Aim high

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Well we’re well and truly into 2014 now, getting back into the routine of work but hopefully not getting back into bad habits. Like most people I tend to see the new year as a time for taking stock, looking back at the previous year and setting goals for what I want to achieve in the coming year (and like the majority of people, giving up on those goals before the month is out).

2013 was a strange year, with some of the highest points (Mr H proposing, landing a dream job) and lowest points (losing loved ones, having to live apart from Mr H) of my life.

This year I’ve not really sat down and planned any goal except for one overriding thing: to get fit.

My ambition for this year is that I want to be able to say in December that I have run on a regular basis throughout 2014. I’m not talking about losing weight (although knowing that I’m going to start wedding dress shopping later in the year makes me acutely conscious of the need to eliminate bingo wings) but about being able to run faster and further and to make it part of my daily routine.

I have a real love/hate relationship with running. I love the way I feel after a run (I 100% admit to being a smug runner) but quite frankly sometimes the thought of having to get up the next morning and go for a run fills me with dread. Equally if I snuggle back under the covers I feel completely guilty for the rest of the day. I’m also an incredibly slow runner to the point where I’m genuinely embarrassed to enter races. I want to be faster and I want to be able to run further and I know that the only way to achieve this is to get out there and put in the miles but I’m put off by my own lack of fitness.

Given the above, the likelihood of failure in my running goal is pretty high. Right now coming up with goals like improving my 10k speed or getting up to half marathon distance are completely unrealistic and if I know if I’m likely to fail I will fail. So I’m starting at square one. I accept I am slow and unfit and currently unable to even run 3k continuously. I accept that even getting up and getting outside on a dark cold morning is a triumph right now. It doesn’t matter that running 5k in 45 minutes is a massive achievement, the only person I’m racing is myself.

In order to have some sort of goal I’ve set a really simple target for January – run 40km over the course of the month. To some people that probably sounds like nothing but to achieve it I need to run a little over 3km at least 3 times a week – that’s regular exercise that right now really isn’t happening. If I achieve it then I’ll look to something more challenging for February. If being a fee earner in a law firm has taught me anything it’s that I can be very target driven so hopefully this will serve as the encouragement I need.

I totally acknowledge that without some kind of accountability my good intentions might slip into inactivity so as well as writing about what I’m doing here I’m also tweeting as part of #FitTeam14. I’ve been following Stuart Amory on Twitter for a while now but never got involved in his Twitter fitness challenges. This year I’ve decided to join in with #FitTeam14 which allows people to tweet about their activity and get motivation and encouragement from the group. So far I’m finding that tweeting about what I’m doing is really helping to keep me motivated. You can find out more about #FitTeam14 on YouTube.

So there’s a start on some goals for 2014! Have you set any fitness goals for this year? What are they and how are you keeping motivated – I’d love to hear about them.

A very merry Christmas

December has not been a month for blogging. In between all the festive celebrations I’ve not had a chance to even think about writing anything.  As the new year draws closer it’s almost time to return to non-Christmas life but for now I’m going to carry on enjoying seeing family, sitting by the fire and eating leftovers. Hope you’ve all had a good one too!

Searching for silver linings

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I know this makes me about a year behind the rest of the world but I never got around to seeing the film of The Silver Linings Playbook. When I found out it was based on a book I decided that I would read the book before watching the film. I then promptly forgot all about it (probably as a result of a rather crazy start to 2013). Finally this week I bought it on Kindle and I’m so glad I waited.

I could not put this book down. I started it on Tuesday morning and I don’t think I’ve ever been so looking forward to the tube journey home. I finished it in a single sitting and at the end I just wanted to turn back to the start and read it again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that at the end of a book. I’m not even sure why I loved it so much.

The story is told by Pat Peoples, a young teacher whose spent the last 8 months in a neural health facility following an incident. Pat’s mother takes him home to live with her and his dad. Pat is obsessed with becoming a better person in a bid to win back his estranged wife Nikki, by being nice to people, losing weight and reading the books on the American literature course Nikki teaches. Pat refers to the separation as “apart time”. Only by becoming a better person can Pat end apart time and see Nikki again.

The book centres around Pat’s reintegration into his old life. It soon becomes clear that Pat has been away for more than a few months – his brother is now married and his old school friend Ronnie’s daughter is now a toddler. The people in Pat’s life are also struggling to adjust to his homecoming. Pat’s father is barely able to talk to his son. The mutual love of football seems to be the only way that they can connect. In fact most of Pat’s relationships with other male characters is developed through their shared support of the Eagles (I admit I did find the constant breaking out into chants a little grating by the end of the book).

Ronnie’s wife, Veronica, has a very different reaction to Pat. Although she tries to be welcoming and tolerant of him (which we are told she never was before he went away) her reaction to Pat taking her daughter swimming in the sea alone reveals that she doesn’t trust him and considers him to possible be dangerous. Only Tiffany, a young widow, seems completely nonplussed by Pat. Like Pat, Tiffany is seeing a therapist. Tiffany starts following Pat on his daily runs and although he’s not interested in Tiffany (he’s married after all) on the advice off his therapist he befriends her and so begins their quirky relationship.

I really loved Tiffany, she’s been through a really hard time, losing her husband, her job and being treated like a crazy person by her family. Despite the lies Tiffany tells Pat, it’s clear that in her mind she’s doing these things to help Pat and get him to move on with his life.

This book is one of the mental health reading challenge books for Leeds Book Club and there seems to be very different view on how well it deals with mental health issues. I have no idea if this is an accurate reflection of the particular conditions Pat is suffering from. However, what I loved about this book was that it makes the reader think about their own outlook on life. Pat has suffered yet come out a better person finding true friends and love and his outlook on life is actually something that the rest of us could learn from. His endeavours for self-improvement – getting fit and reading classics are perhaps taken to the extreme but actually good things. One of Pat’s mantras is that he is trying to be nice not right, often adjusting his response in conversations to one which leaves the other person feeling better about themselves – again something that plenty of us should think of doing more often. The title of the book is in part taken from Pat’s determination to be optimistic and find silver linings, without doubt something to aspire to. For Pat it took a massively traumatic experience to make these changes in his life but these are all little things that can actually make a huge difference.

Finally, I loved the end to this book. It’s not over the top soppy romantic. Pat doesn’t idolise Tiffany in the way he did Nikki, he just accepts that Nikki is gone forever, yet in his arms is a woman who understands and accepts him completely and that she needs him and he needs her.

Some things that I love #3

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Something that I read

So in my last one of these posts I mentioned that I was reading Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance for book club. Although it is a brilliantly written book and I really enjoyed it, when I put it down I was really needing something light-hearted and easy to read. Looking through my (limited) kindle library I decided on Harriet Evans’s “Happy Ever After”. I’m not a massive fan of “chick-lit” type books but I do enjoy Harriet Evans’s books. I’m finding this one slightly same-y to her other books. Despite this I can’t help identifying with Elle and the book is a perfect as the light read I was looking for.

Something I watched

I am completely loving The Blacklist. James Spader is incredible as Red, creepy yet completely compelling and unreadable. I watched the first four or so episodes in one go on Sky catch up and now I’m eagerly waiting for Friday nights for the next episode. Absolutely brilliant!

Something I wore

I tend to wear skirts all the time so for a bit of a change I dug out my black Gap skinny jeans from the back of my wardrobe on Friday. I do like these jeans but they seem to attract every little bit of fluff possible which drives me crazy. Seemly in a moment of insanity I wore them with my Joules jumper which I love but molts really badly.

Scarf – Next, jumper – Joules, jeans – Gap.

Something I listened to

I know in my last post I included a song from Smash so this is more of the same, but ever since I watched the season finale I keep finding myself humming “Broadway Here I Come”. This was one of the main songs in the second series and in the final episode the cast did a really beautiful arrangement which has been stuck in my head all week.

Something I cannot live without

I love F1 and even though the seasons isn’t yet over, now that the championship is all tied up I’m already missing the excitement of the earlier parts of the season. I love curling up on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon watching the race so I’m going to be missing this after the final race in Brazil. To make things worse my favourite driver Kimi Raikonnen won’t be racing again until next season – bring on March!

Remember remember… stay toasty

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What a week it’s been, with the clocks going back, the St Jude storm battering the south (fallen tree count near me = 1) and the chill that’s followed it’s well and truly feeling like winter is on the way. Last night amongst the jack o’lanterns lining the street for trick or treaters I spotted some people having an early bonfire in Highgate Wood.

I’m a big fan of bonfire night but unlike when I was younger, when what felt like the whole of my village would head to the quay to watch the fireworks and play with sparklers in the glow of a huge bonfire, the bonfire element is now sadly lacking at most big firework displays.

There’s something really magical about sitting around a fire – whether it’s a bonfire or a campfire, they bring people together. Plus, the heat makes sitting outside at this time of year bearable. Although we don’t have a garden to do this sort of thing, at the start of October we ended up having a great night at Mr H’s dad’s place sat out around a fire bucket toasting marshmallows.

Toasting marshmallows

All wrapped up in my lovely National Trust recycled wool blanket

Despite a lack of bonfire we’ll be wrapping up warm and enjoying the display at Alexandra Palace this weekend. If you are planning on having a bonfire (or even a fire bucket!) remember to stay safe and check for hedgehogs before you light.

Some things that I love #2

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Eek! Totally fallen behind on this! My excuse is that I was on holiday and didn’t have time for blogging, that and I’ve had a complete technology failure in the last week in which my tablet died and my laptop refused to connect to the internet (iPod was being stroppy too). So here is a roll over of what I’ve been loving the past couple weeks!

Something I Read

I’m currently reading “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry for my work book club. I’d not heard of this author or the book before but a couple weeks ago it was feature in The Sunday Times list of 100 books you should read. Despite it being quite long I’m really getting into it. I admit I am almost completely ignorant about the history of India so I’m finding it a fascinating read.

Something I Watched

At the start of the year Mr H and I got tickets to see my favourite comedian Ed Byrne at the City Varieties in Leeds so I was pretty excited that October had finally arrived. Ed Byrne is one of the few comedians who really makes me laugh to the point of hysteria – just the right balance of observation / naughty / silly. Mr H and I both really enjoyed our night out watching live comedy, so much so that when Mr H got a text from Orange for last minute half price tickets to see Bill Bailey at the Alhambra in Bradford on Saturday we snapped them up. Bill Bailey is fantastic, although not the same laugh-a-minute style as Ed Byrne. I love the way he mixes music with comedy in such a clever way. Getting tickets was an unexpected surprise and a pretty brilliant way to spend Saturday night!

Something I Wore

I’m not very good at this category! Generally feeling quite uninspired about my wardrobe at the moment! Here is a quick pic of what I wore on Saturday night.

Something I Listened To

What happens when one of your favourite tv shows teams up with your all time favourite song writer? If you are me you completely fall in love with the songs!  This week I’ve been catching up on Smash series 2 which features songs written by Andrew McMahon (see total fangirl post here). Not only are the songs incredible but because in the show they are part of the ‘edgey’ new musical “Hit List” they feature some amazing staging. So here is a song I’m completely in love with at the moment “I heard your voice in a dream” (check out “reach for me” which is awesome as well).

Something I Cannot Live Without

Tea! I never thought of myself as a tea drinker but I do like a good brew when I’m at work. As London water is hard, tea just doesn’t taste right so Mr H bought me a huge box of Yorkshire Tea for hard water which I’ve been happily drinking at work, looking forward to my morning cuppa after battling the morning tube. Unfortunately we’ve just moved to a new floor in the building and last week the air conditioning pipe in the ceiling above my desk burst resulting in everything, including my box of tea getting soaked through. I’ve not got around to buying a new box of tea and the teabags at work aren’t great so I’m really missing my proper Yorkshire Tea.

Hedgerow Hunting: Elderberries

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It seems like hardly any time at all since I wrote about going out elderflower picking but with the evenings drawing in those sprays of white flowers have now turned to little black berries (and I still haven’t bottled my elderflower champagne).

A colleague of mine from Australia told me the other day that her Grandma makes wine from grapes she grows in her garden. I would love to live somewhere hot where it’s possible to grow grapes but that ain’t happening in Yorkshire (our grapevines we attempted to grow have pretty much withered and died without a grape in sight). For me though, picking elderberries and making wine is something really quite special and very much a traditional British thing. So what if our terrible weather means we can’t grow grapes, we’ll make a fine wine out of what we find in the hedgerow instead!

I love sitting in front of some trashy Saturday night TV de-stalking elderberries (top tip, if you don’t think you are nimble fingered enough to pull the little berries off the stalks without bursting them freeze them first so that the berries are hard) having spent the afternoon picking them from hedgerows. For some reason this year we had trouble finding decent trees but once we did we got our scissors out and started cutting off those berries.

Elderberry wine is probably one of the more intensive wines to make as it involves a lot of racking off to get it to clear and normally isn’t ready to drink for a year (so no chance of Christmas wine this year but next Christmas it will be perfect). It is however, a really good wine and that totally makes the hard work worth it.

It’s also one of the cheapest wines to make as you don’t need much more than the elderberries, sugar and yeast, nutrient. I reckon that you’re looking at an outlay of a couple of pounds for a gallon of wine. Which is about half what you would pay for a bottle of cheap supermarket wine.

Ingredients

  • 3lb Elderberries
  • 3lb Sugar
  • 8 Pints Water
  • Yeast
  • 1tsp Citric Acid

De-stalk the elderberries and crush them in a clean bucket. Boil half the water and add to the bucket. Boil the remaining water and dissolve the sugar in it then add this to the berries. Leave to cool and then add the yeast and the citric acid. Cover the bucket and leave for about 3 days stirring daily. Strain the juice into a sterilised demijohn and fit an airlock.

Leave the wine to ferment. Once it has finished fermenting rack off regularly until it clears.

[As with any picking of berries make sure you know what you are picking and if in doubt don't pick it!]

Some things that I love #1

I’ve really wanted to get involved in the wonderful ButWhyMummyWhy‘s weekly link up for a while now but it’s been one of the things I just haven’t got around to. So I’m finally making the effort and doing it!

Something I Read

I’ve just started reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A friend recommended it as a holiday read when I went to France back in July but I didn’t get time to read it. So far I’m enjoying it although I’ve found that I’ve simply been too tired on the tube home this week to make any real progress.

Something I Watched

Mr H and I totally loved the first series of The Newsroom so I’m really pleased it’s back on Sky. Even though it airs on a Monday night, as I’m living in London during the week Mr H and I have been snuggling up of the sofa to watch it on Sky+ at the weekends. The Newsroom hasn’t had an easy ride from critics (mainly that it doesn’t live up to their expectations for an Aaron Sorkin show following The West Wing) but I totally love it. It centres around Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, anchor of a daily news show and his team, headed up by his ex MacKenzie McHale. It works real life news stories into its plots so about 1/4 or so into each episode you suddenly get that recognition of “that’s the story that’s about to break”.

Something I Wore

Week days are all about the workwear and traveling so much means I haven’t really been making that much of an effort at weekends. This weekend we went for dinner at Mr H Sr’s. It was a lovely still evening so we decided to sit outside. As a result I had to layer up my outfit to make sure I didn’t get too cold. I went for my new(ish) Joules jumper that I love as it’s warm but not too bulky teamed with a plain black skirt and red scarf to keep warm (I wore a nice warm coat as well).

Something I Listened To

Ever heard of a band called Suburban Legends? I loved them back when I was at school. I played saxophone and ska bands made horns look good so I loved these guys, that and the fact that they used to be the house band at Disney and have dance routines for all their songs. Earlier this year they did a UK tour and they were still as fantastic as I remembered. This is the type of music to make you dance like a crazy person with a massive grin on your face.

SL have a new album coming out this month which consists of ska covers of Disney songs (a truly awesome concept). Here’s the video for Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid which I am currently loving.

Something I Cannot Live Without

My bed – My little room is London is great but it’s not home, the fridge is noisy and I’m by myself. The moment I get into my proper bed at home on a Friday night is bliss. Complete silence, Mr H beside me, snuggling down into my comfortable feather duvet – I’m totally living for this at the moment. Waking up next to Mr H and having breakfast in bed and knowing that we can just relax and enjoy the weekend is so good. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t last long and before I know it I’m on the bus back down the M1 for another working week.

So there’s a little insight into what I’ve been doing this week.

Something Sweet: Pecan Pie

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Last Christmas my pecan pie* made a bit of a name for itself. I decided that pecan pie sounded like a perfect Chistmas dessert and (perhaps as a result of too much browsing of Pinterest) I decided to give it a go. Except I couldn’t find any recipes I liked the look of so I made one up (or at least combined several recipe ideas into one). The pecan pie was a massive success and everyone loved it as a perfect Boxing Day treat.

And then I lost my recipe.

I completely forget how I made this delicious dessert. So last weekend I tracked down my notes and set about remembering the recipe. Obviously it needed road-testing (Mr H was all too pleased to act as chief taster). I’m not sure if this is the exact recipe I used at Christmas but it turned out pretty tasty anyway.

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

  • 250g Unsalted Butter
  • 150g Sugar
  • 600g Flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Beaten Egg

For the filling:

  • 250g Sugar
  • 200 Pecans (although other nuts work well – I ran out of pecans so this pie had almonds and walnuts as well)
  • 200ml Double Cream

Start by placing the butter, sugar and flour in a large bowl and rubbing together to make breadcrumbs. Once the butter, sugar and flour are well combined add the egg and use a clean knife to bring the mixture together. You want to make sure that the pastry is smooth but not over-handled. Wrap the pastry in cling film and place in the fridge and leave for at least 30 minutes.

Grease a flan tin (preferably one with a bottom that pops out as this makes it easier to get the pie out of the dish). Once the pastry is cool, roll it out onto a floured board until it is slightly bigger than your tin. Place the pastry in the tin and press it down then trim off any excess. Prick the base with a fork.

Next add the sugar to a heavy based saucepan and place on a medium to high heat. You want to let the sugar caramelise so let it heat up gently moving the pan to stir the sugar – do not use a spoon! This step is all about the wrist action. The sugar will start to turn to liquid at the edge of the pan so you want to try to keep the pan moving to distrbute the heat.

Once the sugar is completely caramelised you need to pour in the double cream – this is when you need your spoon. Take the sugar of the heat and pour in the cream, stirring constantly. Thing go a little crazy at this stage but don’t panic just keep stirring. Eventually you will get a smooth caramel. Add the pecans and give them a good stir so that they are covered in the caramel.

Pour the pecans and caramel into the pastry casing. Try to get an even distribution of nuts but be careful as the caramel will still be very hot! Pop in the oven at gas mark 4 / 180°C for 30 minutes until the pastry is cooked.

Serve warm with some cream poured over it. It’s also great served cold from the fridge (if you have any left that is!).

Let me know if you try out this recipe – I’d love to know what people think.

*I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s more of a tart than a pie but pecan tart just doesn’t have the same appeal!

Apples, Apples, Apples, Chutney

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One of the things I love to make with wild apples is apple chutney, a perfect accompaniment to pretty much anything (bacon sandwiches especially) and a perfect Christmas gift.

Ingredients

  • 1.4kg Apples
  • 1.4kg Onions
  • 450g Sultanas or raisins
  • 2 lemons – juice and rind
  • 700g Demerara Sugar
  • 600ml/1 pint Malt Vinegar

This couldn’t be simpler. Peel and core the apples and roughly chop into cubes and add to a large pan. Dice the onion and add this along with the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Allow all the ingredients to simmer uncovered on a low heat for around 3 hours until the you have a lovely thick chutney.

Pour the chutney into sterilised jars for storage and leave to cool. There are lots of ways you can sterilise the jars but I prefer soaking them in hot water with Milton until I’m ready to use them.

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