicking I came across a super-simple way of creating a little box from a paper plate on Google, so sent Sam to the shop to buy some paper plates.

To make the box, you just need to make 4 cuts, 2 at the top about 2 inches apart, and 2 at the bottom. Then fold from cut to cut on each side, and then across so that the fold dissects the cuts at 90 degrees. Then sellotape into place. These are possibly the worst instructions in the world so I’ve copied a picture of where the cuts and folds need to be below:

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Photocredit: http://www.musely.com

& here are the amazing hopefully-category-winning Daim cookies!

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We’re off to the fete now so I’ll let you let you know it goes! Wish us luck!

We also made some bloomer bread as well so I’ll have to remember to post our recipe for that soon too.

 

back to basics: a strive for balance

I’m sat here with a cup of tea, my fourth in only a few hours, and some mini shortbread biscuits. Aside from the horrific morning I’ve had, I’d say I’m as relaxed as I possibly could be at this moment in time. In a minute I’m probably going to put some cheesy film on Netflix whilst I finish writing this.

But it was whilst I was chewing on my second shortbread that I started pondering life. Not the big ‘why are we here questions’ – that’s far too deep for a Sunday. But I’m sat looking out on my [badly maintained] garden and all the greenery; the trees, plants and my sunflower. My sunflower is my pride and joy. I grew it from a seed and its now nearly 4 feet tall. But it doesn’t seem to like much rain – the clue may be in the name? Anyway, with the amount of rain and wind we’ve had the last couple of weeks its looking pretty sorry for itself. And I’m thinking, given my stressful morning, why do I feel so calm all of a sudden?

I’ve pretty much always loved the great outdoors – albeit camping out in it took a bit of getting used to. Perhaps, I thought as I munched, its living in the countryside and all its calming influences. Hearing the wind whistling through the trees and rustling the leaves. The birds chirping to each other (though I do not appreciate the ravens who have made their home in next door’s tree who circle and squawk very loudly at all hours of the day and night).

No traffic noise. No pollution. Not being reminded of work at every turn or the fear of bumping into clients whilst you’re dressed in ripped denim and an oversized cardigan with slightly greasy hair (its a look I rock most Sundays). Being able to see the seasons pass. When I lived in Guildford it went from summer > winter > summer. I barely saw any open spaces to see the leaves fall and then the buds starting to sprout months later.

You can lose yourself in nature. Walking, cycling, just getting out there and immersing yourself in it. You don’t need company, you can go it alone. & maybe we all should more often. Get away from it all. From everything. You can lose yourself in thoughts; a flask of tea and a notepad and you can be someone else entirely.

 “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.”

– Lord Byron

We live such fast lives nowadays. Always trying to get somewhere quicker than we did yesterday, moaning about everything; service, the weather and that guy who walks so slowly off the train. Doesn’t he know you have somewhere to be?

Its got me thinking about my commute to work tomorrow. A 40 minute fast-train ride. I see the same people everyday. I know where they stand on the platform for the carriage they want. The business men in suits, newspapers under their arms and smart phones tucked into a pocket. The lady who had a walking stick long after her twisted ankle healed, simply so she could get on first out of pity. Everyone moves in unison. A shuffle, a step and then settling in for the journey. The same mumblings to the conductor, day after day. The hoard of people, seamlessly moving towards the barrier and out, into the big city to go to their desk jobs and bark orders down the ‘phone. Drones. Coffee, coffee and more coffee in cardboard cups; the Starbucks logo quite possibly the epitome of modern day living.

People passing through without really noticing their surrounds, at least, not til its too late.

Absorbed.

Head down, looking at a ‘phone. Images that flood our daily lives from social media. Idealised images that are far removed from reality and which cause you to question your life. Some aspire to craft a life like that which they see online, as if everything is perfect and in vibrant colour. And if they try hard enough, maybe they will succeed and appear to have such a wonderful life as they would lead you to believe. Social media is here to stay for the foreseeable future, yet how relevant is it in our life? To have your life documented online for the world to see; but only the good parts. Not the bad, the ugly the dirty or the reality of it.

Don’t get me wrong, the irony is not lost on me. I’m a blogger and I have a Facebook and Instagram account.

To always be connected and close to those around you. A positive, depending on the circumstances, but also so often a negative. My ‘phone is ‘meant’ to be connected to my work emails. It was for nearly two years until 3 months ago when I disabled it before I went on holiday. I had full intentions of re-installing it with the swipe of a button on my return, but figured I would see how long I could get away with it. 3 months on and I can’t imagine having access to those emails ever again in my downtime. I hadn’t realised it before, but simply hearing the buzz when an email came in caused me to worry. What if? What if that email was the one that would show that I’d done something wrong? The beginning of the end of my career. Dramatic, I know. I’m not even a worrier compared with some of my colleagues; calm, level-headed I’m described. But I can’t not read it. That little red circle hovering over the envelope symbol glaring back at me. So I do. And its always nothing. Something I could have dealt with in the morning.

& thats it. For me, in a nutshell. Its all about being connected. And I just don’t want to be. I would throw my ‘phone in the river at a drop of a hat if I felt that I could. But I can’t. Modern life wouldn’t allow it. How could I possibly know if my train was running on time? Or what the people I follow on Instagram are up to?

So I strive for balance. I do what I must during the working week and try to fit in. To show that I can do it. An old person in a young body. But downtime is me time. And if I want to make onion soup and live in wellingtons and not wear make-up, well I’m damned well going to. I’m far from perfect. I don’t take good photographs and my vocabulary feels like its become limited to only those words that I need to use being a lawyer. But I’m learning. Every day is a school day and with each day, I’m settling in to myself and appreciating what I have more. Sometimes, I feel older than my years as if I’ve lead a full, enriching life and I’m looking back it on it with hindsight in my 80’s. Maybe I just want to make sure that here on in, I’m doing the right thing. Noticing the right things. Being true.

My life with Sam is great and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Except, perhaps, to go back 20 years to a world without ‘phones and targets and to the ease of a time where there was no immediate expectation of reply.

So, appreciate the beauty around you. It doesn’t have to be green and breathing. It can be grey, concrete or a tower block. But just make sure that you are happy and doing whatever it is you’re doing,  for you and live for the important things in life. Not the latest craze or getting the perfect photo, not messaging inane rubbish for the sake of it.

Just, going back to basics.

My shortbread is making me feel bad. I know its full of butter but it tastes so good. If only I could eat a normal amount and not the whole tin.

On the move to pastures new

I am so happy! We have just bought a house!

We returned from holiday a few weeks ago having found a buyer for our house. And, to be honest, I did feel under a bit of pressure to find somewhere suitable to buy quite quickly, simply because I don’t like messing people around. I don’t know why – our buyers haven’t given us a time frame or conditions – but I supposed I felt like I didn’t want to feel like I was keeping them hanging on.

Anyway, we decided to view as many properties as we could that took our fancy, though they were mostly ones we had already discounted from the look of the pictures, the work involved, or simply had a weird floor plan.

The first house we viewed looked lovely from the outside but there were no inside pictures. Why, I asked? Well, the agent said, a clearing company has only just removed everything from the old lady’s house. But we were assured it was a ‘lovely house’ and ‘totally, worth viewing’. I’m not going to say much about that house, save that THERE WAS A TREE GROWING INSIDE. An ACTUAL tree (well vine, there were grapes). It came through a hole in the wall and covered the entire, large (and tall), conservatory. Branches as thick as my thigh with grapes hanging down. I had thought initially that perhaps the tree had grown in recent months due to the lady’s lack of mobility, but then quickly realised that that growth was not from a few months but was twenty years’ worth.

Nope.

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I found this little gem in Tesco’s earlier in the week. Its a quirky light bulb glass (straw gives it away I guess!), but I’m going to put fairy lights in it

Then we viewed a house way outside of our ideal ‘circle’ (which is actually more of a rectangle). It was in a village which I thought would be twee but just, wasn’t. The following weekend we viewed 4 houses in one day. A second which was also outside of our circle/rectangle area, but which had huge outbuildings, albeit it needed a tonne of work. That was followed by a lovely detached thatch, but it had a weird layout and the garden was literally 90 degrees; there was a kids’ blue slide on the lawn and honest to God the poor thing must have slid down it and straight into the dining room it was that steep.

Then we viewed what would later become our home.

A house that I had thought was out of our reach and had simply wanted to view it for comparison purposes. It was 10 times better than the pictures and I pretty much loved it instantly. Beautiful large kitchen, log burner and mantle, exposed beams, wooden staircase and and tall ceilings and windows. Me and Sam are taller than average, but didn’t have to duck anywhere. It felt like a home. A home for us, for our future children. To have cosy winters around the fireplace, walks in the countryside (I may have to invest in more wellies), and to be able to just be us. But it didn’t have a garage for Sam which was top of the (his) list. Nowhere for the mini or the lathe!

Then, afterwards, we viewed the last house. It was a large 5-bed new build with a garage. It ticked all of the boxes on paper, but that was pretty much where it stopped. Neither of us really knew what to say as we were walking around with the agent. We muttered a lot about the ‘amount of space’, the proximity to town but neither of us were feeling it. You just know, don’t you, when your other half is thinking the exact same thing as you.

We couldn’t really get the country house out of our heads. No, it didn’t have as much outside space for Sam and yes, the third room was smaller than we had hoped for, but it was a home. A home. That’s when I realised the others were just houses, not homes. I could picture us living as a family in the cutest house in the area. The following day we drove out there and explored the country lanes some more – first gear around some of the bends! – and fell in love with the place even more. No corner shop. One bus a day, or thereabouts. But it does have an amazing pub, bakery, cute little village hall and more walks than you can shake a stick at. Sam said ‘I don’t even care about the garage!’ and that’s when we knew could well be living there soon!

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Anyway, we’ve agreed a price and now our sellers just need to find a home themselves. Fingers crossed we’ll be in by Christmas and can have the fire going and fairy lights strung over the mantle piece!!

I was sat in the car this week and thought, what do I want from this house? Is it a wish list? What could I do without?  And I just kept coming back to a feeling. A knowing feeling, but one I couldn’t really describe.

I am not someone who makes decisions with their heart. I’m very much ruled by my head and often it can be months if not years before I evaluate a past decision.

But, this time was different. I still had to think about certain things, such as getting a future child to nursery/school and making my commute.

This house has everything. A safe, beautiful place in the country where children can be children and I can bake bread to my hearts delight whilst sipping my usual Earl Grey.

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From my amazing little teapot!

Nesting

We got married last June and had hoped to be in a position to move house this year. We were pretty confident our little 2-bed house would sell quickly but were really concerned about not being able to find something suitable to buy.

We started looking around mid-December 2016 but it wasn’t until the end of April that a house finally came on the market that we thought was suitable. In fact, it ticked all of our boxes so after the first viewing we put our house on the market.

Since then we’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster. I thought it would be easy: sell your home and find another to buy. Yeah right!

We had quite a bit of interest in our house but it took a few weeks for someone to make an offer. We didn’t accept it because it was slightly too low. In the meantime, we started second-guessing the house that we thought was so amazing. It was at the top end of our budget but there was something not quite right about it, and we just couldn’t put our finger on it. The house was large, right number of rooms, a garage for Sam, within walking distance of the station for me. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the house when I first saw it on my own without Sam, but came round to it on the second viewing and could see the potential.

Things moved slowly on; our house was still on the market and the sellers of this other house wouldn’t take it off the market for an agreed price – even though the sellers of the house they were buying from had taken their home off the market for them! It was so frustrating. So, as a result, we kept looking around in anticipation that they’d find a buyer before we could sell ours. They did, and to be honest, we accepted that. The house, we’d come to realise, was everything on paper – but it didn’t feel like a home. We didn’t have that ‘cosy’ feeling.

I’m someone who thinks with their head, not their heart.

But if this process has taught me anything its that you need to trust your intuition and to step outside the box.

Our next home will be a family home; a place where we will raise our children in a loving, safe environment. I’ve got visions of walking the children to school around the corner and then carrying on to the train station for work. To spending weekends filling the kitchen with the smells of baking, soup and roast dinners. Having fairy lights over a fire place at Christmas with mugs of hot chocolate, but with space enough for the kids to play and to store our things without feeling on top of each other. Being able to be surrounded by my books but for them not to be intruding into our lives and taking up valuable room. For light, space and air.

To be able to grow and prosper as a family.

And that, is the crux of the matter.

We’re country bumpkins. Even the townscape is too much for us never mind a city. But of the small towns we like around here there are few houses on the market. We’ve also had to consider schools; primary schools really but with good transport links to a secondary school. We don’t plan to move for at least 10 years, and longer if we can help it, so these are things we have to think about. Its looking though we will move to a town for the amenities; schools, extra-curricular clubs for the future children and transport links for us to carry on with our work. Living in the country is wonderful; the clean air, the woods and the wildlife, and being able to set out for a walk from your front door rather than driving to a particular location. I guess we just don’t need the fast bright life of the city. Our idea of an evening out is a trip to the cinema or a restaurant and being home by 10pm. But, just maybe, we now have to put that to one side and to focus on what would be best for us and a little one – and that means making life a bit easier by not having to travel for 30 minutes to get anywhere.

But what house is a whole other question. We are both attracted to period homes but few of these have garages and some not even off road parking. Off road parking is a must have, but Sam has had to decide whether he wants a garage (currently housing our mini) or a workshop space. We’ve also gone full circle and are back considering new-ish builds too as they offer more space for the money.

We’ve viewed a fair few houses now and everything is nearly there, but not quite. Houses that are on a busy road >have a bad layout >are too far for Sam to get to work > have inadequate local schools >needs so much improvement work it should be bulldozed. Etc.

We will remain hopeful though! We’ve sold our house now so we are in a good position to buy. Fingers crossed something will come up!

In the meantime, my Pinterest is bulging with decor ideas for our next home. I love wood, subway tiles and trailing greenery with hues of grey to break up the walls and soft furnishings to bring it all together. Here a few of my favourites:

Feta & olives; a fly and flop to Greece

We’ve had a hectic few months so when our holiday to Greece finally rolled around a couple of weeks ago, Sam and I were both ready for it.

What with being very busy at work and trying to move house (whole other story!), we both felt exhausted so a holiday was long overdue. We’d been away over Easter to Devon, and went up to the Lake District in May, but its not the same as a week (or 10 days in our case) in the sun. One of my favourite feelings in the whole world is stepping off the plane and feeling the hot dusty air hit you square in the face. Within minutes your skin has a slight sheen to it – especially if you have to get one of those buses between the plane and the terminal. And I LOVE it. You just know you are on holiday then.

We had a beautiful holiday; though I can’t say much about the island itself as we didn’t leave the hotel! We went to Crete at the end of June and had good intentions to explore part of the island, including the temple of Knoss not far from the airport. Very quickly though, we realised that that was simply not going to happen. We did a couple of walks into the local village, Elounda, but that was it!

I love tanning; I would say it one of my best talents. If I didn’t come back from holiday looking like a native with very obvious tan lines I think I’d question what the point of the holiday was. That sounds awfully shallow, but I do find myself checking how well I’ve tanned each and every day. If I had pale English rose skin I obviously wouldn’t bother, but as I have an olive skin tone I treat it as an annual personal challenge to see how dark I can go. Sam on the other hand doesn’t usually like sitting in the sun for days on end. But even he was happy to fly and flop this time. He even got his chest and back out in the sun and has gone a wonderful golden colour.

Greece is beautiful. I’ve been to Mykonos, Santorini, Kos, Rhodes, Corfu, Athens and Olympia, besides Crete. And it really does look how it does on the internet! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESCute cube-shaped white-washed houses with blue shutters, pink and white bougainvillea growing up the sides and stunning views out over the sea. Tavernas with rickety wooden tables and chairs but the most amazing feta, olives and all types of salads and seafood on offer. I think I was Greek in a past life, because I can’t get enough of it.

We didn’t obviously see much of Crete save for the journey to and from the airport and two short hops into Elounda. Crete is the most southerly of the Greek islands and very mountainous. It doesn’t have the picturesque buildings I described above (for the most part – there are some quaint towns on the west side of the island though). It is more rustic, more weathered I guess. It is not as green as the more northern islands, such as Corfu, and has a hardened feel about it; plants that are clearly used to drought conditions and high temperatures.

But Greece is all about the food and Crete is no different. We enjoyed many Cretan specialities (including raki which nearly blew my head off) and every dish was amazing. If you do not like olives, oils, mussels, soft cheese and salads, Greece isn’t the place for you. It has the most eclectic culinary mixes; tea infused oils, mint, basil and oregano salads with beetroot, walnuts, feta and artichoke.

The best pork and lamb, falling off the bone, and more types of fish than I thought I’d see in one sitting. I managed to lose 1 stone in weight in the lead up to our holiday, but I came back 5 pounds heavier!

Our holiday was just that; a holiday. A break away from the reality of our lives in the UK and time for us to just relax and be us. We didn’t just sit in the sun all day, we swam in the sea and the pool (I have an irrational fear of little fish so the pool is much safer!) and spent endless hours sipping wine and tea on our beautiful garden terrace overlooking the sea in our dressing gowns. It was wonderful spending time together doing nothing in particular. Sam and I can spend all day with each other and not get bored, talking about anything and everything . We treated ourselves to a rasul spa treatment; a self-applying mud treatment which rejuvenates your skin. We have come back refreshed, tanned (!) and with more love for each other than ever before.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I would thoroughly recommend visiting the Greek isles – though I’ll have to see more of Crete before I decide either way!

My body: coming to terms

A few weeks ago I posted about a calorie-tracking app that I was testing and my struggles with weight-loss generally.

Last year I put on a few pounds in the lead up to my wedding, and then more than half a stone after the wedding. It wasn’t until late August when were having a weekend break in Paris did I feel truly uncomfortable and decided to do something about it.

I joined a gym. Standard, I know. But I’ve always been ‘in’ to exercise – cardio mostly. But exercise doesn’t help you lose weight. It makes you feel better about yourself initially because you are doing the right thing for your body. But then after a few weeks you get quite despondent because you aren’t seeing results, or the results aren’t as quick as you would like. And then you slip up, eating junk food you’ve been desperately trying to avoid and before you know it your diet is over and its not even been a month. Your gym membership feels like a burden – a monthly cost you can’t afford and time out of your day when you’d rather be at home. You know the drill. The circle. The ups and downs. Call it what you want but most people, no matter where there are on their weight loss / healthy lifestyle journey will have been there.

You need to address your diet. And that is the biggest change you can make, I think. If you are very overweight and have had a truly bad diet then its going to feel like you have to traverse a mountain. For others who are looking to shift a few pounds or a few stone, its possible, but you may not know what is wrong with your diet in the first place. Too much food, obviously, but what changes do you make? And where do you begin? Do you reduce your carbs, increase your protein intake, cut out alcohol/sweets/takeaways?

I started using a calorie tracking app because even though I’m fairly savvy and know roughly how many calories are in many foods, I think there are a lot of hidden calories in things you don’t really think about: cooking oil, ketchup etc. And my first discovery? 1,600 calories (my daily number of calories to lose a pound a week apparently) is LOW.

1,600 calories looks like this.

This is a typical ‘good’ day for me:

Breakfast: wholegrain toast with butter and a cup of tea [total calories 204]

Snack 1: banana [103 calories] and a KitKat [106 calories]

Lunch: Slim Fast shake [203 calories]

Snack 2: pear [103 calories] sometimes I have a nectarine instead and these are slightly lower in calories

Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognaise [spaghetti [249], quorn mince [150], chopped tomatoes [47], mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and courgette [101], grated cheese [82]. Total calories 630

Evening snack: chocolate biscuit x3 [240]

TOTAL FOR DAY: 1,589

As you can see, I am having at least two pieces of fruit and vegetables with my evening meal. Yes, I have had a chocolate bar in the morning but I get up very early and have a long commute so 10am is middle of the day for me! Plus KitKats are the lowest calorie chocolate I can find.

Many will say a Slim Fast shake for lunch I shall neither healthy nor sustainable, but I find it help she me monitor my calories to keep them low during the day.  I am very much an evening eater so if I didn’t restrict my calories at lunch time I’d be gaining rather than losing weight.

Having recorded my calories every single day for 60 days, I realised that seeing it all written down really encouraged me to eat better. But just half a biscuit or one more piece of fruit on top, and I’d be over my total for the day. Its hard especially when you see how little you are eating but how many calories are in those items!

I haven’t made a huge overhaul to my diet as I eat fairly healthily anyway. My downfall is portion size and snacking. Swapping unhealthy items for fruit has been hard because I never used to like fruit, and even now there are very few fruits I will eat. But I’m getting there and, more importantly, I’m enjoying it.

Reducing my portion sizes has been the biggest lesson. Pasta or rice the size of my fist on a plate rather than taking up most of the plate :/ I still look down and think “the plate is half empty”  but after a few days and weeks your stomach muscle starts to shrink so you don’t feel as hungry and get full up on less.

This makes me sound like I’m starving myself – I’m not, I just had huge plates of food before.I come from a family where finishing everything on your plate is encouraged and piled high. Not stop when you’re full up.  I now try to only put on the plate what I want to eat and I think is a reasonable amount to eat and that takes time to learn. You really have to listen to your body.

So, after trying my damned hardest and some 9 months after I first decided to make some changes, I reached my ‘goal weight’. I did have some problems with my scales (they kept saying a different number every time) so I can’t be sure exactly how much I’ve lost, but I think it is about a stone. I’m pretty pleased because I’ve lost it in a sustainable way even though its taken far longer than most other people.

Here are the things I’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Look at your portion sizes. Your stomach is supposedly the size of a grapefruit. Imagine it stretching with too much food!
  2. Carbs are good in moderation. Everything is good in moderation but carbs are not evil. Eating pasta or rice will not make you put weight on unless you are eating to excess.
  3. Introducing fruit and more vegetables is not hard; add an extra vegetable to your evening meal and swap a snack for fruit during the day.
  4. There are a lot of calories in meat! Having meatballs instead of quorn mince adds an extra 400 calories to your spaghetti meal! Plus there is more fat. I’m at an advantage in that my parents are vegetarian and I’ve grown up familiar with meat alternatives, but I would definitely recommend making a swap once a week.
  5. Exercise helps maintain your weight, but does not help you lose it. You have to change your diet too.
  6. MOVE MORE. Take the stairs, not the lift. I’ve started taking the stairs at the train station instead of the escalator (about 2 floors’ worth) and I feel much better in myself.
  7. There will be foods you love but which you realise are not good for you. Bread does not agree with me. Just making a simple change from white to whole grain has been astronomical. I don’t feel bloated, lethargic or uncomfortable. Listen to your body – you don’t have to cut it out just find an alternative.

This is old news, I know that. But it’s not a fad diet, just simple obvious decisions to lead a more healthy lifestyle. Find something that motivates you; an outfit, an old picture, anything. Don’t be negative if you take your time to get there like I did, enjoy the journey and think about what you’ve learned. Try to make those little changes last a lifestyle and maybe you’ll never need to crash diet again.

Ive only lost a stone and could do with losing more, but I’m happy where I am at the moment. I’m now turning my attention to the outside of my body and to firming it up. I’ve been doing a basic routine of sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, russian twists etc at the gym plus my usual short run, and my tummy has become much flatter as a result. I’m going to try and improve my legs now and get some tone. Wish me luck! I have no idea what I’m doing and only bought kettle bells the other day, but its the trying that counts.

And whilst doing that, focusing on eating right; not clean, but healthy nutritious food with the odd naughty treat!

Everyone is in the same boat; just because they don’t talk about their body hang ups doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Stay positive!

A trip around North Devon: Clovelly

I realised its been a while since I last posted, but so much seems to have happened in that month I’m not sure where to begin.

I thought I’d start with a review of our jaunt down to the North Devon coast over the Easter weekend (I’m actually eating an Easter Egg whilst I write this as we have some left over!) We went with a couple of friends and decided to be based near Clovelly; none of us had been there before but after a quick google search and seeing so many pretty pictures of it we simply had to visit.

Clovelly is a small fishing village situated on private land. The main high street is pedestrianised, with good reason; Clovelly is incredibly steep and has narrow cobbled streets. The villagers use trolleys and crates on wheels to transport goods up and down the village. In years gone by, the villagers used the same crates to carry fish up from the harbour.

& it is so quaint!

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Follow the cobbles down and you will make your way past a pub called the Up and Along Bar. It sounds quirky, but its not much to write home about – just a standard pub for a drink.

Carry on a bit further and you’ll reach the only cafe in Clovelly serving Devonshire cream tea. We sat out the back overlooking the bay and it was quite glorious; beautiful sunshine with an amazing view to boot. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The scones and jam were lovely too.

From here the road becomes steeper and more windy as you descend to the bay. If you are slightly infirm or if it was wet, I imagine the cobbles would be quite treacherous. Otherwise its certainly a talking point (and gasps of air on the way back up!)

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This photo shows how steep the path becomes

But eventually you will come down to the bay. There is a very popular pub to the one side and stunning views out over the sea to the other. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The tide was out when we were there which made it even better; you could see the ropes and moorings and could almost feel how dangerous it would have been to be in a tiny fishing boat near all the rocks. As we were enjoying a pint a couple of canoes made their way in and were very careful on the approach.

I love the sea; blue, grey, calm or thunderous, in shorts or in a coat, there is nothing like looking out onto it.

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If you head out across the beach after about half a mile you will reach a small waterfall trickling over the top of the cliff. Its worth a wander on a warm day though do be careful on the rocks! Most were large and would rock back and forth as you stood on them. I grazed my ankle on a good couple of occasions.

Although most of the houses are guesthouses or holiday homes, the villagers really pull together to make the village pretty. There were so many pot plants, colourfully-painted homes and trinkets outside that made me smile as we walked along.

My top tips for visiting Clovelly:

  1. You have to pay a fee (£7 each) to go into the village. This is paid in the gift shop where you park your car. However, if you approach on foot via a footpath to the east (on the right-hand side as you look down to the village), then you avoid the toll altogether! Your tickets are not checked once in the village, so if you don’t need to travel by car perhaps consider walking? However, I think some of the money raised does go toward village activities so if you are good person you may want to pay the fee.
  2. You only need half a day in Clovelly and that includes stopping for cream tea, fudge, and a drink or three. There are only 2 pubs and 1 cafe plus a handful of shops so there is not a lot to do. The village is picturesque and that it what is so attractive about it. I would definitely recommend the cream tea at the cafe half way down and a Devonshire pasty (not to be confused with a Cornish pasty or you’ll get a slap from a resident)
  3. If it is a sunny day take a picnic and eat on the beach; you will really make the most of the village and its scenery.
  4. Wear good footwear! Trainers or the like, but not flip flops as you probably will slip and fall.

Clovelly was beautiful and I’m glad we visited. We’ve been to many places in both Cornwall and Devon though I’ve realised one main difference between the neighbouring counties:

Cornwall is quaint. Most of the towns and villages are geared towards tourism and have their own prettiness and quirkiness about them. I get the feeling Devon is either ‘new’ to tourism or is going for the more rugged look. Whilst the landscape is stunning, most of the towns and villages, other than Clovelly, are quite simple and don’t have that twee, tourist-pulling attractiveness about them. I’m sure people from Devon will be up in arms about this comment, but it is only my opinion.

I will continue to visit Devon!

 

On the road to achievement; maintaining a positive mindset

A few weeks ago I posted a brief blog about my battle with the bulge. Four weeks on, my weight has not changed much. Maybe one or two pounds, but that’s it. Having made a significant effort since the New Year to eat healthily and really focus on my food choices, I’ve been quite deflated at the minimal weight loss I’ve achieved.

I first realised I need to shift at least half a stone in August/September 2016. I joined a gym and started having a Slim Fast drink for lunch and only two healthy snacks during the day. Slim Fast has been the only way I can limit my calorie intake during the day and still feel full; I lost a stone in 6 weeks a few years back so I know it works if I put my mind to it. I kept my usual wholewheat toast for breakfast and would eat a balanced evening meal. By Christmas I was feeling much slimmer and fitted into sparkling pencil skirt for my work Christmas ‘do. In reality, I’d only lost about 4 pounds, but my tummy wasn’t bloated as much.

So, in the New Year I tried to stay positive. We booked a holiday to Greece for the summer and I suddenly thought “that’s 6 months away. That’s enough time to do something about my weight. I want to be slim and [foolishly], I want an ‘Instagram’ body”. So I carried on at the gym but started doing some floor work as well as using the cross-trainer; I did my first ab crunch in January and haven’t looked back! I can now do 40 ab crunches quite quickly, plus 40 bicycle ab crunches as well as squats, a plank and Russian twists.

My waist has slimmed down – and I’ve put this down to the Russian twists which really work my oblique muscles.

But I have only lost a couple more pounds to be my current weight. The problem I have is that I found out my scales were broken in February 2017 so its actually quite hard to work out how much weight I have lost. On the basis that my previous scales were slightly light, I was probably far heavier than I thought last August. So in all, I have probably lost about half a stone.

I really struggle to lose weight – it takes me ages to do it properly. A pound a week never mind a month is hard. My weight seems to stabilise for weeks on end, then suddenly drops a pound. Then stabilises, then drops a pound. I wouldn’t mind but when you are limiting your calories, working out 3 times a week and recording all of your food in an app, you’d think you’d lose weight faster. Feeling deflated is an understatement. On a couple of occasions I’ve had a chocolate biscuit after dinner or a slice of cheese when I get in from work (my days are long from commuting) and feel guilty, but on those days I’d already weighed myself and knew I hadn’t lost weight from being good!

I’m not a secret eater. I can remember everything that passes my lips for the last week and am honest about my calorie intake and if I go over.

I follow a couple of high-profile fitness fanatics, who I won’t name, on Instagram. The intention was to feel motivated during the day by seeing lots of ‘before and after’ pictures in the hope that it would keep me on the straight and narrow. The strange thing is, it has.

Although my body hasn’t changed much, my mind set has. I feel I am coming to understand the ‘love your body’ mantras the health and fitness world talk about all the time. Keep positive. Focus on the end goal but enjoy the journey in between. Goal posts move. Instead of just wanting to lose a few pounds (and, I admit, still wanting an ‘Instagram body’), I wanted to be fit. Strong. Toned.

So the last 6 weeks I have focused on trying to be strong. Well, as strong as you can be from just cross-training and doing squats and sit-ups without any weights! And then this week I thought, why not? I see people at the gym who are of a similar build to me – slightly overweight but not majorly – and they seem to be able to do it. Granted, I am worried about hurting myself but I have always been into fitness so I’m not stupid and know that form and technique are important. So, I’m buying some kettlebells this weekend! I’ve looked up 3-5 simple exercises I can do with them at home and I’m hoping they will help me tone up. If I can get toned I wouldn’t need to lose much weight at all.

I guess I feel like I’ve turned full circle. From enjoying sport and team games at school to joining various gyms and running as an adult. Now I realise that running is not sustainable for me long-term as a hobby (my knees are ruined to put it lightly), so whilst I may train for the odd charity run, I can’t do too much more than that. But suddenly the focus isn’t on just doing something to say I do it. Its about me. About feeling strong and able. I want to be one of those 50 year-olds who are trim and exude a classic, healthy wellbeing. This isn’t short-term. I want to keep this mind-set my whole life.

So, the scales may not be moving much, but I figure that life is about balance. I do eat a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables and fruit. I don’t drink much, I don’t smoke. The odd biscuit and toast is not going to hurt.

I feel like I can do this. Its only 6 weeks until my holidays (I can’t believe it was 6 months not long ago!) so these kettlebells had better have some effect! And, even though it is only likely to be a minimal change, any change is good and hopefully I can build on this and achieve the body I know is there, just hidden from view.

My reference to an ‘Instagram’ body may seem immature, but its not about the look. Its about feeling healthy and I guess I attributed that to being slim (and in a glossy picture). I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last few months. Not necessarily things I can put into words but how I feel about myself and how I want to live my life. I think the next year will be the hardest as I try to achieve my goals, but then I have countless years ahead of me to (hopefully) maintain that. I’m actually excited.

I’m going to post occasionally about how this health and wellbeing journey is going for me; it won’t be all smooth-sailing but I figure that as long as I cling on to the positives I can make it there, no matter how long it takes. The feeling that you’re trying is far better than that of regret.

Happy National Tea Day!

As you may have already guessed, tea is my all-time favourite drink.  I drink about 5 cups of tea a day and, whilst that may not seem a lot to some people, I make those 5 cups count!

Lets be British about this – if you’re going to have a cuppa you’ve got to do it properly. None of this milky-as-hell, ten-spoons-of-sugar malarky. And why is the most common type (if it can even be called that) of tea, ‘builders’ tea? Builders have severely gone down in my estimation for drinking copious amounts of awful tea. I find most normal cups of English Breakfast tea down right frightful and often comment that its like drinking mud.

I’m a sucker for a cup of Earl Grey. No milk (I’m lactose intolerant anyway). I don’t understand why people say that Earl Grey is ‘fragrant’ tea, as though it is herbal or fruity. To me, Early Grey is what tea should be. Not heavy, or smokey or fruity, but as though you are walking through the fields of tea leaves in India. It is beautiful, whether drinking a cup in the harsh winter months snuggled up in a blanket or in the summer months when you look outside and just know that its going to be a wonderfully hot summers day.

The other month we were out dining in a wonderful cafe on the South coast. It sold more types of bread than I though possible; sour dough, olive bread, gluten-free, nutty bread, you name it. I ordered a standard cup of Earl Grey tea. & when it came it was quite possibly the best cup of Earl Grey I’ve ever had! We had to look up the tea there and then and it was a surprisingly well-ish known brand; T2.

Whilst I didn’t buy any of the bags of tea on sale that day (there was only a limited display as it was a small cafe), I did buy a stunning little teapot; its my pride and joy! Just look at it! > > >

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Perfection!

I love stoneware crockery and, whilst this teapot has a shine, it fits in perfectly. It has a built-in strainer for leaf tea and makes enough tea for 2 cups.

I was then up in Leeds visiting my brother a few weeks ago when we came across an entire shop of T2 tea! It was actual heaven. It was floor to ceiling of more tea than I’d ever seen in my life. Black, white, green and herbal tea in more varieties that you could name. Different takes on the usual favourites, as well as off-the-wall types that smelt wonderful; Mocha strawberry? But then I came across French Earl Grey tea. I was sold. It is the best version of Earl Grey I could ever wish for. It has extracts of mango in it which give it a whimsical, summer morning-whilst-dew-is-still-on-the-grass kind of smell. Needless to say, it was leaf tea and I bought a box straight away. Whilst it was quite costly (£7 for c.40 cups) it is totally worth it. I even bought a little gift set for my dad as his birthday was coming up.

T2 are definitely up there in the tea stakes, which is strange because I believe it is an Australian company and I wouldn’t usually associate tea with that country. Perhaps there are some ex-pats involved somewhere along the way! Either way, T2 can carry on doing what they do best, because there is nothing on the market as exquisite.

I’m cooking a curry at the moment and enjoying a cup of Earl Grey. Later, instead of relaxing with a glass of wine like many people, I’ll be enjoying my French Earl Grey in my cute little teapot!

Happy National Tea Day!

Old fashioned pen & paper

I’m learning how to write again. Not just how to write, but falling in love with putting pen to paper and letting my thoughts tumble out of my pen nib not knowing what is coming next. I’ve written my few blog posts to date whilst commuting on the train. Its not always easy. In the morning I’m too tired and prefer to read my kindle or just doze. Or just to focus on the day ahead. On the odd occasion where I have been thinking about blog-related things I arrive at work a bit disorientated and it takes a while for me to start the day.

On the way home its different. If I don’t go to the gym then my early train is quite empty so I can get a couple of seats to myself, get comfy and start writing. I’m a blue biro person; black is too harsh on the page and ink just smudges when your writing is as big and loopy as mine. I often feel like a toddler, my pen wobbling all over the place. That’s not because of the train, but rather because my working life is centred around a computer so holding a pen is quite rare.

I loved writing when I was at school. English language was my favourite class. I love literature too, but rather becaused there’s nothing quite like getting engrossed in a good story, not because I enjoy analysing characters and finding hidden meanings in the text. That takes the fun out of the novel for me.

There is so much to the English language. So many words. So many ways of saying just one thing. So many ways you can be miss-interpreted.

My job in law involves a lot of writing (typing!), but its not the same. Its not writing. Its concise. To the point. Black & white. Informal but not casual. Its quite a conditioned way of communicating – after 7 years of study thats perhaps not surprising. Institutionalised even. My thoughts obviously can’t just free-flow in that environment (without a caveat or 10 anyway). It’s restrictive. I almost speak like that now.

I’m trying to break out of the habit in my personal life and be a bit more animated. Enthusiastic. Expanding my vocabulary to its pre-law breadth and letting my musings crystalise in ink. Its not easy. I can’t figure out if writing is a state of mind or an art. Maybe its both.

Blogging will be a (I cringe to use this expression, but!) a journey. A re-education. Back to basics and soaking up the environment around me. Keeping in touch with the things that are important in life and enjoying the little moments that often pass us by.

I wrote short stories as a kid and was a complete book-worm. I’m still like that now though sadly theres never as much time to read these days. I’ve always appreciated how hard writing a story is. In fact, as I’ve been reading The Game of Thrones (is he ever going to finish writing the series?) I’ve often wondered how the author put it all together. He must have a timeline for each character, their location in the fictional word and more family trees marked out than you could shake a stick at. I heard somewhere that there are in excess of 4,000 characters! Of course, not all main characters, but just to come up with an identity for each them must be hard enough.

Whislt I would love to write a book myself someday, that day is very firmly far into the future. I need to focus on me, how I communicate and what it is I actually want to say. ‘Finding myself’ through words is the wrong expression – I think I know who I am. I just need to learn how to express myself.

It’s almost akin to reflection. But in more of an evaluating than analysing way, through a medium of choice. When I was younger I thought everything was just as it was and that adults accepted it and got on with their lives. Well, we do. But as you grow up you realise the importance of the smaller things in life. Good old-fashioned values and knowing that you can do something to change how you life your life. I want to capture that.

Writing. Not typing – until I have to type it up to post it anyway!