My Mini Resolutions Oct/Nov/Dec 2014

If you read my previous post from last week, about Making Mini Resolutions you'll be up to date on my intentions. Rather than adopt my usual resolution making behaviours, I've instead decided to cut the year down in to quarters and set myself smaller goals every three months. 
If you've pledged to do something similar I'd love to hear what mini resolutions you're working towards at the moment. Here are my three mini resolutions for October, November and December:
  1. Raise the first £500 for MIND, the mental health charity, as part of my bigger fundraising efforts in the lead up to my trip to Mongolia next year
  2. Perfect my own homemade Hollandaise sauce.
  3. Visit my best friend Amanda in Milton Keynes.
The fundraising is a big and relatively important resolution, and I've already got loads of cool ideas for ways in which I could get the first sponsorship donations coming in. For a long time I've been meaning to have a go at making a great Hollandaise to serve with my favourite breakfast; Eggs Florentine, but I've just not gotten around to it - and there's nothing that I annoy myself with more than procrastinating or leaving a to do list incomplete. As for visiting Amanda, I ought to do this anyway, but it's one of those "I really miss you, I must come up and see you soon." scenarios that takes far longer than it should to actually take off. We both have busy lives with young children, pets and self employment to juggle, so vast amounts of time seem to pass in between meetings but perhaps this is something to work on for 2015.

British Produce in Season: October

October is a wonderful month for glorious British produce. There are loads of seriously good food stuffs in abundance at this time of year, so where possible, seek out local sources, such as Farmer's Markets, and stock up on some of these beauties to eat seasonally as the dark nights draw in.
Apples
Aubergine
Beetroot
Butternut squash
Cabbage
Celeriac
Chicory
Cobnuts
Damsons
Duck
Elderberries (just about!)
Fennel
Fig
Globe Artichokes
Grey Mullet
Grouse
Kale
Mackerel
Mushrooms
Mussels
Oysters
Partridge
Pears
Pheasant
Plums
Pumpkin
Radishes
Rocket
Salsify
Scallops
Sea Bass
Sloes
Swede
Sweetcorn
Swish Chard
Truffles
Venison
Watercress
Winkles

5 Posts That I Enjoyed This Week

This week was a good week for blogging. I enjoy nothing more than snuggling down with a cup of tea and thumbing through my Bloglovin' feed to see what other bloggers have been posting. 
As it's Sunday I thought I'd share five of my favourite posts from the week, so settle down, and have a nosey.
 
  1. Kate's Home D├ęcor Budgeting Tips I torture myself regularly by following Kate on Instagram, where she's recently shared loads of photographs of the flat that she bought with her boyfriend. The place is show-home perfect and fills me with envy. However, I was really refreshed (and relieved) to read this post, and to realise that Kate and I share almost all of the same attitudes towards decorating and furnishing on a small budget. I especially empathise with her desire to spray paint all of the things.
  2. Elizabeth and Raj's Brand New Blog I've known Elizabeth and Raj for a few years now, Elizabeth since I started blogging, and Raj since the first Blognix conference in Birmingham in 2013. The couple have just launched a joint travel blog, Awesome Wave, documenting their international adventures and travel tips. As a real bookworm, and a fierce defender of the paperback, I really enjoyed Raj's post "To Kindle or Not To Kindle", which made some powerful arguments that apply to any reader, travelling or otherwise.
  3. Vicki's Juice Recipe I know I've mentioned it before, but A Life Of Geekery is my favourite food blog (among millions). It's great to see Vckki teaming up with Vita Coco to produce a range of juice recipes, using their nourishing coconut water. I can't wait to try this berry recipe with all of the hedgerow goodies that Seb has picked, which are currently stored in my freezer. Adding fresh sage sounds divine.   
  4. A Thrifty Mrs & The Budget Mascara Fail Because I prefer to blog about saving money rather than spending it, I am drawn towards reviews of budget products. It's worth remembering though - that in this world, sometimes, you do get what you pay for - and sometimes, cheap really does mean crap. I always find it refreshing to read honest posts like this makeup review, that are straight-up about when low budget means poor value.
  5. Muireann Ruling My Life As Per I don't know if Muireann Carey-Campbell is technically famous, maybe not, but she's the one person I would like to meet above most others, above, you know, celebrity types. Whenever I see a new post pop up on her blog I'm there like a mouse to Camembert (or actually, just me, to Camembert). Once again, she hit the nail on the proverbial head this week with her post "Stop Hiding" which made me feel slightly guilty about the things I've been scared of facing (even guiltier than my boyfriend's death stare about the overdue library books) and motivated to make this coming week the one where I just get on and deal with the bastards.
Have you read any great blog posts on this here internet lately? If so, please leave some links in the comments or get in touch. 

So this is happening; Mongolia

Do you know what happens when you get to twenty six and you've already had a child, got married, started your own business, adopted a cat and bought your dream bicycle, only for your entire life to get sucked down a plug hole (albeit because you, yourself, pulled the plug out); for your marriage to come to an end and your business to fold and for you and your child and your cat, and your bicycle, to move in to a cool but decidedly "single person" flat, where, before you're twenty seven, you have to start again. From scratch?
You realise, after a short while, that you can do anything. That's what happens. 
Then you book flights to Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.
Perhaps this doesn't quite happen to everyone, well, not the flights to Mongolia anyway, but it's what's happening in my camp. 
On the 10th September 2015, I fly to Ulaanbaatar (the coldest capital city in the world did you know?) with very little actual stuff, and with the intention of staying there for 24 hours, ish, filling the time with as many monasteries and palaces and awe inspiring sights as possible before leaving, for rural Mongolia.
The next 10 days will be spent crossing 150 kilometers of Mongolian desert, mountains and wild forest, in areas largely untouched by tourism, or, indeed, untouched by anyone but native nomadic tribes people... on a horse. 


Err Merr Gerrd I'M SO EXCITED

I haven't done anything like this in years, and when I say "like this", I can probably only refer to the time that I crossed Wales on a horse. Now, don't get upset Wales, you rock my socks, but the most challenging conditions that I experienced were light drizzle over the Brecon Beacons. 
Mongolia, is, well... it's not Wales. The days are, by all accounts, punishingly hot in Summer and boy does it know how to rain, and the nights are bitterly cold. When you consider that I will only have what I can carry on a pack horse, it might get a bit testing at times, but I can't actually get my ahead around just what a fantastic opportunity this is right now. 
Not only will I get to see bits of world that I didn't really expect to see, perhaps ever, (Mongolia has always been one of those countries on my Top Five "if I ever had the chance..." destinations, but seemed rather unrealistic as a holiday destination) but I'll also have the opportunity to experience a culture so at odds with mine, that I can't imagine yet what I'll learn. Amazingly, ethnic Mongols make up 95% of the Mongolian population, and Buddhism is the most prolific religion, although, out in some of the most remote parts of the country, I'm likely to go days without running in to anyone other than my own travelling companions. 
So that's that, actual Mongolia, actual horse, actually happening. 
On the subject of why, other than, the obvious - why not? I will be using this amazing opportunity to raise as much money as possible for charity. I have scratched my head for a long time trying to decide which charity, as 12 months is likely to include a lot of fund raising, and I want to raise money for a cause that I'm passionate about (of which there are several) but I have finally come to a decision to ride in support of MIND - the mental health charity. 
Improving not only the care available to those effected by mental health issues, but also tackling the social stigma surrounding mental health, raising awareness of the struggles faced by mentally ill people, and helping our society as a whole to save lives from all forms of mental illness, is something that gives me all of the feels. 
In 2001 I lost three members of my family, one of them my Father, to suicide. Of those three people, not one sought medical help before taking their own life. I'm so bored of hearing about how selfish suicide is, an opinion so often spouted by people who've never been the "child left behind", and I'm unbelievably keen to see, not only a reduction in the number of suicides taking place as a result of untreated mental illness, but also of the number of people forming ill advised ideas of suicide victims.
In 2002 and 2004 I was diagnosed and treated for depression and a range of anxiety disorders, before developing a severe eating disorder, and in 2007, I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, an illness I'll probably live with to varying degrees for the rest of my life. It scares me to think of the number of people, men, women, children, vulnerable and also unexpected people, who suffer with the same range of symptoms that I have, or that I do now, and that are not getting the treatment or support that they need, or that are being made to suffer further injustice as a result of their illness. 
Mental illnesses need to be given the same recognition and handling as physical, equally life threatening diseases. MIND is a fantastic charity and I'll talk more at a later date about what they do and how they help people every single day. 
The next twelve months are going to be full to bursting with smaller fundraising projects leading up to the Mongolia trip next September so if anyone has any ideas for cool ways to raise money in the lead up to my trip, or thinks they may be able to help in any way at all, give me a shout, you know where I am (social buttons to the right will link you up to me via Twitter, Facebook, or good old fashioned email, for a start.)
Once fundraising efforts get under way I will share with readers how they can donate, if it's something they'd like to do, towards my campaign. 

On heartbreak and heartache

I was compelled to write this post a while ago after reading Meg's post, How It Feels To Be Heartbroken. Some people's words resonate, even when they're saying something that you've heard a hundred times before on other tongues, and Meg's post, and several of her tweets on the same subject since, have really taken me back to my own experiences of lost love, experiences that have moulded and shaped me in ways unfathomable. 
This isn't a post for Megs, but it's certainly inspired by her, and by the many hearts that break, audibly and otherwise, every day. It hurts, and I don't think it ever leaves you, but I've never really committed anything to paper on the subject, which is odd, for me. 
And there you have it, my first lie, because I have written about this before, in depth, endlessly, until my fingers bled (actually, real life blood.) I had, what can only be described as the most hideous of human experiences, I had my heart broken at 16. TEENAGE HEARTBREAK IS UNBEARABLE. Not only are you full of raging, angry, awkward, body-hating hormones, not only are you battling everything from self-deprecation to acne, but you are very ill-equipped to deal with heartbreak. I was weeks away from sitting my GCSE's, I was deliriously happy and desperately in love, it was a gorgeous Summer, and boom, a Sunday night text, something about "needing some space".
The very worst thing that you can do, I have grown up knowing as a result of that experience, is to underestimate young love. Even the term "young love" sounds patronising and tedious. There was nothing childish, nothing immature, nothing "puppy-like" about that episode in my life. I have never known pain like it, I would gladly go through the physical agony of child birth several times over again, than experience the emotional torture of that break up once more. 
I attempted to take my own life on more than one occasion, I developed a severe eating disorder, and I deliberately put myself in recklessly dangerous situations (with a variety of catastrophic results) in the aftermath of that breakup. My world imploded. The anger that I feel when I see anyone trivialise matters of the teenage heart (parent's who laugh and coo over their own children for having a girlfriend/boyfriend - tease them for it, ruffle their hair, point out that they're blushing etc. - stop it, unless you'd do it to your boss, stop it) knows no boundaries. If you're experiencing your first ever heartbreak I will be there, in an instant, because I know that you will never hurt like that again, ever - and whoever you are, I will talk to you for hours and hours so that you are not alone with that pain. 
Of course, I'm still here, and I did "get over it", eventually I weighed very little, my hair started to fall out, my periods stopped, I couldn't physically cry any more, and I took to sleeping for around 15 hours a day; but somehow I got up and got on with it and I was/am, absolutely fine. 
I got through my GCSE's somehow, with my ex-boyfriend of the moment to thank for my A*'s in English Language and English Literature. When I said I wrote at length about my experiences of heartbreak; I submitted a weighty anthology of poetry as my English coursework, which was possibly over-graded, but which failed to touch on a single subject other than my recent breakup. My grades were the highest in English ever obtained at the school. I don't say this to boast of my academic prowess, only to illustrate that the emotional fallout from heartbreak is a tsunami of feeling otherwise completely unreachable by human consciousness.
My English literature exam took place in the same exam hall as my ex boyfriend's Sport's Science A Level. It was the first time he'd been in the same room as me in weeks, having avoided me (understandably - I was a wreck) and the adrenalin pumping through my veins spilled out and I aced it.
More recently, my marriage disintegrated; spectacularly, painfully; it was, and still is, a dark and sad affair, tinged and stained with bitterness, and regret, and guilt. One of the first people to get in touch, to say that if I needed anything I was only to say, that I was being thought of, worried about, hoped for - was from my high school boyfriend. It seems a funny full circle to have turned. Since that most awful of breakups when I was sixteen, a breakup that could quite conceivably have killed me, had things been only slightly different, I have had various unsuccessful relationships, one of which resulted in the birth of my son, another in my now failed marriage. My first ex boyfriend (we shall refer to him as "S") is engaged to be married next year, to the Mother of his own son - it's safe to say, we both ended up having lives, and we're both still living them. 
Telling someone that it will be OK when they're broken hearted doesn't offer any comfort though, telling someone they will get through this, will meet some one else, that they have their whole life ahead of them is aimless - because in the midst of heartbreak, nobody wants to get through it - they want to go backwards, back to when everything was safe and OK. Nobody wants to meet someone else because they're still in love, and a lot of the time, nothing seems quite so bleak as the remaining decades of life before them. 
I only very (and I mean, very, very) recently let go of my son's Father. I hadn't realised this until I actually came to letting him go. Ours was a relationship which defined me for a long time, it was the relationship which taught me never to be defined by a relationship, which ultimately lead to the ruin of the next one I found myself in. I was consumed by my love for him, probably from around our second date. Given the pain of that horrific breakup in my teens, I found it relatively astounding that I could be so in love, I mean, I had pledged never to fall in love ever again, after all. But you do, you always do. When we went our separate ways three years later, me pregnant, and mortified, I realised two things. 
  1. There's always another chance at heartbreak, just as there is always another chance at love. People will always tell you that you'll love again - they always forget to warn you that you'll hurt again. 
  2. It's true, it doesn't hurt quite as much as the first time. 
I did get on with life pretty quickly though. It wasn't long before I drew a line underneath him and moved on. He flew to Micronesia - which helped, but I met someone else, someone who I would go on to marry in a couple of years, and I carried on. I'd got through the horrors of my first heartbreak at a relatively young age, and the next time around, I was hardened to it, it hurt, I cried and I hurt myself and I woke up wishing that I was still asleep for days and days on end, but it was easier. 
It was only recently then, that I realised, that I hadn't gone a single day without thinking about him. Either thinking about him at length, missing him, wondering where he was and what he was doing, or the trivial thoughts; seeing something he'd love, or hate, wishing I could text him to tell him about something I'd heard that I knew he'd find hilarious. I'd done that for five years. Five years, and I hadn't even realised that I was doing it, so engrained was he on my consciousness. Heartache is a weird thing, my heart had fixed itself, but it had remained bruised for such a long time that it had become the sort of pain I barely noticed any more. There is no timescale on heartache. Nobody tells you about that either. I'd conducted an entire 4.5 year relationship, raised my son, got married, had an affair, separated from my husband - all the time in the great shadow of a broken heart. 
And now, here I am, I'm almost twenty seven, I've only just gotten over a break up that took place five years ago, and this is the first time that I've really written anything about my first experience of a broken heart - which is now a decade ago in my history. What's more, I've broken someone else, I think for the first time (if I'm wrong, please don't write about it in the comments, and I'm sorry!) I read something recently, and I can't remember for the life of me where, about the truth about human hearts, the truths that very few of us admit to ourselves or to others, and one line which struck me, was the following: 
When someone that you love stops caring about you, it is confusing, and it hurts so much. When you stop loving someone that you care about, it is equally as confusing, and it hurts so much.

Now I know that it's almost impossible to have sympathy for the person who has broken your heart. I certainly didn't when S sent me that message about needing space and then admitted to having cheated on me with a girl with enormous boobies whilst I was at my waitressing job at the weekend. I didn't worry about his confusion, and his pain, when I was ramming my fingers down my throat to regurgitate a spontaneous round of mozzarella and pesto on toast. 
Later on I never wondered how hurt and confused the Father of my unborn child might be when he sold his house and car and booked a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the planet. But if there's anything that my 10 years since heartbreak have taught me, it's that people are remarkable. People are so complex, and complicated, and so f***ing deep... you'll never have the answers that you think will make the pain stop. Never. 
Of course, there is karma as well. The girl with the big boobies turned out to be a cousin he didn't realise that he had. 
 

Making Mini Resolutions


I read something recently which really struck a chord with me, and got me thinking long and hard about my own goal-setting habits.
Setting myself goals, and piling expectation on to myself, is something that I’m particularly good at. Sometimes, those goals are reached - exceeded even, and sometimes, they are not.



Not so long ago, for example, I gave up smoking, in fact, I’ve been smoke free for almost three months now - a quarter of entire year, and I’m reaping the benefits. A few months further back, I decided to give up sugar and processed foods. Now don’t get me wrong, I lapse occasionally (that Toblerone that jumped in to my shopping basket yesterday evening? Yeah that), but for the most part, I’ve completely revolutionised my own attitudes towards food and nutrition - how cool is that?

However, sometimes my resolutions fall by the wayside. Every January 1st I go overboard devising the most elaborate new leaf to turn over in a spectacular and dramatic fashion. At the beginning of 2014 I was surviving on 0% fat yogurt and goji berries whilst forcing myself out of the door for road runs in the dark, which I didn’t enjoy. My husband was booting me out of bed before 6:00am so that I could commence this arduous demonstration of New-Leafness before my 3 year old son woke for the day, and quite frankly - it was rubbish.

I don’t enjoy road running. I don’t like being out on my own in the dark. 0% fat dairy products are heinous, and I love a lay in. It was not the one. By the 25th January, a long Burn’s Night weekend in Edinburgh shook me out of my health kick, and that was the end of that.

So. When I read a recent article by the editor of Ideal Homes magazine, in which she pondered the value of short term goal setting, I felt compelled to explore the idea for myself. The article suggested that we’d be more satisfied, and more productive, if we set ourselves resolutions every three months, rather than every twelve.

I already wang on about harnessing the power of compartmentalisation - breaking everything down into small, manageable, separate chunks - so this sounded great to me. It wouldn’t be unheard of for me to set myself twelve New Years Resolutions on 1st January. But twelve separate life enhancements, all at once, over a twelve month period? That’s kind of heavy. Three achievable goals to complete in approximately twelve weeks? Now that I can manage!



So I’ll be setting my first quarterly resolutions to begin on the 1st October, with the view to ticking them off before the year is out. What would you opt for? Does the cupboard under the stairs need to be tackled? Do you have an annoying or unhealthy habit that you’d like to break before Christmas? Or maybe you’re desperate to learn a new skill? I’d love to hear from readers who are also keen to give 3 month resolutions a try - let’s set goals together! (Fist pump)

How To Get Your Children Talking About Art

First things first, I'm no art buff. I know what I like (Whistlejacket by George Stubbs), and I know what I don't like (Damien Hirst's Pickled Cow), I do however enjoy the process of deciding what I do, and do not like. I enjoy art, in as much as that I enjoy thinking, and art, whether pleasant or otherwise, get's me thinking. 
I've been taking Seb to art galleries since he was tiny. I took him to the Turner Contemporary Gallery here in Margate not long after it opened, when he was still very much a baby. Thankfully there were a lot of pieces that lit up in one of those early exhibitions and he loved it, loved it, loved it, fell asleep. I also remember taking him to the National Portrait Gallery when he was about two years old, and realising then that he was fascinated by people in paintings. 
My parenting is typically child lead, if Seb shows an interest in something, I'll bend over backwards trying to nurture that interest in to a passion, so if I catch wind of an exhibition that's portrait dominant, and free, I'll take him along.
Seb's four now, and exploring his intrigues is a lot of fun. We can now make art gallery visits more interesting by using art as an opportunity to discuss anything from history to favourite colours. 
If you're unsure of how to "do" art galleries with young children to make it interesting for all of you (without direction kids generally seem to run... they just keep running... galleries are good for that) then I've pooled together some tips; 
  1. You don't need to know anything about art to be able to discuss it with your children. Children aren't looking for explanations and information, talking about art with your children is about equipping them with new ways of describing what they see, and how they respond to it - which is useful elsewhere in life too.
  2. One of the simplest and most effective ways of engaging with your children over art is to ask the most straight forward of questions; "What do you see?" You might be surprised by your children's answers, but you're also encouraging them to explore their own interpretations of art, rather than forcing yours upon them. This simple question should stop the urge to run, and make your children stand, even very briefly, to think.
  3. Change your perspective. Encourage children to look at art close up, and then to take several steps back and to look at it from a distance. When you're close up, ask what your children think the art is made from, and how it was made, can they find the artist's name anywhere on the work, or is there a label? If your children aren't old enough to read, read any labels to them. When you're far away from the art work, talk about what colours they can see from here (their answers may be different compared to when they're close to the piece), how does the piece make them feel? How do they think the artist felt when they produced the piece? It never matters whether your children give correct or incorrect answers (or whether you know the correct answers) what matters is that they're thinking, both logically and critically, and it's important to always ask them to explain how they arrived at their conclusion. 
  4. You can find art anywhere, you don't have to go to a gallery or museum. There are more than likely sculptures in your town, or stained glass windows in your local church, that you could view with your children right now. Looking at real, tangible pieces of art makes for a far more engaging experience than discussing printed pictures in books (although this is good too!)
  5. Lastly, if your child shows a particular interest in a piece of art, whether it's a sculpture in the church yard, or a painting in your local gallery, think of ways to explore the idea further at home, get crafty and creative, exploring art doesn't have to stop with discussion. Although, if they show an interest in pickled cows...

Why whole (full fat) milk is better for your health, weight, and happiness

"What are you... two?"

This was my boyfriend's response when I informed him that I only drink whole milk where possible. 

His surprise can be forgiven though, in a world where the words "Fat Free" take up three times as much packaging surface space as the word "Yoghurt", most of us have grown up barely feeling the need to consider what makes for a healthy choice when it comes to dairy products. 

The sad truth is, that Fat-Free-Health is one of the biggest, most dangerous, and most devastating lies that has been allowed to extend itself in to modern social consciousness. Skimmed milk and semi-skimmed milk now consistently out-sell whole (or full-fat) milk, and there seems to be very little information made publicly available as to why that is not cool. 

People are quite surprised that I consume real butter over vegetable spreads, full fat cheese (sometimes in large quantities) every single day, cream, and whole milk, in my quest to eat healthily. All that fat. Right?

I wanted to write a post to explain why stepping away from the semi-skimmed, and pouring a glass of your toddler's delicious full-fat milk, could be one of the most positive decisions that you make for your health, and for your waist line.



Skimming milk means increasing the sugar content per glass when compared to whole milk.

It's simple, if half of your milk is fat, and you take that away, you're only left with a sort of sugary water, and only half as much product. You therefore have to top it up with more sugary water in order to give somebody a full glass of milk.

When you remember that it is sugar that the body stores as fat, and not the actual fat that you consume (which is converted in to energy), then you might start to realise why you still can't do up your favourite pair of jeans. Of course, sugar isn't only bad for you in terms of your weight, it's also linked to almost all known life threatening diseases, and chronic conditions that could effect you now, or in later life. Swap to whole milk and you slash your sugar intake.

Milk is a wonderful source of Vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of them totally essential to healthy body function in various ways. These vitamins are present in all milk, skimmed or whole, however, they are all fat-soluble vitamins. This means, if they're not linked up to some glorious fatty molecules, your body can not absorb them. Making skimmed milk nutritionally void.

Most of us know that milk is also a fantastic source of calcium (for strong bones and healthy teeth, among other bonuses) but did you know that calcium uptake is significantly improved in the presence of Vitamin D? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that you're not getting your money's worth in calcium from a glass of skimmed milk. In fact - skimmed milk may be making you calcium deficient.

In production, skimmed milk powder is often added to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. As I said earlier, when fat is removed from milk, you're left with far less liquid to bottle. You need to bulk that up, and of course, it's cheaper to do so with powdered milk and water than more fresh, processed milk.

That in itself is a bit demoralising, when you consider that the poorer quality is not reflected in the price; but it's worth noting that the powdering process causes the cholesterol in milk to oxidise. Oxidised cholesterol is bad news for your arteries, and can cause the growth of plaque in your blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure, and a higher risk of heart disease. The cholesterol that appears naturally in your food is not dangerous.

Low fat foods are less satisfying than full fat. That's the simple truth of the matter. Almost all human bodies are equipped with "indicator" hormones, that flick in to action when we've eaten (or drunk) enough fat. We know that we're done, and, if we're sensible, we'll listen to our bodies and stop. No human on the planet however, possesses a similar hormone for sugar, and as such, your body will never alert you to the fact that you've had enough sugar, other than through nausea perhaps. You simply won't feel "full" after drinking a glass of skimmed milk, bloated perhaps, in the same way you would be after drinking a glass of water, but not satisfied.

Whole milk requires a significant amount less processing. It's a natural product (the clue's in the name - "whole") and leaves a far lighter imprint on our environment than the manufacturing of low fat (fattening) dairy products.

There's a reason that when you wean a baby from formula or human breast milk, on to cow's milk, that you're told to stick with whole milk and not a skimmed variety - it's good for humans. Your nutritional needs don't change an awful lot between toddlerhood and adulthood. The reason that skimmed milk gives your baby diarrhoea but perhaps doesn't effect you in the same way? Your body is used to being abused - your baby's isn't.

Let's just end with a final author's note shall we? Whole milk tastes a whole lot better.

*Always try to buy organic dairy products. You may notice a slightly higher price tag, but buying products made from the milk of grass-fed cattle is far better than milk from cows who've been pumped full of hormones and fed an unusual, chemical-laced diet, in order to make what is, theoretically, an artificial milk.




Banana and Coconut Bake

I'm so pleased with how this recipe turned out.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, in my post "How I Plan My Parenting Week", on Tuesdays, I usually set aside some time to cook with my son. I can't stress enough just how important I believe it is for children to be involved in food preparation from an early age. Nurturing a secure and positive attitude towards food, as well as an understanding of what goes in to the food that we eat, and how it effects our health and wellbeing, is crucial for any child.

Banana bread has long been an obvious and easy recipe to bake for, and with, children. It's the ideal way to use up any bananas that are "on the turn", and I'm passionate about limiting food waste.

Usually, I wouldn't eat bananas, they're so much a treat food that I tend to avoid them altogether, but they're one of Seb's favourite fruits and I allow him to eat them in moderation. Bear in mind though that bananas have one of the highest fructose contents of all fruits and shouldn't be a daily snack.
I decided to edit my old banana bread recipe as I haven't made any since quitting sugar. I had done a little research and found other bloggers who'd made a sugar-free banana bread describing their results, unanimously, as "edible".
I can say, with a slightly smug expression, that I think I might have cracked it. Structure wise, this recipe doesn't rise in a truly cakey manner, which is why I've chosen to describe it as a "bake", and not a "cake" (or a bread). However, texture wise it is perfect, and taste wise... well, bake some and see for yourself.

I made a few simple alterations, most notably, using almond flour instead of standard self-raising, and using desiccated coconut and rice malt syrup instead of a granulated sugar or artificial sweetener.

You can buy rice malt syrup, and almond flour, among a huge number of fantastic whole foods that support a sugar free diet, at Whole Foods Online (that's who I use anyway). They're a small company based not far from me in Canterbury, and their customer service (and voucher based generosity) is fabulous.
Give it a go, and let me know how you get on, if you follow any of my recipes please share your pictures with me on Twitter or Instagram (@ashlawrencerye).



Ingredients

4 small bananas
3 medium eggs
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup rice malt syrup
300g almond flour
1 tbs baking powder

Make It
  1. Use a blender to whip your bananas in to a smoothie like substance and add the eggs.
  2. Whizz the banana and eggs together and then pour in to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the desiccated coconut and rice malt syrup and use a wooden spoon to combine.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder, and fold in to the cake mixture to create a tight, heavy dough-like cake mixture.
  5. Spoon the mixture in to a pre-greased cake tin, and pop in the oven at about 140 degrees to bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown on top and cooked through.
You can see all of my whole food, clean-eating, budget and child-friendly recipes in my recipe file, have a browse now, right here.

How I Plan My Parenting Week

I find life a lot easier when I plan ahead.



I like to be able to see a plan for the week.



When I plan ahead, I'm more likely to get things done and to enjoy doing them.



The idea of "planning" your parenting week might not sound that attractive to some, but for me, I like to get to the end of the week feeling confident that I've spent quality time with my four year old son and that I've made the most of the time that I have with him.




Bringing a child up independently (for the most part) can certainly be daunting, and I know for certain that all of us worry sometimes whether or not we're doing enough - whatever the structure of our family may be. 

Having a parenting planner means that I can look ahead and know that my son has a week of activities ahead of him, and that I'm maximising the time that I do get to enjoy being with him and seeing him learn, especially if he's off to see his Dad at some point in the week. 

I theme each day of the week consistently so that I can be confident that we're doing a variety of interesting and fun stuff. 

Here's what my parenting week looks like:

Mystery Monday: On a Monday I make sure we're out of the flat, whether it's a trip to the zoo, a treasure hunt in the park, or paying a visit to friends or family - Monday is a wild-card day and allows me some flexibility and an incentive to get out and about.

Tasty Tuesday: On Tuesday we always do something in the kitchen. My son loves to bake so we usually get messy, and cook up a storm!

Wednesday on Wheels: Every Wednesday we go for a bike, scooter or skateboard ride - easy peasy. 

Thinking Thursday: On a Thursday I take the time to come up with an educational activity to enjoy together. At four my son is just starting primary school, so I typically come up with fun games that will help him to recognise and write letters, or encourage his numeracy, but I'm also super keen to encourage his knowledge of nature and science. I find Pinterest really useful for finding ideas of things that I can do with him on a budget to help him to learn at home. 

Arty Friday (because I couldn't think of anything appropriate that began with F): On Fridays we make stuff. We get out paints, pencils, glue, glitter, pom poms, or our cameras; whatever we have at the time. Either way, it's all about the unleashing of a four year old creative genius. Again, Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for crafty activities to try with children. 

If I see a great idea for activities to try out with Seb, I usually stick it on my dedicated Pinterest board, you can browse my ideas here

If you've got some great ideas of your own for keeping children entertained, especially on a low budget, I would love to hear them, why not add a comment below? Or tag me in photographs of your projects on Twitter or Instagram (@ashlawrencerye)

I'll be posting regularly to let you know what we've been up to throughout the week, this way I can share some of my most child-friendly recipes, and craft and educational projects. 





Apple Picking with the Little Stour Orchard

It's not that often that I'm invited to go behind the scenes with one of my favourite independent food producers, but as someone fascinated and keen to know where her food comes from, it is certainly not an opportunity that I'm likely to pass up. 
When the boyfriend and I were invited along to help gather the very first harvest of distinctive, Kentish, Discovery apples at Little Stour Orchard, I couldn't wait to get stuck in.
I've long been a fan of LSO's apple cider vinegar, which is, hand on heart, the best apple cider vinegar that I've tried. It won "Best Kent Food Product" of the year in this year's Taste of Kent Awards and as it undergoes a completely natural fermentation process, without chemical interference, it offers all of the fantastic health benefits that I can often be found raving about (more on that another time).
Before I gave up sugar, I was also a huge fan of Little Stour Orchard's juices and ciders, which are truly authentic and taste beautiful. The cider is made on site using LSO's 180 year old oak cider press, whilst the small company were further recognised in the Taste of Kent Awards as Best Kent Juice Producer in both 2013 and 2014.




Picking apples with a small group of volunteers at LSO's orchards on the outskirts of Canterbury, gave me a chance to see their admirable ethos in action. None of the trees and fruit at LSO are sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals to promote unnatural growth, they're exactly as nature intended, with lumps and bumps, in a variety of sizes and shades. Wild flowers are free to grow, encouraging bees and other insects to live amongst the fruit trees, and sheep graze the 10 acre site throughout the year.
 
The Discovery apples that we picked will be used to produce this year's juice, which is guaranteed to be incredible, but the fruit itself is delicious. I have to admit to sneaking a couple of apples to keep me going, and I can honestly say that they were the tastiest, most appley apples I'd ever tried.
Read more about Little Stour Orchard, the natural, chemical free approach that they take to producing their fruit, juice, cider and vinegar, and their range of products here on their website.
I'm already looking forward to going back to the orchards in West Stourmouth to help bring in the Bramley harvest, and I'll be seeing the guys from LSO tomorrow at Thanet Farmer's Market, as well as at the Broadstairs Food Festival, which kicks off in a few weeks time.

Let's Make Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is one of those things that you'll stop buying as soon as you've mastered making it at home, and oh gosh, it's so easy!

One thing to bear in mind is that homemade mayonnaise won't last as long as mass produced versions. The reason? It isn't full of chemical preservatives and contains actual egg.... I know where my preferences lay. Take a look at the ingredients label on your Helman's at home - do you even know what half of that stuff is? Do you know why it's bright snowy white?

What's more, homemade mayonnaise is so much more tasty than a jar of off-the-shelf stuff, it won't be around for half as long anyway - you'll spoon it on to just about anything!



Ingredients

2 x medium eggs
1.5 tspns salt
1.5 tspns lemon juice
325ml extra virgin olive oil (use an alternative oil if your diet or kitchen require)

Make It
  1. Beat both eggs until fluffy. 
  2. Once you see bubbles forming in your beaten eggs, add the salt and lemon juice, and mix again until thoroughly combined. 
  3. Continue to mix on a high setting in your food mixer whilst slowly adding the oil. 
  4. Once entirely combined, spoon in to an air tight container and store in the fridge.


I always opt for mayonnaise on my chips and even in burgers, have you tried to make your own? I'd love to hear how you get on so please leave a comment below, or tag me in your photos on Instagram or Twitter (@ashlawrencerye).

All of my recipes live over in my Recipe File, where you can find some kitchen inspiration in one convenient place - check it out here.

Use Up Leftovers: Breakfast Potato Fritters

When you're trying to get by on a tight budget there is nothing quite as devastating as food waste. I'm passionate about reusing and re-imagining food and ingredients to ensure that as little nutritional goodness goes in to my bin as possible. 
This is a quick breakfast that I rustled up for four-year-old, Seb, earlier in the week. It could prove particularly valuable if you struggle to get an adequate number of veggies in to your small people. 
We'd had pork the evening before, and I hadn't used all of the boiled new potatoes, or the green veg that I'd served, so here are our leftovers - restructured in to a delicious crispy pancake. 
I've added chia seeds to give this breakfast fritter an additional nutritional punch. Children won't notice the tiny chia seeds, but they pack three times as much brain-enhancing Omega 3 fatty acids as salmon. 
Delicious, and especially child-friendly with a generous glug of home-made ketchup. 

Ingredients

1.5 handfuls* of boiled baby new potatoes (skin on**)
1 handful of green veg or whatever leftover vegetables you have from the night before
1 large egg
1 large pinch chia seeds
1 golf ball sized dollop of coconut oil
Salt & Pepper

Make It

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan. 
  2. In a bowl, mash the potatoes and add the egg and vegetables, chia seeds and seasoning. Use a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly.
  3. Transfer fritter mixture to pan and press to create rough flat shape around 2cm thick. 
  4. Fry until crispy on one side, flip, and repeat.

* where exact measurements make no difference I believe in cooking with scoops, blobs and handfuls. Cooking should be predominantly lead by vision. Keep going until it looks about right, or to suit your personal tastes.

** whole foods are designed to be eaten as intended - whole. Where edible I always encourage the consumption of skin, seeds, stalks, fat and other bits that many people remove. Often they're the most nutrient rich part of a food. 

You can see all of my whole food, clean-eating, budget and child-friendly recipes in my recipe file, have a browse now, right here. If you create something cool with your leftovers, I'd love it if you'd share your photographs or ideas with me on Twitter and Instagram (@ashlawrencerye).

How To Make Your Cut Flowers Last Longer

I love having fresh flowers in my flat, absolutely love it.



I appreciate that they're a luxury, sometimes an affordable one, but an unnecessary purchase none the less. However, without cheer in our homes where lays the sense in being frugal?

I'm lucky - in that I adore carnations; is there a better flower? The range of colours? The delicate frilly petals? The choice of bloom size? The fluffiness? They've got an unfortunate reputation as the cheap petrol station forecourt flower. The lame apology flower. The forgotten wedding anniversary flower. The "don't go on a second date if he turns up with carnations" flower. I say no. Celebrate the carnation, because it is cheap, it's also versatile, and boy does it last in a vase. Give me carnations over roses any day, thank you.

I'm a stickler for ensuring that I'm getting value for money on anything that I spend my pennies on, which is why when I buy a bunch of flowers, I want to make sure they stick around to brighten my room, and my life, for more than just a few days.

If you've bought (or perhaps received, you lucky little muffin) a bunch of flowers, here are my tips for keeping them bright and perky for as long as possible.

Buy the carnations
See above, when choosing flowers to bring home, always check out the choice of carnations, not only are they usually some of the cheapest blooms on sale, but they can last weeks if they're properly looked after. You can usually buy several bunches for the price of a single bunch of roses, go for clashing or complimentary shades and mix them up in a wide mouthed vase or even a rose bowl for big fluffy impact.

Those little packets of plant food
If you buy flowers from the supermarket, or similar, they'll often come with a little sachet of "plant food" taped to their packaging. It's amazing the number of people who throw this away without using it. These sachets contain anti-bacterial elements to kill any bacteria that might damage and kill your flowers, as well as sugars to feed the plant and replace what it is no longer receiving from it's Mother plant, as well as acids that increase and assist in the uptake of water. Use it. You paid for it after all.

Lemonade
This is an old "Nan trick", but adding half a cup of lemonade to your vase can help to prolong the life of your cut flowers, and pick them up when they start to droop. It's only the sugar content in the fizzy drink that works it's magic, but a bottle of cheap (nasty) lemonade is a matter of pence, and it can live in the door of your fridge only to be used for flowers.

Apple Cider Vinegar
If you don't have/want lemonade at home, add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your vase, it'll do the same job, with some differing chemistry.

Aspirin
Again, a crushed aspirin in your flower's water will do them wonders.

Hairspray 
Hanging your flowers upside down and spraying the underside of their petals and leaves with your bog-standard hairspray will help to keep them looking fresh for longer.

Change the water
Many people fail to change the water that their flowers stand in. Stagnant water allows bacteria to breed which speeds up the rotting of the stems, and causes the flowers to die before their time is truly up. You should change the water in your vase completely at least every other day, but if you remember to change it daily you could double the time your flowers are on display.

Think about location
Your dining table may be the perfect place to display fresh flowers, aesthetically, but the location of said table may not be best suited to keeping the flowers looking their best. Whatever flowers you've brought home, make friends with Google and research the best conditions for keeping them alive. Hydrangeas, for example, will wilt very quickly in direct sunlight, so the windowsill isn't the place. Blogger's favourites, peonies, have to be kept cool.

Cut with care 
Flowers should always be cut at an angle of roughly 45 degrees. Cutting at a slant means that you increase the surface area that can suck up water.

Make sure your vase is clean
If your flowers wilt prematurely it's probably fair to blame bacteria above any other factor. Using a squeaky clean vase will ensure that your blooms get the best possible start.

Remove any leaves that'll sit beneath the water line
Submerged leaves will rot, increasing the amount of bacteria in the water (and creating a funky smell) which could shorten the life of your bouquet.

Don't encourage daffodils to make friends
The stems of daffodils contain a compound which acts as a poison to other flowers and plants. Make sure that daffodils are always displayed on their own and don't mix them in with other blooms, they're murderous little buggers.

I usually display photographs of the cut flowers in my flat on Instagram. You can follow me here and I'd love it if you'd tag me (@ashlawrencerye) in your own flower photography, especially if you try out any of these tips!