Tuesday, 10 October 2017

September Life Lately

I've just got back from 8 gloriously relaxing and refreshing (and warm!) days in Spain, so I'm a little behind with catching up on reality!

I've been inspired by Michelle's Blogtober to think about blogging a bit more and considering going back to writing smaller, shorter posts. Like most things in life, I always want to do a bit too much and plan these big, expansive blog posts, which overwhelm me and make me not want to write at all. But I need to go back and think about the kind of posts I used to write and how I can writer smaller, shorter pieces that I love.

I'm really, really enjoying writing my newsletter, though, and it's giving me a totally different creative outlet that I love for all those micro thoughts and ideas that are too small or too private to put so publicly on a blog. You can sign up now if you haven't already!

Saying that, I have coursework due in 8 weeks and I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed by that right now, so maybe my return to regular blogging will be nearer to Christmas!

It feels a bit strange to be looking back on September at already 10 days into October, though I will be including some of my holiday things in this post as technically I went in September, but here's what I've had going on this month.

What I've been doing
At the start of the month I got the good news that I passed my second module of my marketing diploma! Two down, just one more still to go!
Back in 2013, the Stockport 10K was my first ever race and my first ever 10K, and I loved going back and running it again last year. So despite struggling with injuries and illness during my current half marathon training cycle, it was great to run this race, even though it wasn't my best time!
September also brought with it my Dad's 60th and not one, but two celebrations of it! On the day we had meal with some of my close family, then a big family party with all my extended family (my Dad is one of 8 kids so there's a lot of us!).

Where I've been
I've had a trip away to Stafford to visit my friend, Ellen. We had lunch, shopped and went back to her house to drink hot drinks and discuss books. It was lovely.
I've also been to Anfield again, however this time it was for a disappointing 1-1 draw with Burnley (thought we did have a great meal in Liverpool afterwards at Amalia)
I've obviously just returned from a wonderfully relaxing 8 days in Spain. I'm incredibly lucky that my parents have an apartment over there and I've been going since I was a teenager, and it's so nice a refreshing to have a quiet holiday. I'm a big fan of a city break, but I often come back more exhausted than when I left! But going to Spain every year is perfect - I know my favourite things to do, favourite long walks, favourite places to eat, and I can just relax, sleep in, read as many books as I can and go on lots of long walks. It's lovely.
But my favourite thing we did this month was just before we went away. Phil asked me to keep a date free because he had a surprise for me (I LOVE surprises!). But a few days later I realised why the date rung a bell and worked out what it was (surprise ruined!). However, it didn't matter because it was absolutely incredible - we went to see La La Land at the Bridgewater Hall with a live orchestra! It was absolutely amazing and I might have cried. Twice.

What I've been watching
We've had quite a few cinema trips this month (getting the most of my Cineworld Unlimited card!). This month we have been to see Logan Lucky, It, mother! and American Made. Logan Lucky felt a bit like a first draft, though it was very funny and definitely entertaining. I thought It was brilliant - the book is one of my favourite Stephen King books and I thought it was very well done. mother! I actually thought was very good - once I understood it - but I found it very stressful and anxiety-inducing - my heart was beating so fast my Fitbit thought I was exercising! And American Made was surprisingly good, clever and very funny (Phil LOVES Tom Cruise!)

At home, we've just finished The Night Of (I know, we're always late to the party) which I thought was excellent, and we're finally restarting Friday Night Lights, which we've been trying to get through for about 3 years. Phil has seen it all before but the rubbish second season made me stop watching, however I'm really enjoying it again now.

Speaking of Tom Cruise, we also watched Minority Report this month, which was another film I'd never seen!

What I've been reading
Thanks to a very relaxing holiday in Spain where I tried really, really hard to relax a little bit more, I managed to read 10 books over the last month (and a bit).

Here are the books I read this month:
How to stop time
The Gustav Sonata
Sweet Caress
The Nest
The Snowman
Big Little Lies
The Disaster Artist
One of us is Lying
The Circle

My favourites being The Gustav Sonata, which was absolutely beautiful and made me cry, Sweet Caress, which was gorgeous, The Nest, which was my perfect kind of character-driven family drama, and The Disaster Artist, which is a hilarious must-read if you've ever experienced the film, The Room.
Oh and I also hit my Goodreads reading goal for the year of 30 books! Yay!

What I've been loving
The worst thing about finding a brand new podcast you love is that you don't have 6 months of old episodes to binge on - this is the only thing I don't love about What page are you on? As the name suggests, this is a book podcast and I love it already, after only two episodes. I worried about book podcasts cause I thought I wouldn't have read enough books or that they'd spoil books I hadn't read, but it's just like two friends chatting about books, which is exactly what I love to do with my friends! There's only been two episodes so far but it's brilliant. Highly recommend.
On my friend Cate's recommendation, I borrowed Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat from the library a few weeks ago and I've just bought my own copy. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is less a cookbook than a book about the fundamentals of cooking and it's absolutely fascinating. There is so much I didn't know about how to use each of these four elements most effectively! This is an absolutely must-read for anyone interested in the science of cooking - I can't wait to read it again and make notes.

What I've bought
(What I didn't buy in September I've made up for in October for real)
Not loads this month. I did buy the most wonderful floral dress on a payday lunchtime a few weeks ago and I've already worn it three times and I love it. Because yes, I do need more floral dresses, thanks for asking.
I'm still waiting for my parkrun 100 tshirt, so I placated myself by getting myself an Apricot parkrun tshirt with my home parkrun - Bramhall - on. As you know I could bang on about parkrun all day and I feel so strongly about it, so it only felt right to support them by buying this.  I love wearing it on a Saturday and seeing other runners wearing them Bramhall ones - it makes me feel part of the club.

I was supposed to not be buying recipe books, but honestly, Salt Fat Acid Heat has made me rethink cooking so much that I honestly don't think I'll be buying as many and try to focus on being more spontaneous and following fewer recipes. However I did get Hugh's Much More Veg which is a sequel to Veg Everyday which is excellent. It's completely vegan, and while I haven't made anything yet I have had a flick through and it looks excellent.
Finally, on the way to the airport last week I realised we were going to Terminal 1  which means one thing - duty free MAC! I'd been weighing up Lady Danger for ages, decided to buy it, then wobbled when I tried it on and thought it was too orange. Phil said he really liked it though, so I went back and bought it and I'm so glad I did. Maybe it was weird airport light cause this shade is amazing. (I now have 24 MAC lipsticks...)

What I've been reading online
A Rosie Outlook - September Intentions

What I'm excited for
I've got my next half marathon on Sunday and while I wouldn't say I'm excited, I do enjoy racing. I've been plagued with injuries and illness so this is not going to be a PB, and won't even be sub 2 hours, but I'm hoping to enjoy it nevertheless.

We've got another trip to Anfield at the end of the month, and we've got dinner guests planned and a friend coming to stay so that should be exciting. I'm up to my eyes in coursework for my final module at the moment so I need something to break up working all day and then studying all night!

Hope your month has been lovely!

Charlotte x

Monday, 4 September 2017

August Life Lately

Hello, hello! It's September! Don't you feel like you should be buying new notebooks and pencils and a pencil case in the shape of a Pepsi Max can (yep, had one of those!).

Whenever I write one of these posts I'm amazed at how long a month feels. August has felt exceptionally long! Maybe it's because I go on holiday this month!

August has been pretty good! We've been to Whitby, caught up with friends, got very settled in the house and had a few people over. I feel like we've lived here ages and I am so in love with our house. I even love doing the cleaning! I still wake up some mornings and look around thinking "we own this! We finally got there!".

Anyway, August!

What I've been doing
The month started with a night out with my work colleagues to Musical Bingo! Like normal bingo, you get a printed card, but instead of numbers it has song titles and artists on. Each round a brilliantly talented guy at a piano plays different songs and you have to identify them and see if you have them on your card. It was SO much fun, so different and I can't wait to go again!

One of my goals for August was to read every day (I managed it all but one day - the day that I was off sick with a chest infection and could barely keep my eyes open, let alone read a whole sentence!). One thing that has helped has been the Productive app. I have a variety of goals set for my week (read every day, stretch and strengthen my knee twice a week, yoga twice a week) and this app is super simple but makes it really easy to manage by reminding me of my tasks to do throughout the day. I think there's a lot more to it I haven't quite managed yet but for now I like the simplicity.
This month I hit a new milestone in independence - dyeing my own hair! I've been a bottle brunette ("chocolate truffle") for about a year and a half now, but I always get my Mum to do it for me. This month my persistent greys were poking out (insert grandma emoji!) and I knew my Mum was busy, so I decided, after watching a few YouTube videos, to give it a go myself. Admittedly, I covered myself and the bathroom in dye, and managed to completely soak myself to the skin washing it off, but I am freshly dark brown and I love it!
When we first saw our house, the thing Phil wanted to do right away was paint our bright pink bathroom. Now, I don't hate it (and actually I think I'm going to miss it!), but painting it is on the to-do list, so this month we bought some paint samples and I think we've picked the colour! So now we just need to find the time to paint it!

I've been very lucky this month to have spent lots of time with some of my amazing friends. We kept July very quiet to give us time to get settled in the house, but August gave us a packed social calendar which has been lovely. It's been so nice to go out with friends and to have some people over to see our little house! We've had Bundobust with our friend Rosie who was briefly home from Australia, a house party with my friend Kayleigh home from Berlin, and visited our newly-married friends Meg and Si for the first time since their wedding!

But as I mentioned in my last post, a packed calendar naturally led to one thing - a chest infection! I started to get ill while we were in Whitby and by Monday I was completely wiped out. I took Tuesday off work and was only finally feeling human again by Friday! Thankfully I'm loads better now but it's the most ill I've been for ages!

Where I've been
Last weekend took us to Whitby for my third time with Phil's family. We stopped off in Harrogate on Friday night, naturally making sure we got in the queue for a fat rascal at Betty's!
On Saturday Phil and I got up for some parkrun tourism at Harrogate parkrun and we headed over to Whitby. We had an amazing weekend of ice cream, fish and chips, gin tasting, failed escape rooms, losing pennies in the arcade and taking the same photos we take every year. It was everything I wanted it to be.
If you don't know, Phil and I are huge Liverpool FC fans, and we've got tickets to a few matches this season thanks to our club membership we both got for our Birthday. But when Phil announced his friend had two spare tickets to the midweek Champion's League qualifier against Hoffenheim two weeks ago, we couldn't resist. A 4-2 win under the Anfield lights on a Wednesday evening was absolutely incredible, even if we didn't get home til midnight!

We've also been exploring our new home this month. We've found an amazing pub that we can cut through to from our road and we spent a lovely sunny Friday evening a few weeks ago drinking in the beer garden. I can't wait to explore more places!


What I've been eating
I'm still working through Love Real Food so look out for a review of that soon. My favourite things so far have been the chickpea tikka masala and the enchiladas.

I've also been loving my slow cooker for late nights home from British Military Fitness on a Wednesday night.
I finally got a chance to try the Hip hop chip shop this month thanks to Kosmonaut. The deep friend halloumi is to die for.

Another thing I've gotten a real taste for lately is tofu. I've often been indifferent but I've started to really enjoy it lately with broccoli and brown rice and a tasty sauce. My current favourite sauce is Cate's coconut curry sauce which I could eat with a spoon.
Finally this month I learned the ratio of effort to praise of a lemon cheesecake is at least 1:100000. I swear a monkey could have made it, and everyone was going crazy over it. I may never make another dessert again. Recipe here.

What I've been watching
After wanting to watch it for over a year, The Night Of is back on Now TV and it is absolutely brilliant! We have a few episodes left but I am both gripped and exhausted! I think Riz Ahmed is absolutely brilliant and as I'd never seen Four Lions we also watched that this month. Absolutely hilarious.

While we haven't been to the cinema this month (I know! Too busy!) we did watch the Netflix documentary, Icarus, which wasn't what I expected at all. Well worth a watch.

What I've been loving
OMG DID YOU KNOW BRAND NEW HAVE A NEW ALBUM OMG. So Brand New have been my favourite band since I was 14. I've been listening them to nearly half my life. When their last album came out I was 19. 19! I was in my second year of uni! I am so so so happy they have a new album, and it's also BRILLIANT. My little emo self is thrilled.
Also loving friends who buy you awesome clocks for your house.

What I've bought
Not much this month! Another stripey top because £13 stripey tops from Uniqlo are my weakness (I have three), and some insanely bright bedding I got from Aldi for £2.99. SCORE.

What I've been reading
I read two books in August - Night Film and My Shitty Twenties. I read a brilliant article about Night Film, which sums up how I felt. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief, some awful dialogue and a lot of thriller cliches, but it's actually a pretty good book.

I LOVED My Shitty Twenties, Emily Morris' memoir of finding out she was pregnant at university. Most of the book is set in Manchester and I loved all the little references to roads and places that I knew. Emily's writing is a dream and I'm not ashamed to say I cried when it was over.

What I've been reading online
A Rosie Outlook- Turning 33
I've been blogging-friends with Rosie for years, and I feel like I've been with her throughout her journeys through her blog. This year in particular she has had a difficult time, and I admire her strength, her writing and her way of communicating throughout her struggles. So I was thrilled to read her post on turning 33 filled with not sadness, but positivity and hope for a future that wasn't quite what she might have expected.

Guardian - Why we fell for clean eating
There are few things I hate more than the concept of "clean eating" (FOOD IS NOT DIRTY), and this article in the Guardian pin points a lot of my feelings and wonders why people are falling for this food morality.

Blisters and Biscuits - Stop relying on those struggling to start the conversation
I became friends with Louise on Twitter kind of by accident when she blogged about her experience running the London marathon, and now it's nice to have a running friend to talk to about trainers and parkrun tourism. She also writes about mental health, and I thought this piece was absolutely brilliant on how after a tragic suicide people always resort to "I'm here if you want to talk" rather than starting the conversation themselves. As someone who tries to speak out about my mental health, I know how hard it can be, and she is completely right that the onus shouldn't be on the person struggling to speak first.

The Pool - Can our kids really go gender free?
I've been passionate about rejecting gender stereotypes ever since I was 21 and read Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and I feel really strongly about raising children not to conform with their gendered expectations, and this article gives me hope than we can start to eradicate gender norms in future generations.

Sali Hughes - Being a grown up means empowerment - who doesn't want that?
I think this will be a topic for a future newsletter, but I love this piece because I LOVE being an adult. I have no interest in reliving my youth - I love owning a home, earning money so I can pay my mortgage, hey I even want to talk about m vacuum cleaner to anyone who will listen! I love this piece because "adulting" gets a bad rep and actually, there are a lot of great benefits to no longer being a kid!

Buzzfeed - How YouTubers like Zoella are capitalising on the self-care movement
This is a long but really interesting read on the growth of bloggers talking about mental health (good), but using it to sell products (bad). I find it increasingly difficult to find non-biased reviews of many products thanks to so much sponsorship, and as someone often looking for better ways to self-care, I found this really interesting. Self-care, it seems, is just another product to sell.

VOX - With Reputation, Taylor Swift has learned to stop worrying and love capitalism
As someone brought up on country music, I used to love Taylor Swift, and I still like a lot of her old music. I went through a phase of actually really liking her a few years ago, but now, not so much. I've been fascinated by her lately release which feels like a car crash I can't quite look away from. This article in the Paris Review from 2015 on her use of passive aggression in her lyrics is also worth a read.

23 questions from the final series of Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones? Good. Here's a great piece on questions that the final series needs to answer.


What I'm excited for

We FINALLY go to Spain this month and I am so ready. I've chosen my 8 books for a week-long holiday (don't worry, I have backups), and I am so ready for bare legs and long walks and locking my phone in a drawer and reading my books for a week. My parents' just got a new apartment and it has a POOL so I'm pretty excited!

Not gonna lie, excited to paint our bathroom, and another trip to Anfield. Oh and I'm also running the Stockport 10K  for the third time - the first race I ever ran  years ago!

Hope you're having a great September so far!

Charlotte x

Monday, 28 August 2017

You can't win 'em all

Four years ago when I first started doing parkrun I got a PB every week.
Sometimes I scraped a few seconds, sometimes minutes.
Every week I got better and better.

And then, of course, it stopped.

It took 14 weeks for me to get another.
And, of course, it sucked. After weeks of progressively working hard and getting better and better, it's a bitter pill to swallow when you finally plateau.

It was the same with my 10K times. Once I hit under an hour, my goal for the first two years I was running, the PBs came and then went.

And now it's happening with the half marathon too.

I have a race in 7 weeks, my fifth half marathon.
A year ago I ran my first sub-2 hour half marathon at the same race, and it was hands down one of the greatest achievements of my life, up there with my first marathon.

When I ran my fourth half marathon back in May, I didn't care about a PB, but I wanted another sub-2 hour. A much more challenging race, I scraped it, just, with seconds to spare before the 2 hour mark.

So I decided in order to hit my goal of a half marathon PB this year, I'd set my sights to my October race.

Training didn't get off to a great start.
I found myself with a knee injury back in June, hobbling to the finish of a free 5K fun run, and, eager not to lose time in my training, probably launched back into running again too quickly.
The injury plagues me again now as soon as I get past 6 or 7 miles.
Last week I struggled through 10 miles, at an agonisingly slow pace, and gave myself a few days off to recover the strength.

And now I find myself with a chest infection.
The training I was looking forward to throwing myself back into is off the cards for another few days, and although I've only done a fitness class and a parkrun this weekend, the knee pain is back.

The dream of a PB is out of the window, and following close behind is my sub-2 hour goal.

I've never run a 5K over 30 minutes since I hit the goal two years ago, and I've never run a 10K over 60 minutes since I hit that goal either. Even when I've been far from a PB, I've stayed comfortably under that time.

Running a half marathon over 2 hours feels like backsliding. Even though I know I've been injured, I know I've been ill, it feels devastating to not hit that goal again after achieving it, admittedly not comfortably, twice.

I'm starting to dread the race. Worrying about my knee, worrying about my knee during training, worrying about how upset I'll be with whatever over 2 hour time I get.

And I know that's ridiculous. I know I'm being way too hard on myself, but I can't help it.

I feel like I'm letting myself down, with "half marathon PB" firmly on my goals for 2017.

But I know this just isn't my race. This isn't my time. And I know I need to learn that lesson and be okay with it. I need to run over 2 hours and accept it, and know that there will be hundreds of other races in my future where I'll achieve that goal.

I've been so so lucky with injuries. In four years of running I've only ever had minor setbacks, and even those haven't affected me on the day of a big race. Honestly, I'm overdue.

I know it's not going to happen this time. To get sub 2 hours I have to be full fitness, and I know with a chest infection I am not going to be smashing tempo runs and racing intervals like I need to. My body needs a break and it's done some amazing work for me over the years, I need to give it that rest.

In 2015, when I ran the Birmingham Half Marathon, my second half marathon, I smiled the whole time. I'd run my previous half in 3 hours 2, and after months of training I knew I'd be taking at least half an hour off my time. It was my favourite race I've ever run.

My last two half marathons have been run with obsessive Garmin-watching, focused splits and the pressure of a 2 hour pacer right behind me. I know I'm not fit enough for sub 2 hours, so should I even try? Or should I focus on getting rid of this infection, not pushing my knee too much and finishing slower but with a smile on my face?

One of the reasons I decided to run more than one half marathon this year was so the pressure didn't get to me so much, so I didn't have a whole year riding on one race, but it's obviously not worked. So maybe next year the answer is multiple half marathons, four, maybe even five. So each one is a lesson. So the ones that are under sub 2 hours mean something, so that I can appreciate that achievement again.

I have worked hard but some things just aren't meant to be, and I think in this case I need to just accept it. I worked so hard for not one but two sub-2 hour halves, and maybe this is the race where I remember why I love to run. Not for the time, but to finish with a smile on my face.

Charlotte x

Saturday, 5 August 2017

July Life Lately

July 2017. The month WE FINALLY MOVED INTO OUR HOUSE! Finally. It happened. After 9 months of trying to buy a house, two houses, 5 months of living with my parents, we did it. We moved in.

I could just end this blog post there. There have been other things going on, of course, but really, it's been 90% house. Talking about the house, buying things for the house, walking around the house, saying "bye house, I love you" when I go to work, sorting out council tax and water bills and gas and electric and TV licenses.

It's been busy. Getting back into the routine of adult life is hard. The food shopping, the cleaning, the meal planning, the organising, the bills. I feel like I've not done an awful lot this month, but I also feel exhausted!

Blogging has taken a huge back seat lately. I'm not super inspired to write blog-style content, I'm super-busy, and when I am writing, it's for my newsletter. It's been really refreshing to experiment with a new content form, and I've been really enjoying trying something new. I'll always come back to this blog, and there will always be at least one of these posts every month, but for now I'm really enjoying writing email content instead. So if you're missing my mindless rambles, make sure you sign up to my email!

Anyway, here's what's been going on this month...

What I've been doing
So obviously, we bought a house! And we've been buying things for the house and moving things around in the house and living in the house and still not quite believing this is our house. We've spent nearly 5 hours in IKEA. We bought a vacuum and a lawn mower and new plates and tea towels and cushions and photo frames and clothes rails. It's all kinds of weird and stressful and exciting.
I might write about this in more detail in another post (or more likely, in my newsletter) but the weirdest thing has been the realisation that 1) this is our house and 2) we could live here for an infinite amount of time. Before I've only really lived in temporary accommodation - university halls, living abroad, renting our flat in Manchester. It's weird thinking that we could knock walls down or build new rooms or completely rip things out. Obviously we aren't going to right now, but it's weird to have that option.

Right now it's a bit overwhelming, there's a lot of house and there's a lot to clean, but it's so amazing to finally be in!
Another awesome thing that happened this month - I ran my 100th parkrun! It was such an amazing day. We went to Heaton parkrun because they have milestone vests so I got to wear this fetching 100 bib and I got a shout out at the start and loads of people were saying congratulations! It was amazing. There's a huge backlog on tshirts so I won't be getting mine for a while, but who would have thought 4 years ago I'd have done 100 parkruns?
Similarly fitness-related, I mentioned this last month, but Phil and I have started to do British Military Fitness and it's awesome! I go once a week as I'm in the middle of half marathon training at the moment, and Phil goes twice, and we love it. It's challenging, of course, but it's so much fun. You get your first session free so you can try it out and we were hooked right away. Every session is different, it's a great group of people and you can really push yourself while having a great time. If you're into fitness at all I really recommend it.
And one more milestone this month, I had my 10th blood donation! About 3 years ago I went to give blood and was told I was anaemic and wasn't about to donate for a year, so I'm so glad I can give again. I feel so strongly about giving blood and I'm always trying to drag people along with me. My Dad recently found out he isn't able to donate any more and he was devastated he can't keep helping, so if you want to sign up, do it for my Dad!

What I've bought
Did I mention I bought a house? Haha! Not much this month which could probably be expected. I did get two brilliant new recipe books though - Love Real Food and Fresh India. I absolutely love Kate's blog so I was so excited for her book. I'm currently working through that for a review on the blog, and Fresh India is one of those books I keep picking up and browsing through. Everything just looks so delicious!
And finally, something I bought, although not for myself was a recipe book for my Mum from This is Your Cookbook. As I was moving out and I did most of the cooking at home, I decided to make her a cookbook for her Birthday full of recipes I'd made for her while I'd lived at home. It was hard work and time consuming to type up 36 recipes, but it looks so professional and was such a great gift!

What I've been eating
I've been kind of obsessed with the air fryer tofu that Gemma kept posting on Instagram and Twitter and decided I really wanted an air fryer of my own. Luckily I remembered my Nan had one, and after my Mum had a chat with her, it turns out she's never used it and was happy to give it to me as a moving in present! I've only used it a few times so far (it's huge!) but so far it had made excellent chips and wonderful crispy tofu, so it's definitely a keeper!
I mentioned before the book, Fresh India, and a few weeks ago my Mum came over for dinner so I decided to make a selection of dishes from the book. We had baked onion bhajis, paneer skewers, a dal, some dips and chutneys, rice and naan and it was excellent! I'm really excited to cook more from that book!
Last week, my friend Riven and I were wondering where to have dinner when we decided it was time I lost my pho virginity. We went to Pho in the Corn Exchange for my first ever bowl. I especially enjoyed adding all the toppings!
It was my colleague's Birthday last week so I trawled through my Pinterest to find a recipe she'd sent me about a year ago - salted caramel cookie bars. They were super easy to make and oh god so good. Definitely making them again!

What I've been watching
We've had a few cinema trips this month. We've been to see It Comes at Night, which was a nice surprise and I'm glad we'd read a few reviews because I don't think it was what a lot of people expected. We also watched War for the Planet of the Apes after working our way through the previous films - this one was definitely my favourite. And finally, Dunkirk in IMAX, which was absolutely incredible.
We've also been watching a lot of TV - we finally, after over two years, finished the US Office this weekend. I felt the last couple of seasons were a bit disappointing, but now going back and rewatching old episodes we've remembered how brilliant it is. We've also obviously been watching Game of Thrones and this week finished The Handmaid's Tale. The book absolutely changed my life as a teenager and I believe it was one of the reasons I went to university to study literature, and as a woman and a feminist, I don't think there's been a more poignant time for this adaptation. I thought everything about it was brilliant.
Oh and we finally watched The Room for the first time. OH HAI MARK.


What I've been reading
I've read 3 books this month. I really loved Skippy Dies which took me most of the month at 600+ pages, but was a really enjoyable read that I find myself still thinking about.
I also absolutely adored Anything is Possible, the latest Elizabeth Strout. I've read three of her books and she is just the most amazing writer. Her books are just about... life, but they are so beautiful. I nearly had a cry multiple times reading this.

Finally, I read The Girls over the course of a weekend. I found the writing way too over the top,  however it was a nice, fast-paced read and I did find myself getting through it quickly.

What I've been reading online
The Pool - Should we be better at bragging?
The Pool - Overcoming envy is one of the most useful things you can do in your 30s
Ask Polly - It seems like my friends don't like me
The Pool - Sick days should be used for mental health too
The Pool - Worrying about wellness is bad for you - on lots of levels
Rosie - How to slow time
Vix Meldrew - The Worst thing about mental illness
The Pool - Can you be a feminist and not have every little decision, hobby and opinion questioned at length by asshats?
Vix - Life on Anti Depressants

What I'm excited for
We've got lots going on in August - I think we're busy every weekend! The thing I'm most excited about though is going to Whitby! We didn't go last year after going two years ago and three years ago, so I'm looking forward to getting away for a break.

Hope you've had a great July!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Cookbook review: The Roasting Tin

For all my recipe-book-buying, I have to admit that I'm not that creative in the kitchen.
I guess these two go hand in hand - I'm not very good at creating something from scratch and I need someone to tell me what to do.

I nearly always follow recipes, and while I do make the occasional substitution (am I hell paying for pine nuts - sunflower seeds will be fine), I tend to play it quite safe.

I was supposed to be on a recipe-book-buying-ban (aren't I always trying, unsuccessfully, to be on one of those?!), when I came across this book via my friend Sarah, who had won it at work. I was intrigued by the easy concept and the hands-off nature, especially after a long day at work. However, I wasn't sure how meat-centric the recipes might be with it being a book dedicated entirely to roasting.

Sarah assured me there were plenty of veggie recipes, and then the author joined in the conversation too, and said there were lots of veggie and fish recipes, plus the infographics at the start of each chapter made everything easy to adapt.

I was intrigued! And after a quick flick through in Oliver Bonas waiting for a train, I of course, bought it.


First Impressions


First impressions was that there were indeed plenty of veggie recipes and plenty that I was excited about. There were even a few meat recipes I wondered how I could adapt! I did especially love the infographics at the start of each chapter which gave you a bit of a formula and timings to adapt the recipes for whatever you fancied (or had in your fridge).

I was intrigued by the "one-pan-meal" element of it, as I'm usually quite wary of that, and as a volume-eater, I always wonder what side dishes I might need or if I'll be hungry after. Some dishes seemed to be veggie-only and didn't have recommendations for what to serve them with, and I couldn't be sure if this was because they could stand alone, or if you were supposed to supplement them with a side dish or some carbs.

Anyway, here's what I made...

Steam-roasted salmon & broccoli with lime, ginger, garlic & chilli
At my parents', we usually have at least two meals across the four of us. You'd think I was the awkward one as a veggie, but it's actually my Dad who proves to be the most awkward, as both my Mum and Phil will eat whatever I cook.

So making this for all four of us was a risk.

However, we had four completely clean plates! This was super quick, easy and delicious - definitely one I'll be making again! The only annoying thing is I can't remember what I served it with, but I think it was cauliflower rice or mash (must make better notes going forward!).
(Fancy giving it a go? You can find the recipe here)

Spiced cauliflower, sweet potato and okra with yoghurt
So as you might see from the photos, no okra here. Not something I can get easily in Aldi! So with my new-found veg-swapping confidence, I used courgettes instead.
God this was so unbelievably delicious. So so so so so good. I could eat it again right now. The flavours were so tasty and it was so easy to make, plus I think you could easily swap in any other vegetables you fancy.
It took about an hour in total, but it's very hands off, so it's nice time to curl up with a book rather than having to jump up and stir something every 5 minutes!
Worth adding - I nearly didn't bother with the almonds but I'm so glad I did.

Crispy olive and pine nut cod
Okay in this case I think I made too many substitutions. I used sunflower seeds (as mentioned earlier) rather than pine nuts and they didn't really crisp, plus I think using frozen and then defrosted fish made this a bit watery, so it didn't really taste of anything. However I enjoyed using a mix of veg not just tomatoes - I used courgettes, tomatoes and peppers. Next time, more olive tapenade!

Ras el Hanout Slow roasted mushrooms with pine nuts, halloumi and parsley
Ooh this one is super yum. I've actually made it twice now. It takes a little longer than some of the other recipes - about an hour and 20 - so it's a little bit long for us midweek. I love swapping some of the mushrooms out for sweet potatoes which make it more of a complete meal. The second time I made this we had it with houmous and pitta and it was amazing. This is definitely one of my favourites from the book.

Bulgur wheat with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, feta and pine nuts
This is one of the quicker recipes, and we had this as a side dish at a bit of a mini BBQ we had a few weeks ago (okay, we just got the George Foreman out, but it was close enough!). I had this alongside veggie and halloumi kebabs and salad and it was the perfect side dish. I might reduce the bulgur wheat next time if I was going to have this alone, or serve it again as a side dish. I also like this recipe because it's very easy and full of things I usually have in my storecupboard!

Squash, aubergine and halloumi
This was one of the only recipes I probably wouldn't make again. It was nice and had some of my favourite things in it - halloumi, aubergine, butternut squash - but I found it a little bit dry. This might be another that is better as a side as it's quite heavy on the bulgur.

Spiced roast aubergine and potatoes with coconut basmati
I managed to get Phil to eat aubergine, which is always an achievement. I absolutely loved this, especially with the coconut rice which I almost didn't bother with. What I love about this book is it's so adaptable - I added mushrooms and next time I'm going to swap the aubergines for courgettes to appease Phil's aubergine dislike. I'm actually planning to make this again this week!

Honey-roasted carrots and parsnips with quinoa and rocket
I still can't decide how I felt about this one. It tasted a bit like Christmas, thanks to the rosemary and some leftover sage I threw in. I found the honey made it a bit too sweet. I'm still a bit unconvinced by cooking quinoa in the oven and some bits still felt a bit gritty, and I added extra water because I felt unsure it was going to work! This was another that I think might work as a lovely, wintery side dish, but on its own was a little bit dry and repetitive. Maybe some chickpeas or lentils would help bulk it out, or oooh, veggie sausages! Maybe I'll try that next time.

Sage-roasted butternut squash and mushrooms with feta and tomatoes
Annoyingly, I forgot to make notes on this recipe! BUT I remember it being really, really good and I loved the mustard-y rocket on the side (however, it didn't keep well with the dressing on, surprisingly). I loved the melty hot feta. Ooh yum, definitely making this again.

Conclusion

This is one of the best books I've bought in ages. I absolutely love it. It's perfect for when I'm super busy, because I can just throw everything in the oven and forget about it.

My next step is going to be looking through the meat recipes and seeing how I can adapt them to be veggie-friendly, as this book has given me loads of inspiration to experiment and not just follow the steps.

I bought this book for my Mum for her Birthday and I can't stop recommending it to people. I know loads of people who have bought it after I've raved about it so much!

It's perfect for busy people, quick and straightforward, and I love that I can get on with other things when I don't have time to stand over the hob. It makes excellent lunchbox leftovers too!

I can't recommend this book enough!

Charlotte x