5 Minutes Peace (or one simple change).

I’m having my usual coffee and almond croissant before work.  It’s my time to stop, reflect and gather myself together before a busy day in customer service.  I used to go into work early to catch with all the little jobs I thought I should be doing so I didn’t let anyone down.  I also used to work through my lunch breaks as I told myself I needed to be hyper-productive.  Over the past few months I’ve been changing that.  I go for a walk at lunchtime, I take 20 minutes to myself in the morning and the overwhelming result of this simple chamge is that I’m (mostly) happier, calmer and ready for my working day.

 

What simple change can you make to improve your day to day life?  It doesn’t have to be a huge change at all, just a small adjustment that has a huge effect.  Think about the fluttering of butterfly wings…

I look forward to hearing about your changes!

Ali 💋

London 3 times and a bikini

Oh hello 👋 It’s been a while… 3 years to be exact.  Is anyone still here? I keep meaning to blog but life just happens, lots happens!  I’m not going to go over the last 3 years. It will take too long and the past is in the past.  Today is more important and those four words are how I’m trying to live my life now (this is where the bikini comes in, keep reading).

Today I’ve got tired feet, a headache and a huge smile.  Today I drank cider in a park at a festival with special people. Today I feel grateful that I’m not going to London next weekend, 3 weekends in a row have been enough – Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters and my son was in a show at Sadler’s Wells theatre last night.  Today I decided to blog again and today I bought a bikini.

Yep.  This bikini.

It may not fit and it’ll certainly show off my mummy tummy and squishy bits.  It’ll definitely show off the fact that my belly button isn’t central and that I’ve got one hip about 2 inches higher than the other and it will show off the fact that when I’m happy I eat! But when I find the confidence to wear it in the garden/at the beach I’ll know I’ve completely found the living for today attitude that I want to find.

💋 Ali

 

 

Wherever I lay my hat.

How many hats do you wear? How many jobs are you juggling? How many ‘you’s’ are there? Have you ever even stopped to think about who you are, what you do, why you do it and how you manage to keep all these different hats on at the same time?

I’ll start – In no particular order,  I’m a mum, girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, aspiring small business owner and cat mummy.  Phew, I’m sure that your basic list will be the similar to, if not longer than this.  Then you could break each hat down into its individual parts, but I won’t…I’m already overwhelmed.

Today I dropped all my hats.  I woke up in my room surrounded by mess and untidiness.  Walked downstairs to more mess. And that was how my day began. Feeling overthrown by it all I had my coffee and gave my youngest her breakfast amidst the detritus of yesterday’s play in the living room.  I started thinking, how does everyone else do it? Are your lives really as perfect and easy as they appear to be on social media?  Do your kids really go to school with a homecooked packed lunch, brushed hair and a clean school jumper every day? Is your home perfectly clean and ready for visitors no matter what time of day it is? No, mine neither. You little liars 😉

Home life for me is made all the more complicated by having children from two relationships.  I’ve spent most of the day trying to coordinate when they are having their children so I can take the mummy hat off for a short time at least. I think I’ve managed it, but ugh, it took some feet stamping on my part!

We all try to be so many different versions of ourselves all at once.  It’s no wonder that people break occasionally. On top of being all these different people, we then compare ourselves to the ‘perfect ones’, read lifestyle blogs (!), pin everything on Pinterest and try to be this fictitious modern day version of Mary Poppins (she wore a cute hat…) that is unrealistic and mostly unattainable.

I’m often told to just be myself which is good advice for everyone, unless you’re a horrid person, then try to be a nicer one (that’s a direct quote from someone I know). So, do me a favour please? Just be you, take off all those hats and find the one with your name on – it suits you the most. You don’t have to be anything other than you, because if we were all the same how would we grow, change and make a difference in our world?

Remember, it really is OK to feel overwhelmed, sad, scared, and anxious – these feelings keep us grounded and allow us to recognise the happy, fun, silly times.

Tonight I’m going to wear my Ali hat with a smile while I cook tea, sing along to some loud music and maybe pour myself a large glass of wine.

 

 

So…

As children we feel that life is ours to keep. That we are invincible, that love is easy to find, that living is easy, fun and carefree. Our minds are inquisitive and full of wonder.

As adults we find that living isn’t easy, fun and carefree, that love doesn’t find us at a click of our fingers and that people are definitely not invincible.

But we have to be strong and be there for those who need us in whatever form they want because that is living – sharing yourself when the chips are down, loving unconditionally, being there.

Living isn’t about material haves. Living is about those things you can’t touch but feel in your heart.

 

Expect to see more in future!

IMG_20150403_153340LOOK, look what I have been given for my birthday! Yes, I’m 40 next month and to ease the pain my lovely mum has bought me a Kitchenaid stand mixer!

Mingo The Mixer arrived 2 hours ago and so far I have made brownies and now a white bloomer is kneading.

Diet?  What diet?  If Nigella can rock her curves then so can I!

What shall I make next?  Do I need the mincer attachment,  what about a different whisk? It’s all so exciting!

Ali x

Comfort food … Sunshine soup for a rainy day

I don’t know about you but these last couple of days of rain have had me hankering after proper food, thick warming soups, hearty stews with dumplings and of course, cake.  Lots and lots of cake.

My fridge and larder are looking a little Mother Hubbard, but it was raining and I really didn’t want to go out for more supplies.  Sometimes you just want to stay in and hibernate!  So I had a good rummage in the fridge and found a butternut squash (I found 3 actually … no idea why I had 3 in the fridge), some slightly past their best yellow peppers and a bag of onions.  Soup! That was the cry from my hungry tummy, soup with cheese scones!

‘Feed me!’ cried my belly.  ‘Bake!’ said my procrastinating head.  So I did, and rather yummy it was too.

Roast squash, pepper and onion soup

Serves 3-4

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2cm dice

2 or 3 yellow or red peppers chopped into large chunks

3 small or 1 large onion chopped into quarters

Olive oil

Pinch of salt to taste

1 tsp cumin seed

1 tsp smoked paprika

A 2.5 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated finely

About 1pt water

 

Put all the veg in a baking tray with the olive oil and spices, roast at gas mark 4/180c until all the veg has softened and is starting to go a bit toasty

squahsouproasting

When the vegetables are cooked, tip them into a saucepan, add about 1/2 pt of water and whizz up with a stick blender.  I like my pumpkin and squash soups to be velvetty smooth so I whizz until I can whizz no more ;).  Gradually add more water until you get the consistency you like, taste for seasoning and reheat gently.

I served mine with a dollop of creme fraiche and some chopped coriander.soupsquash

Cheese scones (My favourite accompaniment to homemade soup)

250g self rasing flour

75g cold butter (always proper butter, always)

125g mature cheddar cheese

125ml milk

Pinch of salt

 

Sift the flour and salt together into a large bowl.  Cube the butter into 1cm pieces and add to the flour and salt.  Gently rub the butter into the flour with your finger tips and thumb until it looks like sharp sand with a few small pebbles.

sandypebbles

Grate most of the cheese into the flour and butter mix, saving some for the top of your scones.  I like to use a dinner knife to stir the cheese into the flour – I find it disperses more evenly that way.

Again using the knife to mix, slowly add the milk – you may not need all of it.  You want a soft, malleable but not gloppy texture to your scone dough.  Once it has all come together, gently shape into a ball with your hands and place on a floured work surface.

Using your hands or a rolling pin, flatten the dough to roughly 2cm in depth.  Any thinner and you’ll end up with cheesy Welshcakes (ooh, now there’s a thought!).  Cut out your scones using a small circular cutter in a sharp downward motion, if you twist the cutter as you use it then the scones can sometimes rise in a rather wonky manner.  Not that I mind anything wonky and rustic looking!

You should get about 6-7 normal scones and 1 funny shaped scone from the trimmings (I always like the funny shaped one, baker’s perks you know).  Place on a lined baking tray, brush with milk and sprinkle over the remainder of the cheese and some smoked paprika if you fancy.

cheesesconesbeforebaking

Bake in the centre of the oven at gas mark 4/180c for about 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Serve warm with the soup and lashings of proper butter!

cheesesconecooked

Well, Shazbot!

I imagine most of the western world has heard of the untimely passing of the great Robin Williams by now.  It’s so sad and hard to believe that someone you grew up laughing with has now gone. He made us laugh, made us cry and now he has made us think.

Depression is a cruel disease, stripping away your joy, your love of anything and everything. Taking away your life. You tend to exist, not live when depression takes hold, everyday tasks become huge obstacles and if something unexpected should happen, something as small as a friend knocking on the door, it throws everything off kilter.

I spent 15 years on antidepressants. At some points in these years I was doing just fine and no one would know, at other points during this time I wouldn’t leave the house, answer the phone or socialise at all.  Being alone and hiding from the world was my way of living with the black dog.

6 years ago things started to change for me, I became involved with helping new mums breastfeed their babies. Through this I started to see how I could make a difference, that I wasn’t worthless, that there was a purpose to everything.

I stayed on the tablets though, not ready yet to let go of that safety net, besides my life was about to go through some huge changes and I’m not sure how I would have coped. Slowly I started to live again, something that wasn’t actually welcomed by a few people. I started going out and doing things for me. Things that made me happy, like dancing, meeting friends, smiling again.

More life changes followed, including the breakdown of my marriage and moving 140 miles back to the south coast which has always been home.  I was still taking the tablets, again I wasn’t ready to feel or deal with my emotions.

18 months ago I stopped taking the Prozac, don’t know why.  I can’t think of an out and out reason for knowing I didn’t need them anymore. I just knew I didn’t want to feel numb, that I could now cope with my emotions, that I wanted to be me again.

I’ve not looked back, I love my life. I have an amazing family and the most wonderful friends that I could wish for. I’m meeting more and more fabulous people and seeing the beauty in everything.

Depression sucks. You can’t ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull yourself together’ as gets suggested so many times. Some people are lucky, they can unchain the black dog and let him run far, far away and know he won’t come back. Others cannot. If someone you know reaches out to you and tells you how they are feeling, be there for them.  Ask them what you can do and avoid the clichés.

RIP Robin Williams, thank you for the giggles.

Simply Cook – A Review

cookboxThere’s a new thing on the home delivery food scene … recipe boxes.  They come with all the spices, oils and condiments you need to make a delicious, easy and exciting meal for 1-3 people (or 5 in my case as I added extras to bulk it up for the family).  Having seen Simply Cook advertised on Facebook I thought it sounded interesting.  I’m always a sucker for anything new to do with food! The £10 price tage seemed quite high so the 50% discount code was the excuse I needed!

The box was delivered 3 days after I ordered, it wasn’t small enough to fit through the letter box so that could be an issue for those who work outside the home.  Inside you get 4 individual boxes, each containing 3 little pots of spices, oils, and stocks/condiments.  You also get 4 recipe cards which have a handy tear off bit with a shopping list on.  The impatient cook in me wanted to open all the little pots to sniff and taste but I managed to hold back!open boxThe first recipe I tried was the spiced butternut squash risotto.  Not a new recipe for me, but I wanted to start with something familiar, something that I had a frame of reference for.  Usually I would roast the squash whilst cooking the risotto, this recipe asks you to cook half the squash in with the rice, and fry the other half with proscuitto ham and pine nuts. You get a spice mix, garlic paste and vegetable stock in the kit all of which smelled amazing separately and out of this world together … all I could hear was ‘mmm, that smells great’ and ‘When is tea ready mum?’!pumpkinrisotto cooking

I followed the recipe to the letter, wanting to give it the fairest test.  However once the rice was cooked, the squash was still too al dente for my liking … so I spent 5 minutes fishing out the squash and newked it in the microwave to finish it off.  Next time I would definitely roast it as usual.

Finishing it off with butter and parmesan made for an unctuously creamy and flavoursome risotto.  The salty proscuitto and sweet pine nuts add a wonderful depth of flavour and fabulous mouth feel as you eat. A crisp, cold white wine would have complimented it perfectly too. pumpkin risotto cookedI was very impressed with the obvious care and attention that had gone into developing the recipes, the blend of flavours is sublime.  Easy to cook and very satisfying to eat.  If my 4 food critics enjoyed it then it must have been good!

Tomorrow I’ll comment on the next recipe from the box – Cajun chicken and sweet potato mash.

Happy eating!

 

Warning: This entry may make you drool.

I’ve got my foodie mojo back and it’s great.  But not so great for my waistline which I’d quite like to keep as it is, please and thank you.  It’s also not good for my kitchen fairy who has to do all the tidying up (me).  I’ll never be a tidy cook.brownieingredients

It’s been a while since I’ve had a foodgasm.  You know, when you bite into something so deliciously edible that you are willing to forego all other pleasures just to take another mouthful … OH. MY.

This recipe had been floating around Facebook land this morning and it just spoke to me  –  ‘bake me, eat me, love me’ … I had to do it and I wasn’t disappointed.  Absolutely no disappointment involved in these brownies whatsoever.  You’ve broken up with your boyfriend? Make these.  You’ve been sacked? Make these.  You need to do housework? Definitely make these instead.

Using the instructions on the above link I began to construct the pretty layers of gooey mixture and crunchy pretzel.  Lots of little hearts all wrapped up in chocolatey lurve! However, there wasn’t enough mixture for the size tin I used so I had to whip up some of my own brownie mixture using this recipe. 

I used a tin of condensed milk to make the dulce de leche topping.  I boiled the unopened tin in a saucepan of water for about 3 hours and let it cool before using.  I think 2.5 hours would have made a slightly softer caramel sauce.

saltedcaramelbrownieslab

Because the dulce de leche was quite firm I spread it on the brownie slab before it had cooled and then sprinkled with Maldon sea salt. It really is a taste explosion.  First the incredible sweetness from the caramel off set by the sea salt.  Then you get the crunch of the pretzels wrapped up in the soft, comforting blanket of rich, dark brownie.  You need to make these.  You really do.

saltedcaramelbrownie

I did worry slightly that the pretzels would soften, and they do when warm but as the cake cools they crisp up again.  Such a clever recipe and one I’ll be making again, and again, and again.

heartbrownies

 

Still waiting

My oven is still broken, I’m getting antsy now. I need to bake! Ah well, at least my starter is getting super active with all this feeding.

I’ve been reflecting back on the last year of living in this house over the past few days.  What a year it has been,  full of ups and downs – much like a rollercoaster. However you can either scream when you hit the bumps or hold your hands up and enjoy the ride!

I don’t want to come across as a militant single parent. Yes it’s tough at times but parenting is. Whilst I don’t love being the only adult in the house, I am extremely proud of how my little family are turning out, all of us are growing, changing, adapting.  I love how we are very similar yet so very different. These differences are what make us special. We should embrace them, allow them to develop.

I hope I can bring a sense of belonging yet individuality to my children. I want them to know that it is ok to be different.  I hope I’ve shown them how to respect the opinions and beliefs of others when they differ to theirs.

Being a parent is tough, fun, rewarding, exhausting, loving and hard work. It’s the best job in the world and I feel very privileged to have been given this chance.