Monthly Archives

January 2017

Seasonal Adventures

Taking Comfort From Ruins

January 30, 2017

It’s been a tough week for our planet. After the high of the Women’s March and all its positivity, the subsequent legislation emanating from Trump’s hand and our own government’s inability to stand up for what’s right, it’s been a momentous downer. I’m left feeling small, unrepresented and powerless. And scared.

I realise you’re here for a little escapism, but it feels wrong not to at least acknowledge what’s going on. Sign the petitions, write to your MP and don’t let any of this become normal in your mind. But then what? Go outside, breathe the air, and take comfort in our land and our heritage.

A few days after the Brexit vote, I found myself at some ruins on our summer holiday, while last week we decided to visit the ruins at Old Sarum. Although the timing of each of these visits was, if not coincidental definitely subconscious, at both points it was apt. At times like this, I often take comfort in ruins.

The crooked and haggard buildings of our past that still stand firm in our landscape. Ruins have been bombarded, or burnt, or pulled down, or abandoned, or all of the above and more. And despite that, their rugged remains hold resolutely to life. Battered by weather, by time, and by humanity they simply won’t collapse. It’s not like they’re just clinging to life either – they are strong and solid, the indestructible bastions of England’s past.

I feel this in churches perhaps even more so. I think it’s because ecclesiastical architecture was one of my postgraduate specialist subjects. I can read a church. I can see where it’s been wrenched apart, altered, and feel the ghosts of the bits that have been stolen.

I have a memory, on that Brexit day, of placing my hand on the softened iron handle of an ancient church door, of closing it quietly behind me and being plunged into the darkness of the porch, dazzled by the stained glass of the inner doors. Once I’d managed to feel my way inside, I stepped into a warm-hued little oasis, all sandstone and Victorian pews. Completely alone, I took comfort in the stillness. The smoothed stones, the musty, bookish smell, the gap where the choir screen once was.

I had a thought then that I return to frequently these days. If this church can withstand 800 years, civil and international wars, and a Reformation where it had its very guts ripped out, then we too can withstand our current political storm. Not only withstand it, but come out the other side with our heads held high, a little battered, but all the more magnificent for it.

The toothless grin of Donnington Castle – the perfect illustration, I think.

So if you’re looking for comfort, take it in ruins or wander to the village church. Run your hand down centuries-smoothed bannisters, place your feet in the worn parts of flagstones, stepping in the very footsteps of our ancestors. Feel your place in history, here at the end of a long line of experience, and right at the beginning of the future. Do your democratic duty, and by all means feel and rage against it all, and feel the weight of history. But take comfort in that history too – it is there to teach us, to cosset us and to show us the way.

Seasonal Stomach The Tea Journey

The Tea Journey: Jasmine Silver Needle Tea

January 22, 2017

I’m starting the Tea Journey with Jasmine Silver Needle. But why jasmine? It doesn’t seem like an entry level tea, with its exotic connotations and the fact that it’s made with flowers. But it’s a natural start for me, as I love all things jasmine – scented candles, shower gels, the tiny white climbing flowers and their scent in summer. I have tried jasmine tea before, and it’s the only herbal tea I’ve enjoyed rather than struggled through.

So at this stop in the Tea Journey I dip my toe at the shallow end of the pool. If you’ve not tried jasmine tea before, or you’ve been put off herbal teas by those dusty-tasting fruit versions, I really recommend it as an introduction to the world outside of milk and two sugars.

Here I’ll tell you how to make the perfect cup, how it tastes, and how to really enjoy it.

The preparation

First of all, jasmine tea deserves more than a novelty mug. For the best flavour and temperature, use a glass cup, or exquisitely thin china. The tea deserves it, you deserve it.

Heat the water to 80 degrees. If you don’t have a fancy thermostat kettle, you can use a meat thermometer, or any type of thermometer. If you are thermometer-less, add a little cold water into the cup just to take the temperature down.

Infuse the tea for 3-5 minutes. I prefer to infuse for the shorter amount of time as it keeps the flavour lovely and light. You can also re-use the Jing teabags a couple of times, so don’t just bin them!

The experience

Preparing this tea is mesmeric. Watching the sands dribble through the timer while the tea gently stains the water like watercolour paint, building a kind of ritualistic tension. Making it properly, with time and attention, definitely adds to the overall experience.

The first thing you get, as you cradle the cup under your chin, is the aroma. It’s otherworldly almost, hypnotising you into thinking, for just a second, that you are elsewhere. It evokes gardens and greenhouses and the act of parting leaves and flowers as you explore deeper. It smells like a memory I can’t quite place – happy, yet mysterious.

The taste is gentle and floral, but in a really decadent way (I always think ‘floral’ as a flavour makes it sound soapy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth). It is a multi-faceted tasting experience, where the first sip feels light and clean, yet it mellows into a rich heaviness which lingers on the tongue. This makes it feel totally luxurious. When drinking this, you know how good it is for you (see below), but the flavour tricks you into thinking it’s sweet and naughty.

The rituals

In northern China it is customary to serve jasmine tea as a welcoming gesture to guests. How lovely is that?! I think it’s a wonderful ritual to adopt. Why not plan a slow afternoon with friends, to craft, chat and drink tea in a beautifully jasmine-scented room?

For centuries jasmine tea has also been used for stress relief and as an anti-depressant, which makes sense when you think that jasmine is also commonly used in aromatherapy.

Perhaps if you’re not feeling particularly social, you can drink your jasmine tea meditatively. Feel the warmth of the liquid in your hands, and take long, deep breaths of the fragrant steam. Allow the aroma to seep into you, and lose yourself in it. Spend a little time doing something for you – get out of your head with a craft project, or a new book. Let the tea do it’s work.

The story

Jasmine tea is first recorded in the Song Dynasty in the 13th century, but then it was reserved for royalty alone. Nowadays it is still made in the traditional way.

The tea is picked in April in dried in the sun in Yunnan province in the south of China. In August, the tea is laid beneath a bed of jasmine flowers (I wouldn’t mind lying in a bed of jasmine flowers…) for seven nights, infusing the fragrant aroma with the tea.

If you’re looking for something to help you detox (without lowering yourself to diet teas), jasmine tea is pretty perfect. It’s a natural anti-oxidant, it increases your metabolic rate to burn fat faster, and its anti-bacterial properties can help prevent and relieve colds. What a super tea.

Over the course of exploring, I’ve come to think of jasmine as a happy tea. From the dainty little white flowers of the plant, to the light, bright flavour of the tea, through to its social connotations and stress-busting properties, it’s definitely a drink that embodies and promotes happiness. It may seem summery, but this makes it perfect for this dark, wintery days.

Get some happiness for yourself and check out Jing’s jasmine range here.*

Come back next time when I’ll be drinking proper Peppermint Leaf tea.

What are your thoughts on jasmine tea? And how are you enjoying the Tea Journey so far? Let me know in the comments if there’s anything more you’d like to see!

 

*please note that these products were sent to me by Jing Tea to review – however, the words are all mine and from the heart.

Simple Pleasures

Inspirational Reads – Creative Countryside

January 17, 2017

Sometimes we all fall a little short in the inspiration stakes. Times when it can be easier to slob out on the sofa with a takeaway rather than get outside or cook from scratch. And that’s ok. But to help you re-kick start your simple lifestyle, there’s inspirational reads: blogs, magazines and books full of ideas and interesting people to get you back on your chosen track.


Creative Countryside Journal

An online journal and quarterly print magazine, Creative Countryside is run by real life Superwoman Eleanor Cheetham. Eleanor is seriously living the dream on a lovingly restored farm in Lincolnshire with her husband, where they plan to hold courses and WWOOF-ing placements (see Chalk House Farm.) The Creative Countryside magazine is due to launch later in the year, once Eleanor has had her baby!

All images reproduced with permission from Eleanor Cheetham.

The Concept

Stories, nature, folklore, adventures. It is a celebration of the seasons, for those who strive for simple living and ‘who walk outside in the rain’. Full of inspiration, country crafts, traditions and nature. Perfect for us, basically.

The Contents

The Creative Countryside online journal has a delicious mix of thoughtful pieces, matter of fact slow living tips from Eleanor’s experience and broader inspirational pieces to keep you going. All the words are complemented by beautiful photography that just feels…still. The whole site is completely calming and puts you in a pretty zen place.

Perfect for…

Kicking off your wellies on a Sunday, curling up with blankets and cake, and sinking into. Whether you’re a simple living newbie, or seasoned chicken keeper, you’ll find it inspiring and beautiful in equal measure.

 

Go to Creative Countryside to read the journal and sign up to the newsletter, and follow on Instagram.

Seasonal Stomach Simple Self

Food and Memory: Cooking Up Comfort

January 14, 2017

It’s been a cold old week, one of those periods where you feel like you never really get warm – January is really starting to bite. We’ve been coming in from dog walks comparing cold hands and digging the big scarfs out from the bottom of the wardrobe. At times like this, your mind turns to comfort food.

While eating a corned beef sandwich (see below), my mind turned to wondering what makes comfort food, well, comforting? Because there isn’t a one size fits all. Some love a hearty stew, while others, me included, would be happy to never eat a stew again in their life. Why are everyone’s comfort foods so drastically different?

I think at this point I should specify my definition of comfort food. To me, it’s something you long for, that you dream about, that you reach for when you’re poorly or down in the dumps. There are, however, two types of comfort foods: foods that make you feel gross afterwards, and ones that don’t.

The first type, for me at least, is home to pizza, fish and chips and all those fast food sins. Yes, you crave them, but afterwards you feel bloated and a little ashamed. Here I’m looking at type two comfort foods, the ones you make at home and may even have some level of nutritional value.

We know we crave type one comfort foods because of the saturated fats and sodium, but what about the type twos? What addictive properties can they possibly have?

I’ve think that we’re addicted to the memories they hold. Most commonly our comfort foods are linked to our childhoods, and the nostalgia we feel when we taste or smell them. Even just preparing the food can bring back those memories – I can’t make a marmite sandwich without thinking about being in my auntie’s kitchen, where she’d make sandwiches with more butter than marmite, then dashing back out into the sun dappled garden to play. (Which reminds me, why, in our childhood memories, is it always summer or Christmas?).

This works backwards too, of course. Dan will eat anything but spaghetti bolognaise following his childhood food traumas with the stuff, while my aversion to stew comes from my memories of chewy, gristly meat in a watery gravy. The way we eat as children informs our appetites more than we know, and sets the blueprint for what will comfort us as adults.

It needn’t just be memories from childhood that inform our comfort food choices though. Milestones in our life, traumatic or notable events, and trying something new can all imprint on our brains, and our taste buds.

When we seek comfort, we seek the familiar. With comfort foods we are looking for things that are tried and tested, that we know make us feel good. They trigger memories of familiarity, of family and love, of a time we were comforted before. I don’t know about you, but I think food’s power to do all that is quite amazing – especially as most comfort food is humble, homely fare. Well done food.

 

Here are my favourite comfort foods, and the memories they hold…

Corned Beef Sandwiches

Where it all began, both in terms of this post and my life of comfort food. When I was very young my Nanny Vera (Dad’s mum) would look after me, I think after nursery. I was so young that I can’t remember exactly when it was or for how long; its one of those memories that feels very sporadic but I’m sure it must have been a fairly regular arrangement.

Anyway, I would always have corned beef sandwiches with orange squash and lemonade at her house. This is where my soft spot for corned beef came from. Even the smell of the stuff has me walking into her kitchen – I can remember where everything was and how the light would slant in through the net curtains onto the wall. I remember sitting on her pouffy red velvet sofas, the smell of the wax crayons she kept in a biscuit tin and the way she used to call 7 Up ‘Zup’. Every time I eat a corned beef sandwich I’m five years old again, and I remember my grandmother – a slightly odd tribute, but one filled with love.

Cottage Pie

Specifically, this has to be my mum’s cottage pie where the mash is dry and slightly caught on top so it’s lovely and crispy. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think ‘comfort food’. I had a hard time during my first two years of university, as a lot of people do but never quite admit to. I would come home as often as I could. When I did, my mum would have made cottage pie, and I remember eating it and feeling the weight lift off my shoulders. I think I associate that recipe now with the feeling of safety, of being protected and loved and secure, which is probably why it’s my ultimate comfort food.

Roast potatoes

I’ve always liked roast potatoes, but their comfort food status was cemented in the period I first met Dan. Working together in a pub, after Sunday service we would all eat the leftover roasts that hadn’t been sold. I’d never had potatoes so perfect – rock solid on the outside, fluffy on the inside and SO flavoursome. I would eat them by the bucket load (literally, he would save me a plastic tub of them).

They are comforting in themselves, but they also remind me of those heady days of falling in love. They remind of the afternoons where we’d finally get to sit and eat together, where we could cast off our work responsibilities and spend the summer evenings together. Even now, roast potatoes form part of our DNA as a couple in our in-jokes and knowing language. I associate this food with the man I love, and what is more comforting than that?

 

What are your comfort foods, and what memories do they conjure?

Simple Self

4 Quotes To Inspire Your Goals

January 10, 2017

When you’re working towards something, and particularly at New Year, you become like a sponge for tips and soundbites. The cynics among us may think that we seek out inspirational podcasts and articles to avoid actually doing something scary towards our goal, however I do think they’re useful for getting us going, giving us an extra drive as well as a comfort blanket to hold onto.

Here are 4 of my favourite quotes about goals which I remind myself of on an almost hourly basis…

“A dream without a plan is just a wish.” – Susie Wolff

I don’t know whether Susie Wolff came up with this herself, or whether it is written down elsewhere, but here I’m attributing it to her because she’s such an awesome lady. She is so inspiring for going further than any woman has in such a male-oriented world, whilst maintaining her grace, her felinity, and her personality. I heard her talk at an event once, and this tidbit of a quote stayed with me – it’s good to dream, but in order to achieve you have to be organised, and have a plan.

“How much of human life is lost in waiting.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this one for reminding you to make your own way in life. Too often I, at least, of guilty of living in the future, thinking in terms of ‘when’ something will happen rather than making it happen. If you are not proactively working for your goal, you are just waiting. And all that time will be lost.

“Act as if your goal is totally reasonable, and it will work out.” – Tara Swiger

This one isn’t verbatim, it’s taken from this Tara Swiger podcast, but it’s more about the sentiment than the beauty of the words. This one means a lot to me as it told me, in simple, matter of fact terms, to take myself seriously. If you don’t believe in your goal, if you don’t think it’s reasonable, it’ll always be a pipe dream that you’ll never bother working on. Act like it’s totally reasonable and you’ll make it happen.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

What inspirational quote list is complete without Confucius, right? This one has so many layers. It says ‘never give up’ in pragmatic terms, it makes failure seem like a re-routing exercise rather than a total disaster. It reflects the fact that our plans are living things, ever changing and evolving, but always within our power to reshape. Crucially, it proves that nothing is finite. You can start on your goal now, and can always adjust the steps later. Just start, and don’t compromise on what you want.

 

What are some of your favourite quotes?

Seasonal Stomach The Tea Journey

Welcome Aboard The Tea Journey

January 8, 2017

Tea is having something of a renaissance. The supermarket shelves of my youth sold six or seven varieties of English Breakfast, with the bigger places perhaps stocking a dusty box of Earl Grey. Not so anymore. Long aisles of brightly coloured boxes boast myriad varieties of fruit, herbal, green, white and black teas, with brands ranging from supermarket’s own to passionate start ups to the stalwart tea corporates trying to elbow their way into this newly booming market.

The trouble now is, where do you start? How do you know which of those brightly coloured boxes is for you? And are these supermarket teas even the best introduction to the world outside of builder’s brews?

This is where The Tea Journey comes in.

Proper tea drinking forces you to slow down: testing the water temperature, timing the brew, pouring from kettle, to pot, to cup. There is a nostalgia about tea drinking, a sense of taking part in rituals that have been repeated around the world throughout time. It grounds you, connects you to the world. This is what makes it such an easy way to embrace a slower pace of life.

I’ve always loved the idea of being ‘into’ tea, of drinking something other than English Breakfast. Every time I’ve caught a whiff of speciality teas they smell so exotic and enticing, but I’ve never known which one is for me. I want to know how to choose the right teas for my taste buds, I want to learn how to properly prepare them, and I want to engage, in some small way, with the ancient rituals and customs that have accompanied tea drinking over the centuries.

All this, and more, we’ll cover on our Tea Journey this year, all thanks to Jing Tea. Each season I’ll introduce a new set of teas, with interesting insights, how to’s, and, most importantly of all, the taste verdict.

Whether you’re already a tea aficionado, or, like me, you love the idea of becoming one, the Tea Journey will have something for you.

About Jing Tea

I’m working with tea specialists Jing Tea to bring you The Tea Journey. Suppliers to 70 Michelin starred restaurants around the world, Jing are true connoisseurs. On a mission to inspire the world to enjoy tea at its best, they believe tea should be as delicious as it is uplifting the spirit. Tea drinking to them is all about the experience. Their teas are authentic and pure, and perfect introductions to the very best of modern tea drinking.

 

Find out more about Jing, and don’t forget to check back here for our first stop on the Tea Journey in 2 weeks time.

Mid Week Eats Seasonal Stomach

Mid Week Eat: Sling Together Stew

January 3, 2017

It’s easy to eat seasonally with a whole lazy Sunday and 6 hours to roast a joint ahead of you. It’s more difficult when you get in from work late and all you want to do is order a pizza. My Mid-Week-Eats recipes are all quick, really easy and made mostly using ingredients you’ll already have in your cupboards. No trailing round various health food shops to source a weird paste anymore.

 

This is the most genuine Mid Week Eat I think I’ve ever made. Car trouble made a trip to the shops impossible, so I had to improvise with what was in the cupboards and freezer. No matter how bare your larder, you should be able to sling together a stew based on whatever you have. Depending on how much time you have you can make this in 20 minutes or 2 hours.

I’ve included lots of options in the ingredients…

Makes 2 portions

1 tin of beans – chick peas, butter beans, kidney beans, whatever you have
1 tin of tomatoes
1 onion
1 garlic clove
Sausage, chicken, bacon, cheese – anything you have in the freezer or fridge

  1. Soften the onions and garlic over a low heat  –
  2. Add the tomatoes
  3. Choose your flavourings – cumin and curry powder work well, as do herbs like oregano. Go with your mood. Cook for as long as you have
  4. Add your beans
  5. Don’t over-stew your beans, 15 minutes should do it
  6. Serve as it is or add some protein – I fried off chunks of sausages and chucked them in too
Simple Self

Rethinking the New Year’s Resolution

January 1, 2017

How often around this time of year do you hear the words “I’m not making any resolutions because I always break them”?

I do make one each year, even though I’m hopeless at them – last year’s, to read a few pages of a book every day, was broken by January 2nd. Those of you as into corporate planning acronyms as I am will no doubt know the mantra that goals must be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. These work really well for deadlines and projects, but not so well for a self-development challenge that will be difficult and easy to break.

That was the trouble with last year’s resolution – it was so specific that failure was almost guaranteed. Ultra-specific goals are too inflexible to fit around our lives and the people we will grow into during the year.

To me, a resolution shouldn’t be like a project, shouldn’t be specific and attainable. We’re measured in every single facet of our lives – at work, in our social circles, by society at large. Why do we insist on doing it to ourselves?

Resolutions should be inspiring, empowering and life-affirming, not yet another stick to beat ourselves with.

This is why I’m changing the resolution routine. I’ve read some inspiring stuff about using carefully chosen words to keep focused throughout the year (I recommend Sally at The Cafe Cat’s post On Resolutions). I love the idea of an ethos and a direction that you cling to in every aspect of your life, defining your decisions and activities and helping you achieve your goals in a positive way – a New Year’s Reso-Mantra.

So what’s mine?

My whole life I’ve been an impatient and impulsive planner. That may seem like a contradiction in terms, but I always decide on impulse I want to do something, then impatiently plan it out to the n-th degree. I live in the future, and am always desperate to move onto the next thing – at school I couldn’t wait for university, at uni I couldn’t wait to get a job, in my first job I couldn’t wait for the next job.

As an impatient planner I’m not very good at following through and executing. Which is why my love, passion and commitment to this little blog has surprised and delighted me this year, and is cause for a little fist pump of pride. And I want to continue that in to other aspects of my life with my 2017 ethos:

Commitment to Purpose

It doesn’t trip off the tongue quite as happily as other slogans might, but I like its gravity and it resonates with me. It reminds me to see things through, not to flit from one thing to the next, and ultimately be purposeful in my life. There are things I’ve been lax with, and if I tried to make each one a specific resolution I’d be overwhelmed. My ethos allows me look at and commit to each one as part of a whole.

So what am I committing to in 2017?

Eating

I’ve got lazy with cooking. Over the last few months my evening meals have become more a tasting menu of snacks throughout the evening. I want to get back into cooking fresh meals and feeling the nutrients again. I’ll start by committing to three times a week.

Exercise

I pay an ungodly amount for a gym membership and have a mountain bike that has been ridden once. I love my yoga and Body Balance when I’m doing it, I just struggle to get there. I need to commit to moving my body more, to feeling strong and, well, you know, tightening up. I will aim to exercise 4 times a week – 2 classes, 1 netball match and a swim or a ride.

Social

I’m an introverted little squirrel and quite often bail at the slightest excuse. I must follow through with social engagements, I must get out there more and meet new people (holla if you want a coffee!). I also definitely need to stop being so scared of interacting with people on social media – I’m awful at returning all your lovely comments and must improve on that.

Actions

I need to do what I say I’m going to do (case in point – October’s Monthly Simplify was only completed last week – whoops!). I need to do those necessary chores and things that have to be done. I need to get on top of housework and routine.

Dreams

This is the biggie. I’ve had lots of thoughts about what I want to do with my life, thoughts I’m too apprehensive to share. I need to commit to those dreams, and make them happen. That includes, of course, continuing with the blog and Instagram, and getting better at Twitter, as well as being more organised, asking for what I want, and generally being a total girl boss. Tips and support greatly welcomed!

What are your resolutions this year? Are you tempted to go for a Reso-Mantra instead?