Monday, 23 January 2017

How to host a vegetarian dinner party (even if your guests eat meat)

I love to cook.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog.
I also love to have people over for dinner. 
But I also find it quite stressful.

I've talked before about how Phil and I live together as a veggie and a meat-eater and how we manage it just fine, but as soon as I have guests over I panic!

I worry about not serving meat, I worry that my guests expect meat and I worry they'll disappointed when meat isn't on the menu.
And I feel that I have to prove that vegetarian food is delicious.

I spend a lot of time thinking of what would be "suitable" for guests.

(A meal being "something I'd serve to guests" is pretty much the highest honour I can bestow upon a dish).

I fear the gap on the plate where meat "should" go. 

The reality is, I worry way more about this than my guests do, I know I'm a good cook and I'm going to do my best to make something delicious and flavoursome and enjoyable, but I still worry about people thinking, "oh God, dinner at Charlotte and Phil's tonight. Vegetarian food is so bland." (I don't really think any of my guests have ever thought this...)

So here are my tips for hosting a dinner party where (hopefully!) nobody misses the meat...

1. Don't try to replicate meat
We don't eat a lot of meat substitutes at home anyway, but I especially don't like the idea of giving meat eaters "fake meat." I might think Quorn tastes exactly like chicken, or that my seitan loaf is exactly like meat, but I haven't eaten meat for 15 years, so what do I know? I feel like having guests over is about trying to "prove" that veggie food is delicious, and trying to replicate meat feels like a one-way ticket to "would have been nice with actual meat."

2. Consider one-pot dishes with side dishes
I'm a big fan of a casserole. Maybe it's the idea that I could totally see Nigella dishing out a big steaming casserole with a gorgeous green salad on the side, or maybe it's that I just like the idea of everyone helping themselves, but I love that a casserole also means you can bang it in the oven and socialise without worrying about standing over the stove all evening! It also removes my fear of the "meat gap". My favourite is Anna Jones' Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet with a salad or roasted broccoli.

3. Make meals that don't normally contain meat
Mac and cheese is one of my go-to dinner party dishes because it's naturally meat-free. I hate the idea of feeling like there's something "missing". I almost never eat pasta (nothing against pasta - it's just not my favourite) but pasta or risotto are easy dishes for dinner parties that most people love, regardless of whether they contain meat. I swear Anna Jones isn't sponsoring me here, but I love her one-pot spaghetti, and Nigella's sweet potato mac and cheese is my favourite of every mac and cheese I've tried.

4. Tapas-style dishes 
Another style of cooking I love, although it is labour-intensive, is doing lots of little dishes for sharing, which again removes the "missing meat" feeling, but also means you could make a meat dish if you wanted to.
We had guests over a few weeks ago and I made a few dishes from The Greek Vegetarian - we had giant beans with tomato, dill and honey, whipped feta with garlic and mint, pilaf with bulghar wheat and chickpeas, a big Greek salad and homemade pitta. Everything was so delicious (even if I do say so myself! I was really proud!) and there was such a selection that everyone was happy.

5. Serve everything family style
I very rarely "serve" meals when I have guests over because I like to let people help themselves. Everyone has different preferences on how and how much they like to eat, and this way nobody goes hungry, feels overfaced or feels awkward asking for seconds!

6. Choose a theme
Most of the time I like to have a theme to my dinner parties - Mexican, Indian, Greek etc. I like some homogeneity between courses and having a theme is a good way to make sure everything flows. It also makes it easier for me to come up with a menu plan!

7. Ask about allergies but not dislikes
I have a habit of getting myself a bit wound up and asking my guests absolutely everything they like and dislike, which means I get very stressed out trying to find a recipe that is both meat-free and doesn't contain mushrooms/courgettes/aubergine/whatever it is my guests don't like! Other times I've completely made a rod for my own back by suggesting ideas to my guests and asking for feedback. Don't do it! It makes you feel like a restaurant, and totally takes the fun out of it! Check about allergies and intolerances, but cook what you want to cook, ensuring there's enough variety if there's a chance your guests might be more selective.

8. Make ahead what you can
For our last dinner party, Phil and I spent the night before preparing and it was definitely a good idea on the night. Phil made a cheesecake the night before, and I made my homemade pitta and giant beans, which both took over an hour and a half. I'd so not rather leave my guests waiting and be stressed on the night! Most veggie casseroles can be made ahead and refrigerated at the point before they need to go in the oven.

9. Ideally, make something you've made before
Admittedly, my giant Greek feast was all new-to-me recipes, but generally, I try to make something I know well (see, mac and cheese) just to alleviate the stress and help me to feel more confident! As I said before, I have a list of recipes I've made that I've deemed "guest-worthy" so it's easy to look through that for inspiration.

10. Don't raise your standards too high
I stress out so much about cooking for people, but for the most part, your guests are probably pretty happy that they're getting a free meal, so don't worry if it doesn't all go perfectly. If you're unsure, play it safe with something simple. Going complex only works if you know it's not going to go wrong! 

11. Don't apologise!
I feel like I apologise too much for there not being any meat, but I know I'm a pretty good cook and I will have made a lot of effort to make a great meal for my guests, with or without meat. I'm one of those extra-apologetic people who can't take a compliment ("oh this is really nice" "oh yeah well I forgot the peppers and then I burned the onions and then...") so this one is hard for me, but like above, most people are pretty happy to have a free, homecooked meal and good company, so don't apologise for your hard work!

Here are some of my favourite recipes for having guests over (note: some of these are from recipe books so I can't republish them but I've tried to give links where I can!):

Mint and pea risottto from Keep it Vegan
Tomato and coconut cassoulet
Sweet potato mac and cheese
Tex Mex risotto from Vegan Bowls
Tabbouleh with houmous and halloumi
Moroccan stew from Keep it Vegan
Lemon and Kale Spaghetti
Giant beans, whipped feta, chickpea pilaf and Greek salad from The Greek Vegetarian
Mushroom walnut pate from Veganomicon
Chilli paneer from The Very Hungry Baker
Dal with sweet potatoes
Spicy aubergine and courgette from Vegan Bowls
Tamarind lentils, spinach and tomatoes and Indian tofu from Veganomicon
Breakfast burritos from Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking

Having guests over for dinner is one of my favourite things - I love to put work into something that I know will be worth the effort, and I love a quiet night in with drinks and food and a board game or two! I just need to remember to take my own advice and stress a little bit less!

Charlotte x

Thursday, 19 January 2017

January lethargy

I haven't blogged in over 2 weeks.

I know, not an overwhelming amount of time. But a few weeks ago I was practically bursting with ideas that I couldn't write down fast enough.

It's not for lack of wanting. Or maybe it is. 

I just feel incredibly uninspired at the moment.

Everything feels like work. Going with friends. Shopping. Commuting. Having free time. I feel either bored and restless or overwhelmed and craving time alone.

I don't have the energy to do anything.

I'm simultaneously bored but also have a to-do list as long as my arm. I want to have plans and do things until the point when I have to actually do them, and then I just don't want to. 

I feel guilty about all the things I should be doing.

And it's not feeling down. I know all about that with my anxiety and low mood. I know when I feel sad or down or lonely. This just feel like a lot of blah. A lot of nothing. It doesn't feel like anything.

And I know I'm not alone. As soon as I tweeted about it this morning I had one of my best friends text me to say she felt the exact same way, and I've noticed a few bloggers I follow have been quiet lately. Which is reassuring, at least.

I know it's a phase. I know it will pass. But right now I just feel like I'm going through the motions with everything.

I've been meditating every day, moving my phone into another rooms in the evening, making a sleepy time tea, fostering better morning and evening routines, filling in a gratitude journal twice a day.

And I feel so ungrateful when I answer "what do you feel grateful for?" with "tea" and "sleep". Because I know I have hundreds, thousands of things to be grateful for beyond "tea" and "sleep" and then I feel guilty for feeling like this. 

I know this will pass. I know it's normal. And I know I'm okay. I just don't feel myself. I don't feel excited or ambitious or inspired or productive.

January is hard for everyone, I know it's not just me. And I know we're in a state of uncertainty with our house, soon to be moving out of our flat, and there's part of my brain reoccupied at all times with mortgages and solicitors and fees and wallpaper ideas and flooring decisions. I know that's weighing on my mind more than I think. 

I'm sad because I want to blog. I love few things more than that excited, can't-type-fast enough idea that I'm so excited to get down. And I have a notebook full of ideas that I don't know how to execute.

I know this soon will pass. I know it's just a phase and I know I'll get through it. And I know I'm not alone.

But right now it just feel like guilt and boredom and lethargy and worst of all, nothing.

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Making a home

I remember the blank walls. The mismatched art to give the semblance of life.
The bare shelves. Empty cupboards.
All white and blank and bare and unlived in.

I look around now at the dinosaur on the shelf, the DVDs fighting for space in the bookcase, the candles and the photographs and the memories. 

What can you know about us from looking around our living room?

The Liverpool shirt on the wall, the boxsets piled up on the window ledge, the medals hung on each curtain hook, the biscuit cushions, the Rubix cube tissue box. The James Bond prints in the kitchen that have become some commonplace that I don't even notice them.

The time the whole place came to life when we put photos up, that suddenly it felt ours. It felt like home.

I've never moved house before. Not really. Only from student flat to student house to student flat. Nowhere that I knew I was going to live in for more than a few months without those huge, stretching university breaks at home in between.

Today we have a viewing of our flat. 

Soon this will be someone else's home. Their photos on the wall. Their candles, their prints, their spare bedding that they hate because their nice bedding is in the wash. Their toothpaste smears, their cluttered bedside tables, their DVDs and books in the shelves.

They'll laugh at the way the neighbours always seem to stare straight through into our living room. They'll complain about the cold and take months to learn how the storage heaters work. They'll battle with the broken drawer in the living room. They'll be woken up by the whistling boiler at 2am.

I know I should be ready, but I'm not. I know I should be excited for our house - our actual house, with a garden and more than 4 rooms and a study and a dining room - and I am, but this has felt more like home than anywhere except my family home, and I'm just not quite ready to let go. This was our first home. The first place our tastes were forced to collide, the place where my nail polishes sit next to Phil's PS4. Where our DVDs have merged to the point that we don't know which belong to who. Where it didn't matter because everything became "ours."

And soon this will be someone else's home. Their memories. Their lives. Their tastes.

And I'm not quite ready to let go.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 goals

Happy New Year! Wow I can't believe it's 2017. I'm sure I say this every year but 2016 seemed to fly by!

I'm not one for resolutions at all, but I am obviously one for goals. However as I've mentioned in my last few posts, I want to take things a little more easy in 2017, so I've focused more on intangible goals than actual solid challenges this year.

But first, let's look at last year's goals and how I got one with those...

2016 goals I achieved
  • Be more brave in the kitchen
The first of my pretty intangible goals for 2016. I don't really know how I planned to measure this one, but I do think I've got a little bit more off-piste lately. I definitely follow recipes 90% of the time, but I've become much more comfortable with swapping and changing out ingredients and playing things by ear a bit more. I think I've also been more confident to try more complicated recipes and I'm excited to do this even more in 2017.
  • Run my first marathon
So this one was a bit of a cheat as I knew I had my first marathon coming up in April when I wrote my 2016 goals. You don't need me to tell you more about running my first marathon! It was probably the greatest achievement of my life so far and totally worth all the of blood, sweat and tears. I cannot wait to run another!
  • 10K and half marathon personal bests
I'm so proud of achieving two amazing personal bests in 2016. In May I ran my first sub-55 minute 10K, and in October I worked tremendously hard to achieve my first sub-2 hour half marathon - something I really wasn't sure if I was going to achieve! I'm really proud of my running in 2016 and hope to keep developing and pushing myself in 2017.
  • Start looking into buying a house
Phil and I started viewing houses in August, and after a few ups and downs we had an offer accepted in October on our dream house! There's a lot more to sort out and we're still not out of the woods yet officially, but hopefully we'll have more (hopefully good!) news in the coming weeks!

2016 goals I didn't achieve

  • Worry less
Yeah, no. My anxiety has been all over the place in 2016 and I really haven't been able to get a handle on it. But in fairness, this was a bit of a daft goal anyway and something I was never really going to achieve when I suffer from medically-diagnosed anxiety, but in 2017 I plan to find a way to control my anxiety better (see more below).
  • Read 40 books
I decided in March to read all the Game of Thrones books, and due to them all being absolute beasts I cut this goal down to 30 books. And also read It which was even longer. I have mixed feelings on reading goals as I sometimes find it makes me rush through books just to be able to mark them as "read" which totally takes away from the point of reading, but I do like to keep a loose goal for reading which keeps me focused.
  • Learn a new skill
Unless you count that I've listened to the Hamilton soundtrack every day for 3 weeks and I can rap along pretty well now, this is not something I achieved. And that's okay. Because I do a lot already and I can do everything. See this post.
  • Spend more time doing what I love and treat myself more
I don't honestly feel like I achieved these goal, even though I did do a lot of things I enjoyed in 2016, so I've rolled these over into 2017's goals. 

  • Spread more positivity
I admit I didn't really focus on this enough in 2016, but lately I have been trying to complain less. I think it's a British thing to complain just to make conversation, but I've really been trying to moan less, so I plan to try to keep this up this year!

(More reflections on 2016 in this post - 10 things in 2016)

2017 goals

  • Run two half marathons
With moving house and doing my course, I know a 2017 marathon is not going to be realistic, but I need to have goals for running otherwise I lose my focus. I love the half marathon distance because I'm not a fast runner so I don't enjoy 5Ks or 10Ks so much, and I like the commitment and training required for longer distances, but I don't always have the time to commit to a marathon. So I'm planning to do two half marathons in 2017. I've already signed up for the Great Manchester Run half marathon in May, and I'm planning to do to the Manchester Half Marathon I did last year again in October.
  • Get a half marathon PB
Or ideally, two! But I know the more you run a distance the less likely you are to get a new personal best (you should see how infrequently I get a PB at parkrun!), so it would be great to get at least one half marathon PB in 2017, although I know how hard-fought that 1:59 was in my last race!
  • Get my 100 parkruns tshirt
I got my 50 parkruns tshirt in 2016, and I'm currently on 77. I go to every parkrun I can, but because of a lot of weekends away in 2016 I only made it to 30. I hope to hit my 100th run this year.
  • Make our house a home
The house we're buying needs some work. We originally dismissed it because we wanted something we could move straight into, but instead we've got a much bigger and nicer house than I think we had originally expected for our money, but it needs a bit of love! It's going to be a long slog, but it's going to be really nice to get a chance to really make it our own, rather than just moving into a house filled with someone else's tastes. I know I'm going to find the process really hard work but I hope it will be worth it!
  • Read more (and keep myself in reading material)
When we're away in Spain each year, I never go anywhere without a book. I read while I dry my hair, read brushing my teeth, read anytime I get a second. My phone spends the trip on aeroplane mode or turned off in a drawer. And every time I come back from Spain I vow to keep this up when I get home. And I never do. I get home and find myself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and Twitter all.the.time. But reading makes me feel good. It relaxes me. It doesn't make my eyes strain on the bus to work. So why don't I do it more? I blame not buying enough good books that excite me. Before I go on holiday I treat myself to 7 or 8 books that I'm really excited about, and then if I don't like one I can move on, but when I'm home I often force myself to read things I don't enjoy, which means I often don't read at all. I've started giving myself a book-buying budget every few months to ensure I'm never short of reading material, and I plan to keep this up to encourage me to read more in 2017. I'm sure I'll end up setting a Goodreads reading goal for the year, but I'm going to focus more on reading more, reading things I enjoy, trying new books and importantly, putting books down if I'm not enjoying them.
  • Sort out my blog layout
  • Say "no" more
I do a lot of things that don't make me happy because I hate to say no and let people down. But it's at the detriment to my own happiness a lot of the time. So I'm going to say no more if it means being true to myself.

  • Pass my marketing diploma

By this time next year I should just have finished my diploma. I hope all the hard work will be worth it!
  • Be more spontaneous
I plan a lot. I plan because it keeps me in control and helps manage my anxiety. But I do want to be more spontaneous. I suppose this goes against "say no more", but I want to let go a little bit more this year and be more free.
  • Stop being so hard on myself
I think this is the biggest goal for me and the hardest. I am constantly, constantly, constantly putting pressure on myself to be better and to do more. The way I treat myself and put pressure on myself can be awful, and I would never judge or berate a friend the way I do myself. I never, ever feel what I'm doing is enough. So this year I want to be kinder to myself. Stop trying to be perfect, stop trying to be better, cut myself some slack. Give myself a break if I don't want to go for a run, or if I take a shortcut making dinner, or if I want to have a lazy night. I want to take a step back whenever I'm horrible to myself and think, "would I speak to someone I love like this?".
  • Find ways to manage my anxiety
As I've mentioned before, my anxiety hasn't been good this year and I'm very aware that I'm not finding ways to control it. I had a few CBT sessions on the NHS but I didn't find them very useful, so I want to explore new options this year, whether that's yoga, meditation, puzzles, reading, or something completely different. I know there's no quick fix, but I want to at least feel like I'm doing something to improve it.
  • Take more time to relax
I'm a very restless person. I can't sit still, can't cope without having something to do, and I find it impossible to relax because I feel like I'm "wasting time." I can be a nightmare to live with because I'm always asking "what are we doing next?" and I never know what I can do to calm down my constant nervous energy. So one of my goals for this year is to find what relaxes me and do more of that. It sounds silly but when I read about self care and doing what you enjoy, I kind of draw a blank when it comes to thinking of what I like to do. So I plan to really try to figure out ways to relax and really make an effort to treat myself right this year and develop an arsenal of self-care techniques. Lately I've really been enjoying codeword puzzles as they keep my mind focused and relax me and still feel like a good use of my time. I'd also like to start journalling more just to clear my mind.
  • Set the intention for my day
My mornings usually end up a bit manic and I find myself rushing out of the door, which I know just isn't a good start to the day. So I want to start getting up a little bit earlier every day, not just the days I have a run or a workout planned, just to get a cup of tea or write a blog post or read some of my book or do a puzzle, just so I don't end up going into the day already exhausted and flustered! On the other side of this I want to make sure I go to bed earlier to ensure I get enough sleep, and try to end my day with some reading and writing, not always on my phone.

So those are my goals for 2017! There definitely seems a lot there which is a bit overwhelming, but fingers crossed I can achieve them!

I wish you all the best for 2017!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 31 December 2016

December life lately

I've been really enjoying doing these posts and I hope they're something I can keep up in the future! There are often so many things I want to talk about that I don't need a whole post for and I've got so much going on that it's much easier to write a long post like this instead of lots of little ones!

What I've been doing
While December was much less hectic than November, it's still been a busy month! I absolutely love Christmas and love the build up more than the actual day, so I had a great time this month.
I went to see Riot Jazz, spent lots  of time with my family and cousins, organised a bake sale at work that raised over £150 and I even made some of my Christmas presents (although I uttered the phrase "NEVER AGAIN!" far too many times!). I took Phil for his first blood donation (and my 9th!) and I realised how much I love codewords.
I dipped my toe into yoga at the start of the month with Yoga with Adriene's 30 days of yoga, but I admit I fell off the wagon later in the month when I returned to running. My fitness routine has been all over the place of late, but I've been enjoying running again, and I've just signed up for my first race of 2017 - the Great Manchester Run half marathon in May. I'm excited to get training again and back to full fitness - I've got my eye on another half marathon PB! 
I also found out today I've ran 813 miles in 2016, so that's pretty good!
Where I've been
Nowhere near as much travel this month as in November, but I did have a trip down to Luton/London for my friend Emily's birthday and it was so great to catch up with my uni friends!
Other than that I've spent quite a bit of the Christmas break back home at my parents' which has been a really nice change!  It's nice to have a bit of a break from routine over Christmas - I've been to see family, went to see Bolton Wanderers with Phil's family on Boxing Day, watched a lot of football, played Scrabble and spent a lot of time in my pyjamas/new Liverpool shirt!

What I've been loving
December 2016 will be forever known as the month that Phil and I got into Hamilton. Hard. As in, listening to the soundtrack all day long at work, walking through the door and Phil's already got it on. It's no exaggeration to say we've been listening to it almost constantly for three weeks. We have it on at home almost all the time, then we have the CD in the car (first CD I've bought in about 10 years!). We sing all the time as it is, and now I've been perfecting my rap. Yep I know we're about a year too late, but I think we've more than made up for it with how obsessed we are.

What I've been eating
Two Christmas dinners, true to mine and Phil's tradition (early Christmas dinner at his parents', then off to mine in the evening for round two - we've totally got this down!). Crispy baked tofu (my favourite dinner when Phil is out!), Buddha bowls, homemade brownies and cheese.
I got 7 new recipe books for Christmas (oh god I counted the other day that I've obtained 22 new recipe books this year...), so I'm excited to work through those! We had a recipe from Jamie's Super food Family Classics last night, and we have guests over on Friday so I'm going to make some dishes from The Greek Vegetarian.
What I've been watching
After the new series of Gilmore Girls came out I decided to start it all from the beginning - I've always dipped in and out of Gilmore Girls - and it's so nice to have my own thing to watch when Phil is out! 
We've also had two mystery films this month - Groundhog Day and The Artist, both of which I loved, and trips to the cinema to see Moana (which we also can't stop singing songs from!) and Rogue One.
Oh and lots of Christmas films.

What I've been working on
I'm a bit rubbish with makeup and one of my unofficial goals for 2017 is to be a bit better at putting stuff on my face. So this month my friend, Laura, recommended L'oreal Infalliable foundation as the best foundation she'd ever tried, so I bought that and the primer and it's fab. I also treated myself to a new contour brush and the Golden Sugar palette by Makeup Revolution on the recommendation of Vix Meldrew and omg I can contour! I love it!
I also got two new MAC lipsticks for Christmas - Mehr and Flat out Fabulous.
I've done absolutely loads of work on my course over Christmas (3+ hours a day when you're off work is not fun) but just found out all the work I thought was due on the 3rd isn't due until the 16th so at least I'm well ahead!

What I got for Christmas
I was spoiled, as usual, this year! From my family I got recipe books, perfume, a tagine pot, and a new watch. 
From Phil's family I got lots of things from our house, and from Phil I got a new Liverpool shirt, a mogwai, a book on Pawnee and an egg slice!
I also spent some of my Christmas money on some bargains in Boux Avenue, two Makeup Revolution palettes and Zootropolis!
What I'm excited for
I kind of hate January and I'm so glad we went away last year to Dublin as the cold and the ice without the promise of Christmas really gets me down! But this is our last month in our flat before the chaos of moving into my parents and then into our house, so I'm excited for a quiet month (hopefully!) and hopefully more news on when we can move into our house!

What I've written
How to be a great present buyer
How I curl my hair in 5 minutes [video]
Everything I've learned from moving in with my boyfriend
Hat with a heart
Lessons from 7 years of blogging
10 things in 2016
You can do anything but not everything
How to live with a meat eater (or how to live with a veggie!)

What other people have written
I loved Rosie's Goodbye 2016 post, especially the parts on ignoring everyone's perfect life on Instagram and doing more of what makes us happy.
I adore Vix Meldrew and her post on making her... ahem, things not to care about in 2017 budget resonated with me a lot. It's partially because of my anxiety, but I care way too much about, well, almost everything. I need this advice for 2017!
And one more from Vix, a post from today about why we shouldn't believe we need to change just because it's a new year.
I already wrote about Amy's post in The Pool on trying to do everything, but if you missed it, definitely give it a read.
I'm not a fan of resolutions, but I adored this piece from Buzzfeed on 21 ways to make your life better in 2017 which focuses on self-care, letting go of stuff that doesn't matter (like not finishing books you don't enjoy) and finding things you love. I really need to remember this!

Hope you have a lovely end of 2o16! I'll be posting my goals for 2017 this week!

Charlotte x

Friday, 30 December 2016

How to live with a meat-eater (or how to live with a veggie!)

One vegan pizza, one not-so-vegan pizza

Phil and I have been living together for nearly two years now (and I wrote recently about how we've managed to not drive each other too crazy!) and if there's one question I get asked the most, it's "does Phil not eat meat either?"

And of course, I laugh. And anyone who knows Phil will undoubtedly laugh. Phil definitely, definitely, definitely eats meat.

Then the next question is -
"Do you do all the cooking at home?"

Yep - food is one of my biggest passions and cooking is my biggest love, and even if Phil wans to cook - which, in fairness, he does do occasionally - I'm way too much of a control freak to let him do it too regularly.

"So do you cook meat?"

Ah, there's the kicker. Remember two years ago when one of my resolutions was to learn to cook meat? Yeah, that didn't happen. The reality is I not only don't like touching meat, I also have no idea how to cook it. And if I did start cooking meat it would mean having to make two things for dinner every night.

So what do we do?

Well, I cook and Phil eats.

Phil is very, very good. He never complains, aside from the once-in-a-blue-moon "this would be better with some chicken in it", and whenever he's around when this question comes up, he is the first to jump in and tell people that he think I'm a brilliant cook.

(Full disclosure, I'm pescatarian so I do eat fish, but we very rarely eat it at home, maybe once a month.)

When we first started dating he told me all the vegetables he didn't like - courgettes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower - but these days, if cooked well, he'll happily eat all of those (although I'm still trying to get him around to liking veggie's best friend, aubergine).

But the reality is I cook every night, and Phil loves me and respects me, so of course he isn't going to turn his nose up at something I've been slaving over.

Does he wish I cooked meat? Well, I'm sure he does. But I always really try to make tasty and exciting and interesting food every night (although I'm not sure he always loves that I make something different almost every single time I cook, and even when we love something I say "I'll add that onto my list of meals to make again", and then never make it again), and I always try to choose things I know we both would enjoy.

Phil cooks meat if I'm not home, has meat on his sandwiches and when we're out, and I'll occasionally make something and tell him he might want to cook some meat to go alongside it. If I make a roast on  Sunday he'll usually do a piece of meat and I'll make a veggie sausage casserole or a stew for myself. Sometimes we just have completely different things for dinner, or, like in the pizza example above, different versions of the same thing.

Because I do all the cooking and planning, I always make sure I run the week's food past Phil to see what he thinks and adjust if there's something he really doesn't fancy, but I tend to have a good idea of what he likes and what he doesn't. I always ask for feedback during dinner - sometimes I'll love something and Phil might think it's okay, and sometimes it's vice versa.

There are certain things I enjoy that I know Phil won't love too much. He doesn't like seitan, and I only treat myself to a block of tofu if he's out. We also very rarely eat meat substitutes, except the occasionally veggie sausage, but that's mostly because I prefer to cook with vegetables and pulses. I make a lot of one-pot meals - chillies and curries and stews, and often serve Phil extra carbs, as I often forget other people don't always love a dinner of vegetables with vegetables!

To be honest I think Phil finds it harder that I don't really like pasta than that I don't eat meat! 

I don't want Phil to ever think he's getting a bad deal out of me not eating meat, and I'd hate anyone to think "oh poor Phil living with a vegetarian", because I work really hard to make sure we both eat meals that we both enjoy and are good for us. 

It's not always the easiest thing in the world, and I often feel guilty that I can't make Phil a meat pie just like his Mum does, or when he reminds me lentils "aren't his favourite", and I'm sure life would be much easier if we both had the same dietary interests, but we definitely make it work. Phil told me recently that someone said "they don't know how couples can live together if one of them is a vegetarian/gluten-free/vegan" and he quickly jumped in and explained that it's really not that bad! 

Phil definitely eats way less meat now than he used to, but he definitely gets a lot more variety in his diet now! He eats things he'd probably never heard of three years ago, and for me, I'm constantly pushing myself to make new things and try new dishes and new ingredients, and always trying to find new things that we'll enjoy. I'm very lucky that he is an adventurous eater and is always happy to try new things. We've surprised each other a few times! Who knew cheese-free houmous pizza or falafel tacos or miso sweet potatoes would be such a success?

It's definitely a compromise sometimes, but aren't all relationships about making things work? 

And of course, sometimes it's terrible. I've made some disasters. We've had things we couldn't eat. I've made mistakes. I've finished off Phil's dinners way more times than I like to admit. There have been times he's pushed his plate up and had toast for tea.

If you're considering living with someone with different dietary needs to you, my biggest advice is talk, compromise, always be open and honest with each other and respect each other's choices! I've never, ever pushed my lifestyle onto Phil and he has never once tried to encourage me to go back to eating meat. Sometimes you eat the same thing, sometimes you have to have different things. Sometimes it sucks that you can't share tapas, other times it's great that you don't have to share!

I admit for us it's easy as I'm the one who cooks, and I'm the one that doesn't eat meat, but there are millions of blogs, thousands of recipe books and so much inspiration out there that really contradicts this old, dated idea that vegetarian food is all broccoli and tofu and lentils! And the same goes for gluten-free/vegan/paleo etc. 

And finally, it's not a deal breaker, promise! Cook together, learn what you like and don't like and be honest with each other!

Charlotte x

Thursday, 29 December 2016

You can do anything, but not everything

Do you ever read something and you are absolutely flabbergasted that someone could feel the exact same way that you do?
I read Amy's newsletter every week, and this week she linked to a piece she wrote for The Pool on how she tried to do everything in 2016, and how she just couldn't do it.
I have never related more.

I am always trying to do everything.
I'm always trying to do more.
I'm always trying to be better.
I always feel I could be using my time more productively, could take on another hobby, need to stop being lazy, should be doing something new, should be improving, always, always, always comparing myself to other people.
I love to list all the things that I do, the commitments and hobbies I have.
The biggest compliment you can give me is, "I don't know how you do it."
I want to be an inspiration.

But I can't and I'm not.

I haven't talked about it on here because in a lot of ways I'm not quite ready to admit it, but last month I decided to take a break from my choir.
A break, I promised myself. This isn't for good.
This was the result of a miserable November where, while my social and travelling life was thriving, I was finding myself burning the candle at both ends trying to catch up with my commitments, I was exhausted, constantly overwhelmed, snappy and grumpy. My mental health was in tatters. And I knew something had to give. But I didn't want to.

I love my choir. I love the people, I love the concerts, I love to sing.
I love listing the things I do - marathon running, blogging, choir.
Was I just going to have running and blogging left? That didn't feel like much at all.
I felt like such a failure. I was giving up.
I was supposed to be the girl that did everything, and here I was, quitting.

But I was falling apart.
I was constantly ill and exhausted, I had no time to myself at all. I was trying to do everything and I was miserable.

My Diploma in Professional Marketing is the equivalent of a degree and it needs at least 4 hours of work every week, some weeks it's more like 6 or 8. 
I thought it would be easy enough to slip into my Sundays to replace my marathon training runs, but the reality was it needs much more time than that, and I was really struggling to find the time to fit in this work.
So I had to put my career first.
Mondays, as well as weekends, have become evenings for study. And I had to say goodbye to choir for a while. 

There are so many things I want to do.
I want to start a newsletter like Amy and Michelle.
I want to start playing piano again.
I want to blog more.
I want to learn a language.
I want to practice more photography.
I want to create more.

But Amy puts this perfectly in her post -

"I had somehow absorbed the notion that, unless I was doing everything, I might as well be doing nothing – but each of the things I was doing was good on its own. I had tied my self-worth to the amount of things I could do, rather than my personality or the value of the things I was doing, and worked myself ragged trying to feel worthwhile because of it."

I do have goals for 2017, of course, and I'll be posting them soon. But my goals this year are more about doing more of what makes me happy, not doing more for the sake of doing more. 

We can do anything, but not everything.

Charlotte x