Sunday Night Meal Prep..

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The roller coaster that is healthy living seems to get derailed with frightening ease at times, especially if you head in to the week unprepared. Personally, I find that my most successful weeks always start with a disciplined, well planned Monday, but that in itself requires some Sunday pre-planning. And so here I am, on a chilly Sunday evening, trying to organise the perfect healthy Monday, when really I want to cuddle up with my book by the blazing fire.

For the last little while, I have been using the app 8fit (on a 30 day free trial) to help organise my eating and workouts, so I thought I would give you a sneak peak and share my plans for a healthy tomorrow.

Firstly, I start my day sipping some water on my way to the gym. As tomorrow is to be img_2305freezing, I don’t give myself time to think about things (i.e.press snooze and drift back to sleep), just set the alarm for 6.40am, dress in the dark in my work-out clothes that are lying by the bed, brush my teeth, grab my bag and go. The 8fit model  is based on daily (or as close to it as possible) short workouts, but to justify the trip to the gym, I either adjust them or do a couple of them together with some added cardio, whatever adds up to about 45 mins. I also did a couple of ‘at home workouts’ last week, but our beloved dog Herbie thinks it is a game and it all got a bit comical and slobbery…he’s not really ready for ‘yoga with your pet’ classes, and I am not really that kind of pet owner. Here’s a glimpse at my modified version of tomorrow’s workout:

Workout:

The actual workout is completely different every day, but tomorrow is:

  • Warm-up of 5 mins cardio, 30 secs fast feet, 10 arm rotations, 10 inch worms, clockwise and counter-clockwise leg circles and 45 secs of mountain climbers.
  • 4 sets of swimmers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of push ups (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of mountain climbers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of deep squats (45 secs)  with a short rest in between.
  • I then finish with another 10 minutes cardio on whatever machine I fancy and a couple of plank exercises.

After this I eat breakfast at work with a strong black coffee. Tomorrow’s option is Greek yogurt with blueberries, flaked almonds and always a drizzle of honey. This is usually enough for me, but if I am starving, I keep some of Lizi’s granola close by and I can sprinkle in a handful.

Lunch, and here is where the prep is vital, is all packed up and waiting just for a little re-heating. I need something quite substantial on a Monday, because I teach a sports class in the afternoon, and then have to take my best friend Herbie out, so it is my most active afternoon of the week. Tomorrow, lunch is a chicken faijta wrap.

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Ingredients:

  • Coconut oil
  • Free Range Chicken Breast
  • Half a red onion sliced
  • Sliced peppers (I use red and yellow)
  • A handful of sliced mushrooms.
  • Generous sprinkle of cajun seasoning
  • A handful of mixed leaves
  • A tablespoon of hummus

Method:

  • Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken.
  • Add the red onion, peppers and mushrooms and fry until the chicken and the vegetables are cooked.
  • Season with the Cajun spices.
  • Add to a wrap spread with hummus and a handful of salad leaves.

I cook a big batch and pop it in Tupperware to use over a couple of days for lunch/ supper.

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After work, I wrap up warm and get some fresh air with the dog, before starting on the evening meal. I try to cook mid-week meals that work for the next day’s lunch so tomorrow, given that it is to be freezing, I have planned a beef and green bean stew. It’s healthy and full of veg, especially with a portion of steamed tender-stem broccoli on the side.

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I am not a big snacker, which may seem like a good thing, but I think it leads to wanting portions that are bigger than advisable. I am working on this, and have a plan to buy smaller plates in an effort to play tricks on my errant appetite. I drink a peppermint tea after dinner to aid digestion, and like a little dark chocolate for a treat.

Coffee is one of my big vices, so I am going to try and limit it at least a little more this week in order to up my currently paltry intake of water. So, with good intentions in place, shopping done and meal prep underway, I am hoping this will be a good week on the road to health and fitness. If more days could be like a well-organised Monday, and wine and pizza Fridays became a thing of the past, maybe just one year I would achieve those bikini body goals…..but man would I miss wine and pizza. And who could live a life without crisps??  xoxo

Life after TV….

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32075816076_0e74ff801bOf all the slightly bizarre things I have done in life, none seem to have bemused people as much as getting rid of our television set. It evokes really strong reactions in people, although it has no impact whatsoever on their lives. It shocks people, upsets people and almost angers them. Many doubters rolled their eyes and predicted we would last a month at most. Some seemed to think we needed a psychiatric assessment. More that our marriage would not survive so radical a move. There seemed to be an impression that we would be surrounded by a wall of silence and spend our evenings staring at walls or into the open fire. But it really is not as tragic as all that.

Firstly, the reason behind the madness. Basically, we had found that the TV had become constant background noise in our lives, an inanimate object that had gained the stature of a family member. If it was quiet it was worrying, so it was always flickering and murmuring in the background. It demanded attention, baiting the eye, even when it had nothing worthwhile to offer in return.

Our decision was finally made when we reflected on our viewing habits and had to admit that we were essentially watching little other than re-runs of shows that we knew almost by heart – Frasier, Two and a Half Men, Friends and other 90’s sitcoms. I also had a penchant for some pure chewing-gum TV like Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians, offerings that my world can surely survive without. Yet there it was, requiring its own licence, guzzling energy,  but not really contributing enough to warrant 50 inches of space, in our new and rather tiny abode. So that was it – we moved to our new house and sent the TV to a different geographical location. Now we live sans gogglebox.

But let’s keep things in perspective; it is not as if we have reverted to a bygone era, where we huddle around the wireless, awaiting news from the outside world. We don’t, although there is a wireless. It’s weird but I feel the constant need to reassure those struggling with our decision that we do have  Netflix, albeit the most basic package, so only for use on one device at a time. And I hear those of you smugly now thinking….sure that’s TV!!! And I don’t argue; remember this was a casual enough decision to us and not one that seemed any big deal. I don’t claim to never watch a series or a movie – that was never what this was about. There is just far less of it, and it is far more focused.

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And that’s the main difference. We don’t consume Netflix in the same way as we did traditional television. In my experience Netflix, for all its promotion of the binge watching epidemic, requires some active decision making on the part of the viewer. It is not about constant random flicking, and we have never left it on when no one is watching it. There is also a greater tendency to go for new, good quality productions and, while I have to admit to watching very little of late, my husband has been very taken with The Crown and more recently The People vs OJ Simpson. But our use of Netflix is more conscious, less passive, and we watch it very sparingly.

We also….wait for it….. READ BOOKS.

Actual books made from paper and even borrowed from a library….it is all delightfully booksquaint.  And yet I am not reading anything as much as I would like – my phone may need to go out the window for that – but I do read on a daily basis, and with the benefit of giving the piece of writing my full attention. Having never really got the huge fuss about The Alchemist, I am currently loving Paulo Coelo’s The Zahir. It is the simple wisdom that peppers the pages that I am enjoying, particularly gems like this:

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

And we listen to music, currently a lot of vinyl, which is expanding my musical knowledge no end. I am a bit of a philistine I admit but that allowed me to only yesterday discover Manfred Mann, and if you have never heard the song “Waiting for the Rain”, please give it a listen. It is stunning…I love it, and am pretty sure that if the  TV stood where the record player now resides, this, and discoveries like it, may never have happened.

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I do have to concede that for all the time devoted to books and vinyl, far more is still devoted to YouTube and general internet trawling. I do want to cut back, but I may be an addict living in blissful denial. That is not to say that I do not have some wonderful gems to share from the wonderful world of the web, I really do. For a glimpse of journalism and general penmanship at its finest, I love the New Yorker. For example, “What happens to the Deported” is a poignant and honest look at the human side of anti-emigrant policies, similar to those advocated by the inimitable Mr. Trump. The New Yorker is definitely one of the world’s seriously quality publications.

redOn a lighter note, I love to check in with Red Online, almost as much as I love poring over the physical magazine with a coffee, and the reviews of books, films and Netflix are proving particularly beneficial in a post-tv era. In blogs, the lifestyle blog “The Tig” is visually stunning and has some fab inclusions in its Living & Food sections  – you can make Sweet Potato and White Bean soup while listening to their Winter Vibes playlist – bliss.

And lastly, there is no escapism I am currently enjoying more than curling up in a big armchair by the fire and listening to the beauty and lifestyle updates of Lily Pebbles and Megan Ellaby. Love these girls and their individual styles.

And so I say with conviction – that old TV, I don’t miss it at all!!!!!

 

January Favourites

January can be quiet on the retail front, due to the financial incontinence of the festive season and some general January sales fatigue.  I hate rooting through racks and racks of sale stock, preferring my occasional shopping sprees to be a little easier on the eye. I am far more into a simple, clean aesthetic than having to search through the rubble of the previous season, frantically seeking a diamond in the rough. Therefore, I like to wait until the shops restock and reorganise and the sale racks are packed away again. This said I have still manged to uncover a few January favourites, and here are a selection of my top picks from the beginning of 2017:

Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel

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I picked up a mini version of this cleanser in the Space NK January sale while I was in London. It was reduced by 50% due to the festive packaging (it was in a cracker), making it a bit of a steal at just £9. Although I was aware that this is a bit of a cult classic, especially among beauty bloggers, I knew very little about the product and had no idea what to expect. The product describes itself as “an illuminating vitamin melting cleanser” and to be fair, it does melt into the skin, before cleansing and illuminating it. In short, it does what it says on the tin!!

The cleansing gel is orange in colour, has a pleasant perfume and a little goes a long way. It looks very oily on application, and this alarmed me a little, as my skin can already be quite oily, but this was not an issue as the Oskia Renaissance cleans and moisturises without leaving any greasy residue or tacky sheen.

Using just one pump, I apply the cleanser to dry skin and massage it in for a minute or so. Generally, I leave it to work on the skin while I brush my teeth and then rinse it off, after jumping in the shower, using a facecloth soaked in warm water . Although it does dissolve make-up, I rarely use it to remove mine, preferring a different routine in the evening.

Overall this product, with its combination of ingredients like pumpkin enzymes, Vitamin C and E and Starflower Oil, is a beautiful cleanser that leaves the skin feeling soft and nourished. I will definitely repurchase this new favourite.

Kiehl’s Amino Acid Conditioner

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This, in my humble opinion, is a life-changing purchase!!!

Yes, I know it is just conditioner. Yes, I know it is not imperative to my survival. But OMG, this has made my life so much easier and sprinkled it with just a little extra happiness. I had heard Anna, from The Anna Edit, mention this product on her YouTube channel a few times, and so decided to pick up a travel size version in Selfridges. What a great decision. I genuinely noticed the difference instantly and just a few days later, I was splurging on the full size version in the Kiehl’s Duty Free Shop at Stansted Airport. It is so so so good.  I really didn’t know it was possible to feel so strongly about a hair care product but, given that I had started to really struggle with knotting ends, even with recently trimmed hair, I was crying out for something to help.  TBH I didn’t expect the results I got from this silicone-free daily conditioner, as years of blonde highlights tend to call for some strong chemical detangling, but just a little worked through the ends and, left for a couple of minutes, makes tough tangles a thing of the past. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

A Classic Blazer

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My next favourite for the beginning of the year is a fashion buy and it was a bit of an emergency purchase for a work event. This type of panic purchase does not always work out too well but this time I think the item is divine. It is this blush pink blazer from the new collection at River Island. It fits well, I love the ruched sleeve detail and the colour is on-trend as winter gives way to spring. I think it will get loads of wear both for work and leisure. I paired it with simple black skinny jeans, a vest top, heels and a little statement jewellery. Cute but classic.

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Generally, I make my own granola, but the oven situation in our new house is not great and so, until the kitchen refurb is complete, I am largely avoiding recipes requiring baking. fruit bowlHowever, granola with Greek yoghurt and berries is my favourite post-gym breakfast and so I had to seek out a good shop bought version. I opted for Lizi’s Original Granola which contains  Jumbo Rolled Oats, Cashew, Walnut and Hazelnut pieces, Pumpkin, Sunflower and Golden Linseeds, and Desiccated coconut. It is delicious, filling and releases energy slowly. I like it with a spoon of Total 0%, a drizzle of Agave and a sprinkling of fresh berries. Yum.

So, in a pretty frugal month, as pennies are pinched for the cosmetic overhaul of a kitchen, these were a few of my favourite purchases. And now for a few other bits and bobs…

At the beginning of the month, I really enjoyed the Will Smith movie, Collateral Beauty, which I thought was really under-rated by reviewers. Based on the premise that as humans “we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death”, the film looks at what happens when death steals what is most precious from you, and love and time no longer seem to hold any appeal. This is a movie all about grief, and personally I thought it was sweet, sad and really tugged at the heart-strings. Now I just need to work on curtailing catatonic sobbing in public places when I watch something emotional  – a New Year’s Resolution perhaps!!!!

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We no longer own a television, and instead rely on YouTube and Netflix for our viewing choices, and so, this month, I really loved the relaxed vlogging style of the beautiful Estée Lalonde and some healthy living inspo from Niomi Smart. I have been listening to lots of Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park on our new record player. And finally, I am reading and enjoying a novel called Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. And that’s a wrap for my January favourites 2017. Hope you are having a lovely beginning to the new year xo

 

 

 

La La Land: A Little Review

img_2265In a subtle dig at Los Angeles, and possibly contemporary society in general, La La Land suggested that the denizens of the modern world “worship everything and.. value nothing”. Given that we live in a world which appears to consider the Matcha Latte or cooking with Coconut Oil necessary to its very survival, I had to admire the insightful observation. But in satirising a Samba and Tapas bar for trying to cater to whims and not sticking to one thing and doing it right, I felt the movie came dangerously close to unearthing its own major weakness. In trying to be a musical, a romantic comedy and a nostalgic look at movies through the ages, my personal opinion was the film slightly over-extended itself.  Its 14 Oscar nominations suggest that I am in a minority of one in my more critical appraisal.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a movie without strengths – far from it. Its ability to be modern yet still nostalgic was admirable, and in ways it managed to answer one of its own big questions. “How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” This was the movie equivalent of the Jazz debate – a film that wanted to be both revolutionary, yet traditional. A movie striving to embrace cinematic triumphs of the past but remain very much of its own time – and to be fair there was obvious successes, with the movie justifiably achieving critical acclaim.

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It is also a beautiful movie – opening as a traditional musical (with a completely over the top but fabulously choreographed chorus scene on a freeway) and sidestepping into a dramatic rom-com at intervals. The score was well-written and the music largely upbeat and catchy. The costuming had a beautiful retro-feel and the cinematography was exquisite throughout – especially for LA lovers. Although the singing and dancing was definitely not flawless, there was something endearing about that, and both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are engaging actors who have a girl/boy next door likability. He has the cheeky twinkle in his eye, she is all under-stated beauty and affable charm. So what was the problem?

For most viewers, it would appear nothing. But for me – well I will try to explain. This was ostensibly a bittersweet love story where romance and ambition are placed on a collision course and the decisions made will change the trajectory of both characters’ lives. Classic themes – universal and engaging. Both hero and heroine reciprocate the notion that “I am always gonna love you” – but with very different dreams, can such noble sentiment translate into a future? The problem with this film was that I didn’t care. I love, love, love romance in my movies but I really didn’t care. I didn’t believe enough in either Mia’s acting dreams or Seb’s unending love for her. The story of her big break was unconvincing, the veracity of his love no different. Personally, I felt between channelling nostalgia for old Hollywood, breaking randomly into song or waltzing around LA; the movie lost the plot a little – and for me, when the film loses sight, even just a little, of the story it is trying to tell, then it loses just a little of where its heart and soul should be.

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This was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon – but a record number of Oscar nominations??? Sorry guys, I just don’t quite get it.

P for Pilates (an activity obsessed with peeing)

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Apologies for the title. Generally it is very unlike me to resort to toilet references in my writing – despite my nearest and dearest loving a bit of rude humour – but my latest dalliance in the more meditative physical activities can only be comfortably reflected on through an ironic lens.

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Given that it is “Healthy January” (she types through a mouthful of crispy bacon sandwiched in a buttery English muffin) it seemed the ideal time to take up a new activity, and also get to hang out with a friend that I don’t usually see enough of. So a couple of evenings ago, off we went to the first night of a new Pilates course. It was intermediate level (a bit ambitious given that I can’t even figure out the breathing) and was in a lovely, welcoming studio with all the equipment provided.

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Now I am no stranger to exercise, but I have always lacked the subtlety for calm, precise activities, and I am definitely more suited to rugby than yoga. Can you see how Pilates may be a problem? On top of that, I am the world’s most competitive person when it comes to anything in the sports family, so when the person beside me (the type of person who has been doing three classes a week for the last 10 years) can stand on her head, I want to try it too – despite still not having a clue how to “find my centre” or “engage my core”. It’s not pretty – arms and legs everywhere and lots and lots of wobbling. And then there’s  a completely irrational desire to push over one of those perfectly centred people who look stunning in Lycra and seem tranquil in even the most awkward pose (when us normal people are concentrating so hard we look like we are trying really hard not to fart!!!)

And seriously what is with Pilates instructions? – “make your belly-button disappear” – given that it is attached to my belly, if I could make it disappear I can assure you I would not be bothering with Pilates!!! “Don’t let me see your ribs when you breathe” (Not such a problem, as I had forgotten I was supposed to be breathing at all in the effort to follow all the bizarre instructions) and the repeated mantra “imagine you are trying to stop yourself from peeing” – the very mention of the word making me petrified that I was going to lose all bladder control right there and then. Then there was this weird circle thing (see above), and you were to squeeze it very hard whilst panting like you were in an ante-natal class…and that was really bloody difficult (given that your butt was off the ground, you were squeezing a plastic ball between your thighs, a leg was in the air and you had completely forgotten how to breathe). And don’t get me started on the constant threat of mind-blowing foot cramp and the fear of public writhing and screaming….and this is supposed to be relaxing!!

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But the hour flew!!! And nobody died. And the very sweet instructor suggested that I practice at home (I think she knew I was really a beginner overestimating my abilities) and despite everything I enjoyed it. And I can definitely only improve. So back I go next week, to try harder to become centred, and not to feel I have to beat the girl beside me when it comes to holding the Pilates plank!! And learn how to “squeeze (still not sure what exactly) like you are trying to stop yourself peeing”. An invaluable life skill to master xo

What I eat in a day: the healthy version

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First off, to acknowledge the long, long time between posts and to commit to rectifying the situation. The lack of posts was not due to any loss of interest in the creative outlet that is blogging, but rather to a loss of the other vital component for any blog – an internet connection. Thankfully, having just moved house (not so I could blog – that would be a tad dramatic!) this situation appears to be rectified. And so, expect a return to regular updates on food, beauty, books, travel and, this year, lots and lots of interiors (because that’s what happens when you buy a 100 year old house that needs work!) But that is for another day…

Today, let’s focus on health and fitness. In a month of resolutions and restarts, today was a welcome return to a life more healthy, after a prolonged season of goodwill and excess (and for excess read chocolate, cheese, crusty bread and white wine). But let’s not dwell on that (for fear I am tempted by the remaining Cadbury’s selection box) and look at the daily diet of someone trying to be healthy (without being vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, dairy free, sugar free, or any other rigid diet that is very admirable but just not for me). For me, we are talking simple healthy choices  –  no chocolate for breakfast, ditch the white bread and not a a cracker with brie to be seen.

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So what did I eat in a day?

I started the day with a mug of warm water with lemon and a banana, eaten in the car on the way to the gym (she says with a hint of smugness). After my workout though, things got a little rushed and the planned breakfast to refuel was forgotten. In fact, two coffees (it’s an addiction you can read more about here) saw me through to lunch.  Not ideal I realise, but that’s just how things went today and I did regain a little ground with a super healthy lunch.

As part of a working lunch meeting, I had a meat free salad box from a local healthy cafe here in Athlone called Eat Unique, where salads are taken to a whole other level of deliciousness (and, let’s be honest, salad in January needs all the help it can get).  My box was made up of a selection of seven salads without even a hint of the ubiquitous limp lettuce leaf. The picture (which was taken by the cafe, not me, but I don’t think they’ll mind) gives you a pretty good idea of the amazing fresh and healthy selection to pick from.

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Throughout the day I sipped more water than usual, still nowhere near enough, but didn’t eat anything else until dinner. I didn’t even drink any more coffee!!!!

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And so to dinner… Cooking just for myself tonight, I chose a prawn stir-fry with rice noodles, adapted from Lean in 15. It was quick, simple and very tasty. It doesn’t really warrant a recipe but, if you want to give it a try, all I did was heat some coconut oil and saute whatever veg I had in the fridge. Today that was red onion, courgette, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, fresh chilli and garlic. When these had softened slightly, I tossed in some tiger prawns – I used cooked but raw would be even better. Then I drizzled the entire dish with a little light soy and sweet chilli sauce (naughty I know but not a super size Galaxy bar or two glasses of wine). I then added a liberal sprinkle of fresh coriander and served the dish with a small portion of rice noodles, keeping a second portion for tomorrow’s lunch.

winterA coffee after dinner and a peppermint tea before bed and that was a wrap. So there you have it…what I eat on a healthy day. More healthy ideas and recipes are definitely on the cards this month as part of “Operation Close the Button on my Jeans”. I hope your January is getting off to a resolute start too and that, whatever your goals are, you keep them in your sight.

‘Til Next Time xo

 

August Favourites…Beauty

Between travelling and my birthday this month, I picked up quite a selection of new hair and beauty odds and ends and so here is a rundown on some of my faves. All you beauty aficionados will instantly realise that I came very late to the party with almost all of these products, and I am the first to admit that I can be very lazy when it comes to changing up my make-up and skincare routines (she says, as if she has ever actually had a skincare routine!!!!).But this month I was a little more adventurous and I am hoping to continue paying much more attention to this aspect of my lifestyle.

The first new product I tried was Pixi’s “Glow Tonic Exfoliating Toner”, which I picked up in Pixi’s own store on Carnaby St, having heard Lily Pebbles and several other bloggers that I love endorse it. I use it most evenings, having first taken my make-up off with Garnier’s Cleansing Micellar Water and I must say I love how these products combine to cleanse my face at the end of the day. Although Pixi recommend using the Glow Tonic twice daily, I think that much exfoliation – no matter how gentle – would be too harsh for my skin which can be a little sensitive. I have heard some people say they even found daily use a little too severe but for me that has been working out perfectly so far. The product is simple to use and very good value. You just soak a cotton pad with the product and wipe it over cleansed skin. I am not sure if my skin is “glowing” since I started using this toner but it definitely feels smoother and I love knowing that my face is completely make-up free before drifting off at night.

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My next August favourite has again become something of a cult product and it is really not hard to see why. In fact I think this is my all time favourite cleanser, words not uttered lightly. It is the Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was attracted to this product because I loved the idea of the hot muslin cloth on my skin. At that stage I had purchased but not tried the product. Now I am completely hooked and will definitely be repurchasing this little gem. I pop the cream cleanser all over my face and neck just before jumping in the shower. Then I soak the cloth in warm water before gently cleansing my face section by section. I genuinely feel my skin is softer than ever before and every part of the process feels fab. As I was in the airport when I purchased this, travelling with hand luggage only, I did not pick up any of the other products in the range but I am now determined to experiment with Liz Earle products a little more. I am very close to needing a new moisturiser so it may be a little more Liz Earle for me.

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My next favourite is quite a big purchase and lucky for me it was actually an extremely thoughtful gift. I wear my hair straight and it does not sleep well! Basically it needs almost daily washing and drying and is abused by hair straighteners most days. This favourite is a salon strength hair dryer and it has made my daily wash and blow-dry so much quicker and more efficient. It is the ETI TurboStratos 3800 and mine is in a really cute purple colour. It is so powerful that my hair dries really quickly and it also leaves a lot less work for the straighteners to do afterwards. It is available in Ireland from Peter Mark and if you have hair that takes ages to blow dry or is prone to frizz it is definitely a worthy investment. It was a great present!!!

Finally, on the list of things I am loving, I mentioned previously that I was switching mascaras from Benefit’s They’re Real, to MAC Extreme Dimension in Extreme Black. Now it may be a little early to judge, as I have only used the product a few times but so far this is another purchase worthy of the favourites’ list. It is a really strong colour as you would expect, goes on easily and really defines the lashes. It is not messy or gloopy which is great, and most importantly it is very easy to remove. I have very long lashes, so mascara that smudges even a little has easy access to my cheeks. I also have very sensitive eyes that water when I use poor quality products. The MAC has caused neither problem, so it looks like it could be a keeper.

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Finally,  I have been trying one new product that definitely won’t be repurchased and that is the NYX soft matte lip cream in the shade Antwerp. This was an important lesson relating to “don’t buy before you try”. I just grabbed this, having read great things about the range without even swatching the colour. And it is a disastrous purchase. The colour on the bottle and the colour of the product are really different, and unfortunately, despite the pretty colour of the packaging, the cream itself is an obnoxious hot pink colour that I would never wear. I also don’t like the texture of this product, although I know a matt lip is very on trend right now. The product feels heavily perfumed, sticky and drying. Ugh!! Just not for me and I still really need an everyday lipstick. I am going to give the new Kate Moss range for Rimmel a whirl instead and fingers crossed for more success.

That’s all from my hair and beauty faves this month and I hope it reads pretty coherently . I enjoy writing posts like this because it encourages me to try new products and really think about their performance, but, to be honest, make-up and beauty is not really my thing. I am guilty of using products sporadically and without too much thought. This makes me worry a little about pulling a post like this together as my vocabulary may not have quite the same range in this particular realm.But practice should at least lead to improvement if not perfection.

Til next time, xx.

 

August Favourites – Books

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” – Stephen King

As the summer is quickly drawing to a close, and I have to consider the reality of returning to work after three months (yes, I hear all those tiny violins) I thought I would do a quick review of some of the “stuff” I have been loving (or not) lately. Today I am going to start with books, because I can be happy pretty much anywhere with a good cup of coffee and a good book. Anyone who knows me will attest that paradise for me will definitely have a library.

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In recent weeks I have read three bestsellers and here is my two cents worth on their varying strengths and weaknesses.

“Sometimes he fantasised that at the end of his life, he would be shown a home movie of all the roads he had not taken, and where they would have led.” – Anne Tyler

This first book was a kind of romcom in pen and ink format, although I am sure this description would make the author cringe a little. “The Versions of Us” by Laura Barnett focuses on the moments that can change a life forever. It takes a “Sliding Doors” style approach, and the reader follows the central characters Eva and Richard through different versions of their respective lives. One moment, a choice of responses, a decision that will change the course of both their lives. From that moment we follow all three versions of the lives of our protagonists. The way their lives play out after that first meeting in Cambridge in 1958, and how the response in that blink of an eye encounter could open or close a variety of different doors. Robert Frost’s “The Road not Taken” explores how, as “way leads on to way”, we do not get to come back and travel the other roads, or ever know the outcome of a different decision when faced with choice. Barnett uses the power of imagination to follow both roads (or in this case all three) and tell, effectively, three stories in one. For the writer, this is no simple task. The success of the typical linear narrative is due to its simplicity. We trace a story from beginning to end in chronological order – it is difficult to “lose the plot”. Deviate from this and you set yourself a great challenge. The writing has to be skilful to see this through. It was. The characters were engaging, the language both simple and poetic and the plot not overly complicated. Like Frost, Barnett explores lives unlived. It is a perfect theme for literature as it is an intrinsic element of life; every door we open sees another close, every choice brings new opportunity but inevitably leaves other possibilities unexplored.

We have one life. Eva and Richard in the pages of this novel had the luxury of three. I loved the reality in this narrative  – there is no perfect path – there are ups and down, joys and heartbreaks, sacrifices and rewards – no matter what choices they make. That’s what life is, no matter which of the divergent paths you choose in Frost’s “yellow wood”. And so a realisation dawns….“because he is old enough now to know happiness for what it is: brief and fleeting, not a state to strive for, to seek to live in, but to catch when it comes, and to hold on to for as long as you can.”

This was a great read; simple yet engaging, suspending reality yet paradoxically grounded in reality, poetic and conversational – grab a coffee and a comfy chair and give this one a go.

My second recent read was again a work of fiction and this time it was “The Reader on the 6.27”. The blurb of this really captured my attention, as it was set up as a book that explores the power of the written word, specifically storytelling, to change a life. The central character, Guylain, works in a factory that pulps books, and hates his job. However, he takes random pages from various publications and reads them aloud on the 6.27 train, saving those words in some way, giving them the life they deserve. The pulping machine is personified as a monster, the stories themselves a panacea for life’s difficulty and monotony. So far, so right up my street.

But I just didn’t really engage with this narrative, as the larger-than-life characters just had an air of unreality, and personally I felt the plot just didn’t quite hang together. That said, the story’s central thread really begins when Guylain finds a memory stick containing the musings (almost in diary form) of a public toilet attendant called Julie. Personally, it was the writings of Julie that made me see this novel through to the end. I found her voice hilarious and sweet in equal measure, and, although I wasn’t really invested in the love story of sorts that Didierlaurent was striving to create, the ending of this novel was ridiculously cute. Now I am sure that just as Barnett would not want to be viewed as a literary romcom, Didierlaurent would cringe at the term “cute” to describe his concluding moments – but that it was, and, make no mistake, it was the silver lining in what for me was a slightly cloudy read. If your eye has been caught by this book, I would not let this lukewarm review put you off; it is a really quick read, and not one I regret at all. I read the entire book in a day, and it had enough merit to sustain me through airport waiting time and a short flight. What was good was golden, but there was a little too much beige.

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Finally, I picked up Matt Haig’s “Reasons to Stay Alive” in a hurry and without reading the blurb. Never a good idea. However, this is a very readable, autobiographical account of the author’s struggles with anxiety and depression and there is no doubting its honesty or integrity. It is quite an engaging read, with sprinkles of humour and a generally positive outlook on a dark subject. It is an important book for a society that still has a way to go to destigmatise mental illness.

But I am going to be honest here, this book did not touch my soul, probably because it wasn’t written to be soppy or overly morose. And, possibly because to this point in my life, I have been blessed with pretty good mental health. It did, however, help me understand depression a little better and I did enjoy the listing technique peppering the pages.  Lists of warning signs associated with anxiety or depression, famous people who experienced mental illness, tweets from fellow sufferers regarding their reasons to stay alive and ways to support someone enduring a period of darkness. All this I found informative and very accessible. I also LOVED this passage:

“The world is increasingly designed to depress us.
Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser?
You make someone worry about ageing.
How do you get people to vote for a political party?
You make them worry about immigration.
How do you get them to buy insurance?
By making them worry about everything.
How do you get them to have plastic surgery?
By highlighting their physical flaws.
How do you get them to watch a TV show?
By making them worry about missing out. “

I have no doubt that this book has changed lives. It vocalised the emotions and experiences people struggle to find the words to describe. It gave people someone to relate to. It created a sense of being less alone. I admire all this. I admire the reality. I admire the honesty. I admire the individuality. Personally, I just didn’t really connect, though reviews would suggest I am part of the minority. Again, this is a quick read that is well worth a shot. Just because it didn’t change my life doesn’t mean it won’t change yours.

Now I have laundry to do and a new book to dip into. Til next time xo

What I ate on my Birthday

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While this week has been mainly about all things healthy, a couple of days ago it was my birthday, and so there was some pretty major deviation from that plan. However, as I will explain, it could have been worse!!

My birthday surprise was essentially a whole day of foodie treats… and I mean the whole day from dawn to dusk. So for those of you sensitive about gluttony, it may be time to click to a different post, or even a different blogger, because I amazed myself with my ability to keep eating. WP_20160319_12_59_05_Pro

The first stop on this culinary expedition was in my home town of Tralee in Co. Kerry, in a bustling town centre cafe and restaurant called The Roast House. Now this is not my first brunch here by any stretch, it is a place where I regularly catch up with some of my closest girlfriends, but I do think it was my favourite breakfast to date. Given that this place does a really great pancake dish, with fruit and cream, that is quite a statement. I ordered a Vegetarian Breakfast Bake (see healthyish) and I expected that it would be like a baked full Irish just without the meat. Turns out I had pictured it completely wrong and what a happy surprise that ended up being. What appeared was actually a type of potato hash; with summer vine tomatoes, fresh thyme, mushrooms & spinach all mixed through the delicious little potato cubes. The dish was topped with a free range egg with a runny yolk, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little french toast. It was so so tasty, the perfect savory (meat free and gluten free  – if like me you don’t eat the toast) breakfast dish. The Roast House take their coffee seriously, so as is the norm, the accompanying Americano was also an excellent blend – black, strong and just bitter enough – a great caffeine kick to start a long day.

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Allowing breakfast to digest there was time for a short walk and a longer drive, as we snaked west over the mountain to the coastal town of Dingle. Now if you are not familiar with Dingle, look it up and if you have never been to Dingle, go! I have been many times, although to be honest more often for booze and nightlife than lunch and shopping but I am starting to think that it is the latter that the town does best. Unfortunately, the day was miserable, otherwise this post would be full of some of the most beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, but I promise that will follow some day soon. This was a day that was all about the food. First we shopped for it and then we ate it. The shopping centered on two local gems – The Little Cheese Shop and Crinkle Stores. Both are stunning little artisan stores, showcasing local and other carefully sourced products. I could have bought so, so much more and I am sure over time I will.

I started with The Little Cheese Shop and it is exactly as it looks in your head – cozy, smelly, chockablock with Irish and European cheeses and all the culinary delights you would want to go with them. They are quick to offer a taste, the cheese is cut to your specification and expert advice is on hand. Good luck nipping in for cheddar and coming out with one wax paper parcel when you see the array of fresh bread, pesto, hummus, hand made chocolate and chutneys that sit side by side with more cheese than you can dream of finding time to taste. If it is not clear, this place is a gem on the West Kerry food scene. I left with some fresh buffalo mozzarella,  some soft goat’s cheese, some seaweed speckled cheddar (I think), delicious basil pesto and a generous portion of chunky hummus. I have been working them into my meals since.

Then to Crinkle Stores, when I got over my complete obsession with the fabulous tiles in this shop, it was time to browse the products. There is an exceptional salad bar and some quality coffee on offer, not to mention an exquisite cake display. The shelves are lined with artisan skincare products, Irish vinegar made with foraged ingredients like thyme, gorse and blackberry. Jams, chutneys, fancy cordials, herbal teas and numerous other delights. I added some Mountain Thyme Vinegar, a bar of Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Almond and a rhubarb and apple pop to my foodie haul and regretted that the day wasn’t better for a salad box by the sea. Again that will come another day.

And then, it was time for lunch. And yes we did at least keep it light(ish). We sheltered from the rain in a welcoming little cafe called Chowder, and ate predictably and sensibly, bowls of chowder. Well I did, my shellfish averse husband had an equally comforting steaming bowl of carrot and ginger soup. What appeared was a really satisfying bowl of steaming chowder, thickened with local potato and containing the widest array of fish I have ever encountered in this very common Irish dish. There was the usual white and smoked fish, but how often do you get squid rings in your seafood chowder and the garnishing mussels were a great touch. I didn’t eat the bread (healthy!) but it was wholemeal and  homemade, served with real Irish butter.

Then to dessert – it was my birthday remember – and Dingle is home to Murphy’s Ice Cream – handmade here in the town. It comes in cones and cups, served with a smile by staff sporting farmers’ caps and happy to let you taste before you choose. I had a special called Dreamy Creamy Caramel that was full of the flavours of caramel, butterscotch, chocolate and whipped cream. Better than cake, definitely better than cake!! This product is not cheap but it is quality. Worth every penny, I promise.

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After lunch we again took a break from eating, visited my parents and my adorable godchild. Then we shopped a little more, completing my birthday present buying with a divine scented candle for the kitchen and a book called “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee”. Seriously, how could I not!!!!!

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And then I am embarrassed to admit (almost) that we went out to dinner. But it was not a dinner I would want to have missed. We went to Allo’s Bistro in the little market town of Listowel, where John B. Keane once observed local life with the eye of a poet and the wit of a rural publican. His smiling statue now welcomes you to a town that has retained its soul better than almost any small town I know. It houses a range of excellent independent boutiques, some interior shops that are perfect for the lazy browser and Woulfes, one of the best independent bookshops in the country. There are also more pubs than people and a delightful old-style hotel in the middle of town. Come for Writer’s Week to see Irish culture at its very best but there is also a food festival and a race week in this town’s packed social calendar.

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Now that I have done my bit for the Listowel Tourist Board, on to the food. Allo’s Bistro is as bistros should be, homely and welcoming, with cosy small tables and larger communal ones, wine served by the glass and specials on daily changing chalkboards. For obvious reasons we skipped straight to main courses and I opted for a smaller size portion (see healthy choice! – although it was still extremely generous) of prawn and coconut curry served with jasmine rice. The other dish for the table was a salmon fillet with Bearnaise (unusual I thought) that was well cooked and tasty, accompanied with al dente veg and buttery mashed potato. The curry was delicately spiced with a very generous amount of prawns and a mixture of spring onion, courgette and peppers adding a welcome crunch. Despite the day that had gone before, plates were left completely clear, the message to the chef not in any way encrypted.

I presume you are now imaging that we called for the bill, opened the top button on our jeans and shuffled for the car. Alas, I have something of an affliction to admit to. I cannot resist creme brulee and although I don’t see the need to pepper it with various fruit purees, I still cannot leave it unordered – EVER.  And so I devoured every morsel of a perfect passion-fruit creme brulee with a hazelnut biscuit. Had the jeans button popped before I got it open, it would have been worth every added inch to the waistline. It was yum!!!!!

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So home we went….to my in laws, who were putting us up for the night, and you won’t believe it but my very sweet mother-in-law had bought a cake!!!!! Now  of course I was full but what’s a girl to do, if some one buys you a fluffy sponge cake, filled with fresh cream and strawberry jam and sprinkled with icing sugar, and there’s a candle in it…there really are no options. You eat the cake. Don’t you?? Well of course I did.

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Now before there is an intervention, I promise I have eaten like a gourmet loving rabbit since. But more of that in the next post, where we will celebrate the humble salad. There is a good reason birthdays only come once a year….the world could not sacrifice any more jeans’ buttons. Have a great weekend. Til next time xoxo

 

Eating Out and Staying Healthy(ish)

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Two fine days in a row – that almost constitutes a great summer in Ireland. With so few such days, it is important not to let them go to waste. As today was my parents 44th wedding anniversary we were taking a scenic road trip for a lunch on the water, but I still didn’t want to blow several days of good work on the healthy living front.

In order to minimise damage and still allow for a little indulgence, I got up pretty early and breakfasted on fresh fruit and black coffee. Then I took the dog on a pretty long walk and drank lots of chilled water before we took to the road.

The destination was The Boathouse, a Nantucket inspired seafood bistro, set right on the water, on the grounds of Dromquinna Manor, Kenmare. The estate which also has a glamping site and a hotel in the old manor house is incredibly picturesque. The decor in the bistro itself is bright, fun and nautical. Think lots of blue and white, with sail boats for decoration and little lighthouses on the table. The menu, as you would expect for the location, is predominantly seafood, but there is a chicken dish, steak and a burger, enough to keep the most committed carnivore happy. Although, when you can smell the sea and the menu guarantees local produce, seafood really is your best option.

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Arriving early and looking for just a light lunch, two of our group of four opted for the pier landed fish and chips main course. It came served on a kind of wooden tray and contained a generous potion of beer battered white fish. This was accompanied by chunky chips, a lightly dressed salad (with some delicious beetroot) and a little ramekin of mushy peas. The other two of us stuck to a combination of sides and starters (combined to make mains). There was a scallop and black pudding dish, which was unusual in presentation and possibly a little small for the price point. Although I didn’t taste it, it did seem to go down very well though, adding to the range of well executed dishes. Finally, I had tiger prawn pil pil. This consisted of prawns in a garlic, chilli and chorizo oil, served in a little pot accompanied by very tempting (although I did resist it) crusty white bread. It was delicious, although without the heat that you sometimes get in this dish, and I loved it. The prawns were fresh, pretty generous in quantity and perfectly cooked. The oil they were cooked in was extremely flavoursome despite the mildness of the chilli. I had this with a very generous portion of crispy sweet potato fries – a healthy(ish) indulgence (or so I like to tell myself) and a side salad. Prawns, salad and sweet potatoes – a decent attempt at staying on track on a special occasion.

After lunch and a stunning drive over Moll’s Gap and through Killarney National Park, I took another walk, this time on the local beach. It was great fun although paddling turned to splashing and rolled up jeans got soaked. And not long after it was time for a supermarket haul and thoughts of supper. After toying with the idea of creamy goat’s cheese, I reluctantly left it aside, favouring instead the warm saltiness of pan-fried halloumi laid on top of a crunchy bowl of baby spinach, rocket, watercress, red pepper and spring onion. All of this was drizzled with a homemade honey and wholegrain mustard dressing and accompanied by an organic rice cake with a little hummus.  Crunchy, salty, tangy, sweet and above all nutritious. So that’s me for today….pretty healthy and pretty happy xoxo