Saturday, 30 June 2012

Farmers market rice salad

When I worked full time I used to visit a farmer's market close to where I worked. I'd always go and lunchtime and pick up a rice salad from Natural Vitality, who sell organic dips and salads.

I've not had one for years but randomly started thinking about this delicious little pot of healthy goodness recently and today had a go at replicating it.

It wasn't as good, I'll happily admit that but all the same it was delicious and perfect to pack in a little tub and take to work, as I have done today. Sorry for the rubbishy iPhone pic by the way, I'm camera-less at work.

Serves 2, you will need:

150g Brown/wholegrain rice
Handful dried apricots, chopped
Handful dates, chopped
Handful cashews
Handful mixed seeds
Large handful parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 2 limes

1. Cook the rice according to the pack instructions
2. When the rice is cooked, drain and add the remaining ingredients
3. Give it a good old stir, allow to cool and enjoy!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Shake it

I totally feel as if I may go off on a tangent during this post, as I so often do when talking about exercise (it's been my job for 12 years, I have alot to say). I'll try to stay on topic, please forgive me if I stray slightly.

So yes, exercise. I am currently doing alot of the stuff. My first sun holiday since my honeymoon 7 years ago, not to mention my first time in a bikini since having two babies (eek!) has made me ramp up my efforts in the last few months.

A general week will include cycling 15 miles to work and back twice a week, a 3 mile run, a Body Attack class and 2 weights sessions. I combine the run with a weights session so I'm at the gym 2-3 times a week.

Now, I've been eating 'clean' (foods in their natural state i.e. unprocessed) as much as possible a while now (bar a weekend vino or, erm, five and the odd cakey/chocolatey treat thrown in) which has helped with a good amount of fat loss but I want to now 'sculpt' and work on my Jenifer Aniston arms (sigh).

As much as I try I don't think I'm getting enough protein in my diet to fuel the amount of exercise I do. I'm not a massive meat-eater as mentioned in my last post and though I get ample protein to hit the RDA through pulses, grains and nuts, I think I just need a little extra to aid recovery and allow for muscle repair.

So, I read Nicola's blog with interest this week on Bio-Synergy's range of sports nutrition for women. I've always poo-pooed the idea of supplementation, believing that we can get everything we need from our diet but since upping the ante on my training I'm finding myself constantly hungry and having to fight the urge as I try to lose fat.

Also, I train early in the mornings. I leave the house often before 6:30am and even I (greedy) can't face breakfast early enough to digest it for this time. After reading the gumpf on the products I wonder if a protein-based drink before I train could make a difference to not only my performance but also how fast I recover.

A product which caught my eye is their Activate powder, a protein-based shake which provides slow-burning energy, some essential vitamins and minerals and that all-important protein (which promotes satiety). Recommended use is before a workout or between meals when the hunger pangs strike. So far, sounding so good.

So I ordered me a tub of Activate and await my delivery with anticipation as to whether it makes a difference or not. What say you, readers? Has anyone tried supplementation? I'd love to hear your experiences as I envision myself swanning around Barcelona, svelte (ha!) and tanned (sunburned) enjoying the results (please?) of this (bloody) hard work.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Squash & Chickpea Stew

My carnivorous husband tolerates our mostly-veggie meals. We only have meat a few times a week, partly because I want to eat good meat and couldn't afford to do so every night but mostly because there are so many meat-free recipes out there which are so healthy. High in nutrients, packed with protein and low in saturated fat, this is one I did for the first time tonight and is definitely a keeper.

It's taken from a recipe in the River Cottage Veg Every Daybook. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients, it took me about half an hour to prepare and is dead simple.

You will need:
2 Tbsp oil
2 Onions, diced
1 Stalk of celery, finely diced
1 Tsp ground black pepper
1 Tsp Turmeric
Half tsp ground ginger
Half tsp ground cinnamon
100g red lentils
Tin chickpeas
8 Saffron strands, toasted and crushed (I just chucked mine in non-toasted, sorry Hugh)
500ml Passata
Handful chopped fresh parsley
Handful chopped fresh coriander
300g Squash or pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and chopped into large cubes
1.2l Veg stock
1 Bay leaf
50g Orzo

1. Heat the oil and cook the onions until soft
2. Turn down the heat and add the spices, garlic and celery. Cook for a few minutes
3. Add the lentils, chickpeas, saffron, passata and fresh herbs
4. Cook on low for about 15 mins (I added a bit of water at this point as it started sticking)
5. Add the squash or pumpkin and bay leaf
6. Cover and simmer for 30 mins
7. Add the orzo and simmer until cooked
8. Season, serve and enjoy!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pimp my living room

I sigh a great big shallow sigh. I want to redecorate my living room but don't know where to start or what I really want it to look like. Plus, um, I have no money so am kinda stuck.

This is how it looks now...

Excuse my cub glued to the Lion King

So yeah, it's pretty small and after 6 years, 2 children and a big smelly dog, in need of a bit of TLC. I've spent the morning on Pinterest browsing some beautiful looking rooms looking for inspiration. A Lust List will shortly follow featuring objects (and rooms) of my desire.

So, Living Room Fairy, if you're reading, please pay me a visit and bring me the room of my dreams. For free.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Cake Club: Healthy(ish) Malt Loaf

Months ago, when Andy was feeling poorly my Mum gave me a jar of Malt Extract for him. She'd bought it on a nostalgic whim remembering how her own Mother would line her and her brother up for their daily dose, as was the trend in post-war Britain, as a cheap dose of nutrients for Fifties' children. A spoonful in, however and the vile taste diminished her rose-tinted memories and the actual memory of being forced to down spoonfuls of this thick, disgusting elixir hastily found the jar heading our way. Thanks, Mum.

Needless to say Andy never did dare take any (have you smelt it?) and it's been lurking at the back of the cupboard with the rice vinegar and green teabags (swamp juice) ever since.

My endless quest for healthy snacks to give my kids, and with the days of creating interesting and nutritious lunchboxes on the horizon saw me seeking out malt loaf recipes. A click on to the failsafe BBC Good Food site led me to a recipe and FINALLY I could make use of this hideous goo and make it into something nice.

It's turned out a treat. A big hit with the kids, it's a-sponge-which-thinks-it's-a cake-but-is not-actually-a-cake. It contains a considerable amount less sugar and no fat (bar the eggs, but that's minimal). Give it a go, it's gooey, sticky and great spread with butter. Everything a malt loaf should be.

You will need:

150ml hot black tea
175g malt extract (sold in health food shops)
85g dark muscovado sugar
300g mixed dried fruit (I only had sultanas)
2 large eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Half tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Heat oven to 150c/130 fan/gas 2 and line 2 1lb loaf tins
2. Add the tea, fruit, malt extract and sugar to a bowl and stir well
3. Mix in the beaten eggs
4. Tip in the flour, quickly followed by the baking powder and bicarb
5. Stir well and pour into the prepared tins
6. Bake for 50 mins until firm and well-risen
7. Remove from tins and cool

The recipe says to then wrap and keep for 2-5 days before eating as it becomes more sticky but really, who can wait that long? We tucked in as soon as it was cool enough for the butter not to melt and it was perfect. A definite lunchbox thumbs up.

N.B. I don't have 1lb loaf tins so just did the whole thing in a 2lb tin. I baked at 140c (fan oven) for 1hr 20 mins

To sleep or not to sleep?

Um, not, in our case.

When Max was a baby we co-slept for a month or so as he wouldn't go in his Moses basket and it made for easy feeding in the foggy first weeks.

Since then he's never slept in our bed, something we've actually been quite pleased about as we went though a spell of major problems with Finn after he was ill, slept in our bed for ages (comfort for him, peace of mind for us) then we had HUGE problems trying to get him back into bed. It resulted in very little sleep (me) and loads of tears (both of us).

Buuuut...When Max and I were ill last month, we slipped into the habit of sleeping together. He was so poorly he just wasn't settling so it made sense to have him in with me as he just wanted cuddles the whole time. To be fair, I was feeling rough and that's all I wanted too (apart from paracetamol, ibubrofen, Vicks Sinex and Beechams. Quite a cocktail) so we enjoyed a few weeks of restful nights snuggled in together.

Sure, he looks cute. Not so much at 2am with feet in your ribs

Now, however, it's not so enjoyable. He's going to sleep fine in his own bed but sneaks in, ninja-style in the dead of night. The proceeds to kick, punch, squash and duvet-hog for the remainder of the night. The time has come to get him sleeping all night in his own bed again but how, without the trauma we had with Finn?

I've had a few good suggestions on Twitter which I'll try but does anyone else have ideas for no-cry solutions? I'd love to hear from you if you've had a similar experience. My sanity depends on it.

Monday, 18 June 2012

A pain in the, er, back

Lately, my Twitter timeline has been full of people talking about back pain. Perhaps because I follow alot of people with young children (back-cripplers), who knows?

My husband and I run a back pain studio and I'm finding it really hard not to pimp out the business to my pain-riddled followers. Bad business sense? Perhaps, but the Twitter account in question is a personal one and I don't want my followers to feel obliged to make an appointment or that something is being pushed on them.

So I thought instead, I'd just add a wee post for any of you who do suffer to give advice on how to manage back pain, the best ways to prevent it and who to see if it all gets too much.

Your best defence against back pain is strength. If you can get to a Pilates or core-strengthening class, you're on your way to a stronger back which gives greater support to the spine and reduces vulnerability to injury. Better still, if you can it's well worth going to see a specialist sports therapist, rehab professional or physio (even if it's just one session) to get a specific core-based exercise programme.

Work on 'activating' your core each time you lift your child, twist or move with weight. Read here on how to do this.

Avoid twisting to lift or put down your child/something of significant weight. Stand straight on, keep your back straight and bend your knees.

A hot bath and ibuprofen can work wonders for short-term back pain.

If you get pain down your legs, there's a chance you may have a prolapsed (slipped) disc. See a chiropractor or osteopath if this is the case.  If there is no prolapse, it could be tight muscles in your buttocks causing the problem. A good sports or deep tissue massage can see to this.

Sports or deep tissue massages are amazing for easing pain and tension. I'm not just saying that because it's my job, honest.

Stay active. The more mobile you are, the less chance you have of seizing up and causing further damage. Keep walking, keep moving but know your limits and listen to your body.

If you don't already, exercise. If you have a long-term back problem, seek advice from a physio or sports therapist before you do but exercise keeps us strong, supple and our joints mobile. Even if it's just a 20 minute walk each day, it's all good.

If you push a pram with an adjustable handle, make sure it's not so low that you're stooping over.

So, there we have it. I hope that helps some of you and please feel free to comment if you have any questions. Good luck!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Etsy shop is go!

So, seeing as I've been going a bit blanket mad recently, I've decided to channel my efforts into my Etsy shop. Take a look here, if you like. I have 3 beauties waiting for new homes :)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

His, his and hers

I used to struggle with lunch ideas but now the boys are older and eating what I eat, I like to sit and enjoy a proper meal with them, not just a quick sarnie. More so since trying to include more superfoods in my diet, as I mentioned in this post.

So today we had one of our storecupboard staples, roasted veg cous cous with lime and mint. I added some rye bread, cheese and grapes for the boys and accompanied mine with a big leafy watercress salad.

Serves 4, you will need:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 courgette, thinly sliced
Tin chickpeas
100g cous cous
200ml veg stock
Handful cherry tomatoes, sliced
Juice of 2 limes
handful fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped

1. Drizzle the veg with oil and roast for 20-30 mins until starting to brown
2. Put the cous cous in a bowl, add the stock, cover until all the water is absorbed then fluff up with a for
3. Add the chickpeas, veg and tomatoes to the cous cous
4. Mix the mint into the lime juice, pour over the cous cous, stir well and serve

This is also lovely with feta or goats cheese and you can add whatever veg you have in. Red peppers and aubergine also work well. You can use quinoa instead of cous cous for an extra protein hit.

Making room

When I was first pregnant with Finn, Andy and I were determined that our house wouldn't get filled with toys, baby paraphernalia and general plastic, loud stuff. We didn't want our kids to have loads of unnecessary toys and would try as much as possible to stick to traditional, educational toys. Then 4 Christmases and 6 combined birthdays came and went (via our generous family and friends) and we find ourselves left with this

Our conservatory, ladies and gentlemen. The conservatory was here when we moved in and we have never really liked it. It's freezing in the winter and doesn't get the sun in the summer. Original plans were (and still are, one day) to take it off and create an extra, proper room in its place that's warm and stuff.

But since having the boys it's been lovely to have a space just for them. It means the rest of the house is free from toys and we maintain our grown-up space. However, this is what I'm left with at the end of a day at home. Carnage.

They don't play with lots of the toys and have outgrown many of them so today we decided it was time for an overhaul, a reclamation of play space and a good old-fashioned clear out. It took about 3 hours, thanks to my 'helpers' taking out the toys just as soon as I'd pack them away (annoying, much?) but we got there in the end and now have only toys they play with (but seriously, do they still need this many?) Here is the end result

The train set lasted the best part of an hour before Max decided it was better on the floor

Thrifty vintage desks. £4.50 on eBay.

I gave Finn the letters to his name to see if he can spell it out. This is what he came up with. He's now known by his Norwegian name, Fiehln.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Crazy blanket lady

...Strikes again.

I fed my ongoing blanket obsession today after a visit to my local fabric shop (which, if you live in Bristol and you sew you should go to by the way, it's a gem). I picked up some of this gorgeous Kumari Gardens fabric by Dena Designs. I have previously used this for a patchwork quilt and love love love it.

I've been wanting to make a fleece baby blanket fo a while so I got some lovely soft fleece and put it to good use, all finished off lovely with a turquoise satin ribbon trim.

What do you think? I love it, I just need a baby now to wrap in it (I'll borrow one).

Monday, 11 June 2012


We have a colourful history with camping trips. In the 10 years Andy and I have been together, we've not once had a camping trip which hasn't seen some kind of drama. We've had floods, breakdowns on the way home (resulting in us sleeping in the car), flat car batteries (resulting in us sleeping in the car on a racecourse. Yes, really) snowstorms, God awful campsites, illness, stir-crazy toddlers. You name it, it's probably happened to us.

So, we thought we'd make our lives a bit easier, and more comfortable, and buy a campervan. We sold our second car and used the proceeds to buy Bertie, a 1982 Bedford camper. After a few more disastrous trips under our belt, the final straw came at Easter when we found ourselves on a campsite (read: in the middle of a field) with no working showers, filthy toilets and no facilities bar the aforementioned 'amenities'. Smelly grown-ups, bored kids. On the day we were due to come home the county saw the worst snow it had in a number of years. Stranded, unable to leave with no food or clean clothes I'd fallen out of love with camping and was set to sell Bertie.

Except I wasn't quite ready to give up that easily so a few weeks back we booked one final make-or-break trip. The rules: I book the campsite, We don't travel too far and it must have facilities for the children. So I found a gem of a site in Devon and off we went.

It was fabulous. The sun (remember that?) shining helped and the campsite was superb. I was just at the end of my illness and Max was still not 100% so we decided on a weekend of Doing Nothing. No day trips, no sightseeing (my Dad lives in Devon so we have plenty of chances for that) just spending time together and relaxing. In the broadest sense of the word, with 2 pre-schoolers around.

Tell you what, I'm booking all the campsites in future. Wi-fi, freshly baked bread, an indoor pool, adventure play for the kids and an OFF LICENCE. Amaze. We played, we swam, we ate, we read and, er, watched DVDs. The boys aren't ones for sitting colouring, crafting or reading (yet). To little, too much energy. The trick, we've discovered, is to go somewhere where there's plenty to keep them occupied. Happy kids = relaxed parents, yes? They spent the entire break running around, playing, making up games, pretending to be puppies and having a ball. I'm already looking forward to our next trip.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Lust List

The wedding dress edition.

No, not my wedding dress, silly. I'm not planning on doing that again. No, this is for by brother's wedding in July. He's getting married in Barcelona and I'm beside myself with excitement for many reasons. The first, and most obvious is that I get to see my big  brother marry a truly lovely girl who makes him very happy. Also, we get to have a holiday (yay!) if the darned passport comes through in time. Lets not talk about the passport.

But...I also get to buy a pretty new dress, something I don't get to do very often. They have an informal dress code and it's going to be very hot so I've been keeping my beady eye out for floaty, summery, colourful dresses and here's what I have so far...

Janet dress, Coast

Butterfly print Maxi dress, Oasis
Tahiti dress, French Connection

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A diet overhaul

I've been doing loads of research recently on nutrition for an eBook I've written at work. I trained in nutrition as it played a big part in my previous job as a personal trainer but work aside, I've always taken care to eat well and ensure my diet is as good as it can be, even more so now I have children who eat the same meals as me.

I try to include as many nutrient-rich foods (often referred to as superfoods) as I can. This means a high nutrient to calorie ratio and re-thinking my approach to meals so I eat for health, not calories. This way, I optimise my diet so I know my body is getting all the micro-nutrients it needs as well as a healthy carb, protien and fat ratio to maintain a healthy weight.

Since making the shift and including more of these superfoods in my diet I've noticed my energy levels increase, I'm sleeping better and my anxiety levels have plummeted (I was experiencing frequent palpitations and dizzy spells which have stopped completely). I'm also spending less on my weekly shop, roughly £50 a week for a family of four.

So what do I eat? My basic rule is to try and eat food in it's natural state as much as possible. Lots of salads, brown rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tons of fresh fruit and veg. It's unintentionally a largely vegan diet with beans, nuts, lentils and quinoa as my main protien sources. If I do have something processed like cake then I'll make it myself as that way I know there are no preservatives or other nasties in there. Same with bread. I've got a huge repertiore of recipes so as I've had a few requests recently for I'll start sharing them with you on here.

Tonight I made a smoky butter bean stew, adapted from a BBC Good Food recipe.

You will need:

250g kale, spring greens or swiss chard
Can butter beans
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Half tsp cumin seeds
Tsp smoked paprika
tin chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil

1. In a large pan, heat the oil and sweat the kale until wilted
2. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes
3. Tip in the butter beans
4. Add the paprika and cumin seeds and stir well
5. Tip in the tomatoes and simmer gently for 5 mins until warmed through

Serve with brown rice or quinoa. I had some sourdough to use up tonight so used it to top a couple of toasted slices. Quick, healthy, cheap and delish.

For loads more information on the nutrient-dense diet, including why it's important, the impact on our health, which foods to choose and more recipes, you can buy the eBook here (plug, plug) 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A little crochet inspiration

My creative juices have been somewhat repressed recently. Probably a combination of illness, having loads on at work and having no money making sure no inspiration makes its way to the forefront of my mind.

I read a great post by Charlotte last week about creativity and finding your mojo. It seems I'm not the only one finding this recently but, taking Charlotte's advice I clicked through to a few blogs. Current favourites are Attic24, Something I Made (as recommended by Charlotte), Oyster & Pearl , Tales from a Happy House and ohdeardrea.

And so I feel my mojo slowly returning. I have a huge stash of yarn left over from a granny blanket (unfinished, of course) I started months ago. I have always loved this knitted blanket from Mamas & Papas and now my babies are growing (sniff!) I've taken my inspiration from here and I'm making me a Mama-sized edition.

And so it starts. A simple treble-crochet stripe (after an enormous 200-strong foundation chain) interspersed with double crochet lines. I'm using my favourite colours from the stash and am fast running out but as the yarn I'm using is a bargainous £1.50 for 100g I shan't feel too guilty if I need a few more.

Lord knows how long this is going to take. I'm hoping to get it finished by the time I go away in July (don't know why, it's not like I'll need it in Spain at the height of summer. Hopefully).

It's very simple to do so I'll post a tutorial once I'm done. Hopefully this promise will also encourage me to actually finish a project for once.