17.5.16

Hosting the perfect, relaxed night in - food

As much as I love a night out at a great restaurant, I'm a sucker for a night in with friends. Having moved away from my home-town almost ten years ago, getting together with old friends happens infrequently, so its essential that we get the most out of the time we do spend together. For me, that means a simple, relaxed night at home where we get to talk until the early hours with plenty of prosecco. This coming weekend, I'll be having all my old friends to stay, giving me the opportunity to play host - something I absolutely love.

For me, the most important part of any night in/sleepover is to keep everyone well fed, so this tends to be where I focus my planning energy. The very last thing I want is hungry guests, so I ensure there's a regular supply of food, and moreover, that there are snacks on hand should anyone need a top-up! Leaving bags of popcorn, fresh fruit and other snacks somewhere accessible is always a good idea.

While I like to keep things relaxed, I have a loose schedule at the back of my mind to ensure nobody gets too peckish:

Arrival - make sure you have nibbly snacks like crisps, crudites and dips, spiced chickpeas or nuts, available for people to snack on when they arrive and definitely as you start serving drinks (we don't want everyone sozzled within the first 30 minutes!) This is especially important if people have had a long journey to get to you, or if you haven't fixed a firm arrival time.

Image from http://www.chowhound.com/recipes/spicy-oven-roasted-chickpeas-30368

Dinner  (between 2-3 hours later) - Whilst the idea of preparing a fabulous banquet really appeals to me, in practice, it just ends up adding extra stress, and often means time spent away from your guests. Far better to prepare something simple and tasty that requires minimal effort on the night, allowing you to join in on the party! My favourite dinner options are things that can be made in advance - a chilli or a lasagne would be perfect - or something that you can pop in the oven without much interference like roast chicken with lemon, herbs and garlic. Make a few big salads, some rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes, and you have a simple, delicious meal that you can easily scale up depending on the size of your party.

If you want to make life really easy, opt for a takeaway. My friends and I share a love of the Indian takeaway near to where we all grew up, so this weekend, the only effort I'll be putting into dinner is making a phone call and warming the plates - heaven! Not only is this easy, but there's a nice touch of nostalgia for all of us.

After dinner - An after-dinner cheese board is essential in my book: my friends and I are big cheese lovers. I love this guide to building the perfect cheese board from The Every Girl: the addition of a piece of honeycomb sent us all over the edge at Christmas - so delicious!

Image from http://theeverygirl.com/how-to-build-the-ultimate-cheese-board
Pudding - We don't tend to go crazy for sweet things, but if we're in the mood for something other than cheese (it never happens!), something simple like tiramisu or a good box of chocolates (as if anyone needs an excuse for Hotel Chocolat!) are a great way to end the meal. I'm desperate to try this flourless chocolate soon, too.

Image from http://www.tarteletteblog.com/2015/04/recipegluten-free-flourless-chocolate.html?crlt.pid=camp.NE9X0UwC7xkp
Breakfast - When it comes to breakfast, simplicity is absolutely key, particularly if you had a few too many glasses of prosecco the night before (#guilty). Even with the worst hangover, most of us can cope with throwing some frozen croissants and pain au chocolat into the oven (Tesco and Waitrose both sell them) and opening a few jars of jam and nutella, plus few things more likely to clear foggy head than the sweet smell of pastries baking in the oven! If you're feeling a little livelier, bacon sandwiches on sourdough bread with roasted tomatoes really can't be beaten, and the platter of bagels and smoked salmon looks very appealing to me! A teapot and cafetiere are you best friends when hosting a larger group, and mean your not having to make multiple cups of tea/coffee, allowing people to serve themselves instead.

Image from http://www.evakolenko.com/food-h/#1663
All that has got me really excited for the weekend! I'd love to hear your party/sleepover favourites!

10.5.16

KonMari, the capsule wardrobe, and the clothes rail that changed my life

'I've got nothing to wear'. This sentence, mostly uttered in conjunction with fists clenched and arms thrown down by my sides in toddler-esque protest was a long-standing ritual for me:

  • before work
  • whilst running late to meet friends for dinner
  • trying to get dressed for a Sunday saunter down the King's Road

And if the thought of a 33 year old woman having a tantrum over what to wear wasn't bad enough, the scene was made all the more absurd when we factored in the sheer volume of clothes before me as I bemoaned my lack of options. Totally ridiculous.

Image from http://elisabethheier.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/jenteweekend.html 


Yet over the past few months, dressing has become straightforward, swift and most surprisingly, pretty darn joyous. I find myself enjoying what I wear in a way that I never have before, and for the first time ever, I feel I have a style that absolutely reflects me. Achieving this wardrobe nirvana has been an interesting process, notably because it's involved marching about 70% of what I owned to the charity shop (in total, nine bin bags full). So, how did I get there?

It all started after a trip to see my lovely friend Al, who told me about a book she'd been reading - the now-ubiquitous Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - and then proceeded to show me her beautiful sock drawer, and tea-towels folded perfectly and stored vertically in the cupboard ('How can they stand up like that?!'). We talked more about the KonMari Method, and I was left in no doubt that I needed to read the book myself, if only so that my towels felt a similar sense of purpose to Al's! I won't recount the detail of the Method, but suffice to say that the take-home message is that we should only own items that spark joy, and anything that doesn't needs to be moved on. That simple idea really resonated with me, and I made a start from there.

Image from https://laurenconrad.com/blog/post/how-can-i-be-the-next-chic-of-the-week?crlt.pid=camp.wVB0tPaADcjv
It was clear that I needed to start with my clothes, and I started to think about what I really wanted to achieve from this process. I quickly realised that, not only did I want to make better use of what I had (and let go of the things I no longer loved), but that I've always longed for simple storage that allowed me to see my clothes and 'shop' my outfits. Instead, everything I owned was hidden away in wardrobes and drawers, and the number of items meant that there were many pieces that seldom saw the light of day. So before embarking on the mammoth task of sorting through my clothes to work out what brought me joy and what didn't, I decided that those special pieces that made the cut deserved to be displayed, so I popped out to buy a cute wooden clothes rail (I got this one from Argos). Little did I know that that small purchase would be instrumental in cementing my style. 

I arrived home with the rail and assembled it straight away. I collected all my wooden hangers together (so satisfying!) and set about emptying all my wardrobes and drawers to assess what I had. Clothes were sorted into categories (tops, dresses, skirts etc) and then I began the task of holding each piece. The question 'does this spark joy?' seemed trite initially but it's amazingly liberating. Items that I'd hung on to after wearing them once (and critically, felt guilty for never wearing again), were easy additions to the charity pile because it finally felt like I had a reason to let them go that was based on my happiness, rather than on my guilt at having wasted money or been frivolous. More than that, handling the things I really did love was affirming in a way I hadn't anticipated. Here were things that were special to me, that had a story and that were now going to be displayed in a way that meant I could enjoy them every day. And then as I started to add things to the rail, something funny began to happen. I slotted in something that I'd thought was too good to give away, but its presence on the rail was so jarring: it didn't go with the emerging palette of black, grey, blue and white, and it stuck out in a way that screamed 'I don't belong here!' I removed it from its hanger and the order of the rail - the wonderful, self-editing thing that it is - was restored. Once the process was complete, and from that point on, I knew that not only would new items have to spark joy, they would have to fit with their fellow rail-mates, meaning that the number of outfit options I have multiplies with every new piece I buy. With this stricter entrance policy and my satisfaction with what I have, shopping trips have reduced dramatically, and only happen when I find a gap or need to replace something. This truly is the stuff that capsule wardrobe dreams are made of.

Image from http://nordicdesign.ca/monochrome-perfection-in-finland/
Through this process, what's been most interesting for me is how my attitude to my clothes has changed. Now that I have a wardrobe consisting entirely of pieces that I love, not only do I treat them better (everything is hung up at the end of the day or put straight into the washing bag, which has meant my home feels more orderly), but my expectations of them has increased: having less means that things are worn more frequently, and as such, they need to perform well. Alongside this, shopping less often has resulted in me having a much easier time with the concept of investing more when I know that I'll get a lot of wear out of something, and critically, when the quality justifies the outlay. That said, I've not made a 'big' purchase since this method, but I've thought more about quality and longevity than I ever have before.

Image from http://www.myscandinavianhome.com/2016/04/the-transformation-of-swedish-space.html
On a more basic level, I've learned the following over the past few months:

1. You really can have too many basic pieces - I owned near-countless grey marl t-shirts, was forever tempted to buy more, yet I wore the same two over and over again. Same for black dresses. Bringing them all together was what I needed to ensure that I steered away from those items when I was shopping as I finally realised that I had plenty to fall back on

2. Having a style uniform is kind of a good thing - I've always known that I like wearing black, grey, blue and white, that I like playing with proportions, that black leather with gold hardware will always be my catnip, but now I know that having the clothes to do all of that is pretty nice: anything more is just unnecessary fluff

3. Similarly, I'm less bothered about wearing variations of the same thing day in, day out. I get genuine pleasure from what I wear, and if you're ever worried about people thinking you always wear the same, try to remember what three of your colleagues or friends were wearing three days ago. When you can't, ease up and where what you want, safe in the knowledge that nobody is really thinking about it!

4. Fewer clothes = more options. This is the most surprising thing. Having everything carefully edited, easily accessible and knowing that it all matches means that outfit selection is as easy as *grab this* and *pair it with that*. I could do it with my eyes closed, which is an amazing thing when you're in a rush

Kindness

I hope you're all having a fantastic week so far. We had incredible weather in London over the weekend, making it much easier to be outside than at my desk writing! In an odd way, I'm quite pleased that it's barely stopped raining today as it's made it simple to focus on all the work I need to get through, as we've all got to pay the bills somehow.

Today's post is a quickie on kindness. It's something I've been thinking about writing for a while but I've not been quite sure of what I wanted to say. Over the past 24 hours, I've seen some incredibly selfless acts contrasted with some stunningly heartless moments between strangers. It's made me realise that it all boils down to one very simple statement:

Image from http://parisnightsandnewyorklights.tumblr.com/post/76945874570
Yep; it's as simple as that. Living in a big city like London, kindness can sometimes be hard to spot. People barge into one another on the street, force their way onto trains, react angrily to people standing on the wrong side of the tube escalators, and generally spend much of their time acting without any kindness or compassion. So many people seem to default to a 'me first' approach to life, seldom stopping to consider the impact that their words or actions have on those around them.

Yet we can all call to mind a time when we were treated with great kindness by a friend or a stranger, and the feeling of warmth and wellbeing that it generates within us is so wonderful. Sometimes those acts of kindness occur when we're feeling low, isolated or unhappy, and there are incredible stories of how random acts of kindness and care profoundly affect people when they may otherwise have lost hope. If we approached all of our interactions with the intention to bring light to people's lives, how much happier would we all be?

Hopefully, we're all trying our best to be kind, but it can be so easy to forget this when our own lives are hectic or challenging. So, here are a few simple things we can do to make life better for others, all of which have the added benefit of making us feel better in the process!

1. Call a friend or family member you haven't spoken to in a while to find out how they are
2. Pay someone a compliment
3. Donate something to your local charity shop 
4. Be patient
5. And above all, be kind to yourself: don't criticise your appearance or berate yourself for mistakes

4.5.16

Fitness | Electrolyte water for recovery


As much as I love running, the one thing that has always stopped me lacing up my trainers more frequently is the aftermath of agonising muscle aches. Every runner knows that a bit of post-run pain is to be expected, but no matter how much I stretch after a 5k, I find myself waddling around for days and grimacing every time I need to stand up: not the best look.

But that's all started to change since I made a few small changes to my routine, one of which has been to drink a homemade electrolyte water as soon as I get home and have finished stretching. The claim is that electrolyte water helps to replenish the body by replacing the electrolytes lost during exercise, and the key ingredients of citrus fruit and salt provide the essential potassium and sodium to get you on your way to a speedier recovery. Inspired by Niomi, I decided to make my own natural version. rather than buying a pre-made drink, and using this in combination with my magnesium muscle spray (more on this soon!), I'm finding myself in considerably less pain post-run!

Recipe (makes one serving):

3/4 cup of fresh grapefruit or orange juice (or a combination of the two) 
1/4 cup of fresh lemon or lime juice (or a combination of the two)
1.5 cups of water
1/2 cup of boiling water with 1/8 teaspoon of salt dissolved in it
A handful of frozen grapes (optional)

Add everything together into a glass/bottle (be sure to let the boiling water cool if you're using a plastic bottle), and pop into the fridge to chill before you head out for your run. To serve, give it a quick stir and add in the frozen grapes.

What are your post-exercise recovery tips?

3.5.16

Review | Haircare routine

It's taken me YEARS to pluck up the courage to post a video on YouTube (I've filmed so many!), but I'm so glad that I've finally done it! 

Here's my current haircare routine and perhaps the hottest thumbnail in history. Have a watch and if you like what you see, please subscribe and like!


1.5.16

Experience | Why working with a life coach was the best thing I've ever done

Image courtesy of Mad Kitty Media - and you can buy the print here!

I've been wanting to share this story for a while now, but just as I like to give a skincare product a lengthy trial before I review it, I wanted to make sure that I was really in a position to recommend this experience to you. Between January and March this year, I worked with Jo Wren, a coach who specialises in helping her clients to listen to and trust their inner voice. When our time together ended in March, I felt on top of the world and believed I could achieve anything. And as I sit here today, I know that's possible. Last week, I left the job that was making me miserable and I'm taking some time out to explore new possibilities. At Christmas, the very idea of this terrified me, but right now, I'm as happy as I've ever been. All because I listened to my heart, and acted on what I heard.

So, here's the story of how it all happened:

In December last year, I found myself feeling pretty low. I was deeply unhappy at work, a few of my good friends were leaving London, and my first 'relationship' since splitting up with my ex was on very rocky ground. Life had started to feel as though it was happening to me, rather than me playing an active role in it, and I realised that I had absolutely no idea how to take control of things and get myself back on track. Even worse, I wondered if I even had a track to get back onto! I missed my family and friends back home in Manchester, and yet I was in the process of buying a flat over 250 miles away in Surrey, to build a life within commuting distance of a job I loathed. Smart, hey?

On one particularly rainy Monday, after spending all day arguing with the guy I'd been seeing, we agreed to go our separate ways, and I called one of my best friends to share just how low I felt. We talked for a while, and eventually, he asked if he could set up a call for me with the life coach he'd been working with to see if she could help. I'd never thought that working with a coach would be right for me, but I remember thinking in that moment that whatever I was doing just wasn't working, and so I said 'yes' to his offer. The call was set for the following evening, and I spent the next 24 hours anxiously wondering whether I made the right decision. After that first skype session with Jo, I felt inspired, uplifted and intrigued, but despite this, there were two big questions in my mind:

1. Three months was the minimum amount of time that we could work together, and all I could think was 'how will we possibly fill three months?' I was thinking more like three weeks! (I can't believe how naive I was, looking back!)
2. The cost was £1500, and I worried it was a frivolous investment (I dread to think how dwarfed this figure would be if I added up everything I've ever spent on clothes and makeup!)

As I look back, at the end of my journey and feeling utterly fantastic about life, I can answer those questions in two words:

1. Easily!
2. Absolutely!

Working with Jo brought about instant results. I quickly learned to stop rationalising away every feeling, and I started to embrace things I'd previously sought to disregard. Making big decisions became much easier, and I pulled out of the flat purchase, accepting that after ten years in London, I'm ready to start moving towards a return to the north. Professionally, I worked hard to effect change at work, but felt confident in my decision to leave and look for something better, rather than to stay in what was one of the most negative environments I've ever found myself in. My relationships with friends and family have become so much more fulfilling, and despite years of yoga and meditation practice, I finally feel able to tune out the noise and live completely for the moment. Life really is too short to do anything else.

I'm careful not to say that I feel like a 'new person' because I'm more 'me' than I've ever been. I know now that the only thing I needed to change was my ability to listen to myself and acknowledge what is important to me. I feel empowered and alive in a way that I couldn't have anticipated. In the past, I would've called the decisions I've made recently courageous: now I know that the best way to describe them is that they are 'right'. Fear holds us back from so many things, but if you know what's in your heart, making change feels like less of a risk.

Nothing in my environment has changed, but how I respond to it has. That is all thanks to Jo's wisdom and uncanny insight. Working with her has been a wonderful gift, and a truly worthwhile investment in the person I've always wanted to become, but never realised was already there.

You can find Jo at www.jowren.com/coaching, and if you have any more questions about my experience, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or email me here.

24.4.16

Essentials: Fitness at home



Back in January, I joined a gym close to work. I figured that it'd be the perfect motivator to get me out of the office during my lunch break and free up the time I used to spend working out at home in the evenings. Since joining, I can count on both hands the number of times I've been, and what's more surprising, I found myself missing my evening workouts at home. For me, 30 minutes of yoga or cardio when I got home from the office was the perfect antidote to a stressful day, and is a routine that I've really relished reviving. Needless to say, I've cancelled my membership, and thought I'd share with you my essential kit for the perfect home workout. More importantly, all this works out at less than my monthly membership!

I've accumulated this equipment over a number of years as I've realised what works for me and will help me get the best from my training, so if you're looking to build a home routine, please don't rush out and buy everything here! Instead, take some time to work out what you enjoy and take it slowly from there. I consider these things my essentials: yours may look completely different, but hopefully this provides you with a bit of inspiration.

My fitness routine is a blend of weight training, cardio and yoga, and the combination is more to keep things interesting for me than some expertly crafted blend of exercises. For me, finding what feels good and what you enjoy is the key to a successful fitness routine, as you need an iron will to stick with a training programme that you don't enjoy! I try and run once a week, do at least one session with my kettlebell and one 30 minutes session of yoga - although I make time to stretch everyday. I'm definitely a solitary exerciser which makes working out at home perfect for me. Plus you can get as sweaty, red-faced and noisy as you like without ever feeling self-conscious!

So, onto the kit! The picture above shows (clockwise from bottom left) an 8kg kettlebell, Magnesium Oil spray, an Everlast 3lb hand weight, and a Gaiam yoga block. The kettlebell is by Matt Roberts (unfortunately, they're not available anymore), but you can pick them up from Amazon from around £15. This is honestly the best bit of home exercise equipment I've ever used, and I saw a massive change in my physique within a couple of weeks of training with this. I read some time ago that 8kg is the perfect weight for women starting to train, but I was pretty sceptical that I could do anything with it when I got it - it was so heavy! Although the first few sessions were very tough, I pushed through and am so glad I got that weight, as anything less would have quickly become too light. As well as resistance training, it really gets your heart rate up, and is therefore the perfect cardio exercise if you live in a flat, and don't want to be leaping about the place and disturbing your neighbours!

The Magnesium Oil is a recent additional and one that I know I will now never be without. Most of us are deficient in magnesium, but this mineral is essential for muscle repair. I find spraying this onto my body after I've showered helps keep almost all the post-workout aches at bay and it's improved the quality of my sleep considerably. This one is from Better You and costs around £12.00.

Next are the Everlast hand weights, which I've had for years (again, these have been discontinued but Calmia have an almost identical set of two for £6.99). I tend to use these when I'm doing sit ups or lunges at home, which helps up the intensity of your workout. Lastly, I think a yoga block is a fantastic addition for all you at-home yogis. It really helps you to progress into slightly deeper stretches, and is great to help stabilise you. Having two is probably more beneficial for certain postures, but I've never struggled with one. It's also great if you need to get something down from a high shelf! You can get the same one I have for £5.30 here.

If you're going to do yoga at home, it goes without saying that a mat is essential. I haven't photographed mine, but again, it's from Gaiam and it retails for £24.99. You can pick them up much more cheaply than this (I was sent this to review a few years ago), but I'd say it's worthwhile investing in a mat that's at least 5mm thick, as they're much more comfortable to work on.


The photo above shows my beloved Bed of Nails pillow (I also have the mat), which is the perfect way to de-stress. The pillow and the mat are covered in plastic 'spikes' to deliver the most heavenly accupressure - don't worry; you want be full of holes when you stand up! Just don't make the mistake of wriggling to the side while you're lying on it, as it does scratch! I got both of mine from Amazon (the pillow was £19 and the mat was £35). You can read more about Bed of Nails here.

Next are my Gaiam grippy yoga mitts (if you're prone to a sweaty paw, these are for you!) and a yoga strap to help stretch out my hamstrings and back, but you can use this to help you deepen into all sorts of postures. I picked both of these up from TK Maxx for next to nothing, but they can both be found online cheaply (and you can use a belt or scarf instead of the yoga strap!)

Lastly, I have a few videos I go back to time and time again. This kettlebell workout from Fitness Blender is incredible, but boy will you sweat! For yoga, it's anything and everything from Yoga with Adrienne - she's got such a great, easy style, but her videos are still a great challenge.

I hope you found this useful, and do let me know your favourite workout resources and at-home kit in the comments below!

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