Monday, 30 May 2011

A Rather Good Weekend

This weekend has been filled with a lot of really good things. Three days is so much longer than two, don't you think?

Good things that involved sweet potato chips and roasted veggies. Good things like a really good run through the blustering countryside. Meeting old friends and catching up on the best of good news, drinking fizzy drinks until I wanted to pop.

Good things like seeing a band that has rocked my world for years, cradling me though the bad times and sharing with me the best of times. And they were perfect, and we didn't miss the last train home.

And, as with all of the best weekends, we had a really good bike ride. Not a great bike ride, because that would have involved less wind and more energy, but a really good bike ride all the same. I also had a really good fall, where I displayed some spectacular yogi ability at landing almost in the splits without pulling or breaking anything; I think the on-lookers were impressed, at least!

We took a slight de-tour from our cycling route to one of the UK's asparagus hotspots, where we bought premium, freshly-picked asparagus from an un-manned cart, leaving our change in a box by the veggies. This sort of trust is such a wonderful part of the countryside; a little reminder that there is plenty of good around us if we look.

We ate the asparagus with a delicious olive and cheese pizza, and rounded it off with Cumbrian ginger cake and ice cream. A hearty reward for our efforts! We finished off the evening with a really bad film. The sort of bad film that is impossible to switch off. The sort of bad film that makes you guffaw and tease eachother in amusement. So, in all, a really good bad film!

And, a busy and energetic weekend was rounded off by the world's longest lie in, followed by the world's longest (and greediest) breakfast. Some baking, some yoga, a brisk walk by the river and a curried lentil soup, and we are ready now for another week.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Whistle Stop Round Up of What I've Been Upto

It has been the busiest, most stressful fortnight, and in part I have been dreading it for weeks. But now it has reached its climax and we're on a steady decelleration to 4pm on Friday afternoon; hurrah for another long weekend ahead!

Despite my initial fear of these two weeks, it's actually been rather exciting, and lately I've found myself getting upto plenty of new and exciting things. My absence from my blog can be blamed entirely on the busyness, excitement and stress of days and days of non-stop doing, and then the inevitable come-down in the evenings!

A whistle-stop round up of my crazy fortnight...

We completed our first ever bike race, in hail, wind and rain (and I turned blue!)

I've been experimenting with some amazing vegan teatimes, involving pearl barley and black beans

We started spinning classes to help get us ready for our 100-mile challenge

I had a visit from a good friend all the way from Germany, who brought organic sunflower bread and pretzels!

We walked in the sunshine to a local organic nursery, where we browsed the blooms and shrubs for a while

I started a 16-week stepping challenge, and am currenly stepping an average of 18,676 times a day

I have been watching the fruits of our labour - quite literally - come to life in the yard

I learned to play bar billiards

I got paid to drink ginger beer and chat with a food-loving Editor for two hours

I watched England pass me by on a 3-hour train ride to Cheltenham Spa, and fell asleep with my mouth open on the way back

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Recovery Sunday

It's been a weekend of amazing highs, followed by sorry slumps. Today has been spent in recovery after an amazing charity bike ride yesterday, during which we conquered hills, 'walls' and weather that we never would have wished upon ourselves.

I like the idea of recovery. I always look forward to the day after, during which I always plan to sit drinking tea, reading, snoozing and gently letting the day pass before me. Of course, it never happens that way, for various reasons.

Today we've been in a sorry state with ourselves; feeling blue from our head to our toes, feeling really tired and achey, and suffering the inevitable slump that comes after such euphoria. I spent most of the day (after a glorious lie-in followed by an equally glorious breakfast) wandering aimlessly, not really knowing what to do with myself. I baked some delicious bread rolls but, having consumed a whole week's worth of carbs yesterday, I couldn't really bring myself to enjoy them, even when doused in butter. It took me until 6:30 in the evening to really find my day's flow. As usual, it started with some chopping, and then some stirring and some seasoning. It was served warm in a bowl, with one of my fresh bread rolls. And it was perfect.

Sweet potato, lentil and coconut soup

Serves 4

1 onion, chopped
4 sticks celery, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup red lentils, washed
1.75l stock
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 small tin coconut milk
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion and add the celery, sweet potato and carrot. Season, cover and leave to heat through. Add the lentils and stock, then stir in garam masala, curry powder and cayenne. Simmer for 40 minutes until everything is tender and the whole house smells of spices. Blend and then stir in the coconut milk.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Being Everything All At Once

Lately I've had the feeling that I'm constantly running after myself. Hurrying from one task to another trying my best to get it all done. Trying to be a good girlfriend, a good daughter and sister, a good colleague and a good employee. Trying to keep my house tidy, as the welcoming space that I want it to be and not just a reflection of the hectic state of life. Trying to nourish my body and keep it fit and strong, ready to carry me through life in the most enjoyable ways. Trying to keep up with the things I enjoy, holding on to their pleasure and not seeing them as a chore or a commitment.

Needless to say, I am not being successful at holding on to all of the above. In many ways, I feel as if I'm failing, in fact. Friendships are slipping through my fingers because I simply can't be the person I want to be for those around me as well as the person I want to be for myself. I feel a constant sense of guilt, which turns to utter sadness when I see that I have been phased out of people's lives. I suppose this is part of that 'real life' that I keep mentioning; the life that simply can't cater for everyone and everything trying to take part in it.

I've been feeling absolutely awful all week. I've had a constant pain simmering in my eyes and temples, aches shooting from my knees to my jaw via my spine and a tiredness that I simply cannot beat. I'm aching to stop this chasing; to have just a few days for myself to stand still and look around.

For the first time I'm starting to appreciate the power of my body's signals. For the first time I'm not struggling to be fair to myself, because I can't be everything all at once.

A snuggly jumper, some incense and a super-hot curry (I must start using a teaspoon to measure the chilli!) this evening and I'm finally starting to unwind. It's ok if life gets too much, so long as you know how to find a place to escape it.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Few Thoughts Regarding Milk

I started being a vegetarian when I was 16, and stopped eating fish when I was 18. Since then there's been a little niggle inside me, reminding me of the issues surrounding dairy. I've never tried veganism, not even for a short period, but I've been contending with the idea of it for a number of years. My heart can't justify consuming milk products when it won't justify eating meat; in terms of ethical and ecological issues, the two go hand-in-hand, and it seems almost hypocritical to overlook the issues surrounding dairy production while claiming moral high ground for cutting meat from my diet.

I went through a period of buying non-dairy milk, and have regularly bought dairy-free spread, custard and other products. I often experiement with dairy-free cooking, too. In fact, it would be fair to say that I'd find it relatively easy to cut out dairy altogether; I almost never eat cheese, prefer chocolate in its darkest varieties and am quite happy to have non-dairy alternatives to milk. My only real challenge would be yoghurt, but I still dream of salmon and tuna every day, and have never touched either since that first fish-free day, so I'm sure I'd find a way of coping.

This is an issue I've been exploring lately, not through cooking or eating, but through thinking about and discussing why I'm vegetarian in the first place. I turned veggie because I thought eating animals was cruel, and indeed I still do, but eight years later vegetarianism resonates much deeper than that simple argument. Vegetarianism feels right to me. It feels like the right choice both in terms of diet and lifestyle. I can't even start to explain here why I'm vegetarian now, but to put it all into perspective I will admit outright that I have absolutely no problem with eating meat in theory - I would love to tuck into a bit of chicken or salmon again, if I thought I'd be able to chew and swallow it without getting hysterical. In terms of hysteria, though, I would find it easier to chew and swallow a piece of local organic chicken, bought from a souce that I know and trust, than I would a piece of fake 'meat' provided by that corporation known to veggies and non-veggies everywhere. I would rather eat something pure, real and well-sourced than a slice of fakeness, packaged in plastic and shipped around the country.

Before I go on, I must highlight in bright green pen that I make no judgements towards anyone else on this issue. Meat eater, vegetarian, vegan or whatever, if we make choices we make them to fit our own feelings and lifestyles, and if we don't make choices then we exist in a blissful ignorance, and that's ok(ish) too.

Through my long period of contemplation (which is still on-going, but in a much less frantic and obsessed way) I realized that I am something that doesn't quite fit the 'vegetarian' mould anymore; I am simply buying and eating foods which reflect my own morals and beliefs. Being vegetarian doesn't make anyone a better person (though I find that, from many people's reactions, non-veggies do think that vegetarians are 'better' in some way - does anyone else find this?); non-organic soy happens to be one of the most irresponsible products available in supermarkets, while it is quite possible to be a completely 'responsible' meat eater. It's all about choices, whether they contain meat, fish, dairy, soy, palm oil or anything else - the vegan who doesn't make responsible choices is just as irresponsible as the meat eater who doesn't make responsible choices.

Another green highlighted bit: I also can't claim to be responsible. I mean, who can, really? I eat a banana every day, for starters, and I have no intentions of giving them up, either. But I do make choices as often as I can. I always consider what I buy before I buy it, and I always always read the ingredients of everything. If it has something in it that I don't want to eat, I don't usually buy it* (I'm currently working on reducing the amount of 'sugar free' in my life, but for now I do have the occasional gulp of aspartame a bit more regularly that is healthy...).

So, where did I get to with the veganism issue? After much disucssion with Daniel, as my choices affect him too after all, and after some internet-based research, we decided to go organic. It's better for the cows (and I LOVE cows), it's better for us, it's better for the environment, and it means I still get to eat gallon upon gallon of yoghurt. Whereas I think veganism isn't right for me in many ways, this feels right; it costs a little extra, it goes off much quicker, but it sits right in my head and in my heart. And I think that's where all of our choices really take place - in our hearts. I would never have been able to stop eating fish if I couldn't live comfortably within that choice, and even now I know that I may well start eating fish again one day, and I'm ok with that; in fact, I'm almost eager for that day to come.

One thing I really gained from this journey of moral standing was the realization that our ideals change over time, and that it's important to re-assess our choices every now and then. The world is slowly becoming a more responsible place to live, and if these changes are going to get anywhere it's important to move with them and support them on their way.

*I should probably add to this that there are some things, such as energy drinks, that I consume for reasons other than nourishment - I don't read the ingredients of my Lucozade bottle; ignorance is bliss, after all!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Weekend for One

My solitary weekend is almost at an end. I breathe a sigh of relief. Whew.

I can't say it was the most awesome fun I've ever had, but it allowed me to re-connect with a few things - myself, mainly - and to learn a few new skills that Daniel has allowed me thus far to avoid.

So, aside from the moping, I tried to turn the whole thing into an adventure. A sort of 'pretending that I'm single and I can afford the rent for this house on my own' sort of game.

Saturday featured a really hard 60-mile bike ride. We're doing a sponsored race next week, and I needed to tune out of running mode and back into bike mode. I didn't intend to do 60 miles, but I did intend to have an adventure, which is exactly what I got. I set out early, bag packed full of sugar and peanut butter, feeling full of energy and enthusiasm. Without a companion, though, when it gets tough it gets very tough, and sweaty heat teamed with wind and fat raindrops put quite a damper (literally!) on the middle section. Still, I had an amazing day out, and I am pleased to know that my own company and map-reading skills suffice to go it alone when needs be.

Sunday has provided the best opportunity to re-connect with myself. Daniel is my companion in all things; even when we're at opposite ends of the house or the city, we're still together somehow. A day completely to myself at home is a rare thing, and it has been completely indulgent and a lot of fun. I baked muffins for breakfast, and ate them topped with butter and marmalade. I lounged and listened to the radio for a while, before returning to the comfort of my bed to catch up on blogs. I felt totally at ease with being so lazy, and completely happy to let the day whittle away without any real events. I took a walk by the river and enjoyed the busyness of Sunday in a city, browsed vegetable shops and contemplated treating myself to an aubergine (I didn't). I cooked a proper lunch and listened intently to debates about politics (trying hard to get myself back in the loop), then went outside and cleaned my bike.

I confess: I have never cleaned my bike before. Daniel does it after every bike ride while I cook tea (I know, I know). I thought it was about time I tried, so I went and explored the bike shed, found the right tools for the job and started cleaning the sand and grit off the most fascinating piece of engineering I could ever have imagined. It was brilliant, and I was proud to turn my beautiful bike back onto its wheels and see it glistening in the sunshine. I just hope I didn't do it any damage!

Then, after a good wash, I baked some granola and did some stretching and some yoga.

I'm glad to have spent a bit of time in my own company again, not only to think (I get plenty of time to think on the train!) but to actually do things. It's been ages since I went for a walk on my own, or sat and ate lunch by myself, and these things can be just as good without anyone else there to share it with.

Still, I can't wait to get him back! :-)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Mope Mopity Mope

I am a moping machine right now.

I have ticked all of the moping cliché boxes: no appetite, box of chocolates, weepy music, rubbish TV, pyjamas.

It could be my hormones turning themselves inside out somewhere inside me. Or it could be the lack of Daniel in my house, and the prospect of such a situation for a whole weekend.

I have asked myself more than once tonight where my "independent woman" has got to; either she has nipped to get us a bottle of wine, or she simply fails to exist anymore, now I have little need for her in my life.

I've made 'being at home alone' plans for the weekend - a long bike ride tomorrow, baking, sleeping, seeing friends. I was actually looking forward to some time to myself, without the excitement of togetherness that tends to hurry our weekends away before we've really had time to notice them. But I already feel as if I'm hurrying the weekend away, even without Daniel, longing to sit next to him at breakfast time tomorrow and make normal plans for a normal Saturday. The house is too big and too quiet. The chocolates aren't even as tasty when I don't have to share them.


Fill in the Blanks Friday - mope-avoidance tactics.

1. What I love most about my home is, to echo Lauren, the man I share it with. But I also love the way it has been created by us, and reflects us both as individuals and as a couple. The cabinet that we spent hours struggling to build one snowy Sunday afternoon, the bench that used to belong in my Great Grandparents' pub, Daniel's shark mug that we use as a toothbrush holder. All of this is us, and living in it put me exactly where I want to be.

2. I'm excited because I'm going out on my bike tomorrow (weather-permitting), but also because I feel like I'm on the very edge of a big adventure, with no idea what it'll hold. I've had this feeling for a while, and I can't explain it, but a permanent excitement resides somewhere between my stomach and my chest these days.

3. My perfect method for blowing off steam when I'm frustrated is to chop (watch out!)! I find that chopping vegetables is a sure-fire way to feel better about the world and everyone in it. Interestingly, running does not help me blow off steam - it just keeps it simmering in an uncomfortable way. Chopping or walking with purpose are my go-to frustration-beaters.

4. Currently I am craving something, but I have no idea what it is. I've tried chocolate, tea and hot chocolate but nothing is hitting the right button. Instead, I plan to head up to bed very soon and start a-fresh tomorrow, craving-free and ready for a good day.

5. The thing I love most about my Mum is the way that we laugh together and no one else understands why we might be laughing - we don't always 'get' each other, but when we do our 'crazy laughing thing' we're completely on the same level. I love her by default - I can't really pick one single thing to love the most!

6. If I was going to write a book about my life, the title would be 'The Leaves'. Leaves would be a running metaphor throughout the book, representing the bursting vibrancy yet inevitable delicacy of life, and the narrative would feature long streams of consciousness about the dynamicy of human nature. (A parallel of 'The Waves', which I am loving by the way)

7. If I were to eat one thing for the rest of eternity it would be porridge, without a doubt. What a glorious thought!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Keswick Half Marathon 2011

Phew. Four days off work became one, hugely important day, taking two days to prepare for beforehand and one day to come down from afterwards. I was so glad to be back doing the Keswick Half, as after all, it was my first half marathon, and to date remains one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

We watched Run, Fat Boy, Run the night before to get us in the mood, and loaded up on carbs with an amazing veggie spag bol. But, similarly to last year, the day started off early, and after very very little sleep, and we had a long long drive to sit through while my nerves jangled around inside me like tablespoons. 

I ate breakfast in the car - overnight oats with raisins and banana!

We finally arrived in Keswick and it was windy and hot. The only two weather conditions that I had hoped would stay away! The race started at 11:30, so we would be running in the heat of the day, with the sun right on our heads. And wind. Oh no, so much wind.

Still, the atmosphere was amazing. We got ready, smothered in sun cream and moisturiser and hydrating as much as possible, and walked the mile to the start point.

I could go over the race in the tiniest detail. I can remember almost every minute of it in vivid technicolour. But, to cut a long(ish) story short: it was amazing! I had stomach cramps for the first few miles, but once I got to mile 4 I was flying. The uphills were deadly, the downhills were deceiving, the scenery was incredible and the on-lookers were brilliant. Every mile was pure pleasure and pain at some point - I loved every minute but also spent every minute wondering what the next corner would bring; would my knee start to twinge? Would my stomach give in? Would I just get too tired? The answer was a clear no to all these questions, and by mile 9 I knew that I'd be ok. Even the wind and the heat was ok - my lips are wind-burned and I had an awful sore throat from dehydration, but apart from that I'd say that the weather was ok after all!

In many ways it was exactly the same as last year, just I knew what to expect in terms of extreme levels of elevation (!). I got exactly the same time, despite all of my training, and I started to ache all over in roughly the same spot (mile 10). But what was wonderfully different was my control; I could enjoy it, because this time I actually knew that I could do it. And I did :-)

After the race they were handing out water, apples and digestive biscuits. Such a nice change from the chocolate bars that you get at some of the bigger races.

We got changed and headed out for lunch. I was gagging for a lemonade - the heat had dried up my throat so much that I actually couldn't quench my thirst, and I'd been dreaming of lemonade since mile 2!

We went to the Pedlar, which was voted number 5 in the UK's top 100 veggie cafés! I can vouch for that - the chilli was incredible!

After a lovely walk around Keswick to stretch our aching legs, we hit the long road back home again. I was so sad for it to be over already - it sped by so quickly, after all that excitement, preparation and nerves! Still, I'm looking forward to more Lakeland adventures soon; who knows what's on the horizon?