Dearest Dee.

In my launch giveaway over on Instagram I asked people what they wanted to write about. Quite a few of the suggestions were quite personal requests, so I thought insted of trying to write a genral post to answer them, I could do it like an Agony Aunt kinda thing. Anyone remember those from magazines back in the day? Are they still a thing? Anyhoo, here’s my first “letter” and reply. I have made up a name for the person, to protect their identity and also because it made me smile a little!

*I’m not a qualified expert in anything, so any advice I can give will be purely from my own experiences and must be taken as such*

Dearest Dee, Like you; I am a small business owner who works from home, I also am quite poorly and have several fur-babies to care for. I am struggling to keep my home clean and tidy. I often feel overwhelmed by the mess, but the sheer size of the task ahead of me is terrifying. I want to get organised and sort it out – I just don’t know where to start! How do you manage to keep your home tidy and clutter free with so little energy? I am also sensitive to a lot of chemicals/strong fragrances, so any cleaning products you can suggest would be very helpful. Lots of love, The Sexy Stitchy Siren xxx

I understand totally where this person is coming from! The reality is anyone at any time can feel overwhelmed by the task of keeping a home – so to start with I just want to say that if you’re reading this and you feel this way, you are not a failure! It’s just housekeeping, don’t give it a pedestal to sit on okay?

It sounds to me like you have been trying to keep on top of it; but now it’s got to the point where it’s out of hand and you don’t know where to start, and the stress of it all is causing you to freeze. So to begin with, I suggest starting small. Tidying and de-cluttering are very popular at the moment – there seems to be a new show about a different method every single day – but not everyone has the capacity to de-junk their home in a week! If I attempted it, it would take me a fortnight to recover and then I’d be right back to the start again. So small, manageable steps every day are the key to taking back your home from the mess monsters.

Getting started.

Out of all the rooms you want to clear, pick the one that feels the most doable to you. Maybe it’s your bedroom, or bathroom? Whichever you choose is great. Next up, pick a place to start; I usually start with cupboards/shelves as it helps me to see results straight away but it’s up to you. Wherever you choose, the first step is emptying it out! Get all the stuff off/out/away from it then give it a good clean – it may need to be thoroughly dusted or wiped out depending on what it is – and make sure it’s dried thoroughly. Then begin putting things back; as you do this, really pay attention to your stuff and ask these questions

  • When was the last time I used this? If the answer is more than 6 months ago it needs to go (with the exception of seasonal items)
  • Do I have more than one of these? If the answer is yes, and you don’t need more than one, then pick just one to stay and let the others go.
  • Do I need/like this? If the answer is remotely no, then let it go. Don’t be tempted to keep stuff that you might possibly use sometime! Chuck it!

I would suggest setting yourself a realistic timescale to complete each room. This can be tailored to your needs, depending on how well you are or how busy you are generally. A good guide is a week for a room. Cleaning as you go will make a difference, and developing a daily routine will have a knock on effect for the rest of your home!

Banishing the Mess Monsters forever!

Once the clutter is gone and things feel more under control, it’s all about a little bit every day. I adore the The Organised Mum Method because it provides an easy to follow routine with cleaning free weekends! Do head to her website, and check out her Instagram and Facebook page because she’s a star and the community is fabulous.

Getting the cleaning down is only half of it; during the tidying up phase you will have given away/chucked out lots of unnecessary stuff and you should hopefully have more space! The temptation can be to fill that space up immediately with more things but I would advise strongly against it – after all you already proved you don’t need so many things, so why start gathering again? Try applying the questions listed above to whenever you want to buy something – I guarantee that most of the time you’ll be able to leave it behind!

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Chemical Free Cleaning Kit 101

I’m going to write a more extensive post about how we make our own cleaning products at home in future, but for now I suggest you gather the following bits and bobs together to begin building your “clean cleaning kit”

I’ve linked the products I buy from Amazon if you’d like to check them out, but feel free to shop around and give me a shout if you find some better bargains! Before you start throwing out all your old cleaning products, I urge you to either a) use them up if you can and b) save the bottles and spray caps where possible. A shocking amount of plastic from cleaning products heads straight to landfill every year and it’s unavoidable! A good soak in hot soapy water and a thorough rinse means you’ve got a clean spray bottle for your homemade cleaning products that will last a long time – isn’t it better we use these plastics as much as possible before they have to go in the bin?

I hope that I’ve answered the question properly for anyone reading this who struggles with cleaning their home. Before I got sick I was a super housewife with immaculate skirting boards and carpet with hoover lines going one way – so it’s taken me a while to adjust to learning to clean slowly! Ultimately, your mental well-being and self worth is paramount in all of this; achieving something positive each and every day will help you no end, but should never become a stick to beat yourself with!

Do you struggle with your home? What tips and tricks have you found to cope? Please comment below and share your wisdom!

C is for Cupcakes!

Since I adopted a more plant-based lifestyle, I’ve had to go right back to basics with my baking. Believe me, there have been some absolute disasters, so bad even my sweet-toothed cat Fred wouldn’t bother with them! I’ve been hunting for the perfect vegan vanilla cupcakes recipe for ages – I got into baking years ago because of a huge love affair with the beautiful little treats – but the ones I made didn’t come out well. Heavy doughy bases, or grainy oily frosting; sometimes the cupcakes wouldn’t rise at all, sometimes they would explode but never cook off! Some of the recipes called for ridiculous ingredients that I had to scour the aisles of health food shops for, ingredients that cost a fortune and tasted vile. Would I ever eat an edible cupcake again?

After tinkering and tasting, mixing and measuring, plus a whole lot of muttering to myself and imploring the baking gods…… I struck gold! Or should I say light, fluffy yellow? The perfect Vegan Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe. A beautifully soft vanilla flavoured cupcake topped with rich – but not heavy – vanilla frosting, well risen and perfectly edible with no ridiculous ingredients and no hefty price tag. The Holy Grail of cupcakes, from which I can make most other flavours, has been found. And it’s so absurdly easy, even my kids could make them while staring at their phones and shouting at each other!

Ingredients & Method

For the cupcakes;

  • 250g Plain Flour
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 240ml Plant Milk (I use oat milk for baking, but any is fine)
  • 100ml Sunflower Oil
  • 1tsp Baking Powder
  • 1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1tbsp White Vinegar (yep I know it’s weird, but go with it!)
  • 12 hole muffin tin, lined with paper/silicone cases

Preheat your oven to 180c and move your shelf to the middle. Place all your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and using a fork or a whisk, mix together thoroughly then set aside. In a separate bowl or jug mix together your plant milk, oil, vanilla extract and vinegar – you need to keep stirring it until it begins to thicken up, this is going to act as the “egg” in your cakes. Once thickened up, slowly and thoroughly whisk the wet mixture into the dry. Make sure you have no clumps of flour left – ain’t nobody got time for that! Quickly portion the batter into your prepared cases, pop in the oven and bake for about 15-20 mins (depends on your oven, mine either incinerates everything or leaves it raw) until well risen and slightly golden, and they pass the skewer test. Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes, then place on a cooling rack and leave to go completely cold.

For the frosting;

  • 570g Icing Sugar
  • 115g Dairy Free Margarine (I love Vitalite cos it’s cheap!)
  • 115g Vegetable Shortening (It’s like the vegan version of lard. I use TREX, but a lot of supermarkets do their own brand version)
  • 0.5tsp Vanilla Extract

Now it’s elbow grease time – unless you have an electric mixer like me – so roll up your sleeves and flex! In a large bowl, beat the margarine and vegetable shortening until it is soft and completely combined. Next; using a sieve, sift a quarter of your icing sugar into the bowl then thoroughly beat it in. Keep repeating this process, but add the vanilla extract with the last dose of icing sugar. Check the consistency – if it’s too runny you can add more sugar, if it’s too hard add a tiny splash of plant milk – making sure it’s firm but soft and fluffy. Nobody likes tough frosting! If you want to, you can add food colouring to jazz it up, or even lightly fold in some sprinkles. Whatever, go nuts…. oh nuts would work too haha!

If you have one/want to/know how to use a piping bag to decorate the tops of your cold cupcakes. They will have a hefty amount of frosting! Then finish off with any decorations you fancy – I used vegan salted caramel chunks for mine and they were AWESOME.

Think of all the possibilities…

Once I got this basic vanilla version down, my vegan cupcake game was on fire! You can mix it up, adding different flavourings and additions to make your cupcake dreams a reality. I’m currently fantasizing about an Oreo chocolate version with an actual Oreo baked in, and chunks of the biscuit through the topping That sounds blooming orgasmic to me!

Do let me know if you decide to make your own; I’d love to hear what you think, and what inspiring variations you manage to concoct! Cupcakes are LIFE.

And we’re off!

It’s the first day of April and the first day of my new look blog! Thank you so much for popping by; I’ve been working away on this whole re-branding of my site and trying to find my focus since the beginning of 2019, so as you can imagine this is a big deal for me. It’s taken a lot of time, energy, coffee and tantrums to make it this far – at time’s I thought I would never be able to say…. “And we’re off!”

An unlikely beginning.

The first time I thought about writing a lifestyle blog, I was standing in a field at 5am. My husband Eddie was suffering from really awful hay-fever and as a consequence, his usually loud snoring had become deafening and I hadn’t been able to sleep for a few days. So in my semi-delirious state I put my wellies on over my pajamas, popped some sharp scissors in my basket with some rubber gloves and set out to harvest Nettles for a tonic. Bending over a patch of stinging nettles with my green wellington boots, my bright yellow Marigolds and my hair sticking out everywhere, the idea of writing a lifestyle blog popped into my head!

Of course I laughed it off, labeling it as sleep deprived randomness as you do. I mean who would want to read about my life? Who would take tips and hints from me? I couldn’t write a lifestyle blog surely! And yet…. the idea wouldn’t go away, it took root and started to grow in my mind and before I knew it, I was buying a domain name and tapping away on my new-to-me laptop. If you’d like to know more about what I mean by “Alternative Lifestyle” then please do go check out the page about me.

The A to Z Challenge.

To get this party started (and hopefully teach myself a bit of blogging discipline) I decided to join in with this year’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge. I didn’t know before signing up but it’s the challenge’s tenth year, so it feels really exciting to be celebrating the beginning of my blog alongside such a significant milestone! The challenge is to share a post every day throughout April (excluding Sundays – a blogger needs a break too you know!) for each letter of the alphabet. So this is my post for the letter A! If you’d like to find other writers taking on the challenge, please check out #AtoZchallenge on Twitter and Instagram or like the A to Z page on Facebook

I hope you have enjoyed today’s post as much as I have, it feels great to finally be up and running! Do make sure to pop by tomorrow to see what I’ve come up with for the letter B…… I’ll give you a clue; it’s very hairy and has four lanky legs!

Before I go…..

If you have enjoyed this post (as well as those already available on the website) and would like to stay in touch, please take a moment to sign up for my newsletter. I won’t be bombarding you with hundreds of emails – in fact it will probably be just the odd one or two here and there – as I can get easily overloaded with vast quantities of mail in my Inbox (I have literally over 1000 unread emails just siting in there as I type this)!

If you have any burning questions, or subjects you would like me to waffle on about, please do comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks so much for reading, I will see you tomorrow!

Rough around the edges.

I shared a post on my Instagram page recently about a how a beautiful plant I spotted in my local garden centre inspired me to think of my rough edges in a better way. If you’d like to read the post please do so here. As usual, when I have these moments of reflection, the thought grows and becomes much deeper than originally planned – so much so that I couldn’t fit it in another post on social media! I guess that’s the beauty of blogs right?

Learning from Nature.

Mother Nature is a ceaseless source of inspiration and teaching for me. I’ve learned (and continue learning) so much about the world and myself, just simply by observing Her wonderful work. That’s where the beautiful pink rimmed plant comes in. The first time I saw it, I was struck by the gorgeous green of the leaves and their delicate lighter pattern. I love leaves; I’m much more a foliage than flower kinda girl, you can see evidence of my leaf love all over my home in my houseplant choices! Anyways, I digress…..

On the morning of the post, I woke up feeling a little rough around the edges. I suffer from various chronic conditions and some days are better than others, this day being a not so good one. It’s so easy to fall into a negative way of thinking when we’re not feeling our best, am I right? As open and honest as I try to be about my health, I usually want to gloss over it or hide it/hide from it – I mean, who wants to feel vulnerable all the time?

Looking closely at the picture of the plant, you can see that the edges of the leaves are not smooth at all. They are bumpy, jagged and toothed. Does that make the plant any less beautiful or fit for purpose? Of course not! Not only do they not have a negative impact on the life of the plant, Mother Nature has painted them a fabulous and bright shade of pink! So those rough untidy edges, instead of being hidden or smoothed out, have been decorated and celebrated and repurposed for the future of the plant – after all, bumblebees love colour and will be drawn to this one to pollinate it, so it will continue to grow year after year!

What if instead of protecting or hiding or covering up your rough, prickly, painful or difficult parts you celebrated them instead? What if you could paint them a beautiful and vibrant colour, and display them proudly like the plant does? What would it be like to change something that causes you harm into something that does you good? How would it feel to be proud of your rough edges instead of being embarrassed or ashamed of them?

Some of us are really rough….

My health is not my only rough edge. For years and years I have battled against the feeling of being too much; too intense, too passionate, too quirky, too loud, too deep. People I cared about have told me I’m too much, that I just need to tone it down, that I don’t have to be “like that” all the time. For a good long while I tried to be less, I tried to cover it up and smooth out that rough edge and I pretended to be something I wasn’t. It was exhausting, made me miserable, and those people that thought I was too much? Well they still left my life anyway, no matter how I smothered my personality! Now I love that rough edge, it’s a huge part of what makes me Dee and it’s not being hidden ever again! If I could paint that edge a colour; it would be bright red, the colour of passion and blood and life and fire – and it would show others that they don’t need to snuff out their own inner flame to suit people who don’t burn the same way they do.

Maybe you’re already aware of your rough edges, or maybe you’re wondering what the heck I’m babbling on about! A rough edge can be any part of you – physical, mental or spiritual – that makes you feel uncomfortable and/or causes you to worry what other people may think of you. It’s a vulnerable edge – like an exposed nerve in a tooth cavity – that we try to protect, hide or cover up because we believe it can do us harm. At least that’s what it means for me!

Whether you know where they are or not, we all have these rough edges. And I think they can all be repainted and re-purposed – like a holistic up-cycle project! Every part of us is there for a reason, and whatever the reason is IT’S NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK! So if you have people in your life who encourage you to hide, shrink or be ashamed of parts of yourself…. well it may be time to Marie Kondo your friends list. Nobody has the right to tell you what is and is not acceptable about you!

Why not start to get comfortable with your jagged and prickly parts, instead of burying or ignoring them? Get to know them, figure out why they’re there and what they bring to your life. What colour would you paint them? How could you celebrate that part of you? How can you make peace with that rough side of yourself, and find a way to move forward with it?

I would love to hear what your rough sides are and what colours they would be after a makeover! Please do leave a comment below, and let me know what you’re now celebrating about you.

School’s Not For Us!

About three years ago we made the decision as a family to take our kids out of the education system. It was one of the biggest decisions we have ever made – and it turned out to be one of the best too!

There are lots of reasons for our choice, although they can all be boiled down to one core truth – the schools were failing our kids.

Our eldest is exceptionally academic; because she showed such amazing potential she was pressured, overworked and had the responsibility for the school’s league table standings put on her shoulders. She was bullied badly, and the school did nothing to protect her.

Our youngest is creative, a thinker and dreamer and problem solver. He was bullied viciously for years, again the school didn’t help. We moved him to a “better” school and they crushed him with SATS pressure.

The schools failed our kids.

And I sometimes feel like we did too; we made them go to school even when they were unhappy and scared, we listened to the teachers instead of our own children, we believed that school was the right thing. Still working on forgiving myself for it all.

Over the years we have tried many different styles and approaches to home education, trying to find a way that works best for both our young people. There are hundreds of options available out there and we tried; printed/published curriculums, online courses, private group schools, forest schooling, structured timetabling, nature based learning and on and on and on…. Until we finally decided on the unschooling method and we’ve never looked back!

At it’s core; unschooling is about freedom, respect and partnership. I do not decide what my kids will learn, they do. They learn about whatever they want to and we facilitate them; sometimes that means we buy resources for them, take them on trips, book them on courses. Sometimes it means sitting and watching a movie together, or having a big conversation over dinner, or even letting them cook dinner while we sit back!

Whatever they are interested in, we fully support them and give them the freedom to learn however and whenever they want to. We don’t have any ‘school’ hours! Some of their best learning happens late at night after we’ve gone to bed!

I know it seems strange – how can they really be learning, what about tests, how do you know what they’ve learnt if there’s no workbooks – but both kids have excelled in their education through this approach!

Currently my eldest is in college part time, studying for her English GCSE and her Level 3 Performing Arts qualification. She is about 2 years ahead of her peers in terms of academic performance, and has managed to hold her own easily in a class made up of students at least 2 years her senior.

My youngest has just been accepted onto a Computer Sciences college course, studying all manner of complicated and technical stuff (can you tell I don’t really get any of it?) as well as his Maths GCSE.

If they hadn’t been learning anything at home, they wouldn’t have had the skills and capacity to study at college level so early! The freedom to learn as they will has given them many skills; research, analysing evidence, being willing to engage with adults, self motivation and team work. Not only that, they know how to actively learn instead of waiting to be spoon fed information to remember.

All that came from being allowed to do what they want, in a supportive environment.

What do you think about alternative education? Maybe you’re a homeschooler yourself, or perhaps you are considering it? I would love to know what you think!

Where Are You Now?

It’s been a hectic month for us here in the Valley! Getting back into the routines of college, work, home education and chores has been a bit of a shock after the delightfully slow days of December. Is it just me, or did January seem to last for about four months instead of one?

Today’s post is about taking a moment in time to check in with YOU. To find out how you are really doing, what you’re feeling and thinking and where you’re at right now in relation to your hopes and dreams for 2019.

I spend a lot of time asking others how they are; I know that a lot of folks ask the question but don’t really want to hear the answer, so when I ask I make a point of being around to listen. I care about people deeply! Whether I am checking in with my kids and husband, or texting a friend or a colleague – if I ask “How are you?” I actually want to know.

I also get asked a lot about how I am. Health professionals, my husband, kids, friends, acquaintances, social media contacts all want to know how I am. This usually means how is my physical health, how are my pain levels, am I very fatigued today etc. When you live with a disability you have to get used to giving lots of detailed information in answer to “How are you feeling today?”

It’s really lovely being asked how I’m getting on, so surely making time to ask myself those things is going to be a good thing – right?

Self Reflection Exercise.

The first thing I do is make myself a nice hot drink – usually a herbal tea – and I grab a notebook and pen. Then I find somewhere quiet and comfy to sit, where I won’t be distracted for at least 15 minutes. As I sit quietly and sip my tea, I start to ask myself the following questions;

How am I feeling today in my whole self?

What do I need more/less of?

What have I learned from the last month/week?*

What part of me am I thankful for?

*depends on your reflection frequency.

I write the answers and thoughts down as they come, usually using the questions as headers in my notebook and ensuring each page is dated.

When you have done your journal, do take a moment to read your responses to yourself. Pay attention to each word – try to avoid correcting spellings etc – and allow yourself to connect with what you have written, without any shame or embarrassment. It’s your life after all, to live however you see fit!

I think a really important part of checking up on our self is looking back over where we’ve been.

Perhaps you’re feeling wobbly, overloaded and drained but you can’t think why? Taking a minute to reflect back on your month, you see how you finished a huge project, worked late 12 times, had a bad cold and the dog got sick! No wonder you’re struggling!

I know it’s a silly example, but I usually find the answers to how I’m currently feeling lay in looking back.

And there you have it – a quick chat with your inner self and a spot of pure self love 😊 Getting to know yourself better will only ever lead to good things – deeper self esteem, unconditional love, grace and integrity are just a few of the benefits of living a life completely rooted in your being.

Do you practice self reflection? How do you like to go about it? Got any tips for me – I do struggle to sit still at times!

Much love xx

Meat Free Shepherd’s Pie

A lot of people these days are looking for a way to reduce their consumption of meat. Whether that’s for health reasons, to help the planet, or to cope with tighter budgets; campaigns such as “Meat Free Monday” and “Veganuary” are gathering a lot of support.

I think it’s GREAT to see more and more people eating less meat! It can’t be bad for us to chomp on more vegetables right? However, I do understand that cooking without meat can feel like a big challenge if you’re not used to it. And when the food budget is already tight, do you really want to risk buying ingredients for something you might not like? I know I don’t often have the spare cash to take that risk – not to mention my aversion to any form of food waste!

With all that in mind, I introduce my family’s take on Meat-Free Shepherd’s Pie. It’s filling, comforting and packed full of vegetables and goodness. I don’t use any “Meat substitute” or any weird ingredients – in fact you probably have everything you need already! It’s a great recipe for using up the veg left at the bottom of the fridge – you can even add in frozen veggies too to bulk it out further. Plus it’s great value for money, and you get a big bang for your buck.

Meat Free Shepherd’s Pie – Ingredients.

  • 1 large onion, chopped.
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped.
  • 2 large carrots, chopped.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced.
  • 1- 1.5kg white potatoes, peeled and quartered.
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes.
  • 1 x 300g tin beans (I used Cannelini beans, but you can use any, including baked beans. Just rinse them thoroughly and gently)
  • 1 x 300g tin green lentils, rinsed.
  • 150g any frozen veg e.g. peas, sweet corn etc
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree.
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar.
  • 2 tsp Marmite/yeast extract.
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs.
  • Vegetable oil for frying.
  • Margarine and milk for the mash – I used Soy milk and sunflower oil margarine to make mine Vegan, but any is fine.

Meat Free Shepherd’s Pie – Method.

  • Heat a good splash of vegetable oil in a large, deep frying pan and add your onion, celery, carrots and 1 tbsp mixed herbs. Stir fry on a medium heat until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes or so.
  • Next add your garlic with 1 tbsp of the balsamic vinegar and some salt. Give it a good stir and reduce the heat a little, then leave to cook for another 5 minutes until your vegetables are starting to soften.
  • Meanwhile, add your peeled potatoes to a large pan and cover with cold water. Salt liberally, cover with a lid and put on a high heat until boiling. Let them bubble away until tender, then drain and mash with your margarine and milk until thick and fluffy.
  • Preheat your oven to 190c and move the shelf to the middle.
  • Back to your pan of veggies; stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, Marmite, leftover balsamic vinegar, green lentils and beans. Fill the chopped tomato can halfway with water and add to the pan too, then season with more salt and pepper.
  • Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add in your 150g frozen veg (I used peas) and simmer again for another 10 minutes or so. Don’t be afraid to add splashes of water here and there if it’s getting too thick!
  • Pour your vegetables into a large oven proof dish and smooth out until level. Top carefully with your fluffy mashed potatoes, ensuring there’s an even layer throughout the dish. Smooth the top. Season again with salt and pepper, then pop in the oven for 20-40 minutes until bubbling and slightly crispy round the edges.
  • Leave to stand for about 5 minutes, just to cool slightly. It will be scalding hot inside there! Then cut into squares and serve in a deep dish. You don’t need to add anything to it as a side, but if you wanted to then some green beans or spring cabbage would be lovely with this.

There you have it! Do let me know if you decide to have a go making this for yourself – I would love to hear what you think.

Much love xx

New Year….. Same Me!

So here we are, January 2019. Personally, I can’t quite believe that it’s 2019….. I was born in the 1980s and grew up thinking that by this time there would be flying cars and colonies on the moon! Oh well, at least we have Smart phones 😆

Because it’s January, social media is awash with resolutions and pledges and promises to be a better you this year. From Veganuary to Dry January, Slimming World Best Year Ever and so on….. there’s something for everyone. Because EVERYONE has stuff to change, and setting a New Years Resolution is the best way right?

Wrong. Most people break their resolution before the second week of January!

You have probably gathered by now that I am not a resolution fan. I believe that it’s just another way to put pressure on people; people who are constantly fed by society the lies that they are too fat, undesirable, too unhealthy, too ugly as they are.

Not for me thanks!

No diets – working on loving myself unconditionally means loving my jiggly bits however jiggly they might be!

No workouts – I have ME and a whole other host of conditions; do I want to hospitalise myself for a so-called hard body? Computer says no.

No lifestyle changes – my body, mind and spirit have been through enough change and upheaval! Why would I subject myself to anything else?

This year, as I have for the last few years, I am choosing to focus on what I am able to do and being thankful for how far I have come already. I have picked a few fun and interesting things I hope to be able to do this year – things to look forward to and hope for.

Because what is a new year without hope?

It is my deepest hope that someone reading this realises that they are wonderful just as they are. That they don’t have to join a diet club, a gym, or anything else because they are loved and lovely and worthy of love right now.

That’s what I hope for!

What are your hopes for 2019? I would love to hear what you think in the comments!

Much love xxx

Lamplighter Festival 2018

Healthy Minds Lantern

Todmorden is a special place. It’s a small town, right on the border of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Surrounded by hills, moors, mountains and rivers. Woodland and beauty are everywhere you look – perhaps that’s why so many artists come to live here?

The Lamplighter Festival began in Todmorden as a way to celebrate even the smallest joys in the gathering dark. This little town hasn’t had it easy – floods have wrecked this valley so many times, some houses still bear the damage from the 2015 flooding. Businesses went bust, people lost everything – truly dark times.

But LOOK at my beautiful town!

For the four weeks I have worked with an artist from Handmade Parade at the Healthy Minds group. We have been building lanterns for this event – and the main piece is The Big Top.

There were literally hundreds of other lanterns made by Todmorden residents, working together over several workshop meetings to light up the night! Not to mention the glorious creations from Handmade Parade…. I mean just look at the magical Polar Bear (the legs actually moved) and the majestic Lion!

We had the privilege of walking in the Parade too – right in front of the astounding Magician’ s Hat, complete with doves fluttering out. It was totally BRILLIANT. The roads were lined with thousands of spectators, people in fancy dress and adorned with fairy lights, children waving and clapping….. wonderful.

I can’t wait to see what next year’s Lamplighter Festival has in store – this year has been a fairy tale.

Much love xx

The Magical Polar Bear

The Majestic Lion

The Magician’s Hat

Fluttering Dove

The Todmorden Dog

The Boy Wants Pretzels….

My son is 13 years old and his whole life revolves around his computer. He hardly ever asks to do anything in the kitchen with me (I love to cook and bake) so when he asked if we could make some pretzels……

Well let’s just say I think I made him jump a little when I screeched “YES LET’S DO IT!”

I shared a pic on Instagram of the finished article and a few folks asked me for the recipe. Foolishly I didn’t photograph each step, so I hope my explanations are clear enough!

As I said before, I love to cook and bake; however my health hasn’t liked to cooperate much for a few years so my kitchen creativity had taken a bit of back seat. My hubster bought me a stand mixer for Christmas last year and it’s made such a big difference to me! Now I can bake more – cakes are a doddle and even bread is easy peasy – which my family thanks me for but my waistline doesn’t.

A couple of things to note; you may not need all the melted butter/milk liquid, or you may need all of it. Different flours have different needs, so use your own judgement. You’re looking for a soft, slightly tacky smooth dough.

The other point I want to make (I thought it is obvious but my teen tells me it’s not) is that you don’t have to use cinnamon in your sugar. You can use vanilla if you like, or even just plain sugar. Or maybe something controversial like ginger…. whatever you enjoy really!

Anyways, here is the ridiculously easy recipe for the soft sweet cinnamon sugar pretzels of dreams.

Ingredients

For the Pretzels

80g butter, melted

300ml milk, warmed to hand hot.

1 sachet fast action yeast.

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

275g plain flour

275g strong plain flour

For the Bicarb Bath

500ml very hot water

2tbsp bicarbonate soda

For the Coating

70g melted butter

100g caster sugar

1tsp ground cinnamon

You will also need greased baking trays, an oiled mixing bowl, a clean tea towel, a cooling rack and a stand mixer. (You can make the pretzels without the mixer, you will need to knead the dough on an oiled surface for 10 minutes instead)

Method.

In the bowl of your mixer; combine the flours, yeast, caster sugar and salt. Attach the dough hook to your machine, then turn it on to a low setting and slowly mix the dry ingredients together. Meanwhile, stir the melted butter into the warm milk thoroughly.

Gradually add the liquid to your dry ingredients as the mixer works. Allow time for the butter/milk to be worked in before adding more. If you add too much liquid and the dough seems very sticky and wet, add some more flour 1tbsp at a time.

Once your liquid is added and you have a soft, slightly sticky dough; turn your mixer up to medium and allow it to knead for about 5 minutes. Turn out into the oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm place for upto 2 hours, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200c fan, 180c electric or Gas Mark 5.

Put the dough on a clean work surface and divide into 16 equal-ish pieces (you can weigh them if you really want to but I didn’t!)

Now here’s the technical bit; take a piece of your dough and roll it into a long thin snake – you want it to be at least 30cm – making sure it’s even all the way along. Take the ends up above the body and twist once, then fold back down and press them into the body. Flip it over et voila! A pretzel! Repeat 15 times.

Once they are all formed, they need to have a bath. This is part of the traditional process of baking pretzels and gives the characteristic chewy exterior with the soft insides.

Stir the bicarb into the hot water, in a shallow dish – hot not boiling – and then add the pretzels a couple at a time. Flip them over in the water, then remove to a cooling rack and allow them to dry. Keep going until they are all done.

Now it’s time to bake these bad boys! They need to be baked in the centre of the oven for 5 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the baking tray immediately and leave to cool a moment on the rack.

Meanwhile, combine the caster sugar with the cinnamon and mix thoroughly – you don’t want any explosive spice nuggets on your pretzels!

Brush the baked, hot pretzels all over with melted butter and then toss them in the sugar mixture. Make sure they get a good coating, it’s the best bit! Once they are all done, serve them immediately. They are best eaten straight away, but if you have leftovers then keep them in an airtight container and warm through gently in the oven before eating.

They also are yummy dipped in melted chocolate. If you don’t think they are decadent enough I mean!

It is impossible for me to over-hype these gorgeous baked goods! They are so soft, so flavourful and so so so moorish…. If you have any leftovers I would be super impressed by your gargantuan levels of self control!

Our batch didn’t last the day….

If you decide to have a go at making these, please do let me know how you get on! I would love to hear what you think of the pretzels and if you found it as easy as I did to make them.

Happy baking!

Much love xx