Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Life lately - August

Bear with me, this one's a long 'un. 

When I wrote one of these last month I kind of muddled it together from what I could remember from the month. But this time I actually made notes throughout the month of what I wanted to put in this post. And it turned out that there's quite a lot I wanted to mention in this roundup!

I thought August was going to be quite a quiet month (I have so much going on in September it's ridiculous!) but there's actually been loads going on, and it's been a great mix of busy and relaxing. 

So here's what I've been doing in August!

What I've been doing
Date night with Phil at Crazy Pedros for 2 for 1 cocktails and £2 slices of pizza, playing badminton every week with my colleague, Molly, and her friends, Alphabet Dating (this month we did D - Dominos and Disney day), viewing houses (and trusting my gut) and going out to my favourite club night, Ultimate Power.
Bank Holidays are lovely, aren't they? Friday I had dinner at Riven's, where she made an Italian feast which we ate while listening to jazz, playing with her cats and debating films and TV and books. Saturday we went to parkrun (more on that later!), and then my friend Ellen came up to visit, so we spent the day mooching around town and buying lipstick. Sunday I had a 12 mile run, then we went to explore the area where we want to move to and saw my cousin and his wife, who live around there, then Phil went out and I had a rock n roll evening making mac and cheese, baking banana bread, watching a documentary and painting my nails. Monday we went to the People's History Museum and had lunch in the sun in Piccadilly Gardens.
I am really enjoying Instagram stories, which is weird because I just couldn't get on board with Snapchat and I've deleted and re-installed it multiple times. I think I like that I'm already following all the people I would want to follow, and that I don't have to send or receive snaps, I can just check them when I want.

I've recently discovered the Revisionist History podcast and it's my new favourite for running. I absolutely love learning while I run!

Puppies! On Sunday we went to see my cousin and his wife and said hello to their Labrador, Otis, and we also met my auntie and uncle's new future-guide-dog puppy, Magic, a few weeks ago.
And new lipsticks, but I already blogged about that!

I've done a fair bit of reading this month - by my standards at least! I get the bus to work (of course I do - I work for the bus company!) and I actually love my 30 minute commute. I consider it to be an hour of free reading time! 

This month I read Gerald's Game, which seems to really divide Stephen King fans over whether it's his all-time best, or absolute worst book. For me, I enjoyed it. Probably not my favourite but not my least favourite either. It was pretty grim at times though - I admit there was one scene that made me feel physically sick!

Next I read Wolf Hollow which my friend Sarah sent me a copy of. I absolutely adored this. I read it in about three days and had teary eyes when it was over. I've already passed my copy onto Ellen to read.

I got Where'd you go, Bernadette? for 99p on Kindle a few months ago after hearing some good reviews. I expected to hate this but I actually found myself really, really enjoying it! An intersting, funny read, dripping with satire.

And finally, I'm about half-way through The Truth About the Harry Quebert affair, which was a recommendation from my friend, Ellen, and also, miraculously, 99p. I'm really enjoying this so far. An exciting, well-written page-turner. 

Football! Football is back! Yes! I thoroughly enjoyed watching Liverpool beat Arsenal 4-3, but enjoyed losing 2-0 to Burnley much less. We, like everyone else, finished Stranger Things this month, which, like everyone else, we loved (DUSTIN!). We're also working through Parks and Rec still, and OMG WE FINALLY FINISHED SEASON 6 OF GAME OF THRONES OMG. To fill the giant hole in our lives, we're going back to Friday Night Lights.

I also watched the documentary Trophy Kids on Netflix this weekend, which Ellen had suggested. It looks at the relationship between children who are talented at sports and their parents. Fascinating but upsetting, and well worth a watch.

Oh and Bake Off, of course! I bloody love Bake Off. It's just so wonderfully British. You can switch off about Brexit, and politics and the state of the country for an hour and just discuss Mary's jackets and upside down Jaffa Cakes. I think Twitter during Bake Off is one of my all-time favourite things.

My recipe book of the moment is Zsu Dever's Vegan Bowls (review coming soon!) - I've made four things from it so far and there hasn't been one bad meal from it. 

This weekend when my friend Ellen came to visit we went to V Revolution, where I've wanted to go for ages. It's a vegan junk food diner, so the menu is all hot dogs, burgers and nachos, but all vegan. I had the Mini Mac - basically a vegan Big Mac, with "cheese", gherkins and burger sauce. Delish.

Then on Sunday while Phil was out, I had a night in and baked banana bread! I'm super fussy with my bananas and as soon as they go remotely brown I can't eat them (green bananas 4 lyf) so I regularly end up with less-than-satisfactory bananas hanging around my fruit bowl. I learned a few weeks ago that Bejamina from Bake Off had a blog, so I made her peanut butter chocolate banana bread.
Working on
My next half marathon is just 7 weeks away, with an eleven day holiday in between! On Sunday I did my first twelve mile run so I'm feeling pretty good, and I signed up the Stockport 10K this morning which is in three weeks (you might remember it being my first ever 10K three years ago!). I've been keeping up with my strength training too, which isn't my favourite but makes me feel good.
I've done some parkrun tourism too when we were seeing family friends in Leeds, and gave beautiful (but challenging!) Roundhay parkrun a go! At Saturday's parkrun I ran my fastest ever mile (8:02!) but missed a PB by just 16 seconds!

We did, however, get to meet an Olympian! Joanna Rowsell-Shand MBE gave our parkrun a visit and it was absolutely brilliant to meet her!
Next on my list of things to work out is my blog layout. It's really starting to get me down/stress me out how it looks on mobile, so I think it's going to be a full blog overhaul soon. I just don'

Excited for
In September I've got two trips to the theatre (Sister Act and A Streetcar Named Desire), a weekend away in Liverpool with my uni girls, a 10K race and then at the end of the month we're off to Spain!

What I've written
I wrote 11 blog posts in August (!) (that's the most I've blogged in a month since December 2013!). Here's what I've written:
In praise of lazy Sundays
Cookbook review - Veganomicon
Reddit Cookbooks Exchange
parkrun and me
Garmin 10 vs 220
How running taught me to go without makeup
How to become a morning exerciser
Runners: Stop calling yourself slow
Cookbook review - Leon Happy Salads
On going with your gut
My favourite MAC lipsticks
Sensationail - Game changer or another nail fail?

I've also been writing content for work. Here are the two posts I've written this month:
10 things to do before starting university
20 things to do for bored students on a budget

Posts I've read, loved, enjoyed or made me think

9 non-flattering leadership strategies for women - hilarious, depressing and accurate
Is it possible to lose weight and still be body positive? - a brilliant post from Michelle
Suicide squad- so bad it's good - because I can't stop talking about how awful Suicide Squad was
24 posts about Bake off that will make you laughBake off episode 1 review
Judging the Bake off contestants purely by their press shots - because Bake Off
The funniest roses are red tweets - this had me crying with laugher
Why women drink - not sure how I feel about the "drinking" element of this, but the 24 hour woman aspect really rings true
I've recently discovered Vix Meldrew's blog and have been bingeing through it, so go read it

Phew! You did it! I really enjoyed putting this post together - roll on September!

Charlotte x

Monday, 29 August 2016

Sensationail - game changer or another nail fail?

Over the past 7 years, I've lost count of the number of times I've blogged about my nails. I'm regularly told "you are obsessed with your nails!" They are the bane of my life.

Until a year or two ago I was a compulsive biter. I had tried the bad tasting polish, painting them daily, filing them constantly. I just couldn't stop. I was embarrassed to show people my hands all the time, always trying to hide my bitten-down nails.

I finally broke the habit two years ago when I tried acrylic nails. After I had them removed two months later, I couldn't bear to bite the long nails I had finally grown.

But then there was a new problem. No matter what I did, no matter what I tried, I could not get nail polish to stay on my nails without chipping after 24 hours. I tried every base coat, every top coat, every brand of polish. Layering, sandwiching, dehydrating - everything. Nothing seemed to work.

It doesn't help that I cannot stand to have even the smallest chip in my polish. As soon as it chips, I have to pick it all over. Not great for my nail strength!

I got close in January. I bought the cult favourite, CND Stickey and tried the "stickey sandwich" - a layer of CND Stickey, then polish, then another layer of Stickey, polish then topcoat. With this somewhat time-consuming method I could get 3 days.

Then in February, my friend Laura messaged me to tell me about Sensationail. It was a gel system - including a lamp - that could be used with your existing nail polishes. It promised 2 weeks of nail polish wear. Now I knew right away 2 weeks wasn't going to be possible for me, but I loved that you could use it with your existing polishes, because a) I already had lots of polishes and most gel kits require you purchase gel-specific kits and b) I like to change my nail polish colour a lot. At the time the kit was £30. I'd ordered it within the hour.

There are two ways to apply Sensationail. 

The first way is to mix several drops of your nail polish with an equal number of drops of the transformer. Then you use a primer (included), and do two coats of the mixture with a cure of the lamp after each layer. Then you add a final layer of transformer and finish with the cleanser and lint-free wipes (also included). It sounds complicated, but the whole process only takes about half an hour. 

The other option is to apply your nail polish as normal, leave it until it is completely dry (so a good 20-30 minutes), before using the transformer as a topcoat and curing it for 30 seconds. Then you finish off with the cleanser.

I was always pro-mixing method and used this for a good six months, but I've recently started to prefer the topcoat method. The topcoat method takes slightly longer as you need to wait for your nails to dry (they dry super faster with the mixing method) but I like that it's less of a faff. I previously rejected the top coat method as it wasn't very clear in the instructions that your nails had to be completely dry, and I smudged nail polish all over a brand new pair of jeans and cried so...

So what do I think?

Here's everything you get in the box
  • While I can't get a full 2 weeks - which I could have told you anyway! - I can get 4-5 good days before my polish starts to peel off. That's the best success I've ever had with any nail product!
  • The fact it works with any polish is a huge plus for me. I've been put off gel kits before because they've required buying lots of new polishes, which makes all my current polishes redundant. I also like to have a large number of colours so replacing them all gets expensive!
  • You can buy refills. I do my nails around once a week, and I bought a new bottle of the transformer after about 3 months of using the mixing method and upgraded to a bigger size. While it's not cheap (a small bottle is £10 and a larger £15), it's better than having to replace the whole kit after a few months! It's been 5 months now and I'm almost ready to replace some of the other items.
  • It dries quickly. I wouldn't say instantly - and I've made the mistake of thinking that before! - but I would say you're good to go about 10-15 minutes after finishing your nails using the mixing method.
  • It's great value for money if you usually pay to have your nails done. Obviously if not, it's an upfront payment, but for me, it's completely worth it to have nice days for a few days and not have to keep doing them all the time!
  • Definitely seems to work with any polish. I've only used Essie and Barry M so far and not had any problems.
  • The topcoat method is really easy and doesn't take any longer than doing your nails normally.
  • The topcoat method uses very little product, making it even better value for money.
  • It's only going to look as good as you can do it yourself. Once it's dried, you're stuck with it. I'm really, really not very good at doing my nails, and it means that sometimes I can be stuck with a smudge or a wrinkle for 5 days (or let's face it, it drives me so crazy I have to pick it all off). Unlike a professional gel manicure, this is all on you. (edit: I actually find it goes much more wrinkly with the mixing method which is one of the reasons I've switched to the topcoat method. Because it becomes so thick using the mixing method it's hard to get it to look neat).
  • It's tricky to "top up". I find if I have a chip or a smudge it's easier to take the colour off the whole nail and start again. I learned the hard way!
  • It's hard to remove. As I said above - I tend to pick mine off (which I know is terrible!) but I have real trouble with the acetone-soak method. Also bear in mind you need acetone to remove it if you have any issues with that.
  • It stained my nails really badly. I had really badly stained nails after using this system to do my nails every week for about 4 moths. It took several weeks of no polish to fade. 
  • It peels off if it touches skin If you're messy at applying it, like I am, you can end up getting it on your fingers. This can cause your polish to peel off, and also burn a little bit...
  • It's not great with light or pale polishes that need 3 coats
  • Can go weird and bubbly and smudge. As above, it's not perfect and you can be stuck with imperfections. (Again, this is mostly the case with the mixing method).
  • I can't get 2 full weeks. I know I never expected that, but it's worth knowing if you really need to get 2 weeks. However, this is just my experience with my terrible nails.
  • The topcoat method requires you to let your nails dry completely, which we know can take 20-30 minutes. 
  • I don't find the topcoat method feels as "done" and doesn't feel as dry, so I worried about smudging overnight.
  • The mixing method is a bit of a pain though and uses a lot more product.
  • You can't really transport it. It was a pain going on holiday for 6 days because I knew I couldn't redo it out there without bringing my entire kit! 
  • I can't be sure how damaging it might be to your nails. I know acetone isn't great, but I have weak, rubbish nails anyway. I haven't noticed them getting any worse, but if you're concerned, it might be work doing some research on the products.
While that seems like a lot of cons (I wanted to give you an honest review! I've been making notes for 6 months!), for me, the pros really outweigh them. I've been using this system every week for about 6 months now and I'm so happy that I'm not painting my nails every single night! It takes some getting used to, and I still can't get my nails to look quite how I like them, but it's a huge improvement on anything else I've tried!

I'm probably even more obsessed with my nails now!
Charlotte x

Edited to add: I was having a few issues with my lamp a few weeks ago so I tweeted Sensationail to moan. Within an hour I had an email to contact to get a replacement lamp sent over, and after sending an email I got a reply the next day saying they would send a new one straight out, free of charge. Now that's good customer service!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

My favourite MAC lipsticks

Thanks to some Studio Fix empties and some indecisiveness, I became the proud owner of two new MAC lipsticks a few weeks ago. 
And then I bought another today.
MAC has been my preferred choice for lipstick for a few years now. The colours are great and more importantly, they are long-lasting. I absolutely love wearing lipstick but I can't stand having to constantly reapply it, and despite trying other brands, I find MAC lipsticks the longest-lasting and I love their vibrancy and formula.

Despite having 18 now, I have a few that are my go-tos. I tend to prefer a bright lip, with red being my favourite, but I've recently been moving into more of the nudes and mid-pinks - that my-lips-but-better look that's become popular lately.

I've done a favourite lipstick post before, but for that I applied the lipsticks one at a time, took the photo, wiped it off and then moved onto the next one, so it wasn't really a true reflection of the colour on a naked lip after I'd tried on a few. So for this I went through my Instagram and found authentic photos of me wearing each colour! Admittedly, there is a bit of Instagram filtering going on in most of these photos, but I think they're a fairly accurate reflection of each of the colours.

In nearly every case here I'm wearing a couple of coats of each colour with a similar lipliner and Lipcote (which I'll be writing about soon because I love Lipcote).

Oh and I'm a super pale NC15.

So here are, in no particular order, my favourite MAC lipsticks:

Ruby Woo 
I said "in no particular order", but this really is my favourite lipstick of all time. Many people find this quite drying but I've been wearing it for so long I'm pretty used to it. I have four MAC red lipsticks (Ruby Woo, Russian Red, MAC Red and Relentlessly) but this is the only one I wear regularly because it's just the perfect red lip. 

Funny story with Faux - I bought this lipstick 4 years ago in New York but never really wore it. Then a few months ago when this Kylie-Jenner-style brown lip came in I kept seeing it and realised the name sounded familiar. So after some hunting I found it and realised it's gorgeous! I love this as an every day My Lips But Better.

Please me
Please Me is a lovely dusty pink and on me comes out a bit darker than it seems to look on other people. I like this when I want a bit more than just a nude lip but don't want anything dramatic.

Rebel is one of those lipsticks that seems to look different on everyone! It's a darkish pinky/purple but it seems to look quite pink on me. I love bringing this out as soon as the weather gets cooler.

 Velvet Teddy
I have to admit, I asked for Velvet Teddy for Christmas without having tried it on because there had been so much hype around it. It is supposed to be the Kylie Jenner lip. It's quite different from my usual look so it's takes some getting used to. I'm still not 100% sure if I can pull this off!

This was a Back to MAC freebie last winter (don't know what I'm talking about? MAC will give you a free lipstick if you bring 6 of your empty bottles/packages into one of their counters!) because I fancied a dark berry lip. I absolutely love this colour! I didn't think it would suit me but it's perfect for winter.

Girl about Town 
This is my go-to bright pink lip. It's gorgeous. I wear this with NYX liner in Bloom. 

 Kinda Sexy
I'd been dithering over this for ages and finally caved when I found some vouchers I'd forgotten about. It's a gorgeous peachy nude - a lovely every day colour. It's very similar to NYX's Stockholm which I love but I find lasts about 20 minutes on my lips.

Pink Pigeon 
Quite similar to Girl about Town but slightly brighter with a matte finish. I've only worn this once so far, but I can see myself wearing this a lot to brighten up a simple outfit during the day or as an alternative to Girl about Town in the evening.

D for Danger 
This was recommended to me by a couple of people when I asked for suggestions on what to have as my next Back to MAC freebie. It's quite similar to both Diva and Rebel, but less red than Diva and darker and more pink than Rebel. I can see myself wearing this a lot in the winter.

I'm hoping I'm going to take a break from buying new lipsticks now - but I'm sure I'll be adding a few to my Christmas list in the not-too-distant future!

Charlotte x

Thursday, 25 August 2016

On going with your gut

Last night we went to a second viewing of a house we loved.
Loved as in telling everyone at work, everyone in my choir, my parents telling all our family. Loved as in Phil couldn't sleep on Sunday night because he "couldn't stop thinking about it". Loved as in referring to it as "our house". Loved as in planning where we'd put our furniture.

It was perfect.
It was bigger than we needed, and more expensive than we could afford.
This three storey beauty, all shiny and white and brand new.
Four bedrooms, three bathrooms. 
Big kitchen. Manageable garden.
Parking spaces.
Good sized rooms.
Light and bright and wonderful.

It was love the second we walked in the door.

We told everyone about it. I posted about it on Twitter and Instagram.
We were in a perpetual state of anxious excitement.
There were lists of big, scary, adult-y things to do.
Ring the mortgage advisor.
Calculate payments.
What are interest rates like?

I imagined us living there. I imagined our future there. I could see us living in this beautiful house.

It was the one, it was the one, it was the one.
We were so sure.

We arranged a second viewing. Mostly so we could show Phil's parents around our future home.
We were smitten.
I almost didn't go the second time. I was so sure.

We'd uttered phrases like, making an offer next week. And how much can we afford for a deposit.

It was all going so fast and exciting and wonderful and scary and lump in the pit of your stomach and intense and brilliant and terrifying.

We walked past the house while we waited for Phil's parents.
Which road is ours again?
Oh look we'll be right by this new restaurant.
Our house, our house, our house.

We were so excited. We half-listened to stories of how townhouses can be difficult to sell and ignored the faint roar of traffic in the not-very-distant-distance.

We opened the door and...

I don't know.
Something was different.

The house hadn't changed. So why did the living room feel smaller?
Why did we notice little things we hadn't seen before?
The ball in the pit of my stomach grew.

We asked all the questions my Dad told me to ask.
Will the carpets be included?
Fixtures and fittings?
Tiling in the bathroom?
Yes, yes yes.

So why wasn't it feeling right?

We showed them around. This would be our room. This would be the spare room. 
Maybe we'd put a desk in there too.
Three storeys, yes! Let's show you upstairs.
That's the wet room.
We don't even know what we'll do with these rooms yet.
Cinema room? Maybe a gym?

I couldn't shake it.
It didn't feel right.
I started to feel my eyes well up.
The confusion. Disappointment.
This was the one, wasn't it?

I don't know who felt it first.
I don't know who was the first to say, it doesn't feel right, does it?
We both knew.
This wasn't our house.
This wasn't going to be our home.

They say when you know, you know.
But do they say when you don't know, you also know?

But it's perfect, I kept saying. 
The kitchen is the biggest we've seen.
The bedrooms are huge.
The garden is exactly what we want.

And we loved it on Sunday.
Didn't we?
We loved it on Sunday.
Maybe we should sleep on it.
Yeah, let's sleep on it.

But we knew. Right in our guts we knew.
This wasn't going to be our home.
And we don't know why. 

I'm a rational person.
I can't put something down to "just a feeling".
But this time I knew we had to listen.

The same way I knew the second I walked onto the University of Birmingham campus.
The same way I knew that jobs and boyfriends and friendships in the past hadn't been right.

We had to listen.
Our hearts were saying no.
This isn't your house.
This isn't your home.

And already we've accepted it.
It wasn't the one.
We're exhausted and disappointed but mostly relieved.

Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions we'll ever make.
And when we find the one, we'll listen to our guts.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cookbook review: Leon Happy Salads

Before I write this post, I feel like I need to be really honest with you.
I love Leon.
I've loved Leon since the first time I wandered into a branch in London while on work experience six years ago.
If I get the chance, whenever I'm in London I get Leon (especially now there's one in Euston), and when Phil and I went away to Birmingham in April we ate there four times. In three days.
And almost every time I go to Leon, I take a photo of my food (duh) and tweet them incessantly asking when they're opening one in Manchester. And EVERY TIME they tease me by saying "soon". It's been two years, come on guys.
Anyway, I digress. 

This is actually the third Leon book I own, after Leon Vegetarian and Leon Friends and Family (actually, I own one of their minis too, but the least said about that the better - it's basically just a collection of recipes from other Leon books, most of which I already had). I've actually been really disappointed with my other Leon books which is such a shame when I love the brand so much. I haven't been able to pinpoint what it is I've not liked, but many of the recipes I've tried have either been a bit dull or a bit uncreative, which aren't words I associate with Leon at all.

But I was really excited to hear about Leon Happy Salads. Salads are, pretty much, my favourite thing to get from Leon (except for the sweet potato falafel hot box which is my all-time favourite, but is that kind-of a salad?). I honestly really tried to resist buying this but let's face it, I have no willpower when it comes to buying recipe books.

First impressions

First of all, like all Leon books, this book is gorgeous, with thankfully more photos of food and less photos of people compared to the other Leon books. 
I was excited from the get-go with loads of yummy-sounding vegetarian recipes and several recipes that could easily be made vegetarian or pescatarian.

My first thought though was, "will salad be enough for dinner?" and I thought there was going to be a section at the start with ideas of what to serve with some of the salads. I definitely found a mix of salads that seemed "enough" for dinner (those with a main protein or grain) and some that seemed like more of a side.

I was disappointed to find most of the recipes only serve 2 as I like to have leftovers for lunch most days to save me having to make extra lunches for work. I also found a whole section called Lunchbox of salads that only serve 1 - and some of these are a lot of work! I would have preferred a section called Lunchbox to have recipes that made several portions and kept well during the week. Both the Lunchbox-section recipes I tried I ended up tripling!

There were plenty of recipes I fancied though - absolutely loads for vegetarians and many that could be easily adapted. I filled three post-it notes (signs of a good book) with recipes I wanted to make, and planned to cook from the book almost constantly for two weeks. Things I noticed were:
- there was a lot of use of feta (which is great because I LOVE feta)
- lots of fresh herbs to purchase
- the odd few weird ingredients (some I hadn't even heard of!)
- very few salads had a lettuce base (which is good because lettuce is sooooo basic).

Just to note - I'm pretty sure this book isn't designed for you to have salad every night for two weeks. But there was so much variety in recipes it definitely didn't feel like we were having salads every night. Some were hot, some were cold, some had grains, some we had with pitta bread. There's absolutely loads of variety, and I really believe there is something for everyone in this book. But onto the recipes...

Prawn cocktail hour
As you might expect, prawn cocktail is super easy to throw together. I served this on a lazy Sunday evening with sweet potato wedges (prawn cocktail on its own really didn't feel like enough food). I skipped the radishes, watercress, and brandy in the dressing, but it was the fresh herbs (chives and dill) along with the tabasco that really made a difference. It was nicely spicy and refreshing with the avocado and cucumber. So much better than a normal prawn cocktail, and would be lovely starter if we had people over for dinner. Really tasty and filling - definitely a hit in our house!

The Original Superfood Salad
The following night we had the Original Superfood salad, which I'm sure I've had at some point in Leon. I was absolutely crazy about this salad. It was so wonderfully delicious with the feta, mint, peas, herbs and a simple vinaigrette. Next time I would up the herbs and avocado, and cut the broccoli into smaller chunks but I can definitely see this being a regular in our house, and even gets the high honour of "would serve this to guests." Only one negative - it's misleading to say it only takes 5 minutes. That is only the case if you already have pre-cooked quinoa, which I didn't have, but nevertheless, quick to throw together after a long day at work. Potentially my favourite from all the salads I made from this book.

This was a slightly selfish move on my part, as Phil doesn't really like cucumber or raw tomatoes (when I make a quick salad for with dinner, he usually just gets a handful of lettuce!) but I was hoping to win him over with fried feta. FRIED FETA. This was really quick (I was working in London and got back late and managed to throw this together in less than 10 minutes) and I really liked it, but it wasn't Phil's favourite. He had a pitta but I wasn't too hungry so had it alone. I'm not sure for a normal dinner if it would be enough without a grain or protein. It was pretty standard as far as a greek salad goes, but I loved the addition of the fried feta, and I'll definitely be trying that again.

Squashed chilli, houmous and feta
This salad was effectively a lot of my favourite things in a bowl. Instant winner. The squash pieces were way too big and I have no idea how a whole butternut squash cut into 4 would be cooked in just 30 minutes. I might have cut them wrong, but it didn't make it clear how best to cut them. There's quite a few things to do - roast the squash, fry the chillis, onion and garlic, make the feta dressing, mix up the houmous topping - but it came together pretty quickly. I added some roasted chickpeas because... well they're delicious. This was so tasty - definitely a new favourite - and I loved all the flavours. I actually had my cousin over for dinner the night I made this, so it's already been guest-approved! We got 3 large portions, although it's meant to serve 4.

Holy moly, this was good. I've only made tabbouleh once before, and tend to avoid it because I kind-of resent buying herbs just for once dish. In this instance, I didn't have enough parsley and tried three supermarkets before I got hold of any. But it was so, so, so worth it! Phil was a massive fan of this, which surprised me! One thing I couldn't work out was, what do you serve with tabbouleh? I had roasted chickpeas and parsnips and Phil had becon, and I had the leftovers the next day with houmous which was obviously amazing. Is it meant to be eaten as part of a mezze-style meal? With houmous and pitta? Or just on its own? Either way, this was very quick and tasty - 100% making again.

Tomato, feta and lentil salad
This is one from the silly lunchbox section, so I had to triple it to have enough for dinner for two and lunch the following day. Another recipe where the time to cook is misleading - it doesn't include the time to cook the lentils which can be over 30 minutes! This was quick and tasty, but not quite as mindblowing as some of the other recipes we'd had.

Fried halloui and avocado
I should have loved it. I should have been shouting from the rooftops about how much I loved this. Halloumi, avocado, houmous - I love all of those things! But I found all the flavours together to be too cloying, too sweet, just too much. Just way too much going on. Maybe it's because I only had balasmic reduction, not actual balsamic, which added to the sweetness instead of cutting through it. I'm not sure. I also don't really get putting almonds in dressing, rather than just in the salad. A bit of a disappointment.

Moroccan quinoa salad
I've wanted an excuse to buy a bottle of pomegranate molasses for ages and I finally had a chance with this recipe! Although it's worth adding - this book doesn't do much in the way of substitution suggestions. Pomegranate molasses is really tricky to get hold of, and that would definitely put people off (it put me off!), however I've seen many people say lemon juice is a good substitute, so why not suggest that? Anyway, I digress. I found this a bit challenging as I had no idea how much dried quinoa resulted in 100g of cooked quinoa so I kind of had to guess. I subbed in chickpeas for the edamame beans as they're a pain to find and chickpeas felt authentic. This was tangy and tasty and would be lovely on the side of something summery. However it did take a good 35 minutes, not the 10 minutes it suggests.

Karen's squash salad
I really didn't get this salad. In the intro, it says "Karen made this salad for a family lunch and Rachael, who works in our marketing team, loved it so much that it's made it way into this book." So I'm wondering if Karen threw this together from a random mix of leftover ingredients and called it a day? First of all, this serves one and took ages. Why would you go to so much effort to serve one? Two, the flavours just don't go well together. Peas, olives, chickpeas, almonds, sundried tomatoes... these are all nice things, but not together! Three, why would you bother roasting a third of a butternut squash? I had to treble this to make enough for us, which meant trebling the amount of garlic and chilli, which made it way too hot and bitter. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, I just found the combination all a bit weird.

In conclusion, I really loved this book, but the salads we had the first week were far superior to the ones the second week. My mouth is watering thinking of the superfood salad and the tabbouleh, but the least said about the halloumi and avocado salad the better. 

I think there's a really great mix of recipes here. There's hardly any lettuce in sight! I think it would be a great book for someone who wanted to include more vegetables in their diet to open their eyes to the amazing options there are for salads. I do think a few recipes would be better as sides or starters, but most of them could be a full meal.

I loved that most of the recipes were quick and easy to throw together, and I didn't have to make side dishes, except the occasionally toasted pitta. It was perfect for the summer and there were plenty I'd be happy to serve to guests.

It does assume some cooking knowledge, and some ingredients were a bit unusual so some recipes might put off a total novice, but I think there are enough simple, easy recipes with a few inspired elements for an unusual twist.

One criticism I've heard is there is a lot of chopping. Well, I'm a vegetarian so 90% of my kitchen time is chopping, so I'm certainly used to that, but bear that in mind if you prefer a more hands-off cooking experience. There isn't a huge amount of down time.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this. There are a few recipes I can't wait to revisit again and loads more I haven't tried yet. A real hit from Leon (and should hopefully tide me over until they open in Manchester!).

Charlotte x

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Runners - stop calling yourselves slow

Up until about a year ago, my Twitter bio used to include "slow runner". This wasn't any kind of false modesty or humble brag - for me, it was just the truth. I knew I wasn't very fast, and while I wasn't really okay with it, I'd accepted it.

I held onto this "slow runner" thing for a long time, too long really. I let it define me. I used to caveat my race times when asked with "I'm really slow, but..." I used to hate telling people I finished my first half marathon in 3 hours. I was embarrassed even though I trained hard and ran 13.1 miles when only 9 months previous I hadn't been able to run for a minute. If I'm honest, it made me think I wasn't "a real runner."

I'm not sure when the point was when I realised I wasn't slow anymore. My friend Kris was the one to point out my Twitter bio and asked me to change it. "You're not slow anymore." I knew she was right, and it was then that I started to realise how negatively this simple two-word phrase might be affecting other people.

Slow is subjective. One person's slow is another person's "god I would love to be able to run that fast." I'm not blaming the word slow here, no more than I'm blaming the word fat for all the negative connotations around that, I think in reality I'm blaming society for making us believe that only speed matters in running, but I digress. When we call ourselves slow, we make other people feel inadequate. and that's when people give up running, stop running for the joy of it, or when we even give beginners reason to not even start. What's the point if you're going to be slow, right?

But we're all "slow" when we start out. Of course we are. We're not going to be Olympic athletes when we go for the first run since the bleep test. And that's okay. In fact when anyone asks for my advice when they want to start running, the most important piece of advice I can give anyone is "run slowly." Speed and times should not matter when you're starting out or trying a new distance. Just get there, it doesn't matter how long it takes.

And slow running is important. What about the traditional long, slow run? Or the midweek easy runs that are part of any training plan? They are absolutely essential, and they're not meant to be done at full pelt. Constantly running in our red zones is what causes burn out and injury.

I don't want this to sound like a pearl-clutching think of the children! piece, because that's not my point at all. I just think we should all stop the self deprecation, stop beating ourselves up if we don't run a PB every single time we lace up our trainers. 

We're all working hard. I know I'm not slow. I'm not fast, but I've worked bloody hard these last few years. My 9-10 minute miles might not be breaking the world speed record, but they're amazing for me who was running 12-13 minute miles a couple of years ago. I've run two half marathons and a marathon in that time and I'm pretty proud to be oh-so-slightly above average now. I know there's an argument to just focus on you, but we all know that's hard. I'm glad that my friends who run 7 minute miles never make me feel bad, and I'm careful to never refer to my runs as slow.

It's hard. I hate myself a little bit that I only felt I could be truly proud of my running when I finally ran a "decent" second half marathon and I could put the pain of my first three-hour half to bed. I hate that I'm embarrassed by my old race times on swelteringly hot days or unexpectedly rough courses. It's going to take time, but I'm trying.

So let's stop calling ourselves slow. Hell, let's stop calling anyone slow. We're lapping everyone on the couch. And don't forget, a 6 minute mile is just as far as a 20 minute mile.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

How to become a morning exerciser - update

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post called "how to become a morning exerciser".
At the time, I'd been running about 4 months and exercising before work for about 2 months.

I'd been planning to update the post for a while - it was nearly 3 years ago - but when I went to refresh it, I actually found that not much has changed, and a lot of my old advice actually still stands.

And yes, I've been sleeping in my running clothes roughly three times a week since 2013.

Being a morning exerciser is as big a part of who I am now as my blue eyes and my short legs. It's absolutely, 100% ingrained in me, and I cannot imagine anything different. 

If I didn't run before work I would never, ever have made it through my marathon training.

Don't get me wrong - it's an absolutely pain in the bum 90% of the time. I never, ever wake up at 5am and think OOH YAY IT'S TIME TO GO RUNNING NOW. I am tired all the time. There is not a time of the day when I could not happily nap.

If you think I don't have a moment every single morning where I think "I could just stay in bed", then you are wrong, my friend. 

But it's changed my life for the better. Running in the morning gives me no fewer excuses. It means there's no planning, no moving plans around, no rushing home after work to get my sportswear straight on. I've already done it. Some days I forget that I've done it.

It's even more important to me now I run a home. I get home from work about 6pm now, and I'm hungry. I have dinner to make, I have a flat to clean and tidy, I have a blog to write. I am not going out for a run, having a shower, and then starting to cook dinner.

So here's everything I knew then, and what I know now, about exercising in the morning.

Why I love exercising in the morning

  • It's convenient 
What else would I be doing at 5am? I never have to change my plans or rearrange my day or worry about missing my workout if I have to work late or if I'm working away. I don't have to worry about squeezing in a workout after a busy work day - I've already done it. This was particularly important to me during marathon training. I'm not going to pretend a 8 mile run was easy before work, but it was much better than having to go for a 90 minute run after I've already had a long day.
  • It's quiet
I live in the city centre now. If I try to run in the evenings after work I can barely get around people the pavements are so busy. I'm stopping at every crossing for cars. I just can't get momentum. First thing in the morning, the roads are quiet and I have the pavements nearly entirely to myself.
  • It's out of the way
I don't have to spend the day worrying about whether I'll have time to fit my run in. Most of the time I've forgotten I even went for a run by lunchtime.
  • I love having achieved something before most people are out of bed
There's something so satisfying about already having done your workout before people are even up for work. And you can be proper smug about it.
  • It's way cooler in the summer
Urgh running in the summer is the worst but doing it in the morning means it's oh-so-slightly less terrible.
  • You can totally justify more treats
Brownies at work? Well I already ran 5 miles this morning so...
  • I'm already a morning person
Just something to consider - I am a morning person anyway. I love to be in bed before 10pm, and I have absolutely no issue leaving a night out early to get in some zzzs for my morning run. So if you're a real night owl, I can't guarantee this will work for you (but it might!).

How I learned to exercise in the morning
  • I give myself a ridiculous amount of time to get ready
If I'm planning to go for a run at 6am, I'll set my alarm for 5.30am. I'll give myself 15 minutes to wake up, check my phone and slowly ease out of bed, then another 15 minutes or so to put in my contacts, get my stuff together and eat something. I'm not a jumping-out-of-bed person.
  • I sleep in my running clothes
Yes. Including a sports bra. I've been doing this for three years because it works. There is no motivation stronger than already being dressed, and no guilt worse when you know you're already dressed for a run and you roll over. Especially in my freezing cold flat in the winter. There's no way I'm taking my clothes off at 5am. It's my number one trick and an absolute game changer.
  • I have a little snack
For me, it's a slice of malt loaf. I find I really struggle without something if I'm doing anything over 30 minutes. Takes 2 minutes to make and eat and for me, makes a massive difference in my performance.
  • I try to be in bed as early as possible
Except for Mondays, when I don't get home from choir til 10pm, I try to be in bed before 10pm as much as possible when I'm running the next day. We try to avoid doing anything late midweek as a result, except on Thursdays because I don't run on Fridays (Thursday has become our designated cinema night). I'm still tired in the mornings, but it helps to try to squeeze in as much sleep as possible.
  • I have two midweek rest days a week
I run/exercise Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I rest on Mondays and Fridays. It makes me really appreciate Mondays and Fridays (and I get to sleep in my pyjamas!)
  • I give myself enough time to do my workout and not be late for work
Sometimes my Garmin will take 5 minutes to find my location. Sometimes the run will take longer than I expected. I try to give myself as much time as possible so it's not a mad rush when I get back. You just don't need it in the morning.
  • I try to stick to easy-ish workouts
I can never go as hard in the AM as I can at the weekends, so I try to make sure at least two of my workouts are easy midweek. This isn't always easy to do - especially not if I'm doing something like Insanity - but I try not to beat myself up too much if I'm not as fast as I am when it's not pre-dawn.
  • I do as much as I can in advance
When I have a run followed by a strength workout, I get my yoga mat and weights out, put the dvd on and have it ready to go as soon as I get back from my run. Minimise anything you need to do when you're already tired.
  • I always have a goal in mind
It's so so so easy to roll over when you don't have to run, so I always have a goal race or a training plan in place to keep me motivated. I always have something to work towards to make a 5.30am alarm worth it.
  • I enjoy my evenings
Even if it's just a quiet one blogging or watching TV. I'm always grateful that I got up early to do my run so I can enjoy having my evenings to myself.

Some caveats
  • Missing runs will happen
It's not fool-proof. I work away a lot now and sometimes I can't help but miss a run if I have a 6am train (I do bring my trainers if I stay anywhere overnight, though). Last week my alarm didn't go off. Sometimes you'll just feel drained or have a cold or you had a great night last night and fancy some more sleep. You will miss workouts sometimes.
  • Safety first!
With it being quieter first thing, it's also more dangerous. Make sure you always wear something reflective and use an app like Glympse (which I love) so your loved ones know where you are.
  • You have to have your morning routine down
You can't be late just because you're exercising early! I know if I'm washing my hair I need to be done by 7.05am at the latest, and if I'm not washing my hair I need to be done by 7.15am latest. This guides when I get up and when I set my alarm, depending on the length of my workout. Make sure you know exactly when you need to be finished, especially if you're doing something like a specific-length run or a DVD.
  • You will always, always be tired
But you'll feel like a superwoman so...

I know this isn't for everyone, but I do think a lot of people could give this a shot and might love it. If you have kids, ignore all of the above! but right now this works really well for me, and I've even convinced Phil to get on the morning exercise train.

Convinced and want to give it a try? More questions? Let me know on Twitter.

Charlotte x