Friday, 30 April 2010

Enjoying the Aftermath

Yesterday morning I actually did shift from the sublime to the ridiculous. My eyes clicked open at 6:20am, and as if it were sitting in my head waiting for me to wake, a thought crossed my mind as clear as day...

'you should include a full transcription* in the appendices'.

So I set to work. Three hours and five pages later I had a full transcription, complete with pauses, important phonetic points, stress markers - the whole caboodle. I had 10 minutes until hand in. Until yesterday, I'd never been a last-minute person (in fact, I've been known to hand in a day before a deadline on a couple of occasions - what a geek!); I tied up my running shoes and headed to the hand-in box as quickly as my feet would allow!

Anyway, back to the theme of this post! The aftermath!

Everyone goes through periods of off-colour, where life's priorities lie in convenience rather than pleasure, for whatever reason. Days can go by where you wear the same pair of jogging bottoms and the same baggy t-shirt, you forget the taste of good wine and the smell of your favourite park, you no longer know what's on at the cinema and you don't even think about what jewellry or nail varnish best matches your mood. These times may or may not seem difficult, they might not even be that noticeable, but they are best defined when you start to leave them behind. And that was my aftermath; I'd been so deeply involved in my work that there were no other joys, and starting to re-discover the little joys surrounding me again - like tasting asparagus for the first time, or my first trip to Paris - was the most amazing of treats!

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, every day. No matter where I might go out for lunch, or whatever celebratory meal is prepared for teatime, breakfast is the meal that I give the most time to, that I take the most care over, and that I enjoy purely for its slow, solitary nature. I'd already had my bowl of porridge during the transcription trauma, but it had somehow passed me by unnoticed. So upon returning from the hand-in, jittery from exhaustion, adrenaline and running, I prepared one of my favourite breakfasts, involving the toast-topping from Heaven!!

I then got properly dressed for the first time in a while - wearing my new summery dress to celebrate!

(and with matching toenails, too!)

Coming back to life didn't take long. I felt like skipping my way into town! The blossoms smelt heavenly and the breeze felt so fresh on my skin; I hadn't realized how inside I'd been for the past weeks; even when I went out, I didn't pull my head out of my thoughts to just be outside. I spent the afternoon reading, sipping amazing wine (forget the house wine Mr. Riverside Café, I'll have the South African chenin blanc, please!!) and chatting all things romance, literature and South America with a good friend.

This morning, I baked. Of course I did. What else is there to do, when you're relaxing in your dressing gown, than bake an amazing batch of cookies?! I found this recipe for vegan chocolate cookies not long ago at Suburban Yogini's blog, and had been intending to give them a go....well....all I can say is just bake them! I didn't have much jam spare, so used peanut butter on half of them (sometimes you just have to compromise!), but they were mega-quick, mega-easy and mega-tasty - from (very tasty) cookie batter to delight in 20 minutes. YUM!

Someone's been licking the bowl out...

Tonight I'm finally going home for a break. The half marathon is on Sunday, so I'll be going along to support my Dad (and get some much-needed mountain air!). I will return on Monday, more relaxed and probably a little chubbier, to begin work on the most exciting project I'll probably ever do; the dissertation commences next week!

Have a great weekend! :-)

*I've been working on some recordings of child-directed speech; a transcription of the full recordings would put the data in my assignment into the right context and back up any points I've made.

Filling In the Blanks: Films!


Which means some filling in of blanks, courtesy of Lauren!

Another themed set of questions - this time films/movies!

I am no film fanatic, it has to be said. I love watching films, I love a really good film that makes you laugh or cry or want to change the world, and I am completely and utterly a film snob (I will refuse to watch films purely out of principle, or shuffle and mutter through a film if I don't like it. Bad, I know). However, I'm rubbish at watching things. I hardly watch TV, I've never found a series of any sort that impells me to sit and watch it every week, I don't like the Simpsons or Lost or any of the other TV shows that everyone else in the world likes. I don't doubt that they're good; I just can't sit and watch something very often. My parents didn't let me watch TV as a child, so I think my attention has simply never been trained to look at moving pictures for half an hour; it gets distracted or impatient, and I can't stand looking at strong colours or sharp edges (Spongebob is my worst nightmare!). I think Daniel was a bit upset when I made him turn off The Office after 10 minutes.

'That's why The Office is better than all of the other stuff on TV. You need to invest time in it.'
'I don't want to invest in it. I'd rather read my book'

(and so the argument continued for a while, until he gave in and we didn't switch it back on)

So I'm going to think hard about my answers, because there are definitely some films that have made a massive impact on me in many ways. Let's see.

1. My absolute favorite movie of all time is Amelie. I have watched it numerous times now, I love it I love it I love it. And I love her. And I believe that, though it's not essentially a love story, it's the most romantic film I've ever seen. My favourite film scene ever the scene where she daydreams of making a plum cake for Nino; who hasn't dreamt such simple romantic daydreams? Perfect.

2. My favorite movie as a child was I never really watched films as a child, I was more of a bookworm. The only films my parents bought me were the Raymond Briggs animations - The Snowman, which I watched everyday until the tape broke, Father Christmas, which I still watch every year on Christmas Eve, and Grandpa. They are such beautiful films, and I know that my parents let me watch these (as oppose to Disney films or anything else at all!) because of the soft colours and the imagination that they allowed. It seems so strict and old-fashioned in some ways, but I think that not being allowed to watch TV as a child is one of the best choices my parents ever made!

3. The best movie quote ever is "At least you'll never be a vegetable; even artichokes have hearts" from Amelie (of course!).

4. My favorite actress is I can't say Audrey Tautou here, can I? Scarlett Johansson, as she seems to be smart, quirky and she is one of the most beautiful women in the film industry, in my opinion. Also My favorite actor is possibly John Cusack, but really it's the films they're in that count - a good actor needs a good film in which to act! (A Single Man was a good example of this - a fantastic film that actually allowed Colin Firth (who I LOVE and was a contender for my favourite actor) to be something deeper than a charming Englishman - I really hope to see more real acting from him!)

5. The movie I could watch over and over is Amelie or How To Marry A Millionaire. They are the only two films that I've watched a few times, and I still love them. My Mum bought me How To Marry A Millionaire when I was struggling with everything a few years ago, and I associate it so strongly with her that I could never fail to feel better after watching it.

6. My favorite movie genre is independant film, if that can ever be classed as a genre! If it's foreign, I'll probably like it. Though the only film I've ever switched off because I hated it that much was a French film (I forget what it was, but it had won a few prized at Cannes). .

7. A movie I'd like to watch this weekend is Lost In Translation, for some reason. Maybe because I had to Google Scarlett Johannson to get the spelling of her name, and some photos came up, haha. I also love Bill Murray. .

On a different note...

Daniel got me a rather exciting treat to help me through my essay struggle...

Fair Trade, organic Austrian chocolate from Zotter! This can be bought from my favourite local health food shop, and I've admired the varieties many a time - from red wine chocolate to olive chocolate! This one was strawberry, and it was divine! As soon as I saw the pink shell poking through the wrapper I knew it'd be a real treat!

Along with wine, olives, bread, tea and coffee; chocolate is one of the products where it pays to be picky. I'd rather have really good chocolate every now and then than average chocolate regularly. This is my outlook on a lot of things - I never buy something just because it's cheap; I'd rather spend £20 on a really nice, fair trade t-shirt than £5 from a certain (mentioning no names...) retail outlet that will go saggy after one outing. But that's another issue! Back to the point - amazing chocolate rules O.K.!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Nearly there...

Things have been a little hectic around here...

10,847 words, 43 pages, backache, headache, too many sleepless nights.

And it's been worth it. Tomorrow it'll all be over. Until then, I must rest!

After my post on feminism, I took part in a blogging debate about the current state of feminism hosted by A Cuban In London. The first part of the debate has been published, and you can read it here!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Friday: some blanks, some grub and a photo!

I'm approaching the weekend tentatively as there is less than a week until my Big Essay Deadline (Thursday, 12 noon - eeeeek!). I'm not overly stressed as I've been working hard, and it's paid off, but still - I must endure at least one tough weekend through the process, and it will be this one! However, it's still Friday, which means I get to spend more than just a couple of after-work hours with my blue-eyed man, and so I'm happy!

Writing essays is hungry work. It will never cease to amaze me. And my appetite will continue to amaze me even moreso! There have been some exciting culinary moments through the week, two of which I will quickly share!

One healthy pasta tea:

Tangy Spaghetti

Serves 1

Half an onion, thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
2 mushrooms, sliced
Half a red pepper, sliced
3 small vine tomatoes, sliced
1 portion Quorn chicken (or normal chicken!)
Handful of green olives
Handful of capers
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1. Fry onion and chicken until the chicken softens
2. Add garlic, mushrooms and pepper and cook until soft
3. Add tomatoes on top of vegetables and leave until the tomatoes are soft
4. Stir in olives and capers and add balsamic vinegar, then cook for a further 5 minutes
5. Season with black pepper and serve with wholemeal spaghetti

And one sugary, oaty treat!


Serves one person writing an essay - munch continuously!

Jumbo oats
Pecan nuts
Banana chips
Dried coconut flakes
Loads of honey

1. Mix oats, nuts, banana and coconut together in a bowl and add waaayyy too much honey until it's all coated and sticky (and the kitchen, your fingers and your clothes are also sticky).
2. Spread onto a baking tray and bake at 150C for about 30 minutes until browned, making sure you jiggle the mixture around every now and then!
3. Stir in raisins and leave to cool (or just eat it all right now)


And in true Friday style Fill in the Blanks Friday from The Little Things We Do! This week with a musical theme!

1. One song that always takes me back to my youth is "Baby Come Back" by The Equals! Me and my brother used to run around in a circle singing 'baby come back' over and over idea why!

2. My first concert ever was The Backstreet Boys at Manchester Arena! I was in LOVE with Brian and my best friend loved Nick, so our Mums took us to see them when we got good results in our SATs. I was 10, and I couldn't believe how many people could be in one place!.

3. If I could create my dream music festival I'd want these bands to be there: It would be in the late 80s, and Green Day, Nirvana and REM would be headlining. The Smiths, Bikini Kill and The Raincoats would be there too - awesome!

4. The best make-out/"boot knocking" song ever is Nightswimming by REM .

5. The best concert I've ever been to was probably REM in 2008, as it really was a dream come true. However seeing Midlake, The Earlies and Dawn Landes in a tiny venue in York in 2006 (the night I met Tim Smith!!) was really really special .

6. A memorable musical moment for me was playing lead guitar in my first Battle of the Bands when I was 15. Just about the whole school was watching and for that single night I was really really super cool!

7. The song on my iPod that's getting the most play these days is I don't have an iPod! I'm a complete purist when it comes to music - I have some really old REM albums on vinyl, in fact! King Creosote is currently in my CD player, and I was listening to Midlake's new album last night, which is amazing! .

And finally, I thought I would share a photo from the Easter wedding of me in my finery, looking extra ladylike!

Hmmm...I think I was danced out by that point...or maybe it was the 3 glasses of champagne and surplus amounts of wine?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Gym'll Fix it?

Yet another post about exercise. My lack of it seems to be prompting me to think about it. I'm missing it like a far-away lover!

I've been trying desperately to find something that fills the gap left now I can't run. I must admit that I've been filling it a little to often with sorry attempts at running, returning home limping and without a drop of sweat on my brow.

I've been cycling more regularly, packing a map of the city and allowing myself to explore beyond the streets I know. I've been swimming, but I don't like swimming. In short, I'm still looking. So I contemplated joining a gym.

I HATE gyms. I hate most of the things they stand for, I hate what they do to people, I hate the music and the smell and the fake air blown from huge grey fans. I hate the machines. Mostly, I hate the attitude. I was shocked when I found myself browsing the gyms in York, even more shocked when I dialled the number of the biggest gym in my area, and I almost fell off my chair when the lady with the energetic voice promising me health and fitness to suit me told me how much it would cost. I'm not going to go on about the money-making side of gyms, that is boring, but thank goodness there's no way I can afford it!

Now, I am aware that gyms can change people's lives for the better. They turn around unhealthy and unhappy people and make them feel fit, energetic and most importantly, make them feel good about themselves, possibly for the first time in their life. Not too long ago, I was one of these people. I was overweight, hating myself and needing change, and the gym offered a safe environment to make that change. I was terrified when I joined up: I saw myself as the wobbly one, puffing and panting after five minutes on the treadmill. And I was! But no one looked at me that way - after all, everyone was in the same boat, somehow; everyone had a goal, and everyone was there for their own reasons.

To me, the paragraph I have just written describes something really wonderful. And it is, so long as it stops there, but I've seen a little too closely that it doesn't stop there.

I was lucky: the gym I went to was pretty innocent, with out-dated machines that were incredibly simple to use. When I went for a gym taster day with a friend, I was terrified. It was full of wiry people desperately pounding fake bike pedals and sprinting through fake woodland. These people were serious, and the machines were serious too. My friend showed me her favourite machine - she loves it because all you do is stand there, and it works your body for you! I wasn't convinced...I stood on it and she pressed a button, and my whole body started to shake! I could feel my brain oscillating in my skull, my teeth rattling around my mouth, my thighs wobbling and my stomach groaning...STOP STOP STOOOOOOOOOP I shouted. It was like my worst nightmare!

"It will get rid of your cellulite" someone helpful told me.

This is what I hate. The laziness of it all. The torture. Gyms turn something wonderful and positive into a replacement for real life, into some hellish tri-weekly rite that we are expected to go through just so we can have a burger and a beer. Too often I hear 'I've earned this, I did an hour in the gym today'; an hour of being shaken around, an hour of pedalling a fake bike, just for a slice of cake? This isn't healthy living, this is a substitute for healthy living.

I hate to rant (actually, I love to rant), and as I've already said, gyms can be life-changing, too. But I think that exercise in its best form is the exercise we do because we enjoy it - not so we can eat what we like or drink a bottle of wine, not so we can lose our cellulite and flatten our stomachs; this isn't why we're encouraged to do however much it is we're supposed to do however many times a week. Exercise lifts the spirits, boosts the immune system, fights any number of diseases. Walking, cleaning, gardening, yoga, cycling, playing frisbee, even shopping are all great ways to stay healthy in the body and the mind. Gyms might keep your body healthy (though I'll challenge anyone who tells me that shakey thing is good for you) but it won't do any good for your mind.

So, I'll stick to my walking, cleaning, yoga, pub-work, cycling, maybe even swimming! But I won't be joining any gym.

I'd love to hear your opinions on this though; if you disagree then please tell me why as I'm always interested in differing opinions! Or maybe you agree? What's your favorite way to stay healthy?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Soup Sundays (on a Monday) - Carrot, Lentil and Coriander

Writing and writing and writing is pulling me into a hole. Even after an essay-free weekend, sitting back here for an hour and I feel like I haven't had two days of freedom. I'm feeling a real urge to be at home again, amongst my hectic, noisy family, where I can shout and moan because their incessant noise is putting me off my work. But here it is silent - there's no one to take out my frustration on but myself.

These essays are the longest and most important of my life so far. Unless I continue in academia after my MA, they will be the second most important pieces of work I ever write: they're supposed to be destroying me a little, I know; and it's this drive for academic self-destruction that prompted me to do another year of studying in the first place.
(Yesterday my Mum commented on how I need this for my career...'what career?' I thought...I think she may be convinced that I'm doing this for reasons beyond pure self-indulgence...eeek)

But one thing that really helped me get through today's writing was my bowl of soup, created yesterday evening as part of my Soup Sunday habit! It was a continuation of my attempt at learning to enjoy lentils, and the most successful installment of Project Lentil yet! I may even go as far as saying that it's one of the best soups I've made - and not a hint of chilli or cumin in sight! Gasp! (I add chilli and cumin to everything - if it's not spicy, I probably didn't cook it)

So, here we are:

Carrot, Lentil and Coriander Soup

Serves 2

4 carrots, peeled and chopped
0.5 tbsp coriander seeds
1 clove garlic, chopped
60g red lentils, washed
1 pint vegetable stock
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper

1. Dry roast the coriander seeds in a dry pan on a high heat, then crush them (in a pestle and mortar if you have one, which I don't so mine weren't very crushed at all...) and leave aside.
2. Heat the oil, then add the carrot, garlic and 2/3 of the crushed coriander seeds, and fry until quite soft.
3. Add the lentils and the stock. Bring to the boil, boil gently for 10 minutes then turn the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes until everything is soft.
4. Blend, then add the fresh coriander and reheat through. Garnish with the remaining coriander seeds, and some frsh coriander and creme fraiche, if you're posh ;-)

Et voila!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Unlazy Weekend

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin - The Trees

I was hoping for a relaxing weekend involving nothing much at all. It started out that way: on Friday evening we sat a while in the park, people watching and talking all kinds of conversation. We stayed out, sitting in the evening sun, taking in a world more alive than I remember it ever being before, until our cardigans became too thin and even our shared body heat wasn't enough to keep the cold away.

There was no need to rush; the whole weekend lay ahead and I was happy to wait for it. Homemade chips slowly crisping in the oven and a huge pan of chilli simmering on the hob, pints of beer, pretzels and a vivid sci-fi film from the 80s made for a slow, indulgent Friday night.

Saturday, however, the plan for unbridled lazing collapsed impressivley as we lifted the blinds to startlingly bright sunshine. We promptly packed a picnic, assembled our cycling gear, and headed out on the Scarborough road to explore Hagg Wood. We first visited Hagg Wood back in November, when we took part in a conservation project clearning rhododendrons. It was exciting to go back now the wood was coming back to life after the long winter, and though there wasn't a bluebell in sight, there was plenty of spring life to be enjoyed, and we spotted so many pretty butterflies and the occasional wildlfower.

We sat in a clearing in the sun for our picnic and soaked in the atmosphere. Light peeped around the trees and the world was still but for an occasional breeze sending the trees swishing. We explored the wood after lunch, and I am now covered in bramble scratches as a token of our sunny adventures.

We were sweaty and covered in dirt and oil after a day of countryside adventure, so after a VERY quick turnaround when we arrived home, we decided to head out into York to a restaurant. I'm not one for spontenaiety, but I couldn't help but say YES PLEASE when Daniel suggested taking us out; I was tired out from the cycling and didn't want to cook! We went to my favourite vegan tapas restaurant and dined in a sunny corner, sharing bhajis and falafel and corn fritters - YUM. Then, we went to the theatre to see The Seagull by Checkov, which was a real treat. I've never been much of a theatre-goer, and it still feels so special to dress up and sit there so excitedly, munching on Werther's Originals in the shadows while the drama unfolds under the spotlight. I have a love for Russian literature of all ages, but had never read or seen anything by Checkov. I highly recommend The Seagull to anyone who loves Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, and vice versa! It's probably quite an easy route into the genre; it was lighthearted enough to provoke occasional laughter, yet still quite dark and dramatic.

Though there was no laziness to be found, the spontenaiety of our Saturday and the joy of living totally 'in the now' made up for it twenty-fold. I'm still waiting for that rainy Saturday where I can bear to sit around drinking tea and reading. Maybe next week!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Friday Feeling feat. Knee Pain.

Despite having finished all the official scheduled teaching of my MA, and having basically all time at my disposal to arrange how I please, I still get that Friday Feeling every week. And I woulnd't have it any other way!

As I work on Sundays in my local pub, I reserve Saturdays for me. Unless there is a real case of academic emergency, Saturdays are my free day, mine to while away, to escape from real life, to use for exciting activities or day trips, but to always be exclusive in my week for rest, enjoyment and freedom! And so, the Friday Feeling isn't so much a friday feeling, but a post-Saturday Feeling.

I've sat at this desk for five days straight. My word, I'm ready for a day off! And I intend for my Saturday to be spent alongside Daniel, to be long and lazy but not empty of activity. Lots of tea, lots of reading, lots of wandering and chatting and taking in the world.

And, since it's Friday, Lauren has provided another set of exciting questions to fill in the blanks!

1. The first thing I do in the morning is Switch on my radio. Then I unload the washing up rack, stretch and break my fast! I always wake up starving but I have to do so many stretches that I prefer to get them out of the way first so I can enjoy my porridge without an impending stretch-marathon looming over my head .

2. Every night before bed I drink a warm drink (either builder's tea, calmomile with honey or a milk-based drink) and lie in bed listening to Gideon Coe on BBC 6Music. Heaven.

3. My favorite thing to do when I'm having a bad day is run and run and run until it's out of my system. Now I can't run so easily, I dance it all away, which is almost as good.

4. Something that makes me cringe is when I see girls tarted up to the nines, either on a night out or in the day, and they look really really really over-dressed.

5. Social situations are not my think. I tend to talk too much about nothing, and insult people inadvertently before digging myself to Australia in an attempt to reverse it.

6. I like to collect postcards. I have loads - some are stuck on my fridge, some are stuck on my bookshelf, but most are in a box at my parents' house waiting for me to find a pretty display book to put them all in!

7. Weekends are for letting go and kicking back. In my opinion the best weekend activities include drinking tea in bed, reading the weekend papers (and ALL the supplements), getting drunk, baking, cooking marathons, wandering through the city and finding exciting hidden tearooms and bookshops .

Finally, breaking knee news. I have insoles, I have an intense physio regime, I have 2 weeks to recuperate and get myself back in shape for a 13 mile run around the most mountainous part of England. Sadly, I am starting to give up hope - I'm in agony after a couple of miles, and I can't see this improving in time for the race, even with my tri-daily stretchathon.

I'm incredibly disappointed, but at the same time I feel quite proud of how far I've come, regardless of whether I run on 2nd May or not. Having that date lying ahead prompted me to really give my all to my training, and I was amazed at how quickly my distance increased - if I did it once, I'll be able to do it again once my legs work better! It also made me re-assess my alcohol consumption, which is never a bad thing! Better than all of that though, it gave me a kick up the bum to get back into regular long-distance running, as I was feeling quite reluctant to get out there again after the relentless snow! Once my MA started, my running started to dwindle, and with it went my fitness and stamina.

Since my Dad is running in Keswick, I'm still going to head up to the Lake District that day anyway - maybe I'll add to my mountain repertoire instead?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

My Vegetarian Self

Before I start this post I'll quickly link to a giveaway I'm taking part in over at Dolce Vita; she's holding it to celebrate having over 300 followers, which is awesome!

I've been a vegetarian since I was 16, and it's become such a fundamental part of myself that my nickname amongst some of my friends is 'Veg': in one sense at least, it really does define me.

I first tried giving up meat when I was 13, without success. I knew at the time that I wasn't going to stick at it, but something in me was also sure that it was the right choice for me, just not the right time to make it. For about a year before I actually made my second jump into vegetarianism I found myself becoming more and more troubled by the cruelty and general state-of-affairs surrounding animal welfare, and then, one afternoon I was munching on a delicious homemade chicken burger and I knew that I couldn't do it any more.

My decision was based completely on reasons of fairness: I find it absolutely unfair that we, the greedy population that we are, breed, herd and slaughter millions of animals each year just to satisfy our tastes. I have no problem with survival, with one-on-one attempts to feed our appetites - after all, hunting for food is a natural part of being a mammal. In line with this, my policy from the start has been 'if you want it, go out and get it': I've eaten pheasant hunted by a family friend, and theoretically, so long as I was willing to go out and hunt a wild pig for its bacon, a bacon sandwich would be allowed! Of course, I have no will to - I don't miss meat one single bit, and since that pheasant I haven't touched it or been tempted to touch it.

Fish was a slower process. I ate fish until I was 19, as it had always been an integral part of my diet and somehow I managed to see eating fish as fairer than eating cow. Soon enough I couldn't justify this any more, but unlike bacon or chicken, I love fish, and I miss it a lot!

The best thing about becoming vegetarian is the way it's opened my eyes to food, and to health in general. I started out knowing nothing about how much protein and vitamins I needed, and hence ended up feeling quite weak and groggy for quite some time. Since then I've experimented with so many pulses and every grain under the sun (except bulgur wheat, for some reason) and have become quite an adept cook in the process!

People often ask if I miss meat or if I wish I could have it every now and again. I absolutely don't, on both counts. Vegetarianism suits me perfectly - I love all the different colours, textures and flavours and it's super-healthy which means my immense appetite is satisfied without me having consumed much saturated fat or sugary rubbish (have you ever met an overweight vegetarian? I haven't!). Moreover, on a large scale it suits the whole world, and the world we'll hopefully have in the future. I know people who turned veggie for ecological reasons, but for me these were just other positive consequences of the best decision I ever made.

However, one thing that is extra important to me is that I don't push my views on others, or come over a little bit too vegetarian. I don't have a problem with people eating meat around me, and I'll even make a ham sandwich for you if I'm feeling extra nice. I have a few friends (Daniel included) who hardly eat any meat at all, to the point where they could easily become vegetarian with hardly any changes to their diet. But when Daniel asked me recently if he should go veggie, I said no. It seems easy enough now to be a vegetarian without categorizing yourself with the title 'vegetarian', and if I were about to make the change to my diet, I'm not sure I'd give myself the matching title anymore. There are so many different moral and ethical sides to food, and putting all of these under the same umbrella doesn't represent the importance of food choices, and life choices. I'm not vegetarian to make a statement, but calling myself vegetarian does make a statement, and not necessarily the one I want to make. I see it as a small part of my whole lifestyle now, as someone who is mindful of the choices they make and the way they go about things. I don't even think about being vegetarian anymore, it's a natural element of my bigger life picture. And that's how I like it.

On that note, a quick and summery veggie recipe to enjoy:

Serves 2

2 beef tomatoes, sliced thinly (about 0.5cm wide)
1 red onion, chopped into chunks
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tsp capers
Handful of green olives
Handful of fresh coriander
Olive oil (the good stuff if you have it!)

1. Fry onion and garlic until soft
2. Add capers and olives, then layer tomatoes over the pan to warm through
3. Add coriander, then turn tomatoes over to heat the other side
4. Serve with spaghetti!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Soup Sundays - Spicy Sweet Potato and Lentil

As a vegetarian, I'm constantly aware of the protein-content in my meals. Meat-eaters often consume way more than the 45g RDA, but sometimes I find it hard to fit even one protein-rich food in my day, which leaves me tired and fed up and hungry! Since turning veggie, I've discovered amazing ways to use pulses and tofu, and have fallen in love with so many amazing and healthy foodstuffs! However, one thing I have struggled to see eye-to-eye with is the lentil. Be it green, red, brown or Puy, no matter how I cook them, they always taste papery and bland to me. When I eat lentils prepared by someone else (or rather, when my Mum cooks me her amazing lentil pie!) I find them delicious, and so I have bought a bag of red lentils as an incentive to learn what to do with the lentil, and my quest began this evening!

I've mentioned a few times about my love for making soup on a Sunday evening. Today I needed a hearty, healthy and easy soup - I've been sat doing a speech analysis all afternoon and wanted something to pep me up! So, I threw together this simple, spicy soup, which was pretty tasty! And it involves lentils - phase one of lentil quest complete! I have created a tasty lentil dish!

Serves 2

Half a sweet potato, peeled and cubed
125g red lentils, washed in cold water
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
750ml vegetable stock
1tsp cumin
pinch of chilli flakes (to taste!)

1. Fry onion, carrot and sweet potato in a large pan with a lid
2. Add lentils, spices and stock and bring to the boil
3. Boil steadily for 10 minutes, then turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes
4. Blend and season to taste

Next time I'll add a teaspoon of honey too. And I think it'd be great with a chopped fresh chilli and some fresh coriander - this is basically a base for what could be a really amazing soup. If anyone has any tips or ideas I'd be glad to hear of them!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Saturday - Selfish, Scones, Sunshine

Today turned out to be unexpectedly perfect. Exhausted after a week of reading, thinking and writing interspersed with running, cycling and swimming, I wanted to really treat myself today; give my body a rest and provide it with a few too many treats. I had no plans as to what I would do, however, and I was worried that the day would pass in a lazy mish-mash of indecision and pottering.

So I started my day with a slow wander into town. I browsed some dusty bookshops, took in the smell of warm city streets and the hoards of people out enjoying a Saturday in the city. York somehow reminded me of Paris today, and I allowed myself to be carried by the people and the noise and the very urban magic of it all. I've become addicted to Sophie Dahl's sumptuous new cooking program, the first episode of which was called 'Selfish', about having a day totally to yourself to mosey around, buy treats and cook selfish, indulgent food. Without realizing it, this is exactly what I was doing; I was having a selfish day, allowing myself the time to walk a little slower, the frivolity to spend a little more in the shops, and the indulgence to cook up a delicious lunch purely for me, with the radio on in the background and the front door open allowing the day to infuse into my flat.

Then I decided to bake. A silly idea really, since Daniel is away and so there's no one to share it with! I made scones, which are one of my all-time favourite treats! I used to make them with my Gran when I was little, and I recently discovered the easiest and most perfect recipe for scones, which I will share with you! It's based on Nigella's recipe for Lily's Scones, but every time I make them I add a different ingredient to flavour them, and I've come up with some good combinations (and some not-so-good ones!!). They're really low in fat, and sugar and egg free, yet so perfectly light and fluffy that it's hard not to eat a few too many at once (I've had three today...):

500g plain flour
1tsp salt
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
4.5tsp cream of tartar
50g cold butter, diced
25g Trex, in chunks (this is just vegetable fat I think, or 'vegetable shortening' in the US)
300ml milk
75g dried fruit/grated cheese

Oven at 220C

1. Mix flour, soda, salt and tartar together, then rub in butter and Trex with your fingers until you get a really fine, sand-like consistency (this takes almost no time at all)

2. Add milk and mix briefly, then add fruit/cheese

3. Turn out onto a floured surface, knead into a dough and roll out about 3cm thick

4. Cut out circles or divide mixture into about 12, then put on a greased baking tray and brush with milk or egg.

5. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown on top

I added dried apricot to mine, and replaced 25g of flour with wheatbran for an extra healthy batch of scones! They are dangerously delicious!! Also good with dried cranberries and oatmeal, or cheddar and a teaspoon of mustard!

Then, I headed to the park with my book, and lost myself in the glorious sunshine and a great story, before meeting some friends in a beer garden. It was fantastic to have a whole afternoon outdoors, to leave studying and real life back in my flat and escape for a few hours.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Fill In The Blanks Friday

I love reading other people's Fill In The Blanks, hosted every week by Lauren. This week I've decided to try it out for myself! You can join in here!

1. The strangest thing I've ever eaten was probably pheasant, which incidentally is the last meat I ever ate. It was shot by a friend of my Dad's, so I was ok about eating it because it was flying free before its demise, rather than being cooped up in a pen!

2. My best friend is my Mum. When I was young she always told me that she was my best friend, and I never really listened. As with many things, she was right! She's the only person who makes sense of my down days, and she's the only person who will tell me I'm being ridiculous when I really need to hear it.

3. If I could live in a different era it would be the 1960's because I want to take part in the feminist revolution! I'd hopefully still be around 25 years later to see Nirvana play, too!

4. I like breakfast cereal a lot more than I should! .

5. If you only know one thing about me it should be that I am very particular about hand hygiene - if I see you touch it, I'm not going to eat it!

6. My favorite book of all time is Atonement by Ian McEwan. I don't know if it's really my favourite favourite, but it's the book that made me look harder at what I read; it changed my tastes and has influenced many of my book choices since then. I'm scared to read it again; I first read it when I was only 16, and I'd hate my impression of it to change.

7. The one beauty product I couldn't live without is hand cream. It's the only product I use, but I need it. My hands are horrible!

(I haven't answered the extra 3 questions as I haven't time to think properly - but I like the first 7!)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

An Apology.

Dear Legs,

Oh how I owe you both an apology! It dawned on me yesterday, as you lay out in front of my on the podiatrist's bench, how cruelly I've thought and spoken of you in the past! At best you've been the brunt of many a joke, at worst I've hated you and wished to replace you with a different pair. You were a victim of my teenage rebellion when I had one of you tattooed so thoughtlessly. And now I see what a gift you really are; both of you together in working order, letting me climb mountains, run through woodland, dance all night with the man I love, cycle through fields and by rivers. You've given me freedom, and I've gone 22 ungrateful years without thanking you for that!

I've criticized you for not being slimmer and longer and more toned. I've been ashamed of you and hidden you away, fearful of what other people would think, so sure that they would find you as unsightly as I did. Instead, I should have cheered in celebration of your sturdiness, your strength, your opposition to all clothing above the knee. You allow me to walk and cycle wherever I like; I never have to pay for the bus and I have no need buy a car; together you're saving the world!

What on earth would I do with spindly matchsticks? Would they get me through 86 miles of hill and dale? Would they get me to the top of North America? And they'd look even siller than you on roller skates, that's for sure! My Dad gave you to me along with a love for adventure; the perfect combination. If I'm lucky you'll last me for a while yet, and I promise, I'll be more grateful in future.

I don't know why you've suffered more than everything else. I've denied you of my respect as if the rest of me were perfect, but that is not the case; you're just as wonderfully imperfect as the parts of me that I love the most. But from now on, I will have more respect. I will continue to admire your shape and your abilities. And I hope that we'll carry on doing all the amazing things that we've been doing for a long while yet. I pass old people walking so uncomfortably, or people confined to wheelchairs, and I know that they would be so grateful to borrow you for a day. Now is the only certain thing, so let's enjoy it while we can.

I can't wait for our next adventure!


Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Easter Walking and Weddings

I spent my Easter weekend at Daniel's family home just outside of London. Since we've both been so busy, we decided to take the whole 4 days off (gasp!) and make a proper break of it, and I've returned feeling well-rested, well-fed and well and truly 'Eastered'! Easter weekend is almost unnoticeable in my family; it passes by unrecognized but for an egg from my lovely Auntie, and so it was nice to spend it in a household where the meaning of Easter holds strong and chocolate is consumed as a necessity!

We got a really early train from York on Friday morning, which added to the magic of the whole experience. With a packed-breakfast and a foggy head, we crept through the streets at 6:30 with only the birds for company. I love York in the early morning when the streets are empty. When I worked at Bettys I sometimes started at 5:30, and I never opted for the free taxi pick-up, instead preferring to set off a little too early to wander through a city which is unrecognizable in its atmosphere from the city I know by daylight. The smells and sounds are entirely different, the people in the street not shoppers or tourists or buisinessfolk, but cleaners or bakers or warehouse staff with overalls and vans packed full of fresh bread or fashionable clothing.

Then there's the magic of the train journey itself - my third favourite way to travel after bike and on foot! Speeding through Yorkshire fields, resting sleepily on Daniel's shoulder, watching the other passengers or munching on treats. We made up some overnight porridge with sultanas, which made for much slurping tasty goodness!

Three hours later we arrived at Daniel's, sleepy and unenthusiastic about the day ahead. Luckily, Daniel's Mum knew exactly how to pep us up, and we were soon munching on hash browns and baked beans - Mums, eh? ;-) We spent the afternoon in a country pup with some friends, munching on chocolate and generally being lazy, and my assignments didn't enter my head for a single second.

The next day we headed out to the Chilterns for a pre-roast walk (roast dinners are never as tasty when they haven't been earned with mud, fresh air and aching legs!). I think Daniel was nervous to show a Yorkshire girl the surrounding countryside - there are no hills, for a start! I must say, I was really surprised by how flat the area is; we could see for miles and miles, and it wasn't even a clear day! However, the typical rolling green countryside of the home counties made an appearance on our walk - we did a 7.5 mile circuit around the last part of the Ridge Way national trail - which featured the area's highest (and only!!!) hill: the Ivinghoe Beacon. This was an odd feature on the landscape, and we worked up quite a sweat on the ascent!

The route provided everything I have been craving lately. We passed through long green fields and dark woodland.

And it was wonderful to see the new life sprouting up from old life.

We arrived back, muddy, tired and hungry, to a lovely roast dinner and an evening of folk music and conversation.

Easter Sunday was especially unusual, as we went to a wedding in Southend on Sea! I love weddings, and this one was perfect! Though I don't know the couple very well, I couldn't help but let a couple of tears loose at the service, which was so honest, beautiful and incredibly simple. The reception was at a nearby country house, surrounded by gardens and fields.

I love the Easter-themed trinkets at the table!

And the romantic touch to the apple crumble!

There were many champagne and wine top-ups, which helped fuel an evening of non-stop dancing, and a morning of groaning agony. Luckily the hotel provided an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, which helped ease the wine-head a little ;-)