Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Naturally Sassy - A Recipe Book Review

Naturally Sassy Recipe Book Review

My cookbook collection is a pretty accurate reflection of my day to day diet. You'll find Mary Berry classic dishes nestled next to an entire book dedicated to avocado. There are countless cake and bread books and Deliciously Ella tucked up against a book on chocolate. Essentially, it's all about balance and enjoying a virtuous salad just as much as a chunky slice of chocolate cake.

Experimenting in the kitchen is one of my favourite ways to fill free time, so I love picking up new recipe books to try out.

The latest addition is "Naturally Sassy", a healthy cookbook written by Saskia Greggson-Williams.

It's a fabulous selection of healthy, nutritious and naturally tasty dishes, covering everything from breakfast to dessert. 

Naturally Sassy Recipe Books Dessert Page

One of the most important criteria for me when choosing new recipes books is the type of ingredients required. If I'm not confident I'll be able to buy the majority of them in a big supermarket, I won't buy the book. Luckily Naturally Sassy requires easily sourced ingredients - something Saskia deliberately tried to achieve. 

As a bonus, lots of the recipes use quite similar ingredients, so it's easy to stock up on the cupboard essentials and fresh produce, without necessarily having specific dishes in mind. While meal planning is great, sometimes it's nice to be a bit more spontaneous - so these recipes are perfect for being able to pick up the basics without needing to think too hard.

The recipes themselves are excellent. I'm not strictly vegetarian, but I get so much more use from veggie cookbooks - I find there are far more recipes that appeal to me. And in fact, every single recipe in this book appeals to me.

Healthy salads for lunch preparation

While testing some of the recipes out, I've also noticed that they are really accurate which is a massive bonus. The timings are spot on, the portion sizes ideal and my finished dishes even look remotely like the photos!

I really like the fact that there are lots of ways to vary the recipes - Saskia has included tips and "switch it up" ideas for many of them, so there's no chance of getting bored, eating the same things. I also love some of the "How to Make" sections that are about a type of dish rather than a single recipe. Overnight oats, balance bowls, smoothies - they each get a spread with mix and match components which are ideal for creating your own favourites. 

How to make overnight oats Naturally Sassy

I also agree with a lot of Saskia's attitudes to food and how healthy eating is something that can be very simple and should be easy to enjoy. There are a few bits I'm less convinced on the science about but they don't make any difference to whether or not I want to try the recipes. Every recipe is also meat, dairy and wheat free - not essential to me at all, but I either adapt recipes to use my preferred ingredients, or simply keep them "free-from" and enjoy the innovative use of a plant-based diet. 

Spinach and kale in frying pan

I've already had a try at a few of the recipes in the book (and been inspired by many, many more). The "Sunday Prep" lunches was an absolute lifesaver during my on-call week - I made up all the different salad components on the Monday evening and had enough to last right through to Sunday, Delicious, healthy lunches that took no more than an hour's work!

Tupperware boxes of healthy salads

Then I gave the quinoa with orange-chilli kale and roasted butternut squash a go and was thrilled with the result. It tastes every bit as good as it looks.

Recipe for quinoa, kale and squash

Quinoa with orange-chilli kale and butternut squash

So if you're looking for healthy eating inspiration, new lunch ideas or simply to expand your cookbook collection, I'd 100% recommend this book. I know I'll be dipping into it for ideas for a long time to come!

Naturally Sassy recipe book

Have you tried out Naturally Sassy? What should the next book be for my collection?



Sunday, 29 January 2017

Little Things I've Loved This Week #41

This has been one of those weeks where looking for the positives has been crucial. I've been working on-call shifts every single day and the department has been overwhelmingly busy - thanks to the  icy weather making everyone fall over.  It's easy to find lots of happy things in a good week, but I'm always more grateful for them in weeks like this one. So here are some of the little things I've loved this week (apologies that they're basically all work related!)...

The team Whatsapp group. We work a pretty stressful job and there are definitely days that if we didn't laugh, we'd cry. So checking my phone towards the end of my shift on Tuesday and finding 200 messages from the other doctors just ranting and joking about life as a T&O junior cheered me up no end! I don't think any of the nurses caught me laughing to myself in the office...

That satisified, healthy tired feeling after exercising. This week I became the kind of person who goes to they gym on a Saturday night #sorrynotsorry. (To be fair though, I was just going after work so it felt like a regular midweek day anyway). I love the feeling of knowing I'm going to sleep well that night!

Picnic bars. I tend to get obsessed with a particular chocolate bar before eating so many I eventually get sick of them. I've actually been trying not to keep buying food while I'm at work, but when the hunger kicks in at 7pm these have been my snack of choice this week!

Finding shortcuts in the hospital I didn't know existed. I've worked here for nearly six months now, but I discovered yesterday that there's a door linking two parts of the hospital that is so much quicker than the long route I've always taken before. I think things like this excite me more than they should really...

Tasty lunches. I bought a new recipe book last weekend (that I plan to be reviewing soon!) that had a plan for preparing a batch of various salad bits that can be mix-and-matched together to make lunch each day. Monday evening I got everything made, and then each night this week all I've had to do is put a few together in a tupperware box ready for a delicious lunch to take to work. It's definitely something I want to get into the habit of doing.

What have you been up to this week?

Friday, 27 January 2017

It's not all bad

"Even the worst shifts come to end, eventually."

I can't actually remember where I first heard this but it's something I've found myself repeating in my head far more than I'd like to recently. 

Work is tough right now. I can't decide whether I absolutely love being a doctor or whether I regret it with every fibre of my being...

This week has been particularly hard. And today was day five of seven. ("You're sixty-five percent of the way though!" my colleague kindly remarked at lunchtime today...)

It was one of those days where I just wanted to come home, feel sorry for myself and head straight to bed, forgetting all about it. But I'm determined  not to let bad days at work spoil everything else. It's not all bad.

Don't they say never go to bed on an argument? Well I'm resolving to try not to go to bed in a bad mood either!

So before I'd even got my coat and shoes off, I headed straight to the bathroom to run a hot bath with plenty of bubbles and a couple of candles.

Soothing light, warm water and a scent that relaxes me almost immediately.

Sometimes just telling someone else all your troubles is all it takes to relieve your mind. So I'm always so grateful for my closest friend, the one who I can literally type away to without even pausing to filter what I'm saying. It takes only a matter of a minute or two to get it all out in a message!

Getting organised is something that also makes me feel just generally better about life, so I blasted out some happy music while preparing some breakfast and lunch for tomorrow - two fewer tasks to do in the morning. 

And with a healthy lunch and breakfast sitting waiting in the fridge, I decided that I could probably forgo a proper dinner for one night... Because there's nothing quite like two slices of toast with thickly spread Nutella to cheer me up!

In the past I've definitely found myself letting one bad part of the day get the better of me. Nowadays I'm trying much harder to remember that it's not all bad. Sure, some things are out of my control - but that's all the more reason to make good where I can!

What are you favourite ways to de-stress after a difficult day?

Monday, 23 January 2017

Day Off Breakfast

Boiled eggs and toast with coffee and smoothie breakfast

Breakfast done well is easily my favourite meal of the day.

Now my typical morning routine involves waking just after 6am, and try to dash in and out of the cold kitchen as quickly as I can. I throw oats and milk into a pan, stir up some porridge while the kettle boils, then hurry back to bed to eat my breakfast in the warmth.

(I guess I could just switch the kitchen radiators on and eat at the table - but then I'd have to move the pile of ironing I like to ignore!)

Porridge. Coffee. Orange juice. No thought, just something quick and filling for the day ahead.

So come my days off, I like to make something of an effort with my first meal of the day. 

I love the smell of proper coffee brewing in the cafetiere, rather than guzzling down a cup of the instant stuff.

Smoothie and coffee for breakfast

Adding a little extra goodness to the breakfast with a fruity juice or smoothie, freshly blitzed there and then. This one's simply half a mango, a handful of raspberries and a good dose of apple juice.

fruit in a blender

And then there's the salty combination of buttery toast and a couple of eggs. This time around I went for boiled eggs and soldiers, but I regularly mix it up with poached eggs, scrambled eggs, bagels, pancakes... 

(I'll let you in on a little secret... I'd actually planned that oh-so-cliché breakfast of poached eggs and avocado on this particular morning, but the avocado turned out to be one of those rogue ones that seem perfectly ripe until you slice them open to find a rock solid centre...)

There's something incredibly satisfying about getting boiled eggs just right. My perfect boiled eggs need to have the whites cooked through, while the outermost yolk is slightly soft, with plenty of runny yolk left for dipping in the toast. I'm fairly sure I get it more through luck than skill each time because I'm never very consistent with remembering to set a timer!

Boilings eggs in pan

Boiled eggs and soldiers

I enjoy making breakfast something of an occasion, even when I'm just cooking for myself. It makes me think of weekend brunches in Clifton (ahh how I miss my Bristol life...) and long holidays with nowhere to be first thing in the morning.

Rather than huddling back under my duvet, half listening to the warbling radio, I like being able to sip my coffee and watch the television, ideally with the sunlight streaming in through the window. 

Breakfast on table

Boiled eggs and toast with coffee

There's just something about setting yourself up for the day with a hearty breakfast, bringing it all together with warm food, fresh coffee and a sweet juice full of flavoursome goodness. And that peaceful feeling, taking my time to actually enjoy it all. It makes me feel like I've got my life together, ready for a productive day (even if that's just getting on top of my TV 'to-watch' list). 

Sot boiled eggs with toast

breakfast on a day off

Just don't leave it too late, or it becomes brunch and that's a whole other experience altogether!

What would be in your perfect day off breakfast?



Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Real Health | Hydration - What should we be drinking?

After the positive reception to the introduction of my 'Real Health' series, I'm bringing the first of my posts discussing the health advice, hints and tips going around. As I said in the introduction, we're tending towards overcomplicating our ideas of what it means to be healthy, making it feel like achieving the near-impossible. My aim with this series is to break down the ideas that health is something for everyone, not an extra hobby or activity for when we've got the time...

Glass of water on pile of magazines


So, hands up who's ever resolved to "drink more water"? 

Why was that? Is it because you genuinely find yourself thirsty throughout the day? Or is it that you once (or twice, or many times) read in an article somewhere that you should be drinking two to three litres of water a day?

As I started writing this post, I googled "drinking two litres of water a day". The number one result? A popular women's magazine with an article about the skin changes one woman perceived after drinking three litres of water. Nothing scientific, she just thought the water "had done something." 

There is tonnes of writing out there about why we should be drinking more water - everything from flushing out toxins and aiding weight loss, to improving concentration and brightening skin.

Glass of water on wooden surface

The Official Advice

Now, it's true that Public Health England's Eatwell Guide does suggest drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day. 

And yes, fluids are important for maintaining healthy functioning of the human body. But we're all different. We all have slightly different metabolic rates, we have different levels of activity and we spend our days in a huge variety of environments. Studies have been done to try and come up with an answer to exactly what we need, but there are so many variables it's difficult to come up with a perfect answer. Producing health advice that is both accurate and simple to follow is a further challenge. That's why it's a guide and not steadfast rules. 6 to 8 glasses, are nice round numbers that can more or less be applied to most people but that doesn't mean it's the target for everyone to aim for.

Filling glass of water from tap

So what do we need?

As I said, it's pretty much impossible to come up with the perfect number. What we need on a cold day when we're not doing very much is going to be entirely different to what we need running around on a hot day. 

Even when I'm working in the hospital, I still have to estimate what people need. Generally we work off the idea that the average, healthy person will need 25-30ml/kg/24hr. This is a very rough guide, simply because we need something to work from. And that's for fluid from food and drink! 

If you're feeling thirsty, tired, dizzy or your urine's getting dark these can all be signs that you're not getting enough hydration. But if you're feeling alright, chances are you've got nothing to worry about.

The body can regulate fluids all on it's own!

Our bodies are pretty good at regulating fluids. This isn't a physiology lesson so I'm not going to go into the details of the various hormones, receptors and how the kidneys function - but take my word for it that our bodies are pretty used to coping! It's just balancing what goes in with what comes out. 

Did you count every glass of water you drank each day when you were a child? Our whole life, our bodies have been getting by just fine, doing their own thing. When we need more water, we feel thirsty. It's kind of as easy as that really. So there's no need to suddenly decide one day that we're going to start drinking loads more. Honestly, our brain knows our requirements better than some healthy living article does!

Just to emphasise this point further, one of the routine blood tests we do on pretty much everyone who comes to hospital is one to check levels of electrolytes in the blood. It's a good marker for hydration and whether the kidneys are functioning alright. I almost never see a young person with any evidence of dehydration. And I'm willing to bet that the people who come through the hospital doors are not the people religiously sticking to drinking lots of water every day... Young people's bodies are particularly good at regulating fluids.

If we're drinking more water than we need, our kidneys will just produce more urine to get rid of the excess. You can't try to make your body use more! (And yes, it's rare but it is possible to drink too much. Overdoing it can drop the levels of sodium in your blood which can cause confusion, irritability, seizures and coma). 

As for all the 'beauty benefits' of water - that comes from just getting our hydration right, not from extra fluid! So yes, if you've been a bit dehydrated, increasing your intake will make you feel better but it might not take quite as much as you think.

Where should we get fluid from then?

Earlier on I said that fluid comes from food and drink. So our daily requirements don't have to come entirely from glasses of water! Eating a balanced diet with a selection of fruit and vegetables is a good start to getting our hydration right. And all drinks count; water, fruit juice, fizzy drinks, tea, coffee, milk... 

We don't need to be carrying round two litres of water to try and drink on top of anything else we're already having!

Now increasing water intake by swapping out less healthy choices isn't a bad idea. If you're currently keeping hydrated purely on fizzy drinks for instance, changing some of those for water will have benefits in terms of sugar intake and healthy teeth. Similarly, lots of caffeine can worsen anxiety - so drinking water instead of coffee now and again is good too.

Glass of carrot, apple and ginger juice

Drinks cartons in fridge

So in conclusion...

There's really no need to overthink how much water we're drinking. Calculating exact requirements and trying to keep track of what we take in during the day just isn't necessary.  If you feel thirsty, then you need to drink. So long as you're not constantly ignoring when you physically feel thirsty, you're probably doing alright. Simple, no? 

Just to note...

Everyone is different. I've written this based very generally on average, healthy people. This is intended to be discussion only and should not be taken as official medical advice. If you are concerned about your health, you should seek medical advice from your own doctor, NHS 111 service or attend A&E if it's an emergency. Plenty more information can be found on the NHS website.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Little Things I've Loved This Week #40

The weeks always go much quicker when I'm not working all seven days. There have been lots of good things about this week so I've been trying to savour these happy moments before they rush by! I'm finally starting to feel that I'm finding my feet again in my new job, plus I've been making the most of the time I'm not at work - all leading to feeling much more content with life :) Here are the little things I've loved this week:

1. A comfy day-off outfit. I'm not one for spending all day in my pyjamas (in fact it's pretty rare that I ever leave my bedroom in PJs!), but a soft grey sweater and a pair of leggings are the perfect things for cosying up on a rainy Monday.

2. Unexpectedly having a three day week. My rota's in a bit of a mess at the moment thanks to transitioning to a new contract, so I hadn't realised that I got both Monday and Friday off this week! I turned up to work on Tuesday and had to check my rota about four times before I genuinely believed I only had to be there until Thursday. 

3. Getting my blogging inspo back. Since writing this post I've gotten back into the swing of just writing and not getting quite so caught up in thinking about how to word my posts. 

4. Poached eggs for breakfast on a work day! I've always gotten up way earlier than strictly necessary in the mornings, yet never think to use that time to do something more than just porridge or cereal for breakfast. It's nice to mix things up now and again :)

5. Audiobooks. I'm not normally swayed by promotional emails and offers, but somehow Audible always get me. I cancelled my subscription a few months ago because I didn't need to be downloading an audiobook every month, but they recently sent an offer to have three months at a great discount. This month I've downloaded the Little Book of Hygge - it's the ideal audiobook for going to sleep to! (Plus it's great as audiobook as I don't have to worry about how on earth any of the words should be pronounced!)

6. Realising that the current Facebook message thread with my best friend has over 25,000 messages in it (some of which are pretty much essays they're so long). And that's not including the first few years where Facebook used to make you start a new message thread once the current one got "too full", or some of the threads we deleted due to the fact they're just too embarrassing to ever look back at. Or the many, many text messages, whatsapps and snapchats we've sent over the years. That's a lot of chatting!

7. Lunch, lattes and four kinds of cake, plus a good catch up with two great friends. We finally found a weekend we were all free, and it was so nice to spend the afternoon together!

What have been the best bits of your week?


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Real Health | Health Isn't A Hobby

Wellbeing is big business.

It's a rapidly growing industry with new products, publications and professionals appearing week on week. 

Health is at the very centre of what I do. As a doctor, my entire working life is based around health - defined as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being" by the World Health Organisation.

The way I see it, health isn't an optional extra, a hobby for those who feel like it. As it becomes an ever more commercialised, rule-driven entity, it starts to alienate people more and more. Health is something we all need to be thinking about, taking responsibility for, and just making it the part of everyday life that it should be.

We've hugely overcomplicated our idea of being healthy. Healthy eating isn't about superfoods and tracking our macros and micronutrients. It's not about picking a diet with a defined list of does and don'ts, can eat, can't eats. It's about just getting a good balance of fresh, nutritious foods. 

Exercise doesn't have to be about slogging it down at the gym or training for a marathon. It's just about finding time in your day to get up and move around. 

And how about mental health? Mindfulness and meditation are all well and good, but where on earth are you supposed to find the 10 minutes for it when you're already meant to be cramming the day with preparing elaborate superfood salads and working up a sweat on the treadmill?!

I'm not saying that wellness and the health and fitness industry are a bad thing. Personally I take a lot of inspiration from these ideas. But we have got to remember that health isn't a hobby just for the keen. Being healthy isn't something to opt into when we've got time. We need to take it back to basics so everyone can get onboard.

This isn't the last you'll be hearing from me on health. Oh no... I'm dedicating a brand new blog series to the topic! Look out for 'Real Health' posts on Ginevrella where I'll get discussing these ideas further and thinking about how we can take a back-to-basics approach to health, treating it as simply the way of life it ought to be.


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Writing, writing, writing

I've deleted the introduction to this post four times already, and I've only been working on it for about sixty seconds.

This is the trouble I'm having with my blog at the moment. 

I love blogging. I love reading blogs, I love putting together my own posts, I love creating something to be proud of. But lately I've been struggling.

It's not that I don't have things to write about. The inspiration is there, it's just that I seem to have a bit of a block when it comes to typing it up. My drafts folder is stuffed with half written posts.

I think I'm overthinking things. Rather than sitting down and just typing, I'm trying too hard. I'll have a great idea for a blog post, but I get stuck putting it into words and sentences and paragraphs. I worry that I'm losing what I wanted to be focusing on. Or as I get typing, the points I want to  make keep expanding and cascading on and on, and suddenly I've got a long post that's almost impossible to follow.

Or sometimes I worry that I've made a point, but don't really have anything to back it up with. Maybe it's all my training in evidence-based practice, all the journal papers I've (kind of) read. Over the past five years, it's been completely drilled into me that everything needs backing up. Sometimes science rather stifles creativity. 

So many of my drafts are opinion style pieces, but then I get concerned with balance. What if people disagree with my opinion?! What if they think I'm being too one-sided? So then I start trying to balance out my opinion and the whole post becomes some pointless, non-committed, sitting-on-the-fence waffle. 

As blogs become brands and businesses, it's easy to get caught up in trying to turn an online diary into something of a one-person magazine, with posts becoming more of a 'feature' than a friendly chat.

When I'm struggling with my blog, I like to look to my favourite bloggers and think about what it is they do that keeps me coming back. Something I admire is the illusion of 'effortless' blog posts. While I'm sure all these bloggers are putting tonnes of effort into what they do, it's their casual style posts that entice me back again and again. They're not heavily researched articles. They're not essays. They're not magazine features. They simply seem to be the work of someone sitting down and just writing

So that's what I'm trying to do. Care less, so that I can care more. Stop giving up on my posts before I even finished them. Accept rough drafts and refine them, rather than aim for perfection from the offset.

Hopefully that's just the boost I need to get back into the swing of things.

What are you top tips for blogger's block?


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Little Things I've Loved This Week #39

Happy New Year, all! I can't believe we're only just over a week into 2017 - I've been back at work since the 2nd and haven't yet stopped (SO ready for a day off tomorrow). Despite spending the week oncall, it's been a positive one. I've stuck to my resolutions about a better work-life balance and I'm definitely feeling the benefits. So keeping things cheery, here are some of the little things I've loved this week...

1. The most peaceful of supermarket shopping trips. 9am on a Tuesday morning. Barely any other shoppers, just an army of grocery-pickers making up online deliveries. No radio blaring. No in-your-face Christmas decorations. No crowds, queues or in-the-way trolleys. Just me, my basket and all the shelves fully stocked.

2. The pharmacist who thanked me many times over for sorting something out for a patient who was unexpectedly being discharged that day. While I don't expect to be thanked for every little task I do, it felt good to have my efforts acknowledged for once!

3. This picture. It was one of the first things I saw while scrolling through Facebook on Thursday morning and for some reason it really tickled me!

4. Dinner with the other FY1 doctors. It's great to get together with the others and just remind myself that I'm not the only person still adjusting to working life as a doctor! We went out for curry as a big group, and yes we did talk medicine most of the night but actually it helps to just let off a bit of steam.

5. Saturday evening gym session, followed by a pizza. Because life's all about balance.

6. Spotify playlists. For when I want something relaxing in the background and the radio is just too chatty. 

7. A relaxed lunch and coffee break, actually at lunchtime on Saturday at work. The other oncall doctor and I made the most of a quiet period to sit, chat and drink coffee with the only interruptions being simple bleeps that could be dealt with over the phone. 

8. Enjoying the daylight on my late mornings. I've been starting work at 11am which means I get to actually see some daylight in the mornings and this always makes the day feel a hundred times better!

What have been the highlights of your first week of 2017?!
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