Thursday, 24 April 2014

Vagenda Strikes Again

Oh you took the words right out of my mouth. It must have been while you were kissing me.

Wait, no, that's wrong. That's Meatloaf, not me. But that's exactly what played through my head when I read this article by Vagenda Magazine. (Disclaimer: clearly I didn't think that the website was kissing me. That's just strange. The second line just flowed right out after the first, okay?!)

I love fitness, it interests me, and I love magazines, and I'm a woman, so surely a fitness magazine for women should be the perfect fit. WRONG. Totally wrong. The kind of wrong that happens when I pick up a Primark dress on a size twelve hanger and try it on, only to find it's actually a mislabelled size six. I'm sure that if I'd properly read those magazines and applied their logic those accidents would never happen: I would already be a UK size 2, existing on a diet of lettuce-infused water, hunger pangs, and a side of I-only-worked-out-for-6-hours-today guilt.

Can you imagine the misery? Unfortunately, a worrying percentage of people can. A quick glance over this HSCIC article and this one from KCL give a number of statistics that are much better read all together (hence why I'm not listing them here). I'm not about to write an article on eating disorders because that would take a lot more research and I'm already very late for bed, but could we please just take a moment to reflect on the gender gap in fitness?

Perhaps I've been a little too harsh on Women's Health (I'm also going to include Women's Fitness, although they are not dealt with by Vagenda. See my comment on the original article). I don't mean that they start eating disorders, because we all know that this doesn't happen (if you are under the illusion that celebrity gossip magazines and fitness articles cause eating disorders then I suggest you go and educate yourself. Pronto.), but I would suggest that they have played their part in the societal trend that women are only worth their looks, and a size eight figure brings in the big bucks. Even the articles that don't hint directly at this are often ever-so-slightly demeaning, downplaying the fact that a lot of women just want to be strong and healthy. Skinny does not equal healthy, my friends.

I don't have much more to say than what's in the Vagenda article, which might get you asking, why write this blog about, well, nothing much? Because I wanted to bring the article to your attention, and also because I'm sick of the importance put upon and the way we scrutinise women's bodies: eat healthily but not too much in case someone sees you, run a lot but not too much so that you don't get muscley legs, lift weights to tone up but don't lift too heavy otherwise you'll look like a man. The final straw really came last week at the gym. I booked a training session with one of the male trainers because I wanted some tips on my deadlift technique. He wasn't able to do the session in the end, so the female trainer stepped in instead. When I asked her how many reps/sets I should be doing to progress beyond my current 30kg, she gave me a look and said that if I wanted I could do 3 sets of 8 reps of the highest weight I could handle, but that she usually just did 10x10 of a lower weight to stay toned but not get bulky. Sigh. Subtle body shaming from a fitness instructor. Loving life. (Yes, she has the right to her own opinion, but she didn't need to give me that look. I asked for tips, not her life story.)

I'm going to stop my late-night rant now and go to bed. In the morning I'm going to go and buy all the men's fitness magazines I can find, and when I no longer fit into my jeans because my quads are too big, I'll just go and buy a bigger pair.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Make It, Eat It: Homemade Granola

Well hello again. This has certainly taken a while. I hate saying, "Work's been too busy to even think about blogging!" but it's unfortunately true. Thankfully the crisis is dying down a bit and I have room to breathe now, although I still go to bed every night thinking about all the things I meant to do, but didn't.

One of those things I finally got around to doing at the weekend: making my own granola. It was the result of seeing a lot of recipes recently for it, and also having a bowl of Jordan's granola and wondering whether they'd just tipped a bag of sugar into it for fun. Seriously. I thought my tongue was going to burn off. So on a sunny Sunday morning I woke up and make some just in time for breakfast, and it was delicious.


  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup desicated coconut/coconut flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (put them in a blender for a little while)
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds
  • handful sunflower seeds
  • handful pumpkin seeds
Melt the coconut oil, and then mix it all together. Put on a lined baking sheet at 150 celcius for around 25 minutes, and then try not to eat the whole lot all at once.

Step 1: arrange ingredients on aesthetically pleasing wooden chopping board

In my second batch I forgot the cinnamon and it tastes just fine without. You could also use nutmeg instead.

If you don't already own a jar of coconut oil then you are missing out, largely because of its prowess as a moisturiser.
Don't take any notice of my quantities when it comes to adding extras. Go crazy, live a little, take your life in your own hands. As long as it makes you happy it won't hurt you, so add whatever takes your fancy. I just used what I happened to have on hand. Aldi is great for cheap nuts and seeds, about half the price of Tesco etc.
You can tell it's done when it's golden and beautiful and crunchy and tastes like heaven.
Granola is for life, not just for cereal. I had mine with melon and passion fruit. Twice. Partly because I had two halves of a melon, but also because it tastes great. I'm waiting for this weekend to try it on top of a smoothie bowl. Unless I've eaten it all out of the jar by then, in which case I'll just have to make some more...
This made 3-4 servings. I think. I don't think I've ever eaten a 'serving' in my life, not intentionally. If you want to eat the whole lot at once, why not?! It should keep for a good few weeks in a sealed container so just multiply the recipe accordingly. I'm hoping everyone here is going to enjoy this so that I have to make more, it's going to seriously help me get through the remaining 7kg of oats I bought back in November...

Monday, 6 January 2014

New Year, Not So New Me.

I really dislike the whole "New Year, New You" thing. As if who you were last year wasn't good enough. I suppose that the sentiment behind it means well, but it's a bit over-done now, isn't it? And who has the energy to be a whole new person every single year? Even if you've had a terrible 2013, surely you'll strive to become a Better You, who has learnt from all the disappointment and sadness and uses the experience to improve your life, rather than a New person altogether?

I'm looking forward to 2014, but I'm not going to become a New Me. I'm going to keep trying to do all the things that I tried to do last year, only this time around I'm going to try harder to actually do them. Including, amongst other things, blogging. I have big blogging plans for 2015, but I feel like I should lay the groundwork and actually use it this year first. So watch out for more random musings. I feel those are my forte.

When I first thought about it, 2014 loomed ahead as a dull year of work and living at home (obviously oh-so-grateful that I can, but it is sometimes a little testing...), the less beautiful older sister of 2015. But things are often only as bad as you make them, so I wrote down all the things that are going to be great this year:

  • Brussels for the company catalogue launch - it was going to be the slightly-better-choice of Barcelona, but the powers that be deemed Brussels superior, so off we go in less than two weeks on a coach full of alcohol. More amusing than exciting, but I'm always up for seeing a new place.
  • A whole year of training and races - I've been banned from running for over a month now and I'm itching to get back into it. Especially because post-Christmas my jeans are not quite so comfortable. Unfortunately a really dodgy shin is holding me back, but I'm on the mend and once the right size pair of running shoes turns up I'm going to attack it. This weekend's cross country was cancelled because of the weather; I wasn't going to run because of the aforementioned shin, but fingers crossed it'll be postponed for a while and I'll be able to run, and therefore will only have missed the December race. I'm going to try (again) to get a place in the Yorkshire marathon, as well as enter a couple of half marathons and shorter races so that I have something to work towards.
  • Paris with Sofie - I haven't been since I was 13 and I'm slightly too excited to go and explore, dress like Amelie, and find the perfect cafe. I will rave about this more in the distant future...
  • Cornwall in May - I've already booked the week off work because it is one of my two favourite places other than home and I wouldn't miss it for the world. Last year I spent the month before it as excited as an eight year old on Christmas Eve, probably because the only other activity in my life was dissertation writing. This year I will try to forget about it until two weeks before.
  • Doing more cooking - I bought a recipe book by one of the owners of Leon, a new favourite place to eat. The recipes inside sound so delicious and really look homemade: most of them are old family recipes of people who work in the restaurants, or are ones for the perennial foods served that are customer favourites. I do love cooking, but most of the time it is purely functional. Porridge for breakfast, half a forest of fruit for lunch, and a giant smoothie for super. Not exactly the stuff of dreams. So I'm going to try to cook at least one meal ever weekend, regardless of who is at home, that I've never made before. Who knows, maybe by the end of the year I'll have made the whole book.
  • Various projects - planning travels for 2015, learning how to use my camera properly again, yoga, printing photos and putting them in albums, redecorating our attic and making it amazing.
I'm pretty certain that more things will crop up along the way, but for now that will do. I have two pairs of running shoes in the post, plus gym clothes and jewellery from someone I've followed on social media for a long long time. She wanted to make jewellery and so she went out there, learned how to, and is doing it. If I can do half as well as her then I'll be having a successful 2014 all round.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Musings from the London train

Train: 15:09 to London Marylebone, 16/11/2013

Sitting by the window in the quiet carriage. I have a peppermint tea in front of me and an adolescent boy wearing a little too much cheap aftershave next to me. I'm on my way to meet friends in Covent Garden.

It's one of those days when the sun doesn't seem to have risen. It looks, to my mind, like it's 6pm outside, which confuses me: why am I going to London at 6pm for tea?  I find the loss of terms and essay deadlines confusing, there is no way to mark the passing of the weeks. At work, weeks and months are denoted by numbers, and the fact that before I know it I'll be peeling chestnuts and wrapping presents hasn't sunk in yet. I suppose this might explain why I think it's six o'clock and why I always find I have too few layers for running and why my mother asking me for Christmas present ideas seems bizarre.

The dying English countryside is slightly uninspiring. This is yellow and brown and grey, a world away from the sunlit golds, greens and reds that brighten my day as I drive to work.  The rising sun and ghostly mists never fail to amaze, and if you think I sound naive at finding beauty in the simple things, I suspect you've lost the joy of life. But there is beauty in the dying, too. The promise of glittering frosts, and snow, the memory of cold Sunday walks before 5 o'clock tea and a fire, Christmas.

The girl at Bicester in team kit wielding a hockey stick reminds me of school practices in winter. Hands so cold that to hit the ball and feel the repercussion was agony. I watched my sister's Christmas play at my old school last Wednesday and remembered that the best part of being in a performance was the camaraderie of the team. Everyone working towards one goal and spurring each other on. This is why I've fallen in love with my running club, why I will always find one to be part of no matter where I go, and why the manic days at work when we're working towards a particular target are my favourite.

Aftershave Boy has fallen asleep and is dangerously close to leaning his head on my shoulder. Should I subtly kick him? And I wonder if it really is that dark outside, or if the windows are tinted? This train track runs along a hill, and the cars below look like children's toys. But then, from an aeroplane I guess we look like a caterpillar, and people on a distant planet don't even know we exist. 

How Not To Do Life & Other Stories

You know those days when things just do not go according to plan? When you know if you'd just done something a little different your life would be much easier? Well, that's been my afternoon.
I faffed around for so long deciding whether or not to go shopping before my tea date that by the time I'd made my mind up to do said shopping, I no longer had time to get to the station and catch the train.

One missed train.

So I decided to get the next train which would just leave me enough time before meeting people to go and look at new running shoes. I successfully got myself ready on time, grabbed my phone and keys and was about to leave the house when the time on my phone showed me that the clock in my room was 10 minutes late, and that I was going to miss my train.

Two missed trains.

I'll get the next one, I said, the 14:47, I said. I waited ten minutes and then left, pre-empting a full car park by heading straight for the overflow one. Ironically, the overflow was overflowing, and the station car park had plenty of space. I would still have caught the train if it had been at 14:47, but sadly it was at 14:43 and it wasn't meant to be.

Three missed trains.

The proverbial straw was checking the board of London train times and realising there had been two trains between the second and third missed trains, and that if I had left home as soon as I was ready, I wouldn't already be half an hour late an hour and ten minutes before I was meant to arrive.

I'm standing on the platform waiting for the tube, so I can see the funny side of missing five trains now. Sort of.

However, the one good point of my day so far (and also what was meant to be the subject of this post) is that after years of shunning hair dryers because (in my not-so-expert hands) they transform my wet-and-full-of-potential hair into that of my year eight maths teacher, I have found the answer: hair oil. In ten minutes, with a pea-sized blob of argan oil that I bought from a market in Morocco, I went from damp-and-frizzy to silky-swishy-volume. No longer will I contemplate not washing my hair after running just because it looks more acceptable sweaty but straight than it does clean but hedge-dragged. Reader, I may be incapable of catching trains, but I have possibly just revolutionised my life. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Race recap: Ascott-Under-Wychwood XC 03.11.13

Distance: 6.5km (approx - I think each Oxon XC league race is slightly different).
Time: 30:21
Place: 43/190

I wish I could write this like Hollie writes her recaps, mile by mile (or something similar...), but I actually don't know where each mile ended and the next began, because I forgot to start my watch at the beginning of the race. Oops.

I decided to try to have fun instead of going all out and dying halfway round the course. The only other experience of racing I have is one Race For Life that I did with Imi, which I didn't actually treat as a race, and one ParkRun in York which I thoroughly enjoyed and ran a PB at, but went out far too fast and lost the man I'd chosen as a pacer with at least a kilometre to go. I thought that if I attacked this race competitively right from the beginning, there would be a danger of that happening again, and with a huge hill up to the finish I had to have some energy to make it to the line.

One of my team said that the runners tend to go out pretty fast, so I put myself towards the back of the pack at the start line and took it slowly. There were a good few downhill stretches in the first third of the race, and I'm alright at speedy downhills but I didn't want to kill my knees by doing it in spikes so I just took it gently (seems to be the general trend of the race!). The water trough and the hill (mountain) were looming in my mind...

Two of my team were ahead of me, as expected, but I tried to keep them in my sight. I was getting tired halfway around the first lap, but instead of slowing down as I might do on a training run, the fact that I was racing other people kept me going. I'm very uncompetitive against myself, but I hate giving up against others.

The water trough, or 10 metre stretch of water that came two thirds of the way up to my knee, wasn't as terrible as I'd imagined/various people had told me. One moment I was running along a winding trail through a large spinney, the next I was in the water. Mentally, it coming around so suddenly was easier than seeing it from afar and dreading it. There was no time to think about how to approach it or the best technique for running through more-than-a-puddle, I was just in the water and then out again. The initial, 'Oh god my feet are now twice as heavy' thought was quickly followed by, 'Ooh that was quite refreshing and my feet don't feel so tired now'. Then I saw the hill and all thoughts of water troughs went out of my head.

Probably a third of the way up the hill the first time around, wondering how to make it to the top.
There is no way to describe that hill other than brutal. It was awful. It was never-ending, a tricksy trail that pretends that the incline will stop around the corner/wall/gate but actually it just carries on. I'd done two hill sessions in training, definitely not enough, and I was all-too-aware that once the hill was done I needed enough energy to get me around the course and up the hill all over again. Running up that hill at a pace that would conserve enough energy was hell. Not that I could have sailed up it by any means, but I felt like I was walking with teeny tiny steps and not going anywhere. Luckily I'd asked my parents and sister to stand two thirds of the way up the hill at a wall which I would have to run around, so that they could see me coming and cheer me on up, and then yell at me to keep going as I went around and past them, up the hidden bit of the slope. If you ever have the opportunity to go and cheer someone on in a race, do it. Hearing people yelling your name is second to none in keeping you going, save for a new pair of legs.

"If I can't see how far there is to go then it won't be so bad, right?"
I picked my pace back up as soon as I hit flat ground - the hill was more tiring on my actual leg muscles than my breathing so it wasn't too hard to recover, plus some of our men's team were watching there and spurred me on. Picking up the speed was all I thought about for quite a while after the hill. A couple of women overtook me, and there was about twenty metres between me and the next pack. I looked behind and estimated that I would place in the last third of the runners, and decided to aim at catching the pack in front of me before I hit the water trough for a second time.

Matching your nails to your club vest obviously makes you faster.
I'm not sure if I ran faster or they slowed down, but I caught them. It hurt, but I managed it, and I could see one of my team not too far ahead. I tried to concentrate on (a) the water trough refreshing my feet and (b) the race almost being over, powered up a little hill, and after the water overtook the women who had done the same to me earlier.

I don't remember much between then and the end, except that I think I overtook three more women and looked like I was snarling as I tried to keep running up that hill. If I hadn't been trying to breathe I probably would have yelled in frustration that I couldn't make my legs go any faster. I knew it would have to hurt, and that if I could walk easily when I crossed the finishing line I'd be cross at myself for not giving it more effort, so despite the pain there was a certain amount of satisfaction when I couldn't stand upright after I'd crossed it.

After thinking that I was in the last third, I honestly thought that I was looking at the wrong number when the results came out and I saw a 43 next to my name. 1st and 2nd in my team came in at 33rd and 40th overall so I'm really pleased with my result. It went a lot more quickly than a normal 4 mile training run does, possibly because there were two laps so I knew how far there was to go on the second one, and also because there seems to be a lot more to occupy your thoughts in a race than running on your own. For the next one I'll walk the course beforehand so that I know when to push my speed and when to conserve it. There didn't seem to be much point for this one: I knew the hill was the final stretch of each lap and that the water was just before that, and the rest of the course was in full view from the car park field.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next one. Racing is totally different to going running, which hadn't really clicked in my brain. The people around you push your pace for you so I wasn't  forcing myself to go faster for no reason, which in a twisted way is easier than doing a tempo run or speedwork. Three weeks until the next one, and in the meantime hill training is going to be the flavour of the month.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A New Focus

So it turns out that I'm really, really awful at blogging when I don't have deadlines to meet and hours in the library to while away. I have no reason to procrastinate, aka no reason to read everything ever on the internet, aka nothing to rant about. Apologies, although I'm pretty sure that no one really minds.

To be honest I haven't really had time. Before you say, "That's ridiculous, you can always make time", hold fire. I know I can make time, it just so happens that I'm terrible at making time. You're preaching to someone who, at nearer 23 than 22, has to make goals each week to keep her life in order. Things along the lines of "This week I will put my clothes away before I go to sleep", "This week I will go to bed at an acceptable time each night", "This week I will leave on time for work". It was meant to all come together so that a month into having a job and masquerading as an adult my life would be a seamlessly organised machine that would prevent stress, tiredness, and dark looks from my boss. It didn't work.

But the one thing that really is taking up most of my time, the thing that is supposed to be the main focus of this particular post, is running. I joined a running club and haven't really looked back. Let's be honest, I haven't had time.

Once I started working and settled into a bit of a routine, I started looking at gyms in the town I work in. There are only two, so there wasn't really a lot of research needed - I just picked the cheaper one, which happens to be right across the road from my office (or perhaps I chose the closest one, which happened to be cheaper. Regardless, I think I win on both accounts). But in my brief Googling I stumbled across Kidlington Running Club, and eventually I emailed them and went along for a run.

I may or may not have painted my nails to match my vest...

I don't think I could recommend anything more than I can recommend joining a running club (except for bananas, mangoes, and travelling, which come in at around the same level. And new running socks). I've stumbled across a bunch of people that love running, are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and seriously motivating.

I always thought I was a lone runner. I've never found people to run with, except for a stint with my brother (and one of my sisters. Occasionally) over the summer, so I never really realised how great it was. I still love running on my own, I enjoy the freedom to run how I want to run, think about what I want to think about, but running with other people pushes you, and forces you to improve. I never thought I had a competitive side, but speed and hill training has quashed that particular myth. It's amazing  how fast my legs will go when I find myself in an all out sprint-to-the-finish at the end of a 400m fast lap...

Run swag. So beautiful.
In fact, running with other people who are far better than me has made me want to really push myself. I did my first cross country race of the season at the weekend, and it was fun but seriously hard. I came 43rd out of 190 and I'm now just determined to improve on that. So, since I'm living back at home where none of my friends live, I'm going to take advantage of having no social life and focus on running.

Obviously I'm never going to become a professional athlete, but aren't the most rewarding things in life the ones we have to work the hardest for? I thought about this the other day, and apart from a few piano exam pieces, the only activity I've really put any effort into in my whole life was making the hockey team at school. I went to hockey practice almost every week for a whole year without being put on the team and eventually it happened. Not that I was very good, but I enjoyed it. And I think it's time I made an effort for something once again.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Warped Logic

So I haven't managed to blog regularly in months, yet in the last three hours I have set up a blog for my mother to use as a website for the anti-Solar Farm movement she is heading in our village, written three posts, and set up a Twitter account for the cause.

I promise I'll be back soon, I'm just trying to balance (or perhaps juggle rather badly) everything going on in my life. In the meantime, if you want to know what I did in the last three hours, why not visit Or look at my Instagram. That's probably more relevant to me...

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

“If you want to know what a girl will be like in her forties, look at her mother.”

A well-known adage, I’m sure, and one which I’ve suddenly found has come true. It’s happened: I’ve turned into my mother.

Not literally, of course. I haven’t become a middle-aged woman overnight. (Not that I think of mine as middle-aged. Until she stops running around after all of us, which probably won’t be for at least six years, she’ll be ageless.) But having left education, I find myself living at home, working as a temp, and driving my father’s automatic Volvo estate. Which happens to be just what she did. It’s funny how things pan out, all the patterns and similarities.

This thing is two years older than me and probably works better than I do...
Perhaps I’ve led you all on. I’m not about to write an essay on whether daughters become their mothers. I have a lot in common with mine, but I’m no expert on the subject! Instead it’s really a bit of an update and a few thoughts on life right now. My official title is Customer Services Advisor, with a bit of moonlighting as a receptionist on Mondays and Tuesdays, and so far it’s been 100% more interesting than anything else I’ve ever done in an office.

Obligatory bathroom pic. Trusty Looks-Like-Chanel jacket right there.
  Previously, most of my time has been spent doing monotonous data entry, filing, and waiting around to be given something to do. While I’m always grateful for employment, it’s quite hard to enjoy work when a quarter of your day is spent twiddling your thumbs.  Now there’s almost no time to thumb-twiddle; instead, there are orders to process, customers to ring, and, when I’m working on reception, the tannoy to use.

Meanwhile, my multitasking skills have developed beyond belief. I used to think that stuffing envelopes whilst writing emails was talent, but now I can write emails, sort the post, answer the phone and welcome visitors, all whilst eating an ice cream. Ok, not literally. No one wants to be greeted by a receptionist stuffing her face with a white magnum. But eating ice cream whilst answering the phone is definitely acceptable.

Work = money = spend it on tea. Investigating the correlation between packaging aesthetics and taste.
Customer services isn’t quite my calling in life I don’t think, but it’ll do nicely for now. Of course, when you proudly tell friends that you haven't seen in four years that you've actually managed to find a job, and then one of them tells you that she's been given a job in marketing for MAC, it doesn't seem quite as impressive. (Lucie might have let me down by not being my personal barrister, but at least I can get discount make up. That's what friends are for, right?) But so far, I've yet to get the work-dread, let alone the Sunday Night Blues. And when I do, I'll tell myself that this is just a stop gap, that this is what has to happen before I can escape and travel the world. It's a pretty good incentive, I think.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A few thoughts on health and judgement. With some other things thrown in for good measure.

This post is mostly inspired by Sofie's blog the other day about the emergence of the Real Woman culture and alientating body types. It received some pretty heated comments on Facebook, I personally thought it was a good piece but everyone has differing ideas. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so, differing ideas and ideals is pretty much what I'm writing about right now.

I was having lunch in the library cafe last week, as per. I was having a terrible day, so I decided that food would help. Instead of eating the lunch that I'd brought with me, I bought a tuna mayo baguette, a slice of coffee cake, and a large hot chocolate. Plus a Coke and a packet of crisps to take away with me. Hannah (here is her wonderful blog) came and sat down and said, "That's unlike you!", clearly referring to my food. Now, before I go on, I'd like to point out that I have absolutely no problem with Hannah saying this. That's not what this post is about. She was right; as Sofie said the other day, "It's always a grain with you, Serena." My lunch generally consists of wholegrain salad, a homemade granola bar, and a bucketload of fruit. You can see the difference, right? But my point is, why should eating sandwiches and junk food be "unlike" me? Why should anyone need to conform to a set 'thing'?

Why, for example, should anyone be judged for not doing exercise? For eating carbs, or chocolate, or 'fatty' foods? Of course, it's impossible not to judge people who don't do what you (usually) do. A couple of weeks ago I watched a guy sitting opposite me in the library practically inhale four muffins, and my first thought was, Really? Muffins? They're not going to help your brain... And then I reminded myself that I didn't know what he was going through, when his deadline was, in fact I knew nothing about him. So I stopped thinking about him at all, went back on with my work, and only remembered him two weeks later when I pulled an all-nighter fuelled by a large Domino's, all of the chocolate, and a litre of Boost energy drink. It made me smile.

I'm not trying to set myself up as some perfectly zen person, accepting of everyone and everything. I'm really not. Nor am I suggesting that all judgement should be reserved in every situation. I just mean that in terms of eating, and exercise, and general healthiness, maybe we should all do what we want and leave others be. Instead of bragging about how healthily you live, keep silent. People will stop hating you, and instead you might silently encourage someone else to be more healthy too.

A new saying seems to be emerging from the Health corner: eat what you want, when you want. It's great, it goes some way to promote a balanced and non-restrictive attitude towards food. Some criticise it, saying that it can be taken too literally, people will just eat whatever they want, act on every whim for a McDonald's or packet of biscuits (not, I'd like to emphasise, a single biscuit. A single biscuit never did anyone any harm). But when the 'healthy' alternative is to deprive ourselves of everything that we love, why would you not have an extra biscuit if that's what you needed to do for yourself?

I read an interesting post on Thursday, which of course I cannot find anywhere, about emotional eating. Emotional eating is dressed up and put in the stocks for us to throw metaphorical rotten tomatoes at: it's 'bad' and should be trained out of us. Clearly if you're triggered by emotions to eat in a way that identifies with the criteria for binge eating then help should be sought, but if you eat a big slab of chocolate once in a while because you've had a really rubbish day, you've simply listened to what your body and brain want and have given it that. And when was listening to and understanding ourselves a bad thing? As this article said, surely all eating is emotional. The taste or smell or particular type of food might invoke good memories, or perhaps eating something delicious simply makes you happy. In the same way, eating a really healthy meal might make you feel good, dare I say smug, about yourself. Humans are emotional beings by default, and regardless of whether it's healthy or unhealthy, most food experiences create an emotional response.

So instead of judging people for not eating 'healthily', instead of bombarding the whole world with images of glowing, bubbling, self-satisfied (no no, not all paragons of health are self-satisfied), possibly photoshopped men and women who are oh-so-much-better-than-the-rabble, why don't the People In Charge just encourage healthy eating? Don't link it to happiness, don't link it to weight loss, link it to what it should be linked to: health. And make it optional. If it isn't right for you, if your circumstances just don't allow seven family meals a week of organic ingredients bought from the local farmer's market, you shouldn't feel in the wrong.

I apologise for going all over the place with this post. I seem to have a whole load of thoughts that are on the same sort of topic but don't really flow into each other, but then again, this is my blog and I can do what I want. You can't judge.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Life lessons and food adventures

My vegan quest ended almost exactly a month ago. I’m not sure why I haven’t written about it yet. Perhaps because I was embarrassed at just how bad a vegan I was? Anyone can testify to this. It was appalling. And while I don’t feel that I should make excuses (after all, I was simply giving it a go), I will say that it’s a hard thing to keep up when the people you’re around aren’t vegan. Especially when you’re at home and eating family meals… But, as I said, I don’t need to excuse myself, so this isn’t going to be a blog about how and why I went wrong. Instead, I want to share a few things that I learned on the way.

Nutritional yeast is a great cheese substitute. In my initial vegan post I put links to a whole bunch of recipes that I wanted to try out, and one of these was vegan mac’n’cheese. I do love mac’n’cheese, but I rarely have cheese in the house so it isn’t something I normally make. Nutritional yeast, however, (a) doesn’t go solid and mouldy like cheese does, and (b) isn’t tempting to eat the entire lot in one sitting, so it economically viable for me to buy... Sorted. I spied some in Tullivers, a shop in York that stocks a lot of vegan and health food produce, bought it, and made a variation of this recipe.  I made a white sauce from dairy-free butter and almond milk, and then added the yeast and some mustard (our food processor is quite small and I was scared that the cashews would break it! I’ll definitely try the full recipe once I’m home). If you have all the spices I would definitely recommend putting them all in, but a simplified version works just as well. I’m not sure how much yeast I added, just enough that it tasted cheesy! I had the sauce with mixed vegetables rather than pasta, but it would work with almost any food. I also chuck the nutritional yeast into pretty much everything I make. If you mix it in whilst the food is hot it gives it a great nutty taste.

Homemade nut butter is the food of the gods. I have a massive thing for peanut butter: I will eat the entire jar in ten minutes if you ask me to. I love it. I’ve already posted my attempt at making almond butter, which was amazing. I also made my own peanut butter at home, since the blender there is a bit more sturdy than our little one. Although most shop-bought peanut butter doesn’t have many unnatural ingredients in it, it does have extra salt and sugar. Once you try homemade you’ll realise that although there is a slight difference in taste, the salt and sugar definitely aren’t necessary. If you don’t have the time to make your own, health food shops and vegan shops often sell all natural nut butters. I used Meridian peanut butter from Holland and Barrett to make granola bars last week and it was just as good as homemade.

3. Wholegrains aren't at all boring, or hard to find. In a bid to get protein whilst eating vegan (ok, so this wasn’t actually a problem since I ate meat and dairy anyway, but let’s just gloss over that for now) I did a bit of research and found that wholegrain foods contain a lot of protein. So far, so good. But where to find these wholegrains? I picked up bits and pieces of information from various places, but this page covers it all quite nicely. Couscous featured a lot in my lunch choices, but since that’s basically just ground-up pasta I’ve replaced it with millet, bulgur wheat, quinoa, spelt pasta and lentils. It makes for much more interesting lunches than just coucous, and a few of those I had no idea existed.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I’m being a much better pseudo-vegan now that I’m not actually trying to. I realised that as soon as I couldn’t have certain things, I suddenly wanted them. I’m definitely not fully vegan, but vegetarianism is going pretty well: in the last three weeks I’ve had one chicken sandwich, one tuna sandwich, and one bacon butty. Most of the time the thought of eating meat is actually repulsive to me. I think I’ll just take this one step at a time.  

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Of course, sometimes being 22 isn't all that great.

Luckily I'm still at university, and come graduation time I won't be thrust out into the not-so-big bad world and sort my own taxes. But I know that time will come.

Perhaps whilst I'm still living in the comfort of my own home I'll get my Dad to teach me about taxes...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

My life isn't sorted, and that's okay with me.

Taylor Swift has done it again. With a few words strung together, she’s reminded me that at 22, I really don’t need to have it all together yet. “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical oh yeh!”

Before anyone goes ahead and thinks I’m currently an emotional mess who is panicking about what I’m meant to be doing with my life, I’d like to confirm that I’m not. In the grand scheme of my whole life (excluding the years from my birth to the age of, oh, let’s say nine), I feel more together now than I probably ever have. This is, I expect, because I’m focussing on finishing my degree. There’s no space to be an emotional wreck for any reason, no space to think about what I’m doing next. It’s dissertation and essays day in, day out for the next eight weeks. It isn’t so much that the lyrics have confirmed that what I sometimes feel is okay. It’s that the grand old age of twenty two isn’t actually so old after all.

Take a look at some of my favourite lyrics: “It feels like a perfect night for breakfast at midnight”, “Everything will be alright if we keep dancing like we’re 22”, “You look like bad news, I gotta have you”. T-Swift clearly isn’t the expert on what age we should start acting responsibly, but this picture of twenty two year-olds doesn’t scream “responsible professionals”. Of course, the lyrics aren’t perfect: I hope that I will never be too old to have breakfast at midnight; if I’m twenty two right now, and my life as it is is supposed to be “alright”, I hate to think what quandaries I will have come up against by my thirtieth birthday. But these are irrelevant to the general spirit of the song.

Regardless of this image, there seems to be a huge contradiction in opinion as to what people my age should be doing. I’m graduating this summer. I’ll be twenty two. Most of my friends/fellow graduates will be twenty one. I’m sure that quite a few will still be twenty. Throughout our final year of university, we get bombarded (or so it seems) with emails from the careers department, as well as various student websites, telling us to fit in those final volunteer placements, sort out our CVs, decide what career we want to enter, and apply for internships, placements and graduate schemes.

Excuse me? I use the phrase “because reasons” to explain things that I can’t be bothered to address, I still manage to dye my clothes in the washing machine, and I got disproportionately excited at being shown menthol-capsule cigarettes. In what world should I know what I want to do with myself when I grow up?

I get told by articles on the internet, people I meet, and my parents’ painstakingly-assembled photograph albums that my 20s should be the best years of my life. I watch films where people in their twenties spend more time exploring the world, making mistakes, and doing jobs simply to make money rather than because that’s the job they desperately want to do. But ask my careers department and they’ll tell me that I should have it all figured out by now. Not that I’m bashing them: it is their job, after all. And in the current (foreseeable) economic climate, it does seem sensible to find a steady job and get onto that first rung of the career ladder.

It turns out that I’m not a sensible person. I don’t know what I want to do, I have no desire to get into a long-term-but-mind-numbingly-boring job (blame, or thank as I do, my father for that), I haven’t applied for graduate schemes or internships. Luckily, I think I have the whole thing figured out. I think that on the serious-job/have-all-of-the-fun tangent, I’ve got it right for me. I’m moving back home, working a boring-but-it-adds-to-my-CV-and-references office job for a while, and then going travelling.

Too many places, not enough time
There are some people lucky enough to know what they want to do, and who have their lives sorted at least for the next year. Whether through masters placements, PGCE courses or internships, their lives are headed in some sort of logical direction. In some ways I’d really love to be as sorted as them. But I don’t necessarily feel unlucky to still be apparently floating in the sky of What Shall I Do Next. When people ask me what I want to do next, my utterly truthful answer is ‘Travel’. My choice to explore the world isn’t one made because I don’t know what to do. I genuinely want to travel, and I don’t want to get into a regular job and then regret, seven years down the line, that I didn’t take the opportunity to experiences countries and cultures so different from mine. Luckily my not knowing what I want to do coincides with this decision, but it didn’t dictate it.

Most people make a choice that is right for themselves, but I expect that some would rather throw caution to the wind and take off on an adventure than step onto the path that someone else has chosen for them. Luckily my family is (at most times) onboard, and I have an older cousin who did the same thing and isn’t a bum living off benefits and floating from squat to squat. I just wish that what I’m doing didn’t, at times, make me feel that society is judging me. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Selective Veganism For Sort-Of Lent

Over the past year, for some reason, I've become increasingly interested in nutrition. Mostly it comes from spending too much time procrastinating on the internet, reading food blogs and nutrition articles, and I find it fascinating. I wanted to try being full-on vegan for a bit, thought that Lent was a good time frame, and decided to give it a go.

I'm not doing this for any religious reasons, nor for any beliefs about animals. Some people say that eating no animal products gives them more energy, makes their skin and hair more beautiful etc etc, and I'm simply interested in whether being vegan does make a difference.

Anyone who knows me will attests that so far I've been a terrible vegan. I haven't even been a particularly good vegetarian! Initially I thought that this would be easy. Thoughts on veganism went something like this: I rarely eat meat or cheese (except when I've had a bad day and Cambozola is on sale at Co-op and I inhale the whole cheese in five minutes. Don't judge me). On the few occasions I have some sort of spread on bread it's usually sunflower or olive spread rather than butter, and I can do without it. Eggs are delicious, but I can manage not to eat them for forty days. It's not that long. I use natural yoghurt for mayonnaise/spread in sandwiches/as a substitute for crème fraiche, and I like soya yoghurt so that's that one solved. I only have milk in tea and coffee, and I don't mind soya milk so no problem. Sweets, chocolate? Not really my thing to be totally honest. Nope, this was going to be a breeze.

Goodness. Could I have been more wrong? Ladies and gentlemen, this has been hard. As soon as I told myself I couldn't have these things, I wanted them. I wanted them all. It's a simple case of denial, and wanting what you can't have. And also that I seem to have eaten out a lot since I started this, where there's very little vegan food to be had. If I'm paying for a specific dish I like to get the best-looking one on the menu, which almost always involves meat. I've been corrupted into getting takeaway as well, especially after my birthday when my hangover was chronically bad. Don't turn 22, it ruins your life. But that's another story. Food at home has actually been easy, I've stayed vegan there, so perhaps I'm not doing as badly as I thought.

There is one thing that I can't give up, though. Milk. I've had soya milk and almond milk before, and it's been fine in coffee. But not in tea. It is so wrong in tea. I love tea, most people can tell you that. It cures everything, especially headaches when paired with two chocolate fingers and a teaspoon of sugar. My ideal mug of tea is not-too-strong, nice-and-milky. And I will not give that up. Soya tea doesn't cut it. Since this has nothing to do with animal rights and more to do with nutrition, I'm allowing myself this one luxury. I'm in what is definitely the most stressful term of my time at university, and I think I'd go mad if I couldn't have milky tea.

This week I'm starting afresh. There's no point in simply giving up at the first hurdle, so I'm turning over a new leaf. I've worked out a new way to keep me interested: interesting cooking. I love to cook, but usually I don't have the money for expensive ingredients. Vegan cooking, however, is a new experience, so I've hunted out some recipes to try. I say "some". I have 23 recipes open from a single blog. Whoever says vegans don't eat are talking a load of rubbish.

I've taken all of these from The Detoxinista, whose recipes look delicious.

I'm actually excited to make some of these, to make food that looks and tastes slightly like the food I normally eat. I made some almond butter this afternoon, using The Detoxinista's recipe. All I did was dry-roast the almonds at 200c for 10 minutes, and then blend. And blend. And blend some more.

I added some ground cinnamon and it tastes delicious. Almond butter has such a gentle taste that it's great for adding spices - I think I might try a chilli one next...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Trainers are for life, not just for sport

Trainers are for life, not just for sport

Trainers are for life, not just for sport by serenarudge

I'm having a bit of a trainer moment. Not that these are all exactly trainers, but that's how I'm choosing to define them. I've worked out that I have some money spare, and I'd really like a pair of one of these. I just can't decide which.

I haven't lusted after trainers that weren't for sport since I was twelve and my life goal was to become Avril Lavigne. Looking back, they were hideous and painfully cheap, as shown when my friend's dog chewed them and they spewed foam stuffing all over the house. I think they were from Shoe Zone. Holla.

Anyway, that is all beside the point. Please someone help me decide which ones to buy?

"Time is overrated, Momentum carries me" -- Maximo Park

Well, I've been pretty catastrophically bad at blogging this term. I have no excuse except that I've been swept up in The Final Term Of Teaching (as I've come to call it in my head), spending most of my time in the library trying (and often failing) to work as hard as possible. There's an idea in my head that this is the last chance I have to make something of my degree, and although the likelihood of me getting a First is pretty much zero, I still want to do well. Except for the tiny part of me that simply wants to be a hippy yoga instructor hostel owner somewhere warm by the sea who doesn't even need a degree and wants to give up entirely. I try to ignore that part, it doesn't help much with motivation!

I can't decide if that Maximo Park lyric describes what I've been doing, or what I should do. On the one hand I'm letting momentum carry me forward whilst I do the bare minimum, but on the other I need to forget about time, stop panicking that it's passing too fast, and find some momentum to carry me. Who knows. I've been ill for the last week and a half, and I'm hoping that tomorrow I can wake up and feel inspired to Get Things Done.

It's nearly March now, which helps. I'm excited for Spring, for flowers and warmer weather. I've got some more blog posts lined up, I have magazines to read and tea to drink. I need to remember that life could be a whole lot worse.