BLOG : OFF

After the months of excitement and build up, one of the biggest blogging events in the calendar finally arrived last weekend: BML16. A day of talks, workshops and networking opportunities for bloggers and a great excuse to share an actual bottle of bubbles (rather than the usual virtual emoji variety) with all those fellow online chatterboxes we’ve been looking forward to meeting.

If you saw my last post you already know I couldn’t actually make it which I’m still a bit gutted about to be honest. However, my alternative plans involved flying to Amsterdam with a group of girlfriends for the weekend, which softened the blow a little (pun intended).

So while a lot of those who made the trip to Fancylondontown for BML16 will be writing up their experience of the event, I can crack on with a post about my weekend’s shenanigans in another awesome capital. Except I won’t.

While it seemed like a perfect opportunity to write about something exciting, I just didn’t want my weekend with the girls to be blog fodder. This was a getaway- from normality, from being a mum/wife/daughter/sister/blogger, from shopping lists and meal plans, after-school and weekend clubs. A brief, but much appreciated break from the routine of day-to-day life. Sorry guys, what happens in Amsterdam….

blogging-break
Image: Defining Hopes

So I had made the decision in advance that I wasn’t going to blog about my little Dutch adventure. I neatly folded my Blogger pants, put them to one side and mentally switched the blog OFF. Then chucked my Party pants in the case and headed straight to the departure lounge bar.

However, my Twitter feed was obviously awash with #BML16 excitement and the temptation to have a quick peek was there as long as I had my mobile attached to my hand.

In an attempt to keep my nose firmly out of Blogland for a couple of days (harder than you’d think, even without the BML buzz!) I had to be strict with myself on a few occasions and in hindsight it was definitely the right decision. I really did manage to completely switch off and enjoy just being Charlie Brown for a few days and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is struggling to find the blog/life balance (actually leaving the country is optional).

So if you feel like you’re becoming a slave to your blog, or it’s seriously impacting on other areas of your life (she says, currently avoiding eye-contact with the vacuum cleaner), here are my 10 tips on how to survive going cold-turkey. Think of it as a quick stint at The Priory for some blogger rehab, you’ll come out the other side with an empowering, newfound sense of balance.

  • Decide which dates you’ll be checking into rehab and make them official, put them in the diary and tell someone, preferably someone who will be happy to have your full attention again, well for a while anyway.
  • Try to avoid dates that coincide with a MASSIVE blogging event but if this is the case, drop a tweet to explain your absence and wish your pals a fab time. There’s always next year.
  • Plan alternative coping mechanisms. Preferably something you’ll look forward to, this is no time to be ‘getting on with stuff’, the whole point is to remember what life was like before writing posts about everything. Remember the good old days when you did stuff purely so you could brag about it on Facebook?
  • Do some pre-rehab admin. If you’ve joined in a linky every week from day dot without fail, warn the host of your plans in advance to avoid a serious case of dreaded blogger’s guilt.
  • DO NOT schedule a post. Although this may seem like a good way to ‘keep the blog going’ in your absence, this is about realising you can just STOP for a while and the sky will not fall in. Scheduling posts is cheating, plus the temptation to read or reply to comments may be too much!
  • Ditto scheduled tweets. In fact delete the Twitter app for the duration or just switch to your personal account if you have one. You don’t want your phone having a fit everytime you enter a wi-fi hotspot as the result of a bunch of Twitter notifications- avoid the red circle of temptation.
  • Take a tonne of photos if you fancy but do not actively seek out or set up Instagram friendly shots. I’ll admit to posting one teeny shot over the weekend, but that was because it made me smile and was too lovely not to share – I mean, a ceiling of clogs – how cute?clogs
  • Once you’ve successfully completed your rehab session take a moment to reflect. Hopefully, after the initial shock wore off, you will have experienced a strange sense of freedom, the blog fog will have lifted and it is almost as if you are seeing the world through the eyes of a normal person. Congratulations – you’ve regained your grip on reality!
  • Where you go from here is up to you. Try to avoid diving headfirst into 3 days worth of tweets  (sooooo tempting with all the exciting ‘stuff’ happening this weekend) or binge reading the backlog of posts from every blog you’ve subscribed to. Nobody will be offended, trust me. More importantly, you will realise that nobody has forgotten who you are, a few tweets in it’ll be like you were never away.
  • Chill yer boots. Don’t feel pressurised into panic posting! Grab a cuppa, choose a few posts to read and enjoy. Actually enjoy. I went with

6 personal reflections on #BML16

by  Tim at Slouching Towards Thatcham – a great honest review of the 1 day event this year versus the 2 day format of last year.

I’m a Loser – Britmums #BML16

by Stevie from A Cornish Mum, her words, definitely not mine! A refreshingly honest, funny, (sorry Stevie- it did make me chuckle!) ‘losers’ view. If you ask me she’s totally winning at Blogs.

Finally a totally BML16 unrelated, but great, personal post on a sensitive issue by Vicki at Honest Mum

Let’s Talk About Race, Racism & Feeling Like The ‘Other’

So there you have it, my slightly tongue in cheek, but (mostly) failsafe 10 step plan to recalibrating your blog/life settings to suit you and realising the importance of maintaining a healthy balance going forward.

I hope you enjoyed it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and if/how you try to achieve the right balance for you?

 

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I’M (NOT) GOING TO BML16!

When I hit ‘publish’ on my first post back in January I had very little idea what blogging actually entailed, I just knew I wanted to try something new. I’d read a few ‘Blogging For Dummies’ type articles, decided on a name and purchased a domain. After waaaaaaay too long faffing about on WordPress, Mess & Merlot was finally born.

I felt sick with nerves. What was I doing?! At this point nobody knew about the blog (including Himself until a fair while later!) I was mortified at the thought of even saying the words out loud; “Oh, I started a blog by the way” – CRINGE!!!

Luckily I discovered the world of linkies pretty early on and was blown away by the kindness of fellow bloggers, not only reading but actually commenting on my nonsense. As the weeks passed by I eventually started to remember which linkies to join on which day and who hosted them*. I soon got chatting, as you do, and as well as discovering a shed load of new blogs to explore I struck up some virtual friendships with wonderfully supportive, like minded bloggers. That support meant the world to me, honestly it’s probably the only reason I had enough faith in myself to keep up this blogging malarkey.

(* Lies. I have a shocking memory and go through the same rigmarole of checking I’ve actually tweeted the right hosts for the corresponding linky most days!! I am getting slightly better though.)

goldfish

 

After a few months in Blogland I noticed whisperings of nominations, pleas for support and whoops of excitement from successful applicants – yes awards season was evidently upon us!

A mere spectator in the excitement of it all, even that demanded more concentration than my brain can handle most days. Oooh who’s nominated themselves? Have they made the shortlist? YES! I was hoping they’d get through. OK, voting for them, them, them…oh, there are finalists now. Am I voting again then? Hang on, I’ve definitely voted already, was that the MADS or the BiBs though, not sure.

And so I try my best to make sense of the whole voting system in the same way I endeavoured to understand the ‘First Past The Post’ system in the last election, but minus the help of David Dimbleby with his screen full of fancy graphics.

Of course this all culminates in the main event: Brit Mums Live 2016!

Having watched from the sidelines, from the “Eek, I’m going to #BML16” tweets to the ‘Meet my Sponsor’ posts, I have to say I am so, so sad that I will not be able to be part of the whole experience

cinderella-crying.

I will not be:

  • Fretting about what to wear in the days leading up to the event,regularly checking every weather app on my phone to gauge roughly what the heck the weather has in store and if I have anything that would pass as acceptable attire.
  • Packing excitedly and jumping on a train to Fancylondontown.
  • Buzzing with excitement at the prospect of meeting all you virtual chatterboxes in the flesh.
  • Getting into the BML16 spirit with you at the Friday Fringe party.
  • Spending the next day enjoying a range of talks from an awesome line up of speakers.
  • Partaking in any post-conference shenanigans with my new blogging buddies.
  • Engaging in Twitter conversations about any of the above

I am however looking forward enormously to all the follow up posts and hearing ALL the goss next week!! To all of you who are going I hope you have an amazing time, best of luck to all those up for awards and enjoy the weekend!!

P.S Don’t feel too sad for me, I’m actually in Amsterdam with the girls this weekend, so while I am gutted that it clashes with BML16 I’ll still be having fun! Every cloud eh?

Next year I shall go to the ball…

glass slipper

 

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CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE CAKE

This week has seen the good people of Britain out in their thousands to celebrate the birthday of a very special lady. Up and down the country tea parties on The Common were held in her honour as people huddled under soggy gazebos to enjoy a cucumber sandwich and a cuppa. Ladies and gentlemen, today the marks the culmination of events with the big day itself, my birthday.

shorty.jpef

Whoop, whoop! Go shorty, it’s your birthday…. gonna party like, eh well a 37 year old Mum on a Tuesday. School run followed by Scouts then football practice, YESSSSSSSSS! Fear not though, this day shall not pass without ridiculous amounts of cake scoffing to mark the occasion. And not just any old cake either, noooooooooo no no; the chocolate cake of all chocolate cakes, with copious amounts of amaretto incorporated at every possible opportunity.

Regular readers will know that I make a lot of cakes for other people. From cascading roses on a wedding cake to towering superhero birthday cakes, most weeks I can be found fiddling around with fondant. So it will come as no surprise that when my birthday rolls around a Madeira / Jam / Fondant combo doesn’t quite do it for me. Out goes the fluffy vanilla sponge in favour of dense, moist, alcohol soaked chocolatey-ness. Buttercream is replaced with the darkest of thick ganache; no form of fancy decor required bar dark chocolate truffles and a dusting of gold lustre because it makes me happy .

 

It’s a great big lump of a thing, in no danger of winning any beauty contests, but to me it’s the epitome of utter gorgeousness! The ultimate in self indulgence, each individual component made just the way I like it. This one is for the serious chocolate lovers:

Dense chocolate sponge layers, moist and laced with enough amaretto to produce a satisfying ‘squidge’ factor. This cake laughs in the face of Death By Chocolate!

Sandwiched with chocolate ganache, whipped to a spreadable consistency.

Coated in a layer of white amaretto buttercream, an aesthetically pleasing contrast to the thick dark chocolate (with a glug of amaretto) ganache topping.

Topped off with gold dusted truffles and a halo of gold confetti. 

*A choir of Angels sing*

I wish I could share a slice with you all but I’m afraid it’s virtual cake for now, sorry!

P.S. This cake is the realisation of my deepest darkest cakey fantasies but should anyone fancy giving it a go the recipe is below. Ironically this post was going to be about the backlash of the new National Obesity Forum report on low fat diets but it’s my birthday so sod it, here’s a cake with enough double cream to feed a Mall full of Royalists instead.

 

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II waves as sh

Chocolate Amaretto Cake of Dreams

Sponge 
135g plain flour
200g caster sugar
50g cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large egg
150ml milk
75ml vegetable oil
75ml boiling water
75ml amaretto

Buttercream
120g butter, very soft
300g icing sugar
1 tblsp amaretto

Chocolate Ganache
400g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
200ml double cream
1 tblsp amaretto
cocoa for dusting

(You will use this ganache 3 ways, more on that later)

Heat oven to 180c. To make the sponge, mix all ingredients except boiling water and amaretto until well combined. Slowly add the boiling water and amaretto. This will give you a very wet looking mix – don’t panic. This is nothing like the sponge mix I would use for a standard cake – it’s more like a mud cake, very moist and dense.

Pour into a lined 6″ cake tin and bake for 1hr (checking with a skewer from around 45mins if the centre is baked, I usually cover the top of the cake in foil for the last 15mins). Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, wrap in cellophane and transfer it to the fridge. I do this part a day or two in advance as I find it is easier to work with and also it means you can break the stages up depending on how much time you want to spend in the kitchen in one go!

To prepare the buttercream add icing sugar to butter and mix until fluffy, add amaretto very gradually to loosen the mixture to a spreadable consistency (you may not need all of it). Again you can prepare this a day or so in advance if you prefer. I don’t refrigerate mine as I don’t want it to firm up.

Next, the ganache mix, which will be used 3 ways. To sandwich the layers together, to cover the top of the cake and to make the decorative truffles. Place the chocolate chunks in a large bowl. In a saucepan bring the cream to a boil on medium heat, once it starts to boil immediately pour it over the chocolate and leave alone. The heat of the cream should be enough to melt the chocolate. After about 5 mins mix gently and allow to cool for a further 10 mins. Very slowly add the amaretto until combined.

Once cool separate the ganache mix into 3 – I use tupperware boxes. Place 1/3 in the fridge. Put 1/3 aside and pour 1/3 into the mixer. Whisk on high until the ganache starts to thicken and lightens in colour.

Remove sponge from fridge and slice into 3 equal layers. Use the whipped ganache to sandwich the layers together.

Use a thin layer of the  buttercream to cover the outside of the cake in a crumb layer. This should ‘catch’ most of the dark crumbs so they don’t ruin the end appearance. Refrigerate for 30mins and use the remaining buttercream to coat the cake. If you prefer a smooth finish on the cake run a large spatula knife around the edge and across the top to remove any lumps and bumps.Return to the fridge to allow the buttercream to firm up.

In the meantime take the fondant from the fridge which should be firm by now. Use a teaspoon to scoop a lump (however big you like your truffles!) and roll between your hands to make a ball shape. Roll in cocoa until covered. Set aside to firm up and repeat with remaining ganache.

Remove cake from fridge and pour the remaining 1/3 ganache on top so it overflows down the sides (use the back of a spoon to ‘help’ it if needed). Depending on how hot/cold your kitchen is this ganache may have started to set so you might need to loosen it up with a few seconds in the microwave to get a nice pourable consistency.

Finally top the cake with the truffles and whatever decoration takes your fancy (I used edible gold lustre and gold confetti). Voila! The most decadent, moist and sexy looking cake you’ve ever laid eyes on – ENJOY!

X

 

 

 

 

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BACK IN THE GAME-ISH

Helloooooooooooooooo!! Good to be back after a fun filled half-term. I took a whole week off playing blogs to enjoy the break with the kiddos without my phone being attached to my face. Am I allowed to say it was really rather nice? With the exception my New Year’s Resolution FAIL post (in conjunction with Robinsons #enjoymore water campaign), a weeny bit of linky lurking and Twitter-ing I spent zero time in the old Blogosphere.

I’d love to say I’m back feeling pumped and raring to go but the truth is, as far as my blog is concerned, I’m feeling a bit like this little guy right now…

uninspired

It’s not so much that I’m feeling bad about it, just a bit erm…flummoxed? I’m still pretty new to this game and over my ‘week off’ have been thinking about where, if anywhere, I want my blog to go from here. Do I want to step it up a bit in terms of posting, promoting, analysing stats etc etc or just carry on as I am happily tapping away as and when the notion takes me and enjoying the many brilliant blogs I’ve discovered over the past 5 months? Ooooh decisions decisions…..

I don’t want blogging to become a chore, that sounds like no fun at all, but if I do manage to get my act together and actually plan stuff in advance (!) will it be worth it or am I just creating one massive headache for myself ? I’d hate for that to happen but let’s be realistic, there are only so many hours in the day I can get away with ignoring the long list of Mum jobs and cake orders before it’s school pick up time and therefor only so many hours I can actually don my blogger pants . Obviously it’s do-able, I just don’t know if I’m ready to be that dedicated (yes I’m admitting it!), just yet.

Funnily enough, writing this post has made it quite apparent that I’m not ready to become a slave to the Blogger’s Checklist just yet (are you sensing that??) but I could definitely be more organised in my approach, with a view to gradually ramping things up a bit in the months to come.

That leads me onto the next quandary – THE IDENTITY CRISIS!

whoisshe

See what happens when I take time off and am allowed to think? Dangerous I tell you. Niche, tribe, category, whatever you want to call it, it’s something I am very aware of in the world of blogging but have no clue where I fit in? I’m a Mum, and sometimes I mention my children but I wouldn’t really describe my blog as a Mummy/Parenting Blog – God help you if you ever needed to come to me for advise on that sort of stuff. I appreciate peonies, cute stationery and a beautifully arranged shelf as much as the next person but I’m not a Lifestyle blog. I love reading other people’s fashion blogs, but I’m quite happy in my T-shirt/skinnies/Converse uniform thank you very much. There are LOADS of categories that I know I don’t fit into but none that I really do. I know it’s early days and I’m still learning SO MUCH STUFF about blogging having never even written before (in the professional sense, obviously I know how to write, although my 7 yr old’s knowledge of grammar puts me to shame. I still don’t know my graphemes from my phonemes!).

Write what you’re interested in, write what you would want to read. Good advice. Christ, we all know that sinking feeling when the linky post in front of yours that you know you now have to read is sooooooooo not your thing right?! And I do write what I’d want to read, even if it’s a review post I like to combine it with something I actually want to write about and would enjoy reading myself. Recently I posted ‘Why Body Shamers Can Kiss My (Squidgy) Butt!‘ and ‘All The Carbs Please‘, two posts that were quite personal, on a subject I feel very strongly about. I really enjoyed writing these posts, for the most part the words came quite naturally and I had the most amazing response from a lot of those who read and identified in their own way. I’m also aware that that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, here she goes, banging on about diets again (SPOILER: If that is your cup of tea my next post is me, banging on about diets again!!) However, some days I might just feel like writing about my lovely new nail varnish (still going strong btw!). I’ve read articles about how not focusing on one main genre is detrimental to your following etc etc but I started this blog for me and it’s still wet behind the ears in comparison to most. I don’t want to become a people pleaser for the sake of my stats – surely that’s what page tabs were invented for right? To sort posts nicely into various categories.

Basically, I just need to figure out how to add tabs.

Images giphy.com

 

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION FAIL!

This year I was pretty confident I’d sussed the New Year’s Resolution thing. Aim low. Keep it simple and achievable. Anything weightloss/diet related – doomed to fail almost immediately if my previous 25 year track record was anything to go by. Gym memberships –   might as well save the hassle and just burn a few notes. In fact anything more ambitious than wash, dress, keep everyone alive warranted a degree of doubt.

Feeling pretty confident about this year’s resolution I decided to invest (a whole £4.50!) in a sexy piece of kit bound to guarantee success.

What do you mean it’s not sexy? It’s Tupperware! Look it’s got clippy bits and twisty bits and everything! OK, so it’s no Cumberbatch but I was quite excited with my new purchase and the prospect of the great times we had ahead of us, all plump skinned and sharp minded. Yes I was simply going to DRINK. MORE. WATER.

Easy as that, fill her up in the morning and off I go, happily sipping my 2 litres throughout the day. Which I did, for a week. Then things went slightly off plan where most days I’d either pour a glass and just about manage to get through that or forget to drink any then begrudgingly gulp a couple of glasses down before bedtime leading to the 3am ‘OMG I’m desperate for a wee but I’m SO tired, maybe I can hang on for 4hrs’ thing. Last time my trusty Tupperware friend saw the light of day was for a couple of hours at Flump’s birthday party, so not a total waste of £4.50.

How ironic then, that exactly halfway through the year I was invited by Robinson’s for a kick up the bum talk on the importance of the wet stuff as part of their Enjoy Drinking More Water campagne. While the kids were entertained by staff at the beautiful WWT London Wetland Centre venue, the gorgeous Helen Bond (Registered Dietitian and living proof of the drinking water = glowy skin and sparkly eyes theory) explained just how much our bodies need water in order to function, kids even more so!

We all know we should be getting more H2O into us on a daily basis, I’ll admit I’m shockingly bad at this at the best of times but especially when it’s cold outside! My kids put me to shame really, glugging bottles of the stuff throughout the day and even taking water to bed with them every night. Naughty Mummy.

I shall be entirely grateful to Helen for debunking, once and for all, the myth that tea/coffee dehydrates the body – it doesn’t, woo and indeed hoo, I am not destined to live my life as dehydrated as Tim Peake’s next meal. Phew.

Obviously there was an array of Robinsons squash flavours to try (I didn’t even know apple squash was a thing, but I like it!) and we left laden with the good stuff to enjoy at home- yay! (N.B. as upper body workouts go, hauling litre bottles of squash around every kind of London public transport you can imagine, is hard to beat.)

Thank you to Robinson’s and the staff at London Wetland Centre who invited us to be part of this event, with the importance to ‘drink up’ fresh in my mind, some lovely (sugar-free!) squash to pimp my drink and the help of my two new mates here I’m quietly confident that Resolution Revisited:Return of the Jug will be a roaring success!
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ALL THE CARBS PLEASE…

 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote the post ‘Body Shamers can kiss my (squidgy) butt!‘ which had a huge response from readers saying they felt exactly the same way.  Thank you to those who took time to read and reply with very honest feelings of their own on such a personal subject. Low self-esteem, eating disorders, psychological effects, feelings of shame and weight loss obsession were just a few of the issues that were mentioned in response.

While I have thankfully never experienced a serious eating disorder, the rest I can very much identify with. Year after year of beating yourself up about the size of one’s arse will do that I guess! As I mentioned in the body shamers post, I never really set out to broach that subject, it just sort of happened in response to a couple of articles I had read that day.

I am so glad I did.

The response has reinforced my realisation that is it all such utter bo**ocks. Here we all are, going about our day, being made to feel a bit rubbish about ourselves for no good reason. It’s made me completely reevaluate my view on the idea of the perfect body  and consider how my attempts to attain anything near it over the years achieved nothing more than a warped relationship with food and an inability to think for myself. My own little personal Epiphany, sadly it’s taken me (almost) 37 years to reach this point but better late than never!

It’s New Year’s Eve 1992, I’m writing my resolutions in my diary (aged 12), I wanted to be skinnier. The reason I still remember is because I even made up my own little mantra: “It’ll be a skinnier me in ’93” – catchy huh? So I know that for at least 25 years I have had a negative body image. I was never a chubby child, in fact growing up I remember my Mother getting ‘tonics’ to try to build me up such was my lack of interest in food at the time. (I once hid a bottle in the back of my Uncle’s car, who wondered what the ever increasing stench was as the Summer wore on!) It wasn’t until my ‘tweens’ (11-13) that I started to seek solace in food. Hormones I suppose played a big part in it; the horror when your body starts to transform completely without your consent. Boys who were once mere irritants suddenly become strangely appealing. Emotions! OMG the feeling that someone has crawled inside your brain and changed the default setting to ‘Tearful, Angry Mess’ is no fun for anyone! Praise-be, then for the ice-cream shop across the road.

I’m a total sugar monster so it didn’t take me long to realise that the answer to all my problems lay at the bottom of an ice-cream tub. Rocky Road, Honeycomb, Rum & Raisin made it all better. (Ironically I lived above my parents restaurant so I had a chef in my actual home, but with no interest in savoury food, never ordered anything other than chicken and gravy!!)

I wasn’t blessed with the metabolism that many of my teenage friends seemed to have, wolfing down chips with no visible effect on the size of their thighs. We moved from a small town in the country to Belfast city and to an all girls school mainly full of, how can I put it, ah yes, total bitc*es. Joy. With zero interest in sports and a whole heap of home cooked meals my weight soon crept up. The odd Mars bar for pudding may have had something to do with it but I didn’t care, well I did care, I just wanted that Mars bar reeeeeaaalllly badly.

Around this point I got wind of a sure-fire way to lose a stone in like, a week! The British Heart Foundation Diet (here we go…). I looked it up for the link so you can see how bonkers it was. Anyway, I lasted a day before I was back on the spag bol/ Mars bar diet. Hmmm…this was going to be trickier than I thought. My weight did manage to settle at around Size 10 in my late teens, obviously still a HEIFER in my eyes but I was at college, had friends, a boyfriend, a Saturday job so all pretty standard stuff at that age.

I left home for University in Wales where a diet of 50% flapjacks 50% beer did me no favours whatsoever. I was far too busy perving over the rugby team studying to even think about cooking something remotely healthy. A job in the fashion industry in London (body conscious central) followed,  where my new diet of vodka and menthols would have whipped me into supermodel shape in no time, had it not been for this thing me and pic’n’mix had going on on the side.

It was here that I met Himself and finally left my beloved but body-bonkers London as we set off up the M1 to much less bonkers Bedfordshire. I joined a pub company where I was part of the Food & Drinks purchasing team and worked on menu development so as you can probably guess this role involved quite a lot of eating/drinking. Well, those samples weren’t going to test themselves were they??! (This is turning into a CV of dieting disasters!) During this time (since leaving home) I tried a ridiculous amount of diets, I can’t even remember them all. Slimming World (is it a red day or a green day, how many syns??), Atkins (SO.MUCH.MEAT), Low Carb (kill me), Low GI (just plain weird), high fibre (PARP!) and calorie counting, months and months of calorie counting. This was pre-MyFitnessPal where you had to go out and buy actual books with the calorie content of foods listed. I got pretty addicted to this and for years since it has been my go-to way to ‘keep in check’ if my weight started creeping up.

More recently I found myself spending a small fortune on cacao powder, chia seeds, baobab, maca, coconut oil, coconut flour and a bag of supergreens so rancid they went in the bin at first taste! Anything other than trust myself to just use my brain and eat sensibly right? Surely I can eat as many homemade flapjacks as I like if they are made from 1kg nuts, 2 tubs of cashew nut butter and a gallon of agave syrup BECAUSE THEY ARE ALKALINE and therefore good for me – ok? Muppet.

Up until as recently as Saturday a protein smoothie (Nutribullet, natch) has been breakfast most mornings for about the past 6 months. Although this is a healthy combination of protein powder, blueberries, oats and spinach the problem is it tastes SO good and it’s probably not great to get my sweet tooth over excited that early in the day. And you know what? Sometimes I just want a great big bowl of Cornflakes, with fat milk!  I’ve been a diet/food industry’s dream my entire life, searching for a way to achieve the perfect body without actually having to take responsibility for my own food choices.

I’d say 25 years is more than enough of this carry on. I’ve counted calories, weighed meals, eliminated food groups, drank green tea (bleurgh!), fasted and drained my bank account in Wholefoods for the last time! Pinkie promise.

                                              Oh, did I mention? I’m NOT on a diet!

To be honest, this scares me a little. How mad is that? The idea of having no rules, no limitations, no guidelines or gurus to refer to feels makes me feel a bit anxious. This may sound completely ridunkulous but I’m going to ACTUALLY THINK FOR MYSELF, I know, radical. Apple or Kit-Kat? I know this one. Entire tub of Haagen Dazs? Possibly not in one sitting. See? I got this. Gold star please!

Today I even ordered tea instead of latte.

Baby steps…

 

FUN FACT! There are currently 77,169 results for ‘Diets & Healthy Eating’ books on Amazon, there may even be one or two in there I’ve never read!

Images:Pinterest

 

 

 

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THE MUMMY FAN CLUB (MEMBERS: 2)

Sometimes I feel like I’m forever trying to fob my kids off or keep them entertained so I can concentrate on Getting Stuff Done . While I wait for those Lotto number to come up this will probably continue to be the case for the foreseeable future; which is a shame really because while I imagine I’m not alone here, I also know that the one thing my kids want more than anything from me is my time and attention (and snacks). Just me and them and definitely without their annoying sibling.

Look-at-Me
Image: Blogspot

Not an unreasonable request in their eyes but one that’s almost always met with a “Not now pet, I just need to…”. So when? After all the stuff is done? In which case never. Hmmm. Now might seem like a strange time to mention a Christmas ad (bear with),but if you haven’t already watched this one by IKEA then take a look, it illustrates my point beautifully. (WARNING: Viewers may experience Mum Guilt, sorry!)

Everyone ok? Excellent. I’m guessing this won’t always be the case though, I mean there’ll always be ‘stuff’ to do, but our children won’t always want to spend time with us, or even be seen dead in public with us for that matter.

Now that Spud and Flump are both at school their schedules are pretty much identical meaning that the opportunity to spend one-to-one time with either of them can be a bit tricky. We are very lucky that we get to spend a lot of family time together but I need to figure out a way to factor in a little bit of the day/week/month when I’m all theirs. (I was never this popular before I had kids!)

Of course I do make an effort to show they matter to me in lots of little ways. Whether it’s acknowledging a (rare) act of kindness towards their sibling or just listening to whatever the big news in class was today, even if they are just waffling on about Billy Tucker’s pet hamster Mr Fluffypants.

Listen Earnestly

We all know kids grow up quickly, so I’ve promised myself I’ll enjoy regular time with each of my little cherubs while I can and  I’ve come up with a fail safe way, that guarantees that it is absolutely 100% going to happen. I’m going to tell them! No chance of forgetting then right?!

To start with I’m going to let them pick a date (or a weekend) which is ‘theirs’ every month. I’m not talking spoiling them with grand days out or a trolley dash around Toys r Us (not a chance!), just doing something where we can have a chat and enjoy spending a bit of time together. Spud loves going for a walk with me in the evening when Flump is in bed and this is the type of thing we could easily do regularly. Flump has a thing about cafes (more specifically M&S cafes) so a little girly lunch date once a month is very do-able. I can’t wait to hear what kind of (ridiculous) suggestions they come up with!

It sounds so formal to have to ‘pencil in’ quality time with your own children but weeks just seem to go from one to the next in a blur of uniforms and after school clubs. In an earlier post Beauty & the Brainbox I mentioned the values in children that are thought to lead to a successful and more fulfilled life, one of which was love. Being loved obviously makes us all feel good, wanted and secure but these little acts, moments spent together showing the kids they are loved, will also allow them time to open up, build trust and feel valued. When the day does come that they would rather spend weekends with their friends than me, I have a feeling I’ll be glad I took time to build that trust!

 

 

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GETTING STUFF DONE WITH MIGLOO’S DAY

“But Mummmmmyyyyyyyy….what can I dooooooo?” Spud’s at a football tournament with Himself so she’s at a loss without someone to torture.

“How about playing with Barbies / Hama Beads / Aquabeads / the house full of tat you refuse to throw away pet?”

Actually, on this occasion I have a secret weapon on hand to keep her entertained while I crack on with stripping the beds – Migloo’s Day!  We were sent a copy of this gorgeous new book by William Bee to review for Mumsnet/Walker’s Books, thankfully it’s good because this is my first review and I’m a rubbish liar. As you can see it’s bursting with colour, think ‘Where’s Wally?’ but with a storyline and more (lots more!) really cute characters.

The story follows Migloo throughout his day of adventures in Sunnytown (where he manages to blag an impressive amount of snacks along the way – I like him already). Each page is an absolute treat for the eyes, full of action and loveable characters such as Reg (sells the veg) and Flossie (the candyfloss lady) . There are lots of things to spot along the way as well as added challenges at the end of the book.

Flump seemed pretty taken with it, as you can see it even came with her in the car and come bedtime we were still pouring over it. (Mummy will find that damned purple headed pigeon if it kills her!) In fact we’ve been enjoying this book for over a week now and we’re still nowhere near done with it. It’s great for bedtime when Flump’s attention span is not the best so we read a page and then do a little bit of searching or just look at the characters (who are all listed at the front with a little description of who they are).

This is a very sweet book which I can imagine most kids (and parents!) will really enjoy, although Flump needed some help with reading the story, she was more than happy to just look at the scenes and enjoy the illustrations. From a parent’s point of view  – the ultimate doctor’s waiting-room book.

(Oh, and when Spud eventually did return from footy and started to show an interest in Migloo too, the book was swiftly confiscated and taken to the safety of her indoor tent!)

 

We received a copy of Migloo’s Day in return for an honest review.

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WHY BODY-SHAMERS CAN KISS MY (SQUIDGY) BUTT!

This is not the post I intended to write this morning.In fact this is not even something I feel very comfortable discussing at all (now I am no longer a secret blogger!). As far as subject matters go, you could say it’s a bit close to home.

This morning I read an article by Elizabeth Aram: “Body Shaming – Why is this a thing?” with mixed emotions. The author confidently challenges the social standards of beauty while admitting to feeling the pressure to strive for physical ‘perfection’, (despite being a standard UK Size 10 /US Size 6). Her body is, as she describes it “socially acceptable,  but not ideal”.

Socially acceptable, but not ideal. These five words sum up how I’ve perceived my body for as long as I can remember. These days I’m size 10ish (8 on a good week, if I’ve dropped a few pounds to squeeze into something fancy).  I’m not going to bore you with my long list of body hang-ups but needless to say, at 5’3″ I will never achieve anything remotely resembling the long (thigh gap)-legged, big boobied idea of perfection however hard I try. Nevertheless, I continue to make those comparisons EVERY SINGLE DAY in my head. Reinforcing the ‘not good enough’ mentality that so many women* felt when they looked in the mirror this morning. While social media has been buzzing with excitement at the warm weather we’ve been experiencing this week ,I’ve been filled with dread at the prospect of my nemesis, The Summer Wardrobe, making a very unwelcome return.

So while I waste yet another day obsessing about how many calories are in half a tub of cottage cheese (or, ahem, a whole packet of coconut macaroons…) I wonder if anyone on the school run noticed that my jeans were a bit ‘skinnier’ than usual this morning ? Or knew that I had to pinch the button a bit tighter to do it up? No, of course they bloody didn’t because they’re all too busy checking that the kids have their factor 50 on and scribbling  initials on the inside of sun hats! So why does it matter so much to me? Why do so many otherwise reasonable, intelligent women have such a downer on themselves over something which, in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t that big a deal.

It’s easy to point the finger at the diet or fitness industries, who of course reinforce then prey on our insecurities in order to succeed, or the body shaming magazine articles berating celebrities for daring to ‘pile on the pounds’ but actually I think we need to bear some responsibility ourselves. Who could do with an inspirational quote right now ?

I know it’s not easy to be thick skinned in a world where we are all judged on our appearance, but if we can somehow instill the right mindset of confidence and self worth from a young age then imagine how different things could be? I have a 1957 copy of Vogue magazine and flicking through it these ads show how little things have changed in the last 50 years, how sad that in 2016 women are still bombarded with the same message, ‘You are not good enough’.

In all honesty I AM my own worst critic, I doubt there is anything anyone could say to me about my appearance that I haven’t already told myself many times over. This is MY problem, no one else’s, but to use a well known phrase: ‘What others think of you is none of your business’. It is up to us to decide that we won’t be made to feel inferior any more. Not by the dieting industry, or the fitness industry (Are YOU beach body ready??) or the media. I desperately want to prepare my 5 year old daughter for the pressure she is almost certain to experience in the coming years but I feel like whatever I do it won’t be nearly enough. She loves her food and although she’s usually satisfied with a handful of carrot sticks, there is a point where I just have to say “No more food!” Obviously I think she is beautiful and perfect but I also know that in the real world she will eventually be subjected to comments about her weight which will result in her confidence being knocked, cue a lifetime of food/body issues.

Although there are a handful of body positive role models for girls in public eye today (Adele, Lena Dunham, Meghan Trainor) they are the exception and we are still a long way from acceptance of women regardless of their size and shape. Unfortunately it will always mainly be women from the entertainment industry considered worthy to grace the magazine covers and so it will always be these images that girls are presented with rather than the athletes, engineers, entrepreneurs, or explorers (or presidents?!) . It made a refreshing change to see the below article on the cover of the paper today The ‘perfect body is a lie’. In it Lindy West tells how, as a ‘big’ girl,  believing in the perfect body affected her terribly growing up until she eventually realised that the perfect body is a lie. Which makes perfect sense, I mean when you think about it logically, who gets to decide???

For my daughter’s sake I would love to see this issue receive a lot more attention in the media, from the government and in the classroom. Surely body confidence and appreciation from a young age would have a huge positive impact on other areas of children’s lives giving them a healthy, informed view and allowing them to realise that ‘body-shaming’ is bulls**t. Unfortunately I have never managed this confidence for myself but now as a mother I feel it’s my job to be a real-life (not so glamorous) role model. To try to focus on nurturing a healthy attitude to our bodies, whatever size or shape and appreciate just how amazing they are.

I am under no illusion that this is going to be easy, especially as my daughter gets older, but I am learning and I am determined. For her sake I will do what I can to prepare her for the big, bad body-shamers. The below plaque hangs in my cloakroom, as a little reminder, some days I have a harder time than others actually believing it – it’s work in progress.

(If you have already experienced any body image issues with your child (young or old) I would be really interested to hear your views or advice on how you are dealing with it.)

x

You are Perfect Just as You are Plaque*I am aware that increasing numbers of men are being affected by body confidence issues today, however this is a personal blog post based on my own experience on the subject.

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HOW TO MAKE A SUPERHERO CAKE

Slightly different post this week as I thought I’d give you a peek into my other life of all things cakey!! Back in 2012, after I had left my full-time job I decided that I wanted to DO something other than just be a SAHM, because as you know looking after a baby and a 3 year old leaves you plenty of time on your hands right??!!! I’ve always enjoyed baking and dreamed of my own little cake shop, a pretty little café in Cornwall, all ‘cake domes on the counter, flowers on the table’ and  a little sign swinging above the door – I’m thinking blue facade, to match the Cornishware mugs….

cornishware
Image Cornishware.co.uk

Anyway, what with now having two small humans, no income and Cornwall being quite a commute from Bedfordshire, I decided to work with what I’d got and set up my own little home baking business. I attended a brilliant ‘Start-Up’ workshop (to get my head around all the dull legals and numbers) and Googled ‘How to set up a website’. Cue two weeks watching YouTube videos on HTML, trying to figure out how the hell to add tabs, insert images, create dropdown  lists etc etc. Finally, on Jan 24th 2013, ‘Martha’s Kitchen’ was officially born. Sorry, I’ve digressed massively, banging on about cake domes when you’ve come here to see how to make a Superhero cake! (If you enjoy looking at cakes you can have a peek at my creations over here  ).

SO, on to the cake. TAH-DAH! Perfect for any little (or big) superhero and I’m gonna show you how it’s done!

IMG_4004Anyone can make this I promise you, it doesn’t involve any particularly tricky decorating techniques or require much skill but there is one thing you will need masses of and that’s time. There are a lot of stages but if you plan ahead and break it down as I show below it’s completely do-able . You’ll be Parent of the Year AND get to feel smug about it – WIN!!

I started with the Hulk fist, modelling it from a mixture of Rice Crispies, marshmallows and butter. Melt a standard bag of mallows (minus one or two for QC) on a very low heat, with a knob of butter. Add crispies until there are enough to make a firm but well coated ball when you squash them together. Allow to cool.

Now for the messy bit. The mixture is really sticky , so for this part I wear disposable gloves coated in butter but you could just coat your hands in butter. Squash the crispie mix together and form a fist shape using your own fist as a guide. Allow to set (pop it in the fridge to help it along). Cover in a layer of white fondant, pressing into all the nooks and crannies, to smooth over the bumps a bit. Don’t worry about getting it completely smooth as I’m guessing Hulk’s hand is a bit gnarly anyway. Cover with green fondant and add some details like knuckles and wrinkles using the end of a teaspoon or anything pointy but not sharp enough to cut the fondant. Rub in cocoa powder to highlight the details and make the fist look grubby. That’s it, Hulk hand done.

For the next part I’m going to assume you know how to bake a sponge cake, if not, er, go learn how to bake a sponge and comeback. A Madeira type works well for stacking as it’s firmer so can hold the weight of fondant, decorations etc. (I’ve still used plastic doweling rods in the bottom layer though – it not that firm! You’ll get them online or in any cake decorators shop).

You’ll need 3 sponges: small, medium, large on cake boards and covered in red, blue and grey fondant respectively. I’ve used 6″, 8″, 10″ here but  depending on how many you’re planning to feed you can go bigger or smaller. A note on covering cakes in fondant – there is no easy way, sorry, I still hate this part but if you just keep lifting it up round the sides and gently easing it down evenly all the way round, you’ll eventually get a feel for what your doing. Failing that you could always do what my friend does; chop the excess off with scissors and hide the wonky bits at the back. Your cake, your call.

Score the top of the red sponge with a sharp knife (see above) and gently peel back the layer of fondant making enough room to place the Hulk fist, to give the effect of it bursting through the cake. To transform the top tier into a Spidey cake, roll out and cut black fondant strips (pizza cutters are perfect for this) and attach to form a web pattern using a small amount of water. I started with 8 vertical strips spaced equally around the cake then joined them up with a row of slightly curved horizontal strips. Make a simple spider shape and position  at the front adding creepy crawly legs.

For the remaining tiers I made a stencil of the Superman and Batman logos and cut around these to create badges from coloured fondant (again, attach with a little water).

Stack your cakes (Tip: coordinating ribbon around each tier makes everything look neater!) Once stacked, roll out some red and black fondant and cut into 2 rectangles, you can judge this by eye as these will be the ‘capes’ at the side so don’t need to be precise. If in doubt, better to cut them too big and trim to size. Attach these to each tier with water leaving a small part of the fondant unattached to give the effect of fabric billowing. I’ve covered a large base in leftover fondant and added the birthday boy’s name (no, it’s not for me!). That’s it, stand back and admire your handy work!! Cool huh?

IMG_4004

P.S. I really deliberated whether or not to write this post as I understand that not everyone finds this kind of thing easy. The main thing here is to take your time, it doesn’t have to be perfect, just give it a go -your kid will think you’re awesome!

Just don’t blame me next year when they request a Hogwarts cake. X

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