Thursday, 27 August 2015

Your content is boring - here's what to do about it

I don't talk much about my job here, and it's not because I don't love what I do (I LOVE what I do), it's more that I don't really think it would be interesting to most of you.
If you don't know what I do, I'm a marketing assistant for a content marketing agency. I know, right, it's marketing-ception. But what this basically means is that I work on the marketing team of a marketing agency. I market the marketing.
I've just celebrated a year at Axonn and I've never felt so comfortable in a job. It's hard work and we're a small team but we do a LOT, from social media to email marketing to blog content to ebooks, drip campaigns, webinars, whitepapers and everything to do with the website. We're rarely bored, put it this way.
But I realised today it doesn't really make sense to not talk much about my job on my blog for two reasons:
1) There are probably a lot of bloggers, and blog readers, who work in marketing. Marketing, especially content or social media, is quite a natural progression for bloggers as it's basically using the skills you've already developed through your blog. And,
2) Blogging and content marketing are basically the same thing.

The big focus on my blog is content writing and content editing. I'm in charge of all the content that goes on the Axonn blog (and for the most part, everything that goes on the website) so my job really is writing, curating, begging-people-to-write, editing and promoting content. And isn't that basically what blogging is?

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I was going to be presenting a webinar in authenticity and content marketing, and today was the day! It was part of a 4 hour bumper webinar that myself and several of my colleagues were involved in so I spent today live-tweeting like a boss and gearing myself up for my own talk!

My talk was actually highly influenced by my blog and by blogging and focused on the need for stories, authentic content, vulnerability and sometimes, a bit of controversy in content. While I work in a B2B marketing environment, I actually think a great deal of my tips would be relevant to bloggers too!

I pop up around the 2 hour 9 mark and my talk is about 20 minutes. Apologies for the stumbling at times - I was very nervous! I hope you find this interesting if you work in marketing, or would like to work in marketing! Feel free to give me a shout if you have any questions - my person Twitter is @gnd_fashion but as you can see from my presentation, I also have a work-related Twitter, @cecrowley30.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Inevitable Burn out

Today I burnt out.
Two miles into my 9 mile long run I knew I had to turn back.
My heart was pounding in my chest like something had just made me jump. My heart rate was rapid.
I headed home, walking the last half a mile.

I don't know why I was surprised.
As someone who rarely goes out-out and almost never sees 11pm, I've had two nights out over the course of the week.
Both of which I loved, for the record.
But both times, the following day, I forced myself to do a run or a workout. Both times I woke up far too early but pushed myself to start my day.
I think I've been overtired all week.
Getting up at 5.30am is rough enough, but this week I really felt it.
I've been feeling exhausted by 9pm but I've not wanted to go to bed because I didn't want to "waste" my evening.
I've had a couple of long, difficult and emotionally-draining weeks at work.
Monday was so bad that instead of going to choir I came home and cried.

I exist under a constantly cloud of self-inflicted pressure and guilt and anxiety. Constantly comparing myself to other people. Constantly pushing myself to do more and to do better.

I feel like I can never get the balance right between what I should be doing and what I want to do. I can never get the balance right between all the things I love.

And I can never, ever give myself a break.

Advice to give myself a rest from running is great, but not so great when I know giving myself a rest will give me even more anxiety about my upcoming race. Telling me not to worry about all the food prep I do will just make me more stressed in the mornings before work. Telling me to relax will just make me even more panicky about the constant to-do list I have.

I just feel like I can't get it right.

I want to fit in my training, but I also want to enjoy time with my friends and family. I want to enjoy our trip to Whitby next weekend but I know I'll be worrying about the runs I've missed. I want to run but I don't want to have to turn around after two miles because I feel so exhausted.

I want to try to relax today but I know I find it so hard to give myself permission to relax and to do nothing. Yesterday I sat down with a book for 5 minutes before jumping up and deciding to make banana bread. Oh and then it was time to make dinner. And before I knew it it was bedtime and I had to go to bed because I had an early start for my run.

I get the mick taken out of me at work for always doing things, never relaxing, always pushing, always doing more, always coming into work after a 5 mile run. And the truth is I like that. I like the idea that people think I'm a superwoman who can do anything.

But I'm not and I can't. And I never think I'm doing enough.

And this is why I'm burned out. Even an hour after coming home exhausted from my run I launched into doing the washing and making an unnecessarily elaborate breakfast (which was great, but I probably could have just had avocado on toast). I'm getting up earlier and earlier to get everything "out of the way" but then I end up simultaneously tired and restless and have to find things to do so I don't get bored. I add unnecessary things to do to-do list and then get stressed when I don't want to do them.

The irony is, I often find myself feeling lazy and disorganised. Even more so when I skip something on my to-do list or allow myself some extra sleep instead of a workout when I'm feeling overworked.

I feel pathetic because I'm not the first person ever to run a home and have a job and a blog and be marathon training and also trying to have a social life. Why can everyone else do it?

I got home from my run 2 hours ago. I can see feel that racing heartbeat.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Manchester's Hidden Gems

In case it wasn't clear from my last post, I bloody love Manchester. Even though I grew up a five minute train journey away, it's only been the last couple of years I've really appreciated the city - and even more now I live in the dead-centre of the city!
I was asked a few weeks ago to contribute one of my favourite hidden gems to this awesome infographic by Millennium Hotels and it's finally here! I've been really exited about this because if there's one thing I love it's discovering new places to eat in Manchester.
I chose Superstore where Phil and I visited a few weeks ago for a date night that was a bit more fancy than our usual cinema-and-Wetherspoons. The food was amazing but it still had that laid-back cool of Manchester's Northern Quarter and I can't wait to go back.
I love the places that other bloggers have chosen (except, erm... Nandos?). I love Changos burritos and I love that the wonderful Solita was mentioned twice!
Check out the rest of the infographic below!

*I was compensated to share this infographic, however I am genuinely really excited about this campaign!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

This weekend

This weekend was about love of two of the most important things in my life. 
My uni friends and my beloved city of Manchester.

My uni friends are my girls. My besties. My soul mates. My I-know-you'll-always-be-in-my-life friends.
We were brought together by random instances of coincidence and serendipity. In fact, the stories about how we all met in different ways are part of the hilarity and beauty of our relationship. Like the pure fate that Ellen got her third choice elective module and ended up in American History where we found ourselves sat together. Or the fact that Emily to this day can't remember coming up to me in Freshers' Week and saying "did you used to be on a My Chemical Romance forum?" Or that Sarah and Becca lived together all three years of uni, and so did Steph and Emily. Or that Steph was friends with Ellen and I was friends with Ellen, but Steph hadn't realised which Ellen I had been talking about for months.
These are my girls for life. The girls who I sometimes go months, almost 12 sometimes, without seeing, but when we catch up absolutely nothing has changed. The ones who still have stories from when I was on my year abroad, but I never feel left out of. The ones who made me a belated 21st cake when I came home from America, three months after my birthday. The ones who came up to visit me this weekend, even though it was a three hour journey for some.

I got three-fifths of my girls this weekend, and two who were 100% there in spirit. I went for a too-early run which meant after getting back I was anxious and excited the whole morning, desperate for 12.15pm when I could leave my flat to meet them. 

I got to show them my little flat and my big city.
I took them to Teacup where as we usually do, we almost all ordered the same thing, before settling on two falafel sandwiches and two fish finger sandwiches. (Although I kind of regret not going for the fish finger). And managed to sip tea and smoothies in there for almost an hour and a half.
I took them round the shops where we went back on ourselves at least three times because we got lost in our conversations.
We took a taxi 5 minutes around the corner just so we could get dressed up in our nicest dresses and least-uncomfortable heels.
We took a selfie stick in a too-small handbag and didn't even use it.
I took them to my favourite Spanish restaurant where we ordered far too many tapas after filling ourselves on cocktails and free bread.
We went to too-noisy bars and shouted over the music.
I took them to a 1920s themed cocktail bar down a quiet back alley just because it's Manchester and I could.
We drank glasses of prosecco and limoncello shots.
I took them to a secret bar which looked like a laundrette, where I had to reserve a "machine" and tell them how many "items of clothing I wanted to wash."
Where I couldn't get a reservation til half past midnight.
We posed for photos with laundry and boxes of Daz.
We walked through a giant washing machine into a cocktail bar where the drinks came garnished with handcuffs and popping candy.
We got home at almost 3am with sore feet and sore throats.

We woke up far too early to watch Don't Tell the Bride and eat vegetarian sausages.
I heard the words "you've really made me want to move to Manchester."
We didn't stop talking for over 24 hours.
And nothing, nothing, nothing had changed.

Not in the four years since they graduated. Not in the four years when we've only seen each other a handful of times a year. Not after three years of being together almost every single day. Not after splitting off across the country when everyone moved back home after graduation.

We chose each other. We didn't just end up friends because of coincidence or circumstance. We grew up together in those years of university. We still have the same things in common and those same memories, but now we have new memories, new stories, new relationships, new hobbies and different paths. 

But nothing has changed. These are my friends for life. No matter the time, no matter the distance, no matter all the other things that get in the way. These girls are the ones.

3/5ths of my favourite girls

Friday, 14 August 2015

Boohoo Blogger Bakeoff

I am in charge of the baking rota at work.
You would think this would mean two things:
1) That I'm good at baking
2) That I enjoy baking
While I run the baking rota with an iron fist, the truth is I actually don't enjoy baking that much. I bake when it's my turn and I always try to make something delicious (past bakes have included Cheddar Bay Biscuits, Key Lime Pie bars and black bean brownie cookies) but I find baking quite stressful.
(If you're wondering why I run the baking rota when I don't love baking, you have my former colleague Dipika to blame who I inherited the rota from when she left.)

Nevertheless, I do bake. And while I don't think I'll be on Bake Off any time soon (though I'm completely gripped, like the rest of the nation) I do make the occasional thing that I'm proud of.

A few weeks ago my next bake was looming and I was stuck for inspiration. I wanted something that was easy, but looked impressive and tasted good (in fact, this is my criteria for all my baking). So in a moment of madness I decided to make millonaire's shortbread.

And that was how I found myself making caramel on a Thursday evening.

To cut a long story short, the shortbread was amazing. Absolutely incredible. And I'm going against my incredible insecure nature by boasting a little bit. One of the guys at work said they were "one of the best things that had ever been baked at work" and my friend Brian had three, and assured me "the third one tasted just as good as the first."

And I'd MADE CARAMEL. The substance that brings fear into the hearts of bakers everywhere. I'd done it!

I was desperate for an opportunity to make millionaire's shortbread again.

The chance came just a few weeks later when an email popped into my inbox inviting me to be a part of Boohoo's Blogger Bakeoff.

It started with a box of baking treats:
The box contained lots of Tala goodies - a whisk, tiny rolling pin, dry measure funnel, cake tester, cupcake cases, heart-shaped cutter and, the thing I was most excited about, a silicone piping bag. It also contained some wafer daisies and sprinkles.

I also got to choose a pretty dress, perfect for afternoon tea. I went for something a little bit different from what I normally wear (and in retrospect, probably the worst thing to wear for afternoon tea):

dress - c/o Boohoo
shoes - Marks and Spencer
necklace - River Island

Now as anybody who has ever read my blog will know, this dress isn't my usual style at all. I never, ever wear anything bodycon. I just don't feel comfortable in something so fitted! But I really loved this dress and wanted to try it. And hopefully one day I'll feel confident enough to wear it outside the house...

Anyway, on the baking!
The challenge was to bake anything you wanted but it had to include Boohoo written on it somehow (hence my excitement over the piping bag!). I decided to make my millionaire's shortbread and pipe Boohoo on the top in white chocolate.
Turns out, I am not very good at piping!
Thankfully my Mum gave me the heads up to pipe my letters onto greaseproof paper so I could practice and not pipe straight onto the shortbread. I'm so glad she gave me that tip!
I ended up piping lots of Bs, Os and Hs but loads of them broke when I tried to peel them off the paper, and I had lost my patience to pipe more letters (number one reason why I don't like baking, I'm super impatient!). But both Phil and my Mum reassured me that my final product looked good (I think Phil just wanted me to finish taking photos so he could finally eat some).

My millionaire's shortbread recipe is here!

Happy baking!

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Blossoming Gifts

If there's one thing I love, it's surprises. And not even big surprises. When someone says "I've got a present for you", even if it's just a chocolate bar, I love it.

And pretty much the only thing I love more than receiving surprises is giving them. 

I have a reputation in my family as being a great present buyer. I love getting excited about what to buy somebody (I have a secret Pinterest board year-round of ideas, plus an Amazon wishlist of gifts for other people that I add to throughout the year, even months in advance) and I often get so excited about giving them their present that I almost ruin it for them by giving them hints.

Sometimes I just do mini surprises. I'll pick Phil something up from the shop I know he'll like, or buy my Mum a coffee instead of letting her pay. I like being able to spread unexpected happiness.

Which was what I did on Saturday.

I knew quarter of a mile into parkrun that they had arrived. My phone started ringing loudly in my ears through my headphones while I was trying to concentrate on getting a good time for my first mile. I knew exactly who was calling.

I knew when I caught my breath at the end and checked my phone I would have a text and a picture. Which of course, I did.

I knew my Mum would probably cry. Which she also did.

The thing is, as I mentioned last week, I get a lot of great opportunities through my blog, so as much as possible I like to share those opportunities. On Thursday, Blossoming Gifts emailed me asked if I wanted to review their flowers by post. Now since I got my own place I have absolutely loved fresh flowers, something which I'm honest I didn't see the "point" of when I was younger. Now I try to buy fresh flowers every few weeks, and I was especially enticed when I saw their gorgeous bouquet of sunflowers, my absolute favourite flowers.

But then I realised that I knew someone who loved fresh flowers even more than I do. Someone who would love to receive a surprise flower delivery. So I asked, could I have these sent to my Mum instead?

(I also realised I get everything delivered to my work, so I'd have to explain why the beautiful bouquet that arrived at my office was actually to me, from me.)

Blossoming Gifts were awesome. I chose my bouquet (I went for the Summer Garden bouquet, knowing they would match my Mum's kitchen) and was really chuffed to find that if you order before 4pm they do free next day delivery. I sneakily text my Mum asking what her weekend plans were to check she'd be home. 

But enough from me, here's what she said:
"The flowers were delivered by a very careful postman- wondered what he was doing so long in the porch.They were very well packaged and labelled clearly as to the contents.Very securely fastened within the parcel so they didn't move at all with a soaked bag to keep them happy on the journey! A tied bunch beautifully arranged in complementing colours which included a delightful mix of roses, lilles, chrysanthemum and gerberas. Very clear instructions as to how to get the best from the flowers along with plant food and a gorgeous little box of Belgian chocolates, lovely message card with a handy QR code for sharing on Facebook and a £5 discount code for future purchases. Altogether a truly wonderfully presented surprise bouquet which has obviously been put together with great care and attention to detail. Thanks again darling daughter !!"
She also text me later on saying she had already used the £5 discount to send some flowers to her friend in Scotland!

I would highly recommend Blossoming Gifts. I'm so impressed they do free next day delivery, and some days you can order as late as 9pm for next day. And they deliver on Sundays! They also sell hampers, wines and other personalised gifts so they're perfect for that hard-to-buy-for person. I'm also really impressed with their cheap flowers range, where most of the flowers are under £25.

I'm really happy to announce that they've given me a code for all girlnextdoorfashion readers to save 33% on everything except flowers by post range. Just use the code BGIFTS33.

(And here's my Mum with her flowers!)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Cheap eats in Manchester

If there's one thing to know about me it's that I'm really tight.
Really, really tight.
I hate spending money unnecessarily. I resent even 50p that I could have avoided spending.
I absolutely love a bargain and I'm always looking to save money where I can.

So when I was asked by Travelodge to get involved in their cheap eats challenge I couldn't reply to the email fast enough. It was perfect for me! I love saving money, but I love to eat out. And I also love any opportunity to talk about how much I love Manchester!

The idea is to help people visiting Manchester enjoy great food without breaking the bank, so the challenge was to eat both lunch and dinner in Manchester for £50.

But me being me, I wanted to go one step further. Eating well in Manchester is actually very reasonable so eating two meals for £50 wasn't really a challenge at all. What would be a challenge, however, would be feeding two people two meals for £50.

So obviously, I decided to make it harder for myself and bring Phil along too.

Now just for the record, this is not at all a typical day of eating for Phil and I! We very rarely eat out and I don't think we've even eaten out twice in one day in Manchester! On the weekends in particular we have a bit of a running joke that we usually have a good breakfast after parkrun (or after my Sunday long run) and usually forget to eat until dinnertime. But we were determined to take one for the team for this challenge...

Now there are absolutely loads of places in Manchester where you can get a great, cheap lunch. There are some really lovely cafes such as North Tea Power and Teacup, and also plenty of places to get a slice of pizza, such as Slice or Crazy Pedros. Plus there are some really great places for vegetarian food (Earth Cafe in particular is great. It's like a wonderful vegetarian cafeteria where you choose a selection from whatever is one the menu that day. And there's also 8th Day Cafe, where I've never eaten, but I love their health food shop upstairs where I buy my veggie specialities).

But if there's one thing Manchester does well, it's street food. So we hit up the Arndale Market.
If you're in Manchester, there's a good chance you've come for the shopping, and the majority of the shops are in the Arndale, making the Arndale market perfect for a stop off. It's also ideal if you're not sure what you want, as there is a huge variety of stalls selling everything from Vietnamese food to pizza to burritos.

We decided to go for burrito bowls from Panchos. I've wanted to go to Panchos for absolutely ages but I very rarely eat lunch out in Manchester because it makes no sense to pay for food when I live around the corner (see point 1 - I'm tight), so I was pretty excited. We both got burrito bowls (mine, veggie chilli. Phil's, lamb) with a can of drink each. The total was £13.50.
As you can see, they were absolutely utterly huge! Delicious though. I absolutely love a good burrito bowl and it was one of the best. Needless to say, I didn't manage it all!

So after spending only £13.50 on lunch, that left us with £36.50 for dinner. Now that's quite a lot of money for Manchester, where most mid-range restaurants are about £10 for a main course. So the challenge really was picking where to go.
I decided we should choose somewhere we had been before so we could guarantee it was going to be good, but we needed to be sure we could get a good meal for our remaining money.
In the end, we chose Splendid Kitchen. Splendid Kitchen is kind of Manchester personified. It's cool, it's American-style and of course, it serves burgers. You can't come to Manchester without having a burger. It's also one of those wonderful places that you wouldn't find unless you knew it was there, hiding down a side street by the town hall.

The menu is a typical Manchester joint. Elaborate burgers, crazy fries and at least one dish that involves both meat and maple syrup.
We had to get burgers. I was excited to see a veggie burger on the menu that wasn't just a block of halloumi (I love halloumi as much as the next veggie but it's always disappointing to go somewhere that has a huge selection of meat burgers and find the veggie burger is just a hunk of cheese). Phil went for the cow and chicken burger. We also couldn't resist getting some crazy fries. In retrospect, one portion of fries would have been more than enough between two of us, but when we were ordering we were too excited to care, so we got a portion of eggs benedict fries (minus the bacon) and pizza fries for Phil.

OH MY GOD SO GOOD. Easily one of my top 5 veggie burgers in Manchester. Phil also said his burger was up there with one of his best burgers in Manchester. However, our eyes were much bigger than our stomachs! We definitely didn't need two portions of fries...

So, £13.50 on lunch, and for dinner, two burgers, two portions of fancy fries and two soft drinks...
£33! We came in £3.50 under budget, so we left that as a tip to the wonderful staff at Splendid Kitchen!

Edit: If you do fancy Splendid Kitchen it is worth noting their iPhone app where they have a LOT of offers regularly. They have an offer on at the moment for 25% off food when you book (throughout August) which we didn't use because we thought it was cheating, but it's definitely worth knowing if you're in the area!

This challenge was so much fun, and proves that you don't need a lot of money for a great weekend of food in Manchester! Travelodge has asked bloggers from other cities to get involved so I'm really excited to see where I should be eating in the other places on the list.

Thanks for asking us to get involved, Travelodge!

Now for a lie down...

PS. Some of our other favourite places to eat in Manchester as Home Sweet Home, Sandinista, Superstore, El Capo and if you're a meat lover, (or in my case, love a meat lover) Red's True BBQ (their veggie option is surprisingly good).

Thursday, 6 August 2015

On authenticity

I really wanted an image here of a quote from my all-time favourite book, Invisible Monsters, of the line "Rip yourself open, sew yourself shut" but there were all kinds of weird images on Google so I gave up.

Today I used the phrase "I'm just not sure that fits with my brand, you know."
And I kind of wanted to punch myself in the face.

I work in marketing. I understand about branding and tone of voice documents and colour palettes and everything in between.

But I was talking about myself. About my blog.
And I don't want to be a "brand."

I like to think I present myself pretty honestly on here. And I only read bloggers that present themselves in that kind of honest way too.

I don't read the blogs that present this shiny, happy, rainbows and cupcakes reality that we know just doesn't exist. I read the blogs that rip themselves open. The ones that are honest. The ones that are vulnerable. Those are the blogs I want to be like.

It's hard to explain this. It's hard to explain that sense of connection you experience from someone opening up to you and being vulnerable. I know it's hard to explain because I'm presenting a webinar this month for work on exactly that topic. It's just hard to put into words. 

I crave it. I crave that kind of connection. That openness. 

But it's scary.

I've blogged on here about breakups. I can't even bring myself to look through my 2011 archives to find it because I know it will make me cringe. I've blogged about car crashes and the deaths of family members. And I've blogged about those little bad days too. The bad days of running. The bad outfits. Those silly little things that get us down day-to-day that seem pathetic in the cold light of day. Or in my case, years later on my blog.

But to me, this is important. I want to be someone people can relate to. I can't stand the holier-than-thou health bloggers or the never-tired running bloggers or the fashion bloggers who never seem to run out of cash or wear the same thing twice. I can't stand this appearance that can't possibility be a reality.

I hate the idea of being someone that people can't relate to. I feel like I have two pressures. One pressure (or the many, hundreds, thousands of pressures), is to try to always be a better person, to always push myself more, to always do more. Half marathon? Time for a full marathon. 25 books a year? How about 50? Freshly cooked dinner on the table every night. Eating certain kinds of food. Giving blood. Going to the library every day. Singing in a charity choir. Being organised. Being good with money.

But the other pressure is to not seem like a complete tool. I don't want to be that person who seems perfect. Because bloody hell I am not even in the slightest. But I don't want people to think, oh, she runs marathons and gives blood and goes to the library every day. Who does she think she is?

I'm just another woman trying to have it all.

That's why I tell you when I have a terrible run. Why I tell you about the time I spent 2 hours after work making dinner and didn't even like it. Why I tell you that I can't run for a few days after giving blood because it makes me so woozy. Why I tell you that sometimes I go to the library every day because I feel like a failure if I don't read all my books before they're due back.

And back to the "branding" (shudder) thing at the start. I don't want to have to worry about presenting my brand. Because my brand should just be me. Exactly who I am. I have this joke that I have a complete inability to not be myself. In job interviews, meeting important people, meeting my boyfriend's family. I'm always nerdy and excitable and excessively organised and talkative and loud and tell boring stories.

I want to be authentic and I want to be relatable. I don't like it when I feel like all my most recent posts include sponsored items. But at the same time I absolutely love having these opportunities. I like that I've worked on my blog for nearly 6 years and I get stuff for free. There. I said it. I'm not going to pussyfoot around it and pretend that it's just about supporting great brands - and it is - but it is about getting great opportunities. I honestly never take any opportunities I don't feel that are relevant to me, and even when I do post items for review, I like to think I still present them in a way that is me.

On brand.

Whatever the heck that is.

And this kind of post is the kind of thing I want to write. Just writing what comes into my head. Not worrying about planning and worrying about not having blogged for two weeks and worrying about having nothing to say. Blogging because I-just-really-have-to-get-this-down even though I'm falling asleep at my laptop and Phil has already gone to bed and it's way past my bedtime.

Sometimes I just want to open myself up.

And hopefully someone, somewhere will feel a connection.

Monday, 3 August 2015

My favourite recipe books

If you've been anywhere near my Instagram over the last few months you would have struggled to miss my incessant posts about Anna Jones and her recipe books. I first heard about A Modern Way to Eat back in April when my friend Louise posted about it on her blog. I was instantly sucked in when she said it was not only a vegetarian book, but one she adored as a meat-eater.

Now to put this into perspective, I buy a lot of cookbooks. I own a lot of cookbooks. I leave them on the coffee table and flick through them, reading them like novels. But a lot of the time I'm enticed by the hundreds of food blogs I read and their regular recipes. The truth is I often get bored of recipe books because I like to try new things too often.

I've been hearing a lot lately about how often people eat the same thing for dinner. My friend Michelle posted about it on her blog a few months ago, and when I asked on Twitter I was surprised by the number of people who ate the same thing for dinner once a week or once a fortnight. I very rarely cook the same thing more than once every three to six months, and if I do cook the same thing regularly, it's never more than once every month or two.

But  when it comes to Anna's books I'm finding myself choosing the same recipes every few weeks. I'm eating things for dinner and straight away figuring out when I can schedule them in again. I'm finding recipes that are not just "okay" for midweek dinners, but really truly delicious. I'm finding meals that Phil calls "one of the best things you've ever cooked."

Anna Jones makes good food. Tasty food. All her food is healthy and vegetarian, but she isn't afraid of some feta here, or some pasta there, and she's certainly not afraid of olive oil. It's so refreshing to eat food from a cook who is truly passionate about good, tasty food, and isn't obsessed with how "clean" or low-carb her meals are.

I also like to think she's made me a better cook. The truth is as much as I love to cook, I'm not very confident when it comes to stepping away from recipes. Anna has made me feel confident enough to use kale instead of swiss chard, to swap cumin seeds for dried, to replace ingredients altogether. She's always offering an alternative, and even if she doesn't I trust her flavours enough to know that I could add make a few adaptations and know the end result will still be amazing.

Sometimes she does use more unusual ingredients. Sometimes I'll skip them, adapt them or try to find them in my local health food shop. But she doesn't pressure you to use coconut oil or curry leaves or mustard seeds. The majority of her ingredients I can find in my local Aldi, where I do 90% of my food shopping.

I love her second book, A Modern way to Cook, even more than its predecessor. One of my few complaints with A Modern way to Eat was it's lack of timings. I once found myself taking two hours to make dinner midweek because I massively misjudged how long it would take me to cut up 750g of mushrooms. It was as though she heard my prayers when she released A Modern way to Cook, where every chapter is divided by the time it takes to cook each meal - from 15 minutes and under to 40 minutes (which is still pretty do-able midweek). Of course, she used to work with Jamie Oliver so take her 15 minute meals in the same way you take his - they might take a little longer unless you've got some crazy knife skills! I consider an evening meal I can pull together in 30 minutes a success, even if the recipe says 15, but bear that in mind.

Finally, she makes recipes that anybody would love, not just vegetarians. I'm quite happy to chomp through a dinner that I don't really love or one that's just okay, but I hate serving something that isn't great to Phil, especially as he is a meat eater. He's never once complained about anything I've ever cooked, but I do feel a sense of trying to "prove" how great vegetarian food can be, and I think this is where Anna's books really come into their own. I haven't made anything from either of her books I wouldn't make for a dinner party for meat-eating friends, which is quite a big deal for me as I often feel apologetic when I have meat-eaters for dinner (but that's a whole other issue!). 

In case you missed my Instagrams, here are some of my favourite things I've made (I've provided the link if the recipes are online, but if you like what you see please buy her books! PS. not an ad!) :

The Really Hungry Burger  - from A modern way to eat

Dhal with crispy sweet potatoes (minus the coconut chutney - swapped for classic mango!)
- from A modern way to eat

Tomato and coconut cassoulet (before it went in the oven) - from A modern way to eat

Charred corn, scrunched kale and sweet potato salad - from A modern way to eat

Ricotta, thyme and sweet potato bake - from A modern way to eat

Mushroom and parsnip rosti pie (pre-oven) - from A modern way to eat

Sweet potato quesadillas - from A modern way to eat

Spiced sweet potato and quinoa bowls - from A modern way to cook

Smoky beans and sweet potato hash browns - from A modern way to cook

Black beans with chard and green herb smash (I used kale instead) - from A modern way to cook

What are your favourite recipe books? (Or maybe don't tell me that - they'll be in my Amazon basket before you can say "knife"!). How often do you eat the same things for dinner?

Charlotte x

PS. If you're intrigued by my sticky notes and colour-coding system, I'm planning a series of blog posts on my meal planning to stay tuned! 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Acceptable in the 80s

Do you ever wonder what the 80s would look like in trainer form?
I love them. Seriously, I am so in love with them. I admit, they are a seriously acquired taste, but I could not resist something so wonderfully garish. 
These bad boys are from Footlocker. Unfortunately, my beloved running shoes have seen better days and I've been in denial for the last few weeks. I've had them since April last year and I've probably done about 400 miles in them so they've seen better days. I've been getting blisters on my long runs at about 7 or 8 miles. Plus at the moment I'm running about 20 miles a week so between now and my half marathon (11 weeks to go!) they're going to get even more of a battering.
The problem is, buying running shoes stressing my out. Surely you know by now that I'm not exactly the kind of person who can just walk into a sports shop and pick up a pair of shoes. I had a running assessment in Sweatshop to get my last pair and I don't feel confident choosing the right shoes on my own, even though I know my feet are pretty neutral. I was really stressed out when it came to choosing new shoes. To the point where I nearly just ordered the exact same pair of trainers in a different colour.
I did absolutely loads of research before selecting this pair. I wanted something as similar as possible to my New Balance 980s. Of course, the garish print of these was what first attracted me to them, but I looked them up and they sounded perfect. They're actually triathlon shoes, but believe me there isn't one of those coming up in my future!
leggings - Sports Direct
black top - Sports Direct
sports bra - Nike
socks - Sports Direct
trainers - c/o Footlocker
I decided to try them out at Parkrun this morning so I got Phil to snap a few photos of me before. I wanted to take some more authentic photos of these. I wanted to take them outside, in my running kit with no makeup and my hair scraped back - because that's what I look like when I run! I did french plait the front of my hair when I normally just clip my fringe back to look slightly less grubby, but other than that this is my usual Parkrun get up.
So how were they? To be honest, they didn't feel much different to my other trainers - in a good way! They did feel quite nice and bouncy, and I tried to keep away from the puddles a bit more than usual! I'm really excited to wear them in a bit more and I'm pretty sure these are going to be the trainers I run my half marathon in! So thank you, Footlocker. Nobody is going to miss me in these!

Charlotte x