Saturday, 28 February 2015

Favourite Posts - February

Another month has flown by - it doesn't feel that long since we were celebrating the New Year and now we're almost into March already! This has been yet another busy month for me, busy with placements, portfolios and trying to stay on top of what I should be learning. I've also moved on to my lastest placement, four weeks in a GP surgery which I am loving so far. And in between all of this, I've still managed to find time for watching the Six Nations and to celebrate turning twenty two. As if all of that wasn't enough, I've also been reading plenty of blog posts as a way to switch off from medicine in the evenings. I've saved my favourites from the past month ready to share here, made much easier now that Bloglovin lets me categorise my saved posts. Let me know if you check any of them out! 

47 Signs You're A Medical Student on Pull Yourself Together
I just happened to spot this on Twitter and have since found a new favourite blog by Hannah. This post is so true and I think I agreed with just about every one of these things! If you're a medical student wanting reassurance that we're all having the same kind of experience, this is just what you need. And for anyone else who wants to know just what the life of medical student is like, this sums it up pretty well.

I've loved Rosie's blog ever since I discovered it - it's so beautifully put together and feels as homely as a website can! I've been trying to incorporate a bit more exercise into my life, but need to make it flexible and not involve costly gym classes and memberships. Rosie's post was just the inspiration I needed for a few home workouts that I can fit around my lifestyle.

Citrus flavours in baking is one of my favourite things, and lemon drizzle cake is probably up there in my top ten of cakes (I could never actually spend time deciding on my Top Ten cakes because I'd be there forever deliberating over it!). I've never used edible flowers in baking before, but this recipe using rose petals is something I might have to try out one day.

Bakewell Tart Pancakes on Emily's Recipes and Reviews
There's always at least a couple of food-related posts in my monthly favourites and this is another of them. With February being the month of Pancake Day (aka Shrove Tuesday), my Bloglovin feed filled up with everyone's takes on the perfect pancake toppings. I like a classic lemon and sugar, but settled for Nutella this year as I had no lemon juice in (the pitfalls of living between two places). This Bakewell Tart inspired topping sounded delicious though, and stood out from all the other recipes filling my screen. Although I didn't make Bakewell Tart pancakes this year, I was inspired to make Cherry & Almond Cupcakes instead, thanks to Emily's recipe.

Now I'm not teetotal, but I'm not a big drinker either and would much rather be hangover free the next day than totally smashed the night before. I don't usually have any problem with people being really drunk - it's a free country and they're obviously enjoying themselves, so why do others think it's ok to judge non-drinkers as 'boring'? Actually, binge-drinking rates are decreasing in young people in the UK and the number of teetotallers is rising. Perhaps people are getting more sensible - but sensible doesn't equal boring. Sammy's post was a brilliant read and definitely worth a look at, whatever you views.

Joelle has such a gift when it comes to her humourous posts and this short and sweet post is another classic from her. I always like to think that I'm the kind of person who could give up technology with no problem - and then realise that I'm currently surrounded by about four electronic devices. Perhaps it's just a sign of our times, but, as Joelle found out, it's actually pretty tricky to go without our gadgets now!

These were my February Favouites, what were yours?


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ponds Institute Cold Cream and Hydronourishing Cream Review

Way back in December I won a few products from a competition hosted by the lovely Claire at Bella's Beauty Blog and I've been testing them out since. It's been a fair few weeks since I picked up my parcel and now's the time to let you know what I think...

I actually received five skin care products in the prize:
Cold Cream
Hydronourishing Cream
Triple Action Cream
Nourishing Anti-Wrinkle
Eye Contour Cream

However, seeing as I still have young skin with no wrinkles appearing just yet and haven't ever really had problems with under eye puffiness, it seems silly for me to try and review the creams aimed at reducing signs of ageing... a review along the lines of 'well I don't have wrinkles, used the product and still don't have wrinkles' isn't especially helpful for anyone!

The two products I have been using daily are the Cold Cream and Hydronourishing Cream - ideal for my slightly dry skin.

The Hydronourishing Cream is an incredibly moisturising cream containing hydro-elastine and vitamin E to help skin feel soften, smoother and more hydrated. It's a very thick moisturiser that takes a little longer to rub in, but the extra time spent massaging your skin is no bad thing. Unlike other moisturisers that I've used, my skin continues to feel hydrated for hours after, rather than dried out again. I've been using this once a day when I've taken off my make up and definitely noticed a difference in how my skin feels and looks. It actually feels like there's a long lasting effective from using this regularly.

The Cold Cream is something I'd heard about for years but thought it was something that old ladies used instead of other products. Well, I've been converted. This is a product I love and will definitely think about repurchasing.
It's a thick cream that you can apply straight to your face without taking off make up. It sort of 'dissolves' my make up into a layer that I can then wipe off easily with a face cloth. This makes the chore of removing make up so much simpler and easier. It works particularly well with the mineral powder foundation that I wear, but I've also tried it out on other foundations as well as to take off eye make up. 

Both products feel nourishing and using them regularly has made a noticeable difference to the dryness of my skin. Unlikely other products I've used, they are thick enough to really sink in but don't feel heavy on my skin afterwards.

I'm really glad I got to try these out, thank you to Claire and Pond's Institute for these lovely prizes! I'll certainly consider buying these once my prize pots run out.

Have you tried anything from Pond's Institute?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

RECIPE: Cherry and Almond Cupcakes (Gluten Free)

Who else has been watching The Great Comic Relief Bake Off? I'm so glad to see the Bake Off tent back on my screen alongside the fabulous Mel, Mary and Paul. We're only two episodes in but already I've been laughing out loud - especially at Dame Edna and Jonathan Ross' attempts at baking. I've also been inspired to get back in the kitchen, particularly as the rest of last week's bakers (Zoe Sugg, Gok Wan and Abbie Clancy) were all so talented! I had a major craving for cake (or even just cake mix) watching them create cupcakes and cake-buildings but had to wait until I was back in my flat this weekend before I could get creating.

I know a few people who have given up chocolate for Lent, so I decided that these cakes would have to be chocolate free in order to be fair (sorry to anyone who's given up cake though!). I thought I'd try something a little different, and inspired by one of my favourite treats (the classic Bakewell Tart) I decided to use almonds and cherries on these vanilla cupcakes.

The sponge is gluten free but feels and tastes exactly like normal sponge. The cakes are light and springy and the perfect sweet pick-me-up for a February weekend (or a snack to keep you going while watching the Bake Off!). The cherry jam is the perfect addition - great flavour without being too sweet- and the crunchy flaked almonds really finish them off. Plus the glacé cherry on top makes these proper cupcakes in my opinion...

To make 12 cakes, you will need:
115g unsalted butter, softened
115g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1tbsp milk
115g self raising flour (I used plain gluten free and added an extra 2 teaspoons of baking powder)
1/4tsp baking powder
1/2tsp vanilla extract
Cherry jam

For the buttercream icing
65g unsalted butter, softened
200g icing sugar
2tbsp milk
1/2tsp vanilla extract

To decorate
Glacé cherries
Flaked almonds

Paper cake cases, a cupcake tray
(Basic recipe adapted from The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking, Linda Collister)

1. Get together your ingredients, taking butter and eggs out of the fridge in advance if necessary.  Lay out the paper cake cases in the tray. Turn the oven on to 180°c.

2. Put the butter, sugar, eggs and milk into a mixing bowl. Sift in the flour and baking powder, then add the vanilla extract. Beat the mixture together with an electric mixer or wooden spoon until smooth and light.

3. Use a spoon to put the mixture into the cases as evenly as possible, then place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

4. Once baked to a light golden colour, take the cakes out of the oven and place onto a wire rack to cool fully - it shouldn't take much more than about 15 minutes if you're impatient like me!

5. Use a teaspoon (or the baking measurement ones are ideal) to dig out a small hole in the top of each cake. Fill each one with about a teaspoon of cherry jam. (Feel free to eat all the excess sponge - for tasting purposes, of course!)

6. Make the buttercream by putting the butter into a mixing bowl and beating with a wooden spoon or electric mixer until creamy and pale. Sift in the icing sugar and add the milk and vanilla extract. Beat everything together until smooth.

7. Use a spoon to drop the icing onto the top of each cupcake and then use a flat knife to spread it, taking care not to drag the jam through the icing.

8. Finish off by decorating each cake with a glacé cherry and a sprinkle of flaked almonds.

What do you think? What have you been inspired to make thanks to the Great Comic Relief Bake Off?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A Friday Night In

Now let's get one thing straight before I begin. I don't spend every Friday night staying in, in front of the television. (Just a lot of them). 

Sometimes the perfect antidote to a long week is a quiet Friday night in by myself. With living away on placement, I'm away from my flat from Sunday night, so often when I get back I want to simply sit and appreciate some time in this lovely place I share with my friends. Some weeks, all I want to do when I get back on a Friday night is grab some dinner and get dressed to go out and see the people I don't see all week. But at other times, like this weekend, all I really want is some ice cream and something lighthearted to watch on the television (another luxury I don't have while being in placement accommodation).

We finished at the hospital just in time to hit rush hour traffic on the way back to Bristol, meaning the journey took almost two hours. I usually find that travelling home on Friday evenings makes me switch off and wind down from the week - so working or studying on a Friday night is never a possibility!

After a dinner out the freezer (an absolute essential when I can't always predict what time I'll get home on a Friday and don't want to have to worry about food shopping or cooking until at least the next day), I took a quick twenty minutes to straighten up the flat so that I can truly relax in a tidy living room and kitchen before nipping out to get a tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (Peanut Butter Cup, my new favourite!) and a bottle of Shloer - treats are essential for a night in! (A glass of wine also does the trick on other nights).

And then I switched on our fairy lights and settled down on the sofa just as the new series of Gogglebox began. Nothing makes me laugh out loud quite as much as this programme! The families featured are hilariously witty - I'd love to watch TV with them all, I think that would be more than entertaining!

This week I've sort of fallen into the habit of being in bed by 9pm (it's all the early starts and spending most of the day on my feet) and generally drifting off before 10, so as soon as Gogglebox was over, I was into my pyjamas and getting ready for bed... 

I took the time to properly do the Body Shop Warming Mineral Facemask - might as well use an evening in for some pampering - before jumping into bed and opening my Kindle. I'm currently reading 'Gone Girl' which is excellent. I'm disappointed that I watched the film before reading the book, because although the film was superb, I keep remembering what happens so the book doesn't have me in quite as much suspense as it should do.

As much as I love a good night out with friends, I also really enjoy these kind of nights to just refresh and have some time to myself. How did you spend your Friday night?



Thursday, 19 February 2015

Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream

There's nothing like the combination of cold weather, too much washing up in hot water and frequent use of alcohol hand gels and foams to completely dry out your hands. Add to that a fear of catching the dreaded norovirus that induces constant handwashing, it's no surprise my hands are looking a little worse for wear night now. Oh, and to top it all off - part of my current placement involves sitting in on dermatology clinics. That's generally three to four hours thinking about, talking about and examining skin. You know when you start thinking about an itch and then can't ignore it? My poor hands generally look even worse when I come out of a dermatology clinic. Just slightly ironic...

I do usually have a tube of hand cream lurking in the bottom of my bag, but usually they've come from gift sets and aren't really the best creams for my especially dry hands. I had been using a Burt's Bees Honey & Grapeseed cream that was soothing, but smelt a bit funny and didn't seem to be actually doing much to help with the dryness.

Sadly a timetable clash meant that I missed the dermatology tutorial that came with free samples of various skin creams, but last weekend I did pop into Boots and pick up a tube of Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. It was on offer at £2.77 (normally £3.69).

It's supposedly the stuff that Norwegian fishermen use, and I'd like to bet that they probably have hands way worse than mine! This cream promises "immediate and lasting relief for even the most dry hands." A 50ml tube of concentrated cream should last over 200 applications because you only need the smallest dab to work into your hands.

The product itself is almost more like a gel than a cream. A small amount does go a long way, but I do have to apply it straight to the areas where I need it, rather than just squeezing it onto my palm and rubbing it in. It absorbs into the skin very quickly which is perfect - no waiting around with greasy, slippery hands!

I've definitely noticed a difference in my skin too - my hands have been far less dry and cracked since using this about twice a day.It feels much more nourishing than other hand creams I've used before which have felt great, but only for about half an hour before my hands feel dried out again.

The hand cream is unscented which is great for skin that's easily irritated and I think that's probably another reason why I've found this to be so helpful. 

From now on, I'll always be carrying a tube of this around in my bag - and can continue washing my hands to stop spreading infections or picking up any nasty bugs myself!

What are your favourite products for dry hands?


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

RECIPE: Banana, Date and Almond Chocolate Bites

'Banana, Date and Almond Chocolate Bites' is the short title. They actually also contain dried cranberries and cashew nuts, but listing all the ingredients was too much of a mouthful for such delicate little things!

I've seen lots of recipes using dates and bananas to create similar things and I loved the idea of creating something a little healthier to snack on than chocolate biscuits and Nutella on toast...
Now I have to admit that although I've seen recipes for such things, I've never actually read or followed one properly. Somewhere in the first line I usually spot the words 'food processor' and switch off immediately. I'm a student with a tiny kitchen- I have no food processor! So this was a bit of an experiment, but luckily one that seems to have turned out pretty well. And no fancy kitchen equipment in sight - perfect.

These little morsels are sweet and squidgy... perhaps mine were a little too squidy, but I've adjusted the recipe below so that if you give these a go (and you definitely should) they will hopefully turn out just right. I'm never going to be the kind of person to entirely cut things like refined sugars or fats out of my diet, but I did enjoy the more natural sweetness these have which balances just perfectly with the bitter chocolate.

They're gluten free, and if you found an alternative to the chocolate covering (or just went without it) they could quite easily be adjusted to be dairy free too. 

To make approximately 20 pieces, you will need:
1 banana (riper the better)
3 medjool dates finely chopped
100g ground almonds
A handful of dried cranberries
 A handful of chopped cashew nuts
100g dark chocolate

In a mixing bowl, mash the banana to a smooth pulp with a fork. Add the dates (chopped as small as possible) and use the fork to mash them into the banana. Then add the ground almonds and mix everything to a dough-like consistency. It doesn't matter if you have a few lumps of dates, but it was actually quite satisfying to get everything as blended as possible!
Throw in the cranberries and cashew nuts and stir everything together. Line a plate or tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper, then take pinches of the mixture and roll between your palms to make small balls. Place them onto the paper. 
Melt the chocolate in a bowl, either in the microwave or oven a pan of boiling water. Take the balls of dough one at a time and dip them into the chocolate. It's a bit of messy process, but it's the best way to get them completely covered!
When they're all covered in chocolate, pop them in the fridge for a few minutes to set and then they're ready to enjoy. I'd recommend storing them in the fridge so that the chocolate doesn't melt.

These were so simple to make and taste so good. There's a good balance of textures too, with the hard chocolate shell and nuts working well with the very soft centre. I'm having to resist polishing off the whole lot before lunchtime!

As always, this is a really adaptable recipe. You could change the cashews for other nuts, or swap the cranberries for other dried fruit. You could also play around with making them look more interesting by rolling them in chopped nuts or fruit. Do let me know if you try them out!



Sunday, 15 February 2015

Little Things I've Loved This Week #3

Another busy week has passed, although this week felt a lot quicker than last. (Ooh, that kind of rhymes!) I've been spending time on the hospital wards again, as well as a few tutorials and some dermatology clinics. In the evenings I've been watching TV - Secret Life of Four Year Olds is my new favourite programme - and relaxing by reading my kindle or working through my Bloglovin feed. I've also had a lovely weekend of catching up with friends and watching the rugby (although the amount of work I get done on weekends definitely drops during 6 Nations season!!). Here are some of the other things I've loved this week:

Getting a much needed haircut. With travelling backwards and forwards between Bristol, placements and home in London, I've not really been in one place long enough, and with enough spare time, to get my hair done. It was long overdue, but I'm really happy with my much healthier and thicker  looking hair. Plus the salon I went to include a quick head, neck and shoulder massage before your haircut, and a hand massage during. It was the perfect way to relax and enjoy some pampering this weekend!

Compassionate ward rounds with a truly lovely consultant. I'm currently on a Care of the Elderly placement which is turning out to be a lot more enjoyable than I expected. I've also seen some really inspiring doctoring while doing ward rounds with a doctor who stops to help the patients eat and drink as she goes to see them. Hospital staff can sometimes get bad press for being 'too busy' to really look after patients properly and keep them comfortable, so it's been lovely to see an example of someone spending an extra minute or two doing this.

This adorable dalmation puppy video
(Click here)
I love cute animals videos and have probably lost days of my life to endless clicking on links in youtube, but this little one is especially sweet! I can't wait for the day when I can finally get a puppy of my own... sadly that's probably a long way off.

The response to my 'Typical Student Things I Haven't Done' post which can be found here. It's always nice when something you've put a lot of effort into gets a good reaction and it's made me really happy to have so many people commenting saying they're pretty similar to me! Not only that, but I even had texts and messages on twitter with people telling me how they compared. When I started blogging, I didn't realise how much opportunity there was to interact with readers, but now I look forward to reading comments on my posts and seeing what everyone thought.

Marks and Spencers lunches have been keeping me going on long days of placement! When mum visited last weekend, she treated me to a few bits and pieces such as salads and houmous which I've been using to make lunches to look forward to all week.

Emails from my old French teacher asking if she can use me in a display about former students and how we still use languages in our lives. It's lovely to be remembered, especially as I went to such a big school and left four years ago!

What have you been up to this week?

Friday, 13 February 2015

Book Review - Unravelled, Anna Scanlon

"No one heard us. They decided not to, to turn their heads away. 

It was too much to bear. Too much to know. Too hard to swallow. 

But now that the world knows, now that the world has heard, it all seems so simple, so easy to defray. 

I screamed and no one heard. 

Next time, will you be listening?"

As I've mentioned, this year I've been making an effort to get back into reading for pleasure again, and I have also been trying to get more use from my Kindle. 

Last month, PhD student, author and blogger Anna Scanlon celebrated a year since the release of her novel Unravelled by giving away free e-copies of the book. I downloaded a copy as soon as I saw her blog post announcing the offer and the other week I finally got round to reading the book. With commuting to my latest hospital placement, I had plenty of time in the morning to sit and read on the bus and I was easily able to lose myself in the story on the bus each day.

I've been reading Anna's blog for a number of months now, and I was initially worried that I'd struggle to properly engage with the book when I'd read so much about the processes of her writing and self publishing, and generally her day to day life! I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn't the case at all - Anna's writing drew me in to the story just as any other book where I know nothing about the author would do.

Unravelled tells the story of a young Hungarian girl, Hajna who, along with her family, is taken from her happy childhood life to Auschwitz where she is subjected to experimentation and cruelty. Hajna survives the ordeal, but then has to learn to carry on with her life despite it having been torn apart.

The story is written in two halves. The first is told from the perspective of Hajna and the discrimination, segragation and ultimately torture she faces at the hands of the Nazis. The second half comes from the perspective of Hajna's American cousin, Isabelle, as her family take in Hajna and must learn to deal with the effects Auschwitz has had on her.

The book touches on the strength of family and the pain of separation. It deals with discrimination and injustice. Most of all, it captures how an innocent young girl gets caught up in wide-scale terror and the impossible task of having to come to terms with her experience.

My knowledge of little details of history is not at all impressive - despite my A in GCSE history, it's not something I've ever really pursued - but reading this book even I could get a feel that Anna has tried to be as historically accurate as possible. This is no fairytale, no attempt is made to try and soften the realities of what the Holocaust victims were subject to. It feels real and raw. The writing is hauntingly descriptive and conveys the emotions of the characters perfectly. The way Anna has stuck to facts and backed up her writing with with real research and accounts makes this all the more sensitive to the real life victims.

This feeling of authenticity also made me want to find out more and on a couple of occasions I put the book down in order to look things up, such as who Mengele was and what the purpose of his wartime experiments were. I never picked up this book intending to learn things, but it made me curious.

The book is fast paced and easy to follow - I managed to finish it in just a few sittings. As I reached the final chapters of this book, I felt like the story was really getting going again - something which certainly bodes well for the release of the sequel!

You can find Anna's blog with more information about her  writing here:


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

'Typical Student' Things I've Never Done

When writing for students, it's all too easy for people to lump us all together, assume that all students are exactly the same and forget that actually student life can be hugely varied. While I love reading magazine articles, websites and blogs aimed at students, I often find myself struggling to relate to the stereotypical student that's portrayed. And actually, I don't think I'm a particularly unusual student. I do go out, I do live away from home and I do manage my lifestyle on a student budget rather than a working income. So today I'm breaking down those clichés just a little and listing a few of the 'typical student' things that I've never actually done...

1. Eaten a Pot Noodle for dinner. I think I've had one, maybe two, in my life as it is. I find them disgusting - they don't even look like food to me! Cereal for dinner, yes. Baked beans on toast, yes. But never a Pot Noodle. 

2. Gone for a night out at the Student Union. Now I think this is mainly a Bristol thing. I don't know anybody here who does. Being a city university rather than a campus, the union is pretty out of the way, especially during first year when it's a couple of miles from most of the halls of residence. There are plenty of cheap clubs and bars that are easier to get to than the union.

3. Pulled an all-nighter in the library. Much like the Pot Noodles experience, I can probably count the number of times I've stayed awake til morning in my whole life on a single hand. I don't work very well in libraries, and I definitely don't work very well past about 8 or 9pm at night. So it's pretty obvious why working through the small hours of the morning isn't something I would do! Some people do thrive off the pressure of leaving things to last minute, but I'm very much a get the essay started ASAP kind of person.

4. Gone on holiday during reading week. Mostly because I don't get reading weeks. End of.

5. Gone a whole term without cleaning the kitchen/ bathroom. Anyone who's ever lived with me will know that I can be just a little obsessive about cleaning. But I always feel a lot better knowing that everything is clean! In fact, my uni kitchen is probably closer to spotless than my home one...

6. Had a free cheeseburger/ McFlurry from McDonalds. McDonalds is tucked miles away from the university precinct - plus their food is never very appealing to me. Especially when you spend all day learning about health and disease.

7. Visited friends at other unis. Even though I keep promising to do so! This is one thing on the list I really want to make an effort to do before we all finish uni. The trouble is that I spend at least  half the year having to travel back from placement on the weekend, plus the fact that our term times and exam times often clash. But I will make this work somehow!

8. Eaten breakfast from a saucepan. This is probably due to the combination of my obsessive kitchen cleaning meaning that there are always clean bowls, plus the fact that for two years we had enough crockery to serve a three course to meal to 12 people. I have, however, eaten my cereal out of a large mug when  my most recent hospital accommodation came with three bowls for a six-person flat...

9. A very Bristol-specific one this - I've never had a Donervan's. No real excuses here. I'll just hang my head in shame. I have had Arches pizza though if that even slightly makes up for it.

Which typical student things have or haven't been part of your university experience?


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Little Things I've Loved This Week #2

The past seven days have been a pretty full-on week, with it being the first full week on my new placement (older age medicine and dermatology), my 22nd birthday, the start of the Six Nations, and a visit from my mum. It's these really busy weeks though when it's especially nice to look back over the days and pick out the best bits...

Reading on the bus to and from hospital. I spent nearly all of this week having to commute to a hospital a bit further from my accommodation, and although the early starts aren't much fun, I've actually really appreciated the half-hour journeys when there's nothing to stop me from opening up my Kindle and losing myself in a story. I've finished one book this week (The State We're In, Adele Parks), and I've made a good dent in Unravelled by Anna Scanlon.

Bubble baths in the en-suite bathroom in my new accommodation. Not only do I have a giant bedroom on this new placement, but I've been making the most of having a bath all to myself! Coming home after a long day in the hospital, running a hot bath and sticking Call The Midwife on my iPad has been the perfect way to wind down.

Having mum come to visit me in Bristol was lovely. She came for the afternoon yesterday, and we went out for lunch, a spot of shopping and finally coffee and cake - I opted for a delicious sticky toffee cake that was just the right level of sweetness. 

The start of the Six Nations is always a good time of year! We had the England match on before going out on Friday night, and then I managed to watch most of the France vs Scotland game yesterday evening. The 'who supports who' always gets a little bit confusing with having friends with connections to all the competing nations, but it's all good fun.

Gluten and dairy free brownies from Delicious Alchemy. I wanted to take some sort of 'birthday cake' with me to my placement this week, and I needed it to be suitable for everyone to eat, so finding this packet mix was ideal. All I needed to add was a couple of eggs and a little bit of dairy free spread. The resulting brownies were chocolaty, fudgy and squidgy - exactly how brownies should be!

A new Bombay Duck tea set from my sister as a birthday present. I'm a big fan of Bombay Duck and I love their range of china featuring zebras and polka dot prints. We already have matching mugs, so I was delighted when I opened a (beautifully wrapped!) box and found these tea cups and saucers inside. All I need now is a teapot!

There are actually so many more things I could write in this post - it's been a week full of loveliness and little moments to enjoy. What have you been up to this week?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Mindfulness - More Than Just Meditation

I remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of mindfulness, way back at the start of my first year of university. It was a small group tutorial and the tutor suggested we try something different to get us focused before starting on whatever tasks we had that day. Probably not a bad idea seeing as these tutorials generally came straight after a 9am lecture and it's pretty hard to feel like you're concentrating when you've spent the last hour sat in a warm lecture theatre with two hundred other people, very likely having been out the night before. Without really telling us what this was all about, the tutor led the group through a mindfulness meditation process of a body scan. At the time, I remember this feeling really weird. Why was this woman asking up to close our eyes and think about whether our feet felt hot or cold, and what the chair felt like against our backs?! I also remember her asking afterwards what we felt like... and being honest eighteen year olds we said we didn't really understand at all!

Mindfulness has popped up many times since then in my degree - I've even written an essay on the subject, discussing whether it's a useful technique to teach medical students. We've had bizarre tutorials involving mindfully eating a raisin (some groups had to 'listen' to their raisins) during which most people could only just about contain their giggles, and we've had lecturers lead the whole year through meditations to demonstrate stress pathways. It appears in medical literature as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety and I've met psychiatrists and GPs who recommend it to their patients.

It's not just during my course that I hear about mindfulness now though. I'm coming across it more and more frequently in every day life - on the news, in magazines and online. My experience of mindfulness has been pretty mixed. Sitting in a group intensely sniffing a sticky raisin was a bit of low point and doesn't do a lot for the image of meditation as something for everyone not just hippies, but practising some of the techniques for myself definitely brings a lot of benefits.

When I think of meditation, I still picture someone in floaty clothes, sat cross legged by some burning incense, chanting or humming. It seems pretty obvious that meditation can make you feel relaxed and chilled out at the time you do it, but it's less obvious that you can take some of the techniques and apply them to day to day life. Mindfulness isn't about going into a trance-like state, it's almost the opposite - about being fully aware of the moment rather than trying to focus on what you need to be doing in the future, or what's happened in the past. Here are some of the ways that the techniques used during mindfulness meditations can be applied to other situations in life...

Maintain focus during lectures or meetings.  
Lots of mindfulness meditations get you to focus on something specific right at that moment - perhaps a noise, or the feel of fabric on your skin. You learn to tune out of other sensations and pay attention to that one specific thing. When there's lots of background noise or distractions around you, or your thoughts are elsewhere, it can hard to concentrate on what's being said in a lecture or meeting. Applying the same technique of tuning in to just the speaker can help you listen and gain what you need to from the session.

Getting the most out of exercise.
Lots of mindfulness meditations focus on 'body scans' - taking different body parts in turn and thinking about how they feel. When running, it makes it easier to think about what my body is doing - whether that's noticing that I keep screwing my toes up as I land, tightness in one leg or the other or not breathing deeply enough. Noticing that I'm doing these things means I can correct them and improve my technique.

Enjoying food - and eating sensible portions
You could think of it a bit like wine tasting - rather than just gulping it down, taking the time to appreciate the flavours. While I don't suggest you sit there rolling every forkful around your mouth for ages, taking the time to eat slowly and really appreciate your food means you get a lot more from it. Apparently there have been studies that show that people who 'eat mindfully' eat less than those who don't, and I guess that probably makes sense. I'm not planning on cutting down my food intake anytime soon, but it might help me make my chocolate last a bit longer if I actually tasted it!

A way of dealing with stress or anxiety.
I've already mentioned that mindfulness is used in the treatment of anxiety and depression. It's not just the physical act of meditating that helps, but the learning to regulate thoughts and to recognise feelings of tension whenever they arise. Mindfulness teaches you to accept that thoughts come and go, but that you don't necessarily need to act on them right now. Being mindful of how your brain and body feel can help you recognise stress and anxiety much earlier and take action to deal with them.

Have you ever tried mindfulness? What benefits have you found from it?


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

RECIPE: Pitta Bread Pizza with Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onions

Pitta Bread Pizza with Caramelised Onion and Goat's Cheese

If I'm eating out and spot anything involving goat's cheese and caramelised onion on the menu, that's my decision made. No doubt about it, it's the perfect combination of slightly tangy cheese and sweet onions. I've also discovered that it's actually pretty easy to make at home too - and perfectly suited to student cooking.

I decided to use pitta bread as a base - just the right size for a light dinner (although feel free to double up if you need something more substantial!), and with 6 costing 50p in Sainsbury's, it's also a really cheap base. Plus pitta breads freeze really well so you can keep a stash for when you have pizza cravings. I'm pretty sure I've seen gluten free pitta breads too if you wanted to make this dinner coeliac friendly. 

To make one pizza

 1 wholemeal pitta bread
1/2 medium red onion
A small amount of butter and vegetable oil
1tsp caster sugar
1tbsp tomato passata
1/4 medium sized pepper
A few lumps of soft goat's cheese
Handful of spinach

(Side salad optional)

Pitta Bread Pizza with Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onions

Preheat the oven to 180°c and find a baking tray.

Chop the onion into rings. Don't cut them too thin or they'll burn - it's better to err on the side of slightly too thick and spend a bit longer softening them than to make them go all crispy! Then prepare the pepper - I cut mine into small chunks - and goat's cheese.

 Add a small piece of butter and a light drizzle of oil to a frying pan over a low heat and cover the surface of the pan. Keeping the heat as low as possible, add the onions. The aim is to soften them rather than fry them quickly on high heat. Once they've softened, add the sugar and stir around, still keeping a low heat. Leave in the pan to caramelised, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Caramelised Onions

While the onions are caramelising, spread the tomato passata over the pitta bread, then add the cheese, spinach and pepppers. Finally add the onions - they took about ten minutes to caramelise, but it may take longer if you're doing a larger quantity.

Pitta bread pizza recipe

Caramelised onions on pitta bread pizza with goats cheese

Put the pitta pizza onto a baking tray and place in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted (if you can still see it under everything else!).

Pitta bread pizza with caramelised onion and goats cheese

Take out of the oven and devour! I served mine with a side salad of the excess vegetables and a bit of rocket.

Pitta bread pizza

And as always, this recipe is completely adaptable and you could really put anything you like on these pizzas - the caramelised onions are a must though!

Pitta Bread Pizza with Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onions


Monday, 2 February 2015

The Running Diary #1 - Just Keep Running

When I started back at university this September, one of my goals was to starting running regularly. I did start, but I wasn't very good at keeping it up. I then made it one of my 2015 New Year's resolutions - because if it's a double resolution I'll be doubly determined, right? 

Actually, I have been. It's been going pretty well if I do say so myself. I left you with my post on 'The First Run of 2015' and now I think it's about time I let you know how it's been. In fact, I just re-read that post and now I'm feeling super-impressed with myself all over again! (Honestly, running endorphins do wonderful things.)

I bought more running clothes - seeing as I'm actually getting so much use from them now, I felt like it was no longer a waste of money. I also wanted some fluorescent and reflective clothing for running in the evenings. Sports Direct do great sales, both in store and online, and I got some big discounts on a jacket, sports bra and running tights. I swear it's been completely unintentional that I've ended up with a very coordinated set of running kit - everything is black and pink! Might use that as an excuse to buy a few different coloured items...

I also downloaded the Nike Running app to keep track of my runs - so long as my GPS holds out, this means I can instantly see how far I've run, how fast I've gone and where in the run I've gone quickest or slowed down. I'm the kind of person who loves seeing statistics and analyses, so watching myself improve each time and beat my records is so satisfying. The only thing is, I don't have music on my phone (I know that's probably weird in this day and age), so my headphones are connected to my iPod, meaning that the Nike app talks out loud unless I remember to switch off the voice setting. I like knowing how far I've run, but I don't need everyone around me to know too!

The Runs
Since that first run in January, I carried on doing one or two 5km runs a week, generally on the weekends or when I had mornings off uni. I actually find myself getting quite excited at the prospect of going for a run, and once I've set myself a time to go I'm pretty good at sticking to it.

The past couple of weeks, I noticed that I was feeling a lot better on the runs, that they were getting much easier and that I felt like I could keep going a lot longer. When I've had the time, I've been doing longer distances, and when I've had more on, I've been doing much faster short runs just to keep things varied.

The Big Run
I ran 9.44 miles (just over 15km) on Friday which felt amazing. Tiring, but such an achievement! I hadn't actually planned on going quite so far, but my housemates who are half-marathon training were doing it and so I decided to tag along. My original intention was to stick with them for a bit, then peel off and do a shorter distance by myself.

I think now that I've got my cardiovascular fitness a lot better though, I can find a natural pace and stick quite comfortably at it for a much longer time than I realise. Running with friends keeps me motivated and helps me overcome the mental block that says I should stop, when actually my legs are having no trouble carrying on! I've I had been by myself, I'd probably have only gone about half of that - and it would have felt ok, but not quite such an achievement. 

Seeing as (despite rumours and suspicions) I'm not actually entered into any races at the moment, timing isn't something I'm focusing on. I can comfortably run at about a 10 minute mile pace over that kind of distance, and maybe push on a bit to get nearer a 9'30 minute mile at 5km. I know I can actually run faster, but it's not as comfortable and I quite like having enough breath to chat if I'm with others (or, er, sing along to my running playlist if I'm alone haha).

The best bit though was probably the house yoga session we did afterwards - I'm pretty sure you're not meant to giggle between all the stretches, but my muscles definitely appreciated it!

The Injuries
Luckily nothing serious! But Friday's run left me with a blister right on the arch of my foot. When I attempted to go running Sunday morning, I got about 1km before feeling it pop and then start to rub - ouch! Seeing as I need my feet to be in good working order for walking round hospital wards this week, I had to stop running. Disappointing, but not every run can be 'the best' I suppose!

I think it's pretty safe to say that I've caught the 'running bug' - why else would anyone voluntarily go for a 9 mile jog on a Friday night?! This does mean that there's almost certainly going to be more Running Diary posts. This might be my most successful new year's resolution ever!
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