Monday, 30 September 2013

The Power of a Happy Heart

Oh my goodness, I did the most exciting thing on Saturday. I went to Paris. For the day. I know! How crazy is that?! If you had told me a year ago that I would be making that trip, I would have raised one very skeptical eyebrow at you and gone back to being ill, but I have learned a lot in the past 12 months about the resilience of the human spirit as well as the power of the mind to heal the body, so when Susan, one of my oldest and dearest friends, called to say she'd be in Paris (when normally she resides over 5,000 miles from there), I just knew I had to get myself there!

My energy levels can still be low and unpredictable, but I was determined to make the trip... and be just fine doing it, too. I love Susan like a sister and we only get to see each other every few years. And Paris? Well, it was always going to happen, wasn't it? I got up with the birds and set off for the Eurostar. Any full-time mom will wax lyrical about the joys of solo travel and I am no exception. I settled happily into my seat with only my own needs and interests to meet. I snoozed, I read a magazine, I gazed absent-mindedly out the window and at no time did anyone ask me for a snack!

One of the things I have found to be true during my healing process is that it is almost always a case of mind over matter. When I am worried or unhappy, my energy dips and lethargy starts to creep in. If I don't nip it in the bud and instead let myself get really upset, I end up in bed with palpitations and chest pains. On the flip side, when I am able to maintain a healthy level of awareness regarding my emotions, I can simply detach from whatever I was about to become engaged in and just watch it roll on by. I read somewhere that our true nature is like that of the sun, always shining and bright, while our emotions are like the weather, just passing through. When I remember that, my energy lifts and I am able to tap into a space where anything is possible.

Therefore, I was not surprised to find my energy soaring when I saw Susan waiting for me at Gare du Nord. My heart actually lifted. Isn't that an amazing thing? I know of no medication that is as effective as a joyous heart. The bottom line is that I was happy, truly happy. Here was a person that I love and I was going to get to spend the whole day with her. My mood had an immediate and powerful impact on my physical health.

First, we hooked up with her beautiful family to say hello and then, being tourists, headed for lunch at Les Deux Magots before stopping to pick up some brilliant French pharmacy goodies. Then a quick pit-stop at Ladurée (bien sur!), followed by a gentle stroll along the Seine, through the Île de la Cité, chattering in the warm sunshine all the way to Notre Dame. Rain was predicted, but instead the sun came out. The perfect metaphor. I need not have worried for one minute about my heart. It was happy, so it was fine, and it reminded me yet again about how powerful living authentically can be.

I am so grateful for this wonderful adventure and to my generous husband for making it possible, and to Susan for sharing it, and her lifelong friendship, with me. They are both helping to heal my heart. Tell me, what boosts your energy levels and lifts your spirits? (A salted, caramel macaroon, perhaps?) Can you find a way to incorporate a bit more of it into your life? Well, maybe not too many macaroons, but definitely more of those special moments that connect you with whatever really matters, just to you.  Have a think. I promise it will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step!

Friday, 27 September 2013


Our poor kids grow up way too fast nowadays. Television and the internet expose them to things that they should not yet be aware of, modern-day education tests them into a stupor and saps them of the joy of learning, and media and peer pressure both conspire to sexualize them way before it is remotely appropriate. So, it was with a happy heart that I observed my beautiful nine-year-old last night. She had just returned from a field trip with her class to the Essex coast and was arranging the shells she had found on the beach in a circle out on the terrace.

Her concentration and sheer pleasure was so apparent that it lifted my spirits just to watch her carefully arranging each shell, turning them over in her hands to observe the colours and textures, all the while chattering about all the sights and sounds and smells of her day. Again, it made me question our choice to stay in an urban environment during our daughters' childhoods.

Then, she washed and laid out her other finds, which were much less poetic and a whole lot smellier (a crab leg, some shark's teeth and a bit of turtle poo, I'm assured, among them), and my musing ended as my thoughts filled instead with days of sand and mud being trekked through the house and odd bits of animal ("they're fossils, Mom!") being proferred like dead birds from a cat! No, we can stay in town and have little forays into the countryside, I think!!

Well, that's it for today as I am overwhelmingly tired, but was just so touched by this little scene that I wanted to share it. Has anything made your heart spring open unexpectedly recently?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


What is it about fog? Everyone seems to have a slightly different reaction to it, but it certainly provokes a response in us all. I find it comforting. It's like being wrapped in a duvet and being handed a hot chocolate by the person who loves you the most. For me, it is also full of hope and expectation. When I wake up, as I did this morning, and see that London has disappeared, my heart soars. I think, "Ooh, anything is possible today...." and I wonder what I will "see" when the fog lifts. It seems to offer the possibility of change.

It renders the world quiet and peaceful and gives a sense of time frozen. How nice, like closing your eyes amidst the chaos and having a little space to pause and reconsider, perhaps see something in a new light, make a different decision, see a habit that is no longer serving us, or grasp hold of an idea that has previously been percolating just out of our reach. There are opportunities in the fog that get me all fired up.

I wrote a piece in my writing journal about fog back in 1991. It was the first time I had really thought about it consciously and I just went and unearthed the book to see what I said about it back then: It's like looking at something that, in a way, you can't really see. It seems alive and I can't stop looking at it. It evokes images of Sherlock Holmes hurrying down a cobblestone street, and makes you want to use the word "Dickensian" in some context or another. It's so thick and murky, as if you could actually put it in a jar and observe it. It smells so distinct, the way an outdoor wood fire does, but it is a warm, slightly sour odour, steely and damp. People always used to say not to go out in a fog. Why? There is something ominous about it. Everything is quiet in a fog, as though it swallows sound. Sounds come through at a distance, muffled, like a dog howling far from where you are, but always feeling perilously closer....but in a direction you cannot discern.

Ha, I can see my dramatic 20-something self in there, but the observations still hold. It was nice to revisit my thoughts from all those years ago and to get lost again in some this morning. The photograph above was taken this morning on the Thames. My dear friend Loralie and I were out on our weekly walk, putting our worlds to rights, as usual, but this morning there was definitely something mystical in the air moving alongside us and I, for one, was very grateful for the fog and all that it brought us today. What about you? Do you experience fog in this way too, or do you have another response altogether?

Friday, 20 September 2013

Casual Entertaining: Garlic Chicken Wraps

Ooh, here it is: my first foodie post! I have chosen Casual Entertaining because one of our favourite go-to recipes is in it. It's not even so much of a recipe, but more of an idea. I love Ross Dobson's approach to feeding people. His beautiful food is delicious, accessible and comforting. It also pulls off that trick of being packed full of flavour while not using very many ingredients. Genius.

We are on the cusp of autumn weather here and are in need of good transition meals. We still want something a little fresh tasting, but it needs to have more oomph to it than what we've been eating over the hot months of summer. This recipe for chicken shish kebabs with garlic sauce fits the bill perfectly: easy to assemble and very more-ish. The garlic sauce is the only "cooking" bit and couldn't be easier. There is also something satisfying about whisking in the oil slowly so it doesn't curdle: it makes me feel "cheffy"!

There are many sections in the book, catering to all your kitchen needs: from "Grazing" to "Chic Eats" to this wonderfully easy, yet heavenly recipe for chicken pot pies in the "Cheap and Cheerful" section. This is his version in the picture below, not mine, but so straightforward is the recipe that mine looked exactly the same and were polished off down to the last, buttery flake of pastry by adults and children alike.

If this has whet your whistle, Dobson has several other books that are well worth checking out. If you are feeling virtuous and, like me, have a desire to try cooking with all those wholegrains that are a bit of a mystery to us more pedestrian home cooks (I'm looking at you quinoa, aduki beans, buckwheat...), then he demystifies them magnificently in Wholefood Kitchen. Keep an eye out for a second-hand copy as this title is quite hard to come by.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A Gathering Storm

I have a scan today to check how the healing of my heart is progressing and I have to admit to being a little nervous, which is not like me. In fact, it kept me up last night, so I was very grateful to my friend Helen for lending me just the right book at just the right time. I had picked up books by Rachel Hore in the bookshop before, but put them down again as being not quite right at the time. This week, however, the timing for her could not have been better and when I picked up A Gathering Storm I found I could not put it down again!

Sometimes we need to lose ourselves in another world. I am exhausted from the school holidays and desperately in need of total bed rest, but I find that hard to accept, so being completely and utterly sucked into another world was the best distraction possible and when I couldn't read another word, I found I could just sleep the heavy, dreamless sleep I needed because none of my own thoughts were floating close enough to the surface to keep me awake.

I love novels that have a mix of romance and mystery (as in intrigue, not murder!) and prefer them to use the flashback device! I know it's as old as the hills, but I just love the thought of being able to visit the past, really just as it was, and a well-written story will likely be as close as I will get. This tale moves from Lucy's story in the present day, trying to understand the mystery that was plaguing her father when he died, to the time before and during the Second World War and deals with the emotional fall-out of the characters' decisions during that extraordinary time.

It was extremely well researched and therefore believable in all its myriad, little details which made the people and places so real. It clipped along at a fast pace and the author has certainly attained the art of never letting you finish one chapter without wanting to start the next one. She kept me up long past my bedtime, but sometimes we all need to hide from our own realities for a little while and I can highly recommend this tome as a particularly safe haven.

Thursday, 12 September 2013


For some reason, I have been thinking a lot about scent this summer. Everywhere we have been, my youngest daughter and I have been smelling the roses...literally! We are looking for proper, old-fashioned, smelly roses and they are hard to come by, let me tell you, but last weekend our luck was in. We finally found some perfectly heady coral-pink ones at Eltham Palace when we went to the Art Deco fair that was being held there. This childhood home of Henry VIII was turned into a state-of-the-art Art Deco showpiece home in the early 1930s and is a fine place to visit at any time, fair or no fair, especially if you, too, are a stickler for roses-as-they-should-be.

Scent is so important as it holds a direct link to our memories and rockets us back to certain times and places whether we like it or not, so the scent we wear has to be well-chosen. I had been wearing Clarins' Eau Ressourçante for a while and, while I am still fond of it, I was ready for a change, but everything I tried was too "perfumey". I wanted something a little more natural, so I was pleased when a sample for Tous H₂0 arrived in my Beauty Box, and even more pleased to discover that a percentage of the sales goes toward supporting Oxfam's programs to provide safe drinking water to the developing world. I love companies that think a little outside the box and add this kind of value to their products!

When I first started using my sample, I wasn't totally sold. However, I realized I had to rethink my opinion when I finished that sample and immediately went rummaging in my daughters' room to snitch back the samples I had given them! It has top notes of lemon and lavender, followed by rose and jasmine, which is a beautiful combination. It smells very fresh and "bright", like summer, but has warm, woody base notes of cedar, amber and sandalwood to ground it and keep it from being too girly. I have been wearing it for a year now and after not much internal debate, am about to order another bottle!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Little Rituals: The Bookstore

I have a little ritual that I didn't know I had until today! I realized this morning that whenever the kids have been home for one of the longer school holidays, I always treat myself to a nice, long, solo visit to a bookshop as soon as they go back.

And so it was that I found myself this morning at Daunt's, a proper, old-fashioned-style bookseller: wooden floors populated with judiciously-spaced display tables tempting me with the latest offerings, a hushed atmosphere to soothe my post-school holiday nerves and no one requiring a thing from me. Bliss! I stayed about 45 minutes, perusing the new fiction titles, lusting after several mouthwatering, new cookbooks, taking a peek in the children's department... all serving a different part of my soul and bringing me back into a calm, personal space that I have not occupied for many weeks.

I found three books that spoke to me today (can you see the theme here, ha?!) and so I treated myself to them. They are sitting next to me as I type and I find their presence reassuring. I have not lost myself entirely, I was just temporarily detained. Do you have any soothing rituals that you employ to bring yourself back into the fold?

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Caudalie shower gels

Oh, how I love these shower gels! Oh, how my daughters love these shower gels! Oh, how my friends love these shower gels! There really is a lot of love surrounding these heavenly-scented beauties. Caudalie is one of my favourite brands anyway, so when I discovered that I could indulge daily in a whole-body experience in my morning shower, I was over the moon.

Our first love was the Fleur de Vigne (in the green tube). It actually smells green to me! The tube lists white rose, pink pepper and watermelon, but to me it smells like damp grass on a Spring morning, very fresh and zingy, and I never get tired of it.

Then, one day a newcomer appeared: Peche de Vigne. Opening that tube rocketed me straight back to childhood. What a nostalgic scent of fresh peaches, like the hint of a fresh-baked peach pie calling you home through the kitchen window. It also boasts almond milk and fresh mint leaf to further freshen things up.

There are two more in the range as well: The des Vignes (a smoky, spicy floral) and Zeste de Vigne (a sunny citrus); all are soap-free and plant-based. They are also enriched with aloe vera and maintain the skin's natural pH balance, but mostly they are just a totally affordable indulgence of the senses.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Eating Seasonably: September

Is it possible that it can be September already?! Bizarrely, as I type this, it is hot and sunny in London and likely to remain so all week! Who knew? I was all prepared for a turn toward the autumnal, but instead it still feels like the height of summer. However, as you can see from the photo, Mother Nature is not particularly interested in our perception of the seasons and has produced her usual September goodies for us.

This month's top three seasonal eats are blackberries, courgettes and runner beans. Runner beans are on the menu for tonight and, funnily enough, I have never cooked them before, so I hope I can do them justice...they look a little tough and scary to me! We'll also be treating ourselves to kohlrabi (back right in photo), pears, Bramley apples, fennel and figs. The kids are asking for a crumble and I think I might just oblige them...!

So, how about August? Well, August is an easy month, frankly! Most of its delicacies can simply be popped straight into your mouth with no cooking required. Who could go wrong with juicy plums, raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers and peppers? We ate them all, along with lettuce, celery, sweetcorn and spinach, and surprisingly, the girls liked everything they tried. Well, except for plums. Not sure what's wrong with them? (The girls, not the plums!) However, they are certainly becoming more adventurous. We were also blessed with an enormous late summer crop of carrots and potatoes.

My husband is not known for moderation when planting and we must have produced almost 5kg of Charlotte potatoes on our sunny little terrace. So I've had to be creative with potato recipes: so far we've had them chipped, sautéed, boiled and roasted. Next up: potato dauphinoise, inspired by our recent trip to France. Check in next month to see what's in store for October and find out how we did in September. Bon appetit!