A New Addition; The Kitten With Many Names

So I got a new kitten. Wheeeeey *insert stereotypically girly screeching sounds*
Whilst he is dead cute and I love him, there was a sensible thought process behind introducing another pet to the apartment and it wasn't only my cat-broodiness getting in the way of actual life (for once!). Inspector Bucket has been an only cat since I bought him home from the RSPCA shelter almost a year ago, and it was fine (I told myself) when we had Ruby, our old labrador retriever, and a cat flap. Now however, Bucket is a (very happy) indoor cat, and has only human company, which I felt was inappropriate given that he is (don't tell him) a cat. I felt that another cat would mean that Bucket had someone his own shape to play with, and to keep him company when I'm not about, but as he's now grown in to a fully matured adult cat, I was worried that getting another would create a weird territorial dynamic, so adopting a kitten seemed the more compassionate option. 
It's worked out for the best. Bucket has well and truly put The Kitten in his place, as I thought he probably would, but The Kitten has enough gumption to give some back, and certainly won't roll over and let himself be bullied (especially not if there's food involved!) The two of them have taken a little while to work out who's who and what's what, but now they play happily and wash one another, and things appear to be settling down. They share food bowls and a litter box now so - I guess they're friends. 
Anyway - more about The Kitten. His name was originally Burger - it made me chuckle and he's such a fat little pudding of a cat that it definitely seemed to suit him. Seb instantly latched on to the name and has stuck with Burger ever since, but I started to have wobbles and doubts after a few hours and Boyfriend complained that it "wasn't an actual name". Eventually we agreed on Bruce (as in Wayne) as The Kitten is black - but I very quickly started referring to him as Batman. So eventually - he had 2.5 names, with Seb still very much referring to him as Burger, Boyfriend coming over and calling him Bruce, and me nonchalantly referring to him as The Kitten (although I still sort of think of him as Burger The Cat). At this rate The Kitten is going to end up being his name. 

Living with Inspector Bucket and The Kitten at the same time has made me appreciate how very different individual cats are. Bucket came in to the RSPCA's care as a stray, but despite his mean street background, he's quite an anxious, highly strung moggie, much happier indoors (he seems genuinely relieved to be kept inside now!), he craves human company and is generally very particular and almost neurotic in some of his quirks. He only eats dried cat food - even chicken, or tuna, or fresh fish, appals him, and the only "prey" he ever brought home were frogs, which he wouldn't harm, but would delicately carry back and release in to the house. The Kitten on the other hand is a one-feline-food-processing-Machine - I give him fresh meat as well as dried cat food which he demolishes, often stripping bones clean like a tiny panther, and this morning he killed and consumed his first spider. He steals food from plates and worktops, he tries to raid the bin. He's bolshy, confident, and full of "proper" cat attitude. He chases his tail, sleeps on a special cat blanket (and not the human's beds) and has a deafening purr. He and Bucket could not be more opposite, I'm quite certain that if he were to go outside he would kill, everything.

I think I summed up the difference between my two cats perfectly recently when I said that were I to abandon them both one day, The Kitten would be fine, he would feed himself out of bins until he were big enough to hunt, by which time he'd get fat on the Monster Rats of Margate, and would live out his days in obesity and arrogance. Bucket on the other hand would sit and wait for me to come back for a few hours, before laying down and admitting defeat. The Kitten would probably bring him bin scraps back and try to convince him to find some will to live, but unless anyone had thrown away an unopened box of Whisker's biscuits, he'd be unable to survive. 
Did you know that 80% of the cats taken in by the RSPCA are black? This has lead to an inaccurate assumption that there are simply more black cats about than other colours, but this is untrue, it's just a simple fact that black cats are less likely to be wanted as family pets than any other colour - which is why you'll see so many looking for new homes via shelters. Amongst those black cats actively given up by previous owners, the RSPCA has seen an alarming rise in people choosing not to keep their black cats because they're difficult to photograph (yes really), though they're typically unpopular because of associations with The Occult, witchcraft and bad luck. All of this is nonsense of course, a black cat is simply a cat - with black fur, and he or she is no less suitable for your family than a cat of any other colour. The Kitten is, indeed, very difficult to photograph, but his coat and yellow/green eyes are beautiful. He is silly, soft and affectionate, he loves to be cuddled, and he has no concept of the colour of his own fur. In shelters a black cat takes a tragic average of 11 months to find a new home, whilst a ginger cat takes an average of only 5 days to be offered a second chance at life. 
If you're thinking about rescuing a cat or kitten soon - please please, I implore you - don't overlook the black 'uns. Be a part of the Black Cat Movement that see's black cats whisked from shelters in to happy loving homes, where they, like all cats, belong.
The Kitten, along with Inspector Bucket, and Boyfriend's black cat, Elphaba, feature pretty heavily over on my Instagram, if you're fond of cat pictures, you can follow us all here

British Produce In Season: November

Can you believe that November is already knocking on our mud splattered doors? November is one of my favourite months of the year, not least because it's my birth month. I love the smell in the air, that mixture of wood smoke and damp leaves, I love the sound of fireworks erupting across empty black Winter skies, and unlike many, I love the shorter days, drawing the curtains at the end of the afternoon and snuggling down in soft lighting with a book and my cats. But most of all I love the foods so readily associated with November (and I'm not necessarily talking about the toffee apples and s'mores!)

So, for those of you hitting the independent shops or farmer's markets soon, here's a list of just some of the amazing British produce in season in November, if you can think of anything I've missed - don't forget to shout!

Brussels Sprouts
Duck (Wild)
Jerusalem Artichokes
Romanesco Cauliflower
Sea Bass

On Being Wrong. Or Why It's Not Ok To Carry On Anyway

This morning, after dropping my son at school, I delayed on driving back and cracking on with a day's work, and instead turned my car around and drove out to Joss Bay. 

If your mood tends to match the weather, then Joss Bay will always match your mood. On a hot Summer's day the beach moves with human bodies tucked neatly beside one another on towels and behind wind-breakers, children dart back and forth from the shallower water, and further out, the warm sea is peppered with surfers. The air smells like sun cream and melting ice cream. Usually, on days like this, I feel particularly good. 

On days like today however, when a determined rain falls silently in grey blankets, a rain that drenches you between your front door and the car, regardless of your haste or attire, when your breath mists the windows, and even the birds look miserable, their feathery coats drawn high against the wet chill - on these days, Joss Bay looks bleak. The sands are blown glass flat, and the sea meets the shore in angry, chaotic waves, greeted by a noticeable lack of people. 

I parked the car, but not facing the sea; to be quite honest it's pointless, as your view is obscured by a tall wire fence and a bedraggled array of weeds and other plant growth. I parked with my back to the sea, and from my seat I could look up at the North Foreland Light House, a brilliant pillar of stark white against the dull sky, and the sweep of cabbages which filled the fields between us, and when I switched off the engine, I could open whichever metaphorical door had been closed in my mind, and allow myself simply to think.

This might sound positive, a luxury to many I'm sure, but I know myself well enough to recognise this as alarming. I'm a thinker by nature, if anything, an over thinker, I think too much, I imagine and re-imagine scenarios until I believe myself to have lived them before they're even given an opportunity to occur, as a rule, I'm either thinking, or speaking. 

As soon as I need to schedule a time and a place for meditation - I'm probably already broken. 
I unclipped my seatbelt, pulled my knees to my chest and rested them against the steering wheel with my feet tucked on to the front of the seat, let my head fall back and I stared, blankly I guess, at the great expanse of white tower in front of me, and slowly I watched the windows mist up, until I couldn't see the cabbages any more.

This is precisely what I do in a very specific scenario, not always at Joss Bay, incidentally, in fact I haven't done that, there, in that car park, since 2009 (and on that occasion I stared at the wire fence and the weeds, disappointed not to be able to see the waves, it was raining that day too). This is precisely what I do when I'm overcome with self-loathing. 

Disliking ones own self is never a particularly good thing, and for the most part, this blog promotes positivity, the upbeat wonderful-ness of life's many many wonderful wonders. The absolute miracle of just waking up every morning, that kind of good stuff. Even I though, the eternal optimist, can recognise that sometimes we all fall apart a little bit, and succumb to some of our worst enemies: guilt, doubt, anger, regret, envy, and general all-round "can't be arsed to get out of bed" misery. There isn't anyone alive who doesn't go there. 

This isn't an advice-y type post like yesterday's "Just Be Nice" or my previous melodramatic post about misery, "On Heartbreak and Heartache". This post only has one clear message, which is the only thing I'm looking to share today; "Sometimes, you're going to be wrong. Completely, and utterly, a long way away from being right. Sometimes, you are going to make mistakes; not putting the wrong sugar and milk combination in a new friend's tea kind of mistakes, I mean big damn I've ballsed up my whole life type mistakes, the type of mistake that makes you want to sit in your car and stare at a lighthouse. This will happen to you, and it will also happen to every other single human being in the world, I think. Sometimes, when you do this, you hurt other people as well, you disappoint them or you make them think differently of you, and if they really matter to you, then that in itself is painful beyond belief. But you'll still do it, you'll still make the mistake. There are always consequences to mistakes and sometimes, they're worse than others, sometimes, it takes longer for the cabbages to disappear. You'll regret this, maybe until next week, maybe forever, but the world, oddly it seems at the time, appears to keep spinning."

There are a number of things you can't do in this scenario. You can not ignore the fact that you're wrong, for a start this isn't fair on anyone that may be "been wronged" in the process - yourself included, but it also doesn't allow for healing. Life is, generally speaking, one huge healing process. You need to allow yourself the space and the opportunity to heal and learn, always. You also can not expect to find the answer in the walls of a lighthouse. Meditation is, I think, the only path to finding any sort of relief from personal turmoil, but, at the same time, there is no magical switch, that you, or anybody else, can hit to undo whatever stupid-arse thing you've done. The only thing that's going to move it on is the passing of time. 

Someone particularly wise and with a staggering depth of emotional intelligence spoke to me at length recently about the importance and essential nature of living honestly to who you are, in order for your relationships to thrive. That's potentially a whole other post and the words, whilst accurate beyond measure, aren't my own anyway, but I think that the only way to make up for mistakes you've made, and start to put back the pieces that you're left with, is to take the time to sit and to embrace your own nature, to reconnect with yourself, and recognise who you are. You are not the mistake that you made, you may have lied, but you need not be a liar by nature, you may have disrespected, but you need not be disrespectful by nature, you may even have cheated, but you need not define yourself as a cheat.

Own your mistakes, take responsibility for them, recognise them and hold them up before yourself under scrutiny, get to grips with the why's and the how's, then make some soup, and reintroduce those you've hurt, including yourself, to the you that recognises that a mistake was made, and for goodness sake, say sorry.

Just Be Nice

If you do nothing else this weekend, why not simply pledge to be nice to and around everyone you meet?

This sign in my son's school playground really got me thinking this week, not just about my immediate relationships, which include that with my child, boyfriend, friends, estranged husband, mother, neighbours, even my cats, but also about the hundreds of interactions that take place between me and relative strangers every day. 

Intriguingly, being nice doesn't have to cost anything, it doesn't have to be the same as being generous or even really caring (although if you're a cool person you'll be these things too) it's just about being pleasant, and considering how your interaction will impact upon the other party, how they'll feel for having seen or spoken to you.

Just being nice, not only gives others a positive impression of you, but also encourages you to have a positive impression of yourself. It's well documented that one of the best things to do when you feel down is to force yourself to smile; smiling actively releases happy hormones in to our bodies to pick us up - even if we're smiling in to a lonely glass of orange squash. Smiling at another person, and having your smile returned, quadruples the effect. Throw someone your best grin and your positivity will immediately rocket - making you feel better about, well, pretty much everything.

After air for breathing, and water and food for energy and bodily function, the fourth most essential ingredient for health and well-being - is companionship. Some of us are lucky enough to have one or more constant companions: husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, close friends, parents, siblings - but you can satisfy this requirement, and intensify it's feel-good health-boosting effects, simply by interacting with more humans - and there are a few about. 

Happy, positive people perform better at work and in the bedroom, they make more nourishing food choices, find it easier to manage their finances, are less likely to be involved in a road traffic accident, have cleaner homes, are significantly less likely to fall ill - but more likely to fall pregnant, find it easier to attract potential romantic partners and to fall in love, can relieve the symptoms of their own minor allergies, drink less alcohol but have a better time, get a good night's sleep, notice more about the world around them, are more likely to be invited to parties and find it easier to source creative inspiration from the every day.

One of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to be a happier, most positive person and reap all of the benefits above plus some? Just Be Nice. 

Before I leave you with some homework, for goodness sake - please remember that being nice and allowing yourself to be used are not the same thing. Being nice doesn't mean saying "yes!" to every favour people ask of you, or going out of your way to help others to the detriment of your own happiness. Read my post on "Living Selfishly" to discourage yourself from being a doormat.

Just be nice this weekend, and make a pledge to:

  1. Smile at three strangers every time you leave the house, whether they're just people you make eye contact with on the street or at traffic lights, other customers in a shop you visit, or the person sitting opposite you in the doctor's waiting room. Just smile. 
  2. Ask "how are you?" of anyone you'd usually only say "hello" to. This might be the person serving you at the supermarket checkout, your next door neighbour, or the postman. 
  3. Look through your phonebook and pick out three friends you haven't spoken to in over 14 days. Call them to ask how they are, find out what's going on with them, don't have an agenda, just call for the sake of calling. 
  4. Buy someone flowers. This doesn't have to cost a fortune, as I'm well documented to have said on more than one occasion - carnations are beautiful and they cost £1.50 a bunch in Lidl. It doesn't matter what you spend, the recipient is unlikely to have received flowers from anyone else that day. If you're feeling mega flush, have them delivered, but personally, I like to be presented with a bunch of flowers properly - and I think most people feel the same way. Try to give them to someone that you wouldn't usually buy flowers for, but that won't be slightly creeped out by the whole exchange (your sister perhaps?)
  5. Swap five big-corps purchases for five indie purchases. Whether it's buying your carrots at the farmers market or greengrocer instead of at Tesco, or popping to an independent cafe to meet a friend, rather than Costa, move five purchases away from the huge multinationals and instead put your money in to the pockets of independent businesses and trades people. When you do so, have a proper think about what your purchase means, whether it's supporting your local community or making sure that a farmer receives a fair amount for what he or she has grown or raised - congratulate yourself, silently, and feel good about it. 
  6. Do your bit for charity. Collect together your coppers and spare bits of change around the house, put them in to a separate coin bag, and take them out with you when you pop to the shops, when you see a collection tin (they're almost always on the checkouts in newsagents and similar small shops) pop your change in, it was only cluttering up the surfaces of your home anyway, and now it's gone towards making a difference elsewhere. If you want to go further, why not make this the weekend you sit down and offer a little of your time to volunteer with a charity? Do-It is a great online resource listing available volunteering opportunities across the country. However, if there's a charity active locally, whose work you feel passionately about, then get in touch, they're unlikely to turn away volunteers. Alternatively, if you don't have the time to volunteer, but want to make a difference to a charity you support, become a regular donor, most charities offer a sponsorship option of some sort, allowing you to make a regular contribution. The other day I blogged about how the RSPCA are giving something back to their sponsors.
  7. Decide to do one genuine "Good Deed" each day this weekend (that doesn't include any of the above). It could be taking some food round to a neighbour who's been unwell recently, or helping someone struggling with their shopping in the carpark. In the morning, agree with yourself as to how you'll reward yourself once you've done a genuinely good deed (a few squares of your favourite chocolate perhaps?) - who said being nice had to be selfless?
  8. Compliment everyone. We've covered strangers you meet during the day in Points 1 and 2, friends that have fallen through the net in Point 3, someone worthy of a treat in Point 4, your local community in Point 5, those less privalidged than yourself in Point 6, and any old Tom, Dick or Harry in Point 7 - but it's so bloody important to be nicest to the people closest to us - and quite often - they're the ones we're most likely to forget! Make it your mission to compliment everyone that you see regularly: your children, your romantic partner, your work colleagues, your best friend, your hairdresser, people who you see on purpose, the people that you either arrange to see, or live with.. To double the challenge, try to compliment everyone on something that isn't appearance-based. Have go at complimenting everyone on their character or achievements - without sounding a bit odd. These compliments make us feel better about ourselves for longer when we receive them, and are also the comments we're most likely to remember receiving. Also, when we compliment people regularly on their character or achievements, we remind ourselves to value them and our relationship with them. 
  9. Just be nice to animals. My all time favourite quote is this one, from Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation, and it's moral progress, can be judged by the way it's animals are treated". If you have pets, do something extra nice for them this weekend, whether it's a particularly exciting walk for the dog, or treats for your cats or other small furries - hell, just cleaning the fish tank out would be a good start (looks in the mirror). If you don't have any pets of your own, just be conscious of the animal life around you - and be nice to it, stop and stroke cats when you're out and about, or go out and buy a bird feeder - the cold months are rolling in with gusto and times are going to be getting hard for our feathery friends soon, some peanuts in a wire hanger could help to keep somebody alive this winter, even if that somebody is a Blue Tit.
  10. Don't complain. If you actually keep a tally of the number of negative remarks and comments you make every day (about the weather, the fact that your hands are cold, the fact that there's a hole in the footpath outside your door, other people's driving, the cost of onions etc.) it's staggering. Even if you consider yourself a positive, happy person, you probably complain all day - we all do. However, the minute you pledge to stop complaining, you'll be amazed at how the world around you shifts. This weekend, pledge not to complain, about anything, unless you absolutely have to (once I really did, genuinely, find a slug in my salad - bisto pub on St. Mary's Island). Every time you feel yourself about to complain - say something positive instead. Such as "It's such a lovely crisp day - feels like proper Autumn" instead of "Brrrr." or just tell someone you saw some really nice gloves in M&S and you're going to go back and get them next week, rather than whining about your cold fingers (although you're not, because M&S are a huge company and there's probably someone within your network who knits one-off knitwear at a fraction of the price. Cough.)

I'll be blogging over the weekend anyway but - onwards and upwards in to the weekendness people - you're almost there - make it a good one, and remember, Just Be Nice. 

So This Is Happening: I'm shaving off my hair

As many readers will know by now, next year I'm challenging myself to ride a horse across rural Mongolia in an attempt to raise lots of vital funds for Mind - the mental health charity. To say that I'm excited about the opportunity is a gross understatement, and I couldn't be prouder to be raising money for such a fantastic charity. I have promised to write a more detailed post about Mind, the work that they do and how you can access help if you feel you, or somebody that you know, might need it - and I'll do so very soon. 

Every year Mind help tens of thousands of people facing mental illness, and saves thousands of lives in doing so. If the money that I raise helps them to go on providing such a vital and life saving service to the millions of people struggling with mental illnesses of varying descriptions, then I couldn't be happier. 

To get my fundraising ball rolling, as it were, I've pledged to shave all of my hair off on my 27th birthday, in return for sponsorship from the generous types of the world, of course. My hair has seen many phases, at the moment it's cut in to a long, angular, collar-bone-skimming bob, dyed chestnut brown, and, when I can be arsed to style it, boasts a full fringe. In previous lives it's been bright pillarbox red, black, blue, ash blonde, golden blonde, white blonde, and auburn. It's had highlights, lowlights, colour flashes and even a Christina Aguilera-esque two tone job. I curl it, I straighten it, for a long time I "scrunched" it with a disproportionate volume of mousse. In my lifetime I estimate that I've used 5,723 bottled of Elnett, and even more Baptiste dry shampoo. What has never happened, to my head, since my birth, is for it to have been hairless. 

To say that the prospect freaks me out is mild. I have two fundamental fears:

  1. I am going to look truly truly awful with no hair
  2. I am going to look truly truly awful in every wig on the British market

The likelihood of either of these things being true is, logically, pretty slim; not because I'm so God damn sexy, but because hair really is just hair. My hair isn't what makes my friends laugh (I hope), or what lovingly tucks my son in to bed at night, or cooks an awesome lasagne. My hair doesn't make me kind, or considerate, or generous, or even particularly interesting. It's just hair. Also - hair grows back. 

Of course I'm still hugely dubious about whether this is the most ridiculous idea I've ever had and whether I'll spend the next few months in floods of tears; and then of course there's the next stage... having really really short hair, which could, potentially, be more appalling than having no hair. 

Still, I think this is the ideal way to start my year of fun-draising; by making an enormously visual statement in order to raise awareness of a cause often invisible to most people. Mental illness needs some time in the spotlight; it's needs to be discussed openly, looked at closely, and understood compassionately. If people ask me why I've shaved off my hair and I can open a conversation about the amazing work that Mind do to help people like me, who suffer often with mental illness, to help them avoid becoming people like my Father, who take their own lives out of fear, desperation and isolation - then that's great. 

Now for the boring bit - please take just two minutes to sponsor a little spare change via my sponsorship page on the Mind website. You can do that here. It really doesn't matter if it's only £1, in fact - £1 would be absolutely amazing! 

Please note, if you're one of the very FIRST FIVE people to sponsor me via my page on the Mind website, you'll receive a very special little surprise gift. I'm keeping shtum about it, but once you've sponsored (any amount) drop me an email to ashleighlawrencerye@gmail.com and if you're in the first five people to pledge some of your hard earned poundage - then I'll spoil you back in return.

Thank you in advance to anyone who's even taken the time to read this post, let alone donated. 

A Cool New Way To Support The RSPCA

As well as Mind - The Mental Health Charity, who I'm fund raising for over the coming months in the lead up to my trip to Mongolia next September (if you missed that, you can read about it here), I'm also a passionate supporter of a number of animal welfare charities, both here in the UK, and overseas. 

I've been raised an animal lover, I remember a childhood where our modest three bedroom house was filled with a dog, three cats, two budgerigars, two hamsters, a chinchilla, a rabbit, a guinea pig and fish, at other times there was a gerbil, two rats, a tank full of thirteen stick insects, other dogs, other cats, other fish, a pair of love birds, and a garden overflowing with wildlife. To share my home with animals is the norm for me, I couldn't imagine a life without pets, least of all raising my son in a pet-free home, and I've always taken my responsibility as pet owner seriously. 

Living in the flat as we do, a dog is out of the question, but rescue cats are another matter. Inspector Bucket came to live with us last year, after Seb and I met him at our local RSPCA rescue centre. He was five months old, and had been picked up by an RSPCA inspector as a stray. Still now we don't know his story, and unless anyone decodes the feline language - we never shall, but he's a loving, affectionate, slightly bonkers addition to our family and I certainly wouldn't be without him. 

During his time with the RSPCA, Bucket was neutered, vaccinated, and treated for fleas, worms and ticks. He was fed twice daily, provided with warm bedding, cat toys, and a clean litter tray. Keeping cats as I do, I know that these costs soon stack up, which is why animal charities are so desperate for donations. 

As arguably the country's best known animal welfare charity, the RSPCA receives 21,000 calls from the public every single week, that's 21,000 people who are concerned about the well-being of an animal, either wild or domesticated. A lot of the animals that come in to RSPCA care will require some form of veterinary attention, as they've either been neglected, abused, or injured, are orphaned, or, at the very least, will require vaccinations against future illness. 

Animal welfare in this country is improving, slowly. People are becoming better educated in animal care, and the cost of taking on a pet is better publicised, however, there has been a staggering 65% rise in animal abandonments over the last five years, probably as a result of the economic downturn and people being unable to care for pets they'd previously committed to. All too often rescue and re-homing centres are full, and simply don't have the physical space to take on any more unwanted animals, and owners become desperate. Not that this excuses the abandonment of an innocent animal, but the RSPCA and a number of other organisations are often heaving under the weight of these cases. 

Making regular donations to charity, as a monthly Direct Debit perhaps, isn't an unusual concept, and even sponsorship, such as the Dog's Trust "Sponsor a Dog" campaign, are popular ways of supporting the work of animal rescue charities. However, I was really taken with the RSPCA's new sponsorship campaign, whereby you are given the opportunity to sponsor either a "Cat Pod" or a kennel at one of the charity's re-homing centres. Your ongoing contribution goes towards keeping your pod or kennel stocked with beds, toys, food and litter, where appropriate, as well as keeping the place clean and running smoothly. The centre keep sponsors up to date with who is currently staying in their pod, what their story is, and keeps them updated on the animal's progress. I thought it was a really cool idea.

I signed up to sponsor a cat pod (of course - shameless cat lady) and very soon received a photograph and a report on my current "resident". For those who are interested - Angel is an 11 year old male tabby (which makes him "old" by a lot of people's standards and might make him difficult to re-home, so he may be hanging out in my pod for a while). Angel had been left in someone's house for a very long time, his teeth had all rotted and his mouth was full of ulcers, he was bleeding from his mouth and his gum disease was so bad that he was covered in pus. He was slowly dying of starvation, not just because he hadn't been fed, but because whatever food he may have been able to find, he couldn't eat. He also hated people, didn't play or interact, and had obviously been neglected for a very long time. 

I'm glad to let you know though, that the RSPCA have since let me know that Angel has made loads of progress in a short amount of time. In the few weeks that I've been sponsoring the cat pod that he calls home, he can now eat comfortably, despite losing lots of teeth. He now loves a tummy rub and enjoys human contact - the staff at the rescue centre now think he'll turn out a happy lap cat! How cool!

If you'd like to find out more about sponsoring a cat pod or a dog kennel, and helping the RSPCA to go on rescuing and caring for animals like my Inspector Bucket, or like Angel, then follow the link here.

Scallops with Black Pudding and Kale & Pea Purée

I'm continuing to try to develop recipes that focus on using gorgeous British seasonal produce, and a couple of weeks ago, I whipped up this scallop recipe as a starter at home. 

Scallops are in season at the moment and should be in plentiful supply at your local fishmonger. It's completely up to you whether you leave the roe (the orange meat which is, in fact, the creature's reproductive organs) intact or not. I like to eat scallop roe, some don't, but for presentation purposes the roe is removed in this recipe (otherwise the scallop doesn't "stack" very well with the other ingredients).

Kale is also in season in October, but many avoid it as a "boring" food that can't be used as much more than a steamed side dish. Adding to garden peas (frozen is fine) with a dollop of honey makes a delicious purée. 

3 large scallops per person
1 black pudding (cut in to slices around 5mm thick)
2 handfuls of fresh, washed kale leaves
1 handful of garden peas (frozen varieties are fine)
1 tablespoon of clear honey
Salt & Pepper to taste
Coconut oil for frying

Make It

  1. Heat some coconut oil in a non stick pan, and use a small sharp knife to make tiny knicks around the edge of each slice of black pudding, this stops it from curling up as it cooks. Fry the black pudding slices on both sides until cooked.
  2. Add the scallops to the same pan and fry on each side, very briefly, until just cooked. Remember, you can eat scallops raw, there's no risk of "under cooking" but over cooked scallops will be rubbery and unpleasant. 
  3. Using a high powered blender (I use my NutriBullet) combine the kale, peas, honey and a little seasoning to make your purée. 
  4. Arrange three pieces of black pudding on each plate, and top with a dollop of purée before topping with a single scallop. You may wish to stab a cocktail stick through the entire stack but it should be fine to eat with a fork. 
If you have a go at this recipe I'd love to see your finished dish - tag me in photos on Instagram and Twitter (@ashlawrencerye) . To browse other ingredients that are in season in October here in the UK, check my list, here.

How To Display Carnations - DIY "Rose-Bowl" Tutorial

As I mentioned before, I simply love carnations. Their frilly, feminine blooms ought to give roses and peonies a run for their money in the romance stakes, but alas, they're often overlooked and thought to be cheap and boring. Cheap they are (which is part of their appeal) but carnations are never ever boring. I currently have a bowl of pink and purple carnations on my kitchen table which are in full, perfect, healthy bloom - seventeen days after I bought them, and I reckon I still have a good week to go before they start to die. Seeing's as they cost £1.50 per bunch in Lidl - I like to think they represent some of the best value for money in terms of cut flowers. 

You can have a lot of fun displaying carnations, because they're not fussy about having their water changed as often as a lot of other flowers, and using a rose bowl (or this home made version) creates a lovely puffy "cloud" of flowers that looks beautiful in any colour combination. 

I've been to a wedding that used carnations displayed using this exact method, with white flowers only, as table centrepieces - cheap, easy to DIY, and perfectly high impact (whilst being low enough to let guests talk across the table), but this is versatile enough that it works just as well at home, even if you live in a room in halls at uni. 

All you need is a bowl (have a look in your local charity shop for treasures like cut crystal fruit bowls, nobody wants these any more but they look kind of vintage-quirky and will probably be a steal at a couple of pounds), a roll of cello-tape (the thinner the better), a drinking straw, scissors, and a selection of carnations. 

Use the cello-tape to create a "grid" across your bowl, if your bowl has a "lip" at the edge then you can tuck the ends of the tape under, if not just make sure you don't have too much excess tape stuck to the side of the bowl.

Use a drinking straw to measure the length from the base of the bowl to the outside of the tape, and cut the straw to this length - you can then use this as a guide to cutting the stems of your carnations so that they sit perfectly.

Trim all of the flowers at a forty five degree angle, half fill the bowl with water (and treat as per preference, either with plant food or an alternative), then poke the flowers through the squares in your grid. More than one bloom can share a square. 

If your flowers are in bud (which I'd recommend, as they'll last longer) then you'll be able to see the cello-tape grid at first, but be patient, the flowers will soon open up and render your DIY efforts invisible - what you'll be left with is a bowl overflowing with beautiful flowers. 

If you'd like advice on how to make your cut flowers last longer at home, or you want some ideas for alternatives to generic cut flower food, then read my previous post here.

Superfoods - How Do You Like Your Eggs In The Morning?

I recently read the book "Superfoods: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life" written by American author and ophthalmologist, Dr. Steven Pratt, and published in 2004. The predominant principles of the book are great, and include ideas which my understanding of food and nutrition is built upon. there were sections of the book however, where I felt the decade of research and product development that have taken place since it's publication really showed up, and dated the content.
As a response, of sorts, to the book, I thought I'd share my own fourteen "Superfoods". Please don't take this as me believing myself more qualified to advise on nutrition than Dr. Pratt - most of the foods featured in this coming series of posts don't meet the true superfood criteria - this is just a fun look at fourteen ingredients that I believe clean, wholesome eaters should not be going without. 

This series will be made up of fourteen posts, each focussed on one of my own, carefully chosen "Ashleigh Lawrence-Rye Superfoods"!

"Superfoods" is a marketing term - nothing more and nothing less, in medicinal and dietary terms, there is no such thing, as such, as a "superfood", but the term has been coined to imply a food of extra special nutritional benefit to the human body. 

Eggs would have to be my number one superfood. Eggs are one of the most densely nutritious foods on the planet, containing some of almost every single nutrient that we depend on for our health and happiness.

They are packed with protein, absolutely vital for all bodily functions. Protein enables healing, provides energy, and helps the body to combat and avoid disease. Eggs also contain all nine of the amino acids that your body requires for health and wellbeing - all of them! This means eggs are referred to as a "complete protein".

Whilst eggs are high in cholesterol, it's important to remember that the cholesterol that we consume does not effect our blood cholesterol (that would be sugar - fructose - of which eggs are void). Infact, eating eggs regularly can actually help to reduce blood cholesterol.

Eggs contain the highest levels of available carotenoids of any food - don't switch off - carotenoids are key to healthy eyes, meaning that eating them regularly could help you to maintain your eyesight as you age, and could help you to avoid developing cataracts. 

Eggs also contain a little power-nutrient called choline, which helps to regulate your brain and nervous system as well as your cardiovascular system. It is estimated that around 90% of the Western population are not getting enough choline from their diet, so make a change and up your egg intake.

Eggs are also one of very few foods that contain naturally occurring Vitamin D - an absolutely essential vitamin for healthy humans - and thanks to the fat content of the egg yolk - eating an egg enables you to absorb this fat soluble vitamin. Without fat - you'd be unable to absorb the Vitamin D - so step away from those egg white omelettes! Vitamin D is essential in enabling the body to adequately absorb calcium (handy if you've put cheese in that omelette!), and a lack of Vitamin D can lead to decreased bone density.

On top of all of these awesome benefits - eggs also have a high sulphur content - which is seriously good news for hair and nails. If you're looking to grow either, or find that your nails are weak and brittle - increasing your egg consumption should work wonders!

As is the case with any real foods, not all eggs are created equal. The health and lifestyle of the bird who laid the eggs you eat is key to the nutritional composition of the egg itself. Eating the eggs of free range, organically fed hens, ducks, or other poultry means that your eggs not only meet a high ethical criteria, but will also be high in Omega-3 fatty acids, key to brain function. 

What's more - eggs are filling. An omelette is the perfect breakfast, lunch, or dinner and will leave you satisfied for longer than many alternatives. Add some parsley to help cleanse the digestive system, chia seeds for an additional hit of superfood goodness, and some good quality full-fat cheese for flavour. 


How I Voted: The Taste Of Kent Awards 2014

Voting is open for the annual Taste of Kent Awards (via their website, here) and this morning I decided to dedicate a little time to getting my votes in so that I wouldn't miss the proverbial boat.

Before I let you in on who or what I voted for in each category, I should just mention that I decided not to vote in the Best Kentish Beer category, simply because I don't really drink beer on a regular basis, certainly not ales, and I wasn't familiar with a majority of the products that have been short-listed. I want to make genuine, considered decisions in each category so I left beer out. 

Here is where my votes landed (and believe me, in several instances I spent a long time trying to decide who to choose!)

Kent Butcher or Meat Producer of the Year

Chandler and Dunn

I visited Chandler and Dunn's farm at Ash earlier this year, and I'm very familiar with their beautiful meat as I often pick some up at local farmer's markets. This was quite an easy one for me to vote on as I'm a keen supporter of C&D as a family business, and I love their attitudes towards sustainability and ethical farming.

If I'd had further votes available these would have gone to Godmersham Game and Stour Valley Game, both of whom always seem to feature in my fridge/freezer.

Best Kentish Wine

English Wine by Harbourne Vineyard

I'm planning to visit the Harbourne Vineyard very soon, but I picked up a bottle of their wine at the recent Broadstairs Food Festival and it was simply wonderful. I rate it much higher than wines I've had from Biddenden and Chapel Down - the two best known and most highly regarded Kentish wine producers.

However, my runner up would have been the Chapel Down Brut; of course.

Best Kentish Cider or Perry

Kentish Pip Ginger Cider

Kentish Pip are probably my favourite Kentish cider producer, so it's no surprise that I voted for them in this category. Their ginger cider is probably my second favourite though (after elderflower - which didn't feature in the short-list). 

If I'd had an extra vote it would, without doubt, have gone to Little Stour Orchard for their 10 Acre Cider - but as I only drink cider as a very rare treat, I haven't had any in ages!

Best Kent Juice Provider

Little Stour Orchard

We all knew they'd feature somewhere in my voting! I love everything about the way that LSO work, their attitude towards fruit farming, the people behind the brand, and the products themselves, so this was a total no brainer. I genuinely don't drink any other local juices so... even if I did have extra votes they wouldn't go anywhere in this category!

Kent Local Food Retailer of the Year

Macknade Fine Foods

I'm in love with Macknade. This shop is the ultimate stop for unusual vegetables and creative cooking ideas. From deep purple heritage carrots to the biggest squashes you've ever clapped eyes on, not to mention a huge range of drinks, cheeses, meats, confectionary, spices - and so on and so on and so on. I can walk around and around Macknade, constantly discovering something I didn't spot on the last lap. It's my favourite foodie outlet by far. 

Others of note in this category though, for me, would be Quex Barn (always particularly good for tomatoes - among everything else! But I have had terrible experiences in the restaurant) and The Goods Shed (more on that later). 

This is an example of where the Taste of Kent Awards website needs some attention though - good old Peter's Produce from Herne Bay are listed in this category four times (this happens elsewhere on the site too) so watch out for this when you're voting, it might cause a bit of a pain when votes are tallied up later in the year!

Kent Fishmonger of the Year

Fruits De Mer, Broadstairs

This was another easy one for me, as I don't generally buy fish from any other fishmonger. However; the reason for this is that Fruits De Mer are superior in terms of produce so - my vote is still valid!

Shame that the Taste of Kent Awards peeps have spelt the name of the business incorrectly on the voting page though - stuff like that doesn't half bug me!

Kent Food Producer of the Year

Anno Distillers

This was one of the categories that I found hardest to vote in. I finally decided on Anno Distillers because their products are just so bloody beautiful. I mentioned their Kentish gin in my recent post rounding up Broadstairs Food Festival, but their Elderflower Vodka also deserves some serious recognition because it is sublime. I can't fault Anno Distillers on their approach to production and ingredients either, so in the end, they got my vote. I'm also a real stickler for presentation and the bottle designs are gorgeous. 

If I could, I'd also have voted for Nip From The Hip, another alcoholic drink producer, but another good one. They could have had my vote just for their rhubarb vodka! Cheesemakers of Canterbury also make an appearance here and they're another of my favourite local food producers. Another goodie in this category would be Rosie Lea Tea, who I've mentioned before on the blog and whose loose leaf Earl Grey is my absolute best friend - however, when a girl has to choose between tea or gin....

Kent Restaurant of the Year

The Goods Shed

OK, this was the absolute hardest category for me to choose in. 

I still feel a bit awful about having to choose only one, and the fact that my vote fell out of the Isle of Thanet also makes me sad.

In the end though, I had to vote with my heart and my experiences of The Goods Shed in Canterbury have never been anything but sublime. I love the setting - the building is beautiful, but also being surrounded by a busy bustling farmer's market whilst you eat is charming. The food is absolutely out of this world (or always has been when I've visited - from breakfast through to dinner) and even the coffee is fantastic. It's also handy that the restaurant has it's own free car park - unlike many others in Canterbury (or Thanet for that matter). Oh, I'm sorry - I just don't have a bad word to say about the place. 

I desperately wanted to vote for Wyatt & Jones in Broadstairs as well, but, I have only one vote, and I had to choose. Wyatt and Jones are also great for locally sourced yummy stuff (especially lobster when they're in season), bake their own bread on site and serve a wonderful Eggs Florentine at breakfast. I don't really have downers on this restaurant at all, I just had to pick one or the other, and The Goods Shed won predominantly on atmosphere and ambience.

The pain didn't end there though, JoJo's in Whitstable, Osteria Posillipos Restaurante in Broadstairs, The Sportsman at Seasalter, and Wheeler's Oyster Bar all featured as well, and I love them all. 

This was simply horrific! 

Kent Dining Pub of the Year

The Sportsman

This perhaps wasn't a very imaginative choice - everyone associates The Sportsman at Seasalter with exception Michelin starred dining. But it is what it is, and it would be a deserved winner in this category. 

Wyatt & Jones were listed here as well and it might have offered me the opportunity to vote for them as well as The Goods Shed in the previous category but... they're not a pub.

Kent Farmer's Market of the Year

Thanet Farmer's Market

This was a tough choice for me, having to choose between Thanet and Cliftonville Farmer's Markets. 
Cliftonville is very local to me (literally, at the end of my road), but looking at both markets objectively, it's apparent that Thanet has the better offering in terms of overall experience. 

Based at The Marlowe Academy, Thanet offers indoor space, so shoppers aren't put off visiting in bad weather, there is a cafe on site, and they also run a kid's kitchen workshop, so you can leave small people cooking for an hour or so whilst you browse, buy and eat. 

Cliftonville, on the otherhand, is outdoors, which kind of feels more like a proper market to me, but does mean, sometimes, you're going to get soaked, there's nowhere to get a coffee onsite, and the stallholders are pretty much comparable to those at Thanet, there isn't a huge difference in those terms (plus, Little Stour Orchard no longer have a stall at Cliftonville and apple cider vinegar is important). 

The only downers for Thanet is that it's setting is so modern, that it doesn't really have much of that farmer's market feel that I enjoy, but ho hum. It also isn't directly on any public transport route, although the walk from the bus stops at Westwood Cross isn't too far. Most people who visit Thanet Farmer's Market do so by car... which is a problem in itself from an environmental perspective but you can't have it all! 

So in the end, Thanet got my vote, but I'd have given a second vote to Cliftonville of course!

If you are Kent based (or familiar with Kent produce) please do take the time to vote in the Taste of Kent Awards. It's a huge achievement to all of those involved to have been so much as short-listed for an award, and a win in any category could make an enormous difference to any of these businesses. Sorry to everyone that I didn't vote for this year; as everyone knows I'm a huge huge champion of local produce and I don't think there's anyone featured in this years awards (apart from maybe in the restaurant category, but I'll stay quiet on that one!) who doesn't deserve to be there, and I wish everyone the very very best in their respective categories. 

My First Veg Box Delivery

It arrived! Remember I said that I'd made use of an introductory offer available at Broadstairs Food Festival last weekend, and ordered a box of fresh, seasonal vegetables to be delivered to me at the flat? Well - yesterday a lovely lady appeared on my doorstep with just that: a wooden crate bursting with colourful, fresh-from-the-field veggies. 

I did say I'd share my thoughts once the box arrived. These boxes are put together and delivered by the guys at Nethergong Nurseries (the Jenkins family) based just outside of Canterbury. Nethergong work with 12 local farmers to put together boxes of produce, in keeping with what's in season, and distribute these to member households across East Kent, including those in the Canterbury area, Herne Bay and Whitstable, and down to us here on the Isle of Thanet. 

In my first veg box I received a real Autumnal feast of:

Onion Squash
and the last of the Summer Peppers

What I love, and what I should have expected, is that the vegetables arrive fresh from the farmer's fields, everything was still muddy, just as it should be, and you can really tell the difference in the taste. 

Last night I asked some friends for some inspiration as to what to do with my new cauliflower, and in the end I used my usual cauliflower cheese recipe, but added bacon and fried leeks, and baked in the oven topped with a layer of thinly sliced potato. 

The potatoes that I received from Nethergong were beautifully buttery and Earthy and unlike any starchy stodge that you'd pick up from the supermarket - absolutely delicious!

Tonight I'm going to follow the recipe that was included with my box of veg, to roast the Onion Squash (it's a squash I've never cooked with before). 

This box that I received from Nethergong Nurseries is their "Baby Box", designed to cater for one person. Now, I am indeed one person, but I do have an extra small person to feed and every so often the boyfriend will be here for dinner too. I've decided to subscribe to a weekly box for a little while, and see how it goes, but I'm going to up my order to a "Mini Box", designed to feed a family of 2-3. 

Whilst it's quite often only me and Seb for dinner, I still get through quite a lot of veg, as working from home, I'll quite often rustle up a soup for lunch (I intend to make a carrot and red pepper soup this afternoon!) 

If you're in East Kent and would like to try out a fresh vegetable box delivery from Nethergong then you can sign up here.

The £13.99 Slow Cooker

In my previous life, I owned a five litre slow cooker which had initially set me back about £70.00. It was, by far, one of my most loved pieces of kitchen equipment and I used it to excess, especially during Autumn and Winter.

Unfortunately, when my husband and I separated back in July, he managed to blag full custody of the slow cooker. 

I had absolutely no choice but to replace it (not owning one was not an option), but without funds, a repurchase was impossible.

Please welcome the £13.99 slow cooker by Cookworks, available from Argos here and modelled beautifully by my kitchen.

This slow cooker does only have a 3.5L capacity, but I now have one less adult mouth to feed on a regular basis, and a 3.5L slow cooker is still large enough to cook a whole chicken.

I’ll be honest, at first I was very sceptical about the quality of this machine when pitched against my previous, more expensive model.

It’s worth noting that the Cookworks 3.5L slow cooker features a “Keep Warm” setting, which is important. This ensures that once your meal has finished cooking, the slow cooker will keep your food temperate and ready to serve until you’re ready. I wouldn’t buy a slow cooker without a “Keep Warm” setting - and they are out there. 

However - what this slow cooker doesn't possess is a digital timer, and for someone with either a busy lifestyle or a lack of organisation - this could be an issue. With my previous slow cooker, I could set my meal to cook for eight hours, and forget about it, go to work, go out with my family, or go back to bed. Once that eight hours was up, the timer would ensure that the slow cooker automatically went from a cooking function to the "Keep Warm" setting, without interference. Not so with the Cookworks model. If you don't switch off the cooking function your meal will keep on cooking and whilst it's very difficult to overcook anything in a slow cooker, without a timer, it is certainly possible!

So other notable features of the Cookworks 3.5L slow cooker include:

The ceramic dish is dishwasher friendly.
The glass lid allows you to keep an eye on your meal if you feel the need.
Three heat settings (my more expensive model had only two).

The obvious downer (for me) is the white plastic finish, but that’s a personal preference issue, and it does live in the cupboard when not in use. The most important thing really, of course, is the performance.

Drum roll… this performs at exactly the same level as my £70.00 slow cooker, it does the same thing, for a fraction of the price. It’s totally worth the non-investment and for heaven’s sake, when you can pick this up with the spare pound coins left over from a couple of week’s Costa-Drive-Thru’s, don’t go and buy yourself an expensive slow cooker which fundamentally does the exact same thing.

The lack of a timer could present a serious problem for some cooks, and there are affordable models with timers on the market. For me, the lack of a digital timer is an inconvenience, but one which I work around and have quickly gotten used to.

The only counter argument here could be longevity. I bought my £70.00 slow cooker in 2012, and as you would expect, it’s still going strong (although I put the lid in the oven with the ceramic dish and melted the plastic handle off!). I’ve only recently spent a whopping £13.99 on the Cookworks model and so I can’t say how long it will last. It certainly wouldn’t represent such great value for money if it conked out next week. 

However, I have been doing my research, and as far as I can see, the Internet offers no significant tales of woe from previous buyers regarding a short life span on these products, so I have no reason to believe that I won’t get my money’s worth.

If you’re looking for some slow cooker inspiration, why not check out my “Slow Cooker Recipes” board on Pinterest? You’ll find it here. All of my pinned recipes stick to my Clean Eating ethos (or where I’d make cleaner substitutions, you’ll see my notes!) and I try to find interesting recipes that I think fellow clean eater’s will find exciting. If you’ve got your own favourite slow cooker recipes I’d love to hear about them; leave a comment below or tag me @ashlawrencerye in your foodie photos on Twitter or Instagram.