Friday, 21 March 2014

3 Happy Things: March

Well, the old saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb certainly holds true this year! The beginning of the month saw the UK being battered by gale force wind and rain, but by mid-month we were enjoying blue skies and warm sunshine. Hurrah! Hope wherever you are the sun is shining and the spring flowers are starting to peek through!

One: The very best thing about spring has to be the flowers. I think I may have to take issue with Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail (ha, dare I?!), who said that daisies were the happiest of flowers, and throw my lot in with the wondrous ranunculus!

Two: Primrose Hill…just right for spring! (Photo credit here goes to my clever mother, who spotted this perfect photo op!)

Three: Just last night, I was chopping up vegetables to go with our dinner when I was struck by that strong, earthy, "green" scent of tomatoes pulled fresh from the vine. For me, it says summer is coming!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sugar Detox Update: Week 3

Okay, here we are at the end of Week 3 and I am still sugar-free! Woo-hoo! Wasn't sure I'd make it even this far. Soooo, how's it been? Well, not too bad, actually. Week 1 was brilliant. I was so excited about quitting that I went out and bought loads of ingredients that Sarah Wilson recommends in the I Quit Sugar book and started putting together some of the recipes and snacks straightaway. My energy levels shot up and my mental clarity improved; I could really focus for the first time in absolutely ages, which was bliss.

Omelette with goat's cheese, parsley and tomato

Week 2 was not so exciting. The novelty of the first week had worn off and the detox-y effects were starting to kick in. However, I stuck to my guns and carried on. This week was all about eating fat! Yep, you heard right. The logic is this: we have to replace what we're taking out for both psychological and physiological reasons. Healthy fats and quality proteins (like eggs, cheese, avocado, nuts and coconut) feel like a treat and fill us up at the same time, thereby satisfying and curbing cravings in one go. Clever, huh?

Grilled halloumi with apples and cinnamon

Week 3 is cold-turkey week. I had pretty much gone cold turkey from the beginning, so not too much of a shift, but it meant the end of fruit, which did make oatmeal rather less appealing. Also, I really started to feel the physical effects of the detox: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, etc. I was expecting it, but it made me grumpy nonetheless. My family have been great, super supportive and blessedly ignore me when I prowl the house menacingly, in search of a replacement for cake! My favourite distractions for when the cravings really hit home are a cup of cinnamon tea alongside some oatcakes spread with almond butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon…cinnamon is really helpful! Oh, and seaweed! I love seaweed!

Oatmeal with pecans, cacao nibs and coconut flakes

Sooo, I am still hanging in there and am so grateful for the support I've received in person, on email, on Instagram.... Sugar seems to be a hot topic at the moment, so I hope you are finding some inspiration here. It really is making a difference and has not been that hard to manage, even while cooking for a family with children. There are lots of little, tasty changes you can make and I think it's a great way to lead by example. My kids may not get on the bandwagon now, but maybe it will inspire them to make better choices for themselves as they get older. I hope so!

Brown rice with mackerel, snap peas, chard and tomato

I've illustrated this post with some of the meals I've been eating this past three weeks in case you want some ideas. Everything's been easy to prepare so far with one epic fail (as the kids say!), which was my first attempt to make chocolate. For some reason, all the brown rice syrup sank to the bottom. I would show you a picture because it was very funny, but my cravings were so bad at that point that I ate it all before it occurred to me to record the evidence! I'll post again in a week or two and let you know what I've been up to.

Friday, 14 March 2014


As you know, I'm not traditionally a re-reader. There are so many wonderful new books out there that I haven't yet read, I usually feel that to re-read an old one is superfluous to requirements. However, every now and again one calls to me. At first, it's just a whisper, a hint, a tiny thought fluttering around at the back of my mind. If I ignore it, it gets louder and more persistent, eventually shouting to me from its home on the bookshelf or even from its box high up in the girls' cupboard. And so it was with Claire Dederer's Poser.

This book has been yelling at me since last summer! Rude! Six whole months I ignored it til I finally cracked and started in again on Chapter 1. As always, the Universe was way ahead of me. At the end of last summer, I was knackered — the school holidays are long — but I was ready for yoga. I craved yoga. My body was tired, untoned and crying out for some disciplined attention. I tried, but it was too soon. Now, in March, I am finally ready. I've been doing 15 minutes in my living room every day for a month now and Poser was too loud to ignore. This is a funny and, at times, bittersweet tale of one woman's discovery of yoga and how she used it to ease her transition into motherhood, calm her fears, soothe her past and heal her body. I love her voice and her story.

I recognize much of my own experience of discovering yoga here as well as much of my shock at what was expected of moms at a time when babies had just become the must-have accessory among the celebrity pack (around the millennium). We were bombarded with messages of what we should do and just exactly how we should do it and, like me, Claire fell into the trap of believing it all. And so it was with more than a tinge of recognition that I enjoyed following her progression from anxious new mom, hung up on her own weird experience of childhood and her birth family (her parents were hippies with an unconventional marital arrangement that continues to this day!) to someone who has had enough experience of life to finally let it go.

She learned that in order to be truly happy we have to let go of the need for perfection and the approval of others as well as the idea of what we think our lives should look like. Only when we drop the need for control do we find any freedom in being ourselves. It's a truly wonderful point to reach and one that is more liberating that almost anything else I can think of…. and yoga is as good a way to get there as any. If you are pondering how to make a leap of faith of any kind in your life, pick up a copy of Poser. Claire Dederer makes for an inspiring companion.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Can you think of anything more joyous than bouncing? I can't. I love to bounce. That feeling of being weightless, free from gravity's pull, is so liberating even if only for a split second. It's taken me two years to get to the point where I could do any kind of sustained exercise and bouncing was my first port of call. At the moment, I am only doing five minutes a day, but can already feel a huge difference.

Photo courtesy of J Clarke

Bouncing is also one of the healthiest forms of exercise you can do. It's main benefit, as I see it, is that it stimulates the lymphatic system, which is basically the body's garbage disposal. Bouncing is great at opening and closing our millions of one-way lymph valves, a process which rids the body of toxins, dead cells, cancerous cells, bacteria, viruses, fatty globules (oh, yes!), trapped protein and all other manner of junk that the cells throw off. You can only activate the lymphatic system through exercise, gravitational pull or massage, so bouncing is perfect as it does all three!

And just check out this list of its other benefits:

  • no jarring on impact (so good for the joints)
  • profound detoxification (good for increasing alkalinity)
  • improves agility and balance
  • slows the ageing process
  • relieves pain (especially neck and back pain, and headaches)
  • moves aqueous fluid in the eyes (good for vision)
  • moves cerebral-spinal fluid (good for the brain)
  • reduces body fat
  • curtails fatigue and menstrual discomfort
  • allows for easier relaxation and deeper sleep
  • increases cellular strength (good for the immune system)
  • stimulates all internal organs, including intestines (good for digestive problems)
  • stabilizes the nervous system (good for reducing stress)
  • increases oxygenation (good for improved respiratory function)
  • reduces "bad" cholesterol levels (good for staving off coronary artery disease)
  • tones up the glandular system (good for thyroid problems)

Really, why wouldn't you do it?! The most exciting thing for me while doing this research, though, was to discover how much good it does for the heart. By gently strengthening the heart muscle and moving the blood so effectively, it lightens the heart's load, allows the resting heart to beat less often and prevents edema, so I hope my cardiologist will be suitably impressed when I have my next appointment. So, what's stopping you: get out there and get bouncing!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Persephone Books

Last week, my friend Lisa and I popped into The Persephone Bookshop on Lamb's Conduit Street. I love this shop. Even on a grey, English winter's day, it is still a bright, little haven of calm. The large store-front windows cast their light across the inviting, wooden-floored room where tables and shelves alike are stacked high with piles of books, all covered in Persephone's signature plain grey covers.

Interspersed between the piles of books are tiny towers of beautifully designed bookmarks. The bookmarks are such a clever idea and deeply appealing in their own right. Each one is based on a design (often from fabric or wallpaper) that complements the time and feel of the text inside and matches the endpapers of the book it accompanies.

Persephone specializes in reprinting both fiction and non-fiction from mid-20th century authors (mainly women) that have often been long (and unjustly) forgotten. There are wonderful stories, diaries, cookbooks and gardening tomes, ghostly tales, children's books and more. There really is something for everyone and they make perfect presents for almost any occasion.

Many Christmases ago, I bought my first Persephone book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (originally published in 1938), and as soon as I read it, I immediately went back and bought six more copies to give to friends. This is one of those truly uplifting titles that everyone should have on their shelf. As it says in the preface (and I paraphrase): this book feels more like a Fred Astaire film than anything else…sheer, light-hearted fun!

When my children were still very young, I enjoyed Dorothy Canfield Fisher's The Home-maker, lent to me by my canny friend Sara in a subtle, yet timely gesture! This is the story of a woman who is driving her family crazy with her perfectionist ideas about how to be a mother when really the problem is her own boredom and frustration. We shall say no more…!

And, just last week, I picked up Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey, about a girl who realizes on her wedding day that she is making a terrible mistake. It is a testament to the good judgement of the editors at Persephone that several of their reissued titles have since been made into films. We are clearly ready to engage once more with these intelligent, well-written titles.

Nowadays, we seem to be looking to days gone by more and more often to find answers as to how to live more simply. The worlds covered in the wide array of Persephone books are a fantastic place to immerse yourself for lessons of all kinds as well as just for the sheer pleasure of it. If you ever happen to find yourself in the quiet streets of Bloomsbury, do be sure to pop in. You'll be very glad you did.